Will Hillary Clinton Turn Her Back on Public Education if Elected President? (By Joseph Ricciotti)

An insightful commentary piece in today’s CT Newsjunkie by education advocate and veteran educator Joseph Ricciotti raises important and extremely serious questions about what the future of education policy will be should Hillary Clinton be elected President.

Joesph Ricciotti writes;

It would appear more than likely that Hillary Clinton will be elected as the next president of the United States come next fall.

She can be thankful in no small part to the major role that the teacher organizations in the nation such as the National Educational Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) played in their early endorsement of her presidency. Public school teachers and parents are fighting the battle of their lives in attempting to hold off the forces of privatization along with the onslaught of charter schools in the nation.

Sadly, theses forces of privatization received major support from Arne Duncan, the former Secretary of Education appointed by President Barack Obama. No other Education Secretary, especially Democratic, has done more to privatize and weaken public education than Arne Duncan who was also obsessed with standardized testing. Under his regime, public schools across the nation experienced two failed programs with Race to the Top (RTTT) and Common Core State Standards (CCSS). His so-called “testocracy” grossly neglected the impact of childhood poverty on learning for children from impoverished homes.

Likewise, under Duncan’s time in office, we have witnessed the demise of the neighborhood school and the growth of charter schools, all with corporate sponsors. Hence, it was obvious that former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was not a public school advocate but rather a paid shill who was in the pockets of the corporate reformers and the testing industry.

If Clinton is elected as president in 2016, it will not take very long for both the NEA and the AFT to know whether their early presidential endorsement has been wasted, as was the case following Barack Obama’s nomination eight years ago in his selection of Duncan as Secretary of Education. Whether Clinton chooses someone to serve as Secretary of Education who will undo the disastrous harm that Duncan has inflicted on public education in his eight years remains to be seen. Will she choose another corporate reformer or will she surprise everyone with an appointment of someone who will be a true advocate of public education and who is widely respected by the supporters of public education in the nation?

From there Joseph Ricciotti explores the issue further.

To read and comment on the full commentary piece, go to http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/op-ed_will_hillary_clinton_turn_her_back_on_public_education_if_elected_pre/

How can Donald Trump be so wrong (and yet so right about middle class anger)

“With all due respect” to Donald Trump’s supporters, there is absolutely no doubt that Trump is a sociopath, psychopathic, lunatic who would quickly destroy what is left of the fundamental ideals that produced what we nostalgically refer to as The Great United States of America.

That said, for a clue about the Trump juggernaut, one need only read the Washington Post’s article entitled, Charting Trump’s rise through the decline of the middle class.  The Post wrote,

“For anyone trying to understand the emergence of Donald Trump as a force in this pre-election year, the Pew Research Center this past week provided some valuable insight. There’s little doubt that what has happened to America’s middle class has helped to create the climate that has fueled Trump’s sudden rise.”

The entire political dynamic is, of course, more complex than can be explained by a single circumstance but there is a disturbing truism about Trump and the Middle Class that can’t be denied.

Trump taps into the bitterness about what can best be described as people’s hatred of “politics as usual.

It is a form of politics we know well here in Connecticut.

Eight years ago, in April 2008, before Barak Obama upended Hillary Clinton’s campaign for President, I wrote a “controversial” commentary piece in the Hartford Courant that led the editorial section that day and generated a good deal of backlash from the power elite.

At the time I was actually a Hillary Clinton supporter, having had the extraordinary opportunity to sit down with her on two occasions to talk policy and politics.  Then, as now, there are few that can deny she is extraordinarily prepared to serve as our nation’s President.

But in April 2008, in comment that turned out to be surprisingly controversial, candidate Obama observed that “economically frustrated people in small towns are bitter…”

The comment generated harsh attacks from Hillary Clinton, John McCain and the political establishment.

For her part, Clinton blasted Obama saying, “Sen. Obama’s remarks are elitist, and they are out of touch.”  The attacks continued and Obama ended up “walking back” his comments.

As we now know, Obama went on to win and has done a pretty good job keeping the status quo intact.

At the time, I found the whole political debate bizarre considering there were, in fact, lots of middle class people who were angry and bitter about the way the way the rich were getting richer at the Middle Class’s expense and that some of those people, like myself, lived in small towns.

The commentary piece I wrote may be as “timely” today as the day it was published – April 20, 2008.

The editorial was entitled, BITTER? YOU BET!

It read,

OUR POLITICAL LEADERS SEEM UNABLE TO GRASP, LET ALONE SOLVE, THE ECONOMIC PROBLEMS CONFRONTING CONNECTICUT AND THE NATION.

Hey, over here – I’m bitter!

The presidential candidates, political pundits and media have plunged themselves into a fevered debate about Barack Obama’s recent comments observing that some hardworking Americans are bitter.

Although I can’t speak for the small-town people of Pennsylvania, I can certainly report that as far as I’m concerned, I’m bitter and getting more bitter by the day.

In fact, as a middle-income American, I’m not only bitter, I’m angry and disappointed as well. Political pandering, mediocrity and incompetence on the national and state levels are undermining many of the fundamental values that we middle-income Americans hold dear, while threatening the economic vitality and viability of our country and our state and undermining the economic health of many of our families.

The damage from failed leadership is evident throughout the political process and across the political spectrum. Perhaps most clearly of all, it can be seen right here in Connecticut, where our state is losing its competitive edge while our leaders are unable or unwilling to confront the challenges of the 21st century.

Take the Connecticut economy. For the 40 years leading up to 1990, Connecticut’s job growth was impressive, but since then, the complete failure of our state to develop a coherent and effective economic development strategy has had devastating consequences.

From 1989 to 2005, while the nation witnessed job growth of 24 percent, the number of jobs in Connecticut dropped by 0.2 percent, placing us dead last – 50th – in the nation in job growth.

As of late 2006, the number of nonfarm jobs in Connecticut was only about 5,400 more than in 1988. Incredibly, according to the Connecticut Economic Resources Center, “Connecticut is notable as the only state in the nation with negative business growth between 1989 and 2004.”

The state’s failure has damaged families across the economic scale. Over the past 15 years, the income gain for Connecticut’s middle-income families (the middle 20 percent) was barely half the national average, which ranked us 49th worst in the country as measured by the change in average real income.

Although it’s true that some of Connecticut’s wealthiest families have done just fine over the past decade and a half, the level of income inequality between Connecticut’s top- and middle-income families, as well as the income disparity between Connecticut’s top and bottom families, increased more than in any other state in the country.

Rather than step forward with vision and courage, Connecticut has responded to these economic challenges with an extraordinary and mind-numbing failure to make the right policy decisions. Instead of addressing the unfairness of Connecticut’s tax structure, state leaders have made our tax system even more regressive, which in turn has placed an even greater burden on hardworking families.

Lest we forget, the state has raised the gross receipts tax on gasoline four times over the past four years. In addition to the 25 cents per gallon state tax on gasoline, the state charges an additional 7 percent (which equals about 21 cents a gallon).

Then, to add insult to injury, more than half a billion dollars of the revenue from that expanded gross receipts tax that has been raised since 2000 wasn’t even used to upgrade our failing transportation infrastructure, but was dumped into the state’s general fund.

However, it is hard to imagine anything more troubling then the state’s decision to saddle our state, our taxpayers and our children with an extraordinary level of irresponsible and crippling state debt.

Today, Connecticut’s state government faces long-term obligations and indebtedness of more than $54 billion.

Excessive borrowing and the failure to set aside sufficient funds to pay for future costs associated with state employee and teacher pensions, as well as health and retirement benefits, means that a future bill of unimaginable proportions awaits us all. The cost, as of now, is about $15,500 for every man, woman and child in our state.

Imagine that in addition to all of their other troubles, the average middle-income family of four in Connecticut has an “outstanding debt” to the state exceeding $60,000 – on top of their existing annual tax obligations.

Regardless of what Sen. Obama really meant by his recent comments, it strikes me as quite obvious that many families, lower- and middle-income alike, are undoubtedly bitter.

Let’s face it: In addition to the challenges associated with our sub-rate economy, Connecticut families are struggling to pay mortgage and health care bills, while trying to figure out how to pay for the increased costs of gasoline, home heating, electricity and local property taxes (not to mention the problems associated with having to cope with the obscene costs of getting their children a college education).

It’s enough to make anyone bitter.

Jonathan Pelto is a former state representative from Storrs.

AFT, NEA and the Corporate Education Reform oriented DGA

Perhaps we should simply call it a symptom of the corporatization of the modern American labor movement.

Or perhaps we call it a product of the centrifuge that is sucking mainstream American politics into the control of the corporate elite.

But whatever we call it, the premature decision by the American Federation of Teachers to endorse Hillary Clinton for President is yet another example of how the unions representing teachers have been gravitating toward backing those who are perceived to be more acceptable to corporate interests, display a track record of supporting policies that are less than supportive of teachers and the nation’s public schools and/or are defined as the “only” choice because the Republican alternative would be “even worse.”

Truth be told, the issue isn’t even really about Hillary Clinton.  As the presidential nominating process moves forward Hillary Clinton may very well be the “best” choice for the Democrats and the electorate, but the AFT leadership’s decision to endorse her now is an stark indicator of just how far the teacher unions have gone to become part of the get-a-long, go-along status quo.

Rather than requiring that any candidate seeking political support from teachers have a solid progressive record on public education and articulate clear-cut policies and positions that are diametrically opposed to the corporate education reform industry, there is a growing acceptance of candidates who have thrown their support behind the charter school industry and the broader education reform agenda.

Above all else, one thing is certain and that is that the American Federation of Teachers, and for that matter, the National Education Association, has consistently backed Democratic candidates whose records and positions are closely aligned with the so-called “education reformers.”

No where is that clearer than with the massive financial support that the AFT and NEA have given to the Democratic Governors Association, despite the DGA’s outspoken and on-going support for President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s education reform agenda, the Common Core, the associated Common Core testing scheme and the inappropriate requirement that standardized test scores be used as part of the teacher evaluation process.

Over the past five election cycles, the American Federation of Teachers has handed the Democratic Governors Association more than $5.5 million in money that was earned by America’s teachers and given to their union with the intention that the funds would be used to support candidates and promote policies that support teachers and enhance public schools.  The National Education Association has donated $4.8 million more.

But despite teacher unions giving more than $10 million dollars to the DGA over the past decade, the organization whose role it is to elect Democratic governors has remained committed to an education reform agenda that is actively and intentionally undermining teachers, the teaching profession and the nation’s public education system.

Just last summer, as opposition to the Common Core and its associated unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core testing scheme grew, along with the resulting opt-out movement, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, who was Chairman of the Democratic Governors Association at the time, dismissed the legitimate concerns that were being raised as nothing more than the work of right-wing nuts.

As reported in an AP story in June 2014, Democrat Shumlin dismissed the opponents of the Common Core as “crazy” conservatives adding, “The fact that the tea party sees that as a conspiracy is a symptom of their larger problems.”

But of course, opposition to the corporate education reform agenda is not a “right-wing issue,” nor is the push back against the heavy-handed and faulty implementation of the Common Core and the Common Core testing scam.

In fact, it is real world it is a broad spectrum of liberal, moderate and conservative parents, teachers and public school advocates who are leading the effort, all across the United States, to turn back the corporate funded public school privatization and education reform effort.

Although the NEA and AFT were two of the DGA’s four largest donors during recent 2014 election cycle, one would think the DGA went out of its way to remind teachers that while their money was useful, their opinions were not.

Not only did the DGA spend more than $3.8 million to promote the re-election of corporate education reform aficionado Democrat Dannel Malloy to serve a second term as  Connecticut’s governor, but the members of the DGA went on to elect Malloy to serve as the next Chairman of the Democratic Governors Association.

Malloy, who in 2012 became the first sitting Democratic Governor in the nation to propose doing away with tenure for all public school teachers and repealing collective bargaining for teachers in the poorest schools districts is such an eager charter school advocate that he threatened Connecticut’s Democratic controlled General Assembly that at the same time he was proposing to cut funding for public schools, he would not sign any budget bill that did not expand the number of charter schools in the Constitution State.

And the Democrats in the legislature acquiesced to Malloy’s threats.

Malloy also vetoed a bill, passed with bi-partisan support, to require that anyone who serves as Connecticut’s commissioner of education must have appropriate classroom teaching experience.  Malloy whined that requiring the state’s education commissioner to have education experience would cramp his appointment decisions.

Although Connecticut Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy rivals New York Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo when it comes to anti-teacher rhetoric and policies, the harsh reality is that Malloy is nothing more than a continuation of the DGA’s effort to support Democratic governors who are wedded to the corporate education reform agenda.

Teachers, students, parents and public school advocates deserve better from the Democrats and from the unions representing teachers, the very same unions that are pouring millions of dollars into the Democratic Party.

Democracy appears to be a burden for the “modern” American Federation of Teachers

On Friday, fellow public education advocate and commentator Sarah Darer Littman wrote an incredibly powerful piece in CT Newsjunkie entitled “Serving Up A Preferred Candidate,” in which she took issue with the obviously undemocratic process that the American Federation of Teachers was using to endorse a candidate for President of the United States.

Sarah Darer Littman opened her piece with the following observation,

I’ve been commenting privately for years that the unions don’t need the Koch Brothers to destroy them — they are doing a good job of that themselves by working against the interests of their own rank-and-file membership. I speak in particular of AFT President Randi Weingarten, who reportedly pulled in an AFT income of over half a million dollars in 2014, while the average teacher salary in the United States has declined by 2.3 percent since 2000 to $56,689.

Sarah Darer Littman went on to describe what appeared to be the AFT’s presidential endorsement process, which was hardly a model of openness and transparency.

Less than 24 hours later, AFT President Randi Weingarten, a close personal friend of Hillary Clinton and a member of Hillary Clinton’s “Super-PAC,” announced that that AFT was endorsing Hillary Clinton for President.

As Politico reported, Weingarten explained the endorsement by stating,

“Clinton is a tested leader who shares our values, is supported by our members and is prepared for a tough fight on behalf of students, families and communities.”

The harsh reality is that Hillary Clinton has actually been a vocal proponent of the corporate education reform agenda and she has a long way to go before it can be said that she is the best choice for students, parents, public schools or the teachers who make up the American Federation of Teachers.

Before Election Day 2016, Hillary Clinton may very well become the Democratic nominee and the best choice for President, but the AFT’s premature endorsement is actually a disservice to Clinton, and more importantly, to the nation’s teachers and the legacy of the American Federation of Teachers, a union that is steeped in the history of American Democracy.

But Weingarten seems intent on leading a “modern” AFT.

Last summer, Randi Weingarten and the leadership of the American Federation of Teachers – Connecticut Chapter was committed to endorsing Governor Dannel Malloy’s and his effort to get re-elected to the governor’s office despite the fact that Malloy was the only sitting Democratic Governor in the nation to propose doing away with tenure for all public school teachers and unilaterally repealing collective bargaining rights for teachers in the poorest school districts.

However, rather than use the campaign and the endorsement process to focus attention on Malloy’s ugly record on public education and provide him with an opportunity to become a supporter, rather than an opponent, of teachers and the teaching profession, the union leadership throws out their “democratic” endorsement process in order to hand him the union’s support.

Despite being the only pro-public education, pro-teacher candidate in the race for Governor, the AFT-CT refused to allow me to fill out a candidate questionnaire, refused to allow me to speak to the AFT-CT candidate endorsing committee, refused to allow me to address the AFT-CT executive committee and even prohibited me from speaking to the AFL-CIO’s annual endorsing convention, a meeting in which Randi Weingarten was the keynote speaker.

At the time, no one doubted that the leadership of the AFT and AFL-CIO would endorse Dannel Malloy, but prohibiting an open, transparent and democratic process was a sad reminder that being with the perceived winner – at all costs – has become the exclusive goal of some union leaders.

A year later and nothing has changed.

Once again, few doubted Hilary Clinton would get the endorsement from her friend Randi Weingarten and the union she runs.

But rather than ensure that the AFT provided for an open and honest discussion and an endorsement process that ensured that the membership was heard and their opinions taken into consideration, Weingarten pushed through an early endorsement thereby allowing Time Magazine to write;

Hillary Clinton Wins Key Endorsement From American Federation of Teachers –

Hillary Clinton has secured the first major union endorsement of the 2016 Democratic presidential primary.

The American Federation of Teachers, a powerful, 1.6 million-strong national union, voted on Saturday to endorse the former secretary of state, calling Clinton a “champion” for “working families.”

But the truth is the endorsement was from the union’s leadership, not the members. 

Clinton and her historic candidacy would have been better off if the leadership of the AFT had actually engaged in a process to build a true consensus that Hillary Clinton is the best choice for teachers and public education.

And certainly the American Federation for Teachers would have been better off had its leaders approach the endorsement process in a truly democratic way.

Instead the AFT leadership’s actions undermine the extraordinary legacy of the AFT itself.

Begun in 1900, the American Federation of Teachers earned the right to represent more than 1.5 million members because the AFT leadership has always been dedicated to developing a union focused on improving the conditions for teachers and the public schools that educate America’s children.

It has been a difficult journey for the AFT.

Nearly three decades after it was founded, unprecedented efforts to undermine the union and convince teachers not to unionize resulted in the AFT’s membership to drop below 5,000 teachers in the years leading up to the Great Depression.

Even after the Depression and World WW II, the AFT failed to make great strides in the face of opposition to collective bargaining for teachers.

But then came the incredible work of Albert Shanker, Charles Cogen and other fearless labor leaders that changed the course of teachers and their unions.

In the ten years following 1960, a dedication to improving pay and working conditions for teachers and pushing policies that created schools that provided educational opportunities to all children, bolstered the number of AFT members from 65,000 to 400,000

A continued commitment to doing right for teachers and students grew the AFT to over 1 million members by the year 2000.

Shanker and those who built the AFT were never afraid to take controversial positions, fight for real change or push the union’s agenda, but they also understood the importance of including and representing their members in a way that has apparently become foreign to some of today’s union leaders.

Certainly Shanker made his share of mistakes over the years and received more than his fair share of criticism, but he profoundly believed in then notion that collective bargaining and democracy go hand in hand.

Those that know the story behind Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech and The March on Washington in 1963 know of the incredible work that the AFT played in that event and throughout the Civil Rights Movement.

For those that don’t know, while many unions tried to hide on the sidelines, the AFT helped finance that historic March and many of Dr. King efforts.   A glimpse at any photo from that momentous day reveals the AFT’s signs and their pro-education, pro-labor and pro-civil rights message.

Yet another extraordinary event in the AFT’s history was the decision by its affiliate, the UFT of New York City, to take a position, decades before others, to refuse to invest their funds in any bank or company that was associated with South Africa’s apartheid system.

Over the decades the American Federation of Teachers never lost sight of the importance of winning, but perhaps even more importantly, it never backed down for its commitment to stand on principle and promote a union that was dedicated to the democratic rights of its members and the nation.

But the passage of time has brought uncomfortable changes and it would appear that “winning,” however narrowly defined, has become the primary goal.

In Connecticut, the AFT’s notion of winning was re-electing a pro-charter school, anti-public education, anti-teacher candidate, rather than allowing a supportive, third-party candidate to even be considered.

And yesterday, the “modern” AFT endorsed Hillary Clinton without utilizing an open, transparent and democratic process.

In the real world, this approach is often referred to as the notion that “The end justifies the means” and, as we know, it is a concept that has been used to explain away some of the most inappropriate actions in history.

Hilary Clinton could become the best choice for teachers, students and our public schools, but she needs to do far better to earn that support.

And teachers, the members of the AFT and the AFT’s legacy deserve better than they got with the Clinton endorsement.