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DNC Emails Published by WikiLeaks Show Links to AFT and Common-Core Anxiety

By Andrew Ujifusa — July 26, 2016 3 min read
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By now you’ve probably heard about the trove of emails to and from the Democratic National Committee that were released last week by WikiLeaks, an organization that publishes leaked documents to expose what it says is corruption and malfeasance by governments, as well as corporations.

So what if any links do these emails reveal between the DNC and teachers’ unions in particular?

  • The DNC communications team appears to be very sensitive about the Common Core State Standards and the issue of local and federal control over schools.

In a May 3 email expressing frustrations about the content of a video emphasizing that the “GOP doesn’t appreciate teachers,” Eric Walker, a deputy communications director at the DNC, wrote the following:

“A) Common core is a political third rail that we should not be touching at all. Get rid of it. B) Most people want local control of education so having [then-GOP presidential candidate Ted] Cruz and [now-GOP nominee Donald] Trump saying it on a DNC video is counterproductive. Would get rid of any references to that.”

Presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton supports the common core, as do two of her big backers, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. It’s taken a political beating on the national stage from both Democrats and Republicans, although most states that originally adopted the standards have stuck by them.

  • A series of emails on May 4 deal with talking points being crafted by the DNC for a conference call with reporters the next day. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and U.S. Rep Mark Pocan, D-Wis., were slated to speak about how GOP nominee Donald Trump’s rhetoric had contaminated schools.

Walker suggested having Weingarten speak before Pocan on the call, writing, “she’s the bigger draw.”

Eventually, the DNC was told that the AFT had signed off on the talking points.

  • On May 5, John Ost, AFT’s political director, wrote the following in an email to the DNC: “RW [Weingarten] is doing some press today re: Trump. We’ve been working with TJ [Helmstetter, who also works in DNC communications]. Question: who can we connect with to get more background/research re: Trump? We want to shift gears and spend more time educating our members.”

Ost subsequently wrote to [DNC communications director Luis] Miranda that his group would take that background and research and “repurpose into AFT branded mailers/flyers.”

  • Miranda responded in an email with the heading of “Donald Trump - Bad for Education, Labor & Healthcare” about Trump’s desire not to work with unions, eliminate the U.S. Department of Education, and (ironically enough, given AFT’s skepticism of how standardized tests are often used) his dislike for “mindless standardized tests.”

We noted in our blog post about Weingarten’s comments, published the same day, that the DNC had set up the call. (Weingarten did in fact end up speaking before Pocan.)

Other emails deal with:

  • A press call with the New Jersey Education Association in which the DNC appears to try to get a “bigger surrogate” on the call than someone from the AFT (which had not responded to the DNC about the matter) such as New Jersey Sens. Cory Booker or Robert Menendez.
  • What an email calls a “dangerous Trump-Christie education agenda,” referring to New Jersey GOP Gov. Chris Christie, who once said that teachers’ unions deserve a punch in the face.

‘On a Regular Basis’

In response to our inquiries about these emails, AFT spokesman Evan Sutton said such coordination between the union and the DNC is nothing out of the ordinary.

“We request information and research from allies on a regular basis, including the DNC, when we believe they may have materials that can be helpful to us in promoting our goals,” Sutton wrote in an email.

And as for common core, Sutton said that while the AFT is on record supporting its goals, he also noted that the union has expressed concerns about its rollout and its links to “high-stakes” standardized testing.

So how much of this work between the DNC and the AFT is surprising? We’ll leave it up to individual readers to decide for themselves. On that note, you can go to the WikiLeaks site for yourself and see if you can dig up anything education-related in the batch of DNC emails.

We also asked the DNC and the Donald Trump campaign about these emails, and we’ll update this post if we get a response.

Photo: AFT President Randi Weingarten speaks in Detroit in 2012. Andre J. Jackson/Detroit Free Press

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