Teaching Profession

AFT Criticized for Parent-Trigger Presentation

By Stephen Sawchuk — August 04, 2011 2 min read
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The American Federation of Teachers has landed in a bit of hot water over a presentation, given by a regional affiliate lobbyist at its recent TEACH professional-development conference, that details how the Connecticut chapter “diffused” a “parent trigger” legislative proposal in that state.

Parent triggers, as you know, generally would allow parents to sign a petition to close and reconstitute a struggling school under new governance, such as a charter school.

The Powerpoint presentation was highlighted by union critic RiShawn Biddle at DropoutNation.

The presentation characterizes the parent-trigger bill as a sub rosa attempt by charter school supporters to create more such schools, references attempts to “kill” the bill, and ultimately details how the AFT Connecticut chapter reached out to lawmakers to craft an alternative proposal. The final version of the bill created advisory bodies of parents at schools, but does not give them any actual say in school governance.

AFT national has distanced itself from the presentation, removing it and other documents from its website “because they do not represent AFT’s position,” according to a note now in its place. The union also issued a statement saying that the presentation didn’t reflect its work in the state:

The truth is that we created an avenue for parents in Connecticut to become involved in their children's school. As a result, parent councils are being formed all over the state, which will lead to better schools. We are proud that we were involved in passing this law and believe it will serve as a model for other states."

The situation is getting some back and forth on The Wall Street Journal‘s editorlal page, which accuses the union of blocking a form of school choice.

For its part, the union appears to be concerned that this move could detract from the message of collaboration that its leader, Randi Weingarten, has espoused; its statement makes a point of promoting the end result as a positive, pro-active step for parent engagement, not a reactive one.

While AFT might not have liked the tenor of this presentation, it’s hard to believe that it was unaware of the details in Connecticut. After all, the presentation occurred at a session titled “Damaging Legislative Proposals and What You Can Do to Fight Them.”

Second, although I can’t find evidence that the AFT has publicly opposed the broad concept of a parent trigger, the union has long had a complicated relationship with charters. It doesn’t oppose them outright—after all, it runs a few of its own and has organized others—but in general, it says that they should be unionized and guarantee employees due process, which was not the case in the Connecticut legislation.

UPDATED, Aug. 8, 4:35 p.m.: A source from California reminded me that the California Federation of Teachers did publicly oppose that state’s parent-trigger law. In fact, that union’s president, Marty Hittelman, made waves after referring to the legislation as empowering “lynch mobs.”

So it shouldn’t come as huge surprise that the Connecticut affiliate would seek to refashion the parent-input mechanism. I am not picking on AFT by making this point. Groups on many sides of our education reform debates go about their lobbying work in similar ways. As we like to say in Washington, this is how the legislative sausage is made.

The bottom line is that all of this doesn’t really tell us much of anything new about the union’s priorities or positions.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.