Monday, September 03, 2012

Mayor Kevin Johnson and the next anti teacher union film

On Monday afternoon - Labor Day _ , a Hollywood film called "Won't Back Down" -- will be shown   in Charlotte, Los Angeles Mayor Villariagosa  is scheduled to speak on a panel at the theater, joined by Michelle Rhee of StudentsFirst, Ben Austin of Parent Revolution, and Sacramento, Calif., Mayor Kevin Johnson. Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker will also speak at the event.
"Won't Back Down" stars Maggie Gyllenhaal as a single mother determined to get her daughter out of their failing public elementary school and Davis as a teacher at the school who joins with her to gather parent and teacher signatures behind a It's a movie about the push for school choice, a movement that has been gaining momentum around the country for the past several years. It is also a film about teachers' unions, who are one of the Democratic Party's biggest and most loyal sources of political contributions.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the nation's second largest teachers' union, blasted the film in an open letter this past week, calling it "divisive" and saying it "resorts to falsehoods and anti-union stereotypes."
"The film contains several egregiously misleading scenes with the sole purpose of undermining people's confidence in public education, public school teachers and teachers unions," Weingarten wrote.

But the film is critical of unions for resisting reforms like greater teacher accountability and more school choice. It hits on some of the same themes as "Waiting for Superman," a documentary by Davis Guggenheim (who also made the 17-minute pro-Obama film "The Road We've Traveled" and Al Gore's global warming film, "An Inconvenient Truth").
While "Waiting for Superman" was a well-done and well-received documentary, it packed nothing like the emotional wallop of "Won't Back Down." Even Weingarten said that "one can't help but be moved by the characters and story."
"Waiting for Superman" did not make a broad cultural impact, although many of those who saw and were influenced by it were undoubtedly among the political and media classes. Now, "Won't Back Down" is poised to land on multiplex screens across the country. It won't be just journalists, activists and highly involved parents seeing it. It will be teens and 20-somethings, adults of all ages and social and economic strata, many of whom have given little thought to education policy.
Ten days later, however, Weingarten released her letter slamming the movie and targeting the film's studio, Walden Media (which also produced "Waiting for Superman"), and its owner, Philip Anschutz, who she said has "invested millions in anti-gay and extreme religious-right organizations."
But it is hard to paint the school reform movement as a right-wing conspiracy. Support for taking on teachers' unions is growing in Democratic and liberal circles. The best example of this might be Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a former organizer with United Teachers Los Angeles who is in favor of greater school choice and teacher accountability.
Villaraigosa is the current president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and in June, with the support of several high-profile Democratic mayors, that group included support for "parent trigger" legislation in its platform. Such laws allow parents to take over a failing school if they meet certain requirements, usually having to do with acquiring a sufficient number of signatures from other parents. In a majority-Latino community outside Los Angeles, a fight between the school board and parents, who are trying to use California's parent trigger legislation to overhaul their local public school, has become a national story.
Villaraigosa also happens to be chairman of the Democratic convention this year. After "Won't Back Down" is shown Monday in Charlotte, he is scheduled to speak on a panel at the theater, joined by Michelle Rhee of StudentsFirst, Ben Austin of Parent Revolution, and Sacramento, Calif., Mayor Kevin Johnson. Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker will also speak at the event.
Jon Ward. Huffington Post.  Edited.
update. According to reports in the Washington Times, Michelle Rhee's major comment was that teachers needed multiple voices.  She argued that the teachers' unions dominated discussion of school reform.
This is like the Republican campaign myths.  Nothing could be further from the truth. If you monitor the education press and blogs, you will find a wide diversity of opinions shared.  If you monitor press releases, press statements, and media appearances, you will not find union domination.  This statement is primarily a self serving, self promotional statement to get more invitations for Michelle Rhee to make appearances ( often funded). If you want to see how this works look at Institute for Democracy and Education at the link  on the left.
Reviews of the film will be posted when the film opens. 
by Duane Campbell
As corporate domination of the school reform debate  grows, non corporate institutions like schools and unions  lose their access to the media  and  to the public  conversation about schools and  democracy as well as  multiculturalism.   Neoliberalism  takes money from public  systems, such as public schools, and transfers that money to private consumption thus   public institutions lose resources.   Developing democracy requires one form of education, pursuing neoliberalism requires a very different form of education.  And, at present, clearly the neo-liberal agenda is winning  particularly as advanced in law in the No Child Left Behind act  of  2001 and Race to the Top in 2008.
Neo liberal reformers blamed the teachers unions for their own  failure to improve  public schools.  In one sense they are correct.  Unions have organized and used political power to limit the expansion of corporate control over schooling.  Unions have defended the traditions of Thomas Jefferson, John Dewey and others that public schooling should prepare young people for democratic life.
   Teachers’ voices are most often expressed through their unions. More than 83 percent of teachers in the United States are represented by unions (National Education Association, 2003). Teachers responded to the growth of educational management and bureaucracy in the 1960s and 1970s by forming unions. In the intervening decades, unions have become increasingly politically active, using their organization and money to protect their members’ interests such as in the state budget fights.  Organized teachers’ unions have often protected school funding in the midst of public fiscal crises. Serious effort at school reform must engage teachers through their unions, and teachers interested in school reform need to enlist their unions’ aid. Unions have the organization and political capital that can assist or defeat efforts to democratize public schools.

Teachers increasingly  work in an environment that is often neither professional,  free nor democratic. Particularly since NCLB and assessment based reform, teachers’  decision making has  been restricted.  Unions provide an important  limit to  the arbitrary power of administrators.

     Teachers in low-performing schools are too often treated as unworthy people—a failure.  They are  blamed  for the failures of the schools to educate,  in spite of the economic/social structures that leads to school failure.
   Teachers are frequently reminded of their low status by conflicts with students, orders from administrators, and stories in the press.  Compliance is demanded to a long list of rules, teach this material, give this test, monitor lunch counts, supervise the playground. Unions assist teachers with these matters. Too often the buildings are dismal, rundown, inadequate. The bathrooms are dismal, supplies are lacking, and most of all, time is lacking. Most teachers know how to teach much better than they presently perform, but they need time to prepare, to plan, and to support students. 

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