BY COREY PAUL
Jonah Edelman, the chief executive of Stand for Children, a national education reform group based in Portland, has been forced to eat his words after bragging in a June 28 video about outfoxing Illinois teachers' union leaders and legislators earlier this year.
Stand for Children used donations from private equity titans and others to convince Illinois lawmakers roll back seniority rights and strip teachers of their right to strike. "I can tell you there was a palpable sense of concern, if not shock, on the part of the teachers unions in Illinois . . . that we had clear political capability to potentially jam this proposal down their throats," Edelman said during a panel discussion at the Aspen Ideas Festival.
As the video and a transcript of those remarks circulated, critics lambasted Edelman. Last week, the three largest education unions in Illinois issued a statement taking issue with Edelman's remarks. "By falsely claiming to have manipulated people engaged in honest negotiations, Stand for Children's leader jeopardizes the ability of education stakeholders to work collaboratively in the future," the statement said.
Such concerns prompted Edelman to send a lengthy apology to the Chicago education blog that first ran the video for his "arrogant tone" and "us vs. them" attitude. Edelman declined to talk to WW.
Not surprisingly, Edelman's remarks are not playing well with Oregon teachers. OEA executive director Richard Sanders says Stand bears close watching. "The video tells a sad story about the direction of national leadership and a rather cynical view about the way in which one would bring about collaborative chance with respect to education — that it's for sale to the highest bidder," Sanders told WW. "You have to realize in a short period they raised $3.5 million [in Illinois]. That's as good as an example as you'll see anywhere of the role that the corporate interests want to play in reorganization of the education system."
The controversy comes at a time when Stand for Children's Oregon chapter is fresh off a successful legislative session. In Oregon, Stand for Children and its allies faced off against the powerful 48,000 member Oregon Education Association. Instead of primarily pushing for more money for schools—as it did in previous sessions— Stand maneuvered to tie funding requests to bills that call for more teacher training and accountability, and to expand a pilot program tying compensation to performance. Stand for Children also backed bills that will increase access to full-day kindergarten, shrink education service districts and abolish the position of elected state superintendent of education.
Unlike in Illinois, where Stand for Children relied on deep-pocketed supporters to finance its hardball tactics, the group had favorable political winds at its back. Gov. John Kitzhaber entered office pledging education reform. And Stand for Children's formed a common agenda with the Oregon Business Association and the Chalkboard Project, another reform group. Much of that agenda resonated with House Republicans, whose support was necessary in a chamber split 30-30.