The Center for American Progress is "a left-leaning think tank long associated with the Obama Administration," according to Stephen Sawchuk at EdWeek. That's fair.
But I might describe CAP a bit differently. I might call them an intellectually dishonest bunch of shills for the reformster movement. I might the call them one more group that ardently churns out anti-public education material under a thin shell of legitimacy, a group that is devoted to hiding the privatizer agenda under a bad costume of progressive causes. And if you want to read some of the other things I've called them, you can look here, here, here, and here.
What I would not call them is "a fit ally for any teacher union, large or small."
And yet, somehow, Wednesday saw the release of a joint statement between CAP and the AFT.
Sawchuk called it "a sort of compromise." Lyndsey Layton in the Washington Post called it "a hybrid position." At Living in Dialogue, Mary Porter calls it "terms of final surrender." My own theory is that the high level of stress and pressure created by the anticipated rewrite of ESEA has created cracks in the time-space continuum leading our universe's AFT to be switched with the AFT from some other universe where the AFT neither speaks to nor represents the interests of the teachers who belong to it.
What does this statement of shared principles contain?
Well, first, it assures us that it is not concerned with all of AFT/CAP's ideas for ESEA reauthorization-- just the ones dealing with accountability, the use of tests, and the "need to elevate the teaching profession." So, what do these two groups now apparently agree on?
First, they believe that federal policy should be used "to address funding inequities, to improve teaching and learning, and to support and elevate the teaching profession." Well, that's certainly broad and fuzzy. However, for the life of me, I cannot imagine how the federal government can improve teaching. Seriously-- exactly what specific action could Congress take to improve the profession, other than to get the hell out of the way? And as always, I'm wondering why we get this crap-- does Congress ever decide that they must improve doctoring or lawyering or welding or opera singing?
We propose that in order to inform instruction, to provide parents and communities information about whether students are working at grade level or are struggling, and to allow teachers to diagnose and help their students, the federal requirement for annual statewide testing in grades 3-8 and once in high school should be maintained.
Wow! I mean, just, wow! Not only has AFT decided to reverse itself on opposing testing, but they're ready to go on record agreeing that big standardized tests can do magical things like diagnose student issues. On what planet will PARCC or SBA "inform instruction" ever?
AFT/AP also loves them some accountability based on multiple measures. Well, that seems like a-- wait!! WHAT??!!
While these systems should include assessment results...
So AFT now supports VAM? Randi "VAM is a sham" Weingarten says, "Sure, we'd like a little
sham in our accountability"?!!
AFT now agrees that the fundamental principles of corporate reform-- evaluation through standardized testing results. The quality, validity, use of these tests-- we're not even going to push back on this a little? Well, at least AFT is going to stand up for public education, right?
All accountability systems should be designed to help all students succeed and to identify and target interventions to schools with large achievement gaps or large numbers of low-performing, disadvantaged groups.
So-- the system preferred in many states of targeting schools for turnaround or takeover or both, the whole reformster foundational principle of "Label schools failing and then target them to be the leading edge of market penetration by privatizers"-- AFT is signing off on that, too?
Next: States should fund schools properly. Well, thank goodness AFT still believes that, anyway.
AFT/CAP believes that ESEA should be used to make it harder to get into the teaching profession, because that will make student outcomes better and give us a national economic edge. Because, if anybody should be controlling what it takes to get into teaching, it should be the federal government. Certainly not teachers.
Oh, but they have more details. AFT/CAP wants a $4 Billion investment in Title II, Part A "focused on creating incentives for states and districts to invest in systemic reforms aimed at elevating the teaching profession and supporting educators." That money should be used to bribe the states into doing some of the following Swell Things taken from both the union and reformsters playbook (eg pay teachers more, and make licensure harder).
I confess to being absolutely gobsmackedly stumped about what AFT is thinking. As far as the actual content of the document, Diane Ravitch hits it pretty well:
The mandate for annual testing in grades 3-8 should not remain in
federal law. Even though the signatories to this agreement say the
scores should not be used for accountability, habits die hard. They will
be, even though doing so is inaccurate and invalid. There really is no
point to testing every child every year unless you want to know whether
they have mastered the art of test-taking. Grade span testing
(elementary, junior high school, and high school) should be quite
enough. No high-performing nation tests every child every year from 3-8.
Unless you happen to be a shareholder in Pearson or McGraw-Hill, it is a
massive waste of children’s time and taxpayer’s money.
And I also like Mary Porter's take on the compromise
The PEOPLE don’t want a “compromise” at all. They want to be rid of
high-stress mass testing, and rid of the forces that use testing to put a
corporate heel on their third grader’s neck, period. They don’t want
annual testing for any reason at all. They don’t want their child held
accountable to Pearson or McGraw Hill or to Bill Gates or Jeb Bush or
Barack Obama every year, or every third year, or AT ALL.
This document is truly puzzling. Why would AFT feel the need to negotiate a compromise position about hypothetical legislation with people who won't be helping to write it? What possible use is there to AFT in compromising away so many fundamental principles for no purpose whatsoever? It's not like they can say, "Well, at least we got X or Y out of this." They got nothing. Nothing. They simply provided the public spectacle of reversing themselves and selling out their members.
We know that the Big Standardized Test accomplishes nothing for actual education. We know it serves no useful purpose in the classroom. We know that it generates numbers that are a favorite tool of reformsters to use in the offensive against public education. We know it robs time from our students and gives them nothing in return but stress and grief. We know that it will create results that will be used against those of us who work in public education.
Why would AFT sign off on this document? Why would they team up with CAP? Should I watch for an AFT/DFER joint conference, or an AFT lovefest at the next national charter school operators convention?
I'm not a member of AFT. I wish I were. Because if I were a member of AFT, I could now quit.