Accentuating the negative — Catalyst promotes astroturf “parent” group

Propaganda is an ugly word, but promoting groups that pretend to represent parents’ concerns while fronting for the corporate education agenda is ugly, too.

Here’s the headline of the latest piece of propaganda that Catalyst recently posted about SAGE, the most recent incarnation of a Rev. Patricia Watkins-led astroturf “parent” group:

“New campaign urges parents to understand the poor quality of their schools”   

You know, we learn in organizing 101 to lead with a positive message — what are you for? Maybe this is why Rev. Watkins is on her second or third version of the same group.

The “Schools Suck Bloc” – U.S. students lag Uzbekistan, etc. 

The first tip-off that this “campaign” is a front for the corporate agenda is that the event was focused on a student report comparing state and U.S. schools with “the rest of the world.” 

This is a favorite exercise of anyone looking to raise the fear factor about our public schools — OMG!!! The U. S. is lagging behind Singapore in science!!! Soon there will be a Singaporean yanking out the U. S. flag from the surface of the moon because our children are just too darned badly educated!!!

To understand how bogus these comparisons are, just take a look at this analysis from the Fair Test web site, or an article by the late Gerald Bracey, “The Evolution of the Schools Suck Bloc,”  in Huffington Post.

bad fairyThe Bad Fairy of School Reform

The second tip-off is Watkins herself, who has become the Bad Fairy of School Reform. She shows up everywhere to spread the educational bad news equivalent of the curse on Sleeping Beauty (“Aurora will prick her finger and die!”). Watkins is not only the head of the new SAGE group (stands for Statewide Action and Grassroots Education) but she also heads the Target Area group and the PRISE group (funded by the Gates Foundation to “educate” parents on the West Side about how bad their schools are and how much they need PRISE ally AUSL to run their schools), convened the short-lived City Wide Education Organizing Campaign, and represents us parents on the Advance Illinois board. Watkins is also a paid staffer for Grow Your Own Teachers.

Same groups, different “campaigns”

The list of Watkins’ fellow leaders at another one of her groups, the United Congress of Religious and Community Organizations, is almost identical to what Catalyst refers to as a “wide variety of groups” making up SAGE, and last year’s list of sponsors of the City Wide Education Organizing Campaign’s Summit. Recycling? or just rebranding?

Teacher bashers

The third hint is the quote from Tim Daly, president of the New Teacher Project, a group founded by teacher-bashing Washington D.C. schools superintendent Michelle Rhee. NTP supports linking teacher pay to test scores. Daly’s quote says it all: “good teachers aren’t being rewarded and bad ones aren’t being punished.”

Maybe we should just get out the stocks and the tar and feathers.

Parents just need business to help us understand

Finally, there’s Watkins’ overt play for business support. According to Catalyst, she believes that “parents need to collaborate with business people and research groups.” I don’t have a problem working with research groups as long as they are not working directly for the business groups, But that’s not easy to sift out.

“I think what’s been missing is the critical voice of the parent,” says Watkins. So, we wonder whyshe works with a group that opposed HB363, the bill (now law) that wanted to bring the parents’ voice into facilities decision making?

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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.