Posts Tagged ‘Jonah Edelman’

Mercenaries in the corporate reform propaganda war

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

A mercenary is a person who takes part in an armed conflict, who is not a national or a party to the conflict, and is “motivated to take part in the hostilities essentially by the desire for private gain and, in fact, is promised, by or on behalf of a party to the conflict, material compensation substantially in excess of that promised or paid to combatants of similar ranks and functions in the armed forces of that Party” (Wikipedia)

How spot-on is this as a description of the folks who staff corporate reform movement shops?

Well, our San Francisco PAA member, Caroline Grannan, was just banned for a month from posting comments on a blog that leans toward the corporate reform agenda. Her offense? Attaching the label “mercenary” to newly-hired Obama campaign staffer, Linda Serrato, who used to work for the Parent Revolution after she worked for the Obama 2008 presidential campaign, after she worked for Hilary Clinton’s campaign. The blogger characterized Caroline’s comment as “offensive”:

Here’s what Caroline wrote:

Serrato, like Parent Revolution director Ben Austin (the main force behind the Parent Trigger) and the rest of that crew, are purely hired mercenaries who promote whatever position they’re paid to promote. A lot of the conversation seems to be based on the mistaken assumption that they are heartfelt advocates who infuse their work with their deep belief in the Parent Trigger, wherever they go. That seems naive to me. Once the last paycheck is deposited, Parent Trigger will be forgotten.

Exposing the agenda behind the propaganda

While I might not agree with Caroline about how much we can see into someone else’s heart, I completely agree that it is critically important for us – and for the mainstream media – to loudly, regularly, and publicly call into question the motivation of the corporate reform movement and its agents, because corporate reform is first and foremost a propaganda campaign.

Case in point, the income and expense report I mentioned in my PURE Thoughts blog yesterday showing that the Education Reform Now group, which paid for the anti-union robo calls to Chicago Public Schools parents over the weekend, had an income of $9 million last year (up from $1 million the prior year) and about half of that was spent on a contract with one advertising firm.

Let me go back to the Wikipedia passage I quoted back in late 2010, during the Waiting for Superman furor:

As opposed to impartially providing information, propaganda, in its most basic sense, presents information primarily to influence an audience. Propaganda often presents facts selectively (thus possibly lying by omission) to encourage a particular synthesis, or uses loaded messages to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented. The desired result is a change of the attitude toward the subject in the target audience to further a political agenda. Propaganda can be used as a form of political warfare. (emphasis added)

It is clear from their spending and activities that, for corporate reformers, the war against public education is a propaganda war in service of their political agenda to privatize schools, destroy the teachers unions, and generally take control of education away from the public and put it in the hands of businesses and politicians.

Time to be (on the) offensive

So, if we are to fight this propaganda war, it’s legitimate, it’s necessary, to analyze and expose the political agenda behind the propaganda. That must entail questioning and critiquing what motivates the propaganda mercenaries carrying out the fight. In doing so, we are being “offensive” only in the sense that we are fighting pro-actively to protect democratic public education.

So, is everyone who works for corporate reform just in it for the money, as Caroline suggests?

Could be. Going back to the definition at the top of this article, mercenaries generally earn substantially more money than the local troops. Oh, yeah – we know that’s true. Most grass roots advocates make little or nothing, even as hired staff.

But I suspect that most mercenaries actually like the battle itself and have battle skills that they are proud to display (think Jonah Edelman at Aspen last year). Each battle builds the resume – but then that’s about money, too.

The other characteristic of mercenaries is that they are “not nationals” – i.e. “not from around here.” They come in for the job, they are not people who live and work and raise families in the place where they drop in to carry out their boss’s agenda. So, they are almost the definition of astroturf. No roots, just artificial coverage that can be picked up and moved somewhere else.

And that’s a pretty good way to tell the mercenaries from the real advocates.

New fact sheet: Parents, here’s the truth about Stand for Children!

Friday, April 13th, 2012

Tomorrow is Stand for Children’s “kickoff” event at Roosevelt University, but you would have a hard time finding out where and when it is from their web site, which says that registration is “closed.”

Is the event – which starts at 10 am Saturday April 14 at Roosevelt University, 430 S Michigan Avenue – just so wildly popular that they had to stop taking new registrants? Fire code concerns, maybe? Or are they perhaps hiding, afraid of infiltration by actual parents, actual teachers or actual students who support our public schools and are finding out just what Stand is really up to?

The event is also part of a local college campus recruiting drive for another front group, Students for Education Reform, an echo of the corporate reform group Democrats for Education Reform. I wrote about that yesterday.

It’s important for people to know the truth about SFC and its clones.

Here’s a new one-page PURE fact sheet on SFC (downloadable pdf here):

Stand for Children is a wolf in sheep’s clothing – even worse, SFC stole the sheep’s clothing from a legitimate Oregon parent group that used to fight for good things like more school funding, health care and smaller class size.

What does Stand stand for now?

  • Closing neighborhood schools
  • Expanding charter schools
  • Evaluating teachers using unreliable standardized test scores
  • Replacing teachers with “online learning”

Who does Stand really speak for? Not parents. Not children.

SFC is a front for corporations, hedge funders and investment bankers who have thrown their wealth behind a national campaign to destroy teachers unions and privatize our public schools. Bill Gates, the Walmart family, New Profit venture fund, J P Morgan Chase, etc. have donated millions to SFC over the past 2-3 years, allowing it to expand to Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Texas and Washington.

What does Stand do? Their main focus is on pushing state legislation to support their goals of privatization and union busting. In their first year in Illinois, they raised $3 million to donate to select state candidates and hire 11 lobbyists to push Senate Bill 7 which allowed the Chicago Public Schools to have the final word on any teacher issue where the union disagreed.

Their leader, Jonah Edelman, later boasted publicly that they were able to “jam this proposal down their throats.”

Warning to parents from a former SFC member:

“My fear is that unwitting parents and community members will join Stand because they want to rectify the problems they see every day in their children’s public schools, such as underfunding, lack of arts programs, large class sizes and cuts to the school year, only to find that they get roped into very different goals. . . I worry we will lose a truly democratic discussion and action on education weighted in favor of corporate reforms.”

Parents Across America member and former Oregon Stand member Susan Barrett

For more information, take a look at: blog posts by former Oregon SFC members Susan Barrett and Tom Olsen, and transcription of Jonah Edelman’s Aspen Institute speech boasting about SFC’s Illinois state legislature conniving. Also, Rethinking Schools, Fall 2011 issue, “For or Against Children,” by Ken Libby and Adam Sanchez.

$tand for Children calling 50,000 Chicagoans tonight

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

This is the kind of thing a group can do when it’s getting big bucks from Bill Gates, WalMart and other folks who are working to destroy public education.

Saying that they just want to hear from parents, and “help” them, the astroturf group Stand for Children has paid for a radio ad blitz supporting school turnarounds, and follows that up tonight with a telephone blitz on the South and West sides of the city. Will you be one of the 50,000 they call?

If you do get a call, you may want to ask them about what happened to the SFC chapter in Portland, Oregon (where the group originated) and why several active parent members felt the need to resign. Here’s what one former SFC member said:

Parents and community members most likely do not know that SFC now has private equity investors and venture philanthropists on the board, making decisions for the organization as it grows new chapters. And, grow they will, as they have announced the need to hire a National Expansion Manager, having raised over a million dollars in funding from the Walton Foundation, and over three million dollars from the Gates Foundation. My fear is that unwitting parents and community members will join SFC because they want to rectify the problems they see every day in their children’s public schools, such as underfunding, lack of arts programs, large class sizes, and cuts to the school year, only to find that they get roped into very different goals.

Or, you might want to ask them about disgraced national SFC leader, Jonah Edelman, who admitted last year that SFC, “in lockstep with Advance Illinois,” manipulated the Illinois state legislature to pass SB7, a bill which essentially gutted teacher union rights in Chicago. On a public panel last summer,  Edelman said:

“we interviewed 36 candidates in targeted (Illinois legislative) races. … I’m being quite blunt here. The individual candidates were essentially a vehicle to execute a political objective, which was to tilt toward Madigan. The press never picked up on it…. (The SFC/AI proposal) most importantly called for the reform of collective bargaining throughout the state, essentially proposing that school boards would be able to decide any disputed issue and impasse….out of nowhere, there were hearings on our proposal. In addition, we hired 11 lobbyists, including four of the absolute best insiders, and seven of the best minority lobbyists – preventing the unions from hiring them. We enlisted a state public affairs firm. We had tens of thousands of supporters. … We raised $3 million for our political action committee. That’s more money than either of the unions have in their political action committees. And so essentially what we did in a very short period of time was shift the balance of power….we had clear political capability to potentially jam this proposal down their throats the same way pension reform had been jammed down their throats six months earlier.

Now, how is this group planning to listen to and help parents???

Portland struggles with Stand for Children scandal – Colorado braces for same

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

For a small city, Portland OR is dealing with a big dust-up – the Stand for Children scandal. SFC originated in Portland, and was respected and popular among parents as a strong advocate for fair school funding and other important school supports until it was hijacked by the corporate school “reformers.”

Yesterday, the Portland Tribune reported on the coincidental timing of an essay by disaffected SFC-Portland parent leader Susan Barrett, which was posted first on the Parents Across America web site and then on the Washington Post Answer Sheet blog, and on SFC CEO Jonah Edelman’s recent bout with foot-in-mouth disease, boasting about how he and SFC bought off several Illinois legislators and gained influence with Speaker Mike Madigan in order to shove SB7 “down the throats” of the teachers unions.

The Portland paper writes:

Since the controversy ignited around Stand and Edelman, other dissatisfied organization volunteers have come forward. “The organization totally changed from a true grass-roots volunteer decision making group to one that now pushes a national reform agenda funded by corporate and Wall Street millionaires,” semi-retired educator and Canby education consultant Tom Olson told the Portland Tribune this week. “The central plan now is communicating that public schools don’t need additional money to help kids succeed – only more “reforms” that are thinly veiled union bashing.”

Here’s one of the many responses to Susan’s essay on the PAA web site:

My experience, and those of many of us in Massachusetts, parallels yours closely, Susan. We, too, had some solid grassroots work with Stand prior to Stand selling out to the corporate agenda in the last two years. We were blindsided, it would be fair to say, by the sudden reversal to an agenda that we were told we would endorse, like it or not. In fact, it was endorsed in our names at the state level. It became particularly clear to me exactly what Stand thought of local members when I was told by a Stand staffer at a public hearing at the State House that I “could not” identify myself as a member of Stand for Children and testify contrary to their position.

The graphic you see above is more proof that SFC is still expanding despite the bad publicity exposing their true intentions to destroy public education.

The background says One Chance Colorado. The fine print (in white on the graphic) says: Advocacy Campaign Overview – July 11, 2011 – A coalition of 501c3 organizations including Stand for Children Colorado, Colorado Children’s Campaign, Colorado Succeeds/BizCare, Democrats for Education Reform-Colorado, Get Smart Schools, Education Reform Now, and A+ Denver, will lead a (sic) advocacy campaign to increase public support for education reform initiatives. The campaign will launch July 26, 2011.

We're hearing from Colorado allies that SFC is using the same astroturf tactics there that they have in Illinois and elsewhere - partnering with other groups that receive big corporate funding to push a corporate-reform agenda of union-busting and teacher-bashing legislation, while frustrating real change at the school level.

Here’s what they’re planning to do in CO under that “One Chance Colorado” threat:

Advocacy Campaign Overview
July 11, 2011

Core Messages

Central Frame: Every child has only one chance at get a great K-12 education. That’s why we need to improve Colorado’s schools now.

Problem: Half of Denver’s children are reading below grade level and half won’t graduate from high school. For too many kids in Colorado, the chance to succeed in school and in life is never even in sight.

Solution: Every child in every neighborhood deserves a school with great teachers and leaders who will renew focus on the fundamentals of reading, writing and math – today, not tomorrow.

We get there by…
• calling for accountability at every level, from teachers to principals to politicians to parents.
• recruiting and supporting great teachers, and replacing consistently ineffective ones.
• investing in good schools – neighborhood and charter – and rapidly addressing underperforming schools.
• setting aside adult politics and putting children first.

One Chance – Colorado will include paid media, earned media, social engagement, and field organizing components.

Paid Media: TV, online and outdoor (billboards, bus stops)
Earned Media: media relations activity to generate coverage toward the overall campaign objective
Social Engagement: campaign website, email marketing, and Facebook/Twitter outreach
Field Organizing: at least one rally; other activity as feasible


The One Chance-Colorado Campaign is fully funded and the materials have been developed. But, the campaign coalition is open to 501(c)(3) organizations that support the need to reform Colorado’s public education system in order to expand opportunity for all children. For more information, please contact:

Lindsay Neil, Executive Director
Stand for Children Colorado | 303.725.3677

So, keep your eyes open, America – you may see SFC heading your way with their “core message” and their “full funding”- or there may be another hijack of a formerly respectable local organization. These school pirates have too much money to give up – so get your whack-a-mole paddle ready!

Jonah Edelman’s Illinois Way – model for the nation?

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

UPDATE: Story carried in both the Trib and Sun-Times this am…


We’ve just convicted yet another Illinois governor. This one was a Democrat. The last one was a Republican. We need to realize that it’s not about political party these days, it’s only – and completely – about who’s buying.

Makes the Tea Partiers seem like they’re on to something, doesn’t it?

In case you’re not already convinced that our state legislature is a disaster, or you think Blagojevich was just an aberration. read this transcript prepared by Parents Across America’s Caroline Grannan of comments national Stand for Children leader Jonah Edelman made at a recent Aspen Institute conference about their “victory” over teachers/unions in SB7. Here are some quotes:

Jonah on SFC’s dropping $600 million on Illinois state legislative races in the fall of 2010:

(W)e interviewed 36 candidates in targeted races. … I’m being quite blunt here. The individual candidates were essentially a vehicle to execute a political objective, which was to tilt toward Madigan. The press never picked up on it. We endorsed nine individuals – and six of them were Democrats, three Republicans – and tilted our money toward Madigan… That was really an show of – indication to him that we could be a new partner to take the place of the Illinois Federation of Teachers. That was the point. Luckily, it never got covered that way. That wouldn’t have worked well in Illinois – Madigan is not particularly well liked. And it did work.

Jonah on Madigan rushing to appoint a new committee and setting up hearings just for SFC and Advance Illinois:

The next day he created an Education Reform Commission and his political director called to ask for our suggestions who should be on it. And so in Aurora, Ill., in December, out of nowhere, there were hearings on our proposal.

Jonah on his political acumen:

We hired 11 lobbyists, including four of the absolute best insiders, and seven of the best minority lobbyists – preventing the unions from hiring them.

Speaker Madigan had changed allegiance … we had clear political capability to potentially jam this proposal down (the unions’) throats

Jonah on the nature of the relationship between the “independent, nonpartisan” Advance Illinos group and the “grass roots” Stand for Children group:

And so over the course of three months, with Advance Illinois taking the negotiating lead … and Advance and Stand working in lockstep – and that unity’s so important, that partnership … (the unions) essentially gave away every single provision related to teacher effectiveness that we had proposed.

Jonah on the importance of friends and family:

Jo Anderson, the former head of the Illinois Education Association, now works with Arne Duncan in the Department of Education, and his son Josh is the head of Teach for America in Chicago.

Jonah on Rahm Emanuel’s deeply held beliefs about education:

So in the intervening time, Rahm Emanuel was elected mayor … and he strongly supports our proposal. Jim [apparently Crown] … talked about the talking point that we made up and he [Emanuel] repeated about a thousand times, probably, on the campaign trail about the Houston kids going to school four years more than the Chicago kids.

To our surprise and with Rahm Emanuel’s involvement behind the scenes, we were able to split the IEA from the Chicago Teachers Union.

Jonah on the “model” process by which all parties were at the table, leading to a law that is so powerful in its fairness and expression of collaborative policy making that it is no doubt already raising test scores across the state:

We’d done our homework – we knew that the highest threshold of any bargaining unit that had voted one way or the other on a collective bargaining agreement on a contract vote was 48.3%. The threshold that we were arguing for was three-quarters, so in effect they couldn’t have the ability to strike even though the right was maintained. And so in the endgame, the Chicago Teachers Union took that deal, misunderstanding, probably not knowing the statistics about voting history – and the length of day and year was no longer bargainable in Chicago.

The unions cannot strike in Chicago. They will never be able to muster the 75% threshold necessary to strike. And the whole framework for discussing impact – you know, what compensation is necessary – is set up through the fine print that we approved to ensure that the fact-finding recommendations, which are nonbinding, will favor what we would consider to be common sense.

Jonah on the promise that this piece of (^@& will be coming to your state soon:

We’ve been happy to dole out plenty of credit and now it makes it hard for folks leading unions in other states to say these types of reforms are terrible because their colleagues in Illinois just said these are great. So our hope and our expectation is to use this as a catalyst to very quickly make similar changes in other very entrenched states.

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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.