Don't petition the White House, Use Change.org

Don’t petition the White House, Use Change.org

Nov 18, 2012 Aaron Krager No Comments
Secessionists. I first want to say thank you for finally learning something from history. The last time so many desired to rid themselves of a tyrannical president they declared war on the Union. Thus, your use of a peaceful means through petitions on the White House’s site is commendable. Furthermore, each state now finds themselves represented by a petition and signatures from people possibly...
The Country Moved to the Left Last Night

The Country Moved to the Left Last Night

The whole campaign season did not just depend upon the presidential race that finally came to an end last night. Yes, the country voted clearly to give Barack Obama another four years in the White House. He received more than 50 percent of the vote and won handily in the electoral college. Yet, it is what happened down the ballot that shows the nation’s...
Republicans, Rape, Life, and Control of Women

Republicans, Rape, Life, and Control of Women

Oct 24, 2012 Aaron Krager No Comments
During last night’s Indiana Senate debate the Republican candidate, Richard Mourdock, did more than stick his foot in his mouth. I believe life begins at conception. The only exception I have for to have an abortion is in the case of the life of the mother. I struggled with myself for a long time but I came to realize life is that gift from...
education

$26,600 in Average Student Loan Debt

Oct 22, 2012 Aaron Krager No Comments
$26,600 in Average Student Loan Debt

Student debt jumped five percent for 2011 graduates compared to the debt load of 2010 graduates. It leaves young adults, typically just 22 years old, carrying an average debt of $26,600 before they even begin their first full-time job.

A rough job market is making things worse for them as 37.8 percent of recent graduates are working in jobs that do not require a college degree. These are low wage jobs and also likely to be part-time employment. The predicament leaves recent graduates between a rock and a hard place. Student loan repayment begins six months after graduation… either December or January for many of them.

A caveat about the study:

Cochrane said, “Unfortunately too little data is available to consumers.” TICAS’ report was compiled out of data voluntarily provided by schools, and though they estimate this report covers about 79 percent of bachelor’s degrees earned in 2010 and 2011, many colleges — including many for-profit colleges that target low-income students — chose not to disclose the data.

“Twelve percent of the colleges that reported debt data for 2010 didn’t report for 2011, and virtually no for-profit colleges reported at all. The need for federal collection of key debt information at all colleges could not be more clear,” said report author Matthew Reed in a press release. The report recommends the Department of Education expand the amount and type of data it collects to better illustrate a picture of debt level for students upon graduation.

This could mean the debt load carried by recent graduates is higher than reported. Plus this is an average that can be skewed by outliers on either side of the spectrum.

My student loan debt upon completing undergrad was higher than this and I finished seven years ago. Tack on graduate school and the burden also carried by a partner… a small town home mortgage!

At some point this bubble will burst much like the housing market. High school graduates might also decide to forgo college altogether. The smartest move involves community college and/or state schools but these are feeling the budget crunch on the state and federal level too.

MN School District’s Sick Irony to Combat Bullying

Oct 18, 2012 Aaron Krager No Comments

Today in the world of ignorance and pure stupidity we have the Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota. The school district is now in the process of forming a task force, following the national attention to a string of suicides by students and a federal investigation that revealed the school did not do enough to protect students from bullying.

This anti-bullying task force will have a bully who will try to push hateful rhetoric in the school district’s policy. Brian Lindquist, head of the Parents Action League, received an appointment to the committee despite his promotion of ex-gay therapy and calling AIDS a gay disease. He refers to it as GRID, Gay-Related Immune Disease, a name the illness had long before science had figured it out and one that stigmatizes the LGBT community.

Lindquist refers to LGBT people as though they suffer from a sexual disorder. All because they fall in love with another man or another woman? Lindquist’s rhetoric and actions promote and condone the bullying that has lead the suicides of young LGBT students. Yet, he receives an appointment to a committee charged with curbing the bullying in the school district. This action is beyond stupid. It is negligence towards the 8-year old boy who “acts” a little different than his peers. It is criminal towards the 15-year old who boy growing into a man’s body while his fellow students taunt him with shouts of “fag” and “fairy” and much worse. It is accessory to child abuse as the high school juniors call a girl in their class a “dyke”.

Possibly worse yet, is who the school district did not name to the task force. As Think Progress’ Zack Ford writes:

Truth Wins Out points out that Anoka-Hennepin has made some troubling choices in who it has appointed to its new anti-bullying task force, and who it has rejected. Tammy Aaberg, whose son Justin was one of the students who committed suicide and who has since dedicated her life to anti-bullying efforts, was rejected from the task force. So too was Jefferson Fietek, an anti-bullying trainer who serves as the faculty advisor for the local Gay-Straight Alliance.

Ford notes that the School Board Chair Tom Heidemann is “fully committed” to the task force’s goals but wants “very diverse points of view.” Evidently that means keeping the same structures that promote discrimination, hatred, and bullying of LGBT youth.

Mr. Heidemann, this task force that you helped assemble is meaningless with the inclusion of Brad Lindquist or any other person who promotes the his ideals. You have validated the rhetoric of hate and the actions of bullies. This move tells the LGBT youth in your school district that they have one less safe space in their lives and it comes at a time when the federal court rules the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.

Mr. Heidemann, do you fail to see the sick and twisted irony of this appointment? I guess it is possible that you do not. But, I must wonder if you realize the truth in the words of Martin Luther King Jr. “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Justice here would mean creating a school district that encourages equality for all students and a safe haven for all students to learn.

Mr. Heidemann, students have ended their lives decades early as a result of people like Lindquist. Yet, here you help task him with ending bullying in your schools. You should be ashamed of yourself.

We need teachers, administrators, and staff members that help kids and teenagers find their own identities. We should be working to foster schools that say yes to kids of all walks of life – the jocks, the nerds, goths, LGBT students, the misfits, and of course those cool kids that pressure everyone else to fit in! Growing up can be hard enough. It shouldn’t be a hell that you want to escape from.

I am sure the pressure will mount in the coming days for you Mr. Heidemann. In the meantime please reconsider this decision and create a task force comprised of people who actually want to kindle tolerance and acceptance in your schools. Do the right thing.

Rhee Uses False Quotation to Demonize Teachers

Sep 13, 2012 Aaron Krager 3 Comments

“I will advocate for the kids when they have the money to bankroll my luxurious traveling and speaking schedule,” said Michelle Rhee at a recent meeting with her wealthy Wall Street investors.

Okay, admittedly that quote is made up and Rhee has never made that kind of statement (as far as I can tell). Unfortunately, she does not admit to using a quotation against teachers unions despite its fictional existence.

Rhee told to a group of people that former American Federation of Teachers President Al Shanker once said, “When children start paying teachers unions dues that’s when we will start protecting students.”

The new film “Won’t Back Down” uses the same quotation and paints a picture of corrupt teachers unions. One’s out for themselves and not caring about the students they educate day in and day out.

Here’s the problem. The quote is a complete fake. The Washington Post took down Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s use of the quote a few months ago.

We went to the Library of Congress to search for the alleged quote in the Congressional Record since the free online database only goes back to 1989. Shanker is not on record as making the statement any time between 1979 and 1986. If the union boss uttered those words in 1985, or even a few years before then, as the Meridian Star suggested, it didn’t happen at a congressional hearing.

Shanker did mention something slightly related on Aug. 1, 1985. Here he is talking about trying to weigh in as a union representative on the need for education reforms:

“Typically the school board said this: ‘You’re a union. We’ll be happy to talk with you about the salaries and working conditions teachers want. But we will not talk to you about anything that’s good for children, because you weren’t elected to represent the children. Professional issues are not subject to negotiation.’ ”

Shanker was expressing frustration with the notion that teacher and student interests don’t go hand-in-hand. It’s quite possible that union critics twisted his words 180 degrees to claim that he doesn’t care about the needs of schoolchildren.

Guess what? Teachers unions typically do care about and represent the interests of the children they teach!

The Chicago Teachers Union is currently on strike against Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Public Schools’ Board of Education for reasons that pertain directly to the conditions in which they must teach and students must learn. They fight for a reinstatement of gym, art, and music classes. They want smaller class sizes so they can give more direct attention to students. They want heating and air conditioning in their classrooms so young kids are not passing out from 95 degrees or shivering because it is nearly freezing.

The local media might be focusing on the union’s desire to see laid off teachers brought back but they miss the point of the move. More teachers means more learning opportunities for the students. It means more options in school and more chances to engage. It means more mentors and positive role models while lessening the chances they will just be lost in the crowd.

But the bottom line here is for Rhee. The quotation is false. Stop using, apologize, get on with the facts. Or does that make it too hard for you to sell your corporate education reform agenda?

Who is the greedy one again?

Sep 13, 2012 Aaron Krager 1 Comment

Let’s see. A person decides to dedicate their career to teaching at a livable but below par wage in an inner city school that is underfunded, overcrowded, and plagued by urban poverty and violence.

Another decides to spend their time in the limelight, make millions in the markets, and then become a leading politician in the same city.

Yet, it is the collective group of teachers who are selfish, greedy, and not thinking of the children they spend countless hours trying to educate despite near impossible circumstances?

Progressive Victory, Change.org Drops Corporate Educators

Jun 19, 2012 Aaron Krager No Comments

A victory is a victory. Small or large. We need to celebrate it and build upon each win as we force larger societal change. In just a few days the work of online writers, activists, and Chicago teachers helped hold a progressive ally accountable. Change.org announced they will drop Stand for Children as well as StudentsFirst as clients.

The Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim reports:

The move comes after intense pressure from the labor movement and other progressive allies, who accused the for-profit company of betraying its liberal roots by partnering with Rhee, the former head of Washington, D.C., public schools, and the similarly aligned group Stand for Children headed by education advocate Jonah Edelman. The ouster of StudentsFirst and Stand for Children was confirmed by a Change.org spokesman.

First and foremost, a hearty thank you to Change.org for doing the right thing. The entire point of my writing on this issue was to keep Change.org accountable. The company is a valuable tool of the progressive community and it was unacceptable for them to take money from anti-labor organizations and deceive progressives with petitions that were only aimed at collecting email addresses.

By dropping StudentsFirst and Stand for Children the petition site has adhered to its own client policy and its goal to empower people. These two so-called reform groups actually disseminate a corporate agenda and harm public education. In response to the decision, StudentsFirst spokesperson Nancy Zuckerbrod told Grim:

“Instead of making this decision based on values and principles, they pointed to a number of business and operational factors with their high-value partners who were pressuring them to take this step,” Zuckerbrod said. “We believe this is an unfortunate decision on their part, and we imagine a disconcerting one for progressives — whether they agree with the work we are doing or not — that instead of standing by their principles, Change.org is standing by their pocketbook.

The irony must be lost of Zuckerbrod as it was StudentsFirst who paid Change.org for emails. The petition site actually abandoned their pocketbooks by dropping a major client in StudentsFirst and a possible growing client in Stand for Children. They stood by progressive ideals of supporting worker’s rights, community actions, and listening to a collective voice. It was principals that determined the right move and most certainly not the pocketbook.

Comments on this site (and others) recommended never signing another petition from Change.org. I never suggested this move and I whole-heartedly endorse the idea of signing petitions on Change.org. They have resulted in major victories against big banks, local governments, and many others. I hope to celebrate more of those types of victories just like I celebrate Change.org’s decision today.

So, I say thank you to Change.org for doing the right thing. THANK YOU!

Change.org Denies Wrongdoing Despite Teacher Petition

Jun 18, 2012 Aaron Krager 12 Comments

More than 2,700 people, the overwhelming majority coming from Chicago, signed a petition demanding that Change.org stop supporting corporate education advocacy organizations. Well, Change.org decided to respond and it should not come as a surprise that the social justice oriented site cannot see its own wrongdoing.

A full response can be seen at the end of this post but I want to dissect some of the more egregious parts. Change.org’s Director of Communications, Benjamin Joffe-Walt, acknowledges, in a personal way, that Stand for Children opposes the Chicago Teachers Union’s strike authorization vote and links it to the disgusting tactic of crossing a picket line. So, we’ve set the stage here well. Union busting is truly disgusting. It’s is just one of the results corporate education organizations want to see. There’s more.

We’re an impact-maximizing company, not a profit-maximizing company. And we believe openness maximizes our mission. So our client policy allows sponsored petitions from any organization–even groups that our staff doesn’t agree with, and our campaigns staff would never work to support–so long as they don’t advance discrimination or private corporate benefit.

This is the first false claim in regards to allowing Stand for Children (along with Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst organization) to buy progressives emails under false and misleading petitions. The corporate education agenda is one dedicated to private corporate benefit. We will get back to this.
(more…)

Corporate Educators Butting in on Local School Battle

Jun 18, 2012 Aaron Krager 2 Comments

Outside groups, such as Stand for Children, Education Reform Now and New Schools for Chicago, are placing a big bet on the impending contract negotiations between Chicago Public Schools Board of Education and the Chicago Teachers Union. All three organizations serve as advocacy groups that tend to push for charter schools, merit pay, and stronger testing.

With such innocent sounding names, who can be against them? They want new schools, are looking out for the kids and reform always sounds like a positive thing. But that’s not what why they are beginning to push their influence in Chicago. Both New Schools and Stand for Children held ceremonies for parents that participated in their training program. More than 130 parents are now in the communities advocating for these two organizations. Stand for Children held their sessions at two charter schools run by Academy for Urban School Leadership. CPS Board Chair David Vitale is the former leader of AUSL. The current COO of CPS, Tim Cawley also worked for AUSL prior to joining CPS.

These organizations claim to hold an attitude of students first but the board members public actions deem otherwise. CEO of Exelon Corporation, John Rowe serves as Chairman of New Schools for Chicago. As the CEO of the energy company, Rowe has advocated for lower and lower tax rates despite record profits. The decreased tax revenue has hurt public schools and underfunded other public run programs. Rowe is not alone on the board either.

These are corporate CEO’s, money managers, and venture capitalists. Are we really supposed to believe they have the best interests of community children at heart when they have done little to nothing to prove it when they run billion dollar corporations?

Education Reform Now sent Chicago parents a robo-call to denounce the strike authorization vote taken by the teachers union.

In the “robo-call,” a woman identifying herself as a Local School Council member says that, “Teachers deserve a raise. But it bothers me that the union is taking a strike vote before an independent arbitrator offers a compromise.”

Matthew Blake of Progress Illinois writes more:

CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll says that the district has not coordinated with any outside group in getting their message out to parents.

While that might be the case, the message from CPS and Education Reform Now is identical on the strike authorization vote, they argue that CTU violated the spirit of last year’s landmark state education law by holding the strike authorization while an independent fact finder reviews both sides’ proposals.

In a letter to CPS parents (PDF) dated June 6, CPS Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Brizard writes that the two sides “are in the middle of a contract negotiation process that was established in the recent Illinois Education Reform Legislation and designed specifically to foster negotiation and avoid a strike.”

“Teachers must be allowed to see the final independent compromise proposal before making the decision to authorize a strike,” Brizard added.

An identical message sent only to CPS parents? PURE Parents wonders if CPS shared the phone numbers with the corporate education advocacy organization. It would not be unthinkable as CPS provided grant money to a Pastor that then ended up paying people to appear as protesters in favor of CPS’ agenda.

The connections are there but just a bit off to make a direct accusation. It won’t just be the weather that heats up this summer. Look for more to unfold.

Change.org Promotes Corporate Education Agenda, Undermines Teachers

Jun 15, 2012 Aaron Krager 13 Comments

Change.org, a petition based social advocacy site, promotes organizations focused on corporate education at the expense of progressive values. The company recently ran a petition by Stand for Children – Illinois, an innocuous and misleading name, demanding the Chicago Board of Education and teacher’s union go back to the bargaining table. Harmless enough but the text of the petition reveals the organization’s for-profit and anti-teacher agenda, forcing a Chicago teacher to create a petition against Change.org on Moveon’s Signon petition site.

The letter sent to the board of education and the Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis reads:

400,000 Chicago students could be locked out of Chicago classrooms because contract negotiations are starting to break down, causing a premature strike-authorization vote to occur before anyone knows what is in the contract proposal. We strongly call for all parties to bargain in good faith to reach a new agreement. Don’t hold our students hostage in a negotiation where they have no voice!

These words are the same talking points used by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, calling the vote premature and saying the students are being held hostage. Advocates of so-called “education reform” like to claim neither side looks out for the students’ interests. Meanwhile, CTU’s demands include lowering the student to teacher ratio, programs to educate the whole child, and improving the conditions of schools.

Change.org’s promotion of Stand for Children-Illinois runs counter to the company’s state mission.

We accept sponsored campaigns from organizations fighting for the public good and the common values we hold dear – fairness, equality, and justice. We do not accept sponsored campaigns from organizations that consistently violate these values, support discriminatory policies, or seek private corporate benefit that undermines the common good.

Chicago Public Schools teacher, Jennifer Johnson decided to demand Change.org’s founder and CEO, Ben Rattray, stop promoting anti-labor groups.

I’m a public school teacher who has taught high school History for 9 years in Chicago. I am one of many teachers who are tired of being blamed for everything that is wrong with public schools when our system is underfunded and our efforts under supported. I and other teachers have been trying to honestly negotiate with the school district, but they refuse to negotiate over the actual conditions in our schools. The district refuses to negotiate with teachers to fully provide and staff schools so that students receive basic art and music instruction or a reasonable number school nurses and counselors, playground and libraries. Forty percent of our schools do not have full time art and music programs. Ninety-eight of our schools don’t have playgrounds and 160 schools don’t have libraries at all.

The state of public schools in Chicago is not a result of teachers getting rich. Who goes into teaching expecting to retire a millionaire? The lack of music and art programs comes from state and city budget cuts. The City of Chicago has diverted hundreds of millions of dollars from property taxes into a corporate slush fund for the Mayor. Tax Incremental Financing districts (TIFs) were supposed to help blighted areas but now serve to give millions to profitable companies. But it is the teachers union who is somehow at fault?

Sponsored campaigns (read paid campaigns) provide a great way for organizations to grow and spread their message. Sadly, Stand for Children does not uphold to common values stated by Change.org. Fairness, equality, and justice do not exist in the organization run by Jonah Edelman, who gave a very blunt speech last year.

So our analysis was he’s still going to be in power, and as such the raw politics were that we should tilt toward him, and so we 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, who was expecting because of Bruce Rauner’s leadership … that all our money was going to go to Republicans. 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.

After the election we went back to Madigan, and I confirmed – reviewed the proposal that we had already discussed and I confirmed the support. He said he was supportive. 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. 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.

Edelman readily admits to buying off legislators in order to get a venture capitalist’s (Bruce Rauner) ideas enacted in Illinois. Edelman continues:

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.

Dividing schools and taking away the rights of teachers only disenfranchises students. It takes away the person they interact with the most outside of their own parents! The steady increase in charter schools (who can pick their students) has further depleted resources in deteriorating public school buildings. Politicians want to listen to campaign contributors and lobbyists, instead of investing and trying to improve upon what is already in existence.

Change.org says they do not take any official position and only asks that the organizations are ethical in their practices and policies. Edelman’s blunt admissions show that Stand for Children is anything but ethical.

Stand and other organizations want to promote an education agenda that follows the same ideals of Michelle Rhee and her tenure in D.C. Her success though, falls short of her claims. The achievement gaps she left in D.C. point to failures of her leadership and ideology, not successful reforms.

For Change.org to promote and accept money from organizations like Stand for Children and StudentsFirst flies in the face of it’s own mission statement. The mere presence of these petitions deceives progressives and should be taken down. Sign the petition to stop these kinds of petitions! Yes, a little meta but it does make a difference.

*Full disclosure – I write as a freelancer for Care2.com’s Causes & News site. I have petitioned for the company to drop StudentsFirst and engaged internally my frustrations with their promotion of Rhee’s organization as well.

© Aaron Krager 2008-2014 | Have any questions? Send me an email.

Design