For or Against Children? The problematic history of stand for children

Published on Rethinking School, by Ken Libby and Adam Sanchez, Fall 2011.

Last October, a friend called with a question: “What do you know about Stand for Children?” The advocacy organization, based in our hometown of Portland, Ore., was expanding into his state of Illinois, and he hoped to glean some insight into the kinds of reforms the group would support. Just two months later, Stand’s Illinois branch had amassed more than $3 million in a political action committee and unveiled an aggressive teacher evaluation bill. 

“Have they always been like this?” he asked.

The short answer: no.

Stand for Children was founded in the late 1990s as a way to advocate for the welfare of children. It grew out of a 1996 march by more than 250,000 people in Washington, D.C. The aim of the march was to highlight child poverty at a time when Congress and the Clinton administration were preparing to “end welfare as we know it.” Jonah Edelman, son of children’s and civil rights activist Marian Wright Edelman, co-founded the group and continues to serve as CEO. Stand’s first chapter was in Oregon, but the group now operates in eight additional states: Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington … //

… Conclusion:

There is a legitimate concern for teacher quality, how layoffs are handled, and the need for greater parent and community involvement in teacher contract negotiations. These are serious issues for low-income families and other marginalized communities, but Stand’s approach fails to bring parents, teachers, and communities together, and instead embraces policies favored by historic opponents of public schools and teachers’ unions.

As Susan Barrett explains:

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.

We agree. There is a need for a parent- and community-driven organization that is not directly tied to teachers unions. An organization that pushes for quality early childhood education, adequate funding for the public education system, and attention to childhood health issues would certainly represent a kid-first agenda. It is even possible to critique teacher training, hiring, and firing in such a broad agenda. But putting kids first is no longer the focus of Stand for Children. (full long text).

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