I noticed something curious on Twitter the other day.
Two state chapters of the Badass Teachers Association (BATs), the rabble-rousing teacher activist organization founded by Mark Naison that fights “corporate education reform,” tweeted the exact same tweet about a study on the opt-out movement at the exact same time.
This had to be more than a coincidence, so I did a little digging and what I came up with surprised me. The Twitter accounts of dozens of BATS chapters across the country – along with the accounts of New York State Allies For Public Education, Opt Out Long Island, and BATs executive director, Marla Kilfoyle – had posted the same exact message over the course of several days.
Moreover, a pattern clearly emerged in the timing of those tweets indicating that they had been scheduled and sent from a single source to flood social media and create the appearance that BATs has a broad base of support across the country.
This wasn’t an isolated occurrence. A review of the posts from these accounts shows the same staggered scheduling of tweets over and over again. (Here’s another example of a tweet about Democrats For Education Reform.) It seems to indicate that these BATs accounts are simply fronts for a broader anti-education reform communications campaign.
So who is stage-managing this ruse? Obviously, BATs executive director Marla Kilfoyle is high on the list of suspects. Over the past few years, Kilfoyle, a high school social studies teacher in the affluent and overwhelmingly white Long Island community of Oceanside, has emerged as a leader of the opt-out movement. Kilfoyle has been at the helm of BATs since Mark Naison left the group in 2014. In fact, when BATs formally became a non-profit corporation last year, her home in Bellmore, NY was listed as its address.
As her star has risen, she’s drawn the attention of national media outlets such as Politico, the Washington Post, NPR, and of course, The Progressive. Plus, a look at her Facebook feed reveals selfies with some of the leading education reform critics in the country.
But there’s reason to believe that this communications campaign is actually being run by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) or someone it’s paying to manage it. Admittedly, the evidence is circumstantial, but it seems to point in the direction of AFT.
First of all, there is only one personal Twitter account included in the scheduled BATs campaign: Marla Kilfoyle. She is a member of an AFT affiliate, the Oceanside Federation of Teachers, and was a ranking delegate at AFT’s annual convention this year.
Second, dozens of other individuals and organizations have posted tweets that are identical to the “robo-tweets” sent out by the BATs accounts. It’s clear these messages are being coordinated behind-the-scenes, probably through email listserve(s). This fact, in and of itself, is not a big shocker (our side does it, too). What is illuminating, however, are the particular accounts that appear to be on this anti-reform list, which would suggest AFT is driving the campaign.
As an example, let’s take a look a recent flood of tweets sent out about an article in Mother Jones entitled, “Why Did Black Lives Matter and the NAACP Call for an End to More Charter Schools?” BATs, along with hundreds of individuals and organizations on Twitter, posted the same exact tweet over a period of several days.
If you note who specifically sent these tweets, you’ll notice that many of them – the Advancement Project, Asher Huey, the Economic Policy Institute, etc. – have ties to AFT. Also take note of the cities targeted in this campaign: Philadelphia, New Orleans, Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Detroit. They are all cities with AFT-affiliated teachers unions currently in the midst of high-profile battles over charter schools.
Could all of this be a coincidence? Perhaps, but I certainly don’t think so.
Explainer: Does AFT Really Have 1.7 Million Members? How The Union Uses Accounting Tricks To Inflate The Numbers
On Friday, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) announced its membership had risen to over 1.7 million members, surpassing the 1.6 million-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees to become the largest union in the AFL-CIO.
According to union officials, the milestone was reached last month when the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (AMPR), which represents the U.S. territory’s 40,000 teachers, voted to affiliate with AFT.
— Randi Weingarten (@rweingarten) August 3, 2017
However, as Education Week pointed out, the pact concluded between AFT and AMPR comes with several caveats. To start, the agreement only establishes a three-year “trial affiliation,” after which the two unions will decide whether to extend their relationship. Plus, although AMPR teachers will be considered full AFT members during this trial period, they will initially pay $12/year in dues to the union – far less than members of AFT affiliates elsewhere.
But AFT’s 1.7 million claim is dubious for a more fundamental reason: the union uses creative accounting when tallying its membership. For example, in AFT’s 2016 annual report to the U.S. Department of Labor, they claimed to have 1.54 million members in 31 states, the District of Columbia, and Guam, but a closer look reveals only 675,000 of those individuals were actual full dues-paying members. A significant portion of the rest belonged to a hodgepodge of special membership classes: one-half members (204,344), one-quarter members (93,047), one-eighth members (34,104), associate members (49,984), and laid-off/unpaid leave members (1,808).
|Membership Category||Number||Voting Eligibility|
|Full Time Members||675,902||Yes|
|One Half Members||204,344||Yes|
|One Quarter Members||93,047||Yes|
|One Eighth Members||34,104||Yes|
|Laid Off/Unpaid Leave Members||1,808||Yes|
|Merged Local/State Members||128,221||Yes|
|Agency Fee Payers||89,375||No|
|Total Members/Fee Payers||1,633,518||N/A|
|Membership Category||Number||Voting Eligibility|
In short, as is often the case with AFT, there is a huge gap between their rhetoric and reality.
Read AFT’s 2016 DOL annual report:
Willful Blindness Official Pushing NYC's ATR Plan Has A History Of Giving A Pass to Bad Teachers
The New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) is planning to move as many as 400 teachers out of the district’s Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) and into full-time classroom positions at schools this fall, regardless of whether those schools want to hire them.
Principals have had control over staffing at their schools since 2005, when the district officially adopted “mutual consent” hiring. That shift resulted in the creation of the Absent Teacher Reserve, which is comprised of teachers who were forced out of their jobs or lost them due to school closures, but have not found new positions.
Thanks to NYCDOE’s contract with the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), individuals in the ATR pool continue to receive full salary and benefits, even though nobody wants to hire them. According to data obtained by Chalkbeat, the district spent nearly $152 million last year to compensate ATR teachers.
District officials have been trying to shrink the size (and expense) of the ATR pool for years, leading some to wonder whether they would resort to forced placement to accomplish their goal. When New York City Council members posed that question directly to Chancellor Carmen Fariña in 2014, she emphatically stated: “There will be no forced placement of teachers.”
However, NYCDOE reneged on that promise last month when it was announced that principals will have until mid-October to fill vacancies at their schools, after which the district will place teachers from the ATR pool into any remaining openings.
— Peter C. Cook (@petercook) July 11, 2017
The new policy has gotten an icy reception from principals and parent advocacy groups, who say the district is simply putting bad teachers back into classrooms. As evidence, they point to NYCDOE figures showing that a third of the teachers in the ATR pool ended up there due to legal or disciplinary problems and half have been there for two or more years.
“There is not one parent in New York City who would willingly accept one of these ATRs into their child’s classroom,” StudentsFirstNY Executive Director Jenny Sedlis said in a blog post on the ATR plan. “It is unconscionable to put the worst teachers into the classrooms of the neediest students.”
In an effort to allay those concerns, NYCDOE issued a statement noting that “DOE has discretion on which educators in the ATR pool are appropriate for long-term placement and may choose not to assign educators who have been disciplined in the past.” Nevertheless, the department has not explicitly ruled out the possibility that teachers with disciplinary records could be used to fill vacancies.
That fact is especially troubling when one considers that Randy Asher, the NYCDOE administrator overseeing the Absent Teacher Reserve plan, was accused of letting bad teachers run amok in his previous role as principal of Brooklyn Technical High School.
Asher served as principal of Brooklyn Tech for nearly eleven years before assuming his current role in January. During that time, the elite public high school was racked by a series of sex scandals involving faculty members, including the widely-publicized case of Sean Shaynak, a Brooklyn Tech math teacher who victimized seven female students.
According to a lawsuit filed by the victims, Asher and his fellow Brooklyn Tech administrators knew about Shaynak’s sexually suggestive antics (such as the time he showed up to a school dance wearing a skimpy schoolgirl’s uniform), but did nothing to address them. For his part, Asher claimed he was unaware of Shaynak’s devious behavior, but was “horrified and disgusted at the allegations.”
In light of Asher’s history, it’s hard to see how the public can trust that officials will use their discretion to keep the least desirable ATR teachers out of the classroom. That’s why parents and community members should fight to prevent NYCDOE from implementing its forced placement plan and call on city leaders to solve the district’s ATR problem by demanding a phase-out in contract negotiations with UFT next year.
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