"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Rotherham in TIME - Bending the Truth

This is a post that should have been up a while ago, but I needed to check with multiple sources to make sure the facts were straight. This post will focus on something Andrew Rotherham said in TIME magazine.

From TIME:

Recently, the group [Stand for Children] pushed through tax increases to improve school funding in Oregon as well as changes in the ways that teachers are evaluated and granted tenure in Colorado. It is currently in the middle of a major debate over teacher policy in Illinois. 

Rotherham makes three claims about Stand in these two sentences. Two claims are fair and accurate, but one is quite misleading. Whether or not this is intentional or accidental is somewhat irrelevant (although interesting to explore), but it begs a few questions:

  • just how much does Rotherham really know about what Bellwether's clients are actually doing;
  • is Rotherham intentionally misleading readers in order to garner more support for the organizations he advises; and
  • is it fair for TIME Magazine to give space to someone so clearly involved in education reform at multiple levels?

It's important to note that:

As you'll (hopefully) see below, it's really impossible to claim Stand "pushed through tax increases" in Oregon. I doubt anyone at Stand would even agree with Rotherham's statement. There are a few ways to get legislation passed: with a lot of money, or by whipping up a crowd to support the legislation (which is easier to do if you have a lot of money).

As you can see at the bottom of this post, by far the biggest financial contributors to this campaign to raise taxes were unions, including the NEA and Oregon Education Association. If anyone "pushed through" the tax increases, it was various labor unions, including teacher unions. Stand did, in fact, provide assistance with phone banks (the third largest contributor according to a few sources; two labor unions provided more support than SFC), and they did eventually support the measure. But push it through they did not, and for Rotherham to claim they did - and for Stand-OR not to correct the record - is concerning.

Here's why this is important: Rotherham notes Stand's activity in Oregon - which would certainly be progressive if it was true - while mentioning their work in Colorado and Illinois. In CO, Stand played a major role in passing SB-191, a bill that will use value-added scores as a significant component of evaluations. Stand's work in Illinois is straight-up union busting, pure and simple (they joined Advance Illinois and the corporate class to push a heavy VAM bill with some other awful provisions, which ultimately failed to pass. The bill certainly could be revived, especially now that Stand has over $3,000,000 in a PAC).

Consider this: pushing for a tax increase is a pretty progressive stance. Using value-added models as a serious component of teacher evaluations is (at least in this day and age) a more centrist position. The work of SFC in IL is certainly not progressive by any measure, and is probably most accurately described as anti-union. Rotherham used his post at TIME to portray SFC as an organization that spans the political spectrum. It's actually a quite creative approach - if it was true. But it's not even remotely true. To say the pushed through tax increases is pure bologna, and that looks really bad when you consider Rotherham is advising (and presumably paid) by SFC. Or, he's paid to lie about them in a national magazine that doesn't even seem to bother with things like fact checking statements made by people that are paid to talk about certain groups.

Below is a summary of the major donations made to the pro-tax advocates here in Oregon. We're talking about a significant amount of money raised - but none from Stand for Children.


The "Defend Oregon - Yes for Tax Fairness" was the committee supporting the tax changes. Campaign records are available via ORESTAR, Oregon's election reporting website. Below are all donations exceeding $25,000:


$350,000 on 1/15/2010

$250,000 on 12/15/2009

$250,000 on 1/4/2010

$100,000 on 1/25/2010

SEIU Local 503 - Oregon public employees union:

$250,000 on 1/11/2010

$210,000 on 12/14/2009

$200,000 o 11/23/2009

$85,000 on 12/30/2009

$75,000 on 9/2/2009

$30,000 cash contribution - 1/4/2010

Oregon Education Association:

$500,000 on 12/14/2009

$500,000 on 12/29/2009

$400,000 on 1/8/2010

$300,000 on 10/23/2009

$300,000 on 12/21/2009

$26,033 In-kind contribution - 12/22/2009

AFSCME (national):

$500,000 on 12/21/2009

National Education Association:

$200,000 on 1/19/2010

$41,465.53 on 1/24/2010

Oregon AFSCME Council 75:

$250,000 on 11/3/2009

$150,000 on 12/16/2009

$145,009 on 1/8/2010

$100,000 on 12/21/2009

Oregon AFT Political and Legislative Action Network PAC:

$200,000 on 12/4/2009

$100,000 on 1/6/2010

$100,000 on 1/14/2010

Our Oregon:

$150,000 on 1/7/2010

$90,000 on 12/31/2009

$50,000 on 6/4/2010

The Atlantic Advocacy Fund:

$100,000 on 1/15/2010

Oregon School Employees Association:

$50,000 on 10/26/2009

SEIU State Council:

$50,000 on 1/11/2010

$50,000 on 1/11/2010


$50,000 on 1/22/2010


$50,000 on 1/15/2010

School Employees Exercising Democracy:

Oregon Health Care Association:

$75,000 on 12/3/2009

American Federation of Teachers - Oregon Issue PAC:

$50,000 on 10/3/2009

$50,000 on 1/5/2010



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