Is This Why AFT Leadership Sold Their Members Up the Common Core River?



It’s pretty widely known by now that American Federation of Teachers (AFT) received funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, leading many to question the motives of AFT leadership in their silent acquiescence to the gods of Common Core.

But apparently there may be more reasons as well. My friend and trusted colleague Bess Altwerger shared some information with me and asked if I would include it in my blog. I was happy to oblige. This information is not new. It’s been published before. But perhaps it has not been circulated widely enough. So I am re-examining it here.

Once upon a time, David Coleman, poster child for the Common Core applied for, but could not get, a teaching job in New York City despite his Yale credentials.

Upon returning to New York, he applied to a high school teaching job and was turned down. Instead, he worked for consulting firm McKinsey & Company, where he advised public schools and became a fixture at New York City Department of Education meetings.”

Are you struck by the same thing that I was? The sick humor in the fact that the man who could not even get a teaching position has become the “leader” in shaping the educational landscape? I suppose those who cannot teach punish the rest of us who do.

Anyway. So after a cozy position serving in the area of education consulting for McKinsey and Co. (a global consulting firm whose mantra is “Big Data” for education reform), Coleman created his own position in his own company called the Grow Network (later sold to McGraw Hill, textbook publishing giant with a HUGE foot in the CCSS door).

During this time Coleman became BFF’s with his “self-proclaimed mentor” David Sherman.

“David Sherman, (at that time) held the post of Consultant in the office of the AFT President Local 94 in Oak Lawn, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.”

Apparently the two became fast friends. The story goes something like this:

After one meeting, Coleman, then in his 20s, approached Sherman. ‘I don’t know you, but I want to introduce myself, because you seem to be the only person who knew what he was talking about,’ Sherman remembers Coleman saying. They stayed in touch. In 1999, when Zimba and Coleman developed their education startup, the Grow Network, Coleman turned to Sherman to tap into the grassroots involvement of teachers.

Naturally, as a result, according to Ohanian: “Coleman speaks fondly of the AFT … He says ‘The AFT teachers took the lead in shaping many aspects of the standards.’ Coleman’s name is all over the AFT website.

Coleman then moved on to create Student Achievement Partners, a not-for-profit that now helps states implement the Common Core.

Now he’s the president of the College Board.

According to Andy Smarick, a Republican education policy expert “Very few people in America today are having a bigger influence on what kids are learning than David Coleman.

I guess being unqualified to even get a job teaching in a real classroom can get you far in shaping the lives of those you’ve never even taught. But I guess if you’ve got the high ranking officials from AFT by your side, that’s good enough. Susan Ohanian illustrated this back in 2011:

Take a look at what David Sherman and the AFT are up to in supporting the Common Core in 2011 …Attention AFT members: Your money is paying for your own destruction.”

But it hasn’t hurt Sherman much, who has moved up the promotional ranks as well. He now serves on the Teachscape Board of Directors, and serves as a consultant in the Office of the President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) in Washington, DC, where in 2011 he was coordinating the AFT’s work in preparation for the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind.

So as the Common Core pushes ahead at full steam, in spite of massive local and national resistance from parents, teachers, and communities across the political spectrum, what is AFT’s response? According to Sherman:

The conservative right is using it as an example of government control, a break with states’ rights — but it’s voluntary.”

Sherman, who now works as a special assistant to Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers added, “People like Ravitch are saying it has all of the testing and blah blah blah. I don’t go along with that, either.”

“And blah blah blah?” … Really?  That’s the leadership response to a system of reform that has used high stakes testing and “blah blah blah” to destroy community schools, fire teachers, and abuse students????

At a 2012 panel on standardized testing and the Common Core hosted by The Brookings Institution, Coleman gave a shout out to his buddy:

But David Sherman, who’s in the audience who’s a longtime mentor of mine, has really with great principal led the dimension of the American Federation, the finest parts of the American Federation of Teachers, which were competed to deeper learning to common high quality standards for kids, for knowledge in kids learning, for thoughtful assessment driving, thoughtful action, and I really applaud him for that. I’m so glad he’s here.

I suppose it’s much easier to take a stance like that when you’re the self-proclaimed mentor of the man whose face is front and center in the creation and promotion of the Common Core. Don’t let a silly thing like selling your own union members up the river into the machine of education reform stand in the way of a good friendship.

But let’s remember.  It’s not Sherman’s union! The union belongs to its members, as all unions do (or should). I’m a believer in the power of unions. I’m not a big supporter of sell outs. It’s up to the members to fight for it, for their profession and for their students. Drinking the Kool-aid is optional.



Published by educationalchemy

Morna McDermott has been an educator for over twenty years in both k-12 and post secondary classrooms. She received her doctorate in education, with a dissertation focus on arts-based educational research, from The University of Virginia in 2001. Morna's teaching, scholarship, and activism center around the ways in which creativity, art, social justice, and democracy can transform education and empower communities. She is currently a Professor of Education at Towson University.

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