Updated: Edelman caught misrepresenting Illinois school reform bill

stand for childrenThe leader of the education reform group Stand for Children (SfC) has been caught on video misrepresenting the education reform bill signed into law last month. On the same video, Edelman suggests that his organization tried to pay for political influence during the 2010 election. (Read the joint statement from the Illinois education unions on the Edelman comments)

Jonah Edelman is CEO for Oregon-based Stand for Children, an education reform group that sought to pass education reform legislation in Illinois in late 2010 after spending more than $600,000 on a handful of state legislative races.

Despite building the state’s largest political war chest and suggesting his organization had the power to “potentially jam this proposal down [the education unions’] throats,” SfC failed to get its bill passed. Instead, SfC was forced to collaborate with a coalition of education employee unions, lawmakers, school administrators and other education stakeholders who had been working together for years, on a comprehensive reform package that puts students first.

Senate Bill 7 (SB7), the bill that emerged from the talks, differed greatly from the SfC proposal: It maintained the right to strike, due process rights (tenure) and retained seniority as a component in personnel decisions. The bill passed with the overwhelming support of both political parties and cited as a model for reform.

But, at an Aspen Institute event last month, Edelman told a much different story, in which he suggested that his organization purchased political influence, imposed its will on the unions and achieved all of his goals.

It was a stunning series of half-truths and tall-tales. When a video of the Aspen appearance appeared on the Internet, Edelman was forced to recant and apologize.

Among the highlights of his emailed apology:

I deeply regret that I had an “us vs. them” tone. That tone contradicts my deeply held view that key aspects of the current education system are the problem, not teachers’ unions, and that the us vs. them far too often prevents real dialogue that results in better solutions like Senate Bill 7.

… I’m disappointed in myself for the way I framed the Senate Bill 7 story – a framing that does not reflect the good-faith and substantive negotiations that drove this process on all sides.

… I was wrong to state that the teachers’ unions “gave” on teacher effectiveness provisions when the reality is that, indeed, there were long, productive negotiations that led to a better outcome than would have occurred without them.

… I was wrong to make assumptions or comments about the unions’ political strategy.

…I know from conversations with (IEA and IFT leaders) that Illinois’ union leaders are deeply committed to teaching and learning, that they have exhibited that consistently in the past, and that they exhibited that commitment in spades throughout the negotiations on a series of Senate Bill 7 provisions that will improve teaching and learning.

I want to apologize specifically to (leaders and staff of IEA, IFT and CTU) who represented their membership and negotiated creatively and seriously to help craft a bill that addressed tough issues in a fair and thoughtful way.

Pay to play?

Edelman’s apology for misrepresenting the negotiations with unions did not explain other comments made in Aspen suggesting that his organization attempted to purchase political influence.

Edelman’s threats to lawmakers who didn’t go along with his anti-union proposal last year were noted by, among others, Sen. Kimberly Lightford, who presided over the SB7 negotiations.

At the IEA Lobby Day last May, Lightford called out Edelman for engaging in ”Pay to Play” politics.


  1. Mark Ershingham says:

    It’s very funny that people who, a week ago, would have told you that Edelman can’t be believed now say, for their own purposes, that he’s telling the truth. This is so obviously self-serving as to be laughable.

    Anyone who has ever met Karen Lewis knows that she cannot be pushed around or made to do anything she doesn’t think is in the best interest of her union. How dare anyone claim she can be rolled?

    When was the the last time that a local went on strike without an understanding that at least 85-90 percent of the members support the move? If you can’t get 75 percent in a strike vote, you shouldn’t be on strike. Karen knows this, I’m surprised anyone would be confused about this obvious fact.

    Edelman’s group (Stand on Children?) sought to ban strikes for all Illinois teachers. Guess how many teachers lost the right to strike in the final bill? None. That makes him a failure, in addition to being a liar.

    You don’t get everything you want when you negotiate; that’s why its a negotiation and not a dictated settlement. Edelman tried to impose a proposal to eliminate strikes, tenure and seniority. He failed to do so, so he now tries to rewrite history in an effort to get more billionaires to support his worthless organization which, to repeat myself, failed to accomplish its goals.

    IEA is a democratic organization. As a union man, I respect the hard work of our elected leaders. I think the fact that our BOD and RA supported all that was done in the union’s name suggests most members agree with what’s been done. It seems to me we debate our issues, advocate for our positions and, when the decisions are made, we stand together as a union.

    That’s solidarity. That’s what true unionists do.

  2. James Mullane says:

    Mr. Swanson and the IEA leadership wants us to believe that Mr. Edelman told us a pack of lies in the infamous video. Yet, they do not point to a single significant falsehood in his account. Is it not true that the IEA urged Mrs. Lewis of the Chicago Teachers Association to accept a 75% vote requirement for a strike? Is it not also true that Edelman is correct when he states that this was for all practical purposes taking away the ability of the CTU to strike? Edelman claimed he was surprised that the IEA and the CTU didn’t realize this fact. It may be that the CTU leadership didn’t realize this, but its clear the IEA did because they didn’t agree to it for the other 878 school districts in the State of Illinois. Yes, the IEA threw the CTU under the bus. Mr. Mulvilhill is right, the IEA Leadership’s hands are filthy dirty on this issue.

  3. As a member of the IEA Executive Committee, I feel compelled to respond to Mr. Mulvihill’s comments. IEA was proactive in utilizing our organizational resources to form a coalition of unions working together to stop Stand for Children. The work done by our leadership and staff prevented SFC from successfully pushing Performance Counts through the Legislature in January. One only has to view the recent video of SFC leader, John Edelman to understand that just saying NO was not a viable option in stopping the inevitable assault on our members’ union rights with SFC’s agenda and resources.

    The IEA response to the SFC Performance Counts Agenda and subsequent Accountability for All that resulted in SB7was a transparent and strategic process. As a member of the IEA Executive Committee, I was proud to witness all facets of our organization collectively work to improve public education and protect our members’ rights. The IEA leadership of Ken Swanson, Bob Blade, and Cinda Clickna worked diligently to educate and involve our members, governance, and staff on the facts and important historical significance of SB7. IEA Executive Director, Audrey Soglin and Legal Counsel, Mitch Roth worked above and beyond the regular work day and even sacrificed Christmas Break in order to draft the Accountability for All Language. Many of our members appreciate the numerous hours our leaders, managers, and staff work on behalf of our organization.

    This has been a phenomenal year for IEA. Our other state affiliates hold us in high regard and respect our success in bringing all stakeholders to the table and successfully stopping the Stand for Children Agenda.

  4. Rainy Kaplan says:

    As a member of the Executive Committee, I can attest to Ken’s statements that we were kept in the loop since the beginning regarding this issue. The Executive Committee and the Board of Directors had many discussions regarding SB 7 and Stand for Children/Performance Counts.

    I would urge members to watch the videos, read the Performance Counts/SB 7 Comparision and other materials in order to determine for themselves who has been misrepresenting the truth. Mr. Edelman is the one who has apologized.

  5. Maureen says:

    Ken and Audrey,

    I listened to Mr. Edelman’s recording and am not sure whether I am happy or appalled at the way he called Audrey “pragmatic”. I believe it was a compliment, but presented in such a manner as to be damaging.

    Well, I do think you both are pragmatic and so am I – and that is a very good thing to have in a leader. New and non-members often cite their perception that the tenure process protects medocrity and incompetence and is a reason not to join our Association. Current members often voice extreme disatisfacton with low performing colleagues who maintain their positions because administration does not want to undergo the lengthy termination process. As a Local President, I have had vast amounts of my personal time consumed in this process as well. I am glad that we have chosen to address these issues. I am proud that we were able to lead the way.

    I only wish we could have done this sooner and without the Outsider, who has now significantly diminished our ability to present our process as a model for NEA.

    I also celebrate the benefits brought to us through this and the PERA provisions such as tenure portability, the requirement for TRAINED evaluators, training for School Board members, and the probationary period for principals.

    Funny, I would never have framed this as “education reform”. Perhaps tenure reform, personnel policy changes, etc. The only real systemic reform I have seen begun in education in years is Response to Intervention!

    I regret that you have had to suffer from a member’s anger and frustration while navigating such difficult waters this past year. It is a part of leadership that we do not like to share so as not to discourage future leaders, but it can be hurtful and discouraging. Ah well, remember how heartfelt the tributes have been to you! And I will watch the website to see if the other parties, or even Mr. Madigan, have any comments!

    Many, Many Thanks,

  6. ken swanson says:

    I want to take the unusual step of responding to a posting. I generally read but refrain from commenting on what members say at our website. It is an opportunity for members to voice their thoughts. In this particular case I should add perspective regarding Mr. Mulvihill’s posting.

    It is true this member has over the past two years vocally opposed first our involvement in the PERA legislation and subsequently the process leading to SB7. He was a leader at the IEA in 2010 attempting to pass a motion that would have called upon IEA to work to repeal the PERA evaluation law we helped craft. That was OVERWHELMINGLY rejected by the RA. We did do polling over the holiday break this past winter to ascertain whether or not the decision of the Executive Committee to have us engage in trying to bring IFT and CTU together to in proposing an alternative to Stand’s “Performance Counts.” It was NOT a “straw poll”. It was scientifically conducted by outside professional pollsters and specifically targeted K-12 full time classroom teachers, the very members who would be most impacted by Performance Counts. The polling data showed significant majorities supported moving in the direction we did. Also, keep in mind we followed our own governing documents including IEA Resolutions, Legislative Platform, and Priority One as we crafted Accountability for All and as we engaged in the process that produced SB7. So, at all times we operated within the guidance the RA, the highest governing body in IEA, has provided. We kept the Executive Committee informed as moved along and gave thorough updates with opportunity for questions from the Board at the Board meetings in January, February, March the night before the RA, and again at the May meeting. In addition a thorough update was given at the RA this March. At no point did the ExComm, the Board, nor the RA give us any directive to do anything other than pursue the course of action taken.

    The untruths uttered by Jonah Edelman in the now infamous video, comments for which has extensively apologized and tried to take back, are stunning in their breadth and depth. They seem to reveal a person so possessed by his own sense of mission, that he is willing to distort and lie to look better to the finite pool of large checkwriters that “reformers” like he and Michelle Rhee have to compete with to get the checks written to them instead of someone else. It isn’t just IEA, IFT, and CTU that are appalled at what Jonah said at Aspen. In the days ahead it will become clear other credible parties who were part of the process are not happy with him either.

    Keep in mind another motivation that might at least partially explain Jonah’s whale of a fairy tale is to review what happened at the SB7 bill signing: Neither he nor Stand were referenced by Gov. Quinn as he spoke that morning. He was NOT given a chance to speak. Robin Steans spoke from Advance Illinois, but he did not. When it was time for the actual signing, Quinn first called up children in attendance and then the adults were to fill in behind. Jonah very aggressively maneuvered his way to the photo op literally stepping on Audrey’s foot as he did so. A pathetic performance actually.

    I share all this to try to give some context to what might have motivated Jonah to do what he did. I look at it this way, he has done us all a favor by exposing himself for what he appears to be and sincere reformers, our NEA and AFT brethren across the country, and politicians in every state can see what they will be dealing with if/when Jonah tries to come to their state.

    But back to IL and IEA. Yes, I did inadvertently send out an email by mistake that referenced Mr. Mulvihill by something other than his name. I regret that, it was human error on my part. However, you should know that that happened after months of having this individual demand my immediate resignation as president, calling me the worst president in IEA history, a traitor, and other less flattering characterizations. We are all only human and sometimes we all respond on an emotional level to personal attacks. What you have not seen in the past months are multiple postings he has written to this website that could not be posted due to the unprofessional nature of the content including profanity. I personally made the decision this one would be posted in the interest of free expression. I believe, however, you all are entitled to both sides of the story.

    Mr Mulvihill is certainly free to disagree with the outcome of SB7. He is free to believe a different course of action should have been taken. He is not, however entitled to his own set of facts. We were told in no uncertain terms by our best friends in the legislature that if we did not come to the table with meaningful reform ideas the first week of January, Performance Counts would be legislation by the time the new legislature was sworn in later in January. The IEA/IFT/CTU presentation of Accountability for All STOPPED Stand and Performance Counts in its tracks. Our intervention resulted in a process that brought everyone to the table and thus we have SB7, NOT Performance Counts. If any member reading this has not yet read all the documents in the Members Only part of this website please do. When you read the comparison between what would have happened to children and ourselves under Performance Counts vs what will be implemented under SB7 you will see there are dramatic differences.

    A final thought about whether IEA should have engaged in the reform process. Had Stand not come to IL, there STILL would have been reform legislation proposed this year by others. There was no way a significant income tax increase was going to be passed without major reforms. As you have seen, that extended to other areas like workman’s comp and not just education. That is why we were heavily involved in crafting SB2288 which would have been the reform measures accompanying HB174, our school funding bill, had it passed in the previous legislative year.

    IEA has been engaged in the reform arena for years and I believe it is a very good thing for our members that we were well positioned to stop Stand/Performance Counts and participate in a process in which we had a positive impact. I believe it will be essential for IEA to continue to lead, to engage, and be strategic in protecting public education and member interests in the challenging years ahead. Those who believe we should just say NO and take our chances are entitled to their opinion. I believe them to be wrong and as I leave the Presidency at the end of this week I have absolutely NO doubt that what we did in the 2010 election when IEA made the difference and elected Pat Quinn over Bill Brady and our strategic decision to engage in an effort stop Performance Counts and help shape something better will serve IEA membership and our students well in the years ahead. Thanks for reading this.

  7. Jerry Mulvihill says:

    The IEA Leadership’s hands are so dirty on this issue. As a local member, I BEGGED and pleaded with IEA to not take part in ANY talks regarding teacher’s right to tenure, seniority and evaluations. Instead of being heard and respected as a long time devoted member, I found out that President Swanson and possibly others called me names behind my back and brushed me aside as if I did not matter. They took independent straw polls instead of listening to members like me and undermined the legislative platform process simply so that they could do whatever they felt was in their interest. Time and again I was told that being at the table was the answer. Now I don’t know who to believe. IEA leadership – Ken Swanson, Audry Soglin, Cinda Clickna have as much credibility in my eyes as Edelman.

    This has been a terrible year for my union and unless rank and file start drawing the line together I feel that this may just be the beginning of the end for IEA. A dark, dark day indeed.

  8. Jean Luft says:

    This is a great response from IEA to the Jonah Edelman’s video that makes false claims about the Stand For Children’s work in IL. IEA is truly the organization that STANDS for Children, Public Schools and Teachers in Illinois. IEA is standing proud for the truth!