Charter School Teacher Introduces Elizabeth Warren at Rally

61665090_10109374029691176_8067465538567143424_n


CORRECTION:

In the first draft of this article, I called Sonya Mehta a “Charter School Lobbyist” in the title. On further examination of the facts, I realize this is unfair. She was a charter school TEACHER. I apologize to Ms. Mehta and truly regret any harm I have done her. I have changed the title to better reflect the facts. However, be advised that the text of the article, itself, has remained almost completely unchanged. Everything in the article is true to the best of my knowledge and backed up with sources that the reader can see by following the links in the text. My concern remains centered on Warren and what exactly her intentions are via education policy.


 

 

The biggest news from Elizabeth Warren’s rally in Oakland, California, on Friday wasn’t what she said.

 
It was who introduced her and what that says about Warren and her 2020 Presidential campaign.

 
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “Warren was introduced by Sonya Mehta, a former Oakland schoolteacher.”

 
However, this characterization is inaccurate.

 
Mehta was not an authentic public school teacher. She taught in a non-union charter school called “Learning Without Limits.” She also was a policy fellow at GO Public Schools Oakland, which is a toxic charter promoter focused around that city.

 

 

62239250_2491072120944114_6527485798902661120_n

62044390_2491072744277385_2756662503386644480_n

 
In her introduction, Mehta didn’t explicitly advocate for school privatization. She promoted Warren’s early education and free college policies (Her speech can be seen here beginning at 57:30). But why would Warren, one of the smartest and most knowledgeable candidates in the race for the White House, let herself be associated with such a divisive and toxic legacy?

 

 

 

 

Only 6% of all U.S. students attend charter schools, yet with little accountability, selective enrollment, and the ability to pocket taxpayer money as profit, they cannibalize the funding necessary for the 90% that attend authentic public schools.

 
Warren should know better than this. Along with Bernie Sanders, Warren sits on the Senate Education Committee (HELP – Health, Education, Labor, Pensions).

 

 

 

So the question is this: was this a mistake made by her campaign staff or is this indicative of where Warren is on education policy?

 

 

She has said some very positive things in this campaign, not the least of which is that if elected, she would nominate someone with teaching experience as Secretary of Education.

 
But if Mehta is what she thinks an authentic teacher looks like, we are in big trouble.

 
We don’t need another Betsy Devos or Arne Duncan clone who just so happens to have taught at a regressive charter school. In fact, we already had that, too, in John King.

 
Sadly, that’s not even where the story ends.

 

 

Warren’s senior education policy advisor is Josh Delaney, a Teach for America temp who turned a 5-week crash course in education into two years in the classroom and then a career as an “expert” on our schools.

 
This is simply not acceptable for anyone courting education voters.

 
You can’t go to Oakland, a city which just experienced a massive teacher strike caused by school privatization, and then let yourself be introduced by someone with ties to school privatization!

 
Go Public Schools Oakland, the organization Mehta is associated with, is the major charter organization in city battling the union.

 
Who knows if Warren was intending to take sides on this issue, but she certainly seems to be signaling that if she did, it might not be with parents, teachers and students. It could be with the hedge fund billionaires backing school privatization.

 
How can she be so strong against these same people when it comes to Wall Street and economic inequality but appear completely ignorant (at best) or disingenuous (at worst) when it comes to school policy?

 
A look at Warren’s stated education policies over her history in public life doesn’t exactly calm the waters, either.

 

 

According to the Network for Public Education, Warren holds some regressive views when it comes to our schools.

 

 

The non-profit gives her a C on charter schools.

 

 

She has spoken out against some of the worst excesses of the industry, but supports the concept of schools that are publicly financed but privately operated.

 

 

In 2016 Warren strongly opposed lifting the cap on charter schools in Massachusetts. In 2017, Senator Warren expressed deep concern regarding the “waste, fraud, and abuse of federal money” at the hands of for-profit charter schools and charter school management organizations.

 

 

 

Unfortunately, she also praised the charter industry:

 

 

 

“Many charter schools in Massachusetts are producing extraordinary results for our students, and we should celebrate the hard work of those teachers and spread what’s working to other schools.”

 
Warren earned a B for her stance on school vouchers.

 
She had the courage to criticize DeVos, but her history with the concept of using public money to finance private education is complicated.

 
In a 2017 letter to DeVos, prior to her confirmation as Secretary of education, Senator Warren said the evidence on private school vouchers is “mixed at best” and called them “expensive and dangerous failures that cost taxpayers billions of dollars while destroying public education systems.”

 

 

 

However, back in 2003, she seems to have thought differently. She wrote a book with her daughter called “The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers are Going Broke.” In it, she makes a case for a universal school voucher program. She strongly supported giving parents taxpayer-funded vouchers they could use at any school – public, private or parochial. This would “relieve parents from the terrible choice of leaving their kids in lousy schools or bankrupting themselves to escape those schools.”

 

 

Later she said she never meant those vouchers to be used at private schools, but that is  unclear from the text.

 

 

However, as spotty as Warren’s history is on school privatization, it is much worse when it comes to high stakes testing.

 

 

The Network for Public Education gives her a F on this issue.

 

 

In 2015, as Congress debated rolling back high stakes testing requirements that have unfairly assessed students for decades and used test scores as an excuse to deny poor and minority students the resources they need to succeed, Warren demanded testing stay in place. Along with three Democratic senators endorsed by Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), a lobbyist organization for the testing and school privatization industry, she insisted on stronger accountability measures based on testing to gain their support for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

 

 

Let me be clear: none of this is intended to be a purity test.

 

 

 

If the only candidate we can support is a perfect one, we will never find any politician to support.

 

 

 

But Warren has to make a decision whose side she is on.

 

 

At very least, she needs to come out and make a public statement clarifying her views here. She needs to say that she does not support charter schools or vouchers. Shouldn’t every Democratic candidate who wants the votes of educators do that?

 

 


Watch the whole rally here. Mehta’s introduction begins at 57:30.


 

 

Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

thumbnail_IMG_8249

34 thoughts on “Charter School Teacher Introduces Elizabeth Warren at Rally

  1. What a disappointment. I was looking for a Sanders/Warren ticket thinking they were on the same path of ‘government for the people”. Feel the Bern!

    Like

    • I had the same hope, Lisa. Maybe it’s not too late for Warren. Maybe she can get it together and make a clear statement of support for authentic public schools and not privatization and testing. I think she still has less to go than almost any other candidate except for Bernie.

      Like

  2. Given what we’ve seen from politicians on education for the last…. forever, this is disappointing but not surprising. What surprised me was Bernie’s fairly progressive, if not perfect, ed plank in his platform.

    I really like Warren. We have to try and reach her. I suspect, but don’t know, that candidates too often tend to defer policy to advisors and, let’s face it, “reformers” have owned that strata of politics for decades. (Which explains Obama’s FUBAR ed policy.)

    We need a concerted effort to pierce that bubble.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My guess is that Warren has handlers that do most if not all of the grunt work like organizing these campaign stops and I think one or more of her staff are former TFA scabs who stuck out their two year contract in a K-12 classroom and then were placed, as promised, on staffs of elected members of Congress, state legislatures and governor administrations where they take their subversive training in TFA to the next level, to influence the spread of toxic, greed-infused, fascist, klepto capitalism throughout America.

    I wonder if TFA has ever successfully managed to slip their programmed scabs into White House administrations for former presidents and/or the current toxic sludge that is not-so-secretly Moscow’s Agent Governing America.

    Like

  4. One thing steve singer seems to have straight…….he is obeying the policy of Morning Joe and Buttigieg worshipping Mika and a lot of the other media……..let’s be sure not to mention the one often running in third place behind the two ancient white guys……….say nothing about Kamala Harris.

    Like

  5. Arne Duncan wrote this about Harris’ plan on Twitter:

    “Radical idea: pay the professionals we entrust to teach, nurture and mentor our children a better salary!”

    I cannot stand Arne Duncan….have been warning that he is worse than Devos, because she is a joke and he is taken seriously……still

    I found that particularTweet less offensive than some of Trump’s.

    Using the word probably to tell what was meant…….well I suppose you do whatever you have to do.

    Like

  6. Whereas I appreciate your concerns about charter schools, (I certainly have them), this is a pretty gross characterization of Sonya Mehta. Learning Without Limits converted from regular district to charter while she was teaching there…. I don’t think she was the decision maker. And as for GO, it’s a place a lot of educators who leave the classroom end up or start as they are careers in education outside the classroom. Sonya is a fierce advocate for our youngest children and I think this article leaves a lot of nuance out. She cares about equity and pretty neutral on the charter/district debate. She certainly is no lobbyist.

    Like

    • I don’t live in California and I’ve never met Mehta. However, a lot of good people out there on the west coast have horror stories to tell about GO Public Schools – the organization where she was a policy fellow. For instance, “The Oakland-based Rogers Family Foundation, founded by former Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream chairman and CEO T. Gary Rogers and his wife, created a nonprofit ironically named GO (Great Oakland) Public Schools. GO unleashed an avalanche of out-of-town money to elect pro-charter school board candidates and influence elections.” Source: https://californiaeducator.org/2018/08/03/lets-be-clear-about-charter-schools/

      Teachers, parents and the community in Oakland are tired of having their school boards bought by billionaires whose hand picked lackeys open the door for charter school wolves. You can disagree, but in my opinion this is not what grassroots progressive Presidential candidates should be supporting. If Warren wants the education vote, she needs to understand that.

      Like

  7. “One of my education promises is I will not appoint anyone to be Secretary of Education who has not taught in a public school,” Warren told voters in Michigan on Tuesday. “Betsy DeVos need not apply.”

    Like

    • That’s great, Valerie. I was really heartened by this promise, but what exactly does it mean? Technically charter schools are public schools. They are funded with taxpayer dollars. Warren could do just like Obama did when he picked John King. She could pick a charter school person or even a TFA temp like her education advisor. Teachers, parents and students have been gas lighted for so long by privatizers and standardizers, we need more assurances than the vague ones Warren has given us so far.

      Like

  8. Rebecca Solnit interviewed Sonya Mehta. Solnit also points out “One thing I hope is clear is that the issue is not what Ms Mehta’s positions are; the issue is that one cannot reach a conclusion about what EW’s positions are based on who introduced her when we do not know who invited her and why and what they did and didn’t know about her. We can judge Warren on her words and deeds, not on overinterpretation of ambiguous data.”
    https://lithub.com/rebecca-solnit-how-internet-insinuation-becomes-campaign-fact
    Also, Elizabeth Warren’s campaign has issued this statement:
    “Elizabeth Warren is committed to public education and is against for-profit charter schools — she was introduced by a grassroots supporter in California who does not reflect Elizabeth’s view on charter schools. She believes our public tax dollars should stay in our public schools and has promised to appoint a public school teacher as Secretary of Education.”

    Like

    • The Solnit article is really sad. She leaves out Warren’s TFA education advisor, her school voucher proposal, her testing vote and other info to make the case that this is all overblown by a shoddy blogger, me. Ironic when a story about media spin is guilty of the very sin it purports to be condemning.

      Like

      • The quote from the campaign was in an fb post from someone I have experienced as reliable – I’ve asked her for a citation and will get back to you when I have more information.
        I believe R. Solnit’s post was meant to be specifically in response to accusations that Ms. Mehta is a “charter school lobbyist.” I am seeking accuracy and fairness. I understand that there are other concerns about E. Warren’s position/clarity on “public education.”
        I haven’t researched the TFA connection – is the education adviser still a TFA supporter? Because the folks I know who were have experience with TFA quickly learned the many reasons the program is so problematic…. Sometimes people’s background mistakes actually make them a stronger advocate for something different! Certainly some of Elizabeth’s proposed policies around education are excellent.
        This also might be of interest from 5/19/19:
        “Verified account
        @thehill
        Following Following @thehill
        More
        Sen. Elizabeth Warren: “What Betsy Devos has done to our public education really undermines the best opportunities for our kids. I think our public tax dollars should stay in our public schools.”
        Question: “So, no to for-profit charter schools?”
        Warren: “Yeah.”

        Like

  9. Here’s a little story…when Howard Dean was running as “The Democratic nominee from the Democratic wing of the party”, I joined a MeetUp group that was forming, as they were all over the country, to support him. We did a few little things to brainstorm support, but didn’t get around to doing too much until we were contacted by a new California rep for the campaign, because Dean was planning on stopping in San Francisco for a convention and wanted to have a quick rally somewhere on the same day. They asked us if we could help organize a venue and get supporters there, so we shifted into heavier activity. Eventually decided on Yerba Buena stage, got permissions, arranged to have him led there, got a glorified megaphone and decided on a guy who would introduce him. The day of, after preparations, we all waited for him around the stage, and when Dean came striding up, the guy who was supposed to introduce him froze up. So I grabbed the mic from him and yelled a quick “Introducing the next president of the united states” sort of thing, and Dean took the mic. I was definitely to the left of Dean, but excited about his presidency nonetheless. I’m sure his people would’ve been mortified if someone was to extrapolate all Dean’s policies based on who I was, getting arrested at protests, writing inflammatory articles, etc. But this was before social media and blogging had made my support into his position. I have no idea how Mehta was chosen for this, but having had some interest in the Warren campaign so far, it appears to me they are relying heavily on grassroots support, I’m guessing especially in hugely expensive places like California, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Warren’s “people”, as in her paid staff, had anything to do with choosing her to introduce Warren. This was originally supposed to be a town hall for 1000 people, but because it caught fire they had to move it to an outdoor field at the last minute. I don’t have any trouble envisioning this happening in an unvetted way. Warren has said she won’t beg big money donors, so she’s at a large disadvantage in fundraising so far. Empowering local folks to organize is basically the only path she has to success at this early stage. Mehta is a young leader of color who’s spent much of her early life working for the betterment of children. Whether we agree with her ideas about how to do that isn’t really pertinent as to how she may have ended up on that stage. Someone probably thought, “Wow, you’re a leader in education, young, bright and committed to children. You should introduce her!” I don’t pretend to know Warren’s deepest positions on charter schools yet, but insinuating darkly that this poor woman was chosen for sinister purposes with zero evidence to support that idea is a pretty shitty thing to do. To Warren and to her. We want young people to participate, to jump into the process, and yet this is what we do to someone who probably had one of the more exciting moments of her life. Now, if you could find a journalist and track down the conversations that led to her speaking that prove me wrong, I’d be happy to reverse everything I’ve said here. But my story at this point is probably just as plausible as yours, based on personal experience and zero knowledge of what actually happened. We can all play the same game, BTW. Bernie Sanders was introduced at the Democratic National Convention by Tulsi Gabbard (in a far more intentional and vetted moment!), who has in the past expressed some anti-LGBTQ positions and is far to his right on framing of the war against terror. Therefore, Sanders needs to reaffirm that he’s not against gay people and Muslims.

    Like

    • Arne, thanks for the story. It is a fascinating glimpse into the Dean campaign. Unfortunately there are several ways the current situation differs from your example. First, as you say, this is 2019. Things have changed. It is easier to look up someone’s history and at least get a glimpse of where they’re coming from. Second, Warren has been relatively obscure about her own views on education policy. If she had made a clear statement of where she stands, no one would be trying to read the tea leaves of who introduces her at a rally. But this is the situation her campaign has left us in. My entire point is for her to please change that. Third, Mehta has a remarkable number of associations with the charter school industry. She worked for a charter school (and hid that fact numerous times). She cites collaboration with Education for Change, Oakland’s largest charter operator. She also worked with the Surge Institute, which receives Walton money; her current employer, The Teaching Well, gets Rogers Foundation money. If you picked an educator at random to speak on your behalf, any one of these things would be unlikely. Consider that only 6% of students go to charter schools. Even less have teachers with all these other school privatization ties. The chances that this is all just an unhappy accident are astronomical. And if that’s the unlikely result of chance, Warren’s campaign is culpable. Do your job and vet your speakers.

      Finally, are we all so scared that Donald Trump will be re-elected that we can’t ask our candidates to explain where they stand on the issues? That’s the point of this post – not to degrade Mehta or Warren. I think that’s a worthy goal. Anyone who doesn’t has not been forced to read my blog. If what I wrote has upset people, that shows they want answers, too.

      Like

    • Rebecca Solnit, a San Francisco historian and author, weighed in on my article. You can read it here:

      https://lithub.com/rebecca-solnit-how-internet-insinuation-becomes-campaign-fact/?fbclid=IwAR0Z-NrDmwoTxwHp2EXkb6lIa1wXSFMifncW1His_Mesa1hR-2nHLdIY2DU

      MY RESPONSE TO REBECCA SOLNIT’S ARTICLE ABOUT ME:

      Rebecca, thank you for writing about my blog article. As a public school teacher, I’m always gratified when anyone reads my work. I deeply regret that I called Sonya Mehta a “charter school lobbyist.” That is unfair. She is a former charter school teacher – a fact that she concealed at the Warren rally where she spoke. I have corrected this mistake in my blog and apologized to Mehta. However, that characterization is the only mistake I made. Nor did I make it up out of the air. Mehta has an astounding number of school privatization associations – more than a reasonable person could expect would accidentally crop up. She taught for 5 years at Learning Without Limits charter school. She cites collaboration with Education for Change, Oakland’s largest charter operator. She also worked with the Surge Institute, which receives Walton money. Her current employer, The Teaching Well, gets Rogers Foundation money. Warren’s staff could have picked almost any other educator at random and not have chosen someone with nearly as many troublesome associations. Consider that only 6% of students attend charter schools and the odds become clear. If this was an accident, it is tantamount to hitting the lottery – multiple times – in a row.


      Second, why did you leave out so much pertinent information about Warren’s own history in your article? You never mentioned that her education advisor is a Teach for America recruit. You never mentioned that she wrote in “The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers are Going Broke” that we need a universal school voucher program. She strongly supported giving parents taxpayer-funded vouchers they could use at any school – public, private or parochial schools. You never mentioned her vote in favor of high stakes testing. Why? Did it not fit into your narrative that this was all just nonsense overblown by a bad blogger (me)? It’s ironic that in condemning Internet spin, you’re guilty of your own crime. 



      Are we all so scared that Donald Trump will be re-elected that we can’t ask our candidates where they stand on the issues? That is the point of my article. I’m not degrading Mehta or Warren. I just want Warren to tell us clearly and completely where she stands on education. Why that has been so controversial is shocking to me. Almost a shocking as the assumption that merely repeating who someone actually associates with is an attack.

      Like

      • Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education and a lifelong educator, posted the following message on Diane Ravitch’s blog about this incident:

        “There has been much discussion on this blog and elsewhere regarding Elizabeth Warren’s campaign’s choice of a former charter school teacher to introduce Ms. Warren in Oakland. She was a fellow at GO Oakland, an organization funded by billionaires such as the Walton Family, Arthur Rock and Michael Bloomberg–billionaires who are bound and determined to charterize American public schools. After leaving as a fellow, she continued her relationship by blogging for the organization in 2018, including in her blog links to get readers to sign up for GO emails.

        Why does any of this matter?

        It matters because when a presidential campaign asks someone to introduce their candidate. It is a carefully vetted and deliberate choice. It is naive to think the introducer is picked from the air in any competent campaign, and the Warren campaign is highly competent.

        When Bernie Sanders issued his bold platform calling for a charter moratorium, Elizabeth Warren responded by saying that she too was against for-profit charter schools with no response on Sanders’ call for a moratorium.

        Warren said she does not want to fund for -profits. Well, the only funding program she could influence as President, the Charter Schools Program, already does not.

        No bold, progressive stand there.

        What progressives need to hear from Elizabeth Warren is the answer to these two simple questions.
        1. Do you support the NAACP’s charter moratorium?
        2. Do you support funding the federal Charter Schools Program–which funds the expansion of non-profit charter schools?

        Sanders has made his position clear. When we hear from Warren, it will no longer matter who introduces her..

        https://dianeravitch.net/2019/06/07/carol-burris-a-message-for-elizabeth-warren/?fbclid=IwAR1o_DDdC6qrEepI5G6n90SgR2Mc6UUgyVy4Vb8cemgUmGZ-ttnjmdlX9OI

        Like

  10. While many of us had very high hopes for Warren and would love to see her come out with a comprehensive education plan that addresses privatization, I would not hold your breath. She has a TFA firewall around her and she has for many years. No one discusses education with her without first going through Joshua Delaney. The worst part about all of this is her silence forces us to examine the people surrounding her. The connections those people have are clear. This shouldn’t be about Mehta or Delaney but sadly, it is because of Warren’s campaign silence on education. Oh, and my teacher friends in Massachusetts are very clear that given their experience with Warren, a teacher as Secretary of Ed could very well mean that our new Secretary of Ed will have taught two years in a public school or a charter school under TFA. We must be more specific in our questions and not accept platitudes. But if all we get back is silence, then we have to make our conclusions based on the company she keeps.

    Like

  11. I don’t see that you misspoke about Mehta at all. If she was a policy fellow at a charter advocacy organization, that would make her an advocate. Is an advocate only a lobbyist if they are paid? Was she paid?

    And Bernie and Elizabeth say they are against for-profit charters, but most non-profits have a for-profit management company, and in any case they can pay their CEO any amount they want and can do shady real estate deals.

    Isn’t it interesting that Josh Delaney’s Linkedin account has disappeared?

    Liked by 1 person

  12. You know, she was an ideological Republican until the age of 47 when she was invited to consult for a prestigious White House commission (a stellar career move). And she is still differentiating herself from Bernie Sanders by saying she’s a “capitalist to her bones” and that she “believes in markets”. Numerous old friends and colleagues have described her as an enthusiastic conservative Republican in high school and during her pre-Harvard academic career.

    In 2003, long after she says she became a Democrat, she argued for a universal school voucher program in her book “The Two Income Trap”.  She strongly supported giving parents taxpayer-funded vouchers they could use at any school – public, private or parochial. This would “relieve parents from the terrible choice of leaving their kids in lousy schools or bankrupting themselves to escape those schools.” Get that — “leaving their kids in lousy schools”.

    I don’t see why anyone should be surprised that she has a checkered past regarding charter schools, and why her current position is “unclear”.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.