It’s been about a year since I formally withdrew my support from Manchester Proud. I did so after a disturbing article written by Ann Marie Banfield exposed not only undisclosed and significant conflicts of interest but also confirmed the uncomfortable feeling in my gut that the fix was in on their educational approach I firmly believed this organization would and will champion. About a week later, Banfield published another article about the clear direction Manchester Proud was heading. It reinforced my belief that things were designed to go in a predetermined direction I believe is fundamentally wrong.
Moreover, as I was recently searching our archives on another topic, I came across this article, also published by Banfield, regarding Reaching Higher New Hampshire, the “facilitator” chosen by Manchester Proud to solicit community feedback on the schools. It provided further evidence that the wrong people were at the table evaluating the Manchester School District. “Beating back parents” is absolutely something I’m not interested in, nor should anyone who is interested in welcoming students to our schools.
Since removing my support, I have remained quiet about their activities, except when they tried to hold an illegal non-public meeting with the board to discuss their preliminary findings. Their deliberate and admitted attempt to keep this information out of the public’s view caused a firestorm that forced the cancellation of that meeting in favor of one done in full public view. Candidly, we were happy to light that match given the secrecy with which they have conducted themselves thus far. Their “listening sessions” have barred Manchester Public Television and local journalists, and, in doing so, all but eliminated public scrutiny on who they were hosting, what they were asking and what the discussion was.
This Wednesday, October 16th, they will meet with the school board in public. The meeting is being billed as a “workshop,” whatever that means, and it won’t be at City Hall, making it difficult for the public to attend. Manchester Public Television will be present, though it won’t be live. And, the meeting does have an agenda which, interestingly, does not contain the “progress report” we were provided when the non-public meeting was scheduled. Instead, the agenda has an overview that is pretty heavy on what they’ve done up until this point in time, pretty light on what they’ve discovered and bereft of any recommendations.
In reviewing the materials, I was struck by a few things.
- First, for all the hoopla over their vaunted and valiant efforts to solicit community input, there is absolutely no new information contained in either document linked to above. Nothing! It would have been better had they simply put the effort into developing a plan to implement the 2013 Curriculum Audit, which provided all the same information and to which they paid scant attention.
- Second, it reads to me like a political document designed to feed the narrative that the district is “underfunded,” “understaffed” and has a school board that’s too large and governs poorly. The governance issue is particularly interesting given it’s strong inference that the board should be much smaller than it is. Perhaps this is to “advise” the coming charter commission on the direction it should go in. Whatever the case, arguing for a smaller school board really means the public has less representation in the decisions it makes. There is some truth in what they say, however it’s nothing new and the aforementioned Curriculum Audit addressed all of it.
Third, and most egregiously, there was precious little said, if anything about the core academic offerings and instructional approaches of the district. To the degree it was addressed, it was in typical “Eduspeak” jargon that failed to mention standards, approaches or curricular quality, but did use buzz words like “equity,” “leveling” (de-leveling, too) and “project based,” which are key elements in the fundamental shift of education away from academic excellence toward “soft skills” and “workforce training.” In other words, it’s a rehash of the discredited Outcome Based Education approach.
Finally, the “Data Profile” that mysteriously didn’t make the agenda, is laying the foundation to excuse poor student performance and justify a massive intrusion of social and other services into the schools. Its heavy emphasis on socioeconomic and cultural demographics will be the backdrop against which student underachievement will be couched and blamed. The massive intrusion of government will come when, for purposes of “equity” and “justice,” curriculum will have to be “culturally aware and sensitive” and poverty will have to be offset by greater involvement of social services in the schools; as if teaching kids how to read, write and do arithmetic is somehow different depending on their socioeconomic or demographic reality.
Among the other reasons to believe we’re about to receive a political manifesto on what’s wrong with the city’s schools and how to correct it are the following:
In the minutes of one of its Community Planing Group meetings, it was said:
The communication goals should include strategy for correcting misconceptions about Manchester Proud and this plan.
Could one of those be that they lack the transparency they claim to have?
Aside from the rank conflicts of interest described in the articles linked to at the beginning of this article, there are other reasons to question their transparency. When Manchester Proud announced it was going to form its Community Planing Group, it said applications from interested citizens would be screened by “objective” individuals chosen through some undisclosed process by Manchester Proud. It would not say who did the screening or how they were chosen. They also failed to disclose the criterion used to determine who would be anointed, except to say that 40% of them would be people of color to reflect the diversity of the district. From the looks of it, the people chosen, like Jim O’Connell, represent biases that have virtually no challengers on the committee.
Manchester Proud has repeatedly been asked to release both their donors and the amounts they’ve donated. They have refused to release donation amounts or any other information regarding their inner workings, which they consider exempt from public scrutiny. If you don’t think this matters, then ask yourself why we should require political candidates to do it.
How about the idea that they’re non-partisan or non-political?
Claims aside, when one reads their minutes, which are short on detail and seem long on self-promotion, one sees references “to increasing voter turnout as another form of community feedback.” This begs the question as to just who the voters targeted for turnout will be, especially in a year when Mayor Joyce Craig and the Democrats opposed putting the tax cap on the ballot for fear of drawing more fiscally conservative voters to the polls. Manchester City Democrat Committee Chairman and at-Large candidate for School Board Gene Martin deemed such people to be the “wrong type of voters” in calls to Democratic aldermen demanding they vote against putting the question on the ballot. Given that Manchester Proud has had at least a dozen one on one meetings with the mayor, by their own documents, one has to wonder about this.
If they’re non-political, why were they advocating for state budgets that were the subject of all out political warfare? Why did they use the state budget as a reason why they had to delay the presentation of their plan until sometime in the Spring of the next board’s term?
If they’re non-partisan and non-political, how do they explain who they follow on Twitter? I didn’t realize communists like Van Jones, race-baiters like Al Sharpton and a myriad of Democratic presidential candidates and their staffers had anything to do with Manchester’s public schools. There are people who advocate for any number of Left Wing causes, especially eliminating Second Amendment rights. Sure, they follow some state and local pols, too; everyone of them a Democrat, all of them with a pretty demonstrable point of view on what to do about public schools. Among the locals they follow is State Rep. Mary Heath (D-Ward 7), a former state DOE official who opposes charter schools, homeschooling, parental rights and has, again, filed legislation that would repeal a program that has successfully helped low and moderate income families afford schools, including public schools, that better serve their children. From their lips to my ears, every member of the Champions Council considers Heath an “educational expert.” She is the “woman behind the curtain” of this organization.
I have included more than three dozen screen shots to document their “non-partisan” and “non-political” approach to obtaining, listening to and respecting everybody’s point of view included below. Honestly, it’s very hard to believe they’re working to ensure that all points of view are “heard” in this process. What’s clear in their Twitter feed, however, is that virtually everybody they’re following has a common point of view on what schools should be doing and how they should be run. If they get their way, kids will be taught WHAT to think instead of HOW to think. If you’re into indoctrination instead of education, then Manchester Proud is for you.
Is the idea that they are really devoid of any preconceived notions of how schools should function in Manchester valid?
Aside from the well known biases of many on their Champions Council, let’s examine the record. They hired Reaching Higher NH to facilitate their community outreach. Among other things, RHNH has been a steadfast proponent of the Common Core National Standards. Manchester Proud enrolled the district in the Council on Great City Schools, ostensibly to evaluate the district’s structure and operations. The CGCS has received at least $13 million from the Gates Foundation specifically to help its members transition to the Common Core National Standards. Then it hired 2Revolutions to work with its Community Development Group to develop the actual plan that all of this data that has been solicited by and will be washed through organizations that are devoted to the CCNS. “2Revs,” as its known, is also an adherent to and advocate for the Common Core National Standards. As the articles at the beginning of this article expose, Manchester Proud has also, without board approval, supported grant applications on behalf of the district that underscore this otherwise palpable bias. There are other examples of them not playing this thing straight, but this article is long enough as it is. Suffice it to say that any organization that relies on the input of the Granite State Organizing Project, whose members have made demonstrably false and racist claims against the Manchester School District and several of its teachers, in the formulation of any plan is definitely not looking for objective feedback.
Finally, in the one document provided to the board in advance of this meeting, there’s a section bemoaning the lack of a teachers contract. It complains that the Work To Rule action imposed by the union prevented teachers from taking their own time to provide input after school hours, as if participating before or after school was, somehow, a violation of that job action. They said it would be hard to “overstate the impact” of not having a contract had o their community engagement work. I guess that should be expected given how embedded the Manchester Education Association has been in their work. What I find curious and maybe troubling about this is in May of 2018, I asked Manchester Proud Coordinator Barry Brensinger if he would ask the business people in their organization review the MEA’s contract so it could come to understand how it affected the district’s ability to function and provide some feedback on changes that could make things better. With all that assembled business expertise, I was hopeful to get some ideas. The request was declined. They did, however, work hard to create “more of a safe space for teachers and staff to voice their experiences” by changing the listening sessions to be during the school day.
This is a long way of saying they’re going to do what they’re going to do and there’s little that will stand in the way of what they’re destined to recommend by virtue of their associations and the nature of their activities. If one cannot see by the uniformity of the political opinions of who they follow on Twitter the direction they’re headed, then I guess we’ll just have to wait for the “told you so” at the end of it all. Also of concern is that they have also been busy about the business of making acceptance of whatever it is they propose a foregone conclusion. Have you heard that radio ads, including one with four former Manchester mayors? If that isn’t trying to build momentum for a yet to be produced plan, I don’t know what is. Back to the minutes of their planning group, they’re clearly preparing their “pitches” to be” emotional,” “story driven” narratives by individuals who have been somehow harmed by the district.
It’s also clear that they’re looking to isolate the school board, which is a representative body elected by the people, as a bad actor that’s in the way of progress. Whatever your opinion of the board, it is a duly elected representative body. If people don’t like their representatives, they can vote them out at election time. That’s what it means to have representative government. Part of what I’ve come to believe about this effort is that some see it as an end run around the elected body and those I believe see it that way haven’t been successful either in persuading its members to do their bidding or persuading the public to change its members. That could be a reason why the plan won’t be presented until after the next board is seated. Their proscriptions just might be the kind of information that brings out the “wrong people” at election time. Given all of the stuff I read from them about funding and budgets, I wouldn’t rule it out.
While I have yet to decide whether or not I will attend this Wednesday’s meeting, the fact that information is coming forward in this manner motivated me to share what I know and believe is going on with this effort so that whatever is presented can be seen for what it very likely is: a political pitch designed to prepare the ground for a predetermined assessment of this district’s presumed problems and their politically proscribed remedies that have nothing to do with academics.
Below, please find screen shots of who Manchester Proud is following on Twitter as of September 4, 2019. JUST CLICK TO ENLARGE SO YOU CAN SEE CLEARLY. I looked at their Twitter page after they attempted to meet with the board in non-public session. Given that virtually everyone they follow comes from a decidedly Left Wing point of view, it’s hard to imagine they’re coming at this from anything but. There is NO evidence of that in any of their actions to date. ZERO!
As the old saying goes, show me your friends and I’ll show you your future. Is this what we want for the future of Manchester’s schools?