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People: Meet Sabrina Stevens, AFT's Secret New "Education Advocate"

Screen shot 2013-12-04 at 4.25.43 PMSo as you may have seen, MSNBC's Chris Hayes did a segment on PISA13 last night.  

One of the guest panelists was Sabrina Stevens, along with AFT head Randi Weingarten and NJ reformer Derrell Bradford.  

Predictably, Hayes and Weingarten focused on the effects of poverty on student achievement and the flaws of the current reform movement. 

Onscreen and in the intro by Hayes, Bradford was ID'd by his organization's name and his work with Gov. Chris Christie and the state charter board.  He mostly played amicable defense -- he's a quasi-regular on the show. 

Stevens was ID'd merely as an education activist (see screenshot).   She got a word in here and there, and nervously chewed the inside of her mouth the rest of the time.

 What nobody said -- not host Chris Hayes, or Weingarten, or Stevens  herself, was that she was until recently an AFT communications staffer, and had worked for the Denver teachers union before coming to the AFT.  So basically there were two AFT folks on the panel (plus a pro-labor host). 

That's fine, I guess - it's not my show.  But viewers also weren't told -- by Hayes or anyone else -- that Stevens recently left AFT to launch a new progressive ed advocacy organization that's describing itself as "a marketing department for progressive education - a campaign that never stops."

Wait, what?

Unaware of all this at the time, I brought up the issue of the lack of proper ID on Twitter this AM -- I personally had never heard of her and had to look her up -- and almost immediately got defensive-seeming responses from NEA and AFT social media folks trying to refocus attention on other things more to their liking.

That made me curious. 

Then someone from the reform community (not a hired oppo / rapid response person) sent me a job announcement for a new ProgressNow-like ed advocacy organization and told me that had taught briefly in Denver, headed AFT's Voices from the Classroom, and was now going to head this new "advocacy war-room" (originally dubbed the "Institute for Better Education" (IBE) but since renamed) that was intended to build grassroots support through "a messaging war-room, rapid response and a bunch of staged stunts."

Or, according to the organization overview:

"Our mission is to provide a strong credible voice on education that holds public officials and government accountable and focuses the conversation , assists in the promotion of progressive ideas and uses state-of-the-art web based new media to creatively build grassroots support for progressive ideas. This stand- alone organization, will be dedicated to aggressively communicating educational research to media and to education insiders, lawmakers and thought leaders as well as also supporting and amplifying the voices of the teachers, parents, and students working on the ground to counter the privatization movement.... a marketing department for progressive education - a campaign that never stops."

Stevens made allusions to something new on her blog last week but doesn't say who's funding it or what it's focus is going to be. It wasn't mentioned on the show. 

So now I'm even more curious,.  How'd AFT effectively get two people on a three-person panel?  Why didn't anyone ID Stevens as anything more than an education advocate? Who's funding the new organization (probably not AFT directly, since it's likely to be a c4)?  How much is it going to resemble ProgressNow?

No answers from @teachersabrina and her friends so far, alas.  After some prickly initial responses, she and they have taken to mocking (and avoiding) my questions.  We don't know the name of the new organization, or its new board, or its funders.  It's all a black box for now.

There's nothing wrong with advocacy, and unions have as much a right as anyone else to start and support advocacy organizations like this one.  We all know how many reform advocacy organizations are out there, as well as how many union operatives and allies who crush them (online, at least) every day.

I just want it all to be done above board -- appropriately ID'd by journalists, self-identified as necessary by advocates themselves.  (This is especially true for reform critics and their allies, who have made such a regular habit of attacking reformers' character credibility, funding sources, and transparency.) And I'm really curious about what this new organization is going to look like, how it's going to be received and treated by the media,  how effective it's going to be -- and what the reform side is going to do (if anything) in response.

For more about Stevens, here's her LinkedIn.

For the unconfirmed (not not denied, either) job announcement/org description, see here: IBE.

 Or just go to Twitter and track my Tweets and RTs today.  


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Yes interesting to see Sabrina reemerge as the secret AFT teacher advocate, not surprised. She had a short history here in Denver advocating against the Denver Public Schools administration after losing her job two years teaching in a failing school in Denver. I find it somewhat ironic that she is advocating against new evaluation systems, TFA, charters and all things reform given she’s only had a few years teaching. She reminds me of some of the inexperienced TFA type advocates that are sometimes put up as experts with a good degree and few years teaching. She’s appears to be the AFT version of the educated hip anti-TFA teacher advocate. Sabrina is clearly smart and strongly committed to quality public education (even if we disagree about how to get there). I hope she finds a way to be a credible voice that can make a contribution rather than just a mouthpiece for the teacher unions.

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