“This is a David vs. Goliath issue.”

That was the defense that Colorado educator and activist Angela Engel used in this Chalkbeat Colorado story to defend the plagiarism of Denver school board candidate Kristi Butkovich, who used the thoughts of Engel, Diane Ravitch, and fellow Denver union-backed candidate Mike Kiley, almost verbatim, in answering a Chalkbeat candidate questionnaire.

“Kristi is a mom running for a volunteer school board position,” Engel continued. “Her campaign doesn’t have the resources to hire a PR firm or a communications director.”

Poor “David.”

Or maybe not so much.

While it’s true that Butkovich’s candidacy hasn’t attracted a lot of donors, she does have one BIG one: the Denver teachers union, as Chalkbeat reported in a separate story. The union has given Butkovich $21,000, more than 90 percent of her campaign cash.

I’m sure they’re all kicking themselves now that they got caught for not using a few hundred dollars of the union haul on a PR writer for the questionnaire.

So, they’ve fallen back and huddled around the tired PR ploy that the unions and their mouthpieces, like Ravitch, so often cleave to.

Not that it isn’t somewhat clever PR cleaving. After all, everybody loves the underdog. And because many of the policies that unions don’t like (charter schools, tenure reform, and stronger accountability) are supported by the big education philanthropies (including the funders of my employer—Education Post), the unions like to try and spin themselves into the beloved “little guy” persona, usually using money as “Goliath”’s most despised character flaw.

And there’s no denying the fact that these philanthropies certainly do spend a lot of money on education. But the reality is that the unions are threatened by the infringement on territory that has historically been theirs, not that they are being massively outspent or outmuscled.

Last year, the American Federation of Teachers—the smaller of the two national teachers’ unions—spent more than $40 million on political contributions. Teachers’ unions—using dues taken from teachers’ paychecks—are a political behemoth, on stages big and small.

And they specialize in controlling local education politics. This research out of Michigan State University on the teachers’ union influence on education policy includes this statistic: “Importantly, union activity in board elections seems to matter for election outcomes: Moe (2005b, 2006b, 2006c) finds that union-endorsed candidates won board seats over three-quarters of the time, and union support is more important than incumbency advantage.”

When it comes to school board elections, teachers’ unions are Goliath’s big, bad-ass brother.

But he’s not faring too well in Denver…and getting desperate.

Ravitch wrote a post that lamely tries to exonerate Butkovich. “I condemn this attempt to smear Kristi Butkovich with flimsy accusations,” she wrote. “She is not writing a book or a doctoral dissertation.”

That’s right, Diane; she’s not. She’s doing something that I’d argue should have an even higher standard of integrity. She’s running for public office. She needs to be honest about who wrote the words she put her name on.

Or as University of Colorado associate professor of communications Elizabeth Skewes put it in the Chalkbeat story: “If you’re going to be taking somebody else’s words — and more importantly, their ideas — you have to tell people it is not your original thought… If I am a voter, I want to know what she thinks — not what a good friend thinks or what Diane Ravitch thinks.”

The unions, with Ravitch cheering from the sidelines, have been trying to regain control of Denver’s school board for several elections now. They continue to spend big on the elections, while crying “David.” And they continue to lose.

Ravitch and the union thought they had a winner in 2011, when Emily Sirota, the wife of progressive media personality David Sirota, ran for a seat on the school board. But Sirota, even with all of her husband’s media muscle and Ravitch behind her, was trounced by Anne Rowe, Butkovich’s current opponent. And, by the way, the Sirota camp didn’t take that loss very gracefully.

No wonder Butkovich didn’t want Ravitch’s name attached to “her” words. The Ravitch slate has lots of marks on the losing side of the ledger here.

The real Goliath is shrinking. And no amount of PR spin can change his true identity.

Michael Vaughn is the Director of Communications for Education Post. He blogs at The Great Equalizer.



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