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American Federation of Teachers Costly Staff Spending

Dropout Nation recently reported on the American Federation of Teachers’ 2015-2016 financial disclosure to the U.S. Department of Labor. As you would expect, the nation’s second-largest teachers’ union spent big on influencing Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and her apparatchiks, as well as pouring heavily into what should be like-minded advocacy and nonprofit groups.

But AFT’s big spending doesn’t just end with political campaigns and co-opting minority as well as hardcore progressive groups. The union even spends big on its own staff and operations.

Start with AFT President Rhonda (Randi) Weingarten, whose paychecks put her in the top five percent of the nation’s income earners even as she engages in class warfare rhetoric. The union paid Weingarten $497,311 in 2015-2016, just a couple hundred dollars more than she pulled down in the previous year.

Also well-paid by the union is Loretta Johnson, who serves as its secretary-treasurer; her $358,225 in 2015-2016 was a grand or so higher than in the previous year. Meanwhile Mary Catherine Ricker, the former Saint Paul Federation of Teachers boss who now serves as the union’s number two (and in the process, serving as an obstacle to United Federation of Teachers boss Michael Mulgrew’s ambitions to succeed Weingarten as head of the national union), was paid $311,311, a 5.4 percent increase over her pay in 2014-2015.

Altogether, the AFT’s top three leaders collected $1.2 million last fiscal year, a slight increase over the $1.1 million paid to them by the union in 2014-2015.

Also making bank are AFT’s staffers, though there are slightly fewer of them this time around. Two hundred twenty-two staffers earned more than $100,000 in 2015-2016, seven fewer than the 229 in the previous year. Three out of every five staffers at AFT national headquarters earn six-figure sums. Among the union’s high-paid mandarins: Michelle Ringuette, the former Service Employees International Union staffer who is now Weingarten’s top assistant, made $230,736, while Michael Powell, who serves as Weingarten’s mouthpiece, earned $240,647. Kristor Cowan, the AFT’s chief lobbyist, earned $186,293, while Kombiz Lavasany, another operative who oversees Weingarten’s money manager enemies’ list, earned $184,158.

Supporting these high salaries is an ever-declining rank-and-file base. AFT counts 675,902 full-time rank-and-filers on its roster in 2015-2016, a 3.4 percent decline over the 699,739 members on the roster in the previous fiscal year. [Dropout Nation does not call them members because in  nearly every case, AFT and its affiliates use state laws to force teachers to join.] This marks the third straight year of declines and the fifth year of decline within the past six.

The union also experienced a 1.5 percent decrease in the number of half-time rank-and-filers (or school employees making less than $18,000 a year); a seven percent decline in one-quarter rank-and-filers (nurses and state government employees whose unions are affiliated with AFT); and a 2.7 percent decline in the number of one-eighth rank-and-filers. Seems like the union’s once-successful effort to strike affiliation deals with nursing and other government employee unions, an effort that put it in competition with the much-larger Service Employees International Union, has fallen to seed.

Even worse for AFT: Its effort to increase the number of so-called associate members who pay directly into national’s coffers, continues to be in free-fall. AFT counts just 49,984 such members on its rolls in 2015-2016, a 14.5 percent decline over the previous year. This shouldn’t be shocking. After all, AFT cannot provide associate members any real assistance in terms of negotiating teachers’ contracts or addressing work rules. Besides, the associate members can’t even vote in union elections.

As a result of these declines, AFT’s counts just 1.5 million rank-and-filers and voluntary members, a 4.3 percent decrease over the previous year.

The good news for AFT is that the death of U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia earlier this year assured that there was a tie vote on Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association; his vote would have likely led to the overturn of Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the five-decade-old ruling that gives AFT the ability to compel teachers pay dues regardless of their desire for membership. As your editor noted two years ago, the end of compulsory dues laws could cost AFT 25 percent of its membership and $36 million in revenue (based on 2012-2013 numbers), a hit for which the union isn’t likely ready to address.

The other good news for AFT is that it hasn’t affected revenue. The $192 million in dues and other agency fees (in the form of a so-called per-capita tax collected from locals and affiliates) generated by the union in 2015-2016 is 21 percent higher than in the previous fiscal year. AFT’s overall revenue of $328 million (including loan proceeds) is unchanged from 2014-2015.

This time around, the union didn’t have to borrow as heavily as it has in previous years to keep operations afloat; it borrowed just $55 million in 2015-2016, half the level of borrowing in the previous year. Overall, the union has borrowed $477 million over the past five years. The union did sell more of its investments in order to make due; the union sold $29 million of its portfolio in 2015-2016, more than double the investment sales in the previous year. Without the loans and investment sales, AFT’s revenues were just $244 million, a 15 percent increase over levels in 2014-2015.

But the bad news is that AFT may still lose revenue. One reason: The abolishing of collective bargaining and forced dues collections in Wisconsin, Tennessee, and Michigan. This has resulted in AFT losing teachers who realize that they don’t have to pay into unions that don’t represent their interests.

Another problem for the union: More of its affiliates and locals are either merging with those of the National Education Association or striking affiliation agreements with it. Membership declines forcing such mergers is one reason. But as seen in California, where the AFT’s United Teachers Los Angeles has struck a joint affiliation deal with NEA, the AFT’s larger locals are realizing that such triangulation gives them stronger influence over education policy at state and local levels.

But the gains for the big locals (who honestly don’t need AFT affiliation anyway) means both lost revenue for AFT as well as the ability to keep locals from straying away from the party line. [There’s also that pesky matter of being forced into a merger with NEA, a matter long-discussed among hard-core traditionalists.] Given the rancor from AFT rank-and-filers over strong-arm moves by national to remove wayward leaders in locals such as Detroit, expect more large locals to strike joint affiliation agreements or even break away from the national union in the near-future.

The consequences of efforts to abolish collective bargaining and joint affiliations by locals don’t just hurt AFT’s ability to use money to preserve influence. It also harms its ability to pay for the high costs of employing so many six-figure staffers.

While benefit costs have barely budged (remaining at $17 million), AFT’s general overhead costs increased by 4.8 percent within the past year. The good news for AFT is that it was able to offset some of those expenses with a 10.8 percent decrease in so-called union administration expenses. Meanwhile AFT’s post-retirement obligations increased by six percent (to $38 million) in the past year.

Luckily for the AFT, its staffers and leaders pay into definedcontribution retirement plans used by the rest of the private and nonprofit sectors. A funny thing given its opposition to efforts by school reformers and others to move away from the virtually-insolvent defined-benefit pensions championed by Weingarten and the union. Hypocrisy is like that sometimes.

About the Author: RiShawn Biddle is Editor and Publisher of Dropout Nation — the leading commentary Web site on education reform — a columnist for Rare and The American Spectator, award-winning editorialist, speechwriter, communications consultant and education policy advisor. More importantly, he is a tireless advocate for improving the quality of K-12 education for every child. The co-author of A Byte at the Apple: Rethinking Education Data for the Post-NCLB Era, Biddle combines journalism, research and advocacy to bring insight on the nation’s education crisis and rally families and others to reform American public education. This article originally appeared in Dropout Nation and is republished here with permission from the author.

Limiting Charter Growth by Any Means Necessary

Teachers unions in Chicago and Massachusetts are doing their darndest to stop the spread of charter schools.

Amazingly, the Chicago teachers’ strike didn’t come off.  Less than 10 minutes before a midnight strike deadline on October 10th, the district and union cobbled together a deal, pending approval by the rank-and-file. One of the more contentious issues was the so called “pension pick-up.” Teachers in the Windy City are obligated by law to contribute 9 percent of their salaries to their retirement. But in fact, for 35 years the Chicago Public School district has been picking up 7 of the 9 percent. Existing teachers will continue to receive this taxpayer-hosing perk, but teachers hired in 2017 and beyond will have to pay the full 9 percent. (But then again, the newbies will get a salary bump and won’t feel the pinch.) No one yet really knows what the fiscal ramifications of the pension pick-up – or any of the other contract particulars – will be.

One thing that jumped out in the agreement is a stipulation that there will be no new charter schools opened for the duration of the new 4-year contact. You would think that in a city where just 25 percent of 8th graders are proficient in math and 24 percent are in English, that charters would be welcome. According to the Illinois State Board of Ed, attendance in the public schools of choice has doubled in the last five years – primarily in low-income areas – and now has almost 59,000 kids enrolled. The University of Chicago Consortium for School Research reports, “charter school students account for 25 percent of the city’s high school graduates but account for almost half of the students who will enroll in college.” But educating kids, you see, is not a priority for the Chicago Teachers Union.

And then there’s Massachusetts, where on Election Day, Question 2 will ask voters if they support giving the state the authority to lift the cap on charter schools. As it stands, no more than 120 charter schools are allowed to operate in the Bay State. The referendum, if successful, would give the Massachusetts Department of Education the authority to lift the cap, allowing up to 12 new charter schools or expansions of existing charters each year.

Most of us would not consider 12 new charter schools a year a radical move, but then again, most of us are not members of the Massachusetts Teachers Association. With an assist from some local school boards and 275 district superintendents, the union’s main arguments against the proposition are their usual ones – charters drain money from traditional public schools, charters cherry-pick their students, yada, yada, yada.

The union’s blather is not going unchallenged, however. According to a Manhattan Institute study, while charter-school enrollment does reduce the net amount of state aid school districts receive in Massachusetts, “it increases per-pupil spending in the 10 districts with the largest number of charter-school students.” The report’s author, Max Eden, explains that while charter enrollments cost district schools over $400 million a year, after the state’s “unique reimbursement” – which he claims is one of the most generous reimbursement plans in the nation – districts are getting paid a significant amount of money for students they no longer teach. In other words, the traditional public schools have fewer students, but more money to spend on those students.

Regarding the union’s cherry-picking mantra – bad idea to use this talking point in Massachusetts. Boston is acknowledged to have the best charter schools in the country. Many use lotteries to determine which students can attend. As researcher Thomas Kane writes, “Oversubscribed charter schools in the Boston area are closing roughly one-third of the black-white achievement gap in math and about one-fifth of the achievement gap in English—in a single school year!”

The good news for the pro-charter forces in Massachusetts is that they have money flowing into the campaign, including $240,000 from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and $1.8 million from Wal-Mart heirs Jim and Alice Walton. As a result, the unions and their fellow travelers, which are being outspent, are forced to dredge up their time-honored whine about the evils of “outside money” and “dark money.”

The outside money line is amusing because the National Education Association, parent of the Massachusetts Teachers Association and headquartered in Washington, D.C., has sent $4.9 million in “outside money” to the Bay State to oppose Question 2.

The “dark money objection” is even more two-faced. In 2014, the American Federation of Teachers was outed after making an illegal $480,000 ad buy that helped propel Martin Walsh to a Boston mayoral victory over John Connolly, a longtime adversary of the teachers unions. AFT’s dark (and illegal) money groups got dinged to the tune of $30,000 for “failure to organize as a PAC, failure to disclose finance activity accurately, contributions made in a manner intended to disguise the true source of the contributions, receipt of contributions not raised in accordance with campaign law, and use of wire transfers.” (After illegally and successfully spending almost a half-million dollars, a measly $30K fine barely qualifies as a slap on the wrist.) And this “dark money” gambit was hardly a one-off for the unions.

Massachusetts legislators didn’t think much of the AFT chicanery, and in 2014 tried to pass laws requiring more transparency. The Massachusetts Teachers Association balked at the legislation, and citing “technical issues,” tried to kill it. But this past August, after two years of legislative wrangling, H.543 became law, much to the consternation of the unions.

To sum up, in Massachusetts, Chicago and a host of other places around the country, the teachers unions’ mission to limit charter growth or kill them outright goes on unabated. But, please keep in mind, they are, of course, doing it for the children. (Hey – I’ll stop saying it when they do.)

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

Teacher Union Political Spending: Liberal as Ever

AFT continues to use teachers as ATM machines to fund their pet leftist causes.

The latest American Federation of Teachers annual financial disclosure has been released (H/T RiShawn Biddle). This year’s LM-2 is filled with goodies that are sure to warm the cockles of leftist teacher union members, but apolitical educators, centrists and certainly those on the right just may have a different opinion.

Despite all the legitimate bad press the Clinton foundations have received the last few years, AFT still continues to pour more money into their pay-for-play operations. In 2015-2016 the union gave $250,000 to the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, and the same amount to the Clinton Global Initiative. This brings the total given by AFT to the Clintons over the past four years to $2.2 million. Maybe the union figures they need to assure that the Clintons won’t go wanting should the money from foreign special interests to secure weapons deals dry up. In any event, the gifts will ensure that AFT president Randi Weingarten will have HRC on speed-dial.

And of course the Clintons aren’t the only leftists to receive loot from the teachers union. The Center for Popular Democracy, a progressive pro-labor and anti-charter school outfit, received $373,000. Additionally, the union gave $25,000 each to Al Sharpton’s National Action Network and the radical Hispanic activist group, La Raza. Here is a chart with a small, but representative sampling of AFT’s donations:

aft-pays-to-play

Clearly there are no gifts to any group that is remotely conservative. Nope. Even though the teachers themselves are anything but a leftist monolith, practically none of the union’s money flows in a rightward direction. In fact, in all elections since 1989, AFT has given $76,446,797 to Democrats and liberals and just $363,000 to Republicans and conservatives. In other words, less than one half of one percent of the union’s political spending goes to the right. (And in those cases it’s usually supporting the more left-leaning of two Republicans running against each other.) The National Education Association isn’t a whole lot better; about 3 percent of its political largess goes rightward. But according to Mike Antonucci, an NEA internal survey in 2005 (consistent with previous results), showed that its members “are slightly more conservative (50%) than liberal (43%) in political philosophy.” No reason to think AFT is any different. And Mary Kay Henry, president of the SEIU, which serves both public and private employees, acknowledged in January that “64 percent of our public members identify as conservative….”  (Like the AFT, about one-half of one percent of SEIU political donations go to Republicans/conservatives.)

So how do the government unions, whose leaders run to the left of the average worker, get away with spending dues dollars on candidates and causes that so many of its members revile? The answer very simply is because its members let them. But teachers and other government workers don’t have to put up with this. Typically about one-third of all teachers’ union dues are spent on politics, but legally the rank-and-file does not have to subsidize the union’s agenda. A teacher can withhold the political portion of their dues by resigning from the union and becoming an agency fee payer. In this scenario, the teacher is still forced to pay about two-thirds of full dues because the union claims it’s forced to represent you in collective bargaining. This is a half-truth; they do have to represent you. But they insist on that set-up because, as the exclusive bargaining agent, they then get to collect dues from every single worker.

A teacher who resigns from the union cannot vote on their contract and loses their union-supplied liability insurance. The latter is essential for a teacher, but that and other benefits are available through joining a professional organization like the Association of American Educators, a non-union alternative.

Sadly, very few teachers have taken advantage of the agency fee payer option. In the Golden State, the California Teachers Association, an NEA affiliate, claims that 35 percent of its 300,000 or so members are Republicans. But only about 10 percent of its members withhold the political share of their dues. That means there are 75,000 Republican union members who are paying for causes and candidates they are opposed to. The national numbers are even worse. Only 88,000 of NEA’s 3 million members (2.9 percent) withhold the political portion.

If enough teachers withheld the political portion of their dues, the unions might sit up and take note. Millions of dollars less to spend on their pet candidates and causes might shake up union leaders – all of whom have become all-too-comfy with their all-too-compliant members – and force them to be more responsive to those they insist on representing. With the failure of the Friedrichs case due to Justice Scalia’s untimely death, the unions still have a captive flock throughout much of the country. But teachers who don’t like being forced to pay for their union’s political agenda need to stand up and just say no. If you do, you will sleep better at night and be a few hundred dollars a year richer. By maintaining the status quo, consider yourself a willing ATM for the biggest political bullies in the country.

For those of you who are sick and tired of subsidizing union politicking, you can get help here.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

 Rampant Union Greed in Chicago

The Windy City’s teachers union is on the verge of yet another strike. 

In 2012, Troy Senik wrote “The Worst Union in America,” a title he bestowed on the California Teachers Association. As a former member and longtime critic of that union, I certainly had no quibble with his selection. But now, CTA is facing serious competition from the Chicago Teachers Union.

As reported in last week’s post, CTU, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, is gearing up for a strike. It would be the union’s second in four years, despite the fact that the median salary for a teacher in Chicago is $78,169. When you add another $27,564 for various benefits, the total compensation for a teacher – good, bad or middling – becomes almost $106K per annum. (Please keep in mind teachers work 180 days a year, while employees in other professions typically work for 240 to 250 days.) In retirement, the average Chicago teacher receives a hefty $50,000 a year.

The main sticking point for the union and the Chicago Public School system (CPS) is the so-called pension pick-up. Teachers there (and elsewhere) have what’s called a “defined benefit plan,” whereby in retirement – come hell, high water or recession – a teacher’s pension is not affected. In most places, teachers and the school district share the contributions equally, but not in Chicago and some other municipalities in Illinois. Teachers there are supposed to chip in 9 percent of their salary to fund their own pension. But as things stand now, teachers contribute just 2 percent, with the school district (read: taxpayer) picking up the remaining seven. The city, which is in dire fiscal straits, is asking teachers to pay the full 9 percent. But lest the poor teachers need to reach for the smelling salts because they are being asked to kick in more for their own retirement years, Chicago is offering them an 8.7 percent salary increase over four years to help offset the teachers’ pension payment.

So, as the union demands more and more money, the schools end up with less and less. As reported by the Chicago Tribune, CPS still needs to come up with at least $300 million to balance its fiscal 2017 budget. “The school system still faces huge, $700 million-ish teachers pension payments this year and annually into the future. It still has too much real estate to serve its dwindling number of students. And its credit is maxing out.” As a result, Moody’s has just downgraded CPS further into junk status.

As if the union’s insistence on yet more money is not deplorable enough, there is a new addition to their basket. When CTU held its strike vote last week, it didn’t do it the traditional way – by secret ballot. Nope, the union had its teachers authorize a strike via “petitions” circulated at schools, meaning that everyone knew how everyone else voted. Think there may have been an intimidation factor at work here? And why on earth would they need to resort to such strong-arm tactics? The teachers voted by a 7 to 1 margin to strike in 2012 – when voting was done in private. As it turns out, the margin this year was 86 percent affirmative, just about what it was in 2012.

If the method of voting sounds dictatorial and totalitarian, it fits right in with the union’s leadership. CTU president Karen Lewis, who revels in her inflammatory style, makes Donald Trump look downright demure. Just a few of her egregious comments:

  • At the City Club of Chicago in 2013, she blamed the city’s education woes on rich white people. “When will we address the fact that rich, white people think they know what’s in the best interest of children of African Americans and Latinos—no matter what the parent’s income or education level.”
  • After the tragic Sandy Hook school shootings, Lewis blamed Teach for America, the organization that successfully enlists high-achieving college graduates to teach at hard to staff schools. Referring to TFA vice-president David Rosenberg, Lewis said “… policies his colleagues support kill and disenfranchise children from schools across this nation.”
  • Earlier this year, Lewis compared the Illinois governor to ISIS: “Rauner is the new ISIS recruit. Yes, I said it, and I’ll say it again. Bruce Rauner is a liar. And, you know, I’ve been reading in the news lately all about these ISIS recruits popping up all over the place — has Homeland Security checked this man out yet? Because the things he’s doing look like acts of terror on poor and working-class people.”
  • Then there is the typical union boss hypocrisy: She rails against corporate “fat cats,” all the while pulling in over $200,000 a year, owning three homes, including one in Hawaii. (Second-in-command at CTU, Comrade Jesse Sharkey, a leading member of the revolutionary International Socialist Organization, makes well over $100,000 in total compensation.)

The teachers could strike as soon as October 11th. It’s up to Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel and Governor Rauner to stand up to the CTU leadership and their outrageous demands and put a halt to the mugging. Enough taxpayer money has been extorted by the union without the mayor and governor kicking in another penny. And the union can’t claim that its teachers are doing a bang-up job: Just 30 percent of 4th grade CPS students are proficient in math and by 8th grade that number sinks to 25 percent. In reading, 27 percent of 4th graders are proficient as are 24 percent of 8th graders. Taxpayers should not be expected to sink any more of their money into an ineffective school system.

As of now, the hard working people of Chicago – already the highest taxed in Illinois – are getting overpaid teachers, failing kids and a union that wears its greed proudly on its sleeve. CTA, you have some serious competition.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

Heartless and Mindless

As the National Education Association embarks on a new PR campaign, some of its affiliates engage in lawsuits and strikes.

In July, the National Education Association unearthed its “Strategic Plan and Budget” for 2016-2018. The introduction to the 76-page document includes the notion that the union needs to “win the race to capture the hearts and minds of parents, communities, and educators.”

Hearts and minds?

Well, two months later, let’s just see how that’s working out for the country’s biggest union and some of its state affiliates. In northern California, the Yuba City Teachers Association is in its second week of a strike. The union was asking for a 13 percent raise for its teachers. When the district claimed that there was no way it could afford such a salary hike, the union came back with a counter offer: 15 percent. (No typo.) When asked about the strike, a picketing teacher asserted, “…we have to do this for our students.

Hearts and minds?

Washington State’s charter schools are once again endangered. The Washington Education Association is continuing its battle to remove the Evergreen State’s 12 charter schools and kill any such future endeavors. The union paints charters as unaccountable to voters, proclaims that they are privately run and don’t have elected school boards. The fact that parents send their kids to these schools of choice because the traditional public schools aren’t doing a good job does not matter a whit to the union. Perhaps Heartland Institute’s Bruno Behrend said it best: “The Washington Teachers Unions specifically, and the government education complex in general, once again expose their moral illegitimacy by attempting to destroy education options for Washington’s students and families.”

Hearts and minds?

Launched in 2001, Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship program allows low income families to send their kids to a private school with money that is funded directly through private donations from businesses, which can then earn dollar-for-dollar tax credits from the state for their contributions. The Florida Education Association, which has been fighting against this increasingly popular form of school choice for two years, is running low on options and is about to embark on its final effort: an appeal to the State Supreme Court. If the state court denies FEA’s appeal, the union will just have to live with the ruling. FEA president Joanne McCall is optimistic, however. “The highest level ruled in our favor in 2006. They seem to be the most sane court (sic) that we have.”

But Bishop Victory Curry, chairman of the Save Our Scholarships Coalition, has a problem with FEA. “We are very disappointed that the union will continue its effort to evict more than 90,000 poor, mostly minority children from schools that are working for them. … The union’s decision is wrong for the children, and wrong for our public schools.”

Hearts and Minds?

New Jersey governor Chris Christie is angry, claiming that 27 failing school districts across the state continue to under-perform despite receiving over $100 billion in funding since 1985. He blames various union work rules as a big part of the problem, declaring. “We can no longer tolerate a tenure law that places seniority above effectiveness, or tolerate limits on teaching time that restrict teachers to less than five hours of a seven-hour school day in districts where our students most need quality teachers and intensive instruction.”

The New Jersey Education Association responded by calling Christie’s plea, a “frivolous legal challenge” adding that it was an attempt by Christie to divert attention from the Bridgegate scandal.

Sure.

NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer further explained, “… He’s demonized the women and men who work in our public schools. And he’s proposed a funding scheme that would steal from poor children to reward rich adults.”

Mr. Steinhauer has it backwards. Stealing from kids and enriching adults is what his and other teachers unions do. Quite well, I might add.

Hearts and minds?

And finally we have Chicago, a city where one in three never graduates from high school. The NEA does not have a presence there; the Chicago Teachers Union is affiliated with Randi Weingarten’s American Federation of Teachers. Nevertheless, it seems that CTU is all in with NEA’s “hearts and minds” modus operandi.

First a few facts: The median salary for a teacher in the Windy City is $78,169. When you throw in another $27,564 for various benefits, the total becomes almost $106K per annum. In retirement, the average teacher receives a hefty $50,000 a year. Ah, but the teachers are not happy. Chicago teachers are supposed to contribute 9 percent of their salary to fund their own pension. But, as things stand now, the teachers only contribute 2 percent, with the school district (taxpayer) picking up the remaining seven. The city, which is in dire fiscal straits, is asking teachers to pay the full 9 percent.

The audacity of the city fathers! The union is fighting mad and in heavy strike-prep mode, holding workshops which center on “workplace tactics to stick it to the boss.” The teachers could strike as soon as mid-October.

Hearts and minds?

Nope. “Heartless and mindless” is much closer to the truth. Shameless and arrogant too.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

Clinton Turns Her Back on School Choice While Trump Embraces It 

As Hillary Clinton cozies up to the teachers unions, Donald Trump seeks to vastly expand school choice opportunities. 

In November, 2015, Hillary Clinton gave a speech in South Carolina in which she abandoned her prior support for charter schools. Using language straight from the teachers union fact-free playbook, she claimed that charters “don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don’t keep them.”

Fast forward to the National Education Association convention this past July. Mrs. Clinton made the terrible mistake of diverting from the teacher union party line by saying, “when schools get it right, whether they are traditional public schools or public charter schools, let’s figure out what’s working … and share it with schools across America.” This innocuous comment didn’t sit well with some of the unionistas in attendance, who made their displeasure known by booing the presidential candidate. Realizing that she strayed from union orthodoxy, Clinton regrouped by acknowledging that there are people on the outside who are pushing “for-profit charter schools on our kids. We will never stand for that. That is not acceptable.”

Later in her talk, she asserted, “There is no time for finger pointing, or arguing over who cares about kids more. It’s time to set one table and sit around it together – all of us – so we can work together to do what’s best for America’s children.” And that table, Clinton promised, will always have “a seat for educators.”

Two weeks later at the American Federation of Teachers convention, she went further, adding that she opposed “vouchers and for-profit schooling,” and repeated her pledge, “…you will always have a seat at the table.”

A seat for educators? No, not really. What she actually meant was a place for union bosses and their fellow travelers. Good to her word – at least in this case – that’s just what she did.

Last week, Mother Jones revealed just who is seated at Clinton’s table. (H/T Antonucci.) Participants include Lily Eskelsen García and Randi Weingarten, leaders of the two national teachers unions. They are joined by Carmel Martin and Catherine Brown, vice-presidents of the Center for American Progress, a leftist think tank that is financially supported by the teachers unions. Also seated is education reformer Chris Edley, president of the Opportunity Institute, a California-based think tank, whose board is a collection of Clinton cronies. And finally there is Richard Riley, who served as Bill Clinton’s education secretary and was the recipient of NEA’s Friend of Education Award.

Well, certainly no one can accuse Clinton of seeking out diverse viewpoints.

At the same time Clinton was doing the teachers unions’ bidding, Donald Trump did the opposite. In fact, he went all in for school choice. Speaking at Cleveland Arts and Social Sciences Academy, a charter school in Ohio, he promised, if elected, that he would redirect $20 billion in federal money to school-choice programs. Trump said he would make it a priority to give 11 million children living in poverty a choice of schools, including traditional public, charters, magnets and private schools. He proclaimed that parents should be able to walk their child to a school they choose to be at, adding that each state would develop its own formula for distributing the $20 billion block-grant money, but that the dollars must follow the student. Trump also had disparaging words for Common Core and promoted merit pay as a way to reward the best teachers.

Not surprisingly teacher union leaders were not exactly enthralled by The Donald’s vision and proceeded to blast his ideas, using tired and wrong-headed union anti-choice talking points. NEA president Lily Eskelsen García snapped: “His silver bullet approach does nothing to help the most-vulnerable students and ignores glaring opportunity gaps while taking away money from public schools to fill private-sector coffers. No matter what you call it, vouchers take dollars away from our public schools to fund private schools at taxpayers’ expense with little to no regard for our students.”

AFT president, Clinton BFF and reportedly her favorite candidate for Secretary of Education Randi Weingarten added, “Today’s speech on education repeats the same flawed ideology anti-public education zealots have been shilling for years. He shows his usual obeisance to the idea of making public education a market rather than a public trust, to blaming rather than respecting educators, and to ideas that have failed to help children everywhere they’ve been tried but instead, in their wake, have hurt kids by leaving public schools destabilized and their budgets drained.”

While I applaud Mr. Trump’s general vision, the devil will be in the details. Just how his plan will be implemented, including where the $20 billion for his block-grant plan will come from, is not clear. Also, Trump has been known to change his stance on various issues from week to week so we will have to see what transpires in the coming days. And the fact that he chose to give his speech at a failing charter school is typical of the gaffe-prone Republican nominee for president.

Kevin Chavous, a lifelong Democrat and education reformer, now finds himself in an odd position. After learning of Trump’s plan, he said, “While I do not support Donald Trump, his speech on school choice demonstrates that he is giving serious thought to education issues and I strongly challenge Hillary Clinton to do the same…I urge Hillary Clinton to show more openness and creativity when it comes to embracing school reform, choice and charter schools. So far Mrs. Clinton has largely been a representative of the interests of teachers’ unions and the status quo, which is in opposition to parents and students and will serve to be on the wrong side of history.”

Chavous is absolutely correct, but Hillary won’t change. She has jumped into bed with the teachers unions, which now own her. As such, if elected, she will indeed find herself on the wrong side of history – the children, whom she claims so fervently to care about, and their parents be damned.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

When Black Kids Don't Matter

Can’t understand why the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Movement for Black Lives have issued proclamations opposing the expansion of school choice and Parent Power for the very black families for which they proclaim to care? The answer can be found in the annual financial statements of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s two largest teachers’ unions.

Over the past five years, the Big Two unions have worked zealously to co-opt black and other minority-oriented groups. Having been on the defensive against school reformers for most of the past decade, NEA and AFT used their considerable coffers to subsidize organizations in exchange for support for their agenda. For the most part, it hasn’t worked out nearly as well as the unions have expected. The $300,000 NEA and AFT gave to Al Sharpton’s National Action Network in 2014-2015, for example, hasn’t stopped the controversial civil rights activist from being a strong supporter for expanding public charter schools, while outfits such as the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights have sparred with the Big Two over federal accountability rules contained over the now-abolished No Child Left Behind Act.

Yet the Big Two’s vast spending has managed to gain it some allies. One of the biggest: NAACP, which has long ago abandoned its admirable leading role on civil rights and school reform that included spearheading litigation that led to the U.S. Supreme Court’s abolition of Jim Crow segregation in Brown v. Board of Education. Between 2010-2011 and 2014-2015, NEA and AFT increased its contributions to NAACP and its affiliates by a six-fold (from $25,000 to $151,700); the outfit collected $380,500 from the two unions within that period.

For these paltry sums over that period (especially when compared to what National Action Network has received in one year alone), NAACP has repaid the Big Two with almost complete adherence to their agenda. This includes last week’s passage of the resolution calling for a moratorium on expanding charter schools, the most-popular option for black families otherwise forced to attend failure mills in their communities. Even with numerous polls showing strong support among black families for charters and other forms of school choice, overwhelming evidence that high-quality charters are successful in improving student achievement, and support for choice among some of NAACP’s own affiliates, the old-school civil rights groups has been all too willing to join common cause with those who don’t have the interests of black children at heart.

But the NAACP’s allegiance to NEA and AFT isn’t just about money. Among the influential members of NAACP’s 64 member board: Hazel Dukes, whose long (and often infamous) tenure as head of its Empire State affiliate included teaming up with the AFT’s United Federation of Teachers in an unsuccessful effort to stop the Big Apple from renting space in half-empty traditional school buildings to charter schools. Dukes is also notorious for accusing parents of charter school students of “doing the business of slave masters”.

 

Hazel Dukes, President of the NAACP in New York, has long been notorious for both slandering charter schools and inhibiting their growth throughout the state

 

Another top NAACP board member is Adora Obi Nweze, the president of the group’s Florida branch, which joined the NEA’s and AFT’s Florida affiliate in its unsuccessful suit to end that state’s school choice program. Last year, the Florida NAACP convinced the national association to pass a resolution reaffirming its longstanding opposition to vouchers and other forms of choice.

The strong ties alone between Dukes (who remains NAACP’s most-influential board member) and AFT alone, along with the presence of Baby Boomer teachers in the outfits membership,  all but ensures that the concerns of black families are secondary to traditionalist interests. Even if Dukes and Nweze weren’t on the board, NAACP would be more than a tad willing to go along with NEA’s and AFT’s agenda. This is because the association’s board has strong ties to the unions that make up AFL-CIO, the labor confederation in which AFT (along with more than a few NEA affiliates) is an influential member. This includes James Settles, Jr.,  a vice president of the United Auto Workers; Robin Williams (an apparatchik with the United Food and Commercial Workers International); and William Lucy of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, a key AFT ally.

But as noted earlier, NAACP is one of the few old-school civil rights groups on which NEA and AFT can count on as a reliable ally. So the Big Two have had to cultivate new alliances though a strategy of wrapping themselves in the language of social justice. This includes working to co-opt activists within the criminal justice reform and Black Lives Matter movements.

Certainly the Big Two unions are using their coffers to win at least some of those activists over. But it isn’t just a matter of money. As any civil rights-oriented school reformer can tell you, NEA and AFT have learned long ago that extending helping hands, from meeting spaces to using fax machines to simply endorsing a platform, goes a long way in winning alliances. This is something reformers, more-concerned with policymaking and institution-building, have never understood.

 

Adora Obi Nweze, President of the Florida branch NAACP, has been actively trying to eliminate school choice programs within the state of Florida.

 

That many in the school reform movement have either been reluctant or outright hostile about working with Black Lives Matter and criminal justice reform activists on addressing issues that are tied to schools (including overuse of harsh school discipline and the penchant of traditional districts to refer children to juvenile courts), has also made it easy for NEA and AFT to win over some activists.

This partially-successful co-opting by NEA and AFT can be seen in the manifesto issued by Movement for Black Lives this week (which hasn’t been championed by such leading lights within the Black Lives Matter and criminal justice reform movements as Deray McKesson). The declaration itself was written not by the Black Lives Matter activists within the coalition, but largely by two of NEA’s and AFT’s prime vassals.

One of the coauthors, Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, has long been a front for the Big Two. Besides counting NEA and AFT among its members, the coalition includes vassals such as the Schott Foundation for Public Education (which collected $725,000 from the two unions between 2013-2014 and 2014-2015), and Center for Popular Democracy (a recipient of $1 million in teachers’ union money in that same period whose board includes AFT President Rhonda (Randi) Weingarten on its board). Another coauthor, Philadelphia Student Union, has been one of AFT’s lead groups in its effort to oppose systemic reform and school choice in the City of Brotherly Love; it collected $20,000 from AFT in 2013-2014.

Given the presence of these groups, along with the presence of Alliance for Educational Justice (another group backed by AFT), it is little wonder why so much of the “manifesto” focuses on opposing choice and Parent Power, as well as calling for districts to stop hiring recruits trained by Teach For America, the teacher quality reform outfit that has long been the bane of the Big Two’s existence. [This is even before you consider that, unlike NEA and AFT, Teach For America has actually recruited more black men and women into teaching, as well as supported the work of Black Lives Matter activists such as McKesson and Brittany Packnett (a Teach For America staffer).] The manifesto proclaims to raise questions about the role of black families and communities in shaping the schools that serve their children. But because it merely consists of NEA and AFT talking points, it spends more time making laughable claims about “privatization” of education even though most children still attend traditional public schools.

The fingerprints of NEA and AFT can also be seen in what Movement for Black Lives either ignores or barely touches on: Zip Code Education policies such as zoned schooling and restrictions on intra-district choice that force black families to send their kids to dropout factories that put them on the path to poverty and prison. The overuse of out-of-school suspensions, referrals to juvenile justice systems and other forms of harsh traditional school discipline that all but a few NEA and AFT affiliates strongly support. The near-lifetime employment rules through tenure and teacher dismissal policies defended by NEA and AFT that deny high-quality teaching to black children. The traditional district bureaucracies, often influenced by NEA and AFT locals through campaign donations, that do everything possible to oppose Parent Trigger measures and other tools that give black families lead decision making roles in the schools that serve their children.

Certainly no one should expect NEA and AFT to care about the lives and futures of black children and their families. They have long ago proven that their concerns are elsewhere. But there is no reason why NAACP and Movement for Black Lives are siding with the Big Two in perpetuating the educational genocide that has enslaved and destroyed the minds and futures of the black children for which they are supposed to be concerned. In the process, both (along with the reform movement itself) have wasted an important opportunity to reshape systemic reform in a way that puts black children and families at the center. What a shame.

About the Author: RiShawn Biddle is Editor and Publisher of Dropout Nation — the leading commentary Web site on education reform — a columnist for Rare and The American Spectator, award-winning editorialist, speechwriter, communications consultant and education policy advisor. More importantly, he is a tireless advocate for improving the quality of K-12 education for every child. The co-author of A Byte at the Apple: Rethinking Education Data for the Post-NCLB Era, Biddle combines journalism, research and advocacy to bring insight on the nation’s education crisis and rally families and others to reform American public education. This article originally appeared in Dropout Nation and is republished here with permission from the author.

NAACP: Now Advocating Against Colored People

The once righteous civil rights organization is now in thrall to the teachers unions.

From the horrors of lynching to the injustice of forced school segregation, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has been there fighting for the rights of black people. But that has changed, at least in the realm of education.

At their national convention in Cincinnati in late July, the delegates of this once venerable civil rights organization voted for a resolution that called for a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools in the U.S. Embarrassingly, the NAACP’s talking points and verbiage come directly from the teacher union playbook with all the inherent fibs, half-truths and exaggerations intact. For example, a part of the resolution informs us that charter schools “have contributed to the increased segregation rather than diverse integration of our public school system” and that weak oversight of charters “puts students and communities at risk of harm, public funds at risk of being wasted, and further erodes local control of public education.” Every word in those quotes is a lie including “and” and “the.” (H/T Mary McCarthy) But when you are in bed with the teachers unions, speaking the truth is not a high priority.

Unacknowledged by the NAACP is that access to charter schools gives blacks and other minorities a great opportunity to escape lives of poverty and/or crime in many urban areas. Most studies show that charters (which are public schools) outperform traditional public schools, and that minorities and the poor are the biggest winners. Typical is a study released by Stanford researchers in 2013 that showed black students gained the equivalent of 14 days of learning by attending charter schools and  that black students living in poverty saw even greater benefits,  gaining the equivalent of 29 days in reading and 36 days in math. Also, a 2015 poll showed that 72 percent of black parents favored charter schools, with just 13 percent opposing.

So why is the NAACP taking this stance?

There are 380,500 reasons, according to education reformer/writer RiShawn Biddle. That’s how many dollars the anti-charter National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers have donated to the NAACP over the last five years. No one is more outraged at the blatant NAACP sell-out than Dr. Steve Perry, founder of the highly successful Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Connecticut, where100 percent of its high school graduates go on to college. Speaking angrily about the NAACP on Roland Martin’s TV show, Perry said, “They couldn’t be more out of touch if they ran full speed in the other direction… This is more proof that the NAACP has been mortgaged by the teachers union and they keep paying y’all to say what they want to say… The group that has most benefited from school choice in general and charters in specific are African-American males… You want to stop the school-to-prison pipeline? Then stop sending Black boys to failed schools that keep funding the NAACP through teachers union dues.” Not to be missed is an appearance by Perry on a podcast with RiShawn Biddle. Perry does a 17 minute rant that the NAACP and all who favor the status quo should be forced to listen to.

The NAACP and its teacher union benefactors never get around to explaining the above-mentioned Stanford study or why there are over a million kids nationwide on charter school wait-lists, desperately trying to escape their zip-code mandated school.

They never get around to explaining why, in a Quinnipiac poll released just last week, New Yorkers believe by a 2-1 margin that access to charters should be increased. In fact, in the same survey, 51 percent said they would prefer to send their child to a charter school.

They never get around to explaining why test scores just released by New York State show 94 percent of Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy students – almost all minority – passed the 2016 math exam and 82 percent passed the reading exam. By comparison, just 38 percent of students in traditional public schools met state reading standards this year, and 36 percent did so in math.

They never get around to explaining why, in California, 52 percent of students attending charters that serve a majority of high poverty kids are in the top quartile of all public schools statewide as opposed to just 26 percent of similar students attending traditional public schools.

As Steve Perry puts it, the national organization is “old and out of touch.” RiShawn Biddle adds that the NAACP is basically saying, “Black lives don’t matter.” The only good news for the NAACP is that many of its locals, which are much more in touch with the needs of black people, are very much pro-charter.

As for the teachers unions, their professed sympathies for the plight of minorities via their incessant “progressive” chatter go on unabated. But at the end of the day, many of their policies are really more in line with George Wallace, whose primary goal was to keep blacks “in their place.” It’s truly disgraceful.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

Minnesota’s Toxic Twins

Randi Weingarten and Hillary Clinton embrace, as parents sue to modify rigid, anti-child union work rules.

The yearly American Federation of Teachers wingding was a doozie this year. The 100th anniversary of the union and the presence of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton made for an especially noxious four days in Minnesota – a forced union state – last week. (The AFT affair coincided with the Republican Party convention, but no one would have attended that other event, even if they were on different dates.)

AFT president Randi Weingarten’s talk was laden with typical rah-rah union blather, topped with world-class fawning over Clinton. “Hillary understands the most urgent issues confronting our country. Her bold economic plan puts unions front and center….”

Boy, does it ever. If elected, Clinton will put at least teachers unions front and center. In her talk at the love-in, she gushed, “I want to thank you for being one of the essential partners for everything we need to do to move the country in the right direction.” And she then added “When I’m president, you will have a partner in the White House, and you will always have a seat at the table.” (The you in her statement refers to union honchos, not teachers.)

Minnesota governor Mark Dayton also addressed the throng, tossing out well-worn edu-blob rhetoric like, “…many people did not know how poorly the nation funds public education.” But the “we need to spend more” mantra has been blown up countless times, most recently by Minnesota reformer/writer Chris Stewart who pointed out that North High, one of the poorest performing schools in Minneapolis, receives budget allocations that amount to $17,460 per student, while Southwest High, a school ranked among the best in the nation, gets just $7,782 per student.

The party faithful were in heaven as Clinton and Weingarten oozed their utopian happy talk – so much so, in fact, that hundreds of unionistas took to the streets on the second day of the festivities, tying up traffic and annoying thousands of workers trying to get home during rush hour. But the protestors just had to vent about the “violence visited on the community by Big Banks” and promote the Black Lives Matter agenda. (Can’t let a little good rush hour traffic go to waste!)

Missing from the convention agenda, however, was that the prior week a judge heard initial arguments in a lawsuit aimed at dismantling Minnesota’s union-orchestrated tenure and seniority “protections” for public school teachers. The case was filed by Campbell Brown’s Partnership for Educational Justice and Students for Education Reform Minnesota. The plaintiffs in Forslund v. Minnesota are four mothers from Duluth, St. Paul and Minneapolis. Their suit seeks to have state tenure and dismissal laws ruled unconstitutional, charging they violate the state’s guarantee to a “thorough and efficient” education. It takes three years to attain tenure or “permanent status” – essentially a job for life – in the state. Additionally, the litigants claim that the last-in, first-out statute leads to a less qualified teaching profession. According to Chris Stewart, 98 percent of principals reported losing a quality teacher to LIFO.

The case is similar to the Vergara litigation in California which led to the Wright lawsuit in New York. The latter suit, like Minnesota’s, was also brought by Partnership for Educational Justice along with the New York City Parents Union.

The teachers union is also front and center in another battle in Minnesota. The Gopher State faces severe shortages of teachers in special education, math, science and engineering. As such, you might think that Minnesota – as other states have – would ease the rigid, unnecessary and frequently idiotic credentialing requirements one must suffer through to become a public school teacher. (Bill Gates could not teach a class in computer software in a Minnesota public school because he hasn’t taken the required ed school classes.)

But Minnesota’s Board of Teaching isn’t budging. You see, the board was appointed by the governor, a strong supporter (and beneficiary) of the state’s teachers union, Education Minnesota, which has lobbied against any kind of alternative licensing. The board is comprised of union organizers and representatives of the traditional education colleges whose exclusive franchise would be threatened by a change in the requirements. Also, the ed schools’ faculties are represented by the union.

All the while the union bosses are grousing about the motives of the reformers. Weingarten still swipes at Campbell Brown, claiming that she “continues to do the bidding of her monied donors.” But of course this is just a typical union diversionary tactic. In Minnesota – and elsewhere – the unions have almost total say over who enters the profession and who leaves it. As long as this is the case, many children all over the country will continue to receive a substandard education, and if Hillary Clinton winds up in the White House, she will do everything she can to ensure that the very disturbing status quo remains firmly in place.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

The Teachers Unions Faux Grassroots Organizing

The Hedge Clippers, a union run and organized group, laughably pretends to be grassroots.

The Hedge Clippers, born last year, is an anti-capitalist, left-wing, purportedly grassroots organization whose focus is on exposing “the mechanisms hedge funds and billionaires use to influence government and politics in order to expand their wealth, influence and power.” The group received a mention in the Wall Street Journal a couple of weeks ago in a piece that centered around American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, who sicced them on a bunch of hedge fund managers that are involved with education and pension reform that the union finds objectionable. Perhaps #1 on the Hedge Clippers’ enemies list is Daniel Loeb, founder of the $16 billion Third Point fund. Loeb has the temerity of being a financial supporter of the wildly successful Harlem Success Academy charter school franchise, run by Weingarten’s avowed enemy, Eva Moskowitz. Weingarten has also accused Loeb of being involved with a group that is “leading the attack on defined benefit pension funds.”

The very same day the Journal piece appeared, the Los Angeles Times ran an “exposé” claiming that “activists reveal more dark-money donors to campaigns against unions and schools-funding tax.” The article centers around the Hedge Clippers outing donors who they claim made undisclosed contributions in 2012 as part of a “dark-money” scheme to defeat Prop 30, an initiative that raised income taxes on the richest Californians and sales tax on all Californians. The essential point of the article is that the Hedge Clippers have discovered that evil and greedy capitalists contributed money to an out-of-state organization, which circulated funds through a series of other groups and eventually back to California.

But just how does the Hedge Clippers enterprise do business? Is this really a “grassroots” entity, as billed? In “United Front: Teachers Unions Quietly Spend Millions on ‘Grassroots’ Groups The 74’s David Cantor reveals that the “grassroots organization” has been created, funded, and directed by two of the nation’s largest political contributors – you guessed it – the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association.  The group is led by a union lobbyist who is based at New York City’s United Federation of Teachers headquarters. Moreover, Cantor points out that the Hedge Clippers’ “crusade against opaque financial dealings also seems at odds with the fact that in the last election only two organizations contributed more than the AFT to 527s – less-regulated groups that, since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, can raise unlimited money for or against candidates….”

But wait, there’s more.

Teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci weighed in on the subject, pointing out that despite the contributions of those “opposing economic justice,” the Prop. 30 campaign was successful. Perhaps the fact that the alleged grassroots folks (mostly public employee unions) outspent the greedy and evil hedge-funders by almost $14 million had something to do with it.

To fully grasp the teachers unions’ “grassroots” activity, check out the following chart, plucked from the California Teachers Association website. (H/T Antonucci.)

CTA - grassroots chart

As you can see, CTA’s (like most teachers unions’) political organizing is top-down, centrally planned, bureaucratic and frequently at odds with its own rank-and-file. The unions are many things, but grassroots? Hardly. They are run more like the Politburo.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

The Bad, the Ugly and…the Perky

Three recent stories point to the self-serving teacher union mentality.

The bad. Joseph Ocol was in big trouble when he came to the U.S. in 1999. As a whistleblower, he was placed in the government’s Witness Protection Program for calling attention to an election fund-raising scam in his native Philippines. Even with a double degree in Electrical Engineering and Education, he had difficulty finding work here. Ultimately he found a job as a mathematics teacher in a tough part of Chicago, an area notorious for drugs, crime and violence.

Ocol’s idealism and passion to make things right served him well in his new position. A math teacher, he became famous by creating an after-school chess club. Knowing that most gang violence occurs between 3 and 6pm, he decided to keep as many kids in school as he could and teach them to play chess. He eventually expanded his program from high school students and invited children from the local elementary school to join, ultimately involving over 100 at-risk kids. Over the years, the wildly successful program has produced several chess champions and received accolades from the Cook County Board of Commissioners, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel and President Obama.

But then, Ocol did something bad, really bad, at least according to the Chicago Teachers Union. Not willing to abandon his students, he decided to shun the one-day teachers’ strike in the Windy City on April 1st. As punishment for his “crime,” the union is demanding that he give the pay he received for working that day to them. Ocol made a counter offer. He said he was willing to fork over his salary, but wants it to help fund his 35 member chess team’s trip to the White House. Ocol was supposed to have a hearing on June 6th, but he refused to go because he said he needed the time to coach his students.

So in a city that is home to the highest paid teachers in the country – where more than one in three students drop out – CTU is doing its best to hound a dedicated educator and idealistic human being into submission over not participating in what was very possibly an illegal one-day strike. (But of course, CTU president Karen Lewis will reassure us that the union’s punishment of the teacher is being administered “for the children.”)

Ocol also said he has been receiving nasty messages from other union members and filed a complaint. Some teachers have suggested that he leave the Chicago Public School System and work for a charter school. Good idea. I’m sure his efforts would be much more appreciated in a non-union environment. And if he goes that route, here’s hoping all his students will follow him.

The Ugly. In Yonkers, NY, we have a reverse problem where the union, instead of trying to punish a good teacher, tries to help a violent teacher save his own skin. Investigative journalist James O’Keefe went into the local union office posing as a teacher who claimed to have physically abused a student while using a racial epithet, and subsequently fled to Mexico, unannounced, for two weeks, because he didn’t know what else to do. The episode, available via a 17-minute video, lays bare the union’s priorities. The local union president and vice-president instruct the teacher to talk to them “theoretically” and not to admit anything. The union bosses clearly couldn’t have cared less about the abused child, but rather counseled the teacher how to save his job, advising him what lies to tell and what truths to avoid.

When the Yonkers City Council caught wind of the video, it insisted that the involved union officials resign. Majority Leader John Larkin said “What kind of people would conspire to conceal child abuse and assist in covering up a teacher going AWOL for two weeks without permission?” (The answer Mr. Larkin is: Your average teacher union leader.)

The mayor was more than a tad miffed. “If this is the standard operating procedure, well you know what, it better damn well change.”

And then there was the teacher union response. The two involved local union leaders refused to comment on the video. Karl Korn, spokesman for the New York State United Teachers (the state affiliate of the involved local), punted to the national union, saying the American Federation of Teachers “was reviewing the facts in the matter.” The AFT responded that it is “commissioning an independent, full and fair investigation to determine whether the video is accurate….”

Then, showing true union colors, Korn added, “The AFT is prepared to act if a breach of ethics is found. What we do know is that the video is based on a series of lies and deceptions. It was cut and sliced at least 14 times. It’s an attack piece manufactured by a right-wing extremist.”

I’m sure the union’s investigation will be very fair, and objective to a fault.

The Perky. Just last week the Buffalo (NY) School Board voted to take away the no-copay cosmetic surgery rider that has been in the collective bargaining contract for years. The district is strapped for cash, and decided to redirect the millions of dollars a year it spends on face lifts and tummy tucks to its students instead. The nerve! The union, you see, is using the issue as leverage to get a new contract which they haven’t had since 2004. Local teacher union president Phil Rumore said “removing the cosmetic surgery provision without a new contract is a slap in the face to teachers.”

As Education Action Group CEO Kyle Olson pointed out, the district, operating with a $50 million deficit, still managed to spend $5.4 million on plastic surgery in 2013. At the same time, the high school graduation rate for the Buffalo Public Schools was a pathetic 56 percent and one-third of all adults living in Buffalo are illiterate. Hey, but what’s a little illiteracy when you can score hair plugs and boob jobs, all paid for by the taxpayer!

These three stories are infuriating, horrifying and ridiculous, but, sadly, not unique at all. Similar scenarios are played out year after year throughout much of the country. It’s the nature of the teacher unions, whose priorities are their officers and (acquiescent) members, and most definitely not the kids. And let’s not even get started on the enormous burden they, with the help of compliant school boards, heap on taxpayers.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

Teacher Shortage Claim Is Still Short on Data

No matter how many times it’s repeated, the national teacher shortage story is a canard.

In the months since I last wrote about the alleged teacher shortage crisis, I had hoped the hysteria would abate. But alas, it hasn’t; if anything, it has increased, with the teachers unions at the forefront of the bogus story.

Champion alarm bell-ringer Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, was in fine form when she penned “How the Teacher Shortage Could Turn Into a Crisis” for the Huffington Post last month. Her claims are all ridiculous, of course, but she states them with such certitude that they sound quite believable if one doesn’t know better. “…we lose an alarming number of teachers once they enter the profession— between 40 and 50 percent of new teachers leave within five years. Add to that the loss of mid- and late-career teachers, who have honed their skills but can’t see staying until retirement, and you’ve got a teacher brain-drain unseen in any other profession.” The National Education Association advises, “Want to reduce the teacher shortage? Treat teachers like professionals.” The California Teachers Association informs us that we are on the verge of “The Perfect Storm: California Impending Teacher Shortage Crisis.

And it’s not only the unions that have been infected with the “sky is falling” mentality. In February, Education Week reported “Teacher Shortages Put Pressure on Governors, Legislators.” And a Hechinger Report piece recently warned that “California faces a dire teacher shortage. Should other states worry, too?” Surprisingly, however, the gloom actually lifts near the end of the Hechinger article and clarity ultimately prevails. Dan Goldhaber, director of the Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research puts things into perspective by introducing data which show that between 1984 and 2013 teacher production has increased overall, with a few dips here and there. He calmly states, “This does not look to me like the production of teachers in this country is falling off a cliff.”

Another Hechinger piece posted last month continued the Goldhaber line. “Cries about national teacher shortages might be overblown” takes a look at various state reports. In 2013-2014 in California, 2.5 to 2.7 percent of the teachers hired had emergency certification, a sign of shortage, because schools hire applicants with full certifications first. But fifteen years ago, 14.5 percent of the teachers hired in California were not fully credentialed.

Then, just last week, the National Center for Teacher Quality claimed flatly in its newsletter that we are in the midst of a drummed up teacher shortage crisis. Acknowledging that the number of new teachers produced since 2008 has declined, NCTQ president Kate Walsh points out that “the drop was preceded by a three-decade period of enrollment growth, far outpacing the demand year-in and year-out. America’s 1,450+ institutions which train teachers have been OVER-enrolling for years.” She adds that, “The current decline is what we normally see when unemployment dips and the pool of folks looking for work isn’t as large as in other years.”

Taking an even longer look, the late Cato Institute senior fellow of education policy Andrew Coulson wrote in 2015 that there is an “Evidence Shortage for Teacher Shortage.” He notes that since 1970, “…the number of teachers has grown six times faster than the number of students. Enrollment grew about 8 percent from 1970 to 2010, but the teaching workforce grew 50 percent. There are a LOT more public school teachers per child today, so how can districts and states still claim to be facing teacher shortages?” (Emphasis added.)

Coulson finishes his piece, “So does America have a ‘teacher shortage’ writ large? No. We had 22.3 pupils/teacher in 1970 and 16 p/t in 2012. Compared to the past, we are rolling in teachers. If we have too few in some fields and too many in others, it is (because of) mistakes in policy and/or execution.”

Also, Weingarten’s assertion that “between 40 and 50 percent of new teachers leave within five years” has always been, and still is, a crock. She and other union leaders have been telling that lie since the last millennium. Fortunately the debunking has been picking up. Just a year ago, EdSource’s John Fensterwald reported, “Half of new teachers quit profession in 5 years? Not true, new study says.” He writes that a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Educational Statistics found that “10 percent of new teachers in 2007-08 didn’t return the following year, increasing cumulatively to 12 percent in year three, 15 percent in year four and 17 percent in the fifth year. The totals include teachers who were let go and subsequently didn’t find a job teaching in another district.” Just last week, Bellwether Education Partners policy expert Chad Aldeman reported in Education Next, “Turnover rates for inexperienced teachers have been falling, not rising, while turnover has risen among more experienced teachers.”

So after five years one-in-six teachers are gone. Hardly a cause for smelling salts. In fact, other fields have a much higher turnover rate. In banking and finance, for example, the departure rate in 2013 was 17.2 percent and in healthcare it was 16.8 percent. The average for all industries in 2013 was 15.1 percent. So basically, in five years, the teaching profession loses roughly the same percentage of employees that other fields lose every year. So, comparatively speaking, we are hardly “bleeding teachers.”

While I have been looking at the big picture here, to be sure there are some school districts that are short on teachers and other districts may lack teachers in certain subject areas. But rather than promulgating doomsday prophecies, how about simply addressing those specific shortages – like paying science teachers a bit more money to lure them to districts where they are needed.

There is one area in decline that is worth noting, however: unionized teachers. Taking a look at the latest numbers available, courtesy of Mike Antonucci, we see that the National Education Association lost 42,000 active members in 2013, “bringing the union’s total losses among working public school employees to more than 310,000 (10.7%) over the past five years.” That’s certainly bad news for the union’s bottom line, but the rest of us aren’t going to be shedding any tears over that.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

The Latest Teachers Unions’ Monopoly Moves

April revealed the teachers unions’ desperation over losing control of top-down, one-size fits all government-run schools.

In many ways April was normal for teacher union monopolists. Early in the month, the Washington Teachers Union said it would challenge a new law in the Evergreen State that corrected problems in the way that charter schools, which had been marked for extinction, are funded. The modified law would allow their scant eight operating charters to remain open. Obviously that is eight too many for WTU, which is suing over the use of state funding for the schools, as well as their “lack of public accountability.”

Then just last week, writer and former California State Senator Gloria Romero reported that two Orange County Board of Education trustees’ seats are in danger. Being pro-charter and pro-parent are apparently too much for the Santa Ana Educators Association. The California Teachers Association local set up an entity called “Teachers for Local Control,” obviously a union-front group, whose goal is to dump the reformers based on the premise that they are “intent on destroying local control, devastating public education and usurping and overturning the wisdom of locally elected trustees.”

In both cases, it’s union turf-protecting business-as-usual.

But then came the real whacked-out stuff. On April 13th, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten wrote “A Coordinated National Effort to Decimate Public Schools” – an absolutely loopy piece – for Huffington Post. The factually challenged rant featured every lie imaginable about charter schools, and included a veritable Who’s Who of union bogeymen – Chris Christie, “hedge-fund billionaire” Dan Loeb, Eli Broad, the Walton Foundation, “Tea Party extremists,” et al. While Weingarten is certainly entitled to her opinion, she needed to be busted on her “facts” and two days later Margaret Raymond did just that in HuffPo. The director of the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University poked holes in just about every one of Weingarten’s claims. “In her blog, Weingarten states, ‘A well-regarded Stanford University study found that charter school students were doing only slightly better in reading than students in traditional public schools, but at the same time doing slightly worse in math.’ She refers to our 2013 study, ‘The National Charter School Study,’ but errs in both fact and interpretation.” You can read Raymond’s smackdown here.

But perhaps the most bizarre teacher union activity in April, again courtesy of AFT, took place last week in England, where according to the union’s press release, “The American Federation of Teachers, along with teachers unions and nongovernmental organizations throughout the world, will speak out during Pearson’s annual general meeting Friday, April 29, in London to call for a review of its business model that pushes high-stakes testing in the United States and privatized schools in the developing world.”

AFT has a long and complex relationship with Pearson. Twenty-seven of its affiliates have holdings in the global education company, including retirement systems in California, New York, Arkansas, Colorado, etc. The union thinks Pearson’s business model needs rejiggering and has decided to throw its weight around, stressing that the company should forsake its “test and punish policies.” Without getting into the anti-testing hysteria, it is downright bizarre to attack the company’s business model. They are in the business of making tests. What the heck does Weingarten expect them to do, stick a warning label on each test? “Overuse can lead to low self-esteem.” It’s akin to an obese person blaming their weight problem on Hostess for making and advertising Twinkies.

And then there is the non-existent horror of privatized schools in the developing world. Weingarten asserts, “Pearson needs to acknowledge the global right to free and accessible public education….” The union leader’s British counterpart, Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (known as “NUT” – no, I am not making this up), said Pearson’s involvement “with low-cost private schools in the Global South is jeopardizing access to education for many children. Education is a human and civil right and a public good, for the good of learners and society, not private profit. We hope that Pearson shareholders take on board the issues we are raising and support our resolution.”

So the union leaders want to advance their big government one-size-fits-all unionized education model and infect the rest of the world with what isn’t working well in the U.S. Perhaps the union leaders should read James Tooley’s The Beautiful Tree, an enchanting and inspiring account of the writer’s quest to discover “how the world’s poorest people are educating themselves.” Can you imagine kids getting an education without government or union meddling?! (Think early 19th Century America when literacy rates were higher than they are now.) Tooley’s travels took him to the teeming slums of Hyderabad, India, as well as other poverty-stricken areas and found that children “in low-cost private schools in India, Nigeria and Ghana outperformed students in government schools by double-digit margins in almost every subject.” We’re talking about ramshackle schools with mud floors, adjacent to open sewers, where parents pay $1-$2 a month in tuition because they are so disillusioned with the (frequently unionized) government schools.

In any event, Pearson’s board considered the unions’ resolution but recommended that its shareholders vote against it. And indeed they did. Only 2.4 percent bought the bilge, and the union resolution was defeated by 578,510,587 votes to 14,016,634.

With April in the books, what do our union friends have planned for May? Well, tomorrow there will be a “national walk-in.” Sponsored by The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, a union front-group, the event is intended to solidify support for traditional education and minimize the “damage” done by charters and other forms of school choice. Thankfully for the impoverished in the Third World, the union only plans their purely self-serving activity for the U.S. Obviously it isn’t just the Brits who are NUTs.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

Vergara Update: Virtues and Villainy

The union and media reactions to the appeals court decision in the Vergara case had me going through a whole can of room deodorizer.

In 2014, the plaintiffs in the Vergara trial claimed that several California education statutes – all of which are on the books at the behest of the teachers unions – cause greater harm to minority and economically disadvantaged populations because their schools “have a disproportionate share of grossly ineffective teachers.” Judge Treu ruled in favor of the plaintiffs on every issue, removing five statutes concerning tenure, seniority and teacher dismissal rules from the state’s constitution, adding, “The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience.” Well, it’s now 2016 and last week the Court of Appeals shocked the plaintiffs by overturning the original decision.

Some of the wording in the ruling was quite interesting: “Critically, plaintiffs failed to show that the statutes themselves make any certain group of students more likely to be taught by ineffective teachers than any other group of students.” Also, Justice Roger Boren, wrote in his opinion that it was the court’s job merely to determine whether or not the statutes are constitutional, not whether they’re “a good idea.” As Reason’s Brian Doherty points out, “The core of the new decision, which seems to this non-lawyer (and non teacher, and non student) to be saying that if the crummy policies are as near as we can tell causing equal harm to all California students rather than special harm to an identifiable group, then the Court feels powerless to overturn them.” Or in plainer English, “All kids are hurt by crappy teachers, so get over it.”

The justices are of the mind that much of the problem falls on administrators. While this certainly may be true to some degree, the path for principals to get rid of a rotten apple is currently so onerous and time-consuming that many, understandably, choose to stick with the poor performers and try to place them in positions where they do the least damage. Also, getting rid of bad teachers is very costly. Recently in Los Angeles, it took $3.5 million just to try to get rid of seven tenured teachers who were deemed incompetent and only four of them were actually removed.

Needless to say, much has been written about the successful appeal, but not all the reporting has been accurate. Unsurprisingly, the teachers unions’ responses were ecstatic, and laden with mounds of bunkum.

I will attempt to separate reality from fantasy.

First of all, the case is not over. This is a three-round fight and to be sure the unions were victorious in Round 2, but the plaintiffs won the first round and will appeal to the California Supreme Court which will ultimately decide the winner. (Don’t hold your breath, however; it could take a year before there is a final decision.)

The Los Angeles Times reported, “In a major victory for unions, a California appeals court on Thursday reversed a lower court ruling that had thrown out tenure and other job protections for the state’s public school teachers.” (Emphasis added.)

No, not really. Judge Treu did not say teacher tenure is detrimental per se; rather, he stressed that the probationary period for teachers is too short. California is one of only five states where schools reward teachers with tenure after only two years or less. In 41 states, the probationary term ranges from three to five years and four states don’t allow tenure at all. In any event, the decision was never about “throwing out tenure,” but rather extending the probationary period.

The National Education Association crowed that the verdict was a “major victory for due process.” Again, wrong. It’s not “due process.” In fact it’s not even really “tenure.” What teachers achieve after two years on the job is “permanent status.” Think about it. Other than the SCOTUS Justices, who else in the world has a permanent job? Do you? Of course not, and for good reason. If you do well, you keep your job; if you don’t perform well you lose your job. Why do we have this awful law for people who deal with our most precious commodity – our children?!

Regarding seniority or “last in, first out,” the unions claim that this is the only way to determine layoffs because it is “objective.” Well, it is indeed “objective” and that’s exactly the problem with it. It makes about as much sense as retaining teachers by alphabetical order. So if layoffs are necessary and your surname is Allen, you are in good shape. But if your last name is Zygmond, adios!

California Teachers Association president Eric Heins was jubilant. “I consider this a victory for teachers and a victory for students. What these statutes have done is…bring stability to the system.” Stability, of course, is not in and of itself a bad thing, but when permitting thousands of poorly performing teachers to stay on the job, it stinks for kids.

In praising the decision, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten dredged up every cliché in the book, including this golden oldie, “You can’t fire your way to a teaching force.” Randi, I would urge you to read what Eric Hanushek, an economist who writes extensively about education issues, has to say on the subject. After doing detailed research, he wrote that by getting rid of as few as 5 to 7 percent of bottom performers, not newest hires, and replacing them with just average teachers, education achievement in the U.S. could reach that of Canada and Finland. So yes, Randi, getting rid of bad actors can do wonders for thousands of educationally abused kids.

Coincidentally, the very day that the Vergara appeal decision was announced, a similar lawsuit was filed in Minnesota by Campbell Brown’s Partnership for Educational Justice, which has also filed a parallel suit in New York in 2014. Regarding the litigation, Weingarten huffed, “It’s not surprising that Campbell Brown continues to do the bidding of her monied donors—particularly when the weight of the evidence is so clear that you cannot fire your way or sanction your way or test your way to children’s educational success.” (Here, she manages to slam arch-enemy Brown, rich corporate types and get in her golden oldie in a single sentence.)

It’s worth noting that with all the judicial wrangling, the courts have rightfully not “legislated from the bench.” Regarding the dismissal statutes, the California legislature made a gesture toward sanity by passing Assembly Bill 215 in 2014. That bill makes it somewhat easier for administrators to remove teachers accused of “egregious behavior,” such as sexual abuse. And now we have Assembly Bill 934 written by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord. According to the Sacramento Bee, “Under this bill, teachers who are doing poorly would be placed into a program that offers them extra professional support. If they receive another low performance review after a year in the program, they could be fired via an expedited process regardless of their experience level.” Also, permanence would not always be granted after two years and seniority would no longer be the single overriding factor in handing out pink slips. Teachers with two or more bad reviews would lose their jobs before newer teachers who have not received poor evaluations.

While I think Bonilla’s bill doesn’t go far enough, it is a heck of a lot better than what we have now. Of course, CTA disagrees. It opposes the bill because the changes “would make education an incredibly insecure profession.”

And so the beat goes on. As the teachers unions dig in, hundreds of thousands of school kids – poor and otherwise – are victimized by their work rules which have been enshrined into state law. Our only hope is that the State Supreme Court makes these rules “impermanent” and that parent and kid-friendly laws take their place.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.