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Positive Impact

Michelle Rhee’s teacher evaluation system has shown itself to be effective in D.C. public schools and has left the teachers unions on the sidelines…for now.

Back in 2010, the Washington, D.C. public school system (DCPS) introduced IMPACT, an evaluation system whose goal was not only to identify and retain good teachers, but pay them bonuses. At the same time, it aimed to enable the school district to get rid of its poor performers. (Just like employers do in the rest of the working world!) Michelle Rhee, who implemented the plan, began her reign as chancellor of DCPS in 2007 and left the district in October, 2010 just as the new system kicked in. (Rhee saw the handwriting on the wall when Mayor Adrian Fenty, who had hired her, lost a primary bid to run again.)

To state the obvious, the Washington Teachers Union was outraged by the plan. In fact, it was blasted by organized labor from coast to coast. Every teacher union leader who could get their hands on a microphone or the ear of a willing education reporter spewed vitriol at Rhee. In brief, they said the program, which included a component that rated teachers by how well students do on standardized tests, was unfair because tests “evaluate students and not teachers.” Translation: union bosses don’t want teachers held at all accountable if their kids don’t learn. The unions see teachers as interchangeable widgets, all of whom are competent… to one degree or another. To differentiate between effective and ineffective teachers by what their students actually learn would necessitate doing away with industrial-style work rules like tenure and seniority – perennial union-mandated protections.

The National Education Association and other unions prefer to subject teachers to “high-quality professional development.” These classes, intended to teach teachers how to teach, are made necessary because of the lousy job that many of our schools of education do. What the unions never get around to mentioning is what to do with teachers who can’t cut it even after they have had any number of “high-quality professional development” classes.

When it comes to teacher accountability, the California Teachers Association is Astaire-like at the evasion dance. Former CTA president Dean Vogel is on record saying that the union “will continue to fight to ensure we have qualified and experienced teachers in the classrooms….” (H/T Richard Rider)

Okay, “qualified” and “experienced” sound good, right? But there’s much more to teaching than having the proper certification and being on the job for x years. Is the teacher effective? Does the teacher get results? Are the students learning? Mr. Vogel becomes a wallflower when this music is played.

Well, lo and behold, just last week a study conducted jointly by the University of Virginia and Stanford examining the DCPS IMPACT program was released.

One of the study’s authors, Stanford’s Thomas Dee, writes, “We found that a disproportionate share of low-performing teacher exits are from high-poverty schools. Our results indicate that DCPS is able to accurately identify low-performing teachers and consistently replace them with teachers who are more effective in raising student achievement, particularly in high-poverty schools.” (Emphasis added.)

The Washington Post’s Emma Brown writes, the departure of teachers who score poorly on IMPACT is beneficial “because student scores on math and reading tests tend to improve substantially after such teachers depart….” Brown adds thatstudent scores tend to drop slightly when high-performing teachers leave their assignment for another school or district, presumably because it is difficult to find replacements who are as effective. But overall, “because of the strong positive effect of exiting low-performing teachers, turnover under IMPACT led to an improvement in average student achievement, the study found.”

Additionally, as reported by the Wall Street Journal, the researchers find that 46 percent of low-performing teachers in D.C. leave each year, “which is more than three times the attrition rate of high-performers. It turns out that the mere threat of removal encourages many low-scorers to quit or shape up, and those who leave are generally replaced with better teachers.”

The authors of the study acknowledge concerns that high-performing teachers in D.C. may leave because of “the stress of high-stakes evaluation.” But James Wyckoff, the study’s other author said, “While these are reasonable concerns and in some situations this may occur, overall our analysis suggests they don’t hold true at DCPS. This likely reflects IMPACT’s design to retain more effective teachers and encourage low-performing teachers to leave.”

The unions have been uncharacteristically silent in the week since the report has surfaced, just as they were in 2013 when a study revealed similar results. But I’m sure they are busy at union command-central figuring out how they can negatively characterize the retention of good teachers, paying them well and unloading dead weight. The spin on this one could leave us all in a vertigo-like state.

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.

AFT’s Left Flank Infuriated over Clinton Endorsement

Union leftists are shocked! shocked! that the teacher union elite did not confer with them before anointing Hillary Clinton as Democratic presidential pick.

The education and mainstream media were whooping it up last week after a cadre of teacher union members laid into the American Federation of Teachers for its endorsement of Hillary Clinton as Democratic nominee for president. The headlines screamed:

The AFT’s Endorsement of Hillary Clinton Is an Insult to Union Democracy

Clinton Endorsement, Wrong For Our Union

Teachers Say No Freaking Way to AFT Endorsement of Hillary Clinton

(Mike Antonucci has a bunch more here.)

Seems that the union members are apoplectic for a couple of reasons. First, they said the announcement came too early. The angry teachers pointed to a general agreement among AFL-CIO labor leaders that none of its unions would make an endorsement before July 30th, after all candidates were properly vetted on a variety of issues. And perhaps more importantly, the aggrieved felt slighted because they were not consulted before the Clinton coronation. AFT president Randi Weingarten dismissed the dissidents’ anger by explaining that the early endorsement would enable AFT “to help Hillary shape a powerful platform and focus the conversation on the issues that matter to our members….” Weingarten also declared that AFT conducted a phone survey that contacted more than a million members, soliciting their input.

But hardcore unionistas weren’t buying anything Weingarten said. As EAG’s Kyle Olson reports, a tweet sent out by a teacher claimed the “poll that endorsed Clinton surveyed 683 of the 1.6 mil members. 0.04%.” Another tweet asserted that AFT “used telephone town halls and a web-based survey, I didn’t even know existed.” One teacher simply called the endorsement “BS.” Also, over 4,500 teachers have signed a Change.org petition demanding that AFT withdraw its endorsement.

At the core of the teachers’ anger was that they saw the endorsement as a bargain between two political cronies. Weingarten and Clinton are longtime buds, their relationship beginning early in the millennium when Clinton was a New York senator and Weingarten ran New York City’s teachers union. Also, Weingarten sits on the board of Priorities USA Action, a pro-Clinton super PAC. There are rumors that if Hillary makes it to the White House, Randi would become Secretary of Education. (Make up your own fox/henhouse type joke here.)

Many of the dissenting teachers also see Clinton as a one percenter, while viewing socialist Bernie Sanders as much more “pro-union.” (Maybe one day these unhappy union members will wake up to the fact that Randi with her half-a-million plus income is a one percenter too. Maybe.)

But the real story here is that union lefties have awakened to something those of us on the right have known for years. Union leaders don’t give a rat’s derriere about the political leanings and desires of their members. Mike Antonucci reports that an internal National Education Association survey shows that its members “are slightly more conservative (50%) than liberal (43%) in political philosophy.” Former NEA president Reg Weaver has said publicly that his union breaks down as one-third Democrat, one-third Republican and one-third “Other.” And at a panel in which I was a participant in 2013, California Teachers Association president Dean Vogel said that his union membership is 65 percent Democrat and 35 percent Republican.

With all those right-of-center union members, you’d think that the unions would at least spend some money on candidates and causes that would make them happy. But as I have written about ad nauseum, they don’t. For example, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, in 2012, AFT spent $2,110,529 on Democratic candidates for office and just $7,046 on Republicans.

The NEA is not much better. From 1989-2014, the union sent only 4 percent of its donations to Republicans, and rest assured that the few bucks they tossed at the right never wound up anywhere near any Tea Party types. Additionally, over the years NEA has lavished gifts on such leftist stalwarts as MALDEF, Planned Parenthood, People for the American Way, Media Matters, ACORN, Al Sharpton’s National Action Network and the Center for American Progress.

Now that many left-leaning teachers are having a needed “Aha!” moment, perhaps they will realize the only way to make their union truly democratic is by not making teachers pay to play. Without forced dues, the union would have to be more solicitous of its members. As things stand now, unions don’t have to care what their members think…about anything. So I welcome the newly baptized to the world that those of us right-of-center folks have inhabited for years. Now a little love for the Friedrichs Ten, maybe?

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.

Charter Chumps

The competition-phobic teachers unions are still trying to decimate charter schools.

As I wrote a couple of years ago, the teachers unions vacillate when it comes to charter schools. On odd days they try to organize them and on even ones they go all out to eviscerate them. But the organizing efforts haven’t gone too well. The Center for Education Reform reports that, nationwide, the percentage of unionized charter schools has dropped from 12 in 2009 to a paltry 7 in 2012. In California, there is a 15 percent unionization rate, but that number, from the 2009-2010 school year, is long overdue for an update.

So if you can’t join ‘em, you try to undermine ‘em. To that end, during National School Choice Week in January, the National Education Association claimed that charter schools are unaccountable and warned the public to be wary of them. Then last week, NEA posted “Federal funding of charter schools needs more oversight, accountability” on its website.

This is pure union obstructionism and especially laughable coming from an organization whose mantra is, “Let’s spend bushels more on public education … but don’t hold any unionized teachers accountable.” In fact, there is plenty of oversight and accountability for charters. As the California Charter School Association points out, unlike traditional public schools, charters “are academically accountable on two counts. They are held accountable by their authorizer (usually the local school district) and, most importantly, by the families they serve. When a team of school developers submit their charter petition, they must define their academic goals In order to be authorized, their goals must be rigorous. In order to stay open, they must meet or exceed those goals.” Additionally charters must abide by various state and federal laws, civil rights statutes, safety rules, standard financial practices, etc.

Perhaps most importantly, charter schools – schools of choice – have to please their customers: children and their parents. On that count, charters are doing quite well. Just about every study ever done on them shows that they outperform traditional schools, and Black and Hispanic kids benefit the most. Nationally, there are 6,440 schools serving 2,513,634 students, but the bad news is that there are over a million more kids on wait lists. And the situation is especially bad in areas that need charters the most: our big cities, which serve primarily poor and minority families. A new report by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools points out that New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Boston, Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Miami and Washington, D.C. fail to meet parental demand.

And then there is California.

The Golden State is the national leader in charters with 1,184, serving 547,800 students. But not surprisingly it also leads the country in kids who want to get in but can’t, and there are 158,000 of them. Of course the teachers unions are saying and doing what they can to deny parents – again mostly minorities and poor – the right to escape their unionized public schools. United Teachers of Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl recently stated that “a lot of charters don’t allow access for special-education students or English learners.” This of course is bilge; charter schools must serve all students. Lest his sentiments were not clear, he added, “The ascendant forces in California’s charter movement, I don’t see a lot of value in them.”

California Teachers Association president Dean Vogel recently opined. “There is a role for charter schools in California’s education system, and that role should be performed to the same high standards of integrity, transparency and openness required of traditional public schools.”

My goodness, no! I want charters to perform at way higher standards than traditional public schools … and thankfully most do.

Sadly CTA, now in eviscerate mode, is sponsoring four bills making the rounds in the California legislature. The union’s professed aim is regulation, but it appears to be a lot more like strangulation. The bills, which you can read about here, are nothing more than ways to limit charter growth, harass them and take away any needed independence they now have. For example, Tony Mendoza’s SB 329 would allow a charter petition to be denied for “anticipated financial impact.” This is simply a way to deny a charter for any reason and use money as an excuse. (This bill is similar Mendoza’s AB 1172 which died in committee in 2012.) AB 787 would require that all charters be run as non-profits. The bill’s author, Roger Hernández, said it would also “establish charter schools as governmental entities and their employees as public employees, giving them an increased ability to unionize.” Pure nonsense. Charters are fully capable of organizing now and only 10 in the state (less than one percent) are currently for-profit schools.

What the unions will never admit is that charter schools are effective because they are independent and not bound by the union contact, and when they are unionized, they are no different from traditional public schools. Jay Greene, in The Wall Street Journal, cited a study conducted by Harvard economist Tom Kane which found that, comparing apples to apples,

… students accepted by lottery at independently operated charter schools significantly outperformed students who lost the lottery and returned to district schools. But students accepted by lottery at charters run by the school district with unionized teachers experienced no benefit. (Emphasis added.)

The war between teacher union leaders who insist on a one-size-fits-all cookie cutter education system run by them, and parents who want to get their kids out of failing schools and into charters rages on. In the meantime, there are thousands of kids in California whose futures are in jeopardy as the teachers unions direct their cronies in the legislature to do their bidding and decimate charter schools.

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.

Teachers Unions Appeal Vergara

… and continue to block any and every meaningful reform the California state legislature has to offer.

On May Day (how fitting!) the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers filed their appeal of the Vergara decision. In that 2014 ruling, Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu struck down California’s teacher tenure, layoff and dismissal laws, claiming that they deny students access to a quality public education, especially those from poor and minority families.

In a PR move, union bosses have been taking their rather lame case to the media. CTA president Dean Vogel somehow managed to maintain a straight face when he stated, “This suit was never about helping students. As educators we believe every student has the right to a caring, qualified and committed teacher and that is why we are appealing the judge’s misguided decision.” Then, tossing in some class warfare for flavor, he added that the judge failed to take into consideration “the impact of a severe lack of funding and growth in poverty which are some of the most important factors impacting student achievement.” (Actually, most studies have shown that the most important factor in student achievement is the effectiveness of the teacher.)

CFT President Josh Pechthalt, avoiding the merits of the case, did his typical “class warfare first, last and always” song and dance. “Wealthy anti-union advocates like David Welch, the funder of this suit, are obscuring the real problems of public education, which are best addressed by restoring funding to programs that ensure student success. It is not coincidental that the law firm he retained is one of corporate America’s leading anti-worker, anti-union firms.” (Increasing funding doesn’t “ensure” anything. Far from it. We have almost tripled education spending in forty years with nothing to show for it.)

A confident Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, said she fully expects the California Court of Appeal will return education policy to where it belongs: the legislature. “Every student deserves a highly effective teacher in his or her classroom. The California legislature has worked to provide fair due process protections that ensure quality teachers are in every classroom. Due process prevents good teachers from being fired for bad reasons, and it protects teachers’ professional judgment and academic freedom.” (“Due process long ago morphed into “undue” process; even pedophiles have a hard time getting the ax.)

Perhaps the NEA’s leader’s comments are most galling of all. First she seems to forget that a whole load of ugly Jim Crow laws were eradicated by the courts. I highly doubt that Eskelsen García would have groused about judicial activism in those cases. (By the way, Judge Treu did not make any laws; he just ruled that several laws on the books are unconstitutional.) Another reason her “policy belongs in the legislature” comment is nonsense is that CTA has a lock on that body. With its forced dues scheme, every public school teacher in the Golden State is made to fork over on average more than $1,000 a year, with much of that money going to buy legislators. Parents, kids and taxpayers have no mechanism to match the union’s wildly unfair advantage. So in essence, Eskelsen García is forcing us to play cards – but only with a deck that the unions have carefully stacked. It is commonly said that CTA is an important wing of the Democratic Party in California. It’s more accurate to say that the Democratic Party is really a wing of the powerful California union.

In fact, prior to Eskelsen García’s statement, several California state legislators already had attempted to pass legislation with Vergara in mind.

• Assembly Bill 1044 (Assemblywoman Catherine Baker, R-Dublin) would have eliminated “last-in-first-out” by declaring seniority cannot be the sole factor governing layoffs.

• AB 1248 (Assemblyman Rocky Chávez, R-Oceanside) would have extended from two to three years how long it takes for teachers to win tenure and would allow administrators to  revoke tenure if teachers have consecutive poor performance reviews.

• AB 1078 (Assembly Minority Leader Kristin Olsen, R-Riverbank) would have increased the number of ratings teachers could be assigned and would require educators to be evaluated in part based on student test scores.

Not surprisingly, these bills – modest as they were – never really had a chance. Each one was summarily killed in the CTA owned-and-operated education committee in the State Assembly.

Then there was AB 1495, introduced by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego. Whereas existing state law calls for two teacher ratings – satisfactory and unsatisfactory – Weber’s bill would have added a third teacher rating of “needs improvement” to the state’s minimum requirement for evaluations. It would also call on districts to put teachers who are not rated fully satisfactory first in line for professional coaching. This sensible bill garnered support from the likes of EdVoice, Students Matter and StudentsFirst – all Sacramento student advocacy groups. But CTA’s cronies in the Assembly education committee snuffed out this bill too. That prompted Weber, no shrinking violet, to lash out at her fellow Democrats. As reported by LA Weekly’s Hillel Aron, she said, “When I see what’s going on, I’m offended, as a senior member of this committee, who has probably more educational background and experience than all ya’ll put together on top of each other.” She added, “Obviously, it was orchestrated by the teachers union to not let the bill out. It was purely political.” Shirley surely gets it.

There is one bill, however, that the teachers unions have not taken a position on … yet. Carol Liu, D-La Cañada-Flintridge, has concocted SB 499. Her teacher evaluation bill requires teachers to be evaluated in part on student progress, including such objective measures as testing, but – and it is a very big but – mandates that the specifics be worked out as part of the union-school district collective bargaining agreement. However, giving unions more negotiating power over evaluations would be a problem said Nancy Espinoza, a legislative advocate for the California School Boards Association in testimony before the Senate Education Committee a couple of weeks ago. “We are going from developing evaluation standards to negotiating them. That is a tremendous change.” It creates opportunities, she said, for teachers unions “to leverage evaluation standards related to student achievement for gains related to salary” and would likely increase the frequency of an impasse in negotiations “and concerted actions like strikes.”

Also weighing in against the bill is a coalition of groups including Democrats for Education Reform and the California Chamber of Commerce. In a letter to Liu, it mentioned “Offering unions this power affords them the opportunity and incentive to water down teacher evaluations.”

StudentsFirst called the bill misguided, claiming it ignored research on what makes an evaluation effective, and puts the state at risk of losing federal support.

Bill Lucia, CEO of EdVoice, called retaining school boards’ authority over evaluation criteria a non-negotiable “bright-line issue.”

In defending her bill, Liu said that “buy-in from teachers” is critical for evaluations to be useful in helping teachers improve. “Teachers need to be at the table to discuss goals of an evaluation. Their voice needs to be heard and heard loudly.”

But buy-in from teachers is not important in Sacramento. The only buy-in there that matters is from the teachers unions. Liu’s – and every other education bill – is in the unions’ hands. Until the Vergara appeals are exhausted, that is the unpleasant fact of life.

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.

Education Reform: #1 Issue on the Ballot in California

Reformer battles with teachers union darling for top education position in Sacramento.

“Teachers Unions Are Putting Themselves On November’s Ballot” was the headline in a recent article by Haley Edwards in Time Magazine. Okay, this is hardly news, but the extent of the largess is eye-opening. Considering that this is not a presidential election year, the political spending is noteworthy.

The National Education Association, the nation’s largest union, is on track to spend between $40 million and $60 million this election cycle, while its smaller sibling, the American Federation of Teachers, plans to throw in an additional $20 million – more than the organization has spent in any other year.

The reason for the spending orgy is easy to understand: education reform – at long last – has become an important issue with voters across the country. As Edwards writes,

While the issues at stake vary by state, a number of elections this cycle will hinge on a variety of education-related questions, including recent cuts to public schools, growing class sizes, Common Core State Standards, access to pre-K education and the availability of state-funded student loans for college. A June Rasmussen report found that 58% of total expected voters ranked education as “very important,” while local polls indicate that voters in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Kansas and Illinois rank education as among the top three most important issues this cycle.

In California, perhaps the most ballyhooed contest is not for a legislative position, but rather the race for Superintendent of Public Instruction.  As Fox & Hounds Joel Fox points out, the election is a referendum on teachers unions, pitting reformer Marshall Tuck against incumbent Tom Torlakson, the bought-and-paid-for choice of the California Teachers Association. The SPI’s various responsibilities include acting as chief spokesperson for public schools, providing education policy and direction to local school districts, and working with the education community to improve students’ academic performance.

Typically, in a race that pits union guy vs. reformer, organized labor gets its way. But maybe not this time.

First off, Tuck is passionate, articulate and a pit-bull on the issues. He worked on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley before serving as president of Green Dot Public Schools, a charter school management organization. He then became CEO of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s collaboration with the Los Angeles Unified School District to operate 17 struggling public elementary, middle, and high schools.

Torlakson was a teacher before entering politics as a city councilman in 1978. He served as a California State Assemblyman and Senator before becoming SPI in 2010.

Perhaps the difference between the two is best exemplified by their responses to the Vergara ruling, which saw a judge throw out the state’s teacher tenure, dismissal and seniority laws. Tuck saw the decision as a victory for kids, while Torlakson claimed it was unfair to teachers. Moreover, the incumbent asked the California attorney general to appeal, which she did.

As writer Steve Greenhut points out, the challenger has direct experience dealing with issues raised by the Vergara case. After Tuck took over some of LA’s most troubled schools as CEO of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, “about half of his teachers received layoff notices because of the system’s seniority based layoff system, which protects older teachers regardless of job performance.” Tuck explains,

The CTA should always be part of the equation because teachers are so important but their influence is too large right now. … The state superintendent is a nonpartisan position, right? Not Republican, not Democrat … and it’s supposed to just be focused on advocating for kids, yet the state superintendent has never disagreed with the CTA. It’s insane.

As a result of this ‘undue influence,’ the state ends up with ‘laws like two-year tenure and seniority based layoffs, laws that we know are not good for kids; they stay on the books for year after year. … Our kids are harmed dramatically by them to the point where the judge said the evidence shocks the conscience.’

Additionally, he refers to California’s behemoth educational code as

… the ‘visual definition of bureaucracy’ and wants to help public schools — traditional ones and charters — receive waivers from the red tape and allow more local control and flexibility. He wants to give parents a seat at the table in determining school policy.

Torlakson and his CTA friends are losing the battle of ideas, basically because they don’t have any. Instead, they disparage Tuck’s previous work as a “Wall Street investment banker.” They also idiotically claim that the challenger wants to turn schools over to “for-profit corporations” and “sell off our schools and sell out our kids.” The October issue of CTA’s magazine, California Educator, is full of anti-Tuck blather, including an editorial by union president Dean Vogel in which he solemnly proclaims that the challenger is a “well-funded corporate education reformer who supports the privatization of public schools and efforts to obliterate due process for teachers.” Also, in a talk a few months ago, Vogel asserted that, “We know who Tom is. He is one of us….”

He sure is.

Invariably in races like this, CTA manages to outspend the reformers. This one, however, may be an exception, as Tuck’s donations have been keeping up with Torlakson’s. The challenger has found some deep-pocketed backers whose donations have matched the free-spending CTA. As reported by EdSource,

Nine wealthy backers of Marshall Tuck – led by $1 million donations each from William Bloomfield of Manhattan Beach and Eli Broad, a longtime funder of reform efforts in Los Angeles – seeded a new independent expenditure committee with $4 million. That brought outside fundraising for Tuck nearly even with outside fundraising by the California Teachers Association, the biggest financial backer of Supt. Tom Torlakson. The CTA contributed an additional $1.4 million this week to the $5.7 million it has already contributed to Torlakson. The new donations, as of Oct. 10, will push expected spending by groups not affiliated with the candidates to about $14 million, split about 40 percent for Tuck and 60 percent for Torlakson.

The two candidates themselves have raised about $4.4 million in direct contributions as of Oct. 10 … That combined total is already more than twice the total raised by the candidates in the 2010 election, in which Torlakson defeated a retired school district superintendent, Larry Aceves. As of the latest campaign finance disclosure period, which ended Sept. 30, Torlakson had about $608,000 left in the bank, while Tuck had close to $700,000.

Money, however, isn’t the only important factor in elections. Teachers unions have a great advantage in races like this. In California, they have easy access to 300,000 teachers who are being told, in no uncertain terms, that Torlakson “is one of them” and that Tuck is the corporate reformer from Hell.

But interestingly, Tuck is getting a major boost from the mainstream media. Just about every major daily in the state, including the San Francisco Chronicle, Sacramento Bee and the Los Angeles Times has come out – forcefully – in favor of Tuck. The Sac Bee editorial board endorsed the challenger because it believes that “teachers unions have a chokehold on the state’s public education system and that’s been detrimental for everyone, including teachers.”

With two weeks to go, polls show an even race with many still undecided; it’s anybody’s guess as to who will ultimately prevail. I suspect that the teachers unions will ramp up their spending down the home stretch because they know that if Torlakson loses, the status quo is history. And for a reactionary bunch like CTA, that is a fate worse than death.

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.

Acquiescent Teachers and Their Undemocratic Unions

Teachers who are not satisfied with their union must make their voices heard. 

Are Unions Democratic? The Internal Politics of Labor Unions and Their Implications, a report just released by the Manhattan Institute’s Daniel DiSalvo, examines unions – specifically the public employee variety, with an emphasis on teachers unions.

Addressing the democracy issue, he writes:

Unfortunately, much evidence suggests that unions are, in the vast majority of cases, only superficially democratic. A review of the existing literature shows that:

  • Very few members vote in standard union-leadership elections (turnout is often below 20 percent; in one recent New York City public-sector union election, turnout was 4 percent).
  • Those who do vote are not representative of the membership as a whole (with older workers voting at higher rates, thus skewing, for example, union policies on the importance of pensions relative to wages).
  • Incumbent leaders often go unchallenged for long periods, sometimes “anointing” chosen successors (who then anoint another generation) instead of fostering genuine contests.
  • Unions, especially at the state and national level, often take political positions with which a substantial number of members disagree (thus forcing those members to pay, with their dues, for the advocacy of policies that they do not support).

DiSalvo ends by pointing to reforms that unions should adopt which would bring the “practice of union democracy in line with the values of American society and the spirit of the law.” The following are his recommendations for federal, state, and local governments:

  1. Require unions to publicize electoral procedures and report election returns. In particular, unions should report the names of the candidates for various offices; whether members voted in person, by phone, electronically, or postal mail; and the number of members who voted, both in absolute numbers and as a percentage.
  2. Require unions to adopt online voting systems, thereby eliminating cumbersome barriers to voting (such as traveling to the union hall to cast a ballot); improving transparency; speeding the dissemination of election results; and reducing the costs of holding elections.
  3. Stop requiring union members to pay for advocacy that they do not support. Specifically, public-sector unions need to formalize their political decision-making by holding referenda to gauge their members’ policy preferences more precisely. The results of these referenda should be made public.

The irony of these proposed legislative actions is that they are unlikely to see the light of day because the unions throw their considerable political heft around and effect legislation locally, on the state level and in D.C. And even if his first fix was to become a reality, I’m not sure it would accomplish much. Information like this would get buried in an email that few would read. His second suggestion is certainly reasonable and in fact has been adopted by the United Teachers of Los Angeles.

Number three gets into some interesting territory. DiSalvo says the union should hold referenda to gauge the political preferences of its rank-and-file. (The unions will counter that this is not necessary. The California Teachers Association’s political decisions are made by their State Council, an elected governing body, though in reality few members ever know exactly who is running, what they stand for and where and when the elections are.) DiSalvo also says that the results of the referenda should be made public. In fact, there is information along those lines that is readily available. Former National Education Association president Reg Weaver on more than one occasion has said publicly that his union breaks down as one-third Democrat, one-third Republican and one-third “Other.” Mike Antonucci reports that a 2005 NEA survey, consistent with previous results, found that members “are actually slightly more conservative (50%) than liberal (43%) in political philosophy.” And at a panel in which I was a participant in 2013, CTA president Dean Vogel claimed that his union membership is 65 percent Democrat and 35 percent Republican.

Granted none of the above numbers constitutes referenda, but the union elites are well aware that a significant percentage of their members are not on the left and clearly they don’t care. Almost all union spending goes in that direction. NEA spends money on Democrats at a 14:1 ratio. And the American Federation of Teachers is even more one-sided: it spends zero on right-of-center candidates.

Here in the Golden State, CTA is no better. Between 2003 and 2012, the union sent $15.7 million to Democrats and just $92,700 to Republicans – a ratio of well over 99 to 1. In toto, CTA spent over $290 million on candidates, ballot measures and lobbying between 2000 and 2013 and just about every penny of it went in a leftward direction.

Which brings us to the unions’ ATMs: their teachers. As DiSalvo reports,

… in a national survey of 3,328 teachers who were asked about their participation in union affairs, about half said that they were ‘not at all active’ or ‘not very active.’ Other research shows that the typical union member hardly participates in union activities … Such evidence suggests that few public employees exert pressure on their organizations in any significant way. (Emphasis added.)

And just what is the best way to exert that pressure?

The best thing a right-of-center, independent or apolitical teacher can do to make a statement is to stop paying the political share of his or her dues, resigning from the union to do so. They will have to give up a few minor perks, but those can be easily be recouped by joining a professional organization like the Association of American Educators. The new “agency fee payer” will get a refund for the monies that the union claims it spends on politics. I know many in the profession are afraid to emerge from the union womb, but they need to rise above it and make their dissatisfaction known.

Sadly, very few teachers have taken advantage of the agency fee payer alternative. While CTA claims that 35 percent of its 300,000 or so members are Republicans, 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 NEA numbers are even worse. Only 88,000 of its 3 million members (2.9 percent) withhold the political portion.

Those disgruntled teachers who insist on staying in the union should go to meetings and make their views known. They’ll find other members who agree with them (more than you might think) and can run for positions of power within the union.

Granted, withholding more political money and raising hell at union meetings may not achieve all or even most of the results that DiSalvo seeks. But millions of dollars less to spend on their pet causes and an active militant minority might just make union leaders – all of whom have become all-too-comfy with their all-too-compliant members – more responsive to those they purportedly represent.

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.

California Federation of Teachers Boss Speaks Power to Troops

In a refreshingly candid speech, union leader minimizes bromides about “the children” and relentlessly bangs the class warfare drum.

In his March 22nd state-of-the-union talk to the faithful, California Federation of Teachers president Josh Pechthalt made no bones about the ultimate mission of his union. Absent were the usual silly platitudes like “working together with other stakeholders” and “if we need to strike, it will be for the children.” Nah. Pechthalt didn’t waste any time using weasel words. He went right to the heart of the union’s raison d’être, which is advancing a leftist agenda. Here are a few snippets from a speech that would have made the late Karl Marx beam:

… CFT has been a beacon of progressive, social justice unionism.

… we have consistently supported single payer health care reform….

We are currently part of a coalition with many of our Millionaires Tax and Prop 30 partners working on an effort to amend Prop 13….

The super wealthy and their swollen circle of reactionary think tanks and echo chamber conservative media are committed to eradicating what remains of the labor movement and giving corporations unlimited power over every aspect of American life.

We understand that central to the mission of public education is the need to advocate for a different kind of society…. (Emphasis in original.)

Don’t get me wrong – I am not implying that teacher union bosses don’t care about children. They care, in fact they really care, but maybe not in ways that you and I do. They tend to see children as avatars-in-training for the brave new world that they are attempting to shove down our throats.

But getting our own members organized won’t be enough. We must reach out to our students, their parents and our community members and organizations.

Pechthalt clearly gives no thought to his members who don’t have the same affection for the Comintern that he apparently does. According to Pechthalt’s counterpart, California Teachers Association president Dean Vogel, about one-third of teachers in California are Republican. I wonder what was going through their minds when Pechthalt said, “… open school libraries have become as rare as a congressional republican (sic) with something good to say about the affordable care act (sic).” But then again, it really doesn’t matter, because the way the unions have things rigged, those right-of-center members are still forced to fork over monthly dues just like everyone else. But when you are a true-believer in “social justice,” purloining money from unwilling teachers is nothing more than a bourgeois concern.

Pechthalt was especially rough on the Students Matter (Vergara v California) case, which aims to ensure that all kids in California have an effective teacher by removing the tenure, seniority and dismissal statutes from the state education code. His comments were ad hominem and oozed class warfare sentiments.

The latest attack on public education has been the Vergara lawsuit, backed by billionaires David Welch and Eli Broad and the corporate-friendly law firm of Gibson Dunn and Crutcher.

… We did that while one of the backers of the Vergara lawsuit, Eli Broad, put money into a failed secret Arizona PAC effort that pumped millions of dollars into California in the run-up to the 2012 election to try and defeat Prop 30 and try to pass prop 32, the anti-union initiative.

… The hard cold reality though is that the Vergara suit underscores our challenge: to convincingly tell our story and build deep relationships with parents and community partners in the face of (a) well-funded effort by the opponents of public education to lie and twist reality and erode our influence. (Emphasis added.)

The vilification of Broad is particularly ironic because he is a lifelong Democrat. And regardless of his political affiliation, to progressives, some billionaires are less equal than others. For instance, why the Koch Brothers are considered evil and involved in “dark money” but George Soros is portrayed as an angel of light is beyond me. (Okay, it’s not beyond me….)

And in all the yammering about billionaires and the evil rich, it’s worth noting that when it comes to political spending in California, a teachers union – the California Teachers Association – is #1 by far. Between 2000 and 2013, it spent over $290 million on candidates and causes. That was far more than dreaded corporations AT&T, Chevron and Philip Morris spent in the Golden State combined.

Pechthalt’s and CFT’s attempts to conduct class(room) warfare by aggrandizing the union movement are well-documented.  Courtesy of Kyle Olson’s Indoctrination, we know that CFT has put out “lessons” for tots as young as five. In “Trouble in the Henhouse: A Puppet Show” we find an oppressive farmer whose hens unionize and convince the heartless farmer that he’d better respect them “or else.” Then there is “The “Yummy Pizza Company,” another lesson from CFT – actually ten – that delves into the process of organizing a union local. They include instructions on how to collectively bargain as well as a sanitized look at prominent labor leaders. Click Clack Moo, a popular book promoted by CFT parent organization AFL-CIO, tells second graders about unhappy cows that refuse to work until the mean farmer is forced to meet their demands.

It’s important to note that the “workers of the world unite and bring your children to the party” mentality is hardly new for CFT. This is the organization that brought us “Tax the Rich: An Animated Fairy Tale” in 2012. This vile video pushed class warfare to the limit, attempting to whip up hatred of people who have been successful in life but “don’t pay their fair share of taxes.” As Investors Business Daily described it,

“Rich people love their money more than anything in the whole world,” narrates Hollywood actor and noted leftist Ed Asner, in tones used in reading to schoolchildren. “Over time, rich people decided they weren’t rich enough so they came up with ways to get richer.”

…The bile that oozes in the union’s puerile seven-minute screed was unspeakable: The world was a paradise full of good jobs and safe streets until “rich people” decided to get more money, so the video begins.

Instead of paying their “fair share” of taxes, the rich decided to do three things: seek tax cuts, engage in loopholes and evade taxes by shipping their fortunes to the Cayman Islands, illegally of course, mendaciously suggesting that any financial tie with the Caymans is illegal.

It only gets worse: The rich people’s supposed greed led them to buy media and politicians, with a not-so-subtle cartoon depiction of a man who looks a lot like Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch, and then money amassed as coins in big stacks, which then crashed down first on middle class people’s houses, and then on the jobs of police, firefighters, teachers and librarians.

After that “the rich” tried to blame defaulted mortgage holders and after that, teachers and firefighters (conveniently ignoring the bloated pensions and entitlements and waste that are the doings of public employee unions). “Maybe it was the firefighters,” Asner sarcastically narrated.

The scene that received the most attention was of a rich man urinating on the “poor.” CFT pulled that scene shortly after posting, but no matter, the highly offensive video was a shameful attempt to indoctrinate children into the ugly world of class conflict.

It is essential that teachers who are more in love with teaching than with CFT’s attempts to wage war on rich people stop supporting the union’s political agenda. (To learn how to do this, go here.) Until teachers do that, they are complicit in the union’s overall mission, which is dedicated to promoting class warfare and indoctrinating children.

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 with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

Tenure, Temerity and the Truth

Los Angeles Times op-ed and teachers union defense of educational status quo are packed with malarkey.

Now in its third week, the Students Matter trial still has a ways to go. Initially scheduled to last four weeks, the proceedings are set to run longer. On Friday, Prosecutor Marcellus McRae told Judge Rolf Treu that the plaintiffs need another week and a half or so to conclude their case before the defense takes over. The coverage of the trial has been thorough, with the Students Matter website providing daily updates, as has the always reliable LA School Report.

The media have generally been either neutral or supportive of the case, which claims that the tenure, seniority and dismissal statutes enshrined in the state Ed Code hurt the education process in the Golden State, especially for minority and poor kids. The defendants are the state of California and the two state teachers unions – the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers.

Having studied and written about the case extensively, I am of the opinion that the defense has no defense and that the best that they can do is to muddy the waters to gain favor with judge. In an effort to learn what the defense will come up with, I have tried to read everything I can by folks who think the lawsuit is misguided. I have written before about California Teachers Association president Dean Vogel’s rather inept argument presented in the December issue of CTA’s magazine.

The CTA website has been posting more about the case as the trial has progressed, and it would appear that desperation has set in. The union’s old bromides hold about as much water as a ratty sponge.

The problems we face with layoffs are not because of Education Code provisions or local collective bargaining agreements, but lack of funding.

No, the problem is who is getting laid off; we are losing some of the best and the brightest, including teachers-of-the-year due to ridiculous seniority laws.

The lawsuit ignores all research that shows teaching experience contributes to student learning.

Not true. Studies have shown that after 3-5 years, the majority of teachers don’t improve over time.

The backers of this lawsuit include a “who’s who” of the billionaire boys club and their front groups whose real agendas have nothing to do with protecting students, but are really about privatizing public schools.

Oh please – the evil rich and the privatization bogeyman! Really! Zzzzz.

Then we have cartoonist Ted Rall who penned an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times last week, which is mostly concerned with “tenure tyranny.” This wretched piece is maudlin sophistry at its gooiest.

First, Rall needs to get his verbiage straight. K-12 teachers do not get tenure. What they achieve after two years on the job is “permanent status.” Permanent status! What other job on the planet affords workers something called “permanence,” and getting rid of an inept teacher who has reached that lofty perch is just about impossible. But Rall makes the claim that, “Tenure doesn’t prevent districts from firing teachers. It makes it hard. (Not impossible: 2% of teachers get fired for poor performance annually.)”

The 2 percent figure is a half-truth. During the first two years on the job, a teacher can be let go relatively easily for poor performance. Maybe two percent of newbies don’t cut it. But what Rall and his teacher union buddies don’t tell you is that, in California, for example, about ten teachers a year out of nearly 300,000 (.003 percent) who have attained “permanence” lose their jobs. Of those, a whopping two teachers (.0007 percent) get canned for poor performance.

This is a disgrace, and most teachers know it. In fact, according to a recent survey of teachers working in Los Angeles conducted by the National Council on Teacher Quality, 68 percent reported that “there were tenured teachers currently working in their schools who should be dismissed for poor performance.”

Then Rall goes off the rails on tenure, saying that what’s wrong with tenure is that “only teachers can get it.”  (When you go to a doctor for a serious medical condition, Mr. Rall, do you want to see the best one or any old quack who still has an MD after his name?)

Rall then ventures into other areas. He whines twice about his mother’s (a retired public school teacher) “crummy salary.” He apparently hasn’t read much on the subject. In fact, the most recent study on teacher pay shows that when perks like healthcare and pension packages are taken into consideration, today’s teachers are in fact overpaid. Armed with facts, charts and a bevy of footnotes, Heritage Foundation’s Jason Richwine and American Enterprise Institute’s Andrew Biggs explain,

Workers who switch from non-teaching jobs to teaching jobs receive a wage increase of roughly 9 percent, while teachers who change to non-teaching jobs see their wages decrease by approximately 3 percent.

When retiree health coverage for teachers is included, it is worth roughly an additional 10 percent of wages, whereas private sector employees often do not receive this benefit at all.

Teachers benefit strongly from job security benefits, which are worth about an extra 1 percent of wages, rising to 8.6 percent when considering that extra job security protects a premium paid in terms of salaries and benefits.

Taking all of this into account, teachers actually receive salary and benefits that are 52 percent greater than fair market levels. (Emphasis added.)

Then Rall gets political. He writes,

During the last few decades, particularly since the Reagan administration, the right has waged war on teachers and their unions. From No Child Left Behind to the sneakily anti-union, anti-professionalization outfit Teach for America to the Common Core curriculum, conservatives are holding teachers accountable for their kids’ academic performance.

Reagan? What did his administration do?

The sneakily anti-union, anti-professionalization outfit Teach for America

Do you mean the very successful organization that identifies young teacher-leaders and trains them for service, founded and run by social justice advocates who have made (some) peace with the National Education Association? That TFA?

Common Core?

Sorry, but it is a bipartisan issue. In fact, your beloved teachers unions, including NEA president Dennis Van Roekel and AFT President Randi Weingarten, support it.

…conservatives are holding teachers accountable for their kids’ academic performance.

Horrors! Holding teachers accountable for their work! If not them whom?  The school bus driver? And for crying out loud, it’s not just conservatives who are demanding teacher accountability. StudentsFirst’s Michelle Rhee, American Federation of Children’s Kevin Chavous, Democrats for Education Reform’s Joe Williams and former CA state senator Gloria Romero, all want more accountability and none of them qualify as right wingers.

Rall’s piece ends with an editor’s note:

[Correction, 11:26 a.m., February 6: An original version of this post incorrectly described Students Matter as a “right-wing front group.” The post also linked to the wrong David Welch, founder of Students Matter.]

If the editors think that this is the only errata, they most definitely need to review this bilge and reexamine every word, including “and” and “the.”

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 with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

California Teachers Association: Clichés-R-Us

CTA ends 2013 spewing meaningless bromides in an effort to convince us that the union is the victim and the Students Matter lawsuit is the work of a vast corporate conspiracy.

On January 27th, the Students Matter (Vergara v. California) case starts in Los Angeles. John Fensterwald explains that the lawsuit

… asserts that five “outdated statutes” prevent administrators from making employment decisions in students’ interest. The tenure statute forces districts to decide after teachers are on the job only 18 months whether to grant them permanent job status. Once granted tenure, they gain due-process rights that make it expensive and difficult to fire them even if they’re “grossly ineffective.” And then, when an economic downturn comes – witness the last four years – a Last In/First Out (LIFO) requirement leads to layoffs based strictly on seniority, not competency.

If successful, this lawsuit will remove the tenure, seniority and arcane dismissal statutes from the California education code and render them unconstitutional, thus making it easier to get rid of incompetent and criminal teachers while outlawing seniority as a method of teacher-retention. (It’s worth noting that the Students Matter lawsuit doesn’t ask the court to devise specific policy solutions, leaving those decisions to local districts as they are in 33 other states.) While this litigation will help all students in the state, inner-city kids would benefit the most. As I wrote in City Journal last year,

Struggling inner-city schools end up suffering the most, as the lawsuit states: “One recent study showed that a school in the highest poverty quartile is 65 percent more likely to have a teacher laid off than a school in the lowest poverty quartile. As a result of seniority-based layoffs, the highest poverty schools in California are likely to lose 30 percent more teachers than wealthier schools. The disproportionate number of vacancies in those schools are then filled by transferring lower performing teachers, including grossly ineffective teachers, from other schools.”

Though not named in the lawsuit, the teachers unionsrefusing to sit by and accept a change in rules that would benefit students at their expense intervened as defendants. In the recent edition of California Educator, the California Teachers Association’s bimonthly magazine for teachers, the union tries to explain to its members that the lawsuit is the work of the devil; in doing so, it manages to haul out every platitude it could muster from its amply furnished cliché closet, attempting to convince all concerned that it is a beleaguered but scrappy David fighting against a corporate Goliath.

The magazine piece is rife with the typical fallacious, over-the-top talking points the union rolls out on a regular basis. To kick things off, CTA president Dean Vogel is quoted:

It’s disappointing because putting professional rights of teachers on trial hurts students…. This most recent shenanigan by corporate special interests and billionaires to push their education agenda on California public schools is resulting in a waste of taxpayer dollars and time — time that should be spent focusing on providing a quality education to all students as the economy improves. CTA will continue to fight to ensure we have qualified and experienced teachers in the classrooms whose rights are respected as set forth by law, and not subject to arbitrary and capricious behavior or favoritism.

There are several things seriously wrong with his statement. Yes, people with money are behind the suit. Lawyers don’t work for free and the poor children who have been victimized by the current system don’t have deep pockets. And what corporate agenda is he talking about? Usually this scare statement refers to the allegation that corporations want to take over and privatize education. This lawsuit is attempting to do no such thing; it is simply trying to make public education better. And his last point is a real howler. CTA does not, I repeat, does not fight to have qualified teachers in every classroom. They fight to keep every teacher – qualified or not – on the job to ensure their bottom line is not affected. Unfortunately this means that in addition to good and great teachers, the union also fights to keep stinkers and pedophiles alone with your children seven hours a day, five days a week.

The article then goes on to say,

The officially named plaintiffs in Vergara are nine California public school students. But the real driver of the suit appears to be a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, David Welch. Welch created the nonprofit Students Matter for the purpose of bankrolling this suit, and has hired a legal team at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, a law firm that counts Wal-Mart among its many corporate clients, to make his case.

Yeah, let’s disregard the plight of nine students who have been victimized by CTA-supported laws. Instead, let’s focus on the fact that the man behind the suit has hired lawyers from a firm that has Walmart as a client. Are we supposed to summon up a collective gasp over this?

The union then trots out two favorite bogeymen: school funding and poverty:

Educators are the first to say California can do more to help improve our schools. There are many challenges, including poverty, a lack of adequate funding and resources for education …

The “lack of funding” and poverty excuses are staples with teachers unions and their fellow travelers. They are also lies. The party line is 1) we don’t spend enough on education and 2) poverty makes students unable to learn. As far as financial outlay, Cato’s Andrew Coulson reports that we have seen a tripling of education funding – in constant dollars – nationally (doubling in CA) over the last 40 years and have nothing to show for it. And in fact, the reality is that ineffective teachers are a cause of poverty. Discussing this issue, RiShawn Biddle writes,

…Overhauling American public education is critical to fighting poverty for the long haul. Revamping how the nation’s ed schools recruit and train aspiring teachers, for example, would help all children get the high-quality instruction that is the most-important in-school factor in student achievement. Just as importantly, reforming education can even help address the immediate problems that stem from poverty.

Next, the union complains that there is a lack of adequate support for teachers, claiming there are (unnamed) reports of them leaving the profession in unprecedented numbers” because of it.

This lie is repeated with such regularity that many take it as gospel. Yes, some teachers do leave because of education-related issues, but Mike Antonucci outlines the primary reasons they drop out.

  • 31.4 percent retired.
  • 20.4 percent cited “other family or personal reasons.”
  • 18.7 percent cited “pregnancy or child rearing.”
  • 14.6 percent were laid off or otherwise left involuntarily.
  • 11.8 percent cited “health.”
  • 11.2 percent changed residence.
  • 8.9 percent cited the desire “to take courses to improve career opportunities within the field of education.”

And saving the most cliché-ridden talking point for last, CTA again takes aim at corporate devils and their alleged blood lust for teachers’ “rights.”

Educator rights and due process protections have become favorite targets of those who seek to corporatize and privatize education…

Due process? No. Undue and never ending process. Because of CTA’s powerful lobbying, here is how ineffective teachers are dismissed in California:

1. School district must document specific examples of ineffective performance, based on standards set by the district and the local teachers union.

2. If a teacher has been cited for unsatisfactory performance worthy of dismissal, a school district must give the teacher written notice and provide her 90 calendar days to correct.

3. After 90 days, school district files written dismissal charges. If the school board votes to approve dismissal, it adopts official charges and a resolution of intent to dismiss teacher. Notice cannot be given between May 15 and September 15.

4. Once teacher receives notice that she will be dismissed in 30 days, she can request a hearing to be held within 30 days.

5. School board must reconvene to decide whether to proceed. If it proceeds, it must serve the employee with an accusation as set forth in the state’s Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

6. If teacher makes a second demand for a hearing, it is scheduled with the state Office of Administrative Hearings and held within 60 days. The hearing is similar to a civil trial with each side having rights to discovery. 

7. The hearing is held before a three-person Commission on Professional Competence consisting of an administrative judge and persons appointed by the school board and the teacher or her union representative.

8. After the hearing, the commission issues a written decision by majority vote either voting for dismissal or reinstatement.

9. If either the teacher or the school district appeals the decision, it will be heard by the state superior court.

10. Further appeals are heard by the state Court of Appeal.

Sources: California Legislative Analyst’s Office; California Office of Administrative Hearings.

The stickiest part of the above process is #7 because the unions control the action. The judge is invariably “union-friendly.” The offender gets to pick a teacher to be on the three-person panel. (Ya think he or she might choose a sympathetic one?) The third member of the panel is a teacher supplied by the district, more often than not – you guessed it – another union member. The odds are so stacked that as Matthias Gafni reports,

California has more than 1,000 school districts and 300,000 teachers, yet only 667 dismissal cases were filed with the Office of Administrative Hearings between January 2003 and March 2012, according to the Los Angeles Unified School District’s chief labor and employment counsel, Alex Molina. Only 130 of those actually got to the hearing stage, and 82 resulted in dismissals — fewer than 10 a year.

To put those numbers in perspective, that means .003 percent of teachers are dismissed in CA every year. And it costs school districts up to $500,000 just to get rid of one of them.

It is critical that teachers and, in fact, all citizens educate themselves and not fall for the union’s tired claptrap. Perpetuating CTA’s clichés gives the teaching profession a black eye, and does a disservice to six million California school kids, their parents and taxpayers alike.

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 with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

Justice Belied

California’s AB375 would do precious little to protect school children from pedophiles.

The impulse to take action to remove pedophiles from California’s classrooms came about as a result of Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt having slid through the cracks after committing lewd acts against untold numbers of young children.

After Berndt’s arrest in Los Angeles in February 2012, Democrat state senator Alex Padilla wrote SB1530, a bill which would have streamlined the labyrinthine “dismissal statutes” that require districts to navigate a seemingly endless maze of hearings and appeals. Narrow in scope, the bill dealt only with claims deemed credible that a teacher abused a child sexually or with drugs or violence.

Existing law lets local school boards immediately suspend a teacher under “specified conditions, including immoral conduct.” Padilla’s bill simply would have added language allowing a school board to suspend an employee for “serious or egregious unprofessional conduct.”

But early in the summer of 2012, the California State Assembly Education Committee voted down the proposed law, dutifully satisfying the teachers unions, which had lobbied fiercely to kill it. United Teachers of Los Angeles president Warren Fletcher claimed that SB1530 “solves nothing, places teachers at unfair risk, and diverts attention from the real accountability issues at LAUSD.” (What “real accountability issues” are more important?)

The bill’s death caused a great furor in the California press, with the unions and the education committee’s nay-voters and gutless abstainers bearing the brunt of the criticism. The San Francisco Chronicle wrote that “the influence of the California Teachers Association was rarely more apparent – or more sickening – than in the defeat of SB1530.” (Emphasis added.)

Then, in an attempt to “do something” in February of this year, one of the two legislators who voted no on Padilla’s bill, Assembly Education Committee chairwoman Joan Buchanan, submitted AB375, a similar but watered down version of SB1530. Ominously, it had the backing of the teachers unions and looked poised to pass in July, but it too failed to garner enough votes. However, Senate Education Committee Chair Carol Liu who had supplied the deciding vote then granted a “reconsideration” of the bill, meaning that it could come back to life in a different form.

So earlier this month the bill reemerged, was quickly passed by both legislative houses and now awaits Governor Jerry Brown’s signature. Summing up the teachers unions’ take on this latest iteration, California Teachers Association president Dean Vogel said, “Passage of AB375 addresses our concerns of keeping students safe, safeguarding the integrity of the profession, and protecting the rights of educators.”

But AB375 doesn’t come close to fulfilling its promise to keep children safe.

While there are admittedly a couple of good things about the bill – most agree that AB375 has two important adjustments: eliminating a summer break moratorium on teacher suspensions and ending the statute of limitations on serious allegations – it is seriously flawed, and may give kids even less protection from predatory teachers than they have now.

Former state senator Gloria Romero, who has written extensively against the bill (starting with its earliest version), says,

AB375 mandates a fixed timeline of seven months for any discipline case to be concluded. That sounds nice on paper, but AB375 opponents testified to Liu’s committee, that the time limit becomes tantamount to a “get out of jail free card,” giving teachers facing firing every incentive to delay their case past seven months. (Emphasis added.)

In other words, limiting the investigation and possible legal action to a window of seven months sounds like it would expedite matters, but creates bigger problems in doing so. What happens if it looks like a decision can’t be reached during that time? Could a teacher force the district to settle?

As the California School Board Association (CSBA) points out,

AB375 would enable a certificated employee to challenge a suspension while he or she awaits the dismissal hearing. This new procedure would add time and costs to the hearing process … and make it more difficult to meet the 7-month deadline for completion. (Emphasis added.)

Also problematic is the bill’s retention of the “Commission on Professional Competence.” This panel is made up of an administrative law judge and two teachers, giving the teachers unions a large role in CPC decisions. SB1530 would have eliminated the CPC and given school boards the final say. This was an important reform that the unions could not live with.

The CSBA adds,

AB375 would allow any party to object to the qualifications of members of the Commission on Professional Competence (CPC). Permitting the parties to object to the qualifications of a panel member at the time of selection adds cost and delay to the process without a benefit. At the time of selection, neither party is familiar with the qualifications of the panel members. Filing motions will simply result in delays that will make it harder to meet the 7-month time limit for completion of the hearing.

AB375 has other, even bigger problems. For example, it allows a district to provide testimony of only four abused children. Why this arbitrarily low number? What about the voices of the 5th, 6th and 7th children? Why in good conscience could anyone disallow their testimony? (There were 23 counts against Mark Berndt.)

Also, as education writer RiShawn Biddle points out, the bill stifles districts by preventing them from amending a dismissal complaint to include new charges and evidence of abuse that often come out after a teacher’s acts become publicly known.

This means that a district that learns of even more-heinous criminal behavior during the period the teacher had served cannot bring up information that is relevant to the case itself.

EdVoice’s Bill Lucia, who has been a staunch foe of AB375, identifies yet another flaw in the new bill – that unlike SB1530, which only dealt with teacher abuse via “sex, drugs or violence,” this is a catch-all bill. “… teachers who commit egregious moral violations are lumped into the same dismissal process as lousy teachers who fail to teach students to read.” Instead, Lucia supports a two-tiered system that streamlines the process to remove criminal teachers from the classroom.

StudentsFirst’s Jessica Ng puts the troubling bill into perspective:

It’s disappointing that, by Assemblywoman Buchanan’s own admission, AB375 isn’t designed to protect California’s kids … California’s kids don’t need a teacher dismissal bill; they need a child safety and protection bill.

With the bill heavily favoring teachers at the expense of kids, it is no wonder that the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers – California’s duopoly – are backing AB375. It is a bleak reminder of who really pulls the strings in the Golden State. The pointed headline of a recent editorial in U-T San Diego said it all: “Fixing California: Teachers unions demonstrate again who controls Sacramento.”

The Sacramento Bee’s Dan Walters echoed this sentiment, writing, “If the unions can have their way on child abuse, they can have their way on anything in the current Legislature.”

One final and almost comical point. As a sop to the unions, there is a tiny piece of AB 375 that has flown under the radar. (H/T Hillel Aron) It states that, “knowing membership of the Communist Party” shall be removed “from the list of reasons a permanent school employee can be dismissed or suspended.”

Yeah, damn the kids, let’s protect pedophiles and Communists!

This crass and immoral politicking is truly vile. The governor must kill this abominable bill.

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 with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

California Teachers Association Fights to Maintain Political Orthodoxy

CTA sponsors a resolution demonizing what it perceives to be faux Democrats.

At last week’s California Democratic Party convention in Sacramento, the California Teachers Association went into attack mode, sponsoring a resolution suggesting that two organizations run by prominent Democrats are backed by dastardly corporate Republican types.

WHEREAS, the so-called “reform” initiatives of Students First, rely on destructive anti-educator policies that do nothing for students but blame educators and their unions for the ills of society, make testing the goal of education, shatter communities by closing their public schools, and see public schools as potential profit centers and children as measureable commodities; and

WHEREAS, the political action committee, entitled Democrats for Education Reform is funded by corporations, Republican operatives and wealthy individuals dedicated to privatization and anti-educator initiatives, and not grassroots democrats or classroom educators; and

WHEREAS, the billionaires funding Students First and Democrats for Education Reform are supporting candidates and local programs that would dismantle a free public education for every student in California and replace it with company run charter schools, non-credentialed teachers and unproven untested so-called “reforms”;

While not named in the resolution, two outspoken leaders of the reform movement – Michelle Rhee (StudentsFirst) and Gloria Romero (California director of Democrats for Education Reform) – were clearly targeted as heretics.

Rhee’s “sin” is that she actually puts the needs and interests of school children before adults. Romero, as a state senator, authored the nation’s first “Parent Trigger” law and is a strong proponent of school choice.

The right has always been fractured with various factions vying for power – traditional conservatives, neocons and libertarians have differences that are sometimes difficult to bridge. In a sense, that could be what we are seeing here on the other side of the aisle. These schismatic Democrats are bucking the “my union right or wrong” mentality and have managed to pick up quite a few adherents along the way. So, in a sense, Rhee, Romero et al are apostates who are being punished for successfully defying union orthodoxy.

I recently wrote about my participation on a panel with CTA president Dean Vogel (and Romero) in early March. At that event, sponsored by the Conservative Forum of Silicon Valley, Vogel was Mr. Congeniality and kept stressing the importance of “working together.” But while talking to the party faithful at the convention, a very strident Vogel spouted typical teacher union talking points and was unsparing in his attacks.

Referring to the two reform groups, he said,

Let’s be perfectly clear. These organizations are backed by moneyed interests, Republican operatives and out-of-state Wall Street billionaires dedicated to school privatization and trampling on teacher and worker rights.

..They’re hell-bent on turning students into test-taking machines. And I’ll tell you right now, [if] they want to do that, they have got to come through us.

StudentsFirst spokeswoman Jessica Ng was very measured in her reaction.

The heated rhetoric is especially disappointing because it reveals an abject refusal to tackle the most important issue, ensuring that every California student goes to a great school and has a great teacher.

But Romero, who is battle-scarred from years of fighting CTA in the state senate, was more pointed in her response. As reported by the Orange County Register,

I think it is political theater, demonstrating themselves to be the masters,” she said of the convention attacks on reformers. This is now Blue vs. Blue.

…He’s (Vogel) reaffirming: “We own you.”

 Why do we have to go through him (Vogel) when there are 120 legislators and a governor, all elected?

…Ms. Romero said that more and more Democrats are getting tired of “bowing down before the CTA, in homage.” Their constituents, especially Latinos whose kids are stuck in subpar schools, are clamoring for reform. True reform, she said, will come when moderate Democrats in the Legislature “are willing to stand up and tell both the party and the CTA that they’ve gone too far.”

While it is true that StudentsFirst and Democrats for Education Reform are funded by wealthy donors, there is no denying that CTA is also a very powerful “moneyed interest.” It is a private corporation that regularly takes in about $185 million a year, $647 from just about every public school teacher in the state. With a huge war chest, it controls the state assembly and, for its own selfish purposes, manages to kill every child-friendly reform measure that is proposed. And CTA does it all without paying one penny in corporate tax. Not for nothing has it been called The Worst Union in America. Its finger-pointing transcends hypocrisy.

Kudos to righteous Democratic reformers like Romero and Rhee for standing up to teacher union bosses and their handmaidens in Sacramento. Fighting those “moneyed interests” is a battle that good people of any and all political persuasions should support.

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 with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

Unanswered Questions

Thoughts on my recent encounter with the president of the California Teachers Association.

I was quite surprised when California Teachers Association president Dean Vogel agreed to join a panel that consisted of Gloria Romero, Terry Moe and me a couple of weeks ago at an event sponsored by The Conservative Forum of Silicon Valley. Gloria had many a battle with CTA when she was in the state senate from 2001-2010, and Terry recently finished his magnum opus, an extraordinarily detailed account of the machinations of the powerful teachers unions. As a former teacher and CTA member, I, as an apostate, have written frequently about these unions which I believe to be the biggest hindrance to reforming our troubled public education system.

Vogel is an amiable sort, unlike some of the other union leaders I have met – a ready smile and an easy manner disarms at first. But after carefully listening to his talk, I realized that – at least for the time he spoke – “there is no there there.” Platitudes piled on top of clichés lavished with gobs of bunkum.

We need to empower faculties…Parents should partner with teachers…We need more money in education…We are people of good will…We must work to find common ground…We must work together.

Zzzzzzzz.

Unfortunately, the event’s format didn’t allow for direct questioning of other panelists. A small sample of what I would have loved the opportunity to ask the union leader in front of the 230 or so people in attendance:

  1. If unions are as beneficial for teachers as you say, why do you need to force them to join?
  2. Why do you demand exclusivity in bargaining for such things as teachers’ salaries?
  3. Considering the union mantra that corporations should pay their “fair share,” why doesn’t CTA, a corporation, pay its “fair share?” In fact, CTA pays no share at all. Your union brings in about $185 million in dues yearly and doesn’t pay a penny in taxes.
  4. Teachers pay your forced dues via paycheck deduction, which means that taxpayers are footing the bill for this extremely convenient and efficient service. Why can’t the union collect its own dues?
  5. You claim that CTA membership is about two-thirds Democrat, yet none of your lavish political gifts goes to conservative candidates or causes. Since you insist on representing all teachers, why not respect your right-leaning members by using their dues to fund conservative efforts?
  6. Why do you continue to fight anti-pedophile legislation in CA? SB 1530 and now SB10 come to mind. Can you look a parent of a sexually abused child in the eye and explain to them why you are protecting the teacher who abused her?
  7. During the Q&A, you were asked how much of a teacher’s dues goes to politics. You said that $36 goes to an initiative fund and $8 goes to a candidates PAC. However, CTA’s own auditor says that about 28 percent of a teacher’s dues is spent on politicking. Your union alone takes $647 a year from each and every one of its members. (When you add state and local union dues, CA teachers pay over $1,000 a year on average.) That means CTA is admitting that it uses $181 from each teacher for political spending. Yet you say just $44; where does that missing $137 go?
  8. In light of what happened in Adelanto, can you understand why your calls for “working together” with parents ring hollow? The parents there played by the rules, legitimately followed the Parent Trigger law and obtained more than enough signatures to change the governance of their poorly performing Desert Trails Elementary School. CTA sent out a cadre of henchmen who attempted to scare the devil out of the parents who signed the petition. While I understand your dislike for the law because it limits some of your mighty power, why did you have to do what you did in such a sleazy and underhanded way? The judge hearing the case took little time before ruling in favor of the local parents over the union.

The bottom line here is that the teachers unions are all about maintaining their monopoly, and Vogel’s call for “working together” is ultimately vapid. As Terry Moe points out in his book Special Interest, teachers unions specialize in “blocking.” They “stifle true reform and…preserve an ill-constructed system that is simply not built to provide children with the best education possible.” He goes on to say that this is the “single most important thing that anyone needs to know about the politics of American education.”

Lest you think that there is a scintilla of truth to Vogel’s “we’re all on the same team” claim, it is dispelled quickly in the form of a noxious and offensive screed by Jeff Bryant that’s accessible on the CTA home page. “The Disempowerment Of Public School Parents” gets just about everything wrong. A few examples:

1. He uses a quote from Huffington Post writer Mary Bottari to explain where the parent trigger came from:

While parent trigger was first promoted by a small charter school operator in California, it was taken up and launched into hyperdrive by two controversial right-wing organizations: the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Heartland Institute.

Actually the Parent Trigger law was written by the aforementioned Democratic state senator Gloria Romero and came to life via Parent Revolution, an organization run by admitted progressive Ben Austin.

2. The only parents’ group he seems to have any patience for is Parents Across America which he refers to as a “grass roots advocacy group.” Crabgrass maybe. PAA receives funding from the National Education Association and shills for them every chance it gets.

3. On school choice, he is insufferable:

Further, more taxpayer dollars diverted to charter and private schools means less money for traditional local schools, which affects the options of the parents “left behind” in their community schools.

So he doesn’t like school choice because some will be left behind. I guess he doesn’t know that wherever vouchers have been instituted, public schools have improved. Yes, Virginia, competition works, even in school reform.

4. And regardless of the choice scheme, more well off parents will always have the means to game the system while less well off parents are left scrambling in the wake of a more competitive landscape.

The fact is that the wealthy have always had school choice, either by living in a tony, high-priced neighborhood with a good public school or sending their kids to a private school. School choice is really a vehicle for the “less well off” (i.e. lower and middle classes) to get a better education for their kids.

Ultimately the teachers unions are accurately portrayed by Bryant. Vogel may go out in public and present a warm and fuzzy persona, but in reality, CTA is not about “working together” but rather it is about protecting the job of every public school teacher (no matter how incompetent), acquiring large sums of money and power and killing any reasonable education reform that would diminish its influence.

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 with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

More Money for Business as Usual

Throwing ever more funds at education without making substantive changes to the system is a horrible waste of money, not to mention children’s lives.

California Democrat Congressman Mike Honda and National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel recently collaborated on an op-ed that played up just about every bit of feel good, cliché-riddled drivel ever written about education. If this piece was a drug, the FDA would have banned it years ago. A few examples:

Lamenting the fact that many teachers leave the classroom within the first few years, they say,

According to research estimates, one in four beginning teachers will leave the profession within their first three years in the classroom, and in urban areas, close to 50 percent will leave within five years.

This is totally misleading. The implication here is that teachers are leaving the profession in droves because they are overworked, underappreciated, overwhelmed and underpaid. But the reality is that they leave for a wide variety of reasons, including taking an administrative position, personal or family reasons, pregnancy, health, change of residence, etc. A survey from North Carolina, for instance, reveals that only 2.24 percent said they were leaving the profession due to dissatisfaction with teaching.

Another fiction the authors use to sway the unknowing public is the “competitive teacher salary myth.”

…the lack of competitive salaries for classroom teachers compared to other professions diminishes the consideration of teaching as a viable long-term career option. All of these issues rob children of the diverse, committed, capable teachers they need and deserve.

Before reaching for the Kleenex, please consider the following: Andrew Biggs, a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute and Jason Richwine, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, conducted a study on teacher pay, the results of which were released just a year ago. They found that when perks like healthcare and pension packages are taken into consideration, teachers are in fact overpaid. Armed with facts, charts and a bevy of footnotes, the authors make a very good case for their thesis. For example, they claim,

Workers who switch from non-teaching jobs to teaching jobs receive a wage increase of roughly 9 percent, while teachers who change to non-teaching jobs see their wages decrease by approximately 3 percent.

When retiree health coverage for teachers is included, it is worth roughly an additional 10 percent of wages, whereas private sector employees often do not receive this benefit at all.

Teachers benefit strongly from job security benefits, which are worth about an extra 1 percent of wages, rising to 8.6 percent when considering that extra job security protects a premium paid in terms of salaries and benefits.

Taking all of this into account, teachers actually receive salary and benefits that are 52 percent greater than fair market levels. (Emphasis added.)

Honda/Van Roekel then delve into professional support:

The educational career ladder should entice quality teachers to remain in the classroom by developing positions of teacher leadership.

The book on this subject has already been written by Teach For America, a very successful outfit that recruits high performing college students who exhibit leadership qualities. TFA then gives them a five week intensive teacher training and ongoing professional support. So maybe NEA should hitch a ride with TFA? No. After years of trashing the organization, NEA recently offered TFA a twig-sized olive branch, but even that is rejected by many local unions because an army of bright, young, idealistic teachers poses a threat to the old guard.

On Election Day, Californians sadly bought into the union propaganda and voted to further “invest” in education by passing a controversial ballot initiative. With the passage of Prop. 30, California now has the highest sales tax and top marginal income tax rate in the country.

A nearly $6 billion infusion from Proposition 30 and a Democratic supermajority in the Legislature are a welcome pre-holiday gift to public education from voters, but it also could set the stage for battles between those laboring for education reform and suddenly fortified unions protecting teacher interests.

“Proposition 30 is a bandage on the current system,” said former state Sen. Gloria Romero, an outspoken education reform advocate. “We got no reform for the investment.”

She and others cite the urgent need to raise student achievement, modify the rule of teacher seniority, dismantle the Byzantine school finance system and ensure the teacher pension fund stays solvent.

Romero hits the nail on the head. Continuing to throw money at a failing system will result in nothing more than a more expensive failing system. If you are hungry, spending more money on rancid food won’t solve your nutrition problem.

Stanford Professor Erick Hanushek, who has studied student achievement and education economics, adds,

I’m concerned now that we’ve gotten past the fiscal cliff, we’re going back to business as usual. To improve student performance, he said, schools need an effective teacher evaluation system and need to be able to get rid of the worst teachers and to reward the best ones. But he said there’s no movement toward either of those.

…Everybody in the state would like major changes without really changing…. the cost is that California is at the rock bottom in student performance, and it’s dragging down the nation.

Responding to the reformers, California Teachers Association President Dean Vogel snapped,

We’re not opposed to education reform…. We’re opposed to stupid reform.

…teachers believe before adjusting funding formulas, the state needs to ensure adequate — meaning more — funding for schools….

But as Heritage Foundation policy expert Lindsey Burke reported recently,

Students headed back to school this fall will have historically high levels of dollars spent on them in the public school system. (Bold added.) Nationally, average per-pupil spending exceeds $11,400 this year….

To put this into perspective, just 10 years ago we spent $9,482 per pupil (in constant dollars). Thirty years ago we paid $5,718 and 50 years ago just $2,808 per student! In California, spending has doubled over the last 40 years and what do we have to show for it? Our National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) scores speak volumes. For example, on the most recent 4th grade math test, California students came in 45th nationally; in science, the same 4th graders scored higher than only Mississippi.

Internationally, of the world’s 28 major industrial powers, the U.S. is second in spending, slightly behind Switzerland. Yet when it comes to achievement, our performance is middling at best. Education Next recently reported,

A new study of international and U.S. state trends in student achievement growth shows that the United States is squarely in the middle of a group of 49 nations in 4th and 8th grade test score gains in math, reading, and science over the period 1995-2009.

Students in three countries – Latvia, Chile, and Brazil – are improving at a rate of 4 percent of a standard deviation annually, roughly two years’ worth of learning or nearly three times that of the United States. Students in another eight countries – Portugal, Hong Kong, Germany, Poland, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Colombia, and Lithuania – are making gains at twice the rate of U.S. students.

A fitting coda to this dreary ongoing saga, came from a recent Wall Street Journal editorial,

No reform effort is too small for the teachers union to squash. In this month’s election, the National Education Association descended from Washington to distant Idaho, spending millions to defeat a measure that limited collective bargaining for teachers and pegged a portion of teachers’ salaries to classroom performance. In Alabama, Republican Governor Robert Bentley says he’s giving up on his campaign to bring charter schools to the state after massive resistance from the Alabama Education Association.

Unions fight as hard as they do because they have one priority—preserving their jobs and increasing their pay and benefits. Students are merely their means to that end. Reforming public education is the civil rights issue of our era, and each year that passes without reform sacrifices thousands more children to union politics.

Thousands? More like millions. It is a national disgrace. We the people need to wrest control from the teachers’ unions and demand serious reform immediately.

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 with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

CTA: Politically Correct, Clueless and Shameless

Recently dubbed “the worst union in America,” the California Teachers Association does its best to live down to its new moniker.

Troy Senik’s “The Worst Union in America,” is a deadly accurate piece which appears in the Spring 2012 edition of City Journal. Not surprisingly, the author was referring to the California Teachers Association, the state affiliate of the National Education Association. It wasn’t too hard for Senik to make his case because the evidence is, well, overwhelming. With its ever ready cash on hand (forcibly taken from teachers who have no choice but to fork it over), CTA has stopped every meaningful education reform measure that has been proposed, ensured that meaningless reforms like small class size in early grades are mandated, protects underperforming and criminal teachers, bullies political opponents and encourages lawbreaking when it is to their political advantage.

But all the mean and nasty behind-the-scenes stuff is done in the name of the children and for the good of society, don’t ya know. On its website, CTA does its best to show us how caring and beneficent it is. For example, as serious, politically correct environmentalists, it touts green energy on its website. You don’t have to dig too deep before you see, “GREEN keeps district out of the red….” Yup, they actually believe (or want us to believe) that becoming an enviro-fetishist is going to save us money. The United Nations, hardly a shill for the evil corporations which as we all know are trying to kill off trees and bunnies in the name of the almighty buck, says that going green will cost us a mere $76 trillion over the next 40 years. Others have the dollar amount even higher.

The point here is that CTA is best at extorting and then spending other people’s money. To that end, along with California Governor Brown, the union is backing a tax hike which will be on this November’s ballot. Those caring CTA folks, who are of course doing it for the children, want the public to pay a higher sales tax and high income earners to pay up to 25 percent more taxes on their income than they are now. California is already ranked #50 of all the states when it comes to business climate.

In another attempt at getting its sticky fingers on other people’s money, last Tuesday, teachers from all over the state took a day off from work (courtesy of the taxpayer) and went to Sacramento to lobby the legislature to pass an on-time budget. Clueless CTA President Dean Vogel said, “This makes it all the more crucial that voters pass the governor’s tax measure in November to put California back on the road to recovery.” Yes, Mr. Vogel, this will put Californians on the road all right – to Texas – where they are smart enough not to tax their most productive citizens to the point where they want to flee the state.

It was interesting to note that CTA picked May 22nd for Lobby Day. For those of you who are not on board with teacher union political correctness, May 22nd is a holiday that, at the urging of CTA, is celebrated in many schools in California. As the CTA website tells us, it is Harvey Milk Day and we are told that,

Harvey Milk gave his life for what he believed in, and with that courage and sacrifice he gave hope to an entire generation of gay and lesbian people whose basic humanity and freedom had been denied and dishonored.

Gave his life for what he believed in? A martyr? Oh, please. The truth is just a tad different than that. As I wrote two years ago,

He in fact was a San Francisco city supervisor who was murdered along with heterosexual SF Mayor George Moscone by an unstable Dan White – one of your basic psychos who felt that the two people he murdered had wronged him politically.

Milk was no more murdered because he was gay than Moscone was because he was straight. But hey, why let that get in the way of a good story that activists can use to their advantage. Hence, CTA is mentioning Milk in the same breath as Gandhi and Martin Luther King, which is somewhat beyond reprehensible. And even worse than the fabrications is the truth about Harvey Milk.

Milk led an undistinguished life at best. At worst, he was a supporter of criminal guru Jim Jones who orchestrated the deaths of over 900 of his followers, most of whom he cajoled into drinking Kool-Aid laced with poison. For the rest of the real story about Harvey Milk, please read this article by Daniel Flynn.

If the CTA hagiography of Milk is what many in the teaching profession will be using as source material, your children will be getting a wretchedly sanitized and bowdlerized view of an undistinguished and possibly evil man. Parents, you might want to investigate what kind of Kool-Aid your child’s school is planning for this “holiday.”

Just to show how deplorable its priorities are, CTA did not have one word on its website about the courage and sacrifice of our veterans on Memorial Day, just its paean to Milk along with “suggested activities” to help children to celebrate that “holiday.”

Then there is a snippet from the May Issue of CTA’s magazine, California Educator, the hard copy of which is mailed to all its members. For the rest of us, it is now available online. (HT Darren Miller.) On page 20-21 of the current issue there is a two page spread in which CTA excoriates Stop Special Interest Money Now (SSIMN), an initiative that will be on the ballot in November. CTA commits two sins here. First it shamelessly lies about the details of the initiative. As Union Watch points out, CTA attempts to portray this prop as a corporate power grab (Goliath) with unions (David) being bullied. Of course this is union newspeak; the reverse is actually true.

The second and worse sin is on page 22 where CTA suggests that teachers tear out the poster on the previous pages and hang it in their classrooms:

This disgusting attempt to indoctrinate children is done in the name of “opposition to the Corporate Power Grab.” In fact, CTA is suggesting that teachers break the law. According to the California Education Code, school employees are expressly forbidden from engaging in partisan politics on school grounds, during school time using school funds unless,

The information provided constitutes a fair and impartial presentation of relevant facts to aid the electorate in reaching an informed judgment regarding the bond issue or ballot measure.

“Fair and impartial?” What a joke.

Parents, it’s important to protect your children from CTA’s chicanery. Please visit your child’s class on a regular basis. If you see any signs of CTA’s attempts to indoctrinate your kids, speak up. Voice your disapproval to the teacher, the principal, the school board, the local press, your legislator – whoever will listen and act to counter the proselytizing, political correctness and blatant indoctrination produced on a regular basis by the “worst union in America.”

About the author: 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 with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

CTA Dons Victim Guise and Joins Occupy Wall Street Crowd

It’s almost Halloween and the California Teachers Association, a rich and powerful outfit, is in costume as one of the “99%ers” – protesters who claim to be have-nots.

A couple of weeks ago United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten made sympathetic statements about the Occupy Wall Street movement. Now the California Teachers Association has jumped in with a full endorsement and suggestions on its website as to how teachers and others can get involved in OWS activities.

Stunning in its mendacity, CTA issued a press release (H/T Mike Antonucci) which announced its “support of the nationwide ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement for tax fairness and against corporate greed.” It goes on to say, “…a stable tax structure begins with everyone paying their fair share.”

Paying their fair share?

Never shying away from class warfare, the union really has hit a new low here. According its latest available income tax form, CTA took in $186,216,493 in 2009. As a 501(c)(5), the union has a special tax exempt status with the IRS which is accorded to “Labor, Agricultural, and Horticultural Organizations.”

Hence, CTA would appear to be following the letter of the law in paying no money in taxes. But there is a bigger picture here, and it is bloated with hypocrisy. First CTA manages to siphon off $600+ yearly ($647 in 2011-2012) from every teacher in the state in forced union dues. Then it turns around and spends much of those dues on politicking — over $211 million on politicking from 2000-2009 — frequently on issues that have nothing to do with teachers or kids – and supporting causes that are contrary to the positions of many of its members. Then the union elites have the audacity to whine about millionaires and billionaires “not paying their fair share of taxes” when they don’t pay a penny, and all the while fund politicians who ensure that CTA’s pilfer-and-spend scheme rolls on undisturbed.

And just what do the “anti-greed” union bosses make for their efforts? In 2009, CTA President David Sanchez was compensated $289,550, three times what an average teacher in CA makes, while VP Dean Vogel had to suffer along with a mere $244,925 a year.

On a national level the union bosses do even better.

According to a recently issued LM-2 report (H/T RiShawn Biddle), we see that AFT President Randi Weingarten raked in a cool $493,859 last year. And NEA President Dennis Van Roekel managed to “earn” a whopping $543,868 in salary and benefits. I guess their justification for such high salaries is that it is very hard work to fight reformers who are actually concerned about educating children.

But CTA and other teachers unions can snooker people only for so long. Far from being a part of the 99%, they are big special interest businesses — spending millions to maintain their monopoly over American education, while paying not a penny in taxes. As Troy Senik wrote last week in Public Sector Inc., “The CTA is the one percent.” And poll after poll has shown that the general public is catching on.

If the OWSers were to put their bongs away, stop beating their drums, defecating on police cars, chanting and repeating nonsense in zombie-like tones for just a moment, they just may realize that the unions claiming to support them are really fat cats disguised as victims.

About the author: Larry Sand is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

AB 114: A Blatant Attack on California’s Schools

The California Teachers Association and Democrats in the legislature join forces to victimize school districts, children and taxpayers.

In Sacramento, on Tuesday night, June 28, school districts, children and taxpayers were essentially mugged by a gang of Democrat legislators at the behest of their bosses in the California Teachers Association. Governor Jerry Brown, also in the pockets of CTA, was a willing accomplice.

AB 114, a one hundred page monstrosity, was rammed through both houses of the state legislature late on the 28th and was not published until the following morning. Governor Brown signed it into law the next day. As the Sacramento Bee reported, there were no committee hearings and no chance for the public to scrutinize the bill, which became public less than an hour before it was approved for passage.

AB 114 does several things, all of which imperil local school districts by imposing a mandate upon them that many will not be able to carry out. Educated Guess writer John Fensterwald says there are three ways that AB 114 steals power away from the local district.

First, it requires that each school district “assume the same level of funding as last year and maintain staffing and program levels consistent with that. Legislators are dictating this even though they admit there’s a good chance that revenues may not bear that out.”

Secondly, AB 114 eliminates the option that “districts would have over the next 45 days to make staff adjustments if they view this as necessary. Instead, the legislature is suspending that capability under the law for the next year. As School Services noted, ‘This provision is clearly designed to protect union positions, even if the district cannot afford to pay for the services.’”

Finally, the new law will “suspend key provisions for one year of AB 1200, under which school districts must self-certify that they can balance their budgets in the current year and one and two years into the future. Those that cannot must work with their county office of education to align revenues and spending. This year 13 districts were negatively certified in the latest filing, indicating they could not balance their budgets this year and next. An additional 130 districts – nearly one in seven – acknowledged trouble balancing their budgets two years out. AB 114 would require districts to assume the same revenue as this year and prevent county offices from seeking evidence of financial stability for the next two years.”

Where to begin? Since laying off teachers is not an option, it seems that the only device left in the local district’s toolbox to balance their budgets is to shorten the school year via furlough days. In this scenario, each furlough day would mean a day without learning for children and a day without teaching (or being paid) for teachers. And even this option is not something local officials can decide on their own. They must negotiate this with the same teachers union that put them in this horrible position to begin with. In other words, because of the new law, the best option would be to reduce instructional days for students, which is the last thing students need. But it should be apparent that the crafters of this legislation essentially look at teaching as a jobs program and let the children be damned.

The unfairness of this law has drawn fire from every possible quarter.

The San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board wrote that the result of AB 114 “could be downright catastrophic for San Diego schools. District leaders are imploring board members to try to save money to prepare for the big hit the district will take in 2012-13 when scheduled raises of 7.2 percent for all employees are phased in. Now a state law exists that discourages such prudence and may give district employees a legal cudgel to block prudence.”

A Los Angeles Times editorial didn’t mince words either. “Ham-fisted yet pandering, and fiscally irresponsible too, AB 114 perpetrates an abuse of state power that could wreak budgetary havoc in local school districts.” The Times also reported that more than “140 school districts are already in serious financial jeopardy, according to a state Department of Education estimate released in June. If Brown and legislative Democrats do not muster the courage to defy the California Teachers Assn. by repealing AB 114, they may push many more districts to the brink.”

Even harder hitting is Katy Grimes, writing for Cal Watchdog. “Gov. Brown has, in essence, allowed teachers to avoid layoffs under any circumstances in the next fiscal year. And school agencies will not be scrutinized financially. That’s a recipe for disaster — and a gift-wrapped treat to the CTA.” In her piece, she quotes Lance Izumi, Koret Senior Fellow in Education Studies at the Pacific Research Institute, “This is shocking. It’s obvious that unions do not care for the kids at all if they are willing to shorten the school year. This is about protecting teachers’ jobs, whether they deserve it or not.” Izumi also said, “Any need of further evidence that Brown is bought and paid for by the CTA is unnecessary. This is the real face of the governor.”

It’s difficult to disagree with Dr. Izumi. When Brown became governor earlier this year, one of his first acts was to fire a reform minded school board and replace it with business-as-usual types including Patricia Rucker, a highly paid CTA lobbyist.

School superintendents are no less outraged by AB 114. Natomas Unified interim Superintendent Walt Hanline described the measure as “the most irresponsible piece of legislation I’ve seen in my 35 years in education.”

The California School Boards Association urged the governor to repeal two sections of the bill that “intrude on the ability of school boards to manage their own resources.”

Needless to say, the kick-the-can-down-the-road crowd has been very busy as they shamelessly try to defend the indefensible. Senate President Pro Tem, and former union lawyer, Darrell Steinberg said when he met with the Sac Bee Capitol Bureau, as reported by Cal Watchdog writer John Seiler, “We were intentional. We do not want to create a situation where more teachers and classified employees lose their jobs. And we did not want to see class sizes increase.” (This isn’t the first time that an outlandish law has been passed in the name of small class size. To learn more about the small class size myth, go here.)

CTA President Dean Vogel told the Sac Bee that AB 114 “provides stability for students and teachers.”

Stability?!

No, this bill in fact destabilizes the entire state. I guess Mr. Vogel thinks that maybe seven furlough days is “stabilizing.” Are school boards going belly up all across the state “stabilizing?” Are the taxpayers in California going to feel “stabilized” when the inevitable tax hikes are proposed in order to pay for the legislators’ flagrant irresponsibility? With AB 114 the only thing that will remain stable is the $649 in CTA dues collected from each teacher whose job is saved by the union-coerced bill.

While the wanton disregard for individual school districts, children and taxpayers may technically not be a crime, it is highly immoral. As such, Governor Brown needs to be reminded that former Governor Gray Davis was recalled for gross mismanagement of California’s finances. And the legislative miscreants behind AB 114 should be voted back into the private sector come November 2012.

About the author: Larry Sand is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.