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Preferring Failing Schools to Successful Ones

Teacher union leaders want to keep poorly performing public schools open, but kill off thriving charters and voucher schools.

Just last week it was announced in New York City that three failing public schools would be closing. With a total enrollment of 217 students, there really was no other choice. Indeed, it was such a no-brainer that even United Federation of Teachers (UFT) president Michael Mulgrew didn’t threaten anyone with bodily harm over the decision. But Mulgrew’s acquiescence is a rarity for him and other teacher union leaders.

Like a failing business, when a school goes bad it should close. This phenomenon is occurring more and more in big cities, especially when families are given choices. If there is a charter school available that suits their needs, parents will yank their kid out of the failing traditional public school the first chance they get. But the teacher union bosses’ default position is that a failing school should never be closed; a piece on the National Education Association website tries feebly to make that case. Penned by in-house writer John Rosales, “Closing Schools: Privatization Disguised as ‘Accountability’” is typical union claptrap in which shibboleths and lies predominate.

When they close schools, they are closing hospitals, grocery stores, and police stations…. This is a human rights issue…. School closings are not isolated incidents but rather a movement toward privatization.

In reality, a public school closes when parents stop sending their kids there because it doesn’t live up to its mission, which is to educate students in a safe environment. In fact, a recent study conducted in Ohio by the Fordham Institute shows – not surprisingly – that displaced students typically receive a better education in a different setting.

Three years after closures, the public-school students had gained, on average, what equates to 49 extra days of learning in reading—gaining more than a year of achievement growth, as measured by state reading exams. In math, they gained an extra 34 days of learning, as measured by state math exams. In the charter sector, displaced students also made gains in math—46 additional days.

But then again, there are schools that union leaders do think should be shut down – charter schools, especially the non-unionized ones, and especially those run by one Eva Moskowitz. In fact, New York’s UFT has begun that process by calling for a moratorium on new Moskowitz-led Harlem Success Academy charters. The unionistas are ecstatic because they think they finally have something on the operator of 34 extraordinarily successful schools. In late October, it was revealed that one of her schools’ principals had a “to go” list of undesirable kids. The principal was reprimanded by Moskowitz, which should have ended the story. But the unions continue to act as if they’ve discovered the mother lode, which, of course, is silly. Even if Moskowitz is guilty as charged, it should be noted that traditional public schools – with the blessing of the unions – have a long history of removing and transferring undesirables, either to other public, continuation or opportunity schools.

Another example of teachers unions fighting a successful education enterprise is in Washington, D.C. where the Opportunity Scholarship Program has been a raving success. The federally funded program, which has been in the NEA’s crosshairs since its inception in 2004, has led to greater parental satisfaction and school safety, as well as higher graduation rates and test scores than those of the public schools the voucher students had escaped. But despite the program’s success, the DCOSP schools are private and not unionized, and that is what matters to organized labor. The NEA claims that vouchers are not “real” education reform and that “opposition to vouchers is a top priority for NEA.” In 2009, NEA president Dennis Van Roekel wrote a threatening letter to every Democratic member of Congress advising them that NEA “strongly opposes any extension of the District of Columbia private school voucher . . . program.” And just last week, due to strong union-fueled Democratic opposition and undemanding Republicans, the program was not reauthorized, although its funding has been retained for another year.

So the union fights to knock out successful charters and privatization programs but keep traditional public schools open no matter what miserable failures they are. And they are doing this for the children, of course.

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.

Unions Continue Their Long March into the Classroom

Labor union indoctrination is seeping into our schools before our very eyes.

Teacher union intrusion into the lives of children is not new. Via anti-child work rules like tenure and seniority, unions have been making their influence felt for years. Additionally, as labor expert Kevin Dayton points out, they have been angling to promote their cause via the curriculum nationally since 1981. Here in California, union propaganda got a big push in 2002 when California governor Gray Davis signed Assembly Bill 1900 into law. As Dayton wrote at the time,

Sponsored by the California Federation of Teachers, this bill recognized the first week of April as ‘Labor History Week’ and authorized public school districts to ‘commemorate that week with appropriate educational exercises that make pupils aware of the role that the labor movement has played in shaping California and the United States.’

At the end of 2012, labor’s “week” morphed into “Labor History Month” (or as I referred to it at the time, “The Not So Merry Month of May”). I pointed out that the lessons suggested by the unions were not simply a celebration of organized workers but a toxic, one-sided, politicized bundle of indoctrination aimed at your kids. A few examples:

  • California Federation of Teachers – many “children’s stories,” including one which features a mean farmer and the hens that organize against him.
  • California Teachers Association – a bevy of “lessons” which can be readily summed up as “Workers are poor; CEOs are rich.” In other words, Class Warfare 101.
  • University of California Miguel Contreras Labor Program – lots of fun stuff for the little ones including an anthology of stories promoting the IWW, a radical union noted for its ties to socialism and anarchism, and a sanitized biography of singing Stalinist Pete Seeger.

The end of 2014 saw the unions on the move again. Every ten years or so, the California Department of Education tinkers with the state’s curriculum, and in Sept. 2014 the review process was initiated for the history framework. The state solicits suggestions from anyone who wants to weigh in and in November, the California Federation of Teachers sent a proposal to California’s Instructional Quality Commission – an advisory body to the California State Board of Education on matters concerning curriculum, instructional materials, and content standards. The missive, unearthed by Dayton, is a doozie. A few highlights:

  • CFT wonders why the Second Great Awakening earns a prominent place in the framework. This religious revival, which took place in the late 18th Century, moved beyond the educated elite of New England to those who were less wealthy and less educated, hastening in the temperance, abolition, and women’s rights movements. Instead, CFT wants to minimize the importance of Christianity and, at the same time, include teaching about anti-Muslim discrimination after 9–11. (While there was an uptick in anti-Muslim “hate crimes,” immediately following 9-11, it was short-lived. In fact, Jews today are targeted for their faith six times more frequently Muslims.)
  • The union wants the U.S. described as an “empire” not a “world power,” so as to let our kids know that we have regularly has been “dominating other civilizations.” When I read things like this, I can’t help but think about WWII. Germany and Japan – our sworn enemies at the time – were not raped and plundered by us after defeat, but instead assisted by us, rebuilt to become economically sound, independent world powers.)
  • Additionally, there’s a plea for a “Labor Studies” elective and in fact, that’s where we are heading. A proposed part of the revamped standards reads, “Students can participate in a collective bargaining simulation to examine the struggles of workers to be paid for the value of their labor and to work under safe conditions. They can examine legislation that gave workers the right to organize into unions, to improve working conditions, and to prohibit discrimination.”

The massive irony here is that the unions are railing against what they perceive to be a sanitized version of U.S. history, but nothing could be further from the truth. As an American history teacher for much of the aughts, I (and every other history teacher I knew) taught extensively about slavery and other injustices of our collective past. We didn’t browbeat the kids, however, into believing that American history was riddled with treachery and malevolence.

And given the opportunity, will the unions tell the full truth about their own history? Of course not. The CFT labor curriculum would be completely sanitized. The teachers unions alone leave us with a toxic waste dump worth of sludge to clean up. For example:

  • In 2000, the California Teachers Association spent over $26 million to defeat Prop. 38 – a voucher bill that would have enabled some kids to escape their failing schools.
  • Former CFT president Marty Hittleman, referred to the Parent Trigger Law – by which primarily black and Hispanic parents can force a governance change at their children’s defective public school – as a “lynch mob provision.”
  • In 2009, National Education Association president Dennis Van Roekel wrote a threatening letter to every Democratic member of Congress, demanding that they vote against the Washington D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (a voucher program that helps poor kids) … or else. (They dutifully complied en masse.)
  • Despite a massive amount of forced dues collected by the teachers unions every year, they (and in fact all unions) don’t pay a penny in tax. As 501(c)(5)’s they have a special exemption from the IRS.
  • Union leaders are always railing against the rich and palavering over CEO and worker pay disparity. However, while the average U.S. public school teacher salary for 2013-14 was $56,610, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten’s income is $543,679 – almost ten times that of the average teacher, while corporate CEOs average $178,400 yearly, just five times that of the average worker.
  • In 2012, the California Teachers Association’s bought-and-paid-for state legislators robotically fell into line and killed SB 1530, which would have simplified the process of getting rid of pedophile teachers. (This really shouldn’t have come as a surprise. At its 2004 convention the NEA, CTA’s parent organization, gave its prestigious Human Rights Award to Kevin Jennings, founder of the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network. GLSEN is the group that presided over the infamous “Fistgate” conference held at Tufts University in Massachusetts in March 2000, where state employees gave explicit instructions about “fisting” and other forms of gay sexual activity to children as young as 12.)
  • On CFT’s Facebook page it often reminds people that the 5-day 40-hour work week comes to us courtesy of the unions. Wrong. Thinking it was a good business move, noted capitalist Henry Ford instituted that change in the 1920s. (The United Auto Workers, didn’t come into being until 1935.)

Will the unions insist that we include any of the above in their proposed “Labor Studies” elective? Of course not.

The unions have big plans for your children. If parents (and all citizens) don’t get involved and protest, these unions will add a load of America-trashing and distorted history to the curriculum, and at the same time indoctrinate your kids in the glories of collective bargaining. If this does not sound like something you want, please contact Kenneth McDonald (KMcDonal@cde.ca.gov) at the State Board of Education and express your thoughts.

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.

Permanent Disgrace

My encounters with tenure, aka permanence, aka undue process for teachers.

In an article posted recently, Harvard professor and editor-in-chief of Education Next Paul Peterson asks, “Do Teachers Support the Vergara Decision?” More specifically, he discusses tenure, which is on hold in California due to Judge Rolf Treu’s ruling. The tenure statute is the part of the California education code which stipulates that teachers essentially have a job for life if they can survive their first two years on the job, which is really just 16 months of actual work. It is worth noting that what we all commonly refer to as tenure is really a word reserved for college professors. The proper term for K-12 teachers is the more honest – and odious – “permanence.” (I was once corrected by former United Teachers of Los Angeles chief A.J. Duffy when I referred to it incorrectly at a union meeting.)

Peterson alludes to an Education Next poll, the results of which were released earlier this fall, that asked public school teachers to rate their colleagues’ competence on an A to F continuum. While 69 percent gave colleagues in the local school district an A or B, 8 percent said their colleagues deserve a D and 5 percent deserve an F.

This led me to think about my own experience as a middle school teacher in Los Angeles where I toiled for 15 years before retiring in 2009. At any given time, there were about 50 teachers at my school, and most of them, I’d say, were competent-to-good with a few that were exceptional. But there were always a handful of my colleagues who shouldn’t have been allowed in a classroom. Just a few cases in point:

  • AA, an English teacher, was a mean one; she rarely smiled and was antagonistic to a fault. During lunch period on a warm late spring day, she decided she was too pale and headed out to the athletic field to catch some rays at lunch. She proceeded to lie on her stomach, take off her blouse and unstrap her bra. (Ladies, you know how unsightly those tan lines can be!) As AA’s glamor gambit was seen by kids, a few teachers and the plant manager, denial was not an option. However, she did not lose her job. Instead, she was transferred to a nearby elementary school which was run by a woman, known by many as “the principal from hell.” I have no idea what has become of AA, but I’m sure she went on to infect many more kids with her bile and bad judgment.
  • BB was a nice old gentleman and a lawyer with a J.D. Unfortunately, whatever skills he may have possessed in the courtroom did him no good in the classroom, which often resembled a British soccer riot – pure mayhem. As testing coordinator, I had occasion to visit his class several times and invariably regretted not wearing a flak jacket. To maintain order, BB resorted to showing film strips, pretty much daily. The kids didn’t learn much, but at least the janitors had less to clean up at the end of the day. The principal eventually got hip to BB’s act, and knowing she couldn’t get rid of him, pressured him to retire. (Trying to fire him would have taken years and hundreds of thousands of dollars.) Fortunately, BB took the hint and retired.
  • CC was a PE teacher who had an interesting ritual between classes. He would go to his car, parked on campus, and open his trunk where he kept a large cache of hooch. By the end of the day – every day – CC was obviously pickled. But having attained permanent status, he knew that no matter how slurred his speech may have been, getting plastered daily was an activity he could indulge in without consequence. He finally retired after 37 years and shortly thereafter had a massive stroke and died. Sadly, the union may have rewarded CC with permanent status, but the real world provides no such guarantees.
  • DD was as wacky as they come. She, too, had no control over her classes, and whenever I had any of her third period science kids in my fourth period history class, I had to spend a good 15 minutes peeling them off the walls. The entire staff knew DD was an awful teacher, but axing her was out of the question. Instead, she was sent to the “Peer Assistance Review” (PAR) program – a union created mechanism – which didn’t help a bit. She couldn’t teach; her kids didn’t learn. Her greatest strength as a teacher was at faculty meetings where her loony comments would make us all laugh… very nervously. By the way, DD just renewed her teaching credential for another five years.
  • And then there was EE. One day this eighth grade English teacher allegedly touched a female student inappropriately. There were witnesses, but the student involved would not press charges so they put EE into the district office for a while – the so-called “rubber room” or “teacher jail.” Since firing him was not a viable option, the powers-that-be decided to transfer him to another school, where he apparently fondled another student. So he was sent back to the district office, where he whittled away his paid vacation ogling porn. Busted, he was transferred to yet another school, where he got caught sharing his smut with some of his female students. He was then returned to the district office, where the last I heard, he was waiting for his next assignment, courtesy of his union lawyer.  This was almost ten years ago and I have no idea what EE is doing now or to whom he is doing it, but I do hope its behind closed doors and doesn’t involve teenage girls.

Please keep in mind that I have described just one public school out of about 10,000 in California. Stanford economist Eric Hanushek has famously said that if we could get rid of the bottom 5-7 percent of the teaching profession, we could have a world-class system like Finland. If we take Hanushek’s middle number – 6 percent (of 300,000), that means there are 18,000 teachers in the Golden State that should be looking for other means of employment. But they’re not – which means that about 450,000 young minds are getting shortchanged – and worse – year after year. (The reality is that, on average, just ten “permanent” teachers a year in California are let go.)

Right after being termed out as National Education Association president in July, Dennis Van Roekel gave an interview to Education Week and addressed the union’s insistence on maintaining an industrial-style model. He said, “Union members, however, are not going to give up their industrial union rights to enjoy the benefits of being treated like real professionals until they are treated as real professionals.”

He has it backwards. Teachers will never be considered professionals until they take charge and professionalize the field. There are 282,000 teachers in California who are doing an adequate, good or great job and it is incumbent upon them to take the lead and purge the field of the stinkers and pedophiles. Teachers have long wanted to be recognized as professionals, but they will never attain that status as long as they allow the teachers unions to protect incompetents and miscreants. 450,000 kids’ deserve better …much better.

(An abridged version of this post was printed in U-T San Diego on Jan.16th.)

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.

Antisocial Injustice

A teachers union giving an award for social justice is like Miley Cyrus handing out a medal for modesty.

The term “social justice” has gone through many permutations over the centuries, but these days it refers essentially to a progressive vision of the world. Its paramount issues include income inequality, sexual discrimination, the mere existence of the Koch brothers and a whole gaggle of “rights.” (Interesting that in all my reading on the subject, rights are mentioned aplenty, but personal responsibility is rarely broached.) Perhaps the always dependable Urban Dictionary has the most accurate current definition of the term,

Promoting tolerance, freedom, and equality for all people regardless of race, sex, orientation, national origin, handicap, etc… except for white, straight, cisgendered males. F*** those guys, they’re overprivileged no matter what.

But whatever your political orientation is, and however you define the term, I think we would agree that it is the height of arrogance and hypocrisy to have a teachers union bestow a “social justice” award, but that is just what the National Education Association is doing. And it will be a yearly event. The winner will be afforded a sumptuous package of events to revel in:

The award will be presented annually by the NEA President at NEA’s national Representative Assembly. The awardee will receive an all-expense paid trip to attend and address both the NEA Representative Assembly and the Joint Conference on Concerns of Minorities and Women. The winner will also be invited to attend Educator Empowerment Day as part of the pre-Representative Assembly activities.

I’m sure the recipients will be thrilled, but let’s take a look beyond the faux union rhetoric.

Union boss pay

An ongoing mantra of the teachers unions is that corporate bosses are greedy swine who steal money from their workers. As they boldly charge others with exploitation, you’d think that teacher union leaders would set an example. But according to NEA’s own website, median teacher pay in the U.S. is $51,381 per year. However, in his last year as NEA president, Dennis Van Roekel made $541,632 – more than ten times what a teacher makes. (American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten is no better. That self-righteous social justice advocate has almost the exact same socially unjust income of $543,679.) But corporate CEOs – allegedly the fat cats – make $178,400 yearly, just five times that of the average worker.

And another inconvenient tidbit – most of Van Roekel’s and Weingarten’s hefty salaries come from dues that teachers are forced to have deducted from each paycheck. Sounds as if the union bosses are getting rich “off the backs of teachers,” doesn’t it? It is also interesting to note that due to the proliferation of charter schools and other non-unionized forms of school choice, the traditional public school teacher population is shrinking. Therefore each teacher is paying more to support the union leaders’ extravagant one-percenter lifestyles.

Outsider money

The first ones to cry “foul” when “outsider” money flows into local schoolboard races are the teachers unions. Last month, via Mike Antonucci, we were treated to a Washington Post letter-to-the-editor from Elizabeth Davis, president of the Washington Teachers Union (an AFT affiliate), and Delvone Michael, director of DC Working Families.

Across the country, wealthy business interests and conservative political operatives are buying up local boards of education. And if we don’t stand up and say no, D.C. will be the next notch on their belt.

Otherwise sleepy races for school boards have been drowned in cash from outside interests who want local candidates to support charter schools and oppose the protections of unions. Now it’s happening here in the District, too.

What is all the bellyaching about? A $31,000 donation from an unspecified “outside group.” At the very same time, an October 28th story from the New Orleans Times-Picayune informs us:

The American Federation of Teachers has spent almost $450,000 on the Jefferson Parish School Board elections, recent campaign finance reports show. That’s more than all individual candidate contributions combined.

The union’s local political action committee calls itself the AFT Committee for School Board Accountability in Jefferson Parish. It received two payments totaling $446,000 from the AFT Solidarity Fund in September and October.

Sad to say, the union’s efforts were successful in Louisiana, and the reform-minded schoolboard majority exists no more; the union is now in control, thanks to AFT’s “outsider money.”

War against families

Then we have a war against parents and kids in Florida, where the Florida Education Association, an NEA affiliate, is doing its best to keep economically disadvantaged kids from using tax-credit scholarships to attend schools of their parents’ choosing. In August, FEA and a few allies challenged the state’s popular 13-year-old Tuition Tax Credit Scholarship program. “The suit claims that the scholarship violates the ‘no aid’ clause and the ‘uniform public schools’ clause of the state’s constitution by allowing students to take the aid to private schools, some with religious affiliation.”

The lawsuit is bogus, however. As explained by Cato Institute education policy analyst Jason Bedrick, “Scholarship Tax Credit laws are privately administered programs that rely on the voluntary contributions of corporate taxpayers who receive tax credits in return. As the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, these funds never become public funds because they do not ‘come into the tax collector’s hands.’”

No matter. More privatization means that fewer public school teachers (read union members) will be needed, thus hurting the unions’ bottom line. And when that happens, all their social justice preening flies out the window.

These are just three of the latest examples of what I referred to in a prior post as teacher union hubrocrisy. Hubris and hypocrisy are their natural state. Social justice is something they conveniently glom onto so as to appear “progressive.” But there is nothing “progressive” about the unions. And as their victims are learning, there is nothing especially “social” or “just” about them either.

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.

Keeping Their Backs Up and Claws Sharp

As the teachers unions lose popularity, some think that they will soften their positions. But as recent events show, this is very far from the truth.

A poll taken in June, right after the Vergara decision was handed down in Los Angeles, found that 49 percent of California voters think that teachers unions have a “somewhat or very negative” impact on the quality of K-12 education, with just 31 percent saying that they have a “somewhat or very positive” impact.

This result is consistent with national polls. In 2012, long before Vergara became national news, an Education Next survey found that those with a positive view of unions dropped to 22 percent in 2012, down from 29 percent the year before. Perhaps more interestingly,

The survey’s most striking finding comes from its nationally representative sample of teachers. Whereas 58% of teachers took a positive view of unions in 2011, only 43% do in 2012. The number of teachers holding negative views of unions nearly doubled to 32% from 17% last year.

In addition to losing favor, the National Education Association has been bleeding teachers. Due to a shrinking student population and right-to-work legislation passed in several states, the nation’s largest union has lost more than a quarter-million members over the past five years.

Some predicted that the loss of rank-and-file and stature would lead the national unions to soften their more rabid positions and become more amenable to certain reforms, but if their recent conventions are any indication, this is hardly the case. In fact, they seem to be digging in.

At the NEA convention a couple of weeks ago, Lily Eskelsen Garcia was elected president and proclaimed that her first task was to win back the public. She apparently thinks the unions need better PR, not to become more child-friendly and accountable. But as the public’s awareness of what the unions are really about grows, that strategy won’t fly. As Democrats for Education Reform president Joe Williams pointedly said, “Eskelsen Garcia must navigate that minefield carefully because the public will smell bulls**t from a mile away.”

And indeed, there was plenty of odiferous waste at the convention. Among other things, the union faithful came up with a New Business Item (NBI) which called for the resignation of Arne Duncan, who had the audacity to tweet a positive response to the Vergara decision. (It’s ironic: As former California state senator Gloria Romero points out, the union that fights to keep every last teacher in classroom, including those who commit unspeakable offenses against children, wants to ditch Duncan for merely voicing an opinion contrary to theirs.) Other items had nothing at all to do with education but, being champions of “social justice,” the activists came up with an NBI which proposes to inform the public about the dangers of fracking, another that calls for the end of “food deserts” (don’t ask) and one that wants President Obama to investigate the continued incarceration of Leonard Peltier, a man who was convicted of first-degree murder in the slaying of two FBI agents in 1977.

Outgoing president Dennis Van Roekel was hardly in conciliatory mode when he blasted those whom he deems a threat to his union’s hegemony. Just a sampling of his enemies list:

The issue of privatization of more and more jobs of our education support professionals. The intrusion of for-profit players, both in higher education and K-12. Especially troubling is the increasing influence and control of huge corporations like Pearson and others. And the incredible onslaught of corporate reformers like Democrats for Education Reform, Michelle Rhee, and the like. Attacks on educators’ rights and even attempts to silence our voice. And if that were not enough, our lives revolve around testing–the overwhelming amount and the offensive misuse of scores from high-stakes standardized tests.

Then last week in Los Angeles, the American Federation of Teachers’ convention got off to a rousing start when Reverend William Barber gave a speech that most definitely will not “win back the public.” Setting the dial at “hellfire-and-brimstone,” he excoriated Tea Party “extremists,” greedy ultra-conservative “puppets,” the Koch Brothers, the religious right, those who want to “give vouchers to the wealthy,” all the while singing the praises of a green economy and healthcare for all. Clearly he was appealing solely to the left, while insulting and ignoring the majority of the membership which leans slightly to the right.

Not to be upstaged, AFT president Randi Weingarten joined the trashing of the Vergara decision:

When we last met, we didn’t know that a court decision in California would reignite the perverse rallying cry of so-called reformers: that the only way for students to win is for educators to lose.

And then, referring to Harris v Quinn – a SCOTUS decision which held that homecare workers could not be forced to join a union – she said,

And while many of us rejoiced when marriage equality was upheld by the Supreme Court, sadly that court has become Supreme Court Inc., ruling in favor of corporate interests while diminishing the rights of voters, women and working families.

Then she, too, blasted all her bête-noires: Democrats for Education Reform, Jeb Bush, Eli Broad, ALEC, Govs. Snyder, Walker, Corbitt, Jindal and Brownback, the Walton family and – what would a union leader diatribe be without them? – the Koch Brothers. But she didn’t join the “Dump Duncan” chorus; instead, she just chastised him over his pro-Vergara stance. But two days later, AFT approved a resolution calling for him to resign “if he does not improve under a plan to be implemented by President Obama.”

Edu-pundit Andy Smarick suggests that teacher union leadership appears to be defiantly marching their members toward Waterloo.

There is an alternative, though it might seem implausible in the current environment. First, the appeal of Vergara could be halted. Instead of relitigating the case, unions might work with the California legislature to rewrite the challenged laws so they primarily protect students not jobs. Second, the national unions and their affiliates could seek to amend tenure and seniority rules in other states so Vergara-inspired lawsuits don’t get off the ground.

Smarick’s alternative suggests that the teachers unions become more conciliatory and flexible. They won’t. Despite losing members and the dissatisfaction of the more conservative rank-and-file, the union hardcore is doubling down. As Stanford’s Terry Moe rightfully asserts,

Unions are unions. They are in the business of protecting jobs: that is why their members join, that is what their members expect them to do, and that is what they actually do. If you expect them to do something else–to represent children or to represent the public interest–you will be wrong. Don’t expect a cat to bark.

They’ll just keep hissing and baring their claws.

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.

Will the Supreme Court Do an “Abood Face?”

The decision in Harris v Quinn could be just the first shoe to drop in the fight against forced union dues.

Last month was not kind to Big Labor. First, the teachers unions in California had some of their favorite work rules knocked out of the state constitution by Judge Rolf Treu in his Vergara decision. Then, on the last day of the month, the Supreme Court agreed with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation in Harris v Quinn and ruled that homecare workers could not be forced to join the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Vergara upset the teacher union Pooh-Bahs who just can’t believe that educators who hang on to their jobs for 16 months aren’t entitled to them for life, regardless of whether they’re good, mediocre or teachers from hell. The decision is going to be appealed and no one knows –  if the appeal fails – how the subsequent replacement laws will play out. But if Vergara got the unions in a snit, Harris has pushed them into apoplexy.

Regarding Harris, I searched the internet long and hard to find a statement from a union leader that went something like this:

The decision doesn’t harm the union movement in the least. It gives hard working men and women the freedom to choose whether or not to join us. If they do join, they will enjoy the benefits and perks that come with union membership. If they choose not to join, we will not force them to. They are free to make whatever deal that they and their employer agree to. As patriotic Americans, we believe in liberty and that means giving all workers a choice.

Okay, I confess. I really didn’t search long and hard. In fact, I didn’t search at all; it would have been a complete waste of time. Instead, we were treated to union leaders doing what they usually do when they don’t get their way: trot out the usual half-truths, fear-mongering and lies to rally the troops and garner public sympathy.  Chalkbeat reports,

‘This court has built a record of weakening the rights of both voters and working families; no one should be surprised by this decision,’ said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten in a statement.

Weingarten is saying  that one working family has a right to force a member of another working family into a union.

Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, defended the ‘fair share’ practice. ‘Fair share simply makes sure that all educators share the cost of negotiations for benefits that all educators enjoy, regardless of whether they are association members.’

There is nothing fair about forcing a worker to pay dues to an organization that he or she does not want to belong to.

The NEA website goes deeper into the “fair share” philosophy:

All union members who enjoy the benefits, rights, and protections of a contract should, in fairness, and must, according to Illinois state law, contribute to maintaining that contract. Sometimes called ‘agency fee,’ fair share is a percentage of full union dues, based on the actual cost of collective bargaining, contract maintenance, and other services provided to all union members. 

Well yes, all those who benefit from the union contract, should pay dues. But if they don’t want any part of your contract, why are you trying to force them to pay you?

Mind you, Harris was a narrow decision. Justice Samuel Alito’s ruling drew a distinction between the home care workers and ‘full-fledged’ public employees

… who were required to pay union dues under the Court’s Abood v. Detroit Board of Education precedent in 1977. In that sense unions dodged a more sweeping decision that could have jeopardized dues payments from all public workers.

But – and this is what’s scaring the spit out of unionistas – Alito added that Abood (which maintains that it is illegal to withhold forced dues from dissenters beyond the cost of collective bargaining) is “questionable on several grounds.” Collective bargaining issues, he wrote, “are inherently political in the public sector.”

In the private sector, the line is easier to see. Collective bargaining concerns the union’s dealings with the employer; political advocacy and lobbying are directed at the government… But in the public sector, both collective bargaining and political advocacy and lobbying are directed at the government. (Emphasis added.)

Clearly, Alito left the door open for the court to do something of an “Abood face.” The next shoe that drops could lead to the unions’ worst nightmare – making union membership optional nationwide. (At this time 26 states are forced union states, while 24 are right-to-work.)

In fact, that “next shoe” is awaiting a fitting. Friedrichs et al v CTA is on a path to reach SCOTUS within a year or two. This litigation has ten teachers and the Christian Educators Association International – a union alternative – taking on the California Teachers Association with a lawsuit aimed squarely at California’s “agency-shop” law, which forces teachers to pay dues for collective bargaining activities, though – as per Abood – paying for the unions’ political agenda is not mandatory. The plaintiffs’ lawyers are challenging the law, claiming collective bargaining is inherently political and that all union dues should be voluntary.

Terry Pell, president of the Center for Individual Rights, a public interest law firm representing Rebecca Friedrichs and her co-plaintiffs, was upbeat after the Harris ruling was announced.

Today’s decision is a good sign of things to come. The Court will soon have before it another union dues case, one that asks it to recognize the First Amendment rights of all employees to decide whether to pay union dues, not just home healthcare workers.

He importantly added,

We’re not attacking collective bargaining. … That’s not at issue. All we’re saying is individual teachers get to decide whether to pay dues to that organization. You can have collective bargaining and you can have a strong union, but you don’t have to have compulsory dues.

If Friedrichs is successful, and the court overturns Abood, workers will have a choice. To paraphrase President Obama, “If you like your union, you can keep your union.” But if you don’t, you can’t be forced to join. Freedom of choice – sounds like the American way to me.

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.

Post-Vergara Rumblings

The Vergara decision is three weeks old – and due to the teachers unions’ appeal, nothing has changed. Or has it?

Because Judge Rolf Treu has placed a stay on his Vergara ruling pending the outcome of the teachers unions’ appeal, the tenure, seniority and dismissal statutes are still alive and well in California. However, there already has been some fallout engendered by the decision.

Introduced in February of this year, AB 1619 would have required school districts with fewer than 250 students to grant tenure to teachers after three years. Amazingly the unions had not, until earlier this year, tried to sink their hooks into these smaller districts that have no tenure laws at all. The bill, cosponsored by the California Teachers Association (surprise!) and Lorena Gonzalez, former leader of the San Diego Imperial Counties Labor Council, sailed through the State Assembly but hadn’t made its way out of the Senate Education Committee. As reported by LA School Report, “Paul Ochoa, an aide to Gonzalez …, said the bill ‘will not move forward this year,’ but he was uncertain if Gonzalez would try again next year.” Teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci recently observed that there’s no doubt that “had it not been for the Vergara ruling, not only would AB 1619 have passed already, but we probably wouldn’t have even heard a word about it.”

While California is wrestling with the ramifications of Vergara, New York has inaugurated a similar lawsuit. Campbell Brown, a former CNN anchor who has become involved with education reform of late, launched the Partnership for Educational Justice in December 2013. Inspired by Vergara, she has identified six children who have agreed to serve as plaintiffs, arguing they “suffered from laws making it too expensive, time-consuming and burdensome to fire bad teachers.”

Ms. Brown wants a verdict in her group’s case to spur legislators to come up with better education policies. ‘My hope is this would be a wake-up call to politicians who failed to solve these problems for years,’ she said.

Her team has been meeting with parents to find plaintiffs. One is Jada Williams in Rochester, who wrote a seventh-grade essay complaining about teachers who she said gave no real instruction and failed to manage unruly students. Her mother, Carla, said in an interview: ‘When a child in class is educationally neglected, that’s a criminal act.’

David Welch, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur who financed Students Matter, the advocacy group that filed the Vergara suit, has given Ms. Brown guidance, and came to a meeting of about 30 people at her apartment in April to discuss it, she said. A mother of two children in private school, Ms. Campbell said she gave seed money to the Partnership for Educational Justice. She declined to disclose other donors. She has applied for nonprofit status.

Shortly after the Vergara verdict, the USC Rossier School of Education and Stanford-based Policy Analysis for California Education conducted a poll and found

… that two-thirds of voters (68 percent) agree that the state should do away with “Last In, First Out,” a policy that requires the newest K-12 teachers be laid off first, regardless of merit. Just 17 percent said California should continue to conduct teacher layoffs in order of seniority….

California voters also largely opposed the state’s tenure laws for public school teachers, according to the poll. Six in 10 California voters said teachers should not continue to receive tenure, as it makes firing bad teachers difficult. Twenty-five percent of voters said the state should keep tenure for public school teachers to provide them job protections and the freedom to teach potentially controversial topics without fear of reprisals.

When asked specifically about the timeline to tenure — which can be awarded after as little as 18 months in the classroom — 38 percent said two years is too soon to award tenure, and 35 percent said public school teachers shouldn’t receive tenure at all, the poll showed. Seventeen percent of voters said two years was the “right amount of time” to earn tenure, and 4 percent said two years was too long, according to the poll.

Perhaps most interestingly, the poll showed that when asked about California’s teachers unions,

… 49 percent of voters said they have a “somewhat or very negative” impact on the quality of K-12 education, with 31 percent saying unions have a “somewhat or very positive” impact.

Then, for sheer entertainment value, we have the teachers unions’ responses to the ruling and its aftermath, bloviating about the turn of events every time a microphone is within harrumphing range. In an obvious slap at Campbell Brown, New York State United Teachers president Karen Magee nonsensically claimed that, “If hedge fund millionaires and celebrity dilettantes were truly interested in guaranteeing students a quality education, they would join parents and unions in fighting for fair funding for all children, not just the affluent.”

The funding canard doesn’t even merit a response. And if Magee has issues with “celebrity dilettantes,” why didn’t she pillory Matt Damon for statements he made supporting tenure at an SOS rally in 2011? I guess, for her, some celebrity dilettantes are more equal than others.

Responding to the Vergara decision, National Education Association leader Dennis Van Roekel informs us that, “This lawsuit was never about helping students, but is yet another attempt by millionaires and corporate special interests to undermine the teaching profession and push their own ideological agenda on public schools and students while working to privatize public education.”

His might as well have said, “The cow jumped over the moon” for all the sense he made. Getting rid of incompetent and criminal teachers and trying to save the hides of young teachers victimized by last in/first out rules is what the case was about. Privatization and an “ideological agenda?” Not even close. Actually it’s the teachers unions’ “ideological agenda” that is helping to spur the very school choice movement that Van Roekel and other union leaders are forever decrying.

And of course American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten weighed in, claiming that the decision “strips the hundreds of thousands of teachers who are doing a good job of any right to a voice.” Oh please. Teachers have plenty of “voice” except maybe when they run afoul of the union for not toeing the party line. Effective teachers won’t be affected by the Vergara decision, though some pedophiles’ and incompetents’ livelihoods may be cut short.

Mike Antonucci analyzed the national and California teacher union leaders’ responses to the Vergara decision and noted that none of them used the words “tenure” or “seniority.” He writes,

My view of all this is that the unions will, as they have in the past, score well with the general public when attacking evil corporate puppetmasters. But judging from the media reports of the Vergara ruling – almost all of which prominently use ‘seniority’ and ‘tenure’ – they will have an uphill battle altering the public perception of protecting bad teachers.

If the USC poll is any indication, the Vergara trial – if nothing else – has been a public relations disaster for the unions. Translating that into meaningful political change is going to be the tricky part. And so, the battle continues.

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.

The Teachers Unions’ "Brown" Problem

When it comes to education and civil rights, NEA and AFT are part of the problem; the solution is choice.

Last Saturday was the 60th anniversary of the Brown v Board of Education decision, which outlawed state-sponsored segregation in schools. Never missing an opportunity to grandstand, the teachers unions groused all last week about various obstacles still facing low-income students of color. Their whine included inadequate school funding, the usual dumping on charter schools and blaming ALEC for various social ills. Amazingly, the Koch Brothers got the week off. 

Kicking off the festivities on May 13th, a union front group calling itself the “Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools” organized a rally on the steps of the Supreme Court. The speakers trotted out the bogeymen du jour – high-stakes testing, school closures, corporate and private involvement in education, etc. National Education Association president Dennis Van Roekel complained that “there are several inequalities that still exist in both educational programs and in school facilities.” And American Federation of Teachers leader Randi Weingarten, going for the lachrymose, snatched a couple of human shields – I mean young children – from the crowd and proclaimed, “These kids, this is why we do what we do.”

Over on the NEA website, Van Roekel grumbled that not much has changed since Brown and retired educator Bruce Smith asserted that he knows where the blame lies. Smith claims that the problem revolves around state politicians… 

who have sold out their constituents and, instead, have pledged their support to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which is known for pushing education policies that foster inequity in our public schools.

Many of the wealthiest corporations in the world are members of ALEC, which uses its vast resources to shower state politicians across the country with expensive gifts, high-priced dinners at fancy restaurants, and vacation junkets at exotic resorts.

Those politicians who fall for the “ALEC treatment” become puppets who push the conservative, right-wing group’s education policies and proposals back home–legislation designed to benefit ALEC’s wealthy benefactors and turn a profit on the backs of students without any regard for their educational wellbeing.

For example, ALEC is a big supporter of vouchers and tuition tax credit schemes which use public dollars to subsidize tuition at private or religious schools. In addition to being costly to taxpayers, studies show such programs do not result in a better education for students.

In other words, Smith thinks the most important blocks to kids getting a good education are politicians who are bought off by wealthy, right wing, corporate benefactors. Vouchers and tax credits (which are somehow costly to taxpayers) are of course the devil’s work. His evidence that privatization doesn’t work? The always intriguing “unnamed studies.”

Then there is the “Advancement Project,” a group heavily funded by billionaire globalist George Soros which has ties to various teachers unions. This bunch has decided that charter schools are racist and compared them to prisons. (Apparently, the only thing that is “advanced” about the “Advancement Project” is its advanced deranged thinking.)

Time for a reality check.

First off, if charters are so racist, why are so many parents of all colors flocking to them? Simply because they have been more successful than the traditional public schools – especially with minorities – and over a half-million children of all ethnicities sit on waitlists nationwide. But this inconvenient truth is ignored by the teachers unions because most charters are not unionized.

Regarding Van Roekel’s “inequities,” he’s right, but not in the way he thinks. In a recent in-depth study, University of Arkansas researcher Patrick Wolf found that the gap for charter school funding is widening.

We identified a funding gap of 28.4 percent, meaning that the average public charter school student in the U.S. is receiving $3,814 less in funding than the average traditional public school student. Since the average charter school enrolls 400 students, the average public charter school in the U.S. received $1,525,600 less in per-pupil funding in 2010-11 than it would have received if it had been a traditional public school. The gap is actually higher in focus areas within states where charter schools are more commonly found, such as major cities. (Emphasis added.)

And the privatization shibboleth really needs to be put to rest. Private schools generally do a better job than public schools (at lower cost, I might add), but it is rarely reported that privatization also leads to less racial segregation, not more, as the unions claim. Just a year ago, Greg Forster, of the Friedman Foundation, released the third in a series of reports on school choice which includes vouchers and, to a lesser extent, educational savings accounts and tax credit scholarships. The findings about segregation from “A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice” are not ambiguous.

Eight empirical studies have examined school choice and racial segregation in schools. Of these, seven find that school choice moves students from more segregated schools into less segregated schools. One finds no net effect on segregation from school choice. No empirical study has found that choice increases racial segregation. (Emphasis added.)

Michael Lomax, president and chief executive officer of the United Negro College Fund, adds…

there have been some improvements toward equality for low-income students of color, particularly in the realm of school choice.

I am beginning to see some promising educational improvements that are ensuring that if a low-income child of color wants to remain in the neighborhood in which he or she lives, that if we create a really good school in that neighborhood, that child can get a very good education,” Lomax says.

Interestingly, last week saw a major victory for educational choice in North Carolina where the state Supreme Court lifted an injunction that had barred parents from accessing North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship Program.

And ultimately, isn’t that the best way to assure that all kids receive the best education possible? By opening the system up to competition, parents get to choose the school that best fits their kids’ needs.

On another note, I think it’s condescending to insist that the only way that black kids can get a good education is if they go to schools with white kids. As Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom wrote recently,

It is demeaning, even racist, to assume that minority children can’t learn—or can’t learn as much—unless they are immersed in a student body in which whites are the majority. The most sophisticated research on the subject does not find that having white classmates notably improves the academic achievement of blacks and Hispanics.

In any event, all the bluster last week reminded me of an old joke.

A woman comes across a man on his knees under a street lamp. “I’ve lost my car keys,” he explains. The woman tries to help the man find his keys. After a few minutes of searching, she asks “Where exactly did you drop them?” 

“About a block away.” 

Puzzled, she asks “Then why aren’t you looking over there?” 

“The light is better here.” 

For the teachers unions and their cronies and acolytes, shining a light on all the old canards will do nothing to help children fulfill the “Promise of Brown.” Like the man in the joke, they are looking in the wrong place. The keys for those kids are great teachers who are accountable to parents. And the best way to get there is by doing away with the government-union duopoly and replacing it with a system of universal school choice.  

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.

Walton, Weingarten and Orwell

The Walton Foundation has donated millions to help charter schools prosper, but that’s a bad thing according to the teachers unions.

It’s no secret that the Walton Family Foundation is a major donor to charter schools. In 2013, it donated over $70 million to these special public schools and charter management organizations across the country. A good example of the Walton’s largesse is The Richard Wright Public Charter School for Journalism and Media Arts, which is housed in a building across the street from the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard. Having received $250,000 from Walton in 2011, the school “used the money to buy computers for students, as well as chemistry lab equipment and recording gear for the school’s media studio.”

All of the school’s students qualify for federally subsidized free or reduced price lunches. According to Marco Clark, the founder and head of the school, one in five students have special needs and one in 10 have been involved with the criminal justice system.

… Several students noted that they had come from schools in which they either did not feel safe or were not learning much. Dr. Clark acknowledged that the school was still working to raise test scores, and had added extra math and reading classes.

“Those who want to criticize any philanthropy group for giving money to kids to change their futures,” said Dr. Clark, “there’s something wrong with them.” (Emphasis added.)

Really. Just who would criticize these philanthropists for helping better the lives of thousands of kids across the country? Teacher union leaders, that’s who.

National Education Association president Dennis Van Roekel’s loopy comment on the Walton’s generosity:

Any foundation that invests the money has to ask themselves, is their money impacting the system as a whole?

What in Hades does this mean? If the Waltons can’t help every school in the country, they shouldn’t help any?

But the award for effrontery has to go to American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten. In a hair curling statement, she declared,

What they’re doing in terms of education is they’re trying to create an alternative system and destabilize what has been the anchor of American democracy.

Hitting a bulls-eye, longtime education reform warrior Whitney Tilson fired back:

Your union, Randi, has been a major contributor to the rise and entrenchment of an ineffective, unjust system that, rather than anchoring American democracy, is destabilizing it. It’s a system that provides a mediocre education to the middle 60% of students and a catastrophic failure to the bottom 20% – almost entirely poor, minority students – the ones who most need great schools and teachers to escape the circumstances into which they were born, yet we instead stick them with the worst.

Maybe Weingarten was just cranky. Her ridiculous comment came on the heels of a lawsuit that AFT’s New York City affiliate, the United Federation of Teachers, lost earlier in April.

On Tuesday, a judge tossed out a suit brought by the United Federation of Teachers to block the opening of 13 charter schools in September, including seven charters run by former city councilwoman Eva Moskowitz.

The union had argued (former mayor Michael) Bloomberg improperly pushed through the co-locations, which place a charter in the same facility as an existing public school. The space-sharing would make teachers’ jobs harder, the UFT said.

But Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Alexander Hunter ruled the union had not exhausted “all administrative remedies” before filing the suit, and that “there is no basis for the claim that the proposals were issued prematurely.”

Ironically, as Weingarten wages war on charter schools (and every other kind of school choice that would benefit kids and parents), she managed to pick up the Hubert H. Humphrey Civil and Human Rights Award, “for her lifelong commitment to improving America’s education system.” And who might bestow this late April Fool’s joke of an award on a teacher union boss?

Answer: The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which is comprised of labor unions and other far-left organizations. (Lavishing this honor on Weingarten is the equivalent of the sugar lobby granting a nutritious food award to Cool Whip.)

Perhaps the late Milton Friedman, father of school choice, said it best. Putting things into perspective, he wrote in 2005 that the deterioration of schooling can be traced to 1965, which was when

… the National Education Association converted itself from a professional association to a trade union. Concern about the quality of education led to the establishment of the National Commission of Excellence in Education, whose final report, “A Nation at Risk,” was published in 1983. It used the following quote from Paul Copperman to dramatize its own conclusion:

“Each generation of Americans has outstripped its parents in education, in literacy, and in economic attainment. For the first time in the history of our country, the educational skills of one generation will not surpass, will not equal, will not even approach, those of their parents.

… Throughout this long period, we have been repeatedly frustrated by the gulf between the clear and present need, the burning desire of parents to have more control over the schooling of their children, on the one hand, and the adamant and effective opposition of trade union leaders and educational administrators to any change that would in any way reduce their control of the educational system.

So the war continues. In our bizarre newspeak world, the leader of a labor union who tries to force kids to stay in their failing public schools gets a “human and civil rights” award and the Walton Foundation, which gives millions to help free those kids, is vilified. 2014 is the new 1984.

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.

The Teachers Unions’ Supreme Chutzpah

NEA and AFT leaders cavil at Supreme Court decision that eases rules on political funding.

Nothing gives me an advanced case of the vapors quicker than the subject of political campaign finance laws. Trying to figure out who can give how much to whom and when, and how many dollars can be donated to a PAC, who is allowed to involve themselves in “dark money” and who has to report what are matters that are more confounding than trying to follow anything Harry Reid says. (Okay, that would actually be a close call.)

In any event, last week the Supreme Court ruled to strike down a cap on the total amount any individual can contribute to federal candidates in a two-year election cycle. While this doesn’t seem to be a radical move to me, the SCOTUS ruling did not please everyone. And perhaps the unhappiest of all were the nation’s teachers unions. American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten issued a press release harrumphing:

With this ruling, the voices of everyday Americans have gotten squashed again. We once had rules that allowed everyone a fair shot at the American dream and access to democracy, but now access to government is reserved for the most powerful and influential with millions and millions of dollars to buy elections. (Emphasis added.)

The avalanche of money spent on elections would be better spent creating jobs, improving our neighborhood public schools, fixing our disintegrating infrastructure and building a better future for our children.

Ms. Weingarten is guilty of uttering two tired union conceits: she trots out “our children” and then blasts the “most powerful and influential” from her perch atop one of the “most powerful and influential” organizations in the country.

In a rare occurrence, National Education Association president Dennis Van Roekel out-demagogued his AFT counterpart in his official statement on the decision:

America’s working families lost today when the Supreme Court’s ruling on McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission effectively removed meaningful limits on the total amount an individual can directly contribute to candidates, political parties and political committees. The ruling creates yet another loophole that will allow a single individual to contribute millions of dollars to political parties, candidates and multi-candidate PACs.

At a time when the lop-sided playing field unfairly benefits the haves over the have-nots, the McCutcheon decision opens the floodgates even further for corporations and the monied elite to dominate our democracy. The majority opinion goes on to strike down aggregate limits that only prevent the very richest in our society from contributing to every campaign they would like and, thereby, dominating the political discourse.

Our country was founded on the premise that democracy is not for sale. No kindergarten teacher, school nurse, librarian, food service worker or school bus driver can compete with the deep pockets of billionaires. Taken together with Citizens United, today’s decision guts America’s campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.

Reality-averse, Van Roekel ignores the fact that his own union is a special interest that:

a) takes advantage of “loopholes.”

b)  is a “monied elite.”

c)  dominates “the political discourse.”

d)  benefits from “Citizens United.”

The union bosses’ statements can be summed up in three simple words. “It’s not fair.” To which I say, “Is too.” (And by the way, you two, the whining is quite disingenuous.) What follows are just a few little things that should disabuse anyone of believing that these unions are selfless guardians of the disenfranchised.

The NEA and AFT combine to bring in over $550 million a year in dues. Then, as unions, they get to duck paying a penny of income tax on that half billion plus dollars.

And just what do they do with all this money? They spend a lot of it on politics. In fact, NEA is ranked #3 nationally on Open Secrets heavy-hitter list. From 1989-2014, NEA spent $58,783,738 on candidates, PACs, etc. AFT comes in at #12, spending $37,039,075 during the same 25 year period. But if you combine the two teachers unions’ political gifting they come in second, spending almost $96 million between them.

It’s important to note that these dollar amounts do not include money spent on politics by the national unions’ state and local affiliates. For example, the California Teachers Association, the biggest political spender in the Golden State, unleashed $290 million on politics from 2000-2013.

What the unions don’t broadcast is that much of the money they bring in is not given willingly by teachers. In 26 states and D.C., teachers must pay tribute to the union if they want to teach in a public school. (Yes, there are ways for teachers to wriggle out of the part of dues that goes to politics, but the unions make it very difficult to do so. And the lawyers of a recent lawsuit make a legitimate case that just about everything these unions do inherently involves “controversial and important political and ideological issues.”)

Also, the union leaders’ faux populism reveals itself in the destination of its largesse. According to an internal poll, NEA found that its members “are slightly more conservative (50%) than liberal (43%) in political philosophy.” Does the union’s spending reflect this diversity?

Hardly. NEA spends money on Democrats at a 14:1 ratio. And AFT is even more one-sided: it spends zero on right of center candidates.

So when Van Roekel complains that, “No kindergarten teacher, school nurse, librarian, food service worker or school bus driver can compete with the deep pockets of billionaires,” I guess he only means Democrat teachers, nurses, etc.   

The bottom line is that good people can disagree as to how best to reform our arcane campaign finance laws. But until the teachers unions begin to comport themselves with decency, honesty, and fairness, they don’t deserve anything but our scorn. 

As Kevin Williamson wrote in NRO, “This isn’t about getting rich guys out of politics — it’s about the NEA and the AFT keeping competition off the field.” And to the consternation of NEA/CTA, the Supreme Court decision will hopefully make that field just a bit more level.

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.

Brotherly Betrayal

Predominantly minority D.C school kids are not sharing NEA leader’s glee over President Obama’s budget.

Last week, President Obama released his administration’s budget for fiscal year 2015 and National Education Association president Dennis Van Roekel was ecstatic. He was especially pleased that Obama plans to move “towards ending the era of austerity.” (Austerity? I must have been absent that day.)

But most of Van Roekel’s cheerleading concerned itself with the president’s “smart investments in education.” The union leader blathered on about early childhood education, maintaining that,

We also welcome the president’s plan to make high-quality early childhood education universally accessible to all 4-year olds. Research shows that children who attend high-quality prekindergarten programs are less likely to drop out of school, repeat grades, need special education, and have greater opportunity to succeed in life. Moreover, such programs bring enormous economic benefits and can pay for themselves in as little as one year and, over time, save the states and the federal government billions of dollars.

Actually, the vast majority of the research shows something very different. The United States, in fact, has a near 50-year history of funding early-childhood programs in the form of Head Start. And in December 2012, the federal government released the final section of a three-part longitudinal study of the $8 billion-a-year Great Society-era program, with very disappointing results. According to the report’s executive summary:

“[T]here was little evidence of systematic differences in children’s elementary school experiences through 3rd grade, between children provided access to Head Start and their counterparts in the control group.” The 2012 report only reinforced some disappointing findings from the study’s second phase, which showed that any gains “had faded considerably by the end of 1st grade, with Head Start children showing an edge only in learning vocabulary over their peers in the control group who had not participated in Head Start.”

Perhaps the height of irony was reached when Van Roekel said, “President Obama’s budget rightly reflects our belief that a strong economy starts with a public education system that “creates opportunity and excellence for all.”

Well maybe not “for all.” The budget that has Van Roekel swooning leaves no money for the successful and popular Washington, D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (DCOSP). The teacher union boss dislikes the program because vouchers are used to enroll kids in private schools which are not unionized. In fact, in March of 2009, Van Roekel wrote a threatening letter to every Democratic member of Congress,

The National Education Association strongly opposes any extension of the District of Columbia private school voucher . . . program. We expect that Members of Congress who support public education, and whom we have supported, will stand firm against any proposal to extend the pilot program. Actions associated with these issues WILL be included in the NEA Legislative Report Card for the 111th Congress.

Vouchers are not real education reform. . . . Opposition to vouchers is a top priority for NEA.

Three months later, Congress, then controlled by Democrats, dutifully voted to kill DCOSP. The program was eventually revived when Republicans retook control of the House in 2010, but because of Obama’s hard line, there has been an ongoing struggle to keep it funded.

The voucher program came up in an interview with Bill O’Reilly last month. The president claimed that the means-tested voucher programs in Milwaukee and D.C, “didn’t actually make that much of a difference,” and added, “As a general proposition, vouchers have not significantly improved the performance of kids that are in these poorest communities.”

It would appear that the president has chosen to remain uninformed, as there is a wealth of available data that contradict his assertions. In Education Next, Arkansas researcher and professor Patrick Wolf meticulously refutes Obama’s misinformation:

A 2010 evaluation of the District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program that I led for the U.S. Department of Education found that students offered private-school choice by winning a random lottery graduated from high school at the rate of 82 percent, compared with 70 percent for the control group. The impact of actually using an Opportunity Scholarship was to increase the likelihood of graduation by 21 percentage points, from 70 percent to 91 percent. Over 90 percent of the participants in the study were African American, and almost all of the rest were Latino American. (Emphasis added.)

A similarly rigorous experimental study of the impact of privately funded partial-tuition K–12 scholarships on college-enrollment rates was conducted by Paul Peterson of Harvard University and Matthew Chingos of the Brookings Institution. They followed a large group of low-income elementary students in New York City for over a decade after half of them were awarded private-school scholarships by lottery, while the other half were randomly assigned to the control group. They determined that the impact of using a private-school scholarship was to raise the college enrollment rate for African Americans in the study from 36 percent to 45 percent, a gain of 9 percentage points that represented nearly a 25 percent improvement over the control-group rate. As with the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program evaluation, President Obama’s very own Department of Education assigned this study its highest rating for scientific rigor.

Finally, I worked with a large team of researchers to evaluate the effect of the nation’s oldest and largest urban school-voucher program, the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, on student educational attainment in the form of high-school graduation, college enrollment, and college persistence. Over two-thirds of the students in our study were African American, and almost all the rest were Latino American. We found that low-income students who used a voucher to enroll in a private school in ninth grade subsequently graduated from high school, enrolled in a four-year college, and persisted in college at rates that were 4–7 percentage points higher than statistically similar Milwaukee students who started in public schools in ninth grade. These higher rates of educational attainment due to the Milwaukee voucher program represent improvements of 15–20 percent over the rates obtained by the comparison group of public-school students—nearly as large as those for the African American students in the New York City study.

Given the results of these three studies, one which was overseen by the U.S. Department of Education and two which were recognized with the Department’s highest award for rigor, we might expect President Obama to receive a swift response regarding his call for the federal government to search for programs that boost educational outcomes for African American men. The U.S. Department of Education need not search far and wide for such initiatives: they have already found one. Research shows that private-school choice through vouchers or scholarships is one of our nation’s most effective dropout-prevention programs for African Americans….

It’s important to note that not only do vouchers work for kids, they also provide relief for the taxpayer. Whereas it costs about $30,000 to educate a child in D.C. public schools, a DCOSP scholarship comes in at just $8,000 for a K-8 student and $12,000 for a high school student.

Several education reform groups weighed in on the presidents attempt to kill DCOSP with justifiable disappointment and anger. The Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) press release was typical,

“The Nation’s Capital has one of the most successful and cutting edge, choice-based education structures in the country,” said BAEO President, Ken Campbell. “BAEO is disheartened to see the White House’s unwillingness to continue its investment in a proven parental choice program like the DC Opportunity Scholarship program.”

According to the last federal evaluation of OSP in 2010, 91 percent of children who used their D.C. opportunity scholarships graduated from high school – 21 percent more than those who sought but did not receive a scholarship and 30 percent higher than D.C. public school graduation rates.

“When we find programs and new approaches to education ecosystems that work, we need to do all we can to invest in those approaches for the children and parents who need them,” said Campbell. “The sad reality is that once again we cannot count on the President to support low-income parents who simply want the right to be able to make choices about where and how their children are educated….”

Obama’s aversion to vouchers is especially ironic as he recently announced “My Brother’s Keeper,” a five year $200 million charitable initiative whose goal is to address the many disparities in outcomes for black men, including large gaps with white men in high-school graduation rates, college enrollment and completion rates, lifetime earnings, longevity, and the likelihood of incarceration.

So on the one hand, he is trying to promote educational opportunity for poor African-Americans by getting non-profits to buy into his “brother’s keeper” initiative. But then he turns around and defunds a successful voucher program which does exactly what his non-profit aims to do.

Just what is the reason for his contradictory stance?

All eyes point to some brothers being more equal than others – the ones that don’t ruffle union feathers go to the head of Mr. Obama’s class and the rest are left on their own to continue to suffer in some of the worst – and most expensive – schools in the country.

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.

For Whom the Pell Doles

Why are vouchers okay for college students, but not for K-12ers?

Recently, the National Education Association posted an interview with Wes Moore on its website.

Two boys are named Wes Moore. Both grow up in fatherless homes in Baltimore. Both struggle in school, and run into trouble with the police. But one Wes Moore wins admission to Johns Hopkins University and Oxford. The other earns a life sentence in a Maryland prison. In his book, The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates, Moore confronts the “other,” and finds that there are no neat answers to the disposition of fate: “The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine. The tragedy is that my story could have been his.”

At the end of the brief interview, the questioner states:

Your mother graduated from college, while Wes’ mother was forced to leave school after the Reagan-era cuts to Pell Grant funding. Do you think this made a difference?

Moore responds:

Quite honestly, I can’t help but think how different his life would have been if she had been able to finish school. It’s about this idea of social capital, expectations, the people you surround yourself with… It’s not that Wes’ mother didn’t care about Wes. We work with a lot of kids, and over decades I can probably count on two fingers the number of parents who don’t care about their kids.

But the Pell Grant story—the reason I included the Pell Grant story wasn’t just because it was a powerful story, but because anybody who doesn’t understand the implications of that moment is missing the whole point. That was a huge occasion in her life, and it should inform how we discuss policies and policy implications. This stuff matters….

Yes, Pell Grants – aka education vouchers – matter.

The Pell Grant, after starting out as the “Basic Educational Opportunity Grant,” was renamed to reflect the law’s sponsor Rhode Island Senator Clayborn Pell.

These federal funded grants are not like loans, and need not be repaid. Students may use their grants at any one of approximately 5,400 participating postsecondary institutions. These federally funded grants help about 5.4 million full-time and part-time college and vocational school students nationally. For the 2010–2011 school year, 7 of the top 10 colleges by total Pell Grant money awarded were for-profit institutions. (Emphasis added.)

For profit institutions?

That means that college students are taking public funds and using them to attend a private institution of their choosing. (And it is not only Pell Grants that enable college students to pay tuition to whichever university they choose – public or private – using taxpayer dollars. The G.I. Bill, also a voucher program, does essentially the same thing for veterans as a way to help them assimilate into civilian life. It has been a very popular program since its inception in 1944.)

To its credit, NEA realizes the value of Pell Grants, as does its sister union, the American Federation of Teachers. In fact, just last year AFT president Randi Weingarten excoriated Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan for submitting a budget that would freeze the grants at their current level.

But when it comes to K-12 schools, the unions sing a very different tune. NEA’s website has a policy brief which reads,

Vouchers aren’t a strategy for improving the public schools; they are a strategy of abandonment that would leave America’s children behind. The battle over vouchers diverts time, energy, and resources from real school improvement.

And these aren’t just idle words. In March of 2009, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel wrote a threatening letter to every Democratic member of Congress:

The National Education Association strongly opposes any extension of the District of Columbia private school voucher . . . program. We expect that Members of Congress who support public education, and whom we have supported, will stand firm against any proposal to extend the pilot program. Actions associated with these issues WILL be included in the NEA Legislative Report Card for the 111th Congress.

Vouchers are not real education reform. . . . Opposition to vouchers is a top priority for NEA. (Emphasis added.)

Weingarten is just as hostile to K-12ers receiving public funding to attend a private school. During Mitt Romney’s run for president in 2012 she declared,

Today, Mitt Romney squandered an opportunity to participate in a meaningful discussion of real education reform by attempting to disguise attacks on teachers and public education as meaningful policy proposals. Instead of looking to improve education for all children, he parroted failed voucher and privatization schemes that have not improved student learning. Romney’s proposal to take even more money out of public education and funnel it to private schools is absurd at a time when school budgets already are being slashed to the bone across the country. (Emphasis added.)

Weingarten’s characterization of school choice through vouchers as “failed” is outrageous. These subsidies have not only improved education for the students who attend the schools of choice, but study after study has shown that kids who remain in public school also benefit when a voucher system is instituted and schools are forced to compete for students. The Friedman Foundation reports:

Twelve empirical studies have examined academic outcomes for school choice participants using random assignment, the “gold standard” of social science. Of these, 11 find that choice improves student outcomes—six that all students benefit and five that some benefit and some are not affected. One study finds no visible impact. No empirical study has found a negative impact.

Twenty-three empirical studies (including all methods) have examined school choice’s impact on academic outcomes in public schools. Of these, 22 find that choice improves public schools and one finds no visible impact. No empirical study has found that choice harms public schools.

So why is it okay to give vouchers to late teens to attend a private college, but not to 8 and 12 and 16 year olds to enroll in a private elementary, middle or high school? The principle is either sound or it’s not.

Obviously the unions are threatened by vouchers on a K-12 level because that’s where their primary source of funding is. Not nearly as many college instructors and professors are dues paying union members.

But maybe I am wrong and there is another reason for the unions’ inconsistent positions. Am I missing something? If you have an answer, please post in the “comments” area or email me at cteninfo@ctenhome.org

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.

Michigan Teachers and Their Union Support Child Rapist

“Although fully aware that Neal did something illegal, I am very proud to have him as my friend.”

“… his dedication and leadership qualities gained him the respect of his administrators, staff, students and community.”

The above quotes are from letters that were written by teachers to a judge last June on behalf of a former colleague. The object of the teachers’ tributes, Neal Erickson, a middle school math teacher in West Branch, Michigan, was convicted of repeatedly raping one of his male students between 2006 and 2009, starting when the boy was 13. The teacher was so brazen about his acts that he posted videos and pictures of himself and the boy engaged in oral sex and worse on child porn websites. Much to the letter writers’ dismay, the rapist received a 15-30 year prison sentence in July.

But the story didn’t end there. Local school officials held a special board meeting on July 29th where parents expressed outrage at the sympathetic teachers. As EAG writer Victor Skinner wrote at the time,

… numerous people from the community approached the podium to urge the school board to fire seven teachers who wrote the court in support of Erickson.

They also called for the resignation of board member Michael Eagan, who sat with teachers and the Erickson family during the former teacher’s sentencing last month, the Ogemaw County Herald reports.

Many parents who spoke at the meeting threatened to remove their children from the district if teachers who supported Erickson are not fired, which could result in significant loss of per-pupil state funding.

The ongoing sexual assault was bad enough for the victim’s parents, but it was compounded by the teachers disgusting display of sympathy for a convicted rapist. Judge Michael Bumgartner, who sentenced Erickson, agreed saying that he was “appalled and ashamed” at the support for Erickson and told him, “What you did was a jab in the eye with a sharp stick to every parent who trusts a teacher.” The heartbroken father said not only was his son’s innocence taken from him, but the boy became hostile and withdrawn in his teens; sadly the parents blame themselves for his emotional problems. To get a true feeling of what their family has gone through, I urge you to watch this brief video.

The Janczewskis then asked that those teachers who supported Erickson be fired as well as urging Michael Eagen to resign his school board post. However, not everyone supported their plea.

Police believe someone set the Janczewskis’ garage on fire July 20, and nearly set their home ablaze.

On the side of his house the perpetrator spray-painted “YWP-ITY,” presumably a crude acronym for “You will pay, I told you.” State police are offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the case.

“We don’t deserve this,” John Janczewski told the Herald. “We’re not a bad family. We’ve done nothing but stand up for our son, the victim. They could have killed my whole family. Whoever’s done this has no remorse. They have no soul.”

And talking about no soul….

You may be wondering where the teachers union has been throughout all this. Well not surprisingly, they are supporting the rapist. According to Skinner,

On March 26, 2013 WB-RC officials offered a $10,000 buyout for any qualifying teacher who left the school district that year, an incentive superintendent Dan Cwayna said the district had used in the past to encourage needed staff reductions.

While it’s not clear when Erickson’s employment was terminated, the union’s action suggests he was still on the payroll when the buyout was offered and accepted it.

The school district declined to pay him the money, prompting the union’s action.

“You had to qualify for the buyout, depending on your years in the district,” Cwayna said. “We’ve done it in the past. It was a little different this last year in that we offered the buyout in two $5,000 payments.

“When the first payment was sent out … and the union discovered we did not make the payment to Mr. Erickson, they filed a grievance on his behalf.”

Cwayna said he was the one who decided not to authorize the special severance for the child molester, but declined to elaborate on why, though the reason seems pretty obvious.

“That was something I as superintendent, with some consultation with the president of the board,” decided, Cwayna said. “That was a decision the superintendent makes and at this point … I prefer not to get into the reasons.”

MEA UniServ Director Ron Parkinson acknowledged that the union is taking the case to arbitration on behalf of Erickson, but declined to discuss the case further.

To summarize this tragic story, here is how things stand now:

  • Erickson is doing 15 to 30 for his crime.
  • The seven teachers with broken moral compasses still have their jobs.
  • About 90 or so parents have pulled their kids from the 2,000 student district.
  • The Michigan Education Association, clueless as to when to pick and choose its battles, is still demanding that the convicted rapist be paid his $10,000 “buyout.”
  • National union leaders Randi Weingarten and Dennis Van Roekel, who of late have been flitting around the country weighing in on all matters educational in an effort to reinvigorate their rank-and-file, have been mum on the Michigan tragedy.
  • The Janczewski’s son is now 21 and graduating with honors from Western Michigan University. He is due home for Christmas and the family is hoping to heal the wounds which have devastated them for the last seven years.

As the old saying goes, “He who becomes compassionate to the cruel will ultimately become cruel to the compassionate.” During this holiday season, it’s the Janczewskis who merit our prayers and support. The rapist, the teachers who stand by him and the union that is trying to finagle funds for him deserve the scorn of good people everywhere.

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.

The Media and Teachers Unions: Creepy Crass Actors

Joining a racially charged situation, largely inflamed by the media, the nation’s teachers unions hypocritically play the civil rights card.

To acknowledge the obvious, the February 26, 2012 events in Sanford, FL were tragic. Trayvon Martin is dead and George Zimmerman will be haunted – and very possibly hunted – for the rest of his life. While there are gray areas of the incident where good people can disagree, there is one overarching truth that cannot be denied: Much of the nation’s mainstream media behaved in a downright despicable way. They have done everything possible to stoke racial tensions with exaggeration, misrepresentation, pandering, deceit and lies. Just a few examples:

  • March 21, 2012 – CNN accused Zimmerman of using a racial slur, which two weeks later it later retracted.
  • March 22, 2012 – Zimmerman, of mixed race, was dubbed by the New York Times a “white Hispanic.”
  • March 27, 2012 – NBC edited a tape to make Zimmerman appear to be a racist.
  • March 28, 2012 – ABC News falsely claims Zimmerman wasn’t injured the night of shooting.

The whole narrative of Zimmerman as a rabid Klansman also disintegrates when you look at what the vast majority of the media didn’t report:

  • He is of white and Afro-Peruvian descent.
  • He and a black friend partnered in opening an insurance office in a Florida.
  • He’d engaged in notably un-racist behavior, such as taking a black girl to his high-school prom.
  • He tutored underprivileged black kids.
  • He launched a campaign to help a homeless black man who was beaten up by the son of a white cop.

Now here’s where we go from contemptible to perverse. The heads of the two national teachers unions – Dennis Van Roekel (National Education Association) and Randi Weingarten (American Federation of Teachers) – are leading the charge to put Zimmerman behind bars by any means necessary. The two bosses urged their members to sign petitions to the Justice Department, saying that “Zimmerman must face the consequences of his actions.”

All of a sudden the teachers unions are worried about civil rights??!! What a brazen and sleazy attempt to divert attention from their day-to-day “we-really-don’t-give-a-crap-about-the-kids-but-can’t-come-out-and-directly-say-it” modus operandi. To wit:

  • In 2009, desperate to kill Washington, D.C.’s popular and successful opportunity scholarship program, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel wrote a threatening letter to every Democratic member of Congress. The union boss clearly declared that NEA strongly opposes the continuation of the DC private school voucher program. He went on to say that he expected that any member of Congress whom the union has supported will vote against extending the program and warned that, “Actions associated with these issues WILL be included in the NEA Legislative Report Card for the 111th Congress … Vouchers are not real education reform. . . . Opposition to vouchers is a top priority for NEA.”

The sad fact is that DC public schools have the lowest NAEP scores and the highest dropout rate in the country, whereas just about every student in the voucher program graduates from high school, almost all of them going on to college. The fact that thousands of children, a great majority of whom are African-American, would be forced to remain in their failing schools, thus closing the door on their future, didn’t seem to faze Mr. Van Roekel one bit. 

  • In 2011, AFT’s state affiliate in Connecticut neutered a Parent Trigger law and bragged about how it managed to snooker the mostly-minority parents. The union went so far as to post the step-by-step process on its website. Fortunately, writer RiShawn Biddle managed to save the document before AFT pulled the webpage, having realized that their gloating might not be in sync with its pro-minority persona. Parent leader Gwen Samuel, an African-American mother of two, saw through the union’s malfeasance, however. “When will parents matter?” she asks.
  • In 2011, the ACLU filed a lawsuit that would have exempted 45 of the worst schools in Los Angeles – predominantly black and Hispanic – from teacher union-mandated seniority rules, enabling those schools to keep good teachers instead of being subjected to constant turnover. In an Orwellian statement, United Teachers of Los Angeles elementary vice-president Julie Washington fumed,

This settlement will do nothing to address the inequities suffered by our most at-risk students. It is a travesty that this settlement, by avoiding real solutions and exacerbating the problem, actually undermines the civil and constitutional rights of our students.

The suit was successful, but subsequently the ruling was overturned on a technicality. Having no concern about the rights of the minority children disparately affected by the archaic last-in, first out statute, UTLA was thrilled.

  • If successful, the Students Matter  (Vergara v. California) lawsuit in California will remove the tenure, seniority and arcane dismissal statutes from the state education code, thus making it easier to get rid of incompetent and criminal teachers. While this lawsuit will help all students in the state, inner-city kids would benefit the most.

Collectively, the laws Vergara v. California challenges deprive those students arbitrarily assigned to the classrooms of ineffective teachers of their fundamental and constitutionally guaranteed right to equal opportunity to access quality education.

Though not named in the suit, the teachers unions just couldn’t sit idly by and accept a change in the rules that would benefit kids at their expense.

Two state teachers unions – the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers – released a joint press release … announcing that they had filed a motion “to intervene in litigation.” This means that CTA and CFT would like to be become involved in the case because they feel that the current defendants – the state and the school districts – are not adequately representing the interests of their teachers, whose rights they maintain could be adversely affected by the case.

There are countless other examples which exemplify the fact that the teachers unions’ raison d’être is preserving their influence, and doing so by any means necessary. That minority children are the ones who suffer the most from the unions’ ongoing power-lust is of no concern to them. That these raving hypocrites are now grandstanding and calling for the scalp of George Zimmerman boggles the mind.

Of course, it is highly unlikely that you will be reading about this latest outrage in the mainstream media. Like the teachers unions, these bad actors are doing their best to push their agenda and con the public.

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.

Mothers Against Bunk Jiving

Teacher union twaddle is not fooling the nation’s moms any more.

National Education Association president Dennis Van Roekel wrote a tired piece for Huffington Post last week in which he trotted out all the usual phrases and suspects that we have come to expect from a union boss who is trying to scare us into seeing the world through his agenda-driven eyes. Just a few:

  • corporate lobbyists
  • privatization
  • ALEC
  • Scott Walker’s all-out attack on teachers
  • diverting scarce resources that public schools desperately need
  • workers’ right to collective bargaining

(Somehow, the dreaded Koch Brothers didn’t make the cut.)

While the article is ostensibly about the purported turpitude of the American Legislative Exchange Council, it is actually more about the alleged horrors of school privatization through vouchers. Van Roekel informs us that voters have rejected this type of parental choice “time and time again.” If you click on the above link, you will see that,

From 1966 through 2007, voters rejected vouchers or their variants by about 2 to 1 in 27 statewide referendums.

Unfortunately for Van Roekel and other staunch defenders of the status quo, it is now 2013 and the old data are no longer accurate. In fact, the public has gotten behind 41 school choice programs in 22 states and D.C., with over 250,000 students using these programs to attend private schools.

Most recently, in honor of Mother’s Day this past Sunday, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice released the results of a national survey in which mothers (and others) were asked how they viewed vouchers and other forms of school choice. The findings show that moms make up the demographic most likely to favor school vouchers:

… 66 percent of moms with school-age children support vouchers for all students to obtain the best education possible. Mothers with school-age children also have more confidence in private school settings than in traditional public schools.

Other results show that the general public and school moms shared similar views on school grading:

  • ·         Only 39 percent of Americans give local public schools an “A” or a “B” compared with 54 percent in 2012—a 15-point drop.
  • ·         Sixty percent of Americans grade private schools an “A” or a “B”—a 10-point gain from 2012.

Perhaps the most important takeaway from the poll is that there has been a sharp shift in favor of vouchers over the past few years; the trend is undeniable.

Van Roekel also would be better served if he lost the talking point about how the move toward privatization is damaging traditional public schools. Just last month, Greg Forster, also of the Friedman Foundation, released the third in a series of reports on school choice which includes vouchers and, to a lesser extent, educational savings accounts and tax credit scholarships: “A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice.” The key findings:

  • Twelve empirical studies have examined academic outcomes for school choice participants using random assignment, the “gold standard” of social science. Of these, 11 find that choice improves student outcomes—six that all students benefit and five that some benefit and some are not affected. One study finds no visible impact. No empirical study has found a negative impact.
  • Twenty-three empirical studies (including all methods) have examined school choice’s impact on academic outcomes in public schools. Of these, 22 find that choice improves public schools and one finds no visible impact. No empirical study has found that choice harms public schools.
  • Six empirical studies have examined school choice’s fiscal impact on taxpayers. All six find that school choice saves money for taxpayers. No empirical study has found a negative fiscal impact.
  • Eight empirical studies have examined school choice and racial segregation in schools. Of these, seven find that school choice moves students from more segregated schools into less segregated schools. One finds no net effect on segregation from school choice. No empirical study has found that choice increases racial segregation.
  • Seven empirical studies have examined school choice’s impact on civic values and practices such as respect for the rights of others and civic knowledge. Of these, five find that school choice improves civic values and practices. Two find no visible impact from school choice. No empirical study has found that school choice has a negative impact on civic values and practices. (Emphasis added.)

The above can be seen graphically on this chart:

I think it is safe to say that the dated talking points and bunk emanating from the union crowd are wearing very thin. And as more and more moms (and others) see through the jive, the future does not bode well for the NEA and other educational monopolists.

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.

Big Education Jive Exposed

Good week for debunking teachers union hype, big government waste and mainstream media distortions.

The factually challenged Valerie Strauss unleashed a doozie in her Washington Post blog last week. As Alabama was passing tax credit legislation, Strauss, as she so often does, echoed the teachers union line, railing about the program being “welfare for the rich.” Truth is, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, these programs

… allow individuals and corporations to allocate a portion of their owed state taxes to private nonprofit school tuition organizations that issue scholarships to K-12 students. The scholarship allows a student to choose among a list of private schools, and sometimes public schools outside of the district, approved by the school tuition organization. The scholarship is used to pay tuition, fees, and other related expenses. As a result, the state does not have to appropriate per-pupil education funding for those students that receive scholarships.

So, the state actually saves money. And “welfare for the rich?” Hardly. Over at the Cato Institute, Jason Bedrick  points out,

The reality is almost exactly the opposite. Donors are not benefitting financially at the expense of the poor or anyone. And while it is true that tax-credit scholarships do not always cover the full cost of tuition at private schools, thanks to low-cost options and needs-based tuition breaks, low-income families are the primary beneficiaries of STC programs.

It is odd to claim that “wealthy businesses” are financially benefitting by receiving a tax credit for their donations. Even a 100% tax credit means that they are simply no worse off than before. A corporation with a $10,000 tax liability that made a $10,000 donation to a scholarship organization would then owe no state taxes but it would still have $10,000 less than it did before. Whether the $10,000 went to the government or a nonprofit is irrelevant to its bottom line.

Moreover, Strauss fails to mention that most state STC programs do not grant 100% credits. In fact, only four of the fourteen STC programs do. The other credits range from 50% to 90%. In these states, corporations would be better off financially if they merely paid their taxes.

Another non-story that garnered hysteria recently was the Metlife Survey of the American Teacher, which found that allegedly teachers are not the happy campers they used to be.

Teacher job satisfaction has plummeted to its lowest level in 25 years, from 62 percent in 2008 to 39 percent in 2012 – a total of 23 points, according to the annual Metlife Survey of the American Teacher, released today. Teachers reporting low levels of job satisfaction were more likely to be working in schools with shrinking budgets, few professional development opportunities, and little time allotted for teacher collaboration.

National Education Association president Dennis Van Roekel, who never misses an opportunity to campaign for more and more education spending, whined

This news is disappointing but sadly, there are no surprises in these survey results. Teacher job satisfaction will continue to free fall as long as school budgets are slashed…. Educators are doing everything they can to prepare their students to compete in the global economy, but the rug just keeps getting pulled out from under them.

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten chimed in with,

When teacher dissatisfaction is at a 25-year high, school leaders have to stop ignoring the red flags and start listening to and working with teachers to figure out what they and their students need to succeed.

Before going for the crying towel, be assured – as with so many agenda-driven “studies” – this one comes up far short. Andrew Rotherham deflates the whole mess very simply in Real Clear Politics,

…the much-touted data point about teacher satisfaction is, to put it politely, fundamentally flawed. Metlife asks about job satisfaction in different ways in different years. In 2008 and 2009 they asked teachers, “How satisfied would you say you are with teaching as a career?”

The survey didn’t ask about satisfaction in 2010, but in 2011 and 2012 teachers were asked, “How satisfied would you say you are with your job as a teacher in the public schools?”

Veteran pollster and polling expert Mark Blumenthal, who is now the polling editor for The Huffington Post, says they are different questions and that “presenting the two questions on a single trend line is questionable.”

He’s being polite, too. What Metlife did would be akin to asking a soldier on a tough deployment how he likes his job vs. asking him how he likes his career in the armed forces — and claiming that it was the same question.

“The apparently dramatic drop in ‘job satisfaction’ since 2009 could be an artifact of the change in wording, yet the authors of the report make no allowance for that possibility” says Blumenthal.

So Weingarten, Van Roekel, and a credulous education press (“U.S. teachers’ job satisfaction craters,” blared The Washington Post) were responding to a five-year “trend” based on two different questions.

To paraphrase Rahm Emanuel, the teacher union leaders never let a good crisis – even if it’s a fraudulent one – go to waste.

And speaking of “waste,” there is President Obama’s State of the Union address in which he became evangelical in his attempt to foist an expanded preschool program on the American people. Undeterred by the 48 year, $180 billion boondoggle also known as Head Start, using words that would make Van Roekel and Weingarten gush, he tried to sell the country his new plan which is based upon “successes” in Georgia and Oklahoma. Bursting that bubble, Reason Foundation’s Lisa Snell and Shikha Dalmia write in the Wall Street Journal.

Oklahoma implemented its program in 1998 and is the pet of universal preschool activists because it’s a red state that has diligently applied their playbook. It spends about $8,000 per preschooler, about the same as on K-12. Its teachers are credentialed, well-paid, abundant (one per 10 children) and use a professionally designed curriculum. Georgia expanded a pre-K program for high-risk children to all 4-year-olds in 1995.

Both programs are voluntary and involve the private sector. Oklahoma pays churches and other community providers for the children they enroll. Georgia effectively hands parents a $4,500 voucher for a qualified preschool. Both states have participation rates well above the 47% national preschool average, and Oklahoma’s 75% enrollment rate is the highest in the country.

Yet neither state program has demonstrated major social benefits. The first batch of children who attended preschool in Georgia, in 1995, are now turning 22, so Mr. Obama’s claim that they are better at “holding jobs” and “forming stable families” can’t be true.

But what about, say, teenage girls staying out of trouble? Teen birth rates have declined in the past 10 years in Georgia and Oklahoma (as they have nationwide), but both states remain far above the national average. In 2005, Georgia had the eighth-highest teen-birth rate and Oklahoma the seventh-highest, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Now Georgia has the 13th-highest, Oklahoma the fifth-highest. Many states without universal preschool have a far better record.

Spendthrift politicians and the teachers unions in concert with their mainstream media cronies are very good at selling lies and distortions in a pretty box with puppies-and-kittens wrapping paper. (It’s “for the children!”) It is important that the tax-weary public sees through the hype and refuses to buy the deception.

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.

School Board Wars

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg donates $1 million to reform candidates in Los Angeles school board race.

School boards are powerful entities. Within the confines of state law, they typically adopt budgets, collectively bargain with the local teachers union, monitor student achievement and pick the local school superintendent. In California, there are more than a thousand school boards that rule over 300,000 teachers and 6 million students.

As you might expect, with this kind of power, the teachers unions usually have their grubby paws all over school board races. If candidates are deemed unfriendly to the union cause – maybe they want to spend less on teacher salaries or limit teacher-friendly work rules enacted at students’ expense or try to get rid of some incompetent teachers – the local and state unions will spend huge sums of cash to defeat them.

However, things have begun to change and the teachers unions now have competition in school board election spending. As writer Jane Roberts pointed out in a piece written in August 2012,

In the new era, education reform advocacy groups, passionate about their views on public education, are harnessing millions in contributions to further their work. Because many, including Stand for Children, are registered as social welfare groups under 501(c)4 laws, they aren’t bound by campaign contributions caps can spend freely on political campaigns from the money they raise for their social missions. They also do not have to reveal their donor’s identities.

“This is a new phenomenon,” said Mike Petrilli, executive vice president at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. “Many of these groups are either brand new or fairly new to education reform.”

What they have figured out, Petrilli says, is that it is not “enough to publish white papers and op-eds. They need to be engaged in political advocacy.”

On March 5th in Los Angeles, there will be an election with three of the seven school board seats up for grabs. Traditionally, the United Teachers of Los Angeles gets its way and has, if not complete control, at least a majority on the board to do its bidding. But unfortunately for the union, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has thrown a million dollar monkey wrench into the works. As Huffington Post education writer Joy Resmovits explains,

…Earlier this week, LA School Report reported that a super PAC associated with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent $1 million on a group known as the Coalition for School Reform. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has supported Deasy’s efforts, released a statement calling Bloomberg “the most important voice in education reform today,” LA School Report wrote.

The Coalition for School Reform, according to KCET, is an independent expenditure group that has also received money from reform-minded philanthropist Eli Broad. The group has endorsed school board candidates Kate Anderson, Monica Garcia, and Antonio Sanchez, LA School Report wrote last month. The Coalition is sitting on $1.2 million.

The counterweight to the reform block is, naturally, the teachers union. United Teachers of Los Angeles has about $670,000 in its war-chest, according to LA School Report. “We know we’re going to be outspent five-gazillion-to-one,” UTLA veep Gregg Solkovits told the site.

Earlier in February, Solkovits told LA School Report that he wanted to boost UTLA’s coffers with help from the national and state union bodies.

However, National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel has been quoted saying that the union would not get involved in this race. But what about the other national teachers union? According to blogger Alexander Russo,

A senior American Federation of Teachers official has acknowledged the request from UTLA, but has not yet responded with details about the union’s decision or the amount of funding that’s going to be shared.

Reticence on AFT’s part is understandable; it may be a bit tapped out, having just spent $6 million on advocacy groups in 2011-2012. As Mike Antonucci reports,

A $1.2 million donation to Californians Working Together, the group formed to support Prop 30, the tax increase ballot initiative, was the national union’s largest single contribution. A host of special interest groups, charities and religious organizations also received money from AFT, including the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, the Economic Policy Institute, and the University of Colorado National Education Policy Center.

These figures do not include grants and contributions made to other unions (such as Colorado WINS) or union coalitions such as the AFL-CIO. For example, AFT contributed $1,150,000 to the AFL-CIO’s State Unity Fund.

Interestingly with just two weeks till the election, the powerful and wealthy California Teachers Association has been uncharacteristically quiet on the LA election.

Also worth noting is that reform-minded LA school superintendent John Deasy has more than a passing interest in the March 5th election: an unfriendly school board can send him packing.

While the three reform candidates running for school board in LA are not reform superstars, they are certainly preferable to their union-friendly opponents. The bigger story though, is that there are people with very deep pockets who are beginning to stand up to the mightiest political force in the country: the teachers unions. And of course, when the teachers unions start losing power, the children of America are all the richer for it.

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.

Wash, Rinse, Repeat

The National Education Association is relentless in pushing for “reforms,” all the while engaging in world class duplicity.

(While the themes I explore here have been covered before, they must be repeated because the National Education Association is dogged in its attempt to acquire even more power than it now has. It is incumbent that parents, taxpayers and all concerned citizens remain mindful of the fact that the largest union in the country is not content to sit back on its haunches. Its lust for money and power knows no bounds and must be exposed at every turn.)

On February 8th, NEA president Dennis Van Roekel wrote a letter to President Obama with some “suggestions” for the latter’s State of the Union address tonight. Most of it is fluffy, boilerplate bunkum, but beyond the banality are three suggestions for the president – and therein lies the treachery.

Van Roekel’s first suggestion: “Opportunity requires an economy that works for everyone.” He goes on to write,

In order for the economy to truly work for all Americans, we need to continue to pursue fiscal policies that promote fairness and prosperity (such as corporate tax reform that generates revenue), create jobs, make college affordable, and lift children out of poverty. It is entirely unacceptable that one of every five children we see in our classrooms lives in poverty. (Emphasis added.)

Corporate tax reform? He wants corporate tax reform? Let’s start with his corporation! While many American corporations are burdened with the highest tax rate in the world, labor unions get a pass. According to its latest tax filing in 2010, NEA brought in $376,500,485, but as a 501(c)(5), it paid not a penny in income tax. I think that before Van Roekel points fingers at Big Oil, Big Pharma and other “Bigs”, he should show us the way by having “Big Union” set aside its brazen hypocrisy and start paying its “fair share.” And it’s not just the NEA that is getting away with this tax dodge. The American Federation of Teachers, the other national teachers union, took in $176,265,529  in 2010. The state teachers unions are also in on this swindle. In 2010, the California Teachers Association reported $185,222,341 in tax-free total revenue.  So the two national unions and just one state’s combined take is $737,988,355 – an almost three quarters of a billion dollar wealth transfer from the taxpayer to the teacher – who never sees the money – to the union. And again, the unions don’t pay a penny in tax on their “profits.”

And regarding the “one in five children living in poverty” myth, can we give it a rest? As has been pointed out by many, most recently by the Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector, we have redefined poverty so far up as to make it a meaningless concept.

…poverty as the federal government defines it differs greatly from these images. Only 2 percent of the official poor are homeless. According to the government’s own data, the typical poor family lives in a house or apartment that’s not only in good repair but is larger than the homes of the average non-poor person in England, France or Germany.

The typical “poor” American experiences no material hardships, receives medical care whenever needed, has an ample diet and wasn’t hungry for even a single day the previous year. According to the US Department of Agriculture, the nutritional quality of the diets of poor children is identical to that of upper middle class kids.

In America, about 80 percent of poor families have air conditioning, nearly two-thirds have cable or satellite TV, half have a computer and a third have a wide-screen LCD or plasma TV.

Then, Van Roekel bangs the “public school” drum. “Opportunity begins in great public schools for every single student.” He claims that

…we have always believed that the gateway to opportunity for individuals and the cradle of innovation and ingenuity for our country begins in our public schools. We hope that you will pursue an aggressive agenda to remedy the extreme and pronounced inequities of opportunity that our public education system continues to perpetuate. (Emphasis added.)

What the union boss does not mention is that the inequities in our public education system are largely the doing of NEA and its state and local affiliates. Tenure, seniority, byzantine dismissal statutes, restrictive collective bargaining contracts, etc. have turned public education throughout much of the country into a jobs program that benefits adults at the expense of educating our children, and has resulted in parents all over the country clamoring for charter schools and vouchers. If Van Roekel was serious about inequities, he would favor having a free education market where schools would compete for students. But then again, that would threaten the $376,000,000 NEA bottom line, not to mention Van Roekel’s $620,250 dollar a year position. With those numbers staring at you, I guess it’s easy to understand why the unionistas find it easy to throw school kids under the bus.

His third point is another world class exercise in audacity. “Opportunity requires a democracy that protects every American’s voice and vote.” He elaborates,

Finally, the crisis of opportunity for Americans to participate in our democracy was on full display during the last election cycle. Reactionary state laws, unequal and unethical administration of voting procedures, and the unfettered access of corporations to influence electoral outcomes has severely damaged our democracy. (Emphasis added.)

Van Roekel actually has the unmitigated chutzpah to complain about corporations influencing elections. Is it possible that he is not aware that the two national teachers unions, NEA and AFT, spend more on politics than

AT&T, Goldman Sachs, Wal-Mart, Microsoft, General Electric, Chevron, Pfizer, Morgan Stanley, Lockheed Martin, FedEx, Boeing, Merrill Lynch, Exxon Mobil, Lehman Brothers, and the Walt Disney Corporation, combined.” 

It’s hard to know Van Roekel’s true state of mind when he makes these loopy pronouncements. He is either deluded or a liar. In either case, he must be busted every time he mouths off, and American families must become educated, get active and fight to undo the grave damage the implacable teachers unions have visited on our country.

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.

The Not So Merry Month of May

In California schools, the fifth month (formerly known as May) is now Labor History Month.

As Kevin Dayton pointed out in Union Watch last week, the entire month of May is now officially deemed Labor History Month in California. Courtesy of AB 2269, the state education code has been amended to read,

The month of May is hereby deemed to be Labor History Month throughout the public schools, and school districts are encouraged to commemorate this month with appropriate educational exercises that make pupils aware of the role the labor movement has played in shaping California and the United States.

Once upon a time, the private employee unions may have done some good things for their workers – they typically get credit for the 40 hour/ 5 day work week. But as John Stossel says,

Workers’ lives improved in America because of free enterprise, not because of union rules. Union contracts helped workers for a while, but then they hurt even union workers because the rigid rules prevent flexibility in response to new market conditions. They slow growth. And growth increasing productivity, which leads to higher wages and new opportunities is what is best for workers.

Whatever the truth is about the old days, let’s fast forward to the present and find out what the teachers unions – which own and operate the California legislature that gave birth to this law – have accomplished and what they have in mind to teach our kids. It probably won’t come as a shock that students will be getting a bowdlerized and glorified version of the union movement.

There are resources galore available for teachers to help them indoctrinate their students. Here are but a few:

  • California Federation of Teachers – many “children’s stories,” including one which features a mean farmer and the hens who organize against him.
  • California Teachers Association – which can be readily summed up, “Workers are poor; CEOs are rich.” In other words, class warfare 101.
  • University of California Miguel Contreras Labor Program – lots of fun stuff for the little ones, including material by noted Socialist Barbara Ehrenreich and songs by long time Communist Pete Seeger.

That the teachers unions are playing an important role in this brainwashing is particularly ironic given the damage they have done as part of the blob that runs education in the Golden State. They may be able to brag that they have gotten higher salaries and more perks for teachers, but I have a sneaking suspicion that they will not be posting labor history lessons with the following information:

Though they claim to be everyman, national teacher union bosses are really part of the reviled one percent. In 2011, the two national teacher union presidents made a bundle in total compensation:

  • Dennis Van Roekel, NEA: $460,060
  • Randi Weingarten, AFT: $493,859

The other union officers aren’t exactly scraping by either. Salaries for the elite at the National Education Association:

  • John Stocks, Executive Director: $379,260
  • Becky Pringle, Secretary-Treasurer: $332,539
  • Lily Eskelsen, Vice President: $332,390

Will the teachers unions tell the kids that in California, they have done everything within their abusive power to maintain the failing status quo by trying and mostly succeeding to kill every effort at education reform that would have benefited students?

Will they tell the kids that they regularly buy and sell school board members? And that if a prospective member doesn’t toe the party line, the union will support his/her opponent with vast sums of cash?

Will they tell the kids that they consider the California State Assembly “their house?” Most legislators there fall into line like obedient ducks as witnessed by the shameful death of SB 1530, which would have simplified the process to get rid of pedophile teachers.

Will they tell the kids that they insist on maintaining a seniority system whereby teachers-of-the-year are routinely laid off before a mediocre or worse teacher just because the former was hired the day after the latter?

Will they tell the kids that they fight to keep a tenure system in place whereby the most mediocre teacher essentially has a job for life after just two years in a classroom?

Will they tell the kids that they do their best to try to kill (mostly non-unionized) charter school growth every chance they get?

Will they tell the kids that in 2000, they spent millions to defeat Prop. 38 – a voucher bill that would have enabled some poor kids to escape their failing schools?

Will they tell the kids that this past fall, they lobbied for and succeeded in passing Prop. 30 – a ballot initiative that raised taxes on most Californians without getting any reform for their money? (Hence, the status quo is maintained with more than one in four students never graduating high school – and a majority of those who do graduate and go on to college are not prepared for it and need remediation.)

Will they tell the kids anything about the National Right to Work Foundation, an organization that fights for a worker’s right not to join a union?

The answer to every one of these questions is, of course, “No.” As such, I would encourage all parents to find out just what their school plans for Labor History Month. If it is planning lessons espousing only the unionista party line, I suggest keeping your kids home when these activities are planned and using that time to tell them the truth about what the teachers unions really stand for, and what their “accomplishments” over the past decades have wrought.

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.

Thoughts on Reactions to the Sandy Hook Tragedy

Teacher union leaders offer heat but no light after the mass murder in Newtown.

In the aftermath of the December 14th mass murder of 26 children and school staffers in Newtown, Connecticut, there has been the understandable finger pointing and a full range of suggestions for ensuring that such a horror doesn’t happen again.

On the lunatic end of the spectrum we have teacher union apologist Diane Ravitch, the formerly venerable education historian, who took up residence in the land of Bizarro several years ago.

Every one of the teachers was a career educator. Every one was doing exactly what she wanted to do. They’ve worked in a school that was not obsessed with testing but with the needs of children. This we know: the staff at Sandy Hook loved their students. They put their students first, even before their own lives.

Oh, and one other thing, all these dedicated teachers belonged to a union. The senior teachers had tenure, despite the fact that “reformers” (led by ConnCAN, StudentsFirst, and hedge fund managers) did their best last spring to diminish their tenure and to tie their evaluations to test scores….

Ravitch’s loopy rant is Rahm Emanuel’s “Never let a good crisis go to waste” philosophy taken to an obscene level. And when in response, Teach For America V.P. and self-described “lefty Dem” David Rosenberg took Ravitch to task, Chicago Teacher Union president Karen Lewis (perhaps shocked that someone could outdo her in the outrageous comment category) weighed in with,

There might have been a time where “politicizing” tragic events, especially mass shootings was thought to be in poor taste. That has changed with the 24/7 news cycle that continues to focus far too much time and energy on the perpetrator of the massacre than that of our precious victims. Rosenberg’s “false outrage” needs to be checked. That same false outrage should show itself when policies his [TEACH FOR AMERICA*] colleagues support kill and disenfranchise children from schools across this nation. (Emphasis added.) We in Chicago have been the victims of their experiments on our children since the current secretary of Education “ran” CPS.

Yes, you read that correctly. Lewis is saying that TFA, an organization that places exceptional, idealistic young teacher-leaders in the most challenging schools in the country is responsible for killing kids. After uttering those shameful words, Lewis should resign in disgrace.

Then we have a rare joint statement issued by the leaders of the two national teachers unions – the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. NEA’s Dennis Van Roekel and AFT’s Randi Weingarten came out with a press release with a sub-head which reads: “Focus Needs to Be on Investments in Mental Health Services, Reasonable Gun Safety Legislation.”

In the body of the brief statement they say,

Long-term and sustainable school safety also requires a commitment to preventive measures. We must continue to do more to prevent bullying in our schools. And we must dramatically expand our investment in mental health services. Proper diagnosis can and often starts in our schools, yet we continue to cut funding for school counselors, school social workers, and school psychologists. States have cut at least $4.35 billion in public mental health spending from 2009 to 2012, according to the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors. It is well past time to reverse this trend and ensure that these services are available and accessible to those who need our support.

While this may sound good, it has nothing to do with what happened in Connecticut. The shooter had been identified as having a type of autism, perhaps Asperger’s; he had been assigned to a high-school psychologist and there have been no reports that he was bullied. So this statement is really nothing more than a pitch to advance the teachers union agenda of spending ever more money on education.

The other part of the press release deals with guns:

Our duty to every child is to provide safe and secure public schools. That is the vow we take as educators. It is both astounding and disturbing that following this tragedy, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, Bill Bennett, and other politicians and pundits have taken to the airwaves to call for arming our teachers. As the rest of the country debates how to keep guns out of schools, some are actually proposing bringing more guns in, turning our educators into objects of fear and increasing the danger in our schools.

Guns have no place in our schools. Period. We must do everything we can to reduce the possibility of any gunfire in schools, and concentrate on ways to keep all guns off school property and ensure the safety of children and school employees.

Not surprisingly the union leaders are out of touch with reality, at least the current reality in California. When I was a classroom teacher in Los Angeles, my middle school had a gun carrying school cop on campus every day. And my school is hardly unique. In fact, the state education code allows for an armed presence on any campus on an “as needed” basis. Given the current mood, I’m guessing that more parents will start demanding that their kid’s campus have armed cops for security. In fact, in a recent Gallup poll, when asked if increasing the police presence at schools would be an effective way to stop mass shootings at schools, 87 percent said that it would be very or somewhat effective.

And I think we need to go one step further. I would like to see a few armed teachers at every school. These volunteers would go through a rigorous background check and proper police-type training and then should be allowed to anonymously carry a concealed weapon on campus.

Despite the union leaders’ comments, there is no way to effectively keep schools as “gun free zones.” As David Kopel writes, these are nothing more than “pretend gun free zones.”

Real gun-free zones are a wonderful idea, but they are only real if they are created by metal detectors backed up by armed guards. Pretend gun-free zones, where law-abiding adults (who pass a fingerprint-based background check and a safety training class) are still disarmed, are magnets for evildoers who know they will be able to murder at will with little threat of being fired upon.

Kopel’s point was demonstrated in the Aurora, CO movie theater shooting. As John Lott explains,

So why did the killer pick the Cinemark theater? You might think that it was the one closest to the killer’s apartment. Or, that it was the one with the largest audience.

Yet, neither explanation is right. Instead, out of all the movie theaters within 20 minutes of his apartment showing the new Batman movie that night, it was the only one where guns were banned. (Emphasis added.) In Colorado, individuals with permits can carry concealed handgun in most malls, stores, movie theaters, and restaurants. But private businesses can determine whether permit holders can carry guns on their private property.

The perspective that has been lost in the aftermath of this tragedy is that guns are used to keep our most important things safe – our cities, banks, courthouses, etc. In fact, armed marshals are placed anonymously on many airplane flights to safeguard us and our children. So why do many insist that our most important and precious assets – our children – be completely defenseless?  President Obama’s kids have armed protection at school. Don’t all our kids deserve the same?

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.

Kudos to the California Federation of Teachers

Instead of the usual fake teacher union concerns about “the children,” CFT’s new straightforward video unequivocally touts class warfare and vilifies rich people.

The California Teachers Association has been in the news a lot lately. In the early fall, it successfully fought to get Prop. 30 passed and to kill Prop. 32. These victories came right after the union quashed a bill that would have made it a bit easier to get sexual predators out of the classroom by shortening the endless dismissal statutes. So what’s a little brother union have to do to get some attention?

Last week, the California Federation of Teachers answered that question with a vengeance by releasing an 8 minute video promoting propaganda that would have made the late Joe Stalin proud. “Tax the Rich: An Animated Fairy Tale” pushes class warfare to a loony extent, attempting to whip up hatred of workers 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 it is captured in a screen shot here.

Condemnations of the video, which was proudly posted on the CTA Facebook page, came from many directions. While the outrage is justified, the fact that CFT would stoop so low should not be surprising. The teachers unions have been engaging in Soviet-style class warfare for years now – most recently when they joined forces with the “occupy crowd” and self-identified as part of the 99 percent – so consider me not even mildly shocked.

The danger of this kind of animated, childish video is that it appeals to children, and unfortunately to more than a few adults who tend to see things in a simple, child-like way. Should you choose to try to undo the damage that a video like this can do, please keep the following in mind:

First make sure that whomever you are speaking to knows what the word “hypocrisy” means. In a recent post, I noted that American Federation of Teachers (CFT parent org.) President Randi Weingarten – who claims she identifies with the “99 percenters” and unceasingly promotes class warfare – pulled in a cool $556,981 in total compensation over the past year. This of course puts her, alongside the relentlessly vilified Koch Brothers, firmly in the 1 percent camp. Dennis Van Roekel, President of the National Education Association (CTA parent org.), made $389,620 last year, after pulling in a hefty $543,868 the year before. (Perhaps their justification for such high salaries is that it is very hard work to fight reformers who are actually concerned about educating children.) And as you go down the line of the Politburo – I mean union officers – you will see that they too make a boatload of money.

One of the more idiotic assertions in the video – and there are so many – is that the government favors the rich at the expense of “ordinary people.” But via Kyle Olson, we get to see a New York Times list of the many ways that the “non-rich” benefited from President Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package:

– Help states prevent cuts to essential services like education – $53.6 billion

– Extend and increase unemployment compensation – $35.8 billion

– Health coverage under Cobra – $25.1 billion

– Increase food assistance – $20.9 billion

– Increase the maximum Pell Grant by $500 – $15.6 billion

– Provide cash payment to seniors, disabled veterans and other needy individuals – $14.4 billion

– Provide additional money to schools serving low-income children – $13 billion

– Provide additional money for special education – $12.2 billion

– Create new bonds for improvements in public education – $10.9 billion

Then for world class hypocrisy there’s this: According its latest available income tax forms, CTA and CFT collectively take in over $200 million a year. But as 501(c)(5)s, the unions have a special tax exempt status with the IRS that is accorded to “Labor, Agricultural, and Horticultural Organizations.” Hence, the teachers unions are corporations that pay no money in federal or state taxes.

But there is a bigger picture here, and it is bloated with cant. First, CTA manages to siphon off $647 a year (CFT grabs “only” $419) from every teacher in the state in forced union dues. Then it turns around and spends much of those dues on politicking; CTA alone spent 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 go on offense and whine about millionaires and billionaires “not paying their fair share of taxes” when they don’t pay a penny, and all the while funding politicians who ensure that CTA’s and CFT’s pilfer-and-spend scheme rolls on undisturbed.

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 not paying a penny in taxes. As Troy Senik wrote last year in Public Sector Inc., “The CTA is the one percent.” And poll after poll has shown that the general public is starting to catch on. But realistically, what can be done? For starters, it would behoove every parent to ask the teachers of their children what their take on this video is. The time has come for parents to find out about the people they entrust their children with for 6 or 7 hours a day.

And teachers – you are subsidizing this very dishonest, deceitful and downright hateful video. Do you really want your dues money going to entities that make and promote efforts like this? If you don’t want to be associated with this unsavory crowd, you just might want to consider resigning and stop lining the unions’ pockets. The world won’t come to an end and you will sleep a lot better at night knowing that you are not associated with such tasteless and hypocritical demagogues.

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.

Class Warfare and Two-Faced Union Bosses

Teacher union bosses’ hypocrisy plunges to new depths.

After the recent congressional vote to keep the Bush-era tax cuts in place, National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel lamented on the union’s website,

Today House Republican leadership gave the richest two percent another handout, while pulling the rug out from under millions of children and their families who are falling out of the middle class and into poverty at an alarming rate.

We are long past time to fix a tax system where a hedge fund manager pays a lower federal income tax than the teacher who educates our children. It’s time for everyone to pay their fair share.

Working families and the middle class lost today, while the very rich and corporations won. Working families simply have nothing else to give. And why should they? Despite the rhetoric, there are better options for our economy and country.

Once again we are witnessing a pathetically transparent attempt to rile those who aren’t rich to hate those who are. The standard issue class warfare buzz phrases are a dead giveaway:
• richest two percent
• fair share
• middle class lost while the very rich and corporations won
• hedge fund manager
• working families

Unfortunately, like other class warriors, Mr. Van Roekel has no facts to back his irresponsible assertions. Truth is, according to a recent Congressional Budget Office report,

…the top 1 percent of income earners paid 39 percent of federal individual income taxes in 2009, while earning 13 percent of the income.

Again, the top 1 percent earns 13 percent of all income yet pays 39 percent of all taxes. Sounds to me as if they are paying their fair share and then some.

In addition to avoiding facts, he also doesn’t bother to mention that many teacher union bosses – including Van Roekel – are part of the reviled top 1 percent. His total compensation (salary and assorted perks) went from $397,721 in 2010 to $460,060 in 2011. His American Federation of Teachers counterpart, Randi Weingarten, another whiny finger-pointing faux proletarian, saw her total compensation rise from $428,284 in 2010 to $493,859 in 2011. Oh yeah, and in case you were wondering, these 15+ percent raises came as teacher union membership dwindled. And the teachers who did stay on the job were not getting any pay raises, and in fact many took pay cuts. Ah, but when you are a union boss, “hypocrisy” is just a nine letter word.

State affiliate leaders don’t do too badly either. For instance, in Michigan, MEA President Iris Salters’ total compensation in 2011 was $283,280. In New York, NYSUT boss Richard Iannuzzi brought home about $300,000 including salary and perks.

In fact, it’s not only the teacher union bosses who are living high on the hog, the private sector union elites’ income has skyrocketed since 2000.

Michael Sullivan did very well as general president of one of the country’s biggest trade unions — the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association AFL-CIO — during the last decade, seeing his pay triple and then some, to more than $1 million annually.

Robert Scardelletti, international president of the Transportation Communications International Union AFL-CIO, didn’t do quite as well as Sullivan, but still managed to get by while seeing his pay almost triple in the same period, to nearly $750,000.

Larry Weinberg and Joseph Hunt, general counsel of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and general president of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers AFL-CIO, respectively, both saw their pay double as well.

Senate Majority leader Harry Reid has been banging on Mitt Romney to release more of his tax returns in the hope of exposing the Republican who will run for POTUS in November. In that spirit, I am asking Van Roekel, Weingarten and all the other teacher union leaders – who to the best of my knowledge have never done so – to release their tax returns. Seems to me that since their salary is being paid by taxpayers who in turn pay teachers – most of whom are forced to pay union dues – it is only proper that those who grouse about the rich not paying their “fair share” should show us all that they are being consistent and above board. So, how about it?!

I’m not holding my breath.

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.

National Education Association Admits Things Will Never Be the Same

The nation’s biggest union finds itself in a big hole and keeps digging.

In his excellent book, Special Interest: Teachers Unions and Americas Public Schools, published a little more than a year ago, Terry Moe posited that the teachers unions would meet their end via two routes – Democrats joining Republicans, thus making education reform a bipartisan issue and the overwhelming, inevitable ascendance of online learning. Though no timetable was set forth by Moe, he didn’t think this was going to happen in 2012. However about a month ago, Mike Antonucci’s weekly Communiqué had some very pointed words from the National Education Association.

After a year of unprecedented membership losses driven by economic stresses and political attacks, the National Education Association stands at a crossroads. Unlike in the past, our shrinking membership is not the sole product of a down economy from which we could expect to eventually recover. The forces impacting us are so strong that they have indelibly changed our industry, the educational system, and society at large. Things will never go back to the way they were. Attacks on collective bargaining and the role of the union, the nation’s changing demographics, education reform efforts, and an explosion in the use of education technology and online learning have radically changed the role of educators and the system of educating our nation’s students.

NEA Vice-President Lily Eskelsen was quoted as saying, “Times have been bad before, but they’ve never been this bad.”

How bad? Greg Toppo reports in USA Today,

The National Education Association (NEA) has lost more than 100,000 members since 2010. By 2014, union projections show, it could lose a cumulative total of about 308,000 full-time teachers and other workers, a 16% drop from 2010. Lost dues will shrink NEA’s budget an estimated $65 million, or 18%.

We now see that Moe’s words were indeed prophetic. The NEA admits they are in big trouble and are getting it from all ends. They are losing members, hemorrhaging money and the education empire they run in most states is alienating the public. A Gallup poll released in June found,

Americans’ confidence in public schools is down five percentage points from last year, with 29% expressing “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in them. That establishes a new low in public school confidence from the 33% measured in Gallup’s 2007 and 2008 Confidence in Institutions polls. The high was 58% the first time Gallup included public schools, in 1973.

So are we going to see a kinder and gentler teachers union? Are we going to be blessed with a union that really cares about kids, and not just indulges in lip service?

Let’s look first at NEA President Dennis Van Roekel’s speech at the NEA yearly convention which just wrapped up in Washington D.C. He extolled the virtues of early childhood education. “The importance of early childhood education is obvious. The research is clear.”

Yes indeed, the research is clear, but it doesn’t support Van Roekel’s assertion. Study after study shows that early childhood education (the most popular program being Head Start) has absolutely no lasting positive effect on children. (It does provide more unionized teaching jobs, however.)

A bit later he went political and said, “We must do everything we can to reelect President Barack Obama!”

Did Van Roekel stop to think that not all his membership reflects the solidly left wing NEA leadership? According to former NEA President Reg Weaver, one-third of the NEA is Republican. Even more interestingly, Mike Antonucci wrote,

NEA members lean no further to the left than any other large group of Americans. The national union conducts periodic internal surveys to ascertain member attitudes on a host of issues. These surveys are never made public, and results are tightly controlled, even within the organization. The 2005 NEA survey, consistent with previous results, found that members “are slightly more conservative (50%) than liberal (43%) in political philosophy.”

Then, pretending to be an advocate for children, Van Roekel says,

It’s not enough to say that most teachers are good. If there is even one classroom with a teacher who isn’t prepared or qualified, we can’t accept that. Because this country is not about equal opportunity for most. It’s about equal opportunity for all. And let me be clear: This country is not about all the educational opportunity you can afford, it’s about all the educational opportunity our nation can provide, not for some but for all students in America!

We proudly stand for equity, and when we say “equity,” we’re not talking about the Bain Capital Private Equity Corporation. When we talk about equity, we are saying that every child, every classroom deserves a great teacher and great support professional. If the solutions that others are attempting to impose on us don’t work for the students we serve, then we must take the responsibility to define solutions that do work for every student.

This is nothing if not amusing. We will excuse the minor swipe at presidential candidate Romney, but when he starts talking about equity and that “every classroom deserves a great teacher,” it doesn’t come close to passing the smell test. All the NEA cares about is having as many warm bodies in the classroom as possible, thus accumulating as much money and power as it can. As an example, just a couple of weeks ago a potential piece of legislation in California got snuffed, primarily due to the fact that NEA state affiliate, the California Teachers Association cannot abide losing any teacher, no matter how perverted. SB 1530 would have shortened the now endless and wildly expensive process for getting rid of a teacher who abuses children with sex, drugs or violence.

If great teachers were really important to Mr. Van Roekel, he wouldn’t be spending his time fighting to keep the worst ones while killing every school choice bill within his grasp. Back in 2009, Van Roekel, stating that “opposition to vouchers is a top priority for NEA,” wrote every Democratic member of Congress with thinly veiled threats, warning them not to support the popular D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.

The National Education Association strongly opposes any extension of the District of Columbia private school voucher (‘DC Opportunity Scholarship’) program,” Van Roekel wrote in a March 5, 2009 letter. “We expect that Members of Congress who support public education, and whom we have supported, will stand firm against any proposal to extend the pilot program. Actions associated with these issues WILL be included in the NEA Legislative Report Card for the 111th Congress.

Though the tiny D.C. voucher program resurfaced, at that time Congress dutifully complied with Van Roekel’s threat and killed it, thus keeping some of the capital’s most hopeful young students trapped in their lousy schools. NEA won. Students lost. There has been no change in NEA’s hostile position on vouchers since 2009.

And it is not only Van Roekel who remains defiant. At the convention there were the usual loopy New Business Items (NBI) which will alienate many within NEA as well as the public at large. (New Business Items are proposed projects and actions from the delegates for action during the coming year.) For example, NBI 22 states,

NEA shall develop a strategy to reverse “Citizen United” Supreme Court decision through an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This will include working with coalitions, office holders and concerned citizens.

NEA amending the Constitution? This is more than a bit hubristic, perhaps. Moreover, has no one explained to these yahoos that Citizen’s United actually works in their favor?

NBI 13:

The NEA supports the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) in their negotiations with Chicago’s Mayor and his hand-picked school board.

The CTU is asking for a 30 percent raise for its teachers and has already authorized a strike should they not get it. The average American who is struggling to make ends meet will not take kindly to a teachers strike under these circumstances. On the PR scale, 10 being perfect and 1 being a disaster, this is a minus 3.

NBI 3:

NEA shall compile a list of individuals and corporations who contribute $250,000 or more to “super pacs” and additional activities. The list shall include companies and products they control. The information shall be published in the “NEA TODAY” prior to March 1, 2013.

Uh-oh. Looks like we are in for another year of unbridled Koch Brother bashing. In its ongoing assault against private industry, NEA won’t acknowledge that together with the American Federation of Teachers, “…America’s two teachers’ unions outspent AT&T, Goldman Sachs, Wal-Mart, Microsoft, General Electric, Chevron, Pfizer, Morgan Stanley, Lockheed Martin, FedEx, Boeing, Merrill Lynch, Exxon Mobil, Lehman Brothers, and the Walt Disney Corporation, combined.”

So despite the hand wringing and doomsday talk – as evidenced by its clueless president’s speech and out-of-touch delegates – NEA is showing no signs of contrition or willingness to change. This dog will never meow. It may make a minor concession here and there, but the handwriting is on the wall. It’s not a question of “if” they will be relegated to the ash heap of history, but “when.”

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.

Desperate Times Call for Desperate Union Rhetoric

After losing the Battle of Wisconsin, union members flee in droves and frantic union apologists resort to melodrama.

Since losing the recall election in Wisconsin two weeks ago, it seems that there has been more than the usual lying, distortion and hyperbole coming from union bosses and their fellow travelers. Perhaps the most egregious example comes from Timothy Noah, a senior editor at the New Republic. In Praise of Public Employee Unions is so amazingly and transparently bad that it should be a prime example in a book on persuasive writing – about how not to make an argument. His main point is that the new school superintendent in Dallas is making $300,000 a year and that’s just too darn much. Maybe he’s right, but he has to distort the facts to make his point. He writes that teachers in Dallas, represented by the American Federation of Teachers, “bump along with an average salary of about $56,000. That’s nearly 20 percent below the average household income in the U.S. ($67,530).”

Please notice he is comparing a single teacher’s salary to average household income, which is the sum total made by all people living in the same house. He also doesn’t acknowledge that a teacher works only 180 days per year (about 25 percent less than the average worker) leaving the teacher plenty of time to work a second or summer job to enhance his or her income. He also doesn’t factor in that teachers have more generous health and pension benefits than those who work in the private sector.

An in-depth study from AEI/Heritage, released late last year sums up the situation well, finding that:

Workers who switch from non-teaching jobs to teaching jobs receive a wage increase of roughly 9 percent. Teachers who change to non-teaching jobs, on the other hand, see their wages decrease by roughly 3 percent. This is the opposite of what one would expect if teachers were underpaid.

Most teachers accrue generous retiree health benefits as they work, but retiree health care is excluded from Bureau of Labor Statistics benefits data and thus frequently overlooked. While rarely offered in the private sector, retiree health coverage for teachers is worth roughly an additional 10 percent of wages.

Job security for teachers is considerably greater than in comparable professions. Using a model to calculate the welfare value of job security, we find that job security for typical teachers is 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.

We conclude that public-school teacher salaries are comparable to those paid to similarly skilled private sector workers, but that more generous fringe benefits for public-school teachers, including greater job security, make total compensation 52 percent greater than fair market levels, equivalent to more than $120 billion overcharged to taxpayers each year.

In a final attempt to make his case, Noah careens into laughable hyperbole.

Being a teacher is back-breakingly difficult work. It is also extremely important work.

No, Mr. Noah, working in a coal mine is backbreaking. Tiling a roof is backbreaking. Teaching is certainly challenging and important work, but it is hardly backbreaking.

How do other public employees do compared to private sector workers? Via Reason, we learn that in Illinois, for example,

State workers from the metro-east averaged $61,372 last year.

How do these numbers stack up against pay for the rest of Illinois? According to the U.S. Census Bureau, per capita income for Illinois residents rang in at $28,782 in 2010. Median household income came to $55,735.

More hysteria from Steve Mikulan. In Unions: Our Last, Best and Final Hope, he is practically reduced to tears about labor union abandonment, especially by liberals. He writes,

…liberals – and even union members – seem to be abandoning and undermining labor. We only have to look at the dismal results of the Wisconsin recall election to see the evidence. There, National Public Radio and others report, exit polls revealed that 38 percent of union-household voters cast ballots to retain the state’s paranoiacally anti-labor governor, Scott Walker. Why this disconnect?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2011, while the private sector had a rapidly diminishing unionization rate of 6.9 percent, the public sector came in at a still healthy 37 percent. But whatever the numbers, Mikulan is right – the decline of unionization will continue as more and more workers realize that unions don’t have much to offer them. The 38 percent that voted for the “paranoiacally anti-labor governor” probably know that union hegemony wrecks economies – hence, no “disconnect.” Also, Mr. Mikulan, please keep in mind that in 27 of our 50 states and Washington D.C. workers have to pay a union if they want to be employed in many fields. If the unions are as beneficial as you say they are, why must they force workers to join them?

After the June 5th debacle, National Education Association Dennis Van Roekel took to TV and talk radio grousing about the loss.

These millionaire donors, empowered by the Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United, have made a mockery of democracy and nearly drowned out the voices of working families in Wisconsin.

Mockery of democracy? Drowning out voices? Mr. Van Roekel, your histrionics have been duly noted and you are dead wrong about Citizens United. As law professor Michael McConnell points out,

In a sense, Citizens United did have an important effect on the Wisconsin election. But the effect was almost exactly the opposite of what many pundits imply.

Labor unions poured money into the state to recall Mr. Walker. According to the Center for Public Integrity, the NEA (National Education Association), the nation’s largest teachers union, spent at least $1 million. Its smaller union rival, the AFT (American Federation of Teachers), spent an additional $350,000. Two other unions, the SEIU (Service Employees International Union, which has more than one million government workers) and Afscme (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees), spent another $2 million. Little or none of these independent expenditures endorsing a candidate would have been legal under federal law before (the Supreme Court decision on) Citizens United.

By contrast, the large spenders on behalf of Mr. Walker were mostly individuals. According to the Center for Public Integrity, these included Diane Hendricks, Wisconsin’s wealthiest businesswoman, who spent over half a million dollars on his behalf; Bob J. Perry, a Texas home builder, who spent almost half a million; and well-known political contributors such as casino operator Sheldon Adelson and former Amway CEO Dick DeVos, who kicked in a quarter-million dollars each. Businessman David Koch gave $1 million to the Republic Governors Association, which spent $4 million on the Wisconsin race.

These donations have nothing to do with Citizens United. Individuals have been free to make unlimited independent expenditures in support of candidates since the Supreme Court case of Buckley v. Valeo (1976).

Last, and certainly not least, there is Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, who never misses an opportunity to blame every malaise known to mankind on poverty. So of course, he wants to make unionism a civil rights issue. He proclaims,

In order to address our society’s deepening class inequalities, it is time to extend antidiscrimination protections to workers of all races trying to join a union and become members of the middle-class.

This is a nonsensical statement. No one of any race suffers discrimination for joining a union. But then again, maybe Mr. Kahlenberg is on to something. Perhaps there is a civil rights angle to all this. I propose that we pass a national right-to-work law giving all workers a choice as to whether or not they join a union. By doing so, we’d learn how many workers would belong voluntarily. And if Wisconsin is any measure, the unions’ desperate rhetoric, lies, coercion, whining, etc. won’t do much good. Workers everywhere enjoying their new civil right – as they currently are in the Badger State – will flee their unions in droves.

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.