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Report From Palm Lane – Court Battle Over Parent Trigger Begins

The Palm Lane Elementary School parents and their attorneys squared off against the Anaheim City School District and Anaheim City Board of Education on June 15th in Courtroom C11 in the battle to determine whether the parents will succeed in their efforts to restart the academically troubled school as an independent charter school. The parents are attempting to invoke the Parent Trigger Law, enacted in 2010, which allows parents to transform their own schools if 50% of parents sign a petition to seek a change at their chronically underperforming school.

After repeated unsuccessful attempts to get the district to respond to their petition, the parents sued the district, asking the Court to order ACSD to grant their petition or show good cause for its denial.

The initial court proceedings concerned the district’s rejection of the parent’s petition. Mandated by law to verify the authenticity of the parent signatures, based on the initial testimony, ACSD apparently hired an inexperienced young woman to do the job and failed to train or supervise her. In his questioning, lead counsel Mark Holscher, partner in Los Angeles-based Kirk and Ellis, built a strong argument that the woman assigned by the district to verify the signatures did not understand the importance of the job she had been assigned, or what was at stake for the youngsters.

68% of the parents signed the “restart” petition, far more than the 50% required by the Parent Empowerment Law. It appeared evident from the testimony that the district had disqualified a significant number of valid signatures, enough to justify a denial of the parents’ petition. Equally apparent was the school district’s bad faith. Their failure to train the woman assigned to verify the signatures guaranteed the negative outcome.

After two days of initial witness testimony, the proceedings have been put on hold for two weeks. They will resume June 30th. We will follow the case in our updates.

Kirkland and Ellis should be commended for the number of attorneys they have assigned to the pro- bono legal team. Their dedication to a better future for the Palm Lane students and their parents speaks volumes. It was heartening to watch them in action.

The teachers’ union is well aware of the importance of the Palm Lane lawsuit. A win for the parents represents a serious threat to the union’s hegemon in public education. The lawsuit is being vigorously defended as befits the high stakes at risk.

Stay tuned.

After Parent Trigger – A Success Model for Palm Lane Elementary School

If the parent activists at Palm Lane Elementary School are successful in their battle to invoke SB54, the Parent Trigger Law, they would be well advised to study the network of high-performing charter schools in New York City founded by former teacher and City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz as the template for the school it must design to replace the current failing institution.

Aptly named Success Academy, each of the 46 schools serves disadvantaged youngsters from minority communities (66% Black, 30% Hispanic) who had been failing academically in their neighborhood public schools. Today they are among the highest performers on New York state achievement tests. 96% pass the math exam (compared to a 38% citywide average). 68% pass the English Language Arts exam, more than double the 29% citywide average.

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Founded in 2006 in a poor Harlem neighborhood, the schools 2013 lottery drew 2,478 applicants for 122 slots at one campus. Guided by Moskowitz’ firm hand, the rigorous structure and strict rules closely resemble some training programs for athletes and military cadets. The results of this classical disciplined approach have been remarkable. The same approach to education guides the leadership at the most successful private and parochial schools.

There are longer school days and a lengthier school calendar. Classes begin at 7:45 a.m. and end at 4:30 p.m. (4 p.m. for kindergarten). Weekend workshops are held to prepare for state exams and to provide extra help for students who are lagging behind their peers. Students wear uniforms, learn chess and follow a strict code of conduct. They are expected to behave or face disciplinary measures if they don’t. Compliance is striking.

A key to Moskowitz’ success is the strong sense of family that defines the school’s ethos. She is the ideal loving parent whose primary interest is the success and well-being of her offspring and the development of their character. The school becomes a therapeutic community that provides a much-needed corrective emotional experience that has profound psychological and intellectual benefits.

Teachers function a bit like surrogate parents. They instill shared community values and a dawning sense of personal pride in the youngsters. The transformation inspires genuine hopefulness in them for the future and their success in it.

Moskowitz’ philosophy is imbued in the curriculum, code of conduct and expectations for each child. It also guides her selection of teachers. They are bright, young in spirit, enthusiastic and dedicated to their students.

None of the teachers are union members. Freed from the shackles of union rules and restrictions, they arrive early, stay late to work with students who need extra help and meet with parents on a regular schedule to address their concerns and discuss their child’s progress. They are rewarded with promotions and pay raises for their efforts.

Success Academy students receive daily classes in science and math, instruction in chess and can choose among a long list of electives that include drama, chorus, speech and debate, journalism and robotics. There are outings to museums, concerts and major league baseball games, but the emphasis is squarely on the Three R’s: reading, writing and arithmetic. Mastery of grammar, composition and elocution is expected.

Students read for one hour each day in class and at home after school. They are expected to read 22 books per month. Surprisingly, they often read far more than the minimum requirement. Since 2006, the 2400 students at SA schools in Harlem and South Bronx have read one million books outside of school, an even more impressive accomplishment given the dismal reality of their first days at the academy.

Teachers are held to the same high standards as their students. They receive regular evaluations and can be fired for not performing well. Attendance is mandatory at an annual weeklong training workshop before the commencement of the academic year. New hires spend their first year with a senior master teacher as a mentor, a common practice in Asia and Europe that sharpens professional skills and classroom competence.

With its lengthened school day and school year, by the end of the 8th grade, Success Academy graduates receive the equivalent of two extra years of instruction. [1] California educators would be well advised to emulate this practice.

Eva Moskowitz calls her young students scholars. It is a label they have earned. She has created a program that stands as a model of excellence for everyone interested in establishing a charter school. Success Academy provides a roadmap to success. Palm Lane parents should give her a call.

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About the Author: R. Claire Friend, MD, is the Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, UC Irvine Medical Center, and the editor of the UC Irvine Quarterly Journal of Psychiatry. She is a retired psychiatrist and frequent commentator on the psychological dimensions of education and social welfare policies.

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FOOTNOTE

(1)  California schools, in contrast, have a 175-day, 840-instructional hour calendar year. This ranks behind 30 other states in number of days and 35 states in number of instructional classroom hours. In his book Measure of a Nation, author Howard S. Friedman noted a 90% correlation between number of hours at middle school and scores on international achievement exams. Students from the top performing schools in China spend 1000 hours in class each school year and in South Korea, attend school for 220 days each year.

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Palm Lane: Right vs. Might

Palm Lane Elementary School in Anaheim, a failing school for at least the past decade, has become a battleground in the war against union power and its unconstrained efforts to retain absolute control over public education. At stake may be America’s future itself.

Palm Lane parents, disheartened by the school’s abysmal academic record [1] and the governing district’s resistance to change, sought relief by attempting to exercise the Parent Trigger Law, an option that enables them to petition the school district to transform the failing institution into a newly created public charter school.

Their efforts triggered a well-organized, bare-knuckles campaign by the unions and their representatives to undermine and defeat the mounting groundswell. The tactics included delays and obstructionism, intimidation and disinformation.

The parents organized and doubled down in their efforts. They issued a legal challenge to their powerful opponents in the form of a Writ of Mandate, asking the Orange County Superior Court to order the Anaheim City School District to grant their petition to become a public charter school.

The Parent Trigger Law, a bipartisan effort passed in 2010, allows failing public schools, hobbled by union rules that include controls over teacher performance, work schedule, curriculum, administrative duties and requirements, to be transformed into independent public charter schools.

Charter schools are exempt from the existing union stranglehold on public education. They are able to exercise independent control in the vital areas of hiring and firing of teachers, tenure, administrative duties and curriculum content. Most importantly, charter schools are exempt from the mandate requiring union membership for all California teachers.

SB 54 represents an existential nuclear threat to the union hegemon. The ability to end union control in even one public school is the ability to end union control over public education itself. The reality is apparent in the sometimes questionably legal tactics, outright thuggery and other desperate measures the unions have taken since the parents became activists.

The ability of unions to exercise their power and influence explains why Adelanto is the only public school to have successfully invoked the Parent Trigger Law. Palm Lane hopes to be the second and to inspire other parents to follow their lead.

No system is perfect. Inherent in the democratic process are structural flaws that weaken it. These are the endless legal challenges that drain time, energy and funds. The mechanics enable Might to triumph over Right. That is the union’s goal at Palm Lane.

The Palm Lane parents and their supporters, allies and advocates held a public press conference April 24th in an effort to address these issues, counteract the disinformation campaign and highlight the critical importance of their efforts for all of California’s public school students. The ramifications of the Court’s ruling on the Writ cannot be overstated.

Unions currently function like a politburo. They represent a clear and present danger to the values and traditions that have led to American exceptionalism, the education of the country’s future citizens. They must be defeated.

Palm Lane, Vegara and Friedrichs represent efforts to reassert the legal right of citizens guaranteed by the United States Constitution to determine their own destiny. This quality has defined the American character since our founding and stands in direct opposition to union goals. The Palm Lane parents deserve our admiration and support.

Union Watch will monitor the proceedings closely. We hope Right triumphs over Might.

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About the Author: R. Claire Friend, MD, is the Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, UC Irvine Medical Center, and the editor of the UC Irvine Quarterly Journal of Psychiatry. She is a retired psychiatrist and frequent commentator on the psychological dimensions of education and social welfare policies.

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FOOTNOTE

(1) Palm Lane currently has 38% proficiency in English, 53% proficiency in math. This represents four-fold and two-fold improvements in the respective subjects since 2002. Current rankings are unavailable because the state elected not to test students for the 2013-2014 academic year.
The school provides a totally stripped- down curriculum that offers no courses in US or world history, science, geography, social studies, music, art, foreign language or of the traditional liberal arts subjects that are standard fare in private, parochial and first-tier public schools in most middle-class and affluent neighborhoods.

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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.

Life After Deasy

It was only a matter of time before the Los Angeles school chief was run out of town.

John Deasy is the latest to exit the fast-moving revolving door known as Los Angeles School Superintendent. The job – really an impossible one – saw Roy Romer replace Ray Cortines in 2001. Romer in turn was replaced by David Brewer in 2006, who was replaced by Cortines in 2009, who was replaced by Deasy in 2011. Now the octogenarian Cortines is back for a third stint as chief – for how long is anyone’s guess. Deasy is the fourth California superintendent in the last two years to be driven from a job that has the shelf life of homogenized milk.

Since his resignation on October 16th, much has been written about Deasy, who wore his good and bad traits on his sleeve. He admittedly had little use for political niceties, and at times seemed to enjoy getting up in people’s faces. As Doug McIntyre wrote in the Los Angeles Daily News, “Even Deasy’s supporters acknowledge he can be prickly, humorless, stubborn and thin-skinned.” Others have described him as bull-headed and impatient. School board member Steve Zimmer pointed out that he frequently used a sledgehammer – sometimes joyfully so – where a scalpel would have sufficed. Deasy’s heavy-handedness is exemplified by the Miramonte fiasco. Mark Berndt, a veteran teacher, was removed from the classroom after feeding his second graders cookies laced with his semen. At the same time, a colleague at the school was accused of inappropriately touching a female student. Instead of launching an immediate internal investigation to ferret out other possible miscreants, Deasy further destabilized the school and angered parents by removing every teacher from the campus, without any indication that others were in any way involved.

Deasy had other troubles. There was the wildly ambitious and ultimately bungled $1 billion iPad program in which he sought to put a computer in the hands of every student in the district. The rollout began amid confusion over whether or not students would be allowed to take the devices home and who’d be held responsible if they were lost or stolen. Then, upon receiving the computers, many students easily breached their security locks and began using the devices for non-school-related purposes. Additionally, many were outraged over the program’s bloated billion-dollar price tag. Deasy mercifully halted the process only after emails revealed he had discussed a possible contract with Apple before the bidding even started.

Then there is the “MiSiS crisis,” which came about when an online school information system was rushed into place prematurely, resulting in thousands of students being left with no class schedules. It’s hard to make the Obamacare rollout look good by comparison, but somehow Deasy and LAUSD accomplished it.

The United Teachers of Los Angeles was especially brutal toward Deasy. In April, 2013, it mounted “Whoopsie Deasy,” a campaign that sought to get rid of the controversial chief. The union encouraged teachers to give the superintendent a “no-confidence” vote, listing 10 reasons it considered Deasy a menace to the teaching profession. Their case included the fact that teachers had not received a raise in six years, that “testing was overtaking teaching” and that the superintendent was too cozy with “billionaire outsiders.” The poll clearly resonated with union members who delivered the no-confidence vote by a margin of 10 to 1.

But the real reason that UTLA regularly hammered the superintendent and his policies was the same reason the reformers supported him. He wanted to shake up the sclerotic system and viewed the union and its cronies on the school board as impediments to his pro-child agenda.

Deasy’s supporters quickly brushed the negatives aside and pointed to all the good he did for the district. He tried to bring teacher evaluations into the 21st Century. He championed charter schools as a way to let kids escape from district failure factories. He was a supporter of the Parent Trigger, which empowers parents to force a change of governance if a school is underperforming. He testified for the plaintiffs in the Vergara case, where Judge Rolf Treu ruled that the state’s archaic seniority, tenure and dismissal statutes were unconstitutional, adding that the evidence submitted “shocks the conscience.”

Reformers also give Deasy credit for the district’s improved test results but this argument is problematic. The test scores did go up a little, but it’s difficult to pinpoint just what factors led to the small increase. A recent study by The Brookings Institution showed that superintendents on average account for just “0.3 percent of student differences in achievement.”

Deasy has also been credited with a lower dropout rate. But again, it’s hard to know what the truth is. In April 2013, LAUSD reported a 66 percent grad rate. Then earlier this month, the district proudly announced it was up to 77 percent. Sounds impressive, right?

Well, not really.

It is 77 percent if you don’t include the students who couldn’t hack a district school and were placed in what are euphemistically called “alternative schools” where the grad rate can be as low as 5 percent. This is tantamount to saying that Joe Smith’s batting average is .300 – if you don’t count the 50 times he struck out. Also not included in the data are the “invisible dropouts” – those who never set foot in a high school. They are not counted as high school dropouts because, well, they never dropped in. Nevertheless, they are dropouts. Hence, we need to seriously rework the way we measure graduation rates before we can attribute credit to anyone for better numbers.

Devil or angel, Deasy’s troubles are not unique. Big city superintendents have faced similar daunting tasks and invariably wind up quitting or getting fired within a few short years of accepting the job. The most dramatic example of this pattern was the fiery three-year stint of reformer Michelle Rhee had in Washington D.C. In fact, referring to the LA superintendent position, Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, told LA School Report, “I don’t know a single person on earth who would want that terrible job. It won’t be a change agent. It will be a status quo candidate who will make life pleasant for himself by enjoying all the wrapping of the superintendency and being smart enough not to try and change a thing.”

The question then becomes, “Is LAUSD manageable at all?” Is a district that includes 31 smaller cities covering 720 square miles with 655,000 students who speak 87 languages, taught by 32,000 teachers (plus a support staff of 35,000) too big not to fail?

One possible solution is to break up the behemoth district – hardly a new idea; it’s been floating around for years. The northern part of the city, the San Fernando Valley, tried to break away in 2000. Then, in 2004, mayoral candidate Bob Hertzberg said that his first priority, if elected, would be to lead “a task force of teachers, parents, principals and other experts to come up with a plan to create smaller, community-based districts.” In 2006, state Assemblyman Keith Richman introduced legislation to split “the 727,000-student Los Angeles Unified School District into more than a dozen smaller districts, with the break-up overseen by a nine-member commission of mayors from the 27 cities that the district serves, the state superintendent of public instruction and university professors.” Most recently, Marc Litchman, who unsuccessfully challenged Rep. Brad Sherman for the 30th Congressional District in Los Angeles, said the first bill he would introduce would be to split up L.A. Unified. “The schools have to perform, and I think we’ve all been through this for quite some time. They’re not performing to the level we all hoped they would. In Los Angeles, the biggest barrier to that is the school district,” he said.

The problem with the dissolution idea is that it would result in power being ceded by those currently in charge. The LA school board and the teachers union will fight tooth and claw to keep the mammoth school district intact – no matter how unmanageable and dysfunctional it is.

Another change scenario is underway in New Orleans. Last month, the city became the country’s first all-charter district. Charter schools are public schools, funded by taxpayer dollars but run by largely independent boards. These schools get to avoid most of the red tape and union influence typical in a district contract. Teachers unions don’t have much of a presence in NOLA. The United Teachers of New Orleans, which had 5,800 members before Hurricane Katrina in 2005, has dwindled down to 530. The small size and independent nature of charter schools is a disincentive to labor organizers. “The same amount of effort that it takes to negotiate a contract with a district, you spend on one school,” a union leader in Louisiana said. Of course, teachers could exercise a “local only” option which would give them greater control over their own destiny, be more child-friendly and excludes costly membership in a state and national affiliate.

Unfortunately, without a cataclysmic act of nature wreaking havoc on Los Angeles, this scenario too would run up against massive resistance from all the usual suspects. It would take a herculean effort by maverick legislators or a well-funded ballot initiative to make an all-charter district a reality.

So until then, we will suffer along with a yet-to-be-named superintendent who will either be a Deasy-type provocateur, burning out after a short time or, more likely, we will be treated to a make-nice type who will not rock the LAUSD boat. The losers, as always, will be the children who could have better but for the self-serving demands of the grown-ups captaining a ship that is constantly taking on water.

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.

Parent Trigger Law Empowers Parents to Stand Up to Teachers Union

The names Doreen Diaz and Bartola Del Villar appear nowhere in the text of the Parent Empowerment Act, also known as the Parent Trigger, that I wrote in 2010. The law empowers parents to bypass the political paralysis of our education bureaucracy that is responsible for perpetuating the status quo failure of our schools.

Today, Doreen and Bartola personify why the law was written: they were leaders in using it to become the first parents in California to successfully transform their neighborhood school – which had been state-identified as failing for years, having the lowest academic performance record in the entire Adelanto School District.

Now, with a motto of “be the change we want to see,” the two have become a Thelma and Louise of the election cycle, taking their fight for reform “from the outside” to seeking reform of the beast itself by seeking seats on the five-member elected Adelanto school board that is still dominated by the status quo interests they battled.

Undoubtedly, the law has given credence to the view that parents should be the true architects of their children’s educational futures.

Increasingly, parents are mobilizing to “trigger” change at failing schools. Most recently, parents in Anaheim challenged their own school board members to transform a school languishing in “Program Improvement” need for 10 years. They understand it is no fairytale to want quality schools and are willing to fight for it.

Doreen and Bartola made national headlines when they and other Adelanto parents became the first to trigger the change at their school. Today, they are satisfied with initial academic performance results of the newly established Desert Trails charter school which is showing increased performance for students. Previously, three out of four students at the school weren’t even reading at their grade level.

I joined them last Friday to walk precincts on their behalf under a hot Adelanto sun, talking to voters we encountered about why they now want to bring the message – and reality – of parent empowerment to the entire board. A victory for Bartola and Doreen would ensure that a new reform majority prevails.

“Enough is enough,” said Doreen. “Parents are tired of the same old, same old. We don’t just want to sit on the board, we want to mobilize parents to take back their school district – establish a new culture of leadership and a belief that every school can succeed.”

Not surprisingly, the teachers’ union has endorsed a slate of union-friendly candidates, hoping to defeat Doreen and Bartola and their questioning of a proposed sweetheart contract granting teachers a 5 percent retroactive pay increase and 8 percent pay increases for the next several years.

“Adelanto is bankrupt,” explained Doreen. “Most teachers don’t even live here, yet want pay compatible with high cost-of-living regions. But it will be Adelanto parents – mostly working class – who will pay the bill. Teachers are even refusing to consider working 60 minutes more in exchange for substantive pay increases. No reforms are tied to the demands.”

What will boost achievement is a restructuring of the board in its entirety so that parent voices – not the interests of special groups demanding pay increases despite anemic student outcomes – predominate. Doreen and Bartola recognize that transforming one school is not enough: Districts need systemic change to ensure they serve students first.

“When that happens, the spirit of Parent Trigger and the legacy of our Desert Trails school will be truly understood,” Doreen said.

Few Californians will ever read the California Education Code. But many more will meet Doreen and Bartola – mothers who give life to the law I wrote. Their win will be a win for us all.

About the Author:  Gloria Romero, a Los Angeles resident, served in the California Legislature from 1998 to 2008, the last seven years as Senate majority leader. Romero is the founder of the California Center for Parent Empowerment, established by in order to empower public school parents–especially those with children trapped in chronically underperforming schools–to understand and use the Parent Empowerment Act of 2010. This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register and is republished here with permission from the author.

The Parent Revolution and the Ancien Régime

The ongoing battle between parents and the union-dominated education blob heats up in California.

California state senator Gloria Romero’s Parent Trigger law has been around for over three years now, and its progress has been slow but steady. The law stipulates that if 50 percent +1 of the parents of children in a failing school sign a petition, it can “trigger” a change in the governance of that school either by getting rid of some teachers, firing the principal, shutting the school down or turning it into a charter school. The law was designed to bypass both teachers unions and school boards, and to provide parents with an opportunity to force desperately needed reform. 

There have been five Parent Trigger campaigns in California since 2010:

  • Compton (2010) the parent petition was ultimately dismissed by a judge on a legal technicality. 
  • Adelanto/Desert Trails (2011/2012) two CA Superior Court judges upheld the petition, allowing the parents to move forward with the selection of a high-quality, non-profit charter school which will take over Desert Trails Elementary in July.
  • 24th Street Elementary School (Los Angeles/2013) parents overwhelmingly selected an historic collaborative partnership between the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and a high-performing, non-profit charter operator Crown Prep Academy. It will also begin the transformation process in July. LAUSD will be responsible for Pre-K – 4 and Crown Prep for 5-8.
  • Haddon Avenue Elementary School (Los Angeles/ 2012-2013) parents voted to “pause” their ‘Parent Trigger’ petition efforts to work on a collaborative in-district reform plan for their school with teachers and the district.
  • Weigand Avenue Elementary School (Los Angeles/2013) parents petitioned for a “transformation” model, allowing them to work collaboratively with teachers and LAUSD on much-needed changes, including replacing the principal.

While the 24th Street conversion went relatively smoothly, activist parents typically encounter serious pushback from unyielding teachers unions and their fellow travelers. A few examples:

2010 – Then California Federation of Teachers president Marty Hittleman a human gaffe machinedescribed the new Parent Trigger law as a “lynch mob provision,” managing to offend parents, especially African-Americans, all over the state.

2011 – Jerry Brown removed Parent Revolution (the Parent Trigger parent group) executive director Ben Austin from the state school board and added California Teachers Association über-lobbyist Pat Rucker.

2011 – Word of the Parent Trigger spread across the country and parents tried to establish it in Connecticut, but in a story first reported by RiShawn Biddle, the American Federation of Teachers used slimy tactics to effectively neuter the law. Most writers and bloggers who have written about the incident have focused on a pdf (originally a PowerPoint, posted on the AFT website), which very honestly and cynically describes the process by which the union did its dirty work. The AFT quickly realized that this display of raw union power was not in keeping with its persona as a reform-minded partner that is always willing to collaborate with parents, communities and other stakeholders, and pulled the pdf from its website shortly after the Biddle piece was posted. They then started to play defense … sort of.

2012 – After a successful campaign to pull the trigger at Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, a Mojave Desert town in eastern CA, the CTA went to work. The Wall Street Journal reported that the union sent out “representatives” to Adelanto to disseminate “information” to the parents there. (Union speak alert: the terms “representatives” and “information” mean sending unidentified operatives to petition-signers’ homes to feed them lies about the petition that they just signed.)

2012 Won’t Back Down, a film loosely based on the Parent Trigger, was subjected to a thorough trashing by American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten. As part of her diatribe, she angrily stated I don’t recognize the teachers portrayed in this movie….” This is understandable because, as I explained at the time,

No record indicates she ever served as a full-time teacher or was evaluated by a principal or other school official.

When Weingarten ran for president of New York’s United Federation of Teachers in 1998, her opponent, Michael Shulman, suggested that she was not a “real teacher.”

“She worked five months full-time that I’ve been aware of, in 1992, at Clara Barton High School,” Shulman was quoted as saying in the New York Times. “Since then she taught maybe one class for 40 minutes a day.”

As one who spent almost 30 years as a classroom teacher, I will tell you that the teachers in the movie were quite accurately portrayed and indeed, I “recognized” many of them.

2013 – In an unusual event, the United Teachers of Los Angeles, happy not to be excluded from the process, was a willing party to the conversion at 24th Street School. But UTLA chief Warren Fletcher stepped in it by saying in April that the union was “watching what happens at 24th Street and other schools – watching to see if it destabilizes the schools.” (Note to Fletcher: Poorly performing schools are already “destabilized.” The Parent Trigger is a mechanism to “restabilize.”)

Just where are we now?

The current Weigand conversion saw the parents vote to keep all the teachers but get rid of the principal who had let the school deteriorate during her three years on the job. But a recent one-sided Los Angeles Times piece claimed that….

  •   teachers and students alike loved the principal Irma Cobian.
  •   21 of 22 teachers have asked for transfers to other schools.
  •   a student said Cobian is a special principal who gives her hugs and understands her struggles, such as losing her father to cancer last year.

However, a Parent Trigger press release lays out many facts that the Times either didn’t know or chose not to print:

In June 2011, parents and teachers at Weigand Avenue Elementary School in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles signed a petition as a ‘vote of no confidence’ in their principal. … It identifies on one side the teachers who signed, with parents on the other side and following pages. Date stamps indicate its receipt at that time by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). 

This first petition from Weigand parents and teachers clearly establishes their deep concerns about the principal and her management style many months before a parent union chapter — Weigand Parents United — was formed to pull together their successful 2013 Parent Trigger campaign.

In looking at this original 2011 parent and teacher petition, it’s worth noting:

  • None of the teachers who signed this petition remain at the school. Of 22 teachers who were at the school prior to 2009-2010 when this principal began, only 14 remained in 2010-2011, 11 in 2011-2012 and 8 in this current school year. There has been significant — and detrimental to the students — teacher turnover in the school during the administration of this principal.
  • Correspondingly, with the exit of these teachers over the past three years, the school’s API scores have declined significantly. Prior to the arrival of this current principal, the 2008-2009 API score for Weigand Avenue Elementary School was 717 (23 points ABOVE the average for LAUSD schools. In the first year of her tenure (2009-2010) the API score was 716 (just 7 points above the LAUSD average). In 2010-2011 — when the parents and teachers signed the attached petition — the API score had SLUMPED to 689 and was 39 points BELOW the LAUSD average for that school year. In 2011-2012, the school’s API score remained STAGNANT at 689 putting it a WHOPPING 56 points below the LAUSD average.
  • The data shows that, with the exit of 14 teachers over the past three years (including those who signed the attached petition), academic achievement at the school has dropped dramatically.
  • Weigand Avenue Elementary School is ranked 15th from the BOTTOM of LAUSD elementary schools. It is clear this is a school in academic achievement crisis.
  • Weigand Avenue Elementary School parents cannot wait another three years for this principal to try and turn their school around. She has been singularly unsuccessful to date; 14 of the 22 teachers who were at the school before she arrived have left, apparently unable to work with her. 

The facts are inescapable. This is a school in academic and student achievement decline throughout the tenure of this principal. The parents, unwilling to allow this to continue, have successfully chosen the option that holds this principal directly accountable — and now removes her. 

As a result of the recent Parent Trigger activity, UTLA is starting to feel the heat and plans to push back. The union held a press conference and demonstration at Weigand last Thursday, and called a special meeting this past Sunday. The following is from the UTLA website:

School Threat

Chapter chairs at elementary schools that are facing a possible takeover by “Parent Trigger” are invited to attend an important meeting to discuss strategies for dealing with this threat. Other interested chapter chairs are also welcome to attend.

Important materials will be distributed. This meeting is crucial for chapter chairs at targeted schools.

There have been no reports yet as to what transpired at the meeting.

And finally, you can always tell when the status quo crowd is getting nervous – they invariably ramp up the hysteria. In Diane Ravitch’s case, that’s hard to do, however, because the former reformer turned union-BFF has been on the loopy side now for years. Most recently, in response to the tragic shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, she said,

Every one of the teachers was a career educator. Everyone 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….

So she is saying that the teachers at the school were exceptional because they were unionized, had tenure and were not “obsessed with testing.”

Huh?

But Ravitch really outdid herself on May 25th when she went after Ben Austin in a vicious ad hominem attack. Responding to the latest trigger event at Weigand, she wrote on her blog,

Ben Austin is loathsome. He ruined the life and career of a dedicated educator. She was devoted to the children, he is devoted to the equally culpable foundations that fund his Frankenstein organization–Walton, Gates, and Broad. His biggest funder is the reactionary Walton Family Foundation, which spends $160 million every year to advance privatization.

Ben Austin is Walton’s useful idiot. He prattles on about his liberal credentials, but actions speak louder than words.

Here is my lifelong wish for him.

Ben, every day when you wake up, you should think of Irma Cobian. When you look in the mirror, think Irma Cobian. Your last thought every night should be Irma Cobian.

Ben, you ruined the life of a good person for filthy lucre. Never forget her. She should be on your conscience–if you have one–forever.

Whatever you may think of the Parent Trigger, Ben Austin is a good and decent man who works tirelessly to give kids and their parents an opportunity to escape failure. He has done nothing to deserve the revolting attack leveled on him by a malevolent crank. Many education writers and bloggers immediately excoriated Ravitch for her tirade. Just a few examples:

·         Alexander Russohttp://laschoolreport.com/sad-teachers-vs-poor-parents/

·         Joanne Jacobs – http://www.joannejacobs.com/2013/05/trigger-parents-fire-principal-unfair-satanic/

·         RiShawn Biddle http://dropoutnation.net/2013/05/28/perhaps-conservative-reformers-have-finally-stopped-protecting-diane-ravitch/

·         Rick Hesshttp://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/rick_hess_straight_up/2013/05/dante_ravitchs_abhorrent_assault_on_ben_austin.html

Perhaps Whitney Tilson said it best in an email:

Even in the world of politics, this type of language and name-calling goes far beyond the bounds of acceptability and reasonable discourse. If Ravitch is reduced to publishing these rabid kind of statements to further her reputation, then it is abundantly clear she has nothing left to work with. Any shred of credibility with which she may have been cloaking herself is now gone. It is time to hold Ravitch fully accountable for the highly inappropriate language she is deliberately injecting into what should be genuine dialogue around public education and its future.

The bottom line here is that when you have union bosses and their acolytes tripping over themselves to discredit, insult and destroy you and your work, it is a sign that you are doing something right. Keep it up, Ben! Eventually, the ancien régime will fall and the parent revolution will be victorious.

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

California Teachers Association Fights to Maintain Political Orthodoxy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Referring to the two reform groups, he said,

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

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

StudentsFirst spokeswoman Jessica Ng was very measured in her reaction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unanswered Questions

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

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

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

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

Zzzzzzzz.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. On school choice, he is insufferable:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taking the “You” out of Union

Union political power is only as strong as its members’ willingness to give.

Last week, the American Federation of Teacher’s latest union financials (LM-2s) were released. Courtesy of Dropout Nation’s RiShawn Biddle, we learn that in 2011-2012, AFT spent $27 million to “preserve its influence.” Teachers unions spend money in a variety of ways, but the spending is typically about maintaining its power and aggressively promoting a very specific political agenda (all the while paying the union elite quite handsomely.)

On page 5 of this 205 page document, we learn that 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. Also, as summarized by Biddle,

Secretary-Treasurer Loretta Johnson (who used to be the union’s executive vice president) picked up $381,614, a mere 3 percent increase. Francine Lawrence, who was elevated to Johnson’s former post (and was previously the head of the union’s Toledo local, best-known for its promoting of the less-than-useful peer review approach to teacher evaluation), earned $297,346 last fiscal year. When one adds in the salary of former Secretary-Treasure Antonia Cortese, the AFT paid its top three officials $1.4 million in 2011-2012, a 12 percent increase over the previous fiscal year… The union’s apparatchiks also earned plenty, but not as much as they did last year. David Dorn, the union’s director of international affairs, for example, collected $193,634 in 2011-2012, less than the $223,965 he made in the previous fiscal year; while the union’s general counsel, David Strom, earned $199,227, a decline from $201,472 in the previous year. Hartina Flournoy, the longtime Democratic Party operative who now serves as Weingarten’s assistant, did see a slight bump in pay (from $231,337 in 2010-2011 to $236,934 in 2011-2012).

While some of the union’s spending is on education-related matters, that money is typically targeted to fight any kind of meaningful reform. For example, in 2011, AFT engaged the NAACP, now on the union’s payroll, to file a lawsuit to keep some children in Harlem in their failing traditional public schools, instead of allowing them to attend nearby superior (non-unionized) charter schools. Also in 2011, AFT worked hard to eviscerate a Parent Trigger law in Connecticut. And then there are the ongoing battles; AFT regularly rails against teacher evaluation laws and virulently opposes any kind of school choice.

But much of the $27 million that AFT spent went to politics and non-education related causes. Not surprisingly, its political spending goes in only one direction – left. Here are a few examples of their largess:

  • Economic Policy Institute – whose mission “is to inform and empower individuals to seek solutions that ensure broadly shared prosperity and opportunity.” If this were an honest statement, the word “opportunity” would have been followed by “as long as the solutions are in sync with the leftist union party line.”
  • The American Prospect – an uber-lefty magazine.
  • The Center for American Progress – a progressive think tank.
  • Rainbow Push – Jesse Jackson’s shakedown organization.
  • National Council of La Raza.
  • American Labor Museum.
  • Various and sundry labor committees.
  • Progressive National Baptist Convention.
  • Etc, etc, etc.

To show how one-sided its political spending is, according to the Center for Responsive politics, in 2011-2012, the AFT spent $768,194 on Democrat candidates for office and $0 on Republicans. This clearly shows a deep disdain for any of its dues payers who happen to be Republican. (While polling numbers on this issue vary, it is safe to say that somewhere between a third and a half of all teachers are politically to the right of center.)

In 27 forced union states, public school teachers must pay to play. They are forced to fork over the part of union dues that is allocated for collective bargaining. But they are not required to pay the portion that is spent on politics. As such, it would behoove all conservative, centrist and politically disinterested teachers to opt out of paying the political part of their union dues. Why should teachers’ dues money go to candidates and causes that they don’t agree with and may indeed find abhorrent?

To avoid bankrolling the union’s political agenda, a teacher must resign from the union, and then ask for a rebate by a certain date every year. For more details on the opt-out process – pros and cons – please visit the website of the California Teachers Empowerment Network, an organization I co-founded six years ago.

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.

Feel Good Movie Angers Union Boss

Showing how painful the truth can be, AFT boss Randi Weingarten goes bonkers over a new film in which a teachers union is presented fairly.

Won’t Back Down, a movie due to open nationally on September 28th, centers around two determined mothers, one a bartender and the other a teacher, who team up and try to transform their failing public school in Pittsburgh. Facing a powerful and entrenched bureaucracy, administrative corruption and the teachers union, they devote their lives to making a difference in the education and future of their children.

It’s a very good film – a film in which the educational establishment is presented in a realistic and honest way – the portrayal of good teachers, bad teachers and mediocre ones and the parents’ frustrations in dealing with the system’s bureaucracy are quite true to life. The union leaders are not caricatures, but they are like many that I knew and worked with during my long teaching career.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, however, has a very different take on the movie. With steam pouring out of her nostrils, she hyperventilated through a 1,864 word slash-and-burn screed which appeared as part of Valerie Strauss’s Washington Post blog last week. With many contenders, perhaps the most outrageous statement she makes is,

Unfortunately, using the most blatant stereotypes and caricatures I have ever seen – even worse than those in Waiting for Superman – the film affixes blame on the wrong culprit: America’s teachers unions.

This statement is positively goofy. Waiting For Superman is a documentary which deals with real parents and their children who are trying to escape their miserable public schools and get into better ones. Okay, truth be told, there is one caricature in the film. In Variety’s review, one woman was described as a “foaming satanic beast” and “an aptly shrill opponent of change.” The reviewer was describing none other than Randi Weingarten, who did a great parody of herself.

A bit later in her diatribe, she blurts out,

I don’t recognize the teachers portrayed in this movie….

That’s funny. I do. But then again, you must understand that she doesn’t really know what goes on in America’s classrooms. In fact, just last year, the union boss stepped in it big time when, speaking about education reform at an AFT conference, she said,

…the debate has been hijacked by a group of self-styled reformers. Let’s refuse to be defined by people who are happy to lecture us about the state of public education — but wouldn’t last 10 minutes in a classroom.

Well, I am a reformer and I lasted almost 30 years. And just what experience “in a classroom” does “Randi the Pompous” have? Not much. According to blogger Joann Jacobs,

A lawyer turned union leader, Weingarten’s classroom time was limited, counters Education Action Group.

Weingarten’s AFT bio claims she taught history at Clara Barton High School in Brooklyn from 1991 to 1997. EAG obtained her personnel file via a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request. Weingarten was hired as a substitute teacher in 1991 and received a “provisional” license in 1993. In 1994, she received a “certificate to serve as a substitute.” A 1997 letter indicates Weingarten didn’t submit documentation showing she’d met requirements for licensure.

No record indicates she ever served as a full-time teacher or was evaluated by a principal or other school official.

When Weingarten ran for president of New York’s United Federation of Teachers in 1998, her opponent, Michael Shulman, suggested that she was not a “real teacher.”

“She worked five months full-time that I’ve been aware of, in 1992, at Clara Barton High School,” Shulman was quoted as saying in the New York Times. “Since then she taught maybe one class for 40 minutes a day.”

And what would a teacher union leader rant be without some good old-fashioned class warfare and a potshot at parent trigger laws? Randi doesn’t disappoint. She hits ’em both in the same paragraph:

… it (the movie) promotes the deceptively named “parent trigger” laws, which are marketed as parent-empowerment laws. Actually, these laws deny both parents and teachers a voice in improving schools and helping children, by using parents to give control of our schools over to for-profit corporations. Parent trigger laws are being pushed by organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which Walden Media owner and oil billionaire Philip Anschutz helps fund.

Teachers unions hate parent trigger laws because they give parents power to change the governance structure of a school without having to kiss the union’s ring. And then, in an attempt to enlighten us ignoramuses, tells us that these laws are being promoted by the vast, billionaire-infested right wing conspiracy. (I do have give her credit, however, for not mentioning the Koch brothers by name.)

Then Weingarten becomes indignant, stating that,

… the film advances the “bad teacher” narrative through the character of Deborah. This teacher barks at students from her desk, uses her cell phone in class, refuses to let students use the restroom, puts children in a closet as a disciplinary measure and resists all reform efforts, yet miraculously remains employed at the school.

Miraculously remains employed??!! Teachers unions are notorious for doing their damndest to keep pedophiles and other miscreants in the classroom and yet she seems shocked that the bad teacher “remains employed at the school.” Good grief – can this woman really be so clueless??!!

In any event, the film is well worth seeing. The fact that it sent Weingarten over the edge should alone boost ticket sales through the roof.

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.

Adults’ Rights Come Before Children’s Health and Welfare in Public Schools

Parents send their children to school assuming that kids are its number one priority. But as recent events have shown, public schools are Ground Zero for a culture that puts children last and doesn’t hold adults accountable.

In Waiting For Superman, Michelle Rhee stated that it took her a while, but she finally realized that public education is really about the adults, not the kids. No truer words have ever been spoken. In too many cases, a small group of inept and corrupt adults – district administrators, school boards and teachers unions – is in charge of what has become an increasingly incompetent public education system. Recently, several scandalous events point to deep-seated problems.

First and foremost, we have the Mark Berndt case in Los Angeles. This man sexually abused children for years at Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles. For many reasons — including careless dismissal of children’s claims, missing teacher files and operating in a culture of non-accountability — Berndt got away with doing unspeakable things to his students for over 20 years. The system is so perverse that the school district couldn’t get rid of Berndt without going through a lengthy appeals process costing over $300,000. So, when his crimes were exposed, Berndt gamed the system by accepting a $40,000 bribe and retired – but only after racking up another year of credit toward his pension.

And what was the Los Angeles Unified School District’s fix? It decided to ban the blindfolding of children and classroom-made butter. Yes, because Berndt would blindfold his kids and do revolting things to them including feeding them semen-topped cookies, LAUSD responds by slapping a small Band-Aid on a malignant tumor.

The Berndt situation really is just the tip of the iceberg, as case after case of abuse has bubbled to the surface in LA. In California, all school districts have a mandate to report any and all cases of abuse to the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing, which then makes the decision whether or not a teacher’s credential should be pulled. But LAUSD, ignoring the law, never bothered to notify the commission about Berndt or any of the many cases of abusive teachers in Los Angeles classrooms.

Then, across the country in New York, we have the unfirable physical education teacher Valerie Yarn. All Ms. Yarn did was sexually harass her bosses, writing her principal sexually laden emails to the point where the principal had to get a court order banning Yarn from contacting her. After violating the court order, Yarn was imprisoned. Upon her release, however, she was allowed to go back to work at a middle school where she regularly had girls illegally strip to the waist so she could “examine” them. For this she got a one-year suspension, though the district continues to pay her health insurance. It’s anybody’s guess whether she will get her teaching job back and resume her hobby of fondling her female students.

Who is at fault here? To be sure, union lawyers make certain that a bad or criminal teacher can’t be fired, but the local school board in this case makes The Three Stooges look like Navy SEALs. In short, the intersection of Inept Avenue and Evil Street can be the scene of many an atrocity.

Back in California, we have the ongoing saga of parents rising up and trying to take control of a miserable school. As I wrote last week,

Tired of low test scores, (at Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, a Mojave Desert town in eastern California) some parents organized and got more than 50 percent of the parents at the school to sign a “Parent Trigger” petition, which would give them the right to choose a different type of school governance.

However, the Wall Street Journal reports that the California Teachers Association, a union that will go to great lengths to maintain the status quo and thus its political power, sent out “representatives” to Adelanto to disseminate “information” to the parents there. (“Union speak” alert: “Representatives” and “information” really mean sending unidentified operatives to petition-signers’ homes and feeding them lies about the petition that they just signed.)

The unionistas’ door-to-door rescission campaign managed to scare enough signers into revoking their signatures, thus nullifying the proposed action. CTA pulled the same stunt in Compton, the first time parents rose up and “pulled the Trigger.” But after a legal challenge, in which the parents were successfully represented pro bono by the firm of Kirkland and Ellis, the Trigger went forward, and produced the opening of a new charter school. Apparently, Kirkland and Ellis are ready for a second go-round and will represent the parents in Adelanto.

According to follow up stories by AP writer Christina Hoag and the Wall Street Journal, it is apparent that the rescissions were falsified and it looks as if the parent takeover will go forward. But no thanks to the California Teachers Association, which was happy to throw the kids under the bus in order to maintain the status quo at a failing school.

Finally, we have the stunning case of 13 year-old Jada Williams in New York. Honoring Black History Month, Jada wrote an essay about Frederick Douglass and his refusal to be passive in the face of cruel and inhuman slave conditions. Jada compared Douglass’ situation to today’s inner cities where she feels that many teachers have given up teaching African-American children. Whether or not one agrees with her premise, it was an eloquent essay from an 8th grader. So what did her teachers do?

According to Mary Theroux at the Independent Institute:

One would think that Jada Williams would be every teacher’s dream. Given a book above her comprehension, she takes the initiative to use a dictionary to work her way through it, grasps the most salient point of the narrative, and produces an essay applying its lessons to today.

Jada has instead been hounded by her teachers and administrators out of the Rochester Public School system. Her teacher gave copies of Jada’s essay to the school’s other teachers and the principal. Jada, once a solid A and B student, started receiving failing grades, and her parents were called with reports about Jada’s “anger.” Teachers refused to show Jada’s parents the tests and assignments she had supposedly done so badly on, and branded her a “problem” student. Successfully driven from that school, the family quickly found Jada shut out of any other than the district’s “warehouse” school for what used be known as “incorrigibles.”

Jada’s mother is now homeschooling her and trying to figure out what to do about her daughter’s education in the future. Fortunately, Glenn Beck got hold of the story and now the entire country knows just a little more of what passes for public education in Rochester. The speech that Jada read is available here on YouTube. (H/T Carrie Remis, director of the Parent Power Project in Rochester.)

While the above cases of child abuse are particularly egregious, they are unfortunately not isolated incidents. Due to school boards that have forgotten their mission, bought-and-paid-for legislators, bureaucrats who have become much too comfy in their jobs and teachers unions which never gave a damn about students in the first place, the school children of America are being used as pawns by the entire education establishment. Parents must become aware of this pathetic situation and take action.

Homeschool your kids, if at all possible. If not, visit their school regularly and meet every adult who comes into contact with them. Run for school board. If you can’t manage that, go to as many school board meetings as you can and let these elected officials know that you are watching their every move. Insist on seeing evidence of the effectiveness of your child’s teacher. Find other concerned parents, march on your state’s capitol and demand an end to all laws – seniority and tenure, for example – that favor adults’ needs over children’s. And while you are dealing with legislators, urge them to pass laws that will give parents a choice as to where to send their children to school. Involve yourself with organizations that have parents and children as their number one priority. Two of the more prominent national organizations are StudentsFirst and American Federation for Children. In California, Parent Revolution is an organization that works with parents at underperforming schools.

Parents, no one loves and cares for your children like you do. It is imperative that you realize that leaving your kids with absolute strangers for six to eight hours a day can be very risky business. Blind trust in public schools is a recipe for disaster. Proceed with great caution.

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.

School Choice: Time to Move Forward

As evidence mounts that the government/union education monopoly is failing our children, 2012 should see ramped up efforts to advance school choice.

Last week, Education Week published “What Research Says About School Choice,” in which nine scholars analyze the results of various studies concerning “school choice” – the quaint notion that parents should be able to choose where to send their kids to school. The report boasts no ecstatic claims, nothing about lions and lambs, no Hallelujah moments – just a sober look at the 20 year-old movement to end mandatory zip code school assignments. Some of the findings:

Among voucher programs, random-assignment studies generally find modest improvements in reading or math scores, or both. Achievement gains are typically small in each year, but cumulative over time. Graduation rates have been studied less often, but the available evidence indicates a substantial positive impact.

Among voucher programs, these studies consistently find that vouchers are associated with improved test scores in the affected public schools. The size of the effect in these studies varies from modest to large. No study has found a negative impact.

A third area of study has been the fiscal impact of school choice. Even under conservative assumptions about such questions as state and local budget sensitivity to enrollment changes, the net impact of school choice on public finances is usually positive and has never been found to be negative.

Also last week, the California Charter School Association released its second annual “Portrait of the Movement: How Charters are Transforming California Education.” Not a sales pitch or compilation of cherry-picked data data, the CCSA report is an honest look at California’s 900 plus charter schools which educate about 400,000 students. A few of its many findings:

Charters that serve low-income students exceeded their prediction at high rates relative to the traditional system; students at charters serving low-income populations are five times more likely than their non-charter counterparts to be served by a school in the top 5th percentile.

Charter schools are more likely than non-charters to have both above average academic performance and above average growth. They are less likely than non-charters to perform below both state averages of status and growth.

A small number of low-performing charters were closed after the 2010-11 school year.

Earlier this month, the results of a study about school choice and its effects on crime in North Carolina, conducted by David J. Deming, assistant professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, were released. This study examined neither vouchers nor charter schools, but rather a district-wide open enrollment policy whereby any student could apply to any school within the district. If a popular school had more enrollees than seats, a lottery was held. The rather stunning findings:

In general, high-risk students commit about 50 percent less crime as a result of winning a school choice lottery. Among male high school students at high risk of criminal activity, winning admission to a first-choice school reduced felony arrests from 77 to 43 per 100 students over the study period (2002-2009). The attendant social cost of crimes committed decreased by more than 35 percent. Among high-risk middle school students, admittance by lottery to a preferred school reduced the average social cost of crimes committed by 63 percent (due chiefly to a reduction in violent crime), and reduced the total expected sentence of crimes committed by 31 months (64 percent).

The study finds that the overall reductions in criminal activity are concentrated among the top 20 percent of high-risk students, who are disproportionately African American, eligible for free lunch, with more days of absence and suspensions than the average student.

Hence, the ability to choose the school that a child attends not only increases chances of a better education, but also greatly decreases the likelihood that the youth will become a criminal. And not only doesn’t it cost anything, lower crime rates have been shown to be a boon to local economies.

Another kind of school choice was recently attempted by parents at Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, a Mojave Desert town in eastern California. Tired of low test scores, some parents organized and got more than 50 percent of the parents at the school to sign a “Parent Trigger” petition, which would give them the right to choose a different type of school governance. Their choices included firing the principal, removing some of the faculty, shutting the school down or turning it in to a charter school. Linda Serrato, Deputy Communication Director of Parent Revolution, explains that this particular petition laid out two options: “…negotiate with the parents to give them the autonomy they need to turn around their school, or they will use the Parent Trigger to take their school away from the district and convert it into a community charter school, run by local parents and educators.”

However, the Wall Street Journal reports that the California Teachers Association, a union that will go to great lengths to maintain the status quo and thus its political power, sent out “representatives” to Adelanto to disseminate “information” to the parents there. (“Union speak” alert: “Representatives” and “information” really mean sending unidentified operatives to petition-signers’ homes and feeding them lies about the petition that they just signed.)

The unionistas’ door-to-door rescission campaign managed to scare enough signers into revoking their signatures, thus nullifying the proposed action. CTA pulled the same stunt in Compton, the first time parents rose up and “pulled the Trigger.” But after a legal challenge, in which the parents were successfully represented pro bono by the firm of Kirkland and Ellis, the Trigger went forward, and produced the opening of a new charter school. Apparently, Kirkland and Ellis are ready for a second go-round and will represent the parents in Adelanto.

School choice is an idea whose time is long overdue. Scholars know it. Charter school attendees know it. Crime free youths in North Carolina know it. Parent activists in the Mojave Desert know it.

The nearsighted, the naysayers, and the beneficiaries of the current failing status quo — moribund educrats, reactionary school boards and power-mad teacher unions – realize they could be in trouble and will desperately fight to extinguish the fires of reform whenever and wherever they can. But as parents and taxpayers become enlightened about the advantages of choice and empowered to take action, their opponents — with their lame assertions, name calling, sophistry and bullying — will see their hegemony wilt and ultimately will be rendered powerless.

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.

Typical Teachers Union Tactics Kill Parent Trigger in Connecticut

Time for being shocked, shocked about teacher union methods and objectives is over.

Last week, writer Rishawn Biddle broke a story about the American Federation of Teachers’ recent successful actions to neuter a Parent Trigger bill in Connecticut. The first Parent Trigger law, officially the Parent Empowerment Act, was passed in California early last year. It allows parents, via a petition, to force change in the governance of a failing school should the petitioners get a majority of parents to sign on.

The educational establishment – school boards, teachers unions and other special interest groups, dubbed the “Government Education Complex” by Bruno Behrend, director of the Center for School Reform at The Heartland Institute, don’t like the law since it allows a group of parents to trump their power.

Most writers and bloggers who have written about the incident have focused on a pdf, originally a PowerPoint, posted on the AFT website, which very honestly and cynically describes the process by which the union did its dirty work. Realizing that this display of raw union power was not in keeping with its persona as a reform-minded partner, always willing to collaborate with parents, communities and other stakeholders, AFT pulled the pdf from its website shortly after the Biddle piece was posted and started to play defense…sort of.

In an email to education writer Alexander Russo, AFT President Randi Weingarten wrote, “The power point didn’t represent AFT or my views, nor does it represent the Conn Fed’s views….” And the punch line, “We are proud of the work in Conn, but disagree with the wording and what the wording in the power point represented.”

The wording? She disagreed with the wording??!! That’s like pummeling someone, stealing their money and then apologizing because you dropped a couple of F bombs in the process.

While I am certainly not a fan of AFT’s tactics, I am hardly shocked by them. They are a labor union. It is their job to do whatever they can do to protect the interests of its members.

In fact, if Randi Weingarten or National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel were really honest, they’d lose all the phony caring about children rhetoric and say something like the following:

Truth is, Mr. and Mrs. America, we don’t give a damn about you, your children or your wallet. We want to have as many teachers as we can on the job, including the rotten ones – they pay dues also – and make you pay them as much as possible so that we can collect carloads of cash, which allows us to be a political powerhouse and pursue our very progressive social, economic and political agenda.

If they were being really honest. But of course, tactically, that would not be in their best interest. As Joy Pullmann, managing editor of School Reform News at The Heartland Institute, put it, “…unions must pretend to care for ridding schools of bad teachers, squeezing the most out of taxpayer dollars, and other public concerns.”

So, it is up to us – the public. We all must realize that no matter their rhetoric, teachers unions are anything but beneficent organizations that care about children, their parents, taxpayers or quality education. They must be seen as ruthless special interest groups that will stop at nothing to advance their agenda. No one should forget that the NEA playbook is adapted directly from Marxist community organizer Saul Alinsky. Alinsky’s best known book, “Rules For Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals,” opens with a paean to one held in high esteem by the author – Lucifer.

Once the public became aware of the NEA-Alinsky connection, the union pulled most of their fawning comments about Alinsky from their website, leaving only The Activist’s Library entry:

Rules for Radicals
Saul Alinsky, Vintage Books, 1989
The classic book about organizing people, written by one of America’s foremost organizers.

However, I did manage to salvage one of the pulled docs. As you can see by this adoring review of Alinsky’s work, the NEA writer is so blindly in love with his subject that he can’t quite remember from sentence to sentence how to spell his hero’s name. The review begins with “An inspiration to anyone contemplating action in their community! And to every organizer!” and gets more breathless and impassioned with each rabid paragraph.

If that review, proudly posted on their website until recently, isn’t enough to convince the public of the true nature of the teachers unions, how about this – a training tape, clearly inspired by Alinsky, made by the Michigan Education Association, an NEA affiliate, in the 1990s for union negotiators who collectively bargain with school boards. I urge you to listen to the audio and not just read the text. The creepiness of actually hearing the trainer pitch his hardball tactics adds a dimension that is missing when you just read the words.

For example, at one point in the tape, the trainer is advising a union negotiator how to best deal with someone running for school board. He says,

“Find out about his family; his marital status; the number of children he has and their ages and what schools they go to. Are they public, parochial, or are they private? And also, don’t forget to check into his politics. …when checking into his employment you might want to find out what do his peers think of him; what is his relationship with his employer or employees; and does holding a public office help him advance in his job or produce business connections?”

After listening to the tape, go here and read Alinsky’s 13 rules of power politics. It would seem that the negotiator is applying rule #13,

“Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”

The teachers unions’ methods and objectives have been in plain view for some time now. Unless the public takes notice and withdraws their support, the unions’ perfidy will continue unchecked.

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

Closing the Door on Ed Reform: Ho-hum – Just a Typical Day in California

No one should be surprised at the actions of teachers unions and their acolytes who laid their cards on the table a long time ago.

In an op-ed published in the San Jose Mercury News last Wednesday, I made the point that while the rest of the country had made some positive movement toward badly needed education reform, we in California hadn’t. In fact, with Jerry Brown’s re-election as governor, we took several steps back.

True to form as a teacher union sycophant, the new (and former) state leader fired the entire school board which included prominent education reformers like Ben Austin, executive director of Parent Revolution — the organization behind the new Parent Trigger law that enables parents at poorly performing schools to sign a petition that could ultimately force a change in school governance. Brown replaced the board with a group that has no history of reform including Patricia Ann Rucker, a former California Teachers Association lobbyist.

Not surprisingly, California Teacher Association President David Sanchez said his union was “thrilled” by the new appointees because he believed the board had been stacked with too many members connected to charters, which are mostly nonunion.

To make things worse, Tom Torlakson, the elected choice as Superintendent of Public Instruction, was sworn in on January 3rd. Torlakson is the bought and paid for choice of CTA, occasionally known as Controlling Torlakson Aggressively.

Hence, at the start of 2011, CTA has its people in Sacramento poised to fight any reform that could possibly help the children of CA.

On February 9, the very day that my op-ed was published, the State Board of Education met and decided to eviscerate the Parent Trigger law by throwing in conditions that would essentially render it impotent. The LA Times claimed that a critic referred to the state action as a “bombshell.” At the LA Weekly, the normally sensible Patrick Range McDonald referred to the fact that union mouthpiece Torlakson was going to rewrite the law as a “shocker” and said that reformers were “stunned.”

For the life of me, I can’t understand why people are surprised. Jerry Brown first put a major hurt on public education when he signed the Rodda Act in 1975, allowing teachers to collectively bargain. This introduction of the unions into the educational process made for an adversarial relationship between school districts and teachers, thus undermining the “common vision of excellence previously shared by administrators, teachers, parents, students, and community leaders.” That Brown and cronies like David Sanchez and Tom Torlakson would do anything to maintain the status quo — the children be damned — shouldn’t be news to anyone.

On the other hand, Ben Austin was not very surprised at the turn of events. He is quoted as saying, “It is pretty obvious to anyone who is paying attention what is going on here – this is nothing more than a naked effort to roll back or repeal the entire Parent Trigger law under the guise of ‘fixing’ it. We know that special interest lobbyists will be swarming the capital to try to pass this ‘roll back or repeal’ law, just as they tried to stop the Parent Trigger from ever passing in the first place. But I can promise you this – parents across California will not stand for this blatant attempt to roll back or repeal one of the only rights they have to obtain a better school for their children. We will surely be back in Sacramento soon – and I guarantee you we will be riding a lot more than ‘just’ one bus.”

The “bus” at the end of Austin’s statement refers to the fact that five dozen parents from Compton (the only district to have a school whose parents have submitted a Parent Trigger petition) and parents from other parts of Los Angeles drove all night in a packed school bus to deliver their message to the State Board of Education. They spoke passionately, imploring the board not to undermine the year-old law.

Austin and the parents have the right idea. The time for underestimating the enemy and being taken by surprise when he acts badly, is over. It’s time that good people of California make a stand, rally behind reformers like Ben Austin and confront the fact that CTA, their SPI, union toady Torlakson, and a retread governor are not concerned with what is in the best interests of school children and their parents.

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