Posts

Getting Criminals Out of Schools

A new bill would keep pedophiles and violent criminals out of our schools; teachers unions balk. California law firm decides to try an end run.

A couple of weeks ago in Washington, D.C., the House of Representatives passed a bill by a simple voice vote, which stipulated that public schools would be barred from employing teachers and other school employees who have been convicted of sexual offenses or violent crimes against children.

“Keeping children safe is not a partisan issue,” said the chief sponsor, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. “It’s a moral obligation.”

“Every school employee, from the cafeteria workers to the administrators, to janitors to the teachers, principals and librarians, that everyone” is subject to background checks including the FBI fingerprint identification system to the national sex offender registry, said Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind.

Now just whom do you suspect might take issue with such a law?  

Go to the head of the class if you responded “teachers unions.” Both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers sent letters to Congress complaining about the proposed legislation. The NEA missive starts off with,

On behalf of the more than three million members of the National Education Association and the students they serve, we would like to offer the following views on H.R. 2083 to require criminal background checks for school employees, which will be voted on tomorrow. (Emphasis added.)

On behalf of students? Did I miss something here? Has NEA forced students – as they do teachers in 26 states – to become beholden to the union? The rest of the letter is no better, and includes one truly bizarre comment. “…criminal background checks often have a huge, racially disparate impact.”

They do? Which race should get a pass? Would NEA be more in favor of the bill if it had a racially proportionate number of pedophiles? (Note to teachers: ya think maybe it’s time to stop supporting the loopy antics of NEA?)

Over at AFT command central, wily lawyer and union president Randi Weingarten submitted a longer and more nuanced letter to Congress, which includes the usual talking points, but does raise one issue that, at first glance, seems sensible.

We suggest that states with background check laws that are at least as demanding and thorough as those proposed in H.R. 2083 be granted the flexibility and authority to use their own state laws and procedures in place of the new federal rules laid out in the bill.

As a firm believer in the 10th Amendment, I think this is reasonable … on the surface. However, the reality is that the teachers unions, with their vast war chest and political clout, have managed to influence legislation that favors all teachers “rights” over the best interests of children in many states. One needs to look no further than California for a glaring example.

In 2012, California state senator Alex Padilla wrote SB 1530, which would have streamlined the labyrinthine “dismissal statutes” that require districts to navigate a seemingly endless maze of hearings and appeals that all teachers are currently entitled to. In fact, Padilla’s bill, narrow in scope, dealt only with credible claims that a teacher has abused a child with sex, drugs, or violence. But this sensible legislation was quashed in the Assembly Education Committee where the teachers unions’ hairy not-so-hidden hand rules supreme.

Then earlier this year, the teachers unions got behind AB 375, a watered-down, poorly written dismissal bill that, though it would have made some things even worse, was nevertheless passed by both houses of the California legislature. Fortunately, Governor Jerry Brown vetoed it.

So the question becomes how to pass legislation in the many states where the teachers unions are all powerful. Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk, a law firm in the Golden State, has come up with a solution: bypass the legislature and let the voters decide directly. Last week, the legal team submitted a proposed ballot measure which they are calling the “Stop Child Molesters, Sexual Abusers and Drug Dealers from Working in California Schools Act.”

Should the initiative become law, the California Education code would be amended. The essence of the proposal:

Current law includes loopholes for school employees perpetrating egregious misconduct to remain on the public payroll and earn continuing retirement credit for excessive time after having been charged in writing with committing egregious misconduct and being notified of a decision to terminate employment thereby increasing the dismissal costs to school districts and draining resources from schools and the children they serve.

School employees perpetrating egregious misconduct in California have exploited loopholes to delay and conceal dismissal proceedings manipulating school districts to pay-off, reassign, enter into agreements to expunge evidence of egregious misconduct from district personnel files, and approve secret settlement agreements enabling the school employee to continue to perpetrate offenses in other schools and school districts, thereby infringing on the inalienable right of students and staff to attend public primary, elementary, junior high, and senior high school campuses which are safe, secure and peaceful as guaranteed by the Constitution of the State of California.

Accordingly, the People of the State of California declare that to secure the constitutional guarantee of students and staff to be safe and secure in their persons at public primary, elementary, junior high and senior high school campuses, school districts must have the appropriate statutory authority to expeditiously remove and permanently dismiss perpetrators of egregious misconduct without facing lengthy and costly litigation or creating incentives to transfer the school employee to another assignment, school or school district.

According to LA School Report’s Vanessa Romo, the Attorney General’s office has until Dec. 23rd to title and summarize the initiative. After that, proponents have 150 days to circulate a petition throughout the state and collect 504,760 signatures.

The teachers unions have yet to comment on the proposed initiative, but when they do, rest assured it won’t be favorable. Presumably they’ll rail about the rights of teachers and trot out their usual warnings about the bill’s negative effect on “the children.” Maybe they’ll blather on about how the initiative might disparately affect some unnamed minority. In other words they will do everything possible to convince the public that the initiative is wrong for California. Exactly how low the union will go is anyone’s guess, but as Lily Tomlin once quipped, “No matter how cynical I get, I just can’t keep up.”

How will the voters of California respond to the unions’ barrage of distortions and red herrings that will undoubtedly pollute the public airwaves? If the initiative gets on the ballot, we will find out a year from now. Stay tuned.

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.

Lemon Raid

Los Angeles school chief puts children’s needs over those of 600 sadists, pedophiles and assorted creeps. The teachers union is outraged.

In any other field, getting rid of misbehaving or poorly performing employees is a natural and ongoing occurrence. Business leaders who don’t set standards and hold workers accountable will see their clientele shrink. But in the world of teacher union-dominated public education, putting customers first – in this case, children and their parents – is a headline-making event.

Superintendent John Deasy, who has incurred the wrath of the United Teachers of Los Angeles of late, did nothing to endear himself to the union by cracking down on miscreant teachers earlier this month. In fact, with Deasy leading the charge, the Los Angeles school board fired 100, got 200 to resign, and designated 300 more to be “housed” or removed from the classroom pending further investigation. According to Barbara Jones, writing in the LA Daily News,

The personnel files stretched the length of the 15-foot conference table in Superintendent John Deasy’s office, a chronicle of the corporal punishment, verbal and physical abuse and sexual misconduct reported in the classrooms of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Cuts and bruises. Curses and racial slurs. Caresses and pornography.

In the past, the misdeeds detailed in the teachers’ files would likely have earned the offender a disciplinary memo, maybe a week’s suspension, perhaps a transfer to another school.

Today, they’re grounds for firing.

UTLA, shocked that the historically passive school district actually made a move that benefitted children, was predictably furious. Its leaders characterized Deasy’s actions as a “witch hunt,” claiming that he is “using misconduct allegations to get rid of troublesome teachers and those on the upper rungs of the experience and pay scale.”

Really?

Here are some specifics about a few of the “teachers” who are now out of the classroom:

  • A Westside elementary teacher in his early 60s ‘trained’ his students to give him a full-body massage for 20 minutes every day while he ‘rested.’
  • A teacher at a San Fernando Valley elementary school who disciplined youngsters by locking them in a bathroom or barricading them in a corner using tables and chairs.
  • An Eastside elementary teacher used clothespins to pinch the ears of youngsters who weren’t paying attention to the lesson. The same teacher also discouraged thumb-sucking by putting nasty-tasting disinfectant on kids’ fingers and forced students to scrub their desks using cleanser and their bare hands.
  • A rash of sex-related complaints were made in the weeks after the Miramonte scandal broke, including allegations of tickling and fondling, and inappropriate and vulgar comments made in class. One high school student said a female teacher inexplicably took her along when she went shopping for sex toys in Hollywood. … Nearly a dozen male teachers were fired for pornography found on their district-issued laptops.

A horrified and angst-filled UTLA lawyer, Richard Schwab, sputtered, “… many veteran teachers opt to resign rather than pursue an administrative hearing because they fear losing their lifetime health benefits if the ruling goes against them.”

Schwab may be right. But this raises a bigger question. If a teacher is guilty of committing crimes against children, why does he or she deserve a penny in “lifetime health benefits?” Or a generous pension for that matter? But that is a discussion for another day.

In any event, despite the seemingly good news, this story is far from settled. For those teachers who haven’t taken their health and pension benefits and run, there are still appeals and hearings and then more appeals and hearings. Again, Barbara Jones:

Under current law, teachers who are fired by the school board have 30 days to appeal their dismissal to the state’s Office of Administrative Hearings. It assigns each case to a panel composed of an administrative law judge and two educators – one chosen by the teacher, the other by the district – which reviews evidence and hears witness testimony before deciding whether or not the teacher should be fired. That process may take years, however, and cost the district hundreds of thousands of dollars in staff time and legal fees.

In fact, thanks to our teacher union friends, here is what is laughably called “due process” for teachers in California:

How ineffective teachers are dismissed in California

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last year, State Senator Alex Padilla tried to put a dent in the system by introducing SB 1530, a bill that would eliminate the two teachers from the panel, make the judge’s ruling advisory and leave the final decision up to the local school district. But the California Teachers Association managed to “convince” their “friends” on the Assembly education committee to kill the proposed legislation. Currently, there is a much milder bill, AB 375, making its way around the legislature. It would shorten the interminable dismissal process, but leave the three-person Commission on Professional Competence intact. CTA backs this bill, which is all you need to know about its effectiveness.

How LAUSD’s bold move eventually plays out is anybody’s guess. But whatever the outcome, John Deasy deserves a heap of praise. By trying to rid a noble profession of hundreds of “lemons,” he has done a great service to children and their families, which means of course he will be even more targeted by UTLA. And how that will play out is also anybody’s guess.

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 Care of Our Children

To have safer schools, where the interests and protection of children aren’t afterthoughts, we must demand more from the administrative-union-legislative unholy trinity.

In light of a second school shooting last week – this one in Taft, California – we have all the usual suspects pointing to their pet causes which they claim will prevent the next tragedy.

The need for stricter gun control, more intensive anti-bullying education, fewer violent video games and more psychologists in the schools will make the rounds just as they did after the horrific mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December. While these “fixes” sound good, there is no empirical evidence that any of them would have stopped the shooters from doing their dastardly deeds.

Interestingly, that which can be done to stop hateful people from harming our children, school officials are unwilling to do. A good case in point is Eileen Blagden’s story, which I first wrote about in July of 2012 and updated in City Journal last week.

Blagden’s story begins in 2008, when a teacher named Kevin Kirby was arrested for lewd and lascivious behavior and indecent exposure, but not at school. Nevertheless, Kirby’s arrest prompted his suspension from teaching at Leal Elementary School in the Southern California city of Cerritos. The following year, while awaiting trial, Kirby pleaded guilty to an unrelated trespassing charge. A jury ultimately found him not guilty on the sex-related charges, though he was required to “stay at least 100 yards away” from schools in Long Beach. In September 2009, the ABC Unified School District transferred Kirby to Blagden’s school—Stowers Elementary in Cerritos, where he was assigned as a kindergarten teacher.

Almost immediately, Blagden told me, Kirby began showing signs of irresponsibility and instability. He was absent frequently and would often fall asleep in class. Kirby’s fellow kindergarten teachers reportedly feared him, calling him a “ticking time bomb.” On January 26, 2010, Kirby had an accident on his motorcycle on his way to work. Despite being bloody and distraught, he refused medical assistance from paramedics and showed up at the school. Blagden had kept a wary eye on Kirby. With the accident, her concern grew into alarm, especially when Kirby began talking about suicide and killing Stowers’s other two kindergarten teachers.

Blagden went to her school district and local teachers union with this ominous story and was assured that they would handle it. However after no action whatsoever was taken by the bureaucrats, and worried about her teachers and students, Blagden broke protocol and went to the police. Her reward for doing the right thing was first getting demoted and then losing her job.

This administrative concern for image over children played itself out at Penn State where serial pedophile assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky damaged many young lives during a 14 year period. After this ugly series of events came to light, former FBI director Louis Freeh released a report which stated that these school leaders conspired

… to conceal child sexual abuse allegations against assistant coach Jerry Sandusky for more than a decade, choosing to preserve the university’s reputation over protecting the victims of a pedophile….

(They) showed “total disregard” for the abuse victims, concealed crucial information and failed at least twice to act on sexual assault accusations against one of their own because they feared the consequences of bad publicity on the university….

Not to be outdone, California legislators – cowed by their teacher union masters – showed they could be just as prone to turning a blind eye to evil as school administrators. After serial pedophile school teacher Mark Berndt got away with sexually abusing children for years, the Los Angeles Unified School District asked the state legislature to change existing law to speed up the process of removing such teachers. As I wrote in July,

State senator Alex Padilla, a Los Angeles Democrat and former L.A. city councilman, wrote Senate Bill 1530, which would streamline the labyrinthine “dismissal statutes” that require districts to navigate a seemingly endless maze of hearings and appeals. Padilla’s bill was actually quite narrow in scope, dealing only with credible claims that a teacher has abused a child with sex, drugs, or violence. Existing law lets local school boards immediately suspend a teacher under “specified conditions, including immoral conduct.” Padilla’s bill simply would add language allowing a school board to suspend an employee for “serious or egregious unprofessional conduct.” Garnering strong bipartisan support, Padilla’s bill sailed through the state senate in late May on a vote of 33 to 4.

The state assembly, however, is a stronghold for the California Teachers Association, which strongly opposes SB 1530. Before and during the hearings on Padilla’s legislation in the assembly education committee, union leaders and their confederates launched a propaganda effort against the bill, deploying all their standard talking points. The union maintained that SB 1530 was nothing more than a “teacher-bashing bill.” It was too cumbersome, too expensive, and would kill due-process rights. It was demoralizing and even “un-American.” Though these attacks were transparently unfair, legislators got the message. The bill needed six “yeas” from the 11-member committee to pass; it received only five, with two “nays” and four abstentions.

So while school administrators, union officials and state legislators bluster about the need for more anti-bullying programs, gun control, etc., it would behoove them to repudiate their perverse save-our-butts attitude which places image, teachers’ “rights” and protocol over the health and welfare of children.

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

The Not So Merry Month of May

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chutzpah on Steroids

An audacious article asserting that teachers unions are good for kids may have fooled some people fifty years ago but now should be viewed as a modern fairy tale.

AlterNet, a far left website that among other things extols the virtues of Communist wretch Howard Zinn, posted an article by Kristin Rawls – are you sitting down – “6 Reasons Teachers Unions Are Good for Kids.” I checked the date and it wasn’t April 1st so I realized that Rawls was actually serious – seriously deluded.

One of her six reasons: Teachers unions are the only major educational players still focused on advancing school equity by leveling the playing field. Yes, the playing field is level – the basement level, however – across much of the country. But parents are more interested in quality, which is why so many of them (especially minorities) are doing everything they can to get their kids away from unionized schools.

Another reason: Teachers unions protect student and teacher safety in schools. Student safety? Really? In California, the teachers unions just killed SB 1530, a bill that would have shortened the endless “dismissal statutes” for teachers who committed offenses involving violence, sex or drug use with children. I don’t think that the students victimized by pedophiles and sadistic teachers would agree with her outlandish statement.

Teachers unions fight to protect teachers’ First Amendment rights… Perhaps the writer needs a history lesson. The First Amendment is in the U.S. Constitution; no one needs a union to guarantee constitutional protections.

Teachers unions oppose school vouchers. She’s right about this one, which is too bad because vouchers work for both the students who avail themselves of them and the students who don’t. The competition factor improves the quality of education for all students. But then again, the writer isn’t looking for quality, just equality. And if kids are equally miserable, well at least they’re equal, right?

A second fawning pro-union article appeared in the Los Angeles Times last week. Michael Hiltzik’s “Proposition 32: A fraud to end all frauds” attacks an initiative that will be on the California ballot in November. This prop would ban not only direct corporate and union contributions to state and local candidates, but also contributions by government contractors to the politicians who control contracts awarded to them, and in addition, it would prohibit automatic deductions by corporations, unions, and government of employees’ wages to be used for politics. The piece is insulting to voters, whom he suggests would be “stupid” to vote for the prop and to union members he believes should be forced to pay dues to a union whether they want to or not.

A much more realistic and sobering article also appeared in the LA Times last week. Michael Mishak’s “California Teachers Assn. a powerful force in Sacramento” details the frightening power wielded by CTA. Just a few quotes from the article will put things in perspective:

The union views itself as “the co-equal fourth branch of government,” said Oakland Democrat Don Perata, a former teacher who crossed swords with the group when he was state Senate leader.

Backed by an army of 325,000 teachers and a war chest as sizable as those of the major political parties, CTA can make or break all sorts of deals. It holds sway over Democrats, labor’s traditional ally, and Republicans alike.

Jim Brulte, a former leader of the state Senate’s GOP caucus, recalled once attending a CTA reception with a Republican colleague who told the union’s leaders that he had come to “check with the owners.”

CTA has since used its institutionalized clout, deep pockets and mass membership largely to protect the status quo… CTA has ferociously guarded a set of hard-won tenure rules and seniority protections, repeatedly beating back attempts by education groups to overturn those measures, increase teacher accountability and introduce private-school vouchers.

In a similar vein, Troy Senik wrote a piece for City Journal, “The Worst Union in America: How the California Teachers Association betrayed the schools and crippled the state.” Like Mishak, he makes a case for the enormously destructive power of the teachers union,

In 1991, the CTA took to the ramparts again to combat Proposition 174, a ballot initiative that would have made California a national leader in school choice by giving families universal access to school vouchers. When initiative supporters began circulating the petitions necessary to get it onto the ballot, some CTA members tried to intimidate petition signers physically. The union also encouraged people to sign the petition multiple times in order to throw the process into chaos.

As the CTA’s power grew, it learned that it could extract policy concessions simply by employing its aggressive PR machine. In 1996, with the state’s budget in surplus, the CTA spent $1 million on an ad campaign touting the virtues of reduced class sizes in kindergarten through third grade. Feeling the heat from the campaign, Republican governor Pete Wilson signed a measure providing subsidies to schools with classes of 20 children or fewer. The program was a disaster: it failed to improve educational outcomes, and the need to hire many new teachers quickly, to handle all the smaller classes, reduced the quality of teachers throughout the state. The program cost California nearly $2 billion per year at its high-water mark, becoming the most expensive education-reform initiative in the state’s history. But it worked out well for the CTA, whose ranks and coffers were swelled by all those new teachers.

Seems overwhelming, doesn’t it? No, not really. In a recent post, education blogger Joann Jacobs spells out some inconvenient realities for the teachers unions. In “Teachers unions go on the defensive,” she points to an article in the New York Times by Frank Bruni who writes that,

In Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and other cities, Democratic mayors have feuded bitterly with teachers’ unions and at times come to see them as enemies. And at a meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors in June, Democratic mayors joined Republican ones in a unanimous endorsement of so-called parent trigger legislation, about which unions have serious reservations. These laws, recently passed in only a few states but being considered in more, abet parent takeovers of underperforming schools, which may then be replaced with charter schools run by private entities.

The unions have also run afoul of the grim economic times. “In the private sector, nobody’s got any security about anything,” said Charles Taylor Kerchner, a professor of education at Claremont Graduate University. So the unions’ fights over pay raises and pensions, he said, made previously routine negotiations “look like pigs at the trough.”

Then, referring to liberal news commentator Campbell Brown’s recent dust up with AFT President Randi Weingarten, Jay Greene says,

. . . the teacher unions are finally being treated as the special interest group they are rather than as credible players in the discussion over the merits of various education policies. When Campbell Brown takes on the unions, the game is over.

Well, maybe not “over.” Greene concedes,

The unions are still quite powerful and policy battles will continue to rage. But a big political and cultural shift has occurred.

Indeed it has, which is why “6 Reasons Teachers Unions Are Good for Kids,” with its brazen, reality-free content, would be a fitting entry in “Mother Goose: The Dark Side.”

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.

Damning the Children

Protecting image and turf in the face of evil is unconscionable.

As if the Jerry Sandusky fourteen year long child abuse tragedy hasn’t been painful enough, former FBI director Louis Freeh released a report last week that condemned Penn State’s legendary football coach Joe Paterno as well as other school leaders for conducting a massive cover-up. The report said that Paterno, University President Graham Spanier et al agreed

… to conceal child sexual abuse allegations against assistant coach Jerry Sandusky for more than a decade, choosing to preserve the university’s reputation over protecting the victims of a pedophile….

(They) showed “total disregard” for the abuse victims, concealed crucial information and failed at least twice to act on sexual assault accusations against one of their own because they feared the consequences of bad publicity on the university….

Clearly the brunt of the evil lies at the feet of Sandusky, the depraved assistant coach who sodomized young boys. But what can be said of the people who knew about Sandusky’s repulsive acts and did nothing? While Sandusky is guaranteed a special place in the ninth circle of Hell, what about Paterno and the others? Sorry, Coach. Your legacy will not be that you were the winningest college coach in history, but that you and others knew that unspeakable things were being done to children and were more concerned about image than responsibility.

While protecting image will push some otherwise decent folks into moral turpitude, the same can be said for protecting turf. A few weeks ago, at the behest of the California Teachers Association, six members of the California State Assembly education committee refused to sign off on a bill that would have shortened the now endless and expensive process for firing a teacher who abuses children with sex, drugs or violence. As an editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle stated,

The influence of the California Teachers Association was rarely more apparent – or more sickening – than in the defeat of SB1530. The union showed its willingness to defend an expensive and cumbersome process for firing bad teachers at almost any cost – even if that means school districts must continue to spend exorbitant sums of time and money to dismiss teachers in cases involving sex, drugs or violence with students.

Even more disturbing than the union’s predictable dogma was certain legislators’ equally predictable acceptance of it.

These legislators blatantly disregarded their public mandate in order to protect their positions in the legislative body. The teachers union did what it typically does – protect every dues paying member no matter how incompetent, rotten or perverted they are. The union’s laughably transparent defense was that if administrators would follow protocol, bills like SB 1530 would not be necessary. While admittedly school administrators dropped the ball in the Mark Berndt case in Los Angeles, it doesn’t negate the fact that the system is rigged to protect teachers who should not be allowed to be near kids.

For many reasons – including callous dismissal of children’s claims, missing teacher files and operating in a culture of non-accountability – Berndt got away with sexually abusing 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 – of course only after racking up another year of credit toward his pension. Writer RiShawn Biddle succinctly and emphatically gets to the heart of the problem,

Yet those education traditionalists, especially AFT officials in L.A., and their counterparts at the statewide affiliate and the NEA’s Golden State unit, who want to simply blame school leaders for the failure to catch Berndt are also essentially refusing to hold their colleagues responsible. Actually, let me go further: If any education traditionalist tries to use the failures of L.A. Unified as a justification for defending their opposition to making it easier to get evil men like Berndt out of their jobs, then they should look in mirrors and ask forgiveness of their Creator. Because their argument is morally repulsive, intellectually dishonest, and abhorrent violation of one’s obligation to their fellow men and women. An important reason why Berndt was able to perpetuate educational and criminal abuse on the children in his care for so long lies with state laws that effectively make it almost impossible for L.A. Unified and other Golden State districts to dismiss teachers who don’t belong in classrooms.

What happens when an adult does the right thing? Ask seven year veteran principal, Eileen Blagden. In 2010, Kevin Kirby, a teacher who had been suspended from a nearby middle school for lewd and lascivious behavior and trespassing, was sent to Blagden’s school – Stowers Elementary, part of the ABC School District in southern Los Angeles County – where he was assigned as a Kindergarten teacher! (Because it is virtually impossible to get rid of a teacher in California, no matter how incompetent or perverted, Kirby had to be placed somewhere.)

Kirby, after his leave of absence, reported to Stowers “disheveled, stressed, and with blood visibly on his body,” alleging that he was in a motorcycle accident. He was clearly distraught and began talking about suicide and killing two Kindergarten teachers at the school. When Blagden told Carol Hansen, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources, of the threats, she was stunned when Hansen told her not to mention it to anyone. But after sending Kirby to the hospital, Blagden did not remain silent. In order to protect the involved teachers and their students, she informed the teachers about Kirby’s threats. As Blagden said,

In the wake of the Miramonte Elementary School and Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandals coupled with the Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Seal Beach tragedies, none of us entrusted with the safety of children can afford to guess at the genuineness of the threat when danger presents itself.

As a result of disobeying a superior, Blagden then was relieved of her duties and eventually “demoted” to the classroom for “poor performance.” Unwilling to accept the district’s action, Blagden filed a lawsuit alleging retaliation for whistle-blowing.

Then, on July 6th the court ruled that the district fabricated evidence when it said that Blagden was demoted before she went to the police. In what will undoubtedly make it into the deer-in-the-headlights wing of the deposition hall of fame, the former and current ABC Superintendents hem and haw and bob and weave their way through the tough and forthright questioning of Blagden’s attorney Ron Wilson.

As these three cases show, when protecting image and turf become paramount, our institutions become nothing more than a Potemkin villages. Until we reach the point where those in positions of authority make morality their number one priority, evil will prevail. When this evil invades our schools, children are the victims. And any society that abuses children on a regular basis is doomed to fail.

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

National Education Association Admits Things Will Never Be the Same

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

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

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

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

How bad? Greg Toppo reports in USA Today,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NBI 13:

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

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

NBI 3:

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

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

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

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