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Tax-Free Teachers?

Minnesota’s Toxic Twins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teachers Union Kills Another Commonsense Reform Bill

Despite the U.S. declaring its independence from Britain in 1776, Californians are still saddled with teacher union redcoats 240 years later.

Teacher tenure is an atrocity. Officially called “permanence,” this union-mandated work rule allows some teachers to stay in the classroom when they should be imprisoned or at least working somewhere else, preferably far away from children.

Just a few recent examples of permanence at work:

This awful perk is, in part, what California’s fabled Vergara lawsuit is about. Though the ultimate fate of the case is still unknown (next stop California Supreme Court), the state legislature has been trying to come up with some fixes to satisfy the reformers and the teachers unions alike. One such effort was a bill introduced by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord. As originally written, Assembly Bill 934 would place poorly performing teachers in a program that offers professional support, though if they receive a second low performance review after a year in the program, they could be fired via an expedited process regardless of their experience level. Also, permanence would not always be granted after two years, and seniority would no longer be the single overriding factor in handing out pink slips. Teachers with two or more bad reviews would lose their jobs before newer teachers who have not received poor evaluations.

Ben Austin, policy and advocacy director for Students Matter (the outfit that filed the Vergara case), thought the bill was on the right track but could be even stronger. Reformer Michelle Rhee has noted that while there should be protections in place so that teachers can’t be fired for arbitrary reasons, she doesn’t think we need to reform tenure; she doesn’t see any need for it at all.

But ultimately Austin’s and Rhee’s opinions matter little. Nor do the left-leaning San Francisco Chronicle, the libertarian Orange County Register and other California dailies that supported the bill. Parents, too, are fed up with the inability get rid of rotten apples, but too few in positions of power care about parents. In a 2015 poll, 73 percent of California voters said that teachers should never be given tenure or receive it much too quickly, and believe that performance should matter more than seniority when teachers are laid off. But voters’ opinions are not worthy of consideration. According to another poll from last year, even most educators believe that a teacher should serve in the classroom at least five years before an administrator makes a decision about whether or not to grant tenure. But then, why should teachers’ thoughts be respected?

Actually the only entity that really matters when it comes to tenure, seniority and other teacher work rules is the California Teachers Association, the powerful special interest which regularly bullies its way through the halls of Sacramento to get its way. This case was all too typical. At first, CTA opposed Bonilla’s bill on the basis that it “would make education an incredibly insecure profession.” Then the union went into hysterical mode, using its trademark loopy rhetoric to proclaim, “Corporate millionaires and special interests have mounted an all-out assault on educators by attempting to do away with laws protecting teachers from arbitrary firings, providing transparency in layoff decisions and supporting due process rights.”

And then CTA spun into action. The union arm-twisted Bonilla and ultimately managed to eviscerate the fair-minded, commonsense, hardly-radical, pro-child bill and transformed it into legislative detritus that pretty much keeps the current tenure and seniority laws securely in place. For example, tenure would be achieved after three instead of two years, whereby if a teacher doesn’t regally screw up in roughly 30 months, they essentially have a job for life. And the quality-blind seniority regimen would be virtually untouched. (For a detailed comparison of the original bill and CTA version, Students Matter has put together an easy-to-read chart.)

Claiming that the disemboweled bill was better than the status quo, Bonilla and some in the media thought the union’s version was better than none at all, and that the legislation should move forward. But Austin and other reformers were outraged and felt strongly that the sham bill should be killed. Austin declared, “Watered down and gutted beyond recognition, the new AB 934 preserves the unconstitutional and unjustifiable disparities in students’ access to effective teachers caused by the current laws.”

Austin et al prevailed, and last Wednesday the bill was mercifully euthanized in the state’s Senate Education Committee. Hence, we have no changes to our odious tenure and seniority statutes and CTA’s imperious regime marches on. So as the nation has just celebrated its 240th birthday, the children of California sadly still cannot escape the tyranny of the teachers unions. Fans of King George III, rejoice!

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.

A Kinder and Gentler Teachers Union?

The unions are trying to take the “we’re in it for the kids” shtick to a new level by declaring that they now collectively bargain for “the common good.”

Last week, The American Prospect posted “Teacher Unions Are ‘Bargaining for the Common Good,’” which claims that unions across the country are “expanding their focus to the broader community.” All this is code for, “We don’t want to come off as selfish, so while we are still going to push for our typical me-first (and only) union agenda, we are going to try to deceive the public into believing that we really care about kids and taxpayers.”

According to the piece, public employee union leaders and community organizations gathered in Washington, D.C. in 2014 and came up with a 3-point plan: use the bargaining process as a way to challenge the relationships between government and the private-sector; work with community allies to create new, shared goals that help advance both worker and citizen power; and recognize militancy and collective action will likely be necessary if workers and citizens are to reduce inequality and strengthen democracy.

The lofty but ultimately meaningless verbiage led the writer of the piece to conclude that “The time had come, in sum, to politicize bargaining.”

Politicize bargaining?! That’s all collective bargaining in education is and ever was – pure, unadulterated, no additives, not-made-from-concentrate – politics. The union sits at a table with school board members and hashes out contracts that, more often than not, are detrimental to students, good teachers and taxpayers. Collective bargaining agreements inhibit creativity and treat teachers as interchangeable widgets. Additionally, the taxpayer gets to foot the bill for goodies like Cadillac healthcare plans that the union – and frequently their bought-and-paid-for school board – collude on and ratify.

There is a ton of evidence that the cuddly, kind and caring teacher union concept is a fraud. Here are just a few recent examples:

In last week’s post, I wrote about a situation in Yonkers, NY where a union president and vice-president are both caught on video trying to help a teacher who claimed to have physically abused a child while using a racial epithet, and subsequently fled to Mexico, unannounced, for two weeks. (It was actually staged by investigative journalist James O’Keefe.) As all concerned parties investigate the union leaders’ responses, the Yonkers Federation of Teachers has asked the taxpayer subsidized school district to continue paying Paul Diamond, the union vice-president, his salary while he performs his union duties for the 2016-17 school year. Not unique to Yonkers, this phenomenon, known as “release time,” goes on all over the country and is an absolute outrage. It’s a practice that allows a public employee to conduct union business during working hours without loss of pay, all the while giving the union a free worker. The employee’s activities include negotiating contracts, lobbying, processing grievances, and attending union meetings and conferences. Diamond will not spend one minute teaching. No evidence of “citizen power” here.

Next, a school district in Illinois just awarded its teachers a 10-year contract that includes a 40 percent salary increase over its term, preserves a pre-retirement, 6 percent yearly pay spike to boost teachers’ pensions, an increase in sick-days from 15 to 24 per year, and a freeze on health insurance and prescription drug costs for district employees for the 10-year period. “Shared goals?” In what universe?

On the state level, we have a situation in California that doesn’t involve collective bargaining but certainly calls into question whose “common good” is being served. Contra Costa Democratic Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla’s AB 934 would change both seniority and tenure as we know it. The bill includes a provision that offers ineffective teachers extra professional support. If a teacher receives a second low-performance review after a year in the program, they could be fired via an expedited process. It would also increase the time for a teacher to attain tenure (or more accurately “permanent status”) from two to three or four years, depending on their performance. Additionally, seniority would no longer be the single most important factor in handing out pink slips. This is hardly radical stuff and would certainly make for a more effective teaching profession in the Golden State.

But the most powerful special interest group in the state, the California Teachers Association, is fighting the bill. Blithely casting the needs of kids aside, the union first claimed the bill “would make education an incredibly insecure profession.” (Yes, just like every other profession in the world.) In a subsequent post on its website, the union went bonkers, claiming, “Corporate millionaires and special interests have mounted an all-out assault on educators by attempting to do away with laws protecting teachers from arbitrary firings, providing transparency in layoff decisions and supporting due process rights.” And that was just the beginning. To read the rest of this bizarre rant, go here. But in any event, we know whose posterior CTA is trying to protect, and it has absolutely nothing to do with “reducing inequality.”

And then there is the pension situation. In California, the state teachers’ retirement system is currently experiencing a $70 billion shortfall. Is CTA willing to accept some responsibility and work to make adjustments for the common good? The union’s response to the nightmare that will ultimately fall on the shoulders of the already beleaguered taxpayer is to try to kill any reforms, maintain the miserable status quo and blame Wall Street and “corporate greed.” “Strengthening democracy?” Hardly.

Finally, last week in National Review, former Florida governor Jeb Bush laid out a plan to save America’s education system. His excellent piece included such basic ideas as letting parents choose from a marketplace of options, including traditional neighborhood schools, magnet schools, charter schools, private schools, and virtual schools, with education funding following the child. He wants to weed out failing schools and reward good and great teachers for hard work and results. But each of these ideas is fought on a daily basis by the teachers unions, since they would lose much of their power and income if Bush’s ideas were to be implemented on a grand scale.

“Bargaining for the common good” is just a touchy-feely catchphrase which shouldn’t fool anyone. The teachers unions are not acting in anyone else’s best interest. And there is little good about them, common or otherwise.

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.

Public Education Prospers in Wisconsin Without Union Interference

Despite what the teachers unions say, teachers – not to mention children and taxpayers – can and do thrive without them.

In 2011, under Governor Scott Walker’s leadership, Wisconsin passed Act 10, the Budget Repair Bill, which, among other things, placed strict limitations on the ability of teachers unions to collectively bargain.

Walker very quickly became the most reviled man – no mean feat – on the lengthy teachers union hit list. Popularity polls in union halls placed him somewhere between Jack-the-Ripper and Adolph Hitler. If you Google “Scott Walker idiot” you will get enough hits – from the unions, progressive media and fellow travelers – to keep you busy till the summer solstice.

But what has really been going on in the Badger State since Act 10 became law?

The Wisconsin Institute of Law and Liberty decided to take a look. WILL wanted to see if the claims that Walker’s budget cuts would take a toll on students and school districts were true, and went to teachers, superintendents and school board members to find out. Its report specifically deals with three areas: merit pay for teachers, flexibility in hiring and firing, and collaboration between administrators and teachers.

Merit pay replaced the industrial style step-and-ladder method in which teachers were paid by years on the job and how many – frequently useless – “professional development classes” they took. Using a variety of student achievement metrics, successful teachers across the state were rewarded. Not all districts do it the exact same way, but all center on teacher effectiveness and not the ridiculous union mandated “objective” pay scale. The result has been a big savings for school districts, which they then pass on to their good teachers. What a concept!

Before Act 10, collective bargaining agreements made it very difficult for administrators to run their schools. For example, seniority dictated staffing decisions. As it did all over the country, the “last in, first out” policy led Teachers-of-the-Year to be let go before their less talented colleagues. But when unshackled by the union strait-jacket, districts and teachers can be more creative. As reported by WILL, “In 2011, Oconomowoc School District faced a budget shortfall of almost $500,000. In order to bridge this gap, the district reduced staff by cutting 15 teaching positions by qualification instead of seniority. In order to make up for the lost staff, the district offered the remaining teachers a $14,000 stipend to teach a fourth class. Such a drastic change would have been impossible before Act 10.” Other districts offered stipends to certain types of teachers that were in short supply in their districts.

Perhaps the most intrusive bit of union meddling prior to Act 10 came in the form of their self-appointed middleman role, inserting union reps between teachers and administrators. The unions were most fearful and vocal about this aspect of the law, claiming that Act 10 would lead school superintendents to “abuse their power and exploit teachers.” The doom-and-gloom predictions were epitomized by Kim Anderson, director of government relations for the National Education Association, who flatly claimed, “We view the events in Wisconsin as one of the worst attacks on workers’ rights and their voices in the workplace that we’ve ever seen.”

But at least thus far, workers voices are coming through loud and clear. David Krier, a school board member in the Cedarburg School District, says: “Teachers are visibly more responsive to instruction from the administration without collective bargaining, probably because they are more accountable to their schools directly. They are now extremely motivated to improve themselves, their teaching methods, techniques, skills. Teacher responsiveness to instruction and feed-back has greatly improved.”

What about teachers who have disagreed with their union’s stance on certain issues?

As Michelle Uetz, a teacher at Prescott School District notes: “Previously, I did not feel that my individual concerns and needs were important to the union. If I had a concern about something the union didn’t care about, I felt they wouldn’t make my issue a priority and was concerned that it would get lost in the bureaucracy. Now that the path is open for teachers to directly contact administrators, and vice versa, there has been a dramatic increase in teacher input at my school. It is important to teachers that we feel heard, and since Act 10, my district more frequently asks for input regarding changes we would like to see in our contracts. It’s a more collaborative environment without union politics involved in each detail.”

Glenn Shilling, Superintendent of Lakeside-Hartland School District said that after Act 10 was enacted, the school board could discuss issues like wages, insurance, etc., directly with teachers without a designated bargaining group.

One other bonus included in the report: Wisconsin taxpayers have saved $5.24 billion as a result of Act 10.

The report ends with a caveat not to make “over generalizations” about its findings. The next step for WILL, which will be addressed in an upcoming study, is a “deeper economic analysis of the non-fiscal impact of Act 10 on school districts, teachers, and students.” But so far, the results are quite promising. Scott Walker’s law has helped teachers, kids, administrators and taxpayers prosper. The only losers are union honchos and their friends…who still insist that Walker is an idiot.

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

Vergara Update: Virtues and Villainy

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

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

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

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

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

I will attempt to separate reality from fantasy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear South Side Teacher

An open letter to the idealistic teacher in Chicago who may have defied the teachers union by not striking on April 1st.

In a recent newspaper article you said you were “morally and ethically” against the Chicago Teachers Union one-day strike (or “Day of Tantrum,” according to a Chicago Tribune op-ed) last Friday and that loyalty to your students trumps loyalty to the CTU. A like-minded teacher said she’s furious about the whole thing and is concerned about the message this sends to students. “We’re there to teach and set a good example. This sets a horrible example. I think we are being used as pawns to get legislation passed,” she said.

While there are undoubtedly issues that need to be dealt with, you realize that a “job action” is really not the best way to get what you want. If making noise to focus attention on the issues at hand is necessary, that could have been handled at the rally already planned for downtown Chicago late afternoon Friday. Enraging rush hour commuters is bad enough, but using kids as pawns to draw attention to your grievances is really pathetic.

And what did you get for your idealistic stance against the union bosses? They threatened to banish you from CTU!

But is that really a bad thing? Thousands of teachers all over the country don’t join the union at all, or join and then leave, and are none the worse for it. When I quit UTLA here in Los Angeles, my professional life suffered not a whit.

And maybe you know that of the 50 largest school districts in the country, after working five years, Chicago teachers are already the highest paid.

And maybe you feel that the district shouldn’t have to “pick up” seven percent of the nine you are supposed to pay for your own pension.

And maybe you don’t think it’s fair that Chicagoans were recently hit with a massive $700 million tax hike and already face the highest per-capita tax burden of any residents in Illinois’ major cities.

And maybe you’re tired of the silly teacher union mantra that unionization is important so that you can “advocate” for your kids. As a non-union member, I certainly advocated for my kids as much as I did when I was in the union. What decent teacher wouldn’t? In this instance the union is hardly advocating for kids, it is abandoning them.

And maybe you think that laying off 17 teachers to help balance the books isn’t so awful. In actuality it would be a good thing if it were 17 of the poorest performers. But thanks to CTU and other unions, these layoffs are determined by seniority, not teacher quality.

And maybe you have had it with union-style bullying. Despite all their empty talk about the evils of kids bullying other kids, CTU leadership told union delegates to “take attendance” at the picket sites on Friday morning and to “monitor all school entrances.” Hopefully the thuggish threats didn’t deter you.

Maybe you have come to see the forced dues scheme to be nothing more than, as AEI’s Rick Hess suggests, extortion. You are forced to pay over $1,000 a year to an organization that you think not only doesn’t represent you but frequently goes against many of your core beliefs.

And maybe you are annoyed by union leaders’ lies, exaggerations and empty rhetoric. As you know, not only are you forced to pay dues to the Chicago Teachers Union as a condition of employment, your hard-earned dollars also support CTU parent, the American Federation of Teachers. After the Supreme Court failed (only due to Scalia’s death) to decide on the Friedrichs case, the AFT website stated, “This marks a significant defeat for the wealthy special interests who want to hijack our economy, our democracy, and even the United States Supreme Court.” What?! All a decision for the plaintiffs would have done is allow voluntary public employee union participation. The National Education Association is even worse, committing a double whopper in a recent press release. It claims “In Friedrichs Decision, Supreme Court Reaffirms Collective Bargaining.” Ridiculous. First of all, collective bargaining was never an issue in Friedrichs. Moreover, the Court didn’t reaffirm anything. The vote split 4-4, which means that SCOTUS let a lower court opinion stand. But with teachers unions, truthfulness and clarity are only occasional events.

You may want to consider getting a job at a charter school. Few are unionized and none are associated with CTU. One-hundred-thirty charter schools, including 70 high schools, went on with business-as-usual Friday in Chicago. No, CTU doesn’t ignore charters; their focus is on restricting them. As soon as the strike issues are resolved, the union will resume their effort to minimize charter authorizations in the Windy City.

In the newspaper article, you were quoted as saying, “The only thing I’ve gotten out of the union is a pocket calendar.” Consider yourself lucky. In 1975, when I was a union member, I was laid off from my 6th grade teaching position in Harlem. New York City was going through tough fiscal times and, as a new hire, I was one of the first to be let go. I may not have been the greatest teacher in the world, but I was a heck of a lot better than some who were retained. So I lost my job because of the union mandated “last-in, first-out” regimen.

If you are worried that you will lose your voice and your union-supplied liability insurance, fear not. There are other organizations – professional organizations – that can fill those needs. Why not try the Association of American Educators or the Christian Educators Association? You will save money and be a part of a group that truly cares and supports good teachers and kids. And I promise you they will never use threats and coercion against you, should you decide to follow your conscience. And who knows – they might even throw in a pocket calendar.

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.

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The Unions’ Assault on Truth

The teachers unions continue to mislead its members and everyone else.

In the latest issue of the California Federation of Teachers quarterly newsletter, CFT president Josh Pechthalt writes “The lawsuits that educators and unions must defeat,” which is referred to as a “special report” – special because it is especially filled with half-truths, omissions and lies.

Pechthalt starts his piece with, “Education unions and public sector unions are facing legal attacks designed to destroy our ability to represent our members. Not surprisingly, these cases are supported by the usual anti-union law firms and wealthy backers. What follows is a snapshot of the cases CFT and other unions are now fighting.”

He then delves into four lawsuits he claims are an “attack on union treasury driven by wealthy education ‘reformers.’”

The first lawsuit on Pechthalt’s hit list is the Friedrichs case which, if successful, would make paying dues to a public employee union voluntary. The union boss skirts the essence of the suit and instead focuses on a secondary aspect. He writes, “While a complete elimination of agency fee is unlikely, the Supreme Court could make it more difficult to collect agency fee payments, which would have a serious financial impact on unions, weakening our ability to advocate for our members and be engaged in politics.” First, if his scenario is correct, dues collection could be more difficult, but only for teachers who don’t want to join the union. And he doesn’t mention the benefit to the taxpayer who, at least for the latter group, could be out of the dues collection business. Secondly, the ability to be “engaged in politics” is rather humorous. What Pechthalt doesn’t mention is that their spending goes to only leftist causes and many donations go to groups that have nothing to do with education whatsoever. A brief look at the union’s parent organization’s latest labor department filing shows that teachers’ dues money went to organizations like The National Newspapers Publishers Association and the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless. And what teacher isn’t going to be thrilled that the union donated $250,000 to the Clinton Global Initiative and another $250,000 to the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation? (Only about 13 percent of money given to the latter winds up as charitable grants for those in need. The rest is spent on salaries, benefits, travel and fund-raising.)

Pechthalt’s next hit is on the Students Matter or Vergara case, which he uncleverly dubs “Students Don’t Matter.” In this well-publicized case, the judge struck down the tenure, seniority and dismissal statutes in California’s constitution. Pechthalt claims that these statutes “protect teachers’ ability to teach free of coercion and favoritism.” Baloney. No one in the private sector is entitled to have a job for life and gets to keep their position over a more talented colleague thanks to nothing more than an earlier hiring date; why should public employees merit such extraordinary privilege? All these statutes do is guarantee that mediocre and worse teachers are on equal footing with the good and great ones. And our poorest children have paid the price for decades.

The union president then rolls into Doe v Antioch, litigated by Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, the same firm that was responsible for Vergara’s success. This suit is based on a 2012 ruling in which Sacramento-based nonprofit EdVoice correctly maintained that teacher evaluations require, in part, the use of standardized test scores and the judge promptly ordered their inclusion. However, in a report released earlier this year that sampled 26 districts’ compliance with the decision, EdVoice found that half of them were ignoring the court-ordered requirement to use the test scores. Pechthalt claims that, “While a 1999 law amended the 1971 Stull Act to broadly include the use of test scores, the advocates for education unions contend districts were given latitude to negotiate language relevant to their needs.” Fine. But the law says that student test scores still must be used as some part of a teacher’s evaluation. “Latitude” doesn’t mean “none.”

Pechthalt’s last broadside is saved for Bain v CTA, which he subtitles, “I-want-it-all-for-free.” This is a lie, plain and simple. The plaintiffs in this case want to belong to the union, are willing to pay dues, but don’t want to support the union’s political agenda. Maybe they don’t feel like supporting the Clintons. Or maybe they’d like to decide for themselves if their hard-earned money should be given to the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless. Or maybe they are actually in favor of the reforms that teachers unions regularly fight against in Sacramento.

Sad to say, Pechthalt is not unique. Distorting the truth is very common with union bosses. AFT president Randi Weingarten has proclaimed, “If somebody shouldn’t teach – if somebody can’t teach – they shouldn’t be there.” Nice words, but she doesn’t mean a word of it. During her reign as head of the New York City teachers union, just 88 out of 80,000 teachers lost their jobs for poor performance over a three year period.

The AFT also got caught in a whopper when it claimed in 2014 it had no agency fee payers – teachers who still have to pay money to the union but have exempted themselves from paying for the union’s political agenda – even as AFT locals reported that thousands have gone the agency fee route. In 2015, the union reported exactly one agency fee payer. One.

It’s not only teachers unions that have a loose relationship with facts. UnionWatch’s Ed Ring has given us a primer in Deceptive and Misleading Claims – How Government Unions Fool the Public. It is up to teachers, citizens and journalists to learn the truth and start calling unions on their BS. Maybe then their lies will stop, or at least slow down a bit. Maybe.

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

Loss of LIFO

If Eli Broad’s charter school plan goes forward, there will be a major shake-up in the ranks of LAUSD teachers.

Philanthropist Eli Broad’s ambitious plan to create 260 new charter schools over an eight year period in Los Angeles, enrolling at least 130,000 students, will have major ramifications for many of the city’s 25,600 teachers. With this in mind, the Los Angeles Times Howard Blume wrote “Thousands of LAUSD teachers’ jobs would be at risk with charter expansion plan” last week. (Interestingly, the online version of the piece was originally titled “L.A. charter school expansion could mean huge drop in unionized teaching jobs” – a more honest title.)

The Broad plan would include places for about 5,000 more charter school teachers, which simply means that 5,000 thousand current teachers in Los Angeles could be displaced. What Blume’s article doesn’t address is just which teachers will be losing their positions. Due to seniority or last in/first out (LIFO) – a union construct that is written into the California Constitution – the teachers who could lose their jobs would not be the 5,000 poorest performing ones, but rather the 5,000 newest hired. But there is a silver lining here. While some of the 5,000 should not be in the profession, many are good teachers and some are terrific. And the latter groups will not be unemployed for long, because charter schools are independent (mostly non-unionized) and therefore not beholden to the district’s industrial style employment hierarchy, so competent teachers will be snapped up.)

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Philanthropist Eli Broad

Blume mentions that the new plan refers to “hiring from an expanded Teach For America and other groups that work with young, inexperienced instructors” and “makes no mention of recruiting instructors from the ranks of L.A. Unified.”

The plan might not make any mention of recruiting current teachers, but clearly the charter schools could not fill their ranks with all rookies. And therein lies the beauty of the Broad plan. Those rehired would be the good and great teachers who are working now because they are qualified, not because they are LIFO-protected.

Broad spokeswoman Swati Pandey elaborated: “We are in the process of listening to educators and community members to determine how best to support the dramatic growth of high-quality public schools in Los Angeles. We know that without great teachers, there can be no great public schools. We’re eager to engage and support teachers as part of this work.”

Needless to say, United Teachers of Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl had a different take. He said, “The charters are specifically looking for educators who have not had the experience of being in a union, which means that, by and large, they’re looking for teachers who may find it more challenging to raise their voice about curriculum or school conditions.”

The experience of being in a union…? What?! And where does he get the idea that only unionized teachers dare to speak up about “curriculum and school conditions?”

But then again, maybe the UTLA boss is just mouthing the union party line and his transparency should be applauded. In 2009 UTLA president A.J. Duffy told a group of young teachers at Liechty Middle School, “Saving your jobs would mean that more experienced teachers would lose theirs. Seniority is the only fair way to do it . . . and any exception would be an act of disloyalty.” The California Federation of Teachers website claims that “Seniority is the only fair, transparent way to administer layoffs. It ensures equal treatment for all teachers.” (Yes, for Teachers-of-the-Year and incompetents alike, LIFO does ensure “equal treatment.”)

Others who actually have children’s and parents’ best interests at heart have a different view, however. Alluding to the teachers unions’ claim that thousands of teachers will need to be recruited over the next decade, Jim Blew, president of the Sacramento-based advocacy group StudentsFirst, said, “… they say there’s no room for teachers from organizations with proven, documented records of creating quality teachers…. L.A. needs more great teachers, and everyone should welcome them regardless of who recruited them to the city.”

Jason Mandell, Director, Advocacy Communications of the California Charter School Association (CCSA) added, “Great teachers change students’ lives. Charter school teachers do that every day and the evidence is in their students’ progress. Teachers are the heroes of the charter school movement.”

And parents agree with both Blew and Mandell.

As CCSA points out, there are 40,000 kids on charter school waitlists in Los Angeles, unable to enroll in a high quality school of their parents choosing because there aren’t enough seats. Also, as I pointed out a couple of weeks ago, the recently released California Assessment of Student Progress and Performance (CAASPP) scores showed that only one-third of students in traditional LA schools performed up to their grade level in English and one-fourth did so in math, while LA charter students far outpaced their counterparts.

It should be noted that the current seniority and tenure laws, both of which are toxic to students, are imperiled. In the Vergara case, Judge Rolf Treu ruled these byzantine legal protections unconstitutional and went on to say that “it shocks the conscience.” However, the state and the teachers unions are appealing the decision. And even if Treu’s decision is upheld, we have no guarantee that the archaic statutes will be replaced by anything much better.

In summing up the situation, we are left with the following:

  • Charters allow children to escape from the antiquated zip-code monopoly education system.
  • Charters only flourish if parents choose to send their kids there.
  • Kids on average get a better education in charters.
  • Good teachers will always find work.
  • Charters will choose and retain the best teachers who fit in with their mission.
  • Poor-performing teachers will find it difficult to stay in the field.
  • Unions will have less money and power, due to diminishing ranks.

In other words, the Broad plan is a win-win-win situation for good teachers, children and their families. Mr. Caputo-Pearl, does that matter to you at all?

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

When Union Bosses Become Employers

Sanctimonious labor leaders treat their employees very differently than their members.

While tales of union hypocrisy are as common as instances of Donald Trump sticking his Ferragamos in his mouth, there is one facet of union two-facedness that is under-reported – the role of union as employer. As mentioned in my post a couple of weeks ago, when union becomes management, it acts like any company trying to protect its bottom line.

In June 2014, the Association of Field Service Employees was upset that its contract had expired, and management had been slow to agree on a new one. Mike Antonucci points out, “This wouldn’t be all that unusual, except management is the National Education Association and AFSE is one of the unions representing staffers.” Clearly photos of picketing workers had to be an embarrassment for NEA, but when the bottom line is at stake, even the largest union in the country becomes a tough-minded employer.

When it comes to pension plans, public employee unions (PEUs) insist on defined benefit pension plans for its members. This means that boom or bust, retired government workers get paid the same amount of money each month in perpetuity. If there is a shortfall – and there invariably is – the taxpayer is on the hook for the difference. (To read about public pension issues and the havoc they wreak, go to PensionTsunami.com.) In a defined contribution plan – the 401(k) is typical for many employees in private industry – workers and their employers set aside a certain amount each month and that money is invested. When the employee subsequently retires, they are entitled to whatever money has accrued in their retirement account.

You would think that staffers who work for PEUs would be “entitled” to a defined benefit pension also. This is rarely the case, however, with the scenario in Philadelphia being the norm. As Watchdog.org reporter Evan Grossman writes, “Pennsylvania labor union leaders blast 401(k) plans they offer their own staff.” Typical of union leaders, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan has long railed against using 401(k) retirement plans for PFT members as a way to curb skyrocketing pension costs. In fact, he and hundreds of thousands of teachers from Philly have been and will be recipients of a defined benefit pension and fight any bill – like Senate Bill 1, which would have moved teachers into a more taxpayer-friendly 401(k) plan.

But what about the 34 office workers employed by PFT? Yup, they are enrolled in a 401(k) plan. And the union leaders have never explained – because they can’t – why defined benefits are good for its members but not for its own staff.

As is well-documented, teachers unions all over the country insist on seniority and tenure “rights” (though these days, union leaders have taken to referring to tenure as “due process”) for its educators. But in March, the California Teachers Association up and fired Katie Howard-Mullins, president of California Staff Organization (CSO), the union for “professional departmental and Regional UniServ Staff.” No reason or explanation was given by CTA for its action. Whether or not Howard-Mullins had tenure or seniority didn’t matter. She got the boot. But CTA members, whether they are pedophiles, sexual assaulters or just plain lousy teachers – are provided much better treatment and much more protection.

CSO called CTA on its hypocrisy in its newsletter, saying that the union did not use progressive discipline, a “hallmark of a positive labor-management relationship” in dealing with Howard-Mullins. CSO summed up its position by encouraging its members to talk to CTA board members and let them know that “the principles of restorative justice, due process, and progressive discipline are not just good for students, not just good for teachers. Those principles should be applied to the people who stand with you every day to make your union stronger.”

Makes sense. But when you are a powerful union, you get to behave any way you want. Fairness, openness and due process are principles that only others must abide by.

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.

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Important note for those of you in Southern California: At 3pm on Sunday, September 27th, the California Teachers Empowerment Network, along with the Association of American Educators, will be hosting an informational event in Long Beach. We will examine the Friedrichs and Bain lawsuits which could fundamentally alter the state of education nationwide, affect teacher freedom, and substantially change the political landscape in California.

I will moderate a panel discussion featuring lawyers and plaintiffs from both cases, and an audience Q&A will follow. The event and refreshments are free but seating is limited so registration is necessary To access a poster for the event, go here; to attend, go here.

 

Unprofessional Conduct Penalty

Comedy Central spoof doesn’t go deep in teacher-athlete comparison.

The teachers “don’t get no respect” catchphrase has been with us for some time now. Various lamenters have opined that teachers should have the status and income of rock stars or professional athletes. To that end, Comedy Central duo Key and Peele have rolled out “Teaching Center” – a spoof of ESPN’s long-running “Sports Center.” In the parody, teachers are substituted for athletes and the comedy team belts out the “top stories from the exciting world of teaching.”

In its first week on YouTube, the video has gone viral, racking up almost 4.5 million views. Social media has been all atwitter about it and the establishment edu-press has been fawning. But anyone who gives the issue of teacher status and pay any thought will readily see a bunch of penalty flags. (I will use football and California in my analysis, though other sports and states could easily be substituted.)

Football has a merit system – and commensurate pay for performance

The requirements necessary to play football on the professional level are staggering and accordingly, the great players make a lot more than the average ones. Seattle Seahawk star quarterback Russell Wilson just signed a contract that awards him $87.6 million over the next 4 years. Do you think that Seahawk owner Paul Allen should have to pay a mediocre right tackle even more money just because the latter has been on the team a year longer? But when you have a teacher union-insisted step-and-column pay regimen, that’s what is mandated. Los Angeles’ Jaime Escalante, arguably the greatest teacher of all time, was never richly compensated because of his amazing success; he just got a few extra bucks for just showing up each fall.

Also, pro athletes can earn salary bonuses by having certain provisions written into their contracts. And the whole team can earn a bonus if it makes it into the playoffs, and even more if it can get to the Super Bowl. Teachers unions in California frown on any kind of pay for performance. The unions much prefer rewarding teachers for extra classes they take, no matter how useless they are. An NFL quarterback negotiating his contract would be laughed out of the room if he said, “I know I didn’t have a good year last year, but I took a ‘Sweating to the Oldies’ fitness class in the off-season, so I deserve a raise.”

There is no tenure in football

National Football Leaguers must produce to keep working. A running back who fumbles every other time he touches the ball will be seeking work elsewhere in short order. A field goal kicker who can’t kick the ball through the uprights will soon be released. But in California, due to union-mandated tenure laws, a teacher essentially has a job for life after two short years in the classroom. He can fail to advance his students for decades and lose all interest in improving, yet still remain on the job collecting a paycheck and racking up pension benefits.

The NFL has no seniority rule

If at some point Russell Wilson doesn’t perform at a high level, he will be benched or let go. He will never be able to claim his starting provision over a more talented QB who joined the team after he did.

Football is data driven

The number of touchdown passes thrown, running yards gained and blocked punts are indicators of a player’s success. In the teaching field however, data is frowned upon by the unions, especially when it involves using student performance on standardized tests to judge a teacher’s effectiveness. The official whine about the “test and punish” bogeyman is a mainstay in the teacher union playbook.

Football is all about quality

Every fan wants to see the very best players a team can field. But in teaching, this is anything but the case. A 2012 report by TNTP, an organization that deals with educational inequality, explains that because of union policies, public schools systematically neglect their best teachers, “losing tens of thousands every year even as they keep many of their lowest-performing teachers indefinitely – with disastrous consequences for students, schools, and the teaching profession.”

Now it is true that the most gifted teachers will never make the astronomical salaries that star athletes like Russell Wilson make. But as James Shuls, education policy fellow at the Show-Me Institute in Missouri, writes, “…the best ones – the ones that significantly improve student achievement and make a lasting impact on students – could easily garner six figure salaries.” And they should.

But until we penalize the teachers unions, they will continue to get away with unnecessary roughness against high performing teachers. Teaching will remain an industrial-style job and unfortunately will never become the quality-driven profession it should be.

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.

Doctored Education

Using testing as a backdrop, NEA president promotes 1950s industrial-style education.

The American Enterprise Institute’s education policy maven Rick Hess has been traveling around the country promoting his new book The Cage-Busting Teacher. So last week he left his Education Week blog in the hands of National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen García.

Interesting choice, to say the least.

The main point of her May 18th entry, “Is There a Doctor in the Education House?,” is that testing is a bad thing. She makes a few points here that I can agree with. In brief, testing is like food. Basically it’s a good thing. But too much or the wrong kind can be damaging. As such, states and individual school districts need to reevaluate their programs to ensure that their tests are benefiting students and teachers, not bureaucrats, politicians and testing companies.

But Eskelsen García uses the forum to blast various kinds of education reform and makes some comments that strain the life out of credulity.

First, she laments “No Child Left Untested.” Okay, we’ll excuse the old joke, but she refers to the Bush/Kennedy/Clinton law as the “factory model of school reform.” Now coming from the leader of a union that has made the one-size-fits-every-teacher-and-student collective bargaining agreement the Bible of every school district unfortunate enough to be organized with an industrial-style union, that is hubris of the highest order.

Stanford professor and researcher Terry Moe has done extensive work on the subject and found that, bottom line, collective bargaining hurts students in large school districts. Moreover, he found that the negative effects of collective bargaining are much greater for high minority schools than for other schools. He explains,

… the best evidence indicates that the impact of collective bargaining is especially negative for schools that are ‘relatively’ high minority within a given (larger) district. This supports the argument that restrictive contracts put high minority schools at a disadvantage in the competition for teachers and resources within districts.

… collective bargaining does have negative consequences for student achievement, and that the effects are concentrated on precisely those districts and schools—large districts, high-minority schools—that, over the years, have been the lowest performers and the most difficult to improve.

In short the industrialization model of education in the U.S. is bad for kids, but cannot be blamed on NCLB. Fact is, the “factory model” comes with a shiny union label.

Eskelsen García then hits the privatization button, lumping charters and vouchers together in the same pot. The fact that most studies show charters do a better job than traditional public schools – especially with minorities – never makes it to her radar screen. Nor does the fact that vouchers have not only improved education for the kids who have taken advantage of them, but also help those kids who remain in nearby public schools. As I wrote recently, Friedman Foundation senior fellow Greg Forster looked at 23 empirical studies that have examined school choice’s impact on academic outcomes in public schools. Of these, he reports “22 find that choice improves public schools and one finds no visible impact. No empirical study has found that choice harms public schools.”

The union leader’s next bugaboo isfast-track teacher prep, short-term, disposable labor.” This is an obvious swipe at Teach for America, the program that turns out effective teachers despite the fact they go through an initial training for just five to seven weeks and avoid years of useless education school blather. (Actually, one reason TFA teachers do well is because they avoid our traditional schools of education which are in large part free of rigor and loaded with edu-fads-du-jour.) A recent study by Mathematica, an independent policy research group, finds that,

TFA’s first- and second-year elementary school teachers, who average just over a year and a half of teaching experience, were as effective as their counterparts in the same schools, who averaged 13.6 years of teaching experience, as measured by their students’ test scores in reading and math. A small subset of those TFA teachers — ones in pre-K through second-grade classrooms — were found to be slightly more effective in teaching reading than the national average in those grades.

Eskelsen García’s “short term” rap against TFA is also untrue. An extensive PDK study shows that nearly two-thirds of TFA teachers continue as public school teachers beyond their two-year commitment. Also, many who leave their teaching positions stay in the field as administrators, school board members, school district employees, etc.

The union leader ends her piece with “Maybe it’s time to change from the Factory Model of school reform to the Good Doctor Model.” Right, but the “Good Doctor” would of course come with seniority and tenure protections that would guarantee an ongoing practice irrespective of how many patients were buried in the process. And no matter what, her practice would continue to thrive because those who lived in her zip-code would be forced to use her services.

For unionistas, Eskelsen García’s ideas are just what the doctor ordered. But for the patients and those who get stuck with the bill, it’s toxic snake oil.

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.

NEA’s Sorry Spin

The latest teachers union PR ploy is pure cowplop.

“Persuading the People on Public Schools,” a National Education Association document posted by the The Daily Beast’s Conor Williams, details the union’s new communication strategy. Subtitled “Words to avoid … Words to Embrace,” the previously internal “research brief” gives us a look into the mindset of an entity that is losing the national debate with school choicers and other reformers. To be sure, a political body like NEA needs jargon, mediaspeak, spin, whatever, to sell its message, but if its latest effort – with the help of two progressive communications outfits – is any indication, the hole it has dug for itself could become an abyss in no time. Just a few examples….

Instead of using the word inequality, NEA is now advising its people to use living in the right zip code. This of course plays right into the hands of reformers who constantly and correctly make the point that throughout much of the country we have a rigid government-run monopoly by zip-code education system. As RiShawn Biddle writes, “NEA leaders will then have to explain why their affiliates, along with that of AFT,  fight vigilantly throughout the nation against the expansion of public charter schools and other forms of choice that have proven to improve graduation rates for black and Latino children.”

The brief suggests dumping educational equity and replacing it with the squishy committed to the success of every child. I guess the monopolists at NEA aren’t comfortable with equity, because using that term leaves them open to blame for keeping poor and minority kids in urban failure factories by waging war on policies that would help them escape.

NEA wants to change the narrative from meaningful, rigorous evaluations to the argument that testing takes time from learning. The union really doesn’t loathe testing per se, but it cannot abide the fact that a teacher’s evaluation should reflect – at least in part – how well students perform on a standardized test. (We really need to lose the test-phobia that seems to be gripping the nation these days. Unionistas and others keep carping that we have “too much testing.” Maybe we do – and of course, too much of anything is not good. We need food to live but too much of it will make us obese and possibly send us to an early grave. But we don’t want to do away with food; we just need eat better and more moderately. Same mentality should be applied to testing.)

Perhaps most telling is that the union wants to use get serious about what works and avoid research driven practices. Sounds as if the union knows that it is getting clobbered by a parade of studies which show that charter schools, privatization and other forms of school choice are effective, and it is trying to divert us from this reality.

The rest of the communiqué is riddled with euphemisms that the union hopes will fool the public. But, mercifully, people have gotten hip to teacher union twaddle and a majority now sees the unions as a stumbling block to school reform.

In a sense there is nothing new about the document. For a while now, the unions have been aware that much of its language has been losing favor with the general public. Tenure and seniority both have received black eyes of late – due, at least in part, to California’s Vergara case – and have been replaced with the kinder and gentler due process and importance of experience.

In another example of pre-document union wordplay, Tennessee Education Association president Gera Summerford, talking to supporters in March 2014, explained, “This march to corporatization – that’s the word that we’ve been trying to use because it does sound a little more ‘evil’ than privatization.”

Maybe some will be taken in by this nonsense. But thousands of kids and their families who have won the lottery (literally) and have been given a shot at a good life via a good education by the likes of Eva Moskowitz’s Harlem Success Academies, KIPP Schools and the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program undoubtedly won’t. The union’s “evil corporations taking over education” meme has quickly turned into a tired old cliché.

Like teacher union spin, manure comes with many different names – dung, fertilizer, cowplop, etc. But whatever you call it – it still stinks.

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

Vergara: What Comes Next?

Assuming Judge Treu’s rulings survive the appeals process, what will replace the offending statutes?

In last year’s Vergara case, Judge Rolf Treu ruled that the state’s archaic seniority, tenure and dismissal statutes were unconstitutional, adding that the evidence submitted “shocks the conscience.” The judge’s ruling is now being appealed by the state of California, the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers. Should the decision survive the appeals process, legislators will need to pass new laws to fill the void. In that vein, the Students Matter team that brought the lawsuit has come out with their suggested fixes or “policy pillars.”

Regarding tenure or more accurately “permanence,” their recommendation is solid:

Students Matter believes teachers should earn a designated number of effective or highly effective ratings on annual performance evaluations in order to receive tenure; that a teacher’s permanent status should be portable between school districts; and that permanent status should be able to be rescinded if a teacher receives multiple evaluations showing an ineffective rating.

A million times better than what we have now, but still – why is it that teaching is the only profession – or any job for that matter – that warrants something called “permanence?” In fact, this pillar hedges a bit. It says, “…permanent status should be able to be rescinded…” Well, if permanence can be rescinded if a teacher isn’t effective, then it’s not really permanent, is it?

They also have good ideas about the onerous dismissal statutes.

In order to reduce the extreme cost – in time, money, morale and student learning – of the current teacher dismissal process, while protecting the constitutional rights of both students and teachers, Students Matter recommends explicitly including ineffectiveness as grounds for dismissal and mirroring for teachers the same dismissal process established for classified employees.

In 2014, California took a step forward by passing AB 215, which made it easier to get rid of teachers who are proven guilty of “egregious and immoral conduct.” But there is nothing in the law about getting rid of incompetents. Hence, this pillar hits the mark. Public education should join the rest of the civilized work-world, weeding out those employees who are not getting the job done.

They score a bulls-eye with their suggestion about seniority:

Students Matter recommends explicitly requiring that student learning be the preponderant criterion in layoff decisions and explicitly prohibiting the consideration of seniority as the preponderant criterion.

The current last-in-first-out method of picking winners and losers is an abomination. Length of time on the job should never be the sole reason to keep that job. Would you go to a wonderful doctor who has been practicing for 10 years or a quack who has been killing (or just maiming) his patients for 20 years? The question answers itself. In fact, Dr. Quack’s patient load would tank and he would undoubtedly be forced to find another means of employment. Why not extend this line of thought to the world of education?

So except for the minor quibble with the tenure pillar, the Students Matter suggestions are excellent.

And now for the bad news. Whatever legal changes are made must survive the California state legislature, which is essentially controlled by the California Teachers Association. While the powerful union has yet to comment on the pillars, it goes without saying that it will use every ounce of influence it has to fight them.

Permanence: The union has taken to calling it “due process.” This is laughable – a job for life has nothing to do with legal rights. And union leaders are offering up ridiculous excuses for the existence of tenure. Recently, New York City teacher union boss Michael Mulgrew actually said, “Without tenure, teachers can be disciplined or even fired for speaking out on behalf of the needs of their students.”

Criminy, is that the best he can do?!

Dismissal statutes: Anthony Lombardi, the principal of an elementary school in New York City, bluntly stated that American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten “… would protect a dead body in the classroom. That’s her job.” Well that may be a slight exaggeration, but it’s true that people who shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near children are almost never fired.

In California, due to the union-orchestrated dismissal statutes, on average just two “permanent” teachers a year lose their job due to incompetence. That’s two bad apples out of about 300,000. In my almost 30 years in the classroom, there were always at least two teachers at my school alone who should have been let go. Also, it’s ridiculously expensive to get a teacher out the door. Between 2000 and 2010, the Los Angeles Unified School District spent $3.5 million trying to fire just seven teachers (out of over 30,000) for poor classroom performance. Only four were let go during that time.

Seniority: Union leaders are quite incoherent in this area. “Saving your jobs would mean that more experienced teachers would lose theirs,” UTLA president A.J. Duffy told a group of young teachers at Liechty Middle School in 2009. “Seniority is the only fair way to do it . . . and any exception would be an act of disloyalty.” The California Federation of Teachers website claims that “Seniority is the only fair, transparent way to administer layoffs. It ensures equal treatment for all teachers…”

Problem is that not all teachers deserve equal treatment. The great and good should be treated better than the mediocre and awful.

Interestingly, a recent survey funded by Teach Plus, an organization that strives to ensure that urban children have access to effective educators, found that 69 percent of teachers in California agreed that “tenure protected an ineffective colleague who should have been dismissed but wasn’t.” But it also found that 81 percent said that “tenure was important to them personally.” In brief, the teachers polled came down somewhere in between the Students Matter pillars and traditional union hardline resistance to change. You can access the survey here.

Will the unions listen to their more moderate members and act accordingly? Don’t bet on it.

Will the unions besiege their cronies in Sacramento to ignore the Students Matter fixes? Most assuredly.

What can you do? Send letters and emails to your state legislators, and implore them to do right by the children of California. Only when enough good people stand up to the destructive agenda of the teachers unions will public education take a great leap forward.

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.

Post-Vergara Rumblings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Vergara Battle Has Been Won…

… but the war is just beginning. Despite a landmark education decision in California favoring children over teachers unions, how much will really change?

On June 10th, Judge Rolf Treu issued an unequivocal decision in the Students Matter (Vergara v California) case which revolved around the tenure, dismissal and seniority statutes in California’s education code. In his 16-page ruling – a resounding victory for students and a crushing defeat for the teachers unions – Judge Treu did not mince words. He found that the plaintiffs met their burden of proof on all the issues, writing, “The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience…” He concluded with, “All Challenged Statutes are found unconstitutional….”

Tenure

While the judge’s decision on this subject was crystal clear, much of the media’s responses have been – to paraphrase Alan Greenspan – irrationally exuberant. The New York Times headline – hardly an isolated example – blared “Judge Rejects Teacher Tenure for California.”

Hardly. The judge ruled that letting teachers attain tenure after only two years – really 16 months – is unfair to both students and teachers. But in no way did he reject tenure out of hand; he merely pointed out that California was one of only five states to offer tenure or permanent status in two years or less. He went on to say that other states do it better, noting that the probationary period in 41 states is three to five years. (The other four states don’t allow tenure at all.)

What will a new tenure law look like? Given the California Teachers Association’s unbridled clout in the state legislature, we very well could wind up with a three year tenure period instead of two. A slight improvement, but hardly a game-changer.

Dismissal Statutes

The judge recognized that teachers certainly deserve due process rights, but indicated that the current dismissal statutes provide über due process. He acknowledged that “the number of grossly ineffective teachers has a direct, real, appreciable, and negative impact on a significant number of California students, now and well into the future for as long as said teachers hold their positions.”

Just what is that “significant number?” If each “grossly ineffective” teacher (the defense claims this applies to one to three percent of the profession) has 25 students in his class, it means that between 68,750 and 206,250 flesh-and-blood school children are getting little or no education every year. And astonishingly, teachers who are ineffective but not “grossly” so were not even considered. I can hear the conversation at a local public school:

Parent: I understand that my son is going to have an ineffective teacher this year.

Principal: That’s correct, ma’am, but not to worry, he is not “grossly” ineffective.

Parent: Sir, would you go to a surgeon who is known to remove appendixes but leaves the scalpel behind? Or a lawyer whose innocent clients regularly wind up in the slammer. Or an auto mechanic who puts brake fluid in your radiator?

Principal: Of course not, but those occupations are not unionized. Be grateful that your child’s teacher is just pretty bad and not one of the “grossly ineffective” ones.

Parent: Ah, of course! How silly of me not to realize that my child’s education is not really the priority of a unionized public school!

There is some good news here, however: AB 215, with the backing of reformers and the teachers unions, would seem to be a done deal. Though weak on dismissing incompetent teachers, the bill would at least shorten the interminable process to deal with teachers accused of egregious behavior. But getting rid of the merely ineffective ones will continue to be a gory battle with CTA leaning on the state legislature to make only minimal adjustments to the old statutes while trying to convince the court that the improvements are substantive.

Seniority

As things stand now in the Golden State (with very rare exceptions), if layoffs are necessary, decisions are made by a quality-blind last in/first out (LIFO) system. The judge mentioned that California is just one of ten states where “seniority is the sole factor or one that must be considered.” If the LIFO statute is removed from the education code, what is the probable scenario? The decision could be left to each individual school district, but again, given CTA’s influence in the state legislature, we will undoubtedly have a statewide law. Bill Lucia, president of Sacramento-based advocacy group EdVoice, suggests various options might be considered that “include elements of a seniority system but with exceptions made for excellent teachers or permanent teachers willing to serve in hard-to-staff schools.” And if that arrangement becomes reality, how should excellence be quantified? Standardized tests? Principal evaluation? Outsider evaluation? Should parents have a say? Some or all the above? A long ignored law in California which stipulates that a teacher’s evaluation must be based at least in part on how well her students perform on state tests should help, but due to the teachers unions’ hardcore stance against using student performance to measure teacher effectiveness, the conflict to replace LIFO will be a bloody one as well.

What’s next?

Nothing for now. While the decision is temporary and will not be final for another few weeks, the judge is unlikely to alter or modify it. And of course the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers have already announced that they are appealing the decision, an option also being weighed by the state of California. In the meantime, Judge Treu placed a stay on the ruling pending a decision by the California Court of Appeal. The case will undoubtedly make its way to the California Supreme Court. Thus, a final resolution could be years away. A denial of the appeal in the lower court, however, could remove the stay and Treu’s decision would have to be honored – at least temporarily – even if there is an appeal to the state Supreme Court.

The educational floodgates have been opened by Judge Treu. How everything will eventually play out is anybody’s guess, but one thing is certain – the war between teachers unions and the children of California is far from over.

(Prosecutor Marcellus McRae’s closing argument is riveting and provides a good overview of the case.)

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.

 

UTLA, LAUSD and ACLU Fiddle While Children Don’t Learn

“Landmark settlement” song has hackneyed words but still makes Top 10 in the “Hubris” category.

In 2010, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit which claimed that seniority-based layoffs take a disproportionate toll on poor and minority schools. The ACLU won the case and the settlement protected students in up to 45 schools from the pernicious effects of the last in/first out (LIFO) regimen.

But shortly thereafter, the United Teachers of Los Angeles successfully appealed the decision, and the case was remanded back to state court. And after 20 months of dithering and dickering, we now have a new settlement. As reported by EdSource’s John Fensterwald,

The deal in the Reed v. the State of California lawsuit will provide about $25 million annually for three years for additional administrators, mentor teachers and teacher training in 37 middle and high schools where there had been low student performance and high turnover of inexperienced teachers.

There are a few other minor considerations like a special education coordinator being placed at each school and principals will be offered a “retention package” to stay on the job longer. But the problem at hand? Ignore it, throw some money around it and hope the victims will be appeased. There is no mention at all about better ways to choose which teachers stay and which teachers go should layoffs become necessary. It ignores the reality that the union-enforced LIFO system regularly cheats thousands of children out of a decent education. And the self-congratulatory palavering over the decision strikes a dissonant chord.

The usually sensible Los Angeles Unified School District superintendent John Deasy crooned,

The youth in greatest peril at these schools will benefit tremendously. These are invaluable investments, aligned with the goals of the Local Control Funding Formula, which will make a difference in transforming these schools and bring justice to our youth.

Huh? What Dr. Deasy is saying here is that we can right things by simply throwing more money at the problem. Gee, maybe we can become like Washington, D.C.! It spends $30,000 yearly per student yet has one of the most dysfunctional school systems in the country.

Joan Sullivan, CEO of the Partnership schools rhapsodized,

Our mission is about equity. Today, thanks to ongoing collaboration, we have all parties coming together around a landmark settlement that promises to bring students across Los Angeles closer to the educational opportunity they deserve.

Landmark? The only landmark that this case conjures up is the Alamo. But while the Alamo massacre is a distant memory, inner city school carnage is still with us.

Jesus E. Quinonez, an attorney for UTLA, claimed victory, warbling,

… any attempts to extinguish the rights of teachers—here, the right to a neutral and fair hearing process—will not serve the needs of kids or lead to justice in our schools.

Fair hearing process? Is he kidding?! With LIFO in place, no one gets any kind of hearing. Decisions are made according to a brain-dead set-up that doesn’t recognize the importance of teacher quality. In fact, LIFO discriminates not only against children, but also against good and great teachers.

Dale Larson, attorney with Morrison & Foerster, which partnered with the ACLU in the lawsuit, intoned:

By providing resources to attract and retain teachers in the 37 low-performing, high-turnover middle and high schools, the settlement renders the legal question raised in Reed “academic.”

Actually, it’s not “academic” at all as the 17 page decision never even mentions the words “seniority” or “last in/first out.”

What the Kumbaya chorus is omitting – other than the fact that the issues in the original suit have gone completely unaddressed – is that adding administrators to a bad situation is often worse than meaningless. You see, in Los Angeles, though administrators are “at will” employees, they are treated like unionized teachers and are almost never fired for incompetence. (I know this from first-hand experience. We had a revolving door of assistant principals at the middle school where I toiled for 15 years. A few were great, some good and some were so bad they went from school to school – all too frequently mine – as “must place” employees. Also, I never met a teacher who was drawn to a school because it had a lot of administrators.)

Additional mentor teachers and teacher training are good things – assuming the mentors and the training are of value. But what happens if a teacher still isn’t doing the job after working with a mentor and getting further training? Nothing. Due to seniority (and equally noxious tenure laws), he will still be in the classroom, his students will still be failing, and a better teacher will be collecting an unemployment check.

Officially, the agreement is not a done deal. The LAUSD board needs to vote on it and it’s on the agenda for its April 22nd meeting. If it passes there, the settlement then must be approved by the court. But given the self-congratulatory outpouring by virtually all of the involved players, it’s hard to believe that there will be dissent from either entity. (Too bad the parents and kids at the involved schools don’t have a vote.)

Hence, it would appear that the only hope for burying seniority – and the foul tenure and dismissal statutes – lies with the Vergara v. California (Students Matter) case, which is set for a ruling by early July. Referring to Vergara, UTLA attorney Quinonez said the settlement in the ACLU case acknowledges that “the solution to high turnover in schools is not to take away teachers’ rights.”

What the union lawyer really meant was that the agreement doesn’t take away the more senior teachers’ perks. And more importantly, his statement makes no mention of “children’s rights.” But then again, union songs are invariably about union solidarity. And the voices of the children and their parents who continue to be penalized are never included in the mix.

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.

Pull the Plug on LIFO Support

Despite bellyaching from the union crowd, the California education code’s last in/first out (LIFO) statute must be tossed.

California’s fiscal problems have taken a toll on the teaching profession in California. And the Golden State’s arbitrary seniority system, whereby staffing decisions are made by time spent on the job, has made things much worse. A recent Sacramento Bee story spells out the details:

Young teachers have become far more scarce in California classrooms after school districts slashed their budgets to survive the recession.

From 2008 to 2013, California saw a 40 percent drop in teachers with less than six years’ experience, according to a Sacramento Bee review of state data.

As the state cut funding, districts laid off teachers with the least seniority and stopped hiring new applicants. Those employment practices, in turn, discouraged college students from pursuing the profession in California, as enrollment in teaching programs fell by 41 percent between 2008 and 2012. (Emphasis added.)

Not surprisingly, while traditional public schools have been taking a beating, charters – which are rarely unionized and don’t honor seniority – have flourished. In fact, there are over 50,000 kids on charter school wait lists in California.

Charter schools educate about 10 percent of Sacramento County’s students, but last year they employed 40 percent of the region’s first- and second-year teachers. Teachers at five schools in the Sacramento City Unified District – all charters – averaged less than five years in the profession in 2013. They were Capitol Collegiate Academy, Sol Aureus College Preparatory, Yav Pem Suab Academy, St. Hope Public School 7 and Oak Park Preparatory Academy.

Studies that have been done on seniority have nothing good to say about it. For example, The New Teacher Project found that only 13 to 16 percent of the teachers laid off in a seniority-based system would also be cut under a system based on teacher effectiveness.

The nonpartisan California Legislative Analyst Office found that basing employment decisions on the number of years served instead of teachers’ performance “can lead to lower quality of the overall teacher workforce.”

Also, by not using seniority, fewer teachers would need to be laid off. Due to the step-and- column method of paying teachers, veteran teachers, whether they deserve to or not, make considerably more than younger ones. In a policy brief, the Annenberg Institute reports:

Because more experienced teachers are generally higher on the salary scale than newer teachers, districts would actually be able to meet budget goals with fewer layoffs if they had more leeway to fire teachers across the board, based on quality, not seniority.

Sadly, seniority-based layoffs take a much bigger toll on poor and minority schools. When senior teachers have the opportunity, they frequently escape these hard-to-staff schools, leaving rookies in their place. So when layoffs become necessary, as they did during the recent recession, the younger teachers are the first to get pink-slipped, saddling impoverished students with revolving subs. This results in the least stable education environment imaginable and has a lot more to do with the failure of inner city schools than the “poverty is destiny” crowd would have you believe. Accordingly, the ACLU jumped on this issue in 2010.

In Reed v. State of California, … the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Los Angeles, considered whether to grant a preliminary injunction in favor of a group of students to stop the Los Angeles Unified School District (“LAUSD”) from laying off more teachers at three middle schools in the district. The Superior Court concluded that “notwithstanding any contractual or statutory seniority-based layoff provisions,” the State of California and LAUSD should be restrained and enjoined “from implementing any budget-based layoffs of teachers” at three LAUSD middle schools that have been devastated by teacher layoffs in 2009.

The three middle schools at issue, Samuel Gompers Middle School (“Gompers”), John H. Liechty Middle School (“Liechty), and Edwin Markham Middle School (“Markham”), are each ranked in the bottom 10% of schools in California in terms of academic performance. During a 2009 reduction in force (“RIF”), LAUSD sent RIF notices to 60% of the teachers at Liechty, 48% of the teachers at Gompers, and 46% of the teachers at Markham. These figures are in contrast with the fact that LAUSD only sent notices to 17.9% of all of its teachers. The RIFs resulted in a large number of teacher vacancies at all three schools.

The settlement reached between the plaintiffs, LAUSD and the Mayor’s Partnership for Los Angeles Schools protected students

… in up to 45 Targeted Schools in the unfortunate event of budget-based teacher layoffs and provides support and resources aimed at stabilizing and improving these schools, including retention incentives for teachers and principals. The Targeted Schools will be determined annually and will include 25 under-performing and difficult-to-staff schools that have suffered from staff retention issues yet are starting to make positive strides. In addition, up to 20 schools will be selected based on the likelihood that the school will be negatively and disproportionately affected by teacher turnover. To ensure that any impact from preserving teacher positions at the Targeted Schools is fairly distributed, the settlement provides that no school at or above the district-wide average of layoffs will be negatively affected.”

But several months later, the United Teachers of Los Angeles, threatened by a shake-up to the status quo, successfully appealed the decision and the settlement was nullified.

While adamant about protecting seniority, the teachers unions and their fellow travelers have only bromides and falsehoods to bolster their position. When A.J. Duffy, then UTLA president, talked to some young teachers at Liechty Middle School – one of the three named in the ACLU suit – he said, “Saving your jobs would mean that more experienced teachers would lose theirs…. Seniority is the only fair way to do it… and any exception would be ‘an act of disloyalty.’”

State Superintendent Tom Torlakson was dutifully  toeing the union line when he stated, “The {ACLU} ruling could hurt students by requiring them to be taught by inexperienced teachers rather than finding ways to bring in more experienced and arguably more effective teachers.”

Continuing the “experience trumps all” line of thought, the California Federation of Teachers website proclaims, “Seniority is the only fair, transparent way to administer layoffs. It ensures equal treatment for all teachers … Research consistently shows more experienced teachers provide better student learning outcomes than inexperienced teachers.”

But of course, not all teachers are “equal” and the “experience = better” mantra is a myth. Time on the job is not a proxy for quality. Most studies show that a teacher’s effectiveness maxes out in 3-5 years and that the majority of teachers do not improve over time. Actually, some studies show that teachers become less effective toward the end of their careers.

As edu-pundit RiShawn Biddle pointed out in 2010,

… what’s truly appalling is the teachers union defense of last hired-first fired and of seniority rights. It lays bare some of the most-glaring flaws in union thinking: How can unions demand equal pay and treatment for all workers while advocating work rules and compensation that favor one group of rank-and-file members over another? How can the NEA and AFT call themselves unions of modern professionals – and demand that teaching be considered on an equal footing with lawyers and doctors – when they defend labor practices best-suited for early 20th-century factory workers?

Yes, their insistence on seniority exposes the teachers unions’ industrial-style nature. For them, teachers are nothing more than interchangeable, dues-paying widgets and teacher competence and effectiveness are of no discernible consideration. The arbitrariness of such a set-up is epitomized by Bhavini Bhakta, a teacher-of-the-year who lost teaching positions in four Southern California schools over eight years because she lacked seniority. One of her yearly encounters with LIFO involved a situation where either she or another teacher-of-the-year – who was hired on the same day – was to be laid off. The district had the teachers pull numbered Popsicle sticks out of a hat to see which one kept her job. Ms. Bhakta got a lower number and thus lost her position, yet again.

Standardized tests, evaluations by impartial trained experts, the principal and parents, etc. should all be utilized to determine a teacher’s value. And certainly, we need to have a conversation about how much weight should be given to each of these and possibly other criteria. But for the sake of the kids and the teaching profession, we need to put the Popsicle stick method of teacher retention – also known as seniority – into the garbage.

Postscript: There is a chance that seniority could be in for a major upheaval in the near future. The Students Matter (Vergara v California) case is winding up and will shortly be in the hands of Judge Rolf Treu. If he finds for the plaintiffs, and the ruling survives the inevitable appeal, LIFO – as well as tenure and the dismissal statutes as we know them – will be removed from California’s education code and be rendered unconstitutional.

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

Tenure, Temerity and the Truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then Rall gets political. He writes,

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

Reagan? What did his administration do?

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

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

Common Core?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Department of Justice on Student Suspensions

A recent memo accuses educators of racial discrimination while failing, with a few exceptions, to address the real problems.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a series of guidelines regarding the suspension of students from school. In short, though partially correct, the DOJ report is misguided, misleading, and missing key elements relevant to the issue.

Where the DOJ is wrong

The most disturbing part of the DOJ memo suggests that schools unfairly discriminate against students based on race.

The U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice (Departments) are issuing this guidance to assist public elementary and secondary schools in meeting their obligations under Federal law to administer student discipline without discriminating on the basis of race, color, or national origin. The Departments recognize the commitment and effort of educators across the United States to provide their students with an excellent education. The Departments believe that guidance on how to identify, avoid, and remedy discriminatory discipline will assist schools in providing all students with equal educational opportunities.

This is egregious. Suggesting that American schools, its administrators and its teachers are guilty of widespread racism has no basis in fact and has been rightfully denounced by most pundits. (Personal anecdote: as a teacher for over 28 years – almost exclusively in majority minority schools, including stints in Harlem and South Los Angeles – I have never seen a teacher or administrator act in a prejudicial way toward any minority kid.)

Simply put, schools have rules and if a student disobeys them, he or she is disciplined accordingly. And if minority kids are breaking the rules more often than other kids, shouldn’t they be punished more? That having been said, there are inequities that do need to be addressed that did not appear in the DOJ memo. More on that shortly.

Where the DOJ is right

The DOJ is correct when it charges that schools have become too dependent on law enforcement to solve internal problems. Many “zero tolerance” policies need to end. In too many cases, the guidelines have become downright silly. Should dress-code violations and posting a picture of a pellet gun on Instagram really become police matters? Is it right to suspend a student for chewing a Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun? Does it make the least bit of sense to suspend kids who are truant? “Okay, Johnny, we are going to keep you out of school today because you ditched school yesterday.”

Also, as one who has seen many a student suspended during my stint in middle school, I can tell you that in most cases the action is useless. After a suspension, I always asked what they did with their time when they were out of school. By far the most prevalent answer was, “Watched TV.”

Some punishment. Yeah, that’ll learn ‘em!

After a while, my school wised up and began employing “in-house” suspensions. In these cases, the students had to come to school, but didn’t go to their regular classes. By doing this, the school made a statement and tried to deal with the problem via the dean, the guidance counselor and the assistant principal. Also, the kid didn’t have a day off to watch TV and the school didn’t lose the funding it would have lost had the student been absent from school.

What the DOJ did not address

Why do kids misbehave in school? There is no one answer, but the following are four important ones:

1. Bad parenting. An obvious one and as RiShawn Biddle says, it’s a tough one to overcome. If a parent is not willing to parent properly, teachers and their schools have a much bigger challenge on their hands than with a child from a solid home.

2. Undiagnosed learning disability. This happens, but more often than not, students are misdiagnosed and often given needless medication. For example, if a boy is bored in school and “acts out” he’s likely to be painted with the ADHD brush and drugged, while the real cause of his behavior goes unaddressed.

3. Student boredom due to unqualified and/or inexperienced teachers. Yup, this is a big problem and has been for many years, but it too went unacknowledged by the DOJ. In fact, if you are searching for discrimination in public education, this is the place to look. In 2011, an ACLU lawsuit rightfully claimed that high-minority schools are discriminated against by the seniority laws that are enshrined in the California state education code. Because they invariably have a high percentage of new hires, the lowest performing schools usually take the brunt of the layoffs under this system, destabilizing them further by requiring a revolving door of substitutes. Judge William Highberger agreed and ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. Unfortunately, the decision was appealed and overturned, giving the teachers unions a victory at the expense of minority kids.

Another lawsuit, Vergara v. California, is due to begin in Los Angeles next week.  It asserts that

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

If successful, this lawsuit will remove the tenure, seniority and arcane dismissal statutes from the California education code and render them unconstitutional, thus making it easier to get rid of incompetent and criminal teachers while outlawing seniority as a method of teacher-retention. While this litigation will help all students in the state, inner-city kids would benefit the most. As I wrote in City Journal in 2012,

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

The California Teachers Association has joined this suit in an attempt to protect its turf at the expense of the poor and minority students. Sadly, the DOJ is MIA on tenure and seniority and the unions’ efforts to keep them in place.

4. Teachers receive little or no classroom management training in schools of education. Little talked about, classroom management should be a very important part of every teacher’s training, but sadly it’s not. (The DOJ memo does allude to classroom management techniques, but says the school should provide it and makes no reference to ed schools.) Scandalously, my teacher training at Cal State had zero class hours set aside in how to manage a classroom. (My science methods teacher, realizing that this was a huge mistake, spent part of his classes giving us desperately needed tips on the subject.)

A new report by the National Council on Teacher Quality claims that classroom management continues to be one of the greatest challenges new teachers face. Surveys repeatedly document that novice teachers struggle in this area, and their school district supervisors concur.

  • A 1997 poll revealed that 58 percent of PK-12 teachers said that behavior that disrupted instruction occurred “most of the time or fairly often.”
  • A 2003 survey of teachers found that nearly half indicated that “quite a large number” of new teachers need a lot more training on effective ways to handle students who are discipline problems.
  • In 2012, over 40 percent of new teachers surveyed reported feeling either “not at all prepared” or “only somewhat prepared” to handle a range of classroom management or discipline situations.
  • In a 2013 survey, classroom management was “the top problem” identified by teachers.

It’s no secret that ed schools are, for the most part, a ridiculous waste of time and money. This is due in no small part to the fact that the nation’s #1 accrediting organization, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), is beyond useless. The mission of this organization, set up by the National Education Association in 1954, is to “help establish high quality teacher preparation.” Sixty years later, I can’t help but wonder when they are going to start.

In sum, the DOJ has raised a subject that needs to be discussed. But playing the race card – saying that “racial discrimination in school discipline is a real problem” – is ludicrous. Does the DOJ really think that most teachers, their administrators and school board members are closet Klan members? And why aren’t the teachers unions defending their members against the DOJ’s scurrilous charge? (The American Federation of Teachers did issue a wishy-washy statement including a few suggestions that they think would help, but did not directly address the DOJ racism accusation.)

There are so many things we can do to improve education, but due to the intransigence of the education establishment and the teachers unions with their one-size-fits-all bureaucratic diktats, we are stuck in the status quo muck. Not mentioned in the DOJ report, the following reform measures would improve things considerably:

  • Give school districts more latitude in placing teachers and more power to fire poor performers.
  • Ditch the step-and-ladder pay scale and pay good teachers more to work in impoverished areas.
  • Demand good results from all teachers and pay them accordingly.
  • Insist that ed schools teach prospective teachers effective classroom management techniques.
  • Get rid of seniority, tenure and the endless dismissal statutes that exist in many states.

Harping on the race angle and blaming teachers for discriminatory practices are needless distractions that do no kid of any color or ethnicity any good. In fact, the DOJ report will make things worse.

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

California Teachers Association: Clichés-R-Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The article then goes on to say,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Union Blather and Students Matter

National Education Association new “reform” document is free of substance.

Apparently threatened by the education reform movement taking hold across the country, the National Education Association has decided to join the party. In concert with six other organizations – including the American Federation of Teachers – the biggest union in the country has released “Excellent Teachers for Each and Every Child: A Guide for State Policy.”

The guide’s recommendations draw from substantial research evidence on teacher effectiveness and from the practices of high-achieving nations like Finland and Singapore. The document includes go-to resources for policymakers and advocates, such as:

  • Recommended action steps to support policymaking and agenda-setting.
  • Model legislation language and examples of successful state policies that improve teacher diversity, set a high entry bar for educators, establish career ladders and professional learning standards for teachers, fund a sustainable teaching force, and support evaluation models that drive meaningful professional growth.
  • Summary recommendations on recruitment, preparation, professional development, evaluation, teaching and learning conditions, funding, and ways to develop coherent and systemic policy.

In reality, this flatulent report drones on for 36 pages and speaks in generalities that sound reasonable, even commendable. We do need good teaching strategies and to hire the best teachers we can find; then we should pay them well and do everything we can to keep them in the profession, right? But….

There is tons wrong with this policy attempt. One of the most glaring misconceptions is the concept of “best practices.” Take their examples: Finland and Singapore. Yes, both are successful, but very different. For example, Singapore, like high achiever South Korea, uses very “high stakes” testing, whereas Finland avoids standardized tests altogether. Classes tend to be quite large in Singapore, but small in Finland. In short, there is no one “best practice.” In this country, some students do better with a “back-to-basics, squared” approach to schooling used in the American Indian Charter Schools in Oakland, while other kids thrive in the more sensitive KIPP schools, yet others do better working from home, “attending” a virtual charter school.

Perhaps the worst part of this document is what it omits: there is one vague allusion to teacher tenure and no mention of seniority or any policy recommendations about how to get bad teachers out of the classroom, though these are major problems that must be dealt with.

Toward that end, the Students Matter (Vergara v. California) case starts in Los Angeles next month. As John Fensterwald explains,

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

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

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

Though not named in the lawsuit, the teachers unions just couldn’t sit idly by and accept a change in rules that would benefit students at their expense. Two state teachers unions – the California Teachers Association (NEA’s state affiliate) and the California Federation of Teachers – came out with a joint press release announcing that they had filed a motion “to intervene in litigation.” This means that the teachers unions have become involved because they feel that the current defendants – the state and the school districts – are not adequately representing the interests of their members, whose rights they maintain could be adversely affected by the case.

Perhaps the best case for the Students Matter prosecution is made by the victimized children themselves. The nine plaintiffs are public school students from various districts around the state. Here are three of their stories:

  • Daniella, a Mexican-American 12 year-old, is an economically disadvantaged student who lives in east San Jose, a primarily minority and low income community. While attending traditional public schools, she was assigned to multiple grossly ineffective teachers who were unable or unwilling to teach her how to read, write, or perform basic math calculations. As a third grader who still could not read, she “was broken.”
  • Brandon is a 17 year-old African-American student who lives with his parents in Oakland. Although both his mother and father work, they are struggling financially. Brandon is an accomplished football player who hopes to attend college and someday obtain a master’s degree, but he has been hindered by two grossly ineffective teachers who made him feel “destined for failure.” One teacher told him that he “wouldn’t amount to anything” when he was only in the fifth grade. Another, who taught tenth grade geometry, expected his students to learn math on their own and wasted the lion’s share of class time taking attendance. Even though other faculty members at Brandon’s school were acutely aware of that teacher’s ineffectiveness, and even warned Brandon to “be careful” in his class, the school could do nothing about it.
  • Julia is a 13 year-old Hispanic student who lives in Reseda with her mother, father, and younger sister. Julia – who dreams of attending Harvard Law School – has been taught by two grossly ineffective teachers in the traditional district system. Her second grade teacher repeatedly told her that she was “just not good at math,” devastating the child’s confidence, causing her to cling to her parents when they would drop her off at school. She even asked her parents if she could be homeschooled to avoid her teacher’s disparaging words. Julia’s parents contacted the principal, who agreed that the teacher was a problem and advised them “to transfer [Julia] to another classroom.” In sixth grade, Julia was assigned to a second ineffective teacher who would lose her students’ written assignments and even called some of her students “stupid.” As a result, Julia’s test scores plummeted and she again lost confidence in her own abilities.” When Julia was taught by two wonderful teachers, they both received layoff notices. At one point, parents and teachers at the school rallied “to save” one of them, a teacher who was “caring, smart, and motivational,” yet their efforts fell short and the teacher was laid off.

The bottom line is that the NEA “sound good” reforms will not do anything to improve the lives of these children. Of course we need good teachers, but until we enact strong policies that deal with the ones who don’t deserve to be around kids, we haven’t accomplished much at all.

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 Good, the Ugly and the Uglier

After a loss in Indiana, the teachers unions’ war on education intensifies in Chicago and California.

In 2011, Indiana passed a school choice bill which currently allows 9,300 kids from low and middle income families with household income below 150 percent of school lunch eligibility to receive vouchers equal to between 50 and 90 percent of state per-pupil education funding to use at any of 289 schools – some of which provide religious education – that participate in the Choice Scholarship Program.

Not surprisingly, upon passage of the bill the National Education Association and its state affiliate, the Indiana State Teachers Association, sued to stop it with claims that “letting families use the vouchers at religious schools violated the state constitution’s religion clauses.”

But last week, in a resounding 5-0 decision, the unions’ plea was denied.

‘We find it inconceivable’ the justices wrote that the framers meant to prohibit government spending from which a religious institution could ultimately benefit. Everything from police protection to city sidewalks benefit religious institutions, but ‘the primary beneficiary is the public,’ and any benefits to religious groups are ‘ancillary and indirect,’ said the ruling. ‘The direct beneficiaries under the voucher program are the families of eligible students and not the schools selected by the parents for their children to attend.’

Part of the unions’ case was based on the Catholic-bashing Blaine Amendment. As Mike Antonucci writes:

The Indiana Supreme Court ruled unanimously today that the state’s school voucher program is constitutional. This is good news for supporters of school choice, and bad news for teachers’ unions. But the Indiana ruling is especially interesting since it may sound the death knell for legal challenges to vouchers based on states’ Blaine Amendments.

Indiana is one of 37 states with a constitutional provision prohibiting – in varying degrees – the use of state funds to benefit religious or sectarian institutions. The amendments are named after Rep. James G. Blaine of Maine, who as Speaker of the House tried to get a similar provision amended to the U.S. Constitution in 1875. Although the Blaine Amendments were closely associated with anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant bigotry in the 19th century, they made a handy argument against school vouchers in the 20th and 21st centuries.

The title of Antonucci’s post asks, “Is James G. Blaine Finally Dead?” The answer is very possibly yes, and that would most certainly be a good thing.

Moving on to California, the Vergara v. State of California case was back in the news last week. The suit was filed in May 2012 by Students Matter, a nonprofit founded by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch. As I wrote in June, the goal of the suit is to get the seniority, tenure and dismissal statutes out of the state education code and leave these policy decisions to local school districts – as is done in 33 other states.

The student plaintiffs attend school in four districts, though the complaint targets only two—Los Angeles Unified and Alum Rock Elementary Unified in San Jose. Other named defendants include California governor Jerry Brown, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, the state of California, the state board of education, and the state department of education. Students Matter is determined to ensure ‘that the policies embodied in the California Code of Education place the interests of students first and promote the goal of having an effective teacher in every classroom’

… Currently, California schools don’t take teacher effectiveness into account when making layoff decisions. The newest hires are the first to go, and senior teachers have their pick of schools. Struggling inner-city schools end up suffering the most, as the lawsuit states: “One recent study showed that a school in the highest poverty quartile is 65 percent more likely to have a teacher laid off than a school in the lowest poverty quartile. As a result of seniority-based layoffs, the highest poverty schools in California are likely to lose 30 percent more teachers than wealthier schools. The disproportionate number of vacancies in those schools are then filled by transferring lower performing teachers, including grossly ineffective teachers, from other schools.

Hardly a radical fix to a serious problem. But of course, never missing a chance to block child-friendly reform, two state teachers unions – the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers – released a joint press release this past week announcing that they had filed a motion “to intervene in litigation.” This means that CTA and CFT would like to be become involved in the case because they feel that the current defendants – the state and the school districts – are not adequately representing the interests of their teachers, whose rights they maintain could be adversely affected by the case.

The unions declare that if the suit is upheld, it will be more difficult “to attract and retain quality teachers in California’s schools.”

That’s a ridiculous assertion.  For one, do “quality” teachers really care about seniority? I suspect that the “quality” teachers-of-the-year who got pink slipped while their less talented colleagues kept their jobs are not all that jazzed by the “last in/first out” clause. The press release then proceeds to spout the usual blather – in which the unions pretend to really, really care about parents and children while at the same time taking a swipe at wealthy people who they insist want to usurp public education for their own personal gain.

“The people who agreed to lend their names to this wrong-headed lawsuit are attempting to crowd out the voices of all other parents in California.  We should be working to bring students, parents and teachers together — not driving them apart. Legislation, informed by the experience and testimony of all members of the education community, is the best process for improving public education,” said CFT President Josh Pechthalt, parent of an eighth-grade student in the Los Angeles Unified School District. “The real agenda of this suit is to attack and weaken teachers and their unions in order to privatize public schools and turn them into profit centers for the corporate sponsors behind the lawsuit.”

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

This kind of demagogic rhetoric is old, tired and just plain ugly. Fortunately, not all that many people are buying it these days.

Then there is Chicago, where its school district is dealing with a $1 billion deficit. For a variety of reasons the city’s school population has been dwindling since the 1960s and there is a move afoot to close 54 sparsely populated campuses. According to RiShawn Biddle,

Chicago’s enrollment of 404,584 children is a third smaller than the number of kids served by the district during the 1960s. Three hundred thirty of the district’s 616 schools — more than half of the district’s portfolio — operate below capacity, with 137 of them half-empty. At some schools,  includes Drake Elementary School in the city’s Bronzeville section, and an elementary school named for hometown hero Emmett Till (whose murder in Mississippi by two men offended by his violation of Jim Crow segregation spurred the modern civil rights movement), just two out of every five seats are filled during the school year.

And, a Chicago Public Schools (CPS) fact sheet tells us:

Population declines over the last decade in both the African American community and in school-aged children are driving the majority of underutilization in our District’s schools. Today, our schools have space for 511,000 children, but only 403,000 are enrolled.

So it certainly seems sensible to shut down some underutilized schools and consolidate their enrollments, right?

Not if you are a union boss. What you do then is come out with a statement, avowing that your main priorities are kids, parents and their neighborhoods, and bolster your case by spouting a bunch of good-sounding half-truths in an attempt to make yourself sound believable. And no one does this kind of chicanery better than American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten.

The AFT stands with teachers, parents, students and other Chicagoans fighting to guarantee every child in Chicago the high-quality neighborhood public school he or she deserves. Chicago’s reckless mass school closure agenda will destabilize neighborhoods, threaten our children’s safety, fail to improve learning or save money, and create a domino effect of destabilization in schools across the city. It is part of a disturbing trend in cities across the country by the powers that be to ignore what parents, students and teachers demand and what our children need in favor of failed policies.

As the CPS fact sheet details, every one of Weingarten’s points is bogus, but then again truth and accuracy emanating from a union leader’s mouth is rare indeed.

When unionistas and their fellow travelers don’t get their way, they typically take to the streets and the Windy City was no exception. The Chicago Teachers Union, led by its thoroughly obnoxious and confrontational leader, Karen Lewis, organized a rally last Wednesday in downtown Chicago. As EAGnews.org writer Brittany Clingen reports,

The event brought out all the usual suspects – the Occupy Chicago contingent, fellow union members from SEIU, members of CORE (Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators) and Action Now, and a general assortment of anti-capitalism protesters who relish any excuse to march around with angry signs held high.

According to CTU President Karen Lewis, the school closings are racially motivated. In her speech delivered to the crowd of approximately 700 gathered in Daley Plaza, she said, “They are closing down schools that have names of African American icons, but they’ll open up schools to put a living billionaire’s name in the front.”

Lewis failed to mention that CPS is approaching an astronomical $1 billion budget deficit. And the schools that are slated to close are either underperforming, underutilized (a school that has far fewer students than its capacity allows) or both. The students whose schools are scheduled to close will either be placed in charter schools or their closest neighborhood schools.

No one present at the rally was able to offer a better alternative to closing the schools, with some even implying that there is some sort of conspiracy going on within CPS.

Ah, nothing quite like race baiting, conspiracy theories and class warfare to get the socialists’ juices flowing. It doesn’t get any better than that, and in front of a willing media, no less!

The political angle was not lost on journalist Michael Volpe, who pointed out,

While the school closures in Chicago may seem to involve only local issues, the protest offered a clear glimpse into one of the most powerful segments of the Left. …(T)eachers unions routinely act in concert with open socialists — because their agendas and leadership merge to an alarming degree. While both claim to represent the interests of “the children” and the downtrodden, their real interest is exploiting the vulnerable to advance the principles of socialism.

Does it get any uglier than that?

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