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Unions party like it’s 1886

The Wrong March

When Black Kids Don't Matter

Can’t understand why the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Movement for Black Lives have issued proclamations opposing the expansion of school choice and Parent Power for the very black families for which they proclaim to care? The answer can be found in the annual financial statements of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s two largest teachers’ unions.

Over the past five years, the Big Two unions have worked zealously to co-opt black and other minority-oriented groups. Having been on the defensive against school reformers for most of the past decade, NEA and AFT used their considerable coffers to subsidize organizations in exchange for support for their agenda. For the most part, it hasn’t worked out nearly as well as the unions have expected. The $300,000 NEA and AFT gave to Al Sharpton’s National Action Network in 2014-2015, for example, hasn’t stopped the controversial civil rights activist from being a strong supporter for expanding public charter schools, while outfits such as the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights have sparred with the Big Two over federal accountability rules contained over the now-abolished No Child Left Behind Act.

Yet the Big Two’s vast spending has managed to gain it some allies. One of the biggest: NAACP, which has long ago abandoned its admirable leading role on civil rights and school reform that included spearheading litigation that led to the U.S. Supreme Court’s abolition of Jim Crow segregation in Brown v. Board of Education. Between 2010-2011 and 2014-2015, NEA and AFT increased its contributions to NAACP and its affiliates by a six-fold (from $25,000 to $151,700); the outfit collected $380,500 from the two unions within that period.

For these paltry sums over that period (especially when compared to what National Action Network has received in one year alone), NAACP has repaid the Big Two with almost complete adherence to their agenda. This includes last week’s passage of the resolution calling for a moratorium on expanding charter schools, the most-popular option for black families otherwise forced to attend failure mills in their communities. Even with numerous polls showing strong support among black families for charters and other forms of school choice, overwhelming evidence that high-quality charters are successful in improving student achievement, and support for choice among some of NAACP’s own affiliates, the old-school civil rights groups has been all too willing to join common cause with those who don’t have the interests of black children at heart.

But the NAACP’s allegiance to NEA and AFT isn’t just about money. Among the influential members of NAACP’s 64 member board: Hazel Dukes, whose long (and often infamous) tenure as head of its Empire State affiliate included teaming up with the AFT’s United Federation of Teachers in an unsuccessful effort to stop the Big Apple from renting space in half-empty traditional school buildings to charter schools. Dukes is also notorious for accusing parents of charter school students of “doing the business of slave masters”.

 

Hazel Dukes, President of the NAACP in New York, has long been notorious for both slandering charter schools and inhibiting their growth throughout the state

 

Another top NAACP board member is Adora Obi Nweze, the president of the group’s Florida branch, which joined the NEA’s and AFT’s Florida affiliate in its unsuccessful suit to end that state’s school choice program. Last year, the Florida NAACP convinced the national association to pass a resolution reaffirming its longstanding opposition to vouchers and other forms of choice.

The strong ties alone between Dukes (who remains NAACP’s most-influential board member) and AFT alone, along with the presence of Baby Boomer teachers in the outfits membership,  all but ensures that the concerns of black families are secondary to traditionalist interests. Even if Dukes and Nweze weren’t on the board, NAACP would be more than a tad willing to go along with NEA’s and AFT’s agenda. This is because the association’s board has strong ties to the unions that make up AFL-CIO, the labor confederation in which AFT (along with more than a few NEA affiliates) is an influential member. This includes James Settles, Jr.,  a vice president of the United Auto Workers; Robin Williams (an apparatchik with the United Food and Commercial Workers International); and William Lucy of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, a key AFT ally.

But as noted earlier, NAACP is one of the few old-school civil rights groups on which NEA and AFT can count on as a reliable ally. So the Big Two have had to cultivate new alliances though a strategy of wrapping themselves in the language of social justice. This includes working to co-opt activists within the criminal justice reform and Black Lives Matter movements.

Certainly the Big Two unions are using their coffers to win at least some of those activists over. But it isn’t just a matter of money. As any civil rights-oriented school reformer can tell you, NEA and AFT have learned long ago that extending helping hands, from meeting spaces to using fax machines to simply endorsing a platform, goes a long way in winning alliances. This is something reformers, more-concerned with policymaking and institution-building, have never understood.

 

Adora Obi Nweze, President of the Florida branch NAACP, has been actively trying to eliminate school choice programs within the state of Florida.

 

That many in the school reform movement have either been reluctant or outright hostile about working with Black Lives Matter and criminal justice reform activists on addressing issues that are tied to schools (including overuse of harsh school discipline and the penchant of traditional districts to refer children to juvenile courts), has also made it easy for NEA and AFT to win over some activists.

This partially-successful co-opting by NEA and AFT can be seen in the manifesto issued by Movement for Black Lives this week (which hasn’t been championed by such leading lights within the Black Lives Matter and criminal justice reform movements as Deray McKesson). The declaration itself was written not by the Black Lives Matter activists within the coalition, but largely by two of NEA’s and AFT’s prime vassals.

One of the coauthors, Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, has long been a front for the Big Two. Besides counting NEA and AFT among its members, the coalition includes vassals such as the Schott Foundation for Public Education (which collected $725,000 from the two unions between 2013-2014 and 2014-2015), and Center for Popular Democracy (a recipient of $1 million in teachers’ union money in that same period whose board includes AFT President Rhonda (Randi) Weingarten on its board). Another coauthor, Philadelphia Student Union, has been one of AFT’s lead groups in its effort to oppose systemic reform and school choice in the City of Brotherly Love; it collected $20,000 from AFT in 2013-2014.

Given the presence of these groups, along with the presence of Alliance for Educational Justice (another group backed by AFT), it is little wonder why so much of the “manifesto” focuses on opposing choice and Parent Power, as well as calling for districts to stop hiring recruits trained by Teach For America, the teacher quality reform outfit that has long been the bane of the Big Two’s existence. [This is even before you consider that, unlike NEA and AFT, Teach For America has actually recruited more black men and women into teaching, as well as supported the work of Black Lives Matter activists such as McKesson and Brittany Packnett (a Teach For America staffer).] The manifesto proclaims to raise questions about the role of black families and communities in shaping the schools that serve their children. But because it merely consists of NEA and AFT talking points, it spends more time making laughable claims about “privatization” of education even though most children still attend traditional public schools.

The fingerprints of NEA and AFT can also be seen in what Movement for Black Lives either ignores or barely touches on: Zip Code Education policies such as zoned schooling and restrictions on intra-district choice that force black families to send their kids to dropout factories that put them on the path to poverty and prison. The overuse of out-of-school suspensions, referrals to juvenile justice systems and other forms of harsh traditional school discipline that all but a few NEA and AFT affiliates strongly support. The near-lifetime employment rules through tenure and teacher dismissal policies defended by NEA and AFT that deny high-quality teaching to black children. The traditional district bureaucracies, often influenced by NEA and AFT locals through campaign donations, that do everything possible to oppose Parent Trigger measures and other tools that give black families lead decision making roles in the schools that serve their children.

Certainly no one should expect NEA and AFT to care about the lives and futures of black children and their families. They have long ago proven that their concerns are elsewhere. But there is no reason why NAACP and Movement for Black Lives are siding with the Big Two in perpetuating the educational genocide that has enslaved and destroyed the minds and futures of the black children for which they are supposed to be concerned. In the process, both (along with the reform movement itself) have wasted an important opportunity to reshape systemic reform in a way that puts black children and families at the center. What a shame.

About the Author: RiShawn Biddle is Editor and Publisher of Dropout Nation — the leading commentary Web site on education reform — a columnist for Rare and The American Spectator, award-winning editorialist, speechwriter, communications consultant and education policy advisor. More importantly, he is a tireless advocate for improving the quality of K-12 education for every child. The co-author of A Byte at the Apple: Rethinking Education Data for the Post-NCLB Era, Biddle combines journalism, research and advocacy to bring insight on the nation’s education crisis and rally families and others to reform American public education. This article originally appeared in Dropout Nation and is republished here with permission from the author.

Anti-Choice Teachers Unions Want to Take Control of the OC Board of Education

Everyone agrees that education for our children is a critical pathway for those children to grow into adults who are ready to earn a living and become responsible members of our society. Unfortunately labor unions including teachers unions have a different focus – to benefit their union bank accounts with your tax dollars more than the quality and success of students in those schools. Often to balance a school district’s books the union elected Board of Trustees will give raises to District employees and increase class sizes (with layoffs of younger teachers with less seniority). How does this help children in these schools? Not at all. In fact classroom overcrowding and teachers kept due to seniority instead of quality and student progress is detrimental to their education.

Let me pause and say there are many great teachers in the public school system. It is not their actions that are the problem. It is their unions who want to hold onto power who are the problem.

 

Public charter schools offer parents an alternative to the potential detriments found in our current public school system.

 

Many parents choose to send their children to private schools or choose to homeschool their children to assure that they are doing everything they can to provide a quality education for their child. But there is another route parents can take: public charter schools. The success of public charter schools is beyond refutation. The fact is that public charter schools, with the freedom to not unionize their staffs and focus on children’s academic progress rather than just seniority in teacher evaluations, have resulted in long waiting lists for children to gain entrance into good public charter schools. What is the response to this by government employee unions? To block public charter school applications at every turn. First via the Board of Trustees at the local level. Then with a rubber stamp Orange County Board of Education that denied charter school application appeals routinely. That changed two years ago when Linda Lindholm joined Trustees Robert Hammond and Ken Williams to form a pro public charter school majority. Since then charter schools that formerly were routinely denied appeals have had their appeals granted and more charter schools opened to the benefit of children, parents, teachers who work there and ultimately all of us as these children graduate with a quality education.

This June 7th voters in Orange County will have an opportunity to re-elect Trustees Hammond and Williams to keep that pro-charter school majority in place. The teacher unions are running Tustin Councilmember Rebecca Gomez and Irvine School Board member Michael Parham against Hammond and Williams to replace the current majority with a board majority that will bring the OC Board back to the days when charter school application appeals are routinely denied no matter the quality and demand by parents for a viable alternative to sometimes failing public schools their children are enrolled in.

 

Orange County Board of Education Members: Robert Hammond, Linda Lindholms, and Ken Williams

Orange County Board of Education Members: Robert Hammond, Linda Lindholms, and Ken Williams

 

Former State Senator Gloria Romero has an excellent opinion article in the Orange County Register (Teachers unions trying to take back O.C. board). Follow the link to her article where she has set forth how this is a deceptive campaign by the unions to smear Trustee Hammond and Williams to place their handpicked Trustees on the board.

Here is a part of her article:

“The name “Teachers for Local Control” undoubtedly was poll tested and determined to be a resonant mantra with Orange County voters. What backers probably won’t reveal is that Teachers for Local Control is a chameleon group for the Santa Ana Educators Association, a local affiliate of the powerful Sacramento-based California Teachers Association, which has fought virtually every public education reform and law granting parental school choice in California.

In fact, the legal phone number for Teachers for Local Control provided to the California Secretary of State’s Office is the same number as for the Santa Ana teachers union office.

Whoops.”

About the Author: Craig Alexander is the principal of the Law Offices of Craig P. Alexander and has practiced law for over twenty five years. He represents clients in litigation and non-litigation matters regarding construction defects, insurance coverage, personal injury, property damages, business litigation and general civil litigation matters and professional liability cases. Craig is a graduate of Santa Clara University’s School of Law and he was admitted to the California State Bar in December of 1987. This article originally appeared in OC Political, and is republished here with permission.

Friedrichs Case Petitioners: For Want of a Justice

Karen Cuen has more than a casual interest in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in January. She is one of the parties to a case whose future course became unclear following the Feb. 13 death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

Cuen is a music, band, and choir teacher who has taught elementary school students in Chino Valley, California, for over 20 years. She does not feel that the teachers union represents her best interests, and she is not a member. But since California is not a right-to-work state, she is required to pay fees to the union.

If Cuen and the other petitioners in Friedrichs prevail, they will be able to opt out of paying the CTA and its local affiliates.

Karen Cuen is a plantiff in a U.S. Supreme Court case involving mandatory union fees.

Karen Cuen is a plantiff in a U.S. Supreme Court case involving mandatory union fees.

“I became disenchanted with the teachers union when I realized they were not about what’s best for kids and public education,” Cuen said. “I realized they were about politics and protecting their own, even if ‘their own’ were poor teachers who should not be in the classroom.”

The union representation fees Cuen must pay as a nonmember are spent on politics, she said, including union negotiations for policies such as pay increases that reward longevity with no regard for effectiveness.

She disagrees with many of these positions but is forced to pay for them to keep her job.

“When budgets are tight and teachers must be laid off, the newest teachers are the first to go,” she said, explaining last-in, first-out, a practice demanded by the CTA and other unions. “This policy has become the status quo and it is not good for students.”

“New teachers are often some of the most excited. They come up with new ideas and great teaching strategies. Letting these kinds of teachers go is just bad business,” Cuen said.

The teachers who brought the case to the Supreme Court argue that mandatory union fees in the public sector violate the First Amendment rights of nonmembers since public employee unions engage in politically charged negotiations over taxpayer resources, public services, and government workers.

What would happen were the court to rule for Cuen?

“A favorable ruling would mean that after 20-plus years as an agency fee payer, I would finally stop having money taken out of my paycheck without my consent,” she said.

“It would mean that if teachers unions want their members’ money, they’d better come up with an attractive, responsible, user-friendly organization that listens to its members and provides services that are focused on working conditions for its members, not politics and social issues.”

Arguing against Cuen and her fellow petitioners, union lawyers warn that ending mandatory fees in the public sector would upset labor peace, harming workers by weakening unions.

Cuen disagrees, saying public employee unions could become stronger, not weaker.

If the CTA and other teachers unions had to earn members’ dues, “union members would actually want to be members and would be glad to be associated with the union,” Cuen said. “How is this a bad thing?”

During oral arguments on Jan 11., a majority of Supreme Court justices seemed sympathetic to the position advanced by attorneys representing Cuen and the other teachers. Counsel for the petitioners has asked the court to rehear the case after a replacement for Scalia is confirmed.

About the Author: Jason Hart is an Ohio-based reporter covering labor issues for Watchdog.org, with a focus on right-to-work, public employee unions and Obamacare. Before joining Watchdog, Jason was communications director for Media Trackers Ohio. His work has been featured at FoxNews.com, The Daily Signal, RedState, Washington Examiner, Townhall and elsewhere. His investigations into labor union spending and Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion have been cited by national commentators including Michelle Malkin, Erick Erickson, Dana Loesch and Mark Levin.

Teachers Unions Spend $700 Million per Year Explicitly on Political Advocacy

As readers know by now, Dropout Nation determined in research released last October that National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers spend roughly $700 million per year on advocacy. This report undermined the unions’ preferred narrative that they are scrappy underdogs fighting for public schools. As you would expect, especially on Twitter, NEA’s and AFT’s highly-paid spokespeople were none too happy about this inconvenient fact. One such executive, AFT’s Kombiz Lavasany, asserted that the report was “sadly dishonest [because the] vast majority of union dues support things universally supported,” such as “work to represent and work for better pay, work conditions, professionalism.”

20151022-UW-Biddle
NEA President Randi Weingarten, who is paid over $500,000 per year and wields
an annual advocacy budget of over $500 million, is looking out for working families.

Since these claims were repeated and rebroadcast by other union officials and their allies, they deserve a brief fact-based review. Unfortunately, they fail to hold up under even light quantitative scrutiny.

Yes, the teachers’ unions’ really spend $2.2 billion per year overall: Some critics looked at the revenues of the main unions’ national operations, and saw budgets in the hundreds of millions (not billions). NEA, for example, only reported revenue of $385 million to the U.S. Department of Labor; since the NEA represents two thirds of the nation’s teachers, looking only at national IRS filings would imply a revenue total of less than $600 million.

This math, however, excludes most of the unions’ budgets, which formally stay at the level of states and localities. A teacher in Chicago, for instance, pays dues averaging $1,000 per year, but 60 percent of those dues go to the local Chicago Teachers Union. The remaining 40 percent is split between the national AFT and the statewide Illinois Federation of Teachers. These local dues to CTU give it a formally independent budget of roughly $30 million. New York is another example; the UFT spends $100 million per year.

Any national analysis of union financial clout must therefore consider the dues collected by state and local affiliates and the filings they make with the Department of Labor and the Internal Revenue Service. Altogether, this adds up to $2.2 billion.

This number seems shockingly high. But you must look at this in context. The $2.2 billion number implies that the national unions represent about 30 percent of the total unions’ revenues. This makes sense given that the national unions play a quarterbacking role for organizations primarily working at the state and local levels. The number also suggests that annual dues amount to roughly $660 per teacher, which is just around one percent of the U.S. average teacher salary of $56,000.

As with other matters when it comes to the Big Two, the $2.2 billion union budget is only surprising for those who have not yet reviewed the basic math of American public education.

Yes, the unions really spend a third of their resources on advocacy: Lavasany and other union spokespeople argue that unions spend less than $700 million in advocacy because “most” of their money is spent in member services. Unpacking this claim requires a detour into union dues, how they are collected, and how they are classified.

The starting point is 1977, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that union officials could compel all teachers to pay union dues as a condition of employment. The Court held that such “compulsory dues” harm teachers’ First Amendment rights, as they compel teachers to pay for political speech. So long as the compulsory dues are used only for advocacy related to collective bargaining, however, the Court held them to be permissible.

As an outgrowth of the Abood decision, most teachers around the country have union dues deducted automatically from their paychecks. Union officials calculate which portion of those dues are related to collective bargaining (so-called “chargeable” expenses), and which dues are unrelated (so-called “non-chargeable” expenses which teachers may opt out of paying).

As the Supreme Court itself noted last year — and as Dropout Nation has noted — the decades since 1977 have revealed two practical problems with the Abood framework. First, the question of chargeable vs. non-chargeable is notoriously thorny, and remains the subject of ongoing litigation to this day. Many kinds of laws can be called related to teachers’ collective bargaining, including parent choice rules, teacher evaluation frameworks, and even a state’s overall levels of taxation and spending.

Second, the classification system is rife with conflicts of interest. The union officials who benefit directly from these revenue allocations have day-to-day responsibility for deciding which expenses are chargeable vs. non-chargeable. Every year, union staffers and their paid accountants make thousands of individual determinations about how to classify their time and expenses. From these classifications, the unions can essentially create as much revenue as they think they need. Even if every union staffer is a saint, their belief in their cause gives them a constant incentive to err on the side of higher compulsory dues.

This framework allows the accounting results to exactly match the public relations claims. Consider the response to last year’s Dropout Nation report from the AFT spokesman Lavasany that “vast majority of that money is spent on supporting members, not on politics.” Sure enough, this matches up with the 2013 audit report signed by the AFT’s accountants, which duly allocated 71.5 percent of the AFT’s revenues to “chargeable” expenses related to collective bargaining. Those overseeing the audit included AFT’s Secretary-Treasurer Loretta Johnson, a longtime AFT negotiator and officer, and Calibre, a certified public accountancy that specializes in serving the interests of labor unions.

A 2014 audit report AFT filed in California, writing to reflect an arbitrator’s decision between objecting teachers and the union’s United Teachers Los Angeles unit, made a slightly more conservative estimate of 66 percent of the revenues going toward “chargeable” expenses. Either way, the unions admit that between 25 percent and 33 percent of dues are allocated to political activities unrelated to collective bargaining and workplace issues.

Here’s the funny thing: Even if you take the union officials’ numbers at face value, the result actually confirms the thrust of Dropout Nation’s analysis. The pro bono consultants who went through the unions’ published national, state, and local tax returns estimated based on their research, interviews, and sampling that roughly one third of the unions’ efforts went toward political advocacy. This is what drove the $700 million estimate: one third of $2.2 billion is slightly more than $700 million. If the 2014 auditor’s report is correct, and that result applies to union spending allocations across the country, then it serves as independent confirmation, rather than rebuttal, of what Dropout Nation turned up.

Indeed, if even the unions’ auditing numbers say that one third of their expenses are not chargeable, the reality is probably a much higher number. This has been borne out by Dropout Nation in five years of reports on NEA and AFT spending: Often times, the two unions and their affiliates list what often turns out to be political spending under the category of “representational activities”. If anything, the $700 million estimate probably underestimates the amount of money NEA and AFT and their units spend on politics.

 

About the Author:  RiShawn Biddle is Editor and Publisher of Dropout Nation — the leading commentary Web site on education reform — a columnist for Rare and The American Spectator, award-winning editorialist, speechwriter, communications consultant and education policy advisor. More importantly, he is a tireless advocate for improving the quality of K-12 education for every child. The co-author of A Byte at the Apple: Rethinking Education Data for the Post-NCLB Era, Biddle combines journalism, research and advocacy to bring insight on the nation’s education crisis and rally families and others to reform American public education. This article originally appeared in Dropout Nation and is republished here with permission from the author.

Education Reform: #1 Issue on the Ballot in California

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He sure is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad Week for Teachers Unions

These days, the teachers unions have landed on the wrong side of judges, teachers, the general public and just about everyone else whose lives they touch.

Seems like the teachers unions are getting it from all sides these days. In a Wall Street Journal piece, the writers note that the percentage of elementary and secondary teachers who are union members is down about 20 percent since 1988. But as private and charter schools proliferate and the right-to-work movement grows, the last 26 years will look like the good old days.

Big Apple Kerfuffle

In response to the death of Eric Garner while in New York Police Department custody, United Federation of Teachers command central decided to join forces with Al Sharpton in blaming the police. However, New York City teachers responded by giving UFT president Michael Mulgrew a one-finger salute, and on the first day of school last week teachers all over the city wore pro-cop T-shirts. This independent streak was way over the top for Boss Mulgrew, whose union emailed a brief warning, “…as public employees, one must remain objective at all times.”

Teachers union members remain objective?!! WHAT!!! This followed UFT’s sponsorship of an Al Sharpton rally in support of Mike Brown, who died while in police custody in Ferguson, MO.

Now, how teachers should respond to non-education-related community events is a discussion for another day; the issue here is the union’s hypocrisy. But then again, Mulgrew has always shot from the hip … and as often as not, the bullet has wound up piercing his shoe. Most recently, despite teacher misgivings with Common Core, the union president decided that the standards were worthy. And at the American Federation of Teachers convention last month, in classic thug style, he closed with these pearls,

If someone takes something from me, I’m going to grab it right back out of their cold, twisted, sick hands and say it is mine! You do not take what is mine! And I’m going to punch you in the face and push you in the dirt because this is the teachers! These are our tools and you sick people need to deal with us and the children that we teach. Thank you very much!

If they ever decide to recast Goodfellas, Mulgrew is a shoo-in for the Joe Pesci role. (Extreme profanity alert.)

Michigan Shenanigans

After Michigan went right-to-work in 2012, the Michigan Education Association decided to play hardball. Most teachers didn’t know that the only period they could resign from the union was when most of them weren’t paying attention to school or union matters – in August. Some teachers sent in their resignation notice before the union-mandated allotted time and thought they’d legitimately opted out and stopped paying dues. However, they were soon faced with threats that unless they paid up, the union would do its best to damage their credit ratings. But the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation took the teachers’ side and brought suit against the union. Then, just last Tuesday administrative law judge Julia Stern recommended that the “ Employment Relations Commission order the Michigan Education Association to no longer limit school employees to leaving the union solely in August of each year. She said the law that took effect last year incorporated a federal law interpreted to give public employees the ability to leave their union anytime.”

Furious with the decision, the union went into spin-mode to divert attention from it, triumphantly pointing to the fact that only 5,000 teachers (out of 110,000 total) had resigned during the August window. But as Mike Antonucci notes, the bigger picture is not so rosy. “In 2008-09, the union had 129,000 active members. The latest loss brings that number down to 106,000 – a drop of almost 18 percent.” Also, as more contracts expire, more teachers will have the opportunity to disengage from the union. Additionally, as teachers see that the world of their non-unionized colleagues does not come to an end without Big Daddy, many will realize that the $1,000+ dues they pay on a yearly basis could be much better spent elsewhere.

Sophistry Vergara

Hardly a surprise, but immediately following Judge Rolf Treu’s final decision in the Vergara case, which affirmed his original one, the California Teachers Association, the California Federation of Teachers and Governor Jerry Brown (under pressure from his biggest political backers – the unions) filed an appeal. In a dual release, the unions trotted out the usual off-subject malarkey in an attempt to convince people of the evil intent of the suit.

All along it’s been clear to us that this lawsuit is baseless, meritless, and masterminded by self-interested individuals with corporate education reform agendas that are veiled by a proclamation of student interest.

The Vergara ruling makes clear that Judge Treu failed to engage the evidence presented in court by education experts and school superintendents who testified that teacher rights are not impediments to well-run schools and districts.

He also failed to take into account the impact of underfunding, poverty, growing inequality, and lack of decent jobs in the communities surrounding our schools….

… this ruling doesn’t address any of the real solutions to problems facing public education, solutions such as adequate funding, peer assistance and review programs for struggling teachers, and lower class sizes.

Blah, blah, blah.

While this kind of union spin has traditionally been successful, the general public at long last has become hip to it. In an Education Next  poll released in August concerning the issue of tenure – a major part of the Vergara suit,

… Survey respondents favor ending tenure by a 2-to-1 ratio. By about the same ratio, the public also thinks that if tenure is awarded, it should be based in part on how well the teacher’s students perform in the classroom. Only 9% of the public agrees with current practice in most states, the policy of granting teachers tenure without taking student performance into account.

Fair Share Flim-Flam Fades

Every year around Labor Day, Gallup polls Americans on their attitudes toward labor unions. This year a question was added about right-to-work laws, and the responses were not good news for the forced-union crowd. As Mike Antonucci writes,

The poll finds 82% of Americans agreeing that ‘no American should be required to join any private organization, like a labor union, against his will,’ a position advanced by right-to-work proponents. Pro-union forces partly oppose right-to-work laws because of the ‘free-rider’ problem, with non-union workers benefitting as much as union workers when unions negotiate pay and benefit increases with employers. But by 64% to 32%, Americans disagree that workers should ‘have to join and pay dues to give the union financial support’ because ‘all workers share the gains won by the labor union.’

The teachers unions are starting to remind me of a man at sea flailing away for help, but the courts, the general public and even many of their own members are not not throwing out a life raft. Perhaps Mr. Mulgrew needs to start breaking some legs. Nothing else seems to be working.

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.

Will the Supreme Court Do an “Abood Face?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He importantly added,

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

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

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

Union Controlled Classrooms – What Happened to Public Education in the U.S.

The United States spends more per pupil on public education than any other country in the world, about one trillion dollars annually, but it is at the bottom of the class. In 2009, 15-year old American students ranked 17th in reading, 23rd in science and 32nd in mathematics in the PISA international assessment of academic achievement. In 2000, they ranked 18th in math and 14th in science. 500,000 students from 34 OECD nations participated in each assessment.

A glance at the final exams given in 1895 and 1912 to 8th grade students is a striking example of how far we have fallen as a nation. [1, 2] 12-year old students in Salina, Kansas in 1895 had to pass the five-hour exam to qualify for admission to high school. Sample questions include:

–  Name the parts of speech and define those that have no modifications.
–  If a load of wheat weights 3942 lbs., what is it worth at 50 cents per bushel, deducting 1050 pounds for tare?
–  Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.
–  Write 10 words frequently mispronounced and indicate correct pronunciation by use of diacritical marks and by syllabication.

How many adults in 2013 could pass this test?

The decline in scholarship of America’s students parallels the unionization of public education. Teachers unions did not exist in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries when student achievement in the Unites States was the envy of the world. They are a fairly recent development.

Founded in 1857 by 43 teachers as a professional association, the National Education Association became a labor union in the social chaos of the 1960’s. Their metamorphosis into a union has negatively impacted the course of public education and the character of educators.

At its 50th anniversary, the NEA had a membership of 5,000. By 1960, the number had increased to 700,000. At its 150th anniversary in 2007, membership had ballooned to 3.2 million. The annual costs for public education during this period also ballooned, from $13 billion to $900 billion. [3]

Annual per student spending in constant 2011-2012 dollars rose from $3,648 in 1960 to $9,941 in 1995. In 2000, the average cost was $8,854. [4]  Today, it exceeds $10,000. In New York and the District of Colombia, the cost is $20,000, yet DC students have the lowest scores in this country as well as in all 34 of the countries in the OECD. [5]

There is an inherent structural flaw in the motives and priorities of a labor union being entrusted with the academic health and welfare of the nation’s young citizenry. In the transformation from a professional association to a union, its primary focus has shifted to the needs and welfare of the 3,500,000 teacher members, not the 55,000,000 young students placed in their care. [6]

The change in identity from a professional association to a labor union has had profound political, sociological and psychological consequences. These effects are linked to the decline in public education and academic scholarship and on the quality and performance of teachers. In their wake, America has become a global embarrassment. It is important to distinguish between teachers and teachers’ unions. Americans respect and trust teachers. They do not view unions in the same light. The difficulty lies in the lack of awareness of the union’s control over teachers and schools by the American public.

The NEA is dedicated, first and foremost, to the extent of its own power and political influence. Although unions claim to exist for the good of their members, they exist mainly for their own self-interests. The interests of the teachers are secondary. Those of the fifty-five million public school students are dead last.

With more than $1.5 billion in annual revenue from the mandatory dues of its 3.5 million members, the NEA has become a major player on the national political landscape. It is the largest contributor to the Democrat Party. [7]  The NEA can muster vast sums of money and numbers of votes for candidates in local, state and national elections or to defeat ballot initiatives that threaten its monopoly in public education.

To protect their interests, teachers unions have bludgeoned the citizens of California time and again at the ballot box. In 1993, the CTA spent $17 million to defeat Proposition 174 for school choice and $26 million in 2002 to defeat Proposition 38, a similar school voucher initiative.

They mortgaged their own headquarters in 2005 to raise the $56 Million that was needed to defeat the school reforms proposed by Governor Schwarzenegger. Had the CTA needed even more funds, its parent organization would have covered the shortfall with the staggering war chest the NEA has made available to any of its state affiliates. [8]

The continual increase in federal investment in public education and corresponding decrease in class size has not produced an increase in student performance. Quite the opposite has happened. The rate of literacy in our armed forces has steadily declined throughout the 20th century from 96% in WWII, to 81% in the Korean War to 73% in Viet Nam. [9] Thirty percent of current Navy recruits can’t read at a 9th grade level, the minimum required as a precaution in order to comprehend equipment instructions and operate them safely. [10]

Among high school graduates, the statistics are far worse. 75% of freshmen in 2-year colleges and 40% in 4-year colleges require remediation in reading and math. The US itself ranks 49th among the nations of the UN in its literacy levels. After 12 years of education in the nation’s public schools at a cost of $120,000 per student, America has an embarrassingly small return on its investment.

The 1895 and 1912 8th grade exams are a troubling reflection of the corrosive effects unionization has had on educators, students, the curriculum and the nation itself. Most teachers of that early era in our history had only a basic education. A high school education in the 1890’s provided a more solid understanding of mathematics, geography and literature than does most college degrees today.

Classes were large and often shared by students from several different grade levels. The curriculum was rigorous and every student was expected to master the Three R’s. The Bible, world atlas, US Constitution and the McGuffey Readers were often the only textbooks available. Strict rules promoted learning and kept disruptiveness to a minimum.
Public education in America was once among the nation’s greatest achievements. Its schools produced many of the world’s greatest minds (Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell and Henry Ford) until the sixties. That remarkable achievement appears to have been lost since the intrusion of the powerful teachers’ unions, a footnote in our national history.

The NEA also changed the character of educators. Images in newspapers and on TV of angry teachers in the streets of Chicago and New York with placards demanding higher wages while their students are locked out of their schoolrooms for days stand in stark contrast to the well-dressed, soft-spoken teachers of our childhood.

Mob thuggery has inserted itself into public education. The educators who march and chant in favor of unions are often very emboldened and brutish. Although many teachers disagree with this unseemly and unprofessional behavior and would never voluntarily abandon their students, they are voiceless within the union.

The NEA has co-opted the teaching profession. Teachers have become members of a union, not of a highly esteemed profession. In its wake, the NEA damaged our schools, our students and our educators. There has been a dumbing down of our teachers, 41% of math teachers and 51% of those in chemistry and physics lack even a minor in their area of specialization and a correspondent dumbing down of our students, 23rd in science and 32nd in math on international assessment of academic competence.

Public education in America is literally on its deathbed. The only treatment to save its life is radical reform. There are no other options. Absolute control must be wrested from the teachers union.

Solutions to Revitalize Public Education in the United States:

(1) The Right to Work policy should be implemented in all states as should the right to opt out of mandatory dues and agency fees.

(2) Seniority, step increases in salary and automatic tenure after two or three years are rules that should be revoked.

(3) Assessment of teacher performance, disciplinary matters and design of the curriculum should be under district control with continual input from the community as should hiring and firing of teachers.

(4) Charter schools, single-sex schools and parental choice should all be made widely available.

It is time America took back control of the education of its future citizens. The purpose of this series will be to examine the effects of unionism on U.S. public education and academic achievement, quality of the teachers and the curriculum being taught by them and of the massive fraud of the federal monopoly in education.

It is our hope that exposure of the malignant effects of the unions on public education and the threat for the nation’s future will provide some direction for a much-needed public discussion about an issue that may be among the most critical for our continued survival as a world leader.

R. Claire Friend, MD, is a retired psychiatrist and frequent commentator on the psychological dimensions of education and social welfare policies.

Footnotes:

1. http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~kssvgs/school/8th_exam_exp.html

2. http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/smartnews/2013/07/no-youre-probably-not-smarter-than-a-1912-era-8th-grader/#ixzz2bEdfZHU3

3. http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2009/2009020.pdf

4. http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/Education.html in constant 1995 dollars

4. http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d12/tables/dt12_213.asp in constant 2011-2012 dollars

5. Eric Hanushek, Paul Peterson and Ludger Woessman, Endangering Prosperity, p. 50

6. http://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/facts_for_features_special_editions/cb11-ff15.html

7.

8. http://www.followthemoney.org/database/topcontributor.phtml?u=20205&y=0

9.

10. https://www.google.com/#q=percent+of+US+navy+recruits+who+are+illiterate

Additional Notes:

Annual cost per student by state:
http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2012/06/21/155515613/how-much-does-the-government-spend-to-send-a-kid-to-school

Annual cost per student in constant dollars:
Eric A. Hanushek, “Deconstructing RAND,” Education Next 1, no. 1 (2001), online edition: http://www.educationnext.org/2001sp/65.html.

Corporate Screed

American Federation of Teachers led “National Day of Action” is a clear indicator that teachers unions are losing clout.

On December 9th, we will be treated to the “National Day of Action,” a day cooked up by the American Federation of Teachers and supported by the National Education Association and various fellow travelers. After reading through some of AFT’s pointed literature, the union’s bête noire becomes obvious. Its manifesto, “The Principles That Unite Us,” includes numerous references to corporate reform, the corporate agenda, corporate interests, etc.

But of course it can’t be that all corporations are evil. After all, teachers unions are corporations. In fact, according to their latest tax returns, the two national teachers unions brought in over $550,000,000 in revenue in 2011. (Unlike conventional corporations that are taxed at the world’s highest rate, union corporations don’t have to pay one cent in taxes … but I digress.)

So what it comes down to is market share. You see, the teachers unions’ emphasis on collective bargaining, seniority, tenure, endless dismissal statutes, etc., are in a death battle with reformers – parents, privatizers, charter schools and taxpayers and the unions are losing the fight. But unlike other enterprises, they don’t bother trying to come up with a better education product. Instead, they just demonize the competition – in this case, other corporations.

One of their sillier arguments is that corporate interests are involved in reform for the money.  Really? Bill Gates, one of the chief corporate entrepreneurs of our time, has so much money he can’t give it away fast enough. Actually, Gates, the Walton Foundation, Eli Broad, etc. are not pushing education reform to get wealthy; they are doing it to ameliorate what has become a very troubled education system that is dominated in most states – and greatly damaged – by the teachers unions. (Interestingly, the teachers unions are biting the corporate hand that feeds them: Gates has given the NEA and AFT over $20.7 million in grants since 2008.) 

Perhaps the most outspoken of the anti-corporate crowd is writer David Sirota, an avowed leftist who at one time was an aide to the socialist congressman from Vermont (now socialist senator) Bernie Sanders. Sirota declares that school reformers “are full of it.”

And the more education “reformers” try to distract from it, the more they will expose the fact that they aren’t driven by concern for kids but by the ugliest kind of greed – the kind that feigns concerns for kids in order to pad the corporate bottom line.

In a 2011 Salon.com screed, Sirota spells out his abject hatred for all things corporate, claiming that these entities are in it for “self-interest” and mentions why in three bullet points.

Self-Interest No. 1: Pure Profit – First and foremost, there’s a ton of money to be made in the education “reforms” that Big Money interests are advocating.

Yes, there is some money to be made by online academies, test publishers, etc. But as mentioned above, the vast majority of “Big Money interests” don’t need education reforms to become rich.

Self-Interest No. 2: Changing the Subject From Poverty and Inequality – Inconvenient as it is to corporate education “reformers,” the well-proven fact is that poverty — not teacher quality, union density or school structure — is the primary driver of student achievement.

Wrong again. It has been repeatedly proven that poverty doesn’t cause an inferior education. However, a bad education can certainly lead to poverty. In response to a post by former teacher Anthony Cody, education pundit RiShawn Biddle eloquently lays waste to the poverty-trumps-all argument. Several examples of Biddle’s wisdom on the subject:

As with so many traditionalists, Cody would rather ignore the fact that reformers actually do talk plenty about addressing poverty, just not in the manner that fits his impoverished worldview on the role education plays in addressing those issues. He also ignores the reality that the education spending has continued to increase for the past five decades, and that much of the troubles with American public education has little to do with money than with the fact that so much school funding is trapped by practices such as degree- and seniority-based pay scales for teachers that have no correlation with improving student achievement. But those are matters for a later day. Why? Because Cody’s puts on full displays the problems of the poverty mythmaking in which he and other traditionalists engage.

… the biggest problem with Cody’s piece lies with its rather unjustified contention that anti-poverty programs are the long-term solutions for fighting poverty. One only needs to look at the history of government-run anti-poverty efforts, and pay attention to today’s knowledge-based economy, to understand why this version of the Poverty Myth of Education has no standing.

If anything, many of the anti-poverty programs (including welfare) has helped foster what Leon Dash would call the pestilences of gang warfare, drug dealing and unwed motherhood that have plagued Black America and Latino communities. Federal welfare rules barring married women from receiving benefits, for example, is one reason why marriage among poor blacks has gone from being the norm to being extraordinarily rare since the 1950s — and why 70 percent of black children are born out of wedlock.

anti-poverty programs and quality-of-life efforts aren’t going to address the reality that 1.4 million fourth-graders who are functionally illiterate are likely to drop out in eight years. More importantly, we cannot ignore the consequences of American public education’s failures on the very communities at which its schools are the center of the lives of the children who live in them. This can only be addressed by overhauling how (we) educate all children — especially our poorest. They deserve better than last-class schools.

Self-interest No. 3: New Front in the War on Unions – Today, unions are one of the last — and, unfortunately, weakening — obstacles to corporations’ having complete control of the American political system.

Weakening? Yes, he is on to something here, but this is happening mostly where teachers have a choice whether or not to join, and many are choosing the latter.

Sirota ends his essay with the following:

Teachers unions’ self-interest means advocating for better teacher salaries and job security — an agenda item that would, among other things, allow the teaching profession (as in other nations) to financially compete for society’s “best and brightest” and in the process help kids. The unions’ self-interest also means advocating for decent workplace facilities, which undeniably benefits not only the teacher, but also students….

Corporate education “reformers’” self-interest, by contrast, means advocating for policies that help private corporations profit off of public schools, diverting public attention from an anti-poverty economic agenda, and busting unions that prevent total oligarchical control of America’s political system. In short, it’s about the profit, stupid.

Neither side’s self-interest is perfectly aligned with the goal of bettering our education system. But one side is clearly far more aligned with that goal than the other.

Interesting that Sirota would end on an Ayn Randian note, pointing out the reality and morality of self-interest. But his ideas about the “anti-poverty economic agenda” and the unions preventing “oligarchical control of America’s political system” are dead wrong.  His last sentence is true, but he has picked the wrong side. “Corporate reformers” cannot possibly do any more damage to public education than the unions have. And thankfully – not a moment too soon – the public is finally waking up to that fact.

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.

Let’s Flush the Bathroom Bill

A new California law is agenda driven, hurts kids and is totally unnecessary.

A look back through recent history reveals that legislators and the educational establishment, taking its marching orders from the teachers unions, have needlessly foisted sexuality into children’s lives. The radical agenda of the activists seeks to divest children of any prudish, old-world morality imposed upon them by their clueless, Neanderthal parents. Just a few cases in point:

  • In 2004, the National Education Association gave its prestigious Human Rights Award to Kevin Jennings, founder of the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN). This is the group that presided over the infamous “Fistgate” conference held at Tufts University in Massachusetts in March 2000, where state employees gave explicit instructions about “fisting” and other forms of gay sexual activity to children as young as 12. The conference was secretly recorded and its extraordinarily vile contents can be heard here.
  • At a UN conference in 2011, Diane Schneider, an NEA Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Trainer of Trainers, said “Oral sex, masturbation, and orgasms need to be taught in education.” She told this to the audience at a panel on combating homophobia and transphobia. Additionally, she advocated for more “inclusive” sex education in US schools, with curricula based on “liberal hetero and homosexual expression.” Lest parents think they could just excuse their child from that class, she claimed that the idea of sex education “remains an oxymoron if it is abstinence based, or if students are still able to opt-out.” She then added that comprehensive sex education is “the only way to combat heterosexism and gender conformity.”

“Gender identity expression and sexual orientation are a spectrum,” she explained, and said that those opposed to homosexuality “are stuck in a binary box that religion and   family create.”

  • Later in 2011, with a $1,500 grant from the California Teachers Association, a group called Gender Spectrum presented some rather interesting lessons over two days to the entire school of 350 students. The specifics were reported by Fox News, which was invited to sit in on the lessons.

Joel Baum, director of education and training for Gender Spectrum, taught the classes. In the kindergarten class he asked the 5- and 6-year-olds to identify if a toy was a “girl toy” or a “boy toy” or both. He also asked which students liked the color pink, prompting many to raise their hands, to which he responded that boys can like pink, too.

In the fourth-grade class, Baum focused on specific animal species, like sea horses, where the males can have or take care of the children. He suggested that even if someone was born with male “private parts” but identified more with being a girl, that was something to be “accepted” and “respected.”

Students in the class were given cards, which included information on all-girl geckos and transgender clownfish, to illustrate the variations in nature that occur in humans, too.

“Gender identity is one’s own sense of themselves. Do they know themselves to be a girl? Do they know themselves to be a boy? Do they know themselves to be a combination?” Baum said. “Gender identity is a spectrum where people can be girls, feel like girls, they feel like boys, they feel like both, or they can feel like neither.”

The question here becomes why are elementary school children being exposed to sexual concepts and anomalies that they are totally incapable of understanding and are frequently very frightening and confusing to them?

  • That same year Californians were subjected to the “FAIR Act,” also known as the LGBT History Bill, a law

which compels the inclusion of the political, economic, and social contributions of persons with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people into educational textbooks and the social studies curricula in California public schools by amending the California Education Code.

And this year a “transgender rights” bill was ushered in, supported by the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers. Passed into law in August, the essence of AB 1266 – the “bathroom bill” – can be summed up in its final 37 words:

A pupil shall be permitted to participate in sex-segregated school programs and activities, including athletic teams and competitions, and use facilities consistent with his or her gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil’s records.

The law, written by San Francisco assemblyman Tom Ammiano, is being touted as necessary to protect the civil rights of students who have sexual identity issues. But there already are laws on the books to protect them. Instead, as political strategist Frank Schubert points out, the law is intended to

advance an adult political agenda by special interests who wish to use our public schools as a tool to strip gender and gender differences from societal norms. In the process, the privacy and security interests of all students, including those who are transgendered, are compromised.

Schubert then goes on to point out what is specifically wrong with the law:

One Size Fits All. The bill mandates a “one size fits all” approach, failing to provide educators with flexibility to choose less-invasive solutions, such as giving transgendered students access to private or faculty facilities, or customizing approaches that meet the unique needs of a transgendered student. As a result, many transgendered students may find themselves stigmatized by AB 1266, unable to avail themselves of solutions designed to meet the needs of the specific student and instead forced into a “one size fits all” approach. For example, some school districts currently give transgendered students the option of choosing a single stall bathroom for increased privacy. AB 1266 is so poorly drafted that it may eliminate this option.

Lacks Safeguards. Some California school districts have existing rules that give transgendered students the ability to use bathroom and locker room facilities consistent with their so-called gender identity, but those jurisdictions have at least adopted some minimal standards to guard against abuse. For example, in order to claim a gender identity that differs from their biologic sex, a student in San Francisco must have presented a gender identity “exclusively and consistently at school.” AB 1266 contains no such requirement, allowing any student to assert a gender identity at school at any time.

No Parental Involvement. AB 1266 also fails to provide a role for parents in determining a course of action for a student. Some students may be suffering from gender confusion, wherein a teen is genuinely confused about the strong feelings they have identifying with the gender opposite of how they were born. Involving the child’s parents in fashioning a course of conduct for that student could be critical to his or her ultimate well-being, yet AB 1266 contains no provisions for parental involvement.

Lacks Balance. AB 1266 fails to include any provisions that seek to balance the interests of a transgendered student with the rights of all other students. This is especially important in the critical area of personal privacy. Current policies in some districts provide for “accommodation and the needs and privacy concerns of all students involved.” AB 1266 fails to provide any balance or reasonable accommodation in its approach.

Perhaps the least reported facet of this contentious law is just how many children would be affected by it. An advocacy group, The National Center for Transgender Equality reports that “between ¼ and 1% of the population is transsexual.” The Williams Institute, which is “dedicated to conducting rigorous, independent research on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy” claims that there are 700,000 transgender individuals in the US.

That comes down to .233 percent of the total population. Therefore, in a school of 600, one or two students may be classified as sexually conflicted. So does it really make sense to run a major social experiment on 598 or 599 kids for the possible benefit of one or two?

Of course not.

To be sure, there are children who have genetic conflicts and their needs should be addressed, but the new law is not doing them or anyone else any favors. It’s about in-your-face, forced acceptance of an envelope-stretching political agenda that many of us don’t want. Instead of a sweeping law to help the afflicted few, how about a simple decision to let those who have “gender identity” issues use separate unisex bathrooms and private changing areas if they are not comfortable using the facilities that comport with the body parts they were born with?

Additionally, because the law is so poorly written, it will undoubtedly be gamed by some teenage boys who will have figured out how to get a free trip into the girls’ bathroom, not to mention showers.

Perhaps this potentially toxic legislation would have been better written for adults – same law, but require that it applies to the legislators and teachers’ organizations that made this abomination a reality. Not a chance of that happening; the adults wouldn’t stand for it.

Where to go from here?

There is a group that is fighting back. “Privacy for All Students” is an ad hoc coalition of parents, students and faith groups, established for the sole purpose of getting an initiative on the ballot to repeal the new law. “Privacy for All Students” has until November 12th to submit the signatures of approximately 505,000 voters to qualify the referendum. If enough signatures are submitted to elections officials, the law will be suspended and won’t take effect, as planned, on January 1st. Instead, the proposition would appear on the November 2014 statewide ballot.

Interestingly, the due date for the signatures is eight days before the Transgender Day of Remembrance” – a holiday that is acknowledged in schools across California. Perhaps it’s time to consider a “Children’s Day,” one that celebrates the right of all children to have their privacy and dignity respected.

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.

Dump the Masters Bump

Advanced degrees for teachers have no bearing on student learning.

Last week, The Wall Street Journal brought to a national audience the news that lawmakers in North Carolina have done away with automatic pay increases for teachers who have master’s degrees.

North Carolina is the latest state to get rid of the “masters bump,” following Tennessee, Florida, Indiana and Louisiana. What these states have come to realize is that a teacher needs an advanced degree like a fish needs a sheepskin. Or, as Harvard researcher Tom Kane put it, “Paying teachers on the basis of master’s degrees is equivalent to paying them based on hair color.”

Instead, North Carolina will institute a system of merit pay based on students’ test scores. Of course, moving away from the traditional way of giving teachers raises brings out all the usual suspects whose common grouse is,

Getting an advanced degree gives teachers a deeper understanding of one subject or a better idea of how to teach students at different levels – important parts of education that aren’t always quantifiable.

It is certainly possible that teachers with advanced degrees may have a “deeper understanding” of their subject matter. But so what? How much a student learns, not how much the teacher “understands,” is the real measure of a teacher’s value.

But any attempt at “pay for performance” is particularly anathema to the union crowd because it destroys their worldview that all teachers are essentially the same, and that there is no such thing as a bad teacher. This phenomenon was spelled out in 2009 in “The Widget Effect,” a report by The New Teacher Project.

Predictably, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten weighed in on the North Carolina move, positing that, “districts and local unions should create contracts that reward teachers for master’s degrees that are relevant to classroom instruction.” She then added,

What is so ironic to me is that the same people who keep telling kids that it is really important to gain additional knowledge are the same ones saying “not so much,” when it comes to teachers.

Again, Weingarten is under the erroneous assumption that the more a teacher knows, the more their students will learn. She has apparently forgotten that we pay teachers to be teachers, not to be students.

In fact, Weingarten and her fellow travelers should become familiar with “The Sheepskin Effect and Student Achievement” with its subhead “De-emphasizing the Role of Master’s Degrees in Teacher Compensation.” The study, conducted by the Center for American Progress, delved into the uselessness and the outrageous costs of the bump.

Not only does the annual outlay for master’s bumps inflate demand for master’s degrees, it understates the full financial and social cost of this traditional facet of teacher compensation in the following three ways:

  • First, the extra cost is a lost opportunity. The billions of dollars tied up in master’s bumps are not available for compensation vehicles better aligned with a school district’s strategic goals such as improving student achievement.
  • Second, some school districts offer tuition reimbursement to teachers pursuing a master’s degree.
  • Third, many teachers leave the classroom years before earning enough additional compensation by way of master’s bumps to pay down loans or defray other expenses associated with their efforts to earn a master’s degree.

The severity of the costs cannot be exaggerated. As The Wall Street Journal reports,

About 52% of the nation’s 3.4 million public elementary and high-school teachers held a master’s or other advanced degree in 2008, compared with about 38% of private-school teachers, according to the most recent federal data. The national average salary for a teacher with five years of experience and a bachelor’s degree was $39,700 in 2008, compared with $46,500 with a master’s, according to the federal data … The nation spends an estimated $15 billion annually on salary bumps for teachers who earn master’s degrees …

Here in Los Angeles, the situation is beyond wacky. In 2011, I wrote about “The Teacher Quality Roadmap,” a study conducted by the National Council on Teacher Quality that examined the relationship between advanced degrees and other “extra coursework” on teacher effectiveness.

“Out of 102 statistical tests examined,” the report notes, “approximately 90 percent showed that advanced degrees had either no impact at all or, in some cases, a negative impact on student achievement.” And teachers without advanced degrees who simply take extra coursework in their areas of specialty prove no more effective in the classroom than those who don’t.

Not only is L.A. Unified’s policy at odds with the research, it practically invites teachers to game the system. According to the district contract with the United Teachers of Los Angeles, coursework, to qualify as professional development, must be “directly related to subjects commonly taught in the District.” (Emphasis added.) So a kindergarten teacher can take “Northern and Southern Economies on the Eve of the Civil War,” say, and receive what is euphemistically called “salary-point credit” for it. Or an American history teacher could take a class in identifying different kinds of plankton and also get a bump in pay. Taxpayers pay out a whopping $519 million a year in extra salary payments to teachers who take such courses.

That’s $519,000,000 in Los Angeles and $15,000,000,000 nationally in wasted taxpayer money! For the union crowd and their acolytes who are always screaming that we need more money for education, eliminating the masters bump and ignoring all the “deeper understanding” poppycock would be a perfect place to start.

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.

Labor Stains

A new American Federation of Teachers financial report shows that the union has not modified its anti-child and anti-conservative stance.

Courtesy of education writer RiShawn Biddle, we get to peek at the latest edition of the American Federation of Teachers LM-2, a yearly financial report detailing union income and spending.

No surprises. Just the same old same old blatant hypocrisy, anti-education reform agenda and leftist political bent.

We’ll start with AFT president Rhonda (please call me Randi) Weingarten who pulled in a cool $543,150 in total compensation over the last year, all the while railing against the rich because she claims they don’t pay their fair share of taxes. Of course this is the same Randi Weingarten who moved out of New York City in 2012 so that she could escape paying an additional $30,000 in city income taxes.

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t begrudge anyone using any legal tactics to avoid paying abusive taxes, but when a person who regularly whines that the rich “should pay their fair share” does it, the hypocrisy meter goes well into the red zone. It’s also hypocritical because her one-percenter salary is paid by teachers who are forced to join her union in just about every school district that AFT represents. Throughout ancient times, this kind of coerced fealty was required by powerful states and empires. “Tribute” was forced on people around the world, who had to pay up as a way of submitting – or showing allegiance – to the government. Tribute was picked up in essence in the last century by the Mafia as a means of establishing and maintaining turf. The teachers unions are just the latest bunch to adapt this repulsive practice as a way to line the pockets of the dons – I mean union leaders.

When it comes to political spending, AFT doesn’t skimp. Their anti-education reform spending and other political outlay is reported to be about $32 million. I say “reported to be” because unions have been known to – how you say – lie about their spending. For example, according to teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci, in the 2008 election cycle, the National Education Association

dropped $260,000 on one of the many front groups operated by Craig Varoga and George Rakis, two men Fox News identifies as “Democratic Party strategists.”  

Readers of this blog will not find such news surprising, but if you delve through the pertinent EIA list of NEA donations to advocacy groups, you won’t find this money. That’s because the expenditures are listed in NEA’s financial disclosure report as expenses for “media,” going to Independent Strategies, one of Rakis and Varoga’s groups, for “generalized message, program expenses,” or “membership communication development,” or “legislative policy development.” Without further information, it was difficult to justify classifying Independent Strategies as an advocacy group. This news, however, suggests NEA’s advocacy spending extends well beyond the easily identifiable groups.

In any event, AFT’s latest battles against education reform have been centered on Michigan and Pennsylvania – the former because it recently stopped forcing its teachers to join the union as a condition of employment and the latter because of a squabble over education funding.

As Biddle points out,

It poured $1.3 million into its Michigan affiliate during 2012-2013; this included $140,776 to the unit’s “solidarity fund” and $240,828 for political activities related to efforts to beat back reformers in the Wolverine State … Altogether, the AFT has poured $2.7 million into the Michigan affiliate over the past two fiscal years…

Meanwhile in Pennsylvania, the AFT has worked with its Keystone State affiliate to challenge school reform efforts as well as take on moves by Gov. Tom Corbett to reduce education spending. These efforts, along with the move by Philadelphia’s traditional district to shut down 23 schools, was why Randi has spent time in the state (including getting herself arrested by police back in March during a protest at the district’s board meeting). The union poured $696,256 into the Pennsylvania affiliate, including $238,670 for political activities. The AFT also found outfits willing to take its contributions. Youth United for Change, which has held protests against Corbett’s budget moves, received $25,000 from the AFT, while ACTION United picked up $25,252 from union coffer.

In Michigan, Pennsylvania and elsewhere, it is important to note that the unions’ efforts are – not surprisingly – simply an effort to protect its members’ jobs and perks. They have nothing to do with children. This is understandable – that’s their mandate – but they should at least admit it (which they never do). Like cowards, the unions hide behind the children to advance their agenda.

For example, my post last week concerned itself with the situation in Philadelphia, and I included a letter to The Wall Street Journal from Ms. Weingarten, who was responding to an editorial critical of the Philadelphia Teachers Union. Weingarten wrote that Governor Tom Corbett “continues to rob Philadelphia’s students of much-needed funding to further his anti-teacher ideology.” Her “robbing students” claim is based on the fact that the governor is tying a funding infusion to the elimination of the archaic, child-unfriendly, and industrial-style seniority system, in addition to a mandate to hold teachers accountable for student learning.

Another huge chunk of AFT political spending is on issues that have nothing to do with education. And despite the fairly evenly divided political leanings of its membership, the groups that receive millions from the union have one thing in common – they lean to the left; not one penny of the union’s donations go to anything approaching a right-of-center organization. A few examples of AFT’s largess:

National Immigration Forum Action Fund

National Journal Group Inc

Netroots Foundation

Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network

The Atlantic

Alliance for Retired Americans

American Labor Studies Center

Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance

Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence

Clinton Global Initiative

Congressional Black Caucus Foundation

Economic Policy Institute

Institute for Women’s Policy Research

National Council of La Raza

NAACP

Rainbow PUSH Coalition

The American Prospect

The Nation Institute

So, the union forcibly takes money from teachers and spends much of it in a way that not only hurts children, but also goes against the political beliefs of many of its members. If pointing out these hypocrisies and injustices makes me a “union basher,” I am (proudly) guilty as charged.

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’s parent-empowerment law gains ground

Last week, parents in the Southern California desert city of Adelanto celebrated the opening of the first school transformed under the state’s 2010 parent-empowerment law, also known as the parent trigger. After two San Bernardino County Superior Court judges upheld their petition to take control of foundering Desert Trails Elementary School, parents selected a nonprofit charter operator to reopen the school as Desert Trails Preparatory Academy. But even as parents celebrate their accomplishments in Adelanto and elsewhere, school-reform opponents are renewing their efforts to undermine the law.

Under the law, if a majority of parents with children at a failing public school sign a petition, they can “trigger” a change in the school’s governance, forcing the school district to adopt one of a handful of reforms: getting rid of some teachers, firing the principal, shutting the school down, or turning it into a charter school. The legislation, authored by former state senator Gloria Romero, empowers parents to circumvent sclerotic school boards and obstructionist teachers’ unions. Teachers’ unions recognized the danger at once, which helps explain why California Federation of Teachers president Marty Hittleman called Romero’s bill a “lynch mob provision.”

Desert Trails was a hard-won fight. In January 2012, parents submitted 466 signatures to the Adelanto Elementary School District, representing 70 percent of the 665 students enrolled. Within days, the California Teachers Association launched a counter-petition drive—just as it had done successfully against a parent-trigger petition drive a year earlier in Compton. But this time, parents sued the school district to accept their petition and reject the CTA’s eleventh-hour rescission campaign. (City Journal’s Ben Boychuk chronicles the Adelanto effort in The Beholden State: California’s Lost Promise and How to Recapture It.)

Since the Desert Trails parents won their victory, parents at three other Southern California schools have availed themselves of the law. Parents at Haddon Avenue Elementary School in the Los Angeles suburb of Pacoima gathered some of the signatures they needed to trigger staff and other changes at the school, but they suspended their petition drive when administrators and teachers agreed to an in-district reform plan. At 24th Street Elementary School in South Los Angeles, parents overwhelmingly approved a collaborative partnership between the Los Angeles Unified School District and Crown Prep Academy, a charter operator. Under a plan that takes effect next week, the district will be responsible for instruction in pre-kindergarten through fourth grade, and Crown Prep will oversee fifth through eighth grade. In an unusual circumstance, the United Teachers of Los Angeles, happy to be included in the process, was a willing party to the conversion at 24th Street Elementary. But UTLA chief Warren Fletcher, no fan of the law, warned that the union was “watching what happens at 24th Street and other schools—watching to see if it destabilizes the schools.” What Fletcher doesn’t seem to understand is that poorly performing schools are destabilized already.

Meanwhile, parents at Weigand Avenue Elementary School in L.A. petitioned for a “transformation” model, allowing them to replace the school’s principal and make other structural changes at the campus. Weigand’s parents voted to keep all the teachers but get rid of Irma Cobian, the principal who had let the school deteriorate during her four years on the job. You wouldn’t know that from reading the Los Angeles Times, though. In a one-sided story, reporter Teresa Watanabe claimed that “teachers and students alike loved the principal.” Watanabe cited a student’s claim that “Cobian is a special principal who gives her hugs and understands her struggles,” such as losing her father to cancer last year. Only in passing did Watanabe acknowledge that some parents were dissatisfied with Cobian and with the school’s administration, or that a group of parents and teachers in 2011 submitted “no confidence”letters about Cobian to district officials. And crucially, Watanabe failed to note that, prior to Cobian’s arrival in 2009, the school’s score on the Academic Performance Index—the state’s annual measure of test-score performance of schools and districts—was 717, or 23 points above the city’s average. By the close of the 2011–12 school year, Weigand’s API had plummeted to 689, or 57 points below the city’s average. Only a handful of elementary schools in Los Angeles fared worse during that period.

The Times’s soft-pedaling galvanized parent-trigger opponents. Diane Ravitch, a onetime reformer who is now a teachers’-union stalwart, used Watanabe’s story to attack Ben Austin, executive director of Parent Revolution, a Los Angeles–based advocacy group that has helped organize parents across the Southland. “Ben Austin is loathsome,” Ravitch wrote on her blog. “He ruined the life and career of a dedicated educator [Cobian]. She was devoted to the children; he is devoted to the equally culpable foundations that fund his Frankenstein organization—Walton, Gates, and Broad. His biggest funder is the reactionary Walton Family Foundation, which spends $160 million every year to advance privatization. Ben Austin is Walton’s useful idiot. He prattles on about his liberal credentials, but actions speak louder than words.” She ended her post with a curse: “Ben, every day when you wake up, you should think of Irma Cobian. When you look in the mirror, think Irma Cobian. Your last thought every night should be Irma Cobian. Ben, you ruined the life of a good person for filthy lucre. Never forget her. She should be on your conscience—if you have one—forever.” Ravitch’s inflammatory attack invited heated rebuttals from prominent education writers and bloggers, including Rick HessJoanne JacobsRiShawn Biddle,Whitney Tilson, and Alexander Russo. Eventually, Ravitch issued a tepid apology.

Ravitch wasn’t the only anti-reformer opposing parents’ efforts. Claiming that 14 schools were targeted for future petitions—Parent Revolution puts that number at 50—UTLA held a press conference and demonstration against the parent-trigger law at Weigand in May. Then in June, at a Los Angeles school board meeting at which the parent trigger was on the agenda, board member Steve Zimmer offered a resolution calling for a change in the state law that would bring “more transparency to the signature-gathering process.” Seconding Zimmer’s resolution, UTLA boss Fletcher denounced the parent trigger as a “bad law” and a “cruel hoax” that “guarantees bad outcomes.” He finished on a solemn note, warning that “a system based on hatred hurts children.” This was interesting talk from the leader of an organization whose mandate is to protect teachers at any cost, with practically no regard for children’s best interests.

In response, Parent Revolution’s deputy director, Gabe Rose, issued a statement supporting the part of Zimmer’s proposal that would give parents more information “on the state of their children’s schools.” He praised the resolution’s emphasis on accurate data and making options available to parents. But he fiercely condemned “the continued harassment and intimidation of parents—too often by district staff using district resources—who are trying to organize to improve their children’s low performing schools.” Parents, their children, and their communities cannot wait for school districts to phase in incremental reforms. The parent-trigger law is the best thing to happen to them in years. Parent empowerment clearly threatens the education status quo, and the status quo is pushing back. But as events in Adelanto and Los Angeles show, parents aren’t willing to back down so easily.

Larry Sand, a retired teacher, is president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network. This article originally appeared in City Journal and is republished here with permission.

The Media and Teachers Unions: Creepy Crass Actors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cursing the Light

Teachers unions continue to use empty rhetoric to bash promising school privatization efforts.

It is a given – and understandable – that teachers unions deplore vouchers or opportunity scholarships, arrangements whereby public monies are used to fund a private school education; it hurts their bottom line. With very few exceptions, private schools are not unionized, and every time students leave their public schools, fewer unionized teachers are needed. That translates to fewer dues dollars for the union.

So like pushy salesmen with an inferior product, the unions resort to evasions, distortions and outright lies to sell their wares.

The unions say, “Vouchers don’t improve outcomes.”

Actually, the data say otherwise. For example, the oldest voucher program in the country is in Wisconsin where “Milwaukee school choice beats the alternative.” More dramatically, Washington, D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) have the lowest graduation rate in the country – a rather pathetic 59 percent. Yet, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (DCOSP) just announced that its 2012 grad rate was 97 percent with 91 percent of the students going on to college.

The unions say, “Vouchers are unpopular with the public.”

That may have been true 20 years ago, but not today. Satisfaction with the DCOSP is very high, with 93 percent of parents happy with their child’s school. In May, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice released the results of a national survey in which 60 percent of American adults said they support vouchers. Also, the findings show that mothers make up the demographic most likely to favor school vouchers:

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

Unfortunately public schools didn’t fare so well in the Friedman study with only 39 percent of Americans giving local public schools an “A” or a “B” compared with 54 percent in 2012 – a 15-point drop in just one year.

(Another entity that is unpopular with the public is the teachers unions. According to a recent Education Next poll, only 22 percent of Americans think the unions have a positive effect on schools.)

The unions say, “… (Voucher) programs cost taxpayers millions of dollars and increase bureaucratic and administrative costs.”

This is a perennial union talking point. It’s also a crock, because voucher programs actually save taxpayers money. A good example is in Washington, D.C. where their choice program costs $7,500 per student – about a quarter of what is spent on students in the DCPS.

If we expanded DCOSP, the savings would be even greater. Looking at the eight states with the highest median per pupil educational spending in the United States,

… If only ten percent of these students took advantage of scholarships similar to the ones in the D.C. program, more than 621,000 students would move from public to private schools within their states. This analysis assumes that the scholarships would be worth 60 percent of the median current-year expenditure per pupil-or a bit more expensive than in Washington. The savings per-pupil would be great, 40 percent; in the aggregate, the savings would be greater still.

The unions say, A pure voucher system would only encourage economic, racial, ethnic, and religious stratification in our society.”

A little class warfare with your entrée? The suggestion here is that vouchers will segregate us as a people and promote civil disharmony. But the opposite is true.

The Cato Institute’s Jason Bedrick writes,

Seven empirical studies have examined school choice’s impact on civic values and practices such as respect for the rights of others and civic knowledge. Of these, five find that school choice improves civic values and practices. Two find no visible impact from school choice. No empirical study has found that school choice has a negative impact on civic values and practices.

The largest and most comprehensive of these studies, Dr. Patrick Wolf’s “Civics Exam,” found that private school students are, on average, more politically tolerant, more knowledgeable about our system of government, more likely to volunteer in their community, and more politically active than their government school peers.

Unfortunately, over the last few decades, civic education in government schools has significantly declined

Jay Greene, writing in The Wall Street Journal, adds,

It is no small irony that President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have been trying to shut down the federally funded voucher program that allows students to attend private religious schools in Washington. In 2009 the administration worked to prevent the program from being re-authorized. Only tough bargaining by House Speaker John Boehner has allowed vouchers in D.C. to survive. The administration that otherwise promotes tolerance at every turn is still angling to end the program.

It is not clear why private schools have an advantage in producing more tolerant students. It may be that private schools are better at teaching civic values like tolerance, just as they may be more effective at teaching math or reading. It is also possible that, contrary to elite suspicion, religion can teach important lessons about human equality and dignity that inspire tolerance.

The unions say, “Blah, blah, blah.”

The unions have a specific agenda and will pursue it at all costs. Whatever claims they make about vouchers serve to further that agenda and have little to do with reality. Their efforts to keep people in the dark forever – and their children in failing schools – are doomed to fail.

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.

U.S. – #1 in Education … Spending

But in educational achievement, we are not even close to the top.

The National Education Association just came out with a “research” report which should be taken about as seriously as the Tobacco Institute study that denied the link between smoking and lung cancer. The “Rankings of the States 2012 and Estimates of School Statistics 2013” report is filled with half-truths and worse. The summary tells us that education is hurting in America and the problems revolve around the fact that we don’t spend enough. We are led to believe that per-student spending is insufficient, we don’t pay our teachers enough, and class sizes are too big.

But then, lo and behold, we get a real study from The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) which historically has supplied us with objective international comparisons. Released last week, their latest, a 440 page tome, is filled with statistics that lay to waste much of the NEA’s tired plea for more spending on education.

From an Associated Press summary of the report, we learn that,   

The United States spent more than $11,000 per elementary student in 2010 and more than $12,000 per high school student. When researchers factored in the cost for programs after high school education such as college or vocational training, the United States spent $15,171 on each young person in the system—more than any other nation covered in the report. (Emphasis added.)

That sum inched past some developed countries and far surpassed others. Switzerland’s total spending per student was $14,922 while Mexico averaged $2,993 in 2010. The average OECD nation spent $9,313 per young person. 

According to NEA’s way of thinking, being the top spender should result in the U.S. producing the best students, but this is not the case. In fact, far from it.

U.S. fourth-graders are 11th in the world in math in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, a separate measure of nations against each other. U.S. eighth-graders ranked ninth in math, according to those 2011 results.

The Program for International Student Assessment measurement found the United States ranked 31st in math literacy among 15-year-old students and below the international average. The same 2009 tests found the United States ranked 23rd in science among the same students, but posting an average score.

What about teacher salaries? 

The OECD report finds,

The average first-year high school teacher in the United States earns about $38,000. OECD nations pay their comparable educators just more than $31,000.

That trails Luxembourg, which pays its first year teachers more than $72,000 a year, but far exceeds the $10,000 paid to first-year high school teachers in Slovakia. Among all educators, U.S. payrolls are competitive. The average high school teacher in the United States earns about $53,000, well above the average of $45,500 among all OECD nations.

And of course, the countries with the smallest class sizes are the most successful, right? 

Well, no. There is absolutely no correlation. For example, countries with about 30 students per elementary school class – Chile, Japan, Israel and Korea – do better than we do with about 20 kids per class when it comes to students completing an upper secondary education.

Via Choice Media, Paul Peterson, Director of the Program on Education Policy and Government at Harvard University, states the obvious,

We do not spend our money wisely. We don’t have a very competitive system. Anytime a monopoly sends money, and our education system is a monopoly, is not spending money efficiently. We don’t hire our teachers the right way. We don’t pay the best teachers more money and we don’t get rid of our weakest teachers because we pay everybody the same rate except for their credentials and their years of experience. We don’t have a way of easing the weakest members of the teaching force out of the profession.

“A lie told often enough becomes the truth” has been attributed to Goebbels, Lenin and many others who know the power of a good whopper. Equating more spending with greater educational achievement is one of the best. The good news is that the American people are becoming wiser and fewer of us are buying the lies that the teachers unions are selling.

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.

Red – and I Do Mean Red – Herrings of the Left

June – Father’s Day, Flag Day, weddings … and loopy ideas on poverty.

Last September I wrote about those who believe that poverty causes ignorance and how we must “fix” poverty before we can fix education. I suggested that maybe, just maybe, a good education is the best antidote to poverty and that school choice is the best way to ensure a good education.

In the ensuing months, having heard little from the “povertists” – who are frequently of the socialist persuasion – I hoped that the lame poverty excuse had disappeared, but silly me. Like a disease that goes into remission but never actually disappears, it’s baaack. With a vengeance.

The pedantic, lifelong socialist Deborah Meier drearily proclaims in Education Week that poverty is the root of all our education woes.

Then there is David Sirota, who at one time was an aide to socialist congressman from Vermont (now socialist senator) Bernie Sanders. Sirota declares that school reformers “are full of it.” Then playing the poverty card, he asserts, “Poor schools underperform largely because of economic forces….” Sirota really outdoes himself in the last paragraph of his Salon.com screed, where he lectures us:

Reality, though, is finally catching up with the “reform” movement’s propaganda. With poverty and inequality intensifying, a conversation about the real problem is finally starting to happen. And the more education “reformers” try to distract from it, the more they will expose the fact that they aren’t driven by concern for kids but by the ugliest kind of greed the kind that feigns concerns for kids in order to pad the corporate bottom line.

David Berliner, a longtime povertist, education professor and, not surprisingly, winner of the National Education Association’s Friend of Education award, announces on the California Federation of Teachers website that there is no education crisis, but rather an “unequal economy.”

But just when the socialists’ monotonous rants are beginning to have a narcotizing effect, Karen Lewis comes to the rescue. Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, never misses an opportunity to be offensive. She was in fine form speaking at the City Club of Chicago last week, blaming the Windy City’s education woes on “rich white people.” Perhaps she had to stress “white people” because as an African-American union boss, Lewis has a yearly income of $157,594, which most Americans consider above the “rich” threshold. (Interestingly her second-in-command at CTU, Jesse Sharkey, a leading member of the revolutionary International Socialist Organization, makes “only” $111,762. In the socialist world, how can this disparity exist? And these two really need to have a talk with American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, whose total income for 2011 was $560,549. Perhaps this is what Berliner meant when he referred to the “unequal economy.” But I digress….)

Despite the socialists’ tedious mantra, there are facts that disprove every claim they make. For example, charter schools are publicly funded but are much more independent than traditional public schools, and far more often than not, they do a better job of educating the poor. In Chicago’s charters (not unionized), where almost all the students are minority and below the poverty line, they easily outperform traditional public schools. The Illinois Policy Institute informs us that,

Charter school students, like other students in CPS, primarily come from low-income backgrounds (91 percent qualify for free or reduced lunch), represent mostly racial minorities (60 percent African-American, 35 percent Hispanic), and must overcome a range of challenges (9 percent English Language Learners, 12 percent special needs). They are not untouched by the violence plaguing many of the city’s neighborhoods. And, yet, despite all of these obstacles, they are succeeding.

In 2012, charter schools held the top nine spots for open-enrollment, non-selective public high schools in Chicago. Another charter school ended up in a three-way tie for tenth. The Noble Network of Charter Schools led the pack, with a total of nine schools in the top 10, one of which was included in the tie. The average ACT score for charter schools in the top 10 was 20.6, with Noble Network’s UIC College Prep campus scoring 21.9 – the highest-ever average at an open-enrollment, non-selective CPS high school.

Not only are charter schools outperforming their peers on the ACT, a comparison of Chicago’s top 10 charter high schools to the top 10 open-enrollment, non-selective, traditional public high schools shows that charter schools’ pace of improvement is significantly greater. Since 2007, top charter school scores have increased by 17 percent, while the top traditional schools have gained nearly 5 percent.

Where does Ms. Lewis stand on charters? She doesn’t consider them to be “real schools.” As Investor’s Business Daily reports,

Lewis is … no fan of charter schools, despite the fact Chicago’s charters regularly outperform their public school cousins. In 2012, nine of the top 10 performers were charter schools based on the ACT scores of their students.

Of course when you mention things like charter schools, liberals like Lewis say they get to cherry-pick their students. Yet some 60% of Chicago charter-school students are minorities and 35% are Hispanic.

Ninety-one percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Doesn’t sound like cherry-picking to us.

Also, as I wrote last month, more and more parents are favoring vouchers, whereby parents can choose to send their kid to a private school and the funding follows the child.

… the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice released the results of a national survey in which mothers (and others) were asked how they viewed vouchers and other forms of school choice. The findings show that moms make up the demographic most likely to favor school vouchers:

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

How have vouchers fared where they have been instituted?

In April, Greg Forster, also of the Friedman Foundation, released the third in a series of reports on school choice which includes vouchers and, to a lesser extent, educational savings accounts and tax credit scholarships: “A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice.” Just a few of the key findings:

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

What is the takeaway here?

Despite what the self-righteous socialists, teachers union leaders and their fellow travelers claim, competition works. When schools compete for students, education gets better. And getting a good education is paramount to getting out of poverty. Those who deny public education’s failings and use poverty as an excuse – no matter what their intentions might be – are working to keep the poor in their place and destroy children’s lives. Shame on them.

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.

Wash, Rinse, Repeat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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