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More Money for Business as Usual

Throwing ever more funds at education without making substantive changes to the system is a horrible waste of money, not to mention children’s lives.

California Democrat Congressman Mike Honda and National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel recently collaborated on an op-ed that played up just about every bit of feel good, cliché-riddled drivel ever written about education. If this piece was a drug, the FDA would have banned it years ago. A few examples:

Lamenting the fact that many teachers leave the classroom within the first few years, they say,

According to research estimates, one in four beginning teachers will leave the profession within their first three years in the classroom, and in urban areas, close to 50 percent will leave within five years.

This is totally misleading. The implication here is that teachers are leaving the profession in droves because they are overworked, underappreciated, overwhelmed and underpaid. But the reality is that they leave for a wide variety of reasons, including taking an administrative position, personal or family reasons, pregnancy, health, change of residence, etc. A survey from North Carolina, for instance, reveals that only 2.24 percent said they were leaving the profession due to dissatisfaction with teaching.

Another fiction the authors use to sway the unknowing public is the “competitive teacher salary myth.”

…the lack of competitive salaries for classroom teachers compared to other professions diminishes the consideration of teaching as a viable long-term career option. All of these issues rob children of the diverse, committed, capable teachers they need and deserve.

Before reaching for the Kleenex, please consider the following: Andrew Biggs, a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute and Jason Richwine, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, conducted a study on teacher pay, the results of which were released just a year ago. They found that when perks like healthcare and pension packages are taken into consideration, teachers are in fact overpaid. Armed with facts, charts and a bevy of footnotes, the authors make a very good case for their thesis. For example, they claim,

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

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

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

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

Honda/Van Roekel then delve into professional support:

The educational career ladder should entice quality teachers to remain in the classroom by developing positions of teacher leadership.

The book on this subject has already been written by Teach For America, a very successful outfit that recruits high performing college students who exhibit leadership qualities. TFA then gives them a five week intensive teacher training and ongoing professional support. So maybe NEA should hitch a ride with TFA? No. After years of trashing the organization, NEA recently offered TFA a twig-sized olive branch, but even that is rejected by many local unions because an army of bright, young, idealistic teachers poses a threat to the old guard.

On Election Day, Californians sadly bought into the union propaganda and voted to further “invest” in education by passing a controversial ballot initiative. With the passage of Prop. 30, California now has the highest sales tax and top marginal income tax rate in the country.

A nearly $6 billion infusion from Proposition 30 and a Democratic supermajority in the Legislature are a welcome pre-holiday gift to public education from voters, but it also could set the stage for battles between those laboring for education reform and suddenly fortified unions protecting teacher interests.

“Proposition 30 is a bandage on the current system,” said former state Sen. Gloria Romero, an outspoken education reform advocate. “We got no reform for the investment.”

She and others cite the urgent need to raise student achievement, modify the rule of teacher seniority, dismantle the Byzantine school finance system and ensure the teacher pension fund stays solvent.

Romero hits the nail on the head. Continuing to throw money at a failing system will result in nothing more than a more expensive failing system. If you are hungry, spending more money on rancid food won’t solve your nutrition problem.

Stanford Professor Erick Hanushek, who has studied student achievement and education economics, adds,

I’m concerned now that we’ve gotten past the fiscal cliff, we’re going back to business as usual. To improve student performance, he said, schools need an effective teacher evaluation system and need to be able to get rid of the worst teachers and to reward the best ones. But he said there’s no movement toward either of those.

…Everybody in the state would like major changes without really changing…. the cost is that California is at the rock bottom in student performance, and it’s dragging down the nation.

Responding to the reformers, California Teachers Association President Dean Vogel snapped,

We’re not opposed to education reform…. We’re opposed to stupid reform.

…teachers believe before adjusting funding formulas, the state needs to ensure adequate — meaning more — funding for schools….

But as Heritage Foundation policy expert Lindsey Burke reported recently,

Students headed back to school this fall will have historically high levels of dollars spent on them in the public school system. (Bold added.) Nationally, average per-pupil spending exceeds $11,400 this year….

To put this into perspective, just 10 years ago we spent $9,482 per pupil (in constant dollars). Thirty years ago we paid $5,718 and 50 years ago just $2,808 per student! In California, spending has doubled over the last 40 years and what do we have to show for it? Our National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) scores speak volumes. For example, on the most recent 4th grade math test, California students came in 45th nationally; in science, the same 4th graders scored higher than only Mississippi.

Internationally, of the world’s 28 major industrial powers, the U.S. is second in spending, slightly behind Switzerland. Yet when it comes to achievement, our performance is middling at best. Education Next recently reported,

A new study of international and U.S. state trends in student achievement growth shows that the United States is squarely in the middle of a group of 49 nations in 4th and 8th grade test score gains in math, reading, and science over the period 1995-2009.

Students in three countries – Latvia, Chile, and Brazil – are improving at a rate of 4 percent of a standard deviation annually, roughly two years’ worth of learning or nearly three times that of the United States. Students in another eight countries – Portugal, Hong Kong, Germany, Poland, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Colombia, and Lithuania – are making gains at twice the rate of U.S. students.

A fitting coda to this dreary ongoing saga, came from a recent Wall Street Journal editorial,

No reform effort is too small for the teachers union to squash. In this month’s election, the National Education Association descended from Washington to distant Idaho, spending millions to defeat a measure that limited collective bargaining for teachers and pegged a portion of teachers’ salaries to classroom performance. In Alabama, Republican Governor Robert Bentley says he’s giving up on his campaign to bring charter schools to the state after massive resistance from the Alabama Education Association.

Unions fight as hard as they do because they have one priority—preserving their jobs and increasing their pay and benefits. Students are merely their means to that end. Reforming public education is the civil rights issue of our era, and each year that passes without reform sacrifices thousands more children to union politics.

Thousands? More like millions. It is a national disgrace. We the people need to wrest control from the teachers’ unions and demand serious reform immediately.

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

Taking the “You” out of Union

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

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

On page 5 of this 205 page document, we learn that Randi Weingarten – who claims she identifies with the “99 percenters” and unceasingly promotes class warfare – pulled in a cool $556,981 in total compensation over the past year. This of course puts her, alongside the relentlessly vilified Koch Brothers, firmly in the 1 percent camp. Also, as summarized by Biddle,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Debunking the Debunkers

Beware of ideologically driven writers who attempt to “get to the truth.”

As one who is constantly trying to set the record straight on education issues, I am drawn to pieces like “5 Biggest Lies About America’s Public Schools – Debunked.” This article, courtesy of the popular leftist ezine AlterNet, reveals its POV in the first paragraph when writer Kristin Rawls, refers to uber-liberal Rahm Emanuel as a “union-buster.” Let’s examine each “lie,” as she refers to them:

Lie #1: Unions are undermining the quality of education in America. She writes that “union states correlate to higher test scores” but does not compare apples to apples. When one digs into the numbers and breaks them down by ethnicity, family structure, etc., the correlation falls apart. Then she gets positively loopy. She claims that unions are still important to student success because they “fight for equality of opportunity in education by, for example, opposing attempts to resegregate American schools.”

“…fight for equality of opportunity?!” The teachers unions actually do the reverse by aggressively opposing any measures that would enable inner city kids to flee their zip code-mandated hellholes. Giving families any kind of choice – a charter school, opportunity scholarship, etc. is anathema to them. Yes, the teachers unions do their best to literally “keep them in their place.”

Lie #2: Your student’s teacher has an easy and over-compensated job.
In all my reading on education, I don’t recall anyone ever writing that teaching was easy. It’s not. As for “over-compensated?” She tries to make her case using a New York Times story which points out that, “The average primary-school teacher in the United States earns about 67 percent of the salary of an average college-educated worker in the United States.” Neither she nor the Times bother to mention how much time the average teacher works – typically 7 hours a day, 180 days per year – compared to the average college-educated worker, most of whom work over 8 hours a day and 240-250 days a year. Nor does either mention the very generous health benefits and retirement pensions that most teachers get. For a much more honest look at teacher pay and perks, there’s “Assessing the Compensation of Public-School Teachers,” an American Enterprise Institute report, which concludes that

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

Lie #3: If your child doesn’t get picked in a charter school lottery, he or she is doomed. For this “lie,” Rawls trots out the anti-charter crowd’s favorite study – the CREDO study – which claims that “that charter school students generally perform no better than students attending traditional public schools.” But shortly after the study was released, Caroline Hoxby and others wrote about its many statistical flaws. More recently, researcher Jay Greene noted,

The only way to know with confidence whether charters cause better outcomes is to look at randomized control trials (RCTs) in which students are assigned by lottery to attending a charter school or a traditional public school. RCTs are like medical experiments where some subjects by chance get the treatment and others by chance do not. Since the two groups are on average identical, any difference observed in later outcomes can be attributed to the “treatment,” and not to some pre-existing and uncontrolled difference.

He concludes,

When you have four RCTs – studies meeting the gold standard of research design – and all four of them agree that charters are of enormous benefit to urban students, you would think everyone would agree that charters should be expanded and supported, at least in urban areas. If we found the equivalent of halving the black-white test score gap from RCTs from a new cancer drug, everyone would be jumping for joy – even if the benefits were found only for certain types of cancer.

Unfortunately, many people’s views on charter schools are heavily influenced by their political and financial interests rather than the most rigorous evidence. They don’t want to believe the findings of the four RCTs, so they simply ignore them or cite studies with inferior research designs in which we should have much less confidence.

Lie #4: Your child will automatically be better off if your school district adopts a “school choice” assignment plan. Automatically? Her bias becomes very apparent in this “lie.” She hates the thought of giving parents a choice. She quotes Paul Thomas, an education professor, “The evidence on choice shows [that]…parents do a terrible job with that choice.” Perfect! Parents are too stupid to pick out a good school for their kids. Ah, let’s have the government make that decision for them!!

Actually, the truth is miles from Thomas’ and Rawls’ bogus claims. In A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Vouchers, Greg Forster of the Friedman Foundation writes:

• Ten empirical studies have used random assignment, the gold standard of social science, to examine how vouchers affect participants. Nine studies find that vouchers improve student outcomes, six that all students benefit and three that some benefit and some are not affected. One study finds no visible impact. None of these studies finds a negative impact.
• Nineteen empirical studies have examined how vouchers affect outcomes in public schools. Of these studies, 18 find that vouchers improved public schools and one finds no visible impact. No empirical studies find that vouchers harm public schools.
• Every empirical study ever conducted in Milwaukee, Florida, Ohio, Texas, Maine and Vermont finds that voucher programs in those places improved public schools.
• Only one study, conducted in Washington D.C., found no visible impact from vouchers. This is not surprising, since the D.C. voucher program is the only one designed to shield public schools from the impact of competition. Thus, the D.C. study does not detract from the research consensus in favor of a positive effect from voucher competition.
• The benefits provided by existing voucher programs are sometimes large, but are usually more modest in size. This is not surprising since the programs themselves are modest — curtailed by strict limits on the students they can serve, the resources they provide, and the freedom to innovate. Only a universal voucher program could deliver the kind of dramatic improvement our public schools so desperately need.


Lie #5: Your student’s teacher sees your constructive involvement in your child’s education as an annoyance.
Rawls has this one right. But it’s hardly worth mentioning. She tries to make her case by quoting one teacher who says “I have felt bashed by parents who mask either their children’s failings or their own failings by the rhetoric of school failure.” I taught for almost 30 years, and this type of attitude is quite rare. I and my colleagues were well aware that involved parents are a crucial component for successfully educating a child; we certainly never thought of them as “annoyances.” On the contrary, we did everything we could to encourage and increase their involvement.

While many of us have strong points of view, it is essential we let facts determine our worldview and not vice versa. But I think it’s clear that for Ms. Rawls, “facts” are determined by her politics.

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

More Money for Education?

Hell no. It’s time to stop pouring money into a bottomless pit.

Not a week goes by without a gloom and doom story on the National Education Association website exhorting us to “invest” more in education lest the children of America be shortchanged. For the educrats and unionistas who are still trying to sell this claptrap, their periodic slap in the face comes courtesy of Andrew Coulson, director of Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom. As you can see from his chart linked here, from 1970-2010 our education spending has tripled (adjusting to constant 2012 dollars.)

What kind of return have we gotten for our investment?

Nada. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading and math scores for 17 year olds have been flat for the forty year period. And in science, the scores have gone down.

At the Heritage Foundation, Coulson’s counterpart Lindsey Burke reports,

Students headed back to school this fall will have historically high levels of dollars spent on them in the public school system. (Bold added.) Nationally, average per-pupil spending exceeds $11,400 this year….

To put this into perspective, just 10 years ago we spent $9,482 per pupil (in constant dollars). Thirty years ago we paid $5,718 and 50 years ago just $2,808 per student! The reasons for the current spending orgy are several – an increase in the number of useless educrats, the rise of teachers unions, a public that has been way too trusting of those in power, etc.

Internationally, of the world’s 28 major industrial powers, we are second in spending, slightly behind Switzerland. Yet when it comes to achievement, our performance is middling at best. Education Next recently reported,

A new study of international and U.S. state trends in student achievement growth shows that the United States is squarely in the middle of a group of 49 nations in 4th and 8th grade test score gains in math, reading, and science over the period 1995-2009.

Students in three countries – Latvia, Chile, and Brazil – are improving at a rate of 4 percent of a standard deviation annually, roughly two years’ worth of learning or nearly three times that of the United States. Students in another eight countries – Portugal, Hong Kong, Germany, Poland, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Colombia, and Lithuania – are making gains at twice the rate of U.S. students.

The very obvious conclusion to be drawn is that the time has come to stop blindly pouring money down the public education hole. One way to improve our sorry state of affairs is to have schools compete with each other by giving parents a full range of school choice options. Education would improve and at the same time cost less. Heartland Institute education research fellow Joy Pullman makes the case for choice very clearly in The Best, Most Recent Voucher Research:

Research has consistently demonstrated vouchers and school choice increase high school graduation rates, college attendance rates, achievement test scores, parental satisfaction, school safety and discipline, tolerance of other cultures, racial integration, and civic engagement. Every voucher program also has saved vast amounts of taxpayer dollars. School vouchers first came into existence 22 years ago, and private schools have not been overrun with government regulations or fraud. Where fraud has occurred, it has been isolated and comparable to fraud perpetrated within government schools.

School choice offers families equal access to high-quality schools that meet their widely diverse needs and desires. Instead of unjustly condemning millions of children to failing and dangerous schools because their parents cannot afford private tuition, vouchers give all families the same opportunity to meet each child’s unique education needs. Vouchers also end the injustice of forcing parents to pay both in taxes and in tuition for school choice.

Greg Forster of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice collected the results of all available empirical studies using the best available scientific methods to measure how school vouchers affect academic outcomes for participants, and all available studies on how vouchers affect outcomes in public schools. Contrary to the widespread claim that vouchers do not benefit participants and hurt public schools, the empirical evidence consistently shows vouchers improve outcomes for participants and public schools.

And ideally, choice should be available from the very beginning of a child’s education. In the August 28th issue of U.S. News & World Report, Harrigan and Davies claim that “Public High Schools Are Not Doing Their Jobs.” It’s a good piece, but the authors start their expose about nine grades too late. High schools can’t do their jobs if they are enrolling students who are barely literate. However, the authors do reach an important conclusion,

The way to stop the trend is to allow parents to hold our public schools accountable. They can do this the same way that they hold their cellular providers or grocery stores or car dealerships accountable. If public schools can’t educate their children, parents should be free to take their children—and their tax dollars—to schools that can.

Our children and our economy are in desperate need of school choice. As such, we all need to become more knowledgeable consumers and then ratchet up our political will to make choice a reality. So when the bureaucrats, the teachers unions and their bought-and-paid-for legislators start to whine about how we need to pour more money into education, just say, “No” to them. And at the same time, support candidates for office who represent you, your children, your pocketbook and a better future for America.

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

Chutzpah on Steroids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, maybe not “over.” Greene concedes,

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

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

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

Pollution Driven Unionism

AFT president Randi Weingarten trots out “solution driven unionism,” but her “solutions” are anything but.

As if Detroit didn’t have a zillion other problems, the American Federation of Teachers decided to have its every-other-year convention there last week. In Michigan, a forced union state, I guess AFT figured they’d have a captive audience. On opening day, President Randi Weingarten unveiled something she refers to as – cue the trumpets – “solution driven unionism.” In a never ending effort to sound like she really, really cares about children, she uses the language of reform. But when you peek under the hood, you find the same rusty parts that the unions have been using for years now.

The main thrust of her talk is that, “Brothers and sisters, we are under attack!” A press release announcing her “new” strategy reads,

This new reality—this new normal—demands an entirely new approach to unionism,” said Weingarten. “An approach that is relevant and appropriate to the 21st century. More than ever, we need to act in innovative, creative and new ways—simultaneously refuting our critics, advancing our values, connecting with community and proposing solutions. That’s solution-driven unionism.”

Innovate and create, refute critics, advance our values, connect with community and proposing solutions. Hmmm. Let’s look at some the specifics.

Weingarten says,

Look at Chicago—where last month, after incredible school-by-school organizing—98 percent of the 92 percent of members who voted in a strike authorization vote stood together for dignity and professionalism for teachers, and for high-quality education for students.

The Chicago Teachers Union has voted to strike in the fall if it doesn’t get a 30 percent raise. Yup, you give us the money or we won’t teach your kids. That’s “connecting with the community” and “proposing solutions?” No, that’s infuriating taxpayers and using kids as pawns. As of last week, there was an announcement that a strike may be averted, but only after the city agreed to hire more teachers instead of asking the current teachers, who have the shortest work day of any city in the country, to work longer.

A lot of so-called reformers try to dictate top-down, standardized test-driven strategies that are heavy on competition and short on evidence and resources. They don’t work.

Top down? You have a problem with top down? What do you call 300+ page union contracts that practically dictate when teachers can sneeze? And test-driven strategies are working just fine, which is why 23 states and the District of Columbia now use student performance on standardized tests as part of teacher evaluations. Competition? Everywhere vouchers have been tried, public schools have improved. But privatization means fewer unionized teachers, and unions can’t have that.

Even with the best teachers, sharing the best teaching tools, we can’t do it alone, and we can’t do it all. Out-of-school factors really matter.

Like poverty. As a society, we have an obligation to address the suffering and lack of opportunity that afflict too many in our country. Yet some prefer to act as if poverty doesn’t exist, or as if it doesn’t affect our students.

I am particularly offended by “reformers” who tell us that we are “making excuses” when we try to deal with the increasing poverty our market economy helped create. In New York, we call that chutzpah.

Yes, poverty exists, but it isn’t a death sentence. And the best way to eradicate poverty is for kids to get a good education. But whereas reformers want to address poverty by giving families more education options, Weingarten blames capitalism and wants to raise your taxes because she thinks that simply throwing yet more taxpayer money at a broken, failed system will make kids better educated.

As Joel Klein says,

…I remain convinced that the best cure for poverty is a good education.

And I’m equally convinced that pointing to poverty as an excuse for why we fail to properly educate poor kids only serves to condemn more of them to lives of poverty.

Then Weingarten gets political,

Sure, we can blame ALEC, or the Koch Brothers, or Eli Broad, or the Walton Foundation, or Mitt Romney—and we’d be right to do so. But recognize that the change that has taken place may have been financed and promoted by them, but it is no longer limited to them.

While suggesting that the right wing disease that started with this evil bunch has spread to society as a whole, Ms. Connect-with-community-and-propose-solutions and her minions reveal a bipartisan mean streak toward those who have crossed her. In 2003, Democrat Eva Moskowitz, then a New York City Councilperson, held hearings to examine the negative impact of union contracts on school operations and infuriated Weingarten by reading part of the union contract at a city council meeting. Moskowitz and Weingarten, United Federation Teachers President at the time, have been mortal enemies ever since. Also, AFT has erected a nasty website that is dedicated to sliming Democrat reformer Michelle Rhee. And Democrats For Education Reform, a group of reform-minded liberals who realize that there is a problem with teachers unions, gets some pretty shabby treatment on the website of UFT (AFT’s New York City local).

Her thoughts then turn westward,

And in California, we are supporting a robust effort by the California Federation of Teachers to prevent deeper cuts to the state’s schools on top of those that have already been made. The CFT’s progressive approach, which has Gov. Jerry Brown’s support, would slightly raise income taxes on the state’s highest earners and temporarily increase the sales tax by one-quarter of 1 percent. These steps would put $8.5 billion into a special fund in next year’s budget, sparing California’s schoolchildren from further crippling education cuts. This solution goes before voters in November.

Promoting class warfare is a typical union ploy to get people angry. Promoting “tax fairness” – aka “let’s squeeze as much money out of the public as we can” – is an ongoing strategy.

You’ve heard a lot of bashing of public pensions as being overly generous or underfunded as a pretext for getting rid of them. We are trying to change that conversation to be about things our country sorely needs: retirement security, infrastructure and jobs. So we ask: “How can we leverage these funds not only to secure our retirements, but to help the country? How can they help our brothers and sisters looking for work, and an economy desperately in need of investment?”

Four cities in the Golden State have filed for bankruptcy with more sure to follow. While not the only reason, unsustainable, overly generous public employee pensions are the main culprit. Granted, teachers aren’t the biggest abusers, but still they are most definitely a drain on the state.

If you haven’t lost your lunch by now, the following should do the trick.

So it falls upon us, all of us, to be the foot soldiers for equality and opportunity, voice and democracy. Just as previous generations were soldiers for freedom and for civil rights, we now must band together as soldiers in a struggle not just for ourselves, not even just for the children in our classrooms, but for a different and better America.

She wants a better America? Really?! Civil rights!!! Okay, how about getting rid of forced unionism, increasing the number of charter schools and instituting universal school choice whereby parents get to choose where to send their kids? Then we’ll see just how many opt to send their kids to the traditional unionized public schools. Though not responding to Weingarten specifically, Joel Klein nails it.

The teachers at Success (Academy, a charter school in Harlem) work hard, are better compensated than other public school teachers, and move on if they can’t cut the mustard. Unlike most teachers in public schools, they believe they can constantly improve by having others observe them, by learning from each other, and by trying new things. They thrive in a culture of excellence, rather than wallow in a culture of excuse.

“They thrive in a culture of excellence, rather than wallow in a culture of excuse.” The teachers at Success Academy (run by Weingarten archenemy, Eva Moskowitz) are indeed part of the solution “for a different and better America.” They aren’t a part of teacher-unionized America where hideous seniority and tenure rules and hopelessly arcane dismissal statutes are the norm.

Randi Weingarten and her self-serving union cronies are dedicated to keeping America mired in its educational quagmire. But fortunately, according to a recent Harvard University poll, only 22 percent of the general public thinks that teachers unions have a positive effect on education, down from 29 percent in 2011. Thankfully, people are waking up and realizing that the teachers unions have a very specific agenda that doesn’t have the interests of parents, children or taxpayers at heart and, as such, won’t be buying Weingarten’s faux “solutions.”

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

Knox vs. SEIU – A Reaffirmation

The Supreme Court reached the right decision in the Knox case, but we still to need to let all American workers choose whether or not they want to belong to a union.

While last week’s Supreme Court’s Arizona immigration and Obamacare decisions have caused great controversy in some circles, its earlier judgment in the Knox vs. Service Employees International Union case was widely heralded; only the union elites and their fellow travelers were unhappy with it. A great majority agreed that the Court acted properly in issuing a verdict that supported the freedom of union workers not to have to have dues forcibly removed from their paychecks and given to political causes that they don’t support. By a 7-2 margin, the justices said the SEIU could not force its members to pay the part of union dues that goes for political causes even if the union felt it was for the workers own good.

Actually this decision didn’t break any new ground. Unions haven’t been allowed to force workers to pay for their political agenda since the 1970s and 1980s when several landmark decisions were handed down by the court. But SEIU Local 1,000 in California tried to hoodwink the rank and file. The case probably never should have reached the high court, but their involvement became necessary in order to overturn a decision from the far left Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (or as it’s affectionately known to us left coasters – the Ninth Circus), which has become a regular occurrence these days.

According to the Wall Street Journal,

The California SEIU local attempted to end run these protections in a special 2005 election and the midterms in 2006, amid a furious debate about union government perks. The SEIU joined a “Political Fight-Back Fund” to defeat two propositions that would have given then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger the ability in some cases to modify salaries, benefits and pensions. To fund this advocacy, the SEIU imposed a temporary 25% hike in union dues, never providing its 28,000 non-union members the Hudson notice that would have let them opt out.

The SEIU argued that lobbying against the ballot initiatives was really work on behalf of all workers. Yet that would erase the legal distinction between politics and collective bargaining. These activities may be especially fungible in public employee practice already, but this was too much even for liberal Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who concurred with the majority on the narrow if obvious grounds of technical precedent.

The irony here is dazzling. Steve Greenhut notes,

It’s ironic that SEIU took money from nonmembers to specifically battle a statewide proposition that would have stopped them from being able to take such money in the future. There’s something disturbingly totalitarian about that – making me give you money that you can use to stop me from exerting my rights.

The SCOTUS even went so far as to question whether or not an “opt in” method of dues collection would be more just.

Writing for a five-member majority, however, Justice Samuel Alito raises larger questions about compulsory union dues and individual rights. Shouldn’t the people who choose not to join a union, he asks, have to opt into political and ideological activities that they may presumably dispute—rather than opt out? “Which side should bear the risk?” he continues. “The answer is obvious: the side whose constitutional rights are not at stake.”

While the court is to be commended for its decision and bringing up the notion that opt out as the default position is grossly unfair, there is a bigger worker freedom issue at stake – that is, paying union dues as a condition of employment for certain workers in 27 states and the nation’s capital.

In California, for example, in order to teach in a public school, teachers are forced to pay dues to three different unions to the tune of over $1,000 a year. They must fork over money to a national union (National Education Association or American Federation of Teachers), a state affiliate (California Teachers Association or California Federation of Teachers), as well as their local union. If they choose not to have any part of their dues go to union supported political issues or candidates, they must resign from the union, and by November 15th of each year ask for a refund. They can expect to get back about a third of their dues. The bad news is that the union still gets to keep the rest, claiming that this is a “fair share” because they are representing teachers – whether or not this representation is wanted. And of course, union members usually have to find the resignation procedure out for themselves; the unions only grudgingly, upon request, give its members minimal information – and fairly often the information they do provide is misleading or erroneous.

Anyone who believes in liberty should be outraged about forced unionism. As a teacher, I was aghast at just about everything that CTA stood for, yet was still forced to line its pockets. The only way to pay nothing to the union as a teacher is to become a religious objector. This entails hiring a lawyer and proving that you are “religious enough.” If successful, the teacher still has to pay the full dues amount to a mutually agreed upon charity. Bottom line: In a non-right-to-work state, a teacher must pay to play.

With Independence Day upon us, we the people need to confront the fact that it is downright un-American and immoral to force workers to join an organization that they don’t want to belong to as a condition of employment. Anything short of giving workers the freedom to choose is not acceptable.

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

NEA Agenda: More Money, Minimal Reform

The teachers union not only plays the poverty card, but by battling reforms, ensures that the impoverished will remain that way.

No Education Reform Without Tackling Poverty, Experts Say,” is the title of an article on the National Education Association website. Experts? A trip into the weeds leads to something called the Center on Poverty, Inequality and Public Policy at Georgetown University. Its main benefactor is none other than the Open Society Foundations run by megalomaniac George Soros, a man who once said he saw himself as “some kind of god, the creator of everything.” Expecting anything without an agenda from this bunch would be foolish.

The NEA’s “experts” claim that pouring money into education will eradicate poverty is wrong on all counts. For example, they state that children would be better educated by attending a “high quality pre-school.” Yet Head Start, according to Reason’s Lisa Snell, U. of Arkansas Professor Jay Greene and others, has been a bust. In 2010, Lindsey Burke at the Heritage Foundation wrote,

Taxpayers have been on the hook for more than $100 billion for the Head Start program since 1965. This federal evaluation, which effectively shows no lasting impact on children after first grade and no difference between those children who attended Head Start and those who did not, should call into question the merits of increasing funding for the program, which the Obama administration recently did as part of the so-called “stimulus” bill.

So, $100 billion later, children are no better off attending a preschool, but what’s important to the unions is that more adults are employed. And that means more dues for them to spend on their progressive political agenda which favors causes that have little to do with education – e.g. abortion on demand, same-sex marriage, income redistribution, and nationalized health care. In 2010-2011, NEA spent $133 million in lobbying and gifts to further its progressive agenda.

Also, with all the union kvetching, one might assume that we stint on education spending. In fact, in the U.S. since 1970, education spending has increased 150 percent. Compared to other countries around the world, we are number four in spending after Luxembourg, Switzerland and Norway. Yet,

The three-yearly OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report, which compares the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds in 70 countries around the world, ranked the United States 14th out of 34 OECD countries for reading skills, 17th for science and 25th for mathematics.

Thus the problem is not the amount of money we spend, but how it’s spent. Charter schools typically lead to better educated kids and save us money at the same time. Inner city charter school operators like Eva Moskowitz and Geoffrey Canada and the KIPP schools do a far better job – with fewer tax dollars – than traditional public schools. Even taking the superstars of the movement out of the mix, charter schools outperform traditional public schools. As Jay Greene writes, “Charter Benefits Are Proven by the Best Evidence.”

But no, the NEA doesn’t back charters. And the reason it doesn’t has nothing to do with education; it’s because charters are individually run and therefore very hard to unionize. In fact, only 12 percent of the nation’s 5,500 or so charters are unionized.

If the teachers unions were really serious about improving education and eradicating poverty, they would support the ultimate in school choice – voucher systems. A voucher would give a kid a chance to opt out of a failing public school and use his education dollars to pay for a private school of his choice. This would level the playing field for poorer families. However, the unions can’t abide vouchers because public schools would lose students to private schools, which are not unionized.

Eliminating the twin evils of tenure and seniority would go a long way to improving the current teaching force, by ceding more power to individual school districts. Bad teachers should be fired and the good ones should get raises. Better teachers can also handle slightly larger classes, thereby reducing the overall number of teachers we need.

But saving the taxpayers money, leveling the playing field for the poor, ceding power to local education agencies and thus having fewer dues-paying members are solutions nowhere to be found in the union playbook.

The nation’s education woes began about forty years ago – right at the time the NEA became a major force in education. Certainly other social trends have contributed to the educational morass we find ourselves in, but the National Education Association is the main reason for it – all the time using young children as pawns while vigorously pursuing its political agenda. Despite all the warm and fuzzy platitudes they spew, it is obvious that the teachers unions are not terribly interested in the education of our children or helping them get out of poverty.

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

Stand Up To Bullying Day

The NEA says that May 4th should be devoted to anti-bullying. Okay, and to be fair, I suggest that we start with the biggest organized bullies in the country – the teachers unions themselves.

The National Education Association celebrated “Stand Up To Bullying Day” on May 4th. Its website is full of advice about how to deal with what it calls “everyone’s problem.” With a solemnity ordinarily reserved for a Sunday morning sermon, NEA has created a pledge

I agree to be identified as a caring adult who pledges to help bullied students. I will listen carefully to all students who seek my help and act on their behalf to put an immediate stop to the bullying. I will work with other caring adults to create a safe learning environment for all the students in my school.

Please note, the union talks only about children bullying other children; there is nothing about adults bullying other adults.

Few adults in the country know more about bullying than Kristi Lacroix, a parent of five in eastern Wisconsin and according to her principal a “very good teacher.” Lacroix made a brief video late last year in which she spoke well of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker – aka “Hitler” to many teacher unionistas in the Badger State because he led the charge to remove teachers’ collective bargaining rights. Many in teachers unions believe that collective bargaining is sacrosanct, a human right; it’s not. In fact, it survives only because union heavies and their legislative fellow travelers in certain states have made sure that that this Soviet style group-think is law.

Lacroix has been a target of Alinskyite teacher union venom for months now. There is a “fire Kristi” movement that has led to a vicious hate mail attack from members of teachers unions. Luckily, Lacroix is anything but a shrinking violet and has stood tall and started her own website in an attempt to tell her story and lead the charge against the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s NEA affiliate.

Sad to say, Lacroix is far from the only teacher victimized by bullying. Actually, teacher unions, despite their public concern for children, can be quite brutal. In fact, the NEA asking anyone to take an anti-bullying pledge is akin to “Uncle Joe” Stalin asking people not to bully the Ukrainians.

Recently, Joy Pullmann, managing editor of School Reform News, published an important report – Bullying Teachers: How Teachers Unions Secretly Push Teachers and Competitors Around which is summarized as “When Bullies Grow Up, They Can Always Run Teachers Unions,” an op-ed in the Washington Examiner. She explains that teacher union bullying is rampant and can come either directly from the unions or as a result of fear of them. For example,

Many superintendents and principals in Kansas will not even let Garry Sigle give teachers information about his nonunion teacher organization. One superintendent told Sigle, “Why would I want to [let you talk to teachers in my district] if I knew that would create an issue between me and a union I have to negotiate with?”

In February, a Utah teacher named Cole Kelly testified in favor of a bill that would penalize school districts for not granting all teacher organizations — not just unions, but also other professional organizations — equal access to teachers. A week later, he was released from his position as athletic director, which for school districts is tantamount to firing. His principal admitted she approved of his job performance but had released him because of pressure.

Subsequently, other teachers texted Kelly to say they agreed with him but were afraid of being fired if they spoke out or left their union. He is contesting his release.

This spring, a Colorado teacher emailed the state director of a nonunion teachers association, explaining why she wouldn’t publicly speak for a bill extending the state’s two-week window for ending union membership.

“They [the state union] are a large and powerful organization,” she wrote. “I want to speak out against them, but I am afraid of the repercussions that I will face as a result and the possibility of them doing something to make me lose my job.”

At a new teacher orientation in Jacksonville, Fla., a union representative heard a presentation by a nonunion group. She walked onto the stage before 600 teachers, accused the presenter of being “a desperate former teacher” and stalked about the room ripping up the competition’s fliers, said Tim Farmer, membership director for the Professional Association of Colorado Educators.

As sickening as these examples are, Pullmann goes on to say that they are not isolated incidents.

Teachers unions engage in repeated, unashamed aggression against dissenting teachers and competitor organizations.

As we can see, teachers are frequent victims of teacher union bullying, but to show that they are fair–minded and equal-opportunity coercers, the California Teachers Association recently did a bang-up job of bullying parents in Adelanto, a town in eastern California. Not liking the results of a Parent Trigger vote at a local school, CTA sent in its finest arm twisters, I mean representatives, and “convinced” many of those who signed the petitions to have a “change of heart.”

While I’m sure that most teachers are not in accord with thuggish union activities, it is not enough to stand on the sidelines and wish the problem away. It is imperative that teachers speak out against teacher union bullying. While Kristi Lacroix has indeed received some positive mail, it typically comes from teachers who do so privately and, because of the fear factor, will not publicly criticize their union. If a lot more teachers don’t speak up, however, the public has no choice but to assume that their silence is tacit approval of the unions’ actions, thus earning them the justifiable enmity of a populace that is rapidly getting sick and tired of teacher union antics.

May 9th is the “Day of the Teacher,” but perhaps the day should be renamed “Stand Up To Teacher Union Bullying Day.” It would be a good time for dissident teachers to come forth and take a stand. For a profession that is supposedly demoralized, this could be the first step to “remoralization.” And yes, there are other professional organizations that they can join that provide them with many of the same perks and protections and save them money at the same time. But while The Association of American Educators, Christian Educators Association International, Educators 4 Excellence, California Teachers Empowerment Network, et al are all growing, the teachers unions still predominate. And union heavies are lying in wait, ready to bully the next brave teacher who dares to take issue with the union party line.

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

The Second American Revolution

If education reformers stick to principle and don’t back down, all other obstacles to victory can be overcome.

Recently, Andrew Rotherham wrote a short piece in The Atlantic in which he describes “The 3 Main Obstacles in the Way of Education Reform”. The first obstacle he mentions is that currently “We buy reform.”

Or at least we try to. Some politicians really think that throwing money at the problem will help and the less principled ones do it because they are trying to pay back certain political allies. The result is that untold billions are taken from taxpayers to support giant bureaucracies on the federal and state levels and to prop up programs that do little or nothing to help the students who desperately need it. Rotherham writes,

The result is the current Byzantine system of programs and rules that characterize education policy — the 82 separate federal programs to improve teacher quality recently documented by the Government Accountability Office — and a continuing lack of strategic ability to make hard decisions at any level of education policymaking.

This bears repeating – there are 82 separate federal programs to improve teacher quality! Improving teacher quality is important, of course, but ultimately it’s just one small piece of the education reform picture. While one can find some good in the Bush era No Child Left Behind and Obama-Duncan’s Race to the Top, in the grand scheme of things both programs end up creating as many problems as they solve, and do so at an unbearable financial cost.

Rotherham’s second obstacle is “Schools lack for an adequate way to measure teacher performance.” I disagree with Rotherham here. We have adequate ways to measure performance. They are not perfect, but what we have is good enough to work with in the meantime while we continually strive for improvements. As I wrote in January,

In perhaps the most in-depth study on the subject to date, three Ivy League economists studied how much the quality of individual teachers matters to their students over the long term. The paper, by Raj Chetty and John N. Friedman of Harvard and Jonah E. Rockoff of Columbia, tracked 2.5 million students over 20 years, and using a value added approach, found that teachers who help students raise their standardized test scores have a lasting positive effect on those students’ lives beyond academics, including lower teenage-pregnancy rates, greater college matriculation and higher adult earnings. (The authors of the study define “value added” as the average test-score gain for a teacher’s students “…adjusted for differences across classrooms in student characteristics such as prior scores.”)

While using value added is important, this measure is not the only way to evaluate teachers. Observations by principals and outside evaluators are important components as is feedback from parents and students. These hybrid evaluation plans are being used now in New York and elsewhere. In Harrison, CO, School Superintendent Mike Miles has used a combination of standardized tests and classroom observation to come up with a tiered system of teacher effectiveness. (Miles, who has been called “an icon in educator effectiveness,” is apparently on his way to Dallas to head up its school system.)

Rotherham correctly bemoans “last in, first out,” the horrific seniority system that too many school districts still use. Seventeen states, including California, do not leave staffing decisions of this nature to individual school districts – they are state mandates. Seniority, a teachers union favorite, is like our tailbones, a vestigial remnant from another era. In this rigid system, no weight is given to an employee’s effectiveness, just to length of time on the job. So on a regular basis we have “Teachers of the Year” being laid off, while far less effective colleagues get to keep their jobs. The union claims this is a fair way to make staffing decisions.

Fair? Hardly. It’s highly unprincipled – horrible for children, grossly unfair to good teachers and taxpayers and must be done away with in toto.

In fact, the National Teacher of the Year award has just been given to a teacher in California. On its website, NEA proudly proclaimed her “an NEA member.” The irony is that this terrific teacher could have been laid off, with no exception made for her teaching ability, if she had been hired a few years later. So you might say that she is still on the job in spite of the teachers unions and their insistence on a seniority-based system.

Rotherham’s third obstacle is, “Education policy is by its nature political, conservative, and change-averse.”

All too often educrats, school board members and the teachers unions selfishly fight to maintain the status quo – and the kids be damned. Unless the current state of affairs is rigorously and unapologetically challenged by reformers, our country will suffer irreparable damage.

Rotherham could have added a fourth and overarching obstacle – that there is squishiness in parts of the reform movement. For example, “partnering” with the industrial style and self-absorbed teachers unions and searching for “best practices” are diversionary and ultimately pointless exercises, yet there are some who embrace them in the name of reform. In an exceptional essay, RiShawn Biddle makes a case for “The Importance of Being Divisive in Education.” He notes that many significant historical figures like Winston Churchill and Thomas Paine were considered divisive because of their standing on principle and their unwillingness to compromise. He claims that for education to undergo a necessary transformation, we need to have more divisiveness, not less. Teachers unions and other members of the educational establishment have derisively referred to Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee as divisive. But as Biddle says,

… school reformers should accept — and fully embrace — being divisive. Because it is the only way we can transform American public education.

The situation is somewhat akin to the founding of our country. I suppose that King George looked upon George Washington as divisive, as well as the aforementioned Paine, and Madison, and Jefferson. Biddle goes on to state,

Being divisive about challenging a failed, amoral system that condemns 1.2 million children a year to poverty and prison is at the heart of the school reform movement. And this is a good thing. There is nothing wrong with actively opposing a traditional system of compensation that has fostered teacher quality policies that subject our poorest children to the worst American public education offers. And, more importantly, there is nothing terrible about pushing to end policies that do little more than harm the futures of children who deserve better.

In short, education reformers are at war with those who, for their own selfish reasons, are fighting to maintain a failed system. Because a revolution in education must occur if we are to regain our status as a great nation, playing nice with the enemy will not get the job done. In a time of warfare, divisiveness is a virtue. Without it, and a principled spine of steel, the war will be lost and our country along with it.

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

NEA Greed Machine is in Overdrive

Tax Freedom Day is April 17th. Freedom from teacher union extortion? To be announced.

The National Education Association has thrown itself full force into the “corporate loophole” demagoguery campaign. According to the NEA, children are being victimized by avaricious corporate types who don’t pay their fair share of taxes. The NEA exhorts the American people to “stand up for the middle class and support closing corporate tax loopholes at the federal and state level, so that additional resources can be invested in public education and other services that build our communities.” In a message oozing with class warfare, we learn that “Corporate tax loopholes are costing our schools and communities resources that would help the next generation achieve the American Dream.” (Cue the violins.)

They then post a list of programs that would thrive if the greedy corporate bastards would just pay their fair share – Title 1, Pre-K education, etc. NEA of course fails to mention that these programs, though popular, are essentially federal boondoggles. They don’t really do what they purport to do. They do make work for unionized adults, however, which if you haven’t been paying attention, is all NEA really cares about. But I digress….

Using Citizens for Tax Justice as their source, NEA claims that closing the seven largest corporate tax loopholes would provide an estimated $1.487 trillion in additional revenues over the next ten years. Coincidentally, CTJ just happens to be the union founded and funded lobbying wing of something called the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

At this time, the U.S. corporate tax rate is 35% which is the highest in the world and since their fiduciary responsibility is to their stockholders, corporations might indeed need to find ways to save money.

But, maybe there are a few corporate loopholes that should be closed. And I have just the one that we should start with. Using information gathered from the U.S. Department of Labor, RiShawn Biddle reports,

Overall, the NEA collected $399 million in dues and other revenues in 2010-2011, barely budging from revenue numbers last year. This despite a four percent decline in membership, from 3.3 million members in 2009-2010 to 3.2 million in 2010-2011.

Sad to say that the bulk of that $399 million comes from union dues automatically deducted from teachers’ paychecks. Most public school teachers in the U.S. are forced to pay union dues as a condition of employment. And of course, all public school teachers are funded by taxpayer dollars. So it is the private sector that is actually funding an entity that is trying to extort even more money from the private sector.

What did NEA do with that $399 million? One third or $133 million went on politics and “contributions” to groups that support NEA’s agenda. In fact, referring to the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers’ political spending, teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci wrote in 2009,

…America’s two teachers’ unions outspent AT&T, Goldman Sachs, Wal-Mart, Microsoft, General Electric, Chevron, Pfizer, Morgan Stanley, Lockheed Martin, FedEx, Boeing, Merrill Lynch, Exxon Mobil, Lehman Brothers, and the Walt Disney Corporation, combined.

Moreover, if NEA gets its way and the 35% corporate tax rate stays in place and the loopholes are plugged, Americans will be paying more for the products made by corporations. Just what the country needs – higher prices. As of now, Americans will spend more in taxes in 2012 than they will on food, clothing, and housing combined.

Oh, and one other little minor detail. The NEA is a corporation that is accorded a 501(c)(5) tax exempt status. So out of the $399 million they took in, NEA paid $0 in taxes!

It is not only the national teachers unions that get away with loophole flimflam; all the state teacher union affiliates take advantage of their tax exempt status too. In my state, the California Teachers Association brings in almost $200 million a year and pays $0 in taxes. CTA also spends more on lobbying and politics (again, with forced dues) by far than any other corporation in the state.

If we are to close one corporate loophole, we need to start with the one that benefits the teachers (and in fact, all) unions. Parents, children and taxpayers will greatly benefit. The losers will be a certain group of brazen corporate types that have been getting away with theft for far too long.

Perhaps blogger Jason Arluck put it best,

Taken together, the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) represent the single largest lobbying conglomerate in the country, but unlike private firms, their contributions come from the pockets of American taxpayers who are forced to fund not just America’s failing public schools, but also one of main sources of their failure.

Today is April 17th, the day our income taxes are due. It would behoove each and everyone of us to think about how much of our hard earned money we are forced to pay to the more aptly named National Extortion Association and other teachers unions, the true exemplars of corporate greed.

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

Teachers Practicing Sexual Harassment Protected by Unions, Victim Advocates Intimidated

With teacher union enabling, child abuse goes on unabated.

A male business owner joking about life for homosexuals in prison, forced a junior accountant to bend over a desk, lined up behind him to simulate a sex act, then quipped, “I’ll show you what’s gay.”

An insurance company middle manager who had been warned about touching secretaries brushed his lower body against a new employee, coming so close that she told company investigators she could feel his genitals through his pants.

A corporate vice-president sent text messages to and called one of his female underlings nearly 50 times in a four-week period and, over the winter holidays, parked himself near her home.

In its definition of sexual harassment, the EEOC says it is “unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include ‘sexual harassment’ or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.” As such, the above scenarios fit the EEOC description of a crime. The perpetrators should face serious legal charges, loss of employment or both.

The tragedy is that the above cases did not occur between employers and employees, but are real life examples of teachers abusing children. According to a recent New York Times story,

A health teacher at a high school in Manhattan, joking about life for homosexuals in prison, forced a male student to bend over a desk, lined up behind him to simulate a sex act, then quipped, according to an Education Department investigative report, “I’ll show you what’s gay.”

A high school science teacher in the Bronx who had already been warned about touching female students brushed his lower body against one student’s leg during a lab exercise, coming so close that she told investigators she could feel his genitals through his pants.

And a math teacher at a high school in the Bronx, investigators said, sent text messages to and called one of his female students nearly 50 times in a four-week period and, over the winter holidays, parked himself at the McDonald’s where she worked.

Surely these teachers are no longer employed as teachers, are they?

Well, yes they are.

After promising not to do it again, they were given a slap on the wrist by an “arbitrator” and returned to their classes. One can only guess that the “arbitrator” is shilling for the teachers unions, which seem to have no problem with degenerates remaining in the classroom. A recently retired New York State teacher union lawyer quipped,

A person has a right to be heard, and the right to respond to whatever you’re accused of, and it’s got to be decided by someone other than you, the boss. If the person is punished in some fashion and now realizes that this is something they should not do, and they feel remorse, you ought to be able to get to a point of simply moving on.

Feel remorse? Move on? That in a nutshell is the teacher union mentality. Keep every last harasser and molester in the classroom, no matter what. Their dues money is as good as Mother Theresa’s.

Several years ago, a union rep in Los Angeles said (referring to wayward teachers), “If I’m representing them, it’s impossible to get them out. It’s impossible unless they commit a lewd act.” Now it appears as if it’s impossible to remove them even if they have committed a lewd act.

But, in a perverse sense, the union stance is understandable, but where are the paladins of the oppressed?

Where are the feminists?

Where is the anti-bullying brigade?

Where are the civil rights groups?

It seems as if children in our society don’t have advocates. Not even the Children’s Defense Fund has said “boo” about the rash of pedophiles working in our schools. Of course, parents speak up for their children, but they are not always welcome. In West Covina, just east of Los Angeles, the mother of a 12 year old boy had good reason to believe her son was being physically abused by his teacher. The teacher has been removed from the classroom until the matter is sorted out. But, in the meantime, the California Teachers Association is threatening to sue the mother if she continues to make accusatory comments toward the teacher in question.

However, there is some good news on the horizon. It was recently announced that,

Leaders of a national education reform movement, including Joel I. Klein and Michelle Rhee, the former schools chancellors in New York and Washington have formed a statewide political group in New York with an eye toward being a counterweight to the powerful teachers’ union in the 2013 mayoral election.

Klein and Rhee have locked horns with union leaders many times, most notably American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. As such, I can’t think of any two who better understand the union mentality, have fearlessly confronted it and fiercely advocated for children. Additionally, they have assembled an impressive board which includes successful educators and some interested parties with very deep pockets.

On the board are some of the most well-known and polarizing figures in public education, including Ms. Rhee; Mr. Klein, now a News Corporation executive; and Eva S. Moskowitz, the former councilwoman who now runs a chain of charter schools. Also on the board are former Mayor Edward I. Koch; Geoffrey Canada, the founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone organization, a network of charter schools; and a number of venture capitalists and hedge fund managers, who have served as the movement’s financial backers.

Upon hearing about the new coalition, United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew responded with a lame attempt at class warfare, “If these 1-percenters want to mount an AstroTurf campaign with their deep pockets, they’ve done this before.”

What Mulgrew and his brethren can’t quite grasp is that parents all over the country are getting sick and tired of the teachers unions being in control of what has become a failing public education enterprise. The unions, with their own deep pockets, won’t back down easily. But if parents and others like Klein and Rhee can join forces and build solid coalitions, the unions may have finally met their match.

To be sure, some well-meaning compromisers will try to engage the union in a round of Kumbaya. But this accommodationist approach rarely achieves victory for parents and children. Perhaps Mr. Canada best summed up the situation. “Folks are genuinely looking for opportunities to make peace and not war. And I think that’s terrific. But someone has to make war.”

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

Publishing Teacher Value Added Rankings: Shame on Whom?

The release of teachers’ VA rankings should not be viewed as an attack on teachers, but as a wake-up call for the rest of us.

The recent release of teachers’ value added (VA) rankings by the New York Times reignited a controversy which began when the Los Angeles Times did the same thing in 2010. The value added technique of rating teachers is “based on their students’ progress on standardized tests year after year. The difference between a student’s expected growth and actual performance is the ‘value’ a teacher adds or subtracts during the year.”

The imbroglio has two facets – the first being whether or not teachers can be accurately evaluated by how well their students do on a standardized test. As I wrote in January,

In perhaps the most in-depth study on the subject to date, three Ivy League economists studied how much the quality of individual teachers matters to their students over the long term. The paper, by Raj Chetty and John N. Friedman of Harvard and Jonah E. Rockoff of Columbia, tracked 2.5 million students over 20 years, and using a value added approach, found that teachers who help students raise their standardized test scores have a lasting positive effect on those students’ lives beyond academics, including lower teenage-pregnancy rates, greater college matriculation and higher adult earnings. (The authors of the study define “value added” as the average test-score gain for a teacher’s students “…adjusted for differences across classrooms in student characteristics such as prior scores.”)

The second and more contentious element of VA concerns itself with who should get to see the teacher’s ranking. Some think it should be just the principal who can use the data to help low performing teachers. Others think that parents should also be allowed to learn about the effectiveness of their child’s teacher. And finally there are those who demand that all people — especially taxpayers — should have access to them. The reasoning, of course, is that since taxpayers are shelling out for the teachers’ salaries, they have a right to know what they are getting for their money.

Unsurprisingly, the anti-VA charge has been led by the teachers unions which constantly demonize the whole process as unreliable and unfair. But that is just a front; their “philosophy” is that there is no such thing as a bad teacher, just one that needs more training to become a good one. The reality is that unions despise it when any teacher – good or incompetent – loses a job, because it means one less dues payer. In California, for example, one less teacher means $647 fewer dollars for the California Teachers Association. And the national and local union affiliates also lose money. So keeping every body in the classroom is imperative for them.

Even concerned reformers like Bill Gates and Teach For America’s Wendy Kopp are antipathetic toward the release of test scores to the public, using phrases like “a capricious exercise in public shaming.”

My take is that, while not a perfect measure, VA still should be used and made public. But at the same time, it should be stressed that other factors need to be taken into consideration when measuring a teacher’s effectiveness. Both the NY and LA Times, to their credit, acknowledged this and also allowed teachers to post comments with their scores.

However, there is a part of this story which has not been examined. Publishing a teachers VA rank is no more “public shaming” than publishing a baseball player’s batting average in the daily newspaper. It is what it is. But as any knowledgeable 5th grader knows, there is more to a baseball player than his batting average. Is the player a good base stealer? Can he field? Does he draw a lot of walks? Is he a team leader? Anyone who is interested in baseball knows this. The take-away then is not to hide test scores from the public, but for parents and taxpayers to become as interested and knowledgeable about education as they are about baseball and demand more from the educational establishment.

So if there is any shame to be identified, it is that, as a country, we are more informed about the intricacies of baseball than about how best to assess the people who are educating the next generation of Americans.

If nothing else, the posting of teachers’ VA scores has opened a Pandora’s Box which the American public must deal with sooner rather than later.

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

Taking Randi Weingarten’s Words with a Grain of Salt… and Some Maalox

The American Federation of Teachers President’s half truths and hypocrisy can’t hide an obvious agenda.

In a slam against those of us who believe that part of a teacher’s evaluation should be based on how well their students perform on standardized tests, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten wrote an article for the Huffington Post last week which begins, “Since some people think that everything in education can be reduced to a number, let’s follow their lead.” She then fires off seven bullet points – all bolds in the original – which are supposed to convince the reader that some awful things are happening in the world of public education.

Consider me very unconvinced by her numbers.

She starts off with 76: The percentage of teachers who report that their school’s budget decreased in the last year (after the recession officially ended).

Whatever teachers may or may not know about their school’s budget, her point is clearly refuted by her rival union, the National Education Association. According to teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci who examined the NEA’s Rankings & Estimates,

If we compare this year’s numbers to three years ago, we see an enrollment increase of 0.5 percent, a teacher reduction of 0.4 percent, and an increase in per-pupil spending of 6 percent (1.5% in constant dollars).

Going back further, he reports:

Let’s look at the last 10 years for convenience, and the last three to examine the effects of national recession. In 2001-02, there were 2,991,724 K-12 classroom teachers and 47,360,963 K-12 students. K-12 per-pupil spending was $7,676.

Ten years later, there were almost 7 percent more teachers and 4 percent more students. Per-pupil spending was $10,976 – a 43% increase (12.6% in constant dollars). (Bold added.)

Weingarten: 63: The percentage of teachers who say that their class sizes increased in the last year.

So what? First, she mentions nothing about how much of an increase. And it has been documented over and over again, most recently this past January, that class size has nothing to do with student achievement.

Weingarten: 16.4 million: The number of children in America living in poverty.

Red herring. Union drum-beating to the contrary, poor kids can learn also. Also important – what definition of poverty is being used? Poverty is one of those words that is defined by the person speaking or writing to make a point. Writer Leon Felkins points out,

The fact that “poverty” is a vague term and cannot be defined precisely, does not, of course, stop the government from using the word as if it were precise and the press going along with the scam, as is their way. In fact the government is not beyond declaring that poverty has increased or that it has decreased when the primary factor in the increase or decrease may be that the government has simply changed its definition of poverty.

Robert Rector has made a detailed and very well documented study of this very question in his online paper, “How ‘Poor’ are America’s Poor?” and the update, “THE MYTH OF WIDESPREAD AMERICAN POVERTY“. Some interesting comparison’s surface (as of 1990, the date of the original article):

• In the 1920s, over half of the families would have been officially “poor” by today’s standard (adjusted for inflation).
• The average “poor” American lives in a bigger house or apartment, eats far more meat, owns more appliances, has more amenities such as indoor toilets, than the average European (note that “average” includes all, not just the poor).
• Today’s poor are more likely to own common appliances such as televisions and refrigerators than the average family in the 1950s.
• Government reports show that the poor actually spend 2 to 3 times as much as their official income. Amazing! (Bold added.)
• As a group, the “poor” are far from being chronically hungry and malnourished. In fact, poor persons are more likely to be overweight than are middle-class persons. Nearly half of poor adult women are overweight. Most poor children today are in fact super-nourished, growing up to be, on average, one inch taller and ten pounds heavier that the GIs who stormed the beaches of Normandy in World War II.

Weingarten: 50: The approximate percent of teachers who leave the profession within the first five years.

This is a stretch, wrapped in innuendo and topped off with a political flourish. The assumption here is that teachers are leaving the profession in droves because they are overworked, underappreciated, overwhelmed and underpaid. But a closer look at reality tells a different story. The number leaving the classroom is actually much closer to 40 percent and they leave for a wide variety of reasons including taking an administrative position, personal reasons, family reasons, pregnancy, health, change of residence, etc. A survey from North Carolina, for instance, reveals that only 2.24 percent said they were leaving the profession due to dissatisfaction with teaching.

And of course, Weingarten makes no mention of the fact that for the teachers do who leave their jobs for better paying ones in the first five years, the union is responsible for their relatively low salaries. New teachers, no matter how talented they may be, are typically stuck in the lowest rungs of step-and-column pay hell for years; they only advance by taking meaningless salary point classes and accumulating years on the job. Very rarely is incentive pay available for being an above average teacher. Also, archaic seniority rules punish good new teachers — no matter how effective they are in the classroom, they will be the first to go when money gets tight. Any attempt to deviate from this civil service model of payment and staffing is met with great resistance from the teachers unions.

The take-away here is that when a union leader speaks, you must assume that there is a very obvious agenda being laid out. Weingarten spins the numbers to suit that agenda, which is first and foremost about getting the taxpayers to fork over more and more bucks for education. I guess a 150 percent increase in spending nationally since 1970 (and getting nothing for it) isn’t enough for Weingarten.

It’s especially laughable because like so many other union phonies, Weingarten talks one way and lives another. Despite her ongoing “tax the rich” class warfare campaign, she is a card-carrying member of the dreaded “one percent” class. In 2010, her last year as United Federation of Teachers president, she received a $194,000 payout for unused sick days, which pushed her total compensation for the year to over $600,000. And she will tell you that it’s just a coincidence that she abandoned New York City that year for East Hampton, a very wealthy community on Long Island’s south shore, thus avoiding paying $30,000 in taxes.

Coincidence? Try hypocrisy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to Mary Theroux at the Independent Institute:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jerry Brown and CTA: Testphobic Twins

Children in the Golden State will get a better education when teacher quality becomes a priority.

In perhaps the most in-depth study on the subject to date, three Ivy League economists studied how much the quality of individual teachers matters to their students over the long term. The paper, by Raj Chetty and John N. Friedman of Harvard and Jonah E. Rockoff of Columbia, tracked 2.5 million students over 20 years, and using a value added approach, found that teachers who help students raise their standardized test scores have a lasting positive effect on those students’ lives beyond academics, including lower teenage-pregnancy rates, greater college matriculation and higher adult earnings. (The authors of the study define “value added” as the average test-score gain for a teacher’s students “…adjusted for differences across classrooms in student characteristics such as prior scores.”)

The only caveat from the authors is that using test scores in teachers’ evaluations could lead to “teaching to the test or cheating.” Nothing new here. Some people, when involved in any kind of competition, will try to gain unfair advantage or cheat outright. Typically, it’s a small part of the population and those who do should lose their jobs and face criminal charges.

The lesson is clear: test scores can give us a great deal of information about who the really good teachers are. But California Governor Jerry Brown, unfazed by the blockbuster study, actually called for less testing in his recent State of the State address.

No, Governor. In fact, we need more testing. In California, English and math are tested yearly starting in second grade. But history and science are tested only every few years. Tests should be given in the four core areas every year. As a former American history teacher, I could never figure out why there was no 6th or 7th grade history test. Why wait for grade 8 and throw in a few questions from the 6th and 7th grade curriculum? Never made any sense to me.

Senior Director of Education Studies at the Pacific Research Lance Izumi wrote in the Orange County Register last week,

“Brown’s education agenda contains a mishmash of proposals, some of which are steps backward and some that are mildly positive. On the clearly negative end, the governor, who has never been a fan of student testing, wants to reduce the number of tests and increase so-called ‘qualitative assessments.’ Trouble is, the reason tests are important is because they offer objective quantifiable data to measure student progress and the effect of teachers and schools on learning.”

While Jerry Brown’s call for less testing is wrongheaded, it isn’t surprising. Testing as a tool of assessing student progress has been around since Day 1, but using student test scores as a measure of teacher effectiveness has caused a backlash in some quarters. There is subset of teachers who laments that there is “more to teaching than just test scores.” And of course they are right, to a point, but they take their case to an extreme and dismiss testing completely. The ringleaders of the anti-testing zealots are the teachers unions, and their agenda has nothing to do with kids or their education. The California Teachers Association, by far the biggest political spender in the state, is about power and ensuring that the disastrous status quo is not disturbed.

Actually, teachers unions operate under the early 20th Century industrial mentality which stipulates that everyone can stick a widget on a car equally as well. Therefore, all widget stickers are equally good and all widget stickers should make the same amount of money. Substitute education for widget, teachers for widget stickers and students for cars, and you fully understand the teachers union model. Once this antiquated notion is truly grasped, the unions may find themselves in trouble, forced to acknowledge that some teachers are better than others, and that some are so bad that they shouldn’t be in the classroom at all. Once that is accepted as truth, better teachers might demand to be paid more than mediocre ones. And the good ones may not be so compliant if they’re the ones who get laid off instead of an inferior teacher who has been on the job longer. Thus, the whole concept of teachers as interchangeable industrial workers starts to unravel. And what could be worse for a group whose main lot in life is to keep acquiring buckets of money and enormous power being exposed as pushing a model that never should have been applied to the teaching profession in the first place?

The good news is that much of the rest of the country is catching on. Teacher quality has become a major topic of discussion with educators, the media and politicians of late. From Oklahoma to New York to Louisiana to New Jersey, states are getting serious about teacher evaluation, all using the results of standardized test scores as a significant part of the equation.

Good teachers matter a lot, and bad teachers can ruin a child’s future. Test scores are very helpful in identifying those teachers and value added methods are good ways to analyze test scores. But California, essentially governed by CTA, their bought-and-paid-for legislature and their man in the governor’s mansion will be the last state to do anything meaningful in this area. That means that one-tenth of the country’s children will continue to be victimized by a cartel that cares a lot about money and power and not a whit about them.

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

Exposing a 40 Year Education Crime: Why California Needs School Choice

Busting LAUSD and every other school district in the state for negligence should help kids, but it’s anyone’s guess as to when. In the meantime, giving families more educational options would be a great help, but don’t hold your breath, California.

With National School Choice Week underway, we see many positive things happening across the country. In states like New Jersey and Louisiana, governors are taking the lead in proposing ways to break the devastating monopoly that government run schools – their educrat leaders, corrupt and/or inept school boards and the powerful teachers unions — have held for far too long.

As an example of Big Education gone bad, I write in City Journal about a crime that has been perpetrated on the children of California for 40 years and the lawsuit that addresses it:

For nearly 40 years, the Los Angeles Unified School District has broken the law—and nobody seemed to notice. Now a group of parents and students are taking the district to court. On November 1, a half-dozen anonymous families working with EdVoice, a reform advocacy group in Sacramento, filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court against the LAUSD, district superintendent John Deasy, and United Teachers Los Angeles. The lawsuit in essence accuses the district and the union of a gross dereliction of duty. According to the parents’ complaint, the district and the union have violated the children’s “fundamental right to basic educational equality and opportunity” by failing to comply with a section of the California Education Code known as the Stull Act. Under the 1971 law, a school district must include student achievement as part of a teacher’s evaluation. Los Angeles Unified has never done so: the teachers union wouldn’t allow it.
To continue reading “A 40-Year Shame,” go to to http://www.city-journal.org/2012/cjc0119ls.html

However the above case is decided, there will undoubtedly be lawsuits, union pushback, teacher dissatisfaction and who-knows-what-else as the various special interests scramble to do what is best for themselves. And as always, children’s needs are left out of the equation.

One way to transcend big government-union school domination would be to develop a system of universal school choice, including vouchers and tax credits. To that end, Alan Bonsteel and I passionately make the case for choice in an op-ed published in the Los Angeles Daily News this past Friday.

As we honor National School Choice week beginning Sunday, one fact stands out: 2012 marks the year when there can be no turning back in school choice reforms.

Last July, The Wall Street Journal dubbed 2011 “The Year of School Choice” because of legislation that had been passed all over our nation. For example, North Carolina and Tennessee eliminated caps on charter schools. Maine passed its first charter school law. Twelve states either adopted new voucher programs or expanded existing ones. After first turning its back on the popular D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program, Congress reconstituted funding for it. To continue reading “School Choice Reforms are More Vital Than Ever,” go to http://www.dailynews.com/opinions/ci_19779002

While it would undoubtedly be a boon to education and save taxpayers money, school choice at this time is an extremely tough political sell in the Golden State. The entrenched special interests in California are in control and to make the needed changes will entail a long, bloody struggle. As such, taxpayers and parents must take the lead and force change via the initiative process.

In a future post, I will examine what options families in California do have if they want to remove their children from failing schools.

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

Visitors from Outer Space and Their Strange Ideas About Education Reform

There are those among us who think that teachers unions, collective bargaining and peer assistance review are the way to a better education for kids. They look like earthlings, but in fact are extraterrestrials.

As the year draws to a close, newspapers, magazines and blogs are filled with best of and worst of lists that deal with everything imaginable. The Hoover Institution’s Koret Task Force got on the bandwagon early and posted Best and Worst in American Education, 2011 in November. All solid stuff. Can a reformer not be happy about the Parent Trigger being raked over the coals, yet surviving, or that many of Michelle Rhee’s reforms are still in place despite leaving her post as D.C. Schools Chancellor after a major push from the American Federation of Teachers? On the worst list, the Task Force includes the Atlanta teacher cheating scandal and the union-orchestrated overturn of Ohio’s recent anti-collective bargaining law.

Then lo and behold, we received a dispatch from Planet Ravitch on December 23rd. (Most people are not aware that shortly after astronomers ruled that Pluto was not a planet in 2006, a new planet would be identified. And it is inhabited!) The people who live on this celestial body (named after Diane Ravitch, a former reformer who turned into a champion of the failing status quo) are afflicted with a dyslexic-like condition: they have the entire education reform picture exactly backwards. The way to true reform is to hold their ideas up to a mirror with the resulting image revealing the best way to proceed.

Washington Post education “reporter” and blogger Valerie Strauss, whom Whitney Tilson rightfully refers to as Diane Ravitch’s mouthpiece, gave over her space last week to fellow Ravitchian Richard Kahlenberg. According to his bio, he is, among other things,

“…an authority on teachers’ unions, private school vouchers, charter schools, turnaround school efforts, and inequality in higher education.”

An authority on teachers unions? Maybe on Planet Ravitch, but he made a bad mistake when in Education Next he engaged especially wise earthling Jay Greene on unions and collective bargaining.

As you would expect, Kahlenberg gets everything backwards in his post. On his worst of list, he accused Terry Moe, author of Special Interest, a brilliant study of the teachers unions, of making “little sense.” (Kahlenberg apparently can’t tell the difference between a teacher and a teachers union.) Additionally, he is dismayed over the proliferation of charter schools because, according to his cherry picked data, most are mediocre. He fails to mention that charter schools have been the saving grace for many inner city kids who have escaped from the union dominated zip code schools they had been forced to attend. While proclaiming to have children’s best interests at heart, he is clearly more concerned that “some charter schools…save money by offering teachers no pensions whatsoever.”

On the plus side, Kahlenberg – surprise! – likes the teachers unions. For example, he writes,

“…the very positive role they can play on national policy was underlined in December, when the National Education Association announced an effort to establish 100 new peer assistance and review programs to better train and, if necessary, weed out ineffective teachers.”

The only problem is that peer assistance programs have been a flop wherever they have been tried. And NEA’s weeding process does not stand much of a chance of seeing the light of day because for it to work at all, it will have to be implemented by union locals. It’s hard to imagine local union bosses talking this one up to the rank and file.

Not surprisingly, Kahlenberg is a fan of collective bargaining, which may benefit mediocre and poor teachers but does very little for the good ones. Moreover, it has been damaging the education process (and therefore children) for about a half-century now. Collective bargaining agreements are nothing more than a top down, collectivist way to ensure that teachers have to do the least amount of work in idealized working conditions with no accountability for the most money. As Jay Greene states,

“Until the ability of teachers unions to engage in collective bargaining is restrained, we should expect unions to continue to use it to advance the interests of their adult members over those of children, their families, and taxpayers.”

In any event, the good news as we look toward 2012 is that for Kahlenberg, Strauss, Ravitch and their fellow aliens, their day has come and gone. We live in a time when change is happening. In July, due to major reform efforts in statehouses all over the country, the Wall Street Journal proclaimed 2011 The Year of School Choice. As Bob Bowdon, director of The Cartel so aptly put it,

“Large entrenched bureaucracies like public education have something in common with aircraft carriers: they never turn around quickly. What’s important is the direction they’re moving, and in this regard the education news is good. Of the 180 degree reversal that’s needed for public schools, we’ve only turned three or four degrees so far, but all the recent trends are taking us in a better direction. The turnaround has begun.”

Happy New Year everyone!!

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

The “Let’s Brainwash American Children Club” Has a New Member

Venerable Scholastic has joined progressive educators and teachers unions in an effort to indoctrinate and radicalize American school children.

Scholastic, a student magazine that has been in business for over 90 years, has caught the progressive fever. (H/T Mary Grabar.) This malady affects common sense and good judgment and leads the afflicted to report news from a biased, progressive viewpoint.

In its December issue, Scholastic, which purports to “believe that all sides of the issues of our times should be fairly discussed — with deep respect for facts and logical thinking,” gets all gooey-eyed about the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon, mentioning that OWS concerns itself with “protesters,” “voicing concerns,” “Americans wanting more opportunity to share in company’s prosperity,” and “workers that they feel that they can never get ahead.” To be sure, some of these types are present at OWS events.

But, Scholastic omits a few inconvenient details, like the fact that the OWS camps have been a magnet for Communists, anarchists, street hustlers, and common criminals and have been breeding grounds for murder, rape, vandalism, robbery and anti-Jewish sentiment. The filth left by many of these criminals — I mean protesters — has taxed municipal sanitation systems at great cost to taxpayers. As of December 9th, there were 417 incidents in all. You would think that Scholastic could have managed to mention that all is not sweetness and light in OWSland.

How did Scholastic treat the Tea Partiers? Not so well. Tina Korbe at Hot Air quotes from the October 2010 Scholastic,

“Tea Party candidates also had some surprise wins in primary elections, which determine who will represent their political parties on the November ballot. Christine O’Donnell, a candidate for Vice President Joseph Biden’s Senate seat in Delaware, was backed by the Tea Party. She has since become known as the candidate who has had to declare publicly that she is ‘not a witch.’

“In Nevada, Sharron Angle, a Tea Party-backed Republican candidate, has become a real threat to U.S. Senator Harry Reid, who currently serves as the Senate Majority Leader. Reid called out the big guns to go up against his opponent. Former President Bill Clinton was recently in Nevada campaigning for him and warning voters against casting their ballots in anger.

“’If any time in your life you make an important decision when you’re mad, there’s an 80 per cent chance you’re going to make a mistake,’ Clinton said at a rally for Reid. ‘I don’t want people to abandon their anger. I want them to channel it so they can think clearly.’”

So, the OWSers have “concerns” but the Tea Partiers are “angry.” Christine O’Donnell is reduced to her unfortunate “Not a witch” comment, but Harry “Taxes are voluntary” Reed gets only positive words. (Just a personal note – I have been to many Tea Parties and have spoken at a couple and never saw or heard about any rapes robberies, assaults, vandalism or Jew hatred. And the area the Tea Party was held was in pristine condition after those involved held their event and went home.)

We would be lucky if it were just a student magazine like Scholastic that is spreading the bowdlerized OWS message to kids, but this is just not the case. Just a few examples of other offenders are the people behind the Facebook page Teach • Occupy Wall Street which claims,

Teach Occupy Wall Street is for educators to share ideas, lesson plans, resources, website, youtubes, classroom practice etc. as we teach about the Occupy Wall Street movement. It is important for teachers to model civic courage to their students — the notion that we should act as if we live in a real democracy. One way to do that is to engage students in deep thinking about what is going on in the world around them. Spread the word. Teach OWS!”

Where to begin? “…we should act as if we live in a real democracy.” Don’t these “educators” know that our founders gave us not a democracy but a republic? Benjamin Franklin put the reason for this succinctly, “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.”

Then there are the teachers unions that have done their best to take advantage of the class warfare sentiment inherent in the OWS movement, whose motto could very well be “I’m poor because you’re rich.” As I wrote back in October,

“A couple of weeks ago, United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten made sympathetic statements about the Occupy Wall Street movement. Now the California Teachers Association has jumped in with a full endorsement and suggestions on its website as to how teachers and others can get involved in OWS activities.

“Stunning in its mendacity, CTA issued a press release (H/T Mike Antonucci) which announced its “support of the nationwide ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement for tax fairness and against corporate greed.” It goes on to say, ‘…a stable tax structure begins with everyone paying their fair share.’”

Additionally, when OWS fever was peaking last month, teachers actually called in sick and encouraged their students to join them in solidarity with other protesters on the frontlines.

At the end of the day, school children are being manipulated, lied to and taught a one-sided, distorted view of the world. From the mainstream media, many of their teachers and their unions and “educational” magazines, kids are getting hit foursquare with highly politicized, progressive propaganda. Its purveyors have no interest in education or the truth, only presenting the “facts” that fit their worldview. It’s disgusting and everyone involved in this enterprise should be ashamed of themselves.

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

Tenure for Teachers: Enough is Enough

Every year untold thousands of school kids are harmed by teachers who shouldn’t be allowed in a classroom. Parents must be given an opportunity to send their children elsewhere.

A teacher arrives at work high on drugs…daily.

A teacher regularly flies into rages, terrifying kids and coworkers.

A teacher talks in explicit terms about sex to the students.

A teacher makes constant sexual advances to other teachers.

A teacher doesn’t teach her students anything.

These are a few of the teachers that new Perth Amboy schools superintendent Janine Caffrey has to deal with on a daily basis. She is quick to point out that most teachers are committed and talented, but there are a few….

The evil here is tenure or permanence, which in New Jersey bestows a position for life on teachers after just three years on the job. (It’s even worse in other states – in California, for example, a teacher can get into the untouchables club after only two years.) Tenure for teachers would be nothing more than a bad joke if it didn’t destroy the education experience for tens of thousands of children who are subjected to incompetent/cruel/perverted people on a daily basis.

The cases that Caffrey is dealing with are not all that uncommon. In my 28 year teaching career, I saw all the above and then some – like a teacher at my middle school who on a warm day at lunch decided to go topless on the athletic field. Admittedly guilty, the consequence of her action was to be transferred to a nearby elementary school. Another teacher regularly went to his car between his P.E. classes and got plastered. No consequence for him.

The proponents of tenure are typically bad teachers and their protectors — the teachers unions. They claim that tenure is nothing more than due process, and incompetent administrators are the ones to blame if a bad teacher is allowed to stay on the job.

Wrong. As Caffrey says,

“Proponents of tenure will tell you that any school or district can remove a teacher by the due-process system that the tenure law affords. That may be the intent of our tenure law, but it certainly doesn’t work that way.”

The truth is that the system is rigged, plain and simple. A chart supplied by the Education Action Group shows the Byzantine two-to-five-year roadmap that must be followed to get rid of an incompetent teacher. What the chart doesn’t tell you is the procedure’s astronomical cost to the taxpayer. In Los Angeles recently, the school district tried to get rid of seven stinkers — after five years and a cost of $3.5 million, they managed to get rid of four, while two accepted buyouts and one reportedly was reinstated.

Then there is the case of Gabrielle Leko, a teacher in the La Caňada school district in California who, according to many reports, regularly hurls insults at her students dating back to at least 1997. Calling her students such terms of endearment as Jew Boy earned her a brief stint in a sensitivity class. And while the school board and superintendent are figuring out what to do with her, Leko, unchastened, goes to work every day and does what she has always done. And whatever is decided – the next event is a school board meeting on December 21 – Ms. Leko’s fate will be kept under wraps. So even if she does lose her job in La Caňada, she will probably be free to continue foisting her insults on unwitting students in another school district, should she decide to stay in the field.

While tenure laws have been in effect just about everywhere in the country for far too long, there is some good news. There are states – Illinois, Indiana and Florida, to name a few — that have succeeded in moderating or eliminating this abomination. This is all well and good, but until tenure is completely eradicated, children will be continue to be damaged (and in some cases, abused) by teachers who shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near them.

Also, Hoover Institution scholar Eric Hanushek claims that if we just got rid of the bottom performing 5 to 7 percent of teachers – a common practice in the private sector — our education system could rival that of Finland’s world class system.

Ultimately, the most realistic way for parents to successfully protect their children is to give them an option to remove their kids from harm’s way via a voucher. Parents should be allowed to take the money that as taxpayers they are paying to educate their child in a public school and apply it to enroll their children elsewhere – in a traditional public, charter or private school. Any school of their choosing.

And to the whiners amongst us who say, “But that could drain money away from public schools,” I say YES, it will! But the good news is that wherever students have been given a choice where to go to school, public schools have actually improved, even with less money. Yes, competition even works in the wacky world of public education.

One final note – if tenure is a disease that we absolutely must eradicate, perhaps political correctness is a close second. You may have read the story about a 9 year old boy in North Carolina who got suspended from school by the principal for two days because he told his teacher she was cute. Yes, he was accused of “sexually harassing” her. A nine year old! Fortunately, his mother decided to fight back – the story went viral, became national news and the boy was reinstated by district officials with an apology. Jerry Bostic, the principal who ordered the suspension, didn’t get off so easy. Downgraded to Assistant Principal, he refused the demotion and retired instead. He thought that after 43 years of service to his school district he deserved better. And maybe he did, but his judgment in this situation was appalling.

In any event, it’s time to give parents a choice where to send their children to school. The traditional forced-zip-code method hasn’t worked well for children, their families and taxpayers for decades.

All need to mark their calendars for January 22, 2012 – the start of National School Choice Week – which will provide a concentrated focus on the need for effective education options for every child. To learn more and get involved, please visit the NSCW website.

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

“Indoctrination” – A Must Read For Parents, Taxpayers and Everyone Else

To a large extent, the progressives have taken over American education, are transforming it and are doing it in plain sight.

Indoctrination: How ‘Useful Idiots’ Are Using Our Schools to Subvert American Exceptionalism
is an invaluable book written by Kyle Olson, founder and CEO of the Education Action Group, an organization that is on the frontline of education reform and a champion of school choice.

In this brief and very readable book, Olson describes the ways that the progressives in our society have taken over K-12 education. They have been running most of our elite colleges and schools of education for years now and this step is in keeping with their plan to transform America.

As a public school teacher whose career spanned four decades, I have seen the long march first hand. Perverting the traditional purpose of American education (which has been to make better and more educated citizens), progressives have been inspired by the theories of Paolo Freire, a Brazilian socialist who saw everything through a Marxist class warfare lens.

Carrying Freire’s mantle, current gurus like revolutionary terrorist Bill Ayers and the recently deceased Communist Howard Zinn have been behind the effort to destroy America as we know it. They claim that basically the U.S. and its capitalist system are the root of all evil. Unfortunately, their love-the-world/hate-America attitude has gained an incredible amount of currency in our public schools in a relatively short time. Ayers, Zinn and their ilk have essentially managed to convince much of the education establishment to abandon every teaching technique and curriculum that benefited prior generations. For example, “drill and kill” has been thrown on the refuse heap; we are now supposed to let our students “discover” learning. The “sage on the stage” has been replaced by the “guide on the side.” The only problem with these techniques is that they haven’t worked, but they do sound good (at least to the progressives.) As such, we are now raising a nation of dunces.

On the 2010 NAEP history test, we learned that only 12 percent of high school seniors have a firm grip on American history. Yes, we are educating students to the point that almost half the nation thinks that the cornerstone of Communism, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” is in the U.S. Constitution. Only 2 percent of high school seniors know the significance of Brown vs. the Board of Education and only 4 percent of 8th graders could explain why urban populations rose and rural populations shrank over time.

So just what are we teaching them?

This is where Olson’s book shines. In chapter after chapter, he meticulously details lessons being foisted on students that are being taught for one purpose only – to advance the progressive agenda. A few examples:
• An examination of the nature and extent of police brutality, which is being promoted in middle schools by none other than Van Jones, conspiracy enthusiast extraordinaire.
• A clever lesson using poker chips, the aim of which is to convince students that unequal distribution of wealth has to do with the fact that the U.S. has more than its share of resources, not that we have a wealth-promoting capitalist system.
• “I Pledge Allegiance to the Earth.” Yup, no more of this silly patriotic stuff. Children, you are denizens of the earth! (I wonder what our political enemies think of this rubbish… when they stop laughing, that is.)

Rightfully, Olson reserves a special section for the unions whose far left agenda has been well documented, and who have gone to great lengths to make this country over in their own image. Their attempts to indoctrinate kids and glorify the union movement are staggering. For example,
• “Trouble in the Henhouse: A Puppet Show.” In this charming bit of propaganda put out by the California Federation of Teachers aimed at kindergartners, we find an oppressive farmer whose hens unionize and convince the heartless farmer that he’d better respect them or else.
• The “Yummy Pizza Company” is another lesson from CFT — actually ten, which delve into the process of organizing a union local. They include instructions on how to collectively bargain as well as a sanitized look at prominent labor leaders.
Click Clack Moo, a popular book promoted by the AFL-CIO, tells second graders about unhappy cows that refuse to work until the mean farmer is forced to meet their demands.

And while we are teaching our children the joys of class warfare, earth worship and the importance of union membership, other countries that are more serious about educating their young are cleaning our clocks in every international comparison available.

Actually, it is even worse than Olson suggests. There is one aspect of the progressive takeover that he gave short shrift to. Except for SB 48, an obscene bit of legislation in California which will bring the contributions of homosexuals and transgenders into the K-12 curriculum, there is little mention of the progressives’ ongoing effort to sexualize children. From Gay-Straight clubs in middle school (where parents do not have to be notified of their child’s involvement) to attempts to teach orgasm to eleven year olds, the radicals led by the National Education Association have been making alarming progress.

Another example of the progressives’ sexual agenda is which holidays are deemed important. Few people are aware of what holiday is celebrated on November 20th. But every student at the middle school where I worked till my retirement in 2009 knows, because the school spent more time acknowledging that day — “Transgender Day of Remembrance” — than Veteran’s Day, November 11th. TDR was considered more worthy of the students’ time at my school than a holiday which acknowledges the contributions of American soldiers. (Maybe this shouldn’t be surprising. At the same school, posters of Che Guevara adorned the walls of no less than five classrooms, including an American history class that had no pictures of Washington or Lincoln. Che was considered a hero by these teachers who passed this admiration on to their impressionable students. Of course the real life Che was a sadistic mass murderer, but being a progressive means never having to sweat minor details like the truth.)

Clearly Indoctrination is a book that could leave citizens in a state of great despair. But fortunately, in the last chapter, Olson lists several important ways that parents and the general public can fight back. And if this country isn’t to become permanently transformed — fight back we must. None of our international enemies are as powerful, organized and, thus far, as successful as our home grown progressives who are bent on destroying public education as we know it in America. It is imperative that we all become more knowledgeable about what is going on in our schools and take action. Kyle Olson’s Indoctrination is an excellent place to start that process.

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

California’s Looming Fiscal Disaster: Sunlight and an Informed Public are the Best Disinfectants

With the state and various cities on the brink of insolvency, it’s imperative that the electorate become more informed and demand that school districts and teachers unions do their negotiating in public.

This past Sunday’s Los Angeles Times above-the-fold headline screamed “Voters back tax hikes for schools.” It was déja-vu all over again. As I wrote in September,

“… a poll which is biased and does not take into account the knowledge of the people being polled is misleading and dangerous. The public is led to believe that the responders are perceptive and knowledgeable, when in reality so many are not.”

(And I could have added that a poll that misleads or misinforms its respondents is the most dangerous of all; I’ll address that shortly.)

The Times article reported that a USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences/Los Angeles Times Frequency Questionnaire released last week showed that 61 percent of those surveyed said they would pay higher taxes to boost school funding.

As I read those words, I wondered,
• What do those people really know about the amount we already spend on education? For example, do they know that over 50 percent of the state’s general fund spending already goes to education?
• Do they know how much is wasted on an excessive number of administrators and useless bureaucrats?
• Do they understand that due to an archaic tenure system, it can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to try to rid a school system of one incompetent or criminal teacher?
• Do they know the average teacher’s salary and how much more they get in additional healthcare and pension compensation?
• Do they know that teachers can pad their pay by taking useless “professional development” classes that can “earn” them an extra million dollars in their careers and retirement?
• Do they know that practically every teacher contract in the state has a provision whereby teachers who are union representatives get classroom time off each month to do union business while the taxpayers foot the bill for the rep’s substitute teacher?
• Do they know that it is the taxpayer supported school district, not the teachers unions, that collects the union dues that teachers are forced to pay in this state?
• Do they know that California already has one of the highest sales and income tax rates in the country?

There was one question where the pollsters intended to educate the people by including the following “information.” They asked,

“As you may know, California currently ranks forty-second out of the fifty states in funding per student. (Bold added.) Would you favor or oppose increasing funding for California’s public schools, even if it meant an increase in your own taxes?” 61 percent responded that they would favor raising taxes.

The problem with the pollster’s information is that it is very misleading. California is not “forty-second out of the fifty states in funding per student.”

As Sacramento Bee writer Dan Walters pointed out in a column on November 13th, doomsday statistics regarding education matters are typically provided by special interest groups like the National Education Association. What agenda-driven groups typically do is take regional costs such as standard of living into account which skews the numbers in a way that benefits them.

A more objective source like the Census Bureau,

“…surveys all forms of school spending and pegs California’s per-pupil number at $11,588, just $662 under the national average and 27th-highest in the nation….
“And it’s much higher in some big-city school systems, such as Los Angeles Unified, which has more than 600,000 students, spends $14,100 per pupil and has about a 50 percent high-school dropout rate.”

The non-partisan California Legislative Analysts Office has the state in 31st place in school spending.

The whole spending issue becomes even more convoluted, because typically school districts don’t count capital expenses, e.g. the cost of school buildings, in their per-student spending. Since students don’t take classes at the beach or in a field, these costs must be included to give the public an idea of the true cost of educating a child. Including capital costs, the dollar amount that Adam Schaeffer of the Cato Institute came up with for Los Angeles Unified is $25,208 per year.

Mike Antonucci, director of the Education Intelligence Agency, looks at the situation from another perspective. Last May, he pointed out,

“The latest Census Bureau report provides details of the 2008-09 school year, as the nation was in the midst of the recession.”

He then breaks the national numbers down state by state and in California, we find that for the years 2003-2004 to 2008-2009 school enrollment went down 87,548 or 1.4%, but at the same time we added over 3,000 teachers (1.1%) and spending went up a whopping 24.1%.

So even in a time period which included a world wide recession, we see a big increase in spending and a shrinking teacher/student ratio.

The bottom line is that we should not let special interests get away with using skewed data in an attempt to con the public. People need to become better consumers by making a concerted effort to become more informed about what we really spend on education.

One way to accomplish this would be for the public to get directly involved with teacher contract negations. As Education Action Group’s Steve Gunn wrote last week,

“Local taxpayers across the nation cough up millions of dollars every year to fund their local schools. About 75 percent of those schools’ budgets are dominated by labor costs, mostly negotiated union labor costs.” (Bold added.)

“But there’s nothing they can do to address that concern if compensation is negotiated behind their backs.”

And in fact, public scrutiny is a reality. School districts in Idaho, New Jersey, New York and elsewhere have gone public with their contract negotiations.

If Californians don’t become more informed and demand public access to teacher’s contract negotiations — and in fact all public employee contract negotiations — they will continue to let the special interests have their way while the taxpayers get to pay and pay and pay. However there is a limit to the fiscal abuse that the formerly Golden State can stand before it becomes insolvent.

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

Teachers are Overpaid and Underpaid

A new study claims that public school teachers are overpaid. Are they? Depends.

An ongoing whine from teachers unions and their fellow travelers is that public school teachers don’t earn enough money. But according to Andrew Biggs, a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute scholar and Jason Richwine, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, it is just not true. In fact, in a recently released study, they find that teachers are overpaid. Typically teachers have many perks like excellent healthcare and pension packages which aren’t counted as “income.” Armed with facts, charts and a bevy of footnotes, the authors make a very good case for their thesis. For example, they claim,

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

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

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

“Taking all of this into account, teachers actually receive salary and benefits that are 52 percent greater than fair market levels.”

Needless to say, the usual suspects are none too pleased with the report. A teacher-blogger going by New York City Educator calls his piece, “‘That’s Just Mean’: Bullies at the Heritage Foundation.” Okay, whatever.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan claims that

“…public school teachers are ‘desperately underpaid’ and has called for doubling teacher salaries.”

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten bashed the report, huffing that it’s full of “ridiculous assertions” says,

“The AEI report concludes that America’s public school teachers are overpaid — something that defies common sense — and uses misleading statistics and questionable research to make its case.

“If teachers are so overpaid, then why aren’t more “1 percenters” banging down the doors to enter the teaching profession? Why do 50 percent of teachers leave the profession within three to five years, an attrition rate that costs our school districts $7 billion annually?”

Kim Anderson, advocacy director at the National Education Association, who questions the reliability of the report, chimes in,

“Talented individuals turn away from this rewarding profession because they are forced to choose between making a difference in the lives of students and providing for their families.”

After a quick look at the negative responses, an obvious fix emerges: We should pay teachers by how effective they are in the classroom. By doing this, we would attract a more professional class of teachers. In every other profession in America, people are paid by how competent and productive they are. Good doctors earn more money than their less talented colleagues; good lawyers command higher fees than those who regularly lose their court cases, etc. Why do we make a special case for education – where competency is paramount?

It’s because teachers are positioned in our society like industrial workers, not professionals. Government run schools and the powerful teachers unions have coalesced to make teaching the equivalent of working in a glorified auto plant. Due to the one-size-fits-all nature of collective bargaining, we have an appalling system whereby teachers can make more money simply by logging years on the job and by taking useless professional development classes. Teacher quality throughout almost every school district in the country is a non-factor in teacher compensation.

Hence the real answer to the question, “Are teachers overpaid?” is no and yes. The good ones are most definitely underpaid and the mediocre and worse are most definitely overpaid. Andrew Biggs points this out,

“…across-the-board pay increases are hardly warranted. What is needed is pay flexibility, to reward the best teachers and dismiss the worst.”

In his review of the teacher pay study, AEI’s Rick Hess analyzes the rigidity of the current system,

“In a routine day, a 4th grade teacher who is a terrific English language arts instructor might teach reading for just 90 minutes. This is an extravagant waste of talent, especially when one can stroll down the hallway and see a less adept colleague offering 90 minutes of pedestrian reading instruction.”

On Jay Greene’s blog, Heritage’s Lindsey Burke sums it all up quite well,

“Effective teachers should be handsomely rewarded for the impact they are having on a child’s education. By reforming compensation policies in a way that accounts for the abilities of great teachers to improve student outcomes, we will ensure excellent teachers are richly compensated, and mediocre teachers have a strong incentive to improve.”

Teachers need to demand freedom from the government-teacher union monopoly. Until they escape from this highly unprofessional set-up, join other professionals and are paid according to their ability, they will continue to be treated as interchangeable parts. Yes, if they follow this advice, they may lose some of their union guaranteed perks. But in exchange, they will be treated as professionals with all the respect, esteem and compensation accorded to those in that class.

But in the meantime, we will continue to overpay bad and mediocre teachers and underpay the good ones. And the teachers unions and their allies will keep on bellyaching about yet another lousy state of affairs that they are responsible for.

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

Fake Teacher Evaluation Racket is Busted in Los Angeles

Parents sue the LA school board and teachers union, forcing them to obey a law that they have ignored for 40 years.

There is nothing new about unions bullying weak-kneed school districts, but this may be the mother of all abuses– for forty years, school districts and unions have collaborated to break the law in California. According to the Stull Act (Section 44660 of the state’s education code), part of a teacher’s evaluation is required to include a student achievement component, but this has not happened anywhere in the state. Last week, after consulting with EdVoice, a reform advocacy group in Sacramento, parents of some students in Los Angeles Unified School District sued the school district and teachers union for what amounts to a dereliction of duty. While the lawsuit is aimed at LA, it will have state-wide ramifications.

Originally enacted in 1971, the Stull Act, named after State Senator John Stull, was amended in 1999 to include,

“The governing board of each school district shall evaluate and assess certificated employee performance as it reasonably relates to:

The progress of pupils toward the standards established pursuant to subdivision (a) and, if applicable, the state adopted academic content standards as measured by state adopted criterion referenced assessments….”

In other words, a part of a teacher’s evaluation is supposed to be contingent on how well his students do on state mandated tests. This is hardly a radical notion, as half the states in the rest of the country now evaluate teachers in part by student performance on these tests.

But in California, what are laughingly referred to as “teacher evaluations” are anything but. A “Stull” is typically a very rare and brief visit from a principal who helps plan the lesson they will observe and lets the teacher know exactly when the observation will be. And all the while, the teacher is prepping his kids to be at their absolute best when the principal steps into the classroom for the evaluation. Invariably everything goes swimmingly. So consistently good are the results of these Potemkin Village-style “evaluations” that over 99 percent of teachers get a satisfactory rating.

Teachers unions think that linking student performance to a teacher’s evaluation is a grave injustice and have always fiercely opposed it. (In reality, holding a teacher accountable for student learning is about as unjust as holding a chef responsible for the food he cooks.) This may be an understandable position for teachers unions which have never demonstrated any real concern for students, but what about the folks who sit at the other end of the bargaining table? What is the excuse for the school boards? Are they all that easily cowed by union bullies? Or are they part of a club that has forgotten their mission? Are they corrupt? Can they be ignorant of the law? Some or all of the above?

In any event, with judicial lights shining brightly, the jig is up…sort of. What the education code does not stipulate is how much weight to give the student performance component. Therein lies the rub. Without doubt, the teachers unions will negotiate to minimize it to near zero, with little or no consequence for the bottom performing teachers. (To the unions, there is no such thing as a bad teacher, and they’ve rigged the system so that getting rid of a stinker is about as prevalent as the occurrence of Halley’s Comet.)

If the intent of this lawsuit is seriously embraced, it could have a major impact in California, where a third of all students drop out before completing high school and a great majority of those who do graduate and go on to college need remediation. Will school boards finally man up and take action to reverse a forty year shame? Or will they cower and cave, yet again, to union demands and turn their backs on the children of California.

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

Unions Continue to Swindle the Public

Unions are still treacherous, but with a generous helping of legislative malfeasance, their tactics are more subtle.

“On the Waterfront” portrayed union power at its rawest. In the 1950s, the unions typically got their way with nothing less than brute force. But today the tactics are different. In “Pretty Boy Floyd,” Woody Guthrie sang, “Some will rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen.” The unions are well entrenched in the “fountain pen” camp and recently, Illinois has been in their crosshairs.

In September, the Chicago Tribune broke a story about Dennis Gannon, a former sanitation worker who became a president of the Chicago Federation of Labor. He went back to work for the city for one day, then took a leave of absence and was legally allowed to collect a $158,000 pension, about five times the average sanitation worker.

Shortly after that, again in Chicago, two lobbyists with no prior teaching experience similarly gamed the system by taking advantage of a new law.

“The legislation enabled union officials to get into the state teachers pension fund and count their previous years as union employees after quickly obtaining teaching certificates and working in a classroom. They just had to do it before the bill was signed into law.

“(Lobbyist) Preckwinkle’s one day of subbing qualified him to become a participant in the state teachers pension fund, allowing him to pick up 16 years of previous union work and nearly five more years since he joined. He’s 59, and at age 60 he’ll be eligible for a state pension based on the four-highest consecutive years of his last 10 years of work.

“His paycheck fluctuates as a union lobbyist, but pension records show his earnings in the last school year were at least $245,000. Based on his salary history so far, he could earn a pension of about $108,000 a year, more than double what the average teacher receives.

“His pay for one day as a substitute was $93, according to records of the Illinois Teachers Retirement System.”

In a higher profile case, Reg Weaver was a teacher in Danville earning $60,000 a year. He worked his way up the union food chain and became National Education Association president in 2002. Termed out in 2008, he now makes a yearly $242,657 teachers pension. Weaver has the audacity to defend his outrageous pension which is based on his salary as a union leader. He told the Chicago Tribune,

“I worked seven days a week, 24 hours a day,” Weaver said. “There was not a time when someone was not able to get in touch with me. You ask my family. I didn’t take vacation. I worked in the office long hours. I worked anywhere from 15 hours, 16 hours a day.

“If you want to divide that $240,000 into the amount of hours spent, I think you would find that the per hour was probably not much at all, considering the work that had to be done.”

But what Weaver and some others in Illinois don’t seem to get is that whatever work he may have done for his union, his pension should come from the union, not in large part from the average taxpayer who was never a part of that union. (Memo to the Occupy crowd in Chicago: Why are you not up in arms about this? Or does OWS really stand for “Obviously, We’re Stupid”?)

These cases are egregious and not just limited to Illinois.

But there is a bigger, more insidious union-involved scandal that is nationwide and ongoing: “release time” from school for teachers who are union reps. These teachers are regularly given time off from their teaching duties so that they can do union business on school time and still be paid…by the district, i.e. the taxpayers. For example, in New York,

“The Department of Education pays about 1,500 teachers for time they spend on union activities — and pays other teachers to replace them in the classroom.

“It’s a sweetheart deal that costs taxpayers an extra $9 million a year to pay fill-ins for instructors who are sprung — at full pay — to carry out responsibilities for the United Federation of Teachers.”

“The UFT reimburses the DOE only about $900,000 of nearly $10 million it spends to replace the teachers, officials said.”

Far away from New York, in California’s conservative Orange County, there is a district that has this wording as part of their contract,

“The Association President or designee may utilize one (1) day per week for Association business. The District shall bear the cost of the substitutes.”

Just about every teacher union contract has this kind of screw-the-taxpayer clause written into it, usually in the area that deals with “Association Rights.” Yeah, every time the “Association” asserts a right, the taxpayers take it in the shorts. And all the while students are subject to a steady barrage of subs, which is never a winning formula for a good education.

Yes, “fountain pen” robbery is rampant. The question is when will the people who are footing the bill for these union abuses wake up and demand that their legislators put an end to it. And vote them out if they don’t.

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