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Where school dollars go to die

A new study points fingers at charter schools for malfeasance, but traditional public schools are still by far #1 in wasteful spending.

Are Charters Doomed in California?

Unions party like it’s 1886

The Wrong March

UTLA’s Eli Broad Rage

Charters Under Attack

For years, teachers’ unions have tried to kill charter schools—but only on odd-numbered days. On even-numbered days, they tried to organize them. Things lately have become very odd, at least in California; the unions are in full-assault mode.

United Teachers of Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl has long groused about how charter schools don’t play by the rules. Teachers’ union talking points effortlessly roll off his tongue—billionaires this, accountability that. But on May 4, despite pleas by charter school parents, UTLA, in concert with the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools—a union front group—planned a major protest outside schools where charters share a campus with traditional public schools. “We will stand with Los Angeles parents, educators, students, administrators, and community members for fully funded public schools and call on corporate charter schools to pay their fair share to the district,” AROS said in a statement. Of course, charters are public schools, not “corporate.” And charters are the ones that aren’t fully funded, which is why they frequently have to share facilities. But UTLA and AROS don’t bother with those minor details. The rally mostly fizzled, so school kids were thankfully spared the sight and sound of angry protesters marching and chanting.

UTLA wasn’t finished. In what it thought would be a coup de grâce, the union released the results of a “study” it commissioned, which, among other things, asserted that the Los Angeles Unified School District “lost more than $591 million dollars to unmitigated charter school growth this year alone.” The school district countered by pointing out that it actually makes money due to the existence of charter schools. Undaunted, Caputo-Pearl was at it again in August. “With our contract expiring in June 2017, the likely attack on our health benefits in the fall of 2017, the race for governor heating up in 2018, and the unequivocal need for state legislation that addresses inadequate funding and increased regulation of charters, with all of these things, the next year-and-a-half must be founded upon building our capacity to strike, and our capacity to create a state crisis, in early 2018,” he told the annual UTLA leadership conference in July. “There simply may be no other way to protect our health benefits and to shock the system into investing in the civic institution of public education.”

Despite public charter schools outperforming traditional public schools in both English & Math on standardized testing for 2016 - Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of the United Teachers of Los Angeles, had stated the importance of spending the next year-and-a half on building a capacity to strike against charter schools.

Despite public charter schools outperforming traditional public schools in both English & Math on standardized testing for 2016 – Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of the United Teachers of Los Angeles, had stated the importance of spending the next year-and-a half on building a capacity to strike against charter schools.

In late August, just weeks after Caputo-Pearl’s tantrum, UTLA hit the streets with a media campaign. Empowered by a massive dues increase, the union began spreading its venom via billboards, bus benches, and the media. The timing was particularly bad, as the just-released 2016 state standardized-test results showed that charters outperformed traditional public schools in both English and math. Los Angeles, where one in six students is enrolled in a charter, saw 46 percent of its independent charter-school students meeting or exceeding the standard on the English Language Arts test, versus 37 percent for students in traditional public schools. On the math test, the difference was smaller: 30 percent versus 26 percent. Despite the unions’ perpetual “cherry-picking” mantra, 82 percent of charter students qualify as low-income compared with 80 percent for traditional schools. Charters also match up closely in areas of ethnicity, English-language learners, and disabled students.

The California Teachers Association jumped into the act on August 31 by unleashing “Kids Not Profits,” an “awareness” campaign calling for more “accountability and transparency of California charter schools and exposing the coordinated agenda by a group of billionaires to divert money from California’s neighborhood public schools to privately managed charter schools. These same billionaires are spending record amounts of money to influence local legislative and school board elections across the state.” In a press release announcing the launch of the campaign, the union quotes from its new radio ad, which claims to lay out the “billionaires’ coordinated agenda”:

  1. Divert money out of California’s neighborhood public schools to fund privately run charter schools, without accountability or transparency to parents and taxpayers.
  2. Cherry-pick the students who get to attend charter schools—weeding out and turning down students with special needs.
  3. Spend millions trying to influence local legislative and school board elections across California.

While Numbers One and Two are outright lies, there is some truth to Number Three. CTA has become fat and happy. It is by far California’s biggest political spender. It drives the union elite crazy that philanthropists are pouring unprecedented amounts of money into edu-politics in an attempt to balance the playing field. The union is finally facing some stiff competition in Sacramento, as well as in some local school board races.

Second only to its obsession with billionaires is the union’s incessant harping about accountability. “It’s time to hold charter schools and their private operators accountable to some of the same standards as traditional public schools,” CTA president Eric Heins says. This is laughable. Charter schools operate in accordance with all state and federal laws. They must meet rigorous academic goals, engage in ethical business practices, and be proactive in their efforts to stay open. If a school doesn’t successfully educate its students according to its charter, parents will pull their kids out and send them elsewhere. After a specified period—usually five years—the school’s charter is revoked. A failing traditional public school, by contrast, rarely closes. Union-mandated “permanence” laws ensure that tenured teachers, no matter how incompetent they may be, almost never lose their jobs.

The CTA and other unions can’t deal with the fact that non-unionized charters typically do a better job of educating poor and minority students than do traditional public schools. So they lie and create distractions in order to preserve their dominion. But all the yammering about charters “siphoning money from public schools,” grousing about billionaires “pushing their profit-driven agenda,” and bogus cries for “accountability” simply expose the unions as monopolists who can’t abide competition. But that’s just what children, their parents, and taxpayers deserve—less union meddling and more competition and choice.

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.

LAUSD Spends More Even as Enrollment Drops

Editors Note: By almost every objective standard, the educational outcomes delivered by the Los Angeles School District are among the worst in the nation. The following article documents how LAUSD has spent millions, hundreds of millions, on budget items that have little impact on the quality of classroom education, all the while attempting to blame charter schools for their budget challenges. We’ve dug into this issue in other articles published this month: “LA Story: The Poorer You Are, the More Likely You Are to Support Charters” documents how, ironically, it is the wealthy enclaves of Los Angeles where voters support union backed school board candidates, and how voters in underprivileged communities are more likely to support reform candidates and charter schools. In “ACLU Turns its Back on LA’s Poorest Students in Attack on Charter Schools” we describe recent efforts by the ACLU, surprisingly, to discredit charter school performance using biased statistics. In “Anti-Charter-School Rhetoric Isn’t Helping L.A.’s Kids,” a board director of the nonprofit Alliance College Ready Public Schools debunks the unfounded anti-charter school claims that are relentlessly pushed by the teachers union. There is a war in Los Angeles for the future of the next generation of citizens. The war is not between unions who care about students and “millionaires and billionaires trying to hijack education for profit.” The war is between innovative charter school operators, nearly all of them nonprofits, who are logging impressive successes against a teachers union that is bent on their destruction.

The Los Angeles Unified School District is hemorrhaging cash, and the teachers union wants you to believe the problem is charter schools. The real problem is closer to home: district officials and teachers union leaders who systematically raid the coffers with no regard for the consequences.

LAUSD’s new $7.6 billion budget, issued in June for the coming fiscal year, adds $700 million in new spending. Most of that new spending will fund expenses outside the classroom as the district struggles to pay for increased benefits. This new budget comes just after state officials ordered the district to stop misallocating funds intended for high-­needs students. Local advocates say the new LAUSD budget continues to violate the state order.

LAUSD continues to spend more even as the district has lost over 100,000 students since 2006 – a drop of more than 20%. Despite the exodus, union leaders have pressed the district to add teachers and administrators. The district has seen a 22% increase in administrative staff over the last five years. Those teachers and administrators earn relatively generous salaries and benefits despite the abysmal performance of LAUSD schools overall. That generosity has produced unfunded pension liabilities of roughly $13 billion – about 1.5 times the district’s annual operating budget. Its operating budget runs a deficit of $333 million and rising, projected to exceed half a billion annually by 2019-­2020.

Then there are the district’s laughable, myriad budgeting failures. LAUSD has spent $73 million for a new ethnic studies program that was supposed to cost $4 million. The district will have spent more than $200 million for a new computer system by 2018 – for which they originally budgeted $27 million. That miscalculation was so severe that it required a temporary district­wide hiring freeze.

The truth, then, is that charters are not the problem.
The problem is that LAUSD schools are consistently
among the worst in the United States – and that residents
pay a premium for those miserable results.

Last year, the district clocked several financial disasters. In April 2015 alone, Superintendent Ramon Cortines asked the school board to set aside $1 billion in additional funds for a union health care agreement – and wanted the board’s approval before they’d even been presented with the district’s annual budget. This being the LAUSD, the school board agreed, even refusing board member Monica Ratliff’s request for a 10­ year analysis of the district’s future obligations.

At the same time, the LAUSD school board unanimously approved a teachers contract that included a 10.36% pay raise and added $278.6 million a year to the district’s budget deficit. Board president Richard Vladovic, endorsed by the teachers union, claimed the contract was “the right thing to do” because teachers “are worth every penny, and more.” A good idea, but can the district afford it? Vladovic said the superintendent would figure out the math. In the same agreement, the school board agreed to hire 139 additional teachers and allowed teachers to collect 14.3% of their annual salary in back pay over the next two years.

Despite this assortment of imprudent financial decisions by the union ­controlled school board, United Teachers Los Angeles, the LAUSD teachers union, blames charter schools for the district’s problems. As part of their propaganda effort, the union funded a study claiming charter schools have cost LAUSD $591 million in lost revenue due to declining enrollment. Many district officials and charter school leaders disagree, pointing to numbers that suggest charter schools actually bring LAUSD money.

The truth, then, is that charters are not the problem. The problem is that LAUSD schools are consistently among the worst in the United States – and that residents pay a premium for those miserable results. Instead of solving its financial problems, Los Angeles Unified makes them worse with every new budget. LAUSD requires serious financial reforms to maintain fiscal solvency, and these reforms must start with reining in unions, not attacking charters, the only part of Los Angeles Unified that is successful.

David Schwartzman is a junior studying economics and applied mathematics at Hillsdale College. He is a Journalism Fellow at the California Policy Center in Tustin.

Teachers Unions Double Down on Charter Vilification

UTLA and CTA’s anti-charter school obsession has reached epidemic proportions. 

Just weeks after United Teachers of Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl threw his if-we-don’t get-our-way-we’re-going-to-create-a-state-crisis tantrum, the teachers union has hit the streets with a media campaign. Empowered by a massive dues increase, UTLA is spreading its venom via billboards, bus benches and the media. As articulated by UTLA vice-president Cecily Myart-Cruz, the message is, “We are a public school alliance who (sic) wants to reclaim our schools.”

The question becomes, “Reclaim them from whom?” The obvious answer is, “Those who are trying to promote charter schools,” as elucidated in Caputo-Pearl’s jeremiad in which he portrayed these public schools of choice as devils in our midst, citing a UTLA-commissioned bogus study in a feeble attempt to make his case.

The union’s timing is particularly bad, as the 2016 state standardized test results have just been released showing that charters have outperformed the traditional public schools yet again. Los Angeles, where one in six students is enrolled in a charter, saw 46 percent of its independent charter school students meeting or exceeding the standard on the English Language Arts test, versus 37 percent for students in traditional public schools. On the math test, the difference was smaller: 30 percent of independent charter students met or exceeded the standard, versus 26 percent for traditional public school students.

And despite the unions’ perpetual “cherry-picking” whine, of all students tested, 82 percent of charter students qualify as low-income compared to 80 percent for traditional schools. Charters also match up closely with traditional schools in areas of ethnicity, English language learners and disabled students.

While UTLA’s effort to decimate charters is troubling, it’s small potatoes compared to the California Teachers Association, which on August 31st unleashed “Kids Not Profits,” an “awareness” campaign. It calls for more “accountability and transparency of California charter schools and exposing the coordinated agenda by a group of billionaires to divert money from California’s neighborhood public schools to privately-managed charter schools. These same billionaires are spending record amounts of money to influence local legislative and school board elections across the state.”

In other words, charter schools, which get less funding than traditional public schools, are being helped along by philanthropists like Eli Broad, Bill Bloomfield, various Walton family members, et al. The only things missing from their brief bios on the union’s web page are little pointy ears and tails.

In a press release announcing the launch of CTA’s latest maneuver to maintain its monopoly over education in California, the union quotes from its new radio ad, which claims to lay out the “’billionaires’ coordinated agenda.”

  1. Divert money out of California’s neighborhood public schools to fund privately-run charter schools, without accountability or transparency to parents and taxpayers.
  2. Cherry-pick the students who get to attend charter schools – weeding out and turning down students with special needs.
  3. Spend millions trying to influence local legislative and school board elections across California.

While #1 and #2 are outright lies, there is some truth to #3. CTA has become fat and happy as the biggest political spender (by far) in California for years now, and it is bugging the snot out of them that philanthropists are pouring unprecedented amounts of money into edu-politics in an attempt to balance the playing field. In doing so, the union is finally facing some stiff competition in Sacramento and local school board races.

Second only to their obsession with billionaires is the union’s incessant harping on accountability. CTA president Eric Heins maintains that “… It’s time to hold charter schools and their private operators accountable to some of the same standards as traditional public schools.”

Accountability?! The union is talking about accountability?!

Charter schools operate in accordance with all state and federal laws, and must engage in ethical business practices. Also, if a school doesn’t educate its students, it loses customers and the school’s charter is revoked. But if a public school is failing, very often more taxpayer dollars are wastefully flung in its direction, and because of union mandated tenure laws, no teachers lose their jobs.

What is apparent here is that CTA and other unions cannot deal with the fact that in most places (typically non-unionized) charters do better job of educating – especially poor and minority students – than the traditional public schools do. So they have to lie and create distractions to make their case and preserve their dominion. But all the yammering about charters “siphoning money from public schools,” kvetching about billionaires “pushing their profit-driven agenda” and their bogus cries for “accountability” simply expose the unions as monopolists who cannot abide any competition whatsoever.

And that’s just what children, their parents and taxpayers deserve – less union meddling in the education process and more competition and educational choice – please!

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

Union Kingpin Threatens California

In a blatant power-play, UTLA president targets health benefits and charter schools, calling for a “state crisis” if he doesn’t get his way.

United Teachers of Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl gave a speech for the ages a couple of weeks ago, securing a wing in the pantheon-of-vile, a place which includes such memorable outbursts as National Education Association general counsel Bob Chanin’s “right-wing bastards” farewell-to-troops speech in 2009 and Chicago Teacher Union boss Karen Lewis’ talk to the Illinois Labor History Society in 2012, where she joked about the possibility of union members killing the wealthy.

Speaking at the annual UTLA leadership conference, Caputo-Pearl said “With our contract expiring in June 2017, the likely attack on our health benefits in the fall of 2017, the race for Governor heating up in 2018, and the unequivocal need for state legislation that addresses inadequate funding and increased regulation of charters, with all of these things, the next year-and-a-half must be founded upon building our capacity to strike, and our capacity to create a state crisis, in early 2018.  There simply may be no other way to protect our health benefits and to shock the system into investing in the civic institution of public education.” (Emphasis added.)

He proceeded to introduce “10 ingredients to building the power we need, and the strike readiness we need, between mid-2016 and early 2018.” While a lot of his talk was innocuous rah-rah union bloviating, the threats were unmistakable, and many of them based on award-winning lies, half-truths and exaggerations.

For example, Caputo-Pearl claims that “California hovers around 45th among the 50 states in per-pupil funding.”  But, quoting a National Education Association report, Mike Antonucci writes, “…current expenditures per student – in other words, what the state actually spends…California ranks 22nd.”

Caputo-Pearl also claims, “By law, unions can only spend a tiny percentage of dues money on political campaigns. This means that we must raise money for political campaigns through separate voluntary contributions to PACE (UTLA’s political action wing).”

Here, he is conflating donations to candidates and political spending. Money directly given to candidates comes from PACE and is indeed donated voluntarily by teachers. However, all other political outlay – independent expenditures, ads, etc., – comes from teachers’ dues. Surely he knows this.

Caputo-Pearl’s obsession with, and comments about charter schools are especially egregious. He proudly stated, “In May, we made history through research,” and proceeded to go into some detail about the bogus study that UTLA commissioned, which alleges that the Los Angeles Unified School District loses $591 million per year to charter growth. What Caputo-Pearl ignored, however, is that the school district maintains that it actually makes money due to the existence of charter schools. According to LA School Report, “In January when the Charter Schools Division presented its budget, it showed that the district receives half a million dollars more than they need to pay for the division.”

Especially angry about the charter school comments was Jason Mandell, communications director of the California Charter Schools Association. He rightfully said that instead of scapegoating charters for being a financial drain, that if the district wants to ward off a financial crisis, “it needs to address its $13 billion in unfunded post-retirement liabilities.”

In fact, if Caputo-Pearl is looking for a crisis, there are several already in play that the union can take credit for. In addition to the aforementioned unsustainable healthcare and pension liabilities, there is the little matter of how well school kids in Los Angeles are being educated. Interesting that this little angle never entered into Caputo-Pearl’s screed. While LAUSD claims that the graduation rate is now 75 percent, if you remove the smoke-and-mirrors, it ain’t even close to that. When it was announced in February that the graduation rate was at 54 percent, the district augmented a “credit recovery plan,” which allowed students to take crash courses on weekends, holidays, etc. – and voila! Combined with the demise of the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE), the fake classes enabled the graduation rate to leap to 75 percent. While there is no single cause for LA students’ poor performance, some of the blame can be attributed to collective bargaining which, as Terry Moe and other researchers have shown, has a detrimental effect on student learning.

In any event, the proof will be in the pudding for those students who go on to college. The best estimates say that nationwide, 60 percent of first-year students who go to college need remediation. If it is only 60 percent in LA, I will be shocked.

So in addition to avoiding the district’s awful grad rate and looming fiscal apocalypse, Caputo-Pearl lied or was just dead-wrong about spending, the union political donation mechanism and charter school finances. If the union boss is successful in his mission, taxpayers will be soaked even more than they are now and many of our most vulnerable children will be forced back into failing public schools. (By the way, I have covered only a small portion of Caputo-Pearl’s inflammatory talk. To read the whole thing, go here.)

No, we don’t need another crisis, Mr. Caputo-Pearl. We have a few perfectly good ones now that your union has been instrumental in generating. Let’s not make an ugly situation even worse.

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

Los Angeles Teachers Union Sinks to Unmitigated Depths

The union war on charter schools has become even uglier, courtesy of UTLA.

On May 4th, the United Teachers of Los Angeles, in concert with the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS) – a radical union front group – planned a major protest to be held outside schools where charter schools share a campus with traditional public schools. In a statement, AROS proclaimed “…we will stand with Los Angeles parents, educators, students, administrators, and community members for fully funded public schools and call on corporate charter schools to pay their fair share to the district.” Of course, the truth is that charters are not “corporate.” And, in fact, it’s charters that aren’t fully funded, which is why they frequently have to scrounge for facilities, but AROS apparently doesn’t bother with those minor details. So it looked like a lot of school kids would be confronted with an early morning filled with angry protesters marching, chanting, being obnoxious, you know, the usual union stuff.

But parents were ticked, and with the help of the California Charter School Association, responded by posting a letter – enlarged, prominently placed, in English and Spanish, signed by 527 parents – in the lobby of the building where UTLA offices are housed. The brief but powerful missive included the following:

We are asking you to stop. This Wednesday, May 4, you plan to stage demonstrations at charter schools sharing campuses with district schools. If these actions are anything like the ones we’ve endured in the past, they will be threatening, disruptive and full of lies. We will be shouted at, maligned and disrespected, our children will ask us what they’ve done wrong, and their teachers will, as always, be expected to rise above it all.

Yes, threatening, disruptive and full of lies. But, again, it was a union rally, after all. However, when all was said and done (at least judging by media reports), there was not much activity the morning of the fourth.

But UTLA wasn’t done yet. In an attempt to press beyond the usual vapid vilification of charters, on May 10th, the union released the results of a study they commissioned. Or to be precise, a “study,” which among other things, asserted that LA schools “lost more than $591 million dollars to unmitigated charter school growth this year alone.”

Of course, the National Education Association gleefully jumped on the report, charging that, “LA charters siphon away almost half a billion from public school students.” (Memo to NEA: charters are public schools.)

But responses to the report from those in the know were anything but fawning. To begin with, the school district that was allegedly losing millions responded with a “Huh?!” and proceeded to explain that the district actually makes money due to the existence of charter schools. According to LA School Report, “In January when the Charter Schools Division presented its budget, it showed that the district receives half a million dollars more than they need to pay for the division. That report, presented to the Budget, Facilities and Audit Committee by Charters Division Director Jose Cole-Guttierez, showed that the 1 percent oversight fee collected from charter schools brings in $8.89 million while the annual expenses of the division’s 47 employees including their benefits total $8.37 million.”

The Associated Administrators of Los Angeles, representing principals and off-site middle managers, released “Separating the Wheat from the Chaff,” a document which cast doubt on the UTLA findings. But there was no equivocation from the California Charter School Association. In a 10 page response, CCSA excoriated the UTLA report point-by-point, denouncing its many inaccuracies and irresponsible conclusions, and went on to counter it’s distortions with actual facts and data.

Very interestingly, after being chastened by those parties intimately aware of the reality of district-charter finances, UTLA has been mum. No rejoinders. No “Oh yeahs?” No banner on its homepage. Nothing. The only link to the study is buried on its “News Releases” webpage. My call and email to Anna Bakalis, the union’s media person on May 19th, have not been returned. I am hardly shocked.

To UTLA – If you are really interested in solving LAUSD’s budgetary problems, here are a few ideas:

To save billions, insist that the district gets its healthcare and pension costs under control. But you have no interest in doing that because you are of the opinion that taxpayers should be forking over even more of their hard-earned money to continue paying for these extravagant plans.

How about working to get new laws passed that would more easily rid our schools of predatory teachers? LAUSD has spent $300 million since 2012 on legal fees and sexual abuse payouts to families that have sued the district. To be sure, LAUSD admins deserve much of the blame for the problem, but you and other teachers unions greatly contribute to it because you have made it so very hard to get rid of any teacher, no matter how evil.

And while you are at it, work with the district to stop hiring administrators. As the school population continues to rapidly decline due to the proliferation of charters and general outward migration, the district’s administrative staff has increased 22 percent in the last five years, according to a superintendent’s report.

But no, you rather just try to destroy charter schools, which parents are flocking to, because they want to escape from the very school system you essentially control. You just wasted $82,000 in teachers’ dues money on a bogus study which proves you are really not interested in bettering public education. It really has nothing to do with kids, but rather, it’s all about you and your unmitigated, self-serving agenda. But then again, what else is new?

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

In like a Lyin’

As charter schools continue to succeed, the reformicidal teachers unions ramp up their assault on them.

Month by month, the teachers unions have been increasing their barrage of malevolence toward charter schools, which are nothing more than publicly funded schools of choice that are trying to break away from the rigidity of Big Education/Big Union rules and regulations.

The March charter assault comes to us via a push poll conducted by the teachers unions’ favorite pollsters – GBA Strategies – an outfit regularly used by unions to manufacture results to their liking. The poll was commissioned by In the Public Interest and the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD). The former is a project of The Partnership for Working Families (PWF), a card-carrying member of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, whose raison d’être is to bash “one percenters.” Not surprisingly, several of PWF donors are themselves “one percenters,” including George Soros and other globalist/socialists. CPD is radically pro-labor and American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten is on its board of directors.

The results of the poll were reported in Politics USA by “rmuse,” a writer who refers to himself as a “Secular Humanist – Columnist – Audio Engineer/Musician Zen-Atheist.” He writes that while it has taken over a decade, “the public is finally sick of the charter industry’s lack of accountability, systemic underperformance, harsh admission policies, and poorly or untrained teachers; all characteristics of the charter school privatization movement.”

Rmuse finishes his embarrassing screed with a despicable and downright kooky flourish. “Sadly, with Koch-ALEC Republicans controlling education funding and pushing privatization through charters, and coupled with an Administration enamored with privatized charter schools, it may be inevitable that the next generation of Americans will be stupider and more religious than the current one. And, despite their demands to rein in the corporate and religious charter school movement, American taxpayers will ultimately pay to under-educate the next generation to enrich corporations, completely destroy public schools, and create tens-of-millions of theocratic Republican voters.”

Shortly after the poll was released, United Teachers of Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl appeared on KQED-FM, a radio station in northern CA, and whined on about how charters don’t play by the rules. While he did not allude to the poll, his diatribe certainly meshed with it. Fortunately, California Charter School Association president Jed Wallace was also on air and managed to correct many of the union leader’s fanciful forays into Wonderland.

The essence of rmuse’s, Caputo-Pearl’s and other haters’ complaints about charters is that they are “unregulated” and “not accountable.” But nothing could be further from the truth.

As the California Charter School Association points out, unlike traditional public schools, charters are academically accountable in a couple of ways. “They are held accountable by their authorizer (usually the local school district) and, most importantly, by the families they serve. When a team of school developers submit their charter petition, they must define their academic goals. In order to be authorized, their goals must be rigorous. In order to stay open, they must meet or exceed those goals.” Additionally charters must abide by various state and federal laws, civil rights statutes, safety rules, standard financial practices, etc.

As former president of the Center for Education Reform Kara Kerwin writes, “… Unlike all other public schools, charters must be proactive in their efforts to stay open. They must set and meet rigorous academic goals, and actually meet or exceed their state’s proficiency standards. Unlike the conventional public schools that intentionally remain under the radar, charter schools operate under intense scrutiny from teachers unions, the media, and lawmakers. In states with strong charter school laws that allow for objective oversight, it is clear that performance-based accountability is working.”

Around the same time as the unions’ March offensive, a report was released that analyzed the achievement gap. As detailed by LA School Report, “The first-of-its-kind Education Equality Index from Education Cities studied data from schools in the 100 largest U.S. cities, and in each identified up to 10 schools with small or nonexistent achievement gaps that serve a student population where the majority are from low-income families.” It found that charters dominated the rankings in many big cities, especially in LA, where nine of the top 10 schools were independent charter schools.

Hardly a surprise. As students struggle in traditional LA schools, students from the same demographic groups are thriving in charter schools. By the time they’ve graduated, students at charter schools are over three times more likely to have completed courses needed for college admission than students at traditional public schools.

Also, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO) conducted an analysis of charter schools in LAUSD in 2014 and found that its students gain significantly more learning time than their peers in traditional public schools.

To be clear, not all charters are wonderful. But if a charter authorizing law is written properly and oversight is competent and vigilant, any charter not passing muster will be shut down. And most all, please keep in mind, charters are schools of choice, picked out by parents, unlike the zip-code mandated traditional public schools that are favored by the education establishment.

Today 282 charter schools operate in Los Angeles, serving 150,866 students. The sad news is that there are 41,830 kids still on waiting lists trying to get into one. Nationally, hundreds of thousands of students are wait-listed. And all the union leaders, their push pollsters, rmuse and their fellow travelers really don’t give a damn about them.

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

Los Angeles Department of Monopoly and Power

Educating students is far from the #1 priority of the school board and the teachers union in LA.

On February 11th, LA School Report released an internal Los Angeles Unified School District document which stated that just 54 percent of seniors in LA are on track to graduate. The drop off from 74 percent last year was immediately attributed to the new “A through G” requirements, which ensure that graduating students are ready for acceptance into California public universities.

The rather lame, “This is the first year of the plan, so we are just getting the kinks out” excuse does not hold water. The A-G plan was initially formulated in 2005, but the LAUSD school board didn’t pay much attention to it. So instead of ramping up the rigor, they decided that in 2017 students could pass with a grade of “D,” instead of the “C” as was in the original plan. (This year’s class had been green-lighted for a “D” passing grade all along.)

Oh but wait, there is some “good” news. Due to the district’s “credit recovery plan” – allowing students to take crash courses on weekends, holidays etc. – the graduation rate has just been upgraded to a less cataclysmic 63 percent. Yeah, 63 is better than 54, but it still stinks. And the demise of the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE) has been left out of the equation. The test was killed a few months ago by the California legislature and, worse, the legislators chose to give diplomas retroactively (going back to 2006) to students who passed their coursework but failed the test.

The exam was hardly rigorous. According to the California Department of Education website, the English–language component addressed state content standards through tenth grade and the math part of the test addressed state standards in only grades six and seven and Algebra I. Hence, whatever the graduate rate actually turns out to be in 2016, it would have been lower had the state not knocked out a test that every high school grad should be able to easily pass.

So what’s a school board to do? Simply divert attention away from the problem.

The LAUSD school board’s major agenda item of late has been to slow charter school growth. According to Sarah Angel, managing director of advocacy for the California Charter Schools Association, “We are seeing an unprecedented uptick in the recommendation of denials of charter schools.” She pointed out that the LA school board approved 89 percent of the charter school applications it received in 2013, but that rate has been cut in half this year. The anti-charter push came about when the board went bananas over philanthropist Eli Broad’s plan to turn half the schools in LA into charters. Nothing will invigorate monopolists like a little old-fashioned competition.

Not to be outdone by the school board’s turf-protection moves, the United Teachers of Los Angeles has swung into action, joining a union-led national demonstration of support for traditional public school districts. Dubbed “walk ins,” these events were led in Los Angeles by UTLA and involved parents walking into schools with their kids at the beginning of the school day on February 17th. What this was supposed to accomplish is anyone’s guess.

The union also just raised its dues 30 percent, claiming more money is needed to “battle foes of traditional public education.”

Then, UTLA boss and class warfare expert Alex Caputo-Pearl began beating the tax-the-rich drum at a fever pitch. In an obvious reference to Eli Broad and some other philanthropists, he recently averred, “If billionaires want to be involved, they should not undermine programs, they should contribute their fair share in taxes.” Wondering how he knew what taxes certain individuals paid, I sent an email to Mr. Caputo-Pearl and UTLA’s communication director, inquiring which billionaires he was referring to and how much they paid in taxes. They have not deigned to respond to my query thus far. (Note to AC-P: The rich pay plenty of taxes, but 44 percent of Americans don’t pay any, and rest assured, there are no billionaires in that group.)

As if the school board and teachers union’s effort to damage charters wasn’t enough, there is a plan afoot to get an initiative on the ballot this year that would make charter schools illegal. Why? Because, according to the “Voices Against Privatizing Education” website, charters are “racist… cherry pick students, falsify records, commit enrollment fraud, close down community schools, destroy jobs, bust up unions and segregate students.” Not surprisingly this bundle of outright lies has the backing of several teachers unions and individual union leaders.

You see, charter schools are not being singled out for demolition because they haven’t worked; they are on the radar of the school board and the union precisely because they have been successful. At the same time that so many students in LA’s traditional schools are failing to meet graduation standards, students from the same demographic groups are thriving in charter schools. By the time they’ve graduated, students at charter schools are over three times more likely to have completed courses needed for college admission than students at traditional public schools.

Also, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO) conducted an analysis of charter schools in LAUSD in 2014 and found that its students gain significantly more learning time than their peers in traditional public schools. Among its findings:

  • Charter school students gain 79 more days of learning than their traditional school peers in math, as well as 50 additional days of learning in reading.
  • Latino students gain 72 more days of learning in math and 43 extra days in reading.
  • Latino students living in poverty gain 115 additional days of learning in math and 58 additional days in reading.
  • African American students gain 14 extra days of learning in both reading and math.
  • African American students living in poverty gain 58 additional days of learning in math and 36 additional days in reading.

Evelyn Macias, mother of Julia Macias, one of nine student plaintiffs behind the Vergara lawsuit, recently penned an op-ed for LA School Report, in which she wrote,

We need to look at state policies, legislation and labor agreements that have, over the course of decades, eroded and diminished the rights of children, low-income working families, and ALL families, by claiming the higher moral ground for employees, while much of our leadership remains silent.

Our children are falling through the cracks, while we stand and watch. Who besides their parents and student advocacy groups will step up?

Who besides parents and certain advocacy groups? Who, indeed? Certainly not the obstructionist school board and teachers union. They are intent on protecting turf and maintaining their monopoly. Educating children is far down on their to-do list. Shame on them.

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

Hillary Rodham Weingarten

Using teacher union talking points, Mrs. Clinton badly distorts facts about charter schools.

Coming on the heels of the Benghazi fabrication, the “dead broke” when she left the White House claim, and “servergate,” the latest Hillary blunder is a baseless sliming of charter schools. In a well-publicized gaffe, she told journalist Roland Martin,

… the original idea, Roland, behind charter schools was to learn what worked and then apply them in the public schools. And here’s a couple of problems. Most charter schools I don’t want to say every one but most charter schools, they don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don’t keep them. And so the public schools are often in a no-win situation, because they do, thankfully, take everybody, and then they don’t get the resources or the help and support that they need to be able to take care of every child’s education.

But I am also fully aware that there are a lot of substandard public schools. But part of the reason for that is that policymakers and local politicians will not fund schools in poor areas that take care of poor children to the level that they need to be.

These falsehoods are nothing new. They’ve been spoon-fed to Hillary – and everyone else – by American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten and other union leaders. Coming to the defense of her old friend, Weingarten told POLITICO, “Hillary Clinton looks at the evidence. That’s what she did here. She called out that many charters don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids or don’t keep those with academic or behavioral issues.”

Despite Weingarten’s reassuring words, Hillary wasn’t allowed to wiggle her way out of this one. Factcheck.org did an excellent job of poking holes in her statement. And many Democrats, to their credit, didn’t let Clinton get away with her fallacious comments either.

Charles Barone, director of policy at Democrats for Education Reform, points out, “…charters usually have more applicants than seats and thus – under law – must choose students via lottery. And the reality is that, with the exception of students with disabilities, charter schools generally have a higher percentage of students from demographic subgroups that lag academically behind their more advantaged peers.”

In USA Today, Democrat, think tanker and education writer Richard Whitmire also let her have it.

I fear your advisors, especially those allied with the teachers unions, have convinced you that pulling back on your previous support of charter schools is a ‘gimmie,’ a political move that costs you nothing…(R)apidly expanding charters offer many poor and minority children their best chance of emerging from K-12 schools ready for a job or further education. If you look at the extra days of learning students in Los Angeles, D.C., Boston and New York gain by attending a charter, you’ll understand why charter enrollments are surging and wait lists growing longer.

The political lessons for you: There’s no putting this one back in the bottle. Look at the thousands of black and brown parents who marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to protest what they see as hostile actions from Mayor Bill de Blasio. This could happen to you.

As Whitmire suggests, Clinton’s comments were politically stupid in that they are a slap in the face to the “black and brown parents” who are an important part of her political base. And she had no reason to say any of it. She didn’t need to curry favor with the teachers unions. Weingarten’s AFT had already anointed her as the union’s pick for Dem nominee in July, and by October, Clinton had become the National Education Association’s choice as well.

Instead of listening to the union party line, Clinton would be better served if she knew the facts:

  • One in four charter schools has a majority black student population, while another one in four has a majority Hispanic student population. By comparison, only 9 percent of traditional public schools have a majority black population, while 15 percent have a majority Hispanic population.
  • Majority Hispanic charter schools have risen since the 1999-2000 school year, when only 11 percent of charter schools held that status. Now, 23 percent do.
  • Clinton’s remark about too little spending on public schools has been debunked more times than Chicken Little’s hysteria. In fact, we have increased spending three-fold over a 40-year period with nothing to show for it.
  • Recent data show 12.55 percent of traditional public school students receive special education, compared to 10.42 percent in charter schools. So while slightly fewer students with disabilities attend charters, these schools are far more inclusive. Special needs kids are far more likely to spend their school day in general education classrooms.
  • As pointed out by Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, there is “no difference in the percentage of English Language Learner students served between charter and non-charter public schools.”
  • Clinton suggested that charters were created to “learn what worked and then apply them in the public schools.” First off she is suggesting that charters are not public schools. Wrong. And secondly the reason charters came into being are many. Andy Smarick, senior policy fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, found that “in the preambles of charter laws, there are at least eighteen reasons why state leaders created chartering. These include providing more K–12 options, offering teachers a wider array of professional settings, experimenting with school accountability, increasing parental involvement, and fostering competition.”
  • Clinton’s comment about not keeping “hard to teach kids” is based on the fact that a principal in one of Eva Moskowitz’s 34 wildly successful charter schools had a “Got to go” list of undesirable kids. The principal was reprimanded by Moskowitz, which should have ended the story. But not if you are Clinton or Weingarten. The latter, who has as harbored a longstanding hatred of Moskowitz, mentioned the list in a series of tirades against her nemesis. Additionally, as Fordham Institute’s Robert Pondiscio writes, traditional public schools “don’t take everybody.” Not only that, public schools have a long history of removing and transferring undesirables – either to other public schools, continuation schools or opportunity schools.
  • Charters are so popular that there are over 1,000,000 kids on waitlists nationally.

Another teacher union leader faux pas is front and central on the NEA website. There, United Teachers of Los Angeles vice-president and English teacher Cecily Myart-Cruz slammed charters, saying “If we lose 50 percent of our students to unregulated charters, that means we’re going to have 50 percent less of a teaching force. The sizes of those classes remaining in the public schools are going to be sky high. Students won’t get the one-on-one interaction they need and deserve.” (Note to Myart-Cruz: if half the teachers and half the kids move to charters, there will still be the same ratio of teachers to kids in the traditional public schools, and classes won’t be “sky high.”)

I guess we should be thankful that Myart-Cruz is not a math teacher. And the “unregulated charter” crack is yet another fact-free teacher union mantra.

Mrs. Clinton should be advised to avoid people like Weingarten and Myart-Cruz. If not, she will continue to look misinformed, if not corrupt, in the eyes of her fellow Democrats – not to mention Republicans. And any ensuing political blow-back certainly can’t be laid at the feet of the “vast right wing conspiracy.”

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

Loss of LIFO

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

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

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

20151014-UW-Sand
Philanthropist Eli Broad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And parents agree with both Blew and Mandell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teachers Union Won’t Play Broad Way

Los Angeles teachers union and its friends are livid over plan to charterize 260 schools.

According to a memo unearthed by Los Angeles Times writer Howard Blume, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and other charter advocates want to create 260 new charter schools in Los Angeles, enrolling at least 130,000 students. The document includes various strategies that include how to raise money, recruit teachers, provide outreach to parents and navigate the political battle that will undoubtedly ensue. In addition to Broad, other education philanthropists named in the plan are David Geffen and Elon Musk, as well as the Gates, Bloomberg, Annenberg and Hewlett foundations.

Judging by the United Teachers of Los Angeles response, you’d think that Hitler had reinvaded Poland. In full battle-mode, the union staged a press conference and protest rally in front of the new Broad Art Museum in downtown LA last Sunday. Led by UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl, we were regaled with the usual barrage of bilge. Perhaps most indicative of the union leader’s ideas, which come right out of a Politburo manual on the importance of the centralization of power, “Deregulation has not worked in our economy, has not worked in healthcare and has not worked in housing, and it is not going to work in public education.” Other telling comments from the union boss included:

  • “The billionaire attacks must stop.”
  • Charters are “unregulated” and will create “inappropriate competition.”
  • “Billionaires should not be running public education”
  • Citing alleged horror stories, “Broad and John Arnold funded New Orleans after Katrina”

Not to be outdone by Caputo-Pearl’s ludicrous comments, retired Kindergarten teacher and protester Cheryl Ortega groused, “Charter schools are destroying public education. Mr. Broad wants to own 50% of our schools. …That’s untenable.” (You’re right, of course, Cheryl – it’s a business venture! An 81 year-old man worth $7.6 billion has an evil plan to increase his wealth by buying our schools.)

The billionaire-phobia has apparently spread from unionistas to their Los Angeles school board cronies. New board member Scott Schmerelson is really ticked. “The concept amazes and angers me. Far from being in the best interest of children, it is an insult to teaching and administrative professionals, an attack on democratic, transparent and inclusive public school governance and negates accountability to taxpayers.” Board president Steve Zimmer, chock full of righteous indignation, claims that the Broad plan to expand the number of charter schools in the district “represents a strategy to bring down LAUSD….”

While much of the naysaying can be laughed off, some of their talking points do need to be debunked. Perhaps worst of all was Caputo-Pearl’s “unregulated” crack. Nothing could be further from the truth. As public schools, charters are indeed regulated, though not as heavily as the sclerotic traditional public schools. While LAUSD is in part strangled by its bulky union contract, only a small percentage of charter teachers are unionized. The non-unionization factor – along with his far left politics – forms the basis of his “inappropriate competition” claim.

Something that Caputo-Pearl doesn’t address is the fact that wherever charters emerge, parents flock to them. As the California Charter School Association points out, there are 40,000 kids who are on charter school waitlists in Los Angeles, unable to enroll in a high quality school of their parents choosing because there aren’t enough seats. Broad’s proposal would certainly delight those families.

And truly absurd was Caputo-Pearl’s insinuation that New Orleans schools hit the skids after Katrina. While the hurricane did devastating damage to the Crescent City, a much more vibrant all-charter school system sprang from the catastrophic floods. Courtesy of the Heartland Institute:

Before Katrina (2005) After Katrina (2015)
State district ranking 67 out of 68 41 out of 69
Percent attending failing schools 62 7
Percent performing at or above grade level 35 62
Students receiving free or reduced lunch 77 84
Percent graduating 4 years 54.4 73
Percent attended college < 20 59

However, a closer look at many of the complaints reveals not so much anger about billionaire involvement in public education, but envy that Broad doesn’t want his largess to go to the traditional public schools. But really, why would he do that? He may as well flush his money down the toilet.

LAUSD does not need more money. The “official” per-pupil spending in LA is $13,993, far more than the national average. This dollar amount is really not accurate, however, because it omits a few “minor” expenses like the cost of building and maintaining schools, interest on various payments, bonds, etc. When all these expenditures are added in, the spending figure comes to about $30,000 per student per year.

And just what kind of return-on-investment do we get? Very little, if the just released California Assessment of Student Progress and Performance (CAASPP) scores are any indication. The test results showed that only one-third of LA students performed up to their grade level in English and one-fourth did so in math. (Not surprisingly, LA charter students far out-paced kids who went to traditional public school schools.)

Perhaps New Orleans is the model the philanthropists should look at. Mr. Broad wants to raise almost a half-billion for his new project, resulting in half of Los Angeles schools becoming charters. Maybe he and his partners can be coaxed to throw in another half-billion and make the city an all-charter district like New Orleans.

As for LA School Board chief Zimmer’s comment that more charter schools are going to “bring down LAUSD” – nope, LAUSD has managed to do that all by itself. Luckily, charter schools are there to pick up the pieces and hopefully, more children will be rescued from subpar schools in the future, thanks to Mr. Broad and his philanthropic partners. Standing ovations all around.

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

Safe at Home?

Homeschooling is becoming more popular, but families need to be aware that teachers unions have a penchant for home invasions.

According to the latest data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the number of K-12 children educated at home increased from 1.09 million in 2003 to 1.77 million in 2012, which is 3.4 percent of the school population. (The National Home Education Research Institute has the total number of homeschooled at 2.2 million.)

The myth that homeschooling is the domain of the very rich, the very religious and the very weird is less true today than ever. Mike Donnelly, attorney and director of international affairs at the Home School Legal Defense Association, says the “National Household Education Survey” of parents in 2012 shows considerably more diversity in its attraction.

Ninety-one percent of parents cited concerns about the environment of public schools, 77% cited moral instruction, and 74% expressed concerns about the academic instruction. … 64% listed wanting to give their children religious instruction as a reason, followed by 44% saying they wanted their child to have a nontraditional form of education.”

When it came to parents listing the single most important reason for home schooling, the survey showed 25% of parents said they were concerned about the environment of other schools; 22% said “other reasons” (including family time, finances, travel and distance), and 19% said they were dissatisfied with the academic instruction at other schools.

City Journal associate editor and homeschooling parent Matthew Hennessey writes that city-dwellers are teaching their kids at home in greater numbers because they are frustrated with public schools. Citing NCES numbers, he reports that 28 percent of homeschoolers live in cities. “That’s almost as many as live in suburbs (34 percent) or rural areas (31 percent). Boston, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles are home to swelling communities of homeschoolers. And in the nation’s largest city—New York—the number of homeschooled students has risen 47 percent, to more than 3,700 children, over the last five years.

With some creative ideas, modern technology and a solid support system, parents are finding it easier than ever to shun traditional schools – both public and private. Homeschool co-ops, where a group of parents get together and combine their talents to take the burden off individual moms and dads, have proliferated. For subjects that a parent is not proficient in, the internet offers a world of assistance. The online Khan Academy alone has produced over 6,500 video lessons that teach a wide spectrum of subjects, mainly focusing on mathematics and science. As of April 1, 2015, the Khan Academy channel on YouTube had attracted 2,825,468 subscribers and his videos have been viewed more than 527 million times. And the aforementioned Home School Legal Defense Association maintains a comprehensive website where parents can go to learn about the homeschool law in their state, find supplemental resources, exchange curricula, etc.

And now, news from the Grinch….

At its yearly national convention, the National Education Association passed Resolution B-83 (exactly the same as 2011’s B-82, 2008’s B-75, etc.) which in part reads:

The National Education Association believes that home schooling programs based on parental choice cannot provide the student with a comprehensive education experience. When home schooling occurs, students enrolled must meet all state curricular requirements, including the taking and passing of assessments to ensure adequate academic progress. Home schooling should be limited to the children of the immediate family, with all expenses being borne by the parents/guardians. Instruction should be by persons who are licensed by the appropriate state education licensure agency, and a curriculum approved by the state department of education should be used. (Emphasis added.)

I can hear the conversation:

Teachers union activist: How dare you invade our turf! Just who do you parents think you are? I don’t care if they are your kids. You can’t teach them because you don’t have a state credential and worse, you aren’t in a union!

Parents: But homeschooled kids do better on achievement tests, have higher graduation rates than public school students and are actively recruited by top colleges. And yes, ahem, they are my kids.

Teachers union activist: No matter. Your kids shouldn’t be allowed to learn from you. (In fact, unless you have a chef’s license, you shouldn’t be involved in their food prep either, but we’ll get to that another day.) And if you insist on teaching your own kids, you should get a state credential and then expect a rather aggressive knock on the door from someone on our organizing committee who will convince you to join our union.

An exaggeration you say? Well no, not really. In 2008, a California state appellate court ruled that parents who lack teaching credentials could not educate their children at home. Needless to say, this decision sent waves of angst through California’s homeschooling families, but it delighted the teachers unions whose leaders weighed in on the ruling. The California Teachers Association, which filed a brief claiming that allowing parents to homeschool their children without having a teaching credential will result in “educational anarchy,” was satisfied. Lloyd Porter, CTA board member at the time, averred “We’re happy. We always think students should be taught by credentialed teachers, no matter what the setting.” United Teachers of Los Angeles president A.J. Duffy declared from his pulpit, “What’s best for a child is to be taught by a credentialed teacher.”

Independent of the California ruling, teacher union leaders across the country have left no doubt how they feel about the role of parent as teacher. Annette Cootes, a Texas teacher union organizer, declared that “homeschooling is a form of child abuse.” Perhaps the most telling and honest quote is from former Louisiana teacher union president Joyce Haynes who in 2013 said it all. Speaking about Louisiana’s voucher program – though it could apply to homeschoolers – she said it would result in “… taking our children from us.”

A union president is complaining about their children being taken from them?! Yes, she thinks that parents are nothing more than breeders and that your kids really belong to her and her union. If that kind of kidnapper mentality doesn’t scare you, nothing will.

Fortunately for families, six months later in August 2008, California’s Second District Court of Appeal reversed its original decision and ruled that non-credentialed parents have a right to educate their own kids.

But while homeschooling thrives, Big Union continues its mission to outlaw and marginalize parents who simply want to do what they have traditionally done throughout history – take responsibility for educating their own children.

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

California's Official Antipathy to Educational Innovation and Accountability

“With a hearing now scheduled for Aug. 21, LA Unified’s teachers union, UTLA, will have the chance to argue before a neutral party that Alliance College-Ready Public Charter Schools, violated state education law by blocking the union’s efforts to bring Alliance teachers into its membership.”
– Mike Szymanski, “UTLA outlines accusations against Alliance for anti-union efforts,” LA School Report, August 6, 2015

The “neutral party” to which Szymanski refers is California’s Public Employee Relations Board (PERB), “a quasi-judicial administrative agency charged with administering the eight collective bargaining statutes covering employees of California’s public schools, colleges, and universities, employees of the State of California, employees of California local public agencies,” etc.

“Neutral.” Really?

A quick look at the directors of PERB provides yet another example of just how stacked the deck has gotten in favor of public employee unions. Following their names are excerpts from their official biographies:

  • Anita I. Martinez, Chair, “has been employed with PERB since 1976 and was recently appointed Member and Chair. Prior to that she has served as the PERB San Francisco Regional Director since 1982.”
  • A. Eugene Huguenin, “Before relocating to Sacramento in 2000, Huguenin practiced labor and education law in Los Angeles and Burlingame for more than 20 years, advising and representing the California Teachers Association and it’s locals throughout the state.”
  • Priscilla Winslow‘s “career in public sector labor law spans over 30 years, during which time she served for 15 years as Assistant Chief Counsel for the California Teachers Association where she litigated and advised on a variety of labor, education, and constitutional law issues.”
  • Eric Banks, “served in multiple positions at the Service Employees International Union, Local 221 from 2001 to 2013, including Advisor to the President, President, and Director of Government and Community Relations.”
  • Mark C. Gregersen‘s. career in public sector labor relations spans over 35 years. Prior to his appointment to the California Public Employment Relations Board, he has served as director of labor and work force strategy for the City of Sacramento and director of human resources for a number of California cities and counties.

Just a quick scan of these biographical excerpts suggests that government unions have at least three advocates – Huguenin and Winslow, who were long-time CTA professionals, and Banks, who worked for over a decade for the SEIU. What about the chairperson, Martinez? Here’s an excerpt from Gov. Brown’s announcement of her appointment – Martinez is a long-time Democrat public employee who has spent her entire career in labor bureaucracies:

“She has worked for the Board since 1976, where she currently serves as a regional director. Previously, Martinez was a board agent for the Agricultural Labor Relations Board from 1975 to 1976. She was an intern at the National Labor Relations Board from 1973 to 1976. Martinez is a Democrat.”

What about Gregersen? Do reformers have one voice out of five on PERB? Maybe, maybe not. Here’s are excerpts from Gov. Brown’s 2015 announcement of Gregerson’s appointment to PERB – Gregersen is a long-time Democrat public employee who, among other things, presided as city manager for Vallejo throughout the 1990’s:

“He served as director of labor and workforce strategy for the City of Sacramento from 2011 to 2012 and was director of human resources for Napa County from 2005 to 2009, for El Dorado County from 2004 to 2005 and for the City of Sunnyvale from 2001 to 2004. Gregersen was  director of human resources for the City of Vallejo from 1990 to 1999. Gregersen is a Democrat.”

Not convinced yet? On another hot-button topic for government unions, pension reform, read the ultra-liberal San Jose Mercury’s take on PERB, in an article entitled “State employee panel seems stacked against San Jose pension reformers.” The title says it all.

“Neutral.” Really?

The stakes couldn’t be higher.

The fight to unionize the Alliance charter school network, the largest charter school operator within Los Angeles Unified School District and one of the largest in California, comes at a time when the growth of charter schools is reaching critical mass and constitutes a material threat to union power. As reported today in the Los Angeles Times “Major charter school expansion in the works for L.A. Unified students,” billionaire Democrat and education reformer Eli Broad is behind an effort to greatly increase the charter school enrollment in LAUSD, currently at 16% of all students.” As reported in the Times, “there was discussion of an option that involved enrolling 50% of students currently at schools with low test scores. A source said the cost was estimated to be $450 million; another said hundreds of millions of dollars are needed.”

Most charter schools are not unionized. In non union schools, the process of innovation is unhindered by union work rules, and principals and teachers alike are held accountable for the academic performance of their students. A recent “Urban Charter School Study” published by Stanford University’s nonpartisan Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) “shows that many urban charter schools are providing superior academic learning for their students, in many cases quite dramatically better.”

These findings are corroborated by a recent California Policy Center study on charter school performance, far more limited in scope, that focused on the non-union Alliance charter schools within LAUSD, comparing the performance of their students to those in traditional LAUSD high-schools in the same neighborhoods. Here is a summary of the findings:

“Comparing LAUSD Alliance charter high schools to LAUSD traditional high schools located in the same communities, we found the Alliance schools to have decisively higher API scores, 762 vs. 701, and measurably higher graduation rates, 91.5% vs. 84.1%. With respect to SAT scores, when we normalized the comparison between the LAUSD Alliance and LAUSD traditional schools under consideration to equalize the rate of participation, we found that the LAUSD Alliance students outperformed the LAUSD traditional students with average scores of 1417 vs. 1299.”

Both CREDO and the CPC found unambiguous evidence that urban charter schools academically outperform traditional public schools. The CPC study also estimated per pupil costs for Alliance charter high school students to be $10,649 per year, compared to $15,372 per year for students at traditional public high schools within LAUSD.

Facing a growing bipartisan consensus that charter schools are working and should be expanded, California’s teachers unions are fighting to unionize them. Alliance management is in for a hard fight. They face not only the might of California’s teachers unions, who collect and spend dues totaling well over $300 million every year, but the power of the state itself, in the form of a Public Employee Relations Board whose management is “stacked” overwhelmingly with pro-union directors.

*   *   *

Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.

Release Time on the Taxpayer’s Dime

All over the country, American workers are subsidizing unions with tax dollars.

In St. Charles, IL, a teacher is paid $141,105 not to teach. In Philadelphia, “ghost employees” who don’t do work for the state collect benefits from the state. In Kalamazoo, MI a former teacher is collecting a government pension of $85,903 a year even though he didn’t teach his last 14 years, but instead worked as a union employee.

Called “release time,” or “official time” at the federal level, it’s a practice that allows public employees to conduct union business during working hours without loss of pay. These activities include negotiating contracts, lobbying, processing grievances, and attending union meetings and conferences.

According to Trey Kovacs, a policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, this racket has cost the federal government about $1 billion since 1998. Between 2008 and 2011, the fraud has increased from 2.9 million hours at a cost of $121 million to 3.4 million hours at a cost of $155 million.

School boards, which frequently consist of members bought and paid for by the teachers unions, are particularly guilty of this crime against the taxpayer. In CA, where the California Teachers Association wields great power, the situation is particularly egregious. Typically this scam is written into collective bargaining contracts and comes in different flavors. Sometimes the school district will pay for the cost of a sub if the teacher/union employee needs to do work for the union. In Los Angeles, page 6 of the teacher contract states that the United Teachers of Los Angeles “may request the release of designated employees from their regular duties with no loss of pay for the purpose of attending to UTLA matters, with the expense of the substitute or replacement to be borne by UTLA.”

Sounds fair, right? But it’s not.

The substitute invariably makes a lot less than the teacher/union employee and the taxpayer is sucking up the difference in pay. The teacher is also racking up pension time, (which is taxpayer-subsidized), while doing union work. And of course the students lose out by having frequent subs, who often are nothing more than placeholders.

In other districts, the union gets a completely free pass. Page 15 of Orange County’s Fountain Valley School District contract reads, “The Association (union) President or designee may utilize one (1) day per week for Association business. The District shall bear the cost of the substitutes.” So a classroom teacher of 15 years, who doubles as union president, makes an $89,731 yearly salary, or $485 a day. The taxpayer is also paying $100 a day for a sub which brings the total to $585 for one day of union business per week. Repeated over the 38 week teaching year, the taxpayer is on the hook for $22,230. And that amount does not include the thousands of dollars the employer (ultimately the taxpayer) has to pay for contributions to the teacher/union leader’s retirement fund, health benefits, unemployment insurance and workers compensation.

With over a thousand school districts in the state doing business like Los Angeles and Fountain Valley, we are talking about serious larceny.

Not everyone has rolled over and accepted this criminal arrangement. Jim Gibson, a former Marine Corps Captain who had sat on the Vista Unified School District board for 13 years, was outraged at the fraudulent set-up and decided to act. He initiated a lawsuit against the Vista Teachers Association in 2011, using a section of the California education code to make his case:

The governing board of a school district shall grant to any employee, upon request, a leave of absence without loss of compensation for the purpose of enabling the employee to serve as an elected officer of any local school district public employee organization, or any statewide or national public employee organization with which the local organization is affiliated.

… Following the school district’s payment of the employee for the leave of absence, the school district shall be reimbursed by the employee organization of which the employee is an elected officer for all compensation paid the employee on account of the leave. Reimbursement by the employee organization shall be made within 10 days after its receipt of the school district’s certification of payment of compensation to the employee. (Emphasis added.)

Gibson and the school district won the case.  All monies paid to do union business were ordered to be repaid by the union to the district. This ruling should have had ramifications statewide, but clearly it hasn’t. And things won’t change until enough citizens rise up and put an end to it.

What can be done?

One way to stop the criminal practice of taxpayer-supported “release time” would be to open collective bargaining negotiations to the public. That kind of sunlight would go a long way toward disinfecting wounds inflicted by unions and compliant school board members.

More than anything, citizens need to get involved. Examine the part of your local teacher union contract that is headed Organizational Security, Association Rights or (Name of local union) Rights. Ask your local school board president how the district deals with this policy. Go to school board meetings and ask questions about the contract wording and ask for verification that that district actually lives up to the contract. Talk to your friends, family, neighbors and your kid’s teacher. Talk to the media if necessary.

If we the people don’t care enough to stop it, union orchestrated taxpayer theft will go on unabated.

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

Charter Chumps

The competition-phobic teachers unions are still trying to decimate charter schools.

As I wrote a couple of years ago, the teachers unions vacillate when it comes to charter schools. On odd days they try to organize them and on even ones they go all out to eviscerate them. But the organizing efforts haven’t gone too well. The Center for Education Reform reports that, nationwide, the percentage of unionized charter schools has dropped from 12 in 2009 to a paltry 7 in 2012. In California, there is a 15 percent unionization rate, but that number, from the 2009-2010 school year, is long overdue for an update.

So if you can’t join ‘em, you try to undermine ‘em. To that end, during National School Choice Week in January, the National Education Association claimed that charter schools are unaccountable and warned the public to be wary of them. Then last week, NEA posted “Federal funding of charter schools needs more oversight, accountability” on its website.

This is pure union obstructionism and especially laughable coming from an organization whose mantra is, “Let’s spend bushels more on public education … but don’t hold any unionized teachers accountable.” In fact, there is plenty of oversight and accountability for charters. As the California Charter School Association points out, unlike traditional public schools, charters “are academically accountable on two counts. They are held accountable by their authorizer (usually the local school district) and, most importantly, by the families they serve. When a team of school developers submit their charter petition, they must define their academic goals In order to be authorized, their goals must be rigorous. In order to stay open, they must meet or exceed those goals.” Additionally charters must abide by various state and federal laws, civil rights statutes, safety rules, standard financial practices, etc.

Perhaps most importantly, charter schools – schools of choice – have to please their customers: children and their parents. On that count, charters are doing quite well. Just about every study ever done on them shows that they outperform traditional schools, and Black and Hispanic kids benefit the most. Nationally, there are 6,440 schools serving 2,513,634 students, but the bad news is that there are over a million more kids on wait lists. And the situation is especially bad in areas that need charters the most: our big cities, which serve primarily poor and minority families. A new report by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools points out that New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Boston, Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Miami and Washington, D.C. fail to meet parental demand.

And then there is California.

The Golden State is the national leader in charters with 1,184, serving 547,800 students. But not surprisingly it also leads the country in kids who want to get in but can’t, and there are 158,000 of them. Of course the teachers unions are saying and doing what they can to deny parents – again mostly minorities and poor – the right to escape their unionized public schools. United Teachers of Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl recently stated that “a lot of charters don’t allow access for special-education students or English learners.” This of course is bilge; charter schools must serve all students. Lest his sentiments were not clear, he added, “The ascendant forces in California’s charter movement, I don’t see a lot of value in them.”

California Teachers Association president Dean Vogel recently opined. “There is a role for charter schools in California’s education system, and that role should be performed to the same high standards of integrity, transparency and openness required of traditional public schools.”

My goodness, no! I want charters to perform at way higher standards than traditional public schools … and thankfully most do.

Sadly CTA, now in eviscerate mode, is sponsoring four bills making the rounds in the California legislature. The union’s professed aim is regulation, but it appears to be a lot more like strangulation. The bills, which you can read about here, are nothing more than ways to limit charter growth, harass them and take away any needed independence they now have. For example, Tony Mendoza’s SB 329 would allow a charter petition to be denied for “anticipated financial impact.” This is simply a way to deny a charter for any reason and use money as an excuse. (This bill is similar Mendoza’s AB 1172 which died in committee in 2012.) AB 787 would require that all charters be run as non-profits. The bill’s author, Roger Hernández, said it would also “establish charter schools as governmental entities and their employees as public employees, giving them an increased ability to unionize.” Pure nonsense. Charters are fully capable of organizing now and only 10 in the state (less than one percent) are currently for-profit schools.

What the unions will never admit is that charter schools are effective because they are independent and not bound by the union contact, and when they are unionized, they are no different from traditional public schools. Jay Greene, in The Wall Street Journal, cited a study conducted by Harvard economist Tom Kane which found that, comparing apples to apples,

… students accepted by lottery at independently operated charter schools significantly outperformed students who lost the lottery and returned to district schools. But students accepted by lottery at charters run by the school district with unionized teachers experienced no benefit. (Emphasis added.)

The war between teacher union leaders who insist on a one-size-fits-all cookie cutter education system run by them, and parents who want to get their kids out of failing schools and into charters rages on. In the meantime, there are thousands of kids in California whose futures are in jeopardy as the teachers unions direct their cronies in the legislature to do their bidding and decimate charter schools.

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

LA Teachers Union: Striking Out?

UTLA is planning to walk out over a mess that it helped to create.

The case is being built for a teachers’ strike in Los Angeles. The next step in the contract negotiation process is mediation, whereby a state-appointed mediator will try to get the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) to reconcile their differences. If no progress is made during those sessions, scheduled for March 26th, April 6th and April 15th, the fact-finding stage is next. Anything that comes out of this part of the process is not binding, but could be influential in the last step in which the district makes its final offer. At that point, the union can accept the deal, or reject it and call for a strike vote.

There are a number of issues on the table, but the main sticking points are as follows:

UTLA wants a bigger raise than LAUSD is offering. The district’s offer is 5 percent, but the union, after originally asking for 17.5, has lowered its demand to 8.5 percent, retroactive to July 2014.

The union wants smaller classes. Due to budgetary constraints, the district wants latitude in determining the number of teachers on the payroll. The union wants the district to commit to a hard and fast teacher-student ratio. Fewer teachers, of course, translate to larger classes.

The union does not want an imposed teacher-evaluation system. In light of a lawsuit settled in 2012 that mandated substantive teacher evaluations, the district came up with a simple four-level teacher-evaluation plan which it instituted in 2013. But the union pushed back successfully, claiming the district single-handedly imposed the process, prompting an administrative law judge to rule that LAUSD had to repeal it. The decision came in response to an unfair labor practices charge that UTLA filed three months later. The union is demanding to be a part of any new evaluation system for its teachers.

Moving away from the bargaining table, the leaders of the two warring factions have gone public with their case. In January, LA Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines called the union’s latest demands “entirely unrealistic” and asserted that they raise “serious ethical and equity issues” for the district. He pointed out that

… all the district’s other unions have agreed to new contracts within the current economic landscape, he chided UTLA for its bargaining stance over 16 negotiating sessions, saying, ‘It is regrettable that the current UTLA leadership has gone in an entirely different direction.’

UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl has been mouthing off to the press all along, lambasting the district and everything else he can think of. At a rally in downtown LA last week, throwing in everything but the kitchen sink, he bloviated,

The recession, the cuts to the bone at schools, the attacks on public service, the increasingly savage racism and economic inequality that our students face, John Deasy for three years, all of them have set us back. And we are not going to take it anymore.

Okay, now here is the reality: LAUSD is mired in fiscal purgatory. Dealing with a $160 million deficit, Cortines said just 11 days ago that he has already begun cutting programs for next year, and layoffs are next with the first round of pink slips due to go out March 15th. (Worth noting: $160 million is almost the exact figure LAUSD is paying to the victims of one teacher – sexual predator Mark Berndt, whose wretched legacy owes a nod to the teachers union which traditionally has insisted on laws that make it practically impossible to get rid of incompetent and debauched educators.) When asked what’s most likely to be cut, Cortines said, “Everything.” LAUSD officials added that giving the union everything it is asking for would pile another $800 million of debt on the district.

If layoffs become necessary, Cortines will be painted as the goat, but it is the union that bears the majority of the responsibility. In good economic times, UTLA – and most teachers unions – demand that school districts use up all available resources to hire more educators. Then, when the inevitable economic downturn hits, layoffs become necessary. Also, it’s not just teachers who are hired when the economy is robust; more support personnel are invariably a part of the package.

The fiscal situation is even bleaker for the district than the $160 million deficit and additional $800 million the union is demanding the district spend. Due to recent legislation, school districts in California now have to come up with a greater proportion of retired teachers’ pensions. This will cost the district an additional $1.1 billion over the next seven years. The annual salary for LAUSD teachers who have taken some professional development classes and taught for 10 years is $75,592, which the union says isn’t enough. But while union leaders whine over what they deem to be paltry salaries, they never mention the additional perks a teacher gets like a comprehensive healthcare package and a defined-benefit pension. When those costs are added in, that ten-year teacher’s total compensation is more like $90,000. Not bad for 180 days work.

Also, teachers – the good ones, that is – could be making considerably more if not for the industrial-style step-and-column way that unions insist its teachers get paid. With no nod to quality, mediocre and worse teachers are paid the same as the good and great ones

Regarding the smaller class-size demand – LA has about 640,000 students and 31,000 teachers, which means about 20 kids per teacher, not exactly an overbearing number. If some teachers’ classes are too large, then rebalancing becomes the issue. While it’s true that there are instances where some kids benefit from more individual attention, it is by no means universal. The most extensive study on the subject was done by Hoover Institution senior fellow and economist Eric Hanushek in 1998. He examined 277 different studies on the effect of teacher-pupil ratios and class-size averages on student achievement, and found that only 15 percent of the studies indicated an improvement in achievement, while 72 percent showed no effect at all. Worse, 13 percent found that reducing class-size actually had a negative effect on achievement.

But class size and teacher pay are related. If you lopped off the bottom 10 percent lowest performers from the district, the remaining (better) teachers could get a hefty raise with just a few more kids in each class and no additional outlay from the district.

It’s important to note that the entire collective bargaining process is not beneficial for many teachers and their students. Thomas F. Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli finds that, “Teachers in non-collective bargaining districts actually earn more than their union-protected peers—$64,500 on average versus $57,500.” Petrilli adds that “there is some evidence … that non-collective bargaining districts drive a harder bargain when it comes to health care.” He also points out that collective-bargaining districts focus on seniority, protecting various benefits associated with longevity rather than pushing for higher pay. These tenure and seniority “benefits,” which clearly are unfair to good teachers and their students, are what Judge Rolf Treu was referring to in his recent Vergara ruling when he said. “The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience.”

In 2012, Chicago teachers – already the highest paid teachers in the country while working the fewest hours of any other big-city school district – went on strike. Stanford’s Terry Moe wrote at the time,

Collective bargaining is not fundamentally about children. It is about the power and special interests of adults. In Chicago and elsewhere, the teachers unions are in the business of winning better salaries and benefits, protecting job security, pressuring for restrictive work rules and in other ways advancing the occupational interests of their members. These interests are simply not the same as the interests of children.

Not to say that school districts are perfect. Far from it. But ideally, their mission is to promote the interests of children, while unions are there to serve their rank-and-file – the good and the bad, it’s all the same to them. The teachers unions may blather about the children, but ultimately they are there to serve the adults. And that’s causing big problems in Los Angeles and everywhere else these unions have power.

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

The Shrinking Teacher Union Brand

Teachers unions are losing members, but stubbornly stick with the same old product.

Earlier this month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics informed us that in 2014 – for the second year in a row – that there are fewer unionized than non-unionized teachers in the U.S. The reasons for this are many: more right-to-work states, a population shift to right-to-work states, an increase in mostly non-unionized charter schools and an uptick in the number of families availing themselves of school choice opportunities and sending their kids to private schools. Mike Antonucci writes, “Of the 4,535,249 teachers employed in elementary, secondary and special education in 2014, only 49 percent were union members. And the unionization rates for pre-k, kindergarten and higher education were much lower.” Antonucci also points out that while there were 34,921 more teachers overall in 2014, the unions were able to recruit only 10.7 percent of them.

By the way, it’s not just the teacher union brand that is suffering. According to the latest data, all union membership sagged to 11.1 percent, a drop from 11.3 in 2013, with just 14.6 million wage and salaried workers maintaining membership. The rate of union affiliation has been sliding for 30 years now. It did grow slightly from 12.1 percent in 2007 to 12.4 percent in 2008, but that was the only bright spot in some time for organized labor.

So in the smoke-free equivalents of smoke-filled rooms across the country, union kingpins are chewing on that old question, “What are we gonna do about this?!”

Well, where right-to-work legislation and litigation advance, unions will actually have to become responsive to the wishes of their members and make joining more attractive to would-be members. But as long as we have a forced-dues model throughout much of the land, most thoughts aren’t going in that direction. To be sure, many teachers, especially the younger ones, resent many union-mandated conventions like “last in/first out” as well as many aspects of the typical union contract strait-jacket. But politics plays an important role in the problem for teachers of all ages.

Politically speaking, responsiveness to its members has never been a hallmark of the teacher union elite. A small vocal and radical few determine policy for the larger group who are either ignorant of their actions, apathetic about politics, or they are intimidated by the more vociferous members. If you have any doubts about union-leadership politics, just look at the presidents of large union locals like Bob Peterson (Milwaukee), Alex Caputo-Pearl (Los Angeles) and Karen Lewis (Chicago) – all socialist-leaning, community-organizing practitioners. While not every state and local union leader falls into this category, an overwhelming majority do, despite an internal poll by the National Education Association which found that its rank-and-file is slightly more conservative (50 percent) than liberal (43 percent) in political philosophy.

In a recent piece, Bob Peterson, who doubles as a 5th grade teacher, sounded alarm bells, writing, “If Teachers Can’t Make Their Unions More Democratic and Social Justice-Minded, Public Ed Is Doomed.” At the same time he is asking unions to become more inclusive by becoming “democratic,” he rails against Scott Walker, Paul Ryan, conservatives, white-populated areas of the state, right-wing Republicans, privatization, corporate reformers, charter schools, vouchers, etc. Peterson’s union model would include efforts to raise the minimum wage, expand healthcare coverage and voter rights, implement incarceration reform, and stop “unfair hiring practices at a major federal housing project.”

When unabashed leftist – a community organizer in teacher’s clothes – Alex Caputo-Pearl became president of the United Teachers of Los Angeles least year, he talked about the importance of “social movement unionism.” Not surprisingly, socialists are very supportive of his agenda. Socialistworker.org describes him as a “veteran union militant and community organizer” and explains that Caputo-Pearl’s organizing plan includes “… increased member involvement in political action, and putting a priority on linking community-based social justice demands to our contract negotiations.”

And then there is Chicago Teachers Union chief Karen Lewis who, like Peterson and Caputo-Pearl, believes in bringing class warfare into the classroom. As reported by EAG News’ Kyle Olson, she alludes to a “lesson’ that the aforementioned Peterson uses:

‘People always talk about how that there’s no politics and values in math. That you can teach math and there’s no place for social justice. So let me tell you how Bob deals with that,’ Lewis said.

She went on to describe a math story problem about money and the cost of pencils.

‘That’s a very political statement because it’s all about consumerism – it’s about buying stuff, right?

‘Bob Peterson tells them about José working in a factory making piecemeal clothes. He uses the same numbers and gets the same answer. And yes, math is political, too.’

So no, it’s not about unions becoming more responsive to its members, but rather forcing a left-wing agenda down teachers’ – and students’ – throats. In other words, if you are a conservative, moderate, apolitical teacher or just don’t think the unions have any business getting into non-education issues, “Shut up … but keep those dues coming, and be sure to indoctrinate the kids while you are at it!”

The bottom line is that the Bob Petersons, Alex Caputo-Pearls and Karen Lewises of teacher union-world certainly don’t represent all, or even a majority of teachers. And it seems that those who don’t agree with their union’s mandatory work rules and their leader’s strident political philosophies are finding other places to work. As right-to-work laws spread across the land and school choice policies advance, teachers will have more options and won’t be forced to buy the fading teacher union brand.

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