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The Literacy Crisis

Our illiteracy rate is alarming, but the ed establishment doesn’t seem to be concerned.

The biggest problem in the country today? Some may say that it’s healthcare, while others will insist that it’s the economy. A third group maintains that it’s ISIS. While a good a case can be made for any of the above, I argue that Problem #1 is an education system that is failing so many of its students. According to The Literacy Project, there are currently 45 million Americans who are functionally illiterate, unable to read above a 5th grade level, and half of all adults can’t read a book at an 8th grade level. In California, 25 percent of the state’s 6 million students are unable to perform basic reading skills. Without being able to read on an adult level, Americans will never be able to comprehend our other national problems.

With such poor readers, it’s hardly surprising that 44 percent of students entering Cal State schools need remediation. The situation in Los Angeles is particularly dire. Fifty-three percent of graduating students received at least one D in the A—G required courses. Students traditionally had to get a C or better in all of these core-area classes to graduate. But instead of ramping up the rigor, the school district made D the passing grade a couple of years ago. However, that created a problem: the University of California doesn’t allow students with any D’s in the required classes to enter the system.

With the lower threshold to graduate and the magic of bogus “credit recovery” classes, the Los Angeles Unified School District grad rate zoomed from 54 to 77 percent practically overnight. Referring to the higher grad rates, LAUSD Superintendent Michelle King had the temerity to proclaim that she is proud “of the heroic efforts by our teachers, counselors, parents, administrators and classified staff who rally around our students every day.”

So other than lowering the standards for graduation, what are the educational establishmentarians doing in LA doing to improve things?

As a way to replicate success, Great Public Schools Now (Eli Broad’s philanthropic effort) has awarded $750,000 to Public Service Community School and King/Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science, both located south of downtown L.A. “We believe this strategy of dramatically expanding schools is a smart way of ensuring that all students will have access to the best that schools have to offer,” said Myrna Castrejón, executive director of GPSN.

Sounds good, right? Apparently Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, doesn’t think so. His only on-the-record comment: “This is the same old bait and switch.

At the same time, UTLA is standing firmly behind SB 808, a bill by State Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Cerritos) which would limit charter school authorization to school districts only. As things stand now, if a district turns down a charter, the school can appeal to their county board of education and, if necessary, the state board. But if SB 808 becomes law, the local school board – which is frequently in bed with the local teachers union – would become the only charter authorizer. The 160,000 or so kids on charter school wait-lists in the Golden State and their parents are undoubtedly foes of this unnecessarily restrictive bill.

Caputo-Pearl has also been in the news lately for something else. Demanding more rigor for students? No. Coming up with a way to expedite the process of firing incompetent teachers? Hardly. The union leader is calling on LAUSD chief Michelle King to close all the city’s schools on May 1st for a massive protest to join the “broader resistance to the Trump administration’s agenda.” (The good news is that King has decided to ignore Caputo-Pearl’s politicking and keep the schools open.)

On the state level, the California Teachers Association’s way of dealing with the edu-mess is to get behind anti-charter school legislation in Sacramento, despite the fact that of the top 20 schools in LA Unified with the highest UC acceptance rates, more than half were independent charters. (H/T School Data Nerd.) So instead of looking favorably at these public schools of choice, the CTA-backed AB 406 (Kevin McCarty D-Sacramento) would either block or seriously limit the ability of for-profit companies to operate charter schools in California. Should AB 406 fly, it would send many successful charter schools’ operations into disarray.

Merit pay, which has long been discussed as a way to hire and retain great teachers, might help. In fact, “a merit-pay program led to the equivalent of four extra weeks of student learning, according to a new analysis of 44 studies of incentive-pay initiatives in the United States and abroad.” But as believers in the quality-blind, step-and-column method of teacher pay, no CTA-affiliate’s contract will allow for this.

National union leaders have been mum on the literacy issue. But American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten did take some time to weigh in on President Trump’s decision to bomb Syria and trash Neil Gorsuch’s ascendancy to the Supreme Court.

The National Education Association hasn’t addressed the mounting illiteracy rate either, but is prominently promoting the radical gay agenda. The union is in full support of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network’s annual Day of Silence, which is on April 21st. This year’s theme – no, I am not making this up – is to “make America Gay again.”

The teachers unions’ agenda is mostly political and has little, if anything, to do with making kids literate Americans. It is not part of their mission. Their frequently bought-and-paid-for handmaidens, the local school boards, do little to staunch union power. As such, it would behoove parents – and in fact all citizens – to get more politically involved and demand educational excellence. And the ideal way to do that is to let parents choose the best schools to send their kids to, and have tax dollars follow the child. Without a literate citizenry, the United States, as we have known it, will cease to exist.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

LAUSD Offer Worth $122,938 Per Year – Will They Strike Anyway?

“Our demands, they’re not radical. When did it become radical to have class sizes that you could actually teach in? When did it become radical to have staffing and to pay people back after eight years of nothing?”
 – Alex Caputo Pearl, President, UTLA, February 26, 2015, Los Angeles Times

If the 35,000 members of the United Teachers Los Angeles, the union that represents employees of Los Angeles Unified School District, actually go on strike, in large part it will be because they want an 8.5% salary increase and the district is only offering them 5%. They also want smaller class sizes – tough to do when you’re passing out salary increases. But how much do these teachers actually make?

If you review the most authoritative source of public information on LAUSD salaries, the California state controller’s public pay website you will get the impression they aren’t making much. The summary page for LAUSD shows “average wages” of $40,506 per year and employer paid “average retirement and health” benefits at $10,867 per year.

This is extremely misleading. These “averages” include part-time workers such as student teachers and substitute teachers. But the “Raw Export” tab of the state controller’s website yields more comprehensive information.

20150303-UW_Ring-LAUSD-SCO

If you eliminate part-time workers and eliminate workers who were hired or left employment mid-year – based on screening out of the data any individual record where the recorded “base pay” is 10% or more less than the stated “minimum pay for position” for that record – a very different compensation profile emerges. In reality, teachers who worked full-time during 2013 for the LA Unified School District made direct pay that averaged $72,781, and they collected employer paid benefits averaging $17,012, meaning their total pay and benefits package was $89,793. And they collected this in return for working between 163 and 180 days per year (ref. UTLA/LAUSD Labor Agreement, page 30).

20150303-UW_Ring-LAUSD-Actual

Properly estimating how much LAUSD teachers make, however, requires at least two important additional calculations, (1), normalizing their pay to take into account their extraordinary quantity of vacation time, and (2) taking into account the state of California’s direct payments into CalSTRS as well as the necessity to increase CalSTRS contributions in order to pay down their unfunded liability.

Normalizing for vacation time is easy. Using the larger number referenced in their labor agreement, 180 days per year of work, based on 260 weekdays per year, means LAUSD teachers work 36 weeks a year and get 16 weeks off. The typical private sector worker rarely gets more than four weeks off, two weeks of vacation and two weeks of paid holidays. While many professionals earn more than two weeks of vacation, they are also required to be perpetually on call and often work far more than 40 hour weeks. Many entry level or low income workers don’t get paid for any holidays or vacation. It is reasonable to assume the typical teacher works 12 weeks less per year than the average private sector worker. This translates into a $24,260 value on top of the average LAUSD teacher’s direct pay of $72,781 per year.

“Eight years of nothing.” Really, Mr. Caputo Pearl?

Normalizing for the value of pensions is not easy, but using similarly conservative assumptions we can develop reasonable estimates. For starters, from the CalSTRS website, here’s what the state contributes:

“The state contributes a percentage of the annual earnings of all members to the Defined Benefit Program. Under the new funding plan, the state’s contribution is increasing over the next three years from 3.041 percent in 2013–14 to 6.328 percent beginning July 1, 2016. The state also contributes an amount equal to about 2.5 percent of annual member earnings into the CalSTRS Supplemental Benefit Maintenance Account. The SBMA account is used to maintain the purchasing power of benefits.”

Sticking with current contributions – 3.041% plus 2.5%, based on “member earnings” referring to “direct pay,” that adds another $4,033 to the average earnings of an LAUSD teacher.

In summary, LAUSD teachers are threatening to strike because they only make – using real world equivalents – $97,041 in direct pay, plus $21,045 in employer paid benefits. The average full-time LAUSD teacher earns total compensation worth $118,086 per year. Throw onto direct pay the 5% offer from the district, worth another $4,852 per year, and you have a total average teacher compensation proposed to go up to $122,938 per year.

Any critic of this analysis who happens to be an LAUSD teacher is invited to work 48 weeks a year instead of 36 weeks a year, or, of course, give up their pension benefit. Otherwise, these are the numbers. To verify them, download this spreadsheet analysis which uses payroll and benefit data provided by LAUSD to the California State Controller’s office:  LAUSD_2013_Compensation-Analysis.xlsx (10.0 MB).

No reasonable person should fail to sympathize with the challenges facing teachers in Los Angeles public schools. But the solution is not higher pay. The solution is to purge the system of bad teachers, reward excellent teachers, give principals more autonomy, stop promoting and retaining teachers based on seniority, measure teacher effectiveness based on the academic success of their pupils, and, gasp, improve the ratio of teachers to support staff. As it is, during 2013 LAUSD spent $2.6 billion on full-time and part-time teachers, and $2.1 billion on full-time and part-time other staff. Do they really need to spend 45% of their payroll outside the classroom? The solution is also to lower the cost of living for everyone, through supporting government policies that encourage competitive development of land and resources.

Finally, this estimate of the value of average total compensation for LAUSD full time teachers is still dramatically understated, because CalSTRS remains wallowed in an underfunded position that is officially recognized at $73.7 billion.

To the extent the leadership of the UTLA and their membership subscribe to “left wing” political sentiments, remember this:

There are currently $4.0 trillion of state/local U.S. government worker pension fund assets overseen by managers who rampage about the entire planet demanding annual yields north of 7.0% per year. This is a financial maelstrom of cataclysmic proportions that is corrupting the entire global economy. It is an act of wanton aggression against honest capitalists and private households attempting to save for retirement. Ongoing annual returns of this size require asset bubbles which require risky investments and cheap credit – antithetical to sustainable economic growth.

Remember this as you fight to enhance your compensation and defend your pensions as they are – you have exempted yourself from economic reality and are recklessly gambling with the future of the people you supposedly serve. Through your pension funds, you are benefiting from capitalism in its most aggressive and parasitic form.

Remember all this when you go on strike because you’ve had “eight years of nothing.”

 *   *   *

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

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.

Chicken Little Class Size

With a big assist from the teachers unions, the small class size myth lives on.

“The sky is falling” is well-known throughout the world as an admonition to be wary of hysterical claims. While we appreciate the silliness of the Chicken Little story, we fail to recognize its relevance in many of the myths perpetuated by the education establishment, one of the most enduring of which is the claim that class size affects student achievement.

Let me begin by saying that, as a teacher, I liked small classes. Why wouldn’t I? There were fewer papers to grade, report cards to fill out and parents to deal with. In other words, small class size made life easier on me. But I never deluded myself into thinking that my students were getting a superior education when I was teaching 20 instead of 25 of them. It is true that there are a few exceptions like certain special education classes where the kids need more individual attention. But, by and large, the smaller-is-better meme is pure bunkum.

Because small class size benefits them, the most vocal hucksters perpetuating the fiction are the nation’s teachers unions. Smaller classes = more teachers = more dues money. Just last month United Federation of Teachers boss Michael Mulgrew proposed ending tax breaks for landlords in New York City who are not residents of Gotham. The resulting $900 million windfall would net the city the classroom space and labor needed to reduce class size in grades K-3. (It is important to note that many parents favor smaller classes too because their kids get more individual attention that way.)

But as Hoover Institution senior fellow and economist Eric Hanushek recently wrote in the New York Daily News,

Nobody has shown that the substantial class-size reductions of the past 15 years have paid off in terms of student achievement. Instead, the two main effects of past class-size reduction have been more teachers and more expensive schools.

Education research is essentially unanimous: The effectiveness of the teacher in the classroom is far, far more important than how many students are in the classroom. But this is not the message that the union wants to hear, because it would involve evaluating teachers and making personnel decisions based on the quality of the work they do. (Emphasis added.)

Hanushek has done a lot of work in this area. In 1998, he released the results of his research that examined 227 separate studies on the effect of teacher-pupil ratios and class size averages on student achievement. He found that 15 percent of the studies showed an improvement in achievement, while 72 percent found no effect at all and 13 percent found that reducing class size actually had a negative effect on achievement. While Hanushek admits that in some cases children might benefit from a small-class environment, there is no way “to describe a priori situations where reduced class size will be beneficial.”

Other researchers have come up with similar findings. Also in 1998, Stanford’s Caroline Hoxby found that “reductions in class size from a base of 15 to 30 students have no effect on student achievement.” Jay Greene, chairman of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, writes that most of the evidence on which the “smaller-is-better” crowd relies on outcomes from Tennessee’s STAR project, an experiment conducted in the 1980s, with very questionable methodology.

In fact, the public has swallowed the class size myth for years and legislators have acted accordingly. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that teacher-pupil ratios across the nation have diminished steadily since 1955, when the ratio of public school teachers to students was 26.9 to one. By 1970, the ratio was 22.3 to one. And by 2010, the last year for which federal government statistics are available, the ratio came down to 16 to one. In California, going back to 2007, the student-teacher ratio was reduced to 21.6 pupils. Today, it has “ballooned” – to use the teachers unions’ favorite term – back up to about 24.

Frequently left out of the conversation is that when classes get smaller, more teachers are hired and the quality of the talent pool is diluted. Washington Post education reporter Jay Mathews noted in a 2006 story how California had a decade earlier authorized a $650-per-pupil bonus to schools with kindergarten-to-third-grade classes of no more than 20 students. “This produced many more classes that required more teachers, many of whom, parents complained, were inexperienced and ineffective,” Mathews wrote. Is it possible that larger classes and fewer teachers might even be preferable? Yes, if the teachers let go are the weaker performers. As Hanushek argues: “If you … replaced five to eight percent of the worst teachers with an average teacher, U.S. achievement would rise to somewhere between Canada and Finland.” Though the teachers unions will have none of that getting-rid-of-bad-teachers stuff, ask any parent if they rather have their kid in a class of 21 with a mediocre or worse teacher or a class of 24 with a good or great teacher. No need to wait for an answer.

What about countries that are more successful at educating than we are? Do they have smaller classes? OECD shows that out of 34 countries, the US is slightly below average in class size. However, China, Korea, Germany and Japan all have considerably larger class sizes than we do, and regularly clobber us in student performance.

In the meantime, the small class myth lives on. Mulgrew is pushing his tax scheme in New York. In Los Angeles, new teacher union president Alex Caputo-Pearl pitched the small class mantra three separate times in his coronation speech. And on its “Local Bargaining Updates” page, the California Teacher Association reports that “smaller class size” is a top bargaining priority for union locals all over the state. Again, the unions couldn’t care less about teacher quality or accountability; it’s all about hiring more dues-payers.

It is truly incumbent upon the public, notably the taxpayer, to start fighting the class size myth. Chicken Little eventually got the message; it’s about time that the rest of us do too.

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.

Social(ism) Justice Lessons

Teacher union progressives seek to socialize our country, but the Koch brothers have other plans.

The recent teacher union conventions were full of self-pity, angst and anger over the Vergara and Harris legal decisions. Unfortunately that’s not all they concerned themselves with. The union avatars explored various progressive schemes with the intention of dragging us all into their brave new world.

The ugliest moment for liberty came during the “Social Movement Unionism vs. Corporate Reform: Winning Strategies to Turn the Tide” panel at the American Federation of Teachers’ convention. As reported by class warrior Lauren Steiner in the LA Progressive, “It featured six union officials from LA, New York, Houston, Philadelphia, Chicago and St. Paul sharing their efforts to bring the wider community into their organizing and the various successes they’ve had.”

What’s scary about this bunch is that not only do they work hard to keep many children from getting a solid education by demanding that 50s-era, industrial-style union work rules remain in place, they also envision a socialist America. Alex Caputo-Pearl, recently elected president of the United Teachers of Los Angeles, is perhaps the most radical of all. A proud community organizer, he has been active in various local issues and leftist politics. Within the union, he co-founded Progressive Educators for Action. His other “accomplishments” include working to kill a charter effort to reform wretched Crenshaw High School where he was a teacher, playing a role in building the national “Resisting Teach for America” network (TFA is a dangerous part of the privatization movement, doncha know) and as leader of the “Bus Riders Union” (and no, I did not make that up). Caputo-Pearl so believes in his mission and his own self-importance that he illegally ditched some of his teaching responsibilities while campaigning to become UTLA boss.

Randi Weingarten was not scheduled to be on the panel but showed up nonetheless. Excited by the collectivist bombast, she proclaimed that if the union can advance its progressive programs, it will make every child and parent say, “I need those unions and teachers to be what they are for us.”

The union boss then echoed her own socialist leanings, claiming that her goal is to “create an economy that works for all” and proceeded to outline essential policy proposals that the AFT would advocate for, which included,

… growing the labor movement and reviving collective bargaining; increasing retirement security; easing the burden of student debt; funding a higher minimum wage, paid family leave, universal early childhood education, and full, equitable funding for all schools ….

She also highlighted the AFT’s work “to invest union member pension funds in infrastructure and create 150,000 good jobs.”

Creating good jobs?! How ya gonna do that, Randi? Socialists aren’t very good at that sort of thing. They are good at redistributing money – taking it from Peter and giving it to Paul (and Robert and Joan and Bill and…), but not creating meaningful work for anybody. But I have just the solution, so please sit down or you may fall over. The answer is – are you ready, Randi? – the Koch brothers!

Unknown to many, the Kansas-based industrialists founded Youth Entrepreneurs in 1991. Its mission is to “provide students with business and entrepreneurial education and experiences to help them prosper and become contributing members of society.” Joy Resmovits and Christina Wilkie wrote “Koch High: How The Koch Brothers Are Buying Their Way Into The Minds Of Public School Students,” an extended piece about the project for Huffington Post, Despite the snarky title and several snide comments in the body of the piece, the article is actually quite informative.

In the spring of 2012, Spenser Johnson, a junior at Highland Park High School in Topeka, Kansas, was unpacking his acoustic bass before orchestra practice when a sign caught his eye. ‘Do you want to make money?’ it asked.

The poster encouraged the predominantly poor students at Highland Park to enroll in a new, yearlong course that would provide lessons in basic economic principles and practical instruction on starting a business. Students would receive generous financial incentives including startup capital and scholarships after graduation. The course would begin that fall. Johnson eagerly signed up.

In some ways, the class looked like a typical high school business course, taught in a Highland Park classroom by a Highland Park teacher. But it was actually run by Youth Entrepreneurs, a nonprofit group created and funded primarily by Charles G. Koch, the billionaire chairman of Koch Industries.

The official mission of Youth Entrepreneurs is to provide kids with ‘business and entrepreneurial education and experiences that help them prosper and become contributing members of society.’ The underlying goal of the program, however, is to impart Koch’s radical free-market ideology to teenagers….

Lesson plans and class materials obtained by The Huffington Post make the course’s message clear: The minimum wage hurts workers and slows economic growth. Low taxes and less regulation allow people to prosper. Public assistance harms the poor. Government, in short, is the enemy of liberty.

… During the 2012-2013 school year, YE’s credit-bearing class reached more than 1,000 students in 29 schools in Kansas and Missouri, according to the group’s annual report. Vernon Birmingham, YE’s director of curriculum and teacher support, told HuffPost that the course will be in 42 schools in the coming school year. An offshoot in Atlanta, YE Georgia, reported being in 10 schools in the 2011-2012 school year. Since 2012, YE has also launched three major new initiatives: an online version of its course, an affiliate program to help rural schools access the class, and an after-school program, YE Academy, which served more than 500 students in its first year.

While the Kochs’ program advances the notion that anyone can become prosperous, the left promotes victimhood and resentment as it blathers ad nauseum about the haves and have-nots, “two Americas” and the evil and greedy one percenters. What the left refuses to acknowledge is that we are still an upwardly mobile and fluid nation. As pointed out in an excellent piece in the New York Times,

It is clear that the image of a static 1 and 99 percent is largely incorrect. The majority of Americans will experience at least one year of affluence at some point during their working careers. (This is just as true at the bottom of the income distribution scale, where 54 percent of Americans will experience poverty or near poverty at least once between the ages of 25 and 60).

… Rather than talking about the 1 percent and the 99 percent as if they were forever fixed, it would make much more sense to talk about the fact that Americans are likely to be exposed to both prosperity and poverty during their lives, and to shape our policies accordingly. As such, we have much more in common with one another than we dare to realize. (Emphasis added.)

Hence, we have the Koch brothers trying to instill in its students a sense of independence, a can-do spirit, a solid work ethic and the importance of good business acumen. And our teacher union leaders are striving to enslave us by raising taxes, killing anything that smells of privatization and waging class warfare.

Now seriously, which lessons do you want your kids to learn?

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.