Posts

How Teachers Union Work Rules Harm Public Education

The state of public education in America is not good.  The Organization of Economic Cooperation reported in 2016 that students in our public schools scored below average in math, tied with five countries for 37th out of 70; average in science, tied with 12 nations for 19th out of 70; and average in reading, tied with 13 nations for 15th out of 70.  For a country that is the unquestioned leader of the free world in wealth and technology, these are deplorable results.

California public schools are even worse.  In a recent survey, WalletHub ranked California’s schools ninth worst among the fifty states, forty-seventh in reading scores, and third worst in safety for students.

Any business with these results would fire everyone at the top.  But who can we fire?  Who is in charge of our public schools anyway?  Who should be accountable for the poor performance of our public schools?

Everyone associated with public schools knows the answer:  the teacher unions run our public schools and have been in charge for a long time.  This is thoroughly documented in the definitive book written by Stanford professor and Hoover Institute fellow, Dr. Terry Moe,  Special Interest: Teachers Unions and America’s Public Schools (Brookings Institution Press 2011).  Professor Moe walks through the history of teacher unions, describing the changes that occurred when teachers were given the legal right to engage in collective bargaining during the 1970s and 1980s.

While wages were important to union leaders, Moe reports, equally important was union success in negotiating work rules that often went unnoticed by the public but became fixtures in union contracts.  These work rules governed everything that took place in the workplace, from hiring and firing teachers to seniority, layoffs, and a uniform pay scale.  While these work rules always increased union power and favored teachers, they often were harmful to student outcomes.

When work rules became comprehensive and detailed during the 1980s, all of the important discretion over teacher behavior had been acquired by the unions, and soon this included policy as well.  For example, work rules often require that principals give notice before looking in on a classroom teacher, removing a supervisory tool that used to be effective; and work rules typically allow a teacher to bump another teacher and take her job based on seniority, removing the principal’s discretion to form a team whom they feel will work well together.

Work rules also required that important questions, usually decided by management, be referred to committees populated by teachers.  Once the unions controlled who taught our kids and how they were taught, the unions had appointed themselves the bosses of public education.

Some of the areas most in need of school reform originated as work rules. Studies show that teacher quality is the most important ingredient to a quality education, yet work rules establish a single pay scale for all teachers regardless of quality, removing a tool, incentive pay, which is used in the private sector to hire the best employees.  Work rules also require school districts to grant tenure within two years, which is too short a time for a thorough evaluation, especially when other work rules make it impossible to fire bad teachers who have tenure.

No matter which reforms have the most merit, no one can deny that someone else should be running our public schools.  Teacher unions have had their chance, and it is time to make someone else the boss.  Professor Moe tells us how:

“If reformers want to stand up for children—and win for children—there is only one way out of the current bind.  The power of the teachers unions must . . . be drastically reduced, so that the interests of the children and effective schooling can take priority among the nation’s policymakers and real reform can go forward.  This is the goal.  Baby steps won’t get us there.”  (Special Interest p. 344.)

Now is the time for change.

Bob Loewen is the chairman of the California Policy Center.

American Public Education – At the Bottom of the Class

Prior to the focus on self-esteem rather than academics in the education curriculum, California always ranked highest in the nation on student achievement tests. Today, California ranks close to the bottom. In the words of a wag, so goes California, so goes the nation. His insightful admonition has come to pass.

US 15-year old students significantly underperform their peers from every country in the world, even in reading. Being 32nd is not much better than being dead last, 34th (among OECD nations). Only Mexico and Turkey rank below the United States. The PISA results are mirrored in every international assessment of achievement.

For the world’s only super power, this is a national disgrace. Recent surveys found that 75% of freshmen in 2-yr and 40% in 4-yr colleges require remediation. Our students get a high school diploma at the end of 12th grade, but they don’t get the education that entitles them to the credential. College graduates in 2013 could not pass an exam 8th graders took in 1895 or 1912 to qualify for admission to high school.  [1], [2]

There are many reasons for the failures of the massive education apparatus, starting with its size and its centralization. In the United States, education is controlled by unions, politics and multiculturalism. The Three R’s have been replaced by radical indoctrination and social revisionism.

Text books are deliberately dumbed down to erase differences in intellect and prevent possible injury to students’ self-esteem and narcissism. Teachers lack qualifications. 40% of math teachers lack a minor in mathematics. 51% of chemistry and physics teachers lack a minor in their discipline. Might this be a reason why high school seniors are illiterate and innumerate or why American students scored worst in class on PISA or TIMMS?

Cai Yuanpei, founder of modern education in China, warned his nation’s leaders to keep out. Education must be above politics. They wisely heeded his counsel as did those in Singapore, South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong. Today, their students are the best in the world. In the United States, education is the handmaiden of politics.

Teachers’ unions control education. Education systems in other countries are responsive to failures in practice or policy. Tenure does not protect the unqualified. Administrators are limited to the absolutely essential. Teachers and personnel are hired on merit, not government mandate. The results speak for themselves.

After a six-year study of 270,000 students found a striking difference in performance in students in single-sex schools and those in coeducational schools, a shift toward more all-girls and all-boys schools occurred. When the data were replicated in South Korea and China, similar shifts were made. Those responsive changes are mirrored in the PISA scores.
Title IX legislation in 1972 made coeducation in public schools a national mandate. Single-sex public schools became illegal. Studies demonstrate females in single-sex schools outperform girls in coed schools. Similar to the psychological constraint brothers often have on their sisters, male students inhibit achievement of their female classmates.

Barnard College in NY has graduated more female physicians and chemistry professors than any college in the country. Black and Hispanic girls at The Young Women’s Leadership Academy in East Harlem outperform every student in New York on the State Regents’ Exam. Females account for 51% of the population and 60% of college students. An increase in single-sex public schools and colleges and in charter schools would be of enormous benefit to huge numbers of students and to the country. Every incremental increase in PISA scores translates into a significant increase in our national GDP.
President Obama has advocated a new program to transform public education for the 21st century. Deceptively called the Common Core State Standards Initiative, it represents the attempt by the federal government to nationalize public education, a move it is prohibited from making by the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Provisions Act, the 1970 General Education and Provisions Act and the 1979 Department of Education Organization Act.

Developed by two federally-funded private consortia who wrote the curriculum standards and performance assessments in mathematics and English Language Arts, the content lowers the standards of the nation’s highest performing states.
Massachusetts has consistently been the nation’s highest ranking state on annual National Assessment of Education Performance exams since 2005. It has also ranked among the highest on global assessments of academic performance, scoring fourth in reading, seventh in science and tenth in math. Its scores have plummeted since the implementation of the common score-sub standards.

By way of comparison, the United States ranked 24th in reading, 36th in mathematics and 28th in science on the 2012 PISA assessments among the 34 OECD countries and 31 partner countries whose students competed in the exams. [3]
Where do we go from here? There is a critical point in nuclear fission beyond which it is impossible to reverse the process. In failing Liberty, William Damon said the survival of a democracy depends upon an informed citizenry. As the PISA results have demonstrated, we have an un-informed and un-educated citizenry that will become more so with Common Core, a topic we will address at greater length in a separate article.

The United States has reached a critical point. If Common Core is implemented in all US public schools as the national education policy, we risk any hope of having an educated citizenry. It behooves everyone to make certain that does not happen.

About the Author:  R. Claire Friend, MD, is the Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, UC Irvine Medical Center, and the editor of the UC Irvine Quarterly Journal of Psychiatry. She is a retired psychiatrist and frequent commentator on the psychological dimensions of education and social welfare policies.

FOOTNOTES

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

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

3.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Programme_for_International_Student_Assessment

Exploring a Prosperity Policy Agenda for California

The People of California want prosperity but most are not getting it. The California Policy Center has established this new website, the Prosperity Forum, to explore the reasons why Californians are not as prosperous as they once were. By making prosperity the primary focus, other objectives, which sometimes dominate our State’s politics, can be placed in perspective. Maybe it is possible for prosperity to coexist with them.

Californians have an urgent need to have prosperity considered from this perspective because politicians rarely do. It is no secret that Sacramento is run by special interests. Public sector unions and corporations outspend every other campaign donor type for the loyalty of our State Legislators, assuring that when they need to have a law enacted to further a specific item on their agendas, they will have the votes to make it happen. The same holds true for single-issue advocates. Because special interests and single issue advocates force politicians to focus narrowly on the benefits conferred by their specific proposals, laws are often enacted in California without any consideration given to the broader economic consequences of those laws. Who suffers most? Working families and the poor.

Most people are aware that California is not as prosperous as it once was. The elites in Hollywood and the Silicon Valley are doing fine in their coastal communities. But common families in the Central Valley and the inner cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco are far from prosperous. Unemployment persistently exceeds the national average as manufacturing jobs have moved elsewhere, and a once thriving middle class diminishes, leaving even the hope for prosperity an empty promise for the working class. To return the people to prosperity requires economic growth for the benefit of all. With prosperity comes hope for a brighter future and an equal opportunity to succeed.

Applying this People-first perspective, the Prosperity Forum proposes to explore issues that affect the prosperity of Californians with a bias towards economic growth. Following are some examples.

1. Energy and the Environment

Shale oil makes all Californians rich. This is because the oil sleeps beneath land owned by the State. Californians are like Saudi Princes who may collect fees from others for oil extracted from their land. The State, of course, is run by the politicians in Sacramento; though elected by the people, as long as they are in office, the politicians tell the people whether they get to prosper or not from this unique asset. But if the politicians decide to let the people’s oil flow, there is little doubt that the people would prosper in a big way.

A USC study reports that California has over two-thirds of the total shale-oil reserves in the United States. Shale-oil has become accessible because of recent developments in an old technology known as “fracking”. According to an article republished in September’s Prosperity Forum by respected author Chris Reed, “By 2020, fracking could create up to 2.8 million jobs, increase the state’s total economic output by up to 14.3 percent, boost state and local tax revenue by $24.6 billion annually, and increase aggregate state personal income by up to 10 percent. Even a relatively tentative foray into fracking could generate hundreds of thousands of middle-income jobs that don’t require college degrees.”

So why not go after it? North Dakota, with far smaller shale-oil reserves, began large scale fracking over 10 years ago, and its unemployment rate is down to 3.2%. Texas and Pennsylvania have also seen economic improvement after fracking was begun in those states.

The principal objection comes from environmentalists. So far, it has been these objections that have been delaying prosperity in California from energy development. The Prosperity Forum will conduct an ongoing analysis of these objections to determine whether prosperity and environmental interests can co-exist. The answer may turn on which environmental interests one is talking about—concern about local contamination or concern about possible worldwide impacts on climate change.

a. What Are The Risks Of Local Pollution Associated With Fracking?

In every state where shale-oil and shale gas has been accessed through fracking, concerns have been raised about the possibility that groundwater might become contaminated locally. Objections have also been raised about the potential for methane gas to be released at the surface as a result of fracking, which could lead to an explosion hazard. As explained by investigative reporter Chris Reed in his article “Fixing California: Will Fracking Bonanza Be Allowed?,” fracking has been carried out successfully for years in other states without significant harm to the local environment. There are some differences between California shale oil and other kinds, and objective study is, of course, required. But unless something surprising is uncovered, it seems likely that any risks of local contamination that might arise from fracking would be outweighed by the prosperity to be gained from it, especially the opportunity to be gained by working families who have been left out of California’s economic abundance for far too long.

b. What are the risks to climate change from fracking?

An official website of the Governor’s Office of Planning & Research, entitled “Just The Facts,” which is devoted to an objective discussion of climate change, recently reported on the September 2013 release of the first part of the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) report updating the science of climate change. The California website reported that the IPCC found “that evidence of warming is ‘unequivocal’ and that it is ‘extremely likely’ that human influence has been the dominant cause of that warming.” Also, “changes . . . are already underway.” Explaining the climate science, the California website reports that the future “far-reaching consequences” of “greenhouse gas emissions, particularly carbon dioxide (CO2)” escaping into the atmosphere will be “increasing global temperatures and extreme events” such as “sea level rise, with related flooding and erosion of coastal areas,” “more frequent and hotter heat waves,” a “declining snow pack, with very significant implications for agriculture  and California’s water users,” and “more frequent and higher intensity wildfires.”

The majority of Californians agree with this assessment. Consequently, California is among the leaders in laws and regulations that limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, automobiles and other sources throughout the State. Indeed, Californians are proud to have met or exceeded nearly ever contaminant limit set by its regulatory agencies. In addition, California has adopted a cap and trade program administered by its Air Resources Board that is the envy of advocates for greenhouse gas restrictions throughout the United States.

Still, some say that California must do more when it comes to shale oil. Even if it is eventually determined that the risk of local pollution from fracking is acceptable, there are those who urge Sacramento to require working families to forego the opportunity for prosperity that shale oil affords because, they say, climate change science demands it. This solution is not, however, advocated on the Governor’s Planning and Research website, Just the Facts. Nor is it advocated in any of the U.N.’s IPCC reports.

Given the extensive set of laws already in place in response to the threat of climate change, there is reason to wonder whether the direct benefits of leaving shale oil in the ground outweigh the prosperity to be attained from taking it out of the ground and selling it. While California still allows cars to use oil-based fuel in the form of gasoline, under current law, shale-oil certainly could not be used to increase the amount of emissions coming from hydrocarbon-based fuels being used in California. Prosperity will come from selling shale-oil to people who use it outside of California. Californians might disapprove of those who buy their shale-oil, but history shows that they will purchase it from someone. So one question to be answered in the Prosperity Forum is whether a policy of leaving shale-oil in the ground would result in a material reduction in direct greenhouse emissions, and if not, why should working families be required to forego the prosperity that comes from allowing it to be extracted and sold?

Some argue that leaving shale-oil in the ground sends a message to the world that those who do not do their share to prevent climate change need to change their practices. Whether diplomacy of this nature will achieve a net benefit is open to debate. Californians should have that debate because 2.8 million jobs are at stake. Since the Governor’s website, Just The Facts, omits any discussion of these and other consequences of leaving shale-oil in the ground, Prosperity Forum is here to explore the issue in depth. California’s working families deserve no less.

Shale-oil belongs to everyone. Absent a compelling reason, it is time for Sacramento to start selling it so that all may prosper.

2. Education

Everyone deserves a fair start in life. Isn’t that, after all, the reason we have public schools? Yet, California’s public school system no longer provides a fair start for most students. Especially in the inner cities, drop-out rates are high, and many students never learn how to read properly. For California to prosper it must first need a workforce through an expanded economy, but then it needs to have a workforce that is at least moderately competent to make the economy work properly.

A few years ago, a blockbuster documentary, Waiting for Superman, was produced by Davis Guggenheim, the academy award winning director and producer of An Inconvenient Truth. It portrayed the plight of students who were trying to be accepted into charter schools, where only a few openings were available each year. The huge demand for these places compared to the public schools the students were trying to escape spoke volumes about the difficulties being faced by students trying to escape a difficult environment and get a fair start in life. The film provided insight into the role of the teachers’ unions in creating a system where education was no longer focused on teaching children as much as protecting teachers, many of whom were not good at their jobs.

In response to Waiting for Superman and a number of similar films and books exposing the corruption in our public schools, California politicians have done nothing. It is not a coincidence that the California Teachers’ Association is consistently the largest single donor to political political campaigns in California. When a teacher in El Monte was caught taking pornographic photos of his students with blindfolds so that they could not see that he was putting his bodily fluids onto objects, such as cookies, that they were holding, the school had to pay him to resign instead of firing him because of procedures negotiated by the CTA, and when a local legislator tried to enact a law to make it easier to fire teachers like him, the CTA made sure its favorite legislators did not allow the proposed law to get out of committee.

Things are bad in California education, but they can get better. Prosperity Forum intends to explore all of the ways that Californians can make it so.

3. Regulations

Last June, the CEO of CKE Restaurants, Andy Puzder, gave a mostly upbeat interview to the Wall Street Journal.  CKE is a California-based company, whose founder, Carl Karcher, began the predecessor to his Carls Jr. restaurant chain as a street vendor in 1941. Puzder’s company is expanding, he said. “It has 3,300 restaurants in 42 states and 28 foreign countries. There are 248 sites in the Middle East.” “Business-friendly places like Texas, where the company plans to open 300 new restaurants by the end of the decade” are the easiest states in which to grow, says Puzder, noting that restaurants in Houston and San Antonio hold records for highest first-week sales. “All those records used to be in California,” Puzder noted, but CKE no longer opens new restaurants in California.

What makes Texas “business-friendly” and California not? Puzder gave an example: “Consider how long it takes for one of his restaurants to get a building permit after signing a lease. It takes 60 days in Texas, 63 in Shanghai, and 125 in Novosibirsk, Russia. In Los Angeles, it’s 285.”

In that example, Puzder summed up the link between government regulations and prosperity: for California’s working families that translates into “no jobs at Carl’s Jr. in Los Angeles, but people like us are getting entry level jobs in Texas, Shanghai and Novosibirsk.” Why? Because time is money.

Imagine a working family of 6 in California who has worked hard and believes they have saved just about enough to start their own business. Because all of them have, at one time or another, worked in a fast food restaurant, they decide to start a fast food franchise, such as a Carl’s Jr. They are taking a sizable risk by investing all of their savings and giving up other work opportunities to open the business, but that’s what entrepreneur’s do, and if the risk pays off, as they hope it will, they will fulfill a dream of being their own boss.

The imaginary California working family spends much of its savings paying a franchise fee, a down payment on the mortgage to purchase the property, equipment for the restaurant, insurance, and expenses for lawyers, accountants and other professionals to make sure they are compliant with various regulations, including the new federal health care law. They have obtained a construction loan and can start construction as soon as the building permit is approved. So far, so good. Then they wait. And they wait. It takes 285 days, over nine months before their permit comes through—and that’s only if they are lucky enough to be treated like average citizens.

Our imaginary family likely has counted on a time when they will receive their building permit, build their restaurant, and, at last, the new restaurant will generate revenue. As a Carl’s Jr. franchisee, they look forward to the day when they will be able sell Six Dollar Burgers, Western Bacon Cheeseburgers, and some sweet potato fries and collect a small profit on each sale, and when those small profits add up, they plan to start paying off their debts so that one day, they will own their business or start another one just like it for their grandchildren. But while they wait for those revenues to start flowing in, they still must pay expenses whether the new restaurant opens or not. Waiting is expensive.

Texas gets it. We know their bureaucracy is friendly to business because they deliver the building permit in 60 days, shortening the time before building can begin and revenues can start coming in. But California, evidently, does not care a whit about our working family; its bureaucracy takes 225 days longer than Texas. During the 285 days our family waits for a permit, it must pay interest on its mortgage, fees for security, interest on a swing loan for supplies, not to mention lost wages for family members who quit their jobs to work on the new business project. Before they even start, the money runs out, the family has to default on its mortgage, and it gives up its dream of business ownership. People in their neighborhood who had hoped to work at the new restaurant look for work elsewhere. That’s why CKE Restaurants does not build new restaurants in California anymore. And that’s one of the reasons why California is no longer prosperous.

Reports and analysis posted on the Prosperity Forum will study such regulatory logjams. Politicians are responsible for the regulations that slow down the birth of businesses that provide jobs, and they are responsible for the performance of the bureaucracy that delivers such long wait times. Perhaps they have good reasons for causing these long delays. Prosperity Forum plans to ask them. California’s working families deserve to know, at least, why it is that their politicians are making decisions that place this economic burden on them. It might help them decide how to vote.

Bob Loewen is a member of the board of directors of the California Policy Center.