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Court sides with parents in battle with district over lousy school

Officials fought parents for years to keep children in a failing Anaheim school

Parent-trigger warning

In 2015 parents at the Palm Lane Elementary School of the Anaheim City School District turned in far more signatures than needed under the Parent Trigger Law (authored by former State Sen. Gloria Romero as Ed. Code sections 53300-53303). The goal of the law and the parents at Palm Lane was to convert a public school that had failed their children for over a decade into a charter school.

But the district, as a pretext to denying the Parent’s Petitions, improperly disallowed many signatures. The process of killing signatures struck trial court Judge Andrew Banks as “procedurally unfair, unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious.”

Judge Banks also found the district had ignored many attempts by parents and Romero to cooperate with the district to confirm all of the signatures turned in. The law requires the district to work with the parents when they turn in a petition to convert the school into a charter school.

On Friday, April 28, the Court of Appeals issued a 34-page opinion that upheld in full the trial court’s ruling in favor of the parents and against the Anaheim Elementary School District. The Appeals Court found the trial court’s ruling, including the court’s findings of the bad faith tactics of the district, was correct in all aspects.

This Appeals Court ruling is an important rebuke to heavy-handed school boards and administrators who may attempt to deny such a petition using similar tactics. Districts cannot use bad-faith methods to ignore their duties under the law to cooperate and help the parents achieve their goal of obtaining a better education for their children under California’s Parent Trigger Law.

CPC congratulates the Parents of Palm Lane and their legal counsel at Kirkland & Ellis.

Craig Alexander is General Counsel for California Policy Center, Inc.

LA Story: The Poorer You Are, the More Likely You Are to Support Charters

Los Angeles school teachers gathered in August in the posh, iconic – and for the group, weirdly ironic – Westin Bonaventure Hotel. They heard their union’s leaders extol their role as revolutionary defenders of the city’s poorest communities against the wealthy.

But that’s not how the city’s poor have seen it. The poorer you are, it turns out, the more likely you are to believe LA school district leaders have stranded the poor, data reviewed by the California Policy Center suggests.

It’s actually the rich who tend to like the teachers union – a fact that seems to turn the whole class-conflict paradigm on its head. While wealthy Angelenos on the north and west sides of the Los Angeles School District support the teachers union, generally poorer neighborhoods in the south and east often elect reform-minded candidates to the board of education.

CPC evaluated school district representatives – rating them either reformers or union supporters – and overlaid LA Unified’s seven local school districts with a neighborhood income map. The results are conclusive: Voters in the highest-income areas, namely Bel-Air, Porter Ranch, and Beverly Crest elected Steve Zimmer, Scott Schmerelson and Monica Ratliff – all union supporters. Voters in the poorest-income areas – downtown, South Gate and Wilmington elected Monica Garcia, Ref Rodriguez and Richard Vladovic – all reformers backed by charter school advocates.

The split between the high- and low-income voting preferences also correlates with the Academic Performance Index of schools (API). Wealthy families have access to better schools and are therefore likely more satisfied with the status quo. Conversely, poor families send their children public schools that provide a lower level education and therefore have more reason to hope and vote for change. Large neighborhood high schools in LAUSD’s three northern districts averaged an API of 702. Their counterparts in the poorer southern districts averaged 660.

(Perhaps the worst news: even the best public schools are underperforming. California’s state target API score is 800 – 98 points above the north LA average.)

Sean Corcoran, a professor of Educational Economics at New York University, has seen this phenomenon before

“We find that low school quality – as measured by standardized tests – is a consistent and modestly strong predictor of support for charters,” Corcoran observed in a 2011 paper on Washington State Charter Schools.

It’s obvious – but jarring if you listen teachers union leaders.

At their July 31 conference, United Teachers Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl depicted a Los Angeles in which the wealthy are working overtime to destroy public education.

“Billionaires across the country are looking at Los Angeles as the next and biggest opportunity to privatize and profit from the education of children,” he said. “From late August to late September, over 70 billboards, signs, bus benches and more will carry our messages that billionaires should not be driving the public school agenda, and that amazing people work in our public schools every day.”

Caputo-Pearl mentioned “billionaires” six times in his speech and “money” five times.

Ironically, the billionaires running charter schools occasionally represent LA’s best educational hope. In a 2015 comparison of union schools and charters, my colleagues at the California Policy Center found that charters cost less and teach students more effectively than union schools. In standardized testing, study authors Marc Joffe and Ed Ring noted, “Charter students outperformed the LAUSD traditional students with average [SAT] scores of 1417 to 1299.”

That performance difference might explain more than anything the preference among less wealthy voters for charter schools. Now, at last, those poorer Angelenos have a choice in schools, just like parents in LA’s richest neighborhoods. The poor are finding their voice, and they’re using it to say they want real education for their children.

Their votes have a tangible impact on the board, where the union/reform divide appears frequently. On March 8, the WISH academy (a network of two charter schools operating just west of Inglewood) petitioned to form a high school. Union-backed Steve Zimmer, the district board’s president, moved a motion to deny the petition on alleged financial grounds. When the motion was not seconded, second district trustee Garcia, a reformer, moved a motion to approve the academy charter. Third-district trustee Rodriguez, a public proponent of charters, seconded Garcia’s motion immediately.

After a two-hour debate, they voted. Garcia, Rodriguez, and Richard Vladovic (all reform-funded) voted yes. Monica Ratliff, a young, former teacher from the sixth district, joined them. George McKenna III and Scott Schmerelson voted no. As candidates, both were funded and endorsed by United Teachers Los Angeles. Zimmer had the last vote – and at 4-2, he could safely take a bold stand either for or against the charter school. Instead, Zimmer abstained.

Adam Jacobs is an intern at the California Policy Center. He attends George Washington University in Washington D.C.

LA Story: The Poorer You Are, the More Likely You Are to Support Charters

Los Angeles school teachers gathered in August in the posh, iconic – and for the group, weirdly ironic – Westin Bonaventure Hotel. They heard their union’s leaders extol their role as revolutionary defenders of the city’s poorest communities against the wealthy.

But that’s not how the city’s poor have seen it. The poorer you are, it turns out, the more likely you are to believe LA school district leaders have stranded the poor, data reviewed by the California Policy Center suggests.

It’s actually the rich who tend to like the teachers union – a fact that seems to turn the whole class-conflict paradigm on its head. While wealthy Angelenos on the north and west sides of the Los Angeles School District support the teachers union, generally poorer neighborhoods in the south and east often elect reform-minded candidates to the board of education.

CPC evaluated school district representatives – rating them either reformers or union supporters – and overlaid LA Unified’s seven local school districts with a neighborhood income map. The results are conclusive: Voters in the highest-income areas, namely Bel-Air, Porter Ranch, and Beverly Crest elected Steve Zimmer, Scott Schmerelson and Monica Ratliff – all union supporters. Voters in the poorest-income areas – downtown, South Gate and Wilmington elected Monica Garcia, Ref Rodriguez and Richard Vladovic – all reformers backed by charter school advocates.

The split between the high- and low-income voting preferences also correlates with the Academic Performance Index of schools (API). Wealthy families have access to better schools and are therefore likely more satisfied with the status quo. Conversely, poor families send their children public schools that provide a lower level education and therefore have more reason to hope and vote for change. Large neighborhood high schools in LAUSD’s three northern districts averaged an API of 702. Their counterparts in the poorer southern districts averaged 660.

(Perhaps the worst news: even the best public schools are underperforming. California’s state target API score is 800 – 98 points above the north LA average.)

Sean Corcoran, a professor of Educational Economics at New York University, has seen this phenomenon before

“We find that low school quality – as measured by standardized tests – is a consistent and modestly strong predictor of support for charters,” Corcoran observed in a 2011 paper on Washington State Charter Schools.

It’s obvious – but jarring if you listen teachers union leaders.

At their July 31 conference, United Teachers Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl depicted a Los Angeles in which the wealthy are working overtime to destroy public education.

“Billionaires across the country are looking at Los Angeles as the next and biggest opportunity to privatize and profit from the education of children,” he said. “From late August to late September, over 70 billboards, signs, bus benches and more will carry our messages that billionaires should not be driving the public school agenda, and that amazing people work in our public schools every day.”

Caputo-Pearl mentioned “billionaires” six times in his speech and “money” five times.

Ironically, the billionaires running charter schools occasionally represent LA’s best educational hope. In a 2015 comparison of union schools and charters, my colleagues at the California Policy Center found that charters cost less and teach students more effectively than union schools. In standardized testing, study authors Marc Joffe and Ed Ring noted, “Charter students outperformed the LAUSD traditional students with average [SAT] scores of 1417 to 1299.”

That performance difference might explain more than anything the preference among less wealthy voters for charter schools. Now, at last, those poorer Angelenos have a choice in schools, just like parents in LA’s richest neighborhoods. The poor are finding their voice, and they’re using it to say they want real education for their children.

Their votes have a tangible impact on the board, where the union/reform divide appears frequently. On March 8, the WISH academy (a network of two charter schools operating just west of Inglewood) petitioned to form a high school. Union-backed Steve Zimmer, the district board’s president, moved a motion to deny the petition on alleged financial grounds. When the motion was not seconded, second district trustee Garcia, a reformer, moved a motion to approve the academy charter. Third-district trustee Rodriguez, a public proponent of charters, seconded Garcia’s motion immediately.

After a two-hour debate, they voted. Garcia, Rodriguez, and Richard Vladovic (all reform-funded) voted yes. Monica Ratliff, a young, former teacher from the sixth district, joined them. George McKenna III and Scott Schmerelson voted no. As candidates, both were funded and endorsed by United Teachers Los Angeles. Zimmer had the last vote – and at 4-2, he could safely take a bold stand either for or against the charter school. Instead, Zimmer abstained.

Adam Jacobs is an intern at the California Policy Center. He attends George Washington University in Washington D.C.

Clinton Turns Her Back on School Choice While Trump Embraces It 

As Hillary Clinton cozies up to the teachers unions, Donald Trump seeks to vastly expand school choice opportunities. 

In November, 2015, Hillary Clinton gave a speech in South Carolina in which she abandoned her prior support for charter schools. Using language straight from the teachers union fact-free playbook, she claimed that charters “don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don’t keep them.”

Fast forward to the National Education Association convention this past July. Mrs. Clinton made the terrible mistake of diverting from the teacher union party line by saying, “when schools get it right, whether they are traditional public schools or public charter schools, let’s figure out what’s working … and share it with schools across America.” This innocuous comment didn’t sit well with some of the unionistas in attendance, who made their displeasure known by booing the presidential candidate. Realizing that she strayed from union orthodoxy, Clinton regrouped by acknowledging that there are people on the outside who are pushing “for-profit charter schools on our kids. We will never stand for that. That is not acceptable.”

Later in her talk, she asserted, “There is no time for finger pointing, or arguing over who cares about kids more. It’s time to set one table and sit around it together – all of us – so we can work together to do what’s best for America’s children.” And that table, Clinton promised, will always have “a seat for educators.”

Two weeks later at the American Federation of Teachers convention, she went further, adding that she opposed “vouchers and for-profit schooling,” and repeated her pledge, “…you will always have a seat at the table.”

A seat for educators? No, not really. What she actually meant was a place for union bosses and their fellow travelers. Good to her word – at least in this case – that’s just what she did.

Last week, Mother Jones revealed just who is seated at Clinton’s table. (H/T Antonucci.) Participants include Lily Eskelsen García and Randi Weingarten, leaders of the two national teachers unions. They are joined by Carmel Martin and Catherine Brown, vice-presidents of the Center for American Progress, a leftist think tank that is financially supported by the teachers unions. Also seated is education reformer Chris Edley, president of the Opportunity Institute, a California-based think tank, whose board is a collection of Clinton cronies. And finally there is Richard Riley, who served as Bill Clinton’s education secretary and was the recipient of NEA’s Friend of Education Award.

Well, certainly no one can accuse Clinton of seeking out diverse viewpoints.

At the same time Clinton was doing the teachers unions’ bidding, Donald Trump did the opposite. In fact, he went all in for school choice. Speaking at Cleveland Arts and Social Sciences Academy, a charter school in Ohio, he promised, if elected, that he would redirect $20 billion in federal money to school-choice programs. Trump said he would make it a priority to give 11 million children living in poverty a choice of schools, including traditional public, charters, magnets and private schools. He proclaimed that parents should be able to walk their child to a school they choose to be at, adding that each state would develop its own formula for distributing the $20 billion block-grant money, but that the dollars must follow the student. Trump also had disparaging words for Common Core and promoted merit pay as a way to reward the best teachers.

Not surprisingly teacher union leaders were not exactly enthralled by The Donald’s vision and proceeded to blast his ideas, using tired and wrong-headed union anti-choice talking points. NEA president Lily Eskelsen García snapped: “His silver bullet approach does nothing to help the most-vulnerable students and ignores glaring opportunity gaps while taking away money from public schools to fill private-sector coffers. No matter what you call it, vouchers take dollars away from our public schools to fund private schools at taxpayers’ expense with little to no regard for our students.”

AFT president, Clinton BFF and reportedly her favorite candidate for Secretary of Education Randi Weingarten added, “Today’s speech on education repeats the same flawed ideology anti-public education zealots have been shilling for years. He shows his usual obeisance to the idea of making public education a market rather than a public trust, to blaming rather than respecting educators, and to ideas that have failed to help children everywhere they’ve been tried but instead, in their wake, have hurt kids by leaving public schools destabilized and their budgets drained.”

While I applaud Mr. Trump’s general vision, the devil will be in the details. Just how his plan will be implemented, including where the $20 billion for his block-grant plan will come from, is not clear. Also, Trump has been known to change his stance on various issues from week to week so we will have to see what transpires in the coming days. And the fact that he chose to give his speech at a failing charter school is typical of the gaffe-prone Republican nominee for president.

Kevin Chavous, a lifelong Democrat and education reformer, now finds himself in an odd position. After learning of Trump’s plan, he said, “While I do not support Donald Trump, his speech on school choice demonstrates that he is giving serious thought to education issues and I strongly challenge Hillary Clinton to do the same…I urge Hillary Clinton to show more openness and creativity when it comes to embracing school reform, choice and charter schools. So far Mrs. Clinton has largely been a representative of the interests of teachers’ unions and the status quo, which is in opposition to parents and students and will serve to be on the wrong side of history.”

Chavous is absolutely correct, but Hillary won’t change. She has jumped into bed with the teachers unions, which now own her. As such, if elected, she will indeed find herself on the wrong side of history – the children, whom she claims so fervently to care about, and their parents be damned.

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.

ACLU Turns its Back on LA's Poorest Students in Attack on Charter Schools

The ACLU has aimed its considerable legal firepower at charter schools. The reason? They aren’t enough like our failing traditional public schools.

In a recent report, the ACLU condemns 253 California charter schools for what it sees as a violation of discrimination law, citing examples of charter schools requiring consistent attendance and, in some cases, prerequisites for admission. Although the schools on the ACLU list represent only 20 percent of all charter schools in California, the ACLU declares that these exclusionary practices are likely only the “tip of the iceberg.”

The ACLU is right to focus on the challenges facing low-income students. But charter schools are generally better than traditional, union-controlled schools — and inarguably prefered by charter students and their parents. Studies consistently show that charter schools generate better results for low-income kids.

Yet, in choosing to critique charter schools, the ACLU is once again failing to address the real problem with public education: teacher union control of public education.

20160915-cpc-acluACLU headquarters at 1313 W 8th St. in downtown Los Angeles
Whose side are they on? The teachers union? Or underprivileged students?

Consider the group’s high-profile 2010 case Reed v. California. Reed began in the aftermath of the Great Recession, when the Los Angeles Unified School District pink-slipped thousands of teachers. Because of its agreement with United Teachers of Los Angeles, the district canned the teachers based on seniority alone – not because of performance. Where do the least-senior teachers begin their Los Angeles teaching careers? In its worst-performing schools.

The ACLU, citing equal protection concerns, asked a superior court judge to stop the madness.

In 2010, the judge allowed the ACLU and LAUSD to work out a settlement that, ACLU said, “marks a departure from the LAUSD’s long-standing ‘last hired, first fired’ policy that determines layoffs solely by seniority.” The settlement banned the practice of seniority-based layoffs in 45 under-performing “Reed schools.”

Because the settlement struck at the heart of the union seniority system, it was probably predictable that United Teachers of Los Angeles filed an appeal to overturn it.

The Court of Appeals granted the union’s request on a technicality: UTLA, the court said, was not given a proper hearing in the original trial, even though the settlement directly affected a core policy of the teachers union contract.

When it became clear that UTLA would dedicate its vast resources to fighting the ACLU in court, both parties decided to settle. By April 2014, the ACLU, LAUSD and UTLA had reached an agreement that preserved the union’s power: taxpayers in the district would pay $25 million per year for three years to support “additional assistant principals, counselors and special education support staff, expanding professional development for teachers and administrators, offering a bonus to retain and recruit principals to these high-need schools, and selecting experienced mentor teachers from school staffs,” the ACLU proclaimed.

Was the real headline – as the ACLU’s April 2014 press release had it – “Settlement of Reed lawsuit delivers for students at 37 struggling L.A. schools”? Or was it that the ACLU, LAUSD and UTLA had forced district taxpayers to pay more to sustain the union’s system of seniority, a system that the ACLU had previously asserted was violating the equal protection guarantee of the California Constitution? Evidence points to the latter.

This wasn’t the first time that LAUSD had committed to providing more resources to schools in low-income neighborhoods. In fact, an earlier court case had resulted in a very similar policy to address a very similar problem.

Rodriguez v. LAUSD was filed in 1986 and argued that schools in low-income neighborhoods suffer because they often lack a stable corps of veteran teachers. The case resulted in the Rodriguez Consent Decree, which ruled that LAUSD must make efforts to achieve an equitable balance of veteran and new teachers across all schools. In addition to filling vacancies in schools in high-income areas with new teachers and filling vacancies in schools in low-income areas with more experienced teachers, the district committed $11 million per year on teacher training for schools in low-income areas.

Sound familiar?

Unfortunately, the strategy of committing more resources didn’t work then and it isn’t working now.

Over a decade after the Rodriguez Consent Decree took effect, the nonprofit Education Trust-West published a report claiming LAUSD still had not achieved an equitable distribution of experienced teachers among its schools. Academic results remained poor. But in 2006, rather than ramping up efforts to achieve educational equality, the courts rejected efforts to renew the Rodriguez Consent Decree for an additional five years. Judge Joanne O’Donnell apparently agreed with district lawyer John Walsh, who declared that an extension was unnecessary because “we have outlived it.”

And today, two years after the Reed settlement, schools in low-income areas are still primarily staffed by new and inexperienced teachers, and the district still targets those teachers for layoffs.

If the ACLU really wants to help students in low-income neighborhoods, it should return to the root problem: the “last in, first out” system perpetuated by UTLA. The ACLU has the opportunity to do so by supporting the plaintiffs in Vergara v California, a suit that argues children have a right to effective instructors, and among other things, challenges the constitutionality of seniority.

There’s ample evidence that this modest change would dramatically change the lives of individuals and transform communities. Stanford economist Raj Chetty, for instance, estimates “students would gain $2.1 million in lifetime earnings if California used effectiveness-based layoffs instead of seniority-based layoffs.”

However, instead of supporting the students in Vergara, the ACLU has turned its attention to charter schools, the only part of the public education system which functions without union interference. The ACLU has sued charter schools time and again. Meanwhile, it settles for a status quo in public schools that has repeatedly proven ineffective.

ACLU rose to prominence as an organization that defended the indefensible and challenged established institutions. Charter schools are a continuation of this entrepreneurial spirit, and their success represents what other public schools could be if freed from the demands of government-union control.

David Schwartzman is a junior studying economics and applied mathematics at Hillsdale College. Blake Dixon is a senior at Yale majoring in economics. They are journalism fellows at the California Policy Center in Tustin. This article first appeared in The Daily Journal.

Los Angeles Teachers Union Sinks to Unmitigated Depths

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fixing Z Mess

National School Choice Week aims to end our Zip-code Mandated Education System (Z MESS) and promote parent-power.

 You: I’m going out to dinner tonight.

Me: You are going to the restaurant down the street from where you live, right?

You: No, it’s not very good. I am going to a restaurant across town; it has food more to my liking and superior service.

Me: Uh, uh, you can’t go to that restaurant; you must go to the one closest to your home. It’s the law.

You would proceed to tell me that I am crazy. And I did make a nutty statement, didn’t I? But sadly this is exactly how we deal with education in California and throughout much of the country.

Why do we have Z MESS in the 21st Century? Because it serves the adults in the education blob, aka, the Big Government-Big Union Complex, that’s why. There is no other reason.

The teachers unions especially are sworn enemies of choice, particularly when it involves privatization. This is totally understandable because, except in rare cases, private schools are independent and not unionized. That’s a major reason why – given a choice – parents frequently opt for private schools. In fact, school choice is really about empowering parents to pick the best school for their kids. As the Friedman Foundation’s Greg Forster points out, “School choice would be a big step toward strengthening the family. It would reassert the primacy of parents over every stage of education until the point where children leave home and gain the rights of adulthood.”

How do the unions try to sell their argument against choice? Feebly.

As a rejoinder to National School Choice Week, which began Sunday, National Education Association writer Tim Walker posted “‘School Choice’ Mantra Masks the Harm of Siphoning Funds from Public Education” on the union’s website. In a piece amazingly devoid of honesty, he rails against charter schools, claiming they are rife with “waste and fraud.” He slimes vouchers, which he refers as “an entitlement program.” (!) He dismisses education savings accounts, asserting that they come with “little or no oversight over student outcomes.” And to top it off, Mr. Walker never gets around to explaining why so many parents avail themselves of choice and eagerly flee the highly regulated, overly bureaucratized, child-unfriendly Big Government-Big Union complex whenever they get the opportunity.

Sillier still is a Huff Po entry by American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten. Writing “When Unions Are Strong, Families Are Strong,” she claims that unions like hers are “strengthening our families, schools and economy – at the bargaining table, ballot box and beyond.”

Union run schools are getting stronger? Only in a perverse sense. That “strength,” as exhibited by restrictive contracts and tenure and seniority mandates, only serves to weaken education and hurt children.

And Weingarten and her cronies show no love for schools that aren’t organized. The wildly popular and successful Washington D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which serves predominantly poor and minority kids, has battled the union since its inception. As Michael Tanner writes in NRO, “… to preserve the program for the 2016–17 school year, Congress will have to either push through a stand-alone funding bill in the face of ferocious opposition from Democratic lawmakers and the teachers’ unions, or hope to include the funding in some future budget deal.”

Clearly, Weingarten doesn’t give a rip about “strengthening” the families that want to enroll their kids in the DCOSP program. Just the backbones of their union-owned legislators.

Celebrating Martin Luther King’s birthday last week, the unions were oozing with platitudes about the civil rights leader. NEA president Lily Eskelsen García penned a piece which refers to King’s “legacy in our classrooms.” While it’s true that there is no way to know how King would have responded to charter schools or voucher programs, his oldest son is convinced his father would approve. In fact, Martin Luther King III spoke at the “Rally in Tally” where over 10,000 people converged on Florida’s Capitol building in Tallahassee to urge the state’s largest teachers union to drop a lawsuit challenging a voucher-like education program that benefits low-income families. The state teachers union, the Florida Education Association, is claiming that “the tax-credit scholarships divert state money away from a quality public education system the state is required, under the Florida Constitution, to provide.”

MLK III said, “I just find it interesting that in our country we have the gall to debate about how our most precious resource – our children – are treated.” He cautioned that he couldn’t say with certainty how his father would feel today, but insisted that he “would always stand up for justice. This is about justice.”

The union, undeterred by the rally, plans to forge ahead with the lawsuit, claiming that the “voucher scheme is not legal.” Matthew Ladner, senior advisor at the Foundation for Excellence in Education, snapped, If there is a moral difference between redneck governors standing at the school house doors to keep kids out of school with a baseball bat, and union bosses wanting to go into schools to kick kids out of schools with legal baseball bats, the distinction escapes me.” (Bold added.)

It escapes me too. But what is inescapable is that we are in the middle of a war which pits parents and kids against teachers unions, at the heart of which is our failing, antiquated way of providing education. It is now time to ignore the teachers unions, straighten up Z MESS and give parents the right to choose the best education for their kids… traditional public, charter or private.

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.

Unionization Push Threatens Alliance College-Ready Public Schools

“Join the movement for schools L.A. students deserve.” You’d be forgiven for thinking that meant schools that offered the best outcomes for their students. Instead, it’s the banner the United Teachers of Los Angeles is marching under in its “struggle” with the Los Angeles Unified School District and the “fight against the corporate parasites lined up against us.”

Ground zero for that fight appears to be the successful Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, which is in the midst of a yearlong and increasingly aggressive unionization push. Much of the money set aside by UTLA, which has a line item in its budget for anti-charter organizing, will likely go toward this effort.

Newly elected President & CEO, Dan Katzir, of Alliance-College Ready Public Schools. Alliance has grown to serve more than 11,000 students across 26 high schools and middle schools, making it the largest public school charter network in Los Angeles

Dan Katzir, CEO of Alliance-College Ready Public Schools. Alliance has grown to serve more than 11,000 students across 26 high schools and middle schools, making it the largest public school charter network in Los Angeles

UTLA’s talk of “corporate parasites” is puzzling, considering that less than one percent of charter schools in California – just six schools out of almost 1,200 – are organized as for-profit entities and the rest, Alliance included, are non-profits. Its tough rhetoric notwithstanding, it is a mystery why the union would have such an interest in unionizing the network of 27 free, public charter high schools and middle schools mostly in South and East Los Angeles.

“We’re a little suspect to their motives since they wish to abolish us,” Catherine Suitor, Chief Development and Communications Officer at the charter network, told us.

The unionization push is certainly a change of pace for an organization that has been calling for the end of public charter schools since they began , but the union seems to be operating under the old adage that if you can’t beat them, join them, and is organizing pro-union Alliance teachers under the umbrella of Alliance Educators United.

“Our teachers have a right to decide if they want to unionize,” Suitor added. “But a year into it they haven’t gotten the numbers. We are not for or against unionization. But UTLA has been unabashedly anti-charter.”

The union says it is simply about giving teachers a voice. But the May edition of the union’s newspaper may provide a more realistic insight into the union’s change of heart. In it, UTLA Treasurer Arlene Inouye noted that “with dropping membership levels and rising costs, we have had an operating deficit for seven budget cycles, due primarily to a dues structure that does not provide enough revenue to cover our annual general operating costs.”

UTLA President, Alex Caputo-Pearl, of the 35,000 member teachers union

Alex Caputo-Pearl, President of the 35,000 member United Teachers of Los Angeles.

So, while adding dues-paying members to the union rolls probably doesn’t hurt either, if the goal was really for schools L.A. students deserve, then the UTLA has come to the right place – not to unionize, but rather to learn from, as Alliance offers a successful track record that balances cost with results.

“They should be trying to learn from us rather then try to kill us,” Dale Okuno, a member of the Alliance board of directors told me. “The proof of the pudding is in the eating and we have great results.”

Earlier this year, the California Policy Center, this blog’s parent organization, authored a report comparing nine LAUSD traditional schools and nine LAUSD Alliance public charter schools based on the cost per pupil and educational achievement.

“The data shows the per-pupil costs for Alliance charter high school students to be $10,649 per year, compared to $15,372 per year for students at traditional public high schools within LAUSD; that is, we find a per-pupil cost differential of 44 percent in favor of Alliance charter schools,” the report found.

It also noted that on testing, “Alliance schools have decisively higher Academic Performance Index (API) scores, 762 vs. 701, and higher graduation rates, 91.5 percent vs. 84.1 percent,” and that “the Alliance charter students outperformed the LAUSD traditional students with average [SAT] scores of 1417 vs. 1299 – a significant difference.” The report continued, “Among college bound students, an SAT score of 1299 puts the student in the bottom 27 percent nationally. A score of 1417, by contrast, places the student at 41 percent nationally.”

The authors concluded, “LAUSD Alliance charter high schools provide better outcomes at lower costs than comparable LAUSD traditional operated public schools in the same area.”

That comes despite the fact that 94 percent of Alliance students qualify for free and reduced lunch, and that, on average, middle school students arrive with a reading level at first and second grade levels – and a fourth grade reading level for incoming high school students.

Alliance attributes that success to the flexibility to be different that being a charter network provides, flexibility that unionization could potentially eliminate, as the union remodels the network into a more traditional model.

“We wouldn’t negotiate away our future,” Suitor said. “We worry the union would ask for things we couldn’t afford. Our goal is not to be exactly like the traditional schools, but to be different.”

Among those points that could prove a deal-breaker at the bargaining table is merit-based teacher incentives, which the union has made clear in a number of postings on its website they see as the antithesis to public education.

But performance-based compensation is at the heart of how Alliance operates, even though teachers, on average, make more than their traditional counterparts and, as previously noted, still spend nearly $5,000 less per pupil and achieve better outcomes.

Alliance’s presence seems to be having a ripple effect across the district. As Ms. Suitor noted, when Alliance opened its first school, graduation rates were around 50 percent in the district. Now they are up to 70 percent, although Alliance remains a leader with a 91 percent four-year graduation rate and a 99 percent college acceptance rate.

Rising tides appear to be lifting all boats in the LAUSD. As over 158,000 students sit on waitlists to attend charter schools in California, now is not the time to upend one of the more successful education models and instead transform Alliance or other charter schools into just another cog in the traditional system they were designed to escape, taking choices away from parents and students in the process.

About the Author: Scott Kaufman brings his journalistic experience to the California Policy Center to write investigative reports and editorials for UnionWatch and the Prosperity Digest. Kaufman also works for the Orange County Register as an editorial writer. He graduated from the University of California, San Diego and got his start in journalism with the Washington D.C. based weekly Human Events. He transitioned to local government reporting at the Santa Barbara News-Press.

The Enemies of Choice

The teachers unions’ fight against parental and teacher choice is not going well for them.

Teacher union membership is dwindling. In fact, it has dipped below 50 percent nationwide, down from a high of almost 70 percent in 1993. Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana, having  become “right-to-work” (RTW) states over the past several years, have given teacher freedom a big boost. Wisconsin, which also limits teachers’ collective bargaining activities via Act 10, has seen its National Education Association affiliate’s numbers cut by more than half. Prior to the legislation, the Wisconsin Education Association Council had approximately 100,000 members. It now has fewer than 40,000, according to the MacIiver Institute.

In Michigan, the teachers unions have lost 20 percent of their membership since becoming a RTW state in 2012, but this number will grow. Many unions, sensing the inevitability of RTW legislation in the Wolverine State, signed long-term contacts with their school districts. However, once those contracts expire, more teachers will be liberated from paying forced union dues. But as Michigan Capitol Confidential’s Tom Gantert points out, the RTW law is just one reason for the drop in union participation. He writes, “There also has been steady growth in the number of Michigan public charter schools. Hardly any charters are unionized.”

Nationally, the NEA has also seen its numbers dwindle; its membership is down more than 9 percent over the last four years. This includes a 7.5 percent decline in the number of classroom teachers, which is one reason why the union’s dues revenue has declined since 2011.

Of course freedom from forced unionism could greatly accelerate in 2016 courtesy of the Friedrichs v California Teachers Association case. If the litigants are victorious, no teacher – or public employee – in the country will be forced to pay any money to a union as a condition of employment. With oral arguments in just 13 days, the ruling will be finalized in six months.

In addition to losing members, the unions are also losing the PR battle. According to a recent Education Next poll, fifty percent of all teachers think that forced dues payment is wrong, while 38 percent support it. (The general public is 43-34 percent in favor of choice.) Interestingly, the same poll shows that while 57 of teachers think that unions “have a positive effect on schools,” just 30 percent of the general public thinks so.)

As the unions battle teachers over forced dues payments, their efforts are equally fierce against a parent’s right to choose the best school for their children. Other than an unfavorable ruling in Friedrichs, the worst nightmare for the unions is giving parents choices – charter schools, and worse, vouchers, tax credit scholarships and educational savings accounts. And the unions are not doing well on that count either. A national poll conducted earlier this year shows that nearly 70 percent of Americans support school choice. (The two battles are interrelated: As teachers leave their unions, there is less money for the unions to spend on fighting choice bills in state legislatures. And more private choice options translate to fewer unionized teachers.)

There are now 6,700 charter schools serving nearly 3 million students in 43 states and D.C. As for private sector choice, there are now 56 different programs operating in 28 states. In 2000-2001, there were just 29,000 students in these programs, but by 2014-2015, that number had grown over 12-fold to 354,000. In light of the fact that parents take advantage of the private option when available, their kids perform better in these choice programs and they save the taxpayers money, the unions can’t put up much of a reasoned argument.

Indeed, desperation is setting in.

Frequently unions use kids as human shields to couch their opposition to privatization. But one union boss had a unique (if ridiculous) take on it recently. When asked about a Fordham Institute study on America’s Best and Worst Cities for School Choice that ranked Atlanta as the ninth most “choice-friendly” city, Verdaillia Turner, president of the Georgia Federation of Teachers, responded, “That’s like saying Chicago is the most murder-friendly city in the nation.”

The new year looms large for choice. With a Friedrichs decision due in June, teacher and parental choice could get an enormous boost. And no one will be murdered because of it. The self-serving teachers unions’ bottom line will suffer some serious body trauma, however.

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.

Preferring Failing Schools to Successful Ones

Teacher union leaders want to keep poorly performing public schools open, but kill off thriving charters and voucher schools.

Just last week it was announced in New York City that three failing public schools would be closing. With a total enrollment of 217 students, there really was no other choice. Indeed, it was such a no-brainer that even United Federation of Teachers (UFT) president Michael Mulgrew didn’t threaten anyone with bodily harm over the decision. But Mulgrew’s acquiescence is a rarity for him and other teacher union leaders.

Like a failing business, when a school goes bad it should close. This phenomenon is occurring more and more in big cities, especially when families are given choices. If there is a charter school available that suits their needs, parents will yank their kid out of the failing traditional public school the first chance they get. But the teacher union bosses’ default position is that a failing school should never be closed; a piece on the National Education Association website tries feebly to make that case. Penned by in-house writer John Rosales, “Closing Schools: Privatization Disguised as ‘Accountability’” is typical union claptrap in which shibboleths and lies predominate.

When they close schools, they are closing hospitals, grocery stores, and police stations…. This is a human rights issue…. School closings are not isolated incidents but rather a movement toward privatization.

In reality, a public school closes when parents stop sending their kids there because it doesn’t live up to its mission, which is to educate students in a safe environment. In fact, a recent study conducted in Ohio by the Fordham Institute shows – not surprisingly – that displaced students typically receive a better education in a different setting.

Three years after closures, the public-school students had gained, on average, what equates to 49 extra days of learning in reading—gaining more than a year of achievement growth, as measured by state reading exams. In math, they gained an extra 34 days of learning, as measured by state math exams. In the charter sector, displaced students also made gains in math—46 additional days.

But then again, there are schools that union leaders do think should be shut down – charter schools, especially the non-unionized ones, and especially those run by one Eva Moskowitz. In fact, New York’s UFT has begun that process by calling for a moratorium on new Moskowitz-led Harlem Success Academy charters. The unionistas are ecstatic because they think they finally have something on the operator of 34 extraordinarily successful schools. In late October, it was revealed that one of her schools’ principals had a “to go” list of undesirable kids. The principal was reprimanded by Moskowitz, which should have ended the story. But the unions continue to act as if they’ve discovered the mother lode, which, of course, is silly. Even if Moskowitz is guilty as charged, it should be noted that traditional public schools – with the blessing of the unions – have a long history of removing and transferring undesirables, either to other public, continuation or opportunity schools.

Another example of teachers unions fighting a successful education enterprise is in Washington, D.C. where the Opportunity Scholarship Program has been a raving success. The federally funded program, which has been in the NEA’s crosshairs since its inception in 2004, has led to greater parental satisfaction and school safety, as well as higher graduation rates and test scores than those of the public schools the voucher students had escaped. But despite the program’s success, the DCOSP schools are private and not unionized, and that is what matters to organized labor. The NEA claims that vouchers are not “real” education reform and that “opposition to vouchers is a top priority for NEA.” In 2009, NEA president Dennis Van Roekel wrote a threatening letter to every Democratic member of Congress advising them that NEA “strongly opposes any extension of the District of Columbia private school voucher . . . program.” And just last week, due to strong union-fueled Democratic opposition and undemanding Republicans, the program was not reauthorized, although its funding has been retained for another year.

So the union fights to knock out successful charters and privatization programs but keep traditional public schools open no matter what miserable failures they are. And they are doing this for the children, of course.

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

Hillary Rodham Weingarten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Unions’ “Accountability” Libel Against Charter Schools

The teacher union war on charter schools ramps up with empty billionaire and accountability accusations.

Charter schools are like pesky chewing gum that the teachers unions just can’t quite get off their shoes. They have been persistent in trying to just get rid of the alternative public schools – except for the few they have managed to organize. The problem they’re having is that charters are very popular with parents and kids, especially with those who reside in the inner cities which are home to the worst traditional public schools. The latest pathetic attempt by union command-central to destroy charters emanates from the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), which, as investigative reporter Eric Owens points out, is a reliably pro-union advocacy organization based in Madison, Wisconsin.

Perhaps “reliably pro-union” is an understatement. The American Federation of Teachers gave CMD $30,000 for “member related services” in fiscal year 2015. Also, one of the biggest funders of CMD is Democracy Alliance, which boasts AFT president Randi Weingarten as a member and National Education Association executive director John Stocks as its president. The dark money group also includes old leftwing billionaire George Soros and new leftwing billionaire Tom Steyer.

In a nutshell, the report asserts that the American public “does not have ready access to key information about how their federal and state taxes are being spent to fuel the charter school industry. Peppered with terms like “lack of accountability” and “flavoring flexibility over rules,” the summary is an indicator of how off-target the sloppy and factually-challenged report really is. As reported by LaborPains.org, for example, it attacks charter-friendly Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, offering reporters a misleading story about secret meetings and plots.

Emails obtained by CMD from Gov. Ducey’s office reveal that he (and his predecessor) helped propel a secret ‘School Finance Reform Team’ … The stated goal was for everyone on the school reform team to use their ‘different contacts to help get …legislation,’ which would effectively divert more money from public schools to charter school coffers passed.

But the Arizona Republic then printed the rest of the story. After reviewing the “secret” emails themselves, they found “nothing of the kind.” CMD was forced to issue a correction admitting that their reported premise was wrong. In the Republic’s words, CMD “used a handful of innocent emails to spin a conspiracy that just wasn’t real.

Of course there is nothing new about the unions and affiliated groups savaging charters with lies, using “unaccountable” and “billionaires” as their essential buzzwords. In June, NEA’s Brian Washington wrote, “…pro-charter forces are putting more money behind efforts to elect and lobby politicians who will implement policies resulting in unaccountable charter schools that threaten the futures of our students.”

The billionaire bash-of-the-week (seasoned with a dab of “accountability”), comes from Capital and Main, a union-friendly progressive website. There, Donald Cohen, founder and executive director of In the Public Interest, writes “Billionaires Can’t Teach Our Kids” which slams Eli Broad and a few other philanthropists for initiating a plan that would double the number of charter schools in Los Angeles. He claims, “Broad and his billionaire friends have decided that instead of investing in our public schools, they’ll just create new ones with less accountability and fewer standards ….” But a little digging reveals that In the Public Interest, which partnered with the American Federation of Teachers last year to push for more charter accountability, is a project of The Partnership for Working Families. An ACORN-like group, PWF hates anything capitalist and is a card-carrying member of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, whose raison d’être is to vilify “one percenters.” Not surprisingly, several of PWF donors are rich philanthropists, including the aforementioned billionaire George Soros and other wealthy globalist/socialists.

Their billionaires don’t count, of course.

The very day CMD came out with its bogus report, reform-minded Ed Trust-West released “More Than Half of the Top California Schools for Low-Income Students Are Charter Schools.” This report highlights the top 10 highest performing schools for low-income 3rd, 8th and 11th grade students in California and finds in 3rd and 11th grade, “five of the top ten are charter schools. In 8th grade, seven of the top ten are charters.” (Education Trust-West analyzed data from schools where “at least 60 percent of the students qualify as low-income in order to determine the top 10 performers by subject matter and grade,” reported Kimberly Beltran.)

Additionally, a recent Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) report shows that across 41 regions, “urban charter schools on average achieve significantly greater student success in both math and reading, which amounts to 40 additional days of learning growth in math and 28 days of additional growth in reading.” The CREDO report is certainly in line with the results of the California Assessment of Student Progress and Performance (CAASPP) test in Los Angeles, where Mr. Broad and his “billionaire friends” are seeking to make improvements. The results, released in September, show that only one-third of LA students in traditional public schools performed up to their grade level in English and one-fourth did so in math but that the city’s charter school students did much better.

LAUSD - performance on SB test 2015(Courtesy of California Charter School Association via LA School Report)

Are charter schools perfect? Hardly. Not even all are wonderful. But as Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, notes in a rejoinder to the CMD report, when charters don’t do the job, they can and should be shuttered. “The public charter school bargain (has) more flexibility to innovate in exchange for accountability for higher student achievement. When public charter schools fail to meet their goals – whether for academic, financial or operational reasons – they should be closed, even if we have invested federal dollars in them. If we don’t close them, we undermine the whole concept of public charter schooling.” While there are a few exceptions, that’s the way charters schools operate.

The teachers unions and their fellow travelers would be best served if they’d stop their billionaire bashing and their tiresome accountability accusations. In fact, if traditional public schools were held to the same level of accountability as charter schools, the world will be a much better place. Why am I not holding my breath?

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.

Reactionary Teachers Union Parties like It’s 1909

Self-serving Washington Education Association dusts off a 100 year old law to shut down charter schools.

As I have frequently written, the teachers unions have a schizoid relationship with charter schools. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays they want to kill them off; on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays they want to unionize them. Earlier this month, with the help of a compliant court, the National Education Association affiliate in Washington managed to trash the state’s fledgling charter school movement – a tiny movement, barely sticking its toes in the water with all of one school having opened in Seattle last year, with eight more opening this fall.

But citing an arcane law passed in 1909, the Washington Supreme Court deemed the charter schools unconstitutional. As reported in The Seattle Times, Chief Justice Barbara Madsen ruled that “charter schools aren’t ‘common schools’ because they’re governed by appointed rather than elected boards. Therefore, money that is dedicated to common schools is unconstitutionally diverted to charter schools.” Justice Mary E. Fairhurst agreed with the majority that charter schools aren’t common schools, but argued in a partial dissenting opinion that the state “can constitutionally support charter schools through the general fund.”

The Washington Education Association, which was joined by the League of Women Voters of Washington and others in bringing the suit, was gleeful. “The Supreme Court has affirmed what we’ve said all along — charter schools steal money from our existing classrooms, and voters have no say in how these charter schools spend taxpayer funding,” said Kim Mead, WEA president.

This is maddening.

The thrust behind the decision is that charter schools are not accountable to local voters the way traditional public schools are. Ironically the statement is true, but for the reverse reason. Charters are in fact far more accountable than traditional public schools. As the Wall Street Journal points out,

Charters must submit detailed applications to a state commission explaining, among other things, their curriculum, standards and plans for special-needs students. They must also submit to a public forum—i.e., a union beating. They provide annual performance reports, and the State Board of Education can sanction charters that fail to achieve their objectives and close those in the bottom quartile of public schools. Only the lowest 5% of traditional schools must propose corrective plans.

American Enterprise Institute’s Rick Hess wrote a scathing denouncement of the decision in National Review, claiming among other things that, “…the notion that Washington State’s school districts are sacrosanct because they allow the public to carefully select teachers and discharge incompetent ones reads like a twisted joke. Ultimately, the court’s rationale serves as an open-ended, extra-constitutional rejection of all challenges to the education monopoly.” Using words like “gutless” and “lunacy” to describe the decision, Hess ended his broadside with, “We’ll see if Washington State’s myopic mandarins really have the nerve to ask law enforcement to shut down these ‘speakeasy’ schools in order to stop the state’s charter-school students from illegally pursuing a public education.”

An interesting facet to the mess is that the teachers unions gave the maximum allowed by law ($1,800 in 2012 and $1,900 in 2014) in campaign contributions to seven of the nine judges on the Washington Supreme Court in their most recent election to the Court. Call me crazy, but this reeks of a conflict of interest. While a quid pro quo can’t be established, it’s hard not to be a bit cynical. Danny Westneat writes in The Seattle Times about a simple cure for this. “The state of Utah has a much stricter rule — that justices have to sit out a case if someone involved in it gave their campaign $50 or more. If we had that rule, the Temple of Justice would have been almost emptied for the charter-schools case.”

What’s next for the Washington charters? As Robin Lake writes in an aptly named piece, “A court decision only the Kremlin could love,”

As many have forcefully opined, this decision should be reconsidered by the court (a motion to reconsider is likely). Barring that, the legislature could pass a new charter that doesn’t use the term “common schools,” or pass a constitutional amendment. If lawmakers have any decency, this will happen quickly. That’s the only way to make sure that students and their families don’t have to endure any more needless chaos.

Coincidentally, while the state teachers union is busy shutting down charters, its Seattle local started off the new school year by calling a strike, thus closing the city’s public schools. The big disagreement in this case is money. While the district is offering a 10 percent raise over two years, the union is demanding a 16.8 percent increase over the same time period.

As The Daily Caller’s Eric Owens reports, Seattle teachers currently have a median annual salary of $60,412. And of course that amount is for only 180 days of work and doesn’t include a panoply of perks including medical, dental, vision and life insurance, not to mention generous pension benefits. But according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the annual per-capita income in Seattle is $43,237 – for 48-50 weeks of work per year, and those workers typically have a much less robust benefits package.

Weighing in on the Seattle strike, National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen García gushed that she is proud that the NEA local’s teachers walked out, explaining “…educators are standing up for the schools students deserve.”

How a teacher union boss could make such a loopy statement with a straight face is beyond comprehension. Union leaders are busy closing charter schools in Washington by dredging up a vague, poorly written 100 year-old law and shutting down every public school in Seattle by striking, but they are of course doing it for the children. Gag.

 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 Justice Warriors at Work

With the election season in full swing, expect a tide of union-led anti-reform, anti-choice and anti-Republican politicking in our kids’ classrooms.

I watched the GOP presidential debate because my students are counting on me” is the title of a piece posted on the National Education Association website by “guest writer” Tom McLaughlin, a high school drama teacher from Council Bluffs, IA. He claims that “…in addition to this debate, I had an obligation to watch future debates, take notes, and share the truth. I have a responsibility to do that for my students.” (Hmm – just why is a drama teacher delving into politics with his students? Brought back memories of a Che Guevara poster prominently displayed in the music teacher’s class at my former middle school.)

So in any event, I’m thinking this will be a commentary about Common Core, since it garnered the only discussion of education at the first Republican debate in Cleveland last Thursday. In reality, that issue provoked a brief back-and-forth between Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio which really didn’t shed much light on the subject. But the words “Common Core” never appear in the piece by McLaughlin. Instead, the drama teacher’s “truth sharing” includes comments like,

Many of the candidates on last night’s stage have clear records of draining critical funding away from public schools to give to private schools, supporting charter schools that are unaccountable to students, parents, and taxpayers, and slashing education funding and those programs that serve students and help them in the classroom.

As educators and trusted messengers in our communities, we must make sure the public is informed and not fooled by presidential candidates who say they believe in a world-class education system but have a history of starving our public schools of critical funding and supporting flawed so-called reforms that don’t work.

Obviously McLaughlin never intended to report on the debate, but rather to deliver a diatribe infused with standard teacher union talking points against any and all who favor reform and dare have an “R” after their names. (Curiously, Chris Christie, Scott Walker and Jeb Bush all took shots at the teachers unions during the debate and there was no mention of them in McLaughlin’s critique.)

Over at the “NEA Votes” Facebook page, the union faithful were having a field day with McLaughlin’s post and the debate. With one or two exceptions, the comments were posted by pro-union mouthpieces using the same tired talking points that the union elite use. Perhaps the loopiest of all was a post that equated conservatism with Fascism:

The scary part of all this is that these teachers, who don’t seem to have an objective bone in their collective bodies – and are proud of it – have a captive audience of children, many of whom will be the recipients of their teachers’ anti-reform, anti-school choice and anti-Republican rhetoric leading up to the presidential election in 2016.

If you are a Republican parent (or just a fair-minded one of any political persuasion), please be ready for the political onslaught supporting the Big Government-Big Union complex (aka the Blob) your kids may be in for. When the indoctrination starts, don’t be shy about speaking up. Please mention to anyone who is spouting the union party line (and your kids) that in Jeb Bush’s Florida, there are more than 40,000 teachers who do not work for school districts and 14,000 of them have chosen to work in charter schools. They’ve made these choices for the same reason parents do – because charters offer a better fit for their individual needs.

Tell them that despite McLaughlin’s absurd comment, charter and private schools are indeed accountable…to parents. If parents aren’t happy with those schools, they close, unlike traditional public schools which are accountable to no one and typically get more money thrown their way if they are failing.

Tell them that we have tripled our public education funding nationally – in constant dollars – over the last 40 years and have nothing to show for it.

Tell them that Wisconsin’s test scores have risen since the teachers unions’ favorite Republican punching bag Scott Walker has been governor.

Tell them that homeschooling is advancing across the country – especially in big cities – because parents of all political stripes are tired of a one-size-fits-all Blob education.

Tell them that in California, the Blob is under attack and that the effort is bipartisan. The Stull, Reed and Vergara lawsuits, all of which have successfully challenged Blob work rules like tenure and seniority and fought to get a realistic teacher evaluation system in place, have seen Republicans and Democrats working together to undo the mess that McLaughlin and his ilk have helped to create.

Perhaps most importantly explain that when it comes to education policy reform, the battle is not typically between Democrats and Republicans or liberals and conservatives, but rather between those who defend the status quo and those who are demanding reasonable reforms to an outsized, outdated, outmoded and out-of-touch educational system.

When I was growing up, I never had a clue what my teachers’ politics were. They understood they were not there to indoctrinate me. Accordingly, I followed suit when I taught public school for 28 years. But there are many now who have decided not to check their politics at the classroom door, instead bringing it to their students with a religious zeal that makes Elmer Gantry look like a wallflower. Many teachers now take their cue from the likes of National Education Association Executive Director John Stocks who, at the recent NEA convention, told his flock that teachers need to become “social justice warriors.”

Silly me, all along I thought teachers were there to teach.

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.

Could California Follow Wisconsin’s Teacher Union Jail Break?

If CA becomes a right-to-work state, a seismic political shift may ensue.

Last week Mike Antonucci reported that the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the National Education Association’s Badger State affiliate, is down to fewer than 50,000 members (40,000 currently employed) from a high of over 100,000 in 2009. This precipitous loss is a result of Governor Scott Walker’s Act 10 which became law in 2011. The law limits collective bargaining for teachers (and other public employees), requires annual votes for union certification and prohibits employers (taxpayer-funded school districts) from collecting union dues. Wisconsin, having become a right-to-work state in March, is sure to see those numbers fall even more in the years to come.

As Wisconsin’s MacIver Institute points out, it isn’t just individual members who are leaving their unions, “…an increasing number of teachers’ unions were being decertified by their members all together.” And over a 100 public school unions in Wisconsin have voted to do just that in the last two years. In addition to worker freedom, MacIver reports that Act 10 has saved taxpayers over $3 billion.

Needless to say, unionistas are furious with Walker, infusing their disdain with Marxist rhetoric and on any given day comparing him to Hitler. But is Walker really bad for workers? Hillary Clinton sure thinks so. Right after Walker announced that he was running for president, Clinton went off on him.

Republican governors like Scott Walker have made their names stomping on workers’ rights, and practically all the Republican candidates hope to do the same as president. I will fight back against these mean-spirited, misguided attacks. Evidence shows that the decline of unions may be responsible for a third of the increase of inequality among men, so if we want to get serious about raising incomes, we have to get serious about supporting union workers.

But the statistics tell a very different story for workers. Deroy Murdock points out that since Walker has become governor, Wisconsin has outperformed the country as a whole using a variety of metrics including unemployment rate, labor-force participation rate, inflation-adjusted, median household income, etc.

While California has no Act 10, it would become a right-to-work state if Friedrichs v California passes muster with the Supreme Court next year. And if teachers and others public employees are not forced into paying dues, what would the ramifications be for the Golden State? A political earthquake is imaginable.

The California Fair Political Practices Commission shows that by far the biggest political influence peddler in CA is the California Teachers Association, which spent over $211 million between 2000-2009 on candidates, ballot measures and lobbying. It’s no secret that CTA will fight any education reform measure that diminishes its influence; charter school proliferation, vouchers and reasonable teacher evaluation methods are but a few examples. But CTA also spends oodles on non-education issues, all of which swerve sharply to the left. As Troy Senik writes in City Journal,

Among these causes: implementing a single-payer health-care system in California, blocking photo-identification requirements for voters, and limiting restraints on the government’s power of eminent domain. The CTA was the single biggest financial opponent of another Proposition 8, the controversial 2008 proposal to ban gay marriage, ponying up $1.3 million to fight an initiative that eventually won 52.2 percent of the vote. The union has also become the biggest donor to the California Democratic Party. From 2003 to 2012, the CTA spent nearly $102 million on political contributions; 0.08 percent of that money went to Republicans. (Emphasis added.)

The second highest spender was another public employee union, the California State Council of Service Employees, a branch of SEIU, which spent over $107 million on politics during the same time period. California Common Sense, an organization that is dedicated to opening government to the public, reports that CSCSE spent broadly across various state-level positions in 2013, “focusing on Governor’s ($4.9 million), State Senate ($1.4 million), and State Assembly races ($1.2 million). Like most unions, CSCSE opposed Republican candidates in almost every case.”

The results of union largess in the Golden State have been devastating for Republicans, who have been marginalized in Sacramento for years. After a few crucial GOP wins in 2014, the Los Angeles Times wrote,

California Republicans scored a rare victory in Tuesday’s election by denying Democrats a two-thirds legislative supermajority that would consign GOP lawmakers to virtual irrelevance in the state Capitol.

For a party sharply diminished by two decades of relentless setbacks in California, it passed as a major achievement for Republicans to capture more than a third of the seats in the state Senate and possibly the Assembly as well.

Clearly the unions don’t deserve all the “credit” for the pathetic GOP results, but to be sure, they have played a huge part. If California experiences a 50 percent Wisconsin-type drop in union members, however, the Democrat’s stranglehold in CA could be eased considerably. CTA’s position as “the co-equal fourth branch of government,” would be history. Not having an endless supply of cash, it would have to pick and choose its political recipients much more judiciously. Also if teachers and others aren’t forced to pay the union for the right to work, the unions would have to become more of a political big tent in order to entice workers to join. And Democrats, who regularly carp about “getting big money out of politics,” will – to some extent – finally get their wish.

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 School Gets to Continue Operations in Huntington Beach

Albert Einstein Academy of Literature, Arts and Science-Huntington Beach opened its doors to 164 K-5 students in August, 2014. The charter school, designated a Blended Learning Center, includes a home study program in addition to the tradition classroom program. The campus is an extension of AEA Santa Clarita, its authorizing authority.

Current enrollment has expanded to 244 students. Anticipated enrolment for the 2015/2016 academic year is 375 students, with an additional 214 names on the waiting list. The school has performed well since its first days. The students dress in uniforms, work hard and earn good grades.

The original charter with Santa Clarita was granted for only one year. Going forward, the school elected to submit a petition with local authorization to the Huntington Beach City School District. It was denied, as was discussed in an earlier article.

A revised petition was to have been submitted to the Orange County Board of Education for consideration at their June 17th meeting. Deliberations on more pressing matters forced the postponement of the discussion on the AEA petition until the July 9th OCBE meeting.

At the 11th hour, the school received notification that its new STEAM charter with its current authorizing partner, Acton-Agua Dulce Unified School District was granted. The new charter, effective July 2015, specifically allows for the continued operation of the Huntington Beach blended learning center.

The notification, issued to parents and members of the Board of Overseers on Wednesday evening, July 8th by CEO Tricia Blum, the former general counsel of the charter maintenance organization, came less than twenty-four hours before the school was scheduled to present its case to the Orange County Board of Education.

Huntington Beach City School District had denied the school’s petition, identifying confusing references to high school curriculum, lack of an adequate description of the educational program, questions regarding the legality of AADUSD allowing a charter outside its physical boundaries and the low probability of successful implementation as primary reasons for denial. The latter argument seems specious in light of the school’s demonstrated performance in its very first year of operation.

The school made revisions to the petition HBCSD denied, a process that the OCBE does allow. Informal discussion with OCBE staff revealed legitimate concerns that the revisions made could be construed as material revisions, something that is not allowed.

AEA was advised to withdraw its appeal to OCBE in order to re-submit the revised petition to HBCSD in August. The school will address all the concerns that the school district raised. The results will be discussed in a future post. We’re keeping our fingers crossed.

Future plans to add a secondary school campus will be impacted by the outcome of the charter petition. We are hoping for a favorable decision.

We congratulate AEA-HB and wish them continued success. When the school reopens in the fall, 375 young scholars will be the beneficiaries.

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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.

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.

Palm Lane: Right vs. Might

Palm Lane Elementary School in Anaheim, a failing school for at least the past decade, has become a battleground in the war against union power and its unconstrained efforts to retain absolute control over public education. At stake may be America’s future itself.

Palm Lane parents, disheartened by the school’s abysmal academic record [1] and the governing district’s resistance to change, sought relief by attempting to exercise the Parent Trigger Law, an option that enables them to petition the school district to transform the failing institution into a newly created public charter school.

Their efforts triggered a well-organized, bare-knuckles campaign by the unions and their representatives to undermine and defeat the mounting groundswell. The tactics included delays and obstructionism, intimidation and disinformation.

The parents organized and doubled down in their efforts. They issued a legal challenge to their powerful opponents in the form of a Writ of Mandate, asking the Orange County Superior Court to order the Anaheim City School District to grant their petition to become a public charter school.

The Parent Trigger Law, a bipartisan effort passed in 2010, allows failing public schools, hobbled by union rules that include controls over teacher performance, work schedule, curriculum, administrative duties and requirements, to be transformed into independent public charter schools.

Charter schools are exempt from the existing union stranglehold on public education. They are able to exercise independent control in the vital areas of hiring and firing of teachers, tenure, administrative duties and curriculum content. Most importantly, charter schools are exempt from the mandate requiring union membership for all California teachers.

SB 54 represents an existential nuclear threat to the union hegemon. The ability to end union control in even one public school is the ability to end union control over public education itself. The reality is apparent in the sometimes questionably legal tactics, outright thuggery and other desperate measures the unions have taken since the parents became activists.

The ability of unions to exercise their power and influence explains why Adelanto is the only public school to have successfully invoked the Parent Trigger Law. Palm Lane hopes to be the second and to inspire other parents to follow their lead.

No system is perfect. Inherent in the democratic process are structural flaws that weaken it. These are the endless legal challenges that drain time, energy and funds. The mechanics enable Might to triumph over Right. That is the union’s goal at Palm Lane.

The Palm Lane parents and their supporters, allies and advocates held a public press conference April 24th in an effort to address these issues, counteract the disinformation campaign and highlight the critical importance of their efforts for all of California’s public school students. The ramifications of the Court’s ruling on the Writ cannot be overstated.

Unions currently function like a politburo. They represent a clear and present danger to the values and traditions that have led to American exceptionalism, the education of the country’s future citizens. They must be defeated.

Palm Lane, Vegara and Friedrichs represent efforts to reassert the legal right of citizens guaranteed by the United States Constitution to determine their own destiny. This quality has defined the American character since our founding and stands in direct opposition to union goals. The Palm Lane parents deserve our admiration and support.

Union Watch will monitor the proceedings closely. We hope Right triumphs over Might.

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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.

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FOOTNOTE

(1) Palm Lane currently has 38% proficiency in English, 53% proficiency in math. This represents four-fold and two-fold improvements in the respective subjects since 2002. Current rankings are unavailable because the state elected not to test students for the 2013-2014 academic year.
The school provides a totally stripped- down curriculum that offers no courses in US or world history, science, geography, social studies, music, art, foreign language or of the traditional liberal arts subjects that are standard fare in private, parochial and first-tier public schools in most middle-class and affluent neighborhoods.

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Union Controlled Legislature Continues Assault on Charter Schools

When it comes to dealing with California’s successful, independent charter schools, powerful, monied special interests – and the lawmakers they fund – prefer a twist on the adage “If you can’t beat them, join them.” Their version: If you can’t beat them, destroy them. This was manifested last month when four Democratic lawmakers trumpeted their introduction of a packet of new bills increasing state regulations over charters, including heightened public reporting requirements, restricting for-profit operations, greater transparency and promotion of employee rights.

On paper, while the “reforms” use language of responsible government oversight, they represent yet another effort to erase what has made charter schools succeed: Independence from the labyrinth of education codes and laws strangling districts and negatively impacting student achievement.

Since enactment two decades ago, charter schools have faced hostility from teacher unions because most are not unionized, thereby reducing their income stream due to an inability to collect compulsory member dues. Yet charters have been extremely successful in producing academic outcomes for students, largely due to their freedom from the mandates and requirements constraining traditional schools.

Ironically, the bills were introduced within days of the Stanford University Center for Research on Education Outcomes release of a study showing that charter schools outperform traditional schools, particularly in urban areas, reinforcing the understanding that charter schools boost academic outcomes for minority and poor students.

Approximately 550,000 K-12 students are enrolled in California charter schools; an additional 91,000 linger on waiting lists. Parental demand for charter schools has soared, particularly from Latino and African American parents who are more likely to be trapped in chronically underperforming schools. Increasingly, parents are “voting with their feet,” seeking enrollment in charter schools or supporting conversion of “neighborhood” schools into charters.

Independent charter schools provide a striking contrast to traditional public schools through their prioritization of students. California’s education system is plagued with laws protecting the pay, perks and rights of unionized employees and ignoring needs of students. Last year, nine students successfully sued California seeking to overturn several union-backed statutes which combined to deny students a quality education. Hailed as the most significant education civil rights suit in decades, the case, Vergara v. California, is being appealed by teachers unions.

Undoubtedly, there is room for charter school reform. But that is not the intent: These bills are intended to squelch their growth by slashing their independence. They are sponsored by the California Teachers Association, California Federation of Teachers and California Labor Federation, which have been overtly hostile to charter schools.

One bill introduced at last week’s Sacramento press conference would establish charter schools as governmental entities and their employees as public employees, thereby giving them an increased ability to unionize. Not surprisingly, the lawmakers were joined by the CTA, CFT and the California Labor Federation – reinforcing the perception that the bills are more about jobs and dues rather than students and learning.

At the press conference, Assemblyman Roger Hernandez, D-West Covina, stated, “The ability to unionize is a civil right.” What he failed to say is that existing law permits unionization at charter schools, though most employees – about 85 percent – have chosen not to do so. Sadly, Hernandez has yet to speak on the students’ Vergara civil rights lawsuit – presumably because students don’t fund his campaign coffers.

About the Author:  Gloria Romero, a Los Angeles resident, served in the California Legislature from 1998 to 2008, the last seven years as Senate majority leader. Romero is the director of education reform for the California Policy Center. This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register and is republished here with permission from the author.