Posts

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.

The Latest Teachers Unions’ Monopoly Moves

April revealed the teachers unions’ desperation over losing control of top-down, one-size fits all government-run schools.

In many ways April was normal for teacher union monopolists. Early in the month, the Washington Teachers Union said it would challenge a new law in the Evergreen State that corrected problems in the way that charter schools, which had been marked for extinction, are funded. The modified law would allow their scant eight operating charters to remain open. Obviously that is eight too many for WTU, which is suing over the use of state funding for the schools, as well as their “lack of public accountability.”

Then just last week, writer and former California State Senator Gloria Romero reported that two Orange County Board of Education trustees’ seats are in danger. Being pro-charter and pro-parent are apparently too much for the Santa Ana Educators Association. The California Teachers Association local set up an entity called “Teachers for Local Control,” obviously a union-front group, whose goal is to dump the reformers based on the premise that they are “intent on destroying local control, devastating public education and usurping and overturning the wisdom of locally elected trustees.”

In both cases, it’s union turf-protecting business-as-usual.

But then came the real whacked-out stuff. On April 13th, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten wrote “A Coordinated National Effort to Decimate Public Schools” – an absolutely loopy piece – for Huffington Post. The factually challenged rant featured every lie imaginable about charter schools, and included a veritable Who’s Who of union bogeymen – Chris Christie, “hedge-fund billionaire” Dan Loeb, Eli Broad, the Walton Foundation, “Tea Party extremists,” et al. While Weingarten is certainly entitled to her opinion, she needed to be busted on her “facts” and two days later Margaret Raymond did just that in HuffPo. The director of the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University poked holes in just about every one of Weingarten’s claims. “In her blog, Weingarten states, ‘A well-regarded Stanford University study found that charter school students were doing only slightly better in reading than students in traditional public schools, but at the same time doing slightly worse in math.’ She refers to our 2013 study, ‘The National Charter School Study,’ but errs in both fact and interpretation.” You can read Raymond’s smackdown here.

But perhaps the most bizarre teacher union activity in April, again courtesy of AFT, took place last week in England, where according to the union’s press release, “The American Federation of Teachers, along with teachers unions and nongovernmental organizations throughout the world, will speak out during Pearson’s annual general meeting Friday, April 29, in London to call for a review of its business model that pushes high-stakes testing in the United States and privatized schools in the developing world.”

AFT has a long and complex relationship with Pearson. Twenty-seven of its affiliates have holdings in the global education company, including retirement systems in California, New York, Arkansas, Colorado, etc. The union thinks Pearson’s business model needs rejiggering and has decided to throw its weight around, stressing that the company should forsake its “test and punish policies.” Without getting into the anti-testing hysteria, it is downright bizarre to attack the company’s business model. They are in the business of making tests. What the heck does Weingarten expect them to do, stick a warning label on each test? “Overuse can lead to low self-esteem.” It’s akin to an obese person blaming their weight problem on Hostess for making and advertising Twinkies.

And then there is the non-existent horror of privatized schools in the developing world. Weingarten asserts, “Pearson needs to acknowledge the global right to free and accessible public education….” The union leader’s British counterpart, Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (known as “NUT” – no, I am not making this up), said Pearson’s involvement “with low-cost private schools in the Global South is jeopardizing access to education for many children. Education is a human and civil right and a public good, for the good of learners and society, not private profit. We hope that Pearson shareholders take on board the issues we are raising and support our resolution.”

So the union leaders want to advance their big government one-size-fits-all unionized education model and infect the rest of the world with what isn’t working well in the U.S. Perhaps the union leaders should read James Tooley’s The Beautiful Tree, an enchanting and inspiring account of the writer’s quest to discover “how the world’s poorest people are educating themselves.” Can you imagine kids getting an education without government or union meddling?! (Think early 19th Century America when literacy rates were higher than they are now.) Tooley’s travels took him to the teeming slums of Hyderabad, India, as well as other poverty-stricken areas and found that children “in low-cost private schools in India, Nigeria and Ghana outperformed students in government schools by double-digit margins in almost every subject.” We’re talking about ramshackle schools with mud floors, adjacent to open sewers, where parents pay $1-$2 a month in tuition because they are so disillusioned with the (frequently unionized) government schools.

In any event, Pearson’s board considered the unions’ resolution but recommended that its shareholders vote against it. And indeed they did. Only 2.4 percent bought the bilge, and the union resolution was defeated by 578,510,587 votes to 14,016,634.

With April in the books, what do our union friends have planned for May? Well, tomorrow there will be a “national walk-in.” Sponsored by The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, a union front-group, the event is intended to solidify support for traditional education and minimize the “damage” done by charters and other forms of school choice. Thankfully for the impoverished in the Third World, the union only plans their purely self-serving activity for the U.S. Obviously it isn’t just the Brits who are NUTs.

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 DivIdes of March

My latest battle against a teacher union leader….

Last month, Rebecca Friedrichs, lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against the California Teachers Association that was recently heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, and I were invited to talk about her case on Inside OC, a public affairs TV show in Orange County. Rebecca was given the first half of the show solo and the second half would see me debating her case against an unspecified union representative. I agreed to participate and was stunned a few days later when the show’s host, Rick Reiff, told me in an email that my sparring partner would be none other than CTA President Eric Heins.

After years of debunking teacher union spin, it’s always a pleasure to go face to face with these folks and expose their distortions. My first opportunity in this realm came in New York City in March, 2010 when Terry Moe, Stanford professor and expert-on-all-things-teachers-union, captained a debate team which included former Secretary of Education Rod Paige and me. Our opponents were Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, a school superintendent from Southern California and a teacher from Massachusetts. In the town where the modern teacher union movement was hatched, we won the debate handily; in fact we clobbered them. In a review of the debate, University of Arkansas professor and esteemed education reformer Jay Greene referred to it as a smackdown.

Three years later in March, 2013, I shared a stage in Mountain View with Moe again, former California State Senator Gloria Romero, who regularly battled the teachers unions during her time in Sacramento, and Heins’ predecessor at CTA, Dean Vogel. Though not a debate, the event sponsored by the Conservative Forum of Silicon Valley, saw sparks fly at various points as the three of us refused to let Vogel get away with any of the usual union bromides.

Now, three Marches later, I am going face-to-face with yet another union leader. The always articulate Rebecca kicked things off, talking for 15 minutes about the lawsuit – the tragedy of Justice Scalia’s death, her hope that the case will be reargued, the problems she had trying to make her dissident voice heard as a union member, the immorality of teachers unions protecting bad teachers and the fallacy of the free-rider argument.

Then Heins, who had a dislocated shoulder and had flown in from Burlingame to be a participant, got five minutes which he used to note what he claims to be the positive aspects of teachers unions – how teachers like Rebecca benefit from collective bargaining, that teachers unions benefit kids, etc.

At about 20 minutes in, I appear and do my best to refute Heins. I asked him why, if the union is so beneficial to teachers, they must be forced to pay dues. He claimed that it is because the union must represent all teachers. I had to remind him that exclusive representation is something demanded by – not foisted on – the unions.

When Heins again glorified the value of collective bargaining, I was tempted to rebut him, but refrained, and emphasized that the case is not at all about collective bargaining but rather about teachers’ freedom of choice. Heins then brought up the old “labor peace” argument, which to me is akin to Al Capone negotiating with Elliot Ness, with the Mafia Don explaining that, “You want peace? Let us partner with you.” Bad argument, because it makes the unions sound like extortionists, but then again….

The subject of tenure came up, and of course Heins immediately used the softer sounding phrase “due process,” though he did let its accurate name “permanent status” slip in once. He then extolled the virtue of the three man panel that considers and decides the fate of teachers accused of wrong-doing. But I countered that the panel is made up of two teacher-union members and an administrative law judge – all hand-picked by the union. Hardly a fair process.

At the end of the segment, Heins just had to dredge up the Koch brothers, signaling that the discussion has jumped the rails. The program came to an end at that point and there was only time for me to respond with an eye-roll. Fortunately, however, we were able to continue our discussion for another nine minutes, which is available on YouTube. We picked up on Heins’ Koch-bashing and I pointed out that the biggest political spender in California is not the Kochs or some large corporation, but rather CTA, whose political gifts are about double the second largest spender, also a union – the California State Council of Service Employees, a branch of SEIU.

Heins then veered into how democratically union decisions are made and that they respect minority views. I asked him if the union respected a Republican minority view and he assured me it did. I mentioned that his predecessor claimed that CTA membership was about 65 percent Democrat and 35 percent Republican. I asked Heins what proportion of their political giving goes to Republicans. He insisted that all their spending “is based on education policy” and that they support some Republicans. This is mostly a crock, but I did not bring up the following to refute him as we got side-tracked. What I wished I had said, was that about 97 percent of CTA political spending goes to Democrats, with the remaining crumbs going to the GOP. More importantly, I did not bring up where so much CTA spending goes. Despite Heins’ insistence that it based on education policy, it is not. For example, CTA has spent millions on initiatives to get drug discounts for Californians, to regulate electric service providers, to raise the corporate tax rate in the Golden State, etc. (The last one is especially hypocritical as CTA doesn’t pay one red cent in taxes.) The union also spent well over $1 million of teacher union dues fighting for same sex marriage.

I suggested that the union regularly buys politicians at which point Heins smiled and said that my comment was “cynical spin.” Hardly. We then discussed seniority which Heins thought was quite fair, while I, along with many other reformers, think it is an abominable way to make staffing decisions.

At the end of the session, Reiff said, “We needed an hour!” and he was right. There was way too much ground to cover in such a brief time. The following day I sent a message to Heins telling him I would be willing to do an hour with him anytime, anywhere. I have yet to hear back.

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.

Glazer Victory Proves Government Union Reform Is Bipartisan

Steve Glazer is a symbol of change.

The Democrat mayor of Orinda, Glazer, won a decisive victory over Concord Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla in last week’s special election for the vacant 7th District State Senate seat. Given California’s open primary system, it was a Democrat vs. Democrat runoff in which Glazer’s foes resorted to attacking him as being a DINO – Democrat in Name Only.

Glazer identifies as a progressive Democrat and is a former political consultant to Governor Brown. While his election will not reverse the Democrats’ stronghold on the Senate, his rejection of blind party loyalty beholden to powerful special interests – led by public sector unions – marked him a target to defeat by these unions and Democratic Party bosses dependent on them.

Glazer’s victory wasn’t cheap. In fact, much of both Bonilla’s and Glazer’s electioneering was paid for by special interests, which spent more than $7 million in the runoff to support their candidate – more than three times what the candidates raised.

Labor unions and the California Democratic Party backed Bonilla – defining her as the “true” Democrat. Outside interests, like charter schools and the business community (including one wealthy businessman) matched their spending prowess, funding Glazer’s campaign.

Political reformers are hopeful that Glazer’s election could become the poster child for a more independent Democrat in California – one who remains loyal to the party on most social issues, including support for fighting climate change, reproductive rights, higher education expansion and accessibility, but more restrained on fiscal issues, including taxation, pensions and the rights of public sector unions to strike.

Privately, many Democratic officials resent the seemingly unabated power commanding policy and electoral outcomes in Sacramento, but fear confrontation with the hand that feeds them. There is a thin blue line in the political world for Democrats, many choosing to “go along to get along” to lengthen their political careers – but, in the process of doing so, they perpetuate California’s fiscal dysfunction and block reforms, particularly in education and pension systems.

Glazer had conviction and courage. This week he was sworn in having looked the most powerful special interests in the eye and taken them on by any means necessary, including targeting his message to a more independent voter likely to vote in a special election, while his opponent’s supporters tried to paint him as a new type of political devil trying to falsely gain entrance into the Democratic Party. Steve Maviglio, a Democratic political consultant, railed that Glazer was “an opportunist” who would become “an island in the State Senate since neither D’s or R’s will trust him.”

On election night, Shawnda Westly, executive director of the California Democratic Party, rather than congratulating him, seemed to embarrassingly be in denial that a Democrat didn’t have to follow her dictate and could actually be independent and win. She publicly lashed out at Glazer, releasing a scathing “official” statement from the party saying that “[Glazer] claimed to be Democrat but ran a cynical campaign to appeal to Republican voters in a low-turnout election” and, essentially, warning that future candidates shouldn’t think about doing what he did.

Boo hoo for party bosses.

Bravo for independent candidates of all stripes – those bold enough to not drink the Kool-Aid of power as dictated to them by others; bold enough to actually have a spine.

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.

California Democrat Goes Rogue, Incurs Government Union Wrath

It didn’t take long for “the brotherhood” of status quo politics to pile on. Within hours of former Assembly member Joan Buchanan having lost her election bid for Northern California’s 7th Senate District seat in last week’s special election to fill the vacancy, she endorsed labor-embraced and fellow Democratic Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord. Together, they joined the panoply of monied special interests led by public sector unions that are largely funding the Democratic Party, to defeat a third Democrat – independent Steve Glazer.

Glazer describes himself as “fiscally conservative, socially progressive.” He is the mayor of Orinda and former political aide to Gov. Jerry Brown. Glazer brandishes “blue” credentials in California, having worked for decades to support Democratic candidates and causes.

But a funny thing happened on the way to governing California: Glazer ran afoul of the Democratic Party establishment when he started challenging the power of public sector unions on municipal and state government. Glazer supported banning strikes by public transit workers, embraced pension reforms and campaigned to elect more business friendly Democrats.

Millions of dollars were spent to try to bury Glazer on Election Day, prompting questions on whether there is a zero tolerance policy in the Democratic party against independent-minded Democrats.

Yet, on Election Night, Glazer not only survived, but emerged as the top vote-getter. A May runoff is scheduled.

Glazer stands out because it is rare for Democrats to “go rogue” and support labor-opposed changes to teacher tenure or curbing government pensions. Despite the “big tent” image, discourse and dissent is disallowed, despite growing public support for these reforms. Party-supported candidates are reminded that the hand that feeds them comes with a demand of loyalty.

If not, as was done to Glazer, they become labeled with the equivalent of a political red-letter A: abandonment of the Democratic Party for not remaining subservient to the interests of those who fund them. Forget 50 shades – can Democrats even be allowed to display more than one shade of blue? Yet, the dirty laundry of adherence to blind allegiance has erupted into public view in recent election cycles.

Indeed, in 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama lost favor with the National Education Association for his support of holding teachers and schools accountable and linking student outcome data to teacher evaluations. Since then, he and his Education secretary have largely earned the wrath of national teachers unions.

In the most-recent Los Angeles mayoral election, Eric Garcetti defeated a fellow Democrat largely by portraying his opponent as blindly subservient to the city unions that had endorsed her. Today, Democratic Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel faces a re-election runoff due to his willingness to battle Chicago’s powerful teachers unions.

Meanwhile, in Orange County’s special election to fill another vacant state Senate seat, two Republicans battled each other. Former county Supervisor John Moorlach – the candidate who refused to accept campaign contributions from labor unions – claimed outright victory in that Republican stronghold district. His opponent, Assemblyman Don Wagner, R-Tustin, was financed by labor unions who perceived him to be more allegiant to the state’s public sector unions.

The outcomes of both elections – one in a Democratic and one in a Republican stronghold district – send strong signals that voters desire to reclaim their party, and not allow candidates to be constricted to only one shade of red or blue. The challenge now is to seek independence in California’s remaining 38 Senate districts, 80 Assembly districts and every statewide and constitutional office.

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.

Parent Trigger & Open Enrollment – Ways to Cope With Union Controlled Schools

In January 2010 the California’s legislature passed into law, perhaps uncharacteristically, an excellent new law. Entitled “Public schools: Race to the Top,” SB 54 created two mechanisms for parents to exert greater control over the education of their children.

There are two components:

(1) The Open Enrollment Act mandates that the California Department of Education to annually create a list of 1,000 schools ranked by their Academic Performance Index. Parents whose children are enrolled in these schools have the right to transfer them to a better performing school.

(2) The “Parent Trigger” Law, which allows parents to transform their own schools if 50% of parents sign a petition to seek a change at their chronically underperforming school.

Open enrollment has had an immediate benefit to California’s parents in poor schools, both because individually parents have been able to get their children out of poor schools, and also because the mere ability of parents to remove their students from poor schools provides a powerful incentive for school management to try harder to improve. From the California Dept. of Education, pursuant to SB 54, here is the list of the bottom 1,000 schools in California (Excel spreadsheet):  Open Enrollment Schools List 2015–16. To view this list in PDF format, here is the the same list as posted by former state senator (and co-author of SB 54) Gloria Romero’s California Center for Parent Empowerment (PDF file)Open Enrollment Schools List 2015–16.

The parent trigger law has a potentially much greater impact, because it literally empowers parents to take over management of an underperforming school if a majority of them sign a petition. It is important to clarify that the criteria for an “underperforming school” is not the same as the criteria used for the 1,000 K-12 schools with the lowest Academic Performance Index scores. Here is how these lists are compiled:

Open Enrollment List:

Every year the results of standardized academic achievement tests, administered to every K-12 public school student, are compiled by school and by school district. In the most recent academic year, the composite score for these tests for all K-12 students in California was 790. The open enrollment list was supposed to be the 1,000 schools with the lowest scores. For example, on the current list, the lowest score belongs to Oakland International High School with an API of 374. But in the compromises made in order to pass the bill, among other things, the published list of open enrollment schools cannot include more than 10% of the schools in any given school district. This gives the worst school districts in the state a pass, and actually leads to some schools getting onto the list that probably don’t deserve to be there. Nonetheless, at least those parents whose children attend these 1,000 schools have choices, and that is a very good thing.

Parent Trigger Eligible List:

The parent trigger list is compiled according to a more complicated formula. In summary, the criteria is as follows: Any school that has an API lower than 800, AND has failed to improve its API score in each of the last four years, is a parent trigger eligible school. The process of accurately compiling this list is tedious, requiring the analyst to research multiple CA Dept. of Education reports for multiple years while navigating several exclusions that complicate the selection process. But there aren’t carve-outs that prevent, for example, 90% of the schools in an underperforming district from any accountability, such as is the case with the open enrollment list. Here is a list of Parent Trigger Eligible schools in Orange County, compiled by the organization Excellent Educational Solutions (PDF file): Trigger Eligible Schools in Orange County. The entire list is also posted on the table below – note that Palm Lane Elementary is not on this eligibility list because they have already been “triggered.” Also, some schools on the Orange County list have 3 year API averages that exceed 800. This can be because their most recent API has fallen below 800 even though the three year average is still above 800, or due to other complexities in the actual formula.

The parent trigger eligible list is a powerful resource that ought to be prepared and posted online every year by the California State Board of Education. As can be seen, there are 125 schools just in Orange County where the management of these schools can be potentially taken over by parents if 50% or more of them sign a petition. Imagine how many thousands of schools in California must be on a statewide list?

To-date, parent trigger has only been tried three times in California. In Compton, the effort ultimately failed. In Adelanto, the effort was successful (ref. Wikipedia “Parent Trigger” – Compton, Adelanto). Now the battle has moved to Palm Lane Elementary School in Orange County, where on January 14, 2015, petitions representing over 50% of the parents of the enrolled students were turned in.

When one examines the political consensus that was forged in the California Legislature back in 2010 by Democratic senator Gloria Romero and her Republican co-sponsor Bob Huff, what is evident is the astonishing power of bipartisanship on the issue of quality education. When one considers the parents who recently turned in petitions to transform Palm Lane Elementary School, and the broad spectrum of community activists who support them, again what is evident is the astonishing power of bipartisanship on the issue of quality education. SB 54 triggers not only parent empowerment, but alliances that transcend conventional politics. It is something to be watched and nurtured.

 Trigger Eligible Schools in Orange County20150127-UW_OC-Trigger-Schools*   *   *

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

Union-dues case moves closer to Supreme Court

Sometimes you win by losing.

That’s precisely what occurred last week, when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted the motion by Rebecca Friedrichs’ attorneys to decide her case (Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association) on the basis of the pleadings, without a trial or additional oral arguments.

The “loss” actually means that plaintiffs – several California public school teachers – can immediately file a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court without having to wait the one to two years it usually takes to get a case through the 9th Circuit before appealing to the Supreme Court. The Center for Individual Rights – counsel for Friedrichs and the other teacher plaintiffs – worked to expedite the proceedings. Essentially, they elected to “lose” in the lower courts, reinforcing their contention that only the Supreme Court has authority to grant them their petitioned relief.

The ruling was the result of a tactical maneuver by plaintiffs to get their motion for a decision on the pleadings in front of a motions panel that is assigned monthly to consider procedural motions rather than allowing it to languish until a panel could be assigned to hear the substantive appeal. The motions panel ruled there is nothing of substance to decide in Friedrichs because it is governed by past Supreme Court precedent, which the 9th Circuit is powerless to overturn.

According to plaintiff’s counsel Terry Pell, “This is a big development. It means we are within spitting distance of the Supreme Court. It also means that Friedrichs is all but certain to be the case where the court either allows compulsory dues to continue or ends the practice. It leaves no middle ground.”

Plaintiffs anticipate the court will take the case in spring 2015, with a 2016 decision.

Friedrichs involves a state’s right to require public employees, including teachers, to pay union dues, called “agency shop” laws. Twenty-six states, including California, require such. Friedrichs argues this violates free-speech rights.

Friedrichs has national implications. “This case is about the right of teachers to decide for themselves whether they want to join a union. If we win, we will not just strike down the law in California but compulsory union-dues laws nationally,” Pell explained.

While California teachers are not required to join the union, they still must pay union dues, but they can get a refund of the approximately one-third of dues that CTA claims goes toward political action.

Plaintiffs argue the case concerns the First Amendment right of public employees to decide for themselves whether to join and financially support a union. Their case argues that collective bargaining activities are just as political as anything else the union does, and contend that the government cannot compel individuals to financially support the political positions taken by unions in collective bargaining negotiations.

CTA has argued that compulsory dues are needed to prevent employees from “free riding” – gaining the benefits of union membership, including collective bargaining on their behalf, without paying for them.

Last June, the Supreme Court stopped short of doing away with compulsory dues in a 5-4 ruling in Harris v. Quinn.

I recently opined on the outsized political influence CTA wields on California legislative policy and elections. With 325,000 members, and the collection of mandatory dues from members, it usually gets its way in the Capitol, and in most elections. If the Supreme Court rules that individual public employees are not bound to pay dues to their unions, CTA’s money chest – and its political hegemony – will be diminished, inextricably altering the balance of power in California.

This is the case that may decide it all: hence, all eyes are on it.

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 founder of the California Center for Parent Empowerment, established by in order to empower public school parents–especially those with children trapped in chronically underperforming schools–to understand and use the Parent Empowerment Act of 2010. This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register and is republished here with permission from the author.

Parents Need a Private School Option When Public Schools Fail

As the need for vouchers increases, the politics of school privatization gets interestinger and interestinger.

“Some NYC teachers: ‘Don’t send your kids here!’” screamed the headline in a New York Post article last week. The damning story goes on to explain how over 80 percent of the teachers in eight public schools – including charters – said they would “never recommend those schools to children.”

At two of the schools — Foundation Academy HS in Brooklyn and recently-closed Monroe Academy for Business and Law in The Bronx — 100 percent of teachers who answered the survey said they’d tell parents to pull their kids.

“The school was a mess,” said Lourdes Lebron, a former PTA president at Foundation. “The environment was horrible. There were fights. The school didn’t even have a yearbook. What memories are the students going to have about the school? These kids got nothing.”

There were several reasons given for these intolerable situations. Some blamed the administrators of the schools, while others blamed the city. A few administrators claimed that disgruntled teachers, having been let go, were just being spiteful.

Whatever.

The question becomes, “What are the parents of the kids attending those schools supposed to do now?” Given that some of the schools are charters – usually a better alternative than local traditional schools – and given that New York has no private school choice program, it seems that these families will have no option but to shell out money for a private school … if they can afford one.

This story reminded me of others dating back to the 1990s.

In 1993, columnist George Will was on “This Week With David Brinkley” and asserted that “50 percent of urban area public school teachers with school-age children send their children to private schools. What do they know that we ought to know?” National Education Association president Keith Geiger, also on the show, attempted to trump Will with a lame gotcha, “It’s actually 40 percent.” Geiger clearly gotcha’d himself.

More than a decade later, nothing much had changed. A study by the Fordham Institute in 2004 found that in big cities many teachers send their own kids to private schools.

In Philadelphia, 44 percent of the teachers put their children in private schools.

Cincinnati – 41 percent

Chicago – 39 percent

Rochester, N.Y. – 38 percent

San Francisco-Oakland area – 34 percent

New York City – 33 percent.

Well, it sure is nice that so many urban public school teachers choose not to send their children to those icky public schools. But what about the parents of kids who can’t afford to do that? What are they supposed to do? According to many teachers and the unions they belong to, well, suck it up.

But there is a solution and it’s called a voucher or opportunity scholarship, which enables a child to use public funds to attend a private school. And no one knows their advantages better than African-Americans and Hispanics.

In fact, the country’s first voucher law came into being in 1989 via a joint effort of the recently deceased Polly Williams, a black Democratic Milwaukee state assemblywoman, and Tommy Thompson, the white Republican governor of Wisconsin.

A 1999 survey by Public Agenda, a nonpartisan research group, found that 68 percent of blacks favor vouchers. In 2007, an Education Next poll showed that 68 percent of African-Americans and 61 percent of Hispanics favor the private school option.

A 2014 survey by the Friedman Foundation showed that blacks and Latinos are the groups most likely to favor vouchers.

When you look at the Washington D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, it’s hardly surprising that so many minorities see vouchers as their ticket to a better life. The program has averaged a 93 percent graduation rate, with 90 percent of those graduates enrolling in college, and a 92 percent parent satisfaction rate since 2010. (The grad rate in D.C. traditional public schools is supposedly 64 percent, but even that dismal number is questionable.)

While there are 39 private choice programs in 18 states and D.C. that help those in need, there aren’t nearly enough to match the demand. And the issue has some very interesting political ramifications. While a majority of Republicans have long favored this kind of school choice, Democrats have fought fiercely against it, having aligned with the adamantly anti-choice teachers unions. But things are changing; over the past several years, more and more courageous Dems have been bucking the establishment and fighting passionately for school choice. In addition to the aforementioned Williams and her partner in crime, the great Howard Fuller, long time Democrat strategist Joe Trippi, former California state senator Gloria Romero (who now runs the Foundation for Parent Empowerment) and hedge-fund manager and self-described “pragmatic, realist liberal” Whitney Tilson have become apostates. And many more are now lining up for the cause.

Included in the “breakaway Dems” category is Kevin Chavous, a former D.C. councilman who has been deeply involved in a myriad of education reform groups for years. After the Nov. 4th election, he wrote an op-ed for USA Today in which he acknowledged that the results exposed a schism within the Democratic Party.

Hidden in the news coverage of the midterm elections looms a bigger problem for my fellow Democrats than just a bad night at the polls: the voters’ wholesale rejection of the party’s most powerful backers: teachers’ unions. Led by the NEA and AFT, the national teachers’ unions boasted of spending $80 million in this election to defeat candidates who support vouchers, teacher accountability and other promising education reforms. They lost. And they lost big.

The aftermath offers a lesson to the Democratic Party — and Hillary Clinton — as they prepare for 2016.

What a great irony it would be in 2016 if the Democrats, led by Hillary Clinton, suddenly found themselves on the wrong side of a major civil rights issue. (Emphasis added.)

The teacher’s unions know they are on the losing side of this fight, even if they desperately hope that national Democrats aren’t paying attention. For months Randi Weingarten, the current president of the American Federation of Teachers, has been a fixture on TV screens vowing to stop candidates challenging the status quo education establishment. After the election, she canceled a scheduled press call. There was little good news to report.

The normally demure Condoleezza Rice took it one step further. On a radio show last week, she bluntly stated,

Poor black kids trapped in failing neighborhoods schools, that’s the biggest race problem of today. That’s the biggest civil rights issue of today. Anybody who isn’t in favor of school choice, anybody who isn’t in favor of educational reform, anybody who defends the status quo in the educational system, that’s racist to me.

Neither teacher union leaders nor traditional Dems have weighed in on Chavous’ op-ed or Rice’s statement, but I think it’s clear that the division in the Democratic Party is growing into a gaping chasm. School choice has become a powerful wedge issue and has brought with it a great irony, as alluded to by Kevin Chavous. There are still many who consider themselves “progressive” who want to keep an outdated and sclerotic zip-code-mandated public education system in place. And it’s the stodgy old conservatives who want to – if not blow up – radically alter and improve the dreadful status quo for millions of kids that the progressives claim to care about.

As an optimist, I believe that at some point, enough Dems will tell their union buds to kiss off and embrace vouchers. When that happens, a tipping point will be reached and there will be no turning back. That will be a great day for the most vulnerable children of America, who will be liberated from the wretched public schools that teachers refuse to send their own kids to.

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 Unions’ Election Day Thumping

“Teachers Unions Take a Beating in Midterm Races”

“Teachers Unions Take a Shellacking”

“Teachers Unions Get Schooled in 2014 Election”

The above is just a small sampling of post-election headlines which flooded the media after last Tuesday’s historic election, which generated a major political shakeup in the nation’s capital as well as state houses from coast to coast. While it was a bad day for Democrats in general, perhaps the biggest losers were the nation’s teachers unions.

Unions, especially the teacher’s variety, had a lot on the line, and except for two wins, the rest of the key contests were nothing short of disastrous. Perhaps their number one target was Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who had minimized teachers’ collective bargaining “rights.” Michigan governor Rick Snyder wasn’t far behind Walker on the union hit list for the same reasons, but both incumbents won handily. The unions went after Florida governor Rick Scott for expanding school choice in the Sunshine State, but he prevailed over challenger Charlie Crist. Especially galling for organized labor was the victory in Illinois (Illinois!) where Republican pro-voucher businessman Bruce Rauner ran against incumbent governor Pat Quinn. Rauner clearly expressed disdain for union bosses on several occasions, accusing them of “bribing politicians to give them unaffordable pensions, free healthcare, outrageous pay and benefits and they’re bankrupting our state government, they’re raising our taxes and they’re forcing businesses out of the state, and as a result we’ve got brutally high unemployment.” Apparently, Rauner’s blunt message resonated with voters; he won by five points.

Many other Republicans were victorious in gubernatorial races in traditional blue states, including Maryland, Massachusetts and Maine. It got so bad for the unions that the one Republican they backed – Allen Fung for governor of Rhode Island – lost to Democrat Gina Raimondo who, as treasurer, worked to rein in out-of-control public employee pension spending. That, of course, incurred the wrath of Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Education reformers were thrilled with the results. “I’d call it a mandate for change sent boldly from voters,” Kara Kerwin, president of the Center for Education Reform, said in a statement. “Governors-elect in these states have proven themselves to be champions of reforms during their tenure as incumbent state executives, or have run on platforms that don’t shy away from being really vocal, putting students and parents first.”

“A bunch of these guys did stuff you’re not supposed to be able to do. They tackled pensions in purple states. They modified collective bargaining. They fought expansively for school choice,” said Rick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. “What that says to me is the unions need to rethink some of their assumptions about what the world’s going to look like going forward.”

The union response to the thumping was varied. Randi Weingarten essentially blamed it on President Obama in a press release. “It’s clear that many believe this country is on the wrong track and voted for change. Republicans successfully made this a referendum on President Obama’s record and won resoundingly, but where the election was about everyday concerns—education, minimum wage, paid sick leave—working families prevailed.” She then pointed to the two needle-in-a-haystack union victories to crow about – the ouster of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett and Tom Torlakson’s narrow victory over challenger Marshall Tuck in the race for California Superintendent of Public Instruction.

National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen García, whose “heart was heavy” was a bit more realistic. “We knew this was going to be an uphill battle. But I don’t think anybody on our side, and we’ve got some very savvy people, anticipated going over the falls like this. Tectonic plates have shifted. And we’re going to have to come back with a new way of organizing for these kinds of races.”

Eskelsen Garcia’s heart may have been heavy, but the teachers unions’ political coffers are a whole lot lighter. The final tallies won’t be known for a while, but it is estimated that the two unions spent at least $70 million in this election cycle – more than in any other year ever.

The Washington Free Beacon’s Bill McMorris writes,

The NEA was the second-largest Super PAC donor of the 2014 cycle, spending more than $22 million to aid Democratic candidates for federal office. The federal spending was on top of an estimated $28 million push at the state and local level….

The AFT had said it planned on spending $20 million during the 2014 cycle, a ten-fold increase from the $2 million it spent on 2010, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

It’s worth noting these lofty numbers don’t include any money that was spent by the unions’ state and local affiliates. The California Teachers Association spent $11 million alone to fend off Tuck’s challenge to Torlakson for the Superintendent of Public Instruction position. Speaking of which….

Usually this scenario – union-backed-incumbent vs. guy-no-one-has-heard-of is a real snooze-fest and the former wins easily. But not this time. Tuck matched his rival Democrat in spending and did well in many parts of the state, winning the more conservative counties of Riverside, San Bernardino, Orange, and Kern. He got clobbered, however, in the gentrified areas – Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Mendocino and Marin – where many parents opt to avoid the public schools.

Low voter turnout also played a role. EdSource’s John Fensterwald reports,

Torlakson beat Tuck with 2,266,000 to 2,085,000 votes – a difference of 181,000 votes – with thousands of absentee ballots still to be counted. The total vote of 4.35 million was 900,000 fewer than the 5.2 million votes cast for governor and about 700,000 fewer – 14 percent – than for secretary of state, the only other closely contested statewide contest on the ballot, despite the tens of millions of dollars spend on ads and mailers by both sides in the superintendent race.  

One important thing Torlakson had working for him was that Tuck was an unknown. As John Fensterwald explains, “For most voters, he was a blank canvas that Torlakson and his allies painted darkly. In ads, they attacked him as a Wall Street banker – a reference to a banking job he had right out of college – working with billionaires to privatize and dismantle public schools.”

But the biggest factor in Torlakson’s reelection – in addition to the $11 million gift from CTA – was the fabled teacher union ground game. The low voting numbers gave the unions and their get-out-the-vote messaging a huge advantage that is very difficult to overcome. In fact, U-T San Diego’s Steve Greenhut quotes founder of the California Center for Parent Empowerment and former CA State Senate majority leader Gloria Romero “… You can’t buy this seat and that was Tuck’s and his donors’ mistake. There is a political machine that CTA controls, which would never show up in those stupid polls …. It’s money after money. Below that great green wall is an army.”

Then there was also the voter ignorance factor. Tuck, unlike Torlakson, strongly favored the Vergara decision – where a judge ruled the tenure, seniority and dismissal statutes needed to be eliminated from the state education code – and made it an important part of his campaign. But as City Journal’s Ben Boychuk points out “… polls showed that Vergara resonated weakly with voters. Though 42 percent of likely California voters ranked education as their top priority this year, and the vast majority of voters surveyed after Treu’s ruling agreed that the state should do away with “last hired, first fired” seniority protections, nearly 60 percent said they didn’t know what the lawsuit was about.

So we had Tuck, a no-name candidate, without a ground game, whose messaging failed to reach a low-information populace and who suffered a poor voter turnout, fighting against a man backed by the most powerful state teachers union in the country – and Tuck still lost by only four percentage points. I would call this something of a moral victory, and reformers should not despair; they are a few tweaks away from winning. But they must develop more of a grassroots approach to campaigning – as victorious Republicans did in other states – if the unacceptable educational status quo is to be upended. Tuck acknowledged the sad reality in his concession speech,

Today, one day after this election, there are still 2.5 million children in California public schools who can’t read and write at grade level.  Those children are counting on all of us to take every action necessary to give them a better education and a chance at a better future.

I look forward to continuing to do my part in the collective effort to ensure that each child gets the education they need to achieve their dreams.

So while the rest of the country took a bold step and almost universally denied teachers union candidates, we in California still have work to do.

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.

Election Lessons for Education Reformers

Results from the Nov. 4 yielded both hits and misses regarding prospects for advancing education reform in the Golden State, along with a few immediate lessons:

Understand your fight

You can’t buy elections – especially the obscure post of superintendent of Public Instruction, a constitutional office created seemingly to operate as a wholly owned subsidiary of the California Teachers Association, on the taxpayer’s dime.

Money is the mother’s milk of politics, and an obscene amount of it was dumped into efforts to elect former investment banker/school operator Marshall Tuck. Wealthy backers spent millions of dollars to win the seat – clearly understanding the role of money. But their Achilles heel was failing to understand machine politics and the formidable role they play in statewide elections. Buyers, beware: this isn’t just a Chicago story. Welcome to the underbelly of California politics.

Astute observers understood that there was never doubt current Superintendent Tom Torlakson would prevail. Tuck’s backers tried the “unleash the money” strategy; one backer alone contributed $3.4 million. Their view was simply “money versus money.”

But CTA is the biggest political special interest in California, with moneybags, and manpower to match – an organized army tethered to the Democratic Party and its political operation. Together, they ensured the victory for CTA’s guy, Torlakson.

Tuck’s camp threw money at the race – without also building the ground game needed to take on the machine. Critical to that ground game is recognizing that this can no longer be done from the top; the era of rich white men pontificating on reforms needed for overwhelmingly minority communities is past (see next lesson).

A new strategy is needed, including a focus on disrupting the machine. Hence, the lawsuit, Friedrichs vs. CTA, a challenge to the mandatory union dues that fuel the machine, could become a game-changer if decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Coupled with the next two lessons, real reform could now be envisioned.

Remember Nixon went to China 

In the race for the Bay Area’s 16th Assembly District, many of us parked our party affiliations and willingly crossed the political aisle to elect a candidate not beholden to CTA: moderate Republican Catharine Baker. She upset Democrat Tim Sbranti, a former chairman of the CTA’s Political Involvement Committee.

Baker understood that smart coalitions matter, joining independent-minded Democrats like me, Steve Glazer and others fed up with CTA’s stranglehold on weary voters. She galvanized women, Democrats, Republicans and Independents to defeat CTA’s heir apparent in the district.

In a politically blue state, education reformers, particularly Democrats, need to willingly cross the aisle to elect reform candidates not from our own party. Nixon left the political comfort zone and, in going to China, unfurled a whole new world. We must, too.

Latino parents are not a Democratic Party debit card.

Latino candidates tethered to CTA moneybags lost by decisive margins, including Orange County candidates Jose Solorio (state Senate), Sharon Quirk-Silva (state Assembly) and Jose F. Moreno (Anaheim City Council), who ignored pleas from Anaheim Latino parents to help them reform their children’s failing schools by using California’s Parent Empowerment Act.

Public opinion polls continue to reflect strong support among Latinos for school choice and opportunity. Democrats, funded by CTA, have blocked school choice reforms, providing an opening to Republicans to fight for the hearts, minds and votes of Latinos (coupled with getting their act together on sensible immigration reform).

This election illustrated that Latinos, as well as Asians, are free agents in an otherwise special-interest-dominated political system. Coalescing these communities will provide dynamic, winning combinations for education reform in California.

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 founder of the California Center for Parent Empowerment, established by in order to empower public school parents–especially those with children trapped in chronically underperforming schools–to understand and use the Parent Empowerment Act of 2010. This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register and is republished here with permission from the author.

Parent Trigger Law Empowers Parents to Stand Up to Teachers Union

The names Doreen Diaz and Bartola Del Villar appear nowhere in the text of the Parent Empowerment Act, also known as the Parent Trigger, that I wrote in 2010. The law empowers parents to bypass the political paralysis of our education bureaucracy that is responsible for perpetuating the status quo failure of our schools.

Today, Doreen and Bartola personify why the law was written: they were leaders in using it to become the first parents in California to successfully transform their neighborhood school – which had been state-identified as failing for years, having the lowest academic performance record in the entire Adelanto School District.

Now, with a motto of “be the change we want to see,” the two have become a Thelma and Louise of the election cycle, taking their fight for reform “from the outside” to seeking reform of the beast itself by seeking seats on the five-member elected Adelanto school board that is still dominated by the status quo interests they battled.

Undoubtedly, the law has given credence to the view that parents should be the true architects of their children’s educational futures.

Increasingly, parents are mobilizing to “trigger” change at failing schools. Most recently, parents in Anaheim challenged their own school board members to transform a school languishing in “Program Improvement” need for 10 years. They understand it is no fairytale to want quality schools and are willing to fight for it.

Doreen and Bartola made national headlines when they and other Adelanto parents became the first to trigger the change at their school. Today, they are satisfied with initial academic performance results of the newly established Desert Trails charter school which is showing increased performance for students. Previously, three out of four students at the school weren’t even reading at their grade level.

I joined them last Friday to walk precincts on their behalf under a hot Adelanto sun, talking to voters we encountered about why they now want to bring the message – and reality – of parent empowerment to the entire board. A victory for Bartola and Doreen would ensure that a new reform majority prevails.

“Enough is enough,” said Doreen. “Parents are tired of the same old, same old. We don’t just want to sit on the board, we want to mobilize parents to take back their school district – establish a new culture of leadership and a belief that every school can succeed.”

Not surprisingly, the teachers’ union has endorsed a slate of union-friendly candidates, hoping to defeat Doreen and Bartola and their questioning of a proposed sweetheart contract granting teachers a 5 percent retroactive pay increase and 8 percent pay increases for the next several years.

“Adelanto is bankrupt,” explained Doreen. “Most teachers don’t even live here, yet want pay compatible with high cost-of-living regions. But it will be Adelanto parents – mostly working class – who will pay the bill. Teachers are even refusing to consider working 60 minutes more in exchange for substantive pay increases. No reforms are tied to the demands.”

What will boost achievement is a restructuring of the board in its entirety so that parent voices – not the interests of special groups demanding pay increases despite anemic student outcomes – predominate. Doreen and Bartola recognize that transforming one school is not enough: Districts need systemic change to ensure they serve students first.

“When that happens, the spirit of Parent Trigger and the legacy of our Desert Trails school will be truly understood,” Doreen said.

Few Californians will ever read the California Education Code. But many more will meet Doreen and Bartola – mothers who give life to the law I wrote. Their win will be a win for us all.

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 founder of the California Center for Parent Empowerment, established by in order to empower public school parents–especially those with children trapped in chronically underperforming schools–to understand and use the Parent Empowerment Act of 2010. This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register and is republished here with permission from the author.

Anaheim Teachers Union Intimidates Their Members

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher and president of California Teachers Empowerment Network, summarized it succinctly: “Ah, the commissar has spoken from on high!”

The “commissar” is none other than the president of the Anaheim Elementary Education Association, Kristen Fisher, who dispatched an email to dues-paying union members on Oct. 6.

It seems that Fisher is more than a bit peeved that members are rejecting the union leader’s endorsements made significantly prior to the close of election filing periods. Some members are taking to the streets to walk precincts for the candidate of their choice, former principal Roberto Baeza, who was not even invited to a screening interview by the union’s Political Action Committee charged with making recommendations for endorsement. Further exacerbating Fisher’s frustration was that these members had the audacity to wear their own union T-shirts while talking to voters about why they believed Baeza would be the better representative for students – as well as teachers.

Apparently, the wearing of T-shirts emblazoned with the union logo was just too much bucking of union status quo interests, causing Fisher to issue her directive – from on high – in a mass email blast to all members.

On Oct. 6 she issued the strident reprimand, writing in part:

“AEEA officially endorse(d) the candidates our high school counterpart (ASTA) endorsed. Please cease and desist engaging in activities that weaken our union – specifically, wearing AEEA T-shirts while walking for nonendorsed candidate(s). This is not about your freedom to support candidates of your choice. This is about our association, our union.”

It didn’t take long for members to challenge the reprimand, favoring the U.S. Constitution and First Amendment rights over Fisher’s order to stand down.

When asked about her reprimand, Fisher responded that she had “no concerns” about violating First Amendment rights. “This is about misrepresenting AEEA,” she argued. However, she admitted that AEEA has no policy on the rights of members to wear T-shirts with a union logo when campaigning for candidates other than those chosen by their own PAC.

Indeed, Frank Wells, California Teachers Association’s communications representative in Southern California also verified that CTA, with whom AEEA is affiliated, has no policy on the matter, even candidly expressing his view that Fisher’s email was a bit “extreme.” Nonetheless, he shared Fisher’s concern over the possibility of “misrepresentation” of the union when members campaign for nonendorsed candidates wearing the union T-shirt.

The leaked email, while pertaining to a local Anaheim school board race, raises implications of the rights of union members who in states like California are mandated by law to pay an annual membership assessment to the union to fund collective bargaining.

First Amendment rights have become a closely watched political and legal issue when funds are used for political candidates and causes which the members do not support. In fact, 10 California teachers, including lead plaintiff Rebecca Friedrichs of Orange County, have sued CTA over this issue. If victorious, Friedrichs will ensure that individual members will have the right to opt in to the union, rather than being forced to find a way to opt out – facing the wrath and recriminations of leaders like Fisher along the way.

Friedrichs’ case is currently before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals with expectations that it will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court next year. Justice Samuel Alito has opined in other cases that “no person in the country may be compelled to subsidize speech by a third party that he or she does not wish to support,” giving hope to the Friedrichs plaintiffs.

Meanwhile, AEEA members continue talking to voters about Baeza and their willingness to fight – as union members – to be respected, T-shirts and all.

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 founder of the California Center for Parent Empowerment, established by in order to empower public school parents–especially those with children trapped in chronically underperforming schools–to understand and use the Parent Empowerment Act of 2010. This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register and is republished here with permission from the author.

Vergara Education Reform Lawsuit Emulated in Other States

The Vergara lawsuit – in which nine children successfully challenged the constitutionality of key California teacher employment and dismissal provisions – has gone national. Amid much pomp, Students Matter, the nonprofit fundingVergara, announced support for a similar challenge, Davids v. New York.

Since then, peculiar things have occurred: Both Students Matter and the high-profile law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher representing the Davids plaintiffs pro bono have withdrawn; even the judge has recused himself. What happened? Welcome to the politicized world of education reform and the power brokers leading it, observers say.

According to lead plaintiff Mona Davids, a public-school parent leading New York City’s Parent Union, Students Matter and the Gibson firm were “bullied” by wealthy interests intent on backing a different lawsuit filed weeks after Davids. Since the filing, the New York attorney general has ruled to consolidate the cases, leaving only Davids. The other case, Wright v. New York, was filed by the recently established Partnership for Education Justice, headed by former CNN anchor Campbell Brown, who continues to face criticism for declining to identify funding sources.

Davids has long battled to obtain better educational outcomes for children. She’s savvy and won’t back down – the type of fighter parents want when seeking empowerment. She has sided with teachers unions against perceived inequitable charter school co-locations; she’s also sided with reformers to make it easier to fire bad teachers but not totally dismiss tenure rights.

The media flocked to cover Brown’s lawsuit, drawn by her ability to raise money and promote her cause. But the decision to consolidate the lawsuits under Davids was a major blow to Brown’s team. That’s when the strong-arming began, I’m told. Davids and Sam Pirozzolo, another plaintiff, allege that Brown’s team began efforts to drain their support in order to reinstate her organization’s lawsuit.

Davids and Pirozzolo say their Gibson attorney told them of pressure he received from Brown’s team to withdraw – a move the plaintiffs resisted. Additionally, they say a member of Students Matter’s communications team informed them that they, too, were withdrawing after similar pressures.

While writing this column, I received an email from Brown, denying there was any pressuring others to drop support of the Davids suit. She told me that Gibson’s communications director, Pearl Piatt, would contact me. Within minutes, Piatt did, and reiterated the denial and informed me of Gibson’s withdrawal.

I found this odd. Why would Brown be communicating with the Davids attorney and the firm’s communications director? I discovered that I actually received Piatt’s email hours before the plaintiffs were notified by their attorney of his “official” withdrawal. Why would I learn of an action involving a client before the client? Does that violate attorney-client privilege?

I asked Students Matter founder Dave Welch about the allegations. He said he “didn’t want to come between friends.” But how can you fight for kids’ rights if you don’t fight bullying of their parents? Has the moral authority Students Matter earned with their historic Vergara lawsuit been tarnished?

The new court date is Sept. 11 – a day of national significance. On that day, an army of parents, now devoid of resources, will go to court in the next chapter of Vergara. They will be represented by an attorney who will argue for “support” of consolidation, even as resources are withheld from the Davids children and parents.

These Davids – in a modern-day Goliath battle – deserve our support.

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. This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register and is republished here with permission from the author.

Being Open About Financial Support is the Smartest Policy

I recently admonished former U.S. Department of Education undersecretary Diane Ravitch for making what I considered sexist remarks seeking to discredit former CNN journalist Campbell Brown’s credibility on education issues. Brown founded New York’s Parent Transparency Project and is championing the newly formed Partnership for Educational Justice, dedicated to supporting the latest challenge to overturn teacher employment and dismissal laws, including tenure.

Following the successful outcome of the Vergara v. California lawsuit, in which nine California students – backed by Silicon Valley tech millionaire Dave Welch – challenged five teacher employment and dismissal laws as unconstitutional, the Partnership quickly filed a copycat lawsuit, Wright v. New York.

But something rather awkward happened in Brown’s first media appearance, on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report.” When questioned by host Stephen Colbert, she refused to identify who was funding the effort. There is no law mandating disclosure. But in politics, perception becomes reality, and the electorate sides with sunshine in understanding money trails. “What’s to hide?” they wonder.

It’s not easy, or cheap, to challenge the education status quo. It takes money to challenge the most powerful special interest blocking education reform – teachers unions – who command auspicious war chests. In California, this amounts to some $300 million annually, a good portion of which is spent to prevent erosion of teacher employment protections.

It’s estimated that Vergara cost the plaintiffs’ side upward of $3 million – underwritten by wealthy individuals – referred to as “limousine liberals” by critics. While politically connected donors may be motivated by varying interests, the end result is the same: Kids (who don’t pay union dues) succeed when laws are changed that put their interests first.

So why not just acknowledge that it takes money to fight money? Yet, Brown – married to a conservative GOP donor – blundered when Colbert pressed her to identify her money train. During the taping, several moms peacefully protested outside, waving handmade placards decrying Brown’s efforts. These moms were likely aligned with teachers unions, but they had every right to challenge her.

Brown declined to identify her donors, saying, “I’m not gonna reveal who the donors are because the [protesters are] trying to silence our parents who want to have a voice in this debate.” It didn’t take long for her opponents to emphasize she was the one speaking on national television. Brown elaborated, “[Opponents are] going to go after people who are funding this, and I think this is a good cause … and if someone wants to contribute to this cause without having to put their name on it so they can become a target of the … [protesters] then I respect that.”

Be honest and transparent with the public, Campbell. Those big donors aren’t exactly helpless, and protecting the injection of “secret, dark money” in any campaign only backfires. We just saw a court challenge in California over big money from unidentified sources influencing a 2012 ballot initiative I actually supported on its merits. Sadly, the “dark” money hurt the cause because the opposition successfully maneuvered public opinion to focus on the money trail, not the issue. Silence won’t help the cause. Open up the books.

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. This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register and is republished here with permission from the author.

Shine Light On Low-Performing Schools

What do Barack Obama, William Jefferson Clinton, George Washington, Sonia Sotomayor, Cesar Chavez, Carlos Santana and John Muir have in common?

Each has a chronically underperforming California school named for him or her. Sadly, following the celebratory ribbon-cuttings, these schools have been left to languish on state-identified “watch lists.”

Disturbed by these lists and the seemingly little action to transform the schools on them, I wrote what’s been dubbed the “Romero” Open Enrollment Act in 2010, which provides unprecedented school-choice options for parents of kids trapped in failing schools solely due to default geographic assignment: ZIP code.

The act requires the identification and public release of the bottom decile – 1,000 schools – that have been chronically underperforming. The act gives parents the right to be informed of their school’s standing so they can choose to remain there (hoping that the school eventually gets transformed) or to transfer to a higher performing school. Los Angeles Unified has 99 schools on the 2015-16 list, Orange County has 52, Riverside County has 50, and San Bernardino County has 58. (See a full list at www.ParentEmpower.org).

Not surprisingly, schools identified as “underperforming” are often found in ZIP codes with higher minority and poverty levels. But what is particularly shameful is that many schools have remained on these lists for up to 13 years. Officials have failed to utilize school transformation tools available to them under federal law – such as staff reconstitution or transforming into a charter. Due to school assignment by ZIP code practices, these kids are simply trapped.

Where else in American life do we restrict an individual’s opportunities based on ZIP code? Restriction by ZIP code practices has largely eroded. A system to make our community colleges geographically restricted ended over two decades ago amid arguments that these restrictions were imperative. They weren’t then, and they aren’t now.

Sadly, the list of 1,000 schools has been largely buried in the California Department of Education’s website. Few parents even know about the law.

This fall, the newly established California Center for Parent Empowerment, which I founded, is launching efforts to teach parents about the law. Already, Orange County Office of Education trustees have discussed strategies to help their districts notify eligible parents. Other districts should follow their leadership.

Los Angeles Unified makes it difficult for parents to even access transfer applications by making them available only online or delaying release of the application until November even though the list is public now. These barriers should be removed, and ongoing meetings with their legal counsel offer hope. All districts should sponsor fall workshops so parents can file applications by Dec. 31.

The law is imperfect, and the formula utilized can be improved. But in writing the law, I didn’t just want to name names in order to shame schools. But absent a spotlight on failing schools, too many have simply been abandoned. The list forces us to commit to transforming “repeat offenders” or to allow kids to choose their own best educational opportunity – irrespective of five numbers that have restrained too many of them far too long. Is your kid’s school on the list? Find out – take action.

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. This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register and is republished here with permission from the author.

Keeping Their Backs Up and Claws Sharp

As the teachers unions lose popularity, some think that they will soften their positions. But as recent events show, this is very far from the truth.

A poll taken in June, right after the Vergara decision was handed down in Los Angeles, found that 49 percent of California voters think that teachers unions have a “somewhat or very negative” impact on the quality of K-12 education, with just 31 percent saying that they have a “somewhat or very positive” impact.

This result is consistent with national polls. In 2012, long before Vergara became national news, an Education Next survey found that those with a positive view of unions dropped to 22 percent in 2012, down from 29 percent the year before. Perhaps more interestingly,

The survey’s most striking finding comes from its nationally representative sample of teachers. Whereas 58% of teachers took a positive view of unions in 2011, only 43% do in 2012. The number of teachers holding negative views of unions nearly doubled to 32% from 17% last year.

In addition to losing favor, the National Education Association has been bleeding teachers. Due to a shrinking student population and right-to-work legislation passed in several states, the nation’s largest union has lost more than a quarter-million members over the past five years.

Some predicted that the loss of rank-and-file and stature would lead the national unions to soften their more rabid positions and become more amenable to certain reforms, but if their recent conventions are any indication, this is hardly the case. In fact, they seem to be digging in.

At the NEA convention a couple of weeks ago, Lily Eskelsen Garcia was elected president and proclaimed that her first task was to win back the public. She apparently thinks the unions need better PR, not to become more child-friendly and accountable. But as the public’s awareness of what the unions are really about grows, that strategy won’t fly. As Democrats for Education Reform president Joe Williams pointedly said, “Eskelsen Garcia must navigate that minefield carefully because the public will smell bulls**t from a mile away.”

And indeed, there was plenty of odiferous waste at the convention. Among other things, the union faithful came up with a New Business Item (NBI) which called for the resignation of Arne Duncan, who had the audacity to tweet a positive response to the Vergara decision. (It’s ironic: As former California state senator Gloria Romero points out, the union that fights to keep every last teacher in classroom, including those who commit unspeakable offenses against children, wants to ditch Duncan for merely voicing an opinion contrary to theirs.) Other items had nothing at all to do with education but, being champions of “social justice,” the activists came up with an NBI which proposes to inform the public about the dangers of fracking, another that calls for the end of “food deserts” (don’t ask) and one that wants President Obama to investigate the continued incarceration of Leonard Peltier, a man who was convicted of first-degree murder in the slaying of two FBI agents in 1977.

Outgoing president Dennis Van Roekel was hardly in conciliatory mode when he blasted those whom he deems a threat to his union’s hegemony. Just a sampling of his enemies list:

The issue of privatization of more and more jobs of our education support professionals. The intrusion of for-profit players, both in higher education and K-12. Especially troubling is the increasing influence and control of huge corporations like Pearson and others. And the incredible onslaught of corporate reformers like Democrats for Education Reform, Michelle Rhee, and the like. Attacks on educators’ rights and even attempts to silence our voice. And if that were not enough, our lives revolve around testing–the overwhelming amount and the offensive misuse of scores from high-stakes standardized tests.

Then last week in Los Angeles, the American Federation of Teachers’ convention got off to a rousing start when Reverend William Barber gave a speech that most definitely will not “win back the public.” Setting the dial at “hellfire-and-brimstone,” he excoriated Tea Party “extremists,” greedy ultra-conservative “puppets,” the Koch Brothers, the religious right, those who want to “give vouchers to the wealthy,” all the while singing the praises of a green economy and healthcare for all. Clearly he was appealing solely to the left, while insulting and ignoring the majority of the membership which leans slightly to the right.

Not to be upstaged, AFT president Randi Weingarten joined the trashing of the Vergara decision:

When we last met, we didn’t know that a court decision in California would reignite the perverse rallying cry of so-called reformers: that the only way for students to win is for educators to lose.

And then, referring to Harris v Quinn – a SCOTUS decision which held that homecare workers could not be forced to join a union – she said,

And while many of us rejoiced when marriage equality was upheld by the Supreme Court, sadly that court has become Supreme Court Inc., ruling in favor of corporate interests while diminishing the rights of voters, women and working families.

Then she, too, blasted all her bête-noires: Democrats for Education Reform, Jeb Bush, Eli Broad, ALEC, Govs. Snyder, Walker, Corbitt, Jindal and Brownback, the Walton family and – what would a union leader diatribe be without them? – the Koch Brothers. But she didn’t join the “Dump Duncan” chorus; instead, she just chastised him over his pro-Vergara stance. But two days later, AFT approved a resolution calling for him to resign “if he does not improve under a plan to be implemented by President Obama.”

Edu-pundit Andy Smarick suggests that teacher union leadership appears to be defiantly marching their members toward Waterloo.

There is an alternative, though it might seem implausible in the current environment. First, the appeal of Vergara could be halted. Instead of relitigating the case, unions might work with the California legislature to rewrite the challenged laws so they primarily protect students not jobs. Second, the national unions and their affiliates could seek to amend tenure and seniority rules in other states so Vergara-inspired lawsuits don’t get off the ground.

Smarick’s alternative suggests that the teachers unions become more conciliatory and flexible. They won’t. Despite losing members and the dissatisfaction of the more conservative rank-and-file, the union hardcore is doubling down. As Stanford’s Terry Moe rightfully asserts,

Unions are unions. They are in the business of protecting jobs: that is why their members join, that is what their members expect them to do, and that is what they actually do. If you expect them to do something else–to represent children or to represent the public interest–you will be wrong. Don’t expect a cat to bark.

They’ll just keep hissing and baring their claws.

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

UTLA Presidential Candidates Slam Charter Schools

At a Los Angeles teachers union election forum, presidential contenders portray charter schools as a disease that needs to be eradicated.

As reported by LA School Report’s Vanessa Romo, charter schools were a primary target at the February 20th symposium for presidential candidates of the United Teachers of Los Angeles. Actually, it seemed as if each aspirant who spoke on the issue was trying to position himself as Charter School Enemy #1.

Before we get into the debate itself, let me just spill out a few facts about charter schools.

  • Charter schools are public schools of choice.
  • They are tuition-free and open to any student who wishes to attend. They don’t cherry pick their students.  Charter schools allow parents, organizations, or community groups to restore, reinvent, and reenergize our public school system.
  • Charter schools are designed and governed by each local community, rather than by a central bureaucracy.
  • A charter school gets 3 to 5 years to do what it says it is going to do, and if it doesn’t succeed – unlike traditional public schools – it gets shut down.
  • In the U.S., there are 6,500 charter schools (in 42 states and D.C.), serving 2.5 million students; sadly there are 520,000 kids on wait lists.
  • In California, there are 1,130 schools, 500,000 students and 50,000 on wait lists.
  • According to the non-partisan California Legislative Analyst Office, in 2010-11, new charters got $721 less per pupil than traditional public schools. (Typically, the costs of the buildings are not included, although, according to California Charter School Association president Jed Wallace, CA’s new Local Control Funding Formula will equalize things.)

How well do charter schools perform? There have been many studies, the great majority of which claim that they do quite well, especially with some underserved student subgroups: low-income students, English Learners, African-American and Latino students. There’s mounting evidence that charter schools decrease dropout rates, increase college attendance rates and improve the quality of colleges that college-bound students attend.

If these kids go to college, do they actually graduate? And if charter schools really have lasting effects, shouldn’t they have an impact on how much money students earn? A new working paper examines these questions, and the answer is – in a word – yes

Not surprisingly, charter schools are very popular. Using just released data, by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the National Center for Policy Analysis blog reports that,

When families have public school choice, they increasingly select public charter schools over traditional public schools.

  • Over the past five years, student enrollment in public charter schools has grown by 80 percent.
  • … In seven school districts, more than 30 percent of students attend charter schools.
  • In 135 districts, at least 10 percent of students attend public charter schools.
  • Thirteen school districts saw increases in charter school enrollment ranging from nearly 20 to almost 60 percent in a single year.
  • … A 2013 Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll indicates that nearly 70 percent of Americans favor charter schools.

Referring to the same study, former state Senator Gloria Romero wrote in the Orange County Register that

… 600 new public charter schools opened their doors for the 2013-14 school year, serving an estimated 288,000 students. Over the past decade, charter school enrollment rose 225 percent, and the number of new schools rose 118 percent.

Nina Rees, alliance president and CEO, stated, ‘Parents are increasingly voting with their feet. This is the largest increase in the number of students attending charter schools we’ve seen since tracking [began]. … Independent research has shown time and again that charter school students perform better academically than their traditional-school peers. Families are catching on, and these enrollment figures reflect that.

California led the nation in the number of new charters and students served, adding 104 schools and serving an additional 48,000 students (despite the additional space, some 50,000 students remain on charter waiting lists). California was followed by Arizona, with 87 new schools; Florida, with 75; Texas, with 52; and New York, with 26.

As I wrote last year, the teachers unions have a schizoid relationship with charters. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, they want to kill them off; on Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturdays they want to unionize them. To date, only about 12 percent nationwide and 15 percent in CA have been unionized. Seems that many teachers value the freedom that non-unionization offers more than they care about the job protections that the unions provide. And this is just not okeydokey with union bosses, and the candidates for the UTLA presidency were not shy about expressing their opinions.

Three members immediately conceded that charters are too attractive to the public and are here to stay.

Gregg Solkovits, Alex Caputo-Pearl, and Bill Gaffney agreed that there’s no turning back the tide on the charter school movement within LA Unified and therefore UTLA must aggressively pursue efforts to organize charter school teachers.

Gaffney, who is a charter member of UTLA’s charter organizing committee said,

… charter school teachers are easily convinced that joining UTLA is much better deal for them. Although, he conceded, it is ‘a very scary process’ that involves a lot of secrecy for teachers with no legal protections.

Scary? No legal protections? Gee, not exactly great selling points.

Solkovits is currently a UTLA vice-president and longtime unionista. He was refreshingly honest when he said,

When charter schools are organized, they become much less attractive to our enemies.

Please note that he didn’t bother to mention the success of charter schools or long wait lists, which are the result of parents clamoring to get their kids out of lousy traditional public schools. Nah. He went right for the political. At least he didn’t come up with the typical union tripe about his position being “for the children.”

Not to be outdone, Saul Lankster, previously a teacher at two charter schools, has done an about-face and is staunchly anti-charter. As Romo writes, “His plan is to withdraw support from board members who support charter schools in favor of ones who oppose them.”

Leonard Segal wants to block charter expansion by changing California’s education code.

Then there is incumbent Warren Fletcher, who is perceived by many of the candidates to be a wimp. But regarding charters, he proudly pointed to the fact that he opposed Prop. 39, despite the UTLA leadership’s endorsement of the initiative in 2000. This law, among other things, allows for traditional public schools to let charter schools coexist on their campus (colocation) if room is available. This prop turned out embarrassing for traditional public schools and the union because charters frequently outperform their “colocatees” with kids from the same demographic. This phenomenon was spelled out quite clearly by Jason Riley. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, he quotes from Steven Brill’s Class Warfare, which compares the teachers’ contracts at Harlem Success Academy, a high-performing charter school in New York City, and a traditional public school that shares the same building and teaches kids from the same socio-economic background.

‘The Harlem Success teachers’ contract drives home the idea that the school is about the children, not the grown-ups. It is one page, allows them to be fired at will, and defines their responsibilities no more specifically than that they must help the school achieve its mission. Harlem Success teachers are paid about 5 to 10 percent more than union teachers on the other side of the building who have their levels of experience.

‘The union contract in place on the public school side of the building is 167 pages. Most of it is about job protection and what teachers can and cannot be asked to do during the 6 hours and 57.5 minutes (8:30 to about 3:25, with 50 minutes off for lunch) of their 179-day work year.’

In … 2010, 29 percent of the students at the traditional public school were reading and writing at grade level, and 34 percent were performing at grade level in math. At the charter school, the corresponding numbers were 86 percent and 94 percent. (Emphasis added.)

Given the embarrassment factor, it’s easy to see why colocation and charters in general are issues for the teachers unions.

UTLA ballots went out yesterday, but it looks as if, no matter who gets elected as new UTLA president, the assault on charters – in spite of their success – will continue. As such, is it surprising that only 22 percent of Americans think that teachers unions have a positive effect on education? This is an all-time low figure and the unions are dealing with the deepening hole they are in by ordering more shovels.

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

Tenure, Temerity and the Truth

Los Angeles Times op-ed and teachers union defense of educational status quo are packed with malarkey.

Now in its third week, the Students Matter trial still has a ways to go. Initially scheduled to last four weeks, the proceedings are set to run longer. On Friday, Prosecutor Marcellus McRae told Judge Rolf Treu that the plaintiffs need another week and a half or so to conclude their case before the defense takes over. The coverage of the trial has been thorough, with the Students Matter website providing daily updates, as has the always reliable LA School Report.

The media have generally been either neutral or supportive of the case, which claims that the tenure, seniority and dismissal statutes enshrined in the state Ed Code hurt the education process in the Golden State, especially for minority and poor kids. The defendants are the state of California and the two state teachers unions – the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers.

Having studied and written about the case extensively, I am of the opinion that the defense has no defense and that the best that they can do is to muddy the waters to gain favor with judge. In an effort to learn what the defense will come up with, I have tried to read everything I can by folks who think the lawsuit is misguided. I have written before about California Teachers Association president Dean Vogel’s rather inept argument presented in the December issue of CTA’s magazine.

The CTA website has been posting more about the case as the trial has progressed, and it would appear that desperation has set in. The union’s old bromides hold about as much water as a ratty sponge.

The problems we face with layoffs are not because of Education Code provisions or local collective bargaining agreements, but lack of funding.

No, the problem is who is getting laid off; we are losing some of the best and the brightest, including teachers-of-the-year due to ridiculous seniority laws.

The lawsuit ignores all research that shows teaching experience contributes to student learning.

Not true. Studies have shown that after 3-5 years, the majority of teachers don’t improve over time.

The backers of this lawsuit include a “who’s who” of the billionaire boys club and their front groups whose real agendas have nothing to do with protecting students, but are really about privatizing public schools.

Oh please – the evil rich and the privatization bogeyman! Really! Zzzzz.

Then we have cartoonist Ted Rall who penned an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times last week, which is mostly concerned with “tenure tyranny.” This wretched piece is maudlin sophistry at its gooiest.

First, Rall needs to get his verbiage straight. K-12 teachers do not get tenure. What they achieve after two years on the job is “permanent status.” Permanent status! What other job on the planet affords workers something called “permanence,” and getting rid of an inept teacher who has reached that lofty perch is just about impossible. But Rall makes the claim that, “Tenure doesn’t prevent districts from firing teachers. It makes it hard. (Not impossible: 2% of teachers get fired for poor performance annually.)”

The 2 percent figure is a half-truth. During the first two years on the job, a teacher can be let go relatively easily for poor performance. Maybe two percent of newbies don’t cut it. But what Rall and his teacher union buddies don’t tell you is that, in California, for example, about ten teachers a year out of nearly 300,000 (.003 percent) who have attained “permanence” lose their jobs. Of those, a whopping two teachers (.0007 percent) get canned for poor performance.

This is a disgrace, and most teachers know it. In fact, according to a recent survey of teachers working in Los Angeles conducted by the National Council on Teacher Quality, 68 percent reported that “there were tenured teachers currently working in their schools who should be dismissed for poor performance.”

Then Rall goes off the rails on tenure, saying that what’s wrong with tenure is that “only teachers can get it.”  (When you go to a doctor for a serious medical condition, Mr. Rall, do you want to see the best one or any old quack who still has an MD after his name?)

Rall then ventures into other areas. He whines twice about his mother’s (a retired public school teacher) “crummy salary.” He apparently hasn’t read much on the subject. In fact, the most recent study on teacher pay shows that when perks like healthcare and pension packages are taken into consideration, today’s teachers are in fact overpaid. Armed with facts, charts and a bevy of footnotes, Heritage Foundation’s Jason Richwine and American Enterprise Institute’s Andrew Biggs explain,

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

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

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

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

Then Rall gets political. He writes,

During the last few decades, particularly since the Reagan administration, the right has waged war on teachers and their unions. From No Child Left Behind to the sneakily anti-union, anti-professionalization outfit Teach for America to the Common Core curriculum, conservatives are holding teachers accountable for their kids’ academic performance.

Reagan? What did his administration do?

The sneakily anti-union, anti-professionalization outfit Teach for America

Do you mean the very successful organization that identifies young teacher-leaders and trains them for service, founded and run by social justice advocates who have made (some) peace with the National Education Association? That TFA?

Common Core?

Sorry, but it is a bipartisan issue. In fact, your beloved teachers unions, including NEA president Dennis Van Roekel and AFT President Randi Weingarten, support it.

…conservatives are holding teachers accountable for their kids’ academic performance.

Horrors! Holding teachers accountable for their work! If not them whom?  The school bus driver? And for crying out loud, it’s not just conservatives who are demanding teacher accountability. StudentsFirst’s Michelle Rhee, American Federation of Children’s Kevin Chavous, Democrats for Education Reform’s Joe Williams and former CA state senator Gloria Romero, all want more accountability and none of them qualify as right wingers.

Rall’s piece ends with an editor’s note:

[Correction, 11:26 a.m., February 6: An original version of this post incorrectly described Students Matter as a “right-wing front group.” The post also linked to the wrong David Welch, founder of Students Matter.]

If the editors think that this is the only errata, they most definitely need to review this bilge and reexamine every word, including “and” and “the.”

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

California's "Open Enrollment Act" Empowers Students to Transfer Out of Underperforming Schools

Have you ever wanted to know if your child is attending a chronically underperforming school?

Well, start spreading the word: the list is out. Due to a law I wrote while serving in the California Senate, the 2010 Open Enrollment Act identifies the 1,000 chronically underperforming schools in California and empowers parents of kids enrolled in these to be able to seek enrollment in any higher performing California public school. The Act is particularly important for the hundreds of thousands of students who are trapped in chronically failing schools – yet their own school officials fail to exert turnaround efforts.

I wrote the bill because year after year I continued to see unpublicized lists of schools identified as underperforming. Yet, nothing was ever done. Even worse, parents of kids attending these schools had no knowledge of their school’s status. Unless a parent is wealthy and can send their child to a private school, most parents are forced to stay in their government assigned school – even when state officials have identified it as a chronically underperforming school.

But what happens when some schools are nothing more than dropout factories and school officials dare not restructure the contracts of the adults employed in them? Where else do we use geographic assignment – ZIP code – in vital aspects of American life?

Racial restricted housing covenants were barred long ago, freeing us to buy homes in any neighborhood. It’s unthinkable that a “local” health department official would assign your child to a “local” dentist based on your address. Have you ever driven across town to worship at the church or temple of your choice – imagine if your ZIP code was checked at the entrance? As families, we can pack up the car or get on the bus and go to any park we choose for a Sunday outing. Imagine the controversy if officials barricaded the entrance, telling you that this was not your “local” park: admission denied!

Yet in our American education system, a government bureaucrat who does not know you or your child, each school year designates your child to a school based on five digits – your ZIP code – regardless if it’s been failing for years. Even when school bureaucrats know that a school to which a student is assigned is failing, kids, and unknowing parents, keep being assigned to them. Indeed, ZIP code is the new five degrees of separation that can influence whether a child today will be one of tomorrow’s doctors or drop outs, inventors or illiterates.

The just released “Romero” Open Enrollment List for the 2014-15 school year can be viewed at 1000schools.org. The new Foundation for Parent Empowerment will work with parents to teach them about the law. The current list identifies schools from 515 school districts – some with an Academic Performance Index as low as 374 (the state targeted goal is 800). Almost every Orange County school district has schools listed. Some schools, due to formulaic pressures, should be excluded; many are “repeat offenders” necessitating radical transformation.

Romero-2HOct2013

In writing the law, I didn’t just want to “name names.” But absent a spotlight on failing schools, too many have simply been abandoned. Compilation of the list is a revealing opportunity for Californians to begin to publicly identify chronically underperforming schools and finally exert pressure to use existing state and federal laws to transform them.

Automatic assignment by ZIP code is the complete absence of parental choice. Parents now have the choice: keep waiting for change, like the fictional characters Vladimir and Estragon wait endlessly and in vain for the mythical Godot, or they can empower themselves and begin to vote with their feet and enroll their child in a school of their choice. That’s parent power – and it’s now the law.

Gloria Romero is an education reformer from Los Angeles. Romero served in the California Legislature from 1998 to 2008, the last seven years as Senate majority leader. This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register and is republished here with permission.

Announcing the Prosperity Forum

One of the overwhelming challenges facing fiscal conservatives is how to cut government spending without harming economic recovery. It may seem obvious that governments eventually have to stop relying on borrowing to finance their deficits, but eliminating government spending deficits can only partly rely on spending cuts. Economic growth is the other essential element.

To explore and catalog worthy prescriptions for economic growth, the California Policy Center has launched a new project, the California Prosperity Forum. We seek informed and constructive policy ideas and analysis from any source, guided by our core belief that prosperity and opportunity will return to California through a combination of common sense reforms in Sacramento, greater freedom for the private sector, and innovation in our public schools.

Opponents of austerity are not only concerned about the potentially negative impact of reduced government spending on the economy, but also the ability of individual government workers or beneficiaries of government entitlements to pay their bills. This concern is particularly acute in California, which has the highest overall cost of living in the United States. But the way to address this concern is not to abandon a measured reduction in excessive pay and benefits for government workers, but to simultaneously enact policies designed to lower the cost of living for all Californians.

To this end, another core belief that must inform any prosperity oriented policy forum is competition. To accelerate innovation and lower prices requires competition between businesses in a free market. California’s Silicon Valley coined the phrase “better, faster, cheaper,” to describe spectacular advances in information technology. But that phrase applies to innovation throughout history, describing how lowering the cost of living has continuously raised the standard of living for humanity.

Lowering the cost of living in California through competition requires dramatic shifts in policy priorities. For example, lowering the cost of energy requires responsible development of California’s massive shale oil and shale gas reserves. Lowering the cost of housing requires easing California’s draconian restrictions on land development. And lowering California’s overall cost of living also requires California to step back from having the highest tax rates of any state in the U.S. And to propel these reforms through California’s state and local governments will mean taking on powerful monopolies who benefit from high prices and minimal competition.

The theme of fostering competition to rejuvenate California’s economy applies to commerce, but applies equally to education. California’s former Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero has called the inadequate performance of public schools the civil rights issue of our time. Educational outcomes have been consistently found to improve when students and their parents have alternatives. When students can opt-out of attending a failed school, this not only immediately benefits those students, but impels the failed school to try new solutions and make tough decisions to improve. Needless to say, improved education translates into a more employable workforce.

Critics of free-market policies often point to the Wall Street meltdown of 2008 and the growing wealth of the so-called “one-percent” as an indictment of free market capitalism. But they are mingling together what are two very distinct versions of capitalism. Productive capitalism, the ecosystem of corporations, entrepreneurs, investors and inventors who compete and collaborate to create affordable products and services that improve our lives, is the engine that has produced virtually all of the material amenities we enjoy today and take for granted. Speculative capitalism – for want of a better term – is a globalized casino of high-frequency trading and market manipulation that produces nothing. In its currently grossly overbuilt iteration, speculative capitalism is an economic parasite. It may be comforting to equate productive capitalism with speculative capitalism, but they are vastly different.

Successfully advancing a prosperity policy agenda requires championing productive capitalist efforts. It requires unlocking California’s vast reserves of energy and land, rescuing our public schools, and restoring California as a business-friendly state. But a prosperity policy agenda also requires opposing the monopolistic financial interests who make billions issuing bonds to finance state and local government deficits. It requires opposing the financial interests who make billions in commissions and management fees to collect and invest unsustainable public sector pension funds.

Austerity should appeal to any fiscally responsible citizen as tough, necessary medicine. But prosperity is the other side of the coin. It deserves equal if not greater attention from anyone determined to see California recover its historic reputation as a land of great opportunity and promise. To that end, we offer the California Prosperity Forum.

*   *   *

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

Justice Belied

California’s AB375 would do precious little to protect school children from pedophiles.

The impulse to take action to remove pedophiles from California’s classrooms came about as a result of Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt having slid through the cracks after committing lewd acts against untold numbers of young children.

After Berndt’s arrest in Los Angeles in February 2012, Democrat state senator Alex Padilla wrote SB1530, a bill which would have streamlined the labyrinthine “dismissal statutes” that require districts to navigate a seemingly endless maze of hearings and appeals. Narrow in scope, the bill dealt only with claims deemed credible that a teacher abused a child sexually or with drugs or violence.

Existing law lets local school boards immediately suspend a teacher under “specified conditions, including immoral conduct.” Padilla’s bill simply would have added language allowing a school board to suspend an employee for “serious or egregious unprofessional conduct.”

But early in the summer of 2012, the California State Assembly Education Committee voted down the proposed law, dutifully satisfying the teachers unions, which had lobbied fiercely to kill it. United Teachers of Los Angeles president Warren Fletcher claimed that SB1530 “solves nothing, places teachers at unfair risk, and diverts attention from the real accountability issues at LAUSD.” (What “real accountability issues” are more important?)

The bill’s death caused a great furor in the California press, with the unions and the education committee’s nay-voters and gutless abstainers bearing the brunt of the criticism. The San Francisco Chronicle wrote that “the influence of the California Teachers Association was rarely more apparent – or more sickening – than in the defeat of SB1530.” (Emphasis added.)

Then, in an attempt to “do something” in February of this year, one of the two legislators who voted no on Padilla’s bill, Assembly Education Committee chairwoman Joan Buchanan, submitted AB375, a similar but watered down version of SB1530. Ominously, it had the backing of the teachers unions and looked poised to pass in July, but it too failed to garner enough votes. However, Senate Education Committee Chair Carol Liu who had supplied the deciding vote then granted a “reconsideration” of the bill, meaning that it could come back to life in a different form.

So earlier this month the bill reemerged, was quickly passed by both legislative houses and now awaits Governor Jerry Brown’s signature. Summing up the teachers unions’ take on this latest iteration, California Teachers Association president Dean Vogel said, “Passage of AB375 addresses our concerns of keeping students safe, safeguarding the integrity of the profession, and protecting the rights of educators.”

But AB375 doesn’t come close to fulfilling its promise to keep children safe.

While there are admittedly a couple of good things about the bill – most agree that AB375 has two important adjustments: eliminating a summer break moratorium on teacher suspensions and ending the statute of limitations on serious allegations – it is seriously flawed, and may give kids even less protection from predatory teachers than they have now.

Former state senator Gloria Romero, who has written extensively against the bill (starting with its earliest version), says,

AB375 mandates a fixed timeline of seven months for any discipline case to be concluded. That sounds nice on paper, but AB375 opponents testified to Liu’s committee, that the time limit becomes tantamount to a “get out of jail free card,” giving teachers facing firing every incentive to delay their case past seven months. (Emphasis added.)

In other words, limiting the investigation and possible legal action to a window of seven months sounds like it would expedite matters, but creates bigger problems in doing so. What happens if it looks like a decision can’t be reached during that time? Could a teacher force the district to settle?

As the California School Board Association (CSBA) points out,

AB375 would enable a certificated employee to challenge a suspension while he or she awaits the dismissal hearing. This new procedure would add time and costs to the hearing process … and make it more difficult to meet the 7-month deadline for completion. (Emphasis added.)

Also problematic is the bill’s retention of the “Commission on Professional Competence.” This panel is made up of an administrative law judge and two teachers, giving the teachers unions a large role in CPC decisions. SB1530 would have eliminated the CPC and given school boards the final say. This was an important reform that the unions could not live with.

The CSBA adds,

AB375 would allow any party to object to the qualifications of members of the Commission on Professional Competence (CPC). Permitting the parties to object to the qualifications of a panel member at the time of selection adds cost and delay to the process without a benefit. At the time of selection, neither party is familiar with the qualifications of the panel members. Filing motions will simply result in delays that will make it harder to meet the 7-month time limit for completion of the hearing.

AB375 has other, even bigger problems. For example, it allows a district to provide testimony of only four abused children. Why this arbitrarily low number? What about the voices of the 5th, 6th and 7th children? Why in good conscience could anyone disallow their testimony? (There were 23 counts against Mark Berndt.)

Also, as education writer RiShawn Biddle points out, the bill stifles districts by preventing them from amending a dismissal complaint to include new charges and evidence of abuse that often come out after a teacher’s acts become publicly known.

This means that a district that learns of even more-heinous criminal behavior during the period the teacher had served cannot bring up information that is relevant to the case itself.

EdVoice’s Bill Lucia, who has been a staunch foe of AB375, identifies yet another flaw in the new bill – that unlike SB1530, which only dealt with teacher abuse via “sex, drugs or violence,” this is a catch-all bill. “… teachers who commit egregious moral violations are lumped into the same dismissal process as lousy teachers who fail to teach students to read.” Instead, Lucia supports a two-tiered system that streamlines the process to remove criminal teachers from the classroom.

StudentsFirst’s Jessica Ng puts the troubling bill into perspective:

It’s disappointing that, by Assemblywoman Buchanan’s own admission, AB375 isn’t designed to protect California’s kids … California’s kids don’t need a teacher dismissal bill; they need a child safety and protection bill.

With the bill heavily favoring teachers at the expense of kids, it is no wonder that the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers – California’s duopoly – are backing AB375. It is a bleak reminder of who really pulls the strings in the Golden State. The pointed headline of a recent editorial in U-T San Diego said it all: “Fixing California: Teachers unions demonstrate again who controls Sacramento.”

The Sacramento Bee’s Dan Walters echoed this sentiment, writing, “If the unions can have their way on child abuse, they can have their way on anything in the current Legislature.”

One final and almost comical point. As a sop to the unions, there is a tiny piece of AB 375 that has flown under the radar. (H/T Hillel Aron) It states that, “knowing membership of the Communist Party” shall be removed “from the list of reasons a permanent school employee can be dismissed or suspended.”

Yeah, damn the kids, let’s protect pedophiles and Communists!

This crass and immoral politicking is truly vile. The governor must kill this abominable bill.

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

Orwellian Reinterpretation of Desegregation Fuels Federal Attack on School Vouchers

Even as the attorney general of the United States, Eric Holder, commemorated the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s historic “I have a dream speech” in Washington, D.C., his Department of Justice petitioned a federal court to halt the use of Opportunity Scholarships enacted by the Louisiana Legislature on behalf of predominantly minority children.

No, it wasn’t quite George Wallace seeking to block students from entering schoolhouses. Ironically, it was Eric Holder seeking to block the exit of predominantly poor, African American children from chronically failing schools in their search of a quality education.

Holder’s filing is a challenge to the rights of parents whose kids are trapped by automatic school enrollment by ZIP code, regardless of whether that campus is identified as a failing school. The Justice Department is seeking to bar the awarding of these scholarships, also called vouchers, in public school systems that are under federal desegregation orders, unless the vouchers first are approved by a federal judge.

Holder, using dubious data, argues that the exit of black children from failing schools would “impede the desegregation process” in Louisiana. He argues that the scholarship program is a civil-rights violation because schools become “whiter” as minority children flee their failing public school.

Reaction to the Justice Department challenge was fast and furious. Kenneth Campbell, president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, acknowledged Louisiana’s racist history, but stated, “It would be a mistake to equate the current scholarship program that provides the only avenue for low-income children to escape failing schools to past efforts that supported and encouraged ‘white flight’ 40 years ago.”

The Louisiana program has been operational for five years and was designed as a voluntary program enabling low-income parents to move their children from low-performing public schools to either higher-performing public schools or to private schools. Last year, some 5,000 children participated; almost 8,000 scholarships were awarded this year. Eighty-six percent of scholarship students who applied were from schools rated as either grade D or F. Ninety-one percent of the children were minority.

Holder’s arguments are an Orwellian reinterpretation of desegregation fights. How does keeping kids trapped in recognized dropout factories advance the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King?

What is the value of an “integrated” school if none of the kids at that school – regardless of skin color – can even read at basic levels of proficiency?

Undoubtedly, the next chapter in civil rights and education law will no longer be dominated by mere demands for integration. Rather, school transformation and parental rights to end school assignment by ZIP code – truly five digits of separation from the American Dream for millions of children across the nation – is being embraced by parents who understand that education is the key to the American Dream. A fundamental rethinking of public education, including discussion of Opportunity Scholarships and vouchers is no longer “off the table” – even among Democrats embracing school reforms.

Sadly, this is not the first time that the Obama administration has moved against vouchers. It also zeroed out funding for the highly successful Washington, D.C., Opportunity Scholarship Program – even as he and the first lady exercised their parental choice to send their daughters to a very prestigious, expensive private school. Most parents in D.C. can’t afford to do that.

After Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana rallied to rebuild its schools. Not only have Pelican State residents rebuilt their schools, they have completely re-imagined education. Today, they are recognized leaders on achieving successful school transformations.

It is shameful that an African American attorney general would attempt to block the exits from failing schools in the name of justice. This is not why Dr. King marched.

Romero, a Los Angeles resident, served in the California Legislature from 1998 to 2008, the last seven years as Senate majority leader. This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register and is republished here with permission.

Why Bankers and Public Sector Unions are Allies, not Enemies

Earlier this week former state senator Gloria Romero published a lengthy article in the San Diego Union-Tribune entitled “Fixing California: The union chokehold.” Reprinted with permission on UnionWatch, it describes how public sector unions, virtually unopposed, have undermined the effectiveness and overpriced the costs of government at all levels in California.

Romero, a liberal Democrat who served for seven years as senate majority leader in California’s state legislature, knows what she’s talking about. Her focus is on education, where the teachers unions have blocked meaningful reforms for years; protecting bad teachers from being terminated, promoting based on seniority instead of merit, taking over local school boards with hand-picked, union-financed candidates, attacking charter schools, prioritizing teacher compensation and job security over student achievement, and pushing a social agenda in front of academic fundamentals. Romero considers it a civil rights issue, since the negative impact of the union takeover has disproportionately harmed public education in low-income and minority communities.

What Romero discusses publicly, criticizing not only teachers unions for undermining public education but also public safety unions for pricing their services beyond the ability of cities and counties to afford them, is privately echoed by Democratic lawmakers throughout California. And it should come as no surprise that Romero – along with virtually all Democratic lawmakers – places equal if not greater blame on the corrupting influence of corporate special interests in Sacramento. But they are missing a crucial connection:

Public sector unions have an identity of interests with those elements of capitalism they decry the loudest, the crony capitalists and the casino bankers. If this is understood by Democratic legislators, or even Republicans, it is rarely articulated. And to the extent it is understood, awareness has yet to translate into proposals, much less into action.

The alliance between public sector unions and entrenched private sector elites is not an adjunct point to be recognized, acknowledged and forgotten. It is the primary underlying cause of some of America’s most challenging threats, including economic stagnation, increased stratification of wealth, financial insolvency, mediocre education outcomes, and eroding civil liberties.  As we explain in “Why Public Sector Unions are Special Special Interests:”

This reality, that public sector unions operate at the heart of the corporate and financial elite, that they broker, enable and corrupt corporate and financial power, is the tragic irony that is lost on California’s electorate. Public sector unions are the foot soldiers of corporatism, because without their blessing and support, crony capitalists would not as successfully lobby for anti-competitive laws, pension bankers would not have a taxpayer-guaranteed virtually unlimited source of funds to invest, and bond underwriters would not be collecting commissions on hundreds of billions in bond issues necessitated by spending deficits. Public sector unions are also the facilitators of authoritarianism, because every new law and every new intrusion on civil liberties is accompanied by a need for more unionized government workers.

Evidence of the connection between public sector unions and crony capitalists is everywhere:

  • Overbuilt schools and prisons, constructed by politically connected construction firms and costing taxpayers far more than what right-sized, competitively bid institutions should have cost.
  • “Affordable housing” and big box retailing being constructed using public funds and eminent domain laws, where the primary criteria for participation are political connections – i.e., public sector union connections – not market savvy and access to risk capital.
  • “Carbon emissions auctions” set to extract over $2.0 billion from rate payer supported utilities in November 2013, eventually increasing to over ten times that much annually, so financial traders can make a killing in commissions, crony capitalists can access funds for “green” projects that ought to be able to withstand the scrutiny of genuine venture investors, and public entities can collect financial windfalls for enacting “smart growth” ordinances and by redefining jobs to include “global warming mitigation.”
  • California’s $370 billion in state and local government bond debt, rolling over every five to 30 years, earning billions in commissions to financial interests, and enabling deficit spending by governments that can’t afford to pay their unionized workforces.
  • At least $600 billion in assets currently invested by California’s 80 different public employee pension funds, earning financial interests billions in management fees and commissions every year, and guaranteeing public employees retirement packages that ordinary citizens can only dream of.
  • Anywhere between $200 and $600 billion (or more) in unfunded public employee pension and retirement health care obligations, that financial interests will make additional billions in fees to invest, once their attorneys, working in tandem with public sector union attorneys, compel taxpayers to fork over the money.

This is the context in which one of California’s teachers unions produced a video cartoon a few months ago, showing the caricature of a rich tycoon urinating onto a crowd of poor people. The irony is only matched by the hypocrisy.

Senator Romero distinguished herself last year by supporting Prop. 32, which would have merely required anyone collecting political contributions via payroll deductions to ask for permission once a year. Because passage of Prop. 32 would have threatened the money pouring into public sector unions, Romero’s support was an act of extraordinary courage. But Romero, and her fellow Democrats – along with Republicans – who are too intimidated to come forward, should emphasize this startling fact: By undermining the power of public sector unions, you are undermining the entire apparatus of corruption. You are weakening the entire nexus of government power and financial greed.

*   *   *

UnionWatch is edited by Ed Ring, who can be reached at editor@unionwatch.org.

Related Editorials:

Will a Bipartisan Coalition Restrict Public Safety Unions?

How Public Sector Unions Skew America’s Public Safety and National Security Agenda

Why Public Sector Unions are “Special” Special Interests

Reforming Public Sector Unions and Public Sector Pensions is NOT “Anti-Worker”

What If Every Worker Made What City of Irvine Workers Make?

Will Silicon Valley’s Elite Take On Public Sector Unions?

Should Police and Firefighters be Exempted from Union Reforms?

Would ANY Public Sector Union Reform Appeal to California’s Democrats?

Calling for Public Sector Union Reform is Not Anti-Union

The Special Privileges And Exemptions of Public Sector Unions

The Preexisting Political Advantage of Government Workers

The Ideology of Public Sector Unions vs. Private Sector Unions

Wall Street & Public Sector Unions

Relevant California Public Policy Center Studies

How Big Are California’s State and Local Governments Combined?

Calculating California’s Total State and Local Government Debt

How Lower Earnings Will Impact California’s Total Unfunded Pension Liability

Understanding the Financial Disclosure Requirements of Public Sector Unions

Public Sector Unions Spend $4.0 Billion per Year in U.S.

Read much more at CPPC Studies.

California’s parent-empowerment law gains ground

Last week, parents in the Southern California desert city of Adelanto celebrated the opening of the first school transformed under the state’s 2010 parent-empowerment law, also known as the parent trigger. After two San Bernardino County Superior Court judges upheld their petition to take control of foundering Desert Trails Elementary School, parents selected a nonprofit charter operator to reopen the school as Desert Trails Preparatory Academy. But even as parents celebrate their accomplishments in Adelanto and elsewhere, school-reform opponents are renewing their efforts to undermine the law.

Under the law, if a majority of parents with children at a failing public school sign a petition, they can “trigger” a change in the school’s governance, forcing the school district to adopt one of a handful of reforms: getting rid of some teachers, firing the principal, shutting the school down, or turning it into a charter school. The legislation, authored by former state senator Gloria Romero, empowers parents to circumvent sclerotic school boards and obstructionist teachers’ unions. Teachers’ unions recognized the danger at once, which helps explain why California Federation of Teachers president Marty Hittleman called Romero’s bill a “lynch mob provision.”

Desert Trails was a hard-won fight. In January 2012, parents submitted 466 signatures to the Adelanto Elementary School District, representing 70 percent of the 665 students enrolled. Within days, the California Teachers Association launched a counter-petition drive—just as it had done successfully against a parent-trigger petition drive a year earlier in Compton. But this time, parents sued the school district to accept their petition and reject the CTA’s eleventh-hour rescission campaign. (City Journal’s Ben Boychuk chronicles the Adelanto effort in The Beholden State: California’s Lost Promise and How to Recapture It.)

Since the Desert Trails parents won their victory, parents at three other Southern California schools have availed themselves of the law. Parents at Haddon Avenue Elementary School in the Los Angeles suburb of Pacoima gathered some of the signatures they needed to trigger staff and other changes at the school, but they suspended their petition drive when administrators and teachers agreed to an in-district reform plan. At 24th Street Elementary School in South Los Angeles, parents overwhelmingly approved a collaborative partnership between the Los Angeles Unified School District and Crown Prep Academy, a charter operator. Under a plan that takes effect next week, the district will be responsible for instruction in pre-kindergarten through fourth grade, and Crown Prep will oversee fifth through eighth grade. In an unusual circumstance, the United Teachers of Los Angeles, happy to be included in the process, was a willing party to the conversion at 24th Street Elementary. But UTLA chief Warren Fletcher, no fan of the law, warned that the union was “watching what happens at 24th Street and other schools—watching to see if it destabilizes the schools.” What Fletcher doesn’t seem to understand is that poorly performing schools are destabilized already.

Meanwhile, parents at Weigand Avenue Elementary School in L.A. petitioned for a “transformation” model, allowing them to replace the school’s principal and make other structural changes at the campus. Weigand’s parents voted to keep all the teachers but get rid of Irma Cobian, the principal who had let the school deteriorate during her four years on the job. You wouldn’t know that from reading the Los Angeles Times, though. In a one-sided story, reporter Teresa Watanabe claimed that “teachers and students alike loved the principal.” Watanabe cited a student’s claim that “Cobian is a special principal who gives her hugs and understands her struggles,” such as losing her father to cancer last year. Only in passing did Watanabe acknowledge that some parents were dissatisfied with Cobian and with the school’s administration, or that a group of parents and teachers in 2011 submitted “no confidence”letters about Cobian to district officials. And crucially, Watanabe failed to note that, prior to Cobian’s arrival in 2009, the school’s score on the Academic Performance Index—the state’s annual measure of test-score performance of schools and districts—was 717, or 23 points above the city’s average. By the close of the 2011–12 school year, Weigand’s API had plummeted to 689, or 57 points below the city’s average. Only a handful of elementary schools in Los Angeles fared worse during that period.

The Times’s soft-pedaling galvanized parent-trigger opponents. Diane Ravitch, a onetime reformer who is now a teachers’-union stalwart, used Watanabe’s story to attack Ben Austin, executive director of Parent Revolution, a Los Angeles–based advocacy group that has helped organize parents across the Southland. “Ben Austin is loathsome,” Ravitch wrote on her blog. “He ruined the life and career of a dedicated educator [Cobian]. She was devoted to the children; he is devoted to the equally culpable foundations that fund his Frankenstein organization—Walton, Gates, and Broad. His biggest funder is the reactionary Walton Family Foundation, which spends $160 million every year to advance privatization. Ben Austin is Walton’s useful idiot. He prattles on about his liberal credentials, but actions speak louder than words.” She ended her post with a curse: “Ben, every day when you wake up, you should think of Irma Cobian. When you look in the mirror, think Irma Cobian. Your last thought every night should be Irma Cobian. Ben, you ruined the life of a good person for filthy lucre. Never forget her. She should be on your conscience—if you have one—forever.” Ravitch’s inflammatory attack invited heated rebuttals from prominent education writers and bloggers, including Rick HessJoanne JacobsRiShawn Biddle,Whitney Tilson, and Alexander Russo. Eventually, Ravitch issued a tepid apology.

Ravitch wasn’t the only anti-reformer opposing parents’ efforts. Claiming that 14 schools were targeted for future petitions—Parent Revolution puts that number at 50—UTLA held a press conference and demonstration against the parent-trigger law at Weigand in May. Then in June, at a Los Angeles school board meeting at which the parent trigger was on the agenda, board member Steve Zimmer offered a resolution calling for a change in the state law that would bring “more transparency to the signature-gathering process.” Seconding Zimmer’s resolution, UTLA boss Fletcher denounced the parent trigger as a “bad law” and a “cruel hoax” that “guarantees bad outcomes.” He finished on a solemn note, warning that “a system based on hatred hurts children.” This was interesting talk from the leader of an organization whose mandate is to protect teachers at any cost, with practically no regard for children’s best interests.

In response, Parent Revolution’s deputy director, Gabe Rose, issued a statement supporting the part of Zimmer’s proposal that would give parents more information “on the state of their children’s schools.” He praised the resolution’s emphasis on accurate data and making options available to parents. But he fiercely condemned “the continued harassment and intimidation of parents—too often by district staff using district resources—who are trying to organize to improve their children’s low performing schools.” Parents, their children, and their communities cannot wait for school districts to phase in incremental reforms. The parent-trigger law is the best thing to happen to them in years. Parent empowerment clearly threatens the education status quo, and the status quo is pushing back. But as events in Adelanto and Los Angeles show, parents aren’t willing to back down so easily.

Larry Sand, a retired teacher, is president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network. This article originally appeared in City Journal and is republished here with permission.

The Parent Revolution and the Ancien Régime

The ongoing battle between parents and the union-dominated education blob heats up in California.

California state senator Gloria Romero’s Parent Trigger law has been around for over three years now, and its progress has been slow but steady. The law stipulates that if 50 percent +1 of the parents of children in a failing school sign a petition, it can “trigger” a change in the governance of that school either by getting rid of some teachers, firing the principal, shutting the school down or turning it into a charter school. The law was designed to bypass both teachers unions and school boards, and to provide parents with an opportunity to force desperately needed reform. 

There have been five Parent Trigger campaigns in California since 2010:

  • Compton (2010) the parent petition was ultimately dismissed by a judge on a legal technicality. 
  • Adelanto/Desert Trails (2011/2012) two CA Superior Court judges upheld the petition, allowing the parents to move forward with the selection of a high-quality, non-profit charter school which will take over Desert Trails Elementary in July.
  • 24th Street Elementary School (Los Angeles/2013) parents overwhelmingly selected an historic collaborative partnership between the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and a high-performing, non-profit charter operator Crown Prep Academy. It will also begin the transformation process in July. LAUSD will be responsible for Pre-K – 4 and Crown Prep for 5-8.
  • Haddon Avenue Elementary School (Los Angeles/ 2012-2013) parents voted to “pause” their ‘Parent Trigger’ petition efforts to work on a collaborative in-district reform plan for their school with teachers and the district.
  • Weigand Avenue Elementary School (Los Angeles/2013) parents petitioned for a “transformation” model, allowing them to work collaboratively with teachers and LAUSD on much-needed changes, including replacing the principal.

While the 24th Street conversion went relatively smoothly, activist parents typically encounter serious pushback from unyielding teachers unions and their fellow travelers. A few examples:

2010 – Then California Federation of Teachers president Marty Hittleman a human gaffe machinedescribed the new Parent Trigger law as a “lynch mob provision,” managing to offend parents, especially African-Americans, all over the state.

2011 – Jerry Brown removed Parent Revolution (the Parent Trigger parent group) executive director Ben Austin from the state school board and added California Teachers Association über-lobbyist Pat Rucker.

2011 – Word of the Parent Trigger spread across the country and parents tried to establish it in Connecticut, but in a story first reported by RiShawn Biddle, the American Federation of Teachers used slimy tactics to effectively neuter the law. Most writers and bloggers who have written about the incident have focused on a pdf (originally a PowerPoint, posted on the AFT website), which very honestly and cynically describes the process by which the union did its dirty work. The AFT quickly realized that this display of raw union power was not in keeping with its persona as a reform-minded partner that is always willing to collaborate with parents, communities and other stakeholders, and pulled the pdf from its website shortly after the Biddle piece was posted. They then started to play defense … sort of.

2012 – After a successful campaign to pull the trigger at Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, a Mojave Desert town in eastern CA, the CTA went to work. The Wall Street Journal reported that the union sent out “representatives” to Adelanto to disseminate “information” to the parents there. (Union speak alert: the terms “representatives” and “information” mean sending unidentified operatives to petition-signers’ homes to feed them lies about the petition that they just signed.)

2012 Won’t Back Down, a film loosely based on the Parent Trigger, was subjected to a thorough trashing by American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten. As part of her diatribe, she angrily stated I don’t recognize the teachers portrayed in this movie….” This is understandable because, as I explained at the time,

No record indicates she ever served as a full-time teacher or was evaluated by a principal or other school official.

When Weingarten ran for president of New York’s United Federation of Teachers in 1998, her opponent, Michael Shulman, suggested that she was not a “real teacher.”

“She worked five months full-time that I’ve been aware of, in 1992, at Clara Barton High School,” Shulman was quoted as saying in the New York Times. “Since then she taught maybe one class for 40 minutes a day.”

As one who spent almost 30 years as a classroom teacher, I will tell you that the teachers in the movie were quite accurately portrayed and indeed, I “recognized” many of them.

2013 – In an unusual event, the United Teachers of Los Angeles, happy not to be excluded from the process, was a willing party to the conversion at 24th Street School. But UTLA chief Warren Fletcher stepped in it by saying in April that the union was “watching what happens at 24th Street and other schools – watching to see if it destabilizes the schools.” (Note to Fletcher: Poorly performing schools are already “destabilized.” The Parent Trigger is a mechanism to “restabilize.”)

Just where are we now?

The current Weigand conversion saw the parents vote to keep all the teachers but get rid of the principal who had let the school deteriorate during her three years on the job. But a recent one-sided Los Angeles Times piece claimed that….

  •   teachers and students alike loved the principal Irma Cobian.
  •   21 of 22 teachers have asked for transfers to other schools.
  •   a student said Cobian is a special principal who gives her hugs and understands her struggles, such as losing her father to cancer last year.

However, a Parent Trigger press release lays out many facts that the Times either didn’t know or chose not to print:

In June 2011, parents and teachers at Weigand Avenue Elementary School in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles signed a petition as a ‘vote of no confidence’ in their principal. … It identifies on one side the teachers who signed, with parents on the other side and following pages. Date stamps indicate its receipt at that time by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). 

This first petition from Weigand parents and teachers clearly establishes their deep concerns about the principal and her management style many months before a parent union chapter — Weigand Parents United — was formed to pull together their successful 2013 Parent Trigger campaign.

In looking at this original 2011 parent and teacher petition, it’s worth noting:

  • None of the teachers who signed this petition remain at the school. Of 22 teachers who were at the school prior to 2009-2010 when this principal began, only 14 remained in 2010-2011, 11 in 2011-2012 and 8 in this current school year. There has been significant — and detrimental to the students — teacher turnover in the school during the administration of this principal.
  • Correspondingly, with the exit of these teachers over the past three years, the school’s API scores have declined significantly. Prior to the arrival of this current principal, the 2008-2009 API score for Weigand Avenue Elementary School was 717 (23 points ABOVE the average for LAUSD schools. In the first year of her tenure (2009-2010) the API score was 716 (just 7 points above the LAUSD average). In 2010-2011 — when the parents and teachers signed the attached petition — the API score had SLUMPED to 689 and was 39 points BELOW the LAUSD average for that school year. In 2011-2012, the school’s API score remained STAGNANT at 689 putting it a WHOPPING 56 points below the LAUSD average.
  • The data shows that, with the exit of 14 teachers over the past three years (including those who signed the attached petition), academic achievement at the school has dropped dramatically.
  • Weigand Avenue Elementary School is ranked 15th from the BOTTOM of LAUSD elementary schools. It is clear this is a school in academic achievement crisis.
  • Weigand Avenue Elementary School parents cannot wait another three years for this principal to try and turn their school around. She has been singularly unsuccessful to date; 14 of the 22 teachers who were at the school before she arrived have left, apparently unable to work with her. 

The facts are inescapable. This is a school in academic and student achievement decline throughout the tenure of this principal. The parents, unwilling to allow this to continue, have successfully chosen the option that holds this principal directly accountable — and now removes her. 

As a result of the recent Parent Trigger activity, UTLA is starting to feel the heat and plans to push back. The union held a press conference and demonstration at Weigand last Thursday, and called a special meeting this past Sunday. The following is from the UTLA website:

School Threat

Chapter chairs at elementary schools that are facing a possible takeover by “Parent Trigger” are invited to attend an important meeting to discuss strategies for dealing with this threat. Other interested chapter chairs are also welcome to attend.

Important materials will be distributed. This meeting is crucial for chapter chairs at targeted schools.

There have been no reports yet as to what transpired at the meeting.

And finally, you can always tell when the status quo crowd is getting nervous – they invariably ramp up the hysteria. In Diane Ravitch’s case, that’s hard to do, however, because the former reformer turned union-BFF has been on the loopy side now for years. Most recently, in response to the tragic shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, she said,

Every one of the teachers was a career educator. Everyone was doing exactly what she wanted to do. They’ve worked in a school that was not obsessed with testing but with the needs of children. This we know: the staff at Sandy Hook loved their students. They put their students first, even before their own lives.

Oh, and one other thing, all these dedicated teachers belonged to a union. The senior teachers had tenure, despite the fact that “reformers” (led by ConnCAN, StudentsFirst, and hedge fund managers) did their best last spring to diminish their tenure and to tie their evaluations to test scores….

So she is saying that the teachers at the school were exceptional because they were unionized, had tenure and were not “obsessed with testing.”

Huh?

But Ravitch really outdid herself on May 25th when she went after Ben Austin in a vicious ad hominem attack. Responding to the latest trigger event at Weigand, she wrote on her blog,

Ben Austin is loathsome. He ruined the life and career of a dedicated educator. She was devoted to the children, he is devoted to the equally culpable foundations that fund his Frankenstein organization–Walton, Gates, and Broad. His biggest funder is the reactionary Walton Family Foundation, which spends $160 million every year to advance privatization.

Ben Austin is Walton’s useful idiot. He prattles on about his liberal credentials, but actions speak louder than words.

Here is my lifelong wish for him.

Ben, every day when you wake up, you should think of Irma Cobian. When you look in the mirror, think Irma Cobian. Your last thought every night should be Irma Cobian.

Ben, you ruined the life of a good person for filthy lucre. Never forget her. She should be on your conscience–if you have one–forever.

Whatever you may think of the Parent Trigger, Ben Austin is a good and decent man who works tirelessly to give kids and their parents an opportunity to escape failure. He has done nothing to deserve the revolting attack leveled on him by a malevolent crank. Many education writers and bloggers immediately excoriated Ravitch for her tirade. Just a few examples:

·         Alexander Russohttp://laschoolreport.com/sad-teachers-vs-poor-parents/

·         Joanne Jacobs – http://www.joannejacobs.com/2013/05/trigger-parents-fire-principal-unfair-satanic/

·         RiShawn Biddle http://dropoutnation.net/2013/05/28/perhaps-conservative-reformers-have-finally-stopped-protecting-diane-ravitch/

·         Rick Hesshttp://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/rick_hess_straight_up/2013/05/dante_ravitchs_abhorrent_assault_on_ben_austin.html

Perhaps Whitney Tilson said it best in an email:

Even in the world of politics, this type of language and name-calling goes far beyond the bounds of acceptability and reasonable discourse. If Ravitch is reduced to publishing these rabid kind of statements to further her reputation, then it is abundantly clear she has nothing left to work with. Any shred of credibility with which she may have been cloaking herself is now gone. It is time to hold Ravitch fully accountable for the highly inappropriate language she is deliberately injecting into what should be genuine dialogue around public education and its future.

The bottom line here is that when you have union bosses and their acolytes tripping over themselves to discredit, insult and destroy you and your work, it is a sign that you are doing something right. Keep it up, Ben! Eventually, the ancien régime will fall and the parent revolution will be victorious.

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