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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.

Collective Bargaining Disagreement

Collective bargaining serves neither students, competent teachers, nor taxpayers.

A new study reveals that collective bargaining for teachers has a negative effect on future earnings, occupational skill levels and hours worked. Writing in Education Next, researchers Michael Lovenheim and Alexander Willen dissect the long-term ramifications of states that mandate collective bargaining for teachers. While they find no clear effects of collective bargaining laws on how much schooling students ultimately complete, their results do show that laws requiring school districts to engage in the process with teachers unions lead students to be less successful in later life. “Students who spent all 12 years of grade school in a state with a duty-to-bargain law earned an average of $795 less per year and worked half an hour less per week as adults than students who were not exposed to collective-bargaining laws. They are 0.9 percentage points less likely to be employed and 0.8 percentage points less likely to be in the labor force. And those with jobs tend to work in lower-skilled occupations.”

The researchers did a meticulous job adjusting, when necessary, for ethnicity and gender. They also took into account school finance reforms and changes in the generosity of state earned-income tax credits. But taking all the variables into account made little difference in the results, and indeed strengthened their confidence that collective bargaining is responsible for the effects they document.

This is not the first study that found collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) to be detrimental to students. In 2007, Stanford professor Terry Moe reported that collective bargaining “appears to have a strongly negative impact in the larger districts, but it appears to have no effect in smaller districts (except possibly for African American students—which is important indeed if true).”

Frederick Hess, of the American Enterprise Institute, and Martin West from the Brookings Institute point out that CBAs “are vestiges of the industrial economic model that prevailed in the 1950s, when assembly-line workers and low-level managers were valued less for their knowledge or technical skills than for their longevity and willingness to serve loyally as a cog-in-a-top-down enterprise. Collective bargaining contracts are especially problematic on three fronts: 1) they restrict efforts to use compensation as a tool to recruit, reward and retain the most essential and effective teachers, 2) they impede attempts to assign or remove teachers on the basis of fit or performance and 3) they over-regulate school life with work rules that stifle creative problem solving without demonstrably improving teachers’ ability to serve students.”

In this brief video, Stanford researcher Caroline Hoxby details in practical terms how CBAs stifle any management flexibility in determining the best slot for a teacher at a given school as well as denying them the opportunity to get rid of the underperformers – rigidity being the hallmark of CBAs.

So if CBAs don’t do much for students, they surely must benefit teachers, right? Well, no, and they especially penalize the good ones. Low pay, excessive bureaucracy and ineffective colleagues are all attributable to CBAs and anathema to great teachers and high-performing schools. And we lose thousands of our best educators as a result.

Wage compression,” occurs when the salaries of lower paid teachers are raised above the market rate, with the increase offset by reducing pay of the most productive ones. “Why strive to become better if I am not going to be compensated for it?” is the attitude of many. Mike Petrilli of the Fordham Institute takes it one step further, claiming CBAs hurt the bottom line of all teachers. He compared teachers’ salaries in districts across the country which allow collective bargaining with those that don’t. He found that teachers who worked in districts where the union was not involved actually made more money than those who were in collective bargaining districts. According to Petrilli, “Teachers in non-collective bargaining districts actually earn more than their union-protected peers – $64,500 on average versus $57,500.”

CBAs don’t do much for taxpayers either. Professor Joe A. Stone of the University of Oregon writes “In an average California school district, 85 percent of the district’s operating budget is tied to collective bargaining contracts, for both certificated and classified personnel.” (Over Fifty-five percent of California’s general fund expenditures – over $63,000,000,000 – is targeted for education.)

University of Arkansas professor Jay Greene sums it up quite succinctly. “Until the ability of teachers unions to engage in collective bargaining is restrained, we should expect unions to continue to use it to advance the interests of their adult members over those of children, their families, and taxpayers.”

One final note: Union leaders and their fellow travelers love to spread the myth of the “right” to collectively bargain. In fact, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman recently announced that he is leading a coalition of 20 states and the District of Columbia in filing a friend-of-the-court brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to deny Friedrichs and maintain forced dues payment for public employees. In a press release, Public Advocate Letitia James said, “Collective bargaining is a fundamental right. I join Attorney General Schneiderman in supporting this right, and standing up for collective bargaining.”

But there is no “right” to collectively bargain. David Denholm, president of the Public Service Research Foundation, writes that the “right” is non-existent. He writes, “Collective bargaining is a legislated privilege given to unions by friendly lawmakers.” (“Friendly” in this case, of course, means those put in office by the people sitting across from them at the negotiating table.)

CBAs are wrong for kids, wrong for good teachers and wrong for taxpayers. But they sure work well for union bosses, many of whom make fat salaries that most teachers are forced to pay for the “right” to be exclusively represented by them. Some bargain.

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

Charter Chumps

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

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

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

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

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

And then there is California.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chicken Little Class Size

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Poor Teacher Canard Redux – Part I

“Mid-and Late-Career Teachers Struggle With Paltry Incomes” is the latest flawed study to claim that American teachers are underpaid.

Leave it to the left-leaning teacher-union-friendly Center for American Progress to come out with a flatulent report lamenting the allegedly lousy state of teacher pay in the U.S. Even worse, much of the acolyte media dutifully bought the study hook, jive and half-truth. A writer for Huffington Post, tightly clutching a moist hanky, whimpered,

While the report recognizes that low teacher pay is not news – especially when it comes to low entry-level salaries – researchers were interested in seeing if the salaries of mid- and late-career teachers ‘were high enough to attract and keep the nation’s most talented individuals.’ However, in a profession where teacher turnover costs up to $2 billion annually, the results they found are quite depressing. 

Where to begin?!

Let’s start with Andrew Biggs, American Enterprise Institute researcher and scholar, and Jason Richwine, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, who released a study in 2011 in which they found that teachers are actually overpaid. What their study includes – and the Center for American Progress’ conveniently omits – are the perks that teachers typically receive as part of their compensation package, like excellent healthcare and pension packages that aren’t counted as “income.” Armed with data, the authors make a solid case. They find,

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.)

Needless to say, this was beyond the pale for American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten. She promptly bashed the report, insisting that it’s full of “ridiculous assertions” and countered with half-truths and threw in a little class warfare as red meat for her members:

The AEI report concludes that America’s public school teachers are overpaid — something that defies common sense — and uses misleading statistics and questionable research to make its case.

If teachers are so overpaid, then why aren’t more 1 percenters banging down the doors to enter the teaching profession? Why do 50 percent of teachers leave the profession within three to five years, an attrition rate that costs our school districts $7 billion annually?

Kim Anderson, advocacy director at the National Education Association, ignored the data and went for the lachrymose,

Talented individuals turn away from this rewarding profession because they are forced to choose between making a difference in the lives of students and providing for their families.

Actually, the AEI report wasn’t the first to explode the “poor teacher” myth. Back in 2007, researchers Jay Greene and Marcus Winters, then with the Manhattan Institute, found:

Education policy discussions often assume that public school teachers are poorly paid. Typically absent in these discussions about teacher pay, however, is any reference to systematic data on how much public school teachers are actually paid, especially relative to other occupations. Because discussions about teacher pay rarely reference these data, the policy debate on education reform has proceeded without a clear understanding of these issues.

This report compiles information on the hourly pay of public school teachers nationally and in 66 metropolitan areas, as collected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in its annual National Compensation Survey. We also compare the reported hourly income of public school teachers with that of workers in similar professions, as defined by the BLS….

Among the key findings of their report:

  • According to the BLS, the average public school teacher in the United States earned $34.06 per hour in 2005.
  • The average public school teacher was paid 36% more per hour than the average non-sales white-collar worker and 11% more than the average professional specialty and technical worker.
  • Full-time public school teachers work on average 36.5 hours per week during weeks that they are working. By comparison, white-collar workers (excluding sales) work 39.4 hours, and professional specialty and technical workers work 39.0 hours per week. Private school teachers work 38.3 hours per week
  • Compared with public school teachers, editors and reporters earn 24% less; architects, 11% less; psychologists, 9% less; chemists, 5% less; mechanical engineers, 6% less; and economists, 1% less.
  • Compared with public school teachers, airplane pilots earn 186% more; physicians, 80% more; lawyers, 49% more; nuclear engineers, 17% more; actuaries, 9% more; and physicists, 3% more.
  • Public school teachers are paid 61% more per hour than private school teachers, on average nationwide.
  • The Detroit metropolitan area has the highest average public school teacher pay among metropolitan areas for which data are available, at $47.28 per hour, followed by the San Francisco metropolitan area at $46.70 per hour, and the New York metropolitan area at $45.79 per hour. 

Of particular interest to Golden Staters, the California Policy Center (publishers of UnionWatch) has posted Transparent California, a valuable website which is “dedicated to providing accurate, comprehensive and easily searchable information on the compensation of public employees in California.” From it we learn that the average full-time teacher in California made $84,889 last year, and about 34,750 teachers were paid more than $100,000 in total compensation. It’s important to note that CPC includes all income in its reporting – base pay, overtime, health and pension benefits and other forms of compensation, while again, the CAP study misleadingly includes only base pay.

Despite unassailable research, the “poor teacher” myth is still widely believed, in large part due to those who benefit from spreading it. Most notably, the teachers unions exploit this falsehood as a tactic to con teachers into believing that the union is their only avenue for salary enhancement. The unfortunate truth for teachers is that unions actually prevent them from earning more money. Look for more on this in an upcoming post.

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 Strange Politics of Education Reform

… where conservatives demand change and many alleged progressives, including teacher union elites, are really reactionary.

While this may be old news to some, it can’t be said enough: In our polarized times, education reform is the only truly bipartisan issue, whereas with other matters things invariably break down into Republican vs. Democrat, liberal vs. conservative, libertarian vs. conservative (social issues), libertarian vs. liberal (fiscal issues), etc. 

But in the world of edu-politics, folks from the conservative Heritage Foundation have made common cause with their counterparts at the libertarian Reason Foundation with plenty of room in the big tent for Democrats for Education Reform (DFER).  

Though not the main theme of an excellent blog post, “Grabbing the Bull By The Horns: Cuomo, Nutter and the Backlash Against Making Sh*t Up,” DFER executive director Joe Williams indirectly points to the odd political bedfellows who are pushing for much needed changes in education.

Williams begins his piece by writing, 

If you’ve ever been the subject of a blog-tirade by either of the Klonsky Brothers or Leo Casey, you understand that these old school reactionaries have made decades-long careers out of pushing bogus propaganda for their cause, i.e. they make sh*t up and hope that nobody calls them on it. 

The joke here is that both Casey and the Klonsky brothers come from Marxist backgrounds but really are, when it comes to education reform, not progressives but reactionaries – fervently protective of the status quo – blindly pro-union, claiming that more money will solve our education woes, all the while fighting against every meaningful way of improving the system. 

On the other hand, we have some big city liberal mayors who are trying to do the right thing in tough fiscal times. Chicago’s Rahm Emanuel, Philadelphia’s Michael Nutter and New York’s Andrew Cuomo have closed some poorly attended failing schools. So what’s the problem? The teachers unions in those cities, who profess to be all about the kids, social justice and progressivism, pound the table and insist that our outdated 19th Century Prussian-style zip-code mandated school system continue without any innovation, just more money. These unions desperately fight to maintain the status quo and snuff any real reform – charter schools, vouchers, online schools, etc. As such, it’s time we start tarring union leaders with the reactionary brush. 

And while we are talking reactionaries, perhaps their poster child should be Diane Ravitch. She was a liberal before she became conservative before she became a progressive, but she’s really a reactionary. (She is wrong about so much that she should get an award for “Yes I can make this sh*t up.”) In fact, researcher Jay Greene set aside an entire week on his blog to debunk her endless reactionary blather, which he titled “Ravitch is Wrong Week.” 

And as I wrote last week, Louisiana’s Republican governor Bobby Jindal is trying to do his best for kids by expanding his state’s popular voucher program, only to be slapped down by the allegedly progressive Eric Holder. In reality, our attorney general is doing his best to emulate George Wallace, the segregationist and reactionary former governor of Alabama. 

Then there are those whom the teachers unions love to hurl “right wing” epithets at, like the admittedly conservative Heritage Foundation. There, policy expert Lindsey Burke regularly promotes various decidedly un-reactionary reforms – vouchers, tax credits, education savings accounts, etc. Sounds like Ms. Burke is trying to get us out of a complacent, dare I say, reactionary rut. 

Meanwhile, over at the Reason Foundation the decidedly un-reactionary director of education Lisa Snell regularly writes about the importance and benefits of school choice. 

We live in a time where the biggest enemies of change are the teachers unions. They and their fellow travelers espouse progressivism but in reality are clinging to a moribund education system that’s desperately in need of fundamental change. So I guess when you want to get things done in edu-world, look to those who are truly trying to effect real change – conservatives, libertarians and DFER-type liberals, not reactionaries in progressive clothing.

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.

Who Benefits from Collective Bargaining in Education?

Union bosses do — at the expense of good teachers, children, their parents and taxpayers.  

In a tribute to Labor Day, the California Teachers Association has put up a slobbering web page as a paean to the labor movement. Its unintentionally humorous title is “Organized Labor – Proud and Free.”

Free? 

Actually, it is very costly. Here in California, a non-right-to-work state, teachers must fork up over $1,000 a year in order to work in a public school. (They can pay a little less if they choose not to support the union’s political agenda.) And all teachers are forced to be a part of the collective bargaining (CB) unit. 

Collective bargaining, a term first introduced into the lexicon by socialist Beatrice Webb in 1891, is a process of negotiations between employers and employees aimed at reaching agreements that regulate working conditions. The workers are commonly represented by a union, and the agreements reached by this arrangement set wage scales, working hours, teacher training, etc. 

It sounds like a good deal for teachers, but is it?

“Exclusive representation” (more accurately, monopoly bargaining) privileges are the source of compulsory union power.

Handed to union officials by Congress in the National Labor Relations Act, monopoly bargaining gives union kingpins the leverage to herd workers into unions and then force them to pay union dues.

Under federal law, if union organizers win a representation election by even 50% plus one of those voting, they are empowered to negotiate contracts on behalf of all 100% of the workers. In fact, under some circumstances, union officials become monopoly “representatives” even when most workers are against them! And by law each and every worker loses his or her right to negotiate directly with the employer on his or her own behalf.

So problem #1 with CB is that teachers are forced to go along with the 50 percent plus one even if they would rather negotiate their own contacts. 

Do good teachers benefit from CB? 

According to “Perspectives of Irreplaceable Teachers,” a recent study commissioned by TNTP, 

Our respondents cherish the opportunity to make a difference in their students’ lives, but they feel beaten down by many aspects of the profession, like low pay, excessive bureaucracy, and ineffective leaders and colleagues. About 60 percent plan to stop teaching within five years as a result. (Emphasis added.)

Low pay, excessive bureaucracy and ineffective colleagues are all attributable to CB contracts and anathema to great teachers. And we lose thousands of our best educators as a result.

Wage compression,” occurs when the salaries of lower paid teachers are raised above the market rate, with the increase offset by reducing pay of the most productive ones. “Why strive to become better if I am not going to be compensated for it?” is the attitude of many.

Also, where CB exists, teachers’ salaries are typically determined by years on the job and any “professional development” classes they take. Teacher quality and student learning are rarely taken into account. Hence, CB encourages mediocrity.

The “excessive bureaucracy” is created in part by the CB agreement. Top-down, restrictive union demands dictate a teacher’s every move. The union contract with the Los Angeles Unified School District, hardly atypical, weighs in at a flatulent 349 pages. Good teachers need latitude, not piles of union mandates. At the same time, “irreplaceable” teachers are beaten down by a system with too many “ineffective colleagues.”

Do children, parents and taxpayers benefit from CB?

As Stanford Professor Terry Moe has pointed out, a union dominated school system often ignores the needs of children, especially minorities. In an in-depth study, he found that,

·         Collective bargaining appears to have a strongly negative impact in the larger districts, but it appears to have no effect in smaller districts (except possibly for African American students—which is important indeed if true)….

·         Among the larger districts, collective bargaining has more negative effects for high-minority schools than for other schools….

Although the findings are weaker on this count, the best evidence indicates that the impact of collective bargaining is especially negative for schools that are “relatively” high minority within a given (larger) district….

Another Stanford professor, Caroline Hoxby, came up with pretty much the same conclusion in a detailed empirical study: collective bargaining has a negative impact on teacher performance.

University of Arkansas Professor Jay Greene sums it up quite succinctly.

“Until the ability of teachers unions to engage in collective bargaining is restrained, we should expect unions to continue to use it to advance the interests of their adult members over those of children, their families, and taxpayers.”

Other ways that CB damages education:

·         Management’s authority and freedom are much more restricted by negotiated rules.

·         Creates significant potential for polarization between employees and managers.

·         Disproportionate effect of relatively few active employees on the many in the bargaining unit.This is particularly the case when collective bargaining involves a system-wide structure of elections, or when an earlier workforce voted the union in and the current one doesn’t want it.

·         Decreases flexibility and requires longer time needed for decision making.

·         Protects the status quo, thereby inhibiting innovation and change. 

·         Higher management costs associated with negotiating and administering the agreements.

·         Eliminates ability of management to make unilateral changes in wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment.

·         Restricts management’s ability to deal directly with individual employees.

Collective bargaining can have a detrimental effect on all teachers. 

Not surprisingly, when forced to negotiate with their own staff, teachers unions turn into management and are often tyrannical. But ultimately it doesn’t matter which side prevails. As Mike Antonucci writes, 

No matter which side prevails in labor disputes between union management and staff, one group always loses – teachers and education support employees. To avoid embarrassment, many teacher union officials cave in to staff demands, which means teachers must pay higher dues to receive union services. But union managers reveal their own hypocrisy when they play hardball and use tactics even the most anti-union school administrator would shun. Staff unions rightly note that these union methods only embolden school districts to use the same methods themselves — to the detriment of unionized teachers. (Emphasis added.) 

So just who are the big winners from collective bargaining? 

The only absolute winners are the union bosses, who at the end of the day line their pockets with hefty salaries that teachers are forced to pay them in most states for the “privilege” to collectively bargain for them. 

What a racket.

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.

Cursing the Light

Teachers unions continue to use empty rhetoric to bash promising school privatization efforts.

It is a given – and understandable – that teachers unions deplore vouchers or opportunity scholarships, arrangements whereby public monies are used to fund a private school education; it hurts their bottom line. With very few exceptions, private schools are not unionized, and every time students leave their public schools, fewer unionized teachers are needed. That translates to fewer dues dollars for the union.

So like pushy salesmen with an inferior product, the unions resort to evasions, distortions and outright lies to sell their wares.

The unions say, “Vouchers don’t improve outcomes.”

Actually, the data say otherwise. For example, the oldest voucher program in the country is in Wisconsin where “Milwaukee school choice beats the alternative.” More dramatically, Washington, D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) have the lowest graduation rate in the country – a rather pathetic 59 percent. Yet, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (DCOSP) just announced that its 2012 grad rate was 97 percent with 91 percent of the students going on to college.

The unions say, “Vouchers are unpopular with the public.”

That may have been true 20 years ago, but not today. Satisfaction with the DCOSP is very high, with 93 percent of parents happy with their child’s school. In May, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice released the results of a national survey in which 60 percent of American adults said they support vouchers. Also, the findings show that mothers make up the demographic most likely to favor school vouchers:

… 66 percent of moms with school-age children support vouchers for all students to obtain the best education possible. Mothers with school-age children also have more confidence in private school settings than in traditional public schools.

Unfortunately public schools didn’t fare so well in the Friedman study with only 39 percent of Americans giving local public schools an “A” or a “B” compared with 54 percent in 2012 – a 15-point drop in just one year.

(Another entity that is unpopular with the public is the teachers unions. According to a recent Education Next poll, only 22 percent of Americans think the unions have a positive effect on schools.)

The unions say, “… (Voucher) programs cost taxpayers millions of dollars and increase bureaucratic and administrative costs.”

This is a perennial union talking point. It’s also a crock, because voucher programs actually save taxpayers money. A good example is in Washington, D.C. where their choice program costs $7,500 per student – about a quarter of what is spent on students in the DCPS.

If we expanded DCOSP, the savings would be even greater. Looking at the eight states with the highest median per pupil educational spending in the United States,

… If only ten percent of these students took advantage of scholarships similar to the ones in the D.C. program, more than 621,000 students would move from public to private schools within their states. This analysis assumes that the scholarships would be worth 60 percent of the median current-year expenditure per pupil-or a bit more expensive than in Washington. The savings per-pupil would be great, 40 percent; in the aggregate, the savings would be greater still.

The unions say, A pure voucher system would only encourage economic, racial, ethnic, and religious stratification in our society.”

A little class warfare with your entrée? The suggestion here is that vouchers will segregate us as a people and promote civil disharmony. But the opposite is true.

The Cato Institute’s Jason Bedrick writes,

Seven empirical studies have examined school choice’s impact on civic values and practices such as respect for the rights of others and civic knowledge. Of these, five find that school choice improves civic values and practices. Two find no visible impact from school choice. No empirical study has found that school choice has a negative impact on civic values and practices.

The largest and most comprehensive of these studies, Dr. Patrick Wolf’s “Civics Exam,” found that private school students are, on average, more politically tolerant, more knowledgeable about our system of government, more likely to volunteer in their community, and more politically active than their government school peers.

Unfortunately, over the last few decades, civic education in government schools has significantly declined

Jay Greene, writing in The Wall Street Journal, adds,

It is no small irony that President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have been trying to shut down the federally funded voucher program that allows students to attend private religious schools in Washington. In 2009 the administration worked to prevent the program from being re-authorized. Only tough bargaining by House Speaker John Boehner has allowed vouchers in D.C. to survive. The administration that otherwise promotes tolerance at every turn is still angling to end the program.

It is not clear why private schools have an advantage in producing more tolerant students. It may be that private schools are better at teaching civic values like tolerance, just as they may be more effective at teaching math or reading. It is also possible that, contrary to elite suspicion, religion can teach important lessons about human equality and dignity that inspire tolerance.

The unions say, “Blah, blah, blah.”

The unions have a specific agenda and will pursue it at all costs. Whatever claims they make about vouchers serve to further that agenda and have little to do with reality. Their efforts to keep people in the dark forever – and their children in failing schools – are doomed to fail.

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.

Small Class-Size Balloon Punctured Again

It’s time to “just say no” to the small class-size pushers and eliminate seniority as a staffing mechanism.

Small class size means less work for teachers. Parents seem to think that their child will be better educated in a room with fewer classmates. Unions love fewer kids in a class because it equates to a larger workforce, which means more money and power for them. Only problem is that small class size does not lead to greater student achievement. It just means more hiring, then laying off the same teachers and punishing taxpayers who needlessly pay for a bloated workforce.

Last week, the Wall Street Journal published “The Imaginary Teacher Shortage,” an op-ed by professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas Jay Greene, in which he exposes the small-is-better canard.

For decades we have tried to boost academic outcomes by hiring more teachers, and we have essentially nothing to show for it. In 1970, public schools employed 2.06 million teachers, or one for every 22.3 students, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Digest of Education Statistics. In 2012, we have 3.27 million teachers, one for every 15.2 students.

Greene also addresses the fact that as hiring increases, there is less likelihood of a student getting a good teacher. And a having a good teacher is the most important factor in student achievement.

Parents like the idea of smaller class sizes in the same way that people like the idea of having a personal chef. Parents imagine that their kids will have one of the Iron Chefs. But when you have to hire almost 3.3 million chefs, you’re liable to end up with something closer to the fry-guy from the local burger joint.

Just three months ago, director of Cato’s Center for Educational Freedom Andrew Coulson wrote a similar op-ed in the same newspaper. The subhead in “America Has Too Many Teachers” sets the tone:

Public-school employees have doubled in 40 years while student enrollment has increased by only 8.5%—and academic results have stagnated.

In the body of the piece, he gives us some numbers to chew on. Whereas Greene talks specifically about teachers, Coulson refers to the entire “public school workforce.”

Since 1970, the public school workforce has roughly doubled—to 6.4 million from 3.3 million—and two-thirds of those new hires are teachers or teachers’ aides. Over the same period, enrollment rose by a tepid 8.5%. Employment has thus grown 11 times faster than enrollment. (Emphasis added.) If we returned to the student-to-staff ratio of 1970, American taxpayers would save about $210 billion annually in personnel costs.

I contributed my own two cents on the subject in City Journal in July of 2011.

In 1998, Hoover Institution senior fellow and economist Eric Hanushek released the results of his impressive review of class-size studies. Examining 277 separate studies on the effect of teacher-pupil ratios and class-size averages on student achievement, he found that 15 percent of the studies found an improvement in achievement, while 72 percent found no effect at all—and 13 percent found that reducing class size had a negative effect on achievement. While Hanushek admits that in some cases, children might benefit from a small-class environment, there is no way ‘to describe a priori situations where reduced class size will be beneficial.’

So basically, almost three-quarters of all the studies showed no benefit to small class size, and of the rest, almost the same number revealed negative effects as positive ones.

While it is a personal hardship for a teacher to be laid off, no one should be surprised when it happens. When economic times are good, it’s easy to buy into more hiring. But good economic times don’t last forever and when suddenly we can’t afford all the teachers we have hired and some need to be let go, it is brazen of the self-righteous, small class-size true believers to mislead the public with their hand-wringing and political posturing.

And we can’t say we weren’t warned that there were going to be problems. Back in April of 2004, teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci wrote,

Enrollment Figures Spell Big Trouble for Education Labor.

The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) regularly reviews enrollment figures, comparing past years with expectations for the future. Its most recent report shows clearly that the fat years of teacher employment are over, and the lean years may last much longer than anyone has previously predicted.

NCES compared the period 1988-2001 with its projections for 2001-2013. The differences are stark. While public school enrollment increased 19 percent between 1988 and 2001, it is expected to grow only 4 percent between 2001 and 2013. During the period 1988-2001, the number of public school teachers grew by an astonishing 29 percent. The forecast for 2001-2013 is growth of only 5 percent – or less than 0.4 percent annually.

Then in June 2004, referring to Rankings and Estimates, a National Education Association report, Antonucci wrote,

In 2003-04, American public elementary schools taught 1,649,027 more pupils than they did in 1993-94. But there were 247,620 more elementary school classroom teachers in 2003-04 than there were in 1993-94. Simply put, for every 20 additional students enrolled in America’s K-8 schools in the last 10 years, we hired three additional elementary school classroom teachers.

So clearly, having fewer teachers is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is tragic when we lose the good ones. Throughout much of the country, the decisions as to which teachers get laid off are determined by archaic seniority policies. Teachers-of-the-year are laid off before their mediocre or incompetent counterparts simply because the latter may have been hired a few days before the former. This is no way to run an education system. The sooner we get away from the smaller-is-better myth and turn our attention to scrapping the industrial style “last in, first out” method, the better.

About the author: 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.

Debunking the Debunkers

Beware of ideologically driven writers who attempt to “get to the truth.”

As one who is constantly trying to set the record straight on education issues, I am drawn to pieces like “5 Biggest Lies About America’s Public Schools – Debunked.” This article, courtesy of the popular leftist ezine AlterNet, reveals its POV in the first paragraph when writer Kristin Rawls, refers to uber-liberal Rahm Emanuel as a “union-buster.” Let’s examine each “lie,” as she refers to them:

Lie #1: Unions are undermining the quality of education in America. She writes that “union states correlate to higher test scores” but does not compare apples to apples. When one digs into the numbers and breaks them down by ethnicity, family structure, etc., the correlation falls apart. Then she gets positively loopy. She claims that unions are still important to student success because they “fight for equality of opportunity in education by, for example, opposing attempts to resegregate American schools.”

“…fight for equality of opportunity?!” The teachers unions actually do the reverse by aggressively opposing any measures that would enable inner city kids to flee their zip code-mandated hellholes. Giving families any kind of choice – a charter school, opportunity scholarship, etc. is anathema to them. Yes, the teachers unions do their best to literally “keep them in their place.”

Lie #2: Your student’s teacher has an easy and over-compensated job.
In all my reading on education, I don’t recall anyone ever writing that teaching was easy. It’s not. As for “over-compensated?” She tries to make her case using a New York Times story which points out that, “The average primary-school teacher in the United States earns about 67 percent of the salary of an average college-educated worker in the United States.” Neither she nor the Times bother to mention how much time the average teacher works – typically 7 hours a day, 180 days per year – compared to the average college-educated worker, most of whom work over 8 hours a day and 240-250 days a year. Nor does either mention the very generous health benefits and retirement pensions that most teachers get. For a much more honest look at teacher pay and perks, there’s “Assessing the Compensation of Public-School Teachers,” an American Enterprise Institute report, which concludes that

… public-school teacher salaries are comparable to those paid to similarly skilled private sector workers, but that more generous fringe benefits for public-school teachers, including greater job security, make total compensation 52 percent greater than fair market levels, equivalent to more than $120 billion overcharged to taxpayers each year. (Bold added.)

Lie #3: If your child doesn’t get picked in a charter school lottery, he or she is doomed. For this “lie,” Rawls trots out the anti-charter crowd’s favorite study – the CREDO study – which claims that “that charter school students generally perform no better than students attending traditional public schools.” But shortly after the study was released, Caroline Hoxby and others wrote about its many statistical flaws. More recently, researcher Jay Greene noted,

The only way to know with confidence whether charters cause better outcomes is to look at randomized control trials (RCTs) in which students are assigned by lottery to attending a charter school or a traditional public school. RCTs are like medical experiments where some subjects by chance get the treatment and others by chance do not. Since the two groups are on average identical, any difference observed in later outcomes can be attributed to the “treatment,” and not to some pre-existing and uncontrolled difference.

He concludes,

When you have four RCTs – studies meeting the gold standard of research design – and all four of them agree that charters are of enormous benefit to urban students, you would think everyone would agree that charters should be expanded and supported, at least in urban areas. If we found the equivalent of halving the black-white test score gap from RCTs from a new cancer drug, everyone would be jumping for joy – even if the benefits were found only for certain types of cancer.

Unfortunately, many people’s views on charter schools are heavily influenced by their political and financial interests rather than the most rigorous evidence. They don’t want to believe the findings of the four RCTs, so they simply ignore them or cite studies with inferior research designs in which we should have much less confidence.

Lie #4: Your child will automatically be better off if your school district adopts a “school choice” assignment plan. Automatically? Her bias becomes very apparent in this “lie.” She hates the thought of giving parents a choice. She quotes Paul Thomas, an education professor, “The evidence on choice shows [that]…parents do a terrible job with that choice.” Perfect! Parents are too stupid to pick out a good school for their kids. Ah, let’s have the government make that decision for them!!

Actually, the truth is miles from Thomas’ and Rawls’ bogus claims. In A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Vouchers, Greg Forster of the Friedman Foundation writes:

• Ten empirical studies have used random assignment, the gold standard of social science, to examine how vouchers affect participants. Nine studies find that vouchers improve student outcomes, six that all students benefit and three that some benefit and some are not affected. One study finds no visible impact. None of these studies finds a negative impact.
• Nineteen empirical studies have examined how vouchers affect outcomes in public schools. Of these studies, 18 find that vouchers improved public schools and one finds no visible impact. No empirical studies find that vouchers harm public schools.
• Every empirical study ever conducted in Milwaukee, Florida, Ohio, Texas, Maine and Vermont finds that voucher programs in those places improved public schools.
• Only one study, conducted in Washington D.C., found no visible impact from vouchers. This is not surprising, since the D.C. voucher program is the only one designed to shield public schools from the impact of competition. Thus, the D.C. study does not detract from the research consensus in favor of a positive effect from voucher competition.
• The benefits provided by existing voucher programs are sometimes large, but are usually more modest in size. This is not surprising since the programs themselves are modest — curtailed by strict limits on the students they can serve, the resources they provide, and the freedom to innovate. Only a universal voucher program could deliver the kind of dramatic improvement our public schools so desperately need.


Lie #5: Your student’s teacher sees your constructive involvement in your child’s education as an annoyance.
Rawls has this one right. But it’s hardly worth mentioning. She tries to make her case by quoting one teacher who says “I have felt bashed by parents who mask either their children’s failings or their own failings by the rhetoric of school failure.” I taught for almost 30 years, and this type of attitude is quite rare. I and my colleagues were well aware that involved parents are a crucial component for successfully educating a child; we certainly never thought of them as “annoyances.” On the contrary, we did everything we could to encourage and increase their involvement.

While many of us have strong points of view, it is essential we let facts determine our worldview and not vice versa. But I think it’s clear that for Ms. Rawls, “facts” are determined by her politics.

About the author: 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.

Chutzpah on Steroids

An audacious article asserting that teachers unions are good for kids may have fooled some people fifty years ago but now should be viewed as a modern fairy tale.

AlterNet, a far left website that among other things extols the virtues of Communist wretch Howard Zinn, posted an article by Kristin Rawls – are you sitting down – “6 Reasons Teachers Unions Are Good for Kids.” I checked the date and it wasn’t April 1st so I realized that Rawls was actually serious – seriously deluded.

One of her six reasons: Teachers unions are the only major educational players still focused on advancing school equity by leveling the playing field. Yes, the playing field is level – the basement level, however – across much of the country. But parents are more interested in quality, which is why so many of them (especially minorities) are doing everything they can to get their kids away from unionized schools.

Another reason: Teachers unions protect student and teacher safety in schools. Student safety? Really? In California, the teachers unions just killed SB 1530, a bill that would have shortened the endless “dismissal statutes” for teachers who committed offenses involving violence, sex or drug use with children. I don’t think that the students victimized by pedophiles and sadistic teachers would agree with her outlandish statement.

Teachers unions fight to protect teachers’ First Amendment rights… Perhaps the writer needs a history lesson. The First Amendment is in the U.S. Constitution; no one needs a union to guarantee constitutional protections.

Teachers unions oppose school vouchers. She’s right about this one, which is too bad because vouchers work for both the students who avail themselves of them and the students who don’t. The competition factor improves the quality of education for all students. But then again, the writer isn’t looking for quality, just equality. And if kids are equally miserable, well at least they’re equal, right?

A second fawning pro-union article appeared in the Los Angeles Times last week. Michael Hiltzik’s “Proposition 32: A fraud to end all frauds” attacks an initiative that will be on the California ballot in November. This prop would ban not only direct corporate and union contributions to state and local candidates, but also contributions by government contractors to the politicians who control contracts awarded to them, and in addition, it would prohibit automatic deductions by corporations, unions, and government of employees’ wages to be used for politics. The piece is insulting to voters, whom he suggests would be “stupid” to vote for the prop and to union members he believes should be forced to pay dues to a union whether they want to or not.

A much more realistic and sobering article also appeared in the LA Times last week. Michael Mishak’s “California Teachers Assn. a powerful force in Sacramento” details the frightening power wielded by CTA. Just a few quotes from the article will put things in perspective:

The union views itself as “the co-equal fourth branch of government,” said Oakland Democrat Don Perata, a former teacher who crossed swords with the group when he was state Senate leader.

Backed by an army of 325,000 teachers and a war chest as sizable as those of the major political parties, CTA can make or break all sorts of deals. It holds sway over Democrats, labor’s traditional ally, and Republicans alike.

Jim Brulte, a former leader of the state Senate’s GOP caucus, recalled once attending a CTA reception with a Republican colleague who told the union’s leaders that he had come to “check with the owners.”

CTA has since used its institutionalized clout, deep pockets and mass membership largely to protect the status quo… CTA has ferociously guarded a set of hard-won tenure rules and seniority protections, repeatedly beating back attempts by education groups to overturn those measures, increase teacher accountability and introduce private-school vouchers.

In a similar vein, Troy Senik wrote a piece for City Journal, “The Worst Union in America: How the California Teachers Association betrayed the schools and crippled the state.” Like Mishak, he makes a case for the enormously destructive power of the teachers union,

In 1991, the CTA took to the ramparts again to combat Proposition 174, a ballot initiative that would have made California a national leader in school choice by giving families universal access to school vouchers. When initiative supporters began circulating the petitions necessary to get it onto the ballot, some CTA members tried to intimidate petition signers physically. The union also encouraged people to sign the petition multiple times in order to throw the process into chaos.

As the CTA’s power grew, it learned that it could extract policy concessions simply by employing its aggressive PR machine. In 1996, with the state’s budget in surplus, the CTA spent $1 million on an ad campaign touting the virtues of reduced class sizes in kindergarten through third grade. Feeling the heat from the campaign, Republican governor Pete Wilson signed a measure providing subsidies to schools with classes of 20 children or fewer. The program was a disaster: it failed to improve educational outcomes, and the need to hire many new teachers quickly, to handle all the smaller classes, reduced the quality of teachers throughout the state. The program cost California nearly $2 billion per year at its high-water mark, becoming the most expensive education-reform initiative in the state’s history. But it worked out well for the CTA, whose ranks and coffers were swelled by all those new teachers.

Seems overwhelming, doesn’t it? No, not really. In a recent post, education blogger Joann Jacobs spells out some inconvenient realities for the teachers unions. In “Teachers unions go on the defensive,” she points to an article in the New York Times by Frank Bruni who writes that,

In Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and other cities, Democratic mayors have feuded bitterly with teachers’ unions and at times come to see them as enemies. And at a meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors in June, Democratic mayors joined Republican ones in a unanimous endorsement of so-called parent trigger legislation, about which unions have serious reservations. These laws, recently passed in only a few states but being considered in more, abet parent takeovers of underperforming schools, which may then be replaced with charter schools run by private entities.

The unions have also run afoul of the grim economic times. “In the private sector, nobody’s got any security about anything,” said Charles Taylor Kerchner, a professor of education at Claremont Graduate University. So the unions’ fights over pay raises and pensions, he said, made previously routine negotiations “look like pigs at the trough.”

Then, referring to liberal news commentator Campbell Brown’s recent dust up with AFT President Randi Weingarten, Jay Greene says,

. . . the teacher unions are finally being treated as the special interest group they are rather than as credible players in the discussion over the merits of various education policies. When Campbell Brown takes on the unions, the game is over.

Well, maybe not “over.” Greene concedes,

The unions are still quite powerful and policy battles will continue to rage. But a big political and cultural shift has occurred.

Indeed it has, which is why “6 Reasons Teachers Unions Are Good for Kids,” with its brazen, reality-free content, would be a fitting entry in “Mother Goose: The Dark Side.”

About the author: 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.

NEA Agenda: More Money, Minimal Reform

The teachers union not only plays the poverty card, but by battling reforms, ensures that the impoverished will remain that way.

No Education Reform Without Tackling Poverty, Experts Say,” is the title of an article on the National Education Association website. Experts? A trip into the weeds leads to something called the Center on Poverty, Inequality and Public Policy at Georgetown University. Its main benefactor is none other than the Open Society Foundations run by megalomaniac George Soros, a man who once said he saw himself as “some kind of god, the creator of everything.” Expecting anything without an agenda from this bunch would be foolish.

The NEA’s “experts” claim that pouring money into education will eradicate poverty is wrong on all counts. For example, they state that children would be better educated by attending a “high quality pre-school.” Yet Head Start, according to Reason’s Lisa Snell, U. of Arkansas Professor Jay Greene and others, has been a bust. In 2010, Lindsey Burke at the Heritage Foundation wrote,

Taxpayers have been on the hook for more than $100 billion for the Head Start program since 1965. This federal evaluation, which effectively shows no lasting impact on children after first grade and no difference between those children who attended Head Start and those who did not, should call into question the merits of increasing funding for the program, which the Obama administration recently did as part of the so-called “stimulus” bill.

So, $100 billion later, children are no better off attending a preschool, but what’s important to the unions is that more adults are employed. And that means more dues for them to spend on their progressive political agenda which favors causes that have little to do with education – e.g. abortion on demand, same-sex marriage, income redistribution, and nationalized health care. In 2010-2011, NEA spent $133 million in lobbying and gifts to further its progressive agenda.

Also, with all the union kvetching, one might assume that we stint on education spending. In fact, in the U.S. since 1970, education spending has increased 150 percent. Compared to other countries around the world, we are number four in spending after Luxembourg, Switzerland and Norway. Yet,

The three-yearly OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report, which compares the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds in 70 countries around the world, ranked the United States 14th out of 34 OECD countries for reading skills, 17th for science and 25th for mathematics.

Thus the problem is not the amount of money we spend, but how it’s spent. Charter schools typically lead to better educated kids and save us money at the same time. Inner city charter school operators like Eva Moskowitz and Geoffrey Canada and the KIPP schools do a far better job – with fewer tax dollars – than traditional public schools. Even taking the superstars of the movement out of the mix, charter schools outperform traditional public schools. As Jay Greene writes, “Charter Benefits Are Proven by the Best Evidence.”

But no, the NEA doesn’t back charters. And the reason it doesn’t has nothing to do with education; it’s because charters are individually run and therefore very hard to unionize. In fact, only 12 percent of the nation’s 5,500 or so charters are unionized.

If the teachers unions were really serious about improving education and eradicating poverty, they would support the ultimate in school choice – voucher systems. A voucher would give a kid a chance to opt out of a failing public school and use his education dollars to pay for a private school of his choice. This would level the playing field for poorer families. However, the unions can’t abide vouchers because public schools would lose students to private schools, which are not unionized.

Eliminating the twin evils of tenure and seniority would go a long way to improving the current teaching force, by ceding more power to individual school districts. Bad teachers should be fired and the good ones should get raises. Better teachers can also handle slightly larger classes, thereby reducing the overall number of teachers we need.

But saving the taxpayers money, leveling the playing field for the poor, ceding power to local education agencies and thus having fewer dues-paying members are solutions nowhere to be found in the union playbook.

The nation’s education woes began about forty years ago – right at the time the NEA became a major force in education. Certainly other social trends have contributed to the educational morass we find ourselves in, but the National Education Association is the main reason for it – all the time using young children as pawns while vigorously pursuing its political agenda. Despite all the warm and fuzzy platitudes they spew, it is obvious that the teachers unions are not terribly interested in the education of our children or helping them get out of poverty.

About the author: 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.

Visitors from Outer Space and Their Strange Ideas About Education Reform

There are those among us who think that teachers unions, collective bargaining and peer assistance review are the way to a better education for kids. They look like earthlings, but in fact are extraterrestrials.

As the year draws to a close, newspapers, magazines and blogs are filled with best of and worst of lists that deal with everything imaginable. The Hoover Institution’s Koret Task Force got on the bandwagon early and posted Best and Worst in American Education, 2011 in November. All solid stuff. Can a reformer not be happy about the Parent Trigger being raked over the coals, yet surviving, or that many of Michelle Rhee’s reforms are still in place despite leaving her post as D.C. Schools Chancellor after a major push from the American Federation of Teachers? On the worst list, the Task Force includes the Atlanta teacher cheating scandal and the union-orchestrated overturn of Ohio’s recent anti-collective bargaining law.

Then lo and behold, we received a dispatch from Planet Ravitch on December 23rd. (Most people are not aware that shortly after astronomers ruled that Pluto was not a planet in 2006, a new planet would be identified. And it is inhabited!) The people who live on this celestial body (named after Diane Ravitch, a former reformer who turned into a champion of the failing status quo) are afflicted with a dyslexic-like condition: they have the entire education reform picture exactly backwards. The way to true reform is to hold their ideas up to a mirror with the resulting image revealing the best way to proceed.

Washington Post education “reporter” and blogger Valerie Strauss, whom Whitney Tilson rightfully refers to as Diane Ravitch’s mouthpiece, gave over her space last week to fellow Ravitchian Richard Kahlenberg. According to his bio, he is, among other things,

“…an authority on teachers’ unions, private school vouchers, charter schools, turnaround school efforts, and inequality in higher education.”

An authority on teachers unions? Maybe on Planet Ravitch, but he made a bad mistake when in Education Next he engaged especially wise earthling Jay Greene on unions and collective bargaining.

As you would expect, Kahlenberg gets everything backwards in his post. On his worst of list, he accused Terry Moe, author of Special Interest, a brilliant study of the teachers unions, of making “little sense.” (Kahlenberg apparently can’t tell the difference between a teacher and a teachers union.) Additionally, he is dismayed over the proliferation of charter schools because, according to his cherry picked data, most are mediocre. He fails to mention that charter schools have been the saving grace for many inner city kids who have escaped from the union dominated zip code schools they had been forced to attend. While proclaiming to have children’s best interests at heart, he is clearly more concerned that “some charter schools…save money by offering teachers no pensions whatsoever.”

On the plus side, Kahlenberg – surprise! – likes the teachers unions. For example, he writes,

“…the very positive role they can play on national policy was underlined in December, when the National Education Association announced an effort to establish 100 new peer assistance and review programs to better train and, if necessary, weed out ineffective teachers.”

The only problem is that peer assistance programs have been a flop wherever they have been tried. And NEA’s weeding process does not stand much of a chance of seeing the light of day because for it to work at all, it will have to be implemented by union locals. It’s hard to imagine local union bosses talking this one up to the rank and file.

Not surprisingly, Kahlenberg is a fan of collective bargaining, which may benefit mediocre and poor teachers but does very little for the good ones. Moreover, it has been damaging the education process (and therefore children) for about a half-century now. Collective bargaining agreements are nothing more than a top down, collectivist way to ensure that teachers have to do the least amount of work in idealized working conditions with no accountability for the most money. As Jay Greene states,

“Until the ability of teachers unions to engage in collective bargaining is restrained, we should expect unions to continue to use it to advance the interests of their adult members over those of children, their families, and taxpayers.”

In any event, the good news as we look toward 2012 is that for Kahlenberg, Strauss, Ravitch and their fellow aliens, their day has come and gone. We live in a time when change is happening. In July, due to major reform efforts in statehouses all over the country, the Wall Street Journal proclaimed 2011 The Year of School Choice. As Bob Bowdon, director of The Cartel so aptly put it,

“Large entrenched bureaucracies like public education have something in common with aircraft carriers: they never turn around quickly. What’s important is the direction they’re moving, and in this regard the education news is good. Of the 180 degree reversal that’s needed for public schools, we’ve only turned three or four degrees so far, but all the recent trends are taking us in a better direction. The turnaround has begun.”

Happy New Year everyone!!

About the author: 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.