Posts

LAUSD – Nick Melvoin and Kelly Gonez, pro-school-choice candidates defeat union-backed rivals

Where school dollars go to die

A new study points fingers at charter schools for malfeasance, but traditional public schools are still by far #1 in wasteful spending.

Are Charters Doomed in California?

Charters Under Attack

For years, teachers’ unions have tried to kill charter schools—but only on odd-numbered days. On even-numbered days, they tried to organize them. Things lately have become very odd, at least in California; the unions are in full-assault mode.

United Teachers of Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl has long groused about how charter schools don’t play by the rules. Teachers’ union talking points effortlessly roll off his tongue—billionaires this, accountability that. But on May 4, despite pleas by charter school parents, UTLA, in concert with the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools—a union front group—planned a major protest outside schools where charters share a campus with traditional public schools. “We will stand with Los Angeles parents, educators, students, administrators, and community members for fully funded public schools and call on corporate charter schools to pay their fair share to the district,” AROS said in a statement. Of course, charters are public schools, not “corporate.” And charters are the ones that aren’t fully funded, which is why they frequently have to share facilities. But UTLA and AROS don’t bother with those minor details. The rally mostly fizzled, so school kids were thankfully spared the sight and sound of angry protesters marching and chanting.

UTLA wasn’t finished. In what it thought would be a coup de grâce, the union released the results of a “study” it commissioned, which, among other things, asserted that the Los Angeles Unified School District “lost more than $591 million dollars to unmitigated charter school growth this year alone.” The school district countered by pointing out that it actually makes money due to the existence of charter schools. Undaunted, Caputo-Pearl was at it again in August. “With our contract expiring in June 2017, the likely attack on our health benefits in the fall of 2017, the race for governor heating up in 2018, and the unequivocal need for state legislation that addresses inadequate funding and increased regulation of charters, with all of these things, the next year-and-a-half must be founded upon building our capacity to strike, and our capacity to create a state crisis, in early 2018,” he told the annual UTLA leadership conference in July. “There simply may be no other way to protect our health benefits and to shock the system into investing in the civic institution of public education.”

Despite public charter schools outperforming traditional public schools in both English & Math on standardized testing for 2016 - Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of the United Teachers of Los Angeles, had stated the importance of spending the next year-and-a half on building a capacity to strike against charter schools.

Despite public charter schools outperforming traditional public schools in both English & Math on standardized testing for 2016 – Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of the United Teachers of Los Angeles, had stated the importance of spending the next year-and-a half on building a capacity to strike against charter schools.

In late August, just weeks after Caputo-Pearl’s tantrum, UTLA hit the streets with a media campaign. Empowered by a massive dues increase, the union began spreading its venom via billboards, bus benches, and the media. The timing was particularly bad, as the just-released 2016 state standardized-test results showed that charters outperformed traditional public schools in both English and math. Los Angeles, where one in six students is enrolled in a charter, saw 46 percent of its independent charter-school students meeting or exceeding the standard on the English Language Arts test, versus 37 percent for students in traditional public schools. On the math test, the difference was smaller: 30 percent versus 26 percent. Despite the unions’ perpetual “cherry-picking” mantra, 82 percent of charter students qualify as low-income compared with 80 percent for traditional schools. Charters also match up closely in areas of ethnicity, English-language learners, and disabled students.

The California Teachers Association jumped into the act on August 31 by unleashing “Kids Not Profits,” an “awareness” campaign calling for more “accountability and transparency of California charter schools and exposing the coordinated agenda by a group of billionaires to divert money from California’s neighborhood public schools to privately managed charter schools. These same billionaires are spending record amounts of money to influence local legislative and school board elections across the state.” In a press release announcing the launch of the campaign, the union quotes from its new radio ad, which claims to lay out the “billionaires’ coordinated agenda”:

  1. Divert money out of California’s neighborhood public schools to fund privately run charter schools, without accountability or transparency to parents and taxpayers.
  2. Cherry-pick the students who get to attend charter schools—weeding out and turning down students with special needs.
  3. Spend millions trying to influence local legislative and school board elections across California.

While Numbers One and Two are outright lies, there is some truth to Number Three. CTA has become fat and happy. It is by far California’s biggest political spender. It drives the union elite crazy that philanthropists are pouring unprecedented amounts of money into edu-politics in an attempt to balance the playing field. The union is finally facing some stiff competition in Sacramento, as well as in some local school board races.

Second only to its obsession with billionaires is the union’s incessant harping about accountability. “It’s time to hold charter schools and their private operators accountable to some of the same standards as traditional public schools,” CTA president Eric Heins says. This is laughable. Charter schools operate in accordance with all state and federal laws. They must meet rigorous academic goals, engage in ethical business practices, and be proactive in their efforts to stay open. If a school doesn’t successfully educate its students according to its charter, parents will pull their kids out and send them elsewhere. After a specified period—usually five years—the school’s charter is revoked. A failing traditional public school, by contrast, rarely closes. Union-mandated “permanence” laws ensure that tenured teachers, no matter how incompetent they may be, almost never lose their jobs.

The CTA and other unions can’t deal with the fact that non-unionized charters typically do a better job of educating poor and minority students than do traditional public schools. So they lie and create distractions in order to preserve their dominion. But all the yammering about charters “siphoning money from public schools,” grousing about billionaires “pushing their profit-driven agenda,” and bogus cries for “accountability” simply expose the unions as monopolists who can’t abide competition. But that’s just what children, their parents, and taxpayers deserve—less union meddling and more competition and choice.

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

LAUSD Spends More Even as Enrollment Drops

Editors Note: By almost every objective standard, the educational outcomes delivered by the Los Angeles School District are among the worst in the nation. The following article documents how LAUSD has spent millions, hundreds of millions, on budget items that have little impact on the quality of classroom education, all the while attempting to blame charter schools for their budget challenges. We’ve dug into this issue in other articles published this month: “LA Story: The Poorer You Are, the More Likely You Are to Support Charters” documents how, ironically, it is the wealthy enclaves of Los Angeles where voters support union backed school board candidates, and how voters in underprivileged communities are more likely to support reform candidates and charter schools. In “ACLU Turns its Back on LA’s Poorest Students in Attack on Charter Schools” we describe recent efforts by the ACLU, surprisingly, to discredit charter school performance using biased statistics. In “Anti-Charter-School Rhetoric Isn’t Helping L.A.’s Kids,” a board director of the nonprofit Alliance College Ready Public Schools debunks the unfounded anti-charter school claims that are relentlessly pushed by the teachers union. There is a war in Los Angeles for the future of the next generation of citizens. The war is not between unions who care about students and “millionaires and billionaires trying to hijack education for profit.” The war is between innovative charter school operators, nearly all of them nonprofits, who are logging impressive successes against a teachers union that is bent on their destruction.

The Los Angeles Unified School District is hemorrhaging cash, and the teachers union wants you to believe the problem is charter schools. The real problem is closer to home: district officials and teachers union leaders who systematically raid the coffers with no regard for the consequences.

LAUSD’s new $7.6 billion budget, issued in June for the coming fiscal year, adds $700 million in new spending. Most of that new spending will fund expenses outside the classroom as the district struggles to pay for increased benefits. This new budget comes just after state officials ordered the district to stop misallocating funds intended for high-­needs students. Local advocates say the new LAUSD budget continues to violate the state order.

LAUSD continues to spend more even as the district has lost over 100,000 students since 2006 – a drop of more than 20%. Despite the exodus, union leaders have pressed the district to add teachers and administrators. The district has seen a 22% increase in administrative staff over the last five years. Those teachers and administrators earn relatively generous salaries and benefits despite the abysmal performance of LAUSD schools overall. That generosity has produced unfunded pension liabilities of roughly $13 billion – about 1.5 times the district’s annual operating budget. Its operating budget runs a deficit of $333 million and rising, projected to exceed half a billion annually by 2019-­2020.

Then there are the district’s laughable, myriad budgeting failures. LAUSD has spent $73 million for a new ethnic studies program that was supposed to cost $4 million. The district will have spent more than $200 million for a new computer system by 2018 – for which they originally budgeted $27 million. That miscalculation was so severe that it required a temporary district­wide hiring freeze.

The truth, then, is that charters are not the problem.
The problem is that LAUSD schools are consistently
among the worst in the United States – and that residents
pay a premium for those miserable results.

Last year, the district clocked several financial disasters. In April 2015 alone, Superintendent Ramon Cortines asked the school board to set aside $1 billion in additional funds for a union health care agreement – and wanted the board’s approval before they’d even been presented with the district’s annual budget. This being the LAUSD, the school board agreed, even refusing board member Monica Ratliff’s request for a 10­ year analysis of the district’s future obligations.

At the same time, the LAUSD school board unanimously approved a teachers contract that included a 10.36% pay raise and added $278.6 million a year to the district’s budget deficit. Board president Richard Vladovic, endorsed by the teachers union, claimed the contract was “the right thing to do” because teachers “are worth every penny, and more.” A good idea, but can the district afford it? Vladovic said the superintendent would figure out the math. In the same agreement, the school board agreed to hire 139 additional teachers and allowed teachers to collect 14.3% of their annual salary in back pay over the next two years.

Despite this assortment of imprudent financial decisions by the union ­controlled school board, United Teachers Los Angeles, the LAUSD teachers union, blames charter schools for the district’s problems. As part of their propaganda effort, the union funded a study claiming charter schools have cost LAUSD $591 million in lost revenue due to declining enrollment. Many district officials and charter school leaders disagree, pointing to numbers that suggest charter schools actually bring LAUSD money.

The truth, then, is that charters are not the problem. The problem is that LAUSD schools are consistently among the worst in the United States – and that residents pay a premium for those miserable results. Instead of solving its financial problems, Los Angeles Unified makes them worse with every new budget. LAUSD requires serious financial reforms to maintain fiscal solvency, and these reforms must start with reining in unions, not attacking charters, the only part of Los Angeles Unified that is successful.

David Schwartzman is a junior studying economics and applied mathematics at Hillsdale College. He is a Journalism Fellow at the California Policy Center in Tustin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anti-Charter-School Rhetoric Isn’t Helping L.A.’s Kids

As the son of poor sharecroppers from East Texas who came to California to work as migrant farm workers, I greet the new school year as a time of hope and possibility for my family.

Neither of my parents was able to complete elementary school in the segregated South, but they knew education was the ticket to a brighter future for my brothers and me. With their encouragement, I went on to graduate from UCLA and Harvard law school. I was lucky to have been raised in a small town with few minority students and an excellent Public School system. Many of my relatives and friends who lived in Los Angeles did not receive the same education opportunity I was afforded.

As a result, I have spent the greater part of my adult life committed to expanding educational opportunity, especially for poor black and brown kids who are just like me. I am increasingly dismayed at the nasty polarization in education politics. For those of us who say we are concerned about public education, we urgently need to change the tenor and discourse about how to improve all of our schools.

20160907-CPC-Alliance
Alliance charter high schools have a 95% graduation rate

Regrettably, this new school year has begun amid ill-informed denunciations of charter schools by the NAACP and Black Lives Matter; a skewed and misleading piece by TV comedian John Oliver; and closer to home, a hyperbolic call to arms by the president of United Teachers Los Angeles, the teachers’ union for Los Angeles Unified schools, against charter schools more broadly and specifically against Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, of which I am a founder and on whose board I still sit.

Missing in all the critiques of charter schools is any mention of student needs and achievement. Instead we are fed abstract arguments about the need to protect bureaucratic government systems that have shortchanged minority families for decades. Missing has been the voices of hundreds of thousands of parents who have found a better opportunity for their children in innovative, autonomous public charter schools.

At Alliance schools, neither our students nor their parents care about the governance structure of their school. Like my parents, what they care about is if their school is safe and welcoming and whether it lives up to the promise to educate all students regardless of how they walk in the door. At Alliance, we have lived up to that promise.

The average Alliance student enters our middle and high schools four to five grade levels behind in reading. Yet, 95 percent of Alliance students graduate in four years and 95 percent of those graduates are accepted to college.

It is highly insulting to the 12,500 families and 1,200 teachers, school leaders and staff — who have worked tirelessly to build Alliance into one of the largest and most successful public school networks in the nation — to dismiss their hard work and dedication to student success as a nefarious conspiracy led by a secret cabal of “billionaires” determined to destroy public schools. It’s also an offensive distortion of reality.

When I hear the president of UTLA regularly condemn Alliance specifically and charter schools more broadly, I feel that I am living in an alternate reality. In any rational universe, Alliance schools would be celebrated, studied and asked to share what we have learned.

There is a strong case to be made for the positive impact charter schools like Alliance have had on traditional public schools. In Los Angeles, we have helped to change the debate and expectations about what is possible, especially for black and brown students in our city’s lowest-income communities.

More important, we’ve made a difference in the lives of our students and their families. Beyond the exceptional results of Alliance schools, the 2015 research study by Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that the academic gains in math and reading for African American, Latino, low-income and special education students in urban charter schools are significantly higher than traditional urban public schools. The example of what is possible at high-performing charter schools has helped spur the LAUSD to increase graduation rates as well as strengthen its commitment to college-ready education for all students.

I applaud LAUSD Superintendent Michelle King’s effort to cool the heated us-vs.-them rhetoric fueled by the teachers union, and instead turn her focus on charters and traditional schools learning from each other, increasing high-performing schools of all kinds and offering low-income families the school choice that more affluent families have.

As we begin the new school year, let’s focus on the wonder and promise that can be seen in eyes of every child who walks into a school — any type of school. It is long past time to turn down the bombastic rhetoric and divisions driven by adult politics and focus instead on what works to provide all of our children a high-quality education.

Virgil Roberts is an attorney at the law firm of Bobbitt and Roberts, and a member of the board of directors of Alliance College-Ready Public Schools. This commentary originally appeared in the Los Angeles Daily News and appears here with permission from the author.

Union Kingpin Threatens California

In a blatant power-play, UTLA president targets health benefits and charter schools, calling for a “state crisis” if he doesn’t get his way.

United Teachers of Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl gave a speech for the ages a couple of weeks ago, securing a wing in the pantheon-of-vile, a place which includes such memorable outbursts as National Education Association general counsel Bob Chanin’s “right-wing bastards” farewell-to-troops speech in 2009 and Chicago Teacher Union boss Karen Lewis’ talk to the Illinois Labor History Society in 2012, where she joked about the possibility of union members killing the wealthy.

Speaking at the annual UTLA leadership conference, Caputo-Pearl said “With our contract expiring in June 2017, the likely attack on our health benefits in the fall of 2017, the race for Governor heating up in 2018, and the unequivocal need for state legislation that addresses inadequate funding and increased regulation of charters, with all of these things, the next year-and-a-half must be founded upon building our capacity to strike, and our capacity to create a state crisis, in early 2018.  There simply may be no other way to protect our health benefits and to shock the system into investing in the civic institution of public education.” (Emphasis added.)

He proceeded to introduce “10 ingredients to building the power we need, and the strike readiness we need, between mid-2016 and early 2018.” While a lot of his talk was innocuous rah-rah union bloviating, the threats were unmistakable, and many of them based on award-winning lies, half-truths and exaggerations.

For example, Caputo-Pearl claims that “California hovers around 45th among the 50 states in per-pupil funding.”  But, quoting a National Education Association report, Mike Antonucci writes, “…current expenditures per student – in other words, what the state actually spends…California ranks 22nd.”

Caputo-Pearl also claims, “By law, unions can only spend a tiny percentage of dues money on political campaigns. This means that we must raise money for political campaigns through separate voluntary contributions to PACE (UTLA’s political action wing).”

Here, he is conflating donations to candidates and political spending. Money directly given to candidates comes from PACE and is indeed donated voluntarily by teachers. However, all other political outlay – independent expenditures, ads, etc., – comes from teachers’ dues. Surely he knows this.

Caputo-Pearl’s obsession with, and comments about charter schools are especially egregious. He proudly stated, “In May, we made history through research,” and proceeded to go into some detail about the bogus study that UTLA commissioned, which alleges that the Los Angeles Unified School District loses $591 million per year to charter growth. What Caputo-Pearl ignored, however, is that the school district maintains that it actually makes money due to the existence of charter schools. According to LA School Report, “In January when the Charter Schools Division presented its budget, it showed that the district receives half a million dollars more than they need to pay for the division.”

Especially angry about the charter school comments was Jason Mandell, communications director of the California Charter Schools Association. He rightfully said that instead of scapegoating charters for being a financial drain, that if the district wants to ward off a financial crisis, “it needs to address its $13 billion in unfunded post-retirement liabilities.”

In fact, if Caputo-Pearl is looking for a crisis, there are several already in play that the union can take credit for. In addition to the aforementioned unsustainable healthcare and pension liabilities, there is the little matter of how well school kids in Los Angeles are being educated. Interesting that this little angle never entered into Caputo-Pearl’s screed. While LAUSD claims that the graduation rate is now 75 percent, if you remove the smoke-and-mirrors, it ain’t even close to that. When it was announced in February that the graduation rate was at 54 percent, the district augmented a “credit recovery plan,” which allowed students to take crash courses on weekends, holidays, etc. – and voila! Combined with the demise of the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE), the fake classes enabled the graduation rate to leap to 75 percent. While there is no single cause for LA students’ poor performance, some of the blame can be attributed to collective bargaining which, as Terry Moe and other researchers have shown, has a detrimental effect on student learning.

In any event, the proof will be in the pudding for those students who go on to college. The best estimates say that nationwide, 60 percent of first-year students who go to college need remediation. If it is only 60 percent in LA, I will be shocked.

So in addition to avoiding the district’s awful grad rate and looming fiscal apocalypse, Caputo-Pearl lied or was just dead-wrong about spending, the union political donation mechanism and charter school finances. If the union boss is successful in his mission, taxpayers will be soaked even more than they are now and many of our most vulnerable children will be forced back into failing public schools. (By the way, I have covered only a small portion of Caputo-Pearl’s inflammatory talk. To read the whole thing, go here.)

No, we don’t need another crisis, Mr. Caputo-Pearl. We have a few perfectly good ones now that your union has been instrumental in generating. Let’s not make an ugly situation even worse.

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

Los Angeles Department of Monopoly and Power

Educating students is far from the #1 priority of the school board and the teachers union in LA.

On February 11th, LA School Report released an internal Los Angeles Unified School District document which stated that just 54 percent of seniors in LA are on track to graduate. The drop off from 74 percent last year was immediately attributed to the new “A through G” requirements, which ensure that graduating students are ready for acceptance into California public universities.

The rather lame, “This is the first year of the plan, so we are just getting the kinks out” excuse does not hold water. The A-G plan was initially formulated in 2005, but the LAUSD school board didn’t pay much attention to it. So instead of ramping up the rigor, they decided that in 2017 students could pass with a grade of “D,” instead of the “C” as was in the original plan. (This year’s class had been green-lighted for a “D” passing grade all along.)

Oh but wait, there is some “good” news. Due to the district’s “credit recovery plan” – allowing students to take crash courses on weekends, holidays etc. – the graduation rate has just been upgraded to a less cataclysmic 63 percent. Yeah, 63 is better than 54, but it still stinks. And the demise of the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE) has been left out of the equation. The test was killed a few months ago by the California legislature and, worse, the legislators chose to give diplomas retroactively (going back to 2006) to students who passed their coursework but failed the test.

The exam was hardly rigorous. According to the California Department of Education website, the English–language component addressed state content standards through tenth grade and the math part of the test addressed state standards in only grades six and seven and Algebra I. Hence, whatever the graduate rate actually turns out to be in 2016, it would have been lower had the state not knocked out a test that every high school grad should be able to easily pass.

So what’s a school board to do? Simply divert attention away from the problem.

The LAUSD school board’s major agenda item of late has been to slow charter school growth. According to Sarah Angel, managing director of advocacy for the California Charter Schools Association, “We are seeing an unprecedented uptick in the recommendation of denials of charter schools.” She pointed out that the LA school board approved 89 percent of the charter school applications it received in 2013, but that rate has been cut in half this year. The anti-charter push came about when the board went bananas over philanthropist Eli Broad’s plan to turn half the schools in LA into charters. Nothing will invigorate monopolists like a little old-fashioned competition.

Not to be outdone by the school board’s turf-protection moves, the United Teachers of Los Angeles has swung into action, joining a union-led national demonstration of support for traditional public school districts. Dubbed “walk ins,” these events were led in Los Angeles by UTLA and involved parents walking into schools with their kids at the beginning of the school day on February 17th. What this was supposed to accomplish is anyone’s guess.

The union also just raised its dues 30 percent, claiming more money is needed to “battle foes of traditional public education.”

Then, UTLA boss and class warfare expert Alex Caputo-Pearl began beating the tax-the-rich drum at a fever pitch. In an obvious reference to Eli Broad and some other philanthropists, he recently averred, “If billionaires want to be involved, they should not undermine programs, they should contribute their fair share in taxes.” Wondering how he knew what taxes certain individuals paid, I sent an email to Mr. Caputo-Pearl and UTLA’s communication director, inquiring which billionaires he was referring to and how much they paid in taxes. They have not deigned to respond to my query thus far. (Note to AC-P: The rich pay plenty of taxes, but 44 percent of Americans don’t pay any, and rest assured, there are no billionaires in that group.)

As if the school board and teachers union’s effort to damage charters wasn’t enough, there is a plan afoot to get an initiative on the ballot this year that would make charter schools illegal. Why? Because, according to the “Voices Against Privatizing Education” website, charters are “racist… cherry pick students, falsify records, commit enrollment fraud, close down community schools, destroy jobs, bust up unions and segregate students.” Not surprisingly this bundle of outright lies has the backing of several teachers unions and individual union leaders.

You see, charter schools are not being singled out for demolition because they haven’t worked; they are on the radar of the school board and the union precisely because they have been successful. At the same time that so many students in LA’s traditional schools are failing to meet graduation standards, students from the same demographic groups are thriving in charter schools. By the time they’ve graduated, students at charter schools are over three times more likely to have completed courses needed for college admission than students at traditional public schools.

Also, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO) conducted an analysis of charter schools in LAUSD in 2014 and found that its students gain significantly more learning time than their peers in traditional public schools. Among its findings:

  • Charter school students gain 79 more days of learning than their traditional school peers in math, as well as 50 additional days of learning in reading.
  • Latino students gain 72 more days of learning in math and 43 extra days in reading.
  • Latino students living in poverty gain 115 additional days of learning in math and 58 additional days in reading.
  • African American students gain 14 extra days of learning in both reading and math.
  • African American students living in poverty gain 58 additional days of learning in math and 36 additional days in reading.

Evelyn Macias, mother of Julia Macias, one of nine student plaintiffs behind the Vergara lawsuit, recently penned an op-ed for LA School Report, in which she wrote,

We need to look at state policies, legislation and labor agreements that have, over the course of decades, eroded and diminished the rights of children, low-income working families, and ALL families, by claiming the higher moral ground for employees, while much of our leadership remains silent.

Our children are falling through the cracks, while we stand and watch. Who besides their parents and student advocacy groups will step up?

Who besides parents and certain advocacy groups? Who, indeed? Certainly not the obstructionist school board and teachers union. They are intent on protecting turf and maintaining their monopoly. Educating children is far down on their to-do list. Shame on them.

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

Unionization Push Threatens Alliance College-Ready Public Schools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The NEA, Social Justice and Indoctrination Ghettos

The NEA convention had its humorous moments as well as a very disturbing one.

The National Association Education’s yearly convention, which wrapped up last week, was mostly a tame affair with not much worth writing about. But NEA executive director John Stocks did provide some unintentionally comedic moments. His boiler plate lefty political ranting included solemn affirmations about “the insidious entitlements of white privilege” and the evils of “income inequality.” The latter is especially amusing since the latest available NEA tax filing reveals that Stocks’ total yearly compensation is $505,288. But upon further review, maybe his “income inequality” gripe has some merit. American Federation of Teachers president and fellow inequality-griper Randi Weingarten made $543,679 during the same time period. So maybe Stocks is irked about the $38,391 gap.

Then there were Stocks’ shout-outs to such fringe groups as Occupy Wall Street, all of which led Stocks to start screaming – not passionately – just screaming about how we are now in a “movement moment.” (The last time I experienced one of those was after eating some bad clams.)

For an organization that may well be on the verge of losing its forced dues racket and have to moderate its message to actually woo customers, Stocks’ talk was far out in left field, and surely turning off moderates and right-of-center members. For more on his talk, read Jason Hart’s account on Watchdog.org. If you have the stomach to watch to the whole 25 minutes, you can see it here.

Far scarier than Stocks’ talk was the recipient of NEA’s “Social Justice” award, one Jose Lara, dean at LA Unified’s Santee Education Center and a member of the United Teachers of Los Angeles board. The award honors the union member who “demonstrates the ability to lead, organize and engage educators, parents, and the community to advocate on social justice issues that impact the lives of students, fellow educators, and the communities they serve.” While “social justice” has as many definitions as people using the term, perhaps the most accurate comes from the Urban Dictionary:

Promoting tolerance, freedom, and equality for all people regardless of race, sex, orientation, national origin, handicap, etc… except for white, straight, cisgendered males. F*** those guys, they’re overprivileged no matter what.

That Lara was chosen as anything but “Leftist Indoctrinator-in-Chief” is a joke. On Memorial Day weekend in 2010, Lara, then a teacher, took his students to Arizona on a “field trip” to protest the state’s new immigration law. In a YouTube video, Lara is seen standing in front of a wall-to-wall mural featuring a Who’s Who of murderous revolutionaries, including Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, while proudly displaying the motto Patria o Muerte, Venceremos!!! (Fatherland or Death, We Shall Overcome!!!).

Lara’s radical activities have been well-documented since then. His latest coup was in November 2014 when he led a successful charge to get “ethnic studies” classes added to LAUSD’s graduation requirements beginning with the class of 2019. This move will serve to resegregate schools with each ethnic group separating itself from the general population. At a time when we desperately need to become more united at as a people, ethnic studies classes will further balkanize us.

But it’s really much worse than just ethnic studies. Lara’s brand comes with a radical hate-America, class warfare agenda. In his five minute acceptance speech for the NEA award, he made his thoughts known. He talked about, “fighting for the most vulnerable and oppressed in our community” and that the culture has been guilty of “institutional racism” by “keeping students from learning about their own history.”

Left in the hands of Jose Lara and his ilk, ethnic studies will become pure Alinsky fare, a never-ending barrage of revolutionary, America-bashing screeds, serving only to keep us in race, ethnicity and class ghettos.

That the NEA champions this type of indoctrination is reprehensible. Rich lefties like John Stocks, who laud the Occupy socialists and the Lara-type revolutionaries don’t know what they are in for. As Churchill said, “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.” Whether Stocks is an appeaser or a true believer, he, as card-carrying one-percenter, will in time become croc fodder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

20150303-UW_Ring-LAUSD-SCO

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

20150303-UW_Ring-LAUSD-Actual

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 *   *   *

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

LA Teachers Union: Striking Out?

UTLA is planning to walk out over a mess that it helped to create.

The case is being built for a teachers’ strike in Los Angeles. The next step in the contract negotiation process is mediation, whereby a state-appointed mediator will try to get the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) to reconcile their differences. If no progress is made during those sessions, scheduled for March 26th, April 6th and April 15th, the fact-finding stage is next. Anything that comes out of this part of the process is not binding, but could be influential in the last step in which the district makes its final offer. At that point, the union can accept the deal, or reject it and call for a strike vote.

There are a number of issues on the table, but the main sticking points are as follows:

UTLA wants a bigger raise than LAUSD is offering. The district’s offer is 5 percent, but the union, after originally asking for 17.5, has lowered its demand to 8.5 percent, retroactive to July 2014.

The union wants smaller classes. Due to budgetary constraints, the district wants latitude in determining the number of teachers on the payroll. The union wants the district to commit to a hard and fast teacher-student ratio. Fewer teachers, of course, translate to larger classes.

The union does not want an imposed teacher-evaluation system. In light of a lawsuit settled in 2012 that mandated substantive teacher evaluations, the district came up with a simple four-level teacher-evaluation plan which it instituted in 2013. But the union pushed back successfully, claiming the district single-handedly imposed the process, prompting an administrative law judge to rule that LAUSD had to repeal it. The decision came in response to an unfair labor practices charge that UTLA filed three months later. The union is demanding to be a part of any new evaluation system for its teachers.

Moving away from the bargaining table, the leaders of the two warring factions have gone public with their case. In January, LA Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines called the union’s latest demands “entirely unrealistic” and asserted that they raise “serious ethical and equity issues” for the district. He pointed out that

… all the district’s other unions have agreed to new contracts within the current economic landscape, he chided UTLA for its bargaining stance over 16 negotiating sessions, saying, ‘It is regrettable that the current UTLA leadership has gone in an entirely different direction.’

UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl has been mouthing off to the press all along, lambasting the district and everything else he can think of. At a rally in downtown LA last week, throwing in everything but the kitchen sink, he bloviated,

The recession, the cuts to the bone at schools, the attacks on public service, the increasingly savage racism and economic inequality that our students face, John Deasy for three years, all of them have set us back. And we are not going to take it anymore.

Okay, now here is the reality: LAUSD is mired in fiscal purgatory. Dealing with a $160 million deficit, Cortines said just 11 days ago that he has already begun cutting programs for next year, and layoffs are next with the first round of pink slips due to go out March 15th. (Worth noting: $160 million is almost the exact figure LAUSD is paying to the victims of one teacher – sexual predator Mark Berndt, whose wretched legacy owes a nod to the teachers union which traditionally has insisted on laws that make it practically impossible to get rid of incompetent and debauched educators.) When asked what’s most likely to be cut, Cortines said, “Everything.” LAUSD officials added that giving the union everything it is asking for would pile another $800 million of debt on the district.

If layoffs become necessary, Cortines will be painted as the goat, but it is the union that bears the majority of the responsibility. In good economic times, UTLA – and most teachers unions – demand that school districts use up all available resources to hire more educators. Then, when the inevitable economic downturn hits, layoffs become necessary. Also, it’s not just teachers who are hired when the economy is robust; more support personnel are invariably a part of the package.

The fiscal situation is even bleaker for the district than the $160 million deficit and additional $800 million the union is demanding the district spend. Due to recent legislation, school districts in California now have to come up with a greater proportion of retired teachers’ pensions. This will cost the district an additional $1.1 billion over the next seven years. The annual salary for LAUSD teachers who have taken some professional development classes and taught for 10 years is $75,592, which the union says isn’t enough. But while union leaders whine over what they deem to be paltry salaries, they never mention the additional perks a teacher gets like a comprehensive healthcare package and a defined-benefit pension. When those costs are added in, that ten-year teacher’s total compensation is more like $90,000. Not bad for 180 days work.

Also, teachers – the good ones, that is – could be making considerably more if not for the industrial-style step-and-column way that unions insist its teachers get paid. With no nod to quality, mediocre and worse teachers are paid the same as the good and great ones

Regarding the smaller class-size demand – LA has about 640,000 students and 31,000 teachers, which means about 20 kids per teacher, not exactly an overbearing number. If some teachers’ classes are too large, then rebalancing becomes the issue. While it’s true that there are instances where some kids benefit from more individual attention, it is by no means universal. The most extensive study on the subject was done by Hoover Institution senior fellow and economist Eric Hanushek in 1998. He examined 277 different studies on the effect of teacher-pupil ratios and class-size averages on student achievement, and found that only 15 percent of the studies indicated an improvement in achievement, while 72 percent showed no effect at all. Worse, 13 percent found that reducing class-size actually had a negative effect on achievement.

But class size and teacher pay are related. If you lopped off the bottom 10 percent lowest performers from the district, the remaining (better) teachers could get a hefty raise with just a few more kids in each class and no additional outlay from the district.

It’s important to note that the entire collective bargaining process is not beneficial for many teachers and their students. Thomas F. Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli finds that, “Teachers in non-collective bargaining districts actually earn more than their union-protected peers—$64,500 on average versus $57,500.” Petrilli adds that “there is some evidence … that non-collective bargaining districts drive a harder bargain when it comes to health care.” He also points out that collective-bargaining districts focus on seniority, protecting various benefits associated with longevity rather than pushing for higher pay. These tenure and seniority “benefits,” which clearly are unfair to good teachers and their students, are what Judge Rolf Treu was referring to in his recent Vergara ruling when he said. “The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience.”

In 2012, Chicago teachers – already the highest paid teachers in the country while working the fewest hours of any other big-city school district – went on strike. Stanford’s Terry Moe wrote at the time,

Collective bargaining is not fundamentally about children. It is about the power and special interests of adults. In Chicago and elsewhere, the teachers unions are in the business of winning better salaries and benefits, protecting job security, pressuring for restrictive work rules and in other ways advancing the occupational interests of their members. These interests are simply not the same as the interests of children.

Not to say that school districts are perfect. Far from it. But ideally, their mission is to promote the interests of children, while unions are there to serve their rank-and-file – the good and the bad, it’s all the same to them. The teachers unions may blather about the children, but ultimately they are there to serve the adults. And that’s causing big problems in Los Angeles and everywhere else these unions have power.

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

Life After Deasy

It was only a matter of time before the Los Angeles school chief was run out of town.

John Deasy is the latest to exit the fast-moving revolving door known as Los Angeles School Superintendent. The job – really an impossible one – saw Roy Romer replace Ray Cortines in 2001. Romer in turn was replaced by David Brewer in 2006, who was replaced by Cortines in 2009, who was replaced by Deasy in 2011. Now the octogenarian Cortines is back for a third stint as chief – for how long is anyone’s guess. Deasy is the fourth California superintendent in the last two years to be driven from a job that has the shelf life of homogenized milk.

Since his resignation on October 16th, much has been written about Deasy, who wore his good and bad traits on his sleeve. He admittedly had little use for political niceties, and at times seemed to enjoy getting up in people’s faces. As Doug McIntyre wrote in the Los Angeles Daily News, “Even Deasy’s supporters acknowledge he can be prickly, humorless, stubborn and thin-skinned.” Others have described him as bull-headed and impatient. School board member Steve Zimmer pointed out that he frequently used a sledgehammer – sometimes joyfully so – where a scalpel would have sufficed. Deasy’s heavy-handedness is exemplified by the Miramonte fiasco. Mark Berndt, a veteran teacher, was removed from the classroom after feeding his second graders cookies laced with his semen. At the same time, a colleague at the school was accused of inappropriately touching a female student. Instead of launching an immediate internal investigation to ferret out other possible miscreants, Deasy further destabilized the school and angered parents by removing every teacher from the campus, without any indication that others were in any way involved.

Deasy had other troubles. There was the wildly ambitious and ultimately bungled $1 billion iPad program in which he sought to put a computer in the hands of every student in the district. The rollout began amid confusion over whether or not students would be allowed to take the devices home and who’d be held responsible if they were lost or stolen. Then, upon receiving the computers, many students easily breached their security locks and began using the devices for non-school-related purposes. Additionally, many were outraged over the program’s bloated billion-dollar price tag. Deasy mercifully halted the process only after emails revealed he had discussed a possible contract with Apple before the bidding even started.

Then there is the “MiSiS crisis,” which came about when an online school information system was rushed into place prematurely, resulting in thousands of students being left with no class schedules. It’s hard to make the Obamacare rollout look good by comparison, but somehow Deasy and LAUSD accomplished it.

The United Teachers of Los Angeles was especially brutal toward Deasy. In April, 2013, it mounted “Whoopsie Deasy,” a campaign that sought to get rid of the controversial chief. The union encouraged teachers to give the superintendent a “no-confidence” vote, listing 10 reasons it considered Deasy a menace to the teaching profession. Their case included the fact that teachers had not received a raise in six years, that “testing was overtaking teaching” and that the superintendent was too cozy with “billionaire outsiders.” The poll clearly resonated with union members who delivered the no-confidence vote by a margin of 10 to 1.

But the real reason that UTLA regularly hammered the superintendent and his policies was the same reason the reformers supported him. He wanted to shake up the sclerotic system and viewed the union and its cronies on the school board as impediments to his pro-child agenda.

Deasy’s supporters quickly brushed the negatives aside and pointed to all the good he did for the district. He tried to bring teacher evaluations into the 21st Century. He championed charter schools as a way to let kids escape from district failure factories. He was a supporter of the Parent Trigger, which empowers parents to force a change of governance if a school is underperforming. He testified for the plaintiffs in the Vergara case, where Judge Rolf Treu ruled that the state’s archaic seniority, tenure and dismissal statutes were unconstitutional, adding that the evidence submitted “shocks the conscience.”

Reformers also give Deasy credit for the district’s improved test results but this argument is problematic. The test scores did go up a little, but it’s difficult to pinpoint just what factors led to the small increase. A recent study by The Brookings Institution showed that superintendents on average account for just “0.3 percent of student differences in achievement.”

Deasy has also been credited with a lower dropout rate. But again, it’s hard to know what the truth is. In April 2013, LAUSD reported a 66 percent grad rate. Then earlier this month, the district proudly announced it was up to 77 percent. Sounds impressive, right?

Well, not really.

It is 77 percent if you don’t include the students who couldn’t hack a district school and were placed in what are euphemistically called “alternative schools” where the grad rate can be as low as 5 percent. This is tantamount to saying that Joe Smith’s batting average is .300 – if you don’t count the 50 times he struck out. Also not included in the data are the “invisible dropouts” – those who never set foot in a high school. They are not counted as high school dropouts because, well, they never dropped in. Nevertheless, they are dropouts. Hence, we need to seriously rework the way we measure graduation rates before we can attribute credit to anyone for better numbers.

Devil or angel, Deasy’s troubles are not unique. Big city superintendents have faced similar daunting tasks and invariably wind up quitting or getting fired within a few short years of accepting the job. The most dramatic example of this pattern was the fiery three-year stint of reformer Michelle Rhee had in Washington D.C. In fact, referring to the LA superintendent position, Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, told LA School Report, “I don’t know a single person on earth who would want that terrible job. It won’t be a change agent. It will be a status quo candidate who will make life pleasant for himself by enjoying all the wrapping of the superintendency and being smart enough not to try and change a thing.”

The question then becomes, “Is LAUSD manageable at all?” Is a district that includes 31 smaller cities covering 720 square miles with 655,000 students who speak 87 languages, taught by 32,000 teachers (plus a support staff of 35,000) too big not to fail?

One possible solution is to break up the behemoth district – hardly a new idea; it’s been floating around for years. The northern part of the city, the San Fernando Valley, tried to break away in 2000. Then, in 2004, mayoral candidate Bob Hertzberg said that his first priority, if elected, would be to lead “a task force of teachers, parents, principals and other experts to come up with a plan to create smaller, community-based districts.” In 2006, state Assemblyman Keith Richman introduced legislation to split “the 727,000-student Los Angeles Unified School District into more than a dozen smaller districts, with the break-up overseen by a nine-member commission of mayors from the 27 cities that the district serves, the state superintendent of public instruction and university professors.” Most recently, Marc Litchman, who unsuccessfully challenged Rep. Brad Sherman for the 30th Congressional District in Los Angeles, said the first bill he would introduce would be to split up L.A. Unified. “The schools have to perform, and I think we’ve all been through this for quite some time. They’re not performing to the level we all hoped they would. In Los Angeles, the biggest barrier to that is the school district,” he said.

The problem with the dissolution idea is that it would result in power being ceded by those currently in charge. The LA school board and the teachers union will fight tooth and claw to keep the mammoth school district intact – no matter how unmanageable and dysfunctional it is.

Another change scenario is underway in New Orleans. Last month, the city became the country’s first all-charter district. Charter schools are public schools, funded by taxpayer dollars but run by largely independent boards. These schools get to avoid most of the red tape and union influence typical in a district contract. Teachers unions don’t have much of a presence in NOLA. The United Teachers of New Orleans, which had 5,800 members before Hurricane Katrina in 2005, has dwindled down to 530. The small size and independent nature of charter schools is a disincentive to labor organizers. “The same amount of effort that it takes to negotiate a contract with a district, you spend on one school,” a union leader in Louisiana said. Of course, teachers could exercise a “local only” option which would give them greater control over their own destiny, be more child-friendly and excludes costly membership in a state and national affiliate.

Unfortunately, without a cataclysmic act of nature wreaking havoc on Los Angeles, this scenario too would run up against massive resistance from all the usual suspects. It would take a herculean effort by maverick legislators or a well-funded ballot initiative to make an all-charter district a reality.

So until then, we will suffer along with a yet-to-be-named superintendent who will either be a Deasy-type provocateur, burning out after a short time or, more likely, we will be treated to a make-nice type who will not rock the LAUSD boat. The losers, as always, will be the children who could have better but for the self-serving demands of the grown-ups captaining a ship that is constantly taking on water.

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.

California's Vergara Ruling – A Bad Day for Bad Teachers

Summary: In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court issued the landmark decision Brown v. Board of Education, which struck down racially segregated schools because, the court said, they were inherently unequal and they unjustly harmed poor and minority children. Last month, a California court cited Brown v. Board as it struck down multiple state laws, passed at the behest of teachers’ unions, which the court said unjustly protected incompetent teachers and unconscionably harmed children, especially the least fortunate.

In a landmark decision that sent shock waves through the educational establishment, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu ruled last month that California’s teacher tenure laws unconstitutionally deprive students of their guarantee to an education and to equal rights. “The evidence is compelling,” Judge Treu wrote. “Indeed, it shocks the conscience.”

In Vergara v. California, nine students sued the State of California, claiming that ineffective teachers were disproportionately placed in schools with large numbers of “minority” and low-income students. Judge Treu agreed and quoted the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that education “is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.”

20140724_BermanNine young people and their families filed suit against California’s laws on teacher retention and
dismissal, which, they say, protect bad teachers and deprive students of a high-quality education.

The Vergara decision came down less than one month after the 60th anniversary of the Brown decision, in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state and federal laws establishing separate public schools for students classified by the government as “white” and “black.” (In Brown, the Court consolidated cases from Kansas, Virginia, South Carolina, and Delaware, as well as the federal jurisdiction of Washington, D.C.) The Supreme Court found that the practice of segregation violated the provision in the U.S. Constitution that “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall . . . deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

The argument in the current case, Vergara, is that, by forcing schools to favor incompetent teachers with seniority over more capable junior teachers, the rules deprive students of the education that the state constitution guarantees them. Further, because these rules funnel bad teachers to districts with large numbers of poor and “minority” students, those students are denied the equal treatment of the law.

The Vergara lawsuit was backed by Students Matter, a nonprofit educational policy advocacy group funded by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch. “The state has a responsibility of delivering an education for the betterment of the child,” said Welch. “The state needs to understand that [its] responsibility is to teach children, and teach all of them.” Welch’s organization recruited the nine students, from several school districts, to serve as the public face of the case.

Astonishingly, the teachers’ union response to the ruling was that it was actually an attack on children. “This decision today is an attack on teachers, which is a socially acceptable way to attack children,” said Alex Caputo-Pearl, the president-elect of the Los Angeles teachers union. Instead of providing for smaller classes or more counselors, the reformers “attack teacher and student rights.”

Welch answered that claim in an op-ed for the San Jose Mercury News in which he described the harm students suffer from bad teachers:

According to the testimony of Harvard economist Dr. Thomas Kane, a student assigned to the classroom of a grossly ineffective math teacher in Los Angeles loses almost an entire year of learning compared to a student assigned to a teacher of even average effectiveness. Students assigned to more than one grossly ineffective teacher are unlikely ever to catch up to their peers.

And far from wanting to attack all teachers, Welch in the same article pleaded with his fellow Californians to reward good teachers:

“Let’s offer teachers opportunities for promotions, such as to master teacher, teacher mentor, or department chair, where the skills of a truly excellent, creative educator can reach more children—as well as better pay with incentives for excellence and taking on extra responsibilities or difficult positions.”

No less a union friend than Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), whose largest campaign support comes from unions, has bluntly admitted, “Vergara will help refocus our education system on the needs of students.” No wonder the teachers’ unions made five separate legal efforts to have the lawsuit dismissed on grounds other than the merits of the case.

California teacher union members number some 445,000. Both the California Teachers Association (CTA, an affiliate of the National Educational Association) and the California Federation of Teachers (CFT, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers) plan to appeal the court’s decision. Jim Finberg, a lawyer for the two teachers’ unions, said that Judge Treu’s decision “ignores overwhelming evidence the current laws are working.”

Actually, less than 0.002% of teachers in California are dismissed in any given year. Judge Treu noted that, when an effort is made to fire a teacher, “it could take anywhere from two to almost ten years and cost $50,000 to $450,000 or more to bring these cases to conclusion under the Dismissal Statute, and that given these facts, grossly ineffective teachers are being left in the classroom.”

Judge Treu concluded that “distilled to its basics,” the unions’ position requires them to defend the proposition that the state has a compelling interest in the de facto separation of students from competent teachers, and a like interest in the de facto retention of incompetent ones. The logic of this position is unfathomable and therefore constitutionally insupportable.

Seniority vs. merit

The Vergara decision overturned a LIFO (last-in/first-out) law requiring that teacher layoffs be based on seniority, rather than individual merit. California’s Permanent Employment Law required that a teacher be tenured after two years at a school (which, because of an early notice requirement, worked out in practice to 18 months or less). California is one of only five states in which tenure may be received after such a short period. As noted by the blog Voices of San Diego:

Regardless of what we call it, here’s how it looks in San Diego Unified. Once they’re hired, rookie teachers have to make it through a two-year probationary period, during which they can be dismissed for pretty much any reason.

But because the district has to tell teachers by mid-March whether they’ll be invited back for the next school year, the trial period is actually shorter than two years. In the past, the district hasn’t been particularly aggressive in the number of probationary teachers it sends away—only about 1 percent wasn’t given tenure.

“With such little time, you don’t even have enough information to actually consider whether they’re an effective teacher,” said Nancy Waymack, a managing director for the reform-advocacy group National Council on Teacher Quality.

Compared to other states, California has some of the strongest laws in place to protect teacher employment. The effect of this case may spur action throughout the nation. “Without a doubt, this could happen in other states,” said Terry Mazany, who served as interim CEO of Chicago’s public schools in 2010-2011. A lawyer for Students Matter said they are already hoping to “engage with policymakers in New York and nationally,” and donor David Welch said the group would consider suits in other states (New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Oregon were mentioned as possible sites).

Undue Process

The term “due process” refers to a legal or quasi-legal system that protects the rights of an individual, such as by requiring a trial before a person can be executed. Unions defend the complicated procedures for firing teachers by claiming they amount to “due process” that protects those teachers from arbitrary, unfair treatment. As the Pew publication Stateline reports, “The unions argue that the rules protecting teachers are needed for school districts to attract and retain good teachers and to ensure that employees are not fired for arbitrary or unfair reasons.”

But the judge ruled in Vergara that the process has become so cumbersome—that it’s become so difficult to get rid of bad teachers—that it deprives students of their rights. He ridiculed the process as “über due process,” and observed that California state laws already provide a great deal of protection for government and private-sector employees facing dismissal. “Why,” he pleaded, “the need for the current tortuous process” that is mandated only for teachers, a process so unjust, he added, that it was even decried by witnesses called by the teachers’ unions?

James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal noted an irony at the center of the ruling:

“The California Supreme Court had applied the same legal premises to hold unconstitutional funding disparities among districts and one district’s decision to end the school year six weeks early owing to a budgetary shortfall. Vergara doesn’t break new legal ground so much as apply precedent in a way that threatens the education establishment. It’s a case of judicial activism coming back to bite the left.”

A permanent job

As noted in Waiting for ‘Superman,’ a documentary promoting educational reform, one out of every 57 doctors loses his or her license to practice medicine, and one of every 97 lawyers loses his or her license to practice law. Yet, in many major cities, only one out of 1,000 teachers is fired for performance-related offenses. The reason is tenure, or as the unions call it, “permanent status.”

Tenure is the practice of guaranteeing a teacher his or her job. Originally, this was a due process guarantee, something intended to work as a check against administrators capriciously firing teachers and replacing them with friends or family members. It was also designed to protect teachers who took political stands the community might disagree with. Tenure as we understand it today was first seen at the university level, where, ideally, professors would work for years and publish many pieces of inspired academic work before being awarded what amounted to a job for life.

At the elementary and high school level, tenure has evolved from the original understanding of “due process” to the university-style “job for life.” In most states, teachers are awarded tenure after only a few years, after which time they become almost impossible to fire. The main function of these laws is to help bad teachers keep their jobs.

►One Los Angeles union representative has said: “If I’m representing them, it’s impossible to get them out. It’s impossible. Unless they commit a lewd act.” Unfortunately for the students who have to learn from these educators, virtually every teacher who works for the Los Angeles Unified School District receives tenure. In a study of its own, the Los Angeles Times reported that fewer than two percent of teachers are denied tenure during the probationary period after being hired. And once they have tenure, there’s no getting rid of them. Between 1995 and 2005, only 112 Los Angeles tenured teachers faced termination—eleven per year—out of 43,000. And that’s in a school district where the high school graduation rate in 2003 was a pathetic 51 percent.

►One New Jersey union representative was even blunter about what his union does to keep bad teachers in the classroom: “I’ve gone in and defended teachers who shouldn’t even be pumping gas.”

In 10 years, only about 47 out of 100,000 teachers were terminated from New Jersey’s schools. Original research conducted by the Center for Union Facts (CUF) has confirmed that almost no teacher is ever fired in Newark, which is New Jersey’s largest school district, no matter how bad a job the teacher does. Over one four-year period, CUF discovered, Newark’s school district successfully fired about one out of every 3,000 tenured teachers annually. This is a city where roughly two-thirds of students never graduate from high school.

►In New York City, the New York Daily News reported that “just 88 out of some 80,000 city schoolteachers have lost their jobs for poor performance” over 2007-2010.

Then there were the so-called “rubber rooms” of New York City, which operated until 2010. Teachers who couldn’t be relieved of duty would report to these “rubber rooms,” where they would be paid to do nothing for weeks, months, even years. According to the New York Daily News, at any given time an average of 700 teachers were being paid not to teach while the district jumped through the hoops, imposed by the union contract and the law, to pursue discipline or termination. (A city teacher in New York who ended up being fired spent an average of 19 months in the disciplinary process.) The Daily News reported that the New York City school district spent more than $65 million annually just to pay the teachers who were accused of wrongdoing. Millions more tax dollars were spent to hire substitutes.

After the embarrassing Daily News story and an exposé in the New Yorker, the union agreed to end the practice of rubber rooms but refused to expedite the dismissal process. Instead of whiling the days away doing nothing, the teachers were assigned to do clerical work and perform other semi-useful tasks.

The problem isn’t limited to teachers accused of wrongdoing. The city spends more than $100 million every year paying teachers who have been excessed (i.e., whose positions have been eliminated) but have yet to find jobs.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the ironclad union contract requires that any teacher with tenure be paid full salary and benefits if he or she is sent to the “Absent Teacher Reserve pool.” The average pay of a teacher in that pool is over $80,000 a year, and some teachers have stayed in the pool for years. The Journal reports that the majority of teachers in the pool had “neither applied for another job in the system nor attended any recruitment fairs in recent months.”

►Things are no better in New York as a whole. The Albany Times Union looked at what was going on statewide outside New York City and discovered some shocking data: Of 132,000 teachers, only 32 were fired for any reason between 2006 and 2011.

►In Chicago, a school system that has by any measure failed its students—only 28.5 percent of 11th graders met or exceeded expectations on that state’s standardized tests—Newsweek reported that only 0.1 percent of teachers were dismissed for performance-related reasons between 2005 and 2008. When barely one in four students nearing graduation can read and do math, how is it possible that only one in one thousand teachers is worthy of dismissal? It may well be that most of the city’s teachers are good teachers, but can 99.9% of them be good?

Effects of tenure and related teacher “protections”

Modeled after labor arrangements in factories, the typical teachers’ union contract is loaded with provisions that do not promote education. These provisions drive away good teachers, protect bad teachers, raise costs, and tie principals’ hands.

● The Dance of the Lemons

One of the more shocking scenes in the documentary Waiting for ‘Superman’ is an animated illustration of “The Dance of the Lemons.” This is no waltz or foxtrot. Rather, it’s the systematic shuffling of incompetent teachers from school to school. These teachers can’t be fired because union contracts require that “excessed” educators, no longer needed at their original school, must be given first crack at new job openings when slots open up elsewhere in the district. Administrators at other schools don’t want to hire these bad teachers, but districts are unable to fire them.

What happens? LA Weekly documented just how this process plays out in Los Angeles in a massive 2010 investigation. “The far larger problem in L.A. is one of ‘performance cases’—the teachers who cannot teach, yet cannot be fired. Their ranks are believed to be sizable—perhaps 1,000 teachers, responsible for 30,000 children. … The Weekly has found, in a five-month investigation, that principals and school district leaders have all but given up dismissing such teachers. In the past decade, LAUSD officials spent $3.5 million trying to fire just seven of the district’s 33,000 teachers for poor classroom performance—and only four were fired, during legal struggles that wore on, on average, for five years each. Two of the three others were paid large settlements, and one was reinstated. The average cost of each battle is $500,000.”

Unintended Consequences, a study by The New Teacher Project (TNTP), documented the damage done by this union-imposed staffing policy. In an extensive survey of five major metropolitan school districts, TNTP found that “40 percent of school-level vacancies, on average, were filled by voluntary transfers or excessed teachers over whom schools had either no choice at all or limited choice.” One principal decried the process as “not about the best-qualified [teacher] but rather satisfying union rules.”

● Thinning the talent pool

One problem related to the destructive transfer system is a hiring process that takes too long and/or starts too late, thanks in part to union contracts. Would-be teachers typically cannot be hired until senior teachers have had their pick of the vacancies, and the transfer process makes principals reluctant to post vacancies at all for fear of having a bad teacher fill it instead of a promising new hire.

In the study Missed Opportunities, The New Teacher Project found that these staffing hurdles help push urban districts’ hiring timelines later to the point that “anywhere from 31 percent to almost 60 percent of applicants withdrew from the hiring process, often to accept jobs with districts that made offers earlier.”

“Of those who withdrew,” the TNTP report continues, “the majority (50 percent to 70 percent) cited the late hiring timeline as a major reason they took other jobs.” It’s the better applicants who are driven away: “Applicants who withdrew from the hiring process had significantly higher undergraduate GPAs, were 40 percent more likely to have a degree in their teaching field, and were significantly more likely to have completed educational coursework” than the teachers who ended up staying around to finally receive job offers.

● Keeping experienced teachers away from poor children

Another common problem with the union contract is a “bumping” policy that fills schools which are more needy (but less desirable to teach in) with greater numbers of inexperienced teachers. In its report Teaching Inequality, the Education Trust noted: “Children in the highest-poverty schools are assigned to novice teachers almost twice as often as children in low-poverty schools. Similarly, students in high-minority schools are assigned to novice teachers at twice the rate as students in schools without many minority students.”

● Bad apples stay

A study conducted by Public Agenda polled 1,345 schoolteachers on a variety of education issues, including the role that tenure played in their schools. When asked “does tenure mean that a teacher has worked hard and proved themselves to be very good at what they do?” 58 percent of the teachers polled answered that no, tenure “does not necessarily” mean that. In a related question, 78 percent said a few (or more) teachers in their schools “fail to do a good job and are simply going through the motions.”

When Terry Moe, the author of Special Interest: Teachers Unions and America’s Public Schools, asked teachers what they thought of tenure, they admitted that the byzantine process of firing bad apples was too time-consuming: 55 percent of teachers, and 47 percent of union members, answered yes when asked “Do you think tenure and teacher organizations make it too difficult to weed out mediocre and incompetent teachers?”

● The union tax on firing bad teachers

So why don’t districts try to terminate more of their poor performers? The sad answer is that their chance of prevailing is vanishingly small. Teachers unions have ensured that even with a victory, the process is prohibitively expensive and time-consuming. In the 2006-2007 school year, for example, New York City fired only 10 of its 55,000 tenured teachers, or 0.018%. The cost to eliminate those employees averages out to $163,142, according to Education Week. The Albany Times Union reports that the average process for firing a teacher in New York state outside of New York City proper lasts 502 days and costs more than $216,000. In Illinois, Scott Reeder of the Small Newspaper Group found it costs an average of $219,504 in legal fees alone to move a termination case past all the union-supported hurdles. In Columbus, Ohio, the teachers’ union president admitted to the Associated Press that firing a tenured teacher can cost as much as $50,000. A spokesman for Idaho school administrators told local press that districts have been known to spend “$100,000 or $200,000” in litigation costs to toss out a bad teacher.

It’s difficult even to entice the unions to give up tenure for more money. In Washington, D.C., school chancellor Michelle Rhee proposed a voluntary two-tier track for teachers. On one tier, teachers could simply do nothing: Maintain their regularly scheduled raises and keep their tenure. On the other track, teachers could give up tenure and be paid according to how well they and their students performed, with the potential to earn as much as $140,000 per year. The union wouldn’t even let that proposal come up for a vote among its members, and stubbornly blocked efforts to ratify a new contract for more than three years. When the contract finally did come up for ratification by the rank and file, the two-tier plan wasn’t even an option.

● Taking money from good teachers to give to bad teachers

During the expansion of teacher collective bargaining in the mid-twentieth century, economists from Harvard and the Australian National University found, the average, inflation-adjusted salary for U.S. teachers rose modestly—while “the range of the [pay] scale narrowed sharply.” Measuring aptitude by the quality of the college a teacher attended, the researchers found that the advent of the collectively bargained union contract for teachers meant that on average, more talented teachers were receiving less, while less talented teachers were receiving more.

The earnings of teachers in the lowest aptitude group (those from the bottom-tier colleges) rose dramatically relative to the average wage, so that teachers who in 1963 earned 73 percent of the average salary for teachers could expect to earn exactly the average by 2000. Meanwhile, the ratio of the earnings of teachers in the highest-aptitude group to earnings of average teachers fell dramatically. In states where the highest-aptitude teachers began with an earnings ratio of 157 percent, they ended with a ratio of 98 percent.

Data from the National Center for Education Statistics, as reported by Education Week, add further evidence to the compressed-pay claim. The Center’s stats indicate that the average maximum teacher pay nationwide is only 1.85 times greater than the nationwide average salary for new teachers.

● Locking up education dollars

Much of the money commanded by teachers’ union contracts is not being used well, at least from the perspective of parents or reformers. Several provisions commonly found in union contracts that cost serious money have been shown to do little to improve education quality. A report from the nonprofit Education Sector found that nearly 19 percent of all public education spending in America goes towards things like seniority-based pay increases and outsized benefits—things that don’t go unappreciated by teachers, but don’t do much to improve the quality of teaching children receive. If these provisions were done away with, the report found, $77 billion in education money would be freed up for initiatives that could actually improve learning, like paying high-performing teachers more money.

● Putting kids at risk

Teachers unions push for contracts that effectively cripple school districts’ ability to monitor teachers for dangerous behavior. In one case, school administrators in Seattle received at least 30 warnings that a fifth grade teacher was a danger to his students. However, thanks to a union contract that forces schools to destroy most personnel records after each school year, he managed to evade punishment for nearly 20 years, until he was finally sent to prison in 2005 for having molested as many as 13 girls. As an attorney for one of the victims put it, according to the Seattle Times, “You could basically have a pedophile in your midst and not know it. How are you going to get rid of somebody if you don’t know what they did in the past?”

The Bottom Line

Too many schools are failing too many children. Americans should not remain complacent about how districts staff, assign, and compensate teachers. And too many teachers’ union contracts preserve archaic employment rules that have nothing to do with serving children.

Even Al Shanker, the legendary former president of the American Federation of Teachers, admitted, “a lot of people who have been hired as teachers are basically not competent.”

This is what the union wants: To keep teachers on the payroll regardless of whether or not they are doing any work or are needed by the school district. Why? As long as they are on the payroll, they keep paying union dues. The union doesn’t care about the children who will be hurt by this misallocation of tax dollars. All union leaders care about is protecting their members and, by extension, their own coffers.

Most teachers absolutely deserve to keep their jobs, and some have begun to speak out about the absurdity of teacher tenure, but it’s impossible to pretend that the number of firings actually reflects the number of bad teachers protected by tenure. As long as union leaders possess the legal ability to drag out termination proceedings for months or even years—during which time districts must continue paying teachers, and substitute teachers to replace them, and lawyers to arbitrate the proceedings—the situation for students will not improve.

The Vergara case offers hope, but supporters of better education cannot rely on judges to fix America’s schools. Parents and teachers must join together to eliminate teacher tenure systems that protect bad teachers and that divert our best teachers away from many of the students who could benefit most from their skills and experience.

*   *   *

About the Author:  Richard Berman is executive director of the Center for Union Facts. Some of this material appeared previously on the website TeachersUnionExposed.com, a project of the Center for Union Facts. This article originally appeared on the website Labor Watch, and is republished here with permission.

Teacher Jail Break

The “housed teacher” syndrome is a problem created by the teachers unions and administered by an inept school district.

For years, teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District who have been accused of misconduct have been “housed” as they wait for investigators to figure out if they are really guilty. These so-called “teacher jails” or “rubber rooms” are district offices in which the accused sit, eat, talk to each other and text their friends Monday through Friday during school hours. The “prisoners” cannot be asked to do any office work – like filing or answering phones – which is “outside their regular duties.” Even more ridiculous, they can’t even contact subs to give them lesson plans while they are away.

In a change ordered by LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy, as of May 27th, the doors of the jails were thrown open and the inhabitants are now sentenced to what is tantamount to house arrest. They are required to stay at home during the work day, and are allowed to leave during that time only if they are summoned elsewhere as part of the investigation.

Does it really matter where a teacher is made to sit out their investigation? Not really, but it does help taxpayers if they don’t have to subsidize the care and maintenance of the “jails” and the supervision of the “inmates.” At this time there are about 250 teachers (there have been over 400 in the past) who will now get to stay home instead of reporting to a district office.

Just what crimes do these housed teachers commit? The misconduct can range anywhere from sexual wrongdoing to being verbally abusive, failing to follow rules for standardized tests or even excessively missing work.  Also, the teachers are often not told what they are being accused of for lengthy periods of time.

As James Poulos writes in Calwatchdog.com:

The practice highlights a series of sore spots for public education in Los Angeles and, more broadly, in California. On the one hand, teachers guilty of firing offenses are detained for an extraordinarily long period of time – 127 days on average. On the other, the vast majority of accused teachers lose their jobs and benefits when their investigations concluded. Only about 20 percent leave ‘rubber rooms’ and pick up where they left off.

This is all shameful – for the taxpayer, for the 20 percent ultimately found “not guilty” and for the teachers’ students who have to be taught by subs during the lengthy investigative period. LAUSD needs to hire many more investigators and resolve these cases much quicker. The additional hires would pay for themselves because evidence tells us that most of the teachers will be found guilty or quit before going through the pain of a trial. That will save the district and state the cost of the teachers’ salaries, health benefits and additional pension accrual, as well as outlay for hiring subs.

LAUSD showed its insouciance in another way recently. On May 1st, it was revealed that the district destroyed documents that may have held key evidence in child abuse cases. Included in the shredding was crucial ammo in the case of Mark Berndt, second grade teacher and legendary semen-topped cookie server at Miramonte Elementary School who is now in jail…the real kind.

Then just a few days ago, we learned that a Superior Court judge has ordered LAUSD to pay a $6,000 penalty for denying it had photos that show alleged sexual abuse at Miramonte. (Please keep in mind that these are the folks who are in charge of educating 600,000 students In Los Angeles!)

But there is plenty more blame to go around for teacher jails. Why do we have them in the first place? There are no “bank teller jails” or “pastry chef jails.”

Because the teacher unions are all powerful, that’s why. It’s all due to the arcane and unconscionable dismissal statues, brought to us by the California Teachers Association and their cronies in the state legislature.

(L)ess than 0.002% of California’s hundreds of thousands of teachers are dismissed for unprofessional conduct or unsatisfactory performance in any given year. This compares to the 1% of other California public employees dismissed annually for unprofessional conduct or unsatisfactory performance and the 8% of private employees dismissed annually for cause.

But there may be help on the way.

AB 215, now making the legislative rounds in Sacramento, is a measure that would speed up the dismissal process for teachers who commit serious crimes. Among other things, the bill would:

  • Create a separate, expedited hearing process after a school board has voted to fire a teacher for egregious misconduct.
  • Impose a seven-month deadline for the administrative law judge to issue a decision in all dismissal cases, unless the judge agrees to a delay for good cause.
  • Clarify the law to allow districts to suspend without pay teachers charged with egregious and immoral conduct.
  • Prohibit districts from cutting deals with teachers to have charges of misconduct expunged from their record – potentially enabling them to relocate to an unsuspecting district.
  • Permit allegations of child abuse or sexual abuse more than four years old to be introduced as evidence.
  • Permit dismissal charges for egregious misconduct to be filed at any time, not just during the school year.

Then there is the Students Matter case (Vergara v California), which should be resolved within the next five weeks. If the judge rules for the plaintiffs, seniority, tenure and the dismissal statutes will be excised from the state’s education code, making it considerably easier and less expensive for school districts to get rid of criminal and low-quality teachers.

But until then, we are left with a bumbling school district and a teachers union that is hell-bent on protecting every last dues paying member, no matter how incompetent or evil they may be, all the while sacrificing children and hosing the innocent taxpayer.

Privatization or home schooling, anyone?

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, LAUSD and ACLU Fiddle While Children Don’t Learn

“Landmark settlement” song has hackneyed words but still makes Top 10 in the “Hubris” category.

In 2010, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit which claimed that seniority-based layoffs take a disproportionate toll on poor and minority schools. The ACLU won the case and the settlement protected students in up to 45 schools from the pernicious effects of the last in/first out (LIFO) regimen.

But shortly thereafter, the United Teachers of Los Angeles successfully appealed the decision, and the case was remanded back to state court. And after 20 months of dithering and dickering, we now have a new settlement. As reported by EdSource’s John Fensterwald,

The deal in the Reed v. the State of California lawsuit will provide about $25 million annually for three years for additional administrators, mentor teachers and teacher training in 37 middle and high schools where there had been low student performance and high turnover of inexperienced teachers.

There are a few other minor considerations like a special education coordinator being placed at each school and principals will be offered a “retention package” to stay on the job longer. But the problem at hand? Ignore it, throw some money around it and hope the victims will be appeased. There is no mention at all about better ways to choose which teachers stay and which teachers go should layoffs become necessary. It ignores the reality that the union-enforced LIFO system regularly cheats thousands of children out of a decent education. And the self-congratulatory palavering over the decision strikes a dissonant chord.

The usually sensible Los Angeles Unified School District superintendent John Deasy crooned,

The youth in greatest peril at these schools will benefit tremendously. These are invaluable investments, aligned with the goals of the Local Control Funding Formula, which will make a difference in transforming these schools and bring justice to our youth.

Huh? What Dr. Deasy is saying here is that we can right things by simply throwing more money at the problem. Gee, maybe we can become like Washington, D.C.! It spends $30,000 yearly per student yet has one of the most dysfunctional school systems in the country.

Joan Sullivan, CEO of the Partnership schools rhapsodized,

Our mission is about equity. Today, thanks to ongoing collaboration, we have all parties coming together around a landmark settlement that promises to bring students across Los Angeles closer to the educational opportunity they deserve.

Landmark? The only landmark that this case conjures up is the Alamo. But while the Alamo massacre is a distant memory, inner city school carnage is still with us.

Jesus E. Quinonez, an attorney for UTLA, claimed victory, warbling,

… any attempts to extinguish the rights of teachers—here, the right to a neutral and fair hearing process—will not serve the needs of kids or lead to justice in our schools.

Fair hearing process? Is he kidding?! With LIFO in place, no one gets any kind of hearing. Decisions are made according to a brain-dead set-up that doesn’t recognize the importance of teacher quality. In fact, LIFO discriminates not only against children, but also against good and great teachers.

Dale Larson, attorney with Morrison & Foerster, which partnered with the ACLU in the lawsuit, intoned:

By providing resources to attract and retain teachers in the 37 low-performing, high-turnover middle and high schools, the settlement renders the legal question raised in Reed “academic.”

Actually, it’s not “academic” at all as the 17 page decision never even mentions the words “seniority” or “last in/first out.”

What the Kumbaya chorus is omitting – other than the fact that the issues in the original suit have gone completely unaddressed – is that adding administrators to a bad situation is often worse than meaningless. You see, in Los Angeles, though administrators are “at will” employees, they are treated like unionized teachers and are almost never fired for incompetence. (I know this from first-hand experience. We had a revolving door of assistant principals at the middle school where I toiled for 15 years. A few were great, some good and some were so bad they went from school to school – all too frequently mine – as “must place” employees. Also, I never met a teacher who was drawn to a school because it had a lot of administrators.)

Additional mentor teachers and teacher training are good things – assuming the mentors and the training are of value. But what happens if a teacher still isn’t doing the job after working with a mentor and getting further training? Nothing. Due to seniority (and equally noxious tenure laws), he will still be in the classroom, his students will still be failing, and a better teacher will be collecting an unemployment check.

Officially, the agreement is not a done deal. The LAUSD board needs to vote on it and it’s on the agenda for its April 22nd meeting. If it passes there, the settlement then must be approved by the court. But given the self-congratulatory outpouring by virtually all of the involved players, it’s hard to believe that there will be dissent from either entity. (Too bad the parents and kids at the involved schools don’t have a vote.)

Hence, it would appear that the only hope for burying seniority – and the foul tenure and dismissal statutes – lies with the Vergara v. California (Students Matter) case, which is set for a ruling by early July. Referring to Vergara, UTLA attorney Quinonez said the settlement in the ACLU case acknowledges that “the solution to high turnover in schools is not to take away teachers’ rights.”

What the union lawyer really meant was that the agreement doesn’t take away the more senior teachers’ perks. And more importantly, his statement makes no mention of “children’s rights.” But then again, union songs are invariably about union solidarity. And the voices of the children and their parents who continue to be penalized are never included in the mix.

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.

Pull the Plug on LIFO Support

Despite bellyaching from the union crowd, the California education code’s last in/first out (LIFO) statute must be tossed.

California’s fiscal problems have taken a toll on the teaching profession in California. And the Golden State’s arbitrary seniority system, whereby staffing decisions are made by time spent on the job, has made things much worse. A recent Sacramento Bee story spells out the details:

Young teachers have become far more scarce in California classrooms after school districts slashed their budgets to survive the recession.

From 2008 to 2013, California saw a 40 percent drop in teachers with less than six years’ experience, according to a Sacramento Bee review of state data.

As the state cut funding, districts laid off teachers with the least seniority and stopped hiring new applicants. Those employment practices, in turn, discouraged college students from pursuing the profession in California, as enrollment in teaching programs fell by 41 percent between 2008 and 2012. (Emphasis added.)

Not surprisingly, while traditional public schools have been taking a beating, charters – which are rarely unionized and don’t honor seniority – have flourished. In fact, there are over 50,000 kids on charter school wait lists in California.

Charter schools educate about 10 percent of Sacramento County’s students, but last year they employed 40 percent of the region’s first- and second-year teachers. Teachers at five schools in the Sacramento City Unified District – all charters – averaged less than five years in the profession in 2013. They were Capitol Collegiate Academy, Sol Aureus College Preparatory, Yav Pem Suab Academy, St. Hope Public School 7 and Oak Park Preparatory Academy.

Studies that have been done on seniority have nothing good to say about it. For example, The New Teacher Project found that only 13 to 16 percent of the teachers laid off in a seniority-based system would also be cut under a system based on teacher effectiveness.

The nonpartisan California Legislative Analyst Office found that basing employment decisions on the number of years served instead of teachers’ performance “can lead to lower quality of the overall teacher workforce.”

Also, by not using seniority, fewer teachers would need to be laid off. Due to the step-and- column method of paying teachers, veteran teachers, whether they deserve to or not, make considerably more than younger ones. In a policy brief, the Annenberg Institute reports:

Because more experienced teachers are generally higher on the salary scale than newer teachers, districts would actually be able to meet budget goals with fewer layoffs if they had more leeway to fire teachers across the board, based on quality, not seniority.

Sadly, seniority-based layoffs take a much bigger toll on poor and minority schools. When senior teachers have the opportunity, they frequently escape these hard-to-staff schools, leaving rookies in their place. So when layoffs become necessary, as they did during the recent recession, the younger teachers are the first to get pink-slipped, saddling impoverished students with revolving subs. This results in the least stable education environment imaginable and has a lot more to do with the failure of inner city schools than the “poverty is destiny” crowd would have you believe. Accordingly, the ACLU jumped on this issue in 2010.

In Reed v. State of California, … the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Los Angeles, considered whether to grant a preliminary injunction in favor of a group of students to stop the Los Angeles Unified School District (“LAUSD”) from laying off more teachers at three middle schools in the district. The Superior Court concluded that “notwithstanding any contractual or statutory seniority-based layoff provisions,” the State of California and LAUSD should be restrained and enjoined “from implementing any budget-based layoffs of teachers” at three LAUSD middle schools that have been devastated by teacher layoffs in 2009.

The three middle schools at issue, Samuel Gompers Middle School (“Gompers”), John H. Liechty Middle School (“Liechty), and Edwin Markham Middle School (“Markham”), are each ranked in the bottom 10% of schools in California in terms of academic performance. During a 2009 reduction in force (“RIF”), LAUSD sent RIF notices to 60% of the teachers at Liechty, 48% of the teachers at Gompers, and 46% of the teachers at Markham. These figures are in contrast with the fact that LAUSD only sent notices to 17.9% of all of its teachers. The RIFs resulted in a large number of teacher vacancies at all three schools.

The settlement reached between the plaintiffs, LAUSD and the Mayor’s Partnership for Los Angeles Schools protected students

… in up to 45 Targeted Schools in the unfortunate event of budget-based teacher layoffs and provides support and resources aimed at stabilizing and improving these schools, including retention incentives for teachers and principals. The Targeted Schools will be determined annually and will include 25 under-performing and difficult-to-staff schools that have suffered from staff retention issues yet are starting to make positive strides. In addition, up to 20 schools will be selected based on the likelihood that the school will be negatively and disproportionately affected by teacher turnover. To ensure that any impact from preserving teacher positions at the Targeted Schools is fairly distributed, the settlement provides that no school at or above the district-wide average of layoffs will be negatively affected.”

But several months later, the United Teachers of Los Angeles, threatened by a shake-up to the status quo, successfully appealed the decision and the settlement was nullified.

While adamant about protecting seniority, the teachers unions and their fellow travelers have only bromides and falsehoods to bolster their position. When A.J. Duffy, then UTLA president, talked to some young teachers at Liechty Middle School – one of the three named in the ACLU suit – he said, “Saving your jobs would mean that more experienced teachers would lose theirs…. Seniority is the only fair way to do it… and any exception would be ‘an act of disloyalty.’”

State Superintendent Tom Torlakson was dutifully  toeing the union line when he stated, “The {ACLU} ruling could hurt students by requiring them to be taught by inexperienced teachers rather than finding ways to bring in more experienced and arguably more effective teachers.”

Continuing the “experience trumps all” line of thought, the California Federation of Teachers website proclaims, “Seniority is the only fair, transparent way to administer layoffs. It ensures equal treatment for all teachers … Research consistently shows more experienced teachers provide better student learning outcomes than inexperienced teachers.”

But of course, not all teachers are “equal” and the “experience = better” mantra is a myth. Time on the job is not a proxy for quality. Most studies show that a teacher’s effectiveness maxes out in 3-5 years and that the majority of teachers do not improve over time. Actually, some studies show that teachers become less effective toward the end of their careers.

As edu-pundit RiShawn Biddle pointed out in 2010,

… what’s truly appalling is the teachers union defense of last hired-first fired and of seniority rights. It lays bare some of the most-glaring flaws in union thinking: How can unions demand equal pay and treatment for all workers while advocating work rules and compensation that favor one group of rank-and-file members over another? How can the NEA and AFT call themselves unions of modern professionals – and demand that teaching be considered on an equal footing with lawyers and doctors – when they defend labor practices best-suited for early 20th-century factory workers?

Yes, their insistence on seniority exposes the teachers unions’ industrial-style nature. For them, teachers are nothing more than interchangeable, dues-paying widgets and teacher competence and effectiveness are of no discernible consideration. The arbitrariness of such a set-up is epitomized by Bhavini Bhakta, a teacher-of-the-year who lost teaching positions in four Southern California schools over eight years because she lacked seniority. One of her yearly encounters with LIFO involved a situation where either she or another teacher-of-the-year – who was hired on the same day – was to be laid off. The district had the teachers pull numbered Popsicle sticks out of a hat to see which one kept her job. Ms. Bhakta got a lower number and thus lost her position, yet again.

Standardized tests, evaluations by impartial trained experts, the principal and parents, etc. should all be utilized to determine a teacher’s value. And certainly, we need to have a conversation about how much weight should be given to each of these and possibly other criteria. But for the sake of the kids and the teaching profession, we need to put the Popsicle stick method of teacher retention – also known as seniority – into the garbage.

Postscript: There is a chance that seniority could be in for a major upheaval in the near future. The Students Matter (Vergara v California) case is winding up and will shortly be in the hands of Judge Rolf Treu. If he finds for the plaintiffs, and the ruling survives the inevitable appeal, LIFO – as well as tenure and the dismissal statutes as we know them – will be removed from California’s education code and be rendered unconstitutional.

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.

“Hey, Deasy, baby, I want my money.”

Los Angeles teachers demand a raise, but their appeal to the public is embarrassing and more importantly, misses the big picture.

Claiming that teachers have not received a raise since 2007, the United Teachers of Los Angeles held a protest rally last Wednesday. As reported by Ryan White in LA School Report,

“Hey, Deasy, baby, I want my money,” the red-shirted crowd sang in a hip-hop inspired chorus at a rally organized by UTLA in its ongoing bid to win salary increases from the district. Their target: Superintendent John Deasy.

With teachers’ last pay raise dating back to early 2007, the union says a salary hike is long overdue, especially since last fall’s voter-approved Prop. 30 increased the per-student funds the district receives from the state. The argument that teachers are now owed their financial due after years of sacrifice was the rally’s dominant refrain.

While the chant was thoroughly obnoxious, the teachers’ plea seems reasonable … on the surface. But a look under the microscope reveals things not apparent to the naked eye.

First, while it is true that teachers in Los Angeles have not received an across-the-board raise in almost seven years, they get yearly raises throughout most of their careers. Due to the step-and-column way we pay our teachers, most get a bump for simply not dying over the summer. Then they get more raises for taking “professional development” classes and workshops, despite conclusive research over the last 25 years by Stanford-based economist Eric Hanushek showing that these classes have no effect on student learning. In LA, the set-up is particularly egregious, resulting in a huge and unnecessary burden to the taxpayer.

According to the district contract with the United Teachers of Los Angeles, coursework, to qualify as professional development, must be “directly related to subjects commonly taught in the District.” So a kindergarten teacher can take “Northern and Southern Economies on the Eve of the Civil War,” say, and receive what is euphemistically called “salary-point credit” for it. Or an American history teacher could take a class in identifying different kinds of plankton and also get a bump in pay. Taxpayers pay out a whopping $519 million a year in extra salary payments to teachers who take such courses. (Emphasis added.)

In Los Angeles, a starting teacher makes $45,637 and a veteran can make up to $98,567. But it’s important to note that the average teacher works between 6 and 8 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. The teacher union-perpetuated myth of the undercompensated teacher was blown up in 2011 by Andrew Biggs, a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute and Jason Richwine, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation. Their study, in fact, found that teachers are overpaid. Typically, teachers have perks like excellent healthcare and pension packages which aren’t counted as “income.” Armed with facts, charts and a bevy of footnotes, the authors make a very good case for their thesis. For example, they claim,

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.)

Another pay issue worth examining is the set-in-stone collective bargaining contract which makes no allowance for teacher quality. While many in the “Hey, Deasy, baby” crowd undoubtedly support collective bargaining, is it fetching them more money? Not according to data collected by the National Council on Teacher Quality. As Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli reports, “Teachers in non-collective bargaining districts actually earn more than their union-protected peers – $64,500 on average versus $57,500.” He does add that

… there is some evidence from the NCTQ data that non-collective bargaining districts drive a harder bargain when it comes to health care….

All of this sheds a light on what the unions are really about: protecting benefits and seniority–not pushing for higher pay. If you’re a young teacher earning a lousy salary and paying union dues, that’s something to be very angry about.

An additional problem with collective bargaining is that it hurts good teachers because of  “wage compression,” which 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. As Cato Institute’s Andrew Coulson wrote in 2010,

The impact of this wage compression is significant. Using an instrumental variables model, and taking into account alternative explanations, Hoxby and Leigh (2004: 239) conclude that between 1963 and 2000, “Pay compression increased the share of the lowest-aptitude female college graduates who became teachers by about 9 percentage points and decreased the share of the highest-aptitude female college graduates who become teachers by about 12 percentage points.” (Emphasis added.) To this, Neal (2002: 34) adds that, “The rigid wage structures among public schools also raise questions about teacher retention.” In particular, he points to studies by Murnane and Olsen (1989, 1990) and Stinebrickner (2001), which examine separation rates for public school teachers, and concludes that “teachers with higher test scores and better college records leave their jobs at higher rates.”

After reviewing all the data, what leaps out is that teachers as a whole don’t fare badly at all when it comes to salary and benefits. But it is shameful that school districts and teachers unions in California have colluded to treat teachers as interchangeable widgets with no acknowledgment of teacher quality. That a great teacher and a mediocre teacher – both of whom have taught for the same period of time – make exactly the same amount of money is disgraceful. Good teachers are a treasure and should be compensated accordingly. At the end of the day, protesting teachers may demand “their money,” but after examining the facts, only the best ones deserve it.

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.

Dump the Masters Bump

Advanced degrees for teachers have no bearing on student learning.

Last week, The Wall Street Journal brought to a national audience the news that lawmakers in North Carolina have done away with automatic pay increases for teachers who have master’s degrees.

North Carolina is the latest state to get rid of the “masters bump,” following Tennessee, Florida, Indiana and Louisiana. What these states have come to realize is that a teacher needs an advanced degree like a fish needs a sheepskin. Or, as Harvard researcher Tom Kane put it, “Paying teachers on the basis of master’s degrees is equivalent to paying them based on hair color.”

Instead, North Carolina will institute a system of merit pay based on students’ test scores. Of course, moving away from the traditional way of giving teachers raises brings out all the usual suspects whose common grouse is,

Getting an advanced degree gives teachers a deeper understanding of one subject or a better idea of how to teach students at different levels – important parts of education that aren’t always quantifiable.

It is certainly possible that teachers with advanced degrees may have a “deeper understanding” of their subject matter. But so what? How much a student learns, not how much the teacher “understands,” is the real measure of a teacher’s value.

But any attempt at “pay for performance” is particularly anathema to the union crowd because it destroys their worldview that all teachers are essentially the same, and that there is no such thing as a bad teacher. This phenomenon was spelled out in 2009 in “The Widget Effect,” a report by The New Teacher Project.

Predictably, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten weighed in on the North Carolina move, positing that, “districts and local unions should create contracts that reward teachers for master’s degrees that are relevant to classroom instruction.” She then added,

What is so ironic to me is that the same people who keep telling kids that it is really important to gain additional knowledge are the same ones saying “not so much,” when it comes to teachers.

Again, Weingarten is under the erroneous assumption that the more a teacher knows, the more their students will learn. She has apparently forgotten that we pay teachers to be teachers, not to be students.

In fact, Weingarten and her fellow travelers should become familiar with “The Sheepskin Effect and Student Achievement” with its subhead “De-emphasizing the Role of Master’s Degrees in Teacher Compensation.” The study, conducted by the Center for American Progress, delved into the uselessness and the outrageous costs of the bump.

Not only does the annual outlay for master’s bumps inflate demand for master’s degrees, it understates the full financial and social cost of this traditional facet of teacher compensation in the following three ways:

  • First, the extra cost is a lost opportunity. The billions of dollars tied up in master’s bumps are not available for compensation vehicles better aligned with a school district’s strategic goals such as improving student achievement.
  • Second, some school districts offer tuition reimbursement to teachers pursuing a master’s degree.
  • Third, many teachers leave the classroom years before earning enough additional compensation by way of master’s bumps to pay down loans or defray other expenses associated with their efforts to earn a master’s degree.

The severity of the costs cannot be exaggerated. As The Wall Street Journal reports,

About 52% of the nation’s 3.4 million public elementary and high-school teachers held a master’s or other advanced degree in 2008, compared with about 38% of private-school teachers, according to the most recent federal data. The national average salary for a teacher with five years of experience and a bachelor’s degree was $39,700 in 2008, compared with $46,500 with a master’s, according to the federal data … The nation spends an estimated $15 billion annually on salary bumps for teachers who earn master’s degrees …

Here in Los Angeles, the situation is beyond wacky. In 2011, I wrote about “The Teacher Quality Roadmap,” a study conducted by the National Council on Teacher Quality that examined the relationship between advanced degrees and other “extra coursework” on teacher effectiveness.

“Out of 102 statistical tests examined,” the report notes, “approximately 90 percent showed that advanced degrees had either no impact at all or, in some cases, a negative impact on student achievement.” And teachers without advanced degrees who simply take extra coursework in their areas of specialty prove no more effective in the classroom than those who don’t.

Not only is L.A. Unified’s policy at odds with the research, it practically invites teachers to game the system. According to the district contract with the United Teachers of Los Angeles, coursework, to qualify as professional development, must be “directly related to subjects commonly taught in the District.” (Emphasis added.) So a kindergarten teacher can take “Northern and Southern Economies on the Eve of the Civil War,” say, and receive what is euphemistically called “salary-point credit” for it. Or an American history teacher could take a class in identifying different kinds of plankton and also get a bump in pay. Taxpayers pay out a whopping $519 million a year in extra salary payments to teachers who take such courses.

That’s $519,000,000 in Los Angeles and $15,000,000,000 nationally in wasted taxpayer money! For the union crowd and their acolytes who are always screaming that we need more money for education, eliminating the masters bump and ignoring all the “deeper understanding” poppycock would be a perfect place to start.

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.

Lemon Raid

Los Angeles school chief puts children’s needs over those of 600 sadists, pedophiles and assorted creeps. The teachers union is outraged.

In any other field, getting rid of misbehaving or poorly performing employees is a natural and ongoing occurrence. Business leaders who don’t set standards and hold workers accountable will see their clientele shrink. But in the world of teacher union-dominated public education, putting customers first – in this case, children and their parents – is a headline-making event.

Superintendent John Deasy, who has incurred the wrath of the United Teachers of Los Angeles of late, did nothing to endear himself to the union by cracking down on miscreant teachers earlier this month. In fact, with Deasy leading the charge, the Los Angeles school board fired 100, got 200 to resign, and designated 300 more to be “housed” or removed from the classroom pending further investigation. According to Barbara Jones, writing in the LA Daily News,

The personnel files stretched the length of the 15-foot conference table in Superintendent John Deasy’s office, a chronicle of the corporal punishment, verbal and physical abuse and sexual misconduct reported in the classrooms of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Cuts and bruises. Curses and racial slurs. Caresses and pornography.

In the past, the misdeeds detailed in the teachers’ files would likely have earned the offender a disciplinary memo, maybe a week’s suspension, perhaps a transfer to another school.

Today, they’re grounds for firing.

UTLA, shocked that the historically passive school district actually made a move that benefitted children, was predictably furious. Its leaders characterized Deasy’s actions as a “witch hunt,” claiming that he is “using misconduct allegations to get rid of troublesome teachers and those on the upper rungs of the experience and pay scale.”

Really?

Here are some specifics about a few of the “teachers” who are now out of the classroom:

  • A Westside elementary teacher in his early 60s ‘trained’ his students to give him a full-body massage for 20 minutes every day while he ‘rested.’
  • A teacher at a San Fernando Valley elementary school who disciplined youngsters by locking them in a bathroom or barricading them in a corner using tables and chairs.
  • An Eastside elementary teacher used clothespins to pinch the ears of youngsters who weren’t paying attention to the lesson. The same teacher also discouraged thumb-sucking by putting nasty-tasting disinfectant on kids’ fingers and forced students to scrub their desks using cleanser and their bare hands.
  • A rash of sex-related complaints were made in the weeks after the Miramonte scandal broke, including allegations of tickling and fondling, and inappropriate and vulgar comments made in class. One high school student said a female teacher inexplicably took her along when she went shopping for sex toys in Hollywood. … Nearly a dozen male teachers were fired for pornography found on their district-issued laptops.

A horrified and angst-filled UTLA lawyer, Richard Schwab, sputtered, “… many veteran teachers opt to resign rather than pursue an administrative hearing because they fear losing their lifetime health benefits if the ruling goes against them.”

Schwab may be right. But this raises a bigger question. If a teacher is guilty of committing crimes against children, why does he or she deserve a penny in “lifetime health benefits?” Or a generous pension for that matter? But that is a discussion for another day.

In any event, despite the seemingly good news, this story is far from settled. For those teachers who haven’t taken their health and pension benefits and run, there are still appeals and hearings and then more appeals and hearings. Again, Barbara Jones:

Under current law, teachers who are fired by the school board have 30 days to appeal their dismissal to the state’s Office of Administrative Hearings. It assigns each case to a panel composed of an administrative law judge and two educators – one chosen by the teacher, the other by the district – which reviews evidence and hears witness testimony before deciding whether or not the teacher should be fired. That process may take years, however, and cost the district hundreds of thousands of dollars in staff time and legal fees.

In fact, thanks to our teacher union friends, here is what is laughably called “due process” for teachers in California:

How ineffective teachers are dismissed in California

1. School district must document specific examples of ineffective performance, based on standards set by the district and the local teachers union.

2. If a teacher has been cited for unsatisfactory performance worthy of dismissal, a school district must give the teacher written notice and provide her 90 calendar days to correct.

3. After 90 days, school district files written dismissal charges. If the school board votes to approve dismissal, it adopts official charges and a resolution of intent to dismiss teacher. Notice cannot be given between May 15 and September 15.

4. Once teacher receives notice that she will be dismissed in 30 days, she can request a hearing to be held within 30 days.

5. School board must reconvene to decide whether to proceed. If it proceeds, it must serve the employee with an accusation as set forth in the state’s Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

6. If teacher makes a second demand for a hearing, it is scheduled with the state Office of Administrative Hearings and held within 60 days. The hearing is similar to a civil trial with each side having rights to discovery. 

7. The hearing is held before a three-person Commission on Professional Competence consisting of an administrative judge and persons appointed by the school board and the teacher or her union representative.

8. After the hearing, the commission issues a written decision by majority vote either voting for dismissal or reinstatement.

9. If either the teacher or the school district appeals the decision, it will be heard by the state superior court.

10. Further appeals are heard by the state Court of Appeal.

Sources: California Legislative Analyst’s Office; California Office of Administrative Hearings.

As pointed out by Jones, the stickiest part of the above process is #7 because the unions control the action. The judge is invariably “union-friendly.” The offender gets to pick a teacher to be on the three-person panel. (Ya think he or she might choose a sympathetic one?) The third member of the panel is a teacher supplied by the district, more often than not – you guessed it – another union member. The odds are so stacked that as Matthias Gafni reports,

California has more than 1,000 school districts and 300,000 teachers, yet only 667 dismissal cases were filed with the Office of Administrative Hearings between January 2003 and March 2012, according to the Los Angeles Unified School District’s chief labor and employment counsel, Alex Molina. Only 130 of those actually got to the hearing stage, and 82 resulted in dismissals — fewer than 10 a year.

Last year, State Senator Alex Padilla tried to put a dent in the system by introducing SB 1530, a bill that would eliminate the two teachers from the panel, make the judge’s ruling advisory and leave the final decision up to the local school district. But the California Teachers Association managed to “convince” their “friends” on the Assembly education committee to kill the proposed legislation. Currently, there is a much milder bill, AB 375, making its way around the legislature. It would shorten the interminable dismissal process, but leave the three-person Commission on Professional Competence intact. CTA backs this bill, which is all you need to know about its effectiveness.

How LAUSD’s bold move eventually plays out is anybody’s guess. But whatever the outcome, John Deasy deserves a heap of praise. By trying to rid a noble profession of hundreds of “lemons,” he has done a great service to children and their families, which means of course he will be even more targeted by UTLA. And how that will play out is also anybody’s guess.

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.

Parents, Students, Businessmen, Mayors, Reformers, Civil Rights Groups, Conservatives, Liberals et al vs. Teachers Unions

It seems as if most of the civilized world is squaring off against the teachers unions these days; California’s SB 441 is the latest battle.

As a way to put some teeth in a moribund teacher evaluation system in California, State Senator Ron Calderon has written SB 441, a very modest bill, which would at long last begin to address a deplorable situation.

The bill would do the following:

1- (It) would require the evaluation and assessment at least every 3 years of the performance of each certificated employee with permanent status who have been employed at least 10 years with the school district and meet specified requirements.

(Existing law requires the evaluation and assessment of the performance of each certificated employee to be made on a continuing basis, as prescribed, including at least every other year for personnel with permanent status and at least every 5 years for personnel with permanent status who have been employed at least 10 years with the school district and meet specified requirements.)

2- (It) would instead require the governing board of each school district to regularly evaluate and assess the performance of certificated employees assigned to positions as classroom teachers or school principals using multiple measures, including, but not limited to, specified minimum criteria. The bill would require at least 4 rating levels to be used in evaluating a certificated employee and for the governing board of the school district to define each rating level used.

(Existing law requires the governing board of each school district to evaluate and assess certificated employee performance as it reasonably relates to specified matters.)

3- (It) would also require the governing board to avail itself of the advice of parents of pupils, as specified.

(Existing law requires the governing board of a school district, in the development and adoption of specified guidelines and procedures, to avail itself of the advice of the certificated instructional personnel in the district’s organization of certificated personnel.)

Hardly radical stuff. In fact, many teachers from the Los Angeles area spoke in favor of the bill before the Senate Education Committee last Wednesday. One teacher told the committee that he supported the bill because he’d undergone a more “comprehensive evaluation working at Blockbuster than I do as a public school teacher in California.”

Parent and student advocacy groups, business people and civil rights groups – representing all political persuasions – are supporting the bill, many of them trekking to Sacramento to make their voices heard.

  • Mayors of Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Jose
  • California United to Reform Education
  • EdVoice
  • Lanai Road Education Action Committee
  • Los Angeles Unified School District
  • Office of the Mayor of San Francisco
  • National Action Network Los Angeles
  • Orange County Business Council
  • Parent Partnership
  • Parent Revolution
  • Parents Advocate League
  • San Diego United Parents for Education
  • Simmons Group Inc.
  • Stand Up for Great Schools
  • StudentsFirst

Needless to say, there is one entity that is vehemently fighting to snuff the bill in committee: the teachers union. The following are opposing the bill’s passage:

  • California Federation of Teachers (CFT)
  • California School Employees Association (CSEA)
  • California Teachers Association (CTA)
  • United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA)

When teachers unions see any legislative threat to the status quo, they obfuscate the issue and then fiercely lobby to kill the bill. CTA’s response was typical – it offered up a 36 page monster spelling out its suggested teacher evaluation procedures. It’s difficult to believe that the union is serious about augmenting such a convoluted strategy, but since it needs to feign concern, it throws out an unrealistic alternative, knowing that it will never see the light of day. CTA’s main concern seems to be that teachers’ collective bargaining rights are going to be diminished. But there is nothing in this tame bill that would affect collective bargaining except for the increase in the frequency of teacher evaluations.

CTA is undoubtedly threatened by SB 441 because it sees this bill as the beginning of a slippery slope to greater reforms. They even had their #1 lobbyist, Pat Rucker, speak before the committee. (Just wondering: is it not a conflict of interest that Rucker, a high powered teacher union lobbyist, sits on the state board of education? The story of the fox guarding the henhouse would seem to apply.)

While the unions are doing their best to kill SB 441 in its present form, Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst is going in the other direction. If Rhee’s organization had its way, the bill would be strengthened by:

  • requiring that teachers and principals be evaluated annually.
  • defining what pupil progress means and designating the weight of pupil growth to be 30 to 50 percent of a teacher or principal’s evaluation.
  • eliminating seniority-based layoffs.

As an elementary and middle school teacher for over 28 years, I can attest to the fact that the bill as written is quite restrained and that StudentsFirst’s suggested amendments would be beneficial. But as certain as night follows day, it is also a fact that the teachers unions will do whatever they can to kill the bill in any form.

Needing five affirmative votes to get out of the education committee, the bill was stalled when the legislators voted 4-4-1 last Wednesday. It will be “reconsidered” this Wednesday, however, with the bill’s advocates and detractors going at it once again. Assuming the committee yeas and nays stand firm, the vote will be left to San Diego State Senator Marty Block who abstained last week. He is on good terms with the teachers unions and has introduced SB 657, a CFT sponsored teacher evaluation bill. But there is hope in some quarters that committee chair Carol Liu, who has backed other reform efforts, might change her vote to yes on SB 441.

On the UTLA website, there is a page devoted to the bill. Their “background” begins with the words:

SB 441 (Calderon) is pushed by disgraced former Chancellor of D.C. Schools Michelle Rhee and her StudentsFirst organization.

Nothing like a nasty ad hominem attack to add fuel to the fire. But then again, there is nothing new here. The unions invariably play dirty and make no bones about it. You want to talk about “disgrace?” The teachers unions wrote the book on it.

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.