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Teacher Union Political Spending: Liberal as Ever

AFT continues to use teachers as ATM machines to fund their pet leftist causes.

The latest American Federation of Teachers annual financial disclosure has been released (H/T RiShawn Biddle). This year’s LM-2 is filled with goodies that are sure to warm the cockles of leftist teacher union members, but apolitical educators, centrists and certainly those on the right just may have a different opinion.

Despite all the legitimate bad press the Clinton foundations have received the last few years, AFT still continues to pour more money into their pay-for-play operations. In 2015-2016 the union gave $250,000 to the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, and the same amount to the Clinton Global Initiative. This brings the total given by AFT to the Clintons over the past four years to $2.2 million. Maybe the union figures they need to assure that the Clintons won’t go wanting should the money from foreign special interests to secure weapons deals dry up. In any event, the gifts will ensure that AFT president Randi Weingarten will have HRC on speed-dial.

And of course the Clintons aren’t the only leftists to receive loot from the teachers union. The Center for Popular Democracy, a progressive pro-labor and anti-charter school outfit, received $373,000. Additionally, the union gave $25,000 each to Al Sharpton’s National Action Network and the radical Hispanic activist group, La Raza. Here is a chart with a small, but representative sampling of AFT’s donations:

aft-pays-to-play

Clearly there are no gifts to any group that is remotely conservative. Nope. Even though the teachers themselves are anything but a leftist monolith, practically none of the union’s money flows in a rightward direction. In fact, in all elections since 1989, AFT has given $76,446,797 to Democrats and liberals and just $363,000 to Republicans and conservatives. In other words, less than one half of one percent of the union’s political spending goes to the right. (And in those cases it’s usually supporting the more left-leaning of two Republicans running against each other.) The National Education Association isn’t a whole lot better; about 3 percent of its political largess goes rightward. But according to Mike Antonucci, an NEA internal survey in 2005 (consistent with previous results), showed that its members “are slightly more conservative (50%) than liberal (43%) in political philosophy.” No reason to think AFT is any different. And Mary Kay Henry, president of the SEIU, which serves both public and private employees, acknowledged in January that “64 percent of our public members identify as conservative….”  (Like the AFT, about one-half of one percent of SEIU political donations go to Republicans/conservatives.)

So how do the government unions, whose leaders run to the left of the average worker, get away with spending dues dollars on candidates and causes that so many of its members revile? The answer very simply is because its members let them. But teachers and other government workers don’t have to put up with this. Typically about one-third of all teachers’ union dues are spent on politics, but legally the rank-and-file does not have to subsidize the union’s agenda. A teacher can withhold the political portion of their dues by resigning from the union and becoming an agency fee payer. In this scenario, the teacher is still forced to pay about two-thirds of full dues because the union claims it’s forced to represent you in collective bargaining. This is a half-truth; they do have to represent you. But they insist on that set-up because, as the exclusive bargaining agent, they then get to collect dues from every single worker.

A teacher who resigns from the union cannot vote on their contract and loses their union-supplied liability insurance. The latter is essential for a teacher, but that and other benefits are available through joining a professional organization like the Association of American Educators, a non-union alternative.

Sadly, very few teachers have taken advantage of the agency fee payer option. In the Golden State, the California Teachers Association, an NEA affiliate, claims that 35 percent of its 300,000 or so members are Republicans. But only about 10 percent of its members withhold the political share of their dues. That means there are 75,000 Republican union members who are paying for causes and candidates they are opposed to. The national numbers are even worse. Only 88,000 of NEA’s 3 million members (2.9 percent) withhold the political portion.

If enough teachers withheld the political portion of their dues, the unions might sit up and take note. Millions of dollars less to spend on their pet candidates and causes might shake up union leaders – all of whom have become all-too-comfy with their all-too-compliant members – and force them to be more responsive to those they insist on representing. With the failure of the Friedrichs case due to Justice Scalia’s untimely death, the unions still have a captive flock throughout much of the country. But teachers who don’t like being forced to pay for their union’s political agenda need to stand up and just say no. If you do, you will sleep better at night and be a few hundred dollars a year richer. By maintaining the status quo, consider yourself a willing ATM for the biggest political bullies in the country.

For those of you who are sick and tired of subsidizing union politicking, you can get help here.

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.

Heartless and Mindless

As the National Education Association embarks on a new PR campaign, some of its affiliates engage in lawsuits and strikes.

In July, the National Education Association unearthed its “Strategic Plan and Budget” for 2016-2018. The introduction to the 76-page document includes the notion that the union needs to “win the race to capture the hearts and minds of parents, communities, and educators.”

Hearts and minds?

Well, two months later, let’s just see how that’s working out for the country’s biggest union and some of its state affiliates. In northern California, the Yuba City Teachers Association is in its second week of a strike. The union was asking for a 13 percent raise for its teachers. When the district claimed that there was no way it could afford such a salary hike, the union came back with a counter offer: 15 percent. (No typo.) When asked about the strike, a picketing teacher asserted, “…we have to do this for our students.

Hearts and minds?

Washington State’s charter schools are once again endangered. The Washington Education Association is continuing its battle to remove the Evergreen State’s 12 charter schools and kill any such future endeavors. The union paints charters as unaccountable to voters, proclaims that they are privately run and don’t have elected school boards. The fact that parents send their kids to these schools of choice because the traditional public schools aren’t doing a good job does not matter a whit to the union. Perhaps Heartland Institute’s Bruno Behrend said it best: “The Washington Teachers Unions specifically, and the government education complex in general, once again expose their moral illegitimacy by attempting to destroy education options for Washington’s students and families.”

Hearts and minds?

Launched in 2001, Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship program allows low income families to send their kids to a private school with money that is funded directly through private donations from businesses, which can then earn dollar-for-dollar tax credits from the state for their contributions. The Florida Education Association, which has been fighting against this increasingly popular form of school choice for two years, is running low on options and is about to embark on its final effort: an appeal to the State Supreme Court. If the state court denies FEA’s appeal, the union will just have to live with the ruling. FEA president Joanne McCall is optimistic, however. “The highest level ruled in our favor in 2006. They seem to be the most sane court (sic) that we have.”

But Bishop Victory Curry, chairman of the Save Our Scholarships Coalition, has a problem with FEA. “We are very disappointed that the union will continue its effort to evict more than 90,000 poor, mostly minority children from schools that are working for them. … The union’s decision is wrong for the children, and wrong for our public schools.”

Hearts and Minds?

New Jersey governor Chris Christie is angry, claiming that 27 failing school districts across the state continue to under-perform despite receiving over $100 billion in funding since 1985. He blames various union work rules as a big part of the problem, declaring. “We can no longer tolerate a tenure law that places seniority above effectiveness, or tolerate limits on teaching time that restrict teachers to less than five hours of a seven-hour school day in districts where our students most need quality teachers and intensive instruction.”

The New Jersey Education Association responded by calling Christie’s plea, a “frivolous legal challenge” adding that it was an attempt by Christie to divert attention from the Bridgegate scandal.

Sure.

NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer further explained, “… He’s demonized the women and men who work in our public schools. And he’s proposed a funding scheme that would steal from poor children to reward rich adults.”

Mr. Steinhauer has it backwards. Stealing from kids and enriching adults is what his and other teachers unions do. Quite well, I might add.

Hearts and minds?

And finally we have Chicago, a city where one in three never graduates from high school. The NEA does not have a presence there; the Chicago Teachers Union is affiliated with Randi Weingarten’s American Federation of Teachers. Nevertheless, it seems that CTU is all in with NEA’s “hearts and minds” modus operandi.

First a few facts: The median salary for a teacher in the Windy City is $78,169. When you throw in another $27,564 for various benefits, the total becomes almost $106K per annum. In retirement, the average teacher receives a hefty $50,000 a year. Ah, but the teachers are not happy. Chicago teachers are supposed to contribute 9 percent of their salary to fund their own pension. But, as things stand now, the teachers only contribute 2 percent, with the school district (taxpayer) picking up the remaining seven. The city, which is in dire fiscal straits, is asking teachers to pay the full 9 percent.

The audacity of the city fathers! The union is fighting mad and in heavy strike-prep mode, holding workshops which center on “workplace tactics to stick it to the boss.” The teachers could strike as soon as mid-October.

Hearts and minds?

Nope. “Heartless and mindless” is much closer to the truth. Shameless and arrogant too.

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

Clinton Turns Her Back on School Choice While Trump Embraces It 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Minnesota’s Toxic Twins

Randi Weingarten and Hillary Clinton embrace, as parents sue to modify rigid, anti-child union work rules.

The yearly American Federation of Teachers wingding was a doozie this year. The 100th anniversary of the union and the presence of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton made for an especially noxious four days in Minnesota – a forced union state – last week. (The AFT affair coincided with the Republican Party convention, but no one would have attended that other event, even if they were on different dates.)

AFT president Randi Weingarten’s talk was laden with typical rah-rah union blather, topped with world-class fawning over Clinton. “Hillary understands the most urgent issues confronting our country. Her bold economic plan puts unions front and center….”

Boy, does it ever. If elected, Clinton will put at least teachers unions front and center. In her talk at the love-in, she gushed, “I want to thank you for being one of the essential partners for everything we need to do to move the country in the right direction.” And she then added “When I’m president, you will have a partner in the White House, and you will always have a seat at the table.” (The you in her statement refers to union honchos, not teachers.)

Minnesota governor Mark Dayton also addressed the throng, tossing out well-worn edu-blob rhetoric like, “…many people did not know how poorly the nation funds public education.” But the “we need to spend more” mantra has been blown up countless times, most recently by Minnesota reformer/writer Chris Stewart who pointed out that North High, one of the poorest performing schools in Minneapolis, receives budget allocations that amount to $17,460 per student, while Southwest High, a school ranked among the best in the nation, gets just $7,782 per student.

The party faithful were in heaven as Clinton and Weingarten oozed their utopian happy talk – so much so, in fact, that hundreds of unionistas took to the streets on the second day of the festivities, tying up traffic and annoying thousands of workers trying to get home during rush hour. But the protestors just had to vent about the “violence visited on the community by Big Banks” and promote the Black Lives Matter agenda. (Can’t let a little good rush hour traffic go to waste!)

Missing from the convention agenda, however, was that the prior week a judge heard initial arguments in a lawsuit aimed at dismantling Minnesota’s union-orchestrated tenure and seniority “protections” for public school teachers. The case was filed by Campbell Brown’s Partnership for Educational Justice and Students for Education Reform Minnesota. The plaintiffs in Forslund v. Minnesota are four mothers from Duluth, St. Paul and Minneapolis. Their suit seeks to have state tenure and dismissal laws ruled unconstitutional, charging they violate the state’s guarantee to a “thorough and efficient” education. It takes three years to attain tenure or “permanent status” – essentially a job for life – in the state. Additionally, the litigants claim that the last-in, first-out statute leads to a less qualified teaching profession. According to Chris Stewart, 98 percent of principals reported losing a quality teacher to LIFO.

The case is similar to the Vergara litigation in California which led to the Wright lawsuit in New York. The latter suit, like Minnesota’s, was also brought by Partnership for Educational Justice along with the New York City Parents Union.

The teachers union is also front and center in another battle in Minnesota. The Gopher State faces severe shortages of teachers in special education, math, science and engineering. As such, you might think that Minnesota – as other states have – would ease the rigid, unnecessary and frequently idiotic credentialing requirements one must suffer through to become a public school teacher. (Bill Gates could not teach a class in computer software in a Minnesota public school because he hasn’t taken the required ed school classes.)

But Minnesota’s Board of Teaching isn’t budging. You see, the board was appointed by the governor, a strong supporter (and beneficiary) of the state’s teachers union, Education Minnesota, which has lobbied against any kind of alternative licensing. The board is comprised of union organizers and representatives of the traditional education colleges whose exclusive franchise would be threatened by a change in the requirements. Also, the ed schools’ faculties are represented by the union.

All the while the union bosses are grousing about the motives of the reformers. Weingarten still swipes at Campbell Brown, claiming that she “continues to do the bidding of her monied donors.” But of course this is just a typical union diversionary tactic. In Minnesota – and elsewhere – the unions have almost total say over who enters the profession and who leaves it. As long as this is the case, many children all over the country will continue to receive a substandard education, and if Hillary Clinton winds up in the White House, she will do everything she can to ensure that the very disturbing status quo remains firmly in place.

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

The Teachers Unions Faux Grassroots Organizing

The Hedge Clippers, a union run and organized group, laughably pretends to be grassroots.

The Hedge Clippers, born last year, is an anti-capitalist, left-wing, purportedly grassroots organization whose focus is on exposing “the mechanisms hedge funds and billionaires use to influence government and politics in order to expand their wealth, influence and power.” The group received a mention in the Wall Street Journal a couple of weeks ago in a piece that centered around American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, who sicced them on a bunch of hedge fund managers that are involved with education and pension reform that the union finds objectionable. Perhaps #1 on the Hedge Clippers’ enemies list is Daniel Loeb, founder of the $16 billion Third Point fund. Loeb has the temerity of being a financial supporter of the wildly successful Harlem Success Academy charter school franchise, run by Weingarten’s avowed enemy, Eva Moskowitz. Weingarten has also accused Loeb of being involved with a group that is “leading the attack on defined benefit pension funds.”

The very same day the Journal piece appeared, the Los Angeles Times ran an “exposé” claiming that “activists reveal more dark-money donors to campaigns against unions and schools-funding tax.” The article centers around the Hedge Clippers outing donors who they claim made undisclosed contributions in 2012 as part of a “dark-money” scheme to defeat Prop 30, an initiative that raised income taxes on the richest Californians and sales tax on all Californians. The essential point of the article is that the Hedge Clippers have discovered that evil and greedy capitalists contributed money to an out-of-state organization, which circulated funds through a series of other groups and eventually back to California.

But just how does the Hedge Clippers enterprise do business? Is this really a “grassroots” entity, as billed? In “United Front: Teachers Unions Quietly Spend Millions on ‘Grassroots’ Groups The 74’s David Cantor reveals that the “grassroots organization” has been created, funded, and directed by two of the nation’s largest political contributors – you guessed it – the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association.  The group is led by a union lobbyist who is based at New York City’s United Federation of Teachers headquarters. Moreover, Cantor points out that the Hedge Clippers’ “crusade against opaque financial dealings also seems at odds with the fact that in the last election only two organizations contributed more than the AFT to 527s – less-regulated groups that, since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, can raise unlimited money for or against candidates….”

But wait, there’s more.

Teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci weighed in on the subject, pointing out that despite the contributions of those “opposing economic justice,” the Prop. 30 campaign was successful. Perhaps the fact that the alleged grassroots folks (mostly public employee unions) outspent the greedy and evil hedge-funders by almost $14 million had something to do with it.

To fully grasp the teachers unions’ “grassroots” activity, check out the following chart, plucked from the California Teachers Association website. (H/T Antonucci.)

CTA - grassroots chart

As you can see, CTA’s (like most teachers unions’) political organizing is top-down, centrally planned, bureaucratic and frequently at odds with its own rank-and-file. The unions are many things, but grassroots? Hardly. They are run more like the Politburo.

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.

Teacher Shortage Claim Is Still Short on Data

No matter how many times it’s repeated, the national teacher shortage story is a canard.

In the months since I last wrote about the alleged teacher shortage crisis, I had hoped the hysteria would abate. But alas, it hasn’t; if anything, it has increased, with the teachers unions at the forefront of the bogus story.

Champion alarm bell-ringer Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, was in fine form when she penned “How the Teacher Shortage Could Turn Into a Crisis” for the Huffington Post last month. Her claims are all ridiculous, of course, but she states them with such certitude that they sound quite believable if one doesn’t know better. “…we lose an alarming number of teachers once they enter the profession— between 40 and 50 percent of new teachers leave within five years. Add to that the loss of mid- and late-career teachers, who have honed their skills but can’t see staying until retirement, and you’ve got a teacher brain-drain unseen in any other profession.” The National Education Association advises, “Want to reduce the teacher shortage? Treat teachers like professionals.” The California Teachers Association informs us that we are on the verge of “The Perfect Storm: California Impending Teacher Shortage Crisis.

And it’s not only the unions that have been infected with the “sky is falling” mentality. In February, Education Week reported “Teacher Shortages Put Pressure on Governors, Legislators.” And a Hechinger Report piece recently warned that “California faces a dire teacher shortage. Should other states worry, too?” Surprisingly, however, the gloom actually lifts near the end of the Hechinger article and clarity ultimately prevails. Dan Goldhaber, director of the Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research puts things into perspective by introducing data which show that between 1984 and 2013 teacher production has increased overall, with a few dips here and there. He calmly states, “This does not look to me like the production of teachers in this country is falling off a cliff.”

Another Hechinger piece posted last month continued the Goldhaber line. “Cries about national teacher shortages might be overblown” takes a look at various state reports. In 2013-2014 in California, 2.5 to 2.7 percent of the teachers hired had emergency certification, a sign of shortage, because schools hire applicants with full certifications first. But fifteen years ago, 14.5 percent of the teachers hired in California were not fully credentialed.

Then, just last week, the National Center for Teacher Quality claimed flatly in its newsletter that we are in the midst of a drummed up teacher shortage crisis. Acknowledging that the number of new teachers produced since 2008 has declined, NCTQ president Kate Walsh points out that “the drop was preceded by a three-decade period of enrollment growth, far outpacing the demand year-in and year-out. America’s 1,450+ institutions which train teachers have been OVER-enrolling for years.” She adds that, “The current decline is what we normally see when unemployment dips and the pool of folks looking for work isn’t as large as in other years.”

Taking an even longer look, the late Cato Institute senior fellow of education policy Andrew Coulson wrote in 2015 that there is an “Evidence Shortage for Teacher Shortage.” He notes that since 1970, “…the number of teachers has grown six times faster than the number of students. Enrollment grew about 8 percent from 1970 to 2010, but the teaching workforce grew 50 percent. There are a LOT more public school teachers per child today, so how can districts and states still claim to be facing teacher shortages?” (Emphasis added.)

Coulson finishes his piece, “So does America have a ‘teacher shortage’ writ large? No. We had 22.3 pupils/teacher in 1970 and 16 p/t in 2012. Compared to the past, we are rolling in teachers. If we have too few in some fields and too many in others, it is (because of) mistakes in policy and/or execution.”

Also, Weingarten’s assertion that “between 40 and 50 percent of new teachers leave within five years” has always been, and still is, a crock. She and other union leaders have been telling that lie since the last millennium. Fortunately the debunking has been picking up. Just a year ago, EdSource’s John Fensterwald reported, “Half of new teachers quit profession in 5 years? Not true, new study says.” He writes that a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Educational Statistics found that “10 percent of new teachers in 2007-08 didn’t return the following year, increasing cumulatively to 12 percent in year three, 15 percent in year four and 17 percent in the fifth year. The totals include teachers who were let go and subsequently didn’t find a job teaching in another district.” Just last week, Bellwether Education Partners policy expert Chad Aldeman reported in Education Next, “Turnover rates for inexperienced teachers have been falling, not rising, while turnover has risen among more experienced teachers.”

So after five years one-in-six teachers are gone. Hardly a cause for smelling salts. In fact, other fields have a much higher turnover rate. In banking and finance, for example, the departure rate in 2013 was 17.2 percent and in healthcare it was 16.8 percent. The average for all industries in 2013 was 15.1 percent. So basically, in five years, the teaching profession loses roughly the same percentage of employees that other fields lose every year. So, comparatively speaking, we are hardly “bleeding teachers.”

While I have been looking at the big picture here, to be sure there are some school districts that are short on teachers and other districts may lack teachers in certain subject areas. But rather than promulgating doomsday prophecies, how about simply addressing those specific shortages – like paying science teachers a bit more money to lure them to districts where they are needed.

There is one area in decline that is worth noting, however: unionized teachers. Taking a look at the latest numbers available, courtesy of Mike Antonucci, we see that the National Education Association lost 42,000 active members in 2013, “bringing the union’s total losses among working public school employees to more than 310,000 (10.7%) over the past five years.” That’s certainly bad news for the union’s bottom line, but the rest of us aren’t going to be shedding any tears over that.

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

The Latest Teachers Unions’ Monopoly Moves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s Deep-six Prop. 30

The signatures for an initiative that would extend 2012’s “temporary” tax increase in California are due today.

Four years ago Californians voted in Prop. 30, a “temporary” tax, to pay back schools “from the years of devastating cuts.” But as I show here, there was hardly any devastation; in fact, our spending had continued to be quite robust. The measure jacked up income tax on people with incomes exceeding $250,000 through 2018 and increased sales tax on all of us through the end of this year. But, the Beholden State teachers unions are trying to get an initiative on the 2016 ballot that would continue the higher income tax through 2030. (The sales tax increase would expire as scheduled.) Earlier this month, California Teachers Association president Eric Heins told the union’s State Council that “…we need to gather 900,000 signatures to get our measure on the ballot. We are about 60 percent there, and we only have about three more weeks.”

Today, in fact, is the deadline. If enough signatures are gathered, the extension has a good chance of success. As reported by EdSource’s John Fensterwald, a Public Policy Institute of California poll found, “…among all Californians, 64 percent support the extension, 32 percent oppose it and 4 percent are undecided. Among likely voters, 62 percent back it, 35 percent oppose it and 2 percent haven’t decided. By party affiliation, 82 percent of Democrats support it while only 32 percent of Republicans do.”

When I read poll numbers like this, I always wonder if the people questioned know what we actually spend on education. My guess is that many don’t. A recent Education Next poll, which included a question about that issue, is instructive. The school districts in which their survey respondents resided spent an average of $12,440 per pupil in 2012 (the most recent data available). But when asked, the respondents estimated per-pupil expenditures in their local school district, they guessed, on average, just $6,307 – about half of what was actually spent. (By the way, these dollar amounts would be considerably higher if expenditures for transportation, capital expenses, and debt service were included.)

Should Prop. 30 (or any future such tax increases) make it on to the ballot, I would ask voters to consider the following:

  • The unions will tell you that the tax is only on the wealthy, whom they claim don’t pay their fair share. But a look at the actual numbers tells a different story. A report issued by the Congressional Budget Office in 2012 shows that the top one percent of income earners across the nation paid 39 percent of federal individual income taxes in 2009, while earning 13 percent of the income. Hence, it’s clear that the rich are already paying considerably more than their “fair share.”
  • Courtesy of Cato Institute’s late, great Andrew Coulson, we see that between 1972 and 2012 California’s education spending (adjusted for inflation) has doubled, while our students’ SAT scores have actually declined.
  • The latest study on the relationship between spending and achievement, recently conducted in Michigan, found no statistically significant correlation between how much money the state’s public schools spend and how well students perform academically. Mackinac Center Education Policy Director Ben DeGrow, who coauthored the study said, “Of the 28 measurements of academic achievement studied, we find only one category showed a statistically significant correlation between spending and achievement, and the gains were nominal at best.” He added, “Spending may matter in some cases, but given the way public schools currently spend their resources, it is highly unlikely that merely increasing funding will generate any meaningful boost to student achievement.”
  • Unconditional money poured into public education from the private sector doesn’t help either. In 2010, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg donated $100 million to the Newark public schools, which was matched by another $100 million from unnamed donors. As documented in The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools, a book about the gift, the money went up in smoke, with the teachers union playing a big role in vaporizing it. As reported by the New York Times, Newark Teachers Union leader Joe Del Grosso “demanded a ransom of $31 million to compensate for what he felt members should have received in previous years — before agreeing to discuss any labor reforms.” The new labor contract accounted for almost half the $200 million. In a review of the book, Cato Institute’s Jason Bedrick wrote, “The union boss… made the back pay a condition for even holding the negotiations. ‘We had an opportunity to get Zuckerberg’s money,’ Del Grosso later explained, ‘Otherwise, it would go to the charter schools. I decided I shouldn’t feed and clothe the enemy.’” But it wasn’t only the unions that abused the gift. As Bedrick says, “The Prize demonstrates in depressing detail just how difficult it is to reform public schooling in the United States. Laws, regulations, and labor contracts favored adult jobs over kids’ education and this entrenched bureaucracy was difficult to change—especially because reforms met opposition from special interests and their political allies.”

With a debt of over $1 trillion and counting, California clearly has a spending problem, not a too-little-tax problem. The taxpayers must take action. First, we all need to know specifically where our edu-bucks are being spent. You can start at the Ed-Data website for general expenditures. Do some digging to find out how teacher union (and all public employee union) pensions are bankrupting cities across the state. For that kind of information, Pension Tsunami is an invaluable resource. Perhaps most importantly, communicate with legislators and demand school choice. Among other things – just as in business – competition lowers prices while increasing product quality. And God knows we would benefit from both.

Randi Weingarten and other union leaders have a prized talking point: “You can’t fire your way to a teaching force.” It’s a ridiculous claim, which I debunked last week. And at the same time, they erroneously believe we can spend our way to success. But they make no real case for this, because there isn’t one. It’s time for all of us to stop falling for the feel-good fairy tales. Just saying “No!” to the Prop. 30 extension – should it get to the ballot – would be a great 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 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.

Vergara Update: Virtues and Villainy

The union and media reactions to the appeals court decision in the Vergara case had me going through a whole can of room deodorizer.

In 2014, the plaintiffs in the Vergara trial claimed that several California education statutes – all of which are on the books at the behest of the teachers unions – cause greater harm to minority and economically disadvantaged populations because their schools “have a disproportionate share of grossly ineffective teachers.” Judge Treu ruled in favor of the plaintiffs on every issue, removing five statutes concerning tenure, seniority and teacher dismissal rules from the state’s constitution, adding, “The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience.” Well, it’s now 2016 and last week the Court of Appeals shocked the plaintiffs by overturning the original decision.

Some of the wording in the ruling was quite interesting: “Critically, plaintiffs failed to show that the statutes themselves make any certain group of students more likely to be taught by ineffective teachers than any other group of students.” Also, Justice Roger Boren, wrote in his opinion that it was the court’s job merely to determine whether or not the statutes are constitutional, not whether they’re “a good idea.” As Reason’s Brian Doherty points out, “The core of the new decision, which seems to this non-lawyer (and non teacher, and non student) to be saying that if the crummy policies are as near as we can tell causing equal harm to all California students rather than special harm to an identifiable group, then the Court feels powerless to overturn them.” Or in plainer English, “All kids are hurt by crappy teachers, so get over it.”

The justices are of the mind that much of the problem falls on administrators. While this certainly may be true to some degree, the path for principals to get rid of a rotten apple is currently so onerous and time-consuming that many, understandably, choose to stick with the poor performers and try to place them in positions where they do the least damage. Also, getting rid of bad teachers is very costly. Recently in Los Angeles, it took $3.5 million just to try to get rid of seven tenured teachers who were deemed incompetent and only four of them were actually removed.

Needless to say, much has been written about the successful appeal, but not all the reporting has been accurate. Unsurprisingly, the teachers unions’ responses were ecstatic, and laden with mounds of bunkum.

I will attempt to separate reality from fantasy.

First of all, the case is not over. This is a three-round fight and to be sure the unions were victorious in Round 2, but the plaintiffs won the first round and will appeal to the California Supreme Court which will ultimately decide the winner. (Don’t hold your breath, however; it could take a year before there is a final decision.)

The Los Angeles Times reported, “In a major victory for unions, a California appeals court on Thursday reversed a lower court ruling that had thrown out tenure and other job protections for the state’s public school teachers.” (Emphasis added.)

No, not really. Judge Treu did not say teacher tenure is detrimental per se; rather, he stressed that the probationary period for teachers is too short. California is one of only five states where schools reward teachers with tenure after only two years or less. In 41 states, the probationary term ranges from three to five years and four states don’t allow tenure at all. In any event, the decision was never about “throwing out tenure,” but rather extending the probationary period.

The National Education Association crowed that the verdict was a “major victory for due process.” Again, wrong. It’s not “due process.” In fact it’s not even really “tenure.” What teachers achieve after two years on the job is “permanent status.” Think about it. Other than the SCOTUS Justices, who else in the world has a permanent job? Do you? Of course not, and for good reason. If you do well, you keep your job; if you don’t perform well you lose your job. Why do we have this awful law for people who deal with our most precious commodity – our children?!

Regarding seniority or “last in, first out,” the unions claim that this is the only way to determine layoffs because it is “objective.” Well, it is indeed “objective” and that’s exactly the problem with it. It makes about as much sense as retaining teachers by alphabetical order. So if layoffs are necessary and your surname is Allen, you are in good shape. But if your last name is Zygmond, adios!

California Teachers Association president Eric Heins was jubilant. “I consider this a victory for teachers and a victory for students. What these statutes have done is…bring stability to the system.” Stability, of course, is not in and of itself a bad thing, but when permitting thousands of poorly performing teachers to stay on the job, it stinks for kids.

In praising the decision, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten dredged up every cliché in the book, including this golden oldie, “You can’t fire your way to a teaching force.” Randi, I would urge you to read what Eric Hanushek, an economist who writes extensively about education issues, has to say on the subject. After doing detailed research, he wrote that by getting rid of as few as 5 to 7 percent of bottom performers, not newest hires, and replacing them with just average teachers, education achievement in the U.S. could reach that of Canada and Finland. So yes, Randi, getting rid of bad actors can do wonders for thousands of educationally abused kids.

Coincidentally, the very day that the Vergara appeal decision was announced, a similar lawsuit was filed in Minnesota by Campbell Brown’s Partnership for Educational Justice, which has also filed a parallel suit in New York in 2014. Regarding the litigation, Weingarten huffed, “It’s not surprising that Campbell Brown continues to do the bidding of her monied donors—particularly when the weight of the evidence is so clear that you cannot fire your way or sanction your way or test your way to children’s educational success.” (Here, she manages to slam arch-enemy Brown, rich corporate types and get in her golden oldie in a single sentence.)

It’s worth noting that with all the judicial wrangling, the courts have rightfully not “legislated from the bench.” Regarding the dismissal statutes, the California legislature made a gesture toward sanity by passing Assembly Bill 215 in 2014. That bill makes it somewhat easier for administrators to remove teachers accused of “egregious behavior,” such as sexual abuse. And now we have Assembly Bill 934 written by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord. According to the Sacramento Bee, “Under this bill, teachers who are doing poorly would be placed into a program that offers them extra professional support. If they receive another low performance review after a year in the program, they could be fired via an expedited process regardless of their experience level.” Also, permanence would not always be granted after two years and seniority would no longer be the single overriding factor in handing out pink slips. Teachers with two or more bad reviews would lose their jobs before newer teachers who have not received poor evaluations.

While I think Bonilla’s bill doesn’t go far enough, it is a heck of a lot better than what we have now. Of course, CTA disagrees. It opposes the bill because the changes “would make education an incredibly insecure profession.”

And so the beat goes on. As the teachers unions dig in, hundreds of thousands of school kids – poor and otherwise – are victimized by their work rules which have been enshrined into state law. Our only hope is that the State Supreme Court makes these rules “impermanent” and that parent and kid-friendly laws take their place.

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.

Teacher Union Pension Flim-flam

The public employee pension problem isn’t new, but a teacher union leader’s defense of it has sunk to new depths.

According to the Federal Reserve, public employee pensions in aggregate nationally are in serious trouble. Currently totaling $5.8 trillion, they are underfunded by $1.7 trillion. While all these pensions are draining public resources, Don Boyd, director of fiscal studies at the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, charges that the teachers’ plans are a disproportionate part of the problem. And in a recent US News & World Report piece, “America’s Bankrupt Schools,” Lauren Camera sounds alarm bells, explaining that “Pension plans could be the culprit behind broke big-city school districts,” and goes on to detail the bleak fiscal situation that now burdens Philadelphia, Baltimore and Chicago.

Teachers’ pensions are funded to some extent by teachers themselves but the bulk of the payment is supplied by the school district (the taxpayer) and the local and state government (the taxpayer). It’s a “defined benefit” set-up whereby the teacher, upon retiring, receives a fixed monthly amount for life…no matter how much he or she has actually contributed to the plan.

While it is true that local and state governments are responsible for the looming disaster, the influential teachers unions have much to say about these policies and are leading the charge to maintain the unsustainable status quo. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents many educators in the most fiscally challenged cities, claims, “People become schoolteachers knowing full well they will not command riches like in the private sector, but when they retire they can take comfort in knowing they have a pension to support them…The real culprit of the school systems’ trouble has been state governments’ support for expanding charter schools, voucher plans and other school choice policies,” which she argues have eaten into the budget for traditional public schools. She adds, “There is a common thread in how the Philadelphia crisis started, what happened in Michigan, and what’s happening in Illinois, where there is abandonment by these Republican governors or legislatures of urban city school districts.”

Where to begin?! In one fell swoop, she plays the “poor teacher” card, blames legislators who try to help kids to escape their failing public schools (which her union rules over) and Republicans. Of course, she omits the fact that every city and some states that are underwater are run by Democrats. As for her first claim, the myth of the underpaid teacher has no basis. Perhaps the most respected study to date, conducted by researchers Jason Richwine and Andrew Biggs (in which they account for all variables – including the fact that teachers work on average for 180 days, while private industry workers toil for 240-250 days) found that 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.” And that doesn’t include the very generous “Cadillac” healthcare plans that most teachers have and don’t pay for. So it would seem that teachers do quite well compared to other workers, even before their pensions are accounted for.

Weingarten’s comments about school choice are especially egregious. As explained by the Friedman Foundation’s Martin Lueken, “First, the states Weingarten cites are experiencing the worst pension crises, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Illinois, do not even have strongly funded private school choice programs. Michigan has none, and fewer than 3 percent of the state’s students in Pennsylvania and likely fewer in Illinois are currently using any private school choice program.” He rightfully points out that schools of choice do not siphon public funds. “The truth is that school choice programs can improve the fiscal health of public school districts. Between 1990 and 2011, there were 10 private school choice programs in operation. Those programs saved a total of $1.7 billion. Another fiscal analysis on the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program demonstrated net savings of $37 million in FY 2009 from the program.”

Unmentioned in Weingarten’s misguided explanation was a prior classic. She is on record saying that, “Every dollar paid out in pension benefits puts $2.37 back into the economy.” Here the union leader blithely ignores that the same economic activity would be generated by taxpayer money if it were not diverted to pensions in the first place.

Another outrage that has been rarely acknowledged in the pension discussion is what is euphemistically called release time or, in some circles, “ghost teachers.” It’s a practice that allows public employees to conduct union business during working hours without loss of pay. These activities include negotiating contracts, lobbying, processing grievances, and attending union meetings and even out-of-town conferences. It has cost the state and federal governments billions to date, not including the pension time the “ghosts” rack up doing work for their union. Thankfully, reports about abuses in Michigan, Connecticut, Philadelphia and elsewhere have been brought to light over the past year.

Via legislation or initiative – whatever it takes – public sector employers must be made to set up 401(k) or “defined contribution” retirement plans as exist in the private sector. In this arrangement, the employer, employee or both make contributions on a regular basis, but there is no additional taxpayer involvement. However, until 401(k) plans are implemented – and the unions will fight tooth and nail to keep that from happening – so much of the money that should be spent on education, especially in our most blighted cities, will go into the pockets of not only retired teachers but to various other public employees…ghost and otherwise. And all the while the teachers unions claim that everything they do is for the children. In this case (and in so many others), they are doing it to the children, not to mention the ever-more-beleaguered taxpayers.

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.

In like a Lyin’

As charter schools continue to succeed, the reformicidal teachers unions ramp up their assault on them.

Month by month, the teachers unions have been increasing their barrage of malevolence toward charter schools, which are nothing more than publicly funded schools of choice that are trying to break away from the rigidity of Big Education/Big Union rules and regulations.

The March charter assault comes to us via a push poll conducted by the teachers unions’ favorite pollsters – GBA Strategies – an outfit regularly used by unions to manufacture results to their liking. The poll was commissioned by In the Public Interest and the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD). The former is a project of The Partnership for Working Families (PWF), a card-carrying member of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, whose raison d’être is to bash “one percenters.” Not surprisingly, several of PWF donors are themselves “one percenters,” including George Soros and other globalist/socialists. CPD is radically pro-labor and American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten is on its board of directors.

The results of the poll were reported in Politics USA by “rmuse,” a writer who refers to himself as a “Secular Humanist – Columnist – Audio Engineer/Musician Zen-Atheist.” He writes that while it has taken over a decade, “the public is finally sick of the charter industry’s lack of accountability, systemic underperformance, harsh admission policies, and poorly or untrained teachers; all characteristics of the charter school privatization movement.”

Rmuse finishes his embarrassing screed with a despicable and downright kooky flourish. “Sadly, with Koch-ALEC Republicans controlling education funding and pushing privatization through charters, and coupled with an Administration enamored with privatized charter schools, it may be inevitable that the next generation of Americans will be stupider and more religious than the current one. And, despite their demands to rein in the corporate and religious charter school movement, American taxpayers will ultimately pay to under-educate the next generation to enrich corporations, completely destroy public schools, and create tens-of-millions of theocratic Republican voters.”

Shortly after the poll was released, United Teachers of Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl appeared on KQED-FM, a radio station in northern CA, and whined on about how charters don’t play by the rules. While he did not allude to the poll, his diatribe certainly meshed with it. Fortunately, California Charter School Association president Jed Wallace was also on air and managed to correct many of the union leader’s fanciful forays into Wonderland.

The essence of rmuse’s, Caputo-Pearl’s and other haters’ complaints about charters is that they are “unregulated” and “not accountable.” But nothing could be further from the truth.

As the California Charter School Association points out, unlike traditional public schools, charters are academically accountable in a couple of ways. “They are held accountable by their authorizer (usually the local school district) and, most importantly, by the families they serve. When a team of school developers submit their charter petition, they must define their academic goals. In order to be authorized, their goals must be rigorous. In order to stay open, they must meet or exceed those goals.” Additionally charters must abide by various state and federal laws, civil rights statutes, safety rules, standard financial practices, etc.

As former president of the Center for Education Reform Kara Kerwin writes, “… Unlike all other public schools, charters must be proactive in their efforts to stay open. They must set and meet rigorous academic goals, and actually meet or exceed their state’s proficiency standards. Unlike the conventional public schools that intentionally remain under the radar, charter schools operate under intense scrutiny from teachers unions, the media, and lawmakers. In states with strong charter school laws that allow for objective oversight, it is clear that performance-based accountability is working.”

Around the same time as the unions’ March offensive, a report was released that analyzed the achievement gap. As detailed by LA School Report, “The first-of-its-kind Education Equality Index from Education Cities studied data from schools in the 100 largest U.S. cities, and in each identified up to 10 schools with small or nonexistent achievement gaps that serve a student population where the majority are from low-income families.” It found that charters dominated the rankings in many big cities, especially in LA, where nine of the top 10 schools were independent charter schools.

Hardly a surprise. As students struggle in traditional LA schools, 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.

To be clear, not all charters are wonderful. But if a charter authorizing law is written properly and oversight is competent and vigilant, any charter not passing muster will be shut down. And most all, please keep in mind, charters are schools of choice, picked out by parents, unlike the zip-code mandated traditional public schools that are favored by the education establishment.

Today 282 charter schools operate in Los Angeles, serving 150,866 students. The sad news is that there are 41,830 kids still on waiting lists trying to get into one. Nationally, hundreds of thousands of students are wait-listed. And all the union leaders, their push pollsters, rmuse and their fellow travelers really don’t give a damn about 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.

Biden, Bork, García and Weingarten

Positioning themselves as strict Constitutionalists, teacher union leaders cry foul over a precedent that the unions helped create.

In the wake of Antonin Scalia’s untimely passing, two national teacher union leaders are in a self-righteous snit because the Republican-led Senate is remaining firm in its conviction to hold off consideration of a new Supreme Court nominee until President Obama’s successor takes office. National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen García pontificated, “… some senators are speaking and acting as if their oaths and the Constitution are only suggestions and not promises that they make – and attest they will keep – to voters. How else can we explain the downright refusal of some Senate Republicans to do their jobs when it comes to filling the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court?”

Not to be outdone, American Federation of Teachers leader Randi Weingarten harrumphed, “As we teach high school government students, the Constitution is crystal clear about what to do when there’s a Supreme Court vacancy: The president of the United States nominates a candidate for the bench, and the Senate provides advice and consent.” She then informs us, “The Constitution does not say the president shall nominate a justice—unless it is the fourth year of his term.”

Weingarten finishes with a flourish, “For the last seven years, Senate Republicans have attempted to block President Obama at every turn, with no regard for the damage they inflicted on American families. Their stubborn refusal to consider a nominee puts politics over responsibility and, in so doing, dishonors our Constitution….”

As the union leaders rant about the Constitution, their knowledge of recent history comes up short. First of all, as genuine Constitutional scholar Ilya Shapiro points out, no Justice has been nominated and confirmed during a presidential-election year since before World War Two. He reminds us that Justice Kennedy was confirmed in 1988, “but (a) he was nominated in the year before and (b) this was President Reagan’s third attempt to fill a vacancy that originated in July 1987.” Shapiro adds that “while some may argue that it’s somehow ‘illegitimate’ or even unconstitutional for the Senate not to provide its ‘advice and consent’ as specified under Article II, Section 2, there’s simply no basis to conclude that this provision constitutes an obligation to act on presidential nominations.”

Additionally, the modern politicization of SCOTUS was not a plot hatched by evil Republicans. In fact, it all began when Ronald Reagan nominated Robert Bork to fill a seat vacated by retiring Justice Lewis Powell in 1987. All hell broke loose in the Senate as Bork, a strict Constitutionalist, was viciously excoriated by Democratic Senators Ted Kennedy, Joe Biden and others. The vilification was a nonstop assault with every liberal group imaginable, including the NEA, piling on. At the yearly NEA convention in 1987, a teacher solemnly claimed that Bork is a “compulsory pregnancy man” and is “too conservative on race, women’s rights and reproductive freedom.” The 8,000 NEA delegates meeting in Los Angeles then voted overwhelmingly to oppose him.

With every liberal group in the country clamoring for Bork’s head, his nomination was defeated with Joe Biden, then head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, leading the way. In fact, when George H.W. Bush was running for reelection in 1992, Biden asserted, “It would be our pragmatic conclusion that once the political season is underway — and it is — action on a Supreme Court nomination must be put off until after the election campaign is over. That is what is fair to the nominee and essential to the process.” (Emphasis added.) There was no union pushback.

In case there was any doubt about the Democrats obeisance to the “Biden Rule,” Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer reaffirmed it in July, 2007, insisting that no George W. Bush nominee to the Supreme Court should be approved, “except in extraordinary circumstances, 19 months before a new president was set to be inaugurated.” (Emphasis added.) Again, the unions were silent.

But now, after 30 years of massive politicization of SCOTUS, courtesy of Democrats with NEA’s blessing, the “Biden Rule” has been invoked by Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell in the wake of Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Court by President Obama, and two teacher union leaders are demanding that we need to depoliticize the process! They were perfectly comfy with the rule, of course, when it worked for them. But now that the other side is invoking it, they want to kill it. (File this in the already bloated “Teacher Union Hypocrisy” folder.)

And why are the unions so interested in getting Obama’s allegedly moderate pick, Merrick Garland, on the Court? Because, as Bill McMorris writes, he has a history of showing deference to federal labor regulators in reviewing unfair labor practice charges against employers. “An analysis conducted by OnLabor found that Garland ruled in favor of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), a top federal labor arbiter, in 18 of 22 appeals that appeared before his court. Garland granted the agency leeway in interpreting its regulatory approach and interpretation of its mission.”

And of course a labor-friendly judge is just what the doctor ordered for NEA and AFT. In all likelihood, he’d become the fifth “no” vote in the Friedrichs case, thus leaving the Abood decision in place, forcing teachers and other public employees in half the country to continue to pay dues to a union as a condition of employment.

As is quite apparent, the teacher union leaders really don’t give a flip about the Constitution. What they do care about is preserving their inordinate power and their prodigious gravy train. Thankfully, the Republicans are holding tight and have turned a deaf ear to this latest occurrence of union deceitfulness.

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

The DivIdes of March

My latest battle against a teacher union leader….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Propaganda Every American Should Disregard

Randi Weingarten promotes her union agenda in the guise of “cultural literacy.”

Almost 30 years ago, education professor E.D. Hirsch wrote Cultural Literacy, in which he claimed that there are facts and cultural references that every American should know. His list was both celebrated and attacked, and is still controversial.

While many approve of a “core knowledge” curriculum, our polarized citizenry can’t seem to agree on its makeup. To get to some sort of consensus, the Aspen Institute has initiated a project that asks, “What do you think Americans should know to be civically and culturally literate? Give us your top ten!”

While the responses clearly give a clue as to the politics of the responder, the choices tend to be, at least, mostly factual. However, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten’s contribution is devoid of facts and, consisting instead of her leftist, pro-union agenda.

#1 on Weingarten’s deeply flawed list informs us that “More than half of American public school students live in poverty.” What she doesn’t bother to mention is that what constitutes poverty these days is something of a joke. As Robert Rector wrote in 2011, “The following are facts about persons defined as ‘poor’ by the Census Bureau as taken from various government reports:”

  • 80 percent of poor households have air conditioning. In 1970, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.
  • 92 percent of poor households have a microwave.
  • Nearly three-fourths have a car or truck, and 31 percent have two or more cars or trucks.
  • Nearly two-thirds have cable or satellite TV.
  • Two-thirds have at least one DVD player, and 70 percent have a VCR.
  • Half have a personal computer, and one in seven have two or more computers.
  • More than half of poor families with children have a video game system, such as an Xbox or PlayStation.
  • 43 percent have Internet access.
  • One-third have a wide-screen plasma or LCD TV.
  • One-fourth have a digital video recorder system, such as a TiVo.

The Okies would have killed to live in such “poverty.”

#2 – Weingarten’s next core knowledge “fact” is that “Thirty-one states are spending less per pupil on public education than they were in 2007.” Because spending on education varies from state to state and from year to year, it’s much more instructive to look at the big picture. As a nation, we are first in the world in spending, investing over $600 billion dollars on public education every year. Also, as the late Andrew Coulson wrote in 2012, “Since 1970, the public school workforce has roughly doubled—to 6.4 million from 3.3 million—and two-thirds of those new hires are teachers or teachers’ aides. Over the same period, enrollment rose by a tepid 8.5%. Employment has thus grown 11 times faster than enrollment.” Hence, we spend a fortune on education and the unionized workforce has been growing precipitously. So Weingarten’s “fact” is ultimately meaningless.

#3 – “High school graduation rates, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores and college entrance are all at record highs.” Well sorta. NAEP scores have been rising in elementary and middle schools but not high schools. Regarding high school grad rates, it depends who is doing the counting and how the rates are measured. But even if the NAEP scores are rising and high school grad rates are up and college entrance rates are at an all-time high – more importantly, what happens when students get to college? Are they prepared? The answer is a resounding “No!”

Despite our misguided insistence that every student go to college, we’ve done little to ensure their readiness to do so. Via Joanne Jacobs, we see that while 66 percent of our students do apply to college, only 38 percent are ready for the experience. (Note to Randi – regarding your #2 and #3 points: you claim that spending is down throughout much of the country, yet students are flourishing. Maybe we should cut spending to further improve performance?)

Numbers 4 through 8 are equally lame, but let’s skip them and go directly to #9. “Twenty-eight percent of the public workforce will be eligible to retire by 2018, and many state and local governments are not prepared, especially in areas like public safety and corrections.” Not prepared? As the need arises, more will be hired. But if she is referring to pensions, of course they are not prepared! That’s because public employee unions and their hand-picked cronies in local government have already mortgaged all of our futures and built mountains of debt which will be shouldered by generations to come. Many big cities are on the verge of bankruptcy. In fact, Chicago now has “more retired police and firefighters than working.” New York City is in the same boat. In New York State, it is not uncommon for cops and firefighters to pull in six-figure retirement checks.

And then there is #10 – “Every dollar paid out in pension benefits puts $2.37 back into the economy.” This one is an Oscar winner for its audacity and mendacity – a canard perpetuated by the National Institute on Retirement Security, a public pension advocacy group. As researcher Jason Richwine points out, “The stimulus effects are based on the uncontroversial notion that economic activity (such as paying pension benefits) begets further economic activity. The fallacy is in ignoring what economic activity would be generated by taxpayer money if it were not diverted to pensions in the first place.”

So if you steal a dollar from Joe but assure him that the money will be put to good use, the crime is then justified, right, Randi?

Had Weingarten’s fact-free twaddle appeared a few weeks later, I would have assumed it was an April Fool’s joke. But no, sadly, her pro-union propaganda is deadly serious and should be scorned by anyone who truly cares about cultural literacy.

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

The Coulson Effect on Education

An education free market stalwart leaves us way too soon.

On February 7th, Andrew Coulson tragically passed away at age 48 from brain cancer. As Senior Fellow in Education Policy at the Cato Institute, he led the charge for free market reforms in education. An unapologetic capitalist, he believed that the market would inevitably lead to better educational outcomes for all kids. And it was really more than a belief. When the former computer engineer saw a problem, he got busy tinkering under the hood to see what the problem was and how best to fix it.

Coulson was a kind, brilliant man whose sense of humor was always at the ready. His colleagues, Jason Bedrick and Neal McCluskey, found him to be “almost impossibly sunny.” Even those coming from a very different political/education angle appreciated and respected him. Reformer Doug Tuthill, a one-time union leader and self-described liberal Democrat, said of him, “Andrew loved facts and logic. He had an engineer’s mind and was relentlessly methodical in laying out his arguments.  I appreciated his commitment to civility and rationality in private and public discourse, and was always influenced, if not persuaded, by his reasoning and facts.”

Before I met Coulson in 2010, we had a brief email relationship, and in 2009 he sent me a copy of “The Effects of Teachers Unions on American Education,” a paper he wrote for the Cato Journal. While the teachers unions are quick to impress upon the world how much they do for teachers, they never get around to telling you specifics. Oh sure, they go on about salary and benefits, but are their claims true? Coulson, using piles of data, cut through union happy talk and left us with a very different view.

One of the claims of the teachers unions is that collective bargaining is the life-blood of the union movement, but Coulson handily debunks that. While collective bargaining has some effect on teacher salaries, it is not nearly as great as is commonly assumed.

Coulson cites Stanford economist Carolyn Hoxby who suggests that the real union wage premium is somewhere between zero and 10 percent. Looking at rural Pennsylvania districts, economist Robert Lemke found the public school union wage premium at 7.6 percent. Cornell’s Michael Lovenheim looked at three Midwestern states  and concluded that “unions have no effect on teacher pay.” Coulson clarifies that salary hikes have all undeniably occurred, but “they have occurred in both unionized and nonunionized public school districts.”

So if salary hikes (and other collective bargaining goodies) haven’t done much for union members, what have the unions accomplished for their teachers? Coulson maintained it protects them from having to compete in the educational marketplace.

Another great Coulson contribution came in the one (that I am aware of) interchange between Andrew and American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, and it didn’t work out too well for the union leader. In 2011, she wrote an insufferable op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in which she claims that “Markets Aren’t the Education Solution.” Coulson responded with “Dear Ms. Weingarten: I’ll Show You Mine if You’ll Show Me Yours,” in which he wrote he’d “prefer to reach policy conclusions based on empirical research.” As Coulson pointed out, Weingarten came to her conclusion “based on the testimony of a few foreign teachers’ union leaders and government officials who… run official government education monopolies.” Coulson produced a most interesting chart that clearly shows how many studies favor education markets over state school monopolies, and vice-versa, in each of six outcome areas.

Coulson

Not surprisingly, Weingarten didn’t (because she couldn’t) deliver a rejoinder.

Coulson nails the subject: “The NEA and AFT spend large sums on political lobbying so that public school districts maintain their monopoly control of more than half a trillion dollars in annual U.S. k-12 education spending. And since both the U.S. and international research indicate that achievement and efficiency are generally higher in private sector—and particularly competitive market—education systems, the public school monopoly imposes an enormous cost on American children and taxpayers.”

To further bring Coulson’s thesis to light, one only needs to look at recent events. A small sampling:

  • In Jefferson County, Colorado, a “parent” group led the charge to get rid of a school board majority “with an extreme anti-public education agenda.” In reality, it wasn’t parent-led, it was union-led. The National Education Association and its state and local affiliates fully subsidized an ugly and unfortunately successful campaign to unseat the NEA-dubbed “right-wing school board.
  • In New York City, the unions are on an eternal mission to cripple Eva Moskowitz’s highly successful (non-unionized) charter franchise.

Coulson’s research led him to understand that we are “paying dearly for the union label, but mainly due to union lobbying to preserve the government school monopoly rather than to collective bargaining.” The good news is that because of Andrew Coulson and other school choice warriors, that monopoly is unraveling, albeit very slowly.

One final note: Losing Coulson was blow for those of us who are desperately trying to minimize the damage done by the teachers unions and the government education monopoly. But there was a second death of note last week. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away this past Saturday. The Friedrichs decision, which presumably would have favored the plaintiffs 5-4, is now on hold. In all likelihood, a vote on the case, which could kill mandatory union dues, hasn’t yet been taken and the result of the remaining Justices’ vote will probably be 4-4, leaving the current Abood decision in place. The plaintiffs’ best hope is that the case gets held until a new SCOTUS Justice is appointed – and that the appointee is not named by either the current president, Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.

In any event, we lost two great freedom fighters last week. Their life’s work must continue; it’s up to all of us to dig in and ensure that their efforts have not been in vain.

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

Fixing Z Mess

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

 You: I’m going out to dinner tonight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bye-bye Abood?

SCOTUS appears to be ready to dump mandatory public employee union dues payments.

Last Monday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Friedrichs v California Teachers Association lawsuit. The case centers around whether or not teachers and other public employees should be forced to pay dues to a union as a condition of employment in states that don’t have right-to-work (RTW) laws. Reviewing the comments and questions from the Justices, a favorable outcome is looking very good for the plaintiffs.

The lawyers and court-watchers have been anticipating a 5-4 decision, with Antonin Scalia being the swing vote. The typically conservative justice had in the past come down on the side of forced agency fees or “fair share,” which is a full dues payment minus the money the union spends on politics should a teacher object. The unions claim they are compelled to represent every teacher, and thus, every teacher should have to pay something for their services. That set up has been law since SCOTUS enshrined it in the Abood decision in 1977 in an attempt to ensure “labor peace.”

But Scalia seems to have had a change of heart. Noting the differences between private and public unions, he said, “But the problem is that it is not the same as a private employer, that what is bargained for is, in all cases, a matter of public interest. And that changes…the situation in a way that that may require a change of the rule. It’s one thing to provide it for private employers. It’s another thing to provide it for the government, where every matter bargained for is a matter of public interest.” (P. 76)

Even more damning, Scalia ended up essentially agreeing with the main point of the plaintiffs’ argument. “The problem is that everything that is collectively bargained with the government is within the political sphere, almost by definition. Should the government pay higher wages or lesser wages? Should it promote teachers on the basis of seniority or on the basis of all of those questions are necessarily political questions.” (P.45)

Anthony Kennedy, traditionally the Court’s swing voter, showed little sympathy for the union position. He dismissed the classic union rallying point that refers to those RTW state employees who “benefit” from union activities but don’t pay money to them as “free riders.” Kennedy rejected that argument, referring to them instead as “compelled riders.”

And you ­­ the term is free rider. The union basically is making these teachers compelled riders for issues on which they strongly disagree.

Many teachers think that they are devoted to the future of America, to the future of our young people, and that the union is equally devoted to that but that the union is absolutely wrong in some of its positions. And agency fees require, as I understand it — correct me if I’m wrong — agency fees require that employees and teachers who disagree with those positions must nevertheless subsidize the union on those very points. (P.43)

Kennedy also brought up the frequently fuzzy line between political spending and so called chargeable (non-political) fees, asking the lawyer for the state of California. “Do union — do unions have public relations programs of or newspaper articles, media programs to talk about things like merit pay, protecting underperforming teachers and so forth? Do the unions actually make those arguments, and aren’t those chargeable expenses? (P.44)

The union lawyers kept stressing that forced dues were essential to their survival, but Scalia disagreed, pointing out, “Why do you think that the union would not survive without these – these – fees charged to nonmembers of the union? Federal employee unions do – do not charge agency fees to nonmembers and they seem to survive; indeed they prosper….” (P.50)

The union lawyers and four Justices sympathetic to their cause didn’t have much of a defense. They kept making the same tired old points and added the stare decisis argument, the doctrine of precedent, which came up several times. Lawyers cite it when an issue has been previously brought to the court and a ruling already made. Generally, courts will adhere to the previous judgment, though this is not always the case.

There have been several landmark cases where prior rulings have been completely disregarded, most notably in Plessy v Ferguson (1896). The Court ruled the “constitutionality of state laws requiring racial segregation in public facilities under the doctrine of ‘separate but equal.’” But in 1954, stare decisis was set aside when the court overturned Plessy. In Brown v the Board of Education of Topeka, the Court reversed itself, saying that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” Referring to Friedrichs, George Leef writes in Forbes, “Where First Amendment rights are at issue…stare decisis and the convenience of teachers’ unions seem very small considerations.”

The media weigh in

Reading countless reports and articles on the trial, I could not find one that thought it went the union’s way. Typical is a piece from Politico titled. “SCOTUS support for anti-union plaintiffs,” which begins, “The Supreme Court appeared ready Monday to bar public-sector unions from collecting ‘fair-share’ fees from non-members, a move that could deal a political blow to Democrats by reducing union membership drastically and draining union coffers.”

The only glimmer of hope came from American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten who wrote, “As I listened (and admittedly, I’m not impartial!), I felt they failed to present a compelling argument for why the court should overturn 40 years of precedent — precedent that has led to labor peace in the public sector, better services for communities, easier administration for state and local governments, and, of course, fair pay and benefits for working families.”

But as she said, she is not impartial. In fact, anything but.

The usual pro-union suspects weighed in and essentially agreed that the plaintiffs would probably emerge victorious, but their reporting was leaden with a heavy dose of anger and angst. Perhaps the most hysterical was an article on Huffington Post titled, “This is Bad! Attack on Teacher Unions is an Assault on Students, Workers and Democracy.” His slant was obvious; in a brief article, he used the word “rightwing” seven times and just to change things up, he threw in “right-wing” a couple of times.

What happens next?

The justices may very well have already voted or will do so very soon, but it’ll likely be June before their decision is announced. Between now and then a lot can happen. The Justices’ minds can be changed by other justices and can be affected by public opinion and (indirect) union pressure. Hence the PR war will go on.

If the unions lose, how bad will it be for them?

Probably not nearly as bad as they are making it out to be. First, they can get rid of the free rider problem by becoming a members-only organization. (Some state laws may have to be tweaked, but that shouldn’t be an onerous task.) Then, if a teacher likes their union they can pay for services rendered. If they want no part of the union, they won’t join. There are other organizations like the Association of American Educators and Christian Educators Association International that provide many of the benefits and protections offered by the union.

Also, by becoming a members-only entity, the unions will enlist only true believers. But they will, however, have to be more responsive to the needs and wishes of their members since teachers as well as other public employees will no longer be forced to pay them.

Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, writes that children could be winners should the plaintiffs prevail, “…teachers may gain greater leverage in determining the policies that union leaders pursue. If that leads to policies that reward great teaching and put more of the best teachers in the classrooms that need them most, students will win.”

And there are union stalwarts who aren’t crying in their beer. Trade union activist Shamus Cooke asserts that unions need to step up their organizing game if they are to remain powerful. Samantha Winslow makes pretty much the same point in “Organizing Is the Key to Surviving Friedrichs.”

If Friedrichs is successful, who will be the big loser?

Democrats and the left.

There is no doubt that union warchests will take a hit if all teachers aren’t forced to fill them. While no one knows how many teachers will refuse membership, I think a conservative guess would be that one-third will choose to avoid ties to the union. If so, the California Teachers Association’s $180 million a year gravy train would be sliced down to $120 million. As you can see here (H/T Colin Sharkey), CTA gives 96.7 percent of that gravy to Democrats. And what doesn’t go specifically to Democrats goes to leftist causes. On a national level, National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers’ spending just about all goes in a leftward direction.

Final word

The Abood decision, which claimed it would ensure “labor peace,” did so at the cost of freedom of association for millions of teachers across America over a 39-year period. “Labor peace” has also come at great expense to parents, children and taxpayers who have suffered as the unions coffers were used in part to kill education reform, keep kids in failing schools and raise taxes. Hopefully, the judges will soon rid our lives of Abood and if they do, trading bad policy for “labor peace” will become a sad relic of another time.

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.

Testing Matters

Led by the teachers unions, the push against standardized testing punishes kids.

With bipartisan support in Congress and President Obama’s blessing, the son of No Child Left behind, dubbed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), has become the law of the land. While many on the right favor the law because it returns some power to the states, teacher union honchos are ecstatic, but for a very different reason. National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen García writes, “When I count my blessings as 2015 ends, the ESSA will go straight to the top of my list.” Randi Weingarten, who leads the American Federation of Teachers, is also quite pleased with the updated law, saying. “There is a lot to like.” She then explains, “The biggest change is that high-stakes testing will no longer be the be-all and end-all of our kids’ education.”

And that’s why the teachers unions and fellow travelers are so excited by ESSA. The new law diminishes, but does not eliminate the national footprint in standardized testing. While good people can disagree about the optimal level of state and national control over assessing student proficiency, there is no doubt about the union angle. Their leaders support any legislation that reduces or downright kills what they call “high-stakes testing” and “test and punish” laws.

The reality is that union bosses do not want teachers held accountable if their kids don’t learn. The unions see teachers as interchangeable widgets, all of whom are competent. To differentiate between effective and ineffective teachers by what their students actually learn would necessitate doing away with industrial-style work rules like tenure and seniority – perennial union mainstays.

What happens when “no stakes testing” prevails? According to a recent study conducted in New York City, fewer than 10 percent of public school students pass state tests. But 85 percent of students were given passing grades in their classwork. And over 90 percent of teachers in NYC were rated effective. Robert Pondiscio, a senior fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, sums it up. “The potential for abuse – a wink, a nod and a diploma – is there whenever you allow alternative assessments.” (When over 90 percent of teachers are rated “effective,” while only 10 percent of their students are rated “proficient” on an objective assessment, it’s easy to see why the unions would demand getting rid of the tests instead of the underperforming teachers.)

Until recently, high school students had to pass an exit exam to be awarded a diploma in California. But the California Teachers Association-controlled legislature decided to kill the test and, worse, chose to give diplomas retroactively (going back to 2006) to students who passed their coursework but failed the test. And just how rigorous was the California High School Exit Examination? According to the California Department of Education website, the English–language component addressed state content standards through tenth grade. In reading, this included vocabulary, decoding, comprehension, etc. In writing, the CAHSEE focused on writing strategies, grammar, spelling, and punctuation. The math part of the test addressed state standards in only grades six and seven and Algebra I.

Tom Elias examined the situation in the Los Angeles Daily News: “Meanwhile, the anxiety, efforts and accomplishment of more than 2 million students who passed the test since 2006 are now rendered essentially meaningless.”

The “everyone knows we test our kids too much” mantra promulgated by the unions has been repeated so often that it has become “fact” – just like Y2K, the population bomb, mad cow disease, Salem witches, etc. But are these modern day Chicken Littles right in this case? According to Hechinger Report, they are not even close. Andreas Schleicher, an international education expert based in Paris, looked at data from more than 70 countries and found that most nations give their students more standardized tests than the United States does. He notes that the Netherlands, Belgium and Asian countries – all high-performing education systems – administer a lot more. “In many countries there is a test going on every month.” The report also found that, “Annual tests are common the world over. Roughly 97 percent of 15-year olds in the United States said they took a standardized test once or twice a year – about the same share as in Finland, a country that’s famous for not relying on standardized testing.”

More importantly, do competent teachers and students’ success on standardized tests really make a difference? Three Ivy League economists, who have researched the subject, have come to that conclusion. In perhaps the most in-depth study on the subject, Raj Chetty and John Friedman of Harvard and Jonah Rockoff of Columbia tracked 2.5 million students over 20 years, and found that teachers who help students raise their standardized test scores have a lasting positive effect on those students’ lives beyond academics, including lower teenage-pregnancy rates, greater college matriculation and higher adult earnings.

Whether education decisions are made in Washington D.C. or in the nation’s statehouses, one thing must remain constant: we need to have an objective measure of our kids’ progress in public schools, and there is no better way to do that than giving them a standardized test – at least in core subjects like language arts, math, history and science. Parents and taxpayers must fight the teachers unions and their supporters and demand it. In fact, we punish kids by not objectively assessing their progress and not holding teachers accountable.

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

Hillary Rodham Weingarten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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