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American Federation of Teachers Costly Staff Spending

Dropout Nation recently reported on the American Federation of Teachers’ 2015-2016 financial disclosure to the U.S. Department of Labor. As you would expect, the nation’s second-largest teachers’ union spent big on influencing Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and her apparatchiks, as well as pouring heavily into what should be like-minded advocacy and nonprofit groups.

But AFT’s big spending doesn’t just end with political campaigns and co-opting minority as well as hardcore progressive groups. The union even spends big on its own staff and operations.

Start with AFT President Rhonda (Randi) Weingarten, whose paychecks put her in the top five percent of the nation’s income earners even as she engages in class warfare rhetoric. The union paid Weingarten $497,311 in 2015-2016, just a couple hundred dollars more than she pulled down in the previous year.

Also well-paid by the union is Loretta Johnson, who serves as its secretary-treasurer; her $358,225 in 2015-2016 was a grand or so higher than in the previous year. Meanwhile Mary Catherine Ricker, the former Saint Paul Federation of Teachers boss who now serves as the union’s number two (and in the process, serving as an obstacle to United Federation of Teachers boss Michael Mulgrew’s ambitions to succeed Weingarten as head of the national union), was paid $311,311, a 5.4 percent increase over her pay in 2014-2015.

Altogether, the AFT’s top three leaders collected $1.2 million last fiscal year, a slight increase over the $1.1 million paid to them by the union in 2014-2015.

Also making bank are AFT’s staffers, though there are slightly fewer of them this time around. Two hundred twenty-two staffers earned more than $100,000 in 2015-2016, seven fewer than the 229 in the previous year. Three out of every five staffers at AFT national headquarters earn six-figure sums. Among the union’s high-paid mandarins: Michelle Ringuette, the former Service Employees International Union staffer who is now Weingarten’s top assistant, made $230,736, while Michael Powell, who serves as Weingarten’s mouthpiece, earned $240,647. Kristor Cowan, the AFT’s chief lobbyist, earned $186,293, while Kombiz Lavasany, another operative who oversees Weingarten’s money manager enemies’ list, earned $184,158.

Supporting these high salaries is an ever-declining rank-and-file base. AFT counts 675,902 full-time rank-and-filers on its roster in 2015-2016, a 3.4 percent decline over the 699,739 members on the roster in the previous fiscal year. [Dropout Nation does not call them members because in  nearly every case, AFT and its affiliates use state laws to force teachers to join.] This marks the third straight year of declines and the fifth year of decline within the past six.

The union also experienced a 1.5 percent decrease in the number of half-time rank-and-filers (or school employees making less than $18,000 a year); a seven percent decline in one-quarter rank-and-filers (nurses and state government employees whose unions are affiliated with AFT); and a 2.7 percent decline in the number of one-eighth rank-and-filers. Seems like the union’s once-successful effort to strike affiliation deals with nursing and other government employee unions, an effort that put it in competition with the much-larger Service Employees International Union, has fallen to seed.

Even worse for AFT: Its effort to increase the number of so-called associate members who pay directly into national’s coffers, continues to be in free-fall. AFT counts just 49,984 such members on its rolls in 2015-2016, a 14.5 percent decline over the previous year. This shouldn’t be shocking. After all, AFT cannot provide associate members any real assistance in terms of negotiating teachers’ contracts or addressing work rules. Besides, the associate members can’t even vote in union elections.

As a result of these declines, AFT’s counts just 1.5 million rank-and-filers and voluntary members, a 4.3 percent decrease over the previous year.

The good news for AFT is that the death of U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia earlier this year assured that there was a tie vote on Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association; his vote would have likely led to the overturn of Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the five-decade-old ruling that gives AFT the ability to compel teachers pay dues regardless of their desire for membership. As your editor noted two years ago, the end of compulsory dues laws could cost AFT 25 percent of its membership and $36 million in revenue (based on 2012-2013 numbers), a hit for which the union isn’t likely ready to address.

The other good news for AFT is that it hasn’t affected revenue. The $192 million in dues and other agency fees (in the form of a so-called per-capita tax collected from locals and affiliates) generated by the union in 2015-2016 is 21 percent higher than in the previous fiscal year. AFT’s overall revenue of $328 million (including loan proceeds) is unchanged from 2014-2015.

This time around, the union didn’t have to borrow as heavily as it has in previous years to keep operations afloat; it borrowed just $55 million in 2015-2016, half the level of borrowing in the previous year. Overall, the union has borrowed $477 million over the past five years. The union did sell more of its investments in order to make due; the union sold $29 million of its portfolio in 2015-2016, more than double the investment sales in the previous year. Without the loans and investment sales, AFT’s revenues were just $244 million, a 15 percent increase over levels in 2014-2015.

But the bad news is that AFT may still lose revenue. One reason: The abolishing of collective bargaining and forced dues collections in Wisconsin, Tennessee, and Michigan. This has resulted in AFT losing teachers who realize that they don’t have to pay into unions that don’t represent their interests.

Another problem for the union: More of its affiliates and locals are either merging with those of the National Education Association or striking affiliation agreements with it. Membership declines forcing such mergers is one reason. But as seen in California, where the AFT’s United Teachers Los Angeles has struck a joint affiliation deal with NEA, the AFT’s larger locals are realizing that such triangulation gives them stronger influence over education policy at state and local levels.

But the gains for the big locals (who honestly don’t need AFT affiliation anyway) means both lost revenue for AFT as well as the ability to keep locals from straying away from the party line. [There’s also that pesky matter of being forced into a merger with NEA, a matter long-discussed among hard-core traditionalists.] Given the rancor from AFT rank-and-filers over strong-arm moves by national to remove wayward leaders in locals such as Detroit, expect more large locals to strike joint affiliation agreements or even break away from the national union in the near-future.

The consequences of efforts to abolish collective bargaining and joint affiliations by locals don’t just hurt AFT’s ability to use money to preserve influence. It also harms its ability to pay for the high costs of employing so many six-figure staffers.

While benefit costs have barely budged (remaining at $17 million), AFT’s general overhead costs increased by 4.8 percent within the past year. The good news for AFT is that it was able to offset some of those expenses with a 10.8 percent decrease in so-called union administration expenses. Meanwhile AFT’s post-retirement obligations increased by six percent (to $38 million) in the past year.

Luckily for the AFT, its staffers and leaders pay into definedcontribution retirement plans used by the rest of the private and nonprofit sectors. A funny thing given its opposition to efforts by school reformers and others to move away from the virtually-insolvent defined-benefit pensions championed by Weingarten and the union. Hypocrisy is like that sometimes.

About the Author: RiShawn Biddle is Editor and Publisher of Dropout Nation — the leading commentary Web site on education reform — a columnist for Rare and The American Spectator, award-winning editorialist, speechwriter, communications consultant and education policy advisor. More importantly, he is a tireless advocate for improving the quality of K-12 education for every child. The co-author of A Byte at the Apple: Rethinking Education Data for the Post-NCLB Era, Biddle combines journalism, research and advocacy to bring insight on the nation’s education crisis and rally families and others to reform American public education. This article originally appeared in Dropout Nation and is republished here with permission from the author.

NAACP: Now Advocating Against Colored People

The once righteous civil rights organization is now in thrall to the teachers unions.

From the horrors of lynching to the injustice of forced school segregation, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has been there fighting for the rights of black people. But that has changed, at least in the realm of education.

At their national convention in Cincinnati in late July, the delegates of this once venerable civil rights organization voted for a resolution that called for a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools in the U.S. Embarrassingly, the NAACP’s talking points and verbiage come directly from the teacher union playbook with all the inherent fibs, half-truths and exaggerations intact. For example, a part of the resolution informs us that charter schools “have contributed to the increased segregation rather than diverse integration of our public school system” and that weak oversight of charters “puts students and communities at risk of harm, public funds at risk of being wasted, and further erodes local control of public education.” Every word in those quotes is a lie including “and” and “the.” (H/T Mary McCarthy) But when you are in bed with the teachers unions, speaking the truth is not a high priority.

Unacknowledged by the NAACP is that access to charter schools gives blacks and other minorities a great opportunity to escape lives of poverty and/or crime in many urban areas. Most studies show that charters (which are public schools) outperform traditional public schools, and that minorities and the poor are the biggest winners. Typical is a study released by Stanford researchers in 2013 that showed black students gained the equivalent of 14 days of learning by attending charter schools and  that black students living in poverty saw even greater benefits,  gaining the equivalent of 29 days in reading and 36 days in math. Also, a 2015 poll showed that 72 percent of black parents favored charter schools, with just 13 percent opposing.

So why is the NAACP taking this stance?

There are 380,500 reasons, according to education reformer/writer RiShawn Biddle. That’s how many dollars the anti-charter National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers have donated to the NAACP over the last five years. No one is more outraged at the blatant NAACP sell-out than Dr. Steve Perry, founder of the highly successful Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Connecticut, where100 percent of its high school graduates go on to college. Speaking angrily about the NAACP on Roland Martin’s TV show, Perry said, “They couldn’t be more out of touch if they ran full speed in the other direction… This is more proof that the NAACP has been mortgaged by the teachers union and they keep paying y’all to say what they want to say… The group that has most benefited from school choice in general and charters in specific are African-American males… You want to stop the school-to-prison pipeline? Then stop sending Black boys to failed schools that keep funding the NAACP through teachers union dues.” Not to be missed is an appearance by Perry on a podcast with RiShawn Biddle. Perry does a 17 minute rant that the NAACP and all who favor the status quo should be forced to listen to.

The NAACP and its teacher union benefactors never get around to explaining the above-mentioned Stanford study or why there are over a million kids nationwide on charter school wait-lists, desperately trying to escape their zip-code mandated school.

They never get around to explaining why, in a Quinnipiac poll released just last week, New Yorkers believe by a 2-1 margin that access to charters should be increased. In fact, in the same survey, 51 percent said they would prefer to send their child to a charter school.

They never get around to explaining why test scores just released by New York State show 94 percent of Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy students – almost all minority – passed the 2016 math exam and 82 percent passed the reading exam. By comparison, just 38 percent of students in traditional public schools met state reading standards this year, and 36 percent did so in math.

They never get around to explaining why, in California, 52 percent of students attending charters that serve a majority of high poverty kids are in the top quartile of all public schools statewide as opposed to just 26 percent of similar students attending traditional public schools.

As Steve Perry puts it, the national organization is “old and out of touch.” RiShawn Biddle adds that the NAACP is basically saying, “Black lives don’t matter.” The only good news for the NAACP is that many of its locals, which are much more in touch with the needs of black people, are very much pro-charter.

As for the teachers unions, their professed sympathies for the plight of minorities via their incessant “progressive” chatter go on unabated. But at the end of the day, many of their policies are really more in line with George Wallace, whose primary goal was to keep blacks “in their place.” It’s truly disgraceful.

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 National Education Association's Stagnant Finances

As Dropout Nation reported last week, National Education Association has had to deal with declining rank-and-file numbers as well as prop up affiliates struggling with pension woes and other issues. None of this, by the way, includes the nation’s largest teachers’ union’s own virtually-insolvent defined-benefit pension.

Yet as NEA has shown in its 2014-2015 financial disclosure to the U.S. Department of Labor, it hasn’t done much to reign in its costs even while revenue remains stagnant.

The union reported overall revenue of $389 million in 2014-2015, a one percent increase over the previous year. Dues and agency fee collections barely budged over the previous year, remaining at $363 million. If not for a 31 percent increase in “other receipts” (including vendor rebates and reimbursements by affiliates for using NEA’s software and technology services), the union’s revenue would have declined.

NEA Executive Director John Stocks. One of the 42 "NEA Leaders" to be compensated over $200,000

NEA Executive Director John Stocks. One of the 42 “NEA Leaders” to be compensated over $200,000

While NEA’s revenue didn’t increase, its expenses certainly did. The union spent $362 million in 2014-2015, a 2.8 percent increase over the previous years (or nearly $10 million more than last year). Much of that increase can be attributed to a 30 percent increase in direct lobbying spending, as well as a 4.5 percent increase in union administration costs. Adding 21 more employees earning six-figure sums also didn’t help the expense line. The union only slightly trimmed its benefits payouts, reducing those costs by a mere 2.3 percent.

Meanwhile NEA spent big on its annual convention at Walt Disney World in Orlando. This included $216,375 for meetings and hotel rooms at the resort’s Swan and Dolphin Hotel, $131,192 at Walt Disney World’s Buena Vista Palace Hotel. Among the other big hotel spends: NEA dropped $39,641 with Kimpton Hotel’s swanky Grand Solamar, spent $54,155 at the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel in Nashville, ran up $57,365 at the MGM Resorts, and put down $70,876 with Hilton’s Minneapolis hotel.

Yet for all the spending, NEA managed to come up with a surplus of $27 million. This is 18 percent lower than the surplus generated in 2013-2014. But a surplus (or profit, as it is known in Corporate America) is still a surplus. The big question is how long can the state of affairs last. As Dropout Nation noted last week, the union defined-benefit pension is virtually insolvent to the tune of $111 million, according to the plan’s 2013 announcement to retirees. This is a 37 percent increase in unfunded liabilities over the previous year, and 82 percent more than liability levels two years ago. The union has $364 million in assets that could be liquidated in order to cover those liabilities today. But with shortfalls increasing at a fast clip, the union may end up in dire straits itself.

These woes come just as the union and its affiliates must deal with the possible aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court abolishing compulsory dues laws nationally with a ruling next year in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. [Dropout Nation, Editor RiShawn Biddle, and Contributing Editors Gwen Samuel and Dmitri Mehlhorn, are parties to an amicus brief filed in the case.] If the court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, as it is likely based on Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion in last year’s ruling in Harris v. Quinn, NEA could lose at least a quarter of rank-and-file, taking a $66 million hit to its coffers (based on 2014-2015 dues and agency fee collections). This would mean a dramatic reduction in dollars available to the union both to pay down its pension as well as dole out for influence-spending.

While NEA’s Golden State affiliate has developed plans to deal with the aftermath of an end to compulsory dues, other state units haven’t done so. NEA itself doesn’t seem to have a plan in place at all. Unlike rival American Federation of Teachers, NEA hasn’t taken the step of aggressively expanding into other union-dominated fields such as healthcare and hasn’t done the kind of talent-hiring from unions such as Service Employees International Union that would be helpful in organizing. Also, unlike AFT, NEA hasn’t offered an associate membership category that would allow teachers and others to join the union and pay dues into it. While NEA may hope that the status quo remains ante on this front, it isn’t likely. And refusing to tackle those issues head-on may leave it weaker in the long run.

You can check out the data yourself by checking out the NEA’s latest financial report, or by visiting the Department of Labor’s Web site. Also check out Dropout Nation‘s Teachers Union Money Report, for this and previous reports on NEA and AFT spending.

About the Author:  RiShawn Biddle is Editor and Publisher of Dropout Nation — the leading commentary Web site on education reform — a columnist for Rare and The American Spectator, award-winning editorialist, speechwriter, communications consultant and education policy advisor. More importantly, he is a tireless advocate for improving the quality of K-12 education for every child. The co-author of A Byte at the Apple: Rethinking Education Data for the Post-NCLB Era, Biddle combines journalism, research and advocacy to bring insight on the nation’s education crisis and rally families and others to reform American public education. This article originally appeared in Dropout Nation and is republished here with permission from the author.

Myths the Union Organizer Tells Us

Socialist teacher union honcho’s distortions about union political spending and “labor peace” are, well, par for the course.

Shaun Richman, a former organizing director for the American Federation of Teachers, has written a bizarre piece for In These Times in which he claims that “the Friedrichs v. Calif. Teachers Association SCOTUS Case Could Actually Be a Boon for Unions.” His overarching point is more than a bit arcane, but it’s safe to say he thinks that the case – which, if successful, would make public employee union participation optional nationwide – could cause major chaos that the unions would somehow be able to use to their advantage.

Richman, an acknowledged socialist who prefers to be called “Comrade” (or more informally “Cde.”), may not know where Friedrichs will lead, but he offers a treasure trove of distortions in plotting out his incoherent scenario.

First, we start with a half-truth. Comrade Richman grouses, “Currently, unions that are certified to represent a group of employees in a bargaining unit are legally compelled to represent all of the employees in that unit. That means not just bargaining on their behalf, but expending significant resources on grievances, meetings, communications and everything else that goes into running a union.” Left out is that “exclusive representation” was not something foisted on the unions; it is something that all unions have demanded for the last 80 years. So you really can’t whine about being forced to do something that you have lobbied hard to attain.

Cde. Richman then warns, “…exclusive representation is essential to labor peace.” I cringe every time I read or hear the words “labor peace.” This wretched little term was used in the U.S. Supreme Court’s Abood decision that the Friedrichs lawyers hope to overturn. To me, the words summon up an image of a mafia thug telling the new storeowner in the neighborhood, “You want peace? Here are some envelopes to use for your monthly payments. You have such a nice little store. I’d hate to see anything happen to it.” Labor peace my foot.

Another bit of propaganda from Cde. Richman regarding Friedrich’s “right-wing argument,”

But union membership, including the payment of dues, is completely voluntary. That’s why unions negotiate agency fees into contracts. These fees are calculated through complicated formulas to only represent the true cost of bargaining representation. Agency fees do not pay for things like political activity (unions usually have separate voluntary political funds.

That’s the standard narrative, but it’s far from the whole story. As Mike Antonucci points out, if a union sends a mailer advising members to vote for Candidate X, it can be chalked up as “member communication,” not political spending. The unions are also quite gifted in the phenomena of so called “dark money” – political spending by groups whose own donors are allowed to remain hidden. So again, the unionista is playing very loose with the facts.

Then comes a truly jaw-dropping whopper from Cde. Richman: “Unions are politically cautious and loath to wade into non-economic controversies for fear of alienating a segment of their bargaining unit.” What?! Is it minutely possible that Cde. Richman does not know about teacher union spending habits? Is he not aware that teacher union elites are invariably far left of center and spend heavily to advance their agenda? As RiShawn Biddle notes, the Democracy Alliance, Progress Now, Progressive Inc., Media Matters, et al are heavily funded by the National Education Association. The unions have also been involved with same-sex marriage advocacy, blocking photo ID requirements for voters, and limiting restraints on the government’s power of eminent domain.

In fact, its latest filed labor report shows that NEA spent $131 million on politics in 2014-2015 – and believe me, the Tea Party, Americans for Prosperity and Focus on the Family didn’t see a penny of the union’s largess.

Richman is on the money about one thing, though. He writes, “…if agency fee is compelled speech, then the duty of exclusive representation imposed on unions is also compelled speech.” Bingo! If I don’t want to have to be in a union, the union should have no obligation to represent me. In fact, it would be immoral for me to insist on a service that I was not willing to pay for. But Comrade Richman, once again, exclusive representation is a union-demanded convention. If unions should decide they don’t want to represent non-payers, that would be the fairest solution for all concerned.

That’s the kind of “labor peace” I could really get behind.

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 National Education Association's $131 Million Influence Buying Spree

The National Education Association just filed its latest financial disclosure with the U.S. Department of Labor, and as you would expect, it spent big on its efforts to preserve its influence over education policymaking. The union spent $131 million on lobbying and contributions to what are supposed to be like-minded organizations in 2014-2015, just slightly less than the $132 million spent during the previous year. This doesn’t include the $40 million it spends on so-called representational activities, which are often just as political in nature.

One of the big recipients this year: The Center for Popular Democracy, the progressive outfit which has become a key player in efforts by both NEA and the American Federation of Teachers to oppose the expansion of public charter schools. The outfit and its political action fund collected $570,900 from NEA last fiscal year, double the $250,000 collected from the union in 2013-2014. This is certainly good news for AFT President Randi Weingarten, who sits on Popular Democracy’s board and whose own union poured $160,000 into the outfit and its political wing.

20151204-UW-GarciaNEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia

Another top recipient of NEA largesse is Democracy Alliance, the secretive progressive outfit which has become a major player in national and Democratic Party politics. NEA Executive Director John Stocks chairs the organization’s board of directors. Democracy Alliance and its Committee on States collected $214,000 from the union last fiscal year. This is a 64 percent decline from the previous year. But given the stakes for next year’s presidential and congressional races, expect NEA to bolster its support for the outfit next year.

Meanwhile NEA is giving big to Democracy Alliance’s wider network, many of which are already longtime recipients of the union’s largesse. The union gave $225,000 to Progress Now, the outfit chaired by Stock’s predecessor as Democracy Alliance chairman, John McKay; poured $200,000 into David Brock’s Media Matters for America (which disgraced itself as a paragon of progressive politics over the last year with scandals such as its effort to oppose unionization of its own staff); $27,400 into Netroots Nation; and $13,300 into Progressive States Network. NEA also spent heavily with Catalist LLC, the data outfit for the Democratic National Committee that is a lynchpin in Democracy Alliance’s campaign efforts; the union paid $726,566 to Catalist last year, double its spend in 2013-2014.

The biggest single recipient of all? Patriot Majority USA, the outfit founded by political strategist Craig Varoga that has also become a key player in Democratic Party politics. NEA gave Patriot Majority $1.4 million to the outfit in 2014-2015, 27 times more than it gave in the previous year. Given that huge boost in contributions, expect Patriot Majority to be another lynchpin in the union’s efforts to beat back the influence of Centrist Democrat school reformers within the party. The second-biggest recipient was America Works USA, a super-PAC which has garnered attention for helping Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf pressure the state’s Republican-controlled legislature into approving his tax increases; NEA poured $1 million into the group last year.

NEA poured $355,000 into America Votes, another progressive group whose “partners” include AFT and Center for Popular Democracy’s action fund. The Sixteen Thirty Fund, a endowment developed by former Clinton Administration mandarin Eric Kessler’s Arabella Advisors, received $450,000 from NEA; that’s plenty of money that will be funneled to progressive groups on the union’s behalf. Another outfit with ties to Kessler, New Venture Fund, received $117,000 from the union. And Network, a social justice group with ties to the Catholic Church got $50,000 from NEA last year.

Meanwhile, NEA is adding new vassals. One of them is the Progressive Inc., the outfit that publishes the Progressive, a key outlet for traditionalists such as Jeff Bryant of Campaign for America’s Future (a longtime NEA dependent) and Julian Vasquez-Heilig. It picked up $100,000 from the union in 2014-2015. Campaign for America’s Future, by the way, got $55,000 from NEA last fiscal year. Another new dependent is Center for Media and Democracy, the parent of PR Watch and once a unit of Progressive Inc. before splitting apart over a variety of issues. NEA gave CMD $100,000 in 2014-2015.

Then there’s State Voices, the Detroit-based progressive outfit which focuses on faux-grassroots voter outreach efforts. NEA gave $378,966 to the group last fiscal year. Another voter advocacy outfit, Voter Participation Center, collected $170,000 from the union. The Tides Foundation’s Advocacy Fund, which provides dollars to various grassroots and progressive groups, received $25,000 from NEA last year.

At the same time, NEA bolstered its giving to black and other minority-oriented groups. It gave $250,000 to Schott Foundation for Public Education’s Opportunity to Learn Action Fund; this is 16.7 percent less than what the outfit received in 2013-2014. Despite the decline, Schott has done plenty on behalf of the union and AFT to oppose systemic reform; this includes Schott President John Jackson, co-writing a letter with Pedro Noguera and Judith Browne Dianis of the Advancement Project (which received $150,000 from the union in 2014-2015) criticizing civil rights groups for supporting standardized testing and the accountability provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act. On the other hand, NEA gave just $20,000 to Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, 83 percent less than it gave to the affiliate of the federal legislative caucus in 2013-2014.

As for other groups? NEA gave$100,000 to National Urban League, $100,000 to NAACP, $51,000 to Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, $45,000 to League of United Latin American Citizens and its institute (which backed the false accountability effort pushed by the union and AFT), $20,000 to the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies; $30,000 to Asian-Pacific American Labor Alliance, and $5,000 to National Black Caucus of State Legislators.

The union gave $200,000 to Al Sharpton’s National Action Network even though the civil rights leader is a strong supporter of charter schools. NEA also gave $255,000 to Center for American Progress, another strong reform-minded outfit, and handed out $54,625 to teacher quality reform outfit Teach Plus. Another reform outfit, Alliance for Excellent Education, received $200,000 from NEA last year.

As for the usual suspects? NEA gave $250,000 to Economic Policy Institute, while giving another $250,000 to the National Education Policy Center through the University of Colorado-Boulder’s foundation. Learning First Alliance collected $68,400 from NEA, while Education Law Center collected $75,000 from the union. FairTest, the traditionalist outfit which has been a key player in NEA’s efforts to roll back No Child’s accountability provisions and standardized testing, received $40,586 in 2014-2015, while National Board for Professional Teaching Standards collected $310,000 during the same period.

Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation, the group that represents the nation’s woeful university schools of education, received $388,363 from the union, while Barnett Berry’s Center for Teaching Quality got $438,837 from the union’s coffers. Voices for Education, the parent of Diane Ravitch’s Network for Public Education, collected $25,000 from NEA last year, while People for the American Way and its foundation collected $175,000 from the union during the same period. The Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice, which serves as a go-to institution for NEA and other traditionalists, received $250,000 from the union.

What about the top honchos? NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia collected $416,633 in 2014-2015, a 21 percent increase over the previous year, and more than enough money to buy herself some new guitars. The union’s number two, Becky Pringle, was paid $371,278, a 10 percent increase over 2013-2014; while Secretary-Treasurer Princess Moss was compensated to the tune of $429,851, a three-fold increase over her previous salary as a member of the union’s executive committee. Altogether, NEA’s big three collected $1.2 million in 2014-2015, barely budging over previous year’s levels. Not one thing wrong with NEA leaders drawing six-figure sums. But the high salaries (and the corporate ways the NEA and the AFT engage in their defense of traditionalist policies and thinking) should be kept in mind any time Eskelsen Garcia and AFT counterpart Weingarten use class warfare rhetoric to oppose systemic reform of American public education.

The corporate nature of NEA can be seen in the 395 staffers earning six-figure sums, a 21-person increase over levels in 2013-2014. Among the big check collectors is Stocks, who earned $407,264, a slight decline over the previous year; another is Alice O’Brien, NEA’s general counsel, who picked up $242,768, or 4.1 percent more than last year. The union’s membership czar, Bill Thompson, collected $271,024; that’s 17.9 percent more than in 2013-2014. Marcus Egan, one of the union’s top lobbyists, was compensated to the tune of $181,968, a 5.3 percent increase over the previous year. Once again, it is clear that being an NEA staffer is lucrative work. Whether the teachers who are often forced by compulsory dues laws to pay those salaries are benefiting is a different story.

About the Author:  RiShawn Biddle is Editor and Publisher of Dropout Nation — the leading commentary Web site on education reform — a columnist for Rare and The American Spectator, award-winning editorialist, speechwriter, communications consultant and education policy advisor. More importantly, he is a tireless advocate for improving the quality of K-12 education for every child. The co-author of A Byte at the Apple: Rethinking Education Data for the Post-NCLB Era, Biddle combines journalism, research and advocacy to bring insight on the nation’s education crisis and rally families and others to reform American public education. This article originally appeared in Dropout Nation and is republished here with permission from the author.

Banish Rogue Cops and Bad Teachers

There’s no good reason why it took 13 months for prosecutors in Chicago to indict police officer Jason Van Dyke for murdering 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Not at all. There’s also no reason why the Second City’s police department withheld and even deleted video evidence that the 14-year veteran fired 16 bullets within 15 seconds into the body of the unarmed youth as he was walking away. No good reason at all. There’s no justifiable reason why Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel allowed his police bureaucrats to do everything possible to cover-up what Van Dyke did to McDonald — including paying out a $5 million settlement to McDonald’s family in order to keep matters hush hush. None at all. There’s clearly no reason why Van Dyke even pulled out his gun in the first place — especially when his fellow officers didn’t view McDonald as a threat to their own safety. Not one good reason whatsoever.

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Government unions make it almost impossible to fire rogue cops, with deadly consequences.

Calling Van Dyke’s murder of McDonald immoral and indefensible is a grand understatement that fails to fully consider the damage he has done. The officer took the life of a fellow child of God and member of the Family of Man for no good reason. Because of Van Dyke, Laquan now joins Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and other innocent black men and women who have been slain at the hands of venal and morally debased men in uniform. The murder is also another reminder that state-sanctioned murder of black men is at the heart of the racial bigotry that is America’s Original Sin. As demonstrated by the efforts of Jamie Kalvern of the Invisible Institute and University of Chicago Law Professor Craig Futterman to reveal and publicize the existence of the tapes, this case is a lesson on why no government can be trusted to do right by any human being, much less the descendants of enslaved Africans brought to this continent so long ago.

The only good thing that can be said is that with Van Dyke’s indictment, there’s at least a chance of justice being done on behalf of McDonald and his family. This is because few rogue cops are ever indicted, much less convicted, of their criminal misdeeds. Once again, Van Dyke’s indictment is another reminder of how incompetent police bureaucracies, state laws, and the cultism among those wearing the badge often act to protects corrupt and murderous police officers. Particularly for the school reform movement, the problems of removing rogue cops mirror the struggles to rid classrooms and schools of laggard and criminally abusive teachers. Which is why we must join together with criminal justice reformers to keep rogue cops and laggard teachers from damaging our children.

The especially sad thing about McDonald’s murder is that it didn’t have to happen in the first place. Even before he slayed the young man, Van Dyke had a well-deserved reputation as a thug in a uniform. During the course of his career, 18 complaints were filed against him for using excessive force, engaging in illegal searches, and uttering racial slurs during arrests. The Second City had to pay out $500,000 to one of Van Dyke’s victims in order to address his misdeeds. With such a lengthy record on his personnel file, Van Dyke should have lost his badge and gun. Yet Van Dyke was never disciplined.

One likely reason: The Second City’s arduous and cumbersome process for disciplining and firing rogue cops. Because several different units of the police department — including the internal affairs unit, the Independent Police Review Authority, and the Police Board (which decides whether to mete out discipline in the most-serious cases) — are in charge of investigating and addressing misconduct, the misbehavior of rogue cops can fall through the cracks. It can take as long as 328 days to investigate an incident of misconduct, according to areport produced last year for Chicago by a team led by Ron Safer, a partner for law firm Schiff Hardin. In one case, it took the IPRA five years to determine that an officer, Bruce Askew, should be fired and charged with excessive force after he cracked the skull of Greg Larkins during an arrest. [The city’s police board dismissed that complaint because it was filed after the statute of limitations ran out.] Little wonder why IPRA recommended the firing of just two out of 400 officers brought before it in the last eight years.

Adding to the bureaucratic morass: The fact that Chicago’s police superintendent is barred from being the ultimate decision maker in the disciplinary process. While the superintendent can recommend a firing after being given the right to do so by the IPRA, it is still up to the Police Board to make the final decision. Because of the labyrinthine process and lack of clear oversight, commanders who directly oversee rogue cops take no responsibility for holding them accountable.

Then there are the state laws and court rulings that allow for police officers to use excessive force with impunity. Beginning in 1985 with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Garner v. Tennessee, state laws give officers wide leeway in how they use deadly force in stopping criminal activity. Officers can shoot to kill if they “objectively reasonable” probably cause to “believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others”. The problem is that it is almost impossible to determine what is objective or reasonable, and thus, objective becomes subjective and unreliable. More often than not, if a police officer says he fears for his life, then he is let off the hook. Since state laws rarely require the objective standard to be based on physical evidence, even a videotape isn’t enough to lead to an indictment, much less a conviction.

Illinois took a step in the right direction on this front this past August when state legislators and Gov. Bruce Rauner passed a police reform law that bans officers from using choke holds as well as restricts use of deadly force. But having law in place doesn’t mean that rogue cops will be held accountable for their criminality — especially since prosecutors (who depend on support from cops and police unions) and mayors (who are charged by the public with addressing quality of life issues) have little incentive to root out corruption. This is clear from the fact that Van Dyke is the first Chicago cop to be indicted for murder in 36 years — even as the city has spent millions (including $250 million between 2010 and 2014 alone) settling cases involving officer-involved killings and other forms of police brutality.

Meanwhile there is the reality that police officers often view themselves as bands of brothers who will protect each other even at cost to the integrity of their profession. This was pointed out forcefully by famed police detective Frank Serpico — who carries a bullet in his head as a result of his decision to shed light on the Big Apple’s drug war-driven police corruption in the 1970s — in a piece on Ferguson he wrote last year. Not only will officers do nothing to help weed out the worst (and even merely bad) within their ranks, they will shun (and even endanger) those few brave officers who dare to break the Blue Wall of Silence.

But the culture extends beyond the precinct walls. Police unions such as the Chicago branch of the Fraternal Order of Police as well as affiliates of the International Union of Police Associations work overtime to keep even the worst officers on the job. This includes termination processes that can often last years. In Chicago, for example, rogue officers can lodge several appeals of any finding, challenge the length of a suspension, and even file a grievance against a supervisor for daring to mete out punishment. Before the Second City finally convinced FOP and other police unions to slightly amend the process, it could take at least 1,009 days (or more than three years) for a finding of misconduct to be fully resolved. The pressure police unions also exert on prosecutors dependent on their endorsements all but ensure that few rogue cops will ever face justice. For the police unions, who depend on compulsory dues from cops regardless of their desire for membership, a dollar from a rogue cop is as good as one from a law-abiding one.

For school reformers, all of this sounds all too familiar. It should be. Because the way American criminal justice systems protect and enable rogue cops is similar to how public education keeps laggard and criminally-abusive teachers in classrooms.

Just like police departments, traditional districts do an abysmal job of evaluating and dismissing low-quality and criminally-minded teachers. Los Angeles Unified School District, for example, evaluated just 40 percent of veteran teachers and 70 percent of new hires during the 2009-2010 school year, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality in a report released four years ago. As with laws governing deadly force, state laws granting near-lifetime employment in the form of tenure all but ensure that teachers remain on the job regardless of performance, while teacher dismissal laws work to keep even the most-abusive teachers in schools. The presence of incompetent school leaders, who have little incentive to remove low-quality teachers (and are sometimes engaged in abusive behavior themselves), often means that they help perpetuate cultures of abuse, educational and otherwise.

The cultism that pervades police departments is also a poison in traditional districts. Like the Blue Wall of Silence, the Thin Chalk Line not only keeps good and great teachers from calling out the incompetents in their midst, it (along with near-lifetime employment) also lead otherwise-honorable teachers to protect the criminally-abusive among them. This was clear in Rochester, N.Y., where teachers at School 19 failed to cooperate in the investigation of Matthew LoMaglio for second-degree sexual misconduct against an eight-year-old boy, then wrote letters to a judge pleading for leniency on his behalf. As in the case of police unions, affiliates of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers extend this cultism, both by making it almost impossible to remove  removing laggard and criminally abusive teachers, as well as through their roles as the biggest players in school board races and state legislative politics. And like police unions, NEA and AFT affiliates benefit from keeping as many bodies, be they high-quality, incompetent, or criminally abusive, on payrolls.

The good news for school reformers is that they have made some headway on addressing teacher quality issues. From successfully implementation of evaluations using objective test score growth data, to efforts such as the lawsuits inspired by the Vergara v. California (in which a state court judge tossed out the Golden State’s tenure and dismissal laws), to efforts by districts to aggressively evaluate newly-hired teachers before they attain tenure, reformers have made small positive steps in providing all children with the high-quality teachers they deserve.

So reformers should team up with criminal justice reform advocates are share lessons on how to address their parallel issues. The most-important reason of all: Because what happens to our outside of schoolhouse doors also affects them within them. As Dropout Nation has documented over the past few years, American public education has been responsible for thecriminalization of youth (especially the lives of black children) that have led to incidents such as Van Dyke’s murder of McDonald. That the nation’s education crisis has also fueled the crises that happen daily on our streets makes reforming criminal justice systems an important consideration in our efforts. No reformer can claim that criminal justice reform and the Black Lives Matter movement that has made it a critical public policy issue over the last year isn’t a matter about which we must be concerned.

Jason Van Dyke may still avoid the human justice he deserves. More importantly, we cannot bring Laquan McDonald back to life. But we can save the lives of more young black men and women like him from the villainous and immoral behavior of rogue cops and bad teachers. We must do this now.

About the Author:  RiShawn Biddle is Editor and Publisher of Dropout Nation — the leading commentary Web site on education reform — a columnist for Rare and The American Spectator, award-winning editorialist, speechwriter, communications consultant and education policy advisor. More importantly, he is a tireless advocate for improving the quality of K-12 education for every child. The co-author of A Byte at the Apple: Rethinking Education Data for the Post-NCLB Era, Biddle combines journalism, research and advocacy to bring insight on the nation’s education crisis and rally families and others to reform American public education. This article originally appeared in Dropout Nation and is republished here with permission from the author.

Teachers Unions Spend $700 Million per Year Explicitly on Political Advocacy

As readers know by now, Dropout Nation determined in research released last October that National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers spend roughly $700 million per year on advocacy. This report undermined the unions’ preferred narrative that they are scrappy underdogs fighting for public schools. As you would expect, especially on Twitter, NEA’s and AFT’s highly-paid spokespeople were none too happy about this inconvenient fact. One such executive, AFT’s Kombiz Lavasany, asserted that the report was “sadly dishonest [because the] vast majority of union dues support things universally supported,” such as “work to represent and work for better pay, work conditions, professionalism.”

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NEA President Randi Weingarten, who is paid over $500,000 per year and wields
an annual advocacy budget of over $500 million, is looking out for working families.

Since these claims were repeated and rebroadcast by other union officials and their allies, they deserve a brief fact-based review. Unfortunately, they fail to hold up under even light quantitative scrutiny.

Yes, the teachers’ unions’ really spend $2.2 billion per year overall: Some critics looked at the revenues of the main unions’ national operations, and saw budgets in the hundreds of millions (not billions). NEA, for example, only reported revenue of $385 million to the U.S. Department of Labor; since the NEA represents two thirds of the nation’s teachers, looking only at national IRS filings would imply a revenue total of less than $600 million.

This math, however, excludes most of the unions’ budgets, which formally stay at the level of states and localities. A teacher in Chicago, for instance, pays dues averaging $1,000 per year, but 60 percent of those dues go to the local Chicago Teachers Union. The remaining 40 percent is split between the national AFT and the statewide Illinois Federation of Teachers. These local dues to CTU give it a formally independent budget of roughly $30 million. New York is another example; the UFT spends $100 million per year.

Any national analysis of union financial clout must therefore consider the dues collected by state and local affiliates and the filings they make with the Department of Labor and the Internal Revenue Service. Altogether, this adds up to $2.2 billion.

This number seems shockingly high. But you must look at this in context. The $2.2 billion number implies that the national unions represent about 30 percent of the total unions’ revenues. This makes sense given that the national unions play a quarterbacking role for organizations primarily working at the state and local levels. The number also suggests that annual dues amount to roughly $660 per teacher, which is just around one percent of the U.S. average teacher salary of $56,000.

As with other matters when it comes to the Big Two, the $2.2 billion union budget is only surprising for those who have not yet reviewed the basic math of American public education.

Yes, the unions really spend a third of their resources on advocacy: Lavasany and other union spokespeople argue that unions spend less than $700 million in advocacy because “most” of their money is spent in member services. Unpacking this claim requires a detour into union dues, how they are collected, and how they are classified.

The starting point is 1977, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that union officials could compel all teachers to pay union dues as a condition of employment. The Court held that such “compulsory dues” harm teachers’ First Amendment rights, as they compel teachers to pay for political speech. So long as the compulsory dues are used only for advocacy related to collective bargaining, however, the Court held them to be permissible.

As an outgrowth of the Abood decision, most teachers around the country have union dues deducted automatically from their paychecks. Union officials calculate which portion of those dues are related to collective bargaining (so-called “chargeable” expenses), and which dues are unrelated (so-called “non-chargeable” expenses which teachers may opt out of paying).

As the Supreme Court itself noted last year — and as Dropout Nation has noted — the decades since 1977 have revealed two practical problems with the Abood framework. First, the question of chargeable vs. non-chargeable is notoriously thorny, and remains the subject of ongoing litigation to this day. Many kinds of laws can be called related to teachers’ collective bargaining, including parent choice rules, teacher evaluation frameworks, and even a state’s overall levels of taxation and spending.

Second, the classification system is rife with conflicts of interest. The union officials who benefit directly from these revenue allocations have day-to-day responsibility for deciding which expenses are chargeable vs. non-chargeable. Every year, union staffers and their paid accountants make thousands of individual determinations about how to classify their time and expenses. From these classifications, the unions can essentially create as much revenue as they think they need. Even if every union staffer is a saint, their belief in their cause gives them a constant incentive to err on the side of higher compulsory dues.

This framework allows the accounting results to exactly match the public relations claims. Consider the response to last year’s Dropout Nation report from the AFT spokesman Lavasany that “vast majority of that money is spent on supporting members, not on politics.” Sure enough, this matches up with the 2013 audit report signed by the AFT’s accountants, which duly allocated 71.5 percent of the AFT’s revenues to “chargeable” expenses related to collective bargaining. Those overseeing the audit included AFT’s Secretary-Treasurer Loretta Johnson, a longtime AFT negotiator and officer, and Calibre, a certified public accountancy that specializes in serving the interests of labor unions.

A 2014 audit report AFT filed in California, writing to reflect an arbitrator’s decision between objecting teachers and the union’s United Teachers Los Angeles unit, made a slightly more conservative estimate of 66 percent of the revenues going toward “chargeable” expenses. Either way, the unions admit that between 25 percent and 33 percent of dues are allocated to political activities unrelated to collective bargaining and workplace issues.

Here’s the funny thing: Even if you take the union officials’ numbers at face value, the result actually confirms the thrust of Dropout Nation’s analysis. The pro bono consultants who went through the unions’ published national, state, and local tax returns estimated based on their research, interviews, and sampling that roughly one third of the unions’ efforts went toward political advocacy. This is what drove the $700 million estimate: one third of $2.2 billion is slightly more than $700 million. If the 2014 auditor’s report is correct, and that result applies to union spending allocations across the country, then it serves as independent confirmation, rather than rebuttal, of what Dropout Nation turned up.

Indeed, if even the unions’ auditing numbers say that one third of their expenses are not chargeable, the reality is probably a much higher number. This has been borne out by Dropout Nation in five years of reports on NEA and AFT spending: Often times, the two unions and their affiliates list what often turns out to be political spending under the category of “representational activities”. If anything, the $700 million estimate probably underestimates the amount of money NEA and AFT and their units spend on politics.

 

About the Author:  RiShawn Biddle is Editor and Publisher of Dropout Nation — the leading commentary Web site on education reform — a columnist for Rare and The American Spectator, award-winning editorialist, speechwriter, communications consultant and education policy advisor. More importantly, he is a tireless advocate for improving the quality of K-12 education for every child. The co-author of A Byte at the Apple: Rethinking Education Data for the Post-NCLB Era, Biddle combines journalism, research and advocacy to bring insight on the nation’s education crisis and rally families and others to reform American public education. This article originally appeared in Dropout Nation and is republished here with permission from the author.

The Oasis Was a Mirage

After failing miserably for almost ten years, a rare union-run charter school is mercifully shuttered.

In September 2005, New York City’s United Federation of Teachers (UFT) president Randi Weingarten was frustrated and wanted to prove a point. She explained that the union was opening two charter schools so that it could “reclaim” the original charter school model conceived by former American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president Albert Shanker, who said “charter schools could help teachers work without the stifling bureaucracy and stifling micromanagement.”

Taking a potshot at NYC school superintendent Joel Klein, Weingarten said, “This kind of effort, this kind of potential, is what we should be unleashing on the school system every single day, and the Klein administration will not let us do this anymore in the public school arena. It is incredibly ironic that the only way that teachers could do this kind of bottom-up thinking at a school was to do it using the mechanics of a charter school.”

She added that the UFT Charter School would “show real, quantifiable student achievement and with those results, finally dispel the misguided and simplistic notion that the union contract is an impediment to success.” As the school was about to open, Weingarten crowed, “This school is an oasis.”

Well it’s almost ten years later and the oasis’s land is barren, the water is fetid and the camels are sickly. And the achievement is certainly “quantifiable” – quantifiably bad. The State University of New York (SUNY) which authorized the two schools – K-8 and a high school – has decided to pull the plug on the elementary school for many reasons. (The high school remains on life supports.)

The K-8 school’s test results have been abysmal. In 2014, only 11 percent of its students were proficient in English and 18 percent in math, compared to 28 and 36 percent in traditional public schools with similar demographics. At Harlem Success Academy (Weingarten-nemesis Eva Moskowitz’s non-unionized charter school), those numbers are 59 and 92 percent.

And those awful results are just the tip of the iceberg. Other findings:

  • The school had a high teacher turnover.
  • There were budget deficits and “operational chaos.”
  • Declining enrollment in the middle school exacerbated the school’s fiscal duress, which SUNY attributed to “poor bookkeeping.”
  • The union had to bail out the school with interest-free loans.
  • SUNY also highlighted “chronic shortages of textbooks and unrepaired equipment.”
  • There were missing standardized test booklets that were not returned to the publisher for scoring.
  • In one geography lesson, “rather than making use of technological resources to present the critical economic and political importance of the Nile, the teacher had students color in blank maps of the river.”
  • The campus has lacked stability with five principals in seven years.
  • School leaders reported that the staff had to be counseled on “appropriate interaction with students following approximately 10 corporal punishment incidents.”
  • A review of board minutes found “numerous, apparently systemic, Open Meetings Law violations.”
  • The school was in violation of the federal Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, because it had a number of students who required more restrictive classroom settings than the school offered.
  • The school “was in violation of state law requiring that school personnel (and certain contractors with direct access to students) be subject to a fingerprint-supported criminal background check prior to appointment at the school. At the time of the renewal inspection visit, the school was unable to produce evidence that five individuals were appropriately cleared for employment.”

But hey, other than that….

Not surprisingly, Weingarten (now AFT president) and other union leaders who constantly blab to the media have been very cricket-like about the school’s closing. Only the combative current UFT president, Michael Mulgrew, has spoken out, but of course the union took no responsibility for the school’s miserable results. Instead, he blamed SUNY, the state authorizer, for its “narrow focus on state tests.” But James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter Center countered Mulgrew’s nonsense, saying. “It’s well known by now that the UFT is allergic to actual accountability. So I’m not surprised—but still dismayed—that … UFT would not accept even the slightest responsibility for its abysmal failure to provide children with a great education.”

Very oddly, on March 3rd, after all the bad news had been reported, UFT came out with a press release touting a “Charter School Accountability Agenda,” a reform plan created by two AFT front groups – the Center for Popular Democracy and In the Public Interest. Its purpose is “to ensure that charter schools fulfill their role in education as lawmakers originally envisioned.” Included is this snippet:

The American people overwhelmingly support accountability and transparency for charter schools. If a school takes public dollars, the public wants some control and oversight of what goes on there. The Charter School Accountability Agenda lays out tangible steps we need to take to guarantee that every child gets a high-quality public education, whether that child is in a neighborhood school or a publicly funded charter school.

This is tantamount to a convicted bank robber telling a financial institution how it should conduct its business.

And wouldn’t you think that the union would have gone out of its way to ensure that UFT Charter School was a success? Over the past several years, teachers unions have been increasingly attacked for being anti-child and this would have been a perfect opportunity to prove that they really cared about educating kids. Whether it was carelessness or world-class ineptitude, the failure was monumental. Never one to mince words, school reform advocate RiShawn Biddle wrote, “After the failure of its UFT Charter School, AFT President Randi Weingarten and UFT boss Michael Mulgrew shouldn’t be allowed near any school operation.” I would amend that to not being allowed near any school. Period.

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.

NEA’s Sorry Spin

The latest teachers union PR ploy is pure cowplop.

“Persuading the People on Public Schools,” a National Education Association document posted by the The Daily Beast’s Conor Williams, details the union’s new communication strategy. Subtitled “Words to avoid … Words to Embrace,” the previously internal “research brief” gives us a look into the mindset of an entity that is losing the national debate with school choicers and other reformers. To be sure, a political body like NEA needs jargon, mediaspeak, spin, whatever, to sell its message, but if its latest effort – with the help of two progressive communications outfits – is any indication, the hole it has dug for itself could become an abyss in no time. Just a few examples….

Instead of using the word inequality, NEA is now advising its people to use living in the right zip code. This of course plays right into the hands of reformers who constantly and correctly make the point that throughout much of the country we have a rigid government-run monopoly by zip-code education system. As RiShawn Biddle writes, “NEA leaders will then have to explain why their affiliates, along with that of AFT,  fight vigilantly throughout the nation against the expansion of public charter schools and other forms of choice that have proven to improve graduation rates for black and Latino children.”

The brief suggests dumping educational equity and replacing it with the squishy committed to the success of every child. I guess the monopolists at NEA aren’t comfortable with equity, because using that term leaves them open to blame for keeping poor and minority kids in urban failure factories by waging war on policies that would help them escape.

NEA wants to change the narrative from meaningful, rigorous evaluations to the argument that testing takes time from learning. The union really doesn’t loathe testing per se, but it cannot abide the fact that a teacher’s evaluation should reflect – at least in part – how well students perform on a standardized test. (We really need to lose the test-phobia that seems to be gripping the nation these days. Unionistas and others keep carping that we have “too much testing.” Maybe we do – and of course, too much of anything is not good. We need food to live but too much of it will make us obese and possibly send us to an early grave. But we don’t want to do away with food; we just need eat better and more moderately. Same mentality should be applied to testing.)

Perhaps most telling is that the union wants to use get serious about what works and avoid research driven practices. Sounds as if the union knows that it is getting clobbered by a parade of studies which show that charter schools, privatization and other forms of school choice are effective, and it is trying to divert us from this reality.

The rest of the communiqué is riddled with euphemisms that the union hopes will fool the public. But, mercifully, people have gotten hip to teacher union twaddle and a majority now sees the unions as a stumbling block to school reform.

In a sense there is nothing new about the document. For a while now, the unions have been aware that much of its language has been losing favor with the general public. Tenure and seniority both have received black eyes of late – due, at least in part, to California’s Vergara case – and have been replaced with the kinder and gentler due process and importance of experience.

In another example of pre-document union wordplay, Tennessee Education Association president Gera Summerford, talking to supporters in March 2014, explained, “This march to corporatization – that’s the word that we’ve been trying to use because it does sound a little more ‘evil’ than privatization.”

Maybe some will be taken in by this nonsense. But thousands of kids and their families who have won the lottery (literally) and have been given a shot at a good life via a good education by the likes of Eva Moskowitz’s Harlem Success Academies, KIPP Schools and the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program undoubtedly won’t. The union’s “evil corporations taking over education” meme has quickly turned into a tired old cliché.

Like teacher union spin, manure comes with many different names – dung, fertilizer, cowplop, etc. But whatever you call it – it still stinks.

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.

Empire Statement

Andrew Cuomo becomes the latest governor to take on the teachers unions.

Expanding vouchers to unaccountable private schools. Stripping teachers of their right to due process. Converting neighborhood public schools into privately run charter schools unanswerable to local school boards and taxpayers. Proceeding with tax cuts for the wealthy while starving public schools.

Holy horrors! The above, from the National Education Association EdVotes page, would lead us to believe that a healthy dose of school choice would destroy our less than wildly successful education system. The same page specifically nails several governors for having the audacity to promote school choice and other child-friendly reforms. Making the NEA Hall of Shame are Sam Brownback (KS), Rick Snyder (MI), Rick Scott (FL), Mike Pence (IN) and of course public (employee union) enemy #1 – Wisconsin’s Scott Walker.

All Republicans.

But just recently a high-profile Democrat joined this exclusive club. New York State governor Andrew Cuomo blasted the teachers unions with a venom that probably made Chris Christie proud.

Cuomo told the New York Daily News that the teachers unions represent themselves, not the students. He referred to them, along with the entrenched education establishment, as an “industry” that is more interested in protecting the rights of its members than improving the system for the kids it purports to serve.

If (the public) understood what was happening with education to their children, there would be an outrage in this city. I’m telling you, they would take City Hall down brick by brick.

Somewhere along the way, I believe we flipped the purpose of this. This was never a teacher employment program and this was never an industry to hire superintendents and teachers.

He went on to decry the fact that 250,000 kids over the past decade were trapped in failing schools.

Where was the outrage? You want to talk to me about teachers’ rights? Why isn’t the question: ‘How did we let that happen to 250,000 kids — black and brown kids, by the way.’

At Cuomo’s State of the State speech, given a day before he talked to the Daily News, he spoke about matters that send teacher union leaders into an apoplectic state: more charter schools, stricter teacher evaluations, an end to teacher tenure in its current form and tax credits for donors who want to help students attend private schools.

Needless to say, teacher union leaders and their camp followers are now at war with Cuomo. The union bosses’ counter-offensive would normally involve Sheldon Silver – their bought-and-paid for speaker of the New York State Assembly and perhaps the most powerful legislator in Albany – to eviscerate any reforms being pushed by the governor. But in what could be viewed as providential, Silver was charged – the day after Cuomo’s fiery talk – with lining his pockets with nearly $4 million in bribes and kickbacks in a massive abuse of power dating back at least 15 years. He was accused of committing five felonies, including fraud, extortion and conspiracy. Each count carries up to 20 years in prison.

Not waiting for a trial, Silver quickly resigned his position, leaving the New York State United Teachers without its powerful lawmaker to do its bidding. But NYSUT ain’t gonna be cowed by no governor – even if their goombah in Albany now has a new office in Sing Sing.

In an attempt to fire up his troops, Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of teachers – NYSUT’s Big Apple affiliate – reached deep into the Teacher Union Guidebook of Clichéd and Ridiculous Responses to Education Reformers and accused Cuomo of being afraid of “the hedge-fund managers and corporate interests whose donations fill your campaign coffers.” Mulgrew also blasted the governor for being behind “corporate bonus-style merit pay,” claimed that his “education agenda isn’t about education at all – it is political payback” (because the unions did not support his reelection bid) and that “it is poverty and inequality and lack of funding, not ‘failing schools’ or ‘bad teachers,’ that are at the root of our education system’s struggles.” (I can hear Harlem Success Academy’s Eva Moskowitz howling over the last one.)

One not impressed in the least by Mulgrew’s claptrap is New York City Parents Union leader Mona Davids (H/T RiShawn Biddle) who fired back,

Funny thing is: 

1.  When Mulgrew eliminated extended day last year, he didn’t consult parents!  

2.  When Mulgrew sabotaged the teacher evaluations in 2013, he didn’t consult parents and didn’t give a hoot about our schools losing $290 million.  We had to sue to keep the $290 million!

3.  They accuse and are crying foul of the “reformers” political contributions–but, they’ve been giving pols money to get what they want all this time.  Now, they have competition.

UFT/NYSUT absolutely refuses to even admit maybe 1% — just 1%, of teachers are ineffective or make any changes to dismissal procedures.

But of course to union leaders, parents are nuisances who must be dealt with – “handled” – but should not be included in any important way that affects their children’s education.

Last Thursday, the union started to hold “emergency meetings” with teachers, parents and clergy. Why do I get the idea that Ms. Davids and other activist, reform-minded parents are not on the short list? And clergy…? Maybe the unions, in their desperate quest to leave no stone unturned, are looking for divine intervention.

At the meetings, I’m sure the union bosses will be wearing their Sunday best, spinning the data as only they can, pushing to spend more on education, while professing their purest, most heartfelt concern for “the children.” But the fact remains that in New York State just 40 percent of fourth graders are proficient in math and 37 percent in reading. Yet, as The Wall Street Journal reports, “New York spends more per pupil ($19,552 in 2012) than any other state and nearly twice the national average. Incredibly, the Empire State spends more on a per pupil basis on employee benefits than reform leaders Tennessee and Florida spend on teacher salaries.”

While not every problem in education is union-caused, many are. And until the unions fess up and make amends (don’t hold your breath), more and more elected officials – from both sides of the aisle – will be pushing back. It’s about 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.

Pull the Plug on LIFO Support

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As edu-pundit RiShawn Biddle pointed out in 2010,

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

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

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

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

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

Cashing in on Hypocrisy

Latest teacher union stunt to discredit charter schools rings hollow.

As I have written before – as recently as last Tuesday – the teachers unions have a schizoid relationship with charter schools. Depending on the tides, they either want to kill charters off or unionize them. Last week – in kill mode – Randi Weingarten’s American Federation of Teachers and a group called In the Public Interest launched a website called Cashing in on Kids.

The website consists of several cases of alleged charter improprieties – fiscal hanky-panky at one, mismanagement at another, etc. Whether the stories are true or not isn’t the point.

No one has ever said that these alternatives to traditional public schools are perfect or should operate with impunity. In fact, accountability is the hallmark of charter schools which get shut down if they don’t do their job. It’s audacious for AFT to bloviate about accountability and transparency in the charter sector when it is the unions that fight (spending untold millions in the process) to maintain the failing educational status quo. In a spot-on response to the attack, Center for Education Reform president Kara Kerwin wrote,

… 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.

In a rhetorical gymnastics routine we’ve come to expect from teacher unions, this latest campaign against education reform irresponsibly suggests that profit and student success are mutually exclusive, ignoring the fact that K-12 education in the U.S. is a $607 billion enterprise annually.

… By law, for-profit companies may only contract with the non-profit governing board of a charter school. These are public schools that are held to the same state standards, open meeting laws, and transparency. Open-enrollment policies must apply, and students that attend charter schools, regardless of the tax status of the organization that manages it, do so by choice.

Education management companies bring investment and capital to the communities they serve, creating jobs, innovation, and cost-saving strategies. Most assume great financial risk on behalf of their non-profit clients to build infrastructure and facilities in communities that in any other industry would most likely not be considered ideal or open to business. In fact, like most charter schools, even those in public-private partnerships, receive on average 30% less per pupil than their traditional school peers whose management has no accountability or incentive to improve student outcomes. (Emphasis added.)

This latest attempt by the AFT to discredit charter schools is nothing more than an effort to stifle the calls for greater accountability in our conventional public schools that the American public demands.

And it’s even worse than Kerwin made it out to be. In a U.S. News & World Report article about the website, Weingarten is quoted:

This is a simple exercise of following the money. … How many times do people simply get up on a pedestal and say we care about kids, and then you realize that they care about profits, they care about tax deductions, they care about privatizing the public system?

This gets right to the heart of the matter: the latest attack on charters is really an anti-capitalist screed more than anything else. Its goal is to score political points and paint charters as evil money-grubbing outfits. In the Public Interest – a perfect partner for AFT – is a project of The Partnership for Working Families (PWF), which is an ACORN-like group that hates anything capitalist and is 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 rich “philanthropists,” including George Soros and other globalist/socialists.

Perhaps Weingarten, who is on a crusade to keep private entities from abusing public funds, should follow her own money. Her union – a private association – takes in $175,000,000 a year in union dues, which are purloined from teachers’ salaries in most states. And every penny of those salaries is paid by public tax money that originates with private citizens – the taxpayers.

Just what does the union do with all this public/private money? RiShawn Biddle reports,

For 2012-2013, the AFT spent $32 million on political lobbying activities and contributions …; this, by the way, doesn’t include politically-driven spending that can often find its way under so-called “representational activities”. This is a 19 percent increase over spending by the union during the 2011-2012 fiscal year.

This means that the union is pouring public/private money into causes that advance its main agenda which is essentially to keep public/private money flowing into its coffers. The union also pays its bosses quite nicely. According to the latest AFT tax filing, Weingarten pulls in $549,622 in total compensation. (Not too shabby for someone who rails against one percenters.) Her tax deduction crack is especially laughable because Weingarten, in her last year as United Federation of Teachers president, received a $194,000 payout for unused sick days, which pushed her total compensation for the year to over $600,000. And of course, it’s just a coincidence that she abandoned New York City that year for East Hampton, a very wealthy community on Long Island’s south shore, thus avoiding paying $30,000 in taxes.

Hopefully the “Cashing in on Kids” website will get little traction. I mean, really – just who exactly is cashing in on kids … and their parents … and the 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 with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

The Department of Justice on Student Suspensions

A recent memo accuses educators of racial discrimination while failing, with a few exceptions, to address the real problems.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a series of guidelines regarding the suspension of students from school. In short, though partially correct, the DOJ report is misguided, misleading, and missing key elements relevant to the issue.

Where the DOJ is wrong

The most disturbing part of the DOJ memo suggests that schools unfairly discriminate against students based on race.

The U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice (Departments) are issuing this guidance to assist public elementary and secondary schools in meeting their obligations under Federal law to administer student discipline without discriminating on the basis of race, color, or national origin. The Departments recognize the commitment and effort of educators across the United States to provide their students with an excellent education. The Departments believe that guidance on how to identify, avoid, and remedy discriminatory discipline will assist schools in providing all students with equal educational opportunities.

This is egregious. Suggesting that American schools, its administrators and its teachers are guilty of widespread racism has no basis in fact and has been rightfully denounced by most pundits. (Personal anecdote: as a teacher for over 28 years – almost exclusively in majority minority schools, including stints in Harlem and South Los Angeles – I have never seen a teacher or administrator act in a prejudicial way toward any minority kid.)

Simply put, schools have rules and if a student disobeys them, he or she is disciplined accordingly. And if minority kids are breaking the rules more often than other kids, shouldn’t they be punished more? That having been said, there are inequities that do need to be addressed that did not appear in the DOJ memo. More on that shortly.

Where the DOJ is right

The DOJ is correct when it charges that schools have become too dependent on law enforcement to solve internal problems. Many “zero tolerance” policies need to end. In too many cases, the guidelines have become downright silly. Should dress-code violations and posting a picture of a pellet gun on Instagram really become police matters? Is it right to suspend a student for chewing a Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun? Does it make the least bit of sense to suspend kids who are truant? “Okay, Johnny, we are going to keep you out of school today because you ditched school yesterday.”

Also, as one who has seen many a student suspended during my stint in middle school, I can tell you that in most cases the action is useless. After a suspension, I always asked what they did with their time when they were out of school. By far the most prevalent answer was, “Watched TV.”

Some punishment. Yeah, that’ll learn ‘em!

After a while, my school wised up and began employing “in-house” suspensions. In these cases, the students had to come to school, but didn’t go to their regular classes. By doing this, the school made a statement and tried to deal with the problem via the dean, the guidance counselor and the assistant principal. Also, the kid didn’t have a day off to watch TV and the school didn’t lose the funding it would have lost had the student been absent from school.

What the DOJ did not address

Why do kids misbehave in school? There is no one answer, but the following are four important ones:

1. Bad parenting. An obvious one and as RiShawn Biddle says, it’s a tough one to overcome. If a parent is not willing to parent properly, teachers and their schools have a much bigger challenge on their hands than with a child from a solid home.

2. Undiagnosed learning disability. This happens, but more often than not, students are misdiagnosed and often given needless medication. For example, if a boy is bored in school and “acts out” he’s likely to be painted with the ADHD brush and drugged, while the real cause of his behavior goes unaddressed.

3. Student boredom due to unqualified and/or inexperienced teachers. Yup, this is a big problem and has been for many years, but it too went unacknowledged by the DOJ. In fact, if you are searching for discrimination in public education, this is the place to look. In 2011, an ACLU lawsuit rightfully claimed that high-minority schools are discriminated against by the seniority laws that are enshrined in the California state education code. Because they invariably have a high percentage of new hires, the lowest performing schools usually take the brunt of the layoffs under this system, destabilizing them further by requiring a revolving door of substitutes. Judge William Highberger agreed and ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. Unfortunately, the decision was appealed and overturned, giving the teachers unions a victory at the expense of minority kids.

Another lawsuit, Vergara v. California, is due to begin in Los Angeles next week.  It asserts that

… five “outdated statutes” prevent administrators from making employment decisions in students’ interest. The tenure statute forces districts to decide after teachers are on the job only 18 months whether to grant them permanent job status. Once granted tenure, they gain due-process rights that make it expensive and difficult to fire them even if they’re “grossly ineffective.” And then, when an economic downturn comes – witness the last four years – a Last In/First Out (LIFO) requirement leads to layoffs based strictly on seniority, not competency.

If successful, this lawsuit will remove the tenure, seniority and arcane dismissal statutes from the California education code and render them unconstitutional, thus making it easier to get rid of incompetent and criminal teachers while outlawing seniority as a method of teacher-retention. While this litigation will help all students in the state, inner-city kids would benefit the most. As I wrote in City Journal in 2012,

Struggling inner-city schools end up suffering the most, as the lawsuit states: “One recent study showed that a school in the highest poverty quartile is 65 percent more likely to have a teacher laid off than a school in the lowest poverty quartile. As a result of seniority-based layoffs, the highest poverty schools in California are likely to lose 30 percent more teachers than wealthier schools. The disproportionate number of vacancies in those schools are then filled by transferring lower performing teachers, including grossly ineffective teachers, from other schools.”

The California Teachers Association has joined this suit in an attempt to protect its turf at the expense of the poor and minority students. Sadly, the DOJ is MIA on tenure and seniority and the unions’ efforts to keep them in place.

4. Teachers receive little or no classroom management training in schools of education. Little talked about, classroom management should be a very important part of every teacher’s training, but sadly it’s not. (The DOJ memo does allude to classroom management techniques, but says the school should provide it and makes no reference to ed schools.) Scandalously, my teacher training at Cal State had zero class hours set aside in how to manage a classroom. (My science methods teacher, realizing that this was a huge mistake, spent part of his classes giving us desperately needed tips on the subject.)

A new report by the National Council on Teacher Quality claims that classroom management continues to be one of the greatest challenges new teachers face. Surveys repeatedly document that novice teachers struggle in this area, and their school district supervisors concur.

  • A 1997 poll revealed that 58 percent of PK-12 teachers said that behavior that disrupted instruction occurred “most of the time or fairly often.”
  • A 2003 survey of teachers found that nearly half indicated that “quite a large number” of new teachers need a lot more training on effective ways to handle students who are discipline problems.
  • In 2012, over 40 percent of new teachers surveyed reported feeling either “not at all prepared” or “only somewhat prepared” to handle a range of classroom management or discipline situations.
  • In a 2013 survey, classroom management was “the top problem” identified by teachers.

It’s no secret that ed schools are, for the most part, a ridiculous waste of time and money. This is due in no small part to the fact that the nation’s #1 accrediting organization, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), is beyond useless. The mission of this organization, set up by the National Education Association in 1954, is to “help establish high quality teacher preparation.” Sixty years later, I can’t help but wonder when they are going to start.

In sum, the DOJ has raised a subject that needs to be discussed. But playing the race card – saying that “racial discrimination in school discipline is a real problem” – is ludicrous. Does the DOJ really think that most teachers, their administrators and school board members are closet Klan members? And why aren’t the teachers unions defending their members against the DOJ’s scurrilous charge? (The American Federation of Teachers did issue a wishy-washy statement including a few suggestions that they think would help, but did not directly address the DOJ racism accusation.)

There are so many things we can do to improve education, but due to the intransigence of the education establishment and the teachers unions with their one-size-fits-all bureaucratic diktats, we are stuck in the status quo muck. Not mentioned in the DOJ report, the following reform measures would improve things considerably:

  • Give school districts more latitude in placing teachers and more power to fire poor performers.
  • Ditch the step-and-ladder pay scale and pay good teachers more to work in impoverished areas.
  • Demand good results from all teachers and pay them accordingly.
  • Insist that ed schools teach prospective teachers effective classroom management techniques.
  • Get rid of seniority, tenure and the endless dismissal statutes that exist in many states.

Harping on the race angle and blaming teachers for discriminatory practices are needless distractions that do no kid of any color or ethnicity any good. In fact, the DOJ report will make things worse.

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

California Teachers Association: Clichés-R-Us

CTA ends 2013 spewing meaningless bromides in an effort to convince us that the union is the victim and the Students Matter lawsuit is the work of a vast corporate conspiracy.

On January 27th, the Students Matter (Vergara v. California) case starts in Los Angeles. John Fensterwald explains that the lawsuit

… asserts that five “outdated statutes” prevent administrators from making employment decisions in students’ interest. The tenure statute forces districts to decide after teachers are on the job only 18 months whether to grant them permanent job status. Once granted tenure, they gain due-process rights that make it expensive and difficult to fire them even if they’re “grossly ineffective.” And then, when an economic downturn comes – witness the last four years – a Last In/First Out (LIFO) requirement leads to layoffs based strictly on seniority, not competency.

If successful, this lawsuit will remove the tenure, seniority and arcane dismissal statutes from the California education code and render them unconstitutional, thus making it easier to get rid of incompetent and criminal teachers while outlawing seniority as a method of teacher-retention. (It’s worth noting that the Students Matter lawsuit doesn’t ask the court to devise specific policy solutions, leaving those decisions to local districts as they are in 33 other states.) While this litigation will help all students in the state, inner-city kids would benefit the most. As I wrote in City Journal last year,

Struggling inner-city schools end up suffering the most, as the lawsuit states: “One recent study showed that a school in the highest poverty quartile is 65 percent more likely to have a teacher laid off than a school in the lowest poverty quartile. As a result of seniority-based layoffs, the highest poverty schools in California are likely to lose 30 percent more teachers than wealthier schools. The disproportionate number of vacancies in those schools are then filled by transferring lower performing teachers, including grossly ineffective teachers, from other schools.”

Though not named in the lawsuit, the teachers unionsrefusing to sit by and accept a change in rules that would benefit students at their expense intervened as defendants. In the recent edition of California Educator, the California Teachers Association’s bimonthly magazine for teachers, the union tries to explain to its members that the lawsuit is the work of the devil; in doing so, it manages to haul out every platitude it could muster from its amply furnished cliché closet, attempting to convince all concerned that it is a beleaguered but scrappy David fighting against a corporate Goliath.

The magazine piece is rife with the typical fallacious, over-the-top talking points the union rolls out on a regular basis. To kick things off, CTA president Dean Vogel is quoted:

It’s disappointing because putting professional rights of teachers on trial hurts students…. This most recent shenanigan by corporate special interests and billionaires to push their education agenda on California public schools is resulting in a waste of taxpayer dollars and time — time that should be spent focusing on providing a quality education to all students as the economy improves. CTA will continue to fight to ensure we have qualified and experienced teachers in the classrooms whose rights are respected as set forth by law, and not subject to arbitrary and capricious behavior or favoritism.

There are several things seriously wrong with his statement. Yes, people with money are behind the suit. Lawyers don’t work for free and the poor children who have been victimized by the current system don’t have deep pockets. And what corporate agenda is he talking about? Usually this scare statement refers to the allegation that corporations want to take over and privatize education. This lawsuit is attempting to do no such thing; it is simply trying to make public education better. And his last point is a real howler. CTA does not, I repeat, does not fight to have qualified teachers in every classroom. They fight to keep every teacher – qualified or not – on the job to ensure their bottom line is not affected. Unfortunately this means that in addition to good and great teachers, the union also fights to keep stinkers and pedophiles alone with your children seven hours a day, five days a week.

The article then goes on to say,

The officially named plaintiffs in Vergara are nine California public school students. But the real driver of the suit appears to be a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, David Welch. Welch created the nonprofit Students Matter for the purpose of bankrolling this suit, and has hired a legal team at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, a law firm that counts Wal-Mart among its many corporate clients, to make his case.

Yeah, let’s disregard the plight of nine students who have been victimized by CTA-supported laws. Instead, let’s focus on the fact that the man behind the suit has hired lawyers from a firm that has Walmart as a client. Are we supposed to summon up a collective gasp over this?

The union then trots out two favorite bogeymen: school funding and poverty:

Educators are the first to say California can do more to help improve our schools. There are many challenges, including poverty, a lack of adequate funding and resources for education …

The “lack of funding” and poverty excuses are staples with teachers unions and their fellow travelers. They are also lies. The party line is 1) we don’t spend enough on education and 2) poverty makes students unable to learn. As far as financial outlay, Cato’s Andrew Coulson reports that we have seen a tripling of education funding – in constant dollars – nationally (doubling in CA) over the last 40 years and have nothing to show for it. And in fact, the reality is that ineffective teachers are a cause of poverty. Discussing this issue, RiShawn Biddle writes,

…Overhauling American public education is critical to fighting poverty for the long haul. Revamping how the nation’s ed schools recruit and train aspiring teachers, for example, would help all children get the high-quality instruction that is the most-important in-school factor in student achievement. Just as importantly, reforming education can even help address the immediate problems that stem from poverty.

Next, the union complains that there is a lack of adequate support for teachers, claiming there are (unnamed) reports of them leaving the profession in unprecedented numbers” because of it.

This lie is repeated with such regularity that many take it as gospel. Yes, some teachers do leave because of education-related issues, but Mike Antonucci outlines the primary reasons they drop out.

  • 31.4 percent retired.
  • 20.4 percent cited “other family or personal reasons.”
  • 18.7 percent cited “pregnancy or child rearing.”
  • 14.6 percent were laid off or otherwise left involuntarily.
  • 11.8 percent cited “health.”
  • 11.2 percent changed residence.
  • 8.9 percent cited the desire “to take courses to improve career opportunities within the field of education.”

And saving the most cliché-ridden talking point for last, CTA again takes aim at corporate devils and their alleged blood lust for teachers’ “rights.”

Educator rights and due process protections have become favorite targets of those who seek to corporatize and privatize education…

Due process? No. Undue and never ending process. Because of CTA’s powerful lobbying, here is how ineffective teachers are dismissed in California:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To put those numbers in perspective, that means .003 percent of teachers are dismissed in CA every year. And it costs school districts up to $500,000 just to get rid of one of them.

It is critical that teachers and, in fact, all citizens educate themselves and not fall for the union’s tired claptrap. Perpetuating CTA’s clichés gives the teaching profession a black eye, and does a disservice to six million California school kids, their parents and taxpayers alike.

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

Corporate Screed

American Federation of Teachers led “National Day of Action” is a clear indicator that teachers unions are losing clout.

On December 9th, we will be treated to the “National Day of Action,” a day cooked up by the American Federation of Teachers and supported by the National Education Association and various fellow travelers. After reading through some of AFT’s pointed literature, the union’s bête noire becomes obvious. Its manifesto, “The Principles That Unite Us,” includes numerous references to corporate reform, the corporate agenda, corporate interests, etc.

But of course it can’t be that all corporations are evil. After all, teachers unions are corporations. In fact, according to their latest tax returns, the two national teachers unions brought in over $550,000,000 in revenue in 2011. (Unlike conventional corporations that are taxed at the world’s highest rate, union corporations don’t have to pay one cent in taxes … but I digress.)

So what it comes down to is market share. You see, the teachers unions’ emphasis on collective bargaining, seniority, tenure, endless dismissal statutes, etc., are in a death battle with reformers – parents, privatizers, charter schools and taxpayers and the unions are losing the fight. But unlike other enterprises, they don’t bother trying to come up with a better education product. Instead, they just demonize the competition – in this case, other corporations.

One of their sillier arguments is that corporate interests are involved in reform for the money.  Really? Bill Gates, one of the chief corporate entrepreneurs of our time, has so much money he can’t give it away fast enough. Actually, Gates, the Walton Foundation, Eli Broad, etc. are not pushing education reform to get wealthy; they are doing it to ameliorate what has become a very troubled education system that is dominated in most states – and greatly damaged – by the teachers unions. (Interestingly, the teachers unions are biting the corporate hand that feeds them: Gates has given the NEA and AFT over $20.7 million in grants since 2008.) 

Perhaps the most outspoken of the anti-corporate crowd is writer David Sirota, an avowed leftist who at one time was an aide to the socialist congressman from Vermont (now socialist senator) Bernie Sanders. Sirota declares that school reformers “are full of it.”

And the more education “reformers” try to distract from it, the more they will expose the fact that they aren’t driven by concern for kids but by the ugliest kind of greed – the kind that feigns concerns for kids in order to pad the corporate bottom line.

In a 2011 Salon.com screed, Sirota spells out his abject hatred for all things corporate, claiming that these entities are in it for “self-interest” and mentions why in three bullet points.

Self-Interest No. 1: Pure Profit – First and foremost, there’s a ton of money to be made in the education “reforms” that Big Money interests are advocating.

Yes, there is some money to be made by online academies, test publishers, etc. But as mentioned above, the vast majority of “Big Money interests” don’t need education reforms to become rich.

Self-Interest No. 2: Changing the Subject From Poverty and Inequality – Inconvenient as it is to corporate education “reformers,” the well-proven fact is that poverty — not teacher quality, union density or school structure — is the primary driver of student achievement.

Wrong again. It has been repeatedly proven that poverty doesn’t cause an inferior education. However, a bad education can certainly lead to poverty. In response to a post by former teacher Anthony Cody, education pundit RiShawn Biddle eloquently lays waste to the poverty-trumps-all argument. Several examples of Biddle’s wisdom on the subject:

As with so many traditionalists, Cody would rather ignore the fact that reformers actually do talk plenty about addressing poverty, just not in the manner that fits his impoverished worldview on the role education plays in addressing those issues. He also ignores the reality that the education spending has continued to increase for the past five decades, and that much of the troubles with American public education has little to do with money than with the fact that so much school funding is trapped by practices such as degree- and seniority-based pay scales for teachers that have no correlation with improving student achievement. But those are matters for a later day. Why? Because Cody’s puts on full displays the problems of the poverty mythmaking in which he and other traditionalists engage.

… the biggest problem with Cody’s piece lies with its rather unjustified contention that anti-poverty programs are the long-term solutions for fighting poverty. One only needs to look at the history of government-run anti-poverty efforts, and pay attention to today’s knowledge-based economy, to understand why this version of the Poverty Myth of Education has no standing.

If anything, many of the anti-poverty programs (including welfare) has helped foster what Leon Dash would call the pestilences of gang warfare, drug dealing and unwed motherhood that have plagued Black America and Latino communities. Federal welfare rules barring married women from receiving benefits, for example, is one reason why marriage among poor blacks has gone from being the norm to being extraordinarily rare since the 1950s — and why 70 percent of black children are born out of wedlock.

anti-poverty programs and quality-of-life efforts aren’t going to address the reality that 1.4 million fourth-graders who are functionally illiterate are likely to drop out in eight years. More importantly, we cannot ignore the consequences of American public education’s failures on the very communities at which its schools are the center of the lives of the children who live in them. This can only be addressed by overhauling how (we) educate all children — especially our poorest. They deserve better than last-class schools.

Self-interest No. 3: New Front in the War on Unions – Today, unions are one of the last — and, unfortunately, weakening — obstacles to corporations’ having complete control of the American political system.

Weakening? Yes, he is on to something here, but this is happening mostly where teachers have a choice whether or not to join, and many are choosing the latter.

Sirota ends his essay with the following:

Teachers unions’ self-interest means advocating for better teacher salaries and job security — an agenda item that would, among other things, allow the teaching profession (as in other nations) to financially compete for society’s “best and brightest” and in the process help kids. The unions’ self-interest also means advocating for decent workplace facilities, which undeniably benefits not only the teacher, but also students….

Corporate education “reformers’” self-interest, by contrast, means advocating for policies that help private corporations profit off of public schools, diverting public attention from an anti-poverty economic agenda, and busting unions that prevent total oligarchical control of America’s political system. In short, it’s about the profit, stupid.

Neither side’s self-interest is perfectly aligned with the goal of bettering our education system. But one side is clearly far more aligned with that goal than the other.

Interesting that Sirota would end on an Ayn Randian note, pointing out the reality and morality of self-interest. But his ideas about the “anti-poverty economic agenda” and the unions preventing “oligarchical control of America’s political system” are dead wrong.  His last sentence is true, but he has picked the wrong side. “Corporate reformers” cannot possibly do any more damage to public education than the unions have. And thankfully – not a moment too soon – the public is finally waking up to that fact.

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

Labor Stains

A new American Federation of Teachers financial report shows that the union has not modified its anti-child and anti-conservative stance.

Courtesy of education writer RiShawn Biddle, we get to peek at the latest edition of the American Federation of Teachers LM-2, a yearly financial report detailing union income and spending.

No surprises. Just the same old same old blatant hypocrisy, anti-education reform agenda and leftist political bent.

We’ll start with AFT president Rhonda (please call me Randi) Weingarten who pulled in a cool $543,150 in total compensation over the last year, all the while railing against the rich because she claims they don’t pay their fair share of taxes. Of course this is the same Randi Weingarten who moved out of New York City in 2012 so that she could escape paying an additional $30,000 in city income taxes.

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t begrudge anyone using any legal tactics to avoid paying abusive taxes, but when a person who regularly whines that the rich “should pay their fair share” does it, the hypocrisy meter goes well into the red zone. It’s also hypocritical because her one-percenter salary is paid by teachers who are forced to join her union in just about every school district that AFT represents. Throughout ancient times, this kind of coerced fealty was required by powerful states and empires. “Tribute” was forced on people around the world, who had to pay up as a way of submitting – or showing allegiance – to the government. Tribute was picked up in essence in the last century by the Mafia as a means of establishing and maintaining turf. The teachers unions are just the latest bunch to adapt this repulsive practice as a way to line the pockets of the dons – I mean union leaders.

When it comes to political spending, AFT doesn’t skimp. Their anti-education reform spending and other political outlay is reported to be about $32 million. I say “reported to be” because unions have been known to – how you say – lie about their spending. For example, according to teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci, in the 2008 election cycle, the National Education Association

dropped $260,000 on one of the many front groups operated by Craig Varoga and George Rakis, two men Fox News identifies as “Democratic Party strategists.”  

Readers of this blog will not find such news surprising, but if you delve through the pertinent EIA list of NEA donations to advocacy groups, you won’t find this money. That’s because the expenditures are listed in NEA’s financial disclosure report as expenses for “media,” going to Independent Strategies, one of Rakis and Varoga’s groups, for “generalized message, program expenses,” or “membership communication development,” or “legislative policy development.” Without further information, it was difficult to justify classifying Independent Strategies as an advocacy group. This news, however, suggests NEA’s advocacy spending extends well beyond the easily identifiable groups.

In any event, AFT’s latest battles against education reform have been centered on Michigan and Pennsylvania – the former because it recently stopped forcing its teachers to join the union as a condition of employment and the latter because of a squabble over education funding.

As Biddle points out,

It poured $1.3 million into its Michigan affiliate during 2012-2013; this included $140,776 to the unit’s “solidarity fund” and $240,828 for political activities related to efforts to beat back reformers in the Wolverine State … Altogether, the AFT has poured $2.7 million into the Michigan affiliate over the past two fiscal years…

Meanwhile in Pennsylvania, the AFT has worked with its Keystone State affiliate to challenge school reform efforts as well as take on moves by Gov. Tom Corbett to reduce education spending. These efforts, along with the move by Philadelphia’s traditional district to shut down 23 schools, was why Randi has spent time in the state (including getting herself arrested by police back in March during a protest at the district’s board meeting). The union poured $696,256 into the Pennsylvania affiliate, including $238,670 for political activities. The AFT also found outfits willing to take its contributions. Youth United for Change, which has held protests against Corbett’s budget moves, received $25,000 from the AFT, while ACTION United picked up $25,252 from union coffer.

In Michigan, Pennsylvania and elsewhere, it is important to note that the unions’ efforts are – not surprisingly – simply an effort to protect its members’ jobs and perks. They have nothing to do with children. This is understandable – that’s their mandate – but they should at least admit it (which they never do). Like cowards, the unions hide behind the children to advance their agenda.

For example, my post last week concerned itself with the situation in Philadelphia, and I included a letter to The Wall Street Journal from Ms. Weingarten, who was responding to an editorial critical of the Philadelphia Teachers Union. Weingarten wrote that Governor Tom Corbett “continues to rob Philadelphia’s students of much-needed funding to further his anti-teacher ideology.” Her “robbing students” claim is based on the fact that the governor is tying a funding infusion to the elimination of the archaic, child-unfriendly, and industrial-style seniority system, in addition to a mandate to hold teachers accountable for student learning.

Another huge chunk of AFT political spending is on issues that have nothing to do with education. And despite the fairly evenly divided political leanings of its membership, the groups that receive millions from the union have one thing in common – they lean to the left; not one penny of the union’s donations go to anything approaching a right-of-center organization. A few examples of AFT’s largess:

National Immigration Forum Action Fund

National Journal Group Inc

Netroots Foundation

Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network

The Atlantic

Alliance for Retired Americans

American Labor Studies Center

Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance

Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence

Clinton Global Initiative

Congressional Black Caucus Foundation

Economic Policy Institute

Institute for Women’s Policy Research

National Council of La Raza

NAACP

Rainbow PUSH Coalition

The American Prospect

The Nation Institute

So, the union forcibly takes money from teachers and spends much of it in a way that not only hurts children, but also goes against the political beliefs of many of its members. If pointing out these hypocrisies and injustices makes me a “union basher,” I am (proudly) guilty as charged.

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

Justice Belied

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The CSBA adds,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chicago Teachers Union and Friends Become UNglued

An ill wind blows hot air in the Windy City.

Like Detroit, Chicago is a city in dire fiscal straits – it is depopulating and its debt is in the stratosphere. The school system alone, hardly a crown jewel, is dealing with a $1 billion deficit. For a variety of reasons, the city’s student population has been dwindling since the 1960s, and in March the school district announced its plan to close 54 sparsely populated campuses. (The number has since been revised to 49.) As RiShawn Biddle wrote at the time,

Chicago’s enrollment of 404,584 children is a third smaller than the number of kids served by the district during the 1960s. Three hundred thirty of the district’s 616 schools — more than half of the district’s portfolio — operate below capacity, with 137 of them half-empty. At some schools, including Drake Elementary School in the city’s Bronzeville section, and an elementary school named for hometown hero Emmett Till (whose murder in Mississippi by two men offended by his violation of Jim Crow segregation spurred the modern civil rights movement), just two out of every five seats are filled during the school year.

Needless to say, the local and national teachers unions are horrified by the closings, but as a fact sheet released by the Chicago Public School system (CPS) points out, the action is necessary and will have little impact on the city’s kids.

The story was on the back-burner for a while but was rekindled in June when Chicago Teacher Union (CTU) President Karen I-never-fail-to-be-offensive Lewis, went on a tear and blamed “rich white people” for the educational woes of minority kids. But as Juan Williams points out,

The latest statistics show only 63 percent of Chicago public school students graduating in 2013 and that is an increase over recent years. Among the city’s 8th grade students, 79 percent are not at reading level. Meanwhile, Lewis’ union has made Chicago’s public school teachers’ salaries among the highest in the nation at an annual average of $74,839.

But the only school reform Lewis advocates is higher taxes on Chicago’s property owners and she describes it as a tax hike on upper-income whites. She also wants new taxes on all financial transfers as well as a commuter tax, which she concludes will principally impact, once again, the target of her anger, well-to-do whites.

Lewis, a black woman and highly educated Dartmouth graduate, also argued that the city’s white, Jewish mayor, Rahm Emanuel, his aides and the city’s “venture capitalists” are guilty of using “little black and brown children as stage props at one press conference while announcing they want to fire, layoff or lock up their parents at another press conference.”

Then, in mid-July, CPS took another hit when the city announced it would have to lay off another 2,100 teachers and support staff, bringing the total number of pink slips to 3,600 in two months. As usual, Lewis aimed her arrows outside the bloated and wasteful school system itself for solutions and came up with …yawn …. raising the state income tax.

… ballooning pension and labor costs, and billion dollar deficit, could be solved if the state would simply raise its income tax and start giving the new money to Chicago schools.

We need to close some corporate loopholes.  We need to look at a financial transaction tax.  

We also need to go to Springfield to get rid of this regressive flat tax.  We need a progressive income tax. 

At the same time, CTU involved itself in a bizarre stratagem. The union and a motley collection of fellow travelers, including terrorist Bill Ayers, unrepentant communist Michael Klonsky and Action Now (ACORN reincarnated) petitioned the United Nations, sending a “letter of allegation” to Geneva asking the international organization to investigate whether the closing of 49 Chicago schools “violates children’s human rights.” Seriously. You can’t make this stuff up.

“The United Nations taking this issue up and giving it serious attention will really bring home to Chicago and the United States that there are violations occurring here of human rights, potentially, not just about a budget crisis,” said Sital Kalantry, the University of Chicago law professor who filed the letter on behalf of the Midwest Coalition for Human Rights.

Apparently, the fact that the United Nations – thankfully – has no influence over internal American affairs is not of interest to these folks. Their entreaty to the UN is especially ironic considering the world body’s own appalling record on human rights. Most notably, Sudan – with its long history of slavery continuing to this day – is on the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Additionally, the proud slave-owning country was laughably and tragically represented on the UN Commission on Human Rights until that body disbanded in 2006.

Obviously the UN isn’t much concerned with things like slavery. So what does this august body do for humanity? Right about the time the CTU and pals submitted their petition, the UN was busy passing a resolution declaring November 19thWorld Toilet Day.” This solemn recognition joins a host of UN efforts to be really important and make a difference in the world. Other “days” it acknowledges are “International Mountain Day” (December 11th), “World Migratory Bird Day” (May 11th) and “World Television Day” (November 21st).

Rumor has it that when the Chicago folks realize the UN is as serious about human rights as a clown college, they will move on, undaunted, to examine other options. As such, Bashar al-Assad, the Castro brothers, Robert Mugabe and Kim Jung Un are advised to keep their cell phones charged.

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

The Media and Teachers Unions: Creepy Crass Actors

Joining a racially charged situation, largely inflamed by the media, the nation’s teachers unions hypocritically play the civil rights card.

To acknowledge the obvious, the February 26, 2012 events in Sanford, FL were tragic. Trayvon Martin is dead and George Zimmerman will be haunted – and very possibly hunted – for the rest of his life. While there are gray areas of the incident where good people can disagree, there is one overarching truth that cannot be denied: Much of the nation’s mainstream media behaved in a downright despicable way. They have done everything possible to stoke racial tensions with exaggeration, misrepresentation, pandering, deceit and lies. Just a few examples:

  • March 21, 2012 – CNN accused Zimmerman of using a racial slur, which two weeks later it later retracted.
  • March 22, 2012 – Zimmerman, of mixed race, was dubbed by the New York Times a “white Hispanic.”
  • March 27, 2012 – NBC edited a tape to make Zimmerman appear to be a racist.
  • March 28, 2012 – ABC News falsely claims Zimmerman wasn’t injured the night of shooting.

The whole narrative of Zimmerman as a rabid Klansman also disintegrates when you look at what the vast majority of the media didn’t report:

  • He is of white and Afro-Peruvian descent.
  • He and a black friend partnered in opening an insurance office in a Florida.
  • He’d engaged in notably un-racist behavior, such as taking a black girl to his high-school prom.
  • He tutored underprivileged black kids.
  • He launched a campaign to help a homeless black man who was beaten up by the son of a white cop.

Now here’s where we go from contemptible to perverse. The heads of the two national teachers unions – Dennis Van Roekel (National Education Association) and Randi Weingarten (American Federation of Teachers) – are leading the charge to put Zimmerman behind bars by any means necessary. The two bosses urged their members to sign petitions to the Justice Department, saying that “Zimmerman must face the consequences of his actions.”

All of a sudden the teachers unions are worried about civil rights??!! What a brazen and sleazy attempt to divert attention from their day-to-day “we-really-don’t-give-a-crap-about-the-kids-but-can’t-come-out-and-directly-say-it” modus operandi. To wit:

  • In 2009, desperate to kill Washington, D.C.’s popular and successful opportunity scholarship program, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel wrote a threatening letter to every Democratic member of Congress. The union boss clearly declared that NEA strongly opposes the continuation of the DC private school voucher program. He went on to say that he expected that any member of Congress whom the union has supported will vote against extending the program and warned that, “Actions associated with these issues WILL be included in the NEA Legislative Report Card for the 111th Congress … Vouchers are not real education reform. . . . Opposition to vouchers is a top priority for NEA.”

The sad fact is that DC public schools have the lowest NAEP scores and the highest dropout rate in the country, whereas just about every student in the voucher program graduates from high school, almost all of them going on to college. The fact that thousands of children, a great majority of whom are African-American, would be forced to remain in their failing schools, thus closing the door on their future, didn’t seem to faze Mr. Van Roekel one bit. 

  • In 2011, AFT’s state affiliate in Connecticut neutered a Parent Trigger law and bragged about how it managed to snooker the mostly-minority parents. The union went so far as to post the step-by-step process on its website. Fortunately, writer RiShawn Biddle managed to save the document before AFT pulled the webpage, having realized that their gloating might not be in sync with its pro-minority persona. Parent leader Gwen Samuel, an African-American mother of two, saw through the union’s malfeasance, however. “When will parents matter?” she asks.
  • In 2011, the ACLU filed a lawsuit that would have exempted 45 of the worst schools in Los Angeles – predominantly black and Hispanic – from teacher union-mandated seniority rules, enabling those schools to keep good teachers instead of being subjected to constant turnover. In an Orwellian statement, United Teachers of Los Angeles elementary vice-president Julie Washington fumed,

This settlement will do nothing to address the inequities suffered by our most at-risk students. It is a travesty that this settlement, by avoiding real solutions and exacerbating the problem, actually undermines the civil and constitutional rights of our students.

The suit was successful, but subsequently the ruling was overturned on a technicality. Having no concern about the rights of the minority children disparately affected by the archaic last-in, first out statute, UTLA was thrilled.

  • If successful, the Students Matter  (Vergara v. California) lawsuit in California will remove the tenure, seniority and arcane dismissal statutes from the state education code, thus making it easier to get rid of incompetent and criminal teachers. While this lawsuit will help all students in the state, inner-city kids would benefit the most.

Collectively, the laws Vergara v. California challenges deprive those students arbitrarily assigned to the classrooms of ineffective teachers of their fundamental and constitutionally guaranteed right to equal opportunity to access quality education.

Though not named in the suit, the teachers unions just couldn’t sit idly by and accept a change in the rules that would benefit kids at their expense.

Two state teachers unions – the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers – released a joint press release … announcing that they had filed a motion “to intervene in litigation.” This means that CTA and CFT would like to be become involved in the case because they feel that the current defendants – the state and the school districts – are not adequately representing the interests of their teachers, whose rights they maintain could be adversely affected by the case.

There are countless other examples which exemplify the fact that the teachers unions’ raison d’être is preserving their influence, and doing so by any means necessary. That minority children are the ones who suffer the most from the unions’ ongoing power-lust is of no concern to them. That these raving hypocrites are now grandstanding and calling for the scalp of George Zimmerman boggles the mind.

Of course, it is highly unlikely that you will be reading about this latest outrage in the mainstream media. Like the teachers unions, these bad actors are doing their best to push their agenda and con the public.

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

The Parent Revolution and the Ancien Régime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just where are we now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

School Threat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Huh?

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

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

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

Here is my lifelong wish for him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps Whitney Tilson said it best in an email:

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

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

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

Leonie Haimson: Teacher Union Advocate

Is it okay for a “parent advocate” to send her kids to a private school while maintaining that your kids remain in a failing government run school?

Last week, via the blogosphere, we learned that education reform leader Michelle Rhee sends one of her two kids to a private school. One post asks the question, “Should we care?”

The answer is, “Of course not.”

Through StudentsFirst, Rhee champions the best education opportunities for all kids whether they be traditional public, charter or private schools. Additionally, she is in favor of vouchers or opportunity scholarships. As chancellor of Washington D.C. schools from 2007-2010, she sent her kids to a public school. But now one of her two daughters (both of whom live in Tennessee with her first husband) goes to a private school. Hence, she is not doing anything for her own kids that she wouldn’t advocate for any other parent.

Then we have “parent advocate” Leonie Haimson. As reported by the GothamSchools blog last week,

Leonie Haimson’s career as a New York City education activist started when her older child was assigned to a first-grade class with 28 other students. That was in 1996, and since then, Haimson has advocated for public school parents — through her organization, Class Size Matters; the blog and online mailing lists she runs; and the national parent group she helped launch.

But her personal stake changed last summer, when Haimson ceased to be a public school parent. Her younger child started at a private high school in September, following a trajectory from public to private school that her older child, now an adult, also took.

If it’s okay for activist Rhee to send one of her kids to a private school, why not activist Haimson? The answer is that Haimson, founder of Class Size Matters, who also fronts a faux parent advocacy group called Parents Across America, doesn’t want your kids to have the same opportunity that hers do. She is anti-charter, anti-voucher, anti-any choice and wants to force your kids to stay in public schools no matter how awful they may be. In other words, she is a hypocrite. As an editorial in the New York Post states,

Guess who sends her kids to private school when they reach high school age? That’s right: longtime public school parent-activist Leonie Haimson.

Fine by us. Like any parent, she’s entitled to do what’s best for her children — and private schools by and large provide more, and often better, choices for city kids.

But what about parents who want similar choices yet don’t have the resources? Increasingly, they turn to charter schools — public schools with more rigorous standards and non-union staffs.

… Haimson specifically cites her pet issue: smaller class sizes in private schools. (She runs the group Class Size Matters.) Yet, even though charters often have smaller classes, she continues to fight them.

Haimson is also against colocating charters in traditional public school space, despite the fact that charters don’t receive public funds to build or lease facilities.

What the Post editorial doesn’t mention is that Haimson is a member in good standing of the National Education Association Church, which is hardly surprising since she is in part bankrolled by the union. She consistently mouths teacher union dogma – bashing school choice, defending tenure and seniority, insisting that smaller classes are the sine qua non of reform – and even has gone so far as to defend the Chicago Teachers Union and its outrageous strike last September.

As Democrats for Education Reform president Joe Williams said,

She keeps choosing to defend the same awful schools she would never allow her kids to attend.

Not surprisingly, Diane Ravitch, who is on the Class Size Matters board and has been paid handsomely as an NEA spokesperson, rushed to defend Haimson with some incoherent comments:

You can see why powerful people would want to discredit her. She is a force, she has a large following, and she threatens them.

Consider the premise of the article: only public school parents may advocate for public schools.

This is classic corporate reform ideology. Corporate reformers use this specious ideology to argue for the parent trigger, claiming that the school belongs to the parents and they should be “empowered” to seize control and give it to a charter corporation.

Classic corporate reform ideology? Huh?!

Perhaps Dropout Nation’s RiShawn Biddle sums it up best,

… it is nice to see GothamSchools’ Geoff Decker do stellar work in breaking news yesterday on this contradiction between Haimson’s public criticism of expanding school choice and her very private decision to embrace it. And even nicer to see how her fellow traditionalists (including Ravitch) are attempting to justify her … instead of arguing for providing poor and minority families with the range of options to which Haimson (along with many of them) avails herself. This matter speaks louder than words to their amorality and intellectual charlatanism.

One other thing. Wondering about the name of Haimson’s organization Class Size Matters? In most cases it doesn’t.  But gross hypocrisy always does.

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

The Good, the Ugly and the Uglier

After a loss in Indiana, the teachers unions’ war on education intensifies in Chicago and California.

In 2011, Indiana passed a school choice bill which currently allows 9,300 kids from low and middle income families with household income below 150 percent of school lunch eligibility to receive vouchers equal to between 50 and 90 percent of state per-pupil education funding to use at any of 289 schools – some of which provide religious education – that participate in the Choice Scholarship Program.

Not surprisingly, upon passage of the bill the National Education Association and its state affiliate, the Indiana State Teachers Association, sued to stop it with claims that “letting families use the vouchers at religious schools violated the state constitution’s religion clauses.”

But last week, in a resounding 5-0 decision, the unions’ plea was denied.

‘We find it inconceivable’ the justices wrote that the framers meant to prohibit government spending from which a religious institution could ultimately benefit. Everything from police protection to city sidewalks benefit religious institutions, but ‘the primary beneficiary is the public,’ and any benefits to religious groups are ‘ancillary and indirect,’ said the ruling. ‘The direct beneficiaries under the voucher program are the families of eligible students and not the schools selected by the parents for their children to attend.’

Part of the unions’ case was based on the Catholic-bashing Blaine Amendment. As Mike Antonucci writes:

The Indiana Supreme Court ruled unanimously today that the state’s school voucher program is constitutional. This is good news for supporters of school choice, and bad news for teachers’ unions. But the Indiana ruling is especially interesting since it may sound the death knell for legal challenges to vouchers based on states’ Blaine Amendments.

Indiana is one of 37 states with a constitutional provision prohibiting – in varying degrees – the use of state funds to benefit religious or sectarian institutions. The amendments are named after Rep. James G. Blaine of Maine, who as Speaker of the House tried to get a similar provision amended to the U.S. Constitution in 1875. Although the Blaine Amendments were closely associated with anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant bigotry in the 19th century, they made a handy argument against school vouchers in the 20th and 21st centuries.

The title of Antonucci’s post asks, “Is James G. Blaine Finally Dead?” The answer is very possibly yes, and that would most certainly be a good thing.

Moving on to California, the Vergara v. State of California case was back in the news last week. The suit was filed in May 2012 by Students Matter, a nonprofit founded by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch. As I wrote in June, the goal of the suit is to get the seniority, tenure and dismissal statutes out of the state education code and leave these policy decisions to local school districts – as is done in 33 other states.

The student plaintiffs attend school in four districts, though the complaint targets only two—Los Angeles Unified and Alum Rock Elementary Unified in San Jose. Other named defendants include California governor Jerry Brown, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, the state of California, the state board of education, and the state department of education. Students Matter is determined to ensure ‘that the policies embodied in the California Code of Education place the interests of students first and promote the goal of having an effective teacher in every classroom’

… Currently, California schools don’t take teacher effectiveness into account when making layoff decisions. The newest hires are the first to go, and senior teachers have their pick of schools. Struggling inner-city schools end up suffering the most, as the lawsuit states: “One recent study showed that a school in the highest poverty quartile is 65 percent more likely to have a teacher laid off than a school in the lowest poverty quartile. As a result of seniority-based layoffs, the highest poverty schools in California are likely to lose 30 percent more teachers than wealthier schools. The disproportionate number of vacancies in those schools are then filled by transferring lower performing teachers, including grossly ineffective teachers, from other schools.

Hardly a radical fix to a serious problem. But of course, never missing a chance to block child-friendly reform, two state teachers unions – the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers – released a joint press release this past week announcing that they had filed a motion “to intervene in litigation.” This means that CTA and CFT would like to be become involved in the case because they feel that the current defendants – the state and the school districts – are not adequately representing the interests of their teachers, whose rights they maintain could be adversely affected by the case.

The unions declare that if the suit is upheld, it will be more difficult “to attract and retain quality teachers in California’s schools.”

That’s a ridiculous assertion.  For one, do “quality” teachers really care about seniority? I suspect that the “quality” teachers-of-the-year who got pink slipped while their less talented colleagues kept their jobs are not all that jazzed by the “last in/first out” clause. The press release then proceeds to spout the usual blather – in which the unions pretend to really, really care about parents and children while at the same time taking a swipe at wealthy people who they insist want to usurp public education for their own personal gain.

“The people who agreed to lend their names to this wrong-headed lawsuit are attempting to crowd out the voices of all other parents in California.  We should be working to bring students, parents and teachers together — not driving them apart. Legislation, informed by the experience and testimony of all members of the education community, is the best process for improving public education,” said CFT President Josh Pechthalt, parent of an eighth-grade student in the Los Angeles Unified School District. “The real agenda of this suit is to attack and weaken teachers and their unions in order to privatize public schools and turn them into profit centers for the corporate sponsors behind the lawsuit.”

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

This kind of demagogic rhetoric is old, tired and just plain ugly. Fortunately, not all that many people are buying it these days.

Then there is Chicago, where its school district is dealing with a $1 billion deficit. For a variety of reasons the city’s school population has been dwindling since the 1960s and there is a move afoot to close 54 sparsely populated campuses. According to RiShawn Biddle,

Chicago’s enrollment of 404,584 children is a third smaller than the number of kids served by the district during the 1960s. Three hundred thirty of the district’s 616 schools — more than half of the district’s portfolio — operate below capacity, with 137 of them half-empty. At some schools,  includes Drake Elementary School in the city’s Bronzeville section, and an elementary school named for hometown hero Emmett Till (whose murder in Mississippi by two men offended by his violation of Jim Crow segregation spurred the modern civil rights movement), just two out of every five seats are filled during the school year.

And, a Chicago Public Schools (CPS) fact sheet tells us:

Population declines over the last decade in both the African American community and in school-aged children are driving the majority of underutilization in our District’s schools. Today, our schools have space for 511,000 children, but only 403,000 are enrolled.

So it certainly seems sensible to shut down some underutilized schools and consolidate their enrollments, right?

Not if you are a union boss. What you do then is come out with a statement, avowing that your main priorities are kids, parents and their neighborhoods, and bolster your case by spouting a bunch of good-sounding half-truths in an attempt to make yourself sound believable. And no one does this kind of chicanery better than American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten.

The AFT stands with teachers, parents, students and other Chicagoans fighting to guarantee every child in Chicago the high-quality neighborhood public school he or she deserves. Chicago’s reckless mass school closure agenda will destabilize neighborhoods, threaten our children’s safety, fail to improve learning or save money, and create a domino effect of destabilization in schools across the city. It is part of a disturbing trend in cities across the country by the powers that be to ignore what parents, students and teachers demand and what our children need in favor of failed policies.

As the CPS fact sheet details, every one of Weingarten’s points is bogus, but then again truth and accuracy emanating from a union leader’s mouth is rare indeed.

When unionistas and their fellow travelers don’t get their way, they typically take to the streets and the Windy City was no exception. The Chicago Teachers Union, led by its thoroughly obnoxious and confrontational leader, Karen Lewis, organized a rally last Wednesday in downtown Chicago. As EAGnews.org writer Brittany Clingen reports,

The event brought out all the usual suspects – the Occupy Chicago contingent, fellow union members from SEIU, members of CORE (Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators) and Action Now, and a general assortment of anti-capitalism protesters who relish any excuse to march around with angry signs held high.

According to CTU President Karen Lewis, the school closings are racially motivated. In her speech delivered to the crowd of approximately 700 gathered in Daley Plaza, she said, “They are closing down schools that have names of African American icons, but they’ll open up schools to put a living billionaire’s name in the front.”

Lewis failed to mention that CPS is approaching an astronomical $1 billion budget deficit. And the schools that are slated to close are either underperforming, underutilized (a school that has far fewer students than its capacity allows) or both. The students whose schools are scheduled to close will either be placed in charter schools or their closest neighborhood schools.

No one present at the rally was able to offer a better alternative to closing the schools, with some even implying that there is some sort of conspiracy going on within CPS.

Ah, nothing quite like race baiting, conspiracy theories and class warfare to get the socialists’ juices flowing. It doesn’t get any better than that, and in front of a willing media, no less!

The political angle was not lost on journalist Michael Volpe, who pointed out,

While the school closures in Chicago may seem to involve only local issues, the protest offered a clear glimpse into one of the most powerful segments of the Left. …(T)eachers unions routinely act in concert with open socialists — because their agendas and leadership merge to an alarming degree. While both claim to represent the interests of “the children” and the downtrodden, their real interest is exploiting the vulnerable to advance the principles of socialism.

Does it get any uglier than 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 with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

Taking the “You” out of Union

Union political power is only as strong as its members’ willingness to give.

Last week, the American Federation of Teacher’s latest union financials (LM-2s) were released. Courtesy of Dropout Nation’s RiShawn Biddle, we learn that in 2011-2012, AFT spent $27 million to “preserve its influence.” Teachers unions spend money in a variety of ways, but the spending is typically about maintaining its power and aggressively promoting a very specific political agenda (all the while paying the union elite quite handsomely.)

On page 5 of this 205 page document, we learn that Randi Weingarten – who claims she identifies with the “99 percenters” and unceasingly promotes class warfare – pulled in a cool $556,981 in total compensation over the past year. This of course puts her, alongside the relentlessly vilified Koch Brothers, firmly in the 1 percent camp. Also, as summarized by Biddle,

Secretary-Treasurer Loretta Johnson (who used to be the union’s executive vice president) picked up $381,614, a mere 3 percent increase. Francine Lawrence, who was elevated to Johnson’s former post (and was previously the head of the union’s Toledo local, best-known for its promoting of the less-than-useful peer review approach to teacher evaluation), earned $297,346 last fiscal year. When one adds in the salary of former Secretary-Treasure Antonia Cortese, the AFT paid its top three officials $1.4 million in 2011-2012, a 12 percent increase over the previous fiscal year… The union’s apparatchiks also earned plenty, but not as much as they did last year. David Dorn, the union’s director of international affairs, for example, collected $193,634 in 2011-2012, less than the $223,965 he made in the previous fiscal year; while the union’s general counsel, David Strom, earned $199,227, a decline from $201,472 in the previous year. Hartina Flournoy, the longtime Democratic Party operative who now serves as Weingarten’s assistant, did see a slight bump in pay (from $231,337 in 2010-2011 to $236,934 in 2011-2012).

While some of the union’s spending is on education-related matters, that money is typically targeted to fight any kind of meaningful reform. For example, in 2011, AFT engaged the NAACP, now on the union’s payroll, to file a lawsuit to keep some children in Harlem in their failing traditional public schools, instead of allowing them to attend nearby superior (non-unionized) charter schools. Also in 2011, AFT worked hard to eviscerate a Parent Trigger law in Connecticut. And then there are the ongoing battles; AFT regularly rails against teacher evaluation laws and virulently opposes any kind of school choice.

But much of the $27 million that AFT spent went to politics and non-education related causes. Not surprisingly, its political spending goes in only one direction – left. Here are a few examples of their largess:

  • Economic Policy Institute – whose mission “is to inform and empower individuals to seek solutions that ensure broadly shared prosperity and opportunity.” If this were an honest statement, the word “opportunity” would have been followed by “as long as the solutions are in sync with the leftist union party line.”
  • The American Prospect – an uber-lefty magazine.
  • The Center for American Progress – a progressive think tank.
  • Rainbow Push – Jesse Jackson’s shakedown organization.
  • National Council of La Raza.
  • American Labor Museum.
  • Various and sundry labor committees.
  • Progressive National Baptist Convention.
  • Etc, etc, etc.

To show how one-sided its political spending is, according to the Center for Responsive politics, in 2011-2012, the AFT spent $768,194 on Democrat candidates for office and $0 on Republicans. This clearly shows a deep disdain for any of its dues payers who happen to be Republican. (While polling numbers on this issue vary, it is safe to say that somewhere between a third and a half of all teachers are politically to the right of center.)

In 27 forced union states, public school teachers must pay to play. They are forced to fork over the part of union dues that is allocated for collective bargaining. But they are not required to pay the portion that is spent on politics. As such, it would behoove all conservative, centrist and politically disinterested teachers to opt out of paying the political part of their union dues. Why should teachers’ dues money go to candidates and causes that they don’t agree with and may indeed find abhorrent?

To avoid bankrolling the union’s political agenda, a teacher must resign from the union, and then ask for a rebate by a certain date every year. For more details on the opt-out process – pros and cons – please visit the website of the California Teachers Empowerment Network, an organization I co-founded six years ago.

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

Povertism

A word that is not in the dictionary but should be, “povertism” aptly describes the philosophy of the “povertists,” aka the “poverty is destiny” crowd.

It is claimed by many that poverty leads to a myriad of personal and social ills. The regnant theme of these poverty cultists is that until we eradicate poverty, unemployment, family dissolution and general ignorance will continue to be a problem. As with any myth, it gains currency because it sounds good.

But a peek below the surface demonstrates that that this belief is just plain wrong. If poverty causes crime and divorce, the Great Depression – the most devastating economic disaster this country has faced – would have seen an upsurge in lawlessness and family break-ups. But in reality, crime and divorce rates went down. In fact, the 1920s – a boom time in America – saw much higher crime rates than the 1930s, a decade when many families fell into abject poverty. And even during the latest recession, many sociologists predicted an uptick in crime, but in fact crime rates actually went down.

Could the opposite be true? Is it possible that poverty is not a cause, but rather a result of crime and family instability? Yes. High crime in a given area chases businesses and jobs away, which in turn leads to an impoverished neighborhood.

In the same vein, government largess, via welfare, has made things worse for children. For decades now, the povertists have contributed to the destabilization of families by incentivizing women not to marry which greatly increases the likelihood of poverty. As economist Walter Williams has pointed out, “The welfare state has done to black Americans what slavery couldn’t do. . . . And that is to destroy the black family.”

When we get to the subject of education, the povertists are light years from reality. The teacher union elites and their fellow travelers – poverty pimps at heart – are relentless in banging the povertism drum. They believe that poverty could be eradicated by pouring money into early childhood education and other sound-good, yet self-serving and failed schemes. “No Education Reform Without Tackling Poverty, Experts Say,” an article on the National Education Association website, typical of the mentality, claims that cuts in education spending will doom many-a-child to a life of poverty. (Never mind that education spending is at an all time high!)

Using an Education Week exchange with former teacher Anthony Cody and the Gates Foundation as his focus, edu-pundit RiShawn Biddle eloquently lays waste to the povertist argument. Several examples of Biddle’s wisdom on the subject:

As with so many traditionalists, Cody would rather ignore the fact that reformers actually do talk plenty about addressing poverty, just not in the manner that fits his impoverished worldview on the role education plays in addressing those issues. He also ignores the reality that the education spending has continued to increase for the past five decades, and that much of the troubles with American public education has little do with money than with the fact that so much school funding is trapped by practices such as degree- and seniority-based pay scales for teachers that have no correlation with improving student achievement. But those are matters for a later day. Why? Because Cody’s puts on full displays the problems of the poverty mythmaking in which he and other traditionalists engage.

…the biggest problem with Cody’s piece lies with its rather unjustified contention that anti-poverty programs are the long-term solutions for fighting poverty. One only needs to look at the history of government-run anti-poverty efforts, and pay attention to today’s knowledge-based economy, to understand why this version of the Poverty Myth of Education has no standing.

If anything, many of the anti-poverty programs (including welfare) has helped foster what Leon Dash would call the pestilences of gang warfare, drug dealing and unwed motherhood that have plagued Black America and Latino communities. Federal welfare rules barring married women from receiving benefits, for example, is one reason why marriage among poor blacks has gone from being the norm to being extraordinarily rare since the 1950s — and why 70 percent of black children are born out of wedlock.

But anti-poverty programs and quality-of-life efforts aren’t going to address the reality that 1.4 million fourth-graders who are functionally illiterate are likely to drop out in eight years. More importantly, we cannot ignore the consequences of American public education’s failures on the very communities at which its schools are the center of the lives of the children who live in them. This can only be addressed by overhauling how (we) educate all children — especially our poorest. They deserve better than last-class schools.

The bottom line here is that the government needs to stop wasting taxpayer dollars by throwing money at poverty. In the world of public education, we have seen a tripling of edu-dollars over the last 40 years and have nothing to show for it. There is an obvious (although politically difficult) solution to our education problem, which Biddle addresses.

…Overhauling American public education is critical to fighting poverty for the long haul. Revamping how the nation’s ed schools recruit and train aspiring teachers, for example, would help all children get the high-quality instruction that is the most-important in-school factor in student achievement. Just as importantly, reforming education can even help address the immediate problems that stem from poverty. After-school programs and extensions of the school day (and year) — the latter of which is a hallmark of the Knowledge Is Power Program and other successful schools and systems — can help poor families address child care issues by providing healthy, crime free, and nurturing environments in which kids can continue learning. Expanding high-quality school choices, including charter schools and school voucher programs, can help revive communities by bringing schools into communities that can appeal to both the poor and middle class. And Parent Trigger laws can empower poor families to take over and lead the overhaul of failure mills in their own communities (and help them take the next step of taking on other challenges in their own neighborhoods).

While we are making some progress in the reform direction that Biddle suggests, we are still too much in thrall to the trappings of povertism and the lies that prop up this sound-good, feel-good philosophy that is destroying our children’s future in the name of saving it.

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