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California school officials use Trump to mask their own failures

In announcing the end of the DACA program two weeks ago, President Trump seemed to fulfill a campaign promise to kill a program he once declared unconstitutional. But later, the president seemed to call for a permanent legislative solution that would grant resident status to people brought illegally to the country as minors. Tweeting that same day, the president said, “Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama Administration was unable to do). If they can’t, I will revisit this issue!”

The nuance – the back-and-forth – was lost on many Obama-haters who celebrated the president. But it was also lost on Trump-haters, including public education officials and union leaders in California. They’ve used President Trump’s non-decision as an opportunity to rally their faithful by terrorizing undocumented families in the state.

California schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson denounced the president’s message as a “mean-spirited, political attack on students who are working hard to succeed.” Randall Booker, superintendent of Piedmont Unified in the Bay Area, said the president had launched a “direct attack on California families and their children.” In a letter to the California congressional delegation, University of California President Janet Napolitano called the president’s non-decision “callous and misguided” and said it “unnecessarily punishes hundreds of thousands of bright young people.”

Within a week of the announcement, closer to home, the board of the Santa Ana Unified School District voted to condemn the president’s move – or rather “non-move,” if you like. The resolution claimed “great uncertainty exists amongst students about what specific immigration policies will be pursued by the federal government, and immigrants and other populations within the SAUSD community are fearful of policies that may result in deportation or forced registration based on immigration status, religion or beliefs.”

I was the sole vote against the resolution, in part because we already passed a resolution in December 2016 asking Congress to act on immigration reform. But I was especially opposed to the resolution because the “uncertainty” it highlights has been caused by the very people behind this and similar resolutions. They are certainly the cause – and, if you believe them, the cure – of communal anxiety.

But I also voted against the resolution because I see it for what it really is: a tactic to transform Washington politics into local anxiety. Panic is useful for teacher’s union leaders and school officials who hope to distract us from the real issue: their failure to educate out students.

Their failure is documented in state tests that show a majority of our school children cannot read or perform math at grade level. Despite that undeniable evidence, SAUSD graduates these students from high school even though they’re unprepared for college or career. That’s a fraud.

Instead of correcting this social injustice, my fellow board members voted last week to condemn the president. That same night, teachers union leaders took their three minutes at the public-comments dais to condemn me for documenting the catastrophic, decades-long slide in student performance.

There is a crisis haunting our community. But it’s not a crisis the president caused. It’s not a crisis emanating from distant Washington, DC. Indeed, in the last several days, the president has begun talking with congressional Democrats about a deal that would permanently resolve the problem of people covered by the DACA program.

No, the crisis that should concern everyone has its origin right here in Santa Ana, California. It has been created by teacher’s union leaders, their allies and school officials who fail to educate generations of our children – and who attempt to distract us by sowing terror.

Under the law, all children, including immigrant children, have the right to a quality public education. Any other conversation is at best a sideshow meant to keep our community down.

This commentary appeared first in the Orange County Register. Cecilia Iglesias is a Santa Ana Unified school board trustee, president of the Parent Union, and director of community relations and education at the California Policy Center in Tustin. Researcher Stuart Clay contributed to this commentary.

 

 

Teachers Unions’ Election Day Thumping

“Teachers Unions Take a Beating in Midterm Races”

“Teachers Unions Take a Shellacking”

“Teachers Unions Get Schooled in 2014 Election”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Washington Free Beacon’s Bill McMorris writes,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Election Lessons for Education Reformers

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

Understand your fight

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember Nixon went to China 

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

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

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

Latino parents are not a Democratic Party debit card.

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

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

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

About the Author:  Gloria Romero, a Los Angeles resident, served in the California Legislature from 1998 to 2008, the last seven years as Senate majority leader. Romero is the founder of the California Center for Parent Empowerment, established by in order to empower public school parents–especially those with children trapped in chronically underperforming schools–to understand and use the Parent Empowerment Act of 2010. This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register and is republished here with permission from the author.

The Sorry, but Unapologetic, Teachers Unions

 Unions demand apologies, but refuse to make any themselves.

The cover of the November 3rd edition of Time Magazine reads “It’s nearly impossible to fire a bad teacher; some tech millionaires may have found a way to change that.” Accompanying the text is a photo of a judge’s gavel about to pound an apple.

Time Magazine rotten apple cover

The story, “The War on Teacher Tenure,” is mostly about the Vergara decision – in which a judge found that the tenure, seniority and dismissal statutes in the California education code are unconstitutional. The article focuses on Vergara’s guiding light – David Welch, a tech titan who has found a second career as an education reformer. It’s a fair piece, and one worthy of discussion.

But instead of delving into the merits of the article, the teacher union elite and fellow travelers went ballistic over the mildly provocative cover – the outrage reaching satirical proportions worthy of The Onion. American Federation of Teachers leader Randi Weingarten said she “felt sick” when she saw it. After ingesting a bowlful of Maalox, the union leader began to organize a protest and circulated a petition demanding an apology from Time Magazine. The AFT claimed the cover “casts teachers as ‘rotten apples’ needing to be smashed by Silicon Valley millionaires with no experience in education.” While the AFT and Weingarten are busy pointing out the lack of teaching experience of technology leaders, they neglect to mention that Weingarten doesn’t have any to speak of either. To puff up her cred, she frequently refers to her “teaching experience,” but it hardly exists; she taught on a per diem basis from 1991-1997 – a total of 122 days. I think the proper term here is “part-time, occasional, temporary sub.”

Time admirably refused to cave in to the unionistas. Instead, it invited various aggrieved parties to respond online. And the teachers union claque did just that, expressing outrage – outrage at the magazine in particular and at “outsiders” in general. National Education Association president Lily Garcia attacked  the “wolves of Wall Street.” Some members of the Badass Teachers Association – a group that claims to represent 53,000 teachers – solemnly intoned, “The gavel as a symbol of corporate education, smashing the apple – the universal symbol of education – reinforces a text applauding yet another requested deathblow to teacher tenure.” In a blog, Badass Teacher Association cofounder Mark Naison wrote, “Time’s campaign epitomizes everything wrong with the crusade for ‘School Reform’ that has become a national obsession since the passage of No Child Left Behind. It is financed and driven by business leaders, not educators.”

With one or two exceptions, they insisted that Time apologize … or else.

But maybe the teachers unions should come up with a few apologies of their own and provide Time a pathway to contrition. For example:

  • Maybe the California Federation of Teachers should apologize for posting a nauseating cartoon on its website in 2012. The Ed Asner narrated presentation promotes class warfare by showing rich folks urinating on poor people.
  • Maybe Randi Weingarten should apologize to Marshall Tuck, who is running for California School Superintendent. Her union financed a slanderous TV ad which, among other things, shows a businessman stealing a child’s lunch, and ridiculously asserts that Tuck will allow corporate fat cats to take over our schools.
  • Maybe The New York State United Teachers – an AFT affiliate – should apologize for a vile mailer it sent picturing a battered woman, suggesting that if Republican Mark Grisanti is elected as state senator, “he won’t protect her from her abuser.” The NYSUT-led campaign is so disgusting that even Democrats have roundly excoriated the union.
  • Maybe Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, should apologize to those of us who have issues with the Common Core State Standards. Doing his best Joe Pesci impersonation, he menacingly seethed at an AFT convention,  “If someone takes something from me (control of the standards), I’m going to grab it right back out of their cold, twisted, sick hands and say it is mine! You do not take what is mine! And I’m going to punch you in the face and push you in the dirt because this is the teachers’! These are our tools and you sick people need to deal with us and the children that we teach. Thank you very much!”
  • Maybe teachers unions should apologize for their collective mantra that “corporations should pay their fair share of taxes.” The atonement is due because, while U.S. corporations have the highest tax rate in the world, the teacher unions don’t pay a penny in taxes. That means that the NEA and AFT bring in about $560 million tax-free dollars year after year. And when you add in the state and local union affiliates, the amount soars to over $2 billion. All tax-free. (In fact it’s not just the teachers unions; no union has to pay any tax on its “earnings.”)
  • Maybe Badass Teachers Association guiding light Mark Naison should apologize to America. He was a founding member of the Weatherman, the violent, hate-filled group that was involved in murder and mayhem in the early 1970s.
  • Maybe the California Teachers Association should apologize for disregarding its members and spending dues money that favors only the needs and desires of the union bosses. CTA will end up spending over $10 million to defeat Marshall Tuck in today’s election – most of it teachers’ dues money. Union activists are going all out – walking precincts, working phone banks, etc. – in an effort to stave off Tuck’s challenge to incumbent and union darling Tom Torlakson. But as Mike Antonucci writes,

Odd, then, that the Field Poll shows support for Torlakson from union households in California at an anemic 31%, with 23% backing Tuck, and 46% undecided. That’s after months of hyping Torlakson through every available union communications outlet.

The question arises: If 69% of union households are not, or not yet, backing Torlakson, how did the unions approve spending $10 million on his behalf?

That’s a rhetorical question, of course. The answer is that CTA practices representative democracy in reverse. Decisions are made by the small handful of officers and shop stewards who participate in union activities. Then they justify, promote and sell these decisions to the membership-at-large – using the members’ own money to do so. (Emphasis added.)

But seriously folks… don’t hold your breath in anticipation of CTA or any teachers union apologizing for anything. Ain’t gonna happen. Also, don’t expect them to ever right any of the wrongs that they have foisted on our children, their parents and all taxpayers. In California, due to the union-inflicted tenure and dismissal statutes, on average just of 2 “permanent” teachers a year lose their job due to incompetence. That’s 2 bad apples out of about 300,000. In my almost 30 years in the classroom, there were always at least 2 teachers at my school alone who shouldn’t have been allowed near children. This is not a secret; go into any school and ask who the incompetents are and you will get almost identical answers from teachers, kids, their parents, the principal, the assistant principal, guidance counselors, janitors, bus drivers, school secretaries and lunch ladies.

But instead of relaxing their intolerable policies, the unions divert attention by whining about a magazine cover. And while they do that, the rest of us – including parents, serious teachers, community members and yes, corporate types and tech gurus – are trying to make a troubled system better. American children can’t wait a minute longer for the unions and labor-friendly school districts to willingly cede any of their onerous work rules. And they will never apologize for the mess they have made and continue to make of our public education system. In that sense, at least, they are one sorry bunch.

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.

Education Reform: #1 Issue on the Ballot in California

Reformer battles with teachers union darling for top education position in Sacramento.

“Teachers Unions Are Putting Themselves On November’s Ballot” was the headline in a recent article by Haley Edwards in Time Magazine. Okay, this is hardly news, but the extent of the largess is eye-opening. Considering that this is not a presidential election year, the political spending is noteworthy.

The National Education Association, the nation’s largest union, is on track to spend between $40 million and $60 million this election cycle, while its smaller sibling, the American Federation of Teachers, plans to throw in an additional $20 million – more than the organization has spent in any other year.

The reason for the spending orgy is easy to understand: education reform – at long last – has become an important issue with voters across the country. As Edwards writes,

While the issues at stake vary by state, a number of elections this cycle will hinge on a variety of education-related questions, including recent cuts to public schools, growing class sizes, Common Core State Standards, access to pre-K education and the availability of state-funded student loans for college. A June Rasmussen report found that 58% of total expected voters ranked education as “very important,” while local polls indicate that voters in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Kansas and Illinois rank education as among the top three most important issues this cycle.

In California, perhaps the most ballyhooed contest is not for a legislative position, but rather the race for Superintendent of Public Instruction.  As Fox & Hounds Joel Fox points out, the election is a referendum on teachers unions, pitting reformer Marshall Tuck against incumbent Tom Torlakson, the bought-and-paid-for choice of the California Teachers Association. The SPI’s various responsibilities include acting as chief spokesperson for public schools, providing education policy and direction to local school districts, and working with the education community to improve students’ academic performance.

Typically, in a race that pits union guy vs. reformer, organized labor gets its way. But maybe not this time.

First off, Tuck is passionate, articulate and a pit-bull on the issues. He worked on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley before serving as president of Green Dot Public Schools, a charter school management organization. He then became CEO of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s collaboration with the Los Angeles Unified School District to operate 17 struggling public elementary, middle, and high schools.

Torlakson was a teacher before entering politics as a city councilman in 1978. He served as a California State Assemblyman and Senator before becoming SPI in 2010.

Perhaps the difference between the two is best exemplified by their responses to the Vergara ruling, which saw a judge throw out the state’s teacher tenure, dismissal and seniority laws. Tuck saw the decision as a victory for kids, while Torlakson claimed it was unfair to teachers. Moreover, the incumbent asked the California attorney general to appeal, which she did.

As writer Steve Greenhut points out, the challenger has direct experience dealing with issues raised by the Vergara case. After Tuck took over some of LA’s most troubled schools as CEO of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, “about half of his teachers received layoff notices because of the system’s seniority based layoff system, which protects older teachers regardless of job performance.” Tuck explains,

The CTA should always be part of the equation because teachers are so important but their influence is too large right now. … The state superintendent is a nonpartisan position, right? Not Republican, not Democrat … and it’s supposed to just be focused on advocating for kids, yet the state superintendent has never disagreed with the CTA. It’s insane.

As a result of this ‘undue influence,’ the state ends up with ‘laws like two-year tenure and seniority based layoffs, laws that we know are not good for kids; they stay on the books for year after year. … Our kids are harmed dramatically by them to the point where the judge said the evidence shocks the conscience.’

Additionally, he refers to California’s behemoth educational code as

… the ‘visual definition of bureaucracy’ and wants to help public schools — traditional ones and charters — receive waivers from the red tape and allow more local control and flexibility. He wants to give parents a seat at the table in determining school policy.

Torlakson and his CTA friends are losing the battle of ideas, basically because they don’t have any. Instead, they disparage Tuck’s previous work as a “Wall Street investment banker.” They also idiotically claim that the challenger wants to turn schools over to “for-profit corporations” and “sell off our schools and sell out our kids.” The October issue of CTA’s magazine, California Educator, is full of anti-Tuck blather, including an editorial by union president Dean Vogel in which he solemnly proclaims that the challenger is a “well-funded corporate education reformer who supports the privatization of public schools and efforts to obliterate due process for teachers.” Also, in a talk a few months ago, Vogel asserted that, “We know who Tom is. He is one of us….”

He sure is.

Invariably in races like this, CTA manages to outspend the reformers. This one, however, may be an exception, as Tuck’s donations have been keeping up with Torlakson’s. The challenger has found some deep-pocketed backers whose donations have matched the free-spending CTA. As reported by EdSource,

Nine wealthy backers of Marshall Tuck – led by $1 million donations each from William Bloomfield of Manhattan Beach and Eli Broad, a longtime funder of reform efforts in Los Angeles – seeded a new independent expenditure committee with $4 million. That brought outside fundraising for Tuck nearly even with outside fundraising by the California Teachers Association, the biggest financial backer of Supt. Tom Torlakson. The CTA contributed an additional $1.4 million this week to the $5.7 million it has already contributed to Torlakson. The new donations, as of Oct. 10, will push expected spending by groups not affiliated with the candidates to about $14 million, split about 40 percent for Tuck and 60 percent for Torlakson.

The two candidates themselves have raised about $4.4 million in direct contributions as of Oct. 10 … That combined total is already more than twice the total raised by the candidates in the 2010 election, in which Torlakson defeated a retired school district superintendent, Larry Aceves. As of the latest campaign finance disclosure period, which ended Sept. 30, Torlakson had about $608,000 left in the bank, while Tuck had close to $700,000.

Money, however, isn’t the only important factor in elections. Teachers unions have a great advantage in races like this. In California, they have easy access to 300,000 teachers who are being told, in no uncertain terms, that Torlakson “is one of them” and that Tuck is the corporate reformer from Hell.

But interestingly, Tuck is getting a major boost from the mainstream media. Just about every major daily in the state, including the San Francisco Chronicle, Sacramento Bee and the Los Angeles Times has come out – forcefully – in favor of Tuck. The Sac Bee editorial board endorsed the challenger because it believes that “teachers unions have a chokehold on the state’s public education system and that’s been detrimental for everyone, including teachers.”

With two weeks to go, polls show an even race with many still undecided; it’s anybody’s guess as to who will ultimately prevail. I suspect that the teachers unions will ramp up their spending down the home stretch because they know that if Torlakson loses, the status quo is history. And for a reactionary bunch like CTA, that is a fate worse than death.

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.

Brown, Unions, Already Discuss Renewing Prop. 30 Taxes Beyond 2018

Once again it is time for taxpayers to get a good grip on their wallets because Sacramento politicians are looking to extend the “temporary” taxes imposed by Proposition 30, approved by voters less than two years ago.

There is nothing more permanent than a temporary tax. They are as immortal as a vampire and nearly as hard to kill. Take the “temporary” tax imposed in 1898 to pay for the Spanish-American War. It remained on the books until 2006 when Congress discovered that the Spanish-American War ended a century earlier.

More recently and more relevant to Californians, two decades ago the political establishment — both Republicans and Democrats — backed a 1¼% increase in the state sales tax, a half cent of which was supposed to be temporary. (The tax increase was justified, in part, on the argument that the higher taxes were less pernicious than deficit spending. But this tax package just institutionalized even greater spending and debt.) At the time, to quell opposition, Sacramento politicians went out of their way to draw public attention to the temporary nature of the half cent increase. But within a year of its expiring, it was reinstated and made permanent through a ballot measure whose passage backers claimed was absolutely essential to maintain local public safety services.

In 2012, Gov. Jerry Brown and his government employee union allies backing Proposition 30 promised the tax increases would be temporary, that the sales tax increase would expire in 2016 and the income tax increase on upper-middle income earners, and above, would expire in 2018. But the politicians, who have been lying in the weeds waiting until closer to the expiration date to spring an extension of the tax increases on unwary taxpayers, are already tipping their hand.

In January, state schools chief Tom Torlakson called for an extension of Proposition 30 beyond its full expiration in 2018. “We need to renew Prop. 30,” the Superintendent of Public Instruction told a meeting of PTA leaders.

Now state Sen. Mark Leno has spoken up, telling an education rally at San Francisco City Hall it’s time to start thinking about the need to extend the Proposition 30 tax increases. One of the reasons Leno opposes the governor’s effort to establish a prudent budget reserve is that such a “rainy day fund” would make it harder to justify a continuation of higher taxes on sales and incomes.

While it is common to question the veracity of politicians, in this case, it would be wise to accept these Sacramento leaders’ comments as genuine expressions of their greed for ever greater amounts of taxpayer dollars

Gov. Brown, to his credit, has urged majority Democrats in the Legislature to make due with current revenues and keep faith with the voters by letting the taxes expire on schedule. But even this responsible approach, a reflection of his minimalist approach in his first two terms, may not help taxpayers much as we approach 2018, the year, that even if he is reelected, Brown will end his final term.

Meanwhile, the Sacramento politicians are salivating over the prospect of new and extended taxes. “Shoot for the moon,” Sen. Leno told a reporter. “We might not get there, but that’s where we have to start.”

However, Leno and his colleagues are not shooting for the moon, they are shooting for taxpayers’ wallets.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

Transitional Kindergarten: A Boondoggle by any other name….

CA announces a budget surplus — and legislators can’t wait to blow it.

It’s hardly surprising, but California’s we-never-met-a-big-budget-bill-we-didn’t-like Democratic lawmakers and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson have joined hands to sponsor SB 837, new legislation that would provide free public preschool to every four-year-old child in California.

The Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2014, introduced by Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and co-sponsored by Torlakson and Early Edge California, will expand access to transitional kindergarten programs to all four year old children, no matter when their birthday. Currently, children with birthdays early in the year are excluded.

“It’s impossible to overstate how important these early years are to a child’s future success in school,” Torlakson said in a press release. “Transitional kindergarten—particularly a full-year, full-day program—can make all the difference, especially for families who may be struggling to give their young children these valuable learning opportunities.”

According to the proposal, 46,000 four-year-olds would be added each year for the first five years of the program, which will cost a total of $990 million by 2019-20.

This bill is an upgrade to SB 1381, which the legislature passed in 2010. 

California’s current transitional kindergarten program applies to 4-year-olds who turn 5 in October, November or December. That age group was affected by the 2010 bill, which requires children to turn 5 by Sept. 1, instead of Dec. 2, to attend kindergarten. The state began phasing in the program, one month a year, in 2012-13.

Needless to say, the California Teachers Association is on board with this (and any) bill that adds thousands of new dues-paying jobs to help replenish its sagging coffers. In fact, SB 837 would create 8,000 teaching positions for class sizes of 20 children or fewer.  (CTA president Dean Vogel was not very happy with the earlier bill because unlike SB 837, it let individual districts decide whether or not to offer TK.)

Interestingly, the people of CA already weighed in on the subject back in 2006 when over 60 percent of the voters resoundingly clobbered Prop. 82 – a tax-the-rich scheme proposed by actor/activist Rob (Meathead) Reiner – which would have enabled four year-olds across the state to attend taxpayer supported preschool. But the Sages of Sacto have turned a blind eye to the will of the people since then.

What do we really know about Transitional Kindergarten (TK)?

TK, Pre-K and Head Start are different names for programs that accomplish little more than adding unionized teaching and educational support jobs to the state’s payroll. Oh, sure, the sales pitch sounds great. As Steinberg says, “Expanding transitional kindergarten can be accomplished with just a fraction of increased Proposition 98 funds while saving billions of dollars in the long run by reducing the extra costs of special education, grade retention and juvenile crime.”

Steinberg’s cheerleading notwithstanding, early childhood education has never proven to have lasting results. Obviously, due to its newness, there are no longitudinal studies specifically for TK. But we sure know about Head Start, which would seem to be TK by another name. The results of the third and final phase of the federal government’s Head Start study were released in December 2012, and they matched those of the second phase of the study published in 2010. They revealed that basically the federal program has been a $180 billion (and counting) boondoggle. Lesli Maxwell in Education Week explains,

In the first phase of the evaluation, a group of children who entered Head Start at age 4 saw benefits from spending one year in the program, including learning vocabulary, letter-word recognition, spelling, color identification, and letter-naming, compared with children of the same age in a control group who didn’t attend Head Start. For children who entered Head Start at age 3, the gains were even greater, demonstrated by their language and literacy skills, as well their skills in learning math, prewriting, and perceptual motor skills.

The second phase of the study showed that those gains had faded considerably by the end of 1st grade, with Head Start children showing an edge only in learning vocabulary over their peers in the control group who had not participated in Head Start.

And now, in this final phase of the study, “there was little evidence of systematic differences in children’s elementary school experiences through 3rd grade, between children provided access to Head Start and their counterparts in the control group,” the researchers wrote in an executive summary. (Emphasis added.)

After the second phase results came out, Reason Foundation’s Lisa Snell blogged,

The just-released large-scale random assignment study of Head Start confirms once again that the $7 billion a year federal preschool program provides meager benefits to children at huge costs to taxpayers.

In other words, it’s a very expensive and wasteful federal babysitting program. The Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke elaborates:

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

In a rare moment of candor, the mainstream media joined the naysayers, Time Magazine’s Joe Klein weighed in,

You take the million or so poorest 3- and 4-year-old children and give them a leg up on socialization and education by providing preschool for them; if it works, it saves money in the long run by producing fewer criminals and welfare recipients…it is now 45 years later. We spend more than $7 billion providing Head Start to nearly 1 million children each year. And finally there is indisputable evidence about the program’s effectiveness, provided by the Department of Health and Human Services: Head Start simply does not work.

So we may as well be flushing cash down the toilet. Perhaps that is what CA governor Jerry Brown was thinking when he announced his new budget last week. It seems that the quirky state leader has reservations about the financial outlay. Friday, he said that he has adjusted his initial budget proposals “to accommodate lawmakers on some of their priorities in recent years. But he made no mention in his presentation Thursday of a chief concern of legislative Democrats: transitional kindergarten.” When asked about the proposal, the governor said he would listen to proposals, but stressed that “wisdom and prudence is the order of the day.”

It’s outrageous that the taxpayers might have to fork over billions to satisfy the political agenda of the state legislature and their teacher union cronies. The Brookings Institution’s Grover J. Whitehurst sums it all up quite well, writing that childhood education,

… remains mired in philosophy, in broad theories of the nature of child development, and in practices that spring from appeals to authority and official pronouncements of professional guilds, rather than to research. Until the field of early education becomes evidence based, it will be doomed to cycles of fad and fancy. We need a science of early-childhood education, and we need it now.

Indeed, before spending another dime on any of this, we need fiscal discipline and solid research. Until then, we are at the mercy of what Stanford’s Caroline Hoxby refers to as the cardiac test. “We just know in our heart that this is right.”

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.

A Blueprint for Maintaining the Status Quo

Tom Torlakson’s panel comes up with edubabble and little else in an attempt to turn around a troubled California public school system.

Just when we thought we were safe from yet another “master plan for educational improvement,” A Blueprint for State Schools is bestowed on us. This 31 page monstrosity was unleashed by State Superintendent for Public Instruction Tom Torlakson’s Transition Advisory Team. While the Teacher Quality Roadmap I wrote about in June had specific ideas about fixing Los Angeles schools, the “blueprint” is supposed to identify and address areas that are “vexing to the state’s K-12 system.”

The LA roadmap includes interviews with teachers and principals and can be summarized:

“Among other things, the report, which included interviews with over 1,500 teachers and principals, recommended changes to the current union contract and to state laws regulating staffing, evaluations, tenure, compensation and work schedules. Some of the prescriptions include using criteria other than seniority if layoffs are necessary and utilizing standardized test scores as part of a teacher’s evaluation and when making staffing decisions. Additionally, it was suggested that teachers be denied permanent status until they have been in the classroom for four years instead of the current two.”

In my June post, I commented that while the roadmap was full of good common sense prescriptions from teachers and principals, they were really nothing new and, in any event, would be blocked by the teachers unions because they are happy with the status quo, ugly warts and all.

Unlike the roadmap, the blueprint was written by a consortium of 59 “experts” including business leaders, school board members, college professors, principals, four public school teachers and nine union leaders, including California Teachers Association President David Sanchez and California Federation of Teachers President Marty Hittelman (both termed out at this time.)

With the preponderance of union bosses, you might expect that the new blueprint would be devoid of any specific, meaningful fixes that would shake up the system. And you’d be right.

For example, in their recommendations about teacher recruitment the report says:

“Strengthen and integrate BTSA and Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) programs to ensure stronger mentoring and assistance for beginning teachers and for veteran teachers who are struggling.”

While this might sound good, California’s twelve year old peer assistance program has had very little positive effect. The National Council on Teacher Quality says that “peer review’s potential to reduce the numbers of probationary and tenured teachers with egregious instructional deficiencies is unrealized, if not minimal.” You can only help a struggling teacher so much before they should be shown the door. With the union running the show, however, firing a bad teacher is almost impossible.

“Encourage the development of more effective educator evaluation systems based on professional teacher and leader standards that guide and assess practice in a way that reflects best practices and incorporates appropriate evidence of student learning. Make sure these systems are supported by training for evaluators, mentoring for teachers, and professional development programs.”

Could this have been any more vague? There won’t be any teeth to this evaluation system. Should a teacher get a poor evaluation, they’ll just be moved into the Peer Assistance Program. And getting rid of them will still be practically impossible.

“Rethink the design of the California High School Exit Exam to incorporate diagnostic information over time and to provide instructional supports and assessments that offer more useful information regarding college- and career-readiness.”

What does this mean? The CAHSEE is a monumental waste of time and taxpayer dollars. It purports to measure what students should know when they get out of high school. Yet in 2010, 81 percent of 10th graders passed both the math and English portions of the test. And 90 percent of these high school “graduates” still need remediation should they be accepted at a community college.

“Launch an ongoing initiative to support union-management collaboration toward high-leverage reforms in school organization, management, and instructional innovation as well as teacher, classified staff, and administrator development, support, and evaluation.”

Sounds as if the unions want even more input and power than they have now. Terrific.

In any event, you get the idea. The blueprint is full of this kind of vague, high-sounding edubabble. Unfortunately for the state’s six million school children, little if anything will improve.

Tom Torlakson, the California Teachers Association’s bought-and-paid-for Superintendent of Public Instruction, gushing about the work of his “experts,” said,

“We are setting our sights high because our students deserve it. As our ‘Blueprint for Great Schools’ shows, there’s no substitute for investing in our children’s education. But we owe our students much more than just money. We also owe them our leadership, our best thinking and, above all, our very best people.”

Oh, please.

If only he had said,

“We are setting our sights high because our students deserve it. For that reason, our plan is to open California up to a universal school choice system. Starting immediately, we are going to empower parents who will be free to pick any school in the state for their children to attend and have their share of education tax dollars follow the child. No longer will parents have to follow the dictates of educrats, union bullies and the politicians they put into office. Government run schools will only stay open for business if they can compete with the wide array of choices that will now be available to California’s children and their families.”

If only. That would be a blueprint worth getting excited about.

About the author: Larry Sand 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.

Closing the Door on Ed Reform: Ho-hum – Just a Typical Day in California

No one should be surprised at the actions of teachers unions and their acolytes who laid their cards on the table a long time ago.

In an op-ed published in the San Jose Mercury News last Wednesday, I made the point that while the rest of the country had made some positive movement toward badly needed education reform, we in California hadn’t. In fact, with Jerry Brown’s re-election as governor, we took several steps back.

True to form as a teacher union sycophant, the new (and former) state leader fired the entire school board which included prominent education reformers like Ben Austin, executive director of Parent Revolution — the organization behind the new Parent Trigger law that enables parents at poorly performing schools to sign a petition that could ultimately force a change in school governance. Brown replaced the board with a group that has no history of reform including Patricia Ann Rucker, a former California Teachers Association lobbyist.

Not surprisingly, California Teacher Association President David Sanchez said his union was “thrilled” by the new appointees because he believed the board had been stacked with too many members connected to charters, which are mostly nonunion.

To make things worse, Tom Torlakson, the elected choice as Superintendent of Public Instruction, was sworn in on January 3rd. Torlakson is the bought and paid for choice of CTA, occasionally known as Controlling Torlakson Aggressively.

Hence, at the start of 2011, CTA has its people in Sacramento poised to fight any reform that could possibly help the children of CA.

On February 9, the very day that my op-ed was published, the State Board of Education met and decided to eviscerate the Parent Trigger law by throwing in conditions that would essentially render it impotent. The LA Times claimed that a critic referred to the state action as a “bombshell.” At the LA Weekly, the normally sensible Patrick Range McDonald referred to the fact that union mouthpiece Torlakson was going to rewrite the law as a “shocker” and said that reformers were “stunned.”

For the life of me, I can’t understand why people are surprised. Jerry Brown first put a major hurt on public education when he signed the Rodda Act in 1975, allowing teachers to collectively bargain. This introduction of the unions into the educational process made for an adversarial relationship between school districts and teachers, thus undermining the “common vision of excellence previously shared by administrators, teachers, parents, students, and community leaders.” That Brown and cronies like David Sanchez and Tom Torlakson would do anything to maintain the status quo — the children be damned — shouldn’t be news to anyone.

On the other hand, Ben Austin was not very surprised at the turn of events. He is quoted as saying, “It is pretty obvious to anyone who is paying attention what is going on here – this is nothing more than a naked effort to roll back or repeal the entire Parent Trigger law under the guise of ‘fixing’ it. We know that special interest lobbyists will be swarming the capital to try to pass this ‘roll back or repeal’ law, just as they tried to stop the Parent Trigger from ever passing in the first place. But I can promise you this – parents across California will not stand for this blatant attempt to roll back or repeal one of the only rights they have to obtain a better school for their children. We will surely be back in Sacramento soon – and I guarantee you we will be riding a lot more than ‘just’ one bus.”

The “bus” at the end of Austin’s statement refers to the fact that five dozen parents from Compton (the only district to have a school whose parents have submitted a Parent Trigger petition) and parents from other parts of Los Angeles drove all night in a packed school bus to deliver their message to the State Board of Education. They spoke passionately, imploring the board not to undermine the year-old law.

Austin and the parents have the right idea. The time for underestimating the enemy and being taken by surprise when he acts badly, is over. It’s time that good people of California make a stand, rally behind reformers like Ben Austin and confront the fact that CTA, their SPI, union toady Torlakson, and a retread governor are not concerned with what is in the best interests of school children and their parents.

About the author: Larry Sand 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.