The Taxpayer as Bagman

In California, the citizenry pays for the collection of dues for public employee unions.

As just about every teacher in California will tell you, union dues are deducted by the local school district from their monthly paycheck just as federal and state withholding taxes are. Then the school district turns the money over to the local teachers union. And we all get to pay for this service. Yup, the teachers union, a private organization, doesn’t pay a penny for the transactions. In fact, payroll deduction is de rigeur for all public employee unions. But not all states suck up to organized labor like California.

Other states like North Carolina and Alabama have already passed legislation prohibiting paycheck deductions. Most notably, new right-to-work states Wisconsin and Michigan have followed suit. Most recently, Oklahoma just passed a law that makes the unions responsible for collecting their own dues. HB 1749 stipulates that it “shall be unlawful for any state agency to make payroll deductions on behalf of a state employee for membership dues in any public employee association or organization or professional organization that on or after November 1, 2015, collectively bargains on behalf of its membership pursuant to any provision of federal law.”

Last week, the Pennsylvania State Senate passed a partial measure. This bill, should it become law, would prohibit public sector unions from using employee paycheck deductions to fund certain political activities. In fact, a similar tack has been tried several times in California. In 2005, Prop 75 would have allowed automatic deductions for the political portion of public employees’ union dues only if the worker gave their permission to do so. And in 2012 Prop 32, among other things, would have banned “automatic deductions by corporations, unions, and government of employees’ wages to be used for politics.” Both measures failed.

While union bosses love the taxpayer-as-bagman set-up (why wouldn’t they!), not all workers do. Years ago when I was teaching, I asked then UTLA president A.J. Duffy at a union meeting why teachers weren’t responsible for paying their own dues. He responded, “They might forget.” I didn’t respond, but knew that some of my colleagues were thinking what I was thinking. Forget? No. Not choose to pay? Yes. A 2014 poll in Pennsylvania also showed that the rank-and-file and the bosses are not of the same mind. The survey of union households across the state found that “80 percent of union households said taxpayer resources should not be used to collect campaign contributions.” Union leaders, as usual, refuse to deal directly with the issue, but instead set up straw men to attack: “It’s really about keeping control in the hands of corporations,” said Rick Bloomingdale, president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, the state’s largest labor federation with about 900,000 members. Huh? He then went on to explain, “[Legislators] only want to hear from the corporations and billionaires.”

Let’s look at this another way. Say you buy a gun. After the purchase, the government starts deducting money from your paycheck whether you want it to or not and turning the cash over to the National Rifle Association. The NRA claims it is justified in doing so because it says it will advocate for you and provide legal assistance should you need it. The NRA doesn’t pay for the service, and moreover, doesn’t pay a penny in income tax. Reasonable? Hardly.

One glimmer of hope for the Golden State is the Friedrichs v California Teachers Association case. It’s possible that if the U.S. Supreme Court rules for the plaintiffs, one of the by-products could be a legislature more responsive to its constituents instead of CTA, which is by far the most powerful special interest in the state.

But by whatever means, we need to release the taxpayers from their forced bagman status. To paraphrase the late William F. Buckley, it’s time for the unions to collect their own damn dues.

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.

Loss of LIFO

If Eli Broad’s charter school plan goes forward, there will be a major shake-up in the ranks of LAUSD teachers.

Philanthropist Eli Broad’s ambitious plan to create 260 new charter schools over an eight year period in Los Angeles, enrolling at least 130,000 students, will have major ramifications for many of the city’s 25,600 teachers. With this in mind, the Los Angeles Times Howard Blume wrote “Thousands of LAUSD teachers’ jobs would be at risk with charter expansion plan” last week. (Interestingly, the online version of the piece was originally titled “L.A. charter school expansion could mean huge drop in unionized teaching jobs” – a more honest title.)

The Broad plan would include places for about 5,000 more charter school teachers, which simply means that 5,000 thousand current teachers in Los Angeles could be displaced. What Blume’s article doesn’t address is just which teachers will be losing their positions. Due to seniority or last in/first out (LIFO) – a union construct that is written into the California Constitution – the teachers who could lose their jobs would not be the 5,000 poorest performing ones, but rather the 5,000 newest hired. But there is a silver lining here. While some of the 5,000 should not be in the profession, many are good teachers and some are terrific. And the latter groups will not be unemployed for long, because charter schools are independent (mostly non-unionized) and therefore not beholden to the district’s industrial style employment hierarchy, so competent teachers will be snapped up.)

Philanthropist Eli Broad

Blume mentions that the new plan refers to “hiring from an expanded Teach For America and other groups that work with young, inexperienced instructors” and “makes no mention of recruiting instructors from the ranks of L.A. Unified.”

The plan might not make any mention of recruiting current teachers, but clearly the charter schools could not fill their ranks with all rookies. And therein lies the beauty of the Broad plan. Those rehired would be the good and great teachers who are working now because they are qualified, not because they are LIFO-protected.

Broad spokeswoman Swati Pandey elaborated: “We are in the process of listening to educators and community members to determine how best to support the dramatic growth of high-quality public schools in Los Angeles. We know that without great teachers, there can be no great public schools. We’re eager to engage and support teachers as part of this work.”

Needless to say, United Teachers of Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl had a different take. He said, “The charters are specifically looking for educators who have not had the experience of being in a union, which means that, by and large, they’re looking for teachers who may find it more challenging to raise their voice about curriculum or school conditions.”

The experience of being in a union…? What?! And where does he get the idea that only unionized teachers dare to speak up about “curriculum and school conditions?”

But then again, maybe the UTLA boss is just mouthing the union party line and his transparency should be applauded. In 2009 UTLA president A.J. Duffy told a group of young teachers at Liechty Middle School, “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.” The California Federation of Teachers website claims that “Seniority is the only fair, transparent way to administer layoffs. It ensures equal treatment for all teachers.” (Yes, for Teachers-of-the-Year and incompetents alike, LIFO does ensure “equal treatment.”)

Others who actually have children’s and parents’ best interests at heart have a different view, however. Alluding to the teachers unions’ claim that thousands of teachers will need to be recruited over the next decade, Jim Blew, president of the Sacramento-based advocacy group StudentsFirst, said, “… they say there’s no room for teachers from organizations with proven, documented records of creating quality teachers…. L.A. needs more great teachers, and everyone should welcome them regardless of who recruited them to the city.”

Jason Mandell, Director, Advocacy Communications of the California Charter School Association (CCSA) added, “Great teachers change students’ lives. Charter school teachers do that every day and the evidence is in their students’ progress. Teachers are the heroes of the charter school movement.”

And parents agree with both Blew and Mandell.

As CCSA points out, there are 40,000 kids on charter school waitlists in Los Angeles, unable to enroll in a high quality school of their parents choosing because there aren’t enough seats. Also, as I pointed out a couple of weeks ago, the recently released California Assessment of Student Progress and Performance (CAASPP) scores showed that only one-third of students in traditional LA schools performed up to their grade level in English and one-fourth did so in math, while LA charter students far outpaced their counterparts.

It should be noted that the current seniority and tenure laws, both of which are toxic to students, are imperiled. In the Vergara case, Judge Rolf Treu ruled these byzantine legal protections unconstitutional and went on to say that “it shocks the conscience.” However, the state and the teachers unions are appealing the decision. And even if Treu’s decision is upheld, we have no guarantee that the archaic statutes will be replaced by anything much better.

In summing up the situation, we are left with the following:

  • Charters allow children to escape from the antiquated zip-code monopoly education system.
  • Charters only flourish if parents choose to send their kids there.
  • Kids on average get a better education in charters.
  • Good teachers will always find work.
  • Charters will choose and retain the best teachers who fit in with their mission.
  • Poor-performing teachers will find it difficult to stay in the field.
  • Unions will have less money and power, due to diminishing ranks.

In other words, the Broad plan is a win-win-win situation for good teachers, children and their families. Mr. Caputo-Pearl, does that matter to you at all?

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.

Safe at Home?

Homeschooling is becoming more popular, but families need to be aware that teachers unions have a penchant for home invasions.

According to the latest data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the number of K-12 children educated at home increased from 1.09 million in 2003 to 1.77 million in 2012, which is 3.4 percent of the school population. (The National Home Education Research Institute has the total number of homeschooled at 2.2 million.)

The myth that homeschooling is the domain of the very rich, the very religious and the very weird is less true today than ever. Mike Donnelly, attorney and director of international affairs at the Home School Legal Defense Association, says the “National Household Education Survey” of parents in 2012 shows considerably more diversity in its attraction.

Ninety-one percent of parents cited concerns about the environment of public schools, 77% cited moral instruction, and 74% expressed concerns about the academic instruction. … 64% listed wanting to give their children religious instruction as a reason, followed by 44% saying they wanted their child to have a nontraditional form of education.”

When it came to parents listing the single most important reason for home schooling, the survey showed 25% of parents said they were concerned about the environment of other schools; 22% said “other reasons” (including family time, finances, travel and distance), and 19% said they were dissatisfied with the academic instruction at other schools.

City Journal associate editor and homeschooling parent Matthew Hennessey writes that city-dwellers are teaching their kids at home in greater numbers because they are frustrated with public schools. Citing NCES numbers, he reports that 28 percent of homeschoolers live in cities. “That’s almost as many as live in suburbs (34 percent) or rural areas (31 percent). Boston, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles are home to swelling communities of homeschoolers. And in the nation’s largest city—New York—the number of homeschooled students has risen 47 percent, to more than 3,700 children, over the last five years.

With some creative ideas, modern technology and a solid support system, parents are finding it easier than ever to shun traditional schools – both public and private. Homeschool co-ops, where a group of parents get together and combine their talents to take the burden off individual moms and dads, have proliferated. For subjects that a parent is not proficient in, the internet offers a world of assistance. The online Khan Academy alone has produced over 6,500 video lessons that teach a wide spectrum of subjects, mainly focusing on mathematics and science. As of April 1, 2015, the Khan Academy channel on YouTube had attracted 2,825,468 subscribers and his videos have been viewed more than 527 million times. And the aforementioned Home School Legal Defense Association maintains a comprehensive website where parents can go to learn about the homeschool law in their state, find supplemental resources, exchange curricula, etc.

And now, news from the Grinch….

At its yearly national convention, the National Education Association passed Resolution B-83 (exactly the same as 2011’s B-82, 2008’s B-75, etc.) which in part reads:

The National Education Association believes that home schooling programs based on parental choice cannot provide the student with a comprehensive education experience. When home schooling occurs, students enrolled must meet all state curricular requirements, including the taking and passing of assessments to ensure adequate academic progress. Home schooling should be limited to the children of the immediate family, with all expenses being borne by the parents/guardians. Instruction should be by persons who are licensed by the appropriate state education licensure agency, and a curriculum approved by the state department of education should be used. (Emphasis added.)

I can hear the conversation:

Teachers union activist: How dare you invade our turf! Just who do you parents think you are? I don’t care if they are your kids. You can’t teach them because you don’t have a state credential and worse, you aren’t in a union!

Parents: But homeschooled kids do better on achievement tests, have higher graduation rates than public school students and are actively recruited by top colleges. And yes, ahem, they are my kids.

Teachers union activist: No matter. Your kids shouldn’t be allowed to learn from you. (In fact, unless you have a chef’s license, you shouldn’t be involved in their food prep either, but we’ll get to that another day.) And if you insist on teaching your own kids, you should get a state credential and then expect a rather aggressive knock on the door from someone on our organizing committee who will convince you to join our union.

An exaggeration you say? Well no, not really. In 2008, a California state appellate court ruled that parents who lack teaching credentials could not educate their children at home. Needless to say, this decision sent waves of angst through California’s homeschooling families, but it delighted the teachers unions whose leaders weighed in on the ruling. The California Teachers Association, which filed a brief claiming that allowing parents to homeschool their children without having a teaching credential will result in “educational anarchy,” was satisfied. Lloyd Porter, CTA board member at the time, averred “We’re happy. We always think students should be taught by credentialed teachers, no matter what the setting.” United Teachers of Los Angeles president A.J. Duffy declared from his pulpit, “What’s best for a child is to be taught by a credentialed teacher.”

Independent of the California ruling, teacher union leaders across the country have left no doubt how they feel about the role of parent as teacher. Annette Cootes, a Texas teacher union organizer, declared that “homeschooling is a form of child abuse.” Perhaps the most telling and honest quote is from former Louisiana teacher union president Joyce Haynes who in 2013 said it all. Speaking about Louisiana’s voucher program – though it could apply to homeschoolers – she said it would result in “… taking our children from us.”

A union president is complaining about their children being taken from them?! Yes, she thinks that parents are nothing more than breeders and that your kids really belong to her and her union. If that kind of kidnapper mentality doesn’t scare you, nothing will.

Fortunately for families, six months later in August 2008, California’s Second District Court of Appeal reversed its original decision and ruled that non-credentialed parents have a right to educate their own kids.

But while homeschooling thrives, Big Union continues its mission to outlaw and marginalize parents who simply want to do what they have traditionally done throughout history – take responsibility for educating their own children.

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.

Permanent Disgrace

My encounters with tenure, aka permanence, aka undue process for teachers.

In an article posted recently, Harvard professor and editor-in-chief of Education Next Paul Peterson asks, “Do Teachers Support the Vergara Decision?” More specifically, he discusses tenure, which is on hold in California due to Judge Rolf Treu’s ruling. The tenure statute is the part of the California education code which stipulates that teachers essentially have a job for life if they can survive their first two years on the job, which is really just 16 months of actual work. It is worth noting that what we all commonly refer to as tenure is really a word reserved for college professors. The proper term for K-12 teachers is the more honest – and odious – “permanence.” (I was once corrected by former United Teachers of Los Angeles chief A.J. Duffy when I referred to it incorrectly at a union meeting.)

Peterson alludes to an Education Next poll, the results of which were released earlier this fall, that asked public school teachers to rate their colleagues’ competence on an A to F continuum. While 69 percent gave colleagues in the local school district an A or B, 8 percent said their colleagues deserve a D and 5 percent deserve an F.

This led me to think about my own experience as a middle school teacher in Los Angeles where I toiled for 15 years before retiring in 2009. At any given time, there were about 50 teachers at my school, and most of them, I’d say, were competent-to-good with a few that were exceptional. But there were always a handful of my colleagues who shouldn’t have been allowed in a classroom. Just a few cases in point:

  • AA, an English teacher, was a mean one; she rarely smiled and was antagonistic to a fault. During lunch period on a warm late spring day, she decided she was too pale and headed out to the athletic field to catch some rays at lunch. She proceeded to lie on her stomach, take off her blouse and unstrap her bra. (Ladies, you know how unsightly those tan lines can be!) As AA’s glamor gambit was seen by kids, a few teachers and the plant manager, denial was not an option. However, she did not lose her job. Instead, she was transferred to a nearby elementary school which was run by a woman, known by many as “the principal from hell.” I have no idea what has become of AA, but I’m sure she went on to infect many more kids with her bile and bad judgment.
  • BB was a nice old gentleman and a lawyer with a J.D. Unfortunately, whatever skills he may have possessed in the courtroom did him no good in the classroom, which often resembled a British soccer riot – pure mayhem. As testing coordinator, I had occasion to visit his class several times and invariably regretted not wearing a flak jacket. To maintain order, BB resorted to showing film strips, pretty much daily. The kids didn’t learn much, but at least the janitors had less to clean up at the end of the day. The principal eventually got hip to BB’s act, and knowing she couldn’t get rid of him, pressured him to retire. (Trying to fire him would have taken years and hundreds of thousands of dollars.) Fortunately, BB took the hint and retired.
  • CC was a PE teacher who had an interesting ritual between classes. He would go to his car, parked on campus, and open his trunk where he kept a large cache of hooch. By the end of the day – every day – CC was obviously pickled. But having attained permanent status, he knew that no matter how slurred his speech may have been, getting plastered daily was an activity he could indulge in without consequence. He finally retired after 37 years and shortly thereafter had a massive stroke and died. Sadly, the union may have rewarded CC with permanent status, but the real world provides no such guarantees.
  • DD was as wacky as they come. She, too, had no control over her classes, and whenever I had any of her third period science kids in my fourth period history class, I had to spend a good 15 minutes peeling them off the walls. The entire staff knew DD was an awful teacher, but axing her was out of the question. Instead, she was sent to the “Peer Assistance Review” (PAR) program – a union created mechanism – which didn’t help a bit. She couldn’t teach; her kids didn’t learn. Her greatest strength as a teacher was at faculty meetings where her loony comments would make us all laugh… very nervously. By the way, DD just renewed her teaching credential for another five years.
  • And then there was EE. One day this eighth grade English teacher allegedly touched a female student inappropriately. There were witnesses, but the student involved would not press charges so they put EE into the district office for a while – the so-called “rubber room” or “teacher jail.” Since firing him was not a viable option, the powers-that-be decided to transfer him to another school, where he apparently fondled another student. So he was sent back to the district office, where he whittled away his paid vacation ogling porn. Busted, he was transferred to yet another school, where he got caught sharing his smut with some of his female students. He was then returned to the district office, where the last I heard, he was waiting for his next assignment, courtesy of his union lawyer.  This was almost ten years ago and I have no idea what EE is doing now or to whom he is doing it, but I do hope its behind closed doors and doesn’t involve teenage girls.

Please keep in mind that I have described just one public school out of about 10,000 in California. Stanford economist Eric Hanushek has famously said that if we could get rid of the bottom 5-7 percent of the teaching profession, we could have a world-class system like Finland. If we take Hanushek’s middle number – 6 percent (of 300,000), that means there are 18,000 teachers in the Golden State that should be looking for other means of employment. But they’re not – which means that about 450,000 young minds are getting shortchanged – and worse – year after year. (The reality is that, on average, just ten “permanent” teachers a year in California are let go.)

Right after being termed out as National Education Association president in July, Dennis Van Roekel gave an interview to Education Week and addressed the union’s insistence on maintaining an industrial-style model. He said, “Union members, however, are not going to give up their industrial union rights to enjoy the benefits of being treated like real professionals until they are treated as real professionals.”

He has it backwards. Teachers will never be considered professionals until they take charge and professionalize the field. There are 282,000 teachers in California who are doing an adequate, good or great job and it is incumbent upon them to take the lead and purge the field of the stinkers and pedophiles. Teachers have long wanted to be recognized as professionals, but they will never attain that status as long as they allow the teachers unions to protect incompetents and miscreants. 450,000 kids’ deserve better …much better.

(An abridged version of this post was printed in U-T San Diego on Jan.16th.)

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

Vergara: What Comes Next?

Assuming Judge Treu’s rulings survive the appeals process, what will replace the offending statutes?

In last year’s Vergara case, Judge Rolf Treu ruled that the state’s archaic seniority, tenure and dismissal statutes were unconstitutional, adding that the evidence submitted “shocks the conscience.” The judge’s ruling is now being appealed by the state of California, the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers. Should the decision survive the appeals process, legislators will need to pass new laws to fill the void. In that vein, the Students Matter team that brought the lawsuit has come out with their suggested fixes or “policy pillars.”

Regarding tenure or more accurately “permanence,” their recommendation is solid:

Students Matter believes teachers should earn a designated number of effective or highly effective ratings on annual performance evaluations in order to receive tenure; that a teacher’s permanent status should be portable between school districts; and that permanent status should be able to be rescinded if a teacher receives multiple evaluations showing an ineffective rating.

A million times better than what we have now, but still – why is it that teaching is the only profession – or any job for that matter – that warrants something called “permanence?” In fact, this pillar hedges a bit. It says, “…permanent status should be able to be rescinded…” Well, if permanence can be rescinded if a teacher isn’t effective, then it’s not really permanent, is it?

They also have good ideas about the onerous dismissal statutes.

In order to reduce the extreme cost – in time, money, morale and student learning – of the current teacher dismissal process, while protecting the constitutional rights of both students and teachers, Students Matter recommends explicitly including ineffectiveness as grounds for dismissal and mirroring for teachers the same dismissal process established for classified employees.

In 2014, California took a step forward by passing AB 215, which made it easier to get rid of teachers who are proven guilty of “egregious and immoral conduct.” But there is nothing in the law about getting rid of incompetents. Hence, this pillar hits the mark. Public education should join the rest of the civilized work-world, weeding out those employees who are not getting the job done.

They score a bulls-eye with their suggestion about seniority:

Students Matter recommends explicitly requiring that student learning be the preponderant criterion in layoff decisions and explicitly prohibiting the consideration of seniority as the preponderant criterion.

The current last-in-first-out method of picking winners and losers is an abomination. Length of time on the job should never be the sole reason to keep that job. Would you go to a wonderful doctor who has been practicing for 10 years or a quack who has been killing (or just maiming) his patients for 20 years? The question answers itself. In fact, Dr. Quack’s patient load would tank and he would undoubtedly be forced to find another means of employment. Why not extend this line of thought to the world of education?

So except for the minor quibble with the tenure pillar, the Students Matter suggestions are excellent.

And now for the bad news. Whatever legal changes are made must survive the California state legislature, which is essentially controlled by the California Teachers Association. While the powerful union has yet to comment on the pillars, it goes without saying that it will use every ounce of influence it has to fight them.

Permanence: The union has taken to calling it “due process.” This is laughable – a job for life has nothing to do with legal rights. And union leaders are offering up ridiculous excuses for the existence of tenure. Recently, New York City teacher union boss Michael Mulgrew actually said, “Without tenure, teachers can be disciplined or even fired for speaking out on behalf of the needs of their students.”

Criminy, is that the best he can do?!

Dismissal statutes: Anthony Lombardi, the principal of an elementary school in New York City, bluntly stated that American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten “… would protect a dead body in the classroom. That’s her job.” Well that may be a slight exaggeration, but it’s true that people who shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near children are almost never fired.

In California, due to the union-orchestrated dismissal statutes, on average just two “permanent” teachers a year lose their job due to incompetence. That’s two bad apples out of about 300,000. In my almost 30 years in the classroom, there were always at least two teachers at my school alone who should have been let go. Also, it’s ridiculously expensive to get a teacher out the door. Between 2000 and 2010, the Los Angeles Unified School District spent $3.5 million trying to fire just seven teachers (out of over 30,000) for poor classroom performance. Only four were let go during that time.

Seniority: Union leaders are quite incoherent in this area. “Saving your jobs would mean that more experienced teachers would lose theirs,” UTLA president A.J. Duffy told a group of young teachers at Liechty Middle School in 2009. “Seniority is the only fair way to do it . . . and any exception would be an act of disloyalty.” The California Federation of Teachers website claims that “Seniority is the only fair, transparent way to administer layoffs. It ensures equal treatment for all teachers…”

Problem is that not all teachers deserve equal treatment. The great and good should be treated better than the mediocre and awful.

Interestingly, a recent survey funded by Teach Plus, an organization that strives to ensure that urban children have access to effective educators, found that 69 percent of teachers in California agreed that “tenure protected an ineffective colleague who should have been dismissed but wasn’t.” But it also found that 81 percent said that “tenure was important to them personally.” In brief, the teachers polled came down somewhere in between the Students Matter pillars and traditional union hardline resistance to change. You can access the survey here.

Will the unions listen to their more moderate members and act accordingly? Don’t bet on it.

Will the unions besiege their cronies in Sacramento to ignore the Students Matter fixes? Most assuredly.

What can you do? Send letters and emails to your state legislators, and implore them to do right by the children of California. Only when enough good people stand up to the destructive agenda of the teachers unions will public education take a great leap forward.

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.

Homeschool Home Run

An Education News report tells us that homeschooling is thriving.

In a recent report, we learn that since 1999, the number of children who are homeschooled has increased by 75 percent. Though homeschooled children represent only 4 percent (about 2 million) of all school-age children nationwide, they are growing seven times faster than the number of children enrolling in grades K-12.*

 A few highlights:

  • Data shows that those who are independently educated typically score between 65th and 89th percentile on such exams, while those attending traditional schools average on the 50th percentile.
  • The achievement gaps, long plaguing school systems around the country, aren’t present in homeschooling environment. There’s no difference in achievement between sexes, income levels or race/ethnicity.
  • Those from non-traditional education environments matriculate in colleges and attain a four-year degree at much higher rates than their counterparts from public and even private schools.
  • Recent studies laud homeschoolers’ academic success, noting their significantly higher ACT-Composite scores as high schoolers and higher grade point averages as college students. Yet surprisingly, the average expenditure for the education of a homeschooled child, per year, is $500 to $600, compared to an average expenditure of $10,000 per child, per year, for public school students.
  • … Those from non-traditional education environments matriculate in colleges and attain a four-year degree at much higher rates than their counterparts from public and even private schools. Homeschoolers are actively recruited by schools like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Stanford University and Duke.
  • Based on recent data, researchers such as Dr. Brian Ray ( “expect to observe a notable surge in the number of children being homeschooled in the next 5 to 10 years. The rise would be in terms of both absolute numbers and percentage of the K to 12 student population. This increase would be in part because . . . [1] a large number of those individuals who were being home educated in the 1990s may begin to homeschool their own school-age children and [2] the continued successes of home-educated students.”

With results like these, who could possibly be against homeschooling?

The usual suspects: statists, educrats, and teacher unionistas. They don’t think parents are capable of teaching their little (and not so little) ones. In fact, in February 2008 a California state appellate court ruled that parents who lack teaching credentials could not educate their children at home. Needless to say, this decision sent waves of angst through California’s homeschooling families.

Talk about government overreach! If the state can mandate teaching credentials for parents, maybe the next step will be forcing parents to get a chef’s license to be able to cook for their children? Or maybe a parent should have to become a registered nurse before being allowed to take care of a sick child?

Of course, the decision delighted the teachers unions. Then United Teachers of Los Angeles president A.J. Duffy pontificated, “What’s best for a child is to be taught by a credentialed teacher.” Lloyd Porter, California Teachers Association board member at the time, chimed in, “We’re happy. We always think students should be taught by credentialed teachers, no matter what the setting.”

Additionally, CTA, which never misses an opportunity to bolster its ranks (parents and children be damned), filed a brief claiming that allowing parents to homeschool their children without having a teaching credential will result in “educational anarchy.”

The antipathy toward homeschooling coming from a teachers union in California is especially laughable. As Alan Bonsteel wrote after the initial decision,

The only test that California public schoolteachers have to pass is the CBEST, an 8th-grade level exam. Because they are supposed to be college graduates, would it not make more sense for them to be asked to pass a college-level test? The Graduate Record Exam, for example?

And too many of our science and mathematics teachers have no college degree in their subjects.

As if all that wasn’t enough to produce a crisis of teacher quality in California’s public schools, the weakest teachers are protected by a system of tenure and the California Teachers Association, the most powerful political force in the state.

Also, Chris Klicka, senior counsel for the Home School Legal Defense Association wrote,

Eric Hanushek of the University of Rochester, who surveyed the results of 113 studies on the impact of teachers’ qualifications on their students’ academic achievement. Eighty-five percent of the studies found no positive correlation between the educational performance of the students and the teacher’s educational background. Although 7 percent of the studies did find a positive correlation, 5 percent found a negative impact.

Fortunately for California’s families, sanity prevailed a few months later. In August 2008, a state appellate court ruled that parents may indeed legally home-school their kids in California even if they lack a teaching credential.

It’s important to note that homeschool parents don’t educate their kids in a vacuum. Thanks to the internet, there is much help for parents who need it. For example, the aforementioned Home School Legal Defense Association maintains a terrific website where parents can go to learn about the law in their state, find supplemental resources, exchange curricula, etc.

Californian Diane Flynn Keith, whose homeschooled sons are grown now, runs Click Schooling, an excellent website which specializes in web-based curriculum ideas. She also mentors homeschooling families and teaches a “Homeschool 101” class at the College of San Mateo.

But whatever its successes, homeschooling will always be on the hit list of those threatened by parents who prefer not to send their kids to government-run schools. A recent quote from Louisiana teacher union president Joyce Haynes says it all. Speaking about Louisiana’s voucher program – though it could apply to homeschoolers – she said it would result in “… taking our children from us.”

A union president is complaining about their children being taken from them?! Yes, the teachers union boss thinks that your school kids really belong to her and her union. If that doesn’t scare you, nothing will.

A parent has many responsibilities: feeding their kids, providing shelter, keeping them safe, etc. If you can swing it, you just might want to consider adding “educating them” to that list.

* The numbers I used in the first paragraph are disputed by Joy Pullmann, research fellow at The Heartland Institute. She correctly points to an error in the Education News story. The following is from Pullmann’s soon to be published op-ed in the Orange County Register. 

State and federal governments typically do not track homeschool students like they do public and even private school students, making reliable numbers sparse. The most recent federal estimates on homeschooling are from 2007. The report just before that was in 2003, showing a 29 percent increase in homeschooled students since 1999. A 2008 Census Bureau report showed homeschooling increased 8.3 percent per year from 2004 to 2008. So, for the most recent decade in which we have data, homeschooling seems to have been growing between 7 and 8 percent per year. That means homeschooling would approximately double in a decade, which is indeed about what happened between 1999 and 2009. Between 2000 and 2010, the most recent decade of available data, public K-12 enrollment increased 2 percent. So, yes, homeschooling has been growing faster than public schooling, but closer to a rate that is fifty times greater than the rate public enrollment has grown, not seven.

Since there are some 2 million homeschooled students and nearly 50 million public schooled students, it takes a lot more public than homeschool students to get an equal enrollment increase. A 1 percent increase in both, for example, would mean 2,000 more homeschool students but 50,000 more public school students. So to say homeschooling is increasing faster than public schooling exaggerates its growth.


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

UTLA ♥ Marxists

Los Angeles teachers union continues its tradition of  accommodating  and supporting political extremists.

 As a teacher and longtime member of the United Teachers of Los Angeles, I got sick and tired of the union taking my dues money and using it to support candidates and causes that I found offensive and resigned from the union in 2005. Shortly after, in the fall of 2006, there was a big dust up when UTLA President A.J. Duffy announced that he couldn’t stop a group of pro-Palestinian, anti-Semitic zealots – I mean the UTLA Human Rights Committee – from using the union offices for a meeting. Getting unexpected media attention, Mr. Duffy suddenly realized that he indeed could pull the plug on the UTLA housed meeting, which he eventually did.

The United Teachers of Los Angeles is just like many other teachers unions. By day, it does its best to protect every last member, no matter how incompetent they may be, or even criminal, as when they worked to kill SB 1530, to the detriment of the city’s 650,000 students. And then, after finishing its day job, it delves into the netherworld of left wing politics.

I first wrote about this in 2011 in a post called “The Intersection of U Street and Main Street Does Not Exist,” in which I delve into why the unions are falling out of favor with the general public. (According to a recent Education Next poll, only 22 percent of Americans think unions have a positive effect on schools.) I gave three examples to illustrate my point:

An example of the unions turn toward extremist politics took place last year in Los Angeles. Santee High School teacher and UTLA union rep Jose Lara took his students to Arizona on a “field trip” to protest Arizona’s new immigration law. In a YouTube video, Lara is seen standing in front of a wall-to-wall mural featuring a who’s who of murderous revolutionaries, including Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, while proudly displaying the motto Patria o Muerte, Venceremos!!! (Fatherland or Death, We Shall Overcome!!!). UTLA, while not a sponsor of the Memorial Day weekend trip, had no comment on Mr. Lara’s attempt to turn his students into an army of radical activists.

Sarah Knopp, also a LA high school teacher, union rep and member of the International Socialist Organization, is on record as a militant socialist who is not shy about pushing her collectivist credo onto her students. Additionally, Ms. Knopp has used UTLA offices to advocate for class warfare. After a trip to Wisconsin to protest the elimination of some collective bargaining rights for teachers, she proclaimed, “We cannot let public-sector workers and unions be scapegoats for an economic crisis caused by banks and billionaires!”

Ron Gochez, another radical teacher at Santee made an incendiary video in which he referred to Americans as “frail, racist, white people” and to California as “stolen, occupied Mexico.” This video produced calls from outraged citizens to the Los Angeles Unified School District, but they fell on deaf ears. After receiving many complaints, the district referred to the union contract and issued a statement which says, in effect, that Gochez committed no crime. So get over it. (More on Gochez shortly.)

Then just a few weeks ago, I reported that UTLA had endorsed Robert Skeels, who is running for a school board seat in Los Angeles District 2. Like Knopp, Skeels is a card-carrying member of the revolutionary International Socialist Organization. On his blog site, his bio in part reads

Robert is a committed member of both Coalition for Educational Justice and the International Socialist Organization. In addition to advancing working class struggles, Robert is an adherent of Liberation Theology.

The International Socialist Organization, according to its website, believes in

A world free of exploitation–socialism–is not only possible but worth fighting for. The ISO stands in the tradition of revolutionary socialists Karl Marx, V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky in the belief that workers themselves–the vast majority of the population–are the only force that can lead the fight to win a socialist society. Socialism can’t be brought about from above, but has to be won by workers themselves.

Standing in the tradition of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky? Why would UTLA be in favor of letting this man be in a position of power affecting the lives of hundreds of thousands of children? Perhaps a call to the union would shed some light.

You can also ask the union about the latest chapter in its love affair with Bolshevism, as evidenced by its embrace of Ron Gochez, the aforementioned racist, Jew-hating, Marxist teacher who is running for LA City Council. The previously referenced video, in which he refers to Americans as “frail, racist, white people” and to California as “stolen, occupied Mexico” was not a one-off but a variation on an ongoing theme. Here, from a few years back, is a typical statement from the man that UTLA would like to be one of a group that rules America’s second largest city.

“Either you are with us or against us” is what Bush tells us. Our civil rights are under attack by this fascist and Nazi-like Bush administration. All people of color have been/are victims of racial profiling at the hands of the border, police, military, Republican and Democratic pigs. The post Sept. 11 disappearances of our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters are proof of that. As Chicanos/Mexicanos living in occupied Mexico/Aztlan, we are treated like foreigners on our own land. Our civil rights are violated 24/7. Don’t believe me? Research Operation Gatekeeper and the 800 people who have been murdered under the rule of the “Republicrat” dictatorship. When we try to educate ourselves by passing out “Know Your Rights” fliers, we are beaten, arrested and made political prisoners like Ben Prado.

The Jewish-owned media continue to blind the masses with propaganda to keep them in fear. Because of that, foolish Americans are accepting B.S. like the Patriot Act which is turning the United States (if it is not already) into a military/police state and taking away our privacy. The FBI and CIA tap the phones and break into the homes of anyone who has a different viewpoint and assassinate those who pose a threat to their White Power and capitalistic agenda.

MEChA is completely against everything that Bush and his cronies stand for but we still deserve and demand that our people’s civil rights be respected!

–Ron Gochez
chairman, MEChA de SDSU

In defense of Gochez, coming down on “Republican and Democratic pigs,” would seem to make him an equal opportunity hater. And it’s not just ex-President George W. Bush that he loathes. Gochez is also affiliated with the African People’s Socialist Party which in the past has come up with such niceties as calling President Obama

…a “traitor,” a “motherf**ker,” and a “boot-licking ni**er” who needs someone to “whup his ass” (from video of 2009 and 2010 APSP/Black is Back rallies in Washington DC.)

In another video, we see Gochez and some cronies holding a Cuban flag with a picture of Che Guevara superimposed on it, taunting a group of Cubans who were holding a peaceful rally in Los Angeles. Apparently, Mr. Gochez took it personally that thousands of Cubans managed to escape from the island prison known as Cuba and refuse to venerate the monstrous Guevara, who, as Fidel Castro’s henchman, tortured and murdered thousands of innocent Cubans.

There is much more incriminating evidence on Gochez, but you get the idea. That he is being endorsed by UTLA, the second largest local teachers union in the country, is despicable. Its support of revolutionary, America-hating candidates should deeply trouble every dues paying teacher, not to mention the parents whose children are in the schools where people like Gochez are allowed to “teach.”

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.

Former Union Boss to Become Charter School Operator

Once a rabid anti-reformer, termed out United Teachers of Los Angeles President A.J. Duffy has become a union apostate…maybe.

On September 1st, Los Angeles Times writer Howard Blume wrote what at first glance appeared to be satire. He reported that A.J. Duffy is starting his own charter school. For those of you who live a peaceful life outside the realm of the education wars, Duffy is the crusty and cantankerous, raspy and rabid former president of the United Teachers of Los Angeles – a man who never met a charter school or any education reform that he liked. And when he didn’t like something, he made sure you knew about it.

But it’s a new day and Duffy indeed will be soon become the executive director of Apple Academy Charter Public Schools, a new organization that hopes to open one or more schools by the fall of 2012.

To show how bizarre all this is, let’s take a step back a couple of years. In 2009, when the Los Angeles Unified School District wanted to expand the number of charter schools in the district, Duffy, then UTLA President said,

“All the data says charter schools do not do better than public schools. This is bureaucracy putting in a top-down plan which hasn’t worked before.”

Now he says he has a vision, and while his schools will be unionized, it will not be at the expense of sacrificing his new ideas about how a school should operate.

Just as remarkable is his new view on tenure. In 2005, responding to a state initiative that would make it more difficult for teachers to attain tenure, or permanent status, he said,

“The governor wants to give carte blanche to principals to fire any teacher who speaks up or who is a whistleblower or to simply fire someone based solely on a whim, not the facts. The current rules protect teachers from arbitrary and unjustified termination.”

Now he wants to make it much more difficult for teachers to attain tenure, lengthening the process and requiring teachers to prove that they are worthy of maintaining that status. He also wants to streamline the dismissal process which typically lasts for years and can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Duffy always defended this multilayered, agonizing procedure as a way to ensure that teachers got “due process.” Now he will get the entire process over with in ten days if he can.

Interestingly, Reason’s Nick Gillespie noted that charter school advocates have responded to Duffy’s 180 degree move cautiously, but were generally positive.

Jed Wallace, president of the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) seems to be comfortable with the new Duffy.

“We are pleased to see that Mr. Duffy, who has been a vocal opponent to charter schools in the past, is now demonstrating by his own desire to lead a charter school, that charters are absolutely an effective ingredient for public education reform in LAUSD.”

Not only that, but one-time arch enemy, Caprice Young, former president of both the CCSA and LAUSD school boards has happily joined Duffy’s board at Apple.

Additionally, education reformer Whitney Tilson sent out an email which said,

“I hope reformers are embracing him with open arms – I love converts! They’re extra powerful….”

Others however, have been less effusive. Former UTLA boss John Perez was quoted as wishing Duffy well but could not endorse Duffy’s new direction.

Bronx Teacher, a teacher and blogger in New York, captured the spirit of many union supporters,

“How can Duffy look himself in the mirror and see what he likes? How can he when everything he has fought for, everything he has stood for is now all just moot? Duffy is no more than just a politician. His, and only his, best interests at heart. The families and students of Los Angeles as well as the teachers have just been told by Duffy to F*** Off! So has the rest of America. Shame on you AJ Duffy.”

And in an email, Len Solomon, a former teaching colleague of mine, quipped,

“He didn’t just wake up. He’s known all along that the LAUSD is infected with more than its share of dregs. Yet he protected them with the knowledge that tens of thousands of students were paying dearly.”

Solomon is right. I believe that there has been too much happy talk coming from the reformers.

Those who are pleased with Duffy’s conversion are perhaps unaware of an important component. Duffy, termed out as UTLA President in June, wanted to become vice-president of the militant California Teachers Association. He ran unsuccessfully for the position this past April, but his campaign website is still online. I suggest you visit the site soon, as it could be pulled at any time. You will see that just 18 weeks ago, the new charter operator maintained every hard-line, pro-union, anti-student stance that he has always been noted for. Hence the “welcome aboard” attitude from reformers is too near-sighted in my book.

I don’t know what Duffy is really up to, but I wouldn’t trust him for a minute with my kid. As a union leader who as of June made sure that every lousy teacher retained their job, do we really know what is motivating him in September? Anyone who can turn on a dime that fast is either a rash opportunist or a flibbertigibbet – neither is good and he along with his charter schools should be avoided at all costs.

In his new book, Class Warfare, Steven Brill has an outside-the-box suggestion to fix education in New York City; he thinks Mayor Bloomberg should appoint American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten to be the schools chancellor – calling it a “Nixon-to-China play.” While certainly an interesting thought, I doubt he thinks this could ever be a reality. But after A.J. Duffy has become president of a charter school organization, who knows? In fact, I wouldn‘t bet on the sun rising in the east tomorrow.

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.

You Don’t Need a Weatherman to Know Which Way the Union Wind Blows

Twenty years of schooling in Los Angeles and you’re lucky if you can get any job, let alone one on the day shift.

Bob Dylan penned the words in the headline (sans the union part) almost a half century ago but having been quoted by many, they live on. The latest example of the lyrics’ relevance can be applied to a new 58 page report commissioned by United Way and several civil rights’ groups, produced by the National Council on Teacher Quality and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation…and the reactions of a teachers union boss.

Teacher Quality Roadmap: Improving Policies and Practices in LAUSD was published last week, and there were no major surprises in it. Education reformers have been aggressively campaigning for similar changes for many years, and various recommendations from this report are already in force in other states. (While dealing specifically with Los Angeles, its findings could be readily applied to the rest of California. Local school districts do have some power, but education policy decisions are typically made at the state level.)

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.

The report also suggested giving principals considerably more power, stating they should be able to hire any teacher of their choosing, and at the same time make it easier for them to get rid of incompetents. As things stand now, perverse incentives may lead principals to overlook the failings of poorly performing teachers which, over time, make it difficult to get rid of them: “The online evaluation system includes a pop-up warning telling principals who have selected ‘needs improvement’ for 3 or more of the 27 indicators to contact Staff Relations and present documentation to reinforce the ratings.”

The report was particularly tough on seniority, claiming that California is one of only 12 states that mandates layoffs be conducted in order of reverse seniority. In other words, under the existing system, layoffs are made by last hired, first let go, regardless of the quality of the teacher.
Since many of the recommendations are in place elsewhere, why not California?

Other states either have weaker state teachers unions than the California Teachers Association, or they have governors and state legislators who refuse to cave to unreasonable union demands. Conversely, we have the most powerful state teachers’ union in the country, as well as a governor and legislature that for the most part regularly kowtow to the organization that helped put them into office.

While CTA has not formally responded to the report yet, United Teachers of Los Angeles President A.J. Duffy did, and his wind blew in a very predictable direction. Here are just a few of his reactions with my comments following in parenthesis:

• He criticized the study, calling it misguided and performed by non-educators. (What he means is that the union wasn’t consulted and therefore the study is bogus.)

• He sniffed, “Many must-place teachers are fine teachers,” (These are teachers that no principal wants but nevertheless must be given a teaching job as per the union contract.)

• He thinks that teachers should be encouraged to go back to school to “improve the quality of education for our kids.” As such, he faulted the study’s finding that too much money ($500,000,000) is wasted giving raises to teachers who take post-graduate coursework. (Studies have shown that teachers who take post-graduate courses are not more successful after taking these classes, but get salary increases anyway.)

• He charged that it is wrong to talk about reforming the evaluation and tenure systems without talking about how teachers are trained. (Yes, many of our schools of education are atrocious, but this has nothing to do with tenure – two years in the classroom should not guarantee a teacher a job for life.)

• He called the salary recommendations ludicrous. (Performance pay is a bête noire for the union crowd. Any deviation of the current salary schedule whereby teachers get an automatic yearly raise, essentially rewarding a teacher for not dying over the summer, is off-limits.)

• “Educational equity and teacher quality are important and we should all be talking about them,” he said. “But it should not be about an attack upon teachers unions.” (The teachers unions are the biggest obstacle to any meaningful education reform. Should we just get together, sing Kumbaya, blow kisses at each other and ignore the 500 lb. gorilla in the corner?)

• He said, “The people that put this report together are non-educators who believe that a market-driven approach is the only way to improve public education and we believe that is absolutely the death and destruction of public education.” (Since private school teachers are not organized, privatization is particularly irksome to unionistas.)

• He insisted that UTLA leaders are willing to agree to some changes, including revamping the evaluation system, but still vehemently opposes any use of student test scores to determine which teachers are the most qualified. (Reformers want to use standardized test scores as a part of teachers’ evaluations because they are an objective measure.)

Less than three weeks from being termed out as UTLA boss, A.J. Duffy is going out in a windstorm of union predictability. Incoming president Warren Fletcher has been very quiet throughout all this, giving some optimists hope that a new regime will be more accommodating to badly needed change. I would alert those folks to another song which came out 40 years ago this month. The Who’s “We Won’t Get Fooled Again” included the lyric, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

Yup, you still won’t need a weatherman; an unfavorable, unified wind will still be blowing in an all too predictable direction.

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.

Deasy and Duffy: The Dinosaurs Amongst Us

School district and teacher union leaders need to embrace serious education reform or go the way of the Stegosaurus.

My post last week concerned itself with the fact that some or even many teachers might lose their jobs come June due to the dire financial straits in which many school districts find themselves. The Los Angeles Unified School District alone sent Reduction in Force (RIF) notices to over 4,000 teachers, advising them that they may be laid off at the end of this school year. I made the point that many of the cutbacks would not have been necessary had the districts not over-hired in the first place.

Upon hearing the news of the RIF notices, John Deasy, the man who very shortly will take over as LAUSD Superintendent, whined, “The state of California does not support children. Period.” This ridiculous statement was a response to the fact that out of necessity, the legislators in Sacramento – hardly a flinty bunch – will be making cuts in education spending.

Then A.J. Duffy, president of the United Teachers of Los Angeles, the second largest local teachers union in the country, came out with a statement which outdoes Deasy’s. “UTLA is here to speak in favor of our students. Our children get one shot at a good education. Every time class sizes are raised … you put a dagger in the heart of public education.” (Actually, union leaders know a thing or two about putting “a dagger in the heart of public education” — they have been lacerating public education for years by fighting against every kind of meaningful education reform.)

What Deasy, Duffy and their ilk refuse to acknowledge is that there are other ways to address budgetary issues in education. For example, reformers have repeatedly pointed out the tremendous benefits of giving parents a real choice of where to send their kids to school. In Sweden, parents choose a school that’s right for their child — public or private — and tax money earmarked for education follows the child. In fact, the Swedish system is working so well that even the Socialists are in favor of the privatization aspect! This type of competitive system substantially lowers costs, saves teachers’ jobs and dramatically improves the quality of education. Our antiquated system has the state sending money for every child to government run schools and then sentences the children to attend them.

The current “let’s throw more money into education no matter the results” days are numbered. A look at an internationally standardized test, the results of which were released a couple of months ago, gets right to the heart of the matter. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which measures educational achievement, was jointly administered to 15-year-olds in schools around the world. The U.S. came in 23rd – the middle of the pack – with a performance indistinguishable from Poland, Ireland, Norway, France and several other countries.

In the March 2011 issue of Reason Magazine, Veronique de Rugy addresses the PISA results. While the American 15-year-olds’ performance is mediocre, American education spending is right at the top. “With the exception of Switzerland, the U.S. spends the most in the world on education, an average of $91,700 per student in the nine years between the ages of 6 and 15. But the results do not correlate: For instance, we spend one-third more per student than Finland, which consistently ranks near the top in science, reading, and math.”

In another example of more money not translating to better educated students, she uses information from the National Center for Educational Statistics which shows that since 1970, education spending has tripled (in constant dollars) while reading, math and science scores have remained flat.

De Rugy goes on to say that increased spending typically translates to hiring more teachers. In fact, “…the number of students per teacher in U.S. public schools fell from 17.4 in 1990 to 15.7 in 2007.” Again, there was no increase in educational outcomes.

The bottom line is that throwing more and more money at a public school system which is barely treading water is the path to educational mediocrity and financial ruin. The alternative is getting serious about real education reform – most importantly by giving parents a choice as to where they can spend their education dollars. Only then will any significant change occur.

At that point, we will see the Deasys and the Duffys of the world follow their dinosaur ancestors into extinction.

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.