Steve Jobs vs. Wall St. Whiners and Teachers Unions

Steve Jobs knew how to create wealth. The parasitic Wall Street protesters and teachers unions want to destroy it.

There are many theories as to who is orchestrating the “Occupy Wall Street” protests – known in some circles as “Kamp Alinsky” and “Kamp Kvetch” – in lower Manhattan and elsewhere throughout our country. George Soros? President Obama? Could they possibly be spontaneous?

No matter. The protesters and their message of social justice, socialism and general hatred of all things corporate will not affect the great majority of Americans. The average Joe and Jill are just trying to pay their bills, raise a family and live a decent life. Hence the Wall Street rabble, a motley combination of bored teenagers, old guard lefties and hard core partiers, many armed with iPhones, digital cameras and many other luxuries produced by corporations, are badly missing the mark. As usual, the protesters’ signs tell the story – none more so than the one that says, “A job is a right. Capitalism doesn’t work.” Could any serious types associate with this fringe mentality?

Enter Michael Mulgrew – the United Federation of Teachers president. Speaking “truth to power,” his tax-the-rich talk at a Wall St. rally fit right in with the angry mob that thinks wealth is evil and that if A has more money than B, A owes B some of it. It’s the mentality that thinks that there is no moral difference between Bernie Madoff and Bill Gates.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten couldn’t miss the opportunity to throw in her two cents. As always, beating the victim drum, she whined about our country being on the wrong track and bemoaned the country’s “long term structural inequalities.” Whatever.

What the teachers unions really want is to make sure that every human being walking the planet who wants to be a teacher becomes one. Swelling the roles of the profession – competency be damned – makes the unions as rich and powerful as the corporations they hate for being rich and powerful.

In highly ironic counterpoint, there is the much-too-early passing of the legendary Steve Jobs. One of the visionary founders of Apple Computers, the 56 year old Jobs succumbed to a long bout with pancreatic cancer last week. Jobs and Apple are perfect examples of capitalism at its best. The products Jobs was responsible for added quality and joy to the lives of millions of people around the world. Jobs was also responsible for helping to make many people wealthy – whether they were employees of Apple or just owned stock in the wildly successful company.

What is not known to many is that Jobs, who donated many thousands of computers to schools all over the country, had very pointed views about the American way of not educating our young. Here are just a few –

“I remember seeing a bumper sticker when the telephone company was all one. I remember seeing a bumper sticker with the Bell Logo on it and it said “We don’t care. We don’t have to.” And that’s what a monopoly is. That’s what IBM was in their day. And that’s certainly what the public school system is. They don’t have to care.”

“I believe very strongly that if the country gave each parent a voucher for forty-four hundred dollars that they could only spend at any accredited school, several things would happen. Number one, schools would start marketing themselves like crazy to get students. Secondly, I think you’d see a lot of new schools starting.”

(Referring to education reform) “The problem there of course is the unions. The unions are the worst thing that ever happened to education because it’s not a meritocracy. It turns into a bureaucracy, which is exactly what has happened. The teachers can’t teach and administrators run the place and nobody can be fired. It’s terrible.”

It is terrible. The above comments could come out of a modern day education reformer’s handbook. However, Mr. Jobs uttered these wise words in April, 1995 – and the past 16 years have done nothing to invalidate them. The unions are still the worst thing that ever happened to education and we definitely need more school choice.

Mr. Jobs understood that competition and capitalism make the world a better place. The teachers unions are a special interest whose narrow focus benefits the few at the expense of the many. Is it any wonder then that Mulgrew, Weingarten and other union bosses associate themselves with the anti-capitalist freeloaders, socialists and losers who have nothing better to do with their time than to spew hatred at Wall Street?

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.

The Tragedy and Farce of American Schools of Education

Education schools are nothing more than dumbed down, politically correct fad factories supported by the teachers unions.

If you ever wanted to have a complete file of Diane Ravitch’s inane union apologist utterances all in one place – here it is. As Part of NBC’s Education Nation, she and Harlem Children’s Zone’s President Geoffrey Canada duked it out for a half hour. (As I watched this, I recalled Steven Brill’s comment in Class Warfare, that American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten should become the next New York City Chancellor of Education because she’s “smart” and could fix public education by making the rank and file perform better. I would add that in the highly unlikely case of this happening, Ravitch could easily replace Weingarten as AFT president.)

Needless to say, Ravitch vehemently disagreed with Canada on just about everything. However, they did agree that we needed to train our teachers better. This, of course, is like agreeing that snow is white.

The schools of education in the U.S. are by and large an abomination. Richard Vedder, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, pretty well nails it in a recent article he wrote for the Chronicle of Higher Education. He says that:

• colleges of education don’t really challenge their students.
• mindless education courses have crowded out study of subject matter.
• there is something of an anti-knowledge culture in many education schools; learning facts is actually disparaged.
• the education colleges have been great promoters of the highly dubious notion that self-esteem is critically important.
• schools of education have worked closely with teacher unions to convince legislators to keep archaic practices regarding teacher certification that prevent otherwise qualified persons from getting education degrees.

A few years ago, Education Reform Professor Jay Greene actually quantified one of the problems. Writing in City Journal, he and a research assistant explored the number of multicultural classes offered in our teachers’ colleges. They counted the number of course titles and descriptions that

“…contained the words ‘multiculturalism,’ ‘diversity,’ ‘inclusion,’ and variants thereof, and then compared those with the number that used variants of the word “math.” We then computed a ‘multiculturalism-to-math ratio’—a rough indicator of the relative importance of social goals to academic skills in ed schools.”

The results were very telling.

“The average ed school, we found, has a multiculturalism-to-math ratio of 1.82, meaning that it offers 82 percent more courses featuring social goals than featuring math. At Harvard and Stanford, the ratio is about 2: almost twice as many courses are social as mathematical. At the University of Minnesota, the ratio is higher than 12. And at UCLA, a whopping 47 course titles and descriptions contain the word ‘multiculturalism’ or ‘diversity,’ while only three contain the word ‘math,’ giving it a ratio of almost 16.”

It is beyond reprehensible that the ed schools make little effort to truly educate future teachers.

But why might they do that? Could the hairy hidden hand of the teachers union be behind this phenomenon?

Writer RiShawn Biddle explains,

“In 2009-2010, the NEA (National Education Association) ladled out $381,576 to the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, which oversees teacher training programs, according to its filing with the U.S. Department of Labor; that’s part of $1.9 million the union gave to the group over a five-year period. In 2008-2009, the union handed out $252,262 to the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, the main trade group for ed schools.”

So NEA President Dennis Van Roekel does what so many teacher union leaders do. They mouth a popular education reform sentiment, (recently saying that the “system of teacher recruitment, training and hiring is broken and needs an overhaul”) but in reality put their money where their unions’ best interests lie. In this case, it means that while admitting the system is broken, Van Roekel and the NEA reinforce the status quo by supporting an agency that accredits these same “broken” schools of education. Not surprisingly, the NEA didn’t give a penny to the National Center for Alternative Education, a newer feistier organization devoted to helping teachers who are interested in avoiding the dreary ed school route.

The question becomes why the teachers unions would back a failing mode of teacher training that typically attracts students from the bottom of their class. A recent study found that just 23 percent of teachers came from the top third of college graduates.

A cynical theory has it that the teachers unions like recruiting future teachers from the bottom of their classes because they will be more compliant than their sharper classmates, thus making it easier for the unions to foist their socially progressive agenda and other dictates on them. This is the same mentality that defense attorneys employ when picking jurors; they prefer not to empanel critical types who will be more likely to challenge them. Let’s call this the O.J. Jury Theory of teacher recruitment.

Is there any good news on the horizon?

In The October 1st edition of the Wall Street Journal, there is an article which claims that a push is coming from the Obama administration to improve teacher quality by rewarding colleges of education that produce teachers whose students do well on standardized tests. Interestingly, the NEA gave vocal support to the proposal; AFT President Randi Weingarten, however, whined,

“…the U.S. Department of Education appears to be putting its foot on the accelerator by calling for yet another use for test.”

Whether any of this comes to pass is anyone’s guess. The only thing that is a given is that in the end, Van Roekel and the NEA will revert to form and do their utmost to see that the administration’s plan never sees the light of day. And so many of our children will continue to fail, because the system is rigged against them.

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.

The Mask is Starting to Slip

Public employee unions portray themselves as representatives of public servants, whose only goal is to insure their members are treated like all other Americans.  Teachers’ unions especially portray themselves as having the best interests of students and parents at heart.

The mask is starting to slip.

Last week a 19 page power point presentation prepared by the American Federation of Teachers showed how the AFT derailed a Connecticut grassroots movement of mostly working class moms fighting for a better education future for their children.  As the Wall Street Journal reported, the goal was to insure parents thought the union was on their side while all the while:

  • Making sure the parents were shut out of any and all negotiations
  • Trick parents into signing onto proposals that pretended to give parents power but in reality did not

The double dealing was not limited to parents.  The presentation noted that although they publicly supported Rep. Bartlett, the sponsor of the legislation, and Rep. Fleischman, the co-chair of the legislature’s education committee, it merely was “Karma” that Rep. Bartlett lost his re-election effort in 2010 and Rep. Fleischman lost his bid for the House majority leader’s position.  In the words of Bernie Kopp of the Incredibles (confirmed by Rep. Bartlett):  “Coincidence, I think not!”  Click here for video.

The union’s hubris is such that even though the power point presentation was (1) presented at an ATF event, (2) bore the union’s label on each of the 19 pages, (3) was signed by a union official and (4) prominently placed on the union’s web page – they still claimed the presentation did not reflect its views.  How cynical! And these are the representatives of the people we entrust our children with – at least when they are not protesting at the state capitol.

Beneath the veneer of being an advocate for parents, as was demonstrated in Connecticut, the union’s true feelings are very different.  In California, Federation of Teachers President Marty Hittelman said California legislation similar to that proposed in Connecticut would empower “lynch mobs” (i.e. parents).  An article published on the CTA website said that if legislation was passed which increased parental input parents “will have their hands on the levers of power; from what I have seen, parents are unprepared for this.” And most disgusting of all, a San Jose California Latino parent, whose child was struggling in a traditional school, asked one of the school’s educators whether a charter school was right for her child.  The educator’s response?  “Charter schools are for retarded children”.  (Out of desperation the mother went ahead and enrolled her child in a charter school, where the child is flourishing today.)

With respect to manipulating the careers of elected officials, in California they are not as subtle as they are in Connecticut.  In a public hearing in Sacramento a union leader told legislators public employee unions put them into office and if the legislators did not back the union’s program, the union would put them out of office.  View video.

Not content with controlling the legislature, California public unions now are focusing on disenfranchising California voters from exercising their constitutional right to petition their government.  In recent radio ads they make the totally unsupported claim that by signing petitions, voters are opening themselves up to identity theft.  Listen to audio.

It does not have to be this way.  If we are going to be world leaders, as we should be, it cannot be this way.

In terms of education, today we are at a juncture similar to the communications system in the 1970s.  Back then, AT&T fought innovation every step of the way, just as the teachers’ unions are today.  But just as AT&T not only survived the communications revolution, but actually flourished because of it, teachers will be one of the major beneficiaries of the technological changes coming to education.  Instead of spending most of their time lecturing to a large group of students, some who already know the material and some who have no idea what the teacher is talking about, technology will enable teachers to track the children’s development and their time with each student will be based upon what that child needs.

In terms of parental involvement, many teachers are frustrated parents are not more involved.  And in some schools, parents do not know how to get involved.  In one school I am working in, the average parent did not attend school after the third grade.  But parental involvement should be encouraged, nurtured, not manipulated.

In the days ahead, there are going to be serious, difficult arguments about education policy, including the role of technology, parental involvement and what we can afford.  Our Constitution, one of the greatest documents ever written, was the result of another extremely contentious argument.  We can succeed; for the sake of our children, we must succeed.  But the lying, the double dealing, the thuggery adds nothing to the debate and is not worthy of a world leader, much less the example we should be setting for our children.

About the author: Duf Sundheim has been active in politics for over 30 years. He was Chairman of the California Republican Party from 2003 until 2006. Mr. Sundheim regularly appears on national and regional broadcasts including NBC’s “Today Show,” CBS’s “Early Show,” MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Mathews” and the FOX News Channel’s “Hannity and Colmes.

Teachers Unions Happy to Say Goodbye to August

The Dog Days of summer are making teachers unions sweat as they get caught being, well, teachers unions.

August has been a bad month for teachers unions. And looking at things objectively, it would appear that every one of their hot flashes has been well deserved. In no particular order:

The SOS March was a dud. It was supposed to be a teacher-led event, but the unions were really behind it. The small turnout had its share of angry, mostly leftist teachers whining and shouting about this and that. No one paid much attention. The speakers were just what you’d expect. Jonathan Kozol, forty years later, is still railing about poverty causing ignorance. (No, actually ignorance causes poverty.) Then the marchers were treated to former reformer and current union mouthpiece Diane Ravitch who chirped about how wonderful they all were. And then the big gun, Matt Damon, who if nothing else showed what a great actor he is. The guy who played a convincing genius in Good Will Hunting demonstrates that without a good script he’s about as sharp as a marble.

The Wisconsin recall didn’t work.
Those testy teachers in the cheesehead state who were furious at Governor Scott Walker and the Republicans in the state legislature for curtailing collective bargaining and keeping the state from insolvency, failed in their bid to recall the offending legislators. Actually they did manage to recall two of the six Republicans but they needed three to gain a Democrat majority. Hence, Wisconsin will continue its economic recovery. (Memo to those teachers: your tantrums and sense of entitlement really turn off the common folk who, by the way, pay your salaries. Maybe a little less victimology next time. Also, do your homework – nowhere does it say that collective bargaining is a “human right.”)

American Federation of Teachers posts arrogant PowerPoint on its website. The AFT bragged about eviscerating a Parent Trigger law in Connecticut and posted its strategy on their website. The 19 slide presentation unabashedly and cynically describes the process by which the union disempowered parents. After writer RiShawn Biddle blogged about the offending web page, AFT removed it. Too late – the story got out. AFT President Randi Weingarten tried to do damage control but her lukewarm, faux semi-apology fooled no one.

AFT gets caught again – this time sliming Michelle Rhee. is a malicious website dedicated to excoriating education reformer Michelle Rhee. The site is nasty, vindictive, very personal AND, according to POLITICO, registered to the AFT offices in D.C. The site is so full of hatred that they refer to Ms. Rhee, a liberal Democrat, as “the Sarah Palin of education.” Comparing a Democrat to the former Reublican governor of Alaska is like comparing a Jew to Hitler. Can’t get any nastier than that. Thus far, the union has not come forth with any explanation or apology. Long time Rhee foe, Randi Weingarten, probably just can’t come up with anything that would pass the smell test. But then again, that never stopped her before.

United Federation of Teachers in NY fails to stop release of test scores. According to the Wall Street Journal, “A state court on Thursday ordered New York City to release data that ranks thousands of school teachers based on student test scores, saying the public interest in disclosure overrides privacy concerns.” Very simply, this means that not only parents but taxpayers have a right to know how well the teachers, whose salaries they pay, are performing. But accountability is wolfbane for teachers unions. With accountability, some teachers will be judged better than others. And when that happens, the better teachers might demand higher salaries than their less effective coworkers. Also, the seniority system will be exposed as the dinosaur that it is, meaningful school reform just might begin to take hold and the union will become much less powerful, and perhaps even irrelevant.

And then, there’s Richard “Rhetorical Overreach” Iannuzzi. The New York State United Teachers boss said, “It’s a conservative, right-wing agenda that is using a sort of hostage-terrorist approach to public service. We haven’t learned much from history: When you appease terrorists, you get more terrorism. That’s what we’re seeing.” He was referring to the fact that teachers in New York will now be judged in part by student performance, and there will be some cuts to certain useless programs in an attempt to save the financially troubled state a few bucks. Apparently, one of the right-wing-agenda-loving-terrorists Mr. Iannuzzi is alluding to is Liberal Democrat New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is very supportive of the changes.

All this goes to show that it’s very tough work trying to control the growing dissatisfaction over the disintegration of America’s public schools. Just think of all the things that a union boss has to be concerned with – denying parents more power in choosing what kind of school their kid goes to, attempting to personally destroy reformers, petitioning the courts in an attempt to keep parents and taxpayers in the dark about how effective teachers are, etc. So it’s understandable after a particularly bruising month they need some R&R to lick their wounds and regroup for the next round of battles.

The United Teachers of Los Angeles thought they could quietly do just that. Unfortunately the union ticked off writer Ann-Marie Murrell who wanted to spend an extra night with her husband at the La Quinta Resort and Spa, a luxury hotel in Palm Springs. They were told they had to check out because UTLA had booked every available room. You see, every year, the LA teachers union elites go to a ritzy hotel in Palm Springs to plan their dirty work. For the past few years, their destination has been La Quinta, part of the Waldorf Astoria chain, which has nine golf courses, posh clothing stores, 41 swimming pools and 53 Jacuzzis. Of course they could have saved a bundle by staying at a cheaper hotel, but when you’re flush with cash that you have successfully extorted from your rank-and-file, why skimp? (Think Animal Farm – and realize that in teachers unions, just like in communism, all animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.)

Not surprisingly, a recent Gallup poll found that 47 percent of Americans think that teachers unions hurt education while only 26 percent think they help. And if August 2011 is a sign of things to come, the only people left who think the teachers unions benefit the children of America will be hot and sweaty union bosses.

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.

Reform Unionism: A Wolf by Any Other Name….

Despite good intentions, efforts to reform teachers unions and make them partners in education reform will not work.

Last week, the typically sane and sage Andrew Rotherham wrote a provocative article for Time Magazine entitled “Quiet Riot: Insurgents Take On Teachers Unions.” The main thrust of the piece is this:

“But perhaps the biggest strategic pressure for reform is starting to come from teachers themselves, many of whom are trying to change their unions and, by extension, their profession. These renegade groups, composed generally of younger teachers, are trying to accomplish what a generation of education reformers, activists and think tanks have not: forcing the unions to genuinely mend their ways.”

He spotlights three organizations he claims are leading a movement to reform teachers unions and make them partners in an attempt to improve the quality of public education — NewTLA, a dissident faction in the United Teachers of Los Angeles, Educators for Excellence, a reform group in New York started by two young Teach For America graduates, and Teach Plus, an organization that has gained traction in several states, whose goal is to “engage early career teachers in rebuilding their profession to better meet the needs of students and the incoming generation of teachers.”

In addition, Steven Brill (whose new book Class Warfare has received much acclaim) wrote “Super Teachers Alone Can’t Save Our Schools,” a provocative article in the Wall Street Journal this past Saturday. As the article’s title implies, teachers need help. But from whom? After describing the burnout of a young assistant principal at a charter school in Harlem, he says,

“The lesson that I draw from Ms. Reid’s dropping out of the race at the Harlem Success school is that the teachers’ unions have to be enlisted in the fight for reform.”

If only Rotherham and Brill were being realistic in their reform-the-union proposal.

Long time teacher union watchdog, Mike Antonucci, addresses the writers’ flawed prescriptions in “Let’s All See the Plan.” While praising NewTLA’s efforts, he says,

“The teacher union reform field is littered with the bodies of those who sought to alter the union’s primary mission – protecting teachers – and found themselves ousted in favor of challengers who promised to get tough with administrators.”

A day after Antonucci’s post, Terry Moe, another veteran teacher union critic, posted “Will Young People Reform Teachers Unions? Dream On.”

“There are well over 3 million active teachers in this country, and the groups Rotherham points to are a drop in the bucket. In unions all across the country, young teachers barely participate in union affairs–which are entirely dominated by their senior colleagues. In any event, if we look at young union members as a whole–not just those from TFA or insurgent groups, but all of them–the evidence suggests that their attitudes on basic issues are very similar to those of senior unionized teachers: they are highly satisfied with their union locals, they are highly supportive of collective bargaining, they believe that collective bargaining has benign effects for kids and schools, and they have similar positions on most matters of education policy….

“The argument that young teachers are going to transform the unions is just as fanciful, and just as wrong…. Unions are unions. They are in the business of protecting jobs: that is why their members join, that is what their members expect them to do, and that is what they actually do. If you expect them to do something else–to represent children or to represent the public interest–you will be wrong. Don’t expect a cat to bark.”

Over time, teachers tend to get very comfortable with all the perks that unions provide, even though they’re bad for kids – collective bargaining, seniority, tenure, a job that is virtually guaranteed for life, etc. (In Special Interest, Moe’s excellent new book about teachers unions, Chapter 3 and Appendix C deal with young teachers.)

Coincidentally, scholarly journal Education Next has just released its fifth annual survey in which teachers and the general public are interviewed about a variety of reform topics including the unions.

When the public was asked if teachers unions have a generally positive or negative effect on the nation’s public schools, 33 percent said “negative,” while 29 percent said “positive” and 38 percent were neutral – numbers almost identical to the 2009 and 2010 polls.

However, it’s a different story with teachers,

“Among teachers themselves, opinion is moving in precisely the opposite direction from that of the public at large. Only 17 percent now say that unions have a negative impact on the nation’s schools, down from 25 percent in 2010. Fifty-eight percent think they have a positive impact, up from 51 percent the previous year.”

As we see from these statistics, over the past year, teachers are becoming more in sync with their unions. Only one in six teachers thinks that the unions in their present state are harmful to education.

Assuming these numbers are accurate, the union reform crowd, no matter how noble their intentions and dogged their efforts, has little chance to accomplish much, if anything, meaningful. The traditional unionistas may give a bit here and there to seem fair-minded, but with a great majority of their members on board, their mission and game plan will remain essentially unchanged.

If meaningful change is going to happen, it will come from the citizenry via the ballot box. Within the past year, a shift in voting patterns has enabled reform-minded governors and legislatures to greatly restrict collective bargaining, increase school choice opportunities, modify tenure rules, etc. in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and elsewhere. One can only wonder what could be accomplished if a majority of the voting public would realize the pernicious effect that teachers unions have on education and act accordingly.

But in any event, change will not come by reforming the teachers unions. As Little Red Riding Hood learned, a wolf in granny’s clothing is still a wolf.

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.

Typical Teachers Union Tactics Kill Parent Trigger in Connecticut

Time for being shocked, shocked about teacher union methods and objectives is over.

Last week, writer Rishawn Biddle broke a story about the American Federation of Teachers’ recent successful actions to neuter a Parent Trigger bill in Connecticut. The first Parent Trigger law, officially the Parent Empowerment Act, was passed in California early last year. It allows parents, via a petition, to force change in the governance of a failing school should the petitioners get a majority of parents to sign on.

The educational establishment – school boards, teachers unions and other special interest groups, dubbed the “Government Education Complex” by Bruno Behrend, director of the Center for School Reform at The Heartland Institute, don’t like the law since it allows a group of parents to trump their power.

Most writers and bloggers who have written about the incident have focused on a pdf, originally a PowerPoint, posted on the AFT website, which very honestly and cynically describes the process by which the union did its dirty work. Realizing that this display of raw union power was not in keeping with its persona as a reform-minded partner, always willing to collaborate with parents, communities and other stakeholders, AFT pulled the pdf from its website shortly after the Biddle piece was posted and started to play defense…sort of.

In an email to education writer Alexander Russo, AFT President Randi Weingarten wrote, “The power point didn’t represent AFT or my views, nor does it represent the Conn Fed’s views….” And the punch line, “We are proud of the work in Conn, but disagree with the wording and what the wording in the power point represented.”

The wording? She disagreed with the wording??!! That’s like pummeling someone, stealing their money and then apologizing because you dropped a couple of F bombs in the process.

While I am certainly not a fan of AFT’s tactics, I am hardly shocked by them. They are a labor union. It is their job to do whatever they can do to protect the interests of its members.

In fact, if Randi Weingarten or National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel were really honest, they’d lose all the phony caring about children rhetoric and say something like the following:

Truth is, Mr. and Mrs. America, we don’t give a damn about you, your children or your wallet. We want to have as many teachers as we can on the job, including the rotten ones – they pay dues also – and make you pay them as much as possible so that we can collect carloads of cash, which allows us to be a political powerhouse and pursue our very progressive social, economic and political agenda.

If they were being really honest. But of course, tactically, that would not be in their best interest. As Joy Pullmann, managing editor of School Reform News at The Heartland Institute, put it, “…unions must pretend to care for ridding schools of bad teachers, squeezing the most out of taxpayer dollars, and other public concerns.”

So, it is up to us – the public. We all must realize that no matter their rhetoric, teachers unions are anything but beneficent organizations that care about children, their parents, taxpayers or quality education. They must be seen as ruthless special interest groups that will stop at nothing to advance their agenda. No one should forget that the NEA playbook is adapted directly from Marxist community organizer Saul Alinsky. Alinsky’s best known book, “Rules For Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals,” opens with a paean to one held in high esteem by the author – Lucifer.

Once the public became aware of the NEA-Alinsky connection, the union pulled most of their fawning comments about Alinsky from their website, leaving only The Activist’s Library entry:

Rules for Radicals
Saul Alinsky, Vintage Books, 1989
The classic book about organizing people, written by one of America’s foremost organizers.

However, I did manage to salvage one of the pulled docs. As you can see by this adoring review of Alinsky’s work, the NEA writer is so blindly in love with his subject that he can’t quite remember from sentence to sentence how to spell his hero’s name. The review begins with “An inspiration to anyone contemplating action in their community! And to every organizer!” and gets more breathless and impassioned with each rabid paragraph.

If that review, proudly posted on their website until recently, isn’t enough to convince the public of the true nature of the teachers unions, how about this – a training tape, clearly inspired by Alinsky, made by the Michigan Education Association, an NEA affiliate, in the 1990s for union negotiators who collectively bargain with school boards. I urge you to listen to the audio and not just read the text. The creepiness of actually hearing the trainer pitch his hardball tactics adds a dimension that is missing when you just read the words.

For example, at one point in the tape, the trainer is advising a union negotiator how to best deal with someone running for school board. He says,

“Find out about his family; his marital status; the number of children he has and their ages and what schools they go to. Are they public, parochial, or are they private? And also, don’t forget to check into his politics. …when checking into his employment you might want to find out what do his peers think of him; what is his relationship with his employer or employees; and does holding a public office help him advance in his job or produce business connections?”

After listening to the tape, go here and read Alinsky’s 13 rules of power politics. It would seem that the negotiator is applying rule #13,

“Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”

The teachers unions’ methods and objectives have been in plain view for some time now. Unless the public takes notice and withdraws their support, the unions’ perfidy will continue unchecked.

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.

National Teachers Unions Intensify War on Reformers

NEA and AFT ramp up attacks on non-existent teacher bashers, while vilifying those who are trying to reform a failing system.

In her address last week at the American Federation of Teachers TEACH conference, AFT President Randi Weingarten came out swinging. In an emotional speech to the faithful, she said that education reform should come from teachers and their communities, rather than from people “who blame teachers for everything.” While the teachers unions have been hammering away at this “blame the teacher” myth for some time now, the rants seem to be intensifying.

Invariably, what is labeled “teacher bashing” is nothing more than anger at the teachers unions for blocking every type of education reform imaginable, as well as the unions doing their level best to block school districts’ attempts to fire bad and even criminal teachers. So to be more specific, these phenomena should be called “teacher union bashing” and “bad teacher bashing.”

Education writer RiShawn Biddle does an excellent job of poking holes in the teacher bashing argument, claiming, among other things, that Weingarten “is just using a rhetorical trick often deployed by teachers unions and other education traditionalists to oppose school reform. They declare that any criticism of the unions and any effort to overhaul teacher quality are forms of ‘teacher bashing.’ And such proclamations end up forcing reformers onto their heels when they should actually take these critics to the woodshed.”

“Reformophobia” was also an important component at the yearly National Education Association convention that wrapped up a couple of weeks ago. At the NEA confab, we heard the same petulant tone from teachers who came from all over the country and convened as part of the Representative Assembly. One of the RA’s responsibilities is to propose New Business Items, which are messages of concern from the hoi-polloi to the NEA aristocracy. This year’s NBIs dealt heavily with the education reform issues that the union crowd is clearly (and understandably) most threatened by.

For example, NBI 33 says,” NEA will establish and articulate a position against the privatization of the American public school system.” (In other words, we are threatened by any kind of school choice system and will fight to the death to prevent this from happening on a grand scale.)

NBI 37 says, “NEA will investigate and inform its members about the anti-public education agenda behind the ill-informed intrusion of billionaires on education.” (Be careful, Bill Gates, you are not welcome into the world we now control.)

NBI 76 says, “NEA will facilitate access to empirical research and reviewed and/or valid studies, for member use, on the NEA website to assist members in combating the concerted attacks on public education and public educators.” (Our butts are getting kicked by the reformers and we need to find some snappy rejoinders to counter their attacks.)

NBI 80 says, “The NEA Representative Assembly directs the NEA President to denounce blatant age discrimination occurring across the United States, as veteran educators are targeted for dismissal by school superintendents and administrators who, under the guise of “improvement plans”, often subject these educators to harassment-style management. The President may point out that all school employees over the age of 40 are protected under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, and stress the countless contributions made to public education by veteran teachers.” (Don’t mess with our seniority system because we will attack you as “ageist” and use a federal law to stop you if necessary.)

But perhaps the most vitriolic of the NBIs was the one attacking reform-minded Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. New Business Item C starts with, “The NEA Representative Assembly directs the NEA President to communicate aggressively, forcefully, and immediately to President Barack Obama and US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan that NEA is appalled with Secretary Duncan’s practice of….” and goes on to list “let-me-count-the-ways-we-hate-you” items – 13 in all. Interestingly though, Duncan’s boss Barack Obama not only got by unscathed but was given the NEA presidential endorsement for 2012. The message to Obama would seem to be, “We have to tolerate you because we’d rather die than support a Republican. Now please show us some love and pay us back by canning that creep Duncan.”)

Interestingly, there was one out-of-character measure taken by the NEA. According to Mike Antonucci, the union “is no longer opposed to the use of merit pay or performance pay compensation systems.”

While this would appear to be a tectonic shift, it in all likelihood is not. As Antonucci points out, “Categorical opposition to something on the fringe of education policy is practical, but as such things become more mainstream over time, this becomes less and less feasible and costs the union in public credibility. NEA’s solution is to stop saying, ‘No, you can’t,’ and start saying, ‘Well, you can, as long as you can pass through the eye of the needle.’”

In other words, NEA is saying, “You see. We are really not obstructionists.” But course, when it comes time to nail down specifics, the union will do what it always does – aggressively block anything approaching meaningful reform. Yes, the devil is in the details. And the devil will do everything in its power to ensure that the details don’t do anything at all to disturb the moribund status quo.

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.

Wrestlers of the World, Unite!

Only on Planet Teacher Union can obnoxious American wrestlers and a potentially cataclysmic political situation in the Middle East be utilized to advance the teachers unions’ agenda.

My never ending quest to find something good that teachers unions do for children or taxpayers has led to some pretty strange dead ends, but lately we have hit on a couple of items that even the most jaded among us can’t quite digest.

The first story has made a few ripples in the blogosphere, but overall not exactly a big splash. On April 29th, the Creative Coalition and World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) issued a press release to announce that they were partnering with the National Education Association. The Creative Coalition is a typical progressive arts activist outfit, which as a registered 501(c)(3) must officially be “nonpolitical.” This is the type of organization that you’d expect NEA to align with. However, that NEA has entered into a formal partnership with WWE is something that left even one as cynical as I, with mouth agape.

NEA has a very progressive social agenda, fighting against real and imagined isms – heterosexism, feminism, etc., while promoting others – socialism, egalitarianism, etc. Of late, NEA’s favorite cause célèbre has been anti-bullying. However, if you have spent more than 3 seconds watching WWE garbage, you know that bullying (“Do you fear me? I like that.”) is just what they promote — with more than a little misogyny (“Trish get on your hands and knees like a dog.”) thrown in…and seasoned with a dash of homophobia for taste (effeminate men mincing and kissing each other in the ring) – all things NEA professes to abhor.

Rosalind Wiseman, a children’s ethics specialist, asked Nora Howley, manager of NEA’s Health Information Network programs, why the teachers union decided to work with WWE. Her response was, “WWE wrestling is silly, scripted matches. And there’s no body of evidence that proves wrestling causes violence.”

Maybe they are silly and scripted to Ms. Howley but they aren’t silly and scripted to many of the impressionable children and young adults who watch this kind of “entertainment” on a regular basis. Ms. Wiseman, a very level-headed person, spent a fair amount of time analyzing the reasons for NEA entering into such a strange and perverse alliance. The best reason she could come up with is that the Creative Coalition and NEA “got stars in their eyes when they thought about reaching WWE’s large fan base. According to WWE’s own statistics, they have average online viewership of 8.9 million video streams per month. These organizations believe that WWE will enable the (WWE’s) ‘Be A Star’ (anti-bullying) program to be seen by many more people than if they didn’t work with WWE.”

Ms. Wiseman may be on to something. As Alix said, in her Association of American Educators blog, “What could possibly be the goal behind this coalition? The answer clearly lies in the NEA’s constant quest to promote social agendas and gain political clout.”

Hence, NEA’s myopic drive to advance its own brand of social justice has led it to a very bizarre and contradictory place – a coalition with an organization that promotes a product and behavior that runs counter NEA’s own agenda. The consequence of this partnership will bring more shame and indignity to an organization that has morally hit bottom and just keeps digging.

Perhaps in an attempt to outdo NEA, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten recently went to Egypt in a latter day attempt to fulfill the Marxist rallying cry of “Workers of the world unite!” According to Weingarten’s press release,

From Wisconsin to Cairo, citizens have been fighting efforts to keep workers silent. As public employees in Wisconsin continue their struggle to maintain collective bargaining rights, Wisconsin has been selected as a pilot site in the “Quality Public Services—Action Now!” campaign, through the AFT-affiliated Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals and AFT-Wisconsin…

Defending public services and the workers who provide them is a worldwide challenge, and the AFT is standing with allies around the globe to maintain those services and the rights of public employees. That’s why I led an AFT delegation that visited Egypt to meet with the independent Egyptian unions whose efforts proved decisive in bringing down the corrupt regime that ruled their country for decades.

Talk about moral confusion! She equates Wisconsin’s democratically elected governor and legislature that lawfully ended collective bargaining for teachers with Egypt, where the government led by Hosni Mubarak was a dictatorship and directly controlled the only union in the country – the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF.)

Weingarten also neglects to mention that while deposed Egyptian leader was no pussycat, the country is now in the hands of a military junta with a revived Muslim Brotherhood making significant political strides. The odds that Egypt will come out of this as anything close to a free country are somewhere between slim and none. But hey, when you are a teacher union boss, don’t sweat the details. Just come out with a pompous, self-aggrandizing press release and hope no one gives it a second thought.

I’ve heard that Weingarten’s next move is to bring a team of Egyptian wrestlers to Madison to bully and humiliate the governor of Wisconsin.

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.

Teachers Unions Keep Fiddling While Public Education Burns

There are too many tenured incompetents and criminals who are teaching our children. The unions’ “reforms” will do little, if anything, to get these undesirables out of our nation’s classrooms.

As we all know, Navy SEALs recently killed terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. Unfortunately, it seems that it was easier to flesh out and kill American Public Enemy #1 in a hostile foreign country than to get rid of an incompetent or criminal teacher in the U.S. Too bad for OBL that he wasn’t a member of the National Education Association. He’d still be a working terrorist going through what unionistas laughably refer to “due process.” Actually, as teacher and blogger Darren Miller has pointed out, what was once “due” has become “undue process.”

James Smith, Executive Director of School Security for Paterson, NJ, and Michigan’s Education Action Group have prepared a flow chart, which shows that it takes two to five years to get rid of a criminal or poorly performing tenured teacher in New Jersey. This is not peculiar to the Garden State. Most states have to go through a similar circuitous and arcane maze get rid of teachers who should not be allowed near children, let alone responsible for them.

What the chart does not tell us are the hideous costs involved in such an endeavor. Recently in Los Angeles, it took $3.5 million just to try to get rid of seven tenured teachers who were said to be incompetent. Only four were actually removed.

Here are a few recent headlines that typify the difficulty in firing undesirable teachers:

MichiganTeacher Threatens to Kill Her Boss, Union Gets Her Six Figure Pay Day – A teacher shows an inappropriate film to her students and when called to account for it, she threatens to kill her principal.

California – High bar for firing kept Sacramento teacher on – A teacher is charged with six counts of sex crimes with children. Four years later he is still employed by his school district.

New YorkNYC’s fire-proof criminal teachers go back to class – More than 500 teachers convicted of crimes in the last five years – drunk driving, assault, manslaughter, etc. – are still on the job because the New York City Department of Education is hamstrung from getting rid of them.

ColoradoDenver Firings of tenured teachers rarely occur – A teacher physically and emotionally abused her students in the classroom. It took four years and dozens of complaints from parents to get rid of her.

Why is this cruelty to children allowed to continue unabated? To begin with, there are no teacher evaluation systems throughout most of the country. Then there are union contracts and state laws put into place by union-bought legislators that make for never-ending proceedings.

As more and more of these stories are coming to light, the public is starting to rebel and begin to demand more accountability. Sensing the changing zeitgeist, the unions have conjured up a couple of documents which they claim will solve some of the problems. Their proposals, however, will do for teacher accountability and discipline what a band aid does for lung cancer.

The American Federation of teachers has come up with an eight page document on teacher discipline. This is hardly an improvement – this document is just a more codified way of over-protecting undeserving teachers. Their proposal includes a 100-day process replete with multiple hearings and meetings that does allow for firing teachers for criminality, but contains no provision for getting rid of incompetent teachers. Another flaw with AFT’s proposal is “that a teacher could not show up for weeks, give no excuse, and still wait out a 100 day hearing process, collecting pay all the while, and still might not be let go.”

The NEA document is even more laughable; it deals only with teacher evaluation and has nothing about what to do with criminal teachers. And the union is in control of the evaluation process, which is akin to letting the fox be in charge of the henhouse,

Indicators of Teacher Practice demonstrating a teacher’s subject matter knowledge, skill in planning and delivering instruction that engages each and every student, and ability to monitor and assess student learning and adjust instruction accordingly. Such indicators may include the following indicators or others chosen by a local or state affiliate: classroom observations, proof of practice (e.g., lesson plans, curriculum plans, student assessments, minutes from team planning meetings, curriculum maps, and teacher instructional notes), teacher interviews and self-assessments.

Then there is an assessment problem with NEA’s proposal. Only a tiny part of their evaluation process concerns itself with student performance. About 95% of the NEA plan is fluff – good lesson plans, evidence of reflective practice, self-assessments, completion of meaningful professional development, etc. Even where student learning is addressed, it is mostly subjective – teacher-created assessments, district or school assessments, student work (papers, portfolios, projects, presentations); teacher defined objectives for individual student growth. Finally, at the end of the student assessment section there is a mention of using a standardized test as part of the overall plan.

What to do about all this?

Get rid of teacher tenure – or as it’s properly called, “permanence.” No one else is basically guaranteed a position for life after just a few years at their job. Secondly, get a real evaluation system in place that utilizes standardized tests and includes principal and expert evaluations. Also, work like the devil to return to a quick and orderly due process procedure and stop coddling criminals who just happen to be teachers.

Finally, parents must ultimately be given the right to choose where to send their children to school and have the state’s education money follow the child. This would empower parents by letting them determine what’s best for their own children. These reforms would negate the power of the teachers unions and their legislative toadies, all of whom seem intent on maintaining an abusive status quo where failure all too often has become acceptable.

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.

Teacher Union Leaders Go Public and Confirm Their Fecklessness

Weingarten is schooled by WSJ’s Jason Riley; Van Roekel is clueless as usual.

The National Education Association and the American Federation of teachers represent over 4.5 million teachers and educational support workers across the United States. These two unions have been under attack for the past few years by reformers who point to their slavish clinging to the status quo as a major barrier to badly needed education reform.

Since the election in November when American citizens voted forward thinking legislators and governors into office, education reform has made great strides across the country. The elected officials have been attacking the union’s sacred cows with a ferocity that hasn’t been seen before – eliminating seniority and tenure, introducing merit pay, defining teacher accountability, more school choice programs, etc. are all on the agenda.

The unions, feeling the heat, have decided to take their case to the public.

In an article on the NEA website, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel tries to take on what he calls the “anti-seniority crowd.” He claims that bad teachers shouldn’t be in the classroom. “If a teacher isn’t qualified, he or she shouldn’t be in the classroom. There are procedures in place in every school district to terminate unqualified or incompetent teachers, and administrators shouldn’t wait for a budget crisis to remove them. The fair dismissal process should be transparent, efficient and fair. We owe it to everyone concerned – especially students – to resolve cases as quickly as possible.”

As quickly as possible?

As you can see in this typical flow chart, getting rid of one incompetent teacher is a Byzantine procedure – 27 union mandated steps, 2 to 5 years to circumnavigate the process and a several hundred thousand dollar expenditure to the taxpayer. If, and it is a big if, the teacher is found guilty, they get to retire immediately with full benefits.

Then Van Roekel came out with a feeble attempt to defend the seniority system. “I taught math for 23 years, and I know without a doubt I was a much better teacher in year 20 than year 2. In no other profession is experience deemed a liability instead of an asset.”

Question for Van Roekel: “Since you are opposed to the thought of any objective based teacher evaluation, how do you know that you were better?” In fact, most studies have shown that after five years teachers don’t typically improve – thus a five year and a 25 year teacher are typically equally effective.

And then there is American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who has been courting the media of late in an attempt to make a case that unions really are for reform. In last weekend’s addition of the Wall Street Journal, Ms. Weingarten consented to be interviewed by Jason Riley.

Bad move.

On point after point, she comes out with mind-numbingly vapid, standard issue unionista statements, attempting to discredit any real reform. Riley, to his credit, is not shy about explaining why everything she says is wrong.

On seniority, she says, “It’s not the perfect mechanism but it’s the best mechanism we have. You have cronyism and corruption and discrimination issues. We’re saying let’s do things the right way. We don’t want to see people getting laid off based on who they know instead of what they know. We don’t want to see people get laid off based on how much they cost.”

Huh? Cronyism? Discrimination?

Reform minded people want to get rid of bad teachers, not good teachers who can be replaced by an incompetent relative or someone of a certain skin color. Riley adds, “Why can’t teachers who have been chronically absent from work be the first to go? Or the ones who have been convicted of crimes? Or the ones who are languishing—with full pay and benefits—in some “reserve pool” because no school will hire them?”

Weingarten then tries to convince us that “teachers unions are agents of change, not defenders of the status quo.” But as Riley points out that in the next breath, she “shoots down suggestions for changes—vouchers, charter schools, differential teacher pay and so on—that have become important parts of the reform conversation.”

Each time union leaders speak, they show themselves to be nothing more than rigid and clueless — clinging to stale clichés, shopworn platitudes and empty rhetoric that doesn’t fool anyone any more. The public has caught on — bad news for the unions, but good news for children, their parents and all taxpayers.

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.

A Charter School Needs a Union Like a Salad Needs Hemlock

Last month, teachers at Englewood on the Palisades Charter School in New Jersey decided to unionize. Then last Friday, Steve Gunn, director of Michigan’s Education Action Group, had an op-ed in the Newark, NJ-based Star-Ledger in which he rightfully laments the decision.

Charter schools are public schools that are allowed to bypass many of the school district and teachers’ union rules and regulations that strangle our public schools in a never ending stream of red tape.

The two national teachers’ unions have taken a divergent stance toward this type of school. The National Education Association website is full of stories about the alleged inferior quality of charter schools and their lack of oversight and wants no part of them. The other union, the American Federation of Teachers, is a bit more realistic and realizes that charters are here to stay and have taken a “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” attitude. Toward that end, AFT claims to have unionized 150 charters.

While we have no verification of that number, it is probably close to accurate. However, according to the Center of Education Reform, the country’s premiere advocate for charter schools, there are 5,453 charter schools nationwide. So even if AFT’s number is correct and we include 20 more charter schools that are unionized but not affiliated with AFT, that means just 3% of all charters are unionized. (The number, of course, is always changing… in both directions. In 2009-2010, three KIPP Charter Schools in New York unionized and then very quickly decertified the union because the teachers felt that as union members they would have to compromise their very high standards.) It is doubtful that the 3% number will grow appreciably since the reason that many teachers decide to work in a charter is to escape the unions’ odious rules that poison the educational well.

What is it about teachers’ unions that is so toxic?

• Unions are not interested in children getting a good education – they insist on tenure (aka a job for life) and seniority for all teachers – good and bad — and are vehemently against any kind of pay for performance. These are anti-child staples in almost every union contract.

• Unions promote adversarial relationships between administrators and teachers.

• Unions tell teachers directly and indirectly that they are disrespected – a “teachers vs. the world” mentality and that the union is there to save them, to fight for them, etc. They began telling teachers this over 40 years ago and they are still telling teachers the same thing – so just what is it that they have done for teachers?

• Unions tell teachers that they would be making minimum wage if it weren’t for them. But according to Andrew Coulson, director of Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom and others, the effect of collective bargaining is very minor compared to general economic conditions.

• So there emerges a “U-bot” class that thinks of the union in deified terms. These are the zealots who give teachers a bad name. These days, now that the public has become more aware of what the unions are really about, non-union teachers are getting more respect.

• Unions can poison relationships between teachers. If a teacher is not in the union in a unionized school, they probably will be ostracized and possibly worse. They may be forced to eat lunch in their rooms alone. They may not drive home with a windshield. Just ask any dissident in a school that is that is full of union true believers.

• Unions call teachers professionals – but they are paid more like assembly line workers in Detroit – with a lockstep pay scale. Professionals get what they deserve to be paid – good doctors make more money than bad doctors, good lawyers command greater fees than middle of the roaders.

• Jaime Escalante, probably the greatest teacher of our time, was revolted by the union mentality. That he was a phenomenal teacher paled in comparison to the fact that he could not abide by all the UTLA rules he had to live with and the union proceeded to hound him out of Los Angeles.

With all this in mind, I agree with the optimistic note on which Mr. Gunn’s ends his op-ed. He has some good advice for charter school officials, parents and consumers.

Charter school officials can help combat this threat by treating their teachers with respect and listening to their suggestions. Happy employees generally remain non-union employees.

Parents also can help by refusing to send their children to charter schools with union teachers. They should know they won’t get the service they expect when the AFT and NEA are in the house.

Union charter schools won’t last long if consumers soundly reject them. And charter school teachers will be less likely to join unions if they know such a move could lead to the extinction of their employers.

In other words, the bottom line is that a charter school needs a union about as much as a salad needs hemlock.

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.