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Chartercide in California

Shoddy Studies

Flawed reports aside, charters – schools of choice – are flourishing. As I wrote last week, too many government-run schools are failing and the future for them, collectively, is not rosy. But the monopolists running our traditional public schools (TPS), in addition to blaming lack of funding, have been busy lashing out at charter schools, which are decentralized and give parents a right to choose where to educate their kids.

Are Charters Doomed in California?

Los Angeles Teachers Union Sinks to Unmitigated Depths

The union war on charter schools has become even uglier, courtesy of UTLA.

On May 4th, the United Teachers of Los Angeles, in concert with the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS) – a radical union front group – planned a major protest to be held outside schools where charter schools share a campus with traditional public schools. In a statement, AROS proclaimed “…we will stand with Los Angeles parents, educators, students, administrators, and community members for fully funded public schools and call on corporate charter schools to pay their fair share to the district.” Of course, the truth is that charters are not “corporate.” And, in fact, it’s charters that aren’t fully funded, which is why they frequently have to scrounge for facilities, but AROS apparently doesn’t bother with those minor details. So it looked like a lot of school kids would be confronted with an early morning filled with angry protesters marching, chanting, being obnoxious, you know, the usual union stuff.

But parents were ticked, and with the help of the California Charter School Association, responded by posting a letter – enlarged, prominently placed, in English and Spanish, signed by 527 parents – in the lobby of the building where UTLA offices are housed. The brief but powerful missive included the following:

We are asking you to stop. This Wednesday, May 4, you plan to stage demonstrations at charter schools sharing campuses with district schools. If these actions are anything like the ones we’ve endured in the past, they will be threatening, disruptive and full of lies. We will be shouted at, maligned and disrespected, our children will ask us what they’ve done wrong, and their teachers will, as always, be expected to rise above it all.

Yes, threatening, disruptive and full of lies. But, again, it was a union rally, after all. However, when all was said and done (at least judging by media reports), there was not much activity the morning of the fourth.

But UTLA wasn’t done yet. In an attempt to press beyond the usual vapid vilification of charters, on May 10th, the union released the results of a study they commissioned. Or to be precise, a “study,” which among other things, asserted that LA schools “lost more than $591 million dollars to unmitigated charter school growth this year alone.”

Of course, the National Education Association gleefully jumped on the report, charging that, “LA charters siphon away almost half a billion from public school students.” (Memo to NEA: charters are public schools.)

But responses to the report from those in the know were anything but fawning. To begin with, the school district that was allegedly losing millions responded with a “Huh?!” and proceeded to explain that the district actually makes money due to the existence of charter schools. According to LA School Report, “In January when the Charter Schools Division presented its budget, it showed that the district receives half a million dollars more than they need to pay for the division. That report, presented to the Budget, Facilities and Audit Committee by Charters Division Director Jose Cole-Guttierez, showed that the 1 percent oversight fee collected from charter schools brings in $8.89 million while the annual expenses of the division’s 47 employees including their benefits total $8.37 million.”

The Associated Administrators of Los Angeles, representing principals and off-site middle managers, released “Separating the Wheat from the Chaff,” a document which cast doubt on the UTLA findings. But there was no equivocation from the California Charter School Association. In a 10 page response, CCSA excoriated the UTLA report point-by-point, denouncing its many inaccuracies and irresponsible conclusions, and went on to counter it’s distortions with actual facts and data.

Very interestingly, after being chastened by those parties intimately aware of the reality of district-charter finances, UTLA has been mum. No rejoinders. No “Oh yeahs?” No banner on its homepage. Nothing. The only link to the study is buried on its “News Releases” webpage. My call and email to Anna Bakalis, the union’s media person on May 19th, have not been returned. I am hardly shocked.

To UTLA – If you are really interested in solving LAUSD’s budgetary problems, here are a few ideas:

To save billions, insist that the district gets its healthcare and pension costs under control. But you have no interest in doing that because you are of the opinion that taxpayers should be forking over even more of their hard-earned money to continue paying for these extravagant plans.

How about working to get new laws passed that would more easily rid our schools of predatory teachers? LAUSD has spent $300 million since 2012 on legal fees and sexual abuse payouts to families that have sued the district. To be sure, LAUSD admins deserve much of the blame for the problem, but you and other teachers unions greatly contribute to it because you have made it so very hard to get rid of any teacher, no matter how evil.

And while you are at it, work with the district to stop hiring administrators. As the school population continues to rapidly decline due to the proliferation of charters and general outward migration, the district’s administrative staff has increased 22 percent in the last five years, according to a superintendent’s report.

But no, you rather just try to destroy charter schools, which parents are flocking to, because they want to escape from the very school system you essentially control. You just wasted $82,000 in teachers’ dues money on a bogus study which proves you are really not interested in bettering public education. It really has nothing to do with kids, but rather, it’s all about you and your unmitigated, self-serving agenda. But then again, what else is new?

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

In like a Lyin’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hardly a surprise. As students struggle in traditional LA schools, students from the same demographic groups are thriving in charter schools. By the time they’ve graduated, students at charter schools are over three times more likely to have completed courses needed for college admission than students at traditional public schools.

Also, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO) conducted an analysis of charter schools in LAUSD in 2014 and found that its students gain significantly more learning time than their peers in traditional public schools.

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

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

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

The Unions’ “Accountability” Libel Against Charter Schools

The teacher union war on charter schools ramps up with empty billionaire and accountability accusations.

Charter schools are like pesky chewing gum that the teachers unions just can’t quite get off their shoes. They have been persistent in trying to just get rid of the alternative public schools – except for the few they have managed to organize. The problem they’re having is that charters are very popular with parents and kids, especially with those who reside in the inner cities which are home to the worst traditional public schools. The latest pathetic attempt by union command-central to destroy charters emanates from the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), which, as investigative reporter Eric Owens points out, is a reliably pro-union advocacy organization based in Madison, Wisconsin.

Perhaps “reliably pro-union” is an understatement. The American Federation of Teachers gave CMD $30,000 for “member related services” in fiscal year 2015. Also, one of the biggest funders of CMD is Democracy Alliance, which boasts AFT president Randi Weingarten as a member and National Education Association executive director John Stocks as its president. The dark money group also includes old leftwing billionaire George Soros and new leftwing billionaire Tom Steyer.

In a nutshell, the report asserts that the American public “does not have ready access to key information about how their federal and state taxes are being spent to fuel the charter school industry. Peppered with terms like “lack of accountability” and “flavoring flexibility over rules,” the summary is an indicator of how off-target the sloppy and factually-challenged report really is. As reported by LaborPains.org, for example, it attacks charter-friendly Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, offering reporters a misleading story about secret meetings and plots.

Emails obtained by CMD from Gov. Ducey’s office reveal that he (and his predecessor) helped propel a secret ‘School Finance Reform Team’ … The stated goal was for everyone on the school reform team to use their ‘different contacts to help get …legislation,’ which would effectively divert more money from public schools to charter school coffers passed.

But the Arizona Republic then printed the rest of the story. After reviewing the “secret” emails themselves, they found “nothing of the kind.” CMD was forced to issue a correction admitting that their reported premise was wrong. In the Republic’s words, CMD “used a handful of innocent emails to spin a conspiracy that just wasn’t real.

Of course there is nothing new about the unions and affiliated groups savaging charters with lies, using “unaccountable” and “billionaires” as their essential buzzwords. In June, NEA’s Brian Washington wrote, “…pro-charter forces are putting more money behind efforts to elect and lobby politicians who will implement policies resulting in unaccountable charter schools that threaten the futures of our students.”

The billionaire bash-of-the-week (seasoned with a dab of “accountability”), comes from Capital and Main, a union-friendly progressive website. There, Donald Cohen, founder and executive director of In the Public Interest, writes “Billionaires Can’t Teach Our Kids” which slams Eli Broad and a few other philanthropists for initiating a plan that would double the number of charter schools in Los Angeles. He claims, “Broad and his billionaire friends have decided that instead of investing in our public schools, they’ll just create new ones with less accountability and fewer standards ….” But a little digging reveals that In the Public Interest, which partnered with the American Federation of Teachers last year to push for more charter accountability, is a project of The Partnership for Working Families. An ACORN-like group, PWF hates anything capitalist and is a card-carrying member of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, whose raison d’être is to vilify “one percenters.” Not surprisingly, several of PWF donors are rich philanthropists, including the aforementioned billionaire George Soros and other wealthy globalist/socialists.

Their billionaires don’t count, of course.

The very day CMD came out with its bogus report, reform-minded Ed Trust-West released “More Than Half of the Top California Schools for Low-Income Students Are Charter Schools.” This report highlights the top 10 highest performing schools for low-income 3rd, 8th and 11th grade students in California and finds in 3rd and 11th grade, “five of the top ten are charter schools. In 8th grade, seven of the top ten are charters.” (Education Trust-West analyzed data from schools where “at least 60 percent of the students qualify as low-income in order to determine the top 10 performers by subject matter and grade,” reported Kimberly Beltran.)

Additionally, a recent Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) report shows that across 41 regions, “urban charter schools on average achieve significantly greater student success in both math and reading, which amounts to 40 additional days of learning growth in math and 28 days of additional growth in reading.” The CREDO report is certainly in line with the results of the California Assessment of Student Progress and Performance (CAASPP) test in Los Angeles, where Mr. Broad and his “billionaire friends” are seeking to make improvements. The results, released in September, show that only one-third of LA students in traditional public schools performed up to their grade level in English and one-fourth did so in math but that the city’s charter school students did much better.

LAUSD - performance on SB test 2015(Courtesy of California Charter School Association via LA School Report)

Are charter schools perfect? Hardly. Not even all are wonderful. But as Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, notes in a rejoinder to the CMD report, when charters don’t do the job, they can and should be shuttered. “The public charter school bargain (has) more flexibility to innovate in exchange for accountability for higher student achievement. When public charter schools fail to meet their goals – whether for academic, financial or operational reasons – they should be closed, even if we have invested federal dollars in them. If we don’t close them, we undermine the whole concept of public charter schooling.” While there are a few exceptions, that’s the way charters schools operate.

The teachers unions and their fellow travelers would be best served if they’d stop their billionaire bashing and their tiresome accountability accusations. In fact, if traditional public schools were held to the same level of accountability as charter schools, the world will be a much better place. Why am I not holding my breath?

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.)

20151014-UW-Sand
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.

Teachers Union Won’t Play Broad Way

Los Angeles teachers union and its friends are livid over plan to charterize 260 schools.

According to a memo unearthed by Los Angeles Times writer Howard Blume, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and other charter advocates want to create 260 new charter schools in Los Angeles, enrolling at least 130,000 students. The document includes various strategies that include how to raise money, recruit teachers, provide outreach to parents and navigate the political battle that will undoubtedly ensue. In addition to Broad, other education philanthropists named in the plan are David Geffen and Elon Musk, as well as the Gates, Bloomberg, Annenberg and Hewlett foundations.

Judging by the United Teachers of Los Angeles response, you’d think that Hitler had reinvaded Poland. In full battle-mode, the union staged a press conference and protest rally in front of the new Broad Art Museum in downtown LA last Sunday. Led by UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl, we were regaled with the usual barrage of bilge. Perhaps most indicative of the union leader’s ideas, which come right out of a Politburo manual on the importance of the centralization of power, “Deregulation has not worked in our economy, has not worked in healthcare and has not worked in housing, and it is not going to work in public education.” Other telling comments from the union boss included:

  • “The billionaire attacks must stop.”
  • Charters are “unregulated” and will create “inappropriate competition.”
  • “Billionaires should not be running public education”
  • Citing alleged horror stories, “Broad and John Arnold funded New Orleans after Katrina”

Not to be outdone by Caputo-Pearl’s ludicrous comments, retired Kindergarten teacher and protester Cheryl Ortega groused, “Charter schools are destroying public education. Mr. Broad wants to own 50% of our schools. …That’s untenable.” (You’re right, of course, Cheryl – it’s a business venture! An 81 year-old man worth $7.6 billion has an evil plan to increase his wealth by buying our schools.)

The billionaire-phobia has apparently spread from unionistas to their Los Angeles school board cronies. New board member Scott Schmerelson is really ticked. “The concept amazes and angers me. Far from being in the best interest of children, it is an insult to teaching and administrative professionals, an attack on democratic, transparent and inclusive public school governance and negates accountability to taxpayers.” Board president Steve Zimmer, chock full of righteous indignation, claims that the Broad plan to expand the number of charter schools in the district “represents a strategy to bring down LAUSD….”

While much of the naysaying can be laughed off, some of their talking points do need to be debunked. Perhaps worst of all was Caputo-Pearl’s “unregulated” crack. Nothing could be further from the truth. As public schools, charters are indeed regulated, though not as heavily as the sclerotic traditional public schools. While LAUSD is in part strangled by its bulky union contract, only a small percentage of charter teachers are unionized. The non-unionization factor – along with his far left politics – forms the basis of his “inappropriate competition” claim.

Something that Caputo-Pearl doesn’t address is the fact that wherever charters emerge, parents flock to them. As the California Charter School Association points out, there are 40,000 kids who are 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. Broad’s proposal would certainly delight those families.

And truly absurd was Caputo-Pearl’s insinuation that New Orleans schools hit the skids after Katrina. While the hurricane did devastating damage to the Crescent City, a much more vibrant all-charter school system sprang from the catastrophic floods. Courtesy of the Heartland Institute:

Before Katrina (2005) After Katrina (2015)
State district ranking 67 out of 68 41 out of 69
Percent attending failing schools 62 7
Percent performing at or above grade level 35 62
Students receiving free or reduced lunch 77 84
Percent graduating 4 years 54.4 73
Percent attended college < 20 59

However, a closer look at many of the complaints reveals not so much anger about billionaire involvement in public education, but envy that Broad doesn’t want his largess to go to the traditional public schools. But really, why would he do that? He may as well flush his money down the toilet.

LAUSD does not need more money. The “official” per-pupil spending in LA is $13,993, far more than the national average. This dollar amount is really not accurate, however, because it omits a few “minor” expenses like the cost of building and maintaining schools, interest on various payments, bonds, etc. When all these expenditures are added in, the spending figure comes to about $30,000 per student per year.

And just what kind of return-on-investment do we get? Very little, if the just released California Assessment of Student Progress and Performance (CAASPP) scores are any indication. The test results showed that only one-third of LA students performed up to their grade level in English and one-fourth did so in math. (Not surprisingly, LA charter students far out-paced kids who went to traditional public school schools.)

Perhaps New Orleans is the model the philanthropists should look at. Mr. Broad wants to raise almost a half-billion for his new project, resulting in half of Los Angeles schools becoming charters. Maybe he and his partners can be coaxed to throw in another half-billion and make the city an all-charter district like New Orleans.

As for LA School Board chief Zimmer’s comment that more charter schools are going to “bring down LAUSD” – nope, LAUSD has managed to do that all by itself. Luckily, charter schools are there to pick up the pieces and hopefully, more children will be rescued from subpar schools in the future, thanks to Mr. Broad and his philanthropic partners. Standing ovations all around.

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.

Charter Chumps

The competition-phobic teachers unions are still trying to decimate charter schools.

As I wrote a couple of years ago, the teachers unions vacillate when it comes to charter schools. On odd days they try to organize them and on even ones they go all out to eviscerate them. But the organizing efforts haven’t gone too well. The Center for Education Reform reports that, nationwide, the percentage of unionized charter schools has dropped from 12 in 2009 to a paltry 7 in 2012. In California, there is a 15 percent unionization rate, but that number, from the 2009-2010 school year, is long overdue for an update.

So if you can’t join ‘em, you try to undermine ‘em. To that end, during National School Choice Week in January, the National Education Association claimed that charter schools are unaccountable and warned the public to be wary of them. Then last week, NEA posted “Federal funding of charter schools needs more oversight, accountability” on its website.

This is pure union obstructionism and especially laughable coming from an organization whose mantra is, “Let’s spend bushels more on public education … but don’t hold any unionized teachers accountable.” In fact, there is plenty of oversight and accountability for charters. As the California Charter School Association points out, unlike traditional public schools, charters “are academically accountable on two counts. They are held accountable by their authorizer (usually the local school district) and, most importantly, by the families they serve. When a team of school developers submit their charter petition, they must define their academic goals In order to be authorized, their goals must be rigorous. In order to stay open, they must meet or exceed those goals.” Additionally charters must abide by various state and federal laws, civil rights statutes, safety rules, standard financial practices, etc.

Perhaps most importantly, charter schools – schools of choice – have to please their customers: children and their parents. On that count, charters are doing quite well. Just about every study ever done on them shows that they outperform traditional schools, and Black and Hispanic kids benefit the most. Nationally, there are 6,440 schools serving 2,513,634 students, but the bad news is that there are over a million more kids on wait lists. And the situation is especially bad in areas that need charters the most: our big cities, which serve primarily poor and minority families. A new report by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools points out that New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Boston, Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Miami and Washington, D.C. fail to meet parental demand.

And then there is California.

The Golden State is the national leader in charters with 1,184, serving 547,800 students. But not surprisingly it also leads the country in kids who want to get in but can’t, and there are 158,000 of them. Of course the teachers unions are saying and doing what they can to deny parents – again mostly minorities and poor – the right to escape their unionized public schools. United Teachers of Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl recently stated that “a lot of charters don’t allow access for special-education students or English learners.” This of course is bilge; charter schools must serve all students. Lest his sentiments were not clear, he added, “The ascendant forces in California’s charter movement, I don’t see a lot of value in them.”

California Teachers Association president Dean Vogel recently opined. “There is a role for charter schools in California’s education system, and that role should be performed to the same high standards of integrity, transparency and openness required of traditional public schools.”

My goodness, no! I want charters to perform at way higher standards than traditional public schools … and thankfully most do.

Sadly CTA, now in eviscerate mode, is sponsoring four bills making the rounds in the California legislature. The union’s professed aim is regulation, but it appears to be a lot more like strangulation. The bills, which you can read about here, are nothing more than ways to limit charter growth, harass them and take away any needed independence they now have. For example, Tony Mendoza’s SB 329 would allow a charter petition to be denied for “anticipated financial impact.” This is simply a way to deny a charter for any reason and use money as an excuse. (This bill is similar Mendoza’s AB 1172 which died in committee in 2012.) AB 787 would require that all charters be run as non-profits. The bill’s author, Roger Hernández, said it would also “establish charter schools as governmental entities and their employees as public employees, giving them an increased ability to unionize.” Pure nonsense. Charters are fully capable of organizing now and only 10 in the state (less than one percent) are currently for-profit schools.

What the unions will never admit is that charter schools are effective because they are independent and not bound by the union contact, and when they are unionized, they are no different from traditional public schools. Jay Greene, in The Wall Street Journal, cited a study conducted by Harvard economist Tom Kane which found that, comparing apples to apples,

… students accepted by lottery at independently operated charter schools significantly outperformed students who lost the lottery and returned to district schools. But students accepted by lottery at charters run by the school district with unionized teachers experienced no benefit. (Emphasis added.)

The war between teacher union leaders who insist on a one-size-fits-all cookie cutter education system run by them, and parents who want to get their kids out of failing schools and into charters rages on. In the meantime, there are thousands of kids in California whose futures are in jeopardy as the teachers unions direct their cronies in the legislature to do their bidding and decimate charter schools.

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.

Teachers Unions Target Charter Schools in California

The latest chapter in “kill or unionize” sees the unions in organize mode.

As I’ve written before, the teachers unions have a constantly shifting relationship with charter schools. When Mercury is in retrograde, the unions want to limit their growth or legislate the publicly-funded schools of choice out of existence. At other times, organizing them is the preferred strategy. With the coronation of new National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen Garcìa, we see the unions take a conciliatory tone in an attempt to lure charter school teachers into the fold.

In fact, Garcia held a press conference at a unionized charter school in northern California in August. This fits right in with the California Teachers Association’s long-term strategic plan, which includes organizing charters as one of its foci. The only problem with NEA/CTA’s plan is that all their previous organizing attempts have fallen flatter than a flounder. As Mike Antonucci wrote earlier this month, “So go ahead and read about the push to unionize charters from last week, or from last April, or from May 2013, or from April 2013, or from April 2011, or from May 2006, or from November 2000.”

Why have the unions’ attempts to organize charter schools failed?

For starters, charters are either independent efforts or run by charter management organizations which operate a handful of schools. The unions just don’t have the wherewithal to organize one or even a few schools at a time. They have a much easier job in traditional public education where they can exert their influence on entire school districts.

Another reason that more charters aren’t organized is very simply that their teachers don’t want to be in a union. Teachers – frequently young ones – typically flock to charters because they like the autonomy that charters afford and don’t want to be loaded with an endless pile of restrictive work rules that are part and parcel of the typical collective bargaining agreement – a big reason why the de-bureaucratized and de-unionized schools came into being in the first place.

Charter school popularity is perpetually on the rise. Nationally, the number of students enrolled in them reached 2.5 million in 2013-2014, up 12.6 percent from the year before, according to the most recent enrollment estimates from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Ten years ago, charter enrollment was 789,000 – less than a third of what it is now.  As of last year, California alone had 1,130 charters, about 6 percent more than the year before. There was a 10.3 percent rise in charter student enrollment during that time, bringing the state total to 519,000.

The bad news is that there are still not enough. The California Charter School Association informs us that there are 91,000 students on waitlists. Supply just can’t keep up with demand.

At the same time, however, the unions are losing ground with charters. The Center for Education Reform reports that nationwide, the percentage of unionized charter schools has dropped from 12 in 2009 to a paltry 7 in 2012. In CA, there is a 15 percent unionization rate, but that number, from the 2009-2010 school year, is due for an update.

The low unionization rate is good news for students, who are better off when their charter school teachers aren’t organized. Evaluating Boston’s charter schools in 2009, Harvard economist Thomas Kane discovered that “students accepted by lottery at charters run by the school district with unionized teachers experienced no benefit.” In other words, a unionized charter is no different than a unionized traditional public school. Unions may support charters, but unionized charters are stripped of just about everything that makes them different from – and generally better than – traditional public schools.

By the way, Mercury will be in retrograde in a few days, so plan on the unions reverting to kill mode.  They’ll sponsor legislation that will, at best, try to limit charter expansion or, at worst, kill them off entirely. You can bet your astrology chart on it.

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.

UTLA Presidential Candidates Slam Charter Schools

At a Los Angeles teachers union election forum, presidential contenders portray charter schools as a disease that needs to be eradicated.

As reported by LA School Report’s Vanessa Romo, charter schools were a primary target at the February 20th symposium for presidential candidates of the United Teachers of Los Angeles. Actually, it seemed as if each aspirant who spoke on the issue was trying to position himself as Charter School Enemy #1.

Before we get into the debate itself, let me just spill out a few facts about charter schools.

  • Charter schools are public schools of choice.
  • They are tuition-free and open to any student who wishes to attend. They don’t cherry pick their students.  Charter schools allow parents, organizations, or community groups to restore, reinvent, and reenergize our public school system.
  • Charter schools are designed and governed by each local community, rather than by a central bureaucracy.
  • A charter school gets 3 to 5 years to do what it says it is going to do, and if it doesn’t succeed – unlike traditional public schools – it gets shut down.
  • In the U.S., there are 6,500 charter schools (in 42 states and D.C.), serving 2.5 million students; sadly there are 520,000 kids on wait lists.
  • In California, there are 1,130 schools, 500,000 students and 50,000 on wait lists.
  • According to the non-partisan California Legislative Analyst Office, in 2010-11, new charters got $721 less per pupil than traditional public schools. (Typically, the costs of the buildings are not included, although, according to California Charter School Association president Jed Wallace, CA’s new Local Control Funding Formula will equalize things.)

How well do charter schools perform? There have been many studies, the great majority of which claim that they do quite well, especially with some underserved student subgroups: low-income students, English Learners, African-American and Latino students. There’s mounting evidence that charter schools decrease dropout rates, increase college attendance rates and improve the quality of colleges that college-bound students attend.

If these kids go to college, do they actually graduate? And if charter schools really have lasting effects, shouldn’t they have an impact on how much money students earn? A new working paper examines these questions, and the answer is – in a word – yes

Not surprisingly, charter schools are very popular. Using just released data, by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the National Center for Policy Analysis blog reports that,

When families have public school choice, they increasingly select public charter schools over traditional public schools.

  • Over the past five years, student enrollment in public charter schools has grown by 80 percent.
  • … In seven school districts, more than 30 percent of students attend charter schools.
  • In 135 districts, at least 10 percent of students attend public charter schools.
  • Thirteen school districts saw increases in charter school enrollment ranging from nearly 20 to almost 60 percent in a single year.
  • … A 2013 Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll indicates that nearly 70 percent of Americans favor charter schools.

Referring to the same study, former state Senator Gloria Romero wrote in the Orange County Register that

… 600 new public charter schools opened their doors for the 2013-14 school year, serving an estimated 288,000 students. Over the past decade, charter school enrollment rose 225 percent, and the number of new schools rose 118 percent.

Nina Rees, alliance president and CEO, stated, ‘Parents are increasingly voting with their feet. This is the largest increase in the number of students attending charter schools we’ve seen since tracking [began]. … Independent research has shown time and again that charter school students perform better academically than their traditional-school peers. Families are catching on, and these enrollment figures reflect that.

California led the nation in the number of new charters and students served, adding 104 schools and serving an additional 48,000 students (despite the additional space, some 50,000 students remain on charter waiting lists). California was followed by Arizona, with 87 new schools; Florida, with 75; Texas, with 52; and New York, with 26.

As I wrote last year, the teachers unions have a schizoid relationship with charters. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, they want to kill them off; on Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturdays they want to unionize them. To date, only about 12 percent nationwide and 15 percent in CA have been unionized. Seems that many teachers value the freedom that non-unionization offers more than they care about the job protections that the unions provide. And this is just not okeydokey with union bosses, and the candidates for the UTLA presidency were not shy about expressing their opinions.

Three members immediately conceded that charters are too attractive to the public and are here to stay.

Gregg Solkovits, Alex Caputo-Pearl, and Bill Gaffney agreed that there’s no turning back the tide on the charter school movement within LA Unified and therefore UTLA must aggressively pursue efforts to organize charter school teachers.

Gaffney, who is a charter member of UTLA’s charter organizing committee said,

… charter school teachers are easily convinced that joining UTLA is much better deal for them. Although, he conceded, it is ‘a very scary process’ that involves a lot of secrecy for teachers with no legal protections.

Scary? No legal protections? Gee, not exactly great selling points.

Solkovits is currently a UTLA vice-president and longtime unionista. He was refreshingly honest when he said,

When charter schools are organized, they become much less attractive to our enemies.

Please note that he didn’t bother to mention the success of charter schools or long wait lists, which are the result of parents clamoring to get their kids out of lousy traditional public schools. Nah. He went right for the political. At least he didn’t come up with the typical union tripe about his position being “for the children.”

Not to be outdone, Saul Lankster, previously a teacher at two charter schools, has done an about-face and is staunchly anti-charter. As Romo writes, “His plan is to withdraw support from board members who support charter schools in favor of ones who oppose them.”

Leonard Segal wants to block charter expansion by changing California’s education code.

Then there is incumbent Warren Fletcher, who is perceived by many of the candidates to be a wimp. But regarding charters, he proudly pointed to the fact that he opposed Prop. 39, despite the UTLA leadership’s endorsement of the initiative in 2000. This law, among other things, allows for traditional public schools to let charter schools coexist on their campus (colocation) if room is available. This prop turned out embarrassing for traditional public schools and the union because charters frequently outperform their “colocatees” with kids from the same demographic. This phenomenon was spelled out quite clearly by Jason Riley. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, he quotes from Steven Brill’s Class Warfare, which compares the teachers’ contracts at Harlem Success Academy, a high-performing charter school in New York City, and a traditional public school that shares the same building and teaches kids from the same socio-economic background.

‘The Harlem Success teachers’ contract drives home the idea that the school is about the children, not the grown-ups. It is one page, allows them to be fired at will, and defines their responsibilities no more specifically than that they must help the school achieve its mission. Harlem Success teachers are paid about 5 to 10 percent more than union teachers on the other side of the building who have their levels of experience.

‘The union contract in place on the public school side of the building is 167 pages. Most of it is about job protection and what teachers can and cannot be asked to do during the 6 hours and 57.5 minutes (8:30 to about 3:25, with 50 minutes off for lunch) of their 179-day work year.’

In … 2010, 29 percent of the students at the traditional public school were reading and writing at grade level, and 34 percent were performing at grade level in math. At the charter school, the corresponding numbers were 86 percent and 94 percent. (Emphasis added.)

Given the embarrassment factor, it’s easy to see why colocation and charters in general are issues for the teachers unions.

UTLA ballots went out yesterday, but it looks as if, no matter who gets elected as new UTLA president, the assault on charters – in spite of their success – will continue. As such, is it surprising that only 22 percent of Americans think that teachers unions have a positive effect on education? This is an all-time low figure and the unions are dealing with the deepening hole they are in by ordering more shovels.

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

Right-to-Work Rights and Wrongs

Teachers union treasurer perpetuates myths about worker freedom.

The term “right-to-work” (RTW) very simply means that workers don’t have to pay dues to a union as a condition of employment. In the U.S., there are 24 such states and 26 where paying dues to a union  is required in many workplaces.

The unions, with all their pro-worker chatter, hate the fact that in some places, employees actually have a choice whether to join or not. As Stan Greer, senior research associate for the National Institute for Labor Relations Research, wrote recently, “Teacher Union Bosses’ Hatred of Right to Work Laws Is Understandable” – the reason being that people are flocking to RTW states in droves, which is costing unions millions in lost dues. The National Education Association has been hit especially hard.

The U.S. Census Bureau data show that, from 2002 to 2012, the number of K-12 school-aged children (that is, 5-17 year-olds) across the U.S. edged up by 0.8%, from 53.28 million to 53.73 million.  However, the 22 states that had Right to Work laws on the books barring forced union dues and fees throughout the period saw their aggregate school-aged population grow by 1.7 million, or 8.3%.  Meanwhile, the number of school-aged children living in the 27 states that lacked Right to Work laws throughout the period fell by nearly 1.3 million, or 4.0%.  (Indiana, whose Right to Work law took effect in early 2012, is excluded.)

But the union crowd never misses an opportunity to let a clever sounding narrative run roughshod over the facts. The latest purveyor of union blather is Arlene Inouye, current treasurer of the United Teachers of Los Angeles and member of the ominous sounding “Union Power Slate,” a group that is trying to unseat current president Warren Fletcher in an election this January. In the latest edition of the union newspaper, she wrote “Unionism 101: The growing right-to-work (for less) movement,” an article riddled with errors, half-truths and good old-fashioned demagoguery. Ms. Inouye made her first blunder when she quoted the president.

President Obama exposed what it is really about when he said right to work “will take your right to bargain for better wages” and give you the “right to work for less money.” So, let’s call it what it really is: a right-to-work (for less) legislative movement.

The statement, which conflates two issues, is erroneous. RTW simply means that workers have a choice. Collective bargaining can exist in a RTW state.

Ms. Inouye relentlessly pounds the cutesy “for less” theme in her piece which is replete with all the usual buzz terms. “The one percenters,” “an attack on the public sector” and “corporate interests in politics” all make an appearance along with several sob stories about abused, impoverished and beleaguered teachers in RTW states.

But the facts are quite different. The National Institute for Labor Relations Research reported that in 2011, when disposable personal income – personal income minus taxes – was adjusted for differences in living costs, the seven states with the lowest incomes per capita (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon, Vermont, and West Virginia) lack Right to Work laws.

Of the nine states with the highest cost of living-adjusted disposable incomes in 2011, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia and Wyoming all have Right to Work laws. The sole exception among the nine is forced-unionism Illinois. While the Prairie State’s relatively high spendable average income is a positive, it should be noted the state is at the same time plagued by high out-migration of families with children and extraordinarily poor job creation.

Overall, the cost of living-adjusted disposable income per capita for Right to Work states in 2011 was more than $36,800, or roughly $2200 higher than the average for forced-unionism states.

After Michigan became a RTW state, The Wall Street Journal reported,

According to the West Michigan Policy Forum, of the 10 states with the highest rate of personal income growth, eight have right-to-work laws. Those numbers are driving a net migration from forced union states: Between 2000 and 2010, five million people moved to right-to-work states from compulsory union states.

Other policies (such as no income tax) play a role in such migration, so economist Richard Vedder tried to sort out the variables. In the 2010 Cato Journal, he wrote that “without exception” he found “a statistically significant positive relationship” between right to work and net migration.

Mr. Vedder also found a 23% higher rate of per capita income growth in right-to-work states. An analysis by the Taxpayers Protection Alliance finds that Michigan is now the 35th state in overall prosperity measured by per capita income. Had Michigan adopted a right-to-work law in 1977, the group estimates, per capita income for a family of four would have been $13,556 higher by 2008. (Emphasis added.)

Despite Ms. Inouye’s apocalyptic scenario, many teachers (especially younger ones) actively avoid unionization. Charter schools, only a small percentage of which are unionized, are quickly gaining in popularity with parents and teachers alike. In this brief video put out by the California Charter School Association, we hear teachers explain why they like to teach in a less restrictive setting:

  • I feel like an innovator.
  • We have more freedom and can be more creative.
  • We can be places that empower teachers.
  • Charters are the result of people saying, “This isn’t working; we want to try something different.”

Trying “something different” when you have a phonebook-sized union contract hanging over your head is rather difficult.

Wisconsin, where teachers now have a choice to join a union – thanks to Governor Scott Walker – has seen a precipitous drop in membership.

The Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s largest teachers union, lost about half of its 98,000 members since Act 10 became law in 2011, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. That means WEAC has lost approximately half of its annual income from membership dues, which has impacted its ability to remain a force on the state political scene. (Emphasis added.)

But I did agree with one point that Ms. Inouye made. Quoting Bob Peterson, president of the Milwaukee Teachers Union, she wrote, “Be vigilant, informed, and don’t think that it (becoming RTW) won’t happen to you.”

Whether California will ever become RTW is anyone’s guess, but being vigilant and informed is certainly a worthy pursuit. However, considering the sophistry emanating from Ms. Inouye, she is hardly the one to be offering the “information.”

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.

Kill ‘Em or Unionize ‘Em

As charter schools have become more popular than ever, teachers unions dither about how to deal with them.

Though there are now over 6,000 charter schools in the U.S., including 1,000 in California, it’s not nearly enough to satisfy demand, as parents have awakened to the fact that many traditional public schools aren’t doing the job. According to a recent report released by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, 520,000 students nationwide are on waiting lists, 50,000 of them residing in the Golden State.

Charter schools are public schools that are allowed to operate outside the boundaries of costly multilayered district bureaucracies and piles of restrictive, union-mandated rules and regulations. If a charter doesn’t perform well, it gets shut down. (Interesting to note that when failing traditional public schools are closed in Philadelphia and Chicago, the teachers unions and their fellow travelers scream, but if a charter school closes – nary a peep from them.)

Studies have invariably proven that, while not a panacea, charters outperform traditional schools. An exception was the 2009 CREDO study, clung to by the unions and other naysayers, which found that charters didn’t outperform their counterparts. But the study was criticized for using flawed methodology that produced a biased result. However, a new CREDO study did indeed show that charters outperform traditional public schools, leaving the deniers with absolutely no credible defense.

But then again, the nation’s teachers unions never needed to cite any credible data because, well, they’re teachers unions. Their concern is not the most effective way to educate children; it is protecting the jobs of every last teacher, including the incompetents and worse. And the problem for the unions is that only 12 percent of charter schools nationally (15 percent in CA) are unionized.

So, the choice for the unions is to either try to kill charters or unionize them. For example, in this video we see former New York City teachers union vice-president Leo Casey pounding the table, demanding that charters be unionized. Stanley Aronowitz, a longtime union radical, refers to charter schools as “ratty” and “should be abolished,” before adding, “…yet at the same time we should organize them.”

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten was in “kill” mode when she said,

We should ask ourselves why we keep pitting charter schools against neighborhood public schools — a strategy that has created little more than a disruptive churn.

But the same Randi Weingarten, in “unionize” mode, after the AFT managed to organize 13 charters in Chicago said,

This is a turning point… This has the potential to change the conversation between charter operators and teachers.

On the national stage, The Wall Street Journal reports that the unions have

… drives under way at charter schools in several large cities, including Chicago, San Diego, and Philadelphia. NEA members adopted a resolution last year that “encourages” organizing efforts in charters and directed the national office to share with local chapters “key information” about lessons from previous union drives.

Here in California, the California Teachers Association seems to be at a “kill or unionize” crossroads. As teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci writes,

The union will decide in the coming months whether to send its monthly organ, California Educator, to all active charter school teachers, to create promotional materials for distribution to charter school teachers about the joys of teachers’ unions, and to create workshops for union activists with the title “How to Unionize Charter School Teachers.”

Yet at the same time CTA

… will contemplate creating a standing committee on the problem of charter schools, reversing a recent state law that gives charters first crack at surplus school property, persuading the legislature to order performance audits of charter schools, and shutting out charters from basic school appropriations so that they would have to have their own separate source of funding.

The rationale for this latter proposal is that “The harmful impact of charter schools needs to be made transparent. Having our active members vote on this issue will both educate and make the harm done by charter schools evident.”

I’m pretty sure this stuff won’t appear in the promotional materials CTA distributes to charter school teachers, but I’m confident they’re informed enough to know that the union has been the most implacable foe of charter schools in California for more than 20 years. (Emphasis added.)

The teachers unions in CA have a long history of trying to limit charter schools. Most recently in 2011, CTA’s AB 1172 would have had a chartering authority deny a charter petition if it makes a “written factual finding that the charter school would have a negative fiscal impact on the school district.” And the California Federation of Teachers’ AB 401 would have imposed a cap of 1,450 charter schools in California through January 1, 2017. Thankfully, neither bill became law.

After the 13 charters in Chicago decided to go union, Antonucci wrote,

Congratulations to the AFT, which succeeded in persuading the operators of the 13 United Neighborhood Organization’s charter schools to remain neutral during its unionization campaign. About 87 percent of the 415 employees voted to have the Chicago Alliance of Charter School Teachers and Staff represent them.

Picking up 400 new members in a charter school network is a win for AFT and teachers’ unions in general, no doubt of it. But let’s keep our heads, shall we?

When last I checked, there were an additional 381 charter schools (net) in 2012-13, enrolling an additional 275,000 students. Charter school staffing ratios vary widely, but even if we assume an average of 20 employees per school, that’s more than 7,600 charter school staffers added in a single year – mostly non-union.

Just to illustrate how charter school growth is swamping any unionization efforts, NEA and AFT would have had to organize 47 of those 381 new charter schools just to maintain their small market share.

And keeping that market share small is of great importance to parents and children. Jay Greene, in The Wall Street Journal, writes about a Boston study by Harvard economist Tom Kane which found that,

… students accepted by lottery at independently operated charter schools significantly outperformed students who lost the lottery and returned to district schools. But students accepted by lottery at charters run by the school district with unionized teachers experienced no benefit. (Emphasis added.)

When charter schools unionize, they become identical to traditional public schools in performance. Unions may say they support charter schools, but they only support charters after they have stripped them of everything that makes charters different from district schools.

Millions of charter school parents – those who have their children enrolled and those on wait-lists –  have come to realize that their goals are way out of sync with the “kill or unionize” mob. The war between teachers unions and parents wanting to have their kids opt out of failing schools is in full swing and intensifying.

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.

Forced Unionism Is Rearing Its Ugly Head in D.C.

Not content with forcing traditional D.C. public school teachers to join the Washington Teachers Union, the rapacious WTU is now trying to get its hooks into charter schools.

Last week, Nathan Saunders, president of the Washington Teachers Union, announced his intention to push for legislation that would force charter school teachers in the nation’s capital to become unionized. (Charter schools are public schools that can bypass certain rules and regulations — including union contacts — if they can produce certain prespecified results.) As things stand now in D.C., unlike their traditional public school brethren, charter school teachers don’t have to join the union. But according to Saunders,

his members are concerned they will lose their union-negotiated contracts when DCPS closes some of its campuses next fall and teachers look to charter schools for jobs. The school system recommended Tuesday that 20 schools close at least temporarily and consolidate with other traditional neighborhood schools.

The 20 schools that are closing are doing so because they are bad enough for parents to want to send their kids elsewhere…like to charter schools. Therein lies the problem for Mr. Saunders: 41 percent of kids in D.C. presently attend these innovative schools and fewer unionized teachers mean less money and power for the American Federation of Teachers local. Clearly, Saunders needs the legislation to force charter school teachers to join his union because he knows that most of them don’t want to. (Nationally, only about 12 percent of charter school teachers belong to a union.)

In fact, the main reason teachers go to work in charter schools is that they like the freedom that these schools offer… including freedom from top-down restrictive union contracts that dictate a teacher’s every move. (D.C. teachers are lucky; their contract is “only” 114 pages long. In Los Angeles, the union contract weighs in at a flatulent 349 pages.) Also, as Stanford Professor Terry Moe has pointed out, a union dominated school system often ignores the needs of children. And considering that on the latest 4th grade NAEP math test, D.C kids came in dead last in the country, maybe we need to pay more attention to them.

In this brief video put out by the California Charter School Association, we hear teachers explain why they like to teach in a less restrictive setting:

  • I feel like an innovator.
  • We have more freedom and can be more creative.
  • We can be places that empower teachers.
  • Charters are the result of people saying, “This isn’t working; we want to try something different.”

While Saunders’ motivation is obvious, his success is anything but a slam dunk. As Emma Brown in the Washington Post reported, changing the law

…would require approval from the D.C. Council and Congress, which seems politically unlikely given a Republican-led House with little interest in helping teachers unions grow and strong bipartisan support for charter schools.

“I don’t see how it could be a worse idea, and it’s not going anyplace because the Congress will never approve it,” said Robert Cane, executive director of the pro-charter Friends of Choice in Urban Schools.

The freedom to employ non-unionized teachers is part of what sets the charter movement apart from the traditional school system, Cane said.

Additionally, in response to the comment by Saunders that the union is “prepared to dedicate significant resources” to changing the law, Mike Antonucci  wrote,

That would be pretty scary if a) WTU had significant resources; b) charter schools didn’t have bipartisan support; and c) Republicans didn’t control the U.S. House of Representatives.

Whether he is successful or not, Saunders’ quest highlights the unfairness and un-American nature of forced unionism that exists in 27 states and D.C. Interestingly, teacher union leaders are always telling its members how much they have done for them. But have they? To that end, I have asked many union supporters in non-right to work states over the years the following question:

“If unions are so good for teachers, why must you force them to join?”

I’m still waiting for an answer.

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.

School Choice: Time to Move Forward

As evidence mounts that the government/union education monopoly is failing our children, 2012 should see ramped up efforts to advance school choice.

Last week, Education Week published “What Research Says About School Choice,” in which nine scholars analyze the results of various studies concerning “school choice” – the quaint notion that parents should be able to choose where to send their kids to school. The report boasts no ecstatic claims, nothing about lions and lambs, no Hallelujah moments – just a sober look at the 20 year-old movement to end mandatory zip code school assignments. Some of the findings:

Among voucher programs, random-assignment studies generally find modest improvements in reading or math scores, or both. Achievement gains are typically small in each year, but cumulative over time. Graduation rates have been studied less often, but the available evidence indicates a substantial positive impact.

Among voucher programs, these studies consistently find that vouchers are associated with improved test scores in the affected public schools. The size of the effect in these studies varies from modest to large. No study has found a negative impact.

A third area of study has been the fiscal impact of school choice. Even under conservative assumptions about such questions as state and local budget sensitivity to enrollment changes, the net impact of school choice on public finances is usually positive and has never been found to be negative.

Also last week, the California Charter School Association released its second annual “Portrait of the Movement: How Charters are Transforming California Education.” Not a sales pitch or compilation of cherry-picked data data, the CCSA report is an honest look at California’s 900 plus charter schools which educate about 400,000 students. A few of its many findings:

Charters that serve low-income students exceeded their prediction at high rates relative to the traditional system; students at charters serving low-income populations are five times more likely than their non-charter counterparts to be served by a school in the top 5th percentile.

Charter schools are more likely than non-charters to have both above average academic performance and above average growth. They are less likely than non-charters to perform below both state averages of status and growth.

A small number of low-performing charters were closed after the 2010-11 school year.

Earlier this month, the results of a study about school choice and its effects on crime in North Carolina, conducted by David J. Deming, assistant professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, were released. This study examined neither vouchers nor charter schools, but rather a district-wide open enrollment policy whereby any student could apply to any school within the district. If a popular school had more enrollees than seats, a lottery was held. The rather stunning findings:

In general, high-risk students commit about 50 percent less crime as a result of winning a school choice lottery. Among male high school students at high risk of criminal activity, winning admission to a first-choice school reduced felony arrests from 77 to 43 per 100 students over the study period (2002-2009). The attendant social cost of crimes committed decreased by more than 35 percent. Among high-risk middle school students, admittance by lottery to a preferred school reduced the average social cost of crimes committed by 63 percent (due chiefly to a reduction in violent crime), and reduced the total expected sentence of crimes committed by 31 months (64 percent).

The study finds that the overall reductions in criminal activity are concentrated among the top 20 percent of high-risk students, who are disproportionately African American, eligible for free lunch, with more days of absence and suspensions than the average student.

Hence, the ability to choose the school that a child attends not only increases chances of a better education, but also greatly decreases the likelihood that the youth will become a criminal. And not only doesn’t it cost anything, lower crime rates have been shown to be a boon to local economies.

Another kind of school choice was recently attempted by parents at Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, a Mojave Desert town in eastern California. Tired of low test scores, some parents organized and got more than 50 percent of the parents at the school to sign a “Parent Trigger” petition, which would give them the right to choose a different type of school governance. Their choices included firing the principal, removing some of the faculty, shutting the school down or turning it in to a charter school. Linda Serrato, Deputy Communication Director of Parent Revolution, explains that this particular petition laid out two options: “…negotiate with the parents to give them the autonomy they need to turn around their school, or they will use the Parent Trigger to take their school away from the district and convert it into a community charter school, run by local parents and educators.”

However, the Wall Street Journal reports that the California Teachers Association, a union that will go to great lengths to maintain the status quo and thus its political power, sent out “representatives” to Adelanto to disseminate “information” to the parents there. (“Union speak” alert: “Representatives” and “information” really mean sending unidentified operatives to petition-signers’ homes and feeding them lies about the petition that they just signed.)

The unionistas’ door-to-door rescission campaign managed to scare enough signers into revoking their signatures, thus nullifying the proposed action. CTA pulled the same stunt in Compton, the first time parents rose up and “pulled the Trigger.” But after a legal challenge, in which the parents were successfully represented pro bono by the firm of Kirkland and Ellis, the Trigger went forward, and produced the opening of a new charter school. Apparently, Kirkland and Ellis are ready for a second go-round and will represent the parents in Adelanto.

School choice is an idea whose time is long overdue. Scholars know it. Charter school attendees know it. Crime free youths in North Carolina know it. Parent activists in the Mojave Desert know it.

The nearsighted, the naysayers, and the beneficiaries of the current failing status quo — moribund educrats, reactionary school boards and power-mad teacher unions – realize they could be in trouble and will desperately fight to extinguish the fires of reform whenever and wherever they can. But as parents and taxpayers become enlightened about the advantages of choice and empowered to take action, their opponents — with their lame assertions, name calling, sophistry and bullying — will see their hegemony wilt and ultimately will be rendered powerless.

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

Teachers Unions Continue Their Assault on School Choice

CTA and CFT sponsor legislation that imperils charter schools in California.

On April 27, Rasmussen Reports released the results of a poll which addresses American voters’ sentiments about our public schools. Some of the more interesting findings are:

• 72% say taxpayers are not getting their money’s worth from our schools, while only 11% think we are.
• By a margin of 41-34 (25% were unsure), those polled said that spending more money on education will not improve student performance.
• 61% said that public education had become worse over the last ten years.

Given the citizenry’s increasing disaffection with our traditional public schools, charter schools would appear to be a good alternative. Charter schools are public schools which are allowed to operate outside the boundaries of costly multilayered district bureaucracies and piles of restrictive union mandated rules and regulations.

There have been many studies of charter school effectiveness, with most showing them doing a superior job to traditional public schools. While there are a few studies that show there is no difference in educational outcomes, it is indisputable that most charters not only get the job done, they do it using far less money. For example, in California charters get only 69% of the funding that traditional public schools do.

California, with one of the most troubled traditional public school systems in the country, has 912 charter schools according to the California Charter School Association. This is the largest concentration of charters in the nation, serving 357,610 students. CCSA recently stated that their analysis shows “charters serving low-income populations are generating significantly better academic results than traditional public schools serving the same populations, thus demonstrating that charter schools are weakening the link between poverty and underperformance that is so prevalent in the traditional system.” Not bad results for 69 cents on the dollar! (For more information on charter school performance and accountability in CA, go here.)

Given the public’s disaffection with traditional public schools, one might assume the Golden State would be strengthening its charter school laws and adding more schools, but this is anything but the case. In fact, via AB 1172, State Assemblyman and former teacher and union activist Tony Mendoza is trying to restrict charter’s access to funding and force new regulations on them to the point where they could be killed off in a short period of time.

Not surprisingly, the California Teachers Association is a sponsor of AB 1172. In CA, only about 15% of charter schools are unionized and this presents a great problem for the teachers unions. Given the need to unionize every teacher they can, so as to maintain their position as the state’s biggest power broker, charter schools are clearly an obstacle that must be overcome.

Courtesy of Kyle Olson, President and CEO of the Education Action Group, we get to see the union’s frustration with charter schools in a refreshingly honest video. While the union bosses in the video are New Yorkers, the union mentality as portrayed is universal. We don’t hear the usual union disingenuous blather about their actions being “for the children” that we experience in print, radio and TV ads. We do see Leo Casey, a United Federation of Teachers Vice President, equating charter schools to Walmart — both entities being very resistant to unionization. Pounding on the table, he says that it is very important that charters be unionized. Stanley Aronowitz, a long time union radical is even more brutally honest when he says that charter schools are “ratty and should be abolished,” but then goes on, “…yet at the same time we should organize them.” Nope, no warm and fuzzy talk at this meeting – just the good old-fashioned, “If we can’t kill ‘em, we have to organize ‘em” mentality. Nowhere in this video is any thought or concern expressed for school kids, their families or taxpayers. But as I said, this is a union meeting, not some faux sentimental ad, the purpose of which is to con the public.

Not to be outdone by bigger brother CTA, the California Federation of Teachers is sponsoring a different piece of legislation. AB 401 would cap the number of charter schools in CA at 1450. So just when charter expansion is needed, a teachers union is trying to strong-arm state legislators into applying the brakes.

The bottom line is that teachers unions may do some good for its dues paying members, but for children, their families and taxpayers, they are poisonous. As such, when the unions sponsor legislation, people everywhere must take heed and fight back.

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.