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Bad Week for Teachers Unions

These days, the teachers unions have landed on the wrong side of judges, teachers, the general public and just about everyone else whose lives they touch.

Seems like the teachers unions are getting it from all sides these days. In a Wall Street Journal piece, the writers note that the percentage of elementary and secondary teachers who are union members is down about 20 percent since 1988. But as private and charter schools proliferate and the right-to-work movement grows, the last 26 years will look like the good old days.

Big Apple Kerfuffle

In response to the death of Eric Garner while in New York Police Department custody, United Federation of Teachers command central decided to join forces with Al Sharpton in blaming the police. However, New York City teachers responded by giving UFT president Michael Mulgrew a one-finger salute, and on the first day of school last week teachers all over the city wore pro-cop T-shirts. This independent streak was way over the top for Boss Mulgrew, whose union emailed a brief warning, “…as public employees, one must remain objective at all times.”

Teachers union members remain objective?!! WHAT!!! This followed UFT’s sponsorship of an Al Sharpton rally in support of Mike Brown, who died while in police custody in Ferguson, MO.

Now, how teachers should respond to non-education-related community events is a discussion for another day; the issue here is the union’s hypocrisy. But then again, Mulgrew has always shot from the hip … and as often as not, the bullet has wound up piercing his shoe. Most recently, despite teacher misgivings with Common Core, the union president decided that the standards were worthy. And at the American Federation of Teachers convention last month, in classic thug style, he closed with these pearls,

If someone takes something from me, I’m going to grab it right back out of their cold, twisted, sick hands and say it is mine! You do not take what is mine! And I’m going to punch you in the face and push you in the dirt because this is the teachers! These are our tools and you sick people need to deal with us and the children that we teach. Thank you very much!

If they ever decide to recast Goodfellas, Mulgrew is a shoo-in for the Joe Pesci role. (Extreme profanity alert.)

Michigan Shenanigans

After Michigan went right-to-work in 2012, the Michigan Education Association decided to play hardball. Most teachers didn’t know that the only period they could resign from the union was when most of them weren’t paying attention to school or union matters – in August. Some teachers sent in their resignation notice before the union-mandated allotted time and thought they’d legitimately opted out and stopped paying dues. However, they were soon faced with threats that unless they paid up, the union would do its best to damage their credit ratings. But the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation took the teachers’ side and brought suit against the union. Then, just last Tuesday administrative law judge Julia Stern recommended that the “ Employment Relations Commission order the Michigan Education Association to no longer limit school employees to leaving the union solely in August of each year. She said the law that took effect last year incorporated a federal law interpreted to give public employees the ability to leave their union anytime.”

Furious with the decision, the union went into spin-mode to divert attention from it, triumphantly pointing to the fact that only 5,000 teachers (out of 110,000 total) had resigned during the August window. But as Mike Antonucci notes, the bigger picture is not so rosy. “In 2008-09, the union had 129,000 active members. The latest loss brings that number down to 106,000 – a drop of almost 18 percent.” Also, as more contracts expire, more teachers will have the opportunity to disengage from the union. Additionally, as teachers see that the world of their non-unionized colleagues does not come to an end without Big Daddy, many will realize that the $1,000+ dues they pay on a yearly basis could be much better spent elsewhere.

Sophistry Vergara

Hardly a surprise, but immediately following Judge Rolf Treu’s final decision in the Vergara case, which affirmed his original one, the California Teachers Association, the California Federation of Teachers and Governor Jerry Brown (under pressure from his biggest political backers – the unions) filed an appeal. In a dual release, the unions trotted out the usual off-subject malarkey in an attempt to convince people of the evil intent of the suit.

All along it’s been clear to us that this lawsuit is baseless, meritless, and masterminded by self-interested individuals with corporate education reform agendas that are veiled by a proclamation of student interest.

The Vergara ruling makes clear that Judge Treu failed to engage the evidence presented in court by education experts and school superintendents who testified that teacher rights are not impediments to well-run schools and districts.

He also failed to take into account the impact of underfunding, poverty, growing inequality, and lack of decent jobs in the communities surrounding our schools….

… this ruling doesn’t address any of the real solutions to problems facing public education, solutions such as adequate funding, peer assistance and review programs for struggling teachers, and lower class sizes.

Blah, blah, blah.

While this kind of union spin has traditionally been successful, the general public at long last has become hip to it. In an Education Next  poll released in August concerning the issue of tenure – a major part of the Vergara suit,

… Survey respondents favor ending tenure by a 2-to-1 ratio. By about the same ratio, the public also thinks that if tenure is awarded, it should be based in part on how well the teacher’s students perform in the classroom. Only 9% of the public agrees with current practice in most states, the policy of granting teachers tenure without taking student performance into account.

Fair Share Flim-Flam Fades

Every year around Labor Day, Gallup polls Americans on their attitudes toward labor unions. This year a question was added about right-to-work laws, and the responses were not good news for the forced-union crowd. As Mike Antonucci writes,

The poll finds 82% of Americans agreeing that ‘no American should be required to join any private organization, like a labor union, against his will,’ a position advanced by right-to-work proponents. Pro-union forces partly oppose right-to-work laws because of the ‘free-rider’ problem, with non-union workers benefitting as much as union workers when unions negotiate pay and benefit increases with employers. But by 64% to 32%, Americans disagree that workers should ‘have to join and pay dues to give the union financial support’ because ‘all workers share the gains won by the labor union.’

The teachers unions are starting to remind me of a man at sea flailing away for help, but the courts, the general public and even many of their own members are not not throwing out a life raft. Perhaps Mr. Mulgrew needs to start breaking some legs. Nothing else seems to be working.

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 Vergara Battle Has Been Won…

… but the war is just beginning. Despite a landmark education decision in California favoring children over teachers unions, how much will really change?

On June 10th, Judge Rolf Treu issued an unequivocal decision in the Students Matter (Vergara v California) case which revolved around the tenure, dismissal and seniority statutes in California’s education code. In his 16-page ruling – a resounding victory for students and a crushing defeat for the teachers unions – Judge Treu did not mince words. He found that the plaintiffs met their burden of proof on all the issues, writing, “The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience…” He concluded with, “All Challenged Statutes are found unconstitutional….”

Tenure

While the judge’s decision on this subject was crystal clear, much of the media’s responses have been – to paraphrase Alan Greenspan – irrationally exuberant. The New York Times headline – hardly an isolated example – blared “Judge Rejects Teacher Tenure for California.”

Hardly. The judge ruled that letting teachers attain tenure after only two years – really 16 months – is unfair to both students and teachers. But in no way did he reject tenure out of hand; he merely pointed out that California was one of only five states to offer tenure or permanent status in two years or less. He went on to say that other states do it better, noting that the probationary period in 41 states is three to five years. (The other four states don’t allow tenure at all.)

What will a new tenure law look like? Given the California Teachers Association’s unbridled clout in the state legislature, we very well could wind up with a three year tenure period instead of two. A slight improvement, but hardly a game-changer.

Dismissal Statutes

The judge recognized that teachers certainly deserve due process rights, but indicated that the current dismissal statutes provide über due process. He acknowledged that “the number of grossly ineffective teachers has a direct, real, appreciable, and negative impact on a significant number of California students, now and well into the future for as long as said teachers hold their positions.”

Just what is that “significant number?” If each “grossly ineffective” teacher (the defense claims this applies to one to three percent of the profession) has 25 students in his class, it means that between 68,750 and 206,250 flesh-and-blood school children are getting little or no education every year. And astonishingly, teachers who are ineffective but not “grossly” so were not even considered. I can hear the conversation at a local public school:

Parent: I understand that my son is going to have an ineffective teacher this year.

Principal: That’s correct, ma’am, but not to worry, he is not “grossly” ineffective.

Parent: Sir, would you go to a surgeon who is known to remove appendixes but leaves the scalpel behind? Or a lawyer whose innocent clients regularly wind up in the slammer. Or an auto mechanic who puts brake fluid in your radiator?

Principal: Of course not, but those occupations are not unionized. Be grateful that your child’s teacher is just pretty bad and not one of the “grossly ineffective” ones.

Parent: Ah, of course! How silly of me not to realize that my child’s education is not really the priority of a unionized public school!

There is some good news here, however: AB 215, with the backing of reformers and the teachers unions, would seem to be a done deal. Though weak on dismissing incompetent teachers, the bill would at least shorten the interminable process to deal with teachers accused of egregious behavior. But getting rid of the merely ineffective ones will continue to be a gory battle with CTA leaning on the state legislature to make only minimal adjustments to the old statutes while trying to convince the court that the improvements are substantive.

Seniority

As things stand now in the Golden State (with very rare exceptions), if layoffs are necessary, decisions are made by a quality-blind last in/first out (LIFO) system. The judge mentioned that California is just one of ten states where “seniority is the sole factor or one that must be considered.” If the LIFO statute is removed from the education code, what is the probable scenario? The decision could be left to each individual school district, but again, given CTA’s influence in the state legislature, we will undoubtedly have a statewide law. Bill Lucia, president of Sacramento-based advocacy group EdVoice, suggests various options might be considered that “include elements of a seniority system but with exceptions made for excellent teachers or permanent teachers willing to serve in hard-to-staff schools.” And if that arrangement becomes reality, how should excellence be quantified? Standardized tests? Principal evaluation? Outsider evaluation? Should parents have a say? Some or all the above? A long ignored law in California which stipulates that a teacher’s evaluation must be based at least in part on how well her students perform on state tests should help, but due to the teachers unions’ hardcore stance against using student performance to measure teacher effectiveness, the conflict to replace LIFO will be a bloody one as well.

What’s next?

Nothing for now. While the decision is temporary and will not be final for another few weeks, the judge is unlikely to alter or modify it. And of course the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers have already announced that they are appealing the decision, an option also being weighed by the state of California. In the meantime, Judge Treu placed a stay on the ruling pending a decision by the California Court of Appeal. The case will undoubtedly make its way to the California Supreme Court. Thus, a final resolution could be years away. A denial of the appeal in the lower court, however, could remove the stay and Treu’s decision would have to be honored – at least temporarily – even if there is an appeal to the state Supreme Court.

The educational floodgates have been opened by Judge Treu. How everything will eventually play out is anybody’s guess, but one thing is certain – the war between teachers unions and the children of California is far from over.

(Prosecutor Marcellus McRae’s closing argument is riveting and provides a good overview of the case.)

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.

 

Staples Removers

Not content with stifling education reform and school choice, teachers unions have a new target.

Dang! The teachers unions have been busier than ever lately. Trying to kill charter schools in California. Fighting teacher evaluations in Florida. Demonizing vouchers, well, everywhere. But now the unions’ have a new bête-noire: Staples.

Staples?

Yes, Staples.

The troubled office supply chain (closing 225 of its stores) has made a deal with the troubled U.S. Post Office (which lost $5 billion last year, in part due to a serious decline in volume) to open mini-USPS outlets in its stores. This move could bring customers to Staples and at the same time save the USPS money.

Sounds like a win-win, right?

Not if you are the American Postal Workers Union. The APWU is hopping mad, in fact. Back in April it staged a “National Day of Action” to protest the move. The union began to picket Staples stores and called for other unions to join their “Don’t buy campaign.” (Having a post office in stores was the norm when Ben Franklin created the P.O. concept two and a half centuries ago.)

Appalled at the mini-move to privatization, the California Federation of Teachers joined the fray and put out a press release on April 29th in which it expressed outrage and disgust at the deal, and asked teachers to boycott the chain. Never missing an opportunity to say something loopy, CFT president Josh Pechthalt pontificated,

These no-bid contracts point to a dirty deal. The consumer will suffer—a lack of postal training means less mail security and worse service, without any cost savings for the consumer…By this simple act—asking our members and educators across the country to buy their school supplies elsewhere—we put USPS management and a profit seeking corporation on notice that the quality of mail delivery is not for sale. (Emphasis added.)

The consumer will suffer? When’s the last time you stood in line for 20 minutes at Staples, cooling your heels, while the bulk of the employees were hanging out in the back enjoying their break, leaving one worker to deal with a dozen ticked-off customers?

But Pechthalt saved the best for last:

… When it comes to privatizing the U.S. mail, we say ‘no sale.’ Our members have choices where to buy school supplies, and we won’t shop at Staples as long as they operate postal counters without uniformed postal workers.

So, choice where to buy school supplies is good, but not where to mail a letter. Maybe if workers at Staples wear spiffy uniforms, that would make Mr. Pechthalt happy?

Then last week, the Michigan affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers joined the CFT boycott. As reported by POLITICO,

The unions made the move in solidarity with the American Postal Workers Union, which is furious over a plan to let Staples employees operate postal counters inside dozens of stores. The APWU has blasted the deal as a first step to privatizing the postal service. Teachers understand ‘how much we all have to lose when essential public services — like schools and post offices — are put in the hands of private companies with lower standards,’ said David Hecker, president of AFT Michigan. His group will press for a national boycott at the AFT convention this summer. (Emphasis added.)

Lower standards than the USPS?! Granted the P.O. is better than it used to be, but the improvement unsurprisingly coincided with the emergence of FedEx. The P.O., however, still trails the privately-owned company in reliability, courtesy and efficiency.

The bottom line here is that the teachers unions are monopolists. They despise the “right-to-work” concept which allows for choice in union membership. They fight tooth and nail against giving parents a choice where to send their kids to school. And now they don’t want to give us a choice where to buy stamps and mail a letter.

A competition-free world is a quality-free world. But the unions don’t give a rip about quality. They’re simply hell-bent on preserving their influence and protecting their bottom line by any means necessary.

It’s time for the rest of us to fight back. Go to Staples. Buy something. Tell them you like their postal venture. Give the manager a hug. At the same time, send an email to the unions and tell them that, as a consumer, you don’t approve of monopolies.

Well, at least the unions haven’t told us to boycott Staples “for the children” … yet.

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.

Charter Chicanery

Teacher union sponsored bill is a serious threat to California’s charter schools.

It’s hardly a secret that teachers unions don’t like charter schools. These independent, publicly funded schools are typically not unionized (just 15 percent are in California), and therefore can avoid many of the burdensome rules and regulations which are chiseled into the state education code and burdensome, child-unfriendly union contracts.

There are currently 1,130 charter schools in California that teach 500,000 students, while another 50,000 kids sit on wait lists. Most studies show that these locally controlled schools do a better job than traditional public schools, especially with low-income students, English Learners, African-Americans and Latinos. There’s also mounting evidence that charter schools decrease dropout rates, increase college attendance rates and improve the quality of colleges that their graduates attend.

The teachers unions’ opposition to charters has led to attempts to snuff them out at worst, or at least to limit their growth. In 2011, the California Teachers Association’s AB 1172 would have allowed a chartering authority to deny a petition if it submits a written factual finding that the charter school would have a negative fiscal impact on the school district – but conveniently the bill lacked parameters or definition of that “impact.” The same year, the California Federation of Teachers’ AB 401 would have imposed an arbitrary cap of 1,450 charter schools in California through January 1, 2017. Thankfully, neither bill became law.

And now we have AB 1531, yet another bill cooked up by CTA which, at its core, would “require that the initial chartering authority appoint a majority of the members of the board of directors” of a charter school. This is nothing but a transparent attempt by the folks over at CTA command central to recover lost power by giving local school boards, which typically are the “initial chartering authority” – and frequently comprised of union-backed members who are hostile to charters – power over those schools. Lance Izumi, Director of Education Studies at the Pacific Research Institute, adds:

If charter-school organizers know that local school boards have the power to pass final judgment on who sits on their governing boards, they will be less likely to nominate people who possess talent, vision and commitment, but who are not likely to be confirmed by the local school board. Only people politically palatable to the school board will likely be nominated. There will be a chilling effect on the variety of people put forward to serve on charter-school governing boards, with the result that governing boards would end up becoming extensions of the school board.

In other words, charter schools would not be charter schools as we have known them. (You can’t remove the cherries from a cherry pie and still call it a cherry pie.)

CTA justifies the bill by claiming that it will protect teachers.

… CTA-sponsored AB 1531 by Ed Chau (D-Monterey Park) would ensure that employees of public charter schools are covered by the state’s public pension systems and by collective bargaining law. While the first provision would help protect their retirements, the second would ensure that they are protected by laws that give voice to educators. These protections are vital to helping public schools – charter or regular – attract and keep the highly qualified educators our students need.  

While the pension angle may sound reasonable, it is ultimately a red herring being played up by the union to make its power play seem altruistic. The IRS and Department of Labor have allowed charter school teachers and other school employees to participate in government pension plans since 1995. But in an entry beginning on page 69,180 of the November 8, 2011 Federal Register, the IRS issued advanced notice of proposed new regulations which include a redefinition of what is and is not a government entity. These things go through a public comment process and refinement before adoption, and can take many years to finalize. And absolutely no one knows how all this might affect charter schools.

This disastrous bill is best summed up by William Melton, president of the Albert Einstein Charter Academies, which is comprised of two charter schools in San Diego. He says that if AB 1531 becomes law, it would

… eliminate the autonomy of AEA’s Board of Trustees and would undo 20 years of education progress and choice for California’s parents and students. Essentially it would mean that AEA’s schools would convert to being district schools. AB 1531 is an attempt to take our communities back to 1991 when there were no charter schools in California and parent choice did not exist. (Emphasis added.)

Undoing 20 years of education progress and choice for California’s parents and students is just what CTA is attempting to do. Introduced in January, AB 1531 was recently approved by a narrow 4-3 vote in the Assembly Education Committee and now must pass muster in Appropriations later this month. Here’s hoping it dies there.

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

California Federation of Teachers Boss Speaks Power to Troops

In a refreshingly candid speech, union leader minimizes bromides about “the children” and relentlessly bangs the class warfare drum.

In his March 22nd state-of-the-union talk to the faithful, California Federation of Teachers president Josh Pechthalt made no bones about the ultimate mission of his union. Absent were the usual silly platitudes like “working together with other stakeholders” and “if we need to strike, it will be for the children.” Nah. Pechthalt didn’t waste any time using weasel words. He went right to the heart of the union’s raison d’être, which is advancing a leftist agenda. Here are a few snippets from a speech that would have made the late Karl Marx beam:

… CFT has been a beacon of progressive, social justice unionism.

… we have consistently supported single payer health care reform….

We are currently part of a coalition with many of our Millionaires Tax and Prop 30 partners working on an effort to amend Prop 13….

The super wealthy and their swollen circle of reactionary think tanks and echo chamber conservative media are committed to eradicating what remains of the labor movement and giving corporations unlimited power over every aspect of American life.

We understand that central to the mission of public education is the need to advocate for a different kind of society…. (Emphasis in original.)

Don’t get me wrong – I am not implying that teacher union bosses don’t care about children. They care, in fact they really care, but maybe not in ways that you and I do. They tend to see children as avatars-in-training for the brave new world that they are attempting to shove down our throats.

But getting our own members organized won’t be enough. We must reach out to our students, their parents and our community members and organizations.

Pechthalt clearly gives no thought to his members who don’t have the same affection for the Comintern that he apparently does. According to Pechthalt’s counterpart, California Teachers Association president Dean Vogel, about one-third of teachers in California are Republican. I wonder what was going through their minds when Pechthalt said, “… open school libraries have become as rare as a congressional republican (sic) with something good to say about the affordable care act (sic).” But then again, it really doesn’t matter, because the way the unions have things rigged, those right-of-center members are still forced to fork over monthly dues just like everyone else. But when you are a true-believer in “social justice,” purloining money from unwilling teachers is nothing more than a bourgeois concern.

Pechthalt was especially rough on the Students Matter (Vergara v California) case, which aims to ensure that all kids in California have an effective teacher by removing the tenure, seniority and dismissal statutes from the state education code. His comments were ad hominem and oozed class warfare sentiments.

The latest attack on public education has been the Vergara lawsuit, backed by billionaires David Welch and Eli Broad and the corporate-friendly law firm of Gibson Dunn and Crutcher.

… We did that while one of the backers of the Vergara lawsuit, Eli Broad, put money into a failed secret Arizona PAC effort that pumped millions of dollars into California in the run-up to the 2012 election to try and defeat Prop 30 and try to pass prop 32, the anti-union initiative.

… The hard cold reality though is that the Vergara suit underscores our challenge: to convincingly tell our story and build deep relationships with parents and community partners in the face of (a) well-funded effort by the opponents of public education to lie and twist reality and erode our influence. (Emphasis added.)

The vilification of Broad is particularly ironic because he is a lifelong Democrat. And regardless of his political affiliation, to progressives, some billionaires are less equal than others. For instance, why the Koch Brothers are considered evil and involved in “dark money” but George Soros is portrayed as an angel of light is beyond me. (Okay, it’s not beyond me….)

And in all the yammering about billionaires and the evil rich, it’s worth noting that when it comes to political spending in California, a teachers union – the California Teachers Association – is #1 by far. Between 2000 and 2013, it spent over $290 million on candidates and causes. That was far more than dreaded corporations AT&T, Chevron and Philip Morris spent in the Golden State combined.

Pechthalt’s and CFT’s attempts to conduct class(room) warfare by aggrandizing the union movement are well-documented.  Courtesy of Kyle Olson’s Indoctrination, we know that CFT has put out “lessons” for tots as young as five. In “Trouble in the Henhouse: A Puppet Show” we find an oppressive farmer whose hens unionize and convince the heartless farmer that he’d better respect them “or else.” Then there is “The “Yummy Pizza Company,” another lesson from CFT – actually ten – that delves into the process of organizing a union local. They include instructions on how to collectively bargain as well as a sanitized look at prominent labor leaders. Click Clack Moo, a popular book promoted by CFT parent organization AFL-CIO, tells second graders about unhappy cows that refuse to work until the mean farmer is forced to meet their demands.

It’s important to note that the “workers of the world unite and bring your children to the party” mentality is hardly new for CFT. This is the organization that brought us “Tax the Rich: An Animated Fairy Tale” in 2012. This vile video pushed class warfare to the limit, attempting to whip up hatred of people who have been successful in life but “don’t pay their fair share of taxes.” As Investors Business Daily described it,

“Rich people love their money more than anything in the whole world,” narrates Hollywood actor and noted leftist Ed Asner, in tones used in reading to schoolchildren. “Over time, rich people decided they weren’t rich enough so they came up with ways to get richer.”

…The bile that oozes in the union’s puerile seven-minute screed was unspeakable: The world was a paradise full of good jobs and safe streets until “rich people” decided to get more money, so the video begins.

Instead of paying their “fair share” of taxes, the rich decided to do three things: seek tax cuts, engage in loopholes and evade taxes by shipping their fortunes to the Cayman Islands, illegally of course, mendaciously suggesting that any financial tie with the Caymans is illegal.

It only gets worse: The rich people’s supposed greed led them to buy media and politicians, with a not-so-subtle cartoon depiction of a man who looks a lot like Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch, and then money amassed as coins in big stacks, which then crashed down first on middle class people’s houses, and then on the jobs of police, firefighters, teachers and librarians.

After that “the rich” tried to blame defaulted mortgage holders and after that, teachers and firefighters (conveniently ignoring the bloated pensions and entitlements and waste that are the doings of public employee unions). “Maybe it was the firefighters,” Asner sarcastically narrated.

The scene that received the most attention was of a rich man urinating on the “poor.” CFT pulled that scene shortly after posting, but no matter, the highly offensive video was a shameful attempt to indoctrinate children into the ugly world of class conflict.

It is essential that teachers who are more in love with teaching than with CFT’s attempts to wage war on rich people stop supporting the union’s political agenda. (To learn how to do this, go here.) Until teachers do that, they are complicit in the union’s overall mission, which is dedicated to promoting class warfare and indoctrinating children.

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

Pull the Plug on LIFO Support

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As edu-pundit RiShawn Biddle pointed out in 2010,

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

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

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

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

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

Tenure, Temerity and the Truth

Los Angeles Times op-ed and teachers union defense of educational status quo are packed with malarkey.

Now in its third week, the Students Matter trial still has a ways to go. Initially scheduled to last four weeks, the proceedings are set to run longer. On Friday, Prosecutor Marcellus McRae told Judge Rolf Treu that the plaintiffs need another week and a half or so to conclude their case before the defense takes over. The coverage of the trial has been thorough, with the Students Matter website providing daily updates, as has the always reliable LA School Report.

The media have generally been either neutral or supportive of the case, which claims that the tenure, seniority and dismissal statutes enshrined in the state Ed Code hurt the education process in the Golden State, especially for minority and poor kids. The defendants are the state of California and the two state teachers unions – the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers.

Having studied and written about the case extensively, I am of the opinion that the defense has no defense and that the best that they can do is to muddy the waters to gain favor with judge. In an effort to learn what the defense will come up with, I have tried to read everything I can by folks who think the lawsuit is misguided. I have written before about California Teachers Association president Dean Vogel’s rather inept argument presented in the December issue of CTA’s magazine.

The CTA website has been posting more about the case as the trial has progressed, and it would appear that desperation has set in. The union’s old bromides hold about as much water as a ratty sponge.

The problems we face with layoffs are not because of Education Code provisions or local collective bargaining agreements, but lack of funding.

No, the problem is who is getting laid off; we are losing some of the best and the brightest, including teachers-of-the-year due to ridiculous seniority laws.

The lawsuit ignores all research that shows teaching experience contributes to student learning.

Not true. Studies have shown that after 3-5 years, the majority of teachers don’t improve over time.

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

Oh please – the evil rich and the privatization bogeyman! Really! Zzzzz.

Then we have cartoonist Ted Rall who penned an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times last week, which is mostly concerned with “tenure tyranny.” This wretched piece is maudlin sophistry at its gooiest.

First, Rall needs to get his verbiage straight. K-12 teachers do not get tenure. What they achieve after two years on the job is “permanent status.” Permanent status! What other job on the planet affords workers something called “permanence,” and getting rid of an inept teacher who has reached that lofty perch is just about impossible. But Rall makes the claim that, “Tenure doesn’t prevent districts from firing teachers. It makes it hard. (Not impossible: 2% of teachers get fired for poor performance annually.)”

The 2 percent figure is a half-truth. During the first two years on the job, a teacher can be let go relatively easily for poor performance. Maybe two percent of newbies don’t cut it. But what Rall and his teacher union buddies don’t tell you is that, in California, for example, about ten teachers a year out of nearly 300,000 (.003 percent) who have attained “permanence” lose their jobs. Of those, a whopping two teachers (.0007 percent) get canned for poor performance.

This is a disgrace, and most teachers know it. In fact, according to a recent survey of teachers working in Los Angeles conducted by the National Council on Teacher Quality, 68 percent reported that “there were tenured teachers currently working in their schools who should be dismissed for poor performance.”

Then Rall goes off the rails on tenure, saying that what’s wrong with tenure is that “only teachers can get it.”  (When you go to a doctor for a serious medical condition, Mr. Rall, do you want to see the best one or any old quack who still has an MD after his name?)

Rall then ventures into other areas. He whines twice about his mother’s (a retired public school teacher) “crummy salary.” He apparently hasn’t read much on the subject. In fact, the most recent study on teacher pay shows that when perks like healthcare and pension packages are taken into consideration, today’s teachers are in fact overpaid. Armed with facts, charts and a bevy of footnotes, Heritage Foundation’s Jason Richwine and American Enterprise Institute’s Andrew Biggs explain,

Workers who switch from non-teaching jobs to teaching jobs receive a wage increase of roughly 9 percent, while teachers who change to non-teaching jobs see their wages decrease by approximately 3 percent.

When retiree health coverage for teachers is included, it is worth roughly an additional 10 percent of wages, whereas private sector employees often do not receive this benefit at all.

Teachers benefit strongly from job security benefits, which are worth about an extra 1 percent of wages, rising to 8.6 percent when considering that extra job security protects a premium paid in terms of salaries and benefits.

Taking all of this into account, teachers actually receive salary and benefits that are 52 percent greater than fair market levels. (Emphasis added.)

Then Rall gets political. He writes,

During the last few decades, particularly since the Reagan administration, the right has waged war on teachers and their unions. From No Child Left Behind to the sneakily anti-union, anti-professionalization outfit Teach for America to the Common Core curriculum, conservatives are holding teachers accountable for their kids’ academic performance.

Reagan? What did his administration do?

The sneakily anti-union, anti-professionalization outfit Teach for America

Do you mean the very successful organization that identifies young teacher-leaders and trains them for service, founded and run by social justice advocates who have made (some) peace with the National Education Association? That TFA?

Common Core?

Sorry, but it is a bipartisan issue. In fact, your beloved teachers unions, including NEA president Dennis Van Roekel and AFT President Randi Weingarten, support it.

…conservatives are holding teachers accountable for their kids’ academic performance.

Horrors! Holding teachers accountable for their work! If not them whom?  The school bus driver? And for crying out loud, it’s not just conservatives who are demanding teacher accountability. StudentsFirst’s Michelle Rhee, American Federation of Children’s Kevin Chavous, Democrats for Education Reform’s Joe Williams and former CA state senator Gloria Romero, all want more accountability and none of them qualify as right wingers.

Rall’s piece ends with an editor’s note:

[Correction, 11:26 a.m., February 6: An original version of this post incorrectly described Students Matter as a “right-wing front group.” The post also linked to the wrong David Welch, founder of Students Matter.]

If the editors think that this is the only errata, they most definitely need to review this bilge and reexamine every word, including “and” and “the.”

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.

Let’s Flush the Bathroom Bill

A new California law is agenda driven, hurts kids and is totally unnecessary.

A look back through recent history reveals that legislators and the educational establishment, taking its marching orders from the teachers unions, have needlessly foisted sexuality into children’s lives. The radical agenda of the activists seeks to divest children of any prudish, old-world morality imposed upon them by their clueless, Neanderthal parents. Just a few cases in point:

  • In 2004, the National Education Association gave its prestigious Human Rights Award to Kevin Jennings, founder of the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN). This is the group that presided over the infamous “Fistgate” conference held at Tufts University in Massachusetts in March 2000, where state employees gave explicit instructions about “fisting” and other forms of gay sexual activity to children as young as 12. The conference was secretly recorded and its extraordinarily vile contents can be heard here.
  • At a UN conference in 2011, Diane Schneider, an NEA Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Trainer of Trainers, said “Oral sex, masturbation, and orgasms need to be taught in education.” She told this to the audience at a panel on combating homophobia and transphobia. Additionally, she advocated for more “inclusive” sex education in US schools, with curricula based on “liberal hetero and homosexual expression.” Lest parents think they could just excuse their child from that class, she claimed that the idea of sex education “remains an oxymoron if it is abstinence based, or if students are still able to opt-out.” She then added that comprehensive sex education is “the only way to combat heterosexism and gender conformity.”

“Gender identity expression and sexual orientation are a spectrum,” she explained, and said that those opposed to homosexuality “are stuck in a binary box that religion and   family create.”

  • Later in 2011, with a $1,500 grant from the California Teachers Association, a group called Gender Spectrum presented some rather interesting lessons over two days to the entire school of 350 students. The specifics were reported by Fox News, which was invited to sit in on the lessons.

Joel Baum, director of education and training for Gender Spectrum, taught the classes. In the kindergarten class he asked the 5- and 6-year-olds to identify if a toy was a “girl toy” or a “boy toy” or both. He also asked which students liked the color pink, prompting many to raise their hands, to which he responded that boys can like pink, too.

In the fourth-grade class, Baum focused on specific animal species, like sea horses, where the males can have or take care of the children. He suggested that even if someone was born with male “private parts” but identified more with being a girl, that was something to be “accepted” and “respected.”

Students in the class were given cards, which included information on all-girl geckos and transgender clownfish, to illustrate the variations in nature that occur in humans, too.

“Gender identity is one’s own sense of themselves. Do they know themselves to be a girl? Do they know themselves to be a boy? Do they know themselves to be a combination?” Baum said. “Gender identity is a spectrum where people can be girls, feel like girls, they feel like boys, they feel like both, or they can feel like neither.”

The question here becomes why are elementary school children being exposed to sexual concepts and anomalies that they are totally incapable of understanding and are frequently very frightening and confusing to them?

  • That same year Californians were subjected to the “FAIR Act,” also known as the LGBT History Bill, a law

which compels the inclusion of the political, economic, and social contributions of persons with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people into educational textbooks and the social studies curricula in California public schools by amending the California Education Code.

And this year a “transgender rights” bill was ushered in, supported by the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers. Passed into law in August, the essence of AB 1266 – the “bathroom bill” – can be summed up in its final 37 words:

A pupil shall be permitted to participate in sex-segregated school programs and activities, including athletic teams and competitions, and use facilities consistent with his or her gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil’s records.

The law, written by San Francisco assemblyman Tom Ammiano, is being touted as necessary to protect the civil rights of students who have sexual identity issues. But there already are laws on the books to protect them. Instead, as political strategist Frank Schubert points out, the law is intended to

advance an adult political agenda by special interests who wish to use our public schools as a tool to strip gender and gender differences from societal norms. In the process, the privacy and security interests of all students, including those who are transgendered, are compromised.

Schubert then goes on to point out what is specifically wrong with the law:

One Size Fits All. The bill mandates a “one size fits all” approach, failing to provide educators with flexibility to choose less-invasive solutions, such as giving transgendered students access to private or faculty facilities, or customizing approaches that meet the unique needs of a transgendered student. As a result, many transgendered students may find themselves stigmatized by AB 1266, unable to avail themselves of solutions designed to meet the needs of the specific student and instead forced into a “one size fits all” approach. For example, some school districts currently give transgendered students the option of choosing a single stall bathroom for increased privacy. AB 1266 is so poorly drafted that it may eliminate this option.

Lacks Safeguards. Some California school districts have existing rules that give transgendered students the ability to use bathroom and locker room facilities consistent with their so-called gender identity, but those jurisdictions have at least adopted some minimal standards to guard against abuse. For example, in order to claim a gender identity that differs from their biologic sex, a student in San Francisco must have presented a gender identity “exclusively and consistently at school.” AB 1266 contains no such requirement, allowing any student to assert a gender identity at school at any time.

No Parental Involvement. AB 1266 also fails to provide a role for parents in determining a course of action for a student. Some students may be suffering from gender confusion, wherein a teen is genuinely confused about the strong feelings they have identifying with the gender opposite of how they were born. Involving the child’s parents in fashioning a course of conduct for that student could be critical to his or her ultimate well-being, yet AB 1266 contains no provisions for parental involvement.

Lacks Balance. AB 1266 fails to include any provisions that seek to balance the interests of a transgendered student with the rights of all other students. This is especially important in the critical area of personal privacy. Current policies in some districts provide for “accommodation and the needs and privacy concerns of all students involved.” AB 1266 fails to provide any balance or reasonable accommodation in its approach.

Perhaps the least reported facet of this contentious law is just how many children would be affected by it. An advocacy group, The National Center for Transgender Equality reports that “between ¼ and 1% of the population is transsexual.” The Williams Institute, which is “dedicated to conducting rigorous, independent research on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy” claims that there are 700,000 transgender individuals in the US.

That comes down to .233 percent of the total population. Therefore, in a school of 600, one or two students may be classified as sexually conflicted. So does it really make sense to run a major social experiment on 598 or 599 kids for the possible benefit of one or two?

Of course not.

To be sure, there are children who have genetic conflicts and their needs should be addressed, but the new law is not doing them or anyone else any favors. It’s about in-your-face, forced acceptance of an envelope-stretching political agenda that many of us don’t want. Instead of a sweeping law to help the afflicted few, how about a simple decision to let those who have “gender identity” issues use separate unisex bathrooms and private changing areas if they are not comfortable using the facilities that comport with the body parts they were born with?

Additionally, because the law is so poorly written, it will undoubtedly be gamed by some teenage boys who will have figured out how to get a free trip into the girls’ bathroom, not to mention showers.

Perhaps this potentially toxic legislation would have been better written for adults – same law, but require that it applies to the legislators and teachers’ organizations that made this abomination a reality. Not a chance of that happening; the adults wouldn’t stand for it.

Where to go from here?

There is a group that is fighting back. “Privacy for All Students” is an ad hoc coalition of parents, students and faith groups, established for the sole purpose of getting an initiative on the ballot to repeal the new law. “Privacy for All Students” has until November 12th to submit the signatures of approximately 505,000 voters to qualify the referendum. If enough signatures are submitted to elections officials, the law will be suspended and won’t take effect, as planned, on January 1st. Instead, the proposition would appear on the November 2014 statewide ballot.

Interestingly, the due date for the signatures is eight days before the Transgender Day of Remembrance” – a holiday that is acknowledged in schools across California. Perhaps it’s time to consider a “Children’s Day,” one that celebrates the right of all children to have their privacy and dignity respected.

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.

Stop forcing teachers to join unions

My students and I begin each morning reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. We proudly salute the banner of our great nation because we believe in “liberty and justice for all.” A disturbing truth haunts me during each pledge, however. Laws that favor unions over the needs of many students and teachers are robbing us of our promised “liberty and justice.”

Webster’s online dictionary defines liberty as “the quality or state of being free; positive enjoyment of various social, political, or economic rights and privileges; the power of choice.”

In 26 states, teachers are denied civil liberties by being forced to pay union dues as a condition of employment. To make matters worse, much of the dues are used to rob those teachers of justice.

In California, dues average $1,000 a year. Unions admit that more than 30 percent are used for “non-representational” politics that have nothing to do with serving their members. Furthermore, collective bargaining has become so political that many teachers believe the amount spent on political action is considerably higher than the 30 percent to which unions admit.

Sadly, much of the political activity leads to laws and practices that are harmful and objectionable to many teachers, their students, and the taxpayers who not only have to pay unions through tax-funded teachers’ salaries, but are hit again when union politics lead to increased taxes and undesirable laws.

Many Californians are shocked by the passage of AB 1266, which, beginning Jan. 1, will allow transgender students in K-12 schools to use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their “gender identity.” Teachers don’t want to harm or single out transgender children; however, teachers are protectors of all children in their care.

In order to give special protection to a very small minority of students, the great majority of children will be subjected to embarrassment and shame. As teachers learn of this law, many oppose it; however, the California Teachers Association (CTA) supported it fully, using the dues of its members.

Unions say that teachers who disagree with their political agenda can “opt out,” and become “agency fee payers.” Tragically, what they neglect to mention is that teachers who exercise their rights to free speech (by opting out of the “non-representational” political portion of the dues) are still required to pay approximately $700 a year. In return for these massive dues, fee payers are bullied, treated as outsiders, labeled “non-members,” and lose all “rights of membership” including liability insurance, voting privileges, and the right to serve within union leadership.

Furthermore, teachers are supposed to be grateful for unsolicited collective bargaining assistance that often creates negative work environments and leads to laws that protect incompetent teachers, increase taxes, and harm students.

In May 2013, nine children filed a lawsuit against the state seeking to challenge union-initiated laws that make it difficult for all students to access high-quality teachers. CTA and California Federation of Teachers (CFT) filed a motion to intervene, and were allowed to join as defendants against the children. Many teachers are cheering for the kids, but sadly, our forced dues are being used to fight against the very children we desire to protect.

As teachers, we have attempted to make our voices heard within our union leadership for years, but unfortunately, our personal liberties aren’t valuable to the union we’re forced to hire as our “representative.” As a result, nine other teachers and I are suing CTA and its affiliate National Education Association (NEA) to obtain freedom from forced unionism. Ironically, the union is using our dues to fund the court battle against us.

There are real-life consequences stemming from legal authority given to unions to collect forced dues. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” My friends and I lost our rights to “liberty and justice for all” the day we became teachers. This week we celebrate the “California Teacher Freedom Project;” it’s my hope that freedom-loving Americans will stand up for the individual liberties of all employees forced into unions.

Rebecca Friedrichs is an Orange County educator and one of the plaintiffs in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. This originally appeared as a guest editorial in the Riverside Press-Enterprise and appears here with permission from the author.

Justice Belied

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The CSBA adds,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teacher Unions and Their “Fair Share” Fetish

According to the California Federation of Teachers, taxed-to-death Golden Staters still don’t pay enough.

While teachers unions continue to slam the wealthy for not paying their fair share of taxes, it is the finger-pointers who are really the avaricious ones. Like spoiled children who just can’t get enough candy, they have no sense as to when to stop. Leading the brat campaign this time is the California Federation of Teachers, the smaller of the two state teachers unions. Its website proclaims,

Prop 30 stopped the bleeding in state revenue, but we will continue to see anti-tax, anti-government forces attempt to undermine the public sector. When you hear these people say, “We don’t have the money to provide adequate public services,” or “California has a spending problem,” they are wrong. We have a revenue problem.

Stopped the bleeding? Hardly. It’s the taxpayers who have been hemorrhaging and the higher tax bill is extracting even more blood. Nevertheless, CFT sees the passage of Prop. 30 as just the first step in solving the state’s “revenue problem.”

In fact, when Prop. 30 became law, it left California with the highest sales and income tax rates in the country. Our nation-leading state sales tax rate of 7.25 percent went up to 7.5 percent. And the top marginal personal income tax rate which was 10.3 percent – third highest in the country – is now number one at 13.3 percent – a 29.13 percent increase.

Yet, CFT wants more.

We have a tax system that does not ask those who have the most wealth and resources to pay their fair share—even with passage of Prop 30, wealth and income have been massively redistributed in California and the nation over the past three decades in the wrong direction.

So, CFT is suggesting that the wealthy among us are getting away scot-free, but a look at national numbers tells a different story. A report issued by the Congressional Budget Office in 2012 shows that the top 1 percent of income earners paid 39 percent of federal individual income taxes in 2009, while earning 13 percent of the income.

Hence, it’s clear that the rich are already paying considerably more than their “fair share.” The CBO also reports that “the top 20 percent of income earners (those earning over $74,000) paid 94 percent of federal individual income taxes, 85 percent more than the share of national income they earned.

CFT would also have us think that public education is underfunded, but as Cato Institute’s Andrew Coulson pointed out recently:

Over the past four decades, real per pupil spending in California has roughly doubled. In dollar terms, Californians are spending $27 billion more today on K-12 education than they did in 1974, when Gov. Jerry Brown was first elected to office—and that is after controlling for both enrollment growth and inflation.

And what have we gotten for our increase in spending? A look at our latest National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) scores tells the tragic story. For example, on the most recent 4th grade math test, California students came in 45th nationally; in science, the same 4th graders scored higher than only Mississippi.

Perhaps when CFT and their ilk are making their “fair share” accusations, they may want to reconsider. In 2011, the California Teachers Association – CFT’s bigger brother – issued a press release (H/T Mike Antonucci) which announced its “support of the nationwide ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement for tax fairness and against corporate greed.” It goes on to say, “…a stable tax structure begins with everyone paying their fair share.”

Paying their fair share? Everyone?

The unions really have hit a new low here. According its latest available income tax form, CTA took in $185,222,341 in 2010. As a 501(c)(5), the union has a special tax exempt status with the IRS which is accorded to “Labor, Agricultural, and Horticultural Organizations.” So the union paid $0 in income taxes. (By comparison, CFT pulled in a measly $23,226,311 and also paid no tax.)

Our teachers unions – private corporations – take in over $200 million every year in forced union dues, pay not a penny in income tax, and yet want the rest of us to pay our “fair share.”

Have hypocrisy and hubris ever been more blatantly demonstrated?

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

The Media and Teachers Unions: Creepy Crass Actors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Parent Revolution and the Ancien Régime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just where are we now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

School Threat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Huh?

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

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

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

Here is my lifelong wish for him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps Whitney Tilson said it best in an email:

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

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

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

Parents, Students, Businessmen, Mayors, Reformers, Civil Rights Groups, Conservatives, Liberals et al vs. Teachers Unions

It seems as if most of the civilized world is squaring off against the teachers unions these days; California’s SB 441 is the latest battle.

As a way to put some teeth in a moribund teacher evaluation system in California, State Senator Ron Calderon has written SB 441, a very modest bill, which would at long last begin to address a deplorable situation.

The bill would do the following:

1- (It) would require the evaluation and assessment at least every 3 years of the performance of each certificated employee with permanent status who have been employed at least 10 years with the school district and meet specified requirements.

(Existing law requires the evaluation and assessment of the performance of each certificated employee to be made on a continuing basis, as prescribed, including at least every other year for personnel with permanent status and at least every 5 years for personnel with permanent status who have been employed at least 10 years with the school district and meet specified requirements.)

2- (It) would instead require the governing board of each school district to regularly evaluate and assess the performance of certificated employees assigned to positions as classroom teachers or school principals using multiple measures, including, but not limited to, specified minimum criteria. The bill would require at least 4 rating levels to be used in evaluating a certificated employee and for the governing board of the school district to define each rating level used.

(Existing law requires the governing board of each school district to evaluate and assess certificated employee performance as it reasonably relates to specified matters.)

3- (It) would also require the governing board to avail itself of the advice of parents of pupils, as specified.

(Existing law requires the governing board of a school district, in the development and adoption of specified guidelines and procedures, to avail itself of the advice of the certificated instructional personnel in the district’s organization of certificated personnel.)

Hardly radical stuff. In fact, many teachers from the Los Angeles area spoke in favor of the bill before the Senate Education Committee last Wednesday. One teacher told the committee that he supported the bill because he’d undergone a more “comprehensive evaluation working at Blockbuster than I do as a public school teacher in California.”

Parent and student advocacy groups, business people and civil rights groups – representing all political persuasions – are supporting the bill, many of them trekking to Sacramento to make their voices heard.

  • Mayors of Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Jose
  • California United to Reform Education
  • EdVoice
  • Lanai Road Education Action Committee
  • Los Angeles Unified School District
  • Office of the Mayor of San Francisco
  • National Action Network Los Angeles
  • Orange County Business Council
  • Parent Partnership
  • Parent Revolution
  • Parents Advocate League
  • San Diego United Parents for Education
  • Simmons Group Inc.
  • Stand Up for Great Schools
  • StudentsFirst

Needless to say, there is one entity that is vehemently fighting to snuff the bill in committee: the teachers union. The following are opposing the bill’s passage:

  • California Federation of Teachers (CFT)
  • California School Employees Association (CSEA)
  • California Teachers Association (CTA)
  • United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA)

When teachers unions see any legislative threat to the status quo, they obfuscate the issue and then fiercely lobby to kill the bill. CTA’s response was typical – it offered up a 36 page monster spelling out its suggested teacher evaluation procedures. It’s difficult to believe that the union is serious about augmenting such a convoluted strategy, but since it needs to feign concern, it throws out an unrealistic alternative, knowing that it will never see the light of day. CTA’s main concern seems to be that teachers’ collective bargaining rights are going to be diminished. But there is nothing in this tame bill that would affect collective bargaining except for the increase in the frequency of teacher evaluations.

CTA is undoubtedly threatened by SB 441 because it sees this bill as the beginning of a slippery slope to greater reforms. They even had their #1 lobbyist, Pat Rucker, speak before the committee. (Just wondering: is it not a conflict of interest that Rucker, a high powered teacher union lobbyist, sits on the state board of education? The story of the fox guarding the henhouse would seem to apply.)

While the unions are doing their best to kill SB 441 in its present form, Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst is going in the other direction. If Rhee’s organization had its way, the bill would be strengthened by:

  • requiring that teachers and principals be evaluated annually.
  • defining what pupil progress means and designating the weight of pupil growth to be 30 to 50 percent of a teacher or principal’s evaluation.
  • eliminating seniority-based layoffs.

As an elementary and middle school teacher for over 28 years, I can attest to the fact that the bill as written is quite restrained and that StudentsFirst’s suggested amendments would be beneficial. But as certain as night follows day, it is also a fact that the teachers unions will do whatever they can to kill the bill in any form.

Needing five affirmative votes to get out of the education committee, the bill was stalled when the legislators voted 4-4-1 last Wednesday. It will be “reconsidered” this Wednesday, however, with the bill’s advocates and detractors going at it once again. Assuming the committee yeas and nays stand firm, the vote will be left to San Diego State Senator Marty Block who abstained last week. He is on good terms with the teachers unions and has introduced SB 657, a CFT sponsored teacher evaluation bill. But there is hope in some quarters that committee chair Carol Liu, who has backed other reform efforts, might change her vote to yes on SB 441.

On the UTLA website, there is a page devoted to the bill. Their “background” begins with the words:

SB 441 (Calderon) is pushed by disgraced former Chancellor of D.C. Schools Michelle Rhee and her StudentsFirst organization.

Nothing like a nasty ad hominem attack to add fuel to the fire. But then again, there is nothing new here. The unions invariably play dirty and make no bones about it. You want to talk about “disgrace?” The teachers unions wrote the book 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 with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

Union Influence in the California Democratic Party’s 2013 Convention Resolutions

Can you guess which special interest group influenced many of the resolutions approved at the California Democratic Party convention on April 14, 2013?

That’s right, unions.

Here’s my annotated collection of the 2013 resolutions and the clean version of the resolutions on the California Democratic Party web site. (As the party web site says, “Click here to view the full repot.”)

Avid readers of www.UnionWatch.org articles will recognize the union objectives behind many of these resolutions, even though the resolutions often don’t explicitly state the ultimate legislative, executive, or judicial goal.

California Democratic Party Resolutions for 2013 with Obvious Union Influence

1. Resolution 13-04.3C opposes proposals to restrict “public participation” in environmental review for projects and activities under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). A co-sponsor of this resolution is the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, an organization active in identifying environmental problems with potential construction projects until the owner agrees to sign a Project Labor Agreement.

Mailers Expose Union CEQA “Greenmail” Against Solar Developers – September 26, 2012

Unions Defy CEQA Reformers with Taunting Resolution – February 12, 2013

The resolution refers to a “quantative analysis” of CEQA that allegedly shows how this law encourages economic prosperity in California. Readers of www.UnionWatch.org will recognize this study because of its connections to the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust. See this article:

Opponents of CEQA Reform Cite New Study with Union Connections – March 12, 2013

2. Resolution 13-04.11 complains about the capitalists (“Captains of Industry” and others) who allegedly control the University of California and California State University systems. It calls for “representation of the public” on the boards of regents. Public means officials of unions representing faculty and staff.

3. Resolution 13-04.16 demands “all actions” to ensure that California’s 121 charter cities lose state funding if they exercise their right under the state constitution to establish their own policies concerning government-mandated construction wage rates on purely municipal government projects or private projects that only receive government assistance from that municipality. Several articles in www.UnionWatch.org have reported on charter cities freeing themselves from costly so-called “prevailing wage” mandates, as well as the union effort in 2013 through Senate Bill 7 to suppress local government authority through financial disincentives.

California Supreme Court Supports Rights of Charter Cities Over State Legislature – July 3, 2012

With Senate Bill 7, California Unions Advance Plot to Neuter City Charters – February 28, 2013

4. Resolution 13-04.35 calls for Congress to help unions that represent U.S. Postal Service workers.

5. Resolution 13-04.37 complains about a U.S. Supreme Court decision that fouls up some plans for class action lawsuits against employers for labor law violations. It decries how corporations are “increasing forcing their employees to unwittingly sign mandatory arbitration agreements.” (How can force be involved if the employee is unwitting?) Nothing is mentioned about union organizers “increasing forcing employees to unwittingly sign union representation cards” for card check purposes.

California Democratic Party Resolution Against StudentsFirst and Democrats for Education Reform

California Democratic Party Resolution against StudentsFirst and Democrats for Education Reform.

6. Resolution 13-04.47 attacks education reform organizations such as StudentsFirst (a group led by Michelle Rhee) and Democrats for Education Reform (a group led by Gloria Romero). Ironically, the resolution is poorly written and includes several grammatical errors and even a spelling error. It tries to encompass too many ideas and overreaches in its bombast. A grade of “D” for writing (but an “A” for promoting social justice) goes to the sponsors: the California Teachers Association (CTA), the California Federation of Teachers (CFT), and the California Faculty Association (CFA).

California Democrats Blast Efforts to Overhaul SchoolsLos Angeles Times – April 14, 2013

State Democrats Decide Who’s a REAL DemocratLos Angeles Times (op-ed by Karin Klein) – April 16, 2013

Breaking News! California Democratic Party Blasts Corporate Education Reform: UPDATE – Diane Ravitch’s Blog – April 15, 2013

LA Times Defends Wall Street Hedge Fund Reformers – Diane Ravitch’s Blog – April 16, 2013

7. Resolution 13-04.77 rejects the Keystone XL pipeline. It cites two unions opposed to the project and a study critical of the project prepared by the union-oriented Global Labor Institute at the Institute for Labor Relations at Cornell University. This issue divides unions: many construction unions support the Keystone XL pipeline because all contractors will be required to sign a Project Labor Agreement to work on it.

If you are a “Captain of Industry,” one of those dastardly “Republican operatives,” a citizen of “the old Confederacy,” or tend to “blame educators and their unions for the ills of society,” these hostile resolutions are directed at you. But everyone will find them entertaining, and avid readers of www.UnionWatch.org might even agree with a few of them.

In the meantime, to avoid being the target of future resolutions, pay your “fair share,” avoid “the race to the bottom,” “stabilize the planet’s climate,” protect the “culturally binding fabric,” and – of course – be a socially responsible, Democrat-supporting billionaire.

More News Coverage of California Democratic Party Resolutions for 2013

CA Democrats Take Aim at Efforts to Overhaul Education, CEQA – Sacramento Bee – April 14, 2013

Calif. Dems Back Gun Control, Prop 13 Reforms – San Francisco Chronicle (Associated Press) – April 14, 2013

Kevin Dayton is the President & CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC, and is the author of frequent postings about generally unreported California state and local policy issues at www.laborissuessolutions.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaytonPubPolicy.

The Good, the Ugly and the Uglier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does it get any uglier than that?

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

The Not So Merry Month of May

In California schools, the fifth month (formerly known as May) is now Labor History Month.

As Kevin Dayton pointed out in Union Watch last week, the entire month of May is now officially deemed Labor History Month in California. Courtesy of AB 2269, the state education code has been amended to read,

The month of May is hereby deemed to be Labor History Month throughout the public schools, and school districts are encouraged to commemorate this month with appropriate educational exercises that make pupils aware of the role the labor movement has played in shaping California and the United States.

Once upon a time, the private employee unions may have done some good things for their workers – they typically get credit for the 40 hour/ 5 day work week. But as John Stossel says,

Workers’ lives improved in America because of free enterprise, not because of union rules. Union contracts helped workers for a while, but then they hurt even union workers because the rigid rules prevent flexibility in response to new market conditions. They slow growth. And growth increasing productivity, which leads to higher wages and new opportunities is what is best for workers.

Whatever the truth is about the old days, let’s fast forward to the present and find out what the teachers unions – which own and operate the California legislature that gave birth to this law – have accomplished and what they have in mind to teach our kids. It probably won’t come as a shock that students will be getting a bowdlerized and glorified version of the union movement.

There are resources galore available for teachers to help them indoctrinate their students. Here are but a few:

  • California Federation of Teachers – many “children’s stories,” including one which features a mean farmer and the hens who organize against him.
  • California Teachers Association – which can be readily summed up, “Workers are poor; CEOs are rich.” In other words, class warfare 101.
  • University of California Miguel Contreras Labor Program – lots of fun stuff for the little ones, including material by noted Socialist Barbara Ehrenreich and songs by long time Communist Pete Seeger.

That the teachers unions are playing an important role in this brainwashing is particularly ironic given the damage they have done as part of the blob that runs education in the Golden State. They may be able to brag that they have gotten higher salaries and more perks for teachers, but I have a sneaking suspicion that they will not be posting labor history lessons with the following information:

Though they claim to be everyman, national teacher union bosses are really part of the reviled one percent. In 2011, the two national teacher union presidents made a bundle in total compensation:

  • Dennis Van Roekel, NEA: $460,060
  • Randi Weingarten, AFT: $493,859

The other union officers aren’t exactly scraping by either. Salaries for the elite at the National Education Association:

  • John Stocks, Executive Director: $379,260
  • Becky Pringle, Secretary-Treasurer: $332,539
  • Lily Eskelsen, Vice President: $332,390

Will the teachers unions tell the kids that in California, they have done everything within their abusive power to maintain the failing status quo by trying and mostly succeeding to kill every effort at education reform that would have benefited students?

Will they tell the kids that they regularly buy and sell school board members? And that if a prospective member doesn’t toe the party line, the union will support his/her opponent with vast sums of cash?

Will they tell the kids that they consider the California State Assembly “their house?” Most legislators there fall into line like obedient ducks as witnessed by the shameful death of SB 1530, which would have simplified the process to get rid of pedophile teachers.

Will they tell the kids that they insist on maintaining a seniority system whereby teachers-of-the-year are routinely laid off before a mediocre or worse teacher just because the former was hired the day after the latter?

Will they tell the kids that they fight to keep a tenure system in place whereby the most mediocre teacher essentially has a job for life after just two years in a classroom?

Will they tell the kids that they do their best to try to kill (mostly non-unionized) charter school growth every chance they get?

Will they tell the kids that in 2000, they spent millions to defeat Prop. 38 – a voucher bill that would have enabled some poor kids to escape their failing schools?

Will they tell the kids that this past fall, they lobbied for and succeeded in passing Prop. 30 – a ballot initiative that raised taxes on most Californians without getting any reform for their money? (Hence, the status quo is maintained with more than one in four students never graduating high school – and a majority of those who do graduate and go on to college are not prepared for it and need remediation.)

Will they tell the kids anything about the National Right to Work Foundation, an organization that fights for a worker’s right not to join a union?

The answer to every one of these questions is, of course, “No.” As such, I would encourage all parents to find out just what their school plans for Labor History Month. If it is planning lessons espousing only the unionista party line, I suggest keeping your kids home when these activities are planned and using that time to tell them the truth about what the teachers unions really stand for, and what their “accomplishments” over the past decades have wrought.

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.

Kudos to the California Federation of Teachers

Instead of the usual fake teacher union concerns about “the children,” CFT’s new straightforward video unequivocally touts class warfare and vilifies rich people.

The California Teachers Association has been in the news a lot lately. In the early fall, it successfully fought to get Prop. 30 passed and to kill Prop. 32. These victories came right after the union quashed a bill that would have made it a bit easier to get sexual predators out of the classroom by shortening the endless dismissal statutes. So what’s a little brother union have to do to get some attention?

Last week, the California Federation of Teachers answered that question with a vengeance by releasing an 8 minute video promoting propaganda that would have made the late Joe Stalin proud. “Tax the Rich: An Animated Fairy Tale” pushes class warfare to a loony extent, attempting to whip up hatred of workers who have been successful in life but “don’t pay their fair share of taxes. As Investors Business Daily described it,

“Rich people love their money more than anything in the whole world,” narrates Hollywood actor and noted leftist Ed Asner, in tones used in reading to schoolchildren. “Over time, rich people decided they weren’t rich enough so they came up with ways to get richer.”

…The bile that oozes in the union’s puerile seven-minute screed was unspeakable: The world was a paradise full of good jobs and safe streets until “rich people” decided to get more money, so the video begins.

Instead of paying their “fair share” of taxes, the rich decided to do three things: seek tax cuts, engage in loopholes and evade taxes by shipping their fortunes to the Cayman Islands, illegally of course, mendaciously suggesting that any financial tie with the Caymans is illegal.

It only gets worse: The rich people’s supposed greed led them to buy media and politicians, with a not-so-subtle cartoon depiction of a man who looks a lot like Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch, and then money amassed as coins in big stacks, which then crashed down first on middle class people’s houses, and then on the jobs of police, firefighters, teachers and librarians.

After that “the rich” tried to blame defaulted mortgage holders and after that, teachers and firefighters (conveniently ignoring the bloated pensions and entitlements and waste that are the doings of public employee unions). “Maybe it was the firefighters,” Asner sarcastically narrated.

The scene that received the most attention was of a rich man urinating on the “poor.” CFT pulled that scene shortly after posting, but it is captured in a screen shot here.

Condemnations of the video, which was proudly posted on the CTA Facebook page, came from many directions. While the outrage is justified, the fact that CFT would stoop so low should not be surprising. The teachers unions have been engaging in Soviet-style class warfare for years now – most recently when they joined forces with the “occupy crowd” and self-identified as part of the 99 percent – so consider me not even mildly shocked.

The danger of this kind of animated, childish video is that it appeals to children, and unfortunately to more than a few adults who tend to see things in a simple, child-like way. Should you choose to try to undo the damage that a video like this can do, please keep the following in mind:

First make sure that whomever you are speaking to knows what the word “hypocrisy” means. In a recent post, I noted that American Federation of Teachers (CFT parent org.) President Randi Weingarten – who claims she identifies with the “99 percenters” and unceasingly promotes class warfare – pulled in a cool $556,981 in total compensation over the past year. This of course puts her, alongside the relentlessly vilified Koch Brothers, firmly in the 1 percent camp. Dennis Van Roekel, President of the National Education Association (CTA parent org.), made $389,620 last year, after pulling in a hefty $543,868 the year before. (Perhaps their justification for such high salaries is that it is very hard work to fight reformers who are actually concerned about educating children.) And as you go down the line of the Politburo – I mean union officers – you will see that they too make a boatload of money.

One of the more idiotic assertions in the video – and there are so many – is that the government favors the rich at the expense of “ordinary people.” But via Kyle Olson, we get to see a New York Times list of the many ways that the “non-rich” benefited from President Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package:

– Help states prevent cuts to essential services like education – $53.6 billion

– Extend and increase unemployment compensation – $35.8 billion

– Health coverage under Cobra – $25.1 billion

– Increase food assistance – $20.9 billion

– Increase the maximum Pell Grant by $500 – $15.6 billion

– Provide cash payment to seniors, disabled veterans and other needy individuals – $14.4 billion

– Provide additional money to schools serving low-income children – $13 billion

– Provide additional money for special education – $12.2 billion

– Create new bonds for improvements in public education – $10.9 billion

Then for world class hypocrisy there’s this: According its latest available income tax forms, CTA and CFT collectively take in over $200 million a year. But as 501(c)(5)s, the unions have a special tax exempt status with the IRS that is accorded to “Labor, Agricultural, and Horticultural Organizations.” Hence, the teachers unions are corporations that pay no money in federal or state taxes.

But there is a bigger picture here, and it is bloated with cant. First, CTA manages to siphon off $647 a year (CFT grabs “only” $419) from every teacher in the state in forced union dues. Then it turns around and spends much of those dues on politicking; CTA alone spent over $211 million on politicking from 2000-2009 – frequently on issues that have nothing to do with teachers or kids – and supporting causes that are contrary to the positions of many of its members. Then the union elites have the audacity to go on offense and whine about millionaires and billionaires “not paying their fair share of taxes” when they don’t pay a penny, and all the while funding politicians who ensure that CTA’s and CFT’s pilfer-and-spend scheme rolls on undisturbed.

But CTA and other teachers unions can snooker people only for so long. Far from being a part of the 99%, they are big special interest businesses – spending millions to maintain their monopoly over American education, while not paying a penny in taxes. As Troy Senik wrote last year in Public Sector Inc., “The CTA is the one percent.” And poll after poll has shown that the general public is starting to catch on. But realistically, what can be done? For starters, it would behoove every parent to ask the teachers of their children what their take on this video is. The time has come for parents to find out about the people they entrust their children with for 6 or 7 hours a day.

And teachers – you are subsidizing this very dishonest, deceitful and downright hateful video. Do you really want your dues money going to entities that make and promote efforts like this? If you don’t want to be associated with this unsavory crowd, you just might want to consider resigning and stop lining the unions’ pockets. The world won’t come to an end and you will sleep a lot better at night knowing that you are not associated with such tasteless and hypocritical demagogues.

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.

Republicans and Conservatives Have Lost More Than Just an Election

Restoring a school system that has been hijacked by the left should be the nation’s highest priority.

There have been endless post mortems following Barack Obama’s election victory over Mitt Romney last week. It has been posited that Romney lost because he wasn’t libertarian enough, not Tea Party enough, not socially conservative enough, didn’t reach out to minorities, was too business-like, played it too nice in the debates, etc.

Most of the articles made cogent arguments, but two of them really hit home for me. In a revealing piece in American Thinker, Los Angeles-based Republican Party leader Gary Aminoff writes,

For the past several months, in my capacity in the Republican Party, I have been speaking at middle schools and high schools around Los Angeles.  It has been very enlightening.
I love engaging with children.  Most of them are very bright and ask brilliant questions.  The questions give me insights into what they are most concerned about.  It also makes clear what they are taught — by either their parents or their teachers, or both.

To summarize — children, for the most part, believe the following:

  • Republicans care about only the rich — the top 1% — and don’t care about anyone else
  • Republicans hate people of color and especially Latinos.
  • Republicans hate gays.
  • Republicans are racist.
  • It is the government that provides jobs.  (I have asked that question many times in classrooms or assemblies.  “Who is it that creates jobs in America?”  The answer is invariably, without hesitation, “the government.”)
  • Corporations are bad, and profits are very bad.  Business shouldn’t make profits; they should give any excess money they make to their employees.
  • Taxes are good; they provide the money for the government to take care of people.
  • Government should expand and take care of everyone in the country.
  • America, rather than being a force for good in the world, has been a force for evil.
  • Government has an unlimited source of funds.  (When I ask, “Where is the government going to get the money to do all these things you want it to do?,” the answer is “taxes.”)

So either due to ambient progressivism in our curricula, a left wing bias by proselytizing teachers or parents who learned the same lessons in school that they are now teaching their children, students aren’t just uninformed, they are in fact misinformed.

Any doubts about Aminoff’s assertions can quickly be dispelled by watching this brief video posted on The Blaze. We learn that these young people, who speak in sound bites, have no knowledge of history and government structure and are clueless about the function of government. They have no idea how many members of Congress there are (200?), who Harry Reid is (a Republican leader?), or how many Supreme Court Justices we have (5? 11?). They also “know” that there is a “war on women,” and that Obama will give students an opportunity to “do something in this world.” Granted this video is not a scientific sampling of our proudly ignorant youth, but only a fool would dismiss these kids as outliers.

A look at our recent NAEP history scores should be a slap in the face to all Americans. On the 2010 test, we learned that only 12 percent of high school seniors have a firm grip on American history. Yes, we are educating students to the point that almost half the nation thinks that the cornerstone of Communism, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” is in the U.S. Constitution. Only 2 percent of high school seniors know the significance of Brown vs. the Board of Education and only 4 percent of 8th graders could explain why urban populations rose and rural populations shrank over time.

Also in American Thinker, psychologist and consultant Timothy Daughtry writes that “We lost the Republic in the classroom long before we lost it in the voting booth.”

Conservatives have long bemoaned liberal dominance in education from the universities on down, but we haven’t done anything about it.  Marxist intellectuals realized decades ago that the eventual victory of socialism would be assured if leftists dominated the educational system and used their influence to push a leftist worldview.  The power of their “long march” through the cultural institutions was that it was not necessary for students to consciously convert to socialist thinking; generation after generation would simply be gradually immersed in the assumptions and dogmas of the left.

Now, after years of patient effort, the teachers’ unions have turned America’s schools into a wholly owned subsidiary of the political left.  Conservatives have complained when reports surfaced about students being taught to sing hymns of praise to Obama, or when conservative students were harassed in class, or when examples of blatant liberal bias in textbooks came to light, but somehow we allowed ourselves to write off public schools as a lost cause.  Homeschooling and private schools gave some relief, but the idea of getting public schools to transmit a love of liberty and appreciation for free enterprise seemed hopeless.

Besides, conservatives did win occasional victories at the polls, so the republic that our founders left us still seemed capable of self-correction.  But even when conservatives won elections, the people who lost those elections taught our children the next day.  Our children learned that Reagan’s tax cuts increased the deficit, but they never heard that those tax cuts stimulated the economy and doubled revenue.  The idea that those deficits came from excessive spending was not even on the table.

So even if it had been Romney taking the oath of office in January, our children would have learned about his policies from the people who voted against those policies.  Our children — and our future voters — would have heard the shallow mantras of “tax cuts for the rich” and paying for bombs instead of schools, and many would have absorbed the rhetoric without questioning it.

As long as the left has controlled the schools, time has always been on their side.  We lost the Republic in the classroom long before we lost it in the voting booth.

It is important to emphasize that the politicizing of our schools is not a new phenomenon As Daughtry points out, it started decades ago. Kyle Olson in his valuable book, Indoctrination: How ‘Useful Idiots’ Are Using Our Schools to Subvert American Exceptionalism, describes the ways that the progressives in our society have taken over K-12 education. They have been running most of our elite colleges and schools of education for years now and this step is in keeping with their plan to transform America. In my review of Olson’s book, I added a personal note,

As a public school teacher whose career spanned four decades, I have seen the long march first hand. Perverting the traditional purpose of American education (which has been to make better and more educated citizens), progressives have been inspired by the theories of Paolo Freire, a Brazilian socialist who saw everything through a Marxist class warfare lens.

Carrying Freire’s mantle, current gurus like revolutionary terrorist Bill Ayers and the recently deceased Communist Howard Zinn have been behind the effort to destroy America as we know it. They claim that basically the U.S. and its capitalist system are the root of all evil. Unfortunately, their love-the-world/hate-America attitude has gained an incredible amount of currency in our public schools in a relatively short time. Ayers, Zinn and their ilk have essentially managed to convince much of the education establishment to abandon every teaching technique and curriculum that benefited prior generations….

So just what are we teaching our students?

In chapter after chapter, Olson meticulously details lessons being foisted on young Americans that are being taught for one purpose only – to advance the progressive agenda. A few examples:

• An examination of the nature and extent of police brutality, which is being promoted in middle schools by none other than Van Jones, conspiracy enthusiast extraordinaire.
• A clever lesson using poker chips, the aim of which is to convince students that unequal distribution of wealth has to do with the fact that the U.S. has more than its share of resources, not that we have a wealth-promoting capitalist system.
• “I Pledge Allegiance to the Earth.” Yup, no more of this silly patriotic stuff. Children, you are denizens of the earth! (I wonder what our political enemies think of this rubbish… when they stop laughing, that is.)

Rightfully, Olson reserves a special section for the unions whose far left agenda has been well documented, and have gone to great lengths to make this country over in their own image. Their attempts to indoctrinate kids and glorify the union movement are staggering. For example,

• “Trouble in the Henhouse: A Puppet Show.” In this charming bit of propaganda put out by the California Federation of Teachers aimed at kindergartners, we find an oppressive farmer whose hens unionize and convince the heartless farmer that he’d better respect them or else.
• The “Yummy Pizza Company” is another lesson from CFT — actually ten, which delve into the process of organizing a union local. They include instructions on how to collectively bargain as well as a sanitized look at prominent labor leaders.
Click Clack Moo, a popular book promoted by the AFL-CIO, tells second graders about unhappy cows that refuse to work until the mean farmer is forced to meet their demands.

But it’s even worse than Olson suggests because the progressives don’t stop at politics and economics; they are also rapidly destroying our culture. For example, led by the teachers unions, the sexualizing of American children has been in full swing for some time now. In 2005, I wrote that the National Education Association gave its prestigious Human Rights Award to Kevin Jennings, the founder of the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN).

…GLSEN is the group that presided over the infamous “Fistgate” conference held at Tufts University in Massachusetts in March 2000, where state employees gave explicit instructions (about “fisting” and other forms of gay sexual activity) to children as young as 12. The conference was secretly recorded and can be heard here. The contents are extraordinarily vile.

Unfortunately, “Fistgate” was not an isolated incident. On April 30 of this year GLSEN held an event at Brookline High School in Massachusetts, and distributed an obscene booklet to hundreds of middle and high school students. With headings like F**kin’, S**kin’ and Spit or Swallow?, it describes various sexual practices that can only be described as perverse.

Then there is the so called FAIR Act, an obscene bit of legislation in California that brings the contributions of homosexuals and transgenders into the K-12 curriculum. Gay-Straight clubs in middle school (where parents do not have to be notified of their child’s involvement) are proliferating. And at a U.N. conference in 2011, Diane Schneider an NEA “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Trainer of Trainers” talked about the importance of schools teaching orgasm to children as young as 11. Yes indeed, the radicals have been making alarming progress.

Another example of the progressives’ cultural agenda is which holidays are deemed significant. Few people are aware of what holiday is celebrated on November 20th. But every student at the middle school where I worked till my retirement in 2009 knows, because the school spent more time acknowledging that day “Transgender Day of Remembrance” than Veteran’s Day, November 11th. TDR was considered more worthy of the students’ time at my school than a holiday which acknowledges the contributions of American soldiers. (Maybe this shouldn’t be surprising. At the same school, posters of Che Guevara adorned the walls of no less than five classrooms, including an American history class that had no pictures of Washington or Lincoln. Che was considered a hero by these teachers who passed this admiration on to their impressionable students. Of course the real life Che was a sadistic mass murderer, but being a progressive means never having to sweat minor details like the truth.)

Thomas Jefferson wrote that schooling in America’s new democracy should be

…chiefly historical. History by apprising them of the past will enable them to judge of the future; it will avail them of the experience of other times and other nations; it will qualify them as judges of the actions and designs of men; it will enable them to know ambition under every disguise it may assume; and knowing it, to defeat its views.

How appalled and disgusted would Jefferson be upon learning what American children are being taught today! While it is undoubtedly important to stress the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), the teaching of agenda-free history and civics is even more urgent. The hijacking of history and ultimately the trashing of our culture by a group of academics, educrats and unionists is destroying our nation. Unless we fight back… and soon, our country – as we have known it – will be lost forever.

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.

Union Hooey on Display

Even with a “victory” in Chicago, teachers unions are still under attack, and their buzz words, doublespeak and bunkum are becoming ever so transparent.

After striking Chicago teachers went back to work last Wednesday following

a seven day walk-out, their union declared a victory. While the school district did get some concessions, the union managed to get its teachers a hefty raise, a continuance their archaic “step and column” salary scale and the requirement that only a small part of their evaluations are to be based on whether or not the kids learn anything. While somehow, the Chicago Teachers Union managed to maintain the sympathies of most Chicagoans, public opinion outside the Windy City was derisive, as was much of the mainstream media everywhere. Even the Chicago Tribune felt the union went overboard with its demands.

At the same time, the “Students Matter” case drew some attention from the California Federation of Teachers. As I wrote in May, this lawsuit was filed

…on behalf of eight students from around the state, claims provisions of California’s education code—rigid tenure rules, a seniority-based firing system that ignores teacher quality, and a “due-process” system that makes it all but impossible to remove incompetent or criminal teachers—violate student rights. “As a result of these arbitrary distinctions” in hiring and firing, the complaint reads, “children of substantially equal age, aptitude, motivation, and ability do not have substantially equal access to education. Because education is a fundamental interest under the California Constitution, the statutes that dictate this unequal, arbitrary result violate the equal protection provisions of the California Constitution.”

The Students Matter lawsuit doesn’t ask the court to devise specific policy solutions. Ultimately, those decisions should be left to local districts—as they are in 33 other states.

The California Federation of Teachers came out swinging on its website, claiming that it opposes the suit because it “threatens teacher due process rights.” Its verbiage is typical union claptrap – filled with buzz words, bogeymen and fear mongering – in short, a self-righteous pastiche meant to rally the troops and fellow travelers and to “educate” the public. Some examples:

CFT says it a “malicious and costly lawsuit.”

Costly, perhaps. But malicious? Trying to overturn statutes that are harming school kids is malicious?

CFT says that the suit is “financed by wealthy investors from Los Angeles and the Silicon Valley….”

Why do they have to let us know the investors are “wealthy?” Do you know any impoverished investors? Of course not; they mention “wealthy” as an invitation to their ongoing us vs. them class warfare effort.

CFT says, “…there is nothing in the suit that would then prevent administrators from politicizing the classroom and removing many of the same employment rights enjoyed by doctors, lawyers, police officers, firefighters, and nurses.

Huh? Last time I checked, people in these fields who are lousy at their chosen profession either fail if they are self-employed or are fired if they are employees. Doctors? Tenure? Lawyers? Seniority? Employment rights?

CFT says, “Our complete and total focus must be in our classrooms, not the courthouse.”

Nice thought. And when teachers unions stop buying legislators in Sacramento, litigation will no longer be necessary.

At the core, CFT fears that if the top-down, one-size-fits-all education code they so strongly defend is amended and these decisions are left to local education agencies, the union’s freedom to run the education enterprise in California will be imperiled. At the same time, AFT President Randi Weingarten, gloating in the wake of the Chicago strike, said,

Real public education reform comes from the bottom up with teachers, parents and communities and kids working together to make all of our schools thrive.

Here is the doublespeak. The Students Matter case is about getting the community control that Weingarten claims to want, yet the California affiliate of her union wants reform to stay on the state level.

But continuing its power on the state level may not be as easy as it used to be. According to an encouraging post by Mike Antonucci, the California Teachers Association (CFT’s big union brother, and the most powerful union affiliate in the country) came out with some interesting new business items which are currently under review by its board of directors. One deals with the union’s ongoing effort to limit the number of charter schools. But there is also a revealing item that suggests that the CTA board should

… explore options to generate additional resources from both internal and especially external sources to counter the vast resources available to our political opponents due to the Citizens United decision.

… CTA needs to recognize we are in a war we do not currently have the resources to win. Since the Citizens United decision our political opponents have been able to raise unlimited amounts of money via “Independent Expenditure Only Committees,” popularly known as “Super PACs.” Although CTA currently has such a committee, it has only been utilized on an ad hoc basis. We need to aggressively pursue consistent funding sources. These could include entertainers, professional athletes or other wealthy individuals with possible ties to public education. CTA-retired members could be a valuable resource to assist in this effort.

Bottom line here is that whether it’s negative publicity from the Chicago strike, fear of losing its grip on tenure and seniority in California or CTA admitting it is in a war that it doesn’t “currently have the resources to win,” this is not a good time for the teachers unions. As things get worse, they will become more frantic. The public needs to be highly skeptical of union claims that they are only thinking about the children, that they are just interested in due process and that they really want to “work together to make all of our schools thrive.” These are not serious words. In fact, it’s the same bunkum they have been peddling for years, and it’s way past time for us to stop buying it.

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

Public Sector Unions Argue Labor Contracts Trump Existing Laws

The key to understanding Golden State politics is knowing that the most powerful forces in Sacramento by a wide margin are the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers. Using union dues and benefiting from the bizarrely enduring notion that what is good for teachers is good for students, the CTA and CFT dominate Sacramento the way the railroads dominated early 20th-century California.

Their overriding goal: operating public schools as a lucrative jobs program where practically nothing can get a teacher fired, up to and including taunting a tortured teenager for his failed suicide attempt.

But now they face a potentially game-changing challenge to their primary goal, which has triggered a panicked reaction from the teachers’ union puppets who control the Legislature. It stems from Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant’s June ruling that the Los Angeles Unified School District had to include student performance when evaluating teacher laws because of a provision in a 1971 state law, the Stull Act, that had been ignored for decades. As Chalfant tersely put it, “Parties may not enter into a contract that violates a statutory law.”

This has been much reported on, but not so much the jaw-dropping legal arguments coming from the California Public Employment Relations Board. Until a May 2011 shake-up, PERB was a low-profile state agency that helped resolve labor disputes involving government workers. But with new top lawyer M. Suzanne Murphy, the former legal counsel for the California Nurses Association, leading the way, PERB has redefined its role as being the partner of public employee unions.

In a brief filed with Chalfant, Murphy actually argued that teachers’ collective bargaining rights — which were granted by the Legislature in 1975, four years after the passage of the Stull Act — trump state law. So even though state law says student performance must be part of teacher evaluations, PERB says state law only kicks in after unions exercise their full ability to impede change through collective bargaining.

Blocking Pension Reform

This is another version of the unique argument that PERB has used to try to block first the vote on and now the implementation of a sweeping pension reform proposal approved by San Diego voters in a June 2012 landslide. That argument: Elected officials can’t be involved in initiative campaigns if they have the potential to affect workers whom they oversee because that violates collective bargaining rights. The barely hidden goal is to make it far more difficult for California voters to use their constitutional right to direct democracy to go after our current version of rail barons.

So how has Sacramento reacted to the possibility that veteran teachers’ de facto lifetime tenure might be in peril, and that finally teachers will face objective evaluations of their performance?

With the usual ludicrous kabuki of offering up “reforms” that purport to address real problems caused by special interests but actually strengthen the special interests.

After Judge Chalfant’s ruling, Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, D-Sylmar, swiftly revived a bill he had introduced in 2011 to change how teachers are evaluated. But school reformers quickly noticed that amid the bells and whistles included in the measure to make it appear as if teachers would actually face some sort of rigorous scrutiny was a provision that said, yes, all changes were subject to collective bargaining at the local level. Even the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times realized this is nuts.

Why doesn’t the Legislature just cut to the chase and pass a law saying all decisions in California, public or private, are subject to collective bargaining with the CTA and CFT?

Perverse Politics

If you live outside of California, the perversity of our politics probably seems hilarious — a West Coast version of a Carl Hiaasen novel in which the teachers are the heartless villains, not psycho Florida developers. But if you have a child in the Golden State’s public schools, it’s sickening to watch.

Day-in and day-out, the Democrats who dominate Sacramento fiercely protect the idea that the main function of the K-12 system isn’t to educate kids. Instead, it’s to provide veteran teachers with well-paying jobs and ironclad job protections — and 16 weeks of annual vacation.

The sick twist to this is that the teachers’ unions are empowered by a party that pretends to be the avatar of social justice. In Sacramento, social justice means lifetime jobs for bad teachers in school districts whose campuses increasingly resemble Potemkin villages, with 90 percent-plus of operating budgets routinely going to employee compensation and little left for books, computers and other education tools.

The “Peanuts” comic strip once had a Sunday panel in which Lucy asked her grandmother why — if there were a Father’s Day and a Mother’s Day — there wasn’t a Children’s Day. Her grandma replied, “Every day is Children’s Day.”

Those were much more innocent times. In California, every day is Public Employee Day.

Chris Reed is an editorial writer for the San Diego Union-Tribune. This originally appeared on CalWatchdog.com and is republished with permission.

“Indoctrination” – A Must Read For Parents, Taxpayers and Everyone Else

To a large extent, the progressives have taken over American education, are transforming it and are doing it in plain sight.

Indoctrination: How ‘Useful Idiots’ Are Using Our Schools to Subvert American Exceptionalism
is an invaluable book written by Kyle Olson, founder and CEO of the Education Action Group, an organization that is on the frontline of education reform and a champion of school choice.

In this brief and very readable book, Olson describes the ways that the progressives in our society have taken over K-12 education. They have been running most of our elite colleges and schools of education for years now and this step is in keeping with their plan to transform America.

As a public school teacher whose career spanned four decades, I have seen the long march first hand. Perverting the traditional purpose of American education (which has been to make better and more educated citizens), progressives have been inspired by the theories of Paolo Freire, a Brazilian socialist who saw everything through a Marxist class warfare lens.

Carrying Freire’s mantle, current gurus like revolutionary terrorist Bill Ayers and the recently deceased Communist Howard Zinn have been behind the effort to destroy America as we know it. They claim that basically the U.S. and its capitalist system are the root of all evil. Unfortunately, their love-the-world/hate-America attitude has gained an incredible amount of currency in our public schools in a relatively short time. Ayers, Zinn and their ilk have essentially managed to convince much of the education establishment to abandon every teaching technique and curriculum that benefited prior generations. For example, “drill and kill” has been thrown on the refuse heap; we are now supposed to let our students “discover” learning. The “sage on the stage” has been replaced by the “guide on the side.” The only problem with these techniques is that they haven’t worked, but they do sound good (at least to the progressives.) As such, we are now raising a nation of dunces.

On the 2010 NAEP history test, we learned that only 12 percent of high school seniors have a firm grip on American history. Yes, we are educating students to the point that almost half the nation thinks that the cornerstone of Communism, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” is in the U.S. Constitution. Only 2 percent of high school seniors know the significance of Brown vs. the Board of Education and only 4 percent of 8th graders could explain why urban populations rose and rural populations shrank over time.

So just what are we teaching them?

This is where Olson’s book shines. In chapter after chapter, he meticulously details lessons being foisted on students that are being taught for one purpose only – to advance the progressive agenda. A few examples:
• An examination of the nature and extent of police brutality, which is being promoted in middle schools by none other than Van Jones, conspiracy enthusiast extraordinaire.
• A clever lesson using poker chips, the aim of which is to convince students that unequal distribution of wealth has to do with the fact that the U.S. has more than its share of resources, not that we have a wealth-promoting capitalist system.
• “I Pledge Allegiance to the Earth.” Yup, no more of this silly patriotic stuff. Children, you are denizens of the earth! (I wonder what our political enemies think of this rubbish… when they stop laughing, that is.)

Rightfully, Olson reserves a special section for the unions whose far left agenda has been well documented, and who have gone to great lengths to make this country over in their own image. Their attempts to indoctrinate kids and glorify the union movement are staggering. For example,
• “Trouble in the Henhouse: A Puppet Show.” In this charming bit of propaganda put out by the California Federation of Teachers aimed at kindergartners, we find an oppressive farmer whose hens unionize and convince the heartless farmer that he’d better respect them or else.
• The “Yummy Pizza Company” is another lesson from CFT — actually ten, which delve into the process of organizing a union local. They include instructions on how to collectively bargain as well as a sanitized look at prominent labor leaders.
Click Clack Moo, a popular book promoted by the AFL-CIO, tells second graders about unhappy cows that refuse to work until the mean farmer is forced to meet their demands.

And while we are teaching our children the joys of class warfare, earth worship and the importance of union membership, other countries that are more serious about educating their young are cleaning our clocks in every international comparison available.

Actually, it is even worse than Olson suggests. There is one aspect of the progressive takeover that he gave short shrift to. Except for SB 48, an obscene bit of legislation in California which will bring the contributions of homosexuals and transgenders into the K-12 curriculum, there is little mention of the progressives’ ongoing effort to sexualize children. From Gay-Straight clubs in middle school (where parents do not have to be notified of their child’s involvement) to attempts to teach orgasm to eleven year olds, the radicals led by the National Education Association have been making alarming progress.

Another example of the progressives’ sexual agenda is which holidays are deemed important. Few people are aware of what holiday is celebrated on November 20th. But every student at the middle school where I worked till my retirement in 2009 knows, because the school spent more time acknowledging that day — “Transgender Day of Remembrance” — than Veteran’s Day, November 11th. TDR was considered more worthy of the students’ time at my school than a holiday which acknowledges the contributions of American soldiers. (Maybe this shouldn’t be surprising. At the same school, posters of Che Guevara adorned the walls of no less than five classrooms, including an American history class that had no pictures of Washington or Lincoln. Che was considered a hero by these teachers who passed this admiration on to their impressionable students. Of course the real life Che was a sadistic mass murderer, but being a progressive means never having to sweat minor details like the truth.)

Clearly Indoctrination is a book that could leave citizens in a state of great despair. But fortunately, in the last chapter, Olson lists several important ways that parents and the general public can fight back. And if this country isn’t to become permanently transformed — fight back we must. None of our international enemies are as powerful, organized and, thus far, as successful as our home grown progressives who are bent on destroying public education as we know it in America. It is imperative that we all become more knowledgeable about what is going on in our schools and take action. Kyle Olson’s Indoctrination is an excellent place to start that process.

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.

The Intersection of U Street and Main Street Does Not Exist

The teachers unions’ radical agenda alienates them from the American mainstream.

As I mentioned in last week’s post, during the week of May 9th, the California Teachers Association and many local unions, like the United Teachers of Los Angeles, will be taking to the streets in an attempt to convince legislators and citizens that cuts to education will not be tolerated by the unions. In other times this would be a winning strategy, but as shown by recent polls, the teachers unions are not the darlings of the public that they used to be.

While unionistas all over the country lament this loss of favor, they only need to look in their collective mirrors to understand why. They have managed to alienate too many Americans who previously had held them in a better light. The unions’ insistence on things like tenure and seniority privileges, which serve to protect only the bad apples, has begun to grate on the public. Additionally, the fact that they are tolerant of, and give outright support to extremist political causes is another reason the public is turning against them.

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

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

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

In these instances of teachers and proud union members using students to promote their activist agenda, we see the union as a passive observer, neither taking a position nor issuing a statement about some pretty egregious comments and activities. However, when the unions feel like inserting themselves into political-social issues that have nothing to do with teachers or education, they are not so taciturn.

For example, in 2008 the California Teachers Association contributed $1.25 million in a failed attempt to kill Prop. 8, which keeps marriage in its traditional form – between a man and a woman. That same year they also spent almost a half a million more to successfully defeat Prop. 4, which would have required parental notification before abortions are performed on minors. So then as now, a girl can be released from a public school to get an abortion and no parental notification is necessary.

Just last month, the California Federation of Teachers drew up a resolution at its yearly convention to “support and demand that the courts consider the evidence of innocence of Mumia Abu-Jamal.” Almost 30 years ago, Mr. Jamal was convicted of murdering Danny Faulkner, a white policeman. Mr. Jamal, who escaped the death penalty, is still trying to weasel his way out of prison, though a battery of lawyers can’t seem to convince anyone that he should have a retrial.

Outraged over the union’s action, the slain cop’s widow called CFT boss Marty Hittelman and asked how the teachers union could support a convicted cop killer. Caught off guard, Hittelman refused to directly address the issue and tried to change the subject by asking “How did you find out about this?” (A tech savvy five year old could have found out with a few mouse clicks by going here and scrolling down to Resolution 19.) Mrs. Faulkner said the conversation ended when Hittelman hung up on her.

Just three weeks ago in California, the members of the Oakland Education Association decided that they would shut down a local bank because they thought that 700 teachers would lose their jobs come September. Enlisting the help of the International Bolshevik Tendency, a Communist organization, they managed their mission, shutting down the Bank of America branch in downtown Oakland for two hours with signs that said, “Bail out schools, not banks.” Turns out that just 35 teachers at most will actually be laid off.

And then there is Wisconsin where there have been some boisterous demonstrations aimed at Governor Scott Walker and Republican legislators. Teachers and others were angry about the curtailing of teachers collective bargaining “rights.” While the demonstrators were a mix of teachers and rent-a-thugs, it was a teacher who committed some rather serious crimes. Kate Windels, a 26 year old pre-school teacher and union activist has been accused of two misdemeanor counts of making threats over a computer and two felony counts of making bomb threats. Apparently, Ms. Windels sent an email that threatened Republican legislators and their families with a miserable death by bombing and by “putting a nice little bullet in your head.”

Interestingly, there has been no word of approval or condemnation for Ms. Windels’ extra-curricular activities by the Wisconsin Education Association. But considering that their brethren in California think nothing of supporting a convicted cop killer, Ms. Windels’ actions probably raised few union eyebrows.
So what have we learned here?

The teachers unions
• either support or turn a blind eye to radical Chicano racist-separatists and teachers who indoctrinate their students into the ideology of universal socialism.
• have no comment when a union activist sends death threats to legislators and their families.
• want children released from school to get an abortion while keeping it a secret from their parents.
• contributed $1,250,000 of teachers’ dues for legislation that would have fundamentally changed the course of human history by redefining marriage.
• are lobbying for a convicted cop killer to be released from prison.
• collude with Communists to shut down a bank in an attempt to promote class warfare.

If the teachers unions continue down this path, the months and years to come will see them more and more marginalized from American life. These unions and their acolytes have moved so far from Main Street that they can’t even see it. The citizenry, becoming well aware of their radical antics, will undoubtedly become increasingly active in combating 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.