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Teachers Unions Double Down on Charter Vilification

UTLA and CTA’s anti-charter school obsession has reached epidemic proportions. 

Just weeks after United Teachers of Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl threw his if-we-don’t get-our-way-we’re-going-to-create-a-state-crisis tantrum, the teachers union has hit the streets with a media campaign. Empowered by a massive dues increase, UTLA is spreading its venom via billboards, bus benches and the media. As articulated by UTLA vice-president Cecily Myart-Cruz, the message is, “We are a public school alliance who (sic) wants to reclaim our schools.”

The question becomes, “Reclaim them from whom?” The obvious answer is, “Those who are trying to promote charter schools,” as elucidated in Caputo-Pearl’s jeremiad in which he portrayed these public schools of choice as devils in our midst, citing a UTLA-commissioned bogus study in a feeble attempt to make his case.

The union’s timing is particularly bad, as the 2016 state standardized test results have just been released showing that charters have outperformed the traditional public schools yet again. Los Angeles, where one in six students is enrolled in a charter, saw 46 percent of its independent charter school students meeting or exceeding the standard on the English Language Arts test, versus 37 percent for students in traditional public schools. On the math test, the difference was smaller: 30 percent of independent charter students met or exceeded the standard, versus 26 percent for traditional public school students.

And despite the unions’ perpetual “cherry-picking” whine, of all students tested, 82 percent of charter students qualify as low-income compared to 80 percent for traditional schools. Charters also match up closely with traditional schools in areas of ethnicity, English language learners and disabled students.

While UTLA’s effort to decimate charters is troubling, it’s small potatoes compared to the California Teachers Association, which on August 31st unleashed “Kids Not Profits,” an “awareness” campaign. It calls for more “accountability and transparency of California charter schools and exposing the coordinated agenda by a group of billionaires to divert money from California’s neighborhood public schools to privately-managed charter schools. These same billionaires are spending record amounts of money to influence local legislative and school board elections across the state.”

In other words, charter schools, which get less funding than traditional public schools, are being helped along by philanthropists like Eli Broad, Bill Bloomfield, various Walton family members, et al. The only things missing from their brief bios on the union’s web page are little pointy ears and tails.

In a press release announcing the launch of CTA’s latest maneuver to maintain its monopoly over education in California, the union quotes from its new radio ad, which claims to lay out the “’billionaires’ coordinated agenda.”

  1. Divert money out of California’s neighborhood public schools to fund privately-run charter schools, without accountability or transparency to parents and taxpayers.
  2. Cherry-pick the students who get to attend charter schools – weeding out and turning down students with special needs.
  3. Spend millions trying to influence local legislative and school board elections across California.

While #1 and #2 are outright lies, there is some truth to #3. CTA has become fat and happy as the biggest political spender (by far) in California for years now, and it is bugging the snot out of them that philanthropists are pouring unprecedented amounts of money into edu-politics in an attempt to balance the playing field. In doing so, the union is finally facing some stiff competition in Sacramento and local school board races.

Second only to their obsession with billionaires is the union’s incessant harping on accountability. CTA president Eric Heins maintains that “… It’s time to hold charter schools and their private operators accountable to some of the same standards as traditional public schools.”

Accountability?! The union is talking about accountability?!

Charter schools operate in accordance with all state and federal laws, and must engage in ethical business practices. Also, if a school doesn’t educate its students, it loses customers and the school’s charter is revoked. But if a public school is failing, very often more taxpayer dollars are wastefully flung in its direction, and because of union mandated tenure laws, no teachers lose their jobs.

What is apparent here is that CTA and other unions cannot deal with the fact that in most places (typically non-unionized) charters do better job of educating – especially poor and minority students – than the traditional public schools do. So they have to lie and create distractions to make their case and preserve their dominion. But all the yammering about charters “siphoning money from public schools,” kvetching about billionaires “pushing their profit-driven agenda” and their bogus cries for “accountability” simply expose the unions as monopolists who cannot abide any competition whatsoever.

And that’s just what children, their parents and taxpayers deserve – less union meddling in the education process and more competition and educational choice – please!

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

Hillary Rodham Weingarten

Using teacher union talking points, Mrs. Clinton badly distorts facts about charter schools.

Coming on the heels of the Benghazi fabrication, the “dead broke” when she left the White House claim, and “servergate,” the latest Hillary blunder is a baseless sliming of charter schools. In a well-publicized gaffe, she told journalist Roland Martin,

… the original idea, Roland, behind charter schools was to learn what worked and then apply them in the public schools. And here’s a couple of problems. Most charter schools I don’t want to say every one but most charter schools, they don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don’t keep them. And so the public schools are often in a no-win situation, because they do, thankfully, take everybody, and then they don’t get the resources or the help and support that they need to be able to take care of every child’s education.

But I am also fully aware that there are a lot of substandard public schools. But part of the reason for that is that policymakers and local politicians will not fund schools in poor areas that take care of poor children to the level that they need to be.

These falsehoods are nothing new. They’ve been spoon-fed to Hillary – and everyone else – by American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten and other union leaders. Coming to the defense of her old friend, Weingarten told POLITICO, “Hillary Clinton looks at the evidence. That’s what she did here. She called out that many charters don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids or don’t keep those with academic or behavioral issues.”

Despite Weingarten’s reassuring words, Hillary wasn’t allowed to wiggle her way out of this one. Factcheck.org did an excellent job of poking holes in her statement. And many Democrats, to their credit, didn’t let Clinton get away with her fallacious comments either.

Charles Barone, director of policy at Democrats for Education Reform, points out, “…charters usually have more applicants than seats and thus – under law – must choose students via lottery. And the reality is that, with the exception of students with disabilities, charter schools generally have a higher percentage of students from demographic subgroups that lag academically behind their more advantaged peers.”

In USA Today, Democrat, think tanker and education writer Richard Whitmire also let her have it.

I fear your advisors, especially those allied with the teachers unions, have convinced you that pulling back on your previous support of charter schools is a ‘gimmie,’ a political move that costs you nothing…(R)apidly expanding charters offer many poor and minority children their best chance of emerging from K-12 schools ready for a job or further education. If you look at the extra days of learning students in Los Angeles, D.C., Boston and New York gain by attending a charter, you’ll understand why charter enrollments are surging and wait lists growing longer.

The political lessons for you: There’s no putting this one back in the bottle. Look at the thousands of black and brown parents who marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to protest what they see as hostile actions from Mayor Bill de Blasio. This could happen to you.

As Whitmire suggests, Clinton’s comments were politically stupid in that they are a slap in the face to the “black and brown parents” who are an important part of her political base. And she had no reason to say any of it. She didn’t need to curry favor with the teachers unions. Weingarten’s AFT had already anointed her as the union’s pick for Dem nominee in July, and by October, Clinton had become the National Education Association’s choice as well.

Instead of listening to the union party line, Clinton would be better served if she knew the facts:

  • One in four charter schools has a majority black student population, while another one in four has a majority Hispanic student population. By comparison, only 9 percent of traditional public schools have a majority black population, while 15 percent have a majority Hispanic population.
  • Majority Hispanic charter schools have risen since the 1999-2000 school year, when only 11 percent of charter schools held that status. Now, 23 percent do.
  • Clinton’s remark about too little spending on public schools has been debunked more times than Chicken Little’s hysteria. In fact, we have increased spending three-fold over a 40-year period with nothing to show for it.
  • Recent data show 12.55 percent of traditional public school students receive special education, compared to 10.42 percent in charter schools. So while slightly fewer students with disabilities attend charters, these schools are far more inclusive. Special needs kids are far more likely to spend their school day in general education classrooms.
  • As pointed out by Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, there is “no difference in the percentage of English Language Learner students served between charter and non-charter public schools.”
  • Clinton suggested that charters were created to “learn what worked and then apply them in the public schools.” First off she is suggesting that charters are not public schools. Wrong. And secondly the reason charters came into being are many. Andy Smarick, senior policy fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, found that “in the preambles of charter laws, there are at least eighteen reasons why state leaders created chartering. These include providing more K–12 options, offering teachers a wider array of professional settings, experimenting with school accountability, increasing parental involvement, and fostering competition.”
  • Clinton’s comment about not keeping “hard to teach kids” is based on the fact that a principal in one of Eva Moskowitz’s 34 wildly successful charter schools had a “Got to go” list of undesirable kids. The principal was reprimanded by Moskowitz, which should have ended the story. But not if you are Clinton or Weingarten. The latter, who has as harbored a longstanding hatred of Moskowitz, mentioned the list in a series of tirades against her nemesis. Additionally, as Fordham Institute’s Robert Pondiscio writes, traditional public schools “don’t take everybody.” Not only that, public schools have a long history of removing and transferring undesirables – either to other public schools, continuation schools or opportunity schools.
  • Charters are so popular that there are over 1,000,000 kids on waitlists nationally.

Another teacher union leader faux pas is front and central on the NEA website. There, United Teachers of Los Angeles vice-president and English teacher Cecily Myart-Cruz slammed charters, saying “If we lose 50 percent of our students to unregulated charters, that means we’re going to have 50 percent less of a teaching force. The sizes of those classes remaining in the public schools are going to be sky high. Students won’t get the one-on-one interaction they need and deserve.” (Note to Myart-Cruz: if half the teachers and half the kids move to charters, there will still be the same ratio of teachers to kids in the traditional public schools, and classes won’t be “sky high.”)

I guess we should be thankful that Myart-Cruz is not a math teacher. And the “unregulated charter” crack is yet another fact-free teacher union mantra.

Mrs. Clinton should be advised to avoid people like Weingarten and Myart-Cruz. If not, she will continue to look misinformed, if not corrupt, in the eyes of her fellow Democrats – not to mention Republicans. And any ensuing political blow-back certainly can’t be laid at the feet of the “vast right wing conspiracy.”

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