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Shoddy Studies

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

In like a Lyin’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charter Chumps

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

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

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

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

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

And then there is California.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teachers Unions’ Election Day Thumping

“Teachers Unions Take a Beating in Midterm Races”

“Teachers Unions Take a Shellacking”

“Teachers Unions Get Schooled in 2014 Election”

The above is just a small sampling of post-election headlines which flooded the media after last Tuesday’s historic election, which generated a major political shakeup in the nation’s capital as well as state houses from coast to coast. While it was a bad day for Democrats in general, perhaps the biggest losers were the nation’s teachers unions.

Unions, especially the teacher’s variety, had a lot on the line, and except for two wins, the rest of the key contests were nothing short of disastrous. Perhaps their number one target was Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who had minimized teachers’ collective bargaining “rights.” Michigan governor Rick Snyder wasn’t far behind Walker on the union hit list for the same reasons, but both incumbents won handily. The unions went after Florida governor Rick Scott for expanding school choice in the Sunshine State, but he prevailed over challenger Charlie Crist. Especially galling for organized labor was the victory in Illinois (Illinois!) where Republican pro-voucher businessman Bruce Rauner ran against incumbent governor Pat Quinn. Rauner clearly expressed disdain for union bosses on several occasions, accusing them of “bribing politicians to give them unaffordable pensions, free healthcare, outrageous pay and benefits and they’re bankrupting our state government, they’re raising our taxes and they’re forcing businesses out of the state, and as a result we’ve got brutally high unemployment.” Apparently, Rauner’s blunt message resonated with voters; he won by five points.

Many other Republicans were victorious in gubernatorial races in traditional blue states, including Maryland, Massachusetts and Maine. It got so bad for the unions that the one Republican they backed – Allen Fung for governor of Rhode Island – lost to Democrat Gina Raimondo who, as treasurer, worked to rein in out-of-control public employee pension spending. That, of course, incurred the wrath of Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Education reformers were thrilled with the results. “I’d call it a mandate for change sent boldly from voters,” Kara Kerwin, president of the Center for Education Reform, said in a statement. “Governors-elect in these states have proven themselves to be champions of reforms during their tenure as incumbent state executives, or have run on platforms that don’t shy away from being really vocal, putting students and parents first.”

“A bunch of these guys did stuff you’re not supposed to be able to do. They tackled pensions in purple states. They modified collective bargaining. They fought expansively for school choice,” said Rick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. “What that says to me is the unions need to rethink some of their assumptions about what the world’s going to look like going forward.”

The union response to the thumping was varied. Randi Weingarten essentially blamed it on President Obama in a press release. “It’s clear that many believe this country is on the wrong track and voted for change. Republicans successfully made this a referendum on President Obama’s record and won resoundingly, but where the election was about everyday concerns—education, minimum wage, paid sick leave—working families prevailed.” She then pointed to the two needle-in-a-haystack union victories to crow about – the ouster of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett and Tom Torlakson’s narrow victory over challenger Marshall Tuck in the race for California Superintendent of Public Instruction.

National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen García, whose “heart was heavy” was a bit more realistic. “We knew this was going to be an uphill battle. But I don’t think anybody on our side, and we’ve got some very savvy people, anticipated going over the falls like this. Tectonic plates have shifted. And we’re going to have to come back with a new way of organizing for these kinds of races.”

Eskelsen Garcia’s heart may have been heavy, but the teachers unions’ political coffers are a whole lot lighter. The final tallies won’t be known for a while, but it is estimated that the two unions spent at least $70 million in this election cycle – more than in any other year ever.

The Washington Free Beacon’s Bill McMorris writes,

The NEA was the second-largest Super PAC donor of the 2014 cycle, spending more than $22 million to aid Democratic candidates for federal office. The federal spending was on top of an estimated $28 million push at the state and local level….

The AFT had said it planned on spending $20 million during the 2014 cycle, a ten-fold increase from the $2 million it spent on 2010, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

It’s worth noting these lofty numbers don’t include any money that was spent by the unions’ state and local affiliates. The California Teachers Association spent $11 million alone to fend off Tuck’s challenge to Torlakson for the Superintendent of Public Instruction position. Speaking of which….

Usually this scenario – union-backed-incumbent vs. guy-no-one-has-heard-of is a real snooze-fest and the former wins easily. But not this time. Tuck matched his rival Democrat in spending and did well in many parts of the state, winning the more conservative counties of Riverside, San Bernardino, Orange, and Kern. He got clobbered, however, in the gentrified areas – Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Mendocino and Marin – where many parents opt to avoid the public schools.

Low voter turnout also played a role. EdSource’s John Fensterwald reports,

Torlakson beat Tuck with 2,266,000 to 2,085,000 votes – a difference of 181,000 votes – with thousands of absentee ballots still to be counted. The total vote of 4.35 million was 900,000 fewer than the 5.2 million votes cast for governor and about 700,000 fewer – 14 percent – than for secretary of state, the only other closely contested statewide contest on the ballot, despite the tens of millions of dollars spend on ads and mailers by both sides in the superintendent race.  

One important thing Torlakson had working for him was that Tuck was an unknown. As John Fensterwald explains, “For most voters, he was a blank canvas that Torlakson and his allies painted darkly. In ads, they attacked him as a Wall Street banker – a reference to a banking job he had right out of college – working with billionaires to privatize and dismantle public schools.”

But the biggest factor in Torlakson’s reelection – in addition to the $11 million gift from CTA – was the fabled teacher union ground game. The low voting numbers gave the unions and their get-out-the-vote messaging a huge advantage that is very difficult to overcome. In fact, U-T San Diego’s Steve Greenhut quotes founder of the California Center for Parent Empowerment and former CA State Senate majority leader Gloria Romero “… You can’t buy this seat and that was Tuck’s and his donors’ mistake. There is a political machine that CTA controls, which would never show up in those stupid polls …. It’s money after money. Below that great green wall is an army.”

Then there was also the voter ignorance factor. Tuck, unlike Torlakson, strongly favored the Vergara decision – where a judge ruled the tenure, seniority and dismissal statutes needed to be eliminated from the state education code – and made it an important part of his campaign. But as City Journal’s Ben Boychuk points out “… polls showed that Vergara resonated weakly with voters. Though 42 percent of likely California voters ranked education as their top priority this year, and the vast majority of voters surveyed after Treu’s ruling agreed that the state should do away with “last hired, first fired” seniority protections, nearly 60 percent said they didn’t know what the lawsuit was about.

So we had Tuck, a no-name candidate, without a ground game, whose messaging failed to reach a low-information populace and who suffered a poor voter turnout, fighting against a man backed by the most powerful state teachers union in the country – and Tuck still lost by only four percentage points. I would call this something of a moral victory, and reformers should not despair; they are a few tweaks away from winning. But they must develop more of a grassroots approach to campaigning – as victorious Republicans did in other states – if the unacceptable educational status quo is to be upended. Tuck acknowledged the sad reality in his concession speech,

Today, one day after this election, there are still 2.5 million children in California public schools who can’t read and write at grade level.  Those children are counting on all of us to take every action necessary to give them a better education and a chance at a better future.

I look forward to continuing to do my part in the collective effort to ensure that each child gets the education they need to achieve their dreams.

So while the rest of the country took a bold step and almost universally denied teachers union candidates, we in California still have work to do.

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

Teachers Unions Target Charter Schools in California

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cashing in on Hypocrisy

Latest teacher union stunt to discredit charter schools rings hollow.

As I have written before – as recently as last Tuesday – the teachers unions have a schizoid relationship with charter schools. Depending on the tides, they either want to kill charters off or unionize them. Last week – in kill mode – Randi Weingarten’s American Federation of Teachers and a group called In the Public Interest launched a website called Cashing in on Kids.

The website consists of several cases of alleged charter improprieties – fiscal hanky-panky at one, mismanagement at another, etc. Whether the stories are true or not isn’t the point.

No one has ever said that these alternatives to traditional public schools are perfect or should operate with impunity. In fact, accountability is the hallmark of charter schools which get shut down if they don’t do their job. It’s audacious for AFT to bloviate about accountability and transparency in the charter sector when it is the unions that fight (spending untold millions in the process) to maintain the failing educational status quo. In a spot-on response to the attack, Center for Education Reform president Kara Kerwin wrote,

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

In a rhetorical gymnastics routine we’ve come to expect from teacher unions, this latest campaign against education reform irresponsibly suggests that profit and student success are mutually exclusive, ignoring the fact that K-12 education in the U.S. is a $607 billion enterprise annually.

… By law, for-profit companies may only contract with the non-profit governing board of a charter school. These are public schools that are held to the same state standards, open meeting laws, and transparency. Open-enrollment policies must apply, and students that attend charter schools, regardless of the tax status of the organization that manages it, do so by choice.

Education management companies bring investment and capital to the communities they serve, creating jobs, innovation, and cost-saving strategies. Most assume great financial risk on behalf of their non-profit clients to build infrastructure and facilities in communities that in any other industry would most likely not be considered ideal or open to business. In fact, like most charter schools, even those in public-private partnerships, receive on average 30% less per pupil than their traditional school peers whose management has no accountability or incentive to improve student outcomes. (Emphasis added.)

This latest attempt by the AFT to discredit charter schools is nothing more than an effort to stifle the calls for greater accountability in our conventional public schools that the American public demands.

And it’s even worse than Kerwin made it out to be. In a U.S. News & World Report article about the website, Weingarten is quoted:

This is a simple exercise of following the money. … How many times do people simply get up on a pedestal and say we care about kids, and then you realize that they care about profits, they care about tax deductions, they care about privatizing the public system?

This gets right to the heart of the matter: the latest attack on charters is really an anti-capitalist screed more than anything else. Its goal is to score political points and paint charters as evil money-grubbing outfits. In the Public Interest – a perfect partner for AFT – is a project of The Partnership for Working Families (PWF), which is an ACORN-like group that hates anything capitalist and is a card-carrying member of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, whose raison d’être is to bash “one percenters.” Not surprisingly, several of PWF donors are rich “philanthropists,” including George Soros and other globalist/socialists.

Perhaps Weingarten, who is on a crusade to keep private entities from abusing public funds, should follow her own money. Her union – a private association – takes in $175,000,000 a year in union dues, which are purloined from teachers’ salaries in most states. And every penny of those salaries is paid by public tax money that originates with private citizens – the taxpayers.

Just what does the union do with all this public/private money? RiShawn Biddle reports,

For 2012-2013, the AFT spent $32 million on political lobbying activities and contributions …; this, by the way, doesn’t include politically-driven spending that can often find its way under so-called “representational activities”. This is a 19 percent increase over spending by the union during the 2011-2012 fiscal year.

This means that the union is pouring public/private money into causes that advance its main agenda which is essentially to keep public/private money flowing into its coffers. The union also pays its bosses quite nicely. According to the latest AFT tax filing, Weingarten pulls in $549,622 in total compensation. (Not too shabby for someone who rails against one percenters.) Her tax deduction crack is especially laughable because Weingarten, in her last year as United Federation of Teachers president, received a $194,000 payout for unused sick days, which pushed her total compensation for the year to over $600,000. And of course, it’s just a coincidence that she abandoned New York City that year for East Hampton, a very wealthy community on Long Island’s south shore, thus avoiding paying $30,000 in taxes.

Hopefully the “Cashing in on Kids” website will get little traction. I mean, really – just who exactly is cashing in on kids … and their parents … and the taxpayers?

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.

Cherry Picking Facts + Bad Polling = Demagoguery

Teacher union boss cherry picks from a biased poll and ends up with the pits.

Cherry picking is a phrase that has become quite popular these days. The term simply refers to advancing a certain point of view by using only data which supports that POV and omitting any contradictory or mitigating information.

A recent illustration of this phenomenon is on display in an article written by NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. The ironically titled Back-to-School Reality Check is, in fact, quite short on reality. The article, primarily a pep talk for teachers, uses a recent Phi Beta Kappa/Gallup poll as its motivating source. Early on, Van Roekel tells us,

“73 percent (of the poll’s respondents) said teachers should have flexibility in the classroom.”

I’m all for that. But what the union boss leaves out is that for teachers to have more flexibility they would need to tear up the telephone book-size union contract that dictates every little move a teacher makes.

Question 10 of the PDK poll says,

“Most teachers in the nation now belong to unions or associations that bargain over salaries, working conditions, and the like. Has unionization, in your opinion, helped, hurt, or made no difference in the quality of public school education in the United States?”

Cherries jubilee here! Mr. Van Roekel didn’t acknowledge this question. Why? Because 47 percent of those polled said unionization has hurt education, while only 24 percent said it helped.

Also conveniently ignored by Van Roekel were the responses to the charter school question. That’s because, of those polled, a whopping 70 percent were in favor of charter schools — a major union bugaboo — and only 27 percent were not.

Then, he reverses the cherry picking process,

“In fact, a majority of those polled (52 percent) side with teachers unions and educators who have been under attack as a new crop of governors – Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, Florida’s Rick Scott, New Jersey’s Chris Christie, Ohio’s John Kasich – declared war on public employees and the middle class.”

Van Roekel is editorializing here. The poll itself did not name states or governors, nor did it say anything about war on the middle class. This is actually an example of reverse cherry picking: including information that doesn’t exist in the poll.

On the voucher question,

“…gimmicks like vouchers, (which the responders) opposed nearly 2 to 1.”

This is true. Sixty-five percent opposed vouchers, with just 34 percent in favor. But here we see a flaw in the question itself, which reads,

“Do you favor or oppose allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense?”

As Jeanne Allen, president of Center for Education Reform noted in a criticism of the poll’s poorly constructed and biased wording,

“Choosing a private school at public expense is not only poorly received, but of course, it is poorly worded and a fictitious scenario. Parental choice dictates where the monies allocated for one’s education go and unless those parents can’t be considered part of the public, their rights are not an expense to anyone but the school that loses their funds, presumably for failing to meet their needs.”

Regarding education funding, Van Roekel says,

“The public’s primary concern about education is funding, which ranks far above any other topic.”

While the PDK poll does indeed report that 36 percent said that lack of funding was the number one problem, the question is flawed. When the public is asked about the current level of school funding, it is incumbent on the questioner to find out if the responder knows anything about what the current level of funding is. The PDK poll was highly negligent in this area, but a new poll by conducted by Education Next asked the question correctly.

“When the public was asked whether government funding for public schools in their district should increase, decrease, or stay the same, 59 percent selected the first option, only slightly less than the 63 percent that gave that opinion in 2010, and dramatically more than in 2009 (46 percent). Affluent respondents were less willing to spend more for their district schools, but even among them a clear majority (52 percent) preferred an increase in expenditures.”

“A segment of those surveyed were asked the same question except that they were first told the level of per-pupil expenditure in their community, which averaged $12,300 for the respondents in our sample. For every subgroup considered, this single piece of information dampened public enthusiasm for increased spending. Support for more spending fell from 59 percent to 46 percent of those surveyed. Among the well-to-do, the level of support dropped dramatically, from 52 percent to 36 percent. Among teachers, support for expenditure increases fell even more sharply—from 71 percent to 53 percent. (Emphasis added)

In fact, that kind of clarity and honesty was evident throughout the entire Education Next poll. When people have the facts clearly presented, they can give informed opinions which are obviously more meaningful.

The bottom line is that a poll which is biased and does not take into account the knowledge of the people being polled is misleading and dangerous. The public is led to believe that the responders are perceptive and knowledgeable, when in reality so many are not. Combine the inevitably distorted poll results with a teachers union president’s cherry picking and editorializing the data, and you wind up with nothing more than a heaping pile of demagoguery.

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.