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“The Phonys”

Limiting Charter Growth by Any Means Necessary

Teachers unions in Chicago and Massachusetts are doing their darndest to stop the spread of charter schools.

Amazingly, the Chicago teachers’ strike didn’t come off.  Less than 10 minutes before a midnight strike deadline on October 10th, the district and union cobbled together a deal, pending approval by the rank-and-file. One of the more contentious issues was the so called “pension pick-up.” Teachers in the Windy City are obligated by law to contribute 9 percent of their salaries to their retirement. But in fact, for 35 years the Chicago Public School district has been picking up 7 of the 9 percent. Existing teachers will continue to receive this taxpayer-hosing perk, but teachers hired in 2017 and beyond will have to pay the full 9 percent. (But then again, the newbies will get a salary bump and won’t feel the pinch.) No one yet really knows what the fiscal ramifications of the pension pick-up – or any of the other contract particulars – will be.

One thing that jumped out in the agreement is a stipulation that there will be no new charter schools opened for the duration of the new 4-year contact. You would think that in a city where just 25 percent of 8th graders are proficient in math and 24 percent are in English, that charters would be welcome. According to the Illinois State Board of Ed, attendance in the public schools of choice has doubled in the last five years – primarily in low-income areas – and now has almost 59,000 kids enrolled. The University of Chicago Consortium for School Research reports, “charter school students account for 25 percent of the city’s high school graduates but account for almost half of the students who will enroll in college.” But educating kids, you see, is not a priority for the Chicago Teachers Union.

And then there’s Massachusetts, where on Election Day, Question 2 will ask voters if they support giving the state the authority to lift the cap on charter schools. As it stands, no more than 120 charter schools are allowed to operate in the Bay State. The referendum, if successful, would give the Massachusetts Department of Education the authority to lift the cap, allowing up to 12 new charter schools or expansions of existing charters each year.

Most of us would not consider 12 new charter schools a year a radical move, but then again, most of us are not members of the Massachusetts Teachers Association. With an assist from some local school boards and 275 district superintendents, the union’s main arguments against the proposition are their usual ones – charters drain money from traditional public schools, charters cherry-pick their students, yada, yada, yada.

The union’s blather is not going unchallenged, however. According to a Manhattan Institute study, while charter-school enrollment does reduce the net amount of state aid school districts receive in Massachusetts, “it increases per-pupil spending in the 10 districts with the largest number of charter-school students.” The report’s author, Max Eden, explains that while charter enrollments cost district schools over $400 million a year, after the state’s “unique reimbursement” – which he claims is one of the most generous reimbursement plans in the nation – districts are getting paid a significant amount of money for students they no longer teach. In other words, the traditional public schools have fewer students, but more money to spend on those students.

Regarding the union’s cherry-picking mantra – bad idea to use this talking point in Massachusetts. Boston is acknowledged to have the best charter schools in the country. Many use lotteries to determine which students can attend. As researcher Thomas Kane writes, “Oversubscribed charter schools in the Boston area are closing roughly one-third of the black-white achievement gap in math and about one-fifth of the achievement gap in English—in a single school year!”

The good news for the pro-charter forces in Massachusetts is that they have money flowing into the campaign, including $240,000 from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and $1.8 million from Wal-Mart heirs Jim and Alice Walton. As a result, the unions and their fellow travelers, which are being outspent, are forced to dredge up their time-honored whine about the evils of “outside money” and “dark money.”

The outside money line is amusing because the National Education Association, parent of the Massachusetts Teachers Association and headquartered in Washington, D.C., has sent $4.9 million in “outside money” to the Bay State to oppose Question 2.

The “dark money objection” is even more two-faced. In 2014, the American Federation of Teachers was outed after making an illegal $480,000 ad buy that helped propel Martin Walsh to a Boston mayoral victory over John Connolly, a longtime adversary of the teachers unions. AFT’s dark (and illegal) money groups got dinged to the tune of $30,000 for “failure to organize as a PAC, failure to disclose finance activity accurately, contributions made in a manner intended to disguise the true source of the contributions, receipt of contributions not raised in accordance with campaign law, and use of wire transfers.” (After illegally and successfully spending almost a half-million dollars, a measly $30K fine barely qualifies as a slap on the wrist.) And this “dark money” gambit was hardly a one-off for the unions.

Massachusetts legislators didn’t think much of the AFT chicanery, and in 2014 tried to pass laws requiring more transparency. The Massachusetts Teachers Association balked at the legislation, and citing “technical issues,” tried to kill it. But this past August, after two years of legislative wrangling, H.543 became law, much to the consternation of the unions.

To sum up, in Massachusetts, Chicago and a host of other places around the country, the teachers unions’ mission to limit charter growth or kill them outright goes on unabated. But, please keep in mind, they are, of course, doing it for the children. (Hey – I’ll stop saying it when they 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.

 Rampant Union Greed in Chicago

The Windy City’s teachers union is on the verge of yet another strike. 

In 2012, Troy Senik wrote “The Worst Union in America,” a title he bestowed on the California Teachers Association. As a former member and longtime critic of that union, I certainly had no quibble with his selection. But now, CTA is facing serious competition from the Chicago Teachers Union.

As reported in last week’s post, CTU, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, is gearing up for a strike. It would be the union’s second in four years, despite the fact that the median salary for a teacher in Chicago is $78,169. When you add another $27,564 for various benefits, the total compensation for a teacher – good, bad or middling – becomes almost $106K per annum. (Please keep in mind teachers work 180 days a year, while employees in other professions typically work for 240 to 250 days.) In retirement, the average Chicago teacher receives a hefty $50,000 a year.

The main sticking point for the union and the Chicago Public School system (CPS) is the so-called pension pick-up. Teachers there (and elsewhere) have what’s called a “defined benefit plan,” whereby in retirement – come hell, high water or recession – a teacher’s pension is not affected. In most places, teachers and the school district share the contributions equally, but not in Chicago and some other municipalities in Illinois. Teachers there are supposed to chip in 9 percent of their salary to fund their own pension. But as things stand now, teachers contribute just 2 percent, with the school district (read: taxpayer) picking up the remaining seven. The city, which is in dire fiscal straits, is asking teachers to pay the full 9 percent. But lest the poor teachers need to reach for the smelling salts because they are being asked to kick in more for their own retirement years, Chicago is offering them an 8.7 percent salary increase over four years to help offset the teachers’ pension payment.

So, as the union demands more and more money, the schools end up with less and less. As reported by the Chicago Tribune, CPS still needs to come up with at least $300 million to balance its fiscal 2017 budget. “The school system still faces huge, $700 million-ish teachers pension payments this year and annually into the future. It still has too much real estate to serve its dwindling number of students. And its credit is maxing out.” As a result, Moody’s has just downgraded CPS further into junk status.

As if the union’s insistence on yet more money is not deplorable enough, there is a new addition to their basket. When CTU held its strike vote last week, it didn’t do it the traditional way – by secret ballot. Nope, the union had its teachers authorize a strike via “petitions” circulated at schools, meaning that everyone knew how everyone else voted. Think there may have been an intimidation factor at work here? And why on earth would they need to resort to such strong-arm tactics? The teachers voted by a 7 to 1 margin to strike in 2012 – when voting was done in private. As it turns out, the margin this year was 86 percent affirmative, just about what it was in 2012.

If the method of voting sounds dictatorial and totalitarian, it fits right in with the union’s leadership. CTU president Karen Lewis, who revels in her inflammatory style, makes Donald Trump look downright demure. Just a few of her egregious comments:

  • At the City Club of Chicago in 2013, she blamed the city’s education woes on rich white people. “When will we address the fact that rich, white people think they know what’s in the best interest of children of African Americans and Latinos—no matter what the parent’s income or education level.”
  • After the tragic Sandy Hook school shootings, Lewis blamed Teach for America, the organization that successfully enlists high-achieving college graduates to teach at hard to staff schools. Referring to TFA vice-president David Rosenberg, Lewis said “… policies his colleagues support kill and disenfranchise children from schools across this nation.”
  • Earlier this year, Lewis compared the Illinois governor to ISIS: “Rauner is the new ISIS recruit. Yes, I said it, and I’ll say it again. Bruce Rauner is a liar. And, you know, I’ve been reading in the news lately all about these ISIS recruits popping up all over the place — has Homeland Security checked this man out yet? Because the things he’s doing look like acts of terror on poor and working-class people.”
  • Then there is the typical union boss hypocrisy: She rails against corporate “fat cats,” all the while pulling in over $200,000 a year, owning three homes, including one in Hawaii. (Second-in-command at CTU, Comrade Jesse Sharkey, a leading member of the revolutionary International Socialist Organization, makes well over $100,000 in total compensation.)

The teachers could strike as soon as October 11th. It’s up to Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel and Governor Rauner to stand up to the CTU leadership and their outrageous demands and put a halt to the mugging. Enough taxpayer money has been extorted by the union without the mayor and governor kicking in another penny. And the union can’t claim that its teachers are doing a bang-up job: Just 30 percent of 4th grade CPS students are proficient in math and by 8th grade that number sinks to 25 percent. In reading, 27 percent of 4th graders are proficient as are 24 percent of 8th graders. Taxpayers should not be expected to sink any more of their money into an ineffective school system.

As of now, the hard working people of Chicago – already the highest taxed in Illinois – are getting overpaid teachers, failing kids and a union that wears its greed proudly on its sleeve. CTA, you have some serious competition.

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.

Heartless and Mindless

As the National Education Association embarks on a new PR campaign, some of its affiliates engage in lawsuits and strikes.

In July, the National Education Association unearthed its “Strategic Plan and Budget” for 2016-2018. The introduction to the 76-page document includes the notion that the union needs to “win the race to capture the hearts and minds of parents, communities, and educators.”

Hearts and minds?

Well, two months later, let’s just see how that’s working out for the country’s biggest union and some of its state affiliates. In northern California, the Yuba City Teachers Association is in its second week of a strike. The union was asking for a 13 percent raise for its teachers. When the district claimed that there was no way it could afford such a salary hike, the union came back with a counter offer: 15 percent. (No typo.) When asked about the strike, a picketing teacher asserted, “…we have to do this for our students.

Hearts and minds?

Washington State’s charter schools are once again endangered. The Washington Education Association is continuing its battle to remove the Evergreen State’s 12 charter schools and kill any such future endeavors. The union paints charters as unaccountable to voters, proclaims that they are privately run and don’t have elected school boards. The fact that parents send their kids to these schools of choice because the traditional public schools aren’t doing a good job does not matter a whit to the union. Perhaps Heartland Institute’s Bruno Behrend said it best: “The Washington Teachers Unions specifically, and the government education complex in general, once again expose their moral illegitimacy by attempting to destroy education options for Washington’s students and families.”

Hearts and minds?

Launched in 2001, Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship program allows low income families to send their kids to a private school with money that is funded directly through private donations from businesses, which can then earn dollar-for-dollar tax credits from the state for their contributions. The Florida Education Association, which has been fighting against this increasingly popular form of school choice for two years, is running low on options and is about to embark on its final effort: an appeal to the State Supreme Court. If the state court denies FEA’s appeal, the union will just have to live with the ruling. FEA president Joanne McCall is optimistic, however. “The highest level ruled in our favor in 2006. They seem to be the most sane court (sic) that we have.”

But Bishop Victory Curry, chairman of the Save Our Scholarships Coalition, has a problem with FEA. “We are very disappointed that the union will continue its effort to evict more than 90,000 poor, mostly minority children from schools that are working for them. … The union’s decision is wrong for the children, and wrong for our public schools.”

Hearts and Minds?

New Jersey governor Chris Christie is angry, claiming that 27 failing school districts across the state continue to under-perform despite receiving over $100 billion in funding since 1985. He blames various union work rules as a big part of the problem, declaring. “We can no longer tolerate a tenure law that places seniority above effectiveness, or tolerate limits on teaching time that restrict teachers to less than five hours of a seven-hour school day in districts where our students most need quality teachers and intensive instruction.”

The New Jersey Education Association responded by calling Christie’s plea, a “frivolous legal challenge” adding that it was an attempt by Christie to divert attention from the Bridgegate scandal.

Sure.

NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer further explained, “… He’s demonized the women and men who work in our public schools. And he’s proposed a funding scheme that would steal from poor children to reward rich adults.”

Mr. Steinhauer has it backwards. Stealing from kids and enriching adults is what his and other teachers unions do. Quite well, I might add.

Hearts and minds?

And finally we have Chicago, a city where one in three never graduates from high school. The NEA does not have a presence there; the Chicago Teachers Union is affiliated with Randi Weingarten’s American Federation of Teachers. Nevertheless, it seems that CTU is all in with NEA’s “hearts and minds” modus operandi.

First a few facts: The median salary for a teacher in the Windy City is $78,169. When you throw in another $27,564 for various benefits, the total becomes almost $106K per annum. In retirement, the average teacher receives a hefty $50,000 a year. Ah, but the teachers are not happy. Chicago teachers are supposed to contribute 9 percent of their salary to fund their own pension. But, as things stand now, the teachers only contribute 2 percent, with the school district (taxpayer) picking up the remaining seven. The city, which is in dire fiscal straits, is asking teachers to pay the full 9 percent.

The audacity of the city fathers! The union is fighting mad and in heavy strike-prep mode, holding workshops which center on “workplace tactics to stick it to the boss.” The teachers could strike as soon as mid-October.

Hearts and minds?

Nope. “Heartless and mindless” is much closer to the truth. Shameless and arrogant too.

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

The Bad, the Ugly and…the Perky

Three recent stories point to the self-serving teacher union mentality.

The bad. Joseph Ocol was in big trouble when he came to the U.S. in 1999. As a whistleblower, he was placed in the government’s Witness Protection Program for calling attention to an election fund-raising scam in his native Philippines. Even with a double degree in Electrical Engineering and Education, he had difficulty finding work here. Ultimately he found a job as a mathematics teacher in a tough part of Chicago, an area notorious for drugs, crime and violence.

Ocol’s idealism and passion to make things right served him well in his new position. A math teacher, he became famous by creating an after-school chess club. Knowing that most gang violence occurs between 3 and 6pm, he decided to keep as many kids in school as he could and teach them to play chess. He eventually expanded his program from high school students and invited children from the local elementary school to join, ultimately involving over 100 at-risk kids. Over the years, the wildly successful program has produced several chess champions and received accolades from the Cook County Board of Commissioners, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel and President Obama.

But then, Ocol did something bad, really bad, at least according to the Chicago Teachers Union. Not willing to abandon his students, he decided to shun the one-day teachers’ strike in the Windy City on April 1st. As punishment for his “crime,” the union is demanding that he give the pay he received for working that day to them. Ocol made a counter offer. He said he was willing to fork over his salary, but wants it to help fund his 35 member chess team’s trip to the White House. Ocol was supposed to have a hearing on June 6th, but he refused to go because he said he needed the time to coach his students.

So in a city that is home to the highest paid teachers in the country – where more than one in three students drop out – CTU is doing its best to hound a dedicated educator and idealistic human being into submission over not participating in what was very possibly an illegal one-day strike. (But of course, CTU president Karen Lewis will reassure us that the union’s punishment of the teacher is being administered “for the children.”)

Ocol also said he has been receiving nasty messages from other union members and filed a complaint. Some teachers have suggested that he leave the Chicago Public School System and work for a charter school. Good idea. I’m sure his efforts would be much more appreciated in a non-union environment. And if he goes that route, here’s hoping all his students will follow him.

The Ugly. In Yonkers, NY, we have a reverse problem where the union, instead of trying to punish a good teacher, tries to help a violent teacher save his own skin. Investigative journalist James O’Keefe went into the local union office posing as a teacher who claimed to have physically abused a student while using a racial epithet, and subsequently fled to Mexico, unannounced, for two weeks, because he didn’t know what else to do. The episode, available via a 17-minute video, lays bare the union’s priorities. The local union president and vice-president instruct the teacher to talk to them “theoretically” and not to admit anything. The union bosses clearly couldn’t have cared less about the abused child, but rather counseled the teacher how to save his job, advising him what lies to tell and what truths to avoid.

When the Yonkers City Council caught wind of the video, it insisted that the involved union officials resign. Majority Leader John Larkin said “What kind of people would conspire to conceal child abuse and assist in covering up a teacher going AWOL for two weeks without permission?” (The answer Mr. Larkin is: Your average teacher union leader.)

The mayor was more than a tad miffed. “If this is the standard operating procedure, well you know what, it better damn well change.”

And then there was the teacher union response. The two involved local union leaders refused to comment on the video. Karl Korn, spokesman for the New York State United Teachers (the state affiliate of the involved local), punted to the national union, saying the American Federation of Teachers “was reviewing the facts in the matter.” The AFT responded that it is “commissioning an independent, full and fair investigation to determine whether the video is accurate….”

Then, showing true union colors, Korn added, “The AFT is prepared to act if a breach of ethics is found. What we do know is that the video is based on a series of lies and deceptions. It was cut and sliced at least 14 times. It’s an attack piece manufactured by a right-wing extremist.”

I’m sure the union’s investigation will be very fair, and objective to a fault.

The Perky. Just last week the Buffalo (NY) School Board voted to take away the no-copay cosmetic surgery rider that has been in the collective bargaining contract for years. The district is strapped for cash, and decided to redirect the millions of dollars a year it spends on face lifts and tummy tucks to its students instead. The nerve! The union, you see, is using the issue as leverage to get a new contract which they haven’t had since 2004. Local teacher union president Phil Rumore said “removing the cosmetic surgery provision without a new contract is a slap in the face to teachers.”

As Education Action Group CEO Kyle Olson pointed out, the district, operating with a $50 million deficit, still managed to spend $5.4 million on plastic surgery in 2013. At the same time, the high school graduation rate for the Buffalo Public Schools was a pathetic 56 percent and one-third of all adults living in Buffalo are illiterate. Hey, but what’s a little illiteracy when you can score hair plugs and boob jobs, all paid for by the taxpayer!

These three stories are infuriating, horrifying and ridiculous, but, sadly, not unique at all. Similar scenarios are played out year after year throughout much of the country. It’s the nature of the teacher unions, whose priorities are their officers and (acquiescent) members, and most definitely not the kids. And let’s not even get started on the enormous burden they, with the help of compliant school boards, heap on 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 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.

Dear South Side Teacher

An open letter to the idealistic teacher in Chicago who may have defied the teachers union by not striking on April 1st.

In a recent newspaper article you said you were “morally and ethically” against the Chicago Teachers Union one-day strike (or “Day of Tantrum,” according to a Chicago Tribune op-ed) last Friday and that loyalty to your students trumps loyalty to the CTU. A like-minded teacher said she’s furious about the whole thing and is concerned about the message this sends to students. “We’re there to teach and set a good example. This sets a horrible example. I think we are being used as pawns to get legislation passed,” she said.

While there are undoubtedly issues that need to be dealt with, you realize that a “job action” is really not the best way to get what you want. If making noise to focus attention on the issues at hand is necessary, that could have been handled at the rally already planned for downtown Chicago late afternoon Friday. Enraging rush hour commuters is bad enough, but using kids as pawns to draw attention to your grievances is really pathetic.

And what did you get for your idealistic stance against the union bosses? They threatened to banish you from CTU!

But is that really a bad thing? Thousands of teachers all over the country don’t join the union at all, or join and then leave, and are none the worse for it. When I quit UTLA here in Los Angeles, my professional life suffered not a whit.

And maybe you know that of the 50 largest school districts in the country, after working five years, Chicago teachers are already the highest paid.

And maybe you feel that the district shouldn’t have to “pick up” seven percent of the nine you are supposed to pay for your own pension.

And maybe you don’t think it’s fair that Chicagoans were recently hit with a massive $700 million tax hike and already face the highest per-capita tax burden of any residents in Illinois’ major cities.

And maybe you’re tired of the silly teacher union mantra that unionization is important so that you can “advocate” for your kids. As a non-union member, I certainly advocated for my kids as much as I did when I was in the union. What decent teacher wouldn’t? In this instance the union is hardly advocating for kids, it is abandoning them.

And maybe you think that laying off 17 teachers to help balance the books isn’t so awful. In actuality it would be a good thing if it were 17 of the poorest performers. But thanks to CTU and other unions, these layoffs are determined by seniority, not teacher quality.

And maybe you have had it with union-style bullying. Despite all their empty talk about the evils of kids bullying other kids, CTU leadership told union delegates to “take attendance” at the picket sites on Friday morning and to “monitor all school entrances.” Hopefully the thuggish threats didn’t deter you.

Maybe you have come to see the forced dues scheme to be nothing more than, as AEI’s Rick Hess suggests, extortion. You are forced to pay over $1,000 a year to an organization that you think not only doesn’t represent you but frequently goes against many of your core beliefs.

And maybe you are annoyed by union leaders’ lies, exaggerations and empty rhetoric. As you know, not only are you forced to pay dues to the Chicago Teachers Union as a condition of employment, your hard-earned dollars also support CTU parent, the American Federation of Teachers. After the Supreme Court failed (only due to Scalia’s death) to decide on the Friedrichs case, the AFT website stated, “This marks a significant defeat for the wealthy special interests who want to hijack our economy, our democracy, and even the United States Supreme Court.” What?! All a decision for the plaintiffs would have done is allow voluntary public employee union participation. The National Education Association is even worse, committing a double whopper in a recent press release. It claims “In Friedrichs Decision, Supreme Court Reaffirms Collective Bargaining.” Ridiculous. First of all, collective bargaining was never an issue in Friedrichs. Moreover, the Court didn’t reaffirm anything. The vote split 4-4, which means that SCOTUS let a lower court opinion stand. But with teachers unions, truthfulness and clarity are only occasional events.

You may want to consider getting a job at a charter school. Few are unionized and none are associated with CTU. One-hundred-thirty charter schools, including 70 high schools, went on with business-as-usual Friday in Chicago. No, CTU doesn’t ignore charters; their focus is on restricting them. As soon as the strike issues are resolved, the union will resume their effort to minimize charter authorizations in the Windy City.

In the newspaper article, you were quoted as saying, “The only thing I’ve gotten out of the union is a pocket calendar.” Consider yourself lucky. In 1975, when I was a union member, I was laid off from my 6th grade teaching position in Harlem. New York City was going through tough fiscal times and, as a new hire, I was one of the first to be let go. I may not have been the greatest teacher in the world, but I was a heck of a lot better than some who were retained. So I lost my job because of the union mandated “last-in, first-out” regimen.

If you are worried that you will lose your voice and your union-supplied liability insurance, fear not. There are other organizations – professional organizations – that can fill those needs. Why not try the Association of American Educators or the Christian Educators Association? You will save money and be a part of a group that truly cares and supports good teachers and kids. And I promise you they will never use threats and coercion against you, should you decide to follow your conscience. And who knows – they might even throw in a pocket calendar.

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.

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Union Greed

The Chicago teachers’ pension scam exemplifies what unions claim to hate most about corporations.

Chicago, long known as the Second City, may still be second in some things, but it seems to be #1 in teacher union greed. As it’s time for a new contract with the Chicago public school system (CPS), the inevitable blather has begun to befoul the air. Here are a few things Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) will not use as talking points:

  • Teachers in CPS are the second highest paid in the country, making barely less than New York City’s teachers.
  • On the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), only 30 percent of 4th graders and 25 percent of 8th graders tested as “proficient” in mathematics, and only 27 and 24 percent, respectively, were found to be proficient in reading.
  • Teachers only contribute 2 percent of their salary to their own retirement; CPS kicks in the the other 7 percent, the so-called pension pick-up .
  • Chicagoans are the most taxed people in Illinois and their already crisis-level pension shortfall is in freefall.

The economic situation is so bad in Chicago that Illinois governor Bruce Rauner has been making noises about CPS declaring bankruptcy. If successful, the state would take over the district, void the contact with CTU and possibly reduce pension payments. Needless to say the union and its enablers in the Illinois statehouse are not happy at the prospect and claim it is not legal under existing statutes.

In the meantime, to placate CTU, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel proposed a contract so generous that Rauner called it “unaffordable.” It was one-sided enough, however, that CTU boss Karen Lewis liked it. It offered:

  • A guarantee of no economic layoffs through the end of the contract in 2019; the only way to reduce the workforce would be through retirements and attrition.
  • Cost-of-living pay increases.
  • “Step and lane” pay increases based on experience and seniority.
  • No more new charter schools beyond the 130 presently operating; the only new ones allowed would be replacements for any that closed.

Amazingly, the union’s bargaining team rejected the deal, infuriating CPS CEO Forrest Claypool. In response, he fired off a terse letter to Karen Lewis emphasizing three unilateral moves CPS would now make:

  • The district will discontinue the pension pick-up, saving CPS $130 billion annually.
  • A reduction-in-force plan will go into effect that will necessitate layoffs and save another $50 million.
  • Repurposed federal funds will result in a “reduction in general funding to the schools while having no significant overall impact on school budgets.”

Well, as Larry Elder would say, “Then the fit hit the shan.” The union called the letter an “attack” and an “act of war.” The unionistas were especially exercised about the withdrawal of the pension pick-up, but their stance is indefensible. In the Windy City, teachers are obligated by law to contribute 9 percent to their retirement. But in fact, for 35 years CPS (i.e. the taxpayers) has been picking up 7 of the 9 percent. So teachers have been getting away with legal theft, paying only 2 percent of their own retirement contribution, which has helped to position Illinois as the state with the worst credit rating in the U.S.

Moreover, please keep in mind that Chicago has the second highest paid teachers in the country, with a median salary of $71,017, not counting comprehensive healthcare benefits for the teacher, their spouse or domestic partner and children. Also, the average teacher salary is 51 percent higher than Chicago’s median household income, which is estimated at $46,877. And teachers work just 178 instructional days (plus a few non-instructional ones), whereas other full-time workers toil for 240-250 days a year.

But some teachers were outraged at Claypool’s letter and about a thousand of them tore through the Loop aiming their venomous arrows at Bank of America. Sixteen were arrested for sitting in and chanting inside the bank. As Karen Lewis said, “(We’re) here, because we have to make a choice in the city: banks or schools.” (Don’t we need both?) The teachers also disrupted rush hour traffic, inconveniencing thousands of commuters. Ms. Lewis didn’t explain what the demonstrators had against people driving home at rush hour, many of whom pay a lot more than their “fair share” to the teachers’ pension fund.

At the end of the day, probably the best thing would be for CPS to declare bankruptcy, as Rauner proposed. It’s a novel approach, but one that, at first glance, would seem to have little chance of implementation. However, the Republican governor claims that Democrats outside of Chicago are in favor of it because hitting the reset button would void union contracts, thus saving taxpayers all over the state mountains of unnecessary debt. Declaring bankruptcy could also set a precedent. (Take note Los Angeles: LAUSD is due to go belly-up in 2019.)

Final note to union leaders, protesting teachers and fellow travelers: You are obviously looking out for yourselves. Fine. But please stop using “corporate greed” as a rallying cry. When you scream that “corporations must pay their fair share,” please be assured that they already do and then some. Federal tax rates on corporate income vary from 15 percent to 39 percent. Teachers unions – and in fact all unions – don’t pay a penny in income tax. They not only don’t pay their fair share; they pay no share at all. Now that’s what I call greed, with maybe a little gluttony added for taste.

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.

LA Teachers Union: Striking Out?

UTLA is planning to walk out over a mess that it helped to create.

The case is being built for a teachers’ strike in Los Angeles. The next step in the contract negotiation process is mediation, whereby a state-appointed mediator will try to get the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) to reconcile their differences. If no progress is made during those sessions, scheduled for March 26th, April 6th and April 15th, the fact-finding stage is next. Anything that comes out of this part of the process is not binding, but could be influential in the last step in which the district makes its final offer. At that point, the union can accept the deal, or reject it and call for a strike vote.

There are a number of issues on the table, but the main sticking points are as follows:

UTLA wants a bigger raise than LAUSD is offering. The district’s offer is 5 percent, but the union, after originally asking for 17.5, has lowered its demand to 8.5 percent, retroactive to July 2014.

The union wants smaller classes. Due to budgetary constraints, the district wants latitude in determining the number of teachers on the payroll. The union wants the district to commit to a hard and fast teacher-student ratio. Fewer teachers, of course, translate to larger classes.

The union does not want an imposed teacher-evaluation system. In light of a lawsuit settled in 2012 that mandated substantive teacher evaluations, the district came up with a simple four-level teacher-evaluation plan which it instituted in 2013. But the union pushed back successfully, claiming the district single-handedly imposed the process, prompting an administrative law judge to rule that LAUSD had to repeal it. The decision came in response to an unfair labor practices charge that UTLA filed three months later. The union is demanding to be a part of any new evaluation system for its teachers.

Moving away from the bargaining table, the leaders of the two warring factions have gone public with their case. In January, LA Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines called the union’s latest demands “entirely unrealistic” and asserted that they raise “serious ethical and equity issues” for the district. He pointed out that

… all the district’s other unions have agreed to new contracts within the current economic landscape, he chided UTLA for its bargaining stance over 16 negotiating sessions, saying, ‘It is regrettable that the current UTLA leadership has gone in an entirely different direction.’

UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl has been mouthing off to the press all along, lambasting the district and everything else he can think of. At a rally in downtown LA last week, throwing in everything but the kitchen sink, he bloviated,

The recession, the cuts to the bone at schools, the attacks on public service, the increasingly savage racism and economic inequality that our students face, John Deasy for three years, all of them have set us back. And we are not going to take it anymore.

Okay, now here is the reality: LAUSD is mired in fiscal purgatory. Dealing with a $160 million deficit, Cortines said just 11 days ago that he has already begun cutting programs for next year, and layoffs are next with the first round of pink slips due to go out March 15th. (Worth noting: $160 million is almost the exact figure LAUSD is paying to the victims of one teacher – sexual predator Mark Berndt, whose wretched legacy owes a nod to the teachers union which traditionally has insisted on laws that make it practically impossible to get rid of incompetent and debauched educators.) When asked what’s most likely to be cut, Cortines said, “Everything.” LAUSD officials added that giving the union everything it is asking for would pile another $800 million of debt on the district.

If layoffs become necessary, Cortines will be painted as the goat, but it is the union that bears the majority of the responsibility. In good economic times, UTLA – and most teachers unions – demand that school districts use up all available resources to hire more educators. Then, when the inevitable economic downturn hits, layoffs become necessary. Also, it’s not just teachers who are hired when the economy is robust; more support personnel are invariably a part of the package.

The fiscal situation is even bleaker for the district than the $160 million deficit and additional $800 million the union is demanding the district spend. Due to recent legislation, school districts in California now have to come up with a greater proportion of retired teachers’ pensions. This will cost the district an additional $1.1 billion over the next seven years. The annual salary for LAUSD teachers who have taken some professional development classes and taught for 10 years is $75,592, which the union says isn’t enough. But while union leaders whine over what they deem to be paltry salaries, they never mention the additional perks a teacher gets like a comprehensive healthcare package and a defined-benefit pension. When those costs are added in, that ten-year teacher’s total compensation is more like $90,000. Not bad for 180 days work.

Also, teachers – the good ones, that is – could be making considerably more if not for the industrial-style step-and-column way that unions insist its teachers get paid. With no nod to quality, mediocre and worse teachers are paid the same as the good and great ones

Regarding the smaller class-size demand – LA has about 640,000 students and 31,000 teachers, which means about 20 kids per teacher, not exactly an overbearing number. If some teachers’ classes are too large, then rebalancing becomes the issue. While it’s true that there are instances where some kids benefit from more individual attention, it is by no means universal. The most extensive study on the subject was done by Hoover Institution senior fellow and economist Eric Hanushek in 1998. He examined 277 different studies on the effect of teacher-pupil ratios and class-size averages on student achievement, and found that only 15 percent of the studies indicated an improvement in achievement, while 72 percent showed no effect at all. Worse, 13 percent found that reducing class-size actually had a negative effect on achievement.

But class size and teacher pay are related. If you lopped off the bottom 10 percent lowest performers from the district, the remaining (better) teachers could get a hefty raise with just a few more kids in each class and no additional outlay from the district.

It’s important to note that the entire collective bargaining process is not beneficial for many teachers and their students. Thomas F. Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli finds that, “Teachers in non-collective bargaining districts actually earn more than their union-protected peers—$64,500 on average versus $57,500.” Petrilli adds that “there is some evidence … that non-collective bargaining districts drive a harder bargain when it comes to health care.” He also points out that collective-bargaining districts focus on seniority, protecting various benefits associated with longevity rather than pushing for higher pay. These tenure and seniority “benefits,” which clearly are unfair to good teachers and their students, are what Judge Rolf Treu was referring to in his recent Vergara ruling when he said. “The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience.”

In 2012, Chicago teachers – already the highest paid teachers in the country while working the fewest hours of any other big-city school district – went on strike. Stanford’s Terry Moe wrote at the time,

Collective bargaining is not fundamentally about children. It is about the power and special interests of adults. In Chicago and elsewhere, the teachers unions are in the business of winning better salaries and benefits, protecting job security, pressuring for restrictive work rules and in other ways advancing the occupational interests of their members. These interests are simply not the same as the interests of children.

Not to say that school districts are perfect. Far from it. But ideally, their mission is to promote the interests of children, while unions are there to serve their rank-and-file – the good and the bad, it’s all the same to them. The teachers unions may blather about the children, but ultimately they are there to serve the adults. And that’s causing big problems in Los Angeles and everywhere else these unions have power.

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

The Shrinking Teacher Union Brand

Teachers unions are losing members, but stubbornly stick with the same old product.

Earlier this month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics informed us that in 2014 – for the second year in a row – that there are fewer unionized than non-unionized teachers in the U.S. The reasons for this are many: more right-to-work states, a population shift to right-to-work states, an increase in mostly non-unionized charter schools and an uptick in the number of families availing themselves of school choice opportunities and sending their kids to private schools. Mike Antonucci writes, “Of the 4,535,249 teachers employed in elementary, secondary and special education in 2014, only 49 percent were union members. And the unionization rates for pre-k, kindergarten and higher education were much lower.” Antonucci also points out that while there were 34,921 more teachers overall in 2014, the unions were able to recruit only 10.7 percent of them.

By the way, it’s not just the teacher union brand that is suffering. According to the latest data, all union membership sagged to 11.1 percent, a drop from 11.3 in 2013, with just 14.6 million wage and salaried workers maintaining membership. The rate of union affiliation has been sliding for 30 years now. It did grow slightly from 12.1 percent in 2007 to 12.4 percent in 2008, but that was the only bright spot in some time for organized labor.

So in the smoke-free equivalents of smoke-filled rooms across the country, union kingpins are chewing on that old question, “What are we gonna do about this?!”

Well, where right-to-work legislation and litigation advance, unions will actually have to become responsive to the wishes of their members and make joining more attractive to would-be members. But as long as we have a forced-dues model throughout much of the land, most thoughts aren’t going in that direction. To be sure, many teachers, especially the younger ones, resent many union-mandated conventions like “last in/first out” as well as many aspects of the typical union contract strait-jacket. But politics plays an important role in the problem for teachers of all ages.

Politically speaking, responsiveness to its members has never been a hallmark of the teacher union elite. A small vocal and radical few determine policy for the larger group who are either ignorant of their actions, apathetic about politics, or they are intimidated by the more vociferous members. If you have any doubts about union-leadership politics, just look at the presidents of large union locals like Bob Peterson (Milwaukee), Alex Caputo-Pearl (Los Angeles) and Karen Lewis (Chicago) – all socialist-leaning, community-organizing practitioners. While not every state and local union leader falls into this category, an overwhelming majority do, despite an internal poll by the National Education Association which found that its rank-and-file is slightly more conservative (50 percent) than liberal (43 percent) in political philosophy.

In a recent piece, Bob Peterson, who doubles as a 5th grade teacher, sounded alarm bells, writing, “If Teachers Can’t Make Their Unions More Democratic and Social Justice-Minded, Public Ed Is Doomed.” At the same time he is asking unions to become more inclusive by becoming “democratic,” he rails against Scott Walker, Paul Ryan, conservatives, white-populated areas of the state, right-wing Republicans, privatization, corporate reformers, charter schools, vouchers, etc. Peterson’s union model would include efforts to raise the minimum wage, expand healthcare coverage and voter rights, implement incarceration reform, and stop “unfair hiring practices at a major federal housing project.”

When unabashed leftist – a community organizer in teacher’s clothes – Alex Caputo-Pearl became president of the United Teachers of Los Angeles least year, he talked about the importance of “social movement unionism.” Not surprisingly, socialists are very supportive of his agenda. Socialistworker.org describes him as a “veteran union militant and community organizer” and explains that Caputo-Pearl’s organizing plan includes “… increased member involvement in political action, and putting a priority on linking community-based social justice demands to our contract negotiations.”

And then there is Chicago Teachers Union chief Karen Lewis who, like Peterson and Caputo-Pearl, believes in bringing class warfare into the classroom. As reported by EAG News’ Kyle Olson, she alludes to a “lesson’ that the aforementioned Peterson uses:

‘People always talk about how that there’s no politics and values in math. That you can teach math and there’s no place for social justice. So let me tell you how Bob deals with that,’ Lewis said.

She went on to describe a math story problem about money and the cost of pencils.

‘That’s a very political statement because it’s all about consumerism – it’s about buying stuff, right?

‘Bob Peterson tells them about José working in a factory making piecemeal clothes. He uses the same numbers and gets the same answer. And yes, math is political, too.’

So no, it’s not about unions becoming more responsive to its members, but rather forcing a left-wing agenda down teachers’ – and students’ – throats. In other words, if you are a conservative, moderate, apolitical teacher or just don’t think the unions have any business getting into non-education issues, “Shut up … but keep those dues coming, and be sure to indoctrinate the kids while you are at it!”

The bottom line is that the Bob Petersons, Alex Caputo-Pearls and Karen Lewises of teacher union-world certainly don’t represent all, or even a majority of teachers. And it seems that those who don’t agree with their union’s mandatory work rules and their leader’s strident political philosophies are finding other places to work. As right-to-work laws spread across the land and school choice policies advance, teachers will have more options and won’t be forced to buy the fading teacher union brand.

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.

Fifty States of Right-to-Work?

Elected officials, the courts and John Q. Public are supporting worker freedom these days; teachers unions and other public employee unions are on the run.

Last Monday, Illinois governor Bruce Rauner issued an executive order that, if it stands, will absolve state workers from paying forced dues to a union. As The Wall Street Journal reports, Rauner declared that Illinois’s contracts with public unions “violate the First Amendment by forcing workers to associate with the union against their will.” Rauner instructed all state agencies to keep the workers’ dues in escrow, pending the outcome of a federal court lawsuit that he filed the same day.

Needless to say, the unions and their friends in Springfield aren’t doing cartwheels over his right-to-work (RTW) directive. Even prior to the order, the teachers unions had targeted the recently elected governor. Two weeks ago, Chicago Teachers Union boss Karen Lewis attacked Rauner, accusing him of being (Wisconsin governor) “Scott Walker on steroids.” Also before the announcement, local teacher union lobbyist Matthew Johansson declared that the governor is trying to “destroy us.”

After the announcement, Illinois Education Association president Cinda Klickna said that the attack on “fair share is extremely serious and will be monitored very carefully.” She added, “This attack is clearly intended to weaken the unions that fight for the middle class and for the students who attend our schools. We can’t let that happen.” The Illinois Federation of Teachers referred to the action as a “blatant abuse of power.”

The reality – beyond the union harrumphing and all-around hysteria – is this: In 26 states and D.C., workers are forced to pay unions as a condition of employment. The unions call this “fair share” because they say all workers benefit from their collective bargaining efforts. But if a worker doesn’t want to be part of the collective, he/she still must belong because the union demands monopoly status; a worker is not allowed to bargain on his/her own or hire another party to do so.

Hence RTW is quite simply an individual-rights issue. The workers the unions refer to as “free riders” are really “forced riders.” If you were going from Point A to Point B and wanted to walk, how would you feel if someone told you that you had to take the bus … and, of course, pay for the ride to boot?

Very importantly, not only does RTW liberate workers, it has many other far-reaching benefits. After Michigan became a RTW state in 2012, the West Michigan Policy Forum reported, “… of the 10 states with the highest rate of personal income growth, eight have right-to-work laws. Those numbers are driving a net migration from forced union states: Between 2000 and 2010, five million people moved to right-to-work states from compulsory union states.”

Also, in a new economic profile, the Illinois Policy Institute’s Paul Kersey reports that RTW states are much stronger economically than their forced-dues counterparts:

  • From 2002 to 2012, states with right-to-work laws saw a 7.2 percent increase in payroll employment, compared to a 2 percent increase in other states.
  • As of September 2014, right-to-work states had an average unemployment rate of 5.5 percent, compared to 6 percent in non-right-to-work states.
  • From 2000 to 2010, right-to-work states saw population growth that was twice as fast as that in other states (13.6 percent compared to 7.3 percent).
  • Median wages in right-to-work states appear $4,345 lower than in other states. However, once you take into account cost of living and local taxes, right-to-work state wages rise. In fact, the cost of living is 16.6 percent higher in states without right-to-work laws.
  • Right-to-work economies grew by 62 percent from 2002 to 2012, compared to just 46.5 percent growth in other states.

Much to the unions’ consternation, the RTW movement is picking up momentum across the country. Politico’s Brian Mahoney reports that legislation has been introduced in New Mexico, Missouri, West Virginia and Kentucky.

The bills have already cleared committee hurdles in New Mexico and Missouri. All but the Missouri bill were introduced by Republicans; in Missouri, the measure was introduced by state Rep. Courtney Curtis, a Democrat and an African-American who would limit right to work to the construction industry to combat what he sees as bias in minority contracting. In Kentucky, right-to-work ordinances have been passed in five counties, though it isn’t clear federal law allows the adoption of right to work anywhere except at the state and territorial level. Legal challenges are already underway.

Additionally, the American people are strong supporters of RTW laws. In a poll conducted right before Labor Day last year, Gallup found that 82 percent of Americans agree that “no American should be required to join any private organization, like a labor union, against his will.” Also, as Mike Antonucci reports, by a 2-1 margin – 64 to 32 percent – “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.’”

Much of the recent RTW activity has been undoubtedly spurred by the June 2014 Harris v Quinn Supreme Court decision, in which SCOTUS agreed with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, ruling that homecare workers in Illinois could not be forced to join the Service Employees International Union.

And in the legal on-deck circle is Friedrichs et al v CTA, which is on a path to reach SCOTUS within a few months. This litigation has ten teachers and the Christian Educators Association International – a union alternative – taking on the California Teachers Association with a lawsuit aimed squarely at California’s “agency-shop” law, which forces teachers to pay dues for collective bargaining activities. The Center for Individual Rights is representing the teachers, with help from Jones Day, an international law firm.

So, let’s see – RTW is gaining favor in state houses, the courts and with the citizenry. And please keep in mind, no one is talking about outlawing unions; RTW is simply about making them voluntary associations, just like every other organization in the U.S. Really nothing controversial, unless you are a wolf that preys on workers … all the while pretending to be a shepherd.

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.

Karen Lewis and Chicago’s Illiteracy Problem

After years as a teacher union boss, Karen Lewis is making plans to spread her venom to the rest of the city.

Courtesy of Daniel Greenfield, we are reminded of the ugly fact that almost half of Chicago is illiterate. According to the White House website, 47 percent of Windy City residents cannot read. Additionally, 79 percent of its 8th graders are not proficient in reading and 80 percent are not proficient in math.

There are many reasons for these pathetic numbers. Yes, broken families and the ensuing gang proliferation are factors. But since teachers are the most important factor in student learning and because school is compulsory in Chicago (and everywhere else in the U.S.), one really must look there for the problem. (Just as a side note – before parents were forced to send their kids to public schools, the U.S. had a literacy rate of about 90 percent.)

Because many Chicago public schools (CPS) are so bad, they are being abandoned. Due to declining enrollment, 50 schools closed in 2013 and probably a lot more should have been shuttered.

Enter Karen Lewis. The president of the powerful Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) decided to get busy. Bombastic as always, she came out swinging. Never once does she mention that the unionized schools themselves – with all the attendant anti-child work rules – could be at fault. Nowhere does she acknowledge that her union’s virulent anti-choice position, which forces kids to stay in lousy schools, could be part of the problem. Instead she uses diversionary tactics.

Rich white people are to blame. At the City Club of Chicago in 2013, she blamed the city’s education woes on rich white people. “When will we address the fact that rich, white people think they know what’s in the best interest of children of African Americans and Latinos—no matter what the parent’s income or education level.”

School closings are racist. A CTU rally in 2013 brought out all the usual suspects – the Occupy Chicago contingent, SEIU, members of CORE (Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators), Action Now and a gaggle of anti-capitalism protesters. In a speech delivered to the crowd of approximately 700 gathered in Daley Plaza, Lewis 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 was struggling to deal with an astronomical $1 billion budget deficit. And the schools that were slated to close were either underperforming, underutilized (schools that have far fewer students than their capacity allows) or both. The students whose schools were closed were either placed in charter schools or their closest neighborhood schools.

With an assist from Jeremiah “God damn America” Wright, vilify Arne Duncan. In January, the America-hating former Obama pastor was asked to speak at a breakfast co-hosted by the Chicago Teachers Union to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. Wright sarcastically questioned how Secretary of Education Arne Duncan landed his job — after he “ruined the school system” in Chicago as CEO of schools. (Lewis is also no stranger to Duncan-bashing. In 2011, she was caught on tape by the Education Action Group, cruelly asserting, “You know he went to private school, because if he’d have gone to public school, he’d have had that lisp fixed.”)

Teach for America kills. After the tragic Sandy Hook school shootings, Lewis blamed the successful organization that enlists high-achieving recent college graduates and professionals to teach. Referring to TFA vice-president David Rosenberg, Lewis said “… policies his colleagues support kill and disenfranchise children from schools across this nation.” 

Lewis has also pointed fingers at Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, charter schools and right wing bloggers.

Tired of playing the blame-game, she then offers prescriptions that she insists will put a dent in the booming Chicago illiteracy and innumeracy rate.

Recruit terrorists and communists to the cause – and petition the U.N. CTU and a motley collection of fellow travelers, including terrorist Bill Ayers, unrepentant communist Michael Klonsky and Action Now (ACORN reincarnated) petitioned the United Nations, sending a “letter of allegation” to Geneva asking the international organization to investigate whether  closing the Chicago schools “violates children’s human rights.”

Redesign the curriculum to advance a leftist political agenda. Citing a book written by Bob Peterson, president of the Milwaukee teachers union, Lewis said, “People always talk about how that there’s no politics and values in math. That you can teach math and there’s no place for social justice. So let me tell you how Bob deals with that.” She went on to describe a math story problem about money and the cost of pencils. “That’s a very political statement because it’s all about consumerism – it’s about buying stuff, right? Bob Peterson tells them about José working in a factory making piecemeal clothes. He uses the same numbers and gets the same answer. And yes, math is political, too.”

Stage a strike. In 2012, CTU teachers walked off the job for seven days, returning after some of their demands met. The city did manage to negotiate a longer teaching day – from a nation-leading low of 5.75 hours to 7 hours. But the longer school day didn’t affect current teachers. Instead, the city had to hire 477 additional teachers who had been laid off to work the extra time. With an average salary of $76,000 (not including employee benefits or pensions), Chicago teachers were already among the highest paid in the nation and the new deal included a 7 percent raise over three years, with additional raises for experience and education. While it is unclear that the new contract has served to improve student literacy, there is no doubt that it has had a positive effect on teachers’ wallets.

Where are we now?

Apparently Lewis is not happy enough being a one-woman wrecking-ball in the Chicago public school system. Craving even more power, she is considering a run for mayor and has shoved $40,000 of her own money to jump start the campaign against arch-enemy Rahm Emmanuel. But hey, she can easily afford that. Lewis pulls in over $200,000 a year and, with her husband, owns three homes including a dacha in Hawaii. Not too shabby for a socialist-leaning woman of the people.

But of course, in politics $40,000 won’t go far. So union crony Randi Weingarten has offered Lewis a $1,000,000 gift should she decide to run.

As union president, Chicagoans have had no choice but to put up with Karen Lewis. But should she run for mayor in 2015, they will indeed have a say. And in August, a Chicago Tribune poll showed that she was running 4 percentage points (43-39) ahead of Rahm Emmanuel.

Unfortunately, the poll didn’t determine the percentage of her voters who are illiterate.

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.

Chicago Teachers Union and Friends Become UNglued

An ill wind blows hot air in the Windy City.

Like Detroit, Chicago is a city in dire fiscal straits – it is depopulating and its debt is in the stratosphere. The school system alone, hardly a crown jewel, is dealing with a $1 billion deficit. For a variety of reasons, the city’s student population has been dwindling since the 1960s, and in March the school district announced its plan to close 54 sparsely populated campuses. (The number has since been revised to 49.) As RiShawn Biddle wrote at the time,

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, including 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.

Needless to say, the local and national teachers unions are horrified by the closings, but as a fact sheet released by the Chicago Public School system (CPS) points out, the action is necessary and will have little impact on the city’s kids.

The story was on the back-burner for a while but was rekindled in June when Chicago Teacher Union (CTU) President Karen I-never-fail-to-be-offensive Lewis, went on a tear and blamed “rich white people” for the educational woes of minority kids. But as Juan Williams points out,

The latest statistics show only 63 percent of Chicago public school students graduating in 2013 and that is an increase over recent years. Among the city’s 8th grade students, 79 percent are not at reading level. Meanwhile, Lewis’ union has made Chicago’s public school teachers’ salaries among the highest in the nation at an annual average of $74,839.

But the only school reform Lewis advocates is higher taxes on Chicago’s property owners and she describes it as a tax hike on upper-income whites. She also wants new taxes on all financial transfers as well as a commuter tax, which she concludes will principally impact, once again, the target of her anger, well-to-do whites.

Lewis, a black woman and highly educated Dartmouth graduate, also argued that the city’s white, Jewish mayor, Rahm Emanuel, his aides and the city’s “venture capitalists” are guilty of using “little black and brown children as stage props at one press conference while announcing they want to fire, layoff or lock up their parents at another press conference.”

Then, in mid-July, CPS took another hit when the city announced it would have to lay off another 2,100 teachers and support staff, bringing the total number of pink slips to 3,600 in two months. As usual, Lewis aimed her arrows outside the bloated and wasteful school system itself for solutions and came up with …yawn …. raising the state income tax.

… ballooning pension and labor costs, and billion dollar deficit, could be solved if the state would simply raise its income tax and start giving the new money to Chicago schools.

We need to close some corporate loopholes.  We need to look at a financial transaction tax.  

We also need to go to Springfield to get rid of this regressive flat tax.  We need a progressive income tax. 

At the same time, CTU involved itself in a bizarre stratagem. The union and a motley collection of fellow travelers, including terrorist Bill Ayers, unrepentant communist Michael Klonsky and Action Now (ACORN reincarnated) petitioned the United Nations, sending a “letter of allegation” to Geneva asking the international organization to investigate whether the closing of 49 Chicago schools “violates children’s human rights.” Seriously. You can’t make this stuff up.

“The United Nations taking this issue up and giving it serious attention will really bring home to Chicago and the United States that there are violations occurring here of human rights, potentially, not just about a budget crisis,” said Sital Kalantry, the University of Chicago law professor who filed the letter on behalf of the Midwest Coalition for Human Rights.

Apparently, the fact that the United Nations – thankfully – has no influence over internal American affairs is not of interest to these folks. Their entreaty to the UN is especially ironic considering the world body’s own appalling record on human rights. Most notably, Sudan – with its long history of slavery continuing to this day – is on the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Additionally, the proud slave-owning country was laughably and tragically represented on the UN Commission on Human Rights until that body disbanded in 2006.

Obviously the UN isn’t much concerned with things like slavery. So what does this august body do for humanity? Right about the time the CTU and pals submitted their petition, the UN was busy passing a resolution declaring November 19thWorld Toilet Day.” This solemn recognition joins a host of UN efforts to be really important and make a difference in the world. Other “days” it acknowledges are “International Mountain Day” (December 11th), “World Migratory Bird Day” (May 11th) and “World Television Day” (November 21st).

Rumor has it that when the Chicago folks realize the UN is as serious about human rights as a clown college, they will move on, undaunted, to examine other options. As such, Bashar al-Assad, the Castro brothers, Robert Mugabe and Kim Jung Un are advised to keep their cell phones charged.

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.

Red – and I Do Mean Red – Herrings of the Left

June – Father’s Day, Flag Day, weddings … and loopy ideas on poverty.

Last September I wrote about those who believe that poverty causes ignorance and how we must “fix” poverty before we can fix education. I suggested that maybe, just maybe, a good education is the best antidote to poverty and that school choice is the best way to ensure a good education.

In the ensuing months, having heard little from the “povertists” – who are frequently of the socialist persuasion – I hoped that the lame poverty excuse had disappeared, but silly me. Like a disease that goes into remission but never actually disappears, it’s baaack. With a vengeance.

The pedantic, lifelong socialist Deborah Meier drearily proclaims in Education Week that poverty is the root of all our education woes.

Then there is David Sirota, who at one time was an aide to socialist congressman from Vermont (now socialist senator) Bernie Sanders. Sirota declares that school reformers “are full of it.” Then playing the poverty card, he asserts, “Poor schools underperform largely because of economic forces….” Sirota really outdoes himself in the last paragraph of his Salon.com screed, where he lectures us:

Reality, though, is finally catching up with the “reform” movement’s propaganda. With poverty and inequality intensifying, a conversation about the real problem is finally starting to happen. And the more education “reformers” try to distract from it, the more they will expose the fact that they aren’t driven by concern for kids but by the ugliest kind of greed the kind that feigns concerns for kids in order to pad the corporate bottom line.

David Berliner, a longtime povertist, education professor and, not surprisingly, winner of the National Education Association’s Friend of Education award, announces on the California Federation of Teachers website that there is no education crisis, but rather an “unequal economy.”

But just when the socialists’ monotonous rants are beginning to have a narcotizing effect, Karen Lewis comes to the rescue. Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, never misses an opportunity to be offensive. She was in fine form speaking at the City Club of Chicago last week, blaming the Windy City’s education woes on “rich white people.” Perhaps she had to stress “white people” because as an African-American union boss, Lewis has a yearly income of $157,594, which most Americans consider above the “rich” threshold. (Interestingly her second-in-command at CTU, Jesse Sharkey, a leading member of the revolutionary International Socialist Organization, makes “only” $111,762. In the socialist world, how can this disparity exist? And these two really need to have a talk with American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, whose total income for 2011 was $560,549. Perhaps this is what Berliner meant when he referred to the “unequal economy.” But I digress….)

Despite the socialists’ tedious mantra, there are facts that disprove every claim they make. For example, charter schools are publicly funded but are much more independent than traditional public schools, and far more often than not, they do a better job of educating the poor. In Chicago’s charters (not unionized), where almost all the students are minority and below the poverty line, they easily outperform traditional public schools. The Illinois Policy Institute informs us that,

Charter school students, like other students in CPS, primarily come from low-income backgrounds (91 percent qualify for free or reduced lunch), represent mostly racial minorities (60 percent African-American, 35 percent Hispanic), and must overcome a range of challenges (9 percent English Language Learners, 12 percent special needs). They are not untouched by the violence plaguing many of the city’s neighborhoods. And, yet, despite all of these obstacles, they are succeeding.

In 2012, charter schools held the top nine spots for open-enrollment, non-selective public high schools in Chicago. Another charter school ended up in a three-way tie for tenth. The Noble Network of Charter Schools led the pack, with a total of nine schools in the top 10, one of which was included in the tie. The average ACT score for charter schools in the top 10 was 20.6, with Noble Network’s UIC College Prep campus scoring 21.9 – the highest-ever average at an open-enrollment, non-selective CPS high school.

Not only are charter schools outperforming their peers on the ACT, a comparison of Chicago’s top 10 charter high schools to the top 10 open-enrollment, non-selective, traditional public high schools shows that charter schools’ pace of improvement is significantly greater. Since 2007, top charter school scores have increased by 17 percent, while the top traditional schools have gained nearly 5 percent.

Where does Ms. Lewis stand on charters? She doesn’t consider them to be “real schools.” As Investor’s Business Daily reports,

Lewis is … no fan of charter schools, despite the fact Chicago’s charters regularly outperform their public school cousins. In 2012, nine of the top 10 performers were charter schools based on the ACT scores of their students.

Of course when you mention things like charter schools, liberals like Lewis say they get to cherry-pick their students. Yet some 60% of Chicago charter-school students are minorities and 35% are Hispanic.

Ninety-one percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Doesn’t sound like cherry-picking to us.

Also, as I wrote last month, more and more parents are favoring vouchers, whereby parents can choose to send their kid to a private school and the funding follows the child.

… the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice released the results of a national survey in which mothers (and others) were asked how they viewed vouchers and other forms of school choice. The findings show that moms make up the demographic most likely to favor school vouchers:

… 66 percent of moms with school-age children support vouchers for all students to obtain the best education possible. Mothers with school-age children also have more confidence in private school settings than in traditional public schools.

How have vouchers fared where they have been instituted?

In April, Greg Forster, also of the Friedman Foundation, released the third in a series of reports on school choice which includes vouchers and, to a lesser extent, educational savings accounts and tax credit scholarships: “A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice.” Just a few of the key findings:

  • Twelve empirical studies have examined academic outcomes for school choice participants using random assignment, the “gold standard” of social science. Of these, 11 find that choice improves student outcomes—six that all students benefit and five that some benefit and some are not affected. One study finds no visible impact. No empirical study has found a negative impact.
  • Eight empirical studies have examined school choice and racial segregation in schools. Of these, seven find that school choice moves students from more segregated schools into less segregated schools. One finds no net effect on segregation from school choice. No empirical study has found that choice increases racial segregation.
  • Seven empirical studies have examined school choice’s impact on civic values and practices such as respect for the rights of others and civic knowledge. Of these, five find that school choice improves civic values and practices. Two find no visible impact from school choice. No empirical study has found that school choice has a negative impact on civic values and practices. (Emphasis added.)

What is the takeaway here?

Despite what the self-righteous socialists, teachers union leaders and their fellow travelers claim, competition works. When schools compete for students, education gets better. And getting a good education is paramount to getting out of poverty. Those who deny public education’s failings and use poverty as an excuse – no matter what their intentions might be – are working to keep the poor in their place and destroy children’s lives. Shame on 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 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.