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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.

Being Open About Financial Support is the Smartest Policy

I recently admonished former U.S. Department of Education undersecretary Diane Ravitch for making what I considered sexist remarks seeking to discredit former CNN journalist Campbell Brown’s credibility on education issues. Brown founded New York’s Parent Transparency Project and is championing the newly formed Partnership for Educational Justice, dedicated to supporting the latest challenge to overturn teacher employment and dismissal laws, including tenure.

Following the successful outcome of the Vergara v. California lawsuit, in which nine California students – backed by Silicon Valley tech millionaire Dave Welch – challenged five teacher employment and dismissal laws as unconstitutional, the Partnership quickly filed a copycat lawsuit, Wright v. New York.

But something rather awkward happened in Brown’s first media appearance, on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report.” When questioned by host Stephen Colbert, she refused to identify who was funding the effort. There is no law mandating disclosure. But in politics, perception becomes reality, and the electorate sides with sunshine in understanding money trails. “What’s to hide?” they wonder.

It’s not easy, or cheap, to challenge the education status quo. It takes money to challenge the most powerful special interest blocking education reform – teachers unions – who command auspicious war chests. In California, this amounts to some $300 million annually, a good portion of which is spent to prevent erosion of teacher employment protections.

It’s estimated that Vergara cost the plaintiffs’ side upward of $3 million – underwritten by wealthy individuals – referred to as “limousine liberals” by critics. While politically connected donors may be motivated by varying interests, the end result is the same: Kids (who don’t pay union dues) succeed when laws are changed that put their interests first.

So why not just acknowledge that it takes money to fight money? Yet, Brown – married to a conservative GOP donor – blundered when Colbert pressed her to identify her money train. During the taping, several moms peacefully protested outside, waving handmade placards decrying Brown’s efforts. These moms were likely aligned with teachers unions, but they had every right to challenge her.

Brown declined to identify her donors, saying, “I’m not gonna reveal who the donors are because the [protesters are] trying to silence our parents who want to have a voice in this debate.” It didn’t take long for her opponents to emphasize she was the one speaking on national television. Brown elaborated, “[Opponents are] going to go after people who are funding this, and I think this is a good cause … and if someone wants to contribute to this cause without having to put their name on it so they can become a target of the … [protesters] then I respect that.”

Be honest and transparent with the public, Campbell. Those big donors aren’t exactly helpless, and protecting the injection of “secret, dark money” in any campaign only backfires. We just saw a court challenge in California over big money from unidentified sources influencing a 2012 ballot initiative I actually supported on its merits. Sadly, the “dark” money hurt the cause because the opposition successfully maneuvered public opinion to focus on the money trail, not the issue. Silence won’t help the cause. Open up the books.

About the Author:  Gloria Romero, a Los Angeles resident, served in the California Legislature from 1998 to 2008, the last seven years as Senate majority leader. This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register and is republished here with permission from the author.

The Strange Politics of Education Reform

… where conservatives demand change and many alleged progressives, including teacher union elites, are really reactionary.

While this may be old news to some, it can’t be said enough: In our polarized times, education reform is the only truly bipartisan issue, whereas with other matters things invariably break down into Republican vs. Democrat, liberal vs. conservative, libertarian vs. conservative (social issues), libertarian vs. liberal (fiscal issues), etc. 

But in the world of edu-politics, folks from the conservative Heritage Foundation have made common cause with their counterparts at the libertarian Reason Foundation with plenty of room in the big tent for Democrats for Education Reform (DFER).  

Though not the main theme of an excellent blog post, “Grabbing the Bull By The Horns: Cuomo, Nutter and the Backlash Against Making Sh*t Up,” DFER executive director Joe Williams indirectly points to the odd political bedfellows who are pushing for much needed changes in education.

Williams begins his piece by writing, 

If you’ve ever been the subject of a blog-tirade by either of the Klonsky Brothers or Leo Casey, you understand that these old school reactionaries have made decades-long careers out of pushing bogus propaganda for their cause, i.e. they make sh*t up and hope that nobody calls them on it. 

The joke here is that both Casey and the Klonsky brothers come from Marxist backgrounds but really are, when it comes to education reform, not progressives but reactionaries – fervently protective of the status quo – blindly pro-union, claiming that more money will solve our education woes, all the while fighting against every meaningful way of improving the system. 

On the other hand, we have some big city liberal mayors who are trying to do the right thing in tough fiscal times. Chicago’s Rahm Emanuel, Philadelphia’s Michael Nutter and New York’s Andrew Cuomo have closed some poorly attended failing schools. So what’s the problem? The teachers unions in those cities, who profess to be all about the kids, social justice and progressivism, pound the table and insist that our outdated 19th Century Prussian-style zip-code mandated school system continue without any innovation, just more money. These unions desperately fight to maintain the status quo and snuff any real reform – charter schools, vouchers, online schools, etc. As such, it’s time we start tarring union leaders with the reactionary brush. 

And while we are talking reactionaries, perhaps their poster child should be Diane Ravitch. She was a liberal before she became conservative before she became a progressive, but she’s really a reactionary. (She is wrong about so much that she should get an award for “Yes I can make this sh*t up.”) In fact, researcher Jay Greene set aside an entire week on his blog to debunk her endless reactionary blather, which he titled “Ravitch is Wrong Week.” 

And as I wrote last week, Louisiana’s Republican governor Bobby Jindal is trying to do his best for kids by expanding his state’s popular voucher program, only to be slapped down by the allegedly progressive Eric Holder. In reality, our attorney general is doing his best to emulate George Wallace, the segregationist and reactionary former governor of Alabama. 

Then there are those whom the teachers unions love to hurl “right wing” epithets at, like the admittedly conservative Heritage Foundation. There, policy expert Lindsey Burke regularly promotes various decidedly un-reactionary reforms – vouchers, tax credits, education savings accounts, etc. Sounds like Ms. Burke is trying to get us out of a complacent, dare I say, reactionary rut. 

Meanwhile, over at the Reason Foundation the decidedly un-reactionary director of education Lisa Snell regularly writes about the importance and benefits of school choice. 

We live in a time where the biggest enemies of change are the teachers unions. They and their fellow travelers espouse progressivism but in reality are clinging to a moribund education system that’s desperately in need of fundamental change. So I guess when you want to get things done in edu-world, look to those who are truly trying to effect real change – conservatives, libertarians and DFER-type liberals, not reactionaries in progressive clothing.

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

The Parent Revolution and the Ancien Régime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just where are we now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

School Threat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Huh?

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

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

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

Here is my lifelong wish for him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps Whitney Tilson said it best in an email:

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

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

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

Leonie Haimson: Teacher Union Advocate

Is it okay for a “parent advocate” to send her kids to a private school while maintaining that your kids remain in a failing government run school?

Last week, via the blogosphere, we learned that education reform leader Michelle Rhee sends one of her two kids to a private school. One post asks the question, “Should we care?”

The answer is, “Of course not.”

Through StudentsFirst, Rhee champions the best education opportunities for all kids whether they be traditional public, charter or private schools. Additionally, she is in favor of vouchers or opportunity scholarships. As chancellor of Washington D.C. schools from 2007-2010, she sent her kids to a public school. But now one of her two daughters (both of whom live in Tennessee with her first husband) goes to a private school. Hence, she is not doing anything for her own kids that she wouldn’t advocate for any other parent.

Then we have “parent advocate” Leonie Haimson. As reported by the GothamSchools blog last week,

Leonie Haimson’s career as a New York City education activist started when her older child was assigned to a first-grade class with 28 other students. That was in 1996, and since then, Haimson has advocated for public school parents — through her organization, Class Size Matters; the blog and online mailing lists she runs; and the national parent group she helped launch.

But her personal stake changed last summer, when Haimson ceased to be a public school parent. Her younger child started at a private high school in September, following a trajectory from public to private school that her older child, now an adult, also took.

If it’s okay for activist Rhee to send one of her kids to a private school, why not activist Haimson? The answer is that Haimson, founder of Class Size Matters, who also fronts a faux parent advocacy group called Parents Across America, doesn’t want your kids to have the same opportunity that hers do. She is anti-charter, anti-voucher, anti-any choice and wants to force your kids to stay in public schools no matter how awful they may be. In other words, she is a hypocrite. As an editorial in the New York Post states,

Guess who sends her kids to private school when they reach high school age? That’s right: longtime public school parent-activist Leonie Haimson.

Fine by us. Like any parent, she’s entitled to do what’s best for her children — and private schools by and large provide more, and often better, choices for city kids.

But what about parents who want similar choices yet don’t have the resources? Increasingly, they turn to charter schools — public schools with more rigorous standards and non-union staffs.

… Haimson specifically cites her pet issue: smaller class sizes in private schools. (She runs the group Class Size Matters.) Yet, even though charters often have smaller classes, she continues to fight them.

Haimson is also against colocating charters in traditional public school space, despite the fact that charters don’t receive public funds to build or lease facilities.

What the Post editorial doesn’t mention is that Haimson is a member in good standing of the National Education Association Church, which is hardly surprising since she is in part bankrolled by the union. She consistently mouths teacher union dogma – bashing school choice, defending tenure and seniority, insisting that smaller classes are the sine qua non of reform – and even has gone so far as to defend the Chicago Teachers Union and its outrageous strike last September.

As Democrats for Education Reform president Joe Williams said,

She keeps choosing to defend the same awful schools she would never allow her kids to attend.

Not surprisingly, Diane Ravitch, who is on the Class Size Matters board and has been paid handsomely as an NEA spokesperson, rushed to defend Haimson with some incoherent comments:

You can see why powerful people would want to discredit her. She is a force, she has a large following, and she threatens them.

Consider the premise of the article: only public school parents may advocate for public schools.

This is classic corporate reform ideology. Corporate reformers use this specious ideology to argue for the parent trigger, claiming that the school belongs to the parents and they should be “empowered” to seize control and give it to a charter corporation.

Classic corporate reform ideology? Huh?!

Perhaps Dropout Nation’s RiShawn Biddle sums it up best,

… it is nice to see GothamSchools’ Geoff Decker do stellar work in breaking news yesterday on this contradiction between Haimson’s public criticism of expanding school choice and her very private decision to embrace it. And even nicer to see how her fellow traditionalists (including Ravitch) are attempting to justify her … instead of arguing for providing poor and minority families with the range of options to which Haimson (along with many of them) avails herself. This matter speaks louder than words to their amorality and intellectual charlatanism.

One other thing. Wondering about the name of Haimson’s organization Class Size Matters? In most cases it doesn’t.  But gross hypocrisy always does.

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.

Outsiderophobia

A mental disorder has come to California, but for the afflicted — mostly teacher union types — it manifests itself in a partisan way.

Voters were not swayed by outsiders and their millions…The public wants Board members who will listen to the community—not be beholden to their billionaire benefactors.

So harrumphed an indignant and self-righteous Warren Fletcher, president of the United Teachers of Los Angeles. This was in response to the fact that New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg poured $1 million into the LA school board races which essentially pitted reform candidates against those supported by the teachers union. And Fletcher’s was hardly a lone voice.

On the Huffington Post, John Thompson, whose bio reads “Award-winning historian and inner-city teacher,” wrote a barely coherent, paranoid black ops rant claiming that some reformers’ theories “are so silly that many teachers worry that their real plan is to privatize schools.” He then goes on to say,

Anthony Cody, in “Yes, Virginia, There Really IS a Billionaires Boys Club,” wrote recently about the influx of cash being sent to Los Angeles by billionaires like Eli Broad and Mike Bloomberg. While it may be legal for billionaires “to, in effect, buy up local school board races,” Cody argues, it is inconsistent with the spirit of our democracy’s principles of public education.

For the uninitiated, Cody is a devout anti-reformer who has joined forces with the embarrassing teacher union BFF Diane Ravitch. Together they have just launched The Network for Public Education. Proudly touting the new organization, Cody wrote in Education Week,

We will support candidates willing to stand tall for our public schools. We will help them mobilize support on the ground to make sure that, as in Los Angeles, their message is not drowned out by TV ads bought by billionaires.

He then quoted a statement released at the organization’s launch,

We have had enough of school closures, and the rapid expansion of selective charter schools…High-stakes testing takes the joy out of learning. It crushes creativity and critical thinking, the very qualities our society needs most for success in the 21st century.

So testing, charter schools and billionaires – especially the outsider genus – are the problem, you see. And of course Ravitch, Cody and their ilk are against closing any public schools no matter how awful they are, no matter how empty they are because parents refuse to send their children there. How thoughtful and compassionate! (And talk about critical thinking, Cody and Ravitch may be critical, but come up way short on “thinking.” And as for “creativity,” they are of the Luddite variety.)

Ultimately, the real issue here is not the tired “anti-outsider” shtick, but that it is very selective in nature. The whine of every status quo-loving anti-reformer who rails against outsider money neglects the 400 lb. gorilla sitting at the head of the table – the teachers unions. To wit, the American Federation of Teachers, a D.C. based teachers union, gave $150,000 to one of the anti-reformers in the same election in Los Angeles that had Fletcher’s knickers in a twist. The same AFT gave over $4 million to the successful “Yes on Prop. 30” campaign, which raised taxes on all Californians. After Governor Scott Walker and the state legislature killed collective bargaining in Wisconsin, the D.C. based National Education Association sent its chief of staff, John Stocks, to the Badger State as a lobbyist. Both NEA and AFT insert themselves into state and local politics all over the country by throwing millions of dollars at candidates, initiatives and lobbying efforts that support their self-serving agenda whenever and wherever they can. But not a peep about this from Fletcher, Thompson, Cody or Ravitch. Outsiderophobia is indeed a partisan affliction.

With all the caterwauling about “outsiders,” finding a non-hysterical POV is difficult. But alas, in a Los Angeles Daily News op-ed, former LA school board members, Marlene Canter and Yolie Flores write,

When people with no vested, personal interest in the outcome try to help elect reform-minded candidates, they are branded as “outsiders” who are trying to “buy elections.” This is perplexing. These individuals have a longstanding interest in closing the opportunity gap for poor kids and kids of color, and improving educational achievement for all students.

Personally, they stand to gain exactly nothing if the candidates they are supporting get elected. They’re willing to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to improving education, and their participation is critical for leveling the playing field and keeping these school board races competitive. Yet, when “insiders” who do have a vested, personal interest in the outcome contribute significant funding, this is somehow seen as more acceptable. (Emphasis added.)

Let us address the most obvious issue in these elections: the teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles. Teachers have an absolute right to organize, to collectively bargain, and to make their case for who they believe the best candidate would be. However, they have historically often been the only voice determining who the best board member would be.

Precisely.

Mayor Bloomberg’s donation came from someone who has nothing personally to gain by the outcome of the school board election in LA. He gave the money because he is interested in furthering meaningful education reform. The teacher unions’ goal is to maintain the failing status quo, and child-centered education reforms are not a part of it. Despite the common sense shown by Canter and Flores, I’m afraid that selective outsiderophobia has taken root in California and will probably metastasize to the rest of the country.

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

School Choice for Kids? Ravitch and NEA Say No

Widely discredited ex-reformer and teachers union try to deny families a fundamental right.

Diane Ravitch has yet again exposed herself as an unserious spokesperson for the sclerotic anti-education reform movement. This crowd is made up of people – typically special interests – bureaucrats, teachers unions, etc. – who desperately cling to the ridiculous notion that children are best served if they are forced to go to the school nearest their home, no matter how lousy it may be. And Part 2 of this bad scenario is that the same folks insist that we throw endless piles of cash at that school even though tripling funds for education in the last 40 years has had no effect on improving it.

In a recent op-ed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Ravitch did her darndest to make the case for maintaining the top-down, one-size-fits-all, centrally planned, expensive, bureaucratically bloated, failing school system that so many families in Milwaukee seek to escape. She claims that,

Milwaukee has had voucher schools since 1990, longer than any school district in the nation. Students in the voucher schools perform no better than those in the public schools.

Milwaukee has had charter schools for about 20 years. Students in the charter schools do no better than those in the public schools.

Ravitch, of course, is famous for never letting facts get in the way of her agenda. In a rebuttal in the same newspaper, researchers Patrick Wolf and John Witte say,

…students participating in the Milwaukee Parental Choice (“voucher”) Program graduated from high school and both enrolled and persisted in four-year colleges at rates that were four to seven percentage points higher than a carefully matched set of students in Milwaukee Public Schools. Using the most conservative 4% voucher advantage from our study, that means that the 801 students in ninth grade in the voucher program in 2006 included 32 extra graduates who wouldn’t have completed high school and gone to college if they had instead been required to attend MPS.

While the charter school data isn’t quite as dramatic as the voucher figures, studies show that charters also do a better job of educating kids in Milwaukee. Very importantly, Wolf and Witte point out,

Average per-pupil taxpayer costs of students in MPS were $15,969 in fiscal year 2011 compared to just $9,718 for independent charter schools and less than $6,442 per voucher student. Economist Robert Costrell determined that the operation of the voucher program alone saved the public over $52 million in fiscal year 2011.

So even if Ravitch is right, that school choice in Milwaukee makes no difference academically, isn’t it preferable to get the same results while spending a whole lot less? Maybe one day Ravitch will take a stab at answering that question, but I’m not holding my breath.

The National Education Association also needs to be taken to the woodshed. Those oh-so-clever folks at union-central have a page on their website which they call “Five Talking Points on Vouchers.” It begins,

What have you got against private school vouchers?” your brother-in-law demands over Sunday dinner. Ah, if he only knew the facts. Next time someone puts you on the spot, use these talking points to debunk the most popular voucher claims.

The “facts” according to the NEA are:

NEA: There’s no link between vouchers and gains in student achievement.

Truth: Greg Forster at the Friedman Foundation examined all available empirical studies and found that,

Ten empirical studies have used random assignment, the gold standard of social science, to examine how vouchers affect participants. Nine studies find that vouchers improve student outcomes, six that all students benefit and three that some benefit and some are not affected. One study finds no visible impact. None of these studies finds a negative impact.

NEA: Claiming that private schools have autonomy, they say that, “Vouchers undermine accountability for public funds.”

Truth: What NEA doesn’t tell you is that in many places public schools have no accountability at all. If a public school fails, what happens? Typically the school doesn’t “go out of business” the way private schools do. Instead, reacting to heavy pressure from the teachers unions, state legislatures will keep the failing schools afloat and demand that taxpayers pony up more money because “we owe it to the children.”

NEA: Vouchers do not reduce public education costs.

Truth: This is an outrageous lie. As shown above, charters in Milwaukee do the job for 60 cents on the dollar and vouchers for about 40 cents on the dollar. Granted these numbers are specific to Milwaukee, but there is little difference on the national level.

NEA: Vouchers do not give parents real educational choice.

Truth:  They give everyone involved a choice. The claim here is that private schools “discriminate.” Okay, so what? If a certain school won’t accept little Johnny because he has an asthmatic condition that the school doesn’t have the medical wherewithal to deal with, a parent will have to go find a private school that is more suitable. Yes, in a free system of school choice, schools and parents can pick and choose each other without coercion.

NEA: The public disapproves of vouchers.

Truth: Because of intense propaganda by teachers unions and other special interests, the public has been skeptical of vouchers, but that is changing. According to the Center for Education Reform, there are now 21 states that have voucher programs. And very importantly, once a state institutes school choice, it doesn’t change back to a non-choice policy. (Choice does well elsewhere. France and Canada have partial choice set-ups, while 90 percent of Chilean students utilize such a system. And Sweden has free choice for every child in the country.) Additionally, researcher Herbert Walberg recently wrote,

In big cities, as many as 80 percent of public school parents say they would send their children to parochial or independent schools if they could afford tuition. Scholarships for poor families are heavily oversubscribed, as are charter schools, which are government-funded but run by private boards.

As we head into National School Choice Week, it is important to listen to the voices of those families who are desperately trying to get a better education for their children. And for Ravitch and her union buddies – history will relegate them to the dustbins they so richly deserve. It can’t happen too soon.

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.

National School Choice Week will be celebrated Jan. 27-Feb.2 this year.

Thoughts on Reactions to the Sandy Hook Tragedy

Teacher union leaders offer heat but no light after the mass murder in Newtown.

In the aftermath of the December 14th mass murder of 26 children and school staffers in Newtown, Connecticut, there has been the understandable finger pointing and a full range of suggestions for ensuring that such a horror doesn’t happen again.

On the lunatic end of the spectrum we have teacher union apologist Diane Ravitch, the formerly venerable education historian, who took up residence in the land of Bizarro several years ago.

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

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

Ravitch’s loopy rant is Rahm Emanuel’s “Never let a good crisis go to waste” philosophy taken to an obscene level. And when in response, Teach For America V.P. and self-described “lefty Dem” David Rosenberg took Ravitch to task, Chicago Teacher Union president Karen Lewis (perhaps shocked that someone could outdo her in the outrageous comment category) weighed in with,

There might have been a time where “politicizing” tragic events, especially mass shootings was thought to be in poor taste. That has changed with the 24/7 news cycle that continues to focus far too much time and energy on the perpetrator of the massacre than that of our precious victims. Rosenberg’s “false outrage” needs to be checked. That same false outrage should show itself when policies his [TEACH FOR AMERICA*] colleagues support kill and disenfranchise children from schools across this nation. (Emphasis added.) We in Chicago have been the victims of their experiments on our children since the current secretary of Education “ran” CPS.

Yes, you read that correctly. Lewis is saying that TFA, an organization that places exceptional, idealistic young teacher-leaders in the most challenging schools in the country is responsible for killing kids. After uttering those shameful words, Lewis should resign in disgrace.

Then we have a rare joint statement issued by the leaders of the two national teachers unions – the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. NEA’s Dennis Van Roekel and AFT’s Randi Weingarten came out with a press release with a sub-head which reads: “Focus Needs to Be on Investments in Mental Health Services, Reasonable Gun Safety Legislation.”

In the body of the brief statement they say,

Long-term and sustainable school safety also requires a commitment to preventive measures. We must continue to do more to prevent bullying in our schools. And we must dramatically expand our investment in mental health services. Proper diagnosis can and often starts in our schools, yet we continue to cut funding for school counselors, school social workers, and school psychologists. States have cut at least $4.35 billion in public mental health spending from 2009 to 2012, according to the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors. It is well past time to reverse this trend and ensure that these services are available and accessible to those who need our support.

While this may sound good, it has nothing to do with what happened in Connecticut. The shooter had been identified as having a type of autism, perhaps Asperger’s; he had been assigned to a high-school psychologist and there have been no reports that he was bullied. So this statement is really nothing more than a pitch to advance the teachers union agenda of spending ever more money on education.

The other part of the press release deals with guns:

Our duty to every child is to provide safe and secure public schools. That is the vow we take as educators. It is both astounding and disturbing that following this tragedy, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, Bill Bennett, and other politicians and pundits have taken to the airwaves to call for arming our teachers. As the rest of the country debates how to keep guns out of schools, some are actually proposing bringing more guns in, turning our educators into objects of fear and increasing the danger in our schools.

Guns have no place in our schools. Period. We must do everything we can to reduce the possibility of any gunfire in schools, and concentrate on ways to keep all guns off school property and ensure the safety of children and school employees.

Not surprisingly the union leaders are out of touch with reality, at least the current reality in California. When I was a classroom teacher in Los Angeles, my middle school had a gun carrying school cop on campus every day. And my school is hardly unique. In fact, the state education code allows for an armed presence on any campus on an “as needed” basis. Given the current mood, I’m guessing that more parents will start demanding that their kid’s campus have armed cops for security. In fact, in a recent Gallup poll, when asked if increasing the police presence at schools would be an effective way to stop mass shootings at schools, 87 percent said that it would be very or somewhat effective.

And I think we need to go one step further. I would like to see a few armed teachers at every school. These volunteers would go through a rigorous background check and proper police-type training and then should be allowed to anonymously carry a concealed weapon on campus.

Despite the union leaders’ comments, there is no way to effectively keep schools as “gun free zones.” As David Kopel writes, these are nothing more than “pretend gun free zones.”

Real gun-free zones are a wonderful idea, but they are only real if they are created by metal detectors backed up by armed guards. Pretend gun-free zones, where law-abiding adults (who pass a fingerprint-based background check and a safety training class) are still disarmed, are magnets for evildoers who know they will be able to murder at will with little threat of being fired upon.

Kopel’s point was demonstrated in the Aurora, CO movie theater shooting. As John Lott explains,

So why did the killer pick the Cinemark theater? You might think that it was the one closest to the killer’s apartment. Or, that it was the one with the largest audience.

Yet, neither explanation is right. Instead, out of all the movie theaters within 20 minutes of his apartment showing the new Batman movie that night, it was the only one where guns were banned. (Emphasis added.) In Colorado, individuals with permits can carry concealed handgun in most malls, stores, movie theaters, and restaurants. But private businesses can determine whether permit holders can carry guns on their private property.

The perspective that has been lost in the aftermath of this tragedy is that guns are used to keep our most important things safe – our cities, banks, courthouses, etc. In fact, armed marshals are placed anonymously on many airplane flights to safeguard us and our children. So why do many insist that our most important and precious assets – our children – be completely defenseless?  President Obama’s kids have armed protection at school. Don’t all our kids deserve the same?

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.

Visitors from Outer Space and Their Strange Ideas About Education Reform

There are those among us who think that teachers unions, collective bargaining and peer assistance review are the way to a better education for kids. They look like earthlings, but in fact are extraterrestrials.

As the year draws to a close, newspapers, magazines and blogs are filled with best of and worst of lists that deal with everything imaginable. The Hoover Institution’s Koret Task Force got on the bandwagon early and posted Best and Worst in American Education, 2011 in November. All solid stuff. Can a reformer not be happy about the Parent Trigger being raked over the coals, yet surviving, or that many of Michelle Rhee’s reforms are still in place despite leaving her post as D.C. Schools Chancellor after a major push from the American Federation of Teachers? On the worst list, the Task Force includes the Atlanta teacher cheating scandal and the union-orchestrated overturn of Ohio’s recent anti-collective bargaining law.

Then lo and behold, we received a dispatch from Planet Ravitch on December 23rd. (Most people are not aware that shortly after astronomers ruled that Pluto was not a planet in 2006, a new planet would be identified. And it is inhabited!) The people who live on this celestial body (named after Diane Ravitch, a former reformer who turned into a champion of the failing status quo) are afflicted with a dyslexic-like condition: they have the entire education reform picture exactly backwards. The way to true reform is to hold their ideas up to a mirror with the resulting image revealing the best way to proceed.

Washington Post education “reporter” and blogger Valerie Strauss, whom Whitney Tilson rightfully refers to as Diane Ravitch’s mouthpiece, gave over her space last week to fellow Ravitchian Richard Kahlenberg. According to his bio, he is, among other things,

“…an authority on teachers’ unions, private school vouchers, charter schools, turnaround school efforts, and inequality in higher education.”

An authority on teachers unions? Maybe on Planet Ravitch, but he made a bad mistake when in Education Next he engaged especially wise earthling Jay Greene on unions and collective bargaining.

As you would expect, Kahlenberg gets everything backwards in his post. On his worst of list, he accused Terry Moe, author of Special Interest, a brilliant study of the teachers unions, of making “little sense.” (Kahlenberg apparently can’t tell the difference between a teacher and a teachers union.) Additionally, he is dismayed over the proliferation of charter schools because, according to his cherry picked data, most are mediocre. He fails to mention that charter schools have been the saving grace for many inner city kids who have escaped from the union dominated zip code schools they had been forced to attend. While proclaiming to have children’s best interests at heart, he is clearly more concerned that “some charter schools…save money by offering teachers no pensions whatsoever.”

On the plus side, Kahlenberg – surprise! – likes the teachers unions. For example, he writes,

“…the very positive role they can play on national policy was underlined in December, when the National Education Association announced an effort to establish 100 new peer assistance and review programs to better train and, if necessary, weed out ineffective teachers.”

The only problem is that peer assistance programs have been a flop wherever they have been tried. And NEA’s weeding process does not stand much of a chance of seeing the light of day because for it to work at all, it will have to be implemented by union locals. It’s hard to imagine local union bosses talking this one up to the rank and file.

Not surprisingly, Kahlenberg is a fan of collective bargaining, which may benefit mediocre and poor teachers but does very little for the good ones. Moreover, it has been damaging the education process (and therefore children) for about a half-century now. Collective bargaining agreements are nothing more than a top down, collectivist way to ensure that teachers have to do the least amount of work in idealized working conditions with no accountability for the most money. As Jay Greene states,

“Until the ability of teachers unions to engage in collective bargaining is restrained, we should expect unions to continue to use it to advance the interests of their adult members over those of children, their families, and taxpayers.”

In any event, the good news as we look toward 2012 is that for Kahlenberg, Strauss, Ravitch and their fellow aliens, their day has come and gone. We live in a time when change is happening. In July, due to major reform efforts in statehouses all over the country, the Wall Street Journal proclaimed 2011 The Year of School Choice. As Bob Bowdon, director of The Cartel so aptly put it,

“Large entrenched bureaucracies like public education have something in common with aircraft carriers: they never turn around quickly. What’s important is the direction they’re moving, and in this regard the education news is good. Of the 180 degree reversal that’s needed for public schools, we’ve only turned three or four degrees so far, but all the recent trends are taking us in a better direction. The turnaround has begun.”

Happy New Year everyone!!

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.

SOS Fest: Teachers Unions and Radical Left are in Charge

Teachers should think twice before marching in lockstep with this revolting crowd.

Americans have always had a warm spot for teachers. We all have memories of those who have taught us, who were there every day for us and felt like part of our family. But over the past 40 years or so, teachers unions have begun to chip away at the public’s perception of teachers. And this changing perception has accelerated during the recent fiscal downturn.

Education policy expert Jay Greene addresses this phenomenon in The Army of Angry Teachers which was posted on Education Matters, his own blog, and elsewhere last week. The crux of his piece is that typically people tend to look at teachers as an extension of their family. But now during stressful times for teachers, the teachers unions have whipped the rank and file into a state of deep anger. Greene writes “But when the public face of the teacher unions is the Army of Angry Teachers, they no longer seem like Mary Poppins and begin to look a lot more like longshoremen beating their opponents with metal pipes.”

Greene has hit on a major point. Not surprisingly, the post was met with negative responses by, well, angry teachers.

While some teachers may be justified in being angry about this and that, the teachers unions are doing their level best to convince teachers that they are underpaid and underappreciated and if not for the unions, teachers would be receiving minimum wage and spending their time being spat upon by the man in the street. This alleged “teacher bashing” couldn’t be further from the truth, but nevertheless, too many teachers have bought this nonsense hook, line and sinker and have become true believers of all things union. As such, from the inside out, the union’s game plan of making teachers psychologically dependent on them is working quite well.

These feelings of victimization and anger will be on full display this weekend in the nation’s capital. The teacher union-backed SOS (Save Our Schools) March on Washington – will have the Army of Angry Teachers and others taking to the streets and screaming about various education issues such budgetary shortfalls that must be made up by “taxing the rich.” Standardized testing and “teacher accountability schemes” are due for some harsh criticism also.

Because of the sorry collection of participants, this is going to end up being even worse for teachers than Greene alluded to in his article.

While the march itself will be on July 30th, there will be workshops on the 28th and 29th. Kicking off each of these days will be a keynote speech – one from 1960s relic Jonathan Kozol and the other from discredited education historian Diane Ravitch.

Education reformer Whitney Tilson refers to Kozol as a “dangerous crackpot who will cause this country’s most vulnerable children immeasurable harm.” Kozol has been beating the more-money-will-conquer-all-things-educational drum for 45 years now while blaming poor student performance on bogeymen like poverty and racism. Kozol conveniently omits the fact that the poor and minorities have made great strides when there is a real choice given to parents as to where to send their children to school – invariably to non-unionized ones.

Ravitch, whose scholarship once upon a time landed her on the prestigious Koret Task Force, a group that focuses on education reform options has now, for reasons known only to her, done a 180 practically overnight and become a shill for the teachers unions. In fact, she has done such a good job in her new career that the National Education Association bestowed on her their highest honor — the “Friend of Education Award” at the union’s 2010 national convention. (If there is anything more damning than to be honored by NEA, I can’t imagine what it would be.)

But the “be careful who you hang out with” warning goes way beyond Kozol and Ravitch. The endorsers of the confab include a laundry list of radicals — people and organizations — that are significantly outside the American mainstream. For example:

Students for a Democratic Society – Yes, they are still at it. The name sounds innocent, but this is the organization responsible for bombing the Pentagon and various police stations around the country 40 years ago.

Michael Klonsky – long-time proud Communist who was invited to China in 1977 to confer with his fellow Maoists.

Freedom Socialist Party – a typical progressive capitalist-hating socialist outfit, but with a feminist slant.

Rethinking Schools – Oh boy are they! From their website – “How do we bring the fight to protect and transform public schools into our classrooms? How do we connect our classrooms to the struggles in the streets? As the crisis over public education escalates, activist teachers are experimenting with new approaches.”

Radical Women – Their website proclaims this group is “the revolutionary wing of the women’s movement and a strong feminist voice within the Left.”

This is just the tip of the iceberg, but you get the idea. Oh, one more thing. Washington can get pretty swampy during the summer and the organizers have a film festival planned in a hopefully air-conditioned theatre. The kickoff film is “The People Speak,” which concerns itself with the late Communist Howard Zinn. The former college professor perhaps hit the nadir of a rather dubious professional career by penning “A People’s History of the United States.” When called on the carpet for writing a history book that played very fast and loose with the facts, Zinn freely admitted it, saying that his hope in writing the book was to create a revolution.

In any event, I’m sure some legitimate gripes of teachers will be addressed at this four day event. However, the teachers unions and the radicals will get most of the press coverage and teachers will come out of all this looking like useful idiots or worse. As such, teachers would do well to distance themselves from this unseemly event. If not, whatever esteem Americans still hold for its teachers of America will erode further.

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.