Posts

Teacher Shortage Claim Is Still Short on Data

No matter how many times it’s repeated, the national teacher shortage story is a canard.

In the months since I last wrote about the alleged teacher shortage crisis, I had hoped the hysteria would abate. But alas, it hasn’t; if anything, it has increased, with the teachers unions at the forefront of the bogus story.

Champion alarm bell-ringer Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, was in fine form when she penned “How the Teacher Shortage Could Turn Into a Crisis” for the Huffington Post last month. Her claims are all ridiculous, of course, but she states them with such certitude that they sound quite believable if one doesn’t know better. “…we lose an alarming number of teachers once they enter the profession— between 40 and 50 percent of new teachers leave within five years. Add to that the loss of mid- and late-career teachers, who have honed their skills but can’t see staying until retirement, and you’ve got a teacher brain-drain unseen in any other profession.” The National Education Association advises, “Want to reduce the teacher shortage? Treat teachers like professionals.” The California Teachers Association informs us that we are on the verge of “The Perfect Storm: California Impending Teacher Shortage Crisis.

And it’s not only the unions that have been infected with the “sky is falling” mentality. In February, Education Week reported “Teacher Shortages Put Pressure on Governors, Legislators.” And a Hechinger Report piece recently warned that “California faces a dire teacher shortage. Should other states worry, too?” Surprisingly, however, the gloom actually lifts near the end of the Hechinger article and clarity ultimately prevails. Dan Goldhaber, director of the Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research puts things into perspective by introducing data which show that between 1984 and 2013 teacher production has increased overall, with a few dips here and there. He calmly states, “This does not look to me like the production of teachers in this country is falling off a cliff.”

Another Hechinger piece posted last month continued the Goldhaber line. “Cries about national teacher shortages might be overblown” takes a look at various state reports. In 2013-2014 in California, 2.5 to 2.7 percent of the teachers hired had emergency certification, a sign of shortage, because schools hire applicants with full certifications first. But fifteen years ago, 14.5 percent of the teachers hired in California were not fully credentialed.

Then, just last week, the National Center for Teacher Quality claimed flatly in its newsletter that we are in the midst of a drummed up teacher shortage crisis. Acknowledging that the number of new teachers produced since 2008 has declined, NCTQ president Kate Walsh points out that “the drop was preceded by a three-decade period of enrollment growth, far outpacing the demand year-in and year-out. America’s 1,450+ institutions which train teachers have been OVER-enrolling for years.” She adds that, “The current decline is what we normally see when unemployment dips and the pool of folks looking for work isn’t as large as in other years.”

Taking an even longer look, the late Cato Institute senior fellow of education policy Andrew Coulson wrote in 2015 that there is an “Evidence Shortage for Teacher Shortage.” He notes that since 1970, “…the number of teachers has grown six times faster than the number of students. Enrollment grew about 8 percent from 1970 to 2010, but the teaching workforce grew 50 percent. There are a LOT more public school teachers per child today, so how can districts and states still claim to be facing teacher shortages?” (Emphasis added.)

Coulson finishes his piece, “So does America have a ‘teacher shortage’ writ large? No. We had 22.3 pupils/teacher in 1970 and 16 p/t in 2012. Compared to the past, we are rolling in teachers. If we have too few in some fields and too many in others, it is (because of) mistakes in policy and/or execution.”

Also, Weingarten’s assertion that “between 40 and 50 percent of new teachers leave within five years” has always been, and still is, a crock. She and other union leaders have been telling that lie since the last millennium. Fortunately the debunking has been picking up. Just a year ago, EdSource’s John Fensterwald reported, “Half of new teachers quit profession in 5 years? Not true, new study says.” He writes that a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Educational Statistics found that “10 percent of new teachers in 2007-08 didn’t return the following year, increasing cumulatively to 12 percent in year three, 15 percent in year four and 17 percent in the fifth year. The totals include teachers who were let go and subsequently didn’t find a job teaching in another district.” Just last week, Bellwether Education Partners policy expert Chad Aldeman reported in Education Next, “Turnover rates for inexperienced teachers have been falling, not rising, while turnover has risen among more experienced teachers.”

So after five years one-in-six teachers are gone. Hardly a cause for smelling salts. In fact, other fields have a much higher turnover rate. In banking and finance, for example, the departure rate in 2013 was 17.2 percent and in healthcare it was 16.8 percent. The average for all industries in 2013 was 15.1 percent. So basically, in five years, the teaching profession loses roughly the same percentage of employees that other fields lose every year. So, comparatively speaking, we are hardly “bleeding teachers.”

While I have been looking at the big picture here, to be sure there are some school districts that are short on teachers and other districts may lack teachers in certain subject areas. But rather than promulgating doomsday prophecies, how about simply addressing those specific shortages – like paying science teachers a bit more money to lure them to districts where they are needed.

There is one area in decline that is worth noting, however: unionized teachers. Taking a look at the latest numbers available, courtesy of Mike Antonucci, we see that the National Education Association lost 42,000 active members in 2013, “bringing the union’s total losses among working public school employees to more than 310,000 (10.7%) over the past five years.” That’s certainly bad news for the union’s bottom line, but the rest of us aren’t going to be shedding any tears over that.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers 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 Enemies of Choice

The teachers unions’ fight against parental and teacher choice is not going well for them.

Teacher union membership is dwindling. In fact, it has dipped below 50 percent nationwide, down from a high of almost 70 percent in 1993. Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana, having  become “right-to-work” (RTW) states over the past several years, have given teacher freedom a big boost. Wisconsin, which also limits teachers’ collective bargaining activities via Act 10, has seen its National Education Association affiliate’s numbers cut by more than half. Prior to the legislation, the Wisconsin Education Association Council had approximately 100,000 members. It now has fewer than 40,000, according to the MacIiver Institute.

In Michigan, the teachers unions have lost 20 percent of their membership since becoming a RTW state in 2012, but this number will grow. Many unions, sensing the inevitability of RTW legislation in the Wolverine State, signed long-term contacts with their school districts. However, once those contracts expire, more teachers will be liberated from paying forced union dues. But as Michigan Capitol Confidential’s Tom Gantert points out, the RTW law is just one reason for the drop in union participation. He writes, “There also has been steady growth in the number of Michigan public charter schools. Hardly any charters are unionized.”

Nationally, the NEA has also seen its numbers dwindle; its membership is down more than 9 percent over the last four years. This includes a 7.5 percent decline in the number of classroom teachers, which is one reason why the union’s dues revenue has declined since 2011.

Of course freedom from forced unionism could greatly accelerate in 2016 courtesy of the Friedrichs v California Teachers Association case. If the litigants are victorious, no teacher – or public employee – in the country will be forced to pay any money to a union as a condition of employment. With oral arguments in just 13 days, the ruling will be finalized in six months.

In addition to losing members, the unions are also losing the PR battle. According to a recent Education Next poll, fifty percent of all teachers think that forced dues payment is wrong, while 38 percent support it. (The general public is 43-34 percent in favor of choice.) Interestingly, the same poll shows that while 57 of teachers think that unions “have a positive effect on schools,” just 30 percent of the general public thinks so.)

As the unions battle teachers over forced dues payments, their efforts are equally fierce against a parent’s right to choose the best school for their children. Other than an unfavorable ruling in Friedrichs, the worst nightmare for the unions is giving parents choices – charter schools, and worse, vouchers, tax credit scholarships and educational savings accounts. And the unions are not doing well on that count either. A national poll conducted earlier this year shows that nearly 70 percent of Americans support school choice. (The two battles are interrelated: As teachers leave their unions, there is less money for the unions to spend on fighting choice bills in state legislatures. And more private choice options translate to fewer unionized teachers.)

There are now 6,700 charter schools serving nearly 3 million students in 43 states and D.C. As for private sector choice, there are now 56 different programs operating in 28 states. In 2000-2001, there were just 29,000 students in these programs, but by 2014-2015, that number had grown over 12-fold to 354,000. In light of the fact that parents take advantage of the private option when available, their kids perform better in these choice programs and they save the taxpayers money, the unions can’t put up much of a reasoned argument.

Indeed, desperation is setting in.

Frequently unions use kids as human shields to couch their opposition to privatization. But one union boss had a unique (if ridiculous) take on it recently. When asked about a Fordham Institute study on America’s Best and Worst Cities for School Choice that ranked Atlanta as the ninth most “choice-friendly” city, Verdaillia Turner, president of the Georgia Federation of Teachers, responded, “That’s like saying Chicago is the most murder-friendly city in the nation.”

The new year looms large for choice. With a Friedrichs decision due in June, teacher and parental choice could get an enormous boost. And no one will be murdered because of it. The self-serving teachers unions’ bottom line will suffer some serious body trauma, however.

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.

Collective Bargaining Disagreement

Collective bargaining serves neither students, competent teachers, nor taxpayers.

A new study reveals that collective bargaining for teachers has a negative effect on future earnings, occupational skill levels and hours worked. Writing in Education Next, researchers Michael Lovenheim and Alexander Willen dissect the long-term ramifications of states that mandate collective bargaining for teachers. While they find no clear effects of collective bargaining laws on how much schooling students ultimately complete, their results do show that laws requiring school districts to engage in the process with teachers unions lead students to be less successful in later life. “Students who spent all 12 years of grade school in a state with a duty-to-bargain law earned an average of $795 less per year and worked half an hour less per week as adults than students who were not exposed to collective-bargaining laws. They are 0.9 percentage points less likely to be employed and 0.8 percentage points less likely to be in the labor force. And those with jobs tend to work in lower-skilled occupations.”

The researchers did a meticulous job adjusting, when necessary, for ethnicity and gender. They also took into account school finance reforms and changes in the generosity of state earned-income tax credits. But taking all the variables into account made little difference in the results, and indeed strengthened their confidence that collective bargaining is responsible for the effects they document.

This is not the first study that found collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) to be detrimental to students. In 2007, Stanford professor Terry Moe reported that collective bargaining “appears to have a strongly negative impact in the larger districts, but it appears to have no effect in smaller districts (except possibly for African American students—which is important indeed if true).”

Frederick Hess, of the American Enterprise Institute, and Martin West from the Brookings Institute point out that CBAs “are vestiges of the industrial economic model that prevailed in the 1950s, when assembly-line workers and low-level managers were valued less for their knowledge or technical skills than for their longevity and willingness to serve loyally as a cog-in-a-top-down enterprise. Collective bargaining contracts are especially problematic on three fronts: 1) they restrict efforts to use compensation as a tool to recruit, reward and retain the most essential and effective teachers, 2) they impede attempts to assign or remove teachers on the basis of fit or performance and 3) they over-regulate school life with work rules that stifle creative problem solving without demonstrably improving teachers’ ability to serve students.”

In this brief video, Stanford researcher Caroline Hoxby details in practical terms how CBAs stifle any management flexibility in determining the best slot for a teacher at a given school as well as denying them the opportunity to get rid of the underperformers – rigidity being the hallmark of CBAs.

So if CBAs don’t do much for students, they surely must benefit teachers, right? Well, no, and they especially penalize the good ones. Low pay, excessive bureaucracy and ineffective colleagues are all attributable to CBAs and anathema to great teachers and high-performing schools. And we lose thousands of our best educators as a result.

Wage compression,” occurs when the salaries of lower paid teachers are raised above the market rate, with the increase offset by reducing pay of the most productive ones. “Why strive to become better if I am not going to be compensated for it?” is the attitude of many. Mike Petrilli of the Fordham Institute takes it one step further, claiming CBAs hurt the bottom line of all teachers. He compared teachers’ salaries in districts across the country which allow collective bargaining with those that don’t. He found that teachers who worked in districts where the union was not involved actually made more money than those who were in collective bargaining districts. According to Petrilli, “Teachers in non-collective bargaining districts actually earn more than their union-protected peers – $64,500 on average versus $57,500.”

CBAs don’t do much for taxpayers either. Professor Joe A. Stone of the University of Oregon writes “In an average California school district, 85 percent of the district’s operating budget is tied to collective bargaining contracts, for both certificated and classified personnel.” (Over Fifty-five percent of California’s general fund expenditures – over $63,000,000,000 – is targeted for education.)

University of Arkansas professor Jay Greene sums it up quite succinctly. “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.”

One final note: Union leaders and their fellow travelers love to spread the myth of the “right” to collectively bargain. In fact, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman recently announced that he is leading a coalition of 20 states and the District of Columbia in filing a friend-of-the-court brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to deny Friedrichs and maintain forced dues payment for public employees. In a press release, Public Advocate Letitia James said, “Collective bargaining is a fundamental right. I join Attorney General Schneiderman in supporting this right, and standing up for collective bargaining.”

But there is no “right” to collectively bargain. David Denholm, president of the Public Service Research Foundation, writes that the “right” is non-existent. He writes, “Collective bargaining is a legislated privilege given to unions by friendly lawmakers.” (“Friendly” in this case, of course, means those put in office by the people sitting across from them at the negotiating table.)

CBAs are wrong for kids, wrong for good teachers and wrong for taxpayers. But they sure work well for union bosses, many of whom make fat salaries that most teachers are forced to pay for the “right” to be exclusively represented by them. Some bargain.

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.

Pseudo Studies and Push Polls

Teachers unions turn to “facts” as they desperately cling to their monopolistic, anti-privatization narrative.

Last Thursday the “non-partisan” Center for Tax and Budget Accountability rolled out a report that slammed vouchers, claiming that there is “no statistical evidence proving that students who use vouchers perform better than their public school counterparts.” The “study,” as reported by WRTV in Indianapolis, included Indiana’s program with three long-running and popular school choice programs in Milwaukee, Cleveland and Washington, D.C.

Turns out the “study” is about as “non-partisan” as a Colts fan who has ten grand riding on the home team. Its many flaws are documented meticulously by Cato Institute policy analyst Jason Bedrick. For example, CTBA tries to make its case using statistics from 2008-2009 rather than later – and less friendly – data. It also does something blatantly dishonest by stating that Indiana’s scholarship tax credit law has had a negative fiscal impact on the state. CTBA deceptively focuses exclusively on a reduction in revenue to the schools without acknowledging a corresponding reduction in expenses. As Bedrick notes, “The average scholarship is worth barely $1,000, so every student who switches out of a district school to accept a scholarship saves the state a lot of money. In a forthcoming report for the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, using highly conservative assumptions, I calculated that the Indiana School Scholarship Tax Credit saved the state approximately $23.2 million in 2014-15.” And this example is just the tip of a rather massive iceberg.

At the end of the WRTV piece, there is a tag line: “RTV6’s Eric Cox reported that CTBA claims to be a bipartisan research group.” The reporter said that he couldn’t find anyone at the press conference to counter CTBA’s allegations. Perhaps a quick phone call to the Friedman Foundation – located in Indianapolis – would have given balance to the story. Also, if the station had bothered to dig a few inches below the surface, it would have learned that the CTBA board is packed with – no surprise – union leaders, including Illinois Federation of Teachers president Daniel Montgomery, as well as its Director of Governmental Relations, Jim Reed and Illinois AFL-CIO president Michael Carrigan.

A similarly scurrilous bit of advocacy dressed up in scientific clothes – this one fortunately lacking media coverage – appeared on the National Education Association website. “Where’s the Accountability? Ignoring Poor Track Record, Lawmakers Push Voucher Expansion” makes claims similar to CTBA’s. Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association president Bob Peterson states, “Since the voucher program in Wisconsin started in 1990, over $1.4 billion of public taxpayer dollars have gone to private schools. At the same time, we’ve seen massive cuts to public education statewide.” So what? If half the kids leave a public school system and half the money leaves too (actually, voucher money never equals the actual cost per student), there is still the same amount of money per student left in the public schools. NEA president Lily Eskelsen García adds to the money libel, “Buzzwords such as ‘choice’ and ‘freedom’ are used only to mask what vouchers actually are – a shameful, unacceptable waste of taxpayer dollars.”

The union leaders would do well to read a study which examines the fiscal impact of 10 of the 21 school voucher programs nationwide. Jeff Spalding, director of fiscal policy at the Friedman Foundation, found a savings in participating states of $1.7 billion from 1991-2011. If choice were universal, and not limited to the 300,000 or so students who participate at this point (about one half of one percent of all students), the $1.7 billion savings would skyrocket.

Then there is a memo put out by “Third Way,” allegedly a centrist outfit whose raison d’être is providing solutions neither left nor right, but moderate. Really? There is nothing at all moderate about, “Should a New No Child Left Behind Include Vouchers?” In fact, the writers quite immoderately inform us that vouchers aren’t successful, escape accountability, wreak havoc on school district budgets, etc.

The Third Way information is bunkum. In a recent report, Friedman Foundation senior fellow Greg Forster looked at not one or two, but 12 empirical studies that “examine 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.” And at the same time, the taxpayers are shelling out fewer education dollars.

Regarding accountability, vouchers create a situation whereby schools are accountable to parents, at least the lucky ones who get to choose the school their child goes to. Currently in most places, parents are forced to send their kid to the public school down the street that’s accountable to no one. Monopolies never have to be successful because they’re, well, monopolies.

The “wreaking havoc” argument is just plain silly. As Bedrick writes,

Third Way laments that school choice could ‘destabilize district financial planning.’ It is telling that they don’t point to a single example. Even more telling, their concern assumes that there would be a mass exodus from the public schools if families were given the option to leave and take the funds dedicated to their child with them. As David Boaz once observed, ‘Every argument against choice made by the education establishment reveals the contempt that establishment has for its own product.’

And finally we have yet another anti-choice broadside on the NEA website. The teachers union is giddy that “Voters Rank Top Problems Facing Education. Lack of School Choice Isn’t One of Them.” First, they really don’t deal with privatization at all and their questions are so loaded that a Polling 101 student could see right through them. For example, the main question on charters reads,

As you may know, the vast majority of charter schools are taxpayer-funded schools that are privately managed by for-profit companies or non-profit organizations. They operate independently of the public school system and are not required to follow some of the laws and regulations that public schools are required to follow. From what you’ve heard, do you favor or oppose charter schools?

A bit of a leading question, no? Even with the biased wording, responders were still favorably inclined to charter schools by a 52-38 margin, and 10 percent were agnostic. This same poll found that just 10 percent believed that lack of school choice was the biggest educational concern in the country. Given the way the questions were worded, I’m surprised that even 10 percent said that lack of choice was the #1 problem. Additionally, it should come as no surprise that the Center for Popular Democracy, one of the groups that conducted the survey has American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten on its board of directors.

In a much more honest poll – using objective, non-leading questions – Education Next found in 2014 that the public favors universal vouchers by a 50-39 margin and charter schools 54-28.

The teachers union monopoly and its favored one-size-fits-all education model are running out of gas and desperation is setting in. Their anti-choice push polls and bogus studies are as real as a Potemkin village and the American public is on to them. Choice is here. It’s successful. It’s growing. Deal with it.

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

Pseudo Studies and Push Polls

Teachers unions turn to “facts” as they desperately cling to their monopolistic, anti-privatization narrative.

Last Thursday the “non-partisan” Center for Tax and Budget Accountability rolled out a report that slammed vouchers, claiming that there is “no statistical evidence proving that students who use vouchers perform better than their public school counterparts.” The “study,” as reported by WRTV in Indianapolis, included Indiana’s program with three long-running and popular school choice programs in Milwaukee, Cleveland and Washington, D.C.

Turns out the “study” is about as “non-partisan” as a Colts fan who has ten grand riding on the home team. Its many flaws are documented meticulously by Cato Institute policy analyst Jason Bedrick. For example, CTBA tries to make its case using statistics from 2008-2009 rather than later – and less friendly – data. It also does something blatantly dishonest by stating that Indiana’s scholarship tax credit law has had a negative fiscal impact on the state. CTBA deceptively focuses exclusively on a reduction in revenue to the schools without acknowledging a corresponding reduction in expenses. As Bedrick notes, “The average scholarship is worth barely $1,000, so every student who switches out of a district school to accept a scholarship saves the state a lot of money. In a forthcoming report for the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, using highly conservative assumptions, I calculated that the Indiana School Scholarship Tax Credit saved the state approximately $23.2 million in 2014-15.” And this example is just the tip of a rather massive iceberg.

At the end of the WRTV piece, there is a tag line: “RTV6’s Eric Cox reported that CTBA claims to be a bipartisan research group.” The reporter said that he couldn’t find anyone at the press conference to counter CTBA’s allegations. Perhaps a quick phone call to the Friedman Foundation – located in Indianapolis – would have given balance to the story. Also, if the station had bothered to dig a few inches below the surface, it would have learned that the CTBA board is packed with – no surprise – union leaders, including Illinois Federation of Teachers president Daniel Montgomery, as well as its Director of Governmental Relations, Jim Reed and Illinois AFL-CIO president Michael Carrigan.

A similarly scurrilous bit of advocacy dressed up in scientific clothes – this one fortunately lacking media coverage – appeared on the National Education Association website. “Where’s the Accountability? Ignoring Poor Track Record, Lawmakers Push Voucher Expansion” makes claims similar to CTBA’s. Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association president Bob Peterson states, “Since the voucher program in Wisconsin started in 1990, over $1.4 billion of public taxpayer dollars have gone to private schools. At the same time, we’ve seen massive cuts to public education statewide.” So what? If half the kids leave a public school system and half the money leaves too (actually, voucher money never equals the actual cost per student), there is still the same amount of money per student left in the public schools. NEA president Lily Eskelsen García adds to the money libel, “Buzzwords such as ‘choice’ and ‘freedom’ are used only to mask what vouchers actually are – a shameful, unacceptable waste of taxpayer dollars.”

The union leaders would do well to read a study which examines the fiscal impact of 10 of the 21 school voucher programs nationwide. Jeff Spalding, director of fiscal policy at the Friedman Foundation, found a savings in participating states of $1.7 billion from 1991-2011. If choice were universal, and not limited to the 300,000 or so students who participate at this point (about one half of one percent of all students), the $1.7 billion savings would skyrocket.

Then there is a memo put out by “Third Way,” allegedly a centrist outfit whose raison d’être is providing solutions neither left nor right, but moderate. Really? There is nothing at all moderate about, “Should a New No Child Left Behind Include Vouchers?” In fact, the writers quite immoderately inform us that vouchers aren’t successful, escape accountability, wreak havoc on school district budgets, etc.

The Third Way information is bunkum. In a recent report, Friedman Foundation senior fellow Greg Forster looked at not one or two, but 12 empirical studies that “examine 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.” And at the same time, the taxpayers are shelling out fewer education dollars.

Regarding accountability, vouchers create a situation whereby schools are accountable to parents, at least the lucky ones who get to choose the school their child goes to. Currently in most places, parents are forced to send their kid to the public school down the street that’s accountable to no one. Monopolies never have to be successful because they’re, well, monopolies.

The “wreaking havoc” argument is just plain silly. As Bedrick writes,

Third Way laments that school choice could ‘destabilize district financial planning.’ It is telling that they don’t point to a single example. Even more telling, their concern assumes that there would be a mass exodus from the public schools if families were given the option to leave and take the funds dedicated to their child with them. As David Boaz once observed, ‘Every argument against choice made by the education establishment reveals the contempt that establishment has for its own product.’

And finally we have yet another anti-choice broadside on the NEA website. The teachers union is giddy that “Voters Rank Top Problems Facing Education. Lack of School Choice Isn’t One of Them.” First, they really don’t deal with privatization at all and their questions are so loaded that a Polling 101 student could see right through them. For example, the main question on charters reads,

As you may know, the vast majority of charter schools are taxpayer-funded schools that are privately managed by for-profit companies or non-profit organizations. They operate independently of the public school system and are not required to follow some of the laws and regulations that public schools are required to follow. From what you’ve heard, do you favor or oppose charter schools?

A bit of a leading question, no? Even with the biased wording, responders were still favorably inclined to charter schools by a 52-38 margin, and 10 percent were agnostic. This same poll found that just 10 percent believed that lack of school choice was the biggest educational concern in the country. Given the way the questions were worded, I’m surprised that even 10 percent said that lack of choice was the #1 problem. Additionally, it should come as no surprise that the Center for Popular Democracy, one of the groups that conducted the survey has American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten on its board of directors.

In a much more honest poll – using objective, non-leading questions – Education Next found in 2014 that the public favors universal vouchers by a 50-39 margin and charter schools 54-28.

The teachers union monopoly and its favored one-size-fits-all education model are running out of gas and desperation is setting in. Their anti-choice push polls and bogus studies are as real as a Potemkin village and the American public is on to them. Choice is here. It’s successful. It’s growing. Deal with it.

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

 

Permanent Disgrace

My encounters with tenure, aka permanence, aka undue process for teachers.

In an article posted recently, Harvard professor and editor-in-chief of Education Next Paul Peterson asks, “Do Teachers Support the Vergara Decision?” More specifically, he discusses tenure, which is on hold in California due to Judge Rolf Treu’s ruling. The tenure statute is the part of the California education code which stipulates that teachers essentially have a job for life if they can survive their first two years on the job, which is really just 16 months of actual work. It is worth noting that what we all commonly refer to as tenure is really a word reserved for college professors. The proper term for K-12 teachers is the more honest – and odious – “permanence.” (I was once corrected by former United Teachers of Los Angeles chief A.J. Duffy when I referred to it incorrectly at a union meeting.)

Peterson alludes to an Education Next poll, the results of which were released earlier this fall, that asked public school teachers to rate their colleagues’ competence on an A to F continuum. While 69 percent gave colleagues in the local school district an A or B, 8 percent said their colleagues deserve a D and 5 percent deserve an F.

This led me to think about my own experience as a middle school teacher in Los Angeles where I toiled for 15 years before retiring in 2009. At any given time, there were about 50 teachers at my school, and most of them, I’d say, were competent-to-good with a few that were exceptional. But there were always a handful of my colleagues who shouldn’t have been allowed in a classroom. Just a few cases in point:

  • AA, an English teacher, was a mean one; she rarely smiled and was antagonistic to a fault. During lunch period on a warm late spring day, she decided she was too pale and headed out to the athletic field to catch some rays at lunch. She proceeded to lie on her stomach, take off her blouse and unstrap her bra. (Ladies, you know how unsightly those tan lines can be!) As AA’s glamor gambit was seen by kids, a few teachers and the plant manager, denial was not an option. However, she did not lose her job. Instead, she was transferred to a nearby elementary school which was run by a woman, known by many as “the principal from hell.” I have no idea what has become of AA, but I’m sure she went on to infect many more kids with her bile and bad judgment.
  • BB was a nice old gentleman and a lawyer with a J.D. Unfortunately, whatever skills he may have possessed in the courtroom did him no good in the classroom, which often resembled a British soccer riot – pure mayhem. As testing coordinator, I had occasion to visit his class several times and invariably regretted not wearing a flak jacket. To maintain order, BB resorted to showing film strips, pretty much daily. The kids didn’t learn much, but at least the janitors had less to clean up at the end of the day. The principal eventually got hip to BB’s act, and knowing she couldn’t get rid of him, pressured him to retire. (Trying to fire him would have taken years and hundreds of thousands of dollars.) Fortunately, BB took the hint and retired.
  • CC was a PE teacher who had an interesting ritual between classes. He would go to his car, parked on campus, and open his trunk where he kept a large cache of hooch. By the end of the day – every day – CC was obviously pickled. But having attained permanent status, he knew that no matter how slurred his speech may have been, getting plastered daily was an activity he could indulge in without consequence. He finally retired after 37 years and shortly thereafter had a massive stroke and died. Sadly, the union may have rewarded CC with permanent status, but the real world provides no such guarantees.
  • DD was as wacky as they come. She, too, had no control over her classes, and whenever I had any of her third period science kids in my fourth period history class, I had to spend a good 15 minutes peeling them off the walls. The entire staff knew DD was an awful teacher, but axing her was out of the question. Instead, she was sent to the “Peer Assistance Review” (PAR) program – a union created mechanism – which didn’t help a bit. She couldn’t teach; her kids didn’t learn. Her greatest strength as a teacher was at faculty meetings where her loony comments would make us all laugh… very nervously. By the way, DD just renewed her teaching credential for another five years.
  • And then there was EE. One day this eighth grade English teacher allegedly touched a female student inappropriately. There were witnesses, but the student involved would not press charges so they put EE into the district office for a while – the so-called “rubber room” or “teacher jail.” Since firing him was not a viable option, the powers-that-be decided to transfer him to another school, where he apparently fondled another student. So he was sent back to the district office, where he whittled away his paid vacation ogling porn. Busted, he was transferred to yet another school, where he got caught sharing his smut with some of his female students. He was then returned to the district office, where the last I heard, he was waiting for his next assignment, courtesy of his union lawyer.  This was almost ten years ago and I have no idea what EE is doing now or to whom he is doing it, but I do hope its behind closed doors and doesn’t involve teenage girls.

Please keep in mind that I have described just one public school out of about 10,000 in California. Stanford economist Eric Hanushek has famously said that if we could get rid of the bottom 5-7 percent of the teaching profession, we could have a world-class system like Finland. If we take Hanushek’s middle number – 6 percent (of 300,000), that means there are 18,000 teachers in the Golden State that should be looking for other means of employment. But they’re not – which means that about 450,000 young minds are getting shortchanged – and worse – year after year. (The reality is that, on average, just ten “permanent” teachers a year in California are let go.)

Right after being termed out as National Education Association president in July, Dennis Van Roekel gave an interview to Education Week and addressed the union’s insistence on maintaining an industrial-style model. He said, “Union members, however, are not going to give up their industrial union rights to enjoy the benefits of being treated like real professionals until they are treated as real professionals.”

He has it backwards. Teachers will never be considered professionals until they take charge and professionalize the field. There are 282,000 teachers in California who are doing an adequate, good or great job and it is incumbent upon them to take the lead and purge the field of the stinkers and pedophiles. Teachers have long wanted to be recognized as professionals, but they will never attain that status as long as they allow the teachers unions to protect incompetents and miscreants. 450,000 kids’ deserve better …much better.

(An abridged version of this post was printed in U-T San Diego on Jan.16th.)

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.

Parents Need a Private School Option When Public Schools Fail

As the need for vouchers increases, the politics of school privatization gets interestinger and interestinger.

“Some NYC teachers: ‘Don’t send your kids here!’” screamed the headline in a New York Post article last week. The damning story goes on to explain how over 80 percent of the teachers in eight public schools – including charters – said they would “never recommend those schools to children.”

At two of the schools — Foundation Academy HS in Brooklyn and recently-closed Monroe Academy for Business and Law in The Bronx — 100 percent of teachers who answered the survey said they’d tell parents to pull their kids.

“The school was a mess,” said Lourdes Lebron, a former PTA president at Foundation. “The environment was horrible. There were fights. The school didn’t even have a yearbook. What memories are the students going to have about the school? These kids got nothing.”

There were several reasons given for these intolerable situations. Some blamed the administrators of the schools, while others blamed the city. A few administrators claimed that disgruntled teachers, having been let go, were just being spiteful.

Whatever.

The question becomes, “What are the parents of the kids attending those schools supposed to do now?” Given that some of the schools are charters – usually a better alternative than local traditional schools – and given that New York has no private school choice program, it seems that these families will have no option but to shell out money for a private school … if they can afford one.

This story reminded me of others dating back to the 1990s.

In 1993, columnist George Will was on “This Week With David Brinkley” and asserted that “50 percent of urban area public school teachers with school-age children send their children to private schools. What do they know that we ought to know?” National Education Association president Keith Geiger, also on the show, attempted to trump Will with a lame gotcha, “It’s actually 40 percent.” Geiger clearly gotcha’d himself.

More than a decade later, nothing much had changed. A study by the Fordham Institute in 2004 found that in big cities many teachers send their own kids to private schools.

In Philadelphia, 44 percent of the teachers put their children in private schools.

Cincinnati – 41 percent

Chicago – 39 percent

Rochester, N.Y. – 38 percent

San Francisco-Oakland area – 34 percent

New York City – 33 percent.

Well, it sure is nice that so many urban public school teachers choose not to send their children to those icky public schools. But what about the parents of kids who can’t afford to do that? What are they supposed to do? According to many teachers and the unions they belong to, well, suck it up.

But there is a solution and it’s called a voucher or opportunity scholarship, which enables a child to use public funds to attend a private school. And no one knows their advantages better than African-Americans and Hispanics.

In fact, the country’s first voucher law came into being in 1989 via a joint effort of the recently deceased Polly Williams, a black Democratic Milwaukee state assemblywoman, and Tommy Thompson, the white Republican governor of Wisconsin.

A 1999 survey by Public Agenda, a nonpartisan research group, found that 68 percent of blacks favor vouchers. In 2007, an Education Next poll showed that 68 percent of African-Americans and 61 percent of Hispanics favor the private school option.

A 2014 survey by the Friedman Foundation showed that blacks and Latinos are the groups most likely to favor vouchers.

When you look at the Washington D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, it’s hardly surprising that so many minorities see vouchers as their ticket to a better life. The program has averaged a 93 percent graduation rate, with 90 percent of those graduates enrolling in college, and a 92 percent parent satisfaction rate since 2010. (The grad rate in D.C. traditional public schools is supposedly 64 percent, but even that dismal number is questionable.)

While there are 39 private choice programs in 18 states and D.C. that help those in need, there aren’t nearly enough to match the demand. And the issue has some very interesting political ramifications. While a majority of Republicans have long favored this kind of school choice, Democrats have fought fiercely against it, having aligned with the adamantly anti-choice teachers unions. But things are changing; over the past several years, more and more courageous Dems have been bucking the establishment and fighting passionately for school choice. In addition to the aforementioned Williams and her partner in crime, the great Howard Fuller, long time Democrat strategist Joe Trippi, former California state senator Gloria Romero (who now runs the Foundation for Parent Empowerment) and hedge-fund manager and self-described “pragmatic, realist liberal” Whitney Tilson have become apostates. And many more are now lining up for the cause.

Included in the “breakaway Dems” category is Kevin Chavous, a former D.C. councilman who has been deeply involved in a myriad of education reform groups for years. After the Nov. 4th election, he wrote an op-ed for USA Today in which he acknowledged that the results exposed a schism within the Democratic Party.

Hidden in the news coverage of the midterm elections looms a bigger problem for my fellow Democrats than just a bad night at the polls: the voters’ wholesale rejection of the party’s most powerful backers: teachers’ unions. Led by the NEA and AFT, the national teachers’ unions boasted of spending $80 million in this election to defeat candidates who support vouchers, teacher accountability and other promising education reforms. They lost. And they lost big.

The aftermath offers a lesson to the Democratic Party — and Hillary Clinton — as they prepare for 2016.

What a great irony it would be in 2016 if the Democrats, led by Hillary Clinton, suddenly found themselves on the wrong side of a major civil rights issue. (Emphasis added.)

The teacher’s unions know they are on the losing side of this fight, even if they desperately hope that national Democrats aren’t paying attention. For months Randi Weingarten, the current president of the American Federation of Teachers, has been a fixture on TV screens vowing to stop candidates challenging the status quo education establishment. After the election, she canceled a scheduled press call. There was little good news to report.

The normally demure Condoleezza Rice took it one step further. On a radio show last week, she bluntly stated,

Poor black kids trapped in failing neighborhoods schools, that’s the biggest race problem of today. That’s the biggest civil rights issue of today. Anybody who isn’t in favor of school choice, anybody who isn’t in favor of educational reform, anybody who defends the status quo in the educational system, that’s racist to me.

Neither teacher union leaders nor traditional Dems have weighed in on Chavous’ op-ed or Rice’s statement, but I think it’s clear that the division in the Democratic Party is growing into a gaping chasm. School choice has become a powerful wedge issue and has brought with it a great irony, as alluded to by Kevin Chavous. There are still many who consider themselves “progressive” who want to keep an outdated and sclerotic zip-code-mandated public education system in place. And it’s the stodgy old conservatives who want to – if not blow up – radically alter and improve the dreadful status quo for millions of kids that the progressives claim to care about.

As an optimist, I believe that at some point, enough Dems will tell their union buds to kiss off and embrace vouchers. When that happens, a tipping point will be reached and there will be no turning back. That will be a great day for the most vulnerable children of America, who will be liberated from the wretched public schools that teachers refuse to send their own kids to.

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.

Keeping Their Backs Up and Claws Sharp

As the teachers unions lose popularity, some think that they will soften their positions. But as recent events show, this is very far from the truth.

A poll taken in June, right after the Vergara decision was handed down in Los Angeles, found that 49 percent of California voters think that teachers unions have a “somewhat or very negative” impact on the quality of K-12 education, with just 31 percent saying that they have a “somewhat or very positive” impact.

This result is consistent with national polls. In 2012, long before Vergara became national news, an Education Next survey found that those with a positive view of unions dropped to 22 percent in 2012, down from 29 percent the year before. Perhaps more interestingly,

The survey’s most striking finding comes from its nationally representative sample of teachers. Whereas 58% of teachers took a positive view of unions in 2011, only 43% do in 2012. The number of teachers holding negative views of unions nearly doubled to 32% from 17% last year.

In addition to losing favor, the National Education Association has been bleeding teachers. Due to a shrinking student population and right-to-work legislation passed in several states, the nation’s largest union has lost more than a quarter-million members over the past five years.

Some predicted that the loss of rank-and-file and stature would lead the national unions to soften their more rabid positions and become more amenable to certain reforms, but if their recent conventions are any indication, this is hardly the case. In fact, they seem to be digging in.

At the NEA convention a couple of weeks ago, Lily Eskelsen Garcia was elected president and proclaimed that her first task was to win back the public. She apparently thinks the unions need better PR, not to become more child-friendly and accountable. But as the public’s awareness of what the unions are really about grows, that strategy won’t fly. As Democrats for Education Reform president Joe Williams pointedly said, “Eskelsen Garcia must navigate that minefield carefully because the public will smell bulls**t from a mile away.”

And indeed, there was plenty of odiferous waste at the convention. Among other things, the union faithful came up with a New Business Item (NBI) which called for the resignation of Arne Duncan, who had the audacity to tweet a positive response to the Vergara decision. (It’s ironic: As former California state senator Gloria Romero points out, the union that fights to keep every last teacher in classroom, including those who commit unspeakable offenses against children, wants to ditch Duncan for merely voicing an opinion contrary to theirs.) Other items had nothing at all to do with education but, being champions of “social justice,” the activists came up with an NBI which proposes to inform the public about the dangers of fracking, another that calls for the end of “food deserts” (don’t ask) and one that wants President Obama to investigate the continued incarceration of Leonard Peltier, a man who was convicted of first-degree murder in the slaying of two FBI agents in 1977.

Outgoing president Dennis Van Roekel was hardly in conciliatory mode when he blasted those whom he deems a threat to his union’s hegemony. Just a sampling of his enemies list:

The issue of privatization of more and more jobs of our education support professionals. The intrusion of for-profit players, both in higher education and K-12. Especially troubling is the increasing influence and control of huge corporations like Pearson and others. And the incredible onslaught of corporate reformers like Democrats for Education Reform, Michelle Rhee, and the like. Attacks on educators’ rights and even attempts to silence our voice. And if that were not enough, our lives revolve around testing–the overwhelming amount and the offensive misuse of scores from high-stakes standardized tests.

Then last week in Los Angeles, the American Federation of Teachers’ convention got off to a rousing start when Reverend William Barber gave a speech that most definitely will not “win back the public.” Setting the dial at “hellfire-and-brimstone,” he excoriated Tea Party “extremists,” greedy ultra-conservative “puppets,” the Koch Brothers, the religious right, those who want to “give vouchers to the wealthy,” all the while singing the praises of a green economy and healthcare for all. Clearly he was appealing solely to the left, while insulting and ignoring the majority of the membership which leans slightly to the right.

Not to be upstaged, AFT president Randi Weingarten joined the trashing of the Vergara decision:

When we last met, we didn’t know that a court decision in California would reignite the perverse rallying cry of so-called reformers: that the only way for students to win is for educators to lose.

And then, referring to Harris v Quinn – a SCOTUS decision which held that homecare workers could not be forced to join a union – she said,

And while many of us rejoiced when marriage equality was upheld by the Supreme Court, sadly that court has become Supreme Court Inc., ruling in favor of corporate interests while diminishing the rights of voters, women and working families.

Then she, too, blasted all her bête-noires: Democrats for Education Reform, Jeb Bush, Eli Broad, ALEC, Govs. Snyder, Walker, Corbitt, Jindal and Brownback, the Walton family and – what would a union leader diatribe be without them? – the Koch Brothers. But she didn’t join the “Dump Duncan” chorus; instead, she just chastised him over his pro-Vergara stance. But two days later, AFT approved a resolution calling for him to resign “if he does not improve under a plan to be implemented by President Obama.”

Edu-pundit Andy Smarick suggests that teacher union leadership appears to be defiantly marching their members toward Waterloo.

There is an alternative, though it might seem implausible in the current environment. First, the appeal of Vergara could be halted. Instead of relitigating the case, unions might work with the California legislature to rewrite the challenged laws so they primarily protect students not jobs. Second, the national unions and their affiliates could seek to amend tenure and seniority rules in other states so Vergara-inspired lawsuits don’t get off the ground.

Smarick’s alternative suggests that the teachers unions become more conciliatory and flexible. They won’t. Despite losing members and the dissatisfaction of the more conservative rank-and-file, the union hardcore is doubling down. As Stanford’s Terry Moe rightfully asserts,

Unions are unions. They are in the business of protecting jobs: that is why their members join, that is what their members expect them to do, and that is what they actually do. If you expect them to do something else–to represent children or to represent the public interest–you will be wrong. Don’t expect a cat to bark.

They’ll just keep hissing and baring their claws.

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 Big Apple and Little Dougco

Last week, the nation’s biggest city and a county in Colorado went in diametrically opposite education reform directions.

On Election Day, there were several outcomes that affected how education will be conducted across the country. Perhaps the most dramatic took place in New York City and Douglas County, CO.

In New York, after several years of steady education reform gains under the 12 year leadership of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, NYC would seem to have done a 180 in electing new mayor Bill de Blasio. Peter Meyer’s Education Next headline posed the question that many reformers are asking, “Will Mayor de Blasio Turn Back the School Reform Clock?” The author wades through the troubling details of de Blasio’s reactionary education plans. Perhaps the most damaging is his promise to “kill city charter schools by a thousand cuts.”

De Blasio has said that he would cap their numbers, stop letting them share space with traditional public schools, and start charging rent for existing colocations. The Democratic candidate’s public comments against charters, among the most significant of the Bloomberg reforms, have convinced many reformers that de Blasio is a real threat to continued progress in the city’s schools.

Meyer then quotes former NYC schools chief Joel Klein, who says that stopping colocation or charging rent for space would be absolutely catastrophic. “It’s not just bad for the charters, but for the children…. Charter schools are public in every meaningful way…. The public schools don’t pay rent, the charter schools, which are serving the same kids, shouldn’t pay rent.”

Manhattan Institute senior fellow Marcus Winters adds, “Colocations are a fiscal necessity for New York’s charters … since they get no capital funds from the state.”

Also weighing in is Fordham Institute’s Chester Finn who maintains that, “De Blasio’s education agenda is full of hot air.” Finn takes the mayor-elect to task for his wrong-headed and meaningless reform ideas, such as his intention to “fix” but not close failing schools and his call for useless and expensive “across-the-board class-size reduction.”

The most shocking part of de Blasio’s agenda is his interest in appointing American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten as NYC schools chancellor. Talk about the fox guarding the hen house! (Mr. de Blasio might benefit from viewing the video of a 2010 event in Manhattan where Terry Moe, Rod Paige and I debated Weingarten and two others. The question was whether teachers unions have been the primary reason for education’s failure in NY and elsewhere. Weingarten had a very difficult time trying to defend the unions’ disastrous policies and convince the 500 or so attendees that they were a force for good in public education. Her team lost by a landslide.)

Actually, the idea of appointing the union leader as superintendent is not new. Steven Brill proposed just that in Class Warfare, claiming that if politically moderate Mayor Bloomberg chose her, it would be his “ultimate Nixon-to-China play.” But as Joy Resmovits reports

Brill doesn’t think the appointment would work in the context of a de Blasio administration. “A traditional Democrat appointing Weingarten would be seen correctly as a big step back from reform,” he said.

Is Weingarten interested in the job?

She is denying it, but there are reports that she wants it. Richard Johnson in the New York Post writes,

“She wants the job, and de Blasio’s people have been making calls, asking about Weingarten and testing the reaction,” said one well-placed source in the public education sector.

“The idea of putting a union chief in charge of a school system is mind-boggling,” said a political consultant. “It strains credulity that de Blasio would go that far.”

Meanwhile, across the country, a county just south of Denver went in the opposite direction on Election Day. AEI’s director of education policy studies Rick Hess sums it up in National Review Online:

In Douglas County, the 65,000-student school district that may be the nation’s most interesting had a crucial board election, in which the reformers earned a knockout victory. County superintendent Liz Fagen, with the support of a unanimous board, has moved to reimagine teacher pay radically, create a universal voucher program, and rethink curricula and testing. Pursuing reforms inconceivable in big cities where unions hold sway, Fagen and the board have sidelined the local teachers’ union and charged forward. This has earned the enmity of the American Federation of Teachers and Colorado Democrats. But in a crucial referendum on the Douglas County effort, the four reform candidates all won, with 52 to 54 percent of the vote, ensuring that the reformers will retain unanimous control of the seven-member board.

Hess’ comment about sidelining the teachers union has its roots in 2012 when the Dougco board cut ties with the Douglas County Federation of Teachers. This is not a possibility in all states, but Colorado has no defined state labor law, which gives school districts a lot of leeway in bargaining with the local teachers unions. As Ben DeGrow, senior education policy analyst for the Independence Institute, wrote in September 2012,

On Wednesday, 18 months after adopting a groundbreaking local private school choice program, the Douglas County Board of Education once again set the bold reform standard. Elected leaders of the 60,000-student school district immediately south of Denver, Colo., unanimously voted to cut ties with the teachers union, and to keep taxpayer dollars and district resources from underwriting union politics.

But is anyone paying attention to what goes on in Douglas County?

Politico reports that, “Politicians and educators from as far as Arizona, North Carolina and Texas have looked to model their own reforms on Douglas County.”

And in the Daily Caller, Casey Givens writes

Colorado has been a Petri dish for political reform for decades. From the Taxpayer Bill of Rights spending limit of the early 1990s to the innovative electioneering that turned the red state blue in 2008, conservatives and liberals alike have used the Centennial State as a laboratory for new ideas to be tested and later replicated across the country. If what happened in Colorado truly spreads to the rest of America, choice may soon be coming to a schoolhouse near you.

Interestingly, in October, the peripatetic Weingarten took time off from her busy schedule to go to Colorado and took a serious swipe at the Dougco school board. According to the Ed is Watching blog, she said that the board is

only interested in its own power. Douglas County schools used to be on the cutting edge in Colorado. But rather than respect the staff, for political and malevolent reasons the board has undermined the public education system that once was known as the jewel of Colorado.

Undermine public education?!

I’m sure that the reform-minded Coloradans weren’t exactly bothered by Randi’s hyperbole, nor were they crying in their Coors when she exited the state. Weingarten would be advised to hunker down in NYC where she has a new BFF in the recently elected mayor and her malign old-world ideas – tenure, seniority, step-and-column pay scale for teachers, anti-school choice, etc. – still have some currency. The NYC voters may deserve what – and whomever – they get as mayor and chancellor, but 1.1 million school kids surely don’t.

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.