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Pension Pilfery

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.

Preferring Failing Schools to Successful Ones

Teacher union leaders want to keep poorly performing public schools open, but kill off thriving charters and voucher schools.

Just last week it was announced in New York City that three failing public schools would be closing. With a total enrollment of 217 students, there really was no other choice. Indeed, it was such a no-brainer that even United Federation of Teachers (UFT) president Michael Mulgrew didn’t threaten anyone with bodily harm over the decision. But Mulgrew’s acquiescence is a rarity for him and other teacher union leaders.

Like a failing business, when a school goes bad it should close. This phenomenon is occurring more and more in big cities, especially when families are given choices. If there is a charter school available that suits their needs, parents will yank their kid out of the failing traditional public school the first chance they get. But the teacher union bosses’ default position is that a failing school should never be closed; a piece on the National Education Association website tries feebly to make that case. Penned by in-house writer John Rosales, “Closing Schools: Privatization Disguised as ‘Accountability’” is typical union claptrap in which shibboleths and lies predominate.

When they close schools, they are closing hospitals, grocery stores, and police stations…. This is a human rights issue…. School closings are not isolated incidents but rather a movement toward privatization.

In reality, a public school closes when parents stop sending their kids there because it doesn’t live up to its mission, which is to educate students in a safe environment. In fact, a recent study conducted in Ohio by the Fordham Institute shows – not surprisingly – that displaced students typically receive a better education in a different setting.

Three years after closures, the public-school students had gained, on average, what equates to 49 extra days of learning in reading—gaining more than a year of achievement growth, as measured by state reading exams. In math, they gained an extra 34 days of learning, as measured by state math exams. In the charter sector, displaced students also made gains in math—46 additional days.

But then again, there are schools that union leaders do think should be shut down – charter schools, especially the non-unionized ones, and especially those run by one Eva Moskowitz. In fact, New York’s UFT has begun that process by calling for a moratorium on new Moskowitz-led Harlem Success Academy charters. The unionistas are ecstatic because they think they finally have something on the operator of 34 extraordinarily successful schools. In late October, it was revealed that one of her schools’ principals had a “to go” list of undesirable kids. The principal was reprimanded by Moskowitz, which should have ended the story. But the unions continue to act as if they’ve discovered the mother lode, which, of course, is silly. Even if Moskowitz is guilty as charged, it should be noted that traditional public schools – with the blessing of the unions – have a long history of removing and transferring undesirables, either to other public, continuation or opportunity schools.

Another example of teachers unions fighting a successful education enterprise is in Washington, D.C. where the Opportunity Scholarship Program has been a raving success. The federally funded program, which has been in the NEA’s crosshairs since its inception in 2004, has led to greater parental satisfaction and school safety, as well as higher graduation rates and test scores than those of the public schools the voucher students had escaped. But despite the program’s success, the DCOSP schools are private and not unionized, and that is what matters to organized labor. The NEA claims that vouchers are not “real” education reform and that “opposition to vouchers is a top priority for NEA.” In 2009, NEA president Dennis Van Roekel wrote a threatening letter to every Democratic member of Congress advising them that NEA “strongly opposes any extension of the District of Columbia private school voucher . . . program.” And just last week, due to strong union-fueled Democratic opposition and undemanding Republicans, the program was not reauthorized, although its funding has been retained for another year.

So the union fights to knock out successful charters and privatization programs but keep traditional public schools open no matter what miserable failures they are. And they are doing this for the children, of course.

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.

Private v. Big Government-Unionized Schools

If almost half the unionized workers at an auto plant could get a free Chevy as a company perk, but instead bought one made by non-union workers from a different car-maker, what would you think?

A few weeks ago, Richard Stutman, head of the Boston Teachers Union, wrote a piece in which he delivered the standard issue body slam of charter schools. He sounded the alarm bells about these alternative public schools which he claims are a “step toward privatizing public education.” And to any teacher union leader, the word “privatization” is more profane than the F-bomb for one simple reason: private schools are almost never unionized. But for parents, a private school can be a godsend.

By choosing to send their kids to private schools, parents assert their right to be in control of their upbringing – the way it had been for time immemorial until the 19th Century, when the state began to supplant parents as “professional experts.” We have since devolved into a zip-code monopoly, a government-run, technocratic and often unionized school system which frequently delivers a substandard product.

The unions insist that “for-profit education” only exists to make its owners wealthy. What the union crowd never mentions is that the only way anyone makes money is if they deliver a good or a service that someone else wants. (Of course unions don’t operate that way; they force teachers throughout much of the country to pay for their services whether they want them or not.) Also, as Greg Forster writes, the “unions are quick to point out that education reform serves the interests of for-profit businesses. It does—and so does a failure of education reform. In fact, more for-profit businesses are served by pursuing the unions’ tired old agenda than by pursuing reform.”

Back to Stutman. I would like to ask the union boss why, if public schools are so good, those who actually teach in them send their own kids to private schools in much greater numbers than the general public. A 2014 Education Next poll found that 19 percent of public school teachers send their own kids to private schools, while just 14 percent of the public does. And a 2004 study by the Fordham Institute showed that the percentage of big city teachers who put their own kids in private school was even greater. A few examples – all of which are in cities dominated by Stutman’s national affiliate, the American Federation of Teachers:

  • Philadelphia – 44 percent
  • Chicago – 39 percent
  • New York City – 33 percent.
  • (Stutman’s) Boston – 28 percent

Whatever reason these teachers may have, they at least can afford a private school for their kids. Poor parents, who are trying to escape the same schools that teachers don’t want to send their kids to, can’t always do that. And it’s the teachers unions in every state leading the charge to keep the poor trapped in their failing public schools, doing whatever it takes to keep them from getting a voucher to attend a better private school.

And the public v. private battle certainly isn’t limited to our country. In fact, the battle rages in some of the poorest places on the planet, where the truly impoverished are way more desperate than those living below the poverty line in the U.S. The Cato Institute’s Jason Bedrick recently wrote about James Tooley’s The Beautiful Tree: A Personal Journey Into How the World’s Poorest People Are Educating Themselves. The author documented how “low-cost private schools operated in the world’s poorest areas, from the slums of Hyderabad in India to remote mountain villages in China and shanty towns in Kenya. According to the international development crowd, these schools shouldn’t exist….” The government provides the poor no-cost schooling in better facilities (with indoor plumbing!), so why then would those living in abject poverty pay for something they could get for free?

Bedrick continues, “According to The Economist, hundreds of new private schools are opening in Lagos, Nigeria, many of them charging less than $1 a week.” In fact, Tooley now reports that 70 percent of “pre- and primary children” in Lagos are in non-government, locally-run schools. In the private schools paid for by parents living in dire poverty, Tooley observed that they typically turn out better educated kids than the public schools, which get greater funding from the government and more from foreign countries, as well as donations from the U.N. and philanthropists like Bill Gates. But with all that, they often lack teachers who actually show up for work. At a school in nearby Ghana only 3 of 10 teachers come to school regularly. But due to the teachers union, there is nothing that school officials can do about it. (Sound familiar?)

Yes, even in the remotest areas of the world, the teachers unions are a force that must be reckoned with. Education International claims to be the “world’s largest federation of unions, representing thirty million education employees in about four hundred organisations in one hundred and seventy countries and territories, across the globe.” Its website minces no words when it comes to privatization:

Commercialisation and privatisation in and of education will be at the heart of Education International’s agenda for the next four years as the organisation concluded a successful Seventh World Congress in Ottawa, Canada. It is a ‘threat that poses great harm to the greatest enterprise of our society: quality public education,’ said EI’s President, Susan Hopgood in her closing remarks at the end of five days of debate, networking, and sharing of ideas and best practice. ‘We leave here united, ready to fight against the scourge of private enterprise in our classrooms.’ (Emphasis added.)

Yet the children’s test scores in the private schools Tooley visited – some run on a few dollars a day – routinely beat those in the government-run, unionized schools.

It’s obvious by now that many teachers in America’s biggest cities and the poorest parents around the world aren’t buying the unions’ anti-privatization twaddle. It’s about time the rest of us recognized that the real “scourge” in education is not privatization, but rather the corrupting influence of Big Government and its international partner in crime, the teachers unions.

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

Dear Randi (Redux),

Given the assertions you make in your latest “Where We Stand” column, we need to talk!

So it’s been a year since I last wrote to you. You sure have been busy! Defending mandatory voting laws and Hillary Clinton, railing against cheese sandwiches and Jeb Bush, it’s totally understandable that you may be getting a bit fuzzy in your, er, facts concerning teachers. I am assuming your errors are honest ones as opposed to the other kind. (No, I am not going to make a joke that you should rename your column “Where We Lie.”) In any event, as president of California Teachers Empowerment Network, an organization that aims to get accurate information to teachers (and everyone else), I would like to take this opportunity to set the record straight.

In your latest column, you erroneously refer to tenure as “due process.” Randi! Randi! Randi! As a lawyer, you surely know that teachers already have tons of due process, and that tenure is just an added layer that makes it just about impossible to fire an incompetent one. In California, on average, two tenured teachers – out of about 300,000 – are canned for poor performance every year. (I’m sure you would admit that somewhat less than 299,998 of the state’s teachers are really competent.) By the way, in CA, we usually don’t use the word tenure, but instead “permanent status.” How pathetic is that? What workers besides teachers – and Supreme Court Justices – have permanent jobs?

Then you throw in the obligatory jab at the Koch brothers, claiming that they are part of an effort to “dismantle public education.” I know attacking the Kochs is de rigeur union shtick, but seriously, Randi…. The Kochs and others (like me) simply want to give parents a choice where to send their kids to school. I know that you strongly favor giving a woman a choice whether or not to abort her unborn child, so why not give a woman who chooses to keep that child a choice where to send her to school?

Next you say, “Our adversaries don’t want a virtuous cycle that gives everyone a shot at the American dream, with access to a high-quality public education.” Goodness! Randi, where did you come up with that?! You have it backwards. By forcing kids to stay in lousy public schools, you are denying them a shot at the American dream. No, I am not saying that all public schools are bad, but there are far too many that are, and why on earth would you want to force kids to stay in one? And by the way, please tell me why it is that only about 12 percent of urban parents send their kids to private schools nationwide, yet in the New York metropolitan area 33 percent of teachers send their kids to private school? In San Francisco that number is 34 percent, and it’s 39 percent in Chicago. I look forward to your addressing this disparity in one of your future columns.

Then you bring up two major lawsuits that the unions are involved in. Mercy, Randi, you are a lawyer! How could you get so much so wrong?! You first mention California’s Bain v. CTA case, writing, “… the plaintiffs are claiming that as nonmembers of a union, they should still get the full benefits of belonging to a union, for free.” Pure nonsense! No one is trying to get anything for free. The case is about teachers who are happy being dues-paying union members but simply do not want to financially support the union’s political agenda. The way things are now is that in order to not support that agenda, a teacher must resign from the union but still pay what’s called an agency fee – about 2/3 of full dues or $700 a year – to the union. Teachers who do go that route are stripped of essential benefits that they are paying for just because they don’t want to fill the union’s political coffers.

Following a complete misrepresentation of Bain, you then mangle Friedrichs v CTA, writing,

The plaintiffs in Friedrichs aim to break unions by eliminating the fee paid by those who have union benefits but don’t join. Agency fee reflects the cost to the union of representing all workers in a bargaining unit. It’s also known as fair share, because it’s only fair if everyone who benefits from the services a union provides also chips in to cover the cost of those benefits.

First, the suit is not about breaking any union. This case is simply about giving teachers a choice whether or not to join one. Then you get into the bogus “fair share” argument. Yes if a teacher wants what a union has to offer, they should of course have to pay for the service. But if a teacher doesn’t want what a union is offering, why do you think it’s “fair” to force them to pay for it anyway? (I have asked this question to scores of people and have never received a good answer. If you are so inclined, please give it a shot; my email address is below.)

And finally, you write that “union members have higher wages…” But higher than whose? If you are talking about non-unionized teachers, you’re not even close. In 2011, Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli compared teachers’ salaries in school districts which allow collective bargaining with those that don’t. Using data collected by the National Council on Teacher Quality, he looked at 100 of the largest districts from each of the 50 states and found that teachers who worked in districts where the union was not involved made more 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.” He adds that the unions are really about “… protecting benefits and seniority – not pushing for higher pay. If you’re a young teacher earning a lousy salary and paying union dues, that’s something to be very angry about.”

Once again, I am giving you the benefit of the doubt and not accusing you of maliciously misrepresenting the truth, but rather maintaining that you are flat-out wrong in much of what you wrote. Please remember the words of that wise old philosopher Elvis Presley, “Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t goin’ away.”

In any event, I hope this helps. If you don’t want to retract any of your misstatements, perhaps we could have a public discussion about your version of the “facts,” as we did in 2010. If you are interested, please send me an email at lsand@ctenhome.org, and we can take it from there. Thanks.

Best,

Larry Sand

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.

The Poor Teacher Canard Redux – Part II

The unions’ effect on teacher pay? Not what you think.

Last week, I wrote about the fallacy of the underpaid teacher. When compared to other professions, teachers actually do considerably better when taking into account the various perks they get – generous healthcare and pension packages, etc.

But, uninterested in facts, the unions continue to bang on the table. NEA/AFT and their state and local affiliates continuously hyperventilate about how teachers need to be paid a “living wage.” And of course these unions try to position themselves as saviors, doing their best to convince teachers that any salary enhancement is dependent on organized labor.

But just what is the effect of unionism on teacher pay?

At the behest of the unions, collective bargaining (CB), a socialist contrivance, is the norm throughout much of the country. But does it work favorably for teachers?

The Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli doesn’t think so. In 2011, he compared teachers’ salaries in school districts across the country which allow CB with those that don’t. Using data collected by the National Council on Teacher Quality, he looked at 100 of the largest districts from each of the 50 states and found that teachers who worked in districts where the union was not involved actually made more than those who were in CB 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.” He adds that the unions are really about “… protecting benefits and seniority – not pushing for higher pay. If you’re a young teacher earning a lousy salary and paying union dues, that’s something to be very angry about.” (Emphasis added.)

While Petrilli’s analysis was limited to large districts, it does jibe with other studies that find the unions are not instrumental in securing higher salaries for teachers.

In an elaborately detailed 2009 study, “The Effect of Teachers’ Unions on Education Production: Evidence from Union Election Certifications in Three Midwestern States,” Stanford Professor Michael Lovenheim concluded, “I find unions have no effect on teacher pay.”

While Lovenheim’s study used data from just three states, Cato Institute’s Andrew Coulson, using national data, came to the same conclusion.

So, according to Petrilli, Lovenheim and Coulson, the teachers unions are at best inconsequential, and at worst actually damage a teacher’s bottom line.

But a new study leaves no doubt. In the Fordham Institute’sThe Hidden Half: School Employees Who Don’t Teach,” we see how teachers’ and other educational staff unions most definitely have a negative effect on teacher pay. Masters of featherbedding, the unions – taking advantage of an endless procession of government mandates – have managed to find places for workers where none are really needed.

The number of non-teaching staff in the United States (those employed by school systems but not serving as classroom teachers) has grown by 130 percent since 1970. Non-teachers, more than three million strong, now comprise half of the public school workforce. Their salaries and benefits absorb one-quarter of current education expenditures. But is this growth necessary—or even sustainable? (Emphasis added.)

It’s important to note that the countries which regularly kick our butts in achievement haven’t experienced the non-teacher employee hiring explosion that we have. Switzerland spends 70 percent of its compensation dollars on teachers and just 14 percent on other staff. In Finland those numbers are 51:11 and Slovakia 54:14. But in the U.S., we spend 54 percent on teachers and a whopping 27 percent on non-teaching staff.

In another study, The Friedman Foundation – using U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics data – found that between fiscal years 1950 and 2009,

… the number of K-12 public school students in the United States increased by 96 percent while the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) school employees grew 386 percent. Public schools grew staffing at a rate four times faster than the increase in students over that time period. Of those personnel, teachers’ numbers increased 252 percent while administrators and other staff experienced growth of 702 percent, more than seven times the increase in students. (Emphasis added.)

While some of those additional jobs may be important and necessary, most are not. As a middle school teacher during the 90s and aughts, I saw this first hand; my middle school experienced a steady uptick in the number of deans, counselors, psychologists, coordinators, coaches, teaching assistants, etc., but we fared no better academically with all the extra personnel.

In reality, with public employee unions leading the charge, public education has turned into one behemoth jobs program. And without the addition of needless jobs, there would be considerably more education dollars available for teachers.

At the beginning of the new school year, the United Teachers of Los Angeles and other teachers unions across the country are threatening to strike if their wage demands aren’t met. Too bad the teachers involved can’t fire their unions and negotiate for themselves. On their own, they couldn’t possibly do a worse job than the union they are forced to pay for that service.

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.

Anti-School Choice Goblins Haunt the Land

It’s October and the voucher-bashing ghouls are doing their best to fog the issues and trick us.

While there are some education traditionalists who may embrace charter schools, they frequently draw a strict line in the sand when it comes to vouchers. For the uninitiated, a voucher enables a parent to take education funding issued by the government and apply that money toward tuition at a private school.

Those who rail against any sort of privatizing have either an obsessive and romanticized notion of the “neighborhood public school,” or they belong to a group that benefits financially from the status quo. The undisputed ringleaders of the latter are the teachers unions. For them, privatization means fewer dues-paying public school teachers – and nothing drives Big Union crazier than losing market share. Last week, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten wrote a piece in Huffington Post that typifies the union mentality, trashing school choice, before donning the good-witch mask to end with “We are at a pivotal moment – a moment when we must reclaim the promise of public education without further detours, distractions and delays.”

The promise of public education? I learned early in life that promises should not to be taken seriously after they are shown to be lies.

The AFT website moves into Bizarro territory when it concludes its mini anti-choice rant by informing us that public money used to subsidize private school tuition means “less accountability for taxpayers’ dollars, a false hope for a handful of kids, and fewer resources for school reforms that actually work.”

The “less accountability” crack is especially hypocritical given the fact that the unions are forever railing against teacher accountability, and do their level best to keep every teacher – no matter how incompetent or criminal – in the classroom.

Perhaps the most ridiculous attempt to bash privatization this month came from Jon Overton, writing for The Daily Iowan. He starts sensibly writing that, “People learn in different ways, speeds, and are from backgrounds that place varying levels of importance on academics.” One might think that this statement would lead him to be pro-choice. But, no, he maintains that choice hurts failing schools. So I guess his answer is to ignore successful private institutions and force kids to stay in failing public schools … because, well, they’re public. He attempts to bolster his argument using a report from the Economic Policy Institute which claims that the results of the Milwaukee voucher program have been unimpressive. (Yes, the same EPI where Weingarten is on the board and the chairman is none other than AFL-CIO boss Richard Trumka. Only tricks, no treats from that crowd.)  But independent researcher Patrick Wolf finds that,

Students enrolled in the Milwaukee voucher program are more likely to graduate from high school and go to college than their public school counterparts, boast significantly improved reading scores, represent a more diverse cross-section of the city, and are improving the results of traditional public school students….

Among the new findings are that students enrolled in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP)—the nation’s oldest private school choice program currently in operation—not only graduate from high school on time by seven percentage points more than students enrolled in Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), but they are also more likely to enroll in a four-year college and persist in college.

In a close second to Overton’s article, Politico’s Stephanie Simon writes“Vouchers don’t do much for students.” Her entire argument can essentially be summed up in one sentence: “Taxpayers across the U.S. will soon be spending $1 billion a year to help families pay private school tuition – and there’s little evidence that the investment yields academic gains.”

Adam Emerson of the Fordham Institute quickly lays the “little evidence” argument to waste.

Consider, for instance, the work of Patrick Wolf at the University of Arkansas, who has examined the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship and found that it led to improved reading achievement among participants while also increasing a student’s chance of graduating high school by 21 percentage points. Consider, too, that random-assignment studies of privately funded voucher programs in New York, Dayton, and Charlotte found higher achievement levels on standardized tests or higher college-going rates, or both, particularly for black students. Other empirical studies led to findings that range from the positive competitive effects vouchers have on public schools to the heightened level of achievement that comes from greater accountability (this last comes from Milwaukee, where Simon noted that snapshot test scores of voucher students look poorly but where a longitudinal analysis of the voucher program reports more positive results). But a single literature review from Greg Forster at the Friedman Foundation is perhaps most revealing: eleven of twelve random-assignment studies have showed improved academic outcomes of students who participated in voucher programs. The one study that didn’t found no visible impact on students one way or the other. (Emphasis added.)

Then there is the sound-good-but-dead-wrong traditionalist argument used by Simon that vouchers “siphon money from public schools.” Citing Harvard econometrician Carolyn Hoxby, Arnold Ahlert addresses that issue:

The hand-wringers are further incensed that public funds are being “siphoned” from public schools to pay for vouchers, insisting–as they invariably do–that more money will lead to better public schools. This argument was completely debunked by Caroline M. Hoxby, an Associate Professor of Economics at Harvard, during an interview with PBS’s Frontline. At the time she noted that the average spending per pupil in the U.S. was $7500 per year, while voucher costs averaged $2000. “Even if the vouchers came completely out of the local public school district’s budget, every time they lost a student, they’d be losing $2000, but they’d lose a whole student and $5,500 remains behind,” she explained.

As biased and wrong-headed as the Overton and Simon pieces are, they can’t hold a candle to a piece written by Allison Benedikt for Slate a couple of months ago. In the second sentence of “If You Send Your Kid to Private School, You Are a Bad Person,” the author writes, “You are a bad person if you send your children to private school. Not bad like murderer bad—but bad like ruining-one-of-our-nation’s-most-essential-institutions-in-order-to-get-what’s-best-for-your-kid bad. So, pretty bad.”

Yes, Ms. Benedikt, I should send my kid to a rotten pubic school just because you have some misguided notion that I if I don’t, it would ruin one-of-our-nation’s-most-essential-institutions.” Sacrificing your kid’s future to prop up a failing government-run operation is collectivism at its scariest.

There is another facet to the public-private discussion that the traditionalists and the teachers unions have never quite got around to addressing, which is that many rank-and-file teachers eschew their local public school and go the private route themselves. As Larry Elder writes,

About 11 percent of all parents — nationwide, rural and urban — send their children to private schools. The numbers are much higher in urban areas. One study found that in Philadelphia a staggering 44 percent of public school teachers send their own kids to private schools. In Cincinnati and Chicago, 41 and 39 percent of public school teachers, respectively, pay for a private school education for their children. In Rochester, New York, it’s 38 percent. In Baltimore it’s 35 percent, San Francisco is 34 percent and New York-Northeastern New Jersey is 33 percent. In Los Angeles nearly 25 percent of public school teachers send their kids to private school versus 16 percent of Angelenos who do so.

Seems as if these public school teachers might know something that their unions are loath to acknowledge: that many public schools just aren’t getting the job done, and that choosing the best education option for their children is not only their right – it’s their responsibility.

In fact, all parents should have a right to sidestep the tricks of the traditionalists and teachers unions, knock down doors and demand the best education treat possible – a choice of a public or private school for their children – and let the edu-dollars follow the student.

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.