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Miss Virginia Makes the Grade

My Dear Randi,

Fixing Z Mess

National School Choice Week aims to end our Zip-code Mandated Education System (Z MESS) and promote parent-power.

 You: I’m going out to dinner tonight.

Me: You are going to the restaurant down the street from where you live, right?

You: No, it’s not very good. I am going to a restaurant across town; it has food more to my liking and superior service.

Me: Uh, uh, you can’t go to that restaurant; you must go to the one closest to your home. It’s the law.

You would proceed to tell me that I am crazy. And I did make a nutty statement, didn’t I? But sadly this is exactly how we deal with education in California and throughout much of the country.

Why do we have Z MESS in the 21st Century? Because it serves the adults in the education blob, aka, the Big Government-Big Union Complex, that’s why. There is no other reason.

The teachers unions especially are sworn enemies of choice, particularly when it involves privatization. This is totally understandable because, except in rare cases, private schools are independent and not unionized. That’s a major reason why – given a choice – parents frequently opt for private schools. In fact, school choice is really about empowering parents to pick the best school for their kids. As the Friedman Foundation’s Greg Forster points out, “School choice would be a big step toward strengthening the family. It would reassert the primacy of parents over every stage of education until the point where children leave home and gain the rights of adulthood.”

How do the unions try to sell their argument against choice? Feebly.

As a rejoinder to National School Choice Week, which began Sunday, National Education Association writer Tim Walker posted “‘School Choice’ Mantra Masks the Harm of Siphoning Funds from Public Education” on the union’s website. In a piece amazingly devoid of honesty, he rails against charter schools, claiming they are rife with “waste and fraud.” He slimes vouchers, which he refers as “an entitlement program.” (!) He dismisses education savings accounts, asserting that they come with “little or no oversight over student outcomes.” And to top it off, Mr. Walker never gets around to explaining why so many parents avail themselves of choice and eagerly flee the highly regulated, overly bureaucratized, child-unfriendly Big Government-Big Union complex whenever they get the opportunity.

Sillier still is a Huff Po entry by American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten. Writing “When Unions Are Strong, Families Are Strong,” she claims that unions like hers are “strengthening our families, schools and economy – at the bargaining table, ballot box and beyond.”

Union run schools are getting stronger? Only in a perverse sense. That “strength,” as exhibited by restrictive contracts and tenure and seniority mandates, only serves to weaken education and hurt children.

And Weingarten and her cronies show no love for schools that aren’t organized. The wildly popular and successful Washington D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which serves predominantly poor and minority kids, has battled the union since its inception. As Michael Tanner writes in NRO, “… to preserve the program for the 2016–17 school year, Congress will have to either push through a stand-alone funding bill in the face of ferocious opposition from Democratic lawmakers and the teachers’ unions, or hope to include the funding in some future budget deal.”

Clearly, Weingarten doesn’t give a rip about “strengthening” the families that want to enroll their kids in the DCOSP program. Just the backbones of their union-owned legislators.

Celebrating Martin Luther King’s birthday last week, the unions were oozing with platitudes about the civil rights leader. NEA president Lily Eskelsen García penned a piece which refers to King’s “legacy in our classrooms.” While it’s true that there is no way to know how King would have responded to charter schools or voucher programs, his oldest son is convinced his father would approve. In fact, Martin Luther King III spoke at the “Rally in Tally” where over 10,000 people converged on Florida’s Capitol building in Tallahassee to urge the state’s largest teachers union to drop a lawsuit challenging a voucher-like education program that benefits low-income families. The state teachers union, the Florida Education Association, is claiming that “the tax-credit scholarships divert state money away from a quality public education system the state is required, under the Florida Constitution, to provide.”

MLK III said, “I just find it interesting that in our country we have the gall to debate about how our most precious resource – our children – are treated.” He cautioned that he couldn’t say with certainty how his father would feel today, but insisted that he “would always stand up for justice. This is about justice.”

The union, undeterred by the rally, plans to forge ahead with the lawsuit, claiming that the “voucher scheme is not legal.” Matthew Ladner, senior advisor at the Foundation for Excellence in Education, snapped, If there is a moral difference between redneck governors standing at the school house doors to keep kids out of school with a baseball bat, and union bosses wanting to go into schools to kick kids out of schools with legal baseball bats, the distinction escapes me.” (Bold added.)

It escapes me too. But what is inescapable is that we are in the middle of a war which pits parents and kids against teachers unions, at the heart of which is our failing, antiquated way of providing education. It is now time to ignore the teachers unions, straighten up Z MESS and give parents the right to choose the best education for their kids… traditional public, charter or private.

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.

Doctored Education

Using testing as a backdrop, NEA president promotes 1950s industrial-style education.

The American Enterprise Institute’s education policy maven Rick Hess has been traveling around the country promoting his new book The Cage-Busting Teacher. So last week he left his Education Week blog in the hands of National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen García.

Interesting choice, to say the least.

The main point of her May 18th entry, “Is There a Doctor in the Education House?,” is that testing is a bad thing. She makes a few points here that I can agree with. In brief, testing is like food. Basically it’s a good thing. But too much or the wrong kind can be damaging. As such, states and individual school districts need to reevaluate their programs to ensure that their tests are benefiting students and teachers, not bureaucrats, politicians and testing companies.

But Eskelsen García uses the forum to blast various kinds of education reform and makes some comments that strain the life out of credulity.

First, she laments “No Child Left Untested.” Okay, we’ll excuse the old joke, but she refers to the Bush/Kennedy/Clinton law as the “factory model of school reform.” Now coming from the leader of a union that has made the one-size-fits-every-teacher-and-student collective bargaining agreement the Bible of every school district unfortunate enough to be organized with an industrial-style union, that is hubris of the highest order.

Stanford professor and researcher Terry Moe has done extensive work on the subject and found that, bottom line, collective bargaining hurts students in large school districts. Moreover, he found that the negative effects of collective bargaining are much greater for high minority schools than for other schools. He explains,

… the best evidence indicates that the impact of collective bargaining is especially negative for schools that are ‘relatively’ high minority within a given (larger) district. This supports the argument that restrictive contracts put high minority schools at a disadvantage in the competition for teachers and resources within districts.

… collective bargaining does have negative consequences for student achievement, and that the effects are concentrated on precisely those districts and schools—large districts, high-minority schools—that, over the years, have been the lowest performers and the most difficult to improve.

In short the industrialization model of education in the U.S. is bad for kids, but cannot be blamed on NCLB. Fact is, the “factory model” comes with a shiny union label.

Eskelsen García then hits the privatization button, lumping charters and vouchers together in the same pot. The fact that most studies show charters do a better job than traditional public schools – especially with minorities – never makes it to her radar screen. Nor does the fact that vouchers have not only improved education for the kids who have taken advantage of them, but also help those kids who remain in nearby public schools. As I wrote recently, Friedman Foundation senior fellow Greg Forster looked at 23 empirical studies that have examined school choice’s impact on academic outcomes in public schools. Of these, he reports “22 find that choice improves public schools and one finds no visible impact. No empirical study has found that choice harms public schools.”

The union leader’s next bugaboo isfast-track teacher prep, short-term, disposable labor.” This is an obvious swipe at Teach for America, the program that turns out effective teachers despite the fact they go through an initial training for just five to seven weeks and avoid years of useless education school blather. (Actually, one reason TFA teachers do well is because they avoid our traditional schools of education which are in large part free of rigor and loaded with edu-fads-du-jour.) A recent study by Mathematica, an independent policy research group, finds that,

TFA’s first- and second-year elementary school teachers, who average just over a year and a half of teaching experience, were as effective as their counterparts in the same schools, who averaged 13.6 years of teaching experience, as measured by their students’ test scores in reading and math. A small subset of those TFA teachers — ones in pre-K through second-grade classrooms — were found to be slightly more effective in teaching reading than the national average in those grades.

Eskelsen García’s “short term” rap against TFA is also untrue. An extensive PDK study shows that nearly two-thirds of TFA teachers continue as public school teachers beyond their two-year commitment. Also, many who leave their teaching positions stay in the field as administrators, school board members, school district employees, etc.

The union leader ends her piece with “Maybe it’s time to change from the Factory Model of school reform to the Good Doctor Model.” Right, but the “Good Doctor” would of course come with seniority and tenure protections that would guarantee an ongoing practice irrespective of how many patients were buried in the process. And no matter what, her practice would continue to thrive because those who lived in her zip-code would be forced to use her services.

For unionistas, Eskelsen García’s ideas are just what the doctor ordered. But for the patients and those who get stuck with the bill, it’s toxic snake oil.

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.

 

Taxpayers, School Choice and the Unions

A new study reveals that vouchers save Americans a bucket load of cash.

A blockbuster report released last week shows that the American taxpayer is much better off living in a locale where school vouchers have been instituted. Vouchers, which enable children to use public funding to attend private schools, are available in scattered states and cities across the country.

Examining the fiscal impact of 10 of the 21 school voucher programs nationwide, Jeff Spalding, Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice director of fiscal policy, found a savings of $1.7 billion from 1991-2011. As Cato Institute policy analyst Jason Bedrick writes,

Spalding, the former comptroller/CFO for the city of Indianapolis, is cautious, methodical, and transparent in his analysis. He walks readers through the complex process of determining the fiscal impact of each program, identifying the impact of each variable and explaining equation along the way. He also makes relatively conservative assumptions, such as counting food service and interscholastic athletics as fixed costs even though they are variable with enrollment. 

While it’s not surprising that vouchers save money (the amount that a parent receives in the form of a voucher is always less than the cost to educate that child in a public school), the $1.7 billion figure is eye-opening.

In addition to saving taxpayers money, giving parents a choice of schools typically affords their kids a superior education. As Greg Forster, senior fellow at the Friedman Foundation, wrote last year,

Twelve empirical studies have examined academic outcomes for school choice participants using random assignment, the “gold standard” of social science. Of these, 11 find that choice improves student outcomes—six that all students benefit and five that some benefit and some are not affected. One study finds no visible impact. No empirical study has found a negative impact.

So, vouchers afford a better education for less money. Who could possibly be against that?

The answer is any and everyone who has a vested interest in the status quo – most notably educrats, the teachers unions and their bought-and-paid-for legislators. In fact, nothing scares the spit out of the unions more than school privatization because non-public schools are independent and not part of a school district, which unions can organize en masse. They simply don’t have the resources to deal with one school at a time.

The National Education Association website has a bullet-pointed page dedicated to its case against vouchers. The “information” posted is flawed, starting with its “educational case.”

Where vouchers are in place — Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Florida — a two-tiered system has been set up that holds students in public and private schools to different standards.

Since private schools do a better job of educating, maybe they should lead the way, not the public schools.

Its “social case” is downright silly.

A voucher lottery is a terrible way to determine access to an education. True equity means the ability for every child to attend a good school in the neighborhood.

Lotteries are indeed horrible for the losers. But using this argument in 1912, NEA would probably have said, “Since we can’t save everyone on the Titanic, let’s make everyone stay on board and go down with the ship.” The best way to eliminate lotteries is to make vouchers universal. The resulting uptick in private schools would eventually give all kids the opportunities they deserve.

And NEA’s “legal case” is flat out wrong. The claim here is that:

Vouchers tend to be a means of circumventing the Constitutional prohibitions against subsidizing religious practice and instruction.

In the 2002 Zelman v. Simmons-Harris decision, the Supreme Court ruled that because financial aid goes to parents and not the school, vouchers are indeed constitutional.

The union’s “political landscape” claim is beyond laughable.

Despite desperate efforts to make the voucher debate about “school choice” and improving opportunities for low-income students, vouchers remain an elitist strategy.

Elitist?! Rich folks don’t need a few thousand bucks from the government to send their children to a private school. Those kids get to go anyway. It’s the middle and lower income people who need and benefit most from vouchers.

One more bit of information for NEA and other hidebound monopolists: vouchers don’t hurt public education. As I have stressed many times, competition works in education – just as it does everywhere else. Vouchers typically make public schools better. In fact, Greg Foster’s analysis shows that,

Twenty-three empirical studies (including all methods) have examined school choice’s impact on academic outcomes in public schools. Of these, 22 find that choice improves public schools and one finds no visible impact. No empirical study has found that choice harms public schools. (Emphasis added.)

And lastly, something else that is missing from the NEA website is the fact that teachers – especially good ones – can make more money in places where choice is available. Just last week, a report by the Texas Public Policy Foundation found that teachers’ salaries would increase if states would introduce school choice.  Where there is competition, quality is rewarded.

So what do we know? Vouchers save money, enable children to get a superior education, and reward good teachers. Happily, the American public is looking favorably upon school choice, with 50 percent now favoring a universal voucher system; only 39 percent are opposed.

What we don’t know is how much longer our sclerotic power brokers will be able to stand in the way of a system that benefits everyone – everyone, that is, but the reactionary union elites, their political cronies and everyone else who insists on business-as-usual.

(Note: In my ongoing effort to dispel education myths, I will be speaking at TruthFest, an event in Los Angeles this Saturday, October 11th.)

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.

 

Teachers Unions’ Private Practices

The unions like choice and privatization except when they don’t.

A recent story out of Michigan illustrates the two-faced nature of teachers unions on the subject of privatization. Seems that the Michigan Education Association (MEA), state affiliate of the National Education Association, paid private, non-unionized companies between $5,500 and $86,112 – totaling over $155,000 – for janitorial services in 2012-2013.

The union had no comment on its cost-saving measures, as reported by Michigan Confidential, a news service for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a free market think tank in the Wolverine State. In fact, according to the MEA website, the union remains unequivocally against privatization when it comes to the hiring of private contractors by school districts.

The appeal of privatization is based on the flawed economic assumption that private companies can provide the same services as public school employers at lower costs. Theoretically, a good contract with a private firm could provide the same services with the same quality, responsiveness and accountability as an in-house operation. The problem is that to achieve this, a private contractor is very likely to charge more than it costs to provide the service in-house. Private contractors need to earn profits, finance corporate overhead and pay taxes. These factors drive the cost of the contract up and/or the quality and quantity of the service down. Time after time, districts that try to save money by hiring private contractors end up with inferior service, higher costs or both. 

Their hypocrisy blazing, the MEA went so far as to sponsor a Statewide Anti-Privatization Committee. And at its most recent annual conference, the union held several sessions on fighting privatization. Participants learned how to “recognize the threat of privatization,  fight privatization battles, defend members’ careers, and  take steps to protect your own local.”

One thing that was most definitely not included in the anti-privatization sessions was a report issued by Mackinac in January which found that when districts privatize they save money, improve services and pay their teachers more.

… 43 school districts reported that they have privatized food, custodial and transportation services. Far more districts (186) reported they do not privatize any of these services. And 65.5 percent of districts reported that they outsourced at least one service.

An examination of salary levels in these districts reveals that in the districts that privatize all three services the average teacher salary was approximately $60,000, while the average teacher salary in the 186 that don’t privatize those services was approximately $56,000. (Emphasis added.)

The most damaging area of privatization for organized labor is education, because the unions lose serious money when teachers take jobs in non-unionized, non-public schools. And no union “privatization committee” is going to broadcast the financial facts here either. While Michigan spends over $10,600 per year on each public school student, it costs the state’s private schools only $6,468 on average to educate the same child.

Nationally, the numbers are just as striking. Across the country the average annual cost per public school pupil is $15,171. But private schools only spend $9,242 per student.

What about quality? Where parents have a choice and send their children to a private school, the results are unambiguous and just as striking. In A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice, Friedman Foundation senior fellow Greg Forster looked at 12 empirical studies that “examined academic outcomes for school choice participants using random assignment, the ‘gold standard’ of social science. Of these, 11 find that choice improves student outcomes—six that all students benefit and five that some benefit and some are not affected. One study finds no visible impact. No empirical study has found a negative impact.” And of course, at the same time, the taxpayers are shelling out fewer education dollars.

Maybe Henry Mabry, president of the Alabama Education Association, has been reading the Friedman Foundation report. His two children attend the (private) Holy Cross Episcopal School in Montgomery. But at the very same time, Mabry’s AEA filed a politically-driven lawsuit, alleging that Alabama’s new educational choice program – which especially benefits low-income kids stuck in failing schools – is unconstitutional. Sadly, Montgomery County circuit court Judge Eugene Reese decided in favor of the union. An appeal is imminent, however.

Mabry, like his union brothers in Michigan, has decided what’s good for the goose is bad for the gander. Shame on the whole gaggle of hypocrites.

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.

(A slightly different version of this post appeared in Saturday’s CA Political Review.)