Posts

Defective collective bargaining

Let’s Deep-six Prop. 30

The signatures for an initiative that would extend 2012’s “temporary” tax increase in California are due today.

Four years ago Californians voted in Prop. 30, a “temporary” tax, to pay back schools “from the years of devastating cuts.” But as I show here, there was hardly any devastation; in fact, our spending had continued to be quite robust. The measure jacked up income tax on people with incomes exceeding $250,000 through 2018 and increased sales tax on all of us through the end of this year. But, the Beholden State teachers unions are trying to get an initiative on the 2016 ballot that would continue the higher income tax through 2030. (The sales tax increase would expire as scheduled.) Earlier this month, California Teachers Association president Eric Heins told the union’s State Council that “…we need to gather 900,000 signatures to get our measure on the ballot. We are about 60 percent there, and we only have about three more weeks.”

Today, in fact, is the deadline. If enough signatures are gathered, the extension has a good chance of success. As reported by EdSource’s John Fensterwald, a Public Policy Institute of California poll found, “…among all Californians, 64 percent support the extension, 32 percent oppose it and 4 percent are undecided. Among likely voters, 62 percent back it, 35 percent oppose it and 2 percent haven’t decided. By party affiliation, 82 percent of Democrats support it while only 32 percent of Republicans do.”

When I read poll numbers like this, I always wonder if the people questioned know what we actually spend on education. My guess is that many don’t. A recent Education Next poll, which included a question about that issue, is instructive. The school districts in which their survey respondents resided spent an average of $12,440 per pupil in 2012 (the most recent data available). But when asked, the respondents estimated per-pupil expenditures in their local school district, they guessed, on average, just $6,307 – about half of what was actually spent. (By the way, these dollar amounts would be considerably higher if expenditures for transportation, capital expenses, and debt service were included.)

Should Prop. 30 (or any future such tax increases) make it on to the ballot, I would ask voters to consider the following:

  • The unions will tell you that the tax is only on the wealthy, whom they claim don’t pay their fair share. But a look at the actual numbers tells a different story. A report issued by the Congressional Budget Office in 2012 shows that the top one percent of income earners across the nation paid 39 percent of federal individual income taxes in 2009, while earning 13 percent of the income. Hence, it’s clear that the rich are already paying considerably more than their “fair share.”
  • Courtesy of Cato Institute’s late, great Andrew Coulson, we see that between 1972 and 2012 California’s education spending (adjusted for inflation) has doubled, while our students’ SAT scores have actually declined.
  • The latest study on the relationship between spending and achievement, recently conducted in Michigan, found no statistically significant correlation between how much money the state’s public schools spend and how well students perform academically. Mackinac Center Education Policy Director Ben DeGrow, who coauthored the study said, “Of the 28 measurements of academic achievement studied, we find only one category showed a statistically significant correlation between spending and achievement, and the gains were nominal at best.” He added, “Spending may matter in some cases, but given the way public schools currently spend their resources, it is highly unlikely that merely increasing funding will generate any meaningful boost to student achievement.”
  • Unconditional money poured into public education from the private sector doesn’t help either. In 2010, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg donated $100 million to the Newark public schools, which was matched by another $100 million from unnamed donors. As documented in The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools, a book about the gift, the money went up in smoke, with the teachers union playing a big role in vaporizing it. As reported by the New York Times, Newark Teachers Union leader Joe Del Grosso “demanded a ransom of $31 million to compensate for what he felt members should have received in previous years — before agreeing to discuss any labor reforms.” The new labor contract accounted for almost half the $200 million. In a review of the book, Cato Institute’s Jason Bedrick wrote, “The union boss… made the back pay a condition for even holding the negotiations. ‘We had an opportunity to get Zuckerberg’s money,’ Del Grosso later explained, ‘Otherwise, it would go to the charter schools. I decided I shouldn’t feed and clothe the enemy.’” But it wasn’t only the unions that abused the gift. As Bedrick says, “The Prize demonstrates in depressing detail just how difficult it is to reform public schooling in the United States. Laws, regulations, and labor contracts favored adult jobs over kids’ education and this entrenched bureaucracy was difficult to change—especially because reforms met opposition from special interests and their political allies.”

With a debt of over $1 trillion and counting, California clearly has a spending problem, not a too-little-tax problem. The taxpayers must take action. First, we all need to know specifically where our edu-bucks are being spent. You can start at the Ed-Data website for general expenditures. Do some digging to find out how teacher union (and all public employee union) pensions are bankrupting cities across the state. For that kind of information, Pension Tsunami is an invaluable resource. Perhaps most importantly, communicate with legislators and demand school choice. Among other things – just as in business – competition lowers prices while increasing product quality. And God knows we would benefit from both.

Randi Weingarten and other union leaders have a prized talking point: “You can’t fire your way to a teaching force.” It’s a ridiculous claim, which I debunked last week. And at the same time, they erroneously believe we can spend our way to success. But they make no real case for this, because there isn’t one. It’s time for all of us to stop falling for the feel-good fairy tales. Just saying “No!” to the Prop. 30 extension – should it get to the ballot – would be a great place to start.

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 Coulson Effect on Education

An education free market stalwart leaves us way too soon.

On February 7th, Andrew Coulson tragically passed away at age 48 from brain cancer. As Senior Fellow in Education Policy at the Cato Institute, he led the charge for free market reforms in education. An unapologetic capitalist, he believed that the market would inevitably lead to better educational outcomes for all kids. And it was really more than a belief. When the former computer engineer saw a problem, he got busy tinkering under the hood to see what the problem was and how best to fix it.

Coulson was a kind, brilliant man whose sense of humor was always at the ready. His colleagues, Jason Bedrick and Neal McCluskey, found him to be “almost impossibly sunny.” Even those coming from a very different political/education angle appreciated and respected him. Reformer Doug Tuthill, a one-time union leader and self-described liberal Democrat, said of him, “Andrew loved facts and logic. He had an engineer’s mind and was relentlessly methodical in laying out his arguments.  I appreciated his commitment to civility and rationality in private and public discourse, and was always influenced, if not persuaded, by his reasoning and facts.”

Before I met Coulson in 2010, we had a brief email relationship, and in 2009 he sent me a copy of “The Effects of Teachers Unions on American Education,” a paper he wrote for the Cato Journal. While the teachers unions are quick to impress upon the world how much they do for teachers, they never get around to telling you specifics. Oh sure, they go on about salary and benefits, but are their claims true? Coulson, using piles of data, cut through union happy talk and left us with a very different view.

One of the claims of the teachers unions is that collective bargaining is the life-blood of the union movement, but Coulson handily debunks that. While collective bargaining has some effect on teacher salaries, it is not nearly as great as is commonly assumed.

Coulson cites Stanford economist Carolyn Hoxby who suggests that the real union wage premium is somewhere between zero and 10 percent. Looking at rural Pennsylvania districts, economist Robert Lemke found the public school union wage premium at 7.6 percent. Cornell’s Michael Lovenheim looked at three Midwestern states  and concluded that “unions have no effect on teacher pay.” Coulson clarifies that salary hikes have all undeniably occurred, but “they have occurred in both unionized and nonunionized public school districts.”

So if salary hikes (and other collective bargaining goodies) haven’t done much for union members, what have the unions accomplished for their teachers? Coulson maintained it protects them from having to compete in the educational marketplace.

Another great Coulson contribution came in the one (that I am aware of) interchange between Andrew and American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, and it didn’t work out too well for the union leader. In 2011, she wrote an insufferable op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in which she claims that “Markets Aren’t the Education Solution.” Coulson responded with “Dear Ms. Weingarten: I’ll Show You Mine if You’ll Show Me Yours,” in which he wrote he’d “prefer to reach policy conclusions based on empirical research.” As Coulson pointed out, Weingarten came to her conclusion “based on the testimony of a few foreign teachers’ union leaders and government officials who… run official government education monopolies.” Coulson produced a most interesting chart that clearly shows how many studies favor education markets over state school monopolies, and vice-versa, in each of six outcome areas.

Coulson

Not surprisingly, Weingarten didn’t (because she couldn’t) deliver a rejoinder.

Coulson nails the subject: “The NEA and AFT spend large sums on political lobbying so that public school districts maintain their monopoly control of more than half a trillion dollars in annual U.S. k-12 education spending. And since both the U.S. and international research indicate that achievement and efficiency are generally higher in private sector—and particularly competitive market—education systems, the public school monopoly imposes an enormous cost on American children and taxpayers.”

To further bring Coulson’s thesis to light, one only needs to look at recent events. A small sampling:

  • In Jefferson County, Colorado, a “parent” group led the charge to get rid of a school board majority “with an extreme anti-public education agenda.” In reality, it wasn’t parent-led, it was union-led. The National Education Association and its state and local affiliates fully subsidized an ugly and unfortunately successful campaign to unseat the NEA-dubbed “right-wing school board.
  • In New York City, the unions are on an eternal mission to cripple Eva Moskowitz’s highly successful (non-unionized) charter franchise.

Coulson’s research led him to understand that we are “paying dearly for the union label, but mainly due to union lobbying to preserve the government school monopoly rather than to collective bargaining.” The good news is that because of Andrew Coulson and other school choice warriors, that monopoly is unraveling, albeit very slowly.

One final note: Losing Coulson was blow for those of us who are desperately trying to minimize the damage done by the teachers unions and the government education monopoly. But there was a second death of note last week. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away this past Saturday. The Friedrichs decision, which presumably would have favored the plaintiffs 5-4, is now on hold. In all likelihood, a vote on the case, which could kill mandatory union dues, hasn’t yet been taken and the result of the remaining Justices’ vote will probably be 4-4, leaving the current Abood decision in place. The plaintiffs’ best hope is that the case gets held until a new SCOTUS Justice is appointed – and that the appointee is not named by either the current president, Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.

In any event, we lost two great freedom fighters last week. Their life’s work must continue; it’s up to all of us to dig in and ensure that their efforts have not been in vain.

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.

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.

 

Antisocial Injustice

A teachers union giving an award for social justice is like Miley Cyrus handing out a medal for modesty.

The term “social justice” has gone through many permutations over the centuries, but these days it refers essentially to a progressive vision of the world. Its paramount issues include income inequality, sexual discrimination, the mere existence of the Koch brothers and a whole gaggle of “rights.” (Interesting that in all my reading on the subject, rights are mentioned aplenty, but personal responsibility is rarely broached.) Perhaps the always dependable Urban Dictionary has the most accurate current definition of the term,

Promoting tolerance, freedom, and equality for all people regardless of race, sex, orientation, national origin, handicap, etc… except for white, straight, cisgendered males. F*** those guys, they’re overprivileged no matter what.

But whatever your political orientation is, and however you define the term, I think we would agree that it is the height of arrogance and hypocrisy to have a teachers union bestow a “social justice” award, but that is just what the National Education Association is doing. And it will be a yearly event. The winner will be afforded a sumptuous package of events to revel in:

The award will be presented annually by the NEA President at NEA’s national Representative Assembly. The awardee will receive an all-expense paid trip to attend and address both the NEA Representative Assembly and the Joint Conference on Concerns of Minorities and Women. The winner will also be invited to attend Educator Empowerment Day as part of the pre-Representative Assembly activities.

I’m sure the recipients will be thrilled, but let’s take a look beyond the faux union rhetoric.

Union boss pay

An ongoing mantra of the teachers unions is that corporate bosses are greedy swine who steal money from their workers. As they boldly charge others with exploitation, you’d think that teacher union leaders would set an example. But according to NEA’s own website, median teacher pay in the U.S. is $51,381 per year. However, in his last year as NEA president, Dennis Van Roekel made $541,632 – more than ten times what a teacher makes. (American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten is no better. That self-righteous social justice advocate has almost the exact same socially unjust income of $543,679.) But corporate CEOs – allegedly the fat cats – make $178,400 yearly, just five times that of the average worker.

And another inconvenient tidbit – most of Van Roekel’s and Weingarten’s hefty salaries come from dues that teachers are forced to have deducted from each paycheck. Sounds as if the union bosses are getting rich “off the backs of teachers,” doesn’t it? It is also interesting to note that due to the proliferation of charter schools and other non-unionized forms of school choice, the traditional public school teacher population is shrinking. Therefore each teacher is paying more to support the union leaders’ extravagant one-percenter lifestyles.

Outsider money

The first ones to cry “foul” when “outsider” money flows into local schoolboard races are the teachers unions. Last month, via Mike Antonucci, we were treated to a Washington Post letter-to-the-editor from Elizabeth Davis, president of the Washington Teachers Union (an AFT affiliate), and Delvone Michael, director of DC Working Families.

Across the country, wealthy business interests and conservative political operatives are buying up local boards of education. And if we don’t stand up and say no, D.C. will be the next notch on their belt.

Otherwise sleepy races for school boards have been drowned in cash from outside interests who want local candidates to support charter schools and oppose the protections of unions. Now it’s happening here in the District, too.

What is all the bellyaching about? A $31,000 donation from an unspecified “outside group.” At the very same time, an October 28th story from the New Orleans Times-Picayune informs us:

The American Federation of Teachers has spent almost $450,000 on the Jefferson Parish School Board elections, recent campaign finance reports show. That’s more than all individual candidate contributions combined.

The union’s local political action committee calls itself the AFT Committee for School Board Accountability in Jefferson Parish. It received two payments totaling $446,000 from the AFT Solidarity Fund in September and October.

Sad to say, the union’s efforts were successful in Louisiana, and the reform-minded schoolboard majority exists no more; the union is now in control, thanks to AFT’s “outsider money.”

War against families

Then we have a war against parents and kids in Florida, where the Florida Education Association, an NEA affiliate, is doing its best to keep economically disadvantaged kids from using tax-credit scholarships to attend schools of their parents’ choosing. In August, FEA and a few allies challenged the state’s popular 13-year-old Tuition Tax Credit Scholarship program. “The suit claims that the scholarship violates the ‘no aid’ clause and the ‘uniform public schools’ clause of the state’s constitution by allowing students to take the aid to private schools, some with religious affiliation.”

The lawsuit is bogus, however. As explained by Cato Institute education policy analyst Jason Bedrick, “Scholarship Tax Credit laws are privately administered programs that rely on the voluntary contributions of corporate taxpayers who receive tax credits in return. As the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, these funds never become public funds because they do not ‘come into the tax collector’s hands.’”

No matter. More privatization means that fewer public school teachers (read union members) will be needed, thus hurting the unions’ bottom line. And when that happens, all their social justice preening flies out the window.

These are just three of the latest examples of what I referred to in a prior post as teacher union hubrocrisy. Hubris and hypocrisy are their natural state. Social justice is something they conveniently glom onto so as to appear “progressive.” But there is nothing “progressive” about the unions. And as their victims are learning, there is nothing especially “social” or “just” about them either.

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.

 

Eric Holder Trumps Miley Cyrus

When it comes to obscenity, cheating kids out of a good education is far worse than a salacious dance act.

While it is a sad spectacle to watch a gawky 20 year-old stick out her tongue and sex it up in front of millions on national television, the 62 year-old U.S. Attorney General’s act is far worse, as his will do much more lasting harm. He waves his magic wand and poof – thousands of poor children are chained to the confines of failing schools in Louisiana.

Miley Cyrus would appear to be a lost puppy whose father claimed in 2011 that she was influenced by Satan. On the other hand, Eric Holder would seem to be under the spell of the teachers unions and the overrated god of diversity.

The Holder story has its roots in May when the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that:

the current method of funding the statewide school voucher program is unconstitutional. Act 2, part of Gov. Bobby Jindal‘s 2012 package of education reforms, diverts money from each student’s per-pupil allocation to cover the cost of private or parochial school tuition. The act authorizes both the Louisiana Scholarship Program and the new Course Choice program. 

In other words, the voucher program is sound, but the court thought its funding mechanism wasn’t constitutional. So on June 6th, the Louisiana House and Senate compromised on a budget that allowed the program to use funds not allocated through the state’s funding formula.

Problem solved, right?

Not quite.

Later in June, the teachers unions School Choice Enemy No. 1 promptly swung into action.

The Louisiana Association of Educators and several local teachers associations have filed a class-action suit charging that the state owes local school boards $199 million as a result of the Louisiana Supreme Court decision striking down part of the state’s voucher law.

Okay, so we are still dealing with funding issues, not the legality of vouchers.

But then in August, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder dropped the bomb and The Wall Street Journal pointed out its stunning irony,

On nearly the same day the Attorney General spoke in Washington to honor the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech, his Justice Department sued to block the educational dreams of minority children in Louisiana.

Late last week, Justice asked a federal court to stop 34 school districts in the Pelican State from handing out private-school vouchers so kids can escape failing public schools. Mr. Holder’s lawyers claim the voucher program appears “to impede the desegregation progress” required under federal law. Justice provides little evidence to support this claim, but there couldn’t be a clearer expression of how the civil-rights establishment is locked in a 1950s time warp.

Passed in 2012, Louisiana’s state-wide program guarantees a voucher to students from families with incomes below 250% of poverty and who attend schools graded C or below. The point is to let kids escape the segregation of failed schools, and about 90% of the beneficiaries are black. (Emphasis added.)

Impeding desegregation? On what grounds does the Justice Department make this claim? Cato’s Jason Bedrick explains,

In Tangipahoa Parish, for instance, Independence Elementary School lost five white students to voucher schools, the petition states. The consequent change in the percent of enrolled white students “reinforc(ed) the racial identity of the school as a black school.”

Five students! According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there were 143 white students out of 482 students at Independence Elementary School in 2010-11 (the most recent year for which data is available). Assuming that recent enrollment and racial composition is the same and that no black students received vouchers as well, that’s a shift from 29.6 percent white to 28.9 percent white. Though the students at Independence almost certainly would not have noticed a difference, the racial bean counters at the DOJ see worsening segregation.

But the DOJ is not content merely to prevent white students from exercising school choice. The petition also cites Cecilia Primary School, which in 2012-13 “lost six black students as a result of the voucher program,” thereby “reinforcing the school’s racial identity as a white school in a predominantly black school district.” In the previous school year, the school’s racial composition was 30.1 percent black, which the DOJ notes was 16.4 percentage points lower than the black composition of the district as a whole. According to the NCES, in 2010-11 there were 205 black students out of a total enrollment of 758, so the school was 27 percent black. Assuming a constant total enrollment, the DOJ’s numbers suggest that there were 228 black students in 2011-12. The loss of six black students would mean the school’s racial composition shifted from 30.1 percent black to 29.2 percent black as a result of the voucher program. Again, imperceptible to untrained eye but a grave threat to racial harmony according to the Obama administration’s Department of Justice.

These are the only two schools cited directly in the DOJ’s petition, so presumably they represent the two cases with the largest impact. A footnote reveals that “The net loss ranged up to thirteen students per school.”

Why is Holder doing this obscene dance?

Is he so smitten with the concept of diversity that he is letting it take precedent over the needs of poor kids in failing schools? Could be, but then again, as noted above, the voucher-driven diversity realignment is miniscule. Or, is he doing the bidding of the teachers unions who are powerful political allies? Maybe both. But whatever the motivation, the lawsuit stinks, and the harm it will inflict on mostly underprivileged, minority children is tragic.

What Holder and his ilk don’t seem to understand is that most parents are not stricken with the diversity obsession, and simply want the best education possible for their kids. If you ask any parent of any ethnicity if they rather their kid get a first class education at single-ethnicity school or a mediocre-to-lousy one at a rainbow-school, we all know what the answer would be.

Louisiana’s gutsy governor Bobby Jindal put it all into perspective in an interview with Neil Cavuto,

My parents came here over 40 years ago in search of the American dream, confident if you worked hard, it didn’t matter what race you were, didn’t matter who you knew. That’s what we’re trying to deliver for our kids. And that’s why it’s just ridiculous to me that the Obama administration would side with teachers unions over these young children.

Cavuto then asked Jindal if he thought that the teachers unions were pushing the issue because vouchers endanger their jobs. Jindal responded,

Oh, absolutely. Look, they tried, they tried to take us all the way up to the state Supreme Court to stop this program. The teachers unions did. The program is still here. They tried recalling our speaker of the House and me and some others. And we’re still here. The reality is, teachers unions, when we started this statewide, said that parents don’t have a clue when it comes to making choices for their kids. (Emphasis added.)

That’s their world viewpoint. These government unions think the bureaucrats know better. I have met with the moms. And, Neil, it would break your heart that they’re working multiple jobs. They want their kids to have a better quality of life than they have had. They’re trying to do the right thing. They’re telling me this is the first time my kid is bringing home homework, my kid is going to school with discipline. My kids are talking about for the first time thinking about going to college, the first one in our families to graduate from high school. They’re talking about becoming the first ones.

As we all know, Martin Luther King concluded his famous speech 50 years ago with the inspirational words, “Free at last, Free at last, Thank God almighty we are free at last.” But if Mr. Holder and the teachers unions get their way, a bunch of school kids and their families in Louisiana will remain shackled to their failing schools, guaranteeing that their shot at achieving the American dream and true freedom will be next to impossible. Dr. King would be outraged.

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.

“I’m Randi Weingarten and Now, the Fake News.”

Teachers union makes news with meaningless words and a misleading poll.

Norm MacDonald is famous for opening the comedic news segment on Saturday Night Live by introducing himself and telling the audience that it’s time for the “fake news.” I thought of this when, at the recent American Federation of Teachers convention, President Randi Weingarten essentially said that bad teachers should find new jobs. Her words were dutifully reported by a compliant press, but it didn’t take much to see that the comment was devoid of any conviction whatsoever.

Responding to Weingarten’s comment that “…if someone can’t teach after they’ve been prepared and supported, they shouldn’t be in our profession,” EAG’s Ben Velderman pointed out,

Notice the huge caveat in Weingarten’s comment: “after they’ve been prepared and supported.”

Weingarten is actually saying that incompetent and ineffective teachers should have lots of time and assistance to improve their classroom performance.

In fact, “lots of time” would be an eternity or so, with the teacher in question going through a battery of master teachers, on-site administrators, coaches, peer assistance review teams, and then various administrative panels, lawyers, endless appeals, all with a tree-killer paper trail. Hence, there is nothing but empty rhetoric here.

Mike Antonucci gives Weingarten’s comment an historical perspective, enumerating high- sounding teacher union leader’s past proclamations which did nothing to change the moribund status quo. He links Weingarten’s merit pay speech in 2008 in which she says she is “willing to discuss new approaches to issues like teacher tenure and merit pay.” Yet when the rubber hit the road in 2010, Weingarten fought DC Chancellor Michelle Rhee tooth and nail on these very issues. It was as if the union boss had forgotten that she made any noise about tenure and merit pay.

Antonucci goes back to 1997 when National Education Association president Bob Chase made a feel-good speech in which he acknowledged the existence of the “vast majority of Americans who support public education, but are clearly dissatisfied. They want higher quality public schools, and they want them now.”

Since his speech a full generation of children has passed through the entire pre-K to 12 public school system. What changes we have seen during that time have come with the teachers’ unions trailing behind, yelling “stop!” I have seen the future, and it is more of the same.

Just as fraudulent as Weingarten’s tough talk on bad teachers is a new AFT “poll,” the results of which were reported on solemnly by union cheerleaders like The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss. This push poll’s intentionally skewed results were used by Weingarten and the true believers in the press to hammer home the idea that parents are against education reform.

But the Cato Institute’s Jason Bedrick wasn’t buying it, and wrote that the “Teachers Union Poll Is Not Credible.” One example of how the AFT phrased their questions:

With which approach for improving education do you agree more?

APPROACH A) We should focus on ensuring that every child has access to a good public school in their community. We need to make the investments needed to ensure all schools provide safe conditions, an enriching curriculum, support for students’ social and emotional development, and effective teachers.

APPROACH B) We should open more public charter schools and provide more vouchers that allow parents to send their children to private schools at public expense. Children will receive the best education if we give families the financial freedom to attend schools that meet their needs.

It’s no surprise that 77 percent agreed with the first approach and only 20 percent agreed with the second. Either “invest” in “good” public schools in your “community” and receive all sort of wonderful goodies (“enriching curriculum!” “effective teachers!”) or forgo all that so that some parents can send their kids to private school “at public expense.” Aside from the fact that this is a false choice (competition can actually improve public school performance and school choice programs can save money), the wording is blatantly designed to push respondents toward Approach A.

Bedrick then writes about a 2012 Harvard poll that was worded fairly. Its findings:

  • 54% of parents favor giving all families a “wider choice” to “enroll their children in private schools instead, with government helping to pay the tuition” compared with 21% opposed.
  • 46% of parents favor giving low-income families a “wider choice” to “enroll their children in private schools instead, with government helping to pay the tuition” compared with 21% opposed.
  • When not given a neutral option, 50% of parents favor giving low-income families a “wider choice” to “enroll their children in private schools instead, with government helping to pay the tuition” compared with 50% opposed.
  • When the question omits the words “a wider choice” and only asks about using “government funds to pay the tuition of low-income students who choose to attend private schools,” 44% of parents are in favor with 32% opposed.

Education Week’s Stephen Sawchuk also had problems with the AFT poll, reminding us to take it “with a grain of salt and examine the questions’ phraseology carefully.” (I would suggest adding an ample amount of Maalox to the salt.)

Take, for instance, a bunch of paired statements asking parents to select the one they most agree with. Unsurprisingly, they tend to favor the idea that it’s better to “treat teachers like professionals” than to “regularly remove poorly performing teachers.”

…  A few results appear contradictory. Nearly half surveyed had a negative impression of using test scores in teacher evaluation, but 68 percent approved of paying teachers more if their students show gains in academic achievement.

In another refutation of the biased AFT poll, The Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke writes that “Unions Can’t Ignore Support for Choice in Education.”

A PDK/Gallup poll released last summer found that, when asked nearly the same question—whether they supported allowing students to choose private schools at public expense—44 percent of Americans said yes. Gallup has asked respondents the same question for the past decade and found that support for school choice has jumped 10 percentage points in just the last year alone.

Something that may be of interest to Ms. Weingarten is the result of a Rasmussen poll in which we learn that “only 26% of Likely U.S. Voters rate the performance of public schools in America today as good or excellent.  Thirty-four percent (34%) rate public education as poor.” Unlike the AFT poll, Rasmussen used straightforward language:

Overall, how would you rate the performance of public schools in America today?

No deception here, unlike the AFT pedaled “fake news.” But then again, when you have nothing legitimate to sell, snake oil will do the trick.

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.

Cursing the Light

Teachers unions continue to use empty rhetoric to bash promising school privatization efforts.

It is a given – and understandable – that teachers unions deplore vouchers or opportunity scholarships, arrangements whereby public monies are used to fund a private school education; it hurts their bottom line. With very few exceptions, private schools are not unionized, and every time students leave their public schools, fewer unionized teachers are needed. That translates to fewer dues dollars for the union.

So like pushy salesmen with an inferior product, the unions resort to evasions, distortions and outright lies to sell their wares.

The unions say, “Vouchers don’t improve outcomes.”

Actually, the data say otherwise. For example, the oldest voucher program in the country is in Wisconsin where “Milwaukee school choice beats the alternative.” More dramatically, Washington, D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) have the lowest graduation rate in the country – a rather pathetic 59 percent. Yet, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (DCOSP) just announced that its 2012 grad rate was 97 percent with 91 percent of the students going on to college.

The unions say, “Vouchers are unpopular with the public.”

That may have been true 20 years ago, but not today. Satisfaction with the DCOSP is very high, with 93 percent of parents happy with their child’s school. In May, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice released the results of a national survey in which 60 percent of American adults said they support vouchers. Also, the findings show that mothers make up the demographic most likely to favor school vouchers:

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

Unfortunately public schools didn’t fare so well in the Friedman study with only 39 percent of Americans giving local public schools an “A” or a “B” compared with 54 percent in 2012 – a 15-point drop in just one year.

(Another entity that is unpopular with the public is the teachers unions. According to a recent Education Next poll, only 22 percent of Americans think the unions have a positive effect on schools.)

The unions say, “… (Voucher) programs cost taxpayers millions of dollars and increase bureaucratic and administrative costs.”

This is a perennial union talking point. It’s also a crock, because voucher programs actually save taxpayers money. A good example is in Washington, D.C. where their choice program costs $7,500 per student – about a quarter of what is spent on students in the DCPS.

If we expanded DCOSP, the savings would be even greater. Looking at the eight states with the highest median per pupil educational spending in the United States,

… If only ten percent of these students took advantage of scholarships similar to the ones in the D.C. program, more than 621,000 students would move from public to private schools within their states. This analysis assumes that the scholarships would be worth 60 percent of the median current-year expenditure per pupil-or a bit more expensive than in Washington. The savings per-pupil would be great, 40 percent; in the aggregate, the savings would be greater still.

The unions say, A pure voucher system would only encourage economic, racial, ethnic, and religious stratification in our society.”

A little class warfare with your entrée? The suggestion here is that vouchers will segregate us as a people and promote civil disharmony. But the opposite is true.

The Cato Institute’s Jason Bedrick writes,

Seven empirical studies have examined school choice’s impact on civic values and practices such as respect for the rights of others and civic knowledge. Of these, five find that school choice improves civic values and practices. Two find no visible impact from school choice. No empirical study has found that school choice has a negative impact on civic values and practices.

The largest and most comprehensive of these studies, Dr. Patrick Wolf’s “Civics Exam,” found that private school students are, on average, more politically tolerant, more knowledgeable about our system of government, more likely to volunteer in their community, and more politically active than their government school peers.

Unfortunately, over the last few decades, civic education in government schools has significantly declined

Jay Greene, writing in The Wall Street Journal, adds,

It is no small irony that President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have been trying to shut down the federally funded voucher program that allows students to attend private religious schools in Washington. In 2009 the administration worked to prevent the program from being re-authorized. Only tough bargaining by House Speaker John Boehner has allowed vouchers in D.C. to survive. The administration that otherwise promotes tolerance at every turn is still angling to end the program.

It is not clear why private schools have an advantage in producing more tolerant students. It may be that private schools are better at teaching civic values like tolerance, just as they may be more effective at teaching math or reading. It is also possible that, contrary to elite suspicion, religion can teach important lessons about human equality and dignity that inspire tolerance.

The unions say, “Blah, blah, blah.”

The unions have a specific agenda and will pursue it at all costs. Whatever claims they make about vouchers serve to further that agenda and have little to do with reality. Their efforts to keep people in the dark forever – and their children in failing schools – are doomed to fail.

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.