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A Kinder and Gentler Teachers Union?

The unions are trying to take the “we’re in it for the kids” shtick to a new level by declaring that they now collectively bargain for “the common good.”

Last week, The American Prospect posted “Teacher Unions Are ‘Bargaining for the Common Good,’” which claims that unions across the country are “expanding their focus to the broader community.” All this is code for, “We don’t want to come off as selfish, so while we are still going to push for our typical me-first (and only) union agenda, we are going to try to deceive the public into believing that we really care about kids and taxpayers.”

According to the piece, public employee union leaders and community organizations gathered in Washington, D.C. in 2014 and came up with a 3-point plan: use the bargaining process as a way to challenge the relationships between government and the private-sector; work with community allies to create new, shared goals that help advance both worker and citizen power; and recognize militancy and collective action will likely be necessary if workers and citizens are to reduce inequality and strengthen democracy.

The lofty but ultimately meaningless verbiage led the writer of the piece to conclude that “The time had come, in sum, to politicize bargaining.”

Politicize bargaining?! That’s all collective bargaining in education is and ever was – pure, unadulterated, no additives, not-made-from-concentrate – politics. The union sits at a table with school board members and hashes out contracts that, more often than not, are detrimental to students, good teachers and taxpayers. Collective bargaining agreements inhibit creativity and treat teachers as interchangeable widgets. Additionally, the taxpayer gets to foot the bill for goodies like Cadillac healthcare plans that the union – and frequently their bought-and-paid-for school board – collude on and ratify.

There is a ton of evidence that the cuddly, kind and caring teacher union concept is a fraud. Here are just a few recent examples:

In last week’s post, I wrote about a situation in Yonkers, NY where a union president and vice-president are both caught on video trying to help a teacher who claimed to have physically abused a child while using a racial epithet, and subsequently fled to Mexico, unannounced, for two weeks. (It was actually staged by investigative journalist James O’Keefe.) As all concerned parties investigate the union leaders’ responses, the Yonkers Federation of Teachers has asked the taxpayer subsidized school district to continue paying Paul Diamond, the union vice-president, his salary while he performs his union duties for the 2016-17 school year. Not unique to Yonkers, this phenomenon, known as “release time,” goes on all over the country and is an absolute outrage. It’s a practice that allows a public employee to conduct union business during working hours without loss of pay, all the while giving the union a free worker. The employee’s activities include negotiating contracts, lobbying, processing grievances, and attending union meetings and conferences. Diamond will not spend one minute teaching. No evidence of “citizen power” here.

Next, a school district in Illinois just awarded its teachers a 10-year contract that includes a 40 percent salary increase over its term, preserves a pre-retirement, 6 percent yearly pay spike to boost teachers’ pensions, an increase in sick-days from 15 to 24 per year, and a freeze on health insurance and prescription drug costs for district employees for the 10-year period. “Shared goals?” In what universe?

On the state level, we have a situation in California that doesn’t involve collective bargaining but certainly calls into question whose “common good” is being served. Contra Costa Democratic Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla’s AB 934 would change both seniority and tenure as we know it. The bill includes a provision that offers ineffective teachers extra professional support. If a teacher receives a second low-performance review after a year in the program, they could be fired via an expedited process. It would also increase the time for a teacher to attain tenure (or more accurately “permanent status”) from two to three or four years, depending on their performance. Additionally, seniority would no longer be the single most important factor in handing out pink slips. This is hardly radical stuff and would certainly make for a more effective teaching profession in the Golden State.

But the most powerful special interest group in the state, the California Teachers Association, is fighting the bill. Blithely casting the needs of kids aside, the union first claimed the bill “would make education an incredibly insecure profession.” (Yes, just like every other profession in the world.) In a subsequent post on its website, the union went bonkers, claiming, “Corporate millionaires and special interests have mounted an all-out assault on educators by attempting to do away with laws protecting teachers from arbitrary firings, providing transparency in layoff decisions and supporting due process rights.” And that was just the beginning. To read the rest of this bizarre rant, go here. But in any event, we know whose posterior CTA is trying to protect, and it has absolutely nothing to do with “reducing inequality.”

And then there is the pension situation. In California, the state teachers’ retirement system is currently experiencing a $70 billion shortfall. Is CTA willing to accept some responsibility and work to make adjustments for the common good? The union’s response to the nightmare that will ultimately fall on the shoulders of the already beleaguered taxpayer is to try to kill any reforms, maintain the miserable status quo and blame Wall Street and “corporate greed.” “Strengthening democracy?” Hardly.

Finally, last week in National Review, former Florida governor Jeb Bush laid out a plan to save America’s education system. His excellent piece included such basic ideas as letting parents choose from a marketplace of options, including traditional neighborhood schools, magnet schools, charter schools, private schools, and virtual schools, with education funding following the child. He wants to weed out failing schools and reward good and great teachers for hard work and results. But each of these ideas is fought on a daily basis by the teachers unions, since they would lose much of their power and income if Bush’s ideas were to be implemented on a grand scale.

“Bargaining for the common good” is just a touchy-feely catchphrase which shouldn’t fool anyone. The teachers unions are not acting in anyone else’s best interest. And there is little good about them, common or otherwise.

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.

Social Justice Warriors at Work

With the election season in full swing, expect a tide of union-led anti-reform, anti-choice and anti-Republican politicking in our kids’ classrooms.

I watched the GOP presidential debate because my students are counting on me” is the title of a piece posted on the National Education Association website by “guest writer” Tom McLaughlin, a high school drama teacher from Council Bluffs, IA. He claims that “…in addition to this debate, I had an obligation to watch future debates, take notes, and share the truth. I have a responsibility to do that for my students.” (Hmm – just why is a drama teacher delving into politics with his students? Brought back memories of a Che Guevara poster prominently displayed in the music teacher’s class at my former middle school.)

So in any event, I’m thinking this will be a commentary about Common Core, since it garnered the only discussion of education at the first Republican debate in Cleveland last Thursday. In reality, that issue provoked a brief back-and-forth between Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio which really didn’t shed much light on the subject. But the words “Common Core” never appear in the piece by McLaughlin. Instead, the drama teacher’s “truth sharing” includes comments like,

Many of the candidates on last night’s stage have clear records of draining critical funding away from public schools to give to private schools, supporting charter schools that are unaccountable to students, parents, and taxpayers, and slashing education funding and those programs that serve students and help them in the classroom.

As educators and trusted messengers in our communities, we must make sure the public is informed and not fooled by presidential candidates who say they believe in a world-class education system but have a history of starving our public schools of critical funding and supporting flawed so-called reforms that don’t work.

Obviously McLaughlin never intended to report on the debate, but rather to deliver a diatribe infused with standard teacher union talking points against any and all who favor reform and dare have an “R” after their names. (Curiously, Chris Christie, Scott Walker and Jeb Bush all took shots at the teachers unions during the debate and there was no mention of them in McLaughlin’s critique.)

Over at the “NEA Votes” Facebook page, the union faithful were having a field day with McLaughlin’s post and the debate. With one or two exceptions, the comments were posted by pro-union mouthpieces using the same tired talking points that the union elite use. Perhaps the loopiest of all was a post that equated conservatism with Fascism:

The scary part of all this is that these teachers, who don’t seem to have an objective bone in their collective bodies – and are proud of it – have a captive audience of children, many of whom will be the recipients of their teachers’ anti-reform, anti-school choice and anti-Republican rhetoric leading up to the presidential election in 2016.

If you are a Republican parent (or just a fair-minded one of any political persuasion), please be ready for the political onslaught supporting the Big Government-Big Union complex (aka the Blob) your kids may be in for. When the indoctrination starts, don’t be shy about speaking up. Please mention to anyone who is spouting the union party line (and your kids) that in Jeb Bush’s Florida, there are more than 40,000 teachers who do not work for school districts and 14,000 of them have chosen to work in charter schools. They’ve made these choices for the same reason parents do – because charters offer a better fit for their individual needs.

Tell them that despite McLaughlin’s absurd comment, charter and private schools are indeed accountable…to parents. If parents aren’t happy with those schools, they close, unlike traditional public schools which are accountable to no one and typically get more money thrown their way if they are failing.

Tell them that we have tripled our public education funding nationally – in constant dollars – over the last 40 years and have nothing to show for it.

Tell them that Wisconsin’s test scores have risen since the teachers unions’ favorite Republican punching bag Scott Walker has been governor.

Tell them that homeschooling is advancing across the country – especially in big cities – because parents of all political stripes are tired of a one-size-fits-all Blob education.

Tell them that in California, the Blob is under attack and that the effort is bipartisan. The Stull, Reed and Vergara lawsuits, all of which have successfully challenged Blob work rules like tenure and seniority and fought to get a realistic teacher evaluation system in place, have seen Republicans and Democrats working together to undo the mess that McLaughlin and his ilk have helped to create.

Perhaps most importantly explain that when it comes to education policy reform, the battle is not typically between Democrats and Republicans or liberals and conservatives, but rather between those who defend the status quo and those who are demanding reasonable reforms to an outsized, outdated, outmoded and out-of-touch educational system.

When I was growing up, I never had a clue what my teachers’ politics were. They understood they were not there to indoctrinate me. Accordingly, I followed suit when I taught public school for 28 years. But there are many now who have decided not to check their politics at the classroom door, instead bringing it to their students with a religious zeal that makes Elmer Gantry look like a wallflower. Many teachers now take their cue from the likes of National Education Association Executive Director John Stocks who, at the recent NEA convention, told his flock that teachers need to become “social justice warriors.”

Silly me, all along I thought teachers were there to teach.

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.

NEA’s March: Out with a Sham

With the sincerity of an elixir hustler, NEA boss pretends to be objective about the 2016 election.

The National Education Association is serious about the 2016 presidential election. The union is serious about every election of course, but this time the union’s leader is actually asking for input from viable candidates even if they haven’t announced their intention to run. Last week, NEA President Lily Eskelsen García told reporters, “We have 3 million members who want desperately to know what the candidates have to say to really, seriously improve public education. We intend to activate those 3 million members, the parents, even the students.”

But – to quote Hillary Clinton – what difference at this point does it make? Or at any point. We already know which party the NEA (and the American Federation of Teachers for that matter) is going to sink millions of dues-payers dollars into. I mean really – does anyone believe that NEA is going to support Scott Walker, whom the union links with the dreaded Koch Brothers every chance it gets? Or, do you think in your wildest dreams, it would endorse Chris Christie, a man NEA repeatedly refers to as a bully? What about Jeb Bush, a man who often clashed with teachers unions when he was governor of Florida? Yes, the same Bush who referred to public school systems as “government-run unionized and politicized monopolies that trap good teachers, administrators and struggling students in a system nobody can escape.” Of course not. NEA will not endorse any Republican for president. Period. Never mind Mike Antonucci’s report that an internal 2005 NEA survey – consistent with previous results – found that its members “are actually slightly more conservative (50%) than liberal (43%) in political philosophy.” You would never know that from the lopsided way the teachers unions spend their political bucks.

In the 2014 election cycle, the two teachers unions spent between $60 million and $80 million –more than in any other year ever – almost exclusively on Democratic candidates. Going back in time, we see that from 1989-2014, NEA spent $88 million on political donations to Dems while giving only $3 million to Republicans. AFT was even more one-sided. During the same period, it spent $69 million on Dems and just $350,000 on GOPers.

So that leaves us with Democratic candidates, which include former Maryland Governor and rain-taxer Martin O’Malley, perennial foot-in-mouther Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth (Dances with Wolves) Warren, who insists she is not running. And then there is independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who, as a socialist, is unelectable. And finally we have Hillary. Despite the troubling server-scrub incident and a burgeoning collection of clumsy gaffes that make Joe Biden look polished, HRC is still quite popular with many true-believing Clintonistas. And should she decide to run, she will get the NEA and AFT endorsement as well as a bundle of their spending money as sure as night follows day

It has been pointed out that Hillary will have some conflicts to deal with if she is the candidate. As noted in a New York Times piece, she could face some sticky moments as the teacher union candidate and as one who is looking for big donations from rich Democrats who happen to favor the reforms that the teachers unions despise. But Hillary, like her husband, is a master of “triangulation,” or as it is sometimes referred to, “speaking out of both sides of your mouth.”

Maybe instead of polling candidates, NEA should survey its 3 million members to see who they think the best choice would be, but then again that would be a waste of time. The elite know best. No matter what the rank-and-file thinks, Hillary, should she run, will have the full force of the nation’s teachers unions behind her. Republicans need not apply.

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.