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The Oasis Was a Mirage

After failing miserably for almost ten years, a rare union-run charter school is mercifully shuttered.

In September 2005, New York City’s United Federation of Teachers (UFT) president Randi Weingarten was frustrated and wanted to prove a point. She explained that the union was opening two charter schools so that it could “reclaim” the original charter school model conceived by former American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president Albert Shanker, who said “charter schools could help teachers work without the stifling bureaucracy and stifling micromanagement.”

Taking a potshot at NYC school superintendent Joel Klein, Weingarten said, “This kind of effort, this kind of potential, is what we should be unleashing on the school system every single day, and the Klein administration will not let us do this anymore in the public school arena. It is incredibly ironic that the only way that teachers could do this kind of bottom-up thinking at a school was to do it using the mechanics of a charter school.”

She added that the UFT Charter School would “show real, quantifiable student achievement and with those results, finally dispel the misguided and simplistic notion that the union contract is an impediment to success.” As the school was about to open, Weingarten crowed, “This school is an oasis.”

Well it’s almost ten years later and the oasis’s land is barren, the water is fetid and the camels are sickly. And the achievement is certainly “quantifiable” – quantifiably bad. The State University of New York (SUNY) which authorized the two schools – K-8 and a high school – has decided to pull the plug on the elementary school for many reasons. (The high school remains on life supports.)

The K-8 school’s test results have been abysmal. In 2014, only 11 percent of its students were proficient in English and 18 percent in math, compared to 28 and 36 percent in traditional public schools with similar demographics. At Harlem Success Academy (Weingarten-nemesis Eva Moskowitz’s non-unionized charter school), those numbers are 59 and 92 percent.

And those awful results are just the tip of the iceberg. Other findings:

  • The school had a high teacher turnover.
  • There were budget deficits and “operational chaos.”
  • Declining enrollment in the middle school exacerbated the school’s fiscal duress, which SUNY attributed to “poor bookkeeping.”
  • The union had to bail out the school with interest-free loans.
  • SUNY also highlighted “chronic shortages of textbooks and unrepaired equipment.”
  • There were missing standardized test booklets that were not returned to the publisher for scoring.
  • In one geography lesson, “rather than making use of technological resources to present the critical economic and political importance of the Nile, the teacher had students color in blank maps of the river.”
  • The campus has lacked stability with five principals in seven years.
  • School leaders reported that the staff had to be counseled on “appropriate interaction with students following approximately 10 corporal punishment incidents.”
  • A review of board minutes found “numerous, apparently systemic, Open Meetings Law violations.”
  • The school was in violation of the federal Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, because it had a number of students who required more restrictive classroom settings than the school offered.
  • The school “was in violation of state law requiring that school personnel (and certain contractors with direct access to students) be subject to a fingerprint-supported criminal background check prior to appointment at the school. At the time of the renewal inspection visit, the school was unable to produce evidence that five individuals were appropriately cleared for employment.”

But hey, other than that….

Not surprisingly, Weingarten (now AFT president) and other union leaders who constantly blab to the media have been very cricket-like about the school’s closing. Only the combative current UFT president, Michael Mulgrew, has spoken out, but of course the union took no responsibility for the school’s miserable results. Instead, he blamed SUNY, the state authorizer, for its “narrow focus on state tests.” But James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter Center countered Mulgrew’s nonsense, saying. “It’s well known by now that the UFT is allergic to actual accountability. So I’m not surprised—but still dismayed—that … UFT would not accept even the slightest responsibility for its abysmal failure to provide children with a great education.”

Very oddly, on March 3rd, after all the bad news had been reported, UFT came out with a press release touting a “Charter School Accountability Agenda,” a reform plan created by two AFT front groups – the Center for Popular Democracy and In the Public Interest. Its purpose is “to ensure that charter schools fulfill their role in education as lawmakers originally envisioned.” Included is this snippet:

The American people overwhelmingly support accountability and transparency for charter schools. If a school takes public dollars, the public wants some control and oversight of what goes on there. The Charter School Accountability Agenda lays out tangible steps we need to take to guarantee that every child gets a high-quality public education, whether that child is in a neighborhood school or a publicly funded charter school.

This is tantamount to a convicted bank robber telling a financial institution how it should conduct its business.

And wouldn’t you think that the union would have gone out of its way to ensure that UFT Charter School was a success? Over the past several years, teachers unions have been increasingly attacked for being anti-child and this would have been a perfect opportunity to prove that they really cared about educating kids. Whether it was carelessness or world-class ineptitude, the failure was monumental. Never one to mince words, school reform advocate RiShawn Biddle wrote, “After the failure of its UFT Charter School, AFT President Randi Weingarten and UFT boss Michael Mulgrew shouldn’t be allowed near any school operation.” I would amend that to not being allowed near any school. Period.

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.

Democrats and Teachers Unions: The Chasm Grows

As more Dems demand education reform, the teachers unions find themselves increasingly isolated.

Going back to 2009, I have written many times about the relationship between the teachers unions and the Democratic Party. It’s no secret that the party and the unions were at one time synonymous, but this is rapidly becoming history. Quite clearly, no entity is more aware of this than the National Education Association. In its year-end “Best and Worst Players in Public Education,” the usual right-of-center bogeymen – the Koch brothers and new villainess Campbell Brown – are of course trotted out.

But also prominently bashed is the Democrats for Education Reform, which advocates for sensible education policy changes. But according to NEA, the reforms suggested by DFER (and many other groups) have “acquired a bit of a stench over the last few years, as the ideas with which it is most closely associated – high stakes accountability, vouchers, merit pay, charter schools, not to mention teacher bashing – have not worn well with much of the public.” (Actually, polls show that the general public is now at odds with teachers unions, not the reformers.) Not surprisingly, NEA agrees with the union-owned California Democratic Party, which passed a resolution in 2013 calling on DFER to cease using ‘Democrats’ in their name, claiming their program “is clearly a front for a right-wing corporate agenda.” In other words, you are branded a right-wing crazy if you believe in things like school choice, holding schools accountable and empowering reform-minded mayors.

Apparently Andrew Cuomo is also one who should relinquish his Democratic credentials. Just last week, the governor of New York sent the state’s top education officials a letter warning that he plans to use his influence over the budget by pursuing an aggressive legislative agenda to fix an ailing school system hobbled by bureaucracy. The Wall Street Journal’s Leslie Brody writes,

The fact that only about one third of students are proficient on state tests in math and language arts was ‘simply unacceptable,’ the letter said.

It challenged Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and outgoing Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. to answer questions about whether to lift the cap on charter schools, how to make it easier to remove ineffective teachers and how to make teacher evaluations more stringent, among other issues.

Part of Cuomo’s frustration is that 95.6 percent of  teachers in New York were rated “effective” or “highly effective” during the 2013-14 academic year despite less than 40 percent of grade 3-8 students being assessed “proficient” on their standardized tests the same year. Additionally, 3.7 percent of teachers in the state were deemed “developing” and just 0.7 percent were rated “ineffective,” according to the data. So 60 percent of the kids are failing, but less than 1 percent of the teachers are.

Union leaders would have you think that Cuomo had just committed an act of heresy – which, of course, he did. United Federation of Teachers president Michael “I’m going to punch you in the face” Mulgrew said, “This letter comes right out of the playbook of the hedge funders for whom education ‘reform’ has become a pet cause and who poured money into the Cuomo re-election campaign.”

Karen Magee, president of the New York State United Teachers, also admonished Cuomo, suggesting that he should rely on advice from the “real experts—parents, educators and students—about what’s best for public education. Instead, New Yorkers get clueless, incendiary questions that do the bidding of New York City hedge fund billionaires who have letterhead and campaign donations, but know absolutely nothing about how public education works.” (If the teachers unions would become as obsessed with kids getting a good education as they are with hedgies, this country would be a much better place.)

Not easily cowed, Cuomo and his people fired back. Jim Malatras, the governor’s operations director, took a shot at the union, writing: “The education bureaucracy’s mission is to sustain the bureaucracy and the status quo and therefore it is often the enemy of change.”

And no one knows more about teacher union rigidity than former New York City school chancellor (and Democrat) Joel Klein. In a piece he wrote for The Atlantic, Klein explains that early in his stint as school chief, he decided to reach out to individual teachers in writing and in person.

My hope was that, as I invited teachers to group gatherings, brown-bag lunches, or meetings in schools, we would get to know one another as human beings. (I confess, I hoped some would say to themselves, ‘Hey, that Klein’s not the jerk I thought he was.’) Since it was physically impossible for me to meet 80,000 teachers face-to- face, I decided that, in addition to lots of small meetings, I’d write e-mails to them all as a group. What was to stop me? After all, I was their boss. Shouldn’t we be able to communicate? (Emphasis added.)

Well, actually, no. Because the United Federation of Teachers wouldn’t allow it. Klein was not permitted to “approach teachers directly on any matter that touched on their actual work. There would be no brown-bag lunches shared in the teachers’ lounge or coffee and conversation without union supervision. These matters were all subject to collective bargaining and, therefore, I was informed (first by the union and then by my own attorney) that I couldn’t discuss them directly with the teachers.” (Emphasis added.)

As more and more Democrats come to see that the teachers unions, with their rigid work rules and insistence on preserving the failing status quo, are the biggest impediment to education reform, the unions can either become more conciliatory or they can double down. You can bet your hedge fund holdings it will be the latter. Their money and power will still get some of their people elected, as it did California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. But eventually their unwavering course will turn a political chasm into a sprawling lonely gulf inhabited only by shrill and flailing unionistas. And as DFER, Andrew Cuomo and Joel Klein can attest, the sooner that happens the better.

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.

School Choice Wars

Though National School Choice Week ended a couple of weeks ago, reactionary rhetoric and political clashes are just heating up.

With National School Choice Week behind us, the battle – and it is a battle – to free our children from a monopoly by zip-code public education system is being fought on fronts all over the country, and in red and blue states alike, more and more Democrats are breaking ranks and joining Republicans in the fight.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz, runs the wildly popular and thriving Success Academy Charter Schools – ten of the 22 schools are in Harlem – which cater to 6,700 students from overwhelmingly poor and minority families. They scored in the top 1 percent in math and top 7 percent in English on the most recent state test. You might think that this would make her a welcome figure in the Big Apple. But turns out that new mayor Bill de Blasio (and fellow Democrat) along with his teacher union friends, have it in for the charter operator.

The Wall Street Journal asks and then answers a question,

How did Ms. Moskowitz, a hero to thousands of New Yorkers of modest means whose children have been able to get a better education than their local public schools offered, end up becoming public enemy No. 1?

She is the city’s most prominent, and vocal, advocate for charter schools, and therefore a threat to the powerful teachers union that had been counting the days until the de Blasio administration took over last month from the charter-friendly Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Assailed by Mayor de Blasio and union leaders, Ms. Moskowitz is fighting back with typically sharp elbows.

“A progressive Democrat should be embracing charters, not rejecting them,” she says. “It’s just wacky.”

Perhaps they “should be embracing charters” and quite a few do. However, many more who claim to be “progressive” are anything but. In fact, the teachers unions and their fellow travelers who slavishly fight against any meaningful education reform are really reactionaries. And it’s no secret that Moskowitz has had a teacher union problem for years now.

in 1999, Ms. Moskowitz won a council seat representing Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Three years later, she took the helm of the council’s education committee. A competitor for that chairmanship was a Democratic councilman from Brooklyn, Bill de Blasio.

Ms. Moskowitz says the union had previously controlled the committee and set its agenda, even providing cue cards to members. At a delicate moment for the UFT’s talks with City Hall on a new contract, Ms. Moskowitz held hearings on the teachers union’s work rules and other restrictions in the contract. That move secured the enmity of Randi Weingarten, who ran the local union then and is now president of the American Federation of Teachers.

“The unions decided to get political retribution and they succeeded,” Ms. Moskowitz says. The UFT led the opposition to her failed 2005 bid for Manhattan borough president. Ms. Moskowitz soon after decided to try to reform in New York another way, starting the inaugural Harlem Success Academy. It was quickly bounced from its shared home at a public school.

“Randi Weingarten came in and said, ‘Over my dead body,’ ” according to Ms. Moskowitz. But a former political sparring partner, then-Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, became an ally. The Bloomberg administration wanted to “flood the zone” in Harlem with alternatives to failing district schools. Half the kids in Harlem today attend charters, among them KIPP, Democracy Prep and Harlem Children’s Zone. Across New York, 70,000 students go to a charter.

The next time a teachers union leader insists that they are really “for the children,” please refer the true believer to Eva Moskowitz.

Then we have President Obama, who favors charter schools but draws the line at privatization. He well knows that if he came out in favor of vouchers, the unions would throw him under the school bus. But as a lame duck, one has to wonder why he is still holding that position. The president was forced recently to address the voucher issue head on when Fox’s Bill O’Reilly confronted him on Super Bowl Sunday.

Mr. Obama said that the means-tested voucher programs in Milwaukee and Washington, D.C, “didn’t actually make that much of a difference,” and added, “As a general proposition, vouchers have not significantly improved the performance of kids that are in these poorest communities.”

In fact, the president is dead wrong.  Study after study has shown that vouchers  improve student outcomes and have the biggest impact on low-income minorities. Additionally, private schools are taxpayer-friendly – doing a better job for less money. As writer Jason Riley points out,

Mr. Obama’s problem with vouchers is not that they don’t work. Rather, it’s that they work all too well and thus present a threat to the education status quo and the teachers unions who control it. Democrats like Mr. Obama are deeply dependent on union support–so dependent that they will sometimes tell bald-faced lies about school-choice research on national television and hope that no one notices.

On a national level, Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Tim Scott (R-SC) have introduced legislation that would help poor and disabled kids as well as military families.

Under Alexander’s legislation, states could opt to allocate the newly-consolidated funds to low-income parents, giving them much more say over how their child’s share of federal education dollars are spent. Parents could use the money to help pay for private school, supplement their public or public charter’s school’s budget, attend a public school outside their home district, or cover the cost of tutoring services or home schooling materials. Each child would get an average of $2,100 in annual federal aid, under the proposal.

Scott released the CHOICE Act, which stands for the Creating Hope and Opportunities for Individuals and Communities Through Education Act. The bill would allow special education dollars to follow children to the school of their choice.

… Scott’s bill would create a five-year, $10 million pilot program to offer military families scholarships of up to $12,000 for use at public or private schools. (The cost of the program would be offset by a decrease in the U.S. Department of Education’s salaries and expenses account.) Scott is also seeking to boost the number of students receiving aid under the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program, a federally-funded voucher program for low-income students in Washington.

Needless to say, the National Education Association is not in favor of this kind of help to those in need. On the union’s legislative page, it gives a “jeer” to both Alexander and Scott for introducing the voucher proposals.

On the state level, there is more bad news for the unions. They will need to extinguish fires in Oklahoma, Tennessee, Alaska, Indiana, Wisconsin and elsewhere, as school choice and other education reforms have been embraced by many on both sides of the political aisle.

Of course there are still plenty of legislators who, having thrown in their lot with the union crowd, are vehemently anti-choice. On the NEA website, California Rep. George Miller (D-CA) gets a “thumbs-up” for demonizing National School Choice Week.

Many of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, and their strategists, have embraced so-called ‘school choice’ as part of their rebranding efforts, to appear more caring … This new effort even has a warm and fuzzy name: the Growth and Opportunity Project. This is political posturing at its worst … If you ask most parents in America, they will tell you that their first ‘choice’ is for their neighborhood school to be a great school.

Yes, Mr. Miller, that would be nice, if all neighborhood schools were “great.”  But they’re not. And if your local school was not up to par, you wouldn’t want to send your kids there, now would you?

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) also gets a shout-out from NEA for her “reaction to so-called school choice.”

I have always had great anxiety with the thought that we’d take public money, state money, and send it to private schools.

Think Pell Grants, Ms. Murkowski. Think G.I. Bill. Just think.

The reactionaries among us – certain educrats and legislators and of course the teachers unions – won’t go away easily. But “Choice Spring” has arrived, and the pro-choice movement has taken root. As parents, children and taxpayers get a taste of freedom, there will be no turning back.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

The Big Apple and Little Dougco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Weingarten interested in the job?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And in the Daily Caller, Casey Givens writes

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

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

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

Undermine public education?!

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

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

Pollution Driven Unionism

AFT president Randi Weingarten trots out “solution driven unionism,” but her “solutions” are anything but.

As if Detroit didn’t have a zillion other problems, the American Federation of Teachers decided to have its every-other-year convention there last week. In Michigan, a forced union state, I guess AFT figured they’d have a captive audience. On opening day, President Randi Weingarten unveiled something she refers to as – cue the trumpets – “solution driven unionism.” In a never ending effort to sound like she really, really cares about children, she uses the language of reform. But when you peek under the hood, you find the same rusty parts that the unions have been using for years now.

The main thrust of her talk is that, “Brothers and sisters, we are under attack!” A press release announcing her “new” strategy reads,

This new reality—this new normal—demands an entirely new approach to unionism,” said Weingarten. “An approach that is relevant and appropriate to the 21st century. More than ever, we need to act in innovative, creative and new ways—simultaneously refuting our critics, advancing our values, connecting with community and proposing solutions. That’s solution-driven unionism.”

Innovate and create, refute critics, advance our values, connect with community and proposing solutions. Hmmm. Let’s look at some the specifics.

Weingarten says,

Look at Chicago—where last month, after incredible school-by-school organizing—98 percent of the 92 percent of members who voted in a strike authorization vote stood together for dignity and professionalism for teachers, and for high-quality education for students.

The Chicago Teachers Union has voted to strike in the fall if it doesn’t get a 30 percent raise. Yup, you give us the money or we won’t teach your kids. That’s “connecting with the community” and “proposing solutions?” No, that’s infuriating taxpayers and using kids as pawns. As of last week, there was an announcement that a strike may be averted, but only after the city agreed to hire more teachers instead of asking the current teachers, who have the shortest work day of any city in the country, to work longer.

A lot of so-called reformers try to dictate top-down, standardized test-driven strategies that are heavy on competition and short on evidence and resources. They don’t work.

Top down? You have a problem with top down? What do you call 300+ page union contracts that practically dictate when teachers can sneeze? And test-driven strategies are working just fine, which is why 23 states and the District of Columbia now use student performance on standardized tests as part of teacher evaluations. Competition? Everywhere vouchers have been tried, public schools have improved. But privatization means fewer unionized teachers, and unions can’t have that.

Even with the best teachers, sharing the best teaching tools, we can’t do it alone, and we can’t do it all. Out-of-school factors really matter.

Like poverty. As a society, we have an obligation to address the suffering and lack of opportunity that afflict too many in our country. Yet some prefer to act as if poverty doesn’t exist, or as if it doesn’t affect our students.

I am particularly offended by “reformers” who tell us that we are “making excuses” when we try to deal with the increasing poverty our market economy helped create. In New York, we call that chutzpah.

Yes, poverty exists, but it isn’t a death sentence. And the best way to eradicate poverty is for kids to get a good education. But whereas reformers want to address poverty by giving families more education options, Weingarten blames capitalism and wants to raise your taxes because she thinks that simply throwing yet more taxpayer money at a broken, failed system will make kids better educated.

As Joel Klein says,

…I remain convinced that the best cure for poverty is a good education.

And I’m equally convinced that pointing to poverty as an excuse for why we fail to properly educate poor kids only serves to condemn more of them to lives of poverty.

Then Weingarten gets political,

Sure, we can blame ALEC, or the Koch Brothers, or Eli Broad, or the Walton Foundation, or Mitt Romney—and we’d be right to do so. But recognize that the change that has taken place may have been financed and promoted by them, but it is no longer limited to them.

While suggesting that the right wing disease that started with this evil bunch has spread to society as a whole, Ms. Connect-with-community-and-propose-solutions and her minions reveal a bipartisan mean streak toward those who have crossed her. In 2003, Democrat Eva Moskowitz, then a New York City Councilperson, held hearings to examine the negative impact of union contracts on school operations and infuriated Weingarten by reading part of the union contract at a city council meeting. Moskowitz and Weingarten, United Federation Teachers President at the time, have been mortal enemies ever since. Also, AFT has erected a nasty website that is dedicated to sliming Democrat reformer Michelle Rhee. And Democrats For Education Reform, a group of reform-minded liberals who realize that there is a problem with teachers unions, gets some pretty shabby treatment on the website of UFT (AFT’s New York City local).

Her thoughts then turn westward,

And in California, we are supporting a robust effort by the California Federation of Teachers to prevent deeper cuts to the state’s schools on top of those that have already been made. The CFT’s progressive approach, which has Gov. Jerry Brown’s support, would slightly raise income taxes on the state’s highest earners and temporarily increase the sales tax by one-quarter of 1 percent. These steps would put $8.5 billion into a special fund in next year’s budget, sparing California’s schoolchildren from further crippling education cuts. This solution goes before voters in November.

Promoting class warfare is a typical union ploy to get people angry. Promoting “tax fairness” – aka “let’s squeeze as much money out of the public as we can” – is an ongoing strategy.

You’ve heard a lot of bashing of public pensions as being overly generous or underfunded as a pretext for getting rid of them. We are trying to change that conversation to be about things our country sorely needs: retirement security, infrastructure and jobs. So we ask: “How can we leverage these funds not only to secure our retirements, but to help the country? How can they help our brothers and sisters looking for work, and an economy desperately in need of investment?”

Four cities in the Golden State have filed for bankruptcy with more sure to follow. While not the only reason, unsustainable, overly generous public employee pensions are the main culprit. Granted, teachers aren’t the biggest abusers, but still they are most definitely a drain on the state.

If you haven’t lost your lunch by now, the following should do the trick.

So it falls upon us, all of us, to be the foot soldiers for equality and opportunity, voice and democracy. Just as previous generations were soldiers for freedom and for civil rights, we now must band together as soldiers in a struggle not just for ourselves, not even just for the children in our classrooms, but for a different and better America.

She wants a better America? Really?! Civil rights!!! Okay, how about getting rid of forced unionism, increasing the number of charter schools and instituting universal school choice whereby parents get to choose where to send their kids? Then we’ll see just how many opt to send their kids to the traditional unionized public schools. Though not responding to Weingarten specifically, Joel Klein nails it.

The teachers at Success (Academy, a charter school in Harlem) work hard, are better compensated than other public school teachers, and move on if they can’t cut the mustard. Unlike most teachers in public schools, they believe they can constantly improve by having others observe them, by learning from each other, and by trying new things. They thrive in a culture of excellence, rather than wallow in a culture of excuse.

“They thrive in a culture of excellence, rather than wallow in a culture of excuse.” The teachers at Success Academy (run by Weingarten archenemy, Eva Moskowitz) are indeed part of the solution “for a different and better America.” They aren’t a part of teacher-unionized America where hideous seniority and tenure rules and hopelessly arcane dismissal statutes are the norm.

Randi Weingarten and her self-serving union cronies are dedicated to keeping America mired in its educational quagmire. But fortunately, according to a recent Harvard University poll, only 22 percent of the general public thinks that teachers unions have a positive effect on education, down from 29 percent in 2011. Thankfully, people are waking up and realizing that the teachers unions have a very specific agenda that doesn’t have the interests of parents, children or taxpayers at heart and, as such, won’t be buying Weingarten’s faux “solutions.”

About the author: Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

Teachers Practicing Sexual Harassment Protected by Unions, Victim Advocates Intimidated

With teacher union enabling, child abuse goes on unabated.

A male business owner joking about life for homosexuals in prison, forced a junior accountant to bend over a desk, lined up behind him to simulate a sex act, then quipped, “I’ll show you what’s gay.”

An insurance company middle manager who had been warned about touching secretaries brushed his lower body against a new employee, coming so close that she told company investigators she could feel his genitals through his pants.

A corporate vice-president sent text messages to and called one of his female underlings nearly 50 times in a four-week period and, over the winter holidays, parked himself near her home.

In its definition of sexual harassment, the EEOC says it is “unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include ‘sexual harassment’ or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.” As such, the above scenarios fit the EEOC description of a crime. The perpetrators should face serious legal charges, loss of employment or both.

The tragedy is that the above cases did not occur between employers and employees, but are real life examples of teachers abusing children. According to a recent New York Times story,

A health teacher at a high school in Manhattan, joking about life for homosexuals in prison, forced a male student to bend over a desk, lined up behind him to simulate a sex act, then quipped, according to an Education Department investigative report, “I’ll show you what’s gay.”

A high school science teacher in the Bronx who had already been warned about touching female students brushed his lower body against one student’s leg during a lab exercise, coming so close that she told investigators she could feel his genitals through his pants.

And a math teacher at a high school in the Bronx, investigators said, sent text messages to and called one of his female students nearly 50 times in a four-week period and, over the winter holidays, parked himself at the McDonald’s where she worked.

Surely these teachers are no longer employed as teachers, are they?

Well, yes they are.

After promising not to do it again, they were given a slap on the wrist by an “arbitrator” and returned to their classes. One can only guess that the “arbitrator” is shilling for the teachers unions, which seem to have no problem with degenerates remaining in the classroom. A recently retired New York State teacher union lawyer quipped,

A person has a right to be heard, and the right to respond to whatever you’re accused of, and it’s got to be decided by someone other than you, the boss. If the person is punished in some fashion and now realizes that this is something they should not do, and they feel remorse, you ought to be able to get to a point of simply moving on.

Feel remorse? Move on? That in a nutshell is the teacher union mentality. Keep every last harasser and molester in the classroom, no matter what. Their dues money is as good as Mother Theresa’s.

Several years ago, a union rep in Los Angeles said (referring to wayward teachers), “If I’m representing them, it’s impossible to get them out. It’s impossible unless they commit a lewd act.” Now it appears as if it’s impossible to remove them even if they have committed a lewd act.

But, in a perverse sense, the union stance is understandable, but where are the paladins of the oppressed?

Where are the feminists?

Where is the anti-bullying brigade?

Where are the civil rights groups?

It seems as if children in our society don’t have advocates. Not even the Children’s Defense Fund has said “boo” about the rash of pedophiles working in our schools. Of course, parents speak up for their children, but they are not always welcome. In West Covina, just east of Los Angeles, the mother of a 12 year old boy had good reason to believe her son was being physically abused by his teacher. The teacher has been removed from the classroom until the matter is sorted out. But, in the meantime, the California Teachers Association is threatening to sue the mother if she continues to make accusatory comments toward the teacher in question.

However, there is some good news on the horizon. It was recently announced that,

Leaders of a national education reform movement, including Joel I. Klein and Michelle Rhee, the former schools chancellors in New York and Washington have formed a statewide political group in New York with an eye toward being a counterweight to the powerful teachers’ union in the 2013 mayoral election.

Klein and Rhee have locked horns with union leaders many times, most notably American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. As such, I can’t think of any two who better understand the union mentality, have fearlessly confronted it and fiercely advocated for children. Additionally, they have assembled an impressive board which includes successful educators and some interested parties with very deep pockets.

On the board are some of the most well-known and polarizing figures in public education, including Ms. Rhee; Mr. Klein, now a News Corporation executive; and Eva S. Moskowitz, the former councilwoman who now runs a chain of charter schools. Also on the board are former Mayor Edward I. Koch; Geoffrey Canada, the founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone organization, a network of charter schools; and a number of venture capitalists and hedge fund managers, who have served as the movement’s financial backers.

Upon hearing about the new coalition, United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew responded with a lame attempt at class warfare, “If these 1-percenters want to mount an AstroTurf campaign with their deep pockets, they’ve done this before.”

What Mulgrew and his brethren can’t quite grasp is that parents all over the country are getting sick and tired of the teachers unions being in control of what has become a failing public education enterprise. The unions, with their own deep pockets, won’t back down easily. But if parents and others like Klein and Rhee can join forces and build solid coalitions, the unions may have finally met their match.

To be sure, some well-meaning compromisers will try to engage the union in a round of Kumbaya. But this accommodationist approach rarely achieves victory for parents and children. Perhaps Mr. Canada best summed up the situation. “Folks are genuinely looking for opportunities to make peace and not war. And I think that’s terrific. But someone has to make war.”

About the author: Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.