Posts

Tenure Tremors in California

The Unions’ Assault on Truth

The teachers unions continue to mislead its members and everyone else.

In the latest issue of the California Federation of Teachers quarterly newsletter, CFT president Josh Pechthalt writes “The lawsuits that educators and unions must defeat,” which is referred to as a “special report” – special because it is especially filled with half-truths, omissions and lies.

Pechthalt starts his piece with, “Education unions and public sector unions are facing legal attacks designed to destroy our ability to represent our members. Not surprisingly, these cases are supported by the usual anti-union law firms and wealthy backers. What follows is a snapshot of the cases CFT and other unions are now fighting.”

He then delves into four lawsuits he claims are an “attack on union treasury driven by wealthy education ‘reformers.’”

The first lawsuit on Pechthalt’s hit list is the Friedrichs case which, if successful, would make paying dues to a public employee union voluntary. The union boss skirts the essence of the suit and instead focuses on a secondary aspect. He writes, “While a complete elimination of agency fee is unlikely, the Supreme Court could make it more difficult to collect agency fee payments, which would have a serious financial impact on unions, weakening our ability to advocate for our members and be engaged in politics.” First, if his scenario is correct, dues collection could be more difficult, but only for teachers who don’t want to join the union. And he doesn’t mention the benefit to the taxpayer who, at least for the latter group, could be out of the dues collection business. Secondly, the ability to be “engaged in politics” is rather humorous. What Pechthalt doesn’t mention is that their spending goes to only leftist causes and many donations go to groups that have nothing to do with education whatsoever. A brief look at the union’s parent organization’s latest labor department filing shows that teachers’ dues money went to organizations like The National Newspapers Publishers Association and the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless. And what teacher isn’t going to be thrilled that the union donated $250,000 to the Clinton Global Initiative and another $250,000 to the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation? (Only about 13 percent of money given to the latter winds up as charitable grants for those in need. The rest is spent on salaries, benefits, travel and fund-raising.)

Pechthalt’s next hit is on the Students Matter or Vergara case, which he uncleverly dubs “Students Don’t Matter.” In this well-publicized case, the judge struck down the tenure, seniority and dismissal statutes in California’s constitution. Pechthalt claims that these statutes “protect teachers’ ability to teach free of coercion and favoritism.” Baloney. No one in the private sector is entitled to have a job for life and gets to keep their position over a more talented colleague thanks to nothing more than an earlier hiring date; why should public employees merit such extraordinary privilege? All these statutes do is guarantee that mediocre and worse teachers are on equal footing with the good and great ones. And our poorest children have paid the price for decades.

The union president then rolls into Doe v Antioch, litigated by Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, the same firm that was responsible for Vergara’s success. This suit is based on a 2012 ruling in which Sacramento-based nonprofit EdVoice correctly maintained that teacher evaluations require, in part, the use of standardized test scores and the judge promptly ordered their inclusion. However, in a report released earlier this year that sampled 26 districts’ compliance with the decision, EdVoice found that half of them were ignoring the court-ordered requirement to use the test scores. Pechthalt claims that, “While a 1999 law amended the 1971 Stull Act to broadly include the use of test scores, the advocates for education unions contend districts were given latitude to negotiate language relevant to their needs.” Fine. But the law says that student test scores still must be used as some part of a teacher’s evaluation. “Latitude” doesn’t mean “none.”

Pechthalt’s last broadside is saved for Bain v CTA, which he subtitles, “I-want-it-all-for-free.” This is a lie, plain and simple. The plaintiffs in this case want to belong to the union, are willing to pay dues, but don’t want to support the union’s political agenda. Maybe they don’t feel like supporting the Clintons. Or maybe they’d like to decide for themselves if their hard-earned money should be given to the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless. Or maybe they are actually in favor of the reforms that teachers unions regularly fight against in Sacramento.

Sad to say, Pechthalt is not unique. Distorting the truth is very common with union bosses. AFT president Randi Weingarten has proclaimed, “If somebody shouldn’t teach – if somebody can’t teach – they shouldn’t be there.” Nice words, but she doesn’t mean a word of it. During her reign as head of the New York City teachers union, just 88 out of 80,000 teachers lost their jobs for poor performance over a three year period.

The AFT also got caught in a whopper when it claimed in 2014 it had no agency fee payers – teachers who still have to pay money to the union but have exempted themselves from paying for the union’s political agenda – even as AFT locals reported that thousands have gone the agency fee route. In 2015, the union reported exactly one agency fee payer. One.

It’s not only teachers unions that have a loose relationship with facts. UnionWatch’s Ed Ring has given us a primer in Deceptive and Misleading Claims – How Government Unions Fool the Public. It is up to teachers, citizens and journalists to learn the truth and start calling unions on their BS. Maybe then their lies will stop, or at least slow down a bit. Maybe.

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.

Teachers Unions Appeal Vergara

… and continue to block any and every meaningful reform the California state legislature has to offer.

On May Day (how fitting!) the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers filed their appeal of the Vergara decision. In that 2014 ruling, Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu struck down California’s teacher tenure, layoff and dismissal laws, claiming that they deny students access to a quality public education, especially those from poor and minority families.

In a PR move, union bosses have been taking their rather lame case to the media. CTA president Dean Vogel somehow managed to maintain a straight face when he stated, “This suit was never about helping students. As educators we believe every student has the right to a caring, qualified and committed teacher and that is why we are appealing the judge’s misguided decision.” Then, tossing in some class warfare for flavor, he added that the judge failed to take into consideration “the impact of a severe lack of funding and growth in poverty which are some of the most important factors impacting student achievement.” (Actually, most studies have shown that the most important factor in student achievement is the effectiveness of the teacher.)

CFT President Josh Pechthalt, avoiding the merits of the case, did his typical “class warfare first, last and always” song and dance. “Wealthy anti-union advocates like David Welch, the funder of this suit, are obscuring the real problems of public education, which are best addressed by restoring funding to programs that ensure student success. It is not coincidental that the law firm he retained is one of corporate America’s leading anti-worker, anti-union firms.” (Increasing funding doesn’t “ensure” anything. Far from it. We have almost tripled education spending in forty years with nothing to show for it.)

A confident Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, said she fully expects the California Court of Appeal will return education policy to where it belongs: the legislature. “Every student deserves a highly effective teacher in his or her classroom. The California legislature has worked to provide fair due process protections that ensure quality teachers are in every classroom. Due process prevents good teachers from being fired for bad reasons, and it protects teachers’ professional judgment and academic freedom.” (“Due process long ago morphed into “undue” process; even pedophiles have a hard time getting the ax.)

Perhaps the NEA’s leader’s comments are most galling of all. First she seems to forget that a whole load of ugly Jim Crow laws were eradicated by the courts. I highly doubt that Eskelsen García would have groused about judicial activism in those cases. (By the way, Judge Treu did not make any laws; he just ruled that several laws on the books are unconstitutional.) Another reason her “policy belongs in the legislature” comment is nonsense is that CTA has a lock on that body. With its forced dues scheme, every public school teacher in the Golden State is made to fork over on average more than $1,000 a year, with much of that money going to buy legislators. Parents, kids and taxpayers have no mechanism to match the union’s wildly unfair advantage. So in essence, Eskelsen García is forcing us to play cards – but only with a deck that the unions have carefully stacked. It is commonly said that CTA is an important wing of the Democratic Party in California. It’s more accurate to say that the Democratic Party is really a wing of the powerful California union.

In fact, prior to Eskelsen García’s statement, several California state legislators already had attempted to pass legislation with Vergara in mind.

• Assembly Bill 1044 (Assemblywoman Catherine Baker, R-Dublin) would have eliminated “last-in-first-out” by declaring seniority cannot be the sole factor governing layoffs.

• AB 1248 (Assemblyman Rocky Chávez, R-Oceanside) would have extended from two to three years how long it takes for teachers to win tenure and would allow administrators to  revoke tenure if teachers have consecutive poor performance reviews.

• AB 1078 (Assembly Minority Leader Kristin Olsen, R-Riverbank) would have increased the number of ratings teachers could be assigned and would require educators to be evaluated in part based on student test scores.

Not surprisingly, these bills – modest as they were – never really had a chance. Each one was summarily killed in the CTA owned-and-operated education committee in the State Assembly.

Then there was AB 1495, introduced by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego. Whereas existing state law calls for two teacher ratings – satisfactory and unsatisfactory – Weber’s bill would have added a third teacher rating of “needs improvement” to the state’s minimum requirement for evaluations. It would also call on districts to put teachers who are not rated fully satisfactory first in line for professional coaching. This sensible bill garnered support from the likes of EdVoice, Students Matter and StudentsFirst – all Sacramento student advocacy groups. But CTA’s cronies in the Assembly education committee snuffed out this bill too. That prompted Weber, no shrinking violet, to lash out at her fellow Democrats. As reported by LA Weekly’s Hillel Aron, she said, “When I see what’s going on, I’m offended, as a senior member of this committee, who has probably more educational background and experience than all ya’ll put together on top of each other.” She added, “Obviously, it was orchestrated by the teachers union to not let the bill out. It was purely political.” Shirley surely gets it.

There is one bill, however, that the teachers unions have not taken a position on … yet. Carol Liu, D-La Cañada-Flintridge, has concocted SB 499. Her teacher evaluation bill requires teachers to be evaluated in part on student progress, including such objective measures as testing, but – and it is a very big but – mandates that the specifics be worked out as part of the union-school district collective bargaining agreement. However, giving unions more negotiating power over evaluations would be a problem said Nancy Espinoza, a legislative advocate for the California School Boards Association in testimony before the Senate Education Committee a couple of weeks ago. “We are going from developing evaluation standards to negotiating them. That is a tremendous change.” It creates opportunities, she said, for teachers unions “to leverage evaluation standards related to student achievement for gains related to salary” and would likely increase the frequency of an impasse in negotiations “and concerted actions like strikes.”

Also weighing in against the bill is a coalition of groups including Democrats for Education Reform and the California Chamber of Commerce. In a letter to Liu, it mentioned “Offering unions this power affords them the opportunity and incentive to water down teacher evaluations.”

StudentsFirst called the bill misguided, claiming it ignored research on what makes an evaluation effective, and puts the state at risk of losing federal support.

Bill Lucia, CEO of EdVoice, called retaining school boards’ authority over evaluation criteria a non-negotiable “bright-line issue.”

In defending her bill, Liu said that “buy-in from teachers” is critical for evaluations to be useful in helping teachers improve. “Teachers need to be at the table to discuss goals of an evaluation. Their voice needs to be heard and heard loudly.”

But buy-in from teachers is not important in Sacramento. The only buy-in there that matters is from the teachers unions. Liu’s – and every other education bill – is in the unions’ hands. Until the Vergara appeals are exhausted, that is the unpleasant fact of life.

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.

Staples Removers

Not content with stifling education reform and school choice, teachers unions have a new target.

Dang! The teachers unions have been busier than ever lately. Trying to kill charter schools in California. Fighting teacher evaluations in Florida. Demonizing vouchers, well, everywhere. But now the unions’ have a new bête-noire: Staples.

Staples?

Yes, Staples.

The troubled office supply chain (closing 225 of its stores) has made a deal with the troubled U.S. Post Office (which lost $5 billion last year, in part due to a serious decline in volume) to open mini-USPS outlets in its stores. This move could bring customers to Staples and at the same time save the USPS money.

Sounds like a win-win, right?

Not if you are the American Postal Workers Union. The APWU is hopping mad, in fact. Back in April it staged a “National Day of Action” to protest the move. The union began to picket Staples stores and called for other unions to join their “Don’t buy campaign.” (Having a post office in stores was the norm when Ben Franklin created the P.O. concept two and a half centuries ago.)

Appalled at the mini-move to privatization, the California Federation of Teachers joined the fray and put out a press release on April 29th in which it expressed outrage and disgust at the deal, and asked teachers to boycott the chain. Never missing an opportunity to say something loopy, CFT president Josh Pechthalt pontificated,

These no-bid contracts point to a dirty deal. The consumer will suffer—a lack of postal training means less mail security and worse service, without any cost savings for the consumer…By this simple act—asking our members and educators across the country to buy their school supplies elsewhere—we put USPS management and a profit seeking corporation on notice that the quality of mail delivery is not for sale. (Emphasis added.)

The consumer will suffer? When’s the last time you stood in line for 20 minutes at Staples, cooling your heels, while the bulk of the employees were hanging out in the back enjoying their break, leaving one worker to deal with a dozen ticked-off customers?

But Pechthalt saved the best for last:

… When it comes to privatizing the U.S. mail, we say ‘no sale.’ Our members have choices where to buy school supplies, and we won’t shop at Staples as long as they operate postal counters without uniformed postal workers.

So, choice where to buy school supplies is good, but not where to mail a letter. Maybe if workers at Staples wear spiffy uniforms, that would make Mr. Pechthalt happy?

Then last week, the Michigan affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers joined the CFT boycott. As reported by POLITICO,

The unions made the move in solidarity with the American Postal Workers Union, which is furious over a plan to let Staples employees operate postal counters inside dozens of stores. The APWU has blasted the deal as a first step to privatizing the postal service. Teachers understand ‘how much we all have to lose when essential public services — like schools and post offices — are put in the hands of private companies with lower standards,’ said David Hecker, president of AFT Michigan. His group will press for a national boycott at the AFT convention this summer. (Emphasis added.)

Lower standards than the USPS?! Granted the P.O. is better than it used to be, but the improvement unsurprisingly coincided with the emergence of FedEx. The P.O., however, still trails the privately-owned company in reliability, courtesy and efficiency.

The bottom line here is that the teachers unions are monopolists. They despise the “right-to-work” concept which allows for choice in union membership. They fight tooth and nail against giving parents a choice where to send their kids to school. And now they don’t want to give us a choice where to buy stamps and mail a letter.

A competition-free world is a quality-free world. But the unions don’t give a rip about quality. They’re simply hell-bent on preserving their influence and protecting their bottom line by any means necessary.

It’s time for the rest of us to fight back. Go to Staples. Buy something. Tell them you like their postal venture. Give the manager a hug. At the same time, send an email to the unions and tell them that, as a consumer, you don’t approve of monopolies.

Well, at least the unions haven’t told us to boycott Staples “for the children” … yet.

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.

California Federation of Teachers Boss Speaks Power to Troops

In a refreshingly candid speech, union leader minimizes bromides about “the children” and relentlessly bangs the class warfare drum.

In his March 22nd state-of-the-union talk to the faithful, California Federation of Teachers president Josh Pechthalt made no bones about the ultimate mission of his union. Absent were the usual silly platitudes like “working together with other stakeholders” and “if we need to strike, it will be for the children.” Nah. Pechthalt didn’t waste any time using weasel words. He went right to the heart of the union’s raison d’être, which is advancing a leftist agenda. Here are a few snippets from a speech that would have made the late Karl Marx beam:

… CFT has been a beacon of progressive, social justice unionism.

… we have consistently supported single payer health care reform….

We are currently part of a coalition with many of our Millionaires Tax and Prop 30 partners working on an effort to amend Prop 13….

The super wealthy and their swollen circle of reactionary think tanks and echo chamber conservative media are committed to eradicating what remains of the labor movement and giving corporations unlimited power over every aspect of American life.

We understand that central to the mission of public education is the need to advocate for a different kind of society…. (Emphasis in original.)

Don’t get me wrong – I am not implying that teacher union bosses don’t care about children. They care, in fact they really care, but maybe not in ways that you and I do. They tend to see children as avatars-in-training for the brave new world that they are attempting to shove down our throats.

But getting our own members organized won’t be enough. We must reach out to our students, their parents and our community members and organizations.

Pechthalt clearly gives no thought to his members who don’t have the same affection for the Comintern that he apparently does. According to Pechthalt’s counterpart, California Teachers Association president Dean Vogel, about one-third of teachers in California are Republican. I wonder what was going through their minds when Pechthalt said, “… open school libraries have become as rare as a congressional republican (sic) with something good to say about the affordable care act (sic).” But then again, it really doesn’t matter, because the way the unions have things rigged, those right-of-center members are still forced to fork over monthly dues just like everyone else. But when you are a true-believer in “social justice,” purloining money from unwilling teachers is nothing more than a bourgeois concern.

Pechthalt was especially rough on the Students Matter (Vergara v California) case, which aims to ensure that all kids in California have an effective teacher by removing the tenure, seniority and dismissal statutes from the state education code. His comments were ad hominem and oozed class warfare sentiments.

The latest attack on public education has been the Vergara lawsuit, backed by billionaires David Welch and Eli Broad and the corporate-friendly law firm of Gibson Dunn and Crutcher.

… We did that while one of the backers of the Vergara lawsuit, Eli Broad, put money into a failed secret Arizona PAC effort that pumped millions of dollars into California in the run-up to the 2012 election to try and defeat Prop 30 and try to pass prop 32, the anti-union initiative.

… The hard cold reality though is that the Vergara suit underscores our challenge: to convincingly tell our story and build deep relationships with parents and community partners in the face of (a) well-funded effort by the opponents of public education to lie and twist reality and erode our influence. (Emphasis added.)

The vilification of Broad is particularly ironic because he is a lifelong Democrat. And regardless of his political affiliation, to progressives, some billionaires are less equal than others. For instance, why the Koch Brothers are considered evil and involved in “dark money” but George Soros is portrayed as an angel of light is beyond me. (Okay, it’s not beyond me….)

And in all the yammering about billionaires and the evil rich, it’s worth noting that when it comes to political spending in California, a teachers union – the California Teachers Association – is #1 by far. Between 2000 and 2013, it spent over $290 million on candidates and causes. That was far more than dreaded corporations AT&T, Chevron and Philip Morris spent in the Golden State combined.

Pechthalt’s and CFT’s attempts to conduct class(room) warfare by aggrandizing the union movement are well-documented.  Courtesy of Kyle Olson’s Indoctrination, we know that CFT has put out “lessons” for tots as young as five. In “Trouble in the Henhouse: A Puppet Show” we find an oppressive farmer whose hens unionize and convince the heartless farmer that he’d better respect them “or else.” Then there is “The “Yummy Pizza Company,” another lesson from CFT – actually ten – that delves into the process of organizing a union local. They include instructions on how to collectively bargain as well as a sanitized look at prominent labor leaders. Click Clack Moo, a popular book promoted by CFT parent organization AFL-CIO, tells second graders about unhappy cows that refuse to work until the mean farmer is forced to meet their demands.

It’s important to note that the “workers of the world unite and bring your children to the party” mentality is hardly new for CFT. This is the organization that brought us “Tax the Rich: An Animated Fairy Tale” in 2012. This vile video pushed class warfare to the limit, attempting to whip up hatred of people who have been successful in life but “don’t pay their fair share of taxes.” As Investors Business Daily described it,

“Rich people love their money more than anything in the whole world,” narrates Hollywood actor and noted leftist Ed Asner, in tones used in reading to schoolchildren. “Over time, rich people decided they weren’t rich enough so they came up with ways to get richer.”

…The bile that oozes in the union’s puerile seven-minute screed was unspeakable: The world was a paradise full of good jobs and safe streets until “rich people” decided to get more money, so the video begins.

Instead of paying their “fair share” of taxes, the rich decided to do three things: seek tax cuts, engage in loopholes and evade taxes by shipping their fortunes to the Cayman Islands, illegally of course, mendaciously suggesting that any financial tie with the Caymans is illegal.

It only gets worse: The rich people’s supposed greed led them to buy media and politicians, with a not-so-subtle cartoon depiction of a man who looks a lot like Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch, and then money amassed as coins in big stacks, which then crashed down first on middle class people’s houses, and then on the jobs of police, firefighters, teachers and librarians.

After that “the rich” tried to blame defaulted mortgage holders and after that, teachers and firefighters (conveniently ignoring the bloated pensions and entitlements and waste that are the doings of public employee unions). “Maybe it was the firefighters,” Asner sarcastically narrated.

The scene that received the most attention was of a rich man urinating on the “poor.” CFT pulled that scene shortly after posting, but no matter, the highly offensive video was a shameful attempt to indoctrinate children into the ugly world of class conflict.

It is essential that teachers who are more in love with teaching than with CFT’s attempts to wage war on rich people stop supporting the union’s political agenda. (To learn how to do this, go here.) Until teachers do that, they are complicit in the union’s overall mission, which is dedicated to promoting class warfare and indoctrinating children.

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.