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Social(ism) Justice Lessons

Teacher union progressives seek to socialize our country, but the Koch brothers have other plans.

The recent teacher union conventions were full of self-pity, angst and anger over the Vergara and Harris legal decisions. Unfortunately that’s not all they concerned themselves with. The union avatars explored various progressive schemes with the intention of dragging us all into their brave new world.

The ugliest moment for liberty came during the “Social Movement Unionism vs. Corporate Reform: Winning Strategies to Turn the Tide” panel at the American Federation of Teachers’ convention. As reported by class warrior Lauren Steiner in the LA Progressive, “It featured six union officials from LA, New York, Houston, Philadelphia, Chicago and St. Paul sharing their efforts to bring the wider community into their organizing and the various successes they’ve had.”

What’s scary about this bunch is that not only do they work hard to keep many children from getting a solid education by demanding that 50s-era, industrial-style union work rules remain in place, they also envision a socialist America. Alex Caputo-Pearl, recently elected president of the United Teachers of Los Angeles, is perhaps the most radical of all. A proud community organizer, he has been active in various local issues and leftist politics. Within the union, he co-founded Progressive Educators for Action. His other “accomplishments” include working to kill a charter effort to reform wretched Crenshaw High School where he was a teacher, playing a role in building the national “Resisting Teach for America” network (TFA is a dangerous part of the privatization movement, doncha know) and as leader of the “Bus Riders Union” (and no, I did not make that up). Caputo-Pearl so believes in his mission and his own self-importance that he illegally ditched some of his teaching responsibilities while campaigning to become UTLA boss.

Randi Weingarten was not scheduled to be on the panel but showed up nonetheless. Excited by the collectivist bombast, she proclaimed that if the union can advance its progressive programs, it will make every child and parent say, “I need those unions and teachers to be what they are for us.”

The union boss then echoed her own socialist leanings, claiming that her goal is to “create an economy that works for all” and proceeded to outline essential policy proposals that the AFT would advocate for, which included,

… growing the labor movement and reviving collective bargaining; increasing retirement security; easing the burden of student debt; funding a higher minimum wage, paid family leave, universal early childhood education, and full, equitable funding for all schools ….

She also highlighted the AFT’s work “to invest union member pension funds in infrastructure and create 150,000 good jobs.”

Creating good jobs?! How ya gonna do that, Randi? Socialists aren’t very good at that sort of thing. They are good at redistributing money – taking it from Peter and giving it to Paul (and Robert and Joan and Bill and…), but not creating meaningful work for anybody. But I have just the solution, so please sit down or you may fall over. The answer is – are you ready, Randi? – the Koch brothers!

Unknown to many, the Kansas-based industrialists founded Youth Entrepreneurs in 1991. Its mission is to “provide students with business and entrepreneurial education and experiences to help them prosper and become contributing members of society.” Joy Resmovits and Christina Wilkie wrote “Koch High: How The Koch Brothers Are Buying Their Way Into The Minds Of Public School Students,” an extended piece about the project for Huffington Post, Despite the snarky title and several snide comments in the body of the piece, the article is actually quite informative.

In the spring of 2012, Spenser Johnson, a junior at Highland Park High School in Topeka, Kansas, was unpacking his acoustic bass before orchestra practice when a sign caught his eye. ‘Do you want to make money?’ it asked.

The poster encouraged the predominantly poor students at Highland Park to enroll in a new, yearlong course that would provide lessons in basic economic principles and practical instruction on starting a business. Students would receive generous financial incentives including startup capital and scholarships after graduation. The course would begin that fall. Johnson eagerly signed up.

In some ways, the class looked like a typical high school business course, taught in a Highland Park classroom by a Highland Park teacher. But it was actually run by Youth Entrepreneurs, a nonprofit group created and funded primarily by Charles G. Koch, the billionaire chairman of Koch Industries.

The official mission of Youth Entrepreneurs is to provide kids with ‘business and entrepreneurial education and experiences that help them prosper and become contributing members of society.’ The underlying goal of the program, however, is to impart Koch’s radical free-market ideology to teenagers….

Lesson plans and class materials obtained by The Huffington Post make the course’s message clear: The minimum wage hurts workers and slows economic growth. Low taxes and less regulation allow people to prosper. Public assistance harms the poor. Government, in short, is the enemy of liberty.

… During the 2012-2013 school year, YE’s credit-bearing class reached more than 1,000 students in 29 schools in Kansas and Missouri, according to the group’s annual report. Vernon Birmingham, YE’s director of curriculum and teacher support, told HuffPost that the course will be in 42 schools in the coming school year. An offshoot in Atlanta, YE Georgia, reported being in 10 schools in the 2011-2012 school year. Since 2012, YE has also launched three major new initiatives: an online version of its course, an affiliate program to help rural schools access the class, and an after-school program, YE Academy, which served more than 500 students in its first year.

While the Kochs’ program advances the notion that anyone can become prosperous, the left promotes victimhood and resentment as it blathers ad nauseum about the haves and have-nots, “two Americas” and the evil and greedy one percenters. What the left refuses to acknowledge is that we are still an upwardly mobile and fluid nation. As pointed out in an excellent piece in the New York Times,

It is clear that the image of a static 1 and 99 percent is largely incorrect. The majority of Americans will experience at least one year of affluence at some point during their working careers. (This is just as true at the bottom of the income distribution scale, where 54 percent of Americans will experience poverty or near poverty at least once between the ages of 25 and 60).

… Rather than talking about the 1 percent and the 99 percent as if they were forever fixed, it would make much more sense to talk about the fact that Americans are likely to be exposed to both prosperity and poverty during their lives, and to shape our policies accordingly. As such, we have much more in common with one another than we dare to realize. (Emphasis added.)

Hence, we have the Koch brothers trying to instill in its students a sense of independence, a can-do spirit, a solid work ethic and the importance of good business acumen. And our teacher union leaders are striving to enslave us by raising taxes, killing anything that smells of privatization and waging class warfare.

Now seriously, which lessons do you want your kids to learn?

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.

School Board Wars

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg donates $1 million to reform candidates in Los Angeles school board race.

School boards are powerful entities. Within the confines of state law, they typically adopt budgets, collectively bargain with the local teachers union, monitor student achievement and pick the local school superintendent. In California, there are more than a thousand school boards that rule over 300,000 teachers and 6 million students.

As you might expect, with this kind of power, the teachers unions usually have their grubby paws all over school board races. If candidates are deemed unfriendly to the union cause – maybe they want to spend less on teacher salaries or limit teacher-friendly work rules enacted at students’ expense or try to get rid of some incompetent teachers – the local and state unions will spend huge sums of cash to defeat them.

However, things have begun to change and the teachers unions now have competition in school board election spending. As writer Jane Roberts pointed out in a piece written in August 2012,

In the new era, education reform advocacy groups, passionate about their views on public education, are harnessing millions in contributions to further their work. Because many, including Stand for Children, are registered as social welfare groups under 501(c)4 laws, they aren’t bound by campaign contributions caps can spend freely on political campaigns from the money they raise for their social missions. They also do not have to reveal their donor’s identities.

“This is a new phenomenon,” said Mike Petrilli, executive vice president at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. “Many of these groups are either brand new or fairly new to education reform.”

What they have figured out, Petrilli says, is that it is not “enough to publish white papers and op-eds. They need to be engaged in political advocacy.”

On March 5th in Los Angeles, there will be an election with three of the seven school board seats up for grabs. Traditionally, the United Teachers of Los Angeles gets its way and has, if not complete control, at least a majority on the board to do its bidding. But unfortunately for the union, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has thrown a million dollar monkey wrench into the works. As Huffington Post education writer Joy Resmovits explains,

…Earlier this week, LA School Report reported that a super PAC associated with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent $1 million on a group known as the Coalition for School Reform. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has supported Deasy’s efforts, released a statement calling Bloomberg “the most important voice in education reform today,” LA School Report wrote.

The Coalition for School Reform, according to KCET, is an independent expenditure group that has also received money from reform-minded philanthropist Eli Broad. The group has endorsed school board candidates Kate Anderson, Monica Garcia, and Antonio Sanchez, LA School Report wrote last month. The Coalition is sitting on $1.2 million.

The counterweight to the reform block is, naturally, the teachers union. United Teachers of Los Angeles has about $670,000 in its war-chest, according to LA School Report. “We know we’re going to be outspent five-gazillion-to-one,” UTLA veep Gregg Solkovits told the site.

Earlier in February, Solkovits told LA School Report that he wanted to boost UTLA’s coffers with help from the national and state union bodies.

However, National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel has been quoted saying that the union would not get involved in this race. But what about the other national teachers union? According to blogger Alexander Russo,

A senior American Federation of Teachers official has acknowledged the request from UTLA, but has not yet responded with details about the union’s decision or the amount of funding that’s going to be shared.

Reticence on AFT’s part is understandable; it may be a bit tapped out, having just spent $6 million on advocacy groups in 2011-2012. As Mike Antonucci reports,

A $1.2 million donation to Californians Working Together, the group formed to support Prop 30, the tax increase ballot initiative, was the national union’s largest single contribution. A host of special interest groups, charities and religious organizations also received money from AFT, including the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, the Economic Policy Institute, and the University of Colorado National Education Policy Center.

These figures do not include grants and contributions made to other unions (such as Colorado WINS) or union coalitions such as the AFL-CIO. For example, AFT contributed $1,150,000 to the AFL-CIO’s State Unity Fund.

Interestingly with just two weeks till the election, the powerful and wealthy California Teachers Association has been uncharacteristically quiet on the LA election.

Also worth noting is that reform-minded LA school superintendent John Deasy has more than a passing interest in the March 5th election: an unfriendly school board can send him packing.

While the three reform candidates running for school board in LA are not reform superstars, they are certainly preferable to their union-friendly opponents. The bigger story though, is that there are people with very deep pockets who are beginning to stand up to the mightiest political force in the country: the teachers unions. And of course, when the teachers unions start losing power, the children of America are all the richer for 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 with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

The Route to Teacher Union Extinction: Is the Other Shoe Dropping?

In addition to online learning, Democrat’s abandonment of their traditional union allies could put an end to the educational status quo and decimate the teachers unions.

In my October 18th post, I wrote about Terry Moe’s book Special Interest: Teachers Unions and America’s Public Schools. I specifically addressed that part of the book in which he builds a scenario for the eventual undoing of the teachers unions. One of the two ways he claims this will happen is via technology, in the form of online learning. The other route to marginalization is the realization by Democrats that education is really a civil rights issue and that they are morally bound to get on board with reform and choice. By adopting this position, they will be abandoning their longtime political allies – the teachers unions.

As with the rapid ascent of online learning, Moe’s second nail in the unions’ coffin is picking up speed. In a recent Huffington Post entry, Joy Resmovits addresses the “new education lobby.”

“It’s ambitious, expansive and, in some cases, modeling itself after sprawling single-issue lobbying organizations like the National Rifle Association and AARP. The groups, which have in large part been created by hedge fund managers and lapsed government officials, count political operatives inside state legislatures and even the Democratic National Committee among their ranks. And they’re using the power of their fundraisers’ purses and sophisticated messaging outfits to push their agendas in local and school-board elections across the country.”

Traditionally, education reform and school choice have been conservative/libertarian causes. Starting with vouchers, a creation of libertarian Milton Friedman in the 1950s, the ideas for education reform, with few exceptions, have come from right leaning think tanks like Pacific Research Institute, Hoover Institution, Goldwater Institute, Reason Foundation, Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, etc. The policy ideas put forth by these and other similar organizations have formed the basis for many of the education reforms that are in place today.

What is perhaps most interesting about this “new education lobby” that Resmovits writes about is that many of them are Democrats. Yes, Democrats are essentially picking up the ideas put forth by the right and taking them to statehouses all over the country. And the teachers unions are definitely not enthralled with this new development.

Democrats for Education Reform, founded in 2007, has become a potent lobbying force in just a few years. They have set up shop in ten states and their reform efforts are essentially indistinguishable from those on the right. Consequently, they have not escaped the wrath of the United Federation of Teachers in New York City. The union claims that DFER:
• doesn’t sound like Democrats.
• hates teachers.
• knows nothing about education.
• is made up of hedge fund managers (Whitney Tilson, John Petry, et al) and billionaires (Eli Broad, who funds DFER’s sister organization Education Reform Now.)
• is comprised of narcissists.

(Note to reform-minded Democrats – welcome to the world that those on the right have lived in for many years!)

Another example of the Democrat-as-reformer-lobbyist phenomenon is Michelle Rhee, who is a self-described “lifelong, card-carrying, dyed-in-the-wool Democrat.” After a short, successful and highly publicized reign as Chancellor of D.C. public schools, she left her position after the American Federation of Teachers donated over $1 million to unseat Rhee’s boss, Mayor Adrian Fenty, in 2010. Shortly after Fenty’s loss, Rhee founded Students First, an advocacy organization whose goal is to raise $1 billion in ten years. The AFT’s response to Ms. Rhee’s efforts was to put up a smear website called RheeFirst.

Whereas DFER is out to reform the Democratic Party, Rhee will work with anyone or any organization that shares her reform vision.

There are many other Democrats working hard for reform and incurring the wrath of the unions. Kevin Chavous, cofounder of DFER and Chairman of the Board of Black Alliance for Educational Options, Davis Guggenheim, director of Waiting For Superman and Ben Austin, who fathered the first Parent Trigger law, are just a few examples of Democrat’s joining the education reform movement.

Even with this new bipartisan reform effort, the teachers unions are not about to fold their tents and give up any time soon. It’s going to be a long bloody war with some battles being won (Wisconsin) and some lost (Ohio.) In fact, just last week, Dropout Nation’s Rishawn Biddle wrote about the recent release of the National Education Association’s 2010-2011 LM-2 filing, a required Department of Labor annual report. revealing recent political expenditures.

“The numbers are spectacular. The nation’s largest teachers’ union spent $133 million in 2010-2011 on lobbying and contributions to groups whose agendas (in theory) dovetail with its own. This included $255,000 to the Economic Policy Institute, the progressive think tank cofounded by Robert Kuttner and Robert Reich, whose education reports generally take a pro-NEA slant….”

“Among the big recipients of the NEA’s largesse this year were ProgressNow’s affiliates in Michigan and Colorado, each receiving, respectively, $10,000 and $125,000, for education policy advocacy and legislative advocacy activities. ProgressNow, by the way, was one of the key players in ousting school reform-minded Michigan legislator Paul Scott from his statehouse seat earlier this month and has decried Gov. Rick Snyder’s efforts to allow for the expansion of charter schools and school choice….”

“The usual suspects are also on the list: Communities for Quality Education, which has long been subsidized by the NEA, collected $1 million in 2010-2011. Anti-testing group FairTest picked up $35,000 this time around. So are some leading education traditionalists: Parents Across America co-founder) Leonie Haimson’s Class Size Matters picked up $25,000 from the union last fiscal year, while Western Michigan’s Gary Miron (whose rather flawed study on KIPP’s charter schools earlier this year was the subject of Dropout Nation‘s analysis) picked up $5,000. Meanwhile the NEA directly poured $43,000 into the Save Our Schools rally held this past July; this doesn’t include dollars poured in by state and local affiliates.”

With the ability to throw this kind of money around, NEA’s effect on maintaining the status quo with its attendant failing educational policies cannot be exaggerated. So those of us involved in reform will have to be satisfied as long as the ball is being advanced, even if it’s slower than we would like. As writer Louis L’Amour once said, “Victory is won not in miles but in inches. Win a little now, hold your ground, and later, win a little more.”

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.