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In like a Lyin’

As charter schools continue to succeed, the reformicidal teachers unions ramp up their assault on them.

Month by month, the teachers unions have been increasing their barrage of malevolence toward charter schools, which are nothing more than publicly funded schools of choice that are trying to break away from the rigidity of Big Education/Big Union rules and regulations.

The March charter assault comes to us via a push poll conducted by the teachers unions’ favorite pollsters – GBA Strategies – an outfit regularly used by unions to manufacture results to their liking. The poll was commissioned by In the Public Interest and the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD). The former is a project of The Partnership for Working Families (PWF), a card-carrying member of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, whose raison d’être is to bash “one percenters.” Not surprisingly, several of PWF donors are themselves “one percenters,” including George Soros and other globalist/socialists. CPD is radically pro-labor and American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten is on its board of directors.

The results of the poll were reported in Politics USA by “rmuse,” a writer who refers to himself as a “Secular Humanist – Columnist – Audio Engineer/Musician Zen-Atheist.” He writes that while it has taken over a decade, “the public is finally sick of the charter industry’s lack of accountability, systemic underperformance, harsh admission policies, and poorly or untrained teachers; all characteristics of the charter school privatization movement.”

Rmuse finishes his embarrassing screed with a despicable and downright kooky flourish. “Sadly, with Koch-ALEC Republicans controlling education funding and pushing privatization through charters, and coupled with an Administration enamored with privatized charter schools, it may be inevitable that the next generation of Americans will be stupider and more religious than the current one. And, despite their demands to rein in the corporate and religious charter school movement, American taxpayers will ultimately pay to under-educate the next generation to enrich corporations, completely destroy public schools, and create tens-of-millions of theocratic Republican voters.”

Shortly after the poll was released, United Teachers of Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl appeared on KQED-FM, a radio station in northern CA, and whined on about how charters don’t play by the rules. While he did not allude to the poll, his diatribe certainly meshed with it. Fortunately, California Charter School Association president Jed Wallace was also on air and managed to correct many of the union leader’s fanciful forays into Wonderland.

The essence of rmuse’s, Caputo-Pearl’s and other haters’ complaints about charters is that they are “unregulated” and “not accountable.” But nothing could be further from the truth.

As the California Charter School Association points out, unlike traditional public schools, charters are academically accountable in a couple of ways. “They are held accountable by their authorizer (usually the local school district) and, most importantly, by the families they serve. When a team of school developers submit their charter petition, they must define their academic goals. In order to be authorized, their goals must be rigorous. In order to stay open, they must meet or exceed those goals.” Additionally charters must abide by various state and federal laws, civil rights statutes, safety rules, standard financial practices, etc.

As former president of the Center for Education Reform Kara Kerwin writes, “… Unlike all other public schools, charters must be proactive in their efforts to stay open. They must set and meet rigorous academic goals, and actually meet or exceed their state’s proficiency standards. Unlike the conventional public schools that intentionally remain under the radar, charter schools operate under intense scrutiny from teachers unions, the media, and lawmakers. In states with strong charter school laws that allow for objective oversight, it is clear that performance-based accountability is working.”

Around the same time as the unions’ March offensive, a report was released that analyzed the achievement gap. As detailed by LA School Report, “The first-of-its-kind Education Equality Index from Education Cities studied data from schools in the 100 largest U.S. cities, and in each identified up to 10 schools with small or nonexistent achievement gaps that serve a student population where the majority are from low-income families.” It found that charters dominated the rankings in many big cities, especially in LA, where nine of the top 10 schools were independent charter schools.

Hardly a surprise. As students struggle in traditional LA schools, students from the same demographic groups are thriving in charter schools. By the time they’ve graduated, students at charter schools are over three times more likely to have completed courses needed for college admission than students at traditional public schools.

Also, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO) conducted an analysis of charter schools in LAUSD in 2014 and found that its students gain significantly more learning time than their peers in traditional public schools.

To be clear, not all charters are wonderful. But if a charter authorizing law is written properly and oversight is competent and vigilant, any charter not passing muster will be shut down. And most all, please keep in mind, charters are schools of choice, picked out by parents, unlike the zip-code mandated traditional public schools that are favored by the education establishment.

Today 282 charter schools operate in Los Angeles, serving 150,866 students. The sad news is that there are 41,830 kids still on waiting lists trying to get into one. Nationally, hundreds of thousands of students are wait-listed. And all the union leaders, their push pollsters, rmuse and their fellow travelers really don’t give a damn about them.

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’ Election Day Thumping

“Teachers Unions Take a Beating in Midterm Races”

“Teachers Unions Take a Shellacking”

“Teachers Unions Get Schooled in 2014 Election”

The above is just a small sampling of post-election headlines which flooded the media after last Tuesday’s historic election, which generated a major political shakeup in the nation’s capital as well as state houses from coast to coast. While it was a bad day for Democrats in general, perhaps the biggest losers were the nation’s teachers unions.

Unions, especially the teacher’s variety, had a lot on the line, and except for two wins, the rest of the key contests were nothing short of disastrous. Perhaps their number one target was Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who had minimized teachers’ collective bargaining “rights.” Michigan governor Rick Snyder wasn’t far behind Walker on the union hit list for the same reasons, but both incumbents won handily. The unions went after Florida governor Rick Scott for expanding school choice in the Sunshine State, but he prevailed over challenger Charlie Crist. Especially galling for organized labor was the victory in Illinois (Illinois!) where Republican pro-voucher businessman Bruce Rauner ran against incumbent governor Pat Quinn. Rauner clearly expressed disdain for union bosses on several occasions, accusing them of “bribing politicians to give them unaffordable pensions, free healthcare, outrageous pay and benefits and they’re bankrupting our state government, they’re raising our taxes and they’re forcing businesses out of the state, and as a result we’ve got brutally high unemployment.” Apparently, Rauner’s blunt message resonated with voters; he won by five points.

Many other Republicans were victorious in gubernatorial races in traditional blue states, including Maryland, Massachusetts and Maine. It got so bad for the unions that the one Republican they backed – Allen Fung for governor of Rhode Island – lost to Democrat Gina Raimondo who, as treasurer, worked to rein in out-of-control public employee pension spending. That, of course, incurred the wrath of Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Education reformers were thrilled with the results. “I’d call it a mandate for change sent boldly from voters,” Kara Kerwin, president of the Center for Education Reform, said in a statement. “Governors-elect in these states have proven themselves to be champions of reforms during their tenure as incumbent state executives, or have run on platforms that don’t shy away from being really vocal, putting students and parents first.”

“A bunch of these guys did stuff you’re not supposed to be able to do. They tackled pensions in purple states. They modified collective bargaining. They fought expansively for school choice,” said Rick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. “What that says to me is the unions need to rethink some of their assumptions about what the world’s going to look like going forward.”

The union response to the thumping was varied. Randi Weingarten essentially blamed it on President Obama in a press release. “It’s clear that many believe this country is on the wrong track and voted for change. Republicans successfully made this a referendum on President Obama’s record and won resoundingly, but where the election was about everyday concerns—education, minimum wage, paid sick leave—working families prevailed.” She then pointed to the two needle-in-a-haystack union victories to crow about – the ouster of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett and Tom Torlakson’s narrow victory over challenger Marshall Tuck in the race for California Superintendent of Public Instruction.

National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen García, whose “heart was heavy” was a bit more realistic. “We knew this was going to be an uphill battle. But I don’t think anybody on our side, and we’ve got some very savvy people, anticipated going over the falls like this. Tectonic plates have shifted. And we’re going to have to come back with a new way of organizing for these kinds of races.”

Eskelsen Garcia’s heart may have been heavy, but the teachers unions’ political coffers are a whole lot lighter. The final tallies won’t be known for a while, but it is estimated that the two unions spent at least $70 million in this election cycle – more than in any other year ever.

The Washington Free Beacon’s Bill McMorris writes,

The NEA was the second-largest Super PAC donor of the 2014 cycle, spending more than $22 million to aid Democratic candidates for federal office. The federal spending was on top of an estimated $28 million push at the state and local level….

The AFT had said it planned on spending $20 million during the 2014 cycle, a ten-fold increase from the $2 million it spent on 2010, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

It’s worth noting these lofty numbers don’t include any money that was spent by the unions’ state and local affiliates. The California Teachers Association spent $11 million alone to fend off Tuck’s challenge to Torlakson for the Superintendent of Public Instruction position. Speaking of which….

Usually this scenario – union-backed-incumbent vs. guy-no-one-has-heard-of is a real snooze-fest and the former wins easily. But not this time. Tuck matched his rival Democrat in spending and did well in many parts of the state, winning the more conservative counties of Riverside, San Bernardino, Orange, and Kern. He got clobbered, however, in the gentrified areas – Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Mendocino and Marin – where many parents opt to avoid the public schools.

Low voter turnout also played a role. EdSource’s John Fensterwald reports,

Torlakson beat Tuck with 2,266,000 to 2,085,000 votes – a difference of 181,000 votes – with thousands of absentee ballots still to be counted. The total vote of 4.35 million was 900,000 fewer than the 5.2 million votes cast for governor and about 700,000 fewer – 14 percent – than for secretary of state, the only other closely contested statewide contest on the ballot, despite the tens of millions of dollars spend on ads and mailers by both sides in the superintendent race.  

One important thing Torlakson had working for him was that Tuck was an unknown. As John Fensterwald explains, “For most voters, he was a blank canvas that Torlakson and his allies painted darkly. In ads, they attacked him as a Wall Street banker – a reference to a banking job he had right out of college – working with billionaires to privatize and dismantle public schools.”

But the biggest factor in Torlakson’s reelection – in addition to the $11 million gift from CTA – was the fabled teacher union ground game. The low voting numbers gave the unions and their get-out-the-vote messaging a huge advantage that is very difficult to overcome. In fact, U-T San Diego’s Steve Greenhut quotes founder of the California Center for Parent Empowerment and former CA State Senate majority leader Gloria Romero “… You can’t buy this seat and that was Tuck’s and his donors’ mistake. There is a political machine that CTA controls, which would never show up in those stupid polls …. It’s money after money. Below that great green wall is an army.”

Then there was also the voter ignorance factor. Tuck, unlike Torlakson, strongly favored the Vergara decision – where a judge ruled the tenure, seniority and dismissal statutes needed to be eliminated from the state education code – and made it an important part of his campaign. But as City Journal’s Ben Boychuk points out “… polls showed that Vergara resonated weakly with voters. Though 42 percent of likely California voters ranked education as their top priority this year, and the vast majority of voters surveyed after Treu’s ruling agreed that the state should do away with “last hired, first fired” seniority protections, nearly 60 percent said they didn’t know what the lawsuit was about.

So we had Tuck, a no-name candidate, without a ground game, whose messaging failed to reach a low-information populace and who suffered a poor voter turnout, fighting against a man backed by the most powerful state teachers union in the country – and Tuck still lost by only four percentage points. I would call this something of a moral victory, and reformers should not despair; they are a few tweaks away from winning. But they must develop more of a grassroots approach to campaigning – as victorious Republicans did in other states – if the unacceptable educational status quo is to be upended. Tuck acknowledged the sad reality in his concession speech,

Today, one day after this election, there are still 2.5 million children in California public schools who can’t read and write at grade level.  Those children are counting on all of us to take every action necessary to give them a better education and a chance at a better future.

I look forward to continuing to do my part in the collective effort to ensure that each child gets the education they need to achieve their dreams.

So while the rest of the country took a bold step and almost universally denied teachers union candidates, we in California still have work to do.

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.

Cashing in on Hypocrisy

Latest teacher union stunt to discredit charter schools rings hollow.

As I have written before – as recently as last Tuesday – the teachers unions have a schizoid relationship with charter schools. Depending on the tides, they either want to kill charters off or unionize them. Last week – in kill mode – Randi Weingarten’s American Federation of Teachers and a group called In the Public Interest launched a website called Cashing in on Kids.

The website consists of several cases of alleged charter improprieties – fiscal hanky-panky at one, mismanagement at another, etc. Whether the stories are true or not isn’t the point.

No one has ever said that these alternatives to traditional public schools are perfect or should operate with impunity. In fact, accountability is the hallmark of charter schools which get shut down if they don’t do their job. It’s audacious for AFT to bloviate about accountability and transparency in the charter sector when it is the unions that fight (spending untold millions in the process) to maintain the failing educational status quo. In a spot-on response to the attack, Center for Education Reform president Kara Kerwin wrote,

… Unlike all other public schools, charters must be proactive in their efforts to stay open. They must set and meet rigorous academic goals, and actually meet or exceed their state’s proficiency standards. Unlike the conventional public schools that intentionally remain under the radar, charter schools operate under intense scrutiny from teachers unions, the media, and lawmakers. In states with strong charter school laws that allow for objective oversight, it is clear that performance-based accountability is working.

In a rhetorical gymnastics routine we’ve come to expect from teacher unions, this latest campaign against education reform irresponsibly suggests that profit and student success are mutually exclusive, ignoring the fact that K-12 education in the U.S. is a $607 billion enterprise annually.

… By law, for-profit companies may only contract with the non-profit governing board of a charter school. These are public schools that are held to the same state standards, open meeting laws, and transparency. Open-enrollment policies must apply, and students that attend charter schools, regardless of the tax status of the organization that manages it, do so by choice.

Education management companies bring investment and capital to the communities they serve, creating jobs, innovation, and cost-saving strategies. Most assume great financial risk on behalf of their non-profit clients to build infrastructure and facilities in communities that in any other industry would most likely not be considered ideal or open to business. In fact, like most charter schools, even those in public-private partnerships, receive on average 30% less per pupil than their traditional school peers whose management has no accountability or incentive to improve student outcomes. (Emphasis added.)

This latest attempt by the AFT to discredit charter schools is nothing more than an effort to stifle the calls for greater accountability in our conventional public schools that the American public demands.

And it’s even worse than Kerwin made it out to be. In a U.S. News & World Report article about the website, Weingarten is quoted:

This is a simple exercise of following the money. … How many times do people simply get up on a pedestal and say we care about kids, and then you realize that they care about profits, they care about tax deductions, they care about privatizing the public system?

This gets right to the heart of the matter: the latest attack on charters is really an anti-capitalist screed more than anything else. Its goal is to score political points and paint charters as evil money-grubbing outfits. In the Public Interest – a perfect partner for AFT – is a project of The Partnership for Working Families (PWF), which is an ACORN-like group that hates anything capitalist and is a card-carrying member of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, whose raison d’être is to bash “one percenters.” Not surprisingly, several of PWF donors are rich “philanthropists,” including George Soros and other globalist/socialists.

Perhaps Weingarten, who is on a crusade to keep private entities from abusing public funds, should follow her own money. Her union – a private association – takes in $175,000,000 a year in union dues, which are purloined from teachers’ salaries in most states. And every penny of those salaries is paid by public tax money that originates with private citizens – the taxpayers.

Just what does the union do with all this public/private money? RiShawn Biddle reports,

For 2012-2013, the AFT spent $32 million on political lobbying activities and contributions …; this, by the way, doesn’t include politically-driven spending that can often find its way under so-called “representational activities”. This is a 19 percent increase over spending by the union during the 2011-2012 fiscal year.

This means that the union is pouring public/private money into causes that advance its main agenda which is essentially to keep public/private money flowing into its coffers. The union also pays its bosses quite nicely. According to the latest AFT tax filing, Weingarten pulls in $549,622 in total compensation. (Not too shabby for someone who rails against one percenters.) Her tax deduction crack is especially laughable because Weingarten, in her last year as United Federation of Teachers president, received a $194,000 payout for unused sick days, which pushed her total compensation for the year to over $600,000. And of course, it’s just a coincidence that she abandoned New York City that year for East Hampton, a very wealthy community on Long Island’s south shore, thus avoiding paying $30,000 in taxes.

Hopefully the “Cashing in on Kids” website will get little traction. I mean, really – just who exactly is cashing in on kids … and their parents … and the taxpayers?

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.