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 Rampant Union Greed in Chicago

The Windy City’s teachers union is on the verge of yet another strike. 

In 2012, Troy Senik wrote “The Worst Union in America,” a title he bestowed on the California Teachers Association. As a former member and longtime critic of that union, I certainly had no quibble with his selection. But now, CTA is facing serious competition from the Chicago Teachers Union.

As reported in last week’s post, CTU, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, is gearing up for a strike. It would be the union’s second in four years, despite the fact that the median salary for a teacher in Chicago is $78,169. When you add another $27,564 for various benefits, the total compensation for a teacher – good, bad or middling – becomes almost $106K per annum. (Please keep in mind teachers work 180 days a year, while employees in other professions typically work for 240 to 250 days.) In retirement, the average Chicago teacher receives a hefty $50,000 a year.

The main sticking point for the union and the Chicago Public School system (CPS) is the so-called pension pick-up. Teachers there (and elsewhere) have what’s called a “defined benefit plan,” whereby in retirement – come hell, high water or recession – a teacher’s pension is not affected. In most places, teachers and the school district share the contributions equally, but not in Chicago and some other municipalities in Illinois. Teachers there are supposed to chip in 9 percent of their salary to fund their own pension. But as things stand now, teachers contribute just 2 percent, with the school district (read: taxpayer) picking up the remaining seven. The city, which is in dire fiscal straits, is asking teachers to pay the full 9 percent. But lest the poor teachers need to reach for the smelling salts because they are being asked to kick in more for their own retirement years, Chicago is offering them an 8.7 percent salary increase over four years to help offset the teachers’ pension payment.

So, as the union demands more and more money, the schools end up with less and less. As reported by the Chicago Tribune, CPS still needs to come up with at least $300 million to balance its fiscal 2017 budget. “The school system still faces huge, $700 million-ish teachers pension payments this year and annually into the future. It still has too much real estate to serve its dwindling number of students. And its credit is maxing out.” As a result, Moody’s has just downgraded CPS further into junk status.

As if the union’s insistence on yet more money is not deplorable enough, there is a new addition to their basket. When CTU held its strike vote last week, it didn’t do it the traditional way – by secret ballot. Nope, the union had its teachers authorize a strike via “petitions” circulated at schools, meaning that everyone knew how everyone else voted. Think there may have been an intimidation factor at work here? And why on earth would they need to resort to such strong-arm tactics? The teachers voted by a 7 to 1 margin to strike in 2012 – when voting was done in private. As it turns out, the margin this year was 86 percent affirmative, just about what it was in 2012.

If the method of voting sounds dictatorial and totalitarian, it fits right in with the union’s leadership. CTU president Karen Lewis, who revels in her inflammatory style, makes Donald Trump look downright demure. Just a few of her egregious comments:

  • At the City Club of Chicago in 2013, she blamed the city’s education woes on rich white people. “When will we address the fact that rich, white people think they know what’s in the best interest of children of African Americans and Latinos—no matter what the parent’s income or education level.”
  • After the tragic Sandy Hook school shootings, Lewis blamed Teach for America, the organization that successfully enlists high-achieving college graduates to teach at hard to staff schools. Referring to TFA vice-president David Rosenberg, Lewis said “… policies his colleagues support kill and disenfranchise children from schools across this nation.”
  • Earlier this year, Lewis compared the Illinois governor to ISIS: “Rauner is the new ISIS recruit. Yes, I said it, and I’ll say it again. Bruce Rauner is a liar. And, you know, I’ve been reading in the news lately all about these ISIS recruits popping up all over the place — has Homeland Security checked this man out yet? Because the things he’s doing look like acts of terror on poor and working-class people.”
  • Then there is the typical union boss hypocrisy: She rails against corporate “fat cats,” all the while pulling in over $200,000 a year, owning three homes, including one in Hawaii. (Second-in-command at CTU, Comrade Jesse Sharkey, a leading member of the revolutionary International Socialist Organization, makes well over $100,000 in total compensation.)

The teachers could strike as soon as October 11th. It’s up to Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel and Governor Rauner to stand up to the CTU leadership and their outrageous demands and put a halt to the mugging. Enough taxpayer money has been extorted by the union without the mayor and governor kicking in another penny. And the union can’t claim that its teachers are doing a bang-up job: Just 30 percent of 4th grade CPS students are proficient in math and by 8th grade that number sinks to 25 percent. In reading, 27 percent of 4th graders are proficient as are 24 percent of 8th graders. Taxpayers should not be expected to sink any more of their money into an ineffective school system.

As of now, the hard working people of Chicago – already the highest taxed in Illinois – are getting overpaid teachers, failing kids and a union that wears its greed proudly on its sleeve. CTA, you have some serious competition.

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.

Union Kingpin Threatens California

In a blatant power-play, UTLA president targets health benefits and charter schools, calling for a “state crisis” if he doesn’t get his way.

United Teachers of Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl gave a speech for the ages a couple of weeks ago, securing a wing in the pantheon-of-vile, a place which includes such memorable outbursts as National Education Association general counsel Bob Chanin’s “right-wing bastards” farewell-to-troops speech in 2009 and Chicago Teacher Union boss Karen Lewis’ talk to the Illinois Labor History Society in 2012, where she joked about the possibility of union members killing the wealthy.

Speaking at the annual UTLA leadership conference, Caputo-Pearl said “With our contract expiring in June 2017, the likely attack on our health benefits in the fall of 2017, the race for Governor heating up in 2018, and the unequivocal need for state legislation that addresses inadequate funding and increased regulation of charters, with all of these things, the next year-and-a-half must be founded upon building our capacity to strike, and our capacity to create a state crisis, in early 2018.  There simply may be no other way to protect our health benefits and to shock the system into investing in the civic institution of public education.” (Emphasis added.)

He proceeded to introduce “10 ingredients to building the power we need, and the strike readiness we need, between mid-2016 and early 2018.” While a lot of his talk was innocuous rah-rah union bloviating, the threats were unmistakable, and many of them based on award-winning lies, half-truths and exaggerations.

For example, Caputo-Pearl claims that “California hovers around 45th among the 50 states in per-pupil funding.”  But, quoting a National Education Association report, Mike Antonucci writes, “…current expenditures per student – in other words, what the state actually spends…California ranks 22nd.”

Caputo-Pearl also claims, “By law, unions can only spend a tiny percentage of dues money on political campaigns. This means that we must raise money for political campaigns through separate voluntary contributions to PACE (UTLA’s political action wing).”

Here, he is conflating donations to candidates and political spending. Money directly given to candidates comes from PACE and is indeed donated voluntarily by teachers. However, all other political outlay – independent expenditures, ads, etc., – comes from teachers’ dues. Surely he knows this.

Caputo-Pearl’s obsession with, and comments about charter schools are especially egregious. He proudly stated, “In May, we made history through research,” and proceeded to go into some detail about the bogus study that UTLA commissioned, which alleges that the Los Angeles Unified School District loses $591 million per year to charter growth. What Caputo-Pearl ignored, however, is that the school district maintains that it actually makes money due to the existence of charter schools. According to LA School Report, “In January when the Charter Schools Division presented its budget, it showed that the district receives half a million dollars more than they need to pay for the division.”

Especially angry about the charter school comments was Jason Mandell, communications director of the California Charter Schools Association. He rightfully said that instead of scapegoating charters for being a financial drain, that if the district wants to ward off a financial crisis, “it needs to address its $13 billion in unfunded post-retirement liabilities.”

In fact, if Caputo-Pearl is looking for a crisis, there are several already in play that the union can take credit for. In addition to the aforementioned unsustainable healthcare and pension liabilities, there is the little matter of how well school kids in Los Angeles are being educated. Interesting that this little angle never entered into Caputo-Pearl’s screed. While LAUSD claims that the graduation rate is now 75 percent, if you remove the smoke-and-mirrors, it ain’t even close to that. When it was announced in February that the graduation rate was at 54 percent, the district augmented a “credit recovery plan,” which allowed students to take crash courses on weekends, holidays, etc. – and voila! Combined with the demise of the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE), the fake classes enabled the graduation rate to leap to 75 percent. While there is no single cause for LA students’ poor performance, some of the blame can be attributed to collective bargaining which, as Terry Moe and other researchers have shown, has a detrimental effect on student learning.

In any event, the proof will be in the pudding for those students who go on to college. The best estimates say that nationwide, 60 percent of first-year students who go to college need remediation. If it is only 60 percent in LA, I will be shocked.

So in addition to avoiding the district’s awful grad rate and looming fiscal apocalypse, Caputo-Pearl lied or was just dead-wrong about spending, the union political donation mechanism and charter school finances. If the union boss is successful in his mission, taxpayers will be soaked even more than they are now and many of our most vulnerable children will be forced back into failing public schools. (By the way, I have covered only a small portion of Caputo-Pearl’s inflammatory talk. To read the whole thing, go here.)

No, we don’t need another crisis, Mr. Caputo-Pearl. We have a few perfectly good ones now that your union has been instrumental in generating. Let’s not make an ugly situation even worse.

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.

The Bad, the Ugly and…the Perky

Three recent stories point to the self-serving teacher union mentality.

The bad. Joseph Ocol was in big trouble when he came to the U.S. in 1999. As a whistleblower, he was placed in the government’s Witness Protection Program for calling attention to an election fund-raising scam in his native Philippines. Even with a double degree in Electrical Engineering and Education, he had difficulty finding work here. Ultimately he found a job as a mathematics teacher in a tough part of Chicago, an area notorious for drugs, crime and violence.

Ocol’s idealism and passion to make things right served him well in his new position. A math teacher, he became famous by creating an after-school chess club. Knowing that most gang violence occurs between 3 and 6pm, he decided to keep as many kids in school as he could and teach them to play chess. He eventually expanded his program from high school students and invited children from the local elementary school to join, ultimately involving over 100 at-risk kids. Over the years, the wildly successful program has produced several chess champions and received accolades from the Cook County Board of Commissioners, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel and President Obama.

But then, Ocol did something bad, really bad, at least according to the Chicago Teachers Union. Not willing to abandon his students, he decided to shun the one-day teachers’ strike in the Windy City on April 1st. As punishment for his “crime,” the union is demanding that he give the pay he received for working that day to them. Ocol made a counter offer. He said he was willing to fork over his salary, but wants it to help fund his 35 member chess team’s trip to the White House. Ocol was supposed to have a hearing on June 6th, but he refused to go because he said he needed the time to coach his students.

So in a city that is home to the highest paid teachers in the country – where more than one in three students drop out – CTU is doing its best to hound a dedicated educator and idealistic human being into submission over not participating in what was very possibly an illegal one-day strike. (But of course, CTU president Karen Lewis will reassure us that the union’s punishment of the teacher is being administered “for the children.”)

Ocol also said he has been receiving nasty messages from other union members and filed a complaint. Some teachers have suggested that he leave the Chicago Public School System and work for a charter school. Good idea. I’m sure his efforts would be much more appreciated in a non-union environment. And if he goes that route, here’s hoping all his students will follow him.

The Ugly. In Yonkers, NY, we have a reverse problem where the union, instead of trying to punish a good teacher, tries to help a violent teacher save his own skin. Investigative journalist James O’Keefe went into the local union office posing as a teacher who claimed to have physically abused a student while using a racial epithet, and subsequently fled to Mexico, unannounced, for two weeks, because he didn’t know what else to do. The episode, available via a 17-minute video, lays bare the union’s priorities. The local union president and vice-president instruct the teacher to talk to them “theoretically” and not to admit anything. The union bosses clearly couldn’t have cared less about the abused child, but rather counseled the teacher how to save his job, advising him what lies to tell and what truths to avoid.

When the Yonkers City Council caught wind of the video, it insisted that the involved union officials resign. Majority Leader John Larkin said “What kind of people would conspire to conceal child abuse and assist in covering up a teacher going AWOL for two weeks without permission?” (The answer Mr. Larkin is: Your average teacher union leader.)

The mayor was more than a tad miffed. “If this is the standard operating procedure, well you know what, it better damn well change.”

And then there was the teacher union response. The two involved local union leaders refused to comment on the video. Karl Korn, spokesman for the New York State United Teachers (the state affiliate of the involved local), punted to the national union, saying the American Federation of Teachers “was reviewing the facts in the matter.” The AFT responded that it is “commissioning an independent, full and fair investigation to determine whether the video is accurate….”

Then, showing true union colors, Korn added, “The AFT is prepared to act if a breach of ethics is found. What we do know is that the video is based on a series of lies and deceptions. It was cut and sliced at least 14 times. It’s an attack piece manufactured by a right-wing extremist.”

I’m sure the union’s investigation will be very fair, and objective to a fault.

The Perky. Just last week the Buffalo (NY) School Board voted to take away the no-copay cosmetic surgery rider that has been in the collective bargaining contract for years. The district is strapped for cash, and decided to redirect the millions of dollars a year it spends on face lifts and tummy tucks to its students instead. The nerve! The union, you see, is using the issue as leverage to get a new contract which they haven’t had since 2004. Local teacher union president Phil Rumore said “removing the cosmetic surgery provision without a new contract is a slap in the face to teachers.”

As Education Action Group CEO Kyle Olson pointed out, the district, operating with a $50 million deficit, still managed to spend $5.4 million on plastic surgery in 2013. At the same time, the high school graduation rate for the Buffalo Public Schools was a pathetic 56 percent and one-third of all adults living in Buffalo are illiterate. Hey, but what’s a little illiteracy when you can score hair plugs and boob jobs, all paid for by the taxpayer!

These three stories are infuriating, horrifying and ridiculous, but, sadly, not unique at all. Similar scenarios are played out year after year throughout much of the country. It’s the nature of the teacher unions, whose priorities are their officers and (acquiescent) members, and most definitely not the kids. And let’s not even get started on the enormous burden they, with the help of compliant school boards, heap on 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 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.

Union Greed

The Chicago teachers’ pension scam exemplifies what unions claim to hate most about corporations.

Chicago, long known as the Second City, may still be second in some things, but it seems to be #1 in teacher union greed. As it’s time for a new contract with the Chicago public school system (CPS), the inevitable blather has begun to befoul the air. Here are a few things Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) will not use as talking points:

  • Teachers in CPS are the second highest paid in the country, making barely less than New York City’s teachers.
  • On the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), only 30 percent of 4th graders and 25 percent of 8th graders tested as “proficient” in mathematics, and only 27 and 24 percent, respectively, were found to be proficient in reading.
  • Teachers only contribute 2 percent of their salary to their own retirement; CPS kicks in the the other 7 percent, the so-called pension pick-up .
  • Chicagoans are the most taxed people in Illinois and their already crisis-level pension shortfall is in freefall.

The economic situation is so bad in Chicago that Illinois governor Bruce Rauner has been making noises about CPS declaring bankruptcy. If successful, the state would take over the district, void the contact with CTU and possibly reduce pension payments. Needless to say the union and its enablers in the Illinois statehouse are not happy at the prospect and claim it is not legal under existing statutes.

In the meantime, to placate CTU, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel proposed a contract so generous that Rauner called it “unaffordable.” It was one-sided enough, however, that CTU boss Karen Lewis liked it. It offered:

  • A guarantee of no economic layoffs through the end of the contract in 2019; the only way to reduce the workforce would be through retirements and attrition.
  • Cost-of-living pay increases.
  • “Step and lane” pay increases based on experience and seniority.
  • No more new charter schools beyond the 130 presently operating; the only new ones allowed would be replacements for any that closed.

Amazingly, the union’s bargaining team rejected the deal, infuriating CPS CEO Forrest Claypool. In response, he fired off a terse letter to Karen Lewis emphasizing three unilateral moves CPS would now make:

  • The district will discontinue the pension pick-up, saving CPS $130 billion annually.
  • A reduction-in-force plan will go into effect that will necessitate layoffs and save another $50 million.
  • Repurposed federal funds will result in a “reduction in general funding to the schools while having no significant overall impact on school budgets.”

Well, as Larry Elder would say, “Then the fit hit the shan.” The union called the letter an “attack” and an “act of war.” The unionistas were especially exercised about the withdrawal of the pension pick-up, but their stance is indefensible. In the Windy City, teachers are obligated by law to contribute 9 percent to their retirement. But in fact, for 35 years CPS (i.e. the taxpayers) has been picking up 7 of the 9 percent. So teachers have been getting away with legal theft, paying only 2 percent of their own retirement contribution, which has helped to position Illinois as the state with the worst credit rating in the U.S.

Moreover, please keep in mind that Chicago has the second highest paid teachers in the country, with a median salary of $71,017, not counting comprehensive healthcare benefits for the teacher, their spouse or domestic partner and children. Also, the average teacher salary is 51 percent higher than Chicago’s median household income, which is estimated at $46,877. And teachers work just 178 instructional days (plus a few non-instructional ones), whereas other full-time workers toil for 240-250 days a year.

But some teachers were outraged at Claypool’s letter and about a thousand of them tore through the Loop aiming their venomous arrows at Bank of America. Sixteen were arrested for sitting in and chanting inside the bank. As Karen Lewis said, “(We’re) here, because we have to make a choice in the city: banks or schools.” (Don’t we need both?) The teachers also disrupted rush hour traffic, inconveniencing thousands of commuters. Ms. Lewis didn’t explain what the demonstrators had against people driving home at rush hour, many of whom pay a lot more than their “fair share” to the teachers’ pension fund.

At the end of the day, probably the best thing would be for CPS to declare bankruptcy, as Rauner proposed. It’s a novel approach, but one that, at first glance, would seem to have little chance of implementation. However, the Republican governor claims that Democrats outside of Chicago are in favor of it because hitting the reset button would void union contracts, thus saving taxpayers all over the state mountains of unnecessary debt. Declaring bankruptcy could also set a precedent. (Take note Los Angeles: LAUSD is due to go belly-up in 2019.)

Final note to union leaders, protesting teachers and fellow travelers: You are obviously looking out for yourselves. Fine. But please stop using “corporate greed” as a rallying cry. When you scream that “corporations must pay their fair share,” please be assured that they already do and then some. Federal tax rates on corporate income vary from 15 percent to 39 percent. Teachers unions – and in fact all unions – don’t pay a penny in income tax. They not only don’t pay their fair share; they pay no share at all. Now that’s what I call greed, with maybe a little gluttony added for taste.

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.

The Shrinking Teacher Union Brand

Teachers unions are losing members, but stubbornly stick with the same old product.

Earlier this month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics informed us that in 2014 – for the second year in a row – that there are fewer unionized than non-unionized teachers in the U.S. The reasons for this are many: more right-to-work states, a population shift to right-to-work states, an increase in mostly non-unionized charter schools and an uptick in the number of families availing themselves of school choice opportunities and sending their kids to private schools. Mike Antonucci writes, “Of the 4,535,249 teachers employed in elementary, secondary and special education in 2014, only 49 percent were union members. And the unionization rates for pre-k, kindergarten and higher education were much lower.” Antonucci also points out that while there were 34,921 more teachers overall in 2014, the unions were able to recruit only 10.7 percent of them.

By the way, it’s not just the teacher union brand that is suffering. According to the latest data, all union membership sagged to 11.1 percent, a drop from 11.3 in 2013, with just 14.6 million wage and salaried workers maintaining membership. The rate of union affiliation has been sliding for 30 years now. It did grow slightly from 12.1 percent in 2007 to 12.4 percent in 2008, but that was the only bright spot in some time for organized labor.

So in the smoke-free equivalents of smoke-filled rooms across the country, union kingpins are chewing on that old question, “What are we gonna do about this?!”

Well, where right-to-work legislation and litigation advance, unions will actually have to become responsive to the wishes of their members and make joining more attractive to would-be members. But as long as we have a forced-dues model throughout much of the land, most thoughts aren’t going in that direction. To be sure, many teachers, especially the younger ones, resent many union-mandated conventions like “last in/first out” as well as many aspects of the typical union contract strait-jacket. But politics plays an important role in the problem for teachers of all ages.

Politically speaking, responsiveness to its members has never been a hallmark of the teacher union elite. A small vocal and radical few determine policy for the larger group who are either ignorant of their actions, apathetic about politics, or they are intimidated by the more vociferous members. If you have any doubts about union-leadership politics, just look at the presidents of large union locals like Bob Peterson (Milwaukee), Alex Caputo-Pearl (Los Angeles) and Karen Lewis (Chicago) – all socialist-leaning, community-organizing practitioners. While not every state and local union leader falls into this category, an overwhelming majority do, despite an internal poll by the National Education Association which found that its rank-and-file is slightly more conservative (50 percent) than liberal (43 percent) in political philosophy.

In a recent piece, Bob Peterson, who doubles as a 5th grade teacher, sounded alarm bells, writing, “If Teachers Can’t Make Their Unions More Democratic and Social Justice-Minded, Public Ed Is Doomed.” At the same time he is asking unions to become more inclusive by becoming “democratic,” he rails against Scott Walker, Paul Ryan, conservatives, white-populated areas of the state, right-wing Republicans, privatization, corporate reformers, charter schools, vouchers, etc. Peterson’s union model would include efforts to raise the minimum wage, expand healthcare coverage and voter rights, implement incarceration reform, and stop “unfair hiring practices at a major federal housing project.”

When unabashed leftist – a community organizer in teacher’s clothes – Alex Caputo-Pearl became president of the United Teachers of Los Angeles least year, he talked about the importance of “social movement unionism.” Not surprisingly, socialists are very supportive of his agenda. Socialistworker.org describes him as a “veteran union militant and community organizer” and explains that Caputo-Pearl’s organizing plan includes “… increased member involvement in political action, and putting a priority on linking community-based social justice demands to our contract negotiations.”

And then there is Chicago Teachers Union chief Karen Lewis who, like Peterson and Caputo-Pearl, believes in bringing class warfare into the classroom. As reported by EAG News’ Kyle Olson, she alludes to a “lesson’ that the aforementioned Peterson uses:

‘People always talk about how that there’s no politics and values in math. That you can teach math and there’s no place for social justice. So let me tell you how Bob deals with that,’ Lewis said.

She went on to describe a math story problem about money and the cost of pencils.

‘That’s a very political statement because it’s all about consumerism – it’s about buying stuff, right?

‘Bob Peterson tells them about José working in a factory making piecemeal clothes. He uses the same numbers and gets the same answer. And yes, math is political, too.’

So no, it’s not about unions becoming more responsive to its members, but rather forcing a left-wing agenda down teachers’ – and students’ – throats. In other words, if you are a conservative, moderate, apolitical teacher or just don’t think the unions have any business getting into non-education issues, “Shut up … but keep those dues coming, and be sure to indoctrinate the kids while you are at it!”

The bottom line is that the Bob Petersons, Alex Caputo-Pearls and Karen Lewises of teacher union-world certainly don’t represent all, or even a majority of teachers. And it seems that those who don’t agree with their union’s mandatory work rules and their leader’s strident political philosophies are finding other places to work. As right-to-work laws spread across the land and school choice policies advance, teachers will have more options and won’t be forced to buy the fading teacher union brand.

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.

Fifty States of Right-to-Work?

Elected officials, the courts and John Q. Public are supporting worker freedom these days; teachers unions and other public employee unions are on the run.

Last Monday, Illinois governor Bruce Rauner issued an executive order that, if it stands, will absolve state workers from paying forced dues to a union. As The Wall Street Journal reports, Rauner declared that Illinois’s contracts with public unions “violate the First Amendment by forcing workers to associate with the union against their will.” Rauner instructed all state agencies to keep the workers’ dues in escrow, pending the outcome of a federal court lawsuit that he filed the same day.

Needless to say, the unions and their friends in Springfield aren’t doing cartwheels over his right-to-work (RTW) directive. Even prior to the order, the teachers unions had targeted the recently elected governor. Two weeks ago, Chicago Teachers Union boss Karen Lewis attacked Rauner, accusing him of being (Wisconsin governor) “Scott Walker on steroids.” Also before the announcement, local teacher union lobbyist Matthew Johansson declared that the governor is trying to “destroy us.”

After the announcement, Illinois Education Association president Cinda Klickna said that the attack on “fair share is extremely serious and will be monitored very carefully.” She added, “This attack is clearly intended to weaken the unions that fight for the middle class and for the students who attend our schools. We can’t let that happen.” The Illinois Federation of Teachers referred to the action as a “blatant abuse of power.”

The reality – beyond the union harrumphing and all-around hysteria – is this: In 26 states and D.C., workers are forced to pay unions as a condition of employment. The unions call this “fair share” because they say all workers benefit from their collective bargaining efforts. But if a worker doesn’t want to be part of the collective, he/she still must belong because the union demands monopoly status; a worker is not allowed to bargain on his/her own or hire another party to do so.

Hence RTW is quite simply an individual-rights issue. The workers the unions refer to as “free riders” are really “forced riders.” If you were going from Point A to Point B and wanted to walk, how would you feel if someone told you that you had to take the bus … and, of course, pay for the ride to boot?

Very importantly, not only does RTW liberate workers, it has many other far-reaching benefits. After Michigan became a RTW state in 2012, the West Michigan Policy Forum reported, “… of the 10 states with the highest rate of personal income growth, eight have right-to-work laws. Those numbers are driving a net migration from forced union states: Between 2000 and 2010, five million people moved to right-to-work states from compulsory union states.”

Also, in a new economic profile, the Illinois Policy Institute’s Paul Kersey reports that RTW states are much stronger economically than their forced-dues counterparts:

  • From 2002 to 2012, states with right-to-work laws saw a 7.2 percent increase in payroll employment, compared to a 2 percent increase in other states.
  • As of September 2014, right-to-work states had an average unemployment rate of 5.5 percent, compared to 6 percent in non-right-to-work states.
  • From 2000 to 2010, right-to-work states saw population growth that was twice as fast as that in other states (13.6 percent compared to 7.3 percent).
  • Median wages in right-to-work states appear $4,345 lower than in other states. However, once you take into account cost of living and local taxes, right-to-work state wages rise. In fact, the cost of living is 16.6 percent higher in states without right-to-work laws.
  • Right-to-work economies grew by 62 percent from 2002 to 2012, compared to just 46.5 percent growth in other states.

Much to the unions’ consternation, the RTW movement is picking up momentum across the country. Politico’s Brian Mahoney reports that legislation has been introduced in New Mexico, Missouri, West Virginia and Kentucky.

The bills have already cleared committee hurdles in New Mexico and Missouri. All but the Missouri bill were introduced by Republicans; in Missouri, the measure was introduced by state Rep. Courtney Curtis, a Democrat and an African-American who would limit right to work to the construction industry to combat what he sees as bias in minority contracting. In Kentucky, right-to-work ordinances have been passed in five counties, though it isn’t clear federal law allows the adoption of right to work anywhere except at the state and territorial level. Legal challenges are already underway.

Additionally, the American people are strong supporters of RTW laws. In a poll conducted right before Labor Day last year, Gallup found that 82 percent of Americans agree that “no American should be required to join any private organization, like a labor union, against his will.” Also, as Mike Antonucci reports, by a 2-1 margin – 64 to 32 percent – “Americans disagree that workers should ‘have to join and pay dues to give the union financial support’ because ‘all workers share the gains won by the labor union.’”

Much of the recent RTW activity has been undoubtedly spurred by the June 2014 Harris v Quinn Supreme Court decision, in which SCOTUS agreed with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, ruling that homecare workers in Illinois could not be forced to join the Service Employees International Union.

And in the legal on-deck circle is Friedrichs et al v CTA, which is on a path to reach SCOTUS within a few months. This litigation has ten teachers and the Christian Educators Association International – a union alternative – taking on the California Teachers Association with a lawsuit aimed squarely at California’s “agency-shop” law, which forces teachers to pay dues for collective bargaining activities. The Center for Individual Rights is representing the teachers, with help from Jones Day, an international law firm.

So, let’s see – RTW is gaining favor in state houses, the courts and with the citizenry. And please keep in mind, no one is talking about outlawing unions; RTW is simply about making them voluntary associations, just like every other organization in the U.S. Really nothing controversial, unless you are a wolf that preys on workers … all the while pretending to be a shepherd.

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.

Karen Lewis and Chicago’s Illiteracy Problem

After years as a teacher union boss, Karen Lewis is making plans to spread her venom to the rest of the city.

Courtesy of Daniel Greenfield, we are reminded of the ugly fact that almost half of Chicago is illiterate. According to the White House website, 47 percent of Windy City residents cannot read. Additionally, 79 percent of its 8th graders are not proficient in reading and 80 percent are not proficient in math.

There are many reasons for these pathetic numbers. Yes, broken families and the ensuing gang proliferation are factors. But since teachers are the most important factor in student learning and because school is compulsory in Chicago (and everywhere else in the U.S.), one really must look there for the problem. (Just as a side note – before parents were forced to send their kids to public schools, the U.S. had a literacy rate of about 90 percent.)

Because many Chicago public schools (CPS) are so bad, they are being abandoned. Due to declining enrollment, 50 schools closed in 2013 and probably a lot more should have been shuttered.

Enter Karen Lewis. The president of the powerful Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) decided to get busy. Bombastic as always, she came out swinging. Never once does she mention that the unionized schools themselves – with all the attendant anti-child work rules – could be at fault. Nowhere does she acknowledge that her union’s virulent anti-choice position, which forces kids to stay in lousy schools, could be part of the problem. Instead she uses diversionary tactics.

Rich white people are to blame. At the City Club of Chicago in 2013, she blamed the city’s education woes on rich white people. “When will we address the fact that rich, white people think they know what’s in the best interest of children of African Americans and Latinos—no matter what the parent’s income or education level.”

School closings are racist. A CTU rally in 2013 brought out all the usual suspects – the Occupy Chicago contingent, SEIU, members of CORE (Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators), Action Now and a gaggle of anti-capitalism protesters. In a speech delivered to the crowd of approximately 700 gathered in Daley Plaza, Lewis said, “They are closing down schools that have names of African American icons, but they’ll open up schools to put a living billionaire’s name in the front.” Lewis failed to mention that CPS was struggling to deal with an astronomical $1 billion budget deficit. And the schools that were slated to close were either underperforming, underutilized (schools that have far fewer students than their capacity allows) or both. The students whose schools were closed were either placed in charter schools or their closest neighborhood schools.

With an assist from Jeremiah “God damn America” Wright, vilify Arne Duncan. In January, the America-hating former Obama pastor was asked to speak at a breakfast co-hosted by the Chicago Teachers Union to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. Wright sarcastically questioned how Secretary of Education Arne Duncan landed his job — after he “ruined the school system” in Chicago as CEO of schools. (Lewis is also no stranger to Duncan-bashing. In 2011, she was caught on tape by the Education Action Group, cruelly asserting, “You know he went to private school, because if he’d have gone to public school, he’d have had that lisp fixed.”)

Teach for America kills. After the tragic Sandy Hook school shootings, Lewis blamed the successful organization that enlists high-achieving recent college graduates and professionals to teach. Referring to TFA vice-president David Rosenberg, Lewis said “… policies his colleagues support kill and disenfranchise children from schools across this nation.” 

Lewis has also pointed fingers at Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, charter schools and right wing bloggers.

Tired of playing the blame-game, she then offers prescriptions that she insists will put a dent in the booming Chicago illiteracy and innumeracy rate.

Recruit terrorists and communists to the cause – and petition the U.N. CTU and a motley collection of fellow travelers, including terrorist Bill Ayers, unrepentant communist Michael Klonsky and Action Now (ACORN reincarnated) petitioned the United Nations, sending a “letter of allegation” to Geneva asking the international organization to investigate whether  closing the Chicago schools “violates children’s human rights.”

Redesign the curriculum to advance a leftist political agenda. Citing a book written by Bob Peterson, president of the Milwaukee teachers union, Lewis said, “People always talk about how that there’s no politics and values in math. That you can teach math and there’s no place for social justice. So let me tell you how Bob deals with that.” She went on to describe a math story problem about money and the cost of pencils. “That’s a very political statement because it’s all about consumerism – it’s about buying stuff, right? Bob Peterson tells them about José working in a factory making piecemeal clothes. He uses the same numbers and gets the same answer. And yes, math is political, too.”

Stage a strike. In 2012, CTU teachers walked off the job for seven days, returning after some of their demands met. The city did manage to negotiate a longer teaching day – from a nation-leading low of 5.75 hours to 7 hours. But the longer school day didn’t affect current teachers. Instead, the city had to hire 477 additional teachers who had been laid off to work the extra time. With an average salary of $76,000 (not including employee benefits or pensions), Chicago teachers were already among the highest paid in the nation and the new deal included a 7 percent raise over three years, with additional raises for experience and education. While it is unclear that the new contract has served to improve student literacy, there is no doubt that it has had a positive effect on teachers’ wallets.

Where are we now?

Apparently Lewis is not happy enough being a one-woman wrecking-ball in the Chicago public school system. Craving even more power, she is considering a run for mayor and has shoved $40,000 of her own money to jump start the campaign against arch-enemy Rahm Emmanuel. But hey, she can easily afford that. Lewis pulls in over $200,000 a year and, with her husband, owns three homes including a dacha in Hawaii. Not too shabby for a socialist-leaning woman of the people.

But of course, in politics $40,000 won’t go far. So union crony Randi Weingarten has offered Lewis a $1,000,000 gift should she decide to run.

As union president, Chicagoans have had no choice but to put up with Karen Lewis. But should she run for mayor in 2015, they will indeed have a say. And in August, a Chicago Tribune poll showed that she was running 4 percentage points (43-39) ahead of Rahm Emmanuel.

Unfortunately, the poll didn’t determine the percentage of her voters who are illiterate.

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.

Dear Randi,

You seem to be very unhappy lately, but cheer up – things aren’t nearly as bad as you think! 

In your recent foray into BuzzFeed, you seemed a bit verklempt (for you non-Yids, that means overwrought) and I would like to help you feel better!

Regarding Common Core, the piece reads:

‘The right’s vitriol is ideological. The losing of parents and teachers is a matter of incompetence, Weingarten said. She attributed the program’s poor reception to groups like the Gates Foundation ‘wanting to measure more than wanting to teach.’

Oh my goodness! You mention Bill Gates and “the right” in the same breath. Surely you know that Mr. Gates is hardly a part of the vast right wing conspiracy. And if you think the right is vitriolic on the subject, let me introduce you to one Karen Lewis who has cornered the market on vitriol. Just watch any one of dozens of videos where the Chicago Teachers Union leader lashes out at, well, just about everyone, regularly dumping on rich people, white people, Common Core, Arne Duncan, et al. And if you want more vitriol about Common Core, a trip to the Bad Ass Teachers Facebook page will undoubtedly sate you. You will then see that being anti-Common Core certainly isn’t just a rightwing thing. I hope this lightens your mood, Randi.

Then, of course, is the inevitable swipe at the Koch Brothers.

All these conservative governors left to their own devices initially supported the standards…  What changed? The Koch brothers decided not to support the standards, ALEC didn’t support the standards, others who fund right-wing causes don’t support the standards.

Fiddlesticks! You seem to think that the right does what only the Kochs want them to do. (Seems that you have become afflicted with the Harry Reid’s Koch-o-loco Syndrome.) Actually, most folks came to their anti-Common Core position without Charles’ and David’s help. In fact, you and many others on the left greatly exaggerate the power of the Brothers. And I’m sure you simply forgot to grouse about Tom Steyer and other hypocritical, crony capitalist power-brokers on the left.

As I’m sure you know, our political contribution rules are quite arcane and are taken advantage of by both the right and the left. When teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci was asked how much the National Education Association spends on politics, he responded, “What do you mean by ‘NEA’ and what do you mean by ‘politics?’ As an example, he says, “If NEA sends a mailer to a member calling for the election of Candidate X, or the passage of Measure Y, it is probably not a campaign expenditure. But if NEA sends the same mailer to me, it is.” He ends his piece with, “As you can see, there isn’t a sound bite reply to the headline question, ‘How Much Does NEA Spend on Politics?’ But you wouldn’t be far wrong if you simply answered, “As much as it wants to.” His article gets deep into the weeds on this issue and is very informative; I suggest you read the whole thing, Rand, it will brighten your day.

Perhaps we can best put the whole campaign finance mess into perspective by looking at actual dollar amounts. Gateway Pundit did just that and found via Open Secrets that between 1989-2014 the “‘Evil’ Koch Brothers Rank 59th in Political Donations Behind 18 Different Unions.” And this is sure to bring a smile to your face: NEA is #4 at $53,594,488 and your American Federation of Teachers is 12th at $36,713,325 (#12, Randi!) and the Kochs are way down the list in 59th place, having spent a measly $18,083,948 during that time period. (Am I hearing a big sigh of relief, Randi?!)

And homegirl, the news gets even better!! You recently joined Democracy Alliance, an organization that “takes pains to ensure that its work disbursing millions of dollars to top left-wing organizations remains secretive and free from public scrutiny.” So when it comes to “dark money,” you can out-Koch the Kochs every day of the week and thrice on Sunday! (Btw, it was a shame that someone was so careless to leave a list of new DA members lying around at that gathering last month, subsequently winding up on the internet. I can imagine you must have been very ticked off. But frankly as a 1%er who pulls in over a half a million a year, you can just put that behind you, especially since that $30,000 entry fee to join DA is really sofa cushion change for you.

And there’s even more good news! As you perhaps know the new president of this club for filthy rich, dark money-loving lefties is none other than NEA executive director John Stocks!! Isn’t that terrif!! An organization with people whose last names are Munger and Soros is being led by a union guy!!! C’mon, that should chase those dark clouds away!

Once you got off Common Core, your comments in the BuzzFeed piece took a worrisome turn, but again, I am here to help!

There’s not anything I stand for that [people on the right] like… From the fact that I’m a gay leader of a teachers union, to the fact that I’m Jewish and actually religious about that, but not in the orthodox kind of way. My partner’s the rabbi of a gay temple…and I’m the head of a labor union and I’m a public schoolteacher. So there’s just nothing about me that the Tea Party will ever like.

Randi, Randi, Randi … that’s such poppycock! In fact, here you sound just a tad meshugana (Yiddish for whacky). As a Jew who has been to many Tea Party events (I’ve spoken at several: here, here and here), I can tell you that I have never heard one disparaging word about Jews … or gays either, for that matter. Tea Partiers don’t get into religious or sexual orientation issues. Their mission is actually fairly narrow: they champion fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government and free markets – you know, the principles our country was founded on. Whom you play with behind closed doors and whether you pray on Saturday or Sunday are of absolutely of no interest to them. I sincerely hope this offers some solace to you. In fact, since you are very fond of Twitter, please follow national Tea Party leader Jenny Beth Martin (@jennybethm). You will learn a lot and be disabused of so many things that bring you unnecessary angst.

And in my never ending quest to bring that twinkle back in your eyes – you are just going to love this! – the Koch Brothers are not actually conservative, but are in fact libertarian. As such, they are in favor of gay marriage. Now I don’t expect you to send the brothers a gift basket (however, if you do, please use my wife’s company, The Lone Arranger; she’ll give you a 20% discount!), but, in any event, maybe you could lighten up on the Brother-bashing?

See, now, don’t you feel better?!! The poor Kochs can’t compete with the unions and their fellow travelers when it comes to political spending. And along with the Tea Partiers, they couldn’t care less about your religion or sexual orientation. Best of all, unlike most of us, you are a 1%er, have access to the rich and famous and of course, as a teacher union boss, you have the tools – really blunt instruments – to inflict education policy on millions of school children nationwide. Pop the champagne!!

As always, looking out for you!!

Best,

Larry Sand

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.

Chicago Teachers Union and Friends Become UNglued

An ill wind blows hot air in the Windy City.

Like Detroit, Chicago is a city in dire fiscal straits – it is depopulating and its debt is in the stratosphere. The school system alone, hardly a crown jewel, is dealing with a $1 billion deficit. For a variety of reasons, the city’s student population has been dwindling since the 1960s, and in March the school district announced its plan to close 54 sparsely populated campuses. (The number has since been revised to 49.) As RiShawn Biddle wrote at the time,

Chicago’s enrollment of 404,584 children is a third smaller than the number of kids served by the district during the 1960s. Three hundred thirty of the district’s 616 schools — more than half of the district’s portfolio — operate below capacity, with 137 of them half-empty. At some schools, including Drake Elementary School in the city’s Bronzeville section, and an elementary school named for hometown hero Emmett Till (whose murder in Mississippi by two men offended by his violation of Jim Crow segregation spurred the modern civil rights movement), just two out of every five seats are filled during the school year.

Needless to say, the local and national teachers unions are horrified by the closings, but as a fact sheet released by the Chicago Public School system (CPS) points out, the action is necessary and will have little impact on the city’s kids.

The story was on the back-burner for a while but was rekindled in June when Chicago Teacher Union (CTU) President Karen I-never-fail-to-be-offensive Lewis, went on a tear and blamed “rich white people” for the educational woes of minority kids. But as Juan Williams points out,

The latest statistics show only 63 percent of Chicago public school students graduating in 2013 and that is an increase over recent years. Among the city’s 8th grade students, 79 percent are not at reading level. Meanwhile, Lewis’ union has made Chicago’s public school teachers’ salaries among the highest in the nation at an annual average of $74,839.

But the only school reform Lewis advocates is higher taxes on Chicago’s property owners and she describes it as a tax hike on upper-income whites. She also wants new taxes on all financial transfers as well as a commuter tax, which she concludes will principally impact, once again, the target of her anger, well-to-do whites.

Lewis, a black woman and highly educated Dartmouth graduate, also argued that the city’s white, Jewish mayor, Rahm Emanuel, his aides and the city’s “venture capitalists” are guilty of using “little black and brown children as stage props at one press conference while announcing they want to fire, layoff or lock up their parents at another press conference.”

Then, in mid-July, CPS took another hit when the city announced it would have to lay off another 2,100 teachers and support staff, bringing the total number of pink slips to 3,600 in two months. As usual, Lewis aimed her arrows outside the bloated and wasteful school system itself for solutions and came up with …yawn …. raising the state income tax.

… ballooning pension and labor costs, and billion dollar deficit, could be solved if the state would simply raise its income tax and start giving the new money to Chicago schools.

We need to close some corporate loopholes.  We need to look at a financial transaction tax.  

We also need to go to Springfield to get rid of this regressive flat tax.  We need a progressive income tax. 

At the same time, CTU involved itself in a bizarre stratagem. The union and a motley collection of fellow travelers, including terrorist Bill Ayers, unrepentant communist Michael Klonsky and Action Now (ACORN reincarnated) petitioned the United Nations, sending a “letter of allegation” to Geneva asking the international organization to investigate whether the closing of 49 Chicago schools “violates children’s human rights.” Seriously. You can’t make this stuff up.

“The United Nations taking this issue up and giving it serious attention will really bring home to Chicago and the United States that there are violations occurring here of human rights, potentially, not just about a budget crisis,” said Sital Kalantry, the University of Chicago law professor who filed the letter on behalf of the Midwest Coalition for Human Rights.

Apparently, the fact that the United Nations – thankfully – has no influence over internal American affairs is not of interest to these folks. Their entreaty to the UN is especially ironic considering the world body’s own appalling record on human rights. Most notably, Sudan – with its long history of slavery continuing to this day – is on the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Additionally, the proud slave-owning country was laughably and tragically represented on the UN Commission on Human Rights until that body disbanded in 2006.

Obviously the UN isn’t much concerned with things like slavery. So what does this august body do for humanity? Right about the time the CTU and pals submitted their petition, the UN was busy passing a resolution declaring November 19thWorld Toilet Day.” This solemn recognition joins a host of UN efforts to be really important and make a difference in the world. Other “days” it acknowledges are “International Mountain Day” (December 11th), “World Migratory Bird Day” (May 11th) and “World Television Day” (November 21st).

Rumor has it that when the Chicago folks realize the UN is as serious about human rights as a clown college, they will move on, undaunted, to examine other options. As such, Bashar al-Assad, the Castro brothers, Robert Mugabe and Kim Jung Un are advised to keep their cell phones charged.

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.

Red – and I Do Mean Red – Herrings of the Left

June – Father’s Day, Flag Day, weddings … and loopy ideas on poverty.

Last September I wrote about those who believe that poverty causes ignorance and how we must “fix” poverty before we can fix education. I suggested that maybe, just maybe, a good education is the best antidote to poverty and that school choice is the best way to ensure a good education.

In the ensuing months, having heard little from the “povertists” – who are frequently of the socialist persuasion – I hoped that the lame poverty excuse had disappeared, but silly me. Like a disease that goes into remission but never actually disappears, it’s baaack. With a vengeance.

The pedantic, lifelong socialist Deborah Meier drearily proclaims in Education Week that poverty is the root of all our education woes.

Then there is David Sirota, who at one time was an aide to socialist congressman from Vermont (now socialist senator) Bernie Sanders. Sirota declares that school reformers “are full of it.” Then playing the poverty card, he asserts, “Poor schools underperform largely because of economic forces….” Sirota really outdoes himself in the last paragraph of his Salon.com screed, where he lectures us:

Reality, though, is finally catching up with the “reform” movement’s propaganda. With poverty and inequality intensifying, a conversation about the real problem is finally starting to happen. And the more education “reformers” try to distract from it, the more they will expose the fact that they aren’t driven by concern for kids but by the ugliest kind of greed the kind that feigns concerns for kids in order to pad the corporate bottom line.

David Berliner, a longtime povertist, education professor and, not surprisingly, winner of the National Education Association’s Friend of Education award, announces on the California Federation of Teachers website that there is no education crisis, but rather an “unequal economy.”

But just when the socialists’ monotonous rants are beginning to have a narcotizing effect, Karen Lewis comes to the rescue. Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, never misses an opportunity to be offensive. She was in fine form speaking at the City Club of Chicago last week, blaming the Windy City’s education woes on “rich white people.” Perhaps she had to stress “white people” because as an African-American union boss, Lewis has a yearly income of $157,594, which most Americans consider above the “rich” threshold. (Interestingly her second-in-command at CTU, Jesse Sharkey, a leading member of the revolutionary International Socialist Organization, makes “only” $111,762. In the socialist world, how can this disparity exist? And these two really need to have a talk with American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, whose total income for 2011 was $560,549. Perhaps this is what Berliner meant when he referred to the “unequal economy.” But I digress….)

Despite the socialists’ tedious mantra, there are facts that disprove every claim they make. For example, charter schools are publicly funded but are much more independent than traditional public schools, and far more often than not, they do a better job of educating the poor. In Chicago’s charters (not unionized), where almost all the students are minority and below the poverty line, they easily outperform traditional public schools. The Illinois Policy Institute informs us that,

Charter school students, like other students in CPS, primarily come from low-income backgrounds (91 percent qualify for free or reduced lunch), represent mostly racial minorities (60 percent African-American, 35 percent Hispanic), and must overcome a range of challenges (9 percent English Language Learners, 12 percent special needs). They are not untouched by the violence plaguing many of the city’s neighborhoods. And, yet, despite all of these obstacles, they are succeeding.

In 2012, charter schools held the top nine spots for open-enrollment, non-selective public high schools in Chicago. Another charter school ended up in a three-way tie for tenth. The Noble Network of Charter Schools led the pack, with a total of nine schools in the top 10, one of which was included in the tie. The average ACT score for charter schools in the top 10 was 20.6, with Noble Network’s UIC College Prep campus scoring 21.9 – the highest-ever average at an open-enrollment, non-selective CPS high school.

Not only are charter schools outperforming their peers on the ACT, a comparison of Chicago’s top 10 charter high schools to the top 10 open-enrollment, non-selective, traditional public high schools shows that charter schools’ pace of improvement is significantly greater. Since 2007, top charter school scores have increased by 17 percent, while the top traditional schools have gained nearly 5 percent.

Where does Ms. Lewis stand on charters? She doesn’t consider them to be “real schools.” As Investor’s Business Daily reports,

Lewis is … no fan of charter schools, despite the fact Chicago’s charters regularly outperform their public school cousins. In 2012, nine of the top 10 performers were charter schools based on the ACT scores of their students.

Of course when you mention things like charter schools, liberals like Lewis say they get to cherry-pick their students. Yet some 60% of Chicago charter-school students are minorities and 35% are Hispanic.

Ninety-one percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Doesn’t sound like cherry-picking to us.

Also, as I wrote last month, more and more parents are favoring vouchers, whereby parents can choose to send their kid to a private school and the funding follows the child.

… the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice released the results of a national survey in which mothers (and others) were asked how they viewed vouchers and other forms of school choice. The findings show that moms make up the demographic most likely to favor school vouchers:

… 66 percent of moms with school-age children support vouchers for all students to obtain the best education possible. Mothers with school-age children also have more confidence in private school settings than in traditional public schools.

How have vouchers fared where they have been instituted?

In April, Greg Forster, also of the Friedman Foundation, released the third in a series of reports on school choice which includes vouchers and, to a lesser extent, educational savings accounts and tax credit scholarships: “A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice.” Just a few of the key findings:

  • Twelve empirical studies have examined academic outcomes for school choice participants using random assignment, the “gold standard” of social science. Of these, 11 find that choice improves student outcomes—six that all students benefit and five that some benefit and some are not affected. One study finds no visible impact. No empirical study has found a negative impact.
  • Eight empirical studies have examined school choice and racial segregation in schools. Of these, seven find that school choice moves students from more segregated schools into less segregated schools. One finds no net effect on segregation from school choice. No empirical study has found that choice increases racial segregation.
  • Seven empirical studies have examined school choice’s impact on civic values and practices such as respect for the rights of others and civic knowledge. Of these, five find that school choice improves civic values and practices. Two find no visible impact from school choice. No empirical study has found that school choice has a negative impact on civic values and practices. (Emphasis added.)

What is the takeaway here?

Despite what the self-righteous socialists, teachers union leaders and their fellow travelers claim, competition works. When schools compete for students, education gets better. And getting a good education is paramount to getting out of poverty. Those who deny public education’s failings and use poverty as an excuse – no matter what their intentions might be – are working to keep the poor in their place and destroy children’s lives. Shame on 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 with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

The Good, the Ugly and the Uglier

After a loss in Indiana, the teachers unions’ war on education intensifies in Chicago and California.

In 2011, Indiana passed a school choice bill which currently allows 9,300 kids from low and middle income families with household income below 150 percent of school lunch eligibility to receive vouchers equal to between 50 and 90 percent of state per-pupil education funding to use at any of 289 schools – some of which provide religious education – that participate in the Choice Scholarship Program.

Not surprisingly, upon passage of the bill the National Education Association and its state affiliate, the Indiana State Teachers Association, sued to stop it with claims that “letting families use the vouchers at religious schools violated the state constitution’s religion clauses.”

But last week, in a resounding 5-0 decision, the unions’ plea was denied.

‘We find it inconceivable’ the justices wrote that the framers meant to prohibit government spending from which a religious institution could ultimately benefit. Everything from police protection to city sidewalks benefit religious institutions, but ‘the primary beneficiary is the public,’ and any benefits to religious groups are ‘ancillary and indirect,’ said the ruling. ‘The direct beneficiaries under the voucher program are the families of eligible students and not the schools selected by the parents for their children to attend.’

Part of the unions’ case was based on the Catholic-bashing Blaine Amendment. As Mike Antonucci writes:

The Indiana Supreme Court ruled unanimously today that the state’s school voucher program is constitutional. This is good news for supporters of school choice, and bad news for teachers’ unions. But the Indiana ruling is especially interesting since it may sound the death knell for legal challenges to vouchers based on states’ Blaine Amendments.

Indiana is one of 37 states with a constitutional provision prohibiting – in varying degrees – the use of state funds to benefit religious or sectarian institutions. The amendments are named after Rep. James G. Blaine of Maine, who as Speaker of the House tried to get a similar provision amended to the U.S. Constitution in 1875. Although the Blaine Amendments were closely associated with anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant bigotry in the 19th century, they made a handy argument against school vouchers in the 20th and 21st centuries.

The title of Antonucci’s post asks, “Is James G. Blaine Finally Dead?” The answer is very possibly yes, and that would most certainly be a good thing.

Moving on to California, the Vergara v. State of California case was back in the news last week. The suit was filed in May 2012 by Students Matter, a nonprofit founded by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch. As I wrote in June, the goal of the suit is to get the seniority, tenure and dismissal statutes out of the state education code and leave these policy decisions to local school districts – as is done in 33 other states.

The student plaintiffs attend school in four districts, though the complaint targets only two—Los Angeles Unified and Alum Rock Elementary Unified in San Jose. Other named defendants include California governor Jerry Brown, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, the state of California, the state board of education, and the state department of education. Students Matter is determined to ensure ‘that the policies embodied in the California Code of Education place the interests of students first and promote the goal of having an effective teacher in every classroom’

… Currently, California schools don’t take teacher effectiveness into account when making layoff decisions. The newest hires are the first to go, and senior teachers have their pick of schools. Struggling inner-city schools end up suffering the most, as the lawsuit states: “One recent study showed that a school in the highest poverty quartile is 65 percent more likely to have a teacher laid off than a school in the lowest poverty quartile. As a result of seniority-based layoffs, the highest poverty schools in California are likely to lose 30 percent more teachers than wealthier schools. The disproportionate number of vacancies in those schools are then filled by transferring lower performing teachers, including grossly ineffective teachers, from other schools.

Hardly a radical fix to a serious problem. But of course, never missing a chance to block child-friendly reform, two state teachers unions – the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers – released a joint press release this past week announcing that they had filed a motion “to intervene in litigation.” This means that CTA and CFT would like to be become involved in the case because they feel that the current defendants – the state and the school districts – are not adequately representing the interests of their teachers, whose rights they maintain could be adversely affected by the case.

The unions declare that if the suit is upheld, it will be more difficult “to attract and retain quality teachers in California’s schools.”

That’s a ridiculous assertion.  For one, do “quality” teachers really care about seniority? I suspect that the “quality” teachers-of-the-year who got pink slipped while their less talented colleagues kept their jobs are not all that jazzed by the “last in/first out” clause. The press release then proceeds to spout the usual blather – in which the unions pretend to really, really care about parents and children while at the same time taking a swipe at wealthy people who they insist want to usurp public education for their own personal gain.

“The people who agreed to lend their names to this wrong-headed lawsuit are attempting to crowd out the voices of all other parents in California.  We should be working to bring students, parents and teachers together — not driving them apart. Legislation, informed by the experience and testimony of all members of the education community, is the best process for improving public education,” said CFT President Josh Pechthalt, parent of an eighth-grade student in the Los Angeles Unified School District. “The real agenda of this suit is to attack and weaken teachers and their unions in order to privatize public schools and turn them into profit centers for the corporate sponsors behind the lawsuit.”

The backers of this lawsuit include a “who’s who” of the billionaire boys club and their front groups.  Their goals have nothing to do with protecting students, but are really about undermining public schools.

This kind of demagogic rhetoric is old, tired and just plain ugly. Fortunately, not all that many people are buying it these days.

Then there is Chicago, where its school district is dealing with a $1 billion deficit. For a variety of reasons the city’s school population has been dwindling since the 1960s and there is a move afoot to close 54 sparsely populated campuses. According to RiShawn Biddle,

Chicago’s enrollment of 404,584 children is a third smaller than the number of kids served by the district during the 1960s. Three hundred thirty of the district’s 616 schools — more than half of the district’s portfolio — operate below capacity, with 137 of them half-empty. At some schools,  includes Drake Elementary School in the city’s Bronzeville section, and an elementary school named for hometown hero Emmett Till (whose murder in Mississippi by two men offended by his violation of Jim Crow segregation spurred the modern civil rights movement), just two out of every five seats are filled during the school year.

And, a Chicago Public Schools (CPS) fact sheet tells us:

Population declines over the last decade in both the African American community and in school-aged children are driving the majority of underutilization in our District’s schools. Today, our schools have space for 511,000 children, but only 403,000 are enrolled.

So it certainly seems sensible to shut down some underutilized schools and consolidate their enrollments, right?

Not if you are a union boss. What you do then is come out with a statement, avowing that your main priorities are kids, parents and their neighborhoods, and bolster your case by spouting a bunch of good-sounding half-truths in an attempt to make yourself sound believable. And no one does this kind of chicanery better than American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten.

The AFT stands with teachers, parents, students and other Chicagoans fighting to guarantee every child in Chicago the high-quality neighborhood public school he or she deserves. Chicago’s reckless mass school closure agenda will destabilize neighborhoods, threaten our children’s safety, fail to improve learning or save money, and create a domino effect of destabilization in schools across the city. It is part of a disturbing trend in cities across the country by the powers that be to ignore what parents, students and teachers demand and what our children need in favor of failed policies.

As the CPS fact sheet details, every one of Weingarten’s points is bogus, but then again truth and accuracy emanating from a union leader’s mouth is rare indeed.

When unionistas and their fellow travelers don’t get their way, they typically take to the streets and the Windy City was no exception. The Chicago Teachers Union, led by its thoroughly obnoxious and confrontational leader, Karen Lewis, organized a rally last Wednesday in downtown Chicago. As EAGnews.org writer Brittany Clingen reports,

The event brought out all the usual suspects – the Occupy Chicago contingent, fellow union members from SEIU, members of CORE (Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators) and Action Now, and a general assortment of anti-capitalism protesters who relish any excuse to march around with angry signs held high.

According to CTU President Karen Lewis, the school closings are racially motivated. In her speech delivered to the crowd of approximately 700 gathered in Daley Plaza, she said, “They are closing down schools that have names of African American icons, but they’ll open up schools to put a living billionaire’s name in the front.”

Lewis failed to mention that CPS is approaching an astronomical $1 billion budget deficit. And the schools that are slated to close are either underperforming, underutilized (a school that has far fewer students than its capacity allows) or both. The students whose schools are scheduled to close will either be placed in charter schools or their closest neighborhood schools.

No one present at the rally was able to offer a better alternative to closing the schools, with some even implying that there is some sort of conspiracy going on within CPS.

Ah, nothing quite like race baiting, conspiracy theories and class warfare to get the socialists’ juices flowing. It doesn’t get any better than that, and in front of a willing media, no less!

The political angle was not lost on journalist Michael Volpe, who pointed out,

While the school closures in Chicago may seem to involve only local issues, the protest offered a clear glimpse into one of the most powerful segments of the Left. …(T)eachers unions routinely act in concert with open socialists — because their agendas and leadership merge to an alarming degree. While both claim to represent the interests of “the children” and the downtrodden, their real interest is exploiting the vulnerable to advance the principles of socialism.

Does it get any uglier than that?

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.

Thoughts on Reactions to the Sandy Hook Tragedy

Teacher union leaders offer heat but no light after the mass murder in Newtown.

In the aftermath of the December 14th mass murder of 26 children and school staffers in Newtown, Connecticut, there has been the understandable finger pointing and a full range of suggestions for ensuring that such a horror doesn’t happen again.

On the lunatic end of the spectrum we have teacher union apologist Diane Ravitch, the formerly venerable education historian, who took up residence in the land of Bizarro several years ago.

Every one of the teachers was a career educator. Every one was doing exactly what she wanted to do. They’ve worked in a school that was not obsessed with testing but with the needs of children. This we know: the staff at Sandy Hook loved their students. They put their students first, even before their own lives.

Oh, and one other thing, all these dedicated teachers belonged to a union. The senior teachers had tenure, despite the fact that “reformers” (led by ConnCAN, StudentsFirst, and hedge fund managers) did their best last spring to diminish their tenure and to tie their evaluations to test scores….

Ravitch’s loopy rant is Rahm Emanuel’s “Never let a good crisis go to waste” philosophy taken to an obscene level. And when in response, Teach For America V.P. and self-described “lefty Dem” David Rosenberg took Ravitch to task, Chicago Teacher Union president Karen Lewis (perhaps shocked that someone could outdo her in the outrageous comment category) weighed in with,

There might have been a time where “politicizing” tragic events, especially mass shootings was thought to be in poor taste. That has changed with the 24/7 news cycle that continues to focus far too much time and energy on the perpetrator of the massacre than that of our precious victims. Rosenberg’s “false outrage” needs to be checked. That same false outrage should show itself when policies his [TEACH FOR AMERICA*] colleagues support kill and disenfranchise children from schools across this nation. (Emphasis added.) We in Chicago have been the victims of their experiments on our children since the current secretary of Education “ran” CPS.

Yes, you read that correctly. Lewis is saying that TFA, an organization that places exceptional, idealistic young teacher-leaders in the most challenging schools in the country is responsible for killing kids. After uttering those shameful words, Lewis should resign in disgrace.

Then we have a rare joint statement issued by the leaders of the two national teachers unions – the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. NEA’s Dennis Van Roekel and AFT’s Randi Weingarten came out with a press release with a sub-head which reads: “Focus Needs to Be on Investments in Mental Health Services, Reasonable Gun Safety Legislation.”

In the body of the brief statement they say,

Long-term and sustainable school safety also requires a commitment to preventive measures. We must continue to do more to prevent bullying in our schools. And we must dramatically expand our investment in mental health services. Proper diagnosis can and often starts in our schools, yet we continue to cut funding for school counselors, school social workers, and school psychologists. States have cut at least $4.35 billion in public mental health spending from 2009 to 2012, according to the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors. It is well past time to reverse this trend and ensure that these services are available and accessible to those who need our support.

While this may sound good, it has nothing to do with what happened in Connecticut. The shooter had been identified as having a type of autism, perhaps Asperger’s; he had been assigned to a high-school psychologist and there have been no reports that he was bullied. So this statement is really nothing more than a pitch to advance the teachers union agenda of spending ever more money on education.

The other part of the press release deals with guns:

Our duty to every child is to provide safe and secure public schools. That is the vow we take as educators. It is both astounding and disturbing that following this tragedy, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, Bill Bennett, and other politicians and pundits have taken to the airwaves to call for arming our teachers. As the rest of the country debates how to keep guns out of schools, some are actually proposing bringing more guns in, turning our educators into objects of fear and increasing the danger in our schools.

Guns have no place in our schools. Period. We must do everything we can to reduce the possibility of any gunfire in schools, and concentrate on ways to keep all guns off school property and ensure the safety of children and school employees.

Not surprisingly the union leaders are out of touch with reality, at least the current reality in California. When I was a classroom teacher in Los Angeles, my middle school had a gun carrying school cop on campus every day. And my school is hardly unique. In fact, the state education code allows for an armed presence on any campus on an “as needed” basis. Given the current mood, I’m guessing that more parents will start demanding that their kid’s campus have armed cops for security. In fact, in a recent Gallup poll, when asked if increasing the police presence at schools would be an effective way to stop mass shootings at schools, 87 percent said that it would be very or somewhat effective.

And I think we need to go one step further. I would like to see a few armed teachers at every school. These volunteers would go through a rigorous background check and proper police-type training and then should be allowed to anonymously carry a concealed weapon on campus.

Despite the union leaders’ comments, there is no way to effectively keep schools as “gun free zones.” As David Kopel writes, these are nothing more than “pretend gun free zones.”

Real gun-free zones are a wonderful idea, but they are only real if they are created by metal detectors backed up by armed guards. Pretend gun-free zones, where law-abiding adults (who pass a fingerprint-based background check and a safety training class) are still disarmed, are magnets for evildoers who know they will be able to murder at will with little threat of being fired upon.

Kopel’s point was demonstrated in the Aurora, CO movie theater shooting. As John Lott explains,

So why did the killer pick the Cinemark theater? You might think that it was the one closest to the killer’s apartment. Or, that it was the one with the largest audience.

Yet, neither explanation is right. Instead, out of all the movie theaters within 20 minutes of his apartment showing the new Batman movie that night, it was the only one where guns were banned. (Emphasis added.) In Colorado, individuals with permits can carry concealed handgun in most malls, stores, movie theaters, and restaurants. But private businesses can determine whether permit holders can carry guns on their private property.

The perspective that has been lost in the aftermath of this tragedy is that guns are used to keep our most important things safe – our cities, banks, courthouses, etc. In fact, armed marshals are placed anonymously on many airplane flights to safeguard us and our children. So why do many insist that our most important and precious assets – our children – be completely defenseless?  President Obama’s kids have armed protection at school. Don’t all our kids deserve the same?

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.