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My Dear Randi,

Clinton Turns Her Back on School Choice While Trump Embraces It 

As Hillary Clinton cozies up to the teachers unions, Donald Trump seeks to vastly expand school choice opportunities. 

In November, 2015, Hillary Clinton gave a speech in South Carolina in which she abandoned her prior support for charter schools. Using language straight from the teachers union fact-free playbook, she claimed that charters “don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don’t keep them.”

Fast forward to the National Education Association convention this past July. Mrs. Clinton made the terrible mistake of diverting from the teacher union party line by saying, “when schools get it right, whether they are traditional public schools or public charter schools, let’s figure out what’s working … and share it with schools across America.” This innocuous comment didn’t sit well with some of the unionistas in attendance, who made their displeasure known by booing the presidential candidate. Realizing that she strayed from union orthodoxy, Clinton regrouped by acknowledging that there are people on the outside who are pushing “for-profit charter schools on our kids. We will never stand for that. That is not acceptable.”

Later in her talk, she asserted, “There is no time for finger pointing, or arguing over who cares about kids more. It’s time to set one table and sit around it together – all of us – so we can work together to do what’s best for America’s children.” And that table, Clinton promised, will always have “a seat for educators.”

Two weeks later at the American Federation of Teachers convention, she went further, adding that she opposed “vouchers and for-profit schooling,” and repeated her pledge, “…you will always have a seat at the table.”

A seat for educators? No, not really. What she actually meant was a place for union bosses and their fellow travelers. Good to her word – at least in this case – that’s just what she did.

Last week, Mother Jones revealed just who is seated at Clinton’s table. (H/T Antonucci.) Participants include Lily Eskelsen García and Randi Weingarten, leaders of the two national teachers unions. They are joined by Carmel Martin and Catherine Brown, vice-presidents of the Center for American Progress, a leftist think tank that is financially supported by the teachers unions. Also seated is education reformer Chris Edley, president of the Opportunity Institute, a California-based think tank, whose board is a collection of Clinton cronies. And finally there is Richard Riley, who served as Bill Clinton’s education secretary and was the recipient of NEA’s Friend of Education Award.

Well, certainly no one can accuse Clinton of seeking out diverse viewpoints.

At the same time Clinton was doing the teachers unions’ bidding, Donald Trump did the opposite. In fact, he went all in for school choice. Speaking at Cleveland Arts and Social Sciences Academy, a charter school in Ohio, he promised, if elected, that he would redirect $20 billion in federal money to school-choice programs. Trump said he would make it a priority to give 11 million children living in poverty a choice of schools, including traditional public, charters, magnets and private schools. He proclaimed that parents should be able to walk their child to a school they choose to be at, adding that each state would develop its own formula for distributing the $20 billion block-grant money, but that the dollars must follow the student. Trump also had disparaging words for Common Core and promoted merit pay as a way to reward the best teachers.

Not surprisingly teacher union leaders were not exactly enthralled by The Donald’s vision and proceeded to blast his ideas, using tired and wrong-headed union anti-choice talking points. NEA president Lily Eskelsen García snapped: “His silver bullet approach does nothing to help the most-vulnerable students and ignores glaring opportunity gaps while taking away money from public schools to fill private-sector coffers. No matter what you call it, vouchers take dollars away from our public schools to fund private schools at taxpayers’ expense with little to no regard for our students.”

AFT president, Clinton BFF and reportedly her favorite candidate for Secretary of Education Randi Weingarten added, “Today’s speech on education repeats the same flawed ideology anti-public education zealots have been shilling for years. He shows his usual obeisance to the idea of making public education a market rather than a public trust, to blaming rather than respecting educators, and to ideas that have failed to help children everywhere they’ve been tried but instead, in their wake, have hurt kids by leaving public schools destabilized and their budgets drained.”

While I applaud Mr. Trump’s general vision, the devil will be in the details. Just how his plan will be implemented, including where the $20 billion for his block-grant plan will come from, is not clear. Also, Trump has been known to change his stance on various issues from week to week so we will have to see what transpires in the coming days. And the fact that he chose to give his speech at a failing charter school is typical of the gaffe-prone Republican nominee for president.

Kevin Chavous, a lifelong Democrat and education reformer, now finds himself in an odd position. After learning of Trump’s plan, he said, “While I do not support Donald Trump, his speech on school choice demonstrates that he is giving serious thought to education issues and I strongly challenge Hillary Clinton to do the same…I urge Hillary Clinton to show more openness and creativity when it comes to embracing school reform, choice and charter schools. So far Mrs. Clinton has largely been a representative of the interests of teachers’ unions and the status quo, which is in opposition to parents and students and will serve to be on the wrong side of history.”

Chavous is absolutely correct, but Hillary won’t change. She has jumped into bed with the teachers unions, which now own her. As such, if elected, she will indeed find herself on the wrong side of history – the children, whom she claims so fervently to care about, and their parents be damned.

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.

Parents Need a Private School Option When Public Schools Fail

As the need for vouchers increases, the politics of school privatization gets interestinger and interestinger.

“Some NYC teachers: ‘Don’t send your kids here!’” screamed the headline in a New York Post article last week. The damning story goes on to explain how over 80 percent of the teachers in eight public schools – including charters – said they would “never recommend those schools to children.”

At two of the schools — Foundation Academy HS in Brooklyn and recently-closed Monroe Academy for Business and Law in The Bronx — 100 percent of teachers who answered the survey said they’d tell parents to pull their kids.

“The school was a mess,” said Lourdes Lebron, a former PTA president at Foundation. “The environment was horrible. There were fights. The school didn’t even have a yearbook. What memories are the students going to have about the school? These kids got nothing.”

There were several reasons given for these intolerable situations. Some blamed the administrators of the schools, while others blamed the city. A few administrators claimed that disgruntled teachers, having been let go, were just being spiteful.

Whatever.

The question becomes, “What are the parents of the kids attending those schools supposed to do now?” Given that some of the schools are charters – usually a better alternative than local traditional schools – and given that New York has no private school choice program, it seems that these families will have no option but to shell out money for a private school … if they can afford one.

This story reminded me of others dating back to the 1990s.

In 1993, columnist George Will was on “This Week With David Brinkley” and asserted that “50 percent of urban area public school teachers with school-age children send their children to private schools. What do they know that we ought to know?” National Education Association president Keith Geiger, also on the show, attempted to trump Will with a lame gotcha, “It’s actually 40 percent.” Geiger clearly gotcha’d himself.

More than a decade later, nothing much had changed. A study by the Fordham Institute in 2004 found that in big cities many teachers send their own kids to private schools.

In Philadelphia, 44 percent of the teachers put their children in private schools.

Cincinnati – 41 percent

Chicago – 39 percent

Rochester, N.Y. – 38 percent

San Francisco-Oakland area – 34 percent

New York City – 33 percent.

Well, it sure is nice that so many urban public school teachers choose not to send their children to those icky public schools. But what about the parents of kids who can’t afford to do that? What are they supposed to do? According to many teachers and the unions they belong to, well, suck it up.

But there is a solution and it’s called a voucher or opportunity scholarship, which enables a child to use public funds to attend a private school. And no one knows their advantages better than African-Americans and Hispanics.

In fact, the country’s first voucher law came into being in 1989 via a joint effort of the recently deceased Polly Williams, a black Democratic Milwaukee state assemblywoman, and Tommy Thompson, the white Republican governor of Wisconsin.

A 1999 survey by Public Agenda, a nonpartisan research group, found that 68 percent of blacks favor vouchers. In 2007, an Education Next poll showed that 68 percent of African-Americans and 61 percent of Hispanics favor the private school option.

A 2014 survey by the Friedman Foundation showed that blacks and Latinos are the groups most likely to favor vouchers.

When you look at the Washington D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, it’s hardly surprising that so many minorities see vouchers as their ticket to a better life. The program has averaged a 93 percent graduation rate, with 90 percent of those graduates enrolling in college, and a 92 percent parent satisfaction rate since 2010. (The grad rate in D.C. traditional public schools is supposedly 64 percent, but even that dismal number is questionable.)

While there are 39 private choice programs in 18 states and D.C. that help those in need, there aren’t nearly enough to match the demand. And the issue has some very interesting political ramifications. While a majority of Republicans have long favored this kind of school choice, Democrats have fought fiercely against it, having aligned with the adamantly anti-choice teachers unions. But things are changing; over the past several years, more and more courageous Dems have been bucking the establishment and fighting passionately for school choice. In addition to the aforementioned Williams and her partner in crime, the great Howard Fuller, long time Democrat strategist Joe Trippi, former California state senator Gloria Romero (who now runs the Foundation for Parent Empowerment) and hedge-fund manager and self-described “pragmatic, realist liberal” Whitney Tilson have become apostates. And many more are now lining up for the cause.

Included in the “breakaway Dems” category is Kevin Chavous, a former D.C. councilman who has been deeply involved in a myriad of education reform groups for years. After the Nov. 4th election, he wrote an op-ed for USA Today in which he acknowledged that the results exposed a schism within the Democratic Party.

Hidden in the news coverage of the midterm elections looms a bigger problem for my fellow Democrats than just a bad night at the polls: the voters’ wholesale rejection of the party’s most powerful backers: teachers’ unions. Led by the NEA and AFT, the national teachers’ unions boasted of spending $80 million in this election to defeat candidates who support vouchers, teacher accountability and other promising education reforms. They lost. And they lost big.

The aftermath offers a lesson to the Democratic Party — and Hillary Clinton — as they prepare for 2016.

What a great irony it would be in 2016 if the Democrats, led by Hillary Clinton, suddenly found themselves on the wrong side of a major civil rights issue. (Emphasis added.)

The teacher’s unions know they are on the losing side of this fight, even if they desperately hope that national Democrats aren’t paying attention. For months Randi Weingarten, the current president of the American Federation of Teachers, has been a fixture on TV screens vowing to stop candidates challenging the status quo education establishment. After the election, she canceled a scheduled press call. There was little good news to report.

The normally demure Condoleezza Rice took it one step further. On a radio show last week, she bluntly stated,

Poor black kids trapped in failing neighborhoods schools, that’s the biggest race problem of today. That’s the biggest civil rights issue of today. Anybody who isn’t in favor of school choice, anybody who isn’t in favor of educational reform, anybody who defends the status quo in the educational system, that’s racist to me.

Neither teacher union leaders nor traditional Dems have weighed in on Chavous’ op-ed or Rice’s statement, but I think it’s clear that the division in the Democratic Party is growing into a gaping chasm. School choice has become a powerful wedge issue and has brought with it a great irony, as alluded to by Kevin Chavous. There are still many who consider themselves “progressive” who want to keep an outdated and sclerotic zip-code-mandated public education system in place. And it’s the stodgy old conservatives who want to – if not blow up – radically alter and improve the dreadful status quo for millions of kids that the progressives claim to care about.

As an optimist, I believe that at some point, enough Dems will tell their union buds to kiss off and embrace vouchers. When that happens, a tipping point will be reached and there will be no turning back. That will be a great day for the most vulnerable children of America, who will be liberated from the wretched public schools that teachers refuse to send their own kids to.

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.

Tenure, Temerity and the Truth

Los Angeles Times op-ed and teachers union defense of educational status quo are packed with malarkey.

Now in its third week, the Students Matter trial still has a ways to go. Initially scheduled to last four weeks, the proceedings are set to run longer. On Friday, Prosecutor Marcellus McRae told Judge Rolf Treu that the plaintiffs need another week and a half or so to conclude their case before the defense takes over. The coverage of the trial has been thorough, with the Students Matter website providing daily updates, as has the always reliable LA School Report.

The media have generally been either neutral or supportive of the case, which claims that the tenure, seniority and dismissal statutes enshrined in the state Ed Code hurt the education process in the Golden State, especially for minority and poor kids. The defendants are the state of California and the two state teachers unions – the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers.

Having studied and written about the case extensively, I am of the opinion that the defense has no defense and that the best that they can do is to muddy the waters to gain favor with judge. In an effort to learn what the defense will come up with, I have tried to read everything I can by folks who think the lawsuit is misguided. I have written before about California Teachers Association president Dean Vogel’s rather inept argument presented in the December issue of CTA’s magazine.

The CTA website has been posting more about the case as the trial has progressed, and it would appear that desperation has set in. The union’s old bromides hold about as much water as a ratty sponge.

The problems we face with layoffs are not because of Education Code provisions or local collective bargaining agreements, but lack of funding.

No, the problem is who is getting laid off; we are losing some of the best and the brightest, including teachers-of-the-year due to ridiculous seniority laws.

The lawsuit ignores all research that shows teaching experience contributes to student learning.

Not true. Studies have shown that after 3-5 years, the majority of teachers don’t improve over time.

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

Oh please – the evil rich and the privatization bogeyman! Really! Zzzzz.

Then we have cartoonist Ted Rall who penned an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times last week, which is mostly concerned with “tenure tyranny.” This wretched piece is maudlin sophistry at its gooiest.

First, Rall needs to get his verbiage straight. K-12 teachers do not get tenure. What they achieve after two years on the job is “permanent status.” Permanent status! What other job on the planet affords workers something called “permanence,” and getting rid of an inept teacher who has reached that lofty perch is just about impossible. But Rall makes the claim that, “Tenure doesn’t prevent districts from firing teachers. It makes it hard. (Not impossible: 2% of teachers get fired for poor performance annually.)”

The 2 percent figure is a half-truth. During the first two years on the job, a teacher can be let go relatively easily for poor performance. Maybe two percent of newbies don’t cut it. But what Rall and his teacher union buddies don’t tell you is that, in California, for example, about ten teachers a year out of nearly 300,000 (.003 percent) who have attained “permanence” lose their jobs. Of those, a whopping two teachers (.0007 percent) get canned for poor performance.

This is a disgrace, and most teachers know it. In fact, according to a recent survey of teachers working in Los Angeles conducted by the National Council on Teacher Quality, 68 percent reported that “there were tenured teachers currently working in their schools who should be dismissed for poor performance.”

Then Rall goes off the rails on tenure, saying that what’s wrong with tenure is that “only teachers can get it.”  (When you go to a doctor for a serious medical condition, Mr. Rall, do you want to see the best one or any old quack who still has an MD after his name?)

Rall then ventures into other areas. He whines twice about his mother’s (a retired public school teacher) “crummy salary.” He apparently hasn’t read much on the subject. In fact, the most recent study on teacher pay shows that when perks like healthcare and pension packages are taken into consideration, today’s teachers are in fact overpaid. Armed with facts, charts and a bevy of footnotes, Heritage Foundation’s Jason Richwine and American Enterprise Institute’s Andrew Biggs explain,

Workers who switch from non-teaching jobs to teaching jobs receive a wage increase of roughly 9 percent, while teachers who change to non-teaching jobs see their wages decrease by approximately 3 percent.

When retiree health coverage for teachers is included, it is worth roughly an additional 10 percent of wages, whereas private sector employees often do not receive this benefit at all.

Teachers benefit strongly from job security benefits, which are worth about an extra 1 percent of wages, rising to 8.6 percent when considering that extra job security protects a premium paid in terms of salaries and benefits.

Taking all of this into account, teachers actually receive salary and benefits that are 52 percent greater than fair market levels. (Emphasis added.)

Then Rall gets political. He writes,

During the last few decades, particularly since the Reagan administration, the right has waged war on teachers and their unions. From No Child Left Behind to the sneakily anti-union, anti-professionalization outfit Teach for America to the Common Core curriculum, conservatives are holding teachers accountable for their kids’ academic performance.

Reagan? What did his administration do?

The sneakily anti-union, anti-professionalization outfit Teach for America

Do you mean the very successful organization that identifies young teacher-leaders and trains them for service, founded and run by social justice advocates who have made (some) peace with the National Education Association? That TFA?

Common Core?

Sorry, but it is a bipartisan issue. In fact, your beloved teachers unions, including NEA president Dennis Van Roekel and AFT President Randi Weingarten, support it.

…conservatives are holding teachers accountable for their kids’ academic performance.

Horrors! Holding teachers accountable for their work! If not them whom?  The school bus driver? And for crying out loud, it’s not just conservatives who are demanding teacher accountability. StudentsFirst’s Michelle Rhee, American Federation of Children’s Kevin Chavous, Democrats for Education Reform’s Joe Williams and former CA state senator Gloria Romero, all want more accountability and none of them qualify as right wingers.

Rall’s piece ends with an editor’s note:

[Correction, 11:26 a.m., February 6: An original version of this post incorrectly described Students Matter as a “right-wing front group.” The post also linked to the wrong David Welch, founder of Students Matter.]

If the editors think that this is the only errata, they most definitely need to review this bilge and reexamine every word, including “and” and “the.”

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.