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The Parent Revolution and the Ancien Régime

The ongoing battle between parents and the union-dominated education blob heats up in California.

California state senator Gloria Romero’s Parent Trigger law has been around for over three years now, and its progress has been slow but steady. The law stipulates that if 50 percent +1 of the parents of children in a failing school sign a petition, it can “trigger” a change in the governance of that school either by getting rid of some teachers, firing the principal, shutting the school down or turning it into a charter school. The law was designed to bypass both teachers unions and school boards, and to provide parents with an opportunity to force desperately needed reform. 

There have been five Parent Trigger campaigns in California since 2010:

  • Compton (2010) the parent petition was ultimately dismissed by a judge on a legal technicality. 
  • Adelanto/Desert Trails (2011/2012) two CA Superior Court judges upheld the petition, allowing the parents to move forward with the selection of a high-quality, non-profit charter school which will take over Desert Trails Elementary in July.
  • 24th Street Elementary School (Los Angeles/2013) parents overwhelmingly selected an historic collaborative partnership between the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and a high-performing, non-profit charter operator Crown Prep Academy. It will also begin the transformation process in July. LAUSD will be responsible for Pre-K – 4 and Crown Prep for 5-8.
  • Haddon Avenue Elementary School (Los Angeles/ 2012-2013) parents voted to “pause” their ‘Parent Trigger’ petition efforts to work on a collaborative in-district reform plan for their school with teachers and the district.
  • Weigand Avenue Elementary School (Los Angeles/2013) parents petitioned for a “transformation” model, allowing them to work collaboratively with teachers and LAUSD on much-needed changes, including replacing the principal.

While the 24th Street conversion went relatively smoothly, activist parents typically encounter serious pushback from unyielding teachers unions and their fellow travelers. A few examples:

2010 – Then California Federation of Teachers president Marty Hittleman a human gaffe machinedescribed the new Parent Trigger law as a “lynch mob provision,” managing to offend parents, especially African-Americans, all over the state.

2011 – Jerry Brown removed Parent Revolution (the Parent Trigger parent group) executive director Ben Austin from the state school board and added California Teachers Association über-lobbyist Pat Rucker.

2011 – Word of the Parent Trigger spread across the country and parents tried to establish it in Connecticut, but in a story first reported by RiShawn Biddle, the American Federation of Teachers used slimy tactics to effectively neuter the law. Most writers and bloggers who have written about the incident have focused on a pdf (originally a PowerPoint, posted on the AFT website), which very honestly and cynically describes the process by which the union did its dirty work. The AFT quickly realized that this display of raw union power was not in keeping with its persona as a reform-minded partner that is always willing to collaborate with parents, communities and other stakeholders, and pulled the pdf from its website shortly after the Biddle piece was posted. They then started to play defense … sort of.

2012 – After a successful campaign to pull the trigger at Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, a Mojave Desert town in eastern CA, the CTA went to work. The Wall Street Journal reported that the union sent out “representatives” to Adelanto to disseminate “information” to the parents there. (Union speak alert: the terms “representatives” and “information” mean sending unidentified operatives to petition-signers’ homes to feed them lies about the petition that they just signed.)

2012 Won’t Back Down, a film loosely based on the Parent Trigger, was subjected to a thorough trashing by American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten. As part of her diatribe, she angrily stated I don’t recognize the teachers portrayed in this movie….” This is understandable because, as I explained at the time,

No record indicates she ever served as a full-time teacher or was evaluated by a principal or other school official.

When Weingarten ran for president of New York’s United Federation of Teachers in 1998, her opponent, Michael Shulman, suggested that she was not a “real teacher.”

“She worked five months full-time that I’ve been aware of, in 1992, at Clara Barton High School,” Shulman was quoted as saying in the New York Times. “Since then she taught maybe one class for 40 minutes a day.”

As one who spent almost 30 years as a classroom teacher, I will tell you that the teachers in the movie were quite accurately portrayed and indeed, I “recognized” many of them.

2013 – In an unusual event, the United Teachers of Los Angeles, happy not to be excluded from the process, was a willing party to the conversion at 24th Street School. But UTLA chief Warren Fletcher stepped in it by saying in April that the union was “watching what happens at 24th Street and other schools – watching to see if it destabilizes the schools.” (Note to Fletcher: Poorly performing schools are already “destabilized.” The Parent Trigger is a mechanism to “restabilize.”)

Just where are we now?

The current Weigand conversion saw the parents vote to keep all the teachers but get rid of the principal who had let the school deteriorate during her three years on the job. But a recent one-sided Los Angeles Times piece claimed that….

  •   teachers and students alike loved the principal Irma Cobian.
  •   21 of 22 teachers have asked for transfers to other schools.
  •   a student said Cobian is a special principal who gives her hugs and understands her struggles, such as losing her father to cancer last year.

However, a Parent Trigger press release lays out many facts that the Times either didn’t know or chose not to print:

In June 2011, parents and teachers at Weigand Avenue Elementary School in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles signed a petition as a ‘vote of no confidence’ in their principal. … It identifies on one side the teachers who signed, with parents on the other side and following pages. Date stamps indicate its receipt at that time by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). 

This first petition from Weigand parents and teachers clearly establishes their deep concerns about the principal and her management style many months before a parent union chapter — Weigand Parents United — was formed to pull together their successful 2013 Parent Trigger campaign.

In looking at this original 2011 parent and teacher petition, it’s worth noting:

  • None of the teachers who signed this petition remain at the school. Of 22 teachers who were at the school prior to 2009-2010 when this principal began, only 14 remained in 2010-2011, 11 in 2011-2012 and 8 in this current school year. There has been significant — and detrimental to the students — teacher turnover in the school during the administration of this principal.
  • Correspondingly, with the exit of these teachers over the past three years, the school’s API scores have declined significantly. Prior to the arrival of this current principal, the 2008-2009 API score for Weigand Avenue Elementary School was 717 (23 points ABOVE the average for LAUSD schools. In the first year of her tenure (2009-2010) the API score was 716 (just 7 points above the LAUSD average). In 2010-2011 — when the parents and teachers signed the attached petition — the API score had SLUMPED to 689 and was 39 points BELOW the LAUSD average for that school year. In 2011-2012, the school’s API score remained STAGNANT at 689 putting it a WHOPPING 56 points below the LAUSD average.
  • The data shows that, with the exit of 14 teachers over the past three years (including those who signed the attached petition), academic achievement at the school has dropped dramatically.
  • Weigand Avenue Elementary School is ranked 15th from the BOTTOM of LAUSD elementary schools. It is clear this is a school in academic achievement crisis.
  • Weigand Avenue Elementary School parents cannot wait another three years for this principal to try and turn their school around. She has been singularly unsuccessful to date; 14 of the 22 teachers who were at the school before she arrived have left, apparently unable to work with her. 

The facts are inescapable. This is a school in academic and student achievement decline throughout the tenure of this principal. The parents, unwilling to allow this to continue, have successfully chosen the option that holds this principal directly accountable — and now removes her. 

As a result of the recent Parent Trigger activity, UTLA is starting to feel the heat and plans to push back. The union held a press conference and demonstration at Weigand last Thursday, and called a special meeting this past Sunday. The following is from the UTLA website:

School Threat

Chapter chairs at elementary schools that are facing a possible takeover by “Parent Trigger” are invited to attend an important meeting to discuss strategies for dealing with this threat. Other interested chapter chairs are also welcome to attend.

Important materials will be distributed. This meeting is crucial for chapter chairs at targeted schools.

There have been no reports yet as to what transpired at the meeting.

And finally, you can always tell when the status quo crowd is getting nervous – they invariably ramp up the hysteria. In Diane Ravitch’s case, that’s hard to do, however, because the former reformer turned union-BFF has been on the loopy side now for years. Most recently, in response to the tragic shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, she said,

Every one of the teachers was a career educator. Everyone 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….

So she is saying that the teachers at the school were exceptional because they were unionized, had tenure and were not “obsessed with testing.”

Huh?

But Ravitch really outdid herself on May 25th when she went after Ben Austin in a vicious ad hominem attack. Responding to the latest trigger event at Weigand, she wrote on her blog,

Ben Austin is loathsome. He ruined the life and career of a dedicated educator. She was devoted to the children, he is devoted to the equally culpable foundations that fund his Frankenstein organization–Walton, Gates, and Broad. His biggest funder is the reactionary Walton Family Foundation, which spends $160 million every year to advance privatization.

Ben Austin is Walton’s useful idiot. He prattles on about his liberal credentials, but actions speak louder than words.

Here is my lifelong wish for him.

Ben, every day when you wake up, you should think of Irma Cobian. When you look in the mirror, think Irma Cobian. Your last thought every night should be Irma Cobian.

Ben, you ruined the life of a good person for filthy lucre. Never forget her. She should be on your conscience–if you have one–forever.

Whatever you may think of the Parent Trigger, Ben Austin is a good and decent man who works tirelessly to give kids and their parents an opportunity to escape failure. He has done nothing to deserve the revolting attack leveled on him by a malevolent crank. Many education writers and bloggers immediately excoriated Ravitch for her tirade. Just a few examples:

·         Alexander Russohttp://laschoolreport.com/sad-teachers-vs-poor-parents/

·         Joanne Jacobs – http://www.joannejacobs.com/2013/05/trigger-parents-fire-principal-unfair-satanic/

·         RiShawn Biddle http://dropoutnation.net/2013/05/28/perhaps-conservative-reformers-have-finally-stopped-protecting-diane-ravitch/

·         Rick Hesshttp://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/rick_hess_straight_up/2013/05/dante_ravitchs_abhorrent_assault_on_ben_austin.html

Perhaps Whitney Tilson said it best in an email:

Even in the world of politics, this type of language and name-calling goes far beyond the bounds of acceptability and reasonable discourse. If Ravitch is reduced to publishing these rabid kind of statements to further her reputation, then it is abundantly clear she has nothing left to work with. Any shred of credibility with which she may have been cloaking herself is now gone. It is time to hold Ravitch fully accountable for the highly inappropriate language she is deliberately injecting into what should be genuine dialogue around public education and its future.

The bottom line here is that when you have union bosses and their acolytes tripping over themselves to discredit, insult and destroy you and your work, it is a sign that you are doing something right. Keep it up, Ben! Eventually, the ancien régime will fall and the parent revolution will be victorious.

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.

Lemon Raid

Los Angeles school chief puts children’s needs over those of 600 sadists, pedophiles and assorted creeps. The teachers union is outraged.

In any other field, getting rid of misbehaving or poorly performing employees is a natural and ongoing occurrence. Business leaders who don’t set standards and hold workers accountable will see their clientele shrink. But in the world of teacher union-dominated public education, putting customers first – in this case, children and their parents – is a headline-making event.

Superintendent John Deasy, who has incurred the wrath of the United Teachers of Los Angeles of late, did nothing to endear himself to the union by cracking down on miscreant teachers earlier this month. In fact, with Deasy leading the charge, the Los Angeles school board fired 100, got 200 to resign, and designated 300 more to be “housed” or removed from the classroom pending further investigation. According to Barbara Jones, writing in the LA Daily News,

The personnel files stretched the length of the 15-foot conference table in Superintendent John Deasy’s office, a chronicle of the corporal punishment, verbal and physical abuse and sexual misconduct reported in the classrooms of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Cuts and bruises. Curses and racial slurs. Caresses and pornography.

In the past, the misdeeds detailed in the teachers’ files would likely have earned the offender a disciplinary memo, maybe a week’s suspension, perhaps a transfer to another school.

Today, they’re grounds for firing.

UTLA, shocked that the historically passive school district actually made a move that benefitted children, was predictably furious. Its leaders characterized Deasy’s actions as a “witch hunt,” claiming that he is “using misconduct allegations to get rid of troublesome teachers and those on the upper rungs of the experience and pay scale.”

Really?

Here are some specifics about a few of the “teachers” who are now out of the classroom:

  • A Westside elementary teacher in his early 60s ‘trained’ his students to give him a full-body massage for 20 minutes every day while he ‘rested.’
  • A teacher at a San Fernando Valley elementary school who disciplined youngsters by locking them in a bathroom or barricading them in a corner using tables and chairs.
  • An Eastside elementary teacher used clothespins to pinch the ears of youngsters who weren’t paying attention to the lesson. The same teacher also discouraged thumb-sucking by putting nasty-tasting disinfectant on kids’ fingers and forced students to scrub their desks using cleanser and their bare hands.
  • A rash of sex-related complaints were made in the weeks after the Miramonte scandal broke, including allegations of tickling and fondling, and inappropriate and vulgar comments made in class. One high school student said a female teacher inexplicably took her along when she went shopping for sex toys in Hollywood. … Nearly a dozen male teachers were fired for pornography found on their district-issued laptops.

A horrified and angst-filled UTLA lawyer, Richard Schwab, sputtered, “… many veteran teachers opt to resign rather than pursue an administrative hearing because they fear losing their lifetime health benefits if the ruling goes against them.”

Schwab may be right. But this raises a bigger question. If a teacher is guilty of committing crimes against children, why does he or she deserve a penny in “lifetime health benefits?” Or a generous pension for that matter? But that is a discussion for another day.

In any event, despite the seemingly good news, this story is far from settled. For those teachers who haven’t taken their health and pension benefits and run, there are still appeals and hearings and then more appeals and hearings. Again, Barbara Jones:

Under current law, teachers who are fired by the school board have 30 days to appeal their dismissal to the state’s Office of Administrative Hearings. It assigns each case to a panel composed of an administrative law judge and two educators – one chosen by the teacher, the other by the district – which reviews evidence and hears witness testimony before deciding whether or not the teacher should be fired. That process may take years, however, and cost the district hundreds of thousands of dollars in staff time and legal fees.

In fact, thanks to our teacher union friends, here is what is laughably called “due process” for teachers in California:

How ineffective teachers are dismissed in California

1. School district must document specific examples of ineffective performance, based on standards set by the district and the local teachers union.

2. If a teacher has been cited for unsatisfactory performance worthy of dismissal, a school district must give the teacher written notice and provide her 90 calendar days to correct.

3. After 90 days, school district files written dismissal charges. If the school board votes to approve dismissal, it adopts official charges and a resolution of intent to dismiss teacher. Notice cannot be given between May 15 and September 15.

4. Once teacher receives notice that she will be dismissed in 30 days, she can request a hearing to be held within 30 days.

5. School board must reconvene to decide whether to proceed. If it proceeds, it must serve the employee with an accusation as set forth in the state’s Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

6. If teacher makes a second demand for a hearing, it is scheduled with the state Office of Administrative Hearings and held within 60 days. The hearing is similar to a civil trial with each side having rights to discovery. 

7. The hearing is held before a three-person Commission on Professional Competence consisting of an administrative judge and persons appointed by the school board and the teacher or her union representative.

8. After the hearing, the commission issues a written decision by majority vote either voting for dismissal or reinstatement.

9. If either the teacher or the school district appeals the decision, it will be heard by the state superior court.

10. Further appeals are heard by the state Court of Appeal.

Sources: California Legislative Analyst’s Office; California Office of Administrative Hearings.

As pointed out by Jones, the stickiest part of the above process is #7 because the unions control the action. The judge is invariably “union-friendly.” The offender gets to pick a teacher to be on the three-person panel. (Ya think he or she might choose a sympathetic one?) The third member of the panel is a teacher supplied by the district, more often than not – you guessed it – another union member. The odds are so stacked that as Matthias Gafni reports,

California has more than 1,000 school districts and 300,000 teachers, yet only 667 dismissal cases were filed with the Office of Administrative Hearings between January 2003 and March 2012, according to the Los Angeles Unified School District’s chief labor and employment counsel, Alex Molina. Only 130 of those actually got to the hearing stage, and 82 resulted in dismissals — fewer than 10 a year.

Last year, State Senator Alex Padilla tried to put a dent in the system by introducing SB 1530, a bill that would eliminate the two teachers from the panel, make the judge’s ruling advisory and leave the final decision up to the local school district. But the California Teachers Association managed to “convince” their “friends” on the Assembly education committee to kill the proposed legislation. Currently, there is a much milder bill, AB 375, making its way around the legislature. It would shorten the interminable dismissal process, but leave the three-person Commission on Professional Competence intact. CTA backs this bill, which is all you need to know about its effectiveness.

How LAUSD’s bold move eventually plays out is anybody’s guess. But whatever the outcome, John Deasy deserves a heap of praise. By trying to rid a noble profession of hundreds of “lemons,” he has done a great service to children and their families, which means of course he will be even more targeted by UTLA. And how that will play out is also anybody’s guess.

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.

Mothers Against Bunk Jiving

Teacher union twaddle is not fooling the nation’s moms any more.

National Education Association president Dennis Van Roekel wrote a tired piece for Huffington Post last week in which he trotted out all the usual phrases and suspects that we have come to expect from a union boss who is trying to scare us into seeing the world through his agenda-driven eyes. Just a few:

  • corporate lobbyists
  • privatization
  • ALEC
  • Scott Walker’s all-out attack on teachers
  • diverting scarce resources that public schools desperately need
  • workers’ right to collective bargaining

(Somehow, the dreaded Koch Brothers didn’t make the cut.)

While the article is ostensibly about the purported turpitude of the American Legislative Exchange Council, it is actually more about the alleged horrors of school privatization through vouchers. Van Roekel informs us that voters have rejected this type of parental choice “time and time again.” If you click on the above link, you will see that,

From 1966 through 2007, voters rejected vouchers or their variants by about 2 to 1 in 27 statewide referendums.

Unfortunately for Van Roekel and other staunch defenders of the status quo, it is now 2013 and the old data are no longer accurate. In fact, the public has gotten behind 41 school choice programs in 22 states and D.C., with over 250,000 students using these programs to attend private schools.

Most recently, in honor of Mother’s Day this past Sunday, 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.

Other results show that the general public and school moms shared similar views on school grading:

  • ·         Only 39 percent of Americans give local public schools an “A” or a “B” compared with 54 percent in 2012—a 15-point drop.
  • ·         Sixty percent of Americans grade private schools an “A” or a “B”—a 10-point gain from 2012.

Perhaps the most important takeaway from the poll is that there has been a sharp shift in favor of vouchers over the past few years; the trend is undeniable.

Van Roekel also would be better served if he lost the talking point about how the move toward privatization is damaging traditional public schools. Just last month, 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.” 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.
  • Twenty-three empirical studies (including all methods) have examined school choice’s impact on academic outcomes in public schools. Of these, 22 find that choice improves public schools and one finds no visible impact. No empirical study has found that choice harms public schools.
  • Six empirical studies have examined school choice’s fiscal impact on taxpayers. All six find that school choice saves money for taxpayers. No empirical study has found a negative fiscal 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.)

The above can be seen graphically on this chart:

I think it is safe to say that the dated talking points and bunk emanating from the union crowd are wearing very thin. And as more and more moms (and others) see through the jive, the future does not bode well for the NEA and other educational monopolists.

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.

Opportunity Re-Knox

A recently filed lawsuit in California picks up where Knox v. SEIU left off.

In a case brought to the Supreme Court by the National Right to Work Foundation last June, the justices ruled 7-2 that the Service Employees International Union could not force its members to pay the part of union dues that goes for political activities, even if the union felt it was for the workers’ own good. As I wrote at the time,

Actually this decision didn’t break any new ground. Unions haven’t been allowed to force workers to pay for their political agenda since the 1970s and 1980s when several landmark decisions were handed down by the court. But SEIU Local 1,000 in California tried to hoodwink the rank and file. The case probably never should have reached the high court, but their involvement became necessary in order to overturn a decision from the far left Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (or as it’s affectionately known to us left coasters – the Ninth Circus), which has become a regular occurrence these days.

The Wall Street Journal explained the specifics of SEIU’s chicanery,

The California SEIU local attempted to end run these protections in a special 2005 election and the midterms in 2006, amid a furious debate about union government perks. The SEIU joined a “Political Fight-Back Fund” to defeat two propositions that would have given then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger the ability in some cases to modify salaries, benefits and pensions. To fund this advocacy, the SEIU imposed a temporary 25% hike in union dues, never providing its 28,000 non-union members the Hudson notice that would have let them opt out.

The SEIU argued that lobbying against the ballot initiatives was really work on behalf of all workers. Yet that would erase the legal distinction between politics and collective bargaining. These activities may be especially fungible in public employee practice already, but this was too much even for liberal Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who concurred with the majority on the narrow if obvious grounds of technical precedent.

The chutzpah here is dazzling. As Steve Greenhut noted,

It’s ironic that SEIU took money from nonmembers to specifically battle a statewide proposition that would have stopped them from being able to take such money in the future. There’s something disturbingly totalitarian about that – making me give you money that you can use to stop me from exerting my rights.

In a lesser-known but very important ruling, the court went beyond Knox and addressed two larger issues:

1. Should union members have to opt out of paying the political part of union dues? (The way things stand, the default position is “in” and a worker must take action to opt out.) With Justice Samuel Alito writing the opinion,

… the court concluded that a longstanding precedent — that the First Amendment demands that non-union members covered by union contracts be given the chance to “opt out” of such special fees — was insufficient. Instead, the majority said, non-members should be sent a notice giving them the chance to “opt in” to the special fees. (Emphasis added)

2. Should public employees be forced to pay any union dues at all? (At this time, workers in 26 states and Washington, D.C. must pay union dues as a condition of employment. The other 24 states are “right-to-work” states where workers can choose whether or not to join.) Alito again,

Because a public-sector union takes many positions during collective bargaining that have powerful political and civic consequences, the compulsory fees constitute a form of compelled speech and association that imposes a significant impingement on First Amendment rights. (Emphasis added.)

As Huffington Post blogger Cole Stangler wrote at the time,

Knox v. SEIU could lay the foundation for future legal challenges over unions’ political spending and the dues collection process in general.

And lay the foundation it did on both counts.

Last week, the Center for Individual Rights, in conjunction with international law firm Jones Day, filed a suit in California. CIR’s press release explains that the litigation was initiated

… on behalf of 10 California teachers and the Christian Educators Association International, challenging the constitutionality of California’s “agency shop” law, which violates the First Amendment by forcing public school teachers to pay annual fees to support powerful teachers’ unions extensively involved in political activity. The suit was filed against the lead defendants, the California Teachers Association (CTA) and the National Education Association (NEA), as well as ten affiliated local teachers’ unions, and local school officials.

The lawyers in this case claim that the lines between “chargeable” or “agency fee” and “political” are very blurry and that the unions use their power

… to extract compulsory fees as a convenient method of forcing teachers to pay for activities that have little to do with collective bargaining. For example, the CTA considers the publication and dissemination of The California Educator, its internal and highly political magazine, to be a mostly “chargeable” collective bargaining expense. The CTA likewise deems programs dealing with gays and lesbians, including a “GLBT Conference,” to be predominantly “chargeable.” Also, the CTA spends millions of dollars every year on political contributions, mostly to support Democratic Party causes. The NEA, which receives a portion of the fees paid by every California public school teacher, likewise classifies expenditures as chargeable even though they appear to have little to do with collective bargaining, such as programs advancing various education policies or expensive conferences for NEA staff.

The litigation also addresses right-to-work issues,

Given the severe and ongoing infringement of Plaintiffs’ rights to free speech and free association, Plaintiffs respectfully request that this Court declare that California’s practice of forcing non-union members to contribute funds to unions, including funds to support their collective-bargaining activities, violates the First Amendment, and enjoin Defendants from enforcing this unconstitutional arrangement.

Needless to say, the unions are not happy about the lawsuit. CTA spokesman Frank Wells, speaking in boilerplate language, said that it is a “baseless challenge intended to dilute worker rights.” He went on to say that the claims are “another baseless attack on the concept of agency fees” and that “the concept of agency fees is sound.”

If the suit isn’t settled at the local level, it could wind up in the Supreme Court. Should that happen, the justices could take their opinion in Knox one step further and make joining a union voluntary. What a victory for liberty that would be! Greenhut is right – there is something indeed “disturbingly totalitarian” about forced union dues. It’s time to take Knox to its logical conclusion and give all workers the freedom to choose.

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.

Parents, Students, Businessmen, Mayors, Reformers, Civil Rights Groups, Conservatives, Liberals et al vs. Teachers Unions

It seems as if most of the civilized world is squaring off against the teachers unions these days; California’s SB 441 is the latest battle.

As a way to put some teeth in a moribund teacher evaluation system in California, State Senator Ron Calderon has written SB 441, a very modest bill, which would at long last begin to address a deplorable situation.

The bill would do the following:

1- (It) would require the evaluation and assessment at least every 3 years of the performance of each certificated employee with permanent status who have been employed at least 10 years with the school district and meet specified requirements.

(Existing law requires the evaluation and assessment of the performance of each certificated employee to be made on a continuing basis, as prescribed, including at least every other year for personnel with permanent status and at least every 5 years for personnel with permanent status who have been employed at least 10 years with the school district and meet specified requirements.)

2- (It) would instead require the governing board of each school district to regularly evaluate and assess the performance of certificated employees assigned to positions as classroom teachers or school principals using multiple measures, including, but not limited to, specified minimum criteria. The bill would require at least 4 rating levels to be used in evaluating a certificated employee and for the governing board of the school district to define each rating level used.

(Existing law requires the governing board of each school district to evaluate and assess certificated employee performance as it reasonably relates to specified matters.)

3- (It) would also require the governing board to avail itself of the advice of parents of pupils, as specified.

(Existing law requires the governing board of a school district, in the development and adoption of specified guidelines and procedures, to avail itself of the advice of the certificated instructional personnel in the district’s organization of certificated personnel.)

Hardly radical stuff. In fact, many teachers from the Los Angeles area spoke in favor of the bill before the Senate Education Committee last Wednesday. One teacher told the committee that he supported the bill because he’d undergone a more “comprehensive evaluation working at Blockbuster than I do as a public school teacher in California.”

Parent and student advocacy groups, business people and civil rights groups – representing all political persuasions – are supporting the bill, many of them trekking to Sacramento to make their voices heard.

  • Mayors of Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Jose
  • California United to Reform Education
  • EdVoice
  • Lanai Road Education Action Committee
  • Los Angeles Unified School District
  • Office of the Mayor of San Francisco
  • National Action Network Los Angeles
  • Orange County Business Council
  • Parent Partnership
  • Parent Revolution
  • Parents Advocate League
  • San Diego United Parents for Education
  • Simmons Group Inc.
  • Stand Up for Great Schools
  • StudentsFirst

Needless to say, there is one entity that is vehemently fighting to snuff the bill in committee: the teachers union. The following are opposing the bill’s passage:

  • California Federation of Teachers (CFT)
  • California School Employees Association (CSEA)
  • California Teachers Association (CTA)
  • United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA)

When teachers unions see any legislative threat to the status quo, they obfuscate the issue and then fiercely lobby to kill the bill. CTA’s response was typical – it offered up a 36 page monster spelling out its suggested teacher evaluation procedures. It’s difficult to believe that the union is serious about augmenting such a convoluted strategy, but since it needs to feign concern, it throws out an unrealistic alternative, knowing that it will never see the light of day. CTA’s main concern seems to be that teachers’ collective bargaining rights are going to be diminished. But there is nothing in this tame bill that would affect collective bargaining except for the increase in the frequency of teacher evaluations.

CTA is undoubtedly threatened by SB 441 because it sees this bill as the beginning of a slippery slope to greater reforms. They even had their #1 lobbyist, Pat Rucker, speak before the committee. (Just wondering: is it not a conflict of interest that Rucker, a high powered teacher union lobbyist, sits on the state board of education? The story of the fox guarding the henhouse would seem to apply.)

While the unions are doing their best to kill SB 441 in its present form, Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst is going in the other direction. If Rhee’s organization had its way, the bill would be strengthened by:

  • requiring that teachers and principals be evaluated annually.
  • defining what pupil progress means and designating the weight of pupil growth to be 30 to 50 percent of a teacher or principal’s evaluation.
  • eliminating seniority-based layoffs.

As an elementary and middle school teacher for over 28 years, I can attest to the fact that the bill as written is quite restrained and that StudentsFirst’s suggested amendments would be beneficial. But as certain as night follows day, it is also a fact that the teachers unions will do whatever they can to kill the bill in any form.

Needing five affirmative votes to get out of the education committee, the bill was stalled when the legislators voted 4-4-1 last Wednesday. It will be “reconsidered” this Wednesday, however, with the bill’s advocates and detractors going at it once again. Assuming the committee yeas and nays stand firm, the vote will be left to San Diego State Senator Marty Block who abstained last week. He is on good terms with the teachers unions and has introduced SB 657, a CFT sponsored teacher evaluation bill. But there is hope in some quarters that committee chair Carol Liu, who has backed other reform efforts, might change her vote to yes on SB 441.

On the UTLA website, there is a page devoted to the bill. Their “background” begins with the words:

SB 441 (Calderon) is pushed by disgraced former Chancellor of D.C. Schools Michelle Rhee and her StudentsFirst organization.

Nothing like a nasty ad hominem attack to add fuel to the fire. But then again, there is nothing new here. The unions invariably play dirty and make no bones about it. You want to talk about “disgrace?” The teachers unions wrote the book on it.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

California Teachers Association Fights to Maintain Political Orthodoxy

CTA sponsors a resolution demonizing what it perceives to be faux Democrats.

At last week’s California Democratic Party convention in Sacramento, the California Teachers Association went into attack mode, sponsoring a resolution suggesting that two organizations run by prominent Democrats are backed by dastardly corporate Republican types.

WHEREAS, the so-called “reform” initiatives of Students First, rely on destructive anti-educator policies that do nothing for students but blame educators and their unions for the ills of society, make testing the goal of education, shatter communities by closing their public schools, and see public schools as potential profit centers and children as measureable commodities; and

WHEREAS, the political action committee, entitled Democrats for Education Reform is funded by corporations, Republican operatives and wealthy individuals dedicated to privatization and anti-educator initiatives, and not grassroots democrats or classroom educators; and

WHEREAS, the billionaires funding Students First and Democrats for Education Reform are supporting candidates and local programs that would dismantle a free public education for every student in California and replace it with company run charter schools, non-credentialed teachers and unproven untested so-called “reforms”;

While not named in the resolution, two outspoken leaders of the reform movement – Michelle Rhee (StudentsFirst) and Gloria Romero (California director of Democrats for Education Reform) – were clearly targeted as heretics.

Rhee’s “sin” is that she actually puts the needs and interests of school children before adults. Romero, as a state senator, authored the nation’s first “Parent Trigger” law and is a strong proponent of school choice.

The right has always been fractured with various factions vying for power – traditional conservatives, neocons and libertarians have differences that are sometimes difficult to bridge. In a sense, that could be what we are seeing here on the other side of the aisle. These schismatic Democrats are bucking the “my union right or wrong” mentality and have managed to pick up quite a few adherents along the way. So, in a sense, Rhee, Romero et al are apostates who are being punished for successfully defying union orthodoxy.

I recently wrote about my participation on a panel with CTA president Dean Vogel (and Romero) in early March. At that event, sponsored by the Conservative Forum of Silicon Valley, Vogel was Mr. Congeniality and kept stressing the importance of “working together.” But while talking to the party faithful at the convention, a very strident Vogel spouted typical teacher union talking points and was unsparing in his attacks.

Referring to the two reform groups, he said,

Let’s be perfectly clear. These organizations are backed by moneyed interests, Republican operatives and out-of-state Wall Street billionaires dedicated to school privatization and trampling on teacher and worker rights.

..They’re hell-bent on turning students into test-taking machines. And I’ll tell you right now, [if] they want to do that, they have got to come through us.

StudentsFirst spokeswoman Jessica Ng was very measured in her reaction.

The heated rhetoric is especially disappointing because it reveals an abject refusal to tackle the most important issue, ensuring that every California student goes to a great school and has a great teacher.

But Romero, who is battle-scarred from years of fighting CTA in the state senate, was more pointed in her response. As reported by the Orange County Register,

I think it is political theater, demonstrating themselves to be the masters,” she said of the convention attacks on reformers. This is now Blue vs. Blue.

…He’s (Vogel) reaffirming: “We own you.”

 Why do we have to go through him (Vogel) when there are 120 legislators and a governor, all elected?

…Ms. Romero said that more and more Democrats are getting tired of “bowing down before the CTA, in homage.” Their constituents, especially Latinos whose kids are stuck in subpar schools, are clamoring for reform. True reform, she said, will come when moderate Democrats in the Legislature “are willing to stand up and tell both the party and the CTA that they’ve gone too far.”

While it is true that StudentsFirst and Democrats for Education Reform are funded by wealthy donors, there is no denying that CTA is also a very powerful “moneyed interest.” It is a private corporation that regularly takes in about $185 million a year, $647 from just about every public school teacher in the state. With a huge war chest, it controls the state assembly and, for its own selfish purposes, manages to kill every child-friendly reform measure that is proposed. And CTA does it all without paying one penny in corporate tax. Not for nothing has it been called The Worst Union in America. Its finger-pointing transcends hypocrisy.

Kudos to righteous Democratic reformers like Romero and Rhee for standing up to teacher union bosses and their handmaidens in Sacramento. Fighting those “moneyed interests” is a battle that good people of any and all political persuasions should support.

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.

Los Angeles Teachers Union: Who’s Running the Asylum?

A recent vote by the United Teachers of Los Angeles suggests that a radical faction is in charge, its president “leads from behind” and almost half its teachers don’t care.

At the beginning of April, the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) decided to put a hard-hitting initiative before its members.

…UTLA will begin a strategy of negotiations with the district on the collective bargaining agreement focusing on a set of issues that matter to teachers and communities, as opposed to the current strategy of opening negotiations around only one issue at a time. These demands should include:

  • Reduced class sizes
  • Full staffing of our schools
  • Restored funding of Adult and Early Childhood Education
  • Equity and access for all students
  • Safe and clean schools
  • Better pay for all school employees
  • Stop to excessive unnecessary student testing and VAM/AGT use
  • End reconstitution and school giveaways

Further, UTLA will allocate staff and other resources to organize this campaign. This could include steps like the creation of an organizing department and a research department. This reorganization will strengthen UTLA through member engagement and mobilization and will not negatively impact continued contract enforcement.

Finally, UTLA will plan a series of escalating actions, including preparing to strike if necessary, to fight for the demands of the campaign. The first action will take place before the end of the 2012-13 school year to protest issuance of layoff notices, further class size increases, and school destabilization.

To the union’s credit, it released “pro and con” statements on its website so that teachers could get a balanced view of the issues at hand.

At the same time, the union asked for a vote on the effectiveness of Los Angeles Unified School District superintendent John Deasy – except in this instance there was no “pro and con,” just pure, unadulterated vitriol. On the page announcing the vote, it posted:

Time and again, Superintendent Deasy makes decisions that short-change students for the benefit of his private agenda. That agenda is in lock-step with the national “corporate reform” movement (over-reliance on high-stakes tests, linking pay to unreliable test score formulations, blaming teacher seniority for management failures).

That’s why so many corporate reform billionaires across the country contributed to the recent School Board campaigns.

And then the union got really nasty. On a web page headed “‘Whoopsie Deasy’ Reasons to Vote NO!,”  it trashed Deasy and added crudely Photoshopped images of him for maximum effect. The union accused him of making more money than the governor. Okay, but so does the head of the California Teachers Association. The union accused him of putting out a “welcome mat” for the Parent Trigger – but so did UTLA president Warren Fletcher during the recent 24th Street School conversion. The union accused him of being “too cozy with billionaire outsiders who want to unfairly influence education policy in L.A” – but the union has no problem soliciting outside monies from state and national unions to support its agenda.

So where did Fletcher come down on the Deasy no-confidence vote? He declined to state!

Huh? After the UTLA website under his control skewered the superintendent, the union president is mum? That would be equivalent to the U.S. bombing a foreign country while the POTUS maintains neutrality. This raises disingenuous to a new level.

To be sure, the union’s rebellion didn’t start with Fletcher. It seems to have emanated from a radical UTLA faction called Professional Educators for Action (PEAC) – a bunch that would make Karl Marx and Bill Ayers proud. Its platform uses the term “social justice” (typically a code word for socialism) eight times. The group insists on “dramatic increases in funding to education” and favors progressive taxation, single payer healthcare, and free higher education for all.

PEAC’s hopes and dreams for a socialist future are spelled out quite clearly by Randy Childs, a teacher, union activist and proud member of the revolutionary International Socialist Organization. He is blunt in his criticisms, referring to Deasy as “underhanded” and suggesting that Fletcher is clueless.

There was a bit of pushback from Teachers for a New Unionism (TNU), a group dedicated to union reform. In LA School Report, teacher and TNU policy manager Mohammed Choudhury countered PEAC’s radicalism with more moderate ideas.

After teachers voted between April 2nd and 10th, the results were made public on April 11th.

DO YOU HAVE CONFIDENCE IN DEASY’S LEADERSHIP

YES              1,647        9%
 NO             16,040      91%

INITIATIVE FOR L.A. SCHOOLS

YES            13,242      77%
NO               3,905      23%

A couple of things to note:

  1. The teacher’s votes against Deasy are overwhelming, with over 9 in 10 giving him a no-confidence vote and over 3 in 4 insisting on more pushback to the district’s child-friendly reforms.
  2. Clearly the New Union crowd had very little or no effect on the results or the turnout, given that slightly more than half of the district’s 32,700 teachers voted.

Deasy sloughed off the vote and dismissed the referendum as nonsense, “even before learning of the results, saying he preferred to focus on helping students. The referendum has no binding effect on the district.”

As the union votes were being counted, Deasy received some good news – a strong vote of confidence from a consortium of civil rights groups collectively known as Communities for LA Student Success (CLASS). Barbara Jones in the LA Daily News writes,

The survey by CLASS – Communities for LA Student Success – was conducted in the wake of a divisive school board race that pitted the so-called reform movement against organized labor. It included a series of questions centered on some of the more controversial issues facing the district, such as transforming underperforming schools, evaluating teacher performance and increasing the number of charters and other nontraditional campuses.

… “Our goal is to figure out what the community wants,” Ryan Smith, the education policy director for the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, said during a press conference outside LAUSD headquarters. “By taking a poll of more than 100 community leaders and civil rights activists, we were able to see what their belief was for the priorities of the district.

“We’ve seen that many people are reaffirming many of the priorities the district has taken. And many of those priorities have been set by Superintendent John Deasy’s agenda.”

Where does all this leave Los Angeles?

It leaves America’s second biggest city with a teachers union driven by a powerful faction that has a radical agenda, a union president who seems to embrace the “lead from behind” strategy, a tenacious reform-minded superintendent who serves at the pleasure of a rather wobbly school board and a serious apathy problem affecting almost half its teachers.

School choice anyone?

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.

Leonie Haimson: Teacher Union Advocate

Is it okay for a “parent advocate” to send her kids to a private school while maintaining that your kids remain in a failing government run school?

Last week, via the blogosphere, we learned that education reform leader Michelle Rhee sends one of her two kids to a private school. One post asks the question, “Should we care?”

The answer is, “Of course not.”

Through StudentsFirst, Rhee champions the best education opportunities for all kids whether they be traditional public, charter or private schools. Additionally, she is in favor of vouchers or opportunity scholarships. As chancellor of Washington D.C. schools from 2007-2010, she sent her kids to a public school. But now one of her two daughters (both of whom live in Tennessee with her first husband) goes to a private school. Hence, she is not doing anything for her own kids that she wouldn’t advocate for any other parent.

Then we have “parent advocate” Leonie Haimson. As reported by the GothamSchools blog last week,

Leonie Haimson’s career as a New York City education activist started when her older child was assigned to a first-grade class with 28 other students. That was in 1996, and since then, Haimson has advocated for public school parents — through her organization, Class Size Matters; the blog and online mailing lists she runs; and the national parent group she helped launch.

But her personal stake changed last summer, when Haimson ceased to be a public school parent. Her younger child started at a private high school in September, following a trajectory from public to private school that her older child, now an adult, also took.

If it’s okay for activist Rhee to send one of her kids to a private school, why not activist Haimson? The answer is that Haimson, founder of Class Size Matters, who also fronts a faux parent advocacy group called Parents Across America, doesn’t want your kids to have the same opportunity that hers do. She is anti-charter, anti-voucher, anti-any choice and wants to force your kids to stay in public schools no matter how awful they may be. In other words, she is a hypocrite. As an editorial in the New York Post states,

Guess who sends her kids to private school when they reach high school age? That’s right: longtime public school parent-activist Leonie Haimson.

Fine by us. Like any parent, she’s entitled to do what’s best for her children — and private schools by and large provide more, and often better, choices for city kids.

But what about parents who want similar choices yet don’t have the resources? Increasingly, they turn to charter schools — public schools with more rigorous standards and non-union staffs.

… Haimson specifically cites her pet issue: smaller class sizes in private schools. (She runs the group Class Size Matters.) Yet, even though charters often have smaller classes, she continues to fight them.

Haimson is also against colocating charters in traditional public school space, despite the fact that charters don’t receive public funds to build or lease facilities.

What the Post editorial doesn’t mention is that Haimson is a member in good standing of the National Education Association Church, which is hardly surprising since she is in part bankrolled by the union. She consistently mouths teacher union dogma – bashing school choice, defending tenure and seniority, insisting that smaller classes are the sine qua non of reform – and even has gone so far as to defend the Chicago Teachers Union and its outrageous strike last September.

As Democrats for Education Reform president Joe Williams said,

She keeps choosing to defend the same awful schools she would never allow her kids to attend.

Not surprisingly, Diane Ravitch, who is on the Class Size Matters board and has been paid handsomely as an NEA spokesperson, rushed to defend Haimson with some incoherent comments:

You can see why powerful people would want to discredit her. She is a force, she has a large following, and she threatens them.

Consider the premise of the article: only public school parents may advocate for public schools.

This is classic corporate reform ideology. Corporate reformers use this specious ideology to argue for the parent trigger, claiming that the school belongs to the parents and they should be “empowered” to seize control and give it to a charter corporation.

Classic corporate reform ideology? Huh?!

Perhaps Dropout Nation’s RiShawn Biddle sums it up best,

… it is nice to see GothamSchools’ Geoff Decker do stellar work in breaking news yesterday on this contradiction between Haimson’s public criticism of expanding school choice and her very private decision to embrace it. And even nicer to see how her fellow traditionalists (including Ravitch) are attempting to justify her … instead of arguing for providing poor and minority families with the range of options to which Haimson (along with many of them) avails herself. This matter speaks louder than words to their amorality and intellectual charlatanism.

One other thing. Wondering about the name of Haimson’s organization Class Size Matters? In most cases it doesn’t.  But gross hypocrisy always does.

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.

Milwaukee: Happy Days, Schlitz, Harley-Davidson … and School Choice

Schlitz may be the beer that made Milwaukee famous, but recently the spotlight has been shining on the city’s school choice efforts.

Back in 1990, the Pleistocene Era of education reform, the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program became the nation’s first publicly funded school choice program for low-income children. Born of an interesting political marriage – Democratic state legislator Polly Williams and Republican Governor Tommy Thompson – the program started as a way to address the city’s troubled education system.

Now of course, when one refers to vouchers, school choice, opportunity scholarships or whatever name you want to give public-monies-going-to-educate-children-at-anything-but-a-government-run-school, all the usual suspects descend from the woodwork and trot out all the alleged horrors of school choice. The teachers unions most notably hate choice because some parents will actually choose to send their kids to a non-unionized school. The National Education Association never misses an opportunity to make ridiculous statements – which have little or no basis in fact – about the issue. For example, on its website it has “Five Talking Points on Vouchers,” all of which I debunked in a January post. Elsewhere on its website, the union makes what it claims is an educational case against vouchers:

See what research says about the relationship between vouchers and student achievement… Americans want consistent standards for students. Where vouchers are in place — Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Florida — a two-tiered system has been set up that holds students in public and private schools to different standards.

So the union wants us to look at facts? Researchers Patrick Wolf and John Witte do just that. Earlier this year, they wrote about students participating in Milwaukee’s voucher program stating that they

graduated from high school and both enrolled and persisted in four-year colleges at rates that were four to seven percentage points higher than a carefully matched set of students in Milwaukee Public Schools. Using the most conservative 4% voucher advantage from our study, that means that the 801 students in ninth grade in the voucher program in 2006 included 32 extra graduates who wouldn’t have completed high school and gone to college if they had instead been required to attend MPS.

In 2009, referring to researcher John Warren, Education Next’s Paul Peterson wrote that an estimated

82 percent of 9th grade students in voucher schools graduated from high school, while just 70 percent of 9th graders in the Milwaukee Public Schools did.

Both systems have seen a marked increase in high school graduation rates since 2005. For the Milwaukee Public Schools, the rate has moved steadily upward from 54% in 2005 to 57% the next year, then to 60%, then up, again,  to 65%, and, finally. to 70% in 2009, a healthy trend that that should be applauded.

So not only do vouchers help those who use them, but they also seem to positively affect those students who stay in their traditional public schools.

One private school that primarily serves low-income students through Milwaukee’s Parental Choice Program boasts a 100 percent college acceptance record.

Dante Hamilton will be one of 37 seniors graduating in June from HOPE Christian High School…

In most schools, a percentage of the graduates would be heading off to college, while many would have a different destination.

But Hamilton and all 36 of his classmates have been accepted to college. It’s the second year in a row that one hundred percent of HOPE Christian seniors gained college admission.

Many of the graduates will be the first in their families to graduate from high school and attend college.

When all else fails, NEA points to the bogus “fiscal burden” of vouchers, charging that they increase costs “by requiring taxpayers to fund two school systems, one public and one private.”

Again, wrong.

In Milwaukee, vouchers are saving the taxpayers money.

The per-pupil taxpayer cost of independent charters and the MPCP is substantially less than that of the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). In 2011-12, MPS per pupil taxpayer cost was $13,269, which is made up of state, local, and federal aid compared to $7,775 for independent charters and a maximum of $6,442 combined state and local aid for MPCP. The MPS per pupil taxpayer cost is calculated using information from the MPS budget. The MPCP per pupil funding is from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau Informational Paper on the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.

Never knowing when to quit, NEA recently posted an article about Barbara Miner, who just wrote a book about Milwaukee called Lessons from the Heartland: A Turbulent Half-Century of Public Education in an Iconic American City. Miner, who is mordantly attached to the status quo and quite enthusiastic about it, is associated with Rethinking Schools, an organization that believes real education reform will be led by the teachers unions. (No, this is not an early April Fool’s joke.) In 2011, this “social justice” outfit held a conference where its keynote speaker was unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers. (Here we see a photo of chums, Ayers and Miner, at the event.) NEA ends the article with a direct quote from Miner, who leaves no doubt about her values as she unloads on Wisconsin’s pro-choice governor Scott Walker.

We survived Joe McCarthy. We will survive Scott Walker.

Apparently, in Miner’s eyes, Walker is an evil demagogue because he championed the move to get the government out of the union-dues-collection business, and has the audacity to care more about kids and taxpayers than ensuring that big bucks flow to union coffers.

But despite Miner, Ayers, NEA et al, MPCP is prospering and the future for school choice in Milwaukee and the rest of the Badger State is bright. Two years ago, Marquette professor Alan Borsuk wrote “Milwaukee could become first American city to use universal vouchers for education.”

Prescient? Perhaps.

According to the results of a Marquette University poll, released on March 19th,

…51 percent of Wisconsin voters support a major expansion of the state’s private school choice program.

The Marquette poll reported that 37 percent of Wisconsin voters would support a statewide expansion of the program while another 14 percent would support its expansion to large school districts with some failing schools. In contrast, 14 percent of voters say they favor not expanding the program, while 28 percent would end it.

On, Wisconsin!

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.

Unanswered Questions

Thoughts on my recent encounter with the president of the California Teachers Association.

I was quite surprised when California Teachers Association president Dean Vogel agreed to join a panel that consisted of Gloria Romero, Terry Moe and me a couple of weeks ago at an event sponsored by The Conservative Forum of Silicon Valley. Gloria had many a battle with CTA when she was in the state senate from 2001-2010, and Terry recently finished his magnum opus, an extraordinarily detailed account of the machinations of the powerful teachers unions. As a former teacher and CTA member, I, as an apostate, have written frequently about these unions which I believe to be the biggest hindrance to reforming our troubled public education system.

Vogel is an amiable sort, unlike some of the other union leaders I have met – a ready smile and an easy manner disarms at first. But after carefully listening to his talk, I realized that – at least for the time he spoke – “there is no there there.” Platitudes piled on top of clichés lavished with gobs of bunkum.

We need to empower faculties…Parents should partner with teachers…We need more money in education…We are people of good will…We must work to find common ground…We must work together.

Zzzzzzzz.

Unfortunately, the event’s format didn’t allow for direct questioning of other panelists. A small sample of what I would have loved the opportunity to ask the union leader in front of the 230 or so people in attendance:

  1. If unions are as beneficial for teachers as you say, why do you need to force them to join?
  2. Why do you demand exclusivity in bargaining for such things as teachers’ salaries?
  3. Considering the union mantra that corporations should pay their “fair share,” why doesn’t CTA, a corporation, pay its “fair share?” In fact, CTA pays no share at all. Your union brings in about $185 million in dues yearly and doesn’t pay a penny in taxes.
  4. Teachers pay your forced dues via paycheck deduction, which means that taxpayers are footing the bill for this extremely convenient and efficient service. Why can’t the union collect its own dues?
  5. You claim that CTA membership is about two-thirds Democrat, yet none of your lavish political gifts goes to conservative candidates or causes. Since you insist on representing all teachers, why not respect your right-leaning members by using their dues to fund conservative efforts?
  6. Why do you continue to fight anti-pedophile legislation in CA? SB 1530 and now SB10 come to mind. Can you look a parent of a sexually abused child in the eye and explain to them why you are protecting the teacher who abused her?
  7. During the Q&A, you were asked how much of a teacher’s dues goes to politics. You said that $36 goes to an initiative fund and $8 goes to a candidates PAC. However, CTA’s own auditor says that about 28 percent of a teacher’s dues is spent on politicking. Your union alone takes $647 a year from each and every one of its members. (When you add state and local union dues, CA teachers pay over $1,000 a year on average.) That means CTA is admitting that it uses $181 from each teacher for political spending. Yet you say just $44; where does that missing $137 go?
  8. In light of what happened in Adelanto, can you understand why your calls for “working together” with parents ring hollow? The parents there played by the rules, legitimately followed the Parent Trigger law and obtained more than enough signatures to change the governance of their poorly performing Desert Trails Elementary School. CTA sent out a cadre of henchmen who attempted to scare the devil out of the parents who signed the petition. While I understand your dislike for the law because it limits some of your mighty power, why did you have to do what you did in such a sleazy and underhanded way? The judge hearing the case took little time before ruling in favor of the local parents over the union.

The bottom line here is that the teachers unions are all about maintaining their monopoly, and Vogel’s call for “working together” is ultimately vapid. As Terry Moe points out in his book Special Interest, teachers unions specialize in “blocking.” They “stifle true reform and…preserve an ill-constructed system that is simply not built to provide children with the best education possible.” He goes on to say that this is the “single most important thing that anyone needs to know about the politics of American education.”

Lest you think that there is a scintilla of truth to Vogel’s “we’re all on the same team” claim, it is dispelled quickly in the form of a noxious and offensive screed by Jeff Bryant that’s accessible on the CTA home page. “The Disempowerment Of Public School Parents” gets just about everything wrong. A few examples:

1. He uses a quote from Huffington Post writer Mary Bottari to explain where the parent trigger came from:

While parent trigger was first promoted by a small charter school operator in California, it was taken up and launched into hyperdrive by two controversial right-wing organizations: the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Heartland Institute.

Actually the Parent Trigger law was written by the aforementioned Democratic state senator Gloria Romero and came to life via Parent Revolution, an organization run by admitted progressive Ben Austin.

2. The only parents’ group he seems to have any patience for is Parents Across America which he refers to as a “grass roots advocacy group.” Crabgrass maybe. PAA receives funding from the National Education Association and shills for them every chance it gets.

3. On school choice, he is insufferable:

Further, more taxpayer dollars diverted to charter and private schools means less money for traditional local schools, which affects the options of the parents “left behind” in their community schools.

So he doesn’t like school choice because some will be left behind. I guess he doesn’t know that wherever vouchers have been instituted, public schools have improved. Yes, Virginia, competition works, even in school reform.

4. And regardless of the choice scheme, more well off parents will always have the means to game the system while less well off parents are left scrambling in the wake of a more competitive landscape.

The fact is that the wealthy have always had school choice, either by living in a tony, high-priced neighborhood with a good public school or sending their kids to a private school. School choice is really a vehicle for the “less well off” (i.e. lower and middle classes) to get a better education for their kids.

Ultimately the teachers unions are accurately portrayed by Bryant. Vogel may go out in public and present a warm and fuzzy persona, but in reality, CTA is not about “working together” but rather it is about protecting the job of every public school teacher (no matter how incompetent), acquiring large sums of money and power and killing any reasonable education reform that would diminish its influence.

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.

Outsiderophobia

A mental disorder has come to California, but for the afflicted — mostly teacher union types — it manifests itself in a partisan way.

Voters were not swayed by outsiders and their millions…The public wants Board members who will listen to the community—not be beholden to their billionaire benefactors.

So harrumphed an indignant and self-righteous Warren Fletcher, president of the United Teachers of Los Angeles. This was in response to the fact that New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg poured $1 million into the LA school board races which essentially pitted reform candidates against those supported by the teachers union. And Fletcher’s was hardly a lone voice.

On the Huffington Post, John Thompson, whose bio reads “Award-winning historian and inner-city teacher,” wrote a barely coherent, paranoid black ops rant claiming that some reformers’ theories “are so silly that many teachers worry that their real plan is to privatize schools.” He then goes on to say,

Anthony Cody, in “Yes, Virginia, There Really IS a Billionaires Boys Club,” wrote recently about the influx of cash being sent to Los Angeles by billionaires like Eli Broad and Mike Bloomberg. While it may be legal for billionaires “to, in effect, buy up local school board races,” Cody argues, it is inconsistent with the spirit of our democracy’s principles of public education.

For the uninitiated, Cody is a devout anti-reformer who has joined forces with the embarrassing teacher union BFF Diane Ravitch. Together they have just launched The Network for Public Education. Proudly touting the new organization, Cody wrote in Education Week,

We will support candidates willing to stand tall for our public schools. We will help them mobilize support on the ground to make sure that, as in Los Angeles, their message is not drowned out by TV ads bought by billionaires.

He then quoted a statement released at the organization’s launch,

We have had enough of school closures, and the rapid expansion of selective charter schools…High-stakes testing takes the joy out of learning. It crushes creativity and critical thinking, the very qualities our society needs most for success in the 21st century.

So testing, charter schools and billionaires – especially the outsider genus – are the problem, you see. And of course Ravitch, Cody and their ilk are against closing any public schools no matter how awful they are, no matter how empty they are because parents refuse to send their children there. How thoughtful and compassionate! (And talk about critical thinking, Cody and Ravitch may be critical, but come up way short on “thinking.” And as for “creativity,” they are of the Luddite variety.)

Ultimately, the real issue here is not the tired “anti-outsider” shtick, but that it is very selective in nature. The whine of every status quo-loving anti-reformer who rails against outsider money neglects the 400 lb. gorilla sitting at the head of the table – the teachers unions. To wit, the American Federation of Teachers, a D.C. based teachers union, gave $150,000 to one of the anti-reformers in the same election in Los Angeles that had Fletcher’s knickers in a twist. The same AFT gave over $4 million to the successful “Yes on Prop. 30” campaign, which raised taxes on all Californians. After Governor Scott Walker and the state legislature killed collective bargaining in Wisconsin, the D.C. based National Education Association sent its chief of staff, John Stocks, to the Badger State as a lobbyist. Both NEA and AFT insert themselves into state and local politics all over the country by throwing millions of dollars at candidates, initiatives and lobbying efforts that support their self-serving agenda whenever and wherever they can. But not a peep about this from Fletcher, Thompson, Cody or Ravitch. Outsiderophobia is indeed a partisan affliction.

With all the caterwauling about “outsiders,” finding a non-hysterical POV is difficult. But alas, in a Los Angeles Daily News op-ed, former LA school board members, Marlene Canter and Yolie Flores write,

When people with no vested, personal interest in the outcome try to help elect reform-minded candidates, they are branded as “outsiders” who are trying to “buy elections.” This is perplexing. These individuals have a longstanding interest in closing the opportunity gap for poor kids and kids of color, and improving educational achievement for all students.

Personally, they stand to gain exactly nothing if the candidates they are supporting get elected. They’re willing to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to improving education, and their participation is critical for leveling the playing field and keeping these school board races competitive. Yet, when “insiders” who do have a vested, personal interest in the outcome contribute significant funding, this is somehow seen as more acceptable. (Emphasis added.)

Let us address the most obvious issue in these elections: the teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles. Teachers have an absolute right to organize, to collectively bargain, and to make their case for who they believe the best candidate would be. However, they have historically often been the only voice determining who the best board member would be.

Precisely.

Mayor Bloomberg’s donation came from someone who has nothing personally to gain by the outcome of the school board election in LA. He gave the money because he is interested in furthering meaningful education reform. The teacher unions’ goal is to maintain the failing status quo, and child-centered education reforms are not a part of it. Despite the common sense shown by Canter and Flores, I’m afraid that selective outsiderophobia has taken root in California and will probably metastasize to the rest of the country.

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.

Big Education Jive Exposed

Good week for debunking teachers union hype, big government waste and mainstream media distortions.

The factually challenged Valerie Strauss unleashed a doozie in her Washington Post blog last week. As Alabama was passing tax credit legislation, Strauss, as she so often does, echoed the teachers union line, railing about the program being “welfare for the rich.” Truth is, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, these programs

… allow individuals and corporations to allocate a portion of their owed state taxes to private nonprofit school tuition organizations that issue scholarships to K-12 students. The scholarship allows a student to choose among a list of private schools, and sometimes public schools outside of the district, approved by the school tuition organization. The scholarship is used to pay tuition, fees, and other related expenses. As a result, the state does not have to appropriate per-pupil education funding for those students that receive scholarships.

So, the state actually saves money. And “welfare for the rich?” Hardly. Over at the Cato Institute, Jason Bedrick  points out,

The reality is almost exactly the opposite. Donors are not benefitting financially at the expense of the poor or anyone. And while it is true that tax-credit scholarships do not always cover the full cost of tuition at private schools, thanks to low-cost options and needs-based tuition breaks, low-income families are the primary beneficiaries of STC programs.

It is odd to claim that “wealthy businesses” are financially benefitting by receiving a tax credit for their donations. Even a 100% tax credit means that they are simply no worse off than before. A corporation with a $10,000 tax liability that made a $10,000 donation to a scholarship organization would then owe no state taxes but it would still have $10,000 less than it did before. Whether the $10,000 went to the government or a nonprofit is irrelevant to its bottom line.

Moreover, Strauss fails to mention that most state STC programs do not grant 100% credits. In fact, only four of the fourteen STC programs do. The other credits range from 50% to 90%. In these states, corporations would be better off financially if they merely paid their taxes.

Another non-story that garnered hysteria recently was the Metlife Survey of the American Teacher, which found that allegedly teachers are not the happy campers they used to be.

Teacher job satisfaction has plummeted to its lowest level in 25 years, from 62 percent in 2008 to 39 percent in 2012 – a total of 23 points, according to the annual Metlife Survey of the American Teacher, released today. Teachers reporting low levels of job satisfaction were more likely to be working in schools with shrinking budgets, few professional development opportunities, and little time allotted for teacher collaboration.

National Education Association president Dennis Van Roekel, who never misses an opportunity to campaign for more and more education spending, whined

This news is disappointing but sadly, there are no surprises in these survey results. Teacher job satisfaction will continue to free fall as long as school budgets are slashed…. Educators are doing everything they can to prepare their students to compete in the global economy, but the rug just keeps getting pulled out from under them.

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten chimed in with,

When teacher dissatisfaction is at a 25-year high, school leaders have to stop ignoring the red flags and start listening to and working with teachers to figure out what they and their students need to succeed.

Before going for the crying towel, be assured – as with so many agenda-driven “studies” – this one comes up far short. Andrew Rotherham deflates the whole mess very simply in Real Clear Politics,

…the much-touted data point about teacher satisfaction is, to put it politely, fundamentally flawed. Metlife asks about job satisfaction in different ways in different years. In 2008 and 2009 they asked teachers, “How satisfied would you say you are with teaching as a career?”

The survey didn’t ask about satisfaction in 2010, but in 2011 and 2012 teachers were asked, “How satisfied would you say you are with your job as a teacher in the public schools?”

Veteran pollster and polling expert Mark Blumenthal, who is now the polling editor for The Huffington Post, says they are different questions and that “presenting the two questions on a single trend line is questionable.”

He’s being polite, too. What Metlife did would be akin to asking a soldier on a tough deployment how he likes his job vs. asking him how he likes his career in the armed forces — and claiming that it was the same question.

“The apparently dramatic drop in ‘job satisfaction’ since 2009 could be an artifact of the change in wording, yet the authors of the report make no allowance for that possibility” says Blumenthal.

So Weingarten, Van Roekel, and a credulous education press (“U.S. teachers’ job satisfaction craters,” blared The Washington Post) were responding to a five-year “trend” based on two different questions.

To paraphrase Rahm Emanuel, the teacher union leaders never let a good crisis – even if it’s a fraudulent one – go to waste.

And speaking of “waste,” there is President Obama’s State of the Union address in which he became evangelical in his attempt to foist an expanded preschool program on the American people. Undeterred by the 48 year, $180 billion boondoggle also known as Head Start, using words that would make Van Roekel and Weingarten gush, he tried to sell the country his new plan which is based upon “successes” in Georgia and Oklahoma. Bursting that bubble, Reason Foundation’s Lisa Snell and Shikha Dalmia write in the Wall Street Journal.

Oklahoma implemented its program in 1998 and is the pet of universal preschool activists because it’s a red state that has diligently applied their playbook. It spends about $8,000 per preschooler, about the same as on K-12. Its teachers are credentialed, well-paid, abundant (one per 10 children) and use a professionally designed curriculum. Georgia expanded a pre-K program for high-risk children to all 4-year-olds in 1995.

Both programs are voluntary and involve the private sector. Oklahoma pays churches and other community providers for the children they enroll. Georgia effectively hands parents a $4,500 voucher for a qualified preschool. Both states have participation rates well above the 47% national preschool average, and Oklahoma’s 75% enrollment rate is the highest in the country.

Yet neither state program has demonstrated major social benefits. The first batch of children who attended preschool in Georgia, in 1995, are now turning 22, so Mr. Obama’s claim that they are better at “holding jobs” and “forming stable families” can’t be true.

But what about, say, teenage girls staying out of trouble? Teen birth rates have declined in the past 10 years in Georgia and Oklahoma (as they have nationwide), but both states remain far above the national average. In 2005, Georgia had the eighth-highest teen-birth rate and Oklahoma the seventh-highest, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Now Georgia has the 13th-highest, Oklahoma the fifth-highest. Many states without universal preschool have a far better record.

Spendthrift politicians and the teachers unions in concert with their mainstream media cronies are very good at selling lies and distortions in a pretty box with puppies-and-kittens wrapping paper. (It’s “for the children!”) It is important that the tax-weary public sees through the hype and refuses to buy the deception.

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.

UTLA ♥ Marxists

Los Angeles teachers union continues its tradition of  accommodating  and supporting political extremists.

 As a teacher and longtime member of the United Teachers of Los Angeles, I got sick and tired of the union taking my dues money and using it to support candidates and causes that I found offensive and resigned from the union in 2005. Shortly after, in the fall of 2006, there was a big dust up when UTLA President A.J. Duffy announced that he couldn’t stop a group of pro-Palestinian, anti-Semitic zealots – I mean the UTLA Human Rights Committee – from using the union offices for a meeting. Getting unexpected media attention, Mr. Duffy suddenly realized that he indeed could pull the plug on the UTLA housed meeting, which he eventually did.

The United Teachers of Los Angeles is just like many other teachers unions. By day, it does its best to protect every last member, no matter how incompetent they may be, or even criminal, as when they worked to kill SB 1530, to the detriment of the city’s 650,000 students. And then, after finishing its day job, it delves into the netherworld of left wing politics.

I first wrote about this in 2011 in a post called “The Intersection of U Street and Main Street Does Not Exist,” in which I delve into why the unions are falling out of favor with the general public. (According to a recent Education Next poll, only 22 percent of Americans think unions have a positive effect on schools.) I gave three examples to illustrate my point:

An example of the unions turn toward extremist politics took place last year in Los Angeles. Santee High School teacher and UTLA union rep Jose Lara took his students to Arizona on a “field trip” to protest Arizona’s new immigration law. In a YouTube video, Lara is seen standing in front of a wall-to-wall mural featuring a who’s who of murderous revolutionaries, including Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, while proudly displaying the motto Patria o Muerte, Venceremos!!! (Fatherland or Death, We Shall Overcome!!!). UTLA, while not a sponsor of the Memorial Day weekend trip, had no comment on Mr. Lara’s attempt to turn his students into an army of radical activists.

Sarah Knopp, also a LA high school teacher, union rep and member of the International Socialist Organization, is on record as a militant socialist who is not shy about pushing her collectivist credo onto her students. Additionally, Ms. Knopp has used UTLA offices to advocate for class warfare. After a trip to Wisconsin to protest the elimination of some collective bargaining rights for teachers, she proclaimed, “We cannot let public-sector workers and unions be scapegoats for an economic crisis caused by banks and billionaires!”

Ron Gochez, another radical teacher at Santee made an incendiary video in which he referred to Americans as “frail, racist, white people” and to California as “stolen, occupied Mexico.” This video produced calls from outraged citizens to the Los Angeles Unified School District, but they fell on deaf ears. After receiving many complaints, the district referred to the union contract and issued a statement which says, in effect, that Gochez committed no crime. So get over it. (More on Gochez shortly.)

Then just a few weeks ago, I reported that UTLA had endorsed Robert Skeels, who is running for a school board seat in Los Angeles District 2. Like Knopp, Skeels is a card-carrying member of the revolutionary International Socialist Organization. On his blog site, his bio in part reads

Robert is a committed member of both Coalition for Educational Justice and the International Socialist Organization. In addition to advancing working class struggles, Robert is an adherent of Liberation Theology.

The International Socialist Organization, according to its website, believes in

A world free of exploitation–socialism–is not only possible but worth fighting for. The ISO stands in the tradition of revolutionary socialists Karl Marx, V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky in the belief that workers themselves–the vast majority of the population–are the only force that can lead the fight to win a socialist society. Socialism can’t be brought about from above, but has to be won by workers themselves.

Standing in the tradition of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky? Why would UTLA be in favor of letting this man be in a position of power affecting the lives of hundreds of thousands of children? Perhaps a call to the union would shed some light.

You can also ask the union about the latest chapter in its love affair with Bolshevism, as evidenced by its embrace of Ron Gochez, the aforementioned racist, Jew-hating, Marxist teacher who is running for LA City Council. The previously referenced video, in which he refers to Americans as “frail, racist, white people” and to California as “stolen, occupied Mexico” was not a one-off but a variation on an ongoing theme. Here, from a few years back, is a typical statement from the man that UTLA would like to be one of a group that rules America’s second largest city.

“Either you are with us or against us” is what Bush tells us. Our civil rights are under attack by this fascist and Nazi-like Bush administration. All people of color have been/are victims of racial profiling at the hands of the border, police, military, Republican and Democratic pigs. The post Sept. 11 disappearances of our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters are proof of that. As Chicanos/Mexicanos living in occupied Mexico/Aztlan, we are treated like foreigners on our own land. Our civil rights are violated 24/7. Don’t believe me? Research Operation Gatekeeper and the 800 people who have been murdered under the rule of the “Republicrat” dictatorship. When we try to educate ourselves by passing out “Know Your Rights” fliers, we are beaten, arrested and made political prisoners like Ben Prado.

The Jewish-owned media continue to blind the masses with propaganda to keep them in fear. Because of that, foolish Americans are accepting B.S. like the Patriot Act which is turning the United States (if it is not already) into a military/police state and taking away our privacy. The FBI and CIA tap the phones and break into the homes of anyone who has a different viewpoint and assassinate those who pose a threat to their White Power and capitalistic agenda.

MEChA is completely against everything that Bush and his cronies stand for but we still deserve and demand that our people’s civil rights be respected!

–Ron Gochez
chairman, MEChA de SDSU

In defense of Gochez, coming down on “Republican and Democratic pigs,” would seem to make him an equal opportunity hater. And it’s not just ex-President George W. Bush that he loathes. Gochez is also affiliated with the African People’s Socialist Party which in the past has come up with such niceties as calling President Obama

…a “traitor,” a “motherf**ker,” and a “boot-licking ni**er” who needs someone to “whup his ass” (from video of 2009 and 2010 APSP/Black is Back rallies in Washington DC.)

In another video, we see Gochez and some cronies holding a Cuban flag with a picture of Che Guevara superimposed on it, taunting a group of Cubans who were holding a peaceful rally in Los Angeles. Apparently, Mr. Gochez took it personally that thousands of Cubans managed to escape from the island prison known as Cuba and refuse to venerate the monstrous Guevara, who, as Fidel Castro’s henchman, tortured and murdered thousands of innocent Cubans.

There is much more incriminating evidence on Gochez, but you get the idea. That he is being endorsed by UTLA, the second largest local teachers union in the country, is despicable. Its support of revolutionary, America-hating candidates should deeply trouble every dues paying teacher, not to mention the parents whose children are in the schools where people like Gochez are allowed to “teach.”

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

School Board Wars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

Wash, Rinse, Repeat

The National Education Association is relentless in pushing for “reforms,” all the while engaging in world class duplicity.

(While the themes I explore here have been covered before, they must be repeated because the National Education Association is dogged in its attempt to acquire even more power than it now has. It is incumbent that parents, taxpayers and all concerned citizens remain mindful of the fact that the largest union in the country is not content to sit back on its haunches. Its lust for money and power knows no bounds and must be exposed at every turn.)

On February 8th, NEA president Dennis Van Roekel wrote a letter to President Obama with some “suggestions” for the latter’s State of the Union address tonight. Most of it is fluffy, boilerplate bunkum, but beyond the banality are three suggestions for the president – and therein lies the treachery.

Van Roekel’s first suggestion: “Opportunity requires an economy that works for everyone.” He goes on to write,

In order for the economy to truly work for all Americans, we need to continue to pursue fiscal policies that promote fairness and prosperity (such as corporate tax reform that generates revenue), create jobs, make college affordable, and lift children out of poverty. It is entirely unacceptable that one of every five children we see in our classrooms lives in poverty. (Emphasis added.)

Corporate tax reform? He wants corporate tax reform? Let’s start with his corporation! While many American corporations are burdened with the highest tax rate in the world, labor unions get a pass. According to its latest tax filing in 2010, NEA brought in $376,500,485, but as a 501(c)(5), it paid not a penny in income tax. I think that before Van Roekel points fingers at Big Oil, Big Pharma and other “Bigs”, he should show us the way by having “Big Union” set aside its brazen hypocrisy and start paying its “fair share.” And it’s not just the NEA that is getting away with this tax dodge. The American Federation of Teachers, the other national teachers union, took in $176,265,529  in 2010. The state teachers unions are also in on this swindle. In 2010, the California Teachers Association reported $185,222,341 in tax-free total revenue.  So the two national unions and just one state’s combined take is $737,988,355 – an almost three quarters of a billion dollar wealth transfer from the taxpayer to the teacher – who never sees the money – to the union. And again, the unions don’t pay a penny in tax on their “profits.”

And regarding the “one in five children living in poverty” myth, can we give it a rest? As has been pointed out by many, most recently by the Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector, we have redefined poverty so far up as to make it a meaningless concept.

…poverty as the federal government defines it differs greatly from these images. Only 2 percent of the official poor are homeless. According to the government’s own data, the typical poor family lives in a house or apartment that’s not only in good repair but is larger than the homes of the average non-poor person in England, France or Germany.

The typical “poor” American experiences no material hardships, receives medical care whenever needed, has an ample diet and wasn’t hungry for even a single day the previous year. According to the US Department of Agriculture, the nutritional quality of the diets of poor children is identical to that of upper middle class kids.

In America, about 80 percent of poor families have air conditioning, nearly two-thirds have cable or satellite TV, half have a computer and a third have a wide-screen LCD or plasma TV.

Then, Van Roekel bangs the “public school” drum. “Opportunity begins in great public schools for every single student.” He claims that

…we have always believed that the gateway to opportunity for individuals and the cradle of innovation and ingenuity for our country begins in our public schools. We hope that you will pursue an aggressive agenda to remedy the extreme and pronounced inequities of opportunity that our public education system continues to perpetuate. (Emphasis added.)

What the union boss does not mention is that the inequities in our public education system are largely the doing of NEA and its state and local affiliates. Tenure, seniority, byzantine dismissal statutes, restrictive collective bargaining contracts, etc. have turned public education throughout much of the country into a jobs program that benefits adults at the expense of educating our children, and has resulted in parents all over the country clamoring for charter schools and vouchers. If Van Roekel was serious about inequities, he would favor having a free education market where schools would compete for students. But then again, that would threaten the $376,000,000 NEA bottom line, not to mention Van Roekel’s $620,250 dollar a year position. With those numbers staring at you, I guess it’s easy to understand why the unionistas find it easy to throw school kids under the bus.

His third point is another world class exercise in audacity. “Opportunity requires a democracy that protects every American’s voice and vote.” He elaborates,

Finally, the crisis of opportunity for Americans to participate in our democracy was on full display during the last election cycle. Reactionary state laws, unequal and unethical administration of voting procedures, and the unfettered access of corporations to influence electoral outcomes has severely damaged our democracy. (Emphasis added.)

Van Roekel actually has the unmitigated chutzpah to complain about corporations influencing elections. Is it possible that he is not aware that the two national teachers unions, NEA and AFT, spend more on politics than

AT&T, Goldman Sachs, Wal-Mart, Microsoft, General Electric, Chevron, Pfizer, Morgan Stanley, Lockheed Martin, FedEx, Boeing, Merrill Lynch, Exxon Mobil, Lehman Brothers, and the Walt Disney Corporation, combined.” 

It’s hard to know Van Roekel’s true state of mind when he makes these loopy pronouncements. He is either deluded or a liar. In either case, he must be busted every time he mouths off, and American families must become educated, get active and fight to undo the grave damage the implacable teachers unions have visited on our country.

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.

Letting Schools Compete: A Boon to the Economy

The National Education Association continues to throw out stale bromides in an attempt to salvage a failing and very costly education enterprise.

National School Choice Week has just ended and what a week it was! It spanned the country with 3,600 events in all 50 states and D.C., with proclamations and endorsements from 29 governors, 23 mayors and 12 state legislatures. Thousands of parents and kids attended events from coast to coast to promote school choice.

Even with many inroads, choice still has a long way to go. The war – and it is a war – is still in its early stages, and choice’s Enemy #1 is the National Education Association. In a typically contemptible post on its website last week, “Indiana governor promises more taxpayer-funded vouchers to unaccountable private schools,” the NEA attacked Indiana’s new governor Mike Pence because he promised his “anti-public education supporters” to:

expand the state’s school voucher program, draining money from underfunded public schools for private and religious schools that are not accountable to taxpayers and exempt from state and local education standards.

Private schools are not accountable? If private schools don’t do a good job, parents will go elsewhere. It’s the public schools that are frequently not accountable, which is exactly why parents should be able to choose to send their kids elsewhere.

Exempt from standards? In states where the NEA is dominant, state and local standards dictate that tenured teachers, no matter how incompetent, cannot lose their jobs. The only time one should hear “accountability” and “standards” in the same sentence as “NEA” should be in a comedy routine. But wait, it gets even goofier.

Said Teresa Meredith, elementary school educator and vice president of the Indiana State Teachers Association:

We haven’t even waited for data to be collected on the current voucher program, and they’re already talking about expanding it. Vouchers are continuing to cripple our public education system by draining funds away from programs and from schools for those who need it the most.

Someone from ISTA, the NEA affiliate in Indiana, is talking about “draining funds?!”  This is the same ISTA that was charged with securities fraud in 2009. Mike Antonucci wrote at the time,

The Indiana Securities Division filed a complaint against the Indiana State Teachers Association, alleging the union engaged in the sale of securities without license or registration, and unlawfully commingled funds from its insurance trust with other accounts, leading to the estimated loss of $23 million.

In a follow up piece in 2012, Antonucci quotes from an NEA financial statement,

“On March 31, 2010, NEA loaned the Indiana State Teachers Association (“ISTA”) $3,060,745. In August 2010, NEA increased the aforementioned note balance to $5,386,031.

“…During the fiscal year 2011, NEA provided $7,768,653 in additional support and monies to ISTA which increased the outstanding note balance to $13,154,684. As of August 31, 2011, NEA has recognized a $6,000,000 allowance for doubtful debt against this note.”

And these are the people who are lecturing us about “accountability?!” Oh, please.

As for the “draining money” part of their repertoire, enough already. If a child uses education funds to go to a private school, yes, there will be less money for the public school the child leaves. But at the same time there will be one less child for the school to educate. And what the NEA doesn’t tell you is that private schools do a better job for less money. Private schools, unlike the traditional public variety, don’t have bloated administrations and a gargantuan bureaucracy to feed and can fire bad teachers.

As Cato Institute’s Adam Schaeffer says,

What people don’t realize is that school choice saves huge amounts of money. They don’t know that they’re paying around $12,000 a year per student in California, $25,000 in Washington, D.C., or $20,000 in New York, $18,000 in New Jersey and $14,000 in Virginia. And the public certainly doesn’t know that the median full tuition paid at U.S. private schools is just $4,000. So how in the world could they guess that school choice actually saves money?

The Independent Institute’s Ben DeGrow reports,

Of the 12 programs studied, Aud found only Utah’s Carson Smith special-needs voucher program and the 200-year-old practice of “town tuitioning” in Maine and Vermont to be cost-neutral. The remaining programs have reaped savings of at least $1 million each.

The report identifies Pennsylvania’s scholarship tax credit program as generating the greatest savings: $144 million since its inception in 2001. Florida’s McKay Scholarships for disabled children have saved taxpayers $139 million in the program’s first seven years of operation.

And perhaps the most comprehensive report of all comes from the Friedman Foundation’s Benjamin Scafidi,

The United States’ average spending per student was $12,450 in 2008-09. I estimate that 36 percent of these costs can be considered fixed costs in the short run. The remaining 64 percent, or $7,967 per student, are found to be variable costs, or costs that change with student enrollment. The implication of this finding is that a school choice program where less than $7,967 per student is redirected from a child’s former public school to another school of his or her parents’ choosing would actually improve the fiscal health of the average public school district. And, it would provide more resources for students who remain in public schools.

Not only will choice save the taxpayers money, but according to researchers Patrick Wolf and Michael McShane, it will provide a great return on investment. In “School Choice Pays Off, Literally” they claim that

The District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) produced $2.62 in benefits for every dollar spent on it. In other words, the return on public investment for the private-school voucher program during its early years was 162 percent.

…Because a high-school diploma makes an individual less likely to commit crimes, it therefore decreases both the costs incurred by victims of crimes and those borne by the public in administering the justice system. Coupled with the increased tax revenue made on the increased income, this yields an extra benefit for society of over $87,000 per high-school graduate.

Multiplying the number of additional graduates by the value of a high-school diploma yields a total benefit of over $183 million. Over the time of our study, the OSP cost taxpayers $70 million, so dividing the benefits by the cost yields an overall benefit-to-cost ratio of 2.62, or $2.62 for every dollar that was spent.

And when you consider that D.C. Public Schools spend $27,263 per student – by far the highest in the country – and its test scores are by far the worst in the country, the savings become even more dramatic.

Whitney Neal, a mom and former eighth grade U.S. history teacher in Texas, is the director of federal and state campaigns at FreedomWorks. Perhaps she said it best in a recent piece written for Fox News.

School choice provides an opportunity for public schools to compete and improve – and for high-performing teachers to be recruited by top schools. More choice and competition in the educational marketplace fuels improvement and innovation across the board for students, teachers, and individual school districts.

I challenge parents, teachers, and activists around the country to come together in support of school choice. Get involved with National School Choice Week. Start attending school board meetings, run for open seats, and challenge your administrators where you see waste. Find out what options are available in your state and seek to attain or expand them. Work with state legislators to pass school choice legislation that best fits your community.

Remember that every victory, however small, is a step on the path to education freedom. Returning control of education dollars to parents and local communities gives parents (and ultimately the student) the power to shape their own family’s future. Together, we can work to create a system where schools compete for top teachers, the achievement gap disappears, and all children — no matter their economic situations– have access to a quality public education.

For the U.S. to once again have a world class education system – with the added bonus of a balanced budget – our citizenry has to get involved and demand that parents be given a choice as to where to school their kids. At the same time, the NEA, the greatest impediment to choice, must be exposed as the selfish, two-faced and reactionary organization that it is.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

School Choice for Kids? Ravitch and NEA Say No

Widely discredited ex-reformer and teachers union try to deny families a fundamental right.

Diane Ravitch has yet again exposed herself as an unserious spokesperson for the sclerotic anti-education reform movement. This crowd is made up of people – typically special interests – bureaucrats, teachers unions, etc. – who desperately cling to the ridiculous notion that children are best served if they are forced to go to the school nearest their home, no matter how lousy it may be. And Part 2 of this bad scenario is that the same folks insist that we throw endless piles of cash at that school even though tripling funds for education in the last 40 years has had no effect on improving it.

In a recent op-ed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Ravitch did her darndest to make the case for maintaining the top-down, one-size-fits-all, centrally planned, expensive, bureaucratically bloated, failing school system that so many families in Milwaukee seek to escape. She claims that,

Milwaukee has had voucher schools since 1990, longer than any school district in the nation. Students in the voucher schools perform no better than those in the public schools.

Milwaukee has had charter schools for about 20 years. Students in the charter schools do no better than those in the public schools.

Ravitch, of course, is famous for never letting facts get in the way of her agenda. In a rebuttal in the same newspaper, researchers Patrick Wolf and John Witte say,

…students participating in the Milwaukee Parental Choice (“voucher”) Program graduated from high school and both enrolled and persisted in four-year colleges at rates that were four to seven percentage points higher than a carefully matched set of students in Milwaukee Public Schools. Using the most conservative 4% voucher advantage from our study, that means that the 801 students in ninth grade in the voucher program in 2006 included 32 extra graduates who wouldn’t have completed high school and gone to college if they had instead been required to attend MPS.

While the charter school data isn’t quite as dramatic as the voucher figures, studies show that charters also do a better job of educating kids in Milwaukee. Very importantly, Wolf and Witte point out,

Average per-pupil taxpayer costs of students in MPS were $15,969 in fiscal year 2011 compared to just $9,718 for independent charter schools and less than $6,442 per voucher student. Economist Robert Costrell determined that the operation of the voucher program alone saved the public over $52 million in fiscal year 2011.

So even if Ravitch is right, that school choice in Milwaukee makes no difference academically, isn’t it preferable to get the same results while spending a whole lot less? Maybe one day Ravitch will take a stab at answering that question, but I’m not holding my breath.

The National Education Association also needs to be taken to the woodshed. Those oh-so-clever folks at union-central have a page on their website which they call “Five Talking Points on Vouchers.” It begins,

What have you got against private school vouchers?” your brother-in-law demands over Sunday dinner. Ah, if he only knew the facts. Next time someone puts you on the spot, use these talking points to debunk the most popular voucher claims.

The “facts” according to the NEA are:

NEA: There’s no link between vouchers and gains in student achievement.

Truth: Greg Forster at the Friedman Foundation examined all available empirical studies and found that,

Ten empirical studies have used random assignment, the gold standard of social science, to examine how vouchers affect participants. Nine studies find that vouchers improve student outcomes, six that all students benefit and three that some benefit and some are not affected. One study finds no visible impact. None of these studies finds a negative impact.

NEA: Claiming that private schools have autonomy, they say that, “Vouchers undermine accountability for public funds.”

Truth: What NEA doesn’t tell you is that in many places public schools have no accountability at all. If a public school fails, what happens? Typically the school doesn’t “go out of business” the way private schools do. Instead, reacting to heavy pressure from the teachers unions, state legislatures will keep the failing schools afloat and demand that taxpayers pony up more money because “we owe it to the children.”

NEA: Vouchers do not reduce public education costs.

Truth: This is an outrageous lie. As shown above, charters in Milwaukee do the job for 60 cents on the dollar and vouchers for about 40 cents on the dollar. Granted these numbers are specific to Milwaukee, but there is little difference on the national level.

NEA: Vouchers do not give parents real educational choice.

Truth:  They give everyone involved a choice. The claim here is that private schools “discriminate.” Okay, so what? If a certain school won’t accept little Johnny because he has an asthmatic condition that the school doesn’t have the medical wherewithal to deal with, a parent will have to go find a private school that is more suitable. Yes, in a free system of school choice, schools and parents can pick and choose each other without coercion.

NEA: The public disapproves of vouchers.

Truth: Because of intense propaganda by teachers unions and other special interests, the public has been skeptical of vouchers, but that is changing. According to the Center for Education Reform, there are now 21 states that have voucher programs. And very importantly, once a state institutes school choice, it doesn’t change back to a non-choice policy. (Choice does well elsewhere. France and Canada have partial choice set-ups, while 90 percent of Chilean students utilize such a system. And Sweden has free choice for every child in the country.) Additionally, researcher Herbert Walberg recently wrote,

In big cities, as many as 80 percent of public school parents say they would send their children to parochial or independent schools if they could afford tuition. Scholarships for poor families are heavily oversubscribed, as are charter schools, which are government-funded but run by private boards.

As we head into National School Choice Week, it is important to listen to the voices of those families who are desperately trying to get a better education for their children. And for Ravitch and her union buddies – history will relegate them to the dustbins they so richly deserve. It can’t happen too soon.

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.

National School Choice Week will be celebrated Jan. 27-Feb.2 this year.

Taking Care of Our Children

To have safer schools, where the interests and protection of children aren’t afterthoughts, we must demand more from the administrative-union-legislative unholy trinity.

In light of a second school shooting last week – this one in Taft, California – we have all the usual suspects pointing to their pet causes which they claim will prevent the next tragedy.

The need for stricter gun control, more intensive anti-bullying education, fewer violent video games and more psychologists in the schools will make the rounds just as they did after the horrific mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December. While these “fixes” sound good, there is no empirical evidence that any of them would have stopped the shooters from doing their dastardly deeds.

Interestingly, that which can be done to stop hateful people from harming our children, school officials are unwilling to do. A good case in point is Eileen Blagden’s story, which I first wrote about in July of 2012 and updated in City Journal last week.

Blagden’s story begins in 2008, when a teacher named Kevin Kirby was arrested for lewd and lascivious behavior and indecent exposure, but not at school. Nevertheless, Kirby’s arrest prompted his suspension from teaching at Leal Elementary School in the Southern California city of Cerritos. The following year, while awaiting trial, Kirby pleaded guilty to an unrelated trespassing charge. A jury ultimately found him not guilty on the sex-related charges, though he was required to “stay at least 100 yards away” from schools in Long Beach. In September 2009, the ABC Unified School District transferred Kirby to Blagden’s school—Stowers Elementary in Cerritos, where he was assigned as a kindergarten teacher.

Almost immediately, Blagden told me, Kirby began showing signs of irresponsibility and instability. He was absent frequently and would often fall asleep in class. Kirby’s fellow kindergarten teachers reportedly feared him, calling him a “ticking time bomb.” On January 26, 2010, Kirby had an accident on his motorcycle on his way to work. Despite being bloody and distraught, he refused medical assistance from paramedics and showed up at the school. Blagden had kept a wary eye on Kirby. With the accident, her concern grew into alarm, especially when Kirby began talking about suicide and killing Stowers’s other two kindergarten teachers.

Blagden went to her school district and local teachers union with this ominous story and was assured that they would handle it. However after no action whatsoever was taken by the bureaucrats, and worried about her teachers and students, Blagden broke protocol and went to the police. Her reward for doing the right thing was first getting demoted and then losing her job.

This administrative concern for image over children played itself out at Penn State where serial pedophile assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky damaged many young lives during a 14 year period. After this ugly series of events came to light, former FBI director Louis Freeh released a report which stated that these school leaders conspired

… to conceal child sexual abuse allegations against assistant coach Jerry Sandusky for more than a decade, choosing to preserve the university’s reputation over protecting the victims of a pedophile….

(They) showed “total disregard” for the abuse victims, concealed crucial information and failed at least twice to act on sexual assault accusations against one of their own because they feared the consequences of bad publicity on the university….

Not to be outdone, California legislators – cowed by their teacher union masters – showed they could be just as prone to turning a blind eye to evil as school administrators. After serial pedophile school teacher Mark Berndt got away with sexually abusing children for years, the Los Angeles Unified School District asked the state legislature to change existing law to speed up the process of removing such teachers. As I wrote in July,

State senator Alex Padilla, a Los Angeles Democrat and former L.A. city councilman, wrote Senate Bill 1530, which would streamline the labyrinthine “dismissal statutes” that require districts to navigate a seemingly endless maze of hearings and appeals. Padilla’s bill was actually quite narrow in scope, dealing only with credible claims that a teacher has abused a child with sex, drugs, or violence. Existing law lets local school boards immediately suspend a teacher under “specified conditions, including immoral conduct.” Padilla’s bill simply would add language allowing a school board to suspend an employee for “serious or egregious unprofessional conduct.” Garnering strong bipartisan support, Padilla’s bill sailed through the state senate in late May on a vote of 33 to 4.

The state assembly, however, is a stronghold for the California Teachers Association, which strongly opposes SB 1530. Before and during the hearings on Padilla’s legislation in the assembly education committee, union leaders and their confederates launched a propaganda effort against the bill, deploying all their standard talking points. The union maintained that SB 1530 was nothing more than a “teacher-bashing bill.” It was too cumbersome, too expensive, and would kill due-process rights. It was demoralizing and even “un-American.” Though these attacks were transparently unfair, legislators got the message. The bill needed six “yeas” from the 11-member committee to pass; it received only five, with two “nays” and four abstentions.

So while school administrators, union officials and state legislators bluster about the need for more anti-bullying programs, gun control, etc., it would behoove them to repudiate their perverse save-our-butts attitude which places image, teachers’ “rights” and protocol over the health and welfare of children.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

The Not So Merry Month of May

In California schools, the fifth month (formerly known as May) is now Labor History Month.

As Kevin Dayton pointed out in Union Watch last week, the entire month of May is now officially deemed Labor History Month in California. Courtesy of AB 2269, the state education code has been amended to read,

The month of May is hereby deemed to be Labor History Month throughout the public schools, and school districts are encouraged to commemorate this month with appropriate educational exercises that make pupils aware of the role the labor movement has played in shaping California and the United States.

Once upon a time, the private employee unions may have done some good things for their workers – they typically get credit for the 40 hour/ 5 day work week. But as John Stossel says,

Workers’ lives improved in America because of free enterprise, not because of union rules. Union contracts helped workers for a while, but then they hurt even union workers because the rigid rules prevent flexibility in response to new market conditions. They slow growth. And growth increasing productivity, which leads to higher wages and new opportunities is what is best for workers.

Whatever the truth is about the old days, let’s fast forward to the present and find out what the teachers unions – which own and operate the California legislature that gave birth to this law – have accomplished and what they have in mind to teach our kids. It probably won’t come as a shock that students will be getting a bowdlerized and glorified version of the union movement.

There are resources galore available for teachers to help them indoctrinate their students. Here are but a few:

  • California Federation of Teachers – many “children’s stories,” including one which features a mean farmer and the hens who organize against him.
  • California Teachers Association – which can be readily summed up, “Workers are poor; CEOs are rich.” In other words, class warfare 101.
  • University of California Miguel Contreras Labor Program – lots of fun stuff for the little ones, including material by noted Socialist Barbara Ehrenreich and songs by long time Communist Pete Seeger.

That the teachers unions are playing an important role in this brainwashing is particularly ironic given the damage they have done as part of the blob that runs education in the Golden State. They may be able to brag that they have gotten higher salaries and more perks for teachers, but I have a sneaking suspicion that they will not be posting labor history lessons with the following information:

Though they claim to be everyman, national teacher union bosses are really part of the reviled one percent. In 2011, the two national teacher union presidents made a bundle in total compensation:

  • Dennis Van Roekel, NEA: $460,060
  • Randi Weingarten, AFT: $493,859

The other union officers aren’t exactly scraping by either. Salaries for the elite at the National Education Association:

  • John Stocks, Executive Director: $379,260
  • Becky Pringle, Secretary-Treasurer: $332,539
  • Lily Eskelsen, Vice President: $332,390

Will the teachers unions tell the kids that in California, they have done everything within their abusive power to maintain the failing status quo by trying and mostly succeeding to kill every effort at education reform that would have benefited students?

Will they tell the kids that they regularly buy and sell school board members? And that if a prospective member doesn’t toe the party line, the union will support his/her opponent with vast sums of cash?

Will they tell the kids that they consider the California State Assembly “their house?” Most legislators there fall into line like obedient ducks as witnessed by the shameful death of SB 1530, which would have simplified the process to get rid of pedophile teachers.

Will they tell the kids that they insist on maintaining a seniority system whereby teachers-of-the-year are routinely laid off before a mediocre or worse teacher just because the former was hired the day after the latter?

Will they tell the kids that they fight to keep a tenure system in place whereby the most mediocre teacher essentially has a job for life after just two years in a classroom?

Will they tell the kids that they do their best to try to kill (mostly non-unionized) charter school growth every chance they get?

Will they tell the kids that in 2000, they spent millions to defeat Prop. 38 – a voucher bill that would have enabled some poor kids to escape their failing schools?

Will they tell the kids that this past fall, they lobbied for and succeeded in passing Prop. 30 – a ballot initiative that raised taxes on most Californians without getting any reform for their money? (Hence, the status quo is maintained with more than one in four students never graduating high school – and a majority of those who do graduate and go on to college are not prepared for it and need remediation.)

Will they tell the kids anything about the National Right to Work Foundation, an organization that fights for a worker’s right not to join a union?

The answer to every one of these questions is, of course, “No.” As such, I would encourage all parents to find out just what their school plans for Labor History Month. If it is planning lessons espousing only the unionista party line, I suggest keeping your kids home when these activities are planned and using that time to tell them the truth about what the teachers unions really stand for, and what their “accomplishments” over the past decades have wrought.

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.

Head Start or Dead End?

The only “lasting impact” of the Head Start program is on taxpayers’ wallets.

Those too-clever-for-words folks over at the Department of Health and Human Services have yet again tried to put one over on us. Using the oldest PR trick in the book, they released information to the media that they hoped no one would notice — on a Friday when people are too busy thinking about and planning their weekends. And because the report is very politically embarrassing, DHHS doubled down and went public on a Friday before a long holiday weekend.

So right before Christmas, on Friday, December 21st, we were hit with the results of the third and final phase of the federal government’s Head Start study. (Established by Lyndon Johnson in 1965, Head Start is the pet project of the early education crowd, which consists of spendaholic types aided, abetted and financed by the teachers unions, which love nothing more than expanding their roster of dues paying members. And President Obama is complicit member of this unholy alliance.)

The problem with the latest results is that they match those of the second phase of the study published in 2010, which revealed that basically Head Start has been a $180 billion (and counting) boondoggle. Lesli Maxwell in Education Week explains,

In the first phase of the evaluation, a group of children who entered Head Start at age 4 saw benefits from spending one year in the program, including learning vocabulary, letter-word recognition, spelling, color identification, and letter-naming, compared with children of the same age in a control group who didn’t attend Head Start. For children who entered Head Start at age 3, the gains were even greater, demonstrated by their language and literacy skills, as well their skills in learning math, prewriting, and perceptual motor skills.

The second phase of the study showed that those gains had faded considerably by the end of 1st grade, with Head Start children showing an edge only in learning vocabulary over their peers in the control group who had not participated in Head Start.

And now, in this final phase of the study, “there was little evidence of systematic differences in children’s elementary school experiences through 3rd grade, between children provided access to Head Start and their counterparts in the control group,” the researchers wrote in an executive summary. (Emphasis added.)

After the second phase results came out, Reason Foundation’s Lisa Snell blogged,

The just-released large-scale random assignment study of Head Start confirms once again that the $7 billion a year federal preschool program provides meager benefits to children at huge costs to taxpayers.

In other words, it’s a very expensive and wasteful federal babysitting program. The Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke elaborates:

… This federal evaluation, which effectively shows no lasting impact on children after first grade and no difference between those children who attended Head Start and those who did not, should call into question the merits of increasing funding for the program, which the Obama administration recently did as part of the so-called “stimulus” bill.

Snell continues,

In the past the Obama administration has been criticized for sitting on a study and releasing it on a Friday when it showed solid evidence that the DC Opportunity Scholarship program worked. The administration did not release a study that might have influenced policy decisions about reauthorizing and funding the DC school choice program. On the other hand, the Obama administration also sat on a study by the Department of Health and Human Services that showed meager impact for children in Head Start. The study was complete and the information was available, but the Obama Administration went ahead and significantly increased Head Start funding through the stimulus act to the tune of more than $2 billion. The hypocrisy cuts both ways. (Emphasis added.)

Snell also quotes Douglas Bresharov in the New York Times,

…to keep a child in Head Start full-time, year-round, costs about $22,600, as opposed to an average cost of $9,500 in a day care center.

In a rare moment of candor, the mainstream media joined the naysayers when in 2011, Time Magazine’s Joe Klein weighed in,

You take the million or so poorest 3- and 4-year-old children and give them a leg up on socialization and education by providing preschool for them; if it works, it saves money in the long run by producing fewer criminals and welfare recipients…it is now 45 years later. We spend more than $7 billion providing Head Start to nearly 1 million children each year. And finally there is indisputable evidence about the program’s effectiveness, provided by the Department of Health and Human Services: Head Start simply does not work.

Undaunted by a mountain of data, the National Education Association still proclaims its support for Head Start because

it maintains high quality classrooms and teachers, and effectively prepares our nation’s most at-risk children for school.

No better is the American Federation of Teachers. On their website, it crows that it

is gratified to see the Obama administration’s continued focus on the quality of early childhood education. As the president said during a recent visit to a Pennsylvania Head Start center, early education is “one of our best investments in America’s future.”

In any event, it is time to say no to the unions and any other special interests that only care about their selfish agendas. And for the rest the Head Start true believers, apparently all they have is evidence based on what Stanford’s Caroline Hoxby refers to as the “cardiac test.”

We just know in our heart that this is right.

Whatever their feelings may be, this shameful, wasteful spending must stop immediately.

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.

Unraveling What Happened in Michigan

Now that the dust has settled, there are still some loose ends that need to be addressed in the Wolverine State’s right-to-work battle.

Last Tuesday, Michigan became the nation’s 24th right-to-work state. Much has been written about this and yet there still is much misinformation in circulation – mostly being spread by the unions, of course. And President Obama, an outspoken union supporter, has uttered some mistruths (if unintentional) or lies (if they are not).

What does “right-to-work (RTW)” mean? It simply means that workers don’t have to pay dues to a union as a condition of employment. Many have publicly lamented that collective bargaining in Michigan is going to be imperiled. President Obama jumped on that bandwagon saying,

What we shouldn’t be doing is try to take away your rights to bargain for better wages and working conditions. We don’t want a race to the bottom. Right-to-work laws have nothing to do with economics and they have everything to do with politics. They mean you have the right to work for less money.

No, Mr. Obama, Michigan’s new law – for better or worse – will not affect any union’s right to collectively bargain.

Another erroneous assertion – a long time mantra for organized labor – is that workers who choose not to join unions in RTW states are “freeloaders” or “free riders.” As Heritage Foundation’s James Sherk points out,

Unions object that right-to-work is actually “right-to-freeload.” The AFL-CIO argues “unions are forced by law to protect all workers, even those who don’t contribute financially toward the expenses incurred by providing those protections.” They contend they should not have to represent workers who do not pay their “fair share.”

It is a compelling argument, but untrue. The National Labor Relations Act does not mandate unions exclusively represent all employees, but permits them to electively do so. (Emphasis added.) Under the Act, unions can also negotiate “members-only” contracts that only cover dues-paying members. They do not have to represent other employees.

The Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly on this point. As Justice William Brennan wrote in Retail Clerks v. Lion Dry Goods, the Act’s coverage “is not limited to labor organizations which are entitled to recognition as exclusive bargaining agents of employees … ‘Members only’ contracts have long been recognized.”

Even though, as Sherk says, unions don’t have to represent all employees, they do so voluntarily to eliminate any competition. So instead of “free rider,” a better term would be “forced rider.” Teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci explains,

The very first thing any new union wants is exclusivity. No other unions are allowed to negotiate on behalf of people in the bargaining unit. Unit members cannot hire their own agent, nor can they represent themselves. Making people pay for services they neither asked for nor want is a “privilege” we reserve for government, not for private organizations. Unions are freeloading on those additional dues.

…The “freeload” crack is especially ironic coming from MEA (Michigan Education Association), which ran an $11 million budget deficit in 2010-11 and is a cumulative $113 million in the red. In other words, the union has spent millions of dollars in dues it hasn’t collected yet, some of which will be paid by people who might not even be members yet. Who is freeloading?

In any event, it is undeniable that unions are taking it on the chin these days. In 2011, Wisconsin banned collective bargaining for some employees, and earlier this year Indiana became the 23rd RTW state. Michigan union leaders, well aware of the zeitgeist, tried to enshrine collective bargaining into the state constitution in November via Prop. 2. The amendment, however, was solidly defeated – 57 to 43 percent – even though the unions outspent the opposition by a 22:1 factor. (H/T John Seiler.)

What’s next for the unions in Michigan? Undoubtedly more thuggery and distortions, and then there is 2014. Last Tuesday, at a rally outside the building which houses Governor Rick Snyder’s office,

The main battle cry of the anti-right-to-work protesters…had a common theme: wait for 2014. Many of the GOP seats, including Snyder’s, will be up for grabs during the midterm elections. Rather than attempt to recall Republicans, as Wisconsin Democrats tried and failed to do to Gov. Scott Walker, the Michigan unions are set to mobilize behind Democrats and pro-union Republicans in two years.

But will the people of Michigan be taken in by the unions’ demagoguery? Organized labor is blaming their loss on everyone but themselves – the Koch Brothers, right wing legislators, the Tea Party et al. But as Kim Strassel in the Wall Street Journal points out,

The unions lost in Michigan—as they’ve lost elsewhere—because they and their White House compatriots have forced the issue, and in the process forced Americans to take a side. And what we’ve discovered is that when the choice is between more freedom for workers, more choice for parents and more tax dollars for vital services or, on the other side, more coercive powers for a special interest—well, that isn’t such a hard choice after all.

When all is said and done, it is instructive to examine why RTW is a good thing. First, despite Mr. Obama’s insistence to the contrary, RTW laws do indeed have a great deal to do with economics: they are beneficial.

According to the West Michigan Policy Forum, 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.

Other policies (such as no income tax) play a role in such migration, so economist Richard Vedder tried to sort out the variables. In the 2010 Cato Journal, he wrote that “without exception” he found “a statistically significant positive relationship” between right to work and net migration.

Mr. Vedder also found a 23% higher rate of per capita income growth in right-to-work states. An analysis by the Taxpayers Protection Alliance finds that Michigan is now the 35th state in overall prosperity measured by per capita income. Had Michigan adopted a right-to-work law in 1977, the group estimates, per capita income for a family of four would have been $13,556 higher by 2008. (Emphasis added.)

And secondly, RTW is a fairness issue for the worker.

… the best case for right to work is moral: the right of an individual to choose. Union chiefs want to coerce workers to join and pay dues that they then funnel to politicians who protect union power. Right to work breaks this cycle of government-aided monopoly union power for the larger economic good.

The question that unionistas can’t seem to come to grips with is this: if the unions are so beneficial, why must they force workers to sign on? The reality is that, given a choice, many workers will just say “no” and the unions will lose money and influence, their real raison d’être. And for the refuseniks, it is an uncoerced step on the road to freedom.

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.

Kudos to the California Federation of Teachers

Instead of the usual fake teacher union concerns about “the children,” CFT’s new straightforward video unequivocally touts class warfare and vilifies rich people.

The California Teachers Association has been in the news a lot lately. In the early fall, it successfully fought to get Prop. 30 passed and to kill Prop. 32. These victories came right after the union quashed a bill that would have made it a bit easier to get sexual predators out of the classroom by shortening the endless dismissal statutes. So what’s a little brother union have to do to get some attention?

Last week, the California Federation of Teachers answered that question with a vengeance by releasing an 8 minute video promoting propaganda that would have made the late Joe Stalin proud. “Tax the Rich: An Animated Fairy Tale” pushes class warfare to a loony extent, attempting to whip up hatred of workers who have been successful in life but “don’t pay their fair share of taxes. As Investors Business Daily described it,

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

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

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

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

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

The scene that received the most attention was of a rich man urinating on the “poor.” CFT pulled that scene shortly after posting, but it is captured in a screen shot here.

Condemnations of the video, which was proudly posted on the CTA Facebook page, came from many directions. While the outrage is justified, the fact that CFT would stoop so low should not be surprising. The teachers unions have been engaging in Soviet-style class warfare for years now – most recently when they joined forces with the “occupy crowd” and self-identified as part of the 99 percent – so consider me not even mildly shocked.

The danger of this kind of animated, childish video is that it appeals to children, and unfortunately to more than a few adults who tend to see things in a simple, child-like way. Should you choose to try to undo the damage that a video like this can do, please keep the following in mind:

First make sure that whomever you are speaking to knows what the word “hypocrisy” means. In a recent post, I noted that American Federation of Teachers (CFT parent org.) President Randi Weingarten – who claims she identifies with the “99 percenters” and unceasingly promotes class warfare – pulled in a cool $556,981 in total compensation over the past year. This of course puts her, alongside the relentlessly vilified Koch Brothers, firmly in the 1 percent camp. Dennis Van Roekel, President of the National Education Association (CTA parent org.), made $389,620 last year, after pulling in a hefty $543,868 the year before. (Perhaps their justification for such high salaries is that it is very hard work to fight reformers who are actually concerned about educating children.) And as you go down the line of the Politburo – I mean union officers – you will see that they too make a boatload of money.

One of the more idiotic assertions in the video – and there are so many – is that the government favors the rich at the expense of “ordinary people.” But via Kyle Olson, we get to see a New York Times list of the many ways that the “non-rich” benefited from President Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package:

– Help states prevent cuts to essential services like education – $53.6 billion

– Extend and increase unemployment compensation – $35.8 billion

– Health coverage under Cobra – $25.1 billion

– Increase food assistance – $20.9 billion

– Increase the maximum Pell Grant by $500 – $15.6 billion

– Provide cash payment to seniors, disabled veterans and other needy individuals – $14.4 billion

– Provide additional money to schools serving low-income children – $13 billion

– Provide additional money for special education – $12.2 billion

– Create new bonds for improvements in public education – $10.9 billion

Then for world class hypocrisy there’s this: According its latest available income tax forms, CTA and CFT collectively take in over $200 million a year. But as 501(c)(5)s, the unions have a special tax exempt status with the IRS that is accorded to “Labor, Agricultural, and Horticultural Organizations.” Hence, the teachers unions are corporations that pay no money in federal or state taxes.

But there is a bigger picture here, and it is bloated with cant. First, CTA manages to siphon off $647 a year (CFT grabs “only” $419) from every teacher in the state in forced union dues. Then it turns around and spends much of those dues on politicking; CTA alone spent over $211 million on politicking from 2000-2009 – frequently on issues that have nothing to do with teachers or kids – and supporting causes that are contrary to the positions of many of its members. Then the union elites have the audacity to go on offense and whine about millionaires and billionaires “not paying their fair share of taxes” when they don’t pay a penny, and all the while funding politicians who ensure that CTA’s and CFT’s pilfer-and-spend scheme rolls on undisturbed.

But CTA and other teachers unions can snooker people only for so long. Far from being a part of the 99%, they are big special interest businesses – spending millions to maintain their monopoly over American education, while not paying a penny in taxes. As Troy Senik wrote last year in Public Sector Inc., “The CTA is the one percent.” And poll after poll has shown that the general public is starting to catch on. But realistically, what can be done? For starters, it would behoove every parent to ask the teachers of their children what their take on this video is. The time has come for parents to find out about the people they entrust their children with for 6 or 7 hours a day.

And teachers – you are subsidizing this very dishonest, deceitful and downright hateful video. Do you really want your dues money going to entities that make and promote efforts like this? If you don’t want to be associated with this unsavory crowd, you just might want to consider resigning and stop lining the unions’ pockets. The world won’t come to an end and you will sleep a lot better at night knowing that you are not associated with such tasteless and hypocritical demagogues.

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.

Better Than What We Have Today?

A reportedly “historic” teacher evaluation deal between Los Angeles Unified and the teachers union would solidify the dismal status quo.

A substantive settlement in the Doe vs. Deasy lawsuit would drag the Los Angeles Unified School District into the 21st Century. In November of 2011, I wrote

…a half-dozen anonymous families working with EdVoice, a reform advocacy group in Sacramento, filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court against the LAUSD, district superintendent John Deasy, and United Teachers Los Angeles. The lawsuit in essence accuses the district and the union of a gross dereliction of duty. According to the parents’ complaint, the district and the union have violated the children’s “fundamental right to basic educational equality and opportunity” by failing to comply with a section of the California Education Code known as the Stull Act. Under the 1971 law, a school district must include student achievement as part of a teacher’s evaluation. Los Angeles Unified has never done so: the teachers union wouldn’t allow it.

In 1999, the state legislature amended the law, named after the late Republican state senator John Stull, to require that “the governing board of each school district shall evaluate and assess certificated employee performance as it reasonably relates to: the progress of pupils toward the standards established pursuant to subdivision (a) and, if applicable, the state adopted academic content standards as measured by state adopted criterion referenced assessments.” In plainer words, a teacher’s evaluation must be based at least in part on how well her students perform on state tests.

In June, a judge ruling in favor of the plaintiffs said that student performance must be used as part of a teacher’s evaluation. Then this past Friday, after months of negotiation, the school district and union did reach what is being called a tentative settlement. (The final details of the agreement must be submitted to the judge by end of business day today.) That’s the good news. The bad news is that the terms of the agreement (as written so far) are so vague as to be meaningless. The United Teachers of Los Angeles immediately posted a summary of key elements on its website. The first part says,

No individual AGT/VAM in final evaluation: As specified in this agreement, a teacher’s individual AGT results cannot be used to form the basis for any performance objective or be used in the final evaluation (SECTION 1.3E).

This means that “academic growth over time (AGT)” or “value added measurements (VAM)”   which assess the value or improvement that a teacher adds to a student’s knowledge base via a standardized test score during the time that the student is in the teacher’s classroom – cannot be used. The district had wanted to use AGT as 30 percent of the total assessment, but the union collectively bargained that reasonable number down to zero. Instead,

The teacher and administrator will determine data sources: The multiple measures of student progress for the initial planning sheets will be determined by the administrator and the employee. These measures may include:

• data such as a teacher’s past CST results (not AGT), current students’ previous CST results, and school-level CST/AGT data, and

• authentic evidence of student learning, such as teacher-created assessments, student projects and portfolios, semester/unit culminating activities, and periodic assessments (SECTION 1.3A-G).

None of these measures are to be treated as the “sole, primary or controlling” factors in determining the overall final evaluation (SECTION 2.0A).

In other words, it’s business as usual. There is way too much wiggle room here. This ruling was supposed to bring forth a more objective way to assess teachers and add an accountability factor. But with this settlement, incompetent teachers and unaccountable principals can survive lengthy careers and irreparably damage millions of children. Curiously, absent a savvy principal, an excellent teacher can be made to appear to be mediocre. It cannot be stressed enough that principals in Los Angeles, though technically at-will employees, live in the same “culture of non-accountability” as teachers, and if this agreement is accepted as is, these administrators will have a bigger and more important role in assessing teacher quality. As Stanford Professor Eric Hanushek points out, principals can make a huge difference in a school’s performance. Yet they have not been held to any real liability. So we will now have evaluation methods “determined by the administrator and the employee” with neither party being held accountable for student learning.

Also, it’s no secret that the process to fire an incompetent teacher is so expensive and time-consuming that few principals even make the effort. This issue must be directly addressed as part of this agreement or school kids in Los Angeles will continue to be victimized by the current dysfunctional system.

Amazingly, the powers that be are gushing over the preliminary agreement. Superintendent John Deasy went so far as to declare the new plan “historic.” LAUSD school board President Monica Garcia damned the deal with faint praise, saying it is “absolutely, by all accounts, better than what we have today.”

The agreement is not written in stone yet. After receiving some final add-ons, the judge will assess whether it fulfills all the legal requirements of the Stull Act. If it passes that hurdle, the UTLA rank-and-file gets to vote on it in January.

Additionally, while the agreement applies to LA only, the rest of the school districts and local unions in the state will be watching. They too will have to follow the law and implement some kind of evaluation plan, and very well may use this deal as a template. Unless new details emerge or the judge tosses this version into the round file, the teachers union gets the last laugh and the children yet again get the shaft.

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.