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Union, Inc.

NEA’s and Hillary’s Bully Folly

The World’s Largest Oligarchical Organization

The WikiLeaks document dump exposes NEA’s manipulation of its purported democratic process.

The WikiLeaks email release, unmasking the Hillary Clinton campaign, has become a daily ritual. A treasure trove of communiqués has exposed Hillary to be just about everything that the right (and even many on the left) has said she is. The emails from hatchet man John Podesta, who goes by the title “campaign chairman,” uncover the double dealing and lies orchestrated by the Clinton camp. (Memo to Podesta: Was referring to Bernie Sanders as a “doofus” for his extremist position on climate change really necessary? Sheesh!! But kudos for not following up on the DNC suggestion to smear Sanders’ Jewish background. Too bad you and your cronies chose to slime Catholics, though. )

Lost in the daily email disclosures have been revelations that the National Education Association manipulated the endorsement process to ensure that Hillary was the union’s candidate of choice for president. As reported by Mike Antonucci, on June 13, 2015, four days after Clinton announced her candidacy, her director of labor outreach, Nikki Budzinski, sent a memo to other campaign officials discussing possible strategies for the upcoming NEA Representative Assembly (RA), set for the following month in Florida.

“They are sincerely doing their best to manage the activists at the RA. It only takes 50 signatures to raise a resolution on the floor and I have been warned about a Northeastern Sanders contingent. I think it would be good to be organized on our own behalf with a few key folks in the room (NH and IA leaders) in case anything comes up. I am a little nervous about this event. That said, their steps are moving toward a (sic) October 2nd/3rd endorsement all going to plan.”

NEA had not taken any formal steps to determine who its rank-and-file actually preferred for the Democratic nomination, but it’s no secret that there were many in the union who favored Sanders over Clinton, citing the socialist’s “opposition to charter schools, support for collective bargaining rights and free tuition at public higher education institutions.”

Then on June 19th, Budzinski warned colleagues of an impending endorsement of Bernie Sanders by NEA’s Vermont affiliate. That set off alarm bells and the manipulation machine was set in motion, which Antonucci meticulously details here.

Three months later, on Sept. 29th, an email sent by Podesta to Clinton explained that “despite the intense work” of NEA President Lily Eskelsen García and Executive Director John Stocks, there was no certainty that Clinton would receive enough votes from the union’s board necessary for the endorsement. As reported by Politico, Clinton met with them behind closed doors on Oct. 1st, a meeting coordinated by Podesta and Stocks that was deemed “critical” for the endorsement. The NEA also had a safety net in place that weekend: “They will not call the vote unless they are certain that they will hit the threshold,” Podesta wrote.

And later that same day, the announcement was made that Clinton was anointed, garnering 82 percent of the vote. In response, NEA president Eskelsen García continued the dog-and-pony show gushing, “It was truly what democracy looks like.

In Chicago, maybe.

Clearly complaints by Sanders and his followers in the union that he was being treated unfairly were justified. Ironically, NEA still refers to its legislative and policymaking body as “The World’s Largest Democratic Deliberative Assembly.”

Any teacher who is troubled by the NEA’s politics and/or its backroom dealing has virtually no options. It’s true that in non-right-to-work states, teachers can refuse to pay for union politicking but they must still fork over about two-thirds a full dues share to the union.

Can teachers join a different union? No. Throughout virtually the entire country, they are stuck with the monopoly bargaining unit that they had no role in electing.

Can you imagine being forced to use the same legal firm that your grandmother did? Nuts, right? But not in Big Labor Land. Most teachers unions were certified 30-50 years ago. As The Heritage Foundation’s labor economics expert James Sherk points out, just 1 percent of current teachers in the largest school districts in Florida were on the job in 1975 when the first and only union election process took place. The other states that Sherk studied have similar statistics.

Union democracy? Oxymoron.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

Clinton Turns Her Back on School Choice While Trump Embraces It 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

The Myth of the Underpaid Teacher Lives On

 Yet another “study” showing how poorly teachers are paid has surfaced.

Well, it’s a new school year and there is much tumult in the world of public education. Common Core battles, testing opt-outs, and litigation about school choice and teacher work rules dot the landscape. But with all the uncertainty, it’s comforting to know that there is one thing we can count on in late summer: a new bogus study showing that public school teachers are woefully underpaid.

This year’s entry doesn’t disappoint. “The teacher pay gap is wider than ever,” subtitled “Teachers’ pay continues to fall further behind pay of comparable workers” is a 29-page report released by the Economic Policy Institute, whose mission is “to inform and empower individuals to seek solutions that ensure broadly shared prosperity and opportunity.” If this were an honest statement, the word “opportunity” would be followed by “as long as the solutions are in sync with the union party line.” You see, EPI is nothing more than a union front group whose board includes a rogue’s gallery of Big Labor honchos: AFL-CIO’s Richard Trumka, SEIU’s Mary Kay Henry, American Federation of Teachers’ Randi Weingarten, National Education Association’s Lily Eskelsen-García, et al.

And not only do the teachers unions have strong board representation, they donate heavily to EPI. According to the latest labor department reports, 2015 saw NEA present a $250,000 gift to EPI, only to be outdone by the smaller AFT, which kicked in $300,000 to the organization.

The study itself is just what you would expect: loads of numbers that are supposed to make people think that teachers are essentially little more than impoverished serfs, valiantly slaving away for pennies. Among the report’s claims:

  • Teachers’ weekly wages are 23 percent lower than those of other college graduates.
  • For public-sector teachers, the relative wage gap (regression adjusted for education, experience, and other factors) has grown substantially since the mid-1990s: It was ‑8 percent in 1994 and grew to a record ‑17.0 percent in 2015.
  • Regardless of experience, teacher wage gap expanded for female teachers.

Needless to say, the unions solemnly wrote about the report as if it were “news,” with NEA blogger Tim Walker suggesting that all teachers get a raise. And as day follows night, the media jumped on board. The relentless and reliably-unreliable Washington Post education blogger Valerie Strauss dutifully posted the whole report with the title, “Think teachers aren’t paid enough? It’s worse than you think.The Fiscal Times sounded alarm bells with “Teacher Pay Hits Record—but Not a Good One.”

But like most similar studies, EPI’s doesn’t do an apples-to-apples comparison. It omits a few things like the simple fact that teachers work 6-7 hour days and 180 days a year, whereas the study’s “comparable workers” put in an 8-9 hour a day and work 240-250 days a year. (Yes, yes, I know teachers take work home, but so do many other professionals who don’t get summers off.) Also, unlike private-sector workers, most teachers have extensive health benefits for which they typically pay very little, if anything. Furthermore, as University of Missouri professor Michael Podgursky points out, the pension benefits for teachers, which they only pay a tiny portion of – the taxpayer getting hosed for the rest – add greatly to a teacher’s total compensation. (The EPI report actually alludes to this, but buries it on page 14; more on this in a bit.)

Perhaps the most honest and well-researched study done on teacher pay, including the time-on-the-job and benefits factors, was done in 2011 by Andrew Biggs, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and Jason Richwine, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation. In their report, they destroy the teacher union-perpetuated myth of the under-compensated teacher. Their study, in fact, found that teachers are actually paid more than private-sector workers.

They make the case that workers who switch from non-teaching jobs to teaching jobs “receive a wage increase of roughly 9 percent, while teachers who change to non-teaching jobs see their wages decrease by approximately 3 percent.” Additionally, when retiree health coverage for teachers is included, “it is worth roughly an additional 10 percent of wages, whereas private-sector employees often do not receive this benefit at all.”

Biggs and Richwine conclude that after taking everything into account, “teachers actually receive salary and benefits that are 52 percent greater than fair market levels, equivalent to more than $120 billion overcharged to taxpayers each year.”

Back to the EPI study. On page 14 of the report, it acknowledges,

Our analysis of relative teacher pay thus far has focused entirely on the wages of teachers compared to other workers. Yet benefits such as pensions and health insurance are an increasingly important component of the total compensation package. Teachers do enjoy more attractive benefit packages than other professionals; thus, our measure of relative teacher wages overstates the teacher disadvantage in total compensation. The different natures of wages and benefits should be kept in mind, as it is only wages that may be spent or saved. Thus, the growing wage penalty is always of importance.

So in essence, the authors of the study come clean in this paragraph and admit that their stress on wages alone overstates the real disparity in pay. The “spent or saved” comment is especially ridiculous. Pension earnings are indeed “saved” for the future. Whatever. It’s obvious that this report is meant to tug at the heartstrings, build righteous indignation and provide local teachers unions with ammo for collective bargaining battles with school boards.

For an honest assessment of teacher pay, stick with the Biggs-Richwine study. But if one is looking for skewed and incomplete data as fodder for a splashy headline or an emotional plea, the dishonest and self-serving union-sponsored EPI report fills the bill beautifully.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

Biden, Bork, García and Weingarten

Positioning themselves as strict Constitutionalists, teacher union leaders cry foul over a precedent that the unions helped create.

In the wake of Antonin Scalia’s untimely passing, two national teacher union leaders are in a self-righteous snit because the Republican-led Senate is remaining firm in its conviction to hold off consideration of a new Supreme Court nominee until President Obama’s successor takes office. National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen García pontificated, “… some senators are speaking and acting as if their oaths and the Constitution are only suggestions and not promises that they make – and attest they will keep – to voters. How else can we explain the downright refusal of some Senate Republicans to do their jobs when it comes to filling the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court?”

Not to be outdone, American Federation of Teachers leader Randi Weingarten harrumphed, “As we teach high school government students, the Constitution is crystal clear about what to do when there’s a Supreme Court vacancy: The president of the United States nominates a candidate for the bench, and the Senate provides advice and consent.” She then informs us, “The Constitution does not say the president shall nominate a justice—unless it is the fourth year of his term.”

Weingarten finishes with a flourish, “For the last seven years, Senate Republicans have attempted to block President Obama at every turn, with no regard for the damage they inflicted on American families. Their stubborn refusal to consider a nominee puts politics over responsibility and, in so doing, dishonors our Constitution….”

As the union leaders rant about the Constitution, their knowledge of recent history comes up short. First of all, as genuine Constitutional scholar Ilya Shapiro points out, no Justice has been nominated and confirmed during a presidential-election year since before World War Two. He reminds us that Justice Kennedy was confirmed in 1988, “but (a) he was nominated in the year before and (b) this was President Reagan’s third attempt to fill a vacancy that originated in July 1987.” Shapiro adds that “while some may argue that it’s somehow ‘illegitimate’ or even unconstitutional for the Senate not to provide its ‘advice and consent’ as specified under Article II, Section 2, there’s simply no basis to conclude that this provision constitutes an obligation to act on presidential nominations.”

Additionally, the modern politicization of SCOTUS was not a plot hatched by evil Republicans. In fact, it all began when Ronald Reagan nominated Robert Bork to fill a seat vacated by retiring Justice Lewis Powell in 1987. All hell broke loose in the Senate as Bork, a strict Constitutionalist, was viciously excoriated by Democratic Senators Ted Kennedy, Joe Biden and others. The vilification was a nonstop assault with every liberal group imaginable, including the NEA, piling on. At the yearly NEA convention in 1987, a teacher solemnly claimed that Bork is a “compulsory pregnancy man” and is “too conservative on race, women’s rights and reproductive freedom.” The 8,000 NEA delegates meeting in Los Angeles then voted overwhelmingly to oppose him.

With every liberal group in the country clamoring for Bork’s head, his nomination was defeated with Joe Biden, then head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, leading the way. In fact, when George H.W. Bush was running for reelection in 1992, Biden asserted, “It would be our pragmatic conclusion that once the political season is underway — and it is — action on a Supreme Court nomination must be put off until after the election campaign is over. That is what is fair to the nominee and essential to the process.” (Emphasis added.) There was no union pushback.

In case there was any doubt about the Democrats obeisance to the “Biden Rule,” Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer reaffirmed it in July, 2007, insisting that no George W. Bush nominee to the Supreme Court should be approved, “except in extraordinary circumstances, 19 months before a new president was set to be inaugurated.” (Emphasis added.) Again, the unions were silent.

But now, after 30 years of massive politicization of SCOTUS, courtesy of Democrats with NEA’s blessing, the “Biden Rule” has been invoked by Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell in the wake of Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Court by President Obama, and two teacher union leaders are demanding that we need to depoliticize the process! They were perfectly comfy with the rule, of course, when it worked for them. But now that the other side is invoking it, they want to kill it. (File this in the already bloated “Teacher Union Hypocrisy” folder.)

And why are the unions so interested in getting Obama’s allegedly moderate pick, Merrick Garland, on the Court? Because, as Bill McMorris writes, he has a history of showing deference to federal labor regulators in reviewing unfair labor practice charges against employers. “An analysis conducted by OnLabor found that Garland ruled in favor of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), a top federal labor arbiter, in 18 of 22 appeals that appeared before his court. Garland granted the agency leeway in interpreting its regulatory approach and interpretation of its mission.”

And of course a labor-friendly judge is just what the doctor ordered for NEA and AFT. In all likelihood, he’d become the fifth “no” vote in the Friedrichs case, thus leaving the Abood decision in place, forcing teachers and other public employees in half the country to continue to pay dues to a union as a condition of employment.

As is quite apparent, the teacher union leaders really don’t give a flip about the Constitution. What they do care about is preserving their inordinate power and their prodigious gravy train. Thankfully, the Republicans are holding tight and have turned a deaf ear to this latest occurrence of union deceitfulness.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

Testing Matters

Led by the teachers unions, the push against standardized testing punishes kids.

With bipartisan support in Congress and President Obama’s blessing, the son of No Child Left behind, dubbed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), has become the law of the land. While many on the right favor the law because it returns some power to the states, teacher union honchos are ecstatic, but for a very different reason. National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen García writes, “When I count my blessings as 2015 ends, the ESSA will go straight to the top of my list.” Randi Weingarten, who leads the American Federation of Teachers, is also quite pleased with the updated law, saying. “There is a lot to like.” She then explains, “The biggest change is that high-stakes testing will no longer be the be-all and end-all of our kids’ education.”

And that’s why the teachers unions and fellow travelers are so excited by ESSA. The new law diminishes, but does not eliminate the national footprint in standardized testing. While good people can disagree about the optimal level of state and national control over assessing student proficiency, there is no doubt about the union angle. Their leaders support any legislation that reduces or downright kills what they call “high-stakes testing” and “test and punish” laws.

The reality is that union bosses do not want teachers held accountable if their kids don’t learn. The unions see teachers as interchangeable widgets, all of whom are competent. To differentiate between effective and ineffective teachers by what their students actually learn would necessitate doing away with industrial-style work rules like tenure and seniority – perennial union mainstays.

What happens when “no stakes testing” prevails? According to a recent study conducted in New York City, fewer than 10 percent of public school students pass state tests. But 85 percent of students were given passing grades in their classwork. And over 90 percent of teachers in NYC were rated effective. Robert Pondiscio, a senior fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, sums it up. “The potential for abuse – a wink, a nod and a diploma – is there whenever you allow alternative assessments.” (When over 90 percent of teachers are rated “effective,” while only 10 percent of their students are rated “proficient” on an objective assessment, it’s easy to see why the unions would demand getting rid of the tests instead of the underperforming teachers.)

Until recently, high school students had to pass an exit exam to be awarded a diploma in California. But the California Teachers Association-controlled legislature decided to kill the test and, worse, chose to give diplomas retroactively (going back to 2006) to students who passed their coursework but failed the test. And just how rigorous was the California High School Exit Examination? According to the California Department of Education website, the English–language component addressed state content standards through tenth grade. In reading, this included vocabulary, decoding, comprehension, etc. In writing, the CAHSEE focused on writing strategies, grammar, spelling, and punctuation. The math part of the test addressed state standards in only grades six and seven and Algebra I.

Tom Elias examined the situation in the Los Angeles Daily News: “Meanwhile, the anxiety, efforts and accomplishment of more than 2 million students who passed the test since 2006 are now rendered essentially meaningless.”

The “everyone knows we test our kids too much” mantra promulgated by the unions has been repeated so often that it has become “fact” – just like Y2K, the population bomb, mad cow disease, Salem witches, etc. But are these modern day Chicken Littles right in this case? According to Hechinger Report, they are not even close. Andreas Schleicher, an international education expert based in Paris, looked at data from more than 70 countries and found that most nations give their students more standardized tests than the United States does. He notes that the Netherlands, Belgium and Asian countries – all high-performing education systems – administer a lot more. “In many countries there is a test going on every month.” The report also found that, “Annual tests are common the world over. Roughly 97 percent of 15-year olds in the United States said they took a standardized test once or twice a year – about the same share as in Finland, a country that’s famous for not relying on standardized testing.”

More importantly, do competent teachers and students’ success on standardized tests really make a difference? Three Ivy League economists, who have researched the subject, have come to that conclusion. In perhaps the most in-depth study on the subject, Raj Chetty and John Friedman of Harvard and Jonah Rockoff of Columbia tracked 2.5 million students over 20 years, and found that teachers who help students raise their standardized test scores have a lasting positive effect on those students’ lives beyond academics, including lower teenage-pregnancy rates, greater college matriculation and higher adult earnings.

Whether education decisions are made in Washington D.C. or in the nation’s statehouses, one thing must remain constant: we need to have an objective measure of our kids’ progress in public schools, and there is no better way to do that than giving them a standardized test – at least in core subjects like language arts, math, history and science. Parents and taxpayers must fight the teachers unions and their supporters and demand it. In fact, we punish kids by not objectively assessing their progress and not holding teachers accountable.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

Reactionary Teachers Union Parties like It’s 1909

Self-serving Washington Education Association dusts off a 100 year old law to shut down charter schools.

As I have frequently written, the teachers unions have a schizoid relationship with charter schools. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays they want to kill them off; on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays they want to unionize them. Earlier this month, with the help of a compliant court, the National Education Association affiliate in Washington managed to trash the state’s fledgling charter school movement – a tiny movement, barely sticking its toes in the water with all of one school having opened in Seattle last year, with eight more opening this fall.

But citing an arcane law passed in 1909, the Washington Supreme Court deemed the charter schools unconstitutional. As reported in The Seattle Times, Chief Justice Barbara Madsen ruled that “charter schools aren’t ‘common schools’ because they’re governed by appointed rather than elected boards. Therefore, money that is dedicated to common schools is unconstitutionally diverted to charter schools.” Justice Mary E. Fairhurst agreed with the majority that charter schools aren’t common schools, but argued in a partial dissenting opinion that the state “can constitutionally support charter schools through the general fund.”

The Washington Education Association, which was joined by the League of Women Voters of Washington and others in bringing the suit, was gleeful. “The Supreme Court has affirmed what we’ve said all along — charter schools steal money from our existing classrooms, and voters have no say in how these charter schools spend taxpayer funding,” said Kim Mead, WEA president.

This is maddening.

The thrust behind the decision is that charter schools are not accountable to local voters the way traditional public schools are. Ironically the statement is true, but for the reverse reason. Charters are in fact far more accountable than traditional public schools. As the Wall Street Journal points out,

Charters must submit detailed applications to a state commission explaining, among other things, their curriculum, standards and plans for special-needs students. They must also submit to a public forum—i.e., a union beating. They provide annual performance reports, and the State Board of Education can sanction charters that fail to achieve their objectives and close those in the bottom quartile of public schools. Only the lowest 5% of traditional schools must propose corrective plans.

American Enterprise Institute’s Rick Hess wrote a scathing denouncement of the decision in National Review, claiming among other things that, “…the notion that Washington State’s school districts are sacrosanct because they allow the public to carefully select teachers and discharge incompetent ones reads like a twisted joke. Ultimately, the court’s rationale serves as an open-ended, extra-constitutional rejection of all challenges to the education monopoly.” Using words like “gutless” and “lunacy” to describe the decision, Hess ended his broadside with, “We’ll see if Washington State’s myopic mandarins really have the nerve to ask law enforcement to shut down these ‘speakeasy’ schools in order to stop the state’s charter-school students from illegally pursuing a public education.”

An interesting facet to the mess is that the teachers unions gave the maximum allowed by law ($1,800 in 2012 and $1,900 in 2014) in campaign contributions to seven of the nine judges on the Washington Supreme Court in their most recent election to the Court. Call me crazy, but this reeks of a conflict of interest. While a quid pro quo can’t be established, it’s hard not to be a bit cynical. Danny Westneat writes in The Seattle Times about a simple cure for this. “The state of Utah has a much stricter rule — that justices have to sit out a case if someone involved in it gave their campaign $50 or more. If we had that rule, the Temple of Justice would have been almost emptied for the charter-schools case.”

What’s next for the Washington charters? As Robin Lake writes in an aptly named piece, “A court decision only the Kremlin could love,”

As many have forcefully opined, this decision should be reconsidered by the court (a motion to reconsider is likely). Barring that, the legislature could pass a new charter that doesn’t use the term “common schools,” or pass a constitutional amendment. If lawmakers have any decency, this will happen quickly. That’s the only way to make sure that students and their families don’t have to endure any more needless chaos.

Coincidentally, while the state teachers union is busy shutting down charters, its Seattle local started off the new school year by calling a strike, thus closing the city’s public schools. The big disagreement in this case is money. While the district is offering a 10 percent raise over two years, the union is demanding a 16.8 percent increase over the same time period.

As The Daily Caller’s Eric Owens reports, Seattle teachers currently have a median annual salary of $60,412. And of course that amount is for only 180 days of work and doesn’t include a panoply of perks including medical, dental, vision and life insurance, not to mention generous pension benefits. But according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the annual per-capita income in Seattle is $43,237 – for 48-50 weeks of work per year, and those workers typically have a much less robust benefits package.

Weighing in on the Seattle strike, National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen García gushed that she is proud that the NEA local’s teachers walked out, explaining “…educators are standing up for the schools students deserve.”

How a teacher union boss could make such a loopy statement with a straight face is beyond comprehension. Union leaders are busy closing charter schools in Washington by dredging up a vague, poorly written 100 year-old law and shutting down every public school in Seattle by striking, but they are of course doing it for the children. Gag.

 Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

Doctored Education

Using testing as a backdrop, NEA president promotes 1950s industrial-style education.

The American Enterprise Institute’s education policy maven Rick Hess has been traveling around the country promoting his new book The Cage-Busting Teacher. So last week he left his Education Week blog in the hands of National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen García.

Interesting choice, to say the least.

The main point of her May 18th entry, “Is There a Doctor in the Education House?,” is that testing is a bad thing. She makes a few points here that I can agree with. In brief, testing is like food. Basically it’s a good thing. But too much or the wrong kind can be damaging. As such, states and individual school districts need to reevaluate their programs to ensure that their tests are benefiting students and teachers, not bureaucrats, politicians and testing companies.

But Eskelsen García uses the forum to blast various kinds of education reform and makes some comments that strain the life out of credulity.

First, she laments “No Child Left Untested.” Okay, we’ll excuse the old joke, but she refers to the Bush/Kennedy/Clinton law as the “factory model of school reform.” Now coming from the leader of a union that has made the one-size-fits-every-teacher-and-student collective bargaining agreement the Bible of every school district unfortunate enough to be organized with an industrial-style union, that is hubris of the highest order.

Stanford professor and researcher Terry Moe has done extensive work on the subject and found that, bottom line, collective bargaining hurts students in large school districts. Moreover, he found that the negative effects of collective bargaining are much greater for high minority schools than for other schools. He explains,

… the best evidence indicates that the impact of collective bargaining is especially negative for schools that are ‘relatively’ high minority within a given (larger) district. This supports the argument that restrictive contracts put high minority schools at a disadvantage in the competition for teachers and resources within districts.

… collective bargaining does have negative consequences for student achievement, and that the effects are concentrated on precisely those districts and schools—large districts, high-minority schools—that, over the years, have been the lowest performers and the most difficult to improve.

In short the industrialization model of education in the U.S. is bad for kids, but cannot be blamed on NCLB. Fact is, the “factory model” comes with a shiny union label.

Eskelsen García then hits the privatization button, lumping charters and vouchers together in the same pot. The fact that most studies show charters do a better job than traditional public schools – especially with minorities – never makes it to her radar screen. Nor does the fact that vouchers have not only improved education for the kids who have taken advantage of them, but also help those kids who remain in nearby public schools. As I wrote recently, Friedman Foundation senior fellow Greg Forster looked at 23 empirical studies that have examined school choice’s impact on academic outcomes in public schools. Of these, he reports “22 find that choice improves public schools and one finds no visible impact. No empirical study has found that choice harms public schools.”

The union leader’s next bugaboo isfast-track teacher prep, short-term, disposable labor.” This is an obvious swipe at Teach for America, the program that turns out effective teachers despite the fact they go through an initial training for just five to seven weeks and avoid years of useless education school blather. (Actually, one reason TFA teachers do well is because they avoid our traditional schools of education which are in large part free of rigor and loaded with edu-fads-du-jour.) A recent study by Mathematica, an independent policy research group, finds that,

TFA’s first- and second-year elementary school teachers, who average just over a year and a half of teaching experience, were as effective as their counterparts in the same schools, who averaged 13.6 years of teaching experience, as measured by their students’ test scores in reading and math. A small subset of those TFA teachers — ones in pre-K through second-grade classrooms — were found to be slightly more effective in teaching reading than the national average in those grades.

Eskelsen García’s “short term” rap against TFA is also untrue. An extensive PDK study shows that nearly two-thirds of TFA teachers continue as public school teachers beyond their two-year commitment. Also, many who leave their teaching positions stay in the field as administrators, school board members, school district employees, etc.

The union leader ends her piece with “Maybe it’s time to change from the Factory Model of school reform to the Good Doctor Model.” Right, but the “Good Doctor” would of course come with seniority and tenure protections that would guarantee an ongoing practice irrespective of how many patients were buried in the process. And no matter what, her practice would continue to thrive because those who lived in her zip-code would be forced to use her services.

For unionistas, Eskelsen García’s ideas are just what the doctor ordered. But for the patients and those who get stuck with the bill, it’s toxic snake oil.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

Teachers Unions Appeal Vergara

… and continue to block any and every meaningful reform the California state legislature has to offer.

On May Day (how fitting!) the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers filed their appeal of the Vergara decision. In that 2014 ruling, Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu struck down California’s teacher tenure, layoff and dismissal laws, claiming that they deny students access to a quality public education, especially those from poor and minority families.

In a PR move, union bosses have been taking their rather lame case to the media. CTA president Dean Vogel somehow managed to maintain a straight face when he stated, “This suit was never about helping students. As educators we believe every student has the right to a caring, qualified and committed teacher and that is why we are appealing the judge’s misguided decision.” Then, tossing in some class warfare for flavor, he added that the judge failed to take into consideration “the impact of a severe lack of funding and growth in poverty which are some of the most important factors impacting student achievement.” (Actually, most studies have shown that the most important factor in student achievement is the effectiveness of the teacher.)

CFT President Josh Pechthalt, avoiding the merits of the case, did his typical “class warfare first, last and always” song and dance. “Wealthy anti-union advocates like David Welch, the funder of this suit, are obscuring the real problems of public education, which are best addressed by restoring funding to programs that ensure student success. It is not coincidental that the law firm he retained is one of corporate America’s leading anti-worker, anti-union firms.” (Increasing funding doesn’t “ensure” anything. Far from it. We have almost tripled education spending in forty years with nothing to show for it.)

A confident Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, said she fully expects the California Court of Appeal will return education policy to where it belongs: the legislature. “Every student deserves a highly effective teacher in his or her classroom. The California legislature has worked to provide fair due process protections that ensure quality teachers are in every classroom. Due process prevents good teachers from being fired for bad reasons, and it protects teachers’ professional judgment and academic freedom.” (“Due process long ago morphed into “undue” process; even pedophiles have a hard time getting the ax.)

Perhaps the NEA’s leader’s comments are most galling of all. First she seems to forget that a whole load of ugly Jim Crow laws were eradicated by the courts. I highly doubt that Eskelsen García would have groused about judicial activism in those cases. (By the way, Judge Treu did not make any laws; he just ruled that several laws on the books are unconstitutional.) Another reason her “policy belongs in the legislature” comment is nonsense is that CTA has a lock on that body. With its forced dues scheme, every public school teacher in the Golden State is made to fork over on average more than $1,000 a year, with much of that money going to buy legislators. Parents, kids and taxpayers have no mechanism to match the union’s wildly unfair advantage. So in essence, Eskelsen García is forcing us to play cards – but only with a deck that the unions have carefully stacked. It is commonly said that CTA is an important wing of the Democratic Party in California. It’s more accurate to say that the Democratic Party is really a wing of the powerful California union.

In fact, prior to Eskelsen García’s statement, several California state legislators already had attempted to pass legislation with Vergara in mind.

• Assembly Bill 1044 (Assemblywoman Catherine Baker, R-Dublin) would have eliminated “last-in-first-out” by declaring seniority cannot be the sole factor governing layoffs.

• AB 1248 (Assemblyman Rocky Chávez, R-Oceanside) would have extended from two to three years how long it takes for teachers to win tenure and would allow administrators to  revoke tenure if teachers have consecutive poor performance reviews.

• AB 1078 (Assembly Minority Leader Kristin Olsen, R-Riverbank) would have increased the number of ratings teachers could be assigned and would require educators to be evaluated in part based on student test scores.

Not surprisingly, these bills – modest as they were – never really had a chance. Each one was summarily killed in the CTA owned-and-operated education committee in the State Assembly.

Then there was AB 1495, introduced by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego. Whereas existing state law calls for two teacher ratings – satisfactory and unsatisfactory – Weber’s bill would have added a third teacher rating of “needs improvement” to the state’s minimum requirement for evaluations. It would also call on districts to put teachers who are not rated fully satisfactory first in line for professional coaching. This sensible bill garnered support from the likes of EdVoice, Students Matter and StudentsFirst – all Sacramento student advocacy groups. But CTA’s cronies in the Assembly education committee snuffed out this bill too. That prompted Weber, no shrinking violet, to lash out at her fellow Democrats. As reported by LA Weekly’s Hillel Aron, she said, “When I see what’s going on, I’m offended, as a senior member of this committee, who has probably more educational background and experience than all ya’ll put together on top of each other.” She added, “Obviously, it was orchestrated by the teachers union to not let the bill out. It was purely political.” Shirley surely gets it.

There is one bill, however, that the teachers unions have not taken a position on … yet. Carol Liu, D-La Cañada-Flintridge, has concocted SB 499. Her teacher evaluation bill requires teachers to be evaluated in part on student progress, including such objective measures as testing, but – and it is a very big but – mandates that the specifics be worked out as part of the union-school district collective bargaining agreement. However, giving unions more negotiating power over evaluations would be a problem said Nancy Espinoza, a legislative advocate for the California School Boards Association in testimony before the Senate Education Committee a couple of weeks ago. “We are going from developing evaluation standards to negotiating them. That is a tremendous change.” It creates opportunities, she said, for teachers unions “to leverage evaluation standards related to student achievement for gains related to salary” and would likely increase the frequency of an impasse in negotiations “and concerted actions like strikes.”

Also weighing in against the bill is a coalition of groups including Democrats for Education Reform and the California Chamber of Commerce. In a letter to Liu, it mentioned “Offering unions this power affords them the opportunity and incentive to water down teacher evaluations.”

StudentsFirst called the bill misguided, claiming it ignored research on what makes an evaluation effective, and puts the state at risk of losing federal support.

Bill Lucia, CEO of EdVoice, called retaining school boards’ authority over evaluation criteria a non-negotiable “bright-line issue.”

In defending her bill, Liu said that “buy-in from teachers” is critical for evaluations to be useful in helping teachers improve. “Teachers need to be at the table to discuss goals of an evaluation. Their voice needs to be heard and heard loudly.”

But buy-in from teachers is not important in Sacramento. The only buy-in there that matters is from the teachers unions. Liu’s – and every other education bill – is in the unions’ hands. Until the Vergara appeals are exhausted, that is the unpleasant fact of life.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

Pseudo Studies and Push Polls

Teachers unions turn to “facts” as they desperately cling to their monopolistic, anti-privatization narrative.

Last Thursday the “non-partisan” Center for Tax and Budget Accountability rolled out a report that slammed vouchers, claiming that there is “no statistical evidence proving that students who use vouchers perform better than their public school counterparts.” The “study,” as reported by WRTV in Indianapolis, included Indiana’s program with three long-running and popular school choice programs in Milwaukee, Cleveland and Washington, D.C.

Turns out the “study” is about as “non-partisan” as a Colts fan who has ten grand riding on the home team. Its many flaws are documented meticulously by Cato Institute policy analyst Jason Bedrick. For example, CTBA tries to make its case using statistics from 2008-2009 rather than later – and less friendly – data. It also does something blatantly dishonest by stating that Indiana’s scholarship tax credit law has had a negative fiscal impact on the state. CTBA deceptively focuses exclusively on a reduction in revenue to the schools without acknowledging a corresponding reduction in expenses. As Bedrick notes, “The average scholarship is worth barely $1,000, so every student who switches out of a district school to accept a scholarship saves the state a lot of money. In a forthcoming report for the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, using highly conservative assumptions, I calculated that the Indiana School Scholarship Tax Credit saved the state approximately $23.2 million in 2014-15.” And this example is just the tip of a rather massive iceberg.

At the end of the WRTV piece, there is a tag line: “RTV6’s Eric Cox reported that CTBA claims to be a bipartisan research group.” The reporter said that he couldn’t find anyone at the press conference to counter CTBA’s allegations. Perhaps a quick phone call to the Friedman Foundation – located in Indianapolis – would have given balance to the story. Also, if the station had bothered to dig a few inches below the surface, it would have learned that the CTBA board is packed with – no surprise – union leaders, including Illinois Federation of Teachers president Daniel Montgomery, as well as its Director of Governmental Relations, Jim Reed and Illinois AFL-CIO president Michael Carrigan.

A similarly scurrilous bit of advocacy dressed up in scientific clothes – this one fortunately lacking media coverage – appeared on the National Education Association website. “Where’s the Accountability? Ignoring Poor Track Record, Lawmakers Push Voucher Expansion” makes claims similar to CTBA’s. Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association president Bob Peterson states, “Since the voucher program in Wisconsin started in 1990, over $1.4 billion of public taxpayer dollars have gone to private schools. At the same time, we’ve seen massive cuts to public education statewide.” So what? If half the kids leave a public school system and half the money leaves too (actually, voucher money never equals the actual cost per student), there is still the same amount of money per student left in the public schools. NEA president Lily Eskelsen García adds to the money libel, “Buzzwords such as ‘choice’ and ‘freedom’ are used only to mask what vouchers actually are – a shameful, unacceptable waste of taxpayer dollars.”

The union leaders would do well to read a study which examines the fiscal impact of 10 of the 21 school voucher programs nationwide. Jeff Spalding, director of fiscal policy at the Friedman Foundation, found a savings in participating states of $1.7 billion from 1991-2011. If choice were universal, and not limited to the 300,000 or so students who participate at this point (about one half of one percent of all students), the $1.7 billion savings would skyrocket.

Then there is a memo put out by “Third Way,” allegedly a centrist outfit whose raison d’être is providing solutions neither left nor right, but moderate. Really? There is nothing at all moderate about, “Should a New No Child Left Behind Include Vouchers?” In fact, the writers quite immoderately inform us that vouchers aren’t successful, escape accountability, wreak havoc on school district budgets, etc.

The Third Way information is bunkum. In a recent report, Friedman Foundation senior fellow Greg Forster looked at not one or two, but 12 empirical studies that “examine 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.” And at the same time, the taxpayers are shelling out fewer education dollars.

Regarding accountability, vouchers create a situation whereby schools are accountable to parents, at least the lucky ones who get to choose the school their child goes to. Currently in most places, parents are forced to send their kid to the public school down the street that’s accountable to no one. Monopolies never have to be successful because they’re, well, monopolies.

The “wreaking havoc” argument is just plain silly. As Bedrick writes,

Third Way laments that school choice could ‘destabilize district financial planning.’ It is telling that they don’t point to a single example. Even more telling, their concern assumes that there would be a mass exodus from the public schools if families were given the option to leave and take the funds dedicated to their child with them. As David Boaz once observed, ‘Every argument against choice made by the education establishment reveals the contempt that establishment has for its own product.’

And finally we have yet another anti-choice broadside on the NEA website. The teachers union is giddy that “Voters Rank Top Problems Facing Education. Lack of School Choice Isn’t One of Them.” First, they really don’t deal with privatization at all and their questions are so loaded that a Polling 101 student could see right through them. For example, the main question on charters reads,

As you may know, the vast majority of charter schools are taxpayer-funded schools that are privately managed by for-profit companies or non-profit organizations. They operate independently of the public school system and are not required to follow some of the laws and regulations that public schools are required to follow. From what you’ve heard, do you favor or oppose charter schools?

A bit of a leading question, no? Even with the biased wording, responders were still favorably inclined to charter schools by a 52-38 margin, and 10 percent were agnostic. This same poll found that just 10 percent believed that lack of school choice was the biggest educational concern in the country. Given the way the questions were worded, I’m surprised that even 10 percent said that lack of choice was the #1 problem. Additionally, it should come as no surprise that the Center for Popular Democracy, one of the groups that conducted the survey has American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten on its board of directors.

In a much more honest poll – using objective, non-leading questions – Education Next found in 2014 that the public favors universal vouchers by a 50-39 margin and charter schools 54-28.

The teachers union monopoly and its favored one-size-fits-all education model are running out of gas and desperation is setting in. Their anti-choice push polls and bogus studies are as real as a Potemkin village and the American public is on to them. Choice is here. It’s successful. It’s growing. Deal with 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 and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.