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Los Angeles Department of Monopoly and Power

Educating students is far from the #1 priority of the school board and the teachers union in LA.

On February 11th, LA School Report released an internal Los Angeles Unified School District document which stated that just 54 percent of seniors in LA are on track to graduate. The drop off from 74 percent last year was immediately attributed to the new “A through G” requirements, which ensure that graduating students are ready for acceptance into California public universities.

The rather lame, “This is the first year of the plan, so we are just getting the kinks out” excuse does not hold water. The A-G plan was initially formulated in 2005, but the LAUSD school board didn’t pay much attention to it. So instead of ramping up the rigor, they decided that in 2017 students could pass with a grade of “D,” instead of the “C” as was in the original plan. (This year’s class had been green-lighted for a “D” passing grade all along.)

Oh but wait, there is some “good” news. Due to the district’s “credit recovery plan” – allowing students to take crash courses on weekends, holidays etc. – the graduation rate has just been upgraded to a less cataclysmic 63 percent. Yeah, 63 is better than 54, but it still stinks. And the demise of the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE) has been left out of the equation. The test was killed a few months ago by the California legislature and, worse, the legislators chose to give diplomas retroactively (going back to 2006) to students who passed their coursework but failed the test.

The exam was hardly rigorous. According to the California Department of Education website, the English–language component addressed state content standards through tenth grade and the math part of the test addressed state standards in only grades six and seven and Algebra I. Hence, whatever the graduate rate actually turns out to be in 2016, it would have been lower had the state not knocked out a test that every high school grad should be able to easily pass.

So what’s a school board to do? Simply divert attention away from the problem.

The LAUSD school board’s major agenda item of late has been to slow charter school growth. According to Sarah Angel, managing director of advocacy for the California Charter Schools Association, “We are seeing an unprecedented uptick in the recommendation of denials of charter schools.” She pointed out that the LA school board approved 89 percent of the charter school applications it received in 2013, but that rate has been cut in half this year. The anti-charter push came about when the board went bananas over philanthropist Eli Broad’s plan to turn half the schools in LA into charters. Nothing will invigorate monopolists like a little old-fashioned competition.

Not to be outdone by the school board’s turf-protection moves, the United Teachers of Los Angeles has swung into action, joining a union-led national demonstration of support for traditional public school districts. Dubbed “walk ins,” these events were led in Los Angeles by UTLA and involved parents walking into schools with their kids at the beginning of the school day on February 17th. What this was supposed to accomplish is anyone’s guess.

The union also just raised its dues 30 percent, claiming more money is needed to “battle foes of traditional public education.”

Then, UTLA boss and class warfare expert Alex Caputo-Pearl began beating the tax-the-rich drum at a fever pitch. In an obvious reference to Eli Broad and some other philanthropists, he recently averred, “If billionaires want to be involved, they should not undermine programs, they should contribute their fair share in taxes.” Wondering how he knew what taxes certain individuals paid, I sent an email to Mr. Caputo-Pearl and UTLA’s communication director, inquiring which billionaires he was referring to and how much they paid in taxes. They have not deigned to respond to my query thus far. (Note to AC-P: The rich pay plenty of taxes, but 44 percent of Americans don’t pay any, and rest assured, there are no billionaires in that group.)

As if the school board and teachers union’s effort to damage charters wasn’t enough, there is a plan afoot to get an initiative on the ballot this year that would make charter schools illegal. Why? Because, according to the “Voices Against Privatizing Education” website, charters are “racist… cherry pick students, falsify records, commit enrollment fraud, close down community schools, destroy jobs, bust up unions and segregate students.” Not surprisingly this bundle of outright lies has the backing of several teachers unions and individual union leaders.

You see, charter schools are not being singled out for demolition because they haven’t worked; they are on the radar of the school board and the union precisely because they have been successful. At the same time that so many students in LA’s traditional schools are failing to meet graduation standards, students from the same demographic groups are thriving in charter schools. By the time they’ve graduated, students at charter schools are over three times more likely to have completed courses needed for college admission than students at traditional public schools.

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

  • Charter school students gain 79 more days of learning than their traditional school peers in math, as well as 50 additional days of learning in reading.
  • Latino students gain 72 more days of learning in math and 43 extra days in reading.
  • Latino students living in poverty gain 115 additional days of learning in math and 58 additional days in reading.
  • African American students gain 14 extra days of learning in both reading and math.
  • African American students living in poverty gain 58 additional days of learning in math and 36 additional days in reading.

Evelyn Macias, mother of Julia Macias, one of nine student plaintiffs behind the Vergara lawsuit, recently penned an op-ed for LA School Report, in which she wrote,

We need to look at state policies, legislation and labor agreements that have, over the course of decades, eroded and diminished the rights of children, low-income working families, and ALL families, by claiming the higher moral ground for employees, while much of our leadership remains silent.

Our children are falling through the cracks, while we stand and watch. Who besides their parents and student advocacy groups will step up?

Who besides parents and certain advocacy groups? Who, indeed? Certainly not the obstructionist school board and teachers union. They are intent on protecting turf and maintaining their monopoly. Educating children is far down on their to-do list. Shame on them.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers 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.

Unionization Push Threatens Alliance College-Ready Public Schools

“Join the movement for schools L.A. students deserve.” You’d be forgiven for thinking that meant schools that offered the best outcomes for their students. Instead, it’s the banner the United Teachers of Los Angeles is marching under in its “struggle” with the Los Angeles Unified School District and the “fight against the corporate parasites lined up against us.”

Ground zero for that fight appears to be the successful Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, which is in the midst of a yearlong and increasingly aggressive unionization push. Much of the money set aside by UTLA, which has a line item in its budget for anti-charter organizing, will likely go toward this effort.

Newly elected President & CEO, Dan Katzir, of Alliance-College Ready Public Schools. Alliance has grown to serve more than 11,000 students across 26 high schools and middle schools, making it the largest public school charter network in Los Angeles

Dan Katzir, CEO of Alliance-College Ready Public Schools. Alliance has grown to serve more than 11,000 students across 26 high schools and middle schools, making it the largest public school charter network in Los Angeles

UTLA’s talk of “corporate parasites” is puzzling, considering that less than one percent of charter schools in California – just six schools out of almost 1,200 – are organized as for-profit entities and the rest, Alliance included, are non-profits. Its tough rhetoric notwithstanding, it is a mystery why the union would have such an interest in unionizing the network of 27 free, public charter high schools and middle schools mostly in South and East Los Angeles.

“We’re a little suspect to their motives since they wish to abolish us,” Catherine Suitor, Chief Development and Communications Officer at the charter network, told us.

The unionization push is certainly a change of pace for an organization that has been calling for the end of public charter schools since they began , but the union seems to be operating under the old adage that if you can’t beat them, join them, and is organizing pro-union Alliance teachers under the umbrella of Alliance Educators United.

“Our teachers have a right to decide if they want to unionize,” Suitor added. “But a year into it they haven’t gotten the numbers. We are not for or against unionization. But UTLA has been unabashedly anti-charter.”

The union says it is simply about giving teachers a voice. But the May edition of the union’s newspaper may provide a more realistic insight into the union’s change of heart. In it, UTLA Treasurer Arlene Inouye noted that “with dropping membership levels and rising costs, we have had an operating deficit for seven budget cycles, due primarily to a dues structure that does not provide enough revenue to cover our annual general operating costs.”

UTLA President, Alex Caputo-Pearl, of the 35,000 member teachers union

Alex Caputo-Pearl, President of the 35,000 member United Teachers of Los Angeles.

So, while adding dues-paying members to the union rolls probably doesn’t hurt either, if the goal was really for schools L.A. students deserve, then the UTLA has come to the right place – not to unionize, but rather to learn from, as Alliance offers a successful track record that balances cost with results.

“They should be trying to learn from us rather then try to kill us,” Dale Okuno, a member of the Alliance board of directors told me. “The proof of the pudding is in the eating and we have great results.”

Earlier this year, the California Policy Center, this blog’s parent organization, authored a report comparing nine LAUSD traditional schools and nine LAUSD Alliance public charter schools based on the cost per pupil and educational achievement.

“The data shows the per-pupil costs for Alliance charter high school students to be $10,649 per year, compared to $15,372 per year for students at traditional public high schools within LAUSD; that is, we find a per-pupil cost differential of 44 percent in favor of Alliance charter schools,” the report found.

It also noted that on testing, “Alliance schools have decisively higher Academic Performance Index (API) scores, 762 vs. 701, and higher graduation rates, 91.5 percent vs. 84.1 percent,” and that “the Alliance charter students outperformed the LAUSD traditional students with average [SAT] scores of 1417 vs. 1299 – a significant difference.” The report continued, “Among college bound students, an SAT score of 1299 puts the student in the bottom 27 percent nationally. A score of 1417, by contrast, places the student at 41 percent nationally.”

The authors concluded, “LAUSD Alliance charter high schools provide better outcomes at lower costs than comparable LAUSD traditional operated public schools in the same area.”

That comes despite the fact that 94 percent of Alliance students qualify for free and reduced lunch, and that, on average, middle school students arrive with a reading level at first and second grade levels – and a fourth grade reading level for incoming high school students.

Alliance attributes that success to the flexibility to be different that being a charter network provides, flexibility that unionization could potentially eliminate, as the union remodels the network into a more traditional model.

“We wouldn’t negotiate away our future,” Suitor said. “We worry the union would ask for things we couldn’t afford. Our goal is not to be exactly like the traditional schools, but to be different.”

Among those points that could prove a deal-breaker at the bargaining table is merit-based teacher incentives, which the union has made clear in a number of postings on its website they see as the antithesis to public education.

But performance-based compensation is at the heart of how Alliance operates, even though teachers, on average, make more than their traditional counterparts and, as previously noted, still spend nearly $5,000 less per pupil and achieve better outcomes.

Alliance’s presence seems to be having a ripple effect across the district. As Ms. Suitor noted, when Alliance opened its first school, graduation rates were around 50 percent in the district. Now they are up to 70 percent, although Alliance remains a leader with a 91 percent four-year graduation rate and a 99 percent college acceptance rate.

Rising tides appear to be lifting all boats in the LAUSD. As over 158,000 students sit on waitlists to attend charter schools in California, now is not the time to upend one of the more successful education models and instead transform Alliance or other charter schools into just another cog in the traditional system they were designed to escape, taking choices away from parents and students in the process.

About the Author: Scott Kaufman brings his journalistic experience to the California Policy Center to write investigative reports and editorials for UnionWatch and the Prosperity Digest. Kaufman also works for the Orange County Register as an editorial writer. He graduated from the University of California, San Diego and got his start in journalism with the Washington D.C. based weekly Human Events. He transitioned to local government reporting at the Santa Barbara News-Press.

The NEA, Social Justice and Indoctrination Ghettos

The NEA convention had its humorous moments as well as a very disturbing one.

The National Association Education’s yearly convention, which wrapped up last week, was mostly a tame affair with not much worth writing about. But NEA executive director John Stocks did provide some unintentionally comedic moments. His boiler plate lefty political ranting included solemn affirmations about “the insidious entitlements of white privilege” and the evils of “income inequality.” The latter is especially amusing since the latest available NEA tax filing reveals that Stocks’ total yearly compensation is $505,288. But upon further review, maybe his “income inequality” gripe has some merit. American Federation of Teachers president and fellow inequality-griper Randi Weingarten made $543,679 during the same time period. So maybe Stocks is irked about the $38,391 gap.

Then there were Stocks’ shout-outs to such fringe groups as Occupy Wall Street, all of which led Stocks to start screaming – not passionately – just screaming about how we are now in a “movement moment.” (The last time I experienced one of those was after eating some bad clams.)

For an organization that may well be on the verge of losing its forced dues racket and have to moderate its message to actually woo customers, Stocks’ talk was far out in left field, and surely turning off moderates and right-of-center members. For more on his talk, read Jason Hart’s account on Watchdog.org. If you have the stomach to watch to the whole 25 minutes, you can see it here.

Far scarier than Stocks’ talk was the recipient of NEA’s “Social Justice” award, one Jose Lara, dean at LA Unified’s Santee Education Center and a member of the United Teachers of Los Angeles board. The award honors the union member who “demonstrates the ability to lead, organize and engage educators, parents, and the community to advocate on social justice issues that impact the lives of students, fellow educators, and the communities they serve.” While “social justice” has as many definitions as people using the term, perhaps the most accurate comes from the Urban Dictionary:

Promoting tolerance, freedom, and equality for all people regardless of race, sex, orientation, national origin, handicap, etc… except for white, straight, cisgendered males. F*** those guys, they’re overprivileged no matter what.

That Lara was chosen as anything but “Leftist Indoctrinator-in-Chief” is a joke. On Memorial Day weekend in 2010, Lara, then a teacher, took his students to Arizona on a “field trip” to protest the state’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!!!).

Lara’s radical activities have been well-documented since then. His latest coup was in November 2014 when he led a successful charge to get “ethnic studies” classes added to LAUSD’s graduation requirements beginning with the class of 2019. This move will serve to resegregate schools with each ethnic group separating itself from the general population. At a time when we desperately need to become more united at as a people, ethnic studies classes will further balkanize us.

But it’s really much worse than just ethnic studies. Lara’s brand comes with a radical hate-America, class warfare agenda. In his five minute acceptance speech for the NEA award, he made his thoughts known. He talked about, “fighting for the most vulnerable and oppressed in our community” and that the culture has been guilty of “institutional racism” by “keeping students from learning about their own history.”

Left in the hands of Jose Lara and his ilk, ethnic studies will become pure Alinsky fare, a never-ending barrage of revolutionary, America-bashing screeds, serving only to keep us in race, ethnicity and class ghettos.

That the NEA champions this type of indoctrination is reprehensible. Rich lefties like John Stocks, who laud the Occupy socialists and the Lara-type revolutionaries don’t know what they are in for. As Churchill said, “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.” Whether Stocks is an appeaser or a true believer, he, as card-carrying one-percenter, will in time become croc fodder.

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.

LAUSD Offer Worth $122,938 Per Year – Will They Strike Anyway?

“Our demands, they’re not radical. When did it become radical to have class sizes that you could actually teach in? When did it become radical to have staffing and to pay people back after eight years of nothing?”
 – Alex Caputo Pearl, President, UTLA, February 26, 2015, Los Angeles Times

If the 35,000 members of the United Teachers Los Angeles, the union that represents employees of Los Angeles Unified School District, actually go on strike, in large part it will be because they want an 8.5% salary increase and the district is only offering them 5%. They also want smaller class sizes – tough to do when you’re passing out salary increases. But how much do these teachers actually make?

If you review the most authoritative source of public information on LAUSD salaries, the California state controller’s public pay website you will get the impression they aren’t making much. The summary page for LAUSD shows “average wages” of $40,506 per year and employer paid “average retirement and health” benefits at $10,867 per year.

This is extremely misleading. These “averages” include part-time workers such as student teachers and substitute teachers. But the “Raw Export” tab of the state controller’s website yields more comprehensive information.

20150303-UW_Ring-LAUSD-SCO

If you eliminate part-time workers and eliminate workers who were hired or left employment mid-year – based on screening out of the data any individual record where the recorded “base pay” is 10% or more less than the stated “minimum pay for position” for that record – a very different compensation profile emerges. In reality, teachers who worked full-time during 2013 for the LA Unified School District made direct pay that averaged $72,781, and they collected employer paid benefits averaging $17,012, meaning their total pay and benefits package was $89,793. And they collected this in return for working between 163 and 180 days per year (ref. UTLA/LAUSD Labor Agreement, page 30).

20150303-UW_Ring-LAUSD-Actual

Properly estimating how much LAUSD teachers make, however, requires at least two important additional calculations, (1), normalizing their pay to take into account their extraordinary quantity of vacation time, and (2) taking into account the state of California’s direct payments into CalSTRS as well as the necessity to increase CalSTRS contributions in order to pay down their unfunded liability.

Normalizing for vacation time is easy. Using the larger number referenced in their labor agreement, 180 days per year of work, based on 260 weekdays per year, means LAUSD teachers work 36 weeks a year and get 16 weeks off. The typical private sector worker rarely gets more than four weeks off, two weeks of vacation and two weeks of paid holidays. While many professionals earn more than two weeks of vacation, they are also required to be perpetually on call and often work far more than 40 hour weeks. Many entry level or low income workers don’t get paid for any holidays or vacation. It is reasonable to assume the typical teacher works 12 weeks less per year than the average private sector worker. This translates into a $24,260 value on top of the average LAUSD teacher’s direct pay of $72,781 per year.

“Eight years of nothing.” Really, Mr. Caputo Pearl?

Normalizing for the value of pensions is not easy, but using similarly conservative assumptions we can develop reasonable estimates. For starters, from the CalSTRS website, here’s what the state contributes:

“The state contributes a percentage of the annual earnings of all members to the Defined Benefit Program. Under the new funding plan, the state’s contribution is increasing over the next three years from 3.041 percent in 2013–14 to 6.328 percent beginning July 1, 2016. The state also contributes an amount equal to about 2.5 percent of annual member earnings into the CalSTRS Supplemental Benefit Maintenance Account. The SBMA account is used to maintain the purchasing power of benefits.”

Sticking with current contributions – 3.041% plus 2.5%, based on “member earnings” referring to “direct pay,” that adds another $4,033 to the average earnings of an LAUSD teacher.

In summary, LAUSD teachers are threatening to strike because they only make – using real world equivalents – $97,041 in direct pay, plus $21,045 in employer paid benefits. The average full-time LAUSD teacher earns total compensation worth $118,086 per year. Throw onto direct pay the 5% offer from the district, worth another $4,852 per year, and you have a total average teacher compensation proposed to go up to $122,938 per year.

Any critic of this analysis who happens to be an LAUSD teacher is invited to work 48 weeks a year instead of 36 weeks a year, or, of course, give up their pension benefit. Otherwise, these are the numbers. To verify them, download this spreadsheet analysis which uses payroll and benefit data provided by LAUSD to the California State Controller’s office:  LAUSD_2013_Compensation-Analysis.xlsx (10.0 MB).

No reasonable person should fail to sympathize with the challenges facing teachers in Los Angeles public schools. But the solution is not higher pay. The solution is to purge the system of bad teachers, reward excellent teachers, give principals more autonomy, stop promoting and retaining teachers based on seniority, measure teacher effectiveness based on the academic success of their pupils, and, gasp, improve the ratio of teachers to support staff. As it is, during 2013 LAUSD spent $2.6 billion on full-time and part-time teachers, and $2.1 billion on full-time and part-time other staff. Do they really need to spend 45% of their payroll outside the classroom? The solution is also to lower the cost of living for everyone, through supporting government policies that encourage competitive development of land and resources.

Finally, this estimate of the value of average total compensation for LAUSD full time teachers is still dramatically understated, because CalSTRS remains wallowed in an underfunded position that is officially recognized at $73.7 billion.

To the extent the leadership of the UTLA and their membership subscribe to “left wing” political sentiments, remember this:

There are currently $4.0 trillion of state/local U.S. government worker pension fund assets overseen by managers who rampage about the entire planet demanding annual yields north of 7.0% per year. This is a financial maelstrom of cataclysmic proportions that is corrupting the entire global economy. It is an act of wanton aggression against honest capitalists and private households attempting to save for retirement. Ongoing annual returns of this size require asset bubbles which require risky investments and cheap credit – antithetical to sustainable economic growth.

Remember this as you fight to enhance your compensation and defend your pensions as they are – you have exempted yourself from economic reality and are recklessly gambling with the future of the people you supposedly serve. Through your pension funds, you are benefiting from capitalism in its most aggressive and parasitic form.

Remember all this when you go on strike because you’ve had “eight years of nothing.”

 *   *   *

Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.

LA Teachers Union: Striking Out?

UTLA is planning to walk out over a mess that it helped to create.

The case is being built for a teachers’ strike in Los Angeles. The next step in the contract negotiation process is mediation, whereby a state-appointed mediator will try to get the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) to reconcile their differences. If no progress is made during those sessions, scheduled for March 26th, April 6th and April 15th, the fact-finding stage is next. Anything that comes out of this part of the process is not binding, but could be influential in the last step in which the district makes its final offer. At that point, the union can accept the deal, or reject it and call for a strike vote.

There are a number of issues on the table, but the main sticking points are as follows:

UTLA wants a bigger raise than LAUSD is offering. The district’s offer is 5 percent, but the union, after originally asking for 17.5, has lowered its demand to 8.5 percent, retroactive to July 2014.

The union wants smaller classes. Due to budgetary constraints, the district wants latitude in determining the number of teachers on the payroll. The union wants the district to commit to a hard and fast teacher-student ratio. Fewer teachers, of course, translate to larger classes.

The union does not want an imposed teacher-evaluation system. In light of a lawsuit settled in 2012 that mandated substantive teacher evaluations, the district came up with a simple four-level teacher-evaluation plan which it instituted in 2013. But the union pushed back successfully, claiming the district single-handedly imposed the process, prompting an administrative law judge to rule that LAUSD had to repeal it. The decision came in response to an unfair labor practices charge that UTLA filed three months later. The union is demanding to be a part of any new evaluation system for its teachers.

Moving away from the bargaining table, the leaders of the two warring factions have gone public with their case. In January, LA Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines called the union’s latest demands “entirely unrealistic” and asserted that they raise “serious ethical and equity issues” for the district. He pointed out that

… all the district’s other unions have agreed to new contracts within the current economic landscape, he chided UTLA for its bargaining stance over 16 negotiating sessions, saying, ‘It is regrettable that the current UTLA leadership has gone in an entirely different direction.’

UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl has been mouthing off to the press all along, lambasting the district and everything else he can think of. At a rally in downtown LA last week, throwing in everything but the kitchen sink, he bloviated,

The recession, the cuts to the bone at schools, the attacks on public service, the increasingly savage racism and economic inequality that our students face, John Deasy for three years, all of them have set us back. And we are not going to take it anymore.

Okay, now here is the reality: LAUSD is mired in fiscal purgatory. Dealing with a $160 million deficit, Cortines said just 11 days ago that he has already begun cutting programs for next year, and layoffs are next with the first round of pink slips due to go out March 15th. (Worth noting: $160 million is almost the exact figure LAUSD is paying to the victims of one teacher – sexual predator Mark Berndt, whose wretched legacy owes a nod to the teachers union which traditionally has insisted on laws that make it practically impossible to get rid of incompetent and debauched educators.) When asked what’s most likely to be cut, Cortines said, “Everything.” LAUSD officials added that giving the union everything it is asking for would pile another $800 million of debt on the district.

If layoffs become necessary, Cortines will be painted as the goat, but it is the union that bears the majority of the responsibility. In good economic times, UTLA – and most teachers unions – demand that school districts use up all available resources to hire more educators. Then, when the inevitable economic downturn hits, layoffs become necessary. Also, it’s not just teachers who are hired when the economy is robust; more support personnel are invariably a part of the package.

The fiscal situation is even bleaker for the district than the $160 million deficit and additional $800 million the union is demanding the district spend. Due to recent legislation, school districts in California now have to come up with a greater proportion of retired teachers’ pensions. This will cost the district an additional $1.1 billion over the next seven years. The annual salary for LAUSD teachers who have taken some professional development classes and taught for 10 years is $75,592, which the union says isn’t enough. But while union leaders whine over what they deem to be paltry salaries, they never mention the additional perks a teacher gets like a comprehensive healthcare package and a defined-benefit pension. When those costs are added in, that ten-year teacher’s total compensation is more like $90,000. Not bad for 180 days work.

Also, teachers – the good ones, that is – could be making considerably more if not for the industrial-style step-and-column way that unions insist its teachers get paid. With no nod to quality, mediocre and worse teachers are paid the same as the good and great ones

Regarding the smaller class-size demand – LA has about 640,000 students and 31,000 teachers, which means about 20 kids per teacher, not exactly an overbearing number. If some teachers’ classes are too large, then rebalancing becomes the issue. While it’s true that there are instances where some kids benefit from more individual attention, it is by no means universal. The most extensive study on the subject was done by Hoover Institution senior fellow and economist Eric Hanushek in 1998. He examined 277 different studies on the effect of teacher-pupil ratios and class-size averages on student achievement, and found that only 15 percent of the studies indicated an improvement in achievement, while 72 percent showed no effect at all. Worse, 13 percent found that reducing class-size actually had a negative effect on achievement.

But class size and teacher pay are related. If you lopped off the bottom 10 percent lowest performers from the district, the remaining (better) teachers could get a hefty raise with just a few more kids in each class and no additional outlay from the district.

It’s important to note that the entire collective bargaining process is not beneficial for many teachers and their students. Thomas F. Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli finds that, “Teachers in non-collective bargaining districts actually earn more than their union-protected peers—$64,500 on average versus $57,500.” Petrilli adds that “there is some evidence … that non-collective bargaining districts drive a harder bargain when it comes to health care.” He also points out that collective-bargaining districts focus on seniority, protecting various benefits associated with longevity rather than pushing for higher pay. These tenure and seniority “benefits,” which clearly are unfair to good teachers and their students, are what Judge Rolf Treu was referring to in his recent Vergara ruling when he said. “The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience.”

In 2012, Chicago teachers – already the highest paid teachers in the country while working the fewest hours of any other big-city school district – went on strike. Stanford’s Terry Moe wrote at the time,

Collective bargaining is not fundamentally about children. It is about the power and special interests of adults. In Chicago and elsewhere, the teachers unions are in the business of winning better salaries and benefits, protecting job security, pressuring for restrictive work rules and in other ways advancing the occupational interests of their members. These interests are simply not the same as the interests of children.

Not to say that school districts are perfect. Far from it. But ideally, their mission is to promote the interests of children, while unions are there to serve their rank-and-file – the good and the bad, it’s all the same to them. The teachers unions may blather about the children, but ultimately they are there to serve the adults. And that’s causing big problems in Los Angeles and everywhere else these unions have power.

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.

Life After Deasy

It was only a matter of time before the Los Angeles school chief was run out of town.

John Deasy is the latest to exit the fast-moving revolving door known as Los Angeles School Superintendent. The job – really an impossible one – saw Roy Romer replace Ray Cortines in 2001. Romer in turn was replaced by David Brewer in 2006, who was replaced by Cortines in 2009, who was replaced by Deasy in 2011. Now the octogenarian Cortines is back for a third stint as chief – for how long is anyone’s guess. Deasy is the fourth California superintendent in the last two years to be driven from a job that has the shelf life of homogenized milk.

Since his resignation on October 16th, much has been written about Deasy, who wore his good and bad traits on his sleeve. He admittedly had little use for political niceties, and at times seemed to enjoy getting up in people’s faces. As Doug McIntyre wrote in the Los Angeles Daily News, “Even Deasy’s supporters acknowledge he can be prickly, humorless, stubborn and thin-skinned.” Others have described him as bull-headed and impatient. School board member Steve Zimmer pointed out that he frequently used a sledgehammer – sometimes joyfully so – where a scalpel would have sufficed. Deasy’s heavy-handedness is exemplified by the Miramonte fiasco. Mark Berndt, a veteran teacher, was removed from the classroom after feeding his second graders cookies laced with his semen. At the same time, a colleague at the school was accused of inappropriately touching a female student. Instead of launching an immediate internal investigation to ferret out other possible miscreants, Deasy further destabilized the school and angered parents by removing every teacher from the campus, without any indication that others were in any way involved.

Deasy had other troubles. There was the wildly ambitious and ultimately bungled $1 billion iPad program in which he sought to put a computer in the hands of every student in the district. The rollout began amid confusion over whether or not students would be allowed to take the devices home and who’d be held responsible if they were lost or stolen. Then, upon receiving the computers, many students easily breached their security locks and began using the devices for non-school-related purposes. Additionally, many were outraged over the program’s bloated billion-dollar price tag. Deasy mercifully halted the process only after emails revealed he had discussed a possible contract with Apple before the bidding even started.

Then there is the “MiSiS crisis,” which came about when an online school information system was rushed into place prematurely, resulting in thousands of students being left with no class schedules. It’s hard to make the Obamacare rollout look good by comparison, but somehow Deasy and LAUSD accomplished it.

The United Teachers of Los Angeles was especially brutal toward Deasy. In April, 2013, it mounted “Whoopsie Deasy,” a campaign that sought to get rid of the controversial chief. The union encouraged teachers to give the superintendent a “no-confidence” vote, listing 10 reasons it considered Deasy a menace to the teaching profession. Their case included the fact that teachers had not received a raise in six years, that “testing was overtaking teaching” and that the superintendent was too cozy with “billionaire outsiders.” The poll clearly resonated with union members who delivered the no-confidence vote by a margin of 10 to 1.

But the real reason that UTLA regularly hammered the superintendent and his policies was the same reason the reformers supported him. He wanted to shake up the sclerotic system and viewed the union and its cronies on the school board as impediments to his pro-child agenda.

Deasy’s supporters quickly brushed the negatives aside and pointed to all the good he did for the district. He tried to bring teacher evaluations into the 21st Century. He championed charter schools as a way to let kids escape from district failure factories. He was a supporter of the Parent Trigger, which empowers parents to force a change of governance if a school is underperforming. He testified for the plaintiffs in the Vergara case, where Judge Rolf Treu ruled that the state’s archaic seniority, tenure and dismissal statutes were unconstitutional, adding that the evidence submitted “shocks the conscience.”

Reformers also give Deasy credit for the district’s improved test results but this argument is problematic. The test scores did go up a little, but it’s difficult to pinpoint just what factors led to the small increase. A recent study by The Brookings Institution showed that superintendents on average account for just “0.3 percent of student differences in achievement.”

Deasy has also been credited with a lower dropout rate. But again, it’s hard to know what the truth is. In April 2013, LAUSD reported a 66 percent grad rate. Then earlier this month, the district proudly announced it was up to 77 percent. Sounds impressive, right?

Well, not really.

It is 77 percent if you don’t include the students who couldn’t hack a district school and were placed in what are euphemistically called “alternative schools” where the grad rate can be as low as 5 percent. This is tantamount to saying that Joe Smith’s batting average is .300 – if you don’t count the 50 times he struck out. Also not included in the data are the “invisible dropouts” – those who never set foot in a high school. They are not counted as high school dropouts because, well, they never dropped in. Nevertheless, they are dropouts. Hence, we need to seriously rework the way we measure graduation rates before we can attribute credit to anyone for better numbers.

Devil or angel, Deasy’s troubles are not unique. Big city superintendents have faced similar daunting tasks and invariably wind up quitting or getting fired within a few short years of accepting the job. The most dramatic example of this pattern was the fiery three-year stint of reformer Michelle Rhee had in Washington D.C. In fact, referring to the LA superintendent position, Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, told LA School Report, “I don’t know a single person on earth who would want that terrible job. It won’t be a change agent. It will be a status quo candidate who will make life pleasant for himself by enjoying all the wrapping of the superintendency and being smart enough not to try and change a thing.”

The question then becomes, “Is LAUSD manageable at all?” Is a district that includes 31 smaller cities covering 720 square miles with 655,000 students who speak 87 languages, taught by 32,000 teachers (plus a support staff of 35,000) too big not to fail?

One possible solution is to break up the behemoth district – hardly a new idea; it’s been floating around for years. The northern part of the city, the San Fernando Valley, tried to break away in 2000. Then, in 2004, mayoral candidate Bob Hertzberg said that his first priority, if elected, would be to lead “a task force of teachers, parents, principals and other experts to come up with a plan to create smaller, community-based districts.” In 2006, state Assemblyman Keith Richman introduced legislation to split “the 727,000-student Los Angeles Unified School District into more than a dozen smaller districts, with the break-up overseen by a nine-member commission of mayors from the 27 cities that the district serves, the state superintendent of public instruction and university professors.” Most recently, Marc Litchman, who unsuccessfully challenged Rep. Brad Sherman for the 30th Congressional District in Los Angeles, said the first bill he would introduce would be to split up L.A. Unified. “The schools have to perform, and I think we’ve all been through this for quite some time. They’re not performing to the level we all hoped they would. In Los Angeles, the biggest barrier to that is the school district,” he said.

The problem with the dissolution idea is that it would result in power being ceded by those currently in charge. The LA school board and the teachers union will fight tooth and claw to keep the mammoth school district intact – no matter how unmanageable and dysfunctional it is.

Another change scenario is underway in New Orleans. Last month, the city became the country’s first all-charter district. Charter schools are public schools, funded by taxpayer dollars but run by largely independent boards. These schools get to avoid most of the red tape and union influence typical in a district contract. Teachers unions don’t have much of a presence in NOLA. The United Teachers of New Orleans, which had 5,800 members before Hurricane Katrina in 2005, has dwindled down to 530. The small size and independent nature of charter schools is a disincentive to labor organizers. “The same amount of effort that it takes to negotiate a contract with a district, you spend on one school,” a union leader in Louisiana said. Of course, teachers could exercise a “local only” option which would give them greater control over their own destiny, be more child-friendly and excludes costly membership in a state and national affiliate.

Unfortunately, without a cataclysmic act of nature wreaking havoc on Los Angeles, this scenario too would run up against massive resistance from all the usual suspects. It would take a herculean effort by maverick legislators or a well-funded ballot initiative to make an all-charter district a reality.

So until then, we will suffer along with a yet-to-be-named superintendent who will either be a Deasy-type provocateur, burning out after a short time or, more likely, we will be treated to a make-nice type who will not rock the LAUSD boat. The losers, as always, will be the children who could have better but for the self-serving demands of the grown-ups captaining a ship that is constantly taking on water.

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.

California's Vergara Ruling – A Bad Day for Bad Teachers

Summary: In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court issued the landmark decision Brown v. Board of Education, which struck down racially segregated schools because, the court said, they were inherently unequal and they unjustly harmed poor and minority children. Last month, a California court cited Brown v. Board as it struck down multiple state laws, passed at the behest of teachers’ unions, which the court said unjustly protected incompetent teachers and unconscionably harmed children, especially the least fortunate.

In a landmark decision that sent shock waves through the educational establishment, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu ruled last month that California’s teacher tenure laws unconstitutionally deprive students of their guarantee to an education and to equal rights. “The evidence is compelling,” Judge Treu wrote. “Indeed, it shocks the conscience.”

In Vergara v. California, nine students sued the State of California, claiming that ineffective teachers were disproportionately placed in schools with large numbers of “minority” and low-income students. Judge Treu agreed and quoted the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that education “is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.”

20140724_BermanNine young people and their families filed suit against California’s laws on teacher retention and
dismissal, which, they say, protect bad teachers and deprive students of a high-quality education.

The Vergara decision came down less than one month after the 60th anniversary of the Brown decision, in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state and federal laws establishing separate public schools for students classified by the government as “white” and “black.” (In Brown, the Court consolidated cases from Kansas, Virginia, South Carolina, and Delaware, as well as the federal jurisdiction of Washington, D.C.) The Supreme Court found that the practice of segregation violated the provision in the U.S. Constitution that “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall . . . deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

The argument in the current case, Vergara, is that, by forcing schools to favor incompetent teachers with seniority over more capable junior teachers, the rules deprive students of the education that the state constitution guarantees them. Further, because these rules funnel bad teachers to districts with large numbers of poor and “minority” students, those students are denied the equal treatment of the law.

The Vergara lawsuit was backed by Students Matter, a nonprofit educational policy advocacy group funded by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch. “The state has a responsibility of delivering an education for the betterment of the child,” said Welch. “The state needs to understand that [its] responsibility is to teach children, and teach all of them.” Welch’s organization recruited the nine students, from several school districts, to serve as the public face of the case.

Astonishingly, the teachers’ union response to the ruling was that it was actually an attack on children. “This decision today is an attack on teachers, which is a socially acceptable way to attack children,” said Alex Caputo-Pearl, the president-elect of the Los Angeles teachers union. Instead of providing for smaller classes or more counselors, the reformers “attack teacher and student rights.”

Welch answered that claim in an op-ed for the San Jose Mercury News in which he described the harm students suffer from bad teachers:

According to the testimony of Harvard economist Dr. Thomas Kane, a student assigned to the classroom of a grossly ineffective math teacher in Los Angeles loses almost an entire year of learning compared to a student assigned to a teacher of even average effectiveness. Students assigned to more than one grossly ineffective teacher are unlikely ever to catch up to their peers.

And far from wanting to attack all teachers, Welch in the same article pleaded with his fellow Californians to reward good teachers:

“Let’s offer teachers opportunities for promotions, such as to master teacher, teacher mentor, or department chair, where the skills of a truly excellent, creative educator can reach more children—as well as better pay with incentives for excellence and taking on extra responsibilities or difficult positions.”

No less a union friend than Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), whose largest campaign support comes from unions, has bluntly admitted, “Vergara will help refocus our education system on the needs of students.” No wonder the teachers’ unions made five separate legal efforts to have the lawsuit dismissed on grounds other than the merits of the case.

California teacher union members number some 445,000. Both the California Teachers Association (CTA, an affiliate of the National Educational Association) and the California Federation of Teachers (CFT, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers) plan to appeal the court’s decision. Jim Finberg, a lawyer for the two teachers’ unions, said that Judge Treu’s decision “ignores overwhelming evidence the current laws are working.”

Actually, less than 0.002% of teachers in California are dismissed in any given year. Judge Treu noted that, when an effort is made to fire a teacher, “it could take anywhere from two to almost ten years and cost $50,000 to $450,000 or more to bring these cases to conclusion under the Dismissal Statute, and that given these facts, grossly ineffective teachers are being left in the classroom.”

Judge Treu concluded that “distilled to its basics,” the unions’ position requires them to defend the proposition that the state has a compelling interest in the de facto separation of students from competent teachers, and a like interest in the de facto retention of incompetent ones. The logic of this position is unfathomable and therefore constitutionally insupportable.

Seniority vs. merit

The Vergara decision overturned a LIFO (last-in/first-out) law requiring that teacher layoffs be based on seniority, rather than individual merit. California’s Permanent Employment Law required that a teacher be tenured after two years at a school (which, because of an early notice requirement, worked out in practice to 18 months or less). California is one of only five states in which tenure may be received after such a short period. As noted by the blog Voices of San Diego:

Regardless of what we call it, here’s how it looks in San Diego Unified. Once they’re hired, rookie teachers have to make it through a two-year probationary period, during which they can be dismissed for pretty much any reason.

But because the district has to tell teachers by mid-March whether they’ll be invited back for the next school year, the trial period is actually shorter than two years. In the past, the district hasn’t been particularly aggressive in the number of probationary teachers it sends away—only about 1 percent wasn’t given tenure.

“With such little time, you don’t even have enough information to actually consider whether they’re an effective teacher,” said Nancy Waymack, a managing director for the reform-advocacy group National Council on Teacher Quality.

Compared to other states, California has some of the strongest laws in place to protect teacher employment. The effect of this case may spur action throughout the nation. “Without a doubt, this could happen in other states,” said Terry Mazany, who served as interim CEO of Chicago’s public schools in 2010-2011. A lawyer for Students Matter said they are already hoping to “engage with policymakers in New York and nationally,” and donor David Welch said the group would consider suits in other states (New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Oregon were mentioned as possible sites).

Undue Process

The term “due process” refers to a legal or quasi-legal system that protects the rights of an individual, such as by requiring a trial before a person can be executed. Unions defend the complicated procedures for firing teachers by claiming they amount to “due process” that protects those teachers from arbitrary, unfair treatment. As the Pew publication Stateline reports, “The unions argue that the rules protecting teachers are needed for school districts to attract and retain good teachers and to ensure that employees are not fired for arbitrary or unfair reasons.”

But the judge ruled in Vergara that the process has become so cumbersome—that it’s become so difficult to get rid of bad teachers—that it deprives students of their rights. He ridiculed the process as “über due process,” and observed that California state laws already provide a great deal of protection for government and private-sector employees facing dismissal. “Why,” he pleaded, “the need for the current tortuous process” that is mandated only for teachers, a process so unjust, he added, that it was even decried by witnesses called by the teachers’ unions?

James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal noted an irony at the center of the ruling:

“The California Supreme Court had applied the same legal premises to hold unconstitutional funding disparities among districts and one district’s decision to end the school year six weeks early owing to a budgetary shortfall. Vergara doesn’t break new legal ground so much as apply precedent in a way that threatens the education establishment. It’s a case of judicial activism coming back to bite the left.”

A permanent job

As noted in Waiting for ‘Superman,’ a documentary promoting educational reform, one out of every 57 doctors loses his or her license to practice medicine, and one of every 97 lawyers loses his or her license to practice law. Yet, in many major cities, only one out of 1,000 teachers is fired for performance-related offenses. The reason is tenure, or as the unions call it, “permanent status.”

Tenure is the practice of guaranteeing a teacher his or her job. Originally, this was a due process guarantee, something intended to work as a check against administrators capriciously firing teachers and replacing them with friends or family members. It was also designed to protect teachers who took political stands the community might disagree with. Tenure as we understand it today was first seen at the university level, where, ideally, professors would work for years and publish many pieces of inspired academic work before being awarded what amounted to a job for life.

At the elementary and high school level, tenure has evolved from the original understanding of “due process” to the university-style “job for life.” In most states, teachers are awarded tenure after only a few years, after which time they become almost impossible to fire. The main function of these laws is to help bad teachers keep their jobs.

►One Los Angeles union representative has said: “If I’m representing them, it’s impossible to get them out. It’s impossible. Unless they commit a lewd act.” Unfortunately for the students who have to learn from these educators, virtually every teacher who works for the Los Angeles Unified School District receives tenure. In a study of its own, the Los Angeles Times reported that fewer than two percent of teachers are denied tenure during the probationary period after being hired. And once they have tenure, there’s no getting rid of them. Between 1995 and 2005, only 112 Los Angeles tenured teachers faced termination—eleven per year—out of 43,000. And that’s in a school district where the high school graduation rate in 2003 was a pathetic 51 percent.

►One New Jersey union representative was even blunter about what his union does to keep bad teachers in the classroom: “I’ve gone in and defended teachers who shouldn’t even be pumping gas.”

In 10 years, only about 47 out of 100,000 teachers were terminated from New Jersey’s schools. Original research conducted by the Center for Union Facts (CUF) has confirmed that almost no teacher is ever fired in Newark, which is New Jersey’s largest school district, no matter how bad a job the teacher does. Over one four-year period, CUF discovered, Newark’s school district successfully fired about one out of every 3,000 tenured teachers annually. This is a city where roughly two-thirds of students never graduate from high school.

►In New York City, the New York Daily News reported that “just 88 out of some 80,000 city schoolteachers have lost their jobs for poor performance” over 2007-2010.

Then there were the so-called “rubber rooms” of New York City, which operated until 2010. Teachers who couldn’t be relieved of duty would report to these “rubber rooms,” where they would be paid to do nothing for weeks, months, even years. According to the New York Daily News, at any given time an average of 700 teachers were being paid not to teach while the district jumped through the hoops, imposed by the union contract and the law, to pursue discipline or termination. (A city teacher in New York who ended up being fired spent an average of 19 months in the disciplinary process.) The Daily News reported that the New York City school district spent more than $65 million annually just to pay the teachers who were accused of wrongdoing. Millions more tax dollars were spent to hire substitutes.

After the embarrassing Daily News story and an exposé in the New Yorker, the union agreed to end the practice of rubber rooms but refused to expedite the dismissal process. Instead of whiling the days away doing nothing, the teachers were assigned to do clerical work and perform other semi-useful tasks.

The problem isn’t limited to teachers accused of wrongdoing. The city spends more than $100 million every year paying teachers who have been excessed (i.e., whose positions have been eliminated) but have yet to find jobs.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the ironclad union contract requires that any teacher with tenure be paid full salary and benefits if he or she is sent to the “Absent Teacher Reserve pool.” The average pay of a teacher in that pool is over $80,000 a year, and some teachers have stayed in the pool for years. The Journal reports that the majority of teachers in the pool had “neither applied for another job in the system nor attended any recruitment fairs in recent months.”

►Things are no better in New York as a whole. The Albany Times Union looked at what was going on statewide outside New York City and discovered some shocking data: Of 132,000 teachers, only 32 were fired for any reason between 2006 and 2011.

►In Chicago, a school system that has by any measure failed its students—only 28.5 percent of 11th graders met or exceeded expectations on that state’s standardized tests—Newsweek reported that only 0.1 percent of teachers were dismissed for performance-related reasons between 2005 and 2008. When barely one in four students nearing graduation can read and do math, how is it possible that only one in one thousand teachers is worthy of dismissal? It may well be that most of the city’s teachers are good teachers, but can 99.9% of them be good?

Effects of tenure and related teacher “protections”

Modeled after labor arrangements in factories, the typical teachers’ union contract is loaded with provisions that do not promote education. These provisions drive away good teachers, protect bad teachers, raise costs, and tie principals’ hands.

● The Dance of the Lemons

One of the more shocking scenes in the documentary Waiting for ‘Superman’ is an animated illustration of “The Dance of the Lemons.” This is no waltz or foxtrot. Rather, it’s the systematic shuffling of incompetent teachers from school to school. These teachers can’t be fired because union contracts require that “excessed” educators, no longer needed at their original school, must be given first crack at new job openings when slots open up elsewhere in the district. Administrators at other schools don’t want to hire these bad teachers, but districts are unable to fire them.

What happens? LA Weekly documented just how this process plays out in Los Angeles in a massive 2010 investigation. “The far larger problem in L.A. is one of ‘performance cases’—the teachers who cannot teach, yet cannot be fired. Their ranks are believed to be sizable—perhaps 1,000 teachers, responsible for 30,000 children. … The Weekly has found, in a five-month investigation, that principals and school district leaders have all but given up dismissing such teachers. In the past decade, LAUSD officials spent $3.5 million trying to fire just seven of the district’s 33,000 teachers for poor classroom performance—and only four were fired, during legal struggles that wore on, on average, for five years each. Two of the three others were paid large settlements, and one was reinstated. The average cost of each battle is $500,000.”

Unintended Consequences, a study by The New Teacher Project (TNTP), documented the damage done by this union-imposed staffing policy. In an extensive survey of five major metropolitan school districts, TNTP found that “40 percent of school-level vacancies, on average, were filled by voluntary transfers or excessed teachers over whom schools had either no choice at all or limited choice.” One principal decried the process as “not about the best-qualified [teacher] but rather satisfying union rules.”

● Thinning the talent pool

One problem related to the destructive transfer system is a hiring process that takes too long and/or starts too late, thanks in part to union contracts. Would-be teachers typically cannot be hired until senior teachers have had their pick of the vacancies, and the transfer process makes principals reluctant to post vacancies at all for fear of having a bad teacher fill it instead of a promising new hire.

In the study Missed Opportunities, The New Teacher Project found that these staffing hurdles help push urban districts’ hiring timelines later to the point that “anywhere from 31 percent to almost 60 percent of applicants withdrew from the hiring process, often to accept jobs with districts that made offers earlier.”

“Of those who withdrew,” the TNTP report continues, “the majority (50 percent to 70 percent) cited the late hiring timeline as a major reason they took other jobs.” It’s the better applicants who are driven away: “Applicants who withdrew from the hiring process had significantly higher undergraduate GPAs, were 40 percent more likely to have a degree in their teaching field, and were significantly more likely to have completed educational coursework” than the teachers who ended up staying around to finally receive job offers.

● Keeping experienced teachers away from poor children

Another common problem with the union contract is a “bumping” policy that fills schools which are more needy (but less desirable to teach in) with greater numbers of inexperienced teachers. In its report Teaching Inequality, the Education Trust noted: “Children in the highest-poverty schools are assigned to novice teachers almost twice as often as children in low-poverty schools. Similarly, students in high-minority schools are assigned to novice teachers at twice the rate as students in schools without many minority students.”

● Bad apples stay

A study conducted by Public Agenda polled 1,345 schoolteachers on a variety of education issues, including the role that tenure played in their schools. When asked “does tenure mean that a teacher has worked hard and proved themselves to be very good at what they do?” 58 percent of the teachers polled answered that no, tenure “does not necessarily” mean that. In a related question, 78 percent said a few (or more) teachers in their schools “fail to do a good job and are simply going through the motions.”

When Terry Moe, the author of Special Interest: Teachers Unions and America’s Public Schools, asked teachers what they thought of tenure, they admitted that the byzantine process of firing bad apples was too time-consuming: 55 percent of teachers, and 47 percent of union members, answered yes when asked “Do you think tenure and teacher organizations make it too difficult to weed out mediocre and incompetent teachers?”

● The union tax on firing bad teachers

So why don’t districts try to terminate more of their poor performers? The sad answer is that their chance of prevailing is vanishingly small. Teachers unions have ensured that even with a victory, the process is prohibitively expensive and time-consuming. In the 2006-2007 school year, for example, New York City fired only 10 of its 55,000 tenured teachers, or 0.018%. The cost to eliminate those employees averages out to $163,142, according to Education Week. The Albany Times Union reports that the average process for firing a teacher in New York state outside of New York City proper lasts 502 days and costs more than $216,000. In Illinois, Scott Reeder of the Small Newspaper Group found it costs an average of $219,504 in legal fees alone to move a termination case past all the union-supported hurdles. In Columbus, Ohio, the teachers’ union president admitted to the Associated Press that firing a tenured teacher can cost as much as $50,000. A spokesman for Idaho school administrators told local press that districts have been known to spend “$100,000 or $200,000” in litigation costs to toss out a bad teacher.

It’s difficult even to entice the unions to give up tenure for more money. In Washington, D.C., school chancellor Michelle Rhee proposed a voluntary two-tier track for teachers. On one tier, teachers could simply do nothing: Maintain their regularly scheduled raises and keep their tenure. On the other track, teachers could give up tenure and be paid according to how well they and their students performed, with the potential to earn as much as $140,000 per year. The union wouldn’t even let that proposal come up for a vote among its members, and stubbornly blocked efforts to ratify a new contract for more than three years. When the contract finally did come up for ratification by the rank and file, the two-tier plan wasn’t even an option.

● Taking money from good teachers to give to bad teachers

During the expansion of teacher collective bargaining in the mid-twentieth century, economists from Harvard and the Australian National University found, the average, inflation-adjusted salary for U.S. teachers rose modestly—while “the range of the [pay] scale narrowed sharply.” Measuring aptitude by the quality of the college a teacher attended, the researchers found that the advent of the collectively bargained union contract for teachers meant that on average, more talented teachers were receiving less, while less talented teachers were receiving more.

The earnings of teachers in the lowest aptitude group (those from the bottom-tier colleges) rose dramatically relative to the average wage, so that teachers who in 1963 earned 73 percent of the average salary for teachers could expect to earn exactly the average by 2000. Meanwhile, the ratio of the earnings of teachers in the highest-aptitude group to earnings of average teachers fell dramatically. In states where the highest-aptitude teachers began with an earnings ratio of 157 percent, they ended with a ratio of 98 percent.

Data from the National Center for Education Statistics, as reported by Education Week, add further evidence to the compressed-pay claim. The Center’s stats indicate that the average maximum teacher pay nationwide is only 1.85 times greater than the nationwide average salary for new teachers.

● Locking up education dollars

Much of the money commanded by teachers’ union contracts is not being used well, at least from the perspective of parents or reformers. Several provisions commonly found in union contracts that cost serious money have been shown to do little to improve education quality. A report from the nonprofit Education Sector found that nearly 19 percent of all public education spending in America goes towards things like seniority-based pay increases and outsized benefits—things that don’t go unappreciated by teachers, but don’t do much to improve the quality of teaching children receive. If these provisions were done away with, the report found, $77 billion in education money would be freed up for initiatives that could actually improve learning, like paying high-performing teachers more money.

● Putting kids at risk

Teachers unions push for contracts that effectively cripple school districts’ ability to monitor teachers for dangerous behavior. In one case, school administrators in Seattle received at least 30 warnings that a fifth grade teacher was a danger to his students. However, thanks to a union contract that forces schools to destroy most personnel records after each school year, he managed to evade punishment for nearly 20 years, until he was finally sent to prison in 2005 for having molested as many as 13 girls. As an attorney for one of the victims put it, according to the Seattle Times, “You could basically have a pedophile in your midst and not know it. How are you going to get rid of somebody if you don’t know what they did in the past?”

The Bottom Line

Too many schools are failing too many children. Americans should not remain complacent about how districts staff, assign, and compensate teachers. And too many teachers’ union contracts preserve archaic employment rules that have nothing to do with serving children.

Even Al Shanker, the legendary former president of the American Federation of Teachers, admitted, “a lot of people who have been hired as teachers are basically not competent.”

This is what the union wants: To keep teachers on the payroll regardless of whether or not they are doing any work or are needed by the school district. Why? As long as they are on the payroll, they keep paying union dues. The union doesn’t care about the children who will be hurt by this misallocation of tax dollars. All union leaders care about is protecting their members and, by extension, their own coffers.

Most teachers absolutely deserve to keep their jobs, and some have begun to speak out about the absurdity of teacher tenure, but it’s impossible to pretend that the number of firings actually reflects the number of bad teachers protected by tenure. As long as union leaders possess the legal ability to drag out termination proceedings for months or even years—during which time districts must continue paying teachers, and substitute teachers to replace them, and lawyers to arbitrate the proceedings—the situation for students will not improve.

The Vergara case offers hope, but supporters of better education cannot rely on judges to fix America’s schools. Parents and teachers must join together to eliminate teacher tenure systems that protect bad teachers and that divert our best teachers away from many of the students who could benefit most from their skills and experience.

*   *   *

About the Author:  Richard Berman is executive director of the Center for Union Facts. Some of this material appeared previously on the website TeachersUnionExposed.com, a project of the Center for Union Facts. This article originally appeared on the website Labor Watch, and is republished here with permission.

Teacher Jail Break

The “housed teacher” syndrome is a problem created by the teachers unions and administered by an inept school district.

For years, teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District who have been accused of misconduct have been “housed” as they wait for investigators to figure out if they are really guilty. These so-called “teacher jails” or “rubber rooms” are district offices in which the accused sit, eat, talk to each other and text their friends Monday through Friday during school hours. The “prisoners” cannot be asked to do any office work – like filing or answering phones – which is “outside their regular duties.” Even more ridiculous, they can’t even contact subs to give them lesson plans while they are away.

In a change ordered by LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy, as of May 27th, the doors of the jails were thrown open and the inhabitants are now sentenced to what is tantamount to house arrest. They are required to stay at home during the work day, and are allowed to leave during that time only if they are summoned elsewhere as part of the investigation.

Does it really matter where a teacher is made to sit out their investigation? Not really, but it does help taxpayers if they don’t have to subsidize the care and maintenance of the “jails” and the supervision of the “inmates.” At this time there are about 250 teachers (there have been over 400 in the past) who will now get to stay home instead of reporting to a district office.

Just what crimes do these housed teachers commit? The misconduct can range anywhere from sexual wrongdoing to being verbally abusive, failing to follow rules for standardized tests or even excessively missing work.  Also, the teachers are often not told what they are being accused of for lengthy periods of time.

As James Poulos writes in Calwatchdog.com:

The practice highlights a series of sore spots for public education in Los Angeles and, more broadly, in California. On the one hand, teachers guilty of firing offenses are detained for an extraordinarily long period of time – 127 days on average. On the other, the vast majority of accused teachers lose their jobs and benefits when their investigations concluded. Only about 20 percent leave ‘rubber rooms’ and pick up where they left off.

This is all shameful – for the taxpayer, for the 20 percent ultimately found “not guilty” and for the teachers’ students who have to be taught by subs during the lengthy investigative period. LAUSD needs to hire many more investigators and resolve these cases much quicker. The additional hires would pay for themselves because evidence tells us that most of the teachers will be found guilty or quit before going through the pain of a trial. That will save the district and state the cost of the teachers’ salaries, health benefits and additional pension accrual, as well as outlay for hiring subs.

LAUSD showed its insouciance in another way recently. On May 1st, it was revealed that the district destroyed documents that may have held key evidence in child abuse cases. Included in the shredding was crucial ammo in the case of Mark Berndt, second grade teacher and legendary semen-topped cookie server at Miramonte Elementary School who is now in jail…the real kind.

Then just a few days ago, we learned that a Superior Court judge has ordered LAUSD to pay a $6,000 penalty for denying it had photos that show alleged sexual abuse at Miramonte. (Please keep in mind that these are the folks who are in charge of educating 600,000 students In Los Angeles!)

But there is plenty more blame to go around for teacher jails. Why do we have them in the first place? There are no “bank teller jails” or “pastry chef jails.”

Because the teacher unions are all powerful, that’s why. It’s all due to the arcane and unconscionable dismissal statues, brought to us by the California Teachers Association and their cronies in the state legislature.

(L)ess than 0.002% of California’s hundreds of thousands of teachers are dismissed for unprofessional conduct or unsatisfactory performance in any given year. This compares to the 1% of other California public employees dismissed annually for unprofessional conduct or unsatisfactory performance and the 8% of private employees dismissed annually for cause.

But there may be help on the way.

AB 215, now making the legislative rounds in Sacramento, is a measure that would speed up the dismissal process for teachers who commit serious crimes. Among other things, the bill would:

  • Create a separate, expedited hearing process after a school board has voted to fire a teacher for egregious misconduct.
  • Impose a seven-month deadline for the administrative law judge to issue a decision in all dismissal cases, unless the judge agrees to a delay for good cause.
  • Clarify the law to allow districts to suspend without pay teachers charged with egregious and immoral conduct.
  • Prohibit districts from cutting deals with teachers to have charges of misconduct expunged from their record – potentially enabling them to relocate to an unsuspecting district.
  • Permit allegations of child abuse or sexual abuse more than four years old to be introduced as evidence.
  • Permit dismissal charges for egregious misconduct to be filed at any time, not just during the school year.

Then there is the Students Matter case (Vergara v California), which should be resolved within the next five weeks. If the judge rules for the plaintiffs, seniority, tenure and the dismissal statutes will be excised from the state’s education code, making it considerably easier and less expensive for school districts to get rid of criminal and low-quality teachers.

But until then, we are left with a bumbling school district and a teachers union that is hell-bent on protecting every last dues paying member, no matter how incompetent or evil they may be, all the while sacrificing children and hosing the innocent taxpayer.

Privatization or home schooling, 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.

UTLA, LAUSD and ACLU Fiddle While Children Don’t Learn

“Landmark settlement” song has hackneyed words but still makes Top 10 in the “Hubris” category.

In 2010, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit which claimed that seniority-based layoffs take a disproportionate toll on poor and minority schools. The ACLU won the case and the settlement protected students in up to 45 schools from the pernicious effects of the last in/first out (LIFO) regimen.

But shortly thereafter, the United Teachers of Los Angeles successfully appealed the decision, and the case was remanded back to state court. And after 20 months of dithering and dickering, we now have a new settlement. As reported by EdSource’s John Fensterwald,

The deal in the Reed v. the State of California lawsuit will provide about $25 million annually for three years for additional administrators, mentor teachers and teacher training in 37 middle and high schools where there had been low student performance and high turnover of inexperienced teachers.

There are a few other minor considerations like a special education coordinator being placed at each school and principals will be offered a “retention package” to stay on the job longer. But the problem at hand? Ignore it, throw some money around it and hope the victims will be appeased. There is no mention at all about better ways to choose which teachers stay and which teachers go should layoffs become necessary. It ignores the reality that the union-enforced LIFO system regularly cheats thousands of children out of a decent education. And the self-congratulatory palavering over the decision strikes a dissonant chord.

The usually sensible Los Angeles Unified School District superintendent John Deasy crooned,

The youth in greatest peril at these schools will benefit tremendously. These are invaluable investments, aligned with the goals of the Local Control Funding Formula, which will make a difference in transforming these schools and bring justice to our youth.

Huh? What Dr. Deasy is saying here is that we can right things by simply throwing more money at the problem. Gee, maybe we can become like Washington, D.C.! It spends $30,000 yearly per student yet has one of the most dysfunctional school systems in the country.

Joan Sullivan, CEO of the Partnership schools rhapsodized,

Our mission is about equity. Today, thanks to ongoing collaboration, we have all parties coming together around a landmark settlement that promises to bring students across Los Angeles closer to the educational opportunity they deserve.

Landmark? The only landmark that this case conjures up is the Alamo. But while the Alamo massacre is a distant memory, inner city school carnage is still with us.

Jesus E. Quinonez, an attorney for UTLA, claimed victory, warbling,

… any attempts to extinguish the rights of teachers—here, the right to a neutral and fair hearing process—will not serve the needs of kids or lead to justice in our schools.

Fair hearing process? Is he kidding?! With LIFO in place, no one gets any kind of hearing. Decisions are made according to a brain-dead set-up that doesn’t recognize the importance of teacher quality. In fact, LIFO discriminates not only against children, but also against good and great teachers.

Dale Larson, attorney with Morrison & Foerster, which partnered with the ACLU in the lawsuit, intoned:

By providing resources to attract and retain teachers in the 37 low-performing, high-turnover middle and high schools, the settlement renders the legal question raised in Reed “academic.”

Actually, it’s not “academic” at all as the 17 page decision never even mentions the words “seniority” or “last in/first out.”

What the Kumbaya chorus is omitting – other than the fact that the issues in the original suit have gone completely unaddressed – is that adding administrators to a bad situation is often worse than meaningless. You see, in Los Angeles, though administrators are “at will” employees, they are treated like unionized teachers and are almost never fired for incompetence. (I know this from first-hand experience. We had a revolving door of assistant principals at the middle school where I toiled for 15 years. A few were great, some good and some were so bad they went from school to school – all too frequently mine – as “must place” employees. Also, I never met a teacher who was drawn to a school because it had a lot of administrators.)

Additional mentor teachers and teacher training are good things – assuming the mentors and the training are of value. But what happens if a teacher still isn’t doing the job after working with a mentor and getting further training? Nothing. Due to seniority (and equally noxious tenure laws), he will still be in the classroom, his students will still be failing, and a better teacher will be collecting an unemployment check.

Officially, the agreement is not a done deal. The LAUSD board needs to vote on it and it’s on the agenda for its April 22nd meeting. If it passes there, the settlement then must be approved by the court. But given the self-congratulatory outpouring by virtually all of the involved players, it’s hard to believe that there will be dissent from either entity. (Too bad the parents and kids at the involved schools don’t have a vote.)

Hence, it would appear that the only hope for burying seniority – and the foul tenure and dismissal statutes – lies with the Vergara v. California (Students Matter) case, which is set for a ruling by early July. Referring to Vergara, UTLA attorney Quinonez said the settlement in the ACLU case acknowledges that “the solution to high turnover in schools is not to take away teachers’ rights.”

What the union lawyer really meant was that the agreement doesn’t take away the more senior teachers’ perks. And more importantly, his statement makes no mention of “children’s rights.” But then again, union songs are invariably about union solidarity. And the voices of the children and their parents who continue to be penalized are never included in the mix.

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.

Pull the Plug on LIFO Support

Despite bellyaching from the union crowd, the California education code’s last in/first out (LIFO) statute must be tossed.

California’s fiscal problems have taken a toll on the teaching profession in California. And the Golden State’s arbitrary seniority system, whereby staffing decisions are made by time spent on the job, has made things much worse. A recent Sacramento Bee story spells out the details:

Young teachers have become far more scarce in California classrooms after school districts slashed their budgets to survive the recession.

From 2008 to 2013, California saw a 40 percent drop in teachers with less than six years’ experience, according to a Sacramento Bee review of state data.

As the state cut funding, districts laid off teachers with the least seniority and stopped hiring new applicants. Those employment practices, in turn, discouraged college students from pursuing the profession in California, as enrollment in teaching programs fell by 41 percent between 2008 and 2012. (Emphasis added.)

Not surprisingly, while traditional public schools have been taking a beating, charters – which are rarely unionized and don’t honor seniority – have flourished. In fact, there are over 50,000 kids on charter school wait lists in California.

Charter schools educate about 10 percent of Sacramento County’s students, but last year they employed 40 percent of the region’s first- and second-year teachers. Teachers at five schools in the Sacramento City Unified District – all charters – averaged less than five years in the profession in 2013. They were Capitol Collegiate Academy, Sol Aureus College Preparatory, Yav Pem Suab Academy, St. Hope Public School 7 and Oak Park Preparatory Academy.

Studies that have been done on seniority have nothing good to say about it. For example, The New Teacher Project found that only 13 to 16 percent of the teachers laid off in a seniority-based system would also be cut under a system based on teacher effectiveness.

The nonpartisan California Legislative Analyst Office found that basing employment decisions on the number of years served instead of teachers’ performance “can lead to lower quality of the overall teacher workforce.”

Also, by not using seniority, fewer teachers would need to be laid off. Due to the step-and- column method of paying teachers, veteran teachers, whether they deserve to or not, make considerably more than younger ones. In a policy brief, the Annenberg Institute reports:

Because more experienced teachers are generally higher on the salary scale than newer teachers, districts would actually be able to meet budget goals with fewer layoffs if they had more leeway to fire teachers across the board, based on quality, not seniority.

Sadly, seniority-based layoffs take a much bigger toll on poor and minority schools. When senior teachers have the opportunity, they frequently escape these hard-to-staff schools, leaving rookies in their place. So when layoffs become necessary, as they did during the recent recession, the younger teachers are the first to get pink-slipped, saddling impoverished students with revolving subs. This results in the least stable education environment imaginable and has a lot more to do with the failure of inner city schools than the “poverty is destiny” crowd would have you believe. Accordingly, the ACLU jumped on this issue in 2010.

In Reed v. State of California, … the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Los Angeles, considered whether to grant a preliminary injunction in favor of a group of students to stop the Los Angeles Unified School District (“LAUSD”) from laying off more teachers at three middle schools in the district. The Superior Court concluded that “notwithstanding any contractual or statutory seniority-based layoff provisions,” the State of California and LAUSD should be restrained and enjoined “from implementing any budget-based layoffs of teachers” at three LAUSD middle schools that have been devastated by teacher layoffs in 2009.

The three middle schools at issue, Samuel Gompers Middle School (“Gompers”), John H. Liechty Middle School (“Liechty), and Edwin Markham Middle School (“Markham”), are each ranked in the bottom 10% of schools in California in terms of academic performance. During a 2009 reduction in force (“RIF”), LAUSD sent RIF notices to 60% of the teachers at Liechty, 48% of the teachers at Gompers, and 46% of the teachers at Markham. These figures are in contrast with the fact that LAUSD only sent notices to 17.9% of all of its teachers. The RIFs resulted in a large number of teacher vacancies at all three schools.

The settlement reached between the plaintiffs, LAUSD and the Mayor’s Partnership for Los Angeles Schools protected students

… in up to 45 Targeted Schools in the unfortunate event of budget-based teacher layoffs and provides support and resources aimed at stabilizing and improving these schools, including retention incentives for teachers and principals. The Targeted Schools will be determined annually and will include 25 under-performing and difficult-to-staff schools that have suffered from staff retention issues yet are starting to make positive strides. In addition, up to 20 schools will be selected based on the likelihood that the school will be negatively and disproportionately affected by teacher turnover. To ensure that any impact from preserving teacher positions at the Targeted Schools is fairly distributed, the settlement provides that no school at or above the district-wide average of layoffs will be negatively affected.”

But several months later, the United Teachers of Los Angeles, threatened by a shake-up to the status quo, successfully appealed the decision and the settlement was nullified.

While adamant about protecting seniority, the teachers unions and their fellow travelers have only bromides and falsehoods to bolster their position. When A.J. Duffy, then UTLA president, talked to some young teachers at Liechty Middle School – one of the three named in the ACLU suit – he said, “Saving your jobs would mean that more experienced teachers would lose theirs…. Seniority is the only fair way to do it… and any exception would be ‘an act of disloyalty.’”

State Superintendent Tom Torlakson was dutifully  toeing the union line when he stated, “The {ACLU} ruling could hurt students by requiring them to be taught by inexperienced teachers rather than finding ways to bring in more experienced and arguably more effective teachers.”

Continuing the “experience trumps all” line of thought, the California Federation of Teachers website proclaims, “Seniority is the only fair, transparent way to administer layoffs. It ensures equal treatment for all teachers … Research consistently shows more experienced teachers provide better student learning outcomes than inexperienced teachers.”

But of course, not all teachers are “equal” and the “experience = better” mantra is a myth. Time on the job is not a proxy for quality. Most studies show that a teacher’s effectiveness maxes out in 3-5 years and that the majority of teachers do not improve over time. Actually, some studies show that teachers become less effective toward the end of their careers.

As edu-pundit RiShawn Biddle pointed out in 2010,

… what’s truly appalling is the teachers union defense of last hired-first fired and of seniority rights. It lays bare some of the most-glaring flaws in union thinking: How can unions demand equal pay and treatment for all workers while advocating work rules and compensation that favor one group of rank-and-file members over another? How can the NEA and AFT call themselves unions of modern professionals – and demand that teaching be considered on an equal footing with lawyers and doctors – when they defend labor practices best-suited for early 20th-century factory workers?

Yes, their insistence on seniority exposes the teachers unions’ industrial-style nature. For them, teachers are nothing more than interchangeable, dues-paying widgets and teacher competence and effectiveness are of no discernible consideration. The arbitrariness of such a set-up is epitomized by Bhavini Bhakta, a teacher-of-the-year who lost teaching positions in four Southern California schools over eight years because she lacked seniority. One of her yearly encounters with LIFO involved a situation where either she or another teacher-of-the-year – who was hired on the same day – was to be laid off. The district had the teachers pull numbered Popsicle sticks out of a hat to see which one kept her job. Ms. Bhakta got a lower number and thus lost her position, yet again.

Standardized tests, evaluations by impartial trained experts, the principal and parents, etc. should all be utilized to determine a teacher’s value. And certainly, we need to have a conversation about how much weight should be given to each of these and possibly other criteria. But for the sake of the kids and the teaching profession, we need to put the Popsicle stick method of teacher retention – also known as seniority – into the garbage.

Postscript: There is a chance that seniority could be in for a major upheaval in the near future. The Students Matter (Vergara v California) case is winding up and will shortly be in the hands of Judge Rolf Treu. If he finds for the plaintiffs, and the ruling survives the inevitable appeal, LIFO – as well as tenure and the dismissal statutes as we know them – will be removed from California’s education code and be rendered unconstitutional.

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.

“Hey, Deasy, baby, I want my money.”

Los Angeles teachers demand a raise, but their appeal to the public is embarrassing and more importantly, misses the big picture.

Claiming that teachers have not received a raise since 2007, the United Teachers of Los Angeles held a protest rally last Wednesday. As reported by Ryan White in LA School Report,

“Hey, Deasy, baby, I want my money,” the red-shirted crowd sang in a hip-hop inspired chorus at a rally organized by UTLA in its ongoing bid to win salary increases from the district. Their target: Superintendent John Deasy.

With teachers’ last pay raise dating back to early 2007, the union says a salary hike is long overdue, especially since last fall’s voter-approved Prop. 30 increased the per-student funds the district receives from the state. The argument that teachers are now owed their financial due after years of sacrifice was the rally’s dominant refrain.

While the chant was thoroughly obnoxious, the teachers’ plea seems reasonable … on the surface. But a look under the microscope reveals things not apparent to the naked eye.

First, while it is true that teachers in Los Angeles have not received an across-the-board raise in almost seven years, they get yearly raises throughout most of their careers. Due to the step-and-column way we pay our teachers, most get a bump for simply not dying over the summer. Then they get more raises for taking “professional development” classes and workshops, despite conclusive research over the last 25 years by Stanford-based economist Eric Hanushek showing that these classes have no effect on student learning. In LA, the set-up is particularly egregious, resulting in a huge and unnecessary burden to the taxpayer.

According to the district contract with the United Teachers of Los Angeles, coursework, to qualify as professional development, must be “directly related to subjects commonly taught in the District.” So a kindergarten teacher can take “Northern and Southern Economies on the Eve of the Civil War,” say, and receive what is euphemistically called “salary-point credit” for it. Or an American history teacher could take a class in identifying different kinds of plankton and also get a bump in pay. Taxpayers pay out a whopping $519 million a year in extra salary payments to teachers who take such courses. (Emphasis added.)

In Los Angeles, a starting teacher makes $45,637 and a veteran can make up to $98,567. But it’s important to note that the average teacher works between 6 and 8 hours a day, 180 days per year – compared to the average college-educated worker, most of whom work over 8 hours a day and 240-250 days a year. The teacher union-perpetuated myth of the undercompensated teacher was blown up in 2011 by Andrew Biggs, a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute and Jason Richwine, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation. Their study, in fact, found that teachers are overpaid. Typically, teachers have perks like excellent healthcare and pension packages which aren’t counted as “income.” Armed with facts, charts and a bevy of footnotes, the authors make a very good case for their thesis. For example, they claim,

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

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

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

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

Another pay issue worth examining is the set-in-stone collective bargaining contract which makes no allowance for teacher quality. While many in the “Hey, Deasy, baby” crowd undoubtedly support collective bargaining, is it fetching them more money? Not according to data collected by the National Council on Teacher Quality. As Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli reports, “Teachers in non-collective bargaining districts actually earn more than their union-protected peers – $64,500 on average versus $57,500.” He does add that

… there is some evidence from the NCTQ data that non-collective bargaining districts drive a harder bargain when it comes to health care….

All of this sheds a light on what the unions are really about: protecting benefits and seniority–not pushing for higher pay. If you’re a young teacher earning a lousy salary and paying union dues, that’s something to be very angry about.

An additional problem with collective bargaining is that it hurts good teachers because of  “wage compression,” which occurs when the salaries of lower paid teachers are raised above the market rate, with the increase offset by reducing pay of the most productive ones. As Cato Institute’s Andrew Coulson wrote in 2010,

The impact of this wage compression is significant. Using an instrumental variables model, and taking into account alternative explanations, Hoxby and Leigh (2004: 239) conclude that between 1963 and 2000, “Pay compression increased the share of the lowest-aptitude female college graduates who became teachers by about 9 percentage points and decreased the share of the highest-aptitude female college graduates who become teachers by about 12 percentage points.” (Emphasis added.) To this, Neal (2002: 34) adds that, “The rigid wage structures among public schools also raise questions about teacher retention.” In particular, he points to studies by Murnane and Olsen (1989, 1990) and Stinebrickner (2001), which examine separation rates for public school teachers, and concludes that “teachers with higher test scores and better college records leave their jobs at higher rates.”

After reviewing all the data, what leaps out is that teachers as a whole don’t fare badly at all when it comes to salary and benefits. But it is shameful that school districts and teachers unions in California have colluded to treat teachers as interchangeable widgets with no acknowledgment of teacher quality. That a great teacher and a mediocre teacher – both of whom have taught for the same period of time – make exactly the same amount of money is disgraceful. Good teachers are a treasure and should be compensated accordingly. At the end of the day, protesting teachers may demand “their money,” but after examining the facts, only the best ones deserve 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.

Dump the Masters Bump

Advanced degrees for teachers have no bearing on student learning.

Last week, The Wall Street Journal brought to a national audience the news that lawmakers in North Carolina have done away with automatic pay increases for teachers who have master’s degrees.

North Carolina is the latest state to get rid of the “masters bump,” following Tennessee, Florida, Indiana and Louisiana. What these states have come to realize is that a teacher needs an advanced degree like a fish needs a sheepskin. Or, as Harvard researcher Tom Kane put it, “Paying teachers on the basis of master’s degrees is equivalent to paying them based on hair color.”

Instead, North Carolina will institute a system of merit pay based on students’ test scores. Of course, moving away from the traditional way of giving teachers raises brings out all the usual suspects whose common grouse is,

Getting an advanced degree gives teachers a deeper understanding of one subject or a better idea of how to teach students at different levels – important parts of education that aren’t always quantifiable.

It is certainly possible that teachers with advanced degrees may have a “deeper understanding” of their subject matter. But so what? How much a student learns, not how much the teacher “understands,” is the real measure of a teacher’s value.

But any attempt at “pay for performance” is particularly anathema to the union crowd because it destroys their worldview that all teachers are essentially the same, and that there is no such thing as a bad teacher. This phenomenon was spelled out in 2009 in “The Widget Effect,” a report by The New Teacher Project.

Predictably, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten weighed in on the North Carolina move, positing that, “districts and local unions should create contracts that reward teachers for master’s degrees that are relevant to classroom instruction.” She then added,

What is so ironic to me is that the same people who keep telling kids that it is really important to gain additional knowledge are the same ones saying “not so much,” when it comes to teachers.

Again, Weingarten is under the erroneous assumption that the more a teacher knows, the more their students will learn. She has apparently forgotten that we pay teachers to be teachers, not to be students.

In fact, Weingarten and her fellow travelers should become familiar with “The Sheepskin Effect and Student Achievement” with its subhead “De-emphasizing the Role of Master’s Degrees in Teacher Compensation.” The study, conducted by the Center for American Progress, delved into the uselessness and the outrageous costs of the bump.

Not only does the annual outlay for master’s bumps inflate demand for master’s degrees, it understates the full financial and social cost of this traditional facet of teacher compensation in the following three ways:

  • First, the extra cost is a lost opportunity. The billions of dollars tied up in master’s bumps are not available for compensation vehicles better aligned with a school district’s strategic goals such as improving student achievement.
  • Second, some school districts offer tuition reimbursement to teachers pursuing a master’s degree.
  • Third, many teachers leave the classroom years before earning enough additional compensation by way of master’s bumps to pay down loans or defray other expenses associated with their efforts to earn a master’s degree.

The severity of the costs cannot be exaggerated. As The Wall Street Journal reports,

About 52% of the nation’s 3.4 million public elementary and high-school teachers held a master’s or other advanced degree in 2008, compared with about 38% of private-school teachers, according to the most recent federal data. The national average salary for a teacher with five years of experience and a bachelor’s degree was $39,700 in 2008, compared with $46,500 with a master’s, according to the federal data … The nation spends an estimated $15 billion annually on salary bumps for teachers who earn master’s degrees …

Here in Los Angeles, the situation is beyond wacky. In 2011, I wrote about “The Teacher Quality Roadmap,” a study conducted by the National Council on Teacher Quality that examined the relationship between advanced degrees and other “extra coursework” on teacher effectiveness.

“Out of 102 statistical tests examined,” the report notes, “approximately 90 percent showed that advanced degrees had either no impact at all or, in some cases, a negative impact on student achievement.” And teachers without advanced degrees who simply take extra coursework in their areas of specialty prove no more effective in the classroom than those who don’t.

Not only is L.A. Unified’s policy at odds with the research, it practically invites teachers to game the system. According to the district contract with the United Teachers of Los Angeles, coursework, to qualify as professional development, must be “directly related to subjects commonly taught in the District.” (Emphasis added.) So a kindergarten teacher can take “Northern and Southern Economies on the Eve of the Civil War,” say, and receive what is euphemistically called “salary-point credit” for it. Or an American history teacher could take a class in identifying different kinds of plankton and also get a bump in pay. Taxpayers pay out a whopping $519 million a year in extra salary payments to teachers who take such courses.

That’s $519,000,000 in Los Angeles and $15,000,000,000 nationally in wasted taxpayer money! For the union crowd and their acolytes who are always screaming that we need more money for education, eliminating the masters bump and ignoring all the “deeper understanding” poppycock would be a perfect place to start.

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.

Who Benefits from Collective Bargaining in Education?

Union bosses do — at the expense of good teachers, children, their parents and taxpayers.  

In a tribute to Labor Day, the California Teachers Association has put up a slobbering web page as a paean to the labor movement. Its unintentionally humorous title is “Organized Labor – Proud and Free.”

Free? 

Actually, it is very costly. Here in California, a non-right-to-work state, teachers must fork up over $1,000 a year in order to work in a public school. (They can pay a little less if they choose not to support the union’s political agenda.) And all teachers are forced to be a part of the collective bargaining (CB) unit. 

Collective bargaining, a term first introduced into the lexicon by socialist Beatrice Webb in 1891, is a process of negotiations between employers and employees aimed at reaching agreements that regulate working conditions. The workers are commonly represented by a union, and the agreements reached by this arrangement set wage scales, working hours, teacher training, etc. 

It sounds like a good deal for teachers, but is it?

“Exclusive representation” (more accurately, monopoly bargaining) privileges are the source of compulsory union power.

Handed to union officials by Congress in the National Labor Relations Act, monopoly bargaining gives union kingpins the leverage to herd workers into unions and then force them to pay union dues.

Under federal law, if union organizers win a representation election by even 50% plus one of those voting, they are empowered to negotiate contracts on behalf of all 100% of the workers. In fact, under some circumstances, union officials become monopoly “representatives” even when most workers are against them! And by law each and every worker loses his or her right to negotiate directly with the employer on his or her own behalf.

So problem #1 with CB is that teachers are forced to go along with the 50 percent plus one even if they would rather negotiate their own contacts. 

Do good teachers benefit from CB? 

According to “Perspectives of Irreplaceable Teachers,” a recent study commissioned by TNTP, 

Our respondents cherish the opportunity to make a difference in their students’ lives, but they feel beaten down by many aspects of the profession, like low pay, excessive bureaucracy, and ineffective leaders and colleagues. About 60 percent plan to stop teaching within five years as a result. (Emphasis added.)

Low pay, excessive bureaucracy and ineffective colleagues are all attributable to CB contracts and anathema to great teachers. And we lose thousands of our best educators as a result.

Wage compression,” occurs when the salaries of lower paid teachers are raised above the market rate, with the increase offset by reducing pay of the most productive ones. “Why strive to become better if I am not going to be compensated for it?” is the attitude of many.

Also, where CB exists, teachers’ salaries are typically determined by years on the job and any “professional development” classes they take. Teacher quality and student learning are rarely taken into account. Hence, CB encourages mediocrity.

The “excessive bureaucracy” is created in part by the CB agreement. Top-down, restrictive union demands dictate a teacher’s every move. The union contract with the Los Angeles Unified School District, hardly atypical, weighs in at a flatulent 349 pages. Good teachers need latitude, not piles of union mandates. At the same time, “irreplaceable” teachers are beaten down by a system with too many “ineffective colleagues.”

Do children, parents and taxpayers benefit from CB?

As Stanford Professor Terry Moe has pointed out, a union dominated school system often ignores the needs of children, especially minorities. In an in-depth study, he found that,

·         Collective bargaining appears to have a strongly negative impact in the larger districts, but it appears to have no effect in smaller districts (except possibly for African American students—which is important indeed if true)….

·         Among the larger districts, collective bargaining has more negative effects for high-minority schools than for other schools….

Although the findings are weaker on this count, 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….

Another Stanford professor, Caroline Hoxby, came up with pretty much the same conclusion in a detailed empirical study: collective bargaining has a negative impact on teacher performance.

University of Arkansas Professor Jay Greene sums it up quite succinctly.

“Until the ability of teachers unions to engage in collective bargaining is restrained, we should expect unions to continue to use it to advance the interests of their adult members over those of children, their families, and taxpayers.”

Other ways that CB damages education:

·         Management’s authority and freedom are much more restricted by negotiated rules.

·         Creates significant potential for polarization between employees and managers.

·         Disproportionate effect of relatively few active employees on the many in the bargaining unit.This is particularly the case when collective bargaining involves a system-wide structure of elections, or when an earlier workforce voted the union in and the current one doesn’t want it.

·         Decreases flexibility and requires longer time needed for decision making.

·         Protects the status quo, thereby inhibiting innovation and change. 

·         Higher management costs associated with negotiating and administering the agreements.

·         Eliminates ability of management to make unilateral changes in wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment.

·         Restricts management’s ability to deal directly with individual employees.

Collective bargaining can have a detrimental effect on all teachers. 

Not surprisingly, when forced to negotiate with their own staff, teachers unions turn into management and are often tyrannical. But ultimately it doesn’t matter which side prevails. As Mike Antonucci writes, 

No matter which side prevails in labor disputes between union management and staff, one group always loses – teachers and education support employees. To avoid embarrassment, many teacher union officials cave in to staff demands, which means teachers must pay higher dues to receive union services. But union managers reveal their own hypocrisy when they play hardball and use tactics even the most anti-union school administrator would shun. Staff unions rightly note that these union methods only embolden school districts to use the same methods themselves — to the detriment of unionized teachers. (Emphasis added.) 

So just who are the big winners from collective bargaining? 

The only absolute winners are the union bosses, who at the end of the day line their pockets with hefty salaries that teachers are forced to pay them in most states for the “privilege” to collectively bargain for them. 

What a racket.

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.

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.

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.

Union Refusal to Protect Students Costs LAUSD Millions

Los Angeles Unified School District, the state’s largest district and largest recipient of the Proposition 30 tax increases, figures to be writing a big check soon. Unfortunately, this check won’t be going to support math, reading or arts programs. Rather, the money, $30 million, would go to settle 58 legal claims filed against LAUSD related to the Miramonte Elementary sex-abuse case, where teacher Mark Berndt allegedly fed semen to blindfolded children and placed cockroaches on their faces.

When Prop. 30 was being promoted to voters, nobody said that that higher taxes might be needed to help pay for the misdeeds of adults overseen by administrators who seemed not to know how to protect kids from classroom sex predators.

And that $30 million is just the beginning. A total of 191 claims were filed against the district, representing 129 Miramonte students and 62 parents and guardians. 71 students still have pending claims.

In this first settlement, which still needs final approval, each victim will receive about $470,000. The crazy thing is that the state spends about $7,000 per year per student in our system. So, taxpayers pay an embarrassingly low amount to educate our kids, then are forced into a humongous payout because the adults did nothing to remove other adults who allegedly do heinous things to little kids.

Rumor was that LAUSD wanted to get out cheaply, but, ultimately, “did the right thing,” according to plaintiff’s counsel. Attorneys said the settlement “enables the children and the families to avoid the pains of litigation” and would enable the kids to put the “nightmare” of Miramonte behind them. LAUSD’s top attorney assured us that the district’s insurance policy would cover those amounts. Taxpayers, ultimately still pay the bills.

Absolutely, the victims should have been spared the litigation process. What happened to the children is horrific, and I support their receiving a lawful settlement. But I wish we would have forced the adults involved to publicly testify. Maybe their public mea culpa would finally lead to systemic changes.

The chain of responsibility starts with the California Legislature, for failing to change state law to enable districts to expeditiously remove teachers suspected of serious misconduct.

When a sensible bill to do just that reached the Assembly Education Committee last year, six Democrats voted with the California Teachers Association, which vehemently opposed the bill. Those six were Assembly members Betsy Butler, Das Williams, Mike Eng, Wilmer Carter, Tom Ammiano and Joan Buchanan, who this year is chairing the committee. The bill could have advanced if just one of them had taken the side of the students.

Taxpayers should be outraged – by the $30 million and the millions yet to come, and by the entire nightmare of Miramonte and failed leadership.

But the issue itself, and the lawsuits yet to be settled, won’t quickly go away. Senate Bill 10, a renewed version of the teacher-misconduct bill, has already been introduced. Only our vigilance can ensure it finally passes.

Gloria Romero is an education reformer and former Democratic state senator from Los Angeles.

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.

Fake Teacher Evaluation Racket is Busted in Los Angeles

Parents sue the LA school board and teachers union, forcing them to obey a law that they have ignored for 40 years.

There is nothing new about unions bullying weak-kneed school districts, but this may be the mother of all abuses– for forty years, school districts and unions have collaborated to break the law in California. According to the Stull Act (Section 44660 of the state’s education code), part of a teacher’s evaluation is required to include a student achievement component, but this has not happened anywhere in the state. Last week, after consulting with EdVoice, a reform advocacy group in Sacramento, parents of some students in Los Angeles Unified School District sued the school district and teachers union for what amounts to a dereliction of duty. While the lawsuit is aimed at LA, it will have state-wide ramifications.

Originally enacted in 1971, the Stull Act, named after State Senator John Stull, was amended in 1999 to include,

“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 other words, a part of a teacher’s evaluation is supposed to be contingent on how well his students do on state mandated tests. This is hardly a radical notion, as half the states in the rest of the country now evaluate teachers in part by student performance on these tests.

But in California, what are laughingly referred to as “teacher evaluations” are anything but. A “Stull” is typically a very rare and brief visit from a principal who helps plan the lesson they will observe and lets the teacher know exactly when the observation will be. And all the while, the teacher is prepping his kids to be at their absolute best when the principal steps into the classroom for the evaluation. Invariably everything goes swimmingly. So consistently good are the results of these Potemkin Village-style “evaluations” that over 99 percent of teachers get a satisfactory rating.

Teachers unions think that linking student performance to a teacher’s evaluation is a grave injustice and have always fiercely opposed it. (In reality, holding a teacher accountable for student learning is about as unjust as holding a chef responsible for the food he cooks.) This may be an understandable position for teachers unions which have never demonstrated any real concern for students, but what about the folks who sit at the other end of the bargaining table? What is the excuse for the school boards? Are they all that easily cowed by union bullies? Or are they part of a club that has forgotten their mission? Are they corrupt? Can they be ignorant of the law? Some or all of the above?

In any event, with judicial lights shining brightly, the jig is up…sort of. What the education code does not stipulate is how much weight to give the student performance component. Therein lies the rub. Without doubt, the teachers unions will negotiate to minimize it to near zero, with little or no consequence for the bottom performing teachers. (To the unions, there is no such thing as a bad teacher, and they’ve rigged the system so that getting rid of a stinker is about as prevalent as the occurrence of Halley’s Comet.)

If the intent of this lawsuit is seriously embraced, it could have a major impact in California, where a third of all students drop out before completing high school and a great majority of those who do graduate and go on to college need remediation. Will school boards finally man up and take action to reverse a forty year shame? Or will they cower and cave, yet again, to union demands and turn their backs on the children of California.

About the author: 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.

Gaming the Los Angeles Teachers’ Contract

Useless teacher “professional development” classes cost California taxpayers billions in increased salaries and pensions.

On June 14th, my blog, “You Don’t Need a Weatherman to Know Which Way the Union Wind Blows,” addressed the “Teacher Quality Roadmap: Improving Policies and Practices in LAUSD,” a 58 page report commissioned by United Way and several civil rights’ groups, produced by the National Council on Teacher Quality and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The “Roadmap” was full of mostly common sense prescriptions; it suggested changes to the current union contract and to laws regulating staffing, evaluations, tenure, teacher compensation and work schedules. But there was one egregious element in the report that warrants special analysis and is the subject of my latest City Journal post:

“With California reeling fiscally and education eating up about half of its budget, the state’s taxpayers are being hoodwinked to the tune of billions of dollars by an outrageous contractual perk that pays teachers to take useless classes, ostensibly with the aim of improving their classroom work.”

To continue reading the article, go here.

About the author: Larry Sand 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.

Deasy and Duffy: The Dinosaurs Amongst Us

School district and teacher union leaders need to embrace serious education reform or go the way of the Stegosaurus.

My post last week concerned itself with the fact that some or even many teachers might lose their jobs come June due to the dire financial straits in which many school districts find themselves. The Los Angeles Unified School District alone sent Reduction in Force (RIF) notices to over 4,000 teachers, advising them that they may be laid off at the end of this school year. I made the point that many of the cutbacks would not have been necessary had the districts not over-hired in the first place.

Upon hearing the news of the RIF notices, John Deasy, the man who very shortly will take over as LAUSD Superintendent, whined, “The state of California does not support children. Period.” This ridiculous statement was a response to the fact that out of necessity, the legislators in Sacramento – hardly a flinty bunch – will be making cuts in education spending.

Then A.J. Duffy, president of the United Teachers of Los Angeles, the second largest local teachers union in the country, came out with a statement which outdoes Deasy’s. “UTLA is here to speak in favor of our students. Our children get one shot at a good education. Every time class sizes are raised … you put a dagger in the heart of public education.” (Actually, union leaders know a thing or two about putting “a dagger in the heart of public education” — they have been lacerating public education for years by fighting against every kind of meaningful education reform.)

What Deasy, Duffy and their ilk refuse to acknowledge is that there are other ways to address budgetary issues in education. For example, reformers have repeatedly pointed out the tremendous benefits of giving parents a real choice of where to send their kids to school. In Sweden, parents choose a school that’s right for their child — public or private — and tax money earmarked for education follows the child. In fact, the Swedish system is working so well that even the Socialists are in favor of the privatization aspect! This type of competitive system substantially lowers costs, saves teachers’ jobs and dramatically improves the quality of education. Our antiquated system has the state sending money for every child to government run schools and then sentences the children to attend them.

The current “let’s throw more money into education no matter the results” days are numbered. A look at an internationally standardized test, the results of which were released a couple of months ago, gets right to the heart of the matter. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which measures educational achievement, was jointly administered to 15-year-olds in schools around the world. The U.S. came in 23rd – the middle of the pack – with a performance indistinguishable from Poland, Ireland, Norway, France and several other countries.

In the March 2011 issue of Reason Magazine, Veronique de Rugy addresses the PISA results. While the American 15-year-olds’ performance is mediocre, American education spending is right at the top. “With the exception of Switzerland, the U.S. spends the most in the world on education, an average of $91,700 per student in the nine years between the ages of 6 and 15. But the results do not correlate: For instance, we spend one-third more per student than Finland, which consistently ranks near the top in science, reading, and math.”

In another example of more money not translating to better educated students, she uses information from the National Center for Educational Statistics which shows that since 1970, education spending has tripled (in constant dollars) while reading, math and science scores have remained flat.

De Rugy goes on to say that increased spending typically translates to hiring more teachers. In fact, “…the number of students per teacher in U.S. public schools fell from 17.4 in 1990 to 15.7 in 2007.” Again, there was no increase in educational outcomes.

The bottom line is that throwing more and more money at a public school system which is barely treading water is the path to educational mediocrity and financial ruin. The alternative is getting serious about real education reform – most importantly by giving parents a choice as to where they can spend their education dollars. Only then will any significant change occur.

At that point, we will see the Deasys and the Duffys of the world follow their dinosaur ancestors into extinction.

About the author: Larry Sand 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.

Tempest in a Seniority Teapot?

Does a recent court ruling in Los Angeles really signal the beginning of the end of an unjust teacher seniority system? Or does the decision amount to nothing more than a zero-sum game, favoring some at the expense of others?

A recent “landmark decision” in Los Angeles is said to have made inroads into the way staffing decisions are made in the city’s massive school district. In fact, some say the decision will have national ramifications. But are these claims valid?

When teachers lose their jobs due to layoffs, the state education code says that they must be done by seniority. Hence the last hired is the first fired. Typically, the lowest performing schools are the most impacted because they invariably have a much greater percentage of new hires.

This situation came to a head in 2009 when three Los Angeles Unified School District middle schools were particularly hard hit. “The three middle schools at issue, Samuel Gompers Middle School (‘Gompers’), John H. Liechty Middle School (‘Liechty’), and Edwin Markham Middle School (‘Markham’), are each ranked in the bottom 10% of schools in California in terms of academic performance. During a 2009 reduction in force (‘RIF’), LAUSD sent RIF notices to 60% of the teachers at Liechty, 48% of the teachers at Gompers, and 46% of the teachers at Markham. These figures are in contrast with the fact that LAUSD only sent notices to 17.9% of all of its teachers. The RIFs resulted in a large number of teacher vacancies at all three schools.”

When vacancies like these happen en masse, a school becomes destabilized because a revolving door of substitutes is called to fill the vacated classrooms. Finding this situation intolerable, the American Civil Liberties Union spun into action and filed a class action lawsuit.

Just last month, citing a part of the education code that says that a district may deviate from seniority (f)or purposes of maintaining or achieving compliance with constitutional requirements related to equal protection of the laws, Superior Judge William Highberger ruled in favor of the plaintiffs.

The settlement “reached between the plaintiffs and LAUSD and the Mayor’s Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, protects students in up to 45 Targeted Schools in the unfortunate event of budget-based teacher layoffs and provides support and resources aimed at stabilizing and improving these schools, including retention incentives for teachers and principals. The Targeted Schools will be determined annually and will include 25 under-performing and difficult-to-staff schools that have suffered from staff retention issues yet are starting to make positive strides. In addition, up to 20 schools will be selected based on the likelihood that the school will be negatively and disproportionately affected by teacher turnover. To ensure that any impact from preserving teacher positions at the Targeted Schools is fairly distributed, the settlement provides that no school at or above the district-wide average of layoffs will be negatively affected.”

Many, like incoming LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy, were thrilled, crowing that the decision was “historic.” Others claimed that it was the beginning of the end of seniority as a method of making staffing decisions.

Predictably, the teachers unions were outraged. “This settlement will do nothing to address the inequities suffered by our most at-risk students,” said United Teachers of Los Angeles Elementary Vice President Julie Washington. “It is a travesty that this settlement, by avoiding real solutions and exacerbating the problem, actually undermines the civil and constitutional rights of our students.”

New State Superintendent Tom Torlakson, who was the California Teachers Association’s choice for that position, toed the union line stating, “The ruling could hurt students by requiring them to be taught by inexperienced teachers rather than finding ways to bring in more experienced and arguably more effective teachers.”

But let’s take a step back and look at what really happened. Despite the winners’ elation, seniority has not been dismantled at all. This archaic way of deciding who stays and who goes is still very much with us. While the ruling does protect students at the lowest 45 performing schools, students at the rest of the 750 LAUSD campuses will still lose some excellent teachers only because they were the last hired.

Hence, the onerous seniority rules are still in force in about 95% of the district’s schools.

The winners: the children at the bottom performing schools who will not lose any teachers due to the seniority system.

The losers: the children at all the other district schools who will absorb the brunt of the decision.

Hardly a landmark decision in my book. But if it’s ultimately shown to be the first small but necessary step in the complete dismantling of a system that discriminates against good teachers and ultimately children, then I will happily reconsider my position.

Last week, I was invited to go on a national television program and explain my views on the ruling. The producer’s plan was to have a second party who would malign the judge’s decision and defend the union position which supports district-wide seniority. Interestingly, the segment was canceled because despite great efforts, no willing party could be found to take the union side. Apparently, many calls and emails to UTLA and CTA were not returned.

I can only assume that the unions know that promoting an unfair and child-unfriendly position would further erode their already dwindling public respect.

The other losers in this case: the teachers unions, who are starting to see their vise-like grip on public education very slowly beginning to slip away.