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“The Phonys”

Preferring Failing Schools to Successful Ones

Teacher union leaders want to keep poorly performing public schools open, but kill off thriving charters and voucher schools.

Just last week it was announced in New York City that three failing public schools would be closing. With a total enrollment of 217 students, there really was no other choice. Indeed, it was such a no-brainer that even United Federation of Teachers (UFT) president Michael Mulgrew didn’t threaten anyone with bodily harm over the decision. But Mulgrew’s acquiescence is a rarity for him and other teacher union leaders.

Like a failing business, when a school goes bad it should close. This phenomenon is occurring more and more in big cities, especially when families are given choices. If there is a charter school available that suits their needs, parents will yank their kid out of the failing traditional public school the first chance they get. But the teacher union bosses’ default position is that a failing school should never be closed; a piece on the National Education Association website tries feebly to make that case. Penned by in-house writer John Rosales, “Closing Schools: Privatization Disguised as ‘Accountability’” is typical union claptrap in which shibboleths and lies predominate.

When they close schools, they are closing hospitals, grocery stores, and police stations…. This is a human rights issue…. School closings are not isolated incidents but rather a movement toward privatization.

In reality, a public school closes when parents stop sending their kids there because it doesn’t live up to its mission, which is to educate students in a safe environment. In fact, a recent study conducted in Ohio by the Fordham Institute shows – not surprisingly – that displaced students typically receive a better education in a different setting.

Three years after closures, the public-school students had gained, on average, what equates to 49 extra days of learning in reading—gaining more than a year of achievement growth, as measured by state reading exams. In math, they gained an extra 34 days of learning, as measured by state math exams. In the charter sector, displaced students also made gains in math—46 additional days.

But then again, there are schools that union leaders do think should be shut down – charter schools, especially the non-unionized ones, and especially those run by one Eva Moskowitz. In fact, New York’s UFT has begun that process by calling for a moratorium on new Moskowitz-led Harlem Success Academy charters. The unionistas are ecstatic because they think they finally have something on the operator of 34 extraordinarily successful schools. In late October, it was revealed that one of her schools’ principals had a “to go” list of undesirable kids. The principal was reprimanded by Moskowitz, which should have ended the story. But the unions continue to act as if they’ve discovered the mother lode, which, of course, is silly. Even if Moskowitz is guilty as charged, it should be noted that traditional public schools – with the blessing of the unions – have a long history of removing and transferring undesirables, either to other public, continuation or opportunity schools.

Another example of teachers unions fighting a successful education enterprise is in Washington, D.C. where the Opportunity Scholarship Program has been a raving success. The federally funded program, which has been in the NEA’s crosshairs since its inception in 2004, has led to greater parental satisfaction and school safety, as well as higher graduation rates and test scores than those of the public schools the voucher students had escaped. But despite the program’s success, the DCOSP schools are private and not unionized, and that is what matters to organized labor. The NEA claims that vouchers are not “real” education reform and that “opposition to vouchers is a top priority for NEA.” In 2009, NEA president Dennis Van Roekel wrote a threatening letter to every Democratic member of Congress advising them that NEA “strongly opposes any extension of the District of Columbia private school voucher . . . program.” And just last week, due to strong union-fueled Democratic opposition and undemanding Republicans, the program was not reauthorized, although its funding has been retained for another year.

So the union fights to knock out successful charters and privatization programs but keep traditional public schools open no matter what miserable failures they are. And they are doing this for the children, of course.

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

Teachers Unions Give Middle Finger to the Middle Class

New documents show, yet again, teachers unions’ disdain for American workers.

If you Google NEA + middle class + Friedrichs, you will be barraged with a load of demagogic union bromides about how the Friedrichs case – which opposes mandatory dues payments to public employee unions (PEUs) as a condition of employment – will, if successful, destroy the middle class. “Friedrichs Is Missing Its Warning Label” and “American Dream a casualty of Friedrichs lawsuit” are typical pro-union manifestos sounding alarm bells about the purported horrors that would befall workers should Friedrichs pass muster in the U.S. Supreme Court next year.

But in reality it’s the unions themselves that are destroying the middle class. Here in California, due to exorbitant pensions and Cadillac healthcare perks to PEU members, San Bernardino, Vallejo and Stockton have already gone bankrupt. Very possibly your city could be next. And at the same time that municipalities are going under, “Taxifornia” is among the highest in the nation in state income tax, sales tax, gas tax, corporate tax and property tax. And for those among us who demand that we “soak the rich,” it will only speed up the California-to-Texas migration already in progress. At this point, the rich – defined as the top 1 percent of taxpayers – earn approximately 22 percent of the nation’s income, yet pay 38 percent of all federal income taxes. What about the top 25 percent of taxpayers? They earn almost 69 percent of the nation’s income, but pay 86 percent of all federal income taxes. In California, the wealthiest one percent paid over 50 percent of the state income tax in 2012. Virtually every other tax dollar is forked over by the middle class.

Now comes a report that Teachers Unions Spent Millions on Luxury Hotels, Overseas Travel, Car Services. Investigators from The 74, a news site headed by former newswoman-turned-education reformer Campbell Brown, dug up financial documents filed with the U.S. Labor Department by the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and United Federation of Teachers (UFT) which reveal that the union elite “show a penchant for five-star business expenses that are far removed from the $56,000-a-year average teacher’s salary in the U.S.” Between 2011 and 2014, the country’s largest teachers unions “spent more than $5.7 million booking rooms at the world’s poshest hotels and resorts, scoring flights to exotic overseas destinations and traveling back and forth in limos….” These luxuries are paid for by dues that teachers have forcibly removed from their paychecks in California and throughout much of the country. And as the wealthy flee to more tax-friendly states, it is predominantly the middle class – via taxes – that foots the bills for teachers’ salaries and, of course, their union dues.

Limos, cruises, exotic overseas destinations, car services, luxury hotels – all above the pay grade of the average teacher and average American worker – are de rigeur for the union elite. One union leader, blind to the bombastic hypocrisy, has no qualms about the extravagance. UFT President Michael Mulgrew said “We’re proud of every nickel we spend on our members and retirees.”

The teacher union elite clearly have a “Let them eat cake” attitude toward its rank-and-file, not to mention the rest of us. We can only hope that the Friedrichs case will be successful. If it is, the unions will have to become accountable to its members, many of whom do not appreciate the union elite’s profligate spending on their pampered selves. And, of course, the beleaguered taxpayers will get some relief also. Now that’s an “American Dream” worthy of us all.

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.

Planned Persecution

NEA claims to be for religious freedom, but Catholics and other right-to-lifers need not apply.

“The National Education Association believes that freedom of religion is a fundamental human right. The Association also believes that choice of religion is an intensely personal decision.” These high-minded words are from NEA Resolution I-33, which was passed at its recent convention. Nothing really new here; the NEA passed other similar resolutions this year, and in fact it does so every year. There is also nothing new about the union’s raving hypocrisy on the issue.

As we learned recently via several secretly recorded videos, Planned Parenthood (PP) not only performs an ungodly number of abortions every year, but is in the dead baby body parts sales biz too. One would think that the unions, which have donated millions to PP over the years, might have shown some reticence. But they have doubled down instead. Over at AFL-CIO, Boss Trumka asserted that calls to defund PP “based on doctored undercover recordings are politically motivated and wrong.” Actually, he’s wrong. The videos weren’t “doctored” at all; they were available in their entirety on the internet. SEIU president Mary Kay Henry stood her ground and affirmed in a tweet, “Extremists stoop to new low attacking women & access to preventive care.” (Henry has a familial stake in this in that SEIU VP Kirk Adams is married to PP president Cecile Richards.)

In another case of defending evil, spreading falsehoods and/or selling ignorance, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten tweeted “More than 50% of Planned Parenthood patients are enrolled in Medicaid. Defunding @PPFA would take their coverage away. #StandWithPP” Wrong again. Defunding PP won’t take anyone’s Medicaid coverage away.

But for sheer misdirection nothing beats United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew who back in 2012 announced a $125,000 gift to PP. “As a union with a large female membership, we know the importance of the kind of health care that Planned Parenthood provides, including breast cancer screening.” Well, actually, despite what many think, PP does not perform mammograms or even possess the necessary equipment to do so. Its clinics do provide referrals, but the Susan G. Komen Foundation and the American Cancer Society readily provide them as well.

It’s important to note that UFT’s $125,000 gift (and all union largess) is comprised of dues money the union collects from its teachers regardless of their religious/moral convictions. So what can a pro-life teacher do knowing that part of his/her union dues is going to fund PP, one of whose raisons-d’être is killing (and now selling body parts of) the unborn? In non-right-to-work states, these teachers have two options. They can become agency fee payers in which case they must still pay for things like collective bargaining but don’t have to support the unions’ progressive political agenda. Or a teacher can become a religious objector and pay absolutely no money to the union, but instead pay a full dues share to a charity agreed on by the teachers union and the school district. This is a difficult status to achieve because the union just can’t bear to have what it considers a freeloader in its midst. As such, a dissenting teacher must usually seek out legal assistance and go to great lengths to prove their religiosity.

Enter Linda Misja, a high school language teacher in western Pennsylvania. Ms. Misja, a devout Roman Catholic, and her union, the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), just can’t seem to agree on a mutually acceptable charity. According to Watchdog.org’s Evan Grossman, Misja initially requested that her money to go to People Concerned for the Unborn Child, a pro-life group which is opposed to artificial contraception, in-vitro fertilization and birth control. The union, which either has a dark sense of humor or is seriously delusional, came back with an offer to send her dues money to an abortion clinic.

Misja countered with an alternative: a charity arm of the National Rifle Association which works with public schools to teach gun safety. But the union nixed this idea also on the grounds that it was “too political.” As Misja and the union duke it out, $2,000 she earned as a teacher is sitting in an escrow account.

What all this points to is that the teachers unions – PSEA is but one example – put their far left agenda above all else. The high-minded assertion about religious liberty in NEA Resolution I-33 is a canard. If the union really believed in religious freedom, it would direct PSEA, an NEA affiliate, to honor Misja’s request to have her money donated to an entity that supports her Catholic beliefs. And just as ridiculous is PSEA’s claim that donating to the NRA is “too political.” Since 1989, NEA has spent $92,972,656 on candidates, PACs, etc. while the American Federation of Teachers spent $69,757,113 during the same 26 year period. (In 2014 alone, PSEA spent $2,711,333 on politics) But Ms. Misja is laughably being denied the option to donate to the NRA because it’s “too political.”

Tolerance is a buzzword the teachers unions use with great abandon. But when it only goes one way, it becomes dictatorial, which is a perfect word to describe many teacher union policies.

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

The Oasis Was a Mirage

After failing miserably for almost ten years, a rare union-run charter school is mercifully shuttered.

In September 2005, New York City’s United Federation of Teachers (UFT) president Randi Weingarten was frustrated and wanted to prove a point. She explained that the union was opening two charter schools so that it could “reclaim” the original charter school model conceived by former American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president Albert Shanker, who said “charter schools could help teachers work without the stifling bureaucracy and stifling micromanagement.”

Taking a potshot at NYC school superintendent Joel Klein, Weingarten said, “This kind of effort, this kind of potential, is what we should be unleashing on the school system every single day, and the Klein administration will not let us do this anymore in the public school arena. It is incredibly ironic that the only way that teachers could do this kind of bottom-up thinking at a school was to do it using the mechanics of a charter school.”

She added that the UFT Charter School would “show real, quantifiable student achievement and with those results, finally dispel the misguided and simplistic notion that the union contract is an impediment to success.” As the school was about to open, Weingarten crowed, “This school is an oasis.”

Well it’s almost ten years later and the oasis’s land is barren, the water is fetid and the camels are sickly. And the achievement is certainly “quantifiable” – quantifiably bad. The State University of New York (SUNY) which authorized the two schools – K-8 and a high school – has decided to pull the plug on the elementary school for many reasons. (The high school remains on life supports.)

The K-8 school’s test results have been abysmal. In 2014, only 11 percent of its students were proficient in English and 18 percent in math, compared to 28 and 36 percent in traditional public schools with similar demographics. At Harlem Success Academy (Weingarten-nemesis Eva Moskowitz’s non-unionized charter school), those numbers are 59 and 92 percent.

And those awful results are just the tip of the iceberg. Other findings:

  • The school had a high teacher turnover.
  • There were budget deficits and “operational chaos.”
  • Declining enrollment in the middle school exacerbated the school’s fiscal duress, which SUNY attributed to “poor bookkeeping.”
  • The union had to bail out the school with interest-free loans.
  • SUNY also highlighted “chronic shortages of textbooks and unrepaired equipment.”
  • There were missing standardized test booklets that were not returned to the publisher for scoring.
  • In one geography lesson, “rather than making use of technological resources to present the critical economic and political importance of the Nile, the teacher had students color in blank maps of the river.”
  • The campus has lacked stability with five principals in seven years.
  • School leaders reported that the staff had to be counseled on “appropriate interaction with students following approximately 10 corporal punishment incidents.”
  • A review of board minutes found “numerous, apparently systemic, Open Meetings Law violations.”
  • The school was in violation of the federal Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, because it had a number of students who required more restrictive classroom settings than the school offered.
  • The school “was in violation of state law requiring that school personnel (and certain contractors with direct access to students) be subject to a fingerprint-supported criminal background check prior to appointment at the school. At the time of the renewal inspection visit, the school was unable to produce evidence that five individuals were appropriately cleared for employment.”

But hey, other than that….

Not surprisingly, Weingarten (now AFT president) and other union leaders who constantly blab to the media have been very cricket-like about the school’s closing. Only the combative current UFT president, Michael Mulgrew, has spoken out, but of course the union took no responsibility for the school’s miserable results. Instead, he blamed SUNY, the state authorizer, for its “narrow focus on state tests.” But James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter Center countered Mulgrew’s nonsense, saying. “It’s well known by now that the UFT is allergic to actual accountability. So I’m not surprised—but still dismayed—that … UFT would not accept even the slightest responsibility for its abysmal failure to provide children with a great education.”

Very oddly, on March 3rd, after all the bad news had been reported, UFT came out with a press release touting a “Charter School Accountability Agenda,” a reform plan created by two AFT front groups – the Center for Popular Democracy and In the Public Interest. Its purpose is “to ensure that charter schools fulfill their role in education as lawmakers originally envisioned.” Included is this snippet:

The American people overwhelmingly support accountability and transparency for charter schools. If a school takes public dollars, the public wants some control and oversight of what goes on there. The Charter School Accountability Agenda lays out tangible steps we need to take to guarantee that every child gets a high-quality public education, whether that child is in a neighborhood school or a publicly funded charter school.

This is tantamount to a convicted bank robber telling a financial institution how it should conduct its business.

And wouldn’t you think that the union would have gone out of its way to ensure that UFT Charter School was a success? Over the past several years, teachers unions have been increasingly attacked for being anti-child and this would have been a perfect opportunity to prove that they really cared about educating kids. Whether it was carelessness or world-class ineptitude, the failure was monumental. Never one to mince words, school reform advocate RiShawn Biddle wrote, “After the failure of its UFT Charter School, AFT President Randi Weingarten and UFT boss Michael Mulgrew shouldn’t be allowed near any school operation.” I would amend that to not being allowed near any school. Period.

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.

Empire Statement

Andrew Cuomo becomes the latest governor to take on the teachers unions.

Expanding vouchers to unaccountable private schools. Stripping teachers of their right to due process. Converting neighborhood public schools into privately run charter schools unanswerable to local school boards and taxpayers. Proceeding with tax cuts for the wealthy while starving public schools.

Holy horrors! The above, from the National Education Association EdVotes page, would lead us to believe that a healthy dose of school choice would destroy our less than wildly successful education system. The same page specifically nails several governors for having the audacity to promote school choice and other child-friendly reforms. Making the NEA Hall of Shame are Sam Brownback (KS), Rick Snyder (MI), Rick Scott (FL), Mike Pence (IN) and of course public (employee union) enemy #1 – Wisconsin’s Scott Walker.

All Republicans.

But just recently a high-profile Democrat joined this exclusive club. New York State governor Andrew Cuomo blasted the teachers unions with a venom that probably made Chris Christie proud.

Cuomo told the New York Daily News that the teachers unions represent themselves, not the students. He referred to them, along with the entrenched education establishment, as an “industry” that is more interested in protecting the rights of its members than improving the system for the kids it purports to serve.

If (the public) understood what was happening with education to their children, there would be an outrage in this city. I’m telling you, they would take City Hall down brick by brick.

Somewhere along the way, I believe we flipped the purpose of this. This was never a teacher employment program and this was never an industry to hire superintendents and teachers.

He went on to decry the fact that 250,000 kids over the past decade were trapped in failing schools.

Where was the outrage? You want to talk to me about teachers’ rights? Why isn’t the question: ‘How did we let that happen to 250,000 kids — black and brown kids, by the way.’

At Cuomo’s State of the State speech, given a day before he talked to the Daily News, he spoke about matters that send teacher union leaders into an apoplectic state: more charter schools, stricter teacher evaluations, an end to teacher tenure in its current form and tax credits for donors who want to help students attend private schools.

Needless to say, teacher union leaders and their camp followers are now at war with Cuomo. The union bosses’ counter-offensive would normally involve Sheldon Silver – their bought-and-paid for speaker of the New York State Assembly and perhaps the most powerful legislator in Albany – to eviscerate any reforms being pushed by the governor. But in what could be viewed as providential, Silver was charged – the day after Cuomo’s fiery talk – with lining his pockets with nearly $4 million in bribes and kickbacks in a massive abuse of power dating back at least 15 years. He was accused of committing five felonies, including fraud, extortion and conspiracy. Each count carries up to 20 years in prison.

Not waiting for a trial, Silver quickly resigned his position, leaving the New York State United Teachers without its powerful lawmaker to do its bidding. But NYSUT ain’t gonna be cowed by no governor – even if their goombah in Albany now has a new office in Sing Sing.

In an attempt to fire up his troops, Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of teachers – NYSUT’s Big Apple affiliate – reached deep into the Teacher Union Guidebook of Clichéd and Ridiculous Responses to Education Reformers and accused Cuomo of being afraid of “the hedge-fund managers and corporate interests whose donations fill your campaign coffers.” Mulgrew also blasted the governor for being behind “corporate bonus-style merit pay,” claimed that his “education agenda isn’t about education at all – it is political payback” (because the unions did not support his reelection bid) and that “it is poverty and inequality and lack of funding, not ‘failing schools’ or ‘bad teachers,’ that are at the root of our education system’s struggles.” (I can hear Harlem Success Academy’s Eva Moskowitz howling over the last one.)

One not impressed in the least by Mulgrew’s claptrap is New York City Parents Union leader Mona Davids (H/T RiShawn Biddle) who fired back,

Funny thing is: 

1.  When Mulgrew eliminated extended day last year, he didn’t consult parents!  

2.  When Mulgrew sabotaged the teacher evaluations in 2013, he didn’t consult parents and didn’t give a hoot about our schools losing $290 million.  We had to sue to keep the $290 million!

3.  They accuse and are crying foul of the “reformers” political contributions–but, they’ve been giving pols money to get what they want all this time.  Now, they have competition.

UFT/NYSUT absolutely refuses to even admit maybe 1% — just 1%, of teachers are ineffective or make any changes to dismissal procedures.

But of course to union leaders, parents are nuisances who must be dealt with – “handled” – but should not be included in any important way that affects their children’s education.

Last Thursday, the union started to hold “emergency meetings” with teachers, parents and clergy. Why do I get the idea that Ms. Davids and other activist, reform-minded parents are not on the short list? And clergy…? Maybe the unions, in their desperate quest to leave no stone unturned, are looking for divine intervention.

At the meetings, I’m sure the union bosses will be wearing their Sunday best, spinning the data as only they can, pushing to spend more on education, while professing their purest, most heartfelt concern for “the children.” But the fact remains that in New York State just 40 percent of fourth graders are proficient in math and 37 percent in reading. Yet, as The Wall Street Journal reports, “New York spends more per pupil ($19,552 in 2012) than any other state and nearly twice the national average. Incredibly, the Empire State spends more on a per pupil basis on employee benefits than reform leaders Tennessee and Florida spend on teacher salaries.”

While not every problem in education is union-caused, many are. And until the unions fess up and make amends (don’t hold your breath), more and more elected officials – from both sides of the aisle – will be pushing back. It’s about time.

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.

Vergara: What Comes Next?

Assuming Judge Treu’s rulings survive the appeals process, what will replace the offending statutes?

In last year’s Vergara case, Judge Rolf Treu ruled that the state’s archaic seniority, tenure and dismissal statutes were unconstitutional, adding that the evidence submitted “shocks the conscience.” The judge’s ruling is now being appealed by the state of California, the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers. Should the decision survive the appeals process, legislators will need to pass new laws to fill the void. In that vein, the Students Matter team that brought the lawsuit has come out with their suggested fixes or “policy pillars.”

Regarding tenure or more accurately “permanence,” their recommendation is solid:

Students Matter believes teachers should earn a designated number of effective or highly effective ratings on annual performance evaluations in order to receive tenure; that a teacher’s permanent status should be portable between school districts; and that permanent status should be able to be rescinded if a teacher receives multiple evaluations showing an ineffective rating.

A million times better than what we have now, but still – why is it that teaching is the only profession – or any job for that matter – that warrants something called “permanence?” In fact, this pillar hedges a bit. It says, “…permanent status should be able to be rescinded…” Well, if permanence can be rescinded if a teacher isn’t effective, then it’s not really permanent, is it?

They also have good ideas about the onerous dismissal statutes.

In order to reduce the extreme cost – in time, money, morale and student learning – of the current teacher dismissal process, while protecting the constitutional rights of both students and teachers, Students Matter recommends explicitly including ineffectiveness as grounds for dismissal and mirroring for teachers the same dismissal process established for classified employees.

In 2014, California took a step forward by passing AB 215, which made it easier to get rid of teachers who are proven guilty of “egregious and immoral conduct.” But there is nothing in the law about getting rid of incompetents. Hence, this pillar hits the mark. Public education should join the rest of the civilized work-world, weeding out those employees who are not getting the job done.

They score a bulls-eye with their suggestion about seniority:

Students Matter recommends explicitly requiring that student learning be the preponderant criterion in layoff decisions and explicitly prohibiting the consideration of seniority as the preponderant criterion.

The current last-in-first-out method of picking winners and losers is an abomination. Length of time on the job should never be the sole reason to keep that job. Would you go to a wonderful doctor who has been practicing for 10 years or a quack who has been killing (or just maiming) his patients for 20 years? The question answers itself. In fact, Dr. Quack’s patient load would tank and he would undoubtedly be forced to find another means of employment. Why not extend this line of thought to the world of education?

So except for the minor quibble with the tenure pillar, the Students Matter suggestions are excellent.

And now for the bad news. Whatever legal changes are made must survive the California state legislature, which is essentially controlled by the California Teachers Association. While the powerful union has yet to comment on the pillars, it goes without saying that it will use every ounce of influence it has to fight them.

Permanence: The union has taken to calling it “due process.” This is laughable – a job for life has nothing to do with legal rights. And union leaders are offering up ridiculous excuses for the existence of tenure. Recently, New York City teacher union boss Michael Mulgrew actually said, “Without tenure, teachers can be disciplined or even fired for speaking out on behalf of the needs of their students.”

Criminy, is that the best he can do?!

Dismissal statutes: Anthony Lombardi, the principal of an elementary school in New York City, bluntly stated that American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten “… would protect a dead body in the classroom. That’s her job.” Well that may be a slight exaggeration, but it’s true that people who shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near children are almost never fired.

In California, due to the union-orchestrated dismissal statutes, on average just two “permanent” teachers a year lose their job due to incompetence. That’s two bad apples out of about 300,000. In my almost 30 years in the classroom, there were always at least two teachers at my school alone who should have been let go. Also, it’s ridiculously expensive to get a teacher out the door. Between 2000 and 2010, the Los Angeles Unified School District spent $3.5 million trying to fire just seven teachers (out of over 30,000) for poor classroom performance. Only four were let go during that time.

Seniority: Union leaders are quite incoherent in this area. “Saving your jobs would mean that more experienced teachers would lose theirs,” UTLA president A.J. Duffy told a group of young teachers at Liechty Middle School in 2009. “Seniority is the only fair way to do it . . . and any exception would be an act of disloyalty.” The California Federation of Teachers website claims that “Seniority is the only fair, transparent way to administer layoffs. It ensures equal treatment for all teachers…”

Problem is that not all teachers deserve equal treatment. The great and good should be treated better than the mediocre and awful.

Interestingly, a recent survey funded by Teach Plus, an organization that strives to ensure that urban children have access to effective educators, found that 69 percent of teachers in California agreed that “tenure protected an ineffective colleague who should have been dismissed but wasn’t.” But it also found that 81 percent said that “tenure was important to them personally.” In brief, the teachers polled came down somewhere in between the Students Matter pillars and traditional union hardline resistance to change. You can access the survey here.

Will the unions listen to their more moderate members and act accordingly? Don’t bet on it.

Will the unions besiege their cronies in Sacramento to ignore the Students Matter fixes? Most assuredly.

What can you do? Send letters and emails to your state legislators, and implore them to do right by the children of California. Only when enough good people stand up to the destructive agenda of the teachers unions will public education take a great leap forward.

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.

Chicken Little Class Size

With a big assist from the teachers unions, the small class size myth lives on.

“The sky is falling” is well-known throughout the world as an admonition to be wary of hysterical claims. While we appreciate the silliness of the Chicken Little story, we fail to recognize its relevance in many of the myths perpetuated by the education establishment, one of the most enduring of which is the claim that class size affects student achievement.

Let me begin by saying that, as a teacher, I liked small classes. Why wouldn’t I? There were fewer papers to grade, report cards to fill out and parents to deal with. In other words, small class size made life easier on me. But I never deluded myself into thinking that my students were getting a superior education when I was teaching 20 instead of 25 of them. It is true that there are a few exceptions like certain special education classes where the kids need more individual attention. But, by and large, the smaller-is-better meme is pure bunkum.

Because small class size benefits them, the most vocal hucksters perpetuating the fiction are the nation’s teachers unions. Smaller classes = more teachers = more dues money. Just last month United Federation of Teachers boss Michael Mulgrew proposed ending tax breaks for landlords in New York City who are not residents of Gotham. The resulting $900 million windfall would net the city the classroom space and labor needed to reduce class size in grades K-3. (It is important to note that many parents favor smaller classes too because their kids get more individual attention that way.)

But as Hoover Institution senior fellow and economist Eric Hanushek recently wrote in the New York Daily News,

Nobody has shown that the substantial class-size reductions of the past 15 years have paid off in terms of student achievement. Instead, the two main effects of past class-size reduction have been more teachers and more expensive schools.

Education research is essentially unanimous: The effectiveness of the teacher in the classroom is far, far more important than how many students are in the classroom. But this is not the message that the union wants to hear, because it would involve evaluating teachers and making personnel decisions based on the quality of the work they do. (Emphasis added.)

Hanushek has done a lot of work in this area. In 1998, he released the results of his research that examined 227 separate studies on the effect of teacher-pupil ratios and class size averages on student achievement. He found that 15 percent of the studies showed an improvement in achievement, while 72 percent found no effect at all and 13 percent found that reducing class size actually had a negative effect on achievement. While Hanushek admits that in some cases children might benefit from a small-class environment, there is no way “to describe a priori situations where reduced class size will be beneficial.”

Other researchers have come up with similar findings. Also in 1998, Stanford’s Caroline Hoxby found that “reductions in class size from a base of 15 to 30 students have no effect on student achievement.” Jay Greene, chairman of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, writes that most of the evidence on which the “smaller-is-better” crowd relies on outcomes from Tennessee’s STAR project, an experiment conducted in the 1980s, with very questionable methodology.

In fact, the public has swallowed the class size myth for years and legislators have acted accordingly. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that teacher-pupil ratios across the nation have diminished steadily since 1955, when the ratio of public school teachers to students was 26.9 to one. By 1970, the ratio was 22.3 to one. And by 2010, the last year for which federal government statistics are available, the ratio came down to 16 to one. In California, going back to 2007, the student-teacher ratio was reduced to 21.6 pupils. Today, it has “ballooned” – to use the teachers unions’ favorite term – back up to about 24.

Frequently left out of the conversation is that when classes get smaller, more teachers are hired and the quality of the talent pool is diluted. Washington Post education reporter Jay Mathews noted in a 2006 story how California had a decade earlier authorized a $650-per-pupil bonus to schools with kindergarten-to-third-grade classes of no more than 20 students. “This produced many more classes that required more teachers, many of whom, parents complained, were inexperienced and ineffective,” Mathews wrote. Is it possible that larger classes and fewer teachers might even be preferable? Yes, if the teachers let go are the weaker performers. As Hanushek argues: “If you … replaced five to eight percent of the worst teachers with an average teacher, U.S. achievement would rise to somewhere between Canada and Finland.” Though the teachers unions will have none of that getting-rid-of-bad-teachers stuff, ask any parent if they rather have their kid in a class of 21 with a mediocre or worse teacher or a class of 24 with a good or great teacher. No need to wait for an answer.

What about countries that are more successful at educating than we are? Do they have smaller classes? OECD shows that out of 34 countries, the US is slightly below average in class size. However, China, Korea, Germany and Japan all have considerably larger class sizes than we do, and regularly clobber us in student performance.

In the meantime, the small class myth lives on. Mulgrew is pushing his tax scheme in New York. In Los Angeles, new teacher union president Alex Caputo-Pearl pitched the small class mantra three separate times in his coronation speech. And on its “Local Bargaining Updates” page, the California Teacher Association reports that “smaller class size” is a top bargaining priority for union locals all over the state. Again, the unions couldn’t care less about teacher quality or accountability; it’s all about hiring more dues-payers.

It is truly incumbent upon the public, notably the taxpayer, to start fighting the class size myth. Chicken Little eventually got the message; it’s about time that the rest of us do too.

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.

Democrats and Teachers Unions: The Chasm Grows

As more Dems demand education reform, the teachers unions find themselves increasingly isolated.

Going back to 2009, I have written many times about the relationship between the teachers unions and the Democratic Party. It’s no secret that the party and the unions were at one time synonymous, but this is rapidly becoming history. Quite clearly, no entity is more aware of this than the National Education Association. In its year-end “Best and Worst Players in Public Education,” the usual right-of-center bogeymen – the Koch brothers and new villainess Campbell Brown – are of course trotted out.

But also prominently bashed is the Democrats for Education Reform, which advocates for sensible education policy changes. But according to NEA, the reforms suggested by DFER (and many other groups) have “acquired a bit of a stench over the last few years, as the ideas with which it is most closely associated – high stakes accountability, vouchers, merit pay, charter schools, not to mention teacher bashing – have not worn well with much of the public.” (Actually, polls show that the general public is now at odds with teachers unions, not the reformers.) Not surprisingly, NEA agrees with the union-owned California Democratic Party, which passed a resolution in 2013 calling on DFER to cease using ‘Democrats’ in their name, claiming their program “is clearly a front for a right-wing corporate agenda.” In other words, you are branded a right-wing crazy if you believe in things like school choice, holding schools accountable and empowering reform-minded mayors.

Apparently Andrew Cuomo is also one who should relinquish his Democratic credentials. Just last week, the governor of New York sent the state’s top education officials a letter warning that he plans to use his influence over the budget by pursuing an aggressive legislative agenda to fix an ailing school system hobbled by bureaucracy. The Wall Street Journal’s Leslie Brody writes,

The fact that only about one third of students are proficient on state tests in math and language arts was ‘simply unacceptable,’ the letter said.

It challenged Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and outgoing Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. to answer questions about whether to lift the cap on charter schools, how to make it easier to remove ineffective teachers and how to make teacher evaluations more stringent, among other issues.

Part of Cuomo’s frustration is that 95.6 percent of  teachers in New York were rated “effective” or “highly effective” during the 2013-14 academic year despite less than 40 percent of grade 3-8 students being assessed “proficient” on their standardized tests the same year. Additionally, 3.7 percent of teachers in the state were deemed “developing” and just 0.7 percent were rated “ineffective,” according to the data. So 60 percent of the kids are failing, but less than 1 percent of the teachers are.

Union leaders would have you think that Cuomo had just committed an act of heresy – which, of course, he did. United Federation of Teachers president Michael “I’m going to punch you in the face” Mulgrew said, “This letter comes right out of the playbook of the hedge funders for whom education ‘reform’ has become a pet cause and who poured money into the Cuomo re-election campaign.”

Karen Magee, president of the New York State United Teachers, also admonished Cuomo, suggesting that he should rely on advice from the “real experts—parents, educators and students—about what’s best for public education. Instead, New Yorkers get clueless, incendiary questions that do the bidding of New York City hedge fund billionaires who have letterhead and campaign donations, but know absolutely nothing about how public education works.” (If the teachers unions would become as obsessed with kids getting a good education as they are with hedgies, this country would be a much better place.)

Not easily cowed, Cuomo and his people fired back. Jim Malatras, the governor’s operations director, took a shot at the union, writing: “The education bureaucracy’s mission is to sustain the bureaucracy and the status quo and therefore it is often the enemy of change.”

And no one knows more about teacher union rigidity than former New York City school chancellor (and Democrat) Joel Klein. In a piece he wrote for The Atlantic, Klein explains that early in his stint as school chief, he decided to reach out to individual teachers in writing and in person.

My hope was that, as I invited teachers to group gatherings, brown-bag lunches, or meetings in schools, we would get to know one another as human beings. (I confess, I hoped some would say to themselves, ‘Hey, that Klein’s not the jerk I thought he was.’) Since it was physically impossible for me to meet 80,000 teachers face-to- face, I decided that, in addition to lots of small meetings, I’d write e-mails to them all as a group. What was to stop me? After all, I was their boss. Shouldn’t we be able to communicate? (Emphasis added.)

Well, actually, no. Because the United Federation of Teachers wouldn’t allow it. Klein was not permitted to “approach teachers directly on any matter that touched on their actual work. There would be no brown-bag lunches shared in the teachers’ lounge or coffee and conversation without union supervision. These matters were all subject to collective bargaining and, therefore, I was informed (first by the union and then by my own attorney) that I couldn’t discuss them directly with the teachers.” (Emphasis added.)

As more and more Democrats come to see that the teachers unions, with their rigid work rules and insistence on preserving the failing status quo, are the biggest impediment to education reform, the unions can either become more conciliatory or they can double down. You can bet your hedge fund holdings it will be the latter. Their money and power will still get some of their people elected, as it did California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. But eventually their unwavering course will turn a political chasm into a sprawling lonely gulf inhabited only by shrill and flailing unionistas. And as DFER, Andrew Cuomo and Joel Klein can attest, the sooner that happens the better.

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

The Sorry, but Unapologetic, Teachers Unions

 Unions demand apologies, but refuse to make any themselves.

The cover of the November 3rd edition of Time Magazine reads “It’s nearly impossible to fire a bad teacher; some tech millionaires may have found a way to change that.” Accompanying the text is a photo of a judge’s gavel about to pound an apple.

Time Magazine rotten apple cover

The story, “The War on Teacher Tenure,” is mostly about the Vergara decision – in which a judge found that the tenure, seniority and dismissal statutes in the California education code are unconstitutional. The article focuses on Vergara’s guiding light – David Welch, a tech titan who has found a second career as an education reformer. It’s a fair piece, and one worthy of discussion.

But instead of delving into the merits of the article, the teacher union elite and fellow travelers went ballistic over the mildly provocative cover – the outrage reaching satirical proportions worthy of The Onion. American Federation of Teachers leader Randi Weingarten said she “felt sick” when she saw it. After ingesting a bowlful of Maalox, the union leader began to organize a protest and circulated a petition demanding an apology from Time Magazine. The AFT claimed the cover “casts teachers as ‘rotten apples’ needing to be smashed by Silicon Valley millionaires with no experience in education.” While the AFT and Weingarten are busy pointing out the lack of teaching experience of technology leaders, they neglect to mention that Weingarten doesn’t have any to speak of either. To puff up her cred, she frequently refers to her “teaching experience,” but it hardly exists; she taught on a per diem basis from 1991-1997 – a total of 122 days. I think the proper term here is “part-time, occasional, temporary sub.”

Time admirably refused to cave in to the unionistas. Instead, it invited various aggrieved parties to respond online. And the teachers union claque did just that, expressing outrage – outrage at the magazine in particular and at “outsiders” in general. National Education Association president Lily Garcia attacked  the “wolves of Wall Street.” Some members of the Badass Teachers Association – a group that claims to represent 53,000 teachers – solemnly intoned, “The gavel as a symbol of corporate education, smashing the apple – the universal symbol of education – reinforces a text applauding yet another requested deathblow to teacher tenure.” In a blog, Badass Teacher Association cofounder Mark Naison wrote, “Time’s campaign epitomizes everything wrong with the crusade for ‘School Reform’ that has become a national obsession since the passage of No Child Left Behind. It is financed and driven by business leaders, not educators.”

With one or two exceptions, they insisted that Time apologize … or else.

But maybe the teachers unions should come up with a few apologies of their own and provide Time a pathway to contrition. For example:

  • Maybe the California Federation of Teachers should apologize for posting a nauseating cartoon on its website in 2012. The Ed Asner narrated presentation promotes class warfare by showing rich folks urinating on poor people.
  • Maybe Randi Weingarten should apologize to Marshall Tuck, who is running for California School Superintendent. Her union financed a slanderous TV ad which, among other things, shows a businessman stealing a child’s lunch, and ridiculously asserts that Tuck will allow corporate fat cats to take over our schools.
  • Maybe The New York State United Teachers – an AFT affiliate – should apologize for a vile mailer it sent picturing a battered woman, suggesting that if Republican Mark Grisanti is elected as state senator, “he won’t protect her from her abuser.” The NYSUT-led campaign is so disgusting that even Democrats have roundly excoriated the union.
  • Maybe Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, should apologize to those of us who have issues with the Common Core State Standards. Doing his best Joe Pesci impersonation, he menacingly seethed at an AFT convention,  “If someone takes something from me (control of the standards), I’m going to grab it right back out of their cold, twisted, sick hands and say it is mine! You do not take what is mine! And I’m going to punch you in the face and push you in the dirt because this is the teachers’! These are our tools and you sick people need to deal with us and the children that we teach. Thank you very much!”
  • Maybe teachers unions should apologize for their collective mantra that “corporations should pay their fair share of taxes.” The atonement is due because, while U.S. corporations have the highest tax rate in the world, the teacher unions don’t pay a penny in taxes. That means that the NEA and AFT bring in about $560 million tax-free dollars year after year. And when you add in the state and local union affiliates, the amount soars to over $2 billion. All tax-free. (In fact it’s not just the teachers unions; no union has to pay any tax on its “earnings.”)
  • Maybe Badass Teachers Association guiding light Mark Naison should apologize to America. He was a founding member of the Weatherman, the violent, hate-filled group that was involved in murder and mayhem in the early 1970s.
  • Maybe the California Teachers Association should apologize for disregarding its members and spending dues money that favors only the needs and desires of the union bosses. CTA will end up spending over $10 million to defeat Marshall Tuck in today’s election – most of it teachers’ dues money. Union activists are going all out – walking precincts, working phone banks, etc. – in an effort to stave off Tuck’s challenge to incumbent and union darling Tom Torlakson. But as Mike Antonucci writes,

Odd, then, that the Field Poll shows support for Torlakson from union households in California at an anemic 31%, with 23% backing Tuck, and 46% undecided. That’s after months of hyping Torlakson through every available union communications outlet.

The question arises: If 69% of union households are not, or not yet, backing Torlakson, how did the unions approve spending $10 million on his behalf?

That’s a rhetorical question, of course. The answer is that CTA practices representative democracy in reverse. Decisions are made by the small handful of officers and shop stewards who participate in union activities. Then they justify, promote and sell these decisions to the membership-at-large – using the members’ own money to do so. (Emphasis added.)

But seriously folks… don’t hold your breath in anticipation of CTA or any teachers union apologizing for anything. Ain’t gonna happen. Also, don’t expect them to ever right any of the wrongs that they have foisted on our children, their parents and all taxpayers. In California, due to the union-inflicted tenure and dismissal statutes, on average just of 2 “permanent” teachers a year lose their job due to incompetence. That’s 2 bad apples out of about 300,000. In my almost 30 years in the classroom, there were always at least 2 teachers at my school alone who shouldn’t have been allowed near children. This is not a secret; go into any school and ask who the incompetents are and you will get almost identical answers from teachers, kids, their parents, the principal, the assistant principal, guidance counselors, janitors, bus drivers, school secretaries and lunch ladies.

But instead of relaxing their intolerable policies, the unions divert attention by whining about a magazine cover. And while they do that, the rest of us – including parents, serious teachers, community members and yes, corporate types and tech gurus – are trying to make a troubled system better. American children can’t wait a minute longer for the unions and labor-friendly school districts to willingly cede any of their onerous work rules. And they will never apologize for the mess they have made and continue to make of our public education system. In that sense, at least, they are one sorry bunch.

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.

Bad Week for Teachers Unions

These days, the teachers unions have landed on the wrong side of judges, teachers, the general public and just about everyone else whose lives they touch.

Seems like the teachers unions are getting it from all sides these days. In a Wall Street Journal piece, the writers note that the percentage of elementary and secondary teachers who are union members is down about 20 percent since 1988. But as private and charter schools proliferate and the right-to-work movement grows, the last 26 years will look like the good old days.

Big Apple Kerfuffle

In response to the death of Eric Garner while in New York Police Department custody, United Federation of Teachers command central decided to join forces with Al Sharpton in blaming the police. However, New York City teachers responded by giving UFT president Michael Mulgrew a one-finger salute, and on the first day of school last week teachers all over the city wore pro-cop T-shirts. This independent streak was way over the top for Boss Mulgrew, whose union emailed a brief warning, “…as public employees, one must remain objective at all times.”

Teachers union members remain objective?!! WHAT!!! This followed UFT’s sponsorship of an Al Sharpton rally in support of Mike Brown, who died while in police custody in Ferguson, MO.

Now, how teachers should respond to non-education-related community events is a discussion for another day; the issue here is the union’s hypocrisy. But then again, Mulgrew has always shot from the hip … and as often as not, the bullet has wound up piercing his shoe. Most recently, despite teacher misgivings with Common Core, the union president decided that the standards were worthy. And at the American Federation of Teachers convention last month, in classic thug style, he closed with these pearls,

If someone takes something from me, I’m going to grab it right back out of their cold, twisted, sick hands and say it is mine! You do not take what is mine! And I’m going to punch you in the face and push you in the dirt because this is the teachers! These are our tools and you sick people need to deal with us and the children that we teach. Thank you very much!

If they ever decide to recast Goodfellas, Mulgrew is a shoo-in for the Joe Pesci role. (Extreme profanity alert.)

Michigan Shenanigans

After Michigan went right-to-work in 2012, the Michigan Education Association decided to play hardball. Most teachers didn’t know that the only period they could resign from the union was when most of them weren’t paying attention to school or union matters – in August. Some teachers sent in their resignation notice before the union-mandated allotted time and thought they’d legitimately opted out and stopped paying dues. However, they were soon faced with threats that unless they paid up, the union would do its best to damage their credit ratings. But the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation took the teachers’ side and brought suit against the union. Then, just last Tuesday administrative law judge Julia Stern recommended that the “ Employment Relations Commission order the Michigan Education Association to no longer limit school employees to leaving the union solely in August of each year. She said the law that took effect last year incorporated a federal law interpreted to give public employees the ability to leave their union anytime.”

Furious with the decision, the union went into spin-mode to divert attention from it, triumphantly pointing to the fact that only 5,000 teachers (out of 110,000 total) had resigned during the August window. But as Mike Antonucci notes, the bigger picture is not so rosy. “In 2008-09, the union had 129,000 active members. The latest loss brings that number down to 106,000 – a drop of almost 18 percent.” Also, as more contracts expire, more teachers will have the opportunity to disengage from the union. Additionally, as teachers see that the world of their non-unionized colleagues does not come to an end without Big Daddy, many will realize that the $1,000+ dues they pay on a yearly basis could be much better spent elsewhere.

Sophistry Vergara

Hardly a surprise, but immediately following Judge Rolf Treu’s final decision in the Vergara case, which affirmed his original one, the California Teachers Association, the California Federation of Teachers and Governor Jerry Brown (under pressure from his biggest political backers – the unions) filed an appeal. In a dual release, the unions trotted out the usual off-subject malarkey in an attempt to convince people of the evil intent of the suit.

All along it’s been clear to us that this lawsuit is baseless, meritless, and masterminded by self-interested individuals with corporate education reform agendas that are veiled by a proclamation of student interest.

The Vergara ruling makes clear that Judge Treu failed to engage the evidence presented in court by education experts and school superintendents who testified that teacher rights are not impediments to well-run schools and districts.

He also failed to take into account the impact of underfunding, poverty, growing inequality, and lack of decent jobs in the communities surrounding our schools….

… this ruling doesn’t address any of the real solutions to problems facing public education, solutions such as adequate funding, peer assistance and review programs for struggling teachers, and lower class sizes.

Blah, blah, blah.

While this kind of union spin has traditionally been successful, the general public at long last has become hip to it. In an Education Next  poll released in August concerning the issue of tenure – a major part of the Vergara suit,

… Survey respondents favor ending tenure by a 2-to-1 ratio. By about the same ratio, the public also thinks that if tenure is awarded, it should be based in part on how well the teacher’s students perform in the classroom. Only 9% of the public agrees with current practice in most states, the policy of granting teachers tenure without taking student performance into account.

Fair Share Flim-Flam Fades

Every year around Labor Day, Gallup polls Americans on their attitudes toward labor unions. This year a question was added about right-to-work laws, and the responses were not good news for the forced-union crowd. As Mike Antonucci writes,

The poll finds 82% of Americans agreeing that ‘no American should be required to join any private organization, like a labor union, against his will,’ a position advanced by right-to-work proponents. Pro-union forces partly oppose right-to-work laws because of the ‘free-rider’ problem, with non-union workers benefitting as much as union workers when unions negotiate pay and benefit increases with employers. But by 64% to 32%, Americans disagree that workers should ‘have to join and pay dues to give the union financial support’ because ‘all workers share the gains won by the labor union.’

The teachers unions are starting to remind me of a man at sea flailing away for help, but the courts, the general public and even many of their own members are not not throwing out a life raft. Perhaps Mr. Mulgrew needs to start breaking some legs. Nothing else seems to be working.

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.

A Tale of Two Union Bosses

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair….”

So begins Charles Dickens’ classic, A Tale of Two Cities. These words could also apply to recent statements by two teacher union presidents. Both men spoke from the heart. Both were brutally honest. And both were a breath of fresh air.

Nothing drives me crazier than when teacher union Pooh-Bahs talk out of both sides of their mouths. For example, they’ll trot out the “we’re really doing x,y and z for the children” bromide and in the next breath they are protecting incompetent and pedophile teachers. So I was very pleased with New York City teacher union leader Michael Mulgrew’s candor at a closed door meeting with union activists last Wednesday. He admitted, “We are at war with the reformers.” (Of course you are, Michael and thanks for sparing us the usual weasel words.) The United Federation of Teachers president didn’t stop there. He went on to slam not only reformers but also charter schools, both of which he said are trying to “destroy education in our country.”

Some teachers were shocked, just shocked at Mulgrew’s words. (I can’t figure out why; maybe it’s because a union leader was being honest for a change?) Given the opportunity, Mulgrew didn’t pull his punches. Instead, he doubled down, telling the New York Post, “These are not new comments. I have said this before. Have I not said the reformers are trying to destroy public education?”

Then there is George Parker who was president of the Washington Teachers Union from 2005-2010. It was a tempestuous time for education in the nation’s capital, as Michelle Rhee had become D.C. School Chancellor in 2007 and the two leaders locked horns over just about everything. But in 2010, after leaving her post, Rhee started StudentsFirst, an education reform advocacy organization. The next year she invited Parker to join her team as a Senior Fellow. Needless to say, he was roundly excoriated by all the usual suspects – branded a “whore” and worse – for hooking up with the dreaded “corporate reformer” Rhee.

I must say that when Parker joined StudentsFirst, I briefly thought it could turn into a fox-in-the-henhouse scenario. Happily, I was quite wrong. To get the full gist of where Parker is now, I urge you to watch this brief must-see video of him speaking at a policy summit late last year. The core of the video is Parker’s “aha” moment.

He is at a school talking to a 3rd grader who asks Parker what he does. He responds that it’s his job to get teachers the types of things they need to get the little girl a good education. Then he tells her that one of his responsibilities is getting her the best teachers. As he is leaving the building, the 8 year-old runs up to Parker and gives him a big hug – an expression of her gratitude because, she tells him, “you care about us … and you said that you make sure we get the best teachers.”

Driving back home, Parker’s life-changing moment came when he realized that he lied to the little girl. He had just spent $10,000 of the union’s money on an arbitration case that put a bad teacher back in the classroom. It was a reality check for Parker, who concluded, somewhat painfully, that he wouldn’t let his own 4 year-old grandchild sit in a classroom with that teacher. The inevitable next thought was, so why is it okay for other people’s kids to be taught by an incompetent?

Parker’s candid confession continues as he describes how he manipulated African-American parents by condemning the charter school concept as a race-and-class issue where whites have the power and are taking advantage of blacks. The real reason he was knocking charters, he goes on to explain, was simply because their existence hurts the union’s bottom line. There’s more, but I urge you to watch this entire heartfelt video to get the full force of the man’s forthright conversion.

Two union leaders. Two refreshingly candid statements.

That having been said, the similarities stop there. Michael Mulgrew will continue fighting to keep education wallowing in the season of darkness. But at the same time, George Parker, an American hero, is battling valiantly to bring us to the spring of hope. The best of times and the worst of times indeed.

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.

Teachers Practicing Sexual Harassment Protected by Unions, Victim Advocates Intimidated

With teacher union enabling, child abuse goes on unabated.

A male business owner joking about life for homosexuals in prison, forced a junior accountant to bend over a desk, lined up behind him to simulate a sex act, then quipped, “I’ll show you what’s gay.”

An insurance company middle manager who had been warned about touching secretaries brushed his lower body against a new employee, coming so close that she told company investigators she could feel his genitals through his pants.

A corporate vice-president sent text messages to and called one of his female underlings nearly 50 times in a four-week period and, over the winter holidays, parked himself near her home.

In its definition of sexual harassment, the EEOC says it is “unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include ‘sexual harassment’ or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.” As such, the above scenarios fit the EEOC description of a crime. The perpetrators should face serious legal charges, loss of employment or both.

The tragedy is that the above cases did not occur between employers and employees, but are real life examples of teachers abusing children. According to a recent New York Times story,

A health teacher at a high school in Manhattan, joking about life for homosexuals in prison, forced a male student to bend over a desk, lined up behind him to simulate a sex act, then quipped, according to an Education Department investigative report, “I’ll show you what’s gay.”

A high school science teacher in the Bronx who had already been warned about touching female students brushed his lower body against one student’s leg during a lab exercise, coming so close that she told investigators she could feel his genitals through his pants.

And a math teacher at a high school in the Bronx, investigators said, sent text messages to and called one of his female students nearly 50 times in a four-week period and, over the winter holidays, parked himself at the McDonald’s where she worked.

Surely these teachers are no longer employed as teachers, are they?

Well, yes they are.

After promising not to do it again, they were given a slap on the wrist by an “arbitrator” and returned to their classes. One can only guess that the “arbitrator” is shilling for the teachers unions, which seem to have no problem with degenerates remaining in the classroom. A recently retired New York State teacher union lawyer quipped,

A person has a right to be heard, and the right to respond to whatever you’re accused of, and it’s got to be decided by someone other than you, the boss. If the person is punished in some fashion and now realizes that this is something they should not do, and they feel remorse, you ought to be able to get to a point of simply moving on.

Feel remorse? Move on? That in a nutshell is the teacher union mentality. Keep every last harasser and molester in the classroom, no matter what. Their dues money is as good as Mother Theresa’s.

Several years ago, a union rep in Los Angeles said (referring to wayward teachers), “If I’m representing them, it’s impossible to get them out. It’s impossible unless they commit a lewd act.” Now it appears as if it’s impossible to remove them even if they have committed a lewd act.

But, in a perverse sense, the union stance is understandable, but where are the paladins of the oppressed?

Where are the feminists?

Where is the anti-bullying brigade?

Where are the civil rights groups?

It seems as if children in our society don’t have advocates. Not even the Children’s Defense Fund has said “boo” about the rash of pedophiles working in our schools. Of course, parents speak up for their children, but they are not always welcome. In West Covina, just east of Los Angeles, the mother of a 12 year old boy had good reason to believe her son was being physically abused by his teacher. The teacher has been removed from the classroom until the matter is sorted out. But, in the meantime, the California Teachers Association is threatening to sue the mother if she continues to make accusatory comments toward the teacher in question.

However, there is some good news on the horizon. It was recently announced that,

Leaders of a national education reform movement, including Joel I. Klein and Michelle Rhee, the former schools chancellors in New York and Washington have formed a statewide political group in New York with an eye toward being a counterweight to the powerful teachers’ union in the 2013 mayoral election.

Klein and Rhee have locked horns with union leaders many times, most notably American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. As such, I can’t think of any two who better understand the union mentality, have fearlessly confronted it and fiercely advocated for children. Additionally, they have assembled an impressive board which includes successful educators and some interested parties with very deep pockets.

On the board are some of the most well-known and polarizing figures in public education, including Ms. Rhee; Mr. Klein, now a News Corporation executive; and Eva S. Moskowitz, the former councilwoman who now runs a chain of charter schools. Also on the board are former Mayor Edward I. Koch; Geoffrey Canada, the founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone organization, a network of charter schools; and a number of venture capitalists and hedge fund managers, who have served as the movement’s financial backers.

Upon hearing about the new coalition, United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew responded with a lame attempt at class warfare, “If these 1-percenters want to mount an AstroTurf campaign with their deep pockets, they’ve done this before.”

What Mulgrew and his brethren can’t quite grasp is that parents all over the country are getting sick and tired of the teachers unions being in control of what has become a failing public education enterprise. The unions, with their own deep pockets, won’t back down easily. But if parents and others like Klein and Rhee can join forces and build solid coalitions, the unions may have finally met their match.

To be sure, some well-meaning compromisers will try to engage the union in a round of Kumbaya. But this accommodationist approach rarely achieves victory for parents and children. Perhaps Mr. Canada best summed up the situation. “Folks are genuinely looking for opportunities to make peace and not war. And I think that’s terrific. But someone has to make war.”

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.

Steve Jobs vs. Wall St. Whiners and Teachers Unions

Steve Jobs knew how to create wealth. The parasitic Wall Street protesters and teachers unions want to destroy it.

There are many theories as to who is orchestrating the “Occupy Wall Street” protests – known in some circles as “Kamp Alinsky” and “Kamp Kvetch” – in lower Manhattan and elsewhere throughout our country. George Soros? President Obama? Could they possibly be spontaneous?

No matter. The protesters and their message of social justice, socialism and general hatred of all things corporate will not affect the great majority of Americans. The average Joe and Jill are just trying to pay their bills, raise a family and live a decent life. Hence the Wall Street rabble, a motley combination of bored teenagers, old guard lefties and hard core partiers, many armed with iPhones, digital cameras and many other luxuries produced by corporations, are badly missing the mark. As usual, the protesters’ signs tell the story – none more so than the one that says, “A job is a right. Capitalism doesn’t work.” Could any serious types associate with this fringe mentality?

Enter Michael Mulgrew – the United Federation of Teachers president. Speaking “truth to power,” his tax-the-rich talk at a Wall St. rally fit right in with the angry mob that thinks wealth is evil and that if A has more money than B, A owes B some of it. It’s the mentality that thinks that there is no moral difference between Bernie Madoff and Bill Gates.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten couldn’t miss the opportunity to throw in her two cents. As always, beating the victim drum, she whined about our country being on the wrong track and bemoaned the country’s “long term structural inequalities.” Whatever.

What the teachers unions really want is to make sure that every human being walking the planet who wants to be a teacher becomes one. Swelling the roles of the profession – competency be damned – makes the unions as rich and powerful as the corporations they hate for being rich and powerful.

In highly ironic counterpoint, there is the much-too-early passing of the legendary Steve Jobs. One of the visionary founders of Apple Computers, the 56 year old Jobs succumbed to a long bout with pancreatic cancer last week. Jobs and Apple are perfect examples of capitalism at its best. The products Jobs was responsible for added quality and joy to the lives of millions of people around the world. Jobs was also responsible for helping to make many people wealthy – whether they were employees of Apple or just owned stock in the wildly successful company.

What is not known to many is that Jobs, who donated many thousands of computers to schools all over the country, had very pointed views about the American way of not educating our young. Here are just a few –

“I remember seeing a bumper sticker when the telephone company was all one. I remember seeing a bumper sticker with the Bell Logo on it and it said “We don’t care. We don’t have to.” And that’s what a monopoly is. That’s what IBM was in their day. And that’s certainly what the public school system is. They don’t have to care.”

“I believe very strongly that if the country gave each parent a voucher for forty-four hundred dollars that they could only spend at any accredited school, several things would happen. Number one, schools would start marketing themselves like crazy to get students. Secondly, I think you’d see a lot of new schools starting.”

(Referring to education reform) “The problem there of course is the unions. The unions are the worst thing that ever happened to education because it’s not a meritocracy. It turns into a bureaucracy, which is exactly what has happened. The teachers can’t teach and administrators run the place and nobody can be fired. It’s terrible.”

It is terrible. The above comments could come out of a modern day education reformer’s handbook. However, Mr. Jobs uttered these wise words in April, 1995 – and the past 16 years have done nothing to invalidate them. The unions are still the worst thing that ever happened to education and we definitely need more school choice.

Mr. Jobs understood that competition and capitalism make the world a better place. The teachers unions are a special interest whose narrow focus benefits the few at the expense of the many. Is it any wonder then that Mulgrew, Weingarten and other union bosses associate themselves with the anti-capitalist freeloaders, socialists and losers who have nothing better to do with their time than to spew hatred at Wall Street?

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.