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Jejune in April

NEA rolls out its plan for what to do in case its worst nightmare – worker freedom – comes to pass.

Last July, the California Teachers Association released “Not if, but when: Living in a world without Fair Share,” a 23-page PowerPoint presentation unearthed by Mike Antonucci. The document revealed that teacher union honchos in the Golden State are expecting that pending litigation may very well put an end to mandatory union dues, and they’re exhorting local labor leaders to rise to the challenge.

Just last week, Antonucci “declassified” a similar document, this one coming courtesy of CTA’s parent, the National Education Association. Whereas CTA’s dispatch was downright perky – easy-to-read history, timeline and suggestions – its NEA counterpart (actually put together in April of 2014, three months before CTA’s version) is a snooze of Van Winklean proportions. Its 23 pages are packed solid with endless lists, boring bullet points and useless information. Perhaps a warning should have been posted: “Do not read before driving or operating heavy machinery.”

And while the CTA version took a few obligatory swipes at conservatives (what would a union missive be without them?), NEA devoted almost an entire page to its #2 bogeyman – the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Interestingly, the graphic the union uses for the think-tank includes descriptors like limited government, free markets, and federalism – all of which suggest that ALEC believes in the Constitution. NEA clearly has other ideas on the nation’s governance. (The memorandum’s exclusion of union enemy #1, the Koch Brothers, is inexplicable.)

And then there are the factual errors in the document, perhaps the most glaring of which is in the introduction. It reads,

Fair Share is a commonsense way to protect equity, individual rights, and the pocketbooks of educators. Also known as Agency Fee, Fair Share provisions ensure that all educators contribute to the legally required representation and negotiated benefits provided to them by local associations. Fair Share does not force individuals to join the Association. It simply makes sure that all educators contribute to the negotiated benefits and legally required representation that they all enjoy. (Emphasis added.)

NEA and other unions repeat this lie so often that it’s commonly accepted as fact. But it’s not truthful at all, and the unions know it. As Heritage Foundation senior policy analyst James Sherk points out,

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) allows unions that demonstrate majority support to negotiate as exclusive representatives. If they do so they must negotiate fairly on behalf of all employees, including those who do not pay dues. However unions may disavow (or not obtain) exclusive representative status and negotiate only for their members. Nothing in the National Labor Relations Act forces exclusive representation on unwilling unions. (Emphasis added.)

In other words, if unions don’t want to represent non-members they are not required to do so. But they invariably insist on providing benefits to all.

The document contains another lie that NEA and other unions like to perpetuate.

The poorest states in the US are those in which unions don’t have many members or much power. These are called “Right to Work” states, but what that phrase really means is that workers there have no rights and work for less.

But as I have written before, right-to-work states are actually much stronger economically than their forced-dues counterparts. The Illinois Policy Institute’s Paul Kersey reports that:

  • From 2002 to 2012, states with right-to-work laws saw a 7.2 percent increase in payroll employment, compared to a 2 percent increase in other states.
  • As of September 2014, right-to-work states had an average unemployment rate of 5.5 percent, compared to 6 percent in non-right-to-work states.
  • From 2000 to 2010, right-to-work states saw population growth that was twice as fast as that in other states (13.6 percent compared to 7.3 percent).
  • Median wages in right-to-work states appear $4,345 lower than in other states. However, once you take into account cost of living and local taxes, right-to-work state wages rise. In fact, the cost of living is 16.6 percent higher in states without right-to-work laws.
  • Right-to-work economies grew by 62 percent from 2002 to 2012, compared to just 46.5 percent growth in other states.

With its professed dedication to teachers’ best interests, there is also an omission that needs to be addressed. Typically when teachers join a union, they are forced to join three – the local, a national union and its state affiliate. However, there are teachers who enjoy the perks they get from their local but feel no need to send most of their dues money to the state and national entities which suck up about 80 percent (over $800) of a teacher’s total dues payment. If your politics are on the right, or you are a centrist or maybe not political at all, do you really want hundreds of your dues-dollars going to the leftist causes that the state and national unions regularly support? It is possible to form a “local only” teachers union, but only after engaging a lawyer and going through a laborious disaffiliation process. And NEA, far more interested in its bottom line than its teachers, has no mention of this option in its document.

Beyond the errors of omission and commission, there is not much else to comment on. It can be summed up as, “Tell people why they should join the union.” “Go after the younger workers.” “Engage non-members.” “Develop an app.” Tired tactics. Fallacious arguments. Same old, same old.

Zzzzzzzzz.

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.

NEA’s March: Out with a Sham

With the sincerity of an elixir hustler, NEA boss pretends to be objective about the 2016 election.

The National Education Association is serious about the 2016 presidential election. The union is serious about every election of course, but this time the union’s leader is actually asking for input from viable candidates even if they haven’t announced their intention to run. Last week, NEA President Lily Eskelsen García told reporters, “We have 3 million members who want desperately to know what the candidates have to say to really, seriously improve public education. We intend to activate those 3 million members, the parents, even the students.”

But – to quote Hillary Clinton – what difference at this point does it make? Or at any point. We already know which party the NEA (and the American Federation of Teachers for that matter) is going to sink millions of dues-payers dollars into. I mean really – does anyone believe that NEA is going to support Scott Walker, whom the union links with the dreaded Koch Brothers every chance it gets? Or, do you think in your wildest dreams, it would endorse Chris Christie, a man NEA repeatedly refers to as a bully? What about Jeb Bush, a man who often clashed with teachers unions when he was governor of Florida? Yes, the same Bush who referred to public school systems as “government-run unionized and politicized monopolies that trap good teachers, administrators and struggling students in a system nobody can escape.” Of course not. NEA will not endorse any Republican for president. Period. Never mind Mike Antonucci’s report that an internal 2005 NEA survey – consistent with previous results – found that its members “are actually slightly more conservative (50%) than liberal (43%) in political philosophy.” You would never know that from the lopsided way the teachers unions spend their political bucks.

In the 2014 election cycle, the two teachers unions spent between $60 million and $80 million –more than in any other year ever – almost exclusively on Democratic candidates. Going back in time, we see that from 1989-2014, NEA spent $88 million on political donations to Dems while giving only $3 million to Republicans. AFT was even more one-sided. During the same period, it spent $69 million on Dems and just $350,000 on GOPers.

So that leaves us with Democratic candidates, which include former Maryland Governor and rain-taxer Martin O’Malley, perennial foot-in-mouther Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth (Dances with Wolves) Warren, who insists she is not running. And then there is independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who, as a socialist, is unelectable. And finally we have Hillary. Despite the troubling server-scrub incident and a burgeoning collection of clumsy gaffes that make Joe Biden look polished, HRC is still quite popular with many true-believing Clintonistas. And should she decide to run, she will get the NEA and AFT endorsement as well as a bundle of their spending money as sure as night follows day

It has been pointed out that Hillary will have some conflicts to deal with if she is the candidate. As noted in a New York Times piece, she could face some sticky moments as the teacher union candidate and as one who is looking for big donations from rich Democrats who happen to favor the reforms that the teachers unions despise. But Hillary, like her husband, is a master of “triangulation,” or as it is sometimes referred to, “speaking out of both sides of your mouth.”

Maybe instead of polling candidates, NEA should survey its 3 million members to see who they think the best choice would be, but then again that would be a waste of time. The elite know best. No matter what the rank-and-file thinks, Hillary, should she run, will have the full force of the nation’s teachers unions behind her. Republicans need not apply.

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 Shrinking Teacher Union Brand

Teachers unions are losing members, but stubbornly stick with the same old product.

Earlier this month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics informed us that in 2014 – for the second year in a row – that there are fewer unionized than non-unionized teachers in the U.S. The reasons for this are many: more right-to-work states, a population shift to right-to-work states, an increase in mostly non-unionized charter schools and an uptick in the number of families availing themselves of school choice opportunities and sending their kids to private schools. Mike Antonucci writes, “Of the 4,535,249 teachers employed in elementary, secondary and special education in 2014, only 49 percent were union members. And the unionization rates for pre-k, kindergarten and higher education were much lower.” Antonucci also points out that while there were 34,921 more teachers overall in 2014, the unions were able to recruit only 10.7 percent of them.

By the way, it’s not just the teacher union brand that is suffering. According to the latest data, all union membership sagged to 11.1 percent, a drop from 11.3 in 2013, with just 14.6 million wage and salaried workers maintaining membership. The rate of union affiliation has been sliding for 30 years now. It did grow slightly from 12.1 percent in 2007 to 12.4 percent in 2008, but that was the only bright spot in some time for organized labor.

So in the smoke-free equivalents of smoke-filled rooms across the country, union kingpins are chewing on that old question, “What are we gonna do about this?!”

Well, where right-to-work legislation and litigation advance, unions will actually have to become responsive to the wishes of their members and make joining more attractive to would-be members. But as long as we have a forced-dues model throughout much of the land, most thoughts aren’t going in that direction. To be sure, many teachers, especially the younger ones, resent many union-mandated conventions like “last in/first out” as well as many aspects of the typical union contract strait-jacket. But politics plays an important role in the problem for teachers of all ages.

Politically speaking, responsiveness to its members has never been a hallmark of the teacher union elite. A small vocal and radical few determine policy for the larger group who are either ignorant of their actions, apathetic about politics, or they are intimidated by the more vociferous members. If you have any doubts about union-leadership politics, just look at the presidents of large union locals like Bob Peterson (Milwaukee), Alex Caputo-Pearl (Los Angeles) and Karen Lewis (Chicago) – all socialist-leaning, community-organizing practitioners. While not every state and local union leader falls into this category, an overwhelming majority do, despite an internal poll by the National Education Association which found that its rank-and-file is slightly more conservative (50 percent) than liberal (43 percent) in political philosophy.

In a recent piece, Bob Peterson, who doubles as a 5th grade teacher, sounded alarm bells, writing, “If Teachers Can’t Make Their Unions More Democratic and Social Justice-Minded, Public Ed Is Doomed.” At the same time he is asking unions to become more inclusive by becoming “democratic,” he rails against Scott Walker, Paul Ryan, conservatives, white-populated areas of the state, right-wing Republicans, privatization, corporate reformers, charter schools, vouchers, etc. Peterson’s union model would include efforts to raise the minimum wage, expand healthcare coverage and voter rights, implement incarceration reform, and stop “unfair hiring practices at a major federal housing project.”

When unabashed leftist – a community organizer in teacher’s clothes – Alex Caputo-Pearl became president of the United Teachers of Los Angeles least year, he talked about the importance of “social movement unionism.” Not surprisingly, socialists are very supportive of his agenda. Socialistworker.org describes him as a “veteran union militant and community organizer” and explains that Caputo-Pearl’s organizing plan includes “… increased member involvement in political action, and putting a priority on linking community-based social justice demands to our contract negotiations.”

And then there is Chicago Teachers Union chief Karen Lewis who, like Peterson and Caputo-Pearl, believes in bringing class warfare into the classroom. As reported by EAG News’ Kyle Olson, she alludes to a “lesson’ that the aforementioned Peterson uses:

‘People always talk about how that there’s no politics and values in math. That you can teach math and there’s no place for social justice. So let me tell you how Bob deals with that,’ Lewis said.

She went on to describe a math story problem about money and the cost of pencils.

‘That’s a very political statement because it’s all about consumerism – it’s about buying stuff, right?

‘Bob Peterson tells them about José working in a factory making piecemeal clothes. He uses the same numbers and gets the same answer. And yes, math is political, too.’

So no, it’s not about unions becoming more responsive to its members, but rather forcing a left-wing agenda down teachers’ – and students’ – throats. In other words, if you are a conservative, moderate, apolitical teacher or just don’t think the unions have any business getting into non-education issues, “Shut up … but keep those dues coming, and be sure to indoctrinate the kids while you are at it!”

The bottom line is that the Bob Petersons, Alex Caputo-Pearls and Karen Lewises of teacher union-world certainly don’t represent all, or even a majority of teachers. And it seems that those who don’t agree with their union’s mandatory work rules and their leader’s strident political philosophies are finding other places to work. As right-to-work laws spread across the land and school choice policies advance, teachers will have more options and won’t be forced to buy the fading teacher union brand.

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.

Fifty States of Right-to-Work?

Elected officials, the courts and John Q. Public are supporting worker freedom these days; teachers unions and other public employee unions are on the run.

Last Monday, Illinois governor Bruce Rauner issued an executive order that, if it stands, will absolve state workers from paying forced dues to a union. As The Wall Street Journal reports, Rauner declared that Illinois’s contracts with public unions “violate the First Amendment by forcing workers to associate with the union against their will.” Rauner instructed all state agencies to keep the workers’ dues in escrow, pending the outcome of a federal court lawsuit that he filed the same day.

Needless to say, the unions and their friends in Springfield aren’t doing cartwheels over his right-to-work (RTW) directive. Even prior to the order, the teachers unions had targeted the recently elected governor. Two weeks ago, Chicago Teachers Union boss Karen Lewis attacked Rauner, accusing him of being (Wisconsin governor) “Scott Walker on steroids.” Also before the announcement, local teacher union lobbyist Matthew Johansson declared that the governor is trying to “destroy us.”

After the announcement, Illinois Education Association president Cinda Klickna said that the attack on “fair share is extremely serious and will be monitored very carefully.” She added, “This attack is clearly intended to weaken the unions that fight for the middle class and for the students who attend our schools. We can’t let that happen.” The Illinois Federation of Teachers referred to the action as a “blatant abuse of power.”

The reality – beyond the union harrumphing and all-around hysteria – is this: In 26 states and D.C., workers are forced to pay unions as a condition of employment. The unions call this “fair share” because they say all workers benefit from their collective bargaining efforts. But if a worker doesn’t want to be part of the collective, he/she still must belong because the union demands monopoly status; a worker is not allowed to bargain on his/her own or hire another party to do so.

Hence RTW is quite simply an individual-rights issue. The workers the unions refer to as “free riders” are really “forced riders.” If you were going from Point A to Point B and wanted to walk, how would you feel if someone told you that you had to take the bus … and, of course, pay for the ride to boot?

Very importantly, not only does RTW liberate workers, it has many other far-reaching benefits. After Michigan became a RTW state in 2012, the West Michigan Policy Forum reported, “… of the 10 states with the highest rate of personal income growth, eight have right-to-work laws. Those numbers are driving a net migration from forced union states: Between 2000 and 2010, five million people moved to right-to-work states from compulsory union states.”

Also, in a new economic profile, the Illinois Policy Institute’s Paul Kersey reports that RTW states are much stronger economically than their forced-dues counterparts:

  • From 2002 to 2012, states with right-to-work laws saw a 7.2 percent increase in payroll employment, compared to a 2 percent increase in other states.
  • As of September 2014, right-to-work states had an average unemployment rate of 5.5 percent, compared to 6 percent in non-right-to-work states.
  • From 2000 to 2010, right-to-work states saw population growth that was twice as fast as that in other states (13.6 percent compared to 7.3 percent).
  • Median wages in right-to-work states appear $4,345 lower than in other states. However, once you take into account cost of living and local taxes, right-to-work state wages rise. In fact, the cost of living is 16.6 percent higher in states without right-to-work laws.
  • Right-to-work economies grew by 62 percent from 2002 to 2012, compared to just 46.5 percent growth in other states.

Much to the unions’ consternation, the RTW movement is picking up momentum across the country. Politico’s Brian Mahoney reports that legislation has been introduced in New Mexico, Missouri, West Virginia and Kentucky.

The bills have already cleared committee hurdles in New Mexico and Missouri. All but the Missouri bill were introduced by Republicans; in Missouri, the measure was introduced by state Rep. Courtney Curtis, a Democrat and an African-American who would limit right to work to the construction industry to combat what he sees as bias in minority contracting. In Kentucky, right-to-work ordinances have been passed in five counties, though it isn’t clear federal law allows the adoption of right to work anywhere except at the state and territorial level. Legal challenges are already underway.

Additionally, the American people are strong supporters of RTW laws. In a poll conducted right before Labor Day last year, Gallup found that 82 percent of Americans agree that “no American should be required to join any private organization, like a labor union, against his will.” Also, as Mike Antonucci reports, by a 2-1 margin – 64 to 32 percent – “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.’”

Much of the recent RTW activity has been undoubtedly spurred by the June 2014 Harris v Quinn Supreme Court decision, in which SCOTUS agreed with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, ruling that homecare workers in Illinois could not be forced to join the Service Employees International Union.

And in the legal on-deck circle is Friedrichs et al v CTA, which is on a path to reach SCOTUS within a few months. This litigation has ten teachers and the Christian Educators Association International – a union alternative – taking on the California Teachers Association with a lawsuit aimed squarely at California’s “agency-shop” law, which forces teachers to pay dues for collective bargaining activities. The Center for Individual Rights is representing the teachers, with help from Jones Day, an international law firm.

So, let’s see – RTW is gaining favor in state houses, the courts and with the citizenry. And please keep in mind, no one is talking about outlawing unions; RTW is simply about making them voluntary associations, just like every other organization in the U.S. Really nothing controversial, unless you are a wolf that preys on workers … all the while pretending to be a shepherd.

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.

NEA’s Sorry Spin

The latest teachers union PR ploy is pure cowplop.

“Persuading the People on Public Schools,” a National Education Association document posted by the The Daily Beast’s Conor Williams, details the union’s new communication strategy. Subtitled “Words to avoid … Words to Embrace,” the previously internal “research brief” gives us a look into the mindset of an entity that is losing the national debate with school choicers and other reformers. To be sure, a political body like NEA needs jargon, mediaspeak, spin, whatever, to sell its message, but if its latest effort – with the help of two progressive communications outfits – is any indication, the hole it has dug for itself could become an abyss in no time. Just a few examples….

Instead of using the word inequality, NEA is now advising its people to use living in the right zip code. This of course plays right into the hands of reformers who constantly and correctly make the point that throughout much of the country we have a rigid government-run monopoly by zip-code education system. As RiShawn Biddle writes, “NEA leaders will then have to explain why their affiliates, along with that of AFT,  fight vigilantly throughout the nation against the expansion of public charter schools and other forms of choice that have proven to improve graduation rates for black and Latino children.”

The brief suggests dumping educational equity and replacing it with the squishy committed to the success of every child. I guess the monopolists at NEA aren’t comfortable with equity, because using that term leaves them open to blame for keeping poor and minority kids in urban failure factories by waging war on policies that would help them escape.

NEA wants to change the narrative from meaningful, rigorous evaluations to the argument that testing takes time from learning. The union really doesn’t loathe testing per se, but it cannot abide the fact that a teacher’s evaluation should reflect – at least in part – how well students perform on a standardized test. (We really need to lose the test-phobia that seems to be gripping the nation these days. Unionistas and others keep carping that we have “too much testing.” Maybe we do – and of course, too much of anything is not good. We need food to live but too much of it will make us obese and possibly send us to an early grave. But we don’t want to do away with food; we just need eat better and more moderately. Same mentality should be applied to testing.)

Perhaps most telling is that the union wants to use get serious about what works and avoid research driven practices. Sounds as if the union knows that it is getting clobbered by a parade of studies which show that charter schools, privatization and other forms of school choice are effective, and it is trying to divert us from this reality.

The rest of the communiqué is riddled with euphemisms that the union hopes will fool the public. But, mercifully, people have gotten hip to teacher union twaddle and a majority now sees the unions as a stumbling block to school reform.

In a sense there is nothing new about the document. For a while now, the unions have been aware that much of its language has been losing favor with the general public. Tenure and seniority both have received black eyes of late – due, at least in part, to California’s Vergara case – and have been replaced with the kinder and gentler due process and importance of experience.

In another example of pre-document union wordplay, Tennessee Education Association president Gera Summerford, talking to supporters in March 2014, explained, “This march to corporatization – that’s the word that we’ve been trying to use because it does sound a little more ‘evil’ than privatization.”

Maybe some will be taken in by this nonsense. But thousands of kids and their families who have won the lottery (literally) and have been given a shot at a good life via a good education by the likes of Eva Moskowitz’s Harlem Success Academies, KIPP Schools and the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program undoubtedly won’t. The union’s “evil corporations taking over education” meme has quickly turned into a tired old cliché.

Like teacher union spin, manure comes with many different names – dung, fertilizer, cowplop, etc. But whatever you call it – it still stinks.

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.

Antisocial Injustice

A teachers union giving an award for social justice is like Miley Cyrus handing out a medal for modesty.

The term “social justice” has gone through many permutations over the centuries, but these days it refers essentially to a progressive vision of the world. Its paramount issues include income inequality, sexual discrimination, the mere existence of the Koch brothers and a whole gaggle of “rights.” (Interesting that in all my reading on the subject, rights are mentioned aplenty, but personal responsibility is rarely broached.) Perhaps the always dependable Urban Dictionary has the most accurate current definition of the term,

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.

But whatever your political orientation is, and however you define the term, I think we would agree that it is the height of arrogance and hypocrisy to have a teachers union bestow a “social justice” award, but that is just what the National Education Association is doing. And it will be a yearly event. The winner will be afforded a sumptuous package of events to revel in:

The award will be presented annually by the NEA President at NEA’s national Representative Assembly. The awardee will receive an all-expense paid trip to attend and address both the NEA Representative Assembly and the Joint Conference on Concerns of Minorities and Women. The winner will also be invited to attend Educator Empowerment Day as part of the pre-Representative Assembly activities.

I’m sure the recipients will be thrilled, but let’s take a look beyond the faux union rhetoric.

Union boss pay

An ongoing mantra of the teachers unions is that corporate bosses are greedy swine who steal money from their workers. As they boldly charge others with exploitation, you’d think that teacher union leaders would set an example. But according to NEA’s own website, median teacher pay in the U.S. is $51,381 per year. However, in his last year as NEA president, Dennis Van Roekel made $541,632 – more than ten times what a teacher makes. (American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten is no better. That self-righteous social justice advocate has almost the exact same socially unjust income of $543,679.) But corporate CEOs – allegedly the fat cats – make $178,400 yearly, just five times that of the average worker.

And another inconvenient tidbit – most of Van Roekel’s and Weingarten’s hefty salaries come from dues that teachers are forced to have deducted from each paycheck. Sounds as if the union bosses are getting rich “off the backs of teachers,” doesn’t it? It is also interesting to note that due to the proliferation of charter schools and other non-unionized forms of school choice, the traditional public school teacher population is shrinking. Therefore each teacher is paying more to support the union leaders’ extravagant one-percenter lifestyles.

Outsider money

The first ones to cry “foul” when “outsider” money flows into local schoolboard races are the teachers unions. Last month, via Mike Antonucci, we were treated to a Washington Post letter-to-the-editor from Elizabeth Davis, president of the Washington Teachers Union (an AFT affiliate), and Delvone Michael, director of DC Working Families.

Across the country, wealthy business interests and conservative political operatives are buying up local boards of education. And if we don’t stand up and say no, D.C. will be the next notch on their belt.

Otherwise sleepy races for school boards have been drowned in cash from outside interests who want local candidates to support charter schools and oppose the protections of unions. Now it’s happening here in the District, too.

What is all the bellyaching about? A $31,000 donation from an unspecified “outside group.” At the very same time, an October 28th story from the New Orleans Times-Picayune informs us:

The American Federation of Teachers has spent almost $450,000 on the Jefferson Parish School Board elections, recent campaign finance reports show. That’s more than all individual candidate contributions combined.

The union’s local political action committee calls itself the AFT Committee for School Board Accountability in Jefferson Parish. It received two payments totaling $446,000 from the AFT Solidarity Fund in September and October.

Sad to say, the union’s efforts were successful in Louisiana, and the reform-minded schoolboard majority exists no more; the union is now in control, thanks to AFT’s “outsider money.”

War against families

Then we have a war against parents and kids in Florida, where the Florida Education Association, an NEA affiliate, is doing its best to keep economically disadvantaged kids from using tax-credit scholarships to attend schools of their parents’ choosing. In August, FEA and a few allies challenged the state’s popular 13-year-old Tuition Tax Credit Scholarship program. “The suit claims that the scholarship violates the ‘no aid’ clause and the ‘uniform public schools’ clause of the state’s constitution by allowing students to take the aid to private schools, some with religious affiliation.”

The lawsuit is bogus, however. As explained by Cato Institute education policy analyst Jason Bedrick, “Scholarship Tax Credit laws are privately administered programs that rely on the voluntary contributions of corporate taxpayers who receive tax credits in return. As the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, these funds never become public funds because they do not ‘come into the tax collector’s hands.’”

No matter. More privatization means that fewer public school teachers (read union members) will be needed, thus hurting the unions’ bottom line. And when that happens, all their social justice preening flies out the window.

These are just three of the latest examples of what I referred to in a prior post as teacher union hubrocrisy. Hubris and hypocrisy are their natural state. Social justice is something they conveniently glom onto so as to appear “progressive.” But there is nothing “progressive” about the unions. And as their victims are learning, there is nothing especially “social” or “just” about them either.

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.

Teachers Unions Target Charter Schools in California

The latest chapter in “kill or unionize” sees the unions in organize mode.

As I’ve written before, the teachers unions have a constantly shifting relationship with charter schools. When Mercury is in retrograde, the unions want to limit their growth or legislate the publicly-funded schools of choice out of existence. At other times, organizing them is the preferred strategy. With the coronation of new National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen Garcìa, we see the unions take a conciliatory tone in an attempt to lure charter school teachers into the fold.

In fact, Garcia held a press conference at a unionized charter school in northern California in August. This fits right in with the California Teachers Association’s long-term strategic plan, which includes organizing charters as one of its foci. The only problem with NEA/CTA’s plan is that all their previous organizing attempts have fallen flatter than a flounder. As Mike Antonucci wrote earlier this month, “So go ahead and read about the push to unionize charters from last week, or from last April, or from May 2013, or from April 2013, or from April 2011, or from May 2006, or from November 2000.”

Why have the unions’ attempts to organize charter schools failed?

For starters, charters are either independent efforts or run by charter management organizations which operate a handful of schools. The unions just don’t have the wherewithal to organize one or even a few schools at a time. They have a much easier job in traditional public education where they can exert their influence on entire school districts.

Another reason that more charters aren’t organized is very simply that their teachers don’t want to be in a union. Teachers – frequently young ones – typically flock to charters because they like the autonomy that charters afford and don’t want to be loaded with an endless pile of restrictive work rules that are part and parcel of the typical collective bargaining agreement – a big reason why the de-bureaucratized and de-unionized schools came into being in the first place.

Charter school popularity is perpetually on the rise. Nationally, the number of students enrolled in them reached 2.5 million in 2013-2014, up 12.6 percent from the year before, according to the most recent enrollment estimates from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Ten years ago, charter enrollment was 789,000 – less than a third of what it is now.  As of last year, California alone had 1,130 charters, about 6 percent more than the year before. There was a 10.3 percent rise in charter student enrollment during that time, bringing the state total to 519,000.

The bad news is that there are still not enough. The California Charter School Association informs us that there are 91,000 students on waitlists. Supply just can’t keep up with demand.

At the same time, however, the unions are losing ground with charters. The Center for Education Reform reports that nationwide, the percentage of unionized charter schools has dropped from 12 in 2009 to a paltry 7 in 2012. In CA, there is a 15 percent unionization rate, but that number, from the 2009-2010 school year, is due for an update.

The low unionization rate is good news for students, who are better off when their charter school teachers aren’t organized. Evaluating Boston’s charter schools in 2009, Harvard economist Thomas Kane discovered that “students accepted by lottery at charters run by the school district with unionized teachers experienced no benefit.” In other words, a unionized charter is no different than a unionized traditional public school. Unions may support charters, but unionized charters are stripped of just about everything that makes them different from – and generally better than – traditional public schools.

By the way, Mercury will be in retrograde in a few days, so plan on the unions reverting to kill mode.  They’ll sponsor legislation that will, at best, try to limit charter expansion or, at worst, kill them off entirely. You can bet your astrology chart 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 and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

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.

Checking Out of the Hotel California…Teachers Association

A new document shows that CTA is resigned to the fact that membership in its union will ultimately become voluntary.

Courtesy of Mike Antonucci, we get to peek behind the curtain at an internal California Teachers Association document which has been “declassified.” “Not if, but when: Living in a world without Fair Share…” is a 23-page pdf in which the largest state teachers union in the country envisions the future.

The communiqué  starts off with basic demographic data, then launches into a history of “fair share” – the union’s right to collect dues from every public school teacher in the state whether or not they join the union. In other words, “fair share” is really “forced share.”

Next there is a history of the initiatives that have tried to curtail the unbridled power of CTA including Prop. 75, in which I was an active participant. This 2005 “paycheck protection” initiative would have required public employee union members’ consent to use part of their dues for political contributions. The default position was – and unfortunately still is – that members must pay and have to jump through hoops not to. CTA tells us that proponent spending on the initiative was $5.8 million, while the prop’s opponents spent more than $44 million, with CTA alone providing over $32 million to defeat it. Given that disparity (and the unions’ outright lies about the issue), it’s not hard to see why the measure went down on Election Day.

The CTA document then goes into past and future legal challenges – Harris v Quinn, Friedrichs v CTA et al. Referring to them as attacks, they posit that these cases will lead to the demise of “fair share.”

Resigned to its worst nightmare – teacher freedom – the union is gearing up for what is standard procedure for most successful businesses and interest groups. If teachers think the union has something beneficial to offer, they can join and pay up. If they don’t see any value in belonging the union, they can just say no and not be forced to pay any dues whatsoever. In this vein, the missive has some suggested sales pitches:

CTA Builds the Infrastructure

Member Benefits research with young, prospective members to learn what might incent (sic) them to want to join the Association voluntarily.  

•Assessing their level of interest in terms of present member benefits offerings.

•How the program might be enhanced to reflect their interests.

•Finding messages that resonate with this demographic, and:

•How to package what Association membership offers in a way that appeals to them.

 Note the language: incent(ivize), voluntarily, reflect their interests, messages that resonate, a way that appeals to them. These are typical terms that a business might use to sell their product or service, which is of course very different from the old CTA forced-dues model, which could have been lifted straight out of The Muggers Guide to Fame and Fortune

There’s more about how CTA plans to adapt, and I would urge you to read the entire 23-page presentation; it is most definitely a stunning document.

Former union leader Doug Tuthill seems right at home with the direction that CTA is going.

The two most effective unions in the United States are the National Rifle Association and the AARP. They’re not industrial unions, but they are unions, and they are far more effective politically and financially than today’s teachers unions. Teachers should adopt this model.

Unlike today’s teachers unions, the NRA and AARP do not require their members to be part of a centralized bureaucracy. Their members are united by common values and interests, not by location. An NRA-AARP type teachers union would be able to advocate for teachers working in a variety of settings, including museums, libraries, district schools, virtual schools, art galleries, charter schools, homeschools, tutoring businesses, private schools, YWCAs, and Boys and Girls Clubs. The work setting would be irrelevant, just as where NRA and AARP members work — or where American Bar Association lawyers and American Medical Association doctors work — is irrelevant. (The ABA and AMA are also non-industrial unions.)

Even a current union leader has seen the light. Via National Right to Work Committee’s Stan Greer, we learn that veteran union organizer Gary Casteel, who was recently promoted to secretary-treasurer of the United Auto Workers, favors right-to-work laws:

[T]here’s a school of thought that says it’s not such a great thing to have everyone pay dues whether they want to or not….

This is something I’ve never understood, that people think right to work hurts unions. To me, it helps them. You don’t have to belong if you don’t want to. So if I go to an organizing drive, I can tell these workers, ‘If you don’t like this arrangement, you don’t have to belong.’ Versus, ‘If we get 50 percent of you, then all of you have to belong, whether you like to or not.’ I don’t even like the way that sounds.  Because [Right to Work is] a voluntary system, if you don’t think the system’s earning its keep, then you don’t have to pay.

So it would seem that during National Employee Freedom Week which runs through this Saturday, there is cause for optimism. A recent poll conducted by Google Consumer Surveys found that nearly 29 percent of union members nationwide responded that they were interested in leaving their union if given the opportunity. A similar poll found that nearly 83 percent of the American public believes that union members should have the right to choose.

As such, maybe one day soon we will see that, unlike the Hotel California, union members can check out and leave their union behind.

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 One-Way Political Spending of the Teacher Unions

Teacher union political gifting continues to be almost exclusively leftward bound, but teachers don’t have to finance it.

Courtesy of campaign-finance tracker Open Secrets, we have a reminder of how lopsided teacher union political spending is. Education Week’s Lauren Camera posted a report Friday which spells out some of the nasty details.

In House of Representative races during the 2014 election cycle, the American Federation of Teachers gave $1.4 million to Democrats, compared to just $5,000 to Republicans. The National Education Association donated $857,550 to Democrats and $59,500 to Republicans. In Senate races AFT gave $210,000 to Dems and GOPers got zero. NEA sent $168,750 to Senate Democrats, while Republicans scored a piddling $3,000. 

Sadly, these numbers are not outliers but typical of teacher union spending. From 1989-2014, NEA sent only 4 percent of its donations to Republicans, and rest assured that the few bucks they tossed at the right never wound up anywhere near any Tea Party types. Additionally, NEA has lavished gifts on such leftist stalwarts as MALDEF, People for the American Way, Media Matters, ACORN, Al Sharpton’s National Action Network and the Center for American Progress. 

Here in the Golden State, the California Teachers Association is no better. Between 2003 and 2012, the union sent $15.7 million to Dems and just $92,700 to Republicans – a ratio of well over 99 to 1. CTA also spends millions on controversial, non-education-related liberal causes such as establishing a single-payer health-care system, expanding the government’s power of eminent domain, instituting same-sex marriage and blocking photo ID requirements for voters. In toto, CTA spent over $290 million on candidates, ballot measures and lobbying between 2000 and 2013 (more than double the amount of any other special interest) and just about every penny of it went in the usual leftist direction.

But this must be what teachers want, right? Aren’t the great majority of teachers liberal?

In a word, “No.”

In fact, according to Mike Antonucci, an internal NEA poll revealed, 

NEA members lean no further to the left than any other large group of Americans. The national union conducts periodic internal surveys to ascertain member attitudes on a host of issues. These surveys are never made public, and results are tightly controlled, even within the organization. The 2005 NEA survey, consistent with previous results, found that members ‘are slightly more conservative (50%) than liberal (43%) in political philosophy.’ (Emphasis added.) 

While teachers in 26 states have to pay the union in order to teach in a public school, many are unaware that every year they can withhold several hundred dollars in dues money that the union would spend on politics. Needless to say, the unions don’t advertise the fact that teachers do indeed have any choice. 

Next week is National Employee Freedom Week which is a nation-wide effort to inform unionized employees about their union membership options. If you are conservative, libertarian, centrist or apolitical and are tired of bankrolling your union’s pet political causes, maybe it’s time to just say no. For information on how to do that, please go to the California Teachers Empowerment Network website.

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.

Union “Hubrocrisy”

Teachers unions reside at the corner of Hubris St. and Hypocrisy Ave. 

A few days ago, Politico’s Stephanie Simon wrote about a new teachers union get-out-the-vote strategy. Attempting to regain some of their political turf as the midterm elections approach, they’re fighting back by utilizing their most obvious asset: teachers.

Backed by tens of millions in cash and new data mining tools that let them personalize pitches to voters, the unions are sending armies of educators to run a huge get-out-the-vote effort aimed at reversing the red tide that swept Republicans into power across the country in 2010.

as they gear up for the most intense and focused mobilization efforts they have ever attempted, they believe it’s their members who will give them an edge. Americans may be frustrated with public schools and wary of unions, but polls still show respect and admiration for teachers.

Nothing out of the ordinary here. But then Simon exposes the unions’ hypocrisy, with a load of hubris tossed in for good measure.

Union leaders like to frame the political battleground as a David vs. Goliath affair. They speak with pride about their working-class members, armed only with clipboards and comfy sneakers, going up against corporate titans of immense wealth and power.

The unions portraying themselves as “David” is either a flight of fancy, a bald-faced lie or maybe they have developed a deeply ironic sense of humor.

For example, in June, the National Education Association – alluding to the aforementioned corporate titans – lectured us about the ‘corrosive influence’ of Super PACs.

Super PACs have been roundly criticized for their lack of disclosure and their ability to accept unlimited donations from corporations, thereby making it more difficult for ordinary Americans to have a say in the electoral process. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling made it legal for corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence federal elections. The court’s decision opened the door to the creation of Super PACs.

Attempting to motor down the moral high road has never been a good idea for the teachers unions. As Mike Antonucci reports,

… During the second quarter of 2014, the Democratic Governors Association received $13.8 million, most of it from labor unions and $2,260,000 from NEA and AFT alone.

Someone will ask, so let’s be clear that this is dues money being used, since it is not a direct contribution to a candidate for office. Traditionally these funds are spent on media buys to promote a particular stance on an issue, which tend to appear in battleground states and coincide with the position of a recommended candidate.

The NEA contribution came from the NEA Advocacy Fund, which is a Super PAC. (Emphasis added.)

So, Super PACs are bad except when they are union Super PACs.

Then there was the little dust-up in New York City, where the American Federation of Teachers has some ‘splainin’ to do.

Less than a month before Mayor Bill de Blasio struck a contract deal with the United Federation of Teachers, its parent union, the American Federation of Teachers, gave $350,000 to a nonprofit group that is run by de Blasio advisers and lobbies on behalf of the mayor’s priorities, newly released records show.

… News of the timing of the teachers’ union gift raised questions among good-government organizations about the ability of outside interests to advance their agendas before the city by supporting a lobbying arm of the mayor.

AFT did its best to shove the whole thing under the rug, claiming that “the donation was part of the union’s longstanding support of government-funded pre-kindergarten.” And of course, de Blasio’s people denied any impropriety, intimating that it was just one big coincidence. But Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, wasn’t buying it. “It’s an awfully large donation to make in the final stages of labor negotiations. And these groups doing business with the city – while they make these donations – is [a situation] just riddled with conflicts.” He went on to tell the New York Post: “To have a newly elected mayor start a nonprofit organization to support his big initiative – and then go calling for dollars from those who are involved in the city’s business – is unseemly.”

AFT would like us to believe that there was no scent of a quid pro quo that the union wound up with an unprecedented nine year contact which included an 18 percent raise for teachers. “Unseemly” doesn’t begin to cover it.

AFT’s “hubrocrisy” also reared its ugly head in Massachusetts. The union claims to deplore the concept of “dark money” in politics and rail against all who engage in it. Well, everyone but themselves apparently. In Boston, a mysterious $480,000 ad buy in the fall helped propel Martin J. Walsh to mayoral victory over John R. Connolly, a longtime adversary of the teachers unions. Turns out that the donated money, having taken a circuitous path, was a gift from the AFT.

Massachusetts legislators didn’t think much of the AFT gambit, and are trying to pass laws requiring more transparency. But according to a Boston Globe report, The Massachusetts Teachers Association, the state’s NEA affiliate, is balking at the legislation and trying to eviscerate it, citing “technical issues.”

The two national teachers unions spend between $100 and $200 million on politics every year and they are so good at hiding their über generous “gifts” that no one can be sure just what the real number is. One thing is certain – however tall their mountain of money, it’s still dwarfed by their endless supply of “hubrocrisy.”

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.

Post-Vergara Rumblings

The Vergara decision is three weeks old – and due to the teachers unions’ appeal, nothing has changed. Or has it?

Because Judge Rolf Treu has placed a stay on his Vergara ruling pending the outcome of the teachers unions’ appeal, the tenure, seniority and dismissal statutes are still alive and well in California. However, there already has been some fallout engendered by the decision.

Introduced in February of this year, AB 1619 would have required school districts with fewer than 250 students to grant tenure to teachers after three years. Amazingly the unions had not, until earlier this year, tried to sink their hooks into these smaller districts that have no tenure laws at all. The bill, cosponsored by the California Teachers Association (surprise!) and Lorena Gonzalez, former leader of the San Diego Imperial Counties Labor Council, sailed through the State Assembly but hadn’t made its way out of the Senate Education Committee. As reported by LA School Report, “Paul Ochoa, an aide to Gonzalez …, said the bill ‘will not move forward this year,’ but he was uncertain if Gonzalez would try again next year.” Teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci recently observed that there’s no doubt that “had it not been for the Vergara ruling, not only would AB 1619 have passed already, but we probably wouldn’t have even heard a word about it.”

While California is wrestling with the ramifications of Vergara, New York has inaugurated a similar lawsuit. Campbell Brown, a former CNN anchor who has become involved with education reform of late, launched the Partnership for Educational Justice in December 2013. Inspired by Vergara, she has identified six children who have agreed to serve as plaintiffs, arguing they “suffered from laws making it too expensive, time-consuming and burdensome to fire bad teachers.”

Ms. Brown wants a verdict in her group’s case to spur legislators to come up with better education policies. ‘My hope is this would be a wake-up call to politicians who failed to solve these problems for years,’ she said.

Her team has been meeting with parents to find plaintiffs. One is Jada Williams in Rochester, who wrote a seventh-grade essay complaining about teachers who she said gave no real instruction and failed to manage unruly students. Her mother, Carla, said in an interview: ‘When a child in class is educationally neglected, that’s a criminal act.’

David Welch, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur who financed Students Matter, the advocacy group that filed the Vergara suit, has given Ms. Brown guidance, and came to a meeting of about 30 people at her apartment in April to discuss it, she said. A mother of two children in private school, Ms. Campbell said she gave seed money to the Partnership for Educational Justice. She declined to disclose other donors. She has applied for nonprofit status.

Shortly after the Vergara verdict, the USC Rossier School of Education and Stanford-based Policy Analysis for California Education conducted a poll and found

… that two-thirds of voters (68 percent) agree that the state should do away with “Last In, First Out,” a policy that requires the newest K-12 teachers be laid off first, regardless of merit. Just 17 percent said California should continue to conduct teacher layoffs in order of seniority….

California voters also largely opposed the state’s tenure laws for public school teachers, according to the poll. Six in 10 California voters said teachers should not continue to receive tenure, as it makes firing bad teachers difficult. Twenty-five percent of voters said the state should keep tenure for public school teachers to provide them job protections and the freedom to teach potentially controversial topics without fear of reprisals.

When asked specifically about the timeline to tenure — which can be awarded after as little as 18 months in the classroom — 38 percent said two years is too soon to award tenure, and 35 percent said public school teachers shouldn’t receive tenure at all, the poll showed. Seventeen percent of voters said two years was the “right amount of time” to earn tenure, and 4 percent said two years was too long, according to the poll.

Perhaps most interestingly, the poll showed that when asked about California’s teachers unions,

… 49 percent of voters said they have a “somewhat or very negative” impact on the quality of K-12 education, with 31 percent saying unions have a “somewhat or very positive” impact.

Then, for sheer entertainment value, we have the teachers unions’ responses to the ruling and its aftermath, bloviating about the turn of events every time a microphone is within harrumphing range. In an obvious slap at Campbell Brown, New York State United Teachers president Karen Magee nonsensically claimed that, “If hedge fund millionaires and celebrity dilettantes were truly interested in guaranteeing students a quality education, they would join parents and unions in fighting for fair funding for all children, not just the affluent.”

The funding canard doesn’t even merit a response. And if Magee has issues with “celebrity dilettantes,” why didn’t she pillory Matt Damon for statements he made supporting tenure at an SOS rally in 2011? I guess, for her, some celebrity dilettantes are more equal than others.

Responding to the Vergara decision, National Education Association leader Dennis Van Roekel informs us that, “This lawsuit was never about helping students, but is yet another attempt by millionaires and corporate special interests to undermine the teaching profession and push their own ideological agenda on public schools and students while working to privatize public education.”

His might as well have said, “The cow jumped over the moon” for all the sense he made. Getting rid of incompetent and criminal teachers and trying to save the hides of young teachers victimized by last in/first out rules is what the case was about. Privatization and an “ideological agenda?” Not even close. Actually it’s the teachers unions’ “ideological agenda” that is helping to spur the very school choice movement that Van Roekel and other union leaders are forever decrying.

And of course American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten weighed in, claiming that the decision “strips the hundreds of thousands of teachers who are doing a good job of any right to a voice.” Oh please. Teachers have plenty of “voice” except maybe when they run afoul of the union for not toeing the party line. Effective teachers won’t be affected by the Vergara decision, though some pedophiles’ and incompetents’ livelihoods may be cut short.

Mike Antonucci analyzed the national and California teacher union leaders’ responses to the Vergara decision and noted that none of them used the words “tenure” or “seniority.” He writes,

My view of all this is that the unions will, as they have in the past, score well with the general public when attacking evil corporate puppetmasters. But judging from the media reports of the Vergara ruling – almost all of which prominently use ‘seniority’ and ‘tenure’ – they will have an uphill battle altering the public perception of protecting bad teachers.

If the USC poll is any indication, the Vergara trial – if nothing else – has been a public relations disaster for the unions. Translating that into meaningful political change is going to be the tricky part. And so, the battle continues.

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.

I Know Nothing! Nothing!

By meekly surrendering paycheck deductions on a monthly basis, teachers are complicit in their unions’ policy making and politicking.

In a great majority of cases across the country, when teachers get work in a public school, they join the teachers union. Or, more accurately, they join three of them. There’s the “local,” whose responsibility is to make sure that teachers have favorable work rules. At the same time, they join a state affiliate. In California, that usually is the California Teachers Association, which essentially runs the state legislature and works to ensure that teachers have job protections unknown to most of humankind. (Not for nothing does the union think of themselves as the fourth branch of government.) Then finally, there’s the national affiliate, which is usually the National Education Association, the biggest and most powerful union – and political entity – in the country. Many teachers don’t even realize that they are in (and paying “unified” dues to) three different unions.

According to a recent post by Mike Antonucci, the National Education Association has discovered it has an apathy problem (especially with younger teachers) and that the union feels it is disconnected from its members.

In the wake of persistent membership losses, the National Education Association began a review of its organizational structure in an effort to improve efficiency and cut costs. Part of the project included a survey of NEA’s board of directors, state affiliate officers, Representative Assembly delegates and rank-and-file members.

The survey response rate itself suggested a problem. Thirty-eight percent of those holding an elected position responded, but only 10 percent of the rank-and-file did so. Since part of the survey sought to gauge member involvement, NEA was not off to a roaring start.

very few members had any contact whatsoever from a union rep above the local level.

…it is difficult to generate outrage on behalf of the rank-and-file, since they seem to be perfectly content – especially the younger members – with their lack of contact with NEA at any level. This is causing much consternation at NEA, but not much among young teachers.

Antonucci then quotes a union leader in California,

Some members do not know what NEA does and some don’t even know that they are NEA members!

Antonucci concludes that,

Both supporters and opponents of the teachers’ unions should learn from this. Ordinary teachers and rank-and-file members should not be criticized for the actions of their union, nor should they be expected to defend those actions. Chances are they haven’t a clue what the union above the local level is up to. At the same time, the unions can’t use ordinary teachers and rank-and-file members as a shield against criticism of the union’s actions. Very little of NEA’s agenda was created by popular demand, or even created with popular knowledge. (Emphasis added.)

Sorry, but teachers shouldn’t be let off the hook for their ignorance and apathy. In California, teachers on average pay over $1,000 per year in dues to their three unions. Of that total, $182 goes to NEA and $647 to CTA, with the remainder staying at the local level. Do they have a clue where all that money goes? Do they not care that their union may be using their dues money to promote political causes they might find abhorrent? Why are they so apathetic about paying the union maybe $30,000 during their careers?

Beyond passivity, teachers, you essentially have three participation options:

1. If you like your unions, get out and support them, vote in their elections and learn where your dues are being spent. If you like their education policies and the direction in which they throw their massive political heft, stand up and get involved to ensure that your “rights” will never be attenuated.  (If you like their education policies but not their far left politicking – think ACORN, Rainbow PUSH, Center for American Progress et al – consider withholding part of your dues and becoming an agency fee payer. To find out just where your union’s political spending goes, check out the latest NEA and AFT Department of Labor financial reports.)

2. If you believe that teachers unions are important to your professional career but think that their policies are misguided, start going to meetings and make your opinions known. If you get a following, good for you! If you are insulted, dismissed or shouted down, you might want to think about why you are paying money to this group in the first place. And importantly, learn where your dues money is going.

3. But if you feel that your rights are being violated by having to pay money to any entity you despise or think is wrong-headed, DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.  Again, learn where your dues money is going. Then think about firing or “decertifying” your union and joining a non-union alternative like the Association of American Educators or Christian Educators Association International. In fact, a “decert” was just carried out in Kansas.

Teachers in a small, southwest Kansas school district have decertified from the state’s main teachers union, the fifth group of teachers to do so in the past year.

Teachers at Spearville Unified School District 381, near Dodge City, voted to leave the Kansas National Education Association on Wednesday, said the Association of American Educators, the KNEA’s non-union rival.

Decertifying means the teachers no longer negotiate their annual contracts through a KNEA local. Instead, they may create a bargaining unit that is unaffiliated with state or national unions, for example.

Then there is a group of fed-up teachers in California who are suing NEA, CTA and various locals. (CA – like 25 other states and D.C. – is a non-right-to work state, which means that, except in very rare circumstances, a teacher must pay dues to a union as a condition of employment. As I wrote last summer about Friedrichs et al v. CTA, NEA et al.,

California law does allow for “mandatory monopoly bargaining,” which means, where public education is concerned, that teachers must pay dues or “fees” to a labor union in order to work at a public school. Teachers may “resign” from the union, which frees them from paying the portion of their dues that would be spent for politics. They’re still required, though, to pay an “agency fee” for other union services, such as collective bargaining—whether they want those services or not….

The rationale for collective-bargaining fees is that even nonmembers benefit from collective bargaining; there should be no “free riders.” But the line between what counts as a “chargeable” fee and what constitutes outright political activity has become blurrier over the years. As the plaintiffs’ lawyers argue, unions use their power “to extract compulsory fees as a convenient method of forcing teachers to pay for activities that have little to do with collective bargaining.”

As examples, the lawyers note that union leaders deemed a recent Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual-Transgender (GLBT) conference and expensive staff junkets to be “predominantly chargeable.”

Thus, the teacher-plaintiffs are asking the court to “declare that California’s practice of forcing non-union members to contribute funds to unions, including dues to support their collective-bargaining activities, violates the First Amendment, and enjoin Defendants [the union] from enforcing this unconstitutional arrangement.” The legal terrain for this argument is more favorable than it has ever been, thanks to recent Supreme Court rulings.

In the 1960s TV sitcom “Hogan’s Heroes,” when the buffoonish German Col. Schultz insisted that he knew nothing, the humor was obvious. Here, not so much. Teachers, by tacitly forking over your dues to a union year after year, you are supporting their educational, political and social agenda. Are you sure that is something you really want to do?

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

California Teachers Association: Clichés-R-Us

CTA ends 2013 spewing meaningless bromides in an effort to convince us that the union is the victim and the Students Matter lawsuit is the work of a vast corporate conspiracy.

On January 27th, the Students Matter (Vergara v. California) case starts in Los Angeles. John Fensterwald explains that the lawsuit

… asserts that five “outdated statutes” prevent administrators from making employment decisions in students’ interest. The tenure statute forces districts to decide after teachers are on the job only 18 months whether to grant them permanent job status. Once granted tenure, they gain due-process rights that make it expensive and difficult to fire them even if they’re “grossly ineffective.” And then, when an economic downturn comes – witness the last four years – a Last In/First Out (LIFO) requirement leads to layoffs based strictly on seniority, not competency.

If successful, this lawsuit will remove the tenure, seniority and arcane dismissal statutes from the California education code and render them unconstitutional, thus making it easier to get rid of incompetent and criminal teachers while outlawing seniority as a method of teacher-retention. (It’s worth noting that the Students Matter lawsuit doesn’t ask the court to devise specific policy solutions, leaving those decisions to local districts as they are in 33 other states.) While this litigation will help all students in the state, inner-city kids would benefit the most. As I wrote in City Journal last year,

Struggling inner-city schools end up suffering the most, as the lawsuit states: “One recent study showed that a school in the highest poverty quartile is 65 percent more likely to have a teacher laid off than a school in the lowest poverty quartile. As a result of seniority-based layoffs, the highest poverty schools in California are likely to lose 30 percent more teachers than wealthier schools. The disproportionate number of vacancies in those schools are then filled by transferring lower performing teachers, including grossly ineffective teachers, from other schools.”

Though not named in the lawsuit, the teachers unionsrefusing to sit by and accept a change in rules that would benefit students at their expense intervened as defendants. In the recent edition of California Educator, the California Teachers Association’s bimonthly magazine for teachers, the union tries to explain to its members that the lawsuit is the work of the devil; in doing so, it manages to haul out every platitude it could muster from its amply furnished cliché closet, attempting to convince all concerned that it is a beleaguered but scrappy David fighting against a corporate Goliath.

The magazine piece is rife with the typical fallacious, over-the-top talking points the union rolls out on a regular basis. To kick things off, CTA president Dean Vogel is quoted:

It’s disappointing because putting professional rights of teachers on trial hurts students…. This most recent shenanigan by corporate special interests and billionaires to push their education agenda on California public schools is resulting in a waste of taxpayer dollars and time — time that should be spent focusing on providing a quality education to all students as the economy improves. CTA will continue to fight to ensure we have qualified and experienced teachers in the classrooms whose rights are respected as set forth by law, and not subject to arbitrary and capricious behavior or favoritism.

There are several things seriously wrong with his statement. Yes, people with money are behind the suit. Lawyers don’t work for free and the poor children who have been victimized by the current system don’t have deep pockets. And what corporate agenda is he talking about? Usually this scare statement refers to the allegation that corporations want to take over and privatize education. This lawsuit is attempting to do no such thing; it is simply trying to make public education better. And his last point is a real howler. CTA does not, I repeat, does not fight to have qualified teachers in every classroom. They fight to keep every teacher – qualified or not – on the job to ensure their bottom line is not affected. Unfortunately this means that in addition to good and great teachers, the union also fights to keep stinkers and pedophiles alone with your children seven hours a day, five days a week.

The article then goes on to say,

The officially named plaintiffs in Vergara are nine California public school students. But the real driver of the suit appears to be a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, David Welch. Welch created the nonprofit Students Matter for the purpose of bankrolling this suit, and has hired a legal team at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, a law firm that counts Wal-Mart among its many corporate clients, to make his case.

Yeah, let’s disregard the plight of nine students who have been victimized by CTA-supported laws. Instead, let’s focus on the fact that the man behind the suit has hired lawyers from a firm that has Walmart as a client. Are we supposed to summon up a collective gasp over this?

The union then trots out two favorite bogeymen: school funding and poverty:

Educators are the first to say California can do more to help improve our schools. There are many challenges, including poverty, a lack of adequate funding and resources for education …

The “lack of funding” and poverty excuses are staples with teachers unions and their fellow travelers. They are also lies. The party line is 1) we don’t spend enough on education and 2) poverty makes students unable to learn. As far as financial outlay, Cato’s Andrew Coulson reports that we have seen a tripling of education funding – in constant dollars – nationally (doubling in CA) over the last 40 years and have nothing to show for it. And in fact, the reality is that ineffective teachers are a cause of poverty. Discussing this issue, RiShawn Biddle writes,

…Overhauling American public education is critical to fighting poverty for the long haul. Revamping how the nation’s ed schools recruit and train aspiring teachers, for example, would help all children get the high-quality instruction that is the most-important in-school factor in student achievement. Just as importantly, reforming education can even help address the immediate problems that stem from poverty.

Next, the union complains that there is a lack of adequate support for teachers, claiming there are (unnamed) reports of them leaving the profession in unprecedented numbers” because of it.

This lie is repeated with such regularity that many take it as gospel. Yes, some teachers do leave because of education-related issues, but Mike Antonucci outlines the primary reasons they drop out.

  • 31.4 percent retired.
  • 20.4 percent cited “other family or personal reasons.”
  • 18.7 percent cited “pregnancy or child rearing.”
  • 14.6 percent were laid off or otherwise left involuntarily.
  • 11.8 percent cited “health.”
  • 11.2 percent changed residence.
  • 8.9 percent cited the desire “to take courses to improve career opportunities within the field of education.”

And saving the most cliché-ridden talking point for last, CTA again takes aim at corporate devils and their alleged blood lust for teachers’ “rights.”

Educator rights and due process protections have become favorite targets of those who seek to corporatize and privatize education…

Due process? No. Undue and never ending process. Because of CTA’s powerful lobbying, here is 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.

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.

To put those numbers in perspective, that means .003 percent of teachers are dismissed in CA every year. And it costs school districts up to $500,000 just to get rid of one of them.

It is critical that teachers and, in fact, all citizens educate themselves and not fall for the union’s tired claptrap. Perpetuating CTA’s clichés gives the teaching profession a black eye, and does a disservice to six million California school kids, their parents and taxpayers alike.

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 Unions Reforming Themselves?

Not going to happen. If change comes, it will be from the outside.

Mike Stryer is a former teacher and co-founder of NewTLA, a union reform group that came into being in 2010. One of its goals was to get the powerful United Teachers of Los Angeles to adopt a sweeping education reform agenda. Now Vice President for Programs at Teach Plus, he wrote “A Crossroads for Teacher Unions?” for Huffington Post last week.

As teacher unions step up their calls to stop the “corporate agenda” in education and to confront the “privatization” movement, there is a far more real and serious threat facing teacher unions. The threat comes not from billionaires or charter schools or philanthropists. Rather, it comes from many teacher unions’ difficulty to modernize and reshape themselves in the midst of profound demographic changes of their members. At stake are the relevance and even existence of teacher unions–a force that historically has played such a vital role in American public school education.

Stryer believes that the younger union members aren’t going to put up with their stodgy old out-of-touch, anti-reform elders.

Teacher unions and teacher union leaders that continue to ignore the voices of the new majority of early career teachers do so at their own peril. The choice should be clear: modernize and reshape teacher unions in ways that professionalize teaching and attract early career teachers or become a disappearing force that plays a marginal role in American public education.

I wish he was right, but history has shown otherwise. Attempting to placate younger teachers and the general public, union leaders have for some time now been pledging to engage in reform, raise teaching standards and, in general, bend and change with the times. But when push comes to shove, the same old agenda remains in place.

It is true that younger teachers as a rule are not much interested in the traditional union agenda and the more idealistic ones like Mr. Stryer are downright opposed to it. And, yes, the bulk of the activists are indeed older members. But the young eventually become older, and inevitably the traditional “protect my job and perks at all costs” mentality kicks in. Tenure, seniority, the step-and-column salary scale and loopy dismissal statutes become infinitely more enticing as the years go by.

Long time teacher union watchdog, Mike Antonucci, addresses the union reform issue in “Let’s All See the Plan.” While praising NewTLA’s efforts, he writes,

The teacher union reform field is littered with the bodies of those who sought to alter the union’s primary mission – protecting teachers – and found themselves ousted in favor of challengers who promised to get tough with administrators.

Terry Moe, another veteran teacher union critic, writes “Will Young People Reform Teachers Unions? Dream On.”

The argument that young teachers are going to transform the unions is just as fanciful, and just as wrong…. Unions are unions. They are in the business of protecting jobs: that is why their members join, that is what their members expect them to do, and that is what they actually do. If you expect them to do something else–to represent children or to represent the public interest–you will be wrong ….

Not to say that teachers unions are invulnerable. In fact, they are very much embattled. But the offensive is coming from the outside, not from the union rank-and-file. For example,

  • According to a recent Gallup Poll – continuing a trend – twice as many Americans think that teachers unions hurt rather than help public schools. (But it’s important to note that teachers’ opinions of their unions are not moving in the same direction. In a 2013 Education Next poll, 56 percent of teachers claim that their unions have a positive effect on their local schools. In 2011, the number was 58 percent, an insignificant difference.)
  • The right-to-work movement is gaining steam. After successes in Michigan and Indiana, the National Right to Work Foundation is trying to end forced unionism in Missouri, Kentucky and Pennsylvania.
  • If successful, the Students Matter lawsuit in California will remove the tenure, seniority and arcane dismissal statutes from the education code and render them unconstitutional, thus making it easier to get rid of incompetent and criminal teachers while outlawing seniority as a method of teacher retention.
  • If the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case gets to the U.S. Supreme Court, it could conceivably end forced unionism in all fifty states.
  • As technology-based education becomes more prevalent, fewer teachers will be needed.
  • There has been a steady political shift. Whereas unions historically could rely on across-the-board support from Democrats, many current reform leaders are left-of-center folks who have come to realize that the unions do not act in the best interest of children.
  • Parent groups are becoming more influential. Typically led by mothers, these organizations are fed up with the status quo, and are demanding reform in cities and towns nationwide.

Yes, change will come, but don’t wait for teachers or their unions to reform themselves. Ain’t gonna happen. As Terry Moe says, “Don’t expect a cat to bark.”

What about NewTLA?

Launched with a full head of steam in 2010, they ceased to exist just two years later.

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.

Michigan: One Year Later

Teachers union is desperate to hold onto every last unwilling member.

A year after Michigan became the country’s 24th right-to-work state, teachers are finding that their union resembles a Roach Motel – it’s real easy to get in, but getting out can be a mother. Just ask Miriam Chanski, a 24 year-old Kindergarten teacher who was misinformed, disinformed, and ignored when she tried to resign from the Michigan Education Association. As a result of the union’s chicanery, the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation has taken up her case.

The inconvenient truth for the unions is that when teachers actually have a choice whether or not to join, many don’t, which is a big problem for the unions. In a moment of candor, former National Education Association general counsel Bob Chanin admitted as much in a U.S. District Court oral argument in 1978,

… it is well-recognized that if you take away the mechanism of payroll deduction, you won’t collect a penny from these people, and it has nothing to do with voluntary or involuntary. I think it has to do with the nature of the beast, and the beasts who are our teachers . . . simply don’t come up with the money regardless of the purpose. (Emphasis added.)

This is a nicer way of saying, “If you don’t hand over your money willingly, we will take it from you anyway.” While those in the law enforcement community would call this “robbery,” the unions politely call it “payroll deduction.”

Unfortunately, there are teachers who can be counted on to faithfully spout the union party line and Chanski’s suit has brought them out of the woodwork. As reported in a Detroit News editorial last week, some teachers are displeased with their colleagues who are trying to part ways with the union.

  • … Upon leaving the union, is she (Chanski) also willing to give up the salary that united teachers achieved over three or four decades of bargaining and negotiating?
  • When she (Chanski) decided to exercise her rights not to be in the union, did she also give up the pay/benefits/working conditions the union fought and bargained for her and other members?
  • Freeloading services is un-American.

Ah, the F-Bomb has been dropped! “Freeloader” is an epithet hurled at independent teachers who would like to disengage from their union. But even with a right-to-work statute in place, public sector workers under a union contract still can’t represent themselves according to Michigan law. This is known as exclusive or monopoly representation, which means that any worker who leaves a union is still tethered to the contract negotiated by that union. So these so-called freeloaders or free riders don’t have a choice. As such, they are really “forced riders.”

While not forcing teachers to join the union is a step in the right direction, why should they still be subjected to a collective bargaining agreement that they want nothing to do with? As the editorial goes on to explain,

The National Labor Relations Board specifies that members-only bargaining is acceptable in the private sector, but states set public sector rules. Yet members-only agreements, which allow for a union to bargain on behalf of only dues-paying employees, are rare since unions prefer to represent all workers.

Writing about monopoly bargaining in Michigan, teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci explains,

Leaving aside the question of those who may not benefit from a contract they are forced to pay for – math and science teachers, low-seniority teachers, high-performing teachers, teachers who might want a different insurance provider – unions are required by law to represent everyone in a bargaining unit, regardless of membership status, because they insist on it. The very first thing any new union wants is exclusivity. No other unions are allowed to negotiate on behalf of people in the bargaining unit. Unit members cannot hire their own agent, nor can they represent themselves. Making people pay for services they neither asked for nor want is a “privilege” we reserve for government, not for private organizations. Unions are freeloading on those additional dues.…The “freeload” crack is especially ironic coming from MEA (Michigan Education Association), which ran an $11 million budget deficit in 2010-11 and is a cumulative $113 million in the red. In other words, the union has spent millions of dollars in dues it hasn’t collected yet, some of which will be paid by people who might not even be members yet. Who is freeloading?

But there may be help on the way, as there is a talk of legislation in Michigan that would eliminate monopoly representation for all public-sector workers. This isn’t going over well with American Federation of Teachers-Michigan president David Hecker. He wants to keep the exclusivity clauses because he says “the union cares about all workers.”

All of them? Even the ones who are desperately trying to escape? Mr. Hecker is engaging in 1984-style union Newspeak at its finest. Yes, George Orwell’s spirit is alive and well.

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.

Labor Stains

A new American Federation of Teachers financial report shows that the union has not modified its anti-child and anti-conservative stance.

Courtesy of education writer RiShawn Biddle, we get to peek at the latest edition of the American Federation of Teachers LM-2, a yearly financial report detailing union income and spending.

No surprises. Just the same old same old blatant hypocrisy, anti-education reform agenda and leftist political bent.

We’ll start with AFT president Rhonda (please call me Randi) Weingarten who pulled in a cool $543,150 in total compensation over the last year, all the while railing against the rich because she claims they don’t pay their fair share of taxes. Of course this is the same Randi Weingarten who moved out of New York City in 2012 so that she could escape paying an additional $30,000 in city income taxes.

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t begrudge anyone using any legal tactics to avoid paying abusive taxes, but when a person who regularly whines that the rich “should pay their fair share” does it, the hypocrisy meter goes well into the red zone. It’s also hypocritical because her one-percenter salary is paid by teachers who are forced to join her union in just about every school district that AFT represents. Throughout ancient times, this kind of coerced fealty was required by powerful states and empires. “Tribute” was forced on people around the world, who had to pay up as a way of submitting – or showing allegiance – to the government. Tribute was picked up in essence in the last century by the Mafia as a means of establishing and maintaining turf. The teachers unions are just the latest bunch to adapt this repulsive practice as a way to line the pockets of the dons – I mean union leaders.

When it comes to political spending, AFT doesn’t skimp. Their anti-education reform spending and other political outlay is reported to be about $32 million. I say “reported to be” because unions have been known to – how you say – lie about their spending. For example, according to teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci, in the 2008 election cycle, the National Education Association

dropped $260,000 on one of the many front groups operated by Craig Varoga and George Rakis, two men Fox News identifies as “Democratic Party strategists.”  

Readers of this blog will not find such news surprising, but if you delve through the pertinent EIA list of NEA donations to advocacy groups, you won’t find this money. That’s because the expenditures are listed in NEA’s financial disclosure report as expenses for “media,” going to Independent Strategies, one of Rakis and Varoga’s groups, for “generalized message, program expenses,” or “membership communication development,” or “legislative policy development.” Without further information, it was difficult to justify classifying Independent Strategies as an advocacy group. This news, however, suggests NEA’s advocacy spending extends well beyond the easily identifiable groups.

In any event, AFT’s latest battles against education reform have been centered on Michigan and Pennsylvania – the former because it recently stopped forcing its teachers to join the union as a condition of employment and the latter because of a squabble over education funding.

As Biddle points out,

It poured $1.3 million into its Michigan affiliate during 2012-2013; this included $140,776 to the unit’s “solidarity fund” and $240,828 for political activities related to efforts to beat back reformers in the Wolverine State … Altogether, the AFT has poured $2.7 million into the Michigan affiliate over the past two fiscal years…

Meanwhile in Pennsylvania, the AFT has worked with its Keystone State affiliate to challenge school reform efforts as well as take on moves by Gov. Tom Corbett to reduce education spending. These efforts, along with the move by Philadelphia’s traditional district to shut down 23 schools, was why Randi has spent time in the state (including getting herself arrested by police back in March during a protest at the district’s board meeting). The union poured $696,256 into the Pennsylvania affiliate, including $238,670 for political activities. The AFT also found outfits willing to take its contributions. Youth United for Change, which has held protests against Corbett’s budget moves, received $25,000 from the AFT, while ACTION United picked up $25,252 from union coffer.

In Michigan, Pennsylvania and elsewhere, it is important to note that the unions’ efforts are – not surprisingly – simply an effort to protect its members’ jobs and perks. They have nothing to do with children. This is understandable – that’s their mandate – but they should at least admit it (which they never do). Like cowards, the unions hide behind the children to advance their agenda.

For example, my post last week concerned itself with the situation in Philadelphia, and I included a letter to The Wall Street Journal from Ms. Weingarten, who was responding to an editorial critical of the Philadelphia Teachers Union. Weingarten wrote that Governor Tom Corbett “continues to rob Philadelphia’s students of much-needed funding to further his anti-teacher ideology.” Her “robbing students” claim is based on the fact that the governor is tying a funding infusion to the elimination of the archaic, child-unfriendly, and industrial-style seniority system, in addition to a mandate to hold teachers accountable for student learning.

Another huge chunk of AFT political spending is on issues that have nothing to do with education. And despite the fairly evenly divided political leanings of its membership, the groups that receive millions from the union have one thing in common – they lean to the left; not one penny of the union’s donations go to anything approaching a right-of-center organization. A few examples of AFT’s largess:

National Immigration Forum Action Fund

National Journal Group Inc

Netroots Foundation

Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network

The Atlantic

Alliance for Retired Americans

American Labor Studies Center

Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance

Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence

Clinton Global Initiative

Congressional Black Caucus Foundation

Economic Policy Institute

Institute for Women’s Policy Research

National Council of La Raza

NAACP

Rainbow PUSH Coalition

The American Prospect

The Nation Institute

So, the union forcibly takes money from teachers and spends much of it in a way that not only hurts children, but also goes against the political beliefs of many of its members. If pointing out these hypocrisies and injustices makes me a “union basher,” I am (proudly) guilty as charged.

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

The City of Brotherly Love (Cain and Abel Edition)

Philadelphia is a city famous for Ben Franklin, the Liberty Bell, cheesesteaks, and now – a miserable and bloated education system.

In what has become an American tradition, another big city mayor has gone to war with “Big Education.”  Like Michael Bloomberg (NY), Antonio Villaraigosa (LA) and Rahm Emanuel (Chicago), Philadelphia’s Michael Nutter is dealing with a failing education system, a bureaucratic Leviathan and a hostile teachers union, collectively known as “the blob.”

As The Wall Street Journal reports,

Philadelphia’s schools are a textbook case of chronic, systemic failure. Woeful finances and academics compelled the state in 2001 to install a five-member School Reform Commission. Test scores have improved but are still pitiful. Last year only about 40% of students scored proficient or above in reading on the state standardized test, but 99.5% of teachers are rated satisfactory.

… Teachers also don’t pay a cent for health benefits and can retire with a pension equal to 80% of their final salary after 30 years. As a bonus, the district pays the union $4,353 per member each year to administer dental, vision and retiree benefits. Its health and welfare fund had a $71 million surplus, according to its latest available tax filing in 2011.

The district last year had to borrow $300 million, and this summer two dozen schools were closed and 3,000 employees laid off (including about 600 teachers) to bridge another $300 million deficit. While the union blames state budget cuts, pay and benefit increases resulting from its last collective-bargaining agreement accounted for half the budget hole.

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) has put out several ads that attacked the mayor, portraying him as an arch-villain. The best known is a video of a Philadelphia mother of four who accuses Nutter of “paying more attention to corporations,” “not doing his job” and that the mayor “should be ashamed of himself.”

Nutter was furious at the broadside and countered with a video of his own, claiming he has actually increased education funding and blames the state – read Governor Tom Corbett – for the shortfall. He ends his video with the charge that the PFT gets “an F in telling the truth.”

But is the governor really the flinty conservative he is made out to be? Maybe not. Again, quoting from The Wall Street Journal,

Mr. Corbett is offering the district a one-time $45 million grant and $120 million in recurring funds from a one-percentage-point city sales tax increase on the condition that teachers accept lower pay and benefits as well as “work rule” changes. The district wants to cut base salaries by 5% to 13% to offset the rising cost of pensions and for teachers to contribute to their health benefits. Yet the major sticking points are Mr. Corbett’s school reforms that would eliminate teacher seniority rights and base future pay increases on more rigorous evaluations that include student learning.

Teachers have little reason to budge since their previous contract remains in effect and they continue to earn raises based on longevity. Thus the union will likely drag out the negotiations until after next fall’s election when they hope to elect a Democratic Governor and renegotiate a bailout without Mr. Corbett’s preconditions.

Not surprisingly, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten weighed in via a letter to the editor in Monday’s Wall Street Journal in which she also blamed Governor Corbett. She wrote that he “continues to rob Philadelphia’s students of much-needed funding to further his anti-teacher ideology” because he insists on eliminating seniority and demanding more teacher accountability. Weingarten fails to realize that she – as a member in good standing of the blob – is an integral part of the problem.

Sadly, what is happening in Philadelphia is not new or unique. For years now, compliant legislators and school boards in collaboration with insatiable teachers unions have led to an explosion of needless administrators and cushy union contracts which have sent education budgets into the stratosphere. And all the spending has done absolutely nothing to advance student learning. But the era of ripping off taxpayers and kids may be seeing its end-game. We just can’t afford business-as-usual any more.

Teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci regularly does a terrific job of exposing institutional corpulence. A piece he wrote for the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution back in 1999 is well worth reading in its entirety. Here is a snippet:

There are school districts in America where the superintendent, assisted only by a secretary, is also the principal of the school and teaches fifth grade. In the Philadelphia School District, the superintendent supervises over 25,000 employees and 261 schools. He has a staff of 10. The school board has a support staff of six. The general counsel has a legal staff of 27. These staffers evidently can’t speak with the public or the legislature on their own, so there is a communications and government relations staff, which consists of 13 people. Then there is transportation, school safety, human resources, leadership and learning, purchasing and warehouse, print shop, etc. According to the district, the total administrative staff for 1997-98 was 1,474. But “administration” is a term open to interpretation, and we should make no rash assumptions.

The district defines the following personnel as “providing direct services to students.” They include 12,005 classroom teachers, 3,750 assistant teachers and classroom assistants, and 413 principals and assistant principals. After that, some job titles are self-explanatory and others, well, are not.

(All figures are for 1997-98. Source: School District of Philadelphia 1997-98 Amended Operating and Grants Fund Budgets)

Job Title                                              Number of Employees

Department Heads and Coordinators        103

Non-professional Supervisors

and Technical Staff                                      197

Secretarial/Clerical                                      736

School Coordinators, Bilingual, Computer

and Science Lab Assistants                         371

School Safety Officers                                  337

Non-teaching Assistants                            630

Nurses/Health Providers                           305

Guidance Counselors                                403

Psychologists/Therapists                          116

Administrative Assistants and Facilitators   218

Librarians and Assistants                           231

Food Service Workers                                1,098

Noon-time Aides                                         1,045

Bus Drivers                                                   677

Bus Attendants                                            569

School Aides                                                  81

Warehouse                                                    20

Maintenance                                               534

Custodians and Building Engineers         2,361

Public education lost its way a while ago. Having become a “jobs program” for adults, the real mission of public education – teaching children – has been lost and our country has been suffering greatly because of it. The finger-pointing in Philly between the union, mayor and governor is something of a side-show. (Philly has cut back on bloat, but it is too little, too late.) While it may be politically difficult, one way to achieve effective change is to – as Antonucci says – “break ‘em up.”

He’s right. Subsidiarity – the principle of devolving decisions to the lowest practical level – works. Smaller and leaner school districts are more accountable to families and taxpayers, while the large centralized and unionized blobs are doomed to topple – victims of their own excesses. Philadelphia is just the latest example.

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.

Teacher Unions and Their “Fair Share” Fetish

According to the California Federation of Teachers, taxed-to-death Golden Staters still don’t pay enough.

While teachers unions continue to slam the wealthy for not paying their fair share of taxes, it is the finger-pointers who are really the avaricious ones. Like spoiled children who just can’t get enough candy, they have no sense as to when to stop. Leading the brat campaign this time is the California Federation of Teachers, the smaller of the two state teachers unions. Its website proclaims,

Prop 30 stopped the bleeding in state revenue, but we will continue to see anti-tax, anti-government forces attempt to undermine the public sector. When you hear these people say, “We don’t have the money to provide adequate public services,” or “California has a spending problem,” they are wrong. We have a revenue problem.

Stopped the bleeding? Hardly. It’s the taxpayers who have been hemorrhaging and the higher tax bill is extracting even more blood. Nevertheless, CFT sees the passage of Prop. 30 as just the first step in solving the state’s “revenue problem.”

In fact, when Prop. 30 became law, it left California with the highest sales and income tax rates in the country. Our nation-leading state sales tax rate of 7.25 percent went up to 7.5 percent. And the top marginal personal income tax rate which was 10.3 percent – third highest in the country – is now number one at 13.3 percent – a 29.13 percent increase.

Yet, CFT wants more.

We have a tax system that does not ask those who have the most wealth and resources to pay their fair share—even with passage of Prop 30, wealth and income have been massively redistributed in California and the nation over the past three decades in the wrong direction.

So, CFT is suggesting that the wealthy among us are getting away scot-free, but a look at national numbers tells a different story. A report issued by the Congressional Budget Office in 2012 shows that the top 1 percent of income earners paid 39 percent of federal individual income taxes in 2009, while earning 13 percent of the income.

Hence, it’s clear that the rich are already paying considerably more than their “fair share.” The CBO also reports that “the top 20 percent of income earners (those earning over $74,000) paid 94 percent of federal individual income taxes, 85 percent more than the share of national income they earned.

CFT would also have us think that public education is underfunded, but as Cato Institute’s Andrew Coulson pointed out recently:

Over the past four decades, real per pupil spending in California has roughly doubled. In dollar terms, Californians are spending $27 billion more today on K-12 education than they did in 1974, when Gov. Jerry Brown was first elected to office—and that is after controlling for both enrollment growth and inflation.

And what have we gotten for our increase in spending? A look at our latest National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) scores tells the tragic story. For example, on the most recent 4th grade math test, California students came in 45th nationally; in science, the same 4th graders scored higher than only Mississippi.

Perhaps when CFT and their ilk are making their “fair share” accusations, they may want to reconsider. In 2011, the California Teachers Association – CFT’s bigger brother – issued a press release (H/T Mike Antonucci) which announced its “support of the nationwide ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement for tax fairness and against corporate greed.” It goes on to say, “…a stable tax structure begins with everyone paying their fair share.”

Paying their fair share? Everyone?

The unions really have hit a new low here. According its latest available income tax form, CTA took in $185,222,341 in 2010. As a 501(c)(5), the union has a special tax exempt status with the IRS which is accorded to “Labor, Agricultural, and Horticultural Organizations.” So the union paid $0 in income taxes. (By comparison, CFT pulled in a measly $23,226,311 and also paid no tax.)

Our teachers unions – private corporations – take in over $200 million every year in forced union dues, pay not a penny in income tax, and yet want the rest of us to pay our “fair share.”

Have hypocrisy and hubris ever been more blatantly demonstrated?

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.

“I’m Randi Weingarten and Now, the Fake News.”

Teachers union makes news with meaningless words and a misleading poll.

Norm MacDonald is famous for opening the comedic news segment on Saturday Night Live by introducing himself and telling the audience that it’s time for the “fake news.” I thought of this when, at the recent American Federation of Teachers convention, President Randi Weingarten essentially said that bad teachers should find new jobs. Her words were dutifully reported by a compliant press, but it didn’t take much to see that the comment was devoid of any conviction whatsoever.

Responding to Weingarten’s comment that “…if someone can’t teach after they’ve been prepared and supported, they shouldn’t be in our profession,” EAG’s Ben Velderman pointed out,

Notice the huge caveat in Weingarten’s comment: “after they’ve been prepared and supported.”

Weingarten is actually saying that incompetent and ineffective teachers should have lots of time and assistance to improve their classroom performance.

In fact, “lots of time” would be an eternity or so, with the teacher in question going through a battery of master teachers, on-site administrators, coaches, peer assistance review teams, and then various administrative panels, lawyers, endless appeals, all with a tree-killer paper trail. Hence, there is nothing but empty rhetoric here.

Mike Antonucci gives Weingarten’s comment an historical perspective, enumerating high- sounding teacher union leader’s past proclamations which did nothing to change the moribund status quo. He links Weingarten’s merit pay speech in 2008 in which she says she is “willing to discuss new approaches to issues like teacher tenure and merit pay.” Yet when the rubber hit the road in 2010, Weingarten fought DC Chancellor Michelle Rhee tooth and nail on these very issues. It was as if the union boss had forgotten that she made any noise about tenure and merit pay.

Antonucci goes back to 1997 when National Education Association president Bob Chase made a feel-good speech in which he acknowledged the existence of the “vast majority of Americans who support public education, but are clearly dissatisfied. They want higher quality public schools, and they want them now.”

Since his speech a full generation of children has passed through the entire pre-K to 12 public school system. What changes we have seen during that time have come with the teachers’ unions trailing behind, yelling “stop!” I have seen the future, and it is more of the same.

Just as fraudulent as Weingarten’s tough talk on bad teachers is a new AFT “poll,” the results of which were reported on solemnly by union cheerleaders like The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss. This push poll’s intentionally skewed results were used by Weingarten and the true believers in the press to hammer home the idea that parents are against education reform.

But the Cato Institute’s Jason Bedrick wasn’t buying it, and wrote that the “Teachers Union Poll Is Not Credible.” One example of how the AFT phrased their questions:

With which approach for improving education do you agree more?

APPROACH A) We should focus on ensuring that every child has access to a good public school in their community. We need to make the investments needed to ensure all schools provide safe conditions, an enriching curriculum, support for students’ social and emotional development, and effective teachers.

APPROACH B) We should open more public charter schools and provide more vouchers that allow parents to send their children to private schools at public expense. Children will receive the best education if we give families the financial freedom to attend schools that meet their needs.

It’s no surprise that 77 percent agreed with the first approach and only 20 percent agreed with the second. Either “invest” in “good” public schools in your “community” and receive all sort of wonderful goodies (“enriching curriculum!” “effective teachers!”) or forgo all that so that some parents can send their kids to private school “at public expense.” Aside from the fact that this is a false choice (competition can actually improve public school performance and school choice programs can save money), the wording is blatantly designed to push respondents toward Approach A.

Bedrick then writes about a 2012 Harvard poll that was worded fairly. Its findings:

  • 54% of parents favor giving all families a “wider choice” to “enroll their children in private schools instead, with government helping to pay the tuition” compared with 21% opposed.
  • 46% of parents favor giving low-income families a “wider choice” to “enroll their children in private schools instead, with government helping to pay the tuition” compared with 21% opposed.
  • When not given a neutral option, 50% of parents favor giving low-income families a “wider choice” to “enroll their children in private schools instead, with government helping to pay the tuition” compared with 50% opposed.
  • When the question omits the words “a wider choice” and only asks about using “government funds to pay the tuition of low-income students who choose to attend private schools,” 44% of parents are in favor with 32% opposed.

Education Week’s Stephen Sawchuk also had problems with the AFT poll, reminding us to take it “with a grain of salt and examine the questions’ phraseology carefully.” (I would suggest adding an ample amount of Maalox to the salt.)

Take, for instance, a bunch of paired statements asking parents to select the one they most agree with. Unsurprisingly, they tend to favor the idea that it’s better to “treat teachers like professionals” than to “regularly remove poorly performing teachers.”

…  A few results appear contradictory. Nearly half surveyed had a negative impression of using test scores in teacher evaluation, but 68 percent approved of paying teachers more if their students show gains in academic achievement.

In another refutation of the biased AFT poll, The Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke writes that “Unions Can’t Ignore Support for Choice in Education.”

A PDK/Gallup poll released last summer found that, when asked nearly the same question—whether they supported allowing students to choose private schools at public expense—44 percent of Americans said yes. Gallup has asked respondents the same question for the past decade and found that support for school choice has jumped 10 percentage points in just the last year alone.

Something that may be of interest to Ms. Weingarten is the result of a Rasmussen poll in which we learn that “only 26% of Likely U.S. Voters rate the performance of public schools in America today as good or excellent.  Thirty-four percent (34%) rate public education as poor.” Unlike the AFT poll, Rasmussen used straightforward language:

Overall, how would you rate the performance of public schools in America today?

No deception here, unlike the AFT pedaled “fake news.” But then again, when you have nothing legitimate to sell, snake oil will do the trick.

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.

Kill ‘Em or Unionize ‘Em

As charter schools have become more popular than ever, teachers unions dither about how to deal with them.

Though there are now over 6,000 charter schools in the U.S., including 1,000 in California, it’s not nearly enough to satisfy demand, as parents have awakened to the fact that many traditional public schools aren’t doing the job. According to a recent report released by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, 520,000 students nationwide are on waiting lists, 50,000 of them residing in the Golden State.

Charter schools are public schools that are allowed to operate outside the boundaries of costly multilayered district bureaucracies and piles of restrictive, union-mandated rules and regulations. If a charter doesn’t perform well, it gets shut down. (Interesting to note that when failing traditional public schools are closed in Philadelphia and Chicago, the teachers unions and their fellow travelers scream, but if a charter school closes – nary a peep from them.)

Studies have invariably proven that, while not a panacea, charters outperform traditional schools. An exception was the 2009 CREDO study, clung to by the unions and other naysayers, which found that charters didn’t outperform their counterparts. But the study was criticized for using flawed methodology that produced a biased result. However, a new CREDO study did indeed show that charters outperform traditional public schools, leaving the deniers with absolutely no credible defense.

But then again, the nation’s teachers unions never needed to cite any credible data because, well, they’re teachers unions. Their concern is not the most effective way to educate children; it is protecting the jobs of every last teacher, including the incompetents and worse. And the problem for the unions is that only 12 percent of charter schools nationally (15 percent in CA) are unionized.

So, the choice for the unions is to either try to kill charters or unionize them. For example, in this video we see former New York City teachers union vice-president Leo Casey pounding the table, demanding that charters be unionized. Stanley Aronowitz, a longtime union radical, refers to charter schools as “ratty” and “should be abolished,” before adding, “…yet at the same time we should organize them.”

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten was in “kill” mode when she said,

We should ask ourselves why we keep pitting charter schools against neighborhood public schools — a strategy that has created little more than a disruptive churn.

But the same Randi Weingarten, in “unionize” mode, after the AFT managed to organize 13 charters in Chicago said,

This is a turning point… This has the potential to change the conversation between charter operators and teachers.

On the national stage, The Wall Street Journal reports that the unions have

… drives under way at charter schools in several large cities, including Chicago, San Diego, and Philadelphia. NEA members adopted a resolution last year that “encourages” organizing efforts in charters and directed the national office to share with local chapters “key information” about lessons from previous union drives.

Here in California, the California Teachers Association seems to be at a “kill or unionize” crossroads. As teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci writes,

The union will decide in the coming months whether to send its monthly organ, California Educator, to all active charter school teachers, to create promotional materials for distribution to charter school teachers about the joys of teachers’ unions, and to create workshops for union activists with the title “How to Unionize Charter School Teachers.”

Yet at the same time CTA

… will contemplate creating a standing committee on the problem of charter schools, reversing a recent state law that gives charters first crack at surplus school property, persuading the legislature to order performance audits of charter schools, and shutting out charters from basic school appropriations so that they would have to have their own separate source of funding.

The rationale for this latter proposal is that “The harmful impact of charter schools needs to be made transparent. Having our active members vote on this issue will both educate and make the harm done by charter schools evident.”

I’m pretty sure this stuff won’t appear in the promotional materials CTA distributes to charter school teachers, but I’m confident they’re informed enough to know that the union has been the most implacable foe of charter schools in California for more than 20 years. (Emphasis added.)

The teachers unions in CA have a long history of trying to limit charter schools. Most recently in 2011, CTA’s AB 1172 would have had a chartering authority deny a charter petition if it makes a “written factual finding that the charter school would have a negative fiscal impact on the school district.” And the California Federation of Teachers’ AB 401 would have imposed a cap of 1,450 charter schools in California through January 1, 2017. Thankfully, neither bill became law.

After the 13 charters in Chicago decided to go union, Antonucci wrote,

Congratulations to the AFT, which succeeded in persuading the operators of the 13 United Neighborhood Organization’s charter schools to remain neutral during its unionization campaign. About 87 percent of the 415 employees voted to have the Chicago Alliance of Charter School Teachers and Staff represent them.

Picking up 400 new members in a charter school network is a win for AFT and teachers’ unions in general, no doubt of it. But let’s keep our heads, shall we?

When last I checked, there were an additional 381 charter schools (net) in 2012-13, enrolling an additional 275,000 students. Charter school staffing ratios vary widely, but even if we assume an average of 20 employees per school, that’s more than 7,600 charter school staffers added in a single year – mostly non-union.

Just to illustrate how charter school growth is swamping any unionization efforts, NEA and AFT would have had to organize 47 of those 381 new charter schools just to maintain their small market share.

And keeping that market share small is of great importance to parents and children. Jay Greene, in The Wall Street Journal, writes about a Boston study by Harvard economist Tom Kane which found that,

… students accepted by lottery at independently operated charter schools significantly outperformed students who lost the lottery and returned to district schools. But students accepted by lottery at charters run by the school district with unionized teachers experienced no benefit. (Emphasis added.)

When charter schools unionize, they become identical to traditional public schools in performance. Unions may say they support charter schools, but they only support charters after they have stripped them of everything that makes charters different from district schools.

Millions of charter school parents – those who have their children enrolled and those on wait-lists –  have come to realize that their goals are way out of sync with the “kill or unionize” mob. The war between teachers unions and parents wanting to have their kids opt out of failing schools is in full swing and intensifying.

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.

Workers of the World, Your Rights!

A week in June is being promoted to advise workers of their right to opt out of union membership.

Unknown to many employees throughout the country – especially in non-right-to-work states – they have a right to not belong to a union. This year, June 23rd – 29th is being dedicated to informing America’s wage earners of their union membership options. This project, National Employee Freedom Week (NEFW), is spearheaded by the Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI) and the Association of American Educators (AAE).

The idea for this undertaking came about in the summer of 2012 when NPRI, a non-partisan think tank based in Las Vegas, launched a small-scale campaign to let local teachers know that they could opt out of their union, the Clark County Education Association, by submitting written notice from July 1st to July 15th.

The reaction was stunning. Teachers thanked NPRI for sharing that information. Hundreds of teachers wanted to leave CCEA, each for their own unique reasons, but didn’t know it was possible or forgot because of the narrow and inconvenient drop window. Empowered by the information NPRI shared, over 400 teachers opted out by submitting written notice and over 400 more left CCEA and weren’t replaced by a union member.

The U.S. is comprised of 24 “right-to-work” states which grant workers a choice whether or not to belong to a union. In the other 26 and Washington, D.C., they don’t have to belong but must still pay the portion of union dues that goes toward collective bargaining and other non-political union-related activities. The dissenters who select this “agency fee” option typically do so because they don’t like that about one-third of their dues goes for political spending. Even though over 40 percent of union households vote Republican, over 90 percent of union largess goes to Democrats and liberal causes. (There is an exemption for religious objectors; if an employee is successful in attaining that status, they don’t have to pay any money to the union, but must donate a full dues share to an approved charity.)

As president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network, I am well aware of teachers’ frustrations. We have been providing information to educators about their rights since 2006, and thousands have exercised their right to resign from their teachers union in the Golden State. It is important to note that different unions in different states have specific opt-out periods during which a worker can exercise their right to leave. In many states, one not only has to resign, but also must ask for a rebate of the political portion of their dues every year during a specified – and frequently very narrow – window of time.

To be clear, NEFW is not about denying anyone the right to belong to a union, but rather about letting employees know their options and providing them with facts that they can use to make an informed decision. Unions are threatened when workers choose to opt out, and typically accuse dissidents of being “free riders” or freeloaders. But, if employees don’t want the services that the union has to offer, they have no choice but to accept them because the union demands exclusivity. As I wrote recently, quoting Heritage Foundation’s James Sherk,

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

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

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

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

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

One final thought: If unions are so beneficial for workers – as they keep telling us – why must they force people to pay for their service?

I never have received a response to that question. Maybe because there is no good answer. Something for all of us to ponder during National Employee Freedom Week.

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

The Good, the Ugly and the Uglier

After a loss in Indiana, the teachers unions’ war on education intensifies in Chicago and California.

In 2011, Indiana passed a school choice bill which currently allows 9,300 kids from low and middle income families with household income below 150 percent of school lunch eligibility to receive vouchers equal to between 50 and 90 percent of state per-pupil education funding to use at any of 289 schools – some of which provide religious education – that participate in the Choice Scholarship Program.

Not surprisingly, upon passage of the bill the National Education Association and its state affiliate, the Indiana State Teachers Association, sued to stop it with claims that “letting families use the vouchers at religious schools violated the state constitution’s religion clauses.”

But last week, in a resounding 5-0 decision, the unions’ plea was denied.

‘We find it inconceivable’ the justices wrote that the framers meant to prohibit government spending from which a religious institution could ultimately benefit. Everything from police protection to city sidewalks benefit religious institutions, but ‘the primary beneficiary is the public,’ and any benefits to religious groups are ‘ancillary and indirect,’ said the ruling. ‘The direct beneficiaries under the voucher program are the families of eligible students and not the schools selected by the parents for their children to attend.’

Part of the unions’ case was based on the Catholic-bashing Blaine Amendment. As Mike Antonucci writes:

The Indiana Supreme Court ruled unanimously today that the state’s school voucher program is constitutional. This is good news for supporters of school choice, and bad news for teachers’ unions. But the Indiana ruling is especially interesting since it may sound the death knell for legal challenges to vouchers based on states’ Blaine Amendments.

Indiana is one of 37 states with a constitutional provision prohibiting – in varying degrees – the use of state funds to benefit religious or sectarian institutions. The amendments are named after Rep. James G. Blaine of Maine, who as Speaker of the House tried to get a similar provision amended to the U.S. Constitution in 1875. Although the Blaine Amendments were closely associated with anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant bigotry in the 19th century, they made a handy argument against school vouchers in the 20th and 21st centuries.

The title of Antonucci’s post asks, “Is James G. Blaine Finally Dead?” The answer is very possibly yes, and that would most certainly be a good thing.

Moving on to California, the Vergara v. State of California case was back in the news last week. The suit was filed in May 2012 by Students Matter, a nonprofit founded by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch. As I wrote in June, the goal of the suit is to get the seniority, tenure and dismissal statutes out of the state education code and leave these policy decisions to local school districts – as is done in 33 other states.

The student plaintiffs attend school in four districts, though the complaint targets only two—Los Angeles Unified and Alum Rock Elementary Unified in San Jose. Other named defendants include California governor Jerry Brown, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, the state of California, the state board of education, and the state department of education. Students Matter is determined to ensure ‘that the policies embodied in the California Code of Education place the interests of students first and promote the goal of having an effective teacher in every classroom’

… Currently, California schools don’t take teacher effectiveness into account when making layoff decisions. The newest hires are the first to go, and senior teachers have their pick of schools. Struggling inner-city schools end up suffering the most, as the lawsuit states: “One recent study showed that a school in the highest poverty quartile is 65 percent more likely to have a teacher laid off than a school in the lowest poverty quartile. As a result of seniority-based layoffs, the highest poverty schools in California are likely to lose 30 percent more teachers than wealthier schools. The disproportionate number of vacancies in those schools are then filled by transferring lower performing teachers, including grossly ineffective teachers, from other schools.

Hardly a radical fix to a serious problem. But of course, never missing a chance to block child-friendly reform, two state teachers unions – the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers – released a joint press release this past week announcing that they had filed a motion “to intervene in litigation.” This means that CTA and CFT would like to be become involved in the case because they feel that the current defendants – the state and the school districts – are not adequately representing the interests of their teachers, whose rights they maintain could be adversely affected by the case.

The unions declare that if the suit is upheld, it will be more difficult “to attract and retain quality teachers in California’s schools.”

That’s a ridiculous assertion.  For one, do “quality” teachers really care about seniority? I suspect that the “quality” teachers-of-the-year who got pink slipped while their less talented colleagues kept their jobs are not all that jazzed by the “last in/first out” clause. The press release then proceeds to spout the usual blather – in which the unions pretend to really, really care about parents and children while at the same time taking a swipe at wealthy people who they insist want to usurp public education for their own personal gain.

“The people who agreed to lend their names to this wrong-headed lawsuit are attempting to crowd out the voices of all other parents in California.  We should be working to bring students, parents and teachers together — not driving them apart. Legislation, informed by the experience and testimony of all members of the education community, is the best process for improving public education,” said CFT President Josh Pechthalt, parent of an eighth-grade student in the Los Angeles Unified School District. “The real agenda of this suit is to attack and weaken teachers and their unions in order to privatize public schools and turn them into profit centers for the corporate sponsors behind the lawsuit.”

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

This kind of demagogic rhetoric is old, tired and just plain ugly. Fortunately, not all that many people are buying it these days.

Then there is Chicago, where its school district is dealing with a $1 billion deficit. For a variety of reasons the city’s school population has been dwindling since the 1960s and there is a move afoot to close 54 sparsely populated campuses. According to RiShawn Biddle,

Chicago’s enrollment of 404,584 children is a third smaller than the number of kids served by the district during the 1960s. Three hundred thirty of the district’s 616 schools — more than half of the district’s portfolio — operate below capacity, with 137 of them half-empty. At some schools,  includes Drake Elementary School in the city’s Bronzeville section, and an elementary school named for hometown hero Emmett Till (whose murder in Mississippi by two men offended by his violation of Jim Crow segregation spurred the modern civil rights movement), just two out of every five seats are filled during the school year.

And, a Chicago Public Schools (CPS) fact sheet tells us:

Population declines over the last decade in both the African American community and in school-aged children are driving the majority of underutilization in our District’s schools. Today, our schools have space for 511,000 children, but only 403,000 are enrolled.

So it certainly seems sensible to shut down some underutilized schools and consolidate their enrollments, right?

Not if you are a union boss. What you do then is come out with a statement, avowing that your main priorities are kids, parents and their neighborhoods, and bolster your case by spouting a bunch of good-sounding half-truths in an attempt to make yourself sound believable. And no one does this kind of chicanery better than American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten.

The AFT stands with teachers, parents, students and other Chicagoans fighting to guarantee every child in Chicago the high-quality neighborhood public school he or she deserves. Chicago’s reckless mass school closure agenda will destabilize neighborhoods, threaten our children’s safety, fail to improve learning or save money, and create a domino effect of destabilization in schools across the city. It is part of a disturbing trend in cities across the country by the powers that be to ignore what parents, students and teachers demand and what our children need in favor of failed policies.

As the CPS fact sheet details, every one of Weingarten’s points is bogus, but then again truth and accuracy emanating from a union leader’s mouth is rare indeed.

When unionistas and their fellow travelers don’t get their way, they typically take to the streets and the Windy City was no exception. The Chicago Teachers Union, led by its thoroughly obnoxious and confrontational leader, Karen Lewis, organized a rally last Wednesday in downtown Chicago. As EAGnews.org writer Brittany Clingen reports,

The event brought out all the usual suspects – the Occupy Chicago contingent, fellow union members from SEIU, members of CORE (Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators) and Action Now, and a general assortment of anti-capitalism protesters who relish any excuse to march around with angry signs held high.

According to CTU President Karen Lewis, the school closings are racially motivated. In her speech delivered to the crowd of approximately 700 gathered in Daley Plaza, she said, “They are closing down schools that have names of African American icons, but they’ll open up schools to put a living billionaire’s name in the front.”

Lewis failed to mention that CPS is approaching an astronomical $1 billion budget deficit. And the schools that are slated to close are either underperforming, underutilized (a school that has far fewer students than its capacity allows) or both. The students whose schools are scheduled to close will either be placed in charter schools or their closest neighborhood schools.

No one present at the rally was able to offer a better alternative to closing the schools, with some even implying that there is some sort of conspiracy going on within CPS.

Ah, nothing quite like race baiting, conspiracy theories and class warfare to get the socialists’ juices flowing. It doesn’t get any better than that, and in front of a willing media, no less!

The political angle was not lost on journalist Michael Volpe, who pointed out,

While the school closures in Chicago may seem to involve only local issues, the protest offered a clear glimpse into one of the most powerful segments of the Left. …(T)eachers unions routinely act in concert with open socialists — because their agendas and leadership merge to an alarming degree. While both claim to represent the interests of “the children” and the downtrodden, their real interest is exploiting the vulnerable to advance the principles of socialism.

Does it get any uglier than that?

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