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Outsiderophobia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Precisely.

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

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

School Board Wars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Letting Schools Compete: A Boon to the Economy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Cato Institute’s Adam Schaeffer says,

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

The Independent Institute’s Ben DeGrow reports,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unraveling What Happened in Michigan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to the West Michigan Policy Forum, of the 10 states with the highest rate of personal income growth, eight have right-to-work laws. Those numbers are driving a net migration from forced union states: Between 2000 and 2010, five million people moved to right-to-work states from compulsory union states.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forced Unionism Is Rearing Its Ugly Head in D.C.

Not content with forcing traditional D.C. public school teachers to join the Washington Teachers Union, the rapacious WTU is now trying to get its hooks into charter schools.

Last week, Nathan Saunders, president of the Washington Teachers Union, announced his intention to push for legislation that would force charter school teachers in the nation’s capital to become unionized. (Charter schools are public schools that can bypass certain rules and regulations — including union contacts — if they can produce certain prespecified results.) As things stand now in D.C., unlike their traditional public school brethren, charter school teachers don’t have to join the union. But according to Saunders,

his members are concerned they will lose their union-negotiated contracts when DCPS closes some of its campuses next fall and teachers look to charter schools for jobs. The school system recommended Tuesday that 20 schools close at least temporarily and consolidate with other traditional neighborhood schools.

The 20 schools that are closing are doing so because they are bad enough for parents to want to send their kids elsewhere…like to charter schools. Therein lies the problem for Mr. Saunders: 41 percent of kids in D.C. presently attend these innovative schools and fewer unionized teachers mean less money and power for the American Federation of Teachers local. Clearly, Saunders needs the legislation to force charter school teachers to join his union because he knows that most of them don’t want to. (Nationally, only about 12 percent of charter school teachers belong to a union.)

In fact, the main reason teachers go to work in charter schools is that they like the freedom that these schools offer… including freedom from top-down restrictive union contracts that dictate a teacher’s every move. (D.C. teachers are lucky; their contract is “only” 114 pages long. In Los Angeles, the union contract weighs in at a flatulent 349 pages.) Also, as Stanford Professor Terry Moe has pointed out, a union dominated school system often ignores the needs of children. And considering that on the latest 4th grade NAEP math test, D.C kids came in dead last in the country, maybe we need to pay more attention to them.

In this brief video put out by the California Charter School Association, we hear teachers explain why they like to teach in a less restrictive setting:

  • I feel like an innovator.
  • We have more freedom and can be more creative.
  • We can be places that empower teachers.
  • Charters are the result of people saying, “This isn’t working; we want to try something different.”

While Saunders’ motivation is obvious, his success is anything but a slam dunk. As Emma Brown in the Washington Post reported, changing the law

…would require approval from the D.C. Council and Congress, which seems politically unlikely given a Republican-led House with little interest in helping teachers unions grow and strong bipartisan support for charter schools.

“I don’t see how it could be a worse idea, and it’s not going anyplace because the Congress will never approve it,” said Robert Cane, executive director of the pro-charter Friends of Choice in Urban Schools.

The freedom to employ non-unionized teachers is part of what sets the charter movement apart from the traditional school system, Cane said.

Additionally, in response to the comment by Saunders that the union is “prepared to dedicate significant resources” to changing the law, Mike Antonucci  wrote,

That would be pretty scary if a) WTU had significant resources; b) charter schools didn’t have bipartisan support; and c) Republicans didn’t control the U.S. House of Representatives.

Whether he is successful or not, Saunders’ quest highlights the unfairness and un-American nature of forced unionism that exists in 27 states and D.C. Interestingly, teacher union leaders are always telling its members how much they have done for them. But have they? To that end, I have asked many union supporters in non-right to work states over the years the following question:

“If unions are so good for teachers, why must you force them to join?”

I’m still waiting for an answer.

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.

Small Class-Size Balloon Punctured Again

It’s time to “just say no” to the small class-size pushers and eliminate seniority as a staffing mechanism.

Small class size means less work for teachers. Parents seem to think that their child will be better educated in a room with fewer classmates. Unions love fewer kids in a class because it equates to a larger workforce, which means more money and power for them. Only problem is that small class size does not lead to greater student achievement. It just means more hiring, then laying off the same teachers and punishing taxpayers who needlessly pay for a bloated workforce.

Last week, the Wall Street Journal published “The Imaginary Teacher Shortage,” an op-ed by professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas Jay Greene, in which he exposes the small-is-better canard.

For decades we have tried to boost academic outcomes by hiring more teachers, and we have essentially nothing to show for it. In 1970, public schools employed 2.06 million teachers, or one for every 22.3 students, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Digest of Education Statistics. In 2012, we have 3.27 million teachers, one for every 15.2 students.

Greene also addresses the fact that as hiring increases, there is less likelihood of a student getting a good teacher. And a having a good teacher is the most important factor in student achievement.

Parents like the idea of smaller class sizes in the same way that people like the idea of having a personal chef. Parents imagine that their kids will have one of the Iron Chefs. But when you have to hire almost 3.3 million chefs, you’re liable to end up with something closer to the fry-guy from the local burger joint.

Just three months ago, director of Cato’s Center for Educational Freedom Andrew Coulson wrote a similar op-ed in the same newspaper. The subhead in “America Has Too Many Teachers” sets the tone:

Public-school employees have doubled in 40 years while student enrollment has increased by only 8.5%—and academic results have stagnated.

In the body of the piece, he gives us some numbers to chew on. Whereas Greene talks specifically about teachers, Coulson refers to the entire “public school workforce.”

Since 1970, the public school workforce has roughly doubled—to 6.4 million from 3.3 million—and two-thirds of those new hires are teachers or teachers’ aides. Over the same period, enrollment rose by a tepid 8.5%. Employment has thus grown 11 times faster than enrollment. (Emphasis added.) If we returned to the student-to-staff ratio of 1970, American taxpayers would save about $210 billion annually in personnel costs.

I contributed my own two cents on the subject in City Journal in July of 2011.

In 1998, Hoover Institution senior fellow and economist Eric Hanushek released the results of his impressive review of class-size studies. Examining 277 separate studies on the effect of teacher-pupil ratios and class-size averages on student achievement, he found that 15 percent of the studies found an improvement in achievement, while 72 percent found no effect at all—and 13 percent found that reducing class size had a negative effect on achievement. While Hanushek admits that in some cases, children might benefit from a small-class environment, there is no way ‘to describe a priori situations where reduced class size will be beneficial.’

So basically, almost three-quarters of all the studies showed no benefit to small class size, and of the rest, almost the same number revealed negative effects as positive ones.

While it is a personal hardship for a teacher to be laid off, no one should be surprised when it happens. When economic times are good, it’s easy to buy into more hiring. But good economic times don’t last forever and when suddenly we can’t afford all the teachers we have hired and some need to be let go, it is brazen of the self-righteous, small class-size true believers to mislead the public with their hand-wringing and political posturing.

And we can’t say we weren’t warned that there were going to be problems. Back in April of 2004, teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci wrote,

Enrollment Figures Spell Big Trouble for Education Labor.

The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) regularly reviews enrollment figures, comparing past years with expectations for the future. Its most recent report shows clearly that the fat years of teacher employment are over, and the lean years may last much longer than anyone has previously predicted.

NCES compared the period 1988-2001 with its projections for 2001-2013. The differences are stark. While public school enrollment increased 19 percent between 1988 and 2001, it is expected to grow only 4 percent between 2001 and 2013. During the period 1988-2001, the number of public school teachers grew by an astonishing 29 percent. The forecast for 2001-2013 is growth of only 5 percent – or less than 0.4 percent annually.

Then in June 2004, referring to Rankings and Estimates, a National Education Association report, Antonucci wrote,

In 2003-04, American public elementary schools taught 1,649,027 more pupils than they did in 1993-94. But there were 247,620 more elementary school classroom teachers in 2003-04 than there were in 1993-94. Simply put, for every 20 additional students enrolled in America’s K-8 schools in the last 10 years, we hired three additional elementary school classroom teachers.

So clearly, having fewer teachers is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is tragic when we lose the good ones. Throughout much of the country, the decisions as to which teachers get laid off are determined by archaic seniority policies. Teachers-of-the-year are laid off before their mediocre or incompetent counterparts simply because the latter may have been hired a few days before the former. This is no way to run an education system. The sooner we get away from the smaller-is-better myth and turn our attention to scrapping the industrial style “last in, first out” method, the better.

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

Union Hooey on Display

Even with a “victory” in Chicago, teachers unions are still under attack, and their buzz words, doublespeak and bunkum are becoming ever so transparent.

After striking Chicago teachers went back to work last Wednesday following

a seven day walk-out, their union declared a victory. While the school district did get some concessions, the union managed to get its teachers a hefty raise, a continuance their archaic “step and column” salary scale and the requirement that only a small part of their evaluations are to be based on whether or not the kids learn anything. While somehow, the Chicago Teachers Union managed to maintain the sympathies of most Chicagoans, public opinion outside the Windy City was derisive, as was much of the mainstream media everywhere. Even the Chicago Tribune felt the union went overboard with its demands.

At the same time, the “Students Matter” case drew some attention from the California Federation of Teachers. As I wrote in May, this lawsuit was filed

…on behalf of eight students from around the state, claims provisions of California’s education code—rigid tenure rules, a seniority-based firing system that ignores teacher quality, and a “due-process” system that makes it all but impossible to remove incompetent or criminal teachers—violate student rights. “As a result of these arbitrary distinctions” in hiring and firing, the complaint reads, “children of substantially equal age, aptitude, motivation, and ability do not have substantially equal access to education. Because education is a fundamental interest under the California Constitution, the statutes that dictate this unequal, arbitrary result violate the equal protection provisions of the California Constitution.”

The Students Matter lawsuit doesn’t ask the court to devise specific policy solutions. Ultimately, those decisions should be left to local districts—as they are in 33 other states.

The California Federation of Teachers came out swinging on its website, claiming that it opposes the suit because it “threatens teacher due process rights.” Its verbiage is typical union claptrap – filled with buzz words, bogeymen and fear mongering – in short, a self-righteous pastiche meant to rally the troops and fellow travelers and to “educate” the public. Some examples:

CFT says it a “malicious and costly lawsuit.”

Costly, perhaps. But malicious? Trying to overturn statutes that are harming school kids is malicious?

CFT says that the suit is “financed by wealthy investors from Los Angeles and the Silicon Valley….”

Why do they have to let us know the investors are “wealthy?” Do you know any impoverished investors? Of course not; they mention “wealthy” as an invitation to their ongoing us vs. them class warfare effort.

CFT says, “…there is nothing in the suit that would then prevent administrators from politicizing the classroom and removing many of the same employment rights enjoyed by doctors, lawyers, police officers, firefighters, and nurses.

Huh? Last time I checked, people in these fields who are lousy at their chosen profession either fail if they are self-employed or are fired if they are employees. Doctors? Tenure? Lawyers? Seniority? Employment rights?

CFT says, “Our complete and total focus must be in our classrooms, not the courthouse.”

Nice thought. And when teachers unions stop buying legislators in Sacramento, litigation will no longer be necessary.

At the core, CFT fears that if the top-down, one-size-fits-all education code they so strongly defend is amended and these decisions are left to local education agencies, the union’s freedom to run the education enterprise in California will be imperiled. At the same time, AFT President Randi Weingarten, gloating in the wake of the Chicago strike, said,

Real public education reform comes from the bottom up with teachers, parents and communities and kids working together to make all of our schools thrive.

Here is the doublespeak. The Students Matter case is about getting the community control that Weingarten claims to want, yet the California affiliate of her union wants reform to stay on the state level.

But continuing its power on the state level may not be as easy as it used to be. According to an encouraging post by Mike Antonucci, the California Teachers Association (CFT’s big union brother, and the most powerful union affiliate in the country) came out with some interesting new business items which are currently under review by its board of directors. One deals with the union’s ongoing effort to limit the number of charter schools. But there is also a revealing item that suggests that the CTA board should

… explore options to generate additional resources from both internal and especially external sources to counter the vast resources available to our political opponents due to the Citizens United decision.

… CTA needs to recognize we are in a war we do not currently have the resources to win. Since the Citizens United decision our political opponents have been able to raise unlimited amounts of money via “Independent Expenditure Only Committees,” popularly known as “Super PACs.” Although CTA currently has such a committee, it has only been utilized on an ad hoc basis. We need to aggressively pursue consistent funding sources. These could include entertainers, professional athletes or other wealthy individuals with possible ties to public education. CTA-retired members could be a valuable resource to assist in this effort.

Bottom line here is that whether it’s negative publicity from the Chicago strike, fear of losing its grip on tenure and seniority in California or CTA admitting it is in a war that it doesn’t “currently have the resources to win,” this is not a good time for the teachers unions. As things get worse, they will become more frantic. The public needs to be highly skeptical of union claims that they are only thinking about the children, that they are just interested in due process and that they really want to “work together to make all of our schools thrive.” These are not serious words. In fact, it’s the same bunkum they have been peddling for years, and it’s way past time for us to stop buying it.

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

Don’t Buy NEA Snake Oil

The teachers union uses bogus numbers to con the public into believing that education needs more funding.

The National Education Association is relentless in its quest to raise taxes. In its latest gambit — “Massive Budget Cuts Threaten America’s Children” — the union claims that “…America’s schools have added 5.4 million students since 2003.” The only documentation for this outlandish number – an 11.1 percent increase – is a link to another article where they state the same fiction.

However, the National Council for Educational Statistics, an organization without an agenda, tells a far different story. NCES says that in 2003-2004 there were 48,540,375 K-12 students enrolled in the nation’s pubic schools. In 2010-2011, that number climbed to 49,484,181, an increase of just under 944,000 students – a 1.9 percent gain.

NEA also tries to convince us that severe spending cuts are dooming our children to an inferior education. But Mike Antonucci offers a realistic look at spending data culled from the U.S. Census Bureau. He came up with a chart which shows that between 2004-2005 and 2009-2010 per student spending increased 22 percent nationwide (9.3 percent after correcting for inflation.)

However, as Antonucci points out, the spending flattened out toward the end of that five year period. And in all likelihood we will be in for a decrease in the near term. But, what must be determined is how spending correlates to student achievement.

Compared to other countries around the world, we are fourth in spending after Luxembourg, Switzerland and Norway. Yet,

The three-yearly OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report, which compares the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds in 70 countries around the world, ranked the United States 14th out of 34 OECD countries for reading skills, 17th for science and a below-average 25th for mathematics.

Not much of a correlation there. What about individual states? A recent study about the U.S. failure to close the international achievement gap released by Education Next finds nothing at all convincing.

No significant correlation was found between increased spending on education and test score gains. For example, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Jersey posted large gains in student performance after boosting spending, but New York, Wyoming, and West Virginia had only marginal test-score gains to show from increased expenditures.

The spendthrift teachers unions and their fellow travelers insist that we need more teachers because small class size is an essential component to a good education, but there is no evidence to back up this assertion. In fact, in a wonderfully contrarian op-ed, Cato Institute’s Andrew Coulson makes his case that “America Has Too Many Teachers” and other school employees.

Since 1970, the public school workforce has roughly doubled—to 6.4 million from 3.3 million—and two-thirds of those new hires are teachers or teachers’ aides. Over the same period, enrollment rose by a tepid 8.5%. Employment has thus grown 11 times faster than enrollment. If we returned to the student-to-staff ratio of 1970, American taxpayers would save about $210 billion annually in personnel costs.

Referring to the NAEP tests, also known as the nation’s report card, Coulson says that in spite of the increased workforce,

These tests, first administered four decades ago, show stagnation in reading and math and a decline in science. Scores for black and Hispanic students have improved somewhat, but the scores of white students (still the majority) are flat overall, and large demographic gaps persist. Graduation rates have also stagnated or fallen. So a doubling in staff size and more than a doubling in cost have done little to improve academic outcomes.

Ah, but what about the kids who do get lost in larger classes? A story in the Huffington Post addresses this, focusing on a sweet eight year old girl in New York City who is having a tough time in school because, due to budget cuts, her 3rd grade class now has 32 students. To be sure some students are hurt by being in bigger classes. But despite the appeal to sentiment, it is hardly a universal truth.

Hoover Institution senior fellow and economist Eric Hanushek has devoted much of his time studying this issue. In 1998, he released the results of his impressive research.

Examining 277 separate studies on the effect of teacher-pupil ratios and class-size averages on student achievement, he found that 15 percent of the studies found an improvement in achievement, while 72 percent found no effect at all—and 13 percent found that reducing class size had a negative effect on achievement. While Hanushek admits that in some cases, children might benefit from a small-class environment, there is no way “to describe a priori situations where reduced class size will be beneficial.”

In our fiscally tough times it is more important than ever not to be swayed by emotion, demagoguery, and plain ol’ BS. Americans must do their due diligence and not be conned by the hucksters. And be especially wary of the teachers unions; the snake oil they sell is particularly venomous.

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

National Education Association Admits Things Will Never Be the Same

The nation’s biggest union finds itself in a big hole and keeps digging.

In his excellent book, Special Interest: Teachers Unions and Americas Public Schools, published a little more than a year ago, Terry Moe posited that the teachers unions would meet their end via two routes – Democrats joining Republicans, thus making education reform a bipartisan issue and the overwhelming, inevitable ascendance of online learning. Though no timetable was set forth by Moe, he didn’t think this was going to happen in 2012. However about a month ago, Mike Antonucci’s weekly Communiqué had some very pointed words from the National Education Association.

After a year of unprecedented membership losses driven by economic stresses and political attacks, the National Education Association stands at a crossroads. Unlike in the past, our shrinking membership is not the sole product of a down economy from which we could expect to eventually recover. The forces impacting us are so strong that they have indelibly changed our industry, the educational system, and society at large. Things will never go back to the way they were. Attacks on collective bargaining and the role of the union, the nation’s changing demographics, education reform efforts, and an explosion in the use of education technology and online learning have radically changed the role of educators and the system of educating our nation’s students.

NEA Vice-President Lily Eskelsen was quoted as saying, “Times have been bad before, but they’ve never been this bad.”

How bad? Greg Toppo reports in USA Today,

The National Education Association (NEA) has lost more than 100,000 members since 2010. By 2014, union projections show, it could lose a cumulative total of about 308,000 full-time teachers and other workers, a 16% drop from 2010. Lost dues will shrink NEA’s budget an estimated $65 million, or 18%.

We now see that Moe’s words were indeed prophetic. The NEA admits they are in big trouble and are getting it from all ends. They are losing members, hemorrhaging money and the education empire they run in most states is alienating the public. A Gallup poll released in June found,

Americans’ confidence in public schools is down five percentage points from last year, with 29% expressing “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in them. That establishes a new low in public school confidence from the 33% measured in Gallup’s 2007 and 2008 Confidence in Institutions polls. The high was 58% the first time Gallup included public schools, in 1973.

So are we going to see a kinder and gentler teachers union? Are we going to be blessed with a union that really cares about kids, and not just indulges in lip service?

Let’s look first at NEA President Dennis Van Roekel’s speech at the NEA yearly convention which just wrapped up in Washington D.C. He extolled the virtues of early childhood education. “The importance of early childhood education is obvious. The research is clear.”

Yes indeed, the research is clear, but it doesn’t support Van Roekel’s assertion. Study after study shows that early childhood education (the most popular program being Head Start) has absolutely no lasting positive effect on children. (It does provide more unionized teaching jobs, however.)

A bit later he went political and said, “We must do everything we can to reelect President Barack Obama!”

Did Van Roekel stop to think that not all his membership reflects the solidly left wing NEA leadership? According to former NEA President Reg Weaver, one-third of the NEA is Republican. Even more interestingly, Mike Antonucci wrote,

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.”

Then, pretending to be an advocate for children, Van Roekel says,

It’s not enough to say that most teachers are good. If there is even one classroom with a teacher who isn’t prepared or qualified, we can’t accept that. Because this country is not about equal opportunity for most. It’s about equal opportunity for all. And let me be clear: This country is not about all the educational opportunity you can afford, it’s about all the educational opportunity our nation can provide, not for some but for all students in America!

We proudly stand for equity, and when we say “equity,” we’re not talking about the Bain Capital Private Equity Corporation. When we talk about equity, we are saying that every child, every classroom deserves a great teacher and great support professional. If the solutions that others are attempting to impose on us don’t work for the students we serve, then we must take the responsibility to define solutions that do work for every student.

This is nothing if not amusing. We will excuse the minor swipe at presidential candidate Romney, but when he starts talking about equity and that “every classroom deserves a great teacher,” it doesn’t come close to passing the smell test. All the NEA cares about is having as many warm bodies in the classroom as possible, thus accumulating as much money and power as it can. As an example, just a couple of weeks ago a potential piece of legislation in California got snuffed, primarily due to the fact that NEA state affiliate, the California Teachers Association cannot abide losing any teacher, no matter how perverted. SB 1530 would have shortened the now endless and wildly expensive process for getting rid of a teacher who abuses children with sex, drugs or violence.

If great teachers were really important to Mr. Van Roekel, he wouldn’t be spending his time fighting to keep the worst ones while killing every school choice bill within his grasp. Back in 2009, Van Roekel, stating that “opposition to vouchers is a top priority for NEA,” wrote every Democratic member of Congress with thinly veiled threats, warning them not to support the popular D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.

The National Education Association strongly opposes any extension of the District of Columbia private school voucher (‘DC Opportunity Scholarship’) program,” Van Roekel wrote in a March 5, 2009 letter. “We expect that Members of Congress who support public education, and whom we have supported, will stand firm against any proposal to extend the pilot program. Actions associated with these issues WILL be included in the NEA Legislative Report Card for the 111th Congress.

Though the tiny D.C. voucher program resurfaced, at that time Congress dutifully complied with Van Roekel’s threat and killed it, thus keeping some of the capital’s most hopeful young students trapped in their lousy schools. NEA won. Students lost. There has been no change in NEA’s hostile position on vouchers since 2009.

And it is not only Van Roekel who remains defiant. At the convention there were the usual loopy New Business Items (NBI) which will alienate many within NEA as well as the public at large. (New Business Items are proposed projects and actions from the delegates for action during the coming year.) For example, NBI 22 states,

NEA shall develop a strategy to reverse “Citizen United” Supreme Court decision through an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This will include working with coalitions, office holders and concerned citizens.

NEA amending the Constitution? This is more than a bit hubristic, perhaps. Moreover, has no one explained to these yahoos that Citizen’s United actually works in their favor?

NBI 13:

The NEA supports the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) in their negotiations with Chicago’s Mayor and his hand-picked school board.

The CTU is asking for a 30 percent raise for its teachers and has already authorized a strike should they not get it. The average American who is struggling to make ends meet will not take kindly to a teachers strike under these circumstances. On the PR scale, 10 being perfect and 1 being a disaster, this is a minus 3.

NBI 3:

NEA shall compile a list of individuals and corporations who contribute $250,000 or more to “super pacs” and additional activities. The list shall include companies and products they control. The information shall be published in the “NEA TODAY” prior to March 1, 2013.

Uh-oh. Looks like we are in for another year of unbridled Koch Brother bashing. In its ongoing assault against private industry, NEA won’t acknowledge that together with the American Federation of Teachers, “…America’s two teachers’ unions outspent AT&T, Goldman Sachs, Wal-Mart, Microsoft, General Electric, Chevron, Pfizer, Morgan Stanley, Lockheed Martin, FedEx, Boeing, Merrill Lynch, Exxon Mobil, Lehman Brothers, and the Walt Disney Corporation, combined.”

So despite the hand wringing and doomsday talk – as evidenced by its clueless president’s speech and out-of-touch delegates – NEA is showing no signs of contrition or willingness to change. This dog will never meow. It may make a minor concession here and there, but the handwriting is on the wall. It’s not a question of “if” they will be relegated to the ash heap of history, but “when.”

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

The Battle of Wisconsin

Governor Walker’s victory on June 5th was crucial, but the war is far from over.

Just a week ago, Scott Walker survived a recall, beating back the rapacious efforts of the National Education Association and its state affiliate, the Wisconsin Education Association (WEAC) to recall the Wisconsin governor who had the moxie to work with the state legislature to eliminate collective bargaining for teachers. Union rhetoric aside, collective bargaining is not a civil right, nor is it enshrined in the Constitution or alluded to in the Bible. It’s a statutory decision made in state houses all over the country. What Walker and the legislature did was perfectly legal and in fact quite moral.

Perhaps the worst part of Wisconsin’s Act 10 for the unions is that it allows employees to opt out of paying union dues. It also says that the union can’t collect its dues via payroll deduction. As a result, within a year, the WEAC membership went from 90,000 to 70,000 and that translates into millions of dollars that the union can’t spend forcing its agenda down everyone’s throat.

What are the unions’ reactions to the defeat?

The only mention of the loss on WEAC’s website is a pointed message from its president, Mary Bell,

We are disappointed in the outcome of Tuesday’s election. Defeating a sitting governor was an uphill battle, yet despite this electoral defeat we have accomplished a lot educating and informing the people of Wisconsin about public education, workers’ rights and the need to restore honest government.

The NEA response, on the other hand, is positively bizarre. As of this writing, the only mention on the NEA website of what happened in Wisconsin on June 5th is a blog post by resident hack Tim Winter. The headline is, “Educator’s Victory in Wisconsin Gives Democrats Majority in State Senate” and the post begins,

John Lehman, a former high school history and economics teacher and a retired National Education Association and Wisconsin Education Association Council member, was elected last night to the Wisconsin State Senate. Lehman’s ouster of Senator Van Wanggaard, one of Gov. Scott Walker’s key allies, will help restore the balance of power in Madison.

Huh? They just got their political butts kicked and yet are claiming victory, touting an unimportant win in the state senate. Their senate “victory” is essentially meaningless because the Wisconsin legislature is not in session now and won’t be until after another round of elections in November.

Then, in paragraph 6, we hear from world class hypocrite Dennis Van Roekel, president of NEA,

These millionaire donors, empowered by the Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United, have made a mockery of democracy and nearly drowned out the voices of working families in Wisconsin. The good news is that the barrage of out-of-state corporate money did not keep voters from restoring the balance of power in the state Senate.

Perhaps a little Wisconsin Brie to go with that whine, Mr. Van Roekel? Making NEA out to be a little mom-and-pop operation that was defeated by out-of-state corporate bullies is pathetic. The NEA in fact is the ultimate out-of-state corporate bully. It spent $1.1 million in Wisconsin and, as Mike Antonucci points out, it spent about $5 million to defeat Issue 2 in Ohio in 2011. The idiocy of Van Roekel’s attempts to portray NEA as a little David fighting Goliath was pinpointed by Antonucci in 2009 when he wrote about teacher union political spending. Referring to the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, he tells us that

…America’s two teachers’ unions outspent AT&T, Goldman Sachs, Wal-Mart, Microsoft, General Electric, Chevron, Pfizer, Morgan Stanley, Lockheed Martin, FedEx, Boeing, Merrill Lynch, Exxon Mobil, Lehman Brothers, and the Walt Disney Corporation, combined.

While NEA tries to feebly downplay what was a bad defeat for forced unionism, it is essential to keep things in perspective. There is no doubt that Wisconsin will pave the way for other states to try similar legislation, but it’s important to note that while 20,000 teachers have left WEAC, 70,000 still remain. So it’s not that all or even a majority of teachers have jumped ship.

Last week, on a similar note, the Wall Street Journal published the results of an Education Next poll. It asked, “Do you think teacher unions have a generally positive effect on schools, or do you think they have a generally negative effect?”

In our polls from 2009 to 2011, we saw little change in public opinion. Around 40% of respondents were neutral, saying that unions had neither a positive nor negative impact. The remainder divided almost evenly, with the negative share being barely greater than the positive.

But this year unions lost ground. While 41% of the public still takes the neutral position, those with a positive view of unions dropped to 22% in 2012 from 29% in 2011.

As we see, public opinion is turning against the unions. That having been said, two in five people are still neutral. Hence we seem to be in a transitional phase, but much of the public is still misinformed, uninformed or ambivalent.

More interestingly, the pollsters posed the same question to teachers,

The survey’s most striking finding comes from its nationally representative sample of teachers. Whereas 58% of teachers took a positive view of unions in 2011, only 43% do in 2012. The number of teachers holding negative views of unions nearly doubled to 32% from 17% last year.

Again, the movement is toward seeing the unions in a negative light, but still more than two teachers in five see the union as having a good effect on schools.

No doubt that winning the Battle of Wisconsin was important. But there have been many articles written in the last week triumphantly referring to Walker’s victory as the beginning of the end of teacher union dominance. Maybe it is, but it was just one battle and the bigger war rages on. To win that war, those of us who see teachers unions as the biggest impediment to any real education reform cannot afford to let up. In fact, it is incumbent upon us to redouble our efforts to make our case to those teachers and the general public who remain neutral on this issue. Even with dwindling membership, the NEA is a formidable opponent that will do whatever it can to maintain its vast and destructive power. We get cocky at our own risk.

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

NEA Greed Machine is in Overdrive

Tax Freedom Day is April 17th. Freedom from teacher union extortion? To be announced.

The National Education Association has thrown itself full force into the “corporate loophole” demagoguery campaign. According to the NEA, children are being victimized by avaricious corporate types who don’t pay their fair share of taxes. The NEA exhorts the American people to “stand up for the middle class and support closing corporate tax loopholes at the federal and state level, so that additional resources can be invested in public education and other services that build our communities.” In a message oozing with class warfare, we learn that “Corporate tax loopholes are costing our schools and communities resources that would help the next generation achieve the American Dream.” (Cue the violins.)

They then post a list of programs that would thrive if the greedy corporate bastards would just pay their fair share – Title 1, Pre-K education, etc. NEA of course fails to mention that these programs, though popular, are essentially federal boondoggles. They don’t really do what they purport to do. They do make work for unionized adults, however, which if you haven’t been paying attention, is all NEA really cares about. But I digress….

Using Citizens for Tax Justice as their source, NEA claims that closing the seven largest corporate tax loopholes would provide an estimated $1.487 trillion in additional revenues over the next ten years. Coincidentally, CTJ just happens to be the union founded and funded lobbying wing of something called the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

At this time, the U.S. corporate tax rate is 35% which is the highest in the world and since their fiduciary responsibility is to their stockholders, corporations might indeed need to find ways to save money.

But, maybe there are a few corporate loopholes that should be closed. And I have just the one that we should start with. Using information gathered from the U.S. Department of Labor, RiShawn Biddle reports,

Overall, the NEA collected $399 million in dues and other revenues in 2010-2011, barely budging from revenue numbers last year. This despite a four percent decline in membership, from 3.3 million members in 2009-2010 to 3.2 million in 2010-2011.

Sad to say that the bulk of that $399 million comes from union dues automatically deducted from teachers’ paychecks. Most public school teachers in the U.S. are forced to pay union dues as a condition of employment. And of course, all public school teachers are funded by taxpayer dollars. So it is the private sector that is actually funding an entity that is trying to extort even more money from the private sector.

What did NEA do with that $399 million? One third or $133 million went on politics and “contributions” to groups that support NEA’s agenda. In fact, referring to the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers’ political spending, teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci wrote in 2009,

…America’s two teachers’ unions outspent AT&T, Goldman Sachs, Wal-Mart, Microsoft, General Electric, Chevron, Pfizer, Morgan Stanley, Lockheed Martin, FedEx, Boeing, Merrill Lynch, Exxon Mobil, Lehman Brothers, and the Walt Disney Corporation, combined.

Moreover, if NEA gets its way and the 35% corporate tax rate stays in place and the loopholes are plugged, Americans will be paying more for the products made by corporations. Just what the country needs – higher prices. As of now, Americans will spend more in taxes in 2012 than they will on food, clothing, and housing combined.

Oh, and one other little minor detail. The NEA is a corporation that is accorded a 501(c)(5) tax exempt status. So out of the $399 million they took in, NEA paid $0 in taxes!

It is not only the national teachers unions that get away with loophole flimflam; all the state teacher union affiliates take advantage of their tax exempt status too. In my state, the California Teachers Association brings in almost $200 million a year and pays $0 in taxes. CTA also spends more on lobbying and politics (again, with forced dues) by far than any other corporation in the state.

If we are to close one corporate loophole, we need to start with the one that benefits the teachers (and in fact, all) unions. Parents, children and taxpayers will greatly benefit. The losers will be a certain group of brazen corporate types that have been getting away with theft for far too long.

Perhaps blogger Jason Arluck put it best,

Taken together, the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) represent the single largest lobbying conglomerate in the country, but unlike private firms, their contributions come from the pockets of American taxpayers who are forced to fund not just America’s failing public schools, but also one of main sources of their failure.

Today is April 17th, the day our income taxes are due. It would behoove each and everyone of us to think about how much of our hard earned money we are forced to pay to the more aptly named National Extortion Association and other teachers unions, the true exemplars of corporate greed.

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

Taking Randi Weingarten’s Words with a Grain of Salt… and Some Maalox

The American Federation of Teachers President’s half truths and hypocrisy can’t hide an obvious agenda.

In a slam against those of us who believe that part of a teacher’s evaluation should be based on how well their students perform on standardized tests, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten wrote an article for the Huffington Post last week which begins, “Since some people think that everything in education can be reduced to a number, let’s follow their lead.” She then fires off seven bullet points – all bolds in the original – which are supposed to convince the reader that some awful things are happening in the world of public education.

Consider me very unconvinced by her numbers.

She starts off with 76: The percentage of teachers who report that their school’s budget decreased in the last year (after the recession officially ended).

Whatever teachers may or may not know about their school’s budget, her point is clearly refuted by her rival union, the National Education Association. According to teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci who examined the NEA’s Rankings & Estimates,

If we compare this year’s numbers to three years ago, we see an enrollment increase of 0.5 percent, a teacher reduction of 0.4 percent, and an increase in per-pupil spending of 6 percent (1.5% in constant dollars).

Going back further, he reports:

Let’s look at the last 10 years for convenience, and the last three to examine the effects of national recession. In 2001-02, there were 2,991,724 K-12 classroom teachers and 47,360,963 K-12 students. K-12 per-pupil spending was $7,676.

Ten years later, there were almost 7 percent more teachers and 4 percent more students. Per-pupil spending was $10,976 – a 43% increase (12.6% in constant dollars). (Bold added.)

Weingarten: 63: The percentage of teachers who say that their class sizes increased in the last year.

So what? First, she mentions nothing about how much of an increase. And it has been documented over and over again, most recently this past January, that class size has nothing to do with student achievement.

Weingarten: 16.4 million: The number of children in America living in poverty.

Red herring. Union drum-beating to the contrary, poor kids can learn also. Also important – what definition of poverty is being used? Poverty is one of those words that is defined by the person speaking or writing to make a point. Writer Leon Felkins points out,

The fact that “poverty” is a vague term and cannot be defined precisely, does not, of course, stop the government from using the word as if it were precise and the press going along with the scam, as is their way. In fact the government is not beyond declaring that poverty has increased or that it has decreased when the primary factor in the increase or decrease may be that the government has simply changed its definition of poverty.

Robert Rector has made a detailed and very well documented study of this very question in his online paper, “How ‘Poor’ are America’s Poor?” and the update, “THE MYTH OF WIDESPREAD AMERICAN POVERTY“. Some interesting comparison’s surface (as of 1990, the date of the original article):

• In the 1920s, over half of the families would have been officially “poor” by today’s standard (adjusted for inflation).
• The average “poor” American lives in a bigger house or apartment, eats far more meat, owns more appliances, has more amenities such as indoor toilets, than the average European (note that “average” includes all, not just the poor).
• Today’s poor are more likely to own common appliances such as televisions and refrigerators than the average family in the 1950s.
• Government reports show that the poor actually spend 2 to 3 times as much as their official income. Amazing! (Bold added.)
• As a group, the “poor” are far from being chronically hungry and malnourished. In fact, poor persons are more likely to be overweight than are middle-class persons. Nearly half of poor adult women are overweight. Most poor children today are in fact super-nourished, growing up to be, on average, one inch taller and ten pounds heavier that the GIs who stormed the beaches of Normandy in World War II.

Weingarten: 50: The approximate percent of teachers who leave the profession within the first five years.

This is a stretch, wrapped in innuendo and topped off with a political flourish. The assumption here is that teachers are leaving the profession in droves because they are overworked, underappreciated, overwhelmed and underpaid. But a closer look at reality tells a different story. The number leaving the classroom is actually much closer to 40 percent and they leave for a wide variety of reasons including taking an administrative position, personal reasons, family reasons, pregnancy, health, change of residence, etc. A survey from North Carolina, for instance, reveals that only 2.24 percent said they were leaving the profession due to dissatisfaction with teaching.

And of course, Weingarten makes no mention of the fact that for the teachers do who leave their jobs for better paying ones in the first five years, the union is responsible for their relatively low salaries. New teachers, no matter how talented they may be, are typically stuck in the lowest rungs of step-and-column pay hell for years; they only advance by taking meaningless salary point classes and accumulating years on the job. Very rarely is incentive pay available for being an above average teacher. Also, archaic seniority rules punish good new teachers — no matter how effective they are in the classroom, they will be the first to go when money gets tight. Any attempt to deviate from this civil service model of payment and staffing is met with great resistance from the teachers unions.

The take-away here is that when a union leader speaks, you must assume that there is a very obvious agenda being laid out. Weingarten spins the numbers to suit that agenda, which is first and foremost about getting the taxpayers to fork over more and more bucks for education. I guess a 150 percent increase in spending nationally since 1970 (and getting nothing for it) isn’t enough for Weingarten.

It’s especially laughable because like so many other union phonies, Weingarten talks one way and lives another. Despite her ongoing “tax the rich” class warfare campaign, she is a card-carrying member of the dreaded “one percent” class. In 2010, her last year as United Federation of Teachers president, she received a $194,000 payout for unused sick days, which pushed her total compensation for the year to over $600,000. And she will tell you that it’s just a coincidence that she abandoned New York City that year for East Hampton, a very wealthy community on Long Island’s south shore, thus avoiding paying $30,000 in taxes.

Coincidence? Try hypocrisy.

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

California’s Looming Fiscal Disaster: Sunlight and an Informed Public are the Best Disinfectants

With the state and various cities on the brink of insolvency, it’s imperative that the electorate become more informed and demand that school districts and teachers unions do their negotiating in public.

This past Sunday’s Los Angeles Times above-the-fold headline screamed “Voters back tax hikes for schools.” It was déja-vu all over again. As I wrote in September,

“… a poll which is biased and does not take into account the knowledge of the people being polled is misleading and dangerous. The public is led to believe that the responders are perceptive and knowledgeable, when in reality so many are not.”

(And I could have added that a poll that misleads or misinforms its respondents is the most dangerous of all; I’ll address that shortly.)

The Times article reported that a USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences/Los Angeles Times Frequency Questionnaire released last week showed that 61 percent of those surveyed said they would pay higher taxes to boost school funding.

As I read those words, I wondered,
• What do those people really know about the amount we already spend on education? For example, do they know that over 50 percent of the state’s general fund spending already goes to education?
• Do they know how much is wasted on an excessive number of administrators and useless bureaucrats?
• Do they understand that due to an archaic tenure system, it can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to try to rid a school system of one incompetent or criminal teacher?
• Do they know the average teacher’s salary and how much more they get in additional healthcare and pension compensation?
• Do they know that teachers can pad their pay by taking useless “professional development” classes that can “earn” them an extra million dollars in their careers and retirement?
• Do they know that practically every teacher contract in the state has a provision whereby teachers who are union representatives get classroom time off each month to do union business while the taxpayers foot the bill for the rep’s substitute teacher?
• Do they know that it is the taxpayer supported school district, not the teachers unions, that collects the union dues that teachers are forced to pay in this state?
• Do they know that California already has one of the highest sales and income tax rates in the country?

There was one question where the pollsters intended to educate the people by including the following “information.” They asked,

“As you may know, California currently ranks forty-second out of the fifty states in funding per student. (Bold added.) Would you favor or oppose increasing funding for California’s public schools, even if it meant an increase in your own taxes?” 61 percent responded that they would favor raising taxes.

The problem with the pollster’s information is that it is very misleading. California is not “forty-second out of the fifty states in funding per student.”

As Sacramento Bee writer Dan Walters pointed out in a column on November 13th, doomsday statistics regarding education matters are typically provided by special interest groups like the National Education Association. What agenda-driven groups typically do is take regional costs such as standard of living into account which skews the numbers in a way that benefits them.

A more objective source like the Census Bureau,

“…surveys all forms of school spending and pegs California’s per-pupil number at $11,588, just $662 under the national average and 27th-highest in the nation….
“And it’s much higher in some big-city school systems, such as Los Angeles Unified, which has more than 600,000 students, spends $14,100 per pupil and has about a 50 percent high-school dropout rate.”

The non-partisan California Legislative Analysts Office has the state in 31st place in school spending.

The whole spending issue becomes even more convoluted, because typically school districts don’t count capital expenses, e.g. the cost of school buildings, in their per-student spending. Since students don’t take classes at the beach or in a field, these costs must be included to give the public an idea of the true cost of educating a child. Including capital costs, the dollar amount that Adam Schaeffer of the Cato Institute came up with for Los Angeles Unified is $25,208 per year.

Mike Antonucci, director of the Education Intelligence Agency, looks at the situation from another perspective. Last May, he pointed out,

“The latest Census Bureau report provides details of the 2008-09 school year, as the nation was in the midst of the recession.”

He then breaks the national numbers down state by state and in California, we find that for the years 2003-2004 to 2008-2009 school enrollment went down 87,548 or 1.4%, but at the same time we added over 3,000 teachers (1.1%) and spending went up a whopping 24.1%.

So even in a time period which included a world wide recession, we see a big increase in spending and a shrinking teacher/student ratio.

The bottom line is that we should not let special interests get away with using skewed data in an attempt to con the public. People need to become better consumers by making a concerted effort to become more informed about what we really spend on education.

One way to accomplish this would be for the public to get directly involved with teacher contract negations. As Education Action Group’s Steve Gunn wrote last week,

“Local taxpayers across the nation cough up millions of dollars every year to fund their local schools. About 75 percent of those schools’ budgets are dominated by labor costs, mostly negotiated union labor costs.” (Bold added.)

“But there’s nothing they can do to address that concern if compensation is negotiated behind their backs.”

And in fact, public scrutiny is a reality. School districts in Idaho, New Jersey, New York and elsewhere have gone public with their contract negotiations.

If Californians don’t become more informed and demand public access to teacher’s contract negotiations — and in fact all public employee contract negotiations — they will continue to let the special interests have their way while the taxpayers get to pay and pay and pay. However there is a limit to the fiscal abuse that the formerly Golden State can stand before it becomes insolvent.

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

RIFs, Grifters and Reality

Excessive teacher hiring invariably leads to layoffs; teachers need to understand this trap and protect themselves.

We are now in the midst of RIF season. In California and elsewhere, when the economy is unstable, Reduction in Force (RIF) notices must go out to teachers by March 15th. These notices apprise teachers that they may be out of a job come June. School districts don’t know in March what their budget will be for the next school year, so they typically plan for a worst case scenario. It’s almost unheard of that all teachers who get the notices actually get laid off, but some will, and teachers must be notified if there is any chance they will lose their jobs.

When the school districts send out the notices, the teachers unions angrily point fingers at the district, insisting that they cut the bureaucracy instead and suggest that taxes should be raised rather than cutting back teachers. What the districts and the unions don’t say is that they are the problem; they are complicit in the process whereby teachers lose their jobs.

In good economic times, school districts scream persistently that they need more teachers even if the district is losing students or enrollment is flat. They do this because flooding school systems with teachers means smaller class sizes, which they claim will translate to higher student achievement. But practically every study of class size and achievement shows absolutely no correlation between the two.

Teachers unions like having more members on the payroll simply because then the unions can fill their coffers with more dues money.

Of course, a few years later when the economy sours, these newly hired teachers are the ones to be let go. We are in that part of the cycle today.

A look at some numbers would be instructive here. According to the California state Ed Data website, in Los Angeles in 1998-1999 there were 33,847 teachers for 695,885 kids. By 2008-2009 the number of teachers swelled to 38,367 while the number of students declined to 687,534. So LA gained over 4,500 teachers while losing over 8,000 students. In New York City the numbers were more egregious. According to the Wall Street Journal, between 2000 and 2009 the city added 7,000 teachers while enrollment was down 63,000 students. And from teacher union watch dog Mike Antonucci, we learn that in Ohio from 2000-2008 the number of teachers increased by over 17% while the student population shrank by almost 7%.

Antonucci has been reporting about this phenomenon for years – in good financial times hiring is out of control because there is an assumption that the economy will be robust forever. He also points out that the higher expenses don’t end with teachers’ salaries and benefits. “Most school districts employ about two non-teachers for every three teachers. If you hire more teachers, you also typically have to hire more support employees.”

And it’s not just Los Angeles, New York and Ohio. The rest of the country goes through a similar dance on a regular basis, with equally disastrous results.

You’d think that the teachers unions who profess to really care about teachers would think twice before leading their members down the rosy path to RIFs. But then again, grifters are never concerned with needs of their prey. The more teachers on the payroll mean more money for the unions, period; money and power are their raison-d’etre.

It is high time that teachers start realizing that they are being scammed by people who do not have their best interests at heart. As the grifters are highly unlikely to change their ways, teachers need to do their homework and check the numbers. If it seems that teaching hires are increasing and student enrollment is flat or decreasing, it is probably not a great time to go into teaching.

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

National Education Association: Big Union Bully on the Left

While anti-bullying programs for students are currently in vogue in our nation’s schools, teachers need to recognize that they too are being victimized.

As president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network (CTEN), I talk to people about teachers and education all the time. Politically speaking, most people think that teachers are to the left of center. But in fact, teachers typically replicate the political population of the area in which they live. A teacher in Los Angeles is more likely to be left of center along with the rest of the local population. The average teacher in Fresno leans to the right, as is the norm for that farming community.

Interestingly, the National Education Association has done some polling on this issue. In the Fall 2010 issue of Education Next, teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci reports, “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.”

In last week’s Communiqué, Antonucci’s weekly newsletter, he tells us, “An Education Intelligence Agency analysis of NEA’s financial disclosure report for the 2009-10 fiscal year reveals the national union contributed more than $13 million to a wide variety of advocacy groups and charities. The total was about half the amount disbursed in the previous year, though more than in 2007-08.”

Considering the rightward slant of its membership, one might guess that the union’s political spending might go in that direction.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Though some went to organizations with no particular political bent, like the San Diego Public Library Foundation and a little even went to right-of-center groups like the Ripon Society and the Republican Main Street Partnership, the vast majority of that $13 million went to liberal and left wing groups that have nothing to do with education. Just to mention a few – People for the American Way, National Action Network, Media Matters, Gay and Lesbian Leadership Institute, National Women’s Law Center and the Rainbow PUSH coalition.

Now you ask, “Why would an organization purporting to be for teachers give so much money to organizations that have nothing to do with teachers or education? And since, by its own polling, most of the rank and file is to the right-of-center, why does the great majority of union largess go to left-of-center organizations?

The simple answer is that these decisions are made by the union elites whose politics swing way to the left and don’t give a damn about what the rank and file thinks. Just like any other oligarchy, decisions are top down with no input from the masses.

Making this situation even more infuriating, 28 states and D.C. are non-right-to-work states, meaning that union membership is a condition of employment. In these states, teachers are forced to pay union dues – and then watch as their money is spent in a way that they find objectionable or offensive.

Teachers, however, do have some redress. They can opt out of the political part of union spending, though they will still be forced to pay their “fair share” to the union for collective bargaining whether or not they want the union to represent them.

How many teachers actually do opt out? The unions know but never have divulged that information. Whatever that number is, it is too low. The bulk of its 3.2 million members are to the right of center. Why are any of them supporting the transparent left wing agenda of the nation’s biggest union? Maybe it’s ignorance of the fact that they can opt out of political spending. Or maybe it’s apathy.

In any event, teachers need to become more informed about their union and its spending habits. Those who are not happy need to learn what they can do to remove themselves as the union’s political ATM. A good place to get information and learn about the opt-out process is the CTEN web page that deals with these issues.

It’s time for independent and right-of-center teachers to demand some of their money back from the NEA bullies who force them to pay dues and spend that money in unacceptable ways.

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