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Where school dollars go to die

A new study points fingers at charter schools for malfeasance, but traditional public schools are still by far #1 in wasteful spending.

The Non-proficient Teachers Unions

California students are not learning and teacher union leaders blame tests.

Every two years selected students across the nation take the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), a test known as the nation’s report card. This year our kids didn’t do well. Actually they never do well, but this year the scores were even worse than two years ago. Just 36 percent of fourth graders are proficient in reading, and 33 percent of eighth graders are proficient in math.

Some blame the new Common Core curriculum for the downturn – and there may be something to this – but even if you add a few sympathy points to the scores, they still stink. And when national news stories started rolling out about our poorly educated students, like night follows day, teacher union honchos put on their Sunday-best spin outfits and trotted out damage control sound bites. American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten stated “slipping NAEP scores are evidence that the nation’s focus on using standardized tests to judge teachers and schools has failed….”

Sure. Let’s see – teachers teach kids. Kids do poorly on tests that are based on what teachers teach. And that’s proof that teachers shouldn’t be judged by how poorly their kids do on tests that measure what they are teaching. Okaaaaaayyyy.

National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen García, also playing defense offered, “The recent release of the NAEP scores once again demonstrates what educators have said all along. The effectiveness of a system cannot be judged by a single test score.” (Trust me, if the scores were good, there’d be none of this “single test score” blather.)

Here in California, our NAEP scores are in the toilet. Average fourth-grade math scores place the state at the bottom of the nation, just one point on above New Mexico, Alabama and Washington, D.C. In fourth-grade reading, only New Mexico and Washington, D.C. fared worse than the Golden State.

For those who think a “single test score” is meaningless, let’s look at another metric. The Early Assessment Program is a collaborative effort of the State Board of Education, California Department of Education and California State University, and measures readiness in college-level English and math for all high school juniors. The 2014 assessment showed that one-half of all students in the state did not demonstrate college readiness in math. In English, more than six out of ten didn’t. And of course some districts don’t live up to the average. In Los Angeles, 70 percent of the juniors are not college ready in English and 64 percent are not ready in math. In Fresno, it’s even worse: more than three out of four do not demonstrate readiness in reading and two out of three in math. (While the tests are given in grade 11, not many appreciably improve in grade 12.)

Last week – one week after the NAEP scores were released – the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) released a report which reveals that 42 states and the District of Columbia require student growth and achievement be a consideration in teacher evaluations. (Just six years ago only 15 states did so.) Regrettably, California is one of the eight that does not, despite the fact that it has been the law (the Stull Act) to do so since 1971. In 1999, the state legislature amended the ghost law, requiring that the governing board of each school district “shall evaluate and assess certificated employee performance as it reasonably relates to: the progress of pupils toward the standards established pursuant to subdivision (a) and, if applicable, the state adopted academic content standards as measured by state adopted criterion referenced assessments.” In other words, a teacher’s evaluation must be based at least in part on how well her students perform on state tests. But school districts still turned a blind eye to the law.

Then in 2012, per a suit brought by Sacramento-based nonprofit EdVoice, a judge ordered the inclusion of test scores to be part of a teacher’s evaluation. However, in a report released earlier this year that sampled 26 districts’ compliance with the decision, EdVoice found that half of them were ignoring that court-ordered requirement to use the test scores. (Yet another lawsuit has been filed against the 13 districts not following the law.) And until districts start to live up to the law, California will continue to flail away, having no objective method of measuring teacher effectiveness and therefore no accountability.

Pointing to the importance of evaluating teachers on student performance, Sandi Jacobs, NCTQ Senior Vice-President of state and district policy, put it very succinctly. “The bottom line of teaching is whether or not students are learning. If you stand up in front of a classroom every day and deliver great lesson after great lesson but no one in the class is gaining anything, then something is off.”

AFT’s Weingarten, pulling the misdirect string, retorted, “Rather than test-and-punish systems, we need teacher evaluations that will help support and improve teaching and learning.” Of course teachers need support, and it’s important to note that no state relies solely on student test scores, but rather uses test results along with a variety of other metrics to assess a teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom.

So as most of the country moves on, California wallows in low test scores and unaccountable teachers. And then there is Fresno, the city in the Central Valley where a great majority of kids are way behind in reading and math. The Fresno Teachers Association has refused a 7 percent salary increase and is threatening to strike. This past Friday, the union issued a statement suggesting that the school districts refusal to continue negotiations “indicates students and educators in this district are not the priority.”

I am speechless.

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

The National Teacher (Union Member) Shortage

NEA/AFT and their friends in the media try to make hay of teacher shortage myth.

For years, teachers unions have been moaning that nearly half of all new educators leave the profession within the first five years. They and others have repeated the claim so many times that it has taken on the mantle of truth. But like so much else the unions say, fact checking reveals something quite different. Veteran teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci has been doing his best to destroy the “revolving door of teachers” fairytale for years. And now we have a report released in April from the National Center of Education which finds that only 17 percent of new teachers had left the profession between 2008 and 2012. While this new data may put a crimp in the teachers unions’ argument, they are sure to keep complaining about that 17 percent, and cite as reasons: poor pay, a good economy, the Koch Brothers, a bad economy, ALEC, too much testing, too little respect, corporate ed reform, etc. But as Antonucci points out, teachers typically leave their jobs for pretty much the same reasons as everyone else – spouse relocating, giving birth, poor health, etc.

So with the “five and out” myth debunked, the education press needed a new juicy story to jump on, and unsurprisingly, The New York Times came to the rescue. Motoko Rich’s “Teacher Shortages Spur a Nationwide Hiring Scramble (Credentials Optional)” sent all the usual suspects reaching for smelling salts. Her article can be summed up in the second paragraph,

Across the country, districts are struggling with shortages of teachers, particularly in math, science and special education — a result of the layoffs of the recession years combined with an improving economy in which fewer people are training to be teachers.

Then three days later, Frank Bruni – also writing in The Times – doubled down with “Can We Interest You in Teaching?,” in which he also wildly overstates the problem. He refers to teachers as “pawns and punching bags,” which is faithful to the union meme of teachers as ultimate victims. And then in the fifth paragraph he solemnly informs us, “To make matters worse, more than 40 percent of the people who do go into teaching exit the profession within five years.” Oy.

Needless to say, the teachers unions happily jumped all over the new scare story. American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten (whom Bruni quoted in his piece saying, “The No. 1 thing is giving teachers a voice, a real voice.”) attributed the problem to low pay and “being left of out (sic) key decisions about education policy.” (Note to Bruni and Weingarten: if you really want to give teachers “a voice,” have real teachers – not union bosses – talk to writers about the issues.)

More or less taking the Weingarten tack, the National Education Association weighed in with “Want to Reduce the Teacher Shortage? Treat Teachers Like Professionals.” In These Times, warns us that “‘The Teacher Shortage’ Is No Accident—It’s the Result of Corporate Education Reform Policies.” (The writer, Kevin Prosen, is a chapter leader in New York City’s teachers union.) But perhaps the most revealing attitude of all came from Indiana State Teachers Association president Teresa Meredith who opines, “There really is a climate that’s been created, and we have to look at the climate and figure out how to fix it. Who cares what the data says (sic) because when you have administrators who don’t have applicants before the first day of school, there’s a shortage, end of story.”

Meredith is right. Who needs or wants pesky data when you are trying to make an emotional plea? But for the rest of us who care about facts….

To be sure some districts may be understaffed and other districts may come up short in specific subject areas, but there is no nationwide teacher shortage. Via the National Council on Teacher Quality, Mike Antonucci points out that we are “producing waaaaay more elementary teachers than the system can reasonably absorb.” Antonucci also indicates that in the years leading up to the recession, “reports of teacher shortages were constantly in the news. In response, America added 140,000 teachers to the workforce. The recession hit, and 63,000 of those teachers disappeared – either through direct layoffs, or attrition when veteran teachers retired.”

Though the exact number of teachers actually laid off in California is not currently clear, the state planned to release 1,000 working teachers in March, an increase from the previous year. Also, Los Angeles just laid off 382 teachers.

Sounds as if there are plenty of available teachers around to fill the “shortage.”

And then we have the redoubtable Cato Institute senior fellow of education policy Andrew Coulson, who writes that there is an “Evidence Shortage for Teacher Shortage.” He notes that we have been on a hiring binge since 1970. Since that time,

…the number of teachers has grown six times faster than the number of students. Enrollment grew about 8 percent from 1970 to 2010, but the teaching workforce grew 50 percent. There are a LOT more public school teachers per child today, so how can districts and states still claim to be facing ‘teacher shortages?’

Coulson finishes with,

So does America have a ‘teacher shortage’ writ large? No. We had 22.3 pupils/teacher in 1970 and 16 p/t in 2012. Compared to the past, we are rolling in teachers. If we have too few in some fields and too many in others, it is for the reasons described above–mistakes in policy and/or execution….

Any questions?

So all the teachers unions and their friends in the media are left with is the “Who cares what the data say” argument. But if teacher union leaders want to legitimately whine about something, they could honestly say “We are bleeding unionized teachers.” That would be an accurate statement as the union share of the teacher workforce is at an historic low. In fact, for the first time since the rise of the teachers unions in the 1980s, the percentage of US teachers represented by them has fallen below 50 percent. The advance of right-to-work states, the charter school movement and various voucher programs across the country are to be credited for the shift. That shortage is indeed bad news for the unions, but one that benefits just about everyone else.

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

Dear Randi (Redux),

Given the assertions you make in your latest “Where We Stand” column, we need to talk!

So it’s been a year since I last wrote to you. You sure have been busy! Defending mandatory voting laws and Hillary Clinton, railing against cheese sandwiches and Jeb Bush, it’s totally understandable that you may be getting a bit fuzzy in your, er, facts concerning teachers. I am assuming your errors are honest ones as opposed to the other kind. (No, I am not going to make a joke that you should rename your column “Where We Lie.”) In any event, as president of California Teachers Empowerment Network, an organization that aims to get accurate information to teachers (and everyone else), I would like to take this opportunity to set the record straight.

In your latest column, you erroneously refer to tenure as “due process.” Randi! Randi! Randi! As a lawyer, you surely know that teachers already have tons of due process, and that tenure is just an added layer that makes it just about impossible to fire an incompetent one. In California, on average, two tenured teachers – out of about 300,000 – are canned for poor performance every year. (I’m sure you would admit that somewhat less than 299,998 of the state’s teachers are really competent.) By the way, in CA, we usually don’t use the word tenure, but instead “permanent status.” How pathetic is that? What workers besides teachers – and Supreme Court Justices – have permanent jobs?

Then you throw in the obligatory jab at the Koch brothers, claiming that they are part of an effort to “dismantle public education.” I know attacking the Kochs is de rigeur union shtick, but seriously, Randi…. The Kochs and others (like me) simply want to give parents a choice where to send their kids to school. I know that you strongly favor giving a woman a choice whether or not to abort her unborn child, so why not give a woman who chooses to keep that child a choice where to send her to school?

Next you say, “Our adversaries don’t want a virtuous cycle that gives everyone a shot at the American dream, with access to a high-quality public education.” Goodness! Randi, where did you come up with that?! You have it backwards. By forcing kids to stay in lousy public schools, you are denying them a shot at the American dream. No, I am not saying that all public schools are bad, but there are far too many that are, and why on earth would you want to force kids to stay in one? And by the way, please tell me why it is that only about 12 percent of urban parents send their kids to private schools nationwide, yet in the New York metropolitan area 33 percent of teachers send their kids to private school? In San Francisco that number is 34 percent, and it’s 39 percent in Chicago. I look forward to your addressing this disparity in one of your future columns.

Then you bring up two major lawsuits that the unions are involved in. Mercy, Randi, you are a lawyer! How could you get so much so wrong?! You first mention California’s Bain v. CTA case, writing, “… the plaintiffs are claiming that as nonmembers of a union, they should still get the full benefits of belonging to a union, for free.” Pure nonsense! No one is trying to get anything for free. The case is about teachers who are happy being dues-paying union members but simply do not want to financially support the union’s political agenda. The way things are now is that in order to not support that agenda, a teacher must resign from the union but still pay what’s called an agency fee – about 2/3 of full dues or $700 a year – to the union. Teachers who do go that route are stripped of essential benefits that they are paying for just because they don’t want to fill the union’s political coffers.

Following a complete misrepresentation of Bain, you then mangle Friedrichs v CTA, writing,

The plaintiffs in Friedrichs aim to break unions by eliminating the fee paid by those who have union benefits but don’t join. Agency fee reflects the cost to the union of representing all workers in a bargaining unit. It’s also known as fair share, because it’s only fair if everyone who benefits from the services a union provides also chips in to cover the cost of those benefits.

First, the suit is not about breaking any union. This case is simply about giving teachers a choice whether or not to join one. Then you get into the bogus “fair share” argument. Yes if a teacher wants what a union has to offer, they should of course have to pay for the service. But if a teacher doesn’t want what a union is offering, why do you think it’s “fair” to force them to pay for it anyway? (I have asked this question to scores of people and have never received a good answer. If you are so inclined, please give it a shot; my email address is below.)

And finally, you write that “union members have higher wages…” But higher than whose? If you are talking about non-unionized teachers, you’re not even close. In 2011, Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli compared teachers’ salaries in school districts which allow collective bargaining with those that don’t. Using data collected by the National Council on Teacher Quality, he looked at 100 of the largest districts from each of the 50 states and found that teachers who worked in districts where the union was not involved made more than those who were in collective bargaining districts. According to Petrilli, “Teachers in non-collective bargaining districts actually earn more than their union-protected peers – $64,500 on average versus $57,500.” He adds that the unions are really about “… protecting benefits and seniority – not pushing for higher pay. If you’re a young teacher earning a lousy salary and paying union dues, that’s something to be very angry about.”

Once again, I am giving you the benefit of the doubt and not accusing you of maliciously misrepresenting the truth, but rather maintaining that you are flat-out wrong in much of what you wrote. Please remember the words of that wise old philosopher Elvis Presley, “Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t goin’ away.”

In any event, I hope this helps. If you don’t want to retract any of your misstatements, perhaps we could have a public discussion about your version of the “facts,” as we did in 2010. If you are interested, please send me an email at lsand@ctenhome.org, and we can take it from there. Thanks.

Best,

Larry Sand

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

Life After Deasy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, not really.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Poor Teacher Canard Redux – Part II

The unions’ effect on teacher pay? Not what you think.

Last week, I wrote about the fallacy of the underpaid teacher. When compared to other professions, teachers actually do considerably better when taking into account the various perks they get – generous healthcare and pension packages, etc.

But, uninterested in facts, the unions continue to bang on the table. NEA/AFT and their state and local affiliates continuously hyperventilate about how teachers need to be paid a “living wage.” And of course these unions try to position themselves as saviors, doing their best to convince teachers that any salary enhancement is dependent on organized labor.

But just what is the effect of unionism on teacher pay?

At the behest of the unions, collective bargaining (CB), a socialist contrivance, is the norm throughout much of the country. But does it work favorably for teachers?

The Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli doesn’t think so. In 2011, he compared teachers’ salaries in school districts across the country which allow CB with those that don’t. Using data collected by the National Council on Teacher Quality, he looked at 100 of the largest districts from each of the 50 states and found that teachers who worked in districts where the union was not involved actually made more than those who were in CB districts. According to Petrilli, “Teachers in non-collective bargaining districts actually earn more than their union-protected peers – $64,500 on average versus $57,500.” He adds that the unions are really about “… protecting benefits and seniority – not pushing for higher pay. If you’re a young teacher earning a lousy salary and paying union dues, that’s something to be very angry about.” (Emphasis added.)

While Petrilli’s analysis was limited to large districts, it does jibe with other studies that find the unions are not instrumental in securing higher salaries for teachers.

In an elaborately detailed 2009 study, “The Effect of Teachers’ Unions on Education Production: Evidence from Union Election Certifications in Three Midwestern States,” Stanford Professor Michael Lovenheim concluded, “I find unions have no effect on teacher pay.”

While Lovenheim’s study used data from just three states, Cato Institute’s Andrew Coulson, using national data, came to the same conclusion.

So, according to Petrilli, Lovenheim and Coulson, the teachers unions are at best inconsequential, and at worst actually damage a teacher’s bottom line.

But a new study leaves no doubt. In the Fordham Institute’sThe Hidden Half: School Employees Who Don’t Teach,” we see how teachers’ and other educational staff unions most definitely have a negative effect on teacher pay. Masters of featherbedding, the unions – taking advantage of an endless procession of government mandates – have managed to find places for workers where none are really needed.

The number of non-teaching staff in the United States (those employed by school systems but not serving as classroom teachers) has grown by 130 percent since 1970. Non-teachers, more than three million strong, now comprise half of the public school workforce. Their salaries and benefits absorb one-quarter of current education expenditures. But is this growth necessary—or even sustainable? (Emphasis added.)

It’s important to note that the countries which regularly kick our butts in achievement haven’t experienced the non-teacher employee hiring explosion that we have. Switzerland spends 70 percent of its compensation dollars on teachers and just 14 percent on other staff. In Finland those numbers are 51:11 and Slovakia 54:14. But in the U.S., we spend 54 percent on teachers and a whopping 27 percent on non-teaching staff.

In another study, The Friedman Foundation – using U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics data – found that between fiscal years 1950 and 2009,

… the number of K-12 public school students in the United States increased by 96 percent while the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) school employees grew 386 percent. Public schools grew staffing at a rate four times faster than the increase in students over that time period. Of those personnel, teachers’ numbers increased 252 percent while administrators and other staff experienced growth of 702 percent, more than seven times the increase in students. (Emphasis added.)

While some of those additional jobs may be important and necessary, most are not. As a middle school teacher during the 90s and aughts, I saw this first hand; my middle school experienced a steady uptick in the number of deans, counselors, psychologists, coordinators, coaches, teaching assistants, etc., but we fared no better academically with all the extra personnel.

In reality, with public employee unions leading the charge, public education has turned into one behemoth jobs program. And without the addition of needless jobs, there would be considerably more education dollars available for teachers.

At the beginning of the new school year, the United Teachers of Los Angeles and other teachers unions across the country are threatening to strike if their wage demands aren’t met. Too bad the teachers involved can’t fire their unions and negotiate for themselves. On their own, they couldn’t possibly do a worse job than the union they are forced to pay for that service.

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

Tenure, Temerity and the Truth

Los Angeles Times op-ed and teachers union defense of educational status quo are packed with malarkey.

Now in its third week, the Students Matter trial still has a ways to go. Initially scheduled to last four weeks, the proceedings are set to run longer. On Friday, Prosecutor Marcellus McRae told Judge Rolf Treu that the plaintiffs need another week and a half or so to conclude their case before the defense takes over. The coverage of the trial has been thorough, with the Students Matter website providing daily updates, as has the always reliable LA School Report.

The media have generally been either neutral or supportive of the case, which claims that the tenure, seniority and dismissal statutes enshrined in the state Ed Code hurt the education process in the Golden State, especially for minority and poor kids. The defendants are the state of California and the two state teachers unions – the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers.

Having studied and written about the case extensively, I am of the opinion that the defense has no defense and that the best that they can do is to muddy the waters to gain favor with judge. In an effort to learn what the defense will come up with, I have tried to read everything I can by folks who think the lawsuit is misguided. I have written before about California Teachers Association president Dean Vogel’s rather inept argument presented in the December issue of CTA’s magazine.

The CTA website has been posting more about the case as the trial has progressed, and it would appear that desperation has set in. The union’s old bromides hold about as much water as a ratty sponge.

The problems we face with layoffs are not because of Education Code provisions or local collective bargaining agreements, but lack of funding.

No, the problem is who is getting laid off; we are losing some of the best and the brightest, including teachers-of-the-year due to ridiculous seniority laws.

The lawsuit ignores all research that shows teaching experience contributes to student learning.

Not true. Studies have shown that after 3-5 years, the majority of teachers don’t improve over time.

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

Oh please – the evil rich and the privatization bogeyman! Really! Zzzzz.

Then we have cartoonist Ted Rall who penned an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times last week, which is mostly concerned with “tenure tyranny.” This wretched piece is maudlin sophistry at its gooiest.

First, Rall needs to get his verbiage straight. K-12 teachers do not get tenure. What they achieve after two years on the job is “permanent status.” Permanent status! What other job on the planet affords workers something called “permanence,” and getting rid of an inept teacher who has reached that lofty perch is just about impossible. But Rall makes the claim that, “Tenure doesn’t prevent districts from firing teachers. It makes it hard. (Not impossible: 2% of teachers get fired for poor performance annually.)”

The 2 percent figure is a half-truth. During the first two years on the job, a teacher can be let go relatively easily for poor performance. Maybe two percent of newbies don’t cut it. But what Rall and his teacher union buddies don’t tell you is that, in California, for example, about ten teachers a year out of nearly 300,000 (.003 percent) who have attained “permanence” lose their jobs. Of those, a whopping two teachers (.0007 percent) get canned for poor performance.

This is a disgrace, and most teachers know it. In fact, according to a recent survey of teachers working in Los Angeles conducted by the National Council on Teacher Quality, 68 percent reported that “there were tenured teachers currently working in their schools who should be dismissed for poor performance.”

Then Rall goes off the rails on tenure, saying that what’s wrong with tenure is that “only teachers can get it.”  (When you go to a doctor for a serious medical condition, Mr. Rall, do you want to see the best one or any old quack who still has an MD after his name?)

Rall then ventures into other areas. He whines twice about his mother’s (a retired public school teacher) “crummy salary.” He apparently hasn’t read much on the subject. In fact, the most recent study on teacher pay shows that when perks like healthcare and pension packages are taken into consideration, today’s teachers are in fact overpaid. Armed with facts, charts and a bevy of footnotes, Heritage Foundation’s Jason Richwine and American Enterprise Institute’s Andrew Biggs explain,

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

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

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

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

Then Rall gets political. He writes,

During the last few decades, particularly since the Reagan administration, the right has waged war on teachers and their unions. From No Child Left Behind to the sneakily anti-union, anti-professionalization outfit Teach for America to the Common Core curriculum, conservatives are holding teachers accountable for their kids’ academic performance.

Reagan? What did his administration do?

The sneakily anti-union, anti-professionalization outfit Teach for America

Do you mean the very successful organization that identifies young teacher-leaders and trains them for service, founded and run by social justice advocates who have made (some) peace with the National Education Association? That TFA?

Common Core?

Sorry, but it is a bipartisan issue. In fact, your beloved teachers unions, including NEA president Dennis Van Roekel and AFT President Randi Weingarten, support it.

…conservatives are holding teachers accountable for their kids’ academic performance.

Horrors! Holding teachers accountable for their work! If not them whom?  The school bus driver? And for crying out loud, it’s not just conservatives who are demanding teacher accountability. StudentsFirst’s Michelle Rhee, American Federation of Children’s Kevin Chavous, Democrats for Education Reform’s Joe Williams and former CA state senator Gloria Romero, all want more accountability and none of them qualify as right wingers.

Rall’s piece ends with an editor’s note:

[Correction, 11:26 a.m., February 6: An original version of this post incorrectly described Students Matter as a “right-wing front group.” The post also linked to the wrong David Welch, founder of Students Matter.]

If the editors think that this is the only errata, they most definitely need to review this bilge and reexamine every word, including “and” and “the.”

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 Department of Justice on Student Suspensions

A recent memo accuses educators of racial discrimination while failing, with a few exceptions, to address the real problems.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a series of guidelines regarding the suspension of students from school. In short, though partially correct, the DOJ report is misguided, misleading, and missing key elements relevant to the issue.

Where the DOJ is wrong

The most disturbing part of the DOJ memo suggests that schools unfairly discriminate against students based on race.

The U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice (Departments) are issuing this guidance to assist public elementary and secondary schools in meeting their obligations under Federal law to administer student discipline without discriminating on the basis of race, color, or national origin. The Departments recognize the commitment and effort of educators across the United States to provide their students with an excellent education. The Departments believe that guidance on how to identify, avoid, and remedy discriminatory discipline will assist schools in providing all students with equal educational opportunities.

This is egregious. Suggesting that American schools, its administrators and its teachers are guilty of widespread racism has no basis in fact and has been rightfully denounced by most pundits. (Personal anecdote: as a teacher for over 28 years – almost exclusively in majority minority schools, including stints in Harlem and South Los Angeles – I have never seen a teacher or administrator act in a prejudicial way toward any minority kid.)

Simply put, schools have rules and if a student disobeys them, he or she is disciplined accordingly. And if minority kids are breaking the rules more often than other kids, shouldn’t they be punished more? That having been said, there are inequities that do need to be addressed that did not appear in the DOJ memo. More on that shortly.

Where the DOJ is right

The DOJ is correct when it charges that schools have become too dependent on law enforcement to solve internal problems. Many “zero tolerance” policies need to end. In too many cases, the guidelines have become downright silly. Should dress-code violations and posting a picture of a pellet gun on Instagram really become police matters? Is it right to suspend a student for chewing a Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun? Does it make the least bit of sense to suspend kids who are truant? “Okay, Johnny, we are going to keep you out of school today because you ditched school yesterday.”

Also, as one who has seen many a student suspended during my stint in middle school, I can tell you that in most cases the action is useless. After a suspension, I always asked what they did with their time when they were out of school. By far the most prevalent answer was, “Watched TV.”

Some punishment. Yeah, that’ll learn ‘em!

After a while, my school wised up and began employing “in-house” suspensions. In these cases, the students had to come to school, but didn’t go to their regular classes. By doing this, the school made a statement and tried to deal with the problem via the dean, the guidance counselor and the assistant principal. Also, the kid didn’t have a day off to watch TV and the school didn’t lose the funding it would have lost had the student been absent from school.

What the DOJ did not address

Why do kids misbehave in school? There is no one answer, but the following are four important ones:

1. Bad parenting. An obvious one and as RiShawn Biddle says, it’s a tough one to overcome. If a parent is not willing to parent properly, teachers and their schools have a much bigger challenge on their hands than with a child from a solid home.

2. Undiagnosed learning disability. This happens, but more often than not, students are misdiagnosed and often given needless medication. For example, if a boy is bored in school and “acts out” he’s likely to be painted with the ADHD brush and drugged, while the real cause of his behavior goes unaddressed.

3. Student boredom due to unqualified and/or inexperienced teachers. Yup, this is a big problem and has been for many years, but it too went unacknowledged by the DOJ. In fact, if you are searching for discrimination in public education, this is the place to look. In 2011, an ACLU lawsuit rightfully claimed that high-minority schools are discriminated against by the seniority laws that are enshrined in the California state education code. Because they invariably have a high percentage of new hires, the lowest performing schools usually take the brunt of the layoffs under this system, destabilizing them further by requiring a revolving door of substitutes. Judge William Highberger agreed and ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. Unfortunately, the decision was appealed and overturned, giving the teachers unions a victory at the expense of minority kids.

Another lawsuit, Vergara v. California, is due to begin in Los Angeles next week.  It asserts that

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

If successful, this lawsuit will remove the tenure, seniority and arcane dismissal statutes from the California education code and render them unconstitutional, thus making it easier to get rid of incompetent and criminal teachers while outlawing seniority as a method of teacher-retention. While this litigation will help all students in the state, inner-city kids would benefit the most. As I wrote in City Journal in 2012,

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

The California Teachers Association has joined this suit in an attempt to protect its turf at the expense of the poor and minority students. Sadly, the DOJ is MIA on tenure and seniority and the unions’ efforts to keep them in place.

4. Teachers receive little or no classroom management training in schools of education. Little talked about, classroom management should be a very important part of every teacher’s training, but sadly it’s not. (The DOJ memo does allude to classroom management techniques, but says the school should provide it and makes no reference to ed schools.) Scandalously, my teacher training at Cal State had zero class hours set aside in how to manage a classroom. (My science methods teacher, realizing that this was a huge mistake, spent part of his classes giving us desperately needed tips on the subject.)

A new report by the National Council on Teacher Quality claims that classroom management continues to be one of the greatest challenges new teachers face. Surveys repeatedly document that novice teachers struggle in this area, and their school district supervisors concur.

  • A 1997 poll revealed that 58 percent of PK-12 teachers said that behavior that disrupted instruction occurred “most of the time or fairly often.”
  • A 2003 survey of teachers found that nearly half indicated that “quite a large number” of new teachers need a lot more training on effective ways to handle students who are discipline problems.
  • In 2012, over 40 percent of new teachers surveyed reported feeling either “not at all prepared” or “only somewhat prepared” to handle a range of classroom management or discipline situations.
  • In a 2013 survey, classroom management was “the top problem” identified by teachers.

It’s no secret that ed schools are, for the most part, a ridiculous waste of time and money. This is due in no small part to the fact that the nation’s #1 accrediting organization, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), is beyond useless. The mission of this organization, set up by the National Education Association in 1954, is to “help establish high quality teacher preparation.” Sixty years later, I can’t help but wonder when they are going to start.

In sum, the DOJ has raised a subject that needs to be discussed. But playing the race card – saying that “racial discrimination in school discipline is a real problem” – is ludicrous. Does the DOJ really think that most teachers, their administrators and school board members are closet Klan members? And why aren’t the teachers unions defending their members against the DOJ’s scurrilous charge? (The American Federation of Teachers did issue a wishy-washy statement including a few suggestions that they think would help, but did not directly address the DOJ racism accusation.)

There are so many things we can do to improve education, but due to the intransigence of the education establishment and the teachers unions with their one-size-fits-all bureaucratic diktats, we are stuck in the status quo muck. Not mentioned in the DOJ report, the following reform measures would improve things considerably:

  • Give school districts more latitude in placing teachers and more power to fire poor performers.
  • Ditch the step-and-ladder pay scale and pay good teachers more to work in impoverished areas.
  • Demand good results from all teachers and pay them accordingly.
  • Insist that ed schools teach prospective teachers effective classroom management techniques.
  • Get rid of seniority, tenure and the endless dismissal statutes that exist in many states.

Harping on the race angle and blaming teachers for discriminatory practices are needless distractions that do no kid of any color or ethnicity any good. In fact, the DOJ report will make things worse.

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

“Hey, Deasy, baby, I want my money.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dump the Masters Bump

Advanced degrees for teachers have no bearing on student learning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Don’t Need a Weatherman to Know Which Way the Union Wind Blows

Twenty years of schooling in Los Angeles and you’re lucky if you can get any job, let alone one on the day shift.

Bob Dylan penned the words in the headline (sans the union part) almost a half century ago but having been quoted by many, they live on. The latest example of the lyrics’ relevance can be applied to a new 58 page report commissioned by United Way and several civil rights’ groups, produced by the National Council on Teacher Quality and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation…and the reactions of a teachers union boss.

Teacher Quality Roadmap: Improving Policies and Practices in LAUSD was published last week, and there were no major surprises in it. Education reformers have been aggressively campaigning for similar changes for many years, and various recommendations from this report are already in force in other states. (While dealing specifically with Los Angeles, its findings could be readily applied to the rest of California. Local school districts do have some power, but education policy decisions are typically made at the state level.)

Among other things, the report, which included interviews with over 1,500 teachers and principals, recommended changes to the current union contract and to state laws regulating staffing, evaluations, tenure, compensation and work schedules. Some of the prescriptions include using criteria other than seniority if layoffs are necessary and utilizing standardized test scores as part of a teacher’s evaluation and when making staffing decisions. Additionally, it was suggested that teachers be denied permanent status until they have been in the classroom for four years instead of the current two.

The report also suggested giving principals considerably more power, stating they should be able to hire any teacher of their choosing, and at the same time make it easier for them to get rid of incompetents. As things stand now, perverse incentives may lead principals to overlook the failings of poorly performing teachers which, over time, make it difficult to get rid of them: “The online evaluation system includes a pop-up warning telling principals who have selected ‘needs improvement’ for 3 or more of the 27 indicators to contact Staff Relations and present documentation to reinforce the ratings.”

The report was particularly tough on seniority, claiming that California is one of only 12 states that mandates layoffs be conducted in order of reverse seniority. In other words, under the existing system, layoffs are made by last hired, first let go, regardless of the quality of the teacher.
Since many of the recommendations are in place elsewhere, why not California?

Other states either have weaker state teachers unions than the California Teachers Association, or they have governors and state legislators who refuse to cave to unreasonable union demands. Conversely, we have the most powerful state teachers’ union in the country, as well as a governor and legislature that for the most part regularly kowtow to the organization that helped put them into office.

While CTA has not formally responded to the report yet, United Teachers of Los Angeles President A.J. Duffy did, and his wind blew in a very predictable direction. Here are just a few of his reactions with my comments following in parenthesis:

• He criticized the study, calling it misguided and performed by non-educators. (What he means is that the union wasn’t consulted and therefore the study is bogus.)

• He sniffed, “Many must-place teachers are fine teachers,” (These are teachers that no principal wants but nevertheless must be given a teaching job as per the union contract.)

• He thinks that teachers should be encouraged to go back to school to “improve the quality of education for our kids.” As such, he faulted the study’s finding that too much money ($500,000,000) is wasted giving raises to teachers who take post-graduate coursework. (Studies have shown that teachers who take post-graduate courses are not more successful after taking these classes, but get salary increases anyway.)

• He charged that it is wrong to talk about reforming the evaluation and tenure systems without talking about how teachers are trained. (Yes, many of our schools of education are atrocious, but this has nothing to do with tenure – two years in the classroom should not guarantee a teacher a job for life.)

• He called the salary recommendations ludicrous. (Performance pay is a bête noire for the union crowd. Any deviation of the current salary schedule whereby teachers get an automatic yearly raise, essentially rewarding a teacher for not dying over the summer, is off-limits.)

• “Educational equity and teacher quality are important and we should all be talking about them,” he said. “But it should not be about an attack upon teachers unions.” (The teachers unions are the biggest obstacle to any meaningful education reform. Should we just get together, sing Kumbaya, blow kisses at each other and ignore the 500 lb. gorilla in the corner?)

• He said, “The people that put this report together are non-educators who believe that a market-driven approach is the only way to improve public education and we believe that is absolutely the death and destruction of public education.” (Since private school teachers are not organized, privatization is particularly irksome to unionistas.)

• He insisted that UTLA leaders are willing to agree to some changes, including revamping the evaluation system, but still vehemently opposes any use of student test scores to determine which teachers are the most qualified. (Reformers want to use standardized test scores as a part of teachers’ evaluations because they are an objective measure.)

Less than three weeks from being termed out as UTLA boss, A.J. Duffy is going out in a windstorm of union predictability. Incoming president Warren Fletcher has been very quiet throughout all this, giving some optimists hope that a new regime will be more accommodating to badly needed change. I would alert those folks to another song which came out 40 years ago this month. The Who’s “We Won’t Get Fooled Again” included the lyric, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

Yup, you still won’t need a weatherman; an unfavorable, unified wind will still be blowing in an all too predictable direction.

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.