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Progressive Education Circus Goes to Washington

The folks who have resisted real education reform will attempt to sell their broken ideas, tax-the-rich schemes and radical socialism in D.C. next month.

Sorry to be the bearer of unpleasant news, but the SOS (Save Our Schools) March on Washington — an attempt to con the public by diverting the debate away from real education reform issues like failing schools, irresponsible spending, retaining bad teachers, etc. – will be setting up their Big Top in Washington D.C. from July 28th to July 31st.

The annoying whiny voice in the SOS promotional video is probably an indication as to what the tone of the event will be. Its endorsers are the usual motley collection of progressive educators, socialist organizations and teachers unions that one would expect – Diane Ravitch, Jonathan Kozol, Students for a Democratic Society, the Freedom Socialist Party and the National Educational Association are just a few of the individuals and organizations lending their name to this circus. I will be reporting more on the event in the weeks to come.

Going through the event’s website, one sees the typical “progressive” reform ideas including pleas for “more money for education” and “smaller class sizes,” but one thing did jump out at me – the obsessive hatred of standardized testing. Many education reformers think that standardized testing is one way to tell if a child is learning his/her subject matter. However, the SOS crowd sees any use of standardized tests as evil. The progressive educators don’t like them because they think that teachers will only “teach to the test” and that children will be robbed of a “real education.” The teachers unions don’t like the tests because they know that teachers could be held accountable if children do poorly on them and teacher accountability is the last thing a teachers union will tolerate.

Unfortunately for the naysayers, standardized tests are now being used as part of a teacher’s evaluation in various school districts around the country. Even in Los Angeles, never in the vanguard of reform, an evaluation system including standardized test scores will be beta tested over the next couple of years.

For more on standardized tests – why we need them, why the teachers should be evaluated in part by them and why the results should be made public – please read my latest post in City Journal.

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.

CTA, Transgender Clownfish and Our Children

The very creepy sexualization of young children, a part of the teachers unions’ progressive agenda, goes on unabated.

In the past few years, teachers unions in the United States have gotten into the perverse business of sexualizing children. I first wrote about this phenomenon several years ago. In 2004, the National Education Association gave its prestigious Human Rights Award to Kevin Jennings, the founder of the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and the man who eventually became President Obama’s school safety czar. GLSEN is the group that presided over the infamous “Fistgate” conference held at Tufts University in Massachusetts in March 2000, where state employees gave explicit instructions about “fisting” and other forms of gay sexual activity to children as young as 12. The conference was secretly recorded and can be heard here. (Warning: The contents are extraordinarily vile.)

Then this past March, I dug up a story about an NEA “trainer of trainers” who at a U.N. conference claimed that oral sex, masturbation, and orgasms should to be “taught in education” to children as young as 11.

Currently in California, we have SB 48 being debated in Sacramento. This bill, supported in testimony by the California Teachers Association, if passed, would “require instruction (emphasis mine) in social sciences to also include a study of the role and contributions of Native Americans, African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, European Americans, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans, persons with disabilities, and other ethnic and cultural groups, to the development of California and the United States.” Just how is a teacher supposed to explain to a six year that so-and-so was a great inventor — and he was bisexual?!

And to bring us up to date is a bizarre story out of Oakland. Last week, with a $1,500 grant from CTA, a group called Gender Spectrum presented some rather interesting lessons over two days to the entire 350 student school. The specifics were reported by Fox News, which was invited to sit in on the lessons,

Joel Baum, director of education and training for Gender Spectrum, taught the classes. In the kindergarten class he asked the 5- and 6-year-olds to identify if a toy was a “girl toy” or a “boy toy” or both. He also asked which students liked the color pink, prompting many to raise their hands, to which he responded that boys can like pink, too.

In the fourth-grade class, Baum focused on specific animal species, like sea horses, where the males can have or take care of the children. He suggested that even if someone was born with male “private parts” but identified more with being a girl, that was something to be “accepted” and “respected.”

Students in the class were given cards, which included information on all-girl geckos and transgender clownfish, to illustrate the variations in nature that occur in humans, too.

“Gender identity is one’s own sense of themselves. Do they know themselves to be a girl? Do they know themselves to be a boy? Do they know themselves to be a combination?” Baum said. “Gender identity is a spectrum where people can be girls, feel like girls, they feel like boys, they feel like both, or they can feel like neither.”

The question here becomes why are elementary school children as young as five being exposed to sexual concepts and anomalies which they are totally incapable of understanding and can be very frightening and confusing to them?

There are two answers. One is “social justice.” With their progressive agenda, teachers unions are doing their best to socially engineer acceptance of all kinds of lifestyles.

The second answer is darker. In a piece written for Queerty, an online publication which proudly claims to be in favor of advancing the gay agenda, editor Daniel Villarreal writes Can We Please Just Start Admitting That We Do Actually Want To Indoctrinate Kids?

The article very matter of factly states that, “I and a lot of other people want to indoctrinate, recruit, teach, and expose children to queer sexuality AND THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT.” (Caps in the original.)

There were many comments to this very controversial piece and most were written by homosexuals who were very angry at Mr. Villarreal for delivering what they consider a crushing blow to the cause for general homosexual acceptance. The rest of the comments supported the main thesis of the article.

The bottom line is that straight or gay, there are those amongst us with a radical progressive agenda who are determined to advance it in any way they can. And what better way to advance an agenda than by indoctrinating children.

It is thusly incumbent upon parents to become informed about how their child’s school is handling subject matter having sexual themes. It also may be worthwhile to ask the CTA/NEA why they are so intent on exposing young children to a sexual agenda that can be very damaging to them. Don’t expect honest answers though. And don’t accept anything less.

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.

Teachers Unions Keep Fiddling While Public Education Burns

There are too many tenured incompetents and criminals who are teaching our children. The unions’ “reforms” will do little, if anything, to get these undesirables out of our nation’s classrooms.

As we all know, Navy SEALs recently killed terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. Unfortunately, it seems that it was easier to flesh out and kill American Public Enemy #1 in a hostile foreign country than to get rid of an incompetent or criminal teacher in the U.S. Too bad for OBL that he wasn’t a member of the National Education Association. He’d still be a working terrorist going through what unionistas laughably refer to “due process.” Actually, as teacher and blogger Darren Miller has pointed out, what was once “due” has become “undue process.”

James Smith, Executive Director of School Security for Paterson, NJ, and Michigan’s Education Action Group have prepared a flow chart, which shows that it takes two to five years to get rid of a criminal or poorly performing tenured teacher in New Jersey. This is not peculiar to the Garden State. Most states have to go through a similar circuitous and arcane maze get rid of teachers who should not be allowed near children, let alone responsible for them.

What the chart does not tell us are the hideous costs involved in such an endeavor. Recently in Los Angeles, it took $3.5 million just to try to get rid of seven tenured teachers who were said to be incompetent. Only four were actually removed.

Here are a few recent headlines that typify the difficulty in firing undesirable teachers:

MichiganTeacher Threatens to Kill Her Boss, Union Gets Her Six Figure Pay Day – A teacher shows an inappropriate film to her students and when called to account for it, she threatens to kill her principal.

California – High bar for firing kept Sacramento teacher on – A teacher is charged with six counts of sex crimes with children. Four years later he is still employed by his school district.

New YorkNYC’s fire-proof criminal teachers go back to class – More than 500 teachers convicted of crimes in the last five years – drunk driving, assault, manslaughter, etc. – are still on the job because the New York City Department of Education is hamstrung from getting rid of them.

ColoradoDenver Firings of tenured teachers rarely occur – A teacher physically and emotionally abused her students in the classroom. It took four years and dozens of complaints from parents to get rid of her.

Why is this cruelty to children allowed to continue unabated? To begin with, there are no teacher evaluation systems throughout most of the country. Then there are union contracts and state laws put into place by union-bought legislators that make for never-ending proceedings.

As more and more of these stories are coming to light, the public is starting to rebel and begin to demand more accountability. Sensing the changing zeitgeist, the unions have conjured up a couple of documents which they claim will solve some of the problems. Their proposals, however, will do for teacher accountability and discipline what a band aid does for lung cancer.

The American Federation of teachers has come up with an eight page document on teacher discipline. This is hardly an improvement – this document is just a more codified way of over-protecting undeserving teachers. Their proposal includes a 100-day process replete with multiple hearings and meetings that does allow for firing teachers for criminality, but contains no provision for getting rid of incompetent teachers. Another flaw with AFT’s proposal is “that a teacher could not show up for weeks, give no excuse, and still wait out a 100 day hearing process, collecting pay all the while, and still might not be let go.”

The NEA document is even more laughable; it deals only with teacher evaluation and has nothing about what to do with criminal teachers. And the union is in control of the evaluation process, which is akin to letting the fox be in charge of the henhouse,

Indicators of Teacher Practice demonstrating a teacher’s subject matter knowledge, skill in planning and delivering instruction that engages each and every student, and ability to monitor and assess student learning and adjust instruction accordingly. Such indicators may include the following indicators or others chosen by a local or state affiliate: classroom observations, proof of practice (e.g., lesson plans, curriculum plans, student assessments, minutes from team planning meetings, curriculum maps, and teacher instructional notes), teacher interviews and self-assessments.

Then there is an assessment problem with NEA’s proposal. Only a tiny part of their evaluation process concerns itself with student performance. About 95% of the NEA plan is fluff – good lesson plans, evidence of reflective practice, self-assessments, completion of meaningful professional development, etc. Even where student learning is addressed, it is mostly subjective – teacher-created assessments, district or school assessments, student work (papers, portfolios, projects, presentations); teacher defined objectives for individual student growth. Finally, at the end of the student assessment section there is a mention of using a standardized test as part of the overall plan.

What to do about all this?

Get rid of teacher tenure – or as it’s properly called, “permanence.” No one else is basically guaranteed a position for life after just a few years at their job. Secondly, get a real evaluation system in place that utilizes standardized tests and includes principal and expert evaluations. Also, work like the devil to return to a quick and orderly due process procedure and stop coddling criminals who just happen to be teachers.

Finally, parents must ultimately be given the right to choose where to send their children to school and have the state’s education money follow the child. This would empower parents by letting them determine what’s best for their own children. These reforms would negate the power of the teachers unions and their legislative toadies, all of whom seem intent on maintaining an abusive status quo where failure all too often has become acceptable.

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.

NEA: We are One. We are everywhere. We are at war.

National Education Association declares war, but finding allies could be difficult.

It’s hardly a secret that the National Education Association is an organization that has had its political way for the past 35 or so years. However, voters are fed up with the union’s attempts to keep a failing public education system from being reformed and having massive debt foisted on them in the form of public employee pensions. In November, the populace voted flinty governors and no-nonsense legislators into state houses all over the country.

Clearly NEA, to maintain its hegemony, must now combat the reform fires that are spreading wildly from sea to shining sea. But according to teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci, the megaunion is indeed going to war with not as much money as they once had. “… after some 27 years of increases, NEA membership is down in 43 states. The union faces a $14 million budget shortfall, and the demand for funds from its Ballot Measure/Legislative Crises Fund is certain to exceed its supply. Even the national UniServ grants, which help pay for NEA state affiliate employees, will be reduced this year.”

So, what will the war look like?

With whatever funds it can muster, NEA strategy is to stop legislation before it begins. Barring that, it will try get judges to overturn any legislation unfriendly to NEA. If they can’t get judges to do their bidding, they will then try to elect friendlier judges, as is happening in Wisconsin today.

But can they stop the tidal wave? As we see in two other Antonucci posts, threat maps and under-reported stories, the scope and intensity may indeed overwhelm NEA.

NEAs latest gambit is to rouse the troops and regain public support by taking to the streets and trying to tie their plight to the Civil Rights movement. They have set up a new website where they proclaim that We are one. We are everywhere. And yesterday, unions held rallies across the country in an attempt to channel Martin Luther King who died 43 years ago in Memphis while supporting striking sanitation workers.

But the rallies were very tame and not well attended – only 200 in Louisville and 300 in Cleveland, according to the AP. Even in King’s home town of Atlanta, only about a thousand demonstrators showed up.

Is it possible that private sector union members are waking up to the fact that maybe “We are not all one”? Maybe they realize that those in the NEA and other public employee unions are better paid and have more perks than they do – and that these extravagances are being paid for by taxpayers, which include those union members in the private sector.

Is it possible that many Americans realize that the NEA wouldn’t hold anything for MLK? This is the union that by being virulently anti-school choice is doing everything within its mighty power to keep African-American children stuck in failing schools across America. Even the union’s former allies in the mainstream media are now in increasing numbers coming down on the side of choice.

Is it possible that the NEA and other public employee unions have exposed themselves as bullies who are detrimental to the country at large?

Is it possible that fewer people are being fooled by their hollow and abusive rhetoric?

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.

Teacher Union Leaders Go Public and Confirm Their Fecklessness

Weingarten is schooled by WSJ’s Jason Riley; Van Roekel is clueless as usual.

The National Education Association and the American Federation of teachers represent over 4.5 million teachers and educational support workers across the United States. These two unions have been under attack for the past few years by reformers who point to their slavish clinging to the status quo as a major barrier to badly needed education reform.

Since the election in November when American citizens voted forward thinking legislators and governors into office, education reform has made great strides across the country. The elected officials have been attacking the union’s sacred cows with a ferocity that hasn’t been seen before – eliminating seniority and tenure, introducing merit pay, defining teacher accountability, more school choice programs, etc. are all on the agenda.

The unions, feeling the heat, have decided to take their case to the public.

In an article on the NEA website, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel tries to take on what he calls the “anti-seniority crowd.” He claims that bad teachers shouldn’t be in the classroom. “If a teacher isn’t qualified, he or she shouldn’t be in the classroom. There are procedures in place in every school district to terminate unqualified or incompetent teachers, and administrators shouldn’t wait for a budget crisis to remove them. The fair dismissal process should be transparent, efficient and fair. We owe it to everyone concerned – especially students – to resolve cases as quickly as possible.”

As quickly as possible?

As you can see in this typical flow chart, getting rid of one incompetent teacher is a Byzantine procedure – 27 union mandated steps, 2 to 5 years to circumnavigate the process and a several hundred thousand dollar expenditure to the taxpayer. If, and it is a big if, the teacher is found guilty, they get to retire immediately with full benefits.

Then Van Roekel came out with a feeble attempt to defend the seniority system. “I taught math for 23 years, and I know without a doubt I was a much better teacher in year 20 than year 2. In no other profession is experience deemed a liability instead of an asset.”

Question for Van Roekel: “Since you are opposed to the thought of any objective based teacher evaluation, how do you know that you were better?” In fact, most studies have shown that after five years teachers don’t typically improve – thus a five year and a 25 year teacher are typically equally effective.

And then there is American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who has been courting the media of late in an attempt to make a case that unions really are for reform. In last weekend’s addition of the Wall Street Journal, Ms. Weingarten consented to be interviewed by Jason Riley.

Bad move.

On point after point, she comes out with mind-numbingly vapid, standard issue unionista statements, attempting to discredit any real reform. Riley, to his credit, is not shy about explaining why everything she says is wrong.

On seniority, she says, “It’s not the perfect mechanism but it’s the best mechanism we have. You have cronyism and corruption and discrimination issues. We’re saying let’s do things the right way. We don’t want to see people getting laid off based on who they know instead of what they know. We don’t want to see people get laid off based on how much they cost.”

Huh? Cronyism? Discrimination?

Reform minded people want to get rid of bad teachers, not good teachers who can be replaced by an incompetent relative or someone of a certain skin color. Riley adds, “Why can’t teachers who have been chronically absent from work be the first to go? Or the ones who have been convicted of crimes? Or the ones who are languishing—with full pay and benefits—in some “reserve pool” because no school will hire them?”

Weingarten then tries to convince us that “teachers unions are agents of change, not defenders of the status quo.” But as Riley points out that in the next breath, she “shoots down suggestions for changes—vouchers, charter schools, differential teacher pay and so on—that have become important parts of the reform conversation.”

Each time union leaders speak, they show themselves to be nothing more than rigid and clueless — clinging to stale clichés, shopworn platitudes and empty rhetoric that doesn’t fool anyone any more. The public has caught on — bad news for the unions, but good news for children, their parents and all taxpayers.

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.

Teachers Unions and Truth: Rarely Does the Twain Meet

Misinformation is at the heart of unionspeak.

Public school teachers have been told for years that they are only respected by the general public because Big Union fights for them and gets them that respect.

However, the opposite would appear to be true. America still loves its teachers…the good ones, that is. They don’t like the bad ones, the self-pitiers and the bullying unions that keep incompetent teachers on the job, ruining the lives of thousands of children every year. Nothing makes this point better than the recent situation in Wisconsin where certain members of the teaching community showed their true colors.

The unions also tell teachers that if not for them they’d be toiling away for minimum wage. But again, that’s wrong. And it’s not only teachers who buy this line – much of the general public does too.

Last week, Mike Petrilli, Executive V.P. of the Fordham Institute, became the latest to debunk the teacher salary myth. He compared teachers’ salaries in districts across the country which allow collective bargaining with those that don’t. He found that teachers who worked in districts where the union was not involved actually 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.”

While admittedly his analysis was not methodologically sophisticated, it does jibe with other recent, more meticulous analyses.

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

While Lovenheim’s study used data from just three states, Andrew Coulson, using national data, also came to the same conclusion. “Salary hikes, wage compression, and dramatic increases in the staff to student ratio have all undeniably occurred, but they have occurred in both unionized and nonunionized public school districts.”

The teachers unions also tell us that seniority is a fair way to make staffing decisions. They tell us that we need to hold on to arcane and harmful tenure laws which keep the worst rabble on the planet working with our children. They tell us that their budget busting pensions should not be blamed for the fiscal nightmare that many cities, counties and states find themselves in.

Okay, regarding the latter, it’s not all their fault. Other public employee unions share in the blame for that.

Recently at an international education conference, president of the National Education Association Dennis Van Roekel said, “It’s obvious to the people here that high-performing countries without exception have strong unions. You have to have strong collaboration with whoever is implementing the policies.”

When asked if lower performing countries have collective bargaining, Van Roekel said he didn’t know.

Indeed, the teachers unions don’t know very much and what they do “know” is wrong.

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.

The NEA’s Influence on Sex Education Policy

NEA’s reprehensible sexual agenda goes on unabated and the MSM is MIA.

At a time when teachers’ unions are battling for their collective bargaining lives, courtesy of Governors Scott Walker, Chris Christie, John Kasich et al., it’s hard to go a day without reading a newspaper account of the latest union news. However, there is a story involving the National Education Association that has flown under the mainstream media radar.

I could not find a single MSM account of a talk given at a UN conference on March 3rd where Diane Schneider, representing the NEA at the “Commission on the Status of Women” said:

“Oral sex, masturbation, and orgasms need to be taught in education,” Diane Schneider told the audience at a panel on combating homophobia and transphobia. Schneider, representing the National Education Association (NEA), the largest teachers union in the US, advocated for more “inclusive” sex education in US schools, with curricula based on liberal hetero and homosexual expression. She claimed that the idea of sex education remains an oxymoron if it is abstinence-based, or if students are still able to opt-out.

Comprehensive sex education is “the only way to combat heterosexism and gender conformity,” Schneider proclaimed, “and we must make these issues a part of every middle and high-school student’s agenda.” “Gender identity expression and sexual orientation are a spectrum,” she explained, and said that those opposed to homosexuality “are stuck in a binary box that religion and family create.”


A woman wants to teach children as young as eleven about oral sex, masturbation, and orgasms in a public school setting and it’s not news!!??!!

A little digging finds that Ms. Schneider is a high school health educator and very active with the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) in upstate NY, where she is its co-chair. She is also proud of the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) that she advises in her high school. Her presentation at the UN conference was part of her training from the NEA’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Trainer of Trainers.

The NEA’s LGBT Trainer of Trainers??

After my initial outrage, it quickly came back to me: the NEA has had a perverse agenda for many years now, taking pride in the fact that they are at the forefront of a movement to sexualize pre-pubescent children. With the MSM silent, I wrote in 2005 about GLSEN founder Kevin Jennings and his relationship with the country’s largest teachers’ union. In Outing the NEA , I wrote that

…at its 2004 convention the National Education Association gave its prestigious Human Rights Award to Kevin Jennings, the founder of the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN). This is the group that presided over the infamous “Fistgate” conference held at Tufts University in Massachusetts in March 2000, where state employees gave explicit instructions (about “fisting” and other forms of gay sexual activity) to children as young as 12. The conference was secretly recorded and can be heard here. The contents are extraordinarily vile.

Unfortunately, “Fistgate” was not an isolated incident. On April 30 of this year GLSEN held an event at Brookline High School in Massachusetts, and distributed an obscene booklet to hundreds of middle and high school students. With headings like F**kin’, S**kin’ and Spit or Swallow?, it describes various sexual practices that can only be described as perverse.

Mr. Jennings’s career as a sleazy activist has never suffered – not even with his support of the North American Man Boy Love Association (NAMBLA), an organization dedicated to the joys of pedophilia.

In fact, he was promoted. Currently, he is President Obama’s hand-picked “school safety czar.”

While it is imperative that we address collective bargaining and its attendant evils, we must not lose sight of the fact that a teachers’ union is pushing a sordid agenda and is involved with people whose values many Americans find repulsive and abhorrent. Maybe one day the MSM will take notice.

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.

No Citizen Left Untaxed

NEA boss has it backwards when he claims that America cannot have a middle class without unions.

Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, America’s largest union, claims, “In actions more fitting for comic book arch-villains, a new crop of state leaders have launched blistering attacks on working families disguised as budget and education reforms, and many have sought to strip workers’ rights to have a voice through their union.”

If he is correct and the middle class is being threatened, it is the public employee unions (PEUs) that are doing the threatening. Fewer than one in eight Americans are in unions but more than 50% of them are in PEUs. It’s hardly a secret that PEU pensions are in the process of sending various states and cities around the country into insolvency.

Where are the states supposed to get this money to pay for the budget busting pensions? The PEUs want to raise taxes. But on whom?

The corporations? Perhaps not. At 39%, we already have the highest corporate tax rate in the world.

“The rich?” Well, maybe not. It seems that the rich, defined as the top 1% of taxpayers, earn approximately 21% of the nation’s income, yet already pay almost 40% of all federal income taxes. What about the top 25% of taxpayers? They earn almost 68% of the nation’s income, but pay 86% of all federal income taxes. How much more can we realistically expect to tax “the rich?”

Who’s left? The middle class. To state the obvious, increasing the taxes on middle income earners is hardly the way to increase membership in the middle class.

So the real point is not that America can’t have a middle class without unions. It’s that America can’t afford PEUs, which very often put the very politicians in office with whom they then negotiate. Ultimately, the taxpayer, middle class or otherwise, is disenfranchised. This is just the problem that “the new crop of governors” like Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Mitch Daniels and John Kasich are dealing with by trying to limit the vast power of the greedy PEUs.

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.

Nervous Time for the Teachers Unions

Teacher union legal teams gear up for battles all over the country as union power is threatened.

With the recent changing of the political guard in statehouses across the country, teachers unions appear to be in for a rough ride. As one state succeeds in passing reform legislation, another state is encouraged to follow suit and perhaps go one step further.

Last week, the New York Times reported “Governors in Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Nevada and New Jersey have called for the elimination or dismantling of tenure. As state legislatures convene this winter, anti-tenure bills are being written in those states and others. Their chances of passing have risen because of crushing state budget deficits that have put teachers’ unions on the defensive.” Mike Petrilli, Vice President for National Programs and Policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute adds “These new Republican governors are all trying to outreform one another.”

Tenure laws, first passed over a hundred years ago, were meant to protect teachers from cronyism or discrimination over sex or political persuasion. However, the anachronistic system has morphed into a monster where once tenured, it is virtually impossible to fire a teacher, no matter how incompetent they are. In most states, this has been a rubber stamp process. Thus after two or three years in the classroom, a twenty-something teacher has a job for life even if they are incompetent.

Education Week’s, “Teachers’ Unions on Defensive as GOP Lawmakers Flex Their Muscles” tells us amongst other things that in Alabama, courtesy of SB 2, it is now illegal for the government to deduct union dues from workers’ paychecks. Hence, it would be up to teachers themselves to send the union their dues money. Still needing the government to be their bagman, the Alabama Education Association, state affiliate of mega-union National Education Association, is planning to appeal the decision.

In Tennessee, a blockbuster piece of legislation has been drafted that goes all the way. If passed, HB 130 would eliminate collective bargaining for teachers in the state, thus neutering the Tennessee Education Association. Not surprisingly, the TEA website informs us that the bill is anti-teacher. But it really is anti-collective bargaining and pro-teacher because it would give educators the right to individually negotiate their own contracts. Clearly, this proposed law would be a boon for good teachers, but could be a problem for the mediocre and inept.

These reform measures have one important common element: they empower the individual teacher and don’t treat them as part of a unified one-size-fits-all blob. As such, teachers will be viewed as professionals and not members of an industrial type union.

So expect to see the teacher unions’ legal machines go into overdrive in the months to come; liberated educators are the last thing they want. As such, the unions will fight to their extinction to maintain control over America’s teachers.

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.

A Charter School Needs a Union Like a Salad Needs Hemlock

Last month, teachers at Englewood on the Palisades Charter School in New Jersey decided to unionize. Then last Friday, Steve Gunn, director of Michigan’s Education Action Group, had an op-ed in the Newark, NJ-based Star-Ledger in which he rightfully laments the decision.

Charter schools are public schools that are allowed to bypass many of the school district and teachers’ union rules and regulations that strangle our public schools in a never ending stream of red tape.

The two national teachers’ unions have taken a divergent stance toward this type of school. The National Education Association website is full of stories about the alleged inferior quality of charter schools and their lack of oversight and wants no part of them. The other union, the American Federation of Teachers, is a bit more realistic and realizes that charters are here to stay and have taken a “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” attitude. Toward that end, AFT claims to have unionized 150 charters.

While we have no verification of that number, it is probably close to accurate. However, according to the Center of Education Reform, the country’s premiere advocate for charter schools, there are 5,453 charter schools nationwide. So even if AFT’s number is correct and we include 20 more charter schools that are unionized but not affiliated with AFT, that means just 3% of all charters are unionized. (The number, of course, is always changing… in both directions. In 2009-2010, three KIPP Charter Schools in New York unionized and then very quickly decertified the union because the teachers felt that as union members they would have to compromise their very high standards.) It is doubtful that the 3% number will grow appreciably since the reason that many teachers decide to work in a charter is to escape the unions’ odious rules that poison the educational well.

What is it about teachers’ unions that is so toxic?

• Unions are not interested in children getting a good education – they insist on tenure (aka a job for life) and seniority for all teachers – good and bad — and are vehemently against any kind of pay for performance. These are anti-child staples in almost every union contract.

• Unions promote adversarial relationships between administrators and teachers.

• Unions tell teachers directly and indirectly that they are disrespected – a “teachers vs. the world” mentality and that the union is there to save them, to fight for them, etc. They began telling teachers this over 40 years ago and they are still telling teachers the same thing – so just what is it that they have done for teachers?

• Unions tell teachers that they would be making minimum wage if it weren’t for them. But according to Andrew Coulson, director of Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom and others, the effect of collective bargaining is very minor compared to general economic conditions.

• So there emerges a “U-bot” class that thinks of the union in deified terms. These are the zealots who give teachers a bad name. These days, now that the public has become more aware of what the unions are really about, non-union teachers are getting more respect.

• Unions can poison relationships between teachers. If a teacher is not in the union in a unionized school, they probably will be ostracized and possibly worse. They may be forced to eat lunch in their rooms alone. They may not drive home with a windshield. Just ask any dissident in a school that is that is full of union true believers.

• Unions call teachers professionals – but they are paid more like assembly line workers in Detroit – with a lockstep pay scale. Professionals get what they deserve to be paid – good doctors make more money than bad doctors, good lawyers command greater fees than middle of the roaders.

• Jaime Escalante, probably the greatest teacher of our time, was revolted by the union mentality. That he was a phenomenal teacher paled in comparison to the fact that he could not abide by all the UTLA rules he had to live with and the union proceeded to hound him out of Los Angeles.

With all this in mind, I agree with the optimistic note on which Mr. Gunn’s ends his op-ed. He has some good advice for charter school officials, parents and consumers.

Charter school officials can help combat this threat by treating their teachers with respect and listening to their suggestions. Happy employees generally remain non-union employees.

Parents also can help by refusing to send their children to charter schools with union teachers. They should know they won’t get the service they expect when the AFT and NEA are in the house.

Union charter schools won’t last long if consumers soundly reject them. And charter school teachers will be less likely to join unions if they know such a move could lead to the extinction of their employers.

In other words, the bottom line is that a charter school needs a union about as much as a salad needs hemlock.

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.