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Union Blather and Students Matter

National Education Association new “reform” document is free of substance.

Apparently threatened by the education reform movement taking hold across the country, the National Education Association has decided to join the party. In concert with six other organizations – including the American Federation of Teachers – the biggest union in the country has released “Excellent Teachers for Each and Every Child: A Guide for State Policy.”

The guide’s recommendations draw from substantial research evidence on teacher effectiveness and from the practices of high-achieving nations like Finland and Singapore. The document includes go-to resources for policymakers and advocates, such as:

  • Recommended action steps to support policymaking and agenda-setting.
  • Model legislation language and examples of successful state policies that improve teacher diversity, set a high entry bar for educators, establish career ladders and professional learning standards for teachers, fund a sustainable teaching force, and support evaluation models that drive meaningful professional growth.
  • Summary recommendations on recruitment, preparation, professional development, evaluation, teaching and learning conditions, funding, and ways to develop coherent and systemic policy.

In reality, this flatulent report drones on for 36 pages and speaks in generalities that sound reasonable, even commendable. We do need good teaching strategies and to hire the best teachers we can find; then we should pay them well and do everything we can to keep them in the profession, right? But….

There is tons wrong with this policy attempt. One of the most glaring misconceptions is the concept of “best practices.” Take their examples: Finland and Singapore. Yes, both are successful, but very different. For example, Singapore, like high achiever South Korea, uses very “high stakes” testing, whereas Finland avoids standardized tests altogether. Classes tend to be quite large in Singapore, but small in Finland. In short, there is no one “best practice.” In this country, some students do better with a “back-to-basics, squared” approach to schooling used in the American Indian Charter Schools in Oakland, while other kids thrive in the more sensitive KIPP schools, yet others do better working from home, “attending” a virtual charter school.

Perhaps the worst part of this document is what it omits: there is one vague allusion to teacher tenure and no mention of seniority or any policy recommendations about how to get bad teachers out of the classroom, though these are major problems that must be dealt with.

Toward that end, the Students Matter (Vergara v. California) case starts in Los Angeles next month. As John Fensterwald explains,

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

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

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

Though not named in the lawsuit, the teachers unions just couldn’t sit idly by and accept a change in rules that would benefit students at their expense. Two state teachers unions – the California Teachers Association (NEA’s state affiliate) and the California Federation of Teachers – came out with a joint press release announcing that they had filed a motion “to intervene in litigation.” This means that the teachers unions have become involved because they feel that the current defendants – the state and the school districts – are not adequately representing the interests of their members, whose rights they maintain could be adversely affected by the case.

Perhaps the best case for the Students Matter prosecution is made by the victimized children themselves. The nine plaintiffs are public school students from various districts around the state. Here are three of their stories:

  • Daniella, a Mexican-American 12 year-old, is an economically disadvantaged student who lives in east San Jose, a primarily minority and low income community. While attending traditional public schools, she was assigned to multiple grossly ineffective teachers who were unable or unwilling to teach her how to read, write, or perform basic math calculations. As a third grader who still could not read, she “was broken.”
  • Brandon is a 17 year-old African-American student who lives with his parents in Oakland. Although both his mother and father work, they are struggling financially. Brandon is an accomplished football player who hopes to attend college and someday obtain a master’s degree, but he has been hindered by two grossly ineffective teachers who made him feel “destined for failure.” One teacher told him that he “wouldn’t amount to anything” when he was only in the fifth grade. Another, who taught tenth grade geometry, expected his students to learn math on their own and wasted the lion’s share of class time taking attendance. Even though other faculty members at Brandon’s school were acutely aware of that teacher’s ineffectiveness, and even warned Brandon to “be careful” in his class, the school could do nothing about it.
  • Julia is a 13 year-old Hispanic student who lives in Reseda with her mother, father, and younger sister. Julia – who dreams of attending Harvard Law School – has been taught by two grossly ineffective teachers in the traditional district system. Her second grade teacher repeatedly told her that she was “just not good at math,” devastating the child’s confidence, causing her to cling to her parents when they would drop her off at school. She even asked her parents if she could be homeschooled to avoid her teacher’s disparaging words. Julia’s parents contacted the principal, who agreed that the teacher was a problem and advised them “to transfer [Julia] to another classroom.” In sixth grade, Julia was assigned to a second ineffective teacher who would lose her students’ written assignments and even called some of her students “stupid.” As a result, Julia’s test scores plummeted and she again lost confidence in her own abilities.” When Julia was taught by two wonderful teachers, they both received layoff notices. At one point, parents and teachers at the school rallied “to save” one of them, a teacher who was “caring, smart, and motivational,” yet their efforts fell short and the teacher was laid off.

The bottom line is that the NEA “sound good” reforms will not do anything to improve the lives of these children. Of course we need good teachers, but until we enact strong policies that deal with the ones who don’t deserve to be around kids, we haven’t accomplished much at all.

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

Michigan: One Year Later

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corporate Screed

American Federation of Teachers led “National Day of Action” is a clear indicator that teachers unions are losing clout.

On December 9th, we will be treated to the “National Day of Action,” a day cooked up by the American Federation of Teachers and supported by the National Education Association and various fellow travelers. After reading through some of AFT’s pointed literature, the union’s bête noire becomes obvious. Its manifesto, “The Principles That Unite Us,” includes numerous references to corporate reform, the corporate agenda, corporate interests, etc.

But of course it can’t be that all corporations are evil. After all, teachers unions are corporations. In fact, according to their latest tax returns, the two national teachers unions brought in over $550,000,000 in revenue in 2011. (Unlike conventional corporations that are taxed at the world’s highest rate, union corporations don’t have to pay one cent in taxes … but I digress.)

So what it comes down to is market share. You see, the teachers unions’ emphasis on collective bargaining, seniority, tenure, endless dismissal statutes, etc., are in a death battle with reformers – parents, privatizers, charter schools and taxpayers and the unions are losing the fight. But unlike other enterprises, they don’t bother trying to come up with a better education product. Instead, they just demonize the competition – in this case, other corporations.

One of their sillier arguments is that corporate interests are involved in reform for the money.  Really? Bill Gates, one of the chief corporate entrepreneurs of our time, has so much money he can’t give it away fast enough. Actually, Gates, the Walton Foundation, Eli Broad, etc. are not pushing education reform to get wealthy; they are doing it to ameliorate what has become a very troubled education system that is dominated in most states – and greatly damaged – by the teachers unions. (Interestingly, the teachers unions are biting the corporate hand that feeds them: Gates has given the NEA and AFT over $20.7 million in grants since 2008.) 

Perhaps the most outspoken of the anti-corporate crowd is writer David Sirota, an avowed leftist who at one time was an aide to the socialist congressman from Vermont (now socialist senator) Bernie Sanders. Sirota declares that school reformers “are full of it.”

And the more education “reformers” try to distract from it, the more they will expose the fact that they aren’t driven by concern for kids but by the ugliest kind of greed – the kind that feigns concerns for kids in order to pad the corporate bottom line.

In a 2011 Salon.com screed, Sirota spells out his abject hatred for all things corporate, claiming that these entities are in it for “self-interest” and mentions why in three bullet points.

Self-Interest No. 1: Pure Profit – First and foremost, there’s a ton of money to be made in the education “reforms” that Big Money interests are advocating.

Yes, there is some money to be made by online academies, test publishers, etc. But as mentioned above, the vast majority of “Big Money interests” don’t need education reforms to become rich.

Self-Interest No. 2: Changing the Subject From Poverty and Inequality – Inconvenient as it is to corporate education “reformers,” the well-proven fact is that poverty — not teacher quality, union density or school structure — is the primary driver of student achievement.

Wrong again. It has been repeatedly proven that poverty doesn’t cause an inferior education. However, a bad education can certainly lead to poverty. In response to a post by former teacher Anthony Cody, education pundit RiShawn Biddle eloquently lays waste to the poverty-trumps-all argument. Several examples of Biddle’s wisdom on the subject:

As with so many traditionalists, Cody would rather ignore the fact that reformers actually do talk plenty about addressing poverty, just not in the manner that fits his impoverished worldview on the role education plays in addressing those issues. He also ignores the reality that the education spending has continued to increase for the past five decades, and that much of the troubles with American public education has little to do with money than with the fact that so much school funding is trapped by practices such as degree- and seniority-based pay scales for teachers that have no correlation with improving student achievement. But those are matters for a later day. Why? Because Cody’s puts on full displays the problems of the poverty mythmaking in which he and other traditionalists engage.

… the biggest problem with Cody’s piece lies with its rather unjustified contention that anti-poverty programs are the long-term solutions for fighting poverty. One only needs to look at the history of government-run anti-poverty efforts, and pay attention to today’s knowledge-based economy, to understand why this version of the Poverty Myth of Education has no standing.

If anything, many of the anti-poverty programs (including welfare) has helped foster what Leon Dash would call the pestilences of gang warfare, drug dealing and unwed motherhood that have plagued Black America and Latino communities. Federal welfare rules barring married women from receiving benefits, for example, is one reason why marriage among poor blacks has gone from being the norm to being extraordinarily rare since the 1950s — and why 70 percent of black children are born out of wedlock.

anti-poverty programs and quality-of-life efforts aren’t going to address the reality that 1.4 million fourth-graders who are functionally illiterate are likely to drop out in eight years. More importantly, we cannot ignore the consequences of American public education’s failures on the very communities at which its schools are the center of the lives of the children who live in them. This can only be addressed by overhauling how (we) educate all children — especially our poorest. They deserve better than last-class schools.

Self-interest No. 3: New Front in the War on Unions – Today, unions are one of the last — and, unfortunately, weakening — obstacles to corporations’ having complete control of the American political system.

Weakening? Yes, he is on to something here, but this is happening mostly where teachers have a choice whether or not to join, and many are choosing the latter.

Sirota ends his essay with the following:

Teachers unions’ self-interest means advocating for better teacher salaries and job security — an agenda item that would, among other things, allow the teaching profession (as in other nations) to financially compete for society’s “best and brightest” and in the process help kids. The unions’ self-interest also means advocating for decent workplace facilities, which undeniably benefits not only the teacher, but also students….

Corporate education “reformers’” self-interest, by contrast, means advocating for policies that help private corporations profit off of public schools, diverting public attention from an anti-poverty economic agenda, and busting unions that prevent total oligarchical control of America’s political system. In short, it’s about the profit, stupid.

Neither side’s self-interest is perfectly aligned with the goal of bettering our education system. But one side is clearly far more aligned with that goal than the other.

Interesting that Sirota would end on an Ayn Randian note, pointing out the reality and morality of self-interest. But his ideas about the “anti-poverty economic agenda” and the unions preventing “oligarchical control of America’s political system” are dead wrong.  His last sentence is true, but he has picked the wrong side. “Corporate reformers” cannot possibly do any more damage to public education than the unions have. And thankfully – not a moment too soon – the public is finally waking up to that fact.

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.

Unions and Obamacare, Part 2: How Unions Got Obamacare Passed

Unions were at the forefront in the desperate campaign for Obamacare.

The organization “Health Care for America Now!” included some 1,030 organizations and was the principal coalition working to pass the program. HCAN’s 20-member steering committee included the AFL-CIO, the Communication Workers of America, the teachers’ unions (both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers), the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), the United Auto Workers (UAW), and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), along with Working America, an AFL-CIO front group.

Taking the lead in organizing unions and their allies for Obamacare was Dennis Rivera. Rivera was the longtime head of the nation’s largest union local—Local 1199 (SEIU Healthcare Workers East)—until he left that job in 2007 to run SEIU’s national effort to organize healthcare workers. In his new position, he was working for Andy Stern, the SEIU president who would later be the most frequent visitor to the White House in the early days of the Obama administration. Back then, in 2007, Stern said Rivera was perfect as chair of SEIU Healthcare because “He’s tough, smart, and compassionate, just what’s needed to transform healthcare in this country. At this moment in history, as the winds of change are blowing toward fundamental healthcare reform, and as SEIU redoubles its efforts to fix our broken healthcare system, Dennis’ decision to shift his focus to the national effort couldn’t come at a better time.”

Stern was eerily prophetic. Rivera was the perfect person to lead the change. Rivera’s specialty at Local 1199 was forming alliances with businesses and hospitals, as well as spending heavily on campaigns that supported his political friends and punished his political enemies. He was close to the leading Democrats in New York (and served on the transition team for Gov. Elliot Spitzer in 2006-2007), but he also took advantage of splits within GOP ranks, partnering with Gov. George Pataki and other Republicans who had big business ties. His skill at building anti-taxpayer coalitions would prove invaluable to the Obamacare effort.

In June 2009, shortly after President Obama took office, the pro-Obamacare “Kaiser Health News” reported that “Unions have created a formidable political machine for the battle on health care, one that they’re already begun to deploy to support their positions and undercut those they oppose. They say they’re ready to spend $80 million.”

The unions’ greatest worry was that they would spark a backlash among voters, such as the backlash against Hillary Clinton’s healthcare plan that, in 1994, gave Republicans control of Congress for the first time in 40 years. Said Len Nichols of the left-wing New America Foundation: The unions understand “that if Democrats fail, last time we got [House Speaker Newt] Gingrich, this time we could get [conservative radio host Rush] Limbaugh.”

(The worriers were right: The backlash against Obamacare gave Republicans, in 2010, their best election in 60-80 years, but by then the program had already become law.)

Forewarned and forearmed, prepared for perhaps the key political battle of their lifetimes, the pro-Obamacare unions and their allies set up their “Health Care for America Now!” campaign on Washington’s K Street, the infamous home for special-interest lobbyists. The operation was funded by MoveOn.org and other organizations funded by billionaire George Soros, and by Soros-connected donors such as the Atlantic Philanthropies, Peter Lewis of Progressive Insurance, and Herb and Marion Sandler. The tax disclaimer for HCAN stated: “HCAN is related to Health Care for America Education Fund, a project of the Tides Center, a section 501(c)(3) public charity.” On the board of the Tides Center was ACORN founder Wade Rathke [see Part 3, to be posted Monday, November 11].

During the campaign for Obamacare, SEIU’s Dennis Rivera took the lead in forming alliances with industries that hoped to profit from the new system directly (health insurance, non-doctor-owned hospitals, the pharmaceutical industry) and indirectly (companies like Walmart that hoped to dump their employees’ healthcare costs onto the taxpayer). Rivera also took advantage of the can’t-we-all-just-get-along weariness of opponents of nationalized healthcare. Many of them had been persuaded by the major news media that President Obama and the Democrats and their healthcare-rationing ideas represented the wave of the future; others wanted a place at the negotiating table as the nation’s healthcare resources were divvied up. In 2009, Crain’s New York Business reported:

Dennis Rivera, the indomitable labor leader, was on Capitol Hill in late June to persuade members of a powerful House committee to include a public insurance option in its massive overhaul of the nation’s health care system. Karen Ignagni [representative of the health insurance industry], perhaps the most feared lobbyist on the Hill, was there to sway the lawmakers in the opposite direction. Yet during a break in the hearing, Ms. Ignagni—whose group of insurers served up the “Harry and Louise” ads that helped kill the Clinton health care reform effort—walked over to Mr. Rivera, greeted him with a warm embrace and asked to meet the following week. . . .

[After his success in New York forming coalitions with Republicans and businesses, Rivera] has exported his mastery of transactional politics to the Beltway, appealing equally to would-be adversaries’ self-interest and their fears to lure them to the table. . . . As chairman of the Service Employees International Union’s health care division, he’s brought together groups including insurers, drugmakers and doctors—all of whom defeated previous attempts at reform. In a nation grown weary of confrontational politics, Mr. Rivera’s brand of bridge-building has injected civility into a complex process, forging a path to health care reform that has eluded Washington for decades.

Rivera, as the healthcare chief of the union most closely connected to President Obama, blurred the lines between his union and the Obama Administration. “To some degree, Dennis is an independent actor, and to some degree, he’s working for the White House,” said a senior vice president of a medical technology group. “That played into making the process a success and people wanting to get involved. It’s not too great to be on the wrong side.”

During the Obamacare campaign, Rivera convened strategy sessions at 9 a.m. in a “war room” at SEIU headquarters. According to Crain’s, the campaign deployed “an army of 400 SEIU staff and members who are fanned out across 16 priority states. Union leaders have identified 20 senators and nine representatives they believe need some swaying to the cause of reform, and researchers have produced 100-page dossiers on each of them. The reports contained detailed information ranging from lists of associates who might influence these legislators to notes about how they typically respond to TV ads that protest their positions. The union has drawn up specific plans to target each elected official, ranging from writing letters and making phone calls to bird-dogging and holding sit-ins. If an official typically doesn’t respond to union pressure, it’s duly noted, and sympathetic leaders from religious or women’s groups have been primed to work them over.”

Particularly valuable in Rivera’s effort were left-wing groups that are not perceived by the general public as left-wing, such as the AARP and the American Cancer Society, which are thought by most people to be a senior citizens’ group and a traditional charity.

One of the key politicians with whom Rivera formed an alliance was Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. A relative moderate from a conservative state, Baucus had little history with SEIU before 2008. Rivera targeted Baucus, gradually building a relationship, then using the endorsement of so-called “reform” by Walmart as leverage to get Baucus on board. Without the help of Baucus, it’s unlikely Democrats would have held together in support of Obamacare—and without the unanimous support of the Senate’s 60 Democrats, the legislation could not have passed.

The irony: It was Baucus who, this year, labeled the rollout of Obamacare a “train wreck.”

Rivera’s efforts bore fruit when Obamacare passed Congress. In the course of the campaign, the legislation’s supporters had labeled opponents as racists who only fought against the President’s program because it was proposed by a black man. In a 2010 speech, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka recalled personally witnessing the racism of Obamacare opponents on the day of the key vote: “I watched them spit at people. I watched them call [civil rights hero and U.S. Rep.] John Lewis the N-word.” Recordings of the incident proved that no such display of racism ever occurred, but it hardly mattered. Claims by opponents that Obamacare would be a disaster, claims that were backed up by the most thoughtful analysis available, hardly mattered. To the unions, what counted was victory. Any problems could be fixed later—right?

Dr. Steven J. Allen (JD, PhD) is editor of Labor Watch. This post is the second of a three-part series originally published by Labor Watch, a project of the Capitol Research Center, and is published here with permission.

Getting Criminals Out of Schools

A new bill would keep pedophiles and violent criminals out of our schools; teachers unions balk. California law firm decides to try an end run.

A couple of weeks ago in Washington, D.C., the House of Representatives passed a bill by a simple voice vote, which stipulated that public schools would be barred from employing teachers and other school employees who have been convicted of sexual offenses or violent crimes against children.

“Keeping children safe is not a partisan issue,” said the chief sponsor, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. “It’s a moral obligation.”

“Every school employee, from the cafeteria workers to the administrators, to janitors to the teachers, principals and librarians, that everyone” is subject to background checks including the FBI fingerprint identification system to the national sex offender registry, said Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind.

Now just whom do you suspect might take issue with such a law?  

Go to the head of the class if you responded “teachers unions.” Both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers sent letters to Congress complaining about the proposed legislation. The NEA missive starts off with,

On behalf of the more than three million members of the National Education Association and the students they serve, we would like to offer the following views on H.R. 2083 to require criminal background checks for school employees, which will be voted on tomorrow. (Emphasis added.)

On behalf of students? Did I miss something here? Has NEA forced students – as they do teachers in 26 states – to become beholden to the union? The rest of the letter is no better, and includes one truly bizarre comment. “…criminal background checks often have a huge, racially disparate impact.”

They do? Which race should get a pass? Would NEA be more in favor of the bill if it had a racially proportionate number of pedophiles? (Note to teachers: ya think maybe it’s time to stop supporting the loopy antics of NEA?)

Over at AFT command central, wily lawyer and union president Randi Weingarten submitted a longer and more nuanced letter to Congress, which includes the usual talking points, but does raise one issue that, at first glance, seems sensible.

We suggest that states with background check laws that are at least as demanding and thorough as those proposed in H.R. 2083 be granted the flexibility and authority to use their own state laws and procedures in place of the new federal rules laid out in the bill.

As a firm believer in the 10th Amendment, I think this is reasonable … on the surface. However, the reality is that the teachers unions, with their vast war chest and political clout, have managed to influence legislation that favors all teachers “rights” over the best interests of children in many states. One needs to look no further than California for a glaring example.

In 2012, California state senator Alex Padilla wrote SB 1530, which would have streamlined the labyrinthine “dismissal statutes” that require districts to navigate a seemingly endless maze of hearings and appeals that all teachers are currently entitled to. In fact, Padilla’s bill, narrow in scope, dealt only with credible claims that a teacher has abused a child with sex, drugs, or violence. But this sensible legislation was quashed in the Assembly Education Committee where the teachers unions’ hairy not-so-hidden hand rules supreme.

Then earlier this year, the teachers unions got behind AB 375, a watered-down, poorly written dismissal bill that, though it would have made some things even worse, was nevertheless passed by both houses of the California legislature. Fortunately, Governor Jerry Brown vetoed it.

So the question becomes how to pass legislation in the many states where the teachers unions are all powerful. Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk, a law firm in the Golden State, has come up with a solution: bypass the legislature and let the voters decide directly. Last week, the legal team submitted a proposed ballot measure which they are calling the “Stop Child Molesters, Sexual Abusers and Drug Dealers from Working in California Schools Act.”

Should the initiative become law, the California Education code would be amended. The essence of the proposal:

Current law includes loopholes for school employees perpetrating egregious misconduct to remain on the public payroll and earn continuing retirement credit for excessive time after having been charged in writing with committing egregious misconduct and being notified of a decision to terminate employment thereby increasing the dismissal costs to school districts and draining resources from schools and the children they serve.

School employees perpetrating egregious misconduct in California have exploited loopholes to delay and conceal dismissal proceedings manipulating school districts to pay-off, reassign, enter into agreements to expunge evidence of egregious misconduct from district personnel files, and approve secret settlement agreements enabling the school employee to continue to perpetrate offenses in other schools and school districts, thereby infringing on the inalienable right of students and staff to attend public primary, elementary, junior high, and senior high school campuses which are safe, secure and peaceful as guaranteed by the Constitution of the State of California.

Accordingly, the People of the State of California declare that to secure the constitutional guarantee of students and staff to be safe and secure in their persons at public primary, elementary, junior high and senior high school campuses, school districts must have the appropriate statutory authority to expeditiously remove and permanently dismiss perpetrators of egregious misconduct without facing lengthy and costly litigation or creating incentives to transfer the school employee to another assignment, school or school district.

According to LA School Report’s Vanessa Romo, the Attorney General’s office has until Dec. 23rd to title and summarize the initiative. After that, proponents have 150 days to circulate a petition throughout the state and collect 504,760 signatures.

The teachers unions have yet to comment on the proposed initiative, but when they do, rest assured it won’t be favorable. Presumably they’ll rail about the rights of teachers and trot out their usual warnings about the bill’s negative effect on “the children.” Maybe they’ll blather on about how the initiative might disparately affect some unnamed minority. In other words they will do everything possible to convince the public that the initiative is wrong for California. Exactly how low the union will go is anyone’s guess, but as Lily Tomlin once quipped, “No matter how cynical I get, I just can’t keep up.”

How will the voters of California respond to the unions’ barrage of distortions and red herrings that will undoubtedly pollute the public airwaves? If the initiative gets on the ballot, we will find out a year from now. Stay tuned.

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.

Let’s Flush the Bathroom Bill

A new California law is agenda driven, hurts kids and is totally unnecessary.

A look back through recent history reveals that legislators and the educational establishment, taking its marching orders from the teachers unions, have needlessly foisted sexuality into children’s lives. The radical agenda of the activists seeks to divest children of any prudish, old-world morality imposed upon them by their clueless, Neanderthal parents. Just a few cases in point:

  • In 2004, the National Education Association gave its prestigious Human Rights Award to Kevin Jennings, 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 its extraordinarily vile contents can be heard here.
  • At a UN conference in 2011, Diane Schneider, an NEA Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Trainer of Trainers, said “Oral sex, masturbation, and orgasms need to be taught in education.” She told this to the audience at a panel on combating homophobia and transphobia. Additionally, she advocated for more “inclusive” sex education in US schools, with curricula based on “liberal hetero and homosexual expression.” Lest parents think they could just excuse their child from that class, 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.” She then added that comprehensive sex education is “the only way to combat heterosexism and gender conformity.”

“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.”

  • Later in 2011, with a $1,500 grant from the California Teachers Association, a group called Gender Spectrum presented some rather interesting lessons over two days to the entire school of 350 students. 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 being exposed to sexual concepts and anomalies that they are totally incapable of understanding and are frequently very frightening and confusing to them?

  • That same year Californians were subjected to the “FAIR Act,” also known as the LGBT History Bill, a law

which compels the inclusion of the political, economic, and social contributions of persons with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people into educational textbooks and the social studies curricula in California public schools by amending the California Education Code.

And this year a “transgender rights” bill was ushered in, supported by the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers. Passed into law in August, the essence of AB 1266 – the “bathroom bill” – can be summed up in its final 37 words:

A pupil shall be permitted to participate in sex-segregated school programs and activities, including athletic teams and competitions, and use facilities consistent with his or her gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil’s records.

The law, written by San Francisco assemblyman Tom Ammiano, is being touted as necessary to protect the civil rights of students who have sexual identity issues. But there already are laws on the books to protect them. Instead, as political strategist Frank Schubert points out, the law is intended to

advance an adult political agenda by special interests who wish to use our public schools as a tool to strip gender and gender differences from societal norms. In the process, the privacy and security interests of all students, including those who are transgendered, are compromised.

Schubert then goes on to point out what is specifically wrong with the law:

One Size Fits All. The bill mandates a “one size fits all” approach, failing to provide educators with flexibility to choose less-invasive solutions, such as giving transgendered students access to private or faculty facilities, or customizing approaches that meet the unique needs of a transgendered student. As a result, many transgendered students may find themselves stigmatized by AB 1266, unable to avail themselves of solutions designed to meet the needs of the specific student and instead forced into a “one size fits all” approach. For example, some school districts currently give transgendered students the option of choosing a single stall bathroom for increased privacy. AB 1266 is so poorly drafted that it may eliminate this option.

Lacks Safeguards. Some California school districts have existing rules that give transgendered students the ability to use bathroom and locker room facilities consistent with their so-called gender identity, but those jurisdictions have at least adopted some minimal standards to guard against abuse. For example, in order to claim a gender identity that differs from their biologic sex, a student in San Francisco must have presented a gender identity “exclusively and consistently at school.” AB 1266 contains no such requirement, allowing any student to assert a gender identity at school at any time.

No Parental Involvement. AB 1266 also fails to provide a role for parents in determining a course of action for a student. Some students may be suffering from gender confusion, wherein a teen is genuinely confused about the strong feelings they have identifying with the gender opposite of how they were born. Involving the child’s parents in fashioning a course of conduct for that student could be critical to his or her ultimate well-being, yet AB 1266 contains no provisions for parental involvement.

Lacks Balance. AB 1266 fails to include any provisions that seek to balance the interests of a transgendered student with the rights of all other students. This is especially important in the critical area of personal privacy. Current policies in some districts provide for “accommodation and the needs and privacy concerns of all students involved.” AB 1266 fails to provide any balance or reasonable accommodation in its approach.

Perhaps the least reported facet of this contentious law is just how many children would be affected by it. An advocacy group, The National Center for Transgender Equality reports that “between ¼ and 1% of the population is transsexual.” The Williams Institute, which is “dedicated to conducting rigorous, independent research on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy” claims that there are 700,000 transgender individuals in the US.

That comes down to .233 percent of the total population. Therefore, in a school of 600, one or two students may be classified as sexually conflicted. So does it really make sense to run a major social experiment on 598 or 599 kids for the possible benefit of one or two?

Of course not.

To be sure, there are children who have genetic conflicts and their needs should be addressed, but the new law is not doing them or anyone else any favors. It’s about in-your-face, forced acceptance of an envelope-stretching political agenda that many of us don’t want. Instead of a sweeping law to help the afflicted few, how about a simple decision to let those who have “gender identity” issues use separate unisex bathrooms and private changing areas if they are not comfortable using the facilities that comport with the body parts they were born with?

Additionally, because the law is so poorly written, it will undoubtedly be gamed by some teenage boys who will have figured out how to get a free trip into the girls’ bathroom, not to mention showers.

Perhaps this potentially toxic legislation would have been better written for adults – same law, but require that it applies to the legislators and teachers’ organizations that made this abomination a reality. Not a chance of that happening; the adults wouldn’t stand for it.

Where to go from here?

There is a group that is fighting back. “Privacy for All Students” is an ad hoc coalition of parents, students and faith groups, established for the sole purpose of getting an initiative on the ballot to repeal the new law. “Privacy for All Students” has until November 12th to submit the signatures of approximately 505,000 voters to qualify the referendum. If enough signatures are submitted to elections officials, the law will be suspended and won’t take effect, as planned, on January 1st. Instead, the proposition would appear on the November 2014 statewide ballot.

Interestingly, the due date for the signatures is eight days before the Transgender Day of Remembrance” – a holiday that is acknowledged in schools across California. Perhaps it’s time to consider a “Children’s Day,” one that celebrates the right of all children to have their privacy and dignity respected.

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

Labor Stains

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Biddle points out,

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

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

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

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

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

National Immigration Forum Action Fund

National Journal Group Inc

Netroots Foundation

Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network

The Atlantic

Alliance for Retired Americans

American Labor Studies Center

Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance

Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence

Clinton Global Initiative

Congressional Black Caucus Foundation

Economic Policy Institute

Institute for Women’s Policy Research

National Council of La Raza

NAACP

Rainbow PUSH Coalition

The American Prospect

The Nation Institute

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

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

Right-to-Work Rights and Wrongs

Teachers union treasurer perpetuates myths about worker freedom.

The term “right-to-work” (RTW) very simply means that workers don’t have to pay dues to a union as a condition of employment. In the U.S., there are 24 such states and 26 where paying dues to a union  is required in many workplaces.

The unions, with all their pro-worker chatter, hate the fact that in some places, employees actually have a choice whether to join or not. As Stan Greer, senior research associate for the National Institute for Labor Relations Research, wrote recently, “Teacher Union Bosses’ Hatred of Right to Work Laws Is Understandable” – the reason being that people are flocking to RTW states in droves, which is costing unions millions in lost dues. The National Education Association has been hit especially hard.

The U.S. Census Bureau data show that, from 2002 to 2012, the number of K-12 school-aged children (that is, 5-17 year-olds) across the U.S. edged up by 0.8%, from 53.28 million to 53.73 million.  However, the 22 states that had Right to Work laws on the books barring forced union dues and fees throughout the period saw their aggregate school-aged population grow by 1.7 million, or 8.3%.  Meanwhile, the number of school-aged children living in the 27 states that lacked Right to Work laws throughout the period fell by nearly 1.3 million, or 4.0%.  (Indiana, whose Right to Work law took effect in early 2012, is excluded.)

But the union crowd never misses an opportunity to let a clever sounding narrative run roughshod over the facts. The latest purveyor of union blather is Arlene Inouye, current treasurer of the United Teachers of Los Angeles and member of the ominous sounding “Union Power Slate,” a group that is trying to unseat current president Warren Fletcher in an election this January. In the latest edition of the union newspaper, she wrote “Unionism 101: The growing right-to-work (for less) movement,” an article riddled with errors, half-truths and good old-fashioned demagoguery. Ms. Inouye made her first blunder when she quoted the president.

President Obama exposed what it is really about when he said right to work “will take your right to bargain for better wages” and give you the “right to work for less money.” So, let’s call it what it really is: a right-to-work (for less) legislative movement.

The statement, which conflates two issues, is erroneous. RTW simply means that workers have a choice. Collective bargaining can exist in a RTW state.

Ms. Inouye relentlessly pounds the cutesy “for less” theme in her piece which is replete with all the usual buzz terms. “The one percenters,” “an attack on the public sector” and “corporate interests in politics” all make an appearance along with several sob stories about abused, impoverished and beleaguered teachers in RTW states.

But the facts are quite different. The National Institute for Labor Relations Research reported that in 2011, when disposable personal income – personal income minus taxes – was adjusted for differences in living costs, the seven states with the lowest incomes per capita (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon, Vermont, and West Virginia) lack Right to Work laws.

Of the nine states with the highest cost of living-adjusted disposable incomes in 2011, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia and Wyoming all have Right to Work laws. The sole exception among the nine is forced-unionism Illinois. While the Prairie State’s relatively high spendable average income is a positive, it should be noted the state is at the same time plagued by high out-migration of families with children and extraordinarily poor job creation.

Overall, the cost of living-adjusted disposable income per capita for Right to Work states in 2011 was more than $36,800, or roughly $2200 higher than the average for forced-unionism states.

After Michigan became a RTW state, The Wall Street Journal reported,

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

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

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

Despite Ms. Inouye’s apocalyptic scenario, many teachers (especially younger ones) actively avoid unionization. Charter schools, only a small percentage of which are unionized, are quickly gaining in popularity with parents and teachers alike. In this brief video put out by the California Charter School Association, we hear teachers explain why they like to teach in a less restrictive setting:

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

Trying “something different” when you have a phonebook-sized union contract hanging over your head is rather difficult.

Wisconsin, where teachers now have a choice to join a union – thanks to Governor Scott Walker – has seen a precipitous drop in membership.

The Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s largest teachers union, lost about half of its 98,000 members since Act 10 became law in 2011, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. That means WEAC has lost approximately half of its annual income from membership dues, which has impacted its ability to remain a force on the state political scene. (Emphasis added.)

But I did agree with one point that Ms. Inouye made. Quoting Bob Peterson, president of the Milwaukee Teachers Union, she wrote, “Be vigilant, informed, and don’t think that it (becoming RTW) won’t happen to you.”

Whether California will ever become RTW is anyone’s guess, but being vigilant and informed is certainly a worthy pursuit. However, considering the sophistry emanating from Ms. Inouye, she is hardly the one to be offering the “information.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With which approach for improving education do you agree more?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Media and Teachers Unions: Creepy Crass Actors

Joining a racially charged situation, largely inflamed by the media, the nation’s teachers unions hypocritically play the civil rights card.

To acknowledge the obvious, the February 26, 2012 events in Sanford, FL were tragic. Trayvon Martin is dead and George Zimmerman will be haunted – and very possibly hunted – for the rest of his life. While there are gray areas of the incident where good people can disagree, there is one overarching truth that cannot be denied: Much of the nation’s mainstream media behaved in a downright despicable way. They have done everything possible to stoke racial tensions with exaggeration, misrepresentation, pandering, deceit and lies. Just a few examples:

  • March 21, 2012 – CNN accused Zimmerman of using a racial slur, which two weeks later it later retracted.
  • March 22, 2012 – Zimmerman, of mixed race, was dubbed by the New York Times a “white Hispanic.”
  • March 27, 2012 – NBC edited a tape to make Zimmerman appear to be a racist.
  • March 28, 2012 – ABC News falsely claims Zimmerman wasn’t injured the night of shooting.

The whole narrative of Zimmerman as a rabid Klansman also disintegrates when you look at what the vast majority of the media didn’t report:

  • He is of white and Afro-Peruvian descent.
  • He and a black friend partnered in opening an insurance office in a Florida.
  • He’d engaged in notably un-racist behavior, such as taking a black girl to his high-school prom.
  • He tutored underprivileged black kids.
  • He launched a campaign to help a homeless black man who was beaten up by the son of a white cop.

Now here’s where we go from contemptible to perverse. The heads of the two national teachers unions – Dennis Van Roekel (National Education Association) and Randi Weingarten (American Federation of Teachers) – are leading the charge to put Zimmerman behind bars by any means necessary. The two bosses urged their members to sign petitions to the Justice Department, saying that “Zimmerman must face the consequences of his actions.”

All of a sudden the teachers unions are worried about civil rights??!! What a brazen and sleazy attempt to divert attention from their day-to-day “we-really-don’t-give-a-crap-about-the-kids-but-can’t-come-out-and-directly-say-it” modus operandi. To wit:

  • In 2009, desperate to kill Washington, D.C.’s popular and successful opportunity scholarship program, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel wrote a threatening letter to every Democratic member of Congress. The union boss clearly declared that NEA strongly opposes the continuation of the DC private school voucher program. He went on to say that he expected that any member of Congress whom the union has supported will vote against extending the program and warned that, “Actions associated with these issues WILL be included in the NEA Legislative Report Card for the 111th Congress … Vouchers are not real education reform. . . . Opposition to vouchers is a top priority for NEA.”

The sad fact is that DC public schools have the lowest NAEP scores and the highest dropout rate in the country, whereas just about every student in the voucher program graduates from high school, almost all of them going on to college. The fact that thousands of children, a great majority of whom are African-American, would be forced to remain in their failing schools, thus closing the door on their future, didn’t seem to faze Mr. Van Roekel one bit. 

  • In 2011, AFT’s state affiliate in Connecticut neutered a Parent Trigger law and bragged about how it managed to snooker the mostly-minority parents. The union went so far as to post the step-by-step process on its website. Fortunately, writer RiShawn Biddle managed to save the document before AFT pulled the webpage, having realized that their gloating might not be in sync with its pro-minority persona. Parent leader Gwen Samuel, an African-American mother of two, saw through the union’s malfeasance, however. “When will parents matter?” she asks.
  • In 2011, the ACLU filed a lawsuit that would have exempted 45 of the worst schools in Los Angeles – predominantly black and Hispanic – from teacher union-mandated seniority rules, enabling those schools to keep good teachers instead of being subjected to constant turnover. In an Orwellian statement, United Teachers of Los Angeles elementary vice-president Julie Washington fumed,

This settlement will do nothing to address the inequities suffered by our most at-risk students. It is a travesty that this settlement, by avoiding real solutions and exacerbating the problem, actually undermines the civil and constitutional rights of our students.

The suit was successful, but subsequently the ruling was overturned on a technicality. Having no concern about the rights of the minority children disparately affected by the archaic last-in, first out statute, UTLA was thrilled.

  • If successful, the Students Matter  (Vergara v. California) lawsuit in California will remove the tenure, seniority and arcane dismissal statutes from the state education code, thus making it easier to get rid of incompetent and criminal teachers. While this lawsuit will help all students in the state, inner-city kids would benefit the most.

Collectively, the laws Vergara v. California challenges deprive those students arbitrarily assigned to the classrooms of ineffective teachers of their fundamental and constitutionally guaranteed right to equal opportunity to access quality education.

Though not named in the suit, the teachers unions just couldn’t sit idly by and accept a change in the rules that would benefit kids at their expense.

Two state teachers unions – the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers – released a joint press release … announcing that they had filed a motion “to intervene in litigation.” This means that CTA and CFT would like to be become involved in the case because they feel that the current defendants – the state and the school districts – are not adequately representing the interests of their teachers, whose rights they maintain could be adversely affected by the case.

There are countless other examples which exemplify the fact that the teachers unions’ raison d’être is preserving their influence, and doing so by any means necessary. That minority children are the ones who suffer the most from the unions’ ongoing power-lust is of no concern to them. That these raving hypocrites are now grandstanding and calling for the scalp of George Zimmerman boggles the mind.

Of course, it is highly unlikely that you will be reading about this latest outrage in the mainstream media. Like the teachers unions, these bad actors are doing their best to push their agenda and con the public.

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

California Lawsuit Challenges Mandatory Agency Fees

If the California Teachers Association and its parent, the National Education Association, represent Goliath, then ten teachers and a small union alternative called the Christian Educators Association International are fitting stand-ins for David. They’re taking on the CTA with a lawsuit aimed squarely at California’s “agency-shop” law, which they claim violates public school teachers’ First Amendment rights by forcing them to pay annual union fees, even when they’re not union members. The Washington, D.C.–based Center for Individual Rights is representing the teachers, with help from Jones Day, an international law firm. Needless to say, the CTA isn’t happy. Spokesman Frank Wells denounced the suit as a “baseless challenge intended to dilute worker rights,” insisting that “the concept of agency fees is sound.”

But is it? California law does allow for “mandatory monopoly bargaining,” which means, where public education is concerned, that teachers must pay dues or “fees” to a labor union in order to work at a public school. Teachers may “resign” from the union, which frees them from paying the portion of their dues that would be spent for politics. They’re still required, though, to pay an “agency fee” for other union services, such as collective bargaining—whether they want those services or not. And even if a teacher does resign from the union, he must send a letter every year by a specified date to receive a rebate for the political portion of his dues. In short, the onus is on the teacher if he wants the union to respect his independence.

The rationale for collective-bargaining fees is that even nonmembers benefit from collective bargaining; there should be no “free riders.” But the line between what counts as a “chargeable” fee and what constitutes outright political activity has become blurrier over the years. As the plaintiffs’ lawyers argue, unions use their power “to extract compulsory fees as a convenient method of forcing teachers to pay for activities that have little to do with collective bargaining.” They point to The California Educator, CTA’s highly political magazine, which the union claims as a chargeable collective-bargaining expense. They also note how union leaders deemed a recent Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual-Transgender (GLBT) conference to be “predominantly chargeable.” The plaintiffs also maintain that the NEA, which receives a portion of fees from every CTA member, classifies expenditures that have little to do with collective bargaining—such as expensive staff junkets—as chargeable.

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

Some background: in 1977, in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the Court ruled that compulsory dues are unconstitutional and that unions could collect only those fees necessary for collective bargaining and sundry other representational activities. (The justices extended their ruling to private unions 11 years later, in Communication Workers of America v. Beck.) In 1986, in Teachers v. Hudson, the Court set out specific requirements that unions must meet to collect fees from nonmembers without violating their First Amendment rights. But nonmembers blanched as unions took a more expansive interpretation of the Court’s decisions. And so the justices last year issued a somewhat sterner rebuke in Knox v. Service Employees International Union,Local 1000. In that case, brought by the National Right to Work Foundation, the justices ruled 7–2 that the SEIU could not force its nonmembers to pay the portion of union dues spent on political activities—even if the union believed it was for the workers’ own good. In 2005 and 2006, as part of its campaign to defeat Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and a pair of ballot initiatives that would reduce union power and reform pensions, the SEIU imposed a temporary, 25 percent across-the-board dues hike on its dues-paying members and some 28,000 fee-paying nonmembers alike. The union argued that campaigning against the initiatives would benefit all workers. Had this view prevailed, it would have eradicated the legal distinction between politics and collective bargaining. But even liberal justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg saw through it and voted with the majority.

Further, Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion in Knox raised two crucial points that may bode ill for future forced political activity by public-sector unions, especially as it pertains to nonmembers. Alito said that the unions’ existing “opt-out” rules aren’t sufficient to protect individuals. “An opt-out system creates a risk that the fees paid by nonmembers will be used to further political and ideological ends with which they do not agree,” he wrote. Instead, unions should afford nonmembers the chance to “opt in” to special fees if they want to contribute to organized political campaigns. At the same time, Alito questioned whether public employees who want no part of the union should have to pay fees at all. “[B]y allowing unions to collect any fees from nonmembers and by permitting unions to use opt-out rather than opt-in schemes when annual dues are billed, our cases have substantially impinged upon the First Amendment rights of nonmembers,” Alito wrote. “In the new situation presented here, we see no justification for any further impingement. The general rule—individuals should not be compelled to subsidize private groups or private speech—should prevail.”

The Center for Individual Rights cites Knox in the opening paragraph of its suit. How things will play out in district court in California isn’t clear yet. But it’s worth noting that right now, workers in 26 states and the District of Columbia must pay union dues as a condition of employment. The other 24 states are “right-to-work” states, where workers can choose whether or not to join. If the California case winds up before the Supreme Court, the justices will get an opportunity to extend their Knox reasoning to its logical conclusion and give all workers a real choice.

Larry Sand, a retired teacher, is president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network. This article originally appeared in City Journal on July 11th, entitled “Opportunity Knox,” and is republished here with permission from the author and the publisher.

Kill ‘Em or Unionize ‘Em

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet at the same time CTA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

U.S. – #1 in Education … Spending

But in educational achievement, we are not even close to the top.

The National Education Association just came out with a “research” report which should be taken about as seriously as the Tobacco Institute study that denied the link between smoking and lung cancer. The “Rankings of the States 2012 and Estimates of School Statistics 2013” report is filled with half-truths and worse. The summary tells us that education is hurting in America and the problems revolve around the fact that we don’t spend enough. We are led to believe that per-student spending is insufficient, we don’t pay our teachers enough, and class sizes are too big.

But then, lo and behold, we get a real study from The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) which historically has supplied us with objective international comparisons. Released last week, their latest, a 440 page tome, is filled with statistics that lay to waste much of the NEA’s tired plea for more spending on education.

From an Associated Press summary of the report, we learn that,   

The United States spent more than $11,000 per elementary student in 2010 and more than $12,000 per high school student. When researchers factored in the cost for programs after high school education such as college or vocational training, the United States spent $15,171 on each young person in the system—more than any other nation covered in the report. (Emphasis added.)

That sum inched past some developed countries and far surpassed others. Switzerland’s total spending per student was $14,922 while Mexico averaged $2,993 in 2010. The average OECD nation spent $9,313 per young person. 

According to NEA’s way of thinking, being the top spender should result in the U.S. producing the best students, but this is not the case. In fact, far from it.

U.S. fourth-graders are 11th in the world in math in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, a separate measure of nations against each other. U.S. eighth-graders ranked ninth in math, according to those 2011 results.

The Program for International Student Assessment measurement found the United States ranked 31st in math literacy among 15-year-old students and below the international average. The same 2009 tests found the United States ranked 23rd in science among the same students, but posting an average score.

What about teacher salaries? 

The OECD report finds,

The average first-year high school teacher in the United States earns about $38,000. OECD nations pay their comparable educators just more than $31,000.

That trails Luxembourg, which pays its first year teachers more than $72,000 a year, but far exceeds the $10,000 paid to first-year high school teachers in Slovakia. Among all educators, U.S. payrolls are competitive. The average high school teacher in the United States earns about $53,000, well above the average of $45,500 among all OECD nations.

And of course, the countries with the smallest class sizes are the most successful, right? 

Well, no. There is absolutely no correlation. For example, countries with about 30 students per elementary school class – Chile, Japan, Israel and Korea – do better than we do with about 20 kids per class when it comes to students completing an upper secondary education.

Via Choice Media, Paul Peterson, Director of the Program on Education Policy and Government at Harvard University, states the obvious,

We do not spend our money wisely. We don’t have a very competitive system. Anytime a monopoly sends money, and our education system is a monopoly, is not spending money efficiently. We don’t hire our teachers the right way. We don’t pay the best teachers more money and we don’t get rid of our weakest teachers because we pay everybody the same rate except for their credentials and their years of experience. We don’t have a way of easing the weakest members of the teaching force out of the profession.

“A lie told often enough becomes the truth” has been attributed to Goebbels, Lenin and many others who know the power of a good whopper. Equating more spending with greater educational achievement is one of the best. The good news is that the American people are becoming wiser and fewer of us are buying the lies that the teachers unions are selling.

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.

Mothers Against Bunk Jiving

Teacher union twaddle is not fooling the nation’s moms any more.

National Education Association president Dennis Van Roekel wrote a tired piece for Huffington Post last week in which he trotted out all the usual phrases and suspects that we have come to expect from a union boss who is trying to scare us into seeing the world through his agenda-driven eyes. Just a few:

  • corporate lobbyists
  • privatization
  • ALEC
  • Scott Walker’s all-out attack on teachers
  • diverting scarce resources that public schools desperately need
  • workers’ right to collective bargaining

(Somehow, the dreaded Koch Brothers didn’t make the cut.)

While the article is ostensibly about the purported turpitude of the American Legislative Exchange Council, it is actually more about the alleged horrors of school privatization through vouchers. Van Roekel informs us that voters have rejected this type of parental choice “time and time again.” If you click on the above link, you will see that,

From 1966 through 2007, voters rejected vouchers or their variants by about 2 to 1 in 27 statewide referendums.

Unfortunately for Van Roekel and other staunch defenders of the status quo, it is now 2013 and the old data are no longer accurate. In fact, the public has gotten behind 41 school choice programs in 22 states and D.C., with over 250,000 students using these programs to attend private schools.

Most recently, in honor of Mother’s Day this past Sunday, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice released the results of a national survey in which mothers (and others) were asked how they viewed vouchers and other forms of school choice. The findings show that moms make up the demographic most likely to favor school vouchers:

… 66 percent of moms with school-age children support vouchers for all students to obtain the best education possible. Mothers with school-age children also have more confidence in private school settings than in traditional public schools.

Other results show that the general public and school moms shared similar views on school grading:

  • ·         Only 39 percent of Americans give local public schools an “A” or a “B” compared with 54 percent in 2012—a 15-point drop.
  • ·         Sixty percent of Americans grade private schools an “A” or a “B”—a 10-point gain from 2012.

Perhaps the most important takeaway from the poll is that there has been a sharp shift in favor of vouchers over the past few years; the trend is undeniable.

Van Roekel also would be better served if he lost the talking point about how the move toward privatization is damaging traditional public schools. Just last month, Greg Forster, also of the Friedman Foundation, released the third in a series of reports on school choice which includes vouchers and, to a lesser extent, educational savings accounts and tax credit scholarships: “A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice.” The key findings:

  • Twelve empirical studies have examined academic outcomes for school choice participants using random assignment, the “gold standard” of social science. Of these, 11 find that choice improves student outcomes—six that all students benefit and five that some benefit and some are not affected. One study finds no visible impact. No empirical study has found a negative impact.
  • Twenty-three empirical studies (including all methods) have examined school choice’s impact on academic outcomes in public schools. Of these, 22 find that choice improves public schools and one finds no visible impact. No empirical study has found that choice harms public schools.
  • Six empirical studies have examined school choice’s fiscal impact on taxpayers. All six find that school choice saves money for taxpayers. No empirical study has found a negative fiscal impact.
  • Eight empirical studies have examined school choice and racial segregation in schools. Of these, seven find that school choice moves students from more segregated schools into less segregated schools. One finds no net effect on segregation from school choice. No empirical study has found that choice increases racial segregation.
  • Seven empirical studies have examined school choice’s impact on civic values and practices such as respect for the rights of others and civic knowledge. Of these, five find that school choice improves civic values and practices. Two find no visible impact from school choice. No empirical study has found that school choice has a negative impact on civic values and practices. (Emphasis added.)

The above can be seen graphically on this chart:

I think it is safe to say that the dated talking points and bunk emanating from the union crowd are wearing very thin. And as more and more moms (and others) see through the jive, the future does not bode well for the NEA and other educational monopolists.

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.

Opportunity Re-Knox

A recently filed lawsuit in California picks up where Knox v. SEIU left off.

In a case brought to the Supreme Court by the National Right to Work Foundation last June, the justices ruled 7-2 that the Service Employees International Union could not force its members to pay the part of union dues that goes for political activities, even if the union felt it was for the workers’ own good. As I wrote at the time,

Actually this decision didn’t break any new ground. Unions haven’t been allowed to force workers to pay for their political agenda since the 1970s and 1980s when several landmark decisions were handed down by the court. But SEIU Local 1,000 in California tried to hoodwink the rank and file. The case probably never should have reached the high court, but their involvement became necessary in order to overturn a decision from the far left Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (or as it’s affectionately known to us left coasters – the Ninth Circus), which has become a regular occurrence these days.

The Wall Street Journal explained the specifics of SEIU’s chicanery,

The California SEIU local attempted to end run these protections in a special 2005 election and the midterms in 2006, amid a furious debate about union government perks. The SEIU joined a “Political Fight-Back Fund” to defeat two propositions that would have given then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger the ability in some cases to modify salaries, benefits and pensions. To fund this advocacy, the SEIU imposed a temporary 25% hike in union dues, never providing its 28,000 non-union members the Hudson notice that would have let them opt out.

The SEIU argued that lobbying against the ballot initiatives was really work on behalf of all workers. Yet that would erase the legal distinction between politics and collective bargaining. These activities may be especially fungible in public employee practice already, but this was too much even for liberal Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who concurred with the majority on the narrow if obvious grounds of technical precedent.

The chutzpah here is dazzling. As Steve Greenhut noted,

It’s ironic that SEIU took money from nonmembers to specifically battle a statewide proposition that would have stopped them from being able to take such money in the future. There’s something disturbingly totalitarian about that – making me give you money that you can use to stop me from exerting my rights.

In a lesser-known but very important ruling, the court went beyond Knox and addressed two larger issues:

1. Should union members have to opt out of paying the political part of union dues? (The way things stand, the default position is “in” and a worker must take action to opt out.) With Justice Samuel Alito writing the opinion,

… the court concluded that a longstanding precedent — that the First Amendment demands that non-union members covered by union contracts be given the chance to “opt out” of such special fees — was insufficient. Instead, the majority said, non-members should be sent a notice giving them the chance to “opt in” to the special fees. (Emphasis added)

2. Should public employees be forced to pay any union dues at all? (At this time, workers in 26 states and Washington, D.C. must pay union dues as a condition of employment. The other 24 states are “right-to-work” states where workers can choose whether or not to join.) Alito again,

Because a public-sector union takes many positions during collective bargaining that have powerful political and civic consequences, the compulsory fees constitute a form of compelled speech and association that imposes a significant impingement on First Amendment rights. (Emphasis added.)

As Huffington Post blogger Cole Stangler wrote at the time,

Knox v. SEIU could lay the foundation for future legal challenges over unions’ political spending and the dues collection process in general.

And lay the foundation it did on both counts.

Last week, the Center for Individual Rights, in conjunction with international law firm Jones Day, filed a suit in California. CIR’s press release explains that the litigation was initiated

… on behalf of 10 California teachers and the Christian Educators Association International, challenging the constitutionality of California’s “agency shop” law, which violates the First Amendment by forcing public school teachers to pay annual fees to support powerful teachers’ unions extensively involved in political activity. The suit was filed against the lead defendants, the California Teachers Association (CTA) and the National Education Association (NEA), as well as ten affiliated local teachers’ unions, and local school officials.

The lawyers in this case claim that the lines between “chargeable” or “agency fee” and “political” are very blurry and that the unions use their power

… to extract compulsory fees as a convenient method of forcing teachers to pay for activities that have little to do with collective bargaining. For example, the CTA considers the publication and dissemination of The California Educator, its internal and highly political magazine, to be a mostly “chargeable” collective bargaining expense. The CTA likewise deems programs dealing with gays and lesbians, including a “GLBT Conference,” to be predominantly “chargeable.” Also, the CTA spends millions of dollars every year on political contributions, mostly to support Democratic Party causes. The NEA, which receives a portion of the fees paid by every California public school teacher, likewise classifies expenditures as chargeable even though they appear to have little to do with collective bargaining, such as programs advancing various education policies or expensive conferences for NEA staff.

The litigation also addresses right-to-work issues,

Given the severe and ongoing infringement of Plaintiffs’ rights to free speech and free association, Plaintiffs respectfully request that this Court declare that California’s practice of forcing non-union members to contribute funds to unions, including funds to support their collective-bargaining activities, violates the First Amendment, and enjoin Defendants from enforcing this unconstitutional arrangement.

Needless to say, the unions are not happy about the lawsuit. CTA spokesman Frank Wells, speaking in boilerplate language, said that it is a “baseless challenge intended to dilute worker rights.” He went on to say that the claims are “another baseless attack on the concept of agency fees” and that “the concept of agency fees is sound.”

If the suit isn’t settled at the local level, it could wind up in the Supreme Court. Should that happen, the justices could take their opinion in Knox one step further and make joining a union voluntary. What a victory for liberty that would be! Greenhut is right – there is something indeed “disturbingly totalitarian” about forced union dues. It’s time to take Knox to its logical conclusion and give all workers the freedom to choose.

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.

Leonie Haimson: Teacher Union Advocate

Is it okay for a “parent advocate” to send her kids to a private school while maintaining that your kids remain in a failing government run school?

Last week, via the blogosphere, we learned that education reform leader Michelle Rhee sends one of her two kids to a private school. One post asks the question, “Should we care?”

The answer is, “Of course not.”

Through StudentsFirst, Rhee champions the best education opportunities for all kids whether they be traditional public, charter or private schools. Additionally, she is in favor of vouchers or opportunity scholarships. As chancellor of Washington D.C. schools from 2007-2010, she sent her kids to a public school. But now one of her two daughters (both of whom live in Tennessee with her first husband) goes to a private school. Hence, she is not doing anything for her own kids that she wouldn’t advocate for any other parent.

Then we have “parent advocate” Leonie Haimson. As reported by the GothamSchools blog last week,

Leonie Haimson’s career as a New York City education activist started when her older child was assigned to a first-grade class with 28 other students. That was in 1996, and since then, Haimson has advocated for public school parents — through her organization, Class Size Matters; the blog and online mailing lists she runs; and the national parent group she helped launch.

But her personal stake changed last summer, when Haimson ceased to be a public school parent. Her younger child started at a private high school in September, following a trajectory from public to private school that her older child, now an adult, also took.

If it’s okay for activist Rhee to send one of her kids to a private school, why not activist Haimson? The answer is that Haimson, founder of Class Size Matters, who also fronts a faux parent advocacy group called Parents Across America, doesn’t want your kids to have the same opportunity that hers do. She is anti-charter, anti-voucher, anti-any choice and wants to force your kids to stay in public schools no matter how awful they may be. In other words, she is a hypocrite. As an editorial in the New York Post states,

Guess who sends her kids to private school when they reach high school age? That’s right: longtime public school parent-activist Leonie Haimson.

Fine by us. Like any parent, she’s entitled to do what’s best for her children — and private schools by and large provide more, and often better, choices for city kids.

But what about parents who want similar choices yet don’t have the resources? Increasingly, they turn to charter schools — public schools with more rigorous standards and non-union staffs.

… Haimson specifically cites her pet issue: smaller class sizes in private schools. (She runs the group Class Size Matters.) Yet, even though charters often have smaller classes, she continues to fight them.

Haimson is also against colocating charters in traditional public school space, despite the fact that charters don’t receive public funds to build or lease facilities.

What the Post editorial doesn’t mention is that Haimson is a member in good standing of the National Education Association Church, which is hardly surprising since she is in part bankrolled by the union. She consistently mouths teacher union dogma – bashing school choice, defending tenure and seniority, insisting that smaller classes are the sine qua non of reform – and even has gone so far as to defend the Chicago Teachers Union and its outrageous strike last September.

As Democrats for Education Reform president Joe Williams said,

She keeps choosing to defend the same awful schools she would never allow her kids to attend.

Not surprisingly, Diane Ravitch, who is on the Class Size Matters board and has been paid handsomely as an NEA spokesperson, rushed to defend Haimson with some incoherent comments:

You can see why powerful people would want to discredit her. She is a force, she has a large following, and she threatens them.

Consider the premise of the article: only public school parents may advocate for public schools.

This is classic corporate reform ideology. Corporate reformers use this specious ideology to argue for the parent trigger, claiming that the school belongs to the parents and they should be “empowered” to seize control and give it to a charter corporation.

Classic corporate reform ideology? Huh?!

Perhaps Dropout Nation’s RiShawn Biddle sums it up best,

… it is nice to see GothamSchools’ Geoff Decker do stellar work in breaking news yesterday on this contradiction between Haimson’s public criticism of expanding school choice and her very private decision to embrace it. And even nicer to see how her fellow traditionalists (including Ravitch) are attempting to justify her … instead of arguing for providing poor and minority families with the range of options to which Haimson (along with many of them) avails herself. This matter speaks louder than words to their amorality and intellectual charlatanism.

One other thing. Wondering about the name of Haimson’s organization Class Size Matters? In most cases it doesn’t.  But gross hypocrisy always does.

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

The Good, the Ugly and the Uglier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does it get any uglier than that?

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

Milwaukee: Happy Days, Schlitz, Harley-Davidson … and School Choice

Schlitz may be the beer that made Milwaukee famous, but recently the spotlight has been shining on the city’s school choice efforts.

Back in 1990, the Pleistocene Era of education reform, the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program became the nation’s first publicly funded school choice program for low-income children. Born of an interesting political marriage – Democratic state legislator Polly Williams and Republican Governor Tommy Thompson – the program started as a way to address the city’s troubled education system.

Now of course, when one refers to vouchers, school choice, opportunity scholarships or whatever name you want to give public-monies-going-to-educate-children-at-anything-but-a-government-run-school, all the usual suspects descend from the woodwork and trot out all the alleged horrors of school choice. The teachers unions most notably hate choice because some parents will actually choose to send their kids to a non-unionized school. The National Education Association never misses an opportunity to make ridiculous statements – which have little or no basis in fact – about the issue. For example, on its website it has “Five Talking Points on Vouchers,” all of which I debunked in a January post. Elsewhere on its website, the union makes what it claims is an educational case against vouchers:

See what research says about the relationship between vouchers and student achievement… Americans want consistent standards for students. Where vouchers are in place — Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Florida — a two-tiered system has been set up that holds students in public and private schools to different standards.

So the union wants us to look at facts? Researchers Patrick Wolf and John Witte do just that. Earlier this year, they wrote about students participating in Milwaukee’s voucher program stating that they

graduated from high school and both enrolled and persisted in four-year colleges at rates that were four to seven percentage points higher than a carefully matched set of students in Milwaukee Public Schools. Using the most conservative 4% voucher advantage from our study, that means that the 801 students in ninth grade in the voucher program in 2006 included 32 extra graduates who wouldn’t have completed high school and gone to college if they had instead been required to attend MPS.

In 2009, referring to researcher John Warren, Education Next’s Paul Peterson wrote that an estimated

82 percent of 9th grade students in voucher schools graduated from high school, while just 70 percent of 9th graders in the Milwaukee Public Schools did.

Both systems have seen a marked increase in high school graduation rates since 2005. For the Milwaukee Public Schools, the rate has moved steadily upward from 54% in 2005 to 57% the next year, then to 60%, then up, again,  to 65%, and, finally. to 70% in 2009, a healthy trend that that should be applauded.

So not only do vouchers help those who use them, but they also seem to positively affect those students who stay in their traditional public schools.

One private school that primarily serves low-income students through Milwaukee’s Parental Choice Program boasts a 100 percent college acceptance record.

Dante Hamilton will be one of 37 seniors graduating in June from HOPE Christian High School…

In most schools, a percentage of the graduates would be heading off to college, while many would have a different destination.

But Hamilton and all 36 of his classmates have been accepted to college. It’s the second year in a row that one hundred percent of HOPE Christian seniors gained college admission.

Many of the graduates will be the first in their families to graduate from high school and attend college.

When all else fails, NEA points to the bogus “fiscal burden” of vouchers, charging that they increase costs “by requiring taxpayers to fund two school systems, one public and one private.”

Again, wrong.

In Milwaukee, vouchers are saving the taxpayers money.

The per-pupil taxpayer cost of independent charters and the MPCP is substantially less than that of the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). In 2011-12, MPS per pupil taxpayer cost was $13,269, which is made up of state, local, and federal aid compared to $7,775 for independent charters and a maximum of $6,442 combined state and local aid for MPCP. The MPS per pupil taxpayer cost is calculated using information from the MPS budget. The MPCP per pupil funding is from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau Informational Paper on the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.

Never knowing when to quit, NEA recently posted an article about Barbara Miner, who just wrote a book about Milwaukee called Lessons from the Heartland: A Turbulent Half-Century of Public Education in an Iconic American City. Miner, who is mordantly attached to the status quo and quite enthusiastic about it, is associated with Rethinking Schools, an organization that believes real education reform will be led by the teachers unions. (No, this is not an early April Fool’s joke.) In 2011, this “social justice” outfit held a conference where its keynote speaker was unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers. (Here we see a photo of chums, Ayers and Miner, at the event.) NEA ends the article with a direct quote from Miner, who leaves no doubt about her values as she unloads on Wisconsin’s pro-choice governor Scott Walker.

We survived Joe McCarthy. We will survive Scott Walker.

Apparently, in Miner’s eyes, Walker is an evil demagogue because he championed the move to get the government out of the union-dues-collection business, and has the audacity to care more about kids and taxpayers than ensuring that big bucks flow to union coffers.

But despite Miner, Ayers, NEA et al, MPCP is prospering and the future for school choice in Milwaukee and the rest of the Badger State is bright. Two years ago, Marquette professor Alan Borsuk wrote “Milwaukee could become first American city to use universal vouchers for education.”

Prescient? Perhaps.

According to the results of a Marquette University poll, released on March 19th,

…51 percent of Wisconsin voters support a major expansion of the state’s private school choice program.

The Marquette poll reported that 37 percent of Wisconsin voters would support a statewide expansion of the program while another 14 percent would support its expansion to large school districts with some failing schools. In contrast, 14 percent of voters say they favor not expanding the program, while 28 percent would end it.

On, Wisconsin!

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.

Outsiderophobia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Precisely.

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

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

School Board Wars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wash, Rinse, Repeat

The National Education Association is relentless in pushing for “reforms,” all the while engaging in world class duplicity.

(While the themes I explore here have been covered before, they must be repeated because the National Education Association is dogged in its attempt to acquire even more power than it now has. It is incumbent that parents, taxpayers and all concerned citizens remain mindful of the fact that the largest union in the country is not content to sit back on its haunches. Its lust for money and power knows no bounds and must be exposed at every turn.)

On February 8th, NEA president Dennis Van Roekel wrote a letter to President Obama with some “suggestions” for the latter’s State of the Union address tonight. Most of it is fluffy, boilerplate bunkum, but beyond the banality are three suggestions for the president – and therein lies the treachery.

Van Roekel’s first suggestion: “Opportunity requires an economy that works for everyone.” He goes on to write,

In order for the economy to truly work for all Americans, we need to continue to pursue fiscal policies that promote fairness and prosperity (such as corporate tax reform that generates revenue), create jobs, make college affordable, and lift children out of poverty. It is entirely unacceptable that one of every five children we see in our classrooms lives in poverty. (Emphasis added.)

Corporate tax reform? He wants corporate tax reform? Let’s start with his corporation! While many American corporations are burdened with the highest tax rate in the world, labor unions get a pass. According to its latest tax filing in 2010, NEA brought in $376,500,485, but as a 501(c)(5), it paid not a penny in income tax. I think that before Van Roekel points fingers at Big Oil, Big Pharma and other “Bigs”, he should show us the way by having “Big Union” set aside its brazen hypocrisy and start paying its “fair share.” And it’s not just the NEA that is getting away with this tax dodge. The American Federation of Teachers, the other national teachers union, took in $176,265,529  in 2010. The state teachers unions are also in on this swindle. In 2010, the California Teachers Association reported $185,222,341 in tax-free total revenue.  So the two national unions and just one state’s combined take is $737,988,355 – an almost three quarters of a billion dollar wealth transfer from the taxpayer to the teacher – who never sees the money – to the union. And again, the unions don’t pay a penny in tax on their “profits.”

And regarding the “one in five children living in poverty” myth, can we give it a rest? As has been pointed out by many, most recently by the Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector, we have redefined poverty so far up as to make it a meaningless concept.

…poverty as the federal government defines it differs greatly from these images. Only 2 percent of the official poor are homeless. According to the government’s own data, the typical poor family lives in a house or apartment that’s not only in good repair but is larger than the homes of the average non-poor person in England, France or Germany.

The typical “poor” American experiences no material hardships, receives medical care whenever needed, has an ample diet and wasn’t hungry for even a single day the previous year. According to the US Department of Agriculture, the nutritional quality of the diets of poor children is identical to that of upper middle class kids.

In America, about 80 percent of poor families have air conditioning, nearly two-thirds have cable or satellite TV, half have a computer and a third have a wide-screen LCD or plasma TV.

Then, Van Roekel bangs the “public school” drum. “Opportunity begins in great public schools for every single student.” He claims that

…we have always believed that the gateway to opportunity for individuals and the cradle of innovation and ingenuity for our country begins in our public schools. We hope that you will pursue an aggressive agenda to remedy the extreme and pronounced inequities of opportunity that our public education system continues to perpetuate. (Emphasis added.)

What the union boss does not mention is that the inequities in our public education system are largely the doing of NEA and its state and local affiliates. Tenure, seniority, byzantine dismissal statutes, restrictive collective bargaining contracts, etc. have turned public education throughout much of the country into a jobs program that benefits adults at the expense of educating our children, and has resulted in parents all over the country clamoring for charter schools and vouchers. If Van Roekel was serious about inequities, he would favor having a free education market where schools would compete for students. But then again, that would threaten the $376,000,000 NEA bottom line, not to mention Van Roekel’s $620,250 dollar a year position. With those numbers staring at you, I guess it’s easy to understand why the unionistas find it easy to throw school kids under the bus.

His third point is another world class exercise in audacity. “Opportunity requires a democracy that protects every American’s voice and vote.” He elaborates,

Finally, the crisis of opportunity for Americans to participate in our democracy was on full display during the last election cycle. Reactionary state laws, unequal and unethical administration of voting procedures, and the unfettered access of corporations to influence electoral outcomes has severely damaged our democracy. (Emphasis added.)

Van Roekel actually has the unmitigated chutzpah to complain about corporations influencing elections. Is it possible that he is not aware that the two national teachers unions, NEA and AFT, spend more on politics than

AT&T, Goldman Sachs, Wal-Mart, Microsoft, General Electric, Chevron, Pfizer, Morgan Stanley, Lockheed Martin, FedEx, Boeing, Merrill Lynch, Exxon Mobil, Lehman Brothers, and the Walt Disney Corporation, combined.” 

It’s hard to know Van Roekel’s true state of mind when he makes these loopy pronouncements. He is either deluded or a liar. In either case, he must be busted every time he mouths off, and American families must become educated, get active and fight to undo the grave damage the implacable teachers unions have visited on our country.

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

Public Employee Unions Are the Real “Freeloaders”

In his guest column last month in the Orange County Register, “Right to Work sets workers free to freeload,” Kevin O’Leary made some strong points for standing against the National Right to Work movement. Persuasive? Yes. Completely accurate? No.

As a public school teacher working in California, I have 25 years of experience dealing with two powerful teachers unions – the California Teachers Association (CTA), and the National Education Association (NEA). California is one of 26 “non-right-to-work,” states, which mandates dues or “fees” to labor unions. I’ve spent 11 years as an “agency fee payer,” and 14 years as an active member, so I’d like to address O’Leary’s assertions about RTW laws from a dues paying worker’s perspective.

O’Leary blames the desire for “open shop” (freedom not to join a union) on conservatives and refers to “the free-rider problem – when people enjoy benefits without paying for them,” as “A sweet deal” for employees. Trouble is, the real “free-riders” are the unions.

Unions portray themselves as entities that exist exclusively for the benefit of middle-class workers. In reality, unions have been freeloading off the backs of their members for years by collecting excessive, forced dues in order to fund their non-representational powerful political machine.

For example, CTA is a 501c(6), not for profit organization that pays no taxes, yet it uses members’ monies (without their permission) to promote a one-sided political agenda. True, some of the donations would not be considered objectionable, regardless of one’s political orientation, like $150,000 to the Sierra Club, and funding to the Hip Hop Caucus, but they often have little to do with education.

According to a 2010 report by the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), “The largest contributions to a political party among the identified special interest groups were made by the California Teachers Association to the California Democratic Party – totaling $6,503,499.”

The FPPC report asserted that CTA “Spent $12,102,416 opposing Proposition 75, which sought to prohibit the use of public employee union dues for political contributions without individual employees’ prior consent. The measure was defeated 46.5 percent to 53.5 percent.”

The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan election-finance watchdog organization, reports that NEA was the top combined state and federal contributor to the 2008 races, donating some $45 million, more than 90 percent of which went to Democratic campaigns. Yet data reported in Education Next, from an NEA periodic survey conducted in 2005, reveals that NEA members “are slightly more conservative (50 percent) than liberal (43 percent) in political philosophy.”

Welcome to my world in which I’m forced to pay “contributions” to a union whose political and social choices are often in contrast to my own. This is why many Americans are fighting for RTW laws.

O’Leary states that unions provide, “collective leverage, the power of numbers versus the power of capital.” They certainly started out that way, but unfortunately the will of the majority no longer prevails, as a disproportionate number of union administrators are making decisions for millions of voiceless members.

Union backers always defer to “opting out” for those who don’t support their political agenda; however, they fail to mention the negative consequences associated with being an “agency fee payer.”

In order to “opt out,” I had to send a written request to become an agency fee payer. Even though I still pay full union dues ($950 annually for full time teachers in my district) minus non-chargeable fees, I receive several “punishments” for standing on principle and insisting on my right to free speech.

First, I lose union membership and the rights to vote and serve within my local union. Second, I lose my professional liability insurance. Third, I am treated with disdain, open hostility and disrespect simply for disagreeing with the political agenda of my union. It’s no surprise that many teachers who want to opt out do not; they are too afraid, so they hope lawmakers will free them from forced dues.

CTA and NEA admit that their non-chargeable fees – used exclusively for a political agenda unrelated to representing members – are estimated to be 31.6 percent and 54.11 percent respectively for the 2012-13 school year.

Right to work supporters are not attempting to abolish the right to have a union, nor are they vicious. They are working to restore the rights of individual, hard working Americans who disagree with being forced to fund a political agenda that is not their own.

If unions want members to value their services, they must exist for the will and needs of their members, quit collecting additional “dues” for their political agendas, and focus on representing the interests of their members instead of their ideological pursuits.

Rebecca Friedrichs has been an educator in Orange County public schools for 25 years and is on the board of the California Teachers Empowerment Network. This originally appeared as a guest editorial in the Orange County Register and appears here with permission from the author.

Letting Schools Compete: A Boon to the Economy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Cato Institute’s Adam Schaeffer says,

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

The Independent Institute’s Ben DeGrow reports,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

School Choice for Kids? Ravitch and NEA Say No

Widely discredited ex-reformer and teachers union try to deny families a fundamental right.

Diane Ravitch has yet again exposed herself as an unserious spokesperson for the sclerotic anti-education reform movement. This crowd is made up of people – typically special interests – bureaucrats, teachers unions, etc. – who desperately cling to the ridiculous notion that children are best served if they are forced to go to the school nearest their home, no matter how lousy it may be. And Part 2 of this bad scenario is that the same folks insist that we throw endless piles of cash at that school even though tripling funds for education in the last 40 years has had no effect on improving it.

In a recent op-ed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Ravitch did her darndest to make the case for maintaining the top-down, one-size-fits-all, centrally planned, expensive, bureaucratically bloated, failing school system that so many families in Milwaukee seek to escape. She claims that,

Milwaukee has had voucher schools since 1990, longer than any school district in the nation. Students in the voucher schools perform no better than those in the public schools.

Milwaukee has had charter schools for about 20 years. Students in the charter schools do no better than those in the public schools.

Ravitch, of course, is famous for never letting facts get in the way of her agenda. In a rebuttal in the same newspaper, researchers Patrick Wolf and John Witte say,

…students participating in the Milwaukee Parental Choice (“voucher”) Program graduated from high school and both enrolled and persisted in four-year colleges at rates that were four to seven percentage points higher than a carefully matched set of students in Milwaukee Public Schools. Using the most conservative 4% voucher advantage from our study, that means that the 801 students in ninth grade in the voucher program in 2006 included 32 extra graduates who wouldn’t have completed high school and gone to college if they had instead been required to attend MPS.

While the charter school data isn’t quite as dramatic as the voucher figures, studies show that charters also do a better job of educating kids in Milwaukee. Very importantly, Wolf and Witte point out,

Average per-pupil taxpayer costs of students in MPS were $15,969 in fiscal year 2011 compared to just $9,718 for independent charter schools and less than $6,442 per voucher student. Economist Robert Costrell determined that the operation of the voucher program alone saved the public over $52 million in fiscal year 2011.

So even if Ravitch is right, that school choice in Milwaukee makes no difference academically, isn’t it preferable to get the same results while spending a whole lot less? Maybe one day Ravitch will take a stab at answering that question, but I’m not holding my breath.

The National Education Association also needs to be taken to the woodshed. Those oh-so-clever folks at union-central have a page on their website which they call “Five Talking Points on Vouchers.” It begins,

What have you got against private school vouchers?” your brother-in-law demands over Sunday dinner. Ah, if he only knew the facts. Next time someone puts you on the spot, use these talking points to debunk the most popular voucher claims.

The “facts” according to the NEA are:

NEA: There’s no link between vouchers and gains in student achievement.

Truth: Greg Forster at the Friedman Foundation examined all available empirical studies and found that,

Ten empirical studies have used random assignment, the gold standard of social science, to examine how vouchers affect participants. Nine studies find that vouchers improve student outcomes, six that all students benefit and three that some benefit and some are not affected. One study finds no visible impact. None of these studies finds a negative impact.

NEA: Claiming that private schools have autonomy, they say that, “Vouchers undermine accountability for public funds.”

Truth: What NEA doesn’t tell you is that in many places public schools have no accountability at all. If a public school fails, what happens? Typically the school doesn’t “go out of business” the way private schools do. Instead, reacting to heavy pressure from the teachers unions, state legislatures will keep the failing schools afloat and demand that taxpayers pony up more money because “we owe it to the children.”

NEA: Vouchers do not reduce public education costs.

Truth: This is an outrageous lie. As shown above, charters in Milwaukee do the job for 60 cents on the dollar and vouchers for about 40 cents on the dollar. Granted these numbers are specific to Milwaukee, but there is little difference on the national level.

NEA: Vouchers do not give parents real educational choice.

Truth:  They give everyone involved a choice. The claim here is that private schools “discriminate.” Okay, so what? If a certain school won’t accept little Johnny because he has an asthmatic condition that the school doesn’t have the medical wherewithal to deal with, a parent will have to go find a private school that is more suitable. Yes, in a free system of school choice, schools and parents can pick and choose each other without coercion.

NEA: The public disapproves of vouchers.

Truth: Because of intense propaganda by teachers unions and other special interests, the public has been skeptical of vouchers, but that is changing. According to the Center for Education Reform, there are now 21 states that have voucher programs. And very importantly, once a state institutes school choice, it doesn’t change back to a non-choice policy. (Choice does well elsewhere. France and Canada have partial choice set-ups, while 90 percent of Chilean students utilize such a system. And Sweden has free choice for every child in the country.) Additionally, researcher Herbert Walberg recently wrote,

In big cities, as many as 80 percent of public school parents say they would send their children to parochial or independent schools if they could afford tuition. Scholarships for poor families are heavily oversubscribed, as are charter schools, which are government-funded but run by private boards.

As we head into National School Choice Week, it is important to listen to the voices of those families who are desperately trying to get a better education for their children. And for Ravitch and her union buddies – history will relegate them to the dustbins they so richly deserve. It can’t happen too soon.

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

National School Choice Week will be celebrated Jan. 27-Feb.2 this year.

Head Start or Dead End?

The only “lasting impact” of the Head Start program is on taxpayers’ wallets.

Those too-clever-for-words folks over at the Department of Health and Human Services have yet again tried to put one over on us. Using the oldest PR trick in the book, they released information to the media that they hoped no one would notice — on a Friday when people are too busy thinking about and planning their weekends. And because the report is very politically embarrassing, DHHS doubled down and went public on a Friday before a long holiday weekend.

So right before Christmas, on Friday, December 21st, we were hit with the results of the third and final phase of the federal government’s Head Start study. (Established by Lyndon Johnson in 1965, Head Start is the pet project of the early education crowd, which consists of spendaholic types aided, abetted and financed by the teachers unions, which love nothing more than expanding their roster of dues paying members. And President Obama is complicit member of this unholy alliance.)

The problem with the latest results is that they match those of the second phase of the study published in 2010, which revealed that basically Head Start has been a $180 billion (and counting) boondoggle. Lesli Maxwell in Education Week explains,

In the first phase of the evaluation, a group of children who entered Head Start at age 4 saw benefits from spending one year in the program, including learning vocabulary, letter-word recognition, spelling, color identification, and letter-naming, compared with children of the same age in a control group who didn’t attend Head Start. For children who entered Head Start at age 3, the gains were even greater, demonstrated by their language and literacy skills, as well their skills in learning math, prewriting, and perceptual motor skills.

The second phase of the study showed that those gains had faded considerably by the end of 1st grade, with Head Start children showing an edge only in learning vocabulary over their peers in the control group who had not participated in Head Start.

And now, in this final phase of the study, “there was little evidence of systematic differences in children’s elementary school experiences through 3rd grade, between children provided access to Head Start and their counterparts in the control group,” the researchers wrote in an executive summary. (Emphasis added.)

After the second phase results came out, Reason Foundation’s Lisa Snell blogged,

The just-released large-scale random assignment study of Head Start confirms once again that the $7 billion a year federal preschool program provides meager benefits to children at huge costs to taxpayers.

In other words, it’s a very expensive and wasteful federal babysitting program. The Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke elaborates:

… This federal evaluation, which effectively shows no lasting impact on children after first grade and no difference between those children who attended Head Start and those who did not, should call into question the merits of increasing funding for the program, which the Obama administration recently did as part of the so-called “stimulus” bill.

Snell continues,

In the past the Obama administration has been criticized for sitting on a study and releasing it on a Friday when it showed solid evidence that the DC Opportunity Scholarship program worked. The administration did not release a study that might have influenced policy decisions about reauthorizing and funding the DC school choice program. On the other hand, the Obama administration also sat on a study by the Department of Health and Human Services that showed meager impact for children in Head Start. The study was complete and the information was available, but the Obama Administration went ahead and significantly increased Head Start funding through the stimulus act to the tune of more than $2 billion. The hypocrisy cuts both ways. (Emphasis added.)

Snell also quotes Douglas Bresharov in the New York Times,

…to keep a child in Head Start full-time, year-round, costs about $22,600, as opposed to an average cost of $9,500 in a day care center.

In a rare moment of candor, the mainstream media joined the naysayers when in 2011, Time Magazine’s Joe Klein weighed in,

You take the million or so poorest 3- and 4-year-old children and give them a leg up on socialization and education by providing preschool for them; if it works, it saves money in the long run by producing fewer criminals and welfare recipients…it is now 45 years later. We spend more than $7 billion providing Head Start to nearly 1 million children each year. And finally there is indisputable evidence about the program’s effectiveness, provided by the Department of Health and Human Services: Head Start simply does not work.

Undaunted by a mountain of data, the National Education Association still proclaims its support for Head Start because

it maintains high quality classrooms and teachers, and effectively prepares our nation’s most at-risk children for school.

No better is the American Federation of Teachers. On their website, it crows that it

is gratified to see the Obama administration’s continued focus on the quality of early childhood education. As the president said during a recent visit to a Pennsylvania Head Start center, early education is “one of our best investments in America’s future.”

In any event, it is time to say no to the unions and any other special interests that only care about their selfish agendas. And for the rest the Head Start true believers, apparently all they have is evidence based on what Stanford’s Caroline Hoxby refers to as the “cardiac test.”

We just know in our heart that this is right.

Whatever their feelings may be, this shameful, wasteful spending must stop immediately.

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.