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Thoughts on Reactions to the Sandy Hook Tragedy

Teacher union leaders offer heat but no light after the mass murder in Newtown.

In the aftermath of the December 14th mass murder of 26 children and school staffers in Newtown, Connecticut, there has been the understandable finger pointing and a full range of suggestions for ensuring that such a horror doesn’t happen again.

On the lunatic end of the spectrum we have teacher union apologist Diane Ravitch, the formerly venerable education historian, who took up residence in the land of Bizarro several years ago.

Every one of the teachers was a career educator. Every one was doing exactly what she wanted to do. They’ve worked in a school that was not obsessed with testing but with the needs of children. This we know: the staff at Sandy Hook loved their students. They put their students first, even before their own lives.

Oh, and one other thing, all these dedicated teachers belonged to a union. The senior teachers had tenure, despite the fact that “reformers” (led by ConnCAN, StudentsFirst, and hedge fund managers) did their best last spring to diminish their tenure and to tie their evaluations to test scores….

Ravitch’s loopy rant is Rahm Emanuel’s “Never let a good crisis go to waste” philosophy taken to an obscene level. And when in response, Teach For America V.P. and self-described “lefty Dem” David Rosenberg took Ravitch to task, Chicago Teacher Union president Karen Lewis (perhaps shocked that someone could outdo her in the outrageous comment category) weighed in with,

There might have been a time where “politicizing” tragic events, especially mass shootings was thought to be in poor taste. That has changed with the 24/7 news cycle that continues to focus far too much time and energy on the perpetrator of the massacre than that of our precious victims. Rosenberg’s “false outrage” needs to be checked. That same false outrage should show itself when policies his [TEACH FOR AMERICA*] colleagues support kill and disenfranchise children from schools across this nation. (Emphasis added.) We in Chicago have been the victims of their experiments on our children since the current secretary of Education “ran” CPS.

Yes, you read that correctly. Lewis is saying that TFA, an organization that places exceptional, idealistic young teacher-leaders in the most challenging schools in the country is responsible for killing kids. After uttering those shameful words, Lewis should resign in disgrace.

Then we have a rare joint statement issued by the leaders of the two national teachers unions – the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. NEA’s Dennis Van Roekel and AFT’s Randi Weingarten came out with a press release with a sub-head which reads: “Focus Needs to Be on Investments in Mental Health Services, Reasonable Gun Safety Legislation.”

In the body of the brief statement they say,

Long-term and sustainable school safety also requires a commitment to preventive measures. We must continue to do more to prevent bullying in our schools. And we must dramatically expand our investment in mental health services. Proper diagnosis can and often starts in our schools, yet we continue to cut funding for school counselors, school social workers, and school psychologists. States have cut at least $4.35 billion in public mental health spending from 2009 to 2012, according to the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors. It is well past time to reverse this trend and ensure that these services are available and accessible to those who need our support.

While this may sound good, it has nothing to do with what happened in Connecticut. The shooter had been identified as having a type of autism, perhaps Asperger’s; he had been assigned to a high-school psychologist and there have been no reports that he was bullied. So this statement is really nothing more than a pitch to advance the teachers union agenda of spending ever more money on education.

The other part of the press release deals with guns:

Our duty to every child is to provide safe and secure public schools. That is the vow we take as educators. It is both astounding and disturbing that following this tragedy, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, Bill Bennett, and other politicians and pundits have taken to the airwaves to call for arming our teachers. As the rest of the country debates how to keep guns out of schools, some are actually proposing bringing more guns in, turning our educators into objects of fear and increasing the danger in our schools.

Guns have no place in our schools. Period. We must do everything we can to reduce the possibility of any gunfire in schools, and concentrate on ways to keep all guns off school property and ensure the safety of children and school employees.

Not surprisingly the union leaders are out of touch with reality, at least the current reality in California. When I was a classroom teacher in Los Angeles, my middle school had a gun carrying school cop on campus every day. And my school is hardly unique. In fact, the state education code allows for an armed presence on any campus on an “as needed” basis. Given the current mood, I’m guessing that more parents will start demanding that their kid’s campus have armed cops for security. In fact, in a recent Gallup poll, when asked if increasing the police presence at schools would be an effective way to stop mass shootings at schools, 87 percent said that it would be very or somewhat effective.

And I think we need to go one step further. I would like to see a few armed teachers at every school. These volunteers would go through a rigorous background check and proper police-type training and then should be allowed to anonymously carry a concealed weapon on campus.

Despite the union leaders’ comments, there is no way to effectively keep schools as “gun free zones.” As David Kopel writes, these are nothing more than “pretend gun free zones.”

Real gun-free zones are a wonderful idea, but they are only real if they are created by metal detectors backed up by armed guards. Pretend gun-free zones, where law-abiding adults (who pass a fingerprint-based background check and a safety training class) are still disarmed, are magnets for evildoers who know they will be able to murder at will with little threat of being fired upon.

Kopel’s point was demonstrated in the Aurora, CO movie theater shooting. As John Lott explains,

So why did the killer pick the Cinemark theater? You might think that it was the one closest to the killer’s apartment. Or, that it was the one with the largest audience.

Yet, neither explanation is right. Instead, out of all the movie theaters within 20 minutes of his apartment showing the new Batman movie that night, it was the only one where guns were banned. (Emphasis added.) In Colorado, individuals with permits can carry concealed handgun in most malls, stores, movie theaters, and restaurants. But private businesses can determine whether permit holders can carry guns on their private property.

The perspective that has been lost in the aftermath of this tragedy is that guns are used to keep our most important things safe – our cities, banks, courthouses, etc. In fact, armed marshals are placed anonymously on many airplane flights to safeguard us and our children. So why do many insist that our most important and precious assets – our children – be completely defenseless?  President Obama’s kids have armed protection at school. Don’t all our kids deserve the same?

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.

More Money for Business as Usual

Throwing ever more funds at education without making substantive changes to the system is a horrible waste of money, not to mention children’s lives.

California Democrat Congressman Mike Honda and National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel recently collaborated on an op-ed that played up just about every bit of feel good, cliché-riddled drivel ever written about education. If this piece was a drug, the FDA would have banned it years ago. A few examples:

Lamenting the fact that many teachers leave the classroom within the first few years, they say,

According to research estimates, one in four beginning teachers will leave the profession within their first three years in the classroom, and in urban areas, close to 50 percent will leave within five years.

This is totally misleading. The implication here is that teachers are leaving the profession in droves because they are overworked, underappreciated, overwhelmed and underpaid. But the reality is that they leave for a wide variety of reasons, including taking an administrative position, personal or family reasons, pregnancy, health, change of residence, etc. A survey from North Carolina, for instance, reveals that only 2.24 percent said they were leaving the profession due to dissatisfaction with teaching.

Another fiction the authors use to sway the unknowing public is the “competitive teacher salary myth.”

…the lack of competitive salaries for classroom teachers compared to other professions diminishes the consideration of teaching as a viable long-term career option. All of these issues rob children of the diverse, committed, capable teachers they need and deserve.

Before reaching for the Kleenex, please consider the following: Andrew Biggs, a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute and Jason Richwine, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, conducted a study on teacher pay, the results of which were released just a year ago. They found that when perks like healthcare and pension packages are taken into consideration, teachers are in fact overpaid. Armed with facts, charts and a bevy of footnotes, the authors make a very good case for their thesis. For example, they claim,

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

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

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

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

Honda/Van Roekel then delve into professional support:

The educational career ladder should entice quality teachers to remain in the classroom by developing positions of teacher leadership.

The book on this subject has already been written by Teach For America, a very successful outfit that recruits high performing college students who exhibit leadership qualities. TFA then gives them a five week intensive teacher training and ongoing professional support. So maybe NEA should hitch a ride with TFA? No. After years of trashing the organization, NEA recently offered TFA a twig-sized olive branch, but even that is rejected by many local unions because an army of bright, young, idealistic teachers poses a threat to the old guard.

On Election Day, Californians sadly bought into the union propaganda and voted to further “invest” in education by passing a controversial ballot initiative. With the passage of Prop. 30, California now has the highest sales tax and top marginal income tax rate in the country.

A nearly $6 billion infusion from Proposition 30 and a Democratic supermajority in the Legislature are a welcome pre-holiday gift to public education from voters, but it also could set the stage for battles between those laboring for education reform and suddenly fortified unions protecting teacher interests.

“Proposition 30 is a bandage on the current system,” said former state Sen. Gloria Romero, an outspoken education reform advocate. “We got no reform for the investment.”

She and others cite the urgent need to raise student achievement, modify the rule of teacher seniority, dismantle the Byzantine school finance system and ensure the teacher pension fund stays solvent.

Romero hits the nail on the head. Continuing to throw money at a failing system will result in nothing more than a more expensive failing system. If you are hungry, spending more money on rancid food won’t solve your nutrition problem.

Stanford Professor Erick Hanushek, who has studied student achievement and education economics, adds,

I’m concerned now that we’ve gotten past the fiscal cliff, we’re going back to business as usual. To improve student performance, he said, schools need an effective teacher evaluation system and need to be able to get rid of the worst teachers and to reward the best ones. But he said there’s no movement toward either of those.

…Everybody in the state would like major changes without really changing…. the cost is that California is at the rock bottom in student performance, and it’s dragging down the nation.

Responding to the reformers, California Teachers Association President Dean Vogel snapped,

We’re not opposed to education reform…. We’re opposed to stupid reform.

…teachers believe before adjusting funding formulas, the state needs to ensure adequate — meaning more — funding for schools….

But as Heritage Foundation policy expert Lindsey Burke reported recently,

Students headed back to school this fall will have historically high levels of dollars spent on them in the public school system. (Bold added.) Nationally, average per-pupil spending exceeds $11,400 this year….

To put this into perspective, just 10 years ago we spent $9,482 per pupil (in constant dollars). Thirty years ago we paid $5,718 and 50 years ago just $2,808 per student! In California, spending has doubled over the last 40 years and what do we have to show for it? Our National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) scores speak volumes. For example, on the most recent 4th grade math test, California students came in 45th nationally; in science, the same 4th graders scored higher than only Mississippi.

Internationally, of the world’s 28 major industrial powers, the U.S. is second in spending, slightly behind Switzerland. Yet when it comes to achievement, our performance is middling at best. Education Next recently reported,

A new study of international and U.S. state trends in student achievement growth shows that the United States is squarely in the middle of a group of 49 nations in 4th and 8th grade test score gains in math, reading, and science over the period 1995-2009.

Students in three countries – Latvia, Chile, and Brazil – are improving at a rate of 4 percent of a standard deviation annually, roughly two years’ worth of learning or nearly three times that of the United States. Students in another eight countries – Portugal, Hong Kong, Germany, Poland, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Colombia, and Lithuania – are making gains at twice the rate of U.S. students.

A fitting coda to this dreary ongoing saga, came from a recent Wall Street Journal editorial,

No reform effort is too small for the teachers union to squash. In this month’s election, the National Education Association descended from Washington to distant Idaho, spending millions to defeat a measure that limited collective bargaining for teachers and pegged a portion of teachers’ salaries to classroom performance. In Alabama, Republican Governor Robert Bentley says he’s giving up on his campaign to bring charter schools to the state after massive resistance from the Alabama Education Association.

Unions fight as hard as they do because they have one priority—preserving their jobs and increasing their pay and benefits. Students are merely their means to that end. Reforming public education is the civil rights issue of our era, and each year that passes without reform sacrifices thousands more children to union politics.

Thousands? More like millions. It is a national disgrace. We the people need to wrest control from the teachers’ unions and demand serious reform 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.

Republicans and Conservatives Have Lost More Than Just an Election

Restoring a school system that has been hijacked by the left should be the nation’s highest priority.

There have been endless post mortems following Barack Obama’s election victory over Mitt Romney last week. It has been posited that Romney lost because he wasn’t libertarian enough, not Tea Party enough, not socially conservative enough, didn’t reach out to minorities, was too business-like, played it too nice in the debates, etc.

Most of the articles made cogent arguments, but two of them really hit home for me. In a revealing piece in American Thinker, Los Angeles-based Republican Party leader Gary Aminoff writes,

For the past several months, in my capacity in the Republican Party, I have been speaking at middle schools and high schools around Los Angeles.  It has been very enlightening.
I love engaging with children.  Most of them are very bright and ask brilliant questions.  The questions give me insights into what they are most concerned about.  It also makes clear what they are taught — by either their parents or their teachers, or both.

To summarize — children, for the most part, believe the following:

  • Republicans care about only the rich — the top 1% — and don’t care about anyone else
  • Republicans hate people of color and especially Latinos.
  • Republicans hate gays.
  • Republicans are racist.
  • It is the government that provides jobs.  (I have asked that question many times in classrooms or assemblies.  “Who is it that creates jobs in America?”  The answer is invariably, without hesitation, “the government.”)
  • Corporations are bad, and profits are very bad.  Business shouldn’t make profits; they should give any excess money they make to their employees.
  • Taxes are good; they provide the money for the government to take care of people.
  • Government should expand and take care of everyone in the country.
  • America, rather than being a force for good in the world, has been a force for evil.
  • Government has an unlimited source of funds.  (When I ask, “Where is the government going to get the money to do all these things you want it to do?,” the answer is “taxes.”)

So either due to ambient progressivism in our curricula, a left wing bias by proselytizing teachers or parents who learned the same lessons in school that they are now teaching their children, students aren’t just uninformed, they are in fact misinformed.

Any doubts about Aminoff’s assertions can quickly be dispelled by watching this brief video posted on The Blaze. We learn that these young people, who speak in sound bites, have no knowledge of history and government structure and are clueless about the function of government. They have no idea how many members of Congress there are (200?), who Harry Reid is (a Republican leader?), or how many Supreme Court Justices we have (5? 11?). They also “know” that there is a “war on women,” and that Obama will give students an opportunity to “do something in this world.” Granted this video is not a scientific sampling of our proudly ignorant youth, but only a fool would dismiss these kids as outliers.

A look at our recent NAEP history scores should be a slap in the face to all Americans. On the 2010 test, we learned that only 12 percent of high school seniors have a firm grip on American history. Yes, we are educating students to the point that almost half the nation thinks that the cornerstone of Communism, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” is in the U.S. Constitution. Only 2 percent of high school seniors know the significance of Brown vs. the Board of Education and only 4 percent of 8th graders could explain why urban populations rose and rural populations shrank over time.

Also in American Thinker, psychologist and consultant Timothy Daughtry writes that “We lost the Republic in the classroom long before we lost it in the voting booth.”

Conservatives have long bemoaned liberal dominance in education from the universities on down, but we haven’t done anything about it.  Marxist intellectuals realized decades ago that the eventual victory of socialism would be assured if leftists dominated the educational system and used their influence to push a leftist worldview.  The power of their “long march” through the cultural institutions was that it was not necessary for students to consciously convert to socialist thinking; generation after generation would simply be gradually immersed in the assumptions and dogmas of the left.

Now, after years of patient effort, the teachers’ unions have turned America’s schools into a wholly owned subsidiary of the political left.  Conservatives have complained when reports surfaced about students being taught to sing hymns of praise to Obama, or when conservative students were harassed in class, or when examples of blatant liberal bias in textbooks came to light, but somehow we allowed ourselves to write off public schools as a lost cause.  Homeschooling and private schools gave some relief, but the idea of getting public schools to transmit a love of liberty and appreciation for free enterprise seemed hopeless.

Besides, conservatives did win occasional victories at the polls, so the republic that our founders left us still seemed capable of self-correction.  But even when conservatives won elections, the people who lost those elections taught our children the next day.  Our children learned that Reagan’s tax cuts increased the deficit, but they never heard that those tax cuts stimulated the economy and doubled revenue.  The idea that those deficits came from excessive spending was not even on the table.

So even if it had been Romney taking the oath of office in January, our children would have learned about his policies from the people who voted against those policies.  Our children — and our future voters — would have heard the shallow mantras of “tax cuts for the rich” and paying for bombs instead of schools, and many would have absorbed the rhetoric without questioning it.

As long as the left has controlled the schools, time has always been on their side.  We lost the Republic in the classroom long before we lost it in the voting booth.

It is important to emphasize that the politicizing of our schools is not a new phenomenon As Daughtry points out, it started decades ago. Kyle Olson in his valuable book, Indoctrination: How ‘Useful Idiots’ Are Using Our Schools to Subvert American Exceptionalism, describes the ways that the progressives in our society have taken over K-12 education. They have been running most of our elite colleges and schools of education for years now and this step is in keeping with their plan to transform America. In my review of Olson’s book, I added a personal note,

As a public school teacher whose career spanned four decades, I have seen the long march first hand. Perverting the traditional purpose of American education (which has been to make better and more educated citizens), progressives have been inspired by the theories of Paolo Freire, a Brazilian socialist who saw everything through a Marxist class warfare lens.

Carrying Freire’s mantle, current gurus like revolutionary terrorist Bill Ayers and the recently deceased Communist Howard Zinn have been behind the effort to destroy America as we know it. They claim that basically the U.S. and its capitalist system are the root of all evil. Unfortunately, their love-the-world/hate-America attitude has gained an incredible amount of currency in our public schools in a relatively short time. Ayers, Zinn and their ilk have essentially managed to convince much of the education establishment to abandon every teaching technique and curriculum that benefited prior generations….

So just what are we teaching our students?

In chapter after chapter, Olson meticulously details lessons being foisted on young Americans that are being taught for one purpose only – to advance the progressive agenda. A few examples:

• An examination of the nature and extent of police brutality, which is being promoted in middle schools by none other than Van Jones, conspiracy enthusiast extraordinaire.
• A clever lesson using poker chips, the aim of which is to convince students that unequal distribution of wealth has to do with the fact that the U.S. has more than its share of resources, not that we have a wealth-promoting capitalist system.
• “I Pledge Allegiance to the Earth.” Yup, no more of this silly patriotic stuff. Children, you are denizens of the earth! (I wonder what our political enemies think of this rubbish… when they stop laughing, that is.)

Rightfully, Olson reserves a special section for the unions whose far left agenda has been well documented, and have gone to great lengths to make this country over in their own image. Their attempts to indoctrinate kids and glorify the union movement are staggering. For example,

• “Trouble in the Henhouse: A Puppet Show.” In this charming bit of propaganda put out by the California Federation of Teachers aimed at kindergartners, we find an oppressive farmer whose hens unionize and convince the heartless farmer that he’d better respect them or else.
• The “Yummy Pizza Company” is another lesson from CFT — actually ten, which delve into the process of organizing a union local. They include instructions on how to collectively bargain as well as a sanitized look at prominent labor leaders.
Click Clack Moo, a popular book promoted by the AFL-CIO, tells second graders about unhappy cows that refuse to work until the mean farmer is forced to meet their demands.

But it’s even worse than Olson suggests because the progressives don’t stop at politics and economics; they are also rapidly destroying our culture. For example, led by the teachers unions, the sexualizing of American children has been in full swing for some time now. In 2005, I wrote that the National Education Association gave its prestigious Human Rights Award to Kevin Jennings, the founder of the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN).

…GLSEN is the group that presided over the infamous “Fistgate” conference held at Tufts University in Massachusetts in March 2000, where state employees gave explicit instructions (about “fisting” and other forms of gay sexual activity) to children as young as 12. The conference was secretly recorded and can be heard here. The contents are extraordinarily vile.

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

Then there is the so called FAIR Act, an obscene bit of legislation in California that brings the contributions of homosexuals and transgenders into the K-12 curriculum. Gay-Straight clubs in middle school (where parents do not have to be notified of their child’s involvement) are proliferating. And at a U.N. conference in 2011, Diane Schneider an NEA “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Trainer of Trainers” talked about the importance of schools teaching orgasm to children as young as 11. Yes indeed, the radicals have been making alarming progress.

Another example of the progressives’ cultural agenda is which holidays are deemed significant. Few people are aware of what holiday is celebrated on November 20th. But every student at the middle school where I worked till my retirement in 2009 knows, because the school spent more time acknowledging that day “Transgender Day of Remembrance” than Veteran’s Day, November 11th. TDR was considered more worthy of the students’ time at my school than a holiday which acknowledges the contributions of American soldiers. (Maybe this shouldn’t be surprising. At the same school, posters of Che Guevara adorned the walls of no less than five classrooms, including an American history class that had no pictures of Washington or Lincoln. Che was considered a hero by these teachers who passed this admiration on to their impressionable students. Of course the real life Che was a sadistic mass murderer, but being a progressive means never having to sweat minor details like the truth.)

Thomas Jefferson wrote that schooling in America’s new democracy should be

…chiefly historical. History by apprising them of the past will enable them to judge of the future; it will avail them of the experience of other times and other nations; it will qualify them as judges of the actions and designs of men; it will enable them to know ambition under every disguise it may assume; and knowing it, to defeat its views.

How appalled and disgusted would Jefferson be upon learning what American children are being taught today! While it is undoubtedly important to stress the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), the teaching of agenda-free history and civics is even more urgent. The hijacking of history and ultimately the trashing of our culture by a group of academics, educrats and unionists is destroying our nation. Unless we fight back… and soon, our country – as we have known it – will be lost forever.

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.

Combating Union Misinformation

Getting the facts to people who have been lied to for decades is essential for change.

In my latest City Journal post, I argue in favor of an initiative that will be on the ballot in California in November.

Proposition 32, which will appear on the November general-election ballot, would ban unions and most corporations from making direct contributions to state and local candidates. The measure would also bar government contractors from contributing to political campaigns. The most significant provision, though – the one giving public-employee unions, especially the California Teachers Association, fits – would prohibit corporations, unions, and government employers from deducting money from workers’ paychecks to use for political purposes.

Chris, a commenter to my article, dismissed my argument, claiming that,

It is very easy to opt-out of the payroll deductions, which amount to about 6 dollars a year per teacher.

When I read such comments, I have to wonder where Chris gets his misinformation. Assuming he isn’t pulling it out of a hat, he is getting it from someone he trusts, very probably his local teachers union. And, sad to say, there are many thousands of Chris’s who form opinions and vote on erroneous data. It brought back bad memories from 2005 when Prop. 75, the last paycheck protection initiative on the ballot, sought to ban “the use by public employee labor organizations of public employee dues or fees for political contributions except with the prior consent of individual public employees each year on a specified written form.” The prop was popular early in the campaign, but after CTA blasted ads over the summer in which they spouted lie after lie and managed to scare teachers (and the general public), it was voted down. Infuriated that CTA’s deceitfulness and demagoguery were so readily believed, I cofounded the California Teachers Empowerment Network in 2006.

Anyway, back to Chris and his $6 figure. The truth is quite different. Throughout California, almost all teachers belong to three unions – their local, a state affiliate (usually CTA) and a national union (usually NEA). Dues vary from year to year and in 2011-2012, teachers’ union dues broke down this way:
NEA – $178
CTA – $647
Local – varies (typically $200-$300)

What many California teachers don’t know is that they don’t have to belong to a union. By resigning from the union (and losing voting privileges and liability insurance) a teacher becomes what’s called an agency fee payer. As such, the teacher still has to pay the union the full dues amount, but can get a yearly rebate for monies that the unions “claim” they spend on politics. (I say “claim” because it is generally understood that the unions spend much more on politics than they admit to. In addition, there are many gray-area expenditures, like if a teachers union sends members a letter telling them to vote for a certain state assemblyman, the cost of the mailer and the postage don’t get counted as political spending, but rather as communication costs.)

What can someone who resigns from the union expect in the way of a rebate? As an example, the following rebate percentages were furnished by Sacramento-area teacher-blogger Darren Miller.
NEA – 56%
CTA – 28.6%
Local – 28.6%

This means, for example, that Miller, an agency fee payer, got back 28.6% of his CTA dues which amounted to $185 (28.6% of $647.) Same principle holds for NEA and his local. Hence, he received a rebate check last year for $358.20.

But there is an even bigger question here. Even if Prop. 32 flies and unions can’t deduct the political part of their dues from a member’s paycheck, I have to wonder why the government (i.e. the taxpayer) is involved at all in the collection of monies for a union – a private, non-tax paying, multimillion dollar corporation. In short, why can’t the union collect its own dues?

The answer, of course, is that if the union had to do it, it would lose millions because many teachers wouldn’t bother paying up. This is just what happened in Wisconsin after Act 10 became law.

In the nearly 15 months since Mr. Walker signed the law, 6,000 of the AFT’s Wisconsin 17,000 members quit, the union said. It blamed the drop on the law.

WEAC, the other teachers union in Wisconsin, has lost almost a quarter of its membership (20,000 teachers) since the advent of Act 10, with more sure to follow when their contracts end in June 2013.

And just how do the unions justify payroll deduction of dues?

Bob Chanin, then-general counsel of the National Education Association, explained it 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 a lot to do with the nature of the beast, and the beasts who are our teachers. . . [They] simply don’t come up with the money regardless of the purpose.”

Seems to me that it’s time that “the beasts who are our teachers” and the general public, who get taken to the cleaners on a regular basis, rise up against their abusers. A Yes vote on Prop. 32 in California would be a good place to start.

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

Povertism

A word that is not in the dictionary but should be, “povertism” aptly describes the philosophy of the “povertists,” aka the “poverty is destiny” crowd.

It is claimed by many that poverty leads to a myriad of personal and social ills. The regnant theme of these poverty cultists is that until we eradicate poverty, unemployment, family dissolution and general ignorance will continue to be a problem. As with any myth, it gains currency because it sounds good.

But a peek below the surface demonstrates that that this belief is just plain wrong. If poverty causes crime and divorce, the Great Depression – the most devastating economic disaster this country has faced – would have seen an upsurge in lawlessness and family break-ups. But in reality, crime and divorce rates went down. In fact, the 1920s – a boom time in America – saw much higher crime rates than the 1930s, a decade when many families fell into abject poverty. And even during the latest recession, many sociologists predicted an uptick in crime, but in fact crime rates actually went down.

Could the opposite be true? Is it possible that poverty is not a cause, but rather a result of crime and family instability? Yes. High crime in a given area chases businesses and jobs away, which in turn leads to an impoverished neighborhood.

In the same vein, government largess, via welfare, has made things worse for children. For decades now, the povertists have contributed to the destabilization of families by incentivizing women not to marry which greatly increases the likelihood of poverty. As economist Walter Williams has pointed out, “The welfare state has done to black Americans what slavery couldn’t do. . . . And that is to destroy the black family.”

When we get to the subject of education, the povertists are light years from reality. The teacher union elites and their fellow travelers – poverty pimps at heart – are relentless in banging the povertism drum. They believe that poverty could be eradicated by pouring money into early childhood education and other sound-good, yet self-serving and failed schemes. “No Education Reform Without Tackling Poverty, Experts Say,” an article on the National Education Association website, typical of the mentality, claims that cuts in education spending will doom many-a-child to a life of poverty. (Never mind that education spending is at an all time high!)

Using an Education Week exchange with former teacher Anthony Cody and the Gates Foundation as his focus, edu-pundit RiShawn Biddle eloquently lays waste to the povertist 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 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.

But 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.

The bottom line here is that the government needs to stop wasting taxpayer dollars by throwing money at poverty. In the world of public education, we have seen a tripling of edu-dollars over the last 40 years and have nothing to show for it. There is an obvious (although politically difficult) solution to our education problem, which Biddle addresses.

…Overhauling American public education is critical to fighting poverty for the long haul. Revamping how the nation’s ed schools recruit and train aspiring teachers, for example, would help all children get the high-quality instruction that is the most-important in-school factor in student achievement. Just as importantly, reforming education can even help address the immediate problems that stem from poverty. After-school programs and extensions of the school day (and year) — the latter of which is a hallmark of the Knowledge Is Power Program and other successful schools and systems — can help poor families address child care issues by providing healthy, crime free, and nurturing environments in which kids can continue learning. Expanding high-quality school choices, including charter schools and school voucher programs, can help revive communities by bringing schools into communities that can appeal to both the poor and middle class. And Parent Trigger laws can empower poor families to take over and lead the overhaul of failure mills in their own communities (and help them take the next step of taking on other challenges in their own neighborhoods).

While we are making some progress in the reform direction that Biddle suggests, we are still too much in thrall to the trappings of povertism and the lies that prop up this sound-good, feel-good philosophy that is destroying our children’s future in the name of saving it.

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

Don’t Buy NEA Snake Oil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

National Education Association Admits Things Will Never Be the Same

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

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

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

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

How bad? Greg Toppo reports in USA Today,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NBI 13:

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

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

NBI 3:

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

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

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

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

Desperate Times Call for Desperate Union Rhetoric

After losing the Battle of Wisconsin, union members flee in droves and frantic union apologists resort to melodrama.

Since losing the recall election in Wisconsin two weeks ago, it seems that there has been more than the usual lying, distortion and hyperbole coming from union bosses and their fellow travelers. Perhaps the most egregious example comes from Timothy Noah, a senior editor at the New Republic. In Praise of Public Employee Unions is so amazingly and transparently bad that it should be a prime example in a book on persuasive writing – about how not to make an argument. His main point is that the new school superintendent in Dallas is making $300,000 a year and that’s just too darn much. Maybe he’s right, but he has to distort the facts to make his point. He writes that teachers in Dallas, represented by the American Federation of Teachers, “bump along with an average salary of about $56,000. That’s nearly 20 percent below the average household income in the U.S. ($67,530).”

Please notice he is comparing a single teacher’s salary to average household income, which is the sum total made by all people living in the same house. He also doesn’t acknowledge that a teacher works only 180 days per year (about 25 percent less than the average worker) leaving the teacher plenty of time to work a second or summer job to enhance his or her income. He also doesn’t factor in that teachers have more generous health and pension benefits than those who work in the private sector.

An in-depth study from AEI/Heritage, released late last year sums up the situation well, finding that:

Workers who switch from non-teaching jobs to teaching jobs receive a wage increase of roughly 9 percent. Teachers who change to non-teaching jobs, on the other hand, see their wages decrease by roughly 3 percent. This is the opposite of what one would expect if teachers were underpaid.

Most teachers accrue generous retiree health benefits as they work, but retiree health care is excluded from Bureau of Labor Statistics benefits data and thus frequently overlooked. While rarely offered in the private sector, retiree health coverage for teachers is worth roughly an additional 10 percent of wages.

Job security for teachers is considerably greater than in comparable professions. Using a model to calculate the welfare value of job security, we find that job security for typical teachers is worth about an extra 1 percent of wages, rising to 8.6 percent when considering that extra job security protects a premium paid in terms of salaries and benefits.

We conclude that public-school teacher salaries are comparable to those paid to similarly skilled private sector workers, but that more generous fringe benefits for public-school teachers, including greater job security, make total compensation 52 percent greater than fair market levels, equivalent to more than $120 billion overcharged to taxpayers each year.

In a final attempt to make his case, Noah careens into laughable hyperbole.

Being a teacher is back-breakingly difficult work. It is also extremely important work.

No, Mr. Noah, working in a coal mine is backbreaking. Tiling a roof is backbreaking. Teaching is certainly challenging and important work, but it is hardly backbreaking.

How do other public employees do compared to private sector workers? Via Reason, we learn that in Illinois, for example,

State workers from the metro-east averaged $61,372 last year.

How do these numbers stack up against pay for the rest of Illinois? According to the U.S. Census Bureau, per capita income for Illinois residents rang in at $28,782 in 2010. Median household income came to $55,735.

More hysteria from Steve Mikulan. In Unions: Our Last, Best and Final Hope, he is practically reduced to tears about labor union abandonment, especially by liberals. He writes,

…liberals – and even union members – seem to be abandoning and undermining labor. We only have to look at the dismal results of the Wisconsin recall election to see the evidence. There, National Public Radio and others report, exit polls revealed that 38 percent of union-household voters cast ballots to retain the state’s paranoiacally anti-labor governor, Scott Walker. Why this disconnect?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2011, while the private sector had a rapidly diminishing unionization rate of 6.9 percent, the public sector came in at a still healthy 37 percent. But whatever the numbers, Mikulan is right – the decline of unionization will continue as more and more workers realize that unions don’t have much to offer them. The 38 percent that voted for the “paranoiacally anti-labor governor” probably know that union hegemony wrecks economies – hence, no “disconnect.” Also, Mr. Mikulan, please keep in mind that in 27 of our 50 states and Washington D.C. workers have to pay a union if they want to be employed in many fields. If the unions are as beneficial as you say they are, why must they force workers to join them?

After the June 5th debacle, National Education Association Dennis Van Roekel took to TV and talk radio grousing about the loss.

These millionaire donors, empowered by the Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United, have made a mockery of democracy and nearly drowned out the voices of working families in Wisconsin.

Mockery of democracy? Drowning out voices? Mr. Van Roekel, your histrionics have been duly noted and you are dead wrong about Citizens United. As law professor Michael McConnell points out,

In a sense, Citizens United did have an important effect on the Wisconsin election. But the effect was almost exactly the opposite of what many pundits imply.

Labor unions poured money into the state to recall Mr. Walker. According to the Center for Public Integrity, the NEA (National Education Association), the nation’s largest teachers union, spent at least $1 million. Its smaller union rival, the AFT (American Federation of Teachers), spent an additional $350,000. Two other unions, the SEIU (Service Employees International Union, which has more than one million government workers) and Afscme (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees), spent another $2 million. Little or none of these independent expenditures endorsing a candidate would have been legal under federal law before (the Supreme Court decision on) Citizens United.

By contrast, the large spenders on behalf of Mr. Walker were mostly individuals. According to the Center for Public Integrity, these included Diane Hendricks, Wisconsin’s wealthiest businesswoman, who spent over half a million dollars on his behalf; Bob J. Perry, a Texas home builder, who spent almost half a million; and well-known political contributors such as casino operator Sheldon Adelson and former Amway CEO Dick DeVos, who kicked in a quarter-million dollars each. Businessman David Koch gave $1 million to the Republic Governors Association, which spent $4 million on the Wisconsin race.

These donations have nothing to do with Citizens United. Individuals have been free to make unlimited independent expenditures in support of candidates since the Supreme Court case of Buckley v. Valeo (1976).

Last, and certainly not least, there is Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, who never misses an opportunity to blame every malaise known to mankind on poverty. So of course, he wants to make unionism a civil rights issue. He proclaims,

In order to address our society’s deepening class inequalities, it is time to extend antidiscrimination protections to workers of all races trying to join a union and become members of the middle-class.

This is a nonsensical statement. No one of any race suffers discrimination for joining a union. But then again, maybe Mr. Kahlenberg is on to something. Perhaps there is a civil rights angle to all this. I propose that we pass a national right-to-work law giving all workers a choice as to whether or not they join a union. By doing so, we’d learn how many workers would belong voluntarily. And if Wisconsin is any measure, the unions’ desperate rhetoric, lies, coercion, whining, etc. won’t do much good. Workers everywhere enjoying their new civil right – as they currently are in the Badger State – will flee their unions in droves.

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

The Battle of Wisconsin

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

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

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

What are the unions’ reactions to the defeat?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEA Agenda: More Money, Minimal Reform

The teachers union not only plays the poverty card, but by battling reforms, ensures that the impoverished will remain that way.

No Education Reform Without Tackling Poverty, Experts Say,” is the title of an article on the National Education Association website. Experts? A trip into the weeds leads to something called the Center on Poverty, Inequality and Public Policy at Georgetown University. Its main benefactor is none other than the Open Society Foundations run by megalomaniac George Soros, a man who once said he saw himself as “some kind of god, the creator of everything.” Expecting anything without an agenda from this bunch would be foolish.

The NEA’s “experts” claim that pouring money into education will eradicate poverty is wrong on all counts. For example, they state that children would be better educated by attending a “high quality pre-school.” Yet Head Start, according to Reason’s Lisa Snell, U. of Arkansas Professor Jay Greene and others, has been a bust. In 2010, Lindsey Burke at the Heritage Foundation wrote,

Taxpayers have been on the hook for more than $100 billion for the Head Start program since 1965. 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.

So, $100 billion later, children are no better off attending a preschool, but what’s important to the unions is that more adults are employed. And that means more dues for them to spend on their progressive political agenda which favors causes that have little to do with education – e.g. abortion on demand, same-sex marriage, income redistribution, and nationalized health care. In 2010-2011, NEA spent $133 million in lobbying and gifts to further its progressive agenda.

Also, with all the union kvetching, one might assume that we stint on education spending. In fact, in the U.S. since 1970, education spending has increased 150 percent. Compared to other countries around the world, we are number four in spending after Luxembourg, Switzerland and Norway. Yet,

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

Thus the problem is not the amount of money we spend, but how it’s spent. Charter schools typically lead to better educated kids and save us money at the same time. Inner city charter school operators like Eva Moskowitz and Geoffrey Canada and the KIPP schools do a far better job – with fewer tax dollars – than traditional public schools. Even taking the superstars of the movement out of the mix, charter schools outperform traditional public schools. As Jay Greene writes, “Charter Benefits Are Proven by the Best Evidence.”

But no, the NEA doesn’t back charters. And the reason it doesn’t has nothing to do with education; it’s because charters are individually run and therefore very hard to unionize. In fact, only 12 percent of the nation’s 5,500 or so charters are unionized.

If the teachers unions were really serious about improving education and eradicating poverty, they would support the ultimate in school choice – voucher systems. A voucher would give a kid a chance to opt out of a failing public school and use his education dollars to pay for a private school of his choice. This would level the playing field for poorer families. However, the unions can’t abide vouchers because public schools would lose students to private schools, which are not unionized.

Eliminating the twin evils of tenure and seniority would go a long way to improving the current teaching force, by ceding more power to individual school districts. Bad teachers should be fired and the good ones should get raises. Better teachers can also handle slightly larger classes, thereby reducing the overall number of teachers we need.

But saving the taxpayers money, leveling the playing field for the poor, ceding power to local education agencies and thus having fewer dues-paying members are solutions nowhere to be found in the union playbook.

The nation’s education woes began about forty years ago – right at the time the NEA became a major force in education. Certainly other social trends have contributed to the educational morass we find ourselves in, but the National Education Association is the main reason for it – all the time using young children as pawns while vigorously pursuing its political agenda. Despite all the warm and fuzzy platitudes they spew, it is obvious that the teachers unions are not terribly interested in the education of our children or helping them get out of poverty.

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

Stand Up To Bullying Day

The NEA says that May 4th should be devoted to anti-bullying. Okay, and to be fair, I suggest that we start with the biggest organized bullies in the country – the teachers unions themselves.

The National Education Association celebrated “Stand Up To Bullying Day” on May 4th. Its website is full of advice about how to deal with what it calls “everyone’s problem.” With a solemnity ordinarily reserved for a Sunday morning sermon, NEA has created a pledge

I agree to be identified as a caring adult who pledges to help bullied students. I will listen carefully to all students who seek my help and act on their behalf to put an immediate stop to the bullying. I will work with other caring adults to create a safe learning environment for all the students in my school.

Please note, the union talks only about children bullying other children; there is nothing about adults bullying other adults.

Few adults in the country know more about bullying than Kristi Lacroix, a parent of five in eastern Wisconsin and according to her principal a “very good teacher.” Lacroix made a brief video late last year in which she spoke well of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker – aka “Hitler” to many teacher unionistas in the Badger State because he led the charge to remove teachers’ collective bargaining rights. Many in teachers unions believe that collective bargaining is sacrosanct, a human right; it’s not. In fact, it survives only because union heavies and their legislative fellow travelers in certain states have made sure that that this Soviet style group-think is law.

Lacroix has been a target of Alinskyite teacher union venom for months now. There is a “fire Kristi” movement that has led to a vicious hate mail attack from members of teachers unions. Luckily, Lacroix is anything but a shrinking violet and has stood tall and started her own website in an attempt to tell her story and lead the charge against the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s NEA affiliate.

Sad to say, Lacroix is far from the only teacher victimized by bullying. Actually, teacher unions, despite their public concern for children, can be quite brutal. In fact, the NEA asking anyone to take an anti-bullying pledge is akin to “Uncle Joe” Stalin asking people not to bully the Ukrainians.

Recently, Joy Pullmann, managing editor of School Reform News, published an important report – Bullying Teachers: How Teachers Unions Secretly Push Teachers and Competitors Around which is summarized as “When Bullies Grow Up, They Can Always Run Teachers Unions,” an op-ed in the Washington Examiner. She explains that teacher union bullying is rampant and can come either directly from the unions or as a result of fear of them. For example,

Many superintendents and principals in Kansas will not even let Garry Sigle give teachers information about his nonunion teacher organization. One superintendent told Sigle, “Why would I want to [let you talk to teachers in my district] if I knew that would create an issue between me and a union I have to negotiate with?”

In February, a Utah teacher named Cole Kelly testified in favor of a bill that would penalize school districts for not granting all teacher organizations — not just unions, but also other professional organizations — equal access to teachers. A week later, he was released from his position as athletic director, which for school districts is tantamount to firing. His principal admitted she approved of his job performance but had released him because of pressure.

Subsequently, other teachers texted Kelly to say they agreed with him but were afraid of being fired if they spoke out or left their union. He is contesting his release.

This spring, a Colorado teacher emailed the state director of a nonunion teachers association, explaining why she wouldn’t publicly speak for a bill extending the state’s two-week window for ending union membership.

“They [the state union] are a large and powerful organization,” she wrote. “I want to speak out against them, but I am afraid of the repercussions that I will face as a result and the possibility of them doing something to make me lose my job.”

At a new teacher orientation in Jacksonville, Fla., a union representative heard a presentation by a nonunion group. She walked onto the stage before 600 teachers, accused the presenter of being “a desperate former teacher” and stalked about the room ripping up the competition’s fliers, said Tim Farmer, membership director for the Professional Association of Colorado Educators.

As sickening as these examples are, Pullmann goes on to say that they are not isolated incidents.

Teachers unions engage in repeated, unashamed aggression against dissenting teachers and competitor organizations.

As we can see, teachers are frequent victims of teacher union bullying, but to show that they are fair–minded and equal-opportunity coercers, the California Teachers Association recently did a bang-up job of bullying parents in Adelanto, a town in eastern California. Not liking the results of a Parent Trigger vote at a local school, CTA sent in its finest arm twisters, I mean representatives, and “convinced” many of those who signed the petitions to have a “change of heart.”

While I’m sure that most teachers are not in accord with thuggish union activities, it is not enough to stand on the sidelines and wish the problem away. It is imperative that teachers speak out against teacher union bullying. While Kristi Lacroix has indeed received some positive mail, it typically comes from teachers who do so privately and, because of the fear factor, will not publicly criticize their union. If a lot more teachers don’t speak up, however, the public has no choice but to assume that their silence is tacit approval of the unions’ actions, thus earning them the justifiable enmity of a populace that is rapidly getting sick and tired of teacher union antics.

May 9th is the “Day of the Teacher,” but perhaps the day should be renamed “Stand Up To Teacher Union Bullying Day.” It would be a good time for dissident teachers to come forth and take a stand. For a profession that is supposedly demoralized, this could be the first step to “remoralization.” And yes, there are other professional organizations that they can join that provide them with many of the same perks and protections and save them money at the same time. But while The Association of American Educators, Christian Educators Association International, Educators 4 Excellence, California Teachers Empowerment Network, et al are all growing, the teachers unions still predominate. And union heavies are lying in wait, ready to bully the next brave teacher who dares to take issue with the union party line.

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

The Tragic Consequences of Social Justice Education

The president of the National Education Association continues to promote ideas that are anti-American and are turning our kids into progressive, anti-wealth, equality-obsessed robots.

Last week, the drone-like National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel gave a talk at the annual gathering of the Nebraska State Education Association. He unleashed the same tired old class warfare hogwash that teacher union leaders have been yammering about for years. The latest version of this old whine stresses closing corporate tax loopholes. As I wrote last week, the NEA claims the U.S. can recoup $1.5 trillion in taxes if those greedy corporate types would just pay their “fair share.” Van Roekel conveniently omits the fact that NEA took in $400,000,000 in 2010-2011, mostly in dues forcibly taken from its members, and didn’t pay one red cent in taxes.

Van Roekel then reprised another union mantra – claiming that NEA must pursue “social justice.” He said,

You can’t have an organization with our core values and not care about social justice.

You can’t have a democracy and not care about social justice, whether it’s discrimination based on race or religion or sexual orientation, discrimination is discrimination and it’s wrong. And we as an organization have to stand up and say that.

The subject of social justice – its history and damage that it has caused – could fill volumes. But here is an abridged version:

Social justice (SJ) is based on the concepts of human rights and egalitarianism, and involves fostering economic equality through progressive taxation along with income and property redistribution. Around since the late 19th Century, this philosophy made its foray into education in the early part of the 20th Century when John Dewey, a progressive, and his socialist partner, George Counts, challenged teachers to replace the development of each student’s individual talents with a focus on social justice. The bedrocks of American culture and our economy — capitalism, individualism and competition — were frowned upon, to be replaced with distributive egalitarianism, collectivism and statism. Also paramount to the SJ movement was the socialization of children. Historically, schools had partnered with parents in reinforcing the values of the family. But over time, progressive educators came to assume a disproportionate role.

The progressive philosophy soon became part of the national zeitgeist with even President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, getting into the act. He said in a speech in 1914, “I have often said that the use of a university is to make young gentlemen as unlike their fathers as possible.” (Bold added.)

The effect of the SJ movement on education cannot be exaggerated. The changes were not dramatic at first, but over the years, SJ picked up steam. By the 1960s, SJ had become mainstream, especially in our nation’s colleges. University professors who spouted this poison did much damage, as many college students of that period became the tenured radicals who still infest our schools of higher education — most notably in the social science and education departments. And therefore today, our future teachers sit at the feet of ed school professors who teach them more about how to indoctrinate students than to prepare them for the more traditional “participation in public life as well as success in private life.”

As a result, in our elementary schools, instead of learning basic skills and the real history of the country, students are all too often taught nonsense like anti-racist math and that America is evil and can be saved only by a litany of progressive “isms”– environmentalism, feminism, socialism, etc. Several months ago, I reviewed Kyle Olson’s excellent book, Indoctrination: How ‘Useful Idiots’ Are Using Our Schools to Subvert American Exceptionalism, which documents how public schools today are being used to turn children away from the ideals that have made this country extraordinary.

By the time American students finish their K-12 indoctrination, they are primed for the big finale – the university. The seeds that were planted in the elementary schools come to a hideous bloom in college. Last month, the non-partisan California Association of Scholars came out with a scathing report, A Crisis of Competence: The Corrupting Effect of Political Activism in the University of California. In his review of it, Peter Berkowitz wrote,

The analysis begins from a nonpolitical fact: Numerous studies of both the UC system and of higher education nationwide demonstrate that students who graduate from college are increasingly ignorant of history and literature. They are unfamiliar with the principles of American constitutional government. And they are bereft of the skills necessary to comprehend serious books and effectively marshal evidence and argument in written work.

Excluding from the curriculum those ideas that depart from the progressive agenda implicitly teaches students that conservative ideas are contemptible and unworthy of discussion. This exclusion, the California report points out, also harms progressives for the reason John Stuart Mill elaborated in his famous 1859 essay, “On Liberty”: “He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that.”

Unfortunately, while many Americans do not ascribe to SJ tenets, too many of us are ignorant of its agenda or have become apathetic to its dangers. In 2009, admitted terrorist Bill “Mad Bomber” Ayers co-edited Handbook of Social Justice in Education, a 792 page “Hate America First” manifesto which brazenly instructs teachers how to spread the collectivist dream to America’s children. As many of us emit a collective yawn, the poisoning of young minds continues unimpeded.

Is it any wonder that the “Occupy” movement is saturated with young people who, beyond a few clichés, cannot articulate what exactly it is that they are demonstrating against? They just know that some people have more money than other people and that’s just not fair. The regnant attitude is, “If you’re rich and I’m not, you owe me.” If Dennis Van Roekel and his ideological comrades have their way, the dumbing down and radicalizing of American youth will ultimately destroy the very foundation of this society. But hey – everyone will be equal, all right – equally miserable.

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

NEA Greed Machine is in Overdrive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps blogger Jason Arluck put it best,

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

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

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

The Brazen Hypocrisy of the Teachers Unions

When teachers unions wear their duplicity like a bright red bandana, it shows the whole world what they really are about.

Last week, New Jersey Education Association Executive Director Vincent Giordano, who makes over $500,000 a year in salary and assorted perks, shoved his foot in his mouth big time. Appearing on “New Jersey Capitol Report,” he and the host were discussing Governor Chris Christie’s plan to install a voucher system in New Jersey. Such a plan would enable students in the state’s worst performing schools to escape them with a voucher that they could use to attend a private school.

Host: The issue of fairness, I mean this is the argument that a lot of voucher supporters make. People who are well off have options. Somebody who is not well off and whose child is in a failing school, why shouldn’t those parents have the same options to get the kid out of the failing school and into one that works with the help of the state?

Giordano: Those parents should have exactly the same options and they do. We don’t say you can’t take your kid out of the public school. We would argue not and we would say ‘let’s work more closely and more harmoniously’ …

Host: They can’t afford to pay, you know that. Some of these parents can’t afford to take their child out of these schools.

Giordano: Life’s not always fair and I’m sorry about that.

Unions hate vouchers because if such a system was instituted, it would mean that more kids would be attending private schools which are not unionized. This would result in less money and power for the teachers unions. Hence, when it comes to a chance for a poor kid to go to a better school via the voucher route, the NJ union boss is essentially saying, “Sorry, but we are going to keep you in your place.” (I can imagine Giordano telling Rosa Parks after complaining that she shouldn’t have to sit in the back of the bus, “Tough cookies Rosa, life’s not always fair.”)

Not surprisingly, he was taken to task by many for his candid and callous remark.

Kevin P. Chavous, senior advisor to the American Federation for Children, called for an immediate apology from Giordano.

Julio Fuentes, President and CEO of the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options (Hispanic CREO) suggested that Mr. Giordano was having a ”bad day” and that his remarks “reflect a stunning insensitivity toward children who grow up in poverty.”

Governor Christie went even further, demanding Giordano’s resignation.

While I agree with Chris Christie on many things, I strongly disagree here. I don’t want fake warm and fuzzy union leaders like Randi Weingarten, who occasionally does a good acting job pretending that she really cares about “the children.” No, I want my union leaders to be like Mr. Giordano. They obviously don’t give a rat’s behind about children, so it’s refreshing when they don’t fake it. And as such, Mr. Giordano should be commended for his forthrightness.

Another example of proudly selfish union behavior that is out in the open was recently reported by Kyle Olson.

“Imagine your organization is facing attacks from all sides. Imagine it’s losing members and revenue. Imagine governors and mayors – of both political parties – publicly denouncing your industry as “broken” and move swiftly to stifle your power and influence, while you flail away helplessly.

“What to do? What else to do but go down drinking?

“That’s what members of the National Education Association’s National Staff Organization have apparently decided. The NSO is an association of sorts for teachers’ union staff – political and communications types.

“Following an ‘Advocacy Retreat’ with the theme ‘Building Our Unionism,’ members set sail on a 7-day cruise from Miami on February 5th “with stops at Cozumel, Grand Cayman Island and Isla Roatan.” Sounds fun! [In case the Facebook link disappears, never fear: here’s a PDF of the NSO newsletter.]”

There is nothing like tough economic times for a group that subsists on union dues (taken forcibly from teachers in 27 states) to take a seven-day luxury cruise. And they don’t even bother to hide it. In fact, NSO has a post on its Facebook page brazenly touting the cruise. And they have now added another post decrying Mr. Olson’s attack on them. One respondent sniffed, “They (people like Olson and me) just don’t understand….” No, we do understand…all too well. But thanks for keeping the subject alive. Better than trying to keep it from teachers who are forced to pay millions of dollars in dues to your bosses.

Perhaps the greatest hypocrisy is that the teachers unions, and their $500,000 a year presidents, embrace the Occupy Wall Street movement. These elite union 1 percenters see the OWS crowd – the so called 99 percenters — as useful idiots who will blindly follow their diktats. The California Teachers Association and many other teachers unions have been proudly and openly supportive of this group of ne’er-do-wells, losers, rapists, communists, thieves, litterbugs and people who just don’t want to work.

In fact, on March 5th, CTA is calling for the 99 percenters to gather in Sacramento to “Occupy the Capitol.” Not only is CTA inviting the OWS rabble, they are calling for teachers to attend, even though it is a school day, thus costing taxpayers all over the state untold thousands in costs for subs and robbing children of a productive school day.

CTA is proudly promoting the event on its website. As CTA President Dean Vogel says:

“We have seen class sizes grow, college tuitions increase, and job opportunities vanish at the same time that banks have received bailouts and large corporations and millionaires have received tax cuts. We are the 99%. It’s time to put Main Street before Wall Street, and for corporations to pay their fair share of taxes.”

“We are the 99%”?! We? Some union leaders like Mr. Giordano are pulling in $500K a year. Your $200K+ isn’t too shabby either. We?!

“…for corporations to pay their fair share of taxes.”?! Fair share? The US corporate tax rate of 35 percent is second highest of all industrialized countries. In fact, President Obama, hardly a fiscal conservative, is calling for a lower corporate tax rate.

You might wonder what CTA’s tax burden is. As Mike Antonucci points out, CTA is a tax exempt organization. Hence, the corporation that “earned” $186 million in 2009 by forcibly removing money from teachers’ paychecks didn’t pay a penny in taxes. You need a power saw to cut through CTA’s contradictions. But its deceitfulness is out in the open for all to see. Good for them! Let everyone know what hypocrites you are instead of sneaking around and doing your dirty work in private.

The bottom line is that you — Giordano, the NSO and CTA leaders — are blatantly self-serving, very highly paid and running a mini-plutocracy. No, this is not a good thing. But your ongoing public arrogance is important. Please keep it up. People are finally beginning to see through you, and your brazen hypocrisy will continue to enlighten even more people about your real agenda.

And when enough people get the message that your raison-d’être is the accumulation of wealth and power and that you are the number one impediment to education reform, you will go the way of the Edsel. And justly, when you are gone, the first beneficiaries will be the poor people that Vincent Giordano, so readily dismisses.

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

The Route to Teacher Union Extinction: Is the Other Shoe Dropping?

In addition to online learning, Democrat’s abandonment of their traditional union allies could put an end to the educational status quo and decimate the teachers unions.

In my October 18th post, I wrote about Terry Moe’s book Special Interest: Teachers Unions and America’s Public Schools. I specifically addressed that part of the book in which he builds a scenario for the eventual undoing of the teachers unions. One of the two ways he claims this will happen is via technology, in the form of online learning. The other route to marginalization is the realization by Democrats that education is really a civil rights issue and that they are morally bound to get on board with reform and choice. By adopting this position, they will be abandoning their longtime political allies – the teachers unions.

As with the rapid ascent of online learning, Moe’s second nail in the unions’ coffin is picking up speed. In a recent Huffington Post entry, Joy Resmovits addresses the “new education lobby.”

“It’s ambitious, expansive and, in some cases, modeling itself after sprawling single-issue lobbying organizations like the National Rifle Association and AARP. The groups, which have in large part been created by hedge fund managers and lapsed government officials, count political operatives inside state legislatures and even the Democratic National Committee among their ranks. And they’re using the power of their fundraisers’ purses and sophisticated messaging outfits to push their agendas in local and school-board elections across the country.”

Traditionally, education reform and school choice have been conservative/libertarian causes. Starting with vouchers, a creation of libertarian Milton Friedman in the 1950s, the ideas for education reform, with few exceptions, have come from right leaning think tanks like Pacific Research Institute, Hoover Institution, Goldwater Institute, Reason Foundation, Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, etc. The policy ideas put forth by these and other similar organizations have formed the basis for many of the education reforms that are in place today.

What is perhaps most interesting about this “new education lobby” that Resmovits writes about is that many of them are Democrats. Yes, Democrats are essentially picking up the ideas put forth by the right and taking them to statehouses all over the country. And the teachers unions are definitely not enthralled with this new development.

Democrats for Education Reform, founded in 2007, has become a potent lobbying force in just a few years. They have set up shop in ten states and their reform efforts are essentially indistinguishable from those on the right. Consequently, they have not escaped the wrath of the United Federation of Teachers in New York City. The union claims that DFER:
• doesn’t sound like Democrats.
• hates teachers.
• knows nothing about education.
• is made up of hedge fund managers (Whitney Tilson, John Petry, et al) and billionaires (Eli Broad, who funds DFER’s sister organization Education Reform Now.)
• is comprised of narcissists.

(Note to reform-minded Democrats – welcome to the world that those on the right have lived in for many years!)

Another example of the Democrat-as-reformer-lobbyist phenomenon is Michelle Rhee, who is a self-described “lifelong, card-carrying, dyed-in-the-wool Democrat.” After a short, successful and highly publicized reign as Chancellor of D.C. public schools, she left her position after the American Federation of Teachers donated over $1 million to unseat Rhee’s boss, Mayor Adrian Fenty, in 2010. Shortly after Fenty’s loss, Rhee founded Students First, an advocacy organization whose goal is to raise $1 billion in ten years. The AFT’s response to Ms. Rhee’s efforts was to put up a smear website called RheeFirst.

Whereas DFER is out to reform the Democratic Party, Rhee will work with anyone or any organization that shares her reform vision.

There are many other Democrats working hard for reform and incurring the wrath of the unions. Kevin Chavous, cofounder of DFER and Chairman of the Board of Black Alliance for Educational Options, Davis Guggenheim, director of Waiting For Superman and Ben Austin, who fathered the first Parent Trigger law, are just a few examples of Democrat’s joining the education reform movement.

Even with this new bipartisan reform effort, the teachers unions are not about to fold their tents and give up any time soon. It’s going to be a long bloody war with some battles being won (Wisconsin) and some lost (Ohio.) In fact, just last week, Dropout Nation’s Rishawn Biddle wrote about the recent release of the National Education Association’s 2010-2011 LM-2 filing, a required Department of Labor annual report. revealing recent political expenditures.

“The numbers are spectacular. The nation’s largest teachers’ union spent $133 million in 2010-2011 on lobbying and contributions to groups whose agendas (in theory) dovetail with its own. This included $255,000 to the Economic Policy Institute, the progressive think tank cofounded by Robert Kuttner and Robert Reich, whose education reports generally take a pro-NEA slant….”

“Among the big recipients of the NEA’s largesse this year were ProgressNow’s affiliates in Michigan and Colorado, each receiving, respectively, $10,000 and $125,000, for education policy advocacy and legislative advocacy activities. ProgressNow, by the way, was one of the key players in ousting school reform-minded Michigan legislator Paul Scott from his statehouse seat earlier this month and has decried Gov. Rick Snyder’s efforts to allow for the expansion of charter schools and school choice….”

“The usual suspects are also on the list: Communities for Quality Education, which has long been subsidized by the NEA, collected $1 million in 2010-2011. Anti-testing group FairTest picked up $35,000 this time around. So are some leading education traditionalists: Parents Across America co-founder) Leonie Haimson’s Class Size Matters picked up $25,000 from the union last fiscal year, while Western Michigan’s Gary Miron (whose rather flawed study on KIPP’s charter schools earlier this year was the subject of Dropout Nation‘s analysis) picked up $5,000. Meanwhile the NEA directly poured $43,000 into the Save Our Schools rally held this past July; this doesn’t include dollars poured in by state and local affiliates.”

With the ability to throw this kind of money around, NEA’s effect on maintaining the status quo with its attendant failing educational policies cannot be exaggerated. So those of us involved in reform will have to be satisfied as long as the ball is being advanced, even if it’s slower than we would like. As writer Louis L’Amour once said, “Victory is won not in miles but in inches. Win a little now, hold your ground, and later, win a little more.”

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

“Indoctrination” – A Must Read For Parents, Taxpayers and Everyone Else

To a large extent, the progressives have taken over American education, are transforming it and are doing it in plain sight.

Indoctrination: How ‘Useful Idiots’ Are Using Our Schools to Subvert American Exceptionalism
is an invaluable book written by Kyle Olson, founder and CEO of the Education Action Group, an organization that is on the frontline of education reform and a champion of school choice.

In this brief and very readable book, Olson describes the ways that the progressives in our society have taken over K-12 education. They have been running most of our elite colleges and schools of education for years now and this step is in keeping with their plan to transform America.

As a public school teacher whose career spanned four decades, I have seen the long march first hand. Perverting the traditional purpose of American education (which has been to make better and more educated citizens), progressives have been inspired by the theories of Paolo Freire, a Brazilian socialist who saw everything through a Marxist class warfare lens.

Carrying Freire’s mantle, current gurus like revolutionary terrorist Bill Ayers and the recently deceased Communist Howard Zinn have been behind the effort to destroy America as we know it. They claim that basically the U.S. and its capitalist system are the root of all evil. Unfortunately, their love-the-world/hate-America attitude has gained an incredible amount of currency in our public schools in a relatively short time. Ayers, Zinn and their ilk have essentially managed to convince much of the education establishment to abandon every teaching technique and curriculum that benefited prior generations. For example, “drill and kill” has been thrown on the refuse heap; we are now supposed to let our students “discover” learning. The “sage on the stage” has been replaced by the “guide on the side.” The only problem with these techniques is that they haven’t worked, but they do sound good (at least to the progressives.) As such, we are now raising a nation of dunces.

On the 2010 NAEP history test, we learned that only 12 percent of high school seniors have a firm grip on American history. Yes, we are educating students to the point that almost half the nation thinks that the cornerstone of Communism, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” is in the U.S. Constitution. Only 2 percent of high school seniors know the significance of Brown vs. the Board of Education and only 4 percent of 8th graders could explain why urban populations rose and rural populations shrank over time.

So just what are we teaching them?

This is where Olson’s book shines. In chapter after chapter, he meticulously details lessons being foisted on students that are being taught for one purpose only – to advance the progressive agenda. A few examples:
• An examination of the nature and extent of police brutality, which is being promoted in middle schools by none other than Van Jones, conspiracy enthusiast extraordinaire.
• A clever lesson using poker chips, the aim of which is to convince students that unequal distribution of wealth has to do with the fact that the U.S. has more than its share of resources, not that we have a wealth-promoting capitalist system.
• “I Pledge Allegiance to the Earth.” Yup, no more of this silly patriotic stuff. Children, you are denizens of the earth! (I wonder what our political enemies think of this rubbish… when they stop laughing, that is.)

Rightfully, Olson reserves a special section for the unions whose far left agenda has been well documented, and who have gone to great lengths to make this country over in their own image. Their attempts to indoctrinate kids and glorify the union movement are staggering. For example,
• “Trouble in the Henhouse: A Puppet Show.” In this charming bit of propaganda put out by the California Federation of Teachers aimed at kindergartners, we find an oppressive farmer whose hens unionize and convince the heartless farmer that he’d better respect them or else.
• The “Yummy Pizza Company” is another lesson from CFT — actually ten, which delve into the process of organizing a union local. They include instructions on how to collectively bargain as well as a sanitized look at prominent labor leaders.
Click Clack Moo, a popular book promoted by the AFL-CIO, tells second graders about unhappy cows that refuse to work until the mean farmer is forced to meet their demands.

And while we are teaching our children the joys of class warfare, earth worship and the importance of union membership, other countries that are more serious about educating their young are cleaning our clocks in every international comparison available.

Actually, it is even worse than Olson suggests. There is one aspect of the progressive takeover that he gave short shrift to. Except for SB 48, an obscene bit of legislation in California which will bring the contributions of homosexuals and transgenders into the K-12 curriculum, there is little mention of the progressives’ ongoing effort to sexualize children. From Gay-Straight clubs in middle school (where parents do not have to be notified of their child’s involvement) to attempts to teach orgasm to eleven year olds, the radicals led by the National Education Association have been making alarming progress.

Another example of the progressives’ sexual agenda is which holidays are deemed important. Few people are aware of what holiday is celebrated on November 20th. But every student at the middle school where I worked till my retirement in 2009 knows, because the school spent more time acknowledging that day — “Transgender Day of Remembrance” — than Veteran’s Day, November 11th. TDR was considered more worthy of the students’ time at my school than a holiday which acknowledges the contributions of American soldiers. (Maybe this shouldn’t be surprising. At the same school, posters of Che Guevara adorned the walls of no less than five classrooms, including an American history class that had no pictures of Washington or Lincoln. Che was considered a hero by these teachers who passed this admiration on to their impressionable students. Of course the real life Che was a sadistic mass murderer, but being a progressive means never having to sweat minor details like the truth.)

Clearly Indoctrination is a book that could leave citizens in a state of great despair. But fortunately, in the last chapter, Olson lists several important ways that parents and the general public can fight back. And if this country isn’t to become permanently transformed — fight back we must. None of our international enemies are as powerful, organized and, thus far, as successful as our home grown progressives who are bent on destroying public education as we know it in America. It is imperative that we all become more knowledgeable about what is going on in our schools and take action. Kyle Olson’s Indoctrination is an excellent place to start that process.

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

Unions Continue to Swindle the Public

Unions are still treacherous, but with a generous helping of legislative malfeasance, their tactics are more subtle.

“On the Waterfront” portrayed union power at its rawest. In the 1950s, the unions typically got their way with nothing less than brute force. But today the tactics are different. In “Pretty Boy Floyd,” Woody Guthrie sang, “Some will rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen.” The unions are well entrenched in the “fountain pen” camp and recently, Illinois has been in their crosshairs.

In September, the Chicago Tribune broke a story about Dennis Gannon, a former sanitation worker who became a president of the Chicago Federation of Labor. He went back to work for the city for one day, then took a leave of absence and was legally allowed to collect a $158,000 pension, about five times the average sanitation worker.

Shortly after that, again in Chicago, two lobbyists with no prior teaching experience similarly gamed the system by taking advantage of a new law.

“The legislation enabled union officials to get into the state teachers pension fund and count their previous years as union employees after quickly obtaining teaching certificates and working in a classroom. They just had to do it before the bill was signed into law.

“(Lobbyist) Preckwinkle’s one day of subbing qualified him to become a participant in the state teachers pension fund, allowing him to pick up 16 years of previous union work and nearly five more years since he joined. He’s 59, and at age 60 he’ll be eligible for a state pension based on the four-highest consecutive years of his last 10 years of work.

“His paycheck fluctuates as a union lobbyist, but pension records show his earnings in the last school year were at least $245,000. Based on his salary history so far, he could earn a pension of about $108,000 a year, more than double what the average teacher receives.

“His pay for one day as a substitute was $93, according to records of the Illinois Teachers Retirement System.”

In a higher profile case, Reg Weaver was a teacher in Danville earning $60,000 a year. He worked his way up the union food chain and became National Education Association president in 2002. Termed out in 2008, he now makes a yearly $242,657 teachers pension. Weaver has the audacity to defend his outrageous pension which is based on his salary as a union leader. He told the Chicago Tribune,

“I worked seven days a week, 24 hours a day,” Weaver said. “There was not a time when someone was not able to get in touch with me. You ask my family. I didn’t take vacation. I worked in the office long hours. I worked anywhere from 15 hours, 16 hours a day.

“If you want to divide that $240,000 into the amount of hours spent, I think you would find that the per hour was probably not much at all, considering the work that had to be done.”

But what Weaver and some others in Illinois don’t seem to get is that whatever work he may have done for his union, his pension should come from the union, not in large part from the average taxpayer who was never a part of that union. (Memo to the Occupy crowd in Chicago: Why are you not up in arms about this? Or does OWS really stand for “Obviously, We’re Stupid”?)

These cases are egregious and not just limited to Illinois.

But there is a bigger, more insidious union-involved scandal that is nationwide and ongoing: “release time” from school for teachers who are union reps. These teachers are regularly given time off from their teaching duties so that they can do union business on school time and still be paid…by the district, i.e. the taxpayers. For example, in New York,

“The Department of Education pays about 1,500 teachers for time they spend on union activities — and pays other teachers to replace them in the classroom.

“It’s a sweetheart deal that costs taxpayers an extra $9 million a year to pay fill-ins for instructors who are sprung — at full pay — to carry out responsibilities for the United Federation of Teachers.”

“The UFT reimburses the DOE only about $900,000 of nearly $10 million it spends to replace the teachers, officials said.”

Far away from New York, in California’s conservative Orange County, there is a district that has this wording as part of their contract,

“The Association President or designee may utilize one (1) day per week for Association business. The District shall bear the cost of the substitutes.”

Just about every teacher union contract has this kind of screw-the-taxpayer clause written into it, usually in the area that deals with “Association Rights.” Yeah, every time the “Association” asserts a right, the taxpayers take it in the shorts. And all the while students are subject to a steady barrage of subs, which is never a winning formula for a good education.

Yes, “fountain pen” robbery is rampant. The question is when will the people who are footing the bill for these union abuses wake up and demand that their legislators put an end to it. And vote them out if they don’t.

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

CTA Dons Victim Guise and Joins Occupy Wall Street Crowd

It’s almost Halloween and the California Teachers Association, a rich and powerful outfit, is in costume as one of the “99%ers” – protesters who claim to be have-nots.

A couple of weeks ago United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten made sympathetic statements about the Occupy Wall Street movement. Now the California Teachers Association has jumped in with a full endorsement and suggestions on its website as to how teachers and others can get involved in OWS activities.

Stunning in its mendacity, CTA issued a press release (H/T Mike Antonucci) which announced its “support of the nationwide ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement for tax fairness and against corporate greed.” It goes on to say, “…a stable tax structure begins with everyone paying their fair share.”

Paying their fair share?

Never shying away from class warfare, the union really has hit a new low here. According its latest available income tax form, CTA took in $186,216,493 in 2009. As a 501(c)(5), the union has a special tax exempt status with the IRS which is accorded to “Labor, Agricultural, and Horticultural Organizations.”

Hence, CTA would appear to be following the letter of the law in paying no money in taxes. But there is a bigger picture here, and it is bloated with hypocrisy. First CTA manages to siphon off $600+ yearly ($647 in 2011-2012) from every teacher in the state in forced union dues. Then it turns around and spends much of those dues on politicking — over $211 million on politicking from 2000-2009 — frequently on issues that have nothing to do with teachers or kids – and supporting causes that are contrary to the positions of many of its members. Then the union elites have the audacity to whine about millionaires and billionaires “not paying their fair share of taxes” when they don’t pay a penny, and all the while fund politicians who ensure that CTA’s pilfer-and-spend scheme rolls on undisturbed.

And just what do the “anti-greed” union bosses make for their efforts? In 2009, CTA President David Sanchez was compensated $289,550, three times what an average teacher in CA makes, while VP Dean Vogel had to suffer along with a mere $244,925 a year.

On a national level the union bosses do even better.

According to a recently issued LM-2 report (H/T RiShawn Biddle), we see that AFT President Randi Weingarten raked in a cool $493,859 last year. And NEA President Dennis Van Roekel managed to “earn” a whopping $543,868 in salary and benefits. I guess their justification for such high salaries is that it is very hard work to fight reformers who are actually concerned about educating children.

But CTA and other teachers unions can snooker people only for so long. Far from being a part of the 99%, they are big special interest businesses — spending millions to maintain their monopoly over American education, while paying not a penny in taxes. As Troy Senik wrote last week in Public Sector Inc., “The CTA is the one percent.” And poll after poll has shown that the general public is catching on.

If the OWSers were to put their bongs away, stop beating their drums, defecating on police cars, chanting and repeating nonsense in zombie-like tones for just a moment, they just may realize that the unions claiming to support them are really fat cats disguised as victims.

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

The Tragedy and Farce of American Schools of Education

Education schools are nothing more than dumbed down, politically correct fad factories supported by the teachers unions.

If you ever wanted to have a complete file of Diane Ravitch’s inane union apologist utterances all in one place – here it is. As Part of NBC’s Education Nation, she and Harlem Children’s Zone’s President Geoffrey Canada duked it out for a half hour. (As I watched this, I recalled Steven Brill’s comment in Class Warfare, that American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten should become the next New York City Chancellor of Education because she’s “smart” and could fix public education by making the rank and file perform better. I would add that in the highly unlikely case of this happening, Ravitch could easily replace Weingarten as AFT president.)

Needless to say, Ravitch vehemently disagreed with Canada on just about everything. However, they did agree that we needed to train our teachers better. This, of course, is like agreeing that snow is white.

The schools of education in the U.S. are by and large an abomination. Richard Vedder, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, pretty well nails it in a recent article he wrote for the Chronicle of Higher Education. He says that:

• colleges of education don’t really challenge their students.
• mindless education courses have crowded out study of subject matter.
• there is something of an anti-knowledge culture in many education schools; learning facts is actually disparaged.
• the education colleges have been great promoters of the highly dubious notion that self-esteem is critically important.
• schools of education have worked closely with teacher unions to convince legislators to keep archaic practices regarding teacher certification that prevent otherwise qualified persons from getting education degrees.

A few years ago, Education Reform Professor Jay Greene actually quantified one of the problems. Writing in City Journal, he and a research assistant explored the number of multicultural classes offered in our teachers’ colleges. They counted the number of course titles and descriptions that

“…contained the words ‘multiculturalism,’ ‘diversity,’ ‘inclusion,’ and variants thereof, and then compared those with the number that used variants of the word “math.” We then computed a ‘multiculturalism-to-math ratio’—a rough indicator of the relative importance of social goals to academic skills in ed schools.”

The results were very telling.

“The average ed school, we found, has a multiculturalism-to-math ratio of 1.82, meaning that it offers 82 percent more courses featuring social goals than featuring math. At Harvard and Stanford, the ratio is about 2: almost twice as many courses are social as mathematical. At the University of Minnesota, the ratio is higher than 12. And at UCLA, a whopping 47 course titles and descriptions contain the word ‘multiculturalism’ or ‘diversity,’ while only three contain the word ‘math,’ giving it a ratio of almost 16.”

It is beyond reprehensible that the ed schools make little effort to truly educate future teachers.

But why might they do that? Could the hairy hidden hand of the teachers union be behind this phenomenon?

Writer RiShawn Biddle explains,

“In 2009-2010, the NEA (National Education Association) ladled out $381,576 to the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, which oversees teacher training programs, according to its filing with the U.S. Department of Labor; that’s part of $1.9 million the union gave to the group over a five-year period. In 2008-2009, the union handed out $252,262 to the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, the main trade group for ed schools.”

So NEA President Dennis Van Roekel does what so many teacher union leaders do. They mouth a popular education reform sentiment, (recently saying that the “system of teacher recruitment, training and hiring is broken and needs an overhaul”) but in reality put their money where their unions’ best interests lie. In this case, it means that while admitting the system is broken, Van Roekel and the NEA reinforce the status quo by supporting an agency that accredits these same “broken” schools of education. Not surprisingly, the NEA didn’t give a penny to the National Center for Alternative Education, a newer feistier organization devoted to helping teachers who are interested in avoiding the dreary ed school route.

The question becomes why the teachers unions would back a failing mode of teacher training that typically attracts students from the bottom of their class. A recent study found that just 23 percent of teachers came from the top third of college graduates.

A cynical theory has it that the teachers unions like recruiting future teachers from the bottom of their classes because they will be more compliant than their sharper classmates, thus making it easier for the unions to foist their socially progressive agenda and other dictates on them. This is the same mentality that defense attorneys employ when picking jurors; they prefer not to empanel critical types who will be more likely to challenge them. Let’s call this the O.J. Jury Theory of teacher recruitment.

Is there any good news on the horizon?

In The October 1st edition of the Wall Street Journal, there is an article which claims that a push is coming from the Obama administration to improve teacher quality by rewarding colleges of education that produce teachers whose students do well on standardized tests. Interestingly, the NEA gave vocal support to the proposal; AFT President Randi Weingarten, however, whined,

“…the U.S. Department of Education appears to be putting its foot on the accelerator by calling for yet another use for test.”

Whether any of this comes to pass is anyone’s guess. The only thing that is a given is that in the end, Van Roekel and the NEA will revert to form and do their utmost to see that the administration’s plan never sees the light of day. And so many of our children will continue to fail, because the system is rigged against them.

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

Cherry Picking Facts + Bad Polling = Demagoguery

Teacher union boss cherry picks from a biased poll and ends up with the pits.

Cherry picking is a phrase that has become quite popular these days. The term simply refers to advancing a certain point of view by using only data which supports that POV and omitting any contradictory or mitigating information.

A recent illustration of this phenomenon is on display in an article written by NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. The ironically titled Back-to-School Reality Check is, in fact, quite short on reality. The article, primarily a pep talk for teachers, uses a recent Phi Beta Kappa/Gallup poll as its motivating source. Early on, Van Roekel tells us,

“73 percent (of the poll’s respondents) said teachers should have flexibility in the classroom.”

I’m all for that. But what the union boss leaves out is that for teachers to have more flexibility they would need to tear up the telephone book-size union contract that dictates every little move a teacher makes.

Question 10 of the PDK poll says,

“Most teachers in the nation now belong to unions or associations that bargain over salaries, working conditions, and the like. Has unionization, in your opinion, helped, hurt, or made no difference in the quality of public school education in the United States?”

Cherries jubilee here! Mr. Van Roekel didn’t acknowledge this question. Why? Because 47 percent of those polled said unionization has hurt education, while only 24 percent said it helped.

Also conveniently ignored by Van Roekel were the responses to the charter school question. That’s because, of those polled, a whopping 70 percent were in favor of charter schools — a major union bugaboo — and only 27 percent were not.

Then, he reverses the cherry picking process,

“In fact, a majority of those polled (52 percent) side with teachers unions and educators who have been under attack as a new crop of governors – Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, Florida’s Rick Scott, New Jersey’s Chris Christie, Ohio’s John Kasich – declared war on public employees and the middle class.”

Van Roekel is editorializing here. The poll itself did not name states or governors, nor did it say anything about war on the middle class. This is actually an example of reverse cherry picking: including information that doesn’t exist in the poll.

On the voucher question,

“…gimmicks like vouchers, (which the responders) opposed nearly 2 to 1.”

This is true. Sixty-five percent opposed vouchers, with just 34 percent in favor. But here we see a flaw in the question itself, which reads,

“Do you favor or oppose allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense?”

As Jeanne Allen, president of Center for Education Reform noted in a criticism of the poll’s poorly constructed and biased wording,

“Choosing a private school at public expense is not only poorly received, but of course, it is poorly worded and a fictitious scenario. Parental choice dictates where the monies allocated for one’s education go and unless those parents can’t be considered part of the public, their rights are not an expense to anyone but the school that loses their funds, presumably for failing to meet their needs.”

Regarding education funding, Van Roekel says,

“The public’s primary concern about education is funding, which ranks far above any other topic.”

While the PDK poll does indeed report that 36 percent said that lack of funding was the number one problem, the question is flawed. When the public is asked about the current level of school funding, it is incumbent on the questioner to find out if the responder knows anything about what the current level of funding is. The PDK poll was highly negligent in this area, but a new poll by conducted by Education Next asked the question correctly.

“When the public was asked whether government funding for public schools in their district should increase, decrease, or stay the same, 59 percent selected the first option, only slightly less than the 63 percent that gave that opinion in 2010, and dramatically more than in 2009 (46 percent). Affluent respondents were less willing to spend more for their district schools, but even among them a clear majority (52 percent) preferred an increase in expenditures.”

“A segment of those surveyed were asked the same question except that they were first told the level of per-pupil expenditure in their community, which averaged $12,300 for the respondents in our sample. For every subgroup considered, this single piece of information dampened public enthusiasm for increased spending. Support for more spending fell from 59 percent to 46 percent of those surveyed. Among the well-to-do, the level of support dropped dramatically, from 52 percent to 36 percent. Among teachers, support for expenditure increases fell even more sharply—from 71 percent to 53 percent. (Emphasis added)

In fact, that kind of clarity and honesty was evident throughout the entire Education Next poll. When people have the facts clearly presented, they can give informed opinions which are obviously more meaningful.

The bottom line is that a poll which is biased and does not take into account the knowledge of the people being polled is misleading and dangerous. The public is led to believe that the responders are perceptive and knowledgeable, when in reality so many are not. Combine the inevitably distorted poll results with a teachers union president’s cherry picking and editorializing the data, and you wind up with nothing more than a heaping pile of demagoguery.

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

Obama, Teachers Unions and Tax Evasion

President Obama has talked a good education reform game, but when push comes to threats, he is above all a good union man.

On August 25th, AFL-CIO boss Richard Trumka uttered a few words that seemed to resonate with President Obama. He said, “The AFL-CIO has not yet decided if it will participate in next year’s Democratic National Convention, as labor union members ponder whether President Obama has earned their support.…” He said the major economic speech the president has planned for early next month will tell union members what they need to know about whether he will be worth supporting.”

Trumka has a history of following through on his threats. As president of the United Mine Workers in the spring of 1993, he wanted to ensure that no one would be able to find employment as a miner without paying union dues to the UMW. Accordingly, he proceeded to order more than 17,000 mine workers to walk off their jobs, and told the striking miners to “kick the sh– out of every last one” of their fellow employees and mine operators who resisted union demands. UMW thugs dutifully responded by vandalizing homes, firing gunshots into management’s offices, and cutting off the power supply to another mine, temporarily trapping 93 miners underground.

Now it’s true that Trumka didn’t threaten to “kick the sh–”out of the president, but he may as well have. Last week, when Obama gave his speech to Congress, the thuggish Trumka was part of a small group who sat with Mrs. Obama listening to the President spew out yet another stimulus plan (how’d that last one work out, Mr. President?) This time it will cost $447 billion, and like the 2009 version, will allegedly fix all our economic ails. Long on demagogic rhetoric and short on details, the president made it sound so simple, “Pass this jobs bill, and we can put people to work rebuilding America.”

Perhaps even more important to the president than AFL-CIO backing is the support of the biggest union in the country – the National Education Association. So not surprisingly he also offered more “free” money – $60 billion – to education. This money will allegedly save 280,000 jobs according to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Since NEA gets $168 in dues from each of its members, it’s obvious why it welcomed Obama’s proposal. But that doesn’t mean that the union was satisfied.

When NEA President Dennis Van Roekel was asked if this was enough money to make him happy, he was dubious, saying that what’s needed is “more than they are willing to spend.” That’s because there is one dollar amount – and only one — that Van Roekel thinks is enough and that number is $MORE.

Clearly the extra money will fatten union coffers, but will keeping all these extra teachers’ jobs benefit American children and their families? Some will and some won’t. Due to the political heft of NEA, we still live in a country that treats teachers as widgets – and all do an equally good job.

As usual, Obama and his teacher union pals are avoiding a couple of obvious ways to save money. It has been demonstrably shown that charter schools do as good or better job for considerably less money and that a voucher system would save even more money.

As writer RiShawn Biddle put it, “This move is really just a waste of both taxpayer’s money and time that Obama could use to rally support for the education reform efforts that have been mostly-embraced on a bipartisan level. He would be better off tossing out the education portion of this stimulus and getting back to pushing for systemic reform.”

But Mr. Obama seems intent on his new tax-and-spend program and should Congress pass it, I have a suggestion as to where we might come up with some money. The NEA, which has an annual budget of $371 million, spent more than $56.3 million in the 2007-2008 election cycle on state and federal campaigns, political parties, and ballot measures, $12.5 million ahead of the second-place group. And yet, NEA doesn’t think it should pay income tax and rarely does.

The law says you must pay income tax unless you are a tax exempt entity, and if you are accorded that status, you cannot be involved with politicking. The Landmark Legal Foundation has been on to the NEA and its tax evasion for years now, and has gained some traction. In 2006, the Wisconsin Education Association, a NEA affiliate “realized it needed to pay $171,000 in federal taxes after LLF asked if the organization had paid taxes on $430,000 it gave to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. Stan Johnson, the WEAC’s president, admitted the organization should have paid taxes on the expenditures.”

If NEA ever stopped blathering about the rich not paying their “fair share” and actually started paying its own (and were dinged for past years’ payments with appropriate penalties), it would certainly help to solve the budgetary problems it claims are inhibiting our education process.

Mr. President, as a “fair share” proponent, why don’t you look into why NEA, which spends hundreds of millions on politics – almost exclusively on liberal candidates and causes – pays almost no taxes? But then again, I guess I just answered my own question.

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

Reform Unionism: A Wolf by Any Other Name….

Despite good intentions, efforts to reform teachers unions and make them partners in education reform will not work.

Last week, the typically sane and sage Andrew Rotherham wrote a provocative article for Time Magazine entitled “Quiet Riot: Insurgents Take On Teachers Unions.” The main thrust of the piece is this:

“But perhaps the biggest strategic pressure for reform is starting to come from teachers themselves, many of whom are trying to change their unions and, by extension, their profession. These renegade groups, composed generally of younger teachers, are trying to accomplish what a generation of education reformers, activists and think tanks have not: forcing the unions to genuinely mend their ways.”

He spotlights three organizations he claims are leading a movement to reform teachers unions and make them partners in an attempt to improve the quality of public education — NewTLA, a dissident faction in the United Teachers of Los Angeles, Educators for Excellence, a reform group in New York started by two young Teach For America graduates, and Teach Plus, an organization that has gained traction in several states, whose goal is to “engage early career teachers in rebuilding their profession to better meet the needs of students and the incoming generation of teachers.”

In addition, Steven Brill (whose new book Class Warfare has received much acclaim) wrote “Super Teachers Alone Can’t Save Our Schools,” a provocative article in the Wall Street Journal this past Saturday. As the article’s title implies, teachers need help. But from whom? After describing the burnout of a young assistant principal at a charter school in Harlem, he says,

“The lesson that I draw from Ms. Reid’s dropping out of the race at the Harlem Success school is that the teachers’ unions have to be enlisted in the fight for reform.”

If only Rotherham and Brill were being realistic in their reform-the-union proposal.

Long time teacher union watchdog, Mike Antonucci, addresses the writers’ flawed prescriptions in “Let’s All See the Plan.” While praising NewTLA’s efforts, he says,

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

A day after Antonucci’s post, Terry Moe, another veteran teacher union critic, posted “Will Young People Reform Teachers Unions? Dream On.”

“There are well over 3 million active teachers in this country, and the groups Rotherham points to are a drop in the bucket. In unions all across the country, young teachers barely participate in union affairs–which are entirely dominated by their senior colleagues. In any event, if we look at young union members as a whole–not just those from TFA or insurgent groups, but all of them–the evidence suggests that their attitudes on basic issues are very similar to those of senior unionized teachers: they are highly satisfied with their union locals, they are highly supportive of collective bargaining, they believe that collective bargaining has benign effects for kids and schools, and they have similar positions on most matters of education policy….

“The argument that young teachers are going to transform the unions is just as fanciful, and just as wrong…. Unions are unions. They are in the business of protecting jobs: that is why their members join, that is what their members expect them to do, and that is what they actually do. If you expect them to do something else–to represent children or to represent the public interest–you will be wrong. Don’t expect a cat to bark.”

Over time, teachers tend to get very comfortable with all the perks that unions provide, even though they’re bad for kids – collective bargaining, seniority, tenure, a job that is virtually guaranteed for life, etc. (In Special Interest, Moe’s excellent new book about teachers unions, Chapter 3 and Appendix C deal with young teachers.)

Coincidentally, scholarly journal Education Next has just released its fifth annual survey in which teachers and the general public are interviewed about a variety of reform topics including the unions.

When the public was asked if teachers unions have a generally positive or negative effect on the nation’s public schools, 33 percent said “negative,” while 29 percent said “positive” and 38 percent were neutral – numbers almost identical to the 2009 and 2010 polls.

However, it’s a different story with teachers,

“Among teachers themselves, opinion is moving in precisely the opposite direction from that of the public at large. Only 17 percent now say that unions have a negative impact on the nation’s schools, down from 25 percent in 2010. Fifty-eight percent think they have a positive impact, up from 51 percent the previous year.”

As we see from these statistics, over the past year, teachers are becoming more in sync with their unions. Only one in six teachers thinks that the unions in their present state are harmful to education.

Assuming these numbers are accurate, the union reform crowd, no matter how noble their intentions and dogged their efforts, has little chance to accomplish much, if anything, meaningful. The traditional unionistas may give a bit here and there to seem fair-minded, but with a great majority of their members on board, their mission and game plan will remain essentially unchanged.

If meaningful change is going to happen, it will come from the citizenry via the ballot box. Within the past year, a shift in voting patterns has enabled reform-minded governors and legislatures to greatly restrict collective bargaining, increase school choice opportunities, modify tenure rules, etc. in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and elsewhere. One can only wonder what could be accomplished if a majority of the voting public would realize the pernicious effect that teachers unions have on education and act accordingly.

But in any event, change will not come by reforming the teachers unions. As Little Red Riding Hood learned, a wolf in granny’s clothing is still a wolf.

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

Typical Teachers Union Tactics Kill Parent Trigger in Connecticut

Time for being shocked, shocked about teacher union methods and objectives is over.

Last week, writer Rishawn Biddle broke a story about the American Federation of Teachers’ recent successful actions to neuter a Parent Trigger bill in Connecticut. The first Parent Trigger law, officially the Parent Empowerment Act, was passed in California early last year. It allows parents, via a petition, to force change in the governance of a failing school should the petitioners get a majority of parents to sign on.

The educational establishment – school boards, teachers unions and other special interest groups, dubbed the “Government Education Complex” by Bruno Behrend, director of the Center for School Reform at The Heartland Institute, don’t like the law since it allows a group of parents to trump their power.

Most writers and bloggers who have written about the incident have focused on a pdf, originally a PowerPoint, posted on the AFT website, which very honestly and cynically describes the process by which the union did its dirty work. Realizing that this display of raw union power was not in keeping with its persona as a reform-minded partner, always willing to collaborate with parents, communities and other stakeholders, AFT pulled the pdf from its website shortly after the Biddle piece was posted and started to play defense…sort of.

In an email to education writer Alexander Russo, AFT President Randi Weingarten wrote, “The power point didn’t represent AFT or my views, nor does it represent the Conn Fed’s views….” And the punch line, “We are proud of the work in Conn, but disagree with the wording and what the wording in the power point represented.”

The wording? She disagreed with the wording??!! That’s like pummeling someone, stealing their money and then apologizing because you dropped a couple of F bombs in the process.

While I am certainly not a fan of AFT’s tactics, I am hardly shocked by them. They are a labor union. It is their job to do whatever they can do to protect the interests of its members.

In fact, if Randi Weingarten or National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel were really honest, they’d lose all the phony caring about children rhetoric and say something like the following:

Truth is, Mr. and Mrs. America, we don’t give a damn about you, your children or your wallet. We want to have as many teachers as we can on the job, including the rotten ones – they pay dues also – and make you pay them as much as possible so that we can collect carloads of cash, which allows us to be a political powerhouse and pursue our very progressive social, economic and political agenda.

If they were being really honest. But of course, tactically, that would not be in their best interest. As Joy Pullmann, managing editor of School Reform News at The Heartland Institute, put it, “…unions must pretend to care for ridding schools of bad teachers, squeezing the most out of taxpayer dollars, and other public concerns.”

So, it is up to us – the public. We all must realize that no matter their rhetoric, teachers unions are anything but beneficent organizations that care about children, their parents, taxpayers or quality education. They must be seen as ruthless special interest groups that will stop at nothing to advance their agenda. No one should forget that the NEA playbook is adapted directly from Marxist community organizer Saul Alinsky. Alinsky’s best known book, “Rules For Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals,” opens with a paean to one held in high esteem by the author – Lucifer.

Once the public became aware of the NEA-Alinsky connection, the union pulled most of their fawning comments about Alinsky from their website, leaving only The Activist’s Library entry:

Rules for Radicals
Saul Alinsky, Vintage Books, 1989
The classic book about organizing people, written by one of America’s foremost organizers.

However, I did manage to salvage one of the pulled docs. As you can see by this adoring review of Alinsky’s work, the NEA writer is so blindly in love with his subject that he can’t quite remember from sentence to sentence how to spell his hero’s name. The review begins with “An inspiration to anyone contemplating action in their community! And to every organizer!” and gets more breathless and impassioned with each rabid paragraph.

If that review, proudly posted on their website until recently, isn’t enough to convince the public of the true nature of the teachers unions, how about this – a training tape, clearly inspired by Alinsky, made by the Michigan Education Association, an NEA affiliate, in the 1990s for union negotiators who collectively bargain with school boards. I urge you to listen to the audio and not just read the text. The creepiness of actually hearing the trainer pitch his hardball tactics adds a dimension that is missing when you just read the words.

For example, at one point in the tape, the trainer is advising a union negotiator how to best deal with someone running for school board. He says,

“Find out about his family; his marital status; the number of children he has and their ages and what schools they go to. Are they public, parochial, or are they private? And also, don’t forget to check into his politics. …when checking into his employment you might want to find out what do his peers think of him; what is his relationship with his employer or employees; and does holding a public office help him advance in his job or produce business connections?”

After listening to the tape, go here and read Alinsky’s 13 rules of power politics. It would seem that the negotiator is applying rule #13,

“Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”

The teachers unions’ methods and objectives have been in plain view for some time now. Unless the public takes notice and withdraws their support, the unions’ perfidy will continue unchecked.

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

SOS Fest: Teachers Unions and Radical Left are in Charge

Teachers should think twice before marching in lockstep with this revolting crowd.

Americans have always had a warm spot for teachers. We all have memories of those who have taught us, who were there every day for us and felt like part of our family. But over the past 40 years or so, teachers unions have begun to chip away at the public’s perception of teachers. And this changing perception has accelerated during the recent fiscal downturn.

Education policy expert Jay Greene addresses this phenomenon in The Army of Angry Teachers which was posted on Education Matters, his own blog, and elsewhere last week. The crux of his piece is that typically people tend to look at teachers as an extension of their family. But now during stressful times for teachers, the teachers unions have whipped the rank and file into a state of deep anger. Greene writes “But when the public face of the teacher unions is the Army of Angry Teachers, they no longer seem like Mary Poppins and begin to look a lot more like longshoremen beating their opponents with metal pipes.”

Greene has hit on a major point. Not surprisingly, the post was met with negative responses by, well, angry teachers.

While some teachers may be justified in being angry about this and that, the teachers unions are doing their level best to convince teachers that they are underpaid and underappreciated and if not for the unions, teachers would be receiving minimum wage and spending their time being spat upon by the man in the street. This alleged “teacher bashing” couldn’t be further from the truth, but nevertheless, too many teachers have bought this nonsense hook, line and sinker and have become true believers of all things union. As such, from the inside out, the union’s game plan of making teachers psychologically dependent on them is working quite well.

These feelings of victimization and anger will be on full display this weekend in the nation’s capital. The teacher union-backed SOS (Save Our Schools) March on Washington – will have the Army of Angry Teachers and others taking to the streets and screaming about various education issues such budgetary shortfalls that must be made up by “taxing the rich.” Standardized testing and “teacher accountability schemes” are due for some harsh criticism also.

Because of the sorry collection of participants, this is going to end up being even worse for teachers than Greene alluded to in his article.

While the march itself will be on July 30th, there will be workshops on the 28th and 29th. Kicking off each of these days will be a keynote speech – one from 1960s relic Jonathan Kozol and the other from discredited education historian Diane Ravitch.

Education reformer Whitney Tilson refers to Kozol as a “dangerous crackpot who will cause this country’s most vulnerable children immeasurable harm.” Kozol has been beating the more-money-will-conquer-all-things-educational drum for 45 years now while blaming poor student performance on bogeymen like poverty and racism. Kozol conveniently omits the fact that the poor and minorities have made great strides when there is a real choice given to parents as to where to send their children to school – invariably to non-unionized ones.

Ravitch, whose scholarship once upon a time landed her on the prestigious Koret Task Force, a group that focuses on education reform options has now, for reasons known only to her, done a 180 practically overnight and become a shill for the teachers unions. In fact, she has done such a good job in her new career that the National Education Association bestowed on her their highest honor — the “Friend of Education Award” at the union’s 2010 national convention. (If there is anything more damning than to be honored by NEA, I can’t imagine what it would be.)

But the “be careful who you hang out with” warning goes way beyond Kozol and Ravitch. The endorsers of the confab include a laundry list of radicals — people and organizations — that are significantly outside the American mainstream. For example:

Students for a Democratic Society – Yes, they are still at it. The name sounds innocent, but this is the organization responsible for bombing the Pentagon and various police stations around the country 40 years ago.

Michael Klonsky – long-time proud Communist who was invited to China in 1977 to confer with his fellow Maoists.

Freedom Socialist Party – a typical progressive capitalist-hating socialist outfit, but with a feminist slant.

Rethinking Schools – Oh boy are they! From their website – “How do we bring the fight to protect and transform public schools into our classrooms? How do we connect our classrooms to the struggles in the streets? As the crisis over public education escalates, activist teachers are experimenting with new approaches.”

Radical Women – Their website proclaims this group is “the revolutionary wing of the women’s movement and a strong feminist voice within the Left.”

This is just the tip of the iceberg, but you get the idea. Oh, one more thing. Washington can get pretty swampy during the summer and the organizers have a film festival planned in a hopefully air-conditioned theatre. The kickoff film is “The People Speak,” which concerns itself with the late Communist Howard Zinn. The former college professor perhaps hit the nadir of a rather dubious professional career by penning “A People’s History of the United States.” When called on the carpet for writing a history book that played very fast and loose with the facts, Zinn freely admitted it, saying that his hope in writing the book was to create a revolution.

In any event, I’m sure some legitimate gripes of teachers will be addressed at this four day event. However, the teachers unions and the radicals will get most of the press coverage and teachers will come out of all this looking like useful idiots or worse. As such, teachers would do well to distance themselves from this unseemly event. If not, whatever esteem Americans still hold for its teachers of America will erode further.

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

National Teachers Unions Intensify War on Reformers

NEA and AFT ramp up attacks on non-existent teacher bashers, while vilifying those who are trying to reform a failing system.

In her address last week at the American Federation of Teachers TEACH conference, AFT President Randi Weingarten came out swinging. In an emotional speech to the faithful, she said that education reform should come from teachers and their communities, rather than from people “who blame teachers for everything.” While the teachers unions have been hammering away at this “blame the teacher” myth for some time now, the rants seem to be intensifying.

Invariably, what is labeled “teacher bashing” is nothing more than anger at the teachers unions for blocking every type of education reform imaginable, as well as the unions doing their level best to block school districts’ attempts to fire bad and even criminal teachers. So to be more specific, these phenomena should be called “teacher union bashing” and “bad teacher bashing.”

Education writer RiShawn Biddle does an excellent job of poking holes in the teacher bashing argument, claiming, among other things, that Weingarten “is just using a rhetorical trick often deployed by teachers unions and other education traditionalists to oppose school reform. They declare that any criticism of the unions and any effort to overhaul teacher quality are forms of ‘teacher bashing.’ And such proclamations end up forcing reformers onto their heels when they should actually take these critics to the woodshed.”

“Reformophobia” was also an important component at the yearly National Education Association convention that wrapped up a couple of weeks ago. At the NEA confab, we heard the same petulant tone from teachers who came from all over the country and convened as part of the Representative Assembly. One of the RA’s responsibilities is to propose New Business Items, which are messages of concern from the hoi-polloi to the NEA aristocracy. This year’s NBIs dealt heavily with the education reform issues that the union crowd is clearly (and understandably) most threatened by.

For example, NBI 33 says,” NEA will establish and articulate a position against the privatization of the American public school system.” (In other words, we are threatened by any kind of school choice system and will fight to the death to prevent this from happening on a grand scale.)

NBI 37 says, “NEA will investigate and inform its members about the anti-public education agenda behind the ill-informed intrusion of billionaires on education.” (Be careful, Bill Gates, you are not welcome into the world we now control.)

NBI 76 says, “NEA will facilitate access to empirical research and reviewed and/or valid studies, for member use, on the NEA website to assist members in combating the concerted attacks on public education and public educators.” (Our butts are getting kicked by the reformers and we need to find some snappy rejoinders to counter their attacks.)

NBI 80 says, “The NEA Representative Assembly directs the NEA President to denounce blatant age discrimination occurring across the United States, as veteran educators are targeted for dismissal by school superintendents and administrators who, under the guise of “improvement plans”, often subject these educators to harassment-style management. The President may point out that all school employees over the age of 40 are protected under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, and stress the countless contributions made to public education by veteran teachers.” (Don’t mess with our seniority system because we will attack you as “ageist” and use a federal law to stop you if necessary.)

But perhaps the most vitriolic of the NBIs was the one attacking reform-minded Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. New Business Item C starts with, “The NEA Representative Assembly directs the NEA President to communicate aggressively, forcefully, and immediately to President Barack Obama and US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan that NEA is appalled with Secretary Duncan’s practice of….” and goes on to list “let-me-count-the-ways-we-hate-you” items – 13 in all. Interestingly though, Duncan’s boss Barack Obama not only got by unscathed but was given the NEA presidential endorsement for 2012. The message to Obama would seem to be, “We have to tolerate you because we’d rather die than support a Republican. Now please show us some love and pay us back by canning that creep Duncan.”)

Interestingly, there was one out-of-character measure taken by the NEA. According to Mike Antonucci, the union “is no longer opposed to the use of merit pay or performance pay compensation systems.”

While this would appear to be a tectonic shift, it in all likelihood is not. As Antonucci points out, “Categorical opposition to something on the fringe of education policy is practical, but as such things become more mainstream over time, this becomes less and less feasible and costs the union in public credibility. NEA’s solution is to stop saying, ‘No, you can’t,’ and start saying, ‘Well, you can, as long as you can pass through the eye of the needle.’”

In other words, NEA is saying, “You see. We are really not obstructionists.” But course, when it comes time to nail down specifics, the union will do what it always does – aggressively block anything approaching meaningful reform. Yes, the devil is in the details. And the devil will do everything in its power to ensure that the details don’t do anything at all to disturb the moribund status quo.

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