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No Love for Irreplaceable Teachers

According to a recent study, many public schools do not retain their best teachers – the “irreplaceables.” Is anyone surprised?

A study released a couple of weeks ago by the New Teacher Project – now known as TNTP – claims that urban schools….

…are systematically neglecting their best teachers, losing tens of thousands every year even as they keep many of their lowest-performing teachers indefinitely – with disastrous consequences for students, schools, and the teaching profession.

The study by TNTP documents the real teacher retention crisis in America’s schools: not only a failure to retain enough teachers, but a failure to retain the right teachers.

The report, referring to the very best teachers as “irreplaceables,” claims that of the districts studied, about 20 percent of them fell into that category.

On average, each year they help students learn two to three additional months’ worth of math and reading compared with the average teacher, and five to six months more compared to low-performing teachers. Better test scores are just the beginning: Students whose teachers help them make these kinds of gains are more likely to go to college and earn higher salaries as adults, and they are less likely to become teenage parents.

Among this report’s findings:

• The school districts lost their most successful teachers at a rate comparable to the attrition of the least successful teachers.

• “Irreplaceable” teachers who experienced two or more of eight different recruitment strategies—including advancement opportunities, regular performance feedback, and public recognition—said they planned to stay at their schools nearly twice as long as other teachers.

• In one of the districts studied, only a fifth of the lowest-performing teachers were encouraged to leave, while more than a third were given incentives to stay.

• “Irreplaceable” teachers were much more likely to stay at schools with a strong instructional culture in which principals set strong performance expectations for them.

The report reserves particularly strong criticism for principals, who it contends have misjudged the retention issue by turning a blind eye to quality in retention decisions.

“Principals tell themselves low-performers are going to improve, and therefore they don’t have to address it; and they say there’s nothing they can do to retain high-performing teachers,” said Timothy Daly, the president of TNTP. “Both of those things we see as largely untrue.

In addition to principals, the TNTP report lays blame on policies that “impede smarter retention practices.”

A number of policy barriers hamper principals from making smarter retention decisions. Because of inflexible, seniority-dominated compensation systems, for example, 55 percent of Irreplaceables earn a lower salary than the average low-performing teacher.

In other words, the problem lies with incompetent, disinterested or lazy principals and stifling, unionized work rules with their insistence on tenure, seniority and Byzantine dismissal statutes. In my view the latter carries more weight because invariably even good and caring principals have their hands tied by union contacts that are written in stone and enforced by the worst elements in the profession. A case in point is Jaime Escalante, probably the greatest teacher of our time, who didn’t care much for the union contact. Often thwarting its rules, he was ultimately hounded out of Los Angeles by UTLA, the local teachers union, for essentially being too dedicated, too dynamic and too successful at teaching calculus to the “unteachables” at Garfield High in East Los Angeles.

While I have great respect for TNTP, I’m not sure that this study adds much to the debate. This report isn’t a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to the steep slide in American public education for the last 40 or so years. In fact, its recent conclusions pretty much echo its own 2009 study, “The Widget Effect: Our National Failure to Acknowledge and Act on Differences in Teacher Effectiveness.”

In a separate study, TNTP analyzed Chicago’s schools and found that….

…56 percent of principals admit to inflating teacher ratings. The reasons why are striking, and each can be traced back to the union contract:

30 percent of the principals said the teacher’s tenure would prevent dismissal regardless of the rating;
34 percent said it wasn’t worth enduring the lengthy union grievance proceedings;
51 percent said the union contract makes it difficult to lower the rating of a teacher that has previously received high ratings; and
73 percent said that the performance evaluation doesn’t actually evaluate performance.

As always, RiShawn Biddle has a crystal clear view of the problem:

When it comes to how we recruit, train, evaluate, and reward teachers, American public education is in a shambles. Near-lifetime employment rules through tenure keep teachers on the job regardless of whether or not they can improve student achievement. Seniority- and degree-based pay scales, along with defined-benefit pensions fail to reward good-to-great teachers for their performance while lavishing benefits on laggards who should have long ago been shown the door. The fact that traditional teacher compensation only benefits instructors after two decades on the job means that talented new hires have to wait years before getting the full fruits of their labors. Meanwhile quality reverse-seniority layoff rules lead to talented younger teachers being kicked to the curb regardless of their success in helping kids succeed while allowing veterans who are not doing well to stay put. Add in the dysfunction and the obsolete practices within traditional districts, the continued defense of failed policies by National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers affiliates, and the low quality of school leadership, and the consequence of these policies are magnified, creating conditions that do little to help good and great teachers stay on the job.

What to do? The report makes policy recommendations….

…for more-strategic retention of teachers, several of which touch on hotly debated policy issues. They include paying the best teachers six-figure salaries; requiring principals to set goals for retaining “irreplaceable” teachers; monitoring working conditions; and dismissing teachers who, after remediation, cannot teach as well as the average novice. Together, the report suggests, these strategies could also raise the rigor of the profession.

All this is a way of saying that we need to make schools run the way the rest of the capitalist world is run. Do a good job and you will be rewarded; do a bad job and you will be fired. As things stand now, principals are “at will” employees – meaning they don’t have the ridiculous job protections that most unionized teachers have. But in many places like Los Angeles where I used to teach, principals, like tenured teachers, essentially have a job for life. In fact, the term “dance of the lemons” in LA applies not to teachers but to administrators. Over my 28 year teaching career, I can’t tell you how many times I was told in confidence by my principal that our new assistant principal is a “must place.” For things to improve, principals must be given the ability to hire and fire and be held accountable for their school’s performance. At the same time, seniority and tenure rules that tie principals’ hands must be eliminated.

Lynn Hey in USA Today makes the point quite succinctly –

In other professions, treating all workers equally, regardless of talent, would be inconceivable. Imagine football teams letting star players leave without a fight, then trying to fill the gap with third-stringers.

It’s as simple as that. No one would stand for that on a sports team. Why do we stand for it in our schools? Who would support such idiocy?

The answer to the last question can be found in an op-ed written by NEA Secretary-Treasurer Becky Pringle,

Given the scope of this challenge, a narrow focus on peripheral issues, such as seniority, is a distraction from the hard work at hand.

So much of the problem is summed up here. She considers seniority as peripheral. No, Ms. Pringle, it’s a major part of the problem. In this system, quality doesn’t matter. Teachers-of-the-Year are laid off because they don’t have as much time on the job as their incompetent colleagues. How can anyone in their right mind refer to this as “peripheral?”

NEA members are working through local affiliates to ensure that every teacher is “irreplaceable.”

Of course. The unions see all teachers as equally valuable. This is the point of “The Widget Effect” – one obviously wasted on Ms. Pringle.

We can do it if we work together and put the needs of students first.

The teachers unions want to “put the needs of students first???!!!”

Think about that last quote every time the teachers unions go to bat to keep incompetents, pedophiles and worse in the classroom.

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.

“While the union’s behavior is disturbing, it certainly isn’t shocking.”

American Enterprise Institute research fellow Michael McShane’s comment addresses the bullying effort by the Louisiana teachers union. (h/t Jay Greene.)

Recently the Louisiana Association of Educators threatened to sue private schools if they participate in the Pelican State’s new voucher program. As the Wall Street Journal reports,

Teachers unions allege that sending public dollars to nonpublic schools violates the state’s constitution, and they are challenging the law in court. A hearing is set for October, but the unions have already lost several court bids to delay the voucher program until the lawsuit plays out. Hence, the bullying.

Louisiana’s voucher program is adjusted for family income and is intended above all to give a shot at a decent education to underprivileged minorities, who are more likely to be relegated to the worst public schools. Forty-four percent of Louisiana public schools received a D or F ranking under the state’s grading system, and some 84% of the kids in the program come from one of those low-performing schools.

So to save some unionized teachers’ jobs, the union is willing to sentence thousands of children to a rotten education and ultimately very limited career – and life – possibilities. (Could this be what American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten was alluding to last week when she talked about “connecting with community and proposing solutions” as part of her laughable “solution driven unionism?”)

Fortunately for the bullied schools, some good guys have stepped forth to help. The Alliance for School Choice and the Institute for Justice have offered their services by creating a legal defense fund to assist the private schools. Unfortunately, two of the 119 schools that were threatened, have been scared off. The good news is that 117 are hanging in and standing up to the bullies.

The union will undoubtedly lose its legal case, and even worse, get clobbered in the court of pubic opinion.

Another example of disturbing union behavior came in the form of a scathing op-ed written by former CNN and NBC news reporter Campbell Brown. She writes in the Wall Street Journal that in New York, “Teachers Unions Go to Bat for Sexual Predators.”

An arbitrator in 2007 found that teacher Alexis Grullon had victimized young girls with repeated hugging, “incidental though not accidental contact with one student’s breast” and “sexually suggestive remarks.” The teacher had denied all these charges. In the end the arbitrator found him “unrepentant,” yet punished him with only a six-month suspension.

Another example from 2007: Teacher William Scharbach was found to have inappropriately touched and held young boys. “Respondent’s actions at best give the appearance of impropriety and at worst suggest pedophilia,” wrote the arbitrator—before giving the teacher only a reprimand. The teacher didn’t deny the touching but denied that it was inappropriate.

Then there was teacher Steven Ostrin, who in 2010 was found to have asked a young girl to give him a striptease, harassed students by text, and engaged in sexual banter. The arbitrator in his case concluded that since the teacher hadn’t actually solicited sex from students, the charges—all of which the teacher denied—warranted only a suspension.

As Brown claims, the problem with the current system is that the final decision is left to an arbitrator who is paid up to $1,400 per day and whose livelihood….

…depends on pleasing the unions (whether the United Federation of Teachers in New York City, or other local unions). And the unions—believing that they are helping the cause of teachers by being weak on sexual predators—prefer suspensions and fines, and not dismissal, for teachers charged with inappropriate sexual conduct. The effects of this policy are mounting.

State Senator Stephen Saland has proposed legislation that would remove the arbitrator and give firing power to local school districts. We wish the senator well, but fear his bill will meet the same fate as a similar measure in California this past June. As I wrote in City Journal, Senate Bill 1530 would have given firing decisions in certain cases of abuse to the school district, all the while maintaining a teacher’s due process rights. After the bill breezed through the State Senate, it was derailed in the Assembly education committee where the teachers unions ensured it did not get the required “yeas” to go to a full assembly vote.

Needless to say, Randi Weingarten couldn’t ignore Brown’s op-ed and the two of them wound up in something of a cat fight on Twitter. First, Weingarten insisted that her union was behind the “Feinberg recommendations,” a roadmap that purports to simplify the teacher dismissal maze that currently exists in New York. The only problem with the recommendations is that they really aren’t an improvement on the status quo. As pundit RiShawn Biddle writes,

…the Feinberg recommendations are still rather weak sauce, especially in light of the fact that it still keeps in place state laws and processes that make it almost impossible for school and district leaders to fire teachers who don’t belong in classrooms. This, in turn, explains why so many schools and districts become mired in cultures of low expectations in which moral and educational misbehavior is rampant and tolerated until the spotlight is shown on them.

After Brown dismissed the “recommendations,” Weingarten got personal. (The use of ad hominem attacks is invariably a sign that someone is losing an argument.) She pointed to the fact that Brown’s husband Dan Senor is an adviser to (gasp!) Mitt Romney. Weingarten also revealed that he is also on the board of the New York branch of Students First, the organization run by Weingarten’s archenemy Michelle Rhee. As my grandmother used to say, “What does that have to do with the price of tea in China?” Brown wrote a serious editorial about a troubling issue and is being attacked because her husband is involved with people that Weingarten dislikes. Using that same line of thinking, Weingarten should refrain from saying anything about Romney. You see, Hilary Rosen, Weingarten’s love interest and Democratic operative, slimed Ann Romney, saying that the mother of five “has actually never worked a day in her life.”

Teachers unions’ anti-student and anti-parent behavior here is nothing new. Not that long ago, the National Education Association did its best to keep thousands of kids in rotten Washington D.C. schools, sending threatening letters to every Democratic member of Congress warning them not to support the popular D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. And just last summer, the Connecticut affiliate of Weingarten’s AFT portrayed parents as “the enemy” and managed to eviscerate a parent trigger bill which would have empowered parents in the Nutmeg State.

As I wrote last week, Weingarten’s newspeak isn’t going to fool anyone. Fewer people are shocked by the teachers unions’ disturbing behavior. And when enough parents and the general public become fed up, expect a revolt. Wisconsin was only the beginning.

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.

Damning the Children

Protecting image and turf in the face of evil is unconscionable.

As if the Jerry Sandusky fourteen year long child abuse tragedy hasn’t been painful enough, former FBI director Louis Freeh released a report last week that condemned Penn State’s legendary football coach Joe Paterno as well as other school leaders for conducting a massive cover-up. The report said that Paterno, University President Graham Spanier et al agreed

… to conceal child sexual abuse allegations against assistant coach Jerry Sandusky for more than a decade, choosing to preserve the university’s reputation over protecting the victims of a pedophile….

(They) showed “total disregard” for the abuse victims, concealed crucial information and failed at least twice to act on sexual assault accusations against one of their own because they feared the consequences of bad publicity on the university….

Clearly the brunt of the evil lies at the feet of Sandusky, the depraved assistant coach who sodomized young boys. But what can be said of the people who knew about Sandusky’s repulsive acts and did nothing? While Sandusky is guaranteed a special place in the ninth circle of Hell, what about Paterno and the others? Sorry, Coach. Your legacy will not be that you were the winningest college coach in history, but that you and others knew that unspeakable things were being done to children and were more concerned about image than responsibility.

While protecting image will push some otherwise decent folks into moral turpitude, the same can be said for protecting turf. A few weeks ago, at the behest of the California Teachers Association, six members of the California State Assembly education committee refused to sign off on a bill that would have shortened the now endless and expensive process for firing a teacher who abuses children with sex, drugs or violence. As an editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle stated,

The influence of the California Teachers Association was rarely more apparent – or more sickening – than in the defeat of SB1530. The union showed its willingness to defend an expensive and cumbersome process for firing bad teachers at almost any cost – even if that means school districts must continue to spend exorbitant sums of time and money to dismiss teachers in cases involving sex, drugs or violence with students.

Even more disturbing than the union’s predictable dogma was certain legislators’ equally predictable acceptance of it.

These legislators blatantly disregarded their public mandate in order to protect their positions in the legislative body. The teachers union did what it typically does – protect every dues paying member no matter how incompetent, rotten or perverted they are. The union’s laughably transparent defense was that if administrators would follow protocol, bills like SB 1530 would not be necessary. While admittedly school administrators dropped the ball in the Mark Berndt case in Los Angeles, it doesn’t negate the fact that the system is rigged to protect teachers who should not be allowed to be near kids.

For many reasons – including callous dismissal of children’s claims, missing teacher files and operating in a culture of non-accountability – Berndt got away with sexually abusing his students for over 20 years. The system is so perverse that the school district couldn’t get rid of Berndt without going through a lengthy appeals process costing over $300,000. So, when his crimes were exposed, Berndt gamed the system by accepting a $40,000 bribe and retired – of course only after racking up another year of credit toward his pension. Writer RiShawn Biddle succinctly and emphatically gets to the heart of the problem,

Yet those education traditionalists, especially AFT officials in L.A., and their counterparts at the statewide affiliate and the NEA’s Golden State unit, who want to simply blame school leaders for the failure to catch Berndt are also essentially refusing to hold their colleagues responsible. Actually, let me go further: If any education traditionalist tries to use the failures of L.A. Unified as a justification for defending their opposition to making it easier to get evil men like Berndt out of their jobs, then they should look in mirrors and ask forgiveness of their Creator. Because their argument is morally repulsive, intellectually dishonest, and abhorrent violation of one’s obligation to their fellow men and women. An important reason why Berndt was able to perpetuate educational and criminal abuse on the children in his care for so long lies with state laws that effectively make it almost impossible for L.A. Unified and other Golden State districts to dismiss teachers who don’t belong in classrooms.

What happens when an adult does the right thing? Ask seven year veteran principal, Eileen Blagden. In 2010, Kevin Kirby, a teacher who had been suspended from a nearby middle school for lewd and lascivious behavior and trespassing, was sent to Blagden’s school – Stowers Elementary, part of the ABC School District in southern Los Angeles County – where he was assigned as a Kindergarten teacher! (Because it is virtually impossible to get rid of a teacher in California, no matter how incompetent or perverted, Kirby had to be placed somewhere.)

Kirby, after his leave of absence, reported to Stowers “disheveled, stressed, and with blood visibly on his body,” alleging that he was in a motorcycle accident. He was clearly distraught and began talking about suicide and killing two Kindergarten teachers at the school. When Blagden told Carol Hansen, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources, of the threats, she was stunned when Hansen told her not to mention it to anyone. But after sending Kirby to the hospital, Blagden did not remain silent. In order to protect the involved teachers and their students, she informed the teachers about Kirby’s threats. As Blagden said,

In the wake of the Miramonte Elementary School and Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandals coupled with the Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Seal Beach tragedies, none of us entrusted with the safety of children can afford to guess at the genuineness of the threat when danger presents itself.

As a result of disobeying a superior, Blagden then was relieved of her duties and eventually “demoted” to the classroom for “poor performance.” Unwilling to accept the district’s action, Blagden filed a lawsuit alleging retaliation for whistle-blowing.

Then, on July 6th the court ruled that the district fabricated evidence when it said that Blagden was demoted before she went to the police. In what will undoubtedly make it into the deer-in-the-headlights wing of the deposition hall of fame, the former and current ABC Superintendents hem and haw and bob and weave their way through the tough and forthright questioning of Blagden’s attorney Ron Wilson.

As these three cases show, when protecting image and turf become paramount, our institutions become nothing more than a Potemkin villages. Until we reach the point where those in positions of authority make morality their number one priority, evil will prevail. When this evil invades our schools, children are the victims. And any society that abuses children on a regular basis is doomed to fail.

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 Second American Revolution

If education reformers stick to principle and don’t back down, all other obstacles to victory can be overcome.

Recently, Andrew Rotherham wrote a short piece in The Atlantic in which he describes “The 3 Main Obstacles in the Way of Education Reform”. The first obstacle he mentions is that currently “We buy reform.”

Or at least we try to. Some politicians really think that throwing money at the problem will help and the less principled ones do it because they are trying to pay back certain political allies. The result is that untold billions are taken from taxpayers to support giant bureaucracies on the federal and state levels and to prop up programs that do little or nothing to help the students who desperately need it. Rotherham writes,

The result is the current Byzantine system of programs and rules that characterize education policy — the 82 separate federal programs to improve teacher quality recently documented by the Government Accountability Office — and a continuing lack of strategic ability to make hard decisions at any level of education policymaking.

This bears repeating – there are 82 separate federal programs to improve teacher quality! Improving teacher quality is important, of course, but ultimately it’s just one small piece of the education reform picture. While one can find some good in the Bush era No Child Left Behind and Obama-Duncan’s Race to the Top, in the grand scheme of things both programs end up creating as many problems as they solve, and do so at an unbearable financial cost.

Rotherham’s second obstacle is “Schools lack for an adequate way to measure teacher performance.” I disagree with Rotherham here. We have adequate ways to measure performance. They are not perfect, but what we have is good enough to work with in the meantime while we continually strive for improvements. As I wrote in January,

In perhaps the most in-depth study on the subject to date, three Ivy League economists studied how much the quality of individual teachers matters to their students over the long term. The paper, by Raj Chetty and John N. Friedman of Harvard and Jonah E. Rockoff of Columbia, tracked 2.5 million students over 20 years, and using a value added approach, found that teachers who help students raise their standardized test scores have a lasting positive effect on those students’ lives beyond academics, including lower teenage-pregnancy rates, greater college matriculation and higher adult earnings. (The authors of the study define “value added” as the average test-score gain for a teacher’s students “…adjusted for differences across classrooms in student characteristics such as prior scores.”)

While using value added is important, this measure is not the only way to evaluate teachers. Observations by principals and outside evaluators are important components as is feedback from parents and students. These hybrid evaluation plans are being used now in New York and elsewhere. In Harrison, CO, School Superintendent Mike Miles has used a combination of standardized tests and classroom observation to come up with a tiered system of teacher effectiveness. (Miles, who has been called “an icon in educator effectiveness,” is apparently on his way to Dallas to head up its school system.)

Rotherham correctly bemoans “last in, first out,” the horrific seniority system that too many school districts still use. Seventeen states, including California, do not leave staffing decisions of this nature to individual school districts – they are state mandates. Seniority, a teachers union favorite, is like our tailbones, a vestigial remnant from another era. In this rigid system, no weight is given to an employee’s effectiveness, just to length of time on the job. So on a regular basis we have “Teachers of the Year” being laid off, while far less effective colleagues get to keep their jobs. The union claims this is a fair way to make staffing decisions.

Fair? Hardly. It’s highly unprincipled – horrible for children, grossly unfair to good teachers and taxpayers and must be done away with in toto.

In fact, the National Teacher of the Year award has just been given to a teacher in California. On its website, NEA proudly proclaimed her “an NEA member.” The irony is that this terrific teacher could have been laid off, with no exception made for her teaching ability, if she had been hired a few years later. So you might say that she is still on the job in spite of the teachers unions and their insistence on a seniority-based system.

Rotherham’s third obstacle is, “Education policy is by its nature political, conservative, and change-averse.”

All too often educrats, school board members and the teachers unions selfishly fight to maintain the status quo – and the kids be damned. Unless the current state of affairs is rigorously and unapologetically challenged by reformers, our country will suffer irreparable damage.

Rotherham could have added a fourth and overarching obstacle – that there is squishiness in parts of the reform movement. For example, “partnering” with the industrial style and self-absorbed teachers unions and searching for “best practices” are diversionary and ultimately pointless exercises, yet there are some who embrace them in the name of reform. In an exceptional essay, RiShawn Biddle makes a case for “The Importance of Being Divisive in Education.” He notes that many significant historical figures like Winston Churchill and Thomas Paine were considered divisive because of their standing on principle and their unwillingness to compromise. He claims that for education to undergo a necessary transformation, we need to have more divisiveness, not less. Teachers unions and other members of the educational establishment have derisively referred to Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee as divisive. But as Biddle says,

… school reformers should accept — and fully embrace — being divisive. Because it is the only way we can transform American public education.

The situation is somewhat akin to the founding of our country. I suppose that King George looked upon George Washington as divisive, as well as the aforementioned Paine, and Madison, and Jefferson. Biddle goes on to state,

Being divisive about challenging a failed, amoral system that condemns 1.2 million children a year to poverty and prison is at the heart of the school reform movement. And this is a good thing. There is nothing wrong with actively opposing a traditional system of compensation that has fostered teacher quality policies that subject our poorest children to the worst American public education offers. And, more importantly, there is nothing terrible about pushing to end policies that do little more than harm the futures of children who deserve better.

In short, education reformers are at war with those who, for their own selfish reasons, are fighting to maintain a failed system. Because a revolution in education must occur if we are to regain our status as a great nation, playing nice with the enemy will not get the job done. In a time of warfare, divisiveness is a virtue. Without it, and a principled spine of steel, the war will be lost and our country along with 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.

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 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.