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Propaganda Every American Should Disregard

Randi Weingarten promotes her union agenda in the guise of “cultural literacy.”

Almost 30 years ago, education professor E.D. Hirsch wrote Cultural Literacy, in which he claimed that there are facts and cultural references that every American should know. His list was both celebrated and attacked, and is still controversial.

While many approve of a “core knowledge” curriculum, our polarized citizenry can’t seem to agree on its makeup. To get to some sort of consensus, the Aspen Institute has initiated a project that asks, “What do you think Americans should know to be civically and culturally literate? Give us your top ten!”

While the responses clearly give a clue as to the politics of the responder, the choices tend to be, at least, mostly factual. However, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten’s contribution is devoid of facts and, consisting instead of her leftist, pro-union agenda.

#1 on Weingarten’s deeply flawed list informs us that “More than half of American public school students live in poverty.” What she doesn’t bother to mention is that what constitutes poverty these days is something of a joke. As Robert Rector wrote in 2011, “The following are facts about persons defined as ‘poor’ by the Census Bureau as taken from various government reports:”

  • 80 percent of poor households have air conditioning. In 1970, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.
  • 92 percent of poor households have a microwave.
  • Nearly three-fourths have a car or truck, and 31 percent have two or more cars or trucks.
  • Nearly two-thirds have cable or satellite TV.
  • Two-thirds have at least one DVD player, and 70 percent have a VCR.
  • Half have a personal computer, and one in seven have two or more computers.
  • More than half of poor families with children have a video game system, such as an Xbox or PlayStation.
  • 43 percent have Internet access.
  • One-third have a wide-screen plasma or LCD TV.
  • One-fourth have a digital video recorder system, such as a TiVo.

The Okies would have killed to live in such “poverty.”

#2 – Weingarten’s next core knowledge “fact” is that “Thirty-one states are spending less per pupil on public education than they were in 2007.” Because spending on education varies from state to state and from year to year, it’s much more instructive to look at the big picture. As a nation, we are first in the world in spending, investing over $600 billion dollars on public education every year. Also, as the late Andrew Coulson wrote in 2012, “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.” Hence, we spend a fortune on education and the unionized workforce has been growing precipitously. So Weingarten’s “fact” is ultimately meaningless.

#3 – “High school graduation rates, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores and college entrance are all at record highs.” Well sorta. NAEP scores have been rising in elementary and middle schools but not high schools. Regarding high school grad rates, it depends who is doing the counting and how the rates are measured. But even if the NAEP scores are rising and high school grad rates are up and college entrance rates are at an all-time high – more importantly, what happens when students get to college? Are they prepared? The answer is a resounding “No!”

Despite our misguided insistence that every student go to college, we’ve done little to ensure their readiness to do so. Via Joanne Jacobs, we see that while 66 percent of our students do apply to college, only 38 percent are ready for the experience. (Note to Randi – regarding your #2 and #3 points: you claim that spending is down throughout much of the country, yet students are flourishing. Maybe we should cut spending to further improve performance?)

Numbers 4 through 8 are equally lame, but let’s skip them and go directly to #9. “Twenty-eight percent of the public workforce will be eligible to retire by 2018, and many state and local governments are not prepared, especially in areas like public safety and corrections.” Not prepared? As the need arises, more will be hired. But if she is referring to pensions, of course they are not prepared! That’s because public employee unions and their hand-picked cronies in local government have already mortgaged all of our futures and built mountains of debt which will be shouldered by generations to come. Many big cities are on the verge of bankruptcy. In fact, Chicago now has “more retired police and firefighters than working.” New York City is in the same boat. In New York State, it is not uncommon for cops and firefighters to pull in six-figure retirement checks.

And then there is #10 – “Every dollar paid out in pension benefits puts $2.37 back into the economy.” This one is an Oscar winner for its audacity and mendacity – a canard perpetuated by the National Institute on Retirement Security, a public pension advocacy group. As researcher Jason Richwine points out, “The stimulus effects are based on the uncontroversial notion that economic activity (such as paying pension benefits) begets further economic activity. The fallacy is in ignoring what economic activity would be generated by taxpayer money if it were not diverted to pensions in the first place.”

So if you steal a dollar from Joe but assure him that the money will be put to good use, the crime is then justified, right, Randi?

Had Weingarten’s fact-free twaddle appeared a few weeks later, I would have assumed it was an April Fool’s joke. But no, sadly, her pro-union propaganda is deadly serious and should be scorned by anyone who truly cares about cultural literacy.

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

Taking Randi Weingarten’s Words with a Grain of Salt… and Some Maalox

The American Federation of Teachers President’s half truths and hypocrisy can’t hide an obvious agenda.

In a slam against those of us who believe that part of a teacher’s evaluation should be based on how well their students perform on standardized tests, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten wrote an article for the Huffington Post last week which begins, “Since some people think that everything in education can be reduced to a number, let’s follow their lead.” She then fires off seven bullet points – all bolds in the original – which are supposed to convince the reader that some awful things are happening in the world of public education.

Consider me very unconvinced by her numbers.

She starts off with 76: The percentage of teachers who report that their school’s budget decreased in the last year (after the recession officially ended).

Whatever teachers may or may not know about their school’s budget, her point is clearly refuted by her rival union, the National Education Association. According to teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci who examined the NEA’s Rankings & Estimates,

If we compare this year’s numbers to three years ago, we see an enrollment increase of 0.5 percent, a teacher reduction of 0.4 percent, and an increase in per-pupil spending of 6 percent (1.5% in constant dollars).

Going back further, he reports:

Let’s look at the last 10 years for convenience, and the last three to examine the effects of national recession. In 2001-02, there were 2,991,724 K-12 classroom teachers and 47,360,963 K-12 students. K-12 per-pupil spending was $7,676.

Ten years later, there were almost 7 percent more teachers and 4 percent more students. Per-pupil spending was $10,976 – a 43% increase (12.6% in constant dollars). (Bold added.)

Weingarten: 63: The percentage of teachers who say that their class sizes increased in the last year.

So what? First, she mentions nothing about how much of an increase. And it has been documented over and over again, most recently this past January, that class size has nothing to do with student achievement.

Weingarten: 16.4 million: The number of children in America living in poverty.

Red herring. Union drum-beating to the contrary, poor kids can learn also. Also important – what definition of poverty is being used? Poverty is one of those words that is defined by the person speaking or writing to make a point. Writer Leon Felkins points out,

The fact that “poverty” is a vague term and cannot be defined precisely, does not, of course, stop the government from using the word as if it were precise and the press going along with the scam, as is their way. In fact the government is not beyond declaring that poverty has increased or that it has decreased when the primary factor in the increase or decrease may be that the government has simply changed its definition of poverty.

Robert Rector has made a detailed and very well documented study of this very question in his online paper, “How ‘Poor’ are America’s Poor?” and the update, “THE MYTH OF WIDESPREAD AMERICAN POVERTY“. Some interesting comparison’s surface (as of 1990, the date of the original article):

• In the 1920s, over half of the families would have been officially “poor” by today’s standard (adjusted for inflation).
• The average “poor” American lives in a bigger house or apartment, eats far more meat, owns more appliances, has more amenities such as indoor toilets, than the average European (note that “average” includes all, not just the poor).
• Today’s poor are more likely to own common appliances such as televisions and refrigerators than the average family in the 1950s.
• Government reports show that the poor actually spend 2 to 3 times as much as their official income. Amazing! (Bold added.)
• As a group, the “poor” are far from being chronically hungry and malnourished. In fact, poor persons are more likely to be overweight than are middle-class persons. Nearly half of poor adult women are overweight. Most poor children today are in fact super-nourished, growing up to be, on average, one inch taller and ten pounds heavier that the GIs who stormed the beaches of Normandy in World War II.

Weingarten: 50: The approximate percent of teachers who leave the profession within the first five years.

This is a stretch, wrapped in innuendo and topped off with a political flourish. The assumption here is that teachers are leaving the profession in droves because they are overworked, underappreciated, overwhelmed and underpaid. But a closer look at reality tells a different story. The number leaving the classroom is actually much closer to 40 percent and they leave for a wide variety of reasons including taking an administrative position, personal reasons, 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.

And of course, Weingarten makes no mention of the fact that for the teachers do who leave their jobs for better paying ones in the first five years, the union is responsible for their relatively low salaries. New teachers, no matter how talented they may be, are typically stuck in the lowest rungs of step-and-column pay hell for years; they only advance by taking meaningless salary point classes and accumulating years on the job. Very rarely is incentive pay available for being an above average teacher. Also, archaic seniority rules punish good new teachers — no matter how effective they are in the classroom, they will be the first to go when money gets tight. Any attempt to deviate from this civil service model of payment and staffing is met with great resistance from the teachers unions.

The take-away here is that when a union leader speaks, you must assume that there is a very obvious agenda being laid out. Weingarten spins the numbers to suit that agenda, which is first and foremost about getting the taxpayers to fork over more and more bucks for education. I guess a 150 percent increase in spending nationally since 1970 (and getting nothing for it) isn’t enough for Weingarten.

It’s especially laughable because like so many other union phonies, Weingarten talks one way and lives another. Despite her ongoing “tax the rich” class warfare campaign, she is a card-carrying member of the dreaded “one percent” class. In 2010, her last year as United Federation of Teachers president, she received a $194,000 payout for unused sick days, which pushed her total compensation for the year to over $600,000. And she will tell you that it’s just a coincidence that she abandoned New York City that year for East Hampton, a very wealthy community on Long Island’s south shore, thus avoiding paying $30,000 in taxes.

Coincidence? Try hypocrisy.

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.