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NPR Ignores the Real Problem of Uber-driving School Teacher

National Public Radio’s Sunday morning story last month was a failure of basic journalism. “In Silicon Valley, Where a Teacher Works for Uber to Stay Middle-Class” features Matthew Barry, a high school economics teacher in California’s Morgan Hill Unified School District (MHUSD). He says his $69,000 annual salary is so insufficient to his surroundings in the magically affluent Silicon Valley that he’s had to take a second job – as an Uber driver.

“It doesn’t necessarily work out financially ’cause it’s really, you know, it’s not the greatest level of income,” Barry told NPR.

He says his passengers are often surprised to learn he’s a teacher. And he feels some guilt – and evinces a little resentment, maybe – that he’s not making it. “I’d rather be a full-time teacher and that be enough,” he says. “But in the current housing market, it’s really not.”

NPR reporter Rachel Martin says Barry’s wife is also a teacher – we found that she earned about $79,000 in 2014. But Martin never explores why Barry’s income doesn’t match his surroundings, where the median priced home runs $800,000. The answer is left to our imagination, which suggests that teachers simply aren’t paid enough.

Our imagination might be wrong. For the real forces that shape Barry’s work experience, we have to look more broadly at the teachers union contract governing his job at Live Oak High School.

Like most school district labor contracts, MHUSD’s with the Morgan Hill Federation of Teachers determines salaries primarily by seniority, credentials, and degrees. In their first 11 years, Morgan Hill teachers are guaranteed increases almost every year. On top of that annual bump, teachers receive additional pay raises – the most recent contract gave every Morgan Hill teacher a 5% increase over the course of a 2015-18 deal.

Barry is a newish teacher, just nine years in; his big payoff won’t come until much later.

According to Transparent California, Live Oak High School’s principal Lloyd Webb pulled around $153,000 in 2014. Assistant principals Natalie Gioco and Aurelia Yabrudy earned roughly $127,000 and $123,000 that same year. Even custodian Guy Betancourt earned $67,000.

Then there are the retirees. In MHUSD, hefty pensions and retirement packages are abundant. Joseph Totter, former MHUSD Assistant Superintendent, received a $169,000 pension in 2015. In fact, 80 former MHUSD employees earned pensions that surpass Barry’s current pay.

Morgan Hill isn’t unique. Throughout California – across the nation – teachers unions have locked in lower pay for new teachers. If cuts should come, most districts pink-slip new teachers rather than older teachers, the notorious “Last-In, First-Out” system.

Over time, Barry’s salary will increase, but increases won’t be linked to his classroom performance. And they won’t be linked to the relative scarcity of his subject-area expertise. He’ll get increases for staying on the job, and occasionally for taking college courses toward a degree that might – or might not – improve his teaching.

We tried to get a comment from Barry, but he didn’t respond to our several requests. We may have been among the few reporters to whom he didn’t speak. In a matter of weeks, his story was all over, giving his struggle the feel of a media campaign. It was referenced on Real Clear Politics and on the pro-union Capital and Main website. The lefty Nation magazine featured Barry’s dilemma in a pointed feature titled, “Teachers Are Working for Uber Just to Keep a Foothold in the Middle Class.” That yarn didn’t address the problem of union contracts, either. Nor did it reveal much that we didn’t find elsewhere – except this: Barry’s days as an Uber driver are apparently in the rearview mirror. He’s participating in another disruptive force in the new sharing economy: he and his wife reportedly rented their house to golf caddies for the U.S. Women’s Open.

Catrin Thorman is a California Policy Center Journalism Fellow. She is a graduate of Azusa Pacific University, and a former Teach for America corps member. Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons.

 Rampant Union Greed in Chicago

The Windy City’s teachers union is on the verge of yet another strike. 

In 2012, Troy Senik wrote “The Worst Union in America,” a title he bestowed on the California Teachers Association. As a former member and longtime critic of that union, I certainly had no quibble with his selection. But now, CTA is facing serious competition from the Chicago Teachers Union.

As reported in last week’s post, CTU, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, is gearing up for a strike. It would be the union’s second in four years, despite the fact that the median salary for a teacher in Chicago is $78,169. When you add another $27,564 for various benefits, the total compensation for a teacher – good, bad or middling – becomes almost $106K per annum. (Please keep in mind teachers work 180 days a year, while employees in other professions typically work for 240 to 250 days.) In retirement, the average Chicago teacher receives a hefty $50,000 a year.

The main sticking point for the union and the Chicago Public School system (CPS) is the so-called pension pick-up. Teachers there (and elsewhere) have what’s called a “defined benefit plan,” whereby in retirement – come hell, high water or recession – a teacher’s pension is not affected. In most places, teachers and the school district share the contributions equally, but not in Chicago and some other municipalities in Illinois. Teachers there are supposed to chip in 9 percent of their salary to fund their own pension. But as things stand now, teachers contribute just 2 percent, with the school district (read: taxpayer) picking up the remaining seven. The city, which is in dire fiscal straits, is asking teachers to pay the full 9 percent. But lest the poor teachers need to reach for the smelling salts because they are being asked to kick in more for their own retirement years, Chicago is offering them an 8.7 percent salary increase over four years to help offset the teachers’ pension payment.

So, as the union demands more and more money, the schools end up with less and less. As reported by the Chicago Tribune, CPS still needs to come up with at least $300 million to balance its fiscal 2017 budget. “The school system still faces huge, $700 million-ish teachers pension payments this year and annually into the future. It still has too much real estate to serve its dwindling number of students. And its credit is maxing out.” As a result, Moody’s has just downgraded CPS further into junk status.

As if the union’s insistence on yet more money is not deplorable enough, there is a new addition to their basket. When CTU held its strike vote last week, it didn’t do it the traditional way – by secret ballot. Nope, the union had its teachers authorize a strike via “petitions” circulated at schools, meaning that everyone knew how everyone else voted. Think there may have been an intimidation factor at work here? And why on earth would they need to resort to such strong-arm tactics? The teachers voted by a 7 to 1 margin to strike in 2012 – when voting was done in private. As it turns out, the margin this year was 86 percent affirmative, just about what it was in 2012.

If the method of voting sounds dictatorial and totalitarian, it fits right in with the union’s leadership. CTU president Karen Lewis, who revels in her inflammatory style, makes Donald Trump look downright demure. Just a few of her egregious comments:

  • At the City Club of Chicago in 2013, she blamed the city’s education woes on rich white people. “When will we address the fact that rich, white people think they know what’s in the best interest of children of African Americans and Latinos—no matter what the parent’s income or education level.”
  • After the tragic Sandy Hook school shootings, Lewis blamed Teach for America, the organization that successfully enlists high-achieving college graduates to teach at hard to staff schools. Referring to TFA vice-president David Rosenberg, Lewis said “… policies his colleagues support kill and disenfranchise children from schools across this nation.”
  • Earlier this year, Lewis compared the Illinois governor to ISIS: “Rauner is the new ISIS recruit. Yes, I said it, and I’ll say it again. Bruce Rauner is a liar. And, you know, I’ve been reading in the news lately all about these ISIS recruits popping up all over the place — has Homeland Security checked this man out yet? Because the things he’s doing look like acts of terror on poor and working-class people.”
  • Then there is the typical union boss hypocrisy: She rails against corporate “fat cats,” all the while pulling in over $200,000 a year, owning three homes, including one in Hawaii. (Second-in-command at CTU, Comrade Jesse Sharkey, a leading member of the revolutionary International Socialist Organization, makes well over $100,000 in total compensation.)

The teachers could strike as soon as October 11th. It’s up to Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel and Governor Rauner to stand up to the CTU leadership and their outrageous demands and put a halt to the mugging. Enough taxpayer money has been extorted by the union without the mayor and governor kicking in another penny. And the union can’t claim that its teachers are doing a bang-up job: Just 30 percent of 4th grade CPS students are proficient in math and by 8th grade that number sinks to 25 percent. In reading, 27 percent of 4th graders are proficient as are 24 percent of 8th graders. Taxpayers should not be expected to sink any more of their money into an ineffective school system.

As of now, the hard working people of Chicago – already the highest taxed in Illinois – are getting overpaid teachers, failing kids and a union that wears its greed proudly on its sleeve. CTA, you have some serious competition.

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.

Teachers Union Chases "Teach for America" Out of San Francisco

It should be an article of faith by now that in California, whatever the teachers union wants, the teachers union gets. It is nonetheless surprising that their reach might extend all the way to a recent decision by the San Francisco Unified School District board to reject fifteen talented teachers who were part of “Teach for America.”

The Teach for America program, similar to the Peace Corps, attracts some of the top college graduates in the United States to spend two years teaching students in underprivileged communities. Not only are these highly motivated and underpaid teachers committing themselves to work in schools with chronic teacher shortages, but they typically teach the subjects for which the profession has the hardest time finding teachers – in science, math, special education, and bilingual classrooms.

Never mind all that. Go away. Never mind that San Francisco Unified needs to fill 500 teaching jobs by August in the midst of a statewide teachers shortage. The union can’t accept “cheap labor” that might undermine their lock on the teaching profession.

If you review the candidate questionnaires filled out by San Francisco Unified’s president, Matt Haney, or its vice president, Shamann Walton, it isn’t too hard to figure out who pulls their strings. Haney’s in-depth answers failed to include teacher accountability as one of his priorities. He also does not support having charter schools as “a central part of our strategy to deliver high quality education.” But Haney does favor project labor agreements and increasing teacher salaries. As for Walton, the questionnaire we could find for her, delivered to the Laborers Local 261, documents her positions on such academic priorities as the right to an abortion, affirmative action, marriage equality, rent control and sanctuary cities. Needless to say, all of her positions on these non academic matters conform to those of the California Teachers Association.

If you review salaries and benefits for San Francisco Unified School District employees, you quickly realize why classroom teachers are arguably underpaid. There isn’t any money left after the bureaucrats get their share. Any ambitious public education professional quickly realizes two things: (1) Do whatever the union tells you to do, and (2) get an administrative job in an office, where you’ll make 50% more, won’t have to teach kids during the day or grade papers at night, and still only work 180 days a year. In the case of San Francisco Unified’s 2014 payroll, you have to scroll through the salary records for 251 bureaucrats before you get to the first employee with the title “Regular Classroom Teacher.” Go figure.

The teachers unions have created pretty much every mess that exists in California’s public schools today. They successfully push for legislation that requires the addition of extensive bureaucratic staff, then bemoan the lack of funds to hire classroom teachers. They complain that classroom teachers are underpaid, but oppose tying compensation to performance. The union blames “Wall Street” for the financial challenges facing pensions, while simultaneously pushing for pension benefits that can only be justified if you believe the corrupt Wall Street debt bubble will never burst. The union accuses charter schools of “privatization for profit,” ignoring the fact that most charters are nonprofits, sustained by donors of diverse ideologies who are united only by a passionate desire to rescue America’s youth from a failed system.

In an editorial published on June 22 entitled “San Francisco was wrong to chase out Teach for America,” even the liberal San Francisco Chronicle was unequivocal. “So who would object to this program?,” they wrote, “Teacher unions, quite vociferously.”

Herein lies the hope for those who still believe that achieving quality education is a nonpartisan concern. Because conscientious people can disagree on issues of abortion, affirmative action, marriage equality, rent control and sanctuary cities, but still vociferously agree that the California Teachers Association is an out-of-control behemoth with a record of placing the interests of bad teachers ahead of the interests of school children.

Someday liberals, along with reticent conservative allies, will join with more outspoken reformers in admitting that nearly every problem in our public schools are merely symptoms, and that the rotten illness at the core is the teachers union. When that day comes, there will be hope for our children, and the future of California.

 *   *   *

Ed Ring is the president of the California Policy Center.

Loss of LIFO

If Eli Broad’s charter school plan goes forward, there will be a major shake-up in the ranks of LAUSD teachers.

Philanthropist Eli Broad’s ambitious plan to create 260 new charter schools over an eight year period in Los Angeles, enrolling at least 130,000 students, will have major ramifications for many of the city’s 25,600 teachers. With this in mind, the Los Angeles Times Howard Blume wrote “Thousands of LAUSD teachers’ jobs would be at risk with charter expansion plan” last week. (Interestingly, the online version of the piece was originally titled “L.A. charter school expansion could mean huge drop in unionized teaching jobs” – a more honest title.)

The Broad plan would include places for about 5,000 more charter school teachers, which simply means that 5,000 thousand current teachers in Los Angeles could be displaced. What Blume’s article doesn’t address is just which teachers will be losing their positions. Due to seniority or last in/first out (LIFO) – a union construct that is written into the California Constitution – the teachers who could lose their jobs would not be the 5,000 poorest performing ones, but rather the 5,000 newest hired. But there is a silver lining here. While some of the 5,000 should not be in the profession, many are good teachers and some are terrific. And the latter groups will not be unemployed for long, because charter schools are independent (mostly non-unionized) and therefore not beholden to the district’s industrial style employment hierarchy, so competent teachers will be snapped up.)

20151014-UW-Sand
Philanthropist Eli Broad

Blume mentions that the new plan refers to “hiring from an expanded Teach For America and other groups that work with young, inexperienced instructors” and “makes no mention of recruiting instructors from the ranks of L.A. Unified.”

The plan might not make any mention of recruiting current teachers, but clearly the charter schools could not fill their ranks with all rookies. And therein lies the beauty of the Broad plan. Those rehired would be the good and great teachers who are working now because they are qualified, not because they are LIFO-protected.

Broad spokeswoman Swati Pandey elaborated: “We are in the process of listening to educators and community members to determine how best to support the dramatic growth of high-quality public schools in Los Angeles. We know that without great teachers, there can be no great public schools. We’re eager to engage and support teachers as part of this work.”

Needless to say, United Teachers of Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl had a different take. He said, “The charters are specifically looking for educators who have not had the experience of being in a union, which means that, by and large, they’re looking for teachers who may find it more challenging to raise their voice about curriculum or school conditions.”

The experience of being in a union…? What?! And where does he get the idea that only unionized teachers dare to speak up about “curriculum and school conditions?”

But then again, maybe the UTLA boss is just mouthing the union party line and his transparency should be applauded. In 2009 UTLA president A.J. Duffy told a group of young teachers at Liechty Middle School, “Saving your jobs would mean that more experienced teachers would lose theirs. Seniority is the only fair way to do it . . . and any exception would be an act of disloyalty.” The California Federation of Teachers website claims that “Seniority is the only fair, transparent way to administer layoffs. It ensures equal treatment for all teachers.” (Yes, for Teachers-of-the-Year and incompetents alike, LIFO does ensure “equal treatment.”)

Others who actually have children’s and parents’ best interests at heart have a different view, however. Alluding to the teachers unions’ claim that thousands of teachers will need to be recruited over the next decade, Jim Blew, president of the Sacramento-based advocacy group StudentsFirst, said, “… they say there’s no room for teachers from organizations with proven, documented records of creating quality teachers…. L.A. needs more great teachers, and everyone should welcome them regardless of who recruited them to the city.”

Jason Mandell, Director, Advocacy Communications of the California Charter School Association (CCSA) added, “Great teachers change students’ lives. Charter school teachers do that every day and the evidence is in their students’ progress. Teachers are the heroes of the charter school movement.”

And parents agree with both Blew and Mandell.

As CCSA points out, there are 40,000 kids on charter school waitlists in Los Angeles, unable to enroll in a high quality school of their parents choosing because there aren’t enough seats. Also, as I pointed out a couple of weeks ago, the recently released California Assessment of Student Progress and Performance (CAASPP) scores showed that only one-third of students in traditional LA schools performed up to their grade level in English and one-fourth did so in math, while LA charter students far outpaced their counterparts.

It should be noted that the current seniority and tenure laws, both of which are toxic to students, are imperiled. In the Vergara case, Judge Rolf Treu ruled these byzantine legal protections unconstitutional and went on to say that “it shocks the conscience.” However, the state and the teachers unions are appealing the decision. And even if Treu’s decision is upheld, we have no guarantee that the archaic statutes will be replaced by anything much better.

In summing up the situation, we are left with the following:

  • Charters allow children to escape from the antiquated zip-code monopoly education system.
  • Charters only flourish if parents choose to send their kids there.
  • Kids on average get a better education in charters.
  • Good teachers will always find work.
  • Charters will choose and retain the best teachers who fit in with their mission.
  • Poor-performing teachers will find it difficult to stay in the field.
  • Unions will have less money and power, due to diminishing ranks.

In other words, the Broad plan is a win-win-win situation for good teachers, children and their families. Mr. Caputo-Pearl, does that matter to you at all?

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers 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.

Doctored Education

Using testing as a backdrop, NEA president promotes 1950s industrial-style education.

The American Enterprise Institute’s education policy maven Rick Hess has been traveling around the country promoting his new book The Cage-Busting Teacher. So last week he left his Education Week blog in the hands of National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen García.

Interesting choice, to say the least.

The main point of her May 18th entry, “Is There a Doctor in the Education House?,” is that testing is a bad thing. She makes a few points here that I can agree with. In brief, testing is like food. Basically it’s a good thing. But too much or the wrong kind can be damaging. As such, states and individual school districts need to reevaluate their programs to ensure that their tests are benefiting students and teachers, not bureaucrats, politicians and testing companies.

But Eskelsen García uses the forum to blast various kinds of education reform and makes some comments that strain the life out of credulity.

First, she laments “No Child Left Untested.” Okay, we’ll excuse the old joke, but she refers to the Bush/Kennedy/Clinton law as the “factory model of school reform.” Now coming from the leader of a union that has made the one-size-fits-every-teacher-and-student collective bargaining agreement the Bible of every school district unfortunate enough to be organized with an industrial-style union, that is hubris of the highest order.

Stanford professor and researcher Terry Moe has done extensive work on the subject and found that, bottom line, collective bargaining hurts students in large school districts. Moreover, he found that the negative effects of collective bargaining are much greater for high minority schools than for other schools. He explains,

… the best evidence indicates that the impact of collective bargaining is especially negative for schools that are ‘relatively’ high minority within a given (larger) district. This supports the argument that restrictive contracts put high minority schools at a disadvantage in the competition for teachers and resources within districts.

… collective bargaining does have negative consequences for student achievement, and that the effects are concentrated on precisely those districts and schools—large districts, high-minority schools—that, over the years, have been the lowest performers and the most difficult to improve.

In short the industrialization model of education in the U.S. is bad for kids, but cannot be blamed on NCLB. Fact is, the “factory model” comes with a shiny union label.

Eskelsen García then hits the privatization button, lumping charters and vouchers together in the same pot. The fact that most studies show charters do a better job than traditional public schools – especially with minorities – never makes it to her radar screen. Nor does the fact that vouchers have not only improved education for the kids who have taken advantage of them, but also help those kids who remain in nearby public schools. As I wrote recently, Friedman Foundation senior fellow Greg Forster looked at 23 empirical studies that have examined school choice’s impact on academic outcomes in public schools. Of these, he reports “22 find that choice improves public schools and one finds no visible impact. No empirical study has found that choice harms public schools.”

The union leader’s next bugaboo isfast-track teacher prep, short-term, disposable labor.” This is an obvious swipe at Teach for America, the program that turns out effective teachers despite the fact they go through an initial training for just five to seven weeks and avoid years of useless education school blather. (Actually, one reason TFA teachers do well is because they avoid our traditional schools of education which are in large part free of rigor and loaded with edu-fads-du-jour.) A recent study by Mathematica, an independent policy research group, finds that,

TFA’s first- and second-year elementary school teachers, who average just over a year and a half of teaching experience, were as effective as their counterparts in the same schools, who averaged 13.6 years of teaching experience, as measured by their students’ test scores in reading and math. A small subset of those TFA teachers — ones in pre-K through second-grade classrooms — were found to be slightly more effective in teaching reading than the national average in those grades.

Eskelsen García’s “short term” rap against TFA is also untrue. An extensive PDK study shows that nearly two-thirds of TFA teachers continue as public school teachers beyond their two-year commitment. Also, many who leave their teaching positions stay in the field as administrators, school board members, school district employees, etc.

The union leader ends her piece with “Maybe it’s time to change from the Factory Model of school reform to the Good Doctor Model.” Right, but the “Good Doctor” would of course come with seniority and tenure protections that would guarantee an ongoing practice irrespective of how many patients were buried in the process. And no matter what, her practice would continue to thrive because those who lived in her zip-code would be forced to use her services.

For unionistas, Eskelsen García’s ideas are just what the doctor ordered. But for the patients and those who get stuck with the bill, it’s toxic snake oil.

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.

Sweatshops, Walmart, TFA, Bart Simpson and Hams for Hanukkah

Teachers unions are busier than ever pointing fingers, forming loopy alliances and making embarrassing gaffes.

A couple of weeks ago Massie Ritsch, assistant communications and outreach point man for Education Secretary Arne Duncan, left his job to take a similar position at Teach For America. And not a moment too soon!

As I wrote last week, the American Federation of Teachers has hopped into bed with the United Students Against Sweatshops. In fact, having given the group $58,650 in 2013-1014, AFT is the USAS’ biggest funder. The Harvard cell of the national group made news when it decided to target Teach For America. According to the Harvard Crimson, “The effort is part of a larger national movement started by United Students Against Sweatshops that criticizes Teach For America, a nation-wide program that recruits college graduates to teach in low-income communities for at least two years, for undermining the quality of public education.” (Emphasis added.)

Undermining public education? Funny, I thought that was the job of the teachers union.

USAS  Harvard also demands that TFA sever ties with anti-union corporations such as Walmart, which funds TFA. Reason’s Nick Gillespie clearly gets the gut-busting hubris,

We’ve all heard the stories about how smart, ambitious, and clean-smelling Harvard students are, right? I mean, Harvard is like the Cadillac of college (and I mean back when Cadillac meant high standards and luxury, not whatever it might mean today), the gold standard in a world of fiat currencies. And the students come from money, with over 45 percent hailing from families pulling in $200,000 a year (and 21 percent coming from the above-$500,000 mark).

So you can rest assured that Harvard students know what they’re talking about. And these days, they’re trying to get the university to pull out of Teach For America if it doesn’t start only placing its participants in unionized public schools. (Emphasis added.)

AEI’s Rick Hess weighs in also,

Fashioning themselves the “United Students Against Sweatshops” (it’s okay to laugh at that), these kids have taken TFA to task for being “the man”—and for turning teaching into sweatshop-like work by allowing some selected recruits to enter the classroom without slogging through the entirety of traditional teacher prep. I’m not sure where the “sweatshop” piece really surfaces here, ed schools have a hard time making the case that their grads are better after the training, and research has suggested that TFA’ers are at least as effective as traditionally trained teachers, but whatevs… Somehow, I don’t think the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) are all that interested in sweating these details. I’m trying to make allowance for the fact that these complaints are being offered by a bunch of 20-year-olds who don’t know anything and who’ve given every indication that they’re being funded and stage-managed by professional labor organizers who have their own agenda. But still, for reasons that escape me, they’ve been getting a fair bit of attention. (Emphasis added.)

The real problem that AFT-USAS has with TFA is that it places a great number of its teachers in charter schools, which are overwhelmingly union-free. And of course, Walmart has been a long-time punching bag for unionistas and their fellow travelers. The giant chain is not unionized, which has enabled it to keep costs down by not having to wade through the collective bargaining process. If it were up to AFT-USAS, Walmart would be unionized, the result of which would be jacked up wages leading to increased prices, which would mean fewer customers, thus forcing worker lay-offs. Now there’s a great business plan!

The teachers unions’ efforts to defame Walmart know no bounds. AFT president Randi Weingarten thought she was being oh-so-clever when she posted “Really Walmart? Ham for Hanukah” (sic) on Facebook.

Randi ham As EAG’s Kyle Olson points out, this photo is seven years old and was not even taken at Walmart – it was Balducci’s, a gourmet retailer in New York City. (And with all Weingarten’s self-righteous indignation, you’d think she would at least know how to spell Hanukkah!)

Interestingly, after being excoriated for this silly attempt to embarrass Walmart, it took her a week to remove the post. Perhaps though we can cut poor Randi some slack because she is sooooo busy!! In recent months, she has immersed herself in the Middle East (pushing Israel to adopt a “two-state solution”), developed a plan to contain Ebola and traveled to the Ukraine to “promote democratic values.” (Memo to Randi: Maybe consider spending less time play-acting as Secretary of State and tackle the New York City charter school that your union is systematically running into the ground.)

Weingarten has probably been too busy to see a recent episode of The Simpsons, which absolutely skewered the teachers unions.

Jack Lassen, voiced menacingly by Willem Dafoe, was transferred to Bart’s school during what Superintendent Gary Chalmers referred to as the “Dance of the Lemons,” in which school officials practice what little control they have over teacher unions by allowing principals to select their worst teacher to send to another school in the district.

“The union is happy, the parents are placated and only the children suffer,” Chalmers explained.

Lassen — among the group Chalmers refers to as “sociopathic child-haters who are only teachers because they got tenure after two short years” — doesn’t suffer Bart’s foolishness, responding to the mischievous one’s skeleton-in-the-closet prank by buzzing the top of his head with clippers.

When you’ve lost Bart Simpson, you just may have lost the country, as evidenced by the unions’ dismal return on the millions they spent in the November elections.

But back to USAS. Gillespie ended his Reason post with the following:

The Harvard prodigies and the organizers at USAS are about the last people standing who think that unionizing teachers is the last, best hope of improving American education, especially for students from lower-income, higher-risk-for-failure backgrounds. Good luck to them as their reactionary attitudes leave them further and further in the rear-view window as the rest of the country moves into a future of increased options for all, regardless of family income and ability to pay.

All I can add to that, Nick, is a hearty “Amen!!”

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.

When Teachers Unions Attack

Coca Cola, Teach For America, Walmart and banks are the latest targets of Big Labor.

Attempting to get over the millions of dollars they spent backing losers in the November election, America’s teachers unions are on a mission to find new bogeymen. First victim: Coca Cola. Yup, the American Federation of Teachers has adopted a resolution which claims that “three general secretaries of the union representing Coca-Cola workers in Guatemala City and five workers were killed, and four more workers were kidnapped.” (To read the rest of the pathetic guilt-by-association allegations, go here.) But the real reason the union is pillorying our national soft drink is because “Coca-Cola circumvents its own code of conduct by hiring workers through subcontracting rather than hiring permanent employees.”

There it is. AFT’s real gripe is that Coke is hiring non-union workers. (Rumors that the union went after Coke because it thought that the company was owned by those two evil brothers from Kansas are unfounded.)

As The Daily Caller’s Eric Owens points out,” The anti-Coke gambit is the latest in a bizarro month even by the standards of America’s teachers unions.”

While AFT is busy defaming Coke, the National Education Association has been focusing on student debt, and recently kicked off a “Degrees Not Debt Week of Action.” Of course, what the union doesn’t mention is that in order to get potential teachers and other college grads off the hook, the beleaguered taxpayers would have to assume the debt. The union also neglects to acknowledge that organized labor has played an important role in the escalating costs of getting a college degree. Referring to the University of California, Jon Coupal points out that the driving force behind tuition hikes is the growing unfunded liability of pension funds and “other items of questionable compensation for unionized faculty.” Coupal quotes Wall Street Journals Allysia Finley,

UCs this year needed to spend an additional $73 million on pensions, $30 million on faculty bonuses, $24 million on health benefits and $16 million on collectively bargained pay increases. The regents project that they will require $250 million more next year to finance increased compensation and benefit costs.

Ms. Napolitano [President of the University of California] says that the UCs have cut their budgets to the bone, yet her own office includes nearly 2,000 employees—a quarter of whom make six-figure salaries. An associate vice president of federal government relations earns $273,375 a year, plus $55,857 in retirement and health benefits, according to the state controller’s office.  Thirty professors at UC Santa Cruz rake in more than $200,000 in pay, and most faculty can retire at 60 and receive a pension equal to 75% of their final salary. More than 2,100 retirees in the university retirement system collected six-figure pensions in 2011.

At the same time the teachers unions are trying to shaft the taxpayer, they pretend to really, really care about the little guy. In a press release, AFT accuses Wall Street of “costing schools, municipalities billions.” The union’s hellfire-and-brimstone document informs us that banks took advantage of poor lil’ ol’ educators by charging interest on money they never should have had to borrow in the first place. (Okay, I added that last part.) Never one to mince words, Chicago Teacher Union president (and member in good standing of the International Socialist Organization) Jesse Sharkey proclaimed, “The banks owe us a rebate of hundreds of millions of dollars, which we should invest in 50 sustainable community schools with robust wraparound services, restorative justice programs, low class sizes and sufficient staffing levels.”

Despite Mr. Sharkey’s attempts to wage class warfare, there is absolutely no evidence that the banks are guilty of anything but doing legal business. But why let the truth get in the way of a good Marxist narrative?

And then there is the AFT’s embrace of “United Students Against Sweatshops.” (Yes, Virginia, there really is such a loopy organization, and its biggest funder is AFT. USAS deserves a post of its own which I will get to in the near future.)  With chapters all over the country, the apparent raison d’être of the USAS Harvard franchise is to drive Teach For America into the sea. Why? Because TFA, which places idealistic young teachers in tough-to-staff schools, takes funding from the Walton Foundation, which of course is the philanthropic arm of Walmart, which, according to USAS, is trying to privatize public education, which it shouldn’t do because it will cost the teachers unions countless members, which will destroy their bottom line… or something like that.

The common thread running through the latest teachers union gambits is a strong animosity toward the American way of doing business, especially when it interferes with their hegemony. They are anti-capitalist – never mind that capitalism has been the driving force in cutting world poverty in half over the last 20 years – and pro-socialism, which strives for equality, even though people who live under such a system are equally miserable. But the unions, which took a real thumping on Election Day, may be overplaying their hand. It seems that the citizenry has figured out that the teachers unions provide no good solutions. Indeed, they’re an integral part of many of the educational and fiscal problems we face today.

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.

Karen Lewis and Chicago’s Illiteracy Problem

After years as a teacher union boss, Karen Lewis is making plans to spread her venom to the rest of the city.

Courtesy of Daniel Greenfield, we are reminded of the ugly fact that almost half of Chicago is illiterate. According to the White House website, 47 percent of Windy City residents cannot read. Additionally, 79 percent of its 8th graders are not proficient in reading and 80 percent are not proficient in math.

There are many reasons for these pathetic numbers. Yes, broken families and the ensuing gang proliferation are factors. But since teachers are the most important factor in student learning and because school is compulsory in Chicago (and everywhere else in the U.S.), one really must look there for the problem. (Just as a side note – before parents were forced to send their kids to public schools, the U.S. had a literacy rate of about 90 percent.)

Because many Chicago public schools (CPS) are so bad, they are being abandoned. Due to declining enrollment, 50 schools closed in 2013 and probably a lot more should have been shuttered.

Enter Karen Lewis. The president of the powerful Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) decided to get busy. Bombastic as always, she came out swinging. Never once does she mention that the unionized schools themselves – with all the attendant anti-child work rules – could be at fault. Nowhere does she acknowledge that her union’s virulent anti-choice position, which forces kids to stay in lousy schools, could be part of the problem. Instead she uses diversionary tactics.

Rich white people are to blame. At the City Club of Chicago in 2013, she blamed the city’s education woes on rich white people. “When will we address the fact that rich, white people think they know what’s in the best interest of children of African Americans and Latinos—no matter what the parent’s income or education level.”

School closings are racist. A CTU rally in 2013 brought out all the usual suspects – the Occupy Chicago contingent, SEIU, members of CORE (Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators), Action Now and a gaggle of anti-capitalism protesters. In a speech delivered to the crowd of approximately 700 gathered in Daley Plaza, Lewis said, “They are closing down schools that have names of African American icons, but they’ll open up schools to put a living billionaire’s name in the front.” Lewis failed to mention that CPS was struggling to deal with an astronomical $1 billion budget deficit. And the schools that were slated to close were either underperforming, underutilized (schools that have far fewer students than their capacity allows) or both. The students whose schools were closed were either placed in charter schools or their closest neighborhood schools.

With an assist from Jeremiah “God damn America” Wright, vilify Arne Duncan. In January, the America-hating former Obama pastor was asked to speak at a breakfast co-hosted by the Chicago Teachers Union to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. Wright sarcastically questioned how Secretary of Education Arne Duncan landed his job — after he “ruined the school system” in Chicago as CEO of schools. (Lewis is also no stranger to Duncan-bashing. In 2011, she was caught on tape by the Education Action Group, cruelly asserting, “You know he went to private school, because if he’d have gone to public school, he’d have had that lisp fixed.”)

Teach for America kills. After the tragic Sandy Hook school shootings, Lewis blamed the successful organization that enlists high-achieving recent college graduates and professionals to teach. Referring to TFA vice-president David Rosenberg, Lewis said “… policies his colleagues support kill and disenfranchise children from schools across this nation.” 

Lewis has also pointed fingers at Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, charter schools and right wing bloggers.

Tired of playing the blame-game, she then offers prescriptions that she insists will put a dent in the booming Chicago illiteracy and innumeracy rate.

Recruit terrorists and communists to the cause – and petition the U.N. CTU and a motley collection of fellow travelers, including terrorist Bill Ayers, unrepentant communist Michael Klonsky and Action Now (ACORN reincarnated) petitioned the United Nations, sending a “letter of allegation” to Geneva asking the international organization to investigate whether  closing the Chicago schools “violates children’s human rights.”

Redesign the curriculum to advance a leftist political agenda. Citing a book written by Bob Peterson, president of the Milwaukee teachers union, Lewis said, “People always talk about how that there’s no politics and values in math. That you can teach math and there’s no place for social justice. So let me tell you how Bob deals with that.” She went on to describe a math story problem about money and the cost of pencils. “That’s a very political statement because it’s all about consumerism – it’s about buying stuff, right? Bob Peterson tells them about José working in a factory making piecemeal clothes. He uses the same numbers and gets the same answer. And yes, math is political, too.”

Stage a strike. In 2012, CTU teachers walked off the job for seven days, returning after some of their demands met. The city did manage to negotiate a longer teaching day – from a nation-leading low of 5.75 hours to 7 hours. But the longer school day didn’t affect current teachers. Instead, the city had to hire 477 additional teachers who had been laid off to work the extra time. With an average salary of $76,000 (not including employee benefits or pensions), Chicago teachers were already among the highest paid in the nation and the new deal included a 7 percent raise over three years, with additional raises for experience and education. While it is unclear that the new contract has served to improve student literacy, there is no doubt that it has had a positive effect on teachers’ wallets.

Where are we now?

Apparently Lewis is not happy enough being a one-woman wrecking-ball in the Chicago public school system. Craving even more power, she is considering a run for mayor and has shoved $40,000 of her own money to jump start the campaign against arch-enemy Rahm Emmanuel. But hey, she can easily afford that. Lewis pulls in over $200,000 a year and, with her husband, owns three homes including a dacha in Hawaii. Not too shabby for a socialist-leaning woman of the people.

But of course, in politics $40,000 won’t go far. So union crony Randi Weingarten has offered Lewis a $1,000,000 gift should she decide to run.

As union president, Chicagoans have had no choice but to put up with Karen Lewis. But should she run for mayor in 2015, they will indeed have a say. And in August, a Chicago Tribune poll showed that she was running 4 percentage points (43-39) ahead of Rahm Emmanuel.

Unfortunately, the poll didn’t determine the percentage of her voters who are illiterate.

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.

Tenure, Temerity and the Truth

Los Angeles Times op-ed and teachers union defense of educational status quo are packed with malarkey.

Now in its third week, the Students Matter trial still has a ways to go. Initially scheduled to last four weeks, the proceedings are set to run longer. On Friday, Prosecutor Marcellus McRae told Judge Rolf Treu that the plaintiffs need another week and a half or so to conclude their case before the defense takes over. The coverage of the trial has been thorough, with the Students Matter website providing daily updates, as has the always reliable LA School Report.

The media have generally been either neutral or supportive of the case, which claims that the tenure, seniority and dismissal statutes enshrined in the state Ed Code hurt the education process in the Golden State, especially for minority and poor kids. The defendants are the state of California and the two state teachers unions – the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers.

Having studied and written about the case extensively, I am of the opinion that the defense has no defense and that the best that they can do is to muddy the waters to gain favor with judge. In an effort to learn what the defense will come up with, I have tried to read everything I can by folks who think the lawsuit is misguided. I have written before about California Teachers Association president Dean Vogel’s rather inept argument presented in the December issue of CTA’s magazine.

The CTA website has been posting more about the case as the trial has progressed, and it would appear that desperation has set in. The union’s old bromides hold about as much water as a ratty sponge.

The problems we face with layoffs are not because of Education Code provisions or local collective bargaining agreements, but lack of funding.

No, the problem is who is getting laid off; we are losing some of the best and the brightest, including teachers-of-the-year due to ridiculous seniority laws.

The lawsuit ignores all research that shows teaching experience contributes to student learning.

Not true. Studies have shown that after 3-5 years, the majority of teachers don’t improve over time.

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

Oh please – the evil rich and the privatization bogeyman! Really! Zzzzz.

Then we have cartoonist Ted Rall who penned an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times last week, which is mostly concerned with “tenure tyranny.” This wretched piece is maudlin sophistry at its gooiest.

First, Rall needs to get his verbiage straight. K-12 teachers do not get tenure. What they achieve after two years on the job is “permanent status.” Permanent status! What other job on the planet affords workers something called “permanence,” and getting rid of an inept teacher who has reached that lofty perch is just about impossible. But Rall makes the claim that, “Tenure doesn’t prevent districts from firing teachers. It makes it hard. (Not impossible: 2% of teachers get fired for poor performance annually.)”

The 2 percent figure is a half-truth. During the first two years on the job, a teacher can be let go relatively easily for poor performance. Maybe two percent of newbies don’t cut it. But what Rall and his teacher union buddies don’t tell you is that, in California, for example, about ten teachers a year out of nearly 300,000 (.003 percent) who have attained “permanence” lose their jobs. Of those, a whopping two teachers (.0007 percent) get canned for poor performance.

This is a disgrace, and most teachers know it. In fact, according to a recent survey of teachers working in Los Angeles conducted by the National Council on Teacher Quality, 68 percent reported that “there were tenured teachers currently working in their schools who should be dismissed for poor performance.”

Then Rall goes off the rails on tenure, saying that what’s wrong with tenure is that “only teachers can get it.”  (When you go to a doctor for a serious medical condition, Mr. Rall, do you want to see the best one or any old quack who still has an MD after his name?)

Rall then ventures into other areas. He whines twice about his mother’s (a retired public school teacher) “crummy salary.” He apparently hasn’t read much on the subject. In fact, the most recent study on teacher pay shows that when perks like healthcare and pension packages are taken into consideration, today’s teachers are in fact overpaid. Armed with facts, charts and a bevy of footnotes, Heritage Foundation’s Jason Richwine and American Enterprise Institute’s Andrew Biggs explain,

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.)

Then Rall gets political. He writes,

During the last few decades, particularly since the Reagan administration, the right has waged war on teachers and their unions. From No Child Left Behind to the sneakily anti-union, anti-professionalization outfit Teach for America to the Common Core curriculum, conservatives are holding teachers accountable for their kids’ academic performance.

Reagan? What did his administration do?

The sneakily anti-union, anti-professionalization outfit Teach for America

Do you mean the very successful organization that identifies young teacher-leaders and trains them for service, founded and run by social justice advocates who have made (some) peace with the National Education Association? That TFA?

Common Core?

Sorry, but it is a bipartisan issue. In fact, your beloved teachers unions, including NEA president Dennis Van Roekel and AFT President Randi Weingarten, support it.

…conservatives are holding teachers accountable for their kids’ academic performance.

Horrors! Holding teachers accountable for their work! If not them whom?  The school bus driver? And for crying out loud, it’s not just conservatives who are demanding teacher accountability. StudentsFirst’s Michelle Rhee, American Federation of Children’s Kevin Chavous, Democrats for Education Reform’s Joe Williams and former CA state senator Gloria Romero, all want more accountability and none of them qualify as right wingers.

Rall’s piece ends with an editor’s note:

[Correction, 11:26 a.m., February 6: An original version of this post incorrectly described Students Matter as a “right-wing front group.” The post also linked to the wrong David Welch, founder of Students Matter.]

If the editors think that this is the only errata, they most definitely need to review this bilge and reexamine every word, including “and” and “the.”

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.

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.

Seattle Teachers Union Seeks to Ban Teach For America

Teachers unions, known for fighting to keep pedophiles in the classroom, try to get rid of good teachers in Seattle.

Last week, I wrote about the particularly egregious case of a teacher in Rochester, NY who sent sexually charged emails to her principal and was subsequently jailed for ignoring a restraining order. Upon her release, she returned to the classroom, and in short order was accused of fondling her middle school students. But due to her union’s pressure tactics, the school board cannot get rid of this tenured teacher.

Across the country in Seattle, we now have a situation where it would appear that the local teachers union may have success in getting six teachers removed from the district.

Pedophiles? Of course not. They are talented Teach For America teachers who have received good reviews from their principals. In what could be a new low for teachers unions – and that’s really saying something – it would appear that through heavy pressure from the Seattle Education Association, the Seattle School Board may terminate the contracts of the six teachers for absolutely no good reason.

Founded in 1990 by Princeton graduate Wendy Kopp, TFA chooses the best and the brightest – only one in eight are accepted into the program – and trains them to work in the nation’s worst schools. These committed and enthusiastic college graduates get five weeks of teacher training, ongoing support once in the classroom, and must commit to teach for two years.

The program has been very successful. But there is an anti-TFA animus among those for whom the status quo is next to godliness. The “problem” with TFA teachers is that they tend to be very idealistic and don’t fit into the cookie cutter mold that teacher unions so need and insist on. TFA teachers really care about teaching and frequently can’t abide the straitjacket rules inherent in every union contract.

On its website, SEA does its best to “inform” the public by posting nine reasons to oppose Teach for America’s intrusion into Seattle Public Schools.

For example, they say that TFA grads are not qualified and should be made to undergo traditional educational school training. But anyone who has set foot in an ed school knows that is ridiculous. I wrote about the problems with ed schools here, and Walter Williams, in a follow up to my piece, referred to ed schools in America as “the academic slums of most any college. American education can benefit from slum removal.” (He’s right. I became a better teacher after I forgot everything I learned in two wasted years getting my required teaching credential at Cal State Los Angeles.)

Another stated reason for the union’s desire to get rid of TFA is that its teachers “do not stay in the classroom.” But according to a recent Harvard study,

43.6 percent of TFA corps members voluntarily remained in their initial low-income placement schools for more than two years and 14.8 percent stayed in those placements for more than four years.

• 60.5 percent voluntarily remained in the teaching profession for more than two years and 35.5 percent stayed in teaching for more than four years.

The union then goes on to say that TFA does not improve student achievement. However, Liv Finne, Educational Director of Washington Policy Center, in testimony before the Seattle School Board on March 7, made the point that studies have consistently shown that TFA teachers are indeed highly successful. A few examples:

“The Effects of Teach for America on Students” (Mathematica Policy Research, 2004). Using random assignment of students to teachers, the gold standard for research methodology, this national study found that students of Teach for America teachers made more progress in a year in both reading and math than would typically be expected, and attained significantly greater gains in math compared with students of other teachers, including veteran and certified teachers. (Bold added.) This study also found that Teach for America teachers were working in the highest-need classrooms in the country, with students beginning the year on average at the 14% percentile against the national norm.

Tennessee: “Teacher State Report Card on Teacher Effectiveness” (Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, 2011). The study found that Teach for America is the top teacher preparation program in the state of Tennessee: the average Teach for America teacher had greater impact on student achievement than the average new 4th – 8th grade teacher in Tennessee. (Bold added.)

North Carolina: “Impacts of Teacher Preparation on Student Test Scores in North Carolina: Teacher Portals” (Gary Henry and Charles Thompson 2010). Teach for America teachers did as well as or better than traditionally prepared UNC graduates. (Bold added.)

• Louisiana: “Louisiana Value-Added Teacher Preparation Assessment Study (Louisiana Practitioner Teacher Project, 2009) Teach for America teachers perform like veteran certified teachers, better than new traditionally trained teachers.
(Bold added.)

(For more TFA myth busting, read Andrew Rotherham’s excellent “Teach for America: 5 Myths That Persist 20 years On”)

The vote on whether or not to cancel the TFA contract will be held on March 21. There is hope in some quarters that the school board may show some spine and not cancel the contract. However, after the way the six teachers have been treated (some local “activists” posted personal information about them on a blog; shortly thereafter one of the teachers whose address was posted was burgled), it will hardly be a shock if the school board caves. Union bullies often employ very convincing methods to achieve their goals.

According to Finne, “The union’s effort to ban these teachers helps explain why Washington has been called an education reform backwater.” In fact, just about anywhere there is a strong teachers union, you will find great resistance to any meaningful educational reform. Too bad they don’t teach this simple fact in ed school.

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.