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Thoughts on Reactions to the Sandy Hook Tragedy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the body of the brief statement they say,

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

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

The other part of the press release deals with guns:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kudos to the California Federation of Teachers

Instead of the usual fake teacher union concerns about “the children,” CFT’s new straightforward video unequivocally touts class warfare and vilifies rich people.

The California Teachers Association has been in the news a lot lately. In the early fall, it successfully fought to get Prop. 30 passed and to kill Prop. 32. These victories came right after the union quashed a bill that would have made it a bit easier to get sexual predators out of the classroom by shortening the endless dismissal statutes. So what’s a little brother union have to do to get some attention?

Last week, the California Federation of Teachers answered that question with a vengeance by releasing an 8 minute video promoting propaganda that would have made the late Joe Stalin proud. “Tax the Rich: An Animated Fairy Tale” pushes class warfare to a loony extent, attempting to whip up hatred of workers who have been successful in life but “don’t pay their fair share of taxes. As Investors Business Daily described it,

“Rich people love their money more than anything in the whole world,” narrates Hollywood actor and noted leftist Ed Asner, in tones used in reading to schoolchildren. “Over time, rich people decided they weren’t rich enough so they came up with ways to get richer.”

…The bile that oozes in the union’s puerile seven-minute screed was unspeakable: The world was a paradise full of good jobs and safe streets until “rich people” decided to get more money, so the video begins.

Instead of paying their “fair share” of taxes, the rich decided to do three things: seek tax cuts, engage in loopholes and evade taxes by shipping their fortunes to the Cayman Islands, illegally of course, mendaciously suggesting that any financial tie with the Caymans is illegal.

It only gets worse: The rich people’s supposed greed led them to buy media and politicians, with a not-so-subtle cartoon depiction of a man who looks a lot like Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch, and then money amassed as coins in big stacks, which then crashed down first on middle class people’s houses, and then on the jobs of police, firefighters, teachers and librarians.

After that “the rich” tried to blame defaulted mortgage holders and after that, teachers and firefighters (conveniently ignoring the bloated pensions and entitlements and waste that are the doings of public employee unions). “Maybe it was the firefighters,” Asner sarcastically narrated.

The scene that received the most attention was of a rich man urinating on the “poor.” CFT pulled that scene shortly after posting, but it is captured in a screen shot here.

Condemnations of the video, which was proudly posted on the CTA Facebook page, came from many directions. While the outrage is justified, the fact that CFT would stoop so low should not be surprising. The teachers unions have been engaging in Soviet-style class warfare for years now – most recently when they joined forces with the “occupy crowd” and self-identified as part of the 99 percent – so consider me not even mildly shocked.

The danger of this kind of animated, childish video is that it appeals to children, and unfortunately to more than a few adults who tend to see things in a simple, child-like way. Should you choose to try to undo the damage that a video like this can do, please keep the following in mind:

First make sure that whomever you are speaking to knows what the word “hypocrisy” means. In a recent post, I noted that American Federation of Teachers (CFT parent org.) President Randi Weingarten – who claims she identifies with the “99 percenters” and unceasingly promotes class warfare – pulled in a cool $556,981 in total compensation over the past year. This of course puts her, alongside the relentlessly vilified Koch Brothers, firmly in the 1 percent camp. Dennis Van Roekel, President of the National Education Association (CTA parent org.), made $389,620 last year, after pulling in a hefty $543,868 the year before. (Perhaps their justification for such high salaries is that it is very hard work to fight reformers who are actually concerned about educating children.) And as you go down the line of the Politburo – I mean union officers – you will see that they too make a boatload of money.

One of the more idiotic assertions in the video – and there are so many – is that the government favors the rich at the expense of “ordinary people.” But via Kyle Olson, we get to see a New York Times list of the many ways that the “non-rich” benefited from President Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package:

– Help states prevent cuts to essential services like education – $53.6 billion

– Extend and increase unemployment compensation – $35.8 billion

– Health coverage under Cobra – $25.1 billion

– Increase food assistance – $20.9 billion

– Increase the maximum Pell Grant by $500 – $15.6 billion

– Provide cash payment to seniors, disabled veterans and other needy individuals – $14.4 billion

– Provide additional money to schools serving low-income children – $13 billion

– Provide additional money for special education – $12.2 billion

– Create new bonds for improvements in public education – $10.9 billion

Then for world class hypocrisy there’s this: According its latest available income tax forms, CTA and CFT collectively take in over $200 million a year. But as 501(c)(5)s, the unions have a special tax exempt status with the IRS that is accorded to “Labor, Agricultural, and Horticultural Organizations.” Hence, the teachers unions are corporations that pay no money in federal or state taxes.

But there is a bigger picture here, and it is bloated with cant. First, CTA manages to siphon off $647 a year (CFT grabs “only” $419) from every teacher in the state in forced union dues. Then it turns around and spends much of those dues on politicking; CTA alone spent over $211 million on politicking from 2000-2009 – frequently on issues that have nothing to do with teachers or kids – and supporting causes that are contrary to the positions of many of its members. Then the union elites have the audacity to go on offense and whine about millionaires and billionaires “not paying their fair share of taxes” when they don’t pay a penny, and all the while funding politicians who ensure that CTA’s and CFT’s pilfer-and-spend scheme rolls on undisturbed.

But CTA and other teachers unions can snooker people only for so long. Far from being a part of the 99%, they are big special interest businesses – spending millions to maintain their monopoly over American education, while not paying a penny in taxes. As Troy Senik wrote last year in Public Sector Inc., “The CTA is the one percent.” And poll after poll has shown that the general public is starting to catch on. But realistically, what can be done? For starters, it would behoove every parent to ask the teachers of their children what their take on this video is. The time has come for parents to find out about the people they entrust their children with for 6 or 7 hours a day.

And teachers – you are subsidizing this very dishonest, deceitful and downright hateful video. Do you really want your dues money going to entities that make and promote efforts like this? If you don’t want to be associated with this unsavory crowd, you just might want to consider resigning and stop lining the unions’ pockets. The world won’t come to an end and you will sleep a lot better at night knowing that you are not associated with such tasteless and hypocritical demagogues.

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

Republicans and Conservatives Have Lost More Than Just an Election

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So just what are we teaching our students?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Combating Union Misinformation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bob Chanin, then-general counsel of the National Education Association, explained it in 1978: “It is well-recognized that if you take away the mechanism of payroll deduction you won’t collect a penny from these people, and it has nothing to do with voluntary or involuntary. I think it has a lot to do with the nature of the beast, and the beasts who are our teachers. . . [They] simply don’t come up with the money regardless of the purpose.”

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

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

Class Warfare and Two-Faced Union Bosses

Teacher union bosses’ hypocrisy plunges to new depths.

After the recent congressional vote to keep the Bush-era tax cuts in place, National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel lamented on the union’s website,

Today House Republican leadership gave the richest two percent another handout, while pulling the rug out from under millions of children and their families who are falling out of the middle class and into poverty at an alarming rate.

We are long past time to fix a tax system where a hedge fund manager pays a lower federal income tax than the teacher who educates our children. It’s time for everyone to pay their fair share.

Working families and the middle class lost today, while the very rich and corporations won. Working families simply have nothing else to give. And why should they? Despite the rhetoric, there are better options for our economy and country.

Once again we are witnessing a pathetically transparent attempt to rile those who aren’t rich to hate those who are. The standard issue class warfare buzz phrases are a dead giveaway:
• richest two percent
• fair share
• middle class lost while the very rich and corporations won
• hedge fund manager
• working families

Unfortunately, like other class warriors, Mr. Van Roekel has no facts to back his irresponsible assertions. Truth is, according to a recent Congressional Budget Office report,

…the top 1 percent of income earners paid 39 percent of federal individual income taxes in 2009, while earning 13 percent of the income.

Again, the top 1 percent earns 13 percent of all income yet pays 39 percent of all taxes. Sounds to me as if they are paying their fair share and then some.

In addition to avoiding facts, he also doesn’t bother to mention that many teacher union bosses – including Van Roekel – are part of the reviled top 1 percent. His total compensation (salary and assorted perks) went from $397,721 in 2010 to $460,060 in 2011. His American Federation of Teachers counterpart, Randi Weingarten, another whiny finger-pointing faux proletarian, saw her total compensation rise from $428,284 in 2010 to $493,859 in 2011. Oh yeah, and in case you were wondering, these 15+ percent raises came as teacher union membership dwindled. And the teachers who did stay on the job were not getting any pay raises, and in fact many took pay cuts. Ah, but when you are a union boss, “hypocrisy” is just a nine letter word.

State affiliate leaders don’t do too badly either. For instance, in Michigan, MEA President Iris Salters’ total compensation in 2011 was $283,280. In New York, NYSUT boss Richard Iannuzzi brought home about $300,000 including salary and perks.

In fact, it’s not only the teacher union bosses who are living high on the hog, the private sector union elites’ income has skyrocketed since 2000.

Michael Sullivan did very well as general president of one of the country’s biggest trade unions — the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association AFL-CIO — during the last decade, seeing his pay triple and then some, to more than $1 million annually.

Robert Scardelletti, international president of the Transportation Communications International Union AFL-CIO, didn’t do quite as well as Sullivan, but still managed to get by while seeing his pay almost triple in the same period, to nearly $750,000.

Larry Weinberg and Joseph Hunt, general counsel of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and general president of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers AFL-CIO, respectively, both saw their pay double as well.

Senate Majority leader Harry Reid has been banging on Mitt Romney to release more of his tax returns in the hope of exposing the Republican who will run for POTUS in November. In that spirit, I am asking Van Roekel, Weingarten and all the other teacher union leaders – who to the best of my knowledge have never done so – to release their tax returns. Seems to me that since their salary is being paid by taxpayers who in turn pay teachers – most of whom are forced to pay union dues – it is only proper that those who grouse about the rich not paying their “fair share” should show us all that they are being consistent and above board. So, how about it?!

I’m not holding my breath.

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.

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.

Don’t Buy NEA Snake Oil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

National Education Association Admits Things Will Never Be the Same

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

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

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

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

How bad? Greg Toppo reports in USA Today,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NBI 13:

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

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

NBI 3:

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

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

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

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

The Battle of Wisconsin

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

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

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

What are the unions’ reactions to the defeat?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Responding to Romney’s Critics

Regarding education reform, Romney needs to pound on the facts, leaving his detractors to pound on the table.

Recently Mitt Romney laid out his education vision in a speech at the Latino Coalition’s annual economic summit in Washington D.C. The Republican candidate for president didn’t mince words. He said that we are in the midst of a “national educational emergency,” and that the only reason we don’t hear more about it is that our national focus is squarely centered on the economy. Then he got down to specifics and said,

Parental choice will hold schools responsible for results, but parents can only exercise that choice effectively if they have good information. No Child Left Behind helped our nation take a giant step forward in bridging this information gap. But the law is not without its weaknesses. As president, I will break the political logjam that has prevented successful reform of the law. I will reduce federal micromanagement while redoubling efforts to ensure that schools are held responsible for results.

Dramatically expanding parental choice, making schools responsible for results by giving parents access to clear and instructive information, and attracting and rewarding our best teachers–these changes can help ensure that every parent has a choice and every child has a chance.

He then talked about the teachers unions’ role in the problem.

…accomplishing real change won’t be easy. Efforts to truly reform our schools always meet strong resistance from entrenched interests.

The teachers unions are the clearest example of a group that has lost its way. Whenever anyone dares to offer a new idea, the unions protest the loudest.

The teachers unions don’t fight for our children. That’s our job. And our job keeps getting harder because the unions wield outsized influence in elections and campaigns.

Annually, many teachers are forced to pay almost $1,000 in union dues. The two major teachers unions take in $600 million each year. That’s more revenue than both of the political parties combined.

Mr. Romney’s talk was a good one, basically hitting on many of the points that education reformers have been making for years. So, naturally, the naysayers and outright opponents of reform took him to task.

Jay Mathews, writing in the Washington Post, oddly claims that Romney and Obama are “educational twins.” While both men certainly are reform-minded, their reforms run in different directions, most notably Romney’s embrace of vouchers. (Obama favors some school choice but not vouchers – were he to do so, it would destroy his lovey-dovey relationship with the teachers unions.) Usually sensible, Mathews has a blind spot when the “v” word is mentioned. He says that, “…vouchers have no chance of ever expanding very far.” However, Greg Forster, senior fellow with the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, has debunked Mathews’ claim in the past and does so again in a point by point rebuttal, the centerpiece of which is,

there are now 34 school choice programs serving 212,000 students, and this story Mathews is telling hasn’t happened anywhere.

Not surprisingly, the most hostile commentary comes from the union apologists. Matt Miller, who says he has “slammed teachers unions plenty,” goes into somber mode and in sotto voce tells us in that there is a “deeper reality” that we all need to grapple with.

The top performing school systems in the world have strong teachers unions at the heart of their education establishment.

Lighten up, Mr. Miller. In reality, this does not qualify as “grappleable.” The same claim has been made countless times by union defenders. The short answer to your “deeper reality” is that in Finland and other countries, the teachers unions are more like guilds – they exist mainly to advance the professional status of their members. American teachers unions are built on the industrial model – treating teachers not like professionals but like factory workers, and protecting them no matter what crimes they may have committed and no matter how poorly they do their jobs.

Then there is Mike Hall writing on the AFL-CIO website. He picks on Romney’s assertion that, despite the popular myth, smaller class size does not translate into student achievement. The unions will never give up their “smaller is better” mantra because small classes mean more teachers and therefore more dues for the union. As if to show that he is knowledgeable on the subject, Hall trots out a dinosaur – Project Star – a study from Tennessee conducted in the 1980s – which Hall claims,

…showed students who were placed in a smaller-sized classroom made measurable gains and performed better even when they were put back in larger classes.

I totally debunk the “smaller is better” myth here. The most extensive study on the subject was done by Hoover Institution senior fellow and economist Eric Hanushek in 1998. He examined 277 different studies on the effect of teacher-pupil ratios and class-size averages on student achievement, he found that 15 percent of the studies found an improvement in achievement, while 72 percent found no effect at all—and 13 percent found that reducing class size had a negative effect on achievement. While Hanushek admits that in some cases, children might benefit from a small-class environment, there is no way “to describe a priori situations where reduced class size will be beneficial.”

And what would a presidential talk about education reform be without a rebuttal from American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten? In a press release posted on the AFT website, she claims,

Today, Mitt Romney squandered an opportunity to participate in a meaningful discussion of real education reform by attempting to disguise attacks on teachers and public education as meaningful policy proposals.

Attack teachers? Hardly, though he did have harsh words about their unions. But the next part made my head explode,

Instead of looking to improve education for all children, he parroted failed voucher and privatization schemes that have not improved student learning. Romney’s proposal to take even more money out of public education and funnel it to private schools is absurd at a time when school budgets already are being slashed to the bone across the country.

“Failed voucher and privatization schemes?” She really sounds as if she believes this nonsense. A little over a year ago, the Friedman Foundation released the results of study, the most extensive ever done, which stated,

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

Nineteen empirical studies have examined how vouchers affect outcomes in public schools. Of these studies, 18 find that vouchers improved public schools and one finds no visible impact. No empirical studies find that vouchers harm public schools.

Weingarten’s point that vouchers take money out of public education is also erroneous. As the Friedman Foundation explains,

State budgets typically save money when students use vouchers to attend private schools. Vouchers usually redirect state education spending from school districts to parents. If the vouchers are not worth the entire amount of state education spending, as is generally the case, then the state saves money on the difference. For example, if a state spends $6,000 per student annually in public schools, and offers a $5,000 voucher, the state saves $1,000 each year for each participating student.

The only problem I found with Romney’s talk is that while he wants to disentangle Washington from education matters to a certain degree, he doesn’t go far enough. He straddles the fence on No Child Left Behind – the reforms proposed by George W. Bush. NCLB is the 8th reauthorization of the 1965 Elementary and Second Education Act (ESEA) which signaled the feds’ intrusion into what had always been a state issue. Federal involvement has produced no benefits for U.S. school kids. What it has done is divert a ridiculous amount of money from the classroom to feed an insatiable bureaucracy.

Writing in National Review Online, Heritage Foundation education fellow Lindsey Burke says it best,

Moving forward, Romney’s agenda should include the conservative alternative to NCLB: the Academic Partnerships Lead Us to Success (APLUS) Act. APLUS would allow states to opt out and spend their share of federal education dollars on any lawful education purpose they believe would best benefit students. It’s one of the best ways Congress could restore constitutional governance in education: send dollars and decision-making back to state and local leaders who are closest to the student.

Romney’s vision is a good one. With a few tweaks it could be a great one. Importantly, he has facts on his side, and he needs to pound on them every chance he gets. If he does that, all the union leaders and other entrenched special interests can do is pound on the table.

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. (Title for identification purposes only.)

CTA: Politically Correct, Clueless and Shameless

Recently dubbed “the worst union in America,” the California Teachers Association does its best to live down to its new moniker.

Troy Senik’s “The Worst Union in America,” is a deadly accurate piece which appears in the Spring 2012 edition of City Journal. Not surprisingly, the author was referring to the California Teachers Association, the state affiliate of the National Education Association. It wasn’t too hard for Senik to make his case because the evidence is, well, overwhelming. With its ever ready cash on hand (forcibly taken from teachers who have no choice but to fork it over), CTA has stopped every meaningful education reform measure that has been proposed, ensured that meaningless reforms like small class size in early grades are mandated, protects underperforming and criminal teachers, bullies political opponents and encourages lawbreaking when it is to their political advantage.

But all the mean and nasty behind-the-scenes stuff is done in the name of the children and for the good of society, don’t ya know. On its website, CTA does its best to show us how caring and beneficent it is. For example, as serious, politically correct environmentalists, it touts green energy on its website. You don’t have to dig too deep before you see, “GREEN keeps district out of the red….” Yup, they actually believe (or want us to believe) that becoming an enviro-fetishist is going to save us money. The United Nations, hardly a shill for the evil corporations which as we all know are trying to kill off trees and bunnies in the name of the almighty buck, says that going green will cost us a mere $76 trillion over the next 40 years. Others have the dollar amount even higher.

The point here is that CTA is best at extorting and then spending other people’s money. To that end, along with California Governor Brown, the union is backing a tax hike which will be on this November’s ballot. Those caring CTA folks, who are of course doing it for the children, want the public to pay a higher sales tax and high income earners to pay up to 25 percent more taxes on their income than they are now. California is already ranked #50 of all the states when it comes to business climate.

In another attempt at getting its sticky fingers on other people’s money, last Tuesday, teachers from all over the state took a day off from work (courtesy of the taxpayer) and went to Sacramento to lobby the legislature to pass an on-time budget. Clueless CTA President Dean Vogel said, “This makes it all the more crucial that voters pass the governor’s tax measure in November to put California back on the road to recovery.” Yes, Mr. Vogel, this will put Californians on the road all right – to Texas – where they are smart enough not to tax their most productive citizens to the point where they want to flee the state.

It was interesting to note that CTA picked May 22nd for Lobby Day. For those of you who are not on board with teacher union political correctness, May 22nd is a holiday that, at the urging of CTA, is celebrated in many schools in California. As the CTA website tells us, it is Harvey Milk Day and we are told that,

Harvey Milk gave his life for what he believed in, and with that courage and sacrifice he gave hope to an entire generation of gay and lesbian people whose basic humanity and freedom had been denied and dishonored.

Gave his life for what he believed in? A martyr? Oh, please. The truth is just a tad different than that. As I wrote two years ago,

He in fact was a San Francisco city supervisor who was murdered along with heterosexual SF Mayor George Moscone by an unstable Dan White – one of your basic psychos who felt that the two people he murdered had wronged him politically.

Milk was no more murdered because he was gay than Moscone was because he was straight. But hey, why let that get in the way of a good story that activists can use to their advantage. Hence, CTA is mentioning Milk in the same breath as Gandhi and Martin Luther King, which is somewhat beyond reprehensible. And even worse than the fabrications is the truth about Harvey Milk.

Milk led an undistinguished life at best. At worst, he was a supporter of criminal guru Jim Jones who orchestrated the deaths of over 900 of his followers, most of whom he cajoled into drinking Kool-Aid laced with poison. For the rest of the real story about Harvey Milk, please read this article by Daniel Flynn.

If the CTA hagiography of Milk is what many in the teaching profession will be using as source material, your children will be getting a wretchedly sanitized and bowdlerized view of an undistinguished and possibly evil man. Parents, you might want to investigate what kind of Kool-Aid your child’s school is planning for this “holiday.”

Just to show how deplorable its priorities are, CTA did not have one word on its website about the courage and sacrifice of our veterans on Memorial Day, just its paean to Milk along with “suggested activities” to help children to celebrate that “holiday.”

Then there is a snippet from the May Issue of CTA’s magazine, California Educator, the hard copy of which is mailed to all its members. For the rest of us, it is now available online. (HT Darren Miller.) On page 20-21 of the current issue there is a two page spread in which CTA excoriates Stop Special Interest Money Now (SSIMN), an initiative that will be on the ballot in November. CTA commits two sins here. First it shamelessly lies about the details of the initiative. As Union Watch points out, CTA attempts to portray this prop as a corporate power grab (Goliath) with unions (David) being bullied. Of course this is union newspeak; the reverse is actually true.

The second and worse sin is on page 22 where CTA suggests that teachers tear out the poster on the previous pages and hang it in their classrooms:

This disgusting attempt to indoctrinate children is done in the name of “opposition to the Corporate Power Grab.” In fact, CTA is suggesting that teachers break the law. According to the California Education Code, school employees are expressly forbidden from engaging in partisan politics on school grounds, during school time using school funds unless,

The information provided constitutes a fair and impartial presentation of relevant facts to aid the electorate in reaching an informed judgment regarding the bond issue or ballot measure.

“Fair and impartial?” What a joke.

Parents, it’s important to protect your children from CTA’s chicanery. Please visit your child’s class on a regular basis. If you see any signs of CTA’s attempts to indoctrinate your kids, speak up. Voice your disapproval to the teacher, the principal, the school board, the local press, your legislator – whoever will listen and act to counter the proselytizing, political correctness and blatant indoctrination produced on a regular basis by the “worst union in America.”

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.

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.

School Choice: Time to Move Forward

As evidence mounts that the government/union education monopoly is failing our children, 2012 should see ramped up efforts to advance school choice.

Last week, Education Week published “What Research Says About School Choice,” in which nine scholars analyze the results of various studies concerning “school choice” – the quaint notion that parents should be able to choose where to send their kids to school. The report boasts no ecstatic claims, nothing about lions and lambs, no Hallelujah moments – just a sober look at the 20 year-old movement to end mandatory zip code school assignments. Some of the findings:

Among voucher programs, random-assignment studies generally find modest improvements in reading or math scores, or both. Achievement gains are typically small in each year, but cumulative over time. Graduation rates have been studied less often, but the available evidence indicates a substantial positive impact.

Among voucher programs, these studies consistently find that vouchers are associated with improved test scores in the affected public schools. The size of the effect in these studies varies from modest to large. No study has found a negative impact.

A third area of study has been the fiscal impact of school choice. Even under conservative assumptions about such questions as state and local budget sensitivity to enrollment changes, the net impact of school choice on public finances is usually positive and has never been found to be negative.

Also last week, the California Charter School Association released its second annual “Portrait of the Movement: How Charters are Transforming California Education.” Not a sales pitch or compilation of cherry-picked data data, the CCSA report is an honest look at California’s 900 plus charter schools which educate about 400,000 students. A few of its many findings:

Charters that serve low-income students exceeded their prediction at high rates relative to the traditional system; students at charters serving low-income populations are five times more likely than their non-charter counterparts to be served by a school in the top 5th percentile.

Charter schools are more likely than non-charters to have both above average academic performance and above average growth. They are less likely than non-charters to perform below both state averages of status and growth.

A small number of low-performing charters were closed after the 2010-11 school year.

Earlier this month, the results of a study about school choice and its effects on crime in North Carolina, conducted by David J. Deming, assistant professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, were released. This study examined neither vouchers nor charter schools, but rather a district-wide open enrollment policy whereby any student could apply to any school within the district. If a popular school had more enrollees than seats, a lottery was held. The rather stunning findings:

In general, high-risk students commit about 50 percent less crime as a result of winning a school choice lottery. Among male high school students at high risk of criminal activity, winning admission to a first-choice school reduced felony arrests from 77 to 43 per 100 students over the study period (2002-2009). The attendant social cost of crimes committed decreased by more than 35 percent. Among high-risk middle school students, admittance by lottery to a preferred school reduced the average social cost of crimes committed by 63 percent (due chiefly to a reduction in violent crime), and reduced the total expected sentence of crimes committed by 31 months (64 percent).

The study finds that the overall reductions in criminal activity are concentrated among the top 20 percent of high-risk students, who are disproportionately African American, eligible for free lunch, with more days of absence and suspensions than the average student.

Hence, the ability to choose the school that a child attends not only increases chances of a better education, but also greatly decreases the likelihood that the youth will become a criminal. And not only doesn’t it cost anything, lower crime rates have been shown to be a boon to local economies.

Another kind of school choice was recently attempted by parents at Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, a Mojave Desert town in eastern California. Tired of low test scores, some parents organized and got more than 50 percent of the parents at the school to sign a “Parent Trigger” petition, which would give them the right to choose a different type of school governance. Their choices included firing the principal, removing some of the faculty, shutting the school down or turning it in to a charter school. Linda Serrato, Deputy Communication Director of Parent Revolution, explains that this particular petition laid out two options: “…negotiate with the parents to give them the autonomy they need to turn around their school, or they will use the Parent Trigger to take their school away from the district and convert it into a community charter school, run by local parents and educators.”

However, the Wall Street Journal reports that the California Teachers Association, a union that will go to great lengths to maintain the status quo and thus its political power, sent out “representatives” to Adelanto to disseminate “information” to the parents there. (“Union speak” alert: “Representatives” and “information” really mean sending unidentified operatives to petition-signers’ homes and feeding them lies about the petition that they just signed.)

The unionistas’ door-to-door rescission campaign managed to scare enough signers into revoking their signatures, thus nullifying the proposed action. CTA pulled the same stunt in Compton, the first time parents rose up and “pulled the Trigger.” But after a legal challenge, in which the parents were successfully represented pro bono by the firm of Kirkland and Ellis, the Trigger went forward, and produced the opening of a new charter school. Apparently, Kirkland and Ellis are ready for a second go-round and will represent the parents in Adelanto.

School choice is an idea whose time is long overdue. Scholars know it. Charter school attendees know it. Crime free youths in North Carolina know it. Parent activists in the Mojave Desert know it.

The nearsighted, the naysayers, and the beneficiaries of the current failing status quo — moribund educrats, reactionary school boards and power-mad teacher unions – realize they could be in trouble and will desperately fight to extinguish the fires of reform whenever and wherever they can. But as parents and taxpayers become enlightened about the advantages of choice and empowered to take action, their opponents — with their lame assertions, name calling, sophistry and bullying — will see their hegemony wilt and ultimately will be rendered powerless.

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

The Brazen Hypocrisy of the Teachers Unions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad Signs at the SOS March

“Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire.” – William Butler Yeats

“You can’t light a fire in an empty bucket” – Larry Sand

The Save Our Schools March, Rally and Pity Party went off as planned in D.C. this past weekend, although on a smaller scale than the organizers had anticipated. They thought they could attract 5-10,000 people, but according to Education Week, only 3,000 showed up. Of those 3,000, it is unknown how many were teachers.

Many of the protesters carried signs which pretty much captured their reason for supporting the event. Essentially, the messages can be broken down into two basic areas. The first were in the political-economical realm:
• Charter schools stole your kids lunch money
• students before bankers
• fund education, not occupation
• stop private interest from destroying public schools
• our children deserve the same education as Sacha and Malia
• Socialism is the alternative

The second type of signs was directed at the protesters’ near phobia of standardized testing:
• Who profits from testing?
• Education is more than test prep
• kids need teachers not tests
• testing is not teaching, end high stake tests
• my students are people not numbers
• children are more than walking, talking test scores
• data is a four letter word
• we want education not test preperation (sic) (This photo speaks volumes!)

That the march was supported by several socialist organizations, including Students for a Democratic Society, Freedom Socialist Party, Radical Women and 56 labor unions, would certainly explain the leftward slant of messages in the signs. But it is the anti-testing animus that is at the crux of the marchers’ anger. The first quote in the subhead is from Yeats, and is featured on the SOS website and on several of the marchers’ signs. It tries to make the point that schooling should be about igniting children’s imagination, not teaching them facts. But if children don’t know any facts – about literature, history, science, etc. — all the imagination in the world won’t take them anywhere.

Despite the protesters’ allegations, no education reformers are advocating that a single test determine the effectiveness of a given teacher. But standardized tests do give some indication of what a student has learned and concomitantly what a teacher has taught them. Hence there are accountability systems popping up around the country which do use testing as one of the indicators of an effective teacher. Perhaps the best known is IMPACT, which is currently in use in Washington D.C.

The fact that the teachers unions and their disciples are dead set against using any testing as even a part of an evaluation points to the fact the unions are opposed to any serious form of teacher evaluation. Because once such a system is in place, some teachers will be found to be better than others, which could lead to ditching an arbitrary seniority system should layoffs be a necessity. It could also lead to a system of performance pay whereby good teachers make more than their less effective counterparts. As soon as the all-teachers-are-the-same myth is dispelled, unionism in its current form is in deep trouble.

Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform, issued a press release stating, “This coalition is the same coalition of the past 35 years. It advocates for the status quo and reform to them is about money, control, and no high stakes tests or accountability.”

In a similar vein, Association of American Educators Executive Director Gary Beckner said, “Teachers absolutely need to be part of the conversation as we reform a system that works for students, communities and teachers. Sadly one needn’t dig deep to realize that this rally is not about what’s best for schools and teachers, but the same old union fight to preserve the status quo…. Teachers – don’t take the bait.”

Education reform writer RiShawn Biddle put it this way, “When you look closely, the Save Our Schools rally is really the March to Save Teachers’ Unions. This is because four decades of dissatisfaction with American education — along with the high cost of lackluster schools — is finally coming home to roost.”

Fortunately, the forces of progress and reform are beginning to shake up the system and loosen the grip that the unions have had on it. As such, the unions and their acolytes are desperately clinging to antiquated policies that are failing our children and seriously threatening our country’s future. But it’s no secret any more that the Same Old Stuff is working about as well as trying to light a fire in an empty bucket.

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

SOS Fest: Teachers Unions and Radical Left are in Charge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Tea Party and the Teachers Unions

Teachers unions wield great power in determining school board races, but with state legislation and Tea Party activism, their power is being diminished.

As I write this, a school board election held in Los Angeles on May 17th is too close to call. Even with the backing of Mayor Villaraigosa, Luis Sanchez is still lagging union-supported frontrunner Bennett Kayser by a few hundred votes.

Whoever prevails, there is a much bigger story – less than 8% of eligible voters voted in this election. And even worse than that, 8% is nothing out of the ordinary. The size of the district doesn’t seem to matter; people just don’t seem to be interested in voting in school board elections.

To be sure, part of the low voter problem is that these elections are held in the spring when there is nothing else on the ballot. The groups that have to gain the most by a small turnout are the special interests that are the most organized. Terry Moe, in his excellent new book Special Interest: Teachers Unions and America’s Public Schools, leaves no doubt that the teachers unions are by far the most dominant of these groups. The unions, even if they don’t outspend their opponents, have a great advantage because of their organizational mechanism and a large group of ready voters (teachers and other school workers) who reliably turn out to vote for the union-endorsed candidates.

School boards are a very important part of the educational process. They have a great effect on the quality of education and how monies are allocated in a given school district. Specifically, a school board is involved with such things as making policies that govern recruitment of teachers, protecting the morals and health of pupils, establishing budgets, guiding collective bargaining, adopting textbooks, etc. On union-dominated school boards, frequently teachers and other education workers’ needs dominate, leaving fiscal restraint and children’s needs in the dust.

This kind of irresponsibility has been prevalent for years now. In 2003-04, of 982 school districts across California (many dominated by union-friendly board members), 552 combined for $682 million in red ink. Then, in Los Angeles in 2007, the school board voted to give health care benefits to part-time cafeteria workers — a decision that cost the already cash-strapped district $105 million over three years. In addition to the burden on taxpayers, wasteful spending also impacts students by cutting back on basic needs like enrichment programs, summer school sessions and functioning school libraries

How do we best deal with all this? Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels has one solution. He just signed into law a measure that will require elections for school board seats be held in the fall, rather than in the spring. If this were to be replicated in all 50 states, the low voter turnout problem would be resolved. But we would still be burdened with the fact that the teachers unions are very well organized, giving their candidates a distinct advantage.

Enter the Tea Party. Another special interest group – this one mostly concerned with taxpayers and children – has begun to insert itself into school board races all over the country. Sick and tired of business as usual, Tea Partiers have begun to point their flintier and more child-centered arrows at school boards. Whether by raising a ruckus at school board meetings or running candidates, Tea Partiers are starting to give the unions a run for their money.

Headlines like Tea party gets involved in local school board elections (Utah), Tea Party Candidates Impacting School Board Races (North Carolina), Tea party leader seeks school board seat (Wisconsin) and IL Tea Party Activists Expose Alleged Gift Cards-For-Votes School Scam (Illinois) are starting to sprout up all over.

The damage that a union-influenced school board can do is considerable. Such a board can wantonly waste taxpayer dollars and never be held accountable. Even if we do manage to get the spendthrifts voted out of office, they are frequently replaced by others who also toe the union line. As such, people of all political stripes should welcome – and support – the Tea Party as a force ready to combat the teachers unions’ dominance of our nation’s school boards.

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

CTA Days of Desperation Coming to Your Town

Fearful of taking a financial hit, California Teachers Association will be taking to the streets and declaring a “state of emergency.” But I have some questions for them when the demagoguery begins.

With California in a world of fiscal trouble and many people sick and tired of the unrealistic perks and benefits gained by collective bargaining, the California Teachers Association figured they had to take action. Their first idea was to go on a rampage the week of May 9.

The original plan included such disruptive strategies as

• Closing major arteries into the city.

• Having students and parents picket school sites and camp there overnight.

• Picketing legislators’ homes and businesses.

After teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci broke the story on April 11, many bloggers picked up on it. The cat now out of the bag, CTA decided to tone down their tantrum. So they have gone from being seriously disruptive to just very annoying.

The plan, now a bit more moderate, still includes

• Have volunteers sit in the State Capitol May 9th-13th to demonstrate the need for immediate action as the state budget cuts are destroying our schools and communities.

• Make phone calls on Parents’ Day. Call parents to tell them how their child is doing and then talk about the budget cuts and invite them to attend the rallies.

• “Flash Mobs” at strategic community locations.

At the very top of CTA’s angst is that absent a turnaround in Sacramento, many teachers may be laid off in September. And when that happens, the union loses dues and that is one thing the union can’t tolerate. CTA takes in about $200,000,000 from teachers every year in California where public school teachers have no choice but to pay money to the union if they want a job.

While we don’t know exactly what to expect the week of the 9th, one thing we know for sure is that the smell of demagoguery will be polluting the air from Klamath to Calexico. You will hear tales of horror about overcrowded classrooms, unemployed teachers and stories of the evil rich who just won’t pay their fair share of taxes.

Emotional pleas are powerful, but (at least in the case of the teachers unions) they can be easily countered with inconvenient things called facts. Here are some questions you can ask if besieged by a hysterical unionista trying to convince you that we can’t make cuts to education spending because it will “destroy our schools.” (All the following suggestions are good for children or will save the taxpayer money or both.)

• Why are you staging this protest during a week when many school districts are holding their standardized testing? Isn’t this type of action a serious distraction to teachers and students?

• Why, when economic times are good, do you lobby districts to over-hire when you know that many of the new hires will have to be let go when the economic cycle goes south? (Economies go through periods where they wax and wane; why don’t you ever plan for the inevitable downturn?)

• You constantly bang the “small class size” drum. Why are there no major studies that link small class size to educational achievement?

• Why do you insist on an archaic seniority system that disregards teaching quality when staffing decisions are made? If we must lose some teachers, why not let the stinkers go instead of the ones who have been on the job the least amount of time?

• Why do you insist on a salary step pay scale where less competent teachers make as much as good ones for the same amount of years on the job? Why should the only requirement for a teacher to get a raise in September is to not die over the summer?

• Why do you believe that a teacher who doesn’t do anything short of committing a felony in their first two years of teaching should be granted permanence – essentially a job for life?

• School choice will give poor children a chance to get out of failing schools and save the taxpayer money at the same time. Why do you fight to kill school choice whenever pro-choice legislation is on the table?

• You hated charter schools at first but then became resigned to their existence. Now you tolerate them because you think you can unionize them. This of course will kill their special status. But that’s what you want, isn’t it?

• You say studies show that charters do no better than traditional public schools. Yes, a few studies do, but others contend that charters indeed do better… some a lot better. But even if there is no difference, charters are funded at about 60 cents on the dollar compared to traditional public schools, thus saving the taxpayers large sums of money.

• Why not work on developing a fair system for evaluating teacher performance? Is it possible that you really don’t care about the quality of teachers as long as you collect dues from them? And is it possible that once you acknowledge that some teachers are better than others, your insistence on one-size-fits-all collective bargaining falls flat?

• Why do you pretend that every one of your actions is done for the children? Isn’t it true that students who don’t pay your inflated dues are just a prop for you to hide your real agenda, which is raw political power?

• And talking about your real agenda – CTA is by far the biggest political spender in California, spending almost $212,000,000 on candidates and causes between 2000-2009. Why are you constantly trying to extract more and more money from taxpayers as you did in 2009 by spending over $2 million to Prop. 1A, which would have resulted in a tax increase to Californians of $16 billion? Why do you spend money on issues that have little to do with education, as in 2008 when you gave $1,250,000 to the campaign to legalize same-sex marriage?

• Why don’t you believe in a 401k type plan for retirement? This would put the responsibility for teachers’ retirement on the individual teacher, not the taxpayer.

• If you are so beneficial for teachers, why do you force them to pay you as a condition of employment? Don’t you think teachers are smart enough to recognize all the wonderful work that you do and will happily turn over $1,000 a year to you as a way of saying thanks? And why does the school district have to collect teachers’ union dues? Why don’t you collect your own dues and save the taxpayers some money?

But maybe the above scenario won’t happen. Remember the “We Are One” rally on April 4th? You don’t? Well that’s because there was nothing memorable about it. It was supposed to be a nationwide day of union solidarity for the teachers in Wisconsin who lost their collective bargaining “rights,” but there was just a smattering of demonstrators in a few cities across the country.

As I wrote in a blog entry on April 5,

Is it possible that private sector union members are waking up to the fact that maybe “We are not all one”? Maybe they realize that those in the NEA and other public employee unions are better paid and have more perks than they do – and that these extravagances are being paid for by taxpayers, which include those union members in the private sector.

Is it possible that many Americans realize that the NEA wouldn’t hold anything for MLK? This is the union that by being virulently anti-school choice is doing everything within its mighty power to keep African-American children stuck in failing schools across America. Even the union’s former allies in the mainstream media are now in increasing numbers coming down on the side of choice.

Is it possible that the NEA and other public employee unions have exposed themselves as bullies who are detrimental to the country at large?

Is it possible that fewer people are being fooled by their hollow and abusive rhetoric?

It’s just three weeks till the CTA desperate “State of Emergency” plan is rolled out. Are you ready for it, California?

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

Deasy and Duffy: The Dinosaurs Amongst Us

School district and teacher union leaders need to embrace serious education reform or go the way of the Stegosaurus.

My post last week concerned itself with the fact that some or even many teachers might lose their jobs come June due to the dire financial straits in which many school districts find themselves. The Los Angeles Unified School District alone sent Reduction in Force (RIF) notices to over 4,000 teachers, advising them that they may be laid off at the end of this school year. I made the point that many of the cutbacks would not have been necessary had the districts not over-hired in the first place.

Upon hearing the news of the RIF notices, John Deasy, the man who very shortly will take over as LAUSD Superintendent, whined, “The state of California does not support children. Period.” This ridiculous statement was a response to the fact that out of necessity, the legislators in Sacramento – hardly a flinty bunch – will be making cuts in education spending.

Then A.J. Duffy, president of the United Teachers of Los Angeles, the second largest local teachers union in the country, came out with a statement which outdoes Deasy’s. “UTLA is here to speak in favor of our students. Our children get one shot at a good education. Every time class sizes are raised … you put a dagger in the heart of public education.” (Actually, union leaders know a thing or two about putting “a dagger in the heart of public education” — they have been lacerating public education for years by fighting against every kind of meaningful education reform.)

What Deasy, Duffy and their ilk refuse to acknowledge is that there are other ways to address budgetary issues in education. For example, reformers have repeatedly pointed out the tremendous benefits of giving parents a real choice of where to send their kids to school. In Sweden, parents choose a school that’s right for their child — public or private — and tax money earmarked for education follows the child. In fact, the Swedish system is working so well that even the Socialists are in favor of the privatization aspect! This type of competitive system substantially lowers costs, saves teachers’ jobs and dramatically improves the quality of education. Our antiquated system has the state sending money for every child to government run schools and then sentences the children to attend them.

The current “let’s throw more money into education no matter the results” days are numbered. A look at an internationally standardized test, the results of which were released a couple of months ago, gets right to the heart of the matter. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which measures educational achievement, was jointly administered to 15-year-olds in schools around the world. The U.S. came in 23rd – the middle of the pack – with a performance indistinguishable from Poland, Ireland, Norway, France and several other countries.

In the March 2011 issue of Reason Magazine, Veronique de Rugy addresses the PISA results. While the American 15-year-olds’ performance is mediocre, American education spending is right at the top. “With the exception of Switzerland, the U.S. spends the most in the world on education, an average of $91,700 per student in the nine years between the ages of 6 and 15. But the results do not correlate: For instance, we spend one-third more per student than Finland, which consistently ranks near the top in science, reading, and math.”

In another example of more money not translating to better educated students, she uses information from the National Center for Educational Statistics which shows that since 1970, education spending has tripled (in constant dollars) while reading, math and science scores have remained flat.

De Rugy goes on to say that increased spending typically translates to hiring more teachers. In fact, “…the number of students per teacher in U.S. public schools fell from 17.4 in 1990 to 15.7 in 2007.” Again, there was no increase in educational outcomes.

The bottom line is that throwing more and more money at a public school system which is barely treading water is the path to educational mediocrity and financial ruin. The alternative is getting serious about real education reform – most importantly by giving parents a choice as to where they can spend their education dollars. Only then will any significant change occur.

At that point, we will see the Deasys and the Duffys of the world follow their dinosaur ancestors into extinction.

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

Nervous Time for the Teachers Unions

Teacher union legal teams gear up for battles all over the country as union power is threatened.

With the recent changing of the political guard in statehouses across the country, teachers unions appear to be in for a rough ride. As one state succeeds in passing reform legislation, another state is encouraged to follow suit and perhaps go one step further.

Last week, the New York Times reported “Governors in Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Nevada and New Jersey have called for the elimination or dismantling of tenure. As state legislatures convene this winter, anti-tenure bills are being written in those states and others. Their chances of passing have risen because of crushing state budget deficits that have put teachers’ unions on the defensive.” Mike Petrilli, Vice President for National Programs and Policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute adds “These new Republican governors are all trying to outreform one another.”

Tenure laws, first passed over a hundred years ago, were meant to protect teachers from cronyism or discrimination over sex or political persuasion. However, the anachronistic system has morphed into a monster where once tenured, it is virtually impossible to fire a teacher, no matter how incompetent they are. In most states, this has been a rubber stamp process. Thus after two or three years in the classroom, a twenty-something teacher has a job for life even if they are incompetent.

Education Week’s, “Teachers’ Unions on Defensive as GOP Lawmakers Flex Their Muscles” tells us amongst other things that in Alabama, courtesy of SB 2, it is now illegal for the government to deduct union dues from workers’ paychecks. Hence, it would be up to teachers themselves to send the union their dues money. Still needing the government to be their bagman, the Alabama Education Association, state affiliate of mega-union National Education Association, is planning to appeal the decision.

In Tennessee, a blockbuster piece of legislation has been drafted that goes all the way. If passed, HB 130 would eliminate collective bargaining for teachers in the state, thus neutering the Tennessee Education Association. Not surprisingly, the TEA website informs us that the bill is anti-teacher. But it really is anti-collective bargaining and pro-teacher because it would give educators the right to individually negotiate their own contracts. Clearly, this proposed law would be a boon for good teachers, but could be a problem for the mediocre and inept.

These reform measures have one important common element: they empower the individual teacher and don’t treat them as part of a unified one-size-fits-all blob. As such, teachers will be viewed as professionals and not members of an industrial type union.

So expect to see the teacher unions’ legal machines go into overdrive in the months to come; liberated educators are the last thing they want. As such, the unions will fight to their extinction to maintain control over America’s teachers.

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

A Tale of Two Unions

It is not the best of times for unionized workers in America. However, while some workers have become resigned to new post-recession economic realities, others seem to be living in a dream world of rigid and righteous entitlement. And not surprisingly, it seems to break down by sector — private and public.

A case in point – Harley-Davidson workers in Wisconsin and school teachers in California. The Wisconsin motorcycle company and its blue-collar workers, most of whom belong to the United Steelworkers, worked out a contract which reflects the realities of the economic world we live in. According to Louis Uchitelle, writing in the New York Times,

Harley-Davidson actually has two very similar new contracts, one with the Machinists, who represent workers at an assembly plant in York, Pa.; the other with the Steelworkers at an engine-and-transmission factory in Greater Milwaukee. The York agreement, ratified last year and now in effect, has shrunk the core work force there by more than half, to nearly 800 full-timers, while adding 300 “casual” employees, who are union members without benefits.

The Milwaukee agreement, recently ratified, will shrink the full-time payroll to 900 from 1,250 today and more than 1,600 before the recession. Up to 250 “casuals,” as in York, will be used to handle surges in demand for Harley bikes. While hourly pay under the current contract averages $31 an hour, that drops to $25 for the second tier, which becomes the only tier once all the veterans have left or retired. Casuals, in contrast, get $18.50 an hour.

The new Milwaukee contract kicks in when the current agreement expires on March 31, 2012. The union balked at negotiating so far in advance, Mr. Masik (union leader)said, but conceded after the company insisted it would otherwise use the intervening months to prepare to move operations elsewhere, perhaps Kansas City. To guarantee support, Harley also incorporated into the contract $12,000 bonuses for its steelworkers, including those laid off.

Harley’s president said the recession left no choice but to reorganize. Motorcycle sales are down 40 percent from their peak in 2006, Mr. Levatich (Harley CEO) said. Cutting the core staff allows Harley to slow the line during the winter months of lean demand and add “casuals” when demand picks up in the spring and summer.

“What we are doing is not mean-spirited,” Mr. Levatich insisted. “We have to retool if we want to survive. We should have started doing this, in small steps, 20 years ago.”

The bottom line is that the union realized if they didn’t accept the company’s terms they would have priced their wokers out of a job. This is always a reality for private sector unions – if they ask too much, the company they work for might move elsewhere, or like GM, go bankrupt.

Contrast that with public sector unions which don’t quite operate with the same set of realities. La Habra, a small city in nearly insolvent California, is facing a teacher’s strike. Though the date hasn’t been decided on, the La Habra Education Association voted last week to walk out. The union has refused to accept the cash-strapped district’s last best offer, which according to the Orange County Register stipulates that,

Reductions to teachers include a 2 percent salary cut retroactive from Nov. 1, two non-paid furlough days in the 2010-11 school year and two additional days in 2011-12. Teachers will also be required to pay more for some health benefits beginning July 1. The cuts were through 2011-12 school year.

The district made concessions by offering scheduled pay increases — called step and column raises — retroactive from 2009-10 and through 2011-12, and contributing more for some health benefits.

In teasing apart these numbers, we get this – a 2 % pay cut and two furlough days in 2010-2011 which is tantamount to a 1% pay cut, though teachers will not have to work on the furlough days. Same deal in 2011-2012. Hence we are talking about a 3% pay cut this year and a 4% pay cut next year. Also, the health benefit contribution would add more to the union’s concession. But much of this is mitigated by the retroactive pay raises and the district’s willingness to contribute to some health benefits. Hence, several of the takeaways are counteracted by the givebacks.

That the teachers’ union considers these cuts to be “extreme” and willing to strike over them defies rational thought. Unlike Harley-Davidson, the school district cannot counter by threatening to move to another state – the district is a government entity and thus not subject to market forces

Thus we have the La Habra teachers’ union living in a public employee dream world that operates outside the realm of market forces; as a monopoly, they are not ruled by the constraints of supply and demand. Taxes can always be raised to give the unions what they want. That is, till the taxpayers finally get sick of being hosed and revolt.

In fact, it would seem that as of Election Day the revolt has begun – with voters, nationwide, letting it be known that they were fed up with profligate spending and pointing fingers at the public employee unions. Even in California, where voters opted for the status quo on a state level, quite a few municipalities took it upon themselves to fight for pension reform.

At the annual Republican Governors Association meeting last week in San Diego, the mood was sour when the subject of public employee unions came up.

“Frankly,” said Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, “the public employee unions would stick a shiv in all of us if they could.”

The biggest laugh of the Thursday morning session came when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie made a joke out of a union’s opposition to his proposal to require teachers to pay a portion of their health insurance costs.

“You laugh,” Christie said. “That’s the crap I have to listen to in New Jersey.”

And among the lines most quoted and paraphrased among the governors was the comment in September from Scott Walker, now governor-elect of Wisconsin, regarding the need to trim the salaries and benefits of public employees: “We cannot and should not maintain a system where public employees are the haves and the taxpayers footing the bill are the have-nots.”

Conceivably, even in California, taxpayer resentment over unrealistic public employee union demands will eventually lead to a badly needed dose of reality for the flatulent and self-important public employee unions. In time, these unions and their employees will hopefully learn what the Harley-Davidson workers already know – that there is a finite amount of money to go around and that the people who pay your salary will put up with only so much.

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