The faux nonprofit prophets

The Latest Teachers Unions’ Monopoly Moves

April revealed the teachers unions’ desperation over losing control of top-down, one-size fits all government-run schools.

In many ways April was normal for teacher union monopolists. Early in the month, the Washington Teachers Union said it would challenge a new law in the Evergreen State that corrected problems in the way that charter schools, which had been marked for extinction, are funded. The modified law would allow their scant eight operating charters to remain open. Obviously that is eight too many for WTU, which is suing over the use of state funding for the schools, as well as their “lack of public accountability.”

Then just last week, writer and former California State Senator Gloria Romero reported that two Orange County Board of Education trustees’ seats are in danger. Being pro-charter and pro-parent are apparently too much for the Santa Ana Educators Association. The California Teachers Association local set up an entity called “Teachers for Local Control,” obviously a union-front group, whose goal is to dump the reformers based on the premise that they are “intent on destroying local control, devastating public education and usurping and overturning the wisdom of locally elected trustees.”

In both cases, it’s union turf-protecting business-as-usual.

But then came the real whacked-out stuff. On April 13th, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten wrote “A Coordinated National Effort to Decimate Public Schools” – an absolutely loopy piece – for Huffington Post. The factually challenged rant featured every lie imaginable about charter schools, and included a veritable Who’s Who of union bogeymen – Chris Christie, “hedge-fund billionaire” Dan Loeb, Eli Broad, the Walton Foundation, “Tea Party extremists,” et al. While Weingarten is certainly entitled to her opinion, she needed to be busted on her “facts” and two days later Margaret Raymond did just that in HuffPo. The director of the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University poked holes in just about every one of Weingarten’s claims. “In her blog, Weingarten states, ‘A well-regarded Stanford University study found that charter school students were doing only slightly better in reading than students in traditional public schools, but at the same time doing slightly worse in math.’ She refers to our 2013 study, ‘The National Charter School Study,’ but errs in both fact and interpretation.” You can read Raymond’s smackdown here.

But perhaps the most bizarre teacher union activity in April, again courtesy of AFT, took place last week in England, where according to the union’s press release, “The American Federation of Teachers, along with teachers unions and nongovernmental organizations throughout the world, will speak out during Pearson’s annual general meeting Friday, April 29, in London to call for a review of its business model that pushes high-stakes testing in the United States and privatized schools in the developing world.”

AFT has a long and complex relationship with Pearson. Twenty-seven of its affiliates have holdings in the global education company, including retirement systems in California, New York, Arkansas, Colorado, etc. The union thinks Pearson’s business model needs rejiggering and has decided to throw its weight around, stressing that the company should forsake its “test and punish policies.” Without getting into the anti-testing hysteria, it is downright bizarre to attack the company’s business model. They are in the business of making tests. What the heck does Weingarten expect them to do, stick a warning label on each test? “Overuse can lead to low self-esteem.” It’s akin to an obese person blaming their weight problem on Hostess for making and advertising Twinkies.

And then there is the non-existent horror of privatized schools in the developing world. Weingarten asserts, “Pearson needs to acknowledge the global right to free and accessible public education….” The union leader’s British counterpart, Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (known as “NUT” – no, I am not making this up), said Pearson’s involvement “with low-cost private schools in the Global South is jeopardizing access to education for many children. Education is a human and civil right and a public good, for the good of learners and society, not private profit. We hope that Pearson shareholders take on board the issues we are raising and support our resolution.”

So the union leaders want to advance their big government one-size-fits-all unionized education model and infect the rest of the world with what isn’t working well in the U.S. Perhaps the union leaders should read James Tooley’s The Beautiful Tree, an enchanting and inspiring account of the writer’s quest to discover “how the world’s poorest people are educating themselves.” Can you imagine kids getting an education without government or union meddling?! (Think early 19th Century America when literacy rates were higher than they are now.) Tooley’s travels took him to the teeming slums of Hyderabad, India, as well as other poverty-stricken areas and found that children “in low-cost private schools in India, Nigeria and Ghana outperformed students in government schools by double-digit margins in almost every subject.” We’re talking about ramshackle schools with mud floors, adjacent to open sewers, where parents pay $1-$2 a month in tuition because they are so disillusioned with the (frequently unionized) government schools.

In any event, Pearson’s board considered the unions’ resolution but recommended that its shareholders vote against it. And indeed they did. Only 2.4 percent bought the bilge, and the union resolution was defeated by 578,510,587 votes to 14,016,634.

With April in the books, what do our union friends have planned for May? Well, tomorrow there will be a “national walk-in.” Sponsored by The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, a union front-group, the event is intended to solidify support for traditional education and minimize the “damage” done by charters and other forms of school choice. Thankfully for the impoverished in the Third World, the union only plans their purely self-serving activity for the U.S. Obviously it isn’t just the Brits who are NUTs.

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

Private v. Big Government-Unionized Schools

If almost half the unionized workers at an auto plant could get a free Chevy as a company perk, but instead bought one made by non-union workers from a different car-maker, what would you think?

A few weeks ago, Richard Stutman, head of the Boston Teachers Union, wrote a piece in which he delivered the standard issue body slam of charter schools. He sounded the alarm bells about these alternative public schools which he claims are a “step toward privatizing public education.” And to any teacher union leader, the word “privatization” is more profane than the F-bomb for one simple reason: private schools are almost never unionized. But for parents, a private school can be a godsend.

By choosing to send their kids to private schools, parents assert their right to be in control of their upbringing – the way it had been for time immemorial until the 19th Century, when the state began to supplant parents as “professional experts.” We have since devolved into a zip-code monopoly, a government-run, technocratic and often unionized school system which frequently delivers a substandard product.

The unions insist that “for-profit education” only exists to make its owners wealthy. What the union crowd never mentions is that the only way anyone makes money is if they deliver a good or a service that someone else wants. (Of course unions don’t operate that way; they force teachers throughout much of the country to pay for their services whether they want them or not.) Also, as Greg Forster writes, the “unions are quick to point out that education reform serves the interests of for-profit businesses. It does—and so does a failure of education reform. In fact, more for-profit businesses are served by pursuing the unions’ tired old agenda than by pursuing reform.”

Back to Stutman. I would like to ask the union boss why, if public schools are so good, those who actually teach in them send their own kids to private schools in much greater numbers than the general public. A 2014 Education Next poll found that 19 percent of public school teachers send their own kids to private schools, while just 14 percent of the public does. And a 2004 study by the Fordham Institute showed that the percentage of big city teachers who put their own kids in private school was even greater. A few examples – all of which are in cities dominated by Stutman’s national affiliate, the American Federation of Teachers:

  • Philadelphia – 44 percent
  • Chicago – 39 percent
  • New York City – 33 percent.
  • (Stutman’s) Boston – 28 percent

Whatever reason these teachers may have, they at least can afford a private school for their kids. Poor parents, who are trying to escape the same schools that teachers don’t want to send their kids to, can’t always do that. And it’s the teachers unions in every state leading the charge to keep the poor trapped in their failing public schools, doing whatever it takes to keep them from getting a voucher to attend a better private school.

And the public v. private battle certainly isn’t limited to our country. In fact, the battle rages in some of the poorest places on the planet, where the truly impoverished are way more desperate than those living below the poverty line in the U.S. The Cato Institute’s Jason Bedrick recently wrote about James Tooley’s The Beautiful Tree: A Personal Journey Into How the World’s Poorest People Are Educating Themselves. The author documented how “low-cost private schools operated in the world’s poorest areas, from the slums of Hyderabad in India to remote mountain villages in China and shanty towns in Kenya. According to the international development crowd, these schools shouldn’t exist….” The government provides the poor no-cost schooling in better facilities (with indoor plumbing!), so why then would those living in abject poverty pay for something they could get for free?

Bedrick continues, “According to The Economist, hundreds of new private schools are opening in Lagos, Nigeria, many of them charging less than $1 a week.” In fact, Tooley now reports that 70 percent of “pre- and primary children” in Lagos are in non-government, locally-run schools. In the private schools paid for by parents living in dire poverty, Tooley observed that they typically turn out better educated kids than the public schools, which get greater funding from the government and more from foreign countries, as well as donations from the U.N. and philanthropists like Bill Gates. But with all that, they often lack teachers who actually show up for work. At a school in nearby Ghana only 3 of 10 teachers come to school regularly. But due to the teachers union, there is nothing that school officials can do about it. (Sound familiar?)

Yes, even in the remotest areas of the world, the teachers unions are a force that must be reckoned with. Education International claims to be the “world’s largest federation of unions, representing thirty million education employees in about four hundred organisations in one hundred and seventy countries and territories, across the globe.” Its website minces no words when it comes to privatization:

Commercialisation and privatisation in and of education will be at the heart of Education International’s agenda for the next four years as the organisation concluded a successful Seventh World Congress in Ottawa, Canada. It is a ‘threat that poses great harm to the greatest enterprise of our society: quality public education,’ said EI’s President, Susan Hopgood in her closing remarks at the end of five days of debate, networking, and sharing of ideas and best practice. ‘We leave here united, ready to fight against the scourge of private enterprise in our classrooms.’ (Emphasis added.)

Yet the children’s test scores in the private schools Tooley visited – some run on a few dollars a day – routinely beat those in the government-run, unionized schools.

It’s obvious by now that many teachers in America’s biggest cities and the poorest parents around the world aren’t buying the unions’ anti-privatization twaddle. It’s about time the rest of us recognized that the real “scourge” in education is not privatization, but rather the corrupting influence of Big Government and its international partner in crime, the teachers unions.

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