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UTLA Presidential Candidates Slam Charter Schools

At a Los Angeles teachers union election forum, presidential contenders portray charter schools as a disease that needs to be eradicated.

As reported by LA School Report’s Vanessa Romo, charter schools were a primary target at the February 20th symposium for presidential candidates of the United Teachers of Los Angeles. Actually, it seemed as if each aspirant who spoke on the issue was trying to position himself as Charter School Enemy #1.

Before we get into the debate itself, let me just spill out a few facts about charter schools.

  • Charter schools are public schools of choice.
  • They are tuition-free and open to any student who wishes to attend. They don’t cherry pick their students.  Charter schools allow parents, organizations, or community groups to restore, reinvent, and reenergize our public school system.
  • Charter schools are designed and governed by each local community, rather than by a central bureaucracy.
  • A charter school gets 3 to 5 years to do what it says it is going to do, and if it doesn’t succeed – unlike traditional public schools – it gets shut down.
  • In the U.S., there are 6,500 charter schools (in 42 states and D.C.), serving 2.5 million students; sadly there are 520,000 kids on wait lists.
  • In California, there are 1,130 schools, 500,000 students and 50,000 on wait lists.
  • According to the non-partisan California Legislative Analyst Office, in 2010-11, new charters got $721 less per pupil than traditional public schools. (Typically, the costs of the buildings are not included, although, according to California Charter School Association president Jed Wallace, CA’s new Local Control Funding Formula will equalize things.)

How well do charter schools perform? There have been many studies, the great majority of which claim that they do quite well, especially with some underserved student subgroups: low-income students, English Learners, African-American and Latino students. There’s mounting evidence that charter schools decrease dropout rates, increase college attendance rates and improve the quality of colleges that college-bound students attend.

If these kids go to college, do they actually graduate? And if charter schools really have lasting effects, shouldn’t they have an impact on how much money students earn? A new working paper examines these questions, and the answer is – in a word – yes

Not surprisingly, charter schools are very popular. Using just released data, by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the National Center for Policy Analysis blog reports that,

When families have public school choice, they increasingly select public charter schools over traditional public schools.

  • Over the past five years, student enrollment in public charter schools has grown by 80 percent.
  • … In seven school districts, more than 30 percent of students attend charter schools.
  • In 135 districts, at least 10 percent of students attend public charter schools.
  • Thirteen school districts saw increases in charter school enrollment ranging from nearly 20 to almost 60 percent in a single year.
  • … A 2013 Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll indicates that nearly 70 percent of Americans favor charter schools.

Referring to the same study, former state Senator Gloria Romero wrote in the Orange County Register that

… 600 new public charter schools opened their doors for the 2013-14 school year, serving an estimated 288,000 students. Over the past decade, charter school enrollment rose 225 percent, and the number of new schools rose 118 percent.

Nina Rees, alliance president and CEO, stated, ‘Parents are increasingly voting with their feet. This is the largest increase in the number of students attending charter schools we’ve seen since tracking [began]. … Independent research has shown time and again that charter school students perform better academically than their traditional-school peers. Families are catching on, and these enrollment figures reflect that.

California led the nation in the number of new charters and students served, adding 104 schools and serving an additional 48,000 students (despite the additional space, some 50,000 students remain on charter waiting lists). California was followed by Arizona, with 87 new schools; Florida, with 75; Texas, with 52; and New York, with 26.

As I wrote last year, the teachers unions have a schizoid relationship with charters. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, they want to kill them off; on Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturdays they want to unionize them. To date, only about 12 percent nationwide and 15 percent in CA have been unionized. Seems that many teachers value the freedom that non-unionization offers more than they care about the job protections that the unions provide. And this is just not okeydokey with union bosses, and the candidates for the UTLA presidency were not shy about expressing their opinions.

Three members immediately conceded that charters are too attractive to the public and are here to stay.

Gregg Solkovits, Alex Caputo-Pearl, and Bill Gaffney agreed that there’s no turning back the tide on the charter school movement within LA Unified and therefore UTLA must aggressively pursue efforts to organize charter school teachers.

Gaffney, who is a charter member of UTLA’s charter organizing committee said,

… charter school teachers are easily convinced that joining UTLA is much better deal for them. Although, he conceded, it is ‘a very scary process’ that involves a lot of secrecy for teachers with no legal protections.

Scary? No legal protections? Gee, not exactly great selling points.

Solkovits is currently a UTLA vice-president and longtime unionista. He was refreshingly honest when he said,

When charter schools are organized, they become much less attractive to our enemies.

Please note that he didn’t bother to mention the success of charter schools or long wait lists, which are the result of parents clamoring to get their kids out of lousy traditional public schools. Nah. He went right for the political. At least he didn’t come up with the typical union tripe about his position being “for the children.”

Not to be outdone, Saul Lankster, previously a teacher at two charter schools, has done an about-face and is staunchly anti-charter. As Romo writes, “His plan is to withdraw support from board members who support charter schools in favor of ones who oppose them.”

Leonard Segal wants to block charter expansion by changing California’s education code.

Then there is incumbent Warren Fletcher, who is perceived by many of the candidates to be a wimp. But regarding charters, he proudly pointed to the fact that he opposed Prop. 39, despite the UTLA leadership’s endorsement of the initiative in 2000. This law, among other things, allows for traditional public schools to let charter schools coexist on their campus (colocation) if room is available. This prop turned out embarrassing for traditional public schools and the union because charters frequently outperform their “colocatees” with kids from the same demographic. This phenomenon was spelled out quite clearly by Jason Riley. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, he quotes from Steven Brill’s Class Warfare, which compares the teachers’ contracts at Harlem Success Academy, a high-performing charter school in New York City, and a traditional public school that shares the same building and teaches kids from the same socio-economic background.

‘The Harlem Success teachers’ contract drives home the idea that the school is about the children, not the grown-ups. It is one page, allows them to be fired at will, and defines their responsibilities no more specifically than that they must help the school achieve its mission. Harlem Success teachers are paid about 5 to 10 percent more than union teachers on the other side of the building who have their levels of experience.

‘The union contract in place on the public school side of the building is 167 pages. Most of it is about job protection and what teachers can and cannot be asked to do during the 6 hours and 57.5 minutes (8:30 to about 3:25, with 50 minutes off for lunch) of their 179-day work year.’

In … 2010, 29 percent of the students at the traditional public school were reading and writing at grade level, and 34 percent were performing at grade level in math. At the charter school, the corresponding numbers were 86 percent and 94 percent. (Emphasis added.)

Given the embarrassment factor, it’s easy to see why colocation and charters in general are issues for the teachers unions.

UTLA ballots went out yesterday, but it looks as if, no matter who gets elected as new UTLA president, the assault on charters – in spite of their success – will continue. As such, is it surprising that only 22 percent of Americans think that teachers unions have a positive effect on education? This is an all-time low figure and the unions are dealing with the deepening hole they are in by ordering more shovels.

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

Getting Criminals Out of Schools

A new bill would keep pedophiles and violent criminals out of our schools; teachers unions balk. California law firm decides to try an end run.

A couple of weeks ago in Washington, D.C., the House of Representatives passed a bill by a simple voice vote, which stipulated that public schools would be barred from employing teachers and other school employees who have been convicted of sexual offenses or violent crimes against children.

“Keeping children safe is not a partisan issue,” said the chief sponsor, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. “It’s a moral obligation.”

“Every school employee, from the cafeteria workers to the administrators, to janitors to the teachers, principals and librarians, that everyone” is subject to background checks including the FBI fingerprint identification system to the national sex offender registry, said Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind.

Now just whom do you suspect might take issue with such a law?  

Go to the head of the class if you responded “teachers unions.” Both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers sent letters to Congress complaining about the proposed legislation. The NEA missive starts off with,

On behalf of the more than three million members of the National Education Association and the students they serve, we would like to offer the following views on H.R. 2083 to require criminal background checks for school employees, which will be voted on tomorrow. (Emphasis added.)

On behalf of students? Did I miss something here? Has NEA forced students – as they do teachers in 26 states – to become beholden to the union? The rest of the letter is no better, and includes one truly bizarre comment. “…criminal background checks often have a huge, racially disparate impact.”

They do? Which race should get a pass? Would NEA be more in favor of the bill if it had a racially proportionate number of pedophiles? (Note to teachers: ya think maybe it’s time to stop supporting the loopy antics of NEA?)

Over at AFT command central, wily lawyer and union president Randi Weingarten submitted a longer and more nuanced letter to Congress, which includes the usual talking points, but does raise one issue that, at first glance, seems sensible.

We suggest that states with background check laws that are at least as demanding and thorough as those proposed in H.R. 2083 be granted the flexibility and authority to use their own state laws and procedures in place of the new federal rules laid out in the bill.

As a firm believer in the 10th Amendment, I think this is reasonable … on the surface. However, the reality is that the teachers unions, with their vast war chest and political clout, have managed to influence legislation that favors all teachers “rights” over the best interests of children in many states. One needs to look no further than California for a glaring example.

In 2012, California state senator Alex Padilla wrote SB 1530, which would have streamlined the labyrinthine “dismissal statutes” that require districts to navigate a seemingly endless maze of hearings and appeals that all teachers are currently entitled to. In fact, Padilla’s bill, narrow in scope, dealt only with credible claims that a teacher has abused a child with sex, drugs, or violence. But this sensible legislation was quashed in the Assembly Education Committee where the teachers unions’ hairy not-so-hidden hand rules supreme.

Then earlier this year, the teachers unions got behind AB 375, a watered-down, poorly written dismissal bill that, though it would have made some things even worse, was nevertheless passed by both houses of the California legislature. Fortunately, Governor Jerry Brown vetoed it.

So the question becomes how to pass legislation in the many states where the teachers unions are all powerful. Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk, a law firm in the Golden State, has come up with a solution: bypass the legislature and let the voters decide directly. Last week, the legal team submitted a proposed ballot measure which they are calling the “Stop Child Molesters, Sexual Abusers and Drug Dealers from Working in California Schools Act.”

Should the initiative become law, the California Education code would be amended. The essence of the proposal:

Current law includes loopholes for school employees perpetrating egregious misconduct to remain on the public payroll and earn continuing retirement credit for excessive time after having been charged in writing with committing egregious misconduct and being notified of a decision to terminate employment thereby increasing the dismissal costs to school districts and draining resources from schools and the children they serve.

School employees perpetrating egregious misconduct in California have exploited loopholes to delay and conceal dismissal proceedings manipulating school districts to pay-off, reassign, enter into agreements to expunge evidence of egregious misconduct from district personnel files, and approve secret settlement agreements enabling the school employee to continue to perpetrate offenses in other schools and school districts, thereby infringing on the inalienable right of students and staff to attend public primary, elementary, junior high, and senior high school campuses which are safe, secure and peaceful as guaranteed by the Constitution of the State of California.

Accordingly, the People of the State of California declare that to secure the constitutional guarantee of students and staff to be safe and secure in their persons at public primary, elementary, junior high and senior high school campuses, school districts must have the appropriate statutory authority to expeditiously remove and permanently dismiss perpetrators of egregious misconduct without facing lengthy and costly litigation or creating incentives to transfer the school employee to another assignment, school or school district.

According to LA School Report’s Vanessa Romo, the Attorney General’s office has until Dec. 23rd to title and summarize the initiative. After that, proponents have 150 days to circulate a petition throughout the state and collect 504,760 signatures.

The teachers unions have yet to comment on the proposed initiative, but when they do, rest assured it won’t be favorable. Presumably they’ll rail about the rights of teachers and trot out their usual warnings about the bill’s negative effect on “the children.” Maybe they’ll blather on about how the initiative might disparately affect some unnamed minority. In other words they will do everything possible to convince the public that the initiative is wrong for California. Exactly how low the union will go is anyone’s guess, but as Lily Tomlin once quipped, “No matter how cynical I get, I just can’t keep up.”

How will the voters of California respond to the unions’ barrage of distortions and red herrings that will undoubtedly pollute the public airwaves? If the initiative gets on the ballot, we will find out a year from now. Stay tuned.

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.