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ACLU Turns its Back on LA's Poorest Students in Attack on Charter Schools

The ACLU has aimed its considerable legal firepower at charter schools. The reason? They aren’t enough like our failing traditional public schools.

In a recent report, the ACLU condemns 253 California charter schools for what it sees as a violation of discrimination law, citing examples of charter schools requiring consistent attendance and, in some cases, prerequisites for admission. Although the schools on the ACLU list represent only 20 percent of all charter schools in California, the ACLU declares that these exclusionary practices are likely only the “tip of the iceberg.”

The ACLU is right to focus on the challenges facing low-income students. But charter schools are generally better than traditional, union-controlled schools — and inarguably prefered by charter students and their parents. Studies consistently show that charter schools generate better results for low-income kids.

Yet, in choosing to critique charter schools, the ACLU is once again failing to address the real problem with public education: teacher union control of public education.

20160915-cpc-acluACLU headquarters at 1313 W 8th St. in downtown Los Angeles
Whose side are they on? The teachers union? Or underprivileged students?

Consider the group’s high-profile 2010 case Reed v. California. Reed began in the aftermath of the Great Recession, when the Los Angeles Unified School District pink-slipped thousands of teachers. Because of its agreement with United Teachers of Los Angeles, the district canned the teachers based on seniority alone – not because of performance. Where do the least-senior teachers begin their Los Angeles teaching careers? In its worst-performing schools.

The ACLU, citing equal protection concerns, asked a superior court judge to stop the madness.

In 2010, the judge allowed the ACLU and LAUSD to work out a settlement that, ACLU said, “marks a departure from the LAUSD’s long-standing ‘last hired, first fired’ policy that determines layoffs solely by seniority.” The settlement banned the practice of seniority-based layoffs in 45 under-performing “Reed schools.”

Because the settlement struck at the heart of the union seniority system, it was probably predictable that United Teachers of Los Angeles filed an appeal to overturn it.

The Court of Appeals granted the union’s request on a technicality: UTLA, the court said, was not given a proper hearing in the original trial, even though the settlement directly affected a core policy of the teachers union contract.

When it became clear that UTLA would dedicate its vast resources to fighting the ACLU in court, both parties decided to settle. By April 2014, the ACLU, LAUSD and UTLA had reached an agreement that preserved the union’s power: taxpayers in the district would pay $25 million per year for three years to support “additional assistant principals, counselors and special education support staff, expanding professional development for teachers and administrators, offering a bonus to retain and recruit principals to these high-need schools, and selecting experienced mentor teachers from school staffs,” the ACLU proclaimed.

Was the real headline – as the ACLU’s April 2014 press release had it – “Settlement of Reed lawsuit delivers for students at 37 struggling L.A. schools”? Or was it that the ACLU, LAUSD and UTLA had forced district taxpayers to pay more to sustain the union’s system of seniority, a system that the ACLU had previously asserted was violating the equal protection guarantee of the California Constitution? Evidence points to the latter.

This wasn’t the first time that LAUSD had committed to providing more resources to schools in low-income neighborhoods. In fact, an earlier court case had resulted in a very similar policy to address a very similar problem.

Rodriguez v. LAUSD was filed in 1986 and argued that schools in low-income neighborhoods suffer because they often lack a stable corps of veteran teachers. The case resulted in the Rodriguez Consent Decree, which ruled that LAUSD must make efforts to achieve an equitable balance of veteran and new teachers across all schools. In addition to filling vacancies in schools in high-income areas with new teachers and filling vacancies in schools in low-income areas with more experienced teachers, the district committed $11 million per year on teacher training for schools in low-income areas.

Sound familiar?

Unfortunately, the strategy of committing more resources didn’t work then and it isn’t working now.

Over a decade after the Rodriguez Consent Decree took effect, the nonprofit Education Trust-West published a report claiming LAUSD still had not achieved an equitable distribution of experienced teachers among its schools. Academic results remained poor. But in 2006, rather than ramping up efforts to achieve educational equality, the courts rejected efforts to renew the Rodriguez Consent Decree for an additional five years. Judge Joanne O’Donnell apparently agreed with district lawyer John Walsh, who declared that an extension was unnecessary because “we have outlived it.”

And today, two years after the Reed settlement, schools in low-income areas are still primarily staffed by new and inexperienced teachers, and the district still targets those teachers for layoffs.

If the ACLU really wants to help students in low-income neighborhoods, it should return to the root problem: the “last in, first out” system perpetuated by UTLA. The ACLU has the opportunity to do so by supporting the plaintiffs in Vergara v California, a suit that argues children have a right to effective instructors, and among other things, challenges the constitutionality of seniority.

There’s ample evidence that this modest change would dramatically change the lives of individuals and transform communities. Stanford economist Raj Chetty, for instance, estimates “students would gain $2.1 million in lifetime earnings if California used effectiveness-based layoffs instead of seniority-based layoffs.”

However, instead of supporting the students in Vergara, the ACLU has turned its attention to charter schools, the only part of the public education system which functions without union interference. The ACLU has sued charter schools time and again. Meanwhile, it settles for a status quo in public schools that has repeatedly proven ineffective.

ACLU rose to prominence as an organization that defended the indefensible and challenged established institutions. Charter schools are a continuation of this entrepreneurial spirit, and their success represents what other public schools could be if freed from the demands of government-union control.

David Schwartzman is a junior studying economics and applied mathematics at Hillsdale College. Blake Dixon is a senior at Yale majoring in economics. They are journalism fellows at the California Policy Center in Tustin. This article first appeared in The Daily Journal.

End the Solidarity Mindset of Teachers and Cops

Chances are that you don’t think that New York City Patrolman’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch has much in common with Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers. In fact, after Lynch sparred earlier this year with Weingarten protégé Michael Mulgrew, the president of the union’s United Federation of Teachers local, over the unit’s collaboration with Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network on stemming police brutality, you wouldn’t think Lynch and Weingarten share anything in common at all other than being heads of two influential public-sector unions.

But in their respective reactions over the past few months to criticism and less-than-sterling coverage from politicians and media outlets, both Lynch and Weingarten, along with many of their members in their respective rank-and-file, have plenty in common. They have embraced the kind of solidarity mindset that stifle important efforts to transform America’s criminal justice and public education systems that our children and communities need.

As you already know, Lynch and the PBA accused Big Apple Mayor Bill de Blasio and advocates for reforming criminal justice systems nationwide of having “blood” on their “hands” this past weekend after tragic murders of police officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos by Ismaaiyl Brinsley (who had come to town after a rampage that included critically wounding his ex-girlfriend). Why? Because de Blasio dared to sympathize with advocates who are righteously outraged over a grand jury’s decision earlier this month to not indict one of the PBA’s rank-and-file, Dan Pantaleo, for murdering Eric Garner this past July.

Lynch and the PBA were already incensed at de Blasio over protracted negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement, annoyed with the mayor’s move to formally end a police practice called stop-and-frisk (which criminal justice reformers say has been used disproportionately and abusively against young black men), and looking to weaken him by convincing New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign a bill passed by the legislature that would allow the PBA to all but stifle any efforts by the city to discipline corrupt and incompetent cops. But Lynch went ballistic, accusing de Blasio of throwing officers “under the bus” after the mayor, who is married to a black woman, commented immediately after the verdict that he advises his son, Dante (who is both black and white) to be careful when dealing with law enforcement. As far as Lynch and the activists in control of PBA’s rank-and-file are concerned, de Blasio’s statement of sympathy with advocates against police brutality was an affront to all of the Big Apple’s police officers because he didn’t have their back. Some of the rank-and-file echoed those sentiments when they turned their backs on de Blasio when he walked into a press conference to address the murders of the two officers.

But Lynch isn’t just mad at de Blasio. As far as the police union boss is concerned, criminal justice reformers are wrong in criticizing Pantaleo’s state-sanctioned murder of Garner as well as criticizing those in the rank-and-file who are engaged in abusing citizens and other forms of corruption. From where he and PBA sit, protests held in the city since the grand jury verdict should be stamped out altogether. The public should be in solidarity with police officers, not calling out bad cops or demanding reforms of laws governing use-of-deadly-force rules that allow rogue officers to get away with murder. [As you would expect, an amen corner that includes congressman-turned-MSNBC host Joe Scarborough and Daily Newscolumnist Mike Lupica, are cheering him on.]

Lynch isn’t saying anything that hasn’t been echoed by his fellow police union bosses over the past few weeks amid protests over the Garner verdict, the decision last month by a St. Louis grand jury to not indict now-former Ferguson police officer Dan Wilson for slaying Michael Brown, and the murders of 12-year-old Tamir Rice and 22-year-old John Crawford by officers too quick to pull out guns (and too scared of unarmed young black men to take less-drastic action). Earlier this month, the St. Louis Police Officers Association demanded the National Football League to punish players for the Rams franchise for engaging in an “inflammatory” display that insulted cops everywhere. What, pray tell, was that nastiness? Walking out onto the field of Edward Jones Dome doing the “hands up, don’t shoot” sign that has become a protest symbol for criminal justice reformers everywhere. [The NFL reminded the union that its players have freedom of speech — other than when it wants them to appear before mandatory press conferences.]

Around that same time, the police union in Cleveland went into uproar after Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the names of Rice and Crawford as well as a call for justice on their behalf; the union demanded the NFL franchise to apologize for the football player’s supposed affront to men and women in blue. [The Browns refused to do so as did Hawkins, who noted how he was driven to protest by concern for his own two-year-old son.] Now, with the sad murders of Liu and Ramos, police unions and their allies are accusing protestors of endangering the lives of police officers by, well, exercising their First Amendment rights. You can expect similar statements from the police union in Milwaukee today after criminal justice advocates began protesting the decision of District Attorney John Chisholm to not indict former cop Christopher Manney for allegedly slaying Dontre Hamilton this past April.

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AFT President Randi Weingarten (with temporarily sidelined
colleague Karen Lewis and Rev. Jesse Jackson, a vassal of
the union) is a master of playing to the solidarity mindset
that plagues both law enforcement and teaching.

Lynch’s rhetorical charlatanism sounds quite familiar to those of us in the school reform movement. It should. After all, it is no different than defensive statements against criticism of traditional teacher compensation and other failed practices within American public education made over the past few years by Weingarten and her colleagues within both the AFT and the National Education Association.

The latest round came in October after Time came out with a story onVergara v. California and the sparring between reformers and the Big Two unions over teacher quality reform that featured the headline Rotten Apples and included a cover photo of an apple about to be smashed by a judge’s gavel. Weingarten was so incensed by it that the union rounded up signatures from some 80,000 teachers and other supporters demanding the magazine to “Apologize to teachers.” [Timedefended the piece and the cover.] Four months earlier, Weingarten demanded that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to back down from his mild praise of the California superior court judge’s ruling in the case to abolish near-lifetime employment and dismissal rules, complaining that he was adding to the “polarization” of debates over education policy. Duncan’s refusal to do so — and, in fact, move to double down on his original comments — led the AFT as well as the NEA to pass resolutions at their respective conventions demanding the Obama Administration to fire him. As you already know, that’s not happening.

In fact, when it comes to constantly being outraged, no public-sector union leader is as good at it as Weingarten and her fellow NEA and AFT leaders. And education traditionalists have defenders of existing law enforcement practices beat when it comes to being insulted by any criticism of the established order. There’s AFT honcho-turned-Albert Shanker Institute boss Leo Casey, who tossed an Reductio ad Hitlerum-like statement against Steve Brill three years ago after the Class Warfare writer accused the AFT and other traditionalists of being “deniers” of the underlying causes of the nation’s education crisis. Casey would go on the next year to accuse news anchor-turned-teacher quality reform activist Campbell Brown (along with several other reformers) of committing “the equivalent of a blood libel” against teachers for daring to expose the complicity of the AFT’s Big Apple local (and that of the national union) in keeping criminally abusive teachers on the city’s payroll. [Casey never apologized for his incivility.]

Based on all the data on the depths of the nation’s education crisis — including the fact that three out of every 10 fourth-graders are functionally illiterate as well as how traditional policies and practices keep laggard teachers in classrooms — you would think valid criticism, internal and external, would be welcomed. But it isn’t. Dare any reformer mention how tenure protects laggard and criminally-abusive teachers from being sacked from classrooms and you will see NEA and AFT bosses, along with traditionalists in their amen corner, accusing that person of hating teachers and not respecting their hard work. This is also true for teachers who dare break the thin chalk line and challenge unions and their colleagues.

But why so little tolerance for criticism in both sectors — and so much faux outrage from both Lynch, Weingarten, and their colleagues? Chalk it up to the solidarity mindset, legacy of the old industrial union model (and its mindset of employees as being little more than mules who can only perform singular tasks ad nauseam) borrowed by both police and teachers’ unions that continues to pervade both the law enforcement and teaching professions.

Because unions, by their very nature, thrive on the idea that the rank-and-file are in bitter struggle, they emphasize unity and common cause over and above everything else. Disagreements within the rank-and-file over a policy direction? Treasonous disloyalty that must be squelched. Questioning of longstanding practices by outsiders? Insulting, and therefore, unacceptable. Criticism from within and opposition from without? Hatred of the hard-working people who dedicate their lives to serving others.

Yet the solidarity mindset is problematic for both professions — and for the children, families and communities for who they work.

For one, by placing unity unchallenged above everything else, the solidarity mindset leads to those who bear it failing to do high-quality work for the people they serve. This is because blind loyalty keeps people from thinking clearly about matters before them and engaging issues thoughtfully. For police officers in an age of community-oriented policing (and the Broken Windows Theory that is a key aspect of it), the solidarity mindset can keep them from making smart short- and long-term decision on their own. For teachers, whose jobs are increasingly challenging, the solidarity mindset can keep them from diagnosing and addressing the learning issues of the children in their care.

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Secondly, because the solidarity mindset prizes the collective (and group cohesion) over anything else, it keeps those blinded by it from viewing others outside their ranks as their fellow men and women. Outsiders aren’t worthy of respect or consideration because they are outsiders. [It can also exacerbate the bigotries of those in the ranks, as well as the shoddy thinking they may have of people from backgrounds different than their own.] This is problematic in law enforcement because police officers must earn the trust of the citizens who they protect (and are dependent on for the taxes used to provide them compensation) in order to preserve law and order. It is also problematic in American public education because teachers are trusted with the futures of children for who they must have empathy and concern, and must work with families of backgrounds who are the rightful lead decision-makers for them. In both cases, solidarity thinking makes it difficult for them to comprehend and empathize with concern families and communities have for their children and each other — and leads to loss of trust from those they serve, as well as increased scrutiny from media and activists.

Thirdly, because the solidarity mindset exacerbates the cultism — be it blue walls of silence or thin chalk lines — that can be a problematic feature of any culture or profession, it enables and protects those who are incompetent, corrupt, even abusive and criminally venal. Those burdened by solidarity thinking cannot accept any statement by colleagues and outsiders other than “all professionals within my sector are hard-working, dedicated, and therefore, competent at their jobs”, or “if not for some outside force such as poverty or bad parents, we could be successful at our jobs.” When coupled with bad policies and practicesthat govern professions — be they use-of-force laws and dismissal processes in law enforcement, or near-lifetime employment rules and subjective teacher quality evaluation regimes in education — as well as the legacies of the state-sanctioned bigotries that are America’s Original Sins, the damages to both professions, peoples, and communities are devastating. Especially in both professions, the works of those who are honorable and high-quality are marred by the incompetence and evil of those who shouldn’t work with them.

Finally, the solidarity mindset gets in the way of mature professionalism. One of the hallmarks of a mature profession, be it law or medicine or journalism, is that criticism within it of institutions, practices, even people is not only the norm, it is expected. This acceptance of external criticism and productive conflict, a key part of lifelong learning, leads to improvements for the profession, for the people who are in it, and the sector in which it works. Such isn’t the case for a profession burdened by the solidarity mindset. By being unwilling to broach conflict and criticism, professions burdened by solidarity thinking (and those who are its members) end up being ill-equipped to deal with evolutions in sector that challenge it. Part of the decline in influence for AFT and NEA can be attributed to the failures of the two unions to ditch their outdated industrial union model, which is, in turn, partly results from the solidarity mindset plaguing its leaders.

For school reformers and criminal justice reform advocates, tackling the solidarity mindsets of the teaching and law enforcement professions is critical to the systemic overhauls of both sectors. Both are already taking the first step of challenging such thinking with data, advocacy, and action. At the same time, both must address some of the key obstacles to stemming the prevalence of solidarity thinking.

One obstacle lies with the dismissal policies within both sectors that keep rogue cops and bad teachers in their jobs. School reformers, especially Parent Power and teacher quality advocates, have been actively challenging those policies, especially through the launch of lawsuits such as Vergara. Criminal justice reformers should build upon those efforts, while school reformers must press harder on what they are doing so far. In New York, this means demanding Gov. Cuomo to veto the bill effectively giving the PBA control over the process for firing rogue and incompetent cops.

Another obstacle lies with public-sector unions whose coffers and political influence benefit from solidarity thinking. This is another area in which school reformers have led the way, from the successful efforts by governors such as Scott Walker in Wisconsin to end the ability of those unions to forcibly collect dues from teachers regardless of their desire to be members, as well as the development of professional association alternatives such as Educators4Excellence who represent younger teachers who want to elevate their profession. Again, school reformers must work harder on these fronts, while criminal justice reform advocates should work on such efforts within law enforcement. Weakening the PBA, for example, would do wonders for civil liberties.

No matter what reformers in both sectors do, they need to understand the solidarity mindset that pervades the teaching and law enforcement professions. And they must challenge it successfully on behalf of our children, their families, and their communities.

About the Author:  RiShawn Biddle is Editor and Publisher of Dropout Nation — the leading commentary Web site on education reform — a columnist for Rare and The American Spectator, award-winning editorialist, speechwriter, communications consultant and education policy advisor. More importantly, he is a tireless advocate for improving the quality of K-12 education for every child. The co-author of A Byte at the Apple: Rethinking Education Data for the Post-NCLB Era, Biddle combines journalism, research and advocacy to bring insight on the nation’s education crisis and rally families and others to reform American public education. This article originally appeared in Dropout Nation and is republished here with permission from the author.

Social(ism) Justice Lessons

Teacher union progressives seek to socialize our country, but the Koch brothers have other plans.

The recent teacher union conventions were full of self-pity, angst and anger over the Vergara and Harris legal decisions. Unfortunately that’s not all they concerned themselves with. The union avatars explored various progressive schemes with the intention of dragging us all into their brave new world.

The ugliest moment for liberty came during the “Social Movement Unionism vs. Corporate Reform: Winning Strategies to Turn the Tide” panel at the American Federation of Teachers’ convention. As reported by class warrior Lauren Steiner in the LA Progressive, “It featured six union officials from LA, New York, Houston, Philadelphia, Chicago and St. Paul sharing their efforts to bring the wider community into their organizing and the various successes they’ve had.”

What’s scary about this bunch is that not only do they work hard to keep many children from getting a solid education by demanding that 50s-era, industrial-style union work rules remain in place, they also envision a socialist America. Alex Caputo-Pearl, recently elected president of the United Teachers of Los Angeles, is perhaps the most radical of all. A proud community organizer, he has been active in various local issues and leftist politics. Within the union, he co-founded Progressive Educators for Action. His other “accomplishments” include working to kill a charter effort to reform wretched Crenshaw High School where he was a teacher, playing a role in building the national “Resisting Teach for America” network (TFA is a dangerous part of the privatization movement, doncha know) and as leader of the “Bus Riders Union” (and no, I did not make that up). Caputo-Pearl so believes in his mission and his own self-importance that he illegally ditched some of his teaching responsibilities while campaigning to become UTLA boss.

Randi Weingarten was not scheduled to be on the panel but showed up nonetheless. Excited by the collectivist bombast, she proclaimed that if the union can advance its progressive programs, it will make every child and parent say, “I need those unions and teachers to be what they are for us.”

The union boss then echoed her own socialist leanings, claiming that her goal is to “create an economy that works for all” and proceeded to outline essential policy proposals that the AFT would advocate for, which included,

… growing the labor movement and reviving collective bargaining; increasing retirement security; easing the burden of student debt; funding a higher minimum wage, paid family leave, universal early childhood education, and full, equitable funding for all schools ….

She also highlighted the AFT’s work “to invest union member pension funds in infrastructure and create 150,000 good jobs.”

Creating good jobs?! How ya gonna do that, Randi? Socialists aren’t very good at that sort of thing. They are good at redistributing money – taking it from Peter and giving it to Paul (and Robert and Joan and Bill and…), but not creating meaningful work for anybody. But I have just the solution, so please sit down or you may fall over. The answer is – are you ready, Randi? – the Koch brothers!

Unknown to many, the Kansas-based industrialists founded Youth Entrepreneurs in 1991. Its mission is to “provide students with business and entrepreneurial education and experiences to help them prosper and become contributing members of society.” Joy Resmovits and Christina Wilkie wrote “Koch High: How The Koch Brothers Are Buying Their Way Into The Minds Of Public School Students,” an extended piece about the project for Huffington Post, Despite the snarky title and several snide comments in the body of the piece, the article is actually quite informative.

In the spring of 2012, Spenser Johnson, a junior at Highland Park High School in Topeka, Kansas, was unpacking his acoustic bass before orchestra practice when a sign caught his eye. ‘Do you want to make money?’ it asked.

The poster encouraged the predominantly poor students at Highland Park to enroll in a new, yearlong course that would provide lessons in basic economic principles and practical instruction on starting a business. Students would receive generous financial incentives including startup capital and scholarships after graduation. The course would begin that fall. Johnson eagerly signed up.

In some ways, the class looked like a typical high school business course, taught in a Highland Park classroom by a Highland Park teacher. But it was actually run by Youth Entrepreneurs, a nonprofit group created and funded primarily by Charles G. Koch, the billionaire chairman of Koch Industries.

The official mission of Youth Entrepreneurs is to provide kids with ‘business and entrepreneurial education and experiences that help them prosper and become contributing members of society.’ The underlying goal of the program, however, is to impart Koch’s radical free-market ideology to teenagers….

Lesson plans and class materials obtained by The Huffington Post make the course’s message clear: The minimum wage hurts workers and slows economic growth. Low taxes and less regulation allow people to prosper. Public assistance harms the poor. Government, in short, is the enemy of liberty.

… During the 2012-2013 school year, YE’s credit-bearing class reached more than 1,000 students in 29 schools in Kansas and Missouri, according to the group’s annual report. Vernon Birmingham, YE’s director of curriculum and teacher support, told HuffPost that the course will be in 42 schools in the coming school year. An offshoot in Atlanta, YE Georgia, reported being in 10 schools in the 2011-2012 school year. Since 2012, YE has also launched three major new initiatives: an online version of its course, an affiliate program to help rural schools access the class, and an after-school program, YE Academy, which served more than 500 students in its first year.

While the Kochs’ program advances the notion that anyone can become prosperous, the left promotes victimhood and resentment as it blathers ad nauseum about the haves and have-nots, “two Americas” and the evil and greedy one percenters. What the left refuses to acknowledge is that we are still an upwardly mobile and fluid nation. As pointed out in an excellent piece in the New York Times,

It is clear that the image of a static 1 and 99 percent is largely incorrect. The majority of Americans will experience at least one year of affluence at some point during their working careers. (This is just as true at the bottom of the income distribution scale, where 54 percent of Americans will experience poverty or near poverty at least once between the ages of 25 and 60).

… Rather than talking about the 1 percent and the 99 percent as if they were forever fixed, it would make much more sense to talk about the fact that Americans are likely to be exposed to both prosperity and poverty during their lives, and to shape our policies accordingly. As such, we have much more in common with one another than we dare to realize. (Emphasis added.)

Hence, we have the Koch brothers trying to instill in its students a sense of independence, a can-do spirit, a solid work ethic and the importance of good business acumen. And our teacher union leaders are striving to enslave us by raising taxes, killing anything that smells of privatization and waging class warfare.

Now seriously, which lessons do you want your kids to learn?

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 Vergara Battle Has Been Won…

… but the war is just beginning. Despite a landmark education decision in California favoring children over teachers unions, how much will really change?

On June 10th, Judge Rolf Treu issued an unequivocal decision in the Students Matter (Vergara v California) case which revolved around the tenure, dismissal and seniority statutes in California’s education code. In his 16-page ruling – a resounding victory for students and a crushing defeat for the teachers unions – Judge Treu did not mince words. He found that the plaintiffs met their burden of proof on all the issues, writing, “The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience…” He concluded with, “All Challenged Statutes are found unconstitutional….”

Tenure

While the judge’s decision on this subject was crystal clear, much of the media’s responses have been – to paraphrase Alan Greenspan – irrationally exuberant. The New York Times headline – hardly an isolated example – blared “Judge Rejects Teacher Tenure for California.”

Hardly. The judge ruled that letting teachers attain tenure after only two years – really 16 months – is unfair to both students and teachers. But in no way did he reject tenure out of hand; he merely pointed out that California was one of only five states to offer tenure or permanent status in two years or less. He went on to say that other states do it better, noting that the probationary period in 41 states is three to five years. (The other four states don’t allow tenure at all.)

What will a new tenure law look like? Given the California Teachers Association’s unbridled clout in the state legislature, we very well could wind up with a three year tenure period instead of two. A slight improvement, but hardly a game-changer.

Dismissal Statutes

The judge recognized that teachers certainly deserve due process rights, but indicated that the current dismissal statutes provide über due process. He acknowledged that “the number of grossly ineffective teachers has a direct, real, appreciable, and negative impact on a significant number of California students, now and well into the future for as long as said teachers hold their positions.”

Just what is that “significant number?” If each “grossly ineffective” teacher (the defense claims this applies to one to three percent of the profession) has 25 students in his class, it means that between 68,750 and 206,250 flesh-and-blood school children are getting little or no education every year. And astonishingly, teachers who are ineffective but not “grossly” so were not even considered. I can hear the conversation at a local public school:

Parent: I understand that my son is going to have an ineffective teacher this year.

Principal: That’s correct, ma’am, but not to worry, he is not “grossly” ineffective.

Parent: Sir, would you go to a surgeon who is known to remove appendixes but leaves the scalpel behind? Or a lawyer whose innocent clients regularly wind up in the slammer. Or an auto mechanic who puts brake fluid in your radiator?

Principal: Of course not, but those occupations are not unionized. Be grateful that your child’s teacher is just pretty bad and not one of the “grossly ineffective” ones.

Parent: Ah, of course! How silly of me not to realize that my child’s education is not really the priority of a unionized public school!

There is some good news here, however: AB 215, with the backing of reformers and the teachers unions, would seem to be a done deal. Though weak on dismissing incompetent teachers, the bill would at least shorten the interminable process to deal with teachers accused of egregious behavior. But getting rid of the merely ineffective ones will continue to be a gory battle with CTA leaning on the state legislature to make only minimal adjustments to the old statutes while trying to convince the court that the improvements are substantive.

Seniority

As things stand now in the Golden State (with very rare exceptions), if layoffs are necessary, decisions are made by a quality-blind last in/first out (LIFO) system. The judge mentioned that California is just one of ten states where “seniority is the sole factor or one that must be considered.” If the LIFO statute is removed from the education code, what is the probable scenario? The decision could be left to each individual school district, but again, given CTA’s influence in the state legislature, we will undoubtedly have a statewide law. Bill Lucia, president of Sacramento-based advocacy group EdVoice, suggests various options might be considered that “include elements of a seniority system but with exceptions made for excellent teachers or permanent teachers willing to serve in hard-to-staff schools.” And if that arrangement becomes reality, how should excellence be quantified? Standardized tests? Principal evaluation? Outsider evaluation? Should parents have a say? Some or all the above? A long ignored law in California which stipulates that a teacher’s evaluation must be based at least in part on how well her students perform on state tests should help, but due to the teachers unions’ hardcore stance against using student performance to measure teacher effectiveness, the conflict to replace LIFO will be a bloody one as well.

What’s next?

Nothing for now. While the decision is temporary and will not be final for another few weeks, the judge is unlikely to alter or modify it. And of course the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers have already announced that they are appealing the decision, an option also being weighed by the state of California. In the meantime, Judge Treu placed a stay on the ruling pending a decision by the California Court of Appeal. The case will undoubtedly make its way to the California Supreme Court. Thus, a final resolution could be years away. A denial of the appeal in the lower court, however, could remove the stay and Treu’s decision would have to be honored – at least temporarily – even if there is an appeal to the state Supreme Court.

The educational floodgates have been opened by Judge Treu. How everything will eventually play out is anybody’s guess, but one thing is certain – the war between teachers unions and the children of California is far from over.

(Prosecutor Marcellus McRae’s closing argument is riveting and provides a good overview of the case.)

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.

 

Teacher Jail Break

The “housed teacher” syndrome is a problem created by the teachers unions and administered by an inept school district.

For years, teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District who have been accused of misconduct have been “housed” as they wait for investigators to figure out if they are really guilty. These so-called “teacher jails” or “rubber rooms” are district offices in which the accused sit, eat, talk to each other and text their friends Monday through Friday during school hours. The “prisoners” cannot be asked to do any office work – like filing or answering phones – which is “outside their regular duties.” Even more ridiculous, they can’t even contact subs to give them lesson plans while they are away.

In a change ordered by LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy, as of May 27th, the doors of the jails were thrown open and the inhabitants are now sentenced to what is tantamount to house arrest. They are required to stay at home during the work day, and are allowed to leave during that time only if they are summoned elsewhere as part of the investigation.

Does it really matter where a teacher is made to sit out their investigation? Not really, but it does help taxpayers if they don’t have to subsidize the care and maintenance of the “jails” and the supervision of the “inmates.” At this time there are about 250 teachers (there have been over 400 in the past) who will now get to stay home instead of reporting to a district office.

Just what crimes do these housed teachers commit? The misconduct can range anywhere from sexual wrongdoing to being verbally abusive, failing to follow rules for standardized tests or even excessively missing work.  Also, the teachers are often not told what they are being accused of for lengthy periods of time.

As James Poulos writes in Calwatchdog.com:

The practice highlights a series of sore spots for public education in Los Angeles and, more broadly, in California. On the one hand, teachers guilty of firing offenses are detained for an extraordinarily long period of time – 127 days on average. On the other, the vast majority of accused teachers lose their jobs and benefits when their investigations concluded. Only about 20 percent leave ‘rubber rooms’ and pick up where they left off.

This is all shameful – for the taxpayer, for the 20 percent ultimately found “not guilty” and for the teachers’ students who have to be taught by subs during the lengthy investigative period. LAUSD needs to hire many more investigators and resolve these cases much quicker. The additional hires would pay for themselves because evidence tells us that most of the teachers will be found guilty or quit before going through the pain of a trial. That will save the district and state the cost of the teachers’ salaries, health benefits and additional pension accrual, as well as outlay for hiring subs.

LAUSD showed its insouciance in another way recently. On May 1st, it was revealed that the district destroyed documents that may have held key evidence in child abuse cases. Included in the shredding was crucial ammo in the case of Mark Berndt, second grade teacher and legendary semen-topped cookie server at Miramonte Elementary School who is now in jail…the real kind.

Then just a few days ago, we learned that a Superior Court judge has ordered LAUSD to pay a $6,000 penalty for denying it had photos that show alleged sexual abuse at Miramonte. (Please keep in mind that these are the folks who are in charge of educating 600,000 students In Los Angeles!)

But there is plenty more blame to go around for teacher jails. Why do we have them in the first place? There are no “bank teller jails” or “pastry chef jails.”

Because the teacher unions are all powerful, that’s why. It’s all due to the arcane and unconscionable dismissal statues, brought to us by the California Teachers Association and their cronies in the state legislature.

(L)ess than 0.002% of California’s hundreds of thousands of teachers are dismissed for unprofessional conduct or unsatisfactory performance in any given year. This compares to the 1% of other California public employees dismissed annually for unprofessional conduct or unsatisfactory performance and the 8% of private employees dismissed annually for cause.

But there may be help on the way.

AB 215, now making the legislative rounds in Sacramento, is a measure that would speed up the dismissal process for teachers who commit serious crimes. Among other things, the bill would:

  • Create a separate, expedited hearing process after a school board has voted to fire a teacher for egregious misconduct.
  • Impose a seven-month deadline for the administrative law judge to issue a decision in all dismissal cases, unless the judge agrees to a delay for good cause.
  • Clarify the law to allow districts to suspend without pay teachers charged with egregious and immoral conduct.
  • Prohibit districts from cutting deals with teachers to have charges of misconduct expunged from their record – potentially enabling them to relocate to an unsuspecting district.
  • Permit allegations of child abuse or sexual abuse more than four years old to be introduced as evidence.
  • Permit dismissal charges for egregious misconduct to be filed at any time, not just during the school year.

Then there is the Students Matter case (Vergara v California), which should be resolved within the next five weeks. If the judge rules for the plaintiffs, seniority, tenure and the dismissal statutes will be excised from the state’s education code, making it considerably easier and less expensive for school districts to get rid of criminal and low-quality teachers.

But until then, we are left with a bumbling school district and a teachers union that is hell-bent on protecting every last dues paying member, no matter how incompetent or evil they may be, all the while sacrificing children and hosing the innocent taxpayer.

Privatization or home schooling, anyone?

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.

UTLA, LAUSD and ACLU Fiddle While Children Don’t Learn

“Landmark settlement” song has hackneyed words but still makes Top 10 in the “Hubris” category.

In 2010, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit which claimed that seniority-based layoffs take a disproportionate toll on poor and minority schools. The ACLU won the case and the settlement protected students in up to 45 schools from the pernicious effects of the last in/first out (LIFO) regimen.

But shortly thereafter, the United Teachers of Los Angeles successfully appealed the decision, and the case was remanded back to state court. And after 20 months of dithering and dickering, we now have a new settlement. As reported by EdSource’s John Fensterwald,

The deal in the Reed v. the State of California lawsuit will provide about $25 million annually for three years for additional administrators, mentor teachers and teacher training in 37 middle and high schools where there had been low student performance and high turnover of inexperienced teachers.

There are a few other minor considerations like a special education coordinator being placed at each school and principals will be offered a “retention package” to stay on the job longer. But the problem at hand? Ignore it, throw some money around it and hope the victims will be appeased. There is no mention at all about better ways to choose which teachers stay and which teachers go should layoffs become necessary. It ignores the reality that the union-enforced LIFO system regularly cheats thousands of children out of a decent education. And the self-congratulatory palavering over the decision strikes a dissonant chord.

The usually sensible Los Angeles Unified School District superintendent John Deasy crooned,

The youth in greatest peril at these schools will benefit tremendously. These are invaluable investments, aligned with the goals of the Local Control Funding Formula, which will make a difference in transforming these schools and bring justice to our youth.

Huh? What Dr. Deasy is saying here is that we can right things by simply throwing more money at the problem. Gee, maybe we can become like Washington, D.C.! It spends $30,000 yearly per student yet has one of the most dysfunctional school systems in the country.

Joan Sullivan, CEO of the Partnership schools rhapsodized,

Our mission is about equity. Today, thanks to ongoing collaboration, we have all parties coming together around a landmark settlement that promises to bring students across Los Angeles closer to the educational opportunity they deserve.

Landmark? The only landmark that this case conjures up is the Alamo. But while the Alamo massacre is a distant memory, inner city school carnage is still with us.

Jesus E. Quinonez, an attorney for UTLA, claimed victory, warbling,

… any attempts to extinguish the rights of teachers—here, the right to a neutral and fair hearing process—will not serve the needs of kids or lead to justice in our schools.

Fair hearing process? Is he kidding?! With LIFO in place, no one gets any kind of hearing. Decisions are made according to a brain-dead set-up that doesn’t recognize the importance of teacher quality. In fact, LIFO discriminates not only against children, but also against good and great teachers.

Dale Larson, attorney with Morrison & Foerster, which partnered with the ACLU in the lawsuit, intoned:

By providing resources to attract and retain teachers in the 37 low-performing, high-turnover middle and high schools, the settlement renders the legal question raised in Reed “academic.”

Actually, it’s not “academic” at all as the 17 page decision never even mentions the words “seniority” or “last in/first out.”

What the Kumbaya chorus is omitting – other than the fact that the issues in the original suit have gone completely unaddressed – is that adding administrators to a bad situation is often worse than meaningless. You see, in Los Angeles, though administrators are “at will” employees, they are treated like unionized teachers and are almost never fired for incompetence. (I know this from first-hand experience. We had a revolving door of assistant principals at the middle school where I toiled for 15 years. A few were great, some good and some were so bad they went from school to school – all too frequently mine – as “must place” employees. Also, I never met a teacher who was drawn to a school because it had a lot of administrators.)

Additional mentor teachers and teacher training are good things – assuming the mentors and the training are of value. But what happens if a teacher still isn’t doing the job after working with a mentor and getting further training? Nothing. Due to seniority (and equally noxious tenure laws), he will still be in the classroom, his students will still be failing, and a better teacher will be collecting an unemployment check.

Officially, the agreement is not a done deal. The LAUSD board needs to vote on it and it’s on the agenda for its April 22nd meeting. If it passes there, the settlement then must be approved by the court. But given the self-congratulatory outpouring by virtually all of the involved players, it’s hard to believe that there will be dissent from either entity. (Too bad the parents and kids at the involved schools don’t have a vote.)

Hence, it would appear that the only hope for burying seniority – and the foul tenure and dismissal statutes – lies with the Vergara v. California (Students Matter) case, which is set for a ruling by early July. Referring to Vergara, UTLA attorney Quinonez said the settlement in the ACLU case acknowledges that “the solution to high turnover in schools is not to take away teachers’ rights.”

What the union lawyer really meant was that the agreement doesn’t take away the more senior teachers’ perks. And more importantly, his statement makes no mention of “children’s rights.” But then again, union songs are invariably about union solidarity. And the voices of the children and their parents who continue to be penalized are never included in the mix.

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.

Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Why ‘Harris v. Quinn’ Has Labor Very, Very Nervous
By Joel Rogers, April 14, 2014 Edition, The Nation
Sometime soon, certainly by the late-June conclusion of its present term, the Supreme Court will tell us its decision in Harris v. Quinn, arguably the most important labor law case the Court has considered in decades. Harris has already generated a great deal of attention and worry in labor circles, and nearly as much enthusiasm and celebration in pro-business ones — reflected in the extraordinary number of friend-of-the-court briefs filed by advocates on both sides. The case threatens the existence of the “agency shop,” a bedrock institution in American labor relations—one relied on in the most successful recent union organizing, and that is decisive to the health of public sector unions. Here’s what Harris is about. In American labor law, a union wins the right to be the exclusive collective bargaining representative for workers in a particular unit by demonstrating its support by a majority of the workers in the unit. But the law also imposes a duty with this right. The union must represent all workers, union members and nonunion employees alike, when it negotiates and administers collective bargaining agreements. Thus it is theoretically possible for nonunion employees to capture the benefits of collective bargaining won by their union colleagues (often at considerable expense) but pay nothing for it. (read article)

Vergara V. California Lawsuit Could Revolutionize U.S. Public Education
By James Marshall Crotty, April 1, 2014, Forbes
You might think that the leading clusters of education reform are the Bay Area, Phoenix, and Washington, DC. However, testimony that just concluded March 27 in a Los Angeles Superior Courtroom could lead to sweeping reforms for public education not just in the Golden State, but across the country as well. Nine public school students filed the lawsuit nearly two years ago against the state of California, its department of education and other state educational organizations. The students claim they have been denied an equal education from that of their peers elsewhere in the state. It turns out that public school students in the state have a constitutional right to “substantially equal opportunities for learning,” according to the 1976 ruling in Serrano v. Priest. However, the plaintiffs claim their rights are being infringed upon due to state laws designed to retain teachers on measures that have little to do with educating students. The case, named Vergara v. California, seeks to strike three labor laws in the state. They are… (read article)

More Companies Bow to Investors With a Social Cause
By Emily Chasan, April 1, 2014, Wall Street Journal
Shareholders are driving changes in corporate policies and disclosures unthinkable a decade ago, on issues ranging from protecting rain forests to human rights. Even the threat of a proxy vote can be enough to bring company executives to the negotiating table. So far this year, environmental and social issues have accounted for 56% of shareholder proposals, representing a majority for the first time, according to accounting firm Ernst & Young LLP. That is up from about 40% in the previous two years, and means shareholders are increasingly voting on things like greenhouse-gas emissions, political spending and labor rights. While such proposals usually don’t grab the same headlines as changes sought by activist investors, their proponents often are effective at persuading companies to meet them halfway. The proposals are “really meant to get the attention of the corporate leadership,” said Thomas DiNapoli, the New York comptroller who oversees the $160.7 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund. “Profitability that is at a sustainable and responsible level is very, very important to us.” Mr. DiNapoli filed about 65 resolutions this past year, and he often succeeds in getting companies to agree to his requests before they come to a vote. (read article)

Tennessee lawmakers reject ban on mass union picketing
By Max Smith, April 1, 2014, The Tennessean
A bill that would have created a misdemeanor charge for disruptive picketing failed in the House Criminal Justice Committee after many legislators voiced concerns that it was too vaguely worded and broad. Under House Bill 1688, by Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, protesters could be charged with a class B Misdemeanor if their “mass picketing” prevents someone from entering or exiting their place of employment or interferes with work by being a “disturbance or nuisance.” The bill had explicitly defined “mass picketing” as protesting related to labor disputes but was amended to apply to all picketers. Durham, an attorney, said those opposing the bill were doing so out of union loyalties, an accusation state Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, took exception to. To Van Huss and other members of the committee, both Republican and Democratic, this was a First Amendment issue. Last month, Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper released an opinion that he found the legislation unconstitutional as well. (read article)

Illinois Governor’s Race Puts Unions in Tough Position
By Andrew Ujifusa, April 1, 2014, Education Week
Powerful teachers’ unions in Illinois are faced with a vexing problem in this year’s gubernatorial race: a Democratic incumbent they’re unhappy with, and a Republican candidate they view as a threat to the rights of unionized public workers. The race in Illinois has the potential to be a test case for the political consequences of taking high-profile steps aimed at curbing pension obligations, at a time when many states are anxious about the long-term fiscal health of their retirement-benefit systems. Estimates about the unfunded liabilities across states vary widely, but the total nationwide ranges into the hundreds of billions of dollars. And Illinois faces the most acute unfunded pension problems of any state. (read article)

Emanuel’s pension fix: Shrink benefits, raise taxes
By Hal Dardick and Bill Ruthhart, April 1, 2014, Chicago Tribune
Mayor Rahm Emanuel is proposing to raise property taxes and cut retirement benefits for some city workers to start digging out of a massive pension debt he inherited. But the proposal the mayor and his top aides outlined late Monday would not address huge pension shortfalls for Chicago police, firefighters and teachers. Nor would it deal with the city’s most immediate, pressing financial problem: a state requirement to pay a whopping $600 million more toward police and fire pensions next year, a provision that could lead to a combination of tax increases, service cuts and borrowing. Even as Emanuel vowed to put his pension proposal on paper in the coming days so it can be considered by state lawmakers, the changes face an uncertain future. Although Emanuel aides say the proposal comes out of talks with more than 30 city unions, not all of them are on board. A lawsuit is all but certain, especially after one group of unions issued a statement calling Emanuel’s concept “an unconstitutional approach that makes onerous cuts to the pension benefits of nearly 50,000 active and retired public servants.” The mayor said his pension proposal should send a signal to reluctant police and fire unions that “there’s common ground and a consensus” with what he said was a majority of the other unions involved. (read article)

Pennsylvania Republicans Join Big Labor In Healthcare Fight
By Fred Wszolek, April 01, 2014, Town Hall
The Keystone State has traditionally been regarded as a union stronghold, but recently some lawmakers have taken steps to break their politically motivated partisan influence. Republican lawmakers introduced legislation to change the state’s taxpayer-funded union dues collection system and close loopholes that protect union members from anti-stalking laws. Despite these advances, the Workforce Fairness Institute (WFI) was disappointed to find out that while some lawmakers in Pennsylvania are boldly taking on labor bosses, others are joining forces with them in a healthcare dispute between two private companies. Over the years, WFI has successfully highlighted the ongoing battle between lawmakers and union bosses in states like Pennsylvania specifically drawing attention to instances where Big Labor has gone too far. Most recently, we brought attention to 10 members of a Philadelphia-based Ironworkers union, Local 101, who were charged with assault and arson. We have also recently written about a longstanding Pennsylvania law that exempts union organizers in a labor dispute from criminal statutes, making it nearly impossible to prosecute intimidating organizers engaging in thuggery. Although national union organizations are witnessing a dramatic decrease in membership, healthcare has been one of few markets where union membership has actually grown. (read article)

What Other Businesses Can Los Angeles Destroy? What About Trash Haulers?
By Scott Shackford, April 1, 2014, Reason
We should probably be surprised businesses were allowed to choose in the first place.Credit: p.Gordon / Foter / CC BYLos Angeles City Council has voted to seize the local private business/large apartment trash hauling industry, take control of it, and sell off exclusive contracts to those it deems appropriate. The word “seize” is not used, of course, but instead it’s all being sold as a recycling and landfill-use reduction plan. It takes the Los Angeles Times nine paragraphs to get past the environmental back-patting to explain what’s actually going on: Currently, landlords for businesses and apartments choose between competing businesses to haul their trash. Under the new “exclusive franchise” system, Los Angeles will be divided up into 11 zones. Haulers will bid for city contracts giving them the exclusive right to collect garbage in each zone. The new system is hitched to environmental standards: To be eligible to win each zone, haulers would have to provide separate bins for recycling and use “clean fuel” vehicles, among other ecologically friendly requirements. The plan is backed by environmentalists and labor groups, who say the system is the best way to help Los Angeles meet its goal of diverting 90% of its trash from landfills. Activists say the system will also mean fewer trucks crisscrossing city streets and safer conditions for workers in a dangerous industry. The city is turning a private competitive service into a monopoly. The Times does note that the proposal puts unions and environmentalists against business and private property: (read article)

Unions don’t belong in college sports
Editorial, April 1, 2014, Detroit News
College basketball fans are currently hanging on the results and emotions of March Madness. But that phrase is only a slight exaggeration of the recent ruling from a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board which, if upheld, will launch Big Labor into a new arena: college sports. The likely impetus for this ruling is that the unions see an untapped source of dues and membership from an industry that generates billions of dollars of revenue every year. It’s only the most recent in a string of labor-friendly directives under President Barack Obama’s NLRB. Players at Northwestern, bankrolled by United Steelworkers, want the ability to collectively bargain for better “working conditions,” rights to money made off their likenesses, access to more health care and, perhaps one day, compensation. But full tuition scholarships, room and board, access to world-class training facilities, and potential entryway to professional sports — valued at tens of thousands of dollars per year — have always been the understood compensation for the talent, ability, and time college players give their schools. The ruling is wrought with questions that will be decided on appeal, and ultimately in court. (read article)

Implications of Northwestern NLRB decision could extend far beyond labor relations
By William A. Blue, Jr. and David P. Phippen, March 31 2014, Lexology
The rationale of the Northwestern decision could have a dramatic impact on institutions of higher learning, extending far beyond the “four corners” of the Regional Director’s decision. Any scholarship that benefits a private college could arguably mean that the recipients were “employees” for purposes of the full range of laws that govern the employment relationship, including tax laws (unemployment, social security, and income taxes); the Fair Labor Standards Act, and state and local wage and hour laws; obligations under ERISA and the employer mandate of the Affordable Care Act; occupational safety and health; coverage under the federal, state, and local anti-discrimination laws; workers’ compensation; and vicarious liability to employees or third parties for “employee” torts. Other issues could include uncertainty with respect to intellectual property rights, including control of images of players and confidential team information; applicability of “green card” requirements under immigration laws, as opposed to requirements for student visas; and coverage under insurance policies that include or exclude “employees” from the scope of coverage. Moreover, if scholarship student-athletes at private institutions of higher learning are “employees” under the NLRA, the athletes have the Section 7 rights of “employees” under the Act, including the right to engage in protected concerted activity. Given the NLRB’s aggressive positions concerning employment and social media policies, this change alone could have a significant impact. (read article)

Missouri House endorses limits on union payments
By Jordan Shapiro, March 31, 2014, Belleville News-Democrat
The Republican-led Missouri House took another step Monday in a repeat bid to require labor organizations to ask public employees every year to agree to have union fees automatically deducted from their paychecks. The House voted 83-70 to give preliminary approval to the measure, but it needs one more affirmative vote before moving to the Senate. The House tally is only two votes above the minimum threshold required to pass a bill out of the chamber. Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed nearly identical legislation last year, but the House version would bypass him and instead send the measure to the August ballot for voter approval. Public employees who are not in unions can be required to pay so-called fair-share fees that are automatically deducted from paychecks. The legislation would apply to those fees as well as the dues that union members pay. In addition to needing consent for those automatic deductions, unions representing public employees would also need to receive annual written consent to spend a portion of a worker’s fees on political activities. (read article)

California Considers Bill to Protect Temp Workers
By Michael Grabell, March 31, 2014, ProPublica
California could become one of the first states in the nation to hold companies legally responsible for wage and safety violations by their subcontractors and temp agencies if a bill proposed Friday becomes law. The bill tackles the longstanding complaint of labor leaders that companies can often shirk responsibility for the abuse of workers by hiring them through agencies or contracting with smaller firms. A ProPublica investigation last year found that temp workers face high rates of wage violations and on-the-job injuries, but rarely have recourse against the brand-name companies whose products they move, pack or assemble. Typically, only the agencies or subcontractors that directly employ workers face fines when something goes wrong, even when fulfilling contracts with larger firms that indirectly control or influence the work conditions. Unions and other worker advocates say the bill would protect temps and subcontracted workers, such as building janitors, by holding the companies at the top of the supply chain accountable. (read article)

How Labor Unions Can Save the NCAA
By William W. Berry III, March 31, 2014, Slate
Last week, after the National Labor Relations Board announced its decision to allow Northwestern University football players to unionize, some said it would mark the death knell for the current amateurism model of intercollegiate athletics. This is unsurprising in light of the widespread belief that unions will enable pay-for-play arrangements combined with a generally tepid public view of labor unions. Counterintuitively, however, labor law may provide the one viable jurisprudential avenue to survival for the NCAA. At the heart of the NLRB decision last week was Regional Director Peter Sung Ohr’s conclusion that football scholarship athletes are employees. As he explained, they are “receiving scholarships to perform football-related services” for Northwestern “under a contract for hire in return for compensation.” Indeed, this is the very characterization the NCAA has fought for decades to avoid. It has long claimed instead that college athletes are students whose primary purpose is to receive an education and “go pro” in something else. (read article)

Federal judge upholds part of Michigan’s right-to-work law
By Chad Livengood, March 31, 2014, Detroit News
A federal judge on Monday allowed a union lawsuit challenging aspects of Michigan’s right-to-work law to move forward while ruling the state had the power to make union membership optional. U.S. District Judge Stephen Murphy III’s mixed ruling will let the Michigan State AFL-CIO continue to make its case that the state’s right-to-work law violates the federal government’s power to regulate private-sector labor unions. “The significant parts of our case are going to go forward, so I think that’s a significant victory,” said Andrew Nickelhoff, general counsel of the Michigan State AFL-CIO. The judge dismissed three counts of the lawsuit, saying right-to-work laws “are a valid exercise of state regulatory power.” “Fortunately, the court dismissed the union lawyers’ challenges to the core provisions of Michigan’s Right to Work law and Michigan workers will continue to have the Right to Work without having to pay dues to an unwanted union,” Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Foundation, said Monday in a statement. (read article)

Gov. John Kasich work for average Ohioans
Cuyahoga County executive and Democratic candidate for governor, Ed FitzGerald, continued his full-court press of organized labor support Monday by questioning Gov. John Kasich’s blue-collar credentials during a visit to a union hall. “Here’s what I think it all comes down to,” said FitzGerald, joined by fellow statewide office-seekers during a news conference at the Building Laborers’ Union Local 310. “Who do you when you get up in the morning, who do you speak for? Who do you work for? We have a governor who I think works hard, he just doesn’t work hard for average Ohioans. The remarks come on the third anniversary of Senate Bill 5, a controversial collective-bargaining measure championed by Republicans in the legislature and signed into law by Kasich. Voters later overturned the bill, despite Kasich’s campaigning to keep it intact. Despite Kasich’s assurances that he has no interest in picking a new fight with labor, Democrats doubt his sincerity. They believe he has not unequivocally said whether he would veto right-to-work legislation that would ban union dues-paying requirements. “We will have a governor in place who will veto the hell out of those bills,” Nina Turner, a state senator from Cleveland running for secretary of state, said at Monday’s event. (read article)

Will Senate Bill 5 matter in race for Ohio governor?
By Darrel Rowland, March 31, 2014, The Columbus Dispatch
The only time Ohioans have voted on one of Gov. John Kasich’s proposals, 61 percent said no to Senate Bill 5. Opponent Ed FitzGerald and others on the statewide Democratic ticket are setting out to remind voters of that battle. Today marks the third anniversary of Kasich signing into law the measure that gutted public employee collective bargaining rights, which was repealed in November 2011 after opponents gathered nearly a million signatures on a referendum petition. FitzGerald and others on the Democratic ticket are commemorating the date by holding events across the state to remind Ohio voters of this “assault on middle-class families.” “This is a governor who got elected under false pretenses,” FitzGerald said during a press conference in a Cleveland union hall, noting Kasich did not mention worker rights, women’s rights or cutting local government during the 2010 campaign. (read article)

What’s next for public employee pensions?
By Teague P. Paterson, March 30, 2014, Sacramento Bee
Now that a pension-modification measure proposed by San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed will not appear on the November statewide ballot and a court ruling has blocked San Jose from slashing employees’ vested pension rights, opponents of public pensions are falling back on their old, false argument. It’s a hackneyed line with little truth: Public employee labor unions are not willing to negotiate. That could not be further from the truth. Across our state, when mayors and department heads have sat down with their employees’ unions to discuss pensions, they have found that common interest prevails over self-interest. Consider firefighters in Salinas, who agreed to a contract that reduced retirement benefits. Or dispatchers, police assistants and clerical workers in Daly City who now contribute more of their own paychecks to pension accounts. Police officers in Martinez made a deal to double their own contributions. Firefighters in Benicia and Imperial Beach, as well as miscellaneous city workers in Yorba Linda, compromised on reduced benefits. Those are a few examples from this current calendar year. During the past several years, beginning when our economy was still in a recession, public workers in nearly 400 municipalities agreed to cost-saving changes including higher employee pension contributions, reduced benefits and delayed pay increases. (read article)

Teachers union fights new plan by Sacramento and other school districts to address low-performing schools
By Loretta Kalb, March 30, 2014, Sacramento Bee
In the seven months since Sacramento City Unified School District won unprecedented federal permission to use new methods at low-performing schools, the urban district has begun ranking campuses and sending educators to other schools to coach their colleagues. These were among the early steps in plans to improve performance among 43,175 students, many of whom live in poverty and are learning English along with their everyday studies. Even as the district rolls out the plan, the teachers union – which never signed on – is fighting to stop it. The Sacramento City Teachers Association, in particular, objects to a promise that Sacramento City Unified and seven other districts made to link student test scores to teacher evaluations. “We have been really, really clear in California ever since (federal grant competition) Race to the Top that we did not believe using student test scores to evaluate teachers was a good idea,” said Dean Vogel, president of the California Teachers Association, which has been providing support to the SCTA. Sacramento City Unified is part of a consortium that represents more than 1 million students in school districts in Fresno, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, Sanger and Santa Ana. (read article)

Neel Kashkari wants to be California’s governor
By Shane Goldmacher, March 30, 2014, National Journal
Neel Kashkari is speaking over a plate of two over-easy eggs and wheat toast he didn’t want to order. We’re in a quiet San Francisco café after relocating from a noisier coffee shop down the block. We arrived full, and with drinks in hand (Kashkari, orange juice; his adviser, Aaron McLear, coffee; me, tea). “Guilt order,” he says of the eggs. He eats them anyway. Kashkari has passed through the busy downtown streets and two cafés all but unnoticed. This wouldn’t be a problem except that Kashkari is running for governor of California. Among those who would recognize Kashkari—he clocked in at 2 percent in the race’s most recent public poll—many would probably know him as the face of one of the most despised laws in modern American history: the bailout of Wall Street. One of its cornerstones was Kashkari’s brainchild. This is the kind of thing most candidates pivot away from as quickly as possible. Not Kashkari. “We’re not running away from TARP. No, I’m running towards the TARP,” he says of the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program that he helped design and implement. “I own the TARP.” As if a Republican running to unseat a political icon, Gov. Jerry Brown, in one of the nation’s bluest states, wasn’t hard enough, Kashkari is doing so lugging the kind of baggage that has ended dozens of careers. But the bailout is more than baggage for Kashkari; it’s a basis for his candidacy, his singular public-policy achievement when he puts himself before the voters. “This is one of the only examples in recent history where Republicans and Democrats worked together,” Kashkari says. “…Isn’t that what we all want our leaders to do?” He’ll soon find out. (read article)

Biggest spenders wear the union label
By Susan Ferrechio, March 28, 2014, Washington Examiner
Photo – Democrats are out to make the Koch brothers the most infamous campaign donors in the 2014 election cycle. But they are hardly the biggest spenders, nor is Americans for Prosperity, the 501(c)(4) they support, at the top of the list. That distinction belongs to the nation’s labor unions, whose ability to freely use worker dues to help favored candidates — almost all of them Democrats — puts them far above just about any other individual or group. Labor union spending on both campaigns and lobbying can be difficult to track, however. Unions are required to disclose donations to candidates and campaigns with the Federal Election Commission. According to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, that figure totaled $143 million during the 2011-2012 election cycle. By comparison, Americans for Prosperity spent about $36 million on political activity during those two years, all of it spent against Democratic contenders, according to CRP. But those numbers tell only part of the story. A great deal of union spending on behalf of candidates includes not only direct donations but also spending on other activities that aid campaigns. Those efforts often include hiring workers to staff phone banks and staging get-out-the-vote efforts. (read article)

Calif. law friendly toward college unions
By Stefanie Loh, March 27, 2014, San Diego Union-Tribune
The NLRB’s Northwestern football ruling only applies to private institutions, but precedent in Calif. law would make it easy for student-athletes at public institutions to push for employee status. Former Wildcats quarterback Kain Colter and the Northwestern football players are leading the charge to give student-athletes bargaining rights to petition for improved benefits, and the NLRB ruling has opened the door for the 17 private schools that compete in FBS level football – including California-based USC and Stanford, for instance – to petition their schools for the right to be acknowledged as employees. The NLRB only has jurisdiction over private sector employees, so student-athletes at public schools would have to appeal to their state’s labor board for the right to unionize. But based on precedent in California labor law, there’s reason to believe that this might be a relatively smooth process for student-athletes at any of the five public institutions that compete at the FBS level in football: San Diego State, UCLA, Cal, Fresno State and San Jose State. (read article)

Mississippi Senate Approves Anti-Union Bills
By Jeff amy, March 27, 2014, Chem Info
Bills that aim to restrict union organizing and picketing practices in Mississippi, as well as limit governments’ abilities to pressure employers to use unionized workers, are on their way to Gov. Phil Bryant. The Senate gave final passage Wednesday to the three bills, on mostly party-line votes. Senate Bill 2473 would make it illegal to coerce a business into staying neutral in a union drive or to allow workers to choose union representation by signing cards instead of by secret ballot. It’s not clear what would constitute coercion, but businesses could sue anyone they believed engaged in it. Union supporters have been pushing Nissan Motor Co. to declare its neutrality in an attempt by the United Auto Workers to unionize the Japanese automaker’s Canton plant. Supporters have said the bill isn’t specifically aimed at Nissan. Senate Bill 2653 tries to restrict mass picketing of a residence or place of business. It says pickets would be legal as long as they weren’t violent and didn’t block entrances. But it also makes getting a court stop order against picketing easier. Senate Bill 2797 says the Legislature would have to pass a law to allow any state or local government to make an agreement to use unionized workers on a project. Such a project labor agreement was used to build the Toyota Motor Corp. plant in Blue Springs. (read article)

Labor unions saved Ford in our ‘darkest’ hour: Bill Ford
By Jeff Marganteen, March 27, 2014, CNBC
The executive chairman of Ford Motor Co. said the United Auto Workers union helped his company get through its toughest times. Though they are sometimes blamed for the financial woes at other car companies, labor unions actually helped “save” Ford Motor as competitors such as General Motors went bankrupt, Bill Ford told CNBC on Thursday. Ford, the executive chairman of the Detroit automaker, said in an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” that former UAW President Ron Gettelfinger doesn’t get enough credit for helping to shore up the books during Ford’s “darkest hour.” “When we got into a really tough period, I sat down with Ron and I said, ‘You have to help me save the Ford Motor Company so we didn’t have to go through bankruptcy, so we didn’t have to get a federal bailout,'” Ford said. “And he did that.” Ford credited the union with helping his company regain a foothold in the North American market. He added that the UAW helped the entire industry “get back on its feet.” (read article)

College Players Granted Right to Form Union
By Ben Strauss and Steve Edermarch, March 26, 2014, New York Times
A regional director of the National Labor Relations Board ruled Wednesday that a group of Northwestern football players were employees of the university and have the right to form a union and bargain collectively. For decades, the major college sports have functioned on the bedrock principle of the student-athlete, with players receiving scholarships to pay for their education in exchange for their hours of practicing and competing for their university. But Peter Ohr, the regional N.L.R.B. director, tore down that familiar construct in a 24-page decision. He ruled that Northwestern’s scholarship football players should be eligible to form a union based on a number of factors, including the time they devote to football (as many as 50 hours some weeks), the control exerted by coaches and their scholarships, which Mr. Ohr deemed a contract for compensation. “It cannot be said that the employer’s scholarship players are ‘primarily students,’ ” the decision said. (read article)

Missouri unions rally against right-to-work bill
By Jordan Shapiro, March 26, 2014, Associated Press
Democratic Governor Jay Nixon’s condemnation of so-called right-to-work legislation as unnecessary and misguided drew applause from about a thousand Missouri union members who gathered Wednesday at the state Capitol. The measure to prohibit labor contracts from requiring that all employees pay union fees, regardless of whether workers are union members, is a top priority of House Republican leaders this year. But some union members attending the annual rally sponsored by the Missouri State Building and Construction Trades Council said it would weaken a union’s ability to collectively bargain and secure protections for workers. “This is not an issue we need. It will do nothing but harm the middle class and is about lowering wages,” said Glenn Lindsey, a Fulton-based Local 36 sheet metal worker for 32 years and third generation union member. (read article)

Labor group that protests restaurants won’t let its own workers protest
By Robby Soave, March 26, 2014, Daily Caller
Critics are accusing an activist labor union of rank hypocrisy after it was revealed that the group — which organizes workers’ protests of fast food establishments — forces its own employees to sign contracts prohibiting them from protesting. The Restaurant Opportunities Center has 13,000 members and nearly a dozen affiliates across the country, according to Florida Watchdog.org. It organizes protests against restaurants that it believes have violated fair labor practices. It even encourages activists to pester restaurant customers by placing giant inflatable cockroaches outside the doors to the establishments. It contractually prohibits its own employees from protesting, however. Workers may not strike, picket or interfere with the organization’s operation in any way — even though that these are exactly the kind of tactics that the group believes empowered workers should use to fight for their rights. It’s even written into their collective-bargaining agreement: “It is mutually agreed that there shall be no strikes, lock-outs, sit downs, Sit ins, slowdowns, Sympathy Strikes,­ picketing, stoppage or interruption of Work, or direct or indirect interference or interruption of the operations of Employer during the term of this Agreement. The Guild shall use every reasonable effort to prevent the above actions by any of its employees employed by the Employer.” (read article)

Unions need to take a page from the Tea Party
By Marc Ambinder, March 26, 2014, The Week
Not so long ago, the American labor movement faced a make or break moment. Facing internal dissension and a continuous hemorrhage of members and clout, it managed to elect a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress. Tilting federal labor laws back in favor of unions, and passing legislation that would allow so-called “card check” elections to establish them in workplaces, were vital. If not then, with that political configuration, then when? Five years later, organized labor considers itself to be even worse off. Though a friendlier National Labor Relations Board has helped fix contract disputes, the economic recession slashed more than 600,000 jobs from the ranks of public sector employees, at least half of them union jobs. And where the private sector is growing, unions aren’t. Politically, labor is toxic. The Democratic governor of New York has found in labor a steady opponent. Where Republicans have taken on labor power, they’ve won, too. Anti-labor folks have impressed upon the media how bloated public sector pension funds are the single largest source of potential economic peril in cities spanning from San Jose to Central Falls, R.I. (read article)

3 bills that seek to restrict labor unions in Mississippi get final Senate OK
By Jeff Amy, March 26, 2014, The Republic (Indiana)
Bills that aim to restrict union organizing and picketing practices in Mississippi, as well as limit governments’ abilities to pressure employers to use unionized workers, are on their way to Gov. Phil Bryant. The Senate gave final passage Wednesday to the three bills, on mostly party-line votes. Senate Bill 2473 would make it illegal to coerce a business into staying neutral in a union drive or to allow workers to choose union representation by signing cards instead of by secret ballot. It’s not clear what would constitute coercion, but businesses could sue anyone they believed engaged in it. Union supporters have been pushing Nissan Motor Co. to declare its neutrality in an attempt by the United Auto Workers to unionize the Japanese automaker’s Canton plant. Supporters have said the bill isn’t specifically aimed at Nissan. Senate Bill 2653 tries to restrict mass picketing of a residence or place of business. It says pickets would be legal as long as they weren’t violent and didn’t block entrances. But it also makes getting a court stop order against picketing easier. (read article)

 

California Federation of Teachers Boss Speaks Power to Troops

In a refreshingly candid speech, union leader minimizes bromides about “the children” and relentlessly bangs the class warfare drum.

In his March 22nd state-of-the-union talk to the faithful, California Federation of Teachers president Josh Pechthalt made no bones about the ultimate mission of his union. Absent were the usual silly platitudes like “working together with other stakeholders” and “if we need to strike, it will be for the children.” Nah. Pechthalt didn’t waste any time using weasel words. He went right to the heart of the union’s raison d’être, which is advancing a leftist agenda. Here are a few snippets from a speech that would have made the late Karl Marx beam:

… CFT has been a beacon of progressive, social justice unionism.

… we have consistently supported single payer health care reform….

We are currently part of a coalition with many of our Millionaires Tax and Prop 30 partners working on an effort to amend Prop 13….

The super wealthy and their swollen circle of reactionary think tanks and echo chamber conservative media are committed to eradicating what remains of the labor movement and giving corporations unlimited power over every aspect of American life.

We understand that central to the mission of public education is the need to advocate for a different kind of society…. (Emphasis in original.)

Don’t get me wrong – I am not implying that teacher union bosses don’t care about children. They care, in fact they really care, but maybe not in ways that you and I do. They tend to see children as avatars-in-training for the brave new world that they are attempting to shove down our throats.

But getting our own members organized won’t be enough. We must reach out to our students, their parents and our community members and organizations.

Pechthalt clearly gives no thought to his members who don’t have the same affection for the Comintern that he apparently does. According to Pechthalt’s counterpart, California Teachers Association president Dean Vogel, about one-third of teachers in California are Republican. I wonder what was going through their minds when Pechthalt said, “… open school libraries have become as rare as a congressional republican (sic) with something good to say about the affordable care act (sic).” But then again, it really doesn’t matter, because the way the unions have things rigged, those right-of-center members are still forced to fork over monthly dues just like everyone else. But when you are a true-believer in “social justice,” purloining money from unwilling teachers is nothing more than a bourgeois concern.

Pechthalt was especially rough on the Students Matter (Vergara v California) case, which aims to ensure that all kids in California have an effective teacher by removing the tenure, seniority and dismissal statutes from the state education code. His comments were ad hominem and oozed class warfare sentiments.

The latest attack on public education has been the Vergara lawsuit, backed by billionaires David Welch and Eli Broad and the corporate-friendly law firm of Gibson Dunn and Crutcher.

… We did that while one of the backers of the Vergara lawsuit, Eli Broad, put money into a failed secret Arizona PAC effort that pumped millions of dollars into California in the run-up to the 2012 election to try and defeat Prop 30 and try to pass prop 32, the anti-union initiative.

… The hard cold reality though is that the Vergara suit underscores our challenge: to convincingly tell our story and build deep relationships with parents and community partners in the face of (a) well-funded effort by the opponents of public education to lie and twist reality and erode our influence. (Emphasis added.)

The vilification of Broad is particularly ironic because he is a lifelong Democrat. And regardless of his political affiliation, to progressives, some billionaires are less equal than others. For instance, why the Koch Brothers are considered evil and involved in “dark money” but George Soros is portrayed as an angel of light is beyond me. (Okay, it’s not beyond me….)

And in all the yammering about billionaires and the evil rich, it’s worth noting that when it comes to political spending in California, a teachers union – the California Teachers Association – is #1 by far. Between 2000 and 2013, it spent over $290 million on candidates and causes. That was far more than dreaded corporations AT&T, Chevron and Philip Morris spent in the Golden State combined.

Pechthalt’s and CFT’s attempts to conduct class(room) warfare by aggrandizing the union movement are well-documented.  Courtesy of Kyle Olson’s Indoctrination, we know that CFT has put out “lessons” for tots as young as five. In “Trouble in the Henhouse: A Puppet Show” we find an oppressive farmer whose hens unionize and convince the heartless farmer that he’d better respect them “or else.” Then there is “The “Yummy Pizza Company,” another lesson from CFT – actually ten – that delves 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 CFT parent organization AFL-CIO, tells second graders about unhappy cows that refuse to work until the mean farmer is forced to meet their demands.

It’s important to note that the “workers of the world unite and bring your children to the party” mentality is hardly new for CFT. This is the organization that brought us “Tax the Rich: An Animated Fairy Tale” in 2012. This vile video pushed class warfare to the limit, attempting to whip up hatred of people 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 no matter, the highly offensive video was a shameful attempt to indoctrinate children into the ugly world of class conflict.

It is essential that teachers who are more in love with teaching than with CFT’s attempts to wage war on rich people stop supporting the union’s political agenda. (To learn how to do this, go here.) Until teachers do that, they are complicit in the union’s overall mission, which is dedicated to promoting class warfare and indoctrinating children.

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.

California Teachers Union on Trial

A trial began last week in Los Angeles challenging the state laws granting teacher tenure after 18 months, “last-in, first-out” layoff laws, and the elaborate dismissal procedures which make it virtually impossible for teachers to be laid off. Together, these teacher protections result in far too many grossly ineffective teachers who cannot be fired. The lawsuit, Vergara v. California, is seeking to have the court overturn these laws based on the fact that children who end up with bad teachers are being effectively denied their right to an education.

In a broader sense, however, what is actually on trial is the vision for education that has been foisted upon California by the teachers’ union, most specifically the California Teachers Association. The California Teachers Association is the most powerful special interest in California. With 325,000 members and well over $300 million in total annual dues revenue, the CTA exercises overwhelming political influence at the state and local level.

Throughout California, if you want to successfully run for the state assembly or state senate, or just want to win a seat on the local school board, you have to consider who the CTA is going to support. If they like you, you will probably win. If they don’t, expect a tough fight against long odds. Strong majorities in both the California state assembly and senate were elected with teachers union support, as well as the vast majority of school board members throughout the state.

And once they get you elected, you are expected to go along with their program, which includes supporting all of the statutes being challenged in Vergara.

If the more than six million students currently enrolled in California’s public schools were getting good educations, it wouldn’t matter so much who controlled California’s education agenda. But the data suggests otherwise. Only 34% of 4th graders and 25% of 8th graders test proficient in math, and only 25% of 4th graders and 24% of 8th graders test proficient in reading. Only 23% of California’s high school students test ready for college reading, and only 58% test ready for college math.

Despite schools that are failing, the CTA aggressively supports laws that make it virtually impossible to fire even the most grossly ineffective teachers. For example, a study by LA Weekly found that from 2000-2010, the Los Angeles Unified School District, a district with 33,000 teachers, attempted to fire only 7 teachers and spent over $3.5 million dollars attempting to do so. Eventually, only 4 teachers were dismissed.

In their zeal to protect every single one of their dues paying teachers, the CTA seems to have forgotten what every parent knows – teachers matter. Teachers have a profound impact on their students. A good teacher can make a tremendous difference in a student’s life. Eric Hanushek, a leading education economist, notes that “teachers near the top of the quality distribution can get an entire year’s worth of additional learning out of their students” and that suggests that we could dramatically improve test scores if by eliminating the the bottom 5 to 10 percent of teachers and replace them with average teachers.

But the California Teachers Association steadfastly fights any reforms that would allow any teachers to be fired, or even evaluated. Last year, the CTA defeated bills that would have made it easier to remove child abusers from the classroom, and another that would have required more frequent teacher evaluations.

The Vergara case, if successful, will change, overnight, the rules protecting bad teachers which the CTA has imposed on our schools.

We can only hope.

Mark Bucher is the President of the California Public Policy Center

The Department of Justice on Student Suspensions

A recent memo accuses educators of racial discrimination while failing, with a few exceptions, to address the real problems.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a series of guidelines regarding the suspension of students from school. In short, though partially correct, the DOJ report is misguided, misleading, and missing key elements relevant to the issue.

Where the DOJ is wrong

The most disturbing part of the DOJ memo suggests that schools unfairly discriminate against students based on race.

The U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice (Departments) are issuing this guidance to assist public elementary and secondary schools in meeting their obligations under Federal law to administer student discipline without discriminating on the basis of race, color, or national origin. The Departments recognize the commitment and effort of educators across the United States to provide their students with an excellent education. The Departments believe that guidance on how to identify, avoid, and remedy discriminatory discipline will assist schools in providing all students with equal educational opportunities.

This is egregious. Suggesting that American schools, its administrators and its teachers are guilty of widespread racism has no basis in fact and has been rightfully denounced by most pundits. (Personal anecdote: as a teacher for over 28 years – almost exclusively in majority minority schools, including stints in Harlem and South Los Angeles – I have never seen a teacher or administrator act in a prejudicial way toward any minority kid.)

Simply put, schools have rules and if a student disobeys them, he or she is disciplined accordingly. And if minority kids are breaking the rules more often than other kids, shouldn’t they be punished more? That having been said, there are inequities that do need to be addressed that did not appear in the DOJ memo. More on that shortly.

Where the DOJ is right

The DOJ is correct when it charges that schools have become too dependent on law enforcement to solve internal problems. Many “zero tolerance” policies need to end. In too many cases, the guidelines have become downright silly. Should dress-code violations and posting a picture of a pellet gun on Instagram really become police matters? Is it right to suspend a student for chewing a Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun? Does it make the least bit of sense to suspend kids who are truant? “Okay, Johnny, we are going to keep you out of school today because you ditched school yesterday.”

Also, as one who has seen many a student suspended during my stint in middle school, I can tell you that in most cases the action is useless. After a suspension, I always asked what they did with their time when they were out of school. By far the most prevalent answer was, “Watched TV.”

Some punishment. Yeah, that’ll learn ‘em!

After a while, my school wised up and began employing “in-house” suspensions. In these cases, the students had to come to school, but didn’t go to their regular classes. By doing this, the school made a statement and tried to deal with the problem via the dean, the guidance counselor and the assistant principal. Also, the kid didn’t have a day off to watch TV and the school didn’t lose the funding it would have lost had the student been absent from school.

What the DOJ did not address

Why do kids misbehave in school? There is no one answer, but the following are four important ones:

1. Bad parenting. An obvious one and as RiShawn Biddle says, it’s a tough one to overcome. If a parent is not willing to parent properly, teachers and their schools have a much bigger challenge on their hands than with a child from a solid home.

2. Undiagnosed learning disability. This happens, but more often than not, students are misdiagnosed and often given needless medication. For example, if a boy is bored in school and “acts out” he’s likely to be painted with the ADHD brush and drugged, while the real cause of his behavior goes unaddressed.

3. Student boredom due to unqualified and/or inexperienced teachers. Yup, this is a big problem and has been for many years, but it too went unacknowledged by the DOJ. In fact, if you are searching for discrimination in public education, this is the place to look. In 2011, an ACLU lawsuit rightfully claimed that high-minority schools are discriminated against by the seniority laws that are enshrined in the California state education code. Because they invariably have a high percentage of new hires, the lowest performing schools usually take the brunt of the layoffs under this system, destabilizing them further by requiring a revolving door of substitutes. Judge William Highberger agreed and ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. Unfortunately, the decision was appealed and overturned, giving the teachers unions a victory at the expense of minority kids.

Another lawsuit, Vergara v. California, is due to begin in Los Angeles next week.  It asserts that

… five “outdated statutes” prevent administrators from making employment decisions in students’ interest. The tenure statute forces districts to decide after teachers are on the job only 18 months whether to grant them permanent job status. Once granted tenure, they gain due-process rights that make it expensive and difficult to fire them even if they’re “grossly ineffective.” And then, when an economic downturn comes – witness the last four years – a Last In/First Out (LIFO) requirement leads to layoffs based strictly on seniority, not competency.

If successful, this lawsuit will remove the tenure, seniority and arcane dismissal statutes from the California education code and render them unconstitutional, thus making it easier to get rid of incompetent and criminal teachers while outlawing seniority as a method of teacher-retention. While this litigation will help all students in the state, inner-city kids would benefit the most. As I wrote in City Journal in 2012,

Struggling inner-city schools end up suffering the most, as the lawsuit states: “One recent study showed that a school in the highest poverty quartile is 65 percent more likely to have a teacher laid off than a school in the lowest poverty quartile. As a result of seniority-based layoffs, the highest poverty schools in California are likely to lose 30 percent more teachers than wealthier schools. The disproportionate number of vacancies in those schools are then filled by transferring lower performing teachers, including grossly ineffective teachers, from other schools.”

The California Teachers Association has joined this suit in an attempt to protect its turf at the expense of the poor and minority students. Sadly, the DOJ is MIA on tenure and seniority and the unions’ efforts to keep them in place.

4. Teachers receive little or no classroom management training in schools of education. Little talked about, classroom management should be a very important part of every teacher’s training, but sadly it’s not. (The DOJ memo does allude to classroom management techniques, but says the school should provide it and makes no reference to ed schools.) Scandalously, my teacher training at Cal State had zero class hours set aside in how to manage a classroom. (My science methods teacher, realizing that this was a huge mistake, spent part of his classes giving us desperately needed tips on the subject.)

A new report by the National Council on Teacher Quality claims that classroom management continues to be one of the greatest challenges new teachers face. Surveys repeatedly document that novice teachers struggle in this area, and their school district supervisors concur.

  • A 1997 poll revealed that 58 percent of PK-12 teachers said that behavior that disrupted instruction occurred “most of the time or fairly often.”
  • A 2003 survey of teachers found that nearly half indicated that “quite a large number” of new teachers need a lot more training on effective ways to handle students who are discipline problems.
  • In 2012, over 40 percent of new teachers surveyed reported feeling either “not at all prepared” or “only somewhat prepared” to handle a range of classroom management or discipline situations.
  • In a 2013 survey, classroom management was “the top problem” identified by teachers.

It’s no secret that ed schools are, for the most part, a ridiculous waste of time and money. This is due in no small part to the fact that the nation’s #1 accrediting organization, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), is beyond useless. The mission of this organization, set up by the National Education Association in 1954, is to “help establish high quality teacher preparation.” Sixty years later, I can’t help but wonder when they are going to start.

In sum, the DOJ has raised a subject that needs to be discussed. But playing the race card – saying that “racial discrimination in school discipline is a real problem” – is ludicrous. Does the DOJ really think that most teachers, their administrators and school board members are closet Klan members? And why aren’t the teachers unions defending their members against the DOJ’s scurrilous charge? (The American Federation of Teachers did issue a wishy-washy statement including a few suggestions that they think would help, but did not directly address the DOJ racism accusation.)

There are so many things we can do to improve education, but due to the intransigence of the education establishment and the teachers unions with their one-size-fits-all bureaucratic diktats, we are stuck in the status quo muck. Not mentioned in the DOJ report, the following reform measures would improve things considerably:

  • Give school districts more latitude in placing teachers and more power to fire poor performers.
  • Ditch the step-and-ladder pay scale and pay good teachers more to work in impoverished areas.
  • Demand good results from all teachers and pay them accordingly.
  • Insist that ed schools teach prospective teachers effective classroom management techniques.
  • Get rid of seniority, tenure and the endless dismissal statutes that exist in many states.

Harping on the race angle and blaming teachers for discriminatory practices are needless distractions that do no kid of any color or ethnicity any good. In fact, the DOJ report will make things worse.

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.

California Teachers Association: Clichés-R-Us

CTA ends 2013 spewing meaningless bromides in an effort to convince us that the union is the victim and the Students Matter lawsuit is the work of a vast corporate conspiracy.

On January 27th, the Students Matter (Vergara v. California) case starts in Los Angeles. John Fensterwald explains that the lawsuit

… asserts that five “outdated statutes” prevent administrators from making employment decisions in students’ interest. The tenure statute forces districts to decide after teachers are on the job only 18 months whether to grant them permanent job status. Once granted tenure, they gain due-process rights that make it expensive and difficult to fire them even if they’re “grossly ineffective.” And then, when an economic downturn comes – witness the last four years – a Last In/First Out (LIFO) requirement leads to layoffs based strictly on seniority, not competency.

If successful, this lawsuit will remove the tenure, seniority and arcane dismissal statutes from the California education code and render them unconstitutional, thus making it easier to get rid of incompetent and criminal teachers while outlawing seniority as a method of teacher-retention. (It’s worth noting that the Students Matter lawsuit doesn’t ask the court to devise specific policy solutions, leaving those decisions to local districts as they are in 33 other states.) While this litigation will help all students in the state, inner-city kids would benefit the most. As I wrote in City Journal last year,

Struggling inner-city schools end up suffering the most, as the lawsuit states: “One recent study showed that a school in the highest poverty quartile is 65 percent more likely to have a teacher laid off than a school in the lowest poverty quartile. As a result of seniority-based layoffs, the highest poverty schools in California are likely to lose 30 percent more teachers than wealthier schools. The disproportionate number of vacancies in those schools are then filled by transferring lower performing teachers, including grossly ineffective teachers, from other schools.”

Though not named in the lawsuit, the teachers unionsrefusing to sit by and accept a change in rules that would benefit students at their expense intervened as defendants. In the recent edition of California Educator, the California Teachers Association’s bimonthly magazine for teachers, the union tries to explain to its members that the lawsuit is the work of the devil; in doing so, it manages to haul out every platitude it could muster from its amply furnished cliché closet, attempting to convince all concerned that it is a beleaguered but scrappy David fighting against a corporate Goliath.

The magazine piece is rife with the typical fallacious, over-the-top talking points the union rolls out on a regular basis. To kick things off, CTA president Dean Vogel is quoted:

It’s disappointing because putting professional rights of teachers on trial hurts students…. This most recent shenanigan by corporate special interests and billionaires to push their education agenda on California public schools is resulting in a waste of taxpayer dollars and time — time that should be spent focusing on providing a quality education to all students as the economy improves. CTA will continue to fight to ensure we have qualified and experienced teachers in the classrooms whose rights are respected as set forth by law, and not subject to arbitrary and capricious behavior or favoritism.

There are several things seriously wrong with his statement. Yes, people with money are behind the suit. Lawyers don’t work for free and the poor children who have been victimized by the current system don’t have deep pockets. And what corporate agenda is he talking about? Usually this scare statement refers to the allegation that corporations want to take over and privatize education. This lawsuit is attempting to do no such thing; it is simply trying to make public education better. And his last point is a real howler. CTA does not, I repeat, does not fight to have qualified teachers in every classroom. They fight to keep every teacher – qualified or not – on the job to ensure their bottom line is not affected. Unfortunately this means that in addition to good and great teachers, the union also fights to keep stinkers and pedophiles alone with your children seven hours a day, five days a week.

The article then goes on to say,

The officially named plaintiffs in Vergara are nine California public school students. But the real driver of the suit appears to be a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, David Welch. Welch created the nonprofit Students Matter for the purpose of bankrolling this suit, and has hired a legal team at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, a law firm that counts Wal-Mart among its many corporate clients, to make his case.

Yeah, let’s disregard the plight of nine students who have been victimized by CTA-supported laws. Instead, let’s focus on the fact that the man behind the suit has hired lawyers from a firm that has Walmart as a client. Are we supposed to summon up a collective gasp over this?

The union then trots out two favorite bogeymen: school funding and poverty:

Educators are the first to say California can do more to help improve our schools. There are many challenges, including poverty, a lack of adequate funding and resources for education …

The “lack of funding” and poverty excuses are staples with teachers unions and their fellow travelers. They are also lies. The party line is 1) we don’t spend enough on education and 2) poverty makes students unable to learn. As far as financial outlay, Cato’s Andrew Coulson reports that we have seen a tripling of education funding – in constant dollars – nationally (doubling in CA) over the last 40 years and have nothing to show for it. And in fact, the reality is that ineffective teachers are a cause of poverty. Discussing this issue, RiShawn Biddle writes,

…Overhauling American public education is critical to fighting poverty for the long haul. Revamping how the nation’s ed schools recruit and train aspiring teachers, for example, would help all children get the high-quality instruction that is the most-important in-school factor in student achievement. Just as importantly, reforming education can even help address the immediate problems that stem from poverty.

Next, the union complains that there is a lack of adequate support for teachers, claiming there are (unnamed) reports of them leaving the profession in unprecedented numbers” because of it.

This lie is repeated with such regularity that many take it as gospel. Yes, some teachers do leave because of education-related issues, but Mike Antonucci outlines the primary reasons they drop out.

  • 31.4 percent retired.
  • 20.4 percent cited “other family or personal reasons.”
  • 18.7 percent cited “pregnancy or child rearing.”
  • 14.6 percent were laid off or otherwise left involuntarily.
  • 11.8 percent cited “health.”
  • 11.2 percent changed residence.
  • 8.9 percent cited the desire “to take courses to improve career opportunities within the field of education.”

And saving the most cliché-ridden talking point for last, CTA again takes aim at corporate devils and their alleged blood lust for teachers’ “rights.”

Educator rights and due process protections have become favorite targets of those who seek to corporatize and privatize education…

Due process? No. Undue and never ending process. Because of CTA’s powerful lobbying, here is how ineffective teachers are dismissed in California:

1. School district must document specific examples of ineffective performance, based on standards set by the district and the local teachers union.

2. If a teacher has been cited for unsatisfactory performance worthy of dismissal, a school district must give the teacher written notice and provide her 90 calendar days to correct.

3. After 90 days, school district files written dismissal charges. If the school board votes to approve dismissal, it adopts official charges and a resolution of intent to dismiss teacher. Notice cannot be given between May 15 and September 15.

4. Once teacher receives notice that she will be dismissed in 30 days, she can request a hearing to be held within 30 days.

5. School board must reconvene to decide whether to proceed. If it proceeds, it must serve the employee with an accusation as set forth in the state’s Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

6. If teacher makes a second demand for a hearing, it is scheduled with the state Office of Administrative Hearings and held within 60 days. The hearing is similar to a civil trial with each side having rights to discovery. 

7. The hearing is held before a three-person Commission on Professional Competence consisting of an administrative judge and persons appointed by the school board and the teacher or her union representative.

8. After the hearing, the commission issues a written decision by majority vote either voting for dismissal or reinstatement.

9. If either the teacher or the school district appeals the decision, it will be heard by the state superior court.

10. Further appeals are heard by the state Court of Appeal.

Sources: California Legislative Analyst’s Office; California Office of Administrative Hearings.

The stickiest part of the above process is #7 because the unions control the action. The judge is invariably “union-friendly.” The offender gets to pick a teacher to be on the three-person panel. (Ya think he or she might choose a sympathetic one?) The third member of the panel is a teacher supplied by the district, more often than not – you guessed it – another union member. The odds are so stacked that as Matthias Gafni reports,

California has more than 1,000 school districts and 300,000 teachers, yet only 667 dismissal cases were filed with the Office of Administrative Hearings between January 2003 and March 2012, according to the Los Angeles Unified School District’s chief labor and employment counsel, Alex Molina. Only 130 of those actually got to the hearing stage, and 82 resulted in dismissals — fewer than 10 a year.

To put those numbers in perspective, that means .003 percent of teachers are dismissed in CA every year. And it costs school districts up to $500,000 just to get rid of one of them.

It is critical that teachers and, in fact, all citizens educate themselves and not fall for the union’s tired claptrap. Perpetuating CTA’s clichés gives the teaching profession a black eye, and does a disservice to six million California school kids, their parents and taxpayers alike.

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.

Union Blather and Students Matter

National Education Association new “reform” document is free of substance.

Apparently threatened by the education reform movement taking hold across the country, the National Education Association has decided to join the party. In concert with six other organizations – including the American Federation of Teachers – the biggest union in the country has released “Excellent Teachers for Each and Every Child: A Guide for State Policy.”

The guide’s recommendations draw from substantial research evidence on teacher effectiveness and from the practices of high-achieving nations like Finland and Singapore. The document includes go-to resources for policymakers and advocates, such as:

  • Recommended action steps to support policymaking and agenda-setting.
  • Model legislation language and examples of successful state policies that improve teacher diversity, set a high entry bar for educators, establish career ladders and professional learning standards for teachers, fund a sustainable teaching force, and support evaluation models that drive meaningful professional growth.
  • Summary recommendations on recruitment, preparation, professional development, evaluation, teaching and learning conditions, funding, and ways to develop coherent and systemic policy.

In reality, this flatulent report drones on for 36 pages and speaks in generalities that sound reasonable, even commendable. We do need good teaching strategies and to hire the best teachers we can find; then we should pay them well and do everything we can to keep them in the profession, right? But….

There is tons wrong with this policy attempt. One of the most glaring misconceptions is the concept of “best practices.” Take their examples: Finland and Singapore. Yes, both are successful, but very different. For example, Singapore, like high achiever South Korea, uses very “high stakes” testing, whereas Finland avoids standardized tests altogether. Classes tend to be quite large in Singapore, but small in Finland. In short, there is no one “best practice.” In this country, some students do better with a “back-to-basics, squared” approach to schooling used in the American Indian Charter Schools in Oakland, while other kids thrive in the more sensitive KIPP schools, yet others do better working from home, “attending” a virtual charter school.

Perhaps the worst part of this document is what it omits: there is one vague allusion to teacher tenure and no mention of seniority or any policy recommendations about how to get bad teachers out of the classroom, though these are major problems that must be dealt with.

Toward that end, the Students Matter (Vergara v. California) case starts in Los Angeles next month. As John Fensterwald explains,

The lawsuit asserts that five “outdated statutes” prevent administrators from making employment decisions in students’ interest. The tenure statute forces districts to decide after teachers are on the job only 18 months whether to grant them permanent job status. Once granted tenure, they gain due-process rights that make it expensive and difficult to fire them even if they’re “grossly ineffective.” And then, when an economic downturn comes – witness the last four years – a Last In/First Out (LIFO) requirement leads to layoffs based strictly on seniority, not competency.

If successful, this lawsuit will remove the tenure, seniority and arcane dismissal statutes from the California education code and render them unconstitutional, thus making it easier to get rid of incompetent and criminal teachers while outlawing seniority as a method of teacher-retention. (It’s worth noting that the Students Matter lawsuit doesn’t ask the court to devise specific policy solutions, leaving those decisions to local districts – as they are in 33 other states.) While this litigation will help all students in the state, inner-city kids would benefit the most. As I wrote in City Journal last year,

Struggling inner-city schools end up suffering the most, as the lawsuit states: “One recent study showed that a school in the highest poverty quartile is 65 percent more likely to have a teacher laid off than a school in the lowest poverty quartile. As a result of seniority-based layoffs, the highest poverty schools in California are likely to lose 30 percent more teachers than wealthier schools. The disproportionate number of vacancies in those schools are then filled by transferring lower performing teachers, including grossly ineffective teachers, from other schools.”

Though not named in the lawsuit, the teachers unions just couldn’t sit idly by and accept a change in rules that would benefit students at their expense. Two state teachers unions – the California Teachers Association (NEA’s state affiliate) and the California Federation of Teachers – came out with a joint press release announcing that they had filed a motion “to intervene in litigation.” This means that the teachers unions have become involved because they feel that the current defendants – the state and the school districts – are not adequately representing the interests of their members, whose rights they maintain could be adversely affected by the case.

Perhaps the best case for the Students Matter prosecution is made by the victimized children themselves. The nine plaintiffs are public school students from various districts around the state. Here are three of their stories:

  • Daniella, a Mexican-American 12 year-old, is an economically disadvantaged student who lives in east San Jose, a primarily minority and low income community. While attending traditional public schools, she was assigned to multiple grossly ineffective teachers who were unable or unwilling to teach her how to read, write, or perform basic math calculations. As a third grader who still could not read, she “was broken.”
  • Brandon is a 17 year-old African-American student who lives with his parents in Oakland. Although both his mother and father work, they are struggling financially. Brandon is an accomplished football player who hopes to attend college and someday obtain a master’s degree, but he has been hindered by two grossly ineffective teachers who made him feel “destined for failure.” One teacher told him that he “wouldn’t amount to anything” when he was only in the fifth grade. Another, who taught tenth grade geometry, expected his students to learn math on their own and wasted the lion’s share of class time taking attendance. Even though other faculty members at Brandon’s school were acutely aware of that teacher’s ineffectiveness, and even warned Brandon to “be careful” in his class, the school could do nothing about it.
  • Julia is a 13 year-old Hispanic student who lives in Reseda with her mother, father, and younger sister. Julia – who dreams of attending Harvard Law School – has been taught by two grossly ineffective teachers in the traditional district system. Her second grade teacher repeatedly told her that she was “just not good at math,” devastating the child’s confidence, causing her to cling to her parents when they would drop her off at school. She even asked her parents if she could be homeschooled to avoid her teacher’s disparaging words. Julia’s parents contacted the principal, who agreed that the teacher was a problem and advised them “to transfer [Julia] to another classroom.” In sixth grade, Julia was assigned to a second ineffective teacher who would lose her students’ written assignments and even called some of her students “stupid.” As a result, Julia’s test scores plummeted and she again lost confidence in her own abilities.” When Julia was taught by two wonderful teachers, they both received layoff notices. At one point, parents and teachers at the school rallied “to save” one of them, a teacher who was “caring, smart, and motivational,” yet their efforts fell short and the teacher was laid off.

The bottom line is that the NEA “sound good” reforms will not do anything to improve the lives of these children. Of course we need good teachers, but until we enact strong policies that deal with the ones who don’t deserve to be around kids, we haven’t accomplished much at all.

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

The Media and Teachers Unions: Creepy Crass Actors

Joining a racially charged situation, largely inflamed by the media, the nation’s teachers unions hypocritically play the civil rights card.

To acknowledge the obvious, the February 26, 2012 events in Sanford, FL were tragic. Trayvon Martin is dead and George Zimmerman will be haunted – and very possibly hunted – for the rest of his life. While there are gray areas of the incident where good people can disagree, there is one overarching truth that cannot be denied: Much of the nation’s mainstream media behaved in a downright despicable way. They have done everything possible to stoke racial tensions with exaggeration, misrepresentation, pandering, deceit and lies. Just a few examples:

  • March 21, 2012 – CNN accused Zimmerman of using a racial slur, which two weeks later it later retracted.
  • March 22, 2012 – Zimmerman, of mixed race, was dubbed by the New York Times a “white Hispanic.”
  • March 27, 2012 – NBC edited a tape to make Zimmerman appear to be a racist.
  • March 28, 2012 – ABC News falsely claims Zimmerman wasn’t injured the night of shooting.

The whole narrative of Zimmerman as a rabid Klansman also disintegrates when you look at what the vast majority of the media didn’t report:

  • He is of white and Afro-Peruvian descent.
  • He and a black friend partnered in opening an insurance office in a Florida.
  • He’d engaged in notably un-racist behavior, such as taking a black girl to his high-school prom.
  • He tutored underprivileged black kids.
  • He launched a campaign to help a homeless black man who was beaten up by the son of a white cop.

Now here’s where we go from contemptible to perverse. The heads of the two national teachers unions – Dennis Van Roekel (National Education Association) and Randi Weingarten (American Federation of Teachers) – are leading the charge to put Zimmerman behind bars by any means necessary. The two bosses urged their members to sign petitions to the Justice Department, saying that “Zimmerman must face the consequences of his actions.”

All of a sudden the teachers unions are worried about civil rights??!! What a brazen and sleazy attempt to divert attention from their day-to-day “we-really-don’t-give-a-crap-about-the-kids-but-can’t-come-out-and-directly-say-it” modus operandi. To wit:

  • In 2009, desperate to kill Washington, D.C.’s popular and successful opportunity scholarship program, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel wrote a threatening letter to every Democratic member of Congress. The union boss clearly declared that NEA strongly opposes the continuation of the DC private school voucher program. He went on to say that he expected that any member of Congress whom the union has supported will vote against extending the program and warned that, “Actions associated with these issues WILL be included in the NEA Legislative Report Card for the 111th Congress … Vouchers are not real education reform. . . . Opposition to vouchers is a top priority for NEA.”

The sad fact is that DC public schools have the lowest NAEP scores and the highest dropout rate in the country, whereas just about every student in the voucher program graduates from high school, almost all of them going on to college. The fact that thousands of children, a great majority of whom are African-American, would be forced to remain in their failing schools, thus closing the door on their future, didn’t seem to faze Mr. Van Roekel one bit. 

  • In 2011, AFT’s state affiliate in Connecticut neutered a Parent Trigger law and bragged about how it managed to snooker the mostly-minority parents. The union went so far as to post the step-by-step process on its website. Fortunately, writer RiShawn Biddle managed to save the document before AFT pulled the webpage, having realized that their gloating might not be in sync with its pro-minority persona. Parent leader Gwen Samuel, an African-American mother of two, saw through the union’s malfeasance, however. “When will parents matter?” she asks.
  • In 2011, the ACLU filed a lawsuit that would have exempted 45 of the worst schools in Los Angeles – predominantly black and Hispanic – from teacher union-mandated seniority rules, enabling those schools to keep good teachers instead of being subjected to constant turnover. In an Orwellian statement, United Teachers of Los Angeles elementary vice-president Julie Washington fumed,

This settlement will do nothing to address the inequities suffered by our most at-risk students. It is a travesty that this settlement, by avoiding real solutions and exacerbating the problem, actually undermines the civil and constitutional rights of our students.

The suit was successful, but subsequently the ruling was overturned on a technicality. Having no concern about the rights of the minority children disparately affected by the archaic last-in, first out statute, UTLA was thrilled.

  • If successful, the Students Matter  (Vergara v. California) lawsuit in California will remove the tenure, seniority and arcane dismissal statutes from the state education code, thus making it easier to get rid of incompetent and criminal teachers. While this lawsuit will help all students in the state, inner-city kids would benefit the most.

Collectively, the laws Vergara v. California challenges deprive those students arbitrarily assigned to the classrooms of ineffective teachers of their fundamental and constitutionally guaranteed right to equal opportunity to access quality education.

Though not named in the suit, the teachers unions just couldn’t sit idly by and accept a change in the rules that would benefit kids at their expense.

Two state teachers unions – the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers – released a joint press release … announcing that they had filed a motion “to intervene in litigation.” This means that CTA and CFT would like to be become involved in the case because they feel that the current defendants – the state and the school districts – are not adequately representing the interests of their teachers, whose rights they maintain could be adversely affected by the case.

There are countless other examples which exemplify the fact that the teachers unions’ raison d’être is preserving their influence, and doing so by any means necessary. That minority children are the ones who suffer the most from the unions’ ongoing power-lust is of no concern to them. That these raving hypocrites are now grandstanding and calling for the scalp of George Zimmerman boggles the mind.

Of course, it is highly unlikely that you will be reading about this latest outrage in the mainstream media. Like the teachers unions, these bad actors are doing their best to push their agenda and con the public.

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.