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Teacher Union Monopolist’s Monkey Business

NEA president praises Finland, Singapore and Canada, conveniently omitting facts about school choice and competition.

The “global education reform movement has failed” … or at least that’s what National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen García told a group of businessmen in Detroit last month. Spouting the usual edubabble, the union president told the Detroit Economic Club that the system should serve the “whole child” and that education should be “humanized.”

García went on to explain,

The business community relies on evidence and reliable data. Bad data should be avoided at all costs because it can destroy a business. But communities across the country have been force-fed privatization plans and ‘test and punish’ regimes that have not produced the desired results and have decimated many schools. … ideologues are committed to doubling down on bad ideas, regardless of the evidence.

What García means by “bad data” in conjunction with “test and punish” is a reference to the fact that some reformers actually want to use student performance on standardized tests as a part of a teacher’s evaluation. But what really catches the eye in the quote is “force-fed privatization plans.”

Huh? Just where is this “force-feeding” going on and who are the force-feeders? García didn’t elaborate, of course, because it’s a lie. A lie of whopper magnitude. Surely Ms. García knows that just about every (non-push) poll taken recently shows that the public strongly favors vouchers and other types of school choice. (I wonder if she gave any thought to spilling her anti-privatization/competition bilge to a group of businessmen who are undoubtedly well-aware of public education’s failures.)

Parents, especially those in need, embrace vouchers because with them, their kids are given an opportunity to get out of a failing public school and attend a superior private school without having to foot the entire bill. In fact, according to a 17-year study in New York City, “Minority students who received a school voucher to attend private elementary schools in 1997 were, as of 2013, 10 percent more likely to enroll in college and 35 percent more likely than their peers in public school to obtain a bachelor’s degree.” (Emphasis added.) Sadly 20,000 applications for vouchers were received, but the program could only accommodate 1,300. I wonder how many of the 20,000 families felt as if they had been “force-fed.”

García also engaged in other dubious affirmations. She extolled the virtues of Finland, Canada and Singapore, informing us that the evidence and data tell us that their school systems are superior. But she picks and chooses her spots, and anywhere competition and choice of any sort are in play, she is MIA.

While cooing that Finland “threw practically every standardized test away to focus on time to teach, classroom assessments, and professional collaboration,” she failed to acknowledge that Finland has a highly competitive system for students who want to become educators. In fact, those who become teachers are selected from the top 10 percent of college graduates, unlike in the United States, where, sadly, education majors are at the bottom of the academic barrel after four years of college. (She also didn’t mention that kids in Finland don’t start school until age 7, starting teachers make 20 percent less than ours and the country spends 30 percent less on education than we do.)

She touts Singapore, telling the businessmen that teachers there “analyze data to develop personalized instruction, tutoring, class projects.” She stresses that Singaporeans never set “arbitrary targets for prizes and punishments.” But she didn’t tell the businessmen that parents must pay fees even if their child goes to a public school and that the island nation has vigorous private school options. (She also neglected to acknowledge that the average class size in Singapore is about 40, almost twice that of the U.S.)

The union leader points out that in Canada, officials see to it that teachers are given the necessary training and support to reach every student. But she omits the inconvenient truth that Canada has publicly funded school choice throughout much the country. The province of Alberta has the most interesting set-up, whereby property taxpayers have a choice which type of school system to earmark their education tax dollars – public or private (including religious schools).

García’s omissions are necessary, of course. Had she told the whole truth, she would have had to admit that competition, whether between teachers or schools – or businesses – makes us all better. As a monopolist, of course, that would be the last thing she would ever do.

A dialogue between businessmen and teacher union leaders is a good idea, but it should be the businessmen doing the talking. A union boss’ tired, biased and noxious agenda is not worth listening to.

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

Taxpayers, School Choice and the Unions

A new study reveals that vouchers save Americans a bucket load of cash.

A blockbuster report released last week shows that the American taxpayer is much better off living in a locale where school vouchers have been instituted. Vouchers, which enable children to use public funding to attend private schools, are available in scattered states and cities across the country.

Examining the fiscal impact of 10 of the 21 school voucher programs nationwide, Jeff Spalding, Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice director of fiscal policy, found a savings of $1.7 billion from 1991-2011. As Cato Institute policy analyst Jason Bedrick writes,

Spalding, the former comptroller/CFO for the city of Indianapolis, is cautious, methodical, and transparent in his analysis. He walks readers through the complex process of determining the fiscal impact of each program, identifying the impact of each variable and explaining equation along the way. He also makes relatively conservative assumptions, such as counting food service and interscholastic athletics as fixed costs even though they are variable with enrollment. 

While it’s not surprising that vouchers save money (the amount that a parent receives in the form of a voucher is always less than the cost to educate that child in a public school), the $1.7 billion figure is eye-opening.

In addition to saving taxpayers money, giving parents a choice of schools typically affords their kids a superior education. As Greg Forster, senior fellow at the Friedman Foundation, wrote last year,

Twelve empirical studies have examined academic outcomes for school choice participants using random assignment, the “gold standard” of social science. Of these, 11 find that choice improves student outcomes—six that all students benefit and five that some benefit and some are not affected. One study finds no visible impact. No empirical study has found a negative impact.

So, vouchers afford a better education for less money. Who could possibly be against that?

The answer is any and everyone who has a vested interest in the status quo – most notably educrats, the teachers unions and their bought-and-paid-for legislators. In fact, nothing scares the spit out of the unions more than school privatization because non-public schools are independent and not part of a school district, which unions can organize en masse. They simply don’t have the resources to deal with one school at a time.

The National Education Association website has a bullet-pointed page dedicated to its case against vouchers. The “information” posted is flawed, starting with its “educational case.”

Where vouchers are in place — Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Florida — a two-tiered system has been set up that holds students in public and private schools to different standards.

Since private schools do a better job of educating, maybe they should lead the way, not the public schools.

Its “social case” is downright silly.

A voucher lottery is a terrible way to determine access to an education. True equity means the ability for every child to attend a good school in the neighborhood.

Lotteries are indeed horrible for the losers. But using this argument in 1912, NEA would probably have said, “Since we can’t save everyone on the Titanic, let’s make everyone stay on board and go down with the ship.” The best way to eliminate lotteries is to make vouchers universal. The resulting uptick in private schools would eventually give all kids the opportunities they deserve.

And NEA’s “legal case” is flat out wrong. The claim here is that:

Vouchers tend to be a means of circumventing the Constitutional prohibitions against subsidizing religious practice and instruction.

In the 2002 Zelman v. Simmons-Harris decision, the Supreme Court ruled that because financial aid goes to parents and not the school, vouchers are indeed constitutional.

The union’s “political landscape” claim is beyond laughable.

Despite desperate efforts to make the voucher debate about “school choice” and improving opportunities for low-income students, vouchers remain an elitist strategy.

Elitist?! Rich folks don’t need a few thousand bucks from the government to send their children to a private school. Those kids get to go anyway. It’s the middle and lower income people who need and benefit most from vouchers.

One more bit of information for NEA and other hidebound monopolists: vouchers don’t hurt public education. As I have stressed many times, competition works in education – just as it does everywhere else. Vouchers typically make public schools better. In fact, Greg Foster’s analysis shows that,

Twenty-three empirical studies (including all methods) have examined school choice’s impact on academic outcomes in public schools. Of these, 22 find that choice improves public schools and one finds no visible impact. No empirical study has found that choice harms public schools. (Emphasis added.)

And lastly, something else that is missing from the NEA website is the fact that teachers – especially good ones – can make more money in places where choice is available. Just last week, a report by the Texas Public Policy Foundation found that teachers’ salaries would increase if states would introduce school choice.  Where there is competition, quality is rewarded.

So what do we know? Vouchers save money, enable children to get a superior education, and reward good teachers. Happily, the American public is looking favorably upon school choice, with 50 percent now favoring a universal voucher system; only 39 percent are opposed.

What we don’t know is how much longer our sclerotic power brokers will be able to stand in the way of a system that benefits everyone – everyone, that is, but the reactionary union elites, their political cronies and everyone else who insists on business-as-usual.

(Note: In my ongoing effort to dispel education myths, I will be speaking at TruthFest, an event in Los Angeles this Saturday, October 11th.)

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

 

The Teachers Unions’ "Brown" Problem

When it comes to education and civil rights, NEA and AFT are part of the problem; the solution is choice.

Last Saturday was the 60th anniversary of the Brown v Board of Education decision, which outlawed state-sponsored segregation in schools. Never missing an opportunity to grandstand, the teachers unions groused all last week about various obstacles still facing low-income students of color. Their whine included inadequate school funding, the usual dumping on charter schools and blaming ALEC for various social ills. Amazingly, the Koch Brothers got the week off. 

Kicking off the festivities on May 13th, a union front group calling itself the “Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools” organized a rally on the steps of the Supreme Court. The speakers trotted out the bogeymen du jour – high-stakes testing, school closures, corporate and private involvement in education, etc. National Education Association president Dennis Van Roekel complained that “there are several inequalities that still exist in both educational programs and in school facilities.” And American Federation of Teachers leader Randi Weingarten, going for the lachrymose, snatched a couple of human shields – I mean young children – from the crowd and proclaimed, “These kids, this is why we do what we do.”

Over on the NEA website, Van Roekel grumbled that not much has changed since Brown and retired educator Bruce Smith asserted that he knows where the blame lies. Smith claims that the problem revolves around state politicians… 

who have sold out their constituents and, instead, have pledged their support to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which is known for pushing education policies that foster inequity in our public schools.

Many of the wealthiest corporations in the world are members of ALEC, which uses its vast resources to shower state politicians across the country with expensive gifts, high-priced dinners at fancy restaurants, and vacation junkets at exotic resorts.

Those politicians who fall for the “ALEC treatment” become puppets who push the conservative, right-wing group’s education policies and proposals back home–legislation designed to benefit ALEC’s wealthy benefactors and turn a profit on the backs of students without any regard for their educational wellbeing.

For example, ALEC is a big supporter of vouchers and tuition tax credit schemes which use public dollars to subsidize tuition at private or religious schools. In addition to being costly to taxpayers, studies show such programs do not result in a better education for students.

In other words, Smith thinks the most important blocks to kids getting a good education are politicians who are bought off by wealthy, right wing, corporate benefactors. Vouchers and tax credits (which are somehow costly to taxpayers) are of course the devil’s work. His evidence that privatization doesn’t work? The always intriguing “unnamed studies.”

Then there is the “Advancement Project,” a group heavily funded by billionaire globalist George Soros which has ties to various teachers unions. This bunch has decided that charter schools are racist and compared them to prisons. (Apparently, the only thing that is “advanced” about the “Advancement Project” is its advanced deranged thinking.)

Time for a reality check.

First off, if charters are so racist, why are so many parents of all colors flocking to them? Simply because they have been more successful than the traditional public schools – especially with minorities – and over a half-million children of all ethnicities sit on waitlists nationwide. But this inconvenient truth is ignored by the teachers unions because most charters are not unionized.

Regarding Van Roekel’s “inequities,” he’s right, but not in the way he thinks. In a recent in-depth study, University of Arkansas researcher Patrick Wolf found that the gap for charter school funding is widening.

We identified a funding gap of 28.4 percent, meaning that the average public charter school student in the U.S. is receiving $3,814 less in funding than the average traditional public school student. Since the average charter school enrolls 400 students, the average public charter school in the U.S. received $1,525,600 less in per-pupil funding in 2010-11 than it would have received if it had been a traditional public school. The gap is actually higher in focus areas within states where charter schools are more commonly found, such as major cities. (Emphasis added.)

And the privatization shibboleth really needs to be put to rest. Private schools generally do a better job than public schools (at lower cost, I might add), but it is rarely reported that privatization also leads to less racial segregation, not more, as the unions claim. Just a year ago, Greg Forster, of the Friedman Foundation, released the third in a series of reports on school choice which includes vouchers and, to a lesser extent, educational savings accounts and tax credit scholarships. The findings about segregation from “A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice” are not ambiguous.

Eight empirical studies have examined school choice and racial segregation in schools. Of these, seven find that school choice moves students from more segregated schools into less segregated schools. One finds no net effect on segregation from school choice. No empirical study has found that choice increases racial segregation. (Emphasis added.)

Michael Lomax, president and chief executive officer of the United Negro College Fund, adds…

there have been some improvements toward equality for low-income students of color, particularly in the realm of school choice.

I am beginning to see some promising educational improvements that are ensuring that if a low-income child of color wants to remain in the neighborhood in which he or she lives, that if we create a really good school in that neighborhood, that child can get a very good education,” Lomax says.

Interestingly, last week saw a major victory for educational choice in North Carolina where the state Supreme Court lifted an injunction that had barred parents from accessing North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship Program.

And ultimately, isn’t that the best way to assure that all kids receive the best education possible? By opening the system up to competition, parents get to choose the school that best fits their kids’ needs.

On another note, I think it’s condescending to insist that the only way that black kids can get a good education is if they go to schools with white kids. As Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom wrote recently,

It is demeaning, even racist, to assume that minority children can’t learn—or can’t learn as much—unless they are immersed in a student body in which whites are the majority. The most sophisticated research on the subject does not find that having white classmates notably improves the academic achievement of blacks and Hispanics.

In any event, all the bluster last week reminded me of an old joke.

A woman comes across a man on his knees under a street lamp. “I’ve lost my car keys,” he explains. The woman tries to help the man find his keys. After a few minutes of searching, she asks “Where exactly did you drop them?” 

“About a block away.” 

Puzzled, she asks “Then why aren’t you looking over there?” 

“The light is better here.” 

For the teachers unions and their cronies and acolytes, shining a light on all the old canards will do nothing to help children fulfill the “Promise of Brown.” Like the man in the joke, they are looking in the wrong place. The keys for those kids are great teachers who are accountable to parents. And the best way to get there is by doing away with the government-union duopoly and replacing it with a system of universal school choice.  

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

School Choice Wars

Though National School Choice Week ended a couple of weeks ago, reactionary rhetoric and political clashes are just heating up.

With National School Choice Week behind us, the battle – and it is a battle – to free our children from a monopoly by zip-code public education system is being fought on fronts all over the country, and in red and blue states alike, more and more Democrats are breaking ranks and joining Republicans in the fight.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz, runs the wildly popular and thriving Success Academy Charter Schools – ten of the 22 schools are in Harlem – which cater to 6,700 students from overwhelmingly poor and minority families. They scored in the top 1 percent in math and top 7 percent in English on the most recent state test. You might think that this would make her a welcome figure in the Big Apple. But turns out that new mayor Bill de Blasio (and fellow Democrat) along with his teacher union friends, have it in for the charter operator.

The Wall Street Journal asks and then answers a question,

How did Ms. Moskowitz, a hero to thousands of New Yorkers of modest means whose children have been able to get a better education than their local public schools offered, end up becoming public enemy No. 1?

She is the city’s most prominent, and vocal, advocate for charter schools, and therefore a threat to the powerful teachers union that had been counting the days until the de Blasio administration took over last month from the charter-friendly Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Assailed by Mayor de Blasio and union leaders, Ms. Moskowitz is fighting back with typically sharp elbows.

“A progressive Democrat should be embracing charters, not rejecting them,” she says. “It’s just wacky.”

Perhaps they “should be embracing charters” and quite a few do. However, many more who claim to be “progressive” are anything but. In fact, the teachers unions and their fellow travelers who slavishly fight against any meaningful education reform are really reactionaries. And it’s no secret that Moskowitz has had a teacher union problem for years now.

in 1999, Ms. Moskowitz won a council seat representing Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Three years later, she took the helm of the council’s education committee. A competitor for that chairmanship was a Democratic councilman from Brooklyn, Bill de Blasio.

Ms. Moskowitz says the union had previously controlled the committee and set its agenda, even providing cue cards to members. At a delicate moment for the UFT’s talks with City Hall on a new contract, Ms. Moskowitz held hearings on the teachers union’s work rules and other restrictions in the contract. That move secured the enmity of Randi Weingarten, who ran the local union then and is now president of the American Federation of Teachers.

“The unions decided to get political retribution and they succeeded,” Ms. Moskowitz says. The UFT led the opposition to her failed 2005 bid for Manhattan borough president. Ms. Moskowitz soon after decided to try to reform in New York another way, starting the inaugural Harlem Success Academy. It was quickly bounced from its shared home at a public school.

“Randi Weingarten came in and said, ‘Over my dead body,’ ” according to Ms. Moskowitz. But a former political sparring partner, then-Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, became an ally. The Bloomberg administration wanted to “flood the zone” in Harlem with alternatives to failing district schools. Half the kids in Harlem today attend charters, among them KIPP, Democracy Prep and Harlem Children’s Zone. Across New York, 70,000 students go to a charter.

The next time a teachers union leader insists that they are really “for the children,” please refer the true believer to Eva Moskowitz.

Then we have President Obama, who favors charter schools but draws the line at privatization. He well knows that if he came out in favor of vouchers, the unions would throw him under the school bus. But as a lame duck, one has to wonder why he is still holding that position. The president was forced recently to address the voucher issue head on when Fox’s Bill O’Reilly confronted him on Super Bowl Sunday.

Mr. Obama said that the means-tested voucher programs in Milwaukee and Washington, D.C, “didn’t actually make that much of a difference,” and added, “As a general proposition, vouchers have not significantly improved the performance of kids that are in these poorest communities.”

In fact, the president is dead wrong.  Study after study has shown that vouchers  improve student outcomes and have the biggest impact on low-income minorities. Additionally, private schools are taxpayer-friendly – doing a better job for less money. As writer Jason Riley points out,

Mr. Obama’s problem with vouchers is not that they don’t work. Rather, it’s that they work all too well and thus present a threat to the education status quo and the teachers unions who control it. Democrats like Mr. Obama are deeply dependent on union support–so dependent that they will sometimes tell bald-faced lies about school-choice research on national television and hope that no one notices.

On a national level, Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Tim Scott (R-SC) have introduced legislation that would help poor and disabled kids as well as military families.

Under Alexander’s legislation, states could opt to allocate the newly-consolidated funds to low-income parents, giving them much more say over how their child’s share of federal education dollars are spent. Parents could use the money to help pay for private school, supplement their public or public charter’s school’s budget, attend a public school outside their home district, or cover the cost of tutoring services or home schooling materials. Each child would get an average of $2,100 in annual federal aid, under the proposal.

Scott released the CHOICE Act, which stands for the Creating Hope and Opportunities for Individuals and Communities Through Education Act. The bill would allow special education dollars to follow children to the school of their choice.

… Scott’s bill would create a five-year, $10 million pilot program to offer military families scholarships of up to $12,000 for use at public or private schools. (The cost of the program would be offset by a decrease in the U.S. Department of Education’s salaries and expenses account.) Scott is also seeking to boost the number of students receiving aid under the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program, a federally-funded voucher program for low-income students in Washington.

Needless to say, the National Education Association is not in favor of this kind of help to those in need. On the union’s legislative page, it gives a “jeer” to both Alexander and Scott for introducing the voucher proposals.

On the state level, there is more bad news for the unions. They will need to extinguish fires in Oklahoma, Tennessee, Alaska, Indiana, Wisconsin and elsewhere, as school choice and other education reforms have been embraced by many on both sides of the political aisle.

Of course there are still plenty of legislators who, having thrown in their lot with the union crowd, are vehemently anti-choice. On the NEA website, California Rep. George Miller (D-CA) gets a “thumbs-up” for demonizing National School Choice Week.

Many of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, and their strategists, have embraced so-called ‘school choice’ as part of their rebranding efforts, to appear more caring … This new effort even has a warm and fuzzy name: the Growth and Opportunity Project. This is political posturing at its worst … If you ask most parents in America, they will tell you that their first ‘choice’ is for their neighborhood school to be a great school.

Yes, Mr. Miller, that would be nice, if all neighborhood schools were “great.”  But they’re not. And if your local school was not up to par, you wouldn’t want to send your kids there, now would you?

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) also gets a shout-out from NEA for her “reaction to so-called school choice.”

I have always had great anxiety with the thought that we’d take public money, state money, and send it to private schools.

Think Pell Grants, Ms. Murkowski. Think G.I. Bill. Just think.

The reactionaries among us – certain educrats and legislators and of course the teachers unions – won’t go away easily. But “Choice Spring” has arrived, and the pro-choice movement has taken root. As parents, children and taxpayers get a taste of freedom, there will be no turning back.

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.

For Whom the Pell Doles

Why are vouchers okay for college students, but not for K-12ers?

Recently, the National Education Association posted an interview with Wes Moore on its website.

Two boys are named Wes Moore. Both grow up in fatherless homes in Baltimore. Both struggle in school, and run into trouble with the police. But one Wes Moore wins admission to Johns Hopkins University and Oxford. The other earns a life sentence in a Maryland prison. In his book, The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates, Moore confronts the “other,” and finds that there are no neat answers to the disposition of fate: “The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine. The tragedy is that my story could have been his.”

At the end of the brief interview, the questioner states:

Your mother graduated from college, while Wes’ mother was forced to leave school after the Reagan-era cuts to Pell Grant funding. Do you think this made a difference?

Moore responds:

Quite honestly, I can’t help but think how different his life would have been if she had been able to finish school. It’s about this idea of social capital, expectations, the people you surround yourself with… It’s not that Wes’ mother didn’t care about Wes. We work with a lot of kids, and over decades I can probably count on two fingers the number of parents who don’t care about their kids.

But the Pell Grant story—the reason I included the Pell Grant story wasn’t just because it was a powerful story, but because anybody who doesn’t understand the implications of that moment is missing the whole point. That was a huge occasion in her life, and it should inform how we discuss policies and policy implications. This stuff matters….

Yes, Pell Grants – aka education vouchers – matter.

The Pell Grant, after starting out as the “Basic Educational Opportunity Grant,” was renamed to reflect the law’s sponsor Rhode Island Senator Clayborn Pell.

These federal funded grants are not like loans, and need not be repaid. Students may use their grants at any one of approximately 5,400 participating postsecondary institutions. These federally funded grants help about 5.4 million full-time and part-time college and vocational school students nationally. For the 2010–2011 school year, 7 of the top 10 colleges by total Pell Grant money awarded were for-profit institutions. (Emphasis added.)

For profit institutions?

That means that college students are taking public funds and using them to attend a private institution of their choosing. (And it is not only Pell Grants that enable college students to pay tuition to whichever university they choose – public or private – using taxpayer dollars. The G.I. Bill, also a voucher program, does essentially the same thing for veterans as a way to help them assimilate into civilian life. It has been a very popular program since its inception in 1944.)

To its credit, NEA realizes the value of Pell Grants, as does its sister union, the American Federation of Teachers. In fact, just last year AFT president Randi Weingarten excoriated Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan for submitting a budget that would freeze the grants at their current level.

But when it comes to K-12 schools, the unions sing a very different tune. NEA’s website has a policy brief which reads,

Vouchers aren’t a strategy for improving the public schools; they are a strategy of abandonment that would leave America’s children behind. The battle over vouchers diverts time, energy, and resources from real school improvement.

And these aren’t just idle words. In March of 2009, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel wrote a threatening letter to every Democratic member of Congress:

The National Education Association strongly opposes any extension of the District of Columbia private school voucher . . . program. We expect that Members of Congress who support public education, and whom we have supported, will stand firm against any proposal to extend the pilot program. Actions associated with these issues WILL be included in the NEA Legislative Report Card for the 111th Congress.

Vouchers are not real education reform. . . . Opposition to vouchers is a top priority for NEA. (Emphasis added.)

Weingarten is just as hostile to K-12ers receiving public funding to attend a private school. During Mitt Romney’s run for president in 2012 she declared,

Today, Mitt Romney squandered an opportunity to participate in a meaningful discussion of real education reform by attempting to disguise attacks on teachers and public education as meaningful policy proposals. Instead of looking to improve education for all children, he parroted failed voucher and privatization schemes that have not improved student learning. Romney’s proposal to take even more money out of public education and funnel it to private schools is absurd at a time when school budgets already are being slashed to the bone across the country. (Emphasis added.)

Weingarten’s characterization of school choice through vouchers as “failed” is outrageous. These subsidies have not only improved education for the students who attend the schools of choice, but study after study has shown that kids who remain in public school also benefit when a voucher system is instituted and schools are forced to compete for students. The Friedman Foundation reports:

Twelve empirical studies have examined academic outcomes for school choice participants using random assignment, the “gold standard” of social science. Of these, 11 find that choice improves student outcomes—six that all students benefit and five that some benefit and some are not affected. One study finds no visible impact. No empirical study has found a negative impact.

Twenty-three empirical studies (including all methods) have examined school choice’s impact on academic outcomes in public schools. Of these, 22 find that choice improves public schools and one finds no visible impact. No empirical study has found that choice harms public schools.

So why is it okay to give vouchers to late teens to attend a private college, but not to 8 and 12 and 16 year olds to enroll in a private elementary, middle or high school? The principle is either sound or it’s not.

Obviously the unions are threatened by vouchers on a K-12 level because that’s where their primary source of funding is. Not nearly as many college instructors and professors are dues paying union members.

But maybe I am wrong and there is another reason for the unions’ inconsistent positions. Am I missing something? If you have an answer, please post in the “comments” area or email me at cteninfo@ctenhome.org

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.

Anti-School Choice Goblins Haunt the Land

It’s October and the voucher-bashing ghouls are doing their best to fog the issues and trick us.

While there are some education traditionalists who may embrace charter schools, they frequently draw a strict line in the sand when it comes to vouchers. For the uninitiated, a voucher enables a parent to take education funding issued by the government and apply that money toward tuition at a private school.

Those who rail against any sort of privatizing have either an obsessive and romanticized notion of the “neighborhood public school,” or they belong to a group that benefits financially from the status quo. The undisputed ringleaders of the latter are the teachers unions. For them, privatization means fewer dues-paying public school teachers – and nothing drives Big Union crazier than losing market share. Last week, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten wrote a piece in Huffington Post that typifies the union mentality, trashing school choice, before donning the good-witch mask to end with “We are at a pivotal moment – a moment when we must reclaim the promise of public education without further detours, distractions and delays.”

The promise of public education? I learned early in life that promises should not to be taken seriously after they are shown to be lies.

The AFT website moves into Bizarro territory when it concludes its mini anti-choice rant by informing us that public money used to subsidize private school tuition means “less accountability for taxpayers’ dollars, a false hope for a handful of kids, and fewer resources for school reforms that actually work.”

The “less accountability” crack is especially hypocritical given the fact that the unions are forever railing against teacher accountability, and do their level best to keep every teacher – no matter how incompetent or criminal – in the classroom.

Perhaps the most ridiculous attempt to bash privatization this month came from Jon Overton, writing for The Daily Iowan. He starts sensibly writing that, “People learn in different ways, speeds, and are from backgrounds that place varying levels of importance on academics.” One might think that this statement would lead him to be pro-choice. But, no, he maintains that choice hurts failing schools. So I guess his answer is to ignore successful private institutions and force kids to stay in failing public schools … because, well, they’re public. He attempts to bolster his argument using a report from the Economic Policy Institute which claims that the results of the Milwaukee voucher program have been unimpressive. (Yes, the same EPI where Weingarten is on the board and the chairman is none other than AFL-CIO boss Richard Trumka. Only tricks, no treats from that crowd.)  But independent researcher Patrick Wolf finds that,

Students enrolled in the Milwaukee voucher program are more likely to graduate from high school and go to college than their public school counterparts, boast significantly improved reading scores, represent a more diverse cross-section of the city, and are improving the results of traditional public school students….

Among the new findings are that students enrolled in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP)—the nation’s oldest private school choice program currently in operation—not only graduate from high school on time by seven percentage points more than students enrolled in Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), but they are also more likely to enroll in a four-year college and persist in college.

In a close second to Overton’s article, Politico’s Stephanie Simon writes“Vouchers don’t do much for students.” Her entire argument can essentially be summed up in one sentence: “Taxpayers across the U.S. will soon be spending $1 billion a year to help families pay private school tuition – and there’s little evidence that the investment yields academic gains.”

Adam Emerson of the Fordham Institute quickly lays the “little evidence” argument to waste.

Consider, for instance, the work of Patrick Wolf at the University of Arkansas, who has examined the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship and found that it led to improved reading achievement among participants while also increasing a student’s chance of graduating high school by 21 percentage points. Consider, too, that random-assignment studies of privately funded voucher programs in New York, Dayton, and Charlotte found higher achievement levels on standardized tests or higher college-going rates, or both, particularly for black students. Other empirical studies led to findings that range from the positive competitive effects vouchers have on public schools to the heightened level of achievement that comes from greater accountability (this last comes from Milwaukee, where Simon noted that snapshot test scores of voucher students look poorly but where a longitudinal analysis of the voucher program reports more positive results). But a single literature review from Greg Forster at the Friedman Foundation is perhaps most revealing: eleven of twelve random-assignment studies have showed improved academic outcomes of students who participated in voucher programs. The one study that didn’t found no visible impact on students one way or the other. (Emphasis added.)

Then there is the sound-good-but-dead-wrong traditionalist argument used by Simon that vouchers “siphon money from public schools.” Citing Harvard econometrician Carolyn Hoxby, Arnold Ahlert addresses that issue:

The hand-wringers are further incensed that public funds are being “siphoned” from public schools to pay for vouchers, insisting–as they invariably do–that more money will lead to better public schools. This argument was completely debunked by Caroline M. Hoxby, an Associate Professor of Economics at Harvard, during an interview with PBS’s Frontline. At the time she noted that the average spending per pupil in the U.S. was $7500 per year, while voucher costs averaged $2000. “Even if the vouchers came completely out of the local public school district’s budget, every time they lost a student, they’d be losing $2000, but they’d lose a whole student and $5,500 remains behind,” she explained.

As biased and wrong-headed as the Overton and Simon pieces are, they can’t hold a candle to a piece written by Allison Benedikt for Slate a couple of months ago. In the second sentence of “If You Send Your Kid to Private School, You Are a Bad Person,” the author writes, “You are a bad person if you send your children to private school. Not bad like murderer bad—but bad like ruining-one-of-our-nation’s-most-essential-institutions-in-order-to-get-what’s-best-for-your-kid bad. So, pretty bad.”

Yes, Ms. Benedikt, I should send my kid to a rotten pubic school just because you have some misguided notion that I if I don’t, it would ruin one-of-our-nation’s-most-essential-institutions.” Sacrificing your kid’s future to prop up a failing government-run operation is collectivism at its scariest.

There is another facet to the public-private discussion that the traditionalists and the teachers unions have never quite got around to addressing, which is that many rank-and-file teachers eschew their local public school and go the private route themselves. As Larry Elder writes,

About 11 percent of all parents — nationwide, rural and urban — send their children to private schools. The numbers are much higher in urban areas. One study found that in Philadelphia a staggering 44 percent of public school teachers send their own kids to private schools. In Cincinnati and Chicago, 41 and 39 percent of public school teachers, respectively, pay for a private school education for their children. In Rochester, New York, it’s 38 percent. In Baltimore it’s 35 percent, San Francisco is 34 percent and New York-Northeastern New Jersey is 33 percent. In Los Angeles nearly 25 percent of public school teachers send their kids to private school versus 16 percent of Angelenos who do so.

Seems as if these public school teachers might know something that their unions are loath to acknowledge: that many public schools just aren’t getting the job done, and that choosing the best education option for their children is not only their right – it’s their responsibility.

In fact, all parents should have a right to sidestep the tricks of the traditionalists and teachers unions, knock down doors and demand the best education treat possible – a choice of a public or private school for their children – and let the edu-dollars follow the student.

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.

Eric Holder Trumps Miley Cyrus

When it comes to obscenity, cheating kids out of a good education is far worse than a salacious dance act.

While it is a sad spectacle to watch a gawky 20 year-old stick out her tongue and sex it up in front of millions on national television, the 62 year-old U.S. Attorney General’s act is far worse, as his will do much more lasting harm. He waves his magic wand and poof – thousands of poor children are chained to the confines of failing schools in Louisiana.

Miley Cyrus would appear to be a lost puppy whose father claimed in 2011 that she was influenced by Satan. On the other hand, Eric Holder would seem to be under the spell of the teachers unions and the overrated god of diversity.

The Holder story has its roots in May when the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that:

the current method of funding the statewide school voucher program is unconstitutional. Act 2, part of Gov. Bobby Jindal‘s 2012 package of education reforms, diverts money from each student’s per-pupil allocation to cover the cost of private or parochial school tuition. The act authorizes both the Louisiana Scholarship Program and the new Course Choice program. 

In other words, the voucher program is sound, but the court thought its funding mechanism wasn’t constitutional. So on June 6th, the Louisiana House and Senate compromised on a budget that allowed the program to use funds not allocated through the state’s funding formula.

Problem solved, right?

Not quite.

Later in June, the teachers unions School Choice Enemy No. 1 promptly swung into action.

The Louisiana Association of Educators and several local teachers associations have filed a class-action suit charging that the state owes local school boards $199 million as a result of the Louisiana Supreme Court decision striking down part of the state’s voucher law.

Okay, so we are still dealing with funding issues, not the legality of vouchers.

But then in August, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder dropped the bomb and The Wall Street Journal pointed out its stunning irony,

On nearly the same day the Attorney General spoke in Washington to honor the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech, his Justice Department sued to block the educational dreams of minority children in Louisiana.

Late last week, Justice asked a federal court to stop 34 school districts in the Pelican State from handing out private-school vouchers so kids can escape failing public schools. Mr. Holder’s lawyers claim the voucher program appears “to impede the desegregation progress” required under federal law. Justice provides little evidence to support this claim, but there couldn’t be a clearer expression of how the civil-rights establishment is locked in a 1950s time warp.

Passed in 2012, Louisiana’s state-wide program guarantees a voucher to students from families with incomes below 250% of poverty and who attend schools graded C or below. The point is to let kids escape the segregation of failed schools, and about 90% of the beneficiaries are black. (Emphasis added.)

Impeding desegregation? On what grounds does the Justice Department make this claim? Cato’s Jason Bedrick explains,

In Tangipahoa Parish, for instance, Independence Elementary School lost five white students to voucher schools, the petition states. The consequent change in the percent of enrolled white students “reinforc(ed) the racial identity of the school as a black school.”

Five students! According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there were 143 white students out of 482 students at Independence Elementary School in 2010-11 (the most recent year for which data is available). Assuming that recent enrollment and racial composition is the same and that no black students received vouchers as well, that’s a shift from 29.6 percent white to 28.9 percent white. Though the students at Independence almost certainly would not have noticed a difference, the racial bean counters at the DOJ see worsening segregation.

But the DOJ is not content merely to prevent white students from exercising school choice. The petition also cites Cecilia Primary School, which in 2012-13 “lost six black students as a result of the voucher program,” thereby “reinforcing the school’s racial identity as a white school in a predominantly black school district.” In the previous school year, the school’s racial composition was 30.1 percent black, which the DOJ notes was 16.4 percentage points lower than the black composition of the district as a whole. According to the NCES, in 2010-11 there were 205 black students out of a total enrollment of 758, so the school was 27 percent black. Assuming a constant total enrollment, the DOJ’s numbers suggest that there were 228 black students in 2011-12. The loss of six black students would mean the school’s racial composition shifted from 30.1 percent black to 29.2 percent black as a result of the voucher program. Again, imperceptible to untrained eye but a grave threat to racial harmony according to the Obama administration’s Department of Justice.

These are the only two schools cited directly in the DOJ’s petition, so presumably they represent the two cases with the largest impact. A footnote reveals that “The net loss ranged up to thirteen students per school.”

Why is Holder doing this obscene dance?

Is he so smitten with the concept of diversity that he is letting it take precedent over the needs of poor kids in failing schools? Could be, but then again, as noted above, the voucher-driven diversity realignment is miniscule. Or, is he doing the bidding of the teachers unions who are powerful political allies? Maybe both. But whatever the motivation, the lawsuit stinks, and the harm it will inflict on mostly underprivileged, minority children is tragic.

What Holder and his ilk don’t seem to understand is that most parents are not stricken with the diversity obsession, and simply want the best education possible for their kids. If you ask any parent of any ethnicity if they rather their kid get a first class education at single-ethnicity school or a mediocre-to-lousy one at a rainbow-school, we all know what the answer would be.

Louisiana’s gutsy governor Bobby Jindal put it all into perspective in an interview with Neil Cavuto,

My parents came here over 40 years ago in search of the American dream, confident if you worked hard, it didn’t matter what race you were, didn’t matter who you knew. That’s what we’re trying to deliver for our kids. And that’s why it’s just ridiculous to me that the Obama administration would side with teachers unions over these young children.

Cavuto then asked Jindal if he thought that the teachers unions were pushing the issue because vouchers endanger their jobs. Jindal responded,

Oh, absolutely. Look, they tried, they tried to take us all the way up to the state Supreme Court to stop this program. The teachers unions did. The program is still here. They tried recalling our speaker of the House and me and some others. And we’re still here. The reality is, teachers unions, when we started this statewide, said that parents don’t have a clue when it comes to making choices for their kids. (Emphasis added.)

That’s their world viewpoint. These government unions think the bureaucrats know better. I have met with the moms. And, Neil, it would break your heart that they’re working multiple jobs. They want their kids to have a better quality of life than they have had. They’re trying to do the right thing. They’re telling me this is the first time my kid is bringing home homework, my kid is going to school with discipline. My kids are talking about for the first time thinking about going to college, the first one in our families to graduate from high school. They’re talking about becoming the first ones.

As we all know, Martin Luther King concluded his famous speech 50 years ago with the inspirational words, “Free at last, Free at last, Thank God almighty we are free at last.” But if Mr. Holder and the teachers unions get their way, a bunch of school kids and their families in Louisiana will remain shackled to their failing schools, guaranteeing that their shot at achieving the American dream and true freedom will be next to impossible. Dr. King would be outraged.

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.

Cursing the Light

Teachers unions continue to use empty rhetoric to bash promising school privatization efforts.

It is a given – and understandable – that teachers unions deplore vouchers or opportunity scholarships, arrangements whereby public monies are used to fund a private school education; it hurts their bottom line. With very few exceptions, private schools are not unionized, and every time students leave their public schools, fewer unionized teachers are needed. That translates to fewer dues dollars for the union.

So like pushy salesmen with an inferior product, the unions resort to evasions, distortions and outright lies to sell their wares.

The unions say, “Vouchers don’t improve outcomes.”

Actually, the data say otherwise. For example, the oldest voucher program in the country is in Wisconsin where “Milwaukee school choice beats the alternative.” More dramatically, Washington, D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) have the lowest graduation rate in the country – a rather pathetic 59 percent. Yet, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (DCOSP) just announced that its 2012 grad rate was 97 percent with 91 percent of the students going on to college.

The unions say, “Vouchers are unpopular with the public.”

That may have been true 20 years ago, but not today. Satisfaction with the DCOSP is very high, with 93 percent of parents happy with their child’s school. In May, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice released the results of a national survey in which 60 percent of American adults said they support vouchers. Also, the findings show that mothers make up the demographic most likely to favor school vouchers:

… 66 percent of moms with school-age children support vouchers for all students to obtain the best education possible. Mothers with school-age children also have more confidence in private school settings than in traditional public schools.

Unfortunately public schools didn’t fare so well in the Friedman study with only 39 percent of Americans giving local public schools an “A” or a “B” compared with 54 percent in 2012 – a 15-point drop in just one year.

(Another entity that is unpopular with the public is the teachers unions. According to a recent Education Next poll, only 22 percent of Americans think the unions have a positive effect on schools.)

The unions say, “… (Voucher) programs cost taxpayers millions of dollars and increase bureaucratic and administrative costs.”

This is a perennial union talking point. It’s also a crock, because voucher programs actually save taxpayers money. A good example is in Washington, D.C. where their choice program costs $7,500 per student – about a quarter of what is spent on students in the DCPS.

If we expanded DCOSP, the savings would be even greater. Looking at the eight states with the highest median per pupil educational spending in the United States,

… If only ten percent of these students took advantage of scholarships similar to the ones in the D.C. program, more than 621,000 students would move from public to private schools within their states. This analysis assumes that the scholarships would be worth 60 percent of the median current-year expenditure per pupil-or a bit more expensive than in Washington. The savings per-pupil would be great, 40 percent; in the aggregate, the savings would be greater still.

The unions say, A pure voucher system would only encourage economic, racial, ethnic, and religious stratification in our society.”

A little class warfare with your entrée? The suggestion here is that vouchers will segregate us as a people and promote civil disharmony. But the opposite is true.

The Cato Institute’s Jason Bedrick writes,

Seven empirical studies have examined school choice’s impact on civic values and practices such as respect for the rights of others and civic knowledge. Of these, five find that school choice improves civic values and practices. Two find no visible impact from school choice. No empirical study has found that school choice has a negative impact on civic values and practices.

The largest and most comprehensive of these studies, Dr. Patrick Wolf’s “Civics Exam,” found that private school students are, on average, more politically tolerant, more knowledgeable about our system of government, more likely to volunteer in their community, and more politically active than their government school peers.

Unfortunately, over the last few decades, civic education in government schools has significantly declined

Jay Greene, writing in The Wall Street Journal, adds,

It is no small irony that President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have been trying to shut down the federally funded voucher program that allows students to attend private religious schools in Washington. In 2009 the administration worked to prevent the program from being re-authorized. Only tough bargaining by House Speaker John Boehner has allowed vouchers in D.C. to survive. The administration that otherwise promotes tolerance at every turn is still angling to end the program.

It is not clear why private schools have an advantage in producing more tolerant students. It may be that private schools are better at teaching civic values like tolerance, just as they may be more effective at teaching math or reading. It is also possible that, contrary to elite suspicion, religion can teach important lessons about human equality and dignity that inspire tolerance.

The unions say, “Blah, blah, blah.”

The unions have a specific agenda and will pursue it at all costs. Whatever claims they make about vouchers serve to further that agenda and have little to do with reality. Their efforts to keep people in the dark forever – and their children in failing schools – are doomed to fail.

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.

Red – and I Do Mean Red – Herrings of the Left

June – Father’s Day, Flag Day, weddings … and loopy ideas on poverty.

Last September I wrote about those who believe that poverty causes ignorance and how we must “fix” poverty before we can fix education. I suggested that maybe, just maybe, a good education is the best antidote to poverty and that school choice is the best way to ensure a good education.

In the ensuing months, having heard little from the “povertists” – who are frequently of the socialist persuasion – I hoped that the lame poverty excuse had disappeared, but silly me. Like a disease that goes into remission but never actually disappears, it’s baaack. With a vengeance.

The pedantic, lifelong socialist Deborah Meier drearily proclaims in Education Week that poverty is the root of all our education woes.

Then there is David Sirota, who at one time was an aide to socialist congressman from Vermont (now socialist senator) Bernie Sanders. Sirota declares that school reformers “are full of it.” Then playing the poverty card, he asserts, “Poor schools underperform largely because of economic forces….” Sirota really outdoes himself in the last paragraph of his Salon.com screed, where he lectures us:

Reality, though, is finally catching up with the “reform” movement’s propaganda. With poverty and inequality intensifying, a conversation about the real problem is finally starting to happen. And the more education “reformers” try to distract from it, the more they will expose the fact that they aren’t driven by concern for kids but by the ugliest kind of greed the kind that feigns concerns for kids in order to pad the corporate bottom line.

David Berliner, a longtime povertist, education professor and, not surprisingly, winner of the National Education Association’s Friend of Education award, announces on the California Federation of Teachers website that there is no education crisis, but rather an “unequal economy.”

But just when the socialists’ monotonous rants are beginning to have a narcotizing effect, Karen Lewis comes to the rescue. Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, never misses an opportunity to be offensive. She was in fine form speaking at the City Club of Chicago last week, blaming the Windy City’s education woes on “rich white people.” Perhaps she had to stress “white people” because as an African-American union boss, Lewis has a yearly income of $157,594, which most Americans consider above the “rich” threshold. (Interestingly her second-in-command at CTU, Jesse Sharkey, a leading member of the revolutionary International Socialist Organization, makes “only” $111,762. In the socialist world, how can this disparity exist? And these two really need to have a talk with American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, whose total income for 2011 was $560,549. Perhaps this is what Berliner meant when he referred to the “unequal economy.” But I digress….)

Despite the socialists’ tedious mantra, there are facts that disprove every claim they make. For example, charter schools are publicly funded but are much more independent than traditional public schools, and far more often than not, they do a better job of educating the poor. In Chicago’s charters (not unionized), where almost all the students are minority and below the poverty line, they easily outperform traditional public schools. The Illinois Policy Institute informs us that,

Charter school students, like other students in CPS, primarily come from low-income backgrounds (91 percent qualify for free or reduced lunch), represent mostly racial minorities (60 percent African-American, 35 percent Hispanic), and must overcome a range of challenges (9 percent English Language Learners, 12 percent special needs). They are not untouched by the violence plaguing many of the city’s neighborhoods. And, yet, despite all of these obstacles, they are succeeding.

In 2012, charter schools held the top nine spots for open-enrollment, non-selective public high schools in Chicago. Another charter school ended up in a three-way tie for tenth. The Noble Network of Charter Schools led the pack, with a total of nine schools in the top 10, one of which was included in the tie. The average ACT score for charter schools in the top 10 was 20.6, with Noble Network’s UIC College Prep campus scoring 21.9 – the highest-ever average at an open-enrollment, non-selective CPS high school.

Not only are charter schools outperforming their peers on the ACT, a comparison of Chicago’s top 10 charter high schools to the top 10 open-enrollment, non-selective, traditional public high schools shows that charter schools’ pace of improvement is significantly greater. Since 2007, top charter school scores have increased by 17 percent, while the top traditional schools have gained nearly 5 percent.

Where does Ms. Lewis stand on charters? She doesn’t consider them to be “real schools.” As Investor’s Business Daily reports,

Lewis is … no fan of charter schools, despite the fact Chicago’s charters regularly outperform their public school cousins. In 2012, nine of the top 10 performers were charter schools based on the ACT scores of their students.

Of course when you mention things like charter schools, liberals like Lewis say they get to cherry-pick their students. Yet some 60% of Chicago charter-school students are minorities and 35% are Hispanic.

Ninety-one percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Doesn’t sound like cherry-picking to us.

Also, as I wrote last month, more and more parents are favoring vouchers, whereby parents can choose to send their kid to a private school and the funding follows the child.

… the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice released the results of a national survey in which mothers (and others) were asked how they viewed vouchers and other forms of school choice. The findings show that moms make up the demographic most likely to favor school vouchers:

… 66 percent of moms with school-age children support vouchers for all students to obtain the best education possible. Mothers with school-age children also have more confidence in private school settings than in traditional public schools.

How have vouchers fared where they have been instituted?

In April, Greg Forster, also of the Friedman Foundation, released the third in a series of reports on school choice which includes vouchers and, to a lesser extent, educational savings accounts and tax credit scholarships: “A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice.” Just a few of the key findings:

  • Twelve empirical studies have examined academic outcomes for school choice participants using random assignment, the “gold standard” of social science. Of these, 11 find that choice improves student outcomes—six that all students benefit and five that some benefit and some are not affected. One study finds no visible impact. No empirical study has found a negative impact.
  • Eight empirical studies have examined school choice and racial segregation in schools. Of these, seven find that school choice moves students from more segregated schools into less segregated schools. One finds no net effect on segregation from school choice. No empirical study has found that choice increases racial segregation.
  • Seven empirical studies have examined school choice’s impact on civic values and practices such as respect for the rights of others and civic knowledge. Of these, five find that school choice improves civic values and practices. Two find no visible impact from school choice. No empirical study has found that school choice has a negative impact on civic values and practices. (Emphasis added.)

What is the takeaway here?

Despite what the self-righteous socialists, teachers union leaders and their fellow travelers claim, competition works. When schools compete for students, education gets better. And getting a good education is paramount to getting out of poverty. Those who deny public education’s failings and use poverty as an excuse – no matter what their intentions might be – are working to keep the poor in their place and destroy children’s lives. Shame on them.

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.

Mothers Against Bunk Jiving

Teacher union twaddle is not fooling the nation’s moms any more.

National Education Association president Dennis Van Roekel wrote a tired piece for Huffington Post last week in which he trotted out all the usual phrases and suspects that we have come to expect from a union boss who is trying to scare us into seeing the world through his agenda-driven eyes. Just a few:

  • corporate lobbyists
  • privatization
  • ALEC
  • Scott Walker’s all-out attack on teachers
  • diverting scarce resources that public schools desperately need
  • workers’ right to collective bargaining

(Somehow, the dreaded Koch Brothers didn’t make the cut.)

While the article is ostensibly about the purported turpitude of the American Legislative Exchange Council, it is actually more about the alleged horrors of school privatization through vouchers. Van Roekel informs us that voters have rejected this type of parental choice “time and time again.” If you click on the above link, you will see that,

From 1966 through 2007, voters rejected vouchers or their variants by about 2 to 1 in 27 statewide referendums.

Unfortunately for Van Roekel and other staunch defenders of the status quo, it is now 2013 and the old data are no longer accurate. In fact, the public has gotten behind 41 school choice programs in 22 states and D.C., with over 250,000 students using these programs to attend private schools.

Most recently, in honor of Mother’s Day this past Sunday, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice released the results of a national survey in which mothers (and others) were asked how they viewed vouchers and other forms of school choice. The findings show that moms make up the demographic most likely to favor school vouchers:

… 66 percent of moms with school-age children support vouchers for all students to obtain the best education possible. Mothers with school-age children also have more confidence in private school settings than in traditional public schools.

Other results show that the general public and school moms shared similar views on school grading:

  • ·         Only 39 percent of Americans give local public schools an “A” or a “B” compared with 54 percent in 2012—a 15-point drop.
  • ·         Sixty percent of Americans grade private schools an “A” or a “B”—a 10-point gain from 2012.

Perhaps the most important takeaway from the poll is that there has been a sharp shift in favor of vouchers over the past few years; the trend is undeniable.

Van Roekel also would be better served if he lost the talking point about how the move toward privatization is damaging traditional public schools. Just last month, Greg Forster, also of the Friedman Foundation, released the third in a series of reports on school choice which includes vouchers and, to a lesser extent, educational savings accounts and tax credit scholarships: “A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice.” The key findings:

  • Twelve empirical studies have examined academic outcomes for school choice participants using random assignment, the “gold standard” of social science. Of these, 11 find that choice improves student outcomes—six that all students benefit and five that some benefit and some are not affected. One study finds no visible impact. No empirical study has found a negative impact.
  • Twenty-three empirical studies (including all methods) have examined school choice’s impact on academic outcomes in public schools. Of these, 22 find that choice improves public schools and one finds no visible impact. No empirical study has found that choice harms public schools.
  • Six empirical studies have examined school choice’s fiscal impact on taxpayers. All six find that school choice saves money for taxpayers. No empirical study has found a negative fiscal impact.
  • Eight empirical studies have examined school choice and racial segregation in schools. Of these, seven find that school choice moves students from more segregated schools into less segregated schools. One finds no net effect on segregation from school choice. No empirical study has found that choice increases racial segregation.
  • Seven empirical studies have examined school choice’s impact on civic values and practices such as respect for the rights of others and civic knowledge. Of these, five find that school choice improves civic values and practices. Two find no visible impact from school choice. No empirical study has found that school choice has a negative impact on civic values and practices. (Emphasis added.)

The above can be seen graphically on this chart:

I think it is safe to say that the dated talking points and bunk emanating from the union crowd are wearing very thin. And as more and more moms (and others) see through the jive, the future does not bode well for the NEA and other educational monopolists.

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 Good, the Ugly and the Uglier

After a loss in Indiana, the teachers unions’ war on education intensifies in Chicago and California.

In 2011, Indiana passed a school choice bill which currently allows 9,300 kids from low and middle income families with household income below 150 percent of school lunch eligibility to receive vouchers equal to between 50 and 90 percent of state per-pupil education funding to use at any of 289 schools – some of which provide religious education – that participate in the Choice Scholarship Program.

Not surprisingly, upon passage of the bill the National Education Association and its state affiliate, the Indiana State Teachers Association, sued to stop it with claims that “letting families use the vouchers at religious schools violated the state constitution’s religion clauses.”

But last week, in a resounding 5-0 decision, the unions’ plea was denied.

‘We find it inconceivable’ the justices wrote that the framers meant to prohibit government spending from which a religious institution could ultimately benefit. Everything from police protection to city sidewalks benefit religious institutions, but ‘the primary beneficiary is the public,’ and any benefits to religious groups are ‘ancillary and indirect,’ said the ruling. ‘The direct beneficiaries under the voucher program are the families of eligible students and not the schools selected by the parents for their children to attend.’

Part of the unions’ case was based on the Catholic-bashing Blaine Amendment. As Mike Antonucci writes:

The Indiana Supreme Court ruled unanimously today that the state’s school voucher program is constitutional. This is good news for supporters of school choice, and bad news for teachers’ unions. But the Indiana ruling is especially interesting since it may sound the death knell for legal challenges to vouchers based on states’ Blaine Amendments.

Indiana is one of 37 states with a constitutional provision prohibiting – in varying degrees – the use of state funds to benefit religious or sectarian institutions. The amendments are named after Rep. James G. Blaine of Maine, who as Speaker of the House tried to get a similar provision amended to the U.S. Constitution in 1875. Although the Blaine Amendments were closely associated with anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant bigotry in the 19th century, they made a handy argument against school vouchers in the 20th and 21st centuries.

The title of Antonucci’s post asks, “Is James G. Blaine Finally Dead?” The answer is very possibly yes, and that would most certainly be a good thing.

Moving on to California, the Vergara v. State of California case was back in the news last week. The suit was filed in May 2012 by Students Matter, a nonprofit founded by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch. As I wrote in June, the goal of the suit is to get the seniority, tenure and dismissal statutes out of the state education code and leave these policy decisions to local school districts – as is done in 33 other states.

The student plaintiffs attend school in four districts, though the complaint targets only two—Los Angeles Unified and Alum Rock Elementary Unified in San Jose. Other named defendants include California governor Jerry Brown, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, the state of California, the state board of education, and the state department of education. Students Matter is determined to ensure ‘that the policies embodied in the California Code of Education place the interests of students first and promote the goal of having an effective teacher in every classroom’

… Currently, California schools don’t take teacher effectiveness into account when making layoff decisions. The newest hires are the first to go, and senior teachers have their pick of schools. 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.

Hardly a radical fix to a serious problem. But of course, never missing a chance to block child-friendly reform, two state teachers unions – the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers – released a joint press release this past week 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.

The unions declare that if the suit is upheld, it will be more difficult “to attract and retain quality teachers in California’s schools.”

That’s a ridiculous assertion.  For one, do “quality” teachers really care about seniority? I suspect that the “quality” teachers-of-the-year who got pink slipped while their less talented colleagues kept their jobs are not all that jazzed by the “last in/first out” clause. The press release then proceeds to spout the usual blather – in which the unions pretend to really, really care about parents and children while at the same time taking a swipe at wealthy people who they insist want to usurp public education for their own personal gain.

“The people who agreed to lend their names to this wrong-headed lawsuit are attempting to crowd out the voices of all other parents in California.  We should be working to bring students, parents and teachers together — not driving them apart. Legislation, informed by the experience and testimony of all members of the education community, is the best process for improving public education,” said CFT President Josh Pechthalt, parent of an eighth-grade student in the Los Angeles Unified School District. “The real agenda of this suit is to attack and weaken teachers and their unions in order to privatize public schools and turn them into profit centers for the corporate sponsors behind the lawsuit.”

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

This kind of demagogic rhetoric is old, tired and just plain ugly. Fortunately, not all that many people are buying it these days.

Then there is Chicago, where its school district is dealing with a $1 billion deficit. For a variety of reasons the city’s school population has been dwindling since the 1960s and there is a move afoot to close 54 sparsely populated campuses. According to RiShawn Biddle,

Chicago’s enrollment of 404,584 children is a third smaller than the number of kids served by the district during the 1960s. Three hundred thirty of the district’s 616 schools — more than half of the district’s portfolio — operate below capacity, with 137 of them half-empty. At some schools,  includes Drake Elementary School in the city’s Bronzeville section, and an elementary school named for hometown hero Emmett Till (whose murder in Mississippi by two men offended by his violation of Jim Crow segregation spurred the modern civil rights movement), just two out of every five seats are filled during the school year.

And, a Chicago Public Schools (CPS) fact sheet tells us:

Population declines over the last decade in both the African American community and in school-aged children are driving the majority of underutilization in our District’s schools. Today, our schools have space for 511,000 children, but only 403,000 are enrolled.

So it certainly seems sensible to shut down some underutilized schools and consolidate their enrollments, right?

Not if you are a union boss. What you do then is come out with a statement, avowing that your main priorities are kids, parents and their neighborhoods, and bolster your case by spouting a bunch of good-sounding half-truths in an attempt to make yourself sound believable. And no one does this kind of chicanery better than American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten.

The AFT stands with teachers, parents, students and other Chicagoans fighting to guarantee every child in Chicago the high-quality neighborhood public school he or she deserves. Chicago’s reckless mass school closure agenda will destabilize neighborhoods, threaten our children’s safety, fail to improve learning or save money, and create a domino effect of destabilization in schools across the city. It is part of a disturbing trend in cities across the country by the powers that be to ignore what parents, students and teachers demand and what our children need in favor of failed policies.

As the CPS fact sheet details, every one of Weingarten’s points is bogus, but then again truth and accuracy emanating from a union leader’s mouth is rare indeed.

When unionistas and their fellow travelers don’t get their way, they typically take to the streets and the Windy City was no exception. The Chicago Teachers Union, led by its thoroughly obnoxious and confrontational leader, Karen Lewis, organized a rally last Wednesday in downtown Chicago. As EAGnews.org writer Brittany Clingen reports,

The event brought out all the usual suspects – the Occupy Chicago contingent, fellow union members from SEIU, members of CORE (Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators) and Action Now, and a general assortment of anti-capitalism protesters who relish any excuse to march around with angry signs held high.

According to CTU President Karen Lewis, the school closings are racially motivated. In her speech delivered to the crowd of approximately 700 gathered in Daley Plaza, she said, “They are closing down schools that have names of African American icons, but they’ll open up schools to put a living billionaire’s name in the front.”

Lewis failed to mention that CPS is approaching an astronomical $1 billion budget deficit. And the schools that are slated to close are either underperforming, underutilized (a school that has far fewer students than its capacity allows) or both. The students whose schools are scheduled to close will either be placed in charter schools or their closest neighborhood schools.

No one present at the rally was able to offer a better alternative to closing the schools, with some even implying that there is some sort of conspiracy going on within CPS.

Ah, nothing quite like race baiting, conspiracy theories and class warfare to get the socialists’ juices flowing. It doesn’t get any better than that, and in front of a willing media, no less!

The political angle was not lost on journalist Michael Volpe, who pointed out,

While the school closures in Chicago may seem to involve only local issues, the protest offered a clear glimpse into one of the most powerful segments of the Left. …(T)eachers unions routinely act in concert with open socialists — because their agendas and leadership merge to an alarming degree. While both claim to represent the interests of “the children” and the downtrodden, their real interest is exploiting the vulnerable to advance the principles of socialism.

Does it get any uglier than that?

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.

Milwaukee: Happy Days, Schlitz, Harley-Davidson … and School Choice

Schlitz may be the beer that made Milwaukee famous, but recently the spotlight has been shining on the city’s school choice efforts.

Back in 1990, the Pleistocene Era of education reform, the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program became the nation’s first publicly funded school choice program for low-income children. Born of an interesting political marriage – Democratic state legislator Polly Williams and Republican Governor Tommy Thompson – the program started as a way to address the city’s troubled education system.

Now of course, when one refers to vouchers, school choice, opportunity scholarships or whatever name you want to give public-monies-going-to-educate-children-at-anything-but-a-government-run-school, all the usual suspects descend from the woodwork and trot out all the alleged horrors of school choice. The teachers unions most notably hate choice because some parents will actually choose to send their kids to a non-unionized school. The National Education Association never misses an opportunity to make ridiculous statements – which have little or no basis in fact – about the issue. For example, on its website it has “Five Talking Points on Vouchers,” all of which I debunked in a January post. Elsewhere on its website, the union makes what it claims is an educational case against vouchers:

See what research says about the relationship between vouchers and student achievement… Americans want consistent standards for students. Where vouchers are in place — Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Florida — a two-tiered system has been set up that holds students in public and private schools to different standards.

So the union wants us to look at facts? Researchers Patrick Wolf and John Witte do just that. Earlier this year, they wrote about students participating in Milwaukee’s voucher program stating that they

graduated from high school and both enrolled and persisted in four-year colleges at rates that were four to seven percentage points higher than a carefully matched set of students in Milwaukee Public Schools. Using the most conservative 4% voucher advantage from our study, that means that the 801 students in ninth grade in the voucher program in 2006 included 32 extra graduates who wouldn’t have completed high school and gone to college if they had instead been required to attend MPS.

In 2009, referring to researcher John Warren, Education Next’s Paul Peterson wrote that an estimated

82 percent of 9th grade students in voucher schools graduated from high school, while just 70 percent of 9th graders in the Milwaukee Public Schools did.

Both systems have seen a marked increase in high school graduation rates since 2005. For the Milwaukee Public Schools, the rate has moved steadily upward from 54% in 2005 to 57% the next year, then to 60%, then up, again,  to 65%, and, finally. to 70% in 2009, a healthy trend that that should be applauded.

So not only do vouchers help those who use them, but they also seem to positively affect those students who stay in their traditional public schools.

One private school that primarily serves low-income students through Milwaukee’s Parental Choice Program boasts a 100 percent college acceptance record.

Dante Hamilton will be one of 37 seniors graduating in June from HOPE Christian High School…

In most schools, a percentage of the graduates would be heading off to college, while many would have a different destination.

But Hamilton and all 36 of his classmates have been accepted to college. It’s the second year in a row that one hundred percent of HOPE Christian seniors gained college admission.

Many of the graduates will be the first in their families to graduate from high school and attend college.

When all else fails, NEA points to the bogus “fiscal burden” of vouchers, charging that they increase costs “by requiring taxpayers to fund two school systems, one public and one private.”

Again, wrong.

In Milwaukee, vouchers are saving the taxpayers money.

The per-pupil taxpayer cost of independent charters and the MPCP is substantially less than that of the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). In 2011-12, MPS per pupil taxpayer cost was $13,269, which is made up of state, local, and federal aid compared to $7,775 for independent charters and a maximum of $6,442 combined state and local aid for MPCP. The MPS per pupil taxpayer cost is calculated using information from the MPS budget. The MPCP per pupil funding is from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau Informational Paper on the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.

Never knowing when to quit, NEA recently posted an article about Barbara Miner, who just wrote a book about Milwaukee called Lessons from the Heartland: A Turbulent Half-Century of Public Education in an Iconic American City. Miner, who is mordantly attached to the status quo and quite enthusiastic about it, is associated with Rethinking Schools, an organization that believes real education reform will be led by the teachers unions. (No, this is not an early April Fool’s joke.) In 2011, this “social justice” outfit held a conference where its keynote speaker was unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers. (Here we see a photo of chums, Ayers and Miner, at the event.) NEA ends the article with a direct quote from Miner, who leaves no doubt about her values as she unloads on Wisconsin’s pro-choice governor Scott Walker.

We survived Joe McCarthy. We will survive Scott Walker.

Apparently, in Miner’s eyes, Walker is an evil demagogue because he championed the move to get the government out of the union-dues-collection business, and has the audacity to care more about kids and taxpayers than ensuring that big bucks flow to union coffers.

But despite Miner, Ayers, NEA et al, MPCP is prospering and the future for school choice in Milwaukee and the rest of the Badger State is bright. Two years ago, Marquette professor Alan Borsuk wrote “Milwaukee could become first American city to use universal vouchers for education.”

Prescient? Perhaps.

According to the results of a Marquette University poll, released on March 19th,

…51 percent of Wisconsin voters support a major expansion of the state’s private school choice program.

The Marquette poll reported that 37 percent of Wisconsin voters would support a statewide expansion of the program while another 14 percent would support its expansion to large school districts with some failing schools. In contrast, 14 percent of voters say they favor not expanding the program, while 28 percent would end it.

On, Wisconsin!

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.

Unanswered Questions

Thoughts on my recent encounter with the president of the California Teachers Association.

I was quite surprised when California Teachers Association president Dean Vogel agreed to join a panel that consisted of Gloria Romero, Terry Moe and me a couple of weeks ago at an event sponsored by The Conservative Forum of Silicon Valley. Gloria had many a battle with CTA when she was in the state senate from 2001-2010, and Terry recently finished his magnum opus, an extraordinarily detailed account of the machinations of the powerful teachers unions. As a former teacher and CTA member, I, as an apostate, have written frequently about these unions which I believe to be the biggest hindrance to reforming our troubled public education system.

Vogel is an amiable sort, unlike some of the other union leaders I have met – a ready smile and an easy manner disarms at first. But after carefully listening to his talk, I realized that – at least for the time he spoke – “there is no there there.” Platitudes piled on top of clichés lavished with gobs of bunkum.

We need to empower faculties…Parents should partner with teachers…We need more money in education…We are people of good will…We must work to find common ground…We must work together.

Zzzzzzzz.

Unfortunately, the event’s format didn’t allow for direct questioning of other panelists. A small sample of what I would have loved the opportunity to ask the union leader in front of the 230 or so people in attendance:

  1. If unions are as beneficial for teachers as you say, why do you need to force them to join?
  2. Why do you demand exclusivity in bargaining for such things as teachers’ salaries?
  3. Considering the union mantra that corporations should pay their “fair share,” why doesn’t CTA, a corporation, pay its “fair share?” In fact, CTA pays no share at all. Your union brings in about $185 million in dues yearly and doesn’t pay a penny in taxes.
  4. Teachers pay your forced dues via paycheck deduction, which means that taxpayers are footing the bill for this extremely convenient and efficient service. Why can’t the union collect its own dues?
  5. You claim that CTA membership is about two-thirds Democrat, yet none of your lavish political gifts goes to conservative candidates or causes. Since you insist on representing all teachers, why not respect your right-leaning members by using their dues to fund conservative efforts?
  6. Why do you continue to fight anti-pedophile legislation in CA? SB 1530 and now SB10 come to mind. Can you look a parent of a sexually abused child in the eye and explain to them why you are protecting the teacher who abused her?
  7. During the Q&A, you were asked how much of a teacher’s dues goes to politics. You said that $36 goes to an initiative fund and $8 goes to a candidates PAC. However, CTA’s own auditor says that about 28 percent of a teacher’s dues is spent on politicking. Your union alone takes $647 a year from each and every one of its members. (When you add state and local union dues, CA teachers pay over $1,000 a year on average.) That means CTA is admitting that it uses $181 from each teacher for political spending. Yet you say just $44; where does that missing $137 go?
  8. In light of what happened in Adelanto, can you understand why your calls for “working together” with parents ring hollow? The parents there played by the rules, legitimately followed the Parent Trigger law and obtained more than enough signatures to change the governance of their poorly performing Desert Trails Elementary School. CTA sent out a cadre of henchmen who attempted to scare the devil out of the parents who signed the petition. While I understand your dislike for the law because it limits some of your mighty power, why did you have to do what you did in such a sleazy and underhanded way? The judge hearing the case took little time before ruling in favor of the local parents over the union.

The bottom line here is that the teachers unions are all about maintaining their monopoly, and Vogel’s call for “working together” is ultimately vapid. As Terry Moe points out in his book Special Interest, teachers unions specialize in “blocking.” They “stifle true reform and…preserve an ill-constructed system that is simply not built to provide children with the best education possible.” He goes on to say that this is the “single most important thing that anyone needs to know about the politics of American education.”

Lest you think that there is a scintilla of truth to Vogel’s “we’re all on the same team” claim, it is dispelled quickly in the form of a noxious and offensive screed by Jeff Bryant that’s accessible on the CTA home page. “The Disempowerment Of Public School Parents” gets just about everything wrong. A few examples:

1. He uses a quote from Huffington Post writer Mary Bottari to explain where the parent trigger came from:

While parent trigger was first promoted by a small charter school operator in California, it was taken up and launched into hyperdrive by two controversial right-wing organizations: the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Heartland Institute.

Actually the Parent Trigger law was written by the aforementioned Democratic state senator Gloria Romero and came to life via Parent Revolution, an organization run by admitted progressive Ben Austin.

2. The only parents’ group he seems to have any patience for is Parents Across America which he refers to as a “grass roots advocacy group.” Crabgrass maybe. PAA receives funding from the National Education Association and shills for them every chance it gets.

3. On school choice, he is insufferable:

Further, more taxpayer dollars diverted to charter and private schools means less money for traditional local schools, which affects the options of the parents “left behind” in their community schools.

So he doesn’t like school choice because some will be left behind. I guess he doesn’t know that wherever vouchers have been instituted, public schools have improved. Yes, Virginia, competition works, even in school reform.

4. And regardless of the choice scheme, more well off parents will always have the means to game the system while less well off parents are left scrambling in the wake of a more competitive landscape.

The fact is that the wealthy have always had school choice, either by living in a tony, high-priced neighborhood with a good public school or sending their kids to a private school. School choice is really a vehicle for the “less well off” (i.e. lower and middle classes) to get a better education for their kids.

Ultimately the teachers unions are accurately portrayed by Bryant. Vogel may go out in public and present a warm and fuzzy persona, but in reality, CTA is not about “working together” but rather it is about protecting the job of every public school teacher (no matter how incompetent), acquiring large sums of money and power and killing any reasonable education reform that would diminish its influence.

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.

Letting Schools Compete: A Boon to the Economy

The National Education Association continues to throw out stale bromides in an attempt to salvage a failing and very costly education enterprise.

National School Choice Week has just ended and what a week it was! It spanned the country with 3,600 events in all 50 states and D.C., with proclamations and endorsements from 29 governors, 23 mayors and 12 state legislatures. Thousands of parents and kids attended events from coast to coast to promote school choice.

Even with many inroads, choice still has a long way to go. The war – and it is a war – is still in its early stages, and choice’s Enemy #1 is the National Education Association. In a typically contemptible post on its website last week, “Indiana governor promises more taxpayer-funded vouchers to unaccountable private schools,” the NEA attacked Indiana’s new governor Mike Pence because he promised his “anti-public education supporters” to:

expand the state’s school voucher program, draining money from underfunded public schools for private and religious schools that are not accountable to taxpayers and exempt from state and local education standards.

Private schools are not accountable? If private schools don’t do a good job, parents will go elsewhere. It’s the public schools that are frequently not accountable, which is exactly why parents should be able to choose to send their kids elsewhere.

Exempt from standards? In states where the NEA is dominant, state and local standards dictate that tenured teachers, no matter how incompetent, cannot lose their jobs. The only time one should hear “accountability” and “standards” in the same sentence as “NEA” should be in a comedy routine. But wait, it gets even goofier.

Said Teresa Meredith, elementary school educator and vice president of the Indiana State Teachers Association:

We haven’t even waited for data to be collected on the current voucher program, and they’re already talking about expanding it. Vouchers are continuing to cripple our public education system by draining funds away from programs and from schools for those who need it the most.

Someone from ISTA, the NEA affiliate in Indiana, is talking about “draining funds?!”  This is the same ISTA that was charged with securities fraud in 2009. Mike Antonucci wrote at the time,

The Indiana Securities Division filed a complaint against the Indiana State Teachers Association, alleging the union engaged in the sale of securities without license or registration, and unlawfully commingled funds from its insurance trust with other accounts, leading to the estimated loss of $23 million.

In a follow up piece in 2012, Antonucci quotes from an NEA financial statement,

“On March 31, 2010, NEA loaned the Indiana State Teachers Association (“ISTA”) $3,060,745. In August 2010, NEA increased the aforementioned note balance to $5,386,031.

“…During the fiscal year 2011, NEA provided $7,768,653 in additional support and monies to ISTA which increased the outstanding note balance to $13,154,684. As of August 31, 2011, NEA has recognized a $6,000,000 allowance for doubtful debt against this note.”

And these are the people who are lecturing us about “accountability?!” Oh, please.

As for the “draining money” part of their repertoire, enough already. If a child uses education funds to go to a private school, yes, there will be less money for the public school the child leaves. But at the same time there will be one less child for the school to educate. And what the NEA doesn’t tell you is that private schools do a better job for less money. Private schools, unlike the traditional public variety, don’t have bloated administrations and a gargantuan bureaucracy to feed and can fire bad teachers.

As Cato Institute’s Adam Schaeffer says,

What people don’t realize is that school choice saves huge amounts of money. They don’t know that they’re paying around $12,000 a year per student in California, $25,000 in Washington, D.C., or $20,000 in New York, $18,000 in New Jersey and $14,000 in Virginia. And the public certainly doesn’t know that the median full tuition paid at U.S. private schools is just $4,000. So how in the world could they guess that school choice actually saves money?

The Independent Institute’s Ben DeGrow reports,

Of the 12 programs studied, Aud found only Utah’s Carson Smith special-needs voucher program and the 200-year-old practice of “town tuitioning” in Maine and Vermont to be cost-neutral. The remaining programs have reaped savings of at least $1 million each.

The report identifies Pennsylvania’s scholarship tax credit program as generating the greatest savings: $144 million since its inception in 2001. Florida’s McKay Scholarships for disabled children have saved taxpayers $139 million in the program’s first seven years of operation.

And perhaps the most comprehensive report of all comes from the Friedman Foundation’s Benjamin Scafidi,

The United States’ average spending per student was $12,450 in 2008-09. I estimate that 36 percent of these costs can be considered fixed costs in the short run. The remaining 64 percent, or $7,967 per student, are found to be variable costs, or costs that change with student enrollment. The implication of this finding is that a school choice program where less than $7,967 per student is redirected from a child’s former public school to another school of his or her parents’ choosing would actually improve the fiscal health of the average public school district. And, it would provide more resources for students who remain in public schools.

Not only will choice save the taxpayers money, but according to researchers Patrick Wolf and Michael McShane, it will provide a great return on investment. In “School Choice Pays Off, Literally” they claim that

The District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) produced $2.62 in benefits for every dollar spent on it. In other words, the return on public investment for the private-school voucher program during its early years was 162 percent.

…Because a high-school diploma makes an individual less likely to commit crimes, it therefore decreases both the costs incurred by victims of crimes and those borne by the public in administering the justice system. Coupled with the increased tax revenue made on the increased income, this yields an extra benefit for society of over $87,000 per high-school graduate.

Multiplying the number of additional graduates by the value of a high-school diploma yields a total benefit of over $183 million. Over the time of our study, the OSP cost taxpayers $70 million, so dividing the benefits by the cost yields an overall benefit-to-cost ratio of 2.62, or $2.62 for every dollar that was spent.

And when you consider that D.C. Public Schools spend $27,263 per student – by far the highest in the country – and its test scores are by far the worst in the country, the savings become even more dramatic.

Whitney Neal, a mom and former eighth grade U.S. history teacher in Texas, is the director of federal and state campaigns at FreedomWorks. Perhaps she said it best in a recent piece written for Fox News.

School choice provides an opportunity for public schools to compete and improve – and for high-performing teachers to be recruited by top schools. More choice and competition in the educational marketplace fuels improvement and innovation across the board for students, teachers, and individual school districts.

I challenge parents, teachers, and activists around the country to come together in support of school choice. Get involved with National School Choice Week. Start attending school board meetings, run for open seats, and challenge your administrators where you see waste. Find out what options are available in your state and seek to attain or expand them. Work with state legislators to pass school choice legislation that best fits your community.

Remember that every victory, however small, is a step on the path to education freedom. Returning control of education dollars to parents and local communities gives parents (and ultimately the student) the power to shape their own family’s future. Together, we can work to create a system where schools compete for top teachers, the achievement gap disappears, and all children — no matter their economic situations– have access to a quality public education.

For the U.S. to once again have a world class education system – with the added bonus of a balanced budget – our citizenry has to get involved and demand that parents be given a choice as to where to school their kids. At the same time, the NEA, the greatest impediment to choice, must be exposed as the selfish, two-faced and reactionary organization that it is.

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

School Choice for Kids? Ravitch and NEA Say No

Widely discredited ex-reformer and teachers union try to deny families a fundamental right.

Diane Ravitch has yet again exposed herself as an unserious spokesperson for the sclerotic anti-education reform movement. This crowd is made up of people – typically special interests – bureaucrats, teachers unions, etc. – who desperately cling to the ridiculous notion that children are best served if they are forced to go to the school nearest their home, no matter how lousy it may be. And Part 2 of this bad scenario is that the same folks insist that we throw endless piles of cash at that school even though tripling funds for education in the last 40 years has had no effect on improving it.

In a recent op-ed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Ravitch did her darndest to make the case for maintaining the top-down, one-size-fits-all, centrally planned, expensive, bureaucratically bloated, failing school system that so many families in Milwaukee seek to escape. She claims that,

Milwaukee has had voucher schools since 1990, longer than any school district in the nation. Students in the voucher schools perform no better than those in the public schools.

Milwaukee has had charter schools for about 20 years. Students in the charter schools do no better than those in the public schools.

Ravitch, of course, is famous for never letting facts get in the way of her agenda. In a rebuttal in the same newspaper, researchers Patrick Wolf and John Witte say,

…students participating in the Milwaukee Parental Choice (“voucher”) Program graduated from high school and both enrolled and persisted in four-year colleges at rates that were four to seven percentage points higher than a carefully matched set of students in Milwaukee Public Schools. Using the most conservative 4% voucher advantage from our study, that means that the 801 students in ninth grade in the voucher program in 2006 included 32 extra graduates who wouldn’t have completed high school and gone to college if they had instead been required to attend MPS.

While the charter school data isn’t quite as dramatic as the voucher figures, studies show that charters also do a better job of educating kids in Milwaukee. Very importantly, Wolf and Witte point out,

Average per-pupil taxpayer costs of students in MPS were $15,969 in fiscal year 2011 compared to just $9,718 for independent charter schools and less than $6,442 per voucher student. Economist Robert Costrell determined that the operation of the voucher program alone saved the public over $52 million in fiscal year 2011.

So even if Ravitch is right, that school choice in Milwaukee makes no difference academically, isn’t it preferable to get the same results while spending a whole lot less? Maybe one day Ravitch will take a stab at answering that question, but I’m not holding my breath.

The National Education Association also needs to be taken to the woodshed. Those oh-so-clever folks at union-central have a page on their website which they call “Five Talking Points on Vouchers.” It begins,

What have you got against private school vouchers?” your brother-in-law demands over Sunday dinner. Ah, if he only knew the facts. Next time someone puts you on the spot, use these talking points to debunk the most popular voucher claims.

The “facts” according to the NEA are:

NEA: There’s no link between vouchers and gains in student achievement.

Truth: Greg Forster at the Friedman Foundation examined all available empirical studies and found that,

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

NEA: Claiming that private schools have autonomy, they say that, “Vouchers undermine accountability for public funds.”

Truth: What NEA doesn’t tell you is that in many places public schools have no accountability at all. If a public school fails, what happens? Typically the school doesn’t “go out of business” the way private schools do. Instead, reacting to heavy pressure from the teachers unions, state legislatures will keep the failing schools afloat and demand that taxpayers pony up more money because “we owe it to the children.”

NEA: Vouchers do not reduce public education costs.

Truth: This is an outrageous lie. As shown above, charters in Milwaukee do the job for 60 cents on the dollar and vouchers for about 40 cents on the dollar. Granted these numbers are specific to Milwaukee, but there is little difference on the national level.

NEA: Vouchers do not give parents real educational choice.

Truth:  They give everyone involved a choice. The claim here is that private schools “discriminate.” Okay, so what? If a certain school won’t accept little Johnny because he has an asthmatic condition that the school doesn’t have the medical wherewithal to deal with, a parent will have to go find a private school that is more suitable. Yes, in a free system of school choice, schools and parents can pick and choose each other without coercion.

NEA: The public disapproves of vouchers.

Truth: Because of intense propaganda by teachers unions and other special interests, the public has been skeptical of vouchers, but that is changing. According to the Center for Education Reform, there are now 21 states that have voucher programs. And very importantly, once a state institutes school choice, it doesn’t change back to a non-choice policy. (Choice does well elsewhere. France and Canada have partial choice set-ups, while 90 percent of Chilean students utilize such a system. And Sweden has free choice for every child in the country.) Additionally, researcher Herbert Walberg recently wrote,

In big cities, as many as 80 percent of public school parents say they would send their children to parochial or independent schools if they could afford tuition. Scholarships for poor families are heavily oversubscribed, as are charter schools, which are government-funded but run by private boards.

As we head into National School Choice Week, it is important to listen to the voices of those families who are desperately trying to get a better education for their children. And for Ravitch and her union buddies – history will relegate them to the dustbins they so richly deserve. It can’t happen too soon.

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

National School Choice Week will be celebrated Jan. 27-Feb.2 this year.

Debunking the Debunkers

Beware of ideologically driven writers who attempt to “get to the truth.”

As one who is constantly trying to set the record straight on education issues, I am drawn to pieces like “5 Biggest Lies About America’s Public Schools – Debunked.” This article, courtesy of the popular leftist ezine AlterNet, reveals its POV in the first paragraph when writer Kristin Rawls, refers to uber-liberal Rahm Emanuel as a “union-buster.” Let’s examine each “lie,” as she refers to them:

Lie #1: Unions are undermining the quality of education in America. She writes that “union states correlate to higher test scores” but does not compare apples to apples. When one digs into the numbers and breaks them down by ethnicity, family structure, etc., the correlation falls apart. Then she gets positively loopy. She claims that unions are still important to student success because they “fight for equality of opportunity in education by, for example, opposing attempts to resegregate American schools.”

“…fight for equality of opportunity?!” The teachers unions actually do the reverse by aggressively opposing any measures that would enable inner city kids to flee their zip code-mandated hellholes. Giving families any kind of choice – a charter school, opportunity scholarship, etc. is anathema to them. Yes, the teachers unions do their best to literally “keep them in their place.”

Lie #2: Your student’s teacher has an easy and over-compensated job.
In all my reading on education, I don’t recall anyone ever writing that teaching was easy. It’s not. As for “over-compensated?” She tries to make her case using a New York Times story which points out that, “The average primary-school teacher in the United States earns about 67 percent of the salary of an average college-educated worker in the United States.” Neither she nor the Times bother to mention how much time the average teacher works – typically 7 hours a day, 180 days per year – compared to the average college-educated worker, most of whom work over 8 hours a day and 240-250 days a year. Nor does either mention the very generous health benefits and retirement pensions that most teachers get. For a much more honest look at teacher pay and perks, there’s “Assessing the Compensation of Public-School Teachers,” an American Enterprise Institute report, which concludes that

… public-school teacher salaries are comparable to those paid to similarly skilled private sector workers, but that more generous fringe benefits for public-school teachers, including greater job security, make total compensation 52 percent greater than fair market levels, equivalent to more than $120 billion overcharged to taxpayers each year. (Bold added.)

Lie #3: If your child doesn’t get picked in a charter school lottery, he or she is doomed. For this “lie,” Rawls trots out the anti-charter crowd’s favorite study – the CREDO study – which claims that “that charter school students generally perform no better than students attending traditional public schools.” But shortly after the study was released, Caroline Hoxby and others wrote about its many statistical flaws. More recently, researcher Jay Greene noted,

The only way to know with confidence whether charters cause better outcomes is to look at randomized control trials (RCTs) in which students are assigned by lottery to attending a charter school or a traditional public school. RCTs are like medical experiments where some subjects by chance get the treatment and others by chance do not. Since the two groups are on average identical, any difference observed in later outcomes can be attributed to the “treatment,” and not to some pre-existing and uncontrolled difference.

He concludes,

When you have four RCTs – studies meeting the gold standard of research design – and all four of them agree that charters are of enormous benefit to urban students, you would think everyone would agree that charters should be expanded and supported, at least in urban areas. If we found the equivalent of halving the black-white test score gap from RCTs from a new cancer drug, everyone would be jumping for joy – even if the benefits were found only for certain types of cancer.

Unfortunately, many people’s views on charter schools are heavily influenced by their political and financial interests rather than the most rigorous evidence. They don’t want to believe the findings of the four RCTs, so they simply ignore them or cite studies with inferior research designs in which we should have much less confidence.

Lie #4: Your child will automatically be better off if your school district adopts a “school choice” assignment plan. Automatically? Her bias becomes very apparent in this “lie.” She hates the thought of giving parents a choice. She quotes Paul Thomas, an education professor, “The evidence on choice shows [that]…parents do a terrible job with that choice.” Perfect! Parents are too stupid to pick out a good school for their kids. Ah, let’s have the government make that decision for them!!

Actually, the truth is miles from Thomas’ and Rawls’ bogus claims. In A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Vouchers, Greg Forster of the Friedman Foundation writes:

• Ten empirical studies have used random assignment, the gold standard of social science, to examine how vouchers affect participants. Nine studies find that vouchers improve student outcomes, six that all students benefit and three that some benefit and some are not affected. One study finds no visible impact. None of these studies finds a negative impact.
• Nineteen empirical studies have examined how vouchers affect outcomes in public schools. Of these studies, 18 find that vouchers improved public schools and one finds no visible impact. No empirical studies find that vouchers harm public schools.
• Every empirical study ever conducted in Milwaukee, Florida, Ohio, Texas, Maine and Vermont finds that voucher programs in those places improved public schools.
• Only one study, conducted in Washington D.C., found no visible impact from vouchers. This is not surprising, since the D.C. voucher program is the only one designed to shield public schools from the impact of competition. Thus, the D.C. study does not detract from the research consensus in favor of a positive effect from voucher competition.
• The benefits provided by existing voucher programs are sometimes large, but are usually more modest in size. This is not surprising since the programs themselves are modest — curtailed by strict limits on the students they can serve, the resources they provide, and the freedom to innovate. Only a universal voucher program could deliver the kind of dramatic improvement our public schools so desperately need.


Lie #5: Your student’s teacher sees your constructive involvement in your child’s education as an annoyance.
Rawls has this one right. But it’s hardly worth mentioning. She tries to make her case by quoting one teacher who says “I have felt bashed by parents who mask either their children’s failings or their own failings by the rhetoric of school failure.” I taught for almost 30 years, and this type of attitude is quite rare. I and my colleagues were well aware that involved parents are a crucial component for successfully educating a child; we certainly never thought of them as “annoyances.” On the contrary, we did everything we could to encourage and increase their involvement.

While many of us have strong points of view, it is essential we let facts determine our worldview and not vice versa. But I think it’s clear that for Ms. Rawls, “facts” are determined by her politics.

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

More Money for Education?

Hell no. It’s time to stop pouring money into a bottomless pit.

Not a week goes by without a gloom and doom story on the National Education Association website exhorting us to “invest” more in education lest the children of America be shortchanged. For the educrats and unionistas who are still trying to sell this claptrap, their periodic slap in the face comes courtesy of Andrew Coulson, director of Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom. As you can see from his chart linked here, from 1970-2010 our education spending has tripled (adjusting to constant 2012 dollars.)

What kind of return have we gotten for our investment?

Nada. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading and math scores for 17 year olds have been flat for the forty year period. And in science, the scores have gone down.

At the Heritage Foundation, Coulson’s counterpart Lindsey Burke reports,

Students headed back to school this fall will have historically high levels of dollars spent on them in the public school system. (Bold added.) Nationally, average per-pupil spending exceeds $11,400 this year….

To put this into perspective, just 10 years ago we spent $9,482 per pupil (in constant dollars). Thirty years ago we paid $5,718 and 50 years ago just $2,808 per student! The reasons for the current spending orgy are several – an increase in the number of useless educrats, the rise of teachers unions, a public that has been way too trusting of those in power, etc.

Internationally, of the world’s 28 major industrial powers, we are second in spending, slightly behind Switzerland. Yet when it comes to achievement, our performance is middling at best. Education Next recently reported,

A new study of international and U.S. state trends in student achievement growth shows that the United States is squarely in the middle of a group of 49 nations in 4th and 8th grade test score gains in math, reading, and science over the period 1995-2009.

Students in three countries – Latvia, Chile, and Brazil – are improving at a rate of 4 percent of a standard deviation annually, roughly two years’ worth of learning or nearly three times that of the United States. Students in another eight countries – Portugal, Hong Kong, Germany, Poland, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Colombia, and Lithuania – are making gains at twice the rate of U.S. students.

The very obvious conclusion to be drawn is that the time has come to stop blindly pouring money down the public education hole. One way to improve our sorry state of affairs is to have schools compete with each other by giving parents a full range of school choice options. Education would improve and at the same time cost less. Heartland Institute education research fellow Joy Pullman makes the case for choice very clearly in The Best, Most Recent Voucher Research:

Research has consistently demonstrated vouchers and school choice increase high school graduation rates, college attendance rates, achievement test scores, parental satisfaction, school safety and discipline, tolerance of other cultures, racial integration, and civic engagement. Every voucher program also has saved vast amounts of taxpayer dollars. School vouchers first came into existence 22 years ago, and private schools have not been overrun with government regulations or fraud. Where fraud has occurred, it has been isolated and comparable to fraud perpetrated within government schools.

School choice offers families equal access to high-quality schools that meet their widely diverse needs and desires. Instead of unjustly condemning millions of children to failing and dangerous schools because their parents cannot afford private tuition, vouchers give all families the same opportunity to meet each child’s unique education needs. Vouchers also end the injustice of forcing parents to pay both in taxes and in tuition for school choice.

Greg Forster of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice collected the results of all available empirical studies using the best available scientific methods to measure how school vouchers affect academic outcomes for participants, and all available studies on how vouchers affect outcomes in public schools. Contrary to the widespread claim that vouchers do not benefit participants and hurt public schools, the empirical evidence consistently shows vouchers improve outcomes for participants and public schools.

And ideally, choice should be available from the very beginning of a child’s education. In the August 28th issue of U.S. News & World Report, Harrigan and Davies claim that “Public High Schools Are Not Doing Their Jobs.” It’s a good piece, but the authors start their expose about nine grades too late. High schools can’t do their jobs if they are enrolling students who are barely literate. However, the authors do reach an important conclusion,

The way to stop the trend is to allow parents to hold our public schools accountable. They can do this the same way that they hold their cellular providers or grocery stores or car dealerships accountable. If public schools can’t educate their children, parents should be free to take their children—and their tax dollars—to schools that can.

Our children and our economy are in desperate need of school choice. As such, we all need to become more knowledgeable consumers and then ratchet up our political will to make choice a reality. So when the bureaucrats, the teachers unions and their bought-and-paid-for legislators start to whine about how we need to pour more money into education, just say, “No” to them. And at the same time, support candidates for office who represent you, your children, your pocketbook and a better future for America.

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

National Education Association Admits Things Will Never Be the Same

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

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

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

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

How bad? Greg Toppo reports in USA Today,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NBI 13:

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

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

NBI 3:

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

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

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

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

NEA Agenda: More Money, Minimal Reform

The teachers union not only plays the poverty card, but by battling reforms, ensures that the impoverished will remain that way.

No Education Reform Without Tackling Poverty, Experts Say,” is the title of an article on the National Education Association website. Experts? A trip into the weeds leads to something called the Center on Poverty, Inequality and Public Policy at Georgetown University. Its main benefactor is none other than the Open Society Foundations run by megalomaniac George Soros, a man who once said he saw himself as “some kind of god, the creator of everything.” Expecting anything without an agenda from this bunch would be foolish.

The NEA’s “experts” claim that pouring money into education will eradicate poverty is wrong on all counts. For example, they state that children would be better educated by attending a “high quality pre-school.” Yet Head Start, according to Reason’s Lisa Snell, U. of Arkansas Professor Jay Greene and others, has been a bust. In 2010, Lindsey Burke at the Heritage Foundation wrote,

Taxpayers have been on the hook for more than $100 billion for the Head Start program since 1965. This federal evaluation, which effectively shows no lasting impact on children after first grade and no difference between those children who attended Head Start and those who did not, should call into question the merits of increasing funding for the program, which the Obama administration recently did as part of the so-called “stimulus” bill.

So, $100 billion later, children are no better off attending a preschool, but what’s important to the unions is that more adults are employed. And that means more dues for them to spend on their progressive political agenda which favors causes that have little to do with education – e.g. abortion on demand, same-sex marriage, income redistribution, and nationalized health care. In 2010-2011, NEA spent $133 million in lobbying and gifts to further its progressive agenda.

Also, with all the union kvetching, one might assume that we stint on education spending. In fact, in the U.S. since 1970, education spending has increased 150 percent. Compared to other countries around the world, we are number four in spending after Luxembourg, Switzerland and Norway. Yet,

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

Thus the problem is not the amount of money we spend, but how it’s spent. Charter schools typically lead to better educated kids and save us money at the same time. Inner city charter school operators like Eva Moskowitz and Geoffrey Canada and the KIPP schools do a far better job – with fewer tax dollars – than traditional public schools. Even taking the superstars of the movement out of the mix, charter schools outperform traditional public schools. As Jay Greene writes, “Charter Benefits Are Proven by the Best Evidence.”

But no, the NEA doesn’t back charters. And the reason it doesn’t has nothing to do with education; it’s because charters are individually run and therefore very hard to unionize. In fact, only 12 percent of the nation’s 5,500 or so charters are unionized.

If the teachers unions were really serious about improving education and eradicating poverty, they would support the ultimate in school choice – voucher systems. A voucher would give a kid a chance to opt out of a failing public school and use his education dollars to pay for a private school of his choice. This would level the playing field for poorer families. However, the unions can’t abide vouchers because public schools would lose students to private schools, which are not unionized.

Eliminating the twin evils of tenure and seniority would go a long way to improving the current teaching force, by ceding more power to individual school districts. Bad teachers should be fired and the good ones should get raises. Better teachers can also handle slightly larger classes, thereby reducing the overall number of teachers we need.

But saving the taxpayers money, leveling the playing field for the poor, ceding power to local education agencies and thus having fewer dues-paying members are solutions nowhere to be found in the union playbook.

The nation’s education woes began about forty years ago – right at the time the NEA became a major force in education. Certainly other social trends have contributed to the educational morass we find ourselves in, but the National Education Association is the main reason for it – all the time using young children as pawns while vigorously pursuing its political agenda. Despite all the warm and fuzzy platitudes they spew, it is obvious that the teachers unions are not terribly interested in the education of our children or helping them get out of poverty.

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

Exposing a 40 Year Education Crime: Why California Needs School Choice

Busting LAUSD and every other school district in the state for negligence should help kids, but it’s anyone’s guess as to when. In the meantime, giving families more educational options would be a great help, but don’t hold your breath, California.

With National School Choice Week underway, we see many positive things happening across the country. In states like New Jersey and Louisiana, governors are taking the lead in proposing ways to break the devastating monopoly that government run schools – their educrat leaders, corrupt and/or inept school boards and the powerful teachers unions — have held for far too long.

As an example of Big Education gone bad, I write in City Journal about a crime that has been perpetrated on the children of California for 40 years and the lawsuit that addresses it:

For nearly 40 years, the Los Angeles Unified School District has broken the law—and nobody seemed to notice. Now a group of parents and students are taking the district to court. On November 1, a half-dozen anonymous families working with EdVoice, a reform advocacy group in Sacramento, filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court against the LAUSD, district superintendent John Deasy, and United Teachers Los Angeles. The lawsuit in essence accuses the district and the union of a gross dereliction of duty. According to the parents’ complaint, the district and the union have violated the children’s “fundamental right to basic educational equality and opportunity” by failing to comply with a section of the California Education Code known as the Stull Act. Under the 1971 law, a school district must include student achievement as part of a teacher’s evaluation. Los Angeles Unified has never done so: the teachers union wouldn’t allow it.
To continue reading “A 40-Year Shame,” go to to http://www.city-journal.org/2012/cjc0119ls.html

However the above case is decided, there will undoubtedly be lawsuits, union pushback, teacher dissatisfaction and who-knows-what-else as the various special interests scramble to do what is best for themselves. And as always, children’s needs are left out of the equation.

One way to transcend big government-union school domination would be to develop a system of universal school choice, including vouchers and tax credits. To that end, Alan Bonsteel and I passionately make the case for choice in an op-ed published in the Los Angeles Daily News this past Friday.

As we honor National School Choice week beginning Sunday, one fact stands out: 2012 marks the year when there can be no turning back in school choice reforms.

Last July, The Wall Street Journal dubbed 2011 “The Year of School Choice” because of legislation that had been passed all over our nation. For example, North Carolina and Tennessee eliminated caps on charter schools. Maine passed its first charter school law. Twelve states either adopted new voucher programs or expanded existing ones. After first turning its back on the popular D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program, Congress reconstituted funding for it. To continue reading “School Choice Reforms are More Vital Than Ever,” go to http://www.dailynews.com/opinions/ci_19779002

While it would undoubtedly be a boon to education and save taxpayers money, school choice at this time is an extremely tough political sell in the Golden State. The entrenched special interests in California are in control and to make the needed changes will entail a long, bloody struggle. As such, taxpayers and parents must take the lead and force change via the initiative process.

In a future post, I will examine what options families in California do have if they want to remove their children from failing schools.

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