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The Latest Teachers Unions’ Monopoly Moves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Positive Impact

Michelle Rhee’s teacher evaluation system has shown itself to be effective in D.C. public schools and has left the teachers unions on the sidelines…for now.

Back in 2010, the Washington, D.C. public school system (DCPS) introduced IMPACT, an evaluation system whose goal was not only to identify and retain good teachers, but pay them bonuses. At the same time, it aimed to enable the school district to get rid of its poor performers. (Just like employers do in the rest of the working world!) Michelle Rhee, who implemented the plan, began her reign as chancellor of DCPS in 2007 and left the district in October, 2010 just as the new system kicked in. (Rhee saw the handwriting on the wall when Mayor Adrian Fenty, who had hired her, lost a primary bid to run again.)

To state the obvious, the Washington Teachers Union was outraged by the plan. In fact, it was blasted by organized labor from coast to coast. Every teacher union leader who could get their hands on a microphone or the ear of a willing education reporter spewed vitriol at Rhee. In brief, they said the program, which included a component that rated teachers by how well students do on standardized tests, was unfair because tests “evaluate students and not teachers.” Translation: union bosses don’t want teachers held at all accountable if their kids don’t learn. The unions see teachers as interchangeable widgets, all of whom are competent… to one degree or another. To differentiate between effective and ineffective teachers by what their students actually learn would necessitate doing away with industrial-style work rules like tenure and seniority – perennial union-mandated protections.

The National Education Association and other unions prefer to subject teachers to “high-quality professional development.” These classes, intended to teach teachers how to teach, are made necessary because of the lousy job that many of our schools of education do. What the unions never get around to mentioning is what to do with teachers who can’t cut it even after they have had any number of “high-quality professional development” classes.

When it comes to teacher accountability, the California Teachers Association is Astaire-like at the evasion dance. Former CTA president Dean Vogel is on record saying that the union “will continue to fight to ensure we have qualified and experienced teachers in the classrooms….” (H/T Richard Rider)

Okay, “qualified” and “experienced” sound good, right? But there’s much more to teaching than having the proper certification and being on the job for x years. Is the teacher effective? Does the teacher get results? Are the students learning? Mr. Vogel becomes a wallflower when this music is played.

Well, lo and behold, just last week a study conducted jointly by the University of Virginia and Stanford examining the DCPS IMPACT program was released.

One of the study’s authors, Stanford’s Thomas Dee, writes, “We found that a disproportionate share of low-performing teacher exits are from high-poverty schools. Our results indicate that DCPS is able to accurately identify low-performing teachers and consistently replace them with teachers who are more effective in raising student achievement, particularly in high-poverty schools.” (Emphasis added.)

The Washington Post’s Emma Brown writes, the departure of teachers who score poorly on IMPACT is beneficial “because student scores on math and reading tests tend to improve substantially after such teachers depart….” Brown adds thatstudent scores tend to drop slightly when high-performing teachers leave their assignment for another school or district, presumably because it is difficult to find replacements who are as effective. But overall, “because of the strong positive effect of exiting low-performing teachers, turnover under IMPACT led to an improvement in average student achievement, the study found.”

Additionally, as reported by the Wall Street Journal, the researchers find that 46 percent of low-performing teachers in D.C. leave each year, “which is more than three times the attrition rate of high-performers. It turns out that the mere threat of removal encourages many low-scorers to quit or shape up, and those who leave are generally replaced with better teachers.”

The authors of the study acknowledge concerns that high-performing teachers in D.C. may leave because of “the stress of high-stakes evaluation.” But James Wyckoff, the study’s other author said, “While these are reasonable concerns and in some situations this may occur, overall our analysis suggests they don’t hold true at DCPS. This likely reflects IMPACT’s design to retain more effective teachers and encourage low-performing teachers to leave.”

The unions have been uncharacteristically silent in the week since the report has surfaced, just as they were in 2013 when a study revealed similar results. But I’m sure they are busy at union command-central figuring out how they can negatively characterize the retention of good teachers, paying them well and unloading dead weight. The spin on this one could leave us all in a vertigo-like state.

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.

Antisocial Injustice

A teachers union giving an award for social justice is like Miley Cyrus handing out a medal for modesty.

The term “social justice” has gone through many permutations over the centuries, but these days it refers essentially to a progressive vision of the world. Its paramount issues include income inequality, sexual discrimination, the mere existence of the Koch brothers and a whole gaggle of “rights.” (Interesting that in all my reading on the subject, rights are mentioned aplenty, but personal responsibility is rarely broached.) Perhaps the always dependable Urban Dictionary has the most accurate current definition of the term,

Promoting tolerance, freedom, and equality for all people regardless of race, sex, orientation, national origin, handicap, etc… except for white, straight, cisgendered males. F*** those guys, they’re overprivileged no matter what.

But whatever your political orientation is, and however you define the term, I think we would agree that it is the height of arrogance and hypocrisy to have a teachers union bestow a “social justice” award, but that is just what the National Education Association is doing. And it will be a yearly event. The winner will be afforded a sumptuous package of events to revel in:

The award will be presented annually by the NEA President at NEA’s national Representative Assembly. The awardee will receive an all-expense paid trip to attend and address both the NEA Representative Assembly and the Joint Conference on Concerns of Minorities and Women. The winner will also be invited to attend Educator Empowerment Day as part of the pre-Representative Assembly activities.

I’m sure the recipients will be thrilled, but let’s take a look beyond the faux union rhetoric.

Union boss pay

An ongoing mantra of the teachers unions is that corporate bosses are greedy swine who steal money from their workers. As they boldly charge others with exploitation, you’d think that teacher union leaders would set an example. But according to NEA’s own website, median teacher pay in the U.S. is $51,381 per year. However, in his last year as NEA president, Dennis Van Roekel made $541,632 – more than ten times what a teacher makes. (American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten is no better. That self-righteous social justice advocate has almost the exact same socially unjust income of $543,679.) But corporate CEOs – allegedly the fat cats – make $178,400 yearly, just five times that of the average worker.

And another inconvenient tidbit – most of Van Roekel’s and Weingarten’s hefty salaries come from dues that teachers are forced to have deducted from each paycheck. Sounds as if the union bosses are getting rich “off the backs of teachers,” doesn’t it? It is also interesting to note that due to the proliferation of charter schools and other non-unionized forms of school choice, the traditional public school teacher population is shrinking. Therefore each teacher is paying more to support the union leaders’ extravagant one-percenter lifestyles.

Outsider money

The first ones to cry “foul” when “outsider” money flows into local schoolboard races are the teachers unions. Last month, via Mike Antonucci, we were treated to a Washington Post letter-to-the-editor from Elizabeth Davis, president of the Washington Teachers Union (an AFT affiliate), and Delvone Michael, director of DC Working Families.

Across the country, wealthy business interests and conservative political operatives are buying up local boards of education. And if we don’t stand up and say no, D.C. will be the next notch on their belt.

Otherwise sleepy races for school boards have been drowned in cash from outside interests who want local candidates to support charter schools and oppose the protections of unions. Now it’s happening here in the District, too.

What is all the bellyaching about? A $31,000 donation from an unspecified “outside group.” At the very same time, an October 28th story from the New Orleans Times-Picayune informs us:

The American Federation of Teachers has spent almost $450,000 on the Jefferson Parish School Board elections, recent campaign finance reports show. That’s more than all individual candidate contributions combined.

The union’s local political action committee calls itself the AFT Committee for School Board Accountability in Jefferson Parish. It received two payments totaling $446,000 from the AFT Solidarity Fund in September and October.

Sad to say, the union’s efforts were successful in Louisiana, and the reform-minded schoolboard majority exists no more; the union is now in control, thanks to AFT’s “outsider money.”

War against families

Then we have a war against parents and kids in Florida, where the Florida Education Association, an NEA affiliate, is doing its best to keep economically disadvantaged kids from using tax-credit scholarships to attend schools of their parents’ choosing. In August, FEA and a few allies challenged the state’s popular 13-year-old Tuition Tax Credit Scholarship program. “The suit claims that the scholarship violates the ‘no aid’ clause and the ‘uniform public schools’ clause of the state’s constitution by allowing students to take the aid to private schools, some with religious affiliation.”

The lawsuit is bogus, however. As explained by Cato Institute education policy analyst Jason Bedrick, “Scholarship Tax Credit laws are privately administered programs that rely on the voluntary contributions of corporate taxpayers who receive tax credits in return. As the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, these funds never become public funds because they do not ‘come into the tax collector’s hands.’”

No matter. More privatization means that fewer public school teachers (read union members) will be needed, thus hurting the unions’ bottom line. And when that happens, all their social justice preening flies out the window.

These are just three of the latest examples of what I referred to in a prior post as teacher union hubrocrisy. Hubris and hypocrisy are their natural state. Social justice is something they conveniently glom onto so as to appear “progressive.” But there is nothing “progressive” about the unions. And as their victims are learning, there is nothing especially “social” or “just” about them either.

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.

A Tale of Two Union Bosses

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair….”

So begins Charles Dickens’ classic, A Tale of Two Cities. These words could also apply to recent statements by two teacher union presidents. Both men spoke from the heart. Both were brutally honest. And both were a breath of fresh air.

Nothing drives me crazier than when teacher union Pooh-Bahs talk out of both sides of their mouths. For example, they’ll trot out the “we’re really doing x,y and z for the children” bromide and in the next breath they are protecting incompetent and pedophile teachers. So I was very pleased with New York City teacher union leader Michael Mulgrew’s candor at a closed door meeting with union activists last Wednesday. He admitted, “We are at war with the reformers.” (Of course you are, Michael and thanks for sparing us the usual weasel words.) The United Federation of Teachers president didn’t stop there. He went on to slam not only reformers but also charter schools, both of which he said are trying to “destroy education in our country.”

Some teachers were shocked, just shocked at Mulgrew’s words. (I can’t figure out why; maybe it’s because a union leader was being honest for a change?) Given the opportunity, Mulgrew didn’t pull his punches. Instead, he doubled down, telling the New York Post, “These are not new comments. I have said this before. Have I not said the reformers are trying to destroy public education?”

Then there is George Parker who was president of the Washington Teachers Union from 2005-2010. It was a tempestuous time for education in the nation’s capital, as Michelle Rhee had become D.C. School Chancellor in 2007 and the two leaders locked horns over just about everything. But in 2010, after leaving her post, Rhee started StudentsFirst, an education reform advocacy organization. The next year she invited Parker to join her team as a Senior Fellow. Needless to say, he was roundly excoriated by all the usual suspects – branded a “whore” and worse – for hooking up with the dreaded “corporate reformer” Rhee.

I must say that when Parker joined StudentsFirst, I briefly thought it could turn into a fox-in-the-henhouse scenario. Happily, I was quite wrong. To get the full gist of where Parker is now, I urge you to watch this brief must-see video of him speaking at a policy summit late last year. The core of the video is Parker’s “aha” moment.

He is at a school talking to a 3rd grader who asks Parker what he does. He responds that it’s his job to get teachers the types of things they need to get the little girl a good education. Then he tells her that one of his responsibilities is getting her the best teachers. As he is leaving the building, the 8 year-old runs up to Parker and gives him a big hug – an expression of her gratitude because, she tells him, “you care about us … and you said that you make sure we get the best teachers.”

Driving back home, Parker’s life-changing moment came when he realized that he lied to the little girl. He had just spent $10,000 of the union’s money on an arbitration case that put a bad teacher back in the classroom. It was a reality check for Parker, who concluded, somewhat painfully, that he wouldn’t let his own 4 year-old grandchild sit in a classroom with that teacher. The inevitable next thought was, so why is it okay for other people’s kids to be taught by an incompetent?

Parker’s candid confession continues as he describes how he manipulated African-American parents by condemning the charter school concept as a race-and-class issue where whites have the power and are taking advantage of blacks. The real reason he was knocking charters, he goes on to explain, was simply because their existence hurts the union’s bottom line. There’s more, but I urge you to watch this entire heartfelt video to get the full force of the man’s forthright conversion.

Two union leaders. Two refreshingly candid statements.

That having been said, the similarities stop there. Michael Mulgrew will continue fighting to keep education wallowing in the season of darkness. But at the same time, George Parker, an American hero, is battling valiantly to bring us to the spring of hope. The best of times and the worst of times indeed.

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.

Forced Unionism Is Rearing Its Ugly Head in D.C.

Not content with forcing traditional D.C. public school teachers to join the Washington Teachers Union, the rapacious WTU is now trying to get its hooks into charter schools.

Last week, Nathan Saunders, president of the Washington Teachers Union, announced his intention to push for legislation that would force charter school teachers in the nation’s capital to become unionized. (Charter schools are public schools that can bypass certain rules and regulations — including union contacts — if they can produce certain prespecified results.) As things stand now in D.C., unlike their traditional public school brethren, charter school teachers don’t have to join the union. But according to Saunders,

his members are concerned they will lose their union-negotiated contracts when DCPS closes some of its campuses next fall and teachers look to charter schools for jobs. The school system recommended Tuesday that 20 schools close at least temporarily and consolidate with other traditional neighborhood schools.

The 20 schools that are closing are doing so because they are bad enough for parents to want to send their kids elsewhere…like to charter schools. Therein lies the problem for Mr. Saunders: 41 percent of kids in D.C. presently attend these innovative schools and fewer unionized teachers mean less money and power for the American Federation of Teachers local. Clearly, Saunders needs the legislation to force charter school teachers to join his union because he knows that most of them don’t want to. (Nationally, only about 12 percent of charter school teachers belong to a union.)

In fact, the main reason teachers go to work in charter schools is that they like the freedom that these schools offer… including freedom from top-down restrictive union contracts that dictate a teacher’s every move. (D.C. teachers are lucky; their contract is “only” 114 pages long. In Los Angeles, the union contract weighs in at a flatulent 349 pages.) Also, as Stanford Professor Terry Moe has pointed out, a union dominated school system often ignores the needs of children. And considering that on the latest 4th grade NAEP math test, D.C kids came in dead last in the country, maybe we need to pay more attention to them.

In this brief video put out by the California Charter School Association, we hear teachers explain why they like to teach in a less restrictive setting:

  • I feel like an innovator.
  • We have more freedom and can be more creative.
  • We can be places that empower teachers.
  • Charters are the result of people saying, “This isn’t working; we want to try something different.”

While Saunders’ motivation is obvious, his success is anything but a slam dunk. As Emma Brown in the Washington Post reported, changing the law

…would require approval from the D.C. Council and Congress, which seems politically unlikely given a Republican-led House with little interest in helping teachers unions grow and strong bipartisan support for charter schools.

“I don’t see how it could be a worse idea, and it’s not going anyplace because the Congress will never approve it,” said Robert Cane, executive director of the pro-charter Friends of Choice in Urban Schools.

The freedom to employ non-unionized teachers is part of what sets the charter movement apart from the traditional school system, Cane said.

Additionally, in response to the comment by Saunders that the union is “prepared to dedicate significant resources” to changing the law, Mike Antonucci  wrote,

That would be pretty scary if a) WTU had significant resources; b) charter schools didn’t have bipartisan support; and c) Republicans didn’t control the U.S. House of Representatives.

Whether he is successful or not, Saunders’ quest highlights the unfairness and un-American nature of forced unionism that exists in 27 states and D.C. Interestingly, teacher union leaders are always telling its members how much they have done for them. But have they? To that end, I have asked many union supporters in non-right to work states over the years the following question:

“If unions are so good for teachers, why must you force them to join?”

I’m still waiting for an answer.

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.