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.
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:
- If unions are as beneficial for teachers as you say, why do you need to force them to join?
- Why do you demand exclusivity in bargaining for such things as teachers’ salaries?
- 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.
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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.