Posts tagged ‘teachers union’

January 22, 2013

School Choice for Kids? Ravitch and NEA Say No

Larry Sand President California Teachers Empowerment Network

Larry Sand President California Teachers Empowerment Network

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.

January 17, 2013

Taking Care of Our Children

Larry Sand President California Teachers Empowerment Network

Larry Sand President California Teachers Empowerment Network

To have safer schools, where the interests and protection of children aren’t afterthoughts, we must demand more from the administrative-union-legislative unholy trinity. 

In light of a second school shooting last week – this one in Taft, California – we have all the usual suspects pointing to their pet causes which they claim will prevent the next tragedy.

The need for stricter gun control, more intensive anti-bullying education, fewer violent video games and more psychologists in the schools will make the rounds just as they did after the horrific mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December. While these “fixes” sound good, there is no empirical evidence that any of them would have stopped the shooters from doing their dastardly deeds.

Interestingly, that which can be done to stop hateful people from harming our children, school officials are unwilling to do. A good case in point is Eileen Blagden’s story, which I first wrote about in July of 2012 and updated in City Journal last week.

Blagden’s story begins in 2008, when a teacher named Kevin Kirby was arrested for lewd and lascivious behavior and indecent exposure, but not at school. Nevertheless, Kirby’s arrest prompted his suspension from teaching at Leal Elementary School in the Southern California city of Cerritos. The following year, while awaiting trial, Kirby pleaded guilty to an unrelated trespassing charge. A jury ultimately found him not guilty on the sex-related charges, though he was required to “stay at least 100 yards away” from schools in Long Beach. In September 2009, the ABC Unified School District transferred Kirby to Blagden’s school—Stowers Elementary in Cerritos, where he was assigned as a kindergarten teacher.

Almost immediately, Blagden told me, Kirby began showing signs of irresponsibility and instability. He was absent frequently and would often fall asleep in class. Kirby’s fellow kindergarten teachers reportedly feared him, calling him a “ticking time bomb.” On January 26, 2010, Kirby had an accident on his motorcycle on his way to work. Despite being bloody and distraught, he refused medical assistance from paramedics and showed up at the school. Blagden had kept a wary eye on Kirby. With the accident, her concern grew into alarm, especially when Kirby began talking about suicide and killing Stowers’s other two kindergarten teachers.

Blagden went to her school district and local teachers union with this ominous story and was assured that they would handle it. However after no action whatsoever was taken by the bureaucrats, and worried about her teachers and students, Blagden broke protocol and went to the police. Her reward for doing the right thing was first getting demoted and then losing her job.

This administrative concern for image over children played itself out at Penn State where serial pedophile assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky damaged many young lives during a 14 year period. After this ugly series of events came to light, former FBI director Louis Freeh released a report which stated that these school leaders conspired

… to conceal child sexual abuse allegations against assistant coach Jerry Sandusky for more than a decade, choosing to preserve the university’s reputation over protecting the victims of a pedophile….

(They) showed “total disregard” for the abuse victims, concealed crucial information and failed at least twice to act on sexual assault accusations against one of their own because they feared the consequences of bad publicity on the university….

Not to be outdone, California legislators – cowed by their teacher union masters – showed they could be just as prone to turning a blind eye to evil as school administrators. After serial pedophile school teacher Mark Berndt got away with sexually abusing children for years, the Los Angeles Unified School District asked the state legislature to change existing law to speed up the process of removing such teachers. As I wrote in July,

State senator Alex Padilla, a Los Angeles Democrat and former L.A. city councilman, wrote Senate Bill 1530, which would streamline the labyrinthine “dismissal statutes” that require districts to navigate a seemingly endless maze of hearings and appeals. Padilla’s bill was actually quite narrow in scope, dealing only with credible claims that a teacher has abused a child with sex, drugs, or violence. Existing law lets local school boards immediately suspend a teacher under “specified conditions, including immoral conduct.” Padilla’s bill simply would add language allowing a school board to suspend an employee for “serious or egregious unprofessional conduct.” Garnering strong bipartisan support, Padilla’s bill sailed through the state senate in late May on a vote of 33 to 4.

The state assembly, however, is a stronghold for the California Teachers Association, which strongly opposes SB 1530. Before and during the hearings on Padilla’s legislation in the assembly education committee, union leaders and their confederates launched a propaganda effort against the bill, deploying all their standard talking points. The union maintained that SB 1530 was nothing more than a “teacher-bashing bill.” It was too cumbersome, too expensive, and would kill due-process rights. It was demoralizing and even “un-American.” Though these attacks were transparently unfair, legislators got the message. The bill needed six “yeas” from the 11-member committee to pass; it received only five, with two “nays” and four abstentions.

So while school administrators, union officials and state legislators bluster about the need for more anti-bullying programs, gun control, etc., it would behoove them to repudiate their perverse save-our-butts attitude which places image, teachers’ “rights” and protocol over the health and welfare of children.

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

December 28, 2012

Thoughts on Reactions to the Sandy Hook Tragedy

Larry Sand President California Teachers Empowerment Network

Larry Sand President California Teachers Empowerment Network

Teacher union leaders offer heat but no light after the mass murder in Newtown.

In the aftermath of the December 14th mass murder of 26 children and school staffers in Newtown, Connecticut, there has been the understandable finger pointing and a full range of suggestions for ensuring that such a horror doesn’t happen again.

On the lunatic end of the spectrum we have teacher union apologist Diane Ravitch, the formerly venerable education historian, who took up residence in the land of Bizarro several years ago.

Every one of the teachers was a career educator. Every one was doing exactly what she wanted to do. They’ve worked in a school that was not obsessed with testing but with the needs of children. This we know: the staff at Sandy Hook loved their students. They put their students first, even before their own lives.

Oh, and one other thing, all these dedicated teachers belonged to a union. The senior teachers had tenure, despite the fact that “reformers” (led by ConnCAN, StudentsFirst, and hedge fund managers) did their best last spring to diminish their tenure and to tie their evaluations to test scores….

Ravitch’s loopy rant is Rahm Emanuel’s “Never let a good crisis go to waste” philosophy taken to an obscene level. And when in response, Teach For America V.P. and self-described “lefty Dem” David Rosenberg took Ravitch to task, Chicago Teacher Union president Karen Lewis (perhaps shocked that someone could outdo her in the outrageous comment category) weighed in with,

There might have been a time where “politicizing” tragic events, especially mass shootings was thought to be in poor taste. That has changed with the 24/7 news cycle that continues to focus far too much time and energy on the perpetrator of the massacre than that of our precious victims. Rosenberg’s “false outrage” needs to be checked. That same false outrage should show itself when policies his [TEACH FOR AMERICA*] colleagues support kill and disenfranchise children from schools across this nation. (Emphasis added.) We in Chicago have been the victims of their experiments on our children since the current secretary of Education “ran” CPS.

Yes, you read that correctly. Lewis is saying that TFA, an organization that places exceptional, idealistic young teacher-leaders in the most challenging schools in the country is responsible for killing kids. After uttering those shameful words, Lewis should resign in disgrace.

Then we have a rare joint statement issued by the leaders of the two national teachers unions – the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. NEA’s Dennis Van Roekel and AFT’s Randi Weingarten came out with a press release with a sub-head which reads: “Focus Needs to Be on Investments in Mental Health Services, Reasonable Gun Safety Legislation.”

In the body of the brief statement they say,

Long-term and sustainable school safety also requires a commitment to preventive measures. We must continue to do more to prevent bullying in our schools. And we must dramatically expand our investment in mental health services. Proper diagnosis can and often starts in our schools, yet we continue to cut funding for school counselors, school social workers, and school psychologists. States have cut at least $4.35 billion in public mental health spending from 2009 to 2012, according to the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors. It is well past time to reverse this trend and ensure that these services are available and accessible to those who need our support.

While this may sound good, it has nothing to do with what happened in Connecticut. The shooter had been identified as having a type of autism, perhaps Asperger’s; he had been assigned to a high-school psychologist and there have been no reports that he was bullied. So this statement is really nothing more than a pitch to advance the teachers union agenda of spending ever more money on education.

The other part of the press release deals with guns:

Our duty to every child is to provide safe and secure public schools. That is the vow we take as educators. It is both astounding and disturbing that following this tragedy, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, Bill Bennett, and other politicians and pundits have taken to the airwaves to call for arming our teachers. As the rest of the country debates how to keep guns out of schools, some are actually proposing bringing more guns in, turning our educators into objects of fear and increasing the danger in our schools.

Guns have no place in our schools. Period. We must do everything we can to reduce the possibility of any gunfire in schools, and concentrate on ways to keep all guns off school property and ensure the safety of children and school employees.

Not surprisingly the union leaders are out of touch with reality, at least the current reality in California. When I was a classroom teacher in Los Angeles, my middle school had a gun carrying school cop on campus every day. And my school is hardly unique. In fact, the state education code allows for an armed presence on any campus on an “as needed” basis. Given the current mood, I’m guessing that more parents will start demanding that their kid’s campus have armed cops for security. In fact, in a recent Gallup poll, when asked if increasing the police presence at schools would be an effective way to stop mass shootings at schools, 87 percent said that it would be very or somewhat effective.

And I think we need to go one step further. I would like to see a few armed teachers at every school. These volunteers would go through a rigorous background check and proper police-type training and then should be allowed to anonymously carry a concealed weapon on campus.

Despite the union leaders’ comments, there is no way to effectively keep schools as “gun free zones.” As David Kopel writes, these are nothing more than “pretend gun free zones.”

Real gun-free zones are a wonderful idea, but they are only real if they are created by metal detectors backed up by armed guards. Pretend gun-free zones, where law-abiding adults (who pass a fingerprint-based background check and a safety training class) are still disarmed, are magnets for evildoers who know they will be able to murder at will with little threat of being fired upon.

Kopel’s point was demonstrated in the Aurora, CO movie theater shooting. As John Lott explains,

So why did the killer pick the Cinemark theater? You might think that it was the one closest to the killer’s apartment. Or, that it was the one with the largest audience.

Yet, neither explanation is right. Instead, out of all the movie theaters within 20 minutes of his apartment showing the new Batman movie that night, it was the only one where guns were banned. (Emphasis added.) In Colorado, individuals with permits can carry concealed handgun in most malls, stores, movie theaters, and restaurants. But private businesses can determine whether permit holders can carry guns on their private property.

The perspective that has been lost in the aftermath of this tragedy is that guns are used to keep our most important things safe – our cities, banks, courthouses, etc. In fact, armed marshals are placed anonymously on many airplane flights to safeguard us and our children. So why do many insist that our most important and precious assets – our children – be completely defenseless?  President Obama’s kids have armed protection at school. Don’t all our kids deserve the same?

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.

December 11, 2012

Kudos to the California Federation of Teachers

Larry Sand President California Teachers Empowerment Network

Larry Sand President California Teachers Empowerment Network

Instead of the usual fake teacher union concerns about “the children,” CFT’s new straightforward video unequivocally touts class warfare and vilifies rich people.

The California Teachers Association has been in the news a lot lately. In the early fall, it successfully fought to get Prop. 30 passed and to kill Prop. 32. These victories came right after the union quashed a bill that would have made it a bit easier to get sexual predators out of the classroom by shortening the endless dismissal statutes. So what’s a little brother union have to do to get some attention?

Last week, the California Federation of Teachers answered that question with a vengeance by releasing an 8 minute video promoting propaganda that would have made the late Joe Stalin proud. “Tax the Rich: An Animated Fairy Tale” pushes class warfare to a loony extent, attempting to whip up hatred of workers who have been successful in life but “don’t pay their fair share of taxes.” As Investors Business Daily described it,

“Rich people love their money more than anything in the whole world,” narrates Hollywood actor and noted leftist Ed Asner, in tones used in reading to schoolchildren. “Over time, rich people decided they weren’t rich enough so they came up with ways to get richer.”

…The bile that oozes in the union’s puerile seven-minute screed was unspeakable: The world was a paradise full of good jobs and safe streets until “rich people” decided to get more money, so the video begins.

Instead of paying their “fair share” of taxes, the rich decided to do three things: seek tax cuts, engage in loopholes and evade taxes by shipping their fortunes to the Cayman Islands, illegally of course, mendaciously suggesting that any financial tie with the Caymans is illegal.

It only gets worse: The rich people’s supposed greed led them to buy media and politicians, with a not-so-subtle cartoon depiction of a man who looks a lot like Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch, and then money amassed as coins in big stacks, which then crashed down first on middle class people’s houses, and then on the jobs of police, firefighters, teachers and librarians.

After that “the rich” tried to blame defaulted mortgage holders and after that, teachers and firefighters (conveniently ignoring the bloated pensions and entitlements and waste that are the doings of public employee unions). “Maybe it was the firefighters,” Asner sarcastically narrated.

The scene that received the most attention was of a rich man urinating on the “poor.” CFT pulled that scene shortly after posting, but it is captured in a screen shot here.

Condemnations of the video, which was proudly posted on the CTA Facebook page, came from many directions. While the outrage is justified, the fact that CFT would stoop so low should not be surprising. The teachers unions have been engaging in Soviet-style class warfare for years now – most recently when they joined forces with the “occupy crowd” and self-identified as part of the 99 percent – so consider me not even mildly shocked.

The danger of this kind of animated, childish video is that it appeals to children, and unfortunately to more than a few adults who tend to see things in a simple, child-like way. Should you choose to try to undo the damage that a video like this can do, please keep the following in mind:

First make sure that whomever you are speaking to knows what the word “hypocrisy” means. In a recent post, I noted that American Federation of Teachers (CFT parent org.) President Randi Weingarten – who claims she identifies with the “99 percenters” and unceasingly promotes class warfare – pulled in a cool $556,981 in total compensation over the past year. This of course puts her, alongside the relentlessly vilified Koch Brothers, firmly in the 1 percent camp. Dennis Van Roekel, President of the National Education Association (CTA parent org.), made $389,620 last year, after pulling in a hefty $543,868 the year before. (Perhaps their justification for such high salaries is that it is very hard work to fight reformers who are actually concerned about educating children.) And as you go down the line of the Politburo – I mean union officers – you will see that they too make a boatload of money.

One of the more idiotic assertions in the video – and there are so many – is that the government favors the rich at the expense of “ordinary people.” But via Kyle Olson, we get to see a New York Times list of the many ways that the “non-rich” benefited from President Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package:

– Help states prevent cuts to essential services like education – $53.6 billion

– Extend and increase unemployment compensation – $35.8 billion

– Health coverage under Cobra – $25.1 billion

– Increase food assistance – $20.9 billion

– Increase the maximum Pell Grant by $500 – $15.6 billion

– Provide cash payment to seniors, disabled veterans and other needy individuals – $14.4 billion

– Provide additional money to schools serving low-income children – $13 billion

– Provide additional money for special education – $12.2 billion

– Create new bonds for improvements in public education – $10.9 billion

Then for world class hypocrisy there’s this: According its latest available income tax forms, CTA and CFT collectively take in over $200 million a year. But as 501(c)(5)s, the unions have a special tax exempt status with the IRS that is accorded to “Labor, Agricultural, and Horticultural Organizations.” Hence, the teachers unions are corporations that pay no money in federal or state taxes.

But there is a bigger picture here, and it is bloated with cant. First, CTA manages to siphon off $647 a year (CFT grabs “only” $419) from every teacher in the state in forced union dues. Then it turns around and spends much of those dues on politicking; CTA alone spent over $211 million on politicking from 2000-2009 – frequently on issues that have nothing to do with teachers or kids – and supporting causes that are contrary to the positions of many of its members. Then the union elites have the audacity to go on offense and whine about millionaires and billionaires “not paying their fair share of taxes” when they don’t pay a penny, and all the while funding politicians who ensure that CTA’s and CFT’s pilfer-and-spend scheme rolls on undisturbed.

But CTA and other teachers unions can snooker people only for so long. Far from being a part of the 99%, they are big special interest businesses – spending millions to maintain their monopoly over American education, while not paying a penny in taxes. As Troy Senik wrote last year in Public Sector Inc., “The CTA is the one percent.” And poll after poll has shown that the general public is starting to catch on. But realistically, what can be done? For starters, it would behoove every parent to ask the teachers of their children what their take on this video is. The time has come for parents to find out about the people they entrust their children with for 6 or 7 hours a day.

And teachers – you are subsidizing this very dishonest, deceitful and downright hateful video. Do you really want your dues money going to entities that make and promote efforts like this? If you don’t want to be associated with this unsavory crowd, you just might want to consider resigning and stop lining the unions’ pockets. The world won’t come to an end and you will sleep a lot better at night knowing that you are not associated with such tasteless and hypocritical demagogues.

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.

November 15, 2012

Republicans and Conservatives Have Lost More Than Just an Election

Larry Sand President California Teachers Empowerment Network

Elections come and go, but repairing a school system that has been hijacked by the left should be the nation’s highest priority.

There have been endless post mortems following Barack Obama’s election victory over Mitt Romney last week. It has been posited that Romney lost because he wasn’t libertarian enough, not Tea Party enough, not socially conservative enough, didn’t reach out to minorities, was too business-like, played it too nice in the debates, etc.

Most of the articles made cogent arguments, but two of them really hit home for me. In a revealing piece in American Thinker, Los Angeles-based Republican Party leader Gary Aminoff writes,

For the past several months, in my capacity in the Republican Party, I have been speaking at middle schools and high schools around Los Angeles.  It has been very enlightening.

I love engaging with children.  Most of them are very bright and ask brilliant questions.  The questions give me insights into what they are most concerned about.  It also makes clear what they are taught — by either their parents or their teachers, or both.

To summarize — children, for the most part, believe the following:

  • Republicans care about only the rich — the top 1% — and don’t care about anyone else
  • Republicans hate people of color and especially Latinos.
  • Republicans hate gays.
  • Republicans are racist.
  • It is the government that provides jobs.  (I have asked that question many times in classrooms or assemblies.  “Who is it that creates jobs in America?”  The answer is invariably, without hesitation, “the government.”)
  • Corporations are bad, and profits are very bad.  Business shouldn’t make profits; they should give any excess money they make to their employees.
  • Taxes are good; they provide the money for the government to take care of people.
  • Government should expand and take care of everyone in the country.
  • America, rather than being a force for good in the world, has been a force for evil.
  • Government has an unlimited source of funds.  (When I ask, “Where is the government going to get the money to do all these things you want it to do?,” the answer is “taxes.”)

So either due to ambient progressivism in our curricula, a left wing bias by proselytizing teachers or parents who learned the same lessons in school that they are now teaching their children, students aren’t just uninformed, they are in fact misinformed.

Any doubts about Aminoff’s assertions can quickly be dispelled by watching this brief video posted on The Blaze. We learn that these young people, who speak in sound bites, have no knowledge of history and government structure and are clueless about the function of government. They have no idea how many members of Congress there are (200?), who Harry Reid is (a Republican leader?), or how many Supreme Court Justices we have (5? 11?). They also “know” that there is a “war on women,” and that Obama will give students an opportunity to “do something in this world.” Granted this video is not a scientific sampling of our proudly ignorant youth, but only a fool would dismiss these kids as outliers.

A look at our recent NAEP history scores should be a slap in the face to all Americans. On the 2010 test, we learned that only 12 percent of high school seniors have a firm grip on American history. Yes, we are educating students to the point that almost half the nation thinks that the cornerstone of Communism, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” is in the U.S. Constitution. Only 2 percent of high school seniors know the significance of Brown vs. the Board of Education and only 4 percent of 8th graders could explain why urban populations rose and rural populations shrank over time.

Also in American Thinker, psychologist and consultant Timothy Daughtry writes that “We lost the Republic in the classroom long before we lost it in the voting booth.”

Conservatives have long bemoaned liberal dominance in education from the universities on down, but we haven’t done anything about it.  Marxist intellectuals realized decades ago that the eventual victory of socialism would be assured if leftists dominated the educational system and used their influence to push a leftist worldview.  The power of their “long march” through the cultural institutions was that it was not necessary for students to consciously convert to socialist thinking; generation after generation would simply be gradually immersed in the assumptions and dogmas of the left.

Now, after years of patient effort, the teachers’ unions have turned America’s schools into a wholly owned subsidiary of the political left.  Conservatives have complained when reports surfaced about students being taught to sing hymns of praise to Obama, or when conservative students were harassed in class, or when examples of blatant liberal bias in textbooks came to light, but somehow we allowed ourselves to write off public schools as a lost cause.  Homeschooling and private schools gave some relief, but the idea of getting public schools to transmit a love of liberty and appreciation for free enterprise seemed hopeless.

Besides, conservatives did win occasional victories at the polls, so the republic that our founders left us still seemed capable of self-correction.  But even when conservatives won elections, the people who lost those elections taught our children the next day.  Our children learned that Reagan’s tax cuts increased the deficit, but they never heard that those tax cuts stimulated the economy and doubled revenue.  The idea that those deficits came from excessive spending was not even on the table.

So even if it had been Romney taking the oath of office in January, our children would have learned about his policies from the people who voted against those policies.  Our children — and our future voters — would have heard the shallow mantras of “tax cuts for the rich” and paying for bombs instead of schools, and many would have absorbed the rhetoric without questioning it.

As long as the left has controlled the schools, time has always been on their side.  We lost the Republic in the classroom long before we lost it in the voting booth.

It is important to emphasize that the politicizing of our schools is not a new phenomenon As Daughtry points out, it started decades ago. Kyle Olson in his valuable book, Indoctrination: How ‘Useful Idiots’ Are Using Our Schools to Subvert American Exceptionalism, describes the ways that the progressives in our society have taken over K-12 education. They have been running most of our elite colleges and schools of education for years now and this step is in keeping with their plan to transform America. In my review of Olson’s book, I added a personal note,

As a public school teacher whose career spanned four decades, I have seen the long march first hand. Perverting the traditional purpose of American education (which has been to make better and more educated citizens), progressives have been inspired by the theories of Paolo Freire, a Brazilian socialist who saw everything through a Marxist class warfare lens.

Carrying Freire’s mantle, current gurus like revolutionary terrorist Bill Ayers and the recently deceased Communist Howard Zinn have been behind the effort to destroy America as we know it. They claim that basically the U.S. and its capitalist system are the root of all evil. Unfortunately, their love-the-world/hate-America attitude has gained an incredible amount of currency in our public schools in a relatively short time. Ayers, Zinn and their ilk have essentially managed to convince much of the education establishment to abandon every teaching technique and curriculum that benefited prior generations….

So just what are we teaching our students?

In chapter after chapter, Olson meticulously details lessons being foisted on young Americans that are being taught for one purpose only – to advance the progressive agenda. A few examples:

• An examination of the nature and extent of police brutality, which is being promoted in middle schools by none other than Van Jones, conspiracy enthusiast extraordinaire.
• A clever lesson using poker chips, the aim of which is to convince students that unequal distribution of wealth has to do with the fact that the U.S. has more than its share of resources, not that we have a wealth-promoting capitalist system.
• “I Pledge Allegiance to the Earth.” Yup, no more of this silly patriotic stuff. Children, you are denizens of the earth! (I wonder what our political enemies think of this rubbish… when they stop laughing, that is.)

Rightfully, Olson reserves a special section for the unions whose far left agenda has been well documented, and have gone to great lengths to make this country over in their own image. Their attempts to indoctrinate kids and glorify the union movement are staggering. For example,

• “Trouble in the Henhouse: A Puppet Show.” In this charming bit of propaganda put out by the California Federation of Teachers aimed at kindergartners, we find an oppressive farmer whose hens unionize and convince the heartless farmer that he’d better respect them or else.
• The “Yummy Pizza Company” is another lesson from CFT — actually ten, which delve into the process of organizing a union local. They include instructions on how to collectively bargain as well as a sanitized look at prominent labor leaders.
Click Clack Moo, a popular book promoted by the AFL-CIO, tells second graders about unhappy cows that refuse to work until the mean farmer is forced to meet their demands.

But it’s even worse than Olson suggests because the progressives don’t stop at politics and economics; they are also rapidly destroying our culture. For example, led by the teachers unions, the sexualizing of American children has been in full swing for some time now. In 2005, I wrote that the National Education Association gave its prestigious Human Rights Award to Kevin Jennings, the founder of the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN).

…GLSEN is the group that presided over the infamous “Fistgate” conference held at Tufts University in Massachusetts in March 2000, where state employees gave explicit instructions (about “fisting” and other forms of gay sexual activity) to children as young as 12. The conference was secretly recorded and can be heard here. The contents are extraordinarily vile.

Unfortunately, “Fistgate” was not an isolated incident. On April 30 of this year GLSEN held an event at Brookline High School in Massachusetts, and distributed an obscene booklet to hundreds of middle and high school students. With headings like F**kin’, S**kin’ and Spit or Swallow?, it describes various sexual practices that can only be described as perverse.

Then there is the so called FAIR Act, an obscene bit of legislation in California that brings the contributions of homosexuals and transgenders into the K-12 curriculum. Gay-Straight clubs in middle school (where parents do not have to be notified of their child’s involvement) are proliferating. And at a U.N. conference in 2011, Diane Schneider an NEA “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Trainer of Trainers” talked about the importance of schools teaching orgasm to children as young as 11. Yes indeed, the radicals have been making alarming progress.

Another example of the progressives’ cultural agenda is which holidays are deemed significant. Few people are aware of what holiday is celebrated on November 20th. But every student at the middle school where I worked till my retirement in 2009 knows, because the school spent more time acknowledging that day “Transgender Day of Remembrance” than Veteran’s Day, November 11th. TDR was considered more worthy of the students’ time at my school than a holiday which acknowledges the contributions of American soldiers. (Maybe this shouldn’t be surprising. At the same school, posters of Che Guevara adorned the walls of no less than five classrooms, including an American history class that had no pictures of Washington or Lincoln. Che was considered a hero by these teachers who passed this admiration on to their impressionable students. Of course the real life Che was a sadistic mass murderer, but being a progressive means never having to sweat minor details like the truth.)

Thomas Jefferson wrote that schooling in America’s new democracy should be:

…chiefly historical. History by apprising them of the past will enable them to judge of the future; it will avail them of the experience of other times and other nations; it will qualify them as judges of the actions and designs of men; it will enable them to know ambition under every disguise it may assume; and knowing it, to defeat its views.

How appalled and disgusted would Jefferson be upon learning what American children are being taught today! While it is undoubtedly important to stress the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), the teaching of agenda-free history and civics is even more urgent. The hijacking of history and ultimately the trashing of our culture by a group of academics, educrats and unionists is destroying our nation. Unless we fight back… and soon, our country – as we have known it – will be lost forever.

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.

August 14, 2012

No Love for Irreplaceable Teachers

Larry Sand President California Teachers Empowerment Network

According to a recent study, many public schools do not retain their best teachers – the “irreplaceables.”  Is anyone surprised?

A study released a couple of weeks ago by the New Teacher Project – now known as TNTP – claims that urban schools….

…are systematically neglecting their best teachers, losing tens of thousands every year even as they keep many of their lowest-performing teachers indefinitely with disastrous consequences for students, schools, and the teaching profession.

The study by TNTP documents the real teacher retention crisis in America’s schools: not only a failure to retain enough teachers, but a failure to retain the right teachers.

The report, referring to the very best teachers as “irreplaceables,” claims that of the districts studied, about 20 percent of them fell into that category.

On average, each year they help students learn two to three additional months’ worth of math and reading compared with the average teacher, and five to six months more compared to low-performing teachers. Better test scores are just the beginning: Students whose teachers help them make these kinds of gains are more likely to go to college and earn higher salaries as adults, and they are less likely to become teenage parents.

Among this report’s findings:

The school districts lost their most successful teachers at a rate comparable to the attrition of the least successful teachers.

• “Irreplaceable” teachers who experienced two or more of eight different recruitment strategies—including advancement opportunities, regular performance feedback, and public recognition—said they planned to stay at their schools nearly twice as long as other teachers.

• In one of the districts studied, only a fifth of the lowest-performing teachers were encouraged to leave, while more than a third were given incentives to stay.

• “Irreplaceable” teachers were much more likely to stay at schools with a strong instructional culture in which principals set strong performance expectations for them.

The report reserves particularly strong criticism for principals, who it contends have misjudged the retention issue by turning a blind eye to quality in retention decisions.

“Principals tell themselves low-performers are going to improve, and therefore they don’t have to address it; and they say there’s nothing they can do to retain high-performing teachers,” said Timothy Daly, the president of TNTP. “Both of those things we see as largely untrue.

In addition to principals, the TNTP report lays blame on policies that “impede smarter retention practices.”

A number of policy barriers hamper principals from making smarter retention decisions. Because of inflexible, seniority-dominated compensation systems, for example, 55 percent of Irreplaceables earn a lower salary than the average low-performing teacher.

In other words, the problem lies with incompetent, disinterested or lazy principals and stifling, unionized work rules with their insistence on tenure, seniority and Byzantine dismissal statutes. In my view the latter carries more weight because invariably even good and caring principals have their hands tied by union contacts that are written in stone and enforced by the worst elements in the profession. A case in point is Jaime Escalante, probably the greatest teacher of our time, who didn’t care much for the union contact. Often thwarting its rules, he was ultimately hounded out of Los Angeles by UTLA, the local teachers union, for essentially being too dedicated, too dynamic and too successful at teaching calculus to the “unteachables” at Garfield High in East Los Angeles.

While I have great respect for TNTP, I’m not sure that this study adds much to the debate. This report isn’t a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to the steep slide in American public education for the last 40 or so years. In fact, its recent conclusions pretty much echo its own 2009 study, “The Widget Effect: Our National Failure to Acknowledge and Act on Differences in Teacher Effectiveness.”

In a separate study, TNTP analyzed Chicago’s schools and found that….

…56 percent of principals admit to inflating teacher ratings. The reasons why are striking, and each can be traced back to the union contract:

  • 30 percent of the principals said the teacher’s tenure would prevent dismissal regardless of the rating;
  • 34 percent said it wasn’t worth enduring the lengthy union grievance proceedings;
  • 51 percent said the union contract makes it difficult to lower the rating of a teacher that has previously received high ratings; and
  • 73 percent said that the performance evaluation doesn’t actually evaluate performance.

As always, RiShawn Biddle has a crystal clear view of the problem:

When it comes to how we recruit, train, evaluate, and reward teachers, American public education is in a shambles. Near-lifetime employment rules through tenure keep teachers on the job regardless of whether or not they can improve student achievement. Seniority- and degree-based pay scales, along with defined-benefit pensions fail to reward good-to-great teachers for their performance while lavishing benefits on laggards who should have long ago been shown the door. The fact that traditional teacher compensation only benefits instructors after two decades on the job means that talented new hires have to wait years before getting the full fruits of their labors. Meanwhile quality reverse-seniority layoff rules lead to talented younger teachers being kicked to the curb regardless of their success in helping kids succeed while allowing veterans who are not doing well to stay put. Add in the dysfunction and the obsolete practices within traditional districts, the continued defense of failed policies by National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers affiliates, and the low quality of school leadership, and the consequence of these policies are magnified, creating conditions that do little to help good and great teachers stay on the job.

What to do? The report makes policy recommendations….

…for more-strategic retention of teachers, several of which touch on hotly debated policy issues. They include paying the best teachers six-figure salaries; requiring principals to set goals for retaining “irreplaceable” teachers; monitoring working conditions; and dismissing teachers who, after remediation, cannot teach as well as the average novice. Together, the report suggests, these strategies could also raise the rigor of the profession.

All this is a way of saying that we need to make schools run the way the rest of the capitalist world is run. Do a good job and you will be rewarded; do a bad job and you will be fired. As things stand now, principals are “at will” employees – meaning they don’t have the ridiculous job protections that most unionized teachers have. But in many places like Los Angeles where I used to teach, principals, like tenured teachers, essentially have a job for life. In fact, the term “dance of the lemons” in LA applies not to teachers but to administrators. Over my 28 year teaching career, I can’t tell you how many times I was told in confidence by my principal that our new assistant principal is a “must place.” For things to improve, principals must be given the ability to hire and fire and be held accountable for their school’s performance. At the same time, seniority and tenure rules that tie principals’ hands must be eliminated.

Lynn Hey in USA Today makes the point quite succinctly –

In other professions, treating all workers equally, regardless of talent, would be inconceivable. Imagine football teams letting star players leave without a fight, then trying to fill the gap with third-stringers.

It’s as simple as that. No one would stand for that on a sports team. Why do we stand for it in our schools? Who would support such idiocy?

The answer to the last question can be found in an op-ed written by NEA Secretary-Treasurer Becky Pringle,

Given the scope of this challenge, a narrow focus on peripheral issues, such as seniority, is a distraction from the hard work at hand.

So much of the problem is summed up here. She considers seniority as peripheral. No, Ms. Pringle, it’s a major part of the problem. In this system, quality doesn’t matter. Teachers-of-the-Year are laid off because they don’t have as much time on the job as their incompetent colleagues. How can anyone in their right mind refer to this as “peripheral?”

NEA members are working through local affiliates to ensure that every teacher is “irreplaceable.”

Of course. The unions see all teachers as equally valuable. This is the point of “The Widget Effect” – one obviously wasted on Ms. Pringle.

We can do it if we work together and put the needs of students first.

The teachers unions want to “put the needs of students first???!!!”

Think about that last quote every time the teachers unions go to bat to keep incompetents, pedophiles and worse in the classroom.

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.

August 8, 2012

“While the union’s behavior is disturbing, it certainly isn’t shocking.”

Larry Sand President California Teachers Empowerment Network

American Enterprise Institute research fellow Michael McShane’s comment addresses the bullying effort by the Louisiana teachers union. (h/t Jay Greene.)

Recently the Louisiana Association of Educators threatened to sue private schools if they participate in the Pelican State’s new voucher program. As the Wall Street Journal reports,

Teachers unions allege that sending public dollars to nonpublic schools violates the state’s constitution, and they are challenging the law in court. A hearing is set for October, but the unions have already lost several court bids to delay the voucher program until the lawsuit plays out. Hence, the bullying.

Louisiana’s voucher program is adjusted for family income and is intended above all to give a shot at a decent education to underprivileged minorities, who are more likely to be relegated to the worst public schools. Forty-four percent of Louisiana public schools received a D or F ranking under the state’s grading system, and some 84% of the kids in the program come from one of those low-performing schools.

So to save some unionized teachers’ jobs, the union is willing to sentence thousands of children to a rotten education and ultimately very limited career – and life – possibilities. (Could this be what American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten was alluding to last week when she talked about connecting with community and proposing solutions” as part of her laughable “solution driven unionism?”)

Fortunately for the bullied schools, some good guys have stepped forth to help. The Alliance for School Choice and the Institute for Justice have offered their services by creating a legal defense fund to assist the private schools. Unfortunately, two of the 119 schools that were threatened, have been scared off. The good news is that 117 are hanging in and standing up to the bullies.

The union will undoubtedly lose its legal case, and even worse, get clobbered in the court of pubic opinion.

Another example of disturbing union behavior came in the form of a scathing op-ed written by former CNN and NBC news reporter Campbell Brown. She writes in the Wall Street Journal that in New York, “Teachers Unions Go to Bat for Sexual Predators.”

An arbitrator in 2007 found that teacher Alexis Grullon had victimized young girls with repeated hugging, “incidental though not accidental contact with one student’s breast” and “sexually suggestive remarks.” The teacher had denied all these charges. In the end the arbitrator found him “unrepentant,” yet punished him with only a six-month suspension.

Another example from 2007: Teacher William Scharbach was found to have inappropriately touched and held young boys. “Respondent’s actions at best give the appearance of impropriety and at worst suggest pedophilia,” wrote the arbitrator—before giving the teacher only a reprimand. The teacher didn’t deny the touching but denied that it was inappropriate.

Then there was teacher Steven Ostrin, who in 2010 was found to have asked a young girl to give him a striptease, harassed students by text, and engaged in sexual banter. The arbitrator in his case concluded that since the teacher hadn’t actually solicited sex from students, the charges—all of which the teacher denied—warranted only a suspension.

As Brown claims, the problem with the current system is that the final decision is left to an arbitrator who is paid up to $1,400 per day and whose livelihood….

…depends on pleasing the unions (whether the United Federation of Teachers in New York City, or other local unions). And the unions—believing that they are helping the cause of teachers by being weak on sexual predators—prefer suspensions and fines, and not dismissal, for teachers charged with inappropriate sexual conduct. The effects of this policy are mounting.

State Senator Stephen Saland has proposed legislation that would remove the arbitrator and give firing power to local school districts. We wish the senator well, but fear his bill will meet the same fate as a similar measure in California this past June. As I wrote in City Journal, Senate Bill 1530 would have given firing decisions in certain cases of abuse to the school district, all the while maintaining a teacher’s due process rights. After the bill breezed through the State Senate, it was derailed in the Assembly education committee where the teachers unions ensured it did not get the required “yeas” to go to a full assembly vote.

Needless to say, Randi Weingarten couldn’t ignore Brown’s op-ed and the two of them wound up in something of a cat fight on Twitter. First, Weingarten insisted that her union was behind the “Feinberg recommendations,” a roadmap that purports to simplify the teacher dismissal maze that currently exists in New York. The only problem with the recommendations is that they really aren’t an improvement on the status quo. As pundit RiShawn Biddle writes,

…the Feinberg recommendations are still rather weak sauce, especially in light of the fact that it still keeps in place state laws and processes that make it almost impossible for school and district leaders to fire teachers who don’t belong in classrooms. This, in turn, explains why so many schools and districts become mired in cultures of low expectations in which moral and educational misbehavior is rampant and tolerated until the spotlight is shown on them.

After Brown dismissed the “recommendations,” Weingarten got personal. (The use of ad hominem attacks is invariably a sign that someone is losing an argument.) She pointed to the fact that Brown’s husband Dan Senor is an adviser to (gasp!) Mitt Romney. Weingarten also revealed that he is also on the board of the New York branch of Students First, the organization run by Weingarten’s archenemy Michelle Rhee. As my grandmother used to say, “What does that have to do with the price of tea in China?” Brown wrote a serious editorial about a troubling issue and is being attacked because her husband is involved with people that Weingarten dislikes. Using that same line of thinking, Weingarten should refrain from saying anything about Romney. You see, Hilary Rosen, Weingarten’s love interest and Democratic operative, slimed Ann Romney, saying that the mother of five “has actually never worked a day in her life.”

Teachers unions’ anti-student and anti-parent behavior here is nothing new. Not that long ago, the National Education Association did its best to keep thousands of kids in rotten Washington D.C. schools, sending threatening letters to every Democratic member of Congress warning them notto support the popular D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. And just last summer, the Connecticut affiliate of Weingarten’s AFT portrayed parents as “the enemy” and managed to eviscerate a parent trigger bill which would have empowered parents in the Nutmeg State.

As I wrote last week, Weingarten’s newspeak isn’t going to fool anyone. Fewer people are shocked by the teachers unions’ disturbing behavior. And when enough parents and the general public become fed up, expect a revolt. Wisconsin was only the beginning.

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.

July 29, 2012

Don’t Buy NEA Snake Oil

Larry Sand President California Teachers Empowerment Network

The teachers union uses bogus numbers to con the public into believing that education needs more funding.

The National Education Association is relentless in its quest to raise taxes. In its latest gambit “Massive Budget Cuts Threaten America’s Children” the union claims that “…America’s schools have added 5.4 million students since 2003.” The only documentation for this outlandish number – an 11.1 percent increase – is a link to another article where they state the same fiction.

However, the National Council for Educational Statistics, an organization without an agenda, tells a far different story. NCES says that in 2003-2004 there were 48,540,375 K-12 students enrolled in the nation’s pubic schools. In 2010-2011, that number climbed to 49,484,181, an increase of just under 944,000 students – a 1.9 percent gain.

NEA also tries to convince us that severe spending cuts are dooming our children to an inferior education. But Mike Antonucci offers a realistic look at spending data culled from the U.S. Census Bureau. He came up with a chart which shows that between 2004-2005 and 2009-2010 per student spending increased 22 percent nationwide (9.3 percent after correcting for inflation.)

However, as Antonucci points out, the spending flattened out toward the end of that five year period. And in all likelihood we will be in for a decrease in the near term. But, what must be determined is how spending correlates to student achievement.

Compared to other countries around the world, we are fourth 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 a below-average 25th for mathematics.

Not much of a correlation there. What about individual states? A recent study about the U.S. failure to close the international achievement gap released by Education Next finds nothing at all convincing.

No significant correlation was found between increased spending on education and test score gains.  For example, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Jersey posted large gains in student performance after boosting spending, but New York, Wyoming, and West Virginia had only marginal test-score gains to show from increased expenditures.

The spendthrift teachers unions and their fellow travelers insist that we need more teachers because small class size is an essential component to a good education, but there is no evidence to back up this assertion. In fact, in a wonderfully contrarian op-ed, Cato Institute’s Andrew Coulson makes his case that “America Has Too Many Teachers” and other school employees.

Since 1970, the public school workforce has roughly doubled—to 6.4 million from 3.3 million—and two-thirds of those new hires are teachers or teachers’ aides. Over the same period, enrollment rose by a tepid 8.5%. Employment has thus grown 11 times faster than enrollment. If we returned to the student-to-staff ratio of 1970, American taxpayers would save about $210 billion annually in personnel costs

Referring to the NAEP tests, also known as the nation’s report card, Coulson says that in spite of the increased workforce,

These tests, first administered four decades ago, show stagnation in reading and math and a decline in science. Scores for black and Hispanic students have improved somewhat, but the scores of white students (still the majority) are flat overall, and large demographic gaps persist. Graduation rates have also stagnated or fallen. So a doubling in staff size and more than a doubling in cost have done little to improve academic outcomes.

Ah, but what about the kids who do get lost in larger classes? A story in the Huffington Post addresses this, focusing on a sweet eight year old girl in New York City who is having a tough time in school because, due to budget cuts, her 3rd grade class now has 32 students. To be sure some students are hurt by being in bigger classes. But despite the appeal to sentiment, it is hardly a universal truth.

HooverInstitution senior fellow and economist Eric Hanushek has devoted much of his time studying this issue. In 1998, he released the results of his impressive research.

Examining 277 separate studies on the effect of teacher-pupil ratios and class-size averages on student achievement, he found that 15 percent of the studies found an improvement in achievement, while 72 percent found no effect at all—and 13 percent found that reducing class size had a negative effect on achievement. While Hanushek admits that in some cases, children might benefit from a small-class environment, there is no way “to describe a priori situations where reduced class size will be beneficial.”

In our fiscally tough times it is more important than ever not to be swayed by emotion, demagoguery, and plain ol’ BS. Americans must do their due diligence and not be conned by the hucksters. And be especially wary of the teachers unions; the snake oil they sell is particularly venomous.

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.

June 15, 2012

The Battle of Wisconsin

Governor Walker’s victory on June 5th was crucial, but the war is far from over.

Larry Sand President California Teachers Empowerment Network

Just a week ago, Scott Walker survived a recall, beating back the rapacious efforts of the National Education Association and its state affiliate, the Wisconsin Education Association (WEAC) to recall the Wisconsin governor who had the moxie to work with the state legislature to eliminate collective bargaining for teachers. Union rhetoric aside, collective bargaining is not a civil right, nor is it enshrined in the Constitution or alluded to in the Bible. It’s a statutory decision made in state houses all over the country. What Walker and the legislature did was perfectly legal and in fact quite moral.

Perhaps the worst part of Wisconsin’s Act 10 for the unions is that it allows employees to opt out of paying union dues. It also says that the union can’t collect its dues via payroll deduction. As a result, within a year, the WEAC membership went from 90,000 to 70,000 and that translates into millions of dollars that the union can’t spend forcing its agenda down everyone’s throat.

What are the unions’ reactions to the defeat?

The only mention of the loss on WEAC’s website is a pointed message from its president, Mary Bell,

We are disappointed in the outcome of Tuesday’s election. Defeating a sitting governor was an uphill battle, yet despite this electoral defeat we have accomplished a lot educating and informing the people of Wisconsin about public education, workers’ rights and the need to restore honest government.

The NEA response, on the other hand, is positively bizarre. As of this writing, the only mention on the NEA website of what happened in Wisconsin on June 5th is a blog post by resident hack Tim Winter. The headline is, “Educator’s Victory in Wisconsin Gives Democrats Majority in State Senate” and the post begins,

John Lehman, a former high school history and economics teacher and a retired National Education Association and Wisconsin Education Association Council member, was elected last night to the Wisconsin State Senate. Lehman’s ouster of Senator Van Wanggaard, one of Gov. Scott Walker’s key allies, will help restore the balance of power in Madison.

Huh? They just got their political butts kicked and yet are claiming victory, touting an unimportant win in the state senate. Their senate “victory” is essentially meaningless because the Wisconsin legislature is not in session now and won’t be until after another round of elections in November.

Then, in paragraph 6, we hear from world class hypocrite Dennis Van Roekel, president of NEA,

These millionaire donors, empowered by the Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United, have made a mockery of democracy and nearly drowned out the voices of working families in Wisconsin. The good news is that the barrage of out-of-state corporate money did not keep voters from restoring the balance of power in the state Senate.

Perhaps a little Wisconsin Brie to go with that whine, Mr. Van Roekel? Making NEA out to be a little mom-and-pop operation that was defeated by out-of-state corporate bullies is pathetic. The NEA in fact is the ultimate out-of-state corporate bully. It spent $1.1 million in Wisconsin and, as Mike Antonucci points out, it spent about $5 million to defeat Issue 2 in Ohio in 2011. The idiocy of Van Roekel’s attempts to portray NEA as a little David fighting Goliath was pinpointed by Antonucci in 2009 when he wrote about teacher union political spending. Referring to the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, he tells us that

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.

While NEA tries to feebly downplay what was a bad defeat for forced unionism, it is essential to keep things in perspective. There is no doubt that Wisconsin will pave the way for other states to try similar legislation, but it’s important to note that while 20,000 teachers have left WEAC, 70,000 still remain. So it’s not that all or even a majority of teachers have jumped ship.

Last week, on a similar note, the Wall Street Journal published the results of an Education Next poll. It asked, “Do you think teacher unions have a generally positive effect on schools, or do you think they have a generally negative effect?”

In our polls from 2009 to 2011, we saw little change in public opinion. Around 40% of respondents were neutral, saying that unions had neither a positive nor negative impact. The remainder divided almost evenly, with the negative share being barely greater than the positive.

But this year unions lost ground. While 41% of the public still takes the neutral position, those with a positive view of unions dropped to 22% in 2012 from 29% in 2011.

As we see, public opinion is turning against the unions. That having been said, two in five people are still neutral. Hence we seem to be in a transitional phase, but much of the public is still misinformed, uninformed or ambivalent.

More interestingly, the pollsters posed the same question to teachers,

The survey’s most striking finding comes from its nationally representative sample of teachers. Whereas 58% of teachers took a positive view of unions in 2011, only 43% do in 2012. The number of teachers holding negative views of unions nearly doubled to 32% from 17% last year.

Again, the movement is toward seeing the unions in a negative light, but still more than two teachers in five see the union as having a good effect on schools.

No doubt that winning the Battle of Wisconsin was important. But there have been many articles written in the last week triumphantly referring to Walker’s victory as the beginning of the end of teacher union dominance. Maybe it is, but it was just one battle and the bigger war rages on. To win that war, those of us who see teachers unions as the biggest impediment to any real education reform cannot afford to let up. In fact, it is incumbent upon us to redouble our efforts to make our case to those teachers and the general public who remain neutral on this issue. Even with dwindling membership, the NEA is a formidable opponent that will do whatever it can to maintain its vast and destructive power. We get cocky at our own risk.

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.

June 8, 2012

Responding to Romney’s Critics about Education – His speech to the Latino Coalition

Regarding education reform, Romney needs to pound on the facts, leaving his detractors to pound on the table.

Larry Sand President California Teachers Empowerment Network

Recently Mitt Romney laid out his education vision in a speech at the Latino Coalition’s annual economic summit in Washington D.C. The Republican candidate for president didn’t mince words. He said that we are in the midst of a “national educational emergency,” and that the only reason we don’t hear more about it is that our national focus is squarely centered on the economy. Then he got down to specifics and said,

Parental choice will hold schools responsible for results, but parents can only exercise that choice effectively if they have good information.  No Child Left Behind helped our nation take a giant step forward in bridging this information gap.  But the law is not without its weaknesses.  As president, I will break the political logjam that has prevented successful reform of the law.  I will reduce federal micromanagement while redoubling efforts to ensure that schools are held responsible for results.

Dramatically expanding parental choice, making schools responsible for results by giving parents access to clear and instructive information, and attracting and rewarding our best teachers–these changes can help ensure that every parent has a choice and every child has a chance.

He then talked about the teachers unions’ role in the problem.

…accomplishing real change won’t be easy.  Efforts to truly reform our schools always meet strong resistance from entrenched interests. 

The teachers unions are the clearest example of a group that has lost its way.  Whenever anyone dares to offer a new idea, the unions protest the loudest.

The teachers unions don’t fight for our children.  That’s our job.  And our job keeps getting harder because the unions wield outsized influence in elections and campaigns. 

Annually, many teachers are forced to pay almost $1,000 in union dues.  The two major teachers unions take in $600 million each year.  That’s more revenue than both of the political parties combined.

Mr. Romney’s talk was a good one, basically hitting on many of the points that education reformers have been making for years. So, naturally, the naysayers and outright opponents of reform took him to task.

Jay Mathews, writing in the Washington Post, oddly claims that Romney and Obama are “educational twins.”  While both men certainly are reform-minded, their reforms run in different directions, most notably Romney’s embrace of vouchers. (Obama favors some school choice but not vouchers – were he to do so, it would destroy his lovey-dovey relationship with the teachers unions.) Usually sensible, Mathews has a blind spot when the “v” word is mentioned. He says that, “…vouchers have no chance of ever expanding very far.” However, Greg Forster, senior fellow with the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, has debunked Mathews’ claim in the past and does so again in a point by point rebuttal, the centerpiece of which is,

there are now 34 school choice programs serving 212,000 students, and this story Mathews is telling hasn’t happened anywhere.

Not surprisingly, the most hostile commentary comes from the union apologists. Matt Miller, who says he has “slammed teachers unions plenty,” goes into somber mode and in sotto voce tells us in that there is a “deeper reality” that we all need to grapple with.

The top performing school systems in the world have strong teachers unions at the heart of their education establishment.

Lighten up, Mr. Miller. In reality, this does not qualify as “grappleable.” The same claim has been made countless times by union defenders. The short answer to your “deeper reality” is that in Finland and other countries, the teachers unions are more like guilds – they exist mainly to advance the professional status of their members. American teachers unions are built on the industrial model – treating teachers not like professionals but like factory workers, and protecting them no matter what crimes they may have committed and no matter how poorly they do their jobs.

Then there is Mike Hall writing on the AFL-CIO website. He picks on Romney’s assertion that, despite the popular myth, smaller class size does not translate into student achievement. The unions will never give up their “smaller is better” mantra because small classes mean more teachers and therefore more dues for the union. As if to show that he is knowledgeable on the subject, Hall trots out a dinosaur – Project Star – a study from Tennessee conducted in the 1980s – which Hall claims,

…showed students who were placed in a smaller-sized classroom made measurable gains and performed better even when they were put back in larger classes.

I totally debunk the “smaller is better” myth here. The most extensive study on the subject was done by Hoover Institution senior fellow and economist Eric Hanushek in 1998. He examined 277 different studies on the effect of teacher-pupil ratios and class-size averages on student achievement, he found that 15 percent of the studies found an improvement in achievement, while 72 percent found no effect at all—and 13 percent found that reducing class size had a negative effect on achievement. While Hanushek admits that in some cases, children might benefit from a small-class environment, there is no way “to describe a priori situations where reduced class size will be beneficial.”

And what would a presidential talk about education reform be without a rebuttal from American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten? In a press release posted on the AFT website, she claims,

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.

Attack teachers? Hardly, though he did have harsh words about their unions. But the next part made my head explode,

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.

“Failed voucher and privatization schemes?” She really sounds as if she believes this nonsense. A little over a year ago, the Friedman Foundation released the results of study, the most extensive ever done, which stated,

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.

Weingarten’s point that vouchers take money out of public education is also erroneous. As the Friedman Foundation explains,

State budgets typically save money when students use vouchers to at­tend private schools. Vouchers usually redirect state education spending from school districts to parents. If the vouchers are not worth the entire amount of state education spending, as is generally the case, then the state saves money on the difference. For example, if a state spends $6,000 per student annually in public schools, and offers a $5,000 voucher, the state saves $1,000 each year for each participating student.

The only problem I found with Romney’s talk is that while he wants to disentangle Washington from education matters to a certain degree, he doesn’t go far enough. He straddles the fence on No Child Left Behind – the reforms proposed by George W. Bush. NCLB is the 8th reauthorization of the 1965 Elementary and Second Education Act (ESEA) which signaled the feds’ intrusion into what had always been a state issue. Federal involvement has produced no benefits for U.S. school kids. What it has done is divert a ridiculous amount of money from the classroom to feed an insatiable bureaucracy.

Writing in National Review Online, Heritage Foundation education fellow Lindsey Burke says it best,

Moving forward, Romney’s agenda should include the conservative alternative to NCLB: the Academic Partnerships Lead Us to Success (APLUS) Act. APLUS would allow states to opt out and spend their share of federal education dollars on any lawful education purpose they believe would best benefit students. It’s one of the best ways Congress could restore constitutional governance in education: send dollars and decision-making back to state and local leaders who are closest to the student.

Romney’s vision is a good one. With a few tweaks it could be a great one. Importantly, he has facts on his side, and he needs to pound on them every chance he gets. If he does that, all the union leaders and other entrenched special interests can do is pound on the table.

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. (Title for identification purposes only.)

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