New Teacher Tenure Bill Doesn’t Go Nearly Far Enough

Teacher tenureAs things stand, k-12 public school teachers in California are essentially guaranteed lifetime employment if they can get through their first two years on the job. This puts a lot of pressure on principals, as they must decide by March of a teacher’s second year – after just 16 actual teaching months – whether or not someone is good enough to spend their professional career influencing hundreds, and in many cases thousands, of young minds. About 98 percent of all teachers who seek tenure receive it in the Golden State.

There have been several attempts to tweak tenure or, more accurately, “permanent employment status.” In 2005, a ballot initiative would have extended the time it takes for a teacher to become a permanent employee from two to five years. But Prop. 74 went down to defeat, primarily because the California Teachers Association fought it tooth and nail, claiming it was an “attack on teacher due process.” (Wrong! As we have seen time and again, permanent status actually gives teachers “undue process.”)

Then, in 2012, along came Vergara v. California. The plaintiffs in this case argued that tenure (in concert with the seniority and dismissal statutes) causes greater harm to minority and economically disadvantaged populations because their schools “have a disproportionate share of grossly ineffective teachers.” So it was a case of a kid’s right to a good education v. an adult’s right to a job, and after going through the courts the unions ultimately won and California’s children were the big losers.

But before the State Supreme Court officially put the kibosh on Vergara, Susan Bonilla (D-Concord) introduced Assembly Bill 934 in February, 2016. As originally written, the bill would have placed poorly performing teachers in a program that offers professional support, though if they received a second low performance review after a year in the program, they could be fired via an expedited process regardless of their experience level. Also, permanence would not always be granted after two years, and seniority would no longer be the single overriding factor in handing out pink slips. Teachers with two or more bad reviews would lose their jobs before newer teachers who have not received poor evaluations.

At first, CTA opposed Bonilla’s bill on the basis that it “would make education an incredibly insecure profession.” Then, ratcheting up its propaganda, the union trotted out its standard diversionary tactics in proclaiming, “Corporate millionaires and special interests have mounted an all-out assault on educators by attempting to do away with laws protecting teachers from arbitrary firings, providing transparency in layoff decisions and supporting due process rights.”

Due to CTA arm-twisting, the bill was eviscerated so badly that most of its original supporters decided the cure had become worse than the disease, and it was eventually euthanized by the Senate Education Committee.

The latest attempt to rework teacher permanence comes from California State Assemblywoman Shirley Weber. With the sponsorship of Teach Plus and Educators for Excellence, two teacher-led activist organizations, the San Diego Democrat has introduced AB 1220, legislation that would extend the current time it takes to attain permanent status from two years to three. The bill would also allow some teachers who don’t meet the requirements in three years an extra year or two in which they could get additional mentoring and be the recipient of other professional development resources.

So depending on the teacher’s effectiveness, the tenure perk would be moved from two to three, four or five years. As things stand now, a principal may not want to take a chance on a teacher who is not doing well in his first two years. But the added time frame might see that teacher blossom…or it might not. Hence, it’s a crapshoot for kids.

The only response from the teachers unions thus far comes from California Federation of Teachers president Josh Pechthalt, who says that the bill “really misses the boat in terms of what is needed to improve or make sure that beginning teachers are prepared and ready to assume a classroom.”

However union leaders may try to disparage the bill, it is hardly radical, as 42 states set tenure at three or more years. In fact, three states don’t offer tenure at all, which brings up the question of why do teachers need permanent status? Doctors, lawyers, bricklayers, carpenters and U.S. presidents have no such entitlements. Why teachers? The stock teacher unionista response  these days is that permanent status is important “so that I can advocate for my students without fear of losing my job.” This statement has been making the rounds for a while now and is just plain silly. What kind of teacher or principal would not “advocate for their students?” In fact, to really advocate for your students, you should demand an end to permanence. Period.  Thousands of students stuck with lemons, not to mention their parents and taxpayers, would be much better off.

There is no legitimate reason why we need a law on the books which enables just 2 teachers a year out of about 300,000 to be fired for incompetence, most especially in a state where student NAEP scores languish at the bottom of the barrel. And this is the biggest problem with AB 1220. What do you do with a burned out teacher who, after 20 years in the classroom, is just going through the motions, spending the day ignoring his students as he dreams of retiring to a beach in Hawaii in ten years on his big fat defined benefit pension? The answer is that you can’t do a damn thing.

That said, AB 1220 is better than the law on the books and should be supported…in its current uneviscerated form. But we really need to go much further and promote a system where a teacher must earn his right to stay on the job throughout his career… just like any other professional.

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.

This piece was originally published by UnionWatch.org

Teachers’ Unions Spent Over $27 Million on State Races

In a recent op-ed, California Federation of Teachers President Joshua Pechthalt calls out special interests for pouring money into California elections in support of charter schools. He writes:

The charter association spent better than $24 million in relatively few races this year. Oakland, where previously $20,000 was a lot of money for a school board race, was awash in a half-million dollars in contributions, mostly from the charter association and another billionaire-funded committee.

Missing from Pechthalt’s piece is the fact that the CFT and other teacher’s unions are also big-spending special interests. Indeed, they spend considerably more on political donations than charter advocates.

Based on our review on campaign contribution and independent expenditure data reported by the Secretary of State, we find that teacher’s unions spent over $27 million on state-wide races during the current election cycle. The largest contributions are shown in the chart at the end of this article. Actual teacher union political spending is much higher because the Secretary of State’s data do not include contributions to school board candidates and other local campaigns. For example, according to data available from the Oakland City Clerk, the Oakland Education Association PAC made over $80,000 in donations and independent expenditures in the most recent election.

With respect to the state-level spending, most of it was devoted to supporting Propositions 55 and 58. Proposition 55 extends higher marginal tax rates on top income earners for another twelve years, funneling most of the added revenue to education. The union’s argument that this is good for students, but the correlation between spending and student achievement is dubious. According to 2014 Census data, Washington DC public schools received funding of $29,866 per pupil – by far the highest in the nation. Yet DC students performed worse than those in 46 of the 50 states, according to the most recent Education Week achievement scorecard. By contrast, Utah, which which spends only $7,714 per student ranked 14th on the scorecard. California spent $11,223 per student and ranked 30th. So while we know that more public education spending is good for teachers and other employees, the benefits for students are less clear,

Proposition 58 undermined a previous voter-approved restriction on bilingual education. According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, the initiative would not have a significant fiscal impact, because it does not directly change local funding formulas. However, restarting bilingual education will require new curricula, re-training current teaching staff and hiring new eduators who are fluent in multiple languages.  All of this will have to be funded somehow, and bilingual education could thus be used as a justification for future funding increases.

Aside from propositions, union spending also focused on certain key legislative races. Most notably, teacher’s unions spent over $800,000 to influence the outcome of the 14th District Assembly race between Democrats Mae Torlakson and Tim Grayson in Concord (Contra Costa County). Torlakson is the wife of the State’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, who has been characterized as being anti-charter and pro union. In this race, the unions were unsuccessful:  Grayson came out on top.

While it is true that Grayson and other school choice oriented candidates received support from pro-charter groups and affluent individuals, the conversation should not stop there. The California Federation of Teachers, the California Teacher’s Association and other unions are also wealthy special interests, and, unlike many of those vilified billionaires, the unions campaign contributions are funded by our taxes.

Click here to see the top 100 candidates and issues that teachers unions spent heavily on this election cycle. Data Compiled by UnionWatch.org

Teachers Union Assault on Charter Schools

school education studentsWith the increasing popularity of charter schools in California, special-interest opposition to them has grown, primarily among those most threatened by their success: the state’s powerful teachers unions.

With more than 1,200 charter schools in California and with an estimated 580,000 students attending charter schools in the 2015-16 school year, the state boasts more charter schools and charter school students than any other in the country. According to the California Charter Schools Association, approximately 158,000 students are on wait lists hoping to attend such schools.

Clearly, they are popular and there is public demand for them. Perhaps it’s the flexibility and accountability of the schools. Maybe it’s to avoid the poor performance of the typical public school, which protects some underperforming teachers with tenure and other rules. Whatever it is that attracts so many parents to charter schools, something about them is upsetting to the state’s teachers unions.

On August 31, the California Teachers Association announced it was launching the “Kids Not Profits” campaign. The stated goal of their efforts is to garner “more accountability and transparency of California charter schools.” But that’s not all. The campaign further aims to expose “the coordinated agenda by a group of billionaires to divert money from California’s neighborhood public schools to privately-managed charter schools.” And that is where the misdirection, deception and political chicanery begin.

For those without expertise in the charter school movement, keep one thing in mind: Charter schools are public schools. They just approach teaching and kids’ learning differently than the neighborhood public schools that are overburdened by political limitations and bureaucracy, much of which has been perpetuated and sustained by union leaders.

The idea that billionaires are trying to enrich themselves by taking away money from local schools is not only false but an inflammatory scare tactic meant to denigrate the good work philanthropists are doing in charter schools to help repair the broken, status quo public school system that other special interests, like the unions, prefer.

The Kids Not Profits website tries to demonize these efforts by pointing out that charter school advocates spent over $11 million in the June 6 primary to influence state legislative races and school board elections, because they “want private corporations to be able to profit from public education.” Their claims are patently false and not grounded in fact.

Take, for example, one of the state’s — and nation’s — chief advocates for charter schools, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. In January, Hastings announced a $100 million fund to help improve access to quality education. He is giving money to schools — not trying to “profit” or take money from public education.

On the other hand, what CTA neglects to mention in its campaign is that it has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into political campaigns over the past couple of decades, including $4.2 million from January through the end of June this year via its Issues PAC, plus more than $1 million through the Association for Better Citizenship to influence local races. Then there’s the nearly $1 million spent by the California Federation of Teachers to support candidates and ballot initiatives. And that doesn’t take into account the millions they will spend on other political fights in November.

It’s also important to understand how much “profit” the unions take out of California schools. In 2009 alone, the CTA’s “income was more than $186 million, all of it tax-exempt,” according to an analysis of public records by Troy Senik, writing for City Journal. The income the union collects year after year comes directly from taxpayer-funded teachers’ paychecks. Imagine if that money could stay with good teachers or was spent directly in the classroom for students.

There’s nothing wrong with donating to political campaigns. What matters is whether the outcomes they seek are reasonable. Unfortunately, the outcomes desired by the teachers unions just happen to be a status quo where their interests are catered to, regardless of their effects on students. And that’s why they are threatened by charter schools — because they lose revenue for their political agendas

In the past month, local unions like United Teachers Los Angeles, which is best remembered for threatening to strike in 2014 if its members didn’t receive a 17.6 percent raise, have also gone on the offensive against the education reform community.

UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl announced in August that the union was launching an ad campaign carrying “messages that billionaires should not be driving the public school agenda.”

“This is a major intervention in shaping the public narrative,” Caputo-Pearl told members at the union’s 2016 conference, which featured repeated attacks on charter schools and those who fund some of them.

The dishonest narrative the unions want to present is that they are the ones standing up against sinister billionaires who just want to make money. The problem is, it is just not true.

Never mind that teachers unions in California get more than their fair share of the multibillion-dollar education budget in the state, and have considerable leverage in how education funds are allocated and what policies govern public schools. They have had control of public education for a long time, so it is they, the union leaders, who should be held responsible for the deterioration of California public schools — a public school system where more than half the students lack proficiency in math and English. It’s indefensible.

Attempting to shift the blame for shortcomings in our education system on reformers and charter school advocates is purely diversionary. It isn’t charter school proponents who are undermining education. Nor is the current state of affairs the fault of the average teacher who works hard every day to educate the children of our state.

Behind the façade of “kids not profits” — and whatever public narrative unions are trying to spin — the unions’ goals are fundamentally about one thing, and that is political power. This is what thwarts progress in our education system. Instead of embracing innovation and progress to help students, the union bosses have chosen to stifle any form of competition and reform. Their latest campaign is just another sad and frustrating attempt to deceive the public and maintain political power.

Brian Calle is the opinion editor for the Southern California News Group and Sal Rodriguez is a staff columnist.

This piece was originally published by the Orange County Register and the Southern California News Group.

Eli Broad’s Charter School Plan Would Shake-Up Ranks of LAUSD Teachers

Philanthropist Eli Broad’s ambitious plan to create 260 new charter schools over an eight year period in Los Angeles, enrolling at least 130,000 students, will have major ramifications for many of the city’s 25,600 teachers. With this in mind, the Los Angeles Times Howard Blume wrote “Thousands of LAUSD teachers’ jobs would be at risk with charter expansion plan” last week. (Interestingly, the online version of the piece was originally titled “L.A. charter school expansion could mean huge drop in unionized teaching jobs” – a more honest title.)

The Broad plan would include places for about 5,000 more charter school teachers, which simply means that 5,000 thousand current teachers in Los Angeles could be displaced. What Blume’s article doesn’t address is just which teachers will be losing their positions. Due to seniority or last in/first out (LIFO) – a union construct that is written into the California Constitution – the teachers who could lose their jobs would not be the 5,000 poorest performing ones, but rather the 5,000 newest hired. But there is a silver lining here. While some of the 5,000 should not be in the profession, many are good teachers and some are terrific. And the latter groups will not be unemployed for long, because charter schools are independent (mostly non-unionized) and therefore not beholden to the district’s industrial style employment hierarchy, so competent teachers will be snapped up.)

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Philanthropist Eli Broad

Blume mentions that the new plan refers to “hiring from an expanded Teach For America and other groups that work with young, inexperienced instructors” and “makes no mention of recruiting instructors from the ranks of L.A. Unified.”

The plan might not make any mention of recruiting current teachers, but clearly the charter schools could not fill their ranks with all rookies. And therein lies the beauty of the Broad plan. Those rehired would be the good and great teachers who are working now because they are qualified, not because they are LIFO-protected.

Broad spokeswoman Swati Pandey elaborated: “We are in the process of listening to educators and community members to determine how best to support the dramatic growth of high-quality public schools in Los Angeles. We know that without great teachers, there can be no great public schools. We’re eager to engage and support teachers as part of this work.”

Needless to say, United Teachers of Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl had a different take. He said, “The charters are specifically looking for educators who have not had the experience of being in a union, which means that, by and large, they’re looking for teachers who may find it more challenging to raise their voice about curriculum or school conditions.”

The experience of being in a union…? What?! And where does he get the idea that only unionized teachers dare to speak up about “curriculum and school conditions?”

But then again, maybe the UTLA boss is just mouthing the union party line and his transparency should be applauded. In 2009 UTLA president A.J. Duffy told a group of young teachers at Liechty Middle School, “Saving your jobs would mean that more experienced teachers would lose theirs. Seniority is the only fair way to do it . . . and any exception would be an act of disloyalty.” The California Federation of Teachers website claims that “Seniority is the only fair, transparent way to administer layoffs. It ensures equal treatment for all teachers.” (Yes, for Teachers-of-the-Year and incompetents alike, LIFO does ensure “equal treatment.”)

Others who actually have children’s and parents’ best interests at heart have a different view, however. Alluding to the teachers unions’ claim that thousands of teachers will need to be recruited over the next decade, Jim Blew, president of the Sacramento-based advocacy group StudentsFirst, said, “… they say there’s no room for teachers from organizations with proven, documented records of creating quality teachers…. L.A. needs more great teachers, and everyone should welcome them regardless of who recruited them to the city.”

Jason Mandell, Director, Advocacy Communications of the California Charter School Association (CCSA) added, “Great teachers change students’ lives. Charter school teachers do that every day and the evidence is in their students’ progress. Teachers are the heroes of the charter school movement.”

And parents agree with both Blew and Mandell.

As CCSA points out, there are 40,000 kids on charter school waitlists in Los Angeles, unable to enroll in a high quality school of their parents choosing because there aren’t enough seats. Also, as I pointed out a couple of weeks ago, the recently released California Assessment of Student Progress and Performance (CAASPP) scores showed that only one-third of students in traditional LA schools performed up to their grade level in English and one-fourth did so in math, while LA charter students far outpaced their counterparts.

It should be noted that the current seniority and tenure laws, both of which are toxic to students, are imperiled. In the Vergara case, Judge Rolf Treu ruled these byzantine legal protections unconstitutional and went on to say that “it shocks the conscience.” However, the state and the teachers unions are appealing the decision. And even if Treu’s decision is upheld, we have no guarantee that the archaic statutes will be replaced by anything much better.

In summing up the situation, we are left with the following:

  • Charters allow children to escape from the antiquated zip-code monopoly education system.
  • Charters only flourish if parents choose to send their kids there.
  • Kids on average get a better education in charters.
  • Good teachers will always find work.
  • Charters will choose and retain the best teachers who fit in with their mission.
  • Poor-performing teachers will find it difficult to stay in the field.
  • Unions will have less money and power, due to diminishing ranks.

In other words, the Broad plan is a win-win-win situation for good teachers, children and their families. Mr. Caputo-Pearl, does that matter to you at all?

This piece was originally published by UnionWatch.org

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers 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.