Too Many Teachers are Clueless on Issues Relating to Their Profession

Teachers unionIn 2006, I co-founded the California Teachers Empowerment Network, whose mission is to give educators unbiased information and to combat union spin and outright lies. While we have helped a good number of teachers, there are still way too many who are in the dark about issues that affect their professional life. A recent poll by Educators for Excellence (E4E) exemplifies this sad state of affairs.

E4E released partial survey results on May 23rd (the questions were posed in late April-early May) and the full report is due August 1st. One of the stunners is that 78 percent of all teachers had heard not much (21 percent) or nothing (57 percent) about the Janus v AFSCME Supreme Court case which would free public employees nationwide from being forced to pay dues to a teachers union. Also, 47 percent of union members said they had heard nothing about the lawsuit.

A claim could be made that many teachers don’t need to know about the litigation, as they live in right-to-work states and will not be affected directly by the imminent ruling. But given the magnitude of the case, the numbers are still startling.

The lack of teacher awareness is in part due to their unions, which don’t seem to feel the need to inform their members that they may have a right to refrain from forking over $1,000 or so a year to them. While the unions are not legally bound to clue in their teachers, you’d think the organizations that constantly showboat their affection for educators would feel some moral obligation to do so. But they don’t. And when union leaders talk about the case, they often lie.

For example, after attending the Janus oral arguments in February, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said, “I listened as the right wing launched attack after attack on unions and on what collective bargaining gains for working people, those they serve and their communities. Indeed, Justice Sotomayor nailed the right wing’s argument, pointing out, ‘You’re basically arguing, do away with unions.’”

If that’s all a teacher heard about the case, she would be horribly misinformed. The lawsuit has absolutely nothing to do with collective bargaining (CB) or eliminating unions. It is simply about giving teachers and other public employees a choice whether or not to join and pay them as a condition of employment.

Another question of note from the E4E survey asks teachers if they concur with the following: “Without collective bargaining, the working conditions and salaries of teachers would be much worse.” A whopping 86 percent of those polled agreed (somewhat or strongly) with that statement.

But are teachers really informed about all the data that show that CB agreements actually don’t do anything good for their wages, and in fact may serve to suppress them? Just this past March, yet another study found that across the country, after CB laws went into effect, there was little change in teacher salary or education spending. The study by Agustina Paglayan, a professor at University of California, San Diego, was hardly the first research that showed the inconsequential or detrimental effects of CB.

In 2011, Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli compared teachers’ salaries in school districts across the country which allow CB with those that don’t. Using data collected by the National Council on Teacher Quality, he looked at 100 of the largest districts from each of the 50 states and found that teachers who worked in districts where the union was not involved actually made more than those who were in CB districts. According to Petrilli, “Teachers in non-collective bargaining districts actually earn more than their union-protected peers – $64,500 on average versus $57,500.”

In a detailed 2009 study, “The Effect of Teachers’ Unions on Education Production: Evidence from Union Election Certifications in Three Midwestern States,” Stanford Professor Michael Lovenheim concluded, “I find unions have no effect on teacher pay.”

While Lovenheim’s study used data from just three states, Cato Institute’s Andrew Coulson, using national data, came to the same conclusion.

So, according to Paglayan, Petrilli, Lovenheim and Coulson, CB is inconsequential at best, and could actually damage a educator’s bottom line. Randi Weingarten won’t tell teachers any of this.

Weingarten also won’t tell her members about Clovis, a city in California, whose teachers have been never unionized. Yet, educators there have a voice and a role in governance. Instead of a union, they have an elected Faculty Senate, in which each school has a representative. The mission of the Faculty Senate is to be “an effective advocate for teachers at all levels of policy making, procedures, and expenditures, in partnership with our administrators, fellow employees, and community as a quality educational team.”

Teacher salaries are competitive in Clovis. While starting teachers make a few thousand dollars a year more in neighboring unionized Fresno, the differences dissipate as teachers rack up more time on the job. And, while Fresno teachers are saddled with payments of over $1,100 a year to the Fresno Teachers Association, Clovis teachers aren’t burdened with union dues.

The E4E survey, among other things, points to teachers’ ignorance on many issues that directly affect them. Especially with a Janus decision imminent, it is imperative that they become more informed. Not listening to Randi Weingarten and other union leaders’ disinformation and fabrications would be a great first step.

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 article was originally published by the California Policy Center

United Teachers Los Angeles wants respect … and money

LAUSD school busAt the behest of the United Teachers of Los Angeles, thousands of educators took to the streets in downtown L.A. on May 24th to demand respect for what they do. But the respect the teachers union is seeking is essentially about money. Claiming that public education is “criminally underfunded,” the union’s leadership is insisting on a pay raise, smaller classes, and several other demands that will further burden taxpayers.

First, California is in the middle of the pack nationally, spending $11,495 per-pupil in 2016. Regarding salaries, rookie teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District currently make $50,368, while the average pay is $75,504, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.

But looking only at salaries is deceptive. Using U.S. Department of Labor data, researcher James Agresti explains that benefits — health insurance, paid leave, and pensions — typically comprise 33 percent of compensation for public school teachers. Including these perks, the average compensation for a teacher in L.A. jumps to about $113,000 per annum. Not too shabby — but wait, there’s more. The old union ploy of comparing the pay of teachers to private industry employees is bogus. As Agresti points out, the latter work on average 37 percent more hours per year than public school teachers, and this includes the time that teachers spend on lesson preparation, grading tests, etc. …

To continue reading, go to https://www.ocregister.com/2018/06/08/united-teachers-los-angeles-wants-respect-and-money/

Our soldiers deserve educational freedom

Education Savings AccountsA bill proposed by Congressman Jim Banks (R-Indiana) directs the Department of Education to establish a program that would “provide children with parents on active duty in the uniformed services with funds for specified educational purposes.” The proposed law would allow military parents to establish Education Savings Accounts, which would enable them to use public funds for private school tuition, online learning programs, tutoring, etc. While ESAs are a good idea for everyone, they are especially important for military families, many of whom move around frequently, and should not be subjected to our stifling, antiquated, ZIP-code monopoly education system.

Upon introducing the bill in March, Banks penned a piece for The Wall Street Journal in which he wrote, “A 2017 survey of Military Times readers showed that educational opportunities play an important role in determining whether a military family accepts a particular assignment — or even remains in the service at all. Thirty-five percent of service members have considered leaving the military because of the limited education options available, and 40% have either declined or would decline a career-advancing opportunity at a different installation if it meant their child would have to leave a high-performing school.” We cannot afford to lose our experienced soldiers for want of an easy fix.

According to an EdChoice poll, 72 percent of military respondents were in favor of the ESA program, after having it described to them, while just 15 percent opposed it.

The idea is not particularly new. The Senate Armed Services Committee considered a proposal to provide military families with tuition vouchers in 2009. While the idea enjoyed military support at the time, pressure from the powerful National Education Association helped quash the plan.

In 2012, researcher Vicki Alger wrote a report for the Independent Women’s Forum in which she explained that military ESAs “would help expand education options for children without adding costs to national and state budgets, and by facilitating the use of private options rather than adding students to the public school rolls, they could reduce the burden on the state.” However, her sage advice didn’t lead anywhere.

Which brings us to 2018. Just who is fighting against the Banks bill now? Interestingly, a coalition of military associations has come out against the legislation. As Pacific Research Institute scholar Lance Izumi writes, “Their letter to lawmakers, sadly, puts the concerns of school district bureaucracies above the clear needs and preferences of military families.” But this seems to be a top down decision. As Izumi states, “Evidently, these military associations, which proclaim that they represent more than five million current and former service members and their families, forgot to ask service members about what they think.”

But of course, the most potent force to deny military ESAs is, again, NEA. On its website, the union refers to the bill as a “voucher scheme,” and an “enemy of public schools,” and proceeds to launch into a frothing-at-the mouth, turf-protecting tirade, painting anything outside the realm of unionized, government-run, zip-code mandated schools as the work of the devil – or worse – Betsy DeVos. NEA claims that the bill would have a devastating effect on school districts which rely on federal Impact Aid. But as Heritage Foundation senior policy analyst Jonathan Butcher points out, the most “heavily impacted” school districts would lose between a meager 0.18 percent and 1.83 percent of their federal revenue.

One very perplexing part of NEA’s response to the soldier choice bill is the fact that the union has been a proud supporter of the G.I. Bill, the country’s first significant educational voucher program. Signed into law in 1944, the G.I. Bill is nothing more than a “choice” program for soldiers, allowing them to attend just about any college they want – public, private, religious or secular. In fact, not only has NEA been a supporter of the G.I Bill, but the NEA Legislative Commission worked for its passage in 1944.

So NEA supports military vouchers for college, but not k-12. Maybe one day the union will get around to explaining this inconsistency. (Don’t hold your breath.) But in the meantime, Jim Banks’ bill should become law. The people who risk their lives to protect our country need educational freedom. It’s the very least we can do for them and their families.

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.

Janus vs AFSCME Ruling Imminent – What Will Change?

Supreme CourtIn February 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Janus vs. AFSCME, a case that challenges the ability of public sector unions to compel public employees to pay agency fees. While public sector employees currently have the ability to opt-out of paying that portion of union dues that are used for political activities, they still have to pay agency fees. This is based on the presumption that all members of a bargaining unit benefit from union negotiations with management, therefore all of them should pay those costs.

The Janus case argues that in the public sector, even these negotiations are inherently political and therefore it would be a violation of the right to free speech to compel any employee to help pay for them. The Supreme Court appears likely to agree. In an unrelated case also affecting unions, this week the U.S. Supreme Court just ruled in favor of employers, affirming that “employers have the right to insist that labor disputes get resolved individually, rather than allowing workers to join together in class-action lawsuits.” The majority opinion was written by newly appointed Justice Gorsuch, reinforcing hopes that he will rule for the plaintiffs in the Janus case.

But will making agency fees optional result in dramatic change?

The potential is there for dramatic change, because as of 2017, 7.2 million government workers belong to a union. Their total membership nearly equals the total membership of private sector unions, 7.6 million, despite federal, state and local government workers only comprising about 17% of the U.S. workforce. In California, state and local government unions are estimated to collect and spend over $1.0 billion every year.

Clearly, a ruling for the plaintiffs in the Janus case will cause a reduction in public sector union dues revenue. If public employees are no longer compelled to pay agency fees, some of them will stop paying them. But how many will stop paying?

study released this month by the Illinois Economic Policy Institute (IEPI) – which based on the composition of its board of directors appears to be sympathetic to unions – estimates that 726,000 public sector union members will no longer pay dues, a drop of around 10%. IEPI’s study also estimates that in California, public sector union membership will decline by 189,000, dropping from an estimated 1,235,000 members in 2017 down to 1,046,000 members. But will California’s public sector union membership really drop by 18%, taking nearly $200 million out of their annual collections?

Other data does support the 18% figure, even indicating it could be higher. A 2018 national survey released by the center-left organization Educators for Excellence posed several questions to teachers on the topic of union membership. For example, when asked “If you were not automatically enrolled into your union membership, how likely would you be in the coming year to actively opt in?” there were only 60% who were “very likely” to opt-in, and only another 22% who were “somewhat likely.”

The survey also asked non-union members – those members who have opted out of paying the political portion of their dues, but still pay agency fees – “If you could, how likely would you be to opt-out of paying agency fees to a union” there were 36% who were “very likely” to opt-out, and another 25% who were “somewhat likely.” How do these responses translate into lost revenue?

According to UnionStats.com, only about 6% of California’s public sector employees who are part of collective bargaining units have opted to become non-members, i.e., only paying the agency fees. Crunching these variables is problematic. Are the e4e national survey results representative of California? Are the responses by teachers in the e4e survey representative of public employees in other sectors? Nonetheless, the e4e survey results do suggest the revenue loss to public sector unions could be greater than the amount predicted by the IEPI study.

For example, if you assume that all of California’s public sector members who were “very likely” to opt out of union membership did so, and half of those who were “somewhat likely” to opt out did so, and if you made a similar set of assumptions based on the survey responses of the non-union members who were employed within collective bargaining units, you would see a public sector union membership in California decline by 320,000, a decline of 26%, from an estimated 1,235,000 members to 915,000 members.

The biggest unknown is the details of the upcoming Supreme Court ruling. While all indications so far are that the ruling will be in favor of Janus, what remedies will result? A huge variable will be which party will have to take the initiative. That is, will employees have to approach the unions and request to opt-out of membership, or will the unions have to approach the employees and request them to opt-in to membership? Another huge variable will be how often the opportunity to change membership status be offered. No matter whether union membership is based on employees getting to opt-in or having to opt-out, when will they do that? Once per year, within narrowly specified dates, or perpetually at any time? It is likely the ruling will leave many of these details up to the individual states to decide.

Which brings us back to California, with a state legislature that is a wholly owned subsidiary of public sector unions. As noted in detail (with links to the relevant legislation) in the CLEO policy brief “How Local Officials Can Prepare for the Janus Ruling,” California’s state legislature has been working overtime to circumvent the anticipated Janus decision. In summary:

“So how are the unions preparing for the Janus ruling? By (1) making sure the union operatives get to new employees as soon as they begin working, (2) by preventing agency employers from saying anything to deter new employees from joining the unions, and (3) by preventing anyone else from getting the official agency emails for new employees in order to inform them of their rights to not join a union.”

Public sector employees face a difficult choice. They can accept union representation, knowing that in most cases this results in their receiving over-market pay and benefits, or they can reject union representation, knowing that the agenda of public sector unions is almost always in opposition to the public interest. That’s not easy.

What must be easy, however, is for public employees to have access to whatever information is needed to withdraw from public sector union membership. This way, those who wish to stay true to the ideals of public service can put the interests of the public in front of their personal interests, by knowing how to jump through through whatever bureaucratic hoops the unions and the state legislature may put in their way.

This case constitutes a new challenge for those who oppose public sector unions. Making sure that to whatever extent the Janus ruling liberates public sector employees from the grip of public sector unions, those public employees will know how to realize their freedom, quitting those unions, putting the citizens they serve in front of themselves.

The Janus decision is expected by June 30th, if not sooner.

Edward Ring co-founded the California Policy Center in 2010 and served as its president through 2016. 

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REFERENCES

UnionStats.com – Ref. “Union Membership, Coverage, Density, and Employment by State and Sector, 1983-2017”

California’s Government Unions Collect $1.0 Billion Per Year – CPC Analysis, May 2015

Understanding the Financial Disclosure Requirements of Public Sector Unions– CPC Study, June 2012

How Local Officials Can Prepare for the Janus Ruling – CLEO Policy Brief, October 2018

California school spending grows at fastest pace in the U.S.

School union protestFew monetary issues draw more emotion or scrutiny than the ups and downs of government’s educational expenses.

This year, the heated “invest in our kids” debate has rattled state capitols across the nation as teachers in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Colorado and Arizona walked out of classrooms and headed to picket lines and rallies to protest low wages.

All this labor turmoil comes as California schools have been enjoying nation-leading increases in “elementary/secondary” educational spending, according to new Census Bureau data.

This report by a relatively independent arbiter — covering up to 2016 spending patterns nationwide — gives a glimpse into how California public school budgets compare with nationwide trends. It tallies taxpayer funds going to everything from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade and includes charter schools if they’re school-district-funded. …

Click here to read the full article from the Orange County Register

Unions defend recent strikes — but voters should make up their own minds

Teachers unionIn a USA Today op-ed last month, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten defended the teachers’ strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, and Colorado, by sketching a familiar hero-villain scenario. “Teachers are standing up for their students and themselves against largely red states with weak labor laws and where governors and legislators have opted for tax cuts for the wealthy instead of investments for children,” she wrote. Pointing to the Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court case, which she portrayed as a right-wing ploy to “get public sector unions out of politics,” Weingarten proclaimed, “Teachers’ voices — and their votes — are powerful, and educators have parents and communities supporting them.”

Some voters may be persuaded by the argument that teachers are picketing for more money “for children,” but they would be better off looking at some basic facts. While teachers in some cases are underpaid and certain school districts underfunded, teachers on the whole, according to researcher James Agresti, get paid much better than commonly acknowledged. For the 2016–2017 school year, the average salary of full-time public school teachers was $58,950. That figure excludes benefits such as health insurance, paid leave, and pensions, which, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, make up an average of 33 percent of total compensation for public school teachers. When benefits get added in, teachers’ average annual compensation jumps to $87,854. And even that amount doesn’t include unfunded pension liabilities and certain post-employment benefits like health insurance, not measured by the Labor Department. Private-industry employees work an average of 37 percent more hours per year than public school teachers, including the time that teachers spend for lesson preparation, grading, and other activities. “Unlike less rigorous studies, this data from the DOL is based on detailed records of work hours instead of subjective estimates about how long people think they work,” Agresti adds.

Teachers aren’t just well compensated; they’re also more numerous than ever before, especially in proportion to their students. Researcher and economics professor Benjamin Scafidi found that, between 1950 and 2015, the number of teachers increased about 2.5 times faster than the number of students, and hiring of other education employees—administrators, teacher aides, counselors, social workers—rose more than seven times faster than the increase in students. Despite the staffing surge, students’ academic achievement has stagnated or fallen during that time. Scafidi suggests that, had non-teaching personnel growth been in line with student population growth, and the teaching force risen “only” 1.5 times as fast as student growth, U.S. schools would have had an additional $37.2 billion to spend annually. With that windfall, he suggests, we could have raised every public school teacher’s salary by more than $11,700 per year, given poor families more than $2,600 in cash per child to attend private schools of their parents’ choice, and more than doubled taxpayer funding for early-childhood education.

It’s no secret that lavish teacher pensions are eating up money that should be spent on students. Robert Costrell, a finance expert at the University of Arkansas, found that 10.6 percent of all education spending goes toward teacher-retirement benefits—more than double the proportion spent on pensions in 2004. “As a percentage of their total compensation package, teacher retirement benefits eat up twice as much as other workers,” Bellwether Education Partners policy analyst Chad Alderman explains. Teachers—including bad teachers—have a powerful incentive to stay on in their jobs, since they automatically earn more just by showing up each fall, regardless of how effective they are. Pension benefits start accruing later in a teacher’s career, so younger teachers are helping to prop up pensions for lifers, with little to show for it; if a teacher leaves the field early, he gets no pension at all.

States typically administer teacher pensions, but health-care benefits frequently vary according to the local school district. While some districts cut teachers’ health benefits off when Medicare kicks in, others, such as the Los Angeles Unified School District, are much more generous. LAUSD provides the same expansive health coverage for retirees (and their spouses) as it does for current employees; neither group pays a premium for its insurance. The district recently announced that the unfunded liability for retiree health benefits has risen to $15.2 billion, up from a reported $13.5 billion in 2016, which translates to a cost of $525 per student.

Come November, the teachers’ unions and their unhappy members will be taking their case to the voters. Taxpayers need to look at the facts underneath the teachers-as-victims rhetoric and vote for fiscal sanity.

The CTA’s ongoing charter school whoppers

Charter schoolWashington Post writer Jay Mathews is “woke” to the fact that the California Teachers Association lies.

Jay Mathews has been around the block a few times. He has been with the Washington Post since 1971, and for many of those years he has written about education issues, often arguing for sensible reforms. Which is why I was stunned to see a Mathews’ headline last week which read, “Maybe this teachers union needs a crash course in truth in advertising.” Seems that the venerable scribe was perplexed and angered by a radio spot run by the California Teachers Association in which the union does its usual – lies, exaggerates, builds strawmen and tries to elicit gasps out of everyone within earshot.

The basic premise of the ad is that evil right wingers Donald Trump, Betsy DeVos and the Koch Brothers see your seven year-old as a cash cow and want her to go to “their corporate charter schools” to make them rich beyond their wildest dreams.

CTA business as usual here, but if Jay Mathews is now woke, I guess that’s a good thing.

Mathews also may have gotten a jolt if he saw a recent post on the CTA website in which the union informs us that Tony Thurmond, their candidate for California Superintendent of Public Instruction, will be holding a tele-town hall on May 9th. Alluding to Thurmond’s opponent Marshall Tuck, CTA claims “… corporate billionaires are pouring millionsinto the races of candidates who share their agenda to divert funding away from neighborhood public schools to privately-run charter schools.” In fact, Tuck is adamantly opposed to privately run charters and has stated so many times, claiming, “Profit has no place in our public schools….”

If he hasn’t already done so, I would advise Mr. Mathews to visit a website established by CTA in 2016 called Kids Not Profits. In addition to the exaggeration about the privatization of charters (less than 3 percent in California are), it includes the time-worn fantasy that charters “cherry-pick their students” and weed out students with special needs.

In fact, as R Street Institute’s Steven Greenhut writes, the opposite is true. Using information from a report by ProPublica, an organization whose focus is investigative journalism, Greenhut found a national pattern in which public school districts have used alternative schools, including charters,  as a “a silent release valve for high schools … that are straining under the pressure of accountability reform.” These public schools dump off weak students “whose test scores, truancy and risk of dropping out threaten their standing.”

So just who are the cherry pickers?

Also, parents who have kids with special needs are prone to send their kids to charters. For example, the mother of a child in Florida, who has “oral motor delays, including extreme feeding difficulties” could not find a traditional public school (TPS) that could accommodate her daughter and found a charter school that could.

Looking at the bigger picture, there have been a gaggle of studies comparing student achievement in charters and TPS. Most studies give the edge to charters to varying degrees. But even if charters do the same job as TPS, charters should be deemed preferable as they do it by receiving, on average, 28 percent less funding than TPS.

Additionally, a revealing new study conducted by Patrick Wolf, Corey De Angeles, et al shows that in eight big American cities, each dollar invested in a child’s k-12 schooling results in $6.44 in lifetime earnings in public charter schools compared to just $4.67 in lifetime earnings in TPS.

That traditional public schools dump kids into charters, frequently can’t handle kids with special needs and don’t give students the same bang for the buck as charters are realities that CTA and other teachers unions either omit or lie about when they push their anti-charter agenda.

One other tidbit not discussed by CTA is that charters are less likely to be unionized than they were six years ago. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools found that 11.3 percent of the nation’s charters in the 2016–17 school year were unionized, down from 12.3 percent in 2009–10.

That Jay Mathews has awakened to the prevalent dishonesty of the teachers unions is encouraging. As we celebrate National Charter Schools Week, I only hope more mainstream media writers follow suit and aggressively expose teacher union mendacity.

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 article was originally published by the California Policy Center.

School Spending Up; Student Performance Down

School educationCalifornia school boards are prevented by the state Legislature and governor from offering disproportionate pay to employees willing to work in high-poverty zones, cutting pension spending, altering tenure rules or granting principals the power to fire poorly performing employees. The outcome: poor student performance and shaky finances despite a big increase in spending.

All it takes is 62 legislators and the governor to change that outcome. Every legislator knows that school districts should not be forced to grant permanent employment after just 24 months or to divert money from current to retired teachers and should be permitted to pay more to teachers who take on tougher assignments and to fire under-performers.

The only thing stopping them is fear. They are afraid of CTA, the largest commercial and political special interest roaming the halls of the State Capitol. But don’t blame CTA. Its members collect ~$70 billion per year from taxpayers. You too would roam the Capitol if you collected that kind of money from legislators. Blame legislators and governors who don’t have the courage to attack the real causes of school distress. It is they who are letting down students — especially our most vulnerable students. Just look at what’s happening in San Francisco and around the state.

But the legislature and governor don’t get all the blame. Believe it or not, some districts subsidize retirees at the expense of current employees. San Francisco could pay teachers an extra $40 million this year if it stopped subsidizing health insurance for retirees who, like their fellow Californians, could obtain health insurance on the state’s excellent Obamacare exchange (Covered California) until they become eligible for Medicare. The city of Glendale shows how. The San Francisco school board doesn’t need permission from the state to make that change right now. But instead, it is asking voters to approve an additional tax on property. Middle class residents already find it tough going in San FranciscoNow the school board wants to make it even harder  in order to subsidize retirees. Fixing that doesn’t take rocket science. It just takes courage.

ecturer and research scholar at Stanford University and President of Govern for California.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

California school superintendent race: Democratic reformer vs. union ally

Marshall TuckThe 2018 race for state superintendent of public instruction may not have an incumbent but is likely to feel like an encore of the 2014 race, pitting a Democrat aligned with the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers against a Democrat who backs reforms opposed by the unions.

In 2014, Tom Torlakson – a former teacher and state lawmaker – won a second term, touting higher graduation rates and somewhat better test scores. He defeated former Los Angeles charter school executive Marshall Tuck 52 percent to 48 percent in a race in which $30 million was reportedly spent, triple the campaign spending in that year’s quiet governor’s race.

With the strong support of wealthy Los Angeles area Democrats who have been fighting for changes in L.A. Unified and who remember the job he did running Green Dot charters, Tuck is running again.

Subbing for termed-out Torlakson is Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond, who has worked closely with teachers unions on many fronts – most notably joining in maneuvering last summer that helped kill a tenure reform bill that had gotten off to a strong start in the Legislature. He has also opposed efforts to more closely monitor how education dollars are being spent under the Local Control Funding Formula. The law was supposed to be used specifically to help districts with high numbers of English language learners, students in foster care and students from impoverished families to improve their academic performance. But civil rights groups say the extra dollars often have been used for general spending, including for teacher raises.

Thurmond was also among lawmakers who expressed interest in helping teachers deal with California’s high housing costs, proposing legislation to award $100 million in rental grants to teachers in need. It didn’t advance.

Tuck may have better shot than when he challenged incumbent

The conventional wisdom is that Tuck has a better chance than in 2014 because Thurmond has much lower name recognition than Torlakson. But that could be erased with a heavy television ad run by the teachers unions using the same anti-Tuck themes as in 2014: Making the argument that the charter schools he led are part of a corporate scheme to take over public education.

If Tuck, 44, gets his way, the debate will focus on his reform agenda – the idea that charters serve as healthy competition for regular schools; the need for much better oversight of how the Local Control Funding Formula is used; adopting teacher tenure reform; and accountability standards that make it easier to judge whether a school is improving.

Thurmond’s website emphasizes his view of California educators doing battle with President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos over what he describes as their intent to “gut” and “defund our public schools.” Thurmond, 49, a military veteran who was a social worker before running for office, also said teachers need “bonuses and other incentives” to address the shortage of qualified instructors.

Complicating the Tuck-Thurmond race is the likelihood that for the first time in the 21st century, a prominent Democratic gubernatorial candidate is running as an anti-union reformer – which could make schools a more prominent issue in the 2018 election cycle than is normal.

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who repeatedly tangled with the United Teachers Los Angeles while seeking authority over L.A. Unified, has already won the endorsement of the state Democratic lawmaker recognized as the leader of education reform efforts: Assemblywoman Shirley Weber of San Diego.

The CTA endorsed Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom in the governor’s race and Thurmond for superintendent in October. The CFT did as well in December.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

California Sued by Students & Parents for Failing to Teach Literacy

School educationA group of parents and students has filed what it hopes will be a landmark lawsuit against the State of California for its public schools failing to teach literacy.

Public Counsel and the prestigious Law Firm of Morrison & Foerster sued the State of California, the State Board of Education, the State Department of Education, and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson for their collective failure to provide every child in the state access to literacy as required under the California Constitution.

The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on behalf of parents of students at two Los Angeles schools and one Stockton school, alleges that it is an urgent civil rights crisis that California has the three worst-performing schools and 11 of the 26 worst-performing public school districts in the nation for the ability of students to read and write.

Based on California’s testing standards, the suit states that “under-performing schools throughout California have student bodies consistently achieving less than 10 percent, and frequently less than 5 percent, proficiency in core subjects like reading and math.” To put the crisis in perspective, only 8 children out of the 179 students tested at Los Angeles’ La Salle Elementary were found to be proficient by state standards.

A Los Angeles Unified School District report from an attendance task force found that 800,000 students, or about one out of every seven enrolled students, was “chronically absent” for at least 15 days per year and at risk of dropping out.

Lead attorney Mark Rosenbaum stated that California has 13 percent of the worst-performing U.S. school districts. He added: “Public education was intended as the ‘great equalizer’ in our democracy, enabling all children opportunity to pursue their dreams and better their circumstances. But in California it has become the ‘great unequalizer.”

Rosenbaum referred to the state’s own literacy experts’ report, which concluded in 2012 that “there is an urgent need to address the language and literacy development of California’s underserved populations…”. Despite continuing concerns over the last five years, Rosenbaum argued that the state took no meaningful corrective actions.

During the five-year period following the grim literacy report, per-student spending on California K-12 educational programs did jump by 66 percent, from $9,370 per student in 2012-2013 to $15,521 per student for the 2017-18 school year.

But that concerted effort to improve student literacy was torpedoed in late 2015 by President Barack Obama’s signing of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), requiring school evaluations to include at least one “non-academic factor.” ESSA replaced the No Child Left Behind Act, which relied almost exclusively on regular student testing for grade-level reading and math skills.

Unable or unwilling to improve literacy test scores, the California Board of Education in September of last year voted unanimously to undermine the testing by incorporating other non-academic factors in rating schools that include graduation rates, college preparedness, and rates at which non-native speakers are learning English.

Under the new educational evaluation system adopted by the Board of Education, each California school will not receive an overall literacy rating, but rather receive year-to-year comparative results for how it performs across categories of different student groups.

The Los Angeles Times called the vote the end of a long philosophical shift away from judging schools using only their test scores, “as more people agree that numbers alone can never capture the complexity of classrooms.”

This article was originally published by Breitbart.com/California