California school officials use President Trump to mask their own failures

LAUSD school busThe nuance – the back-and-forth – was lost on many Obama-haters who celebrated the president. But it was also lost on Trump-haters, including public education officials and union leaders in California. They’ve used President Trump’s non-decision as an opportunity to rally their faithful by terrorizing undocumented families in the state.

California schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson denounced the president’s message as a “mean-spirited, political attack on students who are working hard to succeed.” Randall Booker, superintendent of Piedmont Unified in the Bay Area, said the president had launched a “direct attack on California families and their children.” In a letter to the California congressional delegation, University of California President Janet Napolitano called the president’s non-decision “callous and misguided” and said it “unnecessarily punishes hundreds of thousands of bright young people.”

Within a week of the announcement, closer to home, the board of the Santa Ana Unified School District voted to condemn the president’s move – or rather “non-move,” if you like. The resolution claimed “great uncertainty exists amongst students about what specific immigration policies will be pursued by the federal government, and immigrants and other populations within the SAUSD community are fearful of policies that may result in deportation or forced registration based on immigration status, religion or beliefs.”

I was the sole vote against the resolution, in part because we already passed a resolution in December 2016 asking Congress to act on immigration reform. But I was especially opposed to the resolution because the “uncertainty” it highlights has been caused by the very people behind this and similar resolutions. They are certainly the cause – and, if you believe them, the cure – of communal anxiety.

But I also voted against the resolution because I see it for what it really is: a tactic to transform Washington politics into local anxiety. Panic is useful for teacher’s union leaders and school officials who hope to distract us from the real issue: their failure to educate out students.

Their failure is documented in state tests that show a majority of our school children cannot read or perform math at grade level. Despite that undeniable evidence, SAUSD graduates these students from high school even though they’re unprepared for college or career. That’s a fraud.

Instead of correcting this social injustice, my fellow board members voted last week to condemn the president. That same night, teachers union leaders took their three minutes at the public-comments dais to condemn me for documenting the catastrophic, decades-long slide in student performance.

There is a crisis haunting our community. But it’s not a crisis the president caused. It’s not a crisis emanating from distant Washington, DC. Indeed, in the last several days, the president has begun talking with congressional Democrats about a deal that would permanently resolve the problem of people covered by the DACA program.

No, the crisis that should concern everyone has its origin right here in Santa Ana, California. It has been created by teacher’s union leaders, their allies and school officials who fail to educate generations of our children – and who attempt to distract us by sowing terror.

Under the law, all children, including immigrant children, have the right to a quality public education. Any other conversation is at best a sideshow meant to keep our community down.

This commentary appeared first in the Orange County Register. Cecilia Iglesias is a Santa Ana Unified school board trustee, president of the Parent Union, and director of community relations and education at the California Policy Center in Tustin. Researcher Stuart Clay contributed to this commentary.

Union lies and chicanery in high gear as right-to-work case heads to Supreme Court

Supreme CourtAmong the greatest myths in recent history include the belief that Che Guevara was a freedom fighter, that China in the 20th Century was a “People’s Republic” and “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it.” We can now officially add some egregious comments made by union bosses in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s willingness to hear the Janus v. AFSCME case.

Mark Janus, a child support specialist who works for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, is compelled to send part of his paycheck to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Janus, who is being represented by the Liberty Justice Center and National Right to Work Foundation, says, “When I was hired by the state of Illinois, no one asked if I wanted a union to represent me. I only found out the union was involved when money for the union started coming out of my paychecks.”

The lawsuit is a sequel to Friedrichs v. CTA, which was headed to a SCOTUS victory last year until Antonin Scalia’s death short-circuited the case. But right-to-work proponents are optimistic that his replacement, Neil Gorsuch, will come down as the fifth vote on the side of employee freedom. As things stand now, public employees in 22 states are forced to pay dues to a union as a condition of employment.

Obviously, a favorable ruling in Janus would put a serious dent in in the coffers of government unions. And they are not reacting well to that possibility. In a press release issued by several union leaders after the Janus announcement, many of the comments are simply outrageous. As Mike Antonucci points out, the words “working people” are used 12 times. The union leaders seem to think that “working people” are a monolith with the exact same ideas, beliefs and general worldview. Just a few of the lies:

This case is yet another example of corporate interests using their power and influence to launch a political attack on working people and rig the rules of the economy in their own favor.

…corporations, wealthy interests and politicians have manufactured Janus as part of their long and coordinated war against unions.

Their goal here, as it was in Friedrichs v. CTA, is no secret: they want to use the Supreme Court to take away the freedom of working people to join together in strong unions.

These quotes, and many others like it, lead the reader to assume that evil rich corporate cabalists have banded together to outlaw labor unions. Of course, the case is simply about giving workers a choice whether or not to join a union as a condition of employment. Period. But as with any totalitarian entity, honesty is a virtue that is shoved aside when its agenda is endangered.

At points, the bilge can be almost comical.

George Leef, director of research at the Martin Center, wrote recently about a lawsuit in West Virginia, where the AFL-CIO desperately tried to overturn the state’s new right-to-work law. The union whined in court that making it voluntary to join would do them irreparable harm and should be stayed pending a challenge to its constitutionality. After finding a friendly lower court judge who was sympathetic to that audacious argument, the state’s Supreme Court overruled her decision.

Can you imagine a bank robber claiming to a judge that he’d undergo irreparable harm if he couldn’t keep the money he had forcibly obtained in a heist?

Not comical, however, is one union’s action, which shows the desperate lengths they will go to keep their bottom line healthy. The Center for the American Experiment has unearthed a disgraceful move by Education Minnesota, the National Education Association affiliate in the Gopher State. Anticipating an unfavorable Janus decision, the union has come up with a new form which includes the following wording:

I agree to submit dues to Education Minnesota and hereby request and voluntarily authorize my employer to deduct from my wages an amount equal to the regular monthly dues uniformly applicable to members of Education Minnesota or monthly service fee, and further that such amount so deducted be sent to such local union for and on my behalf. This authorization shall remain in effect and shall be automatically renewed from year to year, irrespective of my membership in the union, unless I revoke it by submitting written notice to both my employer and the local union during the seven-day period that begins on September 24 and ends on September 30. (Emphasis added.)

In other words, saying, “Good-by, sayonara, no thanks” to the union once isn’t good enough. You have to do it every year and within a very narrow time frame. Can you imagine a woman who finally gets a divorce after being stuck for years in an unhappy marriage, being told, “Okay, but you have to notify the court every year that you want to stay divorced. And if you miss the seven day opt-out period, you’re stuck with the SOB for another year.”

The teachers unions are in trouble and they know it. A recent Education Next poll reveals that teachers are more likely to oppose forced dues than to support them, by a 47 to 44 percent margin. What we don’t know is how many will stop paying the union if given a choice.

Nationally, the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows that just 10.7 percent of all U.S. workers are unionized, with government workers being over represented; 34 percent of all teachers are unionized.

Should Mark Janus be successful in freeing himself from forced dues payments, that 34 percent could shrink considerably, in spite of the union lies and flimflam that will undoubtedly escalate.

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.

CA Should Raise Teacher Pay By Reducing Unfunded Retirement Liabilities

Ashs-teacher-and-studentsFast-rising spending on pensions and other retirement costs is crushing teacher staffing and pay in California. As an example, retirement spending at San Francisco Unified School District grew 3x faster than district revenues over the last five years, absorbing $35 million that could have gone to current teachers. Worse, that happened despite record stock market gains and school revenues. Absent reform, teacher staffing and pay will decline further.

Something must be done. Public school students and teachers deserve fully-staffed classrooms and sufficient salaries. While the children of well-to-do parents can attend private schools or privately-subsidized public schools, most of California’s six million K-12 students cannot.

Someone must step up. Potential candidates fall into five categories: (i) the people who created the problem, (ii) taxpayers, (iii) students, (iv) current teachers, and (v) pension beneficiaries.

  • Self-serving pension fund board members and elected officials blocked honest pre-funding of retirement promises, causing today’s unfunded liabilities. While it would be wonderful justice if they could be forced to pay for the problem they created, at nearly $100 billion and growing the problem is too big for their resources.
  • Taxpayers didn’t cause the problem but they’ve been paying for it. Income taxes were raised 30 percent in 2012 and school revenues are up 60 percent since then but pension spending in districts like SFUSD grew more than 100 percent over that same period and are heading higher.
  • Students and current teachers didn’t cause the problem but they’ve been paying for it in the forms of understaffed classrooms and inadequate salaries, especially in school districts without well-to-do parents to subsidize school budgetsIt’s no wonder poor and minority students in California perform worse than their counterparts in Texas, which spends less per student but has a better student-teacher ratio.
  • Pension beneficiaries didn’t cause the problem but unlike students, teachers and taxpayers they have NOT been paying for it. In fact, they garnered additional financial benefits from the actions that created the problem, as explained here. They need to step up.

Reducing unfunded obligations would free up billions for current teachers.

Shrinking unfunded retirement obligations by reducing un-earned future benefits would allow school districts to divert fewer dollars to retirement costs. For example, Rhode Island suspended annual increases until pension funds are better funded and moved some to-be-earned benefits to hybrid plans. Acting similarly in California could free up billions with which to boost current teacher staffing and pay. Such sacrifices by beneficiaries would be no greater than those of students, teachers and taxpayers and beneficiary retirement benefits would still be greater than those of the vast majority of their fellow citizens.

No one can be happy about making any innocent person sacrifice to meet unfunded liabilities created by corrupt pension fund board members and elected officials. But students need fully staffed classrooms and teachers need adequate salaries. Everyone needs to chip in to reach those goals.

One cannot both be progressive and be opposed to pension reform.

Unfunded retirement obligations are crushing the hopes and dreams of California’s public school students and teachers. Policymakers need to act.

NB: A different set of unfunded liabilities is crushing higher education. The University of California is losing $600 million this year compared to what it would’ve received had it simply maintained the same share of the state budget as it garnered a decade ago. Retirement beneficiaries didn’t cause that problem either but only they have avoided the consequences as taxpayers are paying more and citizens are receiving less. The state needs to reduce its unfunded liabilities. Beneficiaries must chip in there too.

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

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Teachers union thwarts tenure reform attempt

Shirley WeberThe clout of the California Teachers Association was on full display last week when a bill by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, to reform a tenure law that can give lifetime job protections to teachers 18 months into their careers was abruptly withdrawn.

Since her election in 2012, Weber, a former school board president and college professor, has prodded her fellow Democratic lawmakers to not accept the California education status quo. Weber wants to make tenure rules more rigorous and like those in other states, to ensure the Local Control Funding Formula actually does what it was promised to do and helps English-language learners, and to seek state standards that make it easy to gauge whether schools are helping struggling minority students.

But Weber’s push for significant reforms have either been killed in the Legislature or by Gov. Jerry Brown’s veto pen.

Her latest reform measure, Assembly Bill 1220, would have delayed tenure decisions until a teacher’s third year on the job, but would have allowed marginal teachers additional time to establish their worthiness for tenure in a fourth year, and, in limited circumstances, a fifth year. Weber’s bill included a provision intended to make districts put more of an emphasis on professional development of marginal teachers.

The measure won early approvals and initially appeared relatively uncontroversial, with only five Assembly members opposing it in a preliminary June 1 vote. Weber supporters saw the provisions emphasizing helping struggling teachers as a valuable way to reassure teachers unions that the bill wasn’t an exercise in teacher or union bashing.

But later in June, the Assembly Appropriations Committee shaved off the fourth and fifth year tenure consideration provisions – without consulting Weber. Then, on July 6, Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond, gutted and amended AB1164, a bill he had introduced about foster care policies, so it offered an alternative to Weber’s bill. Thurmond’s version would in some cases allow struggling teachers to win tenure consideration after a third year.

The bill was knocked by reformers as unnecessarily complex and inferior to Weber’s. But its prime supporter – the CTA – quickly rounded up such support that Weber last week chose to withdraw her bill in hopes it could be revived in 2018.

Thurmond then withdrew his bill, suggesting it was only introduced as a way to block Weber and her proposal. Both are members of the California Legislative Black Caucus.

CTA expected to back lawmaker who thwarted bill

The EdSource website connected the maneuvering to Thurmond’s plan to run for state superintendent of public instruction in 2018 when incumbent Tom Torlakson is termed out. That’s because the CTA has already sent signals it will endorse Thurmond, who has established his pro-teacher union bona fides with such measures as proposing that teachers be given subsidized housing.

The CTA’s strong and early support of Torlakson was key to the low-profile Bay Area state lawmaker winning the superintendent’s job in 2010 after finishing second in the primary, and to his narrow 2014 win over fellow Democrat Marshall Tuck, a Los Angeles charter school advocate with backing from school reform groups.

Tuck has already announced he will seek the job again in 2018.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Reformers Achieve School Board Shakeup in Los Angeles

Los-Angeles-Unified-School-District-LAUSDLike many big-city school systems, the Los Angeles Unified School District is in disarray. On track for a graduation rate of 49 percent last June, the district instituted “a “credit-recovery plan,” which allows students to take crash courses on weekends and holidays to make up for classes they failed or missed. Combined with the elimination of the California High School Exit Examination, the classes, which many claimed were short on content, raised the district’s graduation rate to 75 percent practically overnight. In 2015, only in five fourth-graders in Los Angeles performed at or above “proficient” in math and reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Due to out-migration and the proliferation of charter schools, student enrollment in the district—now about 500,000—has dropped nearly 250,000 since 2004.

Fiscally, the situation is no better. In December, LAUSD Chief Financial Officer Megan Reilly told the school board that the district may not be able to meet its financial obligations because it faces a cumulative deficit of $1.46 billion through the 2018-2019 school year. While the deficit figure has been disputed in some quarters, there’s no doubt that the district is facing a daunting budgetary crisis.

Many of L.A.’s education woes can be traced to its school board and the United Teachers of Los Angeles union, which has controlled the board for years. And that’s why what happened on May 6 is so remarkable. Two reformers—Nick Melvoin, a former inner-city middle school teacher who lost his job due to union-backed seniority rules, and Kelly Gonez, currently a charter school science teacher—were elected to the LAUSD board. Reformers now constitute a majority of the seven-member governing body in America’s second-largest city.

Melvoin, especially, was vocal in his campaign that the school district needed a major shakeup, calling for more charter schools. He also stressed the need for fiscal reform, including a reworking of the district’s out-of-control pension and health-care obligations. His opponent, sitting board president Steve Zimmer, said in February that the election was about “losing children to the charter movement.” Zimmer garnered 47.5 percent of the vote against Melvoin and two other candidates in the March election, but he needed 50 percent to avoid a run-off in May.

Not only did the young Turks (Melvoin is 31 and Gonez 28) defeat the unions’ candidates; they also raised more money than their opponents, a rarity in school-board elections, where teachers’ unions historically outspend their challengers. But this time, the unions could not compete with the likes of philanthropist Eli Broad, who donated $450,000 to the campaign, and former Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan, who contributed over $2 million. Additionally, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings donated nearly $7 million since last September to CCSA Advocates, the political wing of the California Charter School Association, which spent nearly $3 million on the school board election.

On the union side, United Teachers Los Angeles was the big spender, pitching in about $4.13 million, according to city filings. But much of this money came from the UTLA’s national partners: the American Federation of Teachers gave UTLA $1.2 million, and the National Education Association contributed $700,000.

The spending disparity and resulting defeat did not sit well with the unions. The NEA speciously claimed that parents and educators were pitted against “a group of out-of-town billionaires,” an ironic charge for a Washington, D.C.-based organization to make. According to its latest Labor Department filing, the NEA sent money to Colorado, Georgia, Maine, and other states in 2016 in attempts to sway voters, donating nearly $27 million in all. And besides, the NEA’s charge was wrong. The bulk of the reformers’ donations came from three Californians—Broad and Riordan are Angelenos and Hastings lives in the San Francisco Bay area.

In a press release, California Teachers Association President Eric Heins reiterated the NEA message about billionaire donations and, alluding to charter schools, added, “public education should be about kids, not profits.” Heins and other union leaders sound this theme constantly, though there is no evidence to support the claim that anyone is getting rich off of charter schools: the California Charter School Association reports that out of the state’s 1,200 charter schools, only six are organized as limited-liability corporations.

“We will fight against privatizing our public schools and against creating ‘separate and unequal’ for our kids,” said UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl—and he’s eager for the fight to begin. In anticipation of the upcoming June 30 expiration of the teachers’ contract, Caputo-Pearl told his union’s leadership last year that, “the next year-and-a-half must be founded upon building our capacity to strike, and our capacity to create a state crisis, in early 2018. There simply may be no other way to protect our health benefits and to shock the system into investing in the civic institution of public education.”

With the June 30 deadline looming, and Melvoin and Gonez set to be sworn in on the school board the next day, the fireworks you hear coming from L.A. on July 4 may come only in part from patriotic celebrations. The Los Angeles school district has distinguished itself by poorly educated students, a dubious graduation rate, shrinking enrollment, a serious financial shortfall, and a zealous teachers’ union leader who, more than anything, wants to maintain—and in fact increase—his union’s power, even if it takes a “state crisis” to do so. Should UTLA succeed, it will be a disaster for children, their parents, and the already beleaguered taxpayer.

Union leaders launch hyperbolic grenades at Trump education budget

shocked-kid-apDid you know that the Trump/DeVos budget is manifestly cruel to children and catastrophic to public schools? Are you aware that Trump/Devos are planning to slash funding for public schools, and use voucher schemes to funnel taxpayer dollars to unaccountable private schools?

Well, I sure didn’t “know” these things till the two national teachers union leaders told me. But actually, climbing out of the union rabbit hole and venturing back to the real world, one regains perspective. And the reality is that the Trump/Devos budget cuts – which of course will have to run through the Congressional obstacle course before becoming law – don’t warrant the union leaders’ outlandish hyperbole. Not one iota.

In a nutshell, the budget does away with some programs that are wasteful and many that can be funded elsewhere. Alaska Native Education, Native Hawaiian Education, and 21st Century Community Learning Centers are on the elimination list. (A good summary of the budget cuts can be accessed here.) All in all, the proposed budget will pare federal spending by $9 billion, which represents a 13 percent cut. The budget also includes $1.4 billion “to support new investments in public and private school choice.” Most of the money earmarked for school choice would be an increase to the part of the existing Title 1 program that provides supplemental awards “to school districts that agree to adopt weighted student funding combined with open enrollment systems that allow Federal, State, and local funds to follow students to the public school of their choice.”

Is a 13 percent cut worth the hysteria? Hardly.

First of all, 92 percent of education spending comes from state and local sources, while federal dollars account for just 8 percent. Reducing that 8 percent by 13 percent means that each state will be losing a shade over 1 percent of its total education funding. That’s it. Hardly a slash. More like a minor paper cut. And of course any state that loses federal funding (Alaska and Hawaii take note) is perfectly capable of adding the 1 percent back via the legislative process.

As for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, they are typical of bureaucratic waste. As Brookings Institution Mark Dynarski writes, “To date, more than $12 billion of federal tax money has been spent on a program that a preponderance of evidence indicates doesn’t help students.”

It’s also instructive to step back and examine the effect that spending in general has on student achievement. And it has been proven time and again that there really is no correlation. In fact, between 1970 and 2012, our education spending tripled (in constant dollars) and student achievement was flat. On the 2015 international PISA test, which measures math, reading and science for 15 year-olds, the U.S. was in the middle of the pack – average in science and reading, but below average in math, trailing Estonia, Poland, Finland et al, while outspending those countries considerably. Additionally, a stunning 60 percent of all U.S. students now entering college need remediation.

President Trump recently told Congress, “We need to return decisions regarding education back to the State and local levels, while advancing opportunities for parents and students to choose, from all available options, the school that best fits their needs to learn and succeed.”

Trump is right on target here. Education should not be controlled by a federal bureaucracy. As Center for Education Reform CEO Jeanne Allen said in response to the budget, “Throughout the nation, at all levels, policymakers, parents, teachers and innovators are leading critical new endeavors to focus on student achievement, some by using new technologies in the classroom, some by implementing new schools of choice, some through boosting the traditional activities of districts.”

Only the special interest teachers unions and their fellow travelers could disagree.

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 the California Policy Center.

Charters Under Attack – California’s Teachers Unions Go On The Offensive

ULTA protestFor years, teachers’ unions have tried to kill charter schools — but only on odd-numbered days. On even-numbered days, they tried to organize them. Things lately have become very odd, at least in California; the unions are in full-assault mode.

United Teachers of Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl has long groused about how charter schools don’t play by the rules. Teachers’ union talking points effortlessly roll off his tongue — billionaires this, accountability that. But on May 4, despite pleas by charter school parents, UTLA, in concert with the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools — a union front group — planned a major protest outside schools where charters share a campus with traditional public schools. “We will stand with Los Angeles parents, educators, students, administrators, and community members for fully funded public schools and call on corporate charter schools to pay their fair share to the district,” AROS said in a statement. Of course, charters are public schools, not “corporate.” And charters are the ones that aren’t fully funded, which is why they frequently have to share facilities. But UTLA and AROS don’t bother with those minor details. The rally mostly fizzled, so school kids were thankfully spared the sight and sound of angry protesters marching and chanting.

UTLA wasn’t finished. In what it thought would be a coup de grâce, the union released the results of a “study” it commissioned, which, among other things, asserted that the Los Angeles Unified School District “lost more than $591 million dollars to unmitigated charter school growth this year alone.” The school district countered by pointing out that it actually makes money due to the existence of charter schools. Undaunted, Caputo-Pearl was at it again in August. “With our contract expiring in June 2017, the likely attack on our health benefits in the fall of 2017, the race for governor heating up in 2018, and the unequivocal need for state legislation that addresses inadequate funding and increased regulation of charters, with all of these things, the next year-and-a-half must be founded upon building our capacity to strike, and our capacity to create a state crisis, in early 2018,” he told the annual UTLA leadership conference in July. “There simply may be no other way to protect our health benefits and to shock the system into investing in the civic institution of public education.”

In late August, just weeks after Caputo-Pearl’s tantrum, UTLA hit the streets with a media campaign. Empowered by a massive dues increase, the union began spreading its venom via billboards, bus benches, and the media. The timing was particularly bad, as the just-released 2016 state standardized-test results showed that charters outperformed traditional public schools in both English and math. Los Angeles, where one in six students is enrolled in a charter, saw 46 percent of its independent charter-school students meeting or exceeding the standard on the English Language Arts test, versus 37 percent for students in traditional public schools. On the math test, the difference was smaller: 30 percent versus 26 percent. Despite the unions’ perpetual “cherry-picking” mantra, 82 percent of charter students qualify as low-income compared with 80 percent for traditional schools. Charters also match up closely in areas of ethnicity, English-language learners, and disabled students.

The California Teachers Association jumped into the act on August 31 by unleashing “Kids Not Profits,” an “awareness” campaign calling for more “accountability and transparency of California charter schools and exposing the coordinated agenda by a group of billionaires to divert money from California’s neighborhood public schools to privately managed charter schools. These same billionaires are spending record amounts of money to influence local legislative and school board elections across the state.” In a press release announcing the launch of the campaign, the union quotes from its new radio ad, which claims to lay out the “billionaires’ coordinated agenda”:

  1. Divert money out of California’s neighborhood public schools to fund privately run charter schools, without accountability or transparency to parents and taxpayers.
  2. Cherry-pick the students who get to attend charter schools—weeding out and turning down students with special needs.
  3. Spend millions trying to influence local legislative and school board elections across California.

While Numbers One and Two are outright lies, there is some truth to Number Three. CTA has become fat and happy. It is by far California’s biggest political spender. It drives the union elite crazy that philanthropists are pouring unprecedented amounts of money into edu-politics in an attempt to balance the playing field. The union is finally facing some stiff competition in Sacramento, as well as in some local school board races.

Second only to its obsession with billionaires is the union’s incessant harping about accountability. “It’s time to hold charter schools and their private operators accountable to some of the same standards as traditional public schools,” CTA president Eric Heins says. This is laughable. Charter schools operate in accordance with all state and federal laws. They must meet rigorous academic goals, engage in ethical business practices, and be proactive in their efforts to stay open. If a school doesn’t successfully educate its students according to its charter, parents will pull their kids out and send them elsewhere. After a specified period—usually five years—the school’s charter is revoked. A failing traditional public school, by contrast, rarely closes. Union-mandated “permanence” laws ensure that tenured teachers, no matter how incompetent they may be, almost never lose their jobs.

The CTA and other unions can’t deal with the fact that non-unionized charters typically do a better job of educating poor and minority students than do traditional public schools. So they lie and create distractions in order to preserve their dominion. But all the yammering about charters “siphoning money from public schools,” grousing about billionaires “pushing their profit-driven agenda,” and bogus cries for “accountability” simply expose the unions as monopolists who can’t abide competition. But that’s just what children, their parents, and taxpayers deserve—less union meddling and more competition and choice.

California poised to adopt new school-grading system

As reported by the San Jose Mercury News:

In a significant shift in how it grades public schools, California is crafting new report cards with the goal of capturing a more detailed snapshot of what each campus accomplishes.

Critics call the new accountability measures an avalanche of confusing numbers and jargon that downplay test scores, obscure schools’ failings and make it impossible for parents to tell how well schools are serving their kids.

The proposed school evaluations, expected to be adopted when the California State Board of Education meets Thursday and Friday in Sacramento, succeed the three-digit API scores that measured schools’ worth.

For 14 years, Californians could get a clear — albeit limited — snapshot of how local schools and school districts were performing, with the state issuing a single number representing achievement of schools, districts and student groups. The Academic Performance Index pegged schools’ worth to results of math, English and science tests, graduation rates and high school exit-exam passage. …

Click here to read the full article

California Supreme Court Strikes Down Vergara Appeal

560px-School-education-learning-1750587-hHere’s an axiom of California politics. When it’s the teachers union against everyone – that’s right, everyone else – the teachers union wins. Yesterday’s decision by the California Supreme Court to not hear the Vergara case is just the latest example.

Prior to losing on appeal, which brought the case to the attention of the State Supreme Court, the original Vergara ruling upheld the argument of the plaintiff, which was that union supported work rules have a disproportionate negative effect on poor and minority students. As reported in the Los Angeles Times in June 2014:

“Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu tentatively ruled Tuesday that key job protections for California teachers violated students’ rights to equal educational opportunity. Treu struck down state laws that grant teachers tenure after two years, require seniority-based layoffs and govern the process to dismiss teachers. He ruled that those laws disproportionately harmed poor and minority students… [writing:]

‘All sides to this litigation agree that competent teachers are a critical, if not the most important, component of success of a child’s in-school educational experience. All sides also agree that grossly ineffective teachers substantially undermine the ability of that child to succeed in school. Evidence has been elicited in this trial of the specific effect of grossly ineffective teachers on students. The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience.’”

And the evidence was indeed compelling. Watch these closing arguments in the case, and note that the plaintiff’s attorney used the testimony of the expert witnesses called by the defense attorneys to support his arguments!

But it isn’t just the union’s hand-picked experts who are against the teachers unions, when they reveal under cross-examination that union work rules indeed harm students, and disproportionately harm low-income and minority students. It’s every interest group, every stakeholder. Why, for example, would a teacher want to work in an environment where you come in and you care about students and you’re talented and you work very hard to get through to all of your students and get good educational results, and in the classroom right next to you somebody just shows up every day and doesn’t do anything? They make as much money as you do, and if they stick around, they get increases every year just like you will. If they are incompetent, they will not be fired. And if there’s a layoff, if they’ve been on the job one year longer than you, they’ll stay and you’ll go.

No wonder there’s a teacher shortage. Consider these statistics that measure teacher sentiments regarding the work rules that were challenged by the Vergara plaintiffs:

  • Teacher effectiveness should be a factor in granting tenure:
    72% of teachers agree, 93% of principals agree.
  • Students’ interests would be better served if it were easier to dismiss ineffective teachers:
    62% of teachers agree, 89% of principals agree.
  • Students’ interests would be better served if layoff decisions took teacher effectiveness into account:
    67% of teachers agree, 83% of principals agree.

Then there’s the social agenda of the teachers union. Their social agenda, in essence, is to indoctrinate California’s students – most of whom are people of color, and millions of whom are members of recent immigrant families – into believing they live in a racist, sexist nation, where they are condemned to lives of discrimination and thwarted achievement, when precisely the opposite is the reality. In reality, America is the most tolerant nation in world history, rejecting sexism and racism, and has provided opportunities to people of all backgrounds in measures that dwarf all other nations and cultures. But not according to the teachers union.

But this is California, and what the teachers union wants, the teachers union gets.

One small encouraging sign is the fact that two of the three dissenting attorneys are Brown appointees. The fight is bipartisan. It’s disappointing that judges appointed by Wilson and Schwarzenegger ruled against the plaintiffs, and it is possible that part of their motivation was judicial restraint, i.e., to not legislate from the bench.

Which leaves the legislature to change these rules that are destroying public education in California – jobs for life after two years, nearly impossible to fire incompetents, and seniority over merit in layoffs. Virtually any honest legislator in Sacramento will admit, off the record, that they don’t agree with the agenda of the teachers union. Plenty of retired democrats, including Gloria Romero, former Senate Majority Leader, and Antonio Villaraigosa, former Mayor of Los Angeles, have leveled withering criticism at the teachers union. But active politicians are targeted for political destruction if they stand up to the union machine, and they toe the line.

Parents, students, judges, legislators, and teachers themselves are all subordinates of the teachers union. It will take an extraordinary combination of bipartisan cooperation and raw political courage to change the status quo. But let’s be clear – the teachers union has won again, and everyone, everyone, was on the other side.

Ed Ring is the president of the California Policy Center.

ACLU Joins Unions to Attack California Charter Schools

560px-School-education-learning-1750587-hAbout 6.2 million students attend California’s K-12 public schools. Of those, over 570,000 are enrolled in public charter schools. Most of these charter schools operate with a degree of management autonomy and teacher accountability that goes well beyond what is permitted by the union work rules that govern traditional public schools. These charter schools themselves are accountable – if they don’t deliver better academic outcomes cost-effectively, they are closed down. They are a laboratory for excellence in education and administration, and they’re working. And their success is a tremendous threat to teachers unions.

Enter the ACLU. In a study released earlier this week, the ACLU said it had identified 253 schools with “exclusionary policies,” and noted “this is just the tip of the iceberg.” The exclusionary policies were (1) exclusion based on academic performance, (2) discrimination against English learners, (3) pre-enrollment essays or interviews, (4) illegal parent/guardian volunteer requirements, (5) requirements that discourage undocumented students.

If you consider the ACLU case on its merits, there isn’t much to argue about. Traditional public schools receive funding to admit all students, and charter public schools must do the same. But the entire premise is flawed: schools should be able to develop unique identities in order to offer a diverse set of educational choices to our diverse student population.

Examples of such diversity are inspiring, and range from the Eagle Academy in Harlem, which is attended almost exclusively by African American young men, or the Detroit International Academy for Young Women. These schools deliver outstanding academic results, they cannot possibly admit everyone who wants to attend, and they are exclusionary.

Some of the premises underlying the ACLU’s case are easily contestable, because they are rooted in a concession to mediocrity that has taken over public schools. Instead of making charter schools change their policies, why not change the rules? For example, why aren’t all public schools engaging in “pre-enrollment essays or interviews”? Why don’t all public schools require parents to volunteer some time at the school?

As for violation No. 2 – our public schools are academically segregated as it is, with the high-achieving students exclusively taking AP courses that relegate their exposure to the rest of the student body to hallways and common areas. Should a charter school focus on attracting top students? And if some of them did, how would that differ from what already occurs with AP courses?

The ACLU’s case with respect to the other violations is, at least, easier to justify on moral grounds. Of course we should be admitting students who don’t speak English as a first language. Of course we have to educate children regardless of their immigration status. But the vast majority of charter schools aren’t trying to exclude these students. Most charter schools are non-profits, with supplemental funding provided by philanthropists with the noblest of intentions. Charter schools are an attempt to deliver educational excellence in communities with some of the worst-performing traditional public schools in the U.S. The ACLU is missing the forest for the trees.

If the ACLU wants to fix public education, it might throw its considerable legal might behind the upcoming final round of the Vergara case, likely to be heard in the California Supreme Court next year. The plaintiffs in this case argued that the right to a quality public education is a civil right, and that students in low-income communities are denied that right through inferior public schools. They specifically challenged three union work rules which they demonstrated had a disproportionately negative impact on education in low-income communities: (1) granting teacher tenure after less than two years of classroom observation, (2) “last-in, first-out” policies whereby seniority trumps merit in layoffs, and (3) dismissal procedures so onerous that incompetent teachers are almost never fired.

Where is the ACLU with respect to Vergara?

The ACLU has a well-earned reputation for impartiality. When it comes to civil rights issues they are as likely to defend someone on the far right as someone on the far left. For this they have earned animosity and respect, depending on whom you ask. But if the ACLU intends to be truly impartial on the civil right to a quality education, at the least it may use its resources to support the plaintiffs in the Vergara case.

As for the ACLU’s salvo against charter schools? The organization should realize that charter school operators are almost invariably motivated by nothing more than providing excellent education to underprivileged students. They should be making it easier for them to do that, not more difficult.

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Ed Ring is the president of the California Policy Center.