Public Turning Against Dems On Education

Democrats are losing their longstanding advantage on the issue of education, according to a new poll by the centrist think tank Third Way.

As recently as 2012, voters trusted Democrats over Republicans on education by 25 percentage points or more. Now, that advantage has shrunk to only eight points, a drastically narrowed margin. Thirty-four percent of voters trust Democrats most to handle K-12 education issues, compared to 26 percent who trust Republicans most.

The poll also probed voters more deeply to see how they assessed each of the party’s positions on education, and the sentiments were often not good for Democrats. Forty-eight percent of voters and even 40 percent of teachers described Democrats as “pouring money into a broken system,” while 30 percent of voters and 25 percent of teachers agreed that Democrats put “the interests of teachers above the interests of students.” Democrats were also associated with defending the existing K-12 system and with being captured by educational special interests.

Not everything was awful for Democrats, as Republicans were more likely to be accused by both teachers and the voting public of being complacent about public schools and unwilling to make changes that could boost student performance.

However, merely breaking even with Republicans is a bad sign for Democrats, argues Third Way social policy director Lanae Hatalsky. Traditionally, she says, Democrats have relied on a big advantage in education to offset a perceived weakness in other areas, such as on national security.

Third Way argues that the poll indicates Democrats need to stop relying on voter inertia and instead take more substantive efforts to embrace reform in education. That doesn’t necessarily require them to endorse charter schools or vouchers, but could instead involve simply doing more to improve the raise expectations for teachers.

“Folks who are watching the education debates, when they do see somebody who is talking about a new idea…it seems to be more and more the Republicans who are stepping up to do that,” Hatalsky told The Daily Caller News Foundation. ”One of the things I think has been frustrating has been the unwillingness of Democrats at both the state and national level to engage with the issue. They’ve been able to avoid the question and let the Obama administration do the heavy lifting.”

Whatever Democrats do, they need to start acting fast, Hatalsky said. Republicans are expected to propose significant legislation to update No Child Left Behind in 2015, and if Democrats don’t engage with them they could decisively seize the initiative on that issue.

The poll was conducted from Nov. 11 through 16, and had a sample size of 808 general election voters along with 201 public school teachers. The margin of error for the first group was 3.5 percentage points, while for the latter group it was 7 percentage point.

This article was originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Report: New Teachers Aren’t Ready For Common Core

Even though nearly half a decade has passed since a large majority of U.S. states began converting to Common Core, most states are failing to prepare new teachers for the shift in standards, says a critical new report released today by the National Council on Teacher Quality.

NCTQ’s annual State Teacher Policy Yearbook investigates and rates states based on what policies they have in place to ensure high quality for new teachers.

This year’s report puts particular focus on the recent push by both the White House and most state governments to raise educational standards in an effort to ensure that high school graduates are “college and career-ready.”

Common Core, which is the current set of standards used in over 40 states, was designed to be “college and career-ready” and is the main set of standards referred to when policymakers talk about the topic.

College and career-ready standards are generally considered to be more demanding than those that came before, and they also involve new expectations about how educators will teach material. The most significant shifts are in reading, which is supposed to be taught with a higher number of informational texts and with a greater degree of incorporation into subjects other than English or language arts.

Despite these changes, however, the majority of states have taken half-hearted or no action whatsoever to make sure that incoming teachers grasp how reading is supposed to be taught going forward.

States fall short in a variety of ways when it comes to makes sure new teachers are prepared, NCTQ finds. For example, 14 states still do not require prospective elementary school teachers to demonstrate that they understand the science of teaching children to read, while another 19 require it but use inadequate tests. Only five states require high school teachers to pass content tests in each of the subjects they will be certified to teach.

The report does see areas of significant improvement, however. More and more states are toughening up the admissions requirements to teacher preparation programs by requiring them to have at least a 3.0 GPA or an above-average score on college admissions tests such as the SAT or ACT.

Ironically, of the five states NCTQ praises for making sufficient changes to adapt to higher standards, three of them — Texas, Indiana, and North Carolina — either do not use Common Core or are transitioning away from it.

“With such a profound change occurring in K-12 student standards across the country, it would stand to reason that parallel changes would occur on the teacher side,” said NCTQ vice president Sandi Jacobs. “States need to ensure that new teachers are adequately supported in the transition to higher standards and beyond. And there is no better place to start than where new teachers begin to learn their craft—in teacher preparation programs.”

Some of the funding for the report came from philanthropic organizations with ties to Common Core, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

This article was originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation. 

The Unapologetic Teachers Unions

The cover of the November 3rd edition of Time Magazine set off a firestorm among union leaders and many their acolytes. The offending picture is of a judge’s gavel about to smash an apple, while the accompanying text reads, “It’s nearly impossible to fire a bad teacher; some tech millionaires may have found a way to change that.”Time magazine cover teachers

The story behind the photo, “The War on Teacher Tenure,” is mostly about the Vergara decision – in which a judge found that the tenure, seniority and dismissal statutes in the California education code are unconstitutional. The article focuses on Vergara’s benefactor – David Welch, a tech titan who has found a second career as an education reformer. It’s an even-handed piece, and one certainly worthy of discussion.

But instead of addressing the merits of the article, teacher union leaders and supporters went ballistic over the mildly provocative cover. American Federation of Teachers leader Randi Weingarten said she “felt sick” when she saw it. She promptly organized a protest and circulated a petition demanding an apology from Time Magazine. The AFT claimed the cover “casts teachers as ‘rotten apples’ needing to be smashed by Silicon Valley millionaires with no experience in education.”

To its credit, Time refused to cave in to the protesters, inviting aggrieved parties to respond online instead. The teachers union claque complied, many expressing outrage at the magazine and at education “outsiders” as well. The president of the behemoth National Education Association, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, attacked the “wolves of Wall Street.” Some members of the Badass Teachers Association – a group that claims to represent 53,000 teachers – solemnly intoned, “The gavel as a symbol of corporate education, smashing the apple – the universal symbol of education – reinforces a text applauding yet another requested deathblow to teacher tenure.”

But the regnant themes of outrage and apology demands are a bit much. In fact, maybe it’s the teachers unions that need to do some mea culpas. For example:

  • Maybe AFT’s Weingarten should apologize to Marshall Tuck, who ran unsuccessfully for California School Superintendent. Her union financed a slanderous TV ad showing a businessman stealing a child’s lunch, and because some rich businessmen donated to his campaign, ridiculously asserted that Tuck would allow corporate fat cats to take over our schools. (Because there has been an influx of money from businessmen who are concerned about failing schools, the unions have concluded that school privatization is nigh. It’s a silly argument, but one that the unions try to use to rally teachers.)
  • Maybe the California Teachers Association should apologize for spending teachers’ dues money on union bosses’ personal political choices. CTA ended up spending over $10 million to defeat Tuck. But as teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci pointed out, with the millions CTA invested in the race, only 31 percent of union households supported Tom Torlakson, while 23 percent backed Tuck and 46 percent were undecided. But the union didn’t seem to care. As Antonucci said, “The answer is that CTA practices representative democracy in reverse. Decisions are made by the small handful of officers and shop stewards who participate in union activities. Then they justify, promote and sell these decisions to the membership-at-large – using the members’ own money to do so.”
  • Maybe Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, should apologize to critics of the Common Core State Standards, which include many teachers. Doing his best thug impersonation at a recent AFT convention, he threatened, “If someone takes something from me (control of the standards), I’m going to grab it right back out of their cold, twisted, sick hands and say it is mine! You do not take what is mine! And I’m going to punch you in the face and push you in the dirt because this is the teachers’!”
  • Maybe CTA should also apologize to the children of California for appealing the Vergara decision that rendered the seniority, tenure and dismissal statutes in the state’s education code unconstitutional. In California, due to the union-inflicted tenure and dismissal statutes, on average just of two “permanent” teachers a year lose their job due to incompetence. That’s two bad apples out of about 300,000. In my almost 30 years in the classroom, there were always at least two teachers (out of 50 or so) at my school alone who shouldn’t have been in the classroom. This is not an anomaly; if you were to go into any school and ask who the incompetents are, you would hear about the same few teachers from faculty, students, their parents, the principal, the assistant principal, guidance counselors, janitors, bus drivers, school secretaries and lunch ladies.

But don’t count on teachers unions to apologize for anything. And don’t expect them to ever willingly surrender any of the onerous work rules that they have foisted on our public schools. Instead, they try to divert attention by whining about a mildly controversial magazine cover, while the rest of us – including parents, serious teachers, community members, Democrats, Republicans and yes, corporate types and tech gurus – must revert to the courts to force reforms on our failing system. American children can’t wait a minute longer for the unions to mend their ways, let alone apologize for them.

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.

Obama Admin Plots New Teacher Training Regulations

Fed up with teacher education programs it believes routinely underperform, the Obama administration wants to compel states to start rating the programs programs based on how well they prepare students for the profession.

And teachers are not happy about it.

Recently, more focus has given to the perceived need to boost the quality of America’s teachers, especially in the country’s most struggling schools. Activists on every side of the debate have pushed a variety of solutions, from restricting tenure so that ineffective teachers can be easily fired to greatly boosting teacher pay so that better teaching candidates are attracted to the profession.

A new rule announced by the Obama administration on Tuesday night attempts to influence teacher quality at the source, in the country’s hundreds of different teacher education programs. The rule will, for the first time, compel each state to establish standards for evaluating and rating training programs for teachers. Programs that are found lacking in each particular state will in turn be punished with the loss of certain federal funds.

Currently, the federal government dispenses TEACH grants to education students who agree to begin teaching in disadvantaged schools after graduating. The grants are up to $4,000 per student and amount to over $150 million per year. Under the newly announced rule, TEACH grants will no longer be universally available, but will instead only be granted to aspiring teachers attending programs that are found to be performing well by their state.

Whether a teacher-training program is up to snuff will be based on a variety of factors, including what percentage of its graduates quickly find jobs, how well the program is evaluated by graduates, and, critically, how well graduates’ students perform on standardized tests.

The proposal to incorporate testing into the evaluation of teacher programs has many traditional Obama allies up in arms. Since students in disadvantaged schools almost always perform worse on standardized tests, they argue, the rule could end up cutting off funds to the programs that are sending the most new teachers into disadvantaged schools.

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the country’s second-largest teachers union, swiftly released a statement condemning the plan, saying it showed a lack of vision.

“By replicating the K-12 test-and-punish model…the administration is simply checking a box instead of thoughtfully using regulations to help craft a sustainable solution that raises the bar for the teaching profession,” said AFT president Randi Weingarten. Weingarten added that the administration’s action would be ludicrous if applied to any other field. ”Would you rate the dental school programs that serve low-income communities, where patients come in with a high number of cavities, unsatisfactory? No,” she said.

The National Education Association (NEA), the country’s largest teacher union, was more charitable in its outlook, lauding the desire to improve teacher education but also noting that they “are opposed to the use of flawed tests and value-added measures to make high stakes decisions about students, teachers, or teacher preparation.”

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan defended the government’s proposal, telling the press that test scores are necessary to see whether students are improving under certain teachers. More broadly, he said, a federal nudge was needed because many states are failing to hold teacher education programs accountable in any way.

Foes, however, might be able to use the Department of Education’s own rhetoric against it. In a press release announcing the planned rule, the Department lauded recent efforts in over ten states to either collect more information on their teacher prep programs or hike the admissions requirements at the schools themselves. If so many states are making progress as-is, opponents might reasonably suggest that a federal intrusion is unnecessary and could potentially hinder further innovation at the state level.

Unhappy teachers will have ample time to work against the proposed rule if they so choose. While the final rule publication is planned for 2015, states would only be expected to start gathering the relevant data in 2016, and full implementation with the potential loss of federal funding will only arrive at the end of the decade, as Obama is leaving office.

This article was originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation

L.A. Superintendent Deasy’s Defeat

John Deasy is a blunt man with little use for nuance. At times, the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District seems to enjoy getting in people’s faces. As Doug McIntyre observed in the Los Angeles Daily News,“Even Deasy’s supporters acknowledge he can be prickly, humorless, stubborn and thin-skinned.” Others describe him as bull-headed and impatient. School board member Steve Zimmer observes that Deasy often used a sledgehammer—sometimes joyfully so—when a scalpel would have sufficed. Deasy’s deficit of politesse drew the ire of the teachers’ union from the beginning of his three-and-a-half year tenure and eventually cost him friends and allies on the board. Sensing his days in Los Angeles were numbered, he tendered his resignation on October 16.John Deasy

Deasy’s record is mixed. He had some success in bringing teacher evaluations into the twenty-first century. He championed charter schools. He supported California’s parent-trigger law, which empowers parents at an underperforming school to force a change of governance. After the Miramonte Elementary School sexual-abuse case in 2012, Deasy enacted a zero-tolerance policy that led to the dismissal of more than 100 teachers for misconduct and the resignation of about 200 others in lieu of termination. He also testified on behalf of the plaintiffs in Vergara v. California, the class-action lawsuit in which Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu ruled that the state’s archaic seniority, tenure, and dismissal statutes were unconstitutional.

Reformers give Deasy credit for the district’s improved test results. Even though test scores did go up somewhat under his tenure, it’s difficult to attribute that improvement to Deasy. A recent Brookings Institution study found that superintendents on average account for just “0.3 percent of differences in student achievement.” Deasy’s supporters also say he reduced the district’s dropout rate, but their argument relies on some fuzzy math. In April 2013, LAUSD reported a 66 percent graduation rate. Last month, the district proudly announced its graduation rate had improved to 77 percent. That higher rate was made possible by excluding students in “alternative schools” — where the graduation rates can be as low as 5 percent—and so-called “invisible dropouts,” who leave during or after middle school. They don’t count as high school dropouts because they never dropped in.

Deasy undercut his successes with expensive, unforced errors. A wildly ambitious, $1.3 billion plan to put Apple iPads into the hands of every district student was a debacle. Last year’s rollout began amid confusion. Would the students be allowed to take the devices home? Who would be responsible for tablets that were lost or stolen? Many students breached their iPads’ security locks and used the devices for non-academic purposes. Deasy halted the program in August after e-mails revealed he had discussed a possible contract with Apple before the official bidding process began. The “MiSiS crisis” followed on the heels of the iPad scandal. The district launched an online school-information system that was nowhere near ready, resulting in thousands of students starting the school year without class schedules. The new system also couldn’t generate transcripts that seniors needed for college applications.

The superintendent’s ambitious reforms and high-profile failures made him an easy target for the United Teachers of Los Angeles. In April 2013, the union launched a “Whoopsie Deasy” campaign with the goal of ousting him. The UTLA encouraged teachers to give the superintendent a “no-confidence” vote, listing ten reasons it considered him a menace to the teaching profession. These included a six-year salary freeze; the allegation that “testing was overtaking teaching”; and the assertion that Deasy was too cozy with “billionaire outsiders.” The effort resonated with the union rank-and-file, who obligingly delivered the no-confidence vote by a roughly ten-to-one margin. But the UTLA regularly savaged Deasy for the same reason the reformers cheered him on: He came to the job seeking to shake up the sclerotic system, and viewed the union and its cronies on the school board as impediments to his pro-child agenda.

Overseeing the second-largest school district in the United States is a thankless and difficult job even for managers with less appetite for reform than Deasy. Consider the parade of L.A. school superintendents over the past 14 years. Former New York City schools chancellor Ramon Cortines held the job briefly in 2000, before former Colorado governor Roy Romer replaced him in July of that year. Retired Navy admiral David Brewer succeeded Romer in 2006. Cortines returned for two years in 2009. Deasy replaced him in 2011. Now the octogenarian Cortines is back for a third stint, this time as “interim” superintendent. How long he’ll stay is anyone’s guess.

Deasy’s departure raises the question of whether LAUSD is manageable by anyone. Is a district encompassing 31 cities, covering 720 square miles, with 655,000 students speaking 87 languages, taught by 32,000 teachers, and aided by a support staff of 35,000 simply too big to succeed? Wouldn’t it make more sense to break up the district? It’s not a new idea. The San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles tried to secede from the city in 2002, in part over dissatisfaction with the schools. Voters outside the valley overwhelmingly opposed the secession referendum, so it failed. In 2004, former state assembly speaker turned mayoral candidate Bob Hertzberg promised he would lead “a task force of teachers, parents, principals and other experts to come up with a plan to create smaller, community-based districts.” Hertzberg lost. Two years later, state Assemblyman Keith Richman introduced a bill to split LAUSD into more than a dozen smaller districts, overseen by a commission of mayors, university professors, and the state superintendent of public instruction. The bill didn’t pass. Most recently, Marc Litchman, who unsuccessfully challenged veteran Democratic congressman Brad Sherman to represent a district in the western San Fernando Valley, promised his first bill would be aimed at splitting up L.A. Unified. “The schools have to perform,” Litchman said. “They’re not performing to the level we all hoped they would. In Los Angeles, the biggest barrier to that is the school district.”

If the district is the biggest barrier to student success, it is also the biggest barrier to dissolution. Former state senator Gloria Romero, a Los Angeles Democrat, told me that splitting L.A. Unified “would be the messiest, most costly divorce ever.” She says the various laws and regulations governing the district are “written in such a way, with so many twists and turns and back alleys to navigate, that even those who control that dysfunctional maze … probably [couldn’t] find a way out.”

Absent a change in the law or a radical shift in public opinion, L.A. Unified students and families likely will remain stuck with business as usual. And it’s difficult to imagine the school board hiring another provocateur as Deasy’s permanent replacement. As National Council on Teacher Quality president Kate Walsh told L.A. School Report after Deasy’s resignation: “I don’t know a single person on earth who would want that terrible job. It won’t be a change agent. It will be a status quo candidate who will make life pleasant for himself by enjoying all the wrapping of the superintendency and being smart enough not to try and change a thing.” That might be a politically savvy move — but a complete disservice to L.A.’s kids.

This article was originally published at www.city-journal.org

Thousands Boycott Colorado Standardized Tests

A much-feared boycott of standardized tests has come to fruition in Colorado, with thousands of students in some of the state’s top-performing school districts opting out of new standardized tests in an act of collective protest.

The boycott was expected, but its scale was not. According to data collected by the Denver Post, about 1,900 students at nine different high schools in Douglas County have refused to take the tests, a number that represents over half the relevant student body at those schools. In Boulder County, another 1,200 are believed to have defied the tests. In some individual schools, the boycott is almost total with over 95 percent of students participating.

The tests in question are Colorado’s CMAS tests in social studies and science. In particular, ire is being directed at the administration of the tests to high school seniors, which is happening for the first time this year. While there has been a great deal of fuss nationwide over Common Core multistate standards and their intersection with standardized tests, the protests in Colorado are actually unrelated, as Common Core only covers English and math.

Provided the students had their abstentions justified, they are not in danger of being punished for their actions.
Still, many students held protests outside their schools to make the point that they were seeking change rather than simply playing hooky.

The changes sought by students are summarized in a YouTube video created by some student leaders.

The criticisms leveled against the new CMAS tests are diverse. One major complaint is the cost of the tests. Developing and administering the tests costs tens of millions of dollars that could be put towards other education priorities like better books or improved facilities.

Students also complain that testing highs school seniors is gratuitous, as the tests’ fall administration interferes with college applications and produces results that aren’t even released until after students graduate.

Even if testing were a good idea, students complaint that the test as currently written doesn’t closely align with what they are taught. For example, the social studies test includes an economics component, even though Colorado does not require high schoolers to take any economics.

Others have criticized the effect the tests have on other students’ learning. At several high schools classes for freshmen, sophomore, and juniors were canceled entirely for the two days it takes to administer.

Several educational officials, including the state’s education commissioner and local superintendents, have expressed a degree of sympathy for the demonstrating students, but the only body with the power to alter the state’s test regimen is the Colorado legislature. A task force commissioned by the legislature is currently evaluating the state’s tests and will make recommendations come January.

Some school officials had begged parents to not launch the boycott, since schools that fail to sustain at least 95 percent test participation and have their accreditation rating lowered by the state. Consistently poor accreditation can trigger a host of penalties that schools would rather avoid.

This article was originally published on the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Parent Power Returns In Los Angeles

The new superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District has announced an abrupt reversal of a policy limiting parents’ ability to fix underperforming schools.

Since 2010, California’s public schools have subject to a so-called “parent trigger” law. The law allows the parents of children attending schools that have repeatedly demonstrated low performance to band together and take over the schools’ managment. Parents taking such an action can do things such as fire the principal or convert a school into a charter school.

While the law has only been used a handful of times in the past four years, the prospect of having LAUSD’s authority overthrown by a coalition of parents was off-putting to many of LAUSD’s educational bureaucrats. In August, then-Superintendent John Deasy boldly asserted that LAUSD was actually exempt from the law. Because LAUSD had received a special federal waiver from No Child Left Behind requirements that are also used to determine whether a school can be triggered, Deasy said the district’s schools were also by extension could not trigger a parent takeover.

Just two months after staking his claim, though, Deasy tumbled from power, pressured into resigning after a series of controversies that included the bungled implementation of a billion-dollar program to give an iPad to every LAUSD student.

Now, Deasy’s replacement, Ramon Cortines, has abandoned Deasy’s position on the parent trigger law, though he has refused to describe the move as a policy reversal.

“I think it is a part of giving parents a choice,” Cortines told the Los Angeles Times. “If they want to do something I need to support it.”

The announcement will protect LAUSD from any potential lawsuits spearheaded by the groups Parent Revolution, an LA-based reform organization that spearheaded the trigger law’s creations and has organized trigger campaigns in the city. Parent Revolution deputy director Gabe Rose, who told The Daily Caller News Foundation last August that a lawsuit was possible if the district did not change course, told the Los Angeles Times Tuesday night that the organization is already planning several different parent trigger campaigns in the city. The group, Rose said, had never viewed Deasy’s position as remotely tenable and had done nothing to curb its organizing efforts while the policy was in place.

Cortines’s shift on parental triggers is the latest in a series of rapid changes he has made since replacing Deasy. After scarcely three weeks in office, he has already induced the district’s chief technology officer to resign over the iPad debacle and a similar problem implementing school scheduling software, and has also announced an ambitious plan to reorganize the district to increase the autonomy of regional administrators.

This piece was originally posted on the Daily Caller News Foundation

California’s New Coalitions Defy Conventional Definitions

The 2014 mid-term elections will be remembered for many things – pioneering use of information technology to comprehensively profile and micro-target voters, escalating use of polarizing rhetoric, historically low levels of voter turnout, and historic records in total spending. In California, in spite of all this money and technology – or perhaps because of it – the political landscape is probably not going to change very much this time around. But appearances can be deceiving. While Democrats will still control California’s state legislature and nearly all of California’s large cities and urban counties, new fault lines are forming within California’s electorate that defy conventional definitions of Republican and Democrat, or conservative and liberal.

Because as it is, California’s schools are failing, businesses and middle-income residents are fleeing, and the cost of living is the highest in America. Three powerful groups benefit from and perpetuate this arrangement with their money and their votes:  Wealthy individuals and crony capitalists, unionized public sector workers, and low-income residents who have become entirely dependent on government and are susceptible to their rhetoric. The terms of this alliance are financially unsustainable and even now, they harm low income residents more than they help them. It will crack as soon as a viable opposition coalesces. And that is happening.

Here are examples of how coalitions are forming that defy conventional definitions of Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal:

(1)  Financial sustainability is a bipartisan issue.

California’s cities and counties, despite revenues from an unsustainable asset bubble that has bought them time, are on a collision course with financial insolvency. This reality has already confronted every big city mayor in California. Some, including Democrats like San Jose’s courageous mayor Chuck Reed, are trying to enact reforms to save their cities. Over 80% of the non-federal government spending in California is at the local level, and sooner or later, liberals and conservatives are going to join together to demand realistic financial reforms to restore financial health to California’s public institutions.

(2)  Quality public schools is a bipartisan issue.

California’s public schools will not be improved by spending more money, they will be improved by making fundamental reforms to how schools and school districts are managed. The Vergara lawsuit, funded almost entirely by conscientious Democrats, proves how committed everyone is to restoring accountability to public education. The success of charter schools proves that superior educational outcomes can be had for less money than is currently made available to public schools.

(3)  The mission of public sector unions is inherently in conflict with the public interest.

Both of the examples just mentioned – quality education and financial health – are the priority of any civic minded private citizen, but are not the priority of the public sector unions who control California politics. The reason California’s schools are failing is because of union work rules that prevent innovation and accountability. The reason California’s government finances are perennially challenged is because for decades, public sector unions have pressured politicians to grant pay and benefit increases that have become unfair and unaffordable.

(4)  Private sector unions are fundamentally different from public sector unions.

The growing rift within Democrats, and the growing consensus among all California voters, is based on a fundamental fact: Criticizing, or even abolishing, public sector unions does NOT represent an attempt at a broader war on labor, working people, or private sector unions. There are serious issues relating to the role and optimal regulations for private sector unions, but they play a legitimate, vital part in American society. Public sector unions, on the other hand, should be abolished.

(5)  No party, platform, or person has all the answers.

This is not a new reality, but today in California it is being increasingly recognized by reformers across the political spectrum. And there is a new, unifying theme – the need for public sector union reform, fostered through education reform and fiscal reform. While politicians and citizens may disagree over the size of government and the role of government, they are agreeing, more than ever, that government unions have skewed this debate and taken options away. Can we improve and enhance government services, or invest in ambitious new infrastructure projects? No, because tax revenue must pay over-market compensation to government workers. Can we streamline and modernize a government agency or effectively manage a school? No, because of union work rules.

New coalitions are forming that will not accept failing schools, or cities and counties in a perpetual state of financial crisis. They will fight together for educational excellence and fiscal health. And because nothing matters more than our children and our ability to earn a living, they will recognize the unpleasant truth – to restore public education and public finance requires fighting public sector unions.

In California, the outcome of the 2014 election is sadly predictable. But change is coming.

Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.

CA Teachers Brace for Impact on Election Day

The expensive race for California superintendent of public instruction may have the biggest education impact of any election Tuesday.

Regardless of its outcome, the race will send shockwaves across the country and set the national tone for how strong unionized teachers remain in an era of rapid change for public education.

The showdown is between incumbent superintendent Tom Torlakson and challenger Marshall Tuck, both Democrats. Torlakson easily won the primary over the summer, taking 46 percent of the vote to Tuck’s 29 percent (California uses a nonpartisan primary in which the top two candidates advance to the general election, regardless of party). Since then, however, the gap has narrowed tremendously, and the final outcome is completely uncertain. The final polls prior to Election Day show the candidates tied with 28 percent support each, while an incredible 44 percent of voters are undecided.

Torlakson is a pro-union Democrat, an individual representing the symbiotic relationship between Democrats and organized labor that has existed since before the World War II. A former science teacher, Torlakson spent years in California’s State Assembly and Senate, where he helped boost funding for after-school programs and low-performing schools by billions of dollars. As the state’s top education official, he has helped lead the legal battle against the Vergara v. California decision that gutted California’s tenure law and other generous job security protections that have made it excruciatingly difficult and costly for teachers in the state to be fired. He opposes using standardized test scores to evaluate teachers, is skeptical of charter schooling, and favors traditional union goals such as reducing class sizes.

Tuck, on the other hand, represents every trend in the Democratic Party that teachers fear. Unlike Torlakson, Tuck has never been a public school teacher, and his primary experience is as an administrator for various charter school efforts. He supports the Vergara court ruling, wants to tie teacher pay to performance and has pledged to shake up California schools that he says have grown too comfortable with poor performances on standardized tests. More broadly, he embodies a new movement in the Democratic Party, one willing to question whether the interests of teacher unions and students perfectly coincide. A win by Tuck would be an electoral vindication for Democrats who take up the mantle of aggressive school reform rather than the pro-union status quo.

Tuck also represents the growing role of business leaders in influencing educational policy. His campaign has been substantially helped by the generosity of a few big donors from the business world. Billionaire Eli Broad, the founder of SunAmerica and a major proponent of education reform, has given him at least a million dollars. Other big donors include former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, Silicon Valley investor Arthur Rock, and Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton. Among teachers, distrust for the intentions of these current and former moguls runs high, with many arguing the money comes not from altruism but rather from a desire to expand the operations of for-profit standardized testing companies, charter schools, and technology firms.

Tuck’s business ties have been furiously attacked, with one ad from the American Federation of Teachers labeling him a “Wall Street banker” (he worked in finance for a short period after college) and saying he would “turn our schools over to for-profit corporations.”

Tuck may have Wall Street on his side, but teachers have ensured he has no money advantage. The 325,000-member California Teachers Association and several other labor groups groups backing Torlakson have spent nearly $14 million to support his candidacy directly, along with another $7 million on issue ads that reflect positively on him. They’ve also spent close to $3 million on ads attacking Tuck. Altogether, spending in the race has surpassed $30 million, more than any other race in the state and among the most expensive non-gubernatorial state elections in the country’s history.

In this deep blue state, the final outcome of the race will be a critical bellwether about the state of education reform in the United States. For decades, teachers unions have provided Democratic candidates with money and volunteer muscle, helping them to win office and in return being rewarded with the strong pensions, benefits and job protections that offset relatively low salaries. Should Torlakson hang on, it will show that the public education establishment, despite all the attacks upon it from reformers, remain a tremendous force to be reckoned with and a potential kingmaker in Democratic politics. Should Tuck triumph, however, it will represent an overthrow of the old order, a changing of the guard that could last for years.

This piece was originally published at The Daily Caller News Foundation

Editorial: As state superintendent race tightens, Tuck the best choice

In this editorial, the Orange County Register reaffirms it’s endorsement of Marshall Tuck for state superintendent of schools:

Let’s not bury the lede: California’s school superintendent race has drawn nearly three times the campaign spending as the race for governor. It has generated more than double the spending of the last three superintendent races combined. It has featured a clash of union interests, billionaires, charter schools and Hollywood stars.

And yet, according to an Oct. 30 Field Poll, challenger Marshall Tuck and incumbent Tom Torlakson are tied at 28 percent – with 44 percent of voters undecided.

The campaign resembles something of political trench warfare: Each side lobbing shells, but gaining little ground. Field Poll’s Late August/Early September results found a 3 point split in favor of Mr. Tuck, 31-28, with 41 percent undecided.

In other words, after $30 million dollars of combined campaign spending – a number compiled by Oakland-based education think tank EdSource, roughly 80 percent of it independent expenditures – California voters are in about the same place they were two months ago.

The Register has previously endorsed Mr. Tuck for the office, calling him a “mission-driven education reformer.” We reaffirm that endorsement, and the results of the recent Field Poll give us even more confidence in his candidacy.

Read the full editorial here