NEA loses members, dues

With membership — and dues — falling, the National Education Association is trying to reinvent itself, reports Ed Week.

Since 2010, the teachers’ union estimates, the NEA has lost the equivalent of 100,000 full-time members, bringing its overall numbers to approximately 3 million educators. By the end of its 2013-14 budget cycle, the union expects it will have lost 308,000 full-time members and experienced a decline in dues revenue projected at some $65 million in all.

“The public-sector unions are in panic mode,” said John I. Wilson, a former NEA executive director. They need to ” make new friends to move an education agenda that is of service to the country.”

Teachers’ unions donate to a broad range of groups, reports the Wall Street Journal.

What do the American Ireland Fund, the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network have in common?

All have received some of the more than $330 million that America’s two largest teachers unions spent in the past five years on outside causes, political campaigns, lobbying and issue education.

. . . The two unions typically give to advocacy groups that have been involved in various civil-rights struggles and that they think will turn out at the polls. Donations went to the Japanese American Citizens League, the National Italian American Foundation, the National Council of La Raza, a Latino civil-rights group and the World Outgames, a sporting event hosted by the gay community.

A gift of $7,250 from the AFT to the Bnai Zion Foundation in 2011 went to support a school for abused children in Israel. A $10,000 gift to a Palestinian educator in 2007 went to teachers in the Palestinian territories whose salaries hadn’t been paid in months, the AFT said.

Some union members have protested the use of their dues to fund gay rights and abortion rights groups.

Dastardly philanthropists

“Corporate foundation” and “corporate” were used as a catch-all insult at the Save Our Schools rally, writes Kevin Carey. For opponents of school reform “corporate” appears to be a synonym for “dastardly” or “scum-sucking.”

A “corporate foundation” is accountable to owners and shareholders, he points out. ExxonMobil Foundation justifies its underwriting of  “Masterpiece Theatre” by the public relations benefits that “help mitigate some of the less popular aspects of being a gigantic energy conglomerate.”

By contrast, the Carnegie Corporation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Century Foundation, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and many others are independent non-profit foundations that got their money from rich people who founded large corporations. There’s a difference. The politics of Henry Ford and the interests of the Ford Motor Company are by no means aligned with the strategies put forth by the Ford Foundation.

Education reform’s enemies are “corporate” in nature, argues RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation.

The two teachers’ unions are “billion-dollar organizations” with well-paid staffs and CEOs.  The AFT’s Randi earned $428,284 in 2010,while the NEA’s DennisVan Roekel was paid $397,721.

Like their peers in the corporate world, the two unions devote countless hours developing strategies aimed at maximizing their core mission — serving their shareholders and customers, who, given that they are teachers, are one and the same.

Like their corporate peers, the unions use marketing, branding, public relations, lobbying and political contributions, Biddle writes.

Billionaire philanthropists should build new institutions and stop trying to fix old ones, advises Jay Greene. “In general, existing institutions don’t want to be fixed.”


Union reveals how it blocked ‘parent trigger’

Connecticut minority groups pushed for a parent trigger bill, which would let a majority of parents force a management change at chronically low-performing schools. Unable to kill the bill, the state affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers negotiated a much weaker version — and bragged about the strategy in a presentation at the union’s annual convention. RiShawn Biddle at Dropout Nation discovered the presentation online and kept a copy of the pdf, correctly anticipating the AFT would take down the document once it was publicized.

“How Connecticut Diffused [sic] The Parent Trigger” is an  “illuminating look into union cynicism and power,” editorializes the Wall Street Journal.

“Not at the table,” notes the AFT document, were “parent groups” who supported the reform. Engagement meant pressuring legislators vulnerable to union muscle. That’s most of them—and the AFT’s muscle worked.

The result was a reform in name only. Out were simple parent petition drives, in were complex “school governance councils” of parents, teachers and community leaders. Most significantly, as the AFT’s PowerPoint brags, the councils’ “name is a misnomer: they are advisory and do not have true governing authority.”

The new governance councils are “glorified PTAs,”  Hannya Boulous, director of Buffalo ReformED, tells Education News.  Boulous is working for parent trigger legislation in New York.



How long did Weingarten teach?

Education reformers “wouldn’t last 10 minutes in a classroom,” said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten this week.

A lawyer turned union leader, Weingarten’s classroom time was limited, counters Education Action Group.   

Weingarten’s AFT bio claims she taught history at Clara Barton High School in Brooklyn from 1991 to 1997. EAG obtained her personnel file via a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request. Weingarten was hired as a substitute teacher in 1991 and received a “provisional” license in 1993. In 1994, she received a “certificate to serve as a substitute.” A 1997 letter indicates Weingarten didn’t submit documentation showing she’d met requirements for licensure.

No record indicates she ever served as a full-time teacher or was evaluated by a principal or other school official.              
When Weingarten ran for president of New York’s United Federation of Teachers in 1998, her opponent, Michael Shulman, suggested that she was not a “real teacher.”  

“She worked five months full-time that I’ve been aware of, in 1992, at Clara Barton High School,” Shulman was quoted as saying in the New York Times. “Since then she taught maybe one class for 40 minutes a day.”

An education reformer with two years as a Teach for America teacher apparently has more classroom experience than the AFT leader.


Baltimore teachers reject new contract

Baltimore teachers rejected a new contract that would have changed the traditional salary scale based on seniority and academic credits.

The proposed contract included pay raises and kept health benefits at their current rate. But some were wary of a provision that would have replaced a system where seniority and degrees determined pay with one where they were paid by effectiveness in the classroom and pursuit of professional development.

Some 58 percent of teachers rejected the contract.

The contract had been hailed as a sign that teachers’ unions are open to reform, notes Teacher Beat. Apparently, the leadership of the AFT-affiliated union couldn’t persuade its membership.

Teachers’ unions shun Duncan

Guess who’s not coming to speak at the National Education Association’s convention in New Orleans? President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, once welcome at the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers conventions, aren’t on the guest list this year “partly because union officials feared that administration speakers would face heckling,” reports the New York Times.

The largest union’s meeting opened here on Saturday to a drumbeat of heated rhetoric, with several speakers calling for Mr. Duncan’s resignation, hooting delegates voting for a resolution criticizing federal programs for “undermining public education,” and the union’s president summing up 18 months of Obama education policies by saying, “This is not the change I hoped for.”

“Today our members face the most anti-educator, anti-union, anti-student environment I have ever experienced,” Dennis Van Roekel, president of the union, the National Education Association, told thousands of members gathered at the convention center here.

Many teachers feel they are being blamed for problems that are beyond their control. Union leaders are angry that Obama and Duncan aren’t willing to cut Race to the Top reforms to fund a $10 billion education jobs bill.

The  NEA spent $50 million in 2008 to help elect Democrats; the AFT spent millions more.

“If the teachers sit on their hands this fall, it would be a disaster for Obama and the Democrats,” said Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation who has studied the teachers’ unions.

Duncan is trying to avoid confrontation. “Some state and local unions are very thoughtful and progressive and are embracing innovation,” Duncan told the Times. “Others are more entrenched in the status quo.”

AFT backs change in teacher evaluation

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, proposed using student test scores to evaluate teachers and expediting disciplinary cases against teachers in a speech today, reports the Washington Post.

The AFT, Weingarten said, wants “a fair, transparent and expedient process to identify and deal with ineffective teachers. But [we] know we won’t have that if we don’t have an evaluation system that is comprehensive and robust and really tells us who is or is not an effective teacher.”

Weingarten called for states to adopt standards for teachers and evaluate teachers by multiple masures, including value-added analysis of their students’ progress. She also called for mentoring and training to help teachers improve.

The AFT has asked Kenneth Feinberg, the respected mediator who ran the 9/11 victims’ fund, to develop a speedier system for investigating teacher misconduct.

While Weingarten has signaled openness to reforms before, but this is the most detailed proposal she’s made, writes Ed Week’s Stephen Sawchuk.

She presented a framework based on feedback from union leaders and teacher-quality researchers, in which evaluations would be based on a clear set of performance standards. Such an evaluation system should include “implementation benchmarks,” Ms. Weingarten said, to assure that administrators charged with overseeing the system follow through on their duties and provide tools and assistance so teachers can improve.

Teachers, she said, should be judged on a variety of measures, including classroom observations by peer evaluators and administrators, self-evaluations, appraisals of lesson plans, and reviews of student work, in addition to student test scores.

New York Times columnist Bob Herbert hopes the AFT is serious about change. The union’s credibility is on the line, he writes.

This is a very smart move by the AFT, but the devil is in the details — and the implementation.

Eduwonk has more on what to watch.

Teacher Beat adds context in a second-day story, including the fact that the NEA has been “strangely silent.”

Getting tough on teacher ed programs

Texas will judge teacher-training programs based on graduates’ effectiveness in the classroom, reports the Houston Chronicle. Poor programs could lose state accreditation. Till now, programs have been judged only by the percentage of graduates who pass the teacher certification exam.

The biggest change to the accrediting rules — and potentially the most controversial — involves linking a teacher’s ability to improve student test scores to that teacher’s training. In theory, the state, which still is working on a formula and a long-range data system, should be able to determine which programs produce graduates whose students make the biggest — or smallest — gains.

. . . The programs also will get graded on how often and how well they follow up with teachers during their first year on the job. In addition, school principals will get to weigh in on the programs through evaluations of the new teachers they hire.

On Education Gadfly, Stafford Palmieri thinks the “fortified walls” of teachers’ colleges are ready to crack, battered by “the development and refinement of value-added assessment, the widening use of data-based decision-making in education, and the improvement of state and district data systems,” plus the growth of alternative certification programs.

A growing number of charter schools, as well as the overwhelming majority of private schools, don’t even require certification. A few districts, such as Cambridge, Massachusetts, and some charter school operators, like High Tech High, simply train their own.

More than 90 percent of California principals say teachers from alternative certification programs are as good or better than other beginning teachers, according to a survey conducted by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CCTC) and California Teacher Corps.

The American Federation of Teachers hates the new SMHC report on “strategies for attracting, developing, and maintaining an effective teacher workforce,” notes Teacher Beat.

Among the recommendations, the report says states and districts should raise entry requirements for teacher preparation; institute a tiered licensure system requiring teachers to complete an induction program and demonstrate teaching effectiveness before receiving tenure; and overhaul professional development and evaluations to be standards-based and to provide pathways for teacher improvement.

AFT President Randi Weingarten complains that “the proposals don’t pay enough attention to the context in which teachers teach, and that accountability for student outcomes is focused too heavily on teachers, and not on the administrators and other environmental factors that affect working conditions. And finally, there is not enough focus on developing reforms in collaboration, with unions.”

Elementary math isn't easy

What’s Sophisticated about Elementary Mathematics? Plenty, writes Hung-Hsi Wu in American Educator.

. . . starting no later than fourth grade, math should be taught by math teachers (who teach only math). Teaching elementary math in a way that prepares students for algebra is more challenging than many people realize. Given the deep content knowledge that teaching math requires—not to mention the expertise that teaching reading demands—it’s time to reconsider the generalist elementary teacher’s role.

Many elementary teachers weren’t good in math and don’t like it.

In affluent, highly educated Palo Alto, 57 percent of parents provide extra help in math to their elementary school children, a survey found. Parents pay for Kumon classes, Score’s computer-assisted learning or other forms of tutoring. Despite protests from some parents, the district has adopted Everyday Math. There are reports more parents are hiring tutors to make sure their children learn the basics.

Union blues

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers,  wants to be a reformer, write Ed Sector’s Andrew Rotherham and Richard Whitmire in Making the Grade.

In her (November) speech, she vowed to give ear to almost any tough-minded school reform, and, in a line that thrilled many reformers, promised that the AFT will not protect incompetent teachers: “Teachers are the first to say, ‘Let’s get incompetent teachers out of the classroom.

But Weingarten’s reform ambitions have foundered in Washington, D.C., they write.

Michelle Rhee, a hard-charging and high-profile reformer now serving as the chancellor of the city’s schools, has taken on the system with a strong hand, vowing to ramp up teacher-training and shuffle low-performing teachers out of the system. Her offer to teachers, buttressed by pledged funding from several foundations, is this: Give up tenure, and you will receive dramatic salary boosts measured in tens of thousands of dollars–or keep tenure protections, your salary increases will be far smaller, and you will still be subject to dismissal if you fail to reach performance standards.

The Washington Teachers Union (WTU) at first seemed willing to work with Rhee to craft a deal on her two-track system. But, in the end, the WTU rejected the offer without even putting it to a vote of teachers.

In New York City, UFT’s well-publicized attempt to unionize KIPP schools is in trouble.  Teachers at two KIPP schools are breaking union ties, reports Gotham Schools.  That may affect the union vote at a third KIPP school.

Eduwonk puts “the odds at one in three now that the UFT comes out of this with any KIPP schools in the city as part of their portfolio.”

More generally, while the UFT/AFT hoped this would highlight how hard KIPP teachers work and sustainability questions about  that, instead this episode now seems likely bring into stark relief some of the very real tensions between industrial-style unionism and professional work.

Look for “total war” instead of “healthy debate,” Eduwonk says.