Short of teachers, SF says ‘no’ to TFA

Kamaria Carnes (right) of Teach for America high-fives Anderson Aguilar after he finished an oral exam during her eighth-grade English language arts class at Everett Middle School in the Mission District. Photo: Connor Radnovich, The Chronicle
Teach for America corps member Kamaria Carnes, who teaches eighth-grade English at a San Francisco middle school, high-fives Anderson Aguilar after he finished an oral exam. Photo: Connor Radnovich, San Francisco Chronicle

Under pressure from the teachers’ union, the San Francisco School Board voted to suspend Teach for America’s contract for the coming school year, writes Tracy Dell’Angela on Education Post.

Who will teach instead?

The 15 San Francisco classrooms that would have been staffed by TFA corps members — yep, only 15 — are now going to be filled by either long-term subs or untrained college grads with emergency certification,”

San Francisco has a dire teaching shortage—district administrators predicted the district will not be able to fill its 500 vacancies by August and many of these will be in areas that TFA specializes in recruiting—special education, bilingual classrooms and STEM.

Superintendent Richard Carranza wanted to renew the TFA contract, but couldn’t get board support.

“Some board members didn’t even try to pretend their pushback was in the best interest of children,” writes Dell’Angela. “Board member Jill Wynns’ opposition was based on Teach For America’s ‘financial connections to supporters of charter schools and market-based education reform’.”

Only 17 percent of TFA corps members are teaching in district schools after 17 years, say opponents. But turnover is high for all new teachers: San Francisco is a very expensive city.

TFA teachers are more likely to stay on the job than other new teachers in San Francisco, Beatrice Viramontes, the organization’s senior managing director in San Francisco, told the Chronicle. “Overall, 90 percent of the group’s teachers come back after their first year of teaching, compared with 56 percent of those who are new to the teaching profession in general. In addition, most of the program’s teachers stay for a third year after their two-year commitment ends, said both the organization and the district.”

Clout shift: Charters rise as unions decline

Who will be the education base of the Democratic Party in 2024? asks Neerav Kingsland on his relinquishment blog.

Teachers’ unions, which usually oppose charter expansion, are losing membership, while charter schools are growing, he notes. This year, more students are enrolled in charter schools than there are teacher union members.

Kingsland predicts there will be two or three times more charter parents than unionized teachers in five to seven years.

If charter school families become politically active, they’ll hard to ignore, Kingsland writes.

Update: As expected, the U.S. Supreme Court deadlocked 4-4 on the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case, which challenged mandatory union fees for teachers who are not members.  The court’s 1977 decision upholding “fair share” fees to cover collective-bargaining costs will remain in force until a future challenge comes to a nine-member court.

Without Scalia, will union dues survive?

Justice Antonin Scalia’s death could be “a big break for teachers’ unions, which were set to lose the Friedrich’s case over mandatory union dues, writes Andrew Rotherham on Eduwonk.

Justice Antonin Scalia's death could give teachers' unions a victory -- however temporary -- in the Friedrichs case.

Justice Antonin Scalia’s death could give teachers’ unions a victory — however temporary — in the Friedrichs case.

The smart money said the unions were going to lose a 5-4 vote. If that’s true, the vote is now 4-4. That means the lower-court’s pro-union ruling stands as if the Supreme Court had never heard the case, writes Tom Goldstein on ScotusBlog. A tie doesn’t set a precedent.

The union victory could be temporary, notes the Los Angeles Times. The Court could “ask for re-argument of the same case next term,” after a ninth justice is seated.

The Court was on track to limit affirmative action in public higher education in the Fisher case, writes Goldstein. “Because Justice Kagan recused herself, it’s likely the University of Texas will lose on a 4-3 vote.

A Potential Weakening of Teachers Unions

In less than 2 weeks the US Supreme Court will hear the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association.  One of the plaintiffs explains in the Wall Street Journal why he’s sued:

I am one of 10 California teachers suing to end compulsory union dues in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which will be heard by the Supreme Court Jan. 11. Our request is simple: Strike down laws in 23 states that require workers who decline to join a union to pay fees anyway. In our view, paying fees to a union should not be a prerequisite for teaching in a public school. No one in the U.S. should be forced to give money to a private organization he or she disagrees with fundamentally. Teachers deserve a choice.

Education labor writer Mike Antonucci has a detailed yet clear discussion of the potential effects here:

If the Supreme Court decides to strike down agency-fee laws nationwide, the NEA and the AFT would be forced to recruit their members one by one; additional teacher hiring would not automatically swell the unions’ ranks. In an open market, other organizations could compete for teacher representation, sell liability insurance, and offer professional services on a level playing field.

Still, one must take the rhetoric of union leaders and their media sympathizers with a grain of salt. A Friedrichs decision in favor of the plaintiffs would not spell the end of teachers unions. It would simply mean that the current situation in states such as Texas and Georgia would become the norm in California and the rest of the U.S.

While a union defeat in Friedrichs could place sharp limits on the political operations of the NEA, the AFT, and other public employees’ unions, the impact would be far from apocalyptic. In the states that do not permit agency fees, the teachers unions still have a hand in education policymaking. Unions there bargain collectively, if state law allows it. They lobby the legislature. They testify in committee. They speak at school board meetings. They campaign for and financially support candidates for public office. Some of the locals even have exclusive representation. They just can’t charge nonmembers a fee.

State and local unions in states such as California, Illinois, New Jersey, Ohio, and Pennsylvania are not accustomed to operating under such a regime and would require top-to-bottom reorganization. But those in states such as Texas, Virginia, Georgia, Missouri, and North Carolina would experience no change—except for diminished national subsidies from the NEA and the AFT.

Overall loss of membership is inevitable, but it would not happen overnight. The power of incumbency will give the unions some staying power, and they are already preparing for an adverse outcome from the Supreme Court.

While the case will be heard shortly, no ruling is expected before June.

Study: Teachers bargain, students lose

Teachers’ collective bargaining rights correlate with lower employment and earnings for students later in adult life, concludes a study by Michael F. Lovenheim and Alexander Willén in Education Next.
They compared student outcomes in states that enacted a duty-to-bargain law to outcomes in states that did not change their collective-bargaining policies.

There was no effect on the amount of schooling students completed.

However, “students who spent all 12 years of grade school in a state with a duty-to-bargain law earned an average of $795 less per year and worked half an hour less per week as adults than students who were not exposed to collective-bargaining laws.” Those educated in duty-to-bargain states were less likely to be employed and those with jobs were more likely to work in low-skilled occupations.

Why? They’re not sure.

Perhaps collective bargaining has made it more difficult for school districts to dismiss ineffective teachers or to allocate teachers among schools. Or perhaps the political influence of teachers unions at the state level has interfered with efforts to improve school quality.

More than 60 percent of U.S. teachers work under a union contract, but some states, such as Wisconsin, Michigan,  Indiana and Tennessee, have moved to restrict teachers’ bargaining rights.

If unions lose agency fees, what next?

Teachers’ unions could lose money, members and political clout, if the U.S. Supreme Court rules against “agency fees,” writes Michael Antonucci in Education Next.

Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association challenges the California law requiring teachers who haven’t joined the union to pay fees meant to cover collective bargaining, but not political activity.

Friedrichs plaintiffs assert that the agency-fee system infringes their rights to free speech and free association, he writes. “They maintain that collective bargaining in the public sector is itself inherently political.”

Wisconsin eliminated agency fees (and weakened unions’ bargaining power) in 2011, notes Antonucci. Union member has fallen by more than half.

Minnesota is an agency-fee state with about 111,000 K-12 employees, of which about 75,000 are teachers union members. Arizona, with no agency-fee law, has about 103,000 K-12 employees and only 16,000 teachers union members.

“In 2014, NEA membership in agency fee states grew by 5,300. In states without agency fees, it fell by more than 47,000.”

A typical California teacher pays $1,000 in dues asa union member, $650 in fees as a non-member. If non-members saved $1,000 a year, membership could go down sharply, Antonucci suggests.

The American Federation of Teachers pays heavily to play politics, reports RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation.

According to its 2014-2015 financial disclosure, the “second-largest teachers’ union spent $42 million on political lobbying activities and contributions,” a 45 percent increase over influence-spending levels in 2013-2014.

AFT gave $250,000 to the Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation and another $250,000 to the Clinton Global Initiative, “the other non-explicitly political wing of the Clinton family’s always-political efforts,” writes Biddle. The union has endorsed Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid.

Left-wing ‘fundies’ fight reform

Lefties have become education fundamentalists, writes Lynnell Mickelsen on Education Post.  She’s a lefty herself, but she values educating children more than protecting teachers’ unions.

Like the religious right, the teachers’ union and its allies frame issues as either-or, she writes.

Either you support every clause in the union contract or you’re trying to bust the union. Either you support teachers or you’re “bashing” them. Either you support public schools or you want their destruction because that apocalypse is always drawing nigh.

Fundamentalists demonize their opponents: “In the union narrative, ed reformers aren’t just wrong about educational policy,” they’re evil “corporatists” trying to “privatize” the schools.

Fundies reject evidence that challenges their world view, writes Mickelsen. Students in New Orleans’  post-Katrina “public charters have made remarkable gains in reading and math scores, high school graduation and college acceptance rates. Yet union leaders and their allies have gone out of their way to deny or dismiss this data.”

Just as right-wing fundamentalists “insist that Marriage Is Between a Man and A Woman . . . teachers’ unions basically insist that Public Schools Are Between A Union and Its District,” she writes.

Right now, the public schools that are getting the best results with low-income black and Latino children are mostly charters. But because charter schools are mostly non-union, the teachers’ unions are attempting to limit these schools—even though this would disenfranchise entire groups of children.

Both the teachers’ union and religious conservatives share the same message on racial disparities in achievement, Mickelsen concludes. “Our systems are fine. It’s the brown kids and their parents who are screwed up.”

It’s Time to Get Rid of Education’s Sacred Cows, writes Angela Minnici in Ed Week. These include the idea that “education is local,” that anyone who loves kids can be a good teacher and that U.S. schools traditionally have done well at educating all students.

‘Accountability’ proposal is anti-choice

The Charter School Accountability Agenda is a “front” for opponents of school choice and reform, writes RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation. The authors, Center for Popular Democracy and In the Public Interest, have union backing, he writes.

The agenda includes requiring an “impact analysis” on how new charters would affect district-run schools. It’s “absurd” to let existing schools keep out the competition, Biddle writes. That’s especially true in cities: Urban charters improve achievement — and raise the odds students will earn a diploma and go to college — according to Stanford’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes and Rand studies.

KIPP charter students in Manhattan. Photo: Beth Fertig, WNYC.

KIPP charter students in Manhattan. Photo: Beth Fertig, WNYC.

The agenda would let district schools keep per-pupil funding when students transfer to charters. “Why should any district be entitled to receive dollars for kids they are no longer serving?” asks Biddle.

It also calls for charters to enroll as many special-needs students as traditional schools.

Charters have fewer special-ed students because they’re less likely to put a disability label on students with learning problems, Biddle writes. They focus on teaching struggling students instead of sticking them in a “special ed ghetto.”

The American Federation of Teachers, which endorsed the agenda, ran a very low-performing charter school in New York City, notes Biddle. The school met just one of 38 goals set by its authorizer and was “rated a failure mill” by the city’s education department. The school had little tolerance for special ed students.

UFT Charter meted out-of-school suspensions to 17.8 percent of special ed students in 2011-2012 and in-school suspensions to another 20 percent of them, according to data submitted by the school to the U.S. Department of Education. This is higher than the out-of-school and in-school suspension rates of  1.5 percent and 6.5 percent for kids in regular classrooms.

United Federation of Teachers, the New York City local, will close the K-8 school, but hopes to keep the high school going.

Cuomo sets union-unfriendly agenda

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo “has declared war on the public schools,” charges Karen E. Magee, president of the state teachers’ union.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his 2015 State of the State speech.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his 2015 State of the State speech.

The Democratic governor thinks too hard to fire underperforming teachers, wants to raise or eliminate the limit on charter schools and backs a tax credit for people and companies donating money to public schools and private school scholarships, reports the New York Times.

Chester Finn calls Gov. Cuomo’s education agenda “awesome (and radically union-unfriendly).”

“Its single boldest and most surprising item is the governor’s endorsement of a tax-credit scholarship program so that more young New Yorkers can afford to attend private schools,” writes Finn. That makes Cuomo “the first Democratic governor ever to propose a program of private-school choice for kids and families in his state.”

Moskowitz outmuscles the unions

In a Reason interview, Eva Moskowitz, founder of New York City’s phenomenally successful Success Academy charter schools, talks about how she built a political coalition to fight union power.

When Mayor Bill de Blasio tried to squash Success Academy’s expansion plans, Moskowitz “bused 11,000 charter school parents and kids to the state capital in Albany to protest.” Gov. Andrew Cuomo backed the charter network, the mayor backed down and “state lawmakers quickly passed a bill to protect charter schools from future interference by the mayor.”