Unions lose big — except for California

Reformer Marshall Tuck failed to unseat California’s union-backed state superintendent, Tom Torlakson. The final vote in the expensive race was 52 to 48 percent.

However, that was one of the few bright spots for teachers’ unions and anti-reformers in yesterday’s election.

It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day for the unions, writes RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation.

Governors “who aggressively undertake systemic reform (and smartly challenge NEA and AFT affiliates)” were big winners, he writes.

“Younger, reform-minded teachers who make up the majority of rank-and-file members” are less loyal to the unions, Biddle argues. “This has been made clear in Wisconsin, where the NEA and AFT affiliates are merging after losing, respectively, one-third and 63 percent of membership after Walker successfully ended compulsory dues collections.”

Republican governors’ victories portend “good things for charter schools, possible new efforts to launch or expand voucher programs, and challenging times ahead for teacher unions,” writes Rick Hess.

Governors Scott Walker, John Kasich, and Rick Snyder claimed surprisingly comfortable victories in the industrial Midwest. Meanwhile, “reform-minded” Republicans claimed the governorships in deep-blue Massachusetts, Maryland, and Illinois.

. . . Rhode Island Democrat Gina Raimondo, who’d infuriated the unions by pushing for pension reform as state treasurer, claimed the governor’s mansion. And Thom Tillis, who’d earned bitter union enmity for his role in the North Carolina legislature, eked past Kay Hagan to win a Senate seat.

Conservatives policy wonks will have a chance to influence federal higher education policy, Hess adds.

Most of the education action is in the states, points out Eduwonk. In addition to winning or holding statehouses, Republicans gained seats in state legislatures.

Democratic pension reformers and charter school supporters won in Rhode Island. Coupled with the Massachusetts governor’s race things could get interesting on charters in the northeast. But both those races involved issues beyond education.

Pre-k went down in Hawaii and Nevadans rejected an education tax ballot initiative. A Washington state initiative to cut class sizes — at a cost of $1 billion a year — remains too close to call. 

Real Clear Education has more.

Teachers’ unions lose unity, clout

“The teachers unions now face an environment in which their traditional enemies are emboldened, their traditional allies are deserting, and some of their most devoted activists are questioning the leadership of their own officers,” writes Mike Antonucci of Education Intelligence Agency on Education Next. But,”even weakened, together the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) constitute the single most powerful force in American education policy.”
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Both unions peaked in 2008 “with a combined membership approaching 4 million and annual revenues at all levels estimated at nearly $2 billion,” he writes.

Since then, NEA member has fallen by more than 9 percent. The AFT has held membership steady by affiliating with non-education unions, not by recruiting new teachers.

Today, a slight majority of teachers are not union members.

In both unions, a radical faction “wants to man the barricades, fight over every inch of territory, and take no prisoners” in the fight against education reform, writes Antonucci.

Union leaders want to appear to be “forward-thinking and innovative” rather than constantly rejecting reform. They need political allies.

While both national unions decry the corporate influence on education, they have partnerships with large corporations on many levels: sponsorships of union events, discount arrangements and credit cards as part of member benefits packages, funding for joint projects, etc.

. . . Union activists often depict the Gates Foundation as the mastermind behind corporate education reform. But in 2009, when the foundation announced it would award $335 million to a number of school districts and charter schools to promote teacher effectiveness, the union response was a far cry from the anticorporate rhetoric it regularly delivers to its internal audience.

. . . The NEA’s own foundation received $550,000 from the Gates Foundation to “improve labor-management collaboration.” The AFT accrued more than $10 million from the Gates Foundation, until internal pressures forced the union to end some of the grants.

The militant wing sees Common Core standards as part of the “corporate education-reform agenda,” while the establishment wing “has been forced to triangulate by defending the standards but attacking the way they have been implemented.”

The NEA and the AFT won’t disappear, concludes Antonucci. “But their days of dominating the education environment are on the wane.”

In an open letter to AFT President Randi Weingarten, Education Post’s Peter Cunningham critiques her Oct. 22 speech calling Los Angeles Superintendent John Deasy a “John Wayne” autocrat. Deasy had just resigned.

Wrapped in aspirational language about “collaboration” was a clear signal to your members that organized resistance to reform is the real strategy, and that the AFT supports it. The equally clear signal to reform leaders across the country is that they could be targeted next if they are not sufficiently “collaborative.”

The public is losing confidence in district-run schools and “voting with their feet,” he warns.

Have unions flipped on Common Core?

Have the teachers’ unions joined the anti-Core pushback? asks Alexander Russo. The “unions’ rhetoric and tone have changed,” he writes. But it’s not clear that it matters in “concrete substantive ways.”

Before Core-aligned tests were developed, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association were strongly pro-Core. Then the Education Department pushed states to use test scores to evaluate teachers in order to get No Child Left Behind waivers. And it was clear scores on the new tests would be low, at least at first.

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“They’re trying to walk a fine line in which they still support the standards but don’t like the way they’ve been implemented,” says Bob Rothman, a Common Core supporter at the Alliance for Excellent Education. “But they haven’t reversed themselves.”

“If the standards go down the tubes because of fear-mongering and misinformation, the NEA is going to look really bad,” one union official explained to Education Week. “Why would anyone take us seriously if we had a seat at the table, and then we turned our backs on the standards?”

But core-haters in the rank and file aren’t satisfied with the union’s stand, writes Russo.

No testing isn’t the cure for overtesting

Too much testing is a real problem, writes Kathleen Porter-Magee, the new superintendent of a network of six urban Catholic schools But the solution isn’t no testing at all. “Standards-aligned, summative tests are really, really important to providing students — especially our most disadvantaged students — with the education they deserve.”

Capitalizing on anti-Common Core sentiment, the National Education Association launched a campaign against “toxic testing,” writes Porter-Magee. The union’s new president, Lily Eskelsen García, charged Core-aligned tests are “corrupting the Common Core”.

When she got her six schools’ results on New York state exams, it was “tough,” Porter-Magee writes. But she was reminded “of the power of hard facts.”

Because our school culture is strong, because our teachers and principals are so hard working, and because there are so many adults genuinely working to serve the needs of the children in our care, it would be easy to assume that our students are just fine. These data provide an important reminder that we need to do more . . . or rather, we need to do different.

The reality is that there is no replacement for external, impartial, evaluative achievement data.

At her six schools, the test results “are helping to refocus and shift the conversation,” she writes. “It’s hard to imagine it happening if we relied only on norm-referenced tests and/or classroom-level assessment data.”

A Smarter Charter

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Empowered teachers and integrated enrollments make for A Smarter Charter, argue Richard Kahlenberg and Halley Potter of The Century Foundation. That’s the original vision of teacher union leader Al Shanker, they write.

“The charter model still offers an exciting opportunity to “build new schools from scratch,” the authors write in a New York Times commentary. “A small but growing number are using their flexibility in governance and enrollment to increase the influence of teachers and to integrate their student bodies.”

Some charter teachers have unionized with “thin” collective bargaining agreements that provide flexibility.

Others asks teachers to share administrative responsibilities.

Kahlenberg and Potter praise charter schools that serve a racial, ethnic and socioeconomic mix of students. For example, San Diego’s High Tech High “employs a lottery weighted by ZIP code that capitalizes on the unfortunate reality of residential segregation” to achieve diversity.

“Different families want different things for their children,” writes Neerav Kingsland in response to the op-ed. “While socioeconomic diversity is a noble goal, it may not be the number one priority for all families.”

In addition, Kahlenberg and Potter dismiss “strong evidence of the benefits of charter schools for African-American students,” writes Kingsland. CREDO’s 27-state charter study found that African-American students in poverty who attended charter schools achieved nearly two months of extra learning per year. As yet, there’s “little rigorous research” backing the educational benefits of socioeconomically diverse schools.

Can teachers hold teachers accountable?

Test-based accountability is “doing untold damage to the profession of teaching,” Marc S. Tucker argues in Fixing Our National Accountability System. And it’s not improving student performance, Tucker tells New York Times columnist Frank Bruni. Instead, we need to do what works in high-performing countries:  Treat teachers as professionals.

That means that teachers are as well paid as other professionals, that they have a career ladder, that they go to elite schools where they learn their craft, and that they are among the top quartile of college graduates instead of the bottom quartile.

In  high-performing countries,  tests are used to hold the students accountable, rather than the teachers, says Tucker.

Meanwhile, he writes, “in most of these countries, the primary form of accountability for the school and its staff is high-profile publication of the average scores for the exams for each school, often front-page news.”

When a school falls short, instead of looking to fire teachers, the high-performing countries “use the data to decide which schools will receive visits from teams of expert school inspectors. These inspectors are highly regarded educators.”

Tucker envisions teachers “holding each other accountable for the quality of their work, as professionals everywhere do.” Teachers would help colleagues improve and get rid of those who didn’t cut the mustard.

And the teacher’s unions? I keep looking for flying pigs.

Judge confirms Vergara ruling

The judge in Vergara vs. California has finalized his June ruling that state laws on teacher employment — including seniority-based layoffs and tenure — deny disadvantaged students access to a quality public education.

In his final ruling, filed yesterday, Judge Rolf Treu, said, “plaintiffs have met their burden of proof on all issues presented.”

The state and its two largest teachers unions have 60 days to appeal. The unions will file, but the state of California may not.

California Gov. Jerry Brown hasn't taken a stand yet on the Vergara ruling overthrowing teacher protection laws.

California Gov. Jerry Brown hasn’t taken a stand yet on the Vergara ruling overthrowing teacher protection laws.

California Democrats have avoided comment while awaiting Treu’s final decision, writes Chris Reed on Fox & Hounds.

Gov. Jerry Brown is cruising to re-election against a little-known opponent. He could go for a place in history by admitting that “teachers unions are bad for minorities,” writes Reed.

State Superintendent Tom Torklakson — a named defendant in the suit — is facing a tough fight against reformer Marshall Tuck, who’s been endorsed by all the major newspapers in the state.  Tuck has called on Torlakson not to appeal the ruling.

Torlakson will stick with his “greatest patron during his political rise — the California Teachers Association,” predicts Reed.

California judge strikes down tenure, layoff laws


Beatriz Vergara testifies in Vergara v. California

California’s laws on teacher tenure, layoffs and dismissal are unconstitutional, a Los Angeles trial judge has ruled. Low-income and minority students don’t have equal access to competent teachers argued Students Matter, which sued on behalf of nine schoolchildren.

The evidence “shocks the conscience,” wrote Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu in the Vergara v. California decision. “There is also no dispute that there are a significant number of grossly ineffective teachers currently active in California classrooms.”

Enforced will be delayed pending an appeal by the lawsuit’s defendants, the state and California’s two major teachers unions.

Plaintiffs alleged that schools serving poor students have more teachers with less seniority, and therefore are more likely to lose teachers during seniority-based layoffs. As a result, those schools suffer from higher turnover and more inexperienced and ineffective teachers.

The suit also challenged the state requirement that school districts make decisions on tenure after a teacher has had about 18 months on the job — thus denying districts adequate time to determine a teacher’s competence.

Moreover, because of cumbersome dismissal procedures, Students Matter said, in 10 years only 91 of California’s teachers, who now number 285,000, have been fired, most for inappropriate conduct. And, the group noted that only 19 were dismissed for unsatisfactory performance.

The unions called the lawsuit a threat to due process, such as the right to a pre-dismissal hearing, and to protections from arbitrary or unfair administrators.

Union spokesman Fred Glass said, “The millionaires behind this case have successfully diverted attention from the real problems of public education.” That’s a reference to Dave Welch, co-founder of a telecom company, who’s the primary founder of Students Matter.

Education Trust hailed the decision. “The decision will force California to address the reality that our most vulnerable students are less likely to have access to effective teachers.”

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan called the decision a mandate for change.

For students in California and every other state, equal opportunities for learning must include the equal opportunity to be taught by a great teacher. The students who brought this lawsuit are, unfortunately, just nine out of millions of young people in America who are disadvantaged by laws, practices and systems that fail to identify and support our best teachers and match them with our neediest students.

He hopes for a “collaborative process” — a deal, not an appeal — to write new laws that “protect students’ rights to equal educational opportunities while providing teachers the support, respect and rewarding careers they deserve.”

Vergara equals victory for kids, writes RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation.

Test-free accountability?

“Concerns” about Common Core standards primarily are about “the consequences of high-stakes tests attached to the standards,” write Stanford Professor Linda Darling-Hammond and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. They call for a “new accountability.”

Their model is California. Their bad example is New York.

They call for a “support-and-improve model” instead of a “test-and-punish approach.”

The “new accountability” appears to mean no accountability, respond Kati Haycock of the Education Trust and her former colleague, Russlyn Ali.

The Weingarten/Darling-Hammond piece is rife with omissions and unsupported innuendo. Our particular favorite from among their many claims is the assertion that California’s record graduation rates and recent gains on national eighth-grade math and reading exams are the result of new funding formulas and testing policies that weren’t even put into place until after these gains.

Teachers’ unions are trying to get rid of John King, New York’s commissioner of education, write Haycock and Ali. He’s “in a hurry” to improve education, while California’s system suffers from the pobrecito phenomenon. Expectations are low for poor immigrant students and “hugging kids is too often considered an acceptable substitute for teaching them.”

There are “huge real-life consequences” for students who don’t meet educational standards, even if their states link no official “stakes” to exams, Haycock and Ali write. “Those who exit high school with the skills to succeed in college have a real future in our knowledge-based economy; those who do not have strong skills are essentially toast.”

Two union bosses tell the truth

“We are at war with the reformers,” New York City teacher union leader Michael Mulgrew told union activists last week. Charter schools are trying to “destroy education in our country,” he added.

His candor is refreshing, writes Larry Sand in A Tale of Two Union Bosses. Sand, a former teacher who now runs the California Teachers Empowerment Network, also admires the honesty of George Parker, a former president of the Washington Teachers Union who joined Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst.

Needless to say, he was roundly excoriated by all the usual suspects – branded a “whore” and worse – for hooking up with the dreaded “corporate reformer” Rhee.

In a speech at a policy summit last year, Parker said his change of heart was triggered by a third grader who asked him about his job. He said one of his responsibilities was getting her the best teachers. The girl hugged him om gratitude. “You care about us,” she said. “And you said that you make sure we get the best teachers.”

Driving back home, Parker . . .  he realized that he had lied to the little girl. He had just spent $10,000 of the union’s money on an arbitration case that put a bad teacher back in the classroom. . . . he wouldn’t let his own 4 year-old grandchild sit in a classroom with that teacher. The inevitable next thought was, so why is it okay for other people’s kids to be taught by an incompetent?

Parker goes on to say he told African-American parents that charter schools empower whites and take advantage of blacks. The real reason he was knocking charters, Parker says in the speech, is that  their existence hurts the union’s bottom line.