Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Dear Colleague,

Most of you are back to work now. We sincerely hope that you had an enjoyable summer, and that the always busy start of a new school year has been smooth sailing.

Perhaps the most jaw dropping story of this – or any – month is the internal CTA document that Mike Antonucci unearthed and posted a couple of weeks ago. “Not if, but when: Living in a world without Fair Share…” is a brief PDF in which the largest state teachers union in the country envisions the future. Apparently, CTA is resigned to the fact that forced union dues – the so-called “fair share” – sooner or later will go the way of the dodo bird. I would urge you all to read this revealing document. (

In a similar vein, last week CTEN participated in National Employee Freedom Week ( which is a national effort to inform union employees about the freedom they have to opt out of union membership. Alternatives include becoming an agency fee payer or identifying as a religious/conscientious objector. To support NEFW, CTEN board member Rebecca Friedrichs wrote an op-ed for the Orange County Register (,%202014.pdf ) and participated in a panel discussion at the Heritage foundation ( Additionally, I had an op-ed posted by Investor’s Business Daily ( ) and recorded a 30 second radio spot which ran on KABC in Los Angeles last week. (

In teacher union news in other states, now that Michigan is a right-to-work state, the Michigan Education Association is doing everything it can to prevent teachers from leaving. MEA has been anything but forthright in its dealings with teachers who are no longer interested in being in the union. A typical story is Rob Wiersema’s who was also a panelist in the Heritage Foundation event linked above.

In December 2012, Michigan passed a Right to Work law, which allowed teachers and other workers to keep their jobs without belonging to the union. Until then, union membership was all but a requirement for employment.

“I thought, great, I’m out,” Wiersema said. “As soon as I heard you could leave, I thought, great. My contract is up in 2013. I sent letters to the MEA and the local association to say I quit, but it obviously didn’t work.”

He called the union and sent letters asking how to leave, but he got no reply. In June, he sent a “quit letter” to the state and local branches and the school. In July, union dues showed up on his credit card.

“I disputed the charge and said I wasn’t going to pay it,” he said. “Then I heard the MEA was going to go after people who didn’t pay it and have their credit reports take a hit.”
To read more about Wiersema’s (and others) trials and tribulations go to

And in Wisconsin, Act 10 – which gives teachers the right to not pay union dues and limits collective bargaining – has survived yet another challenge. On July 31st, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ended a three-year battle over Gov. Scott Walker’s signature legislation delivering a 5-2 decision in the law’s favor. To read more, go to

Back in the Golden State … things are heating up in Los Angeles. New UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl is talking tough – saying outright that if teachers aren’t offered a generous pay hike, there will be a strike. Not one to be easily cowed, LAUSD superintendent John Deasy had a few choice comments for the union. To read both sides go here - and here -

In other news, researcher Collin Hitt reports on a Mathematica study which dispels some of the oft-repeated myths about charter schools, in this case the KIPP franchise.

KIPP schools demand a certain kind of student – a student who is willing to put in long hours and put up with very strict rules. KIPP has been shown to substantially increase student test scores. But critics argue that the culture at KIPP has major effects on recruitment and retainment. KIPP schools attract better students and are more likely to weed out low performing students, the argument goes. If this is true, KIPP students who persist in school are more likely to have a high-achieving peer group – and the effects of simply being in a peer group are really what explain any positive effects at school. A new study from Mathematica destroys this critique.

As the Common Core battle rages, Pacific Research Institute’s Lance Izumi takes a refreshing view. While Common Core critics typically use the federalist argument or simply trash the quality of the standards, Izumi looks at the standards’ implementation. It’s not a pretty picture.

Bryce is a sixth grader at a public school in Northern California. He is a very bright student, achieving several perfect scores on the state’s math exam and consistently receiving A+ grades in math. Yet, Core Connections has had a discernible negative impact on Bryce.

Under Core Connections, Bryce and his fellow students are organized into teams of three to four students. Bryce says that there is unequal participation among team members, with more advanced students being more involved and carrying more of the work.

Further, not all the groups finish at the same time. Those that finish early can’t go on to harder problems, but have to wait until other teams finish. Oddly, Bryce says that his teacher doesn’t want early finishers to read because that’s English language arts, and not math.

Since the teamwork method started, the class usually doesn’t finish math lessons in time, and sometime it cuts into their science time or the math is simply not completed. Bryce emphasized that this situation happens a lot. When asked if the class starts the next day where they left off the day before, he answers “no,” saying that the class simply goes on to the next new concept.

In late July, Ray Fisman, an education economist from Columbia University, wrote an article for e-magazine Slate claiming that Sweden’s universal school choice program has caused a decline in student achievement. However, several other researchers found Fisman’s contentions to be way off the mark. To read the original piece and the blowback, go here -

CTEN sent out an email last week with agency fee payer information. In case you missed it, here is the text of that email:

If you are a member of CTA and considering becoming an agency fee payer, it’s a two-step process and now is the time to get started. To get a full rebate, you must have your resignation form in the mail by August 31st. (If you resign after Aug. 31 you will get a prorated rebate.) Then between September 1st and November 15th, you must submit a request to receive your full rebate. For more info and form letters, please go to   

(Also, teachers who mention CTEN when they sign up with the Association of American Educators for the first time will get a $30 discount off the regular $198 first year membership.)

If you were a member of CTA and have already become an agency fee payer, you must apply for your yearly rebate between September 1st and November 15th. For more info and form letters, go to
If you are a member of AFT/CFT or UTLA, please call 888-290-8471 or email for more information.)

If you are interested in giving CTEN brochures to colleagues, you can print them right from the home page - - Brochure.pdf  Or, if you prefer, we will be happy to send you as many preprinted ones as you need.

Also, anyone wishing to donate to CTEN can do so very simply through check, money order or PayPal -  As a non-profit, we exist only through the generosity of others. Thanks.

Larry Sand
CTEN President

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Dear Colleague,

After the Vergara decision last month, the judge stayed his ruling pending an appeal by the teachers unions. However, there was still fallout. AB 1619 would have required school districts with fewer than 250 students to grant tenure to teachers after three years, but in light of Vergara, the bill died in the Senate education committee. Campbell Brown, a former CNN anchor who has become involved with education reform, launched the Partnership for Educational Justice in New York in December 2013. Inspired by Vergara, she has identified six children who have agreed to serve as plaintiffs, arguing they “suffered from laws making it too expensive, time-consuming and burdensome to fire bad teachers.” And then there was a USC poll, which among other things found that when asked about California’s teachers unions, “49 percent of voters said they have a “somewhat or very negative” impact on the quality of K-12 education, with 31 percent saying unions have a “somewhat or very positive” impact.” To read more, go to  

A second legal decision also has the unions livid. On June 30th, the Supreme Court agreed with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation in Harris v Quinn and ruled that home care workers could not be forced to join the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Justice Samuel Alito did stop short of throwing out the 1977 Abood decision which allows unions to require nonmembers to pay fees for collective bargaining, as long as the dues are not used for ideological or political purposes. However, there is another case waiting in the wings which could lead the court to throw out Abood and make paying dues to a union optional nationwide. To read more go to

In the April letter we told you about a pending bill, AB 215, which was signed into law on June 25th by Governor Brown. The law streamlines the discipline and appeals process by expediting cases of serious misconduct, those involving sexual abuse, child abuse and certain drug offenses. While the legislation has its critics, it would seem to be an improvement over the mess that existed before. To read the new law, go to

The Common Core debate still rages. With accusations flying from both sides, it’s important – as best as possible – to keep your eyes on the facts. Joy Pullman, research fellow of The Heartland Institute and managing editor of School Reform News, has some harrowing information about the costs of CCSS for Californians. She writes,

Back in 2011, the California Department of Education estimated phasing in the national curriculum and testing mandates would cost almost $760 million. In 2013, lawmakers voted to spend $1.25 billion for that purpose, almost twice the initial estimate.

Just a few months later, they’re back for more. Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, chair of the Assembly education spending committee, recently proposed sending schools another $1.5 billion for the same purpose. If this bill passes, Common Core will have cost California taxpayers nearly four times as much as the state told them it would cost just three years ago.

One of the side effects of Common Core has been a renewed look at “high stakes” testing, with people from both sides of the political spectrum arming themselves to do battle with those they feel are over-testing our kids. At times like this, it may be interesting to ponder, “What would libertarian sage Milton Friedman do?” And over at the NCPA blog, John Merrifield and Benjamin Scafidi do a good job of “asking” the late economist his opinion. To learn what they came up with, go to

The 2014 NEA convention has come and gone and there were no surprises. President Dennis Van Roekel’s speech was boilerplate, trashing various bogeymen, including “corporate reformers like Democrats for Education Reform, Michelle Rhee, and the like.” Though Van Roekel didn’t mention Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the NEA did adopt the resolution which calls for Duncan to step down. The resolution blamed Duncan for a “failed education agenda” consisting of policies that “undermine public schools and colleges, the teaching education professionals, and education unions.” To read more, go to
Speaking of Duncan, he has unveiled a 50-state strategy last Monday “for putting some teeth into a requirement of the 12-year-old No Child Left Behind Act that has gone largely unenforced up until now: ensuring that poor and minority students get access to as many great teachers as their more advantaged peers.” So is this move yet another federal boondoggle?  An idea whose time has come? Government overreach? All of the above? To read more about Duncan’s plan, go to

And finally, there are a few school choice bills that have been flying under the radar, although the California Federation of Teachers picked up on the blip and mentioned them on their website.

We have recently learned that Senator Dianne Feinstein is considering two Senate bills, S. 1968 and S. 1909, that would have a devastating impact on public education in California and around the country.

Going into loopy mode, the union then proclaims:

These bills propose to siphon Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) funds to private schools through a voucher system. Vouchers are nothing more than a vehicle for gutting school funding and for ultimately denying equal access to public education.

To track these two bills – and many others – go to

CTEN also has two Facebook pages. If you have a Facebook account, we urge you to visit ours and let us know your thoughts. Having a dialogue among teachers is an effective way to spread information and share experiences and ideas. Our original Facebook page can be found here!/group.php?gid=125866159932&ref=ts  Our second page, which deals with teacher evaluation and transparency, can be accessed here -!/group.php?gid=126900987357825&ref=ts

And we hope you are having a great summer!  

Larry Sand
CTEN President

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Dear Colleague,

Undoubtedly the education story of the year is the decision in the Students Matter (Vergara v. California) case. Judge Rolf Treu ruled in favor of the plaintiffs every way imaginable, and as a result, the state education code will have to be changed. The tenure, seniority and the dismissal statutes have been deemed unconstitutional and will have to be replaced. While many reformers have been triumphal in response to the ruling, I’m afraid that may be short-sighted because no one knows what will replace the now-defunct laws. It could take years to rewrite the statutes, and the legislature may choose solutions that are little better than the current state of affairs. And nothing will change for the time being since the teachers unions are appealing the ruling. I would urge you to read the 16-page judgment for yourself and not rely on the bevy of articles that have been written about it, many of which are quite misleading. To read the decision, go to  City Journal’s associate editor Ben Boychuk comments here -  The teachers unions were not shy – to say the least – about responding. CTA weighed in here -  (I will have a piece published in City Journal (accessible at shortly where I look into the future and speculate about the fate of the issues in question.

The pension problem in California isn’t going away. The latest plan from Jerry Brown is rankling some and will have an effect on just about every school teacher in the state.

California's public school districts could face difficult cutbacks if state officials move forward with a plan to bail out the retirement fund for teachers, officials and educators say, but even those painful steps may fall short of curing the pension deficit if investments don't meet expectations.

Under a proposal released last week by Gov. Jerry Brown, more money will flow into the California State Teachers' Retirement System to begin closing an estimated $74-billion shortfall. But addressing that problem creates a different one: School systems would have to quickly pare back spending for next year, and they would face steeper diversions of dollars in later years.

The National Council on Teacher Quality has come out with a study on teacher absenteeism. 

Teachers in the nation's 40 largest school districts came to school 94 percent of the time in the 2012-2013 school year, according to the report released Tuesday by the National Council on Teacher Quality, a think tank that advocates tougher teacher evaluations. "Like clockwork," said Nancy Waymack, the group's managing director of district policy. On average, the urban teachers missed about 11 school days out of 186, and used slightly less than their allotment of short-term leave.

But the National Council on Teacher Quality classifies 16 percent of teachers in those cities as "chronically absent," meaning they missed 18 or more days per school year. Together, chronically absent teachers accounted for one-third of all teacher absences. Districts with formal policies designed to discourage teachers from missing class "do not appear to have better attendance rates than those without such policies," the report concludes. 

On June 3rd, Californians voted for – among other things – the Superintendent of Public Instruction. While current SPI leader and CTA choice Tom Torlakson came in first, he didn’t get a majority of the vote and was forced into a head-to-head election in November with reformer Marshall Tuck, who came in a distant second. For more, go to

From Kansas, we have a story: “State Board of Ed approves regulations for hiring teachers with subject expertise but no education degree.” While teachers in California can circumvent the traditional ed school route to the classroom, Kansas is taking it to another level. To read the story, go to

Late last month, we sent out the results of the Survey Monkey poll we took on Common Core. In case you missed that email, the results are attached. And again, many thanks to those of you who participated.

The subject of “teacher jails” or “rubber rooms” is certainly a contentious one. The Los Angeles Unified School District has decided to eliminate them – in reality, district offices that house teachers who have been accused of various misdeeds – and instead, the teacher will have to sit at home during the school day. The Los Angeles Times reported on the story - Former state senator Gloria Romero, who now heads up the Foundation for Parent Empowerment, doesn’t like the decision. To get her take, go here -

If you are still using a school email to receive these newsletters, please consider sending us your personal email address. More and more school districts are blocking CTEN.  In any event, if you enjoy these letters and find them informative, please pass them along to your colleagues and encourage them to join us.

If you would like to see us address certain issues, topics, etc. in these newsletters or on our website – please let us know.

And have a great summer!  

Larry Sand
CTEN President

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Dear Colleague,

We recently sent you a brief (about 3 minutes of your time) Survey Monkey questionnaire which deals with the Common Core State Standards. If you are currently a K-12 teacher and haven’t filled it out yet, please go to and do so now. Thanks. We would like to have an idea where our independent teachers come down on this very controversial issue. To see a reasonably balanced view on CCSS, please watch “Building the Machine.” (

The June 3rd primary is right around the corner, and among other things you have choice as to who to vote for in the race for Superintendent of Public Instruction. All three candidates’ statements can be found here - For more information, you can visit their websites, which are linked in the voter guide.

Happy with your salary? Do you think you are being paid fairly for the work that you do? The National Council on Teacher Quality doesn’t answer those questions, but in a recent report examines teachers’ salaries in other parts of the country. Additionally, the study looks at more than just a pure dollar amount.

Adding a bit more context to this discussion, we looked at housing affordability for teachers. After all, if a district is near the top of the list of highest paying districts and their teachers cannot afford housing in the area, that's indicative of unequal purchasing power between high and low cost-of-living districts.

In order to look at housing affordability, we created the "Teacher Housing Affordability Index." We used the American Community Survey's 5-year estimates for median housing values from 2008-2012 by school district geographic area to estimate housing prices. Dividing a teacher's annual salary by the median home value produced the affordability index. We've identified housing as "affordable" when the annual teacher's salary is greater than one-third of median home value.

In the last month, there has been much news coming out of Modesto, where the local teachers union voted whether or not to disaffiliate from CTA/NEA and become a “local only” union. (

The MTA leadership proposed leaving its state affiliate after CTA found the local was out of compliance in spending a $280,000 annual grant. The local has received the grant through the CTA for decades to pay for office staff: a full-time executive director and a secretary. 

Here’s the hitch: The MTA does not directly employ its executive director. Instead, for 22 years, it has paid the Modesto district to keep a former teacher on its payroll. The arrangement has allowed the individual to continue to accrue retirement credit under the California State Teachers Retirement System, better known as CalSTRS. For 22 years, the local has thereby violated the conditions of the grant, according to the CTA.

Right before the election, the CTA board of directors decided that Modesto’s plan to abide by the will of the voting majority, instead of two-thirds of the entire bargaining unit, made the election “unlawful.” They voted to place the local under state trusteeship, and sent two trustees after business hours to take control of its offices and bank accounts. ( But the MTA officers were prepared and the police were called. In any event, the vote went forth and by a 58-40 margin, the MTA members decided to stay with CTA/NEA. (

On a similar note, education writer RiShawn Biddle claims that “Teachers unions are getting desperate.” ( ) He writes that teachers

… are none too fond of the profligate spending by both unions on matters that have nothing to do with contract bargaining and addressing workplace grievances. Political spending and union overhead costs (including 369 employees earning six-figure sums) accounted for 64 percent of NEA’s $343 million in spending in 2013. Just 13 percent of the union’s spending went to collective bargaining and other so-called representational activities.

Younger teachers, who now make up the majority of rank-and-file members, are unhappy that the NEA and AFT ignore their concerns, including its support of last hired-first fired layoff rules that put them on unemployment lines while keeping veteran teachers on payrolls. Their desire for professional associations that focus more on helping them improve the profession puts them in direct conflict with the industrial union model that the NEA and AFT have long embraced.

Between the defections and membership losses and decline in political clout, the question for the NEA and AFT is not if they will go out of business, but when.

And speaking of unions, George Parker, former president of the Washington (D.C.) Teachers Union has done a 180 and joined with Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst. I urge you to watch this brief video in which he details the reason for his rather dramatic “conversion.” (

University of Arkansas researcher Patrick Wolf has come out with an in-depth study, the results of which show that charters are funded at much lower levels than traditional public schools across the country.

Since public charter schools are becoming increasingly politically popular and therefore common in the U.S., we might expect that they would be funded at levels comparable to traditional public schools. After all, they are public schools, too. We would be mistaken. The research team systematically collected and reviewed audited financial statements from the 2010-11 school year for the 30 states and the District of Columbia with substantial charter school populations. We carefully tracked all the revenues committed to public charter and traditional public schools from every source, public and private. We identified a funding gap of 28.4 percent, meaning that the average public charter school student in the U.S. is receiving $3,814 less in funding than the average traditional public school student. Since the average charter school enrolls 400 students, the average public charter school in the U.S. received $1,525,600 less in per-pupil funding in 2010-11 than it would have received if it had been a traditional public school. The gap is actually higher in focus areas within states where charter schools are more commonly found, such as major cities.

On the subject of charters, CTA is up to its old tricks – trying to do them in. Their latest gambit is AB 1351 ( which would “require that the initial chartering authority appoint a majority of the members of the board of directors” of a charter school. Lance Izumi, Director of Education Studies at the Pacific Research Institute, writes:

If charter-school organizers know that local school boards have the power to pass final judgment on who sits on their governing boards, they will be less likely to nominate people who possess talent, vision and commitment, but who are not likely to be confirmed by the local school board. Only people politically palatable to the school board will likely be nominated. There will be a chilling effect on the variety of people put forward to serve on charter-school governing boards, with the result that governing boards would end up becoming extensions of the school board.

In other words, charter schools would not be charter schools as we have known them. To read the rest of Izumi’s op-ed go to

As always, we at CTEN want to thank you for your ongoing support. Please visit us regularly at  We do our best to keep our website up-to-date, but if you need any information that you can’t find there, please send an email to or call us at 888-290-8471 and we will get back to you in short order.

Larry Sand
CTEN President