Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Dear Colleague,

As many of you know, teachers throughout most of the country are paid by the step-and-column method, whereby salaries are based on the number of years on the job. Teachers can also increase their salaries by taking “professional development” classes, despite conclusive research that these classes have little if any effect on student learning.

When teacher salary schedules first came to be about 100 years ago, they were designed to eliminate discrimination due to race, ethnicity and gender. With such discrimination illegal today, is there really any need for them?
Not according to the Brookings Institution, which has come out with a report that shows the detrimental effects of the step-and-column pay regimen. 

The evidence presented here demonstrates a strong association between inequalities across teacher compensation, school funding, and pension benefits that we believe warrants greater attention. In light of an aging workforce creating a growing number of teacher vacancies, and a new generation of increasingly mobile millennial teachers, these findings have important implications about how public resources are allocated across teachers and students.

Using data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, a study released in September by the Fordham Institute delves into the depths of the teacher absentee problem. On average, teachers miss about eight school days a year due to sick and personal leave, while the average U.S. worker takes only about three-and-a-half sick days per annum. The study shows that 28.3 percent of teachers in traditional public schools are chronically absent, which is defined as missing 11 or more days of school per year due to illness or personal reasons. Interestingly, in charter schools – most of which are not unionized – the corresponding number is just 10.3 percent.

Even within charter schools, the study reveals a glaring disparity. Teachers in unionized charters are almost twice as likely to be chronically absent as their colleagues in non-unionized charters – 17.9 percent to 9.1 percent.

The study’s author, David Griffith, stresses that there’s a direct link between teacher attendance and student achievement. He writes,

There are roughly 100,000 public schools in the United States, with over 3 million public school teachers and at least 50 million students. So every year, at least 800,000 teachers in the U.S. are chronically absent, meaning they miss about 9 million days of school between them, resulting in roughly 1 billion instances in which a kid comes to class to find that his or her time is, more often than not, being wasted….

To read more of this eye-opening report, go here -
While this year’s Smarter Balanced test scores are nothing to rave about in California, there is one bright spot as EdSource’s Carolyn Jones points out: 3rd graders’ math scores. She writes,

Nearly 47 percent of 3rd-graders met or exceeded the math standards, the highest number of any grade level. By comparison, only 32.14 percent of 11th-graders — who spent most of their school years studying the old standards — met or exceeded standards.

To read more about the math scores go here To see all the results go to
Over half of California students are not meeting English standards on the test, and perhaps we need to try a different approach. To that end, early literacy specialist Patrick Herrera has some ideas. He writes that all teachers are language teachers, and when teaching vocabulary, definitions are not enough. He writes,

Learning objectives include a purpose, an instructional plan and assessment.  A common vocabulary assignment is a list of words and definitions to memorize for a quiz.  This includes science, history, etc. 

Memorized information will be quickly forgotten.  Also, you want to insure that the lesson becomes part of their speaking and writing communications.

Let’s review the complete process:

         Assign vocabulary with definitions and sentences that reflect the definitions.
         Review in class, and ask for volunteers to create another sentence using the word. Students add the sentence to their assignment. 
         Quiz: Provide sentences from the original assignment (not the definitions) with the vocabulary word missing. They supply the missing word. 
Vocabulary is more than words and definitions; vocabulary needs context. Context helps you think. You can’t think without vocabulary.

To learn more, visit Herrera’s  

On the school choice front, there is good news coming from Florida, where a recent study conducted by the Urban Institute shows favorable long-term outcomes for students who enroll in the state’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program – the largest private school choice program in the country. As the American Federation for Children reports:
  • If a student stays in a private school via the FTC for two years, college enrollment increases by 9-14 percent compared to public school students.
  • If a student stays in a private school via the FTC for three years, college enrollment increases by 19-25 percent compared to public school students.
  • If a student stays in a private school via the FTC for four years or more, college enrollment increases by 37-43 percent compared to public school students.
The big union news over the past month is the announcement of the Supreme Court’s willingness to hear the Janus v AFSCME case. Mark Janus, a child support specialist who works for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, is compelled to send part of his paycheck to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Janus, who is being represented by the Liberty Justice Center and National Right to Work Foundation, says, “When I was hired by the state of Illinois, no one asked if I wanted a union to represent me. I only found out the union was involved when money for the union started coming out of my paychecks.”

The lawsuit is a sequel to Friedrichs v CTA, which was headed to a SCOTUS victory last year until Antonin Scalia’s death short-circuited the case. But right-to-work proponents are optimistic that Scalia’s replacement, Neil Gorsuch, will come down as the fifth vote on the side of employee freedom. As things stand now, public employees in 22 states are forced to pay dues to a union as a condition of employment.

Many teachers unions are preparing for the worst, and some state affiliates are going to rather drastic lengths to protect their turf. Anticipating an unfavorable Janus decision, Education Minnesota, the National Education Association affiliate in the Gopher State, has come up with a new form that includes the following wording:

I agree to submit dues to Education Minnesota and hereby request and voluntarily authorize my employer to deduct from my wages an amount equal to the regular monthly dues uniformly applicable to members of Education Minnesota or monthly service fee, and further that such amount so deducted be sent to such local union for and on my behalf. This authorization shall remain in effect and shall be automatically renewed from year to year, irrespective of my membership in the union, unless I revoke it by submitting written notice to both my employer and the local union during the seven-day period that begins on September 24 and ends on September 30. (Emphasis added.)

The new American Federation of Teachers U.S. Department of Labor report has been disclosed. As RiShawn Biddle writes,
The nation’s second-largest teachers’ union spent $44.1 million in 2016-2017 on political lobbying activities and contributions to what should be like-minded groups. This is a 29.6 percent increase over the same period a year ago. This, by the way, doesn’t include politically-driven spending that can often find its way under so-called “representational activities.”

Interestingly, the union gave a whopping $1.2 million to the Atlantic Monthly, double the amount it gave to the magazine the prior year. Biddle comments:

You have to wonder if Weingarten and her mandarins are kicking themselves for not offering to buy a stake in the Atlantic, which will soon be controlled by Laurene Powell Jobs’ reform-minded Emerson Collective, which has become a landing spot for U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and his former honcho on civil rights enforcement, Russlyn Ali.

To read more about AFT largess, go to  To get Mike Antonucci’s take on the DOL report and the Atlantic spend, go here -
And on the subject of unions, a reminder: now is the time for agency fee payers to claim their rebate. Or, if you are a full-dues payer but want to withhold the political share of your union dues, now is the time to get busy. Existing CTA fee payers have until November 15th to request a refund. For details, go here -

And finally, as you well know, information is frequently used to score political points and make cases for various causes. To that end, CTEN has a “cheat sheet,” which has been updated on our website – all with original sources. To see it, go to 

If you have information that counters what’s there or would like to see something added, please let us know. As always, thanks for your continuing interest and support.

Larry Sand
CTEN President

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Dear Colleague,

A recent study from New York City has the education establishmentarians in a tizzy. Alex Zimmerman summarizes the results in Chalkbeat. “The study finds that being closer to a charter school led to small increases in math and reading scores, boosts in reported student engagement and school safety, and fewer students being held back a grade. The test score gains increased slightly more in traditional public schools that are co-located with a charter.”

So not only don’t charter schools hurt traditional public schools, they make those schools better. Sarah Cordes, a professor at Temple University and the study’s author, thinks a close proximity “might really get administrators to get their act together.” She adds that the charter sector “is working as it was intended: creating pressure on administrators to improve the quality of their schools.”

Cordes’ study is not the first on the subject. Brian Gill, a senior fellow at Mathematica Policy Research in Cambridge, MA, looked at 11 studies in 11 different states which compared the effects of charter schools on traditional public schools and found that “six studies found some evidence of positive effects, four found no effects, and one found negative effects.”

To learn more about the NY study, go here - To see Gill’s findings, go to

Also on the school choice front, a 1995 interview with the late Apple founder Steve Jobs has just resurfaced and is available on YouTube. While the interview, conducted by Computerworld’sDaniel Morrow, went on for 75 minutes, the brief time Jobs spent talking about education is memorable. The Silicon Valley visionary and strong universal voucher proponent saw the unions as a stumbling block.

The problem there, of course, is the unions. The unions are the worst thing that ever happened to education because it’s not a meritocracy. It turns into a bureaucracy, which is exactly what has happened. The teachers can’t teach and administrators run the place and nobody can be fired. It’s terrible….

Twenty-two years later, not much has changed – at least in strong union states – where there is little choice for parents, massive school districts are entangled in bureaucracy, and meritocracy is just an eleven-letter word. Jobs went on to explain the effect that a monopoly has on a customer.

What happens when a customer goes away and a monopoly gets control, which is what happened in our country, is that the service level almost always goes down. I remember seeing a bumper sticker when the telephone company was all one. I remember seeing a bumper sticker with the Bell Logo on it and it said “We don’t care. We don’t have to.” And that’s what a monopoly is. That’s what IBM was in their day. And that’s certainly what the public school system is. They don’t have to care.

To watch the brief video, go to

Tami DeVine is a media professional who would like to teach young people the ins and outs of broadcast journalism. Please read the following, and if this sounds like something you might be interested in, please contact Tami directly.

Crown City Network presents the "News Makers" TV News Training Program. This program provides a terrific opportunity to teach young people how to do TV News and gives them skills they can use in any newsroom in the world if they decide to pursue broadcast journalism as a career. It's a fun program and teaches invaluable life skills including proper communication, self-confidence, asking the right questions and so much more. Some of the on-camera and behind-the-scenes skills they'll learn include:

1) TV News Reporting
2) TV News Writing & Producing
3) Videography
4) Video Editing
5) On-Camera Vocal Delivery
6) Professional Dress and Makeup for TV News
7) Proper Interview Technique
8) And More!

The "News Makers" Program also works great for individual as well as group training after school and during the summer for elementary, high school and college students. We're able to provide quality, professional, broadcast level training because we have tremendous experience in TV News.  We have launched many people into their dream TV careers, and we train them based on my experience working for more than 20 years at broadcast TV network affiliates like ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX. We've trained people nationally and internationally. I hope this is a program you'll let us implement in your school. It's fun and teaches so many great skills that students can use even if they choose another career path!

Here are links to a couple of different levels of training we provide depending on the age of the trainees: Alexis Walker, Feature Story:  New Voice of the DodgersChandler School and
Chandler School - 1-3rd Graders

The shows and stories the students create run on broadcast television reaching 18 million viewers in 7 Southern California counties and stream online.  This is valuable TV News experience and exposure that many professionals would love to have! Students can include this on their resumes and will look great if they decide to pursue a career in broadcast journalism.  They'll be head and shoulders above their competition!

Please contact Tami DeVine at 626-365-3741 or to learn more.

Are public schools really public schools? EdChoice President Robert Enlow doesn’t think so.

The legend says that public schools accept all comers. That is simply not true, and it never has been.

In fact, the entire system is set up to ensure that public schools don’t really accept all comers. That’s because attendance in public schools is based on geography—on where people live. What this means in practice is that public schools accept all kids who look like each other or who live in similar types of houses and whose family income is the same. K-12 public schools are more segregated by race and income than ever before.

To read Enlow’s provocative piece, go to

It’s no secret that illiteracy is a growing problem in the U.S. In fact, according to The Literacy Project, there are currently 45 million Americans who are functionally illiterate, unable to read above a 5th grade level, and half of all adults can’t read a book at an 8th grade level. Professor Patrick Herrera would like to do something about this.

Latinos and blacks continue to show a lack of achievement in reading. These two communities represent over 35% of the 48-plus million children in our schools. Over half will drop out of school due to lack of reading skills. Millions face low-paying jobs.

Reading requires a pre-reading foundation, which begins with phonics. This is a cognitive, neural skill that links a group of sounds to a group of letters, both representing a word. The second skill is converting sounds into writing. A third skill is converting text into speech. This is the preparation for the reading skill, which usually begins at home.

Many disadvantaged parents have limited literacy skills. They are not able to prepare their children for first grade. It becomes the responsibility of the schools. The answer lies in teacher training and the right curriculum. There is a solution.  

To learn more, go to

CTEN is again participating in National Employee Freedom Week, which begins August 20th and runs through August 26th. NEFW is a national campaign whose purpose is to let employees know that they have the freedom to opt out of their union and become agency-fee payers or religious/conscientious objectors. An important objective is to reach those in union households nationwide who are unaware they can opt-out of union membership without losing their job or incur any other penalty. For more information, please visit the NEFW website –  For info specific to teachers in California, go to 

Also, on August 24th at noon EDT, there will be a live-streamed panel discussion at the Heritage Foundation:  “Protecting Public Employees’ First Amendment Rights: Major Cases Challenging ‘Abood.’" For more info, go here -

On the subject of employee freedom, is this the time for Congress to push for the Employee Rights Act? A Wall Street Journal editorial thinks so and describes one facet of the bill:

The House bill would require unions to obtain permission from workers to spend their dues on purposes other than collective bargaining. Current labor law lets unions deduct money from worker paychecks to fund political activities. Workers then must go through the tortuous process of requesting a refund for the share not spent on collective bargaining, which unions may broadly define to include member engagement that boosts voter turnout. No other political outfit enjoys this fundraising fillip.

To read more about of the Employee Rights Act, go to  To read theWSJ editorial, go here -

CTEN has three 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 our experiences and ideas. Our original Facebook page can be found here   Our second page, which deals with teacher evaluation and transparency, can be accessed here -   Our newest page is Teachers for School Choice and can be accessed here -

In any event, if you enjoy these letters and find them informative, please pass them along to your colleagues. We know that there are many independent-minded teachers in California who are looking for alternative sources of information. Many thanks, as always, for your interest and support.

Larry Sand
CTEN President


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Dear Colleague,

The never-ending teacher shortage debate goes on, and, accordingly, there is a raft of bills that lawmakers have put forward this session meant to increase the supply of teachers or keep existing ones in the profession. Just a few of the many:
▪ Assembly Bill 169 creates the Governor’s Teaching Fellowship Program, offering $20,000 grants to would-be teachers who commit to working in math, science, bilingual education or other high-need fields.
▪ AB 1182 offers down-payment assistance to teachers in counties with high housing costs.
▪ SB 436 creates a new program to recruit and retain science and math teachers.
But as the Sacramento Bee’s Jim Miller points out,

California had 332,640 teachers as it climbed out of recession during the 2010 school year. By 2015-16, the state had 352,000 teachers.

The number of public school students, meanwhile, has barely changed from several years ago, with enrollment of 6.22 million in 2010-11 to 6.23 million in 2016-17.

AB 1220, a tenure bill which we have been following, has taken a weird turn. As Ed Source’s John Fensterwald writes, “The latest attempt in the Legislature to lengthen the probation period for new teachers has stalled for the year. On Wednesday, the author of a bill (Shirley Weber) to add an optional extra probationary year pulled her bill amid the surprise emergence of a competing bill by Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond, a candidate for state superintendent of public instruction.” After, Weber pulled her bill, Thurmond yanked his, which adopts the position of the California Teachers Association. To be continued in the next legislative session.

One more bill, AB 119, has already become law and is pretty well summed up here: “…the ability of an exclusive representative to communicate with the public employees it represents is necessary to ensure the effectiveness of state labor relations statutes, and the exclusive representative cannot properly discharge its legal obligations unless it is able to meaningfully communicate through cost-effective and efficient means with the public employees on whose behalf it acts.”
In other words, the unions want time with new employees so that they can pressure them to become members. The bill also stipulates that the employer must give the union the “name, job title, department, work location, work, home, and personal cellular telephone numbers, personal email addresses on file with the employer, and home address of any newly hired employee within 30 days of the date of hire….”

The mechanism of delivery – when, where how, etc. – for the union spiel will be have to be worked out by each union local and the school district. If terms can’t be resolved, an arbitrator will be called in, the costs of which would be shared by the union and school district.

The yearly National Education Association convention is on the books and, while typical in many ways, this year’s meeting seemed a bit more angst-ridden than usual. NEA President Lily Eskelsen García expressed great dislike for and distrust of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Additionally, the union passed a motion that if DeVos doesn’t address its concerns, it will demand her resignation. While NEA had also called for the head of her predecessor, Arne Duncan, the tone this year was considerably harsher.

The NEA rolled out a new charter school policy which is similar to its old one, but the 2017 version is more strident. If the union had its way, charters would be just like traditional public schools, which, of course, would render them meaningless.

In a rather bizarre turn, the union adopted Resolution A-4 which states, “The Association further believes that public education should be publicly and democratically controlled, without undue influence in decision-making on the part of any private interests, including, but not limited to, business concerns and philanthropic organizations.”

But as Mike Antonucci notes, the NEA itself is a private interest. So is this something of a murder-suicide pact?

To read García’s talk, go here -  To read the new charter school policy, go to To see all the New Business Items and resolutions go here -

Education reformers Howard Fuller, Derrell Bradford and Chris Stewart have collaborated on a powerful essay about “Liberating Black Kids From Broken Schools – By Any Means Necessary.”

Education reform is at a crossroads in this country. And it seems the issue of parent choice who should have it, how much of it there should be, and for what schools will determine the direction many reformers will take.

While some may have difficulty defining where they stand on “choice,” others of us who have spent years, decades, and lifetimes advocating for the liberation of Black children from schools that have not worked for them do not suffer this crisis of clarity. Our belief is that low-income and working-class families need, as one of the few levers of power at their disposal, the power to choose the right school for their children and that those choices should include traditional public, public charter, and private schools. Our belief is grounded not just in our understanding that no one type of school is the right fit for every type of child, but in the frank, stark, brutal reality and history that colors the pursuit of education by Black people in this country.

Also, on school choice Matt Barnum has penned a thought-provoking piece, “Contradictions of the School Choice, Food Choice – Er, Food Stamps – Debate.”

It’s a government program that funnels public dollars to private, usually for-profit companies that critics say lack appropriate accountability and oversight and leave recipients to make poor decisions with taxpayer money.

Supporters counter that it’s a necessary lifeline that empowers low-income families, via the free market, to make decisions that best suit their needs.

The program is food stamps, but the description and the critique could just as easily be applied to school choice vouchers.

Some observers see striking parallels between the debate about school vouchers and food stamps, while others point to a number of important differences. The arguments also scramble ideological lines, with conservatives generally supportive of vouchers for schools but skeptical of subsidies for food, while progressives take precisely the opposite view.

The late Cato Institute scholar Andrew Coulson devoted his final years to a project which first saw the light of day on selected PBS stations across the country in April. But now, all three installments of School Inc. are available online. According to the Free To Choose Network, the documentary’s producer, 

Coulson takes viewers on a worldwide personal quest for an answer to the question—if you build a better way to teach a subject, why doesn’t the world beat a path to your door, like they do in other industries? The three-part documentary exposes audiences to unfamiliar and often startling realities: the sad fate of Jaime Escalante after the release of the feature film Stand and Deliver; Korean teachers who earn millions of dollars every year; private schools in India that produce excellent results but charge only $5 a month; current U.S. efforts to provide choices and replicate educational excellence; and schools in Chile and Sweden in which top K-12 teachers and schools have already begun to “scale-up,” reaching large and ever-growing numbers of students.

And finally, as you well know, information is frequently used to score political points and make cases for various causes. To that end, CTEN has a “cheat sheet,” which has been recently updated on our website – all with original sources. To see it, go to 

If you have information that counters what’s there or would like to see something added, please let us know.

As always, thanks for your continuing interest and support.

Larry Sand
CTEN President

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

June 21, 2017
Dear Colleague,

The latest attempt to rework teacher permanence comes from California State Assemblywoman Shirley Weber. With the sponsorship of Teach Plus and Educators for Excellence – two teacher-led activist organizations – the San Diego Democrat introduced AB 1220 in March. As originally written, the bill would have extended the time it takes to attain permanent status from two years to three. It would have also allowed some teachers who don’t meet the requirements in three years an extra year or two in which they could get additional mentoring and be the recipient of other professional development resources.
But after lobbying from the state teachers unions, Weber’s bill has morphed into something not far from what we have now. As Ed Source’s John Fensterwald writes,
The new version keeps the current system, with two years as the standard period, but would allow a third year of probation if the district develops an improvement plan to address deficiencies that a teacher’s evaluation identified and then makes training and other help for teachers a budget priority.
To read about the original bill, go here -  To learn more about the latest version of AB 1220, go to

According to The Literacy Project, there are currently 45 million Americans who are functionally illiterate, unable to read above a 5th grade level, and half of all adults can’t read a book at an 8th grade level. In California, 25 percent of the state’s 6 million students are unable to perform basic reading skills. At the same time, the Freedom Project reports that “50% of California Kids Can't Read.” These are daunting numbers and the question becomes what do we do about it? Clearly no country can function properly with such alarming illiteracy rates.

To learn more go to and

And speaking of illiteracy…. On track for a graduation rate of 49 percent last June, the Los Angeles Unified School District instituted “a “credit-recovery plan,” which allowed students to take crash courses on weekends and holidays to make up for classes they failed or missed. Combined with the elimination of the California High School Exit Examination, the classes, which many claimed were short on content, raised the district’s graduation rate to 75 percent practically overnight. In 2015, only one in five fourth-graders in Los Angeles performed at or above “proficient” in math and reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

So last month, with the help of some wealthy philanthropists, two young reformers, Nick Melvoin and Kelly Gonez, were elected to the LAUSD school board. Will they be able to affect change in the embattled school district? We will find out shortly as they take office on July 1st.

To learn more about the election, go here -  To read an interview with Melvoin and see what his priorities are, go here -

On the national scene, Donald Trump’s budget has gotten a lot of ink. Because a small amount of money is earmarked for school choice, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten coauthored an opinion piece that claims “President Trump wants to siphon billions of dollars from public schools to fund private and religious school vouchers. It’s an idea that’s bad for kids, public education and our democracy.” However, most of the money that the budget has earmarked for choice is for public school choice, not vouchers.

To read Weingarten’s op-ed, go to To read my take, go to  Also, Pacific Research Institute scholar Lance Izumi weighs in here - The Independent Institute’s Vicki Alger and Bill Evers also wrote about the budget here -

Also on school choice, John Kruger, founder and director of The Kids Union, a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness for school choice reforms, has penned a very thoughtful piece forLA School Report. It begins,

Imagine starting your college journey with a $75,000 scholarship. If that piques your interest, you’ll want to tune in to a brewing education battle in the Golden State. While the school choice debate has often centered on education outcomes, its fiscal impact in California is also of serious consequence. School choice could literally help send most students to college with a huge portion of the cost already accounted for. The math is actually fairly simple.

To continue reading this provocative piece, go to

The Friedrichs lawsuit, which would have made belonging to a public employee union optional as a condition of employment nationwide, was set to pass muster with the Supreme Court last year. But when Justice Antonin Scalia died in February, 2016, the almost certain fifth and deciding vote went with him, thus keeping half the country’s government workers forcibly tied to unions.

But now son of Friedrichs is upon us. On June 6th, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation asked SCOTUS to hear Janus v AFSCME. Mark Janus, a child support specialist who works for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, is compelled to send part of his paycheck to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees even though the union does not “represent his interests.” Right-to-work proponents are optimistic that the Court will take the case and that Neil Gorsuch, Scalia’s replacement, will come down as the fifth vote on the side of employee freedom.

To learn more about the case, go to To read more about Mark Janus, go here

In 2012, the EdChoice released a comprehensive study which details an employment explosion in America’s public schools.

America’s K-12 public education system has experienced tremendous historical growth in employment, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. Between fiscal year (FY) 1950 and FY 2009, the number of K-12 public school students in the United States increased by 96 percent while the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) school employees grew 386 percent. Public schools grew staffing at a rate four times faster than the increase in students over that time period. Of those personnel, teachers’ numbers increased 252 percent while administrators and other staff experienced growth of 702 percent, more than seven times the increase in students.

The study’s author Benjamin Scafidi has just updated his numbers and the current report reveals that the surge is still with us. Scafidi writes that $35 billion is spent yearly on the unnecessary surge and states,

One thing public schools could have done with that recurring $35 billion: Give every teacher a permanent $11,100 raise. Another potential use of those funds: Give more than 4 million students $8,000 education savings accounts (ESAs) that could be used to offset tuition payments at private schools, to save for college, or to pay for other educational services, therapies, curriculum, and materials. What it boils down to: Dollars used to fund the public school staffing surge placed a significant opportunity cost that precluded raises for teachers and/or school choice opportunities for students.

To learn more, go to

Activist and writer David Horowitz has come up with a code of ethics for k-12 teachers. Co-written with Mark Tapson, their plan is to forbid “teachers to use their classrooms for political, ideological, or religious advocacy. Teachers in violation of the Code would be subject to penalties such as probation, suspension and loss of their teaching licenses.” More specifically,

At a minimum, these regulations shall provide that no teacher is permitted during class time or while otherwise operating within the scope of employment as a teacher in a public educational institution to do the following:

     (1) Endorse, support, or oppose any candidate or nominee for public office or any elected or appointed official regardless of whether such official is a member of the local, state, or federal government;

    (2) Endorse, support, or oppose any pending, proposed, or enacted legislation or regulation regardless whether such legislation or regulation is pending, proposed, or has been enacted at the local, state, or federal level;

     (3) Endorse, support, or oppose any pending, proposed, or decided court case or judicial action regardless of whether such court case or judicial action is at the local, state, or federal level;

To learn more, 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 to be 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


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Dear Colleague,

Pensions, an issue that affects every public school teacher in the state, have been getting a lot of attention of late. In a nutshell, the situation is not good. As Dan Walters writes in theSacramento Bee,

California’s unfortunate status is confirmed in a new report from Pew Charitable Trusts, which found that in 2015 the state’s two big pension funds had the nation’s sixth-worst record of reducing unfunded liabilities, gathering just 79 percent of the $18.9 billion they needed to keep their pension debts from rising.

California’s status may have worsened since then. In 2015, Pew reported, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System had 74 percent of what they needed to meet pension obligations, but that ratio has since dropped to about 64 percent due to reductions in their projected investment earnings.

In Los Angeles, the situation is truly dire. The LA school district is facing a budget deficit that will rise to nearly 500 million dollars by 2020, primarily due to increased pension and healthcare costs. As Sara Favot writes in LA School Report, 

In 2013-14, the district paid $2,621 from its state funding of $9,788 for average daily attendance per student (or 27 percent) for all employee benefits, including health and welfare, other post-employment benefits and pension benefits (19.4 percent higher than the statewide average).

A game changer revolves around the so-called California Rule, which is seen as a major stumbling block to any kind of meaningful pension reform. The “rule” as described byCalpensions’ Ed Mendel:

The pension offered at hire becomes a “vested right,” protected by contract law, that cannot be cut, unless offset by a new benefit of comparable value. The pension can be increased, however, even retroactively for past work as happened for state workers under landmark legislation, SB 400 in 1999.

But the California Rule was struck down by an appeals court in August and awaits an appeal to the California Supreme Court. In the meantime, former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed wants to put a pension reform initiative on the 2018 ballot.

To read the Walters, Favot and Mendel pieces, go to

Merit pay or “pay for performance” is back in the news, courtesy of a study from Vanderbilt University. The research shows that teacher participation in a merit-pay program led to the equivalent of four extra weeks of student learning, according to an analysis of 44 studies of incentive-pay initiatives in the United States and abroad. In the U.S., the study showed increased student learning equivalent to three additional weeks of schooling. Lead researcher Matthew G. Springer, an assistant professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt University, said,

The findings suggest that merit pay is having a pretty significant impact on student learning. Now we need more research to figure out what an optimal merit-pay program looks like and how it is designed.

To learn more about the study, go here -

Just last week, Los Angeles Unified became the latest “sanctuary” school district when the school board passed a resolution declaring all schools sanctuaries for any students and their families who are in the country illegally. LA is not the first city in California to do so. According to EdSource,

The California Department of Education does not track school board resolutions, but according to an EdSource survey of the state’s 25 largest districts, nine have passed resolutions declaring they would protect immigrant children.

To read more, go to - and

On the school choice front, there is a very important case which will soon be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Mo. owns and operates a preschool learning center and its application for a state grant to rubberize its playground was denied. The state refused to pay for it, claiming that the state constitution bars state funds from going directly or indirectly to any religious sect or denomination. But the school disagrees. Writing in the SCOTUS blog, Amy Howe gives the church’s side,

The church argues that its exclusion from a state program that provides grants to help nonprofits buy rubber playground surfaces violates the Constitution, because it discriminates against religious institutions. 

With originalist Neil Gorsuch now on the court, the Church is optimistic that it will prevail. As Rick Hess and Grant Addison point out, the decision could have profound implications for school choice. They write that the opponents of choice,

…have long used Blaine-amendment language as a cudgel with which to attack voucher programs, tax-credit scholarships, and education-savings accounts. In the past two years alone, Blaine amendments have been used to challenge the constitutionality of school-choice programs in Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Colorado. A victory for Trinity Lutheran would fundamentally alter the landscape of school choice — at precisely the moment when choice has moved to the forefront of the education debate due to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and the choice-friendly Trump administration.

To read the SCOTUS blog entry go here -  To read the Hess/Addison piece, go here -

Also on choice, the California Teachers Association is going after charter schools, sponsoring three bills in the state legislature. AB 1478 would require charter schools to follow the state’s Brown Act, which requires open public meetings. (Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a similar bill just last year. saying it went “too far in prescribing how these boards must operate.”) AB 1360 would require all charter schools to follow the state’s admission, suspension, and expulsion procedures. But the most radical bill is SB 808, which would limit charter authorization to the local school district. As things stand now, if a local district turns down a charter, the school’s organizers can then appeal the decision to the county, and then, if necessary, to the state. The obvious problem if SB 808 passes, is that local school boards would have even more power than they do now. And that could destroy many of the 1,250 charter schools that prosper in California today.

But interestingly, after meeting with a group of parents, the bill’s author state Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia), decided to table it. A day later, however, the Los Angeles Unified school board revived it by voting 4-3 in favor of it.

To learn more about the three bills, go here -

Also, regarding charters, University of Arkansas professor and researcher Patrick Wolf has just completed a study in which he found that,

Students in public charter schools receive $5,721 or 29% less in average per-pupil revenue than students in traditional public schools (TPS) in 14 major metropolitan areas across the U. S in Fiscal Year 2014.  That is the main conclusion of a study that my research team released today. Of the cities we examined, some have large and well-established charter sectors, like Houston, Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, while others have more emerging charter school sectors like Little Rock, San Antonio, and Tulsa.

To read more about Wolf’s eye-opening study, go to

Stanford professor and Senior Fellow at the Hoover institution Terry Moe has made a brief and very informative video about the unions and their opposition to education reform for Concerned Educators Against Forced Unionism. To access the video, go here -

Mike Antonucci has penned a very interesting piece on “What Unions Really Fear.” He claims it is not the fact that the U.S. could do away with the unions’ forced dues scheme in the near future, but rather the loss of exclusive bargaining rights. “While even the loss of exclusivity would not be the end of public sector unions, it would devastate their current mode of operations and force revolutionary change upon them.”

To read this provocative piece, go here -

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Larry Sand
CTEN President