Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Dear Colleague,

Two teacher-related bills are currently making the rounds in Sacramento. State Senators Henry Stern (D-Los Angeles) and Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton) have introduced the “Teacher Recruitment and Retention Act of 2017” which offers a novel incentive for teachers to remain in the profession. SB 807 would exempt California educators from paying the state income tax after five years on the job, in addition to allowing a tax deduction for the cost of attaining their teaching credential. If passed, the bill is estimated to cost California taxpayers an additional $600 million a year. It’s a bit puzzling, because at the same time proponents say we need to take this measure because there is a teacher shortage, teachers are being laid off in many districts. To read the bill, go here -  To read a contrarian view, go here

The second bill comes from Assemblywoman Shirley Weber. Cosponsored by Teach Plus and Educators for Excellence, two teacher-led activist organizations, the San Diego Democrat has introduced legislation that would extend the time it takes to attain permanent status from two years to three. Assembly Bill 1220 would also allow some teachers who don’t meet the requirements within three years an extra year or two, during which time they could get additional mentoring and receive other professional development resources. So, depending on a teacher’s effectiveness, the permanence perk would be moved from two to as many as five years. While a principal may not want to take a chance on a teacher who is not doing well in his first two years, the added time frame might see that teacher blossom – or it might not. For more on the bill, go to  For  a different view, go to

In a post for the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, EdChoice’s Greg Forster makes the case that “School Choice Makes Teachers Free to Teach.”

Our whole education system is designed to treat teachers like factory line workers, not responsible professionals. That’s because the government monopoly on schooling makes every political interest group see schools as its business. If government runs the schools, you’re not allowed to tell taxpayers and voters to butt out of the classroom—not if we’re going to have a constitutional, democratic republic where government is of, by, and for the people.

Some of these interest groups are well-meaning and just want to help. Some have strong ideological commitments they want the government school monopoly to teach. And a lot of them are just greedy and don’t care about education one way or the other as long as the gravy trains run on time. But all of them want to have their fingers in the classroom, which means the whole education system runs on politics.

To read more of Forster’s compelling piece, go to

The latest state to move on school choice is Arizona, which earlier this month expanded its educational savings account program. On April 6th, Gov. Doug Ducey signed legislation to make all public school students in Arizona eligible to get state money to attend private and parochial schools. But the plan does not mean every child would be able to get one of these vouchers.

The bill has a limit, though that could be removed by lawmakers in the future. On paper, the legislation makes every one of the 1.1 million students in Arizona public schools eligible for vouchers, each worth about $4,400 a year for most students. But to get the votes, supporters had to agree to a cap of about 30,000 vouchers by 2021.

To learn more about the expanded AZ ESA law, go to

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos recently had a chat with Russ Whitehurst of the Brookings Institution. Among other things, she compared the opposition to the school choice movement to that of taxi companies which have been fighting ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft.

Just as the traditional taxi system revolted against ride sharing, so too does the education establishment feel threatened by the rise of school choice. In both cases, the entrenched status quo has resisted models that empower individuals.

To read more of the interview, go here -

On a similar note, EdChoice’s Jason Bedrick wrote a cogent post for Jay Greene’s blog, in which he maintains that “Real Accountability Is Choice, Not Regulation.” He writes,

…true accountability is when service providers are directly answerable to the people most affected by their performance. When that isn’t possible, as when a utility company has a monopoly, top-down regulations may be necessary instead. But we shouldn’t confuse the inferior alternative accountability regime for the ideal form of accountability just because that’s what we’re used to.

To read Bedrick’s post, go to

Mike Antonucci has written a persuasive essay about “What Unions Really Fear.” The teacher union watchdog claims that it’s not right-to-work laws that unions are really afraid of, but rather 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.

Everyone talks about the effects of competition on schools. No one spends time on the effects of competition on school labor relations. Would it be chaos, as many union advocates claim, or would it settle into a mode similar to private schools, universities, and businesses?

Teacher unions will not thrive in a world without agency fees. But they will survive. They are not prepared to survive in a world without exclusive bargaining.

To read the entire post, go to

Also, should you be interested in seeing the latest CTA Hudson notice, which details the union’s financial statements for the year ended August 31, 2015, it is now available on the CTEN website. It includes “Supplemental Summary and Detail Schedules of Nonchargeable and Chargeable Expenditures of Agency Fees for 2014-2015” as well as a report by independent auditors. To access the 111 page document, go to

Vicki Alger, research fellow at the Independent Institute, recently delivered a speech at The Heartland Institute about her new book, Failure: The Federal Misedukation of America’s Children.Alger claims that federal involvement in education has been a failure and assesses strategies for success. 

For nearly 100 years the federal government left education almost entirely in the hands of the citizenry and state and local governments, but in 1979, with the creation of the US Department of Education a sprawling bureaucracy with 153 programs, 5,000 employees, and an annual budget of approximately $70 billion, the federal government intruded itself into almost every area of education.

To read more about Alger’s book and view her talk at Heartland, go here -

And finally, for you So Cal baseball fans, the LA Dodgers will be hosting its annual “Teacher Appreciation Night” on May 1st. For details, go to

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, March 15, 2017

Dear Colleague,

How does California rank in per-pupil spending? Ask three people and you’ll get four different answers. That’s because it depends on the methodology used to calculate the costs. Hence there is really no one right answer as explained in a detailed report by EdSource’s John Fensterwald.

Education Week uses data collected by the federal government, the National Center for Education Statistics. The center publishes 2-year-old data because it waits for states to update their actual spending, and the center takes months scrubbing the information to make sure the state data are comparable. EdWeek then applies a cost-of-living factor, the Comparable Wage Index, which has the effect of lowering the rankings of states with high costs of living.

The National Education Association’s data, based on surveys it sends out to states, are more current but depend on states’ best estimates of spending. Those can change significantly if, for example, a legislature makes mid-year budget cuts. NEA annually revises data for the two previous years, and it doesn’t apply a cost-of-living adjustment, such as a comparable wage index.

The California Budget and Policy Center uses the most recent NEA numbers, but then applies the comparable wage index for its California rankings.

To learn more about school spending and where California fits in, go to

Talking about rankings… on a “State Report Card” issued by Education Week, California scored below the national average. Massachusetts ranked at the top, followed by New Jersey, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maryland and Connecticut, all earning a B. As a whole, the nation received a C, but the Golden State came in with a solid C-minus, 10th from the bottom among the 50 states and Washington, D.C.

The state ranked 41st in conditions that help children succeed, 39th in school finance, and 30th in achievement. The report card gave the state a D+ in K-12 achievement and school finance, and a C in chance for success.

Ask a group of teachers about “test-based accountability” and an argument – perhaps with name-calling – will probably ensue. But perhaps a piece in Education Week by the eminently sensible Robert Pondiscio will bring any extreme positions on the subject to a rational middle. He writes:

I’m morally inclined toward (Cato Institute’s Jason) Bedrick’s “choice purist” argument for its simplicity and clarity. I chose my daughter’s (private) school without much official oversight, approval, or fear of sanction. I see no reason to think I’ve cornered the market on sound parental judgment. That said, (Fordham Institute’s Mike) Petrilli and others who favor stronger oversight are on solid ground when they note that when taxpayers are paying for it, the public has a right, even an obligation, to make sure the money’s not squandered.  But where I part company with them is that I’m increasingly open to exploring other forms of accountability, including letting parents vote with their feet.

Another subject that brings a lot of heat, but not always light is ESSA, the Every Student Succeeds Act, which is the latest incarnation of the convoluted No Child Left Behind law. To bring the subject to a level that we mortals can understand, education policy experts Rick Hess and Max Eden have issued The Every Student Succeeds Act: A 101 Guide.

ESSA, heralded as “the largest devolution of federal control to the states in a quarter century,” reflects and responds to these political trends. In the new volume The Every Student Succeeds Act: What It Means for Schools, Systems, and States, AEI Education assembled a group of expert scholars and observers to provide a coherent, readable, and in-depth account of where ESSA came from, what it says, what will or will not change, and what it all means for schools. This guide distills selected chapters of that volume into a series of short briefs to help policymakers navigate the new law and its implications for American education.

On the school choice front, things are advancing. Many choice-friendly governors and state legislators were swept into office this past November. An article by Education Week’s Arianna Prothero examines some of the potential legislation.

Kentucky looks primed to pass legislation allowing charter schools to open—it's one of only seven states that remains a charter holdout… Arizona lawmaker Wants to extend Education Savings Accounts to all students… Texas lawmakers try again for a voucher program.

Choice is not only making news on a state level but in D.C., where President Trump has been speaking about a national school choice measure. To that end, Thomas Carroll, president of the Invest in Education Coalition based in New York, has a plan which he details in “A Federal Scholarship Tax Credit: The Only Fifty-State School-Choice Option.”

If you pay federal taxes and donate to any eligible, existing scholarship fund—for example, the Children’s Scholarship Fund—you get to reduce your tax bill by the amount of your donation. Any such bill would set an income threshold for who can use the scholarships funded by the tax-credited donations (in the Rubio-Rokita case, up to 2.5 times the poverty level, or about $60,000 for a family of four), place a cap on what size donation would be eligible for a tax credit, and potentially limit the total combined amount of tax credits allowed for all taxpayers in a calendar year ($20 billion, for example, the amount of federal funds President Trump has proposed for expanding school choice).

In a contrary piece, The Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke warns against any kind of federal choice program.

Creating a new federal program further entangles Washington in local school policy and private education. Scholarship tax credits (STCs) are great policy at the state level. They enable businesses and individuals to receive a credit against their tax obligations for contributing to non-profit scholarship granting organizations, which in turn provide scholarships to eligible children to attend a private school of choice. It’s a win-win.
Nevertheless, the federal tax code is not the appropriate lever for establishing STCs. First, the U.S. Constitution does not authorize the federal government to enact national education programs, and instead rightly leaves education policy to the states. Moreover, school choice programs produce savings to the taxpayer at the state level because state education spending is tied to enrollment, but this is not true of federal education spending. Reductions in revenue from scholarship tax credits are more than offset by corresponding decreases in state spending. By contrast, a federal STC would provide no corresponding reduction in spending.

Also, on the policy front, President Trump undid his predecessor’s “bathroom” guidelines which had called on schools nationwide to let transgender students choose “Boys” or “Girls,” depending on how they perceived themselves, and not the old-fashioned way: by body parts. So now, the decision is up to each state and teacher union leaders were not happy about the change. National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen GarcĂ­a insisted, “Every student matters, and every student has the right to feel safe, welcomed, and valued in our public schools. This is our legal, ethical and moral obligation. The Trump administration’s plans to reverse protections for transgender students… is dangerous, ill-advised, and unnecessary.” Not to be outdone, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten claimed that reversing the guidelines “tells trans kids that it’s OK with the Trump administration and the Department of Education for them to be abused and harassed at school for being trans.”

But there is nothing in the new guidelines that “reverses protections” or allows for abuse or harassment. The decisions on bathroom matters will simply be left to states and local education agencies. I weighed in on the subject here -  (If any of you would like to engage in a conversation on this issue – or any other – please post your comments on the CTEN blog -

Anyone wishing to make a donation to CTEN can do so very simply through a personal check or PayPal -  As a non-profit, we exist and operate only through the generosity and support of people like you. (And to those of you who already regularly donate – our heartfelt thanks!)

Larry Sand
CTEN President

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Dear Colleague,

Not that her detractors will go softly into the night, but at least Betsy DeVos is now in place as the Secretary of Education. While the teachers unions and other education establishmentarians are angry and fearful as to what she might try to do, the fact is that her powers are limited. As spelled out in rational way (a rarity on this issue), Fordham Institute president Mike Petrilli details her job description.

President Trump selected her to be the U.S. Secretary of Education. That person’s job is to do education politics and policy—to work with members of Congress and governors, to understand how a bill becomes a law, to provide moral support to reformers as they fight it out in the states and at the local level. With her decades of involvement in politics, with policymakers, and in the trenches of the parental choice movement, DeVos is an inspired choice for the job that the Senate confirmed her for yesterday.

…During her confirmation process, DeVos promised time and again to shrink Uncle Sam’s impact on the nation’s schools—to devolve decisions back to states, communities, educators and parents. That’s in keeping with the mandate from Congress, which just over a year ago updated the major K–12 law to expressly limit the federal role in education.

Another article, this one by director of education policy at the Show-Me Institute, Michael McShane asks us to “Rethink School Accountability” and “Stop the outcry over DeVos' approach and consider real reform, instead.” His piece in US News & World Report starts,

In many Eastern religions, practitioners use mantras to calm and center themselves while meditating. If the school choice movement needs a mantra right now, it just might be: Regulating a market is not the same as regulating a monopoly.

I say this because of the huge outcry around the putative beliefs of Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump's nominee for education secretary, on how to bring accountability to charter schools and schools that participate in voucher programs. Differing conceptions of accountability have become equated with being "for" or "against" the idea, in toto. But which is more strict? Requiring that schools be evaluated on an A-to-F scale and automatically kicked out of a charter program if they fail? Or establishing a mayorally-appointed commission to decide what schools should and shouldn't stay open? I actually don't know.

The looming teacher (and other public employee) pension disaster for taxpayers is not news. But what has gone under-reported is that young teachers entering the field are carrying a disproportionate amount of the load. And if those teachers don’t make teaching a career for life, they lose out. Big time.
All this is spelled out in recent a Fordham Institute report. As the introduction to the detailed 378 page analysis states, “A new teacher’s pension is supposed to be a perk. The truth is that for the majority of the nation’s new teachers, what they can anticipate in retirement benefits will be worth less than what they contributed to the system while they were in the classroom, even if they stay for decades.” The even sadder news is that no one in a position of power seems to be willing to do anything about it.

The report’s author EdChoice’s Martin Lueken found that the median “crossover point” of the fifty-one districts across the country he examined is 25 years, which means that teachers in more than half of these districts have to teach a quarter of a century before they reach the point where their retirement benefits are worth more than their contributions.

To read more of this eye-opening report, go to

The latest entry by the National Council on Teacher Quality on teacher evaluations is out. Running in Place: How New Teacher Evaluations Fail to Live Up to Promises is part of the tenth annual publication in the State Teacher Policy Yearbook report series. The report “finds that within the 30 states that require student learning measures to be at least a significant factor in teacher evaluations, state guidance and rules in most states allow teachers to be rated effective even if they receive low scores on the student learning component of the evaluation.” The report also includes recommendations for how states can address this problem.

To access the report, go here -

On the school choice front, New Hampshire State Senator John Regan has penned an article which extols the virtues of choice.

Ed Choice (formerly Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice) has presented 33 empirical studies all showing positive results from school choice. Twenty-eight of these same studies (a whopping 85 percent) showed positive, or neutral fiscal effects. Other studies show a higher level of awareness of both civic values and responsibilities.

On a tour of a New Hampshire charter school, I asked what were some of the reasons why students choose to transfer to a charter school. The number one response: No bullying.

Another win for school choice is that of additional learning and higher test scores. Former Rep. Jason Bedrick, now a member of the Cato Institute, writes ‘ … highly significant educationally meaningful achievement gains of several months of additional learning from school choice.’

Also on the subject of choice “A Federal Scholarship Tax Credit: The Only Fifty-State School-Choice Option” is a thoughtful piece written by Thomas W. Carroll, president of the Invest in Education Coalition. He writes about a bill by Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Representative Todd Rokita (R-Indiana) that “proposes a federal tax credit for K–12 scholarships that is independent of state programs—much like federal tax credits for buying electric vehicles.” He also writes,

Not only is such a federal school-choice tax credit doable—it’s the only way President Trump can effectively bring school choice to families in the blue states that voted for him in 2016 and others that might in the future. No other solution can immediately benefit every American student. A competitive grant program, for example, would at most affect a half-dozen states. And categorical block grants that can be turned into school vouchers require state-by-state approval, meaning ‘choice’ states would likely allow, but ‘non-choice’ states would not.

In January, Kentucky became the 27th right-to-work state in the nation, and this month Missouri became #28. In a few short years, the RTW movement has picked up considerably. Between 1947 and 2011, just three states opted for worker freedom. But since 2012, six states have been added to the RTW column, and others are moving in that direction. And that’s not the only bad news for the unions. In November 2016, the National Right to Work Foundation, along with the Liberty Justice Center, filed a brief on behalf of two Illinois government employees. Mark Janus, a child support services worker at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, and Brian Trygg, a transportation engineer, resent their unions’ forced dues regimen and are suing them. Janus v. AFSCME could make it to the Supreme Court as soon as next year.

Also, three new federal court cases challenging the constitutionality of forcing public employees to pay union dues were filed in January. Government workers – including Pennsylvania teachers, California medical center employees, and New York school employees – are plaintiffs. These cases, being filed with legal aid from the National Right to Work Foundation, argue that “state requirements that the plaintiffs pay mandatory union fees as a condition of government employment violate the First Amendment.”

Then on February 6th, The Center for Individual Rights (the same group that brought the Friedrichs case) filed a lawsuit against the state of California and the California Teachers Association “on behalf of eight California public school teachers and the Association of American Educators. The teachers are challenging California’s “agency shop” law, which CIR says violates the First Amendment by forcing them to pay annual fees to the union – even if they are not a member.

To read more about the right-to-work legislation and litigation, go to and 

On a very different note, are you aware that, as recently as the 1960s, the NEA used teacher education materials with Biblical verses? For a few samples go here -  To learn more about what the NEA was like in its pre-union days, go to

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” on our website – 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.

Anyone wishing to make a donation to CTEN can do so very simply through a personal check or PayPal -  As a non-profit, we exist and operate only through the generosity and support of others. Many thanks to CTENers who have already donated, and a special shout-out to those of you who do so on a regular basis.

Larry Sand
CTEN President

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Dear Colleague,

The big national education story continues to be Donald Trump’s selection for Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Her Senate hearing was moved from January 11th to the 17th and it will be a few more days before a confirmation vote is taken. The extra six days gave teacher union leaders additional time to vent about DeVos, who scares them to death. Speaking to the Washington Press Club, AFT president Randi Weingarten said, “Betsy DeVos lacks the qualifications and experience to serve as secretary of education. Her drive to privatize education is demonstrably destructive to public schools and to the educational success of all of our children.” Weingarten adds, “She’s devoted millions to elect her friends and punish her enemies, and, at every critical moment, she has tried to take the public out of public education.”

For a very balanced look at DeVos, which examines her nomination from both a right and left perspective, please check out Michael McShane’s detailed piece in Education Next, which can be found at

Despite the union animus toward private school education, many teachers don’t agree. In fact, teachers send their own kids to private schools in greater numbers than the general populace. According to a survey released in January, 2016, Education Next found “No less than 20 percent of teachers with school age children, but only 13 percent of non-teachers, have sent one or more of their children to private school.” And not surprisingly, 42 percent of teachers who don’t send their kids to a traditional public school back vouchers, as compared to only 23 percent of the teachers who send their children to traditional public schools.

It is important to note that these results are not new. In 2004, a Fordham Institute study looked at 50 American cities and found that 21.5 percent of urban school teachers send their kids to private schools, while 17.5 percent of non-teachers do. Digging a little deeper, we learn that the disparity is greater for larger urban areas. In Philadelphia, 44 percent of public school teachers’ kids attend a private school, in Chicago it’s 39 percent, San Francisco-Oakland 34 percent and New York 33 percent.   

To learn more about the Education Next survey, go to To access the Fordham report, go here -

On the subject of choice, it is important to note that many naysayers insist that voucher programs cost the taxpayer money, but studies refute this. Most recently, a study from  the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, decided to look at the cost/benefits of choice schools. They found that:

…students participating in Milwaukee’s voucher program will provide the city, state and students nearly $500 million in economic benefits through 2035 thanks to higher graduation and lower crime rates.

Using data from a crime and graduation study by Corey DeAngelis and Patrick Wolf at the University of Arkansas, the Milwaukee study finds that through 2035 Wisconsin will receive a $473 million benefit from higher graduation rates by choice students. More education translates into higher incomes, more tax revenue and a lower likelihood of reliance on government welfare or other payments. Meanwhile, greater economic opportunity also prevents young adults from turning to crime, which the study estimates will save Wisconsin $1.7 million from fewer misdemeanors and $24 million from fewer felonies over the same 20 years.

Speaking of choice, January 22-28 is National School Choice Week, the aim of which is to “raise public awareness of all types of education options for children. These options include traditional public schools, public charter schools, magnet schools, online learning, private schools, and homeschooling.” There are 21,392 events planned this year,

including pep rallies, science fairs, school tours, policy forums, and rallies in more than 25 state capitals. These celebrations will be attended by tens of millions of Americans in all 50 states over just seven days.

Of the 21,392 events, 16,758 are planned by schools, 2,168 by homeschooling groups, 1,358 by chambers of commerce, and many more by individuals, along with coalitions of policy, advocacy, and education organizations. Each event reflects the community and mission of the individual event planners, focusing on themes like parent information nights, registration fairs, and workforce readiness.

When Californians voted to bring back bilingual education in November, few acknowledged that there are not nearly enough teachers equipped to teach it. And now that it is the law, there is a search to fill many needed teaching slots.

EdChoice scholar Greg Forster has written a detailed five-part series on accountability: the best way to measure it, who should be in charge of it, etc. In Part 5 he writes,

The hiring, firing and paying of teachers must attract and retain wise professionals with a commitment to nurturing children’s ability to achieve and appreciate the true, good and beautiful. It should not place a high priority on more utilitarian metrics like small fluctuations in test scores.

Holding teachers accountable requires us to hold schools accountable. Schools need to have strong institutional culture. School leadership must instill shared moral commitments pointing to the higher purpose of education, and defining the rules of acceptable behavior for educators and students implied by that higher purpose.

The big challenge for school accountability is that these moral commitments cannot be simply imposed by force. The school must be a free community in which students genuinely internalize the transcendent goals of education rather than merely conforming reluctantly to the grown-ups’ demands. This means accountability systems must have strong moral and social connections to schools. That way educators and students will accept their decisions not as a hostile outside force but as part of, and supporting, the free moral community of the school itself.

To continue reading this very provocative piece and access Parts 1-4, go here -

Also on the subject of accountability, the Washington Post’s Esther Cepeda writes “Teacher evaluation system is failing.” She concludes that, “Until teacher evaluations can be reliable, apolitical and rigorous — and provide accountability while being objective and fair — fixing systems where ineffective teachers are almost impossible to fire will continue to be a pipe dream.”

Page 20 of the 2016-2017 “Guide to: The California Teachers Association, Human Rights Department, Programs and Services” it informs us under the heading, “CLUB ED: Teachers for Tomorrow”
Teaching is both a challenging and rewarding profession. CTA wants to encourage students to seriously consider pursuing a career in an education-related field.

CLUB ED: Teachers for Tomorrow is a kit designed to assist CTA members in establishing future teacher clubs at middle and high school campuses.

The program has the following objectives:
·         Identify and encourage ALL interested students to enter the teaching profession.
·         Concentrate on recruiting ethnic minority students as future teachers.
·         Encourage students to accept leadership positions and take responsibility for their future career in education.
·         Cultivate in students a greater understanding of the value of education and of their role in assisting others.
·         Provide programs and activities that will stimulate students’ interest in the wide variety of employment options available in the field of education.
·         Assist students in transitioning from high school to college.
·         Introduce students to the important role of CTA and NEA in the support and improvement of teaching and learning conditions in public schools.

To access a pdf of this booklet, which also instructs teachers how they can find out if they have “unconscious bias” and how stereotypes develop, go here -

If you are a middle or high school teacher and have any experience with “Club Ed,’ please let me know so that I can share it with other teachers. Thanks.

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, December 21, 2016

Dear Colleague,

Undoubtedly the biggest national education story of the last few weeks is President-elect Donald Trump’s nomination of Betsy DeVos to be the Secretary of Education. The reform-minded crowd by-and-large lauded the pick, while the teachers unions have been in a state of grief. The NEA has been pillorying DeVos every chance it gets on its website, asserting that she is an “ardent supporter of ‘school choice’ privatization schemes, despite a complete lack of evidence that privatizing public schools produces better education.” The union also claims that she has “invested millions lobbying for laws that drain resources from public schools…fought against the regulation of charter schools…and is not a good fit for a position overseeing the civil rights of all students.”

Responding to the charges, Arkansas writer Paul Greenberg delivers an op-ed in which he states that “Betsy DeVos is a fighter and a winner.” I threw in my two cents, responding to the union’s charges and think that she – with a few caveats – is a good choice for the job.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests  reading, mathematics and science and is administered every three years to 15 year-olds in 72 countries by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The latest results were announced a couple of weeks ago, and the news wasn’t good. U.S. students performed in the middle of the pack in reading and science, but well below average in mathematics. Many make excuses for our poor showing by claiming that the U.S., unlike other countries, tests all its children, not just the elite, has large proportions of immigrants and English-language learners, and has a huge proportion of children in poverty. But Robert Rothman, writing in the Hechinger Report, disagrees.

The fact is that these criticisms are inaccurate. Nearly every country enrolls nearly all 15-year-olds in school, and the U.S. is on the low side, with 84 percent of 15-year-olds in school. Many countries have higher immigrant populations than the United States, and in some, such as Singapore, immigrant students outperform native-born students.

And poverty does not explain the U.S. results. Yes, child poverty rates in the U.S. are high, but they are about at the average for OECD countries. Some high-performing regions, like Hong Kong, have much higher poverty rates. And some, like Hong Kong, have managed to break the connection between socioeconomic status and achievement. In Estonia, for example, 48 percent of low-income students are “resilient”; that is, they score at top levels. In Canada, the resiliency rate is 39 percent. In the U.S., it is 32 percent—and the good news is the rate has gone up over the past decade.

To read more of Rothman’s critique and see the scores, go to

On December 8th, the National Council on Teacher Quality released new ratings for 875 undergraduate elementary teacher preparation programs. One of NCTQ’s findings is that these programs “still have far to go, particularly in preparing elementary teachers in mathematics…. The new findings do little to quell the notion that teaching is an ‘easy major,’ open to anyone who applies in many institutions. Only one quarter of the programs (26 percent) are sufficiently selective, generally admitting only the top half of college goers.” To access the NCTQ report, go to

The same day NCTQ came out with its teacher prep analysis, the Fordham Institute released a report on the difficulty of removing ineffective teachers from public school classrooms. The results of the study showed that in some school districts it is virtually impossible to get rid of an under-performer. The Fordham analysts used a ten point metric based on three simple questions:

·         Does tenure protect veteran teachers from performance-based dismissal?
·         How long does it take to dismiss an ineffective veteran teacher?
·         How vulnerable is an ineffective veteran teacher’s dismissal to challenge?

They then used this framework to gauge the difficulty of dismissing ineffective veteran teachers in 25 diverse school districts across the country and found three major obstacles. In 17 of the 25 districts, state law allows teachers to achieve tenure and never relinquish it, even if poor performance reviews follow. Also, it takes forever to cut through the red tape involved in a teacher dismissal. In Los Angeles and San Francisco, it can take five or more years to complete the process. And finally, teachers have multiple appeals to their dismissal in many districts.

To read more about the Fordham Institute report, go to

Robert Pondiscio, Vice President for External Affairs at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, has written a forceful piece for U.S News & World Report in which he suggests that we “Let Poor Parents Choose Too.” Making the case for parent power in the current political climate, he writes, 

If it's education reform technocrats and accountability hawks versus parents this time, the mood, the moment and the moral argument would seem to favor parents. If this year has taught us nothing else, it's that Americans have had just about enough of their betters deciding what's best for them and expecting them to play gratefully along. Reformers might have to start accepting that our greatest point of leverage is to help parents choose wisely, rather than trying to police their choices by means of aggressive accountability schemes.

While school choice is on the move in other states, California is lagging. EdSource’s Louis Freedberg suggests, “Trump school voucher plan would face huge obstacles in California.” There are many questions: Would a voucher program be legal in California? Where would the federal funds come from? How much would the plan as proposed by Trump cost in California? Where would students be able to use the vouchers? To see how Freedberg answers these and other questions, go to

When Antonin Scalia died in February, the Friedrichs case went with him. But there is another case on the horizon that is trying to accomplish the same end: giving workers a choice whether or not to pay dues to a public employee union as a condition of employment. According to Choice Media,

Enter Illinois plaintiffs Mark Janus and Brian Trygg and a case called Janus v. AFSCME. With the legal counsel of Jacob Huebert of the Liberty Justice Center, they are suing Illinois public sector unions for the same reason as the Friedrichs plaintiffs — forced union fees. The plaintiffs are employees of the state of Illinois; Mark Janus is a child support services worker at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, and Brian Trygg is a transportation engineer. Attorney Huebert told Choice Media that if they win their case, the precedent would apply to public school teachers as well.

“If the court were to rule in their favor [Janus and Trygg’s], it would extend to all government workers who’ve been forced to pay union fees as a condition of employment,” Huebert said. “That’s really the issue at the heart of the case: Can the government force its employees to pay union fees as a condition of employment? If it can’t force Illinois state workers to do that, it’s not clear how it can force any other kind of government worker to do that.”

And speaking of unions, the new NEA  LM-2 has been released. Dropout Nation’s RiShawn Biddle writes about it here -  To read specifically where NEA spends the $366,881,800 it collected from educators this past year, go to

Anyone wishing to make a year-end donation to CTEN can do so very simply through a personal check or PayPal -  As a non-profit, we exist and operate only through the generosity and support of people like you. (And to those of you who already regularly donate – our heartfelt thanks!)

It has been another exciting year for CTEN - and we look forward to an even more vigorous 2017. We remain grateful for your interest and involvement, and wish you and your families the happiest of holidays. See you next year!

Larry Sand
CTEN President

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Dear Colleague,

Eight days ago, Donald Trump became our president-elect. And just what will this mean for educators? Hard to say because very little of the campaign was spent on K-12 education issues. Our soon-to-be 45th President did say that school choice is a priority, however.

GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump is pledging that, if elected, he'd be the "nation's biggest cheerleader for school choice" and would offer states the chance to use $20 billion in federal money to create vouchers allowing children in poverty to attend the public, charter, or private school of their choice.

"There is no policy more in need of urgent change than our government-run education monopoly," 
Trump said. "The Democratic Party has trapped millions of African-American and Hispanic youth" in struggling schools.

"We want every inner-city child in America to have the freedom to attend any school," he said.

Trump said that the $20 billion in federal funds could be combined with more than $100 billion in state and local money to create vouchers of up to $12,000 annually for the nation's poorest kids.

Trump also said that he supports merit pay for teachers. For more, go here -

Of note to Californians, the three education-related measures on the ballot all passed. Prop. 58 will largely undo Prop 227, and restore bilingual education. Prop 55 will continue Prop 30, the “temporary tax” on people earning over $263,000 a year through 2030. And Prop 51, a school bond measure, will “help to repair, upgrade and improve California’s K-12 public schools and community colleges” according to its proponents.

The latter initiative was opposed by Gov. Jerry Brown and others. Brown argued that it would “promote sprawl and continue an inequitable system based on which school districts get to the application line fastest, not which ones need it the most.” For more, go to To examine the problem of mounting bond debt, go here -

On the subject of school choice, many in the education establishment contend that any privatization of education hurts teachers. Not so, says University of Arkansas’ Corey DeAngelis, who makes the case that “School Choice Benefits Teachers Too.”

Obviously, diverting resources to private schools must harm teachers in public schools, right? This is debatable, especially since public school teachers do not face a serious threat of dismissal or decreasing salaries. Moreover, even if this caused a realistic dismissal threat, the high-quality teachers would certainly remain shielded. What is unquestionable, however, is that this diversion of resources benefits teachers in private schools voluntarily chosen by families.
Which group of teachers should benefit more? The ones that forcefully receive resources from the taxpayers, or the ones that produce educational outcomes that are desired by children and parents?

To state the obvious, as charter schools and other forms of educational choice proliferate, traditional public schools lose market share. While some school districts complain to legislators and the media about the loss of students and revenue, the more creative ones have turned to marketing.

Joel Dahl, an administrator in the Westonka district, said his small school system outside of Minneapolis was losing children to charters, private schools and neighboring districts for about six years before the flow subsided around 2014, in part because of the outreach to young children.

In addition to sending out about 100 baby bags every three months, the district also sends birthday cards to newborns through their fifth birthday and offers programs to children from birth. One class involves a teacher leading parents and newborns in playtime and singing to help the babies with communication and socialization skills.

“We try and start young and recruit them, and hope they try to stay all the way through,” Mr. Dahl said. “Our goal is to get them in.”

One of the edu-myths making the rounds these days is that teachers are burning out because of tougher tests and evaluations. Mike Antonucci looks at the evidence and finds the claim to be essentially not true, with perhaps one exception.

…as one review of the published evidence put it: “Research to date suggests that accountability has not dramatically changed the career choices of teachers overall, but that it has likely increased attrition in schools classified as failing relative to other schools.” There is less research on teacher evaluation policies, but what exists suggests that turnover and dissatisfaction may be particularly acute for teachers who receive poor ratings.

On the subject of testing, the always provocative Jay Greene has written a most interesting blog post, “Evidence for the Disconnect Between Changing Test Scores and Changing Later Life Outcomes.”

Over the last few years I have developed a deeper skepticism about the reliability of relying on test scores for accountability purposes.  I think tests have very limited potential in guiding distant policymakers, regulators, portfolio managers, foundation officials, and other policy elites in identifying with confidence which schools are good or bad, ought to be opened, expanded, or closed, and which programs are working or failing.  The problem, as I’ve pointed out in several pieces now, is that in using tests for these purposes we are assuming that if we can change test scores, we will change later outcomes in life.  We don’t really care about test scores per se, we care about them because we think they are near-term proxies for later life outcomes that we really do care about — like graduating from high school, going to college, getting a job, earning a good living, staying out of jail, etc…

To continue reading this thought-provoking piece go to  In a similar vein, John Katzman, CEO of Noodle, has made a worthwhile video on the subject which can be accessed here -

Earlier this month, the California Charter Schools Association released a ranking of every school – charter and traditional – in the state. As reported in LA School Report,

Each school is ranked from 1 to 10 as a statewide rank and a “similar student” rank, which compares schools with similar demographics, including race and socioeconomic status.
Elizabeth Robitaille, CCSA’s senior vice president of achievement and performance management, said the “similar student” rank tells more about how a school is educating its students. Students who have educated parents and are from higher socioeconomic backgrounds are more likely to do better on standardized tests. Schools that are “beating the odds” rank high on the similar students rank, meaning students are scoring higher on tests than students from other schools with similar demographics.

For CTA agency fee payers, the November 15th deadline has passed, so we hope you have already submitted your 2016 rebate form. However, if you are a first time filer, you may resign from the union after the 15th. You will not get the full amount, but rather a prorated one depending on how long after the 15th you file. For more information, please visit

If you are interested in giving CTEN brochures to colleagues, you can print them right from our 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, as always.

Larry Sand
CTEN President