Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Dear Colleague,

The big news in California and elsewhere is the teachers’ strike in Los Angeles, where 20 months of negotiating have done little to bring the union and the school district together. UTLA contends that the district is hoarding money that could be used to give teachers raises and shrink class sizes. But in reality, over the years, too many spendthrift school board members have used the taxpayer as an ATM with no consideration given to the bottom line. So now the school district is rapidly careening down the road to insolvency so fast that unless something changes, the district will be broke by 2021.  The superintendent has pointed to a visit by county and state officials who warned the school board that the district’s budget situation is serious. There have also been independent reviews of the district’s finances that have reached similar conclusions.

Government finance expert David Crane has suggested a way out. He says that LAUSD spends more than $300 million a year on healthcare subsidies for retired employees, including retirees who are already entitled to Medicare and other subsidies funded by the federal government. If the district were to cut the unnecessary insurance, the money could be put back into the classroom. But the union-dominated Health Benefits Committee, which determines employee and retiree health plans, has nixed that idea.

Additionally, either as a distraction or as a way to send a message to new governor Gavin Newsom – UTLA President Caputo-Pearl has become obsessed with charter schools, claiming that they are growing too fast in LA. Of course, they grow as the need and demands arise; no one forces a family to send their kid to a charter school. Anti-charter sentiment was also brought home by UTLA Secretary Arlene Inouye, who sat for a lengthy interview with Jacobin, a magazine that offers “socialist perspectives on politics, economics, and culture.” In addition to blasting “unregulated charter schools,” she avows, “It doesn’t matter whether you’re in a red state or a blue state, we’re facing the same attacks on public education. Corporate Democrats are getting money from the same billionaires and corporations as the Republicans, so essentially all public educators in this country are targets.”

To read more on UTLA leadership and charters, go here and here.

The strike is now in its third day and it remains to be seen how and when this will end up. For the union’s perspective, go here. For an objective perspective, go here and here. For my take, go here.

Brand new to California is the new state health education framework, which parents and educators need to be aware of. The framework, which creates guidelines for curriculum in California's K-12 schools, is loaded with very controversial material. As Orange County teacher and school board member Brenda Lebsack writes,

In Chapter 3, Line 1847, the draft recommends the book Who Are You? for pre-K–3rd graders as a “guide” to develop their gender identity. This book introduces young children to the idea that gender is a spectrum. This means genders are unlimited and ever-expanding, rather than confined to two biological genders. In the book, gender is described as, “boy, girl, both, neither, trans, genderqueer, non-binary, gender fluid, transgender, gender neutral, agender, neutrois, bigender, third gender, two spirit…” In Chapter 5, Line 643, the draft introduces sexual orientations as a spectrum as well. LGBTQ+ is defined as an ever-changing spectrum with expanding concepts to include “queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, allies and alternative identities (LGBTQQIAA).” Other sexual orientations introduced in Chapter 6, Line 938 include “pansexual and polysexual.”

The period for parental and teacher input is over, so the final version is not known at this time. But this is a very controversial issue – one that certainly bears vigilance for all teachers and parents.

To read Lebsack’s piece, which includes a link to the proposed framework, go here.

According to the new California state report card, one in three schools statewide has been targeted for special assistance. As Ricardo Cano writes in Calmatters,

The state identified 374 school districts out of roughly 1,000 that qualify for additional help—more than 60 percent more than last year, when the state issued its first set of ratings under the new “school dashboard” system.
School districts that qualify for the so-called “State System of Support” show such low performance or so little progress among student groups that they fall into a “red zone” on two or more educational indicators, from test scores to suspension rates and chronic absenteeism. Last year, the state identified 228 such districts, but critics questioned the numbers, noting that test scores pointed to a far more widespread need for assistance. Since then, the dashboard has been tweaked.

To learn more, go here.

As Politico reports, “Trump administration to scrap Obama’s school discipline guidance.” This has made some very unhappy. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), leader of the House education committee, slammed the commission's work, saying it "promotes a longstanding, conservative agenda to undermine policies that protect students' civil rights" and was not a "serious or good-faith effort" to make schools safer. However, others had a very different take. In “Obama’s Racial Preferences Made Schools Dangerous” in the Wall Street Journal, Jason Riley writes,

Put another way, the (Obama) administration was demanding racial parity in school discipline, regardless of who was being disruptive, which is as silly as demanding racial parity in police arrests, regardless of who’s committing crimes.

The result is that more schools have been disciplining fewer students in order to achieve racial balance in suspension rates and stay out of trouble with the federal government. Civil-rights lawsuits are embarrassing—to be accused of racial discrimination is often tantamount to being found guilty of it. They’re also expensive to fight, and the federal government has far more resources than any school district. The easier course for schools is to pretend that students from different racial and ethnic groups misbehave at similar rates. School safety becomes secondary.

For the Politico piece, go here. For Riley’s take, go here.

Talking about school safety, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission released more than 400 pages covering details of the tragic Parkland shooting, identifying security problems and making recommendations. Several recommendations were made. Among them…

…was the expansion of a program that allows teachers and staff members to carry concealed firearms to defend students in the event of an active shooter. The state teachers union and PTA have voiced their opposition to the plan.

“School districts and charter schools should permit the most expansive use of the Guardian Program under existing law to allow personnel — who volunteer, are properly selected, thoroughly screened and extensively trained — to carry concealed firearms on campuses for self-protection and the protection of other staff and students,” the report read.

To learn more and access the full report, go here.

“Looking for an Alternative to College? U.S. Studies German Apprenticeships” read a recent headline in the Wall Street Journal.

Support for increasing hands-on training comes from all corners—Democrats and Republicans, business and labor, the Trump and the Obama administrations. German Chancellor Angela Merkel even offered to support more apprenticeship slots in the U.S. with German companies during trade talks with President Trump.

Fascination with Germany’s apprenticeship model comes at a time when Germany itself is showing signs of fatigue with its own system and adopting a more-American college-based approach.

In 2016, about 52% of German high-school graduates became apprentices, down from roughly two-thirds 20 years ago. At the same time, 57% of high school graduates started college, up from about one-third two decades earlier.

To learn more, go here.

And speaking of alternative schools, January 20-26 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 a record-breaking 40,594 community-based events and activities planned for NSCW in 2019. Events range from open houses at schools to homeschool information sessions, school fairs, parent nights, school tours, and talent shows. Large celebrations and school fairs are also planned in more than 70 cities.

To learn more about National School Choice Week and events near you, go here

And finally, CTEN has been updating its website. It is still a work in progress and if you have any thoughts or suggestions, we’d love to hear from you. Please check it out here.

CTEN will continue to keep up with post-Janus doings in addition to any other issues pertinent to education and teachers, and keep you informed you as they develop. If you have any questions, or have experienced any problems because of your decision to leave your union, please let us know, and we will do our best to help you in a timely manner. We will also be able to share your concerns with other teachers across the state. And speaking of sharing, please pass this email along to your colleagues and encourage them to join us.

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.

Many thanks, as always.

Larry Sand
CTEN President

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Dear Colleague,

A recent piece in The 74 asks, “If a child earns a B– in math on his report card, is that a good grade, or does it mean he’s the worst in the class?” Well, the answer mostly depends on whether it’s a teacher or parent who’s responding. According to a recent survey:

…most parents - 6 in 10 - said their children earn As and Bs, which they think means their kids are performing at the level they should be for their grade.

But teachers said report cards are only the third-most important tool for understanding student achievement. For teachers, a report card is a combination of grades, effort, and progress. About one-third of teachers said they feel pressure from administrators or parents to avoid giving too many low grades, and more than half said they are expected to let students redo work for additional credit.

To read more and learn about some recommended fixes to the disparity, go here.

Also on the parent-teacher front, with the United Teachers of Los Angeles looking to strike, many parents are “stuck in the middle” – torn and frustrated – that the two sides can’t resolve the issues.

While parents love and appreciate their teachers, they also don’t want their children’s education to be collateral damage in a fight among adults, they told LA School Report. Their top concerns during a strike are safety and the quality of classroom instruction.

United Teachers Los Angeles plans a January strike if no agreement is reached. More than 30,000 teachers across the district’s 1,100 public schools could participate, affecting more than 480,000 students in the country’s second-largest school district.

“At the end of the day, we don’t feel it’s fair to put parents in the middle,” said parent Kathy Kantner.

To read more, go here.

One of UTLA’s demands is for smaller class size. But how important are smaller classes for students? Not very, according to a new report issued by the Danish Centre of Applied Social Science. Researchers examined 127 studies, eliminating many that did not meet strict research requirements, and found that there may be tiny benefits to small classes for some students when it comes to reading. But in math, it found no benefits at all and the researchers “cannot rule out the possibility that small classes may be counterproductive for some students.”

To see the study, go here.

UTLA is also demanding a hefty salary increase for all its teachers. But do all teachers deserve higher pay? The traditional step-and-column method of paying teachers is still de rigueur, many would like a more competitive system. As Steven Greenhut writes,

Merit pay is a simple concept. It allows school administrators to pay good, effective teachers more than mediocre or poor-performing teachers. It allows signing bonuses and performance-based rewards. The obvious corollary is that it also allows them to pay bad or incompetent teachers lower salaries. In a truly competitive educational model that goes beyond this simple idea, school officials could even—get this—demote, discipline, or fire teachers who aren't making the grade. That's how it works in almost any private business, and even private schools.

In the current public-school system, however, pay is based on seniority. A school teacher who has been just occupying a chair for decades, must be paid better than a young go-getter.

To read more of Greenhut’s piece, go here.

In a lawsuit we wrote about in last month’s letter, Los Angeles special education teacher Thomas Few just scored a major victory. With help from the California Policy Center and Liberty Justice Center, he sued UTLA on November 13th, after several requests to be relieved of all union dues went unanswered. Two weeks later, Few received a letter telling him that UTLA still has the right to take his money, but the union will refrain from doing so “rather than expend dues money on litigation.” UTLA not only stopped charging him monthly but sent him a check for $433.31, the amount he had paid since first demanding full separation from the union. Now, since UTLA has honored Few’s request, this could open the door for all others in the same position. The California Policy Center is pursuing the lawsuit to ensure that the union’s narrow “quit” window will no longer shut in anyone else’s face. A hearing is scheduled for February in Los Angeles.

To learn more, go here.

Ahead of last months election, the California Teachers Association released its voter guide for the November 6th general election, and every candidate for statewide office that the union took a position on – governor, attorney general, treasurer, etc. – was a Democrat. In the State Assembly, CTA endorsed 57 candidates, only one of whom was a Republican. In the State Senate, it was 12 Dems and not one Republican. For Congress – 43 D and one R. (They were forced to pick Paul Cook in CD 8; he was running against Tim Donnelly, also a Republican, but who is to the right of Cook.)

The union has a right to get behind any candidate it so chooses. But now that union dues are optional, 100,000 Republican, libertarian, centrist and apolitical teachers need to think about whether or not they want to pay $700 a year to an organization that uses their dues to promote candidates and causes they disagree with.

To learn more, go here.

One election of note involved school choice. In Florida, Republican pro-choice candidate Ron DeSantis defeated Andrew Gillum who, if elected, would have tried to eliminate Florida’s popular tax credit scholarship program. It was a very close race, and as The James Madison Institute’s William Mattox writes, about 100,000 African-American women unexpectedly chose DeSantis over the black Democratic candidate. In a close election, “school choice moms” apparently gave the Republican the victory.

The Gillum loss stunned many pundits, but it should not have. The Florida program, which focuses on high-needs students, has a 90 percent parent-approval rating and saves taxpayers money. And choice’s popularity is gaining elsewhere. The most recent Education Next national survey shows that 54 percent of those polled support “wider choice” for public-school parents by “allowing them to enroll their children in private schools instead, with government helping to pay the tuition.” That’s a 9 percent increase over last year.

To read more about the Florida gubernatorial election, go here.

Speaking of school choice, the annual EdChoice “Schooling in America” survey is out and is full of information on all things educational. Among the findings:

Public school teachers as a group appear to have reservations about their jobs and the   profession. They trust parents less than students and principals. They also have greater concerns about standardized testing than parents and the general public.

Support for school choice remains high. Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) are much more popular than any other program among most groups, including teachers. 

People still are largely unaware how much we spend on K–12 education.

To access the study, go here.

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 2019. We are grateful for your interest and involvement, and wish you and your families the happiest of holidays. See you next year!

Larry Sand
CTEN President