Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Dear Colleague,

An issue that can’t seem to keep itself out of the news these days is standardized testing – it has even made its way to the White House where President Obama has officially weighed in.

Faced with mounting and bipartisan opposition to increased and often high-stakes testing in the nation’s public schools, the Obama administration declared Saturday that the push had gone too far, acknowledged its own role in the proliferation of tests, and urged schools to step back and make exams less onerous and more purposeful.

Specifically, the administration called for a cap on assessment so that no child would spend more than 2 percent of classroom instruction time taking tests. It called on Congress to “reduce over-testing” as it reauthorizes the federal legislation governing the nation’s public elementary and secondary schools.

However, edu-pundit Robert Pondiscio has a very different opinion. Writing in U.S News & World Report, he claims the problem is not with over-testing, but rather with test-prep.

When parents complain, rightfully so, about over-testing, what they are almost certainly responding to is not the tests themselves, which take up a vanishingly small amount of class time, but the effects of test-and-prep culture, which has fundamentally changed the experience of schooling for our children, and not always for the better.

While testing has become the education story-du-jour, the Common Core controversy isn’t far behind. The political battles over the standards have been well documented, but a recent piece in the Wall Street Journal “Financial Woes Plague Common-Core Rollout” gets into its costliness.

The total cost of implementing Common Core is difficult to determine because the country’s education spending is fragmented among thousands of districts. The Wall Street Journal looked at spending by states and large school districts and found that more than $7 billion had been spent or committed in connection with the new standards. To come up with that number, the Journal examined contracts, email and other data provided under public-records requests by nearly 70 state education departments and school districts.

The analysis didn’t account for what would have been spent anyway—even without Common Core—on testing, instructional materials, technology and training. Education officials say, however, that the new standards required more training and teaching materials than they would otherwise have needed, and that Common Core prompted them to speed up computer purchases and network upgrades.

As some of you know, CTEN has been working with Rafael Ruano, a lawyer who helps teachers establish an alternative model to the traditional teachers unions. Here is a message from Mr. Ruano detailing his plan:

Many California teachers are completely unaware that they can opt out of part of their CTA dues every year. Even fewer know that they, in conjunction with a majority of their fellow teachers in their school district, can actually choose to cast CTA aside and adopt an independent model of teacher representation. While still a small minority, in the past few years, a small set of independent teacher associations have navigated the process of decertification to gain recognition as the exclusive bargaining representative for the teachers and other certificated employees of their school districts.

In 2013, the Corning Union High School District certificated employees  gathered the necessary signatures to submit a petition to decertify their CTA local chapter and replace it with their newly created Corning Independent Teachers Association. After overcoming the expected dirty tricks and scaremongering from CTA, the Corning teachers voted for the alternative model. Two years later, CITA is thriving, providing professional representation to its members, charging dues about one fourth of the old CTA fees (saving teachers approximately $650 per year), and managing to avoid all of the dismal predictions made by CTA should Corning teachers make the change. 

If you are a California teacher who is dissatisfied with the status quo and want to learn about a different model, go to

A comprehensive analysis by the National Council on Teacher Quality shows 42 states and Washington, D.C. require that student growth and achievement must be considered in teacher evaluations. Just six years ago only 15 states did so. From the NCTQ website:

This report presents the most comprehensive and up-to-date policy trends on how states are evaluating teachers. It also breaks new ground by providing a look at the policy landscape on principal effectiveness. Finally, this report examines state efforts to connect the dots – that is, use the results of evaluations to better inform practice and make decisions of consequence for teachers in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

California is one of the eight that does not, despite the fact that it has been the law to do so since 1971 when the Stull Act was passed. In 1999, the state legislature amended the law, requiring that the governing board of each school district “shall evaluate and assess certificated employee performance as it reasonably relates to: the progress of pupils toward the standards established pursuant to subdivision (a) and, if applicable, the state adopted academic content standards as measured by state adopted criterion referenced assessments.” In other words, a teacher’s evaluation must be based at least in part on how well her students perform on state tests. But school districts still turned a blind eye to the law.

Then in 2012, per a suit brought by Sacramento-based nonprofit EdVoice, a judge ordered the inclusion of test scores to be part of a teacher’s evaluation. However, in a report released earlier this year that sampled 26 districts’ compliance with the decision, EdVoice found that half of them were ignoring that court-ordered requirement to use the test scores.

To learn more about the NCTQ report, go to
Former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed has twice rolled out statewide pension reform initiatives for public employees, but both times Attorney General Kamala Harris, using “slanted” language, killed the measures before Reed could get them off the ground. But Reed is back, and along with former San Diego Councilman Carl DeMaio, he submitted two new initiative proposals. As Contra Costa Times writer Daniel Borenstein explains, the measures are directed at new workers. Each would slow mounting retirement costs for state and local governments but in slightly different ways:

The Voter Empowerment Act would require voter approval to offer traditional pensions to employees hired after 2018. The balloting would be among residents of the affected jurisdiction, such as a city, county or, for state employees, the entire state.

The measure would also limit the government to paying no more than half the cost of pensions and other retirement benefits, with employees responsible for the rest. That 50 percent government share could only be increased with voter approval.

The Government Pension Cap Act would continue allowing traditional pensions for public employees hired after 2018 without voter approval.

The event sponsored by CTEN and the Association of American Educators in September, in which we examined the Friedrichs and Bain lawsuits and their possible ramifications for teachers and the general public, will soon be available on YouTube. When it is posted, we will send you the link.

For CTA agency fee payers, the November 15th deadline has passed, so we hope you have already submitted your 2015 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

As always, we at CTEN want to thank you for your ongoing support and invite you to visit us regularly at  If you need any information that you can’t find there, just send us an email at or call us at 888-290-8471 and we will get back to you in short order.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Larry Sand
CTEN President

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Dear Colleague,

Veteran teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci has written a piece for Education Next about the possible ramifications of the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case which he states could “fundamentally alter the education labor landscape.” The in-depth article should be able to answer many of your questions about the case which will be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court next year. He points out the many fuzzy areas of union expenditures and addresses the exclusive representation argument:

“No one is forced to join a union—that’s already illegal,” said Michigan Education Association president Steve Cook. The banning of agency fees “allows workers to get out of paying their fair share of what it costs to negotiate the contract they benefit from. Whether proponents call this ‘right-to-work’ or ‘freedom-to-work,’ it’s really just ‘freedom-to-freeload.’”

That’s a pretty strong argument, as far as it goes. Wouldn’t a Friedrichs defeat for the union effectively force CTA members to subsidize benefits for nonpaying employees? Perhaps, if the state government or the local school district were forcing the CTA to be the exclusive representative of all bargaining-unit workers. But it is the union that demands exclusive representation.

On the subject of Friedrichs, the event sponsored by CTEN and the Association of American Educators last month in Long Beach was very informative. As announced in the last newsletter, we examined the Friedrichs and Bain lawsuits and their possible ramifications for teachers and the general public. The panel discussion featured lawyers and plaintiffs from both cases, and a lively audience Q&A followed. The video of the event will be accessible on our website very soon. We will alert you when it’s available.

Los Angeles a half-charter district? If Eli Broad and some other philanthropists get their way, that will be a reality within the next eight years. Los Angeles Times education writer Howard Blume broke the story:

According to a 44-page memo obtained by The Times, the locally based Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and other charter advocates want to create 260 new charter schools, enrolling at least 130,000 students.

Organizers of the effort have declined to publicly release details of the plan. But the memo lays out a strategy for moving forward, including how to raise money, recruit and train teachers, provide outreach to parents and navigate the political battle that will probably ensue.

… the proposed expansion would mean more than doubling the number of charter schools in Los Angeles, a feat that even backers say might prove demanding.

Needless to say, the United Teachers of Los Angeles is outraged about this plan. To read Blume’s piece and access the Broad memo, go to

An article posted last month by the Foundation for Economic Education describes an educational model “in which the student is the customer.” Written by Thomas Bogle, a public school teacher from Arizona, the piece examines public education from a libertarian perspective.

When education becomes a public good, the power to make decisions about the educational opportunities for the majority of students falls directly into the hands of politicians and unelected bureaucrats. While these groups can be responsive to parents with children in the public education system — at least occasionally to a bloc of angry voters — their voices are simply few among many. Even if the policymakers offer more than lip service to the voting public, they have myriad other constituents who all want their voices to be represented in this domain, too — from developers who want to build $70 million football stadiums to the teachers’ associations and unions.

He then goes on to suggest that education adopt a business model. To read this provocative article, go to

In a similar vein, Greg Forster, a senior fellow at the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, writes:

At the root of our education debates is a debate about the family. The government school monopoly is one of the most important factors undermining the family unit; universal school choice would be a big step toward strengthening it.

To continue reading “Choosing Choice Is Choosing Families,” go here -

It’s no secret that too many of our students are not “college ready” and, according to a new study, it’s because students’ critical thinking skills are not what they should be.

California teachers say critical thinking skills, not scores on standardized tests, are the best way to assess whether students are prepared for success in college and the workplace, according to an online survey by EdSource in partnership with the California Teachers Association.

Teachers said they have received much more training on how to prepare students for college – and far less on preparing them for non-college options.

They also said college and career readiness has not been fully integrated into the professional development training they have received to implement the Common Core State Standards.

While important for all teachers, high school teachers and administrators especially should take note. To read about the study, go to

The National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonprofit and nonpartisan education policy organization, has a new project called “Path to Teach.” Its website allows you to “determine cost, location and where you'll get the best preparation for the realities of the classroom.” The site is excellent for would-be teachers and those in the field looking to advance. You can access rankings of more than 1,100 colleges and universities and 85 alternative certification programs to find the one that will guide you toward a successful career path. To learn more, go here -

Have a bullying problem at your school? Bridg-it may be worth looking into. According to Lauren Weisbarth, teacher and Bridg-it team member,

Bridg-it collects and analyzes individual school data to increase school safety and to create a positive school climate. It is a digital platform that enables the school community to use strategies that employ proven, restorative techniques when dealing with student incidences. 

If this sounds like something your school can use, please visit their website –

If you are a CTA/NEA agency fee payer, now is the time to submit your rebate request. You must request your rebate this year (and every year!) by November 15th. If you are as much as one day late, you will not get a penny back. Also, because liability insurance is important for teachers, we suggest joining the Association of American Educators ( ) or Christian Educators Association ( Both AAE and CEAI are professional organizations, not unions, and are apolitical. (Also, teachers who mention CTEN when they sign up with AAE for the first time will get a $30 discount off the regular $198 first year membership.) For more information, go to

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

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

Larry Sand
CTEN President

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Dear Colleague,

At 3pm on Sunday, September 27th, CTEN, along with the Association of American Educators, will be hosting an informational event in Long Beach. We will examine the Friedrichs and Bain lawsuits and their possible ramifications for teachers and the general public. I will moderate a panel discussion featuring lawyers and plaintiffs from both cases, and an audience Q&A will follow. The event and refreshments are free but seating is limited so we are asking people to sign up for the event. To do so, go here to

Last week California’s latest standardized test scores were released and, as expected, the results were not good. As the Los Angeles Times reported,

Echoing a downward trend in test scores nationwide, most California students have fallen below grade level and are not ready for college, according to results from new, more rigorous standardized tests. The picture is worse in L.A. Unified, the nation’s second-largest school system.

Across the state, 44% of students scored at grade level or better in English, while 34% did so in math. In L.A. Unified, the figures were 33% in English and 25% in math.

State and local officials said they were prepared for the low scores. The questions are more difficult than on the state’s previous test and, for the first time, students took the exam on computers. The test is linked to a new set of learning standards, called Common Core, that have been adopted by 42 states.

The news was better from charter schools, however:
  • Charter schools have successfully outperformed the state average in English Language Arts by 4.9 scale score points. 
  • In Math, charter schools on average have exceeded the state average by 2.4 scale score points. 
  • Overall, California's charter schools have scored on average 3.6 scale score points higher than the statewide average on a combined measure of Math and English Language Arts.

In the “questionable idea” category, a school in San Francisco has decided to go to “gender-neutral” bathrooms. And just to be clear, this is not about single-stall bathrooms but rather restrooms with multiple stalls.

So far, the single-stall bathrooms for kindergartners and first graders—which are located within the classroom—are gender neutral. The school plans to phase in bathrooms used by older students over the next few years, including restrooms with multiple stalls.

If this becomes the norm, possibly the next thing will be teachers’ bathrooms with multiple stalls. Are you okay with that? If not, I suggest you start to make some noise now. If you are a union member, maybe voice an objection there. For more on co-ed cans, go to

Every few years, we are exposed to a new health fad. In the 1980s, it seems that every other person you met was diagnosed with hypoglycemia. Today – and for several years now – the rage is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Now the CDC has entered the discussion and claims that one in five diagnoses of ADHD are wrong.

In 18 percent of cases, the diagnosis was done solely on the basis of family members' reports, which is inconsistent with AAP recommendations that information be collected from individuals across multiple settings -- such as a teacher, piano instructor, or sports coach. Additionally, one out of every 10 children was diagnosed without the use of a behavior rating scale that is supposed to be administered.

So while no one is denying its existence, parents and schools would be advised to be more prudent before labeling a child with the disorder. For more, go here -
Much has been written about the benefits of a later school day start for kids. A recent report from researchers at Harvard and Oxford found that 10-year-olds should start school at 8 am, 16-year-olds should start between 10 and 10:30 am, and 18-year-olds should start between 11 and 11:30 a.m. Here's a sample of what they found across the U.S.:
  • In North Carolina, eighth-grade students who started class an hour later than their peers in the same district had higher test scores. The later start time seemed especially helpful for low-scoring students, and the effects persisted into high school.
  • When the Minneapolis Public Schools moved their start time from 7:15 am to 8:40 am, students liked the change and reported that "attendance, achievement, behavior, and mood improved." Parents were positive, too: 92 percent said they liked the shift, and parents reported that their kids were easier to live with when they weren't getting up so early.
  • At the US Air Force Academy, where students were randomly assigned to classes with earlier and later start times, students who started earlier performed worse all day long on those days.
To read more go to -
Recently, school choice advocates have been taking it on the chin. First, in late August, the ACLU filed a lawsuit which aims to kill Nevada’s new ESA program. Then on Sept. 4th, the Washington State Supreme Court declared the state’s 2012 charter-school law unconstitutional. While the adults argue about details of state law, thousands of kids and their families’ lives are on hold. For more on the two battles. go to and

In light of the Friedrichs case, the teachers unions are doing what they can to maintain membership, and in the following case, they are trying to stick it to the taxpayer.

Efforts are underway to pass a “public employee orientation” mandate in which all newly hired public employees — including public-school employees and transit workers — must attend a program sponsored by the recognized local union. The “orientation” would take place during the workday. Employees would be required to show up in person. State taxpayers would pick up the costs.

Under proposed language, “The content of the recognized employee organization’s presentation shall be determined solely by the employee organization and shall not be subject to negotiation.” The unions are carving out a right to lobby new employees to join and pay dues.

(Update: the mandate push was not successful. But it will, in all likelihood, be revived in the next legislative session. For more, go here - )

And on the subject of unions, now is the time for agency fee payers to claim their rebate. Or if you are a full-dues payer and want to withhold the political share of your union dues, now is the time to get busy. For details, go here -
Errata: Writing about Barry Garelick’s op-ed ( last month, I reported that 8th graders will no longer be taking algebra in California due to the Common Core State Standards. But Garelick actually wrote, “The San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) decided recently to eliminate first-year algebra for 8th graders.” He adds that in other areas “access is restricted by increasing the barriers via additional tests, etc. So algebra in 8th grade is still there, but for fewer students.”

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

And finally, if you would like to see us address certain issues, topics, etc. in these newsletters or on our website – please let us know. And please be sure to share our monthly letters with your coworkers. Thanks.

Larry Sand
CTEN President