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 -

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

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 García 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