Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Dear Colleague,

As Democratic contenders vie to secure the teacher union endorsement, they constantly try to outdo each other. In April, we reported that Kamala Harris wants to give every teacher in the country a $13,500 raise. Now Bernie Sanders is attempting to one-up her. As CNN reports, he has “a comprehensive 10-point agenda that calls for the end of for-profit charter schools, creates a salary floor for public school teachers, guarantees free school meals for all students and expands after school and summer school programs.” He also thinks that funding inequities need to be addressed.

However Just Facts’ James Agresti has many issues with the Sanders plan. For example,

Sanders also claims that “in America today, most school districts are funded out of local property tax revenue, resulting in unconscionable inequalities.” In reality, data from the U.S. Department of Education shows that only 36.4% of all public school revenues come from local property taxes.

Sanders’ statement was true more than half a century ago, but since then, state governments have paid a growing share of the education expenses of low-income school districts in order to equalize their funding with higher-income districts.

Consequently, school districts with high portions of non-white students have spent about the same amount per student as districts with mostly white students since the early 1970s. This is confirmed through studies conducted by the left-leaning Urban Institute, the U.S. Department of Education, Ph.D. economist Derek Neal from the University of Chicago, and the conservative Heritage Foundation.

To read the CNN piece, go here. To get Agresti’s take, go here.

Teachers carrying guns in school? It’s a very controversial subject. In Florida last month, more than a year after the deadly shooting in Parkland, Florida’s governor signed a bill that allows teachers to pack heat at school. There are stipulations: School districts must approve and it is voluntary. Participants are required to undergo a background check, a psychiatric evaluation, and attend a gun-safety training course with a sheriff’s office.

While many think this is a terrible idea, John Lott, president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, thinks teacher carry is important. Citing a new study which looked at all the school shootings of any type in the United States from 2000 through 2018, he found,

During these years, Utah, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and parts of Oregon allowed all permitted teachers and staff to carry, without any additional training requirements.   Other states leave it to the discretion of the local superintendent or school board. As of December 2018, more than 30 percent of Texas school districts let teachers/staff have guns. And in September 2018, Ohio teachers were carrying in over 200 school districts.

Carrying in a school is no different than in a grocery store, movie theater, or restaurant.   Seventeen million Americans have concealed handgun permits — which is 8.5 percent of the adult population outside of permit-unfriendly California and New York. Nobody knows whether the person next to them might have a gun, unless it happens to be needed.

We found 306 cases of gunshots on school property, 48 of which were suicides. Not counting suicides, 193 people died and 267 were injured in these incidents. Four cases were simply instances of accidental gunshots by police officers.

The rate of shootings and people killed by them has increased significantly since 2000. The yearly average number of people who died between 2001 and 2008 versus 2009 and 2018 has doubled (regardless of whether one excludes gang fights and suicides).

This increase has occurred entirely among schools that don’t let teachers carry guns.

To read more about the Florida law, go here. To learn more about Lott’s study, go here.

Mike Antonucci has written an informative piece on education spending. Using Census Bureau figures, he explains that in fiscal 2017,

The United States spent $610 billion on K-12 public education and an additional $84 billion of debt and capital outlay, for a total of $694 billion. California spent $76.5 billion and had $70.5 billion in outstanding debt. Los Angeles Unified spent $8.7 billion and had $10.5 billion in outstanding debt.

To make those numbers a little more manageable: The average spent per pupil in the U.S. was $12,201, in California, $12,143, and in Los Angeles, $13,549.

On average, the U.S. spent $7,053 per pupil on employee salaries and $2,972 on benefits, for a total of $10,025 in compensation. That amounts to 82.2 percent of every dollar spent.

To learn more, go here.

Also on education spending, all of California had its eyes on Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago, where voters went to the polls to vote on a parcel tax measure put on the ballot by the Los Angeles Unified School District. LAUSD and the United Teachers of Los Angeles were fairly confident of Measure EE’s passage, primarily because people generally sympathized with teachers during their six-day strike in January, and a recent poll showed that 82 percent of Angelinos think we need to invest more in education. Additionally, while the final numbers will not be released till next month, the measure’s proponents outspent the naysayers by a wide margin, with unions spending very heavily. UTLA alone donated $500,000 to the cause.

But the measure, which needed a two-thirds majority to pass, didn’t even come close. In fact, it only received 46.2 percent approval.

To learn more, go here.

On a similar note, Mike Antonucci wades through “31 years of California school funding claims.” His conclusion: “If we have learned anything in the past 31 years, it is that the “crisis in school funding” is an eternal one — and completely unaffected by how much money we spend.”

To read Antonucci’s piece, go here.

Some good news on the school choice front. Charter schools can breathe a little easier for now as two bills that were poised to become law were deep-sixed in the California legislature. AB 1506 would have frozen the number of charter schools, allowing only those in existence at the end of this year. A new school could open only if another closed. Additionally, the more draconian SB 756 would have placed a moratorium on any new schools whatsoever until Jan. 1, 2022.

But, two other bills, AB 1505 and AB 1507, are still very much alive. AB 1505 would knock out the appeals process. As things stand now, if a charter is turned down by a local school district, it can appeal to the county and then the state. AB 1507 would make it difficult for a charter that is having trouble finding a facility to locate in a neighboring district. These bills both passed in the State Assembly and now continue on to the Senate. The recently released report from California’s Charter Task Force, made up of charter, district and union leaders, was mixed on these issues – it recommended preserving the appeals process, but asserted that districts should be prohibited from authorizing charter schools located outside district boundaries.

To read more, go here.

The Janus case was decided almost a year ago, freeing teachers and other public employees from having to pay money to a union as a condition of employment. But the lawsuits haven’t stopped. In addition to some teachers challenging the brief window period many unions have set up for them to quit, other teachers are suing for “retroactive relief.”

A class-action lawsuit filed on the behalf of nine government worker plaintiffs and a class of more than 2,700 workers seeks to force unions to refund hundreds of millions of dollars in agency fees paid by thousands of workers nationwide prior to the Janus ruling.

"We're putting the band back together," Liberty Justice Center President Patrick Hughes told Fox News. "The argument is once something is deemed to be unconstitutional [in the civil context] -- agency fees -- then they're deemed to be retroactively unconstitutional. ... We're taking the position that those fees should be refunded to those nonmembers."

To read 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.

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. Enjoy your summer!

Larry Sand
CTEN President

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Dear Colleague, 

A new study by Eric Hanushek et al for the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) shows that all the top-down fixes – No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, etc. – have been absolutely useless in shrinking the achievement gap between students from higher and lower socioeconomic backgrounds. The disparity remains as large as it was in 1966, when James Coleman wrote his landmark report and “the nation launched a ‘war on poverty’ that made compensatory education its centerpiece.”

According to the study, school funding quadrupled in real dollars between 1960 and 2015, with a large portion of the money used to reduce pupil-teacher ratios – a school board and teacher union staple. But the researchers conclude that the increased spending has done nothing to lower the gap between the haves and the have-nots. 

To learn more about the study, go here

There is a bit of good news from the latest NAEP test, however. As written in LA School Report,

American middle schoolers are performing better on a national assessment of technology and engineering, an improvement driven largely by girls.

Overall, students’ average score on the National Assessment of Education Progress in Technology and Engineering Literacy increased two points from 2014, the first time the test was given. Several subgroups showed statistically significant improvements, including white students, black students, students eligible for free and reduced-priced lunch, and students whose parents did not graduate from high school.

To read more, go here.

There is much written about school choice – pro and con – but what are the facts? There’s no one better to set the record straight than researcher Greg Forster, who recently reported the latest data.

Almost from the very beginning of the modern school choice movement in 1990, with the creation of a school voucher program in Milwaukee, proponents and opponents of private-school choice have made competing claims about what the research shows its effects to be. Proponents have asserted that the research favors school choice, while opponents have consistently claimed that the research is “mixed” or else negative.

Even if one study finds a small positive effect while another study finds a large positive effect, the studies are “mixed” with regard to the size of the benefits. However, on the question that counts most—do school choice policies produce positive effects? – the answer is consistently “yes.”

 He writes that out of the ten empirical studies which have examined private-school choice programs on segregation, nine found the programs reduced it, while one found no visible difference. Also, Forster writes that out of 34 empirical studies, 32 find that private-school choice actually improves academic outcomes in public schools. One study showed no difference and one did show that government-run education was hurt by privatization.

To learn more, go here.

Mike Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, wrote a piece about teacher pay from an unusual perspective.

Which states, if any, have prioritized higher teacher pay over other possible uses for their education funds? To put it another way, as spending rose in recent decades, which states have chosen to put the additional dollars into higher salaries instead of other options, such as smaller classes, employee healthcare and retiree benefits, or additional staff, especially?

Petrilli finds that California is number one in teacher salaries when compared to overall education spending.

To learn more about Petrilli’s research, go here.

At the same time, however, according to a Public Policy Institute of California poll, “most Californians support teacher strikes for higher pay.”

“There were solid majorities saying teacher pay is too low and supporting teacher strikes,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. “For us it has a lot of meaning attached to it because in our survey last month we found a record number of Californians saying housing prices were a problem in their region and that they were seriously considering moving. It fit in with what we are seeing statewide and there is definitely a consequence to the high cost of housing in California.” The San Francisco-based non-profit carries out independent, non-partisan research on public policy issues.

It is important to note that the study did not ask people if they know what teachers are actually paid. This tends to be a problem with studies like this. As Mike Antonucci writes, “Polling Is Ammunition, Not Information.”

We all like to use survey results to bolster our positions, but their limitations have never been more apparent.

The biggest limitation is that often people are ignorant on the topic being surveyed, but have strong opinions anyway. Another is that you get contrary results when you should get some agreement.

To read more about the PPIC poll, go here. To read Antonucci’s piece on the limitations of polling, go here.

CALmatters Dan Walters also wrote about the PPIC poll, and reports that while those polled in California favor paying teachers more, when asked if they’d vote for “parcel taxes” for their local schools, “fewer than half said they would – a far cry from the two-thirds vote margins such taxes must obtain.” This could be a problem for the Los Angeles Unified School District and the United Teachers of Los Angeles which are banking on a parcel tax measure to help defray the costs incurred by the recent union contract the district signed off on.

Measure EE will be voted on June 4th and the union is spending lots to get it passed. As UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl writes,

We’ve spent our careers explaining that public education is chronically underfunded. Enough is enough. For the first time in my career, and in yours, we are on offense against under-funding. Measure EE, on the local ballot on June 4, is our groundbreaking vehicle that would bring $500 million in new ongoing money to our schools.

However, CityWatch’s Jack Humphreville has a much different take. Instead of a parcel tax, he suggests,

LA Unified should look to the State for additional funding, “right size” its bloated bureaucracy, lease or sell its many surplus properties, reform its pension and other retirement plans, establish an independent oversight committee to monitor the District’s operations and finances, and develop a real strategic plan that benefits the students of both the public and charter schools, all of which were recommended in 2015 by Ramon Cortines and the Independent Financial Review Panel. 

To read the Dan Walters piece, go here. Caputo-Pearl’s thoughts on the parcel tax can be accessed here, while Humphreville’s take can be read here.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten gave a speech to the National Press Club in Washington in late April. Calling her talk “The Freedom to Teach,” she opened by referencing a poster on her office wall which reads, “Teachers inspire, encourage, empower, nurture, activate, motivate and change the world.” As for the rest of her talk, Mike Antonucci suggests that we shouldn’t “take her version of current circumstances at face value.”

“Teachers and others who work in public schools are leaving the profession at the highest rate on record,” she said during her April 18 appearance.

AFT cited a December 28 Wall Street Journal article that made the same claim. There were a lot of problems with that article, the foremost being the lack of any context. The numbers cited were for all public education employees, not just teachers. Education employees quit at a record rate because everyone in the U.S. economy quit at a record rate. Education employees were still less likely to quit than every other job category in the nation except for federal government employees.

To access Weingarten’s talk, go here. To see Antonucci’s rejoinder, go here.

Harbor Freight Tools for Schools, “is dedicated to the advancement of skilled trades education in America. With a deep respect for the dignity of these fields and for the intelligence and creativity of people who work with their hands, this program was created to foster and shine a light on excellence in skilled trades education in public high schools. Believing that access to quality skilled trades education gives high school students pathways to graduation, opportunity, good jobs, and a workforce our country needs, we aim to stimulate greater understanding, support, and investment by public entities and others in skilled trades education.”

The Harbor Freight “Tools for Schools 2019 Prize for Teaching Excellence” will award $1 million in prizes to public high school skilled trades teachers and programs.

To learn more, go here.

And finally, as you well know, data and solid information are very useful in scoring political points and making cases for various causes. To that end, CTEN has a fact sheet on our website which has been updated – all with original sources. To see it, go here.

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