Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Dear Colleague,

The big news for teachers and other public employees is the Supreme Court’s agreement to hear the Friedrichs v CTA case. This lawsuit, which could make all public employee union dues-paying voluntary, will be decided by June 2016. Needless to say, the unions were not happy with the turn of events, and five of them issued a joint announcement:

We are disappointed that at a time when big corporations and the wealthy few are rewriting the rules in their favor, knocking American families and our entire economy off-balance, the Supreme Court has chosen to take a case that threatens the fundamental promise of America--that if you work hard and play by the rules you should be able to provide for your family and live a decent life.

To read the rest their statement, go here -  Beyond that commentary, the unions’ most appealing sounding contention is their free rider argument. They claim that since they are forced to represent all workers, that those who don’t pay their “fair share” are “freeloaders” or “free riders.” The unions would have a point if they were being forced to represent all workers. But the forced representation claim is not true. As teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci explains,

The very first thing any new union wants is exclusivity. No other unions are allowed to negotiate on behalf of people in the bargaining unit. Unit members cannot hire their own agent, nor can they represent themselves. Making people pay for services they neither asked for nor want is a ‘privilege’ we reserve for government, not for private organizations. Unions are freeloading on those additional dues.

The 2015 National Education Association convention wrapped up earlier this month but the yearly shindig didn’t provide many scintillating moments. NEA Executive Director John Stocks did give a rather interesting 25 minute address in which partisan politics was up front and center. He railed against “white skin privilege,” “institutional racism” and “income inequality.” The class warfare jab was particularly perplexing since Mr. Stocks is clearly a one-percenter himself, making over $500,000 grand in total compensation according to the latest NEA tax filing. To see Stock’s speech or to read the text version, go here -  Additionally, Jose Lara’s brief speech after receiving NEA’s “Social Justice” award is eye-opening. To watch it, go to

The subject of teacher pensions has been a staple for some time now. Our friends at the National Council for Teacher Quality have provided us with “Teacher Pensions Mythbusters” in which some of the most common myths around teacher pensions are dispelled. For example, Myth #7 reads, “All teachers prefer a traditional, defined benefit retirement plan.” But as NCTQ points out,

·         A recent nationally representative survey found the vast majority of teachers want a retirement plan that is fair, flexible, and offers stability regardless of its structure.

·         Over 40% of new teachers are career changers who need flexibility in their pensions, so it makes sense that nearly a third would opt out of traditional, defined benefit retirement plans for more flexible options.

·         In fact, a recent case study in Florida found that 30% of teachers entering the system between 2003-04 and 2008-09 selected a defined contribution option over the traditional defined benefit retirement plan.

To read the rest of the document, go here -

At the end of June, the Friedman Foundation released the results of a poll concerning the progress of K–12 education in the United States. Some of their key findings:
  • One out of six people rank education as the No. 1 issue facing America.
  • Americans give low ratings to the federal government’s performance in K–12 education
  • Very few Americans know how much we spend per pupil on K–12 education. 
  • A significant number of public school parents give low grades to their public schools.
  • Actual enrollment numbers do not reflect American’s school type preferences.
  • About twice as many Americans support school vouchers than oppose them.
To view a brief slide show and learn more about the poll, go to

The school choice bus has hit a bump in the road in Colorado’s Douglas County, where its voucher program was knocked out by the Colorado Supreme Court citing the state’s Blaine Amendment. The court wrote: "... this stark constitutional provision makes one thing clear: A school district may not aid religious schools."

That, the court held, is precisely what the voucher program does. Chief Justice Nancy Rice wrote in the court's opinion that it ‘essentially functions as a recruitment program, teaming with various religious schools’ to seek scholarship candidates.

This would seem to fly in the face of Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, a case decided by SCOTUS in 2002, which maintains that because voucher money goes to the parents, not the religious institution, it in no way breaches the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. To read more about the Colorado decision, go here -  To learn more about Zelman, go to

Release time, a practice that allows public employees to conduct union business during working hours without loss of pay, has been getting a lot of press attention of late. These activities include negotiating contracts, lobbying, processing grievances, and attending union meetings and conferences. According to Trey Kovacs, a policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, this racket has cost the federal government about $1 billion since 1998. Between 2008 and 2011, the fraud has increased from 2.9 million hours at a cost of $121 million to 3.4 million hours at a cost of $155 million. To learn more, go to  If any of you have release time abuses at your school and are disturbed by it, ask your local school board president how the district deals with this policy. Go to school board meetings and ask questions about the contract wording and ask for verification that that district actually lives up to the contract. Write letters and talk to the media about it, if necessary.

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.

In any event, I hope your summer has been going well!

Larry Sand
CTEN President

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Dear Colleague,

As we head into summer, the California legislature is still dealing with AB 575 and SB 499, two teacher evaluation bills. They are similar in several ways, including the fact that the evals will be subject to collective bargaining. Interestingly, the unions have not yet taken a position on them. For some background on the two bills, go to For the latest info on the bills go here -

The mainstream education media have been sounding the alarm bells about a teacher shortage for some time now. But is it real? Not really, says the National Council on Teacher Quality in its May newsletter. It says that while we are deficient in some areas, generally speaking, there is no shortage of teachers. ( )

Actually California has been overproducing teachers in most subject areas for years. Mike Antonucci has reviewed the Census Bureau and National Center for Education Statistics data for California from 2006-2011 and reports that we have a pool of more than 42,000 experienced K-12 teachers who are available for work. He says, “Not only did the teacher workforce shrink by 14 percent in that five-year period, but there are fewer students to educate as well. Statewide, enrollment dropped almost one percent, and 15 of the 20 largest school districts lost students.” For more, go to
Also in its May newsletter, NCTQ asks, “In the race for teacher quality, how much does teachers' race matter?” They answer:

…having race-congruent teachers appears to nudge the needle on student achievement, but what gets overlooked is that other interventions can move it more. Here we compare the effect sizes of teachers of the same race as their students with the effect sizes of a few other interventions, mostly achieved when schools have altered the curriculum.

Continuing on the subject of race, there is a new report by two Stanford researchers that accuses white teachers of treating black students different than white ones. While “Race and the Disciplining of Young Students” is a paying download, the following abstract is available for free.

There are large racial disparities in school discipline in the United States, which, for Black students, not only contribute to school failure but also can lay a path toward incarceration. Although the disparities have been well documented, the psychological mechanisms underlying them are unclear. In two experiments, we tested the hypothesis that such disparities are, in part, driven by racial stereotypes that can lead teachers to escalate their negative responses to Black students over the course of multiple interpersonal (e.g., teacher-to-student) encounters. More generally, we argue that race not only can influence how perceivers interpret a specific behavior, but also can enhance perceivers’ detection of behavioral patterns across time. Finally, we discuss the theoretical and practical benefits of employing this novel approach to stereotyping across a range of real-world settings.

To buy the full text of the study, go to  To read the Fordham Institute’s take on it, go to

Worried about your students cheating on exams? You’re not alone. In fact, China is so concerned that it’s getting ready to send in the drones.

Cheating is a common problem in the examination rooms, with students employing a variety of tactics to increase their chances of getting into one of China's best higher education institutions. Chinese authorities have not released figures about how many people are caught cheating every year, but in 2014 Kotaku detailed some of the equipment being used by cheats to try and fool invigilators. One such method involved using pens to send test questions to a remote location, with answers being sent back to the cheats via in-ear receivers.

This is where the drone comes in, reports Edu People. Introduced by the Luoyang Radio Authority, it can search for and identify the location of radio signals, intercepting the cheating students in their tracks. The drone hovers 500 metres above the test site and has a range of around 1km. When it identifies a radio signal, it transmits the location of the signal to tablets used by staff. 

The school choice world was rocked this month when Nevada became the first state in the country to embrace universal Educational Savings Accounts. Whereas vouchers give parents the freedom to choose a private school for their children, using some public funding, ESAs – now a reality in five states – are more expansive, typically allowing restricted but multiple uses of the money. Nevada’s version covers tuition at approved private schools, as well as textbooks, tutoring services, tuition for distance learning programs, fees for special instruction if the child has a disability, etc. Money will be dispersed to students’ ESAs on a quarterly basis, and there will be two tiers to the program. As reported by the Friedman Foundation’s Michael Chartier,

For those children with disabilities or students from families with incomes less than 185 percent of the federal poverty level ($44,863 for a family of four), students will receive 100 percent of the statewide average basic support per-pupil, or around $5,700. For families with incomes exceeding 185 percent of the federal poverty level, the funding amount is 90 percent of the statewide average basic support per pupil, or around $5,100.

Has the government gone too far in trying to feed kids breakfast? Mike Antonucci thinks so and drives the point home in “Beating Kids With a Breakfast Club.”

1) School receives federal money to provide breakfast to students who live under the poverty line.
2) Participation is low.
3) School provides breakfast to all students, regardless of parental income, “as a means of protecting low-income students from being ostracized by their peers or feeling embarrassed.”
4) Participation is low because students can’t get to school early enough.
5) School provides mid-morning snack during recess.
6) Participation is low because students prefer to play rather than eat during recess.

We have recently updated our “cheat sheet,” which is available on the CTEN homepage. What do we really spend on education in California? What are teachers’ salaries nationwide? Where does California rank nationally on NAEP scores? We answer these questions and a lot more on this very popular page. To visit it, go to

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.

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

Friday, May 22, 2015

Dear Colleague,

In light of the Vergara ruling, legislators in Sacramento have been busy trying to get some replacement laws on the books, but the going hasn’t been easy. Three Republican bills and one by a Democrat have been killed in the Assembly Education Committee where the California Teachers Association reigns. The bills dealt with tenure, seniority and teacher evaluations. None were particularly draconian, but with Vergara in the appeal stage, it seems that the unions are not yet willing to do any compromising. They have not yet taken a position, however, on SB 499 which would subject teacher evaluations to collective bargaining. To learn more about the legislative doings …or lack thereof, go to , and

At the same time it is fighting reforms to traditional public schools, CTA is sponsoring four bills that would make life more difficult for charter schools. LA School Report explains,

Four Democratic California lawmakers joined forces yesterday to promote new bills aimed at creating more stringent regulation of the state’s charter schools.

If passed, the package of bills would bring big changes to the charter schools, including a requirement that they be run as non-profits, that charters be considered government entities and that all of their workers be public employees. One of them would also make it easier for charter school teachers to unionize.

To read more, go to  To read what the California Charter School Association thinks of the bills, go here -
A recent report informs us that both graduation rates and dropout rates have inched up in the Golden State. How is that possible? According to the San Jose Mercury News,

California's high school graduation rate continued its steady climb last year -- but paradoxically, its dropout rate nudged up as well, according to figures released Tuesday by the state Department of Education.

About four out of five students who entered high school in fall 2010 graduated last June -- 80.8 percent, up from 80.4 percent for the previous class. But 11.6 percent of those destined for the class of 2014 dropped out, up from 11.4 percent for the previous year's class.

Both figures can rise because neither includes students who continue their education without graduating.

Much has been written over the past few years about how teachers in the U.S. spend upwards of 50 percent more time in front of their students than educators in other countries. But according to a recent study by Samuel Abrams, director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Columbia University Teachers College, it’s not true.

In reality, U.S. primary teachers spend about 12 percent more time leading classes than their OECD counterparts, not 50 percent; U.S. lower -- secondary teachers spend about 14 percent more time, not 65 percent; and U.S. upper -- secondary teachers spend about 11 percent more time, not 73 percent.

Also, there are several interesting charts in the report, including one which shows a state-by-state comparison of daily teaching time, and California comes in at 5 hours and 59 minutes – one minute under the national average of exactly six hours. To read the report, go here -

“Shockingly Few Students Are Proficient In U.S. History” read the headline in a Huffington Post piece a few weeks ago. And if the latest NAEP history scores are any indication, the headline is accurate.

Which of these do the governments of Canada, France and Australia have in common: a) They are controlled by the military; b) They have constitutions that limit their power; c) They have leaders with absolute power; d) They discourage participation by citizens in public affairs?

If you chose b, you're smarter than more than 40 percent of America’s eighth graders. But that's a stubbornly low bar, according to a report released Wednesday by the federal government’s educational research arm.

Common Core still is getting a large share of the edu-headlines these days and the testing opt-out movement seems to be gaining strength on both the political right and left. Researcher and Professor Jay Greene gave a particularly articulate statement to the Arkansas Common Core Council a couple of weeks ago. In part, he said,

Standards are about what we value. They communicate what we think is important for our children to learn, when they should learn it, and ultimately what kinds of adults we hope they will grow up to be.

Because standards are about values, their content is not merely a technical issue that can be determined by scientific methods. There is no technically correct set of standards, just as there is no technically correct political party or religion. Reasonable people have legitimate differences of opinion about what they want their children taught. A fundamental problem with national standards efforts, like Common Core, is that they are attempting to impose a single vision of a proper education on a large and diverse country with differing views.

The “free community college” idea is still being bandied about. But is it really “free?” “No” says Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke. She points out that “Over the past several decades, college costs have risen at more than twice the rate of inflation, thanks in large part to federal subsidies.” To read more, go here -

Barry Garelick, co-founder of the U.S. Coalition for World Class Math, which has provided extensive comments on the deficiencies of the Common Core standards for mathematics, has written Teaching Math in the 21st Century, an honest, critical and entertaining look at math education from the inside.

I am not an outright proponent of the philosophy that ‘If you want something done right, you have to live in the past’, but when it comes to how to teach math there are worse philosophies to embrace.

And finally, this is your last chance to take advantage of the following:

This coming June and July, the Independent Institute is hostingChallenge of Liberty,” a free market seminar for students who are at least 18 years old.

The five-day series of lectures, readings, films, multimedia presentations, and debates teach participants what economics is, how it affects their lives, and how understanding it can help them achieve better lives for themselves, their communities, and the world at large. Challenge of Liberty illuminates the intimate connection between principles of free market economics and public policy decisions. Informative, inspiring, and fun, Challenge of Liberty is an ideal way stay intellectually engaged over the summer while bolstering your personal network and building your skill set. 

CTEN has two Facebook pages. If you have a Facebook account, we urge you to join us and let us know your thoughts. Having a dialogue among teachers is an effective way to spread information, and to share experiences and ideas. Our original Facebook page can be found here!/group.php?gid=125866159932&ref=ts  A second page, which deals with teacher evaluation and transparency, can be accessed here -!/group.php?gid=126900987357825&ref=ts

Also, please visit “Teachers for School Choice” here -
As always, thanks for your continued interest and support of CTEN.

Larry Sand
CTEN President