Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Dear Colleague,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To read more, go here.

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

To see the study, go here.

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

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

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

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

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

To learn more, go here.

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

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

To learn more, go here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To access the study, go here.

Anyone wishing to make a year-end donation to CTEN can do so very simply through a personal check or PayPal -  As a non-profit, we exist and operate only through the generosity and support of people like you. (And to those of you who already regularly donate – our heartfelt thanks!)

It has been another exciting year for CTEN, and we look forward to an even more vigorous 2019. We are grateful for your interest and involvement, and wish you and your families the happiest of holidays. See you next year!

Larry Sand
CTEN President

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Dear Colleague,

With the 2018 elections behind us, we see that the much-publicized record number of teachers running for office didn’t do very well, despite the November 7th National Educational Association claim that “Voters deliver big wins for public education.” As Mike Antonucci reports, in West Virginia, 13 educators won and 25 lost, and 10 of the 13 educator winners were incumbents. In Oklahoma, 17 educators were victorious and 31 were not. While 14 educators won in Arizona and only seven lost, 11 of the 14 winners were incumbents. Also, The Wall Street Journal’s Michelle Hackman reports that there were actually more teachers who ran in 2016 than in 2018.

Nationally the results were similarly disappointing for #RedforED activists. According to an Education Week analysis, of 177 educators who ran for state office, only 42 emerged victorious. (It’s true, however, that activist teachers and their unions gained some satisfaction with gubernatorial wins in Wisconsin, Illinois and Kansas – Republicans Scott Walker, Bruce Rauner and Laura Kelly, all perceived to be less friendly to traditional public schools, lost to their Democratic challengers.)

To read more about the election, go here, here and here.

Speaking of unions, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten recently wrote a piece for Education Week in which (alluding to a GenForward poll of millennials attitudes toward a variety of education issues) she contended,

While millennials give the nation’s public schools mixed grades, they strongly support public education over privatized alternatives. Seventy-one percent of respondents said that increasing funding would do more to improve public education than providing more vouchers. And respondents’ top answer for the best way to improve K-12 education in local districts is to increase school funding.

Weingarten’s statement is quite misleading; millennials are indeed very much in favor of vouchers. In fact, 87 percent of black and 85 percent of Latino millennials are in favor of them, as are 80 percent of Asian Americans and 70 percent of whites.

To read Weingarten’s piece, go here. To see the GenForward poll, go here.

The latest lawsuit against the unions takes the United Teachers of Los Angeles to task for its narrow union resignation window. Special education teacher Thomas Few has filed a lawsuit against UTLA and the Los Angeles Unified School District “for violating his First Amendment rights to free speech and freedom of association.” The teacher plaintiff, Thomas Few, is being represented by lawyers from the Liberty Justice Center, which represented Illinois state worker Mark Janus in the Janus v. AFSCME case and the California Policy Center.

In a press release, Brian Kelsey, senior attorney for the Liberty Justice Center said:

The U.S. Supreme Court has declared that government employees have a choice and a voice when it comes to union membership. The United Teachers of Los Angeles are violating Thomas Few’s constitutional rights by not allowing him to withdraw from the union. The Unified School District of Los Angeles is complicit in this constitutional violation by taking union dues from Mr. Few’s paycheck against his will. In Janus v. AFSCME, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that government unions must receive clear, voluntary, and informed consent from government workers for membership. Liberty Justice Center is determined to see that these rights are respected throughout the United States.

To learn more, go here.

Also, on unions, CTEN board member, former teacher and Supreme Court plaintiff Rebecca Friedrichs’ excellent new book, Standing Up to Goliath: Battling State and National Teachers' Unions for the Heart and Soul of Our Kids and Country has been released. My review of the book is available here.

To order the book, go here.

Education Week’s Stephen Sawchuk has written a thoughtful piece in which he asks, “What if the inability of Americans to agree on our shared history—and the right way to teach it—is a cause of our current polarization rather than a symptom?” The beginning of the article focuses on the Alamo and Sawchuk makes the point that “what students learn about U.S. history varies depending on where they attend school, and is frequently filtered through the political and demographic makeup of different communities.”

Where does this leave the parents of children who support strong immigration laws, President Trump, Second Amendment rights, capitalism, etc.?

In California, unless you have the means to send your kid to the private school of your choosing or can home-school, you and your kids very well may be stuck due to the diminishing number of public schools that stress traditional American values.

What do we do about this problem? The Cato Institute’s Neil McCluskey says simply and unequivocally that public schooling, despite its reputation, has not brought us together, and that we need educational freedom. “When togetherness has been imposed, conflict and inequality have often been the results.” For example, having no clout in traditional public schools, Catholics established an alternative to the de facto Protestant public schools, and by 1965 enrolled over five million children.

School choice – vouchers, tax credits, and education savings accounts provide an escape. Where choice has been instituted, academic results improve and taxpayers save money. McCluskey writes that Americans are unified by human nature. “It is simply easier to live and thrive in a society when you speak a common language and share a common culture. But people often want commonality without being required to sacrifice things they cherish that might also make them different. School choice works with that, enabling families and educators to freely interact, and to unify without zero-sum, forced sacrifice.”

To read Sawchuk’s piece, go here. To read McCluskey’s thoughts on the subject, go here.

Charter schools have been in the news lately. Granada Hills Charter High School in northern Los Angeles, with over 4,700 students, is one of the largest charter schools in the U.S. And it is expanding to include elementary and middle school students at a separate campus.

The benefit, say Granada Hills Charter administrators, is to give those students a continuous, high-quality education for their entire school life from transitional kindergarten through grade 12 without school change.

Brian Bauer, executive director at Granada Hills Charter High School, says the expanded school “will allow students a seamless transition through a system where skills and content are built on, year after year.”

To read more, go here.

There are many school districts across the state which are facing monumental budget crises. In San Diego, things seem to be coming to a head as at least 10 districts in the county “are projecting that they will not be able to meet their financial commitments next school year.” The primary reasons for the problem are rising pension and special education costs which are at odds with declining enrollment.

Budget troubles are affecting even districts in supposedly wealthier areas such as San Dieguito Union High School District, which is projected to deficit spend millions for three years in a row, and Coronado Unified, which is projecting a $3 million negative fund balance next year if it doesn’t make budget cuts.
“This is actually a more serious time than during the recession,” said Michael Simonson, assistant superintendent of business services for the San Diego County Office of Education, which reviews the budget of every school district in the county by September each year.

To read more, go here.

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

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

Larry Sand
CTEN President