Posts tagged ‘teacher unions’

April 9, 2015

School choice may follow from opting out of Common Core testing

by Grace

If opting out of Common Core testing is increasingly approved and even promoted, can school choice be the next cause for supporters of parental freedom?

The logical next step for the anti-Common Core ‘opt-out’ movement is opting out of entire schools.

Teacher unions strongly encourage opting out of testing.

… To be clear, the opt-out movement is not some organic happening. National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García tried to claim it was during a discussion I moderated a few weeks ago at the Council of Chief State School Officers legislative conference. When I asked her about the millions of dollars some of her state affiliates are spending to encourage test boycotts she didn’t have a response. That’s not very grassroots. In New York the state teachers unionis openly encouraging opt-outs and some PTAs are circulating warmed-over versions of union talking points….

Teachers who promote opting out may be paving the way for expanded school choice.

Fundamentally, the call for opt-outs is a call for more parental freedom. In contemporary America, accountability is usually regulatory-based (think financial markets), choice and market-based (for instance clothes) or some combination of the two (like restaurants). It may well be that test-based accountability has run its course in public education. If so, the opt-out movement – ironically fueled by self-interested teachers unions – may be pointing us to what’s next: a lot more choice and unbundling of services in public education.

That might not be so bad. If it turns out we can’t come together around school accountability schemes that look after the poor – especially while the same elite progressives boycotting tests can’t stop talking about inequality – then we at least ought to give the poor real choice about the schooling of their children given how crucial education is to social mobility.


Andrew J. Rotherham, “‘Opting Out’ Into School Choice”, U.S. News & World Report, April 7, 2015.

September 18, 2012

The messy Chicago teachers’ strike

by Grace

The Chicago teachers’ strike has entered its second week after teachers decided they need more time to review the tentative contract.  Calling the strike illegal, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is asking the court to force the teachers back to the classrooms.

The major issues are teacher evaluations, job security, and a longer school day.  

Chicago public schools have problems.

… 99.7% of Chicago teachers are rated satisfactory while the graduation rate is just 60%, only 20% of eighth-graders are proficient in reading and less than 8% of 11th-graders are college-ready on state tests….

… The average Chicago public-school teacher is the best-paid in the country, making between $71,000 (the union’s calculation) and $76,000 (the city’s). And that’s not counting benefits and pensions, paid days off, summer vacation and more. Teachers in New York and Los Angeles earn slightly less, and then the list drops off dramatically, with Dallas and Miami paying around $53,000 on average.

Even with dismal academic results and with a seemingly generous contract offer of a 16% raise over four years, 47% of registered voters support the striking teachers while only 39% oppose it.  Among the reasons for the public’s backing:

General pro-union sentiment

Unions are still hallowed organizations in Chicago, and the teachers union holds a special place of honor in many households where children often grow up to join the same police, firefighter or trade unions as their parents and grandparents.

The union won the PR battle.

To win friends, the union has engaged in something of a publicity campaign, telling parents repeatedly about problems with schools and the barriers that have made it more difficult to serve their kids. They cite classrooms that are stifling hot without air conditioning, important books that are unavailable and supplies as basic as toilet paper that are sometimes in short supply.

“They’ve been keeping me informed about that for months and months,” Grant said.

It was a shrewd tactic, said Robert Bruno, professor of labor and employment relations at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“This union figured out they couldn’t assume the public would be on their side so they went out and actively engaged in getting parent support,” Bruno said. “They worked like the devil to get it.”

Even though they may be unhappy with schools in general, parents tend to like the teachers they know.

… People generally like their kids’ teachers. Even those who may dislike the union like their teachers. They may agree with the notion of stronger assessments for teachers and perhaps also be against the union call for automatically rehiring those laid-off when vacancies do occur. But they like their teachers and so cast their lot with them.

It’s a dynamic at play whenever the under-performing Chicago system, which is beset by huge deficits, tries to close or consolidates schools. The school board usually gets its way but not before a very public uproar. Even parents at what are clearly low quality, poorly performing schools rise to protest. There’s a bond that blinds them to larger realities but ties them to that neighborhood building without any air conditioning.

Even after this strike is resolved, serious pension issues portend more education troubles ahead.  In Illinois, 71 cents of every new state education dollar goes to teachers’ retirement benefits, not to schools.  Earlier this year the state’s cedit rating was downgraded due to pension problems.

The teachers’ fund is one of the country’s worst-financed statewide pension systems, reporting that it is only 47 percent funded. And that’s if you buy the system’s rosy accounting assumptions, including that it will achieve 8.5 percent annual returns on its assets. This level is tied for the most aggressive investment assumption among state pension funds in the country, and the fund has had to get creative in an effort to meet it. Pensions & Investments magazine says it has the fourth-riskiest pension investment portfolio in the U.S., with less than 17 percent of its investments in fixed income and cash.
Illinois Is Pension Basket Case You Forgot About (Bloomberg)


August 21, 2012

‘we need to be able to say out loud that some teachers are better than others’

by Grace

The public has become increasingly unhappy with what teacher unions have come to represent. – rigidity, mediocrity, and a sense of entitlement.

The notion that seniority drives every decision — assignments, promotions, layoffs — is unsustainable.

Frank Bruni in the New York Times recounts how teachers are being put on the defensive.

  • President Obama is not seen as a strong champion of teacher unions.
  • Democratic mayors like Antonio Villaragosa of Los Angeles, who calls teachers’ unions “the most powerful defenders of a broken system.”
  • Popular media – One example is the upcoming movie, “Won’t Back Down”, about a mother fighting against the public education bureaucracy.
  • “Grim economic times” that find many struggling parents who believe teachers are enjoying cushy jobs and benefits rarely seen in the private sector.
  • Tight government budgets mean curtailed spending for public schools, where staffing is typically the greatest expense.

Bruni says we need “constructive dialogue and  real flexibility from unions”.

We have to find a way out of this. Weingarten noted that most public school children are taught by teachers with a union affiliation, if not necessarily a union contract. That won’t change anytime soon. So a constructive dialogue with those unions is essential.

But so is real flexibility from unions, along with their genuine, full-throated awareness that parents are too frustrated, kids too important and public resources too finite for any reflexive, defensive attachments to the old ways of doing things.

“Our very best teachers ought to be treated much, much better than they are today,” said Joe Williams, the executive director of Democrats for Education Reform. “But in order to get there, we need to be able to say out loud that some teachers are better than others.”

These latest tenure decisions from the New York City school district are good evidence that administrators are now willing to “say out loud that some teachers are better than others”.

Only 55 percent of eligible teachers, having worked for at least three years, earned tenure in 2012, compared with 97 percent in 2007.


January 15, 2012

‘Some Teachers Skeptical of Merit Pay’

by Grace

Some Teachers Skeptical of Merit Pay is the headline to this NYTime’s story.

In other news, the pope is Catholic and bears . . . well, you get the picture.

Really, this counts as news?  Maybe the reporter should Google it.

October 11, 2011

Steve Jobs supported a ‘full voucher system’ for public education

by Grace

He also didn’t have much use for teacher unions.

The problem there of course is the unions. The unions are the worst thing that ever happened to education because it’s not a meritocracy. It turns into a bureaucracy, which is exactly what has happened. The teachers can’t teach and administrators run the place and nobody can be fired. It’s terrible.

Going to a full voucher system would improve public schools.

I’ve been a very strong believer in that what we need to do in education is to go to the full voucher system…. One of the things I feel is that, right now, if you ask who are the customers of education, the customers of education are the society at large, the employers who hire people, things like that. But ultimately I think the customers are the parents. Not even the students but the parents….

I believe very strongly that if the country gave each parent a voucher for $4,400 [1995 interview] dollars that they could only spend at any accredited school several things would happen. Number one schools would start marketing themselves like crazy to get students.

Secondly, I think you’d see a lot of new schools starting….  The third thing you’d see is I believe, is the quality of schools again, just in a competitive marketplace, start to rise. Some of the schools would go broke. A lot of the public schools would go broke. There’s no question about it.

Whatever the intermediate pain, it would be better than our present system.

It would be rather painful for the first several years, but far less painful I think than the kids going through the system as it is right now. The biggest complaint of course is that schools would pick off all the good kids and all the bad kids would be left to wallow together in either a private school or remnants of a public school system. To me that’s like saying “Well, all the car manufacturers are going to make BMWs and Mercedes and nobody’s going to make a $10,000 car.” I think the most hotly competitive market right now is the $10,000 car area.

From a 1995 Smithsonian Institution interview with Steve Jobs

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