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April 5, 2004

1)  Enrollment Figures Spell Big Trouble for Education Labor. “Demographics is destiny” is a saying often repeated by population experts to explain why certain societal events and pressures are inevitable. If that is true, then destiny is not looking too promising for the school employee labor market and the unions that depend on it.

The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) regularly reviews enrollment figures, comparing past years with expectations for the future. Its most recent report shows clearly that the fat years of teacher employment are over, and the lean years may last much longer than anyone has previously predicted.

NCES compared the period 1988-2001 with its projections for 2001-2013. The differences are stark. While public school enrollment increased 19 percent between 1988 and 2001, it is expected to grow only 4 percent between 2001 and 2013. During the period 1988-2001, the number of public school teachers grew by an astonishing 29 percent. The forecast for 2001-2013 is growth of only 5 percent – or less than 0.4 percent annually.

Regional enrollment forecasts are even more intriguing. All of the states that will have enrollment growth of 12 percent or more from 2001-2013 will be west of the Rockies. Among the 19 states that will experience a loss in enrollment during that same time are West Virginia, Kentucky, New York, Vermont, Ohio, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.

The final bit of news is that private school enrollment, which at 18 percent just about kept pace with public school enrollment from 1998-2001, is expected to grow at a 7 percent rate from 2001-2013, exceeding that of public school enrollment.

Projections of Education Statistics to 2013 is available on the NCES web site at http://nces.ed.gov/programs/projections/index.asp.

2)  Iowa NEA President Voted Out; Budget Problems a Factor? In a surprising upset, Iowa State Education Association (ISEA) President John Hieronymus was defeated in his bid for reelection by Linda Nelson, a member of the ISEA executive board and former state legislator.

Hieronymus served four years as vice president before ascending to the presidency in 2002. But the union’s failure to generate new funding from the legislature, coupled with its own financial woes, prompted members of the ISEA delegate assembly to elect Nelson by a 53%-47% margin last weekend.

In a message to members, Hieronymus stated, “I think Linda won the opportunity to serve as president because the majority of delegates believe she will be able to use her legislative background to get much-needed results.” However, Nelson herself implied that the union’s internal troubles motivated her. “I believe John will say that things are going fine, and keep the ship going in that direction. But I say, we are not in fine shape. As school districts have had some financial troubles, we have also had to cut back our staff,” she told the Daily Nonpareil in Council Bluffs last month.

Tight budgets in other states are prompting affiliates to take a hard look at the cost of meetings, conferences and conventions. The Georgia Association of Educators will vote on a measure that would allow the union’s board of directors to cancel one of two annual representative assemblies during “years of budgetary constraints.” In New York, the AFT-affiliated New York State United Teachers will also study whether its annual convention should be held less often. And NEA national headquarters sent out a memo asking staff and officers to “cancel all meetings” between now and November so that the union remains “focused on accomplishing our goals of electing a new President and adding 100,000 additional members.” NEA is cutting back in a number of areas due to membership growth failing to meet budgeted expectations this year.

3)  Oregon NEA and AFT Affiliates to Seek Merger. The Oregon Education Association (OEA) and AFT-Oregon may become the first teacher union state affiliates to merge since 2000, if a proposal to begin the process is approved by union representatives at meetings later this month.

State affiliate merger talks have taken place in Pennsylvania, Texas, New York and Missouri, but they have all failed to generate an actual framework for putting NEA and AFT state unions together. The Oregon proposal will be the most serious effort since the mergers in Florida and Montana in 2000. Minnesota is also home to a merged NEA-AFT affiliate.

The proposal calls upon the unions’ governing bodies to “form a joint Unity Committee to develop a merger framework proposal to be presented and considered for approval or rejection by the delegates at the 2005 assemblies of each organization.”

OEA is about seven times larger than AFT-Oregon, whose only sizable local of classroom teachers is in Portland. The rest of AFT’s membership in the state consists of classified staff, community college employees, and nurses. In recent years, OEA has experience significant membership losses and budget problems.

4)  Florida Union to Raise Dues. The Florida Education Association will be proposing a $7.50 dues increase for the 2004-05 school year. The increase will be presented for approval at the union’s delegate assembly next month.

5)  Hess’s Admirable, but Quixotic, Stroll Through the Minefield. If there exists a thankless job in the field of education policy, it belongs to the poor soul who seeks to traverse the minefield known as teacher pay. I myself have trod through it many times in the past seven years, only to learn time and again that any new insight you may uncover is hardly worth the danger of having your foot blown off.

The climate around the issue does not allow for nuance. The conventional wisdom proclaims you either believe teachers are underpaid, or you don’t. If you belong to the first group, no further documentation is required, though the teachers’ unions will be happy to supply you with whatever material you desire. If you belong to the latter group, you will at the very least be subjected to questions about your motives, intelligence and sanity.

Boldly across this ground walks Frederick M. Hess, director of educational policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. Hess wrote “Teacher Quality, Teacher Pay” for the April issue of Policy Review (http://www.policyreview.org/apr04/hess.html). The essay is the best one-stop reference for the notion that teachers are not underpaid, covering all the relevant questions of work year, benefits, comparable professions, absenteeism, self-reporting of hours, substitutes, prep time, and the single salary schedule. It is an outstanding piece of work – that will change nothing.

Both sides of the public education bargaining table prefer the current structure. Despite many brutal fights over the level of pay, imagine how much more brutal the fights would be if they were over “what, exactly, are we paying/being paid for?” In all of life’s endeavors, you should pay what is necessary to get the job done. Our problem is not what we’re paying, but our inability to decide what “the job” is.

Hess’s essay deserves to be read by everyone involved in this issue. But I’m glad it will be his in-box filling up with mail, and not mine.

6)  A Place Where the Teachers’ Union Is a Terrorist Organization. In an effort to offer the last word in the Paige-NEA-terrorist organization contretemps, EIA provides this tale of a teachers’ union that actually is controlled by a terrorist organization.

In the Gaza Strip, teachers of Palestinian Arab refugee students are employed by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). These teachers have their own union, and its executive council is controlled by supporters of the Islamic Resistance Movement, better known as Hamas. These officers have a hand in developing curriculum taught in the Gaza Strip, some of which was flagged by the U.S. State Department as having “anti-Semitic characterizations and content.”

America’s teachers’ unions are scrupulously well-behaved when compared to those in some other countries. Last week, a protest rally in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, organized by the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union turned into a drunken march as hundreds of teachers stopped at liquor stores along the way to the provincial legislature building. “I doubt if some them were able to complete the march, given their drunken state,” one shop owner said.

According to one account, the march was intended “to highlight the sorry state of thousands of teachers in the province.” Sounds like it succeeded.

7)  Union Claims Smoking at School is Workers’ Right. Hawaii Schools Superintendent Pat Hamamoto has banned smoking on public school campuses, despite a claim by the support employees’ union that smoking is protected by its collective bargaining agreement.

A 1994 federal law bans smoking in all schools that receive federal money. Efforts to enact a ban in Hawaii have run afoul of a state law that says public employee union contracts take precedence over state regulations. The United Public Workers union claims a smoking ban constitutes an illegal alteration of working conditions. An opinion by the state attorney general concluded that union consent was not necessary to enact the federal ban.

8)  Quote of the Week. “If it were up to me, I wouldn’t teach long division until high school.” – Robert Hetzel, eighth-grade math teacher at O’Keefe Middle School in Madison, Wisconsin. Hetzel is a supporter of the Connected Math Project, a controversial curriculum that claims it teaches “far more than proficiency with computation and symbol manipulation. It encompasses the ability to use mathematical tools, resources, procedures, knowledge, and ways of thinking to make sense of new situations.” Critics say the program eschews fundamental math skills in favor of essay writing. (April 3 The Capital Times)

   

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