1) Thoughts on "Stupid in America."
Normally you can go a whole year before you see two "buzz-worthy" stories on
public education, but we've already had two in 2006. On the heels of the
Wall Street Journal highlighting the financial disclosure report of the
National Education Association came a report by ABC News' John Stossel
in America: How Lack of Choice Cheats Our Kids Out of a Good Education."
Stossel's message board received almost
24,000 responses, including one by someone who posted an internal NEA e-mail
to its activists that tries to tie Stossel to
The Bell Curve. When it comes to webs of conspiracy, NEA needs
Evidently when NEA gives money to People
for the American Way or the Council on Foreign Relations, it is merely a
grant to groups "who share NEA's commitment to public education and to the
human and civil rights of all Americans." But when Stossel delivers a speech
to the Cato Institute, it is evidence of "his
personal ties to right-wing organizations" and "lack of objectivity."
EIA will leave it to
others to thrash out the story's implications. But let us note Stossel's
decision to place in a school quality/school choice story the issue of
school district boundary enforcement. Stossel detailed the stories of people
lying about where they lived so that their kids could attend better schools,
and the efforts of school districts to stop them, including the hiring of
private investigators. Stossel even referred to this as a "black market" in
Where have we heard this
August 27, 2001: "The
Black Market in School Choice"
March 18, 2002: "Districts
Hunt Down Out-of-District Students Like Common Criminals"
May 20, 2002: "Connecticut
Schools Have Their Own Border Patrol"
September 16, 2002: "Baltimore
County Makes Latest Attempt to Snuff Out Black Market in School Choice"
September 23, 2002: "School
Choice Black Market Dragnet Nabs Teacher"
November 25, 2002: "The
Return of the Black Market in School Choice"
December 2, 2002: "Florida
Union Defends School Choice for Member"
August 11, 2003: "School
Choice Black Market Revisited"
September 13, 2004: "Upholding
the Law in Public Education"
February 7, 2005: "Black
Market in School Choice: Teacher Edition"
School choice – the concept, if not the
voucher system by which it is best known – is a fact of American life. Rich
people exercise it by moving to the suburbs. Poor people exercise it by
pretending to move to the suburbs. Fighting it is like trying to prevent
waves from reaching the shore.
2) How Will Collective Bargaining
Affect Unions' Own Finances? Since EIA has spent
so much time recently on teacher union expenditures, it is only fitting to
discuss the factor that most greatly affects the costs of operating a large
teachers' union: union contracts.
Long-time readers of this newsletter
know that union employees are themselves represented by unions that
negotiate under the normal rules of collective bargaining. I once wrote an
entire report on this phenomenon within NEA for the
Capital Research Center. One can witness some amazing antics when union
executives act as management, with their own labor negotiators on the other
side of the table.
It's ironic, though not surprising, that
teachers' unions have the same cost concerns as any other large-sized
business. In particular, NEA and its affiliates are very worried about the
rising costs of retiree health care (though it is less than understanding
when school districts are worried about the same issue).
NEA's contract with its largest staff
union expires in May 2006, and it would behoove members and union activists
to keep an eye on the negotiations. Last month, the union representing the
NEA Member Benefits concluded a five-year deal with raises ranging from
24 percent to 43 percent over the life of the agreement, while protecting
The California Teachers Association will
also have to address major labor issues in the wake of the November 2005
special election, in which the union spent upwards of $60 million. Two CTA
staff unions, representing both professional and support employees, will be
negotiating new deals to replace those that will expire in August 2006.
While CTA hopes the next state budget
will help the union replenish its coffers, its plan will stand or fall on
the attitudes of union staff. Will CTA employees forego major salary
increases to help the union back to its feet? Or will CTA employees demand
compensation for the effort they put forth to defeat the governor's
initiatives in the first place? CTA's financial health, and the dues level
of its members, will be affected by the answers to those questions.
3) AFT Tries to Devise Charter
School Strategy. Officers of the American
Federation of Teachers met last week to discuss the union's strategy "for
dealing with the burgeoning number of charter schools across the nation."
It is unlikely the conference included
an examination of why charter schools are burgeoning.
"The AFT response to charters will
include supporting federal, state and local legislation to bring
transparency and accountability for student achievement to charter schools;
identifying strategic opportunities to organize employees; and reinforcing
traditional alliances with community groups that have long stood with the
union in the fight for excellent public schools. There are also promising
examples of how union contracts in some states have helped ensure that
charter schools are staffed by well-supported educators," reads the union's
weekly organ, Inside AFT.
Meanwhile, AFT Pennsylvania has this
request: "If you have family or friends working in charter schools, we need
your help. Please contact Candy Lerner, AFT Pennsylvania staff
representative, at 215-587-6784 to provide contact information for a union
organizing effort at charter schools. The AFT Pennsylvania has already
organized two Philadelphia charter schools and would like to meet with staff
at other schools."
4) Georgia Juxtaposition.
EIA was struck by the listing of items on the web site of the
Georgia Association of Educators (GAE), the NEA affiliate in the state.
The first item is an op-ed by GAE
President Merchuria Chase Williams titled "Merit pay for teachers too flawed
to be fair" that was published in the January 12 Atlanta
Journal-Constitution. Dr. Williams wrote, "It [merit pay] has proved
problematic in a profession as complex as teaching, where professionals
don't have control over their students' innate ability and where they must
discern the most effective way to reach and motivate each student to learn."
Agree or disagree, that is the union's
position. But the very next item on the union's web site is "GAE
congratulates newest class of National Board Certified teachers." In the
press release, Dr. Williams says, "They deserve all of the accolades,
prestige, and rewards that accompany such a designation."
The rewards are substantial. Georgia
teachers receive a 10 percent raise upon achieving national certification.
Since there is no evidence to suggest that nationally certified teachers
do "have control over their students' innate ability," it must be GAE's
position that the national board knows how to evaluate teachers' ability. If
the board is capable, why aren't others?
The final irony is this story from the
December 11 Augusta Chronicle, headlined, "Certification
no guarantee of excellence." The story suggests the board may not
be capable of evaluating teachers' ability. But there is no accompanying GAE
editorial headlined "National certification for teachers too flawed to be
5) Recommended Reading.
* Jay Mathews of the Washington Post continues his
sterling work with today's "Self-Discipline
May Beat Smarts as Key to Success." Mathews reports on research
published in the journal Psychological Science that states, "We
believe that many of America's children have trouble making choices that
require them to sacrifice short-term pleasure for long-term gain, and that
programs that build self-discipline may be the royal road to building
The researchers described an experiment
in which they offer students $1 immediately, or $2 if they'll wait a week,
as a means of measuring their tendency to delay gratification. Mathews gets
bonus points for this quote from Bob Schaefer of
FairTest: "I'd assume it was some kind of scam, take the buck and run."
* I doubt EIA shares very many areas of agreement with
Peter Dreier, Falling
down on the job on labor coverage."
Responding to a recent Times exposé of
the United Farm Workers, Dreier correctly notes that "Up until the 1980s,
most major newspapers, including The Times, had a regular labor reporter.
Today, few papers, The Times among them, have even one reporter exclusively
assigned to cover labor," adding, "Lately there have been rumors that The
Times may be planning to put a reporter on the labor beat soon. Good. That
would be a start. In fact, the paper should have several reporters covering
labor unions and workplace issues full time."
Where EIA and Dreier part company is the
shape such coverage should take, such as "Why doesn't The Times regularly
cover the exciting efforts of such unions as Unite Here, the Service
Employees International Union, the United Food and Commercial Workers and
the California Nurses Assn. to organize hotel workers, janitors, security
guards, grocery workers, nurses and other healthcare employees?"
Dreier even suggests that poor newspaper
coverage is a cause of declining union membership, ignoring the fact that
union membership has been declining for more than 40 years, long before
newspapers started giving up their labor coverage.
What Dreier wants is for the Times
to publish union press releases. EIA will settle for labor coverage that
mirrors the paper's coverage of city hall, Big Tobacco, or HMOs.
6) Big City Blogs.
There may be a lack of regular labor coverage in the nation's
newspapers, but the Internet has the potential to pick up the slack.
Fortunately, two of America's big labor towns, New York City and Chicago,
now have new blogs with writers who know about the overarching role
organized labor plays in the delivery and policies of public education.
New York has Joe Williams running
The Chalkboard for the New York Charter Schools Association. Joe is
a former education reporter for the New York Daily News and the
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, and the author of "Cheating
Our Kids: How Politics and Greed Ruin Education."
Chicago has Alexander Russo writing
District 299, with "an unhealthy obsession with education in
Chicago." Alexander continues to host the highly recommended
This Week in Education from his perch in the Windy City.
7) Quote of
has to admire the daring, if not the accuracy, of the single most favorite
speaker on American campuses claiming the mantle of persecution for himself.
My research finds no instances of Chomsky's campus talks having been the
subject of demonstrations and heckling, of his having personal bodyguards
the entire time he visits a campus, of his needing a hundred police to
control potential protests, of his having to speak in a lock-downed
gymnasium, of his speech being preceded by deans warning the audience
against disruption, or his having suffered the indignity of having pies
thrown at him. All but the last of these, by the way, have happened to me."
– Middle East scholar
Dr. Daniel Pipes, discussing an interview with Noam Chomsky in the Fall
2005 issue of
Thought & Action, a publication of the National Education
Association. EIA previewed this issue twice (see "Call
for Lefty Papers" and "Not
Enough Thought Amid the Action").