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November 20, 2006

1)  Is NEA Reading Its Own Research? Last week, the National Education Association released its latest edition of Rankings & Estimates with the headline: "Teachers Take 'Pay Cut' as Inflation Outpaces Salaries." The subhead reads: "NEA President Warns Students Pay the Price with High Teacher Turnover."

I suppose it's hopeless to point out that NEA mistakes cause for effect. "High teacher turnover" means high-paid teachers retire and are replaced by low-paid rookies, thereby reducing the growth in the "average" salary. If I have two teachers earning $70,000 each, and one retires and I replace her with a teacher earning $35,000, the average salary has been reduced by 25 percent, but that's hardly an argument for a hike in pay.

But there's an even bigger reason why the average teacher salary doesn't rise to reflect the amount taxpayers are sinking into public education. NEA's own research provides it, but the union's self-interest prevents it from highlighting it in any context whatsoever.

America continues to hire armies of teachers.

EIA has illustrated this before, but public school district hiring and firing practices appear to bear no relationship to the one factor that should drive them: student enrollment.

According to NEA's own estimates, student enrollment in the United States will grow this school year by a total of 349,452 students (0.7 percent). The number of classroom teachers is expected to grow by 62,443 (2.0 percent). That, my friends, is one new teacher for every 5.5 new students.

That's not even the most ridiculous statistic. Most of the enrollment growth is in secondary school, as the last of the Baby Boomers' children work their way through high school. Secondary school enrollment is expected to grow by 1.4 percent, while the number of secondary school teachers is expected to grow by only 1.0 percent.

Elementary school enrollment is expected to grown by only 88,595 students (0.3 percent), but we're planning to hire 49,965 more elementary school teachers (2.8 percent). That's one new K-8 teacher for every 1.8 new K-8 students.

This simply cannot be sustained. It's not beyond the realm of possibility that someday soon the marginal increase in teachers – in actual numbers, not percentage - will exceed the marginal increase in students.

This is not a new problem. In the last 10 years, elementary enrollment increased by a total of 4.2 percent. But the number of elementary school teachers increased by 19.1 percent.

Is any of this sinking in? I don't know, but last week's newspapers were filled with "surprising" enrollment figures from all across the country:

* "Florida school enrollment far below projection"

* "HISD enrollment down by 7,000 for fall semester" (Houston)

* "Traditional schools in DPS up 2 pupils" (Denver)

* "San Diego Unified, like many districts throughout California, is in a chronically declining enrollment phase."

Average salary increases will always appear smaller when spread among a growing number of employees. Once hired, there is a significant "enrollment lag" before the size of the labor force reflects a decrease or slowing in student enrollment. Thanks to tenure protections, reducing the workforce generally can happen only two ways: retirement and layoff of probationary teachers. Or what some people might term "high teacher turnover." We'll see more of it in the coming years.

2)  AFT Says United Teachers of Dade = Double Plus Good. With impeccable timing, the November issue of AFT's publication American Teacher features a glowing account of the "new energy" apparent in the United Teachers of Dade (UTD). Read the special report for all the good news. But if you have any questions about whether AFT's focus is propaganda instead of journalism, you might want to ask these people, who make no appearance in the AFT's paean to UTD:

Matthew DeRyan

Ira J. Paul

Shawn Beightol

Pamela Sturrup (Item #3)

The Miami Herald also had a different take, If you think we're all being too harsh on a union that has overcome the problems stemming from its years as Pat Tornillo's personal piggy bank, well, let's just say I wish EIA had a Florida bureau to cover all the leads, allegations and rumors received from Miami.

3)  NEA and Florida Affiliate Sue Breakaway Local. The troubled history of the Collier Support Professional Association in Florida got a little more troubled as the local union is being sued by its former parent affiliates, the Florida Education Association and the National Education Association. FEA and NEA are claiming breach of contract and nonpayment of more than $135,000 in dues.

The local's stewards ousted the leadership and ended their relationship with NEA and FEA in 2003, but it appears the formal procedures for disaffiliation were not adhered to, leaving the status of the exclusive bargaining agent in legal limbo (see Item #7 for background).

In the meantime, dues money continues to be extracted from members' paychecks, which the district is holding until it determines whom it should pay. CSPA President Richard Arena told the Naples Daily News he had not received a copy of the lawsuit, but suggested the local will reply in kind with a lawsuit of its own.

4)  Teamsters Awarded Victory in Fort Wayne. The representation battle for school bus drivers in Fort Wayne, Indiana, is over for the time being (see Item #6 for background). After two votes failed to provide a majority to either the Teamsters or the Indiana State Teachers Association, the school board ruled the incumbent union – the Teamsters – would remain the exclusive bargaining agent.

5)  Hide Your Wallets. "The newly elected Congress has an opportunity to chart a new course for America by implementing campaign priorities into legislation and programs – and the AFT already has the structure in place to offer ideas on key issues," explains the latest issue of Inside AFT.

"We can't assume that the new members of Congress know everything about our issues," said AFT director John Ost. "This is an opportunity to educate them."

6)  Opening in North Carolina. North Carolina Association of Educators Executive Director Colleen Borst is moving on. CORRECTION: The opening is for executive director of the union's Retired School Personnel Division. You've got until next Monday to get your résumé to Raleigh.

7)  Alabama High Schoolers Embrace EIA's Mission. From this morning's Huntsville Times about Catholic High School's International Festival:

"Along with the people from the past, many students also dressed in ethnic costumes, and the cafeteria was lined with displays from 30 countries. Students sampled foods from the countries and got a stamp in their 'passport' to show that they had collected facts about the countries….

"Students all take part in an imaginary Education Intelligence Agency, in which they visit a country to determine 'what daily life is like,' she said. 'The goal is to get them to find out about something they don't know.'"

Public education is like a foreign country, but fortunately it's relatively simple to learn the native language - Educanto.

8)  Thanks for Responding. I appreciate the time you took to respond to my request for comments and suggestions last week (one new one has already been implemented!). It's a pleasure to have readers who care enough about this product to offer aid and assistance. If you haven't replied yet, my inbox is always open.

9)  Last Week's Intercepts. EIA's blog, Intercepts, covered these topics from November 13-November 20:

* Perhaps With a Recusal…  The Washington Post is conducted an informal review of the best education blogs. Overcoming the "East German judge" could be a problem.

* Who Needs Students?  The New York Times discovers heaven for educrats: six-figure budgets but no pesky pupils or parents.

* Jessica Alba: Accept No Substitute. NEA President Reg Weaver tells us that the hard work of substitute teachers is exemplified by a small slice of cheesecake. Tom Berenger, call your office!

10)  Quote of the Week. "That's the piece that boggles our minds. They don't view association leave in any kind of benefit to the district." – Rapid City Education Association Co-President Nancy Kroeger, wondering why the school board opposes using taxpayer money to subsidize release time for teachers to conduct union business. (November 16 Rapid City Journal)


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