An article by Jason Hart appeared on the Fox News web site today headlined “Teachers union boss loses 40,000 members, gets a raise.” It begins:
National Education Association president Dennis Van Roekel received a huge pay raise this year while the teachers union lost more than 40,000 members.
Van Roekel, who retired this summer, was paid $541,632 during NEA’s fiscal year ending Aug. 31 — a $130,000 increase from last year, driven by a gross salary hike from $306,286 to $429,509.
Those numbers are derived from the union’s annual report to the Labor Department and are accurate as far as they go, but the story is misleading, since it implies Van Roekel received a salary increase of $123,000 last year.
Van Roekel actually received a salary hike of $34,689. All three NEA executive officers also received a boost to their living/benefits allowance of a combined $28,000, which is taxable income. So Van Roekel’s total pay increase was approximately $45,000.
How did he get up to $500,000? As is traditional with highly paid union officers, Van Roekel deferred a portion of his salary for tax purposes during his six-year tenure. Now that he has retired, that deferred income has been added to his final year’s salary. It’s even possible that Van Roekel’s name will appear on the payroll next year, as any additional deferred income is paid out.
Finally, the pay levels of the executive officers are set every two years into the NEA budget, and are in no way based on performance (of membership numbers or otherwise), which is what one would expect.
Teachers’ unions have made the overuse of standardized testing one of their primary issues for many years now. They have ramped up the pressure, calling them “toxic,” among other frightening names.
Even the staunchest defenders of standardized testing admit they are limited in what they can tell us about students, teachers and schools. So how did we get to this point? Why do we insist on so much standardized testing?
I wouldn’t have expected American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten to come up with the answer, but she has done it, and continues to do it, every day since Election Day.
The president of the American Federation of Teachers wants critics to know that the 2014 mid-term U.S. election cycle was no failure for labor unions. Rather, it showcased voters’ dissatisfaction with President Barack Obama, she said Monday in New Orleans.
Moreover, in key down-ballot decisions that included minimum wage initiatives, teacher tenure and widely publicized contests for Jefferson Parish School Board seats, there were victories, Randi Weingarten said. “Yet you hear all around the country that what we stand for, we didn’t win,” she said.
To say that Weingarten’s reading of the election results is selective would be the understatement of the year. We can go to her own Tweets before the election to see where she spent her time and energy and what she claimed the issues were in those races.
She wrote about how Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn “believes in early childhood education.” She walked for Charlie Crist in Florida because “he understands you can’t measure everything with a bubble test.” She tweeted that working families stand with Alaska Sen. Mark Begich. It goes on – Mary Burke, Mark Schauer, Anthony Brown. Pinning all those losses on Barack Obama and claiming the union didn’t share in the defeats is delusion of the highest order.
The thing is, if your only source of information was Randi Weingarten, you might accept her interpretation of events as fact. After all, she campaigned, she traveled the country, her team polled and strategized and studied the issues. They’re the experts.
Fortunately, we have tons of other information. We have the election results themselves. We have exit polls and surveys. We have statistical gurus with comparative models from past elections.
Even with all that stuff, are the results still open to interpretation? Absolutely! But there are some undisputed truths. A candidate with fewer votes than his or her opponent lost. There is no alternate form of math we can employ to change that. The loser can’t present a portfolio of accomplishments from other campaigns. An incumbent who loses doesn’t get to remain in office for two more years on an improvement plan.
So while we were swamped with polling, focus groups, campaign ads, prognostications and punditry about who would win and why, we also ended up with data. Numbers. Registered voters pulling levers, punching cards or yes, filling in bubbles to choose candidates. And while those figures don’t explain why, or how, or whether there were mitigating circumstances that led to the result, we can still count, and protect ourselves from any claim that the real winner was the candidate from the Official Monster Raving Loony Party.
Standardized tests should serve a similar purpose.
I’m with the unions this far: Standardized tests cannot, do not, tell us all we need to know about student performance, teacher performance or school performance. For taxpayers, policymakers and parents, the input of school employees is absolutely essential for an understanding of what goes on, because we cannot be there in person.
But the reverse is also true. The input of school employees cannot, does not, tell us all we need to know about student performance, teacher performance or school performance. Their perfectly natural self-interest and protection of their livelihood can color their perceptions. Their desire for students to succeed can lead to misinterpreting whether they are succeeding.
It’s simple. Testing should never be used as proof that our schools are failing, or succeeding. They are invaluable, however, as a restraint on those who insist that losses are wins and hope that you will ignore any evidence to the contrary.
Refer to this blog post from July for the background on the lawsuit filed against the Oregon Education Association by its own employees. In short, the staff contract requires OEA to maintain a certain staffing ratio in its field offices. It failed to do this, as it was in the midst of closing and consolidating five offices in an effort to reduce costs.
The contract calls for binding arbitration in such disputes, and last January an arbitrator ruled in favor of the staff union. When OEA failed to fully comply with the arbitatror’s decision, the staff union filed suit in U.S. District Court.
Judge Paul Papak ruled last week that of the five field offices involved, one was in compliance with the arbitrator’s ruling (Chintimini) and that it was in the realm of OEA’s authority to close the Eastern Oregon and Roseburg offices, thus eliminating any staffing requirements for those offices.
However, OEA’s offices in Klamath and North Bend have remained open and short of the proper staffing ratio, so Judge Papak ruled in favor of the staff in those instances.
It appears that rather than rehire staff for those offices, OEA is closing them down, making the judge’s decision a bit of a pyrrhic victory for the staff union.
Contract grievances around related issues still abound at OEA, which has a history of labor strife with its staff.
Commentators on the left side of the aisle examined the results of the 2014 election and are now explaining to us what happened and what it all means for the labor movement.
To begin with, we have the provocative “Let Old Labor Die” from the pages of In These Times. It quotes labor lawyer Tom Geoghegan: “In the century to come, new labor has to step back, give up its control over the old labor law remedies and let workers do things for themselves.” His thesis is the political and legal systems that unions helped create are standing in the way of workplace democracy.
Thomas B. Edsall of the New York Times thinks the problem is the Democratic Party for distancing itself from organized labor. “Democrats are happy to get labor’s votes and money, but they have done little to revitalize the besieged movement,” he writes.
The Washington Post spent time with Gregg Johnson, president of AFSCME Local 46 in Illinois. They try on a few answers for size, then settle on the culprits – young members.
“If they were more active over the last 10 years, maybe we wouldn’t be in the situation we are now,” Johnson said. “Our employees have always taken for granted what we’ve got. And I don’t think they realize the lives that have been lost, and I don’t think they show enough respect for what those who went before us did to get us where we are. ”
I’ll have more on that sentiment in Monday’s communiqué because I hear it a lot.
All of this analysis is welcome – mainly because it’s better than pretending that nothing happened – but its effect on those in charge will be very close to zero. Their focus in 2016 and beyond will be on how to do the same things better, not whether they should do something else entirely.