A listening post monitoring public education and teachers’ unions.

NEA President Thinks Charter School Teachers Are On An “Adventure”

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jul• 28•16

There are about a dozen op-eds waiting to be written about the interview with National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen García conducted by Rachel M. Cohen of The American Prospect. Surely there are quite a few people who want to tee up this quote:

If you take a look at the most highly segregated schools, if you’re looking at all Latino kids, or all African American kids, then you’re mostly looking at charter schools.

For the sake of brevity, I’ll stick to this question by Cohen, which to her credit is rarely asked of union officers:

Last year, I reported on the movement to unionize charter school teachers. There are obvious tensions between trying to limit the growth of charter schools, while making charter school teachers feel welcome in the labor movement. How has the NEA been threading this needle?

The response:

There is a long and healthy debate [about these issues] amongst our own affiliates and members. I actually went to a California charter school to talk to teachers there and a lot of them had come from the CTA [the NEA’s California state affiliate]. These were good-hearted, social justice warrior teachers who had been very loyal union members. They weren’t trying to leave the union, the charter school just seemed like an adventure. So they got there, and all was well in the beginning, but slowly they realized that they didn’t have the opportunities to make the kinds of decisions they expected to have a say in. The teachers felt lied to and exploited. So they came back to the CTA and said we need representation. They didn’t want to give up on their charter, but they wanted a union.

Let’s put those two statements together and attribute them to a hypothetical charter school teacher: “I think I’ll go teach in the most highly segregated school. It’ll be an adventure!”

Here’s an adventure for Eskelsen García and other teacher union officers. Try visiting a charter school whose teachers don’t want a union and find out why. Or even better, the next time you’re in California, visit the Clovis Unified School District – 49 traditional public schools, 5,000 employees, and no union.


Police Blotter

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jul• 27•16

Rob Bulk, the long-time president of Atchison NEA in Kansas, is everything you would expect from a union activist. He helped coordinate diversity training not only within his district, but statewide. Last year he ran for a seat on the Kansas NEA board of directors, introducing himself to KNEA voters through this campaign video.

He raised $535 for his campaign through a GoFundMe page and was elected to sit on the 2015-16 KNEA board. But Bulk had a secret, and now he sits in the Atchison County jail on felony charges of “electronic solicitation involving a child under the age of consent and sexual exploitation of a child — promoting a child to perform.”

The unlawful activity became the center of an investigation after police were notified July 7 that a 14-year-old male victim had received multiple inappropriate text messages via cellphone from Bulk involving illicit photographs and videos. The initial messaging began in February, but over the course of time it became more sexual in nature. Some messages were communicated through Facebook Messenger and Snapchat.

…The affidavit indicates that, at four different times during the messaging, Bulk attempted to persuade the boy to engage in physical contact with him. The victim denied Bulk’s requests and was never present with Bulk at his residence or inside a vehicle with him.

Bulk is on administrative leave from his teaching position. His status as Atchison NEA president and KNEA director is unknown at this time.

* Kenneth Potter was a membership data technician for the South Dakota Education Association until it was discovered he had embezzled $4,130, but not from SDEA. Potter was the treasurer for the South Dakota Staff Organization, which is the union that represents SDEA employees.

Potter plead down to a charge of falsification of financial records, for which he received a year of probation. He repaid the money to SDSO, and lost his job at SDEA.


Kaine’s “A” Rating From NEA Doesn’t Mean Much

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jul• 25•16

Click here to read.


I Guess We Ran Out of Great Education Governors

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jul• 25•16

I spend so much time on what NEA is doing, sometimes I miss what it has stopped doing, and this one completely got by me.

Back in 2008 NEA began handing out the “America’s Greatest Education Governor” award at its annual convention, the initial recipient being North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley. In subsequent years it went to Richardson (New Mexico), O’Malley (Maryland), Beshear (Kentucky), Dayton (Minnesota), Brown (California) and Patrick (Massachusetts).

But I suppose it was getting to be problematic, with a shrinking number of Democratic governors who had not already received the award. It took me until now, almost three weeks after the 2016 convention ended, to realize that the award had been discontinued.

Except I checked last year’s notes and press releases and learned that there was no award in 2015 either. I didn’t realize it. No other reporter realized it. The governors didn’t realize it. And it doesn’t look like America realized it either.


Who Would Be NEA’s Choice for Hillary’s VP?

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jul• 22•16

Hillary Clinton is expected to name her running mate this afternoon, and the conventional wisdom crowns Virginia Senator Tim Kaine as her choice. The 74 helpfully provided the education policy backgrounds of eight potential VPs, but missed a big connection for one of the candidates – U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

It’s forgivable for this memory to have faded, but Vilsack was once a registered lobbyist for the National Education Association on the No Child Left Behind Act.

It was never entirely clear what lobbying Vilsack did, but when Vilsack was nominated for the cabinet post, the union insisted he did no lobbying on school nutrition programs, which come under the purview of the Department of Agriculture. NEA supported his nomination, stating Vilsack “worked closely with our affiliate, the Iowa State Teachers Association (ISTA) in promoting a positive agenda in support of children and families.” (The NEA affiliate in Iowa is actually called the Iowa State Education Association.)

Certainly NEA would be satisfied with any choice other than Sen. Cory Booker (because of his ties to education reform), but having a former employee as Vice President could amount to two seats at the table.


And Now, A Word About Union Unity

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jul• 21•16

Joe Thomas is the new president of the Arizona Education Association. He posted a tweet this morning.


Trump Jr. Passes Up Chance to Plagiarize Al Shanker

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jul• 20•16

Education never figures big in presidential campaigns, but Donald Trump Jr. used it to fire a salvo during his speech at the Republican National Convention yesterday evening.

Our schools used to be an elevator to the middle class, now they’re stalled on the ground floor. They’re like Soviet-era department stores that are run for the benefit of the clerks and not the customers, for the teachers and the administrators and not the students.

The mention of the Soviets triggered a memory for me, so I dug through the ancient scrolls of education thought and came up with this stuff that Trump Jr. or any RNC speaker could have used without controversy.

It’s time to admit that public education operates like a planned economy, a bureaucratic system in which everybody’s role is spelled out in advance and there are few incentives for innovation and productivity. It’s no surprise that our school system doesn’t improve: It more resembles the communist economy than our own market economy.

…schools would have to be free to try new ideas. So management would be required to waive all regulations that might keep schools from considering any and all promising changes – except of course for rules dealing with health, safety and civil rights. And unions would have to grant staffs the right to waive provisions of union contracts that get in their way. School boards would also be required to give each participating school total control over its budget. Since lots of central regulating would be eliminated, the central budget would shrink – which means lots more money to turn over to schools. Finally, since the participating schools would vary a good deal in what they were doing, school boards would have to permit parental choice.

…School staff would be united as a team. They’d read and try new methods. They’d make painful decisions they now avoid. If their math staff were weak, they might offer a higher salary to attract new talent. They’d shape up their weaker colleagues. They’d reach out to the community, explore technology. They’d focus on student learning.

…We’ve been running our schools as planned economies for so long that the notion of using incentives to drive schools to change may strike some people as too radical – even though that’s the way we do it in every other sector of society. But no law of nature says public schools have to be run like state-owned factories or bureaucracies. If the Soviet Union can begin to accept the importance of incentives to productivity, it is time for people in public education to do the same.

That’s all from the July 23, 1989 “Where We Stand” advertorial published in the New York Times by Al Shanker, legendary president of the American Federation of Teachers. Shanker is no longer with us, which normally would bar his appearance on a convention stage, but he has the unique ability to speak to us from the Great Beyond. I wonder what he’d say?