A listening post monitoring public education and teachers’ unions.

Massachusetts Question 2: Down By 7 Or Up By 11?

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Sep• 27•16

Question 2 is the Massachusetts ballot initiative that will decide whether the state can add 12 charter schools a year. Anecdotal evidence suggests it will be close. Polling suggests there is something screwy with the polling.

A poll conducted September 7-10 by WBUR in Boston has the No side ahead 48%-41%. It shows the measure losing among Democrats, Republicans and independents.

But a poll conducted September 15-20 by WBZ in Boston and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst shows the Yes side with a 52%-41% lead among likely voters.

They can’t both be true, and we don’t have enough information on their methodology to determine if one (or both) of the polls is flawed. Whatever the outcome, this looks like one of those election years when we’ll need a detailed post-mortem of the polling.


CTA Employees Picket Union Conference

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Sep• 26•16

The California Teachers Association continues to be dogged by labor problems with its own staff. At CTA’s regional leadership conference in San Jose over the weekend, the staff union set up an informational picket line and interrupted the proceedings with a loud, but peaceful, protest in the ballroom.

Here staffers confront CTA president Eric Heins.

Wearing red shirts with the slogan “Bargain Like a Union, CTA Officers,” the staffers accuse CTA management of stalling on talks to “fix the red zone,” that is, to increase funding to their pensions so that they no longer fall below the 80% level federal agencies set for financially healthy retirement systems.

For their part, CTA’s elected officers claim it is the staff union that has failed to accept proposed bargaining dates. In a September 23 memo CTA managers stated, “We believe that the matters of bargaining should stay at the bargaining table, but do want you to know that your bargaining team is committed to continuing to provide a secure retirement to all CTA employees that also allows CTA to continue to provide support to you – our members, local leaders and local chapters.”

The memo’s language is interesting when you consider how CTA deals with pension negotiations with school districts. For example, CTA calls for “shared commitment and sacrifice in the solution design” and asserts that “over the past nine years, CTA has increased funding for employee retirement benefits and retiree health care by 21%, while the employee contribution remains at zero.”

Additionally, CTA is concerned that its current pension costs are unsustainable. The memo tells us, “The Retirement Trust currently has significant legacy costs and we should avoid adding even more that could impact future retirees. The current unfunded liability is more than $105 million.”

There is one solution I’m pretty sure CTA won’t consider: Simply raise the dues of the wealthiest 1% of teachers.


Dan Goldhaber for Secretary of Education… AND Labor

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Sep• 23•16

Dan Goldhaber is the director of the Center for Education Data & Research, a professor in Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington Bothell, the director of the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER) and a vice-president at the American Institutes of Research (AIR). He has a PhD in Labor Economics from Cornell and a curriculum vitae that is intimidating.

I, on the other hand, am a well-known grouch who writes about teachers’ unions. While it’s intuitive to me that we can’t be having a national teacher shortage crisis when we continue to replace every teacher who leaves the profession plus hire more, it’s better to have someone with impeccable credentials to tell us why. This, Dan has done.

I won’t rewrite his arguments here, but they’re not hard to follow, and highlight why experts in education policy, like Linda Darling-Hammond, can err when dealing with education labor.

“[W]e simply consider the annual demand for first-time teachers and compare this with the annual supply of potential first-time teachers,” he explains. “Using this definition, we show that the number of potential first-time teachers has far outpaced the demand for newly minted teachers for decades.”

Dan also shows that although we have actual and chronic shortages in certain subjects and certain geographic areas, we rarely take the logical steps to address them.

One more thing: Let’s also remember that we just came off a teacher layoff crisis. Maybe public education labor supply and demand isn’t quite like that of the rest of the economy.


Is WEAC Really Trying to Sell Its Headquarters?

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Sep• 22•16

Molly Beck of the Wisconsin State Journal turned up the news last week that the Wisconsin Education Association Council placed its headquarters building up for sale. This led to a lot of schadenfreude in Wisconsin and elsewhere.

It makes sense that the union might want to unload some real estate after it dropped to 36,000 active members and laid off a big chunk of its staff. But you have to wonder if WEAC is really serious about selling.

For one thing, the decision to sell was apparently made sometime last October, and the property was listed in February. The fact that it took so long for anyone to even notice suggests a general lack of interest from potential buyers.

Second, when Beck contacted WEAC for her story, union spokesperson Christina Brey told her, “While we are exploring options around the building, there are no immediate plans for a sale.” I’m not even sure what that means, unless it’s PR-talk for “No one’s made an offer.”

Third is the price. My knowledge of real estate pricing is extremely limited, but WEAC’s $6.9 million asking price seems well beyond the comps for office space in the area. At $134.18 per square foot, it exceeds average asking prices by almost 50 percent.


Seems strange. Is there any motivation to place a building on the market but deliberately not want to sell it? In any event, in case you’re looking for some Madison real estate, here’s a link to the colorful brochure.


New Warnings of Teacher Shortage Sound Like Déjà Vu All Over Again

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Sep• 21•16

Click here to read.


Bay Area School Choice Program Is Mostly For District Employees

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Sep• 20•16

I waited a week to see how much commentary would arise from this story by KQED’s Devin Katayama headlined “Why Oakland Students Leave for Public Schools in Other Cities.”

I can’t find any.

Katayama examined the practice of inter-district transfers in the Bay Area. Parents can apply to send their kids to schools in other districts if they qualify. “Legitimate reasons include: the student’s parent works in another district, the student has special health or safety concerns, a sibling attends another district, or a special program exists in another district,” he reported. You can’t just want to put your child in a better school.

Your assigned district must approve the transfer, but so does the accepting district, and that’s where you run into some interesting facts and attitudes.

Over the last two years, the Berkeley Unified School District has accepted about 75 percent of all requests, said admissions manager Francisco Martinez. Most of those are for families who work for Berkeley Unified, he said. Last year, Berkeley had more than 700 inter-district transfer students. Of those, about 40 percent were from Oakland.

School districts have some level of discretion for which students they accept. School boards in each district set those policies, and if interdistrict transfer students don’t maintain adequate eligibility, the district can send them back to the home district.

“If they are accepted, they have to have satisfactory grades, attendance and behavior,” Martinez said.

How nice that Berkeley Unified, which has a residency enforcement investigator, also runs a school choice program that mostly benefits the children of its own employees who live outside of the district’s borders. And if transfer students don’t keep up their grades, or behave, they can get booted out.

No accusations of cherry-picking. No allegations of trying to pad test scores. No claims of renewed segregation. No cries of lost funding because students leave. Traditional public schools are apparently immune to those criticisms.


Newark Teachers Union Goes Begging

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Sep• 19•16

GoFundMe is an online fundraising site usually reserved for people with steep medical expenses or charitable causes, but now it’s the home of an effort by the Newark Teachers Union to “stop the war on teachers.”

The union of about 3,000 members has a goal of $100,000 for its campaign, but after the first four days it has raised zero. The union claims this unique project is necessary because “we don’t have access to the same funding sources as those who want to destroy our public schools.”

That might be literally true, but NTU has an annual budget of about $3.4 million and is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, a parent organization whose budget is $188 million. The idea that it requires a GoFundMe campaign for $100,000 is laughable.

It’s possible this is merely a PR stunt to rouse the zeal of activists in the state, or perhaps AFT refused to fund this particular scheme. But if you have a few extra bucks, I suggest you bypass NTU’s page and instead donate to Bonnie’s bullet removal surgery.