You Guys Are So Easy

I tweeted this on Wednesday…

…and very soon after, this statement from UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl appeared.

We are doubling down on working with the movement of parents, youth, community, educators, and unions that formed around Steve Zimmer and Imelda Padilla.

Keeping the focus on the Eternal Battle Vs. The Forces of Evil ensures few members will ask whether the string of losses might have something to do with the union’s campaign strategy – or even worse, its personnel.

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Do Election Results Make Statewide Union Action Less Likely, or More?

Things didn’t go too well yesterday for California’s unions. They lost both Los Angeles Unified School District board seats, giving charter school supporters a majority.

As I mentioned yesterday, the board election was to be the first in a long string of union actions to cement power and funding for at least the next four years. Normally a setback of this magnitude would result in retrenching, or at least reevaluation. It may instead lead to redoubling.

Had the unions won, they would have used the victory as evidence that more victories were possible, and so the fight must continue. Now that they have lost, they will use the defeat as evidence of the danger posed by their opponents, and so the fight must continue, and in fact, escalate.

The LA teacher contract expires on June 30. The odds of a quick settlement have now entirely disappeared and a strike is very likely. It is less certain that UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl’s scheme to coordinate action with locals in San Diego, San Bernardino, Oakland and San Francisco will come to pass.

The problem, as I see it, is that the San Diego and San Bernardino locals are less militant than UTLA, and that Oakland is more militant. You might get them all to coordinate rallies or protests, but to have them all sync up their contract negotiations is a tall order.

Further down the road, their chances to get an even friendlier governor in 2018 are very good, but it’s now hard to imagine their dream of raising property taxes can go anywhere. If they couldn’t convince Hollywood to elect their chosen school board candidate, how will they get Orange County, or Bakersfield, or Fresno, or those technically-still-Californians up in the mountains or by the Oregon border to gut Prop 13?

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LA School Board Race Is Just the First Step

The obvious view is that today’s election for two Los Angeles Unified School District board seats is the latest battle in the ongoing proxy war over charter schools. It is that, but it’s also the first phase of United Teachers Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl’s grand design to alter the direction of California politics.

Caputo-Pearl spelled it out in a speech last July before an audience of union activists. First would come victory in the LAUSD board races. Then, coordinated bargaining in LA, San Diego, San Bernardino, Oakland and San Francisco as teacher contracts expire in June. This would be followed by creating “a state crisis in early 2018” possibly in the form of a multi-district strike. After that, victory for the union’s hand-picked candidate in the 2018 gubernatorial race. All of which would culminate in the grand prize: the gutting of Proposition 13, the 1978 ballot initiative that capped the state’s property tax rates.

I doubt a defeat in today’s election will derail this freight train, but it might slow down Caputo-Pearl’s statewide ambitions. It’s traditional for California’s teacher unions to overreach when things are going their way. But their grasp has grown long, and it’s hard to determine what’s beyond their capabilities.

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New AP Poll Shows Why Education Policy Is Confused

What does the public think about public education? Not much at all, according to a survey conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

The headline coming out of it is: “Fewer than half of all Americans want to increase the number of charter schools or school voucher programs that provide government funding for students to attend private or religious schools instead of their public school.”

No doubt the Internet will light up over that finding, but little attention will be paid to how the composition of the survey’s respondents illustrates why it’s so hard to find common ground on education policy.

They were asked, “Are you the parent or guardian of a child under 18 years of age, or not?” Only 34 percent responded “yes.” Of those that answered “yes,” 19 percent had no children currently in grades K-12.

That means about three-quarters of the total number of respondents have no kids in K-12 schools.

They don’t have first-hand knowledge. How is their second-hand knowledge?

Fifty-eight percent admitted they knew “only a little” or “nothing at all” about charter schools, and 66 percent said the same about school voucher programs. Nonetheless, two-thirds of them were able to offer an opinion about the quality of charter and private schools.

The political leanings of the respondents were 47% Democrat, 35% Republican. That seems to be a significant difference, though not as noteworthy as the fact that 48% of those surveyed were not employed.

Education policy is subject to the usual partisan differences, but is additionally complicated because schools are run for the students who attend them, their parents, and the people who work there – the so-called stakeholders.

The electorate, however, is overwhelmingly made up of non-stakeholders. These are people who have no children in school and – the evidence clearly suggests – no real interest or solid knowledge about what goes on there.

The key to getting your preferred education policy enacted is to persuade this vast group to vote your way, which is why we get campaigns and legislative battles that are short on empirical evidence and long on selective factoids.

There is no easy solution to this problem. Both sides of the school reform debate have spent 25 years trying to educate the electorate about charter schools, but 28 percent say they know nothing at all about them. Yet they still have opinions and vote based on them.

They are uninterested, but we can’t say they are disinterested. They provide the bulk of the roughly $630 billion we spend on public education each year. That guarantees them a desk, even if they haven’t done their homework.

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Bits & Pieces

  • The Palm Beach County Classroom Teachers Association decided not to approve a recount in its recent presidential election, paving the way for 33-year-old Justin Katz to head the Florida union local. It could be the union’s first orderly transition of power in a long time.
  • I don’t know if anyone keeps track of the number of union trusteeships over a given period of time, but they do seem to be increasing lately. The national AFL-CIO just took over the San Diego Imperial-Counties Labor Council in California and removed its leaders, prompting them to form a competing labor group, the San Diego Working Families Council.
  • Teachers in the Carmel Clay school district in Indiana began voting this week on whether they want to continue to be represented by the NEA-affiliated Carmel Clay Education Association or by the independent Carmel Teachers Association. The battle for the 900-member bargaining unit has been going on for months, but the votes will be counted on May 26.
  • A teacher in Anne Arundel County petitioned the Maryland Public School Labor Relations Board to allow a second collective bargaining unit to be established in the district. The dispute largely concerns the union bargaining away bonuses that had been given to teachers working at hard-to-staff and underperforming Annapolis High School. A second union for the same job title would be unprecedented, but would be a fascinating experiment.
  • Delegates to the Michigan Education Association’s representative assembly passed a measure requiring MEA to issue a written report at each RA detailing the status of merger discussions between MEA and AFT Michigan. I suspect there are going to be a lot of written reports before any real progress is made.
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