Dissension in the Ranks and Trips to the Banks

* A few stories today about riled union members:

1) A small group of teachers from the Anchorage Education Association are unhappy about the way contract negotiations are being handled. “We are not pleased with the lack of information being communicated to the general membership by the board that is now doing the bargaining,” said Kelly Parsons, a history teacher at Eagle River High School. Members will vote Monday night on whether to authorize a strike.

2) Family News in Focus reports that the Conservative Educators Caucus is ready to bail out of NEA.

3) The State Employees Association in New Hampshire claims it has 6,000 members, which gives the union the statutory right to collect agency fees from the 4,000 non-members. “I think it stinks, to tell you the truth,” said Cindy Heisler, who works in payroll for the state Department of Agriculture. It isn’t widely understood that unions want agency fees not so much for the extra money it brings in, but because they induce non-members to become members.

4) If you’re following the Northwest strike, you don’t want to miss this post on the pro-union Working Life blog. Solidarity forever!

* What do Central Islip, New York, and New Orleans, Louisiana, have in common? Not much, except scandals where employees have been ripping off the school district.

* My favorite headline this week comes from the Duluth News Tribune, about its new school superintendent, Keith Dixon:

Dixon opens doors to unions, others

It’s heartwarming to see how taxpayers, parents and principals rate the status of “others” behind the true focus of the school system.


Good News, Bad News for California Initiatives

* A new “Contract Hits” has been posted.

* A new poll in California shows two of Gov. Schwarzenegger’s three initiatives appear to be dead in the water, but the one still floating is his teacher tenure measure, with 49 percent support (42 percent opposed). Even that isn’t much good news. Traditionally, yes votes erode as election day approaches.

The paycheck protection initiative, which the governor hasn’t yet endorsed, is the strongest of the bunch, with 58 percent support (33 percent opposed). Its ultimate fate depends entirely on whether campaign history repeats itself.

In 1998, Californians voted on a paycheck protection initiative. Two and a half months before the election (as it is now), support for the measure was at 60 percent with 29 percent opposed. But it was defeated on election day — 46.5 percent to 53.5 percent.

The state’s political dynamics and the public’s attitude towards government is different today than it was then, but the public employees’ unions also have a lot more money to throw around these days. It will be close, one way or the other.

* Next time you hear about a teacher shortage, think of Theresa Porter.

* A group in Montgomery County, Maryland, wants the school district to stop designating certain kids as “gifted and talented” because “children suffer when some are labeled gifted and others are not.”

Which, of course, brings us to Syndrome, the villain in Disney’s 2004 cartoon feature The Incredibles, who rants: “And when I’m old and I’ve had my fun, I’ll sell my inventions so that everyone can have powers. Everyone can be super! And when everyone’s super… no one will be.”


Almost Heaven

* The West Virginia Education Association held a news conference yesterday to complain about its state ranking of 47th in teacher salaries. The union is calling for across-the-board salary increases of 15 percent over three years. There has also been some (illegal) strike talk.

The response has been mixed. One newspaper raised the specter of teachers fleeing the state for higher-paying jobs in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and Kentucky. EIA hears this argument all the time, but has yet to see an empirical study of how many teachers actually cross state lines for higher pay and what the net effect is on any particular state.

Gripes about state rankings also raise the question: Which state should be 47th? One of them has to be, but no one wants the job.

There is also the question of benefits. West Virginia spent more than 44 cents on teacher benefits in 2002-03 for every dollar it spent on teacher salaries. That number places the state second in the nation (just behind Indiana).

Local columnist Chris Stirewalt delves deeper into the issue, and gives us a nice little lesson in medieval English history, too.

* Here’s a capsulized view of the Massachusetts Federation of Teachers’ efforts to organize charter school employees in the state.


Huh? Times Three

* David Heiber, assistant principal at Thurgood Marshall Middle School in Baltimore, ran 13 miles to other middle schools in the area, to collect donations for building repairs at his school. Nice human interest, local TV news kind of story. Except district officials say Heiber’s school only needs cosmetic work, and that Heiber wants things like mini-blinds for all the classrooms.

I ran 13.1 miles through San Diego last week. No news story and no mini-blinds. Just this nice photo.

* Officials from Falcon School District 49 in Colorado are baffled because enrollment decreased 26 percent from October 2004 to May 2005. They blame the decline on crowded schools. Which brings to mind the classic quote from Yogi Berra: “Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.”

* Lots of people will analyze the results of the 37th Annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll for its implications regarding public education. I like its insights into human nature instead.

Fifty-nine percent of respondents said they knew “very little” or “nothing at all” about the No Child Left Behind Act — even though the law is now four years old and has been reported and commented on to death in the nation’s media.

That would be bad enough, but worse is the fact that 40 percent of those who said they knew “very little” about the law still felt confident enough to express an opinion on whether it was good or not. And an amazing 23 percent of those who said they knew “nothing at all” about NCLB still expressed an opinion about it. By the way, both of these groups split pretty evenly on NCLB’s merits, so neither side is winning the PR battle for the support of the ignorant.


‘Tis the Season for Strike Talk

* Looming strikes are the usual topic during mid-August. No trends seem to be developing one way or the other. An agreement was reached in Naperville, Illinois and teachers will vote on a contract in Detroit, but things are still up in the air in Anchorage and West Virginia.

The fact that teacher strikes are illegal in Michigan and West Virginia seems to have no effect whatsoever on the actions of the parties involved, so why have no-strike laws?

* A report released yesterday claims standardized test scores “show no evidence that smaller classes are better, either for achievement or classroom atmosphere.” This report didn’t come from the usual places, but from the C.D. Howe Institute in Toronto, Canada.

Institute analyst Yvan Guillemette is the author of the to-the-point titled School Class Size: Smaller Isn’t Better. Even more to the point, the subhead reads, “Many provinces are spending millions of dollars on class-size reduction initiatives, with no solid evidence that they raise student achievement. The money could be better spent elsewhere.”

* All of EIA’s content is free and will continue to be. But if you wish to contribute to EIA’s work, I’ve added a PayPal donation button to the sidebar on the right.

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I considered garnishing $600 in dues from each and every reader’s paycheck, and calling it a “fair share” or “agency” fee, but ultimately concluded that such a thing was tyrannical and an affront to the free enterprise system.

So thank you for your generosity and support. I will always endeavor to be worthy of it.


(Light) Brown vs. Board of Education

Public schools can’t cherry-pick. They have to take every student that comes through their doors.

Well, unless they happen to be the wrong color.

Five-year-old Keith Cordell can’t attend Welch Elementary School in Ohio even though district enrollment policies would normally allow it and it is much more convenient for Sandra Tharp, Keith’s mother, to arrange transportation from the school to Keith’s day care center.

But Keith can’t attend Welch because somehow his presence would upset the school’s “racial balance.” The policy of the Northwest Local school district is designed to ensure that school choice within the district doesn’t contribute to resegregation. But applying the policy to little Keith in this case is ridiculous. Why? Because Keith is biracial. His mother is white and his father is African-American.

At Welch, the student body is 45 percent African-American and 6.4 percent multiracial.

Pleasant Run Elementary, the school the district wants Keith to attend, is 32 percent African-American and 4.7 percent multiracial.

Let me break it down into raw numbers. Based on the school’s current enrollment figures, Welch has 25 multiracial students and Pleasant Run has 24.

Tharp filed suit in U.S. District Court. “They’re supposed to be giving my kids an education, not turning them down because of what color they are,” she said.