A listening post monitoring public education and teachers’ unions.

Throwback Thursday: The Tornillo Memo

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Apr• 16•15

I was cleaning out the file cabinet this morning and came across some old source material, including three memos from 2003 that provided the basis of this EIA story in the wake of the FBI raid on the headquarters of the United Teachers of Dade on April 29, 2003.

You may recall that UTD president Pat Tornillo was arrested and charged with spending more than $650,000 of union dues on himself – buying things like luxury cruises and python-print pajamas. He reached a plea deal on mail fraud and tax evasion in exchange for a shorter prison term. Tornillo died in 2007.

The Tornillo memo to Florida Education Association chief of staff Aaron Wallace, written a mere 8 days prior to the FBI raid and cc’ed to every high-ranking officer in FEA, AFT and NEA, is defiant in tone and heavy with rationalization. Tornillo blames rival organizations, the media, district administrators and the union’s health care plan for his local’s financial difficulties, while claiming “UTD is solvent and has substantial reserves.”

Twelve years later, UTD is still $3.6 million in dues arrearage to FEA and AFT, and has a $2.4 million loan outstanding from AFT for operating expenses.

The memo has some historical value, so I have posted it on the EIA web site. You can access it and other internal union documents on the Declassified page.



Written By: Mike Antonucci - Apr• 15•15

For many in the education establishment, Finland is the Promised Land. It’s a magical place where every child learns, every teacher is skilled and valued, unions are vital, money is no object, and unicorns poop rainbows.

It’s tempting to drill holes in these fantasies, but Tim Oates of Cambridge Assessment does a masterful job of bringing the Finnish education system into the real world while still celebrating its notable accomplishments. In “Finnish fairy stories,” Oates shows a lot of respect for the Finns, and not so much for the “education tourists” who, he says, “asked questions only about the things in which they are interested; they have ‘found’ what they have been looking for, and not understood the importance of things which they have not asked about.”

Oates then explains about Finnish testing and school evaluation, the national curriculum, private schools, and teacher pay. He cites a few problems that never make it into the glowing praise from foreigners: the closure of thousands of small rural schools, increased segregation in urban areas, and evidence that the nation’s academic standards peaked in 2000 and are on the decline.

Oates makes the key point that outside observers only seem interested in what Finland has been doing since it reached high international ranking, not what the nation did in the years of improvement. “The Finns effected wholesale, coherent system change,” he writes. “Moving an entire system to fully comprehensive education was an outstanding feat of social consensus, policy formation and meticulous, centralised implementation strategy. Look there – the past, not the present – for insights as to what another nation might aspire to do, and what means might be used to achieve it.”


The Opt-Out Movement Marches On

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Apr• 14•15

Last weekend at the California Teachers Association State Council meeting a new business item was introduced and referred to the union’s board of directors. It asked that CTA “establish a workgroup to investigate overhauling punitive attendance laws.”

The sponsors explained:

Our current attendance laws disproportionately attack, fine, and imprison people of color and the poor. The criminalization of truancy often pushes students further away from school, and their families deeper into poverty. We are funding our system by fining the poor. We are jailing parents because their kids miss school. We are taking children out of their homes for poor attendance. We are withholding public aid to those in need to punish when their children are absent. Let’s work to figure out how our attendance laws can prevent absence, be supportive to everyone, to get and keep students in class.

Bravo! Everyone knows the unions respect the right of all parents to make decisions about their children’s education. If they decide not to subject their children to the state’s governmentally prepared standardized public schools they should suffer no adverse consequences.


Are Union Elections Getting More Competitive?

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Apr• 13•15

Click here to read.


AFT Adds 1,300 Alaska Nurses

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Apr• 13•15

The previously independent Alaska Nurses Association voted to affiliate with the American Federation of Teachers. The addition of ANA’s 1,300 members in three bargaining units brings AFT to a total of 85,000 nurses among its membership.


Pearson & edTPA: Evil or Not?

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Apr• 10•15

I have been waiting for an answer to that question for a year, but I am more confused than ever after receiving a post-conference report from the organizers of the edTPA Southeast Regional Summit. They tell us that the teacher candidate assessment is “currently used by more than 600 teacher preparation programs in some 40 states nationwide.”

The conference was hosted by a coalition of education establishment groups, as well as Pearson, and the keynote speaker was the CEO of the Center for Teaching Quality, which has the unusual distinction of being funded by both the NEA and the Gates Foundation.

According to the organizers, the event “produced a lively conversation on Twitter, which can be viewed by searching for the hashtag #edtpasummit15.”

I did so, and their definition of “lively” is a lot different from mine. The educators who participated were unanimous in their praise of the proceedings, with only one minor dissenter who cut through the happy talk.

That’s a good question, but I just want to know if so-called corporate education reform is to be opposed in all instances, or only when NEA isn’t part of it?


Another Victory for the Opt-Out Movement

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Apr• 09•15

AFT Michigan and the Michigan Education Association joined forces to sue the state over a 2012 law that requires public school employees to contribute 4 percent of their salary toward their pensions. The previous statute had been struck down because a 3 percent contribution for retiree health care did not contain a provision for employees to opt out of the system.

Yesterday the Michigan Supreme Court ruled against the unions, Justice Stephen J. Markman noting that the state “is not obligated to provide publicly subsidized healthcare to public school employees, but has affirmatively chosen to do so, and it is therefore entirely reasonable to request that any eligible employee who desires the benefit help pay for it.”

He added that public school employees who do not wish to participate in the retiree healthcare program “can simply opt out and instead contribute money into their Tier 2 accounts. By opting out, the employees guarantee that the state will not receive their 3% contributions and that they will be paid the full amount of their bargained-for salaries.”