A listening post monitoring public education and teachers’ unions.

Is It Dark Money If We All Know Where It Came From?

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Aug• 15•14

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is upset that the Kansas Values Institute ran ads against his education record. The organization is not required to reveal its donors, leading opponents to refer to the funds spent on these ads as “dark money.”

But if an organization in a red state like Kansas is attacking a Republican governor’s education record, the ultimate source of the money is hardly in doubt. A minimum amount of research revealed the Kansas Values Institute received $120,000 from the Kansas NEA political action committee, and it has received cash from NEA national headquarters in the past.

This shouldn’t be a mystery. You can refer to Utah in 2007, or South Dakota in 2008, or Idaho in 2012 (not to mention Alabama this year).

There is plenty of grassroots activism in this country, but not a lot of grassroots cash. It’s good to know who’s bankrolling whom, but at the same time it’s safe to assume it’s the other side’s rich bad guys.


NYSUT Doesn’t Endorse Cuomo

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Aug• 14•14

New York State United Teachers decided not to endorse Andrew Cuomo for reelection as governor. This isn’t much of a surprise considering that most members despise him. NYSUT didn’t endorse him in 2010 either.

NYSUT’s officers might think this is the only practical course to take, but as I mentioned last week, there is no upside to remaining neutral. A minority faction wanted opposition to Cuomo, regardless of what form it might take. They have a point.

NYSUT didn’t want to endorse a third-party candidate with virtually no chance of winning, but in the end it endorsed no one. Whatever happens in November, someone will win. That puts the union on the losing side. Stand by for four more years of complaining.


Karen Lewis Explains How to Become the Highest-Paid Teacher

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Aug• 13•14

The Chicago Sun-Times has an article about Karen Lewis’ worldly possessions. It isn’t particularly interesting except for those who didn’t know that she is reasonably well-off.

But you have to admire Lewis’ use of this line of reasoning:

When she first ran for CTU president four years ago, Lewis promised not to make more than the highest-paid teacher.

“How can you criticize [the CPS CEO] for making $230,000 a year during these hard times if you’re making so much more than your members?” she told the Chicago Reader then.

Chicago Public Schools’ payroll records show no teacher makes as much as Lewis’ $136,890 CTU base salary.

In an interview Tuesday, Lewis said she didn’t break her promise not to make more as union president than Chicago’s highest-paid teacher makes, saying her CTU salary is for working the full year, rather than a 39-week school year.

Teachers don’t work the full year. Speaking from first-hand experience, I can tell you that normally such a statement is the signal for a barrage of angry e-mails, long stories about grading papers on the weekends and professional development during the summer, and outbursts about being unable to collect unemployment for that unpaid time away from school. Lewis, I presume, will be spared that reaction.


Overdue Process

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Aug• 12•14

We are currently in an unprecedented debate about teacher evaluations, tenure and what it takes to dismiss a poor teacher. There is a case in Florida that is presented in the usual manner, but after a little digging I find the story misses the point because it is entirely focused on alleged misconduct, while the question of routine negligence and indifference goes unmentioned.

Joyce Quiller is a veteran math teacher for the Duval County Public Schools. She teaches high school students in the district’s Bridge to Success program, which enrolls “students who exhibit problems traceable to social, emotional, physical, and developmental conditions which impede the learning process.” In other words, she has a tough classroom.

Last January, seven of Quiller’s students accused her of using profanity towards them in class. They also claimed Quiller, who is African-American, called them the n-word. The district opened an investigation of the charges. Quiller had been disciplined for profanity in the past and after interviewing the students and educators with some knowledge of Quiller’s classroom school district officials decided to terminate her employment.

Quiller denied the allegations. She and her union attorney filed a complaint and a judge ruled the district skipped a step in the contracted discipline process. She should have been suspended without pay, and not terminated. She is now eligible for reinstatement.

There is something for both sides in this story. Either you believe a teacher was wrongly accused by troubled students, or you believe it’s impossible to fire a teacher even if she uses the n-word. And there is no video recording to ascertain the truth either way.

But after examining the district’s investigation report, I found the mundane details of Quiller’s classroom practices strike to the heart of the problem. Those details came entirely from adults, Quiller’s co-workers and superiors.

Assistant Principal Nicole Micheau assigned Vernachele Walton, the school’s math director, to observe Quiller’s class.

Ms. Walton also stated to Ms. Quiller she had no board configuration, no student work displayed, the classroom was messy with books, and trash and calculators were all over the floor…. Furthermore, Ms. Walton noticed there were only four grades in Ms. Quiller’s grade book, and stated to Ms. Quiller her lesson plan book had a serious lack of lesson plans. In response to Ms. Walton’s comments, Ms. Quiller stated there were too many books in her classroom, there were student schedule problems, she didn’t have any books, she had too many papers to grade, she could not make grade submission deadlines, she did not have the time, and she was overwhelmed. Ms. Walton again stated to Ms. Quiller, one easy step would be for her to clean her classroom. Ms. Quiller replied she did not do manual labor. AP Micheau ended up getting other staff members to clean up Ms. Quiller’s classroom.

Quiller gave failing grades to 108 of the 140 students she taught this year. She gave more than 90 percent of her students either “D”s or “F”s.

In response, Quiller claimed the assistant principal has a vendetta against her.

Maybe Quiller is the victim here, but the available evidence, including the grades she herself is handing out, indicates effective learning is not taking place in her classroom. Should the district proceed with the status quo anyway? Should it reassign Quiller? Rehabilitate her? Get rid of her? Reevaluate the Bridge to Success program?

Meanwhile, most of these students will not get a second chance to learn geometry or algebra. We should not be surprised when others like them also turn to the courts for relief.


NEA Wrote Off $8.1 Million of Indiana Loans as Bad Debt

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Aug• 11•14

Click here to read.


This Could Catch On

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Aug• 11•14

New York State United Teachers is upset that the state has a testing contract with Education Axis of Evil charter member Pearson Education. Tonight union activists will stage a protest in Albany during which they will “feed the symbolic Pearson contract into paper shredders.”

They are late to the party, but I am glad to see NYSUT has come to the realization that some duly negotiated and binding contracts are detrimental to students’ education and should properly be fed into a paper shredder. Let’s hope the NYSUT effort leads to a national movement of contract-shredding in school districts all across the land.


AFT Front Group Fined $30K

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Aug• 08•14

Last November a last-minute ad supporting Marty Walsh for mayor of Boston appeared on the city’s TV screens. The ad was financed by the previously unknown super PAC called One Boston, created two weeks before the election, headed by the previously unknown Jocelyn Hutt.

Walsh won the election and One Boston dissolved two months later, having collected a single $500,000 donation which it spent entirely on that ad. It was subsequently revealed that the contribution originated with the American Federation of Teachers, funneled through One New Jersey, a previously unrelated advocacy group.

The Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance reached a disposition agreement with One Boston and One New Jersey that levies a fine of $30,000 for the subterfuge.

As far as the state of Massachusetts goes, that’s the end of it. But questions still remain, such as who is actually paying the fine, and who is paying the attorneys who negotiated this settlement? One Boston was just a shell to begin with, and no longer exists at all. One New Jersey is treated as the culprit in the settlement but obviously had no inherent interest in the Boston mayoral race. Are we to believe they are on the financial hook for doing a favor for AFT?

AFT believed $500K was a good investment to get Walsh elected. Another $30K or so might just be considered a gratuity.