A listening post monitoring public education and teachers’ unions.

Vermont NEA Recommends Sanders for President

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jun• 25•15

Vermont NEA announced its support for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ bid for the Democratic nomination for president.

Martha Allen, the union’s president, said “the time has come for his vision to become a national reality.”

An early endorsement by an NEA state affiliate is not that unusual. Vermont NEA recommended Howard Dean back in 2003, and a host of NEA affiliates endorsed various Democratic candidates during the 2008 campaign. The national NEA endorsement is what matters.

This move is interesting, though, because Vermont NEA said it would be campaigning for Sanders in New Hampshire. NEA New Hampshire hasn’t endorsed anyone yet in the primaries. If it endorses Hillary, it should make for some entertaining encounters on competing precinct walks.


Esquith Case Gets Curiouser

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jun• 24•15

Teacher and author Rafe Esquith was removed from his fifth-grade classroom in April amid allegations of “misconduct.” The first reports were that it had something to do with him reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to his class. But this controversy had little to do with the book at all.

Speaking to the Los Angeles Times, “Esquith acknowledged Monday that he quipped with students that if he could not raise enough money for the annual Shakespearean play they would all have to perform their parts naked like the king in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

That’s where it gets weird.

* The word “naked” apparently set off alarms in another teacher, who reported the incident to the principal. According to Esquith, the principal wasn’t too concerned about it, but it did get kicked upstairs by someone.

* Based on the information released so far, it doesn’t look like Esquith went to the union for representation, but instead hired high-powered attorney Mark Geragos.

* Geragos claims Esquith has already been cleared by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, which means someone reported it to the state level. Also, if true, the CCTC acted remarkably fast.

* Los Angeles schools superintendent Ramon Cortines said the case involves “serious issues that go beyond the initial investigation.”

* Esquith said “district investigators never explained the allegation of misconduct lodged against him but said they were not short of questions when he was interviewed. They asked, for example, the names of teachers who may not like him, the women he dated in college and whether he was counseled as a teenager for pushing someone at summer camp. “I asked them, ‘Have you talked to my students?’ and they absolutely said to me, ‘We’re only looking to talk to people who don’t like you,'” Esquith said. “It just seemed incredibly unfair.”

* Esquith and Geragos intend to file a class action suit on behalf of Los Angeles teachers who have received similar treatment and have been placed on administrative leave. What’s strange about that is they did it with no coordination with the teachers’ union, which negotiated the current disciplinary procedure and has yet to even file a grievance or make any other formal motion on Esquith’s behalf.

There has been no report so far of a parent or a student coming forward to make a complaint against Esquith, on this or any other issue. I wouldn’t expect the teacher who started this ball rolling to identify himself or herself, but however this turns out, there needs to be an investigation into the investigation.


Coloring Perceptions

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jun• 23•15

I’ve got a lot to do today so I need to find a fun activity to keep you busy. Let me see…. ah, here it is! How about a coloring book that teaches you about the education support professionals of the National Education Association?


If you haven’t got your Crayolas handy, work on this tracing exercise instead.



Coverage of the NEA Representative Assembly Begins July 3

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jun• 22•15

Click here to read.


When Charters Go Union, Reporters Love Writing About It

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jun• 22•15

Rachel M. Cohen of The American Prospect has written an important piece on the history – both ancient and current – of the relationship between charter schools and teachers’ unions. It is superior to most articles on the subject, which tend to oversell both the trend in unionization and the unions’ commitment to organize charter school teachers.

I found quite a bit with which to disagree, most notably this paragraph:

As the charter movement developed a more adversarial bent—one that no longer spoke of productive partnerships with public schools, and one that championed union-free workplaces—traditional teachers unions grew understandably defensive. The AFT and the National Education Association (NEA), the nation’s two largest teachers unions, moved to openly oppose charter schools.

Ms. Cohen is young, but I was reporting in 1992 when the California legislature was debating and ultimately passing the state’s charter school law. Union opposition to charters was unadulterated from the moment the first school went from being a theory to a reality – notwithstanding the supportive speech delivered by AFT president Al Shanker to the National Press Club in 1988. National Press Club speeches don’t always result in a discernible change in union policy (see Bob Chase and new unionism, 1997).

Still, there is much to like about the article. Cohen highlights the unions’ practice of trying to organize charter school teachers while simultaneously trying to curtail their schools’ existence. She also notes the views of a charter school union president affiliated with the California Teachers Association, who said “that at least the union is now starting to ask them for their input on charter legislation.” It seems as though they had more “teacher voice” at the charter school than in their own state union.

The pros and cons of it are academic, however. There is only one way charter school unionization rates will be great enough to impact charters, school systems and the unions. And that is through state legislation. Many charters are unionized because they have to be, according to statutes written as the schools came into existence. The idea that NEA and AFT staffers will crisscross the country, organizing a handful of teachers at a time at each individual charter and creating a groundswell of new membership flies in the face of experience and an understanding of the unions’ resources.

Charters are outgrowing the teachers’ unions and the unions can’t catch up. Reporters, however, have not fallen in love with that story.


Call and Response

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jun• 19•15

National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen Garcia is a former elementary teacher, a musician and singer, and an Army brat. It isn’t surprising, then, that she would make generous use of the “call and response” technique when interviewing Presidential candidates.

For all her criticism of standardized tests, she really like standardized answers.

“We must reduce the emphasis on standardized tests that have corrupted the quality of the education received by children.” – Lily Eskelsen Garcia, April 21, 2015.

“Education is not just how well you do on a test. We know about a lot of different learning modes ant not every child learns the same way.” – Hillary Clinton, June 8, 2015 interview with Eskelsen Garcia.

“Increasing the frequency of tests doesn’t necessarily increase the quality of education.” – Martin O’Malley, June 18, 2015 interview with Eskelsen Garcia.

“Teaching kids just to take test in my view does not go far enough.” – U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, June 18, 2015 interview with Eskelsen Garcia.


Who Ratted on Rafe and Why?

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jun• 18•15

Nationally acclaimed classroom teacher and author Rafe Esquith was placed on administrative leave in March after allegations of misconduct were made against him. What makes the incident peculiar is how and why he was removed from the classroom.

Three months later, L.A. Unified officials have not clearly outlined the allegations against the popular teacher, said his attorney Mark Geragos. But Geragos said he learned that the investigation stemmed from a complaint by another teacher after Esquith read to a class a passage from “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain.

The passage, which is much longer, includes this section: “The duke and the king worked hard all day, setting up a stage and curtain and row of candles for footlights. … At last, when he’d built up everyone’s expectations high enough, he rolled up the curtain. The next minute the king came prancing out on all fours, naked. He was painted in rings and stripes all over in all sorts of colors and looked as splendid as a rainbow.”

Since it is a personnel issue, the Los Angeles school district isn’t talking, so let’s keep in mind that the only details we have are from Esquith’s lawyer. As messed up as large school districts can be, it is difficult to believe that Esquith, who has been teaching for 30 years, was suspended simply for reading Mark Twain aloud. And accused by another teacher, no less.

I have looked at that passage, and later in the chapter is a lengthy section about Jim, which contains the ‘n’ word in the original text, and a lot of stereotyped vernacular.

Schools all over the country have wrestled with the use of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, so perhaps Esquith is a victim of that controversy. Also remember that district administrators decide whether to take disciplinary actions against a teacher, but the collective bargaining agreement dictates the procedures that must be followed. Esquith has one of the most famous attorneys in the country, but we don’t know what kind of union representation he received, or whether the union filed any grievances about his treatment.

Geragos claims Esquith was cleared by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, which suggests this complaint was filed on more than one level. I don’t believe it is standard operating procedure for a misconduct complaint to be automatically kicked upstairs to the CCTC.

It is all just speculation at this point but one thing’s for sure: Esquith has a lot of material for a new book.