Intercepts

A listening post monitoring public education and teachers’ unions.

Trump Jr. Passes Up Chance to Plagiarize Al Shanker

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jul• 20•16

Education never figures big in presidential campaigns, but Donald Trump Jr. used it to fire a salvo during his speech at the Republican National Convention yesterday evening.

Our schools used to be an elevator to the middle class, now they’re stalled on the ground floor. They’re like Soviet-era department stores that are run for the benefit of the clerks and not the customers, for the teachers and the administrators and not the students.

The mention of the Soviets triggered a memory for me, so I dug through the ancient scrolls of education thought and came up with this stuff that Trump Jr. or any RNC speaker could have used without controversy.

It’s time to admit that public education operates like a planned economy, a bureaucratic system in which everybody’s role is spelled out in advance and there are few incentives for innovation and productivity. It’s no surprise that our school system doesn’t improve: It more resembles the communist economy than our own market economy.

…schools would have to be free to try new ideas. So management would be required to waive all regulations that might keep schools from considering any and all promising changes – except of course for rules dealing with health, safety and civil rights. And unions would have to grant staffs the right to waive provisions of union contracts that get in their way. School boards would also be required to give each participating school total control over its budget. Since lots of central regulating would be eliminated, the central budget would shrink – which means lots more money to turn over to schools. Finally, since the participating schools would vary a good deal in what they were doing, school boards would have to permit parental choice.

…School staff would be united as a team. They’d read and try new methods. They’d make painful decisions they now avoid. If their math staff were weak, they might offer a higher salary to attract new talent. They’d shape up their weaker colleagues. They’d reach out to the community, explore technology. They’d focus on student learning.

…We’ve been running our schools as planned economies for so long that the notion of using incentives to drive schools to change may strike some people as too radical – even though that’s the way we do it in every other sector of society. But no law of nature says public schools have to be run like state-owned factories or bureaucracies. If the Soviet Union can begin to accept the importance of incentives to productivity, it is time for people in public education to do the same.

That’s all from the July 23, 1989 “Where We Stand” advertorial published in the New York Times by Al Shanker, legendary president of the American Federation of Teachers. Shanker is no longer with us, which normally would bar his appearance on a convention stage, but he has the unique ability to speak to us from the Great Beyond. I wonder what he’d say?

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Taking Release Time From the AFT Convention

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jul• 19•16

I am not in Minneapolis attending the AFT Convention, which means I missed Hillary Clinton showing up fashionably late to deliver a speech “substantially similar” to the one she gave at the NEA Representative Assembly two weeks ago, including the same hurried reference to charter schools. And there was some commotion in the back of the hall that was shouted down by Hillary supporters. just like at NEA. Summer reruns.

Those observing from the floor are doing a fine job of reporting, but if you need more, AFT has gone the extra mile to live stream the proceedings. They have even gotten inside my head. When I checked the live stream at the appropriate time, I saw this…

aftlivestream

…which is exactly what the insides of my eyelids look like as I doze off during most of these events. Now in Mexico, they have lively teacher union conventions, as we see from this YouTube video. The dispute was apparently about the number of delegates present from rival factions within the union.

In accordance with Robert’s Rules, that can be categorized as a decision by the chair.

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Which Side Are You On?

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jul• 18•16

Click here to read.

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NEA Adds $1.4 Million to Massachusetts Anti-Charter Campaign

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jul• 18•16

An initiative on the November ballot in Massachusetts would lift the state’s cap on charter schools just enough to allow 12 new charters or expansions of existing charters each year. That seems relatively innocuous as political issues go, but the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) has made the referendum its line in the sand. It is devoting $9.2 million of its own budget to defeating the measure, titled Question 2.

But why limit yourself to spending millions of Massachusetts teacher dues when you can get access to more than a million dollars of dues from teachers in other states? Just prior to the opening of the National Education Association Representative Assembly in Washington DC, the national union’s board of directors approved a $1.4 million grant to MTA from its Ballot Measure/Legislative Crises Fund to support the anti-charter campaign.

The NEA budget isn’t broken down to this level of detail, but I’m willing to wager that this single grant exceeds the national union’s annual spending on organizing and representing the charter school teachers in its ranks.

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From the Vault: August 19, 2002

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jul• 15•16

Vermont Gov. Dean Wins Chutzpah Award. Vermont Gov. Howard Dean is planning to run for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination. His as-yet-unannounced candidacy brought him to Albany, New York, last week to make a speech before a meeting of the New York State United Teachers. Following the playbook to the letter, Gov. Dean decided that a few words bashing school vouchers couldn’t hurt with such an audience, and so he delivered his judgment that vouchers were “harebrained ideas.”

If Dean had stopped there, his remarks would hardly be noteworthy. But he continued. “Here’s what a voucher system does,” he said. “It puts the white folks here, the black folks there, the Hispanics there, the Jews over here, the Catholics there, the Protestants there, the rich people here, the poor people there and the last people left behind are the special ed kids because nobody wants them. We can’t live in a society like that. This country is better than that.”

But as Lee Bockhorn noted on The Weekly Standard’s Internet site, Vermont has had a proto-voucher program in place since 1869, and Dean and his Vermonters seem to be living just fine. What’s more objectionable about Dean’s remarks is his contention that vouchers segregate populations — this coming from the Governor of Vermont, the state with the whitest student body in the entire United States.

Divided by race? In 1998, the average U.S. public school was 63 percent white, 17 percent African American, 15 percent Hispanic and 5 percent all other races and ethnicities. Vermont public schools were 97 percent white, 1 percent African American, 0.5 percent Hispanic and 1.5 percent all other races and ethnicities. To give you an even clearer picture, in October 2001 there were exactly 47 African American 12th-graders attending public school in the entire state of Vermont.

Why don’t more minorities move to Vermont? Perhaps it’s the average state tax burden of 9.0 percent of personal income, third highest in the nation.

Divided by religion? Vermont is very diverse in religion… if you’re a Christian. The state’s population is about 58 percent Protestant of various denominations and about 25 percent Catholic. Another 12.6 percent are atheists, agnostics or otherwise non-religious. If you add together all the Unitarians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, the odd animist or Wiccan, and people who don’t care to disclose their religious preferences, it comes to 4.4 percent of the state’s population.

Divided by income? Despite strenuous legislative efforts to equalize education funding in the state, per-pupil spending in Vermont’s counties ranged from $7,578 to $11,914. At the district level the disparity was even starker: from $5,704 to $13,589.

Divided by disability? During the 1998-99 school year, 13 percent of U.S. students were in special education programs. In Vermont, the total was 12.1 percent, tied for 13th lowest in the nation.

If Gov. Dean wants to quiet the support for vouchers, he has the unique means to do so. Public school enrollment in Vermont was down 2.4 percent in 1999-2000, the second biggest drop in the nation (behind Wyoming). The average Vermont public school has 223 students — fewer than half the students of the average U.S. public school. If we “can’t live in a society” where children are segregated by these measures, why didn’t he invite students from those overcrowded New York State schools to move to Vermont and add some diversity to the overwhelming middle-class white Christianity of his state’s public schools?

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From the Vault: July 17, 2002

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jul• 14•16

The Real “Diversion” in AFT’s Charter School Report. “In general, these schools are a diversion from reformers’ and policymakers’ efforts to improve education in America.” So reads the main conclusion of AFT’s report, Do Charter Schools Measure Up? The Charter School Experiment After 10 Years. Charter school advocates wasted no time in denouncing the report’s findings that charter schools don’t outperform other schools, don’t educate more difficult and more expensive-to-teach students, don’t innovate, don’t save money, don’t empower teachers, and that they, in general, maketh a blight upon the land.

The line is already forming to take apart the study’s claims point by point, but each of AFT’s criticisms is a diversion from the only reason for this report. It appears on page 31 and states, “although laws vary in the extent to which charter school teachers can bargain collectively, generally these teachers have little or no union representation.” If most charter schools were exactly the same as they are now, only unionized, this report would probably never have been written, and even if it had, its conclusions would have been markedly different.

Here are just a couple of points the report makes that deserve further elaboration:

* Charters don’t help public schools improve. The report notes that the most common response of school districts to the presence of charters is to increase efforts in public relations and image-building, not in curriculum, instruction or operations. If true, this is an indictment of the school districts, not the charter schools.

* Charters have too many administrators. The relevant sentence in the report reads: “The average charter school employs two to four times as many administrators for 100 students as host school districts employ (this comparison combines both school and district administrators).” The parenthetical statement illustrates that the union equates a vice principal with a deputy assistant superintendent for human resources or a school district public relations officer.

* Charter schools cost too much. The report states, “Charter schools typically receive less total revenue per student than do their host school districts. The revenue gap, however, does not mean that charter schools are insufficiently funded to accomplish the mission set forth in their charter.” It is interesting that AFT finds charter schools to be the only public schools in America that are sufficiently funded. This is a dangerous precedent for the union to take. Does AFT really mean that public schools should be funded to the extent necessary to “accomplish the mission?”

Still, the report does give some good advice to charter school operators and public policymakers. It cites an article by Frederick Hess explaining why competition fails to improve public schools. Hess wrote, “it is political rather than economic logic that governs school district responses to competition.” In other words, districts have to pay a political price before they will improve, not an economic one. That is an excellent insight that should make perfect sense to lawmakers who spend millions of dollars to win a job that pays less than $150,000 a year. Money isn’t everything.

“The AFT concludes that policymakers should not expand charter school activities until more convincing evidence of their effectiveness and viability is presented,” reads the report. Since there will never be evidence enough to convince AFT (short of rising union membership in charter schools), this is in fact a call for an end to the charter school movement.

The good news for charter schools is that (as NEA concluded last year) there is no chance of putting the genie back into the bottle. Charter schools are here to stay and will continue to grow. AFT is trying to fight a battle that has already been lost. The problem for the charter movement is that it is no longer an insurgency. Increasingly, charter schools are mainstream public schools. There is a danger that charters will recreate what they sought to escape. The extent to which charter school operators, teachers and parents prevent that from happening will determine the ultimate success or failure of charter schools.

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From the Vault: July 16, 2002

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jul• 13•16

After sitting through the AFT resolutions debate, I am more convinced than ever that the two unions will not merge. Each side’s way of doing things would drive the other side nuts. Imagine the uproar at an NEA convention if someone suggested a mandatory vote to close debate after 15 minutes. That is standard AFT procedure. How would NEA delegates like their adored new business items vetted by a standing committee, which would then stamp it with a “concur” or “do not concur” before it went to the floor? This is also standard AFT procedure, and an important one. Of the 24 votes taken today, none went against the committee’s recommendation. Some voice votes were close, but there was not a single call for division.

On the other hand, there is no way AFT delegates would sit through that 12- or 14-hour last day at the NEA Representative Assembly. During the afternoon session, people began to wander out of the hall after 90 minutes, and after another hour there was visible unrest among those remaining. AFT Vice President Nat LaCour would say “all opposed?” when calling for votes but he stopped waiting for the answer, simply declaring the measure passed. Angry NEA delegates nearly ran Reg Weaver out of Orlando on a rail in 1999 for rushing through new business items.

Another interesting aside on merger occurred during the speech by John Wilhelm, president of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union (HERE). Wilhelm applauded AFT for seeking to unify all educators into one organization, but applauded AFT more for insisting that such unification take place under the AFL-CIO umbrella. The question of AFL-CIO affiliation is still the major deal-breaker for the anti-merger faction in the NEA, and Wilhelm’s remarks indicate that AFT is not being encouraged to compromise on the issue.

Two resolutions caught my attention. Resolution 21 is AFT’s performance pay measure, which is similar to the one proposed by NEA a couple of years ago. The resolution denounces merit pay, allows for additional compensation outside the traditional salary schedule, but provides an easy out for locals that want nothing to do with alternative compensation. As United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten told the delegates, alternative compensation plans are OK “as long as we have an adequate salary base.” Since the definition of “adequate salary” has been the basis of all labor disagreements since the end of feudalism, it’s safe to say AFT will not be pioneering alternative salary systems at the national level. Indeed, Sandra Peterson of Education Minnesota said that since her union adopted guidelines (read: roadblocks) to alternative compensation systems, only four locals in her state have even considered adopting such a plan. Resolution 21 passed easily.

…While speaking in support of the creation of the Solidarity Fund, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Ted Kirsch described the state takeover of the Philadelphia schools. “I speak to you today as a victim,” he said. “We are victims of a conspiracy.”

Kirsch was referring to the usual evil right-wing forces who want to destroy public education, eradicate unions and privatize everything. The delegates roundly applauded his remarks. But when another delegate, whose name I didn’t catch, spelled out an even deeper conspiracy, he was roundly booed and hissed at by the delegates. The delegate was speaking in favor of Resolution 64, which called on AFT to support a limit on military spending. He denounced President Bush and Vice President Cheney, saying they had planned a military build-up long before the terrorist attacks of September 11. “For them, 9/11 was the best thing that ever happened,” he said. The resolution was subsequently defeated.

But even deeper conspiracies exist right there in the convention hall. Members of the Progressive Labor Party (PLP) handed out leaflets calling on delegates to “organize against bosses’ oil war.” If you don’t know what the PLP is, the leaflet helpfully explains: “PLP fights directly for communism,” adding, “This fight for the dictatorship of the proletariat requires a mass Red Army led by the communist PLP.”

Does the conspiracy run even deeper? AFT President Sandra Feldman sits on the board of the Trilateral Commission, which, as every good conspiracy theorist knows, is the prime mover behind the New World Order and manipulates world events in order to establish a One World Government.

But we know where the ultimate conspiracy leads. Of the 613 locals represented at the AFT convention, only one has exactly 666 votes: the teachers’ union of Salem, Massachusetts.

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