A listening post monitoring public education and teachers’ unions.

Loss of Agency Fees Could Ruin NEA Affiliates in Right-to-Work States

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jan• 25•16

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Arizona Education Association’s Finances

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jan• 25•16

The Arizona Education Association is half the size it was in 2008.

Total membership – 17,132, down 1,244 members

Total revenue – $5.7 million (78% came from member dues), down $88,000

Surplus – $132,000

Net assets – $2.8 million

Total staff – 39

Staff salaries and benefits – $3.9 million

Highest paid employee – Sheryl D. Mathis, executive director, $163,264 base salary

Highest paid contractor – None received more than $100,000


Who Represents Detroit Teachers?

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jan• 22•16

That’s more than a rhetorical question these days, even though a series of organized sick-outs have affected school operations this week. The legal answer is the Detroit Federation of Teachers, currently led by interim president Ivy Bailey. But DFT didn’t – at least officially – organize any sick-outs.

The union made noises to discourage the activities, while at the same time co-opting them to focus blame on the district’s emergency managers and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. But we can’t be sure this was a decision made by DFT officers, because the union is currently under the trusteeship of the American Federation of Teachers.

The only reason Ivy Bailey was in a position to help institute an AFT trusteeship is because she and her fellow officers were able to oust DFT president Steve Conn. Unfortunately for everyone, Conn was able to get a majority rank-and-file vote to support his return, but he needed two-thirds.

With his member support, Conn – now a non-member, mind you –  is an organizer of sick-outs, but it’s not clear if he is the organizer of sick-outs. His Strike to Win Committee is claiming responsibility for them, but Conn also told the Detroit Free Press there would be widespread sick-outs yesterday, and there weren’t.

Then there’s DPS Teachers Fight Back!, a group organizing sick-outs but insisting it is unaffiliated with Conn or – it is presumed – DFT officially.

The Detroit Public Schools filed a restraining order against future sick-outs, but it was initially denied because DFT had not yet been served. There will be another hearing on Monday. The order request itself is somewhat confused because DPS isn’t sure who’s behind the sick-outs. A restraining order on DFT, for example, is likely to have no effect whatsoever.

Teacher strikes and similar labor actions are illegal in Michigan, and wildcat strikes are illegal everywhere. But action against widespread civil disobedience is always tricky, and the district is unlikely to find an effective response. Unfortunately for the traditional union structure, Detroit teachers are also practicing de facto civil disobedience against the practice of exclusive representation. Teachers are making individual choices of representative, even as they seek similar goals. Some may decry it as chaos, but choice after monopoly always is.


Former Teacher Union Chief Convicted on Fraud Charges

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jan• 21•16

Former Broward Teachers Union president Pat Santeramo was convicted on eight charges of grand theft, money laundering, fraud and campaign contribution violations by a Florida jury yesterday. He faces a maximum of 30 years in prison. The Sun Sentinel has the details, and I have further background posted here.

Santeramo will remain free and his sentencing delayed pending the outcome of his federal trial next month on mail fraud.


South Dakota Unions Try to Swim Upstream

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jan• 20•16

South Dakotans will vote in 2016 on whether to institute agency fees in the state, which may end up being an academic exercise if the U.S. Supreme Court rules them unconstitutional this summer.

Measure 23 is newsworthy not just for its novelty in the current political climate, but because it just barely qualified for the ballot. The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49 collected 30,810 signatures – far greater than the necessary 13,871. However, the secretary of state took a random sampling and could validate only 48 percent of them.

As the union-friendly Dakota Free Press noted, “The fair-share petitioners collected more bogus signatures than valid ones.”


From the Vault: June 3, 2002

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jan• 19•16

You Can’t “Problem-Solve” Without Facts. There are a lot of reasons students’ scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests in U.S. history were disappointing. EIA suggested poor reading comprehension is mostly to blame. But in a letter to the editor of Education Week, Kenneth H. Maurer, superintendent of the Metamora Township High School District in Illinois, has another explanation: NAEP “is not testing what the teachers and schools are teaching.” Fair enough. No one wants to be tested on unfamiliar material. But that’s not what Maurer means. He says that NAEP merely “tested students’ memorization skills instead of their thinking and problem-solving skills.”

This is an age-old argument, but Maurer helpfully provides an example of what he means — and betrays his thesis for the cop-out it is. The NAEP U.S. history test asks: “The opening of diplomatic relations between the United States and China’s Communist government occurred during the presidential administration of a) Harry Truman, b) John Kennedy, c) Lyndon Johnson, d) Richard Nixon. Only 37 percent of high school seniors correctly answered “d.”

“A better question,” Maurer writes, “and one that we in Illinois would be more in line with the Illinois learning standards, would be as follows: Was the opening of diplomatic relations with Communist China good or bad for the U.S. economy? Write an essay defending both points of view. You must be able to explain your reasons for each response.”

Maurer is right. His question is better. But how could a student write an essay on the economic effects of diplomatic relations with Communist China if he or she doesn’t know when it happened. A student, under the mistaken impression that Harry Truman opened diplomatic relations with Communist China, could conceivably write a persuasive essay that it helped create a post-war economic boom. Or that it led to the Great Depression, because it occurred under Herbert Hoover. What grade would they get in these cases? History is not a rhetorical exercise, but events, decisions, motivations and, most importantly, people. And unfortunately for those like Maurer, these events occur in chronological order, making a knowledge of what came when and who was around at the time absolutely essential to an understanding of what came next.

The distress over the NAEP history results is simple to explain. If Johnny can’t answer a multiple-choice question, then it’s hopeless to ask him anything about diplomatic relations, economics, Chinese communism, or why it was noteworthy that Nixon went to China instead of one of the other three presidents. We don’t teach surgeons problem-solving skills. We teach them where the organs are.

Maurer says that schools should ask students “How would you find out who was president when?” and suggests that most students would quickly turn to the Internet for the answer. Perhaps it’s old-fashioned to say that the answer to that question used to be: “I’d ask the teacher.”


From the Vault: May 20, 2002

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jan• 18•16

Cincinnati Federation of Teachers Aborts Pay for Performance Plan. On April 18, 2001, the New York Times published a column by Richard Rothstein that began with a Cincinnati dateline and the sentence, “A radical experiment in teacher pay here could become a national model if successful,” and concluded with “Cincinnati’s experiment is the one to watch.” The very next day, Cincinnati Federation of Teachers President Rick Beck was voted out of office by a 3 to 1 margin. Beck and his officers had spent 18 months negotiating a pay-for-performance plan that barely received majority approval by the members.

Despite all the soothing talk since then, it was patently obvious to anyone who cared to observe that the plan was sinking fast. Even the safeguard Beck had installed — a 70 percent “no” vote was required to eliminate the program — didn’t seem so insurmountable anymore. Only the evaluation process was put in place. Last Friday, the program was scuttled before the pay component was ever implemented. The margin — 3.7 percent in favor, 96.3 percent opposed, with a 63 percent turnout — should give pause to anyone who thinks that any radical experiment in teacher pay could become a national model.

“This is not a vote against pay for performance, this is a vote against the viability of the current plan,” said CFT President Susan Taylor. She is wrong. If a program with such heavy union involvement could not generate more momentum than 3.7 percent of the membership after two years, there is no reason to believe that tinkering around the edges will help.