A listening post monitoring public education and teachers’ unions.

Randi Weingarten Unintentionally Makes the Case for Standardized Tests

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Nov• 25•14

Teachers’ unions have made the overuse of standardized testing one of their primary issues for many years now. They have ramped up the pressure, calling them “toxic,” among other frightening names.

Even the staunchest defenders of standardized testing admit they are limited in what they can tell us about students, teachers and schools. So how did we get to this point? Why do we insist on so much standardized testing?

I wouldn’t have expected American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten to come up with the answer, but she has done it, and continues to do it, every day since Election Day.

Yesterday Weingarten delivered a speech in New Orleans to delegates of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers.

The president of the American Federation of Teachers wants critics to know that the 2014 mid-term U.S. election cycle was no failure for labor unions. Rather, it showcased voters’ dissatisfaction with President Barack Obama, she said Monday in New Orleans.

Moreover, in key down-ballot decisions that included minimum wage initiatives, teacher tenure and widely publicized contests for Jefferson Parish School Board seats, there were victories, Randi Weingarten said. “Yet you hear all around the country that what we stand for, we didn’t win,” she said.

To say that Weingarten’s reading of the election results is selective would be the understatement of the year. We can go to her own Tweets before the election to see where she spent her time and energy and what she claimed the issues were in those races.

She wrote about how Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn “believes in early childhood education.” She walked for Charlie Crist in Florida because “he understands you can’t measure everything with a bubble test.” She tweeted that working families stand with Alaska Sen. Mark Begich. It goes on – Mary Burke, Mark Schauer, Anthony Brown. Pinning all those losses on Barack Obama and claiming the union didn’t share in the defeats is delusion of the highest order.

The thing is, if your only source of information was Randi Weingarten, you might accept her interpretation of events as fact. After all, she campaigned, she traveled the country, her team polled and strategized and studied the issues. They’re the experts.

Fortunately, we have tons of other information. We have the election results themselves. We have exit polls and surveys. We have statistical gurus with comparative models from past elections.

Even with all that stuff, are the results still open to interpretation? Absolutely! But there are some undisputed truths. A candidate with fewer votes than his or her opponent lost. There is no alternate form of math we can employ to change that. The loser can’t present a portfolio of accomplishments from other campaigns. An incumbent who loses doesn’t get to remain in office for two more years on an improvement plan.

So while we were swamped with polling, focus groups, campaign ads, prognostications and punditry about who would win and why, we also ended up with data. Numbers. Registered voters pulling levers, punching cards or yes, filling in bubbles to choose candidates. And while those figures don’t explain why, or how, or whether there were mitigating circumstances that led to the result, we can still count, and protect ourselves from any claim that the real winner was the candidate from the Official Monster Raving Loony Party.

Standardized tests should serve a similar purpose.

I’m with the unions this far: Standardized tests cannot, do not, tell us all we need to know about student performance, teacher performance or school performance. For taxpayers, policymakers and parents, the input of school employees is absolutely essential for an understanding of what goes on, because we cannot be there in person.

But the reverse is also true. The input of school employees cannot, does not, tell us all we need to know about student performance, teacher performance or school performance. Their perfectly natural self-interest and protection of their livelihood can color their perceptions. Their desire for students to succeed can lead to misinterpreting whether they are succeeding.

It’s simple. Testing should never be used as proof that our schools are failing, or succeeding. They are invaluable, however, as a restraint on those who insist that losses are wins and hope that you will ignore any evidence to the contrary.


The Old Get Old and the Young Get Stronger

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Nov• 24•14

Click here to read.


Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Nov• 24•14

Where do you find work after you’ve been president pro tempore of the state senate and you’ve already been turned down for that college president position?

You guessed it.

UPDATE: Jonathan Pelto is aghast.


Split Decision in Staff Lawsuit Vs. Oregon Education Association

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Nov• 21•14

Refer to this blog post from July for the background on the lawsuit filed against the Oregon Education Association by its own employees. In short, the staff contract requires OEA to maintain a certain staffing ratio in its field offices. It failed to do this, as it was in the midst of closing and consolidating five offices in an effort to reduce costs.

The contract calls for binding arbitration in such disputes, and last January an arbitrator ruled in favor of the staff union. When OEA failed to fully comply with the arbitatror’s decision, the staff union filed suit in U.S. District Court.

Judge Paul Papak ruled last week that of the five field offices involved, one was in compliance with the arbitrator’s ruling (Chintimini) and that it was in the realm of OEA’s authority to close the Eastern Oregon and Roseburg offices, thus eliminating any staffing requirements for those offices.

However, OEA’s offices in Klamath and North Bend have remained open and short of the proper staffing ratio, so Judge Papak ruled in favor of the staff in those instances.

It appears that rather than rehire staff for those offices, OEA is closing them down, making the judge’s decision a bit of a pyrrhic victory for the staff union.

Contract grievances around related issues still abound at OEA, which has a history of labor strife with its staff.


Post-Election Union Analysis on the Left

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Nov• 20•14

Commentators on the left side of the aisle examined the results of the 2014 election and are now explaining to us what happened and what it all means for the labor movement.

To begin with, we have the provocative “Let Old Labor Die” from the pages of In These Times. It quotes labor lawyer Tom Geoghegan: “In the century to come, new labor has to step back, give up its control over the old labor law remedies and let workers do things for themselves.” His thesis is the political and legal systems that unions helped create are standing in the way of workplace democracy.

Thomas B. Edsall of the New York Times thinks the problem is the Democratic Party for distancing itself from organized labor. “Democrats are happy to get labor’s votes and money, but they have done little to revitalize the besieged movement,” he writes.

The Washington Post spent time with Gregg Johnson, president of AFSCME Local 46 in Illinois. They try on a few answers for size, then settle on the culprits – young members.

“If they were more active over the last 10 years, maybe we wouldn’t be in the situation we are now,” Johnson said. “Our employees have always taken for granted what we’ve got. And I don’t think they realize the lives that have been lost, and I don’t think they show enough respect for what those who went before us did to get us where we are. ”

I’ll have more on that sentiment in Monday’s communiqué because I hear it a lot.

All of this analysis is welcome – mainly because it’s better than pretending that nothing happened – but its effect on those in charge will be very close to zero. Their focus in 2016 and beyond will be on how to do the same things better, not whether they should do something else entirely.


Let’s Review

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Nov• 19•14

Here are three things we previously learned that were reinforced for us this week:

1) Most people know nothing, or very little, about Common Core. (February 2014 and last Monday, about a poll of California voters)

2) Compiling teacher union campaign spending is tricky, since “member communications” is a gray area. (October 2010, last Friday, and yesterday, about a Pennsylvania State Education Association election mailer sent to the spouse of a PSEA member)

3) Despite the establishment of “new financial safeguards,” embezzlement by local union officers continues to occur. (March 2014, last Friday in New Jersey, and today in New York)

Be ready for a pop quiz.


Have a Coke and a Smile

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Nov• 18•14

Thanks to this press release from Corporate Campaign, Inc. and the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke, I learned that the American Federation of Teachers banned all Coca-Cola products from its facilities and events because of Coke’s “dismal human rights record and long-standing allegations of violence against union leaders in Colombia and Guatemala.”

“AFT’s actions to hold The Coca-Cola Company accountable for what we see as its reprehensible practices worldwide, can only have a positive impact on society and the daily lives of countless endangered children and workers, who are now trapped in poverty and despair,” said Ray Rogers, director of the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke. “I hope and expect that the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) will take similar action to protect the well-being of children and advance human rights everywhere.”

The AFT resolution also encourages union affiliates “to participate in campaigns to remove Coca-Cola products from their schools, colleges, hospitals and other places in which they work.”

Fair enough. I’m sure AFT simply switched to Pepsi products. But wait.

What about Pepsi’s anti-union actions in India? What about the list of abuses on the “Pepsi Smash” Facebook page? And then there are the land grabs for sugar by both Coke and Pepsi.

Drat! I guess that leaves the Dr Pepper Snapple Group. But Coke distributes Dr Pepper products in parts of the world, the company was once cited for 12 violations of the Clean Water Act, has a poor record on post-consumer packaging, had a low score on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index, and has had its own battles with labor unions.

What’s a socially conscious union to do? I guess AFT will have to stick to tap water… as long as there is no fracking nearby.