Intercepts

A listening post monitoring public education and teachers’ unions.

Who Would Be NEA’s Choice for Hillary’s VP?

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jul• 22•16

Hillary Clinton is expected to name her running mate this afternoon, and the conventional wisdom crowns Virginia Senator Tim Kaine as her choice. The 74 helpfully provided the education policy backgrounds of eight potential VPs, but missed a big connection for one of the candidates – U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

It’s forgivable for this memory to have faded, but Vilsack was once a registered lobbyist for the National Education Association on the No Child Left Behind Act.

It was never entirely clear what lobbying Vilsack did, but when Vilsack was nominated for the cabinet post, the union insisted he did no lobbying on school nutrition programs, which come under the purview of the Department of Agriculture. NEA supported his nomination, stating Vilsack “worked closely with our affiliate, the Iowa State Teachers Association (ISTA) in promoting a positive agenda in support of children and families.” (The NEA affiliate in Iowa is actually called the Iowa State Education Association.)

Certainly NEA would be satisfied with any choice other than Sen. Cory Booker (because of his ties to education reform), but having a former employee as Vice President could amount to two seats at the table.

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And Now, A Word About Union Unity

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jul• 21•16

Joe Thomas is the new president of the Arizona Education Association. He posted a tweet this morning.

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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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