Lessons from the Los Angeles and Oakland teachers’ strikes

Teachers in the nation's second-largest school district will go on strike as soon as Jan. 10 if there's no settlement of its long-running contract dispute, union leaders said Wednesday, Dec. 19. The announcement by United Teachers Los Angeles threatens the first strike against the Los Angeles Unified School District in nearly 30 years and follows about 20 months of negotiations. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes) ORG XMIT: CADD303

After two teachers’ strikes in as many months in California, it is too soon to tell whether the labor disputes in Oakland and Los Angeles presage a new era of school-based activism.

But regardless of what comes next, this year’s strikes had much in common, and yielded valuable lessons and insights for other districts where labor troubles may also be brewing.

  • Both strikes were relatively short, lasting about a week. The timeline was shaped by the troubled finances of both districts that couldn’t afford to lose excessive amounts of state funds they receive based on student attendance.  Teachers also couldn’t afford to lose excessive wages by being out on strike for a lengthy period, or to take money off the bargaining table that could have been used to meet some of their demands. So there was pressure on both sides to resolve the strike within a reasonable amount of time.
  • In both cases, teachers appeared to come out ahead, achieving gains they might not have won without a strike. In Oakland’s case, teachers earned a gradual salary increase of 11 percent  — more than double the 5 percent the district offered before the strike began — although most of the gains will only come in the 3rd year of the agreement. In the case of Los Angeles, on the salary front teachers got less than what they demanded initially, and settled for the 6 percent the district had already offered. But they did get commitments from the district to reduce class sizes and significantly increase support staff like counselors.
  • In both strikes, demands went beyond those more typical of labor strikes which tend to focus on wages and benefits. Those were on the table, but equally important were a range of other issues , including lowering class sizes, providing more counselors, psychologists, nurses and other support staff, limiting school closures in Oakland and creating community schools in Los Angeles.  Both contracts also included provisions tied to regulating charter schools.re
  • In both Oakland and Los Angeles there remains a great deal of uncertainty about how the districts will pay for what they agreed to. In Los Angeles, Debra Duardo, the county superintendent of schools, said that the district has yet to address a projected $500 million operating deficit in 2021-22, and that the bargaining agreement “continues to move the district to insolvency.” In Oakland, Najeeb Khoury, in his official fact-finding report issued before the strike, doubted that the district could afford anywhere near a 12 percent salary increase.  Chris Learned, the state trustee appointed to approve budget expenditures, also suggested before the strike that such an increase ran the risk of putting “the district in financial distress.”
  • In both Oakland and Los Angeles, the strikes demonstrated deep public support for the teachers. It suggests that the days when teachers were held solely responsible for seemingly every shortcoming in the state’s public schools, along with the success or failure of their students, are over, at least for now.
  • In both conflicts, the teachers unions and their allies are looking to Sacramento, as well as voters, to approve more funds as a key element in making the agreements enforceable. But it is not clear where those funds would come from. Neither Gov. Gavin Newsom nor the Legislature has made any commitments beyond the funding increases that Newsom requested in his proposed budget in January.  In Los Angeles the strike did push the school board to place a long-delay tax on real estate parcels on a June 4 special election ballot.  If approved, it would help erase the district’s projected $500 million shortfall. Whether it will pass is another matter:  it will require voters to approve it by a two-thirds margin, which the last parcel tax measure nearly a decade ago failed to get.

Unaddressed in both Oakland and Los Angeles are deeper structural issues, such as the impact of declining enrollments, the crushing costs of meeting pension obligations, and stratospheric housing costs.

Whether these underlying forces will trigger further strikes — still a relatively rare event in California — is hard to predict. In only one other California district — San Ramon Valley Unified centered in Danville, a wealthy suburban community to Oakland’s east — have teachers actually authorized their union to call a strike if contract negotiations break down, although labor conflicts are brewing in other districts like Sacramento City Unified and Fremont Unified just south of Oakland.

The fact is that even with gains at  the bargaining table like those made in Oakland and Los Angeles, most teachers — and certainly beginning teachers who rely on a single income — will not be able to afford to buy a house in many urban and suburban districts, or even cover rents there.  (In the current salary schedule,teachers in Oakland with a B.A. degree make $46,570, which in three years would rise to just over $50,000 under the new contract.)

Those realities will make recruiting teachers an ongoing challenge, even as districts struggle to find teachers in key areas like math and science and special education. And it will continue to create churn in the labor force, with some teachers being tempted to leave so they can live in districts where living costs are lower — or to leave the profession altogether.

That may help explain the surprisingly large proportion of teachers in Oakland — 42 percent — who voted against ratifying the agreement.  This is one area where the Oakland strike outcome differed from Los Angeles, where only 18 percent of teachers voted against the contract. While making some significant gains at the bargaining table, many Oakland teachers sent a message that they were hoping for more.

Louis Freedberg writes about education reforms in California and nationally, and is the executive director of EdSource.

An Agenda to Make California’s GOP Relevant Again

CA GOPCalifornia’s Republican party has nothing to lose. They’ve lost every battleground district. The Democrats are going to do whatever they want in the Legislature. Corporate interests are cultivating competing factions among the Democrats. All the smart money is with the Democrats, because the Republicans don’t matter anymore. California’s GOP should seize this opportunity. This is a tremendous moment.

How often does any organization have the chance to experiment wildly, to try something radical, to risk everything, because they have nothing to lose? That’s what faces California’s GOP today. The GOP airplane is in a nose dive. Finding a pilot who will give the plane a soft landing, or prolong the time until the crash, accomplishes nothing. Push the throttle. Pull some Gs. Stress the airframe. Take a chance. Because otherwise you’re dead.

Trump, for all his tactless bombast and alarming disregard for convention in almost all things, has stimulated political engagement at a level not seen in the last 50 years. Trump’s ability to challenge the premises of America’s uni-party elite on the issues of trade, immigration, foreign interventions and “climate change,” along with his disregard for the pieties of libertarians and socialists, and his indifference to the encroachments of political correctness – all this may eventually be recognized as having had an extremely healthy impact on America at a critical time.

There are issues specific to California that can “make California great again.” It is not necessary for California’s GOP to select all of these issues. They can pick and choose. All of them address the greatest inequity that Californians confront, but never solve – the criminally high, utterly contrived, scandalously avoidable, punitive cost-of-living in this state.

To make California affordable again, a new, unafraid, assertive California GOP would have to rethink its ideological underpinnings. It would have to violate many socialist and libertarian taboos in favor of pragmatic choices reminiscent of 1950’s California, when vast sums of government funds were applied with an efficiency that makes mockery of today’s tangle of bureaucratic delays and interminable lawsuits.

For example. it isn’t heresy to use government funds, from bonds or operating budgets, to subsidize infrastructure. What’s needed, however, is a determination to set priorities that benefit the people of California, and a willingness to fight through waves of endless litigation to score precedent setting court victories. Doing this will help ensure that most of the money spent in subsequent projects will go to people who operate heavy equipment, instead of most of it paying people who sit in front of keyboards. Some of these priorities might themselves be heretical, or anathema to special interests, but here goes….

Education

Enact school choice. Don’t just fight a rear guard action protecting the beleaguered charter schools. Approve school vouchers and allow competition between traditional public schools, charters, parochial schools, and private schools. Quit tiptoeing around this issue. California’s public schools are failing. Turn the state into a laboratory for education, and let parents choose which schools their children will attend. A lot of pedagogical debates would be settled pronto, if principals and teachers were able to run their schools any which way they wanted, yet were held absolutely accountable by the parents.

Enforce the Vergara reforms so it is easier to retain quality public school teachers and easier to fire the incompetent ones.

Offer vocational training in the trades as an option for high school students after age 15, including private sector funded apprenticeships for high school credit. Look to the European systems for examples.

Restore the balance in California’s colleges and universities so that the ratio of faculty to administrators is 2-to-1, instead of the current ratio that allows administrators often to outnumber teachers.

End all discrimination and base college admissions purely on merit. Expand STEM curricula so it represents 40-50 percent of college majors instead of the current 15-20 percent. In all publicly funded institutions of higher education, fold all of ethnic and gender “studies” majors into the traditional fields of history and sociology. Consolidate these majors and reduce the number of enrollments to make room for more STEM enrollments.

Get rid of all of the horribly misguided campus “safe spaces” and other malevolent hate-nurturing segregationist boondoggles. Stop appeasing the professional race hustlers. Tell the truth to people of color – California is the best place in the world to thrive, California is a tolerant, diverse society, and all this victim mongering will not make society better and will not make you successful or happy. Say this loud and proud and never back down. Fire the entire diversity bureaucracy.

Criminal Justice and Immigration

Restructure the penal system to make it easier for prisoners to perform useful public services. For example. along with working the fire lines during fire season, they could work all year clearing dead trees out of California’s forests. Use high-tech monitoring devices to reduce costs. Reserve current prisons only for the truly incorrigible.

Support comprehensive federal immigration reform that includes merit based legal immigration, and attenuates chain migration. Support something, anything, that squelches illegal immigration. If that’s not a border wall, then push for stronger employer verification. Quit agreeing with the Democrats. This is not a “manufactured problem.” It is not in the interests of American citizens, especially in low income communities, to continue to allow the entry of unskilled immigrants – legal or illegal – and the only people who don’t accept this are either denying basic economics or they are part of a special interest group. Come to some reasonable accommodation with ICE.

Transportation

Add at least one lane to every major interstate in California, and upgrade and resurface all state highways. Widen and upgrade roads up and down the state. Kill High Speed Rail.

Begin investigating and facilitating private sector rollout of next generation transportation solutions, including coordinating development of aerial taxi corridors as well as high speed “hyperlanes” for next generation smart electric cars. Prepare for the advent of flying cars, self driving cars, share cars, ride hailing, micro-transit companies, and high speed cars.

Water

Complete plant upgrades so that 100 percent of California’s sewage is reused, even treated to potable quality. Kill the Delta Tunnel(s) and do seismic upgrades on the Delta levees instead – that will have to be done regardless. Build a hatchery to replenish Delta Smelt.

Unlock water markets. If farmers had the right to sell their water allotments without risking losing their historical water rights, municipalities would never have shortages of water. It’s truly that simple, because California’s total urban water consumption – all of it, residential, commercial, industrial – is less than 7 million acre feet per year, whereas farmers in California consume on average over 30 million acre feet per year.

Pass legislation to streamline approval of the proposed desalination plant in Huntington Beach, and fast-track applications for additional desalination plants, especially in Los Angeles.

Spend the entire proceeds of the $7 billion water bond, passed overwhelmingly by Californians in 2014, on storage. Build the Los Banos GrandesSites, and Temperance Flat reservoirs, adding over 5.0 million acre feet of storage to the California Water Project. Support federal efforts to raise Shasta Dam. Pass aggressive legislation and fund aggressive legal actions and counteractions, to lower costs and enable completion of these projects in under five years (which is all the time it used to take to complete similar projects).

Work towards a grand bargain on water policy where environmentalists accept a few more reservoirs and desalination plants in exchange for plentiful water allocations to threatened ecosystems, farmers pay more for water in exchange for undiminished quantities, and taxpayers bear the burden of some new debt in exchange for permanent access to affordable, secure, and abundant water.

Energy

Permit slant drilling to access 12 trillion cubic feet of natural gas deposits from land-based rigs along the Southern California coast. Build an LNG terminal off the coast in Ventura County to export California’s natural gas to foreign markets. Permit development of the Monterey Shale formation to extract oil and gas. Permit construction of new natural gas power plants.

Promote nuclear power as a solution that not only makes the dawning electric age – from electric cars to rampant, exponentially multiplying bitcoin mining operations – utterly feasible. Nuclear power is only costly because permits and regulations and insurance premiums (mostly to insure against the cost of lawsuits, not actual hazardous calamities) are artificially elevated. Retrofit and reopen San Onofre. Keep Diablo Canyon on line and add capacity. Permit construction of “generation 3+” nuclear power plants and prototype micro-reactors.

Housing and the Homeless

Unlock open land for development. Quit acting like there’s not a single square mile of open space that isn’t sacred to the environment. California has over 25,000 square miles of cattle ranch land. If just one-third of that land were developed, California’s urban footprint would double. There’s plenty of room. Subsidize practical new public infrastructure (i.e., roads, not “light rail”) throughout new regions opened up for land development.

Repeal the 2006 “Global Warming Solutions Act” and “Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act” of 2008 and make it easy for developers to build homes on the suburban and exurban fringes, instead of just “in-fill” that destroys existing neighborhoods. Cancel the war on the single family dwelling, and allow developers (or in some cases even require them) to build homes with large yards again. Repeal excessive building codes such as mandatory photo-voltaic roof panels. Create a regulatory environment that encourages private investment in new housing developments instead of discouraging it.

Allow police to enforce vagrancy laws, even if it means expensive corrective litigation going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Build inexpensive tent cities for the homeless. Some cities in California have already had success with this tactic. The corrupt and futile opposite extreme is to construct “permanent supportive housing” which in Los Angeles has cost over $400,000 per apartment unit.

Pensions and Infrastructure

Require California’s public employee pension funds to invest a minimum of 10 percent of their assets in infrastructure projects as noted above. They could issue fixed rate bonds or take equity positions in the revenue-producing projects, or a combination of both. This would immediately unlock approximately $80 billion in construction financing to rebuild California’s infrastructure. At the same time, save the pension systems by striking down the “California Rule” that prevents meaningful pension reform.

Once the California Rule is abolished, prospectively reduce pension multipliers to pre-1999 levels for all future work for all employees, existing as well as new hires. That, along with defending the reforms of PEPRA, might be all it would take.

Vision and Leadership Will Save California’s Republicans

Until California’s GOP is willing to embrace bold policies that will offer California’s struggling middle and low income communities opportunities for upwards mobility, they will remain irrelevant. It isn’t enough to “join together.” It isn’t enough to secure some reliable flow of donor support. To thrive, a political party needs to have a distinct vision of the future, a policy agenda that will achieve that future, and leaders that understand and can express that vision. Those qualities are more important than money. Meg Whitman proved that.

An important reason Democrats win is because they invariably speak with moral authority, whether they deserve it or not. But the moral worth of Democratic policies is shallow. In the name of earth justice and social justice, they have made California the most inhospitable place in America for low and middle income residents. The Democrats are incapable of compromising on their rhetoric or their policies. They are locked into the ideological straight-jackets of climate change hysteria and identity politics. The Republicans must demonstrate their ability to find the balance that Democrats are incapable of finding. They must promote and enact policies, some examples of which have just been described, that challenge some of the premises of environmentalism and social justice. There is a moral value to providing opportunity by making California affordable. There is a moral value to instilling pride by abandoning race and gender preferences. There is a moral value to embracing policies of abundance – by turning the private sector loose to increase the supply of housing, energy, water, et al. – rather than creating politically contrived artificial scarcity.

One very encouraging sign at California’s state GOP convention of February 2019 was how diverse the attendees have become. Democrats should find this very alarming, because the so-called “people of color” at the GOP convention were not part of the rent seeking coalition that Democrats have built, looking for reparations and entitlements to compensate for their supposedly disadvantaged status. These were confident, self-sufficient individuals, who valued the opportunity to compete and succeed on their own merits. There were hundreds of Latinos, Sikhs, Indian Americans, African Americans, Asians. More of them than ever, they came to Sacramento to be among fellow Republicans. This should not only trouble Democrats, perhaps it should also trouble establishment Republicans, because nearly all of them were enthusiastic Trump supporters.

If you were at the GOP convention last weekend, you could have talked to a Latino whose cousin has a ranch in the Rio Grande Valley. He would have told you why we need border security. You also could have talked to an African American grandmother who has watched hope return to members of her extended family, because they have good jobs in the Trump economy. These people are proud Americans. They don’t want to be patronized or appeased, and more and more, they see right through the Democrat’s game. They want the tough truth. Because honest hard work, reckoned by immutable and evenly applied standards, is the only true pathway to achievement. They are waiting for Republican leadership to fight to make California great again, not attempt to become Democrat-lite.

The themes that will capture new voters can’t just be marketed as “bold.” They have to be bold. There is an alternative vision, embracing solutions, not just identifying problems. It can incorporate some or all of the agenda just set forth. But it will mean launching a sustained assault on the government unions, the extreme environmentalists and their allies, the plaintiff’s bar, and the social justice fanatics that have taken over public education. It will require challenging not their lofty idealism or their proclaimed altruism, but their premises and their methods.

No, we are not running out of land, energy or water, and yes, we will entitle vast tracts of open land for development and build infrastructure including dams and desalination plants and encourage private sector investment partners.

No, if we don’t go “100 percent renewable” by 2050 the planet will not burn up, and yes, we will develop natural gas reserves and build nuclear power plants.

No, we will no longer admit unqualified students to colleges and universities, and yes, we will establish uniform admissions requirements, reserving our enrollments for the finest students in the world.

No, we will not tolerate mediocre results in our public schools, and yes, we will fight for school choice, vouchers, charters, and eliminate union work rules that prevent dismissing bad teachers and protect good teachers if layoffs occur.

No, we will not allow pensions to bankrupt the state, and yes, we will restore pension benefits going forward to pre-1999 formulas, and we will require California’s pension funds to invest at least 10 percent of their assets in California infrastructure projects.

For every no, there is a yes. For every problem, there is a solution. And the moral worth of these solutions must be asserted unflinchingly. These solutions will create opportunity for all Californians. Fighting for these solutions is risky. It will invite a furious response from the entire Democratic machine. But it could work. And it’s the right thing to do.

Edward Ring is a co-founder of the California Policy Center and served as its first president.

Oakland teachers vote to authorize strike

OaklandOAKLAND — An overwhelming number of voting teachers authorized the Oakland teachers union to call a strike if salary negotiations break down with the school district, which already is facing another major disruption in the form of a $30 million budget deficit.

The 3,000 members of the Oakland Education Association voted from Jan. 29 through Feb. 1. Of the 84 percent of union members voting, 95 percent approved authorizing union leaders to call a strike if necessary, union president Keith Brown announced Monday.

“This is a clear message that our members are ready to fight for the schools our students deserve,” Brown said. No date was set, but the union expects if a strike were to occur it would happen by the end of the month.

Oakland Unified spokesman John Sasaki said Monday the district hopes that it doesn’t come to that. Though substitutes would be brought in to cover for striking teachers, a strike could be very disruptive to students, especially those preparing for end-of-the-year exams. …

Click here to read the full article from the East Bay Times

Gov. Newsom’s Claims on Benefits of Full-Time Kindergarten Rebuked by Studies

shocked-kid-apGov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed 2019-20 budget includes $750 million in new funding to help school districts shift from part-time to full-day kindergarten. Presently, 30 percent of districts only offer part-time kindergarten, as is allowed under state law, which provides such districts the same per-pupil funding as districts with full-day kindergarten.

In interviews, Newsom has depicted the shift and his other proposals to beef up early childhood education as the sort of obvious ways to improve public schools that are within reach because of the state’s improved fiscal health. Assembly Budget Committee Chair Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, told the San Francisco Chronicle that Democrats in the Legislature “absolute agree” that full-day kindergarten should be a state priority. Other education stakeholders, especially teachers unions, agree.

But as debate over Newsom’s proposal ramps up, advocates of full-day kindergarten will be asked to explain why claims about its effectiveness are not corroborated by the strong majority of academic studies of such programs in California and elsewhere.

A 2009 Public Policy Institute of California study found that while parents and educators are enthusiastic about full-day kindergarten, “research to date … has provided little evidence of long-term academic benefits beyond kindergarten or first grade.” This was backed up by a peer-reviewed 2012 study of some kindergartners’ results in California standardized tests.

The single study that appears to have been based on the most data – a RAND think tank analysis of the academic performance of nearly 8,000 kindergarten students in the 1998-99 school year – was even more downbeat. While RAND offered some qualifications, it said that overall, its research “reinforces the findings of earlier studies that suggest full-day kindergarten programs may not enhance achievement in the long term. Furthermore, this study raises the possibility that full-day kindergarten programs may actually be detrimental to mathematics performance and to nonacademic readiness skills.” The latter is a reference to students’ willingness to take instruction and participate constructively in class.

Duke study one of many to find initial benefits fade

These conclusions were supported by a peer-reviewed study released in 2010 by Duke University researchers. It found that initial benefits from attending full-day kindergarten “disappeared” by third grade and that “children may not have as positive an attitude toward school in full-day versus half-day kindergarten and may experience more behavior problems.”

However, on its website, the National Education Association depicts the benefits of full-day kindergarten as largely beyond challenge. An “advocacy guide” cites reporting by Deborah Viadero of Education Week showing that a study of 17,000 students in Philadelphia had found enduring gains from full-day kindergarten. But Viadero has also reported on other studies that reflect the phenomenon cited by other researchers of initial gains by kindergartners disappearing in subsequent years.

The NEA also cites research by the San Francisco-based WestEd advocacy group, in particular a 2005 policy brief that doesn’t refer to or offer counterarguments to any of the studies that raise doubts about whether the benefits of full-time kindergarten endure.

More recently, in 2014, the New America Foundation – which, like WestEd, has long called for greater investment in public schools – touted a study by Chloe R. Gibbs at the University of Virginia that the foundation called the “best research yet on the effects of full-day kindergarten.” New America said the study “holds some preliminary good news for proponents of full-day kindergarten.”

But the New America account of the study went on to note that it was too soon to conclude whether the initial gains identified by Gibbs would last – the central issue raised by most previous academic research.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog

Gov. Newsom Wants to Expand a Dubious Universal Preschool Plan

shocked-kid-apCalifornia’s new Governor Gavin Newsom envisions a future where the state will be involved in your children’s lives from conception to adulthood. Newsom told EdSource in September, “Our role begins when babies are still in the womb and it doesn’t end until we’ve done all we can to prepare them for a quality job and successful career.

Newsom refers to his nanny-state-on-steroids plan as the “California Promise.” If his massive scheme is realized, the only certain promise is that even higher taxes are in store for a state that has already been accurately dubbed as Taxifornia. Particularly pernicious is his idea for universal preschool for 4-year-olds. And that ball is already rolling, as Sacramento Assemblyman Kevin McCarty introduced three bills in December that would expand preschool to allow more 3- and 4-year-olds to attend.

There are many problems here. First off, the failing k-12 system in the formerly Golden State is not exactly an enticement to send your kids off for yet another year of subpar education. Our latest NAEP (nation’s report card) scores are pathetic. On the 2017 test, we were near the bottom nationally, with 69 percent of 4th grade students not proficient in both math and reading.

And just what kind of track record does preschool have? A pretty bad one, in fact. Study after study has shown it is an extraordinary waste of money. The last great push for universal pre-k in California – renamed transitional kindergarten (TK) – went down to defeat in 2014. At the time, I wrote that pre-k accomplishes little more than adding unionized teaching and educational support jobs to the state’s payroll – a state that is already over a trillion dollars in debt. Oh, sure, the sales pitch sounds great. As State Senate President Pro-Tem Darrell Steinberg said, “Expanding transitional kindergarten can be accomplished with just a fraction of increased Proposition 98 funds while saving billions of dollars in the long run by reducing the extra costs of special education, grade retention and juvenile crime.”

In fact, the U.S. has a near 50-year history of funding early-childhood programs in the form of Head Start. The federal government released the last of a three-part longitudinal study of the $8 billion-a-year program in 2012, and the results offered little cause for jubilation. According to the report’s executive summary: “…there was little evidence of systematic differences in children’s elementary school experiences through 3rd grade, between children provided access to Head Start and their counterparts in the control group.” The 2012 report reinforced some disappointing findings from the study’s second phase, which showed that any gains “had faded considerably by the end of 1st grade, with Head Start children showing an edge only in learning vocabulary over their peers in the control group who had not participated in Head Start.”

Other studies purporting to show preschool’s benefits also have failed to prove that spending billions on pre-k would be money well spent. Two oft-cited studies, the famous Abecedarian and Perry Preschool projects, for example, are now nearly 50 years old and involved no more than 60 children. As American Enterprise Institute scholar Charles Murray wrote in 2013, both studies “were overseen by the same committed, well-intentioned people who conducted the demonstration projects. Evaluations of social programs are built around lots of judgment calls—from deciding how the research is designed to figuring out how to analyze the data. People with a vested interest in the results shouldn’t be put in the position of making those judgments.”

Also in 2013, the Brookings Institution’s Grover J. Whitehurst wrote, the group that went through the Tennessee Voluntary State Pre-K Program, a full day program for 4‐year‐olds from low-income families “performed somewhat less well on cognitive tasks at the end of first grade than the control group, even though [three-quarters] of the children in the control group had no experience as 4-year-olds in a center-based early childhood program.” Whitehurst concludes: “Until the field of early education becomes evidence based, it will be doomed to cycles of fad and fancy.”

Just last week, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel rolled out a $175 million plan to offer pre-k to all 4-year-olds by 2021-22. Commenting on the proposal, education scholars Lance Izumi and Kerry McDonald write that its proponents “often cite the results of an earlier effort, the Chicago Child-Parent Center program for low-income children, to bolster their case for universal preschool.” But it turns out that the Chicago Child-Parent Center program “relied on extensive parent training, a feature notably absent from universal preschool proposals such as Assemblyman McCarty’s in California.”

Izumi and McDonald add, “As psychologist Dr. Michael Thompson of Children’s Hospital in New Orleans noted, if policymakers mistakenly believe that preschool results in better life outcomes, “they may mistakenly invest in these programs when the money might be better invested in parenting-skill programs or other interventions to increase parental involvement.”

Clearly voluntary parental skills programs show much more promise than Newsom’s unproven universal pre-k plan. California’s new state budget will be released soon. Have the smelling salts nearby.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

Jerry Brown’s Three Biggest Failures

jerry-brownGov. Jerry Brown is getting the acclaim he deserves in his final days as governor for helping turn around a state that seemed adrift and for being a visionary on climate change. He’s clearly left California for the better. But his biggest failings — his blind spots and, in one major case, his inability to get others in his party to see the bigger picture — threaten crucial aspects of California’s future.

The first example is public education, where reformers emphasizing data-driven best practices and accountability from students, teachers, administrators and parents alike have produced significant improvements in union states like Massachusetts and New Jersey and non-union states like Florida and Texas. But instead of learning from these states, Brown mocked the “siren song” of metrics-based education reform in 2011. Two years later, he introduced his own reform — the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), which wiped out many state-imposed mandates on districts and directed more funding to districts with higher percentages of English-language learners, foster children and poor families. Each district was required to develop a specialized Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) to guide efforts to improve students’ outcomes. …

Click here to read the full article from the San Diego Union-Tribune

Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom Wants to Spend $2 billion on Early Childhood Education

School-education-learning-1750587-hSeeking to frame his new administration as one with a firm focus on closing the gap between children from affluent and poor families, Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom will propose spending some $1.8 billion on an array of programs designed to boost California’s enrollment in early education and child-care programs.

Newsom’s plan, which he hinted at in a Fresno event last month, will be a key element in the state budget proposal he will submit to the Legislature shortly after taking office Monday, a source close to the governor-elect’s transition team said Tuesday.

The spending would boost programs designed to ensure children enter kindergarten prepared to learn, closing what some researchers have called the “readiness gap” that exists based on a family’s income. It would also phase in an expansion of prekindergarten and offer money to help school districts that don’t have facilities for full-day kindergarten. …

Click here to read the full article from the L.A. Times

California Can’t Afford ‘Pre-K for All’ Plan

560px-School-education-learning-1750587-hWith their grip on state politics stronger than ever, Sacramento Democrats are champing at the bit to chase after their base’s dream of so-called “universal pre-K.”

The unwisdom of the scheme, however, is already taking its toll on its plausibility. While the sheer weight of facts will nudge officials toward a more prudent course, it’s important for Californians to recognize in advance that the plan isn’t right for the state.

To begin with, there’s the cost. Already, taxpayers are spending over $1 billion to fund preschool for 175,000 kids. Legislation introduced by Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, to expand preschool coverage to 100,000 additional children could cost up to $1.5 billion, according to EdSource.

The more the programs expand, Californians can rest assured, the more their expenses will expand along with them. Seven years ago, general fund appropriations clocked in close to $80 billion. This year, they’re almost $140 billion. Meanwhile, McCarty alone is at the ready with several more big-spending education bills — one to increase pay for public preschool teachers, and another to put $500 million in new school bonds before voters. …

Click here to read the full article from the Southern California News Group 

The Education Blob Continues To Fail America’s Students

Charter schoolIt was former United Nation’s Ambassador and U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan who famously said “everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts.” That quote came to mind in the wake of American College Testing (ACT) releasing their latest batch of test scores revealing American high school seniors readiness for college.

It was not a pretty sight.

ACT reported that only 60 percent of high schoolers met collegiate success benchmarks in English, 46 percent in reading, 40 percent in math and 38 percent in science. Every category – yes every category – showed a decline from the previous year. Our schools are going backward and taking our students with them.

Moynihan’s quote comes to mind because the American education establishment – I like to call it the Blob – tries to obscure continuously falling and failing test scores with a dust storm of opinions from “experts.” ACT doesn’t deal in opinions of any size, shape or form. They deal in facts, and in this case the adjectives “cold” and “hard” are exceptionally appropriate.

The cold hard facts are that only 36 percent of our seniors met “college ready” benchmarks in all four categories tested. That means almost two-thirds of our students are on the path to failure once they get to college.

The cold hard facts are that the establishment is dysfunctional for millions of America’s students, and is giving the worst education to those most in need, as Hispanic and African American students continue to lag behind their peers in every category tested. This is academic malpractice.

Moynihan was a fairly doctrinaire New York liberal for his times, but a thoughtful one never constrained by ideological straitjackets. He was an early and vocal supporter of school choice. The concept – which now applies to a number of opportunities states have created to expand options for students outside of their ZIP code – was a favorite of Moynihan’s. Moynihan passionately believed in giving parents the power to guide their kids’ education. He would be appalled that the ACT scores show that Hispanic and African-American students continue to lag behind their peers in every category tested.

All of America should be equally appalled. For 25 years now the Center for Education Reform (CER) has sounded the alarm about falling test scores and failing students. We believe, and statistics show, that we must transform education – not just tinker with systems and not just give parents more options to choose outside of their zoned schools. That is necessary but not sufficient. No,we must truly redesign the process and what we expect from educators, students and yes, the Blob. Education must become personalized to every child, every student. The vision for a 21st century education system, well articulated by iNACOL’s Susan Patrick, challenges us to use our tools & modern day technologies to help students achieve competency, not just finish a grade, before moving on. “Moving toward a competency-based education model requires fundamental shifts in the systems, structures and assumptions that the traditional model of education is rooted in. We need bold leadership to transform K-12 education systems and policy. We need to build collaborative and distributed leadership at all levels of the education system to lead this transformation,” says Patrick.

And that’s just the beginning. In the coming days CER will release its annual Parent Power Index (PPI), ranking the states on how much power they afford parents to drive their family’s education, and for the first time, taking a look at what states do to foster personalized learning, making schools student, not system centered. Such innovations in teaching and learning, along side the critical lever of expanded education opportunity so that no child is confined to a failing school because of their zip code, are critical to our nation’s future if we are to arrest the lagging education indicators that inhibit a productive future for tens of millions of Americans. As our nation moves toward yet another election, these issues should guide everyone’s decisions. Without informed and bold lawmakers at every level, we simply won’t change the status quo.

I think Daniel Moynihan would agree. These are not opinions. They are facts.

Jeanne Allen is the Founder and CEO of the Center for Education Reform.

Teachers’ Unions Appalled at Idea of Paying Teachers Like Rock Stars

TeacherIf you’re looking for a stellar example of teachers’ unions ongoing commitment to mediocrity or worse, then you need only look at their reaction to California GOP gubernatorial candidate John Cox’s idea of paying top-notch teachers much higher salaries – perhaps even rivalling those earned by ballplayers and rock stars. The unions, of course, pan the idea. One union official told the Sacramento Bee that “education should not be a competitive endeavor.”

Cox seemed to suggest in a statement to the newspaper that he engaged in some hyperbole: “Of course our teachers will never approach the pay of a Beyonce or a Lebron, but quite frankly, our classroom teachers influence, inspire and change the arc of more lives than even these music and athletic superstars.” But his idea of instituting a form of merit pay makes a lot of sense. Despite the naysaying, every successful enterprise is, to some degree, competitive.

Merit pay is a simple concept. It allows school administrators to pay good, effective teachers more than mediocre or poor-performing teachers. It allows signing bonuses and performance-based rewards. The obvious corollary is that it also allows them to pay bad or incompetent teachers lower salaries. In a truly competitive educational model that goes beyond this simple idea, school officials could even – get this – demote, discipline or fire teachers who aren’t making the grade. That’s how it works in almost any private business, and even private schools.

In the current public-school system, however, pay is based on seniority. A school teacher who has been just occupying a chair for decades, must be paid better than a young go-getter. A teacher who is willing to ply his or her skills in a tough, low-performing urban school must be paid the same as a teacher on autopilot in a wealthy suburban district, where the challenges are less severe and the stakes not as high. In times of layoffs, that energetic tough student working a hard gig must be laid off first, thanks to something known as LIFO, or “Last In, First Out.”

In the current, union-controlled monopoly system school administrators are not free to recruit the best and brightest talent from other industries because, well, they can’t pay enough to lure them out of more lucrative fields. And anyone who wants to be a regular, full-time teacher in California’s public schools must go through the long, expensive and mind-numbing process of getting an education degree. (Did I mention that those who receive such degrees tend to come from the bottom rungs of the academic ladder, according to numerous studies?)

To make matters worse, it’s nearly impossible to fire public-school teachers provided they show up for the job. School districts have “rubber rooms,” where teachers deemed unfit for the classroom twiddle their thumbs and collect full pay and benefits while their cases are adjudicated for months and even years given all the union protections against firing. It can cost school districts hundreds of thousands of dollars to go through the firing process, so most don’t bother.

That leads to an annual, cynical process called the “dance of the lemons.” As Peter Schweizer explained for the Hoover Institution, “Often, as a way to save time and money, an administrator will cut a deal with the union in which he agrees to give a bad teacher a satisfactory rating in return for union help in transferring the teacher to another district. The problem teacher gets quietly passed along to someone else. Administrators call it ‘the dance of the lemons’ or ‘passing the trash.’” These cases usually involve teachers accused of some terrible action, but it’s functionally impossible to get rid of or pass along teachers who are merely incompetent. I recall when John Stossel showed a long flow chart of how to fire a teacher in New York City. The audience was stunned. Then Stossel, held up more pages of the chart. It’s crazy and the results are insane.

In 2012, nine California public-school students filed a lawsuit against California and the CTA arguing that the state’s system of teacher protections violates the state constitution’s promise of an “effective” education. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu ruled on behalf of the students. He invalidated teacher tenure and other work rules because they assured that a percentage of “grossly ineffective” teachers would be left in the classroom, wreaking havoc on the future of many thousands of students, especially those in poor school districts.

In his decision, Treu noted that “an expert called by (California school administrators), testified that 1 – 3 percent of teachers in California are grossly ineffective. Given that the evidence showed roughly 275,000 active teachers in this state, the extrapolated number of grossly ineffective teachers ranges from 2,750 to 8,250.” That’s a lot of bad teachers, and a depressing number of students who suffer in their classrooms. But Treu’s decision was overturned on appeal, and the appeal was upheld by the California Supreme Court. But the facts are the facts, even if the court was unwilling to back a decision to shake up the state’s public-education system.

This is what happens when the educational system is not a “competitive endeavor,” but rather a union-controlled, government monopoly. It means that good teachers cannot be rewarded. Great teachers cannot easily be recruited. Grossly ineffective teachers cannot easily be removed. And mediocre ones have few incentives to improve. Imagine how this system would work in your particular profession or business. How well would it do if the worst are protected, the best are neglected and the so-so ones are rewarded?

In the news story, candidate Cox didn’t get into the details of the hiring/firing process, but his merit-pay idea should be widely applauded. Yet on its website, the California Teachers’ Association says that “merit pay is flawed in concept. Where it has been tried, it has proved to be a detriment rather than a stimulus to better education. CTA is open to consideration of alternative pay plans as determined by the local associations through the collective bargaining process.”

As a final note, the debate over merit pay reinforces the wisdom of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent Janus decision, which declared that teachers and other public employees are not required to pay union dues even to support collective-bargaining purposes. Justice Samuel Alito, wrote for the majority that such bargaining often involved “fundamental questions of education policy,” so it’s antithetical to the First Amendment to compel people to support ideas to which they don’t agree.

“Should teacher pay be based on seniority, the better to retain experienced teachers?” Justice Alito asked. “Or should schools adopt merit-pay systems to encourage teachers to get the best results out of their students?” Public-school teachers no longer are forced to subsidize the opposition to merit pay and to reforms to the current tenure and seniority based system, but there’s still a long process ahead to move toward the idea that Cox touted.

Steven Greenhut is a contributing editor for the California Policy Center. He is Western region director for the R Street Institute. Write to him at sgreenhut@rstreet.org.

This article was originally published by the CA Policy Center