Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Teacher's Unions Struggling

American education is much better than people realize. In fact, there’s a lot of deceit in the claims that it isn’t. These claims are typically made based on raw numbers without mentioning that the numbers are typically all well within the margin of error... meaning any difference is statistically meaningless. They also use measures which don’t relate to educational performance to “measure schools.” Anyway, that’s not the point today. Today, we’re talking about unions.

The biggest impediment to improving education, aside from irresponsible parents, has been teachers unions. They stand in the way of reforms, protect rotten eggs, and generally don’t give a darn about students. Even the left is catching on to this. So it was interesting to see an article at Politico which outlined the problems the teacher’s unions are facing and why they’re on the ropes. Here is what you need to know:

Falling Membership: Although teacher’s union membership is reported at 4.5 million, it’s actually only 3.8 million (the result of double counting people who are in both unions). The NEA has lost 7% of its membership since 2009. The reason for the fall is (1) teacher layoffs, (2) retirements, (3) the rise of non-union charter schools, and (4) states like Michigan and Wisconsin which are allowing teachers to opt-out. So things will get worse. In fact, the National Right to Work Committee is starting a campaign to end compulsory union membership in Missouri, Pennsylvania and Kentucky. In Wisconsin, after these laws were passed, the AFT lost 65% of its members in the state and the NEA lost 19%.

In response, the AFT is trying to increase their membership by expanding to public defenders, dental hygienists, police, maintenance workers, nurses, and lifeguards. Yeah, that’ll work.

Financial Problems: While the unions bring in $2 billion per year, the number is shrinking. They also overspend. The AFT runs at a deficit, having to take out a line of credit. And the NEA has cut spending 12% to stay level.

PR Attacks: Later this year, former Solicitor General Theodore Olson will bring suit to try to overturn teacher protections like tenure, which the unions put into California law. He intends to fight a PR campaign in the process in which he paints the unions as obstructionists who protect their members at all costs. This includes pointing out the number of teachers who have sexually harassed students, who don’t prepare lesson plans, and who come to work drunk, yet are not punished. In a famous example, the Los Angeles Times reported that the LA Unified School District spend 10 years and $3.5 million to fire seven teachers... and only managed to get four of them. He is being funded by Silicon Valley billionaire David Welch.

A similar campaign is being fought in New York by former CNN anchor Campbell Brown, who will be financing a social media campaign accusing NYC unions of protecting teachers who harass students. This is on the heels of Waiting for Superman, in which a liberal filmmaker took on the unions and had a mega hit.

The NEA President squeals that this is unfair as it distorts the picture by focusing on the bad apples... waaaah!! And he argues that unions don’t protect bad teachers, they just make sure that everyone follows the process. That’s delusional and if the NEA thinks parents will buy that, then they’re crazy.

Interestingly, while the unions claim they are winning, support for labor unions has fallen below 50% for the first time in 2012. And only 32% of Americans have a positive view of teachers unions.

Revolutions! The unions are having a lot of internal problems. A number of teachers are furious that the unions have agreed to Common Core, which they see as imposing requirements on them. Yep. A number are furious that the unions have agreed to the use of tying student testing to pay, hiring/firing, and closing of schools at the local level, even as they continue to fight against those things nationally.

More interestingly, as the Baby Boomers retire, it turns out that the replacements aren’t so enamored of a system that rewards teachers based on longevity and they aren’t as protective of pensions. These same people also have very different views about education and politics, and they now constitute about half of all teachers. So it can’t remain business as usual for the unions much longer. The unions say they are trying to “evolve” to satisfy all their members, but this is a significant divide. Interestingly, 31% of new teachers hold a negative view of their own unions, up from 17% only a few years ago.

Turncoats! Wealthy donors have started funding candidates who are willing to break with the unions on issues like charter schools and merit pay. Even some prominent Democrats are now on the other side. Philadelphia, Chicago and Denver all have mayors who have opposed the unions on these key issues. Jerry Brown in California actually vetoed a union bill that would have made layoffs harder and more expensive. Pension cuts are coming to, even in Democratic states.

In response, the unions are seeking Republican allies, but you know what? F-you. You can’t be the heart and soul of the Democratic Party for decades and then get us to help you just because the Democrats started cheating on you.

Pathetic Response: To save their butts, the unions are doing a number of things that aren’t going to matter. For example, they have created a public-private partnership to revitalize schools in McDowell County, W.Va. I’m sure the meth industry will be thrilled. They are trying to come up with ways to improve innovation and they are trying to figure out how to recruit better teachers... oh, and they’re going to have protest marches. Yawn. By the time someone starts doing what they should have been doing all along to save their jobs, the writing is on the wall.

These are not good times for teachers unions. They face legal pressure, economic problems, unfriendly legislators, falling and hostile membership, changing demographics, hostile public relationships campaigns, and well-funded and determined opponents. That’s bad for unions, but great for students.

Things are much better in the education system than people realize, and look for them to keep getting better soon.


Patriot said...

Andrew....My sister is a long term Asst. Principal in Fairfax County VA. The only thing she likes about her union, is the fact she credits them for her generous pension she's expecting in another year after she retires.

Other than that, she has really had no use for them over her tenure.

tryanmax said...

Lots of thoughts:

RE: "Right to Work"--This is one of those rare things where the conservative side got the terminology right. I know from my contact with unions that they prefer to characterize "right to work" as "right to fire," and technically they aren't wrong, just selective in their focus. But they missed the train on that one, and their turn of phrase never caught on.

RE: Common Core--However, here is the area where a good chunk of the conservatives have just checked out of the conversation. Not only are they just plain wrong about most of what they say about Common Core, they are actually opposing something they usually stand for: standards in schools. Because of this confusing stance, they are just out of the loop.

...it turns out that the replacements aren’t so enamored of a system that rewards teachers based on longevity...
Millennials enter the workforce already fed up with the abuses of seniority. Many of us--especially those of us with union parents--have grown up listening to our parents complain about it. Oddly, the Boomers accepted it while the War Generation used it as maybe the last means to keep Boomers "in their place." But Millennials aren't having it.

...the unions are seeking Republican allies...
Idiots. Embracing unions is about the one thing that all Republicans know is political suicide. Talk about being so wrapped up in your own politics that you can see the world. At least the fringe-right has found it's equal.

AndrewPrice said...

Patriot, Apparently, many teachers feel the same way.

AndrewPrice said...


"Right to Work" was a brilliant choice of words. It's clean, simple and anyone who hears it automatically agrees. Who doesn't have a right to work? And what kind of monster would deny someone that right. And you are right, the unions have never found an effective counter.

Agreed on Common Core. This is an issue on which the fringe right has gone full retard and the result is that they are effectively being ignored by anyone who is serious about education reform. Fortunately, a lot of actual conservatives remain in the discussion.

The Millennials aren't at all what the Booomers wanted. They think for themselves and they don't buy into the "we're Boomers, you must sacrifice for us" approach. Hence, they aren't playing along with seniority and they aren't playing along with Obamacare.

The unions are truly blind if they think the Republicans will save them. They've been too hostile to the Republicans for too long for the Republicans to cut them an inch. The Republicans not only will let them die, they will give them a push.

Jocelyn said...

I'm not well versed in Common Core, but so far, all I have heard are negative things, though I have not sought out to see what the positives would be. Here is a sampling from the twtichy.com world. I've seen other examples online and I don't understand most of what is going on in the questions being asked of kids.

AndrewPrice said...

Jocelyn, I keep meaning to write an article about it. To put it simply, NOTHING you hear about common core is true. The main arguments against it are this:

1. Invented by Obama
2. Forced on states
3. Nobody knows what's in it.
4. (Despite 3) includes leftist reading material
5. De-emphasized literature
6. It doesn't teach calculus!
7. Teacher in NY forced to girls to kiss because of Common Core

All false.

1. Invented by Obama: Started under Bush by conservatives and liberals working together. The idea was to create minimum national standards... a long-time conservative dream.

2. Forced on states: 46 states have signed up, all have modified to fit their individual needs. Without state approval, does not exist.

3. Nobody knows what's in it: It's online. You can read the whole curriculum.

4. (Despite 3) includes leftist reading material: The cirrculum includes a vast list of suggested reading (none is required). Some is political, most is not. Only two books have been identified by conservative as evil.

5. De-emphasized literature: What the standard do is recommend the addition of non-literature reading so that kids learn more practical reading. The example given is an EPA document related to carbon emissions (one of the two "evil" books). This is not meant to replace other literature, it's meant to add to it.

6. Teacher in NY forced to girls to kiss because of Common Core. Had nothing to do with Common Core. And one bad apple out of three million are pretty good odds.

I need to run, I'll say more later.

Kit said...


The problem with that twitchy link is that just like you cannot judge a book by its cover, you cannot judge a math textbook by 1 page, or even half a page. :)

tryanmax said...

On the Twitchy stuff: you can make anything seem like nonsense when you leave out the instructions--which has clearly been done HERE. Still, if I had to guess, I would say that the student is meant to practice writing the numeral in each of the five boxes following, and then is meant to fill in the empty circle beneath the set of grey circles which corresponds to the numeral.

This Tweet is asinine. First of all, this looks to be from a teacher's edition, judging by the language. Secondly, this is demonstrating the reasoning behind orders of operation, a vital mathematical concept.

This person is just a turd. First, even though his kid is clever, she's obviously clever enough to still know the difference between a habit and a custom. Second, this is a reading comprehension exercise (see the heading), not dictionary memorization. Third, while I concur with the need for a form designer, he obviously doesn't know what "pagination" means. Not an opportune moment to let your vocab slide, Mr. Dictionary.

I could go down the entire Twitchy page like this. Thank God for schools. I wouldn't trust many of these people to educate their own kids.

AndrewPrice said...

I'm back.

Jocelyn, Common Core are a set of standards that are higher than the standards currently employed in almost all states. They are a voluntary standard that can be modified by states to fit their needs (or simply ignored -- 46 states have adopted them). The idea is to create a minimum level of achievement for all American students and thereby raise the standards across the US.

The idea is premised on the conservative belief that standards are what drive quality education. They were created by a massive non-partisan group that included left, right and other, and they are almost entirely politics free. The little bit of politics I've seen in them comes from the lists of suggested reading.

In terms of what kids learn, nothing that kids currently learn has been removed. What this does is add to that. Some legitimate critics argue that this is too much for kids to learn, but since some states already have higher standards, that's obviously not true. So are the standards perfect? Nope. But they are a vast improvement for most states.

On the opposition, the people leading the charge against these standards are whackjobs. There is no kinder way to put it. On the right, you have the vaccine crowd. These are predominantly home schoolers and people who believe the role of the schools is religious indoctrination. They have spun a series of flat out lies that they repeat over and over despite being repeatedly debunked to whip each other into a cult-like furor. On the left, they are joined by a small number of teachers who are upset that these standards will require them to work. Not a single charge they make is valid. In fact, you can debunk them all with single internet searches... yet these people keep repeating them. That alone should tell you what you need to know. If there was valid criticism, people would be making it.

Kit said...


Here is a link: LINK

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I'll skip Twitchy. Those people are simply spewing what they want to be true. Interestingly, most of the people I've found who attack common core either (1) don't have kids, or (2) they home school. And they rely entirely on other conspiracy theoriest (and Glenn Beck) for news.

As an aside, I've actually be looking into education of late for a number of reason and what I'm finding is very encouraging.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, Thanks for the link.

Jocelyn said...

Andrew & Kit, thanks for providing additional information for me to look at, like I said, I haven't sought it out. My only additional comment is that what I remember from public school is that you're taught what's on the SAT/ACT and whatever other tests we had to take, including AP. So I currently don't understand why the big uproar one way or another because students have to pass these tests regardless, it's in the schools best interest too. I will have to spend some time looking through the link you provided Kit.

Jocelyn said...

I just read through the FAQ and kind of answered my own confusion. It states that students will be tested based on the common core standards starting 2014-2015 academic year. It sounds like it would be replacing the SAT/ACT, but not 100% if that's what's going to happen. Thanks for the info guys, it's helped me understand it better.

AndrewPrice said...

Jocelyn, You're welcome. The uproar is political, not factual. This is a group of people who are basically at war with the world and are trying to find a reason to hate these standards.

By the way, here are two more links Kit gave me, which he didn't posts here but which I think you will find interesting: Conservatives for Common Core

And here's an article which points out the support of Tea Party Governor Snyder of Michigan and explains why Common Core is a win for conservatives: 6 Reasons Common Core is a Win For Conservatives

AndrewPrice said...

On testing, students will be tested on the Common Core standards. Those would become the new "are you doing well enough to graduate" standards. The SAT/ACT are separate from that. They are used by colleges to determine whether or not the student has an aptitude for college. So both would exist side by side because they serve different purposes.

Jocelyn said...

Well that was frustrating, I just typed up this long-ish response and somehow lost it.

Short version: I am a product of the California public school system. What I remember from school is that you spent the entire year working on learning things that the teacher thought was going to show up on the SAT/ACT/AP exams. While I like the idea of Common Core Standards, I would assume that one or the other set of tests would suffer when a student takes these tests.

Patriot said...

I sure wished I would have been taught to the ACT/SAT standards when I was going through public schools back in the 60's and early 70's. Maybe I would have done better on them. As I remember, there was very little on the tests that were taught to me in school.

"Which of these shapes is not like the other?"...and other such pablum. Plus, I really didn't think they were a predicate for doing well in college. I know quite a few of my friends that didn't do that well in H.S. that went on to do quite well in getting a degree in college and post-grad and then succeeding in the real world. There SAT scores were around 1000, which if I remember correctly, was nothing to crow about. (Yours truly considered)

So, once again I come back to, while standards and standardized tests are great and all that, they are only one of the critical success factors in someone doing well in life in our society. The intangibles like ambition, competition, desire to better oneself and responsibility drive someone's ability to succeed.

So....fight for or against Common Core. I could care less. I believe it all comes down to the timeless goal of some people believing that if we just have the right program in place we CAN improve mankind. Which reminds me..."improving standards?" What about those H.S. graduation exams from the 1800's that I doubt many college graduates could pass these days. Or is that another "urban myth" that I now must remove from my memory?

Patriot said...

..yes, yes....I should have checked my grammar....should be "their" not "there."

tryanmax said...

I think it's worth pondering how many people from the 1800s could pass a modern ACT/SAT? Only a very limited amount of knowledge is useful in all times and in all places. It's ironic that many of the same people grousing that our forebearers were so much smarter that we also grouse that the schools are teaching advanced things too early and assigning too much homework.

Patriot, there is a gulf between agreeing to standards and the utopianism that you describe.

AndrewPrice said...

Jocelyn, That's happened to me a couple times too. Very frustrating.

Ultimately, I don't think the SATs will suffer as a result of this because what they are teaching is the same knowledge and skills. Liberals have long opposed testing ostensibly on the basis that teachers will just teach to the test. But what they ignore is that if the test includes the right skills, then teaching to the test is the same thing as teaching needed skills.

AndrewPrice said...

Patriot, The SAT is by far the highest co-relator to success in college. That doesn't mean 100%, but it is significant. So the fact that a couple of your friends did well in college despite only scoring well above average on the SAT means nothing.

And common core has nothing to do with changing human, it's about education.

And yes, that is an urban myth about people from the past being smarter. It's a rose-colored-glasses view which misunderstands knowledge and relies on a great many faulty facts.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Very few could pass the SAT today. Only a handful of rich kids basically.

Kit said...

Some of The Founding Fathers were probably smarter than us but they were a rarity in their age. Almost all of them either had tutors teach them Latin or taught themselves it (Adams).

Several of the most famous Founding Fathers were incredibly smart but they were the exception in their age, not the rule.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, Correct. Before the widespread invent of public education, which is actually very, very new, education was something that was only afforded the elite. They were generally well-educated and when combined with natural intelligence, some of them were quite smart. A couple were brilliant -- as with any age. But you are also talking about the true 1%ers.

America is very fortunate that we had the right collection of thinkers together when America was formed.

Kit said...

"Before the widespread invent of public education, which is actually very, very new, education was something that was only afforded the elite."
Thank God for Horace Mann.

"America is very fortunate that we had the right collection of thinkers together when America was formed."
Its easy to forget how rare we are.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, That's something to remember is that public education is still in its infancy, so it's no surprise that it needs refinement. I actually think it started on the wrong foot being treated like a factory. I think the future is treating students like individual customers with tailored plans.

Kit said...

From what I know the factory system has its roots in Prussian model of the late-18th century of "age grading" and was a vast improvement over what we had before. Horace Mann played a huge role in bringing this to America in the early-19th century.

It got further industrialized as the years wore on.

The last 200 years in education have been trial and error.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, Yep. And it really took off after WWII when it copied the assembly line model.

AndrewPrice said...

As an aside, if you're interested in the budget deal, it looks like a mixed deal. It does increase spending by $45 billion, but most of the sequestration cuts stand. It doesn’t sound like it’s giving either side much. Some things I like, some I don’t. Here’s a breakdown on the deal.


Thanks Kit for the link.

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