Posts Tagged ‘public schools’

Daniel Henninger Observes Leftist Opposition To Education Reform

February 17, 2014

Late last week Daniel Henninger had a really good column in the Wall Street Journal. He was discussing President Obama’s latest faux-concern, the issue of “income inequality.” In a column which was subtitled “The left will never support the solution to income inequality,” Mr. Henninger was looking at the new mayor of New York City, progessive Leftist Bill de Blasio, and he closed his WSJ column this way:

Let’s cut to the chase: The real issue in the American version of this subject is the low incomes of the inner-city poor. And let’s put on the table one thing nearly all agree on: A successful education improves lifetime earnings. This assumes one is living in an economy with better than moribund growth, an assumption no one in the U.S. or Western Europe can make anymore.

If there is one political goal all Democratic progressives agree on it’s this: They will resist, squash and kill any attempt anywhere in the U.S. to educate those low-income or no-income inner-city kids in alternatives to the public schools run by the party’s industrial-age unions.

Reforming that public-school monopoly is the litmus test of seriousness on income inequality. That monopoly is the primary cause of America’s post-1970s social-policy failure. And that monopoly will emerge from the Obama presidency and de Blasio mayoralty intact. So will income inequality.

The Softer Side of “No Excuses” at KIPP Academy

October 25, 2013

There are many excellent charter schools in Texas, but KIPP Academy, being one of the oldest “No Excuses” charter schools, has had the most said about it, both positive and negative.  This Education Next article is an accurate look inside a KIPP Academy in New Orleans.

Enjoy!

Charter-school parents march in New York to secure a civil right: education.

October 11, 2013

The Brooklyn Bridge

It’s too bad every New Yorker who plans to vote in the city’s mayoral election Nov. 5 couldn’t be at the Brooklyn Bridge Tuesday morning. They would have seen the single most important issue in the race between Bill de Blasio and Joe Lhota. It’s not stop-and-frisk.

Thousands and thousands of charter-school parents with their young children—most looked to be in the first to fourth grades—marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall to save their schools.

When Bill de Blasio won the Democratic nomination for mayor, the first question many asked was whether Mr. de Blasio’s intention to heavily regulate the police department’s stop-and-frisk program would put the city’s years of low-crime calm at risk.

But this big Brooklyn Bridge march of mothers, fathers and kids alters the calculus of next month’s vote. The crime issue, though important, is ultimately about self-interest.

By contrast, most New York voters—especially better-off white voters who’ve already made it here—have no direct stake whatsoever in New York City’s charter schools. They do, however, have a stake in the integrity of their political beliefs.

For decades, New York’s inner-city schools sent wave after wave of students into the world without the skills to do much more than achieve a minimal level of lifetime earnings, if that. This failure, repeated in so many large cities, remains the greatest moral catastrophe in the political life of the United States.

In New York, 20,000 parents and children marched on Oct. 8 in support of charter schools.

In 1999, the charter-school movement began in New York City with a handful of schools given independence from years of encrusted union rules and city regulations that made real learning virtually impossible in the city’s chaotic schools. The project flourished. Now nearly 200 charter schools teach some 70,000 students.

When the legislative limit on new charter-school openings arrives, New York’s next mayor will have to lobby the Albany legislature hard for permission to expand these lifeboats for the city’s poorest kids. So let’s put the politics of the mayoral election this way: Some 20,000 black and Hispanic parents and their kids would not have traveled from their neighborhoods—77% of the city’s charters are in Harlem, the South Bronx and Central Brooklyn—to march across that famous bridge if Bill de Blasio were not running for mayor. They think Mr. de Blasio is going to kill the charter-school movement in New York City. And they think this is a civil-rights issue.

One thing these 20- and 30-something parents have in common with their counterparts who live in Brooklyn’s Park Slope or Manhattan below 96th Street is that they weren’t even born when Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I have a dream” speech in 1963. But for them, you couldn’t miss that the dream described 50 years ago at the Lincoln Memorial was alive on the Brooklyn Bridge.

A lady with a bullhorn: “What do we want? Choice! When do we want it? Now!” A sign: “Let my children learn.” And bringing the politics to the present, one sign said simply: “Charters for the 99%.”

Many voters in the parts of Manhattan or Brooklyn that have good public- or private-school options will still vote for Bill de Blasio, either because they don’t spend much time on these out-of-area moral dilemmas or they think: It can’t be that bad, can it? Bill de Blasio won’t actually kill these people’s schools, will he?

Yes, it can be that bad.

In a now-famous statement, Mr. de Blasio recently said of charter-school pioneer Eva Moskowitz: “There is no way in hell that Eva Moskowitz should get free rent, OK?” What this means is that Mr. de Blasio, under pressure from the city’s teachers union, will start demanding rent payments from public charter schools that now operate rent-free in the same buildings occupied by traditional public schools.

If the next mayor makes the charters pay rent in the city’s expensive real-estate market—essentially imposing a regressive tax on them—over time the schools’ budgets will suffocate and they’ll start to die. It will be a slow death, so Mr. de Blasio’s voters won’t notice what’s happening in Harlem, Brooklyn and the South Bronx.

The city’s charter movement has attracted innovative school operators such as KIPP, Achievement First, Uncommon Schools, Harlem Village Academies and others. For the parents who win the annual lottery to get their kids into these schools, the result is an educational environment of achievement, discipline and esprit—what any parent wants. Given Mr. de Blasio’s intentions, these innovators will start to leave the city. One of the best things New York City has ever done will go away.

Sounds melodramatic? You bet it is. Why do you think those people were on that bridge?

How Democratic politicians like Bill de Blasio and the unionized teachers’ movement ended up so at odds with the city’s black children will fall to future historians to explain. But that’s where they are. What remains to be seen, and will be seen Nov. 5, is how many New Yorkers are in that same place.

Write to henninger@wsj.com

A version of this article appeared October 10, 2013, on page A15 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Bill de Blasio and Civil Rights.

Copyright 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

As Education Declines, So Does Civic Culture

September 18, 2013
  • September 16, 2013, 7:14 p.m. ET

A generation of college graduates unable to write or reason bodes ill for liberal democracy.

    By  JONATHAN JACOBS

Even as the cost of higher education skyrockets, its benefits are increasingly being called into doubt. We’re familiar with laments from graduates who emerge from college burdened with student loans and wondering if their studies have prepared them for jobs and careers. A less familiar but even more troubling problem is that their education did not prepare them for responsible civic life. The decline in education means a decline in the ability of individuals—and ultimately the nation as a whole—to address political, social and moral matters in effective, considered ways.

The trouble begins before college. Large numbers of high-school students have faced so few challenges and demands that they are badly underprepared for college courses. Many who go on to four-year colleges seem to need two years of college even to begin to understand what it is to study, read carefully and take oneself seriously as a student. For many students, high-school-level preparation for college is a matter of having high self-esteem and high expectations but little else.Brain wsj

Even after three or four years of undergraduate education, many students still cannot recognize reasoning when they encounter it. They have little grasp of the difference between merely “saying something” and constructing an explanation or formulating an argument. This is often reinforced by college instructors who urge students to regard all theories, intellectual perspectives and views as ideology—without acknowledging the differences between theories, beliefs,
hypotheses, interpretations and other categories of thought.
This impedes students from acquiring habits of intellectual responsibility. Far too often, teachers and texts insist upon a “verdictive” approach, a politicized view of issues. Whatever your stance regarding the “culture wars” and the politics of higher education, it is undeniable that a great many graduating students have little idea of what genuine intellectual exploration involves. Too often, learning to think is replaced by ideological scorekeeping, and the use of adjectives replaces the use of arguments.

Such blinkered thinking has serious implications for civic culture and political discourse. It discourages finding out what the facts are, revising one’s beliefs on the basis of those facts and being willing to engage with people who don’t already agree with you. What does that leave us with? A brittle, litmus-test version of politics. It is one thing if people move too quickly from argumentation to name-calling; it is another to be unable to tell the difference.

There has been so much grade inflation in high school and college, so much pressure to move students along regardless of their academic accomplishment, that it is unsurprising to find large numbers of graduates lacking the skills required for available jobs. They may also lack the patience and discipline to learn those skills: If you haven’t been required to meet demands in order to receive good grades, then patience and discipline are less likely to be among your habits. For graduates who do find work, the reality of employers’ expectations may come as a shock.

Many employers can attest, as college instructors will too if they’re being frank, that many college graduates can barely construct a coherent paragraph and many have precious little knowledge of the world—the natural world, the social world, the historical world, or the cultural world. That is a tragedy for the graduates, but also for society: Civic life suffers when people have severely limited knowledge of the world to bring to political or moral discussions.

To see the effect of these trends, simply ask a few 15-year-olds, 19-year-olds or 22-year-olds some basic, non-tricky questions from non-esoteric knowledge categories (history, biology, current events, literature, geography, mathematics, grammar). See what the responses are. Ask these young people to describe the basic institutions of American government, or how a case makes its way to the Supreme Court or what “habeas corpus” means. The point isn’t to embarrass them, but to wake up the rest of us to how little students have been expected to know even about the political and legal order in which they live.

The primary concern shouldn’t be how American students rank in international science and math scores (though that is certainly relevant). It is whether the United States can be a prosperous, pluralistic democracy if higher education fails to require students to think, inquire and explain. A liberal democracy requires a certain kind of civic culture, one in which citizens understand its distinctive principles and strive to preserve them by addressing issues and one another in a responsible manner. That is essential to the mutual respect at the core of liberal democracy.

The U.S. faces serious challenges; education should be serious and challenging. The cost to America of failing to reverse the trend toward trivializing education will be more than just economic. It will be reflected in social friction, coarsened politics, failed and foolish policies, and a steady decline in the concern to do anything to reverse the rot.

Mr. Jacobs is director of the Institute for Criminal Justice Ethics and chairman of the Department of Philosophy at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

A version of this article appeared September 17, 2013, on page A15 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: As Education Declines, So Does Civic Culture.

Copyright 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

The Evil Empire Strikes Back

November 20, 2012

Even when reform passes, teachers unions engage in massive resistance.

Education reformers had good news at the ballot box this month as voters in Washington and Georgia approved measures to create new charter schools. But as the reform movement gathers momentum, teachers unions are giving no quarter in their massive resistance against states trying to shake up failing public education.

In Georgia, 59% of voters approved a constitutional amendment that creates a new statewide commission to approve charter schools turned down by union-allied school boards. Instead of absorbing the message, charter opponents are planning to sue. The Georgia Legislative Black Caucus said last week it will join a lawsuit against Governor Nathan Deal to block the change. According to Caucus Chairman Emanuel Jones, because the ballot measure’s text didn’t discuss the details of how the schools were selected, “people didn’t know what they were voting for.”

This is the legal equivalent of sending back a hamburger because you didn’t know it came with meat. Georgia voters rallied around the charters because they want something better for their children than the dismal status quo. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that as of April only 67.4% of the state’s freshmen graduated from high school in four years. Last year a state investigation of Georgia schools found that dozens of public educators were falsifying test results to disguise student results.

A different battle is unfolding in Chicago, where the city’s teachers union is getting ready for its second showdown with Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel. In September, teachers went on strike and won a pay raise and limits on test scores in teacher evaluations. Now the union is fighting the city’s plan to close underused schools in an effort to consolidate resources.

Chicago Public Schools have some 600,000 seats but only 400,000 kids, while the district faces a $1 billion deficit next year and over $300 million of pension payments. Yet at a protest rally last week, Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey declared that the union was “serving notice to elected officials, if you close our schools, there will be no peace in the city.” Remind you of Selma, circa 1965?

The tension is especially acute for black parents whose children are trapped in the worst public schools. In other states, black organizations that march in lockstep with Democrats and their union allies have also been slow to catch up, but the message is getting louder. In Harlem last year, thousands of parents protested the NAACP’s role in a lawsuit to block school closings and the expansion of charter schools.

No reform effort is too small for the teachers union to squash. In this month’s election, the National Education Association descended from Washington to distant Idaho, spending millions to defeat a measure that limited collective bargaining for teachers and pegged a portion of teachers’ salaries to classroom performance. In Alabama, Republican Governor Robert Bentley says he’s giving up on his campaign to bring charter schools to the state after massive resistance from the Alabama Education Association.

Unions fight as hard as they do because they have one priority—preserving their jobs and increasing their pay and benefits. Students are merely their means to that end. Reforming public education is the civil rights issue of our era, and each year that passes without reform sacrifices thousands more children to union politics.

Now that the election is over, is it too much to ask that President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan drop their union coddling and speak truth to union power? Alas, it probably is.

A version of this article appeared November 19, 2012, on page A18 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: The Evil Empire Strikes Back

The Suburban Education Gap

November 16, 2012

The U.S. economy could be $1 trillion a year stronger if Americans only performed at Canada’s level in math.

By ARTHUR LEVINE

Parents nationwide are familiar with the wide academic achievement gaps separating American students of different races, family incomes and ZIP Codes. But a second crucial achievement gap receives far less attention. It is the disparity between children in America’s top suburban schools and their peers in the highest-performing school systems elsewhere in the world.

Of the 70 countries tested by the widely used Program for International Student Assessment, the United States falls in the middle of the pack. This is the case even for relatively well-off American students: Of American 15-year-olds with at least one college-educated parent, only 42% are proficient in math, according to a Harvard University study of the PISA results. That is compared with 75% proficiency for all 15-year-olds in Shanghai and 50% for those in Canada.

Compared with big urban centers, America’s affluent suburbs have roughly four times as many students performing at the academic level of their international peers in math. But when American suburbs are compared with two of the top school systems in the world—in Finland and Singapore—very few, such as Evanston, Ill., and Scarsdale, N.Y., outperform the international competition. Most of the other major suburban areas underperform the international competition. That includes the likes of Grosse Point, Mich., Montgomery County, Md., and Greenwich, Conn. And most underperform substantially, according to the Global Report Card database of the George W. Bush Presidential Center.

image

David Gothard

The problem America faces, then, is that its urban school districts perform inadequately compared with their suburban counterparts, and its suburban districts generally perform inadequately compared with their international counterparts. The domestic achievement gap means that the floor for student performance in America is too low, and the international achievement gap signals that the same is true of the ceiling. America’s weakest school districts are failing their students and the nation, and so are many of America’s strongest.

The domestic gap means that too many poor, urban and rural youngsters of color lack the education necessary to obtain jobs that can support a family in an information economy in which low-end jobs are disappearing. This hurts the U.S. economically, exacerbates social divisions, and endangers our democratic society by leaving citizens without the requisite knowledge to participate effectively.

The international gap, meanwhile, hurts the ability of American children to obtain the best jobs in a global economy requiring higher levels of skills and knowledge. This economy prizes expertise in math, science, engineering, technology, language and critical thinking.

The children in America’s suburban schools are competing for these jobs not only against each other and their inner-city and rural neighbors, but against peers in Finland and Singapore, where students are better-prepared. The international achievement gap makes the U.S. less competitive and constitutes a threat to national strength and security. Stanford economist Eric Hanushek has estimated that America would add $1 trillion annually to its economy if it performed at Canada’s level in math.

So what do Americans do? We talk a great deal about the achievement gap. We write books and reports about it. We wring our hands at its existence. We adopt a revolving door of short-term reforms in response. But nearly 30 years after the alarming federal report “A Nation at Risk,” not one major urban district has been turned around. Many of our suburban school districts are losing ground. We have settled on a path of global mediocrity for students attending our most affluent schools and national marginality for those attending failing inner-city schools.

A Hollywood drama released in September, “Won’t Back Down,” offered an alternative. It told the story of two parents (one a teacher) determined to transform their children’s failing school in the face of opposition from administrators, teachers and unions. The protagonists faced apathy and intransigence at every turn.

Hollywood caricatures aside, the movie correctly conveyed that parents are the key. Parents need to say that they won’t stand for these intolerable achievement gaps. The first step is for parents to learn what quality education is and how it is achieved.

This isn’t a game for amateurs. Parents need to use every resource at their disposal—demanding changes in schools and in district offices; using existing tools such as “parent-trigger” laws and charter schools; organizing their communities; cultivating the media and staging newsworthy events; telling politicians and officeholders that their votes will go to candidates who support improvement; even going to the courts. If parents want change, they have the capacity to make it happen, but it isn’t easy.

At the same time, it is critical to recognize that school districts can’t perform miracles. They can’t overcome the tolls of poverty and poor housing, but they can close gaps. They can raise the floor and the ceiling of student academic achievement. Some schools in high-need districts and suburbs are already doing this. There is no excuse not to—and, if we hope to compete globally, there is no time to lose.

Mr. Levine, a former president of Columbia University’s Teachers College, is president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.

A version of this article appeared November 15, 2012, on page A19 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: The Suburban Education Gap

What Are We Going to Do With Those Failing Charter Schools?

November 14, 2012

Often great concern about failing (academically unacceptable) charter schools is shown by special interest groups that have a vested financial interest in protecting the ISD system status quo.  These groups never show concern for failing schools in their ISD system.  Let’s look at some numbers for low-income students in Travis County obtained from the TEA website.

During the 2010-11 school year, 3 charter schools were failing. There were 230 school-lunch-program students attending these failing schools.  This represented 5.9% of all the school-lunch-program students attending charter schools in Travis County.

For comparison during this same school year, Travis County had 12 ISD public schools that were failing.  There were 7,300 school-lunch-program students attending these failing schools.  This represented 8.8% of all the school-lunch-program students attending ISD public schools in Travis County.

So is the problem worse at charter schools or ISD schools?  In total numbers, low-income students in failing ISD schools is 7,300 versus in failing charter schools is 230.  But even as a percentage, ISD’s 8.8% is worse than charter’s 5.9%.

ISD defenders should worry about their big problem and be thankful that the charters have a smaller problem.

How Public Unions Became So Powerful

September 13, 2012

By 1970, nearly 20% of American workers were employed by government.

By PAUL MORENO
The Chicago teachers strike has put Democrats in a difficult position. Teacher unions are the most powerful constituency in the Democratic Party, but their interests are ever more clearly at odds with taxpayers and inner-city families. Chicago is reviving scenes from the last crisis of liberalism in the 1970s, when municipal unions drove many American cities to disorder and bankruptcy. Where did their power come from?

Before the 1950s, government-employee unions were almost inconceivable. When the Boston police unionized and went on strike in 1919, the ensuing chaos—rioting and looting—crippled the public-union idea. Massachusetts Gov. Calvin Coolidge became a national hero by breaking the strike, issuing the dictum: “There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, any time.” President Woodrow Wilson called the strike “an intolerable crime against civilization.”

President Franklin D. Roosevelt also rejected government unionism. He told the head of the Federation of Federal Employees in 1937 that collective bargaining “cannot be transplanted into the public service. The very nature and purposes of government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer” because “the employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws.”

FDR pointed out the obvious, that the government is sovereign. If an organization can compel the government to do something, then that organization will be the real sovereign. Thus the National Labor Relations (Wagner) Act of 1935 gave private-sector unions the power to compel employers to bargain, but the act excluded government workers. It declared that federal and state and local governments were not “employers” under its terms.

Postwar prosperity and the great increase of public employment revived the public union idea. By 1970, nearly 20% of American workers worked for the government. (In 1900: 4%.) The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees led the effort to persuade a state to allow public-employee unionization, and Afscme prevailed in Wisconsin in 1958. New York City and other cities also permitted their workers to unionize.

President John F. Kennedy issued an executive order 50 years ago that broke the dam. The order did not permit federal employees to bargain over wages (these are still set by Congress), or to force workers to join a union or to strike (no state or city allowed that), but Kennedy’s directive did lead to unionization of the federal workforce. And it gave great impetus to more liberal state and local laws. Government-union membership rose tenfold in the 1960s.

Things soon got ugly. The Wagner Act had fomented labor militancy, notably sit-down strikes in 1937 that disrupted manufacturing and retarded the economy. But in the late 1960s and 1970s, federal and state union-promoting laws produced unprecedented strikes by teachers, garbage collectors, postal workers and others, even though every state prohibited strikes by public employees.

Afscme began to arouse resentment from other union federations—especially the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union. Afscme’s abrasive president, Jerry Wurf, became an easy target for his opponents. He was said to have advised Baltimore firefighters to “let Baltimore burn” if union demands were not met; Wurf was subsequently regarded as generally having a let-it-burn attitude.

In 1976 the Supreme Court derailed a movement to enact the National Public Employment Relations Law (“a Wagner Act for public employees,” as supporters described it) led by Rep. William Clay of Missouri. The court held that Congress could not apply federal labor laws to state employees. The justices stated the obvious, that “the States as states stand on a quite different footing from an individual or a corporation.”

By the end of the 1970s, the budgetary burdens imposed by public unions had helped revive conservative movements, leading to the elections of Margaret Thatcher in 1979 and Ronald Reagan in 1980. Undeterred, William Clay told the Professional Air Traffic Controllers at Patco’s 1980 convention to “revise your political thinking. It should start with the premise that you have no permanent friends, no permanent enemies, just permanent interests. It must be selfish and pragmatic.” He told them to “learn the rules of the game,” which were “that you don’t put the interest of any other group ahead of your own. What’s good for the federal employees must be interpreted as being good for the nation.” The take-no-prisoners message helps explain why President Reagan fired and replaced the striking controllers, and why the public overwhelmingly supported him.

Historians tend to depict the Patco strike as a replay of the 1919 Boston police strike, with Reagan as the new Coolidge. But breaking the Patco strike had zero impact on public unionism. It may have cooled the willingness to strike, but unions continued to flourish. Public employment and government unionism have grown more than the population since 1980. The Patco replacements soon joined the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and carried on Patco’s work.

Nor did the breaking of the strike “send a signal” to private employers to take a hard line against their unions, as some historians of the time have suggested. The factors responsible for private-union decline antedated the Patco strike and continued after it. Reagan ultimately may have even helped the public-employee union movement: By stoking the nation’s economic revival in the 1980s, he made the costs of public unions begin to seem less onerous, and polls suggested that American worries about the matter declined.

Public unions do well in flush times like the 1950s and 1960s, but they suffer when taxpayers feel their true cost, as in the 1970s—and today.

Mr. Moreno, a professor of history at Hillsdale College, is the author of “The American State from the Civil War to the New Deal,” forthcoming from Cambridge University Press.

A version of this article appeared September 12, 2012, on page A15 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: How Public Unions Became So Powerful.

Copyright 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Another “Demonstration” That Union Bosses Don’t Care About Kids

September 12, 2012

Chicago’s Teaching Moment

Can Mayor Rahm hold out against the union? Calling Mr. Obama.

Has Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel met Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker? If he hasn’t, we’d be glad to mediate a call. Chicago teachers went on strike Monday for the first time in 25 years, and Mr. Emanuel can help the cause of education reform nationwide if he shows some Walker-like gumption.

On Sunday night, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis promised that her 25,000 members would walk the picket line until they have a “fair contract,” and she called the battle an “education justice fight.” Nice to know they’re thinking of the kids at the start of the school year.

Related Video

Senior editorial writer Collin Levy on the Chicago on the Chicago teachers’ strike. Photo Credit: Associate Press.

Middle-class parents and two-earner households scrambling for child care may not sympathize. According to the union’s own figures, the average Chicago public school teacher makes $71,000 a year in salary, and that’s before pensions and benefits generally worth $15,000 or more a year. Senior teachers make much more. That’s not a bad deal compared to the median household income of $47,000 for a Chicago worker in the private economy.

Ditto working conditions. Union leaders have bellyached mightily about Mr. Emanuel’s decision last year to extend the Chicago school day to seven hours from five hours and 45 minutes (the shortest among the country’s 10 biggest cities). The longer hours are one reason the union says teachers need a 29% pay raise over two years. The average Chicago teacher works 1,039 instructional hours per year—roughly half the time logged by the average 40-hour-a-week working Joe.

When Mr. Emanuel came to office last year, the Chicago Public Schools were already facing a $700 million deficit. Over the next three fiscal years amid mounting salaries and pensions, the Chicago system will be $3 billion in the red. Mr. Emanuel’s negotiators still offered a 16% pay raise over four years, but the union walked away.
There’s a case for no raise considering that Chicago’s schools are among the worst in the country, with a graduation rate around 55%. A 2006 study by the Consortium on Chicago School Research found that for every 100 Chicago public high school freshmen, only six get four-year college degrees. Among African-American and Hispanic boys, the number is three of 100.
Another issue is accountability, with Mr. Emanuel seeking a new teacher evaluation program that includes student test scores as a significant factor. The union wants student scores to play a minor role. The union also wants laid-off teachers to be hired back first if school principals have new job openings. Chicago may close up to 100 failing schools in coming years, and if principals have to dip into that layoff pool to hire even lousy teachers, students will suffer.

Under state law, teachers can strike over wages but not over policies set by the Chicago Board of Education. So the strike is also illegal.

The Chicago brawl is notable because it shows the rift between teachers unions and some Democrats. Unions have long had Democrats in their hip pocket, but more office holders are figuring out that this threatens taxpayers and is immoral to boot.

Perhaps Mr. Emanuel should ask his former boss, President Obama, for a good public word. Recall how eager Mr. Obama was to speak against Mr. Walker’s collective-bargaining reforms, at least until the Republican looked like he’d win his recall election.

The Chicago stakes are nearly as high. The chance for major school reform comes rarely, and if Mr. Emanuel gets rolled in his first big union showdown, he’ll hurt 350,000 Chicago students and the reputation he’s hoping to build as a reformer.

A version of this article appeared September 11, 2012, on page A12 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Chicago’s Teaching Moment.

 Copyright 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

A School Board Defies a Judge’s “Parent-Trigger” Order

August 30, 2012

The Parent-Trigger War Escalates

Updated August 28, 2012, 1:20 p.m. ET

Shades of Faubus: A school board defies a judge’s order.

It has come to this in California’s saga over “parent-trigger” education reform: A local school board is openly defying a judge’s order, with one member declaring “If I’m found in contempt of court, I brought my own handcuffs, take me away.” So now the stalwarts of the status quo will break the law rather than allow parents school choice.

A California Superior Court judge ruled last month that several hundred parents in Adelanto, California had successfully pulled the nation’s first parent trigger to force change at their children’s failing public school. The judge “commanded” the Adelanto school board to let the parents “immediately begin the process of soliciting and selecting” proposals to transform Desert Trails Elementary into a charter school.

At a recent hearing, the school board unanimously refused. Instead, the board wants to implement what it calls “alternative governance” reforms: a somewhat longer school day, a “technology infusion into the classroom,” better training of teachers, and a “community advisory committee” to oversee such changes. That is, the board wants to keep tinkering around the edges of a school that’s been classified as failing for six years in a row, with 70% of sixth-graders not proficient in English or math.

The board insists that it is following the law—notwithstanding board member Jermaine Wright’s vow to stand in the schoolhouse door in handcuffs. The board’s line is that because the new school year is about to begin, it’s too late for Desert Trails to become a charter school.

But the parents aren’t aiming for this year. They want to solicit charter offers for next year. Naturally, the board says next year is also impossible, because that will be too far removed from when the parents filed their petition in January 2012. So having obstructed the parents for as long as legally possible, the school board turns around and says too much time has passed for the “trigger” to still be relevant.

This is an invented standard that no law or regulation empowers the board to apply. And it follows last month’s court order that slapped down the board for its “abuse of discretion” in trying to disqualify parents’ petition signatures. The parents of Adelanto will now have to return to court to enforce the victory they have already won.

One appropriate response would be for San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Elia Pirozzi to take Mr. Wright up on his offer and jail him and the rest of the board for the contempt they are clearly showing to the court. Another would be to have senior political figures in the state speak up on behalf of the parents against such school-board bullying. Why isn’t Governor Jerry Brown or Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom holding a press conference in front of Desert Trails Elementary?

Education reform is the civil rights issue of our time, and union obstructionists are the equivalent of Orval Faubus, the Arkansas Governor who tried to block school integration after Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. They should be treated with the same moral contempt that they apparently hold for the law and for the children of Adelanto.

A version of this article appeared August 28, 2012, on page A14 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: The Parent-Trigger War Escalates.

Copyright 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved


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