Archive for the ‘teacher union’ Category

The Teachers Union’s Public Enemy No. 1

September 2, 2017

Betsy DeVos is Trump’s stylistic opposite, but she stirs more antagonism than any other cabinet member.

 By

Tallahassee, Fla.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos liked what she saw Tuesday when she visited a pair of schools in Florida’s capital. When we met that afternoon, she had just come from the Florida State University School, a K-12 charter sponsored by the FSU College of Education. “I had a little roundtable with teachers,” she says. They raved about the school’s culture, which enables them “to be free to innovate and try things in the classroom that don’t necessarily conform with the instructor in the next classroom.”

Earlier in the day Mrs. DeVos had been at Holy Comforter Episcopal, a parochial school that serves pupils from prekindergarten through eighth grade. “They started STEM programs before STEM became the cool thing to do,” she says, “and it was just great to visit a variety of the classrooms and see some of the fun things that they’re doing to get kids interested.”

Local officials in this heavily Democratic area were less enthusiastic. “It’s obvious that the secretary and our federal government have very little respect for our traditional public-school system,” Rocky Hanna, Leon County’s superintendent of schools, groused to the Tallahassee Democrat. “And it’s insulting that she’s going to visit the capital of the state of Florida, to visit a charter school, a private school and a voucher school.” (A correction on the newspaper’s website noted that she did not visit the voucher school, Bethel Christian Academy, but rather attended a “private roundtable event” at the church center that houses it.)

ILLUSTRATION: KEN FALLIN

Mrs. DeVos, 59, stirs more passionate antagonism than any other member of President Trump’s cabinet—and that was true even before she took office. Two Republicans dissented from her February confirmation and no Democrat supported it, resulting in a 50-50 vote. She is the only cabinet secretary in U.S. history whose appointment required a vice-presidential tiebreaker.

Since then Mrs. DeVos has hit the road and visited 27 schools. Her first call, three days after she was sworn in, was Jefferson Middle School Academy in Washington, less than a mile from the Education Department’s headquarters. She was met by protesters, who blocked the entrance and shouted: “Go Back! Shame, shame!” When I ask about that incident, she plays it down: “There were just a few people that really didn’t want to see me enter the school. I don’t think they had anything to do with that school. But we, fortunately, found another way to get in, and I was greeted very warmly by all of the teachers.”

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The Albany School Sellout

July 3, 2017

The politicians all get something, but poor kids are the losers.

PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Judging from the 11th-hour deal they reached giving mayor Bill de Blasio the control he wanted over New York City schools, Albany’s Republicans appear as determined to discredit themselves on education reform as their counterparts in the Republican Congress seem to be on repealing ObamaCare.

Last week we reported how the New York state legislature had adjourned for the year without lifting the charter-school cap that is beloved by the teachers unions. The GOP state Senate’s only negotiating leverage was mayoral control. Mayor de Blasio wanted it renewed but he and Carl Heastie, Democratic speaker of the State Assembly, were adamant that it not be done in exchange for allowing more charters.

They won. This week, after Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the legislature back into special session, Albany reached a compromise. It’s not being called the “big ugly” for nothing: It has something in it for every politician. Gov. Cuomo gets the new Tappan Zee Bridge named after his late father, Mario; Republicans gets some county sales tax extensions they wanted; fireman and cops get some pension sweeteners—and Democrats get mayoral control for Mr. de Blasio while successfully resisting any opening to new charters.

The losers are the non-politicians, especially the students who needed someone in Albany to fight for them to get a better chance for a better education. We’re thinking of the 50,000 kids in New York City who are on a waiting list because there aren’t enough charters to meet the demand.

Republicans control only the state Senate, and Gov. Cuomo could have made the difference if he had stood up for charters. But Mr. Cuomo is planning to run for President in 2020 and needs to mollify the unions, while the Republican Party claims to be on the side of charters, choice and education reform.

Everyone knows the Democratic Party long ago sold its soul to the unions. What Albany’s “big ugly” teaches is that if Republicans don’t stand up for charters, few others will.

Appeared in the July 1, 2017, print edition.

Los Angeles Charter Uprising

May 22, 2017

Voters elect a pro-reform majority on the local school board.

PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

One reason public schools in big cities are so lousy is union control of local school boards. This has long been true in Los Angeles, but last week charter-school advocates dealt a major blow to the failing status quo by winning a majority on the district’s Board of Education.

The Los Angeles Unified School District has some of the country’s lowest-performing public schools. In 2015 only one in five fourth-graders rated proficient on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. While Los Angeles boasts more charter schools than any district in the country, they still account for merely 16% of enrollment. Two years ago the Great Public Schools Now initiative, which is backed by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, set a goal of enrolling 50% of the district’s students in charters. The unions naturally went nuts.

As union schools lose students (and thus taxpayer funds) to charters, the school board has become even more reactionary. Last month the board voted to support three bills before the state legislature in Sacramento that aim to limit autonomy for charter schools. One would prevent charters from appealing rejections by local school boards to county and state boards. The appeals process is one reason charters in Los Angeles have been able to expand despite school-board resistance.

Anti-charter board members have tried to convince parents that rising graduation rates show that traditional public schools are improving. But the real explanation is that the board dumbed down graduation requirements and allowed students to pass courses with a D grade. Half of last year’s graduating seniors were ineligible for state public universities, according to the education nonprofit The 74.

School board president Steve Zimmer, who was ousted last week, declared that “teachers are not failing. Students are not failing. Schools are not failing.” Parents who voted in the local elections believe otherwise.

Unions tried to vilify pro-charter candidates Nick Melvoin and Kelly Gonez by portraying them as tools of Donald Trump, though both were endorsed by President Obama’s Education Secretary Arne Duncan and the state’s progressive former Senator Barbara Boxer. There’s nothing progressive about failing low-income minority kids.

Appeared in the May. 22, 2017, print edition.