Public school educators and their unions in major cities made national headlines in 2015 following strikes, contentious contract negotiations, school board elections, and funding battles. While research shows that teachers unions benefit students, educators, and communities, state newspapers editorializing on these union activities have ignored the facts and framed unions and educators as selfishly seeking higher pay at the expense of others. Amidst a victory year for teachers unions on several fronts, here are some of the most inaccurate claims state newspaper editorial boards pushed.
Research Shows Strong Teachers Unions Benefit Students And The Community
National Bureau Of Economic Research Study: Strong Teachers Unions Lead To Higher Teacher Quality. An October 2015 study from Wellesley College and the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) examining “the myth of unions' overprotection of bad teachers,” explored patterns of teacher turnover in school districts with strong and weak teacher unionization, concluding that strong unions created a dynamic where high-quality teachers were retained at a higher rate, and lower quality teachers were dismissed at a higher rate. The research found that, as a result, teacher quality was overall higher in strongly unionized school districts, which in turn benefited students. From the study (emphasis added):
The model predicts that teachers unions, by negotiating higher wages for teachers, lower the quit probability of high ability teachers but raise the dismissal rate of underperforming teachers, as higher wages provide districts greater incentive to select better teachers. As a result, unions help the educational system reach an efficient equilibrium where high-quality teachers are matched with high wages... The data confirms that, compared to districts with weak unionism, districts with strong unionism dismiss more low-quality teachers and retain more high-quality teachers. The empirical analysis shows that this dynamic of teacher turnover in highly unionized districts raises average teacher quality and improves student achievement. [National Bureau of Economic Research, 10/5/15]
Rutgers University Education Scholar: Strong Unions Are Connected To Better Student Outcomes And Fairer School Funding. In a 2012 analysis reprinted on The Washington Post's Answer Sheet blog in 2014, Professor Bruce Baker of Rutgers University explored connections between states with strong teacher unionization and states' relative educational quality across several factors. Baker found that states labeled as strong union states were more likely to have above-average student outcomes and more fairly and better funded schools. States with stronger teachers unions were also found to have significantly more competitive wages for teaching, theoretically attracting more qualified individuals to join the teaching profession. [The Washington Post, 8/15/14]
Center For American Progress: Unions Improve Economic Mobility For Entire Communities. A September report from the Center for American Progress (CAP) found that children with parents who belonged to unions and communities with higher levels of union membership experienced better economic outcomes and increased economic mobility in the long term. The report summary concluded that many of the positive economic effects of unionization went beyond higher wages for union families, extending toincreases in mobility for nonunion families and entire communities (emphasis added):
There are strong reasons to believe that unions may increase opportunity. First, there are the direct effects that a parent's union membership may have on their children. Union workers make more money than comparable nonunion workers--what economists call the union premium--and when parents make more money, their children tend to make more money--which economists refer to as the intergenerational earnings elasticity. In theory, unionized parents should pass on a portion of the union premium to their children. There may be other channels through which children whose parents were in a union have better outcomes than other children: union jobs may be more stable and predictable, which could produce a more stable living environment for children, and union jobs are more likely to provide family health insurance.
But there are also a series of other ways that unions could boost intergenerational mobility for nonunion workers. It has been shown that unions push up wages for nonunion workers, for example, and these wage gains for nonunion members could be passed on to their children. Children who grow up in nonunion households may also display more mobility in highly unionized areas, for example, because they may be able to join a union when they enter the labor market. Finally, unions generally advocate for policies that benefit all working people--such as minimum wage increases and increased expenditures on schools and public services--that may especially benefit low-income parents and their children. A recent study on interest groups and political influence found that most of the national groups that supported middle-class priorities were unions. Another study found that states with higher union density also have higher minimum wages. [Center for American Progress, 9/9/15]
Princeton University Professor: Teachers Unions Give Political Voice To Poor And Middle Class. A 2014 book by Princeton University Professor of Politics Martin Gilens explored the connections between policy, lobbying, and socioeconomic status and found that teachers unions -- along with several other advocacy organizations -- were responsible for the rare instances in which the preferences and concerns of people who are less advantaged were represented in national politics. The study concluded that teachers unions served as allies for low- and middle-income Americans and their lobbying support on select issues helped push policy toward the outcomes these groups supported. [Princeton University Press, accessed 12/16/15]
This Year, The Country's Largest Teachers Unions Have Formally Supported Social And Political Issues Beyond Teacher Wages And Benefits. In 2015, the National Education Association and the American Federation for Teachers -- the two largest teachers unions in the U.S. -- issued formal statements supporting racial justice protests on college campuses, taking a stance for comprehensive immigration reform, campaigning to end bullying, supporting parent-led hunger strikes for community schools in Chicago, supporting marriage equality, advocating for access to healthcare, expressing grief in the face of national tragedies, supporting increased access to community college, condemning bigotry against Syrian refugees, and recognizing the value of affirmative action in higher education. [National Education Association Press Center, accessed 12/14/15; American Federation of Teachers Press Releases, accessed 12/14/15]
State Newspaper Editorial Boards Ignored The Facts To Attack Teachers Unions
ATTACK: The Buffalo News Repeatedly Claimed Teachers Unions Want To Maintain “The Wretched, Costly, Dysfunctional Status Quo” At The Expense Of Student Outcomes
Buffalo News: Teachers Union Pushing Back On Standardized Tests “Have Shown No Real Concern For The Kind Of Education That New York Provides To Its Students.” In an April editorial discussing teacher union support for the growing movement in New York state for students to opt out of taking standardized tests, the Buffalo News editorial board wrote that the movement was really “about protecting the adults,” and argued that teachers unions were driving the movement because educators were “desperate to avoid being evaluated.” The editorial board also blamed parents leading the movement against high-stakes testing, accusing them of “undermining their [children's] ability to fashion productive lives” and claiming that teachers unions were “exploiting... the inclination of parents to side with Johnny over school leaders.” From the editorial (emphasis added):
Make no mistake, this is about protecting the adults. Most of the noise around opting out of the tests is driven by the teachers unions, who are desperate to avoid being evaluated and have shown no real concern for the kind of education that New York provides to its students. Those students will graduate into a world that is far more competitive than the one their parents inherited - one where lack of preparation can produce long-term consequences on income, lifestyle and satisfaction.
And so, to Burman's point, how do you know if you're preparing children for the future if you don't assess what they've been able to learn? Parents may think they're shielding their children from the stress of imperfect tests, but in fact, they are undermining their ability to fashion productive lives.
More immediately, those parents are risking financial sanctions against the district by the federal government and the loss of educational data that helps to measure a school's progress. No one wins except those teachers - few in number, one hopes - who are not up to the necessary standards of one of any society's most important jobs.[The Buffalo News, 4/16/15]
Buffalo News: “Children Pay The Price” Because Teachers Unions Want To Preserve “The Wretched, Costly, Dysfunctional Status Quo.” In a March editorial attacking teachers unions for opposing privatizing reforms to public education and pushing for greater education funding in the budget process, the board accused unions of “crying about evaluations, spending and the Common Core” in order to preserve “the wretched, costly, dysfunctional status quo.” The editorial board claimed that “children pay the price” because union members “live in an economic bubble,” where they are not subject to market forces. The board also attacked a state assembly member for stating that the budget ought not to deny schools “the funding they need to improve the learning environment.” From the editorial:
But the teachers unions don't want reforms and too many legislators live in their moneyed pockets. That's what the crying about evaluations, spending and the Common Core are mainly about: preserving the wretched, costly, dysfunctional status quo.
No one likes change, and least of all public-sector unions. Their members live in an economic bubble, insulated to a significant extent against the forces that require attention by both labor and management in the private sector. Companies can go out of business; school districts can't. It's a fact that encourages obstinacy in many public-sector unions and, in schools, children pay the price. That's not to say that teachers have it easy. They can be laid off, just as private-sector workers can, and their work can be enormously challenging, as in Buffalo, home to thousands of students for whom English is a foreign language. But that is why standards are important, why fair evaluations are important, why reforms that keep costs under control are important. [The Buffalo News, 3/17/15]
Buffalo News: Teachers “Can't Reasonably Expect” Others “To Believe All The Troubling Issues In Education...Are Located Somewhere Other Than Their Shoulders.” In February, the editorial board accused teachers unions, especially the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) state union, of using “diversion” tactics to avoid blame for “all the troubling issues in education -- every single one of them.” The board went on to mock the NYSUT president's “two-bit analysis” of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's push for teacher evaluation reforms, which pointed out Cuomo's connections to backers with interests in education privatization efforts. The editorial concluded:
No one likes to be evaluated, although most workers manage to put up with it. New York's powerful teacher unions, however, don't see why they should have to stand for it. But Cuomo has always pushed for a system that is both effective and fair. The goal isn't to dismiss teachers, it's to help those who need it to improve. If improvement isn't possible, then, yes, perhaps some teachers belong in a different line of work.
That would be a shame, but children can't be asked to pay the price for that failure. [The Buffalo News, 2/28/15]
REALITY: The Buffalo News Has Anti-Union Bias And Research Has Demonstrated That Student Test Scores Are A Poor Proxy For Evaluating Teacher Performance
University Of Buffalo Researcher: Buffalo News Demonstrated Bias Against Teachers Unions, In Favor Of Privatization. In March, research from the University of Buffalo found that The Buffalo News -- the largest circulation newspaper in Buffalo -- has “made a choice to position schools (administrators, teachers, union) as the root problem instead of positioning poverty as the root problem” when reporting on local public schools. The study based its conclusion on an examination of the News' regular education coverage, blog posts, and opinion pieces over the course of 14 months, and recommended that the paper hire an ombudsman to “monitor education content and delivery,” and encouraged supporters of public schools to consider boycotting the paper and its advertisers. [The Public, 3/18/15]
American Educational Research Association: Student Test Scores Should Not be “Used To Have a High-Stakes, Dispositive Weight In [Teacher] Evaluations.” In June, the American Educational Research Association (AERA), the largest association of education researchers, released a report cautioning against the use of “value-added models” (VAM) in evaluating teacher effectiveness. VAM is an approach designed to measure a teacher's success by comparing student test scores from year to year and across groups of peer students with different teachers. AERA warned that using student test scores in this way had “scientific and technical limitations,” that do not accurately reflect an individual teacher's effectiveness, isolated from other factors that influence a student's learning, such as environment, nutrition, or economic security. The report concluded that a VAM approach could be used when held to specific statistical and measurement standards, but also cautioned against the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers in a singular, “high-stakes” context. [American Educational Research Association, June 2015]
Despite Buffalo News Attacks, New York State's Opt-Out Of Testing Movement Influenced Governor Cuomo's Approach On Teacher Evaluation System. In response to growing public concern over standardization that led to a parent-led movement for students to opt out of taking some tests, Cuomo reversed course and sought to change state regulations to lessen the impact of student test scores in evaluating teachers, a position long advocated by unions due to research concerns about the validity of using such measures. As Politico New York reported:
Cuomo has been “quietly pushing” to reduce or even eliminate the weight of students' performance on state exams in teacher evaluations through changes in regulation rather than legislation, the New York Times reported last week. But altering the rules, shaped by a prescriptive Cuomo-backed law passed last session, might require legislative action and not just cooperation from the State Education Department and state Board of Regents.
The move to decouple the two would be a dramatic shift for the governor, who has touted strengthening teacher evaluations (and ensuring school districts' participation by linking policy changes to state aid) as a chief accomplishment of his governorship.
Cuomo's reported plan to reverse his positions on evaluations, which date back to 2011, would align him with the teachers' unions -- among his most bitter political foes -- and play to growing public discontent regarding the Common Core. The governor's Common Core task force, charged in September with reviewing the standards and reporting back to Cuomo prior to his January State of the State address, could give the Democrat the opportunity to announce a reconsideration of his positions after being persuaded by parents, educators and stakeholders.
This spring, parents took matters into their own hands. More than 20 percent, about 240,000 eligible third- through eighth-grade students, refused to take the state's standardized, Common Core-aligned math and English Language Arts exams--the opt-out movement was one of the strongest in the nation.
Opt-out activists have said the movement will only grow if the state continues to “over test” students and does not eliminate the “high stakes” for teachers. [Politico New York, 11/30/15]
ATTACK: Scranton Times-Tribune Editorial Dismissed Teacher Union Concerns During Strike Amid Contentious Contract Negotiations
Scranton Times-Tribune: “The People Actually Suffering Disrespect In This Mess Are Students And Their Families.” In an October 7 editorial, The Scranton Times-Tribune lamented the contentious contract negotiations between the Scranton Federation of Teachers and the school board, advocating for a change in state policy that “outlaws strikes and mandates last-best-offer arbitrations” so that Pennsylvanians can enjoy “reliably open schools.” The board noted striking teachers' complaints “that they aren't getting the respect they deserve from the administration and the school board,” citing a financial website's analysis of teacher compensation by state to dismiss the teachers' complaint and claim that “as such things are measures, teachers in Pennsylvania are well-respected when compared with their colleagues in other states.” The board ignored its own reporting on widespread community support for the strike to invent a distinction between respect for teachers and respect for students and parents:
In any case, more is at play than the poisonous relationships among the teachers, administration and a woefully ineffective school board.
The people actually suffering disrespect in this mess are students and their families.
Like all school “strikes” in Pennsylvania, this one is not really a strike. It's a demonstration. Because the state requires 180 days of school, the teachers protesting the loss of “dignity and respect” won't lose a penny of their pay.
Until the Legislature outlaws strikes and mandates last-best-offer arbitration as the means to achieve fair settlements, residents statewide can expect complaints about lost dignity and respect instead of reliably open schools. [The Scranton Times-Tribune, 10/7/15]
REALITY: The Times-Tribune's Own Fact-Checker Acknowledged The School District Wanted Teachers To Work Longer Hours Without Increased Compensation
Scranton Educators Went On Strike For 11 School Days Amidst Contentious Contract Negotiations. The Scranton Federation of Teachers (SFT), representing almost 1,000 teachers and paraprofessionals working in Scranton, Pennsylvania public schools, were on strike from September 25 to October 13 amidst a delayed and contentious contract renewal that focused on raises, healthcare benefits, proposed research on expanding class sizes, school nurse positions, and professional development. The union's contract expired on August 31, but a court-ordered injunction prevented the SFT from striking until the end of September. As The Scranton Times-Tribune reported:
The strike began at 3:30 p.m. Friday. As of late Friday, the district was still waiting to hear back from the union on a proposal made Thursday night, said Superintendent Alexis Kirijan, Ed.D. The proposal included health insurance concessions in exchange for step movement raises.
But Rosemary Boland, president of the Scranton Federation of Teachers, said she was unaware the district was waiting for a response. When the district negotiators left Thursday night, she did not know an official proposal had been made.
“We're not communicating well,” she said. “Something has misfired.”
Teachers have worked under an expired contract since Sept. 1. The two sides have disagreed on salary increases and health benefits, and district proposals have included adding a sixth period at the secondary level, for which teachers would get additional duty pay, and increasing the length of the elementary school day. [The Scranton Times-Tribune, 9/26/15]
Scranton Times-Tribune Fact-Checker: It's “True” That "The District Wants Teachers To Work Longer Hours Without Getting Paid More." An October 10 article fact-checking allegations from both the union and the school district concluded that the district's proposals would require teachers to work longer hours without an increase in salary and attend unpaid professional development sessions. The report also found some truth to allegations that the district had mismanaged funds leading to the “grim” financial outlook it cited as a roadblock during negotiations. Finally, the report noted that “Scranton teachers are the only in...[the] county to pay a portion of their health insurance premium.” [The Scranton Times-Tribune, 10/10/15]
Scranton Times-Tribune's Own Reporting Showed That During Negotiations, Community Frustration Centered Around The School Board And District, Not The Teachers Union. After a tentative contract agreement was reached on October 12, the Times-Tribune reported that many of the district's proposals beyond salary and benefit issues -- such as lengthening the elementary school day and limiting teacher professional development opportunities -- were pulled from the negotiations. The article noted that, throughout the strike, parents seemed to support the union and largely placed blame on the district administration and school board (emphasis added):
A step movement increase costs the district about $1.5 million in additional salary costs. The district pulled several proposals, including a longer elementary school day, a sixth period for secondary teachers and unpaid professional development time, from the table.
After less than a month working under expired contracts, the union went on strike Sept. 25. During the strike, frustrated teachers and parents blamed district administration for the work stoppage. Tempers flared at school board meetings and on picket lines. Much of that anger was directed at Dr. Kirijan and Cy Douaihy, board president. [The Scranton Times-Tribune, 10/13/15]
ATTACK: Albuquerque Journal Mocked American Federation Of Teachers President To Attack Court Decision That Froze Unfair Teacher Evaluation Practice
Albuquerque Journal: Teacher Evaluation Court Ruling “Hurts Students, Struggling Teachers, Public.” In a December 8 editorial reacting to a New Mexico court's decision to impose a preliminary injunction on the state teacher evaluation system, The Albuquerque Journal editorial board claimed that “those who need help the most will pay the price” for halting practices the court found were unfair to teachers. The board also mocked national American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten's interpretation of the ruling, claiming her statements “would fail any core English, history or civics class,” even though her statement reflected language from the decision itself. The editorial ignored evidence presented in the case by the unions to conclude that implementing the evaluations was “better” for students, teachers, and taxpayers:
That means the real losers from last week's ruling are the struggling teachers, their struggling students, and taxpayers, who in addition to paying billions for K-12 public schools annually now get to fund the defense of twin lawsuits filed by teachers, their unions and a handful of state lawmakers. The lawsuits ignore the Obama administration's push to tie student improvement to teacher performance evaluations, a move to rate educators like employees in the private sector - on the results of their work.
Both anti-eval cases are scheduled to go to trial in April, and the sooner the evaluations are again fully implemented, the better - for students, for educators who care about them, and for taxpayers. [The Albuquerque Journal, 12/8/15]
REALITY: The Court Agreed With Teachers Unions That The Evaluation System Violated State Law
New Mexico Teachers Unions Battled Against Unfair Evaluation Model. The New Mexico chapter of the American Federation of Teachers and the Albuquerque Teachers Federation (ATF) brought a lawsuit in February of this year seeking a halt to the state's model for teacher evaluations. The unions, with support from their national affiliates, contended that the evaluation model was unfair and inaccurate. The model, which in part determined teacher effectiveness on the basis of student test scores, was widely protested by local educators and had previously been corrected for errors by the state education department. Politico reported in October:
An effort to halt New Mexico's teacher evaluation system is back in court today for a third day of testimony. The American Federation of Teachers New Mexico and the Albuquerque Teachers Federation filed a lawsuit in February against the state education department and its education secretary, Hanna Skandera, arguing that the evaluation system relies too heavily on student test scores and violates teachers' constitutional rights. Data reporting errors produced inaccurate evaluations in spring 2014, prompting Skandera to usher in changes. But the most divisive piece -- basing 50 percent of teachers' evaluations on students' standardized test scores -- remained in place. Some New Mexico teachers even burned their evaluations, protesting inaccuracies as well as what they see as an inherently unfair system. The national affiliate of both local unions, the American Federation of Teachers, has been heavily involved in the case. President Randi Weingarten attended a hearing on the unions' request for a preliminary injunction in mid-September. She said she hopes the judge will stop the program now, before a trial next spring decides whether the entire evaluation system is valid. [Politico, 10/1/15]
New Mexico District Court Granted Unions' Request For An Injunction On The Use Of Student Test Scores To Sanction Teachers. Earlier this month, the state district court issued its ruling in favor of the New Mexico teachers unions, temporarily preventing schools from using the states' controversial teacher evaluation model to issue sanctions against teachers. The judge wrote that the current evaluation program “appears to be a Beta test where the teachers bear the burden for its consistent and uneven application” and recognized merit in the unions' argument that the system violated state law. The Washington Post reported (emphasis added):
New Mexico is among a growing number of states that use complex and controversial algorithms -- called “value-added models” -- to figure out how much of a student's learning can be attributed to their teacher.
The theory appears to be valid, Thomson wrote Wednesday. But in practice, New Mexico's program has been riddled with data errors, a lack of transparency and other problems, he wrote.
“The problem at this stage in the litigation is that New Mexico appears to be a Beta test where the teachers bear the burden for its consistent and uneven application,” Thomson wrote. He wrote that the union had showed a “substantial likelihood of success” in proving that the evaluations violate state law.
In New Mexico, up to 50 percent of teachers' evaluation are based on test scores. [The Washington Post, 12/3/15]
ATTACK: Los Angeles Times Editorials Glossed Over Union Concerns About Charter School Expansion Plan
Los Angeles Times: “Stop The Whining About Charter Schools.” A November 10 editorial at the LA Times, titled “It's time to stop the whining about charter schools,” criticized a school board resolution that opposed a new plan by Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad to double the number of Los Angeles students enrolled in independently operated charter schools within eight years. The school board's resolution was designed to voice opposition to efforts that do not serve all populations of students -- a response to recent reports of charters self-selecting against, or counseling out, difficult-to-teach students in order to boost test scores. The editorial board concluded that the city school district ought to research the validity of claims made against charter schools, and either “go after them” or 'stop complaining about them," based on the results. The editorial only briefly mentioned the union's and some board members' financial concerns about the charter expansion plan. From the editorial:
Whining about charter schools won't make them go away. Yet Los Angeles Unified board member Scott Schmerelson is proposing the equivalent of that with a resolution that comes before the board Tuesday taking a symbolic position against a plan to roughly double the number of charter schools in the district. Under the plan Schmerelson opposes, close to half of all students in the district would attend publicly-funded but privately-operated schools.
Concerns about the charter push aren't without foundation. The loss of more students to charters would reduce funding for the district's public schools and its programs. But many parents have embraced charter schools, which, by and large, have been well run in L.A. Unified. The expansion could be a good thing for L.A. students, providing them with more chances to attend excellent new schools. [Los Angeles Times, 11/10/15]
Los Angeles Times: “A Charter School Expansion Could Be Great For L.A.” A September 13 editorial following the Times' reporting on Broad's plan to rapidly expand charter schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District claimed that doubling enrollment in charter schools “free of sometimes stultifying union rules” could be “a great thing.” The editorial recognized some faults in the plan -- particularly in the logistics of “mak[ing] sure that those [schools] who do not do a good job are fixed or closed,” and in attracting “enough high-quality teachers and administrators” -- yet overlooked these flaws to praise the “boldness of the plan.” The editorial dismissed financial concerns that an accelerated and unprecedented charter expansion could lead to bankruptcy for public schools, arguing that the school board should not consider “teacher jobs or the ramifications for the district's budget” :
And there will undoubtedly be pushback from within the district. Some will come from the teachers union -- United Teachers Los Angeles -- which reviles charter schools and is dedicated to protecting its members' jobs at regular district schools. And some will come from L.A. Unified officials, who have long complained that the district loses state money when students decamp for charter schools, while charter operators contend that the district is simply unwilling to restructure itself to be more efficient.
One overriding principle should guide the school board as it considers new charter applications, and it has nothing to do with teacher jobs or the ramifications for the district's budget. It should be this: Will the charter applicant run a good school? Will it provide an excellent education for L.A.'s students? The needs of students, not those of the institution, are what matter. [Los Angeles Times, 9/13/15]
REALITY: LA Times Has Been Inconsistent In Disclosing The Anti-Union Funding Of Its Education Reporting And Evidence Shows Charter Expansion Could Bankrupt Local Public Schools
The LA Times' New Education Reporting Initiative Is Funded By Education Reform Philanthropists. On October 29, The Washington Post reported that the Los Angeles Times' “Education Matters” local education reporting project, which launched in August, is funded by three philanthropic foundations with extensive ties to anti-union education reform efforts in the Los Angeles area. Then-LA Times publisher Austin Beutner, the Post reported, spearheaded the project, accepting enough funding from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, K&F Baxter Foundation, and the Wasserman Foundation “to cover the salaries of two education journalists for at least two years.” Since the launch of the initiative, the Times was reportedly inconsistent in disclosing its funding connections, and has recently released a statement outlining their official disclosure policy on this issue. [Media Matters, 11/6/15]
Local Charter And Anti-Union Advocates Plan To Drastically Ramp Up Charter Schools In Los Angeles. In September, the LA Times first reported on a proposal spearheaded by Broad, of the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, to double the number of Los Angeles students enrolled in charter schools within eight years. The plan's details have not yet been released, but the Times reported that a preliminary document outlining the broad goals of the plan drew criticism from unions and the school board president due to concerns about serving all students' needs:
L.A. Unified already has more charters than any school system in the country, representing about 16% of total enrollment. Charters are independently run, publicly financed schools that are exempt from some rules that govern traditional campuses; most are nonunion.
But the proposed expansion would mean more than doubling the number of charter schools in Los Angeles, a feat that even backers say might prove demanding.
The push is already generating resistance from the school district as well as from powerful L.A. Unified employee unions.
Critics say charter schools create greater inequities because they frequently draw more-motivated and higher-achieving students and leave traditional schools worse off.
The situation, they say, leaves district schools with less money to serve a larger percentage of students with behavior problems and disabilities and those who need to learn English. And in some areas with active charter programs, traditional schools don't have enough students.
“While I continue to support and be proud of the successful charter schools we have in Los Angeles, this plan is not one for transforming our public schools, but an outline for a hostile takeover,” said school board President Steve Zimmer. [Los Angeles Times, 9/21/15]
A Recent Report Showed Dire Financial Concerns For Los Angeles Public Schools, Connecting Declining Enrollment To Charter Schools. The Los Angeles Times itself reported in November that a group of experts convened by the Los Angeles Unified School District to examine the districts' budget deficit found that, as the district struggled with rising costs, it faced a decline in revenue spurred by decreased student enrollment that could lead to bankruptcy. The experts concluded that a substantial factor in the decline of revenue was due to boosted enrollment in charter schools, which would accelerate quickly under the Broad proposal, and which has been strongly opposed by the local teachers union:
Declining enrollment, meanwhile, is driving down revenue; the district's number of employees has, so far, not matched that decline. About half of the decline results from the growth of independently operated charter schools. That trend would accelerate sharply under a plan, spearheaded by philanthropist Eli Broad, to move half of district students into charters over the next eight years.
If declining enrollment “cannot be reversed, the district's future planning will be characterized by constant down-sizing and loss of revenue until the district reaches a new equilibrium at a lower, but sustainable, level,” the report said. If the district can't adapt, it can't remain viable, according to the report.
The head of the teachers union said the report underscores the importance of opposing the proposed charter expansion.
“The committee appropriately takes a very hard look at whether a public school district will be able to survive when unregulated charter schools are drawing students away and leaving the highest-needs students for the district to serve with much less money,” said Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of United Teachers Los Angeles. [Los Angeles Times, 11/5/15]
ATTACK: The Seattle Times Accused Striking Teachers Of “Using Their Students As Pawns” As They Pushed For Racial Justice, Recess, And More School Funding
Seattle Times: Striking Teachers Are “Demanding Too Much.” In an editorial published on September 4 in anticipation of a possible strike, the Seattle Times editorial board argued that teachers could become “a symbol of excess for those who oppose more school spending,” and that their demands were unreasonable and sent the wrong message to students. From the editorial (emphasis added):
What message will Seattle teachers send by striking, besides stiff-arming more than 50,000 kids and their families? They were looking forward to school starting Wednesday.
Contract particulars will be forgotten. What could be remembered in Olympia is that Seattle teachers walked out demanding raises of 18 percent over three years to take home as much as possible of additional funding the district received.
The teachers are demanding too much -- so much that they will have a negative effect on broader efforts to reform the state education system. They're at risk of becoming a symbol of excess for those who oppose more school spending. [The Seattle Times, 9/4/15]
Seattle Times: Teacher Walkout Intentionally Inconveniences Parents, Wastes Time. In a May editorial following a one-day teacher walkout to raise awareness of major state education funding issues, The Seattle Times editorial board argued that the teachers' actions were disruptive and a waste of instructional time. The editorial began:
The only clear consequence of Tuesday's walkout by Seattle teachers is that students will lose one precious day of instruction.
This one-day protest extends the last day of school from Monday, June 15 -- ending on a Monday is a strange decision itself -- to Tuesday, June 16. That virtually assures that students and teachers will be checked out for not one, but two days.
For all the clamor from educators about standardized tests wasting instructional days, they are choosing to waste another. And they are intentionally inconveniencing tens of thousands of parents, including those in the Mercer Island and Issaquah districts, where teachers are also walking out Tuesday. [The Seattle Times, 5/18/15]
Seattle Times: State Teachers' Union Should “Leave The Kids Out Of It.” Prior to the May walkout, the Times editorial board published two editorials that accused teachers' unions of doing “a disservice” to its members and to students with their plans to participate, and accusing participating unions of “using their students as pawns.” Their April 19 editorial concluded:
These local strikes are tone deaf to the complex budget negotiations now under way in Olympia. A dramatic increase in education spending is a given. So is a substantial raise for teachers, which will permanently raise all pay grades.
The WEA, in keeping its members in an agitated state, does them a disservice. And by canceling school for a day, they do a disservice to students and to working parents, who now must find last-minute alternatives.
The union, which is consistently one of the biggest spenders in Olympia, knows the lobby game. It should keep its lobbying efforts there, and leave the kids out of it. [The Seattle Times, 4/19/15, The Seattle Times, 4/24/15]
REALITY: Striking Teachers Were Advocating For The Interests Of Their Students
The Seattle Education Association (SEA) Went On Week-Long Strike Amidst Stalled Contract Negotiations. In September, the union representing public school teachers and school staff in Seattle held a strike for one week over stalled contract negotiations. The strike followed a series of one-day teacher walkouts over state school funding levels in the spring, and represented a culmination of months of negotiations between the union and Seattle Public Schools after the two parties could not reach agreement on teacher pay, staff workload and evaluations, student instructional time, or student discipline policies. National coverage from The Washington Post explained that, in addition to salary raises, teachers were advocating for other measures on behalf of students -- including guaranteed recess time, policy reforms to limit racial disparities in student discipline, more attention for special education students, and fewer testing requirements. [The Washington Post, 9/25/15]
Parents And Community Members Showed Widespread Support For Striking Teachers. A September 11 article from The Guardian reported that “feedback from the community has been overwhelmingly supportive - both on and offline,” highlighting parents' efforts to form “childcare collective[s],” organize food deliveries to picket lines and seek meal donations from local restaurants, and create supportive Facebook groups. The article also noted that teachers paused picketing for a day on September 11 in order to engage in community service in honor of the anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks. Several parent supporters pointed to the teachers' advocacy for students as a reason they decided to show strong support. [The Guardian, 9/11/15]