Author: Dmitri Mehlhorn

You Can’t Spin School Funding

Ben Spielberg is one of my favorite sparring partners on education policy. A former Teach for America alum and onetime staffer for National Education Association’s San Jose Teachers Association, Ben…

Ben Spielberg is one of my favorite sparring partners on education policy. A former Teach for America alum and onetime staffer for National Education Association’s San Jose Teachers Association, Ben reliably defends the “reform skeptic” position on education reform in a way that is smart and sincere. Most-recently, Ben wrote a column that attempts to rebut what he calls my “completely false” Dropout Nation commentary on school funding. How does he reach this conclusion? By losing track of the subject being addressed. To move the conversation forward, this column returns to the actual question at hand: Should America send more money to schools now, as they are structured today, or should we implement reforms before allocating additional resources?

wpid-threethoughslogoThe evidence is from other nations, and from recent history, is clear: money is not the primary problem facing America’s schools. A growing body of evidence from within the U.S. confirms this point. Since all three of these benchmarks (international, historical, and intra-American) are independent proof points, reform skeptics would need to discredit all three to make their case. Simply put, Ben demonstrates that he cannot persuasively discredit any of them.

How much does the United States spend on education? The starting point, which Ben buries behind a number of tangents, is that America spends more than any society in history. All credible sources tell roughly the same story. Ben did not like the source I used in my first column, so let’s use the National Center for Education Statistics. It reports a $621 billion total national investment in public elementary and secondary schools for 2011-2012.

We spend more than other countries spend, yet get weaker results. The international story has been repeatedly verified: Compared to other nations, the United States spends more on each student, and the students get less. Ben is right that we should try to compare apples to apples, but the best efforts to do so repeat this conclusion. An older, thorough study by McKinsey & Company in 2007, noted that Singapore achieves top performance while spending less per pupil than 27 of 30 OECD countries. More recently, NCES says we spend $12,401 per pupil, about 35 percent more than the per-pupil average for the industrialized world. In case after case, and in study after study, the best school systems do more with less than America and its public education systems.

Ben’s responds that education spending should be measured as a share of Gross Domestic Product, rather than as an absolute number. In this, Ben forgets what we are discussing: whether schools in America have enough money to succeed. His preferred metric – education spending divided by GDP – has uses, but is not relevant to whether schools have enough resources.

To see why, consider that America’s GDP at the start of 1992 was about $9 trillion in today’s dollars. Under Bill Clinton, GDP growth averaged 3.8 percent, while under George W. Bush it fell to 1.6 percent. Imagine a “Clinton scenario” where we had 3.8 percent growth from 1992 until today, and a “GWB scenario” where we had 1.6 percent growth from 1992 until today. The difference in GDP would be $22 trillion vs. $13 trillion. Under these two scenarios, if actual dollars in schools were exactly the same, “education spending as a percent of GDP” would be appear 70 percent higher under George W. Bush. Thus, by Ben’s metric, the fastest way to get school spending right is to tank the economy. [This does, perhaps, explain Ben’s support for Bernie Sanders.]

We spend a lot more than we used to, without commensurate results: America’s schools today spend about 2.5 times per pupil what they spent in 1970, notwithstanding a small per-pupil dip since 2008. Ben acknowledges “the fact that K-12 spending has risen in inflation-adjusted dollar value terms over the past 45 years,” but then waves that away by saying that “real spending on practically everything has increased in dollar terms since the 1970.” That statement is jarringly untrue.

Over that time period, per-unit prices have plummeted in many areas, including appliances, telecommunications, electronics, computers, televisions, and audio-visual devices. Some sectors have taken advantage: for instance, U.S. military spending has increased only 10 percent since 1970, while dramatically improving its comparative and absolute effectiveness. True, declining costs in some sectors have been offset by price increases in other areas, but this overall mix is called “inflation.” By using “inflation-adjusted” dollars, we account for the interplay of cost increases and cost declines. If we ignored inflation, the increase in dollars would be 14 times rather than merely 2.5 times.

Results for America’s schools have improved only slightly since 1970s, despite spending more than doubling. At face value, this suggests that funding is not the primary constraint facing America’s schools.


Teach for America alum-turned-traditionalist Ben Spielberg swings and misses on his attempt to rebut the reality of school spending.

What does the evidence say about comparisons within the USA? The comparisons within the United States are a bit more complicated, but again relief comes by simply remembering what we are debating: should we spend more money in the existing system, or should we only add resources after choice and data reforms? With that as context, we can review the available evidence.

The conclusions of Stanford’s Hanushek and NBER’s Jackson, Johnson, and Persico: Ben cites a 2015 National Bureau of Economic Research paper by a team led by Kirabo Jackson which assessed the effects of court-mandated school funding increases on student results in the 1970s and 1980s. In the spirit of helping Ben and other reform skeptics stay focused on relevance, let’s just take everything that Jackson et al. state at face value:

1. Their result establishes a caveat to established prior research that money does not usually drive better student outcomes. As they wrote, prior national studies “found little association” between spending and results, citing reports dating back to the Coleman Report of 1966 and includes studies by Stanford’s Eric Hanushek, Julian R. Betts of University of California, San Diego, and Jeffrey T. Grogger of University of Chicago.
2. The Jackson study shows results from a narrow fact set, in which short-term spending increases were disproportionately used to benefit student instruction. They explicitly note that this is not typical for K-12 spending increases: “how the money is spent matters a lot,” and “our evidence suggests that exogenous spending increases went toward more productive inputs than endogenous spending increases.” This comment supports the hypothesis of education reformers: that additional resources for public schools will be quickly captured by the K-12 bureaucracy rather than being spent on behalf of students. Again from Jackson and his team: “money per se will not improve student outcomes” because, for instance, “using the funds to pay for lavish faculty retreats will likely not have a positive effect on student outcomes.” This directly mirrors the anecdote that headlines my original piece, in which the Fairfax County Public Schools’ lobbying campaign for additional funds omitted the fact that school leaders had just voted themselves a 60 percent pay increase.
3. The Jackson fact base also reveals diminishing returns to funding increases. In other words, an extra dollar in 1970, when schools spent $4,500 in today’s dollars, might have a lot more impact than an extra dollar today, when schools spend more than twice as much. This was pointed out by Hanushek in his response to their study that “by implication, spending today might be expected to have a much smaller impact than they estimate.” Jackson team’s conceded that: “Indeed we find that this is the case in our study. Areas with the lowest initial spending levels were also those for which increased spending had the most pronounced positive effect.”

Let’s review to make sure we don’t lose track of the argument. Even if we only use the words from the authors of Ben’s best evidence, we can conclude three things: First, that the Jackson study is an exception to substantial scholarship in the other direction. Secondly, that their study is limited to a specific type of spending that is atypical in K-12 budgets. And finally, that their study is based on data from a much lower initial starting point, and their own results suggest that adding money today might have a substantially diminished result.

The conclusions of Professor Bruce Baker: Even more than Jackson and his team., Ben relies heavily on articles published by Bruce Baker of Rutgers University’s Graduate School of Education. This reliance is common among reform skeptics, as Baker reaches the most anti-reform conclusions to be found within mainstream academia. Particularly cited by Ben is Baker’s 2012 editorial published by the Albert Shanker Institute  in which he writes that “by the early 2000s, the cloud of uncertainty conjured by Hanushek in 1986 had largely lifted in the aftermath of the various, more rigorous studies that followed.” Baker justifies this claim largely by citing Northwestern University’s Larry Hedges, who re-reviewed Hanushek’s studies “quality control measures.” Reading Baker’s paper by itself, it is understandable why Ben finds a clear academic consensus that money matters.

The problem is that Baker omits so much that his conclusion borders on outright mendacity. For instance, Baker chooses not to mention that Hanushek wrote several peer-reviewed rebuttals to Hedges’ work. One of Hanushek’s responses could have been written with Ben in mind: “Hedges, Laine, and Greenwald commit the larger error of asking the wrong question. This problem tends to get lost in their statistical manipulations and their zeal to overturn prevailing conclusions about the effectiveness of pure resource policies in promoting student achievement.”

A later paper from Hanushek goes into great detail about how Hedges and company “misinterpret the implications of their analysis [and,] through a series of analytical choices, systematically bias their results toward the conclusions they are seeking.” While Hanushek’s rebuttal is devastating, the more important point is that Baker simply pretends it does not exist – he paints a story of academic consensus that is entirely false.

In assessing Baker, it is worth noting that serious education researchers tend to not even mention Baker. Jackson and his team, for instance, write an entire paper that “money matters”, and don’t once mention Baker’s 2012 editorial. Rather, they refer to studies from 1995 and 1996 (which Baker ignores) that school spending doesn’t lead to better results.

The reason Baker gets so little play in serious education academia is because he writes editorials, not studies. His analyses are designed to achieve his intended results, and he does this by making subjective and one-sided decisions about what to include and what to ignore. [This is a point Dropout Nation Editor RiShawn Biddle hit upon four years ago.] This is expected for expert witnesses at trials, but it is disturbing for someone who pretends to be an academic, and is not transparent that he gets paid for reports by parties with a direct financial stake in his outcomes.


Eric Hanushek and others have long ago made the case that more spending on its own won’t lead to better results in American public education.

This problem was underscored in a 2011 tape-recorded conversation in which Baker said he would play with data, manipulate the questions he asked, and “pull things in and out” of his models “to tell the most compelling story” in exchange for a substantial research grant. This telephone conversation, including Baker’s own partially exculpatory comments, appears in full at about the 3-minute mark of this video clip. [Baker offers a rather lengthy explanation and defense of what happened.]

None of this automatically invalidates Baker’s conclusions, but most of his research suffers the same kinds of glaring deficiencies I just mentioned regarding his 2012 Shanker Institute paper. Some day, someone may decide to write a point-by-point review of Baker’s editorials, but for now the main point is to take his sweeping anti-reform conclusions with a heaping of salt.

The evidence about charters: The next category of arguments from Ben relates to charter schools. I argue that charter schools deliver better results for urban students in poverty, without spending more money. If true, this establishes yet another independent proof point that school spending is not the primary barrier to educational opportunities for our poorest children. So, is it true?

Well, it seems clear that charters spend less than traditional district schools, or at least do not spend any more (on average). In my first post, I started with an NCES report from 2011 showing that charters spend $1800 less per pupil. Ben cites Baker to rebut that study, but in this case Baker’s data manipulations only amount to hand waving that spending in the charter sector varies widely (some charters spend more, some district schools spend less), and that data is hard to obtain (because outside spending such as school fundraisers are not consistently tracked). These narrow points may be true, but it is hard to see how they overcome an aggregate gap of nearly two thousand dollars per pupil.

Ben then notes that some successful charter experiments involve new resources, but this is again not an aggregate number, and Ben ignores the many cases where substantial new resources into districts delivered no results. Ben cites work by Roland Fryer that traditional district schools can replicate some charter practices with more spending, but Fryer’s work focuses mostly on practices such as instructional time, data-driven instruction, and cultures of high expectations that have been repeatedly thwarted by unions during negotiations.

In other words, Ben throws a lot at the wall, but nothing sticks to rebut the basic point: Charter don’t spend more than traditional districts and their schools.

Ben then takes issue with the growing consensus that charters work, by stating that students in urban charter schools “perform just about as well” as students at district schools. He rests this claim on the fact that, on average, black students in poverty perform eight hundredths of a standard deviations better in math and six-hundredths of a standard deviation better in reading when they are in charter schools, while the numbers for Hispanic students in poverty are, respectively, seven-hundredths and thirty-five hundredths of a standard deviation.

I address the significance of these numbers in a long exchange with another reform skeptic, Mark Weber, on Weber’s site. Suffice to say, these average differences matter a lot given that (a) they occur every year, and (b) they are national averages that include jurisdictions that have terrible charter authorizers and terrible charter schools. Additionally, the evidence is very strong that the proliferation of charter schools tends to improve the performance of traditional district schools, perhaps because of healthy competition and the spillover of innovation.

If Ben is sincere in his claim that it matters how money is spent, he should stop nit picking the pro-charter evidence that becomes stronger every few months, and demand that school systems embrace charters before getting new resources.

Other random stuff Ben throws out there: Finally, I should address some other broad fallacies that Ben uses as distractions from the central question of whether schools have adequate resources.

Ben cites yet another editorial by Baker that argues that school funding is not currently equitable. In addition to the fact that Baker’s report is just as flawed as Baker’s other work, the entire argument is actually irrelevant. The question is whether we should add more money to schools prior to demanding choice and accountability. Choice is far more unequally distributed than financial resources; almost every school district in the country gets baseline financial resources, but the vast majority of parents in residentially segregated areas have effectively zero school choice.

Ben also concludes by saying that our country can afford more. In a sense, this is true. If we cut wasteful agricultural subsidies, or had a more efficient tax system, or returned to the Clinton-era policies that delivered 3.8 percent growth per year, we could afford a lot of things. We could afford to establish a colony on Mars; or dramatically expand public transit; or increase research into nuclear fusion; or eliminate taxes on people earning less than $100,000 per year. The one thing we cannot afford to do, and that no society or family can afford, is to throw away resources in areas that don’t matter.

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Beyond FERPA

Discussions over the privacy of student data have recently hit the headlines in the case of the son of Faida Geidi, thanks to a battle between Eva Moskowitz of Success…

Discussions over the privacy of student data have recently hit the headlines in the case of the son of Faida Geidi, thanks to a battle between Eva Moskowitz of Success Academy and journalist John Merrow over a piece aired on PBS NewsHour over the charter school operator’s use of out-of-school suspensions and other traditional school discipline practices. Thanks to the adults involved in this issue – from Geidi’s mother to Merrow to Moskowitz herself – the young man’s school discipline record is now public fodder. Thanks to this disclosure by Moskowitz, this public fight could eventually end up in courts.

geniuslogoAs an admitted admirer of Moskowitz, I have my own opinion about whether Moskowitz did the right and necessary thing. The esteemed editor of this outlet, on the other hand, has his own thoughts. We’ll leave it at that. Numerically, however, the fight over Geidi’s son’s discipline records is a drop of water in the ocean of private information in America. From tax forms and hospital visits, to credit cards and mobile phones, we broadcast enormous amounts of private information to the world. We expect government to protect us from having that information stolen or misused. Indeed, we want our information used wisely to make us safer and more prosperous. This is especially true for data generated in American public education, to which we entrust 50 million students and $600 billion very year.

Currently the rules governing school data are shaped by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, which was co-authored by James Buckley, the brother of the legendary founder of National Review. From there, a patchwork of state laws further govern the use of student data. As the linchpin in school data governance, FERPA gives families control over the release of children’s data, and to access and therefore potentially correct errors.

But now, as data collection and analysis has become more important than ever in improving student achievement, the reasonable and sensible safeguards over data provided under FERPA are under attack. As with so many debates over education policy, this battle over the future of school privacy mirrors the broader privacy debate in this country by featuring three types of argument: Authoritarianism, Luddite extremism, and a cautious common-sense middle ground.

The first type of data extremism is authoritarianism. Dick Cheney is the archetype of this type of overconfidence, having been proven spectacularly wrong on whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, while also authorizing domestic phone dragnets and acts of torture. Outside of government officials, Nate Silver’s book The Signal and the Noise gives numerous examples of leaders who gather and act on data with insufficient awareness of the risks. In education, this kind of authoritarianism would use student data to segregate and marginalize disadvantaged student populations.

The data Luddites arise in extremist response to the possibility of authoritarianism. These folks require individual, person-by-person approval before government allows any third-party analysis of data. In education, the poster child for data luddites is David Vitter, the U.S. Senator now running to succeed Bobby Jindal as Louisiana governor. Driven by his own searing personal experience with breakdown in data piracy – Hustler’s 2007 report that the erstwhile advocate for family values had his phone number on the client list of a prostitute – Vitter Vitter has proposed legislation that would, according to University of Michigan Professor Sue Dynarski, “effectively end the analysis of student data by outside social scientists,” including “recent prominent research documenting the benefits of smaller classes, the value of excellent teachers and the varied performance of charter schools.”

But for those who support proposals such as that from Vitter, the goals have less to do with securing privacy than with ending standards-and-accountability regimes that have helped improve education for children. If the luddites prevail, Americans can say goodbye to population health research, especially in genetics, as well as most of the “smart cities” policies that have been making progress in cities from Boston to Los Angeles.

The smart center rejects both of these extremes and gives the power of data to citizens. As Barack Obama’s White House articulated last year, big data privacy can bolster “the potential of government power to accrue unchecked” and, at the same time, contain “solutions that can enhance accountability, privacy, and the rights of citizens.”

The key to this approach is that citizens own their own data, with government holding it only as a fiduciary. In the context of criminal justice, for example, this principle would require police officers to wear working body cameras while on duty, while controlling the storage and release of the resulting data to protect citizen and officer privacy except in specific cases such as civilian deaths. The private sector would be encouraged to provide additional solutions to protect individual privacy, such as Microsoft’s work on random noise generation to protect identifiable individual data.

In education, the nonprofit Data Quality Campaign articulated this middle ground with ten Student Data Principles. [For those focused on the Moskowitz-Merrow battle, the key question with this as with other proposed rules is whether the First Amendment means that the parent effectively gave consent to share with by releasing partial data to the press.] The Obama Administration has already taken some steps on this front four years ago as part of administrative rule-making involving the ability of state education agencies to allow third-parties to have access to student data.

While the details are hard, the right direction for school data is absurdly easy. The risks of data authoritarianism are real, but so are the threats from data luddites. Collection and analysis of data is at the core of the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment. We can use data to innovate in educational methods, track what works, and tailor solutions for children of all backgrounds. Data is critical to families in helping their children get the education they deserve, and necessary in aiding teachers in their work nurturing young minds. Walking away from that means consigning students to mediocrity in public education, which means a life sentence of limited outcomes for those students who do not have wealthy parents.

As Congress works to update and amend FERPA, and where appropriate to coordinate diverse state laws, they should put student learning and opportunity at the forefront of their agenda.

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NEA & AFT Are Big Political Spenders

As readers know by now, Dropout Nation determined in research released last October that National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers spend roughly $700 million per year on advocacy….

As readers know by now, Dropout Nation determined in research released last October that National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers spend roughly $700 million per year on advocacy. This report undermined the unions’ preferred narrative that they are scrappy underdogs fighting for public schools. As you would expect, especially on Twitter, NEA’s and AFT’s highly-paid spokespeople were none too happy about this inconvenient fact. One such executive, AFT’s Kombiz Lavasany, asserted that the report was “sadly dishonest [because the] vast majority of union dues support things universally supported,” such as “work to represent and work for better pay, work conditions, professionalism.”

wpid-threethoughslogoSince these claims were repeated and rebroadcast by other union officials and their allies, they deserve a brief fact-based review. Unfortunately, they fail to hold up under even light quantitative scrutiny.

Yes, the teachers’ unions’ really spend $2.2 billion per year overall: Some critics looked at the revenues of the main unions’ national operations, and saw budgets in the hundreds of millions (not billions). NEA, for example, only reported revenue of $385 million to the U.S. Department of Labor; since the NEA represents two thirds of the nation’s teachers, looking only at national IRS filings would imply a revenue total of less than $600 million.

This math, however, excludes most of the unions’ budgets, which formally stay at the level of states and localities. A teacher in Chicago, for instance, pays dues averaging $1,000 per year, but 60 percent of those dues go to the local Chicago Teachers Union. The remaining 40 percent is split between the national AFT and the statewide Illinois Federation of Teachers. These local dues to CTU give it a formally independent budget of roughly $30 million. New York is another example; the UFT spends $100 million per year.

Any national analysis of union financial clout must therefore consider the dues collected by state and local affiliates and the filings they make with the Department of Labor and the Internal Revenue Service. Altogether, this adds up to $2.2 billion.

This number seems shockingly high. But you must look at this in context. The $2.2 billion number implies that the national unions represent about 30 percent of the total unions’ revenues. This makes sense given that the national unions play a quarterbacking role for organizations primarily working at the state and local levels. The number also suggests that annual dues amount to roughly $660 per teacher, which is just around one percent of the U.S. average teacher salary of $56,000.

As with other matters when it comes to the Big Two, the $2.2 billion union budget is only surprising for those who have not yet reviewed the basic math of American public education.

Yes, the unions really spend a third of their resources on advocacy: Lavasany and other union spokespeople argue that unions spend less than $700 million in advocacy because “most” of their money is spent in member services. Unpacking this claim requires a detour into union dues, how they are collected, and how they are classified.

The starting point is 1977, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that union officials could compel all teachers to pay union dues as a condition of employment. The Court held that such “compulsory dues” harm teachers’ First Amendment rights, as they compel teachers to pay for political speech. So long as the compulsory dues are used only for advocacy related to collective bargaining, however, the Court held them to be permissible.

As an outgrowth of the Abood decision, most teachers around the country have union dues deducted automatically from their paychecks. Union officials calculate which portion of those dues are related to collective bargaining (so-called “chargeable” expenses), and which dues are unrelated (so-called “non-chargeable” expenses which teachers may opt out of paying).

As the Supreme Court itself noted last year — and as Dropout Nation has noted — the decades since 1977 have revealed two practical problems with the Abood framework. First, the question of chargeable vs. non-chargeable is notoriously thorny, and remains the subject of ongoing litigation to this day. Many kinds of laws can be called related to teachers’ collective bargaining, including parent choice rules, teacher evaluation frameworks, and even a state’s overall levels of taxation and spending.

Second, the classification system is rife with conflicts of interest. The union officials who benefit directly from these revenue allocations have day-to-day responsibility for deciding which expenses are chargeable vs. non-chargeable. Every year, union staffers and their paid accountants make thousands of individual determinations about how to classify their time and expenses. From these classifications, the unions can essentially create as much revenue as they think they need. Even if every union staffer is a saint, their belief in their cause gives them a constant incentive to err on the side of higher compulsory dues.

This framework allows the accounting results to exactly match the public relations claims. Consider the response to last year’s Dropout Nation report from the AFT spokesman Lavasany that “vast majority of that money is spent on supporting members, not on politics.” Sure enough, this matches up with the 2013 audit report signed by the AFT’s accountants, which duly allocated 71.5 percent of the AFT’s revenues to “chargeable” expenses related to collective bargaining. Those overseeing the audit included AFT’s Secretary-Treasurer Loretta Johnson, a longtime AFT negotiator and officer, and Calibre, a certified public accountancy that specializes in serving the interests of labor unions.

A 2014 audit report AFT filed in California, writing to reflect an arbitrator’s decision between objecting teachers and the union’s United Teachers Los Angeles unit, made a slightly more conservative estimate of 66 percent of the revenues going toward “chargeable” expenses. Either way, the unions admit that between 25 percent and 33 percent of dues are allocated to political activities unrelated to collective bargaining and workplace issues.

Here’s the funny thing: Even if you take the union officials’ numbers at face value, the result actually confirms the thrust of Dropout Nation’s analysis. The pro bono consultants who went through the unions’ published national, state, and local tax returns estimated based on their research, interviews, and sampling that roughly one third of the unions’ efforts went toward political advocacy. This is what drove the $700 million estimate: one third of $2.2 billion is slightly more than $700 million. If the 2014 auditor’s report is correct, and that result applies to union spending allocations across the country, then it serves as independent confirmation, rather than rebuttal, of what Dropout Nation turned up.

Indeed, if even the unions’ auditing numbers say that one third of their expenses are not chargeable, the reality is probably a much higher number. This has been borne out by Dropout Nation in five years of reports on NEA and AFT spending: Often times, the two unions and their affiliates list what often turns out to be political spending under the category of “representational activities”. If anything, the $700 million estimate probably underestimates the amount of money NEA and AFT and their units spend on politics.

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How Money is Spent Matters

Who knows what Virginia State Sen. Chap Petersen was expecting when he attended a Back to School night for his four kids at a Fairfax County school? But what he…

Who knows what Virginia State Sen. Chap Petersen was expecting when he attended a Back to School night for his four kids at a Fairfax County school? But what he saw pleased him not one bit. The Democrat’s complaint brings up one of the most-fractious issues in discussions around the direction of American public education: Do schools get enough money to help kids succeed?

geniuslogoOn Facebook, Petersen expressed dismay that Fairfax County school leaders deemed it appropriate to force families to watch a five-minute video asking them to lobby state legislators for additional funding. While sympathetic to the district’s call, Petersen declared that “forcing a captive audience of parents to watch a five-minute political commercial before meeting their kid’s teacher is not the answer.” That the “video’s facts were highly selective” – including leaving out news that Fairfax County gained large increases in state funding as well as gave school leaders 60 percent pay raises – also bristled the state legislator.

But there’s a reason why Fairfax County played that video: Because it works. Twice as many upper-income Americans as lower-income Americans tell pollsters that “lack of financial support” is the biggest problem facing schools (28 percent vs. 14 percent). Because affluent families have influence in American politics, teachers’ unions and school districts use their considerable resources to win their support. As Dropout Nation noted last year, National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers spend $700 million annually to shape education discussions.

But as Petersen points out, there’s far more to the story than the claims that public education systems are underfunded. Can America’s traditional public schools use resources more-effectively? Absolutely. Can more resources help schools improve the odds for our children? The answer to question number two is more-qualified than the first. Which is why Sen. Petersen had more than a few reasons to look askance at the video he was shown that night.

The best, though, imperfect way, to understand how well America is spending money on education is look at how much other nations – most-notably highly-touted Finland and South Korea — spend on their schools.

There are numerous differences between those two systems, from class size (smaller in Finland, bigger in South Korea), to levels of school choice (more in Finland, less in South Korea), to testing (recently less in Finland after decades of central testing; continued heavy testing in South Korea), to the role of unions in education policy and practice (collaborative in Finland, adversarial in South Korea).

What they have in common, however, is that they spend less than the United States. Finland’s per-pupil spending of $10,905 in 2011 is lower than the $15,345 spent by the United States; South Korea’s $8,382 per-pupil is 83 percent lower. Based on comparisons with those two countries alone, it becomes clear that money isn’t the main problem in American public education.

But traditionalists tend to dismiss those facts – and the results achieved by both countries – by pointing to the fact that America has different prevailing conditions – from levels of poverty to the legacy of slavery and immigration – than Finland and South Korea. But that argument falls apart when you look at the performance of the nation’s public charter schools.

Earlier this year, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) released an extensive study based on six years of data on the performance of charters in 41 urban communities. From that data, CREDO concluded that “urban charter schools in the aggregate provide significantly higher levels of annual growth in both math and reading” than traditional public schools – results that translate to “roughly 40 days of additional learning per year in math and 28 additional days of learning per year in reading.”

Two top-performing countries, South Korea and Finland, spend far less than America on their public education systems.

Two top-performing countries, South Korea and Finland, spend far less than America on their public education systems.

The study also concluded, “gains for charter school students are larger by significant amounts for Black, Hispanic, low-income, and special education students in both math and reading. … Gains for these subpopulations amount to months of additional learning per year.” Further, the study showed that the charter sector is steadily improving, with significantly larger gains at the end of the time period studied than at the beginning.

These results, by the way, come even though charters spend $1,800 per-pupil less than traditional public schools.

Traditionalists claim that charters succeed by taking the best students or pushing out the worst students. Research since 2009 has empirically rejected these claims. But the most decisive repudiation emerged recently from analysis of the charter sector in New Orleans.

Since the city of New Orleans moved to a charter system, Tulane scholar Doug Harris was able to assess the impact of a system-wide move to charter schools by comparing post-Katrina performance in New Orleans to that of nearby Baton Rouge (which also suffered terrible hurricane damage but did not switch to an all-charter model). Harris wrote of the New Orleans result that “on average student outcomes is quite positive by just about any measure. … We are not aware of any other districts that have made such large improvements in such a short time. The effects are also large compared with other completely different strategies for school improvement, such as class-size reduction and intensive preschool.”

The evidence shows that other nations provide high-quality education to their children while spending significantly less money than spent in America – and that charter schools, with little in the way of bureaucracies that typify traditional districts, deliver significantly better results than their counterparts. We even know from the New Orleans experience that charter schools can improve student achievement across an entire system, at more significant levels than expensive interventions such as class size reduction and universal preschool.

But does that mean American public education doesn’t need more money? That is a different question entirely.

In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson commissioned Professor James Coleman to conduct research as to how much school funding mattered to student achievement. To Coleman’s shock and that of many other liberals, the answer that emerged was “very little if any.”

Over the following five decades, scholars pressure-tested those assumptions in the context of rapidly rising school budgets. As Stanford’s Eric Hanushek concluded in 1989, “Two decades of research into educational production functions have produced startlingly consistent results: Variations in school expenditures are not systematically related to variations in student performance.”

How is this counter-intuitive result possible? Don’t kids in rich areas do better? Isn’t it because of all the fancy buildings they have? Well, no. Kids in rich areas have lots of advantages in life. Those advantages, not school funding, make most of the difference for those children.

Virginia State Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, gestures during debate on the budget conferees report at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Tuesday, April 17, 2012. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Parents and politicians such as Virginia State Sen. Chap Petersen are right to be skeptical about claims that American public education needs more money.

But this doesn’t mean that money can’t help. Neither Coleman nor Hanushek have ever said that money never matters. In fact, within the last decade, research shows that money spent properly can be helpful in improving achievement.

Three years ago, the American Federation of Teachers’ Albert Shanker Institute released a study by Rutgers University Professor Bruce Baker that concluded that money can help children and that they can’t be helped without it. Baker reanalyzed the same sources that Hanushek used, but dismissed some as methodologically flawed, while choosing to emphasize others.

Earlier this year, however, a team led by Northwestern University Professor Kirabo Jackson reached similar conclusions in a study that ran in Education Next. Isolating the effects of additional funding resulting from court rulings in school funding torts, Jackson and his team realized that the dollars served as an exogenous shock that could be isolated from the advantages wealthier students already had. They analyzed concluded that in this specific case, additional resources helped improve results for low-income students.

A careful review of both reports, however, reveals three important caveats. First, “can” is not the same as “will” or “must.” As Coleman and Hanushek observed, money is usually spent in ways that don’t make a significant difference for children. Fancy offices for central headquarters or gold-plated and retroactive pension increases do little for current students. As Hanushek notes, Jackson’s team based their conclusions on student achievement results from 1970 to 2010, during which time real per-student spending increased by 150 percent. While results for students have improved during that time, the improvements have been very small compared with the spending increases, and the improvements have been mostly concentrated in places that have adopted aggressive non-spending reforms.

Secondly, what can be done at scale with more money is often much less than what can be done better with existing funds. While any effort at precision will lead to a false sense of certainty, the scale of the difference is clear. For example, the CREDO report showed that urban charter students obtained the equivalent of 40 extra days of math instruction, which would add up to 480 days — or more than 2.6 school years — over the course of 12 years. By comparison, Jackson concludes that a 10 percent increase in funding would result in .44 years of extra schooling for poor children. A zero-cost investment, therefore, would deliver about six times the impact of the $60 billion additional national investment that Jackson’s team suggests.

Finally, even Baker and Jackson concede that what matters most is how money is spent. As seen in school funding torts, traditional district bureaucracies don’t immediately capture court-ordered increases in funding. New money goes first to instructional and support services, at higher levels than traditional budgets. But ultimately, bureaucracies find ways to absorb the money, a fact that my colleague Sandy Kress will discuss in tomorrow’s commentary. This provides further weight to the argument of school reformers that new money should be allocated to what works – especially via the mechanism of Parent Power and School Choice to make sure the money stays focused on kids. [Ulrich Boser of the Center for American Progress, by the way, hints to this in his studies of school spending.]

Petersen has good reason to be skeptical – and so should we. America’s schools are not underfunded. There’s nothing wrong with using new money to help all children succeed. But we can do much, much more with the dollars we have, and do it in ways that are focused on kids.

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Why Teachers Have No Voice

In many of my early memories, my mom told me about her work as a teacher as I sat on a makeshift wooden platform between the front seats of my…

In many of my early memories, my mom told me about her work as a teacher as I sat on a makeshift wooden platform between the front seats of my family’s Volkswagen van. As we drove through the tough neighborhoods of Richmond, California in the 1970s, she told me she became a teacher to work for a world where people were no longer judged by the color of their skin. She also told me she was in a union, like her grandmothers who’d been seamstresses in New York City in the early 1900s.

this_is_dropout_nation_logoMy mom was proud of her profession. She spent endless nights and weekends writing comments on stacks of student papers.

Over the following decades, however, she became frustrated. She became a union rep, and pushed to have the union make student achievement its primary goal. She was shocked to find that her fellow union reps seemed to only care about job protection and salaries. Later, when she worked with other senior teachers to push for pro-student scheduling changes, she was surprised at how much resistance she found among some of her colleagues.

My mom retired early, exhausted. Like so many of my friends and family in teaching, she remains concerned about ineffective teachers.

Over the course of my life, I have tried to understand why so many teachers felt these frustrations. I have gotten to know my own public school teachers. I became a volunteer teacher in public high schools during and after college. In grad school, I focused on education law and policy. I served school systems as a pro-bono consultant, and periodically left the private sector to work in education policy. I entrusted my own child to a public school.

And in that time, I have learned four things:

1) In both word and deed, most teachers are pro-children

Data show how America’s teachers think and behave. A Public Agenda survey of teachers shows that three quarters of teachers believe that good teachers “can lead all students to learn, even those from poor families or who have uninvolved parents;” two thirds of teachers entered the profession to help put “underprivileged kids on the path to success.” Many teachers, like my mom, take work home and work long hours. An earlier survey of the broader public concluded: “Parents, the public, principals and superintendents say that almost all teachers are caring and qualified.”

A close look shows that many teachers believe in parent engagement and choice. When the chips are down – in other words, when it comes to their own children – public school teachers are twice as likely as other parents to send their kids to private schools. When I had an ineffective teacher as a child, my mom pinched pennies to put me into a private school for a few years. Teachers do this for reasons eloquently explained by Ray Salazar, a Chicago Public Schools teacher who wrote about his choices for his own children and why public education should offer more choices for all parents.

Teachers also share my mom’s specific frustrations. Teachers hold wide-ranging views on reform. The majority believe that tenure is automatic, not dependent upon quality. A plurality believes that unions should focus more on teaching quality and student achievement. On average, teachers believe that about 10 percent of their colleagues are ineffective. Three quarters of all teachers and an even higher percentage of highly recognized teachers believe it needs to be easier to dismiss ineffective teachers. Unfortunately, teachers feel that they have no voice outside their classrooms.

The problem is that politicians do not talk to teachers. They talk to union lobbyists.

2) Historically, unions have given only lip service to kids

The personal sincerity of proud unionists can be mesmerizing. Consider legendary American Federation of Teachers President Albert Shanker endorsing reforms in the wake of the 1983 report A Nation at Risk; or current AFT President Randi Weingarten pushing the anti-reformers within her caucus; or new National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García showing humor as a parent and grace as a social justice advocate. At the local level, Dr. John Thompson of Oklahoma, Xian Barrett of Chicago, and Ben Spielberg of San Jose all believe their union-driven reforms would have succeeded, but for the so-called “corporate” reformers that Shanker endorsed. For years, optimists have believed in these individuals, and predicted that they will make the unions more focused on students. Dana Goldstein defends unions as “potent advocates for many of the education policies that most benefit disadvantaged children, from tuition-free pre-K to better training for teachers.”

My mom’s experience, however, alerted me to the sincerity of those who have concluded that reform unionism is a mirage. Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who concluded that teachers’ unions have been an “unwavering road block to reform,” started his career as a teachers’ union organizer. Civil rights leader Howard Fuller traveled a similar path: starting his career as a public sector union organizer, but eventually concluding that the unions prioritized political power over student interests.

Unfortunately, history has thus far favored the pessimists. The unions have unparalleled political influence over the best-funded public education system in human history. As reported over the last two weeks, the AFT alone spends millions annually to preserve that influence; the NEA devotes even more. If the optimists were right, the unions would have directed their lawyers, think tanks, communication operatives, and staffers to deliver results in many evidence-based areas, from overhauling schools of education, to promoting hands-on learning in science, technology, and math, to substantially higher salaries for the best teachers, to universal arts programs.


The interests of teachers in helping kids learn and elevating their profession…

Unfortunately, state legislators and superintendents do not report union emphasis on these items. Aside from occasional lip service, pro-student movements within the unions disappeared as quickly as they’ve arisen, and have rarely ever delivered.

Instead, the unions pick only two real fights. First, unions attack charter schools and oppose direct scholarships for students. Second, they critique meaningful differentiation among teachers as well as defend policies such as last-in-first-out layoffs, lockstep pay, and tenure. Even teachers know the NEA and AFT don’t push for meaningful evaluations. To take one high-profile example, they opposed John McCain’s effort to cut corporate welfare and redirect the proceeds to pay more to great teachers and teachers in poor schools. In picking these two fights as their demonstrated priorities, the unions have chosen to defend a century-old industrial model of labor that casts teachers as interchangeable assembly-line cogs.

The question is why.

3) Unions are structurally biased against student interests

To see why, start with the truisms that union defenders will themselves admit. Some teachers are great, many are middling, and some are terrible. Some work very long hours, some work very few. And although money isn’t everything, it matters.

Now consider two different teacher profiles to see how incentives skew average union engagement. Imagine a fifth year teacher named Pat, who has outstanding skills and works long hours. At $50,000 per year in compensation, Pat would likely see hourly compensation go up if fired and forced to obtain a different job. Pat has very little near-term financial reason to get involved in union politics. Now imagine a veteran teacher named Ronni, who has a weaker skill set and works contract-minimum hours. Close to a generous retirement and earning six figures or more, Ronni would likely see a significant drop in hourly compensation if fired. Ronni has an immediate and strong personal financial stake in making sure that the local union takes a strong stance against accountability and choice. As a result, Ronni votes a lot more often than Pat, especially if a district considers reform.

The result is that union leaders tend to be unrepresentative. A 2005 survey of membership and leadership by the National Education Association found that only 15 percent of teachers are actively involved with the union. The same survey also showed that the larger the local affiliate, the less likely the local affiliate president will reflect the demographics and political views of their members.

To see how reform-minded teachers are systematically under-represented in union elections, consider Washington, D.C., as a case study. In 2010, George Parker, the president of the AFT’s Washington Teachers Union, negotiated a lucrative-yet-reform-oriented contract. But some teachers expressed fears about job security. Parker lost his seat shortly thereafter to challenger Nathan Saunders in an election with 25 percent turnout. Afterwards, Saunders declared in his victory comments, “this is a race about job security.” Unfortunately, 25 percent is not a particularly low turnout for a union election. Last year, in the election held by the AFT’s United Federation of Teachers in New York City, retirees cast more votes than current teachers (only 17 percent of working classroom teachers voted); this year, during an election held by the union’s United Teachers Los Angeles local, an anti-reformer won with just 22.5 percent turnout. The combination of low turnout, and systematic under-representation of pro-student voices, has decimated the viability of pro-reform unionism.


Are often not represented properly by NEA and AFT leaders such as Lily Eskelson Garcia, who are driven by other concerns.

No matter the personal sincerity of leaders like Weingarten and García, they remain subject to the politics of their unions. When a fast-growing splinter group pushed unions to militantly oppose reform, the AFT spent millions on a “national day of action” to that end. As Stanford University Professor of Political Science Terry Moe concluded in a comprehensive 2011 study, “union leaders are never going to [reform, because] their incentives are heavily front-loaded and short-term.”

The structural biases against reform do not work perfectly. Across tens of thousands of districts, pro-student constituencies occasionally gain control, such as in San Jose, Calif. Unfortunately, the power structure of the unions makes such exceptions irrelevant. This is because neither union holds direct elections for senior offices. A few thousand of the most active and invested union politicians attend national conventions to choose the national leaders. Within these conventions, dissent is rare. Weingarten earned a 98 percent margin in her recent re-election to lead the AFT, while García earned 94 percent of her convention’s vote. Union leaders elected in this environment tend to intervene against reform-minded locals. In the San Jose case, the local’s parent union, the NEA’s California Teachers Association, pushed the state board of education to stall the affiliate’s request to modify local tenure rules.

4) The hope is that eroding traditional union power will empower pro-student teachers

Overcoming these structural and cultural barriers will not be easy. But changes are taking place that might, finally, give real weight to the pro-student voices within the unions.

For starters, reformers may be outgunned, but they are gaining momentum. Philanthropists finance radically disruptive technologies, charter schools, and direct scholarships (also known as vouchers). These changes increasingly create pro-reform parent constituencies among traditional labor allies such as civil rights organizations. Public opinion favors reform, and parents opt out of the system through private schools and by homeschooling. All of these trends threaten the $600 billion in annual taxpayer expenditures that finance the unions, and thus compel reform.

Second, as we learned in the cases of leaded gasoline and cigarette toxicity, evidence can overcome well-funded adversaries. As bad charter schools have closed and good ones have expanded, evidence has accumulated that new schooling models can deliver better results for students in poverty, black students, Hispanic students, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities. As a result, we see the rapid growth of high-performing nonprofit charter school operators such as Success Academy, along with high public approval of charter schools.

With great charter schools proving how much all children can learn, public deliberation is also making progress on improving traditional schools. Consider the recent Vergara v. California case, in which a neutral state judge rejected a well-funded union legal team and ruled that California’s teacher work rules violated the rights of students. The unions launched a full PR fusillade, endeavoring to make support for Vergara into a litmus test for whether someone was anti-teacher. Despite this, the decision was endorsed by virtually every major editorial board in the country, including the New York Times, and the Washington Post. And longstanding union allies such as House Education and the Workforce Committee Ranking Member George Miller agreed.

These trends are weakening the unions’ clout within the progressive movement. NEA was exposed as toothless when its resolution condemning Democratic Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was widely ignored. The AFT’s two affiliates in New York snubbed Gov. Andrew Cuomo to no avail. As I have written elsewhere, progressives have strong reasons to oppose public-sector unions, and private-sector labor is splitting from NEA and AFT. Thanks to private-sector unions, Rhode Island Treasurer Gina Raimondo won the Democratic primary for governor in spite of opposition from NEA and AFT affiliates. Meanwhile in California, superintendent candidate Marshall Tuck faces heavy opposition from NEA and AFT affiliates, but is winning union households by a 2-1 margin.

As this dynamic accelerates, it compels the unions to pick winnable fights, such as the NEA’s fight against standardized testing. If this push by the unions leads to more holistic, sophisticated evaluation systems for students and teachers and schools, the whole country will be better off.

Even more powerfully, changes legal and fiscal are eroding the unions’ structural bias against reforms. In the past few years, several states – including Tennessee, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Indiana – have passed laws dismantling the ability of NEA and AFT affiliates to compel teachers into paying dues. Indeed, this might soon be the national norm. As Dropout Nation noted in July, the U.S. Supreme Court has signaled that it may soon strike down compulsory dues in the public sector as a violation of free speech. A case filed in California last year could trigger that ruling relatively soon, which would essentially eliminate the anti-reform leaders’ advantage within their unions. Union leaders who wish to earn the dues of their members in such states will need to be much more solicitous than in the past of pro-reform teacher sentiments.

As these financial changes happen, the last defense of the status quo – district-level implementation – will begin to crumble. Pro-reform local unions will be free to innovate. Idealistic and entrepreneurial teachers will be attracted to those districts. We will learn from their experiments, and voters in other localities will notice.

After listening to my mom’s stories about teaching, I briefly spent time working in high school classrooms with legendary teachers Tommie Lindsey of James Logan and Cathy Berman of El Cerrito. Perhaps my proudest moment as a professional was when Tommie told me, “It’s obvious that great teaching is in your blood.” But after hearing my mom’s frustrations, I chose not to enter the profession myself. Today, my daughter wants to be a teacher. By the time she enters the workforce, I believe that teaching will be much more welcoming to her voice.

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Teachers’ Union Money Talks

One of the most-hotly debated questions is how strong is the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers compared to the school reform movement. When it comes to…

One of the most-hotly debated questions is how strong is the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers compared to the school reform movement. When it comes to the money that is key to political influence, there is no doubt: The NEA and AFT together spend roughly $700 million per year, consistently, on a broad spectrum of political communication activities opposed to reform. This means that the financial (and political) muscle of the two unions is far greater than that of school reform organizations such as Democrats for Education Reform, StudentsFirst (for which I used to work), Stand for Children, Black Alliance for Educational Options, and the American Federation for Children.

wpid-threethoughslogoTo understand the unions’ advantages, start with the AFT and NEA national budgets. The AFT has 1.6 million members and generated $233 million in revenue (net of borrowing) as of 2013-2014, according to this week’s Dropout Nation analysis of financial data; the NEA had 3.1 million members and national revenues of $387 million in 2012-2013. This total is only the beginning. Although teachers have “unitary dues” where they pay once for national, state, and local affiliates, the state and local portions of the bill vary greatly and can be quite significant. In the state of New Jersey, for instance, compulsory dues come to $936 per teacher, less than $200 of which go to national. In Chicago, the compulsory dues that the AFT’s Chicago Teachers Union deducts from paychecks amount to $1,060 per teacher a year, several hundred dollars more than go to Illinois and national combined. Average dues of nearly $1,000 per year appear quite common.

The volume and reporting diversity of state and local filings makes a comprehensive assessment difficult. Indeed, the unions’ financial heft deters consultants from even trying, as no one wants to be blacklisted from future union contracts. In exchange for their confidentiality, I engaged a team of consultants on behalf to work for several weeks pro bono in combing through various national, state, and local disclosure documents. These consultants concluded that the combined budgets amount to $2.2 billion per year, of which roughly $1.6 billion comes indirectly from taxpayers through compulsory paycheck deductions. This estimate is consistent with the state-by-state research published two years ago by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

While not all of the $2.2 billion is used for politics, the sums available for pure politics are massive. When vouchers were proposed by ballot initiative in California in 1993, for instance, unions were able to deploy $30 million in today’s dollars to defeat the initiative. As Dropout Nation and others have consistently shown, the AFT and NEA are among the largest ongoing contributors to politics, consistently increasing their donations even as their respective memberships among those in K-12 are in decline.

More importantly, the narrow definition of “political” dollars is almost meaningless. Officially non-political dollars, such as “member communications” and related employee time, frequently get used for grassroots lobbying of union members. It is rare to read an NEA or AFT mailer or attend any teachers’ union event that does not rebroadcast the union leaders’ political messages. This financial freedom to disseminate messages to teachers and their allies, dovetailing with the smothering of pro-reform voices within the union, means that teaching is presented as a monolithic bloc opposed to reform. Electorally and politically, this is especially powerful because teachers are one of the nation’s most highly-respected professions. So the NEA and AFT exploit this esteem in their voter canvassing work.

As Dropout Nation detailed in this week’s review of the AFT’s finances (as well as in analysis of the NEA’s spending), another way that nonpolitical dollars become political is when unions pass along millions in taxpayer-funded dues to organizations, from civil rights groups to feminist groups, so as to enlist future loyalty. While officially non-political, these distributions generate political payoffs when those other groups join the unions in marches, lawsuits, and hard-dollar fundraising drives.

So how much, exactly, of the $2.2 billion go to political communications of these various sorts? Unfortunately, the unions themselves are responsible for reporting and enforcing the boundary between political and non-political, and a recent history of settlements for electoral violations and court defeats shows they are willing to blur that line. Sources I interviewed estimated that unions spend roughly one third of their total resources on broadly defined political communications, including grassroots lobbying and organizing around content. This is consistent with union observer Mike Antonucci’s estimate that the NEA alone spends a bit under $450 million annually on politics; if you scale that up on a pro-rata basis by the AFT’s budget, the combined total would be over $700 million annually in political expenditures.

Crucially, this $700 million gets spent reliably every year. That allows investments in infrastructure, rapid response operations, staff talent development, and long-term political relationships. Politicians taking a long-term view of their careers can trust that the union dollars will be there year after year. Newspapers considering editorial decisions know that union advertisers are reliable customers.

Union apologists such as Diane Ravitch suggest that this $700 million political budget merely offsets the wealth deployed by “corporate-style reformers” to achieve change. This claim is patently false. The math on compulsory dues is straightforward: millions of members, paying nearly a thousand dollars per year in dues, generate billions in revenue.

Consider the Walton family, education’s most prominent reform philanthropists. The $63 million they spent on supporting education reform in 2013 is less than one-tenth of the dollars spent by NEA and AFT in a given year. The Gates Foundation is larger, but gives even less to education, because most of its grants go overseas to issues such as fighting malaria. And even within education, Gates Foundation grants often go to the NEA and AFT themselves as well as to traditional districts. It is unclear whether their contributions to reformers are even net positive. Meanwhile other reformers focus on other issues beyond education. Reform organizations have improved their fundraising in the past few years, and have been able to sustain some pressure on the unions as a result. But the combined annual budgets of school reform advocates still amount to only a fraction of the Big Two teachers’ unions.

As if all that were not enough, unions have an ace up their sleeve: Their sway over school districts. Thanks to low turnouts in school district elections, unions essentially elect school board officials, who in turn, appoint superintendents who then select principals. Even when teachers face a pro-reform superintendent, they can thwart reform. Consider the admission by Michael Mulgrew, the president of the AFT’s United Federation of Teachers in New York City that he deliberately “ ‘gummed up’ the implementation of teacher evaluations last year during negotiations with the prior Bloomberg administration.” By controlling districts, schools, and classrooms, union leaders can block or even sabotage reforms that they do not like.

School reformers (and everyone else) must realize that they will need to redouble their investments of time and money in order to play on a level playing field with the NEA and the AFT.

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