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December 5, 2014 standard

As Dropout Nation hinted on Wednesday, there is nothing just or moral about the decision by a New York City grand jury to not indict police officer Daniel Pantaleo for the murder of Eric Garner. As with last week’s grand jury decision in Ferguson over Michael Brown’s slaying, we have all been rudely reminded that state-sanctioned murder of black men is at the heart of the racial bigotry that is America’s Original Sin. Just as importantly, we are once again warned about the consequences of militarizing law enforcement agencies as well as giving them too much carte blanch in how they patrol our communities.

Yet one of the more-positive developments from the Garner grand jury’s appalling act of injustice is that it once again shines light on how state laws and the cultism among those wearing the badge often act to protects corrupt, even murderous police officers from being removed from beats. School reformers and criminal justice reform advocates can come together to help each other get rid of professionals who shouldn’t be trusted with our kids or with protecting our neighborhoods.

The fact that Pantaleo managed to escape even an indictment on a lower level charge such as manslaughter or criminally-negligent homicide is certainly shocking. This is because 83 percent of 98 homicides by officers led to charges of murder or manslaughter, according to a recent study from Bowling Green State University. But even if Panteleo was indicted, past cases of homicide-by-cop — including the 2006 murder of Sean Bell by a New York Police Department undercover squad who mistakenly thought he was a suspect in a case they were investigating — serve as grim reminders that he (along with former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson) wouldn’t have likely been convicted. Just one-in-three officers charged with a crime were convicted while a mere 12 percent of them (or one-in-eight) ever served time, according to data released in 2010 by the Police Misconduct Reporting Project; both are, respectively, two and four times lower than for indicted suspects in the general population.

Certainly the natural sympathy among the public outside of black and Latino communities for what can be dangerous work of policing is one reason why bad cops such as Pantaleo and Wilson are often allowed to kill with impunity; even though the number of cops slain in the line of duty (along with other crimes) have declined for most of the past three decades (and are at their lowest levels in more than a century), it is easy to understand why officers will have to pull out their weapons in order to protect communities and themselves. But as the reaction of even more law-and-order oriented movement conservatives such as New York Times columnist Ross Douthat shows, even those sympathies fall by the wayside when video clearly shows an unarmed citizen such as the 43-year-old Garner being choked to death by Pantaleo with so much malice. Add in the video of Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann shooting to death 12-year-old Tamir Rice for playing with a toy gun, and the trust that the legendary Sir Robert Peel argued was key to support for law enforcement falls away.

But the more-important reasons why bad cops get away with corruption or worse have to do with state laws and court rulings, police evaluation structures that fail to weed out bad apples, and the proverbial thin blue line of silence (and support) from fellow police officers who are often willing to defend even the worst of their allies.

Beginning in 1985 with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Garner v. Tennessee, state laws such as Article 35 of New York State’s Penal Code and Chapter 563 of the Missouri Revised Statutes have given officers wide leeway in how they use deadly force in stopping criminal activity. Officers can shoot to kill if they “objectively reasonable” probably cause to “believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others”. The problem is that it is almost impossible to determine what is objective or reasonable, and thus, objective becomes subjective and unreliable. More often than not, if a police officer says he fears for his life (as Wilson did in his testimony to the St. Louis grand jury), than he is let off the hook. Since state laws rarely require the objective standard to be based on physical evidence, even a videotape isn’t enough to lead to an indictment, much less a conviction.

Bad cops such as Dan Pantaleo, who murdered Eric Garner, destroy communities.

Then there are the shoddy processes for selecting police officers and evaluating their performance. Police departments generally use a process that includes filling out a job application, passing a physical, going through criminal background checks, and polygraph examinations. When done properly, this process can weed out aspiring officers who are too out-of-shape to chase down robbers on foot or have past convictions; when not, (as seen in Miami during the Cocaine Cowboys crime wave era of the 1980s), this can lead to spectacular corruption. But it doesn’t actually do much to determine if they have the proper temperament and judgement needed to do the job. This is especially problematic in community-oriented policing, in which officers have to be trusted with making short- and long-term judgments on their own.

Even worse, as in the case of Loehmann (who was sacked by the Independence, Ohio, police department for dismal gun handling before becoming a Cleveland cop), officers forced to leave other departments because of past misbehavior or incompetence can end up back on the job with another police agency. As the Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services noted in a 2008 study, “law enforcement agencies have been unable to successfully develop a system that can identify… which individuals will become the most effective officers.”

Adding further complication is the reality that police officers often view themselves as bands of brothers who will protect each other even at cost to the integrity of their profession. Famed police detective Frank Serpico — who carries a bullet in his head as a result of his decision to shed light on the Big Apple’s drug war-driven police corruption in the 1970s (which led to the famed Knapp Commission cleanup of the police department) — forcefully pointed out this reality in a piece on Ferguson in Politico Magazine. Not only will officers do nothing to help weed out the worst (and even merely bad) within their ranks, they will shun (and even endanger) those few brave officers who dare to break the Blue Wall of Silence. This was clear Wednesday after the Garner grand jury decision to not indict Pantaleo, when participants on one police bulletin board cheered it.

But the culture extends beyond the precinct walls. Police unions such as New York City’s Patrolmen Benevolent Association as well as affiliates of the International Union of Police Associations work overtime to keep even the worst officers on the job. This includes termination processes that can often stretch out for years. [Update: The Daily News touched on the role of unions in protecting bad cops when it reported that one rookie NYPD officer, Peter Liang, immediately texted his union representative after he shot and killed 28-year-old Akai Gurley.]

As seen in the cases of Pantaleo and Wilson, prosecutors mindful of the importance police union endorsements in winning and keeping office (as well as maintaining an image of being tough on crime) will often do all they can to not obtain indictments or convictions. Particularly in the case of St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch, his, well, unorthodox approach to presenting his case to the grand jury investigating Wilson’s murder of Brown has been widely criticized for essentially making it easy for the now-former officer to walk away scot-free from human justice.

As a result, few bad cops ever get sacked. Just 1.9 percent of NYPD’s men in blue were dismissed between 1975 and 1996, according to a 2005 study by James Fyfe of City University of New York’s John Jay College and Robert Kane of American University. Those who remain on the job can often end up walking the beat even in the departments where they committed offenses. Michael Carey, one of four officers who shot 41 bullets into the body of Amadou Diallo in 1999, got his gun back to patrol Big Apple streets just two years ago. For all citizens, especially for poor and minority communities with long memories of state-sanctioned murder, the presence of bad cops means immediate danger to their lives and civil liberties.

If any of this sounds familiar to those of us in the school reform movement, it should. Because the ways bad cops are protected and enabled are parallel to how American public education keep laggard and criminally abusive teachers in classrooms.

As Frank Serpico would say, there are few differences between the Blue Wall of Silence and the Thin Chalk Line.

As with laws governing deadly force, state laws granting near-lifetime employment in the form of tenure all but ensure that teachers remain on the job regardless of performance. Thanks to the fact that all but eight states allow teachers to attain tenure in less than five years — and in the case of California, within two — laggard teachers end up getting into jobs regardless of their performance. Adding to the burden are teacher dismissal laws such as those of California (which can cause firing processes to last seven years and cost a district as much as $7 million), that make it difficult to toss even the criminally abusive out of classrooms.

Just like police departments, the nation’s university schools of education do a shoddy job of recruiting and training aspiring teachers. As your editor noted last month, this was made clear again by the National Council of Teacher Quality in the latest of its reports on the low quality of ed school preparation. Thanks to both bureaucratic incompetence as well as state laws that have, until recently, restricted the use of test score growth data in teacher evaluations (and have only allowed subjective observation-based evaluations that don’t actually measure how teachers improve student achievement), districts have failed miserably in evaluating and managing classroom instructors. Just 40 percent of veteran teachers and 70 percent of new hires were evaluated by Los Angeles Unified School District during the 2009-2010 school year, according to NCTQ in a 2011 report.

Meanwhile the cultism that pervades police departments can also be found in teachers; lounges in traditional public schools. Like the Blue Wall of Silence, the Thin Chalk Line not only keeps good and great teachers from calling out the incompetents in their midst, it (along with near-lifetime employment) also lead otherwise-honorable teachers to protect the criminally-abusive among them. This was clear in the sexual abuse scandal still enveloping L.A. Unified; former Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt’s “lewd conduct” against children in the school went unreported by his colleagues. In some cases, teachers will even defend the worst apples among them. One example can be seen in Rochester, N.Y., where teachers at School 19 rallied failed to cooperate in the investigation of Matthew LoMaglio for second degree sexual conduct an eight-year-old boy, they even  wrote letters to a judge begging for leniency on his behalf.

But as with the Blue Wall, the Thin Chalk Line extends beyond teachers’ lounges. Thanks to affiliates of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, removing laggard and criminally abusive teachers can be too onerous for districts to undertake. Because the two unions are the biggest players in school board races and, thanks to state laws, can force districts into bargaining, they have worked closely with administrators to structure contracts that keep principals from removing laggards or stop those with seniority from bumping out better performing-yet-less senior counterparts. At the same time, low-performing school leaders in school buildings, who couldn’t even get jobs checking coats at a Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, often do such a terrible job of managing teaching staffs as well as even aid and abet laggard teachers through practices such as overusing harsh school discipline.

As a result, few laggard and criminally-abusive teachers are ever tossed out of classrooms. In New York City, cases such as that of Steven Ostrin, who was found guilty of sexually harassing students, yet he was only given a six-month suspension and a reprimand, have  become commonplace. Overall, just 1.4 percent of tenured teachers were removed for poor performance, while less than seven-tenths of one percent of newly-hired instructors are ever fired. And like bad cops, bad teachers damage the futures of communities, especially those black and brown, and the lives of the children who are forced to sit in their classrooms.

Criminally-abusive teachers such as former L.A. Unified instructor Mark Berndt do as much damage to children as bad cops do to their families.

But unlike criminal justice reformers, school reform advocates can say that they are making some headway on addressing teacher quality issues. From the teacher evaluations using objective test score growth data in measuring performance, to efforts such as the lawsuits inspired by the Vergara v. California (in which a state court judge tossed out the Golden State’s tenure and dismissal laws), to efforts by districts such as New York City to aggressively evaluate newly-hired teachers before they attain tenure, small positive steps are being made to provide all children with the high-quality teachers they deserve.

What this means is that reformers can team up with criminal justice reform advocates are share lessons on how to address their parallel issues. After all, reformers have taken some of the more-successful aspects of policing — including the development of early warning systems based on the Broken Windows Theory used to great success in the Big Apple — in systemic reform efforts. More importantly, it is important for reformers to be concerned about what happens outside of schoolhouses, especially since the nation’s education crisis fuels the crises that happen daily on our streets. Just because criminal justice reform isn’t a primary focus of transforming public education doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be a concern.

One way school reformers and criminal justice reform advocates can work together is on police recruiting and training. Criminal justice reformers, for example, could apply some version of the teacher recruiting model developed by Teach For America, which has not only helped provide kids with high-quality teachers, but has also led to diversity in the teaching ranks. One can imagine how a Teach For America-style corps for police officers could help stem police brutality as well as build trust between law enforcement agencies and black communities.

The Garner grand jury decision, along with that in Ferguson, once again offer reformers an opportunity to stand up and be counted for the very communities of the children for who we advocate. Sharing lessons with counterparts working to end police corruption and brutality will help our kids and their families outside of classrooms as well as in them.

December 3, 2014 standard

Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
en the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is the fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bier crop.

– Abraham Meeropol’s Strange Fruit, a poem-turned-song inspired by a lynching in Marion, Indiana, whose lyrics of state-sanctioned murder of black men resonate as much now as it did when it was written nine decades ago. Dropout Nation prays for — and stands in sympathy with — the family of Eric Garner, whose murder at the hands of a New York City police officer was not given justice by a grand jury today. And reminds all reformers that they have no right to be silent about either the crises of injustice that affect the communities of the children we serve — or how American public education helps perpetuate them through practices such as the restraint of children condemned to special ed ghettos.

December 2, 2014 standard

Last week’s Dropout Nation commentary on focusing on overhauling school discipline in the wale of Ferguson caused me to think about how we can stem the use of out-of-school suspensions. One solution lies with our classroom teaching.

I have a theory I call the ’95-5 Rule.’ Let’s say you have a 500 student school, and every period of every day, 95 percent of students behave appropriately. That also means every period of every day you’d have 25 students in the dean of discipline’s office: There is no school in the country equipped physically and in personnel to manage 25 students out of the classroom, 3-6 times a day for 180 days. You can do the math for a 1,000 or more student school; a 3,000 person high school would have the equivalent of our school’s entire 8th grade class in the dean’s office every period.

This would apply to discipline over tardiness, too: The moment you have 25 students every period standing in line at the attendance office to get a late slip, the teachers get a memo saying to ‘not send students to the office who are tardy,’ even if the school rules state that clearly as the procedure.

Being unprepared to handle discipline issues like these lead to the harsh penalties for what seem to be small infractions, which has partly created the discipline crisis we have in our urban schools particularly.

To my knowledge there is no teaching program in California, especially in Los Angeles (which is home to the ed schools run by UCLA and that University of Southern California), that has a stand-alone classroom management class. My very first principal said “The best classroom management is a good lesson plan.” Teachers are not prepared to manage students well coming out of the schools, and often have to rely on extra professional development, their own efforts, or trial by fire to develop those critical classroom skills. For example, teachers in a school I worked at started improving their classroom efforts a year after I handed the former principal for whom I worked a copy of Douglas Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion, (a Dropout Nation Top Eight book).

Teachers must be trained to create a classroom environment where there is neither time nor opportunity for that behavior to occur. They must also be trained to address misbehavior with immediate-yet-fair consequences for that behavior. Those steps would greatly improve student behavior and school environments.

But improving school discipline isn’t just about better teaching. Schools must have the personnel and resources (space) to manage that 5-to-10 percent of kids who aren’t behaving well that day. that on any given day cannot function in a classroom. We already know that sending them home, especially if they are going into chaos, won’t work. Schools must also create a climate where students feel no need to have their shields raised every day, where they know that every adult is committed to their safety, welfare, and learning.

December 1, 2014 standard

There are a lot of institutions in Cleveland that make it seem like a world-class city. There’s the fact that the city of 400,000 people is at the center of a metropolitan area with a population of two million. There’s also the fact that Cleveland is home to a world-class orchestra and an equally fine and renowned art museum. Then you have the presence of Case Western Reserve University, one of the highest-ranking research universities in the United States, and world-renowned medical centers such as the Cleveland Clinic, which bring the international wealthy and famous there to the city for treatment.

Yet none of these institutions have helped end the caste system in which more than half of Cleveland’s residents (including 12-year-old Tamir Rice, whose slaying by a police officer is now being investigated), the descendants of Africans physically enslaved until the end of the Civil War, have been placed since before the birth of this nation.

The Cleveland Metropolitan School District enrolled 42,500 students in 2011, 68 percent of whom were African American, 15 percent White, non-Hispanic, and 14 percent Hispanic. The average salary of teachers then was $69,000. Perhaps because of this, the student to teacher ratio was a quite high 17:1. All those comparatively well-paid teachers met state licensing and certification requirements and hardly any were in their first or second year of teaching. On the other hand, a remarkable three-quarters of the district’s teachers were absent more than 10 days of the school year. All of these data in regard to the teaching staff are most unusual, the salaries higher, the proportion of new teachers lower, the student to teacher ratio and teacher absenteeism unusually high.

Cleveland is one of the urban districts analyzed by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Eighth grade reading, a key factor, has varied since 2003 for White students in the district from 14 percent scoring at or above grade level (Proficient and above) in 2003 to 26 percent in 2007, and then back down to 19 percent in 2013. Results for the district’s Black students have been less variable: Eight percent at grade level in 2003 and nine percent in 2013. Broken down by gender, just 12 percent of young Black women and six percent of young Black men read at or above proficiency.

Put this another way: Cleveland fails to teach 94 percent of young Black men to read at grade level by eighth grade. For Ohio as a whole, 16 percent of Black students read at grade level in eighth grade, as do 43 percent of White students. In Ohio’s suburban districts, 19 percent of Black students read at grade level, as do 47 percent of White students. In Cleveland, as elsewhere, Black students can at least double their opportunity of learning basic skills by moving to the suburbs.

We can look at this another way by calculating the numbers of students reading at grade level (Proficient and Advanced) with parents at various educational attainment levels by aligning NAEP and Census data. Twenty-three percent of White and 25 percent of Black adults in Cleveland age 25 and older reported to the Census that they had less than a high school diploma; this is equivalent to the NAEP category of “Did not finish high school.” Thirty-five percent of Whites and 36 percent of African Americans said that they were high school graduates with a diploma or GED, equivalent to NAEP’s “Graduated high school.” Twenty-four percent of Whites and 31 percent of African Americans reported some college or associate’s degree, equivalent to “Some education after high school” and 17 percent of Whites and 8 percent of African Americans reported attaining a bachelor’s degree or higher: “Graduated College.”

None of the 2,100 eighth grade Black students whose parents didn’t finish high school read at or above grade level. Thirty Black students report that one of their parents completed high school while they themselves read at grade level. 131 Black students read at grade level in eighth grade and have at least one parent who had some college. And 15 Black students at eighth grade read at grade level and report that at least one of their parents has a college degree. [The number of Black students in eighth grade reading at grade level who are the children of college graduates is lower than that of those whose parents have “some college” because there are few adult Black college graduates in in the city.] Whichever way you calculate it, fewer than 10 percent of eighth-grade Black students in Cleveland have been taught to read at or above grade level.

Ohio state prisons such as Lebanon State near Dayton are where Cleveland’s dropouts go.

But Cleveland has a “Plan for Transforming Schools” which was the subject of a Dropout Nation commentary two years ago. It has as its goal “to ensure that every child in Cleveland attends a high-quality school and that every neighborhood has a multitude of great schools from which families can choose. This includes expanding public charter schools. This only works if charter schools in Ohio were of high-quality. Sadly, in part because of shoddy authorizing, this isn’t so. Just 17 percent of eighth-graders attending Ohio’s charters in 2013 were at or above Proficient in reading; this is lower than for traditional public and other schools, where 40 percent of students read at or above Proficient. Just 10 percent of Black charter school students read at or above Proficient in reading, versus 19 percent of peers in traditional and other schools.

High school graduation rates for Cleveland students in 2011-2012 were 42 percent for both Black students, that is, nearly 60 percent of those students enrolled in grade 9 in 2008-09 did not graduate at the end of the 2011-12 school year. Given that 90 percent of Black students in eighth grade cannot read at grade level, it is remarkable that the district manages to graduate as many students as it does.

Perhaps we should look at this more closely: How well-prepared are those graduates?

Cuyahoga Community College is the area’s postsecondary institution of first resort, as it were. In a recent year it admitted 2,100 first-time students. 90 of these received Associate’s degrees. 780 of those admitted were Black, 316 of whom were men. Eleven of those Black students, 4 of whom were men, received Associate’s degrees in the standard 150 percent of normal time. Those 11 of 780 Black students were not necessarily all from Cleveland, nor were all four of the Black males who benefitted in this way.

Other students attend Cleveland State University, hoping to obtain baccalaureate degrees, which is increasingly vital for employment, middle class incomes and, for Black men, avoidance of incarceration. Cleveland State University’s first-time degree-seeking undergraduates in fall 2006 totaled nearly a thousand, 241 of whom were Black; 73 of those were men. 318 of that cohort, 39 of whom were Black, seven of whom were young Black men, received baccalaureates. Not all those 32 Black women and seven Black men who grasped the brass ring of a four-year degree from Cleveland State University were necessarily from Cleveland. Some of those successful Black undergraduates probably came from elsewhere in Cuyahoga County, elsewhere in Ohio, or further afield. Finally, to round out the sample, Case Western Reserve, a national research university, admitted 1,015 first time undergraduate students in fall 2006, 66 of whom were Black and 22 of whom were young Black men. Nearly 800 of that group received Bachelor’s degrees. Fewer than 50 of those were Black, just 14 were Black men. Not all of these, as well, would necessarily have been graduates of the Cleveland public schools.

Given the nature of these results, exact percentages hardly matter. We have something like 3,000 Black students going into the district’s high schools, 1,600 graduating, 11 receiving Associate’s degrees and 89 Bachelor’s degrees within six years. It is clear that the district almost totally fails to prepare its Black students, and, in particular, young Black men in its schools, for college or careers likely to produce an income sufficient to support a family, or provide them with the type of background necessary to fully appreciate the remarkable holdings of the Cleveland Museum of Art, or the offerings available during the season in Severance Hall.

It does, however, “prepare” many young Black men in the city for incarceration. Which is hardly world-class.

November 29, 2014 standard

This hasn’t been a great year for the American Federation of Teachers — and this goes double for its Empire State affiliate. Over the past year, the New York State United Teachers has been through a power struggle between the faction led by now-former President Richard Iannuzzi and a coalition that included United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew; has seen its influence decline even further as Republicans regained control of the state senate in spite of its efforts; and was told in no uncertain terms by Gov. Andrew Cuomo after winning re-election (in spite of it snubbing him) that the union would have to bow to the governor’s school reform agenda.

But as the AFT affiliate’s 2013-2014 filing with the U.S. Department of Labor shows, it faces an even more-precarious financial future, especially as it struggles with unfunded pensions and retiree healthcare benefits.

NYSUT reports that it has accrued $380 million in retirement liabilities in 2013-2014, a 25 percent increase over levels in the previous fiscal year. This includes $238 million in pension liabilities, (26 percent increase within the last year), and $117 million in retiree health liabilities (a 28 percent increase over 2012-2013). This is an 84 percent increase over the $214 million in retirement liabilities on the AFT affiliate’s books in 2009-2010. The higher liabilities explain why it spent $42 million on employee benefits this past fiscal year, almost double the $42 million spent five years earlier. With just $107 million in assets, and owing $313 million more than it can cover, NYSUT is virtually insolvent.

The good news for NYSUT is that it added 15,340 members in 2013-2014, a 2.6 percent increase. But the news isn’t as good as it may seem. The AFT unit only added 1,000 new members among classroom teachers (from 387,476 to 378,476). Most of the growth came from the addition of 12,608 members in so-called special constituency groups; just 55 such members were on the rolls a year earlier. That these members likely pay less in dues than teachers can be seen in the fact that NYSUT’s revenue increased by a mere 2.1 percent to $241 million last fiscal year. As for the bottom line? NYSUT generated a $3.8 million surplus, the second consecutive year it has brought in more than it spent. This can be attributed to a 5.2 percent decline in general overhead and a slight reduction in union administration costs.

But as Dropout Nation noted last year, NYSUT cannot survive on its own without the help of AFT and the National Education Association (to which the union is also affiliated). AFT subsidized NYSUT to the tune of $12.1 million in 2013-2014, unchanged from the previous year, while NEA provided $1.9 million in subsidies, a slight increase from the $1.8 million given in the previous year. Particularly for AFT and its president, Rhonda (Randi) Weingarten, propping up the unit is critical to keeping New York under its sphere of influence. The New York State AFT also earned $6.3 million from its Member Benefits affiliate, which like the one operated by AFT, peddles annuities and insurance plans to its members, an 18 percent decrease over previous year. The union’s Teaching & Learning Trust, another revenue contributor, brought in $3 million, a 52 percent increase over 2012-2013.

NYSUT second-in-command Andy Pallotta got a sweet payday for his successful effort with UFT President Michael Mulgrew to oust longtime union boss Richard Iannuzzi

The subsidies, along with the compulsory dues, allowed NYSUT to devote $96 million (including almost always-political representational activities) in 2013-2014, a one percent increase over the previous year. Among usual suspects, it gave $150,000 to Alliance for Quality Education, who, along with New York Communities for Change, put together a Web site, Twitter feed, and 10-page report (if you can call it that) targeting former CNN anchor-turned-school reformer Campbell Brown; New York Communities got $25,000 from the union, and the New York State Labor-Religion Coalition received $59,769. Education Law Center also received $50,000 from NYSUT, while New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness received $60,000. The union also kicked up $455,217 to AFT national’s Northeast Region Organizing Project; and subsidized UFT to the tune of $14.2 million, a two percent decrease over 2012-2013.

NYSUT gave $200,000 to Citizen Action of New York’s Public Policy and Education Fund; $60,000 to New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness; $30,000 to VOICE-Buffalo, which is convening a task force on education in the Upstate New York city; and $20,000 to People for New York – Progressive Agenda. The union gave $259,150 to Strong Economy for All Coalition, a cadre of public-sector unions and progressive outfits whose members include Citizen Action, AQE, and New York Communities; it also dropped $100,000 into the coffers of Working America, the Washington, D.C.-based labor advocacy outfit controlled by AFL-CIO.

The union’s single-biggest single political spend was on its VOTE COPE political action committee, which received $781,980 from its coffers; the PAC itself spent $4 million during this past election cycle to back Democrat candidates for state senate seats and take sole control of the Empire State’s upper house. This included mailers that attempted to the state Republican Party’s opposition to abortion to promoting domestic violence against women. That mailer ended up arousing the ire of Senate Republicans such as Mark Grisanti, who is championing a bill that would create voucher-like tax credits to expand school choice.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Republicans in the Empire State’s senate are ready to give NYSUT a few lessons in payback.

As a result of that blunder, along with the failure of NYSUT (as well as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio) to help Democrats take control of the state senate, the union’s political spending turned out to be a waste of money. Sure, the AFT affiliate did manage to convince the legislature to pass a bill delaying the use of test score growth data from Common Core-aligned tests. But the Empire State is still proceeding with its implementation of the standards, which NYSUT now opposes, and has no allies among either AFT national or UFT (whose president, Mulgrew, has threatened to punch out those who oppose them). And now, with both Cuomo and Senate Republicans ready to settle scores — and Education Commissioner John King more-powerful than ever despite a vote of no-confidence by the union earlier this year — NYSUT is even weaker than ever.

This isn’t to say that NYSUT won’t have considerable influence in Albany. After all, the state assembly remains in Democrat control, and its speaker, Sheldon Silver, will oppose anything other than the most-modest reform efforts. But the governor wields plenty of power as do King and the state Board of Regents; so NYSUT has embraced tactics that have alienated itself at a most-critical juncture. More importantly, it is clear that the dollars that the union could have used to elevate teaching by providing high-quality professional development services members desire (as well as by advocating for teacher quality reforms that help high-quality teachers) have now been spent into oblivion.

But at least NYSUT’s current and former leaders can say they continue to pay themselves well on the dime of teachers forced to pay into its coffers. Former NYSUT President Richard Iannuzzi  collected $291,124 in 2013-2014, a 5.7 percent decline from the previous year, while Karen Magee (who was essentially made Iannuzzi’s replacement by Mulgrew) was paid $140,363, quadruple the $36,757 she earned the previous year as a board member. Executive Director Thomas Anapolis was paid $223,242, a 9.2 percent increase over last year; while Andrew Pallotta, the NYSUT executive vice president (and UFT representative) who instigated the coup against Iannuzzi, collected $245,429, a slight bump up from the $243,305 he was paid in 2012-2013.

You can check out the data yourself by perusing the HTML version of the New York State AFT’s latest financial report, or by visiting the Department of Labor’s Web site.

November 28, 2014 standard

As Dropout Nation detailed on Monday in its initial analysis of the National Education Association’s 2013-2014 financial disclosure to the U.S. Department of Labor, grants and donations to supposedly like-minded groups made up a large portion of the $132 million the union spent to preserve its influence. But the nation’s largest teachers’ union also spent plenty on organizing and other activities geared toward opposing systemic reform.

One state where NEA worked hard to oppose reform was Wisconsin, where it teamed up with the American Federation of Teachers to oppose Gov. Scott Walker’s re-election campaign. Since Walker successfully passed Act 10, which abolished collective bargaining and ended the ability of public-sector unions to force workers to pay dues into their coffers, the NEA’s Badger State affiliate has lost one-third of its members over the past three years. Ousting Walker, along with helping Democrats gain control of the state legislature, would have helped the union regain lost ground and revenue. NEA subsidized the Wisconsin Education Association Council to the tune of $2.3 million in 2013-2014; this helped the affiliate undertake an aggressive ground campaign that included providing absentee ballot request forms to 15,000 potential voters, as well as mailed out 40,000 flyers. The union also contributed $125,000 to Wisconsin Jobs Now, an outfit launched at the behest of the Service Employees International Union’s healthcare affiliate in the state which has attracted controversy or stretching and violating campaign laws in word and deed; it also paid $10,509 to Constance Hutchison, a former state secretary of higher education.

None of the spending mattered. As Dropout Nation reported earlier this month, Walker easily won re-election against Mary Burke, the Democratic standard-bearer (and NEA favorite) for the state’s top job, while the legislature remains in Republican control.

Meanwhile NEA spent plenty in North Carolina, where state legislators passed legislation eliminating near-lifetime employment for teachers as well as launching a school voucher initiative. The fears that Republicans in control of both the governor’s office and the state legislature would go further to advance some aspects of systemic reform (even as they halted implementation of Common Core reading and math standards) is one reason why the union’s Super-PAC spent $3 million to back the unsuccessful re-election campaign of U.S Sen. Kay Hagen over state house Speaker Thom Tillis, an architect of those efforts. The union subsidized its North Carolina affiliate to the tune of $1.1 million, as well as contributing $77,000 to North Carolina Citizens for Protecting Our Schools, which spent money on a number of state house races. NEA also subsidized other efforts in the Tar Heel State. This included paying $44,964 to Patterson Harkavy to help the union overturn the elimination of tenure; spending $20,625 on the services of Stephanie Bass, a former communications director for progressive group Blueprint NC, for communications work on the ground; and paying $7,500 to Dewey Square Group for advocacy efforts. As in Wisconsin, the NEA’s spending in North Carolina yielded no good results.

While the NEA’s spending on backing politicians didn’t work out so well, it yielded some better results in backing ballot initiatives.

On one hand, the union contributed $2 million to Colorado Commits to Kids, which unsuccessfully advocated for the passage of Amendment 66 in 2013, which would have increased the state’s income taxes from 4.63 percent to as much as 5.9 percent for citizens earning more than $75,000 a year. Ballotpedia notes that NEA (including its Colorado affiliate) was the single-biggest donor to the group based on numbers it had obtained earlier this year. The defeat of Amendment 66 was one of several major defeats for the union in the Rocky Mountain State over the past two years that includes the successful passage of Prop. 104 (which requires collective bargaining negotiations to be open to the public) and incumbent U.S. Sen. Mark Udall’s defeat at the hand of Congressman Cory Gardner.

On the other hand, the union contributed $473,000 to Class Size Counts, a Washington State-based outfit which successfully backed Initiative 1351, which would restrict class sizes to no more than 25 kids in elementary and secondary schools; Ballotpedia estimates that NEA (including its affiliate and Super-PAC) contributed $2.8 million to the group, making it the single-biggest backer of the effort. Because the initiative requires the hiring of more teachers, the union and its Evergreen State affiliate will benefit greatly, both financially and otherwise, from its passage. The effort was also backed by SEIU, which likely backed I-1351 as a Trojan Horse for its own aims — and not exactly to help the NEA expand its ranks; this is because the wording of the initiative allows any district to use the additional state dollars to hire custodians and other classified employees represented by the union.

Then there is Missouri, where NEA spending yielded mixed results. The union gave $500,000 to Committee in Support of Public Educators, an arm of the union’s Show-Me State unit which successfully defeated the teacher evaluation reform measure contained in Amendment 3; the union and its state affiliate spent an additional $1 million to oppose the measure, according to Ballotpedia. NEA also gave $25,000 to the Missouri Early Voting Fund, which unsuccessfully backed an effort to put on the ballot an initiative that would have allowed earlier voting running up to Election Day. All in all, NEA won an important defensive victory, but didn’t gain much for its allies among progressives most-supportive of increasing voter turnout.

The NEA also gave $38,784 to its Hawaii affiliate to successfully defeat Amendment 4, which would have allowed early childhood education subsidies to go to privately-operated preschools. The union also provided $500,000 to its joint affiliate with the AFT, MEA-MFT, to successfully defeat LR-126, which would have moved back late voter registration from Election Day to the Friday before; this worked out far better for both NEA and AFT than their affiliate’s endorsements and financial backing of both U.S. Sen. John Walsh (who was forced out of his campaign to win a full term after the New York Times revealed in July that he plagiarized a master’s thesis he submitted to the U.S. Army War College) and his NEA- and AFT-backed replacement as Democratic standard-bearer, State Rep. Amanda Curtis (whose antics immediately disqualified her from higher office).

Then there’s Nevada, where NEA gave $100,000 to the Education Initiative Political Action Committee, which aimed to pass Question 3, a measure that would have forced businesses generating more than $1 million in revenue (including casino operators) to pay a two percent margin tax that would have been spent on traditional districts to the benefit of the union’s state unit. NEA was by far the biggest backer of the effort, with it and its affiliate spending $1.6 million on it altogether. Question 3 was widely opposed by business groups, and was ultimately crippled by a move by the AFL-CIO’s Nevada affiliate to abandon its initial support for the measure. The measure was soundly defeated on Election Day.

As you would expect, NEA’s political activities aren’t limited to contributions and subsidies to its affiliates. The union paid $150,000 to the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center for help on its efforts; spent $10,000 with pollster Celinda Lake’s eponymous firm; paid $144,700 to pollster GBA Strategies (which was active in California political races); and $118,826 with JBL Associates. It also paid $72,000 to S&B Public Solutions (which does business as Hilltop Public Solutions); $25,356 to mobile campaigning outfit Revolution Messaging; $105,000 with New Media Firm (whose boss, Will Robinson, helped the NEA and other public sector unions defeat Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s effort to abolish collective bargaining); $10,046 with the firm run by Democrat operative Donna Brazile (who is now co-chairing the AFT-backed Democrats for Public Education); and $20,000 to advertise on Bill Press’ radio show.

Dropout Nation also noticed some additional spending tied to the secretive Democracy Alliance’s network of outfits. This includes $50,000 to the Atlas Project, which gathers voter data for use in grassroots advocacy; and $100,000 to Sixteen Thirty Fund, which has, in turn, financed Democracy Alliance’s Latino Engagement Action Fund. Spreading its wings outside the Beltway, NEA spent $59,200 with Two Peninsulas Research Group, which helped the union and its Michigan affiliate in its unsuccessful effort to defeat Gov. Rick Snyder’s re-election campaign; and $25,000 with Battleground Research in Ohio for its efforts against Kasich and other foes of the union’s traditionalist thinking. None of this spending has been helpful, either for NEA’s political influence or for teachers (especially younger members) who want a focus on elevating the teaching profession.

The fall in NEA’s political position has been matched by its financial decline. The union generated $385 million in 2013-2014, a slight decline over the previous fiscal year, thanks in part to a 1.2 percent decline in members and agency fee payers (from 3.1 million to 3.05 million). Excluding the agency fee payers, NEA’s membership has fallen from just three million to 2.96 million thanks to retirements and other losses. This explains why NEA spent $90,000 on services from Arlington, Va., membership consultant Decision Demographics. The union continued to generate less money from NEA Member Benefits, the controversial affiliate that peddles annuities and other financial instruments to its members; it collected $1.4 million from the unit, a 19 percent decline from income received in 2012-2013. [ NEA Member Benefits did manage to earn a surplus of $8.3 million for 2012-2013, according to its filing with the Internal Revenue Service, nearly double its $4.5 million profit a year earlier.]

The revenue and membership declines, along with NEA’s high spending ways, led to the union generating a $33 million surplus, a 25 percent decline over the previous year. Sure, NEA’s payroll barely budged within the past year (still spending $67 million on employee salaries), and its benefits costs declined by seven percent (to $61 million). But all that was offset by a 15 percent increase in union administration costs.

You can check out the data yourself by checking out the HTML and PDF versions of the NEA’s latest financial report, or by visiting the Department of Labor’s Web site.