Tag: teachers unions

AFT’s and NEA’s Soft Bigotry Against Minority Children

America’s public school teaching workforce is mostly-White and nearly all female. Many of them live in suburbia — even when they teach in urban districts. Even when they do live…

America’s public school teaching workforce is mostly-White and nearly all female. Many of them live in suburbia — even when they teach in urban districts. Even when they do live in urban districts, many of them either use school choice clauses in collective bargaining agreements to get first dibs on schools that don’t have Black or Latino children in them, or just send their kids to private schools to avoid the failure mills they themselves work in.

While many teachers are progressive politically, this is not true of everyone in the profession. As seen three years ago in New York City, when teachers angry at the American Federation of Teachers’ Big Apple unit for supporting efforts against police brutality wore t-shirts in support of police, not all are all that concerned with criminal justice reforms that would help improve the lives of the poor and minority children they teach. And unlike the two unions that represent them (often not of their own choosing), those teachers aren’t necessarily loyal to the Democratic National Committee. Even American Federation of Teachers President Rhonda (Randi) Weingarten conceded last year that one in five of its rank-and-file voted for Donald Trump.

Considering these realities, it is little wonder why Steve Bannon, the White Supremacist who helped Trump win the presidency last year and served as his aide before flaming out this past August, wanted (and managed to score) a meeting with Weingarten last March. Nor is it shocking that Weingarten came away rather impressed by  his political acumen. Because she, along with Lily Eskelsen Garcia of the National Education Association, knows all too well that far too many teachers in American public education are racially myopic. And that her union protects them.

Certainly reformers can point to the instances of outright bigotry by teachers and school leaders within the past year. This includes Cammie Rone, who was suspended in September by the Panola district in Mississippi after writing a Facebook rant that demanded that Black people should “move back to Africa” if they are dissatisfied with the legacies of bigotry that still perplex America today. It also includes an as-yet identified teacher at Cliffside Park High School in New Jersey who was caught on Snapchat last month berating her (English-speaking) Latino students, proclaiming that soldiers “are not fighting for your right to speak Spanish.” The incident led to students at the school, which is in a district in which one-third of students are Latino, walking out in protest.

Certainly most teachers aren’t outright bigots. There are myriad teachers who do well by all children every day and deserve our praise as well as respect. But far too many poor and minority children are subjected by far too many instructional professionals to educational abuse and neglect. And it extends beyond those few public instances.

Over the past few months, a litany of studies have once again proven that White teachers are less likely to have high expectations for Black children (and therefore, less likely to provide them high-quality instruction) than their White peers. Just 24 percent of White teachers expected their Black students to finish high school and higher education, according to a 2017 study led by Seth Gershenson of American University and Nicholas Papageorge of Johns Hopkins University. Those low expectations contribute to low educational attainment by poor and minority children.

This racial myopia (and outright bigotry) toward poor and minority children also manifests in the overuse of out-of-school suspensions and other forms of harsh traditional school discipline. As Adam Wright of University of California, Santa Barbara determined in a 2015 study, beliefs among White teachers that Black children are unruly and poorly-behaved explain why they are more-likely to be referred for discipline and suspended than their White peers. Black children taught by Black teachers were 28 percent-to-38 percent less-likely to be suspended than if taught by White teachers.

Not only does Wright’s study bear out three decades of research on overuse of discipline (including those than control for socioeconomic status), it even proves Vanderbilt Professor Daniel J. Reschly’s assertion about the role of teacher beliefs (and misinterpretation of data) in the overidentification of Black and other minority children as special ed cases. Which is why your editor isn’t surprised by today’s news out of California that even with aggressive reforms on the school discipline front there, out-of-school suspensions were meted out to 9.8 percent of Black children, a rate three times higher than that for their White schoolmates.

Certainly the educational abuse of Black children are reflective of failures in school leadership within states and traditional districts. This is a point Dropout Nation continues to make in its Rationing Opportunity and Beyond Ferguson collections. But teachers do the work in classrooms, and as data continues to show, have the greatest impacts on student achievement, especially in areas such as math. More-importantly, because the quality of teaching varies more within schools (from classroom to classroom) than among them, the racial myopia of teachers (and their low expectations for the poor and minority children in their care) are matters that have to be addressed in order to help all children succeed.

This includes overhauling how we recruit teachers, ensuring that they care for every child regardless of background as well as have the subjective-matter competency needed to educate them properly. It also includes giving districts and other school operators the ability to remove those in the classroom who don’t belong there.

Those transformations, however, are opposed by AFT and NEA. For all their talk about opposing the bigotry of the likes of Bannon and Trump — as well as their participation efforts such as the new Education Civil Rights Alliance funded in part by the Ford Foundation — the Big Two unions end up aiding and abetting the kinds of soft and hard bigotries associated with the likes of them.

The Big Two continue to support the nation’s university schools of education, which have demonstrably proven ineffective in recruiting teachers both empathetic to all children and competent in their instruction. AFT, in particular, gave $71,410 to Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, the organization that defends the poor practices of ed schools, during its 2017 fiscal year.

The Big Two defend near-lifetime employment in the form of tenure and shoddy teacher dismissal policies that make it difficult for districts to root out laggards (as well as those engaged in criminal and sexual abuse). Their opposition to the efforts of Teach For America (which is now the training center of choice for high-quality Black, Latino, and Native teachers) to diversify teaching, as well as their fights against efforts of charters to develop alternative routes for bringing in teachers (which would be a boon to mid-career professional of African-American descent) also exemplifies their lack of concern for the futures of poor and minority children.

Meanwhile AFT and NEA have been unwilling to ride herd on locals and state affiliates who oppose school discipline reforms that can help poor and minority children. AFT’s failure three years ago to force its Minneapolis local to support an effort by the district to reduce overuse of suspensions is merely one of many instances when the national union’s proclamations for social justice are proven empty in practice.

This soft bigotry perpetuated by AFT and NEA extends beyond teachers. From opposing the expansion of high-quality charter schools and other school choice options, to its opposition to Parent Trigger laws and efforts of Parent Power activists in places such as Connecticut and California, to efforts to eviscerate accountability measures that hold districts and school operators to heel for serving Black and Brown children well, even to their historic disdain for Black families and condoning of Jim Crow discrimination against Black teachers, both unions have proven no better than outright White Supremacists when it comes to addressing the legacies of bigotry in which American public education is the nexus.

By refusing to embrace systemic reforms, AFT and NEA help perpetuate damage to the futures of Black and Brown children, often behaving no differently in consequence than the regime that occupies the executive branch of the federal government. Even worse, by refusing to help root out those teachers harming children, the two unions actually damage the teaching profession itself as well as do disservice to those good and great teachers who care for every child in their classrooms.

Certainly Weingarten is no bigot. This is crystal clear. But given these realities, one has to wonder how different is she in reality from Steve Bannon? Because she and her allies are doing no better than him when it comes to building brighter futures for Black and Brown children.

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AFT’s Bleak Future

As this morning’s Teachers Union Money Report shows, the American Federation of Teachers knows how to spend well. Especially on its leaders and staff. Whether or not it will be…

As this morning’s Teachers Union Money Report shows, the American Federation of Teachers knows how to spend well. Especially on its leaders and staff.

Whether or not it will be able to do so is a different story.

Some 236 staffers were paid six-figure sums in 2016-2017, according to the union’s latest disclosure to the U.S. Department of Labor. That is 14 more than in the previous fiscal year. That well-paid group includes Michelle Ringuette, the former Service Employees International Union staffer who is chief political aide to President Rhonda (Randi) Weingarten; she was paid $240,437 last fiscal year. Michael Powell, who is Weingarten’s mouthpiece, picked up $252,702 from the union.

Kombiz Lavasany, an AFT operative who oversees Weingarten’s money manager enemies’ list, earned $177,872 in 2016-2017. Kristor Cowan, who handles the union’s lobbying, collected $189,808 last fiscal year. Then there is Leo Casey, the vile propagandist who currently runs the union’s Albert Shanker Institute; he was paid $232,813 in 2016-2017 for doing, well, whatever Leo does these days that doesn’t include accusing reformers of committing “blood libel“.

Of course, the leaders are well-paid. Weingarten was paid $492,563 in 2016-2017, just a slight decrease over the previous year. She still remains among the nation’s top five percent of wage earners, and thus, an elite. Her number two, Mary Cathryn Ricker, was paid $337,434 last fiscal year (an 8.3 percent increase over the previous period), while Secretary-Treasurer Loretta Jonson was paid $392,530 in 2016-2017, a 9.6 percent increase over the past period. Altogether, AFT’s top three took home $1.2 million last fiscal year, virtually unchanged from the same time in 2015-2016.

The current occupant of the White House’s appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court dooms the financial and political future of AFT — and even has risks for some players in the school reform movement.

The additional salaries and bodies explain why AFT’s union administration costs increased by 17.8 percent (to $10.2 million) over 2015-2016, while general overhead costs increased by 14 percent (to $42 million). The union still managed to keep benefits costs from increasing. It spent just $10.4 million in 2016-2017, barely unchanged from the previous period; that can be credited in part to the fact that, unlike the districts its rank-and-file work in, AFT doesn’t provide defined-benefit pensions and only gives its workers defined-contribution plans that the union can avoid contributing to during times of financial stress.

It takes a lot of money to keep Weingarten and her team on board. Of course, they can thank compulsory dues laws that force even teachers who don’t want to be part of AFT. But those dollars are on the decline.

The union collected just $177 million in dues and agency fees in 2016-2017, a 7.9 percent decline from the previous year. This is despite the fact that the union’s full-time rank-and-file increased by 5.2 percent (to 710,865 from 675,902) over the previous period, reversing a three-year decline. One reason for the decline: A 12 percent decline in the number of one-quarter rank-and-file (to 81,191 from 93,047), a group that includes nurses and government employees represented by the AFT’s non-teachers’ union affiliates, and a 29.2 percent decrease in one-eighth rank-and-filers (to 24,180 from 34,104).

Another factor lies in the move last year by United Teachers Los Angeles to jointly affiliate with the National Education Association. That move contributed to a 23 percent increase in the number of AFT rank-and-filers in affiliates also tied to NEA and other rival national unions (to 158,225 from 128,221). With more states attempting to end compulsory dues laws, a possible U.S. Supreme Court law striking them down altogether, and a desire by state and local affiliates to wield more influence in education policy at all levels, expect more AFT affiliates (and even some NEA affiliates) to also align themselves with other national unions.

Overall, AFT generated revenue (including debt borrowings) of $332 million in 2016-2017, a 1.2 percent increase over the previous year. This included $88.2 million it borrowed during the year to shore up operations (of which $68 million was repaid by the end of the fiscal period); that’s 59 percent more than the amount the union borrowed in 2015-2016. Excluding the borrowing, AFT’s revenue for 2016-2017 was $244 million, virtually unchanged from the previous year.

But as today’s report notes, AFT faces trouble in the next year. If the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down compulsory dues laws as expected in Janus v. AFSCME, the union and its affiliates will lose big. The union has already seen its affiliate in Wisconsin attempt a merger with NEA’s Wisconsin Education Association Council after losing half of its rank-and-file since the state abolished its compulsory dues law six years ago. [The merger was aborted because of the difficulty of merging dues structures.]

While AFT’s presence in Democrat-dominated states could help it stem rank-and-file losses, the reality is that it will likely lose at least 25 percent of its membership. This means a likely loss of $44 million (based on 2016-2017’s dues collections), and less revenue that it can use for influence-buying, political campaign activities, and lobbying. Not even AFT’s stalled strategy of expanding its presence into nursing and healthcare would have offset those losses,  especially since the Supreme Court ruling will also apply to public employees working at hospitals and health centers.

Those possible revenue and influence losses is one reason why AFT, along with other NEA and other public-sector unions, spent so furiously last year to support Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. If she had one, it was likely that either she would get to appoint a Supreme Court justice more-amenable to their cause, or, given congressional Republican opposition to Obama’s efforts to select a replacement for Antonin Scalia, would have kept the court split equally between conservative and more-progressive justices.

But with Trump in the White House and his appointee to the high court, Neil Gorsuch, confirmed and in the job for life, AFT and its affiliates now needs a new strategy for actually attracting members. This will be difficult.

Because AFT hasn’t had to actually win bodies since the 1960s, it lacks the strong organizing infrastructure that has made SEIU a major force in both the public and private sectors. The fact that the union has seen a 15 percent year-to-year decline in associate members (who are members of the national union) means that there is also little appetite for its presence, especially since, unlike state and local affiliates, it doesn’t have the means to help associate members out when they have workplace disputes.

While the state affiliates are strong in lobbying legislatures, they, along with AFT National, play little role in addressing the day-to-day concerns of classroom teachers; that’s what locals such as UTLA, Chicago Teachers Union, and United Federation of Teachers in New York City do. That the big locals also tend to be major players at the state levels, dominate the operations of the affiliates, and, in the case, of UFT, virtually controls the virtually-insolvent state affiliate, means that they have little need for either the state operations or national. Even without a Supreme Court ruling, you can expect the local affiliates to develop new structures that bypass AFT and allow them to try new approaches to education policymaking and organizing.

Reformers can’t exactly celebrate, either. A dirty secret of centrist Democrat and civil rights-oriented reformers is that they are as dependent as AFT on compulsory dues. This is because AFT and other public sector unions are the biggest financiers of the Democratic National Committee operations (as well as those of state parties), and also give plenty to reform-minded groups for their activities outside of education. Center for American Progress, Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights, and UNIDOS are among the reform-minded outfits who will also take a hit if the Janus ruling goes against AFT and its fellow public-sector unions.

You can imagine Weingarten and her staffers shudder at the prospect of a future without compulsory dues. What they will do to preserve traditionalist influence (and keep their jobs) will be fascinating to watch.

Dropout Nation will provide additional analysis of the AFT’s financial filing later this week. You can check out the data yourself by checking out the HTML and PDF versions of the AFT’s latest financial report, or by visiting the Department of Labor’s Web site. Also check out Dropout Nation‘s Teachers Union Money Report, for this and previous reports on AFT and NEA spending.

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The Afternoon Read


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What’s going on inside — and outside — the dropout nation. Grad rate inflation: One out of every three California freshmen who made up the state’s original Class of 2007…

"Play 01" by RiShawn Biddle

"Play 01" by RiShawn Biddle

What’s going on inside — and outside — the dropout nation.

    1. Grad rate inflation: One out of every three California freshmen who made up the state’s original Class of 2007 likely dropped out, according to the state Department of Education. Sure, nine percent of them are considered “completers” or having gained a GED or a certificate of completion of some kind. Either way, the reality is they are dropouts and haven’t gotten a high-quality education. Meanwhile one out of every four students in L.A. Unified’s original class of 2007 failed to graduate. Just 6.5 percent of the original class of 2007 at the Animo charter high school run by Green Dot schools — whose battles with L.A. Unified over the former’s expansion is legendary — dropped out. But for federal reporting purposes, those numbers are meaningless: Based on the federal government’s more-inflated graduation rate calculation, nearly 80 percent of the Class of 2007 graduated. How nice. The Mercury-News has more on this.
    2. And for the Hoosiers out there: Here are the graduation rate stats for Indianapolis Public Schools and the state as a whole. Yes, the numbers are les miserables.
    3. Meanwhile, Dan Weintraub explains in Education Next how the Terminator was laid low by the state’s powerful teachers’ unions. For Sherman Dorn, an apparent skeptic about the role of teachers’ unions in state policymaking, this may serve as another example of how teachers’ unions skillfully work the corridors of the nation’s statehouses.
    4. Is improving the quality of America’s teaching corps the answer to improving education? I say it’s just one of the answers, but not the only one. And Mike Petrilli over at The Education Gadfly argues why it may not be the answer at all.
    5. Intra-ed policy dust-up: EdSector’s Kevin Carey and Neil McCluskey at Cato trade shots over the latter’s most recent policy brief. Carey insists that McCluskey exemplifies that there may be a “libertarian conspiracy” to end the nation’s public education system. McCluskey accuses him of engaging in a smear campaign. I’m just going to let these guys argue among themselves.
    6. Jay Greene explains why the No Child Left Behind Act isn’t, as opponents of the law claim, an unfunded mandate. Sample quote: “I do not believe that a single tenured teacher out of the more than 3 million teachers currently working in public schools has been fired, experienced a pay-cut, or otherwise been meaningfully sanctioned because of NCLB.” Good point.

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