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Unions Refusing Race to the Top

Local teacher unions are refusing to sign on with district Race to the Top plans. The reason? Teacher evaluations. Failure to get unions to sign on to reform plans means the Los Angeles Unified School District in California and the Clark County School District in Nevada both will be ineligible to win $40 million in federal funding.

The irony here is that unions are typically the ones pushing for more money and funding, but if they can’t have a say in where it goes, or if it puts their members in jeopardy of losing their job, then all of a sudden they aren’t screaming for more funding for education.

Whether or not these districts’ plans were truly reform-minded or not is another issue, and union refusal to sign on doesn’t necessarily indicate these plans were heavy on reform since in both districts unions were already experiencing disagreements pre-Race to the Top proposals.

The bigger point, however, is what we can learn from the first Race to the Top competitions. It isn’t federal grants that will bring about reform, but on-the-ground work from parents, advocates, and legislative leaders that can bring about real change.

Won’t Back Down from Parent Organizing

October 10, 2012

If Teachers Can Organize, Why Can’t Parents? That’s essentially the question that Doreen Diaz, president of the Desert Trails Parent Union, an organization formed to change failing Desert Trails elementary school under California’s parent trigger law, asks in a Washington Examiner column.

The frustrated parent compares the real life efforts of California parents to turn a school around to the movie Won’t Back Down, saying the movie makes union tactics seem tame in comparison.

So of course Doreen Diaz was excited to appear next to AFT President Randi Weingarten during a panel at Education Nation, where she could ask the union leader directly how she could justify the tactics being used to stop the Desert Trails conversion. Diaz:

“On the panel, she told me how she understood my frustration over my daughter’s education and how she shared my goals of giving her a great school. But after the lights and the cameras turned off, she left the stage and sent a tweet deploring the absence of parents who want “real” empowerment at the panel discussion. I had been sitting right next to her for the entire discussion. Her tweet made me feel just like our school district has made me feel for years: invisible.

It is Weingarten’s union that fights hardest against parent trigger laws, despite the fact we are fighting for the same right to organize that her teacher-members enjoy — a right we support.” Read More…

New Chicago Contract Ends Lawsuits

“CPS, teachers end legal battles in new contract”
by Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah
Chicago Tribune
September 26, 2012

A tentative contract between the Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Public Schools brings with it closure on lawsuits and labor grievances filed by both sides before and during the seven-day strike, according to a copy of the agreement posted online by the union.

With teachers ending their walkout last week, the union agreed to give up its fight over the 4 percent raise that was eliminated by the district last year because of financial problems. The union also said it would end a protracted legal battle over the layoffs of 1,300 teachers in 2010.

The latter case was before a federal judge after many twists and turns. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals had sided with the union; then the Illinois Supreme Court backed the district’s position that the laid-off teachers did not have a right to be rehired when jobs opened up. The union has now agreed to drop the lawsuit after reaching a pact that allows eligible laid-off teachers, including those dismissed in 2010, to be put into a hiring pool. Fifty percent of new positions must go to laid-off teachers.

Contract language, which apparently was still being hammered out as late as Monday, also details the order of layoffs. With a new evaluation system not rating teachers until the end of the school year, most layoffs of tenured teachers will continue to be based on seniority this year. Reformers have long fought for those decisions to be based on teacher performance.

Other matters, such as the union’s Sept. 5 complaint about unfair labor practices and the city’s bid for an injunction ending the strike, were dropped after being addressed by the agreement.

But even as teachers are preparing to vote on the contract Tuesday, concerns persist over

Read More …

Lawsuit Over Tenure Reform

“Teachers union files lawsuit over Michigan Teacher Tenure Act”
by Lori Higgins
Detroit Free Press
March 8, 2012

A local teachers union is challenging aspects of Michigan’s Teacher Tenure Act, saying in a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday that a controversial amendment made to the law last summer is unconstitutional.

The amendment barred school districts from using seniority as the determining factor when making layoff decisions — tossing aside traditional “last in, first out” procedures.

The amendment was part of sweeping changes to Michigan’s tenure act. Michael Lee, a Southfield attorney representing the Southfield Education Association, said he believes it is the first time the changes have been challenged in federal court.

The case, filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit, stems from a dispute in the Southfield Public Schools that began when the district laid off teachers last summer. Lee said the district did not follow its own procedures for recalling teachers — procedures that were put in place following passage of the tenure changes.

That part of the dispute is addressed in a lawsuit the union filed in circuit court last month. The federal lawsuit addresses the broader issue of whether the amendment itself is lawful.

Lee said the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized tenure as a property right in cases that go back as far as 1978.

“Once you pass legislation that says ignore tenure and people are laid off as a result, you have taken away that property right, and you have done that without due process,” Lee said.

Ari Adler, spokesman for state House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, said the amendment was part of needed changes in tenure laws for teachers. Legislation to enact the changes originated in the House.

“The focus was to do what we could to protect good teachers and ensure a high quality of education for the students,” Adler said. “We were

Read More …

Christie-Union Clash Reaches New Level

Videographers lurk outside New Jersey Education Association headquarters in hopes of trying to catch NJEA executive director, Vincent Giordano, in another embarrassing moment. The stakeouts are a result of the union leader’s comments about opposition to school vouchers. When asked about low-income families that can’t afford to send their children to schools that could work better for them, he says, “Life’s not always fair and I’m sorry about that.”

The comments drew a reaction from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who said Giordano’s comments were “outrageous” and he should be fired or resign. The union leader quickly fired back at Christie, saying he should resign for bullying him.

Not long after this battle of words did cameras start appearing at NJEA headquarters. Cameramen have been identified and have connections to the Republican Party, prompting union spokesperson Steve Wollmer to ask if Republican Christie was behind these tactics.

The Statehouse Bureau captures Michael Drewniak’s response for Christie well: “The governor certainly had no part in it, but it is great to see NJEA’s crack public relations machine at work. They’ve succeeded in re-shining the light on Giordano and his cold-hearted, ‘life is unfair’ feelings about children trapped in failing urban schools. Bravo.”

Teachers Association Speaks Out

Ohio teachers union protects their pipeline of cash at the expense of students, taxpayers and even teachers. The Association of American Educators speaks out against forced unionism and the Ohio union referendum SB5 being overturned.

AFT Caught In The Act

All the talk about caring about the kids, the parents. Ha. The nation’s second largest teachers union got caught telling members how they really feel about parents’ involvement in the education of their offspring. Someone at the American Federation of Teachers, who wasn’t thinking, posted online an AFT PowerPoint “bragging” about undermining parents’ battling in favor of Connecticut’s attempt at parent-trigger reform.

The notorious PowerPoint, meant for union activists, spewed out lobbying tactics the AFT used against the Connecticut proposal. As the WSJ noted, this document gave us all a peek into “union cynicism and power.” The state’s AFT had a “Plan A” called “Kill Mode,” meant to totally shoot down the bill. It failed. So, the union swung into action with Plan B, “Engage the Opposition.” Meetings were held to work out the bill, but certain groups – like parents who supported the trigger – were not invited to the negotiating table.

Union leaders pumped their political muscle to wring out a parent-trigger law so weak it leaves Connecticut parents twiddling their thumbs rather than pulling any reform trigger. To add insult to injury, the union boasts that rather than depend on parent petitions to turn around a school, school governance councils will be established, but (wink, wink) “they are advisory and do not have true governing authority.”

It comes as no surprise that the PowerPoint was pulled, but not before reform blogger RiShawn Biddle made a copy.

Charting a course for reform

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s terrifically honest keynote address at this year’s Excellence in Action National Summit in Washington, DC:


From the cutting room floor

trash canFour things you are guaranteed not to hear in Wednesday night’s SOTU:

  • “While a little nerve-wracking for us around the White House, November elections by the people of New Jersey and Virginia solidified what will be an exciting opportunity for those states to break from the status quo and embrace the education reforms of their new governors and the incredibly bold leaders they have chosen to steer schools in their states. At the very least, McDonnell has kept Gerard so busy he hasn’t been able to bother me about DC scholarships.”
  • “Frankly, my Education Secretary and I were disappointed with the results of special legislative sessions and bill proposals regarding charter schools. Our crack public affairs team spun things so R2TT would come out smelling like a rose, but, come on. Caps lifted when states weren’t even near them, Louisiana? Strengthening collective bargaining, Illinois? And two little guys out of New England – I’m talking to you Rhode Island and Connecticut – giving charter schools money you had already promised then taken away? Really? I hope that wasn’t used to support your applications. We went to Harvard, you know.”
  • “The one real win in R2TT goes on the scoreboard for teachers. Check this out. In addition to $100 billion dollars to keep them employed through the stimulus, we figured out a way to take it a step further with R2TT and teacher evaluation methodology. You could drive a truck through the holes in state proposals regarding teachers. You should see some of the emails Arne sends me late at night with examples cut straight from the applications. It’s all I can do to keep from falling out of bed. I can’t wait for round two.”

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