Friday, July 08, 2005

California Educator Magazine--May 2005 Swill

What the exception of my NEA Representative Assembly posts, lately I've been leaning a bit to the political side of the house. For those of you who come here for education commentary, this post's for you.

I didn't give as much attention as I should have to the May 2005 issue of California Educator, the mouthpiece union rag for the California Teachers Association. Since I just received the June issue, I thought we'd have a jolly good time if I wrote a two-for-one post about these two issues. Then I got to writing and decided that such a post would be egregiously long, so I'll discuss the two magazine issues separately.

Mind you, there's not much difference between the two. Schwarzenegger is a demon, his proposals do nothing, we're united, let's have socialized health care, blah blah blah. Some of the glaring inconsistencies, however, deserve attention, and I'm just the guy to give them that attention.

The Governor has called for a special election this fall in order to take some initiatives directly to the voters. CTA is against this election, saying the $80 million it will cost state and local jurisdictions to conduct is money that could be better spent elsewhere. So what does CTA do? It puts initiatives on that ballot, too! Lovely.

Here are some of the comments CTA has about the "reform measures", as they are now known.

ACAX1 4, the Budget/Spending Cap proposal.
Would avoid dealing with the very real problems public education faces--schools are underfunded, class sizes are too large and teachers are underpaid. Didn't you just know those were coming? Not that they're entirely inaccurate, but how does CTA suggest we balance the state budget? Oh yes, tax increases. Can't take any money from the ~50% of the state budget that is education, can you?

ACAX1 1, Pension Reform
Would remove teachers' incentive to stay in the classroom despite low wages. Would leave teachers without a safety net to take the place of Social Security, which most will not receive. Pension reform would not affect current teachers, and future teachers could decide if a 401(k) is good enough for them. If we have a teacher shortage, then something like "the invisible hand" of the market would fix that problem. I lean towards CTA's position on this one, though, even though it doesn't affect me.

SCAX1 1 Merit Pay and Due Process
Would lengthen the probationary period to five years, when two years is already longer than for most other professions. Allowing permanent teachers to be dismissed after two unsatisfactory evaluations and not giving them a chance to challenge the decision would open up opportunities for abuse. Would do nothing to improve student learning, lower class size, or secure the textbooks and materials schools need. Now, I support merit pay and have discussed the highs and lows of that topic in a few posts on this blog. This "we all deserve good pay" talk is true, but it denies the fact that some teachers are significantly better than others and should be rewarded and learned from. The second and third sentences above are entirely true; I'm all for due process, but think we should get rid of what I call the "undue process" of difficulty in getting rid of substandard teachers. I've also written previously that people shouldn't have to be Superteacher in order to stay employed. And now for the attack--keep the last complaint, that it does nothing to improve learning or lower class size, in mind. I'll come back to that later and show how CTA is being hypocritical.

(Initiative placed on the ballot by an outside group) Union Dues Limitations
Would silence the collective voice of working people, making it difficult to speak out and be heard in the political process. Almost everything in public schools--from size of classes to the books that can be used to the standards used to teach--is determined through the political process. I'd probably be against this, too, if CTA ever stood for what I believe in. But since they don't listen to my voice, I don't mind quelling the "collective voice" just a little.

So that's it for the initiatives that the governor and his "business allies" have put put on the ballot. What has CTA done? As I said before, they've put initiatives on the ballot, too! CTA is a member of the Alliance for a Better California, a left-leaning coalition of public employee unions. It's also a part of Californians for Tax Fairness, an organization that wants to raise taxes to fund more public employees. These two coalitions have placed several initiatives on the special election ballot, the same one they fault the governor for having in the first place! So what are these initiatives? The Car Buyer's Bill of Rights, The Cheaper Prescription Drugs for California Act, and the (Re)Regulation of Electric Service, among others. Now let's go back to CTA's complaint that I mentioned two paragraphs above, and apply the same standard to these CTA-backed initiatives: do any of these initiatives do anything to improve student learning, lower class size, or secure textbooks and materials? Of course not! The hypocrisy would astound me if I weren't inured to it. In fact, of those three items, CTA, as an employee union, should only be concerned with lower class size (as a working condition). The other two items should be dealt with by the parents of the school district through their elected school board!

The final two points that I'll address from the May issue are points of honesty, or lack thereof. I found the following paragraph, and the first sentence of the next paragraph, to be especially interesting in that contradictory sort of way. From page 15:

In 2001, California handed out monetary awards to teachers whose schools increased their test scores, but the program was suspended when so many qualified that the state ran out of money to pay for it.
There is no evidence that merit pay leads to improvements in student performance.

Don't you just love that? Isn't it classic? Then there's this, from the page 30 story on the $60/year dues increase for the next three years:

The money will not go into the initiative fund, rather into a line item for "debt service" to make sure CTA stays solvent in the long run.

But why have we been asked to pay this increase, one that will raise my dues to over $1000 a year? I quote from the same article:
The governor's camp has set a fundraising goal of more than $50 million to push their agenda. "With pharmaceutical and oil companies picking up the tab, you know this is one promise they will keep." [Barbara Kerr, CTA President, old cigarette-and-whisky-voice herself--Darren.]
With that in mind, CTA's Board of Directors gave notice that it will be asking Council at the June meeting to consider passing a temporary dues assessment of $60 a year for up to three years.
"It's our fight," said CTA Board member Ton Conry as he made the motion. "There's no question whether we should fight back. And we know, if it's our fight, we pay."

So, they're raising the dues money specifically to fight the governor, as I mentioned in these posts back in March. Yet, it would be illegal to take this money from us specifically to spend on political causes, so they're going to use it for "debt service"--they're going to pay off the debts they incur by spending money on political causes!

Is there no end to this type of crime?

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