“Everyone’s voice matters” unless you don’t want to be a union member

“Everyone’s voice matters” unless you don’t want to be a union member

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

Well, well, well…here is an email Randi sent out today to supporters….and some of my comments.


Make no mistake: This case is not about individual liberty or the First Amendment. It is an outright attack against unions to prevent us from representing our members and using our voices to fight for our families, our schools, our colleges, our healthcare facilities and our communities.

First of all this case is about staff who do not want to be members. But since you point it out, I think you would be serving your members BETTER with voluntary dues because you would need to actually listen to them ALL and not just the policy wonks in DC to craft your policy. And the fact that in CA you have to pay the whole amount up front and then go through a cumbersome process to get a refund? I want to keep all my money for myself. I shouldn’t have to pay ahead and get my money back. The Government does that but unions ARE NOT THE GOVERNMENT. Though they certainly act like the are.


This case would undermine our unions and challenge nearly 40 years of precedent—and the court agreed to hear it barely a year after it dealt a blow to workers with its decision in Harris v. Quinn. In fact, the conservative justices on the court used the Harris v.Quinn ruling to invite cases like this one, showing just how political they really are.

40 year old precedent means times have changed and we don’t need that 40 year old law anymore. Unions had a role, but it’s getting outdated and they don’t want to give up their enormous power over the government. Well they don’t have control of the Supreme Court and I would say the “blow” from Harris vs Quinn is a further indication that you’re going to keep losing. How many times have teachers unions sneakily support candidates and campaigns? And you are calling the lawyers “political”? Better look in the mirror.


In the end, this case comes down to a fundamental question: Do unions have a right to collect a fair share from the people we represent, to ensure that we’re able to speak for all workers?

Define “fair share”. I don’t think 60-70% of the total dues is fair. I haven’t seen an accounting of how all those funds are spent. Maybe if you didn’t spend years on end stonewalling negotiations it wouldn’t cost so much to collectively bargain. Maybe you just need to spend 60-70% unnecessarily so you can justify continuing to collect it. Also, you’ve done such a good job of enacting terrible laws like salary scales and tenure that all those benefits are already there. If you want to say that teachers are benefiting from your negotiation for the whole, why can’t that member just negotiate for his/her self instead? 


The attack on labor by those who don’t want working families to have a voice has intensified. It has moved from the statehouse to the courthouse. But our affiliates understand that engaging our communities and our members, and organizing new members, are the key to repelling those attacks and growing a strong middle class.

These people DO want these teachers to have a voice. You are smothering them with your forced dues. These lawyers are the only ones standing up for teachers who don’t want to be in the union. You are not standing for those teachers. You are literally standing on a wad of bills smothering them. Get off of them. Collect your money voluntarily. And actually listen to ALL of the teachers, not just the ones who help you make your case. Plenty of teachers aren’t being heard by YOU. 


I’m proud that, at times like these, the AFT is still growing. We passed the 1.6 million mark last summer

Um, that’s because teachers are leaving you and you have to make up your cash with other disciplines…..


and like AFT Michigan, which has held strong despite the so-called right-to-work law in place there.

I’m amazed even mentioned Michigan, while your cohort MEA is literally ruining the credit of teachers who don’t want to be part of the union as retribution for a law that PROTECTS workers by letting them choose to be part of the union or not to be.

“Everyone’s voice matters” unless you don’t want to be a union member.

Are education journalists making “The Grade”?

Are education journalists making “The Grade”?

The Grade


Alexander Russo, who Ed Week referred to as “peripatetic and highly opinionated education blogger” (I had to look up peripatetic and settled on this definition “moving or traveling from place to place” though not sure if that was the intention! I believe that Alexander moved at least once while I helped him write for his blog, This Week in Education, and he certainly has had experience in a variety of metropolitan cities in the US.), started a new blog this month, “The Grade” over at Washington Monthly.

Getting a little nostalgic over Alexander and blogging, thinking back to when he recruited me to help him collect the morning news, attend and report back on education events in DC and occasionally write a piece of my own. I went to find my earliest emails with Alexander and they were in an even more previous email account than my current oldest one. I’ve known Alexander longer than probably anyone else I know in the education sphere. I was collecting news clips for Alexander before I really knew anything about national education issues and TWIE will always be my go-to news education blog. However, I digress.

In Alexander’s introductory post, he writes:

Think of it as NPR’s “On The Media” for education news, or as a public editor or ombudsman for national K-12 news coverage.

There’s a ton of education news being pumped out every day, but what’s particularly good (or bad) about the coverage that’s being provided — and what if anything can be done to make it even better?

That’s the goal: to take a steady look at how education news gets created and see how to make it as accurate, complete, and interesting as possible.

Ed Week reports on the support for “The Grade”:

Still, besides accepting support from Washington Monthly, Russo says there are two other “starting funders”: the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second-largest teachers’ union, and Education Post, a Chicago-based organization run by former Arne Duncan spokesman Peter Cunningham.

“Most days it might not seem like these two organizations [AFT and Education Post] would agree on much, but their leaders have stepped up to support this effort out of a desire for smart education coverage (and agreed to give me room to write whatever seems most important on any given day),” Russo writes.

He added in his email to me that “the AFT and Education Post won’t necessarily like what I write about every day of the week, but they’ll benefit from there being a place where media quality is being discussed.”

I found this to still be a little confusing so I asked Alexander over email myself if he would still be willing to challenge AFT or Education Post if the need arose?

He responded, “I would, and have in the past, criticized them both, and will do so again, though the focus of the new blog is mostly taking a hard look at what education journalists are doing as opposed to what advocates are doing.”

Then I asked if he’d be doing any work to decipher think tank research, which nowadays seems like it is often leaning in a subjective direction vs. remaining objective to it’s funding sources. Often times funders aren’t disclosed until well after the funder has touted the research as fact all day long already. Alexander replied, “yeah, i’ll get into some of that — wrote a piece last week about journos’ over-use of think tank research, for example.” He was referring to this piece which I generally agree with: Decoding Think Tank-Fueled Education Journalism. I really appreciate the tips he mentions at the end of the post:

In terms of reviewing at the research being produced by think tanks, look not only to funding sources and ideological issues but also to see if the organization has any track record of producing research whose conclusions don’t match funders’ advocacy positions. For me, demonstrated autonomy from funders’ immediate interests is the best single measure of credibility (besides doing good, methodologically sound work).

When reading education journalism, pay careful attention to how journalists use and identify think tank reports and experts in their stories, and be skeptical about claims being made that don’t seem to have been verified or vetted.   If you look closely you can sometimes find a think tank report that might have inspired a story or an expert whose views seem to go unchallenged. The think tank’s role usually isn’t presented at the top of a piece or in a straightforward way, but rather slipped into an overview/summary section or given a juicy quote or stat at the end of a piece.

For education journalists, it’s important to present caveats and opposing views and to be clear with readers about the limitations and views of the think tank/expert whose views are being expressed, and who funded the study.  Often it can be helpful to find an academic expert to look at a think tank report. Sometimes you can learn a lot by asking what if any of the report’s findings match or conflict with the funders’ views.

My personal view is that exclusives, embargoes, and other hidden arrangements between journalists and think tanks should be indicated to readers who otherwise have no idea where a story came from, but I’m in the definite minority on that front.

I’ve made attempts to work towards these perspectives and offer the public tips and advice about decoding the media including: Don’t be fooled by marketing,  Look Deeper Than the Title & Make your own choices about what to believe.

Ed Week received feedback from both AFT & Education Post about their support:

Asked by me about the support for the venture, AFT President Randi Weingarten said via email, “There are fewer and fewer reporters covering the education beat, and we need to do what we can to help those who are interested in balanced reporting find that balance. That’s why we supported Alexander’s venture at this reputable publication.”

Michael Vaughn, the communications director for Education Post, said via email: “We respect Alexander’s voice and think that education journalism and commentary deserve thoughtful scrutiny. At the end of the day, we can’t have a better conversation if we can’t agree on certain basic truths. People say a lot of unsupported things, and it can get very confusing for readers. Our hope is that it makes all of us more careful, and we fully expect to be challenged by him sometimes.”

Analysis of district/union collaboration in Lawrence, MA

Analysis of district/union collaboration in Lawrence, MA

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

In this last post, I took a look at the state takeover / Turnaround plan in Lawrence, MA. Being touted as a true collaboration between districts and unions I wanted to dig a little deeper to see what may have transpired and potentially what could draw success in the future.

A strong leader is something I believe both unions and pro-reformers want. Lawrence was fortunate to have a leader that was willing to forge a middle ground by investing time in human capital. A strong leader on either the union side or a firm pro-reform side (or one that is simply neither) may not be able to bring about results. Finding strong leader talent is difficult, but often a very important piece.

Jeffrey Riley was appointed by the MA Education commissioner and was awarded all the powers of a superintendent and a school board. He did not have to negotiate with unions and didn’t quite at first. It appears he worked to implement certain reforms and then seeing some progress proceeded to work with unions to solidify.

Expanded learning time is usually promoted by both unions and pro-reformers, but unions only if teachers are being paid for it. Lawrence likely was able to make pay available through grants – we’ll have to see how they are able to keep it flowing through changes in school funding. It’s generally a given that expanded learning time, executed correctly is greatly beneficial to students. So what are districts to do if they can’t immediately find the money to pay teachers for the extra time? I see the teacher perspective of wanting to be paid for the extra time, but really how much extra is it? At one point someone decided that 7 hours a day was all students needed. Now it may be 9 hours. Should students have to suffer without expanded learning time in districts where there isn’t extra money for teachers?

Generally speaking unions are against charters – unless they are running them. Lawrence was able to put together a collection of charter management, union management and LPS management in the turnaround plan. So, I guess unions aren’t all against charters, all the time?

Lawrence is using a myriad of data to evaluate students and in turn teachers. This is not usually something that unions go along with. So maybe unions aren’t all against data for performance?

Successful building principals have autonomy to make changes in their own school, including staffing. However teachers did receive 2 1/2 hrs of collaborative planning time (likely assisted by the expanded learning time) in which to analyze student data and make curriculum adjustments. It was not clear on the specifics of professional development, but there appears to have been more offered.

I took a look at the Lawrence teacher’s contract and found some interesting items:

  • It provides the superintendent wide sweeping authority to make changes to school operational procedure throughout the year
  • Under Teacher hiring and promotions, Article 26: “In filling positions, principals have the authority to select the best qualified staff from both internal and external candidates without regard to seniority.” It is often the case that if a senior member of the district’s faculty wants a position he or she will get it. This allows more leeway to have the district make the right decisions for kids.
  • Another win for kids, in Article 35, when there is a reduction in force district is allowed to consider data and teacher evaluations over seniority:

“The Superintendent has the right to lay off teachers and other district staff due to reductions in force or reorganizations resulting from declining enrollment or other budgetary or operational reasons. The Superintendent will establish the selection criteria for layoffs of teachers and other district staff. Such selection criteria may include, but are not limited to qualifications, licensure, work history (including elements such as discipline, attendance, evaluations, etc.), multiple measures of student learning, operational need and the best interests of the students. Where all other factors are equal, seniority may be used as the deciding factor.”

This is also probably largely due to the law Stand for Children MA passed in 2012 which made job performance, not seniority, the primary consideration in teacher staffing decisions in every public school in Massachusetts, with the new evaluation systems being a key component of how job performance is measured.

  • Still not sure why teachers are allowed 15 sick days per year when they only report to school for 183 days (in Lawrence). Most professional jobs give you 1-2 weeks of paid leave and maybe a few sick days or those are included in the 1-2 weeks. The fact that they can accrue up to 200…what would someone do with 200 days of sick leave???

Fifteen days of full pay shall be allowed during the school term from August to June in case of illness. Any or all of the fifteen (15) days of full pay that have not been used may be carried over to the following year’s allowance and such allowance may be accumulated to two hundred (200) days of full pay.

  • Health insurance premiums which are usually a hot debate on contract negotiations are not clearly outlined. Unless teachers are buying into the statewide health insurance plan.
  • Article 66: The career ladder is one of the more interesting elements to the contract. Each level of advancement is based on certain performance evaluations, although no salary can be decreased due to evaluations, I assume the teacher would stay at the same level. I believe that in those cases the consequences of the evaluation system come into play. Often if you are at a needs improvement or unsatisfactory level for “x” number of years there are improvement plans and opportunities or consequences that take over. The career ladder also allows for excellent teachers to advance through the ladder commensurate with their evaluations. A new teacher could be eligible for the salary of a veteran teacher within 5 years.

A Novice teacher shall advance to Developing I and a Developing I teacher shall advance to Developing II annually provided that the teacher does not receive an end-of year evaluation rating of “unsatisfactory.”

A Developing II teacher shall advance to Career I and all Career level teachers shall advance a level annually provided that an end-of-year evaluation rating of “proficient” or “exemplary” is received, with “proficient” or better ratings on all four standards. A teacher with an overall end-of-year rating of “proficient” who has achieved less than “proficient” ratings on all four standards may still advance to the next level with the recommendation of the building principal and the approval of the Superintendent.

A teacher who does not receive the requisite evaluation rating can appeal for a review of the evaluation to the Evaluation Committee.

If no end-of year formative or summative evaluation is completed for a teacher, the teacher shall advance to the next level.

A teacher may advance on the salary scale more rapidly than described above with the recommendation of the school principal, subject to the approval of the Superintendent. Any such advancement will be limited to two levels above what the performance plan would otherwise provide, provided however that a teacher may not advance to Advanced or Masters status without going through the review process that applies district wide. The union shall be notified of all such advancement decisions.

Novice, Developing, Career, and Advanced teachers shall not have their salary reduced based on their performance evaluation.

Based on past experience and performance, a newly-hired teacher may enter the Lawrence Public Schools above the Novice level based on a principal’s recommendation and Superintendent’s approval.


The career ladder:






Level 4

Level 3

Level 2

Level 1


Level 2

Level 1


  • Article 67 – Expanded learning time pay is included in this contract. It is not clear to me when the ELT pay is issued – as time is accrued throughout the year or as a lump sum at the end of the year. Also, I’m not sure if the pay is based on each increment, or just a flat rate at the end. For example, if a teacher works 1525 hours,  does he/she receive a one time payment of $3,000, or does the teacher receive $2,000 for hours 1400-1449, and $2,500 for hours 1450-1499…etc. FYI $2,000 for 50 hours of work is $100/hr.

Beginning with the 2014-2015 school year, teachers working an extended day shall receive stipends in the following amounts based on hours worked:

1400-1449 hours             $2,000

1450-1499 hours             $2,500

1500-1549 hours             $3,000

1550-1599 hours             $3,500

1600-1825 hours             $4,000

Total teacher hours during the normal school day for the year shall not exceed 1,825 hours, excluding functions outside the normal school day, such as parent meetings, after-school functions and other similar activities.

These stipend compensation amounts shall be included in base pay, or otherwise considered as part of the teacher’s annualized salary, for retirement purposes.

Here are some comments from AFT union leaders reported in the Education Week article:

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, who is generally an outspoken opponent of state takeovers, has been highlighting the progress in Lawrence as an example of transformation that’s possible when the union and the district work together.

“Lawrence is succeeding because of the work between people—including the superintendent, the teachers, and parents, and now, the city administration,” she said. “Let me be really blunt. Anybody who thinks that it’s structure rather than human capital will make a huge … policy mistake.”

Frank McLaughlin, the president of the Lawrence Teachers’ Union, praises the gains and Mr. Riley, though he credits strong leadership and an infusion of resources for the positive momentum, not the state takeover itself.

It appears that concessions can be made in the right environments. I think it’s worth noting that Mr. Riley basically made it mandatory that teachers join the union. I’m sure that went a long way to making the negotiations easier….you know so AFT can bank every dollar! 😉

GA AFT affiliate opposes OSD – big surprise!

This is AFT GA OSDa flyer I found by the GA affiliate of AFT, which I honestly didn’t even know existed! The beauty of non unionized states. It’s incredible how the union can’t seem to defend it’s own work by it’s own teachers but also stands in the way of all efforts to bring reform.                                                                                                                                                                                   While there are some mixed stories about the truth about education in New Orleans, it has improved and this flyer undermines the progress that has been made in NOLA. I’ve discussed before how Unions blatantly ignore success (unless of course it’s THEIR success).

As I just wrote in Please free our schools from the current education monopoly! there is story after story of schools doing more with fewer resources and that money is not the silver bullet. It’s just all the unions care about and Democrats step in line with unions.

Why are politicians pushing these reform efforts? Because what we are doing now is not working for the minority, low-income students. We need to do something NOW to give parents choices.

Disproportionately suspend and expel students? Why don’t you just look at your neighborhood schools? We need sweeping school discipline reform that incorporates counseling and school guidance not disdain and punishment.

Less local accountability? How well has that been going with the corruption of school funds, the shuffling of ineffective teachers & principals, nepotism at the school department and parents who feel they have no where else to go?

Charter schools do not have the mammoth budget that the larger school district has so there are fewer resources available to develop specialized instruction for special education students and ELL. As I wrote here, parents often choose a traditional public school for it’s special education resources or a charter may make the appropriate referral to a school better suited. That’s not exclusion, that’s caring enough to make sure the child has the best education that can be offered.

Yes, they sidestep some of the standards that traditional public schools are governed by because that is how you break down the monopoly and allow the autonomy teachers, principals and students need to be mores successful.

How is boycotting Coca-Cola helping teachers or kids?

I recently came across this article on twitter about AFT banning coca-cola products…..I’m sorry what?

He writes:

Earlier this month, the American Federation of Teachers decided to ban Coca-Cola and Coke products from its events and facilities.  In their never-ending search for groups and companies to demonize, AFT has opted to score cheap political points with their base, instead of turning to a company that is a natural ally and working toward a common purpose.

The teachers union – America’s second largest – is basing this new ban on allegations of human rights violations that were described in a trio of books published nearly a decade ago. AFT has opted to focus on these outdated accusations to create media buzz and promote its own self interests instead of looking at the facts and nurturing a relationship with a company with common interests.

Signs of the common purpose between AFT and Coca-Cola are everywhere. Just look at where the union has spent its money and you will also see significant spending from – you guessed it – Coca-Cola. Among them are the Clinton Global Initiative, the Center for American Progress, and numerous political candidates.

This sounds to me like AFT is continuing to create disarray with those who it should be teamed up with AND creating unnecessary attention for the sake of….getting attention – while not helping to advance the causes of education. Like that time they created an entire media campaign around a magazine cover that really didn’t have anything to do with advancing education? 

Here is Coca-Cola’s rather eloquent response (maybe AFT could learn some PR lessons from Coca-cola):

We have a great deal of respect for the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), its leadership and its work. I have known and worked with them for many years, and I believe their leadership is as committed to their mission as we are to ours.

The AFT resolution pertaining to our company is based on outdated and erroneous allegations that we have repeatedly addressed. So we have initiated a dialogue with their leadership to discuss this resolution. We look forward to continuing that engagement to share the facts about our work and our commitment to respect human rights.

We will reiterate to them our aspiration to be one of the most inclusive companies in the world, where rights are respected and employees are valued. This aspiration is anchored by our foundation of policies, including our Human Rights Policy, Supplier Guiding Principles, and Code of Business Conduct. These policies are designed to ensure both our company and our suppliers meet our high workplace and human rights standards. … (click the link above for the whole response)

…When we meet with AFT leadership, we also will share information about our commitment to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which we formally endorsed in 2011, and the work we have done to incorporate these principles into our existing human rights and workplace rights efforts across our entire value chain.

We look forward to further engagement with AFT leadership and continuing to build our valued relationship.

And, tell me again how boycotting coca-cola is helping teachers, or kids?