Archives for category: Unions

John Thompson, teacher and historian in Oklahoma, writes here about the conflict between Democrats for Education Reform and educators and how it might affect the next administration. It is to be expected that the misnamed DFER would achieve its policy goals in a Trump administration: charters, school choice, the elimination of teacher tenure and unions. But what about in a Clinton administration? Why should an anti-teacher, anti-public school group have a “seat at the table”?

Teachers and our unions are uniquely poised to help unite the Democratic Party. Not only do educators celebrate the difference of opinions, but it’s our job to do so in a respectful manner. Our professional practice embodies the need to listen, to disagree agreeably and, often, help synthesize seemingly incompatible perspectives. Not only do we model the sharing of ideas in the classroom, our edu-political practice illustrates the type of democratic principles known as the “loyal opposition.” Teachers and our unions defend our profession and promote the welfare of our students by treating our opponents as opponents, not enemies.

My students were more socially conservative than I was. They were aware that I was a former ACLU/OK board member and a pro-choice lobbyist, but they knew that all of their opinions, values, and judgments would be treated with equal respect. They also knew how much I preferred addressing persons who disagreed with me on abortion with the term, “pro-life,” not “anti-choice.” Teaching our Government class with an open door produced a bonus. Students, patrons, or other visitors continually joined our debates. Often, parents would send their children back to school with their counter-arguments about politics, culture, and history. One junior brought his pastor to class to present an alternative worldview, and he concluded with the words, “We can count the seeds in an apple, but not the apples in a seed.”

The metaphor speaks to the Democratic Party Convention. We can count Bernie’s delegates, but we can’t even guess as to the number of future voters and activists unleashed by “the Bern.” In the meantime, we should unite behind Hillary.

And, that brings us to the second contribution that teachers, our professional organizations, and our representatives can make. Where would public education be if we embodied the ethos of “my way or the highway?” Unlike those with more money and power, we need to be trustworthy participants in the team effort to advance equity and justice. Educators know that losses are a part of the game. Even so, teachers have participated in some of America’s greatest victories; we were loyal members of the coalitions that carved out civil rights breakthroughs, that established a social safety net, and expanded economic opportunity.

As I often explained to my students, politics is a contact sport. Elbows are thrown but taking out your opponent’s knees is never appropriate. This is especially pertinent to contemporary school reform. Although this is heresy to top-down reformers, teachers know that in our world, we win some and we lose some. Our political defeats may be bitter, but they sure don’t sting as much as the all-to-frequent losses of our students. And that brings us to the coverage of Democrat for Education Reform’s (DFER’s) – or should I say “FER’s” – troubles.

When they were racking up political victory after political victory, DFER celebrated as if defeating adults was their true purpose. Alexander Russo explains how DFER benefitted from the Obama administration’s $5 billion Race to the Top and millions of dollars from Rupert Murdoch and the Walton Family Foundation. DFER donated to the pro-Scott Walker American Federation of Children, and distanced itself from Wisconsin workers when Walker attacked public sector workers’ bargaining rights. DFER remained true to its commitment to high stakes testing and to anti-union hedge fund managers, but ducked the opportunity to address the school to prison pipeline. The former DFER executive director, Joe Williams, acknowledges the mistake of pushing teacher evaluations at the same time as Common Core. He notes the resulting political turmoil, but not the mess that those inherently contradictory policies created inside schools. Neither Russo nor any of his sources try to document the idea that the DFER agenda improved schools.

Russo cites the judgment of liberal reformers that DFER was completely on board with the corporate reform wish list, but not so much with the Democrats’ agenda. Andre Perry also notes that “DFER and other education reform groups have grown comfortable working with Republican leadership – in many cases they’ve thrived,” and adds that perhaps the reform movement should go by the name For Education Reform. Perry opposes the way that DFER/FER criticizes the Democratic base “which is especially problematic in an election in which worker rights are in focus.” He explains that Democrats aren’t buying DFER’s “selling [of] school choice as justice.” The amended party platform “was a political victory for those who repudiated the brand of reform that DFER promotes.” Reformers should have accepted their loss as “a result of real political work, and as “changes designed to get Hillary Clinton elected.”

Democratic political infighting over education pulls the rug out from under black families

Perry’s account should be read along with the Hechinger Report’s Emanuel Felton, who explains how reform effected teachers and political reality in Philadelphia.

He reminds us:

Over the course of President Barack Obama’s eight years in office, a coalition formed among his administration, governors, many of whom are Republican, and big city education reformers. Together, they doubled down on former Republican President George W. Bush’s education policies, pledging to turn around long-struggling urban school districts like Philadelphia’s by holding schools accountable for their students’ test scores. If results didn’t improve, officials could tap federal funds for turning around schools, to either close a school or transform it into a privately operated, publicly funded charter school, the vast majority of which employ non-unionized staff.

Of course, student performance didn’t improve. On the whole, decades of improvements in NAEP scores slowed with NCLB, and stopped around 2008. Felton writes:

Over the last decade and a half, the union — which represents the city’s public school teachers, nurses, counselors and support staff — has been nearly halved, its ranks shrinking from 21,000 to 11,000. Come election time, that means 10,000 fewer members to go door to door campaigning, 10,000 fewer people paying union dues to finance political ads and get-out-the-vote efforts.

I just wish he’d explained how the knee-capping of educators also undermined other progressive coalitions and the battle for justice in other sectors of society. I also wished he’d recalled the damage done to students. To name just one example, the conservative reform Governor Tom Corbett cut the Philadelphia school budget by $700 million.

It might be different if reformers like DFER had a record of improving public schools. Take a look at the issues that (publicly) outrage corporate reformers, however, and they all come back to two demands that are based on faith in their hypotheses, not evidence. Reformers insist that high stakes testing must be used to sanction individuals and systems, and on the mass charterization of schools. Test-driven accountability has demonstrably failed but bubble-in scores are the metrics that keep score as charter management organizations spearhead school closures, thus breaking union power. Test scores also fuel the Billionaires Boys Club’s high-dollar, anti-teacher, anti-public school public relations campaign and, less publicly, they are seen as necessary to encourage for-profit education start-ups. In other words, all roads lead back to the insistence that the punitive is nonnegotiable.

If Democrats who remain true to output-driven reform weren’t so committed to punishments, as well as rewards, they could go along with a 2-1/2 month pre-election moratorium on attacking fellow Democrats. They could temporarily stop slandering those who disagree with them, and focus on win-win policies such as early childhood education, wraparound services for traumatized kids, fighting chronic absenteeism, restorative justice, high school graduation, reducing the college debts, and making higher education affordable. They could also help us advocate for a $15 dollar minimum wage, the end of mass incarceration, and the refusal of the conservative allies to accept Obamacare.

Assuming that Hillary Clinton is elected, teachers will regain our seat at the table. We don’t expect the Billionaires Boys Club to offer us theirs. They aren’t likely to bend on their bottom line – the punishment of individuals and of the losers in their market-driven world. But, after a few months of swallowing their words rather than insulting and slandering teachers, perhaps they could rethink the politics of personal demonization. Okay, that’s not likely to happen. Educators still need to continue to make our case, as we make it clear that our profession won’t endure another eight years of being scapegoated by Democrats.

Yesterday we learned that billionaires have assembled a fund of $725,000 (so far) to defeat Washington state Supreme Court justice Barbara Madsen. The money is being funneled mostly through a group called “Stand for Children.”

Why are the billionaires eager to oust Judge Madsen? She wrote the 6-3 decision in 2015 that declared that charter schools are not public schools under the Washington state constitution and are not eligible to receive public funding devoted solely to democratically governed public schools. For daring to thwart their insistence on charter schools, the billionaires decided that Judge Madsen had to go.

But what is this group “Stand for Children” that is a willing handmaiden to the whims of billionaires who hate public schools?

Peter Greene explains its origins as a social justice organization some 20 years ago, founded by Jonah Edelman, the son of civil rights icon Marian Wright Edelman and equity advocate Peter Edelman. Josh’s pedigree was impeccable, and Stand for Children started as a new and promising civil rights organization.

But somewhere along the way, SFC took a radical change of course. It began receiving buckets of money from the Gates Foundation and the Walton Foundation. By 2010, Oregon SFC was advocating charters, cybercharters, and a reduction in the capital gains tax. Flush with reformer cash, it became active in many states, opposing unions, supporting charters, removing teacher job security.


The apple has fallen very far from the tree.

SFC endorsed the anti-public school, anti-union propaganda film “Waiting for Superman.”

SFC crowed about pushing legislation in Illinois that would cripple the Chicago Teachers Union. It opened a campaign in Massachusetts to reduce teacher tenure and seniority rules, threatening a referendum unless the unions gave concessions. Jonah Edelman boasted at the Aspen Ideas Festival in 2011 about his role in spending millions, hiring the best lobbyists, and defeating the unions.

Be sure to read the 2011 article by Ken Libby and Adam Sanchez called “For or Against Children? The Problematic History of Stand for Children.” They captured the beginning of the transition of the organization to a full-fledged partner of the billionaire reformers.

Old friends, now disillusioned, call Stand for Children “Stand ON Children.”

Greene lists the members of the current board. All corporate reformers and corporatists, not a single educator.

Greed is the root of a lot of evil. It turns good people bad if they can’t resist its lure.

I invited teacher-blogger Rachel Levy, a Virginia resident, to give her appraisal of Tim Kaine.

Rachel Levy grew up in Washington, DC, about a mile from the Vice President’s residence, but has lived in Virginia for 14 of the past 16 years, and in the Richmond area for the past 7. In that time, she has been a public school teacher, an education writer and blogger at All Things Education, a private preschool teacher, a public school parent, and is currently a PhD student at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Education (go Rams!) studying educational leadership and policy.

She writes:

In light of Hillary Clinton’s recent choice for Vice President, Diane asked me to write something about Tim Kaine and Anne Holton. If you want to read about Senator Kaine’s education policy views and actions, and about his experiences sending his children to public schools, you can go here and here. If you want to read about Secretary Holton’s life and career, you can go here and here. If you want to see what Diane had to say about the pair, go here. Although, all of those things are important to me as a parent, as a public education advocate, and as an apprentice policy scholar, I am going to talk about general insights and impressions here.

I don’t know Tim Kaine or Anne Holton personally. I voted for Tim Kaine when he ran for Governor and I voted for him again when he ran for the U.S. Senate. The way he discussed how he navigated holding the personal views he does versus the requirements of his job as a political leader resonated with me, particularly vis a vis women’s reproductive rights. But otherwise, I didn’t know that much about him. Then, a few years ago, I went to hear him speak at Randolph-Macon College (go Yellow Jackets!) where my husband is a professor of psychology. I went because I am politically active, because I wanted to hear what one of the political leaders in my state had to say, and well, because I live walking distance from RMC. I wasn’t prepared at all to be impressed or inspired. I was prepared to be hear spin and to be marketed to. But afterwards, I was deeply impressed. I had never heard a politician speak so earnestly and so frankly. He told his story. What stood out the most was his emphasis on local politics. He didn’t seem to see local political work as grunt work you have to do to get to next level; he saw it as the most important type of work you can do, serving the public and serving your community. Many liberals have ceded the local political arena, the place where decisions happen that most impact your day-to-day life, to conservatives. Say what you will about the Tea Party but they show up to Board of Supervisors and School Board meetings, they use the democratic process. Too many liberals brush off local politics, as well as the decision-makers themselves, as too boring, too provincial, not glamorous enough. In doing so, they ignore the perspectives of local decision makers, and they fail to assert influence and fail to participate meaningfully in the civic life of their communities. Tim Kaine talked about the importance of local politics, about the importance of understanding the perspectives of constituents and of fellow decision-makers who might have different opinions, and of working with them. He spoke directly to the students, urging them to go into local politics. That was the only thing he was selling. I left his speaking engagement feeling good for once about a politician, proud, even, to have a political leader like him in charge and in my state. I felt hopeful.

As someone who also kept her name when she got married, I would like to point out that Anne Holton kept her name when she got married and that Tim Kaine married a woman who kept her name. I know that seems like a small detail, but it’s symbolic and says something about both of them. Even so, I was skeptical when Tim Kaine’s wife, Anne Holton was appointed Secretary of Education. Oh great, I said, another well-intentioned but clueless non-educator coming in and telling educators what to do. However, the more I read about how she was brought up and about her as a person and a professional, the more impressed I grew with her. And then as I heard her policy ideas, my wariness wore off and I became reassured. Subsequently, this past semester, I was lucky enough to complete an externship with the Virginia Association of School Superintendents (VASS). I met Secretary Holton once or twice very briefly and certainly she was warm and friendly. But what really impressed me was hearing her address education stakeholders, which I had the pleasure of doing on a number of occasions. It wasn’t her speaking style that impressed me, it was her command of the policies and their implications. She is thoughtful about educational practice and genuinely cares about the success of all children and wants them to have a rich and meaningful learning experience. She listens to stakeholders. One occasion in particular has stayed with me. During the legislative session at the Virginia General Assembly, she and a very conservative state senator were both giving public comment in support of the same bill, and it was a good bill. However, while he referred to “failing schools,” she referred to “challenged schools.” She did not use deficit discourse or make it sound as if the issues were inherent to the people in the schools with lower test scores or the schools themselves. She did not take on the legislator’s language to try to get the bill passed, but she didn’t throw out her office’s support of the bill, either. Also just the fact that she was there was notable. She wasn’t phoning it in. She took her work and her role seriously.

By the way, Anne Holton stepped down after her husband’s selection as Clinton’s running mate, so she can help him.

The biggest criticisms I have heard about Tim Kaine is that he’s “anti-union,” too “pro-Wall Street,” and not enough of an advocate for climate change. If he said he supported Virginia’s Right to Work laws, I don’t know if that makes him “anti-union” or if it means he was supporting existing laws in the state he was elected to govern because it would be political suicide otherwise (and I don’t hear the VEA complaining about his candidacy.) Also, it is worth noting that he has a 96% positive rating from the AFL-CIO.

But maybe he is anti-union, not wary enough of Wall Street, and not concerned enough about climate change. Maybe you don’t agree with him on many things, but if his history as a local and state politician are any indication, he will listen, he will learn, he will roll his sleeves up, and he will try to do right by the public. If he has done it in the case of public education, which he has, I believe he can do it in the case of other public democratic institutions and matters. You can look at Kaine’s candidacy through the lens of the national media and national political organizations or you can look at it through the lens of the Virginians he served, like me, and public servants he served with, all of whom have overwhelming positive things to say. His record on higher education is strong.

Look, I am unabashedly pro-union and pro-labor. I am deeply apprehensive about Wall Street’s power. I am profoundly concerned about climate change (which I see as the defining issue of our time). I voted for Bernie. But Bernie didn’t win. Hillary did and she picked a genuine, smart, hard-working VP. Both Tim Kaine and Anne Holton are thoughtful, caring people—thoughtful about their positions they hold, about the policies they enact or implement, about how those intersect with their personal views. They are not climbers or elitists. They have unapologetically and unwaveringly dedicated their lives to being public servants, to serving their country, state, and local communities. Isn’t that at least in part what Bernie Sanders campaign was all about? We rarely see someone like Tim Kaine in politics and now we have the chance to have him serve as Vice President of our country. It’s time to stop working against him and start envisioning what can be done when he starts working with us.

One of the most powerful players in the corporate reform movement is Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), which represents the hedge fund managers who are eager to expand privately managed charters with public dollars.

Experienced journalist Alexander Russo writes here in the publication of the conservative American Enterprise Institute about the travails of DFER. From the outside, it appears that DFER is powerful for two reasons: its money (which seems to be endless) and its closeness to the Obama administration. President Obama took his cues from DFER, not the teachers’ unions. But Russo says that DFER is losing its grip and its sense of possibility. If it appears to be aimless and dispirited, it is.

The two issues that it fought for–charters and teacher evaluation by test scores–have not been the big successes that the hedge fund guys expected. Obama is leaving, and there is no certainty that Hillary will be as congenial as he was. She has a debt to the teachers’ unions, and Obama had none. On issue after issue, there have been no results–not for the agenda of privatizing the schools, nor for the fantasy of booting out all those “bad teachers.”

Money was never lacking, and the vision has all but disappeared. DFER exists because it continues to raise money, not because there is a groundswell of support for privatization and firing teachers based on test scores.

DFER’s long-time executive director Joe Williams has left to work for the Walton family.

Meanwhile, DFER’s real opposition is not the teachers’ unions but the parents and educators who are fighting back on their own dime. The grassroots opponents of corporate reform don’t have the money that DFER has, but they have passion, commitment, and the support of classroom teachers and scholars who oppose DFER’s goals. No one pays them. They (we) will outlast DFER because DFER will grow tired, tired of losing Friedrichs, tired of losing Vergara, tired of reading about the Opt Out movement, tired of being thrashed by bloggers like Mercedes Schneider and Peter Greene, tired of being vilified for their selfless investment in “reform,” tired of getting no returns on their investment.

The tortoise and the hare. Rabbit stew, anyone?

In this post, EduShyster interviews Eunice Han, an economist who earned her Ph.D. at Harvard University and is now headed for the University of Utah.

Dr. Han studied the effects of unions on teacher quality and student achievement and concluded that unionization is good for teachers and students alike.

This goes against the common myth that unions are bad, bad, bad.

Han says that “highly unionized districts actually fire more bad teachers.”

And more: It’s pretty simple, really. By demanding higher salaries for teachers, unions give school districts a strong incentive to dismiss ineffective teachers before they get tenure. Highly unionized districts dismiss more bad teachers because it costs more to keep them.

Dr. Han found a natural experiment in the states that abolished collective bargaining.

Indiana, Idaho, Tennessee and Wisconsin all changed their laws in 2010-2011, dramatically restricting the collective bargaining power of public school teachers. After that, I was able to compare what happened in states where teachers’ bargaining rights were limited to states where there was no change. If you believe the argument that teachers unions protect bad teachers, we should have seen teacher quality rise in those states after the laws changed. Instead I found that the opposite happened. The new laws restricting bargaining rights in those four states reduced teacher salaries by about 9%. That’s a huge number. A 9% drop in teachers salaries is unheard of. Lower salaries mean that districts have less incentive to sort out better teachers, lowering the dismissal rate of underperforming teachers, which is what you saw happen in the those four states. Lower salaries also encouraged high-quality teachers to leave the teaching sector, which contributed to a decrease of teacher quality.

Send this link to Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, and any other reformers you can think of.

Politico reports that Hillary Clinton was booed when she spoke of cooperation between public schools and “public charter schools.”

I don’t think she has any idea of the depth of antagonism towards charter schools among teachers.

Maybe she doesn’t know that 90% of charters are non-union.

Maybe she doesn’t know that the far-right Walton Family Foundation (which hates unions) funded one of every four charters in the nation and has pledged to spend at least $200 million annually to create more non-union schools.

Maybe she doesn’t know that ALEC (which hates unions and public schools) is a huge supporter of charter schools.

Maybe she doesn’t know that the same “vast rightwing conspiracy” that hates her loves charter schools.

Maybe she doesn’t know that every Republican governor, as well as Donald Trump, is enthusiastic about charter schools.

Maybe she doesn’t know that charter schools have become the favorite ploy of those who want to privatize and monetize public education.

I have been trying to arrange a meeting with her, face to face, but so far have had no success.

I will keep trying.

I would really like to explain to her what is happening, how it threatens the future of public education, and how far it is from the original idea of charter schools.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Randi Weingarten is taking union pension funds away from hedge funds that attack teachers’ pensions. Leading hedge funds have contributed to organizations that want to eliminate defined-benefit pensions and substitute 401k plans for them. The hedge fund billionaires have also taken the lead in funding nonunion charter schools.

Randi has pushed the investment committees of unions to withdraw their pension funds away from hedge funds that are subsidizing attacks on teachers’ pensions.

Defenders of the hedge funds say that the unions should seek the best return on their funds, without regard to the politics of the hedge fund.

Randi has the better side of this dispute. Why should teachers invest their pension funds in a company that wants to take away their pensions?

Daniel Loeb, Paul Singer and dozens of other hedge-fund managers have poured millions of dollars into promoting charter schools in New York City and into groups that want to revamp pension plans for government workers, including teachers.

The leader of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, sees some of the proposals, in particular the pension issue, as an attack on teachers. She also has influence over more than $1 trillion in public-teacher pension plans, many of which traditionally invest in hedge funds.

It is a recipe for a battle for the ages.

Ms. Weingarten started by targeting hedge-fund managers she deemed a threat to teachers and urged unions to yank money from their funds. Then she moved to Wall Street as a whole.

Her union federation is funding a lobbying campaign to eliminate the “carried-interest” tax rate on investment income earned by many money managers. It is trying to defeat legislation that would increase the charitable deduction in New York state for donations to private schools. And it has filed a class-action lawsuit accusing 25 Wall Street firms of violating antitrust law and manipulating Treasury bond prices.

‘Given your strong support…for an organization which is leading the attack on defined benefit (DB) pension funds around the country, I was surprised to learn of your interest in working with public pension plan investors.’
—Randi Weingarten, in March 15, 2013, letter to hedge-fund manager Daniel Loeb

Some pension funds have withdrawn money from hedge-fund managers criticized by the teachers union. And some hedge-fund managers stopped making donations to advocacy groups targeted by Ms. Weingarten.

Hedge funds, reluctant to buckle to the pressure, say Ms. Weingarten is doing a disservice to the teachers she represents, because funds should aim solely to earn the highest possible return on their assets. The personal beliefs or donations of hedge-fund managers, they argue, shouldn’t be a factor in that decision. At least one manager, Mr. Loeb of Third Point LLC, has increased his donations to a charter-school group, citing Ms. Weingarten.

Sander Read, chief executive officer of Lyons Wealth Management, which hasn’t been targeted, likened what Ms. Weingarten is doing to “hiring a dentist because of their political beliefs. You may see eye to eye on politics, but you may not have great, straight teeth.” None of the hedge funds targeted by the teachers unions would discuss the matter publicly, a sign of how sensitive the battle has become.

Ms. Weingarten said in an interview: “Why would you put your money with someone who wants to destroy you?”

The battles are rooted in a political fight over how to improve public education. Republicans have long sought major changes, such as creating new competition for public schools, including charter schools. Democrats largely have supported solutions backed by the unions, particularly increased spending for existing schools.

About a decade ago, some liberals joined conservatives in pushing to expand charter schools. Those efforts received financial support from hedge-fund managers including Mr. Loeb, Mr. Singer of Elliott Management Corp. and Paul Tudor Jones of Tudor Investment Corp., who together kicked in millions of dollars.

Some of those involved in the effort cast public-school teachers and their unions as obstacles to improving education. The reputation of the teachers union took a beating.

When Ms. Weingarten was elected president of the American Federation of Teachers in 2008, she aimed to restore public trust in public-school teachers and their unions.

As she rose in the union, she got close to Bill and Hillary Clinton. Last summer, the federation became the first union group to endorse Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign. Ms. Weingarten sits on the board of the super PAC supporting her candidacy, and the American Federation of Teachers has donated $1.6 million to the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation.

Ms. Weingarten’s federation represents about two dozen teachers unions whose retirement funds have a total of $630 billion in assets, a big chunk of the more than $1 trillion controlled by all teachers unions. The federation doesn’t control where that money is invested; the unions themselves do. But Ms. Weingarten can make recommendations.

She instructed investment advisers at the federation’s Washington headquarters to sift through financial reports and examine the personal charitable donations of hedge-fund managers. She says she focuses on groups that want to end defined-benefit pensions. Many of the same entities also back charter schools and overhauling public schools.

In early 2013, the union federation published a list of roughly three-dozen Wall Street asset managers it says donated to organizations that support causes opposed by the union. It wanted union pension funds to use the list to decide where to invest their money.

The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a think tank that supports increasing school choice and replacing defined-benefit pension plans with 401(k)-type plans for future government employees, is one of the groups to which donations were viewed unfavorably.

Lawrence Mone, its president, says the tactics amount to intimidation. “I don’t think that it’s beneficial to the functioning of a democratic society,” he says.

After KKR & Co. President Henry Kravitz made the list in 2013, Ms. Weingarten got a call from Ken Mehlman, an executive at the private-equity firm and former chairman of the Republican National Committee.
Mr. Mehlman said KKR had a record of supporting public pension plans, according to Ms. Weingarten.

Ms. Weingarten agreed, removed Mr. Kravitz’s name from the list and invited Mr. Mehlman to talk about the firm’s commitment to public pensions at a meeting in Washington with 30 pension-fund trustees representing 20 plans that control $630 billion in teachers’ retirement money.

When Cliff Asness of hedge fund AQR Capital Management LLC found out Mr. Kravitz had gotten off the list, he called Mr. Mehlman, a friend. Mr. Asness also hired a friend of Ms. Weingarten’s: Donna Brazile, a vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee who has been a paid consultant to the American Federation of Teachers.

Ms. Brazile arranged a lunch meeting between Mr. Asness and Ms. Weingarten, where they discussed ways to work together. Not long after, Mr. Asness’s firm paid $25,000 to be a founding member of a group that KKR’s Mr. Mehlman was starting with Ms. Weingarten to promote retirement security.

Mr. Asness was removed from the list. A year later, when Ms. Weingarten noticed he continued to serve on the Manhattan Institute board, she considered putting him back on.

In September of last year, when the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, or Calstrs, considered increasing its hedge-fund investments, Ms. Weingarten saw another chance to apply pressure.

Dan Pedrotty, an aide to Ms. Weingarten who runs the hedge-fund effort, spoke to a Calstrs official about Mr. Asness’s continued service on the Manhattan Institute’s board. The Calstrs official then called Mr. Asness.

In December, Mr. Asness said he would step down from the Manhattan Institute board. His spokesman says he already had made the decision at the time of the call, after reassessing time spent on the boards of several nonprofit groups.

“Randi is committed to helping hard working employees achieve the secure retirement they deserve,” Mr. Asness said in a written statement.

Mr. Loeb, founder of the $16-billion Third Point fund, has been more combative. He is a donor to the Manhattan Institute and chairman of the Success Academy, which operates a network of charter schools in New York City.

‘I can appreciate that it may be frustrating for the certain plan sponsors to invest with managers who have different political views or party affiliations, an issue they must come to terms with due to their fiduciary responsibilities.’
—Daniel Loeb, in March 22, 2013, email to union leader Randi Weingarten

In a March 2013 letter to Mr. Loeb, Ms. Weingarten noted his support of a group “leading the attack on defined benefit pension funds” and said she was “surprised to learn of your interest in working with public pension plan investors.” Seeking business from union pension funds while donating to the group, she wrote, “seem to us perhaps inconsistent.”

The two agreed to meet.

Mr. Loeb emailed Ms. Weingarten, noting his fund’s average annual return of 21% over 18 years. “I completely respect the political considerations you may have and understand if other factors dictate how funds are allocated,” he wrote.

A week later, Ms. Weingarten wrote back to reiterate that unions were wary of investing with Mr. Loeb “given the political attack on defined benefit funds.”

In response, Mr. Loeb asserted that it must be “frustrating” for unions to invest with funds that “have different political views or party affiliations.” He added: “At least we can rejoice in knowing that as Americans we share fundamental values that elevate individual opportunity, accountability, freedom, fairness and prosperity.”

The meeting was called off, and Mr. Loeb was added to the list.

At a fundraising dinner that May for his charter-school group, Mr. Loeb stood up and said: “Some of you in this room have come under attack for supporting charter-school education reform and freedom in general.” He called Ms. Weingarten the “leader of the attack” and pledged an additional $1 million in her name.

“Both Randi and I believe America’s children deserve a 21st century education, and I hope the day comes when she embraces the positive change created by public charter schools,” Mr. Loeb said recently in a written statement.

In late 2013, state union officials pressed a Rhode Island pension fund to fire Third Point. The following January, the pension fund did just that, pulling about $75 million from Mr. Loeb’s fund. A spokeswoman for the state treasurer said at the time that Mr. Loeb’s fund was too risky.

Roger Boudreau, a member of the teachers union and an elected adviser of the Rhode Island fund at the time, says the donations played a role. “It’s fair to say that those kinds of donations are going to be looked at very critically,” he says.

Around that time, a giant billboard appeared above Times Square. “Randi Weingarten’s Union Protects Bad Teachers,” it read above a picture of her scowling face.

Ms. Weingarten immediately assumed the hedge-funders were behind the attack. The entity listed as the billboard’s sponsor is the Center for Union Facts, a Washington-based advocacy group. The group declines to disclose who paid for the billboard.

“We all guessed it had to be people like Dan Loeb,” Ms. Weingarten says. Mr. Loeb declined to comment.

The billboard kicked off a campaign against Ms. Weingarten by the Center for Union Facts, including radio and newspaper advertisements. “She’s the head of the snake, so it was appropriate to go after her personally,” says the group’s president, Richard Berman.

The ads directed people to a website that said she oversaw a “crusade to stymie school reforms and protect the jobs of incompetent teachers.” It listed her salary and called her a “member of the elite.”

In September 2014, Mr. Berman sent a 10-page letter to lawmakers, union officials and opinion leaders charging that Ms. Weingarten‘s “ineptitude is a threat against America, against hard-working teachers, and especially against our nation’s children.”

Lorretta Johnson, secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers, responded in a letter to union leaders that Mr. Berman represented a “front group whose mission is to vilify and destroy unions.”

The Center for Union Facts, led by Richard Berman, is a rightwing, virulently anti-union public relations firm that specializes in demonizing unions; it has also defended the tobacco industry against critics.

Eduardo Andere is an independent researcher and writer, who lives in Mexico but is currently a visiting scholar at New York University. I contacted him and asked him to shed light on what is happening in Mexico, where several protesting teachers have been killed by police. As you will see below, it is complicated.

Eduardo Andere writes:

We should be talking about teaching and learning, school improvement, teacher’s training and professionalization; instead, we are talking about street demonstrations and deaths in Oaxaca.

Nothing justifies the death of people in confrontations over politics and policies. And when teachers, schools and education policies are involved, the feeling of bitterness and frustration is even worse. Mexico has again gained international attention because of a tragic clash between demonstrators and the police last Sunday in Oaxaca. In order to understand what it is going on I have to talk a little bit about education in Mexico.

Different from the U.S. and other large countries, education in Mexico is very centralized in almost all matters. The federal government is empowered by the National Constitution (Articles 3 and 73, mainly) to implement national education, evaluation and education civic service laws. At the national government cabinet level there is an Education Department we call Secretaría de Educación Pública (SEP) that is in charge of almost all important education matters including the government-labor relations with teachers, the national curriculum, textbooks, and teacher training and professionalization.

SEP is the employer of most teachers in Mexico. The labor relationship between the government and teachers is handled by a duopoly: SEP and the National Union of Workers of Education or Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (SNTE). By historical reasons, Unions in Mexico were co-opted by non-democratic governments to advance their political interests. In the past, non-democratic national legislatures, always under the simulation of democracy, passed laws to protect the union leaders and their unions. Many of those legal shields or protections are still in force. Overtime, some union leaders became very powerful and allegedly very corrupt, sometimes as powerful of more powerful that cabinet ministers. However, this powerful leaders were “institutionalized” by the system and played by the rules of the game in a dance of political favors between high political figures such as governors and even presidents of Mexico. This has been the case of the leaders of the large unions such as the teachers union, the oil-related workers’ union and electricity-related workers’ union. Perhaps the most powerful of all of them, the leader of the SNTE, was some times dubbed as the “Mexican vice-president”.

The SNTE is formed by many sections or secciones and some of those secciones have opposed to the national union leadership. The most powerful opposition force is called the CNTE, Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (National Coordination of Workers of Education). The CNTE (o La Coordinadora) isn’t empowered by the law to handle labor negotiations with the employer, i.e., SEP, because the legal right to enter into contractual negotiations with the government is, by law, only granted to SNTE. This has made the CNTE a more vociferous and combatant labor organization. On the other hand, the SNTE has very seldom taken their quarrels to the streets, they threaten, but they have always managed to settle whatever the issue with the government.

By sheer numbers Mexico’s education system is immense, in some areas even larger than the U.S. The total number of students in Mexico from pre-school to university is 36.4 million (total population in Mexico is 121 million), educated by 2 million teachers in almost 262 thousand schools (of which 7,211 are universities and colleges). It means that SEP is in charge, directly, of more that 254 thousand schools from pre-K to 12, and is the employer of around 1.2 million teachers. The system is extremely large for a centralized authority.

The source of the conflict. Right after President Peña took office on December 1st, 2012, he sent to Congress a proposal to amend the National Constitution to set off an education reform. The national congress and the majority of the state legislatures hastily approved the amendment. In tandem, the then leader of SNTE, Elba Esther Gordillo, was incarcerated and at the time of this writing (June 23, 2016) is still in jail. The Education Amendment triggered new laws, provisions and policies that were approved and enacted in 2013. The package has been dubbed since then “The Education Reform” or “La Reforma Educative.”

At the heart of the Education Reform was the intention to disentangle old and opaque—sometimes very opaque—ways to hire and promote teachers. For decades teachers were hired and promoted with written and unwritten arrangements between the SNTE and the federal and local governments. It was part of the political reciprocal favors leaders in government (many of them politicians) and SNTE granted each other, for their own sake. Over the years, teachers learned and earned the right to sell or inherit their own “plazas” (teaching tenures.) This became almost a culture. There were some efforts, but limited to some states only, to change this “opaque” system for a new open and merit-based system. It was “ok” since many people benefited from it. Teachers were only accountable to leaders, SNTE and governmental (political-driven). One of the intentions of the Education Reform was to change that.

However, the Education Reform tried to change a long-standing wrong but “culturally” accepted employment system by a new, more transparent but totally different system based primarily on standardized tests. The only way teachers and other educators could be hired, promoted or even keep their jobs, was through a system of rigorous standardized tests. This new teacher evaluation policy tops a decade-long effort to assess students, teachers and schools, based on universal and standardized tests. As of 2002 Mexico subscribed to the international frantic wave of testing and assessment that gave rise to changes in policies in many countries, such as the U.S. (No Child Left Behind), the U.K., Australia and Japan, for instance. Mexico entered, swiftly and harshly, into the era of education assessment.

Most of the teachers in Mexico have accepted, in part or in general, the new system of assessment, but some states where CNTE has a stronghold have bitterly opposed. By the way, these states happen to be the poorest in Mexico and in many instances with the lowest education performance in the national (ENLACE and PLANEA) and international (PISA) tests, but also in matriculation rates and real or authentic opportunities to learn. One of the main arguments from teachers who oppose the Education Reform is based on conditions of extreme poverty and therefore context. They say they were never listened, so they took their quarrels to the streets, blocking highways or leaving schools, therefore, closing schools for days, weeks or months. Governments, national and local, have replied with a mixture of measures: sometimes tolerance, sometimes propaganda, and sometimes police force to open highways or incarcerating aggressive demonstrators or leaders.

The two sides seem to be struck by a stalemate: the national government, SEP, says that the Education Reform is not negotiable at all, and the opposing teachers who do not want to be evaluated by the new system of assessment, want the system to change for them. Sometimes it seems pride, but at the heart of the issue, it is high politics (paraphrasing Kissinger): a sheer change in the allocation of decision-making power.

As it is written, it seems that the issue is very simple: Negotiate. But the national government has been adamant, and so are the CNTE leaders who ironically but politically gained steam by the tragic event last Sunday in Nochixtlán, Oaxaca, where eight people died and many other were wounded as the result of a violent clash between demonstrators and the police force.

As of yesterday, June 22nd, the Ministry of Internal Affairs (Secretaría de Gobernación) has set up a table for negotiations with CNTE. On the other hand, SEP has insisted that the Education Reform is not for negotiation. The leaders of the business community and the owners of some newspapers and TV networks support the Education Reform; some op-ed columnists have also backed the change in the rules of the game. The CNTE is backed by teachers mainly from the poorest states, some academics and intellectuals, and left-driven political parties and extremist groups. Negotiation and more demonstrations are taking place in tandem. The coin is in the air, but at least there is a table where they are voicing their views. In the meantime, precious time is lost to enter into authentic teaching and learning policies and practices in schools. Once again, all is politics. Pedagogy follows politics.

Laura Chapman, a retired educator and frequent contributor to the blog, posted this analysis of anti-union legislation across the nation. Unions helped to create the middle class in the United States.



I know that followers of this blog have mixed feelings about teacher unions. But here are some red-flags to think about.
The campaign to keep public employees from collective bargaining about working conditions, pay, and due-process rights is expanding. The method: Right to Work laws.


Currently, 26 states and Guam have Right to Work laws. The laws guarantee that no worker can be compelled, as a condition of employment, to join or not to join a labor union or pay unions dues. Although labor unions still operate in these 26 Right to Work states, the ability of workers to organize and negotiate with employers is compromised by the laws.


The new top down approach to killing unions:
In 2015, Republicans in the 114th Congress introduced bills to establish a federal Right to Work law. If passed, this legislation would be a giant leap forward in dismantling unions in all states. For the present, the proposed House bill (HR 612) and Senate bill (S-391) are stalled in committees. Both are framed around model legislation offered by the National Right to Work Committee and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).



For readers who are uninformed, ALEC is devoted to limited government, free markets, and federalism. It provides corporate-friendly model legislation to elected state officials. ALEC is one reason why the same basic legislation seems to pop up in multiple states at about the same time. ALEC’s model Right to Work law for state legislators is not different from the proposed federal version.



But, there is a new union-busting kid on the block, working from the bottom up.



Unlike ALEC’s focus on state policies, ALEC’s new baby, the “American City County Exchange” produces model ordinances for local self-governing jurisdictions such as a county, city, town, village, borough, parish, or district. When an ordinance is passed and included in a larger set of laws, it may be called a “chapter.”

Members of the ACCE are pushing their preferred ordinances/chapters into local government, but without seeming to be heavy-handed.

Here is part of the ACCE pitch to local elected officials: “As municipal leaders, you make daily decisions that directly impact your neighborhood roads, schools and property taxes. (Note that schools are mentioned).
How much more effective could you be if you had access to ground-breaking research and the nation’s top industry experts, or if you could share ideas and experiences with your counterparts from around the country so you can learn what works without repeating others’ mistakes?”…

“Members of the American City County Exchange receive academic research and analysis from policy experts who work with issues, processes and problem-solving strategies upon which municipal officials vote. Provided with important policy education, lawmakers become more informed and better equipped to serve the needs of their communities. Join us today.”

ACCE has tiers of membership. Elected officials pay a small fee to join and receive propaganda and perks. In 2014, the fee was only $100 for a two-year membership. Membership gives them reduced rates for conferences, free publications from ALEC, and ready-to-use model ordinances/chapters that comport with ALEC’s market-based view of all things wonderful.

In contrast, corporations pay $7,000 to $25,000 for ACCE membership. This gives them a seat at the local governance table, where they propagate their talking points, white papers, and ”expert” opinions, and ready-made ordinances to the wined and dined elected officials. Higher fees give corporations a role in making decisions about which model legislation to push.

Here is a lightly edited version of the American City County Exchange’s “Local Right to Work Ordinance,” with a few notes I have added in parentheses.

Summary: No employee need join or pay dues to a union, or refrain from joining a union, as a condition of employment. The ordinance establishes penalties and remedies for violations of the ordinance’s provisions.
Model Policy:
Section 1. This ordinance may be cited as the Local Right to Work Ordinance.

Section 2. It is hereby declared to be the public policy of the (Insert City or County), in order to maximize individual freedom of choice in the pursuit of employment and to encourage an employment climate conducive to economic growth, that the right to work shall not be subject to undue restraint or coercion. The right to work shall not be infringed or restricted in any way based on membership in, affiliation with, or financial support of a labor organization.

Section 3. The term “labor organization” means any organization of any kind, or agency or employee representation committee or union, that exists for the purpose, in whole or in part, of dealing with employers concerning wages, rates of pay, hours of work, other conditions of employment, or other forms of compensation.

Section 4. No person shall be required, as a condition of employment or continuation of employment:
(A) to become or remain a member of a labor organization;
(B) to pay any dues, fees, assessments, or other charges of any kind or amount to a labor organization;
(C) to pay to any third party any pro-rata portion of dues or charges regularly required of members of a labor organization; or
(D) to be recommended, approved, referred, or cleared by or through a labor organization.

Section 5. It shall be unlawful to deduct from the compensation of an employee any union dues, or other charges to be paid over to a labor organization, UNLESS the employee has first presented, and the employer has received, a signed written authorization of such deductions, which authorization may be REVOKED by the employee AT ANY TIME by giving written notice of such revocation to the employer. (Nothing requires the employer, or the worker opting out of dues, to notify the union’s financial officer. This is an easy path to destabilize union financing and financial records).

Section 6. Any agreement, written or oral, implied or expressed, between any labor organization and employer that violates the rights of employees as guaranteed by this chapter is hereby declared to be unlawful, null and void. Any strike, picketing, boycott, or other action by a labor organization for the sole purpose of inducing or attempting to induce an employer to enter into any agreement prohibited under this chapter is hereby declared to be for an illegal purpose and is a violation of the provisions of this chapter. (Union members who protest this ordinance are automatically judged “unlawful.” Free speech and freedom of assembly are steamrolled.).

Section 7. It shall be unlawful for any person
—to compel or attempt to compel an employee or prospective employee to join, affiliate with, or financially support a labor organization or to refrain from doing so.
—to cause or attempt to cause an employee to be denied employment or discharged from employment because of support or nonsupport of a labor organization,
—to induce or attempt to induce any other person to refuse to work with such employees.
—to intimidate or threaten to intimidate an employee’s or prospective employee’s parents, spouse, children, grand-children, or any other persons residing in the employee’s or prospective employee’s home,
—to damage or threatened damage to an employee’s or prospective employee’s property.
(The ordinance is framed as if hostile acts, threats, and intimidation could only come from workers or prospective workers, never from employers).

Section 8. Any person who directly or indirectly violates any provision of this chapter shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction thereof shall be subject to a fine not exceeding (insert amount) or imprisonment for a period of not more than (insert time period), or both such fine and imprisonment. (Unlike most state Right to Work laws, this local version criminalizes violations. The model ordinance does not stipulate the severity of misdemeanor. Typical misdemeanor classifications are: Class 1 or A, fines of up to $5,000, and/or a jail sentence of up to 12 months; Class 2 or B, fines up to $1,000, and/or a jail sentence of 6-9 months; Class 3 or C, fines up to $1,000 and/or a jail sentence of up to 3 months; Class 4 or D, fines up to $500 and/or a jail sentence of up to 30 days. ).

Section 9. Any employee harmed as a result of any violation or threatened violation of the provisions of this chapter shall be entitled to injunctive relief against any and all violators or persons threatening violations and may in addition recover any and all damages, including costs and reasonable attorney fees, resulting from such violation or threatened violation. Such remedies shall be independent of and in addition to the penalties and remedies prescribed in other provisions of this chapter. (I think that Section 9, in itself, is an act of intimidation: Comply or else).

Section 10. It shall be the duty of the prosecuting attorneys of each county to investigate complaints of violation or threatened violations of this chapter and to prosecute all persons violating any of its provisions, and to take all means at their command to ensure its effective enforcement.

Section 11. The provisions of this chapter shall apply to all contracts entered into after the effective date of this chapter and shall apply to any renewal or extension of any existing contract.

Section 12. An emergency existing therefore, which emergency is hereby declared to exist, this ordinance shall be in full force and effect on and after its passage and approval.

(Section 12 is a real kicker. Typically, an “emergency ordinance” can be passed without formal reading or publication prior to passage and by a simple call for the yeas and nays, recorded in the minutes of the meeting. It is effective immediately upon passage and approval by the county judge. In other words, the ordinance can be on the books before there is any opportunity for questions, objections, or negotiation. The language is the ordinance is carefully crafted for rapid and low visibility action before opposition to it can be organized.)

Section 13. {Severability clause.} Section 14. {Repealer clause.} Section 15. {Effective date.} Approved by the ALEC Board of Directors January 9, 2015.

For activists who want to protest the 3rd ACCE Annual Meeting in Indianapolis, the dates are July 27 – July 29. In the past some major speakers have been Governor Scott Walker, Dr. Ben Carson, and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz.
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Teachers at three Cleveland charter schools signed a contract to create a union and join the AFT. This must be a shock to charter organizers, because one of the goals of the charter industry is to get rid of teachers’ unions. The Walton Family Foundation has underwritten the start-up costs of one out of every four charter schools in the nation, and the Waltons (Walmart) are known for their hatred of unions. More than 90% of charters nationwide are non-union. As the AFT press release points out, there are now 228 charter schools that have unionized. That is about 4% of the nation’s charter schools. While it is great to see that teachers in 228 charters have organized to defend their rights, let’s hope that their presence does not cajole the unions into embracing the charter industry.

Contract Creates Labor-Management Committee, Guarantees Planning Time, Rewards Experienced Teachers

WASHINGTON—Teachers and support staff at three I Can-managed charter schools in Cleveland have overwhelmingly ratified an historic contract, making them the first organized charter schools with a collectively bargained contract in Cleveland. The educators are members of the Cleveland Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (Cleveland ACTS), an affiliate of the Ohio Federation of Teachers.

The contract covers three high-performing charters that educate more than 900 students in the Cleveland metropolitan area. The new contract creates a labor-management committee to increase teacher input, guarantees planning time, and rewards experienced teachers who make a commitment to the school and advance their own education. This contract makes strides toward meeting teachers’ and the community’s goals of reducing teacher turnover and providing a voice for professional educators. The contract also contains a commitment from I Can to allow for other I Can schools in Cleveland to join Cleveland ACTS, if the educators so choose, without intimidation or harassment.

Abi Haren, a second-grade assistant teacher at University of Cleveland Preparatory School, said, “Yesterday, we ratified a strong contract that gives my co-workers and me a voice in making I Can Schools better for our students and for educators. This agreement will allow me the freedom and autonomy to speak up for the needs of my students without fearing for my job security. We look forward to building a partnership with the I Can administration to strengthen our schools.

“This has been a long road to win a real voice in our school, and it would not have happened without the support of Cleveland Teachers Union President David Quolke and our fellow educators in the CTU. Their support, along with I Can families’ and community members’, sent a clear message that we are professional educators who deserve respect for our commitment to Cleveland students.”

Sean Belveal, a middle school social studies teacher, said, “This contract shows the voices of teachers and students have been heard. Our contract will help to reduce turnover and increase stability for our students. I am very excited to see this new partnership between students, teachers and administration come together as we work to close the achievement gap in Cleveland.”

Ohio Federation of Teachers President Melissa Cropper, who is an AFT vice president, said “I Can teachers and staff stood together for the last three years to speak up for greater classroom stability, respect and a true partnership with their school’s administration. This contract is a step in the right direction to achieve those goals. The Ohio Federation of Teachers welcomes the new members of the Cleveland Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff to our union. We are a stronger union with the voices of teachers and staff at charter schools.”

CTU President David Quolke, who also is an AFT vice president, said, “On behalf of the 4,500 members of the CTU, we congratulate I Can teachers and staff on winning a strong contract that recognizes their professionalism and commitment to their students. Whether you work for the district or in a charter school, those closest to the education process must have a voice in education policy and practice. We look forward to working with Cleveland ACTS members to raise the voices of educators, students and their families in Cleveland.”

“As a union, we’ve focused on reclaiming the promise of public education,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “This contract helps do just that by allowing these educators not simply to advocate for the schools their students deserve, but to negotiate the tools and conditions needed to help get there. This contract is historic for the state of Ohio, and these teachers deserve a round of congratulations for wanting the voice to help their students succeed. What we’ve seen at I Can and across the country is teachers forming unions and negotiating contracts to have a real voice in the education of their students.”

Educators at 228 charter schools across 15 states are represented by the AFT. This agreement offers hope for teachers and staff at charter schools who are committed to improving their schools.