Education Reform – Teacher Union Style

-By Larry Sand

Union leaders have nothing to offer in matters of education reform.

In an absurd editorial, two Los Angeles Unified School District teachers last Friday — both United Teachers Los Angeles chapter chairs — wrote what was supposed to be, in part, a nastygram to LA’s Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. The op-ed, entitled Pipe Down, Mr. Mayor (the name in the print version), takes the LA mayor to task for criticizing the union for which he used to organize. Referring to ed reform, he had called the union’s leadership “the most powerful defenders of the status quo” at a conference in Sacramento last month.

The two angry unionistas attempt to convince Times’ readers that the union is behind some really terrific “progressive” education reforms.

They start off with the usual whine about cuts in education funding, but in the next breath they state that Gompers Middle School “has spent thousands of dollars on classroom libraries for students who have limited access to quality books.” Hasn’t this always been the purpose of school libraries? And by the way, where are the cuts?

Then they get into the goofy stuff. The reforms they brag about are things like English teachers choosing a progressive reading and writing workshop for their students. To the best of my knowledge, that’s hardly reform; it’s part of an English teacher’s job.

Next they say that, “At Roosevelt High School’s Academy of Environmental and Social Policy, teachers have designed an exhibition night when students present projects addressing real-world problems to parents and community members. This year, the school is organizing an internship fair so that seniors can get involved in their community.” No, this is not education reform either; it’s community organizing. If their goal is preparing students to work for a seedy organization like ACORN, they are on the right track. But if they are trying to ready their students for college, this is hardly the way to do it.

Another reform measure has the teachers taking students on field trips — to courthouses. Ed reform? Oh please.

In UTLA’s FUBAR L.A. Times Op Ed: Teacher Leaders Russom and Baranwal Call Simple Teacher Duties “Reforms.” Scary Stuff, LA Weekly’s Jill Stewart sums it up beautifully when she says that “basic, routine, long-performed teacher duties in America are, in the warped world of Los Angeles, ‘reform.’”

For more on teachers union’s intransigence to desperately needed change, go here and read what UTLA considers reform. In fact, it’s as free from real reform as what the two chapter chairs wrote in the LA Times.

New (and former) California Governor Jerry Brown, not wanting to be upstaged by a couple of teachers from LA, also entered the dead zone with his new choices for state school board. Running for office as an outsider, he claimed that he was beholden to no one. However, a close look at his choices for school board says that he is an old-school Democrat, sitting comfortably in the deep pockets of the teachers unions.

As such, he managed to get rid of anyone who was at all reform-minded. For example, according to the LA Times, Brown “eliminated several members who were viewed as strong voices for reform, including Ted Mitchell, the president of NewSchools Venture Fund; Johnathan Williams, founder of the Accelerated School, a charter organization in South-Central Los Angeles; Alan Arkatov, president of; and Ben Austin, chief executive of Parent Revolution.”

Who did he replace them with? Patricia Ann Rucker, a former California Teachers Association lobbyist and James Ramos, Chairman of the San Manuel Band of Indians – both obvious political paybacks. And then there is Bill Honig, a former Superintendent of Public Instruction, who resigned in disgrace and eventually was convicted of four felony conflict of interest counts in 1993. The other choices, all Democrats, have no record of meaningful reform under their belts.

Not surprisingly, CTA president David Sanchez said his union was “thrilled by the new appointees because he believed the board had been stacked with too many members connected to charters, which are mostly nonunion.”

That about says it all.

I’m sure UTLA agrees with Mr. Sanchez’s assessment. These kinds of appointments are right in line with the teachers union agenda, which is business as usual, which means no real reform whatsoever.
Larry Sand began his teaching career in New York in 1971. Since 1984, he has taught elementary school as well as English, math, history and ESL in the Los Angeles Unified School District, where he also served as a Title 1 Coordinator. Recently retired, he is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues – information teachers will often not get from their school districts or unions.

CTEN was formed in 2006 because a wide range of information from the more global concerns of education policy, education leadership, and education reform, to information having a more personal application, such as professional liability insurance, options of relationships to teachers’ unions, and the effect of unionism on teacher pay, comes to teachers from entities that have a specific agenda. Sand’s comments and op-eds have appeared in City Journal, Associated Press, Newsweek, Townhall Magazine, Los Angeles Times, San Diego Union Tribune, Los Angeles Daily News, San Jose Mercury News, Orange County Register and other publications. He has appeared on numerous broadcast news programs in Southern California and nationally.

Sand has participated in panel discussions and events focusing on education reform efforts and the impact of teachers’ unions on public education. In March, Sand participated in a debate hosted by the non-profit Intelligence Squared, an organization that regularly hosts Oxford-style debates, which was nationally broadcast on Bloomberg TV and NPR, as well as covered by Newsweek. Sand and his teammates – Terry Moe of the Hoover Institution and former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, opposed the proposition – Don’t Blame Teachers Unions For Our Failing Schools. The pro-union team included Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. In August, he was on a panel at the Where’s the Outrage? Conference in San Francisco, where he spoke about how charter school operators can best deal with teachers’ unions.

Sand has also worked with other organizations to present accurate information about the relationship between teachers and their unions, most recently assisting in the production of a video for the Center for Union Facts in which a group of teachers speak truthfully about the teachers’ unions.

CTEN maintains an active and strong new media presence, reaching out to teachers and those interested in education reform across the USA, and around the world, with its popular Facebook page, whose members include teachers, writers, think tankers, and political activists. Since 2006, CTEN has experienced dramatic growth.

Copyright Publius Forum 2001