Thursday, May 06, 2010

‘Emergency Education Jobs Bill’ is Really a Union Dues Bailout Bill

The National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, and its counterpart, the American Federation of Teachers, are ramping up attention on Senate Bill 3206, introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), which would create a $23 billion “education jobs fund” to hire or retain “150,000 or more” school employees for the next school year. The NEA is engaged in a “massive, 24/7 lobbying campaign” to pass Harkin’s bill, according to its president Dennis Van Roekel.

That’s $153,333 spent per job just to “retain” them. The most recent data from the American Federation of Teachers concluded the average teacher salary is $51,009. Where is the other $100,000 per job going?

Nevertheless, in a recent Senate committee hearing, Harkin cited the “emergency” for creating the fund. Note he didn’t say teachers, he said “education jobs.” That’s because in many states, like Michigan, teachers unions are losing members that are custodians or food service workers.

Just for the record, billions of dollars have already been spent on “retaining” school jobs. The NEA claims 325,000 public school jobs were “saved” under the stimulus bill.

The NEA released a YouTube video with a title which pretty much sums up the union’s entire existence: “The issue is JOBS.” Of course: the issue is not accountability or test scores or huge amounts of fiscal waste. It’s simply jobs and therefore union dues.

What would Sen. Harkin’s bill mean for the NEA and AFT in terms of revenue? Let’s do the math. The NEA has about three-quarters of unionized school employees within its fold. Its 2010 dues are $162 per full-time member, according to the Indiana State Teachers Association, an NEA affiliate. AFT’s annual dues are $184.20, according to union financial documents found at

Using the membership ratio breakdown, it is estimated an “education jobs” bill would result in a savings of $18.2 million for the NEA and $6.9 million for the AFT.

Surely this never dawned on the two unions when they decided to push for this bill.

There is a direct correlation between the loss of public school jobs – whether warranted due to declining enrollment or because of a money shortage – and the teachers unions’ income. If the NEA and AFT can pass an “education jobs” bill, it will also equate to a huge windfall for Big Labor. Just what the unions put this Congress in to do, right?


British private schools the victim of class war

Leading public schools are victims of a class war being waged by 'bitter' critics who are fixated with privilege, the headmaster of Eton College warned yesterday. Such schools are being forced to operate under a 'deadly cloud' of class obsession, added Tony Little.

He warned that boarding schools such as Eton were too often smeared by 'political posturing' and commentators peddling the outdated claim that they are 'bastions of privilege'.

Mr Little's remarks yesterday will be seen as a veiled swipe at Gordon Brown who claimed last year that Tory tax policy had been 'dreamed up on the playing fields of Eton'.

In a wide-ranging speech at the Boarding Schools' Association annual conference in Torquay, the headmaster also warned that independent schools were coming under increasing pressure from pushy parents whose actions were 'little short of harassment'.

Parents were keen to see 'immediate tangible returns' for their fees and increasingly sought 'go as you please' boarding facilities, exam cramming and more lenient discipline.

Mr Little called on fellow heads to take a tougher line on pushy parents to avoid compromising boarding schools' distinctive ethos and educational principles. Boarding schools 'should not be a pick-and-mix counter of unrelated choices', he said.

'These days boarding schools are highly professional institutions - parents are paying us for our professional expertise. We should not hold back from telling them so.'

Mr Little criticised a continuing 'fixation' among some commentators with class. While lauded abroad, British boarding schools were too often 'unheralded' in their own country, he said.

'For some, the associations with class run deep. They see boarding schools as bastions of privilege. 'It is remarkable given the intensity of public scrutiny, that boarding numbers are as healthy as they are.'

Mr Little called on the next government to revive the old assisted places scheme to send disadvantaged children to boarding school. The schools could act as an antidote to the so-called 'broken society' and should be opened up to children from poorer homes, he said.


Like teachers worldwide, Australian teachers hate anything that might enable their competence to be evaluated

Eve and Katsuya left Sydney at 7.30am and drove home, arriving at 12.30pm. Eve drove for the first two hours at an average speed of 60km/h. Katsuya drove the rest of the way, averaging 90km/h. What was the average speed of the whole journey? a) 67km/h; b) 75km/h; c) 78km/h; d) 84km/h.*

This is an example of the sort of innocuous question that will appear next week in the national NAPLAN tests, which are causing World War III in education circles.

It's hard to believe teachers' unions would stoop so low as to threaten casual and retired teachers brought in by schools to supervise the tests for years 3, 5, 7 and 9.

But their bully-boy tactics are there in black and white on the NSW Teachers Federation website: "You should be aware that if you [supervise the tests], you may quickly find yourself in a hostile environment where the teachers . . . have refused to administer NAPLAN 2010. These teachers and principals will not thank you for your intervention."

It's just part of union attempts to sabotage the popular tests, which are an important tool to improve education, especially for disadvantaged students. We see from last year's NAPLAN tests, for instance, that NSW schools fared disproportionately well, especially in primary reading, which shows former premier Bob Carr was justified in defending the curriculum from the worst educational fads. We can learn from some of the surprise successes, such as Macquarie Fields High School in the oft-maligned south-west suburb, which ranked in the top 100 schools in the country in numeracy.

But the militant ideologues of the Australian Education Union and the NSW Teachers Federation are determined to boycott the tests, ostensibly because they object to the possibility they might be used to rank schools in "league tables".

The only logical explanation for this madness is the unions are frightened of information. They don't want Macquarie Fields to be hailed a success or become a model for other schools in impoverished areas. They want to hide failures and condemn another generation of young Australians to illiteracy.

Even if the union campaign is only slightly successful, it will have contaminated this year's results. As this will be the second national test for students who sat the first test in 2008, it is crucial to measure their progress. It is the children who will suffer from this unseemly squabbling of grown adults.

To their credit, federal Education Minister Julia Gillard and NSW Education Minister Verity Firth are standing firm, determined to introduce transparency and accountability to the nation's classrooms. But it seems those good intentions only go so far. When it comes to a small software company that has turned the test into an easy online tool for schools and students to take regular snapshots of academic progress, education departments have resorted to the same intimidatory tactics as the unions.

David Johnson owns Naplan Online and AUSSAT Online, websites that allow students and teachers to take tests online, with immediate marks, and to track their results over time. He says he is being driven out of business by bullying bureaucrats.

Over the past nine months, he says the NSW Department of Education and Training and the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, have sent him five threatening legal letters alleging copyright infringements and demanding he hand over his domain name and logo and stop people from doing the tests online. On Sunday night, he was intimidated enough to shut down the free online testing site, despite having "tens of thousands" of parents registered.

"We're just a small software business trying to make a dollar," he says. "The schools absolutely love [the website]. It cuts out the bureaucrats and empowers classroom teachers and principals. There is nothing like it available in Australia."

He says inefficient education bureaucracies have spent millions of dollars on IT departments that have not been able to create any comparable tool. Instead, they have trademarked the NAPLAN name and are trying to shut him down. "Why are government bureaucracies trying to operate like businesses? If everyone could use the NAPLAN assessment papers other people could develop new products and services that benefit everyone," he says.

An IT expert married to a schoolteacher, Johnson, 43, came up with the idea for the website after his eldest son sat the first NAPLAN tests in 2008 and he saw the flaws. "It was all paper-based, expensive and controlled by big bureaucracy." The tests are in May but results are not returned until September, giving little time to correct problems.

"If a child is struggling you need to know as quickly as possible so that you can act," he says. He worked out how to overcome the inefficiencies with software, which he patented, and has already sold to 300 schools, to use as a supplement to NAPLAN. His paid subscription service allows teachers to test students several times a year, giving them several data points from which to judge progress.

While NAPLAN is a useful tool for education departments to allocate resources to under-performing schools, in the classroom teachers still need ways to assess the progress of individual students. More data points help them identify where a child is faltering or progressing and to communicate to parents what value has been added over the year.

All the information Johnson uses is publicly available. He has just been more efficient than education bureaucracies at making it useful. There are plenty of commercially available NAPLAN guides in print form that help teachers and parents prepare children for the tests.

As Johnson says: "If our site disappears, someone somewhere will build another site to replace it." But he is running out of money and is now thinking of giving up and taking an IT job overseas. He has shown how private enterprise can solve problems more efficiently than bureaucracies. But his travails show how innovation is crushed when those bureaucracies run out of control.

SOURCE (There is now some talk that the unions will back down under threat of losing pay)

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