The Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights (CCCR), a bipartisan organization established in 1982 to monitor the civil rights policies and practices of the federal government, has released a damning report on the role teacher's unions have played in vehemently opposing education reform measures that they themselves had once championed. Whether through legislative lobbying, back room political maneuvering, frivolous lawsuits, or the insertion into local union contracts of carefully crafted language prescribed by the national unions , the CCCR recounts more than a decade of systematic efforts by the two main teachers unions to water down or eliminate policies designed to reform our public school system. The report concludes that by fighting against transparency and accountability while demanding different standards for different schools, the unions have effectively sought to restore policies that seek to apply the "separate but equal" doctrine, a vestige of the old "Jim Crow" laws, which was overturned in the landmark civil rights case, Brown v. Board of Education.
I realize many readers will hesitate to take the time but I would strongly encourage every Talk of the Sound reader to download a copy of this report:
Those who read the entire report will come away armed with the information needed to properly understand and combat the most pernicious nature of our local teacher's union (F.U.S.E.) and better understand how this battle has played out in our own community. The document says it is 32 pages long but the actual report is less than half that because many pages are taken up by footnotes; it will take only about 20 minutes to read the report, cover to cover. This report may be one of the most important reports written on this topic and has a direct bearing on New Rochelle.
If you agree that this report is important, I hope you will print copies, give them to your friends and neighbors, forward this web page so they can download a copy themselves and otherwise help spread the word. It is though reading this report that New Rochelle residents might start to come to understand that they are being held hostage by a teacher's union bent on advancing their own agenda -- more jobs for their members, more pay and benefit for their members and no consideration of the costs to the community. Our teacher's union has successfully captured the entire apparatus of our public school system: almost every single district employee (directly through the union which has expanded far beyond representing just teachers), parents with children in the schools through the PTA (the head of the union runs the PTA), and the school board (the union finances their campaigns and sits on their election/re-election committees)
This report should have special resonance for the New Rochelle public school system which, in 1961, was dubbed the "Little Rock of the North" after a Federal court convicted the District of engaging in racial discrimination for gerrymandering the school district to funnel African-American/black students into a single school - Lincoln Elementary. The case is arguably the second most significant education-related civil rights case (after Brown) in U.S. history and shares with Brown the distinction of having been argued by Thurgood Marshall of the N.A.A.C.P., a lawyer later selected and confirmed as the first black Supreme Court Justice.
In 1963, Time magazine wrote:
IN 1960 most of the 77,000 citizens of New Rochelle, N.Y., viewed school segregation as a disease confined to the distant likes of Little Rock, Ark. The town's ethnic mix—14% Negro, 30% Jewish, 45% Irish and Italian Catholic —was so faithfully reflected in the high school that the Voice of America once touted it as a shining example of integrated education. Only a year later, New Rochelle became the "Little Rock of the North," convicted in a federal court of gerrymandering to promote segregation. Case in point: Lincoln Elementary School, 94% Negro.
Today, the Columbus Elementary School is close to 100% hispanic with Jefferson Elementary School and Trinity Elementary School both now over 50% hispanic and climbing. Meanwhile, African-American/black students from the Lincoln School District are now illegally funneled into Trinity Elementary School despite a consent decree still in force going back to the 1961 Lincoln Elementary School case.
The report was published by a well-respected and diverse group of prominent citizens with a strong, extensive track record in the area of civil rights: William L. Taylor (Former Staff Director, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights), Birch Bayh (Former U.S. Senator from Indiana and Former Chairman, Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution), Bill Bradley (Former U.S. Senator from New Jersey), William H. Brown, III (Former Chairman, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), Frankie M. Freeman (Former Member, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights; Former Inspector General, Community Services Administration), Aileen C. Hernandez (Former Member, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), Father Theodore M. Hesburgh (Former Chairman, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights), William H. Hudnut, III (Former Mayor, City of Indianapolis), Ray Marshall (Former Secretary, U.S. Department of Labor), Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-Washington, D.C.) (Former Chair, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), Ian Rolland (Former Chief Executive Officer, Lincoln National Corporation), Rabbi Murray Saltzman (Former Member, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights), Roger Wilkins (Former Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs and Former Director, Community Relations Service, U.S. Department of Labor).
The report is the second of two reports. The first, Fresh Ideas in Collective Bargaining: How New Agreements Help Kids (2007) (.pdf), outlined progressive initiatives by local unions aimed at increasing student achievement. This report broadens the scope to the national level, looking at how the national unions affect federal policy.
To put the report in context, it will be instructive to first look at what F.U.S.E., our local teachers union, says about itself:
We are the "bargaining unit" that represents all staff members (excluding administrative/ supervisory or confidential positions) hired by the City School District. The FUSE is dedicated to maintaining a fair and professional relationship with the New Rochelle school district and works to ensure the most productive instructional conditions for teachers and the best possible learning opportunities for our students.
In other words, there mission statement shows their priorities to be as follows:
1. Represent almost every employee of the school district in collective bargaining.
2. Maintain a fair and professional relationship with the New Rochelle school district.
3. Work to ensure the most productive instructional conditions for teachers.
4. Work to ensure the best possible learning opportunities for our students.
As can be seen from their own web site, the first priority of F.U.S.E. is to represent their members in contract negotiations which can be understood to mean (1) retaining as many positions as possible; (2) adding as many new positions as possible; (3) increasing salaries and benefits as much as possible; and (4) weakening or watering down any attempts to make it easier to discipline or fire pedagogic staff (teachers, counselors, teaching assistants, etc.) and school related professionals (secretaries, custodians, teacher aides, HVAC engineers, locksmiths, glaziers, etc.). As will become clear from reading the Citizen's Commission on Civil Rights's report National Teachers Unions and the Struggle over School Reform this strategy at the local level comes straight down to New Rochelle from the national union leadership.
The next priority is to work well with the administration and BoE, made much easier because the union is screening BoE candidates, providing logistical and get-out-the-vote support and raising money for BoE candidates in what is clear conflict of interest (as we will see, union conflicts of interest are rampant in New Rochelle). These are the same candidates who, once on the board, appoint the people who negotiate with the people who financed their campaigns. One such candidate (Jeff Hastie) actually ran and won on a platform which featured as a state goal of his campaign to get himself appointed to the negotiating committee in the next round of collective bargaining which begins in about 18 months; the president of the union he proposes to negotiate with worked on the Hastie campaign and raised money for Hastie.
The next priority is making sure the teachers are comfortable.
The last priority of F.U.S.E. is the children of New Rochelle.
No mention is made of the community, parents, taxpayers or anyone not part of the public education-teachers union complex.
In the United States, there are two national teachers unions: National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). The FUSE is part of the 500,000 member New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) and affiliated nationally with the American Federation of Teachers, (AFT) which is part of the AFL-CIO.
As the CCCR report makes clear, these two unions have been at the forefront of efforts to block meaningful education reform in the United States:
...unions are not alone in their positions against specific reform measures. School boards, administrators, academics and others have been overtly critical of some reform proposals. But teachers and their representatives occupy a unique position. Without their acceptance of policy change, it’s unlikely to occur. Thus, the positions taken by national leaders can have a major impact on the future of reform. In this study, the Commission seeks to set forth a full and fair explication of the words and actions of national unions over the last several years.
The CCCR report breaks down the primary points of contention between advocates for school reform and the teachers unions:
The clash between national teachers’ unions and school reformers often occurs along the following lines:
1) establishing valid and reliable accountability and assessment systems;
2) “professionalization of the profession,” i.e., improvement of teacher knowledge, skills, and experience, along with reform of the compensation system to establish differentials in pay based on responsibilities and performance;
3) equalization in the distribution of qualified teachers.
The report spends a great deal of time working forward from 1996, a time when it appeared that a national consensus had emerged -- including agreement from the national teacher's unions -- on how to bring about needed reform in the public education system but since then the NEA and AFT have played a pivotal and far-reaching part of the ongoing, active resistance to efforts they once supported.
Whatever legitimate concerns the teachers unions have (and they have plenty) the fact is that their desire to secure "fair and unbiased treatment" at the hands of management is often translated into "fierce opposition to reforms designed to hold schools and their faculties accountable for how their students perform." Basically, the teachers unions have attacked any effort to bring about transparency and accountability in the public school system, to reward teachers who accept reassignment to underperforming schools or produce excellent results or to make it easier for school districts to remove problem teachers.
As the report extensively documents, the unions have pushed especially hard for the idea that each school should be judged exclusively on the demographics of the student population and that standardized tests used in those schools should be developed to test the material taught to that particular population rather against state education standards established as required under Federal law.
...then-AFT President Ed McElroy testified that “state tests should be aligned with curriculum – if you’re going to judge schools on tests scores then the test should measure what’s being taught.”
The effect has been predictable:
This resistance has posed a barrier to improving educational opportunity for the most disadvantaged students and closing the performance gap between them and their more advantaged peers. It has also led to calcified systems in which talented people are deterred from applying or staying as teachers because they believe their skills will not be recognized or rewarded.
It is worth noting here that the rate of teacher attrition in New Rochelle is extremely high. The percentage of teachers who leave the White Plains school district within their first five years is 11%; in Scarsdale that figure is 6%; in Eastchester that figure is 10%. In New Rochelle the figure is an astounding 29%.
Nationally, the effect of the union strategies has been to move the U.S. education system backwards, into the era of "separate but equal" education based on racial and ethnic classifications.
The report quotes David Kilpatrick, a former top officer and staffer of affiliates of the NEA and the AFT, saying something we have been saying here at Talk of the Sound about F.U.S.E. for some time:
“The unions do everything possible to maintain [the status quo]…They invariably call for variations of the status quo, more of the same, rather than reforms that mean real changes. Not coincidentally they also almost uniformly call for the spending of more money and the creation of more teaching positions which, of course, result in an increase in union membership, union income and union power.”
The report does a masterful job of recounting how the union leapt into action to undermine 2001's No Child Left Behind Act to "protect" teachers from having their work objectively analyzed.
“In 2002, the NEA resolved that “standardized tests and assessments should be used only to improve the quality of instruction,” not used for any type of accountability.
Within a few years, the teachers union dropped even the fig leaf of supporting NCLB.
In 2007, the NEA abandoned all pretense of support for the law. The NEA annual convention in 2007 asked teachers to document consequences of the law and promoted their view of the “negative aspects” of the law...When the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) created a flexible pilot program, the “growth model,” to address some of the unions’ criticisms by basing adequate yearly progress on growth attained by individual students within a school year instead of relying exclusively on grade comparisons, both unions assailed the new program.
The NEA has gone so far as to encourage local unions to engage in illegal behavior:
A few years ago, the National Education Association (NEA) advised its local affiliates to negotiate the following language into new teacher contracts:
“Without the agreement of the [NEA], the Employer shall take no action to comply with [NCLB]…that has an adverse impact on any bargaining member.”
Whether intended or not, the statement is startling in its potential reach. The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is a federal grant-in-aid law designed to improve education for disadvantaged children. If school districts or their employees “take no action to comply with NCLB” they are violating the law.
The report also looks at merit pay. I won't recount all that here except to include one brief excerpt which illustrates the mindset of the unions.
Back in 1998, when Congressmen George Miller and (now Senator) Lindsay Graham offered an amendment to the Higher Education Act in 1998 to use limited federal funds to provide loan forgiveness to qualified teachers who taught in high-poverty schools or subject areas, the national teachers unions opposed it. They wanted loan forgiveness for all teachers or nothing. When subsequent proposals were made to target such assistance on teachers in high-need subjects and specialties, the unions again opposed such targeting as unfair, even though these amendments were intended to address severe shortages in subjects like math and science and specialties like special education or English as a second language.
The basis for any reform is accountability for academic progress and transparency in how our schools are run. We do not have that in New Rochelle at any level. Our entire school system is run as if the primary purpose was to produce four-color brochures that can be handed out to prospective home buyers who might then be duped into believing that the performance of a few elite students is somehow representative of the whole. All to mask a general deterioration in our public school system which can only be covered up until the point at which students reach 12th grade. At that point, social promotion and fiddling with the numbers can no longer hide the results of an inferior public education system -- large numbers of students who fail to graduate after twelve years in our public school system, failures that break down disproportionally along racial and ethnic lines (about 50% of hispanic students fail to graduate on time, for African-American/black students that figure is about 30%).
We are not going to get accountability, transparency or any sort of equity so long as residents tolerate a system where the teacher's union controls almost every single position in the school district, where they control the PTA and the Board of Education, where public records are hidden from view and the state's Freedom of Information Law routinely flouted, where the school board meets in illegal secret sessions, where decision impacting the entire community are made in back rooms, and where budget documents are designed to intentionally deceive the public and referendums on those budgets are held in near-secrecy.
The role of the PTA in a healthy public school system is to work with teachers to improve the situation in the schools for the children of the parents not to become a vehicle for advancing the political agenda of the union leadership. The role of the administration and the Board of Education is to stand as a check to union power not serve as a willing tool of the union. The teacher's union has a rightful and well-deserved place in our school system but what we have now in New Rochelle is an unencumbered power grab by a union which seeks only to advance its agenda of more spending, to flow more money into the system, to create more positions to be filled by union members in order to increase union membership, union income and union power -- all precariously balanced on the backs of New Rochelle residents.
The union has succeeded because for far too long New Rochelle residents have tolerated being treated like mushrooms -- kept in the dark and fed a steady diet of Richard Organisciak and his ilk.
So long as the President of F.U.S.E. is being paid a six figure income with full benefits to teach a single class while being paid a second six figure income to run one of the largest teacher's unions in New York State then you know New Rochelle is still in the thrall of the teacher's union and reform is not going to be be possible. So long as the same person, Marty Daly, is also serving as the President of the PTA, reform is not possible. And so long as the same person, Mr. Daly, is funding the campaigns of school board members, reform is not possible.