Monday, November 16, 2009

The MEA is a problem, but your local school board is worse

Year after year, report after report, Michigan’s education system gets pounded.

Detroit News: Researchers from political left and right give Michigan schools mediocre grades (11/16/09)

Yet despite this sort of report card, people fail to hold school boards accountable for their failures.

This is a great quote from the article: Upon the report's release, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan noted the country's education system is as important an indicator of economic health as the "stock market, the unemployment rate, or the size of the GDP."

Our schools have smart kids, some great teachers, and wonderful buildings. The state devotes one third of its budget to K-12 education.

Yet school boards have allowed expenses to grow in an undisciplined and out-of-control way, they set no meaningful and/or measurable goals, and have no clear or inspiring vision for the future.

So, while the editorial is accurate when it points out that the MEA bears some responsibility, I think the lion’s share of blame rests squarely on the shoulders of your local school board.

Hold’em accountable!

==> Mike.


November 16, 2009

Editorial: Researchers from political left and right give Michigan schools mediocre grades

Michigan's education system is lagging in data collection and accountability, hiring and evaluating teachers and school management, says a new report co-sponsored by researchers on both the nation's left and right, along with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The "Laggards and Leaders" report, sponsored by the conservative American Enterprise Institute and the liberal Center for American Progress think tanks, reflects the growing realization on both sides of the political aisle of how stagnant and ineffective the U.S. educational system has become.

Nationally the report's authors found less than two-thirds of American schools provide access to college-level coursework. Given schools' weak support for rigorous academic preparation, it's no wonder America is lagging behind other industrial countries for college-going and completion.

State finance systems are inefficient and undermine innovation, the researchers also found.

Other widespread problems include teacher evaluations that are not based on teacher effectiveness. Only four states require evidence of student learning to be a major factor in teacher evaluations.

"Without the ability to remove ineffective teachers from the classroom, school leaders cannot build a cohesive school culture, create an environment of accountability, and ensure that all students will learn," the report said.

In Michigan, the teachers unions surely have been one of the state's greatest obstacles to recent reforms. The Michigan Education Association has been lobbying fiercely against changes in school data collection and alternative certification pathways for teachers, among other ideas, stalling the state's application to win $600 million in competitive federal Race to the Top funding.

The state's higher education system also has been hurting Michigan's Race to the Top chances by resisting the development and use of a long-term data collection system to track Michigan children's growth and progress from pre-kindergarten through college.

The report's researchers noticed and gave Michigan a grade "D" for data collection. The state received "C" grades for school management; technology; staff hiring and firing; and removing ineffective teachers.

Seventy-five percent of Michigan principals studied said teacher unions or associations are a barrier to the removal of bad teachers, 14 points higher than the national average of 61 percent. Eighty percent of principals also reported tenure is a barrier to removing low-performing educators.

Overall Michigan received a mediocre grade. Just two areas, finance and its student pipeline to postsecondary learning, received a "B" grade.

Upon the report's release, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan noted the country's education system is as important an indicator of economic health as the "stock market, the unemployment rate, or the size of the GDP."

Michigan, failing in economic growth and job creation, must get its schools in order to educate its citizens out of the Great Recession and get them successfully working in the global economy.


MEA Culpa said...

The MEA is the self-serving Big Daddy of Michigan's public schools. They elect Michigan's local school boards to do their bidding at contract time, because parents accept this.

The PTA is nothing more than a useful tool by which the NEA / MEA assures that the "right people" represent their interests on local school boards, because parents accept this.

Most parents are clueless about the political power structure that rules local schools, but so long as they write a membership check to their local PTA, volunteer to staple journals for the classroom teacher, attend a meeting or two, they sincerely believe they're "involved" insiders.

Most look no further than the feel-good news churned out by their local district's absurdly overcompensated public relations manager, for "facts" about how well local schools are educating their kids.

And most sincerely believe every word school employees tell them about how well they're doing their jobs.

School governance of the chickens by the foxes, for the foxes.

Until parents wise up, it is what it is.

Bill said...

I belong to the MEA and I was just elected to our local K-12 school board, and quite frankly I'm sick of this idiotic, coffee-shop-bs talk about what stupid lemmings we are.

No one owns me. But I'll tell you what: anyone who wants to work WITH ME better drop the dumbass Hannity bs and flat-out lies at the door on the way in.

Thanks in advance.

Mike Reno said...

Bill, there's a long, distinguished, unmistakable, and indisputable history of school board lemming-like behavior.

I look forward to hearing reports of your efforts to break the mold, now that you won your uncontested election.

Bill said...

Yes, Mike, and the MEA isn't the problem with the "lemming" thing. At-will employees that should have been long ago let go still gather paychecks. Yet it's "tenure law" that's the problem and teacher unions.

Lazy administrators and board memberws have used teacher unions as a scapegoat long enough. Pretty nice setup, isn't it? I don't do my job and I always have a convenient boogey-man to blame: unions and tenure law!

Bull crap.

Change? Hell, I'd be happy if we could all work together. But working together will never happen if one party goes into the room writing publicly that the MEA is about the evilest entity to roam the earth since the Philistines.

And then stand-offs happen. And then you can blame the union again. See how convenient that is?

As far as my election being uncontested, you side-kick had plenty of opportunity to come up here and throw his time and money around and find a candidate to run against me. He was too busy fleecing money from others and was on to bigger things.

MEA Culpa said...

"Bill said...

I belong to the MEA and I was just elected to our local K-12 school board..."

Of course you were.


Bill said...

Strangely, the non-MEA person also won (and did so with about the same amount of votes as I got).

Of course, me being in the MEA means now I'm forced to do whatever they want. Hell, they know where I live. They know when my wife takes her dog for a walk. How easy is this job going to be? All I have to do is sit back on my ass and wait for orders. And if I don't? A cigar-smoking Guido will put me out of my misery.

I should cancel my cable and just get my entertainment from the stupid, gullible horseshit people like you write, Kyle, er "MEA Culpa."


Btw: I get sworn in tomorrow. Need to go get fitted for my MEA secret tooth transducer.

Brother Ed said...

Dear Bill,

You need to deal with your barnyard animal excrement fixation.

That potty-mouth really doesn't suit your professional standing, or are you just warming up for the school board bullpen?

Bill said...

Ah, the party of the Family Values speaks up again. How are those cute youngsters Levi and what's-her-name doing?

Yeah, let's pretend no one swears and all kids go on chaperoned dates and that baby Jesus was a social Darwinist.

Whatever helps you sleep at night ;)

Of course you not liking my tone allows you to conveniently not deal with the message.

Brother Ed said...


What message? Is there a point to all your poopy talk & chest beating?

The original post states several fundamental truths:

The MEA runs the show for its own purposes - $$$ to pay for all those ME$$A ads they're broadcasting - which have little to do with improving learning in K-12.

The PTA is the MEA's useful waterboy, again, serving the MEA's own abundant profit motives - $$$ for bloated MEA administrator salaries & travel expenses - as opposed to the PTA's kids.

And most parents know ZERO about how schools are managed or for whom - see above - otherwise they'd be screaming from the rooftops about work rules which mandate that teachers punch out no later than 20 minutes after the final bell.

So, if you have a point to make, let's hear it Tarzan.

Bill said...

I've been in the classroom. You obviously haven't. I'm not married to MESSA, but like with anything I hate--HATE--ignorance and lying. A majority of districts do NOT have MESSA, and there are plenty of stories of districts swithing from MESSA AND (gasp) switching back to MESSA.

This Darwin-loving biz crowd believes that if only we downsize the bait pile and let the deer (teachers) fight over the scraps. Yeah, let's bring the paranoia, dysfunction, and back-stabbing of the private sector into our schools. Up here we've already seen examples of districts cooperating together and doing things together go out the window because the fierce competitiveness of schools of choice.

Teachers being forced to punch out 20 minutes after class ends? I don't know why I waste my time responding to such complete and utter ignorance.

Between you and MEA Culpa, the lies and libel and utter disregard for anything truthful marginalizes you both to being only heard in extreme meetings with extremist groups.

Bill said...

Answer this one (true story):

School_______goes into contract negotiations. A long, bitter standoff occurs. Three years later--in the same financial climate--the same school hammers out a new contract in less than 30 days.


Let's here your brilliant logic. After you answer, I'll tell you the answer and let's see if you're correct or not.

I have a lot experience in these things, but, hey, I could always use some learning from someone who hasn't seen the inside of a school in decades.

Mike Reno said...

OK Bill, not that I'm trying to interject myself into the love dance you're enjoying with others here, but I can't stand the suspense.

Was it because board finally said PLEASE while bargaining?

Bill said...

Not at all. In fact, the contract was about on par with the previous one. The difference? Mutual respect in the room. There was no rumor of "we're going to get them" and no antagonistic talk from administration or the Board heading into the negotiations. And (to be completely fair) the antagonistic element on the teacher bargaining team was no longer there, either. Both sides have to play nice for it to work--but it can work. I find it humorous, though, that all the stalemates in negotiations--100 percent of them--are blamed on the MEA by you and others that think like you. It's nothing but a free-for-all in the media spin zone.

It's kind of hard to have that healthy environment, though, if a Board member is blogging to everyone in the universe that the MEA is the second coming of the antichrist.

Don't you think? It might help to solidify that Board member's rep with extremist (in the event of a future public office run). But it'll accomplish zilch--and in fact be counter-productive--in that person's district. But I have a hunch you've heard that before--and most likely from your fellow Board members.

Sister Check Writer said...

Easy Tarzan,

So much outrage cannot be healthy, so for Jane's sake, settle down.

Redirecting your focus to this thread's original subject,
let's begin with Bro Ed's reference to work-to-rule.

As an MEA true believer, you are well aware this is standard operating procedure. Contracts specify precisely how many minutes a teacher may work, so that when a little arm-twisting is needed, the bosses proclaim work-to-rule. I agree on the "complete and utter ignorance" of the tactic, but you cannot deny unions use them.

A quick peek at today's news makes a fine case in point; this suburban Philadelphia school district's union is playing the work-to-rule game even as we blog:

As for your "Darwin-loving biz crowd" and the "paranoia, dysfunction, and back-stabbing of the private sector" rants, please stop.

You are embarassing me with your
bitter squawking.

Good grief! What if Mike's readers were to think that all of us who work in public schools suffer from these kooky delusions?

MEA Culpa's pretty much said it all. You may not like the message, but I happen to agree & I toil in the classroom just like you Bill.

Bill said...

Well, I see MEA Culpa and Ed will have extra help digging the bunker and making the tinfoil hats.

Good for you. I'm sure digging that bunker on non-union wages was a ripoff anyway ;)

Bill said...

On a serious note, anecdotal examples don't prove that an entire system (in this case unions) need to be completely scrapped. For every anecdote you highlight--even from many states away--there is another example you've conveniently ignored that supports the opposing views.

If you're a teacher, I shouldn't have to explain these basic premises concerning logical fallacies to you.

As you've ignored the gigantic point I made, I will reiterate: the MEA isn't going anywhere. Unless we all learn to work together nothing will get done. That doesn't mean you can't secretly fantasize about groups coming in the dead of night to round up all union leaders and thus save our children, but it does mean you have to put on a better public face than what goes on here and elsewhere if you want to get anything done.

It's never about money in the room--it's about the vibe the sides give to one another. And often times that vibe is constructed over months and months leading to negotiations.

It's never about money. It's about personalities.

It's never about money. It's about sincerity.

I could go on, but you should be getting the point by now.

And I will acknowledge that at times the MEA has made its own mistakes in those areanas--but I highly doubt I'd ever get you or Mike or anyone to ever admit a Board has done that (and I'm talking aside from the "mistakes" you think Boards make by not clubbing the MEA over the head hard enough).

Mike Reno said...

Bill, the reason I rarely respond to the posts you make is because you are too one-dimensional. All you ever talk about is the MEA and the value of unions.

You never bother to read what's written, which suggests to me that you are soley about some MEA agenda.

Board are the biggest problem facing public education. I very clearly said that in the blog entry that you are responding to here.

To quote, "Yet school boards have allowed expenses to grow in an undisciplined and out-of-control way, they set no meaningful and/or measurable goals, and have no clear or inspiring vision for the future."

Employee expenses are but one element of the first item of those three significant points I listed.

If you look at the TOPICS section to the right, Rigor/Curriculum is the second most written about topic. Board fail miserably at that.

For all the "sharing" you've done about my inappropriate public comments as a board member, I've got to wonder whether you're going to hold yourself to your own standard and mute yourself now that you are on a board.

Sister Check Writer said...

Dear Bill,

We hardly need to seek examples from "many states away". I offered this as a timely example - from the national news, on the same day as your post - simply to demonstrate how commonplace such teacher union tactics really are.

Prove to Mike's readers that such intimidation serves student learning.

(Get the state & national union bosses to make a sincere argument...I want to hear it.)

To refresh your short-term memory lapse, you had posited the suggestion that work-to-rule was "complete and utter ignorance" to which you were loathe to respond.

You also threw out some heated rhetoric about "hate", "ignorance" and "lying", which hardly supports your position, but makes you look like a union-blinded hothead.

Locally, in the school district Mike serves so faithfully, (sorry Bill; it's true, Mike is an OUTSTANDING school trustee), some of our "impassioned" colleagues reflexively stoop to the same sorts of embarassing union "intimidation" tactics you claim don't exist.

Ask Mike privately; even YOU would would cringe that "educators" have stooped to such deplorable depths in order to secure a pay hike in this economy.

As I watch small business struggle to survive and provide jobs in a climate of oppressive tax & spend politicking, while hardworking, taxpaying middle-class families jockey to pay for their kids opportunities at a better life, I hang my head in shame when the MEA runs those ME$$A ads.

You should too.

Bill said...


I don't start until January. So technically I'm not on the Board yet ;)

As I mentioned, I hate lying. I'm not married to the MEA or MESSA. But ill-informed posts rife with stereotypes and misperceptions really don't help a damn bit.

I will depart by repeating my mantra: it's never about money--it's about personalities.

Ban Government Employee Unions said...

Why not?

Even Bill says "it's never about the money--it's about personalities", so let's stop the extortion, but let's be really, really nice about it.

Ban Government Employee Unions said...

November 17, 2009

'Ban Government Employee Unions'

Rick Moran

They said it. The Washington Examiner has come out in an editorial in favor of disbanding government employee unions.

It is not the concept of unions that needs to go, as the editorial clearly states. It is the idea that government employees can agitate for higher wages against us - the taxpayer - who will end up footing the bill.

"Unions" used to mean auto workers, steel workers, and other industrial work. Now it's "white-collar Todd and Margo Yuppiecrat" working in a government office:

The breakdown of union membership make this change clear: Only 7.3 percent of all private sector employees are union members, while 37.6 percent of all government workers are unionized. Fifty-one percent of all union members are government workers.
As the Heritage Foundation's James Sherk points out, these numbers ought to be red flags for taxpayers because "government employees don't strike to get higher wages from a private business -- they strike to get higher wages from you."

"Their pay is funded through your tax dollars," he adds. "For government employee union members to get more, your taxes need to go up. So that is what unions now lobby for." And as with so much else in this country, Sherk cautions that what is happening on the West Coast is likely a portent of disturbing things to come for the rest of us:

* In Oregon, public employee unions are funding ballot initiatives to raise personal income and business taxes in order to protect gold-plated medical benefits from state spending reductions.

* In California, the Service Employees International Union spent at least $1 million on a massive television ad campaign demanding that desperate state government officials raise oil, gas and liquor taxes instead of cutting spending.

These actions point to the hard reality that the interests of government employee unions are fundamentally opposed to the interests of taxpayers.

And that's the bottom line. When you consider that the old reasons for joining a union - to prevent exploitation by bosses - don't apply in the case of working for the taxpayer, the justification for public employee unions becomes even less apparent.

I would make a couple of exceptions, however; police, fire fighters, and transit workers should be able to form local unions because politicians at the local level are notorious for trying to solve their budget problems by scapegoating those vital workers. This makes us less safe among other things.

But if politicians think they need to cut services by reducing the number of employees in a department, they should be able to make that choice without the threat that all workers will walk off the job. Holding the taxpayer hostage for higher benefits, cushier health and pension plans, and higher pay should be outlawed.

Congrats to the Examiner for taking a brave stand.

Bill said...

Hey, I'm all in favor of getting pay and benefits the private makes. Give us master and phd folks the pay and the bennies those people make in the private sector.

I'm all on board with that! See how we can agree? Oh, I forgot: that's not what you meant at all. What you really mean when you say "make the private sector makes" and "pay what the private sector" pays is that we public employees with mastre and phds should be compared to Wal Mart greeters.

Blah, blah, union hater. Unions aren't going anywhere. Mostly because of the idiotic lies and stupidity by their attackers.

Like I said: Grade A entertainment. Let me go pop some popcorn.

Ban Government Employee Unions said...

You cd run the entire alphabet behind your name Comrade, it doesn't change the fact that draining the public treasury to guarantee pay increases for one segment of the work force is wrong.
Play by the same rules as the rest of us, and let the market determine what your services are worth.

Anonymous said...

Actually market forces are in play.
Rochester pays an average of $67,013 in salary. Benefits are more.

Pontiac comes in at $56,781 and Walled Lake sets the Oakland County bar at $74,105.

Sorry Bill but I doubt you guys are at our levels.

Mike has gone record stating that many teachers are not payed enough.

Demegouges say that Michigan pays too much. So what is a good market price?

How do I keep the best in Rochester when the district down the road pays so much more? How do you attract anyone to out-state districts or the city?

Yes on average the unions have a "pay me more" attitude that doesn't seem to take current economic conditions into account.

Another problem is portability.

That 74k teacher in Walled Lake would start over at 38k if they transfer to Rochester.

If the "market" were allowed to be factored in, the best could transfer for a possible pay increase, just like any other industry.

So the system is broken. Banning unions won't fix it.

Lastly those ME$$A ads on 760 am, aren't they cute?

If "conservative" talk radio was true to their mission, they would refuse the money and therefore stop the propoganda.

But alas... the ads just keep on coming.

Mike Reno said...

With an eye towards enhancing your discussion, let me offer this database of teacher contracts:

Really, the "average" wage is largely a reflection of teacher age, rather than wage. If you have an older (er, more experienced) teaching staff, one that's been around longer, they are likely to be at top of scale. On the other hand, if you've got a lot of newer teachers, then they will be lower on the step system.

The more experienced staff drives up the average, the newer staff pulls down the average.

What you need to look at is the top-of-scale in each district. There are probably some differences, but geographically most districts are roughly on par with each other. (That's by design, by the way).

As far as portability... that is a district policy, not some law.

Bill said...


Our district--pretty small to begin with--will see 16 teachers retire this year. Even if every one of those teachers are replaced (which isn't going to happen--at least right away) the savings will be astronomical.

The "state average" thing has always been an incomplete and insincere way of making a point against teacher pay in Michigan.

I haven't studied the trends but I've got to believe there is a top-heavy "bubble" of older teachers in Michigan ready to retire at roughly about the same time in the near future.

I'm more concerned right now with our district being able to identify those positions to be re-hired asap instead of waiting until a few weeks before school starts next summer. The system isn't set up for that, though.

Bill said...


It's been my personal experience that administrations love the low cap salary on new hires (re: experienced teacher transferring from district A to district B) much much more than does the union.

Look at our situation: 16 teachers retiring. Newbies coming in no higher than ___________will save a ton of money. A ton.

In other words, I doubt you'll see that change any time soon--but don't blame the union for it.

Mike Reno said...

The very first meeting I attended after being elected included a discussion on the district's need to hire something like 60-80 new teachers.

I asked, "Why don't hire 2/3rds of them as new, and then attempt to "steal" some of the best from neighboring districts? We could try to recruit some skilled veterans to plug some of our achievement holes."

"The answer was 1) that we only hire at Step 0 as part of an informal agreement with the union and 2) we don't have any achievement holes."

Actually, Bill, the union really doesn't like bringing in people above Step 0 (the starting pay).

The reason offered is that the union doesn't think it's fair to have teachers start their career working in the district, and toil there for years, only to have some newcomer join the district at a higher rate of pay.

Don't ask me to defend it... I'm just reporting what I've been told.

Bill said...

Fair enough, Mike. I did say "it has been my experience." Our two experiences aside, think about it: in these tough economic times, do districts (re: administrators and boards) really, truly want to "steal" good teachers away from other districts at a higher price--or bring in fresh faces that will cost a lot less?

I agree with you (for once). I like the notion of competitive bidding and trying to woo good teachers to a district. But I don't see a majority of ANY of the vested parties wanting that.

From a teacher perspective, it's a dicey proposition to shuck seniority at one place and start at the bottom again somewhere else--especially in this economic climate where there is the constant threat of being laid off.

I've been where I'm at about ten years now...I wouldn't dream about voluntarily going somewhere else and starting all over again. No matter what the pay.