City Journal Winter 2016

Current Issue:

Winter 2016
Table of Contents
Tablet Editions
Click to visit City Journal California

Readers’ Comments

Larry Sand
Golden Missed Opportunity « Back to Story

View Comments (12)

Add New Comment:

To send your message, please enter the words you see in the distorted image below, in order and separated by a space, and click "Submit." If you cannot read the words below, please click here to receive a new challenge.

Comments will appear online. Please do not submit comments containing advertising or obscene language. Comments containing certain content, such as URLs, may not appear online until they have been reviewed by a moderator.

Showing 12 Comment(s) Subscribe by RSS
I need to clear up some misinformation. Regarding "...vouchers provide an subsidy for the wealthy from the public purse." Absolutely false. Rich people don't need vouchers. It's the poor and middle class who benefit from them.

Regarding vouchers and religious schools, SCOTUS settled this in 2002. Google Zelman v. Simmons-Harris for more info.

Zelman v. Simmons-Harris
: Themitocles (Jan. 26, 10:19AM)

You don't mean the Athenian general at Marathon by any chance, do you "Themitocles?" Sorry, but you've got to learn to spell your own pseudonym correctly before we can talk.

: Gone With the Wind (10:19AM)

To begin with Gone, your first sentence is a question so there should be a question mark at the end. Secondly, and more importantly, the sentence doesn't scan, i.e., there is no cause-effect relation between (a) the student failure rate and (b) the teacher sucking, as you so eloquently put it, on the "taxpayer (sic) teat." I think you might be ready for a course in logic Gone, taught of course, by a fully-qualified member of a certified teacher's union.

: Bevis (3:28PM)

I've had to spank Bevis before - I think it was over on "How's My Teaching? - so I won't bother doing it again here. But just a couple of points to keep my hand in.

Bevis, where did you get that 85%? Like your other stuff, I guess. Bevis uses his usual stock of false analogies i.e., "negotiating with a teacher's union is like negotiating with home invaders." Really, Bevis, is that so? Then, of course, there is the shocking state of affairs at the MLK hospital. But whatever that has to do with anything, Bevis doesn't say. People died while doctors golfed. Can you imagine? Of course, according to Bevis, "It was just what the unions wanted." Right, Bevis, right. And, get this. Every university in the UC system predictably hires a "rather liberal speaker for commencement." I had a good laugh at that one Bevis, mainly because, in Canada, to be "liberal" is a compliment but, of course, you wouldn't know that.

And Bevis, please confine yourself to the truth. I haven't characterized every commentator on this site as a "right-winger," "fascist," and so on. On the contrary, I've supported those who gave evidence of having a mind. I only characterized people as "right-wing" and "fascist," who were, you know, people like you Bevis. In the same way Bevis, I certainly agree to meaningful input from parents as well as accountability. But, Bevis, there has been no meaningful input from you. But I don't suppose you understand that, do you Bevis.

Finally Bevis, I think your last sentence should read, "They smell the results and they reek like a 5 day-old fish." A bit of verbal confusion there, Bevis.

Don't write back.

A pleasure as always, boys.
Teacher's unions are at fault for the failure of US education, as the evidence shows. Administrators and gigantic schools contribute to the problem, but Teachers Unions are 85% of the cause.

Trying to "negotiate" with a teacher's union is like negotiating with home invaders. Its your house (School). The occupants are your family (wife and kids). But the home invaders say it exists for them. Then they go Orwellian on you, accusing you of being heartless for asking them to leave.

What if hospitals were run like this? Oh I forgot--one was. MLK in Los Angeles County. The most unionized hospital in existence--till the feds closed it as a health menace. LAPD used to tell ambulance drivers when they were injured "anywhere today but MLK." Nurses ignored heart monitors, and even turned them off. They ignored patients. Doctors golfed instead of attending to patients. It was all a big joke--earn money for nothing and never be accountable. Like the schools, it was impossible to fire anyone--all employees were unionized LA Country employees.

People died at that hospital, which was closed because there was no accountability. All employees were safe from any meaningful review by superiors, patients or anyone. Just what the unions wanted. Just what they still want in every business or government they infest.

While they preach cooperative humanity, Unions never practice it.

Even on small things they could not care less about anyone else: every University in the UC system predictably hires a rather liberal speaker for commencement; almost every year, unions picket causing a speaker to retreat from speaking.

In Wisconsin, after Unions were barred from bargaining on some things, it was discovered that the teachers unions had insisted that schools buy insurance from a union-captive firm--at a hugely marked up cost.

In Illinois, it was discovered that Union reps are given city lucrative pensions-after working for the City for a total of 4 days.

You cannot reason with a union man or woman: every commentator on this thread has been characterized by this "Montrealman," (aka "UnionShillMan") as a "right-winger", "fascist", etc., etc.

Demands for accountability to parents who have their kids in the schools and pay the taxes are dismissed as calls for "parental vigilantism."

No union, and certainly not this fellow, will ever agree to meaningful input from parents, or any accountability.

One great thing can be salvaged from the horrible nationwide mess Unions have made of a once great school system: the majority of parnets and students have had it with unions. They see the results and they reek like a 5 day old fish.

But don't you see that with "graduates requiring remediation in English and math" that is NOT "failure" for the unions and others sucking on the taxpayers teat. THAT is success! If more needed remedial instruction then even more union teachers could be hired. This is a HUGE success for california (union teachers).
Like all public employee unions, teachers unions must be abolished for being contrary to the good of the tax paying public.

My wife was a Principal for 30 years. In one instance it took over 3 years to get a unionized teacher [salary: $106,000] fired for repeatedly slapping elementary school students.

Unions are parasites on hard-bitten taxpayers, and they are prime suspects in the failure of public schools. Unions are entirely self-serving, and care nothing whatever for the community. The really sad fact is that school boards are typically co-conspirators with the unions. Since the public is paying the freight, unions and administrators scratch each others' backs, with a wink and a nod, knowing that ever higher pay and benefits for teachers will bring about higher pay and benefits for administrators, too.

Public education is completely corrupt, and the only solution is the total eradication of the unions. And I say this as a four time elected President of my [private sector] union Local. I've seen unions from the inside. Dues and political clout are all that matters. The kids come in dead last.
: David W. Nicholas (Jan. 25, 5:03PM)

In the usual right-wing rhetorical style, David demonizes the teacher unions -those "benign and merciful teachers' unions" as he jokingly refers to them - for failing schools. In effect, the argument boils down to the claim that teacher unions are against their own abolition and so must be to blame for those failing schools. They are against school choice and smother COMPETITION and, for folks like David, that is just a no-no. As in economics, competition will drive out under-performing businesses (schools) and reward those which succeed. End of argument.

But David, like the rest of the right-wingers, does not realize that education cannot be reduced to the imperatives of the market system. Education is not simply a "business" like any other and teachng is different from running a corner store. I've gone over all this before to no avail, and have no intenton of repeating myself. But you have said nothing to change my mind, and I clearly haven't said anything to change yours.

David gives a "fascinating" example of the workings of his "competition." He refers to the good performance of the public schools in the upscale neighborhoods of Beverly Hills and La Canada (hooray!) and claims that it is the competition from private schools in the same areas which ignited the spark. Not so, David. The good performance of those schools is traceable not to competition but to the "catchment area" from which both public and private schools draw their student bodies, i.e., from the better-off classes as compared to those in Compton and Long Beach.

But I've gone over this as well, David. Scroll down through my comments and if you have any questions, don't hesitate asking.
But please, no undiluted right-wing union-bashing rhetoric if you don't mind.

: Ben Boychuk (5:16PM)

Well, Ben, your aptly-named "parent trigger law" echoes David's reduction of schools to businesses. In your case it is the parent and not the teacher who calls the shots. Of course, Ben, the "parent trigger law" may well be the vehicle for parental vigilantism against the teachers, those lazy layabouts, and when teachers' unions, damn them all, are abolished, there is nothing left to protect them from that parental wrath, is there Ben.

That's what you want, isn't it Ben. I've had personal experience with those vigilantes Ben. They were enraged not because I was too slack but because I was too demanding, at least in the eyes of their "faultless" offspring. I guess you've got to get it right in the middle, just like Baby Bear's Porridge. But Ben, I know that you'll just snap your fingers at cases like that. You want to go after the teacher union's jugular, right Ben?

Look into your own motivation, Ben, the reasons for your hatred of teachers' unions and, by extension, teachers themselves and the whole "lefty" concept off the purpose of education which, perhaps suprisingly for you Ben, is not simply for the purposes of rapacious personal gain.

A pleasure as always, boys.

"As for the parent trigger law, what the article doesn't tell you is that when it was 'triggered' the first time, the local school authorities acted swiftly to over-ride the triggering and maintain the status quo, and as far as I know they've succeeded."

David, I've covered the parent trigger at length here and elsewhere. Although Sand didn't get into the nitty-gritty details, the story does link to the first article I wrote about California's law for City Journal; from that piece, you can easily find the follow-ups.

What you note is partly correct, but requires a bit more elaboration. The first attempt to "trigger" a school was at McKinley Elementary School in Compton. Yes, that effort did fail, and for a variety of reasons. The school district pulled every trick it could to disqualify parent signatures, and ultimately a Los Angeles Superior Court judge denied the petitions because the campaign organizers failed to include a date box as required by state law. That first effort was also undermined by confusing temporary regulations from the State Board of Education spelling out how the law is supposed to work.

The State Board last year completed final regulations, so the process is much more transparent and easy for parents to understand. The rules also prohibit the sort of harassment and intimidation that marred the Compton petition drive.

A group of parents in the Southern California desert city of Adelanto recently submitted a petition to district authorities there. I have a story in the works about it for City Journal California. I hope you'll find it enlightening. Thanks for reading.
David W. Nicholas January 25, 2012 at 5:03 PM
The fascinating thing about this debate is that the opponents of school choice essentially act as if the situation we are looking at isn't what it seems: a system where the schools are failing, and the solutions tried so far haven't worked. We hear constantly how more money will solve every problem in education today, as if we haven't been throwing excessive piles of money at the problem for the last 30 years or so, without discernable impact. It's very frustrating.

I don't have kids, and frankly every day I'm thankful I don't. The benign and merciful teachers' unions in California have fought every meaningful school reform in the state tooth and nail, and continue to do so. Right now, schoolteachers in the state have to take a C-Best certification regularly, to demonstrate that they have a (brace yourself) 10th Grade education. The teachers' union fought this bitterly, and after it was passed, the head of the union (also supposedly a working teacher) flunked the thing a number of times before being allowed to retire with a full pension. Here in LA it actually made *the front page of the local secion of the paper* when LAUSD fired a teacher...because it's that rare. The guy had been molesting female students for years, and of course the district didn't dare fire him because he had muscular distrophy or something, and explained away his actions with his disability. The district had to pay a bunch of large damage awards to the parents of the girl victims involved; we also had to pay this guy to sit in a room for years while they got their nerve up to fire him.

But there's a fundamental question here. Public shools vary wildly between districts, and even sometimes within districts. Beverly Hills, or La Canada/Flintridge (where I used to live) have award-winning school districts, while Compton and North Long Beach have schools that wind up in the news for other reasons. Occasionally there's an anomaly; Jaime Escalante at Garfield High in East LA was a good example. However, he was chased out of that school by the teachers' union, of course, so it doesn't really count, does it? Anyway, the question is why are public schools, which are supposed to have comparable resources, better in wealthier neighborhoods? The answer is quite simple: COMPETITION.

In a poor neighborhood, private school isn't an option, typically. Parents work very hard to put food on the table, pay the rent and buy clothing; there's almost nothing left afterwards. The idea of spending several tens of thousands of dollars to send their child to another school doesn't even get on the radar. In Beverly Hills, however, it's an easy enough thing to think about; the parents are usually millionaires, and spending an extra $50,000 spending the kid to a better school isn't that big of a thing. The result is that if Beverly Hills (Public) High School wants to have students and stay open, it had better perform at a level that actually attracts students. They're good, or at least better than other public schools, because they have to be to retain students. Schools in poor districts have no such incentive; their parents are required to send their children to school, and the local public school is the only option. Hence no incentive, hence no need to excel. Hence a lousy school.

As for the parent trigger law, what the article doesn't tell you is that when it was "triggered" the first time, the local school authorities acted swiftly to over-ride the triggering and maintain the status quo, and as far as I know they've succeeded.

As for the argument that vouchers are a subsidy for wealthy parents, from the public coffers: there's nothing in the laws typically written allowing vouchers that require they be given to wealthy parents, and in many districts around the country where they've been tried, the beneficiaries are middle-income or even poor children who get sent to much much better private schools. Those private schools, of course, aren't certified by the government typically; but by most objective data they're better than their public counterparts.

Oh, and in parting I have one last question for those who argue that there isn't any difference between public and private education: if that's the case, then why have the last 2 Presidents with school-aged children send their kids to a private religious school in Washington DC? Sidwell Friends is run by Quakers. Why is it that (last I heard) 40% of LAUSD teachers send their own children to private school? Without good answers to these questions (and there aren't any, really) the whole argument against school choice collapses of its own weight, the hot air seeping out as if the whole thing were a punctured balloon.
Marcia Goldstein Jan 25, 3:29PM)

Marcia has made a couple of excellent points: (1) taxpayer's money in the form of vouchers should not go to support religious schools, and (2) vouchers, in effect amount to "a subsidy to provide private education for the children of wealthier parents." The fact is that (1) and (2) often refer to the same schools.

In my previous post I said that, "'School choice' is code to enable those parents who are deeply invested in their children's education." Such "investment," of course, is not only psychological, the motive force driving the individual academic success of their child, but is also a considerable economic investment. In effect, vouchers provide an subsidy for the wealthy from the public purse.

This, of course, was Sand's real message.
Two of the major problems with vouchers were not discussed in this article. First, many (most?) of the private schools to which students take their vouchers are religious schools. It is not right to take taxpayers' dollars to support religious education. There should be no getting around that.

Second, the vouchers do not begin to cover the cost of the private schools. What they are, in effect, is a subsidy to provide private education for the children of wealthier parents.
Larry Sand's paen to "school choice" is the usual right-wing rhetoric which is really directed at demonizing teacher's unions. It must be understood that they are the masked villians. They are the ones who have brought on the educational cataclysm. But it's all rhetoric, of course, grounded on a visceral hatred of - guess what? - teacher's unions.
But why this hatred?

By their nature, teacher's unions are not sink-holes of reaction and ineptitude as Sands paints them. Rather they are designed, in addition to giving teachers professional status which they certainly deserve, rom scurrilous assaults like those of Sand.

Teacher's unions have no argument with vouchers, charter schools, and home schooling as long as they are not simply covert attempts to union-bust, covert attempts to de-professionalize teachers. But vochers, charter schools and home schooling depend on one thing: total parental commitment. And, of course, this is a good thing as long as, once again, they do not aim at de-professionalizing teachers. But the argument goes deeper than that.

"School choice" is code to enable those parents who are deeply invested in their chiildren's education. In essence, it is an aspect of a thorough-going individualism which aimns at the success of their particular child which can reduce to a matter of "the devil take the hindmost"

Public education, in contrast, while it celebrates the success of every individual child, has a greater mission, that of the common good. Public education is that by which the students (plural) are initiated into the cultural heritage of society, that in terms of which the political, social, moral and even the philosophical foundations of society are based. Public education, in a word, is that by which the student gains a cultural identity.

Undermine that in the name of a rapacious individualism - the Wall Street rapists come to mind - and the roots of society will be poisoned at the root.
No surprise here - the public unions will continue to oppose anything that jeopardizes or is seen to jeopardize the economic bottom line of its members. And since California is a blue state - very blue - it makes sense that the teachers union would be strong.

Since the teacher's union makes enormous donations to the Democratic party in California, Democrats are understandably reluctant to do anything that would result in the union donating less money, like adopting policies that could possibly result in less money going to teachers. Of course, the Democrats shouldn't be concerned, after all it's not as if the union would ever donate money to a Republican candidate! But it's still carrot and stick with the Democrats - they get more campaign donations if they do whatever the unions want. So..Democrats do what the unions want.

Want real school reform? Get rid of the teacher's union since it blocks or inhibits reform since the union, despite denials, doesn't have the same agenda as the people when it comes to education.

Can't do that? No problem! Then tell the teachers union is can't donate to political candidates.

Can't do that? Then tell the unions they have to donate to both parties equally, or almost equally since donating to one party is corrupting the political process, since it is essentially a transfer of taxpayer funds funneled through the union.

Can't do that? (and that will never happen, since Democrats, corrupt as they are, want the taxpayer funded gravy train to continue) Stop wasting everyone's time talking about school reform - it won't happen.

And besides, while teachers matter somewhat, a student with two involved parents can do well even with the worst teacher, in the worst school ('s why Asian children do well in school, and why certain others don't do well - teachers are just the fall guys for the failure of Democratic social policies).

So...maybe instead of throwing away money on teachers and education programs that year in and year out don't work, promote families staying together and parental involvement with their children's education.

Can't do that? Must be a Democrat.