Sunday, January 29, 2017

Friedrichs At It Again

You remember Rebecca Friedrichs. She had a whole lawsuit named after her in which she was the face of union-busting in California. That case stalled when Justice Scalia died and the GOP decided that they would keep the court stuck with eight justices for almost a year (yes, that would be the same GOP that says only dirty rotten America-haters would obstruct a Presidential appointment).

But Rebecca "I'm Not Anti-Union I'm Just Drawn That Way" Friedrich has found other fun things to do, like record a video for Prager University entitled "Why Good Teachers Want School Choice." (Spoiler alert: to stick it to those evil unions). If you want to see the current version of the choice argument in action, this clip is for you.

Teachers' unions? Let's kill them with fire.

Prager University might be best described as an alternative university founded by conservative Dennis Prager and, well, is not so much a university as a library of videos. Many are hosted by semi-famous conservative voices, and none of them are particularly friendly to public education. There are several about choice and charters, but let's just deal with this one today.

What if schools had to compete for students in the same way that businesses have to compete for customers?

That's how Friedrichs, with a kind of sing-songy delivery, opens the video, and while you might be inclined to reply, "Do you mean by marketing based on spin, puffery, half-truths and the occasional flat out lie? Or do you mean by ignoring the larger market and just focusing on the customers you want?" But of course she doesn't mean either of those things.

Well, actually she kind of does, because she;s going to unleash some of those magical alternative facts before we even hit the twenty second mark. Would schools get better or worse with competition. There's no need to guess, she assures us, "because in almost every state and city where there's competition today, educational outcomes improve."

Now, I have to warn you-- if you expect a Prager University video to back up its claims with actual research or facts or even, in some cases, specifics, you will be disappointed. Does she mean that test scores (because that's all we mean by "educational outcomes"-- just scores on a standardized math and reading test) improve for everyone in the entire city? Because that would be some Grade A Made Up Alternative Factage. Does she mean that scores improve in the charter/choice schools? Because there's very little support for that and, honestly, it ought to be true. Given the chance to choose their student body, charters ought to do better. Yet they don't. It's almost as if charter operators don't know anything about education that public schools don't already know.

See, Friedrichs explains, under the old model, the government-- not the parent-- decides which school the student will attend. But with school choice, the money follows the student. Doesn't that sound great? At this point, Friedrich's voice motivated me to look up what she used to teach. Sure enough-- twenty-some years as an elementary teacher, which may explain why it seems as if she's pitching this video to six-year-olds.

At any rate, parents can direct their money to public, private, charter or home school (one bonus point for not trying to claim that charters are public schools). We're going to skip over the question of whether or not it's school choice when the school gets to tell the parents whether or not their child can attend there.

She will now cite a University of Arkansas study that shows choice students getting better reading and math scores. We're going to skip over the study that showed Louisiana voucher students did worse at new schools, or Ohio vouchers are used mostly to segregate schools, or the uncountable number of choice systems that allow huge graft and fraud.

[Update: To see how badly she misrepresents the research, check out this piece from Jersey Jazzman.]

Sounds like something we should get behind, doesn't it? 

But Friedrichs wants us to know that in some states, like her home state of California, school choice is not a choice. And can you guess the "one reason why"?

Teachers' unions.

Now she will relitigate her case. She was a teacher for 28 years, and a union person for part of that, so she's seen it all. California teachers are coerced to pay dues to the teachers' union. This is another alternative fact, as California, like most states, allows unions to charge a fee for non-members since those non-members still enjoy the benefits of negotiated contract and unions must represent all teachers who need it, members or not. But let's not rehash that whole mess again-- bottom line is that all the holes in her case are still right there.

But Friedrichs is now adding on to her argument-- the unions collect a ton of money, and they use that money to lobby the government for more money for public education. Those bastards.

That might sound good, but it's really just a smokescreen.

And Friedrichs shakes her head sadly for that part. Poor, sad, stupid public, duped into thinking public education is a good thing. Let her set you straight.

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, school enrollment has gone up 5% since 1970. That's a true thing; so is the fact that education spending as a percentage of GDP has stayed pretty static. But Friedrichs isn't going to mention that; instead she wants you to know that staffing has gone up 95%. Now, you might think this is because we have dramatically increased our attempts to actually teach students with special needs instead of warehousing them, or that more complicated rules and regulations mean more office employees. But don't you believe it-- it's just the teachers' unions getting greedy because "more public school employment mean more dues for the unions."

But it doesn't mean better schools, because California is 45th in the nation in reading and math and they spend billions of dollars.

And yet rarely is anyone held accountable for those dismal results.

I thought maybe she would now tell us about her twenty-eight years of being wracked with guilt for her crappy job teaching, but I guess that's not where we're headed. She's personally seen awesome beginning teachers lose their jobs while some crappy veteran teacher kept their job because of tenure and FILO.

For these reasons and more, parents almost always prefer school choice when allowed to choose.

Yes, parents want school choice because they want to stick it to the unions. That "and more" covers an awful lot of ground, but I am more curious about all those regions where school choice has emptied out public schools entirely because, after all, parents almost always prefer school choice. So in the many, many areas where school choice is a thing, public schools were instantly deserted, right? Right? No-- because where choice happens it takes deliberately starving the public schools of resources or getting them all flattened by a natural disaster to actually drive the majority of parents into charters.

Rich parents always get to choose private schools, and so do middle class and poor parents, she says. And "the real giveaway" is that teachers send their kids out of public schools "when given the choice," which is a cool statistic that will not be backed up by any factual support.

So why are choice schools better?

Because teachers at these schools are free from the union's stifling work rules.

Darn right. Teachers want to be free to work eighty hour weeks and get less pay and not have to worry about job security, but those damned unions. "In short, they're free to teach" says Friedrichs, although she didn't give the "in long" version of her point because there isn't one.

"Administrators in these schools can reward good teachers and fire bad ones." Of course, any public school system can fire the bad ones. And "reward good teachers" is another way to say "withhold decent pay from everyone else."  So I'm not impressed.

But we're back on unions, who don't like school choice because it means less power and money (she perhaps didn't get the "flush with cash" memo). I think we can all agree that teachers went into the business for the power and money.

Unions, she says, will say or do anything to stop choice, often by backing particular candidates, which I guess is another thing that only rich people are supposed to get to do. Unions also appear on tv with "sweet-sounding commercials." Those duplicitous bastards-- trying to act as if they actually care about children!

Friedrichs and some unnamed colleagues tried to reform the unions from within, but realized it wasn't possible to convince the union to curl up and die, and so she went to the Supremes. Her current version of her case is that teachers should be free to not join the union free of fear or coercion, which is ironic since its fear and coercion exerted on teachers that fueled the whole union thing in the first place. Friedrich's lost because of a 4-4 tie, which is another way of saying that she lost in the lower court and couldn't get the Supremes to overturn that decision.

Friedrichs still has hope because government and unions don't have the power-- "We do!"

I'm actually inclined to believe that Friedrich's we has some power, because that "we" apparently includes ALEC, where she has her shiny own page these days. She's left the classroom to better pursue her career as a perky union-busting mascot for the biggest bunch of profiteers around. And to think she finds it offensive that teachers' unions try to influence legislators- compared to ALEC's network of high rollers and well-greased legislators, teacher lobbying is bush league.

But if you believe that parents and not the government should choose where children go to school, and competition will make schools better, well, then, she has a bridge she's like to sell you. But first, join the School Choice Movement, and take the pledge (about 11,000 people have, which given that at least 350,000 have viewed the video is not a great rate of return). "We can have good schools for all children," she says, ignoring the fact that no free market sector has worked on the premise that a good or service should be provided to every single person.

Friedrich's signs herself out as a "mother and California public school teacher" which is sort of true, though her children are full-grown and she's out of the classroom these days. But if you want to check my work and get your dander up, go ahead and watch this clip yourself-- just grab your blood pressure medication first.


  1. Yes, I love your blog, but I've followed Mr. Prager for almost 30 years! He's one of the most honest and decent human beings I've ever met. Thank you Curmudgucation for your superb work and not being nasty in describing Mr. Prager himself - an easy trap.

    1. I'm sorry, but someone who runs a "university" which is really just a collection of half-truths, spin and outright lies with the aim of destroying the education system that 90% of our nation's children and their families depend on is not a "decent" or "honest" person. By their fruits you shall know them.

  2. If there's one common complaint I hear from young teachers is that they can work their a@@ off, but their own school supplies, constantly develop their craft and yet are paid the same as the slacked who got an Ed degree for the summers off.

    Then top that off these young strikers are paid half that of the burned out 20 year veteran who will be mailing it in for another decade until they can grab their pension and GTFO.

    Friedrich's message resonates with these millenials.

    1. Sure. And as one of those burned out veterans, millenia like have awfully high opinions of their abilities. I do appreciate the inference that those of us who have committed our lives to education mail it in. My craft has changed significantlyrics in my career.

      The perception of these millenia like is not necessarily the reality. And everyone thinks they're worth more than they actually are.

  3. Hi Michael,

    I cannot speak for all the teachers in the country but I can assure you that in NYC, where I am a hardworking veteran who still pays for my own school supplies and works diligently to develop my craft, the teacher you describe does not exist. An individual like that simply cannot survive in the current environment.

    For instance, it is only January and, even though I though I am a polished, effective teacher, I have been observed five times already; this is not an exception, but the norm in NYC.

    This heavy observation schedule has a quick way of weeding people out. A tenured teacher who "phones it in" will be rated "ineffective" two years in a row and will brought up on 3020-a charges and will be terminated or forced into retirement, so as to not lose their pension. Those teachers who are not tenured are discontinued, a.ka. fired, outright. I personally know of several teachers to whom this has happened.

    In NYC, become an administrator or member of the central bureaucracy if you want to mail it in and grab your pension. I invite you to google some of the excellent blogs maintained by NYC teachers for a plethora of evidence to support that notion.
    We need our union more than ever to protect us from the often times illogical actions of the administrators and bureaucrats. The young teachers quickly find that out, and, those that I know, actually wish the union did MORE to protect teachers.

    From my position, the narrative that the system is littered with lazy veterans is quite passé and those who want Freidrichs are not current with what really is happening in our schools.