CTA’S $4.5 million lament

president of the Center for Education Reform

You can almost hear California Teachers Association President Wayne Johnson asking himself, “What kind of place do we live in where the most powerful union in the state can’t buy control of the education system? Not the kind of state I want to live in.” And who could blame him?

According to the Sacramento Bee, since January 2001 the CTA has spent nearly $4.5 million supporting candidates and causes. Yet state politicians failed to support AB 2160, which would have subjected almost every aspect of running a school district to collective bargaining. The result: Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, its sponsor, withdrew it last week.

To pretend, though, that the CTA has been taken advantage of would be to overlook a few facts. For instance, last year 36 union-backed bills became laws. And just because AB 2160 no longer exists in bill form, doesn’t mean the CTA has given up—Goldberg hinted that it could show up as amendments to other legislation, and CTA President Johnson is considering making it a ballot initiative. Plus, the union already wields power directly affecting the classroom: A Pacific Research Institute study found that of the 460 school districts it examined, nearly 75 percent already subject such decisions as textbook selection to collective bargaining.

All of this might be acceptable if the CTA’s tactics translated into academic excellence. Unfortunately, they haven’t: In 1998 less than a quarter of the state’s fourth- and eighth-graders demonstrated reading proficiency on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. In 2000, less than 20 percent were proficient in math.

But there has been some good news: in a recent computation of the state’s Academic Performance Index, California’s students showed moderate improvement. Central to that computation—and achieving real accountability—is the state’s testing program. And how does the CTA feel about that? Good enough that it wants to totally overhaul it via AB 2347, which would scrap current assessments in favor of tests of the union’s design, and would kill an exam required for graduation. And it would also eliminate bonuses for teachers, staff or campuses that improve students’ scores.

Most people, were they to give millions of dollars to have services rendered, would expect results. If they didn’t get them they would never again do business with the untrustworthy service provider. With the demise of AB 2160, the CTA clearly didn’t get what it was paying politicians for, and it should act like the smart consumer—it should break ties with California, pack up, and go.

Contact the Center for Education Reform at (202) 822-9000 or edreform.com.