Category Archives: Politics

Paz en Watsonville, Peace in Watsonville

2014 was a tough year with far too many gang-related homicides. Here I am with PVFT President and PVUSD educator Francisco Rodriguez, at the Vigil for Peace and Unity, Callaghan Park, 28 December, 2014. Many more pics on Facebook:


Sadly, just a couple hours before the vigil, Watsonville’s 10th homicide of the year occurred not far from Callaghan Park. Police now attribute the murder to “road rage” but it is unclear whether it was also gang-related.

Updates on Vergara

Media coverage of the aftermath of the Vergara ruling continues, and other sordid actors have joined the misguided battle against teachers.

Now California State Superintendent of Public Instruction is himself going to seek an appeal of the ruling. Here’s Diane Ravitch’s article about this.

Judge Rolf M. Treu has now affirmed the ruling, as described at Politico.

And now Governor Jerry Brown is himself appealing the ruling!  (LA Times coverage)

5 October, 2014: “What’s wrong with the Vergara ruling?” by Carl Cohn, former school superintendent in Long Beach and San Diego, director of the Urban Leadership Program at Claremont Graduate University and a member of the State Board of Education. He is also chair of the American College Testing (ACT) Board of Directors, and a member of the EdSource Board of Directors. (

More on Teacher “Tenure”

A few weeks ago I posted a summary of news and information about the Vergara case, here in California. This post will continue that process, with more recent articles about teacher tenure in general as well as the Vergara case.

Boycott Staples!

AFT 2014 National Convention logoAt the 2014 AFT National Convention, to which I was a delegate from PVFT, we learned about the UPWA’s call for a boycott of Staples, because of the arrangement between the USPS and Staples, Corp., that will outsource postal services to Staples stores. By doing so, the USPS is replacing unionized public sector postal workers with non-union, private sector workers, being paid minimum or near-minimum wages. The APWU has called for a boycott of Staples, and the AFT stands in full support and solidarity of this boycott. We rallied in front of the Staples Center with APWU members during the convention. AFT’s joining of the call for a boycott definitely got Staples Corp’s attention, as nearly ⅓ of their total revenue comes from school supplies sales! And the big back-to-school rush is about to commence. Check out for more information, and for downloadable materials, including a flier in Spanish and English.AFT rallies in support of APWU call for a Boycott of Staples

Check out for APWU’s write-up of AFT’s support. Visit for the Resolution in support of U.S. Postal Workers. And APWU posted about the strong impact AFT’s support had on Staples Corp.:

AFT rallies in support of APWU call for a Boycott of Staples    AFT-APWU-staples4
d-flyer-Public-Espanol     d-flyer-Public

26 Amazing Facts About Finland’s Unorthodox Education System

This is a summary of an article written by and posted a few years ago at Business Insider. Taylor begins,

Since it implemented huge education reforms 40 years ago, Finland’s school system has consistently come at the top for the international rankings for education systems.

So how do they do it?

It’s simple — by going against the evaluation-driven, centralized model that much of the Western world uses.

And here are the 26 things he lists:

  1. Finnish children don’t start school until they are 7.
  2. Compared with other systems, they rarely take exams or do homework until they are well into their teens.
  3. The children are not measured at all for the first six years of their education.
  4. There is only one mandatory standardized test in Finland, taken when children are 16.
  5. All children, clever or not, are taught in the same classrooms.
  6. Finland spends around 30 percent less per student than the United States.
  7. 30 percent of children receive extra help during their first nine years of school.
  8. 66 percent of students go to college. (The highest rate in Europe)
  9. The difference between weakest and strongest students is the smallest in the World. [Ted note: I assume they mean academically, not physically.]
  10. Science classes are capped at 16 students so that they may perform practical experiments every class.
  11. 93 percent of Finns graduate from high school. (17.5% higher than in U.S.)
  12. 43 percent of Finnish high-school students go to vocational schools.
  13. Elementary school students get 75 minutes of recess a day in Finnish versus an average of 27 minutes in the US.
  14. Teachers only spend 4 hours a day in the classroom, and take 2 hours a week for “professional development.”
  15. Finland has the same amount of teachers as New York City, but far fewer students. (600,000 students compared to 1.1 million in NYC.)
  16. The school system is 100% state funded.
  17. All teachers in Finland must have a masters degree, which is fully subsidized.
  18. The national curriculum is only broad guidelines.
  19. Teachers are selected from the top 10% of graduates.
  20. In 2010, 6,600 applicants vied for 660 primary school training slots.
  21. The average starting salary for a Finnish teacher was $29,000 in 2008. (Compared with $36,000 in the United States.)
  22. However, high school teachers with 15 years of experience make 102 percent of what other college graduates make. (In the US, this figure is 62%.)
  23. There is no merit pay for teachers.
  24. Teachers are effectively given the same status as doctors and lawyers.
  25. In an international standardized measurement in 2001, Finnish children came top or very close to the top for science, reading and mathematics. (It’s consistently come top or very near every time since.)
  26. And despite the differences between Finland and the US, it easily beats countries with a similar demographic. (Neighbor Norway, of a similar size and featuring a similar homogeneous culture, follows the same same strategies as the USA and achieves similar rankings in international studies.)

Sources he cites include:

And a few more sources for you:


The Vergara Ruling

There is so much I could say about this… and I’ll try to write more about it soon. In the meanwhile, here are links to various news articles, analyses, responses and perspectives on the ruling and its larger meanings/implications… to which I will continue to add…

New Report Rebukes Central Feature of ‘Race to the Top’

By Diane Ravitch, posted 12 April 2014, and reposted at (

The central feature of the Obama administration’s $5 billion “Race to the Top” program was sharply refuted last week by the American Statistical Association (115 KB PDF), one of the nation’s leading scholarly organizations. Spurred on by the administration’s combination of federal cash and mandates, most states are now using student test scores to rank and evaluate teachers. This method of evaluating teachers by test scores is called value-added measurement, or VAM. Teachers’ compensation, their tenure, bonuses and other rewards and sanctions are tied directly to the rise or fall of their student test scores, which the Obama administration considers a good measure of teacher quality.

Secretary Arne Duncan believes so strongly in VAM that he has threatened to punish Washington state for refusing to adopt this method of evaluating teachers and principals. In New York, a state court fined New York City $150 million for failing to agree on a VAM plan.

The ASA issued a short but stinging statement that strongly warned against the misuse of VAM. The organization neither condemns nor promotes the use of VAM, but its warnings about the limitations of this methodology clearly demonstrate that the Obama administration has committed the nation’s public schools to a policy fraught with error. ASA warns that VAMs are “complex statistical models” that require “high-level statistical expertise” and awareness of their “assumptions and possible limitations,” especially when they are used for high-stakes purposes as is now common. Few, if any, state education departments have the statistical expertise to use VAM models appropriately. In some states, like Florida, teachers have been rated based on the scores of students they never taught.

The ASA points out that VAMs are based on standardized tests and “do not directly measure potential teacher contributions toward other student outcomes.” They typically measure correlation, not causation. That means that the rise or fall of student test scores attributed to the teacher might actually be caused by other factors outside the classroom, not under the teacher’s control. The VAM rating of teachers is so unstable that it may change if the same students are given a different test.

The ASA’s most damning indictment of the policy promoted so vigorously by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is:

Most VAM studies find that teachers account for about one percent to 14 percent of the variability in test scores, and that the majority of opportunities for quality improvement are found in the system-level conditions. Ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences that reduce quality.

The ASA points out:

This is not saying that teachers have little effect on students, but that variation among teachers accounts for a small part of the variation in scores. The majority of the variation in test scores is attributable to factors outside of the teacher’s control such as student and family background, poverty, curriculum, and unmeasured influences.

As many education researchers have explained — including a joint statement by the American Educational Research Association and the National Academy of Education (112 KB PDF) — the VAM ratings of those who teach children with disabilities and English language learners will be low, because these children have greater learning challenges than their peers, as will the ratings of those who teach gifted students, because the latter group has already reached a ceiling. Those two groups, like the ASA agreed that test scores are affected by many factors besides the teacher, not only the family, but the school’s leadership, its resources, class size, curriculum, as well as the student’s motivation, attendance and health. Yet the Obama administration and most of our states are holding teachers alone accountable for student test scores.

The Growth of Walmart

This gif is just so illuminating (“horrifying” is what the original post called it), I wanted to share it. This is a post written by Brandon Weber and posted on UPWORTHY, as part of a special Upworthy series about work and the economy, made possible by the AFL-CIO (of which I am a member, through CFT-AFT).

When big box stores (I’ll leave it to you to decide just WHICH big-box stores) come to town, they almost always shut down all the mom-and-pop stores in the area they open in. And it’s a pretty simple formula:

  1. Move in.
  2. Open doors with lower prices than anyone else.
  3. Get employees on welfare and Medicaid because you don’t want to pay well or provide medical insurance.
  4. Force smaller shops out of business.
  5. Raise prices, because now you’re the only game in town.
  6. Rinse, repeat 15 miles down the road.

I’ve heard some say, “capitalism works this way, and great for the owners of [INSERT_BIG_BOX_STORE_HERE] that they’re able to do so well because at least they create jobs.”

To them I say, “At what price?”


Note: This map only goes to 2006; it’s much worse now, believe it or not.

This image was found on PolicyMic. It was created by Daniel Ferry, Excel Hero, who explains how it’s done. For some of the facts about Walmart’s pay and etc., there’s this from last year. And for even more facts about its pay, here’s an image and data source from a previous post as well.