Huffpost Education
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Mercedes Schneider Headshot

Anti-Union Front Group Attacks AFT

Posted: Updated:

On December 10, 2013, the Center for Union Facts (CUF) (don't believe the name) sponsored a full-page ad in the New York Times attributing the "high school slip in global rankings" to a single issue: The failure of American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten to promote merit pay for teachers.

The ad reads:

We have fallen behind Latvia, Estonia, and Vietnam in science and math. The teachers union continues to protect incompetent teachers and refuses to reward outstanding teachers with merit-based pay. Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers, fights against reforms that would help fix our failing schools.

The test on which "we have fallen behind" is the recently released Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). The results of this test have been discussed extensively on Diane Ravitch's blog. For the sake of length, I will not discuss PISA in detail. I will only advise readers that comparing student experiences across cultures (and governments) is a complex matter. Furthermore, nations obsessed with high international test scores (and other test scores, as well) have earned the name "examination hell" countries.

I will also note that high international student test rankings "do not a global power make."

Nevertheless, CUF would have Americans think otherwise. CUF has mapped out a convenient, simplistic course of events in order to place fault for those "slipping" PISA scores.

Let us consider the proffered chronology in reverse.

Prepare for the Latvian-Estonian-Vietnamese Takeover!

On its blog, CUF implies that some incredible, terrible consequence will befall these United States for our having PISA scores ranking behind Latvia, Estonia, and Vietnam in math and science. Now, keep in mind that I am proceeding with the CUF assertion and not analyzing the scores.

Here is my conception of the nonsense panic promoted by CUF:

Latvia, Estonia, and Vietnam are somehow going to replace the U.S. as a world power. Latvia, Estonia, and Vietnam will somehow diminish the American standard of living.

Perhaps the three will join forces -- a triumvirate encouraged by some superior-PISA-scoring ideology.

Should I be preparing for an impending Latvian-Estonian-Vietnamese invasion?

Has the 1983 declaration of our Nation's Being "At Risk" come to pass via these unsuspecting countries?

I'm thinking America is indeed "safe" from Latvia, Estonia, and Vietnam and that CUF must have some other motive for placing this ad.

More about CUF soon.

Low PISA Scores? Must Be Incompetent Teachers

To continue in reverse with the CUF declaration of doom due to PISA: The poor scores are caused by incompetent classroom teachers. Of course, of course, in this age of "blame the teacher," the PISA scores must fall on the heads of the teachers. After all, there are no other factors affecting the Florida, Massachusetts, and Connecticut students who took the PISA test- only teachers cramming knowledge down their students' throats and students vomiting knowledge onto their PISA tests.

Let's just set the high-scoring, "examination hell" nations aside- the ones whose students have no life and who live and breathe test scores- and pretend that the US lower scores are simply and directly attributed to incompetence.

How does one rid the U.S. schools of such incompetence- in order to surpass Latvia, Estonia, and Vietnam -- in order to guarantee that our nation is no longer at risk?

According to CUF: Merit pay.

CUF Chooses the Dead Horse Solution: Merit Pay

Merit pay is one of those "reforms" that never works but just won't disappear. Only in this case, it seems that AFT realizes merit pay is indeed dead.

In order for merit pay to work, teachers must be highly motivated by financial gain. They are not. Career teachers do not enter the teaching profession with dollar signs in their eyes. As is true of professionals in general, teacher motivation tends to be collegial, intrinsic, and altruistic. Consider these words from scholars in Zurich:

The idea that people are solely self-interested and materially orientated has been thrown overboard by leading scholars. Empirical research, in particular experimental research, has shown that under suitable conditions human beings care for the wellbeing of other persons. Above all, they are not solely interested in material gains.... Recognition by co-workers is greatly important. Many workers are intrinsically motivated, ie they perform work for its own sake because it is found challenging and worth undertaking.

At my school, when teachers are able to choose a reward, they primarily choose some means of having extra time (i.e., duty-free months). During the school day, time is scarce for accomplishing tasks necessary to teaching. After all, full time teachers spend most of their time actually teaching. Therefore, opportunities to be freed of auxiliary responsibilities is literally more valuable than gold to the career teacher.

Organizations like CUF push merit pay, but it seems that they are short on explaining exactly where all of that extra cash will come from. Traditional public schools do not run on hedge-fund investments. They usually do not rest on fat endowments. In order to offer substantial financial rewards, traditional public schools would have to cut back on other operations. So, for a teacher to receive a major salary increase, the total number of teachers would need to be reduced in the district- which would mean larger class sizes for those "merited" teachers. Perhaps other services (and personnel) would need to be cut- more money for teachers, but no library- no music program- no paper in the copy machines.

The above assumes that teachers would choose competition over community- which they will not.

Last year, I received information on the "merit pay" that I might receive if I were determined to be "effective" as a teacher.

It was to be approximately $65 per year.

Though it is not yet approved, I am not missing it.

Sorry CUF. The teacher (and district) merit pay buy-in simply isn't there.

Continuing backwards:

CUF maintains that merit pay didn't have a chance since Weingarten "refused to reward outstanding teachers." I assume from their ad that by not promoting the dead horse of merit pay, Weingarten is somehow "protecting incompetent teachers."

In the end, it seems that the impending US takeover by Latvia, Estonia, and Vietnam will be Weingarten's fault.

Is Orson Welles in the house?

As it turns out, CUF is its own science fiction.

Just What Is CUF?

The Center for Union Facts is one of five nonprofit "front groups" run by lobbyist Rick Berman of Berman and Company:

American Beverage Institute

Center for Consumer Freedom

Center for Union Facts

Employment Policies Institute Foundation

Enterprise Freedom Action Committee

These "front groups" offer mission statements that disguise the agenda of hidden supporters. CUF is Berman's front for union bashing.

I researched a number of known reform-favoring (i.e., anti-union) philanthropies for 2011-12 to see which directly contributed to CUF. Of the ones I searched (Bradley Foundation, Koch Foundation, Broad Foundation, Donors Trust, Lambe Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, the Gates Foundation), only the Bradley Foundation openly funded CUF.

Though not listed as CUF funders, the Waltons are known for their anti-union activity; they acknowledge "a relationship" in which they exchange union information with Berman.

On its tax documents, CUF does not disclose its funders.

In November 2012, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) filed an IRS whistleblower complaint alleging that nonprofits such as CUF are created to funnel money into corporate coffers:

Bloomberg News, in a story that broke this morning, has recapped Berman's long career as a public-relations hit man -- attempting to twist charity laws to further the goals of his corporate clients, and not inconsequentially, reaping enormous personal financial rewards. The news account also disclosed that The HSUS has filed an exhaustive complaint with the Internal Revenue Service, an action taken on behalf of our interests and those of other reputable charities...


The documents, which include Berman's own statements, show that his for-profit PR firm, Berman and Co., received the vast share of money funneled through some of his charities -- in two cases, more than 90 percent.
Astonishingly, Berman signed a contract both on behalf of his charity and on behalf of his public relations company. Imagine if the CEO of a real charity signed a contract with his private company and took 90 percent of the incoming donations?

The complaint could cost Berman's syndicate of non-profit shells tens of millions in tax liability, including back taxes and penalties, revocation of tax-exempt status, and other legal penalties. [Emphasis added.]

Yep: Berman has attacked HSUS for its work in combating puppy mills and urban dog fighting.

However, while Berman's nonprofit fronts serve as self-declared policemen of the public sector, other members of the public sector have taken to policing Berman's nonprofits.

As such, the Charity Navigator includes the following donor advisory to individuals considering donating to CUF:

During our analysis of this charity's FYE 2011 Form 990, the document revealed that more than half of the Center for Union Facts' functional expenses were paid to its CEO Richard Berman's for-profit management company, Berman and Company. The document revealed that, out of total expenses of $1.38 million, $870,000 were paid to Berman and Company for staff[ing] and operat[ing] the day-to-day activities' of the charity. See relevant pages from the organization's 2011 Form 990 filing via PDF files "CUFpage8," "CUFpage10," and "CUFscheduleL" for more information.

We find the practice of a charity contracting for management services with a business owned by that charity's CEO atypical as compared to how other charities operate and have therefore issued this Donor Advisory. [Emphasis added.]

Berman is paying himself handsomely through his nonprofits for the work of public sector destruction.

Labeling Berman's sham front groups as "charities" defies common sense.

A Closing Word

Berman works for corporations desiring to remove impediments to their coffer-filling agendas.

Therefore, those who encounter full-page ads attacking a public-serving entity should pay attention to the fine print.

If that fine print notes, "Paid for by the Center for Union Facts," just remember:

You are witnessing a well-financed, public sector hit.

Originally posted 12-12-13 at deutsch29.wordpress.com