Center for Union Facts… Yeah, Right.
On December 10, 2013, the deceptively-named Center for Union Facts (CUF) bought a full-page ad in the New York Times in order to tell the public that some of the 2012 US PISA scores are the “fault” of American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten.
Right there, we begin with stupid.
The CUF attacks on Weingarten have since expanded to include a radio ad focused on the supposed “elephant in the room”— that Weingarten is “protecting incompetent teachers” and “refusing to reward good teachers.”
It seems that CUF has found the time to criticize Ravitch for her post but has conveniently ignored mine.
Talk About “Elephants”
In my post, I discuss the history of CUF as one of five shell organizations designed to promote the agendas of hidden supporters while amply padding lobbyist Rick Berman’s bank account.
CUF is a front for union bashing. This is what CUF does. CUF is not concerned “with” education; CUF is concerned “against” teachers unions. So, the issues it pretends to raise in its ads (not only in newspapers, but also on radio) are done in order to undermine collective bargaining.
Unions are certainly not the sole Berman target. Berman uses his front groups to attack anyone who stands in the way of his mystery funders’ profits.
Berman serves corporate America in shady fashion. Allow me to offer some Sourcewatch highlights:
Although Berman used to fly under the media radar, by now he is well-known and widely regarded as an industry shill, having been the subject of a 60 Minutes piece in 2007that dubbed him “Dr. Evil,” a public takedown on the Rachel Maddow Show, and years of research documenting his close ties to industries looking for a well paid hired gun to defend the indefensible. He has attacked respected scientists and scholars, food safety experts, and even Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).
Despite this documented lack of credibility, Berman continues to work through a variety of research-for-hire front groups to remain relevant by creating a façade of academic respectability for extreme policies that many mainstream companies, scientists, and voters have rejected.
Berman has raised millions of dollars from companies, trade associations and individuals, but refuses to name them. According to the National Journal, the Employment Policies Institute was started “by a group of restaurant companies” that at the time (1995) got “95% of its budget from corporate sources—primarily restaurateurs and retailers.” Several years ago an unnamed former Berman employee revealed a list of Berman’s 2001-2002 corporate funders, including Coca-Cola, Cargill, Monsanto, Tyson Foods, Wendy’s, Outback Steakhouse and Applebee’s.
“We always have a knife in our teeth,” Berman has said, and his approach is “to shoot the messenger.” Restaurant industry spokespeople have praised his “outstanding work as an industry Doberman.” 60 Minutes called him “the booze and food industries’ weapon of mass destruction.” …
Berman is also counsel for the American Beverage Institute, which also fronts for the tobacco industry. …
Berman formed a group called Beverage Retailers Against Drunk Driving” (BRADD), a pro-social drinking group, in response to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). …
For several years, Berman has been fighting efforts by the voter registration/community organizing group ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) to raise the minimum wage at the state and federal levels. To assist with his efforts, Berman created a Web site, http://www.rottenacorn.com, slamming the group. Contact information on RottenACORN.com directs readers to the Employment Policies Institute, a Berman front group which shares the same address as Berman’s lobbying business, Berman & Company. …
As head of the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), a front group for the restaurant, tobacco, and alcohol industries, Berman has specialized in the no-holds-barred intimidation tactics pioneered by Big Tobacco. …
In an October 9, 1989 commentary for Nation’s Restaurant News, Berman opposed the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). He wrote, “The ADA in its present form will cost our industry untold millions in added construction and labor costs.” [Emphasis added.]
So, this is the kind of ‘work” for which Berman is known.
The real story is on Berman’s nonprofit tax returns.
The Biggest Elephant of All:
Berman Nonprofits Paying Berman
In the last several months, I have read at least 100 nonprofit tax returns. Nothing I have seen equals what I am about to write for its obviousness in corporate profits being funneled through nonprofits.
This is the 2011 990 for Berman’s CUF. Berman is listed as CUF’s president and executive director.
In 2011, CUF’s total revenue was $3.24 million.
In 2011, CUF’s highest paid “independent contractor” was Richard Berman and Company, Inc., to the tune of $870,182.
This is the 2011 990 for Berman’s American Beverage Institute (ABI). Berman is listed as president and general counsel-director.
In 2011, ABI’s total revenue was $1.76 million.
In 2011, ABI’s only “independent contractor” was Richard Berman and Company, Inc., to the tune of $1.35 million.
This is the 2011 990 for the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF). Berman is listed as president and executive director.
In 2011, CCF’s total revenue was $1.4 million.
In 2011, CCF’s highest paid “independent contractor” was Richard Berman and Company, Inc., to the tune of $1.3 million.
This is the 2011 990 for Berman’s Employment Policies Institute Foundation (EPIF). Berman is listed as president and executive director.
In 2011, EPIF’s total revenue was $1.6 million.
In 2011, EPIF’s highest paid “independent contractor” was Richard Berman and Company, Inc., to the tune of $1.1 million.
There is a fifth nonprofit that Berman runs, the Enterprise Freedom Action Committee (aka the Employment Freedom Action Committee) (EFAC). It is listed as the co-sponsor with CUF of the Labor Pains blog used to blast both Weingarten and now Ravitch (in defense of Weingarten).
EFAC’s 990 notes that EFAC “advocate[s] on behalf of employee choice in the workplace, in particular related to issues of union organizing, job growth and health care options.”
EFAC was quiet in 2011. According to its 2011 990, it produced only $322 in revenue. However, EFAC’s total revenue for 2008, 2009, and 2010 combined was $20.3 million, with most of it ($16 million) paid to Orion Precision Marketing Research (CT) for “media brokerage.”
Despite its virtually nonexistent revenue in 2011, Berman still managed to use EFAC to transfer nonprofit funds into his for-profit.
As the Charity Navigator notes,
During our analysis of this charity’s FYE 2011 Form 990, the document revealed that more than half of Enterprise Freedom Action Committee’s 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 $136,000, $82,000 were paid to Berman and Company. See relevant pages from the organization’s 2011 Form 990 filing via PDF files “EFACpage10” and “EFACscheduleLpage2” 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.
Affiliated nonprofits also have Donor Advisories including: Center for Consumer Freedom, American Beverage Institute, Employment Policies Institute Foundation and the Center for Union Facts. [Emphasis added.]
If Berman (aka CUF, ABI, CCF, EPIF and EFAC) thinks that his accusing Weingarten and, in turn, Ravitch absolves him of his own “elephant,” he either has had a partial lobotamy or believes that the American public has had one.
Berman is hooking for corporate. Evidently it pays quite well.
Ravitch, Weingarten, and PISA Math
Let us return to the accusations that secretly-corporate-financed CUF has levied against education historian Diane Ravitch in its December 17 entry.
The writers are well-paid, apparently; CUF spent $310,976 for 60 posts in 2011— an average of $5,183 per post.
Extended corporate hooking?
One of these well-compensated writers accuses Ravitch of “trying to portray herself as a rogue thinker.” No need to try. She is one. Most of Ravitch’s career found her agreeable to standardized testing and “accountability.” When she realized that her beliefs were not supported with empirical evidence, she forsook her beliefs— and lost long-established social connections in the process.
One connection that Ravitch retains involves her friendship with Weingarten. Thus, CUF attempts to portray Ravitch’s criticism of its lame ad as diminished in impact due to her friendship with Weingarten.
Perhaps Weingarten donated money to one or more of Ravitch’s nonprofits so that Ravitch might pay her own company, Ravitch and Company, for “advertising, research, lobbying, and accounting.”
No– wait– that’s Berman’s schtick.
Yes, Ravitch and Weingarten are friends. However, Weingarten and I are not friends. In fact, I have of late openly questioned Weingarten regarding her interactions with reform-promoting philanthropy. Nevertheless, in my post immediately following Ravitch’s post on Ravitch’s blog, I call CUF to account for their beyond-foolish ad on Weingarten and AFT.
Our CUF writer criticizes Ravitch for writing, “Our scores on PISA are not declining.”
Well, little amply-financed, attack blogger, you’re going to have to also criticize Number One Reform-minded Fan and Former Pro-basketball Player, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan:
In new tests comparing the educational performance of 15-year-olds worldwide, United States teenagers performed about average in reading and science, but below average in mathematics, a trend that has shown no major changes since the testing began in 2000.
Yet while US students were treading water since the tests were last given, their peers in several other countries surged past them, according to the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, conducted every three years. The 2012 results were released Tuesday.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the US results painted “a picture of educational stagnation,” while a range of critics decried the failure of US education policies. …
The list of those racing past the US included not only perennially strong competitors like Singapore and South Korea , but also Latvia, Australia, and Vietnam when compared with test results from three years earlier. …
Overall, the US had a “flat line” performance as other nations surged, said Secretary Duncan. “While we are seeing some encouraging progress on many important measures, the United States’ performance on the 2012 PISA is a picture of educational stagnation,” he said in a statement. “This is a reality at odds with our aspiration to have the best-educated, most competitive workforce in the world.” [Emphasis added.]
If other countries are “racing past the US,” how is it that CUF lays this to Weingarten’s account and not US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s account? After all, those below-average PISA math scores have been that way since 2000– which certainly does indicate “no decline” as Ravitch pointed out.
Shouldn’t responsibility for that “educational stagnation” fall on the head of the man who has been US Secretary of Education since January 2009?
Of course– Duncan is not the head of a teachers union….
As evidence of those “falling” PISA math scores, our CUF blogger cites this Education by the Numbers article— which he apparently did not bother to read:
Overall, the test score of the average US 15-year-old student hasn’t changed much in the past decade. PISA math scores for 2012 were 481, not that different from the 483 posted in 2003.
But that masks movement among different student groups. It turns out that the weakest 10 percent of US students have been steadily improving, gaining 11 points over the past decade. Meanwhile, the top two tiers of American students at the top 10th and top 25th of the nation are performing worse today than they did a decade ago, losing 7 points and 6 points respectively. [Emphasis added.]
If this CUF writer believes that the above movement of scores among subgroups is justification for merit pay, he should have read what comes next:
I wonder if the pressure on US teachers to bring as many students as possible up to some sort of arbitrary “proficient” level on state assessments is exacerbating the problem at the top. In order to maximize the number of students that can hit a minimum threshold, instruction inevitable gets directed down toward the students who are just below average to help prop them up. Meanwhile, advanced students are being asked to repeat the basics over and over again and aren’t being pushed. [Emphasis added.]
The very idea of grading teachers using test scores– the foundation of modern reform “merit pay” whereby “competent” (and compensated) teachers are those whose students meet some scoring threshold– drives teachers to focus on meeting test score thresholds. The so-called merit pay system promoted by the likes of CUF does not promote excellence, for it is rooted in competition and fear, not in collegiality and respect.
Strange that CUF does not focus on the amazing Asian city/country scores always at the top of PISA. I mean, isn’t CUF’s message that the US needs to be Number One internationally?
What is the “secret in the sauce” for those high Asian student PISA scores?
Mastering the art of taking tests:
“Asian countries do better than European and American schools because we are ‘examination hell’ countries,” said Koji Kato, a professor emeritus of education at Tokyo’s Sophia University. “There is more pressure to teach to the test. In my experience in working with teachers the situation is becoming worse and worse.” [Emphasis added.]
High PISA scores are not about quality education any more than Berman is about nonprofit benevolence.
PISA 2012: Evidence of Failed Reform
The 2012 US PISA scores are based upon scores from three states: Florida, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.
If CUF is dissatisfied with the 2012 US PISA results, it ought to focus its high-spending attention on the Father of Florida Education Reform: Jeb Bush.
Bush reforms have plagued Florida since Bush became governor in 1999. As such, Florida has been a key state in the corporate reform experiment: Charters, vouchers, online schools, teacher evaluation using student test scores, and school letter grades.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) even considers Bush’s Florida reforms as worthy of emulation and dissemination to states across our fine union. Even Bush himself campaigns on behalf of his reforms.
Florida has been “doing reform” for over a decade.
Wouldn’t it show on PISA?
I think it just might. Those lackluster 2012 PISA scores are a testament to the “efficacy” of Florida reforms.
When will the “Thanks, Jeb” ads begin?
Comedy, Thy Name Is Merit Pay
And now, for the merit pay scene associated with the three PISA testing states:
First, let us consider Florida merit pay: In April 2013, both the Florida House and Senate approved a merit pay plan. However, Florida Governor Rick Scott was adamant about an across-the-board raise for teachers.
I wonder where the CUF-sponsored “Thanks, Rick” ads are….
As one legislator points out, in Florida, an across-the-board raise ends up being “merit” (Florida teachers are graded in part using student test scores):
Said House Education Appropriations Chairman Erik Fresen, R-Miami, earlier in the day: “Regardless of how you look at it, [teacher raises] will have a methodology that ties the increases to merit,” said House Education Appropriations Chairman Erik Fresen, R-Miami. [Emphasis added.]
In the end, grading teachers using student scores (and having their livelihood tied to those scores) produces that “pay for performance” CUF desires.
Perhaps this will be the “magic” that saves the Bush-initiated reforms from future PISA embarrassment.
Next, as to merit pay in Connecticut, Ravitch alludes to New Haven as instituting merit pay. CUF writes that New Haven “doesn’t count” since the union was forced into the arrangement.
It’s still merit pay. And guess who is footing the bill?
Arne Duncan, to the tune of $53.4 million. And even though the “merit” part is tied to teacher evaluations, it is not tied to student standardized test results… which just goes to show that “merit” might not be defined in the way that CUF’s corporate reform sponsors want it to be.
As for the rest of Connecticut: Districts can opt for merit pay. However, such pay comes only as a single payment annually and is not pensionable.
Not so much glamor and gloss to that arrangement.
Perhaps a CUF “Thanks, Connecticut State Board of Education” post is in order.
Finally, regarding Massachusetts, they, too have a merit pay plan effective this year. The “merit” is a 3.5% pay increase before taxes.
In order for a teacher to earn a $5,183 bonus before taxes (i.e., the 2011 cost of producing a single CUF blog post), that teacher would need to already earn a salary of $148,085.71.
Yep. Massachusetts teachers are sure to do whatever it takes to garner that merit pay, which, in turn, is guaranteed to drive up future PISA scores.
Time to Wrap It Up
Our CUF blogger insists that Berman “wants to disassociate… teachers union from [a city’s] hard-working teachers.”
I’ll bet he does. In 2011 alone, Berman used his nonprofit CUF to pay his own company $870,182 for his services related to destroying collective bargaining.
Our CUF blogger calls Ravitch a “fabulist.”
Here’s a fable for you: Berman isn’t in it for the money. He’s just a nice guy who is truly interested in the working man.
Nonprofit director Berman paid his own company $4.7 million from his five nonprofit front groups in 2011 alone.
This little CUF blogger can sing about Ravitch’s friendship with Weingarten all that he likes. No matter how long and loud the song, it will never produce evidence of Ravitch whoring with corporate America in the name of any reform in order to siphon millions into her own company’s coffers.