Deng Wenping Succumbs to Silicosis

In the Summer 2005 issue of American Educator, we reported on an AFT delegation that traveled to Hong Kong and China to see how workers are faring. The delegation was especially concerned about workers in China's "free enterprise zones," areas where manufacturers are free to trample workers' rights by paying them little and compromising their health—sometimes with deadly consequences. Less than a year later, it is with great sadness that we provide this update: Deng Wenping, one of the six migrant workers suffering from silicosis that the AFT delegation met with, succumbed to the disease on January 5, 2006. He was only 36 years old and leaves behind his wife, Tang Manzhen, and two young children.

As our initial account of the workers' plight (which is available online at here) explained in greater detail, Wenping developed silicosis while working as a stone-cutter for the Perfect Gem and Pearl Manufacturing Company in Guangdong Province, China. According to Deadly Dust, a recent report by the China Labour Bulletin, there is now a silicosis epidemic among jewelry workers in Guangdong. Silicosis (like the better-known "black lung disease" that afflicts miners) is a form of pneumoconiosis, a disease that—despite being highly preventable—accounts for 80 percent of occupational illnesses in China.

In recounting Deng's struggle to receive adequate compensation from the company, Tang Man­zhen men­tioned that she and her husband had brought a lawsuit against the company. They finally won 230,000 yuan (about $28,000) in July 2005, but it barely covered the family's outstanding debts. Tang now works as a farmer in her home village, just as she and Deng did before they moved to Guangdong to work for Perfect Gem and Pearl Manufacturing. If not for support from charitable organizations in Hong Kong, her children would be unable to continue their schooling.

Deadly Dust is available online from the China Labour Bulletin. Visit

The Hurricanes May Have Passed, but the Need Hasn't

After hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma all struck the Gulf Coast in eight horrific weeks, images of destruction and despair were transmitted around the world. Among those uprooted and devastated were well over 10,000 AFT members in New Orleans and across the Gulf Coast. In October, the AFT's executive council voted to form a disaster relief fund to help members whose families, homes, and careers were torn apart by the hurricanes—and they were determined to make it the largest fundraising effort the AFT has ever taken on. Thousands of members' homes were severely damaged or destroyed. "My house needs to be gutted to the studs," says one AFT member from Louisiana. Another member from Mississippi barely escaped the flood waters that ruined her home. "[During Katrina] my husband and I … were forced to flee to our attic to escape the storm surge that flooded our home with eight feet of water. When the water receded, we were left with only the clothes on our back. All of our belongings and assets were gone."

Because of trouble with their insurance companies, some members are discovering that they've lost not only their houses, but also their life savings. According to John Tuepker, a history teacher at Long Beach High School and past president of the Long Beach Federation of Teachers, "The problem is that insurance companies are calling it a flood, and they are not honoring their hurricane insurance." Tuepker's home was just one of the 14 on his block that were completely destroyed, but he feels the pain of each one acutely—they were all owned by members of his extended family.

School custodian Jerome Troullier, from St. Tammany Parish, La., has taken matters into his own hands: He is trying to rebuild his home himself. "It's basically the same thing every day right now—wake up early, go to work, finish work, go do some repairs on the house, return to the motel late at night, and fall asleep. It's tiring, but it's what I have to do so my family can come back home."

These days, some might consider people like Troullier lucky—at least he still has his job as a custodian. Thousands of members no longer have a place of employment. As American Educator goes to press, roughly 7,500 employees of the New Orleans Public Schools were expecting termination notices.

The AFT Disaster Relief Fund is providing $500 grants to affected AFT members. Initially, it was estimated that 6,000 members would apply for disaster relief grants. In fact, over 10,000 members have applied. One member from Destin, Fla., who received a $500 grant, wrote, "Thank you.... It has been a great help. I lost everything.... Hopefully I will soon hear from FEMA about placing a trailer on my destroyed property. Before Katrina, I was a fifth-grade teacher at Hynes Elementary School." Another teacher from Jefferson Parish says "words cannot express the feeling of gratitude I had when I went to the mailbox and a check from the union was there.... It's good to know that somebody still cares for the teachers."

The AFT set an initial goal of $3 million for the fund, but it is now clear that meeting the members' needs will require closer to $5 million. The national AFT has pledged at least $1 million to the relief effort, and the New York State United Teachers has pledged to raise a minimum of $1 million as well. All other affiliates have been asked to raise a combined total of $1 million.

Of course, monetary assistance is not the only way the AFT is working to soften the hurricanes' blows. Members have donated their time, skills, and attention. In the days and weeks after Katrina hit, AFT members and staff worked in centers in Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Jackson, Mobile, and Texas to provide direct assistance to members. AFT Healthcare affiliates sent professionals to the Gulf Coast to assist the injured and ill. And the AFT formed the Mississippi Gulf Coast School Supplies Project to help schools replace supplies ruined by hurricane damage. Most of the supplies went to Pass Christian, Miss., where three of the four schools there were destroyed by the hurricane.

Please let your union colleagues know that they have not been forgotten. You can make a tax deductible contribution by sending a check payable to AFT Disaster Relief Fund, c/o Connie Cordovilla, 555 New Jersey Ave. N.W., Washington, DC 20001. Please include your name, address, e-mail, and local name/number with your check.

Conventional Wisdom Proves Wrong: Public Schools Outperform Private and Charter Schools

When key differences—like student demographics—are taken into account, do public schools perform as well as their private- and charter-school counterparts? That's the question Chris Lubienski and Sarah Theule Lubienski sought to answer in their recent report, Charter, Private, Public Schools and Academic Achievement: New Evidence from NAEP Mathematics Data. The following excerpts provide their key findings (the full report is available at

"Common wisdom ... holds that private schools achieve better academic results. Assumptions of the superiority of private-style organizational models are reflected in voucher and charter programs and in the choice provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act.... Market-oriented school choice reforms are premised on the idea that, by positioning parents as the driving force in the quest for quality, schools will be forced to improve when faced with competition from higher performing rivals.

However, new results from a study of a large, comprehensive dataset on U.S. student achievement seriously challenge assumptions of private school superiority.... Based on the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) mathematics exam, this analysis compares achievement in public, charter, and different types of private schools. [We chose to examine math achievement because when it is] compared with other subjects (like reading, for instance), math is more heavily influenced by school than home experiences, so studying math achievement provides clearer insights into the relative performance of different types of schools.... This new analysis ... employs advanced statistical techniques (hierarchical linear modeling) to study the relationship between school type and mathematics achievement while controlling for demographic differences in the populations served by the schools.

Major Findings

Without controlling for student background differences, private schools scored higher than noncharter public schools, as would be expected. However, this study examines these patterns further, determining whether they are due simply to the fact that higher proportions of disadvantaged students are enrolled in public schools.... Overall, the study demonstrates that demographic differences between students in public and private schools more than account for the relatively high raw scores of private schools. Indeed, after controlling for these differences, the presumably advantageous ‘private school effect' disappears, and even reverses in most cases....

To summarize the most important findings once demographic and location differences were controlled:

• Public schools significantly out-scored Catholic schools (by over 7 points in 4th grade, and almost 4 points in 8th grade).*

• Of all private school types studied, Lutheran schools performed the best. Fourth-grade scores in Lutheran schools were roughly 4 points lower than in comparable public schools, but were (a statistically insignificant) 1 point higher at the 8th grade.

• The fastest growing segment of the private school sector, conservative Christian schools, were also the lowest performing—trailing public schools by more than 10 points at grades 4 and 8.

• Charter schools scored a significant 4.4 points lower than non-charter public schools in 4th grade, but scored (a statistically insignificant) 2.4 points higher in 8th grade.

These notable findings regarding the remarkable performance of public schools are significant, not just statistically, but also in terms of their policy implications. The presumed panacea of private-style organizational models—the private-school advantage—is not supported by this comprehensive dataset on mathematics achievement. These data suggest significant reasons to be suspicious of claims of general failure in the public schools, and raise substantial questions regarding a basic premise of the current generation of school reforms based on mechanisms such as choice and competition drawn from the private sector."

*To interpret the disparities, consider a 10–11 point disparity as very roughly representing a difference of one grade level. (back to article)

American Educator, Spring 2006