In California, the new NEA leader Lily Eskelsen García is working to gather charter school teachers to unionize. HERE. She appears savvy and smart and gave an uplifting, firery introductory speech to teachers upon her election. As a retired member of the NEA, I wish her well.
But she has thus far claimed, like AFT’s president Randi Weingarten, that Common Core had a bad “roll out,” raising the eyebrows of those of us who question the CCSS for what it is and where it came from. And now, again, like Weingarten, she is embracing charter school teachers and selling them on the union in California.
Why is that a mistake? Charter schools were originally supposed to be for public school teachers, principals and parents to run. Based on teacher/administrator Ray Budde’s early 1970’s thesis and the support by AFT president Albert Shanker, teachers were supposed to start charters as learning laboratories to show their professionalism. The AFT even came up with a list of rules for charters.
Charter schools were to:
- Be tuition-free, not-for-profit, and open and accessible to all students on an equal basis.
- Operate transparently by fully disclosing their finances, curriculum, student demographics and academic outcomes to parents and the public.
- Meet or exceed the same academic standards and assessment requirements that apply to other public schools.
- Hire well-qualified teachers.
- Work cooperatively with local school districts.
- Permit their employees to freely form unions.
I know. Don’t fall out of your chairs.
But the charter school concept was usurped by the business crowd after Chris Whittle’s failed attempt to push for-profit Edison Schools on the public.
Apparently Albert Shanker saw this coming before he died, and he knew exactly what kind of train had left the station. Now charters are a mix of a few good ones, a lot of bad ones, and many that are run unnecessarily like military schools for the poor. Too often they are segregated.
After random drawings, reminiscent of the Hunger Games, parents sign off on rules and are usually counseled out if they have students with special needs, or require unique assistance with a second language. These actions should definitely remove the “public” from charter schools. The only thing really public about these schools are the public funds they siphon from true public schools.
So what is the union going to change about these schools if they get the charter teachers to join the union? Do they think they will recapture Ray Budde’s idea and the original charter school concept? Union leaders, it would seem, should admit to the stealing of that original concept. That old Ray Budde idea is long gone.
They should instead throw their mighty force behind traditional public schools which, thus far, have done better than charter schools. HERE.
They should not think they will somehow remake the charters by collecting members who teach in those schools. How many of those individuals are credentialed teachers? And thus far, with all the charter schools that exist, few have gone the union route.
By soliciting members from charter schools, and even unionizing those schools, they appear to give charter schools credibility. They are saying we can represent these schools and jump into the marketplace, competing with non-union charters. They ultimately won’t win that game.
For-profit charter schools are the end goal, and charter school corruption, where operators run away with millions without getting the job done, while being ignored by the mainstream media, is still a reality. Check HERE and HERE and HERE.
The unions should strongly oppose charter schools and not try to make friends with the teachers of those schools. Currently, charter schools are running real public schools out of town.
We all know that scenario: schools are intentionally not well-funded, test scores are unfairly used to cast the school as failed, and then a charter organization takes over. And when the traditional public school is shuttered, credentialed teachers lose their jobs and they are not rehired. That is when the Teach for America types takeover.
The teachers unions should not embrace Milton Freidman’s free market competition when it comes to public schools. They have tried before and it didn’t work. It muddies the waters and makes it look like educators have accepted business run schools. They put them in the same league as traditional public schools.
America does not need dueling schools. The original concept of public schools for all students is a fine one. Our public schools should be democratically run, and their doors should be open to all children. President García’s focus should be on reestablishing the credibility of traditional public schools, not recruiting members from a hodge-podge of charters.
Michael Paul Goldenberg says
Nancy, while I get where you’re coming from on this, I am not sure this issue is quite so black & white. If unions don’t reach out to charter school teachers, this will be used against them as further proof that they fear charters. And there is some reason to want to reach out to teachers at charters because, if nothing else, a lot of them are in fact fully certified and some, like me when I taught at charters, would very much prefer to be at regular public schools but can’t find work there.
And since the idea of charters is fairly well embedded in the minds of much of the public, why not turn the tables on the corporate douchebags and re-co-opt the idea? I still think the original idea of charter schools has a lot of merit. But TEACHERS have to be involved, along with parents, and (shudder!) kids, too.
Nancy Bailey says
Hi Michael, Thanks and I see your point. I guess I would argue that certified teachers like you and others would probably belong to the union already. I’m not sure how many charter schools still exist that are from that original model, or if any are started from that concept today. The ones I know of are started after schools are shuttered, and most of those involved are not really interested and even dislike the union. Many are from Teach for America.
But I know few things are black and white in education these days. I liked the original charter concept too. Take care.
David Roof says
I agree with the call you make on the danger of “legitimizing” charter schools, but the unfortunate reality is that they are not going away in the foreseeable future. Unions for these teachers will get the young inexperienced teachers at these institutions in the corner of unionized workers. This makes it more likely they will support the Union when they eventually move out to public schools. Also, the Union would fight as advocates for the students and educational needs like the pros that they are. I see Unionizing this segment as a net positive given the current and likely short to mid term reality of charter schools. Thanks for writing this blog and allowing my comment.
Nancy Bailey says
Sure, David! Thank you for your post. Please check my reply to Michael, but you bring up a point about the young teachers. I’m wondering if some are from Teach for America. I am very uncomfortable about creating two school systems and validating charters and TFA. Underneath all of it is the push to create for-profit schools with a cheaper workforce and I just think we should draw a line in the sand.
But you make valid points and as I said before, nothing is ever black and white. Thank you!
Jon Moscow says
I co-founded Amber Charter School in NYC for the Community Association of Progressive Dominicans (Asociacion Comunal de Dominicanos Progresistas) in 2000 because ACDP said, “If there are going to be charters, we should be the type of organization that should have one.” We became the first charter in NYC to voluntarily unionize, signing a contract with the UFT. I detest the bulk of the charter “industry” but it is clear that charters are not going away anytime soon. As a parent advocate who fought for my kids and others in the NYC BOE/DOE, I can not tell friends who are looking for schools that they should just trust the DOE to do the right thing for their kids. Many parents and teachers have started charters because they believe in the original 1960’s concept of “community control” not because they want hedge-funders running their lives. In NY, all the requirements listed in the article exist on paper, though people like Eva Moskowitz, with backing from Cuomo, violate them all the time. There is virtually no regulation except for demanding high test scores to the detriment of creativity. Teachers in charters need security, retirement plans, and a voice in decision-making. Unfortunately, the UFT has done a terrible job of reaching out and fighting to organize, to the detriment of charter teachers who have gone to them for support. There is no excuse for not organizing all charters!
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you, Jon. And congratulations having a good school. I know there are some good charter schools. But many are chain charters that are run by Teach for America types. I fear unionizing these schools, and also those who are not real teachers, will move us further toward the complete privatization of our schools. I wish there were a way to keep the good charters and get rid of those run without transparency. I differ from you in that I believe unionizing charter schools will be one more step towards complete privatization of public schools. That’s my concern.
I think you are saying there is no hope for a public school system. I’m saying I believe there is. Just because the DOE is failing now, doesn’t mean it could not work. I don’t believe our public schools were originally failing like we were led to believe.
I also would like to believe the old Ray Budde, Albert Shanker charter school concept meant for educators to run still has a place.