Say Anything! Updated: What We Can (Hopefully) Learn From The Buckeyes…

Over at Edwize Leo Casey is all upset with this statement from this post:

“…there are some really lousy charter schools in Ohio, but the teachers’ unions there are against all of them, lousy or good. And that’s too bad because there are ways to boost quality and provide more options for students and parents.”

Leo thinks this is unfair because he says the teachers’ unions in Ohio are only after the three low-performing charter schools at issue in the most recent lawsuits. Says Leo:

“Maybe we count differently here in New York City, but we have a hard time understanding how a law suit against three low performing charter schools — and there are a great many more low performing charter schools in Ohio than three — constitutes being “against all [charter schools], lousy and good.”

Great point Leo! It would, of course, be a better point if the teachers’ unions in Ohio had not, say, gone to court to try to have charter schools declared unconstitutional under the state constitution or supported a statewide moratorium on them. Oh yeah, they’re really big fans! And, if they are only after these schools, that will come as –not especially welcome –news to the union’s members out there…

Leo’s argument here is especially inexplicable because it was teachers’ union leaders in Ohio who were among the most vocally concerned about the innovative charter school initiative that Leo’s boss, UFT leader Randi Weingarten, launched in New York City. They don’t like charter schools. Leo obviously knows this so someone smarter than me will have to explain the point of his post.

Update: Leo responds saying there is no doubt the Ohio teachers’ unions have been vocal on the Ohio charter law. And then points out that it’s because the Ohio law wasn’t/isn’t very good. The response is illustrative for two reasons. First, it’s basically an acknowledgement that the original post was spurious. They are against the law, but with good reason says Leo now. But, he’s not all wrong about that part, see below.

More importantly, and more generally, his response shows the problem with how the teachers’ unions approach these issues right now. The Ohio law wasn’t very good (though it is thankfully getting better). Like too many states Ohio failed to heed the earlier experience of others states with charter schooling and incorporate those lessons into their law when it was first passed. To be fair, though it doesn’t excuse it, the lack of policy feedback is hardly unique to education policy. But, in Ohio, plenty of charter supporters were calling for improvements, too. Especially the better quality schools. Because, however, the teachers’ unions in Ohio were more interested in killing the charter law than fixing it*, it was difficult to put together a coalition to at once improve the law and deal with problems like White Hat Management because it was tough to cobble together a pro-charter, pro-quality, and pro-accountability center from which to build politically.

With a shift from the teachers’ unions from outright opposition to a serious pro-quality but honestly pro-charter stance the more renegade elements in the charter community would be marginalized and we’d end up with better policy all around. Basically, there is a split in the charter community around these quality and accountability issues that the teachers’ unions could exploit if they could make common cause with the pro-charter but pro-accountability/quality faction. The price of admission there, though, is (a) a genuine acceptance of real choice within the public sector and (b) ending the knee-jerk anti-union rhetoric because many/most of the folks in the quality/accountability faction are either supportive of or agnostic about teachers’ unions and all it does is sow dragons’ teeth by antagonizing younger, mostly Democratic, charter supporters who should be allies.

That’s not actually a huge lift and would much better position the unions in this debate. It presents a great opportunity for the teachers’ unions to step up and lead, get out from under some horrible public relations hits they keep taking, and recapture the mantle of progressive reformers that they once rightly held and also an opportunity for new leaders to emerge from their ranks to fight today’s fights, not yesterday’s. Choice is coming to public education, with or without the teachers’ unions. I personally hope it is ‘with’ because choice is not without some serious potential downsides that the unions can play an important role in mitigating. But how that plays out is mostly up to them.

*And would say so candidly behind the scenes as well as demonstrate publicly with their actions, Leo has to be one of the very last people in this debate concerned with keeping up fictitious appearances on all this, the Ohio unions were especially, and understandably, concerned with the optics of pushing back on charter schools in their state while a major AFT affiliate in New York was opening some. This was not some small matter inside the AFT, it was a big issue. But this is only tangential to the larger issues here.

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