Setting the Record Straight — Guest Blogging by Alex Medler, Bryan Hassel and Todd Ziebarth

We’re not going to turn Eduwonk into Speaker’s Corner, but now and then a little guest blogging can’t hurt and can probably liven things up from time to time.

So today, in that spirit, education analysts Alex Medler, Bryan Hassel, and Todd Ziebarth respond to what they, pretty understandably, think was a hatchet job review of their important new report on collective bargaining and charter schools. The report, produced by Education Commission of the States, was the focus of a PPI Friday forum a few weeks back which is why we’re happy to give them a little real estate here on Eduwonk.

Medler, a national charter school expert, runs Medler Consulting. He formerly directed the U.S. Department of Education’s Public Charter School Program. Hassel, also a national charter school expert and author and editor of several books on charter schools, runs Public Impact, a public policy consulting company. Ziebarth, (an expert too!) a longtime analyst for Education Commission of the States and director of their charter school work now works for Augenblick, Palaich and Associates.

So, Medler, Hassel, and Ziebarth…take it away…

The Center for Education Reform (CER) is a busy organization engaged in a lot of important work. Perhaps that explains why they didn’t have time to actually read our recent report about collective bargaining and charter schools before grossly misrepresenting it.

We expect, and in fact welcome, constructive criticism of the ideas in the report – which is entitled “Collective Bargaining and Teachers Unions in Charter Districts.” We are less welcoming, however, of criticism that greatly misstates the substance of the report as CER did in their June 15, 2004, Newswire.

Nowhere in our report do we predict that “future charter-school teachers will likely be union members who collectively bargain for rights, rather than the traditional charter school, which allows employment freedoms,” as CER writes. Likewise, nowhere do we conclude that “charter teachers will return to unions,” as CER also claims.

Here is what we actually said. States will (and should) continue to allow entities other than traditional school districts to grant charters. Such entities include independent boards, city councils, mayor’s offices, universities, colleges, nonprofit organizations, state boards of education and state commissioners of education. States will not (and should not) bind these systems of charter schools to collective bargaining agreements.

But more and more, school districts (like NYC) are becoming interested in chartering schools. For legal and political reasons, leaders in these districts often can’t completely sidestep union agreements when they create charter schools. If you don’t believe us, just ask the folks in Buffalo.

The most obvious and desirable solution, in our opinion, is to change state laws so that charter schools, including those chartered by districts, are not bound to collective bargaining agreements. But we’re not going to hold our breath waiting for that to happen. We wrote our paper to give leaders some viable options now for moving forward with chartering.

The heart of the report lays out policy options in the areas of work rules, compensation, job security and benefits. These options are primarily focused on creating autonomous and accountable schools that operated under significant exemptions from provisions of collective bargaining frameworks, while still helping these schools attract and keep great teachers within a competitive labor market.

Now, you may think that these ideas are rubbish. You may say charter schools that are still linked in any way to district and union structures aren’t “real” charter schools, and should be discouraged. We’re inclined to regard them as (potentially) important cracks in the mortar. With all the appropriate cautions and caveats, we think they can provide a way to create new options for children and teachers.

So let’s have that debate. But let’s base our conversation on the real issues, not the misrepresentations in the CER Newswire. Don’t take our word on all this, though. Read the report yourself. It is at the ECS website and you can get it here (PDF).

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