Charter – Union Action (With Special Adverb Analysis!)

NYT reports on the apparent unionization of two KIPP charter schools in New York City.  I’m not familiar with all the details but on the larger implications two things in The Times story jump out.  

First, Jeanne Allen of the Center for Education Reform says that “A union contract is actually at odds with a charter school.”  “Actually” is the wrong word there.  The more accurate way to say that would be, “could be.”  Why?  Well one example is the unionized and highly sucessful Green Dot Public Schools, another is KIPP Bronx, which has been unionized for some time.  And there are others, good and bad.   What matters is what’s in the contract not unionization per se.   But, on the other hand, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten told the NYT  that, “We have often said that the charter school movement and unionization are things that can easily be harmonized.”   That would be a better encapsulation of the issue absent the word “easily.”   This charter-union conversation is a very important one for the field but it’s a challenging one for a variety of reasons.   It’ll be a lot of things but I don’t think easy is one of them.    

Want to know more?  A few years ago Paul Hill and I brought together union leaders and charter school leaders to discuss some of these issues.    This article (pdf) and this paper (pdf) summarize that work and some of the issues.  This book that Jane Hannaway and I did also looks at some of the issues as found the same thing as this new study from CRPE:  Namely that the issues are more complicated than they seem.

5 Replies to “Charter – Union Action (With Special Adverb Analysis!)”

  1. Interesting comment on Ezra Klein’s blog at American Prospect:

    KIPP Infinity is already technically a member of the UFT (though they don’t often admit unless it is convenient – like when we post high test scores – and they criticize us in their “newspaper” whenever they get a chance).

    The UFT called several teachers at KIPP Infinity a few months back to get us riled up to begin negotiating and to my knowledge, no one even cared enough to even call back (I certainly didn’t). Unionizing the “UFT way” wasn’t really an option for teachers who know what that bureaucratic nightmare entails.

    In addition, turnover is incredibly low (I don’t know a single person that has ever quit) at KIPP Infinity and for good reason – the culture and the leadership under Joe Negron are far better than any regular public school at which any of us has ever been employed.

    Our school already is technically part of the UFT (for purposes of health care and pension), though our only official commitments are to each other and the students, not to the UFT. We’ve never negotiated a legal contract with their assistance.

    I suspect that the UFT is employing a tactic here to get the conversation started and push for KIPP’s inclusion in the UFT so they can claim that somehow unionization is responsible for our success.

    In order to do that, they will dishonestly use the fact that we USE the UFT for the health/pension benefits (a decision made in 2005 by the then large staff of 5, mind you) as if we have expressed in 2009 a supermajority desire to negotiate a contract.

    Posted by: Teacher at KIPP Infinity | January 13, 2009 11:01 PM

  2. Whatever the incompatibilities are between charter schools generally and unionization, KIPP schools are really sort of a special case. A lot of charter schools are quite traditional in terms of the demands they make of staff and so could probably unionize easily enough. KIPP is, to say the least, non-traditional.

  3. The big difference is that the public sector does not have to rely on serving customers. Union and management of a charter school can team up to get more tax money. In other words, both can transfer the rising costs onto the powerless taxpayer without any loss. In many ways, charter schools with unions are a refined corporatism. Mussolini would be proud.

  4. I am wondering if anyone has any information in to the UFT’s opening and running of two charter schools-an elementary and a high school in Brooklyn, I believe(the high school is looking for a new leader, btw) It seems to me, in many ways, that a Union Charter School would be a valuable petri dish experiment in creating a new type/model of teacher’s contract that would model contracts in other charters.

  5. I appreciated the link to both studies, and the best part of the discussion by you and Paul Hill is your account of metaphors and language that stand in the way of discussions. In my experience in the Bible Belt, the issue that bothers most teachers about charters is 1st Amendment issues. My concern is less Church and State but respecting the principles of free speech and thought. It bothered me that Hill has spoken up for the idea that teachers must pass the litmus test – saying that “expectations” are enough to overcome home problems. If you or Hill had any idea of what I, for instance, have learned in the last eight days alone about the NEW problems my students are bringing from home, I’d hope you would consider.

    If charters want to address the toughest problems in NEIGHBORHOOD secondary schools, they need the wisdom of veteran teachers and they shouldn’t even think about placing any sort of ideological restrictions on their teachers, and I don’t see how that is possible over the long run without unions.

    Obviously, I won’t be specific, but the discussion of language is a timely because of situations in the politics of my school. Please don’t close your mind when I raise this suggestion about language. If we want to work together, then FOR THE SAKE OF POLITENESS, we should retire the word, “expectations.” In my experience, that word is primarily used to a) end all discussions/debate, and b) challenge the integrity of teachers who believe that curriculum-driven solutions are inherently inadequate for the complex ecosystems of high poverty neighborhood secondary schools.

    You don’t have to agree but surely you recognize that a) many teachers (like me) are intensely angered by the way that term is used, and b) many other teachers are angered by the anger that we express. You don’t have to agree that we are right, but you should be willing to find a word that is less offensive to us. And, I think it would help people who hold to your school of thought to rethink your vocabulary and find terms that are less over-reaching.

    Again, I don’t want to play “the teacher card,” which I know offends some, but I have more students on IEPs in one regular class than all of the selective charter schools in our district combined! At any given time, I have 150 students, but I’ve already served more than that number who have transferred in and out. If you take a close look at the realities in neighborhood schools, I’d hope you would realize that our challenge is far greater than faced by KIPP or other charters that try to not cream. I am not questioning their great work, but I’m questioning whether they understand how many other factors are in play and how much they need the knowledge of the veterans of the really hardcore challenges.

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