Monday, March 19, 2007

Charters Are Bad Places To Work


No Union.

Simple isn't it? Read this (full story here) and tell me that getting rid of unions is a good thing:

Administrators at a Los Angeles charter school forbade students from reciting a poem about civil rights icon Emmett Till during a Black History Month program recently, saying his story was unsuitable for an assembly of young children.

Teachers and students said the administration suggested that the Till case — in which the teenager was beaten to death in Mississippi after allegedly whistling at a white woman — was not fitting for a program intended to be celebratory, and that Till's actions could be viewed as sexual harassment.

The decision by Celerity Nascent Charter School leaders roiled the southwest Los Angeles campus and led to the firing of seventh-grade teacher Marisol Alba and math teacher Sean Strauss, who had signed one of several letters of protest written by the students.

The incident highlights the tenuous job security for mostly nonunion teachers in charter schools, (Italics mine - Ed.) which are publicly financed but independently run. California has more than 600 charter schools, and their ranks continue to swell. According to the California Teachers Assn., staff at fewer than 10% of charter schools are represented by unions.

"I never thought it would come to this," said Alba, who helped her students prepare the Till presentation, in which they were going to read a poem and lay flowers in a circle. "I thought the most that would happen to me [after the event was canceled] is that I'd get talked to and it would be turned into a learning and teaching experience."

School officials refused to discuss the particulars of the teachers' firings but said the issue highlights the difficulty of providing positive images for students who are often bombarded by negative cultural stereotypes.

Without a union you are nothing more than an "at will" employee, like a McDonald's fry cook.

There is a good discussion of this story going on over at Kevin Drum's place at the Washington Monthly (read it here). Here is an excerpt from Kevin:

...I was struck this morning by Megan McArdle's latest plea for liberals to support a voucher system:

Come over to our side, outline a voucher plan you'd accept, and as long as it doesn't include "all schools must employ union teachers under centrally negotiated contracts that protect seniority and outlandish grievance procedures", I'll sign on. Central testing? Fine. You want to make sure they serve organic seaweed salad in the lunchroom? If that's what it takes to get you and other liberals into the voucher camp, I'll agree to that too. Double spending per student, for all I care.

Now, I'll confess that my support for unions isn't the most full-throated you're going to find. Personally, I have a lot of sympathy for unionization efforts in low-wage service industries, a little bit less for old-line manufacturing unions, and less still for public sector unions. But even so, I find this remarkable.

Double spending per student, for all I care. Sure, sure, this is hyperbole, but even so it represents a pretty straightforward admission of what many of us have always suspected: voucher proposals are really just a stalking horse to bust teachers unions. It implicitly assumes that the biggest contributor to poor public education in America -- so big that it's worth literally anything to get rid of them -- is the existence of grievance procedures and seniority.

Unfortunately, there's no evidence to back this up. (Bold face mine - Ed.) Unions appear to have, at most, modest and variable effects on student outcomes. Even the most hostile reading of the evidence doesn't come anywhere close to suggesting that unions are the single biggest obstacle in the way of educating our children properly. And it doesn't come within light years of suggesting that it would be worth doubling spending to get rid of them. This is anti-unionism run wild. Hating teachers unions because they oppose policies you like is one thing, but hating them even if you get your favorite policies enacted is crazy.
Why would any sane professional educator tolerate the lack of unions?

Here's two things I think should happen regarding charters in Chicago:

1) Unionize all charters. I know that they can't become members of the CTU, but they can form their own union. Someone should call the AFT or the NEA and get field organizers out here on the double.


2) Redouble lobbying efforts in Springfield to get the law changed. I don't care if it takes years, if the school is operating in Chicago and is publicly financed, they should be union schools. There can be no compromise on this issue. Public financing = union schools.

I know I risk sounding like a broken record, but the CTU did tons more to make me a better teacher than CPS ever did (continual kudos to Lynn and the NTL gang and to the man who dedicated his career to making the Quest Center the finest - Dr. Allen Bearden).

In Chicago, the teachers union is a place where improving practice has long been a big part of what they do. The CTU is more than just grievances and seniority. CPS should know better.

And that is why CTU members oppose charters.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm not a fry cook at McDonald's, I'm a professional in a law firm and I'm an at-will most of Americans! Please teachers, get over yourself, you guys demand a raise every freakin' year, you don't fear firing even if your performance is sub-par and your employer has to let you get away with this. I think unions are bad for business. Let's extend the school day and make teachers work a full 8 hours a day like everyone else in corporate America..and tell you what, I'll let you keep your almost 3 months off per year!

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