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Charters a Theme at the RA

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This morning, delegates approved an item to promote to affiliates NEA's policy on charter schools so that they can be more effective "in opposing funding for charter schools that do not meet NEA criteria for support." The criteria include the unionization of teachers in the schools, a phenomenon that's still relatively rare among the independent public schools.

This afternoon, they approved an item that called on NEA to oppose "any initiative to greatly expand the growth of charter schools."

Not terribly surprising given NEA's overall wariness about charters. But the context in which this is occurring is unique: President Obama and EdSec Duncan are pushing really hard on charters, arguably harder than the Bush administration or Republicans ever did.

With performance-based pay already of concern, I'm betting that NEA leaders want to avoid fights with the administration on charters. But they might not have that option. Delegates supporting the two items spoke with concern about the Obama administration's use of Race to the Top funding to pressure states to lift caps on charter schools. They did so despite Duncan's recent challenge to the charter community to better police its schools, which he reiterated to the RA just two days ago.

Yet even within the union, there were vocal minorities of NEA members who opposed these new items. Several delegates, especially those from Wisconsin with its dozens of unionized charters, voiced their concerns that putting further restrictions on NEA's policy around the independent public schools would prevent the union from effectively representing teachers in those schools.

And the union voted down a third charter amendment just about a half hour ago that would have organized a campaign to inform teachers and the public about charter schools' "funding, operational costs and salaries, curriculum, intrinsic problems, and corruption." Hmmm, it seems that language was too strong.

The debates revealed some interesting state-affiliation disagreements, too. All three of the charter resolutions were sponsored by Californians, where the state affiliate has been fairly hostile toward charters. That's set some folks from other states on edge.

"Much of the information you are providing to this body... is inaccurate," said a Wisconsin delegate about the charter resolutions. "This is the National Education Association, not the California Education Association. Please respect our national interests as educators."

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I am a retired teacher from California. A charter school is a public school that is operated independently. It provides teachers with the perfect opportunity to organize and run their own schools. It empowers teachers to provide the best possible education for students, to choose faculty, head teachers, and curricula. It provides teachers with the opportunity to make almost all decisions regarding instruction and everything else that affects their students. They will be able to spend money wisely and use some of it to hire art, music and PE teachers so there will be time for teachers to plan lessons and collaborate with one another. So unions and teachers had better take the lead with charter schools or they will be seriously left behind. Charter schools offer teachers the opportunity to be full professionals and for unions to expand their influence way beyond what it is now. The president of the United States is asking that teachers be "full partners" in educational reform.This is dramatically different than the broom sweep they're getting from other sources. I fervently hope they will not turn their backs on this golden opportunity.

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