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Teachers' Unions in Charter Schools

One of the reasons for the appeal of charter schools to corporate reformers is that the overwhelming majority of them do not have teachers' unions. But evidence is slowing mounting that young teachers in particular are ambivalent about the situation there ("Do charter schools need teachers unions?" The Hechinger Report, Dec. 25, 2014).

New Orleans, where nearly all public schools are charter schools, is a  case in point.  Teachers desire something between traditional tenure and their present at-will employment status.  They believe that arriving at a middle ground about this fundamental issue is the way to achieve the other objectives they desire.

I wish that were the case.  But it isn't.  Without reasonable job protection, teachers in the best charter schools will eventually find themselves powerless when push comes to shove.  I've written often that even teachers with exemplary records are vulnerable before autocratic principals.  I've cited time and again the situation at Brooklyn Technical High School in the New York City school district ("Principal's War Leads to a Teacher Exodus," The New York Times, Jan. 28, 2004).  

No matter what else that America Achieves and its variants offer in the way of a "teacher voice in charter schools," in the final analysis job security remains the No. 1 issue.  Try telling teachers who have been fired because a principal does not like them for one reason or another that they shouldn't feel bad because at least they had been given input while they were still employed.  The fact is that tenure exists for a good reason.  It guarantees due process rights.  Everything else is secondary.

I don't think that new teachers can possibly appreciate the rights they possess. I remember vividly the first teachers' strike I participated in as a member of United Teachers Los Angeles. It felt so alien.  But I marched with other teachers in my high school and in the Los Angeles Unified School District despite an empassioned plea by the district's superintendent that a strike would be "counterproductive." Teachers ignored his warning. As a result, teachers earned a voice. It was not given to us.

It will be most interesting to see how charter school teachers feel about teachers' unions in the years ahead.  I think they'll eventually realize their mistake. But by then it will be too late to alter the landscape.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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