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Charter School Unions Make It Hard to “Fully Control the Teachers.”

May 5, 2018

The 74 co-founder Romy Drucker is in an uproar over teachers at charter schools choosing to unionize.

You might remember Drucker’s The 74 fellow co-founder, Campbell Brown, as founder of fabricated grass roots Partnership for Educational Justice, an organization that seeks parents fronts in order to create lawsuits against issues such as teacher due process.

As for the Drucker fit over charter teacher unions, that wasn’t supposed to happen. Charter school teachers were supposed to be at the complete mercy of the CEOs of their schools. They were to be at-will employees who could be fired without due process, who have no say over their workload, or the number of students in their classes, or the length of their work day, or whether they would have a moment to themselves for eating lunch.

If charter school teachers were valued by their employers, then it seems that their contentment would preclude their persisting in organizing. People do not persist in collective bargaining efforts unless they feel they have more to gain than to lose.

However, according to Drucker, charter school teachers in Chicago were passively manipulated into falling for the union’s wiles, and according to amply-funded ed-reformer, Peter Cunningham, those teachers should be under the “full control” of charter CEOs. From Drucker’s April 2018 Philanthropy Roundtable article:

In March 2017, a hundred [Chicago-based] Noble [charter school network] employees organized by activists delivered an open letter to Michael Milkie and the network’s board of directors, expressing an interest in unionizing all 800 of Noble’s educators. “We must be trusted to have a collective voice,” the letter read. Local Democratic politicians endorsed the organizing effort. The campaign was billed in news reports as an attempt to form “the nation’s largest charter teachers union.”

“It’s definitely a big deal,” says Chicago native Peter Cunningham, who worked in the U.S. Department of Education during the Obama administration. “Noble unequivocally has a culture of super hard work and high expectations. It’s hard to establish that culture when you don’t fully control the teachers and the schools.”

Drucker advises charter CEOs and their ed-reform donor backers to beware of dastardly unions trying to sabotage unsuspecting (and weaker) charter schools. However, she betrays the belief that the real power behind the charter school is its admin. As a result, Drucker disregards the possibility of a rift between admin trying to  “fully control” teachers (as corporate ed reform mouthpiece Cunningham advocates) and teachers who decide that there must be more to being a charter school teacher than falling lock-step into serving the interests of charter operator/CEO– interests that may well focus on fiscally “lean” teacher salaries/benefits while ignoring the well-being of the “fully controlled” teachers:

While unions view charter schools as mortal threats, charter advocates have mostly just ignored unions. Neither charter operators nor the movement’s broader advocates have paid any significant attention to this issue. They all point out that charter-school autonomy is the ultimate root of their success…. Publicly, many school operators say they are “neutral” on the idea of unionization.

There are several reasons for this. First, charter leaders run extremely lean operations, and most have been too busy founding schools and trying to get great results from their kids to focus on abstract long-term threats. Second, only a small subset of charter schools nationwide face any realistic threat of unionization in the near future…. Also, some charter schools face state or district laws that forbid them from resisting unions.

The end result has been a widespread “it won’t happen to me” mindset among charter-school leaders. With no one making counterarguments from the charter side, unions have owned the public messaging…. In the face of this, Noble’s experience has been described by one donor as “a wake-up call.”

I would be curious to see anti-union, charter-donor ads against unions. Perhaps they would resemble Walmart’s ridiculous, “I want to represent myself to my boss,” argument in the Walton anti-union spot in its employee orientation video.

So, what can proactive measures can union-threatened charter schools take in order to curb charter school teacher interest in unionizing?

Well, the first suggestion is one that respectable employers do anyway: Communicate with employees. Of course, the communication must result in teachers’ feeling heard– which means superficial, verbal appeasement isn’t enough– but Drucker doesn’t take her suggestion that far:

Some guidelines for charter-school leaders and donors are beginning to emerge from this effort:

School leaders should listen to and share information with staff. “Encourage healthy communication between school management and teachers,” urges Frank Baxter, [a prominent philanthropist of Los Angeles-based Alliance College-Ready Public Schools and founding board chair.] “Keep close to and listen to your staff.” [Attorney Michael] Sullivan agrees: “Be proactive about communicating with employees long before the union shows up. Communication is key.”

Next, if the union shows up, then distribute materials reminding charter teachers of what they have– but don’t remind them of what they don’t have, including not being heard in those superficial, “I hear you” info-sharing meetings:

And if you become the target of a unionizing campaign, provide teachers with ongoing factual information about the union’s proposals versus their own employment terms. Funders may want to offer to pay for staff and production costs of these communications.

Funders may want to pay for those one-way communications– without taking it so far as to advocate for two-way communications about working conditions.

Too, funders should “step up financial support” to “protect schools.” Drucker notes the financial strain on charter schools’ defending themselves against union attack, especially because charters receive “about 25 percent less in most places” than do their “neighborhood counterparts.” Note that part of the school choice message is that charters can do more for less (and doing more for less has been written into the charter expansion expectations of No Child Left Behind and its successor, the Every Student Succeeds Acts).

Note also that Drucker is not calling on funders to step up financial support for the charter teachers themselves. When it comes to charter teacher salaries, she’s keeping it “lean.”

Finally, Drucker suggests that when those disruptive unions show up (a disruption not seen as ed-reform friendly), charter schools need to circle their school choice wagons.

Share lessons across different regions, schools, and contexts. Philanthropists can help transfer knowledge and experience so that educators who fall into union crosshairs don’t have to reinvent the wheel in their own defense. …

Baxter also underscores the importance of solidarity across the charter sector. “It appears there is a national initiative on the part of the unions, and most of the donors are not aware that it’s coming to their city,” says Baxter. “There needs to be a national initiative.”

What we need is a charter-sector hotline to warn, “The unions are coming!” Once again, this idea does not address why unionization would appeal to charter school teachers: Low pay, long hours, limited or no involvement in school decision-making, insufficient class materials, unrealistic class sizes, hazardous work conditions.

Perhaps there needs to be a national initiative for those charter donors to skip over the charter admin and instead ask charter teachers, “What might we do for you to make joining a union unnecessary?” and actually act on those suggestions.

I know. It feels too teacher-empowering and not top-downish enough to be considered corporate ed reform. But I won’t tell.

apple ball and chain


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

  1. Jack permalink

    The 74’s ROMY DRUCKER:

    “School leaders should listen to and share information with staff. ‘Encourage healthy communication between school management and teachers,’ urges Frank Baxter, [a prominent philanthropist of Los Angeles-based Alliance College-Ready Public Schools and founding board chair.]

    ” ‘Keep close to and listen to your staff.’ ”

    x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x

    Apparently, Baxter & Col. didn’t listen enough, as the following dramatic sequence of events shows.

    Here’s a good pair of dueling articles about the attempted unionization of the Alliance charter schools — best read one after the other.

    The first piece: (from last week)

    a couple of quisling Alliance teachers, Daisy Jauregui and Cynthia Hacha, speaking the words given to them by their Alliance charter chain masters, attempt to …

    “Declare victory and withdraw from the field.”

    (They’re sort of like Saddam Hussein’s Information Minister during the 2003 invasion … as you’ll soon see.)

    In effect, they say, “We Alliance teachers don’t want a union. We think that UTLA is a bunch of creepy stalkers who are just annoying us, so please accept defeat and stay away from us.

    “We love our management, and they’re treating us just fine. We just LOVE being ‘fully controlled.’ Any teachers saying otherwise are just liars.

    “That’s the opinion of the overwhelming majority of our teachers, so just leave us the-f— alone!”

    Daisy and Cynthia make no mention that, during the last three years, the Alliance bosses raised and used $3 million in dark money (from Walmart Walton Family, Netflix Reed Hastings, the California Charter Schools Association, and elsewhere) which was then used to engage in the most vicious union-suppression imaginable — hiring the same group that Walmart uses to kill budding organizing efforts — against the teachers trying to unionize and that they had $2 million in pro-bono legal work in support of efforts to suppress unionization. (It’s also the same group that runs The 74.)

    (Wpw. they spent $3 million to stop unionization. Think about what could have been done with that money. Divide that $3,000,000 by 700 teachers, and you could give them a $4285.71 bonus — a one-time bonus, sure, but perhaps the Alliance teachers, knowing that Alliance leaders blew that money on efforts to crush budding unionization, were consequently or further influenced to support efforts to organize a union … as we’ll soon see.)

    Also, they’re trying to portray this as a UTLA-originated effort, when in fact, the Alliance teachers began organizing for two full years before asking UTLA to get involved, and that was after and because of some of the most vicious and underhanded tactics being employed against the pro-union Alliance teachers by the Alliance management.

    So I guess that’s the end of it. No teachers unions at the Alliance charter chain.

    The fat lady has sung.

    Ehhh … not so fast.

    The second piece:

    The very next day after the above article was posted on The 74 and its local L.A. affiliate L.A. SCHOOL REPORT, the Alliance teachers who have been attempting to organize a union — the ones who were supposedly wallowing in their hopeless failure, according to the above op-ed — put out a press release stating the COMPLETE AND EXACT OPPOSITE of the above op-ed.

    Indeed, they’ve organized 3 of the Alliance schools, with “a clear majority” of the 100 or so teachers at those schools submitting cards authorizing a union. That’s 1/7th (100 out of 700) of the total Alliance teachers.

    They further claim that “the rest of” Alliance schools and teachers will soon follow.

    Weird, wild stuff.

    (I bet those two quislings, Daisy Jauregui and Cynthia Hacha, sure feel stupid.

    It’s just a guess, but I’m guessing Daisy Jauregui and Cynthia Hacha are probably not going to be getting a lot of love in the teachers’ lounge — particularly as those substantial union-enabled improvements to Alliance teachers’ working conditions, salary, benefits, etc. take hold … improvements that Daisy and Cynthia tried to block through their craven collaboration with Alliance administrators. I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes in the years to come.)

    Here’s another good article on this:

  2. Michael Fiorillo permalink

    “… Control the teachers and the schools.”

    Despite their compulsive and strategic lying, so -called reformers occasionally let the truth slip out.

    Charter schools, and so-called reform in general, have never been about anything but money and power.

    • Jack permalink

      You omitted the crucial adverb “fully” as in “fully control the teachers.”

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