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Unions Bet Future on Seducing Charter Teachers


Charter schools and teacher unions have so far tried to have as little to do with one another as possible, but there are signs that this is beginning to change. Burdened with long hours and comparatively low pay, some charter teachers are open to hearing what the unions have to say, and some of their employers have acquiesced to union organization efforts in their schools. The WSJ reports:

Here in Chicago, a branch of the American Federation of Teachers is looking to organize one of the nation’s largest nonprofit charter-school groups. Under an agreement last month, the United Neighborhood Organization, which runs 13 charter schools in the city, agreed to provide the union with contact information for its 400 teachers and to let union organizers meet with them on school grounds, even as the charter-school group didn’t take a position on whether the teachers should organize.…

Rima Juskys, a special-education teacher at UNO Rogers Park Charter School and a union member in her previous teaching job in a Chicago suburb, said she was “torn” about joining the union. She said UNO expects more of teachers than Chicago public schools do, and that teachers “push and do more for students.” But she added that because of tougher working conditions, “there’s a lot of worn-down teachers in charter schools, and that’s not good.”

A 2007–08 survey found that full-time teachers at traditional public schools made $9,000 more per year than charter teachers while working an hour and a half less per week. Charter school teachers who feel underpaid for the demanding work they do may find themselves attracted to the unions’ promises.

Charter school teachers should have the freedom to unionize, if that’s what they decide to do in free and fair elections. Unions have their problems, but if nothing else the threat of unionization helps keep management on its toes. There are going to be lots of different models for schools in the future; some schools will be run by large corporations on either a for profit or a nonprofit basis. Teachers employed by big companies may sensibly opt for union membership.

But the model we’d like to see more of is what we think of as a co-op school. We’d like to see teachers organizing and operating their own charter schools in accordance with their own educational ideas and building on their ties to the community and their reputations among parents and children for success. We think that teachers who have the responsibility for managing and operating their own schools will be better educators; they will be better equipped to prepare their students for a more entrepreneurial society.

Unions offer employees protection against employer abuse; the co-op model offers professionals the opportunity to run their own professional lives. We think that’s a better choice for teachers and students alike and hope that the school reform movement will pay more attention to promoting the creation of great schools run by great teachers.

[Chicago union strike image courtesy of]

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  • Corlyss Drinkard

    Unions are despicable rent-seekers. In this day and age, with a DoL and laws about working hours and conditions up the wazoo, there’s absolutely no need for them in the US or indeed the entire western world. For charter schools to even consider letting unions into their organizations spells the death of charter schools as a reform model.

  • qet

    One and a half hours per week more does not plausibly support a conclusion that charter school teachers are “worn-down” relative to their public school counterparts. Each model has a pole to which its exemplars gravitate. In public schools with a unionized teacher force, that model is the classic blue model Via Meadia is always on about (rightly, IMO). In charter schools with a non-unionized teacher force, it is being suggested that the pole is some kind of analog of an early 20th century Taylorized factory. I have my doubts, but it cannot be doubted that unionized charter schools will in short order become indistinguishable from unionized public schools. The co-op model urged by Via Meadia will evolve to resemble either a private law firm oor a private college. Co-op schools will come to emphasize profitability over professional satisfaction and work-life balance, and the same administrator-educator caste system currently plaguing private colleges will develop.

  • TheCynical1

    I like the Professor’s co-op model, although I speculate that not enough teachers are entrepreneurial enough to make it succeed on a large scale.

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