Category Archives: Teachers Unions

10 Truths About Charter School Legislation Charter School Opponents in Kentucky Don’t Want You to Know

The Kentucky General Assembly is carefully considering passage of the state’s first charter school law, and some parts of the traditional public school establishment are in a state of panic. In that panic, lots of half-truths and misinformation are being spread. Here are 10 thing you need to know about public charter schools and House Bill 520, the bill that would bring charters to Kentucky.

  1. Kentuckians want additional public school options.  Polling data from national and local groups including the Kentucky Charter Schools Association, the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and Americans for Prosperity (AFP) show that the vast majority of Kentuckians are (a) supportive of public charter schools, and (b) want additional public school options for students in Kentucky.
  2. All charter schools are public schools. Public schools are public because they are open to the public, cannot charge tuition, are funded by tax dollars, and are accountable to the public. Just like traditional public schools, all charter schools meet these criteria. Charter school opponents like to argue that charter schools are not public because they are permitted to contact with private education management organizations (EMOs). What they fail to acknowledge, however, is that traditional public schools can and do contract with EMOs as well. In fact, the state education agency in MD and local public school districts across the U.S. have enjoyed successful contractual partnership with Edison Learning, Inc., a for-profit EMO. The MD State Department of Education contracted with Edison Learning to manage five persistently low performing schools in Baltimore. Similarly, the Peioria (IL) District 150 contracted with Edison Learning to provide school turnaround services over a five year period. Just as with public charters that contract for services, these schools in MD and IL remained public schools.
  3. Because public charter schools are schools of choice, no students would be assigned to them.  If a parent likes the school her child attends, she would keep her child at that  school. The only students who would attend public charter schools would be those students whose parents believe they would be better served at a public charter. If no students choose to attend the public charter school, the school would not receive public funding and would have to close.
  4. Parents don’t take their children out of schools that are serving their children well. School districts that are meeting the needs of their students have no reason to be fearful of public charter schools. It’s the rare parent who dis-enrolls her child from a school she and her child are happy with just to try something new. On the other hand, school districts that know they are failing to meet the needs of some or all of their students should be in a panic about the healthy competition public charter schools may bring to their communities.
  5. Public education funds are allocated for students; not for local school districts. The argument that charter schools will take funding away from traditional public schools makes no sense. Public education funds would continue to follow students to whatever public schools they attend, regardless of whether that school is a traditional public school or a public charter school. What is absurd is the argument that a local school district is entitled to public funds allocated for a child who no longer attends a school in that district.
  6. Public charter schools inject competition into public schooling, forcing local school districts to work harder to meet the needs of low income students. Local school districts have always had to compete to keep middle income students in their districts. Superintendents and school board members know that middle class parents dissatisfied with public schools will move to another school district or pay tuition for their children to attend a private or parochial school. But regardless of how dissatisfied low income parents are, school districts could typically count on the public dollars that follow low income students to their districts. Why? Because low income parents don’t often have the means to relocate to a school district that better meets the needs of their kids. Public charter schools give low income families additional public school options, forcing school districts to work harder to retain those students and their accompanying state and federal dollars in their districts.
  7. House Bill 520 would make local school boards the only charter school authorizers across most of the state. Only in Lexington and Louisville would mayors also be permitted to authorize and oversee public charter schools.
  8. Kentucky’s traditional public schools need lots of help meeting the learning needs of low income students and students of color. While Kentucky’s public schools have made tremendous progress since the early 1990s, the academic performance of these low income students across the state remains incredibly low. The approaches we have tried in the past and what we are currently doing is not meeting the learning needs of these students. It’s time to try some different approaches.
  9. House Bill 520 would hold public charter schools to higher standards of academic performance accountability than traditional public schools in Kentucky. In addition to public charter schools’ required participation in the state assessment and accountability system, Kentucky charters would be held accountable to performance standards articulated in their charter contracts. Charters that fail to meet or make significant progress toward meeting those goals could be shut down by their authorizer (local school boards or mayor’s offices in Louisville and Lexington only).
  10. Teachers unions’ opposition to public charter schools is about job security for adults, not what’s best for kids. No teachers would be assigned to or required to teach at public charter schools. The only teachers who would teach at a Kentucky charter are those who apply to teacher there. Still, groups like the Kentucky Education Association (KEA) oppose HB 520 because (a) Kentucky charter teachers would be less likely to be dues-paying members of KEA; (b) charter school teachers would be held to higher standards of performance accountability and could be terminated if they fail to meet performance standards; and (c) existing collective bargaining agreements between teachers unions and local school districts would not apply to public charter school teachers.

 

 

All Parents Like School Choice, For Their Own Children

I haven’t had the opportunity as of yet to meet a parent who would would prefer to not have school options available for their children. To be clear, I run into parents in Kentucky and across the nation regularly who argue, fight against, and curse charter schools and the expansion of other school choice policy measures, but these parents are fighting to stop the expansion of school choice for other people’s children, not their own. Even the most die-hard charter school opponent will usually tell me, without recognizing the irony, how he or she carefully selected a neighborhood, used social and political connections, negotiated as part of an employment contract, or pay tuition at a private school in order to choose the best schools for their children. And what is implied in our conversation is that they believe their middle class and/or professional status qualifies them to be able to exercise school choice.

I don’t know of an American parent who doesn’t want at least a few school options available to their kids, and you likely don’t know one either. So why are charter schools and school choice so controversial if everyone wants it for their own kids? Simple. Some of us continue to put adults and adult organizations above the needs and best interests of children.

Opposition to charter schools and school choice is usually about adults: adults’ jobs and job security; enrollment and financial stability of traditional public school districts; teachers unions and their membership rolls, dues, and collective bargaining agreements; etc. That’s the stuff that makes charter schools and school choice controversial: stability, security, and power for adults and adult organizations.

So what if traditional public school districts can’t keep up with parent and student demand for increased specialization in academic, arts, and career pathways as evidenced by ridiculously long waiting lists at the limited number of programs offered… So what if traditional public school districts have proven to be ill-equipped to meet the diverse needs of learners… So what if the instructional approach used at a particular school is simply not appropriate for engaging and/or meeting the academic needs of a whole population of students… So what if less than a quarter of the kids in a school district who qualify for free or reduced price meals meet the mark of being proficient or distinguished on state standardized examinations in reading and mathematics… That’s just how the cookie crumbles, right? Teachers unions have to fill membership rolls and collect dues. School districts can’t take the chance of parents opting to send their kids to a non-district run public school because the district is counting on the dollars the state sends for their kid (whether the district serves the kid well or not). So no, we can’t afford to deal with this school choice nonsense because the adult business of school is not set up for parents to be able to choose.

It turns out it’s not ‘all about kids’ after all, is it?

Teachers Unions’ Opposition to Teacher Tenure and Layoff Reform Hurts Children

The California General Assembly’s stalemate on whether to change state laws regarding teacher tenure and layoffs highlights a major barrier to improving education for America’s most vulernable children. Once again, a legislative effort failed which would have made commonsense reforms to state laws regarding teacher tenure and layoffs. This year’s effort, Assembly Bill 934, would have (a) extended the the number of years school administrators have to evaluate teachers before teachers are granted the protections of teacher tenure, (b) created an expedited process for terminating teachers deemed to be ineffective after receiving additional professional support, and (c) allowed teachers’ job performance evaluations to be considered when making layoff decisions (instead of only considering teachers’ seniority). Once again, strong opposition from California’s teachers unions resulted in the reform effort going nowhere.

The California teachers unions’ resistance to common sense reforms is beyond disappointing. If you care about improving the quality of education for our nation’s most vulneralbe children, their resistance to these reforms ought to make you angry. These are commonsense reforms that would help to ensure that only the highest quality teachers are in California’s classrooms. There is no legitimate rationale for resisting efforts to ensure that administrators have ample time to evaluate the performance of teachers before granting them tenure. There is no legitimate rationale for opposing efforts to make it easier for administrators to remove teachers who are ineffective in the classroom. Neither is there a legitimate rationale for resisting changes that would allow teachers’ performance to factor into layoff decisions. Teachers unions’ resistance to these reforms ought to make it very clear that their intentions are to protect all teachers’ jobs regardless of whether those teachers are effective, because even ineffective teachers pay union dues. Nevermind the negative impact ineffective teachers have on the learning of their students. The tragedy is compounded when you consider that ineffective teachers are most likely to be in classrooms with children who need high quality teachers the most.

This legislative stalemate in California directly affects children in California’s schools. But the opposition of teachers unions across the country to similar reforms results in ineffective teachers remaining in high needs classrooms everywhere. California’s Supreme Court will eventually make a ruling on whether such language in unions’ collective bargaining agreements is legal in California, but whether the provisions of collective bargaining agreements are legal or not, protecting teachers we know to be ineffective is unethical and antithetical to what teachers unions say they are about. It’s time for all Americans, but effective teachers particularly, to take a stand against teachers unions’ insistance on protecting ineffective teachers.

All Teachers Are Not Underpaid

A recent Brookings analysis makes the assertion that American teachers are underpaid. That blanket assertion, however, is untrue.

The Brookings analysis compares teacher pay in the United States to teacher pay in other OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) nations. The truth uncovered by the analysis is that compared to other OECD nations, American teachers, on average, are paid less than teachers in other nations. The author makes pointed comparisons to Finland, whose teacher pay is still less than the OECD average, but significantly higher than the U.S.

But before you join in singing the sad song of the poor, underpaid teachers, consider the following:

  • To put the international pay comparisons into context, comparing teachers from nation to nation is not comparing apples to apples. For example, as noted by the Brookings author, the teaching profession in Finland is much more prestigious than in the United States. That additional prestige factor in Finland contributes to a dynamic where college education majors are among the most highly academically capable students in higher education. In fact, the teaching profession is so prestigious in Finland that competetion for teacher education slots leaves even highly capable applicants on the outside looking in. Compare that now to the reality in the United States, where those accepted into teacher preparation programs across the country (including in my home state of Kentucky) post some of the weaker academic credentials of undergraduate students. There is no scenario in the United States where highly academically capable students can’t break into the teaching profession. While, of course, some of our teachers and students training to be teachers are among the academically brightest of their classes, that unfortunately is not the norm. In fact, it’s not uncommon to hear from college education major or those considering an education degree, that they are considering or have selected teaching as a career path because their first and/or second choices proved to be too academically rigorous.
  • Second, consider that in the U.S., there is tremendous variation in what teachers are paid; variation that a mean or median national salary wouldn’t account for. Within the same state (Kentucky), a beginning certied teacher with a bachelors degree and no experience earns a 9-month base salary of $35,493 in Carlisle County Schools, and $41,756 in Jefferson County Public Schools (Louisville); that’s a difference of $6,293 a year. The difference is even more stark for later career teachers. A certified teacher with 20 years of experience and a doctorate would earn $55,290 a year in Carlisle County, but would earn a 9-month base salary of $83,199 in Jefferson County; that’s a difference of $27,909 a year. That difference in salaries highlights just how problematic it is to say that all teachers in the U.S., or even all teachers in Kentucky, are underpaid.
  • Further, consider that teacher pay in most U.S. schools is still based completely on teachers’ education and years of experience; not their effectiveness. Teachers unions in the U.S. have been incredibly resistant to reforms that would differentiate teachers’ pay based on effectiveness and/or their students’ performance. Teachers unions have consistently argued that teachers should earn the same amount in a school district regardless of what they teach and how effective they are. They contend that only teachers’ level of education and years of experience should be considered in setting teachers’ pay.

The Brookings analysis author makes the observation that increasing teacher pay could result in the profession becoming more attractive to persons who would not have otherwise considered teaching as a profession. I agree. But I completely reject the idea that there should be any across the board increases to teacher pay without reform in the areas I have highlighted here.

Kentucky: Any Charter School Law Just Won’t Do

With Kentucky’s election of conservative Republican Governor Matt Bevin, who included school choice as a part of his campaign platform, and Democrats coming closer by the day to losing control of the state House of Representatives, discussion of the passage of a charter school law in Kentucky has picked up significantly. In fact, I have never heard more discussion of what many education policy movers, shakers, and watchers are saying is the inevitable emergence of public charter schools in Kentucky. As a longtime advocate for the passage of strong public charter school legislation in Kentucky, I greet that conversation with cautious optimism.

It is true that the support of Governor Bevin, the support of newly appointed Education and Workforce Cabinet Secretary Hal Heiner, and shaky control of the state House by Democrats, all contribute to a political environment in Kentucky that could be ripe for the passage of a strong charter school law. But even with a more favorable political environment, advocates for high quality charter schools should be more insistent than ever that Kentucky’s lawmakers get charter school legislation right. We have learned from other states successes and challeng

es that the details of charter school legislation matter tremendously.It is the provisions of the statute that set the framework what charter schools in a state will eventually become. Unfortunately, I believe the inclination of some educational leaders and lawmakers in Kentucky is to try to pass a charter school law that is most palatable to the traditional public education establishment, rather than passing a law that gives charter schools in Kentucky the greatest opportunity to be successful. Rather than putting first the academic well-being of children who will be served by Kentucky’s charter schools, I fear that some lawmakers find it preferable to please district and state-level education leaders and the organizations they represent. Make no mistake about it, the interests of children and the interests of education organizations are not always one in the same.

I have gone on record previously and I do so again in saying that I will not advocate for the passage of a weak charter school law. A charter school law in Kentucky that leads to the creation of no high quality public charter schools, or worse, leads to persistently low achieving public charter schools, would do more harm to children than good. As such, Kentucky would be better served by forgoing the passage of a weak charter school law, and having no charter school law at all.

There are many elements of a strong charter school law to be decided on, but there are a few essential elements that must be a part of Kentucky’s charter school law if it is to lead to successful public charter schools. Based on research, the successes and failures of other states, and good old fashion common sense, here are a few of those essential elements:

  • Multiple Paths to Authorization. Kentucky’s charter school law must include more than one path to authorization for schools. Local school districts may serve as one of the charter authorizers, but groups applying for a charter must have at least one additional path to apply for charter authorization. Others states have experienced success with additional routes to charter authorization through independent charter school commissions, state boards of education, state commissioners or superintendents of education, city governments, and state-supported universities. All of these options should be considered in Kentucky. Providing charter schools with only one route to authorization through local school districts would leave the establishment and success of charters schools in Kentucky solely in the hands of organizations that have opposed the passage of charter school legislation.
  • Academic Accountability. Kentucky’s charter school law must hold charter schools to the highest standards of academic performance accountability. Authorizers must be held accountable for granting charters only to groups that have a comprehensive plan for the success of the school. Authorizers must be held accountable for monitoring the academic performance of charter schools in their charge, intervening when needed, and not renewing or revoking schools’ charters when necessary. Public charter schools in Kentucky cannot be allowed to fail children and families year after year, generation after generation, as some of our traditional public schools have.
  • Collective Bargaining. Kentucky’s charter schools must not be bound by collective bargaining agreements between teachers unions and local school districts. The provisions of such agreements limit the human resources autonomy of administrators in some of Kentucky’s traditional public schools. Specifically, provisions of such collective bargaining greatly limit school administrators’ ability to recruit, hire, supervise, evaluate, and if need be, terminate school personnel. As the charter school concept is based on providing schools with greater autonomy in exchange for higher levels of academic accountability, binding public charter schools with those restrictions would be counterproductive. A charter school law would not and could not, however, prevent teachers at Kentucky charter schools from forming their own unions if they so chose and collectively bargaining with their schools.
  • Funding Equity. Kentucky’s public charter schools must receive funding that is equitable to traditional public schools. Public charter schools in some states have been crippled by receiving as little as half the per pupil dollar amount that would be allocated for a child attending a traditional public school. Such funding inequity would be unacceptable in a charter school law in Kentucky. Funding for public charter schools should be allocated in the same manner that funding for traditional public schools is allocated, on a per pupil basis. For every child whose parent chooses to enroll her in a public charter school, the same state, local, and federal dollars that would follow her to a district school should follow her to a public charter school.

The Washington State Supreme Court’s Charter School Ruling: What it Means and What it Doesn’t

If you have paid much attention to school choice news from across the country, you’ve heard that the Washington State Supreme Court delivered a monumental ruling on September 4th regarding the state’s new charter school law. In a 6-3 decision, the state’s high court ruled that the state’s charter school law (Proposition I-1240) violates the Washington State Constitution. At issue was whether charter schools in Washington may be characterized as “common schools”. This is important in Washington because the state’s constitution requires that state public school funding only be used to support common schools. In its decision, the Court deemed that because the boards of Washington’s charter schools are appointed and not elected, they may not be considered common schools, and thus are ineligible to be funded by common school funding.  

Forty-two states and the District of Columbia now have charter schools in operation. The nation’s first charter school law was passed in Minnesota in 1991. The Washington Supreme Court’s ruling marked the first time a state court has found charter school funding be be in violation of a state constitution. So as you can imagine, the ruling has sent shock waves through the charter school and school choice communities, not only in Washington, but across the United States.

What Does the Future Hold for Charter Schools in Washington State?

While charter school advocates and parents of children attending the new charter schools in Washington are working around the clock to save their new schools, in the short term, the likelihood of saving them is slim. While fundraising efforts of charter school supporters in Washington and nationally have been valiant, it”s not likely to be enough. Further, if the schools are not tax-payer funded, in my estimation at least, they may no longer be considered to be public schools.

There is no appeal’s process for the court’s decision. The Washington Supreme Court has spoken and their word is final. Just as with the U.S. Supreme Court and matters relating to the U.S. Constitution, the Washington Supreme Court is as far as it goes in Washington. In short, the Washington state constitution says what the Washington Supreme Court says it says.

All is not lost, however; at least not in the long term. Charter school advocates in Washington intend to revisit the state’s law. The Washington Supreme Court’s ruling was that charter schools in the state cannot be considered common schools because their boards are appointed and not elected. Charter advocates are now gearing up for another ballot initiative (Washington’s charter school law came as the result of a ballot initiative) which would amend the law to have charter schools boards as elected rather than appointed. Such a change would likely/maybe/possibly satisfy the Washington Supreme Court. As we saw with this case, however, the Washington Education Association is an extremely formidable foe for charter school advocates. We’ll just have to see what happens.

Implications for Charter Schools Across the U.S.

Outside of Washington state, education leaders, and policymakers, and parents are asking what the implications of the Washington Supreme Court’s decision might be for charter school policy and charter schools in other states. While the Washington state ruling does not apply to charter schools or charter school laws in other states, I do expect to see teachers unions lead (with renewed vigor) campaigns in other states to challenge the constitutionality of charter schools. My guess is the vast majority of those efforts will be unsuccessful, but there is definitely the possibility of success in some places. Charter school laws are different from state to state, and state constitutions have different provisions from state to state. Further complicating the issue is the reality that state courts have different political leanings from state to state; some which lean Right and tend to be more supportive of choice policies, and some which lean Left and tend to be much less supportive of school choice policy.

In short, the Washington ruling doesn’t signal the beginning of the end for charter schools in the U.S. As I’ve said many times and in many places before, charter schooling is now a permanent fixture of the public education landscape in the U.S. The ruling does, however, highlight a potential strategy for charter school opponents in other states. The politics of school choice has always been interesting, and it promises to remain that way.

Teaching Today: Change is Afoot

DSC00329Teaching today is a much different profession than it was 30 years ago. Truthfully, it is significantly different from what it was nearly 15 years ago when I became a teacher. And the profession is likely to change even more in the next five to ten years. While some veteran teachers argue that many of the current changes to teaching are unspeakable, I am convinced that much of the reform to teaching is for the best (best for children, that is). Here are just a few areas where the teaching profession today and moving forward is significantly different from what it was just a generation ago.

  • Job Security Fewer teachers today, and most likely even future teachers going forward, will enjoy the degree of job security that teachers in previous eras enjoyed. A high degree of job security has certainly made teaching attractive for some. The reality of the profession has been that regardless of whether a teacher is effective, he can usually manage to find and keep a teaching job somewhere (often teaching our most vulnerable children). That era, however, is coming to an end. For many teachers today and most teachers tomorrow, job security will be dependent on their effectiveness. Teachers who cannot demonstrate their effectiveness, through their students’ performance on standardized examinations, will find themselves struggling to keep their jobs.
  • Seniority For generations, more senior teachers have enjoyed the privileges of having first dibs on ‘choice’ teaching assignments and greater protection during reductions in force (RIF). During RIFs it has been customary for teachers last hired to be the first ones let go, while teachers with seniority have been protected; a practice commonly known as LIFO (Last In, First Out). While LIFO and other teacher seniority provisions remain a part of some teachers’ collective bargaining agreements, such provisions are becoming less common. And in cases where seniority provisions haven’t been completely negotiated away by school districts, seniority privileges are being curtailed, giving district and school level administrators greater discretion in teacher hiring and retention. It will soon be the norm in public school districts that teachers’ hiring, retention, and transfer will be based on their effectiveness, not their seniority.
  • Teacher Salary Public school teachers’ salaries have long been determined by their years of teaching experience and their level of education (bachelors, masters, doctoral degrees). In such systems, all teachers with five years of experience and a masters degree would have the same base salary, regardless of their effectiveness. But teacher pay is now being reconsidered. Policy makers, researchers, and educational leaders are questioning whether current teacher salary models makes sense in the current era of performance-based accountability. States, school districts, and charter schools are now experimenting with different approaches to teacher pay including merit pay, performance pay, performance bonuses, differentiated pay by subject area, and market-based salaries. Aspiring teachers and teachers who are relatively early in their careers should expect that in the near future their pay will be be at least in part based on their effectiveness (as measured by their students’ performance on standardized examinations).
  • Teacher Leadership While teachers have always been called on to lead in various capacities, teachers are now being asked to take on school-level leadership roles like never before. Much of the change in the expectation that teachers lead may be attributed to the increasing popularity of distributed and shared leadership models in P12 schools. Anyone going into teaching or intending to stay there should expect to take on significant formal and/or informal school leadership roles throughout their career. Such roles might include department chair, subject area lead, professional learning community (PLC) lead, peer mentor, trainer, and school or district level curriculum leadership positions.

The NEA’s Call for Duncan’s Resignation: Latest Strike in a Battle the NEA will Lose

The leadership of the National Educational Association (NEA) is mad, and on July 4th that anger reached a boiling point when delegates passed a new business item calling for the resignation of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. While historically, teachers unions including the NEA have been staunch supporters of Democrat administrations, the relationship between the NEA and the Obama administration has been a strained one, largely because of the Obama administration’s support of key elements of an education reformist agenda which includes financial support for the expansion of charter schools, the continuance of the DC school voucher program, reform of teacher evaluation to include student performance, and most notably now, reform of teacher tenure and seniority rules. The Obama administration’s support for such reforms has earned President Obama and Secretary Duncan a place on the NEA’s ‘not so nice’ list. Officially, the new business item stated that it was necessary to call for Secretary Duncan’s resignation because of the U.S. Department of Education’s “failed education agenda focused on more high-stakes testing, grading and pitting public school students against each other based on test scores, and for continuing to promote policies and decisions that undermine public schools and colleges, the teaching education professionals, and education unions.”

Duncan has flat out dismissed the NEA’s call for his resignation. In a recent AP article, Duncan is quoted as saying, “I always try to stay out of local union politics. I think most teachers do too.” Though brief, Duncan’s comment is clever dig at the union. Duncan is making the claim, which I largely agree with, that although the NEA’s leadership claims to be the voice of teachers, most teachers are not involved in the development of the union’s policy agenda and are not typically well-informed on the inner-workings and maneuvering of the union’s leadership. I go even further than Duncan and assert that many teachers, particularly younger teachers, are not supportive of the policy agenda, policy stances, and tactics of the NEA. And for that reason, I am very careful to distinguish between the voice the NEA’s leadership and the voice of teachers; I am convinced that on a variety of important policy issues their voices are not in harmony.

This call for Secretary Duncan’s resignation is the NEA’s latest move in a battle that’s gone on for about a decade now; a battle that in the end, the NEA is sure to lose. Democratic administration’s have historically been the NEA’s allies, holding off the progressive education reform ideas of conservatives. That day has passed. Much of the education reform agenda is supported and even advocated for by growing numbers of Democrats and political independents. If the next president elected is a Republican the NEA is sunk. They don’t stand a chance of reversing the education reform tide which includes the expansion of school choice, tenure reform (and in some states tenure elimination), teacher evaluation based in part on student performance, and tying teachers’ pay to their performance. But even if the next president is a Democrat, the likelihood of that Democrat being from the extreme liberal end of the party is none; it will not happen. Whether the next president is a Democrat or a Republican, s/he will have to live and lead from a more moderate than extreme position; and it is the more moderate Democrats, or neo-liberals, that are becoming more and more supportive of the education reform agenda that the NEA is fighting against.

In the end, the NEA will lose this battle. Education policy does have a tendency to shift somewhat like a pendulum, but there are pieces of the current education reform agenda that are here to stay. Charter schools and public school choice aren’t going anywhere. Public school choice will become central to public schooling, everywhere. Teachers will be evaluated at least in part based on the performance of their students; what that measurement will look like will vary from state to state and may change over time, but the days of teacher evaluation not having a student performance component are soon to be over. Tenure for teachers will go away in some places and will look radically different in most other places. School administrators will have increased authority with the hiring and removal of teachers. The days of collective bargaining agreements protecting ineffective senior teachers while more junior effective teachers are dismissed will be ending very soon. Teaching will no longer be a profession where you can go a job pretty easily, join the union, get tenure for sticking around for four years, and have a safe position for the rest of your career.

The NEA is fighting for relevance and survival. ‘The organization’s leadership knows that Secretary Duncan won’t consider resigning based on their call, and the fact that the largest teachers union in the country can call for the Secretary of Education’s resignation and most Americans won’t even take their call seriously is an indicator of the organization’s waning influence on educational leadership and educational policy. I do believe there is a future for the NEA, but not as a labor union. Teachers are not labor. Teachers are professionals. My hope is that the NEA’s new leadership will take the opportunity during this time of transition for teachers and public schooling to reform itself into the world-class professional association that America’s teachers need and deserve.

Why There Is No Charter School Law in Kentucky

I run into friends and colleagues quite often (in Kentucky) who are surprised when I tell them that there is still no law allowing for the creation of charter schools in Kentucky. I would say their surprise is warranted given that 47 states and the District of Columbia now have some form of charter school legislation. So today’s post is for my fellow Kentuckians; those friends and colleagues that after finding that we have no law, ask me why not. The truth my friends is that teacher unions’ money and Kentuckians’ contentment with our schools have stopped us from passing a charter school law. 

  • Believe it or not, Kentuckians are pretty pleased with the outcomes of our education system. In fact, some of us think our state’s schools are pretty darn good!! And maybe they are; the new Quality Counts rankings in Edweek came out just today and Kentucky ranked #14 in the nation! Out of sight!! Never mind the enormous, shameful achievement gaps that have persisted for generations in schools all across Kentucky; or that there are schools in parts of our state that should be shut down and never reopened; or that only a small fraction of our high school graduates leave high school prepared for the rigors of college. If you can just get past those little things, we’re really doing a hell of a job in Kentucky! And who would have thought it? I know I had no idea. It is truly the best kept secret in America. But probably not for long; with the release of the Quality Counts rankings we are likely to have a hard time keeping parents from Ohio, Indiana, and Tennessee from sneaking across the state line to get their kids into our Kentucky schools. 
  • Kentucky’s teacher unions/professional associations have lots of Democrat legislators under their thumb. These organizations heavily fund the campaigns of many Democrat legislators. The unions pretend that they oppose charter schools on the grounds that charters will be detrimental to Kentucky children, but in reality they oppose charter schools because they would threaten the job security of ineffective teachers. Can’t have that, now can we!! So they persuade/bully Democrat leaders in the Kentucky legislature to oppose even open and honest conversations about the issue; and they spread lies to their members (teachers) and to the public about charter schools. And are these legislators willing to stand up to the unions, their campaign funders, and say that we must have an open and honest dialogue about charter schools? Of course they are not. Why not? Because their next election is just around the corner, and they can’t count on the parents of children in failing schools to fund their campaigns.
The political landscape in Kentucky is pretty complicated for sure. I don’t mean to trivialize or oversimplify the issue, but the simple reality is that Kentucky has no charter school law because Kentuckians are pretty content with the schools we have, and the very well funded teacher unions/professional associations do a great job of keeping the Democrats in the legislature in line. Until one or both of those realities change, there will be no charter schools in Kentucky.

Teacher Unionism Must Evolve (Part I)

Teacher unionism has found itself under attack across much of the Midwest for most of the last year. The purpose of this post is not to debate the finer issues of the proposed policy changes affecting unions in states like Indiana and Ohio; rather, my intent here is to begin to articulate a vision for what teacher unionism could and I would argue should become.

I believe the conceptualization of teacher unions as labor unions, and thus teachers as labor, is an outdated one, and in some ways I would argue that it never truly fit. Teachers are not laborers. Teaching is a high skilled profession which requires considerable educational preparation and continued education and professional development for the rest of a teacher’s career. Good teachers devote an inordinate amount of time, effort, and resources to their own professional development and continued improvement. These realities make the professional association a much better fit for the form of an organization whose intent is to support teachers. But the shift from unions to professional associations is much more than just a shift in terminology. Along with the shift in name must come some rather substantive changes in how these organizations function.
  • First, teacher professional associations would need to a better job of holding their memberships to high professional standards. Put differently, teacher professional associations must do a much better job of policing the teaching profession. Gone is the day when these groups could pretend that all teachers are alike. Just like any other profession, teachers’ performance and abilities exist along a continuum, ranging from the high performing and very talented to those who should find another profession. It is very clear that performance accountability at the school, leader, and teacher levels are becoming and will remain a part of public education. I believe teachers’ professional associations have the opportunity to lead this charge and help inform important policy decisions about how to best hold teachers and schools accountable. But as a precursor to this, associations must recognize and openly admit that there are teachers that should be put out of teaching. Simply paying dues to the organization does not mean that a teacher is worth fighting for. Teacher professional associations must get to the place where they are more invested than administrators or policy makers in removing bad teachers from schools. That is the way it should be. It is teachers’ profession and teachers should be the ones most interested in protecting it.
I will continue to articulate my vision for teacher unionism in coming posts. For anyone who questions my intentions, let me say for the record that I am not one who believes organizations like the NEA or the AFT should go away. In fact, I believe quite the opposite. I am a past member of both organizations (United Teachers of New Orleans (UTNO) & North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE). I believe these organizations and their local affiliates can and should play a major role in education reform and improvement, but they must change.