Why charters lost: They worked too well

Michael Siciliano holds a No on 2 sign outside a Holyoke school on election morning. Photo: Dave Roback / The Republican

Michael Siciliano holds a No on 2 sign outside a Holyoke school on election morning. Photo: Dave Roback / The Republican

Charter-school expansion lost in Massachusetts in a 62-38 blowout, writes Richard Whitmire on The 74. Why did voters reject “the best charter schools in the country?”

Unions targeted charters because they’re so good, he concludes. “The better the charter, the bigger the threat.”

Educators fought to defend the premise that schools can’t make a difference for kids in poverty, writes Whitmire.

When a charter operator such as Brooke Charter Schools, which serves a poor and minority student population, turns its students into scholars who rival the white and Asian students attending amply funded public schools in the suburbs along the Route 128 corridor, the question has to be asked: If Brooke can do it, why not others?

The Massachusetts Teachers Association started its anti-charter campaign seven months before the election, focusing on funding rather than school quality, Whitmire writes. Neither unions nor superintendents “can afford to lose the poverty argument. That risks losing everything.”

Eduwonk’s Andrew Rotherham asks how much the unions spent in Massachusetts to “protect jobs and keep poor black kids bottled up in crappy schools?” What if they’d spent that money “in, oh I don’t know, Wisconsin or Michigan or Pennsylvania on politics there?”

 Non-urban school districts with existing charters voted heavily against lifting the charter cap, reports MassLive. Money was the issue: The state pays districts 100 percent of per pupil revenue lost to charters in the first year, but only 25 percent for the next five years.

Black Lives group takes on schools

The Movement for Black Lives has published a policy platform that includes an education plan stressing community control of schools, writes Emily DeRuy in The Atlantic.

“The coalition’s proposals are wide-ranging and, depending on who is talking, either aspirational or entirely unrealistic,” writes DeRuy.

The plan calls for a constitutional amendment to guarantee “fully funded” education, no new charter schools, no police in schools and closure of juvenile detention centers.

It attacks the “privatization” of education by wealthy philanthropists “and criticizes charter-school networks for decimating black communities and robbing traditional neighborhood schools of resources,” writes DeRuy.

When Black Kids Don’t Matter is RiShawn Biddle’s analysis of “why the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Movement for Black Lives have issued proclamations opposing the expansion of school choice and Parent Power for the very black families for which they proclaim to care.”

The declaration itself was written not by the Black Lives Matter activists within the coalition, but largely by two of NEA’s and AFT’s prime vassals.

One of the coauthors, Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, has long been a front for the Big Two (teachers’ unions). . . . Another coauthor, Philadelphia Student Union, has been one of AFT’s lead groups in its effort to oppose systemic reform and school choice in the City of Brotherly Love . . .

After the NAACP voted for a charter moratorium, black leaders defended urban charters’ effectiveness, reports Jason Russell in the Washington Examiner.

Many charters “offer a high-quality education to low-income and working-class black children,” said Jacqueline Cooper, president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options.

“In communities of color throughout our country, public charter schools are providing pathways to college and careers that previously were not available,” said Shavar Jeffries, president of Democrats for Education Reform, in a statement.

According to a BAEO report released in January, “black students in public charter schools learn the equivalent of 36 extra school days per year in math and 26 extra school days in reading,” reports Russell. “The gains are even higher for black students living in poverty.”

NAACP vs. charter schools

The NAACP’s call for a moratorium on charter schools is the subject of a conversation at Dropout Nation between RiShawn Biddle and Capital Prep’s Steve Perry.

The NAACP is “doing the bidding of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, which have poured $380,500 into NAACP over the past five years,” charges Biddle. The civil-rights group “is no longer representing the interests of black families who demand high-quality education for the children they love.”

Success Academy kids continue to succeed on state exams.
Success Academy charter students aced state exams: 94% passed in math and 82% passed reading. Photo: Richard Harbus/New York Daily News

In New York City, black and Hispanic charter students are twice as likely to be proficient in math and 50 percent more likely to be proficient in reading as similar students in district schools, reports the New York Post. 

The Success Academy charter network, which primarily educates black and Hispanic students, “had the top five schools in the entire state in math, and two of the top five in English.”

Short of teachers, SF says ‘no’ to TFA

Kamaria Carnes (right) of Teach for America high-fives Anderson Aguilar after he finished an oral exam during her eighth-grade English language arts class at Everett Middle School in the Mission District. Photo: Connor Radnovich, The Chronicle
Teach for America corps member Kamaria Carnes, who teaches eighth-grade English at a San Francisco middle school, high-fives Anderson Aguilar after he finished an oral exam. Photo: Connor Radnovich, San Francisco Chronicle

Under pressure from the teachers’ union, the San Francisco School Board voted to suspend Teach for America’s contract for the coming school year, writes Tracy Dell’Angela on Education Post.

Who will teach instead?

The 15 San Francisco classrooms that would have been staffed by TFA corps members — yep, only 15 — are now going to be filled by either long-term subs or untrained college grads with emergency certification,”

San Francisco has a dire teaching shortage—district administrators predicted the district will not be able to fill its 500 vacancies by August and many of these will be in areas that TFA specializes in recruiting—special education, bilingual classrooms and STEM.

Superintendent Richard Carranza wanted to renew the TFA contract, but couldn’t get board support.

“Some board members didn’t even try to pretend their pushback was in the best interest of children,” writes Dell’Angela. “Board member Jill Wynns’ opposition was based on Teach For America’s ‘financial connections to supporters of charter schools and market-based education reform’.”

Only 17 percent of TFA corps members are teaching in district schools after 17 years, say opponents. But turnover is high for all new teachers: San Francisco is a very expensive city.

TFA teachers are more likely to stay on the job than other new teachers in San Francisco, Beatrice Viramontes, the organization’s senior managing director in San Francisco, told the Chronicle. “Overall, 90 percent of the group’s teachers come back after their first year of teaching, compared with 56 percent of those who are new to the teaching profession in general. In addition, most of the program’s teachers stay for a third year after their two-year commitment ends, said both the organization and the district.”

Clout shift: Charters rise as unions decline


Who will be the education base of the Democratic Party in 2024? asks Neerav Kingsland on his relinquishment blog.

Teachers’ unions, which usually oppose charter expansion, are losing membership, while charter schools are growing, he notes. This year, more students are enrolled in charter schools than there are teacher union members.

Kingsland predicts there will be two or three times more charter parents than unionized teachers in five to seven years.

If charter school families become politically active, they’ll hard to ignore, Kingsland writes.

Update: As expected, the U.S. Supreme Court deadlocked 4-4 on the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case, which challenged mandatory union fees for teachers who are not members.  The court’s 1977 decision upholding “fair share” fees to cover collective-bargaining costs will remain in force until a future challenge comes to a nine-member court.

Without Scalia, will union dues survive?

Justice Antonin Scalia’s death could be “a big break for teachers’ unions, which were set to lose the Friedrich’s case over mandatory union dues, writes Andrew Rotherham on Eduwonk.

Justice Antonin Scalia's death could give teachers' unions a victory -- however temporary -- in the Friedrichs case.

Justice Antonin Scalia’s death could give teachers’ unions a victory — however temporary — in the Friedrichs case.

The smart money said the unions were going to lose a 5-4 vote. If that’s true, the vote is now 4-4. That means the lower-court’s pro-union ruling stands as if the Supreme Court had never heard the case, writes Tom Goldstein on ScotusBlog. A tie doesn’t set a precedent.

The union victory could be temporary, notes the Los Angeles Times. The Court could “ask for re-argument of the same case next term,” after a ninth justice is seated.

The Court was on track to limit affirmative action in public higher education in the Fisher case, writes Goldstein. “Because Justice Kagan recused herself, it’s likely the University of Texas will lose on a 4-3 vote.

A Potential Weakening of Teachers Unions

In less than 2 weeks the US Supreme Court will hear the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association.  One of the plaintiffs explains in the Wall Street Journal why he’s sued:

I am one of 10 California teachers suing to end compulsory union dues in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which will be heard by the Supreme Court Jan. 11. Our request is simple: Strike down laws in 23 states that require workers who decline to join a union to pay fees anyway. In our view, paying fees to a union should not be a prerequisite for teaching in a public school. No one in the U.S. should be forced to give money to a private organization he or she disagrees with fundamentally. Teachers deserve a choice.

Education labor writer Mike Antonucci has a detailed yet clear discussion of the potential effects here:

If the Supreme Court decides to strike down agency-fee laws nationwide, the NEA and the AFT would be forced to recruit their members one by one; additional teacher hiring would not automatically swell the unions’ ranks. In an open market, other organizations could compete for teacher representation, sell liability insurance, and offer professional services on a level playing field.

Still, one must take the rhetoric of union leaders and their media sympathizers with a grain of salt. A Friedrichs decision in favor of the plaintiffs would not spell the end of teachers unions. It would simply mean that the current situation in states such as Texas and Georgia would become the norm in California and the rest of the U.S.

While a union defeat in Friedrichs could place sharp limits on the political operations of the NEA, the AFT, and other public employees’ unions, the impact would be far from apocalyptic. In the states that do not permit agency fees, the teachers unions still have a hand in education policymaking. Unions there bargain collectively, if state law allows it. They lobby the legislature. They testify in committee. They speak at school board meetings. They campaign for and financially support candidates for public office. Some of the locals even have exclusive representation. They just can’t charge nonmembers a fee.

State and local unions in states such as California, Illinois, New Jersey, Ohio, and Pennsylvania are not accustomed to operating under such a regime and would require top-to-bottom reorganization. But those in states such as Texas, Virginia, Georgia, Missouri, and North Carolina would experience no change—except for diminished national subsidies from the NEA and the AFT.

Overall loss of membership is inevitable, but it would not happen overnight. The power of incumbency will give the unions some staying power, and they are already preparing for an adverse outcome from the Supreme Court.

While the case will be heard shortly, no ruling is expected before June.

Study: Teachers bargain, students lose

Teachers’ collective bargaining rights correlate with lower employment and earnings for students later in adult life, concludes a study by Michael F. Lovenheim and Alexander Willén in Education Next.
They compared student outcomes in states that enacted a duty-to-bargain law to outcomes in states that did not change their collective-bargaining policies.

There was no effect on the amount of schooling students completed.

However, “students who spent all 12 years of grade school in a state with a duty-to-bargain law earned an average of $795 less per year and worked half an hour less per week as adults than students who were not exposed to collective-bargaining laws.” Those educated in duty-to-bargain states were less likely to be employed and those with jobs were more likely to work in low-skilled occupations.

Why? They’re not sure.

Perhaps collective bargaining has made it more difficult for school districts to dismiss ineffective teachers or to allocate teachers among schools. Or perhaps the political influence of teachers unions at the state level has interfered with efforts to improve school quality.

More than 60 percent of U.S. teachers work under a union contract, but some states, such as Wisconsin, Michigan,  Indiana and Tennessee, have moved to restrict teachers’ bargaining rights.

If unions lose agency fees, what next?

Teachers’ unions could lose money, members and political clout, if the U.S. Supreme Court rules against “agency fees,” writes Michael Antonucci in Education Next.

Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association challenges the California law requiring teachers who haven’t joined the union to pay fees meant to cover collective bargaining, but not political activity.

Friedrichs plaintiffs assert that the agency-fee system infringes their rights to free speech and free association, he writes. “They maintain that collective bargaining in the public sector is itself inherently political.”

Wisconsin eliminated agency fees (and weakened unions’ bargaining power) in 2011, notes Antonucci. Union member has fallen by more than half.

Minnesota is an agency-fee state with about 111,000 K-12 employees, of which about 75,000 are teachers union members. Arizona, with no agency-fee law, has about 103,000 K-12 employees and only 16,000 teachers union members.

“In 2014, NEA membership in agency fee states grew by 5,300. In states without agency fees, it fell by more than 47,000.”

A typical California teacher pays $1,000 in dues asa union member, $650 in fees as a non-member. If non-members saved $1,000 a year, membership could go down sharply, Antonucci suggests.

The American Federation of Teachers pays heavily to play politics, reports RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation.

According to its 2014-2015 financial disclosure, the “second-largest teachers’ union spent $42 million on political lobbying activities and contributions,” a 45 percent increase over influence-spending levels in 2013-2014.

AFT gave $250,000 to the Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation and another $250,000 to the Clinton Global Initiative, “the other non-explicitly political wing of the Clinton family’s always-political efforts,” writes Biddle. The union has endorsed Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid.

Left-wing ‘fundies’ fight reform

Lefties have become education fundamentalists, writes Lynnell Mickelsen on Education Post.  She’s a lefty herself, but she values educating children more than protecting teachers’ unions.

Like the religious right, the teachers’ union and its allies frame issues as either-or, she writes.

Either you support every clause in the union contract or you’re trying to bust the union. Either you support teachers or you’re “bashing” them. Either you support public schools or you want their destruction because that apocalypse is always drawing nigh.

Fundamentalists demonize their opponents: “In the union narrative, ed reformers aren’t just wrong about educational policy,” they’re evil “corporatists” trying to “privatize” the schools.

Fundies reject evidence that challenges their world view, writes Mickelsen. Students in New Orleans’  post-Katrina “public charters have made remarkable gains in reading and math scores, high school graduation and college acceptance rates. Yet union leaders and their allies have gone out of their way to deny or dismiss this data.”

Just as right-wing fundamentalists “insist that Marriage Is Between a Man and A Woman . . . teachers’ unions basically insist that Public Schools Are Between A Union and Its District,” she writes.

Right now, the public schools that are getting the best results with low-income black and Latino children are mostly charters. But because charter schools are mostly non-union, the teachers’ unions are attempting to limit these schools—even though this would disenfranchise entire groups of children.

Both the teachers’ union and religious conservatives share the same message on racial disparities in achievement, Mickelsen concludes. “Our systems are fine. It’s the brown kids and their parents who are screwed up.”

It’s Time to Get Rid of Education’s Sacred Cows, writes Angela Minnici in Ed Week. These include the idea that “education is local,” that anyone who loves kids can be a good teacher and that U.S. schools traditionally have done well at educating all students.