At some point, we ought to acknowledge that the traditional union contract is incompatible with the untraditional concept of charter schools. That should be easier to do now that the nation’s first union-led charter school is struggling to stay open.
The traditional union contract is incompatible with the untraditional concept of charter schools.
Now seven years old, the UFT Charter School is one of the lowest performing schools in New York City (it has scored two Ds on the city’s report card in three years) and its authorizer, the SUNY Charter Schools Institute, will soon consider whether to renew its charter.
This is a bad development for the United Federation of Teachers, considering that former UFT President Randi Weingarten said in 2005 that the school would “finally dispel the misguided and simplistic notion that the union contract is an impediment to success.” Many factors certainly may have contributed to the dismal achievement at the school, where less than a third of students are reading at grade level. But if anything, the UFT has shown us that union contracts are a poor fit for successful charters.
About 12 percent of the nation’s charter schools are unionized, according to 2010 data from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. More than half of those have contracts because state laws impose collective bargaining on charters. The other half includes schools that have seen growing disinterest among teachers to maintain unions that were first organized
When Andrew Broy addressed reporters in advance of the Chicago teachers’ strike to say the work stoppage would have no impact on the city’s charter schools, he was doing more than just assuring current charter families that schools would remain open (12 percent of the city’s public school population of 400,000 is enrolled at charters). The president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools was also engaged in public relations, knowing the strike would force tens of thousands of parents to alter work schedules or scramble for day care.
“I just see charter options and opportunities growing in any event [but] if there’s a strike the pace might accelerate,” Broy told the Chicago Tribune.
This puts into practice Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s famous dictum to never let a serious crisis go to waste, but it also gives the charter school movement a reason to reflect on its attributes after twenty years.
Leaders in the movement have been focused during the past several years on charter school quality, looking to scale up the best models and proffering the standards by which all charters and their authorizers should live by. This has been necessary for the vitality of the movement, but it’s an agenda that has, at times, disregarded the idea that parents have a fundamental right to choose their child’s school.
When thousands gathered at last June’s National Alliance for Public Charter Schools conference in Minneapolis, there was lots of talk about accountability and
Today, Fordham released our latest, "Charting a New Course to Retirement: How Charter Schools Handle Teacher Pensions." Authors Amanda Olberg and Michael Podgursky explain the report's findings here.
In the wake of the economic downturn, American public schools face serious, long-term fiscal challenges. Of them, rising pension costs are a particular concern. Yet school districts have no mechanisms for reining in these costs; almost all districts are tethered by statute to state pension systems (or, sometimes, their own local pension systems). It turns out, though, that some states allow their public charter schools to opt out of those systems. How they handle this opportunity bears scrutiny?and may suggest some lessons for the larger public-education system.
Nationally, teacher compensation comprises 55 percent of current expenditures in K-12 education. (That figure rises to 81 percent when all school staff are included.) A large and growing share of these costs goes to help fund retirement benefits. Between 2004 and 2010, for example, district pension costs (not counting retiree health insurance) increased from 12 percent to over 15 percent of salaries. A recent report from the Pew Center on the States estimated that unfunded public employee pension liabilities in the U.S. grew to $1.26 trillion during the 2009 fiscal year; other studies estimate that the true liability is even higher. Even as states attempt
About the Editor
Director, Program on Parental Choice
Adam Emerson is the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s school choice czar, directing the Institute’s policy program on parental choice and editing the Choice Words blog. He coordinates the Institute’s school choice-related research projects, policy analyses and commentaries on issues that include charter schools and public school choice along with school vouchers, homeschooling and digital learning.
May 16, 2013
Sign Up for updates from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute
- Charters & Choice
- Choice Media.TV
- Dropout Nation
- Ed is Watching
- Education Next
- Getting Smart
- Gotham Schools
- The Hechinger Report
- Jay P. Greene’s Blog
- Joanne Jacobs
- NACSA's Chartering Quality
- National Journal Education Experts
- The Quick and the Ed
- Rick Hess Straight Up
- Sara Mead’s Policy Notebook
- Whitney Tilson’s School Reform Blog