"The unthinkable"

From a column in today's Detroit News :

The teachers at Alain Locke Senior High School in south-central Los Angeles' troubled Watts neighborhood were fed up.

They were sick of their 50-percent-plus dropout rate. They were sick of gang violence. They were especially sick of their district bureaucrats' ever-changing education fads.

So they did the unthinkable: They made history by boldly turning over their public high school last fall to a charter school organization--and risking their own jobs.

And from an editorial, also in today's News :

Skeptics in California said it would never happen, but it did. Union teachers at Locke Senior High in Los Angeles have decided to give to charter nonprofit operator Green Dot the chance to make the disadvantaged school flourish again. Green Dot will take over the school by this summer.

Why is this L.A. high school the talk of the News 's opinion pages today? Because Motor City superintendent Connie Calloway plans to restructure five struggling schools in Locke's image.

Sounds like a pretty solid plan. Green Dot made its name as the first charter management organization to invite unions into its schools. But its labor contract is generally several-hundred pages shorter than a typical district contract. And in most other ways it embodies the kind of common-sense practices that produce well-managed schools. Again from the News editorial:

Green Dot teachers are unionized, but they have a much more flexible contract that makes teacher performance the top priority.

"Old union contracts were written for school districts, not kids," said Steve Barr, Green Dot's founder.

Teachers and principals have autonomy over their school budget, curriculum and hiring and firing. Green Dot administrators say they use a more rigorous hiring process to ensure the selection of high-quality teachers, which is one of the strongest predictors of student performance. There are no seniority preferences or teacher tenure. Teachers can choose between guaranteed retirement benefits--or a self-managed 401(k) retirement savings plan.

Teachers also work a "professional work day," or a salaried schedule without overtime pay.

Very good news for Detroit, which badly needs some good news . Let's hope it plays out as planned.

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