The Future of Charter Schools and Teachers Unions: Results of a Symposium

Paul T. Hill, Lydia Rainey, and Andrew J. Rotherham
Center on Reinventing Public Education's National Charter School Research Project
October 2006

This short but informative report summarizes and draws lessons from the proceedings of a May 2006 symposium on teacher unions and charter schools. It finds some common ground between the two camps. The authors point out, for instance, that both union and charter leaders are "united against a common enemy: the school district bureaucracy." Both sides agree that successful schools require "respect and trust between teachers and management," and some union leaders see in charters an opportunity for teachers to secure greater input in school operations and further "professionalize the profession" in general. But overall, the mood was less congenial, and this report evokes the sources of contention between the two sides. Chief among these is that unions and charter supporters often have different perceptions of the facts, such as whether or not teachers are more satisfied working in charter schools. Charter supporters and union advocates also disagree about "how to get good teaching," clashing on issues such as control over hiring and firing and differential pay. The report presents no elixir, but the authors do include a few general recommendations for moving "toward coexistence--if not détente." One idea is to encourage representatives from both camps to visit charter schools that have invited unionization in California and UFT-run charters in New York. Also, as unilateral steps, charter advocates should acknowledge and address the labor abuses that can and do exist in union-free charter schools. The unions, for their part, should quit strategically eliminating leaders with a moderate stance on charters. But why would more charter schools (especially successful ones) invite divisive unions into their ranks? And why would teachers unions support reforms that weaken their power? The authors would like to think that a "third way" exists in this fight, but like the Cold War, we will only have "détente" when one side goes away for good. Read the report here.

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