Friday, February 12, 2010

Thoughts on Unions and Charters

Just came across a series of responses to a Joanne Jacobs blog on charter school misconceptions and unions in school districts. You can check out the whole thing here...

...but here's the best of what I had to say in response to a posting that cited a terribly inaccurate blog from the Seattle School district.

Trey Wodele
October 8, 2009 at 11:39 am

I can’t talk about every charter school in the nation, nor would I want to. By their very nature, charter schools are unique institutions and to lump them all together is not a realistic or fair way to judge them.

I can only talk about my employer: one of Minnesota’s largest, oldest, and (in many ways) most successful charter schools. I can only state what I know from experience, but for a very easy-to-read and informative document outlining Minnesota’s laws surrounding charter schools, you can look at the Minnesota House of Representatives research department’s information brief on charter school law:

I can also counter some of the general claims made by the Seattle Education blog you cite. Remember though, while I am writing about Minnesota charter schools, the Seattle Education blog refers to the nation’s many charter schools and in very general terms. In reality, each state is different in the way they regulate charter schools and some of what I am reporting will not be true in other states.

1. In Minnesota, charter schools are sponsored by a private organization, a public school, or even a post-secondary institution. They are managed by an elected board of directors. There is absolutely not, “complete control of the school by a private enterprise.” Decisions are made by the board of directors which (by law) includes educators, administrators, community members, and parents.

2. While the blog’s claim that most charter schools do not hire union teachers is true, the phrase, “they can demand the teacher work longer hours including weekends at the school site and pay less than union wages,” is troubling. Again, I can’t speak for every charter school, but I am on a contract which states very clearly when I am and am not expected to work. I was aware of the requirements (which include a three week stint teaching summer school) when I took the job and I’m fairly compensated. I’ve never been forced or coerced to go beyond my contractual obligations.

3. My charter school does not, would not, and cannot expel a student, “(who) it doesn’t believe fits within its standards or meets its level of expectation in terms of test scores.” In fact, many (but certainly not all) of our students are kids with academic, social, and economic troubles. We are the last hope for many inner-city parents who have tried everything and who cannot afford the cost of living in the successful suburban districts or the tuition costs of private schools as an alternative to public schools.

By Minnesota law, charter schools have, “an obligation to enroll an eligible pupil who submits a timely application unless the number of applications exceeds the capacity of the program, class, grade level, or building.”

In addition:

-My school offers high quality and innovative programs like: a Digital Media Academy featuring Video Production and Editing, Screenwriting, Music and Sound Recording, and Graphic Design; a Medical Careers Academy; a Carpentry Careers Academy; and a Sports Careers Academy. These are the kind of programs that just don’t exist for many students at inner-city public schools.

-We embrace new ways of teaching using technology and the Internet, Google Apps for Education, and Moodle – among others.

-Our high school classrooms average around a dozen students per teacher.

-Our teachers are paid a competitive wage, our medical and family medical benefits greatly exceed those offered by the local public district, and we have the opportunity to earn performance pay through Minnesota’s Q Comp program.

Are charter schools the only answer? Absolutely not. Do they fail sometimes? For sure. But ask yourself the same questions about traditional public schools and your answer may be the same.

But most importantly, we must look honestly at charter schools, voucher programs, public schools, alternative schools – and any other education solution. It is difficult for those of us in the field of education to discuss policy without looking at it through the window of our own self interest. But these are our children we are talking about, and those of neighbors and our fellow citizens.

Let’s stop misstating facts, tearing down solutions, and complaining about what does not work – and start offering suggestions, solutions, and advice to the people who are trying to make a difference.

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