When it comes to public charter schools and any meaningful education reform, the teachers unions are staunch reactionaries.
In the political arena, teachers unions are far to the left. However, when it comes to serious education reform and any kind of school choice, they are committed to maintaining the all-too-often failing status quo. At its recent convention in early July, the National Education Association voted affirmatively to promote the concept of white fragility, reparations, open borders and abortion, while simultaneously nixing an attempt to have the union “re-dedicate itself to the pursuit of increased student learning in every public school in America by putting a renewed emphasis on quality education.”
When it comes to progressive political bloviation, the bard is surely American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten. In a July 21stNew York Times column, she ran politically amok, accusing President Trump of racism, misogyny, being enamored of despots, voter suppression and likely to imprison political opponents. She went on to point out that schools should be a place where students “analyze problems in their communities, figure out potential solutions and advocate for change.” Not a word about learning math, science and language arts’ skills, or ways to improve the teaching profession.
One way parents can make sure their kids receive a solid apolitical education is to send them to a public charter school. Yet, today charters are embattled because the great majority of them are non-unionized. At the recent National Alliance for Public Charter Schools conference, its president Nina Rees, sounding alarm bells, noted that while new charters were opening, the pace had slowed considerably.
A common theme throughout the NAPCS gathering was the growing number of attacks on the popular schools of choice by the teachers unions. Myrna Castrejón, president of the California Charter Schools Association, described California as “ground zero” in the charter wars, and singled out the “sustained and pernicious” teachers’ union campaign.
Castrejón is absolutely correct. Doing the bidding of the powerful California Teachers Association, the state legislature has a variety of bills it is trying to pass which could wound, and perhaps cripple, some 1,300 public charter schools in the Golden State. One of the bills would let a local district deny a charter and not allow the school to appeal to the county and state as has been traditionally done. Additionally, as reported by parent advocate group “Speak Up,” there is a provision in the same bill that “would allow districts to shut down their most successful charter schools with waiting lists merely because they have more applicants than seats available and therefore do not serve ‘all pupils who wish to attend.’”
There are no words.
And California is hardly alone. New York City’s progressive mayor Bill de Blasio, trying to curry favor with NEA at their presidential forum earlier this month, told the salivating throng that he hated charter schools and blathered on about privatizers and rich people. The mayor’s timing made his comment even more laughable. Just days before he went off on charters, it was announced that an entire charter-school class – Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy Bronx 2 in the nation’s poorest congressional district – not only passed the Algebra I Regents exam but aced it. Also, the New York Post reports that citywide, only a third of regular public school eighth-graders took the Algebra 1 Regents last year and 82 percent passed with a minimum level 3 score. “But 99 percent of the 467 eighth-graders at Success Academy schools scored 3 or better, with a majority getting 5s.”
In West Virginia, after a statewide teacher strike in February – the main purpose of which was to deny parents the availability of charters and other forms of school choice – the legislature finally passed a charter school bill in late June, albeit a rather mild one. The law allows for the creation of three charter schools initially, three more in 2023 and then three more every three years.
Regardless of the legislative baby steps, the West Virginia Education Association wasn’t going accept even that. Joining forces with purported progressive (really reactionary) zealots, the union filed a lawsuit, claiming the new legislation is unconstitutional. (Legal analysts agree, however, that the union will most likely be unsuccessful in its efforts.)
There is, though, at least one progressive who is on the right track. After a forceful email that Ben Austin, founder of Kids Coalition and Parent Revolution, had written to charter school leaders was “outed” by the Los Angeles Times, he penned an op-ed for the Orange County Register in which he tears into the L.A. education establishment and teachers union,
What’s progressive about defending a system that elevates seniority above quality in hiring, firing, placement, and promotion of teachers and principals? What’s progressive about abandoning any form of meaningful accountability for schools that have literally been failing low income children and children of color for generations? How are we supposed to believe that a dysfunctional bureaucracy that looks, operates, and educates in much the same way as it has for generations doesn’t need to be reimagined in ways that include but go far beyond just adding more money? Why isn’t quality public education a civil right for all children?
Austin hits a home run here. While he and I don’t agree on much politically, we certainly concur that the teachers unions are in fact anything but progressive. In fact, they are reactionary, maniacally absorbed with protecting the status quo, their money and their power…parents and students be damned.
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Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network– a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.