Judging Charters and Unions on Results

I am officially agnostic, on charter schools and unions.  Not the combination of the two but each individually.  We need to judge charters by their results on both quality and equity and we need to do the same for unions.  That was the gist of my relatively recent comments in NOLA at the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans.

I was reminded as I saw the panel on the front page of their website (shameless self-promotion- and surprise, despite having the Whitest name around I am not), you can view my “Unions and Collective Bargaining” panel here (it’s actually a really interesting mix of scholarly research and practitioner perspectives—one of the few conferences I thought was worthwhile for the content);

I don’t expect you actually watched it, but as someone who has run a unionized charter, worked with the UFT in creating another unionized charter, and consider many of those folks my friends, nobody who knows me would consider me “anti union”.  But that’s the ad hominem attack I always get from folks who have not done their homework.

So yeah I am agnostic.  When unions fight for better conditions for teachers, I like that.  When they seem to waste public and private resources protecting the weakest links that should be severed, I don’t like that.  So it depends on what you mean by a union.

If it’s a constituent service organization, whose main purpose is to fight for individual teacher benefits even where those folks are wrong (think NFL player’s union), I don’t like that.  If it’s more a professional organization, that sets and enforces standards on members, and supports them and lobbies for the necessary resources and conditions (more like the Bar Association where you will be disbarred and banned from practice way before you are charged with a crime).  I like that.

One is raising the bar and creating conditions for success, while the other seems to sink to the lowest uncommon denominator.

Agnostic on charters too.  I have argued for schools to be closed, dropped a dime on others for what I saw as discrimination, and have done my best to sink bad or unethical schools.  But I help people start charters for a living.  The charters we start: autism inclusion, schools for kids with emerging mental health challenges, dual immersion schools, “dropout” recovery, arts infusion, Montessori.  Those are our schools, for the haters, are you against those?  Come and visit and answer then.

When it comes to things we are supposedly doing for students and families, they need to judged by their effects on those students and families, not only looking at some measure of quality, but also equity.

Main point here, we need a lot more agnosticism, and lot less certitude if we are going to get anywhere.  Ideological battles will only mire us in sophistry, while looking at results for students, and our most underserved students particularly, will set us free.

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