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New York Post

 

A Threat to Charter Schools

January 15, 2009

By Marcus A. Winters

POLITICAL leaders across the spectrum, including Presi dent-elect Barack Obama, have recognized that charter schools—public schools that operate free of many district rules—are essential to school reform.

One of the most important freedoms charter schools enjoy in New York and other states is that their teachers need not be unionized. That's why this week's news that teachers in two of the city's most successful charter schools—KIPP AMP in Brooklyn and KIPP Infinity in Harlem—have agreed to be represented by the United Federation of Teachers is so distressing.

If more charter schools go the unionization route, the experiment itself may be in jeopardy. Mass unionization would undermine charters' effectiveness.

New York City's 78 charter schools serve about 24,000 students. Thousands more are on waiting lists hoping to gain entry, and with good reason. Recent research by Caroline Hoxby and Sonali Murarka shows that students who attend Gotham's charters perform much better in math and reading than if they'd remained in a traditional city public school. They found, for example, that a year of attendance at a New York charter had a larger positive effect on a student's math skills than other research has found for reducing class sizes by 10 percent.

As charter schools' numbers have grown over the last decade—jeopardizing union hegemony—organizing them has become an important union priority. KIPP schools—known across the nation as much for their tough standards and work requirements for teachers as they are for their phenomenal successes improving student proficiency and sending their overwhelmingly low-income and minority students to college—are a special prize.

But an important factor in charters' success has been their ability to operate outside of burdensome teacher-union contracts. That freedom puts charter schools in a unique position to employ only effective teachers—to fire deadwood and to conduct classes without stifling work rules.

While unionization doesn't mean that charters will necessarily be subject to the same contractual requirements as traditional public schools, it's a dangerous step in that direction. Once unions get their foot in the charter-school door, they'll surely push for more control over how teachers are hired, fired and compensated.

A recent study of Boston's schools is instructive. As in New York, Boston charters operate free from many regulations and needn't comply with the local union contract. Boston also operates several "pilot schools," which differ from charters primarily in that they're subject to the union contract.

A recent Boston Foundation study found that charter-school students made dramatic academic improvements in math and reading relative to students in traditional public schools. The researchers, however, found no difference in the performance of students in pilot schools and traditional public schools.

The implications are clear: To make a difference, charter schools must have the power to control decision-making about their teachers.

The freedom of workers to unionize is an important right that shouldn't be taken away, of course. Public-school teachers have that right.

But we should discourage charter-school teachers from inviting the unions into one of our most promising education environments. We should also encourage charters facing a newly unionized workforce to stand firm and not negotiate away their most important asset: their ability to control who teaches in their schools.

Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/seven/01152009/postopinion/opedcolumnists/a_threat_to_charter_schools_150223.htm

 

 
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