Monday, April 20, 2009

The Union War on Charter Schools

As New York shows, they want to kill any education choice

On education policy, appeasement is about as ineffective as it is in foreign affairs. Many proponents of school choice, especially Democrats, have tried to appease teachers unions by limiting their support to charter schools while opposing private school vouchers. They hope that by sacrificing vouchers, the unions will spare charter schools from political destruction.

But these reformers are starting to learn that appeasement on vouchers only whets unions appetites for eliminating all meaningful types of choice. With voucher programs facing termination in Washington, D.C., and heavy regulation in Milwaukee, the teachers unions have now set their sights on charter schools. Despite their proclamations about supporting charters, the actions of unions and their allies in state and national politics belie their rhetoric.

In New York, for example, the unions have backed a new budget that effectively cuts $51.5 million from charter-school funding, even as district-school spending can continue to increase thanks to local taxes and stimulus money that the charters lack. New York charters already receive less money per pupil than their district school counterparts; now they will receive even less.

Unions are also seeking to strangle charter schools with red tape. New York already has the "card check" unionization procedure for teachers that replaces secret ballots with public arm-twisting. And the teachers unions appear to have collected enough cards to unionize the teachers at two highly successful charter schools in New York City. If unions force charters to enter into collective bargaining, one can only imagine how those schools will be able to maintain the flexible work rules that allow them to succeed.

Matt Ladner, a researcher at Arizona's Goldwater Institute, envisioned what charters burdened with a lengthy union contract might look like on my blog: "Need to change a light bulb in your classroom? Page 844, paragraph five clearly states that you must call a union electrician. You kids sit quietly with your heads down in the dark until he arrives. It will be any day now."

Eva Moskowitz, former chair of the New York City Council education committee and now a charter school operator, has characterized this new push against charters as a "backlash" led by "a union-political-educational complex that is trying to halt progress and put the interests of adults above the interests of children." She is right. If the union-political-education complex succeeds in depriving charter schools of funding and burdening them with regulations, children really will be harmed.

The highest quality studies have consistently shown that students learn more in charter schools. In New York City, Stanford economist Caroline Hoxby found that students accepted by lottery to charter schools were significantly outpacing the academic progress of their peers who lost the lottery and were forced to return to district schools.

Florida State economist Tim Sass and colleagues found that middle-school students at charters in Florida and Chicago who continued into charter high schools were significantly more likely to graduate and go on to college than their peers who returned to district high schools because charter high schools were not available.

The most telling study is by Harvard economist Tom Kane about charter schools in Boston. It found that students accepted by lottery at independently operated charter schools significantly outperformed students who lost the lottery and returned to district schools. But students accepted by lottery at charters run by the school district with unionized teachers experienced no benefit.

When charter schools unionize, they become identical to traditional public schools in performance. Unions may say they support charter schools, but they only support charters after they have stripped them of everything that makes charters different from district schools.

President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have given speeches promoting charter schools. Despite their talk, charter spending constituted less than one-quarter of 1% of education spending in the stimulus package. And the Obama administration has done union bidding by killing the D.C. voucher program. They did this in the face of solid evidence of academic progress for the voucher students, and despite their stated commitment to do "what works for kids" regardless of ideology.

Vouchers made the world safe for charters by drawing union fire. But now that the unions have the voucher threat under control, charters are in trouble. It's time for reformers to increase pressure on politicians bending to the will of the unions and close the new education gap -- the one between what Mr. Obama and Mr. Duncan say about education and what they do.


Britain CAN turn back the clock and make the schools places of excellence. Here's how...

By Peter Hitchens

All the solutions to all our problems are obvious but shocking. They have also been ruled out in advance by the miserable pygmies and parasites who have taken over both sides of Parliament.

The breakdown of order in our State schools is a grave example of this political trap, in which everyone knows there is something wrong and nobody dares do anything effective about it. This is now a severe national crisis. Like the desperate state of our exam system, it is also a State secret, buried under a monstrous heap of official lies and twisted statistics.

A teacher who exposed it by filming undercover was not thanked, or invited to share her evidence with the authorities. She was disciplined more severely than another teacher convicted of smoking crack cocaine. I know of others who fear to speak out because they do not wish to damage their careers.

The teachers’ unions know perfectly well what is happening, though they are really interested only in getting more money for their members and gaining more recruits – since they are nowadays all in the hands of the Sixties Left.

But because they need to let off steam at their annual conferences, we get a yearly outbreak of stories about how schools are hiring bouncers to keep order – or even that teachers are going to work in body-armour. Of course there is some exaggeration for effect here. But nobody seriously doubts that many classrooms are now so chaotic that even the most determined pupil and the most dedicated teacher must fight to get any work done at all.

What is worse, many excellent teachers are more than weary of having to be policemen first, social workers second and teachers third. Some schools now actually have real police officers on the premises.

This is all completely ridiculous and unnecessary. It could be reversed in a matter of months and put right in a few years. Only a few things need to be done. Teachers need to be given back the power to use corporal punishment. We should leave the European Convention on Human Rights and other treaties which prevent the operation of commonsense British laws.

The school-leaving age should be reduced to 15. Secondary schools should be divided between the vocational and the academic, with selection on merit.

The law permitting ‘no-win, no-fee’ lawsuits should be repealed. So should the Children Act 1989 and the other social workers’ charters which have robbed sensible adults of authority for two decades.

Then we should embark on a Restoration Of The Married Family Act, which would end the many-headed attack on stable married families and restore the lost position of fathers in the home, one of the major causes of bad behaviour by boys. Divorce should be difficult. Every social institution, every law, tax-break and benefit, should discriminate clearly and unapologetically in favour of those parents committed to each other by the marriage bond.

None of these things is actually outrageous, though if a frontbench spokesman for any party dared embrace them, he would be met with cries of rage and fake expressions of shock and be quickly driven from his post.

There are plenty of people still living who can testify that when such rules operated, millions of British people lived free and happy lives, learned useful things in orderly schools, did not need to be under police surveillance, pass through metal detectors on their way to classes or be watched by CCTV cameras.

Yes, there were disadvantages and difficulties. Who denies it? Perfection isn’t possible. But they were nothing compared with the horrible mess we have made with our good intentions.

Who would have thought, 50 years ago, that a headmaster would be knifed to death at the gates of his school, thousands of children would be forced to take powerful drugs to make them behave and the only ‘powers’ available to besieged teachers would be either to keep their charges in for a few hours or force them to go away for a few weeks?

And who would have believed that people would say this was freedom and progress and that Conservative politicians would declare they were happy with this country as it is? The supposed freedom is a new slavery, enforced by social workers, lawyers, the BBC and PC police. The alleged progress is an accelerating slide back into the Dark Ages.


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