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AFT Cautiously Embraces Charter Schools

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In its first major report on charter schools, the American Federation of Teachers has endorsed the concept, while urging greater attention to employee rights and academic standards in charter legislation.

"The lack of common standards, baseline data, and requirements for teacher certification and bargaining rights is highly problematic," AFT President Albert Shanker said in a statement. "These things can be fixed, however, and states that want to give charter schools a serious shot at success should fix them."

The 2.2 million-member National Education Association has also given cautious approval to the idea of publicly funded schools that operate free of many state and local regulations. The NEA is working in five states to help launch the first union-sponsored charter schools. (See "NEA Seeks To Help Start Five Charter Schools," April 24, 1996.)

The report by the 900,000-member AFT is one of three studies on charter schools released this summer. In it, the AFT declares that such schools can be a useful vehicle for reform, as long as they can demonstrate improved student achievement and preserve employee bargaining rights.

Only eight of the 25 states with charter school laws require that teachers in those schools be certified, and 15 of the states do not make adequate provisions for school employees' collective-bargaining rights, the report says.

It recommends that policymakers draft charter laws that require high academic standards and certified teachers and that preserve collective bargaining rights for employees.

Union Role Questioned

A separate report, released this month by the Hudson Institute, questions the motivations behind the teachers' unions' support for charter schools.

The report, from the "Charter Schools in Action" project of the Indianapolis-based think tank's Educational Excellence Network, contains the findings from the first year of a two-year nationwide study of charter schools. A preliminary version of the report was released in January. (See "Charters May Need More Oversight, Report Suggests," Jan. 31, 1996.)

The report recommends that policymakers set no limits, or very high ones, on the number of charter schools. And it advises keeping restrictions and regulations on schools to a minimum of health, safety, and nondiscrimination provisions.

The report is skeptical of union involvement: "In a fundamental sense, the charter movement, if it retains its essential attributes, is antithetical to the central tenets and practices of today's teachers' unions."

A third report, by the Boston-based Pioneer Institute for Public Policy Research, studied Massachusetts' first 15 charter schools during the 1995-96 school year. The report found little evidence to support what it calls common myths about charter schools.

It says the state's charter schools have more diverse enrollments than the average public school, their students were average or below-average achievers in their previous schools, and their parents are no more involved in school affairs than parents in other schools.


For More Information:

"Charter School Laws: Do They Measure Up?" is available for $10 prepaid from the AFT Order Department, 555 New Jersey Ave. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001. Request item 240.

"Charter Schools In Action: What Have We Learned?" is available for $5 at (800) HUDSON-0.

"Massachusetts Charter School Profiles" is available free from the Pioneer Institute for Public Policy Research, 85 Devonshire St., 8th Floor, Boston, Mass. 02109; (617) 723-2277; fax (617) 723-1880.

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