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Education Opinion

Do Unions Belong in Charter Schools?

By Walt Gardner — November 25, 2015 1 min read
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One of the reasons often cited for the success of charter schools is that only seven percent of them have unions. Charter operators claim that being virtually union-free provides them with greater flexibility, including being able to fire underperforming teachers. A move now underway in Los Angeles to unionize charter school teachers may help to finally settle the issue (“Unions Eye L.A. Charter Schools,” The Wall Street Journal, Nov. 17).

Last March, 70 teachers at Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, the city’s largest charter system with 26 schools and more than 600 teachers, said they wanted to join United Teachers Los Angeles, the 31,000-member union representing all of the city’s public school teachers and about 1,000 teachers at 12 independent charter schools. The announcement set off a heated debate among parents (“Here’s what parents have to say about union efforts at Alliance charter schools,” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 19).

I do not believe charter schools can make a convincing case that the absence of teachers’ unions is crucial to their success. The only way they can do so is to show that they consistently outperform traditional public schools, where teachers’ unions exist. But studies have produced decidedly mixed results. The only exception is for charter schools serving low-income, non-white students in urban areas (“Urban Charter Schools Often Succeed. Suburban Ones Often Don’t,” The New York Times, Nov. 20).

Furthermore, I have seen no studies showing that Maryland, Hawaii, and Alaska, which require charter schools to be unionized, post worse results than other states. In other words, the presence or absence of teachers’ unions is irrelevant to the achievement of students.

Los Angeles already has more charter schools, 207, than any other school district in the country, and has a plan to double the number in the next eight years. That’s why the outcome of the situation at the Alliance College-Ready Public Schools will be watched as carefully as the Vergara v. State of California case that declared teacher tenure laws were unconstitutional (“A School Reform Landmark,” The Wall Street Journal, Jun. 11, 2014).

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.