One of the advantages of charter schools in the minds of their supporters is the absence in most cases of teachers unions. Without them, principals have far more freedom to fire those who are ineffective. But there is a price to be paid, as was seen at Philadelphia’s Delaware Valley Charter High School on May 31 (“Philadelphia Charter School Teachers - And Their Union - Stand Up to Management,” In These Times, Aug. 2).
What happened serves as a rebuttal to those who believe that teachers unions are interested only in protecting their members to the detriment of students. In the middle of instruction during the morning in question, Ernest Holiday, the principal and CEO, entered the classroom of eight teachers to deliver pink slips. Their crime was speaking out against the rules that Holiday had established. Their effectiveness in the classroom was never an issue. Yet that did not deter Holiday.
I’ve written often before about the abuse of power by principals in traditional public schools, even though teachers unions had a powerful presence. But nothing compared to the way teachers in the Delaware Valley Charter High School were treated. There is a professional way of handling evaluations. It is done in private between the principal and the teacher. To barge into a class and hand teachers notice of termination is the height of humiliation. Nevertheless, it happened and will continue to happen when teachers unions are emasculated.
Charter schools will likely be the scene of other abuses of power because in most cases union certification is covered by state rules rather than by the NLRB. As a result, the rights of teachers vary. And I’m talking now about charter schools that permit teachers unions. Delaware Valley, for example, is one of five charter schools in Philadelphia unionized under the Alliance of Charter School Educators, which is a local of the American Federation of Teachers. What about charter schools that don’t have unions? Where is due process for teachers in those schools?
Most disturbing is that cases such as the Delaware Valley Charter High School get little, if any, media attention. Instead, it’s always the negative news about teachers unions that makes the headlines, as coverage of the Chicago teachers strike attests. I don’t deny that teachers unions can sometimes obstruct progress. But it’s important for all sides of the story to be made public. So far, that hasn’t happened.
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.