Despite their rapid expansion, very few charter schools are unionized. But that may soon be changing. Teachers at Noble Network, the largest charter school network in Chicago, announced their decision to form a union (“Chicago Teachers Are Trying to Organize the Biggest Charter School Union in the U.S., In These Times, Mar. 9).
If they succeed, it will undoubtedly be blamed as the beginning of the downfall of the charter movement by union foes. I say that because so many supporters of charter schools attribute their effectiveness to the absence of unions. To their way of thinking, once unions get in, schools deteriorate. I don’t believe that accusation for one moment, but it will be tested by researchers who follow the effect that unionization has on charter schools.
According to the Center for Education Reform, 10 percent of charter schools in the country are now unionized. That compares with seven percent five years ago. The question is why teachers at charter schools are increasingly organizing. I think the answer is that they want more input into what is taking place at their schools. In addition, the amount of work has overwhelmed many. That’s why retention remains a persistent problem.
I never taught in a charter school. But I know others who have. Their biggest complaint is the rigid curriculum and lockstep instruction. It’s this disaffection that unions are focusing on. Yet not all charter teachers are willing to join. The most recent example was at the Lusher Charter School in New Orleans. Last May, teachers voted against unionization by 77-54. That’s why I’m closely following events in Chicago.
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.