Recently it was reported by the LA Times that the Eli Broad Foundation had met with some other philanthropic groups, and charter school operators to discuss turning 50% of Los Angeles Unified Schools into charter schools. I am sure you can imagine what the teachers union, United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), thinks of the idea.
This made me wonder, where did the idea of charter schools come from?
The idea originated with a man named Ray Budde, who was a Michigan educator. He taught junior high, was a junior high principal, and taught school administration at the University of Michigan. Budde envisioned a two-tiered organizational system where a group of organized, dedicated teachers would apply and report directly to a school board to run and operate a school. Budde’s ideas were not realized until Albert Shanker, the former president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) began talking about autonomous teacher-run schools in the late1980s. Budde’s ideas were about school organization; Shanker built on Budde’s vision to include the notion that charter schools become living, breathing think tanks of teacher innovation and success.
The origins of charter schools and what the Broad Foundation proposes leads me to think that turning 50% of LAUSD schools into charter schools is the anti-thesis of Budde and Shanker’s original vision. Budde and Shanker didn’t envision the charter school movement to create a system of educational franchises; they were smart enough to realize that one-size does not fit all. Budde and Shanker also realized that the key to these “new schools” is teachers.
We, as a nation, have been studying what works in schools for quite some time now. One thing that rings through in all that meta-analysis is that dedicated hard-working teachers, in a coherent educational system, are the most important ingredient in a quality education. If there was one right answer to improving schools, I think by now it would have been seized upon, and profited upon. Curriculum and school organization plans do not teach students, teachers do. One might argue that one reason LAUSD is not doing a better job as whole is the fact that classroom teachers are so far removed from the district organizational process.
Right now UTLA has almost declared “war” on Eli Broad and I can’t say that I blame them. Eli Broad and all the other philanthropists would be wise to remember the origins of charter schools - to put teachers in charge of running schools. There are lots of successful school governance models where teachers’ rights are protected with union contracts; the different governance models also allow the school to have waivers to the union contract for reasons like hiring teachers with specialized credentials i.e. foreign languages, technical certificates, arts credentials, etc.
The LA Times most recently published an editorial supporting the expansion of charter schools in Los Angeles. In their opinion, better oversight needs to happen by the state, and ironically LAUSD, to ensure that charter operators are sticking to the rules (i.e. not forcing out low achievers, kicking out behavior problems, cherry picking high achieving students in the selection process, etc.) The TImes also noted the need to gain a better understanding of why teacher attrition rates are higher at charter schools than at traditional public schools.
The LA Times and the public at large would do well to remember the union’s role in public education, to protect and safeguard the rights of teachers, so teachers may teach in the best interests of their students. Who do you want teaching your child--- a teacher who operates from a place of fear, or a teacher who is happy and secure in their job because their rights are respected?
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