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Union v. Charter

Via Mickey Kaus, a column from the Sacramento Bee:

The [Sacramento school] district has been trying to re-invent Sacramento High School, a troubled school... officially on the list of the state's "low-performing" schools and [facing] a possible state takeover.

Instead, the district school board voted earlier this year to close the campus and hand the grounds to a nonprofit corporation headed by former NBA basketball star Kevin Johnson, who graduated from Sacramento High... Johnson... is using his money and connections to try to spur an economic and spiritual resurgence in the area...

Sacramento High would be a public charter school, meaning it would get its funding directly from the state and escape many of the rules and regulations that weigh down traditional public schools. It would be held accountable for its results rather than its processes -- and the students would be expected to meet clear academic and behavioral standards. At least at the start, the teachers would not be members of the local union, the Sacramento City Teachers Association.

That's the problem. The union could not accept the loss of membership and control, and has done everything possible to stop the school's rebirth...

Once the school board voted narrowly to move ahead, the local union, with the backing of the California Teachers Association, took the district to court. The teachers' claim: The school was illegal because it wasn't really new but only a conversion of the old campus. State law, the union insisted, required the support of half the school's teachers for a conversion. If the school was closed and reopened, parental backing would be sufficient.

The first judge who heard the case rejected the union's request for an emergency order blocking the move and told the plaintiffs they had little chance of prevailing at trial. So the union used a legal maneuver to dump that judge for another.

The new jurist... issued a ruling blocking the school district from moving ahead... Her ruling, now under appeal, seemed to suggest that if the district left the campus shuttered for a year or so, all would be forgiven.

Now Johnson's St. HOPE Corp. is calling parents of more than 1,000 students already enrolled for the fall and circulating new petitions... The union is vowing an all-out fight and is pressuring the school board to cave and return the campus to traditional status...

Despite the uncertainty, the school's founders are moving ahead and have hired dozens of teachers and a corps of well-regarded administrators. Even more heartening, the community isn't giving up on St. HOPE. The nonprofit just announced it has received commitments for more than $1 million in new donations and scholarships. A local developer, a building supply company and a private law school were among the donors. This comes on top of $1 million already pledged by another developer and the UC Davis Medical Center, and $3 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The reborn Sacramento High School has the leadership and the support it needs to soar to new heights on behalf of the capital city's most disadvantaged students. All the school needs to do now is shed the teachers union that is fighting to keep it tied down.

As Mickey wrote, "Note to California Teachers Association: You can't buy bad publicity like that!"

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Comments

As a teacher, I would be _extremely_ uncomfortable with non-union teaching staff working in my area. Not because I don't want what's best for students, but because I do. With the belief that any idiot can teach (or that "those who can't do, teach"), the union is one of students' ONLY guarantees that the person in front of their class is a CERTIFIED teacher. Non-union teachers? How do we know they're certified? Properly trained? Educated?

Governments' wet dream is to break unions: and teachers' unions in particular. I do not have any doubt whatsoever that without my union I would be paid half of what I am now and _volunteering_ countless extra hours supervising before and after school and at lunch, running teams and committees (all of which, by the way, I have done anyway--but it's much different to volunteer than to be voluntold).

Whatever the flaws of unions, I would not be without mine. Allowing non-union teachers is the top of a very slippery and very dangerous slope.

We should be commending the California Teachers Association for looking out for their students and their members--damn few other people do.

First, I think we have a process-versus-results disagreement here. You're saying that certification is essential to ensure teacher quality. Do studies exist to back that up? If so, great, then I'm all for teacher certification. But if studies were to show that non-certified teachers perform as well as their certified counterparts in terms of student achievement, then, well, that would be a different matter.

Second, it's important to separate certification from unionization. The people of California could, for example, decide that teachers unions are completely optional while simultaneously keeping (or even) raising certification standards.

Finally, note that charter schools are, generally speaking, held to strict standards of student performance improvement. Whereas traditional public schools can (and sometimes do) go on failing their students indefinitely, charter schools must show specified levels of improvement or lose their charters. If St. HOPE's high school accomplishes this, then does it matter whether the teachers are unionized, certified, both, or neither?

It matters to the teachers, I should think.

Does certification matter? Only if you want to be certain that the person in front of your child's classroom has a degree in the area they're teaching. I have heard anecdotal reports that in Ontario, a woman--who had never had ANY post-secondary education or applicable experience--was hired to teach art. The following semester, there were academic blocks left over in the timetable. These were given to the new art teacher because her timetable wasn't full--though even she protested that she was unqualified to teach the classes she was being given.

If this can happen with a union in place (though it may well be that the union grieved such foolishness), then what will happen without one?

Why on earth is it such a big issue to hire union employees for this school? Charter school or not, it seems to me to be ridiculous for the founders to fight this battle. I'm sure there are enough UNION teachers who would be happy to work at a school so well-funded and so well-equipped in such a disadvantaged neighbourhood.

Wouldn't it be nice not to treat teachers and teachers' unions like the enemies? Wouldn't it be nice to recognize that those of us who choose teaching do it because we love your children as our own, not because we're ever going to get rich, but that we still need to be assured of making a decent living under reasonable working conditions? Believe me when I say that our union is our only hope of doing so. If the government had its way, we'd be working 20 hours a day, 365 days a year, for nothing. And then we'd be told we still weren't doing enough.

No thanks. Not for me.

Should it be public policy to promote higher pay or lower pay for citizens? If public policy is to help citizens receive higher pay, benefits, worker protections, etc. then it should be public policy to support unions.

I don't believe it should be public policy to promote any specific level of compensation for citizens above a minimum level designated as that needed to meet basic needs.

Is it true that unions help bring about higher pay, expanded benefits, and worker protections? In some cases, yes. Is it also true that unions help bring about inflexibility in operations, a culture of hostility between labor and management, and dramatically higher costs for businesses? In many cases, yes.

Look at the airline industry. Southwest and JetBlue are non-unionized. The major, non-discount carriers are totally unionized. Where would you rather work?

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