Education Week - July 19, 2017 - 12
With Teachers' Union
LILY ESKELSEN GARCÍA
in May, bringing that city's number
of union-organized charter schools
to five. As of this spring, Cleveland
now has five organized charter
schools as well.
Of the 6,900 charter schools nationally, only about 1 in 10 have
unions. That percentage has stayed
steady in recent years even while
charter enrollment has risen.
While largely symbolic for now,
the recent big-city union victories
could energize similar campaigns
in other nearby charter schools,
experts say. Chicago, Philadelphia,
and Sacramento have also seen upticks in organizing efforts among
charter school teachers.
Unions themselves have had to
balance anti-charter sentiment
among their affiliates with the
enticing opportunity to win new
members. The National Education
Association on July 4 approved a
more restrictive policy statement
that endorses only district-authorized charters that meet the same
reporting and accountability standards as other traditional public
schools. It labels privately managed charter schools as a "failed
and damaging experiment," but it
permits its state affiliates to receive aid in organizing charters,
whatever their type.
"Our goal is to promote voice
for educators," said Secky Fascione, the director of local union
organizing for the NEA. "It makes
sense we would try to promote
that voice for educators in all
But charter school advocates
say unionization can cause schools
to lose flexibility in how they do
scheduling, professional development, teacher evaluations, pay, and
dismissals-all of which help them
"When you take away that flexibility, they're really not a charter-they're another unionized
district school that has to pay everyone that has been there three
years and has a master's degree
the same way whether they're performing well or not," said Todd Ziebarth, the senior vice president for
state advocacy and support at the
National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
The Basic Trade-Off
While funded with public dollars, charter schools have more
autonomy than traditional public
schools. Many require teachers to
work longer hours than most union
contracts allow. And teachers there
generally are at-will employees,
meaning they can be dismissed for
The trade-off, charter advocates say, is that the schools can
J. David Ake/AP
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1
make budget and staffing choices
that they believe are best for
their students, free from the constraints of a district bureaucracy.
And many charters pride themselves on having a strong school
culture, which is ideally a product
of the leadership and staff working
together closely with a common
But in some of those charter
schools, the teachers end up feeling
Christian Herr, a science teacher
who helped lead the recent organizing effort at Chavez Prep
Middle School, part of the Cesar
Chavez Public Charter School
network in Washington, explained
that his school had been suffering
from high teacher and administrator turnover. Herr had worked
under four principals in four years.
The teachers there were looking for
some policies to count on regardless of who was in charge-and to
have a say in creating them.
When he began organizing, some
of the teachers at his school didn't
even know they could unionize.
"What we heard a lot from teachers was we thought the whole
thing with charter schools is we're
not allowed to form unions," he
said. "That was eye-opening for
Ultimately, teachers at Chavez
are looking for a contract that includes a salary scale built with
teacher input and due process for
teachers who are struggling, Herr
"We think a contract where
teachers and staff are better able
to advocate for themselves and re-
12 | EDUCATION WEEK | July 19, 2017 | www.edweek.org
'No Reason to Trust' DeVos,
Defiant NEA President Says
The nearly 3 million member National Education Association is facing a rocky road
ahead, including a projected loss of membership and a chilly relationship with the
Trump administration. Teachers' union President LILY ESKELSEN GARCÍA sat down
with Education Week to talk about a range of issues facing the union, including its
engagement with U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, the threat posed by a
looming U.S. Supreme Court case, and the NEA's new, tougher charter school policy.
Excerpts follow. The transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
You gave a speech on DeVos in which you said
you won't participate in a 'photo op' with her. How
do you engage with the administration after that?
A lot of folks said, "How are we going to work
with the [U.S.] Department of Education now?"
We still have staff-to-staff contact. There's still
the civil service folks who have been there years
and decades and through administrations. ... We
still have to guide people in the Every Student
Succeeds Act and how implementation is going.
The question about whether we can find some
common ground with Betsy DeVos is different.
The bipartisanship we have to build right now
is within the ranks of the Republican Senate and
the Republicans in the House to say, "Look at what
[Trump]'s doing to public school. Look at what
Betsy DeVos has cut from her budget from special
education, from after-school programs, from college
You posed some pointed questions to DeVos in
February that she still has not answered. What
happens if she does answer them?
Here's the bottom line, and we're not trying to
be cute here. The bottom line is there is no reason
to trust this woman. There is no reason to trust
how they would characterize a meeting with me.
I've seen what they've done with other people.
Look at what they did with [James] Comey. He
didn't trust them-he took notes! ... Who knows
what this administration is going to say?
We don't trust these people. We look at what
they did to Michigan public schools. DeVos
destroyed them on purpose to create customers,
so they were joyless, underfunded, overcrowded
places that people didn't want to work in, and
they didn't want their kids in those schools. It
was only to create a demand for what she calls
the private charter industry.
What are you going to do to help NEA
prepare for the potential loss of agency
fees [charged to nonmembers who benefit
from collective bargaining]?
Of course we saw this coming as soon as [Neil]
Gorsuch was put on the [U.S. Supreme] Court.
But we have a lot of states like my state, Utah. We
have a very strong membership in Utah. And we
don't have a bargaining law or a right to bargain,
we just do it.
So how do you advocate without that tool in