CURMUDGUCATION: Unionizing Charters (PT. I)

Unionizing Charters (PT. I)

A curious conversation is unfolding over at Education Post, kicked off by this piece by Dirk Tillotson, founder and executive direct of Great Schools Choices, a charter advocacy group. It’s a “provocative” piece simply because it is a charter fan writing in favor of unionizing charter work forces.

Tillotson kicks off his conversation by using classic passive voice weaseling to get around a fundamental fact of charter life:

Charters and unions are often seen as diametrically opposed.

Are seen by whom, one wonders. Then one remembers that charters and unions are seen as diametrically opposed by the vast majority of charteristas, who have for years touted the non-union work force as one of the big selling points of charters. The CEO model of charters has always called for a visionary who doesn’t have to answer to restrictive and confining union rules, with many charter player preferring Teach for America style workforces that don’t unionize, don’t object to enforced 80-hour work weeks, and don’t stick around long enough to start telling the CEO what to do. Charters have been dragged into court for union-busting. Ed Secretary-in-waiting Betsy DeVos of course supported charters big-time in Michigan as well as a union-busting right-to-work rule.

One would be hard-pressed over the past decade to find a charter supporter who wanted to make sure that their charter school had a teachers union. In the vast majority of cases, charter support and anti-union stances go hand in hand.

Tillotson tries to gloss over this by observing that the diametrical opposition isn’t “accurate” history becaus Great-godfather of charters Albert Shanker was a union guy (I have a sense we’re about to hear that factoid brought up a lot), but that’s baloney. The modern charter movement has been actively and vocally anti-union, and if Tillotson and Peter Cunningham and other lefty-ish charter supporters want to have a new post-Trump alliance-building conversation, a good start would be some honesty about how we got here.

This is the problem with Tillotson’s argument– though it contains some valid and worthwhile points, it keeps tripping over some uncomfortable truths about the real current situation.

Maybe charters could help teach unions develop a more professional, less industrial model? Sure, that might even be true. Tillotson offers an example and mentions the key– trusting teachers to do their jobs and not acting as if they must punch the clock. I don’t disagree, but the “punch the clock” model has two real sources: 1) districts that don’t trust their teachers and demand time-card style “accountability,” and 2) districts that can’t be trusted to stop demanding “one more hour” of teacher time until teachers are working 100-hour work weeks. In both cases, it’s not the union that is the source of the model. Tillotson’s right– a charter run on a more professional model could stop both of those issues. My question– is there really any reason to believe that charters are more likely to embrace such a model than a public school?

Tillotson also suggests that since failure = death for a charter school (if only– but let’s skip that argument for now) the union is more invested in success for the whole school and not just protecting teacher rights. Protecting the school = protecting teacher jobs. That’s an interesting and valid-ish point– unless we’re talking about a charter where survival = making enough profit or ROI for owner/investors of the business. Then it all becomes a little more complicated.

Tillotson suggests that the biggest benefit is an end to expensive time-wasting ugly charter-union wars, and he paints these as wars between equally-culpable combatants who battle on while parents and staff don’t really care about this. He invokes the “putting adult concerns ahead of students” trope, which is an unfortunate choice since it’s most commonly used to mean “teachers should strop arguing about their rights and let charter advocates do what they know is best” and gets us right back to “teachers working conditions are student learning conditions.”

Too much blood is spilt and too much effort is wasted in the charter-union wars and it’s stupid. We’re basically arguing over the same kids, the same staff, and the same goals. We’re all just advocates coming from a different camp.

While I agree with the “wasted effort” portion of this statement, I’m not on board with the old “we’re all in it for the kids” part. One of my problems with the modern charter movement is that many operators are clearly not in it for the kids at all; some are there for the money, and some because they believe it is their right and privilege to remake education as they see fit. And many who sincerely believe they are in it for the kids also believe that they, and they alone, know what’s best for the kids– and many of these folks are simply wrong. In other words, I doubt the good intentions of some charteristas, and for those who have good intentions–well, good intentions are not enough, particularly if you depend on expertise you don’t actually have while excluding the expertise of people who actually know what they’re talking about. So I think it’s a bit more complicated than “we all just want the same thing, but disagree on methods.”

There is much in Tillotson’s piece that is on point–

Families want good schools where kids are treated fairly, and staff want schools where they are supported, can be effective, and are treated fairly.

Neither unionized schools nor non-unionized charters have a monopoly on serving families or treating staff well.

And I welcome reformster’s new-found interest in making friends with teachers and their unions. But it’s going to be hard to move forward if we can’t be honest about where we are and how we got there.

Ed Post chief Peter Cunningham has been hard at work on this conversation, and has (so far) four responses to Tillotson’s piece. Ed Post was established as a sort of war room PR operation, so if Cunnigham is doing all this (plus his piece with Shavar Jeffries of DFER), somebody has made some strategic decisions about this business, and that’s worth some attention.

In the interests of space, I’m going to cover those four responses in another post to follow shortly.
Posted by Peter Greene at Thursday, December 01, 2016 : CURMUDGUCATION: Unionizing Charters (PT. I)

MLB a little late to the game with FEC filings – OpenSecrets Blog

 The Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) estimates that 2.6 million of the American citizens living overseas are eligible to vote. In 2014, only 93,000 of those, or 4 percent, voted. 2016 numbers aren’t yet available.

While we can’t know how they voted, we do know this: Overseas citizens made almost $4.6 million in donations to federal candidates, party committees and outside spending groups like super PACs in 2016, putting them as a group more or less on par with a small state such as Alaska.

… read more: MLB a little late to the game with FEC filings – OpenSecrets Blog

Stein’s Recount Effort Brings in Twice as Much as her Campaign

 The Green Party’s Jill Stein is picking up the fundraising pace…a month after the actual election. Stein’s team says it has brought in $6.4 million in less than a week to recount votes in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan. That’s $3 million more — or almost double — what she raised for her presidential campaign through Oct. 19.

Stein’s campaign manager David Cobb told OpenSecrets Blog more than 140,000 donations have come in so far, averaging $46 each.

… read more: Stein’s Recount Effort Brings in Twice as Much as her Campaign

RNC covered its convention costs, but some who gave in 2012 stayed away – OpenSecrets Blog

 While names were announced for a slew of appointments to President-elect Donald Trump’s administration last week, there are still some significant posts left — like running the Interior Department, which is in charge of wildlife and natural resources.

Oil execs and other pro-development types seem to be leading contenders here, meaning it’s likely the department will be taking a drastic shift away from its focus of the last few years on conservation and renewable energy.

… read more: RNC covered its convention costs, but some who gave in 2012 stayed away – OpenSecrets Blog

Betsy DeVos and her big-giving relatives: Family qualifies as GOP royalty – OpenSecrets Blog

Since 1989, Betsy DeVos and her relatives have given at least $20.2 million to Republican candidates, party committees, PACs and super PACs, according to an analysis. Amway, the multilevel marketing giant that earned much of the family its wealth, gave another nearly $3.6 million to the party prior to 2002. And that’s just at the federal level — they’ve given hundreds of millions more to candidates and other committees at the state level, and to nonprofit groups championing favored conservative causes.

Click here to read the full article!: Betsy DeVos and her big-giving relatives: Family qualifies as GOP royalty – OpenSecrets Blog

CURMUDGUCATION: Measuring Charter Success

CURMUDGUCATIONThe slightly-cranky voice navigating the world of educational “reform” while trying to still pursue the mission of providing quality education.

Source: CURMUDGUCATION: Measuring Charter Success

Measuring Charter Success

The charter business is going to boom soon. Let’s imagine how we could become really successful in that industry.

Let’s imagine a world where schools are judged on how healthy their students are. And since overall health is a complicated metric, let’s choose an easily-measured metric as a proxy. We’ll say that the students’ height will be the measure of student achievement.

We’ll start advertising our charter school. We’ll advertise spacious rooms with nice high doorways. We’ll highlight our larger-than-average student desks and our room arrangements that allow for extra leg room. If that advertising doesn’t really appeal to smaller children of smaller parents, oh well. That’s the free market for you– you can’t sell to everyone.

Parents are free to stop by the office and pick up an application– right off that top shelf over there in the corner. Too short to reach it? That’s okay– we have a step-stool for your kind. No reason to feel awkward or out-of-place at all. Yes, when you’ve finished filling out your forms, just put them in that basket on that other top shelf.

Once we’ve selected students here at Top Shelf Academy, they can begin to start their program of scholastic growth. Our specially designed classrooms feature shelves mounted six feet off the floor. If your child has trouble getting the assignments, well, we encourage him to reach higher, and if he can’t, well, maybe he’s just not a good fit for Top Shelf Academy. See ya later.

At the end of the year– yay! Our students have an average height several inches above other students in our city. Clearly we have surpassed the health ratings of other schools. We have shown we know how to make students healthier.

Well, yes. I suppose you could check to see if we contributed to the overall height of students in the entire city. If we checked the average height of all students, we’d know whether Top Shelf actually increased overall height in the city, or we just moved the tall students around, into our school.

But never mind that. Look! We made our students taller than everyone else’s! We must know the secret of how to entallify students. No, don’t ask what it is! Just honor us for showing up everyone else.

CURMUDGUCATION: Smarick: How It Could All Go Wrong

CURMUDGUCATIONThe slightly-cranky voice navigating the world of educational “reform” while trying to still pursue the mission of providing quality education.

Source: CURMUDGUCATION: Smarick: How It Could All Go Wrong


Smarick: How It Could All Go Wrong

Regular readers know that Andy Smarick is on my short list of folks from The Other Side whose writing I generally respect. Smarick is often a thoughtful voice for what I think of as “old school conservatives” or “traditional conservatives” or even “real conservatives.” And he’s comfortable with nuance. None of which is to say that I don’t totally disagree with him on many subjects. But he makes an interesting read.

Case in point. In a recent piece for American Enterprise Institute (Smarick, while nominally associated most with Bellwether Partners, floats freely in the Bellwether-Fordham-AEI nexus), Smarick lays out exactly how the Trump administration could go into weeds on education policy.

He starts by asking “the most important question”–

Are you hoping to advance particular programs or a steady, coherent conservative philosophy?

He considers it an important question in general, and specifically important since the Trumpsters have never articulated a coherent philosophy about anything, conservative or otherwise.

Smarick observes that just going item-by-item can be appealing. It makes news and generates a list of see-how-much-I-love-kids accomplishments. But Smarick sees two problems here:

The first, smaller issue is that education is always highly susceptible to the fad of the week (exactly why the initial response of many seasoned teachers to Common Core was “this too shall pass”) or even a whole bunch of fads that don’t even fit together (like, say, Common Core Standards and Big Standardized Tests that aren’t even aligned to them).

The second issue is the biggie.

An explicit, comprehensive philosophy of governing is extraordinarily important any time we invite Uncle Sam into our schools. That is, absent a clearly articulated view about the federal government’s strengths and weakness, what it should and shouldn’t do, and how it ought to interact with families, schools, districts, and states, an administration is asking for trouble.

The trouble Smarick is talking about is Creeping Federal Overreach. You may think you’re going to be a good old small-government, local-control conservative, but once you’re in that beautiful DC office and the reins of power are in your hand, the temptation becomes just too great to start making some rules to force Those People to Behave The Way They’re Supposed To (e.g. Bush II and No Child Left Behind).

When people are given authority, if they lack a conservative disposition or ideology and aren’t given conservative direction from above, they have a tendency to want to bend the world to their will. This is their big chance to direct others’ behavior, and so they can easily succumb to the temptation to use their fleeting power to its fullest. 

In other words, let’s say that the Department of Education is in the hands of a person with a long career of trying to force a new system of education, even (in defiance of the Constitution) working toward the goal of replacing a secular public school system with a Christian system of education. We’ve had folks who believed that the federal government should throw its weight behind telling schools what to teach, how to measure success, and how schools should be punished for failing. What if we had someone who not only believed all that, but also believed the federal government should throw its weight behind deciding who should or should not get to even run schools, and was even more willing than previous administrations to make the federal government a main player in picking (and rewarding and punishing) winners and losers in the education sphere. Let’s say we had that person as Secretary of Education, working for a President with no coherent political philosophy at all.

That would be bad.

Unmoored from conservative principles, they can decide to use the federal government’s substantial power — its bully pulpit, budget, regulatory power, guidance documents — to force policies they like. They can end up as bossy about their preferences as progressives would be about their own. It is instructive that while the Obama administration sought to nationalize its policies on teacher evaluation, standards, and assessments, the Bush administration attempted to do the same on accountability. When an ascendant team doesn’t govern deductively from conservative principles the upshot is predictable: local-led gives way to federal; organic gives way to centrally planned; small gives way to large; longstanding practice and incremental improvements give way to novel ideas and grand schemes.

Smarick goes on to soft-peddle his point. He says the path of the Trump administration is “not yet clear” and I believe that is true if you have vaseline smeared over your eyeballs and your head in a bucket. We have moved now from a conservative-ish neo-liberal President to a liberal-ish neo-liberal President to a corporate narcissist six-year-old’s id graceless and clumsy neo-liberal President. Put another way, the weapons of federal over-reach are not going to be put away any time soon; they’ll just be pointed at different stuff. We’re all still trapped in a dark alley with a self-important mugger; all that is changing is who gets mugged first.

Smarick imagines a world in which Trumps $20 billion choice plan actually works out well, even for progressives. But of course the devil is in the details, and the number of details to date is exactly zero, and given the story so far, I’m expecting that those details are going to carry the devil in on a big comfy chair. Than there’s this–

By choosing the talented Betsy DeVos as his nominee to be Secretary of Education, President-elect Trump might have intimated a policy-by-conservative-principles approach. 

Sure. Also, the DeVos choice might intimate that pigs are about to fly out of my butt.

DeVos has devoted most of her adult life and huge chunks of her personal fortune to getting government to support and implement the policies that she wants to see implemented, not just in her own neighborhood and her own state, but in other neighborhoods and states around the country. When she is the department chief and actually has the power that, for decades, she has been trying to buy and cajole, do you think she’s going to just let it sit unused?

Here’s a conversation that is never going to happen in the DeVos USED.

Assistant Undersecretary of the Department of Silly Titles: Secretary DeVos, a state has declared that they are going to ban vouchers, cut school choice, and appoint a committee to make certain that not one dollar of tax money goes to any sort of religious school.

Secretary DeVos: Well, that’s unfortunate, but the state should pursue whatever policy it likes without any interference from us. Do nothing about this. Nothing at all. We’re just here to help them implement whatever policies they choose.

Smarick ends by noting that being in power comes with many temptations, and how things go will depend a lot on who is appointed to various positions. This is probably true, given the minimal amount of policy guidance that is likely to trickle down from The Top. Okay, not entirely true– there do seem to be some philosophical underpinnings like, say, “Some people matter and some people don’t.” That’s probably not going to inform education policy in many useful ways.

This sort of wishful thinking (Conservatives: Trump could turn out to be great) is not confined to any part of the political spectrum (Liberals: Obama is leaving an economy in awesome shape). And I think Smarick’s picture of how this all goes south is sound. It’s framed as a warning, but I’m afraid it’s more of a prediction.

The $12 Billion Boondoggle for Big Pharma

H.R. 6, the so-called “21st Century Cures” Act, contains a provision – written by Big Pharma lobbyists – that would give manufacturers of prescription drugs a six-month extension on exclusivity. What this means is that it would give drug makers an additional six months to charge whatever they like for potentially life-saving medications without having to worry about competition from generic versions.The good news is that people are on to this boondoggle. The bill has since gone to the Senate. However, since Big Pharma’s psychopathic greed has been shoved in our collective faces over the past months, Congressional Democrats, pressured by a coalition of liberal organizations that include the AFL-CIO and others, have been pressuring their colleagues to pass legislation that would rein in the drug companies’ extortion – putting the fate of the “21st Century Cures” Act in doubt.Now, for the bad news:

Read more here: The $12 Billion Boondoggle for Big Pharma: Congress to Give Prize – Drug Safety News

West Michigan Policy Forum Endorsed Legislation seeks to eliminate Public School Teacher Pensions in Michigan | Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy

It is possible that before the end of the year, the Michigan Legislature might push through a bill that will effectively end public school teacher pensions. We wrote about this issue in September, …

Read more here: West Michigan Policy Forum Endorsed Legislation seeks to eliminate Public School Teacher Pensions in Michigan | Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy