CURMUDGUCATION: Noble Teachers Forming Largest Charter Union

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

Source: CURMUDGUCATION: Noble Teachers Forming Largest Charter

Noble Teachers Forming Largest Charter Union

The 800 teachers and staff of Chicago’s Noble charter school chain is working to form the largest charter teacher union in the country.

They would not become the first charter union in the country, or even in Chicago. In fact, the Aspire network of charter schools just averted a strike by their own teachers’ union by agreeing to wage increases, shorter workdays, and, apparently, occasionally listening to their staff. Like the proposed Noble union, the Aspire teachers belong to the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (ACTS), a group affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers.

The Noble chain is one of Chicago’s most prominent, founded in 1999. Its investors include Governor Bruce Rauner, the billionaire Pritzker family and Chicago Board of Education President Frank Clark. It’s marketing literature makes plain where Noble’s focus lies:

At Noble, success is the only option. 
 No excuses. We believe that no matter how far behind a student is when they enter ninth grade, they will succeed. No matter what their family’s income or education level is, they will succeed. No matter if their neighborhoods are plagued with violence or their peers are involved in gangs, they will succeed. At Noble, we hold everyone—students, teachers, and leadership—to the highest possible standards and accept no excuses for failure. 

The brochure also notes that “The Noble Way” is “discipline, data and deliverables.”

A Chicago Reporter profile about Noble from a year ago included this characterization of the chain:

Critics often imagine the Noble Network of Charter Schools as a monolith that steals “good” students from neighborhood schools and pushes out the “bad” ones. A place where students walk silently in hallways and teachers are obsessed with test prep.

There is some truth to that stereotype, as higher-achieving students are more likely to choose Noble to start with, while many who can’t handle the strict system of demerits leave.

The profile argues that things are “more complicated.” Nobles own figures on retention are not great, but not shocking (and also not easily verified by any outside source.

Noble has run into other issues. In 2013, news reports publicized Noble’s “disciplinary fees,” a fine assessed against students for infractions like “unkempt appearance and not making eye contact.” In the worst cases, students would not only pay fines for infractions, but be assigned a “summer behavioral session” with a corresponding tuition fee. One student’s family racked up almost $2,000 in fees for a ninth grade son, just to keep him in the school. Noble has also become a school associated with the “grit” movement, with the attempts to turn joy into a school chore. It’s not a pretty picture.

Noble also got in trouble last fall when they used Chicago Pubic School student home addresses for promotional mailers. And like many charter chains, they are hard on their teaching staff– the school runs a long school day. In their book A Fight for the Soul of Public Education, Steven Ashby and Robert Bruno report that a beginning teacher at Noble in 2012 made roughly half of their public school counterparts. Noble does not have a set pay scale, and teachers who want a raise must ask for one, or hope that they can score a test score bonus based on student results (up to $5,500).

The Noble staff is much whiter than Chicago Public School staff. It’s also about 40% Teach for America. Noble’s own exit interviews tell them that about 40% of the departing teachers feel they were underpaid. But Noble teachers, while given some autonomy and a generous classroom budget, gave as their Number One reason for leaving “unreasonable job expectations.” As one former teacher told the now-departed magazine Chicago Catalyst,

If we expect teachers to be martyrs forever, we’ll never retain talent.

But if a charter is based on demanding a culture of compliance from its students, it seems likely that they will extend that sort of firm, commanding hand to their staff. If your whole school is based on an atmosphere of obedience, of shaping your appearance and behavior to the demands of your superiors– well, it would be hard to institute that approach only to students, and not also to the teaching staff. If your school’s motto is “People got to know their place,” it’s hard to see how that wouldn’t not have a long-term toxic effect on your relationship with your staff.

In a letter calling for the union, organizers wrote

We want a voice in decisions, stability in our schools and, most importantly, the best possible future for our students. Under current local and national conditions, educators labor to remain in their classrooms while our value is diminished, our capacity drained, and our power constrained.

Some teachers are quick to note that they do not see this as an “us versus them” situation, but believe that the chain has some issues that need to be addressed. In a WBEZ report, teachers noted the high staff turn over rate at Noble– about a third of the staff leaves every year, according to the state. This is not unusual for Illinois charters; for many of them, it is a feature and not a bug, because teachers who leave within a year or two cost far less than teachers who stick around. But some teachers see it as a problem for the students and the school community:

Spanish teacher Christina Verdos-Petrou said she got involved in the union effort after the return of a former student opened her eyes to the impact of teacher turnover.

“I was the only one he recognized,” said Verdos-Petrou, who works at Noble’s Golder College Prep campus in Chicago’s West Town neighborhood. “It is truly heartbreaking when I see our students come back and they do not recognize the majority of staff in the building.”

Management, meanwhile, does not want to sacrifice the “flexibility” that comes with an non-union staff. Noble principals are free to pay each teacher whatever the principal thinks that teacher is worth, within the financial limits of the chain. Noble leaders say that they could pay better if they got more money from the public system. But it’s hard to see why they need more money from the public system in order to stop demanding that teachers work twelve-to-fourteen hour days.

Whatever its strengths and weaknesses, Noble is a textbook example of how quickly teachers can get beat up and burned out when they have no employment protections, no clearly set job requirements, plus low and uncertain pay. Noble’s yet another example of a charter chain that uses “flexibility” as code for “profitable instability that works in management’s favor.”

If the teachers and staff can pull this off and manage to unionize the chain, they’ll be doing the management of Noble a favor, and doing the students of Noble an even huger favor, but it remains to be seen if Noble management understands that, or whether they put a greater value on the freedom to run their schools without having to answer to anybody. If Noble does become home to the largest charter union in the country, that will send a message to other overworked, underpaid charter teachers who don’t know their place. On the other hand, it will help to legitimize charter schools. This is a story worth watching.


Actually Mr. President, the Affordable Care Act Has Been a Huge Success in Kentucky 


In his address to Congress (recently), President Donald Trump repeated the falsehood that the Affordable Care Act is “failing” in Kentucky. Trump was quoting Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin who said last weekend that coverage wasn’t a good measure of whether health reform was successful, implying that people getting coverage under the ACA, and Medicaid in particular, aren’t getting access to health care.

Kentucky is an Affordable Care Act success story

That’s just not true. By most measures, Kentucky’s experience with the health care law has been a success story. And an example of what can be achieved if states fully implement the ACA.

READ THE FULL ESSAY HERE: Actually Mr. President, the Affordable Care Act Has Been a Huge Success in Kentucky | Families USA

Fearing deportation, number of U.S. refugees seeking asylum in Canada is spiking – CBS News

U.S. refugees who illegally enter Canada are allowed to claim asylum, and thousands have done so in 2017

In February, 646 U.S. refugees walked into Quebec, a 600% jump from February of 2016. Along the whole border, about 2,100 refugees did so in the first two months of 2017 — double the number from a year earlier.

READ THE FULL INVESTIGATIVE REPORT HERE: Fearing deportation, number of U.S. refugees seeking asylum in Canada is spiking – CBS News

The state department’s spokesman didn’t know Mexico’s foreign minister was in DC—another sign America’s diplomats are sidelined

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was only told about the Mexican foreign minister’s visit the night before and didn’t get to meet him.

In normal times, a visit by the foreign minister of one of America’s closest allies would be coordinated by the State Department from start to finish, with a meeting between the minister and the secretary of State in the midst of it.
But in US president Donald Trump’s Washington, not only did secretary of State Rex Tillerson not meet Mexican foreign minister Luis Videgaray on a March 9 visit; his chief spokesman didn’t even know Videgaray was in the city. Mark Toner told reporters who asked about the visit:
Good question. We’ll take that and get back to you. I was unaware that he was—the foreign minister was in town. And I’m not sure—I can’t speak to whether there’s going to be any meetings at the State Department at any level.
The Los Angeles Times then reported that that Videgaray had called Tillerson “the night before to let him know he was arriving in Washington.” But Videgaray met Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in the White House instead.

READ THE FULL REPORT HERE — Source: The state department’s spokesman didn’t know Mexico’s foreign minister was in DC—another sign America’s diplomats are sidelined — Quartz

Flaws in Minnesota’s testing landscape work against student learning – Education Votes

New audit confirms Minnesota needs to reform state-mandated testing policies

A state audit is highlighting several major flaws connected to Minnesota’s standardized testing landscape, and educators are calling for change.

READ THE REPORT HERE: Flaws in Minnesota’s testing landscape work against student learning – Education Votes

Three more school funding formulas under fire – Education Votes

School finance laws are under fire in Kansas, New Jersey, and Mississippi—where state leaders have shared a common tactic.

No school funding formula is a good one if state lawmakers choose not to fund it.

READ THE REPORT HERE: Three more school funding formulas under fire – Education Votes

Educators fear health coverage will be taken from millions of students if ACA is repealed – Education Votes

Under a GOP proposal to slash Medicaid, millions of children will lose medical coverage. That will mean more barriers to learning for already vulnerable students, say educators. The Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act will yank critical health coverage from millions of students, creating barriers to their education and hardship for their families.

READ THE REPORT HERE: Educators fear health coverage will be taken from millions of students if ACA is repealed – Education Votes

5 reasons charter schools are bad news for students – Education Votes

Charter schools need to be held to same rigorous standards as traditional public schools. Forty-four states and the District of Columbia have charter school laws on the books. Here are five reasons why these taxpayer-funded, independently managed schools are bad news for kids: 5 reasons charter schools are bad news for students – Education Votes

The American Garment Workers Who Helped Inspire International Women’s Day | Smart News | Smithsonian

In America in the early twentieth century, working women were coming together to fight for labor rights as well as other rights, like voting. The International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU) became one of the largest unions voicing the concerns of women workers (men also joined this union.) It was formed in 1900. Another central influence in the movement was the Women’s Trade Union League (WTUL), formed three years later.

It was initially challenging to get working women to join unions, for a number of reasons including class and racial struggles, write historians Annelise Orleck and Eileen Boris. But in a moment in the early twentieth century, the interests of working-class women who were fighting for labor rights and human rights aligned with those of middle-class feminists, who, they write, were “focused primarily on achieving equality with male professionals and executives.”
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Source: The American Garment Workers Who Helped Inspire International Women’s Day | Smart News | Smithsonian