Other than school vouchers, there is little that draws down the wrath of teachers unions more than charter schools. There’s no surprise here: charter schools are rarely unionized, meaning that school leaders typically have plenty of power to hire, fire, and reassign their teaching staff, administrative freedoms recently applauded by The Wall Street Journal for their positive impact on learning.
Blogger Whitney Tilson has recently received some stories putting some very human faces on school reform. One girl sent Tilson a thank-you note for his donation to her charter school in Newark, New Jersey:
To be honest, if I wasn’t at TEAM Academy, I would be running the streets myself, caught in the net that many people are too blind to avoid. Boarding school and college wouldn’t even be part of my vocabulary. However, thanks to the guidance of my teachers and friends at TEAM Academy, my life is nowhere near that path.
Needless to say, TEAM Academy is not unionized. The Newark Public Schools district is — and it shells out a lot more money per child to produce much worse results. Click here for a rundown of TEAM Academy’s performance and per-student spending, and click here for our rundown of the unionized Newark public school district’s performance. If you’re feeling masochistic, you can click here to read the Newark Teachers Union’s paper on charter schools, which manages to criticize charters both for having below-average results and for having above-average students.
Meanwhile, the United Federation of Teachers, headquartered a few miles away in New York City, has been fighting tooth and nail to limit, if not eradicate, any charter schools that aren’t unionized. At the urging of New York’s teachers unions, the number of charter schools in the state has been artificially capped at levels far lower than what parents are demanding, leading to lotteries for scarce slots in those schools. The UFT has gone so far against non-union charter schools as to set up its own unionized charter schools. But even there, the effect of the union-supported cap on charters is being felt, as one of blogger Tilson’s readers relates:
One of the most dramatic lotteries I ever attended was actually the UFT’s of all schools. In that case, the drama came from the cluelessness of the young teachers who were part of the school design team and who helped run the event. They treated it like a celebration and had balloons and cake and all. But then it occurred to them, once the mothers started crying when the slots were filled, that it wasn’t such a happy event. The teachers looked like they had been hit in the head with bats.
Getting your kid into a charter school certainly can be cause for celebration. But for the kids left behind in educational Saigon as the last chartered helicopter takes off, there’s little to celebrate.