School Choice

Are Charter Schools and Teachers Unions Compatible?

All of us at Education Post believe that open, honest conversation among people with a diversity of viewpoints can help bridge differences and lead to improvements in public education. For more than two years, we have published and amplified a range of voices across the education spectrum on a variety of topics from standards, school choice and accountability to discipline, equity and funding. Oakland blogger Dirk Tillotson wrote a provocative piece suggesting that unions and charters could actually be good for each other. Dirk has worked in both union and non-union charters and remains a strong believer in school choice. About 12 percent of America’s 6,700 charter schools are unionized. Federal, state and local union affiliates would like to see more of them become unionized. We invited several people to react to Dirk’s piece and share their thoughts on whether unionizing charters will be good for kids. Eric Lerum, vice president of growth and strategy for America Succeeds, takes a look at the collective bargaining agreements in unionized charters and concludes that some of them look a little too much like standard labor agreements but a few don’t. Scott Pearson, who is the executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board, is surprisingly open-minded about the idea. Though he has approved dozens of charter proposals, he has never received one that includes unionized teachers. Maddie Fennell, a former Nebraska Teacher of the Year and a current teaching fellow at the National Education Association (NEA) believes that unions will not only help charters do a better job of supporting teachers, but could help unions change and evolve toward a more professional model. Kaitlin Pennington and Max Marchitello, senior analysts at Bellwether Education Partners, believe that charters and unions can coexist as long as the teacher contracts don’t inhibit the innovation that is at the heart of the charter experiment. We hope you will read these pieces and share your thoughts directly with the authors in the comments section or on social media. If you’re feeling inspired, write your own blog post and send it our way. We’re happy to publish it as long as it’s civil, honest and readable and takes this important conversation forward.
Peter Cunningham
Peter Cunningham is the founder of Education Post and serves on its board. He served as Assistant Secretary for communications and outreach in the U.S. Department of Education during the Obama administration’s first term. Prior to that he worked with Arne Duncan when he was CEO of the Chicago Public Schools. Peter is affiliated with Whiteboard ...

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