Time For More Charter School Unionization Stories

I got out my sextant, Air Almanac and HO-249 Sight Reduction Tables and after several celestial observations discovered the stars were aligned for yet another round of charter school unionization stories.

These appear in bunches every so often, usually with breathless remarks on both sides of the issue about this coming trend. Over the last few days we have been treated to 2,500 words in Politico, another 1,600 words in The American Prospect, and an editorial in the Wall Street Journal.

The stories assert that the union share of charter school teachers has risen since 2012 (update: the increase comes after it dropped between 2009 and 2012), but are very light on hard numbers. AFT claims it has “roughly 7,000” members who work in charter schools, while NEA won’t disclose how many it has.

The Politico story tells us (in the 13th paragraph) that “about half of the nation’s unionized charter teachers are bound by state law to local collective bargaining agreements.” So, a large number of unionized charter school teachers became so automatically.

The American Prospect story reports on a unionization effort at the Paul Public Charter School in Washington, DC. If successful, it would be the first charter school in the district to unionize. We are told 75 percent of the teaching staff signed a petition to join AFT.

Paul Public Charter School has 35 teachers and 28 other staffers who might be eligible to join a bargaining unit, but the story does not make it clear whether they would all be included.

So here’s your alternate headline: 47 People Sign Petition For Union.

This month, a 70-member local decertified NEA, garnering less than 200 words in the Manhattan, Kansas local newspaper. Teachers in the Carmel Clay school district in Indiana are trying to decertify NEA. They have a bargaining unit of 800 teachers. Teamsters Local 14 in Las Vegas has fought for 15 years to replace the NEA-affiliated school support employees local and is awaiting a Nevada Supreme Court decision on the election it won with 82 percent of the vote. That unit has almost 12,000 workers.

These stories never made the national press and were never cited as the first wave of a coming trend. Nor should they be. Organizing drives in charter schools and decertification drives in traditional schools are both marginal events in the public education sphere. Let’s all calm down, at least until the stars align again.

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Is Your Classroom Overdecorated?

I usually shy away from this type of thing because classrooms are as individual as the teachers and students who inhabit them, but over the years I’ve heard many long and sometimes heated debates among teachers over bulletin boards, displays of student work, and decorations.

Since the kids spend much of their days in these rooms, how they look can be conducive or obstructive to learning. Some teachers devote a lot of time to each painstaking detail, while others can’t understand why principals and administrators are so fired up about the latest holiday decoration and not so much about how the kids are doing.

With all this in mind, it was interesting to find this research from Carnegie Mellon University concluding “children in highly decorated classrooms were more distracted, spent more time off-task and demonstrated smaller learning gains than when the decorations were removed.”

It was a small sample size – 24 kindergarteners – but it does suggest more thought should be put into the question of whether there is too much visual noise in a particular classroom. Certainly teachers shouldn’t be judged harshly if they create an environment that leans toward the sparse rather than the busy.

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Burying the Lede, Then Knocking Down the Signpost to the Cemetery

Three New York Times reporters wrote 28 paragraphs on possible divisions within organized labor on Trump’s policies and somehow waited until the 25th paragraph for this sideways mention of public sector vs. private sector:

Unions in the public and service sectors, on the other hand, lack economic interests that would provide common ground with the new administration, and their membership is increasingly urban, African-American and Hispanic — easily alienated by Mr. Trump’s pronouncements on race and immigration. The Service Employees International Union, a leading service-sector force, has taken a largely oppositional stand.

Is it so hard to understand that 7.4 million private sector union members and 7.1 million public sector union members might disagree on some fundamental economic issues? Why dance around it?

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“There is a generational disconnect among union members”

A survey of active union members revealed differing priorities and expectations depending upon the member’s age.

The survey of 1,573 union members in 15 industries was conducted by Prudential Insurance and The Economist.

Among its findings were “There is a generational disconnect among union members” and that “millennials have higher expectations of unions and the workplace.”

The researchers concluded, “Millennials tend to be less satisfied with union accomplishments, which suggests that their expectations are not being met.”

I’ve addressed this phenomenon as it relates to NEA and its activists, but it appears to be prevalent across many labor organizations.

There was encouraging news as well. Respondents chose labor unions as having “the greatest ability to improve the welfare of American workers” – 49% said this was the case presently, and 55% said it was so for the future.

But it is important to note that all the respondents are union members – two-thirds of them for 10 years or more. The survey provides good advice for unions to keep the members they have. It is unclear whether the same methods would work to draw in new members.

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NEA Has “Grave Concerns” About Judge Gorsuch

It should surprise no one that the National Education Association does not want Judge Neil Gorsuch seated on the U.S. Supreme Court. He could very well be the fifth vote that puts an end to agency fees and creates a crisis for the union.

But the Gorsuch nomination offers a case study in how NEA tailors its external and internal messages differently. When Gorsuch was named, NEA sent out a press release that read, in part:

As educators, we have concerns about Judge Gorsuch’s record. He has ruled against students with disabilities who seek public education, and he has consistently sided with big business at the expense of working Americans.

We call on the Senate to diligently perform its duty to thoroughly vet the nominee to ensure the Supreme Court will protect all of us.

One week later, these talking points were distributed internally:

Much of it mirrors the language of the press release, but there are some additions. Judge Gorsuch has “embraced and promoted extreme views.” The Senate now “must demand answers” from him. And there is the final bullet: “NEA has grave concerns about Judge Gorsuch and will oppose his nomination unless those concerns are satisfactorily addressed.”

It’s safe to assume that nothing Judge Gorsuch says between now and his confirmation hearing will lead to NEA support, or even neutrality. But as with many issues of public importance, NEA walks a line between forcefully fighting for its agenda and feeding the public perception of it being the No to Everything Association.

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NEA Names LeVar Burton 2017 Friend of Education

The National Education Association bestowed its annual Friend of Education award on actor LeVar Burton, best known for his roles on Roots and Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Burton is also revered for hosting the award-winning PBS children’s show Reading Rainbow, which he revived and expanded as a digital app through a Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $5 million.

Unlike last year’s co-winner, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Burton is unlikely to cause ideological dissonance among NEA activists. He denounced the nomination of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education and recently told an audience of university students to “Rise the f–k up!

Burton himself is a product of the Catholic schools in Sacramento, California, having once studied for the priesthood. “I was raised a Catholic because my mother was a teacher and knew that the best education available for her children was parochial school,” he told Oprah in a 2012 interview.

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