In a recent article published on EducationPost, Scott Pearson, executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board reacted to a blog post by Dirk Tillotson who contends that unions have a place in charter schools. Mr. Pearson agrees, stating that not one of the charter applications that has come before his organization has included unionized employees, and he believes that the time has come for this innovation to be employed just like others he has seen in his sector. He could not be more mistaken.
Mr. Pearson begins his argument with the assertion that unions can be a voice for employee concerns. But what I have seen from working with a bargaining unit in Washington, D.C. is that unions actually become a wall between management and staff. It inserts a third party between these two groups, and although you would imagine that the union looks out for the interest of its members exactly the opposite becomes true. The union, almost naturally, does everything it can to protect its place and power, often at the expense of those it is supposed to be supporting.
The PCSB executive director also appears to be a fan of the due process procedures that unions impose to protect their employees from being fired. But we sadly learned about the DCPS teachers who committed educational malpractice for decades without consequences because they were protected by the union. We’ve heard the stories of instructors who have been accused of wide ranging offenses collecting full pay while sitting in rubber rooms killing time because they cannot be removed from the system.
In addition, right here in Mr. Pearson’s backyard, unions have fought the very reforms that have led many charters to close the academic achievement gap. The Teachers’ Union battled Kaya Henderson when she extended the school year on a few of her campuses. They have obstructed implementation of the IMPACT teacher evaluation tool linking rankings partially to student performance. Most recently, the DC Teachers’ union went so far as to protest Walmart’s plans to provide free school supplies, making the absurd contention that if company’s foundation had not been promoting the growth of charter schools there would be plenty of money for DCPS to purchase what it needed.
In fact, the unions have opposed charter schools at every opportunity. Mr. Pearson may assert that this is because they don’t utilize unionized teachers but there is a much more fundamental reason for their dislike of these alternative schools. Unions, by their nature, do not support the type of managerial entrepreneurship that put kids and families first.
Unions have no place in charter schools.