Mundo Verde PCS about to ratify first D.C. charter school union contract

A few weeks ago, WAMU’s Martin Austermuhle reported that Mundo Verde PCS is about to have the city’s first charter school collective bargaining agreement with its employees.

“Teachers, staff and management at one campus of the Mundo Verde Bilingual Public Charter School in D.C. have agreed on a tentative union contract, putting the popular school a vote away from becoming the first charter school in the city’s history to unionize.”

I have written hundreds of words about the efforts of DC ACTs, the union associated with the American Federation of Teachers to infiltrate Paul PCS, Cesar Chavez PCS, and now Mundo Verde.  There is really not much more to say about the move.  However, one paragraph in Mr. Austermuhle’s story grabbed my attention.

“’Mundo Verde has a really big commitment to social justice and equity, and we teach that to our students. The conversation about how do we provide teachers with more resources, and how do we give teachers and educators a voice is not a new one. There were a lot of spaces for us to share these feelings with leadership of the school, but it felt like it was time to do something more formal,’ said Andrea Molina, a kindergarten teacher and member of the bargaining unit.”

My contention is that if the employees of the charter were really serious about social justice and equity they would not be placing a union between the working relationship of school leadership and the teachers. The worst thing that could happen is that each and every move that a charter needs to make must be negotiated every two to three years. This is what I explained in my conversation with Mr. Austermuhle regarding his article:

“’I think it’s a terrible development, and overall it will hurt our charter school movement,’ said Mark Lerner, an education writer who also served in leadership positions of various charter schools. ‘[Charter schools] need to be able to react quickly, and if you have to work through a collective bargaining agreement, you can’t make changes quickly. If unions were widespread throughout the charter movement, they would look more and more like DCPS schools where it’s difficult to fire teachers, change curriculum, or change times.’”

In the last sentence I was referring to the opening and dismissal times established by schools.

It now appears that the nature of charters and traditional schools are becoming mirrors of each other. Just last week DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee revealed his desire to close Washington Metropolitan High School, an alternative high school located near Howard University. The campus, according to the Washington Post’s Perry Stein, has been characterized by “declining enrollment, poor attendance and lackluster academic results.”

Ms. Stein went on to detail that Washington Met is one of four alternative high schools, known as Opportunity Academies, operating under DCPS, although this is the only one that has a middle school. It opened in 2008 and has about 150 students. The school relocated to its current site in 2016. If Mayor Bowser approves of Mr. Ferebee’s recommendation, it would close at the end of the 2019-to-2020 academic year. The timing of his request is centered around the start of the upcoming MySchool DC lottery.

By the way, DCPS has apparently already said that if this school is closed the system will hold on to the building. Another structure about to be denied for use by charters desperate for permanent facilities.

The Washington Post reporter stated that the last time a DCPS school was shuttered was in 2013. If more of the low academic performing neighborhood schools are closed, and additional charters become unionized, we will begin to see the merging of the two sectors that many in the collaboration movement have been calling on for years.

After all why does there need to be charters if DCPS is playing their role in closing lackluster schools and charters operate in the same manner as the regular ones? It could mean the end of competition for students. I’ve never been more concerned.

We have to stop playing politics with our children

An extremely sad article appeared in the Washington Post yesterday by Michael Kranish detailing the strong relationship Senator Cory Booker once had with Betsy DeVos revolving around their mutual support of private school vouchers and charter schools. They first started working together on education reform beginning in 1998 when Mr. Booker was asked by Ms. DeVos and her husband to speak on a panel in support of a Michigan ballot initiative backing choice. The Senator and Ms. DeVos ending up serving together for years on two boards of directors that promote school vouchers, and, as recently as 2016, Mr. Booker appeared before the American Federation for Children, an organization chaired by Ms. DeVos. The two were friends and allies. According to the Post:

“Booker spoke proudly about the growing number of students in Newark’s charter schools, saying, ‘This mission of this organization is the mission of our nation. . . . I have been involved with this organization for 10 years and I have seen the sacred honor of those here.'” 

Then in 2017, in an apparent bid to align himself with the views of the Democratic party so that he could increase his chances of becoming the group’s nominee for President, Mr. Booker voted against confirming Ms. DeVos as the United States Secretary of Education. Again, according to the Post:

“In a dramatic 2017 Senate floor speech, Booker opposed DeVos’s nomination to be Secretary of Education, saying he had ‘no confidence’ in her stance on civil rights issues, without mentioning their prior work together on pro-voucher groups.” The address lasted 45 minutes.

Mr. Booker now states that he changed his mind on school vouchers when he became Mayor of Newark, New Jersey in 2006. According to Mr. Kranish the Senator has recently referred to some charter schools as “really offensive” and “republican schemes.”

Coming up on Wednesday in the nation’s capital, there will a D.C. Council hearing on Charles Allen’s bill to increase charter school transparency. Of course, this legislation includes a requirement that charters adhere to the open meeting law and comply with Freedom of Information Act requests. Given the current political environment I have little faith that this act will be voted down, although the impact on charters could be devastating.

So I have a question this morning. If Mr. Allen’s initiative, which has nothing to do with transparency and is actually completely about the efforts of teachers’ unions to end the city’s charter school movement, passes will our city’s charters have the bravery to refuse to comply?

Let’s see whether our schools are really ready to support our children.

Teachers’ union is flooding D.C. charter board with Freedom of Information Act requests

The D.C. Council returns to business from its summer break next week and high on the agenda is consideration of Mr. Charles Allen’s bill to force our city’s charter schools to comply with the open meetings law and the Freedom of Information Act. So if you want to get a taste of what these changes would mean for individual schools, just take a peek at what the DC Public Charter School Board is going through right now.

As a government entity, the PCSB already complies with FOIA requirements. Apparently, the American Federation of Teachers is filing nonstop requests with the charter board. The body has recently spent over 65 staff hours to fulfill seven solicitations. The final bid for documentation comes in at over 14,000 pages.

Here was the editors of the Washington Post’s view of Councilmember Allen’s charter school legislation last April:

“We are firm believers in sunshine in public matters, but this legislation — which seems to be taken from the national teachers union playbook on how to kneecap charter schools — is not designed to benefit the public or help students. It ignores the fact that the D.C. Public Charter School Board, which oversees the city’s 123 public charter schools, is already subject to both the open-meetings law and freedom-of-information requests. The board, which has earned national renown for the rigor of its standards, requires charters to disclose financial information, including how they use resources from the government and what they accomplish with those resources. Charters participate in state testing and federal accountability programs, and the charter board leads the way in providing comprehensive evaluations of charters and the job they do in educating students.”

The PCSB is apparently not taking this union abuse sitting down. According to education reporter Rachel Cohen, yesterday she was told by one of her sources that the charter board has decided it will no longer waive fees that it is permitted by law to charge for FOIA submissions. The source, who is almost certainly the AFT since Ms. Cohen is so union friendly, has been informed by the board that it will cost $3,500 “to finish fulfilling their records request.”

This is a fantastic move. The teachers’ unions have one mission regarding charters, which is to see them disappear from the face of the earth. But this activity from the AFT is highly worrisome. Could you imagine what would happen to our schools, which are characterized by exceedingly small administrative staffs, if they had to face a similar attack?

We must mobilize our local charter school movement to say enough is enough. Council members must not go along with Trojan Horse legislation that is proposed as a benign measure to increase transparency but is in reality a poison pill meant to torpedo the performance of our esteemed institutions.

The time to act is now.

For charter schools the fight against unions is one of life or death

I received a telephone call last evening from an individual who is an exceptionally prominent figure in the national charter school movement. He explained to me in an exasperated tone that in an extremely pro-charter locality the teachers’ union has figured out how to infiltrate the zoning board so that property cannot be approved for use by these alternative schools.

I’m frankly not surprised. The singular focus on charters by teachers’ unions has nothing to do, of course, with the future success of children. It is all about protecting the status quo of adults. I cannot conceive of anything more tragic.

We have observed this identical scenario play out in D.C. The teachers’ unions fought as hard as they could against the Opportunity Scholarship Program, the plan that became federal law in 2004 that provides private school tuition to kids living in poverty. In 2009, Joseph E. Robert Jr., faced no choice but to terminate his Washington Scholarship Fund from administering the OSP due to the Obama Administration’s move to close it out. Fortunately, due to the fierce persistence of many people, especially former United States House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner and former Senator Joe Lieberman, it continues in a stronger fashion today under the leadership of Serving Our Children.

More recently, we have seen unions try and takeover Paul PCS, Cesar Chavez PCS’s middle school Bruce campus, and now Munde Verde PCS. The response to each of these actions has got to be the same. We cannot allow unions to invade our schools. We must protect them at all cost. The current state of public education in our city cannot continue. The academic achievement gap between the affluent and poor is growing, not shrinking. As measured by the proficiency rate for reading and math on the 2018 PARCC standardized test, it now stands at about 64 points.

Here in the nation’s capital we are 23 years into public school reform and for the first time in our history some charters are seeing students reach identical levels of preparedness for college no matter their particular zip code. But the numbers of these kids are still way too small. Tens of thousands of young people still lack a quality seat. We still have a tremendous way to go.

This is why I hope that our charter school leaders and teachers have been able to get some relaxation time this summer. The challenge to improve our schools is tough, and long, and filled with those such as members of the teachers’ unions that would like nothing more than to see us fail.

So we will be brave in this fight. It is the only right thing to do. We are standing up for our children for one reason only. When people look back in history at this period in our society, there can be no option of them coming to the conclusion that we simply gave up.

For D.C. charter schools the war is on; but there is no war

Over the weekend the Washington Post printed an opinion piece by Jack Schneider entitled “School’s Out: Charters were supposed to save public education. Why are Americans turning against them?” The article offers a highly slanted negative view of the charter school movement that contains inaccuracies that have been easily negated by my public policy friends. Mr. Schneider wrote:

“The charter school movement is in trouble. In late December, the editorial board of the Chicago Sun-Times observed that the charter movement in the Windy City was ‘in hot water and likely to get hotter.’ Among more than a dozen aspirants for mayor, ‘only a handful’ expressed any support for charter schools, and the last two standing for the April 2 runoff election both said they wanted to halt charter school expansion. In February, New York City’s elected parent representatives — the Community and Citywide Education Councils — issued a unanimous statement in which they criticized charters for operating ‘free from public oversight’ and for draining ‘substantial’ resources from district schools. A month later, Mayor Bill de Blasio told a parent forum that in the ‘not-too-distant future’ his administration would seek to curtail the marketing efforts of the city’s charters, which currently rely on New York City Department of Education mailing lists.”

It is all par for the course.

To understand the current environment around charter schools here locally you have to be aware of the obstacles that have been established in an effort to ensure that parents have a limited option as to where to send their kids to receive a premier educational experience.

First, there are no buildings available for charter growth and expansion. Although these are public schools the city is under no obligation to provide them with space as it does when DCPS creates new facilities. I believe it has come to the point in which charter enrollment will freeze because there is nothing whatsoever in the market to lease or purchase. This despite the fact that there is currently 1.3 million square feet of vacant or under-utilized real estate that the traditional schools possess but will not turnover to charters in violation of the law.

Then there is the funding inequity issue. Charters receive an estimated $100 million a year less in revenue than the traditional school are provided by the city. Under the School Reform Act charters and DCPS are to be provided with the same dollars through the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula. Yet even in the face of a FOCUS engineered lawsuit on this matter the government will not budge. The Mayor will not even engage with the institutions that educates almost half of all public school students, approximately 44,000 pupils, regarding a discussion on this topic.

We are also facing an attempted labor union infiltration of charter schools. First it was attempted at Paul PCS, then at Cesar Chaves PCS, and now at Mundo Verde Bilingual PCS. Please do not be fooled. None of this has to do with transgressions by school administrators or the needs of teachers or parents. The union is trying to obtain a footing in our sector in order to kill it off once and for all.

While all of this is going on charters are educating scholars minute by minute according to the highest standards they can offer. Many of the children housed in their classrooms are the ones regular schools have turned away. They rarely even consider the insurmountable obstacles in their path. The situation is terribly unfair. The message charters are receiving on a daily basis is do your best tirelessly without adequate classroom space, funding, and with the introduction of a third party grossly interfering with the trust that has been established between staff and leadership.

There has got to be a better way.

Teachers at D.C.’s Mundo Verde Public Charter School vote to be represented by a union that hates charter schools

Right in the middle of National Charter School Week, the teachers at Mundo Verde Bilingual PCS voted by a wide margin to become part of the District of Columbia Alliance of Charter School Teachers and Staff (DCACTS), an arm of the American Federation of Teachers.

I really have enjoyed all of the positive media stories over the past few days regarding children and staff that comprise the charter school landscape in the nation’s capital. However, it is extremely difficult to be happy when the employees of one of our premier institutions agree to be represented by a group that desperately wants to shut down these innovative schools. Consider this comment two months ago by AFT president Randi Weingarten about charters, as written about by Sean Higgins of the Washington Examiner:

“Weingarten told C-SPAN the AFT would try to make it [the charter school issue] a national issue by asking presidential candidates if they backed traditional public schools or the ‘private, for-profit charter operator who doesn’t have any accountability.'”

Here’s what she had to say last January after a teachers’ strike in Los Angeles resulted in a moratorium on the opening of new charter schools:

“In the wake of tax caps, the lack of appropriate investment has been a challenge for public education in Los Angeles for decades. Add to that the unregulated growth of charter schools that siphoned off more funding, and the result was the scarcity that led to the L.A. teachers’ strike. While charters were sold as a response to the demand for better schools, they too have a mixed record. More than 80 percent of charter schools cannot meet their projected enrollment numbers, and 8 of the 10 worst-performing schools in L.A., including one that has already been closed, are charter schools. So a moratorium is a good idea to bring equity and sustainability back to LAUSD, and with this vote, the school board made good on its promise to help do it.”

Finally, as Mel Leonor of Politico found Ms. Weingarten commenting in 2017, “American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten has called charter school expansion ‘part of a coordinated national effort to decimate public schooling’.”

I really don’t understand the teachers over at Mundo Verde. They must really dislike their place of employment. Why else would you agree to be represented by an organization that wants to see your school disappear off the face of the earth?

I also deeply feel for Kristin Scotchmer, Mundo Verde’s executive director, the other members of her leadership team, and its board. After all they have done for this school, including founding it, growing it to be a DC Public Charter School Board Performance Management Framework Tier 1 facility, and successfully moving it from a crowded, inhospitable space on 16th Street, N.W. to what will become two beautiful state-of-the-art buildings this summer, they must feel particularly dejected.

Finally, I’m terribly disappointed in the lack of public reinforcement for the school’s administration. We have so many charter school support organizations in this town. Many of its chiefs are my friends. Where are you in this fight for the future of our movement? Why were you silent?

Despite truly heroic efforts, the verdict on whether 20 years of public school reform have been successful in Washington, D.C. is still to be decided. Yesterday, we took a tremendous step in the completely wrong direction.

 

Demand that D.C. charter schools comply with FOIA has nothing to do with complying with FOIA

The opinion piece by Lis Kidder that appeared yesterday in the Washington Post was terrific. A lawyer whose job involves complying with Freedom of Information Act requests, she also has two children that attend Latin American Montessori Bilingual PCS. Ms. Kidder offered a polemic on the reasons that D.C. Council member Charles Allen’s bill requiring charter schools to comply with FOIA requirements is a bad idea.

The article was forceful, logical, well thought-out, and clear. It will also not change public opinion.

The terribly unfortunate premise behind my assertion is that the argument over whether charters should have to respond to FOIA requests is actually not about FOIA at all. What this fuss is really focused on is nothing less than the desire by a segment of the populous to bring an end to our local charter school movement.

“No,” I can hear you saying. “You are not right. It is simply an attempt to treat charters the same as the traditional schools.” I’m sorry but these sentiments could not be further from the truth. How do I know?

Let’s look at the union playbook. The National Education Association Action Guide on Charter Schools spells out the organization’s strategy:

“In the case of charter schools, the key is accountability. The goal is great schools for every student. If charter schools can achieve good results without cherry-picking students, falsifying test scores or cooking the books, we can welcome them to the neighborhood. If charter schools will open their board meetings and accept parents to join it, they can become part of the local community. The next step may be to organize their teachers to make sure they are professionally treated and adequately paid” (page 17).

Of course, charter schools do not cherry-pick students, falsify test scores, or cook the books. But accuracy is not the point here. Teachers’ unions want these schools to disappear off the face of the earth because its instructors do not, for the most part, work under a collective bargaining agreement. In order to make it as difficult as possible for these schools to operate, the Action Guide includes this mandate:

“Charter schools must be subject to the same open meeting and open record laws as the public schools” (page 4).

This is a war whose front line has landed at Mundo Verde Bilingual PCS. Since the union failed at Paul PCS and Cesar Chavez PCS, it is extremely frustrated and has aimed its scope at a new infiltration site. You know things are bad when an anonymous letter written by a Mundo Verde parent asks the following question:

“Why are outsiders speaking at the Board Meeting who have no kids in our school? What are their motivations?”

By now the nature of this inquiry should be seen as strictly rhetorical. We know why outsiders are speaking at board meetings. They are here to destroy what we have spent over 20 years creating. They are here to stutter the great innovative charters that brave men and women have designed and built. They are here to make sure we go back to a city of only neighborhood schools.

They are here because the union’s needs supersede the needs of our children.

Letter points to bullying by teachers’ union at Mundo Verde PCS

The following anonymous letter was sent to the Mundo Verde Bilingual PCS parent listserve and was reprinted on the DC Urban Moms and Dad blog.

Dear Mundo Verde Families: 

We want to Save Our School (SOS) Mundo Verde PCS. For years, we have been families of Mundo Verde. The community of teachers, staff, and leaders have been part of our lives, like a second family. We have united with the entire community to watch our children grow, learn a new language, and thrive in a community that honors free play, outdoor time, and sustainability. We’ve shared out voices at Padres meetings; spoken at Coffee with Leadership; or eagerly spoken with prospective families and each other about our school. We support our teachers, our staff, and our leaders. We support our community and we want to unite to Save our School: Mundo Verde. 

But our community has been divided in these past few weeks by efforts to unionize. These efforts to many of us came from hushed meetings, secret agreements, and clandestine operations culminating in an overt condemnation of our entire community. We have not been “united.” Instead, the efforts spearheaded contradict our entire shared values as a school of ESPICA [Habits of Community Stewardship (referred to as ESPICA, the acronym created by the habits themselves)]. and transparency. While we value the open dialogue of all families and diverse input, we equally value our entire community being able to speak our truth, inquire and collaborate to find common solutions for all of our children. 

We sympathize with our teachers and staff and their concerns over individual support for students; increased health care costs, and ability to have a voice in school happenings. We want the same things for our students and our teachers. What we are less clear is how unionizing will accomplish these things. 

Many of us have worked in unions as teachers, service workers, operators, drivers, and federal and DC government employees. We know first-hand the limits that unions place on employers and employees. We also know that unions can’t guarantee any of these things. We want our school dollars going to our kids not union lawyers and bureaucracy. 

Those of us in DCPS, which has the same teacher union who is at our school (AFT) and DC government, pay substantially more than the $48 for health insurance at MV. Our rates for an individual at the lowest HMO are $95 bi-weekly. DCPS class sizes far exceed the class sizes of our school. Instead of being able to directly speak to our school leaders, managers or leadership, unionization has added layers of bureaucracy to our work places supporting the least qualified individuals in our organizations (see here) Teacher turnover at DCPS is among the highest in the country where more than 1 in 4 teachers leave annually. Students in DCPS have among the fewest resources and have academic achievements far below our school. We want our entire community to thrive. 

We want to urge all of our families to be a part of the conversation of how we Re-Unite our Mundo Verde community. How we all work together to foster and build a community that honors all of our teachers, staff, leaders and families. How we rebuild the trust within our school community. The events of the last few weeks contradict this very spirit. We have been asked to interject our kids into an adult debate. Let our children be kids! 

In the past few weeks, many of us have been sickened by the division this has created in our school. The secret meetings, the hushed phone calls, and the division between leadership and select teachers/staff and parents is hurtful.Our school has been mocked on twitter with nasty messages. Local listserves like UrbanMoms have lambasted the division. In just a few days, we are the center stage of the negative press, internal division, and reliance on fear and secret tactics to divide. We want to change the narrative about our school. 

We ask more parents to speak up! We ask more families to support Mundo Verde – our entire community. We have come together collectively to ask – 

– Who is behind the efforts to unionize Mundo Verde? 

– Why are we being targeted on our way to pick up and drop off to sign petitions in secret? 

– Why are we being followed to our kids soccer games, swim lessons, parkour [sic] lessons, choir lessons and being bullied into signing petitions? 

– Why has this entire effort been done in secret? 

– What other ways can we work together for our kids? 

– Why are outsiders speaking at the Board Meeting who have no kids in our school? What are their motivations? 

– How do we reshape the public narrative to share with others what a beautifully diverse community we are so proud to be a part of? 

We want the best for our children. We want a school community that is UNITED among all of our voices. We want to Save our School: Mundo Verde with our voices and collaboration. 

D.C. charter schools can never devalue their product

This morning, let’s start with a story. There is a video I love to show to my managers at work. The two-minute vignette is by Under Armour founder Kevin Plank and is about the founding of his company. He talks about his firm’s first big break, which was when his products were featured in the movie Any Given Sunday. Mr. Plank billed filmmaker Oliver Stone $40,000 for all of the clothing that he supplied for the actors. To those who say that he should have provided the material for free his answer is simple: Never devalue your product.

Today, the Washington Post’s Perry Stein has an article questioning whether the city can absorb the 11 new charter schools for which the DC PCSB has received applications to open. Ms. Stein also ponders whether there should be a cap on the number of charters. She writes:

“According to a city analysis, about a fifth of all school buildings are less than 65 percent full. And campuses in the traditional school system are even emptier. That means many of the schools have small enrollments. There are 38 high schools across both sectors serving nearly 20,000 students.”

At the same time, we hear case after case about parents who cannot find a quality school for their children. They find the lottery to be a completely frustrating experience. Some families who can afford to are moving to the suburbs because of their lack of options here in the District. In 2019, there is an almost 12,000 pupil wait list to obtain admission to a charter.

Please do not get distracted. Never devalue our product. If traditional school supporters are concerned about under-enrolled facilities, then low-performing DCPS sites need to be closed. Empty regular schools can be turned over to charters. Co-location can be significantly increased.

We also cannot let the quality of our charters be diluted by the introduction of a teachers’ union. Collective bargaining contracts change the nature of our schools from being the innovative institutions that they are to becoming just another state school. Perhaps as an incentive to prevent this from occurring, the PCSB should change its Performance Management Framework Policy and Technical Guide to proclaim that any charter that has union representation cannot be categorized as Tier 1.

Our children expect us to be brave and bold.

Mundo Verde board refuses to recognize union

At a crowded open board meeting last night, the trustees of Mundo Verde Bilingual PCS apparently denied accepting that the teachers’ union DCACTS is now representing its teachers. This, despite the claim by DCACTS that 80 percent of the instructional staff (90 employees) have signed union authorization cards. Christian Herr, the Chavez PCS teacher behind that school’s effort to create a collective bargaining unit, stated on Twitter:

“The board @MundoVerdePCS has an opportunity to be forward thinking and progressive- but sadly they are following the playbook of @ChavezSchools – fighting and delaying- you could do so much better- you could be so much better.”

So now the fight moves on to the National Labor Relations Board. The question that needs to be asked, with this effort by misguided staff and parents to destroy a high-performing charter school, is where is the DC Public Charter School Board in this battle? Where is FOCUS?

Here is a sample of the testimony last night that was offered as part of the public comment period of the meeting, according to the union:

“Kindergarten teacher Andrea Molina @MundoVerdePCS shouts out extended day team- they are advocating for better pay and translation assistance when they interact with HR. They need supplies to be able to do their job.”

“Victor is forming a #union at @MundoVerdePCS because he cannot meet his students needs when admin ignores his requests for supports and resources.”

“Kindergarten teacher @MundoVerdePCS Gabriela tells board that her class size has risen each year she has been here. Over 25 kindergarteners in her class- when she approached administration they said they were packing kids in her class because students in higher grades leaving.”

“Data manager Joe Brophy explains why he is supporting a #union “there is no transparency- and there needs to be.”

Information was provided to me last evening that the American Federation of Teachers is set to spend tens of thousands of dollars to infiltrate the charter movement in the nation’s capital. Where are the brave men and women who will stand up for school choice? This is a defining moment in education reform. If we lose, then we are turning our backs on the hundreds of low-income children that were abandoned by the traditional schools decades ago.

The silence out there is really deafening.