Today may be a tough day at Mundo Verde PCS

Word on the street is that unless today the administration of Mundo Verde Bilinqual PCS voluntarily accepts union representation of its teachers by the District of Columbia Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, the employees will walk off the job. This follows the claim last Thursday on Twitter by DCACTS that school leadership blocked the school’s doorway as parents supporting the union tried to enter the building to urge the charter’s board of directors to work collaboratively toward recognition of the union.

Of course, if the teachers at Mundo Verde desert their students then they are forfeiting their positions. The action by Mundo Verde’s instructors is similar to the tactics utilized by the American Federation of Teachers-associated union at Cesar Chavez PCS’s Prep Middle School campus. There, DCACTS took to organizing a march in order to protest the failure of the charter to finalize a collective bargaining agreement. The move did not work, and the exercise came across as childish and silly. It also demonstrated for all to see the lack of concern by teachers regarding their students’ education.

Unions do not belong in charter schools. They are antithetical to the nature of these institutions. As Jeanne Allen, the founder and chief executive officer of the Center for Education Reform, pointed out last week, “But the value of charters now seems to be lost even on some who are considered part of the charter school sector. Some parents at Mundo Verde Bilingual Public Charter School are inviting unions to take over their staffing, convinced by an ideological belief that the success of their exceptional charter school is unrelated to autonomy and freedom to hire and contract with nonunion teachers.

They will soon see that once a union is inside the walls and structures of an autonomous public school, it will lose its freedom, its edge, and its relentless focus on student-centered education. The record is clear: Every time a charter school unionizes, it eventually fails. Even if the school survives for a time, it will fall in demand and lose clarity of purpose.”

Since Mundo Verde is now fighting for its survival it should do everything in its power to prevent the union from infiltrating its space. This includes making the decision to close its P Street, N.W. location. As the school’s website states, in 2010, “a group of parents, motivated by the unmet demand for quality, tuition-free, experiential education, teamed up to develop Mundo Verde. Nearly 30 individuals and partners came together to create the school’s vision and concept.”

The unmet demand is still there eight years after this school was opened as evidenced by the fact that there are over 2,000 students on its 2019-to-2020 wait list. Adding a union, and thereby making the school look like a part of DCPS, will ensure that no child is being served at this charter.

Next D.C. target for teachers’ union is Mundo Verde PCS

No sooner did we rid the city of a teachers’ union in D.C.’s charter schools comes the disappointing news from the Washington Post’s Perry Stein that the American Federation of Teachers is trying to organize at Mundo Verde Bilinqual PCS. Her article points out that instructors at the school state that they want more of a say in the management of the charter. They also want a raise. In reality, if this move is successful, they will most likely get neither.

Ms. Stein states that the school missed a deadline imposed by staff members to recognize union representation last week. I received word at this time that the union activity was going on, with the support of parents, but could not get confirmation because it was spring break. In her article, Ms. Stein includes this comment from Kristin Scotchmer, the charter’s executive director.

“We know that every member of the school team seeks to make Mundo Verde the best it can be. As a result, we need to include all members of our community in this conversation, including those that have reservations about unionization. There is good reason to consider deliberately any implications for Mundo Verde and our school community if a labor contract were to govern how teachers and other staff interacted with administrators, students, and families.”

The Post article states that at least 90 of the 110 teaches at the school are in favor of joining the AFT. There were hints in the past that this institution was ripe for union involvement. At a meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board in May 2017, when the school was seeking to replicate, I reported:

“More than a dozen parents testified that the expansion plans for this school was coming too soon with complaints that there was high teacher turnover occurring at the charter, although the school stated that it has a retention rate of over 80 percent.  They also contended that the school had just reached its current maximum enrollment this year, and therefore it was premature in its relatively short six year history to grow to another site.  The negative statements resulted in spurring PCSB executive director Scott Pearson to interject a couple of times in the discussion to point out Mundo Verde’s impressive track record.”

It was also Mr. Pearson who suggested in 2016 that having union membership at a D.C. charter school could be a good idea.

The weather is nice right now in Washington, D.C. so maybe the teachers at Mundo Verde will follow the example of Christian Herr at Cesar Chavez PCS and take to protesting on the streets. Alternatively, they could also emulate those at Chavez Prep by taking their case to the National Labor Relations Board. In any case, the losers will be the students at the school who are there to learn.

Mundo Verde is set to open a new campus this coming August. Perhaps if the union vote goes through all operations can be moved to the new location.

In trying to save a D.C. charter school, Chavez and TenSquare become the enemy

Two themes emerged at last night’s monthly meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board that focused on whether Cesar Chavez PCS for Public Policy should be allowed to close its Prep and Capitol Hill campuses. The first is that the bromide that has been accepted by the public school reform movement, namely that charters are public schools that are privately run, could not be further from the truth.

Yesterday, as in January’s charter board meeting, DC ACTS, the union associated with the American Federation of Teachers, was out in full-force with teacher after teacher, again wearing their red shirts embossed with the union logo, testifying against the consolidation plan. If charters were privately run, then the Chavez board could have made the decision on its own to shutter campuses and it would have been a done deal. Instead, hours were taken up by testimony by the union, complete with claims that Chavez and TenSquare, the company hired by the school to turnaround its academic performance, were “monetizing its assets.” It was simply a financial decision, the unionized Prep campus instructors asserted, meant to line the pockets of the board and the consulting group. Never mind the significant improvements in Performance Management Framework scores that Chavez has posted since it partnered with this firm.

Now it is actually the finances that provide the final proof that these alternative schools are not privately run. As pointed out by Andre Bhatia, co-chair of the Chavez Board, the school in 2010 consolidated its debt around the renovation of two schools and the purchase of the Parkside campus into $27.2 million in bonds. The bond payments come to $2.45 million per year. In order to cover this cost the Chavez network needed to grow to 1,500 students. However, currently, there are only 930 students enrolled in the network. The Prep and Capitol Hill campuses have been losing students for years, and the total number will decrease by 130 when Parkside Middle finally closes.

In 2017, according to Bethany Little, also a co-chair of the Chavez board, when the DC PCSB was pondering the decision as whether to shutter Parkside Middle due to poor academic performance, the school warned at least five times that this move would place severe financial pressure on the charter which would most likely result in reconfiguration of its campuses. The situation that Chavez finds itself in now is that it can merge its Capitol Hill High with Parkside and turn out the lights at Prep with the displacement of 133 sixth and seventh grade students, or become insolvent with the result that almost a thousand pupils would have to find new schools in which to enroll.

Of course, if the school’s board could make unilateral decisions, Parkside Middle would still be signing up new pupils. Just as with Excel Academy PCS, City Arts and Prep PCS, and National Collegiate Academy PCHS, the ruling to end operation came from a public governmental body, the DC PCSB, and not from boards that are free to operate without outside interference. We really have to reject the claim that charter schools are privately run at every opportunity.

My second takeaway from the session is that labor unions have really fallen out of favor in this country, and that this is a positive sign. On Monday, Mrs. Irasema Salcido, the founder, first principal, and current board member of Chavez, read a prepared statement and spent more time than any of the school representatives explaining and defending the strategic initiative that was the subject of the evening’s conversation. This is quite a turnaround in her viewpoint, since I remember Mrs. Salcido’s background as I listened to her detail it numerous times to others when I was involved with this school. She was raised by her grandmother in Mexico, and when she was 14 years old she came to this country to join her parents, speaking no English. She picked strawberries in the fields from sunup to sundown with other migrant workers, eventually obtaining a Master’s Degree from Harvard University. Her experience led her to name her charter school after Cesar Chavez, the farm worker union organizer. But here she was for all to see exerting that the singular viable path forward involved closing the only unionized D.C. charter. As an aside, I should mention that since becoming a part of DC ACTS almost two years ago, a collective bargaining agreement has never been finalized with the Prep staff. Unions have no place in an educational movement that depends on being able to make minute-by-minute operational adjustments to meet the needs of scholars.

The charter board will vote at its March meeting whether to approve the Chavez proposal.

Washington City Paper is attempting to shutter Cesar Chavez Public Charter School

Last Friday, Washington City Paper published its third recent article highly sympathetic to the demands of the American Federation of Teacher’s union that last summer was voted in at the Chavez Prep Middle School, and the second in which it blames problems at the charter on the TenSquare consulting group. From the piece:

“In its latest complaint, the union alleges that the charter network and TenSquare have illegally changed the school’s calendar for the 2018-19 school year in ways that affect terms of employment, have bargained in bad-faith (referred to as ‘surface bargaining’), and have walked out of a bargaining session before its scheduled end time, ‘thereby disregarding their bargaining obligation under the [National Labor Relations] Act.’ . . . In late April, Chavez Prep teachers staged two outdoor demonstrations to protest their charter’s TenSquare contract. The educators objected to their school paying the company $138,000 every month while also claiming to be unable to afford filling vacant teacher positions.”

Here is a “Nero fiddled while Rome burned” story if there ever was one. While Chavez chief executive officer Emily Silberstein reflects to City Paper that “the union is seeking to minimize the number of days its members work, and we are trying to maximize the number of days our scholars learn,” the DC Public Charter School Board has its eyes fixed directly on academic performance at the school. Here is what it said at the charter’s twenty-year review last December, and please pay close attention to its findings regarding Chavez Prep:

“Chavez PCS is a multi-campus local education agency (LEA) that adopted the Performance Management Framework (PMF) as its goals and student achievement expectations. Pursuant to the school’s Charter and Charter Agreement, Chavez PCS did not meet its goals and student achievement expectations. The Capitol Hill, Chavez Prep, and Parkside High School campuses had average PMF scores above 50%, which is the minimum required by the school’s Charter Agreement. However, two of these campuses, Capitol Hill and Chavez Prep, have experienced significant declines in almost every metric over the past two years and cannot continue with current performance levels. Additionally, the Parkside Middle campus scored below the 50% threshold, with an average PMF score of 40.5%. The school’s Charter Agreement requires every campus to earn an average PMF score equal to or above 50%. Therefore, the entire LEA has failed to meet the PMF goal.”

The charter board did not take these results lightly, as should be the case when it comes to the extraordinary responsibility of educating our children. It therefore adopted some exceedingly serious action steps:

  • The Parkside Middle campus will close one grade at a time, starting with sixth
    grade prior to SY 2018-19, seventh grade prior to SY 2019-20, and eighth
    grade by the start of SY 2020-21. During this time, the school will not be able
    to admit new students to its middle school grades and will reduce its enrollment ceiling each year by 100 students, ultimately resulting in a maximum enrollment ceiling of 1,320.
  • If the Capitol Hill campus receives a PMF score of below 40 in 2017-18, below
    45 in 2018-19, or below 50 in 2019-20 the campus will close at the end of the
    year following the year the school failed to achieve the target, with a
    commensurate decrease in the school’s enrollment ceiling.
  • If the Chavez Prep campus receives a PMF score of below 40 in 2017-18,
    below 45 in 2018-19, or below 50 in 2019-20 the campus will close at the end
    of the year following the year the school failed to achieve the target, with a
    commensurate decrease in the school’s enrollment ceiling.
  • The internal control environment at Chavez PCS must be strengthened to ensure compliance with relevant laws, regulations, and DC PCSB requirements, including compliance with DC PCSB’s Contract Submission Policy. To do so, the school must draft and submit a financial corrective action plan, subject to the DC PCSB Board’s approval.

In other words, due its inability to reach its scholastic targets, the board closed one of four Chavez campuses and has its sights on ending the operation of another two. This is a crisis for this charter school. Its current state of affairs is about as opposite as you can get from the enthralling, optimistic high-spirited vision provided by founder Irasema Salcido that was ever-present when I first joined her in 1999 trying to advance the organization’s mission of creating the next generation of our city’s leaders.

City Paper can of course continue to write again and again in support of Chavez Prep teachers whining to the National Labor Relations Board, and attack the group hired to turn the school’s dire situation around. But if the union prevails and the contract with TenSquare ends, the final result, tragically, may be empty buildings.

Charter schools are taking a hit due to national politics

A fascinating commentary appeared in last Sunday’s New York Times Week in Review section by Conor Williams, a New America senior education policy program researcher.  Entitled “Charter Schools have a Betsy DeVos Problem,” it outlines  the story of Hiawatha Academy’s Morris Park Elementary School, a charter school in Minneapolis in which 90 percent of its students are Hispanic.  Most of the children enrolled here are kids of immigrants.  75 percent of the student body is learning English as a second language.  At this facility, the author points out, proficiency rates for math and English language arts are more than twice as high as those in the rest of the state.  According to Mr. Williams,

“Hiawatha schools should be easy for the left to love. They’re full of progressive educators helping children of color from low-income families succeed.  And yet, they’re charter schools.”

Because Betsy DeVos is such a strong supporter of charter schools and her boss President Trump is so vehemently against illegal immigration, it is putting supporters of these alternative schools in a tough position.  Mr. Williams continues:

“And now the teachers are being forced to respond to criticism from people who by most measures should be their allies.  Robert Panning-Miller, the former president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, has called Hiawatha schools emblematic of a ‘corporate reform movement’ that values ‘compliance and test scores over critical thinking’ and criticized them as being part of an ‘apartheid education’ movement, because their children are almost exclusively children of color.”

Of course, the political left has always disliked charters.  It is threatened by charter’s disruption of their dominance of the education monopoly of government schools, and they hate the fact that almost all charters do not have unionized teachers.  But now it seems that the election of Donald Trump, and the selection of Betsy DeVos as his U.S. Department of Education Secretary, has added lighter fluid to their attacks.

So it should come as no surprise that the group leading the collective bargaining agreement negotiations for Cesar Chavez Prep PCS should come under assault by Rachel Cohen writing for the Washington City Paper.  In her recent highly demeaning piece on TenSquare, the charter school consulting group, she includes this quotation that eerily mirrors the words of Mr. Panning-Miller captured in Mr. William’s article,

“Christian Herr, a Chavez Prep science teacher who sits on his union’s bargaining team, says that a major change in his school since TenSquare’s takeover is a greatly increased emphasis on standardized test prep.  ‘It’s not like we needed to spend $140,000 a month to have someone tell us to do more test prep,’ he says. ‘It was really hard for us when our school board decided some things needed to be restructured, but didn’t even come to us, didn’t even ask what we the teachers thought. They have these buildings full of people who live in these neighborhoods and have worked in these schools for a long time, all this expertise, yet you make the choice to bring in someone who knows nothing about it and pay them massive amounts of money.’”

It is a complete mystery how Josh Kern, the co-founder of Thurgood Marshall Academy PCS, and who was its executive director for a decade, could be accused of being “someone who knows nothing” about creating a high performing school.  That Ms. Cohen considers herself a credible reporter and includes this remark by one of the leaders who brought the American Federation of Teachers to Chavez without challenging its assertion is proof of her motivation in conducting her investigation.

In her report, Scott Pearson, the executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board, is made to appear corrupt because he apparently recommended that a school utilize TenSquare to improve their academic results.  Next, I’m sure she will claim he is in cahoots with Charter Board Partners for his advice that a charter turn to them for assistance with governance issues.  The final icing on the cake will be be his providing of the phone number of Building Hope when a new school needs to find its permanent facility.  Somehow turning to experts has become a crime.

It’s all beyond the pale.  Perhaps for her next submission Ms. Cohen could focus instead on relating the tales of the heroes in our D.C. charter schools who are preparing for college young people who in the past might have ended up in prison or dead.  As Hiawatha School’s English language development teacher Natalie Heath explains to Mr. Williams:

“I wish that people knew that the thing that’s most important to us is that students are achieving at high academic levels and they’re also empowered individuals.  That’s all that should matter.  But when it comes to education priorities in 2018, it seems to be the last thing anyone wants to talk about.”

 

 

 

Teachers’ unions should be barred from charter schools

This morning the Washington Post’s Jay Mathews bemoans a radio advertisement being run in English and Spanish by the California Teachers Association attacking charter schools.  It says:

“They’re lining up against our local public schools. One after another, out-of-state billionaires are trying to buy our politicians. Following the lead of Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos, billionaires like Koch brothers allies Jim and Alice Walton have their own narrow education agenda to divert money out of our public schools and into their corporate charter schools. It’s true. Out-of-state billionaires investing millions into politicians who will protect corporate-run charter schools that lack accountability.

“So as California chooses its next generation of leaders this election we must stand up to politicians who divert money out of our neighborhood public schools and say yes to leaders who value the promise of quality public education for all students no matter where they live. And leaders who always put kids before profits. Learn more at kidsnotprofits.com. Paid for by the California Teachers Association.”

On the website the union states that is is spending 1 million dollars to run these spots in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Sacramento.   What a terrible use of its member’s hard earned cash.

These dishonest words mirror those coming from staff supporting the American Federation of Teachers at the Cesar Chavez Prep Middle School, which voted last June to join the union.  As the Washington Post’s Perry Stein revealed last week, Chavez teachers took to the streets for the second time this school year to protest management decisions at the charter.  From her piece:

“A rare battle between teachers and administrators at a charter school has broken into public view, with educators taking to the streets of a D.C. neighborhood to press their case that the school is spending millions of dollars on consultants while cutting core classroom positions.”

The teachers are apparently upset that a couple of vacant positions will not be filled.  In addition, they don’t like the fact that the Chavez board of directors decided to hire TenSquare to turnaround student academic performance.  The Cesar Chavez PCS for Public Policy has been losing revenue tied to a decline in student enrollment, and is in danger of facing closure by the DC Public Charter School Board for the classroom performance of its pupils.  I recently interviewed Josh Kern, founder and managing director of TenSquare.

Copying the script from California is Christian Herr, a science teacher at the school and a union leader.  He comments, according to Ms. Stein, “It seems to us that TenSquare is coming in and exploiting a broken evaluation system to fill their pockets.”

I have a suggestion for the teachers at this campus.  How about doing your job and instructing the children under your care?  Please stop diverting the attention of the Chavez volunteer board with your shenanigans and allow them to try and improve the charter.

What a complete waste of time and energy.

 

 

Union disaster at Chavez Prep PCS

Last December, when we checked in with Chavez Prep PCS, teachers were marching on the street during their lunch period instead of working on lesson plans or providing additional help to scholars to demonstrate their contention that the school was making decisions without negotiating with them first.   Now word has seeped out from the charter that the American Federation of Teachers is ecstatic that the National Labor Relations Board has decided to hear two complaints from its members at the school.  When I wrote previously that bringing in a union to a charter school was a terrible idea because it places a third party between the staff and management, this was exactly the situation I was warning about.

Below is a statement from Emily Silberstein, CEO of Chavez Schools:

In response to complaints filed by the American Federation of Teachers, the National Labor Relations Board’s regional office that covers the District of Columbia has issued two complaints against Chavez Prep Middle School, where contract negotiations have been underway since Prep faculty voted in 2017 to unionize.

We are disappointed that the AFT is diverting attention and resources toward complaints over minor points that have no meaningful impact on our faculty and staff or on our scholars. The National Labor Relations Board has not validated the union’s complaints. A hearing has been scheduled for July.

The AFT’s complaint about last year’s updates to the Chavez Schools employee handbook relates to immaterial clarifications, updates to existing provisions and standard policies for any workplace. Changes to the handbook were in motion long before Chavez Prep’s staff voted to unionize in June 2017. These updates include an expanded definition of harassment to better protect staff, accommodations for nursing mothers, and permission to wear jeans at work. Literally making a federal case out of routine and positive handbook updates is unproductive and contrary to the spirit of collegial negotiations.

The union’s second complaint is about adjustments made to some Prep teachers’ schedules when lower-than-expected enrollment prevented us from filling two vacant positions. These mid-year modifications did not result in any staff member having to work more hours or give up personal time during the school day. Standard planning time was preserved. We chose this solution because it was the least disruptive option for Prep staff and scholars, and the union presented no viable alternatives during bargaining sessions on the topic.

Since last summer, a team of Chavez Schools administrators and representatives has met regularly with the union’s representatives to negotiate an employment contract for Chavez Prep. Labor and management have come to tentative agreements on nine issue areas, including a policy of non-discrimination and the formation of an employee committee to advise on school discipline policies and campus culture.

We have a dedicated team of teachers and staff at Chavez Prep, and we try to recognize their work with a competitive package of compensation and benefits. The average teacher salary at Chavez Prep is $65,000, on par with DC’s other charter schools. Employees receive generous and flexible paid leave, above-average retirement benefits compared to most workplaces, and their health insurance costs employees as little as $10 per paycheck.

Complaining to the NLRB during first-time bargaining is a common tactic in the AFT’s playbook as the union seeks to expand its membership in charter schools. Resolving complaints expends resources for both union members and management, diverting funds from students’ needs. While Chavez prepares for an NLRB hearing before an administrative law judge, our leadership team will continue to bargain on issues that the union has raised. Preserving the flexibility we have as a public charter school to meet the needs of our scholars and their families is our first priority.

Cesar Chavez PCS has a lot going on right now regarding concerns over its academic program as expressed by the DC Public Charter School Board at the institution’s 20-year review.  Fighting with a union over nonsense is the last thing it needs right now.  Please allow me to offer a suggestion.  I think that the criteria for the board closing a school should be expanded from taking this action for poor academic results, financial irregularities, and a material violation of the law or its charter, to include having union representation.

 

 

As predicted, the unionization of Cesar Chavez Prep PCS is not going well

Last Friday, Liana Loewus of Education Week reported that on the day her story appeared the teaching staff of Cesar Chavez Public Charter School Prep Campus took to the streets during their lunch break with signs protesting  the administration’s failure to negotiate with them as is required now that they are part of a union.  Apparently, the school’s leadership has continued to make changes without including them as part of a collective bargaining agreement.

Ms. Loewus quotes Christian Herr, a science instructor who led the initiative to bring in the American Federation of Teachers affiliated union, reacting to the situation:

“By law after our vote, any changes to our working conditions have to be negotiated with us. Our board continues to make significant changes—adding job duties without additional compensation, things like that—without bargaining with us.”

The school’s principal Kourtney Miller disagreed with this assessment in an email:

“These are entirely their accusations, they haven’t been validated by the NLRB, and we disagree with their complaints.”

As author and philosopher Ayn Rand would state, in this situation both sides are acting perfectly consistent with their nature.  Charter schools are successful by moving with dexterity to rapidly adapt to fluctuating conditions so that they can provide the absolute best education possible for their students.  Unions, alternatively, fail when it comes to adapting to change quickly, instead institutionalizing modifications to work rules through a legal agreement.

This is exactly the reason that unions and charter schools should not be mentioned in the same sentence.  Because each side is operating according to their inherent nature, the environment will never improve.  As could have been easily anticipated, the Chavez union has filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board.

Since the reality over there will eternally not get much better, the Chavez board of directors should take a step emulating hero Howard Roark in Ms. Rand’s novel The Fountainhead and shutter the facility.  Now.

D.C. charters: Don’t let yourself become another Chavez Prep PCS

Yesterday the Kojo Nnambi show on WAMU 88.5 featured Cesar Chavez Public Charter School Prep Campus science teacher Christian Herr discussing the decision by his facility to unionize.  I had the opportunity to call in to the program.

Mr. Herr did an admirable job relating his concerns for the students and parents at the middle school that led the staff to bring in the District of Columbia Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, which is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers.  He described massive teacher turnover, indicating that 11 of 36 instructors, or 31 percent, have left in just the last term.  In the five years that he has been with the charter they have had four chief executive officers, four principals and four assistant principals.  Mr. Herr explained that good teachers moved on not to change careers or relocate but to take other lateral positions in Washington, D.C.  He opined that it is impossible for teachers, scholars, and parents to get their feet on solid ground when they are essentially walking into a new school every year.  His effort to bring a union started when employees noticed a lack of transparency around the reasons certain policies and procedures were implemented.

In other words, Mr. Herr is describing many of the conditions that existed at Paul PCS when teachers at that institution were considering joining the same union.  As I’ve pointed out previously, when staff feel unappreciated and not listened to, and there is a perceived lack of transparency by superiors, the environment becomes ripe for union activity.

The charter school movement in D.C. has matured and with our growing knowledge of how to best teach under-served children must also come the strengthening of our skills around management.  Employee satisfaction and engagement have to rise to the top of our priority list.

Unfortunately for Mr. Herr, he will find that the introduction of a union will make matters worse not better.  The presence of a third party sandwiched between staff and administrators is never a good idea, especially at such a small place.  It is especially sad that this group of educators has decided to partner with the AFT whose president recently used racially insensitive language to characterize people who support school choice.  But perhaps others can learn from the experience at Cesar Chavez so that this situation will not be repeated in the future.

 

 

A tough summer school lesson for the teachers of Cesar Chavez PCS’s Prep Campus

Last June the employees of Cesar Chavez PCS’s Prep Campus voted to join the District of Columbia Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff through the American Federation of Teachers.  The charter school, which first opened its doors in 1998, has sent almost 100 percent of its students off to college.  These are kids whose parents most likely never even graduated from high school.  A few days ago, the president of the American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten had this to day about the movement that created schools like Chavez:

“Make no mistake: This use of privatization, coupled with disinvestment are only slightly more polite cousins of segregation. We are in the same fight, against the same forces that are keeping the same children from getting the public education they need and deserve. And what better way to pave the path to privatize education than to starve public schools to the breaking point, then criticize their shortcomings, and let the market handle the rest. All in the name of choice.”

So this is what the head of Chavez’s union thinks about the work of this institution and others in the nation’s capital that, as an outcome of parental choice, educate 41,506 pupils or 46 percent of all public school students.

I am sincerely sorry and extremely disappointed that Ms. Weingarten introduced the issue of race.  I don’t like writing about this subject.  But fortunately for those of us residing in Washington, D.C. we have an antidote.

In 2011 the founder and board chair of Friendship PCS my hero Donald Hense was inducted into the National Alliance for Public Charter School’s Hall of Fame.  At the time Friendship was educating approximately 8,000 students in two states.  Over 60 percent of its pupils qualified for free or reduced price meals.  It’s Collegiate Academy had just presented its 2,000th high school diploma.  During the previous three years this school had helped its seniors earn over $25 million in scholarship assistance which included four Gates Millennial, four Posse, and 414 D.C. Achievers Scholarships.   Here is what Mr. Hense observed during his acceptance speech.

The Friendship PCS founder informed the audience that he had graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta.  While in school he served as a student representative to its board of trustees along with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his father.  Mr. Hense was an usher at the funeral for Mr. King after he was assassinated.  He remembered in the aftermath of this terrible event sleeping with buckets of water next to his bed in case his home was firebombed.  In the middle of the night he would be escorted to secret places in order to keep him safe.

Mr. Hense recalled that there was a lot of turmoil in the 1960s, but considering everything that he and those around him faced, he felt threatened more today by being a part of the education reform community then he did back then.

He revealed that he believes our schools are threatened not by people who don’t support charters or school choice but by education reformers who believe that reform is best chartered and directed by the same public school system that did nothing for the last 100 years.

Mr. Hense concluded by contending that he lives in a city that will try and kill charters by a thousand cuts.  Every single year, he asserted, something happens to try and knock the legs of education reform from under charter schools.  Every single year.  Then, he predicted, people somewhere in the future will sit around and say “You know I told you that charters wouldn’t work.”  Well, Mr. Hense opined, they will not work if you cripple them.

Well, we now have the staff of Cesar Chavez to thank for the latest threat to our schools.