Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Reprise: Charter Schools

“But the internal document, prepared at a time when school leaders faced a December deadline to make their decisions public, lays out multiple scenarios for closing neighborhood schools and adding privately run charters – a key component of Emanuel’s plans for improving public education.” – Ahmed-Ullah + Chase.  CPS had closings draft months ago.  Chicago Tribune.  19 December 2012)

Charter Schools (Rahm’s Uncovered Plan for the “Fat Cats”)

Recent developments have pushed Mayor Emanuel’s emphatic need to close public schools, open profit-making charters instead, and create selective non-union schools.  We’re not supposed to know this secret plan, but if you’re looking to invest in a money making operation, this reprise vocabulary may help in your decision to choose the Rahm’s “new normal” for education in Chicago. Later we'll review what one can make running one of these privatized paradigms.  

Charter School - noun – A Charter School is an institution of learning with accountability to a specified, written charter developed to outline certain expectations for its students, often tailored to more specific outcomes than normally found in public schools.  For example, a Charter School may emphasize a certain field of study like visual art, mathematics, or science.  On the other hand, some Charter Schools may instead promote a more general curriculum.  Whatever the desired effects, the summative target is described in the written charter of the institution. 

Like public schools, charter school students are expected to also participate in state mandated requirements – testing, for example.  The differences, however, are also worth noting.  They also cannot charge tuition, unlike like parochial schools, for they are still considered “public” schools – even though charter schools may be quite selective about their admissions process.  Furthermore, the very ambiguity of their nature – public/private, curricularly- isolated /comprehensive, selective/inclusive, privately funded/publicly funded (or both), etc., create a hierarchy of creatures only Carl Linnaeus might fully comprehend. 

Finally, almost all charter schools in Chicago operate outside and away from the collective bargaining of public unions.  Any attempts at unionizing a charter school must be done in affiliation with the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers, not with recognized public unions like the AFT/IFT or NEA/IEA; consequently, herein lies the slippery slope for anyone seeking to organize an opportunity to bargain collectively with the administrative leaders of a charter school for improvements in evaluations, health care, pay, class-size, building improvement, etc.  When suggesting collective bargaining as a possible benefit, teachers or staff at Charter Schools face the immediate scrutiny of the CEO’s who run these operations, operations like Green Dot, Noble Network, or (in New Orleans, believe it or not) Capitol One Bank.  At times, scrutiny without the benefit of due process (tenure) can be unsettling.  By the way, the CEO of Noble Network (our specific case in this vocabulary) receives an annual salary of well over $200,000 per year.  Something is working well in “charter” education.  In fact, according to, at least 10% of charter schools are managed by for-profit companies (5 Oct. 2004.  “Privitization of Public Education.”

Let’s review what happened at one charter school, Chicago Math and Science Academy, a couple of years ago when one teacher became so bold as to suggest organizing her fellow teachers in order to provide for the students’ and faculty’s benefits.  Indeed, the issue is still unsettled today. 

While meeting with her principal, in June of 2010, the teacher, a specialist in adapting curriculum for lower-level learning students, was given a glowing performance evaluation by the principal Mr. Yilnaz.  Teachers annually meet with the principal regarding performance and retention at the end of each year.  Later in that day, the same teacher joined other hopefuls in the faculty as they assembled in the principal’s office to present, in sorts, a petition (results of a card check union election) to acknowledge their wish to join the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers, a subsidiary of the IFT/AFT.  At that time the same Alliance represented eight other charter schools in Chicago (Lydersen, Kari.  9 Aug. 2010.  “Firing of Pregnant Chicago Teacher…” 

Surprisingly or not, the same teacher, instrumental in organizing the group of concerned teachers in order to assist students and improve working conditions was summarily released due to “reductions in state benefits,” although the same school later hired additional teachers for the next year.   The lesson was clear. 

Despite the desire to organize for their students’ improvement – “I didn’t like the climate when it came into going in there on my own to talk to the principal who it seemed was very hostile to any kind of improvements that I wanting in my working conditions – improvements that would certainly benefit the learning conditions of my kids” (Lutton, Linda.  18 March 2011) --  not much happened, and not much is likely, at least for awhile.  Chicago Math and Science Academy hired an expensive union-busting attorney Seyfarth Shaw, an expert at fighting collective bargaining and extending these battles into long and protracted epics. 

And today?  The results are still not in, as the National Labor Relations Board wrestles with CMSA’s issues, including the stance that they are not necessarily “public” despite taking over $23 million in public funds since opening in 2004 (16 Feb 2012.  “Chicago Charter School in union battle” 

The school’s attorney has argued that public funding is not the only mark of a public institution, suggesting that charter schools are established by private citizens and government has little if any sway over their operations, expenses or curriculum.

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