Charter schools and unions
A conversation among:
• Steve Barr, founder of the Los Angeles-based Green Dot charter schools, where teachers have their own union contract.
• Marilyn Stewart, president of the Chicago Teachers Union.
• Jo Anderson, executive director of the Illinois Education Association.
Mike Klonsky, founder of the Small Schools Network, moderated this discussion at an Aug. 15 program co-sponsored by the Workshop, National-Louis University and Catalyst Chicago.
MIKE: I just want to say something about Steve Barr. In the last few years promising models and strategies have emerged [that] run counter to the conservative twist on smaller charter schools. The pilot schools in Boston, Green Dot in LA, they and their founder Steve Barr have captured a lot of media attention, have refrained the whole conversation around charters. UFT President Randi Weingarten has recently announced that the union will work in partnership with Green Dot to start a new high school in New York. Could Chicago be next? This is what I wondered. How would this impact a school district like ours, where charter school teachers are actually barred by law from being part of the same bargaining unit as their brothers and sisters in more traditional schools?
When Steve told me he’d be here for a couple days, we decided to take advantage and pull this meeting together and create a dialogue between him and some of our teacher union leaders. I asked Steve to open up the discussion and then we’ll get Marilyn and Jo a chance to respond.
Steve, although he’s a lot younger than me — you couldn’t tell my looking at us, I know (laughter)– I still see a lot of the 1960s activism in this guy. I totally misread him at first. I should admit, describing [him]in my blog as one of those billionaire entrepreneurs. That’s what I called him, like my good friends — I wish– Bill Gates and Eli Broad, (inaudible) who think that a big idea and lots of money are all you need to change the world. They’re wrong. I had to later apologize to Steve and his wife, who was surprised to hear that her husband had so much dough (laughter), and she asked me, why the heck am I driving an ’89 Toyota (laughter)? So I’ll let Steve explain that one. Without further adieu, Steve Barr (applause).
STEVE: Of course like all good billionaires, I’ve got my $189 suit on here, special for you. I think the tie is worth about as much. Somebody gave it to me. So, but thanks Mike. I’ve been here for 48 hours, and I’ve got to say, I’m a little bit jealous because I have met some just extraordinary people on both sides of this debate and discussion points that all have one thing in common. They’re incredibly passionate about kids.
I was raised by a single mom who I don’t think ever made more than $1,000 a more month. I know I’m unique in my generation. I think there’s been a gulf between two or three generations, where the value of unions have been lost on [people], and some fault is the unions for not keeping relevant.
There’s just moments in your life when you’re growing up, where you see your parent, who is everything to you, humiliated, and it really sticks with you. I saw a woman who worked very hard humiliated — usually without healthcare. We always didn’t have health insurance.
I remember when I was five years old, I got hit by a car and both my arms were broken. But what I remember most about it wasn’t the pain, it was my mom’s shock and then a doctor at Monterey Community Hospital — Mike, you know where that’s at…right around the same time you were at Fort Ord, where my mom worked — hand a wet x-ray to my mom and tell her, just take him to one of LBJs clinics — just seeing the humiliation of this hardworking woman.
Then when I entered my senior year of high school, I lied about my age and got a job at United Parcel Service and I became a teamster. I saw a different way of treating workers and I felt really bad my mom never had that kind of collective protection. I had health benefits that were far beyond anything she imagined.
So I’m part of a generation that, we’re kind of in the middle. We didn’t go through the struggles of the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s in work conditions in this country, but I definitely saw the difference between being in a union household and being in a non-union household. I think that’s lost on a lot of people and it’s certainly lost on a lot of people in the reform movement. I don’t think it’s all their fault though. I think it’s a collective fault of both sides. So when I started Green Dot Public Schools, [I was] coming from that background, as a Democratic Party activist and a fund raiser and somebody who spent most of my adult life trying to figure out a way of engaging the army of non-voters, that would be young people and immigrants or the disenfranchised.
But I wanted to create schools to connect people to something very meaningful, mostly new immigrants in Los Angeles and working poor. The idea that you would become a non-union public school made no sense to me. I thought it was very bizarre of my fellow charter school people, who thought it was a pretty good idea that you can make change in public schools, which are 100% unionized — some would say 150% unionized — with non-union labor. What a bizarre concept. Not only philosophically or morally, but just as a business idea, a business notion that you’re going to spend all of your time fighting these people who are pretty good fighters. They are some pretty good fighters, and they do it for a living. And while you’re fighting, you’re dealing with real estate, you’re also going to create a good educational choice.
I think charter schools at their finest are research and development of what a district could be. I think that 90% of charter schools are a lot like public schools. There’s some pretty mediocre ones and there’s some pretty bad ones, but the 10 percent that are doing really well should be the research and development we latch onto. If you look at those schools that do really well, there’s some common themes about those schools that I think teachers also want.
I know in Green Dot schools, we propose to teachers: would you rather work in a 3,000 seat school, where the only kids you really get to know on any fundamental level are kids who are really loud or jocks, or would you rather work in a 500 seat school where you actually get to know every kid and you have the real relationship. I think most people begin in teaching have, which is a relationship and finding something unique about each student and lifting them up. Would you rather have an organization that supports you, that the main job is not to rally credit around it itself or deflect or protect the status quo, but to get as much resources into the main product, which is teaching? Get every dollar into the classroom and every support system, because our product is really teaching.
Then the third thing, which is the one that never gets covered and discussed nationally: I thought it was a bizarre concept that people who are in front of other people have no say on what goes on in front of them, since decisions are made centralized and it’s very top down. So if you just approach those three different issues, you’re going to have a shot of having a pretty good school. Randi Weingarten handed me a button, a UFT button that says, have you listened to a teacher today? You just fix those three things, you’re going to have agreement on about 80, 90% of the things.
So in the meantime, the United Teachers of Los Angeles, doesn’t seem like at any time soon that their working conditions were going to get better or they were going to get any of these things, working in a small school, having more say on what goes on in front of them, having dollars delivered to them. And their contract didn’t seem to be aligned with pushing that chain. So why not create a competitive contract?
So the Green Dot story was, I sat down with six teachers, five who never taught before, one just out of UCLA, strong social justice background and one teacher who’s 30 years old, our math teacher, he was our prized free agent, living within our budget and we talked about it. I took LA Unified’s pay scale and I added 15% because I was the bureaucracy. I wasn’t paying myself. So if I don’t have a bureaucracy, even though I’m getting 30% less money than the school district, I’m going to get every dollar in the classroom. So they all got 15% more money. It wasn’t that great, because the teachers were pretty young.
And then I found a better healthcare plan. They’ve got PPO instead of HMO. And then challenged them to help develop curriculum with me. I’m not the educator. I am not a first generation Latino history teacher who did the impossible, went to college and became a teacher and is not in front of first generation Latino students. So what do I really have to add besides the little nuance here and there in that bond that you have with them and actually teaching? Of course you have to teach them some standards. At the University of California we all teach it. We’re all college prep, so they’ve got to accept the curriculum.
We said, let’s put this in a contract and let’s attach the myths or realities out there along the way. It would drive me crazy if I worked as hard as you all work, but the perception out there was, can’t wait until 3:30; got those four months off; two years in tenure, we’re untouchable. Believe me, there’s a lot of that talk out there and I think those are myths. So let’s address that in a teacher’s contract. Let’s see what happens if we eliminated minutes and hours and have a professional work day, in a small school setting, where we all trust each other as professionals; we all pull together. Some teachers leave early and some do the hard work late; we all pull together in a professional way.
Let’s try an experiment. That actually was a suggestion of a teacher. The second one was, I don’t really know the difference between tenure and just cause. You can read these blogs and you can read for days where people find differences, but just cause is something that average person lives at in most workplaces, so why don’t we just do just cause. And that terminology came from the California Teachers Association. Let’s have all budgeting and all hiring and firing done at school sites. You want it to be a centralized decision, but as you make those decisions you’re also responsible for results and accountability to the people that we really serve which are not the teachers, the families we serve.
We put that in a contract and most people in the charter community, most funders looked at me like I had horns coming out of my head, like what the hell are you talking about. Why would you do something so stupid? What happens if the teachers want to go out and strike; or you piss off a teacher? Or what happens in your project? And you’ve got, you don’t have a proactive reform or mission driven kind of a contact. Why can’t we try something new and different? So for three years I didn’t ask anybody for any money because they wouldn’t talk to me. They thought I was a nut.
Then the results started coming in and the results were staggering. In areas in Los Angeles where there is a 60 to 70% drop out rate in schools; in Lennox, Englewood, South LA, East LA, we were retaining and graduating 80, 90% of the kids. Oh, but you must get the magical kids. No, we get the same kids. Half of them come in under the fourth grade reading level, math is off the charts. The really involved parents get their kids in cars and drive them into Palisades where they find two quarters rub together and get them in a private school. They don’t get a choice in that.
Graduation rate and three fourths of the kids started going on to four-year colleges. When it really came down to it and we actually had to explain these results to people and how is it happening, it’s we, everybody at the school site feels like they own the school and teachers, we don’t have to decide, we’ll take care of them. We have at will and we don’t really have a contract, but we take care of them. Well no, we invite them to be at the grown up table making decisions in teacher led schools. We also track teachers that are a little more grown up and a little bit more experienced in all the right ways. Meaning that, they’re not learning at the expense of the kids along the way.
We attract teachers who have been teaching for ten to 12 years who have got two kids and yeah, I know that the system is messed up and I can’t fix a school from within anymore, but I’m not going to go work from a charter school that has some at will contract, another union. I have kids to…and I can do whatever I want in this school system. I’m a pretty good teacher. But that Green Dot, they seem a little bit more grown up and they at least have got some protection. So we attract a different kind of teacher at Green Dot, not just the ones right out of college. We take some of those too.
So that’s all kind of the basic background. Now we’re trying desperately to get out of the charter school business. That’s why I’m also so bummed out. I hear you guys, there’s a lot of squabbling and fighting and you’re in the middle of a street fight right now, which seems more like a bigger street fight than from where I’m sitting. What I see is a lot more alignment in Chicago than we have in Los Angeles. A great deal more alignment and support to do some dramatic things. You probably have a different take on it, but from where I’m sitting, there’s no alignment. It’s just, everything’s for the adults. Everything’s for the adults at a school district and the bureaucrats win. The teachers and the union in the charter school groups fight each other.
So it was my hope to come here tonight and I was coming out to…had a couple meetings, was at least to spur a conversation that we probably agree on 90%, maybe even 80% of this stuff and let’s get out of our tribal warfare. H.L. Menkin once said that politics is nothing more than shushing by hobgoblins. Think about that. I think there’s a lot of people in public education who like their hobgoblins too much. If you’ve got a boogeyman over there and you can manipulate the fears on your side, it sure is a hell of a lot easier than thinking a way out of a box. I’m challenging everybody in this room to think our way out of the boxes. We can solve this problem. We know it works. Teachers know it works, parents know it works. Small autonomous schools with high expectations for all kids, where all the dollars get to the school site and parents are partners, that’s what you spend 25 grand for in a tony neighborhood. That’s like, that’s what Oprah Winfrey would pay for a private school or Jesse Jackson or people that have the money.
Why can’t our public schools have the same value though? What, because poor kids can’t learn in those environments? Of course they can. This can be on charter and voucher and union and non-union and just focus on those basic tenants and let’s demand that all our schools have those basic values. Those schools are teacher led. They’re small, high expectations and all the dollars get to the school site, in the pockets where they belong, which are teachers and parents are partners (applause).
MIKE: The next speaker is Marilyn Stewart, who I again want to thank, especially. I know how tough it was for her to get away from her tough negotiations and get over here and it shows how serious a topic this is, both to all of us and to Marilyn and the union. Marilyn is a veteran teacher. She of course, is the President of the 37,000 member Chicago Teachers Union and I guess you taught what, about 30 years Marilyn?
… Thirty four.
MIKE: Thirty four years, special education teacher until she took the helm of the union and was just recently reelected president. Without any further adieu, Marilyn Stewart (applause).
MARILYN: Good evening. Well I wasn’t expecting to do this, but after hearing Steve, I can just say, we can go home now (laughter). I absolutely agree with everything he says. As a teacher, a veteran teacher in the Chicago Public Schools I never really had to use my voice until I taught….so that was my teacher voice. I’m a product of Chicago Public Schools and I taught in the system for 34 years. As a teacher, they happen to have nine superintendents in my reign as teacher. A lot of things that could have worked in the system, as a teacher you’d see a lot of the bureaucracy and things that drove teachers away from the classroom.
Being in this unique position of being president, I am in a unique position because I’ve done this for 30 years and trying to fight with the district to say that, you have to treat teachers like professionals and tell people to stop trying to separate the teacher from the child.
There’s a lot of myths about, when we hear the talk about charter and they’ll say Marilyn’s against charter schools. I’ve never said I’m against charter schools. It’s the concept. What Steve’s book about a charter was absolutely what Al Shanker talked about when he envisioned charters. That’s absolutely what I support. I absolutely am opposed to people who try to pit teachers against teachers and the children are caught in the middle, not getting the resources they need to do their jobs.
As a teacher in the system, it’s amazing that educators, I don’t care if you’re private, parochial, charter, public, we chose this profession. A lot of people making educational choices made other choices, but they’re dictating what I do and I have no control over that. That bothers me because I chose this profession. CPS is a, maybe a five billion dollar budget and it’s amazing how the funds get, are so far away from the classroom, that as a teacher I had to go into my pocket to supplement my classroom. What other professions are there where the teacher has to supplement the classroom and then expect you to do it. It’s very frustrating when you’re trying to get things for the classroom and the teacher is being made to feel like the villain.
Who’s the dominant people in this profession, females. A lot of times because we’re the dominant people in this particular profession, I think they think well, you’re supposed to take this. We’re educated. They raise the bar, we jump over it (chuckle) and you’re up there. Our paraprofessionals into the teachers, what do you want me to do. What do I have to do to do it? Now you give me the tools; you give me the resources, I need to do my job. Teachers lead the public school system, not because of the challenges of our students; not because of the things that you would normally think what’s in Chicago or urban district or for driving people out. More and more teachers are leaving because of the bureaucracy. I can’t do my job because some prevents me from doing my job. Teacher voice.
My school was renovated. We were near Midway Airport. I taught…about 100 deaf kids in the school, regular school. We were maybe number ten at one time on the reading list group, high performing school. Then they renovated our school. We got air condition. And this bothered me. It’s like, well they came in and they retrofitted the electricity and the lights. They installed motion censored lights in the classroom. So if the children are sitting quietly reading or writing or taking a test, the lights would go off (laughter). We tried to stop…don’t put these type of lights in a school because we often times try to get the students to sit quietly and read. So then you, then we’d get an eraser, here, throw something at the light switch; or everybody get up and jump around. But they spend all this money to rehab a building and not question teachers.
They also put, I taught deaf blind children when I first started and I know something about Braille and where it should be placed. They put the room number in the Braille this high. I said that’s for an adult that’s blind and that child will be down here. Why did you put it up here? He can’t see it; he can’t feel it? Who’s it for? So those are just like simple things, but if you magnify it into the idea that teachers’ voices are not being heard when you do things. They’ll ask you about something that you’d want to use.
A lot of the curriculum programs that they use for schools would have worked, but every time you change a superintendent, they throw out that when they say here’s another one. The teachers sit there and say, well I have to do what you told me to do. Now more and more our teachers are saying, I have to teach to the test. I’m not teaching my children how to think.
So when Steve talks about the charter and I’m saying, wait a minute, I’m absolutely supportive of any type of school system that treats teachers like professionals and gives teachers a voice. The district and the union are right now in the partnership with the Fresh Start Schools and we’re saying this is the way you turn around schools in Chicago. We partner. When the district has listened to the union, our Fresh Start Schools, they were eight failing schools. How many are off probation? Four are off probation and it was a five year process. So give us the same timeline that you’re giving your Renaissance 2010 schools. We can do this if you create stability in this school.
They wanted TIP money, like a TIF for tat. The Teacher Incentive Fund, they got the money and we have a proposal. When the union is involved in saying, this is how you do this right because it’s failed in other systems. We don’t want this to fail. When the union and the district partner, we succeed because those are programs where it’s teacher leadership and teacher management. Those programs work, but we still have a part of the system that wants to still have the top down management. So I think we can eat this all up in one bite at a time, if we, as you were saying, focus on the students. That’s our ultimate goal is to educate the students. If the mayor wants the Olympics in Chicago, we should have an Olympic type educational system here in Chicago (applause).
MIKE: We’ll come back with questions as soon as Jo is finished. Jo Anderson is the Executive Director of the Illinois Education Association. Joined the IEA in 1972 as a field representative and later served as an organizer and a field supervisor. Since 1995…I don’t know why I’m reading all this, you’ve got it right in front of you. Jo Anderson (laughter)(applause).
JO: Thank you Mike and thank you for the invitation to be here this evening. I’m especially glad to be here because it means I don’t have to be in Springfield. What a crazy place, what Steve was talking about, adult behavior, that’s not what we’re seeing, I’m afraid. The IEA is one of the NEA affiliates across the country. We’re about 128,000 members, the seventh largest NEA affiliate. We represent teachers and other school employees, pre-kindergarten through 12th and into universities and community colleges across the state outside of Chicago. Although we have some higher education people in Chicago. So let me share with you some of our thoughts and experiences with charter schools and echo a number of things that both Steve and Marilyn have said and Mike.
The notion of charter literally means a grant of authority. The colonies, the 13 original colonies, each had a charter from a government, England and it was a grant of authority and that’s I think, what Al Shanker had in mind, is creating grants of authority within the public system for teachers and others to work together to create better schools. His original vision I think, is still a compelling one. In our view, it’s an opportunity for innovation, to step outside of the bureaucracy of both the system and frankly, some of our own contracts, to do some different things that are research based that give us a chance to work in more effective ways to improve what we do with kids and that we can, as a whole system, learn from.
One of the, I think, most interesting books in the last few years around teacher unions is a book called United Mind Workers, play on word. United Mine Workers, no it’s United Mind Workers by Julia Koppich and Charles Kerchner and Joseph Weeres and they talk about the importance of a different kind of relationship between the unions and management and the school system; more of a partnership, collaboration. And they talked about a different approach to contracts, where in fact, the contracts are thinner at the district level and really more empower sites or schools to shape their own lives. I think that’s what the charter school, the grant of authority that charter represents, gives us the opportunity to do.
I was just out in a district today, Glenview, which was one of the most cited examples in that book and they developed, a number of year ago, I was involved with it, something called a constitution, which is the governing document between the district and the union and essentially it does that kind of thing. It creates shared decision making at all levels, but creates grants of authority. My work in IEA with others around how do we improve our systems, has involved in some ways, an internal chartering process we’ve tried to create at a district level of partnership structure between ourselves, the union, the management and the school board representing the community and then in turn, invite schools to come forward for the opportunity to in fact, have more control over their lives. And in the process over time, wave regulations, either policy or management regulations and procedures or contractual, all to give more authority to the cite so they can use the expertise that our people have; in fact, reach out and partner with some of the best thinking that’s out there, in terms of outside partners and really improve what’s going on.
We’re talking about public schools. They should be held as accountable as any other public school. There should be a very careful thoughtful process for authorizing charters. I think we have more of that in Illinois than in some other states. Greg Richmond just put in a piece in Education Week that talks about some of the mistakes in states like Ohio and Texas where they were very lax in which schools could become charters; or who could authorize and they have many charters that are unsuccessful, failing and unaccountable. I think we have a much healthier environment here in Illinois in terms of more accountability and a more rigorous process on the front end in terms of who gets authorized.
Our orientation is, we want to be a part of creating charters. We want to organize the teachers in charters as we have, for example, in a charter school, Ball Charter School in Springfield. Those teachers are not covered by the regular contract in Springfield, but they are members of the Springfield Education Association. We, with them, they’ve negotiated a contract that’s specific to that charter and we frankly want to organize more charters. Although we’re not going to get involved in organizing charters where our colleagues, say AFT, IFT and CTU represent the teachers in those communities because the one thing we are committed to is, continuing to work as partners in Illinois and we don’t want to get into that kind of competing with each other in that way. But, we’d like to organize charters where they exist outside Chicago, in our own districts, in other places. And more than that, we want to in fact, be involved in creating them.
So we’re now involved with our Rockford local, Rockford Education Association and their district, the Rockford School District in trying to design a charter. Frankly looked at some of the charter work here in Chicago. There’s a couple that we’ve been particularly impressed with that we’d like to learn from and model and we’d like to do more of that. It’s an opportunity to empower our members with support to in fact, made a difference. We think the opportunity to develop charters is an opportunity for teachers to not only create, design, implement, run, evaluate, but really to rise to all of the things that our members aspire to, in terms of why they got into the profession.
There is, I think, a very important need for support systems for all schools, but charters as well. The notion that somehow in isolation and individually people can go ahead and create shiny examples, break through models, I think is a flawed theory of change. I think we need schools that are networked; schools that have outside support systems and have resources that help them implement the design they have in mind. I think also what that kind of support system…in addition to that kind of support system; the larger system needs to be able to learn from charters. I don’t think that we’re doing that very well. Can be a break through charter. We know that it has break through results, but the larger system doesn’t do a very good job in lots of places in my view of really understanding, well why is this happening. Why is Green Dot getting these break through results. What are they doing that we’re not doing in other places and how could we learn from that? How could we replicate some of those insights, experiences, best practices, so that it can drive the whole system.
The whole notion of charters, I think what Albert Shanker originally had in mind, was not to charterize the whole system, but was essentially to stimulate innovation and to have enough of that kind of innovation happening, so that the larger system could learn from it and be essentially driven to more change itself. So that in fact, we could undo lots of the bureaucracy, both in the system and in our own contracts and union procedures, so that we could in fact, empower more of the schools in the system, all of the schools ultimately to be successful.
So having said all that, at this point we’ve come out in support of lifting the cap on charters. We have a limit now of 60 statewide. We think, we’re not for completely removing it, but we think some additional charters, frankly we’re interested in pursuing those additional opportunities. So that’s where we are at this point (applause).
MIKE: Thanks Jo. I’m going to ask the panelists a couple of questions and then I’m going to throw it open for questions from the audience; or for brief statements or comments on what’s been said. First I’ve got a question for Steve. Steve, over the last two days you’ve met with a lot of folks here in Chicago from a lot of different…I know you’ve met with people from the business community, from philanthropists, with union folks; what in your…what did you learn from those meetings and what do you think are the main problem areas? Where is there going to be the resistance to unions and charters working it out?
STEVE: I’m a yellow dog democrat and I jumped a class because the Democratic Party used to stand for things like fixing public schools and created a great public school system in California. We’ve lost our way in solving those big issues. I just read recently that most people that send their kids to public schools, in the last presidential election, voted for George Bush and not John Kerry. Why have our schools gone from the best to the worst? The left, which I’m a member of, consistently comes up with the same answer over and over again. Give them more money for a failed centralized system. It’s really about the money.
Then the right, their answer is privatize it. It’s the teacher’s unions fault, indifference. This is what passes debate. I have a superintendent in Los Angeles; when he starts his speech about the schools, he starts talking about foster kids and the challenges and the lack of fathers at home. Somebody with a foster kid and raised by a single mom, didn’t have a father, I don’t want to be insulted and talked down to like that. There seems to be, there’s this country called India that’s got little bit bigger problems than that and those are big problems. But bigger problems than that, we outsource our…we have to import their labor and they figured out how to create some pretty good schools. So in a lot of ways we kind of lost our way.
Michael Bennett is the superintendent in Denver, had a great quote. I saw him speak and he said, what would happen in Los Angeles or Denver or Chicago if for a month, the garbage didn’t get picked up in front of your house. Not because of the strike, but just inefficiency. We’d call the mayor, right? But my god, this education problem, I just can’t wrap my hands; it’s just so big and it’s the unions and it’s the management; we just can’t figure it out. We’ve kind of lost our way in the way of solving big problems.
What I’ve seen in the last 48 hours is part of the problem, which is leadership, people putting down their guns, listening to each other and thinking like and that’s the part that ______ (inaudible) thinking like a parent of a 13 year old who’s going to a really bad high school and have that sense or urgency placed on it. If you think that way, well charters and then they’ve got a cap and then this. You think differently. We need to sit down and figure this problem out together. I know that sounds real weak, but it really is.
So, how do you get people to sit down? Maybe you start an alternative union. Maybe you find new apartments. Maybe you make people nervous that have been protecting the status quo and they don’t have a sense of urgency anymore. Maybe you rile up parents and make them realize that they actually are the ultimate clients. Not the teachers or the administrators or the rest of us. It’s really the parents. And that there’s a common thread of need and vision out there, which is missing, that they’ve got to create a demand for this change.
So I think the three things you need, which is kind of what we need to do with this country is, you need a clear vision. The clear vision is not charters. Half the families that go to our school, I don’t think they know what a charter school is. My friends who come over, political elites, as they used to be called, we’ll talk, oh Steve you got situated. Hey by the way, what is the tuition at your charter schools? You don’t even know what a charter school is. You don’t know that it’s a public school. People don’t know what charters are, but they know what a small, safe school; high expectations ______ (inaudible) get to it and parents are partners of ours. So you’ve got one clear vision that plays out in Boil Heights effectively as Bellaire in Los Angeles.
The second thing is, you’re good with people who are not participating, which are the parents. They have to own this. The adults at school sites and school districts are not going to lead the charge to empower folks on the outside and they might lose their jobs.
The third thing is, we need union to form. We need to update our contracts and create relevance, especially for the new teacher workforce, which is not going to be around for 25 years for lifetime benefits. They’re going to change their career seven or eight times. They want to be accountable and they want more money up front, so they can actually live in the cities they’re teaching it. And if you do those three things, forget about charters and all this back and forth tribal warfare, we can fix this thing.
MIKE: Thanks Steve. Marilyn, I read in the LA papers that the president of UTLA, AJ Duffy had commented that he was critical of himself and of the union for not having organized the charter school teachers, more specifically the Green Dot Schools. Why hasn’t the Chicago Teachers Union taken initiative on this up until now?
MARILYN: Taken initiative to?
MIKE: To unionize charter school teachers.
MARILYN: The thing about it, the AFT and we had to, as a union, we had to realize what had happened to charters. The charter term and concept had been hijacked and then union had been thrown away. I think Steve kind of touched on it, as democrats and people who were pushing that that type of leadership in school, who were kind of sitting back dumfounded, what should we do with charters.
I remember at a discussion with the other AFT presidents, we were saying, well charters are good; charters are bad. We were getting off focus. It wasn’t the name and it wasn’t that. It was like wait a minute, the concept and the initiative and the original purpose of a charter was always good. But when people, it’s like they changed the focus and all of a sudden it became, the charter became a fight against unions. I said, well this was my concept.
Now Steve is in a position where he organized charters and was like wait a minute. This man has got the concept of charters and said that my charter is like the original concept of a charter and it’s also union. So we finally got someone that said, that charters and unions don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Now my colleague and friend in New York, Randi Weingarten, she has a union charter. She was the first one. I said, oh my goodness. So the unions are changing. They said, look this is our concept. We’re not afraid of this name. We’re not going to run away from it. We’re not going to be fighting some concept of what a charter is and people are saying, are accusing the teachers unions of being the obstructionist to educational performance, that’s absolutely absurd.
So for me to, when I look at charters now the way they were run in Chicago is because they were constantly pitting one public school against another public school and we were fighting a battle that didn’t need to be fought because it said, I want to protect my teachers and my members. When they close a school in Chicago, these teachers need jobs. They would go and work in a charter. Why should you, in some instances, get paid less and get treated differently. We were saying, the turnover at some schools was horrendous. So we’re losing the focus of the stability in the school. And we’re saying, well what creates stability in the school. Research has shown that unions will create stability in the school. So we had to try to find a way. If charter teachers want to get organized because they want stability at their work site; they want to be able to teach the way they should be teaching and absolutely, we will help them organize. When Steve has a concept like this and now Randi Weingarten has a contract with Green Dot, I’m absolutely looking at what’s happening in New York that the union has a charter and now she has Green Dot with a charter.
So we’re not really like jumping on board, we’re going to watch and see what’s happening, but Steve’s charters have ten years of a track record. I said, oh that’s really good, ten years of a track record. So the idea is that you’re going to get about your schools or that Randi is going to have in her schools, they’re going to be sharing them with the regular population and that’s my goal. I’m absolutely for organizing charters in Chicago to create stability in this system. So they don’t have teachers in charters fighting against each other and who’s the loser? The students.
… Are you going to go out to LA and take a look at…
MARILYN: Yeah, he’s going to invite me out to LA (laughter). I need a vacation.
… Take you out to eat over there.
STEVE: But we have a lot of schools that have a lot of union representation that are completely unstable too.
MARILYN: Well no, no, I can show that here in Chicago, but the thing is, the stability of the union trying to create stability for the district, the bureaucracy usually are the ones that create instability in the school because of the change, constantly changing. In a system like Chicago, because the system is so large, you have to take things in smaller chunks. Our initiative with our Fresh Start Schools, those schools could be probably viewed as charters because we’re trying new and innovative things and of those eight schools, which would be the size of some districts. So we’re saying, we’re trying to create stability and this is what stability looks like. This is what teacher leadership looks like. This is what teacher support looks like. We’re experimenting with teacher mentoring and evaluation process, because we know that the process that they have now is flawed. So we’re trying things in a small setting where there’s buy in of the teachers to work there; there’s support. So we know that you can have the unions that are unstable, but it’s not because the union is causing the stability; it’s the district and we’re trying to help the district to make your schools more stable and what they’ve done and we’ve seen in Chicago where they’ve done things that have created instability, but they’ve also done things that have created stability. So Chicago’s in a plus because the city is so big. So yes, we’ve seen schools that are unstable. It’s not the unions.
… I had to say that because I thought we were getting too lovey dovey in here (laughter).
MIKE: That’s what I was thinking. That’s what I was thinking too (laughter). Before you start hugging, are we going to have a teachers strike this year?
STEVE: At Green Dot?
MIKE: Don’t answer that.
MIKE: Jo, you said that you’re against…that the IEA certainly is not going to raid your rating union, right? In LA, the UTLA refused to organize the charter schools. What happens if the CTU doesn’t do it?
JO: We’re not going to then go into Chicago charters and organize, because we value too much the working relationship we certainly have with the IFT and would like to develop more effectively with the CTU. So that’s where we’re at on that.
MIKE: Why don’t you merge then… (laughter)
JO: Someday, someday.
MARILYN: Been there, probably tried that.
QUESTIONS FROM THE AUDIENCE
JO: I’d like to just pick up on Steve’s comment around the third key element of union reform and say essentially that’s absolutely right. I would say that in some of our locals that either have been or even are obstacles to change. That’s the truth of it. I think we have to learn. I’ve talked about the importance of charters as an opportunity for R&D, as Steve suggested or to learn how the system can improve.
One of the parts of the system that also has to improve is us. I think it’s important to understand that our roots as a union. Our roots as a union were essentially to react. They were what were perceived to be and actually were oppressive kind of bureaucracies that were denying rights of various . . . not dealing with pay and benefit issues. So we organized up against those things. The tradition of the union is essentially to react. I think we have to learn a whole different set of behaviors, which are how to be more proactive and actually shape a vision, initiate some directions and figure out how to get out of that mold.
So having learned that very well; having gotten very good at it, being good reactors, it’s hard to get some of our leaders and locals out of that mode, into a more proactive stance. So that’s the learning challenge for us as unions.
MIKE: Thanks Jo. I know we’ve got some charter school folks here in the audience, some teachers, people from all different areas of the school systems. I’d like to get some questions. Elizabeth?
… Hi everybody, I’m Elizabeth Evans and I run the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, which is a statewide membership association of charter public schools. I am delighted to be here tonight and hear this conversation. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Steve recently, talking with him. Our common roots go back to, he worked for Ferrara while I was working for Mondale. So I think much of what Steve said personally of course, resonates. We also have been lucky enough to be working as a network statewide with Jo Anderson and the IDA recently. Some of the work that Jo is doing in Rockford is work that we were partnering on. One of my board members is the board chair at the Gall Charter School, which is a unionized charter school and he spent two years working with teachers at that school to put that contract together. It’s a contract that works with the teachers; a contract that works with the parents, but most importantly it’s a contact that’s working for the students.
I just wanted to say for all of the charters that we are here not to fight the adults. This is not an adult fight anymore. We’re here to fight for children and for students. The reason I get up everyday and do the work I do with the schools that I work with is because they are ______ (inaudible) equal and they were motivated; many of them working with new light. Teachers who started schools, because they were tired of not having control in their classroom be it the lights or whatever, the signages or what they have to teach on a particular day, regardless of what the students need.
So I think we are at the 90% place and I think this is a great opportunity for us to work on the ten percent. If we have more alignment than they in LA, more power to us and let’s do something about it. We’ve been delighted to partner with the IDA and we’d like to partner with anybody else who wants to partner with us to approve public education for everyone and let’s get going.
MIKE: Great, thank you Elizabeth. In the back, yes. Will you please stand up and introduce yourself and if you need a mike, we have one right here for you.
… I’ll use my teacher voice.
MIKE: There you go.
… I’m a south side high school teacher, so it’s a loud voice.
MIKE: We can tell that, yes (laughter).
… Okay, my name is Debbie Pope. I teach at Gage Park High School and for a while I worked for the Chicago Teachers Union. Now I want to relate a little story and then ask a question, if I could. Okay, we started our freshman orientation at Gage Park today and I had taught this summer in a program called Step Up, which is for low, but not very low students who are entering high school, to give them a boost in counseling and reading and math. Two of my students came up to me within the first ten minutes and these huge hot, sweaty _______ (inaudible) almost in tears. Why? Because the board, my school is very over crowded and the way that the board, it’s not just overcrowding was, last week a computer picked at random, 180 of our freshmen and assigned them at random to five other high schools on the south side in that area. So kids we had worked with this summer and stuff suddenly got notices that they were going to Tilden or Richards or Kelly or some other school and they and their parents were distraught. The two girls ironically both live within two blocks of our school and were being assigned to schools that were many miles a ways and across very dangerous territories. So that’s the kind of bureaucracy that could drive anybody absolutely crazy.
Now my principal’s quite confident that she can get these particular two girls back, but that isn’t even the point of it. The question I wanted to raise and I’d love it if all of you would comment on this, goes back to a personal experience that I had. My children attended a wonderful magnet school in Chicago. They’ve graduated since, Inter American, which was a dual emergent language school, but it was a school that did not require any kind of academic test to enter. However the students at that school had such a motivated group of parents, such a participatory group of parents and I give part of the credit to the school teachers and the administration, but also to the fact that these were the parents who were aware of the various options that were out there. These were the parents who were not totally mired in taking care of…
… Get to the question, please Deb.
…and stuff. And aren’t all of the charter schools, even if they’re not in any way test admission, aren’t they all in essence selective admission because it’s the brought together parents who are able to make an option and choose a different school other than the neighborhood school for their kids.
… All right, let’s try to be brief.
STEVE: Well I personalize it. My mom was a dental assistant and a waitress and her one chance to participate every month was to go to a PTA meeting on the third Thursday night, guess what? She ain’t participating and the school went, I guess she’s not a motivated attached parent. She was motivated enough to take a job as a waitress to support a more expensive apartment so I could go to a better public school. The point of it is, first of all I’ll tell you and that’s the thing I’ve learned, I have all my pre-conditioning involved in this in my learning curve in the last seven years. The idea that some parents care about their kids and some parents don’t; some parents will participate and some don’t. I’m not saying you, but if your only opportunity to meet somebody of a different color and a different ethnicity than you are is watching the news at night, yeah, there’s the one and a half or two percent of the parents that don’t care about their kids education. They’re on TV and you create some preconditioning, pretty destructive preconditioning. The parents, all parents care about their kids.
… Yeah Steve, don’t you think that some places choice means schools choosing kids instead of kids and parents choosing schools and they do it through application, the way applications are written or the way they attract appeal to certain parents?
STEVE: See, I’m not here to protect or speak for the charter school movement. I’ll tell you about my schools. We have a rule, every eighth grade family gets three runs at that; a knock on the door, a mailing, phone call and then we do advertising. We don’t just put like a flyer up on the front desk that only certain parents get it; or advertising in the Los Angeles Times and only certain parents read it. We are trying to create systemic change and you can’t create systemic change if you’re creaming one group of people and then your results are based on it; or if you’re augmenting your ADA or your public funding with philanthropy. So we take the same kinds and the same dollars.
For five schools, we’ve had this, well they get the certain _____ (inaudible). That’s the way you explain it with, the way of results. Some of you may have read about Jefferson High School. We said look, if you’re not going to collaborate with us, we’re going to take your whole ninth grade and we created five schools around the worst high school in Los Angeles. And 1300 families, 80% of the attendance area, hard to organize areas supposedly, applied for those 700 slots. Not 100, not 200; 80% of the attendance area. Now I got a C in Stats in college, but I know what pretty good sample set is. Eight out of 10 is a pretty ______ (inaudible) sample set. Next week, test scores will come out from those five schools around Jefferson High School. They will average 160 point higher API scores. Two of the schools had more ELD and ELL learners and special ed kids than Jefferson High School.
So that whole argument, you’re just doing it because you’re opening one school and you’re getting selected parents. And I’m not talking about charter, because listen, there are a lot of charter schools that skim and market and the pressure to compete. They do it. I’m not going to apologize for them, but we should also explain why the results, that if you actually create a small school where everybody’s respected and the teachers lead and you get _______ (inaudible) school site, you’ll get remarkable results. We shouldn’t explain that way.
… Thanks. Yeah?
… I’m Fred Klonsky. I’m the President of a Local in Park Ridge. I had two questions. One, for my colleagues at the teachers unions and that is that. It’s a question about reform at the local level. Don’t you believe that part of that is because, why there’s fear and trepidation about charter schools on the part of the rank and file teachers in many locals. It’s because, really the fight over collective bargaining and collective bargaining ways isn’t over, although we won the legal right to do it, it’s something that we end up having to do really every single day. So we’re still going to be _____ (inaudible) because really those kind of attacks on teacher collective bargaining rates, it still goes on. So that’s one point, that was the one question.
Steve the question for you is, when I reported, I was one of those bloggers that you talked about earlier.
STEVE: Yeah, you didn’t call me a billionaire.
… No, I didn’t call you that (laughter). I don’t care how much you make actually. But when I wrote a report on the discussion that we had, on my blog, one of the organizers from the California Teachers Association wrote to me on the blog and said that he had actually participated in negotiating the first contract with Green Dot in, I think it’s Sacramento. He said that…and his response to my report on the discussion with you was that, although Steve’s a good guy; he has good intentions, he’s really not a…he’s not doing it anymore. He’s like, you do what you’re doing here and that things are not like that, he said, at the school level. That contract that they’ve negotiated years ago, is still the contract that’s in place now. So he was…so the issue of, what happens to a system or series of schools when someone like yourself, who may have to test detentions, is no longer a hands on manager in that sense. So that was his response.
… Why don’t you two respond first to the attack on collective bargaining rights and then we’ll…
MARILYN: We have a right to bargain. So I think that’s a given right. So when people attack, when they attack your right to bargain, I think that’s where the issue is and that creates a problem. But it’s not, we have a right to do that. If people are attacking that, they probably have other agendas and it has nothing to do with the education of our children.
Our contract was very small, like 40 years ago. Our contract is 40 years old. That contract would have stayed…a little visual. This is our first contract. It’s 1967; January 1, 1967; it was a year contract. So this is a contract that, because of the bureaucracy and a lot of the top down things that were done to teachers in trying to fight your rights to do your job, the contract grew. Now we’re dealing with a book this thick. But it can stay this way because there are things in this contract that are still protecting against affording our teachers, but we’re putting things in the contract that should not be in the contract, like the right to get paid on time (laughter). You work, you get paid on time. We need more counselors for our students, the ratio as 600 to one; that was in 1960. But 600 to one, the counselor student ratio in 2007 and we’re having all these…when I started teaching the parents were a lot older. Now the parents are a lot younger. Their students are bringing a lot of things in school. If that creates collective bargaining and people want to fight you every step of the way when you try to get things that’ll help our students and help you do your job. People fighting against our right to collectively bargain are people that you really have to look at, what are your real intentions and what is your agenda and it seems to be, to me not to be the best interest of our children and teachers.
… Jo, do you want to add anything?
JO: Yes. Well first off, the law in Illinois is clear. Teachers in charter schools, just as well as in regular public schools, have the right to collectively bargain. The law covers them. They have the right to organize bargain, etcetera. I would agree with Fred that collective bargaining is a continuing fight and struggle. I think in lots of places, it’s been rested, in just kind of a rested state of development, because we’re still battling and not really getting much voice in real decision making. What I see as an opportunity in charters, or other things like what you’re doing with Fresh Start, which I really applaud, is an opportunity for us to advance what we’ve been trying to do through bargaining, which is essentially create ongoing empowerment for our members to, in fact, be engaged in shared decision making. That is bargaining. It’ day in and day out and it’s a way of expanding both the scope of bargaining and the continuity of bargaining. It’s just in a different key, if you well. It’s more in a collaborative problem solving than an adversarial. But I see that as a way, in fact, where our members are better served. They’re meeting more of their needs and aspirations. One major aspiration of course, is to be more effective in growing as a professional and more effective in, in fact, meeting the needs of their students.
… Jo, when you, you’re a reform guy and when you talk about…when both of you talk about working with charter schools, are you running too far ahead of your membership? How do you make sure that they come along on this with you?
JO: My background is organizing. I spent nine years with the industrial areas, foundational ______ (inaudible) network. I know how to fight. I know how to organize and polarize. That’s what we had to do to get the rights to bargain. So I’ve also learned over the years, within the organization, that you have to always be attentive to the members; their needs, our leaders, our locals and the base. So I’ve been able to get on some change agendas, if you will, not because I was pleasing the leadership in the union, but because I was in fact, responsive to the members of the union who were always there to protect me. Now, the question is, who is going to protect me from me (laughter).
… Steve, you want, got a quick response?
STEVE: Yeah, I negotiated the first two years of the contract and it’s interesting, the California Teachers Association, which Doug Appel is the person you’re referring to, they came in and they never negotiated a contract with a non-contentious error. It was actually ________ (inaudible). ______ (inaudible) the teachers trying to create a new union and they would come in and they would have their good cop, bad cop game and Doug was like the, I’ll pick a fight with you and everybody is screaming and then the other guy Ed would be the guy…okay. This would go on a little and every time we would come up with issues like, we don’t want to do minutes and hours _______ (inaudible) caucus and they’d be taking two young teachers out of the room. Well if you do these things now, you don’t understand. No, we want to have a professional work day. That’s what we came here for. Did you notice that? They came back, okay, we have to beat on that one.
And the basic 30 page contract is kind of stood the test of time. It’s evolved and it’s been updated, we just closed the session, but for the basic values of the contract, it states, pretty much frustrates the hell out of the guys, trying to justify their $60 dollars out of the 70 that our teachers pay because there’s no mishigas going on, there’s no confrontation. What frustrates me is really funny is that we have, the president of our union is a relatively young teacher who’s never taught.
Most of members that teach at Green Dot are former UTLA members. In fact, 70% of them are. So they’ve experienced both contracts. They come to Green Dot, our teacher that’s the president of the union, she’s never taught in another system. She got elected by 23 teachers out of 160 and I get really frustrated because I put a lot of effort into creating this union; took a lot of hits for it, but just not allowed _______ (inaudible). Why are they teachers more involved? Why don’t they get more involved? I got really kind of freaked out about it. I’d go to the teachers, I’d go, why don’t you guys get more involved in the union we created. Finally I said look, I teach 60 hours a week. I go to school on Thursday nights. I’ve got two kids. I commute 45 minutes and when am I going to go to the union meeting. We’re fine. It’s nice to have the thing and when things come up, we’ll get more involved, but we’re actually fine. So actually our apathy is a good thing and lighten the hell up already (laughter). We’ve got plenty of these other things to do. So I kind of backed off of it and I would okay well Jesus, there’s nothing to rage against, why do I need to go stir that, we can go fight the district together or do things. But our workforce has changed and as it’s changed, I think our union, the fact that the teachers haven’t wanted to change things and actually bought into those basic work rules and seemed pretty happy with it.
What frustrates the union, we couldn’t get a meeting for six months and we wanted to give the teachers a six percent raise and we couldn’t get a meeting because we got more money. It wasn’t because they asked for six percent, we’re just going to give you six percent more. So we actually just sent them an e-mail like, hey guys; it’s the end of the school year, congratulations; we’ll give you a six percent raise from the teachers union. What are you doing? You can’t just go tell our members you’re giving them a raise (laughter). Well we waited for five…well you canceled for five months; we heard this great news. We were all happy about it because we just, we get so excited about getting more dollars in the classroom and it just, well anyway, this is the trials and tribulations of a young union, I guess.
… My name is Julie Rano and I been in the capacity of principal of a host school, called the Academy For Global Citizenship. I have someone who’s considering moving into this position and someone who’s led communities that really lived distributive leadership. What do I do when we have our 12 teachers? How do I work with them when they come to me and say, we’d like to start talking to the union?
As a principal, how do I talk with them; lead them; support them; have patience with them (laughter)?
… Don’t fire them.
MARILYN: No, don’t fire them. No, the thing about it, if they’re looking to organize, it’s like as I said, we’ll help them, but we’re not against you either. So if they see the need to organize, than that’s their right in the state. It’s just creating, you can ask them what their needs and concerns are, but definitely don’t, I think it’s illegal too, to try to prevent them from doing such. So I would just encourage them. I would say, you’re not afraid. You’re not doing anything wrong, there’s nothing to be afraid of.
… Can I ask you a question?
MARILYN: You want to ask me a question?
… Should I see that as a failure in my distributive leadership system that they want to organize?
MARILYN: Not necessarily, I would see that. Don’t take it personally, like…we have…people don’t realize, but the vast majority of the schools in Chicago, public Chicago are working. The vast majority of our schools, they’re union schools and they create great students. We’ve had, the only two African American astronauts came out of Chicago traditional public schools and we should be very proud of that. The union contracted not to prohibit those teachers and administrators from doing the job they did to educate those young ladies. We have a lot of people that are out of Chicago Public Schools and the union contract was not a hindrance to their success. So I would tell you that it wouldn’t be something that’s a black dot on your reputation, on your ability to lead those teachers.
JO: I would just add to that, if they’re coming and saying that to you, I would say great, what can we do to help.
… Probably show some trust.
JO: And I would also think about it this way. Those are 12 people who want some connection with the larger profession. Any professional who is, in fact, true to the profession, wants to be part of the profession, a collective and that’s what, in teaching, the union is. The truth is, when professionals who are in medicine or law actually go to work for large organizations, they unionize. It’s a manifestation of the collective piece of being a professional.
… Can I have mine next?
… We have these 12 teachers and we’re in a contract school in Chicago, do they…they don’t try for CTU; they start their own.
MARILYN: We can help them with that.
Yes, our contract has a waiver procedure in it.
STEVE: Because I was thinking probably, does anybody in this room believe that one size fits all in education?
… One size what Steve?
STEVE: One size of anything. So why would one contract fit all and if your teachers want protection and they want to be represented by some of the good folks up here, if they’re willing to grant a waiver, you can create your own contract that gives job security as membership and they can be more creative than, here’s