Keeping retirement weird. Charter schools at the NEA Representative Assembly.

After 20 years, my last NEA RA was a couple of years ago in Orlando.
For a couple of decades I celebrated the Fourth of July weekend in what ever town the National Education Association was holding their national Representative Assembly.

Not any more.

Last night Anne and I were listening to the symphony in Millennium Park in downtown Chicago.

I didn’t love the choice of music they were playing, but the setting and the weather were unbeatable.

A young couple sat down next to us. He was from a small town in Lyon, France. She was from a Polish town near Krakow, Poland. He was working here for a French firm. She was on a short visa to see him.

“I don’t understand,” he said. “I never meet anyone who voted for Trump and yet he was elected.”

“Wrong city,” I explained.

Meanwhile one of the big issues at the RA in Boston is charter schools.

Funny thing about the NEA. They were early to endorse Hillary Clinton but are just now getting around to talking about responding to the changing conditions involving charter schools and organizing charter teachers.

Perhaps that is unfair. I do recall a big debate at an RA years ago about how the NEA should view charters. But that was when maybe 1% of students in the United States attended them. That number is much larger now, especially in big cities.

The policy statement that will be debated basically divides the question in two.

It asks, under what conditions could the NEA support a charter?


I will bet that this will outrage some who oppose charter schools no matter what. But I think it is pretty good statement. It acknowledges the existence of teacher or community generated charter schools and correctly targets privately managed and corporate charter networks and religious charter schools.

So good, so far.

What about organizing charter teachers?

“NEA believes that all educators deserve the right to collective voice and representation, and that an organized workforce is a better guardian of quality standards for students and educators alike. For that reason, state affiliates that seek to organize charter schools, may continue to seek NEA’s assistance in those organizing efforts.”

The statement is mild, reflecting the fact that the NEA is really a federation of affiliated state unions. The NEA doesn’t really organize anybody. State and locals do that.

Still, the statement challenges several assumptions, both of which need challenges. 

One assumption is that to organize employees of charter schools is the same thing as endorsing charter schools.

That makes no more sense than saying that organizing autoworkers is the same thing as supporting the bosses at General Motors.

Or that our bosses in the public sector are angels.

The second assumption is that some charter schools don’t demand the same high standards for teachers as public schools.

This is true, but not relevant. Those without a union should have one.

There is a long-running strain of thinking among those in our teacher unions: They are conflicted about whether we are a union or a professional association.

I remember this from the debate years ago over whether the NEA and the AFT should merge. To many NEA delegates (I was the only IEA delegate at that Representative Assembly that voted for merger) the AFT was somehow tainted by their affiliation with the AFL-CIO.

I keep thinking how awkward it must be for some who oppose organizing charter teachers into our unions that the corporate charter operators agree with them.

The fact is that charter teacher organizing is already happening. Either the NEA and the AFT will do it, or some other union will.

I’m hoping common sense prevails in Boston.

3 Replies to “Keeping retirement weird. Charter schools at the NEA Representative Assembly.”

  1. I was at all those RAs, too, Fred.
    There is another angle to the discussion. If there’s a charter in my district and I organize for them, i will have to bargain for them. They will want what the district has done through bargaining over decades , and that profit-making boatd will resist mightily. Meanwhile, in district bargaining , the board will point out tepeatedly that thecharter teachers , in your union, don’t have (whatever) why do you need so much?
    Chsrters will tend to drag district teachers down to their level, not vice versa. If the charter teachers affiliate with the state union, rather than the local, that might slightly mitigate things; but charter schools already have hurt us in bargaining, and I remember discussions over the years saying charters should unionize, “but not with us”.

    1. Non-union charter schools already function to drive down the wages and working conditions of unionized public school teachers. That is one of the reasons they exist. The problems you raise are a reality. So are exiting charter schools. That is why they must be unionized.

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