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Charter School Lobby Silent as Charter Teachers Continue Strike

If the operators of Acero charter schools in Chicago agree to a living wage for teachers and lower class sizes, it sets a standard for the industry

Charter school teachers in Chicago are striking

Charter school teachers in Chicago are striking to demand a better environment for themselves and their students. (Photo: Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez/Twitter)

Charter school teachers in Chicago are in their fourth day of a strike

Yet I wonder why the leaders of the charter movement are quiet.

Where is Peter Cunningham of the Education Post?

Where is Shaver Jeffries of Democrats for Education Reform?

Not a word from Campbell Brown or Michelle Rhee

Nothing from Bill GatesCory Booker, Barack Obama, or Hillary Clinton?

Not a peep from Betsy DeVos or Donald Trump?

This is a historic moment. Teachers at various charter schools have unionized before, but it has never come to an outright strikenot once since the federal charter school law was established in 1994.

You’d think the charter cheerleaders—the folks who lobby for this type of school above every other type—would have something to say.

But no. 

They are conspicuously silent.

I wonder why.

Could it be that this is not what they imagined when they pushed for schools to be privately run but publicly financed?

Could it be that they never intended workers at these schools to have any rights?

Could it be that small class size—one of the main demands of teachers at the 15 Acero schools—was never something these policymakers intended?

It certainly seems so.

For decades we’ve been told that these types of schools were all about innovation. They were laboratories where teachers and administrators could be freed from the stifling regulations at traditional public schools.

Yet whenever wealthy operators stole money or cut services to maximize profits or engaged in shady real estate deals or collected money for ghost children or cherry picked the best students or fomented “no excuses” discipline policies or increased segregation or denied services to special education kids or a thousand other shady business practices—whenever any of that happened, we were told they were just unfortunate side effects. Malfeasance and fraud weren’t what charters were all about. They were about the children.

And now when charter teachers speak out and demand a better environment for themselves and their students, these ideologues have nothing to say.

Funny.

It’s not hard to figure out what’s going on here.

The latest audit of Acero shows they have $10 million a year in additional revenue that they aren’t spending on the students. Yet they’re cutting the budget by six percent annually. Meanwhile, Acero’s CEO Richard Rodriguez is taking home more than $260,000 for overseeing 15 schools while Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson makes slightly less money for managing more than 500 schools.

If the school privatization lobby cared about kids, it shouldn’t be hard to come out against Acero and in favor of these teachers and students.

But nothing.

Silence.

It seems to prove what charter critics have been saying all along—and how full of crap the privatization lobby has always been.

In short, the charter movement is all about the rich getting richer. It has never been about helping students and families.

Well, maybe it was once upon a time when union leader Albert Shanker backed the plan. But even he turned against it when he saw how it enriched the moneymen and corporations while doing very little for children.

The fact of the matter is that the only people at charters on the side of teachers, parents, and students are the people generally associated with opposing them.

I, myself, am a huge foe of school privatization in all its forms—and that includes school vouchers and charter schools.

However, I have nothing against charter students, parents, or teachers.

I know many educators who’ve worked at charters. In most cases they are dedicated, caring professionals who’d rather work at a traditional public school but had to settle for employment where they could find it even if that meant less pay, longer hours, and fewer rights.

I know many parents who sent their kids to charter schools because of funding inequalities or rampant high stakes testing at traditional public schools. In every case, they are doing the best they can for their children—navigating a system they hate looking for the best opportunities.

I’ve taught many students who’ve gone to charter schools and then returned to my traditional public school classroom disillusioned from their subpar experience in privatized education. Without exception they are great kids who try their hardest to succeed despite huge deficits from the years lost at charters.

These people are not our enemy. We are their allies.

We are pushing for a better education system for all of us. And this strike is part of that.

If the operators of Acero charter schools in Chicago (formerly UNO’s charter schools) agree to a living wage for teachers and lower class sizes, it sets a standard for the industry. It helps push other charters to do the same. It pushes charter schools to become more like traditional public schools. And that’s a good thing.

The amenities at traditional public schools should not be rarities.

Every school should have an elected school board. Every school should have public meetings, transparency, and be accountable for how it spends tax dollars. Every school should have to accept the kids living in its borders and provide them the proper services and respect their rights. Every school should treat its employees like professionals and pay them a fair wage for a fair day’s work.

Ultimately, I think this means the end of the charter school concept. But that doesn’t have to mean the end of all these charter schools. Many of them that can operate effectively and efficiently should become traditional public schools. That may mean incorporation into existing districts or creations of new ones. It may mean additional funding from the state and federal government.

In the case of fly-by-night charters that do nothing but enrich their investors while cheating kids out of an education, they should be closed immediately and the persons responsible should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law (whatever that is, if at all possible).

I don’t have all the answers, and what’s right in one neighborhood may be wrong in another. However, I am confident that there is a solution.

No matter how this strike is resolved, the fact that it exists—and is probably a precursor to more such strikes—points the way to a brighter future for everyone.

It’s a victory for workers over wealth.

And that is a victory for students, too.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

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Steven Singer

Steven Singer

Steven Singer is a husband, father, teacher, blogger and education advocate. He often writes at his own blog here.

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