NEA: Charter Schools Are Okay … If They're Not Really Charter Schools

The teachers unions have a delicate dance to do when it comes to public charter schools. In the not-too-distant past, when charters were a new idea and still very small in number, outright opposition to nip them in the bud. Charter schools are largely non-unionized (with exceptions) and provide competition from within the public education system.

But over the years has come a gradual evolution. In many states the unions have grudgingly accepted charters as part of the landscape, while working quietly to limit their successful expansion. Then along have come a Democrat president and secretary of education who advocate more charter-friendly policies.

Union officials aren’t about to give in to the more radical anti-charter elements of their membership, but they decided they had to do something to make a statement and quell the growing tide of charter school opportunity and innovation.

As explained by Nelson Smith of the National Association of Public Charter Schools (NAPCS), the just-ended big to-do known as the NEA Representative Assembly provided the perfect opportunity to do precisely that:

The CA delegation sponsored several anti-charter motions, including one that would have organized a campaign to publicize charter schools’ “funding, operational costs and salaries, curriculum, intrinsic problems, and corruption.” They drew fire from their brethren in Wisconsin (where a bunch of district-authorized charters are unionized) and a gentle rebuff from Prez Dennis Van Roekel.

Two resos did win approval – one demanding that charters meet NEA criteria, (which basically say they have to be just like all other public schools); the other, more interesting, containing some sharp language but with a twist: “NEA shall oppose any initiative to greatly expand the growth of charter schools and assist its state affiliates in identifying any effective practices incubated therein that could subsequently be implemented in our traditional public schools. By no means should this effort conflict with the ongoing and necessary work of organizing charter school teachers, nor should it conflict with charter schools that meet NEA guidelines.”

Translation: Let’s keep these charter schools in their box – but copy whatever they’re doing that makes them work. And organize them – even it squashes the cool innovations “incubated therein.”

When you hear a union official say they don’t oppose charter schools, there’s no need to be surprised. Because they probably don’t oppose charter schools in name per se. But they do wish to make sure there’s very little or no difference between charters and other public schools, especially that their employees are paying dues to the NEA power-brokers in their states and Washington DC.

If you can’t beat ’em, co-opt ’em. Where have we heard that before?