Today's Lesson: Charters Do Not Outperform Unionized Schools
Confronting the anti-teachers' union myth with,
you know, facts
By Ben Joravsky
October 3, 2012
The teachers' strike was barely over when a Tribune
editorial hit the streets ripping unionized schools and
lauding nonunion charters, starting with one run by UNO,
a Mayor Emanuel favorite.
"Fuentes isn't a traditional Chicago public school, but
part of the United Neighborhood Organization network of
charter schools, run under different rules without union
teachers," the editorial reads.
Students there "outperform students in traditional
Chicago public schools."
That September 19 assault came a day after Bruce Rauner,
a mayoral ally and charter funder, declared war on
unionized teachers in a speech sponsored by the Illinois
Policy Institute and the President George W. Bush
Institute, which I'm sure retains all of the former
president's conservative compassion for the low-income
kids of Chicago.
"The good teachers know they'll do fine. They've got the
confidence. I've talked to them. I know," Rauner said,
according to a story by the Trib's Rick Pearson. "It's
the weak teachers. It's the lousy, ineffective, lazy
teachers that-unfortunately, there are a number of
those-they're the ones that the union is protecting."
By the end of the week Mayor Emanuel himself had rushed
off to make sure everyone saw him show up at the opening
of UNO's new Galewood campus-its 13th and counting. Just
in case anyone wondered where his allegiances lay.
A common theme runs through these messages, and it's
based on a myth that goes like this: charters far
outperform unionized schools because countless "weak"
teachers keep their jobs thanks to union contracts that
protect tenure. No matter that tenure no longer exists
in the Chicago Public Schools, or that factors like
poverty and crime and parental involvement may play some
Therefore, we must annihilate the teachers' union so the
"weak" teachers can be replaced with the untold
thousands of "good" ones eager to teach in charter
schools where they can work longer for less-at the whims
of autocrats who can fire them for not doing what can't
be done. Like UNO CEO Juan Rangel did to David Corral, a
former gym teacher fired for not being in two places at
As if any teacher-good, bad, or mediocre-would want to
come to Chicago for this.
Look, charterheads, I get it. You hate the teachers'
union, if only because it funds rival political
But if you want to fight the union, at least use the
facts. And the central fact is this: the nonunion
charters are not outperforming the unionized schools.
No, it's just the other way around.
I get no delight in reporting this. OK, maybe a little.
But I have a soft spot in my heart for charter school
teachers, especially those who work for lunatic bosses.
I presume most of them are in for all the right reasons,
like their desire to teach kids. But I'm also guessing
that many would want to join a union or at least get the
protection offered by a union-negotiated contract, just
in case they accidentally look cross-eyed at their
principal when he's having a bad day.
Besides, the chief barometers for measuring good versus
bad are standardized tests that bear little relation to
anything of value that anyone would eventually do in a
real profession, or in life. Plus, students can improve
their scores by taking special classes, should their
parents be able to afford them. Which is another way of
saying that higher scores can be bought-like just about
everything else in Chicago.
But as I was saying, the foes of the teachers' union
declare that we should pay close attention to the all-
important standardized test scores. So let's take a
There are 541 elementary schools in Chicago. Based on
the composite ISAT scores for 2011-the last full set
available-none of the top ten are charters. None of the
top 20, 30, or 40 either.
In fact, you've got to go to 41 to find a charter. Take
a bow, CICS Irving Park!
Most of the 49 charters on the list are clustered near
the great middle, alongside most of their unionized
The top scorers are public schools with unionized
teachers who are members of the Chicago Teachers Union.
That's the one whose president, Karen Lewis, somehow
brainwashed her easily duped members into thinking they
wouldn't rather work at a charter school.
I had to look hard to find an UNO school on the list.
I don't mean to pick on them. Well, maybe a little. All
right, a lot. But c'mon-you have to admit Rangel brings
it on himself by almost gleefully allowing his students
and schools to be used to bash the teachers' union.
The highest ranking UNO campus, Marquez, came in at 99.
UNO's Fuentes campus-the one the Tribune
highlighted-ranks 128. That's two positions behind
Linne, the unionized public school in the neighborhood.
I hope it's not too late for the Tribune to rewrite that
For the record, Linne's student body consists largely of
low-income Hispanic kids, as does Fuentes's. I mention
that because charter supporters usually whine that it's
unfair to compare them with higher-scoring schools whose
students come from wealthier families. Which is the
exact argument they disdain when public school backers
use it. "The soft bigotry of low expectations," as the
aforementioned President Bush put it.
When they're calculating their rankings, the charter
backers like to rule out comparisons with unionized
middle-class neighborhood schools, magnet schools,
selective enrollment schools, baccalaureate schools, and
schools that don't serve fish sticks for lunch. By the
time they're finished playing with the test scores, they
somehow manage to have the charters ranked near the top.
Using this logic, I am the world's greatest basketball
What the charter backers don't say is that their schools
actually have a big advantage over their regular
neighborhood counterparts because the charters limit
enrollment to students whose parents apply. They don't
have to take in every John, Paul, George, and Ringo who
shows up at the front door.
This advantage was a central point in a recent New York
Times article in which one north side parent said she'd
enrolled her son in a charter because he wasn't being
"challenged" in the local neighborhood school, where
teachers had to spend "too much time disciplining
At the charter school, "you have a different group
because of what we have to go through to get our
children into a charter school," the parent told the
Times. "You have more involved parents here."
Anyway, for all those keeping score back at home, the
highest-ranking UNO school comes in at 99, the lowest at
Quick-fire some teachers!
If I wanted to be a jerk, I'd say that the charter
school teachers are to their unionized counterparts what
the NFL's replacement refs are to the real things-pawns
being used in a larger game.
But I don't want to say that-even if I just did.
One more time: I sympathize with charter school
teachers. I think they should have the same contractual
rights and benefits as regular unionized teachers.
Organize them. Then we can end this myth about "bad"
unionized teachers versus "good" charter school teachers
once and for all.
Charter Backers Rally as Teachers Vote on Contract
Funding, future closings of CPS schools on everyone's mind
By Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah and Bridget Doyle,
October 02, 2012
Chicago teachers voted on a tentative contract agreement
Tuesday as the battle over the future of the city's
public schools ratcheted up with a large and boisterous
rally in support of privately run charter schools.
Several thousand charter supporters waved pompoms and
glow sticks at the UIC Pavilion, a surge of energy
comparable to what was seen in several rallies last
month by Chicago Teachers Union members and backers who
oppose charters. The rally, co-sponsored by a large
charter operator, was attended by many parents.
"It's important for me to get her on a path to attend a
university," said Barbara Bartolomei, 42, of her
daughter, who's in kindergarten at a charter school.
"Charter schools mean business."
The new teachers contract is expected to cost about $74
million a year, and charter operators are pressing to
make sure Chicago Public Schools doesn't pay for it by
tapping into money intended for publicly funded
charters. The city plans to add 60 charters over five
"They negotiated a contract, but it should not be at the
expense of charter schools," said Juan Rangel, chief
executive officer of United Neighborhood Organization, a
politically connected charter operator who helped
organize Tuesday's rally. "When you have a teacher's
union whose agenda is to eliminate charter schools
there's always concern."
The CTU has fought the rise of charters, whose teachers
are not CTU members. Adding fuel to the issue are plans
being considered by Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration
to close up to 120 failing and underenrolled schools,
even as charter growth continues.
Education policy expert Rod Estvan said the stage is
being set for "charter wars" that will pit not only
charter supporters against labor advocates, but also
involve individual charter operators who will be
competing for students, facilities and money. He said
the administration knows that when it announces its
plans there will be an outcry in the communities where
schools are being closed.
"They don't want public discussion of this for fear of
what it will bring," said Estvan, who is with the
disability rights group Access Living. "They're afraid
of the reaction from community-based organizations on
losing assets within their communities."
Union officials who led the seven-day teachers strike
accuse the district of taking resources away from
neighborhood schools to pay for charters. Charter
supporters point to the teacher walkout as another
example of how labor is bent on protecting jobs, not
improving a failing school system.
The district's current budget, passed in August,
provided an additional $76 million for charter schools.
The school board will consider the teachers contract
later this month, presuming it is approved by teachers,
and will need to amend the budget.
David Lewis, principal at CICS Wrightwood charter
school, said the purpose of Tuesday's rally was to
support equity in funding for all Chicago schools,
including charters. "This is about access to resources
for all children in Chicago," Lewis said.
CTU President Karen Lewis chose to cast her ballot on
the contract agreement Tuesday at Dyett High School in
Bronzeville, which is slated for gradual closure. The
Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization has fought the
district's plan to close the school, filing a civil
rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Education.
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