When the 'Miracle' of Charter Schools Is Unsustainable

A couple of years ago, regarding the typical charter school model, I argued that the model of overworked, undercompensated, and under-'resourced' teachers was not sustainable:

One of the things that I've long suspected about charter schools is that they're an unsustainable model: they rely on incredibly motivated teachers (who I think are a pretty motivated lot to begin with) who are willing to work even longer hours for essentially the same pay (or sometimes less). I'm not sure how to scale that up. Even if there were a significant number of teachers who fit this description, it's not clear how long they could remain like this.

Not only is there a real possibility of burning out, but, as teachers get older, other considerations--legitimate ones--come to the fore. How am I going to pay for my own kids' education? How will I pay for a house? In many cases, the pensions at charter schools aren't great either, so retirement becomes a concern. This isn't greedy, but a reasonable concern for one's own family.

To put it more cynically, to a certain extent, charter schools have struck me as exploitative as much of the rest of the economy: how can we increase productivity without passing on those benefits to workers? Granted, teachers don't produce a tangible, sellable good. Yet, asking them to do more for the same pay, is an analogous form of exploitation.

In Massachusetts, it appears that one charter school's teaching workforce has just collided with this brutal reality (italics mine):

Teachers at a Cape Cod charter school that specializes in environmental sciences have voted to unionize, making them the second independently run charter school in Massachusetts to take the step, union officials announced yesterday....

A hallmark of charter schools has been their ability to make quick changes to educational programs and staffing in an effort to spark innovation and student achievement without having to negotiate such moves with a union. But Cape Cod Lighthouse teachers and a state union representative say a contract would only enhance the educational experience at the 16-year-old middle school, which draws 228 students from around the Cape. About two-thirds of the teachers signed cards during the membership drive, which were recently certified by the state.

Teachers said they were motivated to unionize to have a stronger voice in educational decision making as well as to establish class size limits, standardized performance evaluations, and child care leave, among other issues.

Someone needs to tell progressives who are all aglow about educational 'reform'--and who often aren't teachers and are young--that, as you get older, the joy of shitty working conditions, capricious promotion standards, and a family-unfriendly workplace is vastly overrated.

Because it's not like they spend hours every day for half a year with your children or anything...

More like this

Old guy teacher here again. The Cape Cod charter schools pay much less than the regular public schools. Those teachers work very hard and sacrifice for their students.(One of my former colleagues taught in public, then charter and went back to public in a few years.) Remember, charter schools were set up to be "laboratory" schools where "innovative practices" could be tried out and what was learned could be used to transform the public schools.
I applaud the charter teachers for looking out for themselves. They need someone to watch their backs.
Nobody goes into teaching for the money, and nobody in their twenties is even thinking about a pension. Passion drives you, students sustain you. If you worry about the money you will never be a teacher.
After 22 years of teaching, my oldest went to college and we were eligible for Pell grants.
I was at the top of my pay scale and a "semi-famous" teacher, but FAFSA came back and said we were pretty needy.
Unions exist to protect teachers (sometimes bad ones) from unfair practices and to ensure decent working conditions. Someone else pointed out "My working conditions are the students' learning conditions."

Closing more bad charters sooner


"According to FOCUS, 37 percent of D.C. charter schools have been closed since the cityâs first one opened in 1996. Nationally, federal data show that 27 percent of 6,725 charters opened in the past 20 years have closed.


The Center for Research on Educational Outcomes at Stanford University reported in 2009 that only 17 percent of charter schools had academic gains significantly better than regular public schools, while 37 percent were worse and 46 percent were about the same."

By Anonymous (not verified) on 15 May 2011 #permalink