Teachers at a Cleveland Charter School Organize a Union – for Some Really Big Reasons

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Teacher Jacqueline Lehane with her first grade students.

*These kids deserve amazing teachers and teachers who want to be here and who have the support and resources they need—like we had when we were kids.*

For Jacqueline Lehane, it was the teacher demerit system at her Cleveland charter school that was the last straw. Teachers who’d been heard talking in the hallway, or whose students had been spotted with an untucked shirt, would be called out via an official email entitled *Quick Hits,* on which teachers, school and network administrators were copied. *It’s just public humiliation,* says Lehane, whose *hits* included having a messy classroom after her first graders completed an art project. To Lehane, this top-down shaming was a symbol of everything that was wrong with the school. *Once I even asked a dean, ‘do people who are higher up than you treat you the way you treat us?’*

If all you know about unions is that they are protectors of the status quo, responsible for everything that’s wrong with public education, I’m guessing you have no idea how hard it is to actually organize one. By the time Lehane and her colleagues at the University of Cleveland Preparatory School, part of the I CAN network, voted 18-4 to join the Ohio Federation of Teachers, the teachers had spent two years trying to form a union. Administrators responded, first by attempting to intimidate teachers into changing their minds, then firing the teachers who they’d identified as leading the effort. Seven teachers at the school were fired as punishment—such a clear and blatant act of retaliation that the National Labor Relations Board ordered I CAN to reinstate the teachers and give them full back pay. (I first wrote about their story here.)
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The Cornhusker Challenge

I talk to Education Cities’ Ethan Gray about the new Education Equality Index, and challenge him to accompany me to the #1 gap-closing city in the USA: Omaha, Nebraska. (Spoiler alert: he accepts!)

CornGuyEduShyster: Let’s not waste any time here. We’re headed straight to the top spot of your new Education Equality Index: Omaha, Nebraska—which is, according to your measure, closing the achievement gap faster than other city in the nation. Anything unusual happening in the schools there that you can put your finger on? 

Ethan Gray: You’re going to the question of why the results are the way they are. At this point we’re focused on trying to highlight the schools in those cities that have closed or are closing the achievement gap, and we think it’s really important for local education leaders, policy makers and researchers to spend some time in those schools and get to know them better and understand what educators in those schools are doing and what they would ascribe their success to. I haven’t spent time in those schools and so I wouldn’t hazard a guess.

EduShysterFull disclosure—that was actually a trick question. Omaha is unusual in that it has no charter schools. Nebraska, which is also home to your #6 gap-closing city, Lincoln, is one of just seven states that doesn’t allow charters. 

Gray: [Dry chuckle…] We don’t really think it’s about the type of school. We think it’s about spending time in those schools and learning more about what the school leaders, educators and parents are doing there. What we’ve noticed looking at the data is that there are schools of all types that are showing up on our list of gap-closing schools: district schools, charter schools, magnet schools, low-tech schools. We’re really encouraged that in almost every city we looked at, there is at least one, if not multiple gap-closing schools. Continue reading →

Schools and Neighborhoods: It’s Complicated

What’s the connection between schools and neighborhoods? If this seems like a straightforward question, try asking it to someone. Better yet, put it to a *stakeholder* in the heated debate over the future of public schools. For example, as neighborhood schools in urban areas are replaced by a portfolio of *choice options,* does that mean that the goal of education reform is to help students *overcome* their struggling neighborhoods? Can *choice options* fundamentally transform a *failing neighborhood*? What happens to a neighborhood when an institution as central and essential as the school is no longer part of it? And how do schools fit into the process of gentrification that’s reshaping so many cities?

Education policy wonk Seth Rau and I decided to pose the school/neighborhood question to a handful of people who we know, and whom we knew would have different opinions on what the connection between schools and neighborhoods should be and could be. Now we want to hear from you. Send your thoughts (under 500 words worth of thoughts please!) to Jennifer@edushyster.com and we’ll share in a future post.

—Jennifer Berkshire, editor, EduShyster and Seth Rau, Legislative Coordinator at the San Antonio Independent School District 
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This Dance is Over

A family tells a Newark charter school that their seventh grader is opting out of the PARCC test. That’s when the trouble starts…

9cnv73bnc83fpl23eh75_400x400.jpeg (400×400)By Judie Ferraris
I have a granddaughter who is a seventh grader at North Star Academy in downtown Newark. In fifth grade she transferred from Burch Charter School to Greater Newark Charter School in order to guarantee a place for sixth grade, but they were closed down by the state of New Jersey. We scrambled to get her into another school and got her into Merit Prep, which is in downtown Newark, right across from town hall, which also houses the police department, the courts and the jail. Merit had no security for the children outside the building. People say: *oh, the police station—that’s really safe.* But it’s not. There are all kinds of people hanging around outside the police station and the jail, and those kids are totally unprotected. When we got her into North Star, we thought it was a real coup. We’d heard that it was a good school and we were happy with it. Continue reading →

TFA’s Diversity Paradox

TFA alum and scholar Terrenda White says that TFA’s diversity gains have come at the expense of teachers of color, whose numbers have declined drastically in the very cities where the organization has expanded. 

TFAdiversityEduShyster: You have a new paper out examining TFA’s initiative to become more diverse. You use the word *paradox,* but don’t you mean ‘success’? I just read this TFA tweet that *The TFA corps more closely reflects the public-school population than any other large teacher-provider.* What’s paradoxical about that?

Terrenda WhiteWhen I was first writing about TFA, I was complaining about the lack of diversity in the corps, especially when I was there in the early 2000s. And so a part of me is really happy that TFA seems to care about diversity and improving their numbers, and I think I’m fair in my piece about acknowledging that. But while TFA may be improving their diversity numbers, that improvement has coincided with a drastic decline in the number of teachers of color, and Black teachers in particular, in the very cities where TFA has expanded. I don’t see them making a connection between their own diversity goals and the hits that teachers of color have taken as a result of policies to which TFA is connected: school closures where teachers of color disproportionately work, charter school expansion, teacher layoffs as schools are turned around. We have to talk about whether and how those policies have benefited TFA to expand in a way that they’re not ready to publicly acknowledge.  Continue reading →