Friday, May 08, 2009

Beware of Charter Moguls Bearing Pizza

The New Yorker doesn't provide online access to its Green Dot article, but Susan Ohanian provides us with a few highlights. And they are indeed revealing. I didn't know, for example, that after Steve Barr served a few pizzas and persuaded the teachers at Locke High School to become a Green Dot school, he made them all reapply for their jobs. He then hired only 30% of the faculty back. This is the guy part-time UFT President Randi Weingarten saw fit to go into business with.

Barr's Green Dot is unionized, at least technically. Like us, its teachers are forbidden to strike. Unlike us, however, they don't have tenure or seniority rights. What they pay union dues for is a mystery to me.

Barr runs the only large charter organization in the country that has embraced unionized teachers and a collectively bargained contract--an unnecessary hassle, if his aim was to run a few schools, but a source of leverage for Green Dot's main purpose, which is to push for citywide change. "I don't see how you tip a system with a hundred per cent unionized labor without unionized labor," he said.

Note the use of language here--collective bargaining is "an unnecessary hassle." Barr is not out to embrace unionism, but to use it, in order to place his imprint on the "system." And under Barr's "embrace" of unionism, 70% of Locke's teachers are now working at Dunkin Donuts, hardly the sort of change working Americans need nowadays.

"You seem to have cracked the code," (US Secretary of Education Arne) Duncan told Barr.

He seems to have done that, which is why Mr. Duncan wishes to replicate Barr's faux-union schools on a national level. And Duncan's got big ideas:

Duncan asked Barr what it would take to break up and remake thousands of large failing schools. "One, you have to reconstitute," Barr told him--that is, fire everyone and make them reapply or transfer elsewhere in the district. "Arne didn't seem to flinch at that," he said. "Second, if we can figure out a national union partnership, we can take away some of the opposition." Duncan asked Barr if he could persuade Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers to support the idea. I'd love to do that," she told Barr, but she also expressed concerns. "She said, 'I can't be seen as coming in and firing all these teachers.'" So they talked about alternatives, like transferring teachers or using stimulus money for buyouts.

Note that Barr's priority, like that of all the "reformers," is firing teachers. That's step one. More disturbing than Barr, though, is the reaction of Randi Weingarten--she can't be seen as coming in and firing all these teachers. Perception is everything, and Ms. Weingarten raises no direct objection to firing teachers. She's preoccupied solely with her image.

Steve Barr's not the only one wheeling horses into the neighborhood.

Thanks to Norm
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