The late satirist Art Buchwald once wrote of an anti-establishment, hippie leader who was flattered to suddenly find himself invited to a number of A-list gatherings and dinner parties. It wasn’t until he attended a few that he realized the hated “establishment” had successfully destroyed his coveted status as an outsider.
It’s a lesson that supporters of charter schools should heed.
Charter schools were originally intended to be public campuses operating outside the demands of the typical educational bureaucracy, freer to innovate and experiment. There are now 4,600 charter schools across the country, and many of them are among the nation’s finest public schools. So on the surface it would appear a good thing that the Obama administration — through Education Secretary Arne Duncan — has been pushing for states to allow the creation of more charters.
Not so fast.
In return for the support of the teachers unions — who don’t want to be seen as obstructing the expansion of a model that has often proved wildly successful — Mr. Duncan and others have been tacitly encouraging charter schools to allow collective bargaining and other labor trademarks.
And that’s why charter school supporters should be very careful about welcoming the smiling teachers union bosses into the fold.
Charter schools were developed to get educators out from under the hidebound red tape that union contracts too often impose. Allowing unions to infiltrate too many charter schools will eventually lead to the death of the innovative conditions that led these campuses to prosper.
Indeed, Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.4 million-member American Federation of Teachers, is right up front about the real agenda. The push for more charter schools, she told The Associated Press, must come with stricter regulation. “You can’t do one without the other,” she said.
Well, yes, you can. Successful charter schools need less regulation, not more — and efforts to impose more are really just thinly veiled attempts to undermine the entire concept.
“There clearly are conflicts,” said Andrew Rotherham, co-founder and publisher of the Washington-based Education Sector think tank, “between some of the things teachers unions do and some of the things we know make charter schools effective.”
Charter school supporters shouldn’t be flattered by the backing they’re receiving from the Randi Weingartens of the world. Instead, they should be afraid. Very afraid.