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Unionization = Student Achievement?


Knowledge is power, KIPP’s moniker, might need to be more aptly applied to the parent company’s involvement and understanding of local school issues. The knowledge of what was afoot in two more of their NYC schools to convince teachers there to unionize may have helped them avert the rising mediocrity that will no doubt color this otherwise No Excuses school model. One wonders what campaign was hatched to convince so many KIPPsters that a regulatory environment would be preferable to the freedom they now enjoy.

Union leaders in NYC blogging yesterday provide some clues:

In a letter delivered to co-principals Jeff Li and Melissa Perry this morning, the teachers said that they had decided to unionize in order to secure teacher voice and respect for the work of teachers in their school. We want “to ensure that the [KIPP] motto of ‘team and family’ is realized in the form of mutual respect and validation for the work that is done [by teachers] each day,” they wrote.

The letter stressed that the decision to organize was directly connected to the teachers’ commitment to their students. “[A] strong and committed staff,” the teachers wrote, “is the first step to student achievement.” Unionization, the teachers believe, will help create the conditions for recruiting and retaining such a staff.

“We organized to make sure teachers had a voice, and could speak their minds on educational matters without fearing for their job,” says KIPP AMP teacher Luisa Bonifacio.

“For us,” KIPP AMP teacher Emily Fernandez explains, “unionization is ultimately all about student achievement, and the ability of teachers to best serve students at this crucial middle school time in their education.”

Mutual respect and validation?

Unionization is all about student achievement?

This isn’t the way typical charter teachers talk. In fact, it’s the way union teachers who take jobs in charters talk to their potential prey.

The teachers who signed up in these labor intensive KIPP charters knew when they signed up that long hours were part of the prevailing KIPP philosophy.

The New York Times today quotes KIPP founder David Levin, saying “Just because the school is available to kids at all times, that doesn’t mean that each and every staff member has to be available at all times. We’ve been able to successfully work that out.”

But union organizers believe they shouldn’t be forced to work those long hours. After all, this is the same union that cries over salary differentiation and opposes any performance pay that is tied to student performance and individually awarded to teachers. The move to unionize is a trade of “No Excuses” for kids in favor of “No More Time” for teachers.

I mention in the Times this morning that as long as you have nonessential rules that have more to do with job operations than with student achievement, you are going to have a hard time accomplishing your mission.

The UFT – and its parent, the AFT – has been duplicitous in its support of charters. They often send in loyal teachers to cause dissention, as was the case across the water in New Jersey with successful charters such as the Rutgers-based LEAP more than a year ago. “Don’t you think we work too long for this money?” they ask innocently, and with a tenuous economy and fear in the hearts and minds of anyone who relies on a job for basic sustenance, drinking the union kool-aid may have been a bit easier for the NYC KIPP folks than others might have imagined.

Knowledge is power. Indeed.


  1. Cool Reform Chic (aka JAllen) says:

    Hey NYer — I hear you, but let’s talk about what the words “just cause” mean. For a charter school board that is committed to making student achievement the primary goal of a school, “just cause” might mean a teacher isn’t making a measurable impact. But such performance measures are impossible to expect from a union contract. Of course teachers, like all employees, need the regular performance feedback. Fired on a whim? That’s normally what people say when they are just mad they were relieved of their duties for “just cause.”

  2. […] And no anti-teacher union round-up would be complete without the Jim and Tammy Faye Bakkers of that world, Mike Antonucci on Intercepts and Jeanne Allen on Edspresso. […]

  3. Socrates says:

    Sounds like the teachers at ONE KIPP school, AMP, want more protection, while the union is upping the ante on the other one, Infinity, against the teachers’ will. Infinity signed on for union benefits, with their administration’s blessing, many years ago, but not for union representation in negotiations. Unfortunately, once they’re “unionized,” the teacher are represented whether they want to be or not.

  4. NYer says:

    Actually, the KIPP AMP teachers aren’t asking for fewer hours or permanent tenure. They just don’t want to be fired without just cause. And why should the school be able to fire teachers on a whim with no explanation? Seems reasonable to do the teachers the courtesy of giving them some sort of feedback before they’re fired, especially in a school with the motto “team and family.”

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