Thursday, January 15, 2009

KIPP Union

As broken by Gotham Schools and later reported by the Times, it looks like two of the KIPP schools in New York are going to be unionizing and entering into collective bargaining. This is pretty big and I think that the Times headline kind of captures why: "Teachers at 2 Charter Schools Plan to Join Union, Despite Notion of Incompatibility."

That headline sums up a lot of the comments I've been reading about this since the story broke. Namely that the presence of a unionized workforce at these schools is going to destroy any chance for success that they have because the whole beauty of charter schools is that they aren't unionized.

Now, I've written before that I'm not sure if KIPP schools are the unalloyed good that they are often portrayed to be in the press. Let's set that aside for today. For today at least, let's pretend that there is no debate and that KIPP schools are all model schools that should be replicated across the country. (I do believe that KIPP schools serve their populations quite well. I just don't think it's a model for success everywhere.) If we assume this, the unionization of the KIPP schools is a major gamble for the UFT.

There are three potential outcomes after the teachers at these schools begin collectively bargaining. Either the school achievement stays the same, it gets better, or it gets worse. Despite predictions to the contrary, we don't really know which of those outcomes is most likely yet. But within a year or so, we should be starting to get a look. If results stay about the same or if the school improves, it's a major victory for the union. It would show that high achievement in schools is not incompatible with having a unionized teaching force. All those people who blast the "teachers union lobbyists" and "status quo defenders who are ruining education" would have to think twice (not that they would).

If, however, achievement at the school declines, it will be like throwing jet fuel onto the fires of those who want to abolish unions. There would be a widespread presumption of guilt for the union that it was the cause for ruining the utopian schooling system of KIPP. And that would present a very bleak situation for the unions.

I don't think it's obvious in any way right now which way the chips are going to fall on this. But in a little over a year when the test results start coming out for the unionized KIPP schools you can bet that things are going to get heated.

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