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ISR Issue 62, November–December 2008

Charter schools and the attack on public education


In a stock market prospectus uncovered by education author Jonathan Kozol, the Montgomery Securities group explains to Corporate America the lure of privatizing education. Kozol writes:
“The education industry,” according to these analysts, “represents, in our opinion, the final frontier of a number of sectors once under public control” that have either voluntarily opened or, they note in pointed terms, have “been forced” to open up to private enterprise. Indeed, they write, “the education industry represents the largest market opportunity” since health-care services were privatized during the 1970’s.... From the point of view of private profit, one of these analysts enthusiastically observes, “The K–12 market is the Big Enchilada.”1
The idea that our education system should serve the needs of the free market and even be run by private interests is not new. “Those parts of education,” wrote the economist Adam Smith in his famous 1776 work, The Wealth of Nations, “for the teaching of which there are not public institutions, are generally the best-taught.”2 More recently, Milton Friedman introduced the idea of market-driven education in his 1962 book Capitalism and Freedom. With the economic downturn of the early 1970s, Friedman’s ultra-right-wing free-market ideas would become guiding principles for the U.S. government and be forced onto states throughout the world. The push toward privatization and deregulation, two of the key tenets of what is known as neoliberalism, haven’t just privatized formerly public services; they have unabashedly channeled public money into private coffers. “Philanthropreneurs,”3 corporations, and ideologues are currently using charter schools to accomplish these goals in education.

Friedman chose as his last battle before dying in 2006 to use his clout to push for the privatization of New Orleans’ public schools.4 He advocated for vouchers—government-funded certificates permitting parents to send their child to the school of their choice—but those who support his ideas have switched tracks slightly, pushing now for charter schools.

A charter school is any school that is funded publicly but governed by institutions outside the public school system. A company, a non-governmental organization, a university, or any group of people who write a charter can become autonomous from a public school board and control the budget, curriculum, and select the group of students in a school. They receive public money, and, in exchange, they set out quantifiable results that they will achieve. One quarter of charter schools are run by for-profit operators (called EMOs, Educational Management Organizations), but most are run by nonprofit entities (usually grouped under CMOs, Charter Management Organizations.)5

Charter schools take many different forms—“independent” charter schools, those that are overseen only by the state board of education, and “dependent” charter schools, those that report directly to the local school board. In both cases there is little oversight. There is also a difference between freestanding, “start-up” charters that are created from scratch, and conversions, where a charter operator takes over all (or part) of a previously existing public school, building and all.

Credit for the concept of charter schools has been given, depending on the source, to Ray Budde, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, and Al Shanker, the conservative leader of the American Federation of Teachers. But the early pioneers of the “small schools” movement, which has been transformed to some extent into the charter movement, were progressives who believed—rightly—that bureaucracy and mandates were harming children. Most of the early small schools were intended to be “laboratories” that could create “best practices” and pressure all public schools to adopt the same. People like Deborah Meier, who helped to create Central Park East Elementary School in Harlem, believed that they could create better schools by winning a degree of autonomy from school districts. And in many cases they did. The impulse today to win autonomy from school-district bureaucracy, mind-numbing standardized curriculum, and stifling and militaristic climates is even stronger, since No Child Left Behind legislation has accelerated these trends.

But many of the original small schools have largely been dismantled. They have collapsed or been taken apart under the pressure of the enormous weight of standardization pushed since No Child Left Behind. Many have also been gobbled up by the corporate sector.

An important book by Michael and Susan Klonsky, early participants in Chicago’s small schools movement, Small Schools: Public School Reform Meets the Ownership Society, tells an important story. The Klonskys, longtime advocates of small and autonomous schools, chronicle in great detail how the concept of “autonomy”—which the pioneers had hoped would mean democracy—turned into privatization when it crashed into the slick and well-funded strategists of the “Ownership Society.”

The first decentralizing wave of Chicago school reform was decimated by the 1995 mayoral takeover that saw many of the leaders of the small schools movement recruited into the district administration, charter school organization, or the foundations. Others were encouraged to become charter school operators themselves—and did. Surviving small schools were pressured to give up many of their innovations and conform to standardized, and even scripted, modes of instruction and assessment.6
Still, because the noble intentions of some of the pioneers of the charter school movement (to create laboratories that prove what all educators know: that creativity, individual attention, and curricular relevance are the roots of good education) took shape so recently, and because there are some good charter schools, many progressives are disoriented in the current climate. Teachers who support the idea of public education, while recognizing the horrible state of some of our schools, aren’t sure what to do or what position to take when their unions fail to oppose charters, or worse, even endorse them. Some of the best books on the topic, like Keeping the Promise? The Debate Over Charter Schools, published by Rethinking Schools, provide a wealth of crucial information and perspectives for those concerned with education. While it argues that “school reform cannot be isolated from solving society’s larger injustices,” it is ambivalent about the impact of charter schools: “The question facing the charter school movement is whether it will fulfill its founding promise of reform that empowers the powerless, or whether it will become a vehicle to further enrich the powerful and stratify our schools.”7 Founding promises notwithstanding, an honest look at the balance of forces inside the charter movement makes a strong case for the latter. In another example, Small Schools: Public School Reform Meets the Ownership Society ends up supporting the supposedly pro-union charter school Green Dot.

Liberals who support the idea of charter schools give cover to politicians who champion privatization schemes. One of the main platforms for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign is support for charter schools. He told Teach for America, “I have been a big fan of public charter schools throughout my career. In the Illinois legislature, I was a leading advocate of public charters and helped pass legislation that authorized Chicago to create 15 new charter schools. I’ve said before that more resources alone will not improve our schools.”8 In a speech to the National Education Association this summer, Obama made two concrete policy suggestions about education—teacher bonuses based on students’ test scores, if the unions approve (merit pay by another name), and an increase in charter schools. Not surprisingly, Republican presidential candidate John McCain agreed totally, adding only that any obstacles to the expansion of charters should be wiped away. The candidates both recognize that charter schools can shift the blame for bad schools onto “bad management,” and can be used to justify the underfunding of public schools. They recognize that the dominant force within the charter school movement is that of corporate and nonprofit entrepreneurs. And so should we.

If we recognize the rapid acceleration of corporate-style charters, and admit that progressive forces are dwarfed by the billions of dollars invested in this movement by the private sector, we should try to group our forces around a completely different movement with a different vision rather than trying to recapture the charter movement (if it were ever ours).

Charter schools are, according to Kozol, a bridge toward vouchers:

In the long run, charter schools are being strategically used to pave the way for vouchers. The voucher advocates, who are very powerful and funded by right-wing foundations and families, recognize that the word “voucher” has been successfully discredited.... They have now shrewdly decided the best way to break down resistance to vouchers is by supporting charters, which represents a halfway step in the same direction. One of the intentions of this, by creating selective institutions, usually with extra forms of funding, is to discredit the entire public enterprise in America. We already have the privatization of the military, as we’ve seen with the private military contractors in Iraq; we’ve seen the privatization of the prison system. Well, the next step is the privatization of public schools. It’s a matter of ideology. In rare occasions, a charter school created by teachers in the public system and in collaboration with activist parents in the community have had at least short-term success.... They tend very quickly—even when they’re started by teachers with the best intentions—to enter into collaboration with the private sector.9
Who’s driving the charter school movement?

Today more than one million children attend some four thousand charter schools nationally.10# The Chicago Teachers Union has shrunk by 10 percent since the onset of Renaissance 2010, a program to break away one hundred schools from the Chicago Public School District. In Los Angeles 7 percent of children in public school, 45,000 students, attend charter schools.11 And that number is growing rapidly: in California, charter schools grew by 13.2 percent in 2006/07, increasing to 617 schools.12 Joel Klein, chancellor of schools in the New York public school system, has announced his intention that all of New York’s schools should be charters.13 Thirty percent of the students in Dayton, Ohio, attend charter schools.14 About 30 percent of the children in Washington, D.C., attend these schools, and 9 percent in Arizona. Georgia has sixty charter schools, double what it had in 2005. Florida has 334, and Texas 237.15

The different pace at which states and districts are becoming “charterized” depends on the differing state laws governing charters and the degree of centralization in these areas. For example, charter schools seem to be moving most quickly in areas where control of the school district is centralized in the hands of a mayor or has been put into receivership by the state. The pace is especially quick in areas where local politicians have an explicit pro-charter and free market agenda, in areas where people are more disenfranchised (like in Washington, D.C.) or in areas where a “shock” (to use Naomi Klein’s metaphor) has wiped the slate clean for charter laboratories (like in New Orleans).

In New Orleans, 57 percent of public school students attended charter schools at the end of 2007, and that percentage has probably increased. Before Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans Public School Board ran 123 schools. After the storm, they were taken over by the state of Louisiana and most were turned over to subcontractors. There is now a three-tier school district; select students attend publicly funded charters, others attend state-run schools (the Recovery School District) with a student-to-teacher ratio as high as 40:1 in some schools and no local school board to complain to, and still another group attends the least desirable Orleans Parish schools, where there is a security guard for every thirty-seven students.16

An important article by Bill Quigley describes this system and tells how Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and the U.S. Department of Education had already put $20.9 million in special funds on the table for charter schools by September 30, 2005. (Another $20 million followed.)17 About two months later all 7,500 public school teachers and other school employees in New Orleans were fired and forced to reapply for their jobs, effectively busting the United Teachers of New Orleans. Over a year and a half later, as chronicled in the New Orleans Teachers Union Report No Experience Necessary: How the New Orleans School Takeover Experiment Devalues Experienced Teachers, well over three hundred students were still on wait-lists to gain admission to public schools. The shortages of classroom spaces in the public schools were so bad in 2007 that the NAACP filed suit on behalf of a wait-listed student.18 But the money was readily available, and the red tape not so thick, for privately run charters.

In one heroic case, parents, teachers, and students began squatting in Martin Luther King Jr. School in the Lower 9th Ward, in an attempt to force the reopening of the school. They were offered several million dollars if they would reopen—as a charter.19 In such cases, teachers and parents who decide to form charter schools don’t do so out of hostility to public schools, but out of necessity. In New Orleans in particular, this is a conscious design on the part of the charter movement.

Road to privatization?

This flood tide of charter schools leads some to believe that our school system may soon be wholly broken apart and effectively privatized; but what about the role of public education in supplying a steady stream of workers that have basic proficiencies in math and English necessary in the workplace?

Charter schools fit the needs of the establishment perfectly. Education is still compulsory and paid for by the state. Children are still controlled while their parents are at work, and this is still supported by our regressive tax structure. And charter schools are excellent teachers of free-market, “personal responsibility” ideology. The American Dream is promised to all those who strive to pull themselves up by the bootstraps. If you want your child to get ahead, make sure that he or she is one of the lucky few to get a seat in a charter school. For the rich, charters have added benefits; they are being used to dismantle the power of teachers’ unions, and they are excellent tools for channeling tax money into the pockets of enterprising individuals. This is true even when the charter schools are run by nonprofit companies. And no matter what the rhetoric dished out for public consumption, siphoning public money into private hands is the goal, as the statement by the Montgomery Securities group quoted above shows.

According to U.S. Census data, well over $800 billion is spent on education, public and private, at all levels in the United States each year.20 This makes it roughly the same size as the U.S. trade deficit with China. The private sector wants to get its hands on this money. Along with politicians, it is determined to break the power of the teachers’ unions and to attack one of the last bastions of decently paid American workers. The budget problems resulting from the current recession will provide them cover in doing this.

The Walton Family Foundation of Wal-Mart is the single biggest investor in charter schools in the United States, giving $50 million a year to support them.21 The Waltons specialize in giving money to opponents of public education. “Empowering parents to choose among competing schools,” said John Walton, son of Wal-Mart’s founder, “will catalyze improvement across the entire K–12 education system.”22 According to a National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) report, “Some critics argue that it is the beginning of the ‘Wal-Martization’ of education, and a move to for-profit schooling, from which the family could potentially financially benefit. John Walton owned 240,000 shares of Tesseract Group Inc. (formerly known as Education Alternatives Inc.), which is a for-profit company that develops/manages charter and private schools as well as public schools.”23 Wal-Mart is a notorious union-busting firm, famous for keeping its health-care costs down by discouraging unhealthy people from working at its stores, paying extremely low wages with poor benefits, and violating child labor laws. The company has reportedly looted more than $1 billion in economic development subsidies from state and local governments.24 Its so-called philanthropy seems also to be geared to the looting of public treasuries.

As for a coordinated effort, the private incursion into public schools is being pushed by a band of jackals grouped around Bill Gates and the $2 billion that his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have sunk into the education “reform” movement. The foundation funded a 2006 study by the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce called Tough Choices or Tough Times, “signed by a bipartisan collection of prominent politicians, businesspeople, and urban school superintendents,” which

called for a series of measures including: (a) replacing public schools with what the report called “contract schools,” which would be charter schools writ large; (b) eliminating nearly all the powers of local school boards—their role would be to write and sign the authorizing agreements for the contract schools; (c) eliminating teacher pensions and slashing health benefits; and (d) forcing all 10th graders to take a high school exit examination based on 12th grade skills, and terminating the education of those who failed (i.e., throwing millions of students out into the streets as they turn 16).25
In the beginning, the Gateses used their dollars and employees to push school districts such as Los Angeles to break up mega-high schools into “small learning communities.” But now they are advising superintendents to give up that project and go straight for independent charters. Gates’ $60 million project, “Ed in ’08: Strong American Schools,”26 will use the elections this year to influence politicians to accept their three mandates: standardization of curriculum nationally, merit pay for teachers, and more time in schools. The campaign’s money comes from Bill Gates and Eli Broad, a Los Angeles real estate magnate. Roy Romer, the former superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, is its spokesman, and it counts among its supporters a diverse crowd—from Rod Paige, the former secretary of education, who once called teachers’ unions “terrorist organizations,” to Janet Murguia, president and CEO of the corporate-backed National Council of La Raza. It trumpets success stories, like its “Mission Possible: Greensboro, North Carolina,”27 where 383 teachers were paid bonuses in direct relation to their students’ test scores.

The movement also has regional boosters. In Los Angeles, Eli Broad, the billionaire who tried to engineer the mayoral takeover of Los Angeles schools, gave Steve Barr and his nonprofit Green Dot $10 million. Last spring Green Dot took over the 2,600-student Locke High School from the Los Angeles Unified School District and has a goal of expanding to forty-one schools throughout Los Angeles.28 Green Dot is supported by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who invited Green Dot executive Marshall Tuck onto his five-person educational advisory board. Villaraigosa is currently pushing for a $7 billion bond measure for the November ballot in Los Angeles, $450 million of which would be earmarked for charter schools if his friend (and former school board member) Caprice Young has her way.29 It’s not surprising that Green Dot’s ties with Democratic Party politicians are so strong, since founder Steve Barr cut his political teeth campaigning for Gary Hart, Bruce Babbitt, and Michael Dukakis.30

Globally, companies are being coached about how to get their hands on state money allocated for public services. An important new book called The Global Assault on Teachers and Their Unions: Stories for Resistance chronicles an international movement to privatize education.31 “Education corporations” are popping up in China on the ashes of public elementary schools. “City Academies” in England are being handed over to private sponsors. Reports shared among these policy-makers offer strategies for how to accomplish this deregulation. One such report is “The Politics of Education Reform: Bolstering the Supply and Demand: Overcoming Institutional Blocks,” published by the World Bank in 1999.32 (The institutional “blocks” are, of course, teachers’ organizations.)

There is no monolithic bloc of evil government and corporate forces marching along a single road map to privatization. Some charter schools were created on the genuine initiative of community members or teachers and parents. In some schools, like ones based specifically on antiracist curriculum, students are undoubtedly learning in a better atmosphere than they were before. But in Los Angeles, for example, while these represent only a handful of the 147 charters, dominated by EMOs and CMOs, they are used to blunt criticism of the dominant, corporate trend in the charter school movement.

There are a few pernicious assumptions shared by almost all charter operators, large and small, for-profit and nonprofit, dependent and independent, start-ups or conversions. The first assumption is that government education budgets will stay the same or continue to decrease. If it is given that public schools will be underfunded, the charter movement touts the belief that schools can succeed by having better management—less bureaucracy and corruption. The second shared assumption is that there is a role for the private sector in decision-making. Those who realize that money does make the difference in schools are attracted by the lucrative “partnership” contracts and money being dangled in front of charter schools by corporate interests. Others simply believe that private forces will be more efficient managers of schools than public school boards. And the corporate interests simply want to get their hands on the money. But all concede a role for private forces in running the schools. A third premise is that teachers’ right to collective representation and bargaining is an institutional “block” to progress, because teachers are in some way to blame for the abysmal state of the schools. We have to push back against these assumptions if we are to win quality education for all.

On what grounds do we object to charter schools?

While nonprofit charter schools are more pervasive than their for-profit counterparts, for the quarter of charters that are for-profit, the obvious problem is that the drive to make a profit will compromise educational quality. And for-profits and non-profits are under similar pressure to expand as quickly as possible.

Edison Schools Incorporated is one of the largest for-profit charter school companies. It ran twenty schools in Philadelphia alone until it was discredited this year. With board members like John Chubb of the Hoover Institution and Brookings Institution, it made a bald-faced attempt to turn millions of dollars in profits by controlling 157 schools. (Not very successfully, though; it was traded on the NASDAQ for four years but only showed one quarter of profitability.33) The most fundamental problem with a private model of education is that a company’s profits depend directly on cost-cutting. The cheaper the services they provide, just as in private prisons and hospitals, the more profit they turn. So there is always an incentive to do things on the cheap—poorly maintained physical plant and equipment, low pay for teachers and other staff, and larger class sizes mean bigger rates of return.

The dynamic works in fundamentally similar ways with nonprofit entities. The pressure to cut costs in order to have money left over for expansion forces nonprofit entities to act in a similar fashion to their for-profit cousins. Every nonprofit charter operator is under immense pressure right now to expand as quickly as possible and to measure success by how quickly they are able to replicate themselves. The newest mandate from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is that we need to close thousands of broken inner-city schools and replace them with charters. There is fierce competition over who will get the contracts, especially among nonprofits. And nonprofits are, of course, allowed to pay their administrators very high salaries as well as keeping a small profit.

And then there is corruption. Celerity, a nonprofit charter school that made an attempt to co-locate on the campus of Wadsworth Elementary in Los Angeles, contracts out all its services to a for-profit firm, Nova, run by the same owner. This backdoor model—of a nonprofit funneling dollars to a separate, for-profit entity—is common. Kent Fischer explained it in the St. Petersburg Times:

The profit motive drives business…. More and more, it’s driving Florida school reform. The vehicle: charter schools. This was not the plan. These schools were to be “incubators of innovation,” free of the rules that govern traditional districts. Local school boards would decide who gets the charters, which spell out how a school will operate and what it will teach. To keep this deal, lawmakers specified that only nonprofit groups would get charters. But six years later, profit has become pivotal.... For-profit corporations create nonprofit foundations to obtain the charters, and then hire themselves to run the schools.34

Whether it’s technically legal, “contracting out” or direct corruption and profiteering, abounds. In their article “The Corporate Surge Against Public Schools,” Steven Miller and Jack Gerson cite many cases of such corruption. Brenda Belton, charter oversight chief for the D.C. Board of Education, admitted to arranging $650,000 in sweetheart contracts for herself and her friends, and C. Steven Cox, CEO of a large chain of charter schools in California, was indicted on 113 felony counts of misappropriating public funds.35

Charters don’t perform better.

As far as teaching American kids high-level skills to get them ready for the job market, data conflict (at best) as to whether charter schools fail more often than public schools do. The New York Times, in an editorial titled “Exploding the Charter School Myth,” uses statistics from the National Assessment of Educational Progress to argue that fourth-graders in freestanding charter schools showed worse performance than their public school counterparts in math and reading scores. (The data were different, however, for those students in charter schools affiliated with public school districts.) As the editorial argues, “the problem with failing public schools is that they often lack both resources and skilled, experienced teachers. While there are obvious exceptions, some charter schools embark on a path that simply re-creates the failures that they were developed to replace.”36

According to the important book Charter School Dustup: Examining the Evidence on Enrollment and Achievement,37 a study published in 2005 by scholars with the Economic Policy Institute and the Teachers’ College at Columbia University, “an analysis of California found that socioeconomically disadvantaged Asian-origin and Latino students in charter schools had composite test scores (literacy, mathematics, science, and social studies) that were about 4 to 5 percent lower than their counterparts in public primary schools.” Overall, in every state besides Arizona, they found charter schools’ performance is no higher than that of public schools in every demographic category. The comparisons were no better for low-income Black students.

The charter school movement cooks the books to try and prove otherwise. KIPP Schools, a nonprofit company that runs fifty-two schools nationwide and was formed in a partnership between ex–Teach for America (an anti-union organization) teachers and Donald Fisher, cofounder of Gap Inc., illustrates this point. It claims the highest test scores in the Bronx. But one comparison found that 42 percent of entering fourth-graders entering the KIPP school passed state reading tests, as compared to 25 percent for the surrounding public schools. They are starting with a group of students who already have better test scores.

In California, charter schools did worse than regular public schools at achieving their Adequate Yearly Progress goals, even though those goals are flawed because they are set by No Child Left Behind mandates.38 By a slightly better measure, “academic momentum,” which tries to measure improvements in schools, 24.8 percent of charter schools, and only 19.6 percent of public schools earned a “high” ranking. But by the same token, 26.3 percent of charter schools got a “poor” ranking, as compared to only 19.6 percent of public schools. The best charter schools seem to be improving slightly faster than California public schools, but a higher percentage of charter schools perform poorly. Perhaps charter schools aren’t the great equalizers that they claim to be.

When charters do succeed, it’s because they have lots of extra money. All schools should have access to these extra funds—especially the ones that need it most!

This is seen most acutely in New Orleans, where charter schools are in most cases genuinely better than the public schools because they receive a higher rate of funding. The charter schools funded by the Walton family, according to Liza Featherstone of the Nation, receive a higher per-pupil allotment than public schools.39 They are then used as a stick with which to beat public schools as though they were on a level playing field.

Additionally, at Granada Hills High School charter in Los Angeles, the governing board has been able to increase the amount of money flowing into the classrooms by cutting out the larger district bureaucracy to an extent. The fact that schools with more money can do better simply serves to make our point: that more money will make a better school. They all should have it, not a select few. If this means dramatically cutting bureaucracy everywhere, then that’s what we should stand for—not eviscerating public schooling.

The point is that public schools are of poor quality when they are underfunded; the poor quality is then used as an excuse for gutting public education even more. Using classic sharp business practices, the promoters of for-profit schooling are willing to pump some money into the charter schools in order to “prove” they are better, only to cut corners and boost profits once the charters have won the day.

Charters choose their students, which decreases the amount of power and due process that students and parents have. They are more likely to exclude English language learners and special education students. They pursue a different goal than fighting for quality education for all.

At KIPP schools, like many other charters, a condition of admission is that students’ parents have to spend a certain amount of volunteer time at the school. This automatically excludes children whose parents already spend the least time with them (due to working multiple jobs, lack of child care, or any number of difficult issues). While in some cases strictly competitive admissions cannot be used in charters receiving federal funds (although the rules are very flexible, as in New Orleans), these schools can select their students and transfer or expel students with less due process than they are afforded in regular schools.
This means, firstly, that charter schools select for students with the most resourceful parents, the children who already have a head start in the race. Miranda Restovic told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that she felt like she was applying to college when she tried to get her three-year-old into a charter school. “Although I am thrilled with the increased public school options, I am skeptical as to the (admissions) processes being friendly to all families,” Restovic said. “It’s really difficult if you don’t have the time to make constant inquiries and don’t have connections at the school to call and prod.”

A study of California charter schools by USC bears out Restovic’s observation. The parents of students The parents of students in California charter schools are more educated than their public school counterparts. Sixty percent of parents whose children attend charter schools had attended at least some college, as compared to 54 percent of parents of their public school counterparts. Forty percent of children in charter schools in California are on free or reduced lunch, as compared to the 50 percent average in California public schools overall.41

English language learners (ELL) are less likely to go to charter schools; in California, 16 percent of charter school students are ELL, as compared to 25 percent in other public schools.42 Charters, whether consciously or unconsciously, select for those students who are going to boost their test scores the most. Once English language learners get to charter schools, they may not be getting the services that they need: 44.9 percent of charter schools in the USC study ranked poorly for reclassification of students to Fluent English Proficient.43

Secondly, charters’ ability to select students fundamentally changes the dynamics of the relationship between parents and schools. Parents of struggling students, or those who disagree with the charter board, or who don’t fulfill obligations for the school are always under threat of transfer to another school. They don’t have the same potential power and due process that they do in a public school that their child is required to attend by law.

“Autonomy” for whom? Who calls the shots?

Green Dot, the Broad- (and Gates-?) funded nonprofit that runs twelve schools in Los Angeles, takes over schools by promising equality and evoking civil rights language like “grass-roots control.” For teachers, it promises more local control over curriculum. We want to get away, it argues to teachers hungry for such promises, from mandates and scripts. The problem is that this academic freedom is a lie. These schools are measured by the same standardized tests that all schools are, and they are well aware of it. There is no less—and arguably more—pressure for a charter to “teach to the test” since their raison d’être is that they can help students to “perform better.”

Green Dot promises more academic freedom and local control. A couple of paragraphs from Green Dot’s own website, however, illustrate the limitations of these promises.

While the Home Office provides Recommended Practices to schools, principals and teachers have ultimate autonomy to decide whether to follow those Recommended Practices or take different approaches….

Local control works in Green Dot’s school model because schools and all stake-holders within them are held accountable for student results. If students in a particular school or classroom are not performing up to expectations, then teachers and principals are held accountable and local control can be taken away. Green Dot’s accountability system defines quarterly and annual performance targets for each school and teacher as well as the period of time that a school or teacher can under-perform before Green Dot’s Education Team will intervene with supports and/or take away a school’s local control.44 [emphasis added]

In addition, Green Dot can, unlike regular public schools, refuse to admit new students if it is full.

In the agreement between Green Dot and the Asocia?cion de Maestros/NEA/AFT, the bargaining represen?tative of the teachers, it is made clear in no uncertain terms that “the Board maintains final authority over decisions regarding adminstrative decisions.” Unlike most charter school companies, Green Dot accepts unions. However, according to a New York Times report, “The union representing Green Dot teachers...has a 33-page contract that offers competitive salaries but no tenure, and it allows class schedule and other instructional flexibility outlawed by the 330-page contract governing most Los Angeles schools.”45

An NPR report describes the tremendous pressure put on teachers in a KIPP school.

Many of the teachers here are young; Feinberg is in her third year. Charter schools have the freedom to hire whom they want, and for this school, being young and enthusiastic counts for a lot. Feinberg knows that she and the school face tremendous pressure to improve the test scores of the city’s most challenging students. “But it’s great pressure, I mean it’s pressure that makes you work harder, that gives you a sense of urgency every day that they must learn these skills,” Feinberg says. “If you don’t produce the results that need to be produced, it’s very possible that you could lose your job.”46
The same report explains that during the nine-hour school days at KIPP academies, students practice “call and response” style learning; in other words, they are taught to “respond in unison” as the teacher snaps her fingers; a traditional rote method not particularly designed to encourage teacher or student creativity. The picture of conformity is reinforced by the fact that most charter school companies require their students to wear uniforms.

Schools will be better when teachers are paid more and the profession is more attractive. Teachers’ unions are a fundamental part of winning this; and the charter school movement is an attack on these unions.

It’s clear that the high-powered think tanks and business-driven efforts to promote charter schools are part of a package that includes eliminating teachers’ unions. In New York City, for example, right-wing foundations, with the support of billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his Department of Education chancellor Joel Klein, are working to keep unions out of the city’s charter schools. In November 2005 the Atlantic Legal Foundation—“a legal arm of the most stridently anti-union corporations and allied far-right interest groups”47—held a seminar in New York City at the prestigious Harvard Club to discuss “union prevention” in the city’s forty-seven charter schools.48 The conference’s opening session was entitled, “Leveling the Playing Field: What New York Charter School Leaders Need to Know About Union Organizing.” Among the scheduled speakers at a main panel were Caryl Cohen, a representative of New York’s Department of Education’s charter school arm, the New York City Center for Charter School Excellence, and Norman Atkins, one of the the founders and leaders of two charter school networks Chancellor Joel Klein has invited to New York. According to Atkins, the consensus of the panel was that “good charter schools organize themselves in ways that keep unions out.”49

“Local control” should include the right to teacher self-representation as well as an independent voice for parents and students. But most charters, even those that wear the progressive mantle, are hostile to this idea. An excellent example is the Los Angeles Leadership Academy run by Roger Lowenstein. It is a “social justice school” that encourages teachers to use lessons from movements for social change, and encourages students to attend antiwar demonstrations. The school recruits teachers who have been involved in community organizing and who are committed to progressive, antiracist pedagogy.

The teachers learned a lesson in social justice, though, when they tried to win the right to representation and collective bargaining by affiliating to the California Teachers Association. Roger Lowenstein hired high-paid anti-union law firms to keep the union out in what one veteran union organizer called “one of the toughest oppositions a teachers’ union has possibly ever faced.”50 Lowenstein argued to the Public Employee Relations Board that it should have no role in overseeing the union election or investigating unfair labor practices because the Leadership Academy is “not a public school.” If he was referring to the decision-making process—rather than the source of funding, which is, of course, public—he is absolutely right. Teachers quickly found out that the school’s advocacy for struggle, protest, and collectively “speaking truth to power” rang hollow when it came to their right to organize themselves.

The main source of poor school quality (and poor performance) is that public schools, at least in poor and working-class communities, are deliberately underfunded and resource starved, precisely in communities where more resources are needed for these schools to succeed; they are then expected to perform according to criteria that their lack of funding makes difficult for them to fulfill. The failure is then used to justify more public school cuts and the diversion of public funds into charter schools.

The next biggest factor in the quality of the school is the quality of teaching. This is directly related to the ability of teachers to shape the curriculum, the amount of collaborative planning time and individual tutoring time that they have, and their rate of pay and experience. All these things increase with the power of teachers’ unions. So if one accepts the idea that unions can play the role of fighting for better quality schools, more democratic accountability of schools, and better compensation for teachers, and that these are essential for good schools, then unions for teachers should be a community demand. This may not happen, however, until teachers’ unions prove through action that they support the needs and struggles of the parents and students in their communities. But teachers cannot have a serious voice in any process of school improvement unless they have the right to collective bargaining.

The slow destruction of union power that occurs when subcontracting creates lots of small workplaces—in place of large, highly unionized ones—has been a fact across many industries. “Whipsawing” is a term used to describe the effect on unions like the UAW when workers in smaller, spun-off shops get inferior contracts, and those contracts are used to pressure workers in bigger plants to accept similar concessions. The same could apply to the effect of charter schools in education.

Some suggest, then, that we have to seek out “pro-union” charter operators and make deals with them. But if we are speaking of privately run CMOs, then genuine power for their teachers would threaten the board’s hegemony in the schools. Some, like Green Dot, are willing to allow teachers a contract, and claim to be pro-union. But in their contract with the AMU/CTA/NEA teachers’ union, one can find few guarantees of any kind of real teacher voice (in the form of voting). According to the contract between Green Dot and the “union,” in effect until 2010,

It is understood and agreed that the Board retains all of its powers and authority to direct, manage and control to the full extent of the charter school law and the regulations of a 501.C3 California corporation. Input from the staff will be considered and decisions will be derived in a collaborative model; final decisions will rest with the Board. Included in, but not limited to, those duties are the right to: ...establish educational policies with regard to admitting students; ...determine the number of personnel and types of personnel needed; ...establish budget procedures and determine budgetary allocations; contract out work and take action on any matter in the event of an emergency.51
The Board will make all staffing decisions. By contrast, the United Teachers of Los Angeles contract with Los Angeles Unified District requires faculty votes on key aspects of running the school, like the schedule and certain discretionary budget items, and guarantees that class assignments will be chosen by the teachers, through seniority, and not arbitrarily by the administration.52 This vision of unionism, typified by SEIU (a representative of which sits on Green Dot’s board) is antithetical to real power or democracy for teachers. A large union cuts a deal with the employer, quickly begins to collect dues from members, and in exchange for “neutrality” on the part of the boss gives away key workplace rights. Green Dot specifically aims to hire younger, more inexperienced teachers and gives incentives for senior teachers to leave.

Many suspect Green Dot of signing somewhat toothless union contracts as a way of keeping more combative unions out. This wouldn’t be surprising given the presence of SEIU on their board of directors. SEIU is currently engaged in undermining the legitimate teachers’ union of Puerto Rico (the FMPR) in the wake of the strike that the FMPR led last spring. After the strike, the Puerto Rican government decertified the FMPR. SEIU helped the Asociacion de Maestros (coincidentally, the same name as the teachers’ union at Green Dot schools) to try to win representation of the Puerto Rican teachers. The FMPR was not allowed to contest them.53

Their strategy and ours

New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein has openly declared his wish to make all New York public schools charter schools. Rather than oppose the idea outright, then-United Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten chose to play ball on the chancellor’s field. In addition to inviting Steve Barr of Green Dot to New York to partner with the UFT in opening Green Dot schools, she also conceded that New York teachers would be willing to accept some form of merit pay. Merit pay hooks teacher bonuses (money that otherwise could be spent on salaries) to student test performance.

If this “appeasement” strategy was designed to convince Klein to stop blaming teachers for the problems in New York’s schools, it didn’t work. Shortly thereafter, Klein teamed up with civil rights figure Al Sharpton to launch the Education Equality Project, whose main goal is to remove the “block” that the teachers’ union supposedly creates to “reform.” Sharpton said, “But we cannot say that we’re going to close this achievement gap but protect ineffective teachers or principals or school chiefs or not challenge parents.”54 Perhaps if the teachers in New York had decided to build genuine alliances with New York parents—particularly in communities of color—to fight for access to more resources, against dictatorial mandates, and to define what “quality education” means from the ground up, then Sharpton wouldn’t have gotten any traction for blaming the teachers. A more convincing explanation for failure of Black students is gross underfunding and pervasive segregation.

Weingarten may also justify her actions on the basis that we have to make concessions to some charter schools—and so we may as well pick the “pro-union” ones. But rather than trying to play an appeasement game with charters, we should oppose them. The charter school movement may have to slow down under the weight of their own contradictions—they promise better scores but can’t deliver because their modus operandi rests on stripping teachers of their rights and, in many cases, maximizing profits. But another factor that will determine the pace of privatization is the amount and quality of struggle that we can wage, and the clarity with which we can wage it. And whether, in the process, we can begin to cooperate as parents, teachers, and students to formulate those demands that would begin to shape public education to meet the goals and vision that most people have for it.

A few examples illustrate the kind of struggles that might hold out hope for our side. In February 2008, 26,000 Puerto Rican teachers struck for more than a week against the colonial government’s plans for education. The strike had many demands—opposing Law 45 that outlaws public sector strikes on the island, just salaries for teachers, and the right to democratically choose their representation in collective bargaining. Among those demands, though, was one to stop the creep of charters into Puerto Rican education. At the conclusion of the strike, an agreement was signed by teachers’ union president Rafael Feliciano-Hernandez and the minister of education on the island guaranteeing to keep charter schools out. The agreement will be hard to enforce, but it established a precedent of teachers fighting the seemingly inevitable tide of privatization. (It’s also important to note that the Puerto Rican teachers’ resistance to charters began in 1993, which may explain why they’ve staved them off). Yet, as we can see from the above-mentioned joint attack from Puerto Rico’s governor and SEIU, the struggle is far from over.

The other examples are smaller in scope. In 2004, as many of Chicago public schools were threatened with mass closures, the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) system developed a plan to close Senn High School on the North Side and turn it into a Naval Academy charter school. The ominous move to establish military charter schools—spurred by the military’s shrinking pool of willing volunteers as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan grind on—is not limited to Senn, nor to Chicago alone, as one 2008 report outlines:

Chicago has the most militarized public school system in the nation, with Cadet Corps for students in middle school, over 10,000 students participating in JROTC programs, over 1,000 students enrolled in one of the five, soon-to-be six autonomous military high schools, and hundreds more attending one of the nine military high schools that are called “schools within a school.” Chicago now has a Marine Military Academy, a Naval Academy, and three army high schools. When an air force high school opens next year, Chicago will be the only city in the nation to have academies representing all branches of the military. And Chicago is not the only city moving in this direction: the public school systems of other urban centers with largely Black and immigrant low-income students, including Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Oakland, are being similarly reformed—and deformed—through partnerships with the Department of Defense.55
According to Jesse Sharkey, a teacher at Senn,
In [some] ways, our school is a remarkable community resource, with plenty of morale. Our students come from 70 nationalities, speak 57 different languages and still maintain a sense of unity and mutual respect. Senn students have performed 70,000 hours of community service over the past five years and have been recognized with a national service award. Senn has also developed some of the city’s most successful academic programs for at-risk kids. So instead of waiting for the ax to fall, we began to fight back. We researched the effect that the military takeover would have on our school and community, and wrote fact sheets. We made flyers about our concerns and put up 3,500 of them, with another 500 in Spanish. We reached out and met with community organizations, launched a Web site, wrote press releases and organized to get people out to support us. On October 5, we brought about 700 people out to the CPS forum at our school. The mood in the room was electric. Students had been preparing all week—they had written speeches, drawn dozens of handmade signs and brought along many of their parents. When CPS officials tried to show us a slick promotional video about the Navy ROTC program, the room rebelled. The entire audience stood up and turned its back to the presentation.56
In the end, the Senn students, parents, and teachers won a partial victory. The school stayed open. However, in compliance with a December 2004 decision by the school board, one wing of their building was occupied by the Naval Academy. The charter fixed up their wing of the dilapidated building, including adding new air-conditioning, new computers, and science labs. The academy students, housed in the same building as “regular” Senn students, wear their own uniforms, have their own teachers, and operate by their own rules. The body of Senn was saved through the activism of its community—but one of its limbs has been infected by the viral creep of the charter movement working in conjunction with the military.

In a similar vein, teachers and parents in Los Angeles mounted a fight against charter takeover of school space in 2008. In California, Proposition 39 states that charter schools should be given access to space in public education buildings that is not being utilized. This seems like a strange concept in a city where tens of thousands of students go to “year-round” schools due to overcrowding, and trailer-like bungalows have taken over the recreation areas of most schools to create extra space. Nevertheless, forty charters completed applications to co-locate on Los Angeles United School District (LAUSD) campuses in the fall of 2008. They had receptive friends on the school board. However, in some notable cases, they were stymied. A group of more than seventy parents as well as teachers from Wadsworth Elementary spoke at and protested an LAUSD board meeting to keep Celerity Charter School off their campus—and won. Similar organizing happened at Logan Elementary, where a proposal to house middle-school children on an elementary school campus was being considered. In fact, according to an estimate by Crenshaw High School UTLA Chapter Chair Alex Caputo-Pearl, parents, students, and teachers at fifteen of the forty schools facing co-location with charters organized against them. At the time of writing, only sixteen of the forty applications for co-location had been accepted by LAUSD. The protests are widely seen as the reason why more charters were not accepted onto LAUSD campuses.

It appears that the charter school movement can be opposed, but it has to be fought school by school. In schools where there are parents, teachers, and students who understand the issues and can oppose charter takeover, charters can be stopped. These small struggles will not, however, stem the national tide until they are strong and viable enough to cohere into a powerful movement for a different vision of public education. The only way to challenge charter schools is to show that they are a stepping stone to privatization, that is, to the denial of publicly funded education as a basic right for all. Also, in their current status, in most instances, charters offer opportunities for private interests to profit by siphoning state funds. We must show that public education suffers not because it is public, but because it is poorly funded by states with other priorities, such as funding corporate handouts.

Here are some ideas for what we can do to begin to win the battle for public education:

1. Fight for resources

We cannot accept the logic that the amount of money available to schools is fixed, even in the current economic meltdown. At the state level, corporate tax rates are criminally low, and at the federal level, a tiny fraction of the money going to the war in Iraq would make giant strides toward fixing our schools. In every case the charter schools that do the best are the ones that receive extra money (usually from private foundations who want to see public schools replaced by charters). There is nothing complicated about the fact that more resources make better schools. If politicians didn’t believe this, they wouldn’t send their students to private schools that spend ten thousand or twenty thousand dollars more per student per year than our public schools do. Granted, only a massive struggle on the scale of the civil rights movement will force them to give us what we want for all children, not just their own. Students should not have to compete to get into the best schools while others are abandoned to horrible conditions in schools festering like wounds in already devastated neighborhoods. All schools need to be made better.

2. Wage an educational campaign against charters.

To date, none of the large teachers’ unions has launched a public relations battle against the charter takeover. Often the objection is that this is too politically difficult, since “the public supports charters.” This is not surprising, though, given that no national force has ever made the case against them. No doubt we’ll lose a battle that we choose not to fight.

3. Welcome charter schoolteachers into our unions but demand that they have all the key provisions of our contracts.

Charter schoolteachers aren’t the enemy. We welcome them into our unions, but must demand that they have all the key contract provisions that larger locals have. We should try to group them into larger bargaining units to avoid the fracturing of our power that happens when we are balkanized. We also can’t allow organizing to try to improve and democratize these charter schools to rob resources from our large public schools. If we wage these fights, charters can’t gain the traction that they need to continue their expansion. Teachers’ unions need to resist the temptation to fall into an organizing model that values representation at whatever cost—a model to which much of the rest of the labor movement has resorted. If we don’t have strong contracts that help to win better conditions for students and teachers and democratize the decision-making process in the schools, unions aren’t worth much.

4. Fight all mandates and corporate incursions into our schools.

Charter schools are just the extreme end of the whole spectrum of the corporate takeover of our schools. Already, schools that are wholly public are being forced into serving the military and business interests of this country. The tendrils of Corporate America reach deep into our schools via nepotistic contracts—from the $3 billion testing industry accelerated under No Child Left Behind, to McGraw-Hill and its Reading First program pushed through by the Bush administration. And as Jonathan Kozol chronicles in Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America, teaching children obedience and corporate values (such as kindergartners being asked to role-play workplace managers) is, along with drill-and-kill methodologies, increasingly erasing all the best practices that came out of the educational reforms of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. We need to oppose mandates and all incursions of the private sector into the running of our schools.

New visions for the kind of schools that we want for our children will rise out of the struggles against the attacks that we are facing. This is fundamentally about fighting for democracy in the schools.

At Woodland Hills Academy, the parents and teachers at the school have appealed for (and won) a degree of autonomy from Los Angeles Unified School District, even though the school is not a charter. They have set up a Humanities Academy that makes financial and curricular decisions democratically. The school is known as a college- prep middle school, and has very good performance by all measures. The example of Woodland Hills Academy suggests that the things that are most tempting about some of the better charters—control over what is taught, escape from drill-and-kill mentality, and democratic decision-making—can be achieved inside the public school system as well, by teachers, parents, and students organizing.

In other areas, too, teachers’ unions have partnered with others to try to create innovative schools that attempt to wriggle out from under the grasp of mandates and bureacratic decisions. In Boston, the Pilot School project has done this, and in Los Angeles, Innovation Division schools are experimenting with more collaborative and autonomous decision-making within the schools.57

Teachers who are committed to social justice should put themselves in the camp of those who have fought through direct action for equal access to quality public education. Our role models should reach from the former slaves who forced the Freedmen’s Bureau to create the first public schools in the South and the students who pushed for integration of the public school system during the civil rights movement, to the undocumented students fighting for access to public universities in the United States today.

As long as we have a system built on inequality, the policy makers will attempt to use schools to institutionally and ideologically buttress the division between the haves and have-nots. They will mostly succeed. But in the struggles to come for genuine equality, access to schools to meet the needs of every single child, not a select few among those who live in poverty, will be a call and a slogan of our movements. For the vast majority, this means quality education in public schools. Those who join that fight will determine what the word “quality” means, and will have an opportunity to force these concessions from policy makers until people decide that concessions are not enough.

Sarah Knopp is a teacher in Los Angeles.

1 Jonathan Kozol, “The big enchilada,” Harper’s Magazine, August 2007.

2 Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (New York: Modern Library, 1937), 721.

3 Term coined by Steven Miller and Jack Gerson. Their article “The corporate surge against public schools” can be found at

4 See Milton Friedman, “The promise of vouchers,” Wall Street Journal, December 5, 2005.

5 Michael Klonsky and Susan Klonsky, Small Schools: Public School Reform Meets the Ownership Society (New York: Routledge, 2008), 93.

6 Ibid.

7 Leigh Dingerson, Barbara Miner, Bob Peterson, and Stephanie Walters, eds. Keeping the Promise? The Debate Over Charter Schools (Milwaukee: Rethinking Schools, 2008), xv.

8 Teach for America’s alumni magazine, One Day, allowed alumni to submit questions for Obama and McCain,

9 “Separate and unequal: America’s apartheid schools,” interview in ISR 45, Jan–Feb 2006.

10 American Federation of Teachers, “Charter schools,”

11 Howard Blume, “Ask a reporter,” Los Angeles Times, July 14, 2008.

12 “Charter schools indicators: A report from the Center on Educational Governance, University of Southern California,”, 3.

13 One has to wonder whether this is because he recently received the $1 million Eli Broad Excellence in Education award.

14 Bill Quigley, “A special report on Katrina and education: experimenting on someone else’s children; fighting for the right to learn in New Orleans,” CounterPunch, August 6, 2007,

15 Klonsky and Klonsky, Small Schools, 118; and Zein El-Amine and Lee Glazer, “‘Evolution’ or destruction? A look at Washington, D.C.,” in Keeping the Promise?, 53.

16 Leigh Dingerson, “Unlovely: How the market is failing the children of New Orleans,” Keeping the Promise?, 17.

17 Bill Quigley, “Fighting for the right to learn: the public education experiment in New Orleans two years after Katrina,” Black Agenda Report, August 8, 2007,

18 “No experience necessary: How the New Orleans school experiment devalues experienced teachers.” A joint report of the United Teachers New Orleans, Louisiana Federation of Teachers, and the American Federation of Teachers, June 2007. Available online at

19 “Privatization and the Katrina Solution,” Michael Molina interviewed by Gillian Russom and Sarah Knopp, Socialist Worker, May 28, 2008.

20 U.S. Census Bureau, “School expenditures, by type of control and level of instruction in constant (2003-2004) dollars, 1970-2004,”

21 Klonsky and Klonsky, Small Schools, 115.

22 Brian C. Hassell and Thomas Toch, “Big box: how the heirs of the Wal-Mart fortune have fueled the charter school movement,” November 7, 2006, Education Sector Connecting the Dots series, John Walton died in a plane crash in 2005.

23 Quoted in Bill Berkowitz, “Philanthropy the Wal-Mart way,” Media Transparency, October 12, 2005,

24 Joe Allen, “The horrible house of Walton,” Socialist Worker, December 2, 2005. See “Shopping for subsidies: how Wal-Mart uses taxpayer money to finance its never-ending growth,” Good Jobs First, May 2004; Amy Joyce, “Labor deal with Wal-Mart criticized,” Washington Post, November 1, 2005.

25 Steve Miller and Jack Gerson, “The corporate surge against public schools,”

26 See the Ed in ’08 site at

27 “Strong American schools: mission possible: Greensboro, North Carolina,” Ed in ’08,

28 Green Dot’s Board of Directors includes SEIU Local 1877’s president, Mike Garcia. SEIU has a very cozy relationship with those sections of Corporate America who have government contract services, and has a plan to “organize” charter schools, but they intend to do so by making deals with charter operators who will undermine some of the key elements of teachers’ power in collective bargaining.

29 Howard Blume, “Mayor pushes school bonds,” Los Angeles Times, June 19, 2008.

30 Howard Fine, “Unsentimental education,” Los Angeles Business Journal, June 4, 2007.

31 Mary Compton and Lois Weiner, eds., The Global Assault on Teachers and Their Unions: Stories for Resistance, (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).

32 “The politics of education reform: Bolstering supply and demand; Overcoming institutional blocks.” World Bank documents and reports.


33 Helen Huntley, “Legislators, teachers balk at deal for Edison Schools,” St. Petersburg Times, September 26, 2003,

34 Quoted in Klonsky and Klonsky, Small Schools, 108.

35 Miller and Gerson, “Corporate surge against public schools.”

36 Editorial, New York Times, August 27, 2006.

37 Martin Conroy, Rebecca Jacobsen, Lawrence Mishel, and Richard Rothstein. The Charter School Dustup: Examining Evidence on Enrollment and Achievement (Washington: Economic Policy Institute, 2005).

38 See “Charter schools indicators: a report,” 10.

39 Quoted in Klonsky and Klonsky, Small Schools, 145.

40 Sarah Carr, “Getting into New Orleans schools can be a tough task,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, May 17, 2008.

41 See “Charter schools indicators: a report,” 15.

42 Ibid., 16.

43 Ibid., 8.

44 See

45 Sam Dillon, “Maverick leads charge for charter schools,” New York Times, July 24, 2004.

46 Larry Abramson, “For charter schools, New Orleans is a citywide lab,” NPR, July 16, 2008.

47 Leo Casey, “Who’s afraid of teacher voice? Charter schools and union organizing,” November 17, 2005, Edwise,

48 Ibid.

49 Ibid.

50 Personal communication.

51 See “Agreement between Green Dot Public Schools, a California not-for-profit corporation and the Asociacion de Maestros Unidos/CTA/NEA effective through June 30, 2010.” An earlier version of the contract is available online at

52 Ibid.

53 Marazan, Cesar Rosado. “SEIU to Raid Union Representing 40,000 Teachers in Puerto Rico.” Labor Notes Online, www.?

54 Greg Toppo, “Sharpton, education plan may tear union ties,” USA Today June 11, 2008.

55 Therese Quinn, Erica Meiners, Bill Ayers, “Child soldiers,” ?January 8, 2008,

56 Jesse Sharkey, “Get the military out of our schools,” Socialist Worker, October 14, 2008.

57 See Dan French, “Boston’s pilot schools: an alternative to charter schools” in Keeping the Promise?, 67.

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