Cards on the Table – A New Article Shows Teacher Unions Plotting their Next Line of Attack

Good Morning, CharterFolk

Great to hear from several of you about Alex Medler’s thought-provoking piece from yesterday.

As I often emphasize, what we’re trying to do here at CharterFolk is assemble a community of voices. The point is not that we agree on everything or that I personally concur with all the views that are published here. The important thing is that we are stimulating the right discussions on the right topics so that we can get smarter about a shared path forward.

It probably won’t come as much of a surprise to CharterFolk that I have a different assessment than Alex about the level of risk charter schools face across the country. My sense is that in many parts of the United States there is a de facto open season that has been declared against charter schools. Rather than our adversaries thinking that a lack of performance data in the post-Covid landscape requires that they provide charter schools a period of respite within which we can address shortcomings, our adversaries see a lack of data as an opportunity to inflict great new harm upon us. And with charter schools having no objective performance data upon which to build our arguments for renewal and growth, we are as vulnerable as we have ever been. That does not by any means mean that charter schools can afford to lose our ability to course correct, which has been a vital asset for our movement over the past 30 years. We just have to make corrections fully aware that we do so while swimming in waters where sharks are circling.

But much more important than any thoughts I might have about Alex’s piece are the thoughts of CharterFolk more broadly. So if any of you want to offer your own Contributor Column on this topic or any other that you’re passionate about, ping me any time at Nothing makes me happier than having even more great CharterFolk to whom to pass the mic. Meanwhile, I underscore my thanks to Alex for stirring up discussion by surfacing stimulating ideas. Keep ’em coming, Alex!

Secondly, building on my comments about the impending 30th anniversary of the charter school movement from Wednesday’s post, I wanted to pass along word from a couple of partners that 30th anniversary celebrations are in the works. The National Alliance has their anniversary kick off happening during National Charter Schools Week in May.

They also have significant programming planned for the National Conference in June.

I also learned that the Founders Library at the National Charter Schools Institute has a whole calendar of events planned.

We’ll be sure to hear more about that next week during our CharterFolk Chat with Ember Reichgott Junge (who works with the Library) and Gary Hart.

Lastly, before getting to the update, I wanted to report being encouraged by voter turnout for the CharterFolk of the Year Award. If you haven’t cast your ballot already, I hope you’ll spend less than a minute and do so today. I also appreciate continued new paid and complimentary subscribers coming in this week. On the paid front, subscriptions from a few states – Texas, DC, Louisiana, Illinois and Massachusetts to be precise – are particularly important because we have match challenges specific to those states. A couple of these states are just a few new paid subscribers away from getting us over the top, which would allow us to draw down additional match offers from donors. So if you happen to reside in one of those states, why not help us out by subscribing today?

Let’s get on to the update.

Cards on the Table – New Article Shows Teacher Unions Plotting their Next Line of Attack

Six weeks ago I wrote a post attempting to debunk the notion that teacher unions …

have overplayed their hand.

I stand by that assessment.

Look at this new article which came out just yesterday. Does this look like a party that feels like it’s overplayed its hand?

If anything, they’re doubling down. They’re ready to head straight back OUT of the classroom when parents and the rest of society are practically begging them to head back IN.

What is that has me most convinced that the teacher unions feel like they haven’t overplayed their hand?

Another card-playing analogy: the fact that they’re willing to put so many cards on the table, like they did in this highly instructive article that came out a few weeks ago.

Rarely do we get to see so much candor and transparency about strategy coming from the likes of UTLA and CTU. I hope you find a chance to read it in its entirety.

What do I find so instructive?

Well, first is its date of publication – March 4, 2021. At the exact same time that various observers were suggesting that teacher unions had overplayed their hands, the unions themselves declared themselves in “resurgence.” Do a word search on the article. The words “Covid” and “pandemic” and “re-opening” don’t even appear. It’s like the past year and a half haven’t even happened!

The second thing that is so instructive is the fact that the article’s authors are leaders from the Los Angeles and Chicago teacher unions. The implication is clear: other teacher unions in the national landscape should look to UTLA and CTU as examples to emulate.

In this essay, we look at two case studies: the 2019 UTLA and CTU strikes. We hope that by detailing the methods we used to prepare and launch our largely successful contract campaigns, we can help revive a labor movement that has remained largely dormant, even in the midst of historic teacher strikes. Now is the time to build on the grassroots organizing of teachers unions and grow a more militant labor movement across the country. 

If the writer and publishers of this piece have their way, this is what will be coming to every major urban area in America.

The third thing I find so instructive is the tactics and strategies for building strength that the article describes. Their steps to greater strength include:

  1. Coalescing behind a new vision (which, among other things, specifically set out to oppose charter schools);
  2. Focusing on bread and butter issues by securing pay raises for their members;
  3. Increasing dues in order to provide the resources needed to expand advocacy capacity and more aggressively pursue an agenda;
  4. “Building their mountaintop” of grassroots strength by creating new structures of engagement and empowerment of their base;
  5. Developing new advocacy capacities and sophistication;
  6. Changing the policies that they were advocating for in order to drive a new narrative and create a new coalition of advocacy partners.

Sound familiar, CharterFolk?

They’re a virtual carbon copy of the priorities I’ve been broken-recording here at CharterFolk over the past ten months. In my view, we face a moment like the unions faced a decade ago when we simply have to get our acts together. We certainly have it within our potential to get our movement back on track. We just need to be smart and courageous while remembering the problems in public education that gave birth to us in the first place. With that being the case, we should not understand this article to be something that should scare the heck out of us, but, rather, should see it as a laying of cards on the table that all of us can learn from.

Because in my opinion, we absolutely have it within our reach to achieve all that the other side achieved and more. We just need to do our six steps right, too:

1. Coalescing behind a new vision

2. Focusing on our bread and butter issues, which in our case is the need to build advocacy strength

3. Increasing dues to give our advocacy organizations the resources they need to build strength

4. “Building our mountaintop” of grassroots strength by creating new structures of engagement and shared-decision making with stakeholders

5. Developing advocacy capacities and sophistication, especially political capabilities

6. Advancing a different policy agenda better able to drive a narrative and build a new coalition of advocacy partners

I quote from the end of the Los Angeles test case:

In the end, sixty-to-seventy thousand parents, community members, students, and teachers took to the streets of L.A., demanding not just smaller class sizes, nurses at every school, and more counselors, librarians, special education programs, and ethnic studies programs but also green spaces, an immigrant support fund, an end to the discriminatory practice of wanding, funding for community schools, and support for a statewide legislative charter school accountability measure. The power we built within our schools and the broader community allowed us to make gains in all of these critical areas, not just the narrow wages and working conditions typically negotiated over in union contracts.

Let me repeat that last sentence:

The power we built within our schools and the broader community allowed us to make gains in all of these critical areas, not just the narrow wages and working conditions typically negotiated over in union contracts.

This more than any one statement from the article best sums up the imperative that is before our movement. Yes, absolutely, we must find ways to win on the narrow issues that we have always been fighting for. These are the critical policy breakthroughs in funding and facilities and freedom that our schools need to serve even more students and families effectively.

But as we prepare to embark upon our fourth decade of shared endeavor, we must realize that a new approach is needed. It is in the adoption of a more expansive agenda designed to ensure that all students in our society finally get the greatly more public education they deserve that we will find the pathway to our specific, age-old policy objectives.

And that, in turn, will result in the most important resurgence to have happened in public education in many years:

The resurgence of the national charter school movement.