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"Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition."      Jacques Barzon

                                                                                          

 Family Partnership Charter Teachers Association Wraps Up First Contract Minimize
Family Partnership Charter TA wraps up first contract

    

Welcome to United Charter Teachers

Welcome to UnitedCharterTeachers.org


While the internet is filled with charter school related websites that promote schools, operators, vendors, and alike; this website is dedicated to supporting charter school teachers.

Here you will find resources, links to useful or provocative websites, ideas, news, and discussion forums. You can also sign up for "Charter Schools Update", the irregular e-mail newsletter that updates readers on news that is relevant to California charter school teachers. We also provide the resources and contacts you will need if you are interested in forming a local teacher's association at your school. Our website is still a "work in progress". If you have suggestions to improve our effort just send an e-mail by clicking the "feedback" button on the main menu or e-mail censworth@cta.org.

We know that charter school teachers care about salary and benefits, but it is even more than that.  Charter schools should give teachers the respect and flexibility to do their best work for their students.  We want to help charter school teachers find ways to improve working conditions so they can make long-term commitments leading to long-term careers at successful charter schools.

We can support those who may be interested in building participatory local teacher's associations that are run by local teachers and dedicated to helping individual teachers in their classrooms. Just click on the "Contact Your Organizer" button, select your County, and the contact for your area will appear.


Organized or not, a current charter school teacher or just thinking about it, we hope this will be a place where charter school teachers can find resources, links to other areas of interest, and a place for respectful interactive communication.


This site was last updated April 17, 2013.

 Announcements Minimize
Orcutt Academy Employees to Join District Union - July 5, 2011
Teachers working for Orcutt Academy Charter School will now become members of the district’s teachers’ union. After a year of legal back-and-forth between the Orcutt Union School District and the Orcutt Educators Association, the school board decided at its June 23 meeting it would no longer challenge the association’s petition to represent charter school teachers.   read more...
Los Angeles Charter Schools Have High Teacher Turnover - July 19, 2011
Local charter schools serving middle and high school students are losing about half their teachers every year, according to a study of the Los Angeles Unified School District released Tuesday. The rate of turnover is nearly three times that of other public schools, although they also are seeing high rates of departures.   read more...
Family Partnership Charter Teachers Association Wins Decertification Try & Adds Part-Timers to Unit! - Tuesday, February 08, 2011
The Family Partnership Charter Teachers Association, located in San Luis Obispo County, has overwhelmingly won a decertification effort with over 80% voting to keep Collective Bargaining! Had the decertification effort been successful the FPCTA would have lost the Contract they recently negotiated and the right to have Collective Bargaining. The Contract has given their members job protections and job security.
The FPCTA has also now added their part-time teachers to their organization and part-timers will now enjoy job protections they did not have before. Negotiations are now underway on a new Contract and their association is stronger than ever.
 

1st Contract for FPCTA - 2010
Family Partnership Charter Teachers Association, located in San Luis Obispo County, has sucessfully bargained their first contract.  
First Teachers Contract Achieved at LA Leadership Academy - November 2006
The agreement now must be voted on by the teachers at the school to go into effect.   read more...
Union Membership Offers Teachers Recourse, Protections When They Need It - September 2006

A recent article in the California Educator highlights organizing efforts by local charter teachers

  read more...


      

 

"CTA Represents Charter Teachers Across the State"      

                                                                                          

 
Charter School Teachers from Asociación de Maestros Unidos participate in May 13 Pershing Square Rally to protect education funding.
Schoolhouse Rocked!
Schoolhouse Rocked Image Not Available
By Lauren Smiley Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Schoolhouse Rocked:

S.F.'s Most Controversial Charter School Throws Off For-Profit Masters



Stepping onto Edison Charter Academy's schoolyard, you would never guess this is the most contested turf in San Francisco public education. The chapters in Edison's history book have been dramatic: First, the shamefully failed public elementary school. Then the takeover by a company seeking to profit off public education. The high-profile attacks from the school district. The notoriety in the national media. And now, after a decade of controversy, the chapter you probably didn't hear about: the quiet mutiny by teachers against the corporation.

Despite that, on a recent afternoon, the school tucked between Noe Valley Victorians looks idyllic. Edison Charter Academy is hosting its annual Fiesta de Familia, and dozens of mothers sit on benches by baby strollers and chat in Spanish. A second-grade class of mostly Latino kids sings "The Fifty Nifty United States" — "Alabama! Alaska!" A Mexican folkloric dance group sashays in colorful skirts, a token blonde girl among the Latinas — one of the handful of white kids in the school. A seventh grader rushes up to hand a crumpled math assignment to his teacher, who says gracias and slaps him a sideways five.

Education in San Francisco reveals a city divided. The well-to-do and those-with-scholarships have defected for private schools — one in four of all city kids, to be exact. While nearly 60 percent of San Franciscans are white, only 11 percent of the district's students are, while Latinos, blacks, and Asians fill public classrooms in disproportionate amounts. That's especially the case at Edison, an outpost of the other San Francisco in a neighborhood with one of the highest concentrations of white folks — few of whom send their kids to the school. Instead, most Edison students are Latinos walking up from the bordering Mission, or African-Americans riding in from the impoverished Bayview. Nearly 90 percent of the students pay a reduced fee at lunch, because of their parents' income.

But the days of this school being that school — another inner-city failure churning out dropout-prone kids — are long over. In 1998, after the then-locally run Edison elementary had resisted even the most extreme of overhaul measures, the superintendent handed it over to Edison Schools, Inc. — the company at the center of the early storm over charter schools. (That Edison Elementary and the company that took it over, now called EdisonLearning, share a name is coincidental.) The company promised it could teach kids more effectively than the school district had managed — all while making a, gasp, profit off the public dollars allocated for students. It promised a foolproof back-to-basics curriculum, accountability through regular testing, a disciplined environment, a longer school day, and access to a wide array of art programs.

Of course, a for-profit enterprise taking over an elementary went over with San Franciscans about as well as Home Depot staging a coup on the neighborhood hardware store. As soon as progressives got a majority on the school board, they "went after [Edison] with a pitchfork," as one charter lobbyist puts it. The board drew national media attention by revoking the school's permission to operate in the city. But the Edison company ran directly to the state for the go-ahead to continue functioning in hostile territory. The state granted this, and the relationship between the school and its bitter district was reduced to a schoolyard fight, albeit one that went on for a full decade. At one point the district wanted to boot Edison from its building to make way for a district school, but the company threatened to sue. Through the years, the district told the school to stop annoying the neighbors by letting teachers zoom through an adjoining alley in their cars, yet the teachers zoomed through just the same.

But little did the school district know that its grudge against the Edison company would be matched from inside the Edison school itself. Teachers and officials increasingly resisted applying the New York company's cookie-cutter formula to their local kids. Last spring, 12 years after the out-of-towners took over, Edison Charter Academy finally broke ties with the company and engineered a community school by its own design: that idyllic college-prep academy behind the Fiesta de Familia, a nonprofit aiming for small class sizes, individualized attention, and extensive arts classes most districts can only dream of.

EdisonLearning assured the school it couldn't succeed without the company when it learned about the school's moves to go indie. Two representatives told the board's president, Ed Kriete, "'We're going to do everything in our power to make sure you fail if you leave us,'" he recalls. "And I'm like, 'I guess our meeting is over.'" Edison's biggest trial yet had begun.

In the very beginning, there was failure. In the mid-'90s, test scores at Edison were in the pits. Kids fought. Administrators and teachers left year after year. In 1995, the school district gutted the school and hired an all-new staff of young, idealistic, largely minority teachers. "We used to call ourselves one of the loser schools," says Susie Spiegel, one of those teachers. But despite the desperate measure, test scores dropped after the first year, says Mark Sanchez, a teacher who jumped ship before the school went for-profit.

Then-superintendent Bill Rojas tried one last-ditch controversial move: handing the school over to be privately managed by Edison Schools, Inc., in 1998. The company had been founded six years earlier by entrepreneur Chris Whittle, best known as the creator of Channel One News, which leased TVs to public schools to broadcast a daily teencentric news program — and its commercials — to students. With his new charter management company, Whittle claimed that by applying economies of scale and labor efficiency to schools, he could make a profit from the money the government serves up for students while improving test scores.

The idea was blasphemous to the public education establishment, but won praise from school reformers and free-market conservatives. They figured if Whittle could have success where bureaucracy and union-laden school districts had failed, well, why not let the guy profit? Gap founder Don Fisher even donated $25 million for Edison to expand into California, where low per-student spending wasn't exactly a draw for profit seekers.

But teachers at San Francisco's Edison Academy say the charter agreement was based on a backroom deal. "Rojas wanted that place off his hands," Spiegel says. She says an assistant to Rojas as well as the school principal intimidated the teachers into signing the charter petition. (Applying for a charter requires gathering signatures from 51 percent of the teachers who would be teaching at the new school.)

Since much of the staff were permanent substitutes, rehired by the district each year, many felt they'd lose their jobs if they refused. Spiegel refused and quit. Even after signing, many other teachers left anyway or were thrown out after Edison took over, says Sanchez. "In my eyes, it was an illegal charter," he says.

Either way, decisions at this local school now came from New York. The school would send every penny in tax dollars it got to the company, which provided all management services and instituted the "Edison design." This involved regular student tests to measure improvement; a scripted reading curriculum called Success for All; increased prep time for teacher collaboration; and extensive art programming and world languages classes that were rarely seen in district-run schools. Edison also lengthened the school day by 90 minutes, and the school year by two weeks. Many teachers quit, complaining of overwork. Still, Edison Academy's test scores — while remaining low compared to the district average — started to rise.

Yet the district was unimpressed, and a progressive majority was voted into office in 2000 on a platform to revoke Edison's charter. School board president Jill Wynns visited the school in the late '90s: "One thing I saw that was disturbing was kids walking in lines with their hands behind their backs chanting mantras they had to say," she says. Wynns, backed by commissioners Eric Mar and Mark Sanchez (the former Edison teacher), blasted the for-profit model and ordered a district investigation. They said Edison's rising test scores simply mirrored rising scores across the city. They also accused the school of "counseling out" low-performing kids, especially African-American and special education students, while attracting the children of parents engaged enough to make an active school choice. (Parents must directly enroll students in charters, rather than allowing the district's lottery system choose for them.)

The national press stepped in to cover the imbroglio, tending to take sides along clear political lines. Liberal The Nation railed against Edison; the libertarian Reason framed the debate as a jealous school district preferring failure for all students instead of a company succeeding with some.

Enter Bonnie Senteno, an outspoken and über-involved mother with a chola-style Virgin de Guadalupe tattooed on her ankle. She was among the parents who showed up with "Save our School" posters at the school board meetings where the commissioners discussed revoking Edison's charter. She says she didn't even know the school was for-profit at the time, just that the teachers were great and her son, Jack, was thriving. "For the district to close down a school where they were working hard and getting good results was a little crazy for me," she says.

Still, the district ignored the parents. Edison threatened years of litigation if the district revoked the school's charter, so the school board settled on not renewing it, opening the door for the school to appeal to the state Board of Education. Given that the state board was stacked in 2001 with pro-charter commissioners, Edison scored its new contract easily. But a couple of months afterward, state test scores gave the naysayers the power of told-you-so: Edison's scores had dropped from the year before, making it the dead-last elementary school in the city on the Academic Performance Index.

Years passed, and though its test scores showed slow progress, Edison Charter Academy remained in the bottom half of the district's elementary schools. The Noe Valley school with a Spanish Mission facade became an island apart from the school district, relations reduced to a rent check and resentment.

The district couldn't win against Edison the company. But Edison the school was gearing up for a fight itself.

Behind school doors, teachers were finding Edison to be a top-down bureaucracy as onerous as any school district. Catherine Cook was hired in 2004 into what she calls "the dark years." "They just burn you out," she says. "They didn't give you any creativity or freedom in your classroom. It was top down and directives — they'd be like, 'Scrap that and let's try this,' and we had no input."
Teachers resented the Success for All curriculum, which taught reading through a series of technical exercises. "You could see the kids were bored to death," Cook says. Worse, it wasn't up to California's standards.

Then there were the cost-saving measures designed to help Edison make a profit. The company would sometimes lag in ordering school necessities like paper, and classrooms would run out. The school tended to hire first-year teachers, 80 percent of whom would dash at the end of the year along with many administrators, Cook says. With no recruiting effort by out-of-town management, the school's enrollment dwindled. The teachers finally organized into a union in 2005, so they could have more of a say in decisions.

Nationally, the decade-old company was suffering major woes as it learned that running public schools wasn't so profitable after all. The feds found the company had misstated its revenue in 2001, and Edison showed a profit for just one quarter in 2003 during the four years it was publicly traded. Eventually the company downgraded its mission from Whittle's original plan of operating 1,000 schools to offering educational software.

Senteno, the mother who had defended Edison during the fight to renew its charter, started to change her opinion when she signed on as a volunteer at the afterschool program in 2004. She was working as a federal government contractor evaluating programs under the No Child Left Behind Act, and turned her eye to Edison. She learned that there was no designated curriculum to target English learners. She also noticed that while her son, Jack, would ace all the Edison benchmark tests, his scores on the California standardized tests were merely average. Obviously, there was a disconnect, and little room for parental input to change anything. "As a parent, I'd bring all the exciting things I'd seen [on the job] back," she says. "We were always kind of prevented from implementing them because they didn't fit in with the Edison design."

The proverbial final straw was when Senteno and a group of parents on the school's parent teacher committee won a $150,000 state grant to fund a free afterschool program in 2007. But the charter academy's decisionmaking board — composed of pro-Edison parents and community members — wouldn't accept the money, saying EdisonLearning was miffed that the parents hadn't followed proper protocol. "I'm like, what is wrong with you people?" Senteno says. Over a couple of months, she and other parents kept showing up at board meetings and wore them down about accepting the money. Faced with growing resistance, three of the board members left. "I kind of felt it was like, 'If you're so big, you run the school, you be on the board,' so I was like, 'Fine,'" Senteno recalls. She became the president in 2007.

Senteno examined the school's contract with Edison, which had been automatically renewed uncontested by the board in 2005 for another five years. The basics: Edison would front the school's costs and then bill the school. Any "profits" left over at the end of the school year from tax dollars had to be sent to Edison. Senteno estimates this ended up being $250,000 to $400,000 a year. "My feeling was why don't we bring that back into the building and create programs relevant to the needs of our kids?" she says.

The new board started to pull away from Edison, renegotiating the five-year contract down to three, during which the school would pay the company a flat monthly fee and return it only a single-digit percentage of the leftover revenue at the end of the year, leaving the rest for the school to spend as it saw fit. Senteno penned a declaration of independence of sorts to the company in June 2009, announcing that the school would terminate its contract at the end of the impending school year. When Ed Kriete, a vice president at Wells Fargo, succeeded her in early 2010, the board seriously began considering the options: returning to the school district, renewing with Edison, hiring a nonprofit charter organization, or going independent. Teachers overwhelmingly voted in favor of going indie, and the board hired Great Schools Workshop, a now-defunct school consulting firm, to help it shed Edison in February 2010.

EdisonLearning spokesman Michael Serpe says the company doesn't mind schools leaving — it has obviously had some practice, now that its portfolio of around 120 managed schools has gone down to 40 nationwide. "We refer to it as graduating," he says. "Our long-term goal is not to work there forever." ("I would consider us Edison dropouts, but whatever," Senteno rebukes.) Indeed, Kriete says company reps had a very different message. They told him the school couldn't run without them, and that they would do everything to make the school fail. "They didn't want the publicity out there that we can leave their organization and be successful, if not more successful," he says. The doomsday message made some board members jittery enough to leave during the transition.

Still, Kriete, Senteno, and others pushed forward. Finally, EdisonLearning terminated the management agreement in the middle of spring term. The abrupt transition was like a "messy divorce," Kriete says, with Edison's board being the party who'd never handled its own pocketbook. The board hired the Edison employee who'd done the in-house finances, who went to the bank to take out a line of credit and insurance. An Edison rep stowed the company's proprietary teaching manuals in her trunk and drove away.
The school hired Adrienne Morrell, the consultant from Great Schools Workshop, as the new director. Over the spring and summer, she and her staff recruited families at Carnaval, farmers' markets, and school tours, filling up the 540-capacity school to 530 for the current year. For next year, there's a wait-list of 50. The school didn't have to fire any teachers, and the retention rate was nearly 100 percent.

There was one main fight left: With its charter up for renewal in 2011, the school would have to persuade the school board it should be given a second chance.

Leading a school knee-deep in controversy into a new era, Morrell benefits from being an outsider. The fiftysomething Arizona nati ve prefers running shoes and jeans to power suits. She has an MBA's business sense and the education chops of having been a math teacher and administrator in public schools throughout three states for 20 years. On a recent morning in her office decorated with college pennants of her alma maters, she explains her vision for a "community school" with the straightforward manner of someone starting afresh.

She tells SF Weekly, "When parents come and say, 'We hate public schools,' I say, 'Guess what? We are a public school.'"
While Morrell and most charter school advocates say they don't consider charters necessarily better than district-run schools, the comparison is unavoidable. Now that the school no longer has a money-hungry company to blame for any problems, the real test begins: With teachers, parents, and community members calling the shots, can a community charter school teach more effectively than the district?

Last year, the restructuring of a true "community school" began. Community members and teachers formed a site counsel committee to decide policy and budget decisions. Parents and teachers joined the teacher hiring committee to sit in on interviews. A dress code committee decided to keep the uniform, minus the Edison-logo polo shirts. For the next school year, the school extended Thanksgiving break to a week so that students traveling to Mexico wouldn't have to miss days. Parents complained to the board that their students were tardy because of morning traffic, so starting in the fall, the school day will start a half-hour later, at 8:30.

How different is a "community school" from a district- or company-run one? On a tour of Edison on a recent morning, subtle differences in spending priorities appear. In the cafeteria, a heap of strawberries sits beside chicken salad sandwiches and pita chips. The school decided to pay extra to contract with Revolution Foods in Oakland for food service, rather than the frozen fare arriving on a truck from Chicago served in district-run schools. In the schoolyard, a rep from the Playworks company leads kids in organized games at recess, aimed at curbing recess bullying and cliques. (Many district-run schools also contract with Playworks, Wynns says.) The hallways are orderly. "A lot of schools have problems with violence and gangs," says Cook, the teacher. "We're able to insulate the kids from that."

Class size is capped at 20 pupils per teacher up to third grade and at 30 per teacher up to eighth grade — slightly lower than the district's 22 and 33, respectively. While public schools are slashing the already slim pickings of arts programming in budget cuts, all Edison students take art, theater, music, and dance classes throughout the year — a holdover retained from the for-profit days. To keep such programs in place, the teachers — who are represented by their own union — agree to slightly lower salaries than the district's unionized teachers ($44,474 vs. $50,000 for a first-year teacher), though they get some superior benefits and are saved from furloughs.

Edison focuses on orienting kids from elementary school toward college, with campus tours and college apparel Fridays. The school counselor helped last year's eighth graders win $200,000 in scholarships to attend private high schools — while public school counselors tend not to urge kids to ditch the district. The afterschool program serves 140 kids until 6 p.m. with tutoring and drumming programs.

The school's biggest selling point? A new dual-immersion program in English and Spanish for kindergarteners, with plans to expand it a grade level each year as the kids grow older. Three mothers told Morrell at a recruitment booth in a Mission market last spring that their children were on a wait-list for the popular programs at district schools. "I looked [dual-immersion programs] up online, and said we could do this," Morrell says.

The school has earned the parents' seal of approval. Many parents at the Fiesta said they enrolled their children on recommendation from friends after the district assigned them to "rowdy" public schools in the Mission, whereas Edison's kids are seen as more "respectful." Others transferred in their children after failing to find a fit elsewhere. One sixth grader studying in the cafeteria says he left his parochial school to avoid a superstrict teacher who wouldn't let the kids speak in class. (His father, picking him up later, adds, "We were not getting what we were paying for.") A seventh grader says that at Creative Arts Charter School, he was the only Latino student in his class, and "they all had more cooler things than me." (His mother adds that he was diagnosed with ADHD and needed more individual attention.)

Other than parental support, there's that more unforgiving measure of a school's success: test scores. An extensive 2009 Stanford study showed that charters do no better or worse than district-run schools on a national level — though some outliers do much worse and some much better. Edison's scores this year are better than 37 percent of district elementaries and smack-dab in the middle of the district's middle schools, more or less where they've been for the last decade. But last year, Edison for the first time scored among in the top 10th of schools educating a similar student population of low-income minorities, known as the Academic Performance Index. The school advertises the success with a celebratory banner on the school's fence facing Dolores Street: "A Perfect '10' Academic Performance Index Compared With Similar Schools."

Would that be enough to persuade the school board that Edison was worth saving? The school's charter was up for renewal this year. Although it is held with the state, the new Edison first has to face the school board, on which commissioner Wynns still sits — and remains skeptical. Morrell, with input from the board and parents, wrote a three-inch-thick charter renewal application. Wynns thought they should be applying for a whole new charter if they purported to be a new school. There were other problems: EdisonLearning had resisted giving the school financial information, making it difficult to project a budget.

"The relationship between San Francisco and this charter is so poisoned, it's impossible for us to renew," Wynns says. "I think they're an okay elementary school, but I don't think they're any better than any publicly managed school in San Francisco, and they're probably worst than a lot of them."

In February, the school board, citing holes in the application, voted against the new Edison school.

But Morrell and the board weren't about to give up. In the two months before the appeal, she and her team filled in the lacking sections, and presented the district with the financial information they'd finally gotten from EdisonLearning. In a special meeting on May 9, the night before the school needed to appeal to the state, the district's school board approved its charter. Wynns' was the only dissenting vote.

School board president Hydra Mendoza warned she'd keep her eye on the school, which now has to get a plan approved with the district annually. "Part of our message is you're going to have to learn to be part of a family; you can't work in isolation any longer," she says.

Not everything about EdisonLearning was bad. The company "got us to a certain point, because Edison was really having trouble back in the '90s," Senteno says. Her son is proof that the for-profit days turned out some bright students. With black-rimmed glasses, black stocking cap, and light goatee, Jack lends a bohemian air to his otherwise typical teen dress code of a black hoodie and slouchy jeans. An aspiring artist now at a charter high school, he hopes to apply to New York University or the San Francisco Art Institute. "I grew up developing my art skills" at Edison, he says. "Without that, I wouldn't be the artist I am today."

With EdisonLearning's roster of independent charter schools shrinking from 120 to just 40, the company's losses show it's not easy to score a buck off underfunded public education. (Founder Whittle has moved on to create a global chain of elite private schools, Nations Academy, that charges top dollar for rich kids.) Eric Premack is the executive director of Charter Schools Development Center, a California-based consultant and lobbying group. He says donors' initial interest in for-profit charters like Edison dissipated. "They kind of freaked out when they saw how virulent the reaction was in San Francisco," he says. Now most major foundations giving to charter schools — many of them based in the Bay Area — direct the big bucks to national nonprofit charter organizations.

Edison Charter School hopes to find some of those dollars. The school just incorporated a nonprofit foundation with the state to be able to fundraise, and Kriete hopes private sources will someday make up 10 percent of the school's revenue. But Kriete also says the school is doing great things with mere tax dollars. "We're proving you can be a successful, nimble community site school, and up until a year ago everyone told us it will never work," he says.

Last year, some of the teachers wanted to rename the school Dolores Charter Academy to distance it from "all that Edison junk," as Senteno puts it. But the parents objected.

In a democracy, the people can also vote against you. So now the school must redefine what it means to be Edison.

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