Charter Schools and the American Federation of Teachers Convention

At the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Convention last week (July 7-11) in Seattle a resolution was passed that called for unionizing charter schools into already existing AFT locals (not separate locals) and called for transparency in budget, student progress, funding, and corporate and private interests. Apparently the AFT already represents 140 charter schools. All of the Baltimore charter schools are unionized and in NYC the AFT runs several charter schools.

Many of us were alarmed by this resolution because of the apparent embrace of the AFT of charter schools with the resultant move to privatization. The strongest objections came from the teachers from Washington, DC, and Chicago. The DC teachers worried about the influence of the private corporations/entities that run their charter schools on collective bargaining. The Baltimore teachers had no hesitation.

Further alarming many of us in higher education was President Randi Weingarten’s invitation to Bill Gates to speak, hardly a friend of labor. There were several leaflets against Gates and a spirited walk out and demonstration that upset many of the teachers in the audience. There seemed to be anger among the teachers toward Arne Duncan and Race to the Top – there were demonstrations against Duncan who was in town but wasn’t asked to speak – but much more acceptance of Gates even though Duncan’s inner circle includes two former Gates employees, including Duncan’s chief of staff, who were architects of Race to the Top.

Although I was part of the walkout, I sat on the floor by the door to listen to Gates, whom I thought was extremely condescending. Gates said that he used to think that small schools would turn around our “failing” system, but now he believed it was good teaching that made the difference. Therefore, he was going to determine what constituted a good teacher and make videos of good teachers to distribute to teachers so they could become good teachers. And, of course, good teachers are measured by increasing test scores. His analysis was so simplistic – good teaching can be reduced to a few principles without any awareness of the students and the context of their lives. Gates was also listed in the program as giving mucho money to the AFT to fund innovation. Contradictions, contradictions.

Susan O’Malley

PSC (CUNY), AFT Local #2334

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