There are a lot of questions floating around about the KIPP schools' unionization, which, according to two major players, was a surprise even to Dave Levin, KIPP's cofounder and the superintendent of New York City KIPP schools. People are guessing at exactly how high is turnover at KIPP AMP. (Levin told me this morning that he doesn't know the exact data but promised to get back to me.) They're wondering whether more elite charter schools will unionize next. (Open question, though charter teachers across the city were contacted about joining up with the union last year.) The most important thing to follow, I think, is what kind of labor contract the KIPP teachers end up negotiating. How will the contract handle job protection? Will it go the extreme route of a virtual job for life, or will it allow for discrimination between effective and ineffective teachers? If it does the latter, what will be the definition of an "effective" teacher? I got some hints of what's to come — or at least what the union wants — in a conversation with Randi Weingarten, the union president, yesterday. Weingarten said she is not in favor of offering "tenure" that means a "job for life." Instead, she said that a contract should force administrators to prove that they have "just cause" before they let an employee go. "Just cause" can mean the extreme case of, say, having sex with a student. Weingarten said that it can also mean the trickier matter of incompetence. Here's how Weingarten explained "just cause" to me: Tenure has been interpreted very, very differently. But it shouldn’t be. Tenure was never intended to be a job for life. Tenure is supposed to be a process, due process, so that you promote excellence and you guide against arbitrariness. What this sounds a lot like is the contract that Green Dot charter school teachers have in Los Angeles, finding a sweet spot between the extreme of so much job protection that bad teachers stay in the profession and so little that teachers feel constantly threatened.
The logo from KIPP AMP's ##http://www.kippamp.org/home/index.asp##web site##. If I hadn't spent the last several hours in a meeting, I would have conveyed this dramatic news sooner: Teachers at one of the country's most prominent charter school networks, KIPP, have decided to buck their board members' skeptical attitudes towards teachers unions — and organize. Fifteen of 20 teachers at KIPP AMP in Brooklyn, a middle school, today sent a letter to the school's board of trustees declaring their intention to form a union with the United Federation of Teachers. The president of the union, Randi Weingarten, signed the letter. In letters to fellow city teachers, the KIPP AMP teachers explain that they want to "create a more sustainable culture so that we can better serve our students and reduce teacher turnover." They said they're asking for a "basic contract" that sounds, in their short description, kind of like the slim, tenure-less Green Dot contract: Administrators would have to prove "just cause" before firing a teacher, and discipline would follow a graduate scale, including measures to support struggling teachers. The union also announced today that teachers at a second KIPP charter school, KIPP Infinity, would like to enter collective bargaining talks. KIPP Infinity's teachers were already represented by the union, in an agreement that guaranteed them health insurance and other benefits, but now want to negotiate a job contract. In a letter released today, UFT official Michael Mendel asked KIPP Infinity's board for detailed information on the school's employees and their salary and benefits details. The two moves represents a dramatic victory for the UFT, which has been campaigning to bring charter school teachers into its fold for at least the last year.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (via Flickr) The New York Post's headline today — "SILVER IS DISIN-KLEIN-ED" — is a fun, gossipy way of getting at a really important story. The thing is, it's not just Sheldon Silver, speaker of the Assembly, who doesn't like Joel Klein. Many of Silver's colleagues in the legislature are in the same boat. I first cataloged the grievances of a list of state senators and Assembly members in August. That was more than a year after an assemblyman from the Bronx, Ruben Diaz Sr., became the first public official to call on Bloomberg to fire Klein. Since then, I haven't found any lawmakers who don't complain about Klein. In fact, I've actually met one state senator, Kevin Parker of Brooklyn, who ideologically is in line with the administration, but opposes its reforms. The best explanation for this bad blood that the Post provides is this one, from "an official who knows both men": "You have two guys who both think they're the smartest guy in the room. Those two guys aren't going to like each other." But my understanding is that there's more than personalities at play here. There's a substantive difference in policy.