If true, this is troubling. NYC charter school teacher Nichole Byrne Lau says she was fired for trying to organize teachers at her school. The school’s chief executive says she was fired for making racist comments to students. It’s not clear yet–and may never be–who’s telling the truth here, but either way this situation is FUGLY. Charter schools that behave in illegal and wrong ways to quash employee efforts to unionize deserve to be dealt with harshly by their authorizers and the state. After all, charter teachers have a right to unionize if they want to, there are some highly successful unionized charter schools, and when charter operators act like Wal-Mart towards employee efforts to unionize, it only gives amunition to charter foes.
Joe Williams has more here.
UPDATE I: Edwize and NCLBlog also have more, and it’s pretty fiery. I couldn’t agree with them more that if the school fired Lau just for trying to organize, it should be dealt with seriously. Joe suggests it should be closed. I think firing the individuals who thought this was acceptable (including eliminating board members) and continuing to monitor labor rights in the school might be adequate. But first the school’s authorizer needs to make a serious effort to ferret out what actually went on here. Not having been in the school I’m not going to judge based solely on media coverage. And the fact that some schools are or may be acting badly here is not a case for requiring all charter schools in the state to unionize as Ed and Leo seem to think**.
UPDATE II: This Steve Gilliard post on the subject, to which Lindsay linked, is atrocious. To whit:
Charter schools sound like a great idea, until you hear about the games the schools play. Nest+m finally didn’t have to share their school with the minority kids, but it cost them their principal. Which is the new deal many of these schools cut: you get your way, but you lose the principal.
What the devil does Gilliard mean there? NEST+m is not a charter school, but an elite NYC traditional public school that wanted to keep Ross Global Academy Charter School (aka the “minority kids” to which Gilliard refers) out of excess space in NEST+m’s underutilized facility. So is Gilliard accidentally aiming his anti-charter barbs at a “good” traditional public school? Or does he think NEST+m’s students should have been protected from those pesky minority students–which would indeed be a novel position for a so-called progressive.
More significantly: Yes, some charter schools play games. And that’s bad. But that’s what authorizers and public accountability are for, to catch when charter schools are playing games and make them stop or shut them down. And that’s why the authorizer should crack down–hard–on Williamsburg Charter High School if they did fire Lau for trying to organize.
UPDATE III: From an NYC-based reader who’s worked with Williamsburg Charter School High School students (but is an independent observer as far as the school is concerned):
From what I have seen and heard from students, it seems like a good school that is providing students with a unique, positive experience, especially considering that their high school options are limited in the Williamsburg, Brooklyn community. It would be a loss for the students and their parents if the school were closed because of bad actions by the CEO. I just hope that as this unfolds people remember that there is more at stake than just the interests of the adults involved and the political implications for charter schools, that there are students and parents whose lives will be greatly impacted by any decisions. If the school is closed, parents will be scrambling to find good alternative high schools for these students.
This gets back to one of the knottiest issues in charter schooling, and school accountability more generally: What do you do with a school that has problems but is still the best alternative available for some of the students it serves? Obviously, long term the solution is to build LOTS MORE HIGH QUALITY ALTERNATIVES (hint to NY state legislators: that would be one reason it’s GOOD to raise the charter school cap–then the threat to close down schools that don’t respect labor laws will be a much more real one). In the short term, these balances are a little difficult–but it’s not an excuse for not holding charter schools accountable for both student performance and following the rules.
**UPDATE IV (Really, this would be getting ridiculous if it weren’t such an important subject): Ed at NCLBlog elaborates further on his position towards charters and unions, which I appreciate because I did misunderstand him the first time I read his post, and I probably read Leo’s comments at the end of his post as a policy prescription they weren’t intended to be. Thanks for straightening me out on that. In general I would be in favor of making it easier for charter school teachers to unionize, although I do think it’s important that individual charter schools remain separate bargaining units.