Charter teachers receive "psychic salary"

Ohio's largest professional teachers organization, OEA, at their recent spring representative assembly, overwhelmingly voted to allow for the organization of charter school teachers in Ohio. Unthinkable mere years ago, but after a long hard battle over collective bargaining rights, the teachers and education support professionals enshrined rhetoric into core belief and action. A belief that all employees have the right to representation and bargaining, even those who work in charter schools that OEA has long opposed.

The reaction from the charter school apologists has been predictable, but Bill Sims, president and CEO of the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools had the best response

"Of course this is something that has always been possible, but I would say that it's easier said than done," he said in an interview. "Charter schools are smaller entities, they're more personalized, and teachers tend to feel more positively connected to management with defined grievance procedures and participation in the mission and strategic plan of the school.

"There tends to be more resistance or less interest in charter schools for this sort of thing. Charter school teachers often are making less than district teachers but because they tend to be smaller schools, with smaller classrooms, less bureaucracy, they officer[sic] a pay in 'psychic salary' that more often than not makes up the difference."

Psychic pay! Why would charter school teachers want to give up their low salaries and psychic pay for better working conditions, smaller class sizes, better benefits and equitable pay? Let's take a look at this so called "more personalized environment, where teachers tend to feel more positively connected to management", with this first person recount of working for White Hat management

With buildings being shut down and teachers being canned in droves across the state, White Hat seemed to be the only place hiring. I was brought on board as an academic adviser. It seemed like a pretty cool gig at the time; I would be helping students graduate, via phone and e-mail, from a cubicle farm in downtown Akron.

On my first day at OHDELA, I was shown to my cube, given a large gray binder, and ordered to copy my own training manual. One week later, promptly at 8 a.m., a huge pile of messy files and the educational fates of 150 students were handed down to me by four overworked and mentally scattered advisers. It was the beginning of the school year. Enrollment was picking up rapidly. The little online high school was approaching an enrollment of 1,500 kids -- with a staff of only 30 to 40 teachers and advisers to steer their education.
My job at Mr. Brennan's gerbil cage was contacting students and parents every two weeks, telemarketer-style, and attempting to hold kids accountable for their progress. More often than not, there was no progress at all for a variety of excuses -- valid and not -- concocted by students who seemed less interested in their educational well-being than I was. Faced with choosing between the importance of their education and the irresistible allure of the Xbox, the odds weren't good.

So every day at 8 a.m., I strapped into my headset and launched into my 30-plus Cheerleader/Bad Guy phone calls, for 11 bucks an hour with zero benefits.

Nothing says "personalized environment" like a 6 by 6 cubicle. But what of having "less bureaucracy" to make the day go faster and the work more rewarding? Back to our story

White Hat, meanwhile, seemed more preoccupied with charting spreadsheets, calculating endless employee performance measures, appeasing streams of irate mothers, and raking in cold, hard state cash.

Organizationally speaking, it was a nightmare on steroids. The place was built on a lopsided pyramid of spreadsheets, spreadsheets, and more spreadsheets. I was given the daily task of updating huge Excel workbooks with student data and test scores. Copies would circulate throughout the office, so that no two staff members had the same information about one student.

Every morning I arrived to stare eight more hours of drudgery in the face. It was one of those jobs that are traumatic to any creative, intelligent mind. I had to admit to myself that it really was nothing but a poorly run credit factory with killer marketing.

I've never witnessed lower morale at a workplace. Rumors circulated, cliques gossiped, managers took sides, and everyone had a cynical attitude toward the company. Many of the young, inexperienced teachers were hired straight out of college or after long bouts of trying to find "real teaching jobs." They became resigned to their roles as cubicle slaves, with no control over the material they "taught."

It does make you wonder if Bill Sims, president and CEO of the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools, has ever stepped foot in a charter school, or talked to someone who has worked there. But Mr. Simms wasn't the only apologist painting charter schools with the rosy brush. Fordham had an opinion piece titled "Why unionized charters would be a setback for Ohio’s school improvement efforts" that set up their argument against organizing charter schools by first erecting a straw-man

But, would unionized charter schools be good for students?

Successful charters work because they are flexible and constantly seek improvements to how they do things. They deploy funds, teachers, time, materials, and technology in different ways to impact student achievement. High-performing charter schools almost always display strong cultures, astute and driven leaders, dedicated teachers, coherent curricula, shared responsibility, and a sense of common purpose. Successful schools know their students and address their needs. In fact, one of the strongest arguments for charter schools is that they are expected to be different. Collective bargaining agreements put constraints on all these factors that lead to success and impede not only innovation but seek conformity across schools.

Successful charters are a rare breed in Ohio. The bottom 113 ranked schools in Ohio are all charters. Fordham themselves, in a preceding post titled "Accountability and perspective needed for drop-out recovery charters" acknowledge that charter quality is often very low and in desperate need of improvement and accountability.

No one is arguing that a charter school contract has to be identical, or as comprehensive as a traditional school's - in fact they are often quite different and more limited in nature. Opponents and proponents alike ought to read the entire Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) study on this matter.

Price examined nine charter schools unionized either by management design or by teacher vote. For comparison, he examined traditional district contracts and analyzed data from non-unionized charter schools as well. He found that the new contracts can be crafted in ways that respect the unique missions and priorities of charter schools, provide teachers with basic protections, and maintain organizational flexibility. However, while these new contracts innovate in many ways, they could go much further given the opportunity to create contracts from scratch.

That sure sounds a lot better than mystical "psychic pay", doesn't it?