Union sees chartering as aid to teacher empowerment

August 5, 2010 •

The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT) recently received a grant from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) to develop a 501c3 to serve as an authorizer of chartered schools in Minnesota. AFT made the investment as part of its innovation fund. Some of the initial news reports stated the MFT itself will apply to become an authorizer and others reported it would make them the first union in the nation to do so.

Let’s set the record straight. The MFT is neither going to operate chartered schools nor will it serve as the authorizer or sponsor of chartered schools. What the MFT will do with the grant is develop a new independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization which, if approved by the Minnesota Department of Education, will serve as an authorizer of chartered schools. This new organization will have a separate board of directors and be completely independent from MFT. It would be able to authorize chartered schools in any Minnesota district, not just Minneapolis. Clearly this MFT leadership effort will begin to change the notion that ‘chartering’ is something that teachers must oppose. In fact, it may become their best ally!

So why would the teacher’s union want to do this? Shouldn’t the union be trying to improve the schools already being run by the district and staffed by the union’s members? Not if you’re Lynn Nordgren, President of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers. Nordgren, in response to MFT members, wants a new role for professional teachers. Teachers now bear the brunt of criticism for learning results but have little say about school models, curriculum, assessment, use of revenue, assignment of principals, selection of teachers, etc. Nordgren, along with support from Education|Evolving, led the development of Minnesota’s “Site-governed Schools” legislation in 2009 but has found little support from school boards, including the Minneapolis district board of education, to advance teacher-led schools under this model. More and more teachers want to be the professional leaders of schools. These teachers are willing to be held accountable by the district board for learning results if in return they are given autonomy over the school including the management or to arrange for the management of the school.

But if district school boards will not give teachers that option, then chartering is the only platform left for them to seek a different way to work. Having a chartered school authorizer open to approving quality union-affiliated, teacher-led schools would be another significant step toward a goal MFT has been seeking for years.