Teacher-run schools in a unionized setting

December 17, 2010 •

Recently we commented on an interesting study by Charles Kerchner and Laura Mulfinger that provided keen insights into teacher-run schools.

In another post we highlighted an excerpt that showed how students at one school, operating as a student congress, decided that instead of banning cell phones in the school, they would allow phones but ban disruption.

Here is an excerpt, on teacher-run schools in Milwaukee—where charter schools remain part of the district, and teachers are members of the local union:

Milwaukee and the unionized version of teacher-run schools
Outside of Minnesota, the next largest aggregation of teacher-led schools is in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where 13 teacher-run schools exist as what are called “instrumentality” charters within the Milwaukee Public Schools. Teachers gain authority to make day-to-day decisions in schools, which have no principal, through memoranda of agreement with the district and with the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association. Teachers remain employees of the district and members of the bargaining unit. They are paid according to the standard salary schedule and participate in the conventional pension system.
Milwaukee teacher-run schools control their own curriculum, and they determine some of their own work rules and internal decision processes. Unlike the case at Avalon and the EdVisions schools, they do not control personnel and budget decisions to the same extent. The Milwaukee schools can select teachers, but from the district pool of candidates, and on some occasions they receive a “must place” teacher, who has lost a position at another school.
Much of the relationship between the teacher-run schools and the district has existed as informal permission, where formal authority rests with the district but operating discretion rests with the school. Over the last decade, that relationship has been reasonably stable, but both the union presidency and superintendency have turned over, and it remains to be seen whether the new administrations will be as tolerant as the old ones. Meanwhile, the state of Wisconsin has given the state superintendent enhanced powers to intervene in Milwaukee and other districts deemed to be failing, including the ability to impose a standard curriculum in all schools. It is unclear whether this mandate applies to charters, such as the teacher run schools, that are instrumentalities of the districts. Some of the teachers and teacher leaders are considering leaving the district altogether and applying for charter status directly from the state.
The existence of the Milwaukee teacher-run schools owes much to Cris Parr, who is the lead teacher at SUPAR (The School for Urban Planning and Architecture) that is built on the notion that there is a powerful and engaging pedagogy in the act of design. Parr was an experienced teacher in the Milwaukee Public Schools when she and her father, John, visited the Minnesota EdVisions schools and began to ask themselves “why should teachers have to sacrifice their income to start a great school?” John Parr, a former union organizer, devised and negotiated the memoranda of agreement with the district and union that made the teacher-run schools possible. He has since become an advocate for teacher-run schools with teacher unions nationwide.

Here’s Kerchner’s study again:

Image: A project-learning matrix from SUPAR