Union leader explains support of chartering in Minnesota

December 3, 2012 • Joe Graba

Readers of Ember Reichgott Junge’s new book, Zero Chance of Passage, will find something very uplifting (appendix pp. 288-303). It’s a commentary written by Louise Sundin, longtime president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT) and a co-founder of the Teacher Union Reform Network (TURN), about how the union gradually softened its opinion, and eventually came to view Minnesota chartering laws as an opportunity for teachers to gain the autonomy, authority and responsibility to create truly professional models for teaching.

In 1991, teacher unions in Minnesota vehemently opposed the charter law and fought it for at least the first 10 years of its existence. But as the education scene in Minnesota continued to evolve, Sundin and Lynn Nordgren, the current President of the MFT, began to think about ways the charter law could provide better professional opportunities for teachers. In the last decade, Education Evolving worked with Sundin and Nordgren to help find ways for the charter law to help achieve TURN’s goal of professionalizing teachers.

Putting her political popularity at risk, Nordgren went to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) for a grant to create an organization that would authorize charter schools in Minnesota. The AFT approved the grant and the MFT created the Guild, an independent nonprofit, which is now an approved authorizer of chartered schools in Minnesota. The Guild now has several schools in the pipeline pending approval. The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers is the first teachers union to become actively involved in creating chartered schools.

Sundin and Nordgren are to be applauded for their visionary leadership and courage in making difficult choices in the best interest of teachers and K-12 education. They are true pioneers.

Here is an important point in Sundin’s commentary:

The work of teachers, and their empowerment, needs to change drastically if teaching is to attract and keep the “best and the brightest.” To that end, TURN locals nationwide are embracing changes, collaborating with parents, and creating their own schools that are models of communities of practice where teachers are in charge and respected. If these efforts are not successful in the future, who will teach the children?

Zero Chance of Passage describes the challenging journey of passing the nation’s first chartered school law through the eyes of Reichgott Junge, the Minnesota state senator who authored the law. Click here to learn more about the book.