Teachers Unions, Allies Rally Against Charter School Expansion in Los Angeles

Published May 12, 2016

Teachers unions and public school board members have combined their efforts in an all-out campaign to block and eliminate charter schools in the City of Los Angeles, by engaging in “walk-ins” and public outrage campaigns against school choice.

Los Angeles charter school advocates recently outlined plans to enroll half of the district’s students in charter schools by 2023. To show their opposition to the proposal to expand charter school programs, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten and sympathizers took part in rallies across the country. Weingarten said stopping the expansion of charter schools in Los Angeles is one of her “highest priorities,” and in an article for The Huffington Post, Weingarten called the proposal “a coordinated national effort to decimate public schools.”

Union First, Students Last

Vicki Alger, a research fellow at the Independent Institute, says teachers union leaders believe their priority is to increase membership and the resulting membership dues.

“As the late [AFT] President Albert Shanker reputedly said decades ago, ‘When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children,'” Alger said.

The “union first, student last” approach has taken its toll on academic achievement and is the main reason many parents are looking for alternatives, Alger says.

“Parents are the ultimate accountability assurance when it comes to their child’s learning,” Alger said. “That’s why parents nationwide are fighting for greater parental choice in education, including access to quality public schools through parent trigger laws and non-public school options through tax-credit scholarships and educational savings account programs. Los Angeles parents are no exception.”

Lowering Standards, Taxpayers Pay the Price

The Los Angeles Unified School District—the nation’s second largest, with more than 900 schools—has lowered its standards in an effort to increase graduation rates and, according to some, to suggest they match the high success rate of charter schools.

Alger says this strategy does nothing but cause harm. 

“Lowering passing scores and watering down core course content to inflate performance may make some public school adults feel better about themselves, but students and taxpayers pay the biggest price later on, in the form of higher high school dropout rates, college remediation rates, and diminished basic skills that are critical to a thriving workforce and economy,” Alger said.

“They are in effect giving up on kids, but students aren’t the union leadership’s constituency,” Alger said. “The best interests of teachers and students should be in harmony. Currently, they’re at odds because of union leadership politics, which prioritizes the quantity of members over ensuring the quality of their member teachers.”

Brought Down by Bureaucracy

Mary Clare Reim, an education research associate at The Heritage Foundation, says bureaucracy is another factor in the decline in quality of education in public schools.

“A teacher’s main directive is to improve the academic outcomes of their students and help them achieve meaningful learning,” Reim said. “When those terms are narrowly defined, due to bureaucratic laws or a rigid testing structure, teachers have a more difficult time reaching those goals. Policies should be designed to give families the flexibility to pursue the education that works best for them.”

Reim says innovation holds the key to a modern, successful education system.

“A single standard across the board does not reflect the diverse values and skills of America’s children,” Reim said. “Schools should offer different curricula and teaching techniques, and parents should be free to pick an option that works best for them. We should be encouraging schools to adopt new and innovative ways to raise the academic attainment of their low-performing students.”

Andy Torbett ([email protected]) writes from Atkinson, Maine.