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As Long as We Remember...

February 14, 2003

Charter Schools in Maryland? The MSTA Has Not Yet Begun to Fight!

John P. Snyder

My view of teachers unions has always been colored by an exchange I once saw between Tim Russert, host of NBC's "Meet The Press" and the late Albert Shanker, former president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). When asked about the well being of the children, Mr. Shanker sneered: "When children start paying union dues is when I'll start worrying about them."

Charter schools, which have proven themselves to be successful wherever they have been implemented, has been effectively kept out of Maryland due to the choke hold the Maryland State Teachers Association (MSTA) has had on Maryland public policy on education. Because they were on the wrong side of the election last year, they can only watch and growl as Gov. Robert Ehrlich fulfills his campaign promise to establish some Charter schools. If they are concerned with their image, they should work to bring educational choice to public education rather than obstruct its inception.

The education elite of our state resemble human piís as reliable constants in our world. Failing schools are doing so because of any number of predictable responses. Lousy schools are a result of poor facilities, poverty, large classrooms, old books or unappetizing food menus. Only more money could turn the bad school to a good school according to them. Parents, meanwhile, are asked to bide their time until things get better. The elite, of course, send their kids to private school. Charter schools are an attempt to give choices to beleaguered parents. Charter schools can be operated with state funds by other organizations than the public school boards.

The one charter school in Maryland, proudly located in Frederick, is currently tied up in knots because the MSTA is throwing roadblocks at every turn to enforce its contracts to the letter. These union contracts do not exhibit the flexibility needed to make the new paradigm work. Even though teachers who volunteer for Charter schools are willing to work perhaps longer each day than the union specifies, they are restrained from doing so by the union. They would really like to keep Charters out of Maryland.

African-American parents know they are often stuck in the least effective schools. They tire of being told to wait while reforms kick in. Charter schools give them the choices they never had before.

Teachers unions are digging in for the battle. Their rank and file may or may not be with them.

To them, this is a fight to remain a force - to maintain political muscle. They are interested in protecting their own. Clearly, kids haven't been paying union dues, so concern for them is missing. No, it is the education elite who want to remain in power that matters.

And if it involves stifling a powerful new idea in quality education, all the better. Maryland needs charter schools. Don't let them scare you, Governor Ehrlich!


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