Virtual School Meanderings

June 18, 2009

Unionized Cyber Charter School

This came across in my Yahoo! news alert for cyber school yesterday – and while it will appear in the regular Virtual Schooling in the News feature on Saturday, I wanted to highlight it here.

Pa. cyber school unionizes; union says it’s a 1st
INO News Wed, 17 Jun 2009 13:43 PM PDT
(AP:HARRISBURG, Pa.) Teachers at a western Pennsylvania-based cyber charter school have voted to unionize, becoming the first such school to do so in the United States, according to a labor leader.

Cyber school teachers vote to unionize
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Wed, 17 Jun 2009 09:07 AM PDT
Teachers at the PA Learners Online Regional Cyber Charter School have voted to be represented by the Pennsylvania State Education Association

In first, Pa. cyber charter school goes union
WHP CBS 21 Harrisburg Wed, 17 Jun 2009 09:05 AM PDT
The school serves Pennsylvania students in kindergarten through high school. It’s managed by the Allegheny Intermediate Unit and is chartered by 10 school districts.

In a first, Pennsylvania cyber charter school goes union
The Daily Item Wed, 17 Jun 2009 08:49 AM PDT
HARRISBURG — A western Pennsylvania-based cyber charter school’s teachers are unionizing in what’s being called the first such action in the United States.

I find this very interesting, as supporters of the charter school movement will often say that one of the things that allows charter schools to be more flexible and accommodate students better than the traditional public school system is that they don’t have to deal with teacher unions.  Well, at least the PA Learners Online Regional Cyber Charter School does have to deal with a teachers’ union now and I wonder if it will make them less able to accommodate students’ need because of it?  Let’s face it, if the first statement (i.e., charter schools are more agile because of an absense of a teachers’ union) is true, then the opposite should be true when a a charter school becomes unionized.

So, what will this mean for the PA Learners Online Regional Cyber Charter School?  How will it affect the school’s programming?  Quality?  Ability to accommodate students’ needs?  Student performance?  And more importantly, will other cyber charter schools follow suit?


  1. Will other cybers follow suit? Not likely.
    Recognize that this cyber was formed by an Intermediate Unit, which in Pa. is an educational service center serving a number of school districts. In other words, it is an extension of the traditional school system into the cyber charter world.
    If a cyber is created by an IU or as an integral part of a school district,unionization would be a natural progression.
    Unionization would also be likely if a particular cyber failed to match local pay scales and benefits for teachers.
    At PA Cyber Charter School, our administration makes a point of offering teacher salaries and benefits as good as those in the surrounding county districts.
    Factor in that charters and cyber charters tend to attract staff who believe in issues like merit pay and school choice, so their core philosophy disinclines them to seek union protection. Some who came to charters from traditional schools may have suffered frustration dealing with union dues, grievances, and inability to fire bad teachers.
    So, no, this is no bellwether vote.

    Comment by Fred Miller — June 18, 2009 @ 5:27 pm | Reply

    • I beg to differ. Two cyber charters are currently seeking unionization.

      Comment by Carol M. — July 11, 2010 @ 7:17 pm | Reply

      • Carol, this is interesting news. I originally posted this message over a year ago, and I don’t necessarily agree with Fred that unions are the problem when it comes to education reform that many in the charter school community seem to attribute.

        I was wondering if you were at liberty to share which two charters are currently seeking unionization?

        Comment by mkbnl — July 11, 2010 @ 7:20 pm

  2. I’m a little sorry to hear that Fred, as while I acknowledge some of the issues that come with unions I do believe that they offer more good than bad. I also think that they have a role to play in the education system (granted, as I’ve stated many times before I see charter schools as a way to small “c” conservatives to circumvent the traditional public education system, so my biases are well known).

    Thanks for the comment, and the additional information and insights.

    Comment by mkbnl — June 18, 2009 @ 5:55 pm | Reply

  3. I am also sorry to see that other cyber charters won’t follow suit. Fred states that the administrators at his school offer salaries and benefits comparable to that of local schools, but I am sure that most educators would agree that it comes down to more than just money. It’s also about treating all employees fairly and equally and offering protection and support to teachers when making decisions about a student’s education. If those are also priorities of the admin, then kudos.

    Comment by Jules — June 18, 2009 @ 10:11 pm | Reply

  4. I think I agree with Fred on this – at least as far as I don’t think unions have helped charters. I am a parent who has hopes of getting charters in West Virginia – we have no laws to even allow them. Why you may ask? Well, the legislation that was drafted to start charters this spring was struck down by – yep, teacher unions. Some of my own senators in the legislature have gone on the public record saying that they came into politics thinking that the teacher unions were most interested in the kids, but now after a few years of experience, all they seem to talk about is pay and benefits.
    Don’t get me wrong, I think teachers have a tough job and should get the pay they deserve (WV ranks low in the nation for teacher pay.) But why do schools have to have unions? Certainly one model can’t fit all needs. Maybe if a teacher comes to work with other business-like perks and doesn’t have to worry about going on strike to get paid, maybe they would be able to focus more attention on the kids.

    Comment by Ryan — June 18, 2009 @ 10:12 pm | Reply

  5. Ryan, I think that Jules may have a point, it isn’t all pay and benefits. One of the positive aspects of a union is the job security – for example, knowing that you can’t be fired simply because you demand a lot of the students (which often makes students unhappy, which often makes parents unhappy). An unpopular teacher isn’t necessarily a bad teachers, but in a system where funding is based on keeping those parents who have already pulled their kids from one school system happy, how secure is that good, but unpopular teacher’s job without the protection of a union?

    In terms of the teachers unions being against charter schools, have you ever wondered why that is? The bottom line is that up until now all charter schools were outside of the union. So as an organization that is set-up to protect its members (in this case traditional public school teachers), of course they would be against something designed to take money out of the public school system – and hence take resources out of their members’ schools. Do you honestly believe that teachers unions would be against charter schooling if the potential teachers in those charter schools were also their members? The teachers unions are designed for the same basic premise that all unions are designed, to protect the interest of their members. This is not to say that the members of those teachers unions have the same orientation or focus.

    But to say that the teachers unions are most interested in what is best for the kids is like saying the UAW is most interested in what is best for the car buyer. It is a total misunderstanding of the role of unions in the employer-employee relationship.

    Comment by mkbnl — June 18, 2009 @ 10:25 pm | Reply

  6. Now, mkbnl, I think you have a misunderstanding of charters. Students don’t just run to charters just because they are unhappy with the school district. There are medical issues, professional athletes, special education needs and the list goes on. But I suppose that is beside the point.
    Of course I know why unions are against charters. Of course I know it’s all about the money (by the way, don’t school districts still keep some of the money for these kids they don’t even have at their schools?) Anyway, that’s just it. It needs to be about the kids.
    True story: A barely teen girl is having problems in school because she has horrible headaches, which are getting worse. Her grades are suffering. She has tried the homebound education method, but in that, a teacher only comes around for a few hours a week. That’s not good enough. Finally, the girl is diagnosed with psudeo tumor cerebri (sp?) translation: a false brain tumor. She has to be on drastic medications just to escape the pain to sleep at night. But these also make it tough to get up for school. Sitting in a classroom is not an option. So, she finds a cyber charter school. Now, she can set her own schedule, do her work at her own pace and she is excelling once again.
    You are making the unions sound like a mob – “the protection of a union.” Why do they need protection? Maybe they should appreciate their jobs more. In many professions, if the professional doesn’t do a good job they don’t get hired. The traditional education system we have in place now has not changed in decades. I do think teachers get into teaching for the kids, but maybe worrying about the interests of unions refocuses their attention.

    Comment by Ryan — June 20, 2009 @ 12:41 am | Reply

  7. Ryan, why do they need protection? Does the example that I gave not suffice? I’m a former history teacher, so I’d be happy to describe to you why unions developed and are still needed to this day.

    In terms of some of your specific comments… I don’t disagree that there are many special circumstance students in charter schools, but what percentage of the students are these students? And what percentage of these students fall into the category that I described – i.e., the more involved, often more educated, often more conservative, often White? One of the interesting things about the charter school movement is their willingness to use their diversity statistics to support the fact that they are representative of the traditional public education system and society as a whole, but when you examine the demographic make-up of charter schools where students are as successful or more successful than their public school counterparts, the list of student characteristics quickly shrinks.

    In response to my comment about the purpose of unions, you said, “Anyway, that’s just it. It needs to be about the kids.” That’s not what teachers’ unions need or should be about, it would defeat the entire purpose of having a union. The union is for the protection of their members, the state and the parents are there for the good of the children (and I would also argue the individual rank and file membership of the union too).

    You indicated, “In many professions, if the professional doesn’t do a good job they don’t get hired.” And in many of those same professions, even if the professional is doing a good job they may still get fired. That is why there needs to be a union. Education is not a bottom line business, regardless of what those on the political right may think. In many instances for teachers to be able to do the right thing, it is often the unpopular thing. Why do you think grade inflation has become rampant within the K-12 system? The standard grade within education used to be a C, a C meant that you met the standard. That was likely the grading scale that was in existence when you went through school. But now the standard grade for doing the minimum requirements is an A. There are a variety of reasons why this has happened and you can’t blame it all one one, but one of those reasons is because parents have been putting pressure on the school system for their child to do well in school regardless of how their child actually performs. Social promotion is another example of a policy that is put in place largely because of pressures by parents. These are examples of times when the union, and its members could have – as professionals – stepped in and drew a line in the sand and said “No more.” The problem is that teachers’ unions have been so vilified by those on the political right that even when they are in a position of moral right and thinking of the best interest of the students (and incidentally in these cases their own members), they choose not to suit up for these battles. While I realize that this is straying from the exact topic a bit, it is another example of how certain decisions in education – often in the best interest of the student – are not popular and bottomline, business-like thinking that often occurs in charter school education would put the teacher making those decisions in jeopardy of doing their job, doing a good job, and still being fired without the protection of a union.

    Comment by mkbnl — June 20, 2009 @ 7:35 am | Reply

  8. mkbnl – that is downright wrong. That is what was feared – that most students going to charters would be the white upperclass. History has proved that wrong. You haven’t seen any stats for a while. I’m not goin to argue all your points. I think I will let the facts do that.
    I chose some of the very newest data, so this the best picture of the facts here an now. Not that I couldn’t have cited other studies from the past. They basically say the same things – charters invite MORE minorities and the disadvantaged. Anyway, here is a new study by RAND:

    As far as unions helping our kids, here is a new Wall Street Journal’s review of this book, Liberating Learning,( )to see how teacher unions have helped us.

    Comment by Ryan — June 20, 2009 @ 9:00 am | Reply

  9. Interesting you mention the RAND study, as it provided some convincing evidence that students in cyber charter schools did not do as well as students in traditional public schools (see my entry on Cyber Charter School Research). In a report for the National Association of Public Charter Schools, it was reported that based on the published research about three to four out of every ten students had smaller gains in mathematics and English (see my entry on Selective Conclusions About Charters). Finally, in a report released this week, about one third of charter school students would have been better served if they had stayed in the traditional public school system (see my entry from yesterday on CREDO National Charter School Study).

    Now, I indicated that charter school supporters liked to track out the diversity statistics whenever someone mentioned that the whole school choice movement is a way for more affluent, White, conservatives to circumvent the public school system (and I would even go as far as saying the separation of Church and State too). But what my question in the previous comment was related to, when you find 30%-40% of charter school students doing worse than they would if they were in a traditional public school, I want to know which students are in that 30% to 40%? Is it the diverse student population that you speak of? Or are charter schools still failing that diverse population and only the children of the more affluent, White, and conservative parents fall into the 60% to 70% that aren’t being failed by charter schools?

    The Wall Street Journal has a negative position on teachers’ unions? Stop the presses. The next thing you’ll tell me is that Fox News doesn’t like them either. Then hell will have truly frozen over!

    Comment by mkbnl — June 20, 2009 @ 10:52 am | Reply

  10. […] Listened to the two presenters, one of the things that struck me was listening to the parent (i.e., the woman in red) she talked about how the teacher worked with her, so that she could work with her son.  Again, I continue to question an educational model which requires parental involvement.  If a brick-and-mortar teacher could REQUIRE the parent to provide a substantial amount of their child’s instruction brick-and-mortar schools would be very different beasts than they are today.  And going back to funding, if a cyber charter school can require the parent to provide instructional responsibilities should the government be paying the school the same per pupil funding when the school, through its teachers, aren’t doing an equitable amount of work as the brick-and-mortar system.  I also noticed the digs against the unions being against school choice and the unions being the ones preventing children from getting a quality education (something we’ve discussed before here, see Unionized Cyber Charter School). […]

    Pingback by School Choice And Cyber School Lobbying in Oregon « Virtual High School Meanderings — July 17, 2009 @ 7:20 pm | Reply

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