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Former teachers union president reveals why he went from fighting against charter schools to promoting them: 'They're bad for unions, not for kids'
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Former teachers union president reveals why he went from fighting against charter schools to promoting them: 'They're bad for unions, not for kids'

It's no secret that teachers unions are strident opponents of charter schools — despite the fact that charter schools are simply independently operated public schools.

Charters are a form of school choice that the unions fear will one day lead to education vouchers, which will allow students to receive government dollars to escape the many failing public schools that unions have so long dominated. The schools also have the freedom to create classrooms that meet students' needs and hire non-union employees.

Now a former teachers union president is explaining why he went from fighting against charter schools to advocating for them.

What did he say?

George Parker spent 30 years as a math teacher in low-performing schools in Washington, D.C., and then six years as president of the Washington Teachers' Union. A onetime opponent of charter schools, he's now a senior adviser at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

In a new op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Parker explained why he made such a dramatic transition: Despite claims by the unions that charter schools are unaccountable impediments to kids' educations, he finally realized that charters were not a threat to students but to unions.

"Too many teachers oppose them because they're bad for unions, not kids," the subtitle on Parker's article declared.

Parker began with a memory of telling a group of children that he was focused on making "sure their teachers had what they needed to do their jobs" and "to help them become the best teachers they could be.

"But I knew that wasn't always the case," he lamented, adding:

Like many union leaders, I had relentlessly negotiated contracts that protected not only teachers' rights, but their wrongs. As I drove home, I thought about the $10,000 my union had spent to keep a poorly performing teacher in the classroom—not because she deserved another chance, but because of a technicality.

After three decades as a teacher in D.C.'s lousy public schools, he said it was "natural to become an advocate for the profession."

But after a few years, he realized a problem: "Somewhere along the way I became more of a union leader than an educational leader."

It's time to do what's best for the kids, not unions

Now, with the pandemic coming to an end and millions of children across the country having been locked out of their schools for an entire year, it's time unions understand "the need to be nimble, to serve the needs of children and families where they are."

"We will fail our children and our teachers if we return to a pre-pandemic educational system," Parker wrote. "Unfortunately, many teacher unions want to limit access to quality education for underserved kids."

It's time to do what's best for the kids, not what's best for the unions, he added.

"I used to oppose charter schools, not because they were bad for kids, but because they were bad for unions," Parker said. "Some call it a binary choice: You either support teachers unions or you support charter schools. Nowadays I disagree. ... I'm still a union member. But I now work on behalf of charter schools."

More from Parker:

Charter schools are also public schools. All of them. They provide more than three million students, mostly black and Hispanic, access to a quality public education. They are innovative and student-centered. They break down barriers that have kept families of color from the educational opportunities they deserve. Another two million children would attend charter schools if there were space for them. How could I work against these kids?

All too often charter critics get caught up denigrating “the system" and forget the duty to do whatever it takes to provide all children with access to high-quality public schools, no matter their race, ethnicity or ZIP Code.

Parker closes with a warning: Charter schools are leading the way for great options for our kids, and "[I]f anyone says differently, keep in mind the messenger."

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