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Be Nice??

benicecookieThat’s what the union wants KIPP to be – Nice. In the opinion of the American Federation of Teachers, “nice” means giving them what they want, regardless of whether it’s good for kids. Through its NYC affiliate, the AFT has launched a campaign to pressure the leadership of KIPP AMP Academy‘s Brooklyn campus to accept the union as the leader of its teachers. KIPP hasn’t moved to recognize the union, so its leaders are striking back.

Be Nice, they say in a new PR campaign. It’s a clever turn of phrase on the motto of the Knowledge is Power Program, the nationwide network that has re-educated thousands of children nationwide who had been failed miserably by conventional public schools. But they are missing something. “Work Hard” is how the motto begins. “Work Hard, Be Nice.” The two phrases go together. Deliberately. That’s what the teachers who now want a break signed up to do – Work Hard. We wonder -is it nice to take a job in a school that you know requires long hours and arduous work, and then go behind the backs of your leadership and fellow teachers and ask a militant national union to come in and rob children of the first opportunity they’ve ever had to learn?

As in most of the charter schools that came before and since KIPP, success comes precisely because of their independence from onerous contracts and the flexibility afforded by the charter to be able to design programs without top down interference. KIPP sets an ambitious path for staff and students – 7:30 to 5:30 every weekday, Saturday work and summer requirements. That’s one key reason their students perform exceptionally well, despite their disadvantages, the same disadvantages that other public schools blame for their own students’ failure.

“Work Hard”? Those teachers who wanted the union have complained to the newspapers that they are working long hours, and that their complaints go unaddressed. They’ve convinced colleagues to seek unionization, but must have forgotten that they chose to work at KIPP. They weren’t assigned there, as happens to so many union teachers in the conventional system. They got on board voluntarily. They could pick from thousands of NY schools that have traditional days/rules/requirements and unions. But they didn’t. They chose KIPP, and so maybe they should choose to leave KIPP, rather than seek to make KIPP like too many other public schools that do everything the same, and fail as a result.

In charter schools that succeed, the adults are focused not on themselves, but on what they can do better – constantly – to meet their performance goals. Unlike the status quo they left, the adults have agreed that student achievement is the reason for schools. That alone should be the driving concern for all complaints. It’s what has made most teachers love being in charters. But they are not for everyone. Clearly.

The teachers unions have been attempting to get their foot in the door in any state where collective bargaining is optional. It’s important to recall that not one charter bill in any state had the support of the unions when it was passed, unless it included their requirements for unionization. A few deals have been struck to ward off their opposition over time, like the rule in New York that says any school that starts with over 250 students is automatically part of the union. Most charters therefore, start with fewer, on purpose. The response by the union is to scatter loyal unionists in charters – to whip up discontent and cause suspicion where there may have been none. Honest people can begin to believe the worst about someone unless they remind themselves about the best.

And so they seek to cajole and convince others that KIPP doesn’t respect its teachers, and launch a campaign to encourage all charter teachers to write KIPP and encourage them to “Be Nice”. How about the kids? Is it nice to change the environment in which students are learning by creating dissension among teachers?   Where is the “Work Hard” part? That seems to be the part that some of the teachers at KIPP didn’t like, and that resulted in their demand for uniformity and protection through a union contract. Is that nice? Nope. That’s called selfish.

As the founder of the union running the Be Nice campaign once said, ”When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children.” That’s the reality everyone needs to understand. This is about dues, not kids. And that’s the part that’s not nice.