December 5, 2011
Minnesota Approves Nation's First Union-Backed Organization
To Authorize Charter Schools
WASHINGTON—A non-profit organization created by the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers will be the nation’s first union-affiliated authorizer of charter schools, a bold and unprecedented opportunity for teachers to approve charters that provide an innovative educational program and a collaborative environment in which teachers’ input is encouraged.
There is a historic connection between the American Federation of Teachers and charter schools. The concept of charter schools was first proposed by former AFT President Albert Shanker in a landmark 1988 speech. Twenty three years later, the AFT Innovation Fund awarded grant support to MFT’s proposal, which has resulted in this groundbreaking effort to try to reclaim the promise of charter schools as incubators of educational innovation and teacher professionalism.
The MFT created the Minnesota Guild of Public Charter Schools in 2010. In November 2011, the Minnesota Department of Education approved the Guild’s application to become an authorizer of charter schools throughout the state.
“Public schools—regular or charter—if they succeed are both good for kids and fair to teachers. Charter schools were started as incubators, shaped by teachers’ judgment and expertise, but they’ve veered off course in too many cases. Being an authorizer will enable the Guild to select schools that have a strong academic program, support and develop teachers, and have a collaborative culture,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.
The Guild will issue charters—which spell out goals for schools and how they will meet them—for both new and existing charter schools in Minnesota. In turn, it will be responsible for overseeing the schools and ensuring they meet their targets for student achievement.
The nation’s first charter school law was passed in Minnesota in 1991. Recently, the state Department of Education became concerned about the quality of charter schools and tightened rules about which groups can serve as authorizers and how they must operate.
“The fact that the Minnesota Guild of Public Charter Schools cleared the state’s higher bar for charter authorizers makes this all the more significant,” Weingarten said.
Lynn Nordgren, president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, said the Guild will tap into teachers’ desire to create high-performing schools where they can work collaboratively as professionals.
“We want to authorize schools that rely on teacher expertise to identify and use effective teaching strategies, promote engaged student learning, create educational autonomy, ensure effective organization and develop shared management,” Nordgren said.
Since its creation in 2009, the AFT Innovation Fund has made a total of 20 investments in groundbreaking work across the nation, including opening teacher-designed charter schools, developing a national institute to nurture labor-management cooperation, and creating online professional networks to support teachers as their districts redesign evaluation and pay systems.
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The AFT represents 1.5 million pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; nurses and healthcare workers; and early childhood educators.