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Green Dot's Barr: Unions Part of Solution

With contract talks between the District and the Washington Teachers' Union closing in on their second anniversary this fall, it's interesting to listen to Green Dot charter schools founder Steve Barr discuss his reasons for using unionized teachers in his attempted turnaround of L.A.'s Locke High School.

Barr, who has had preliminary talks with Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee about partnering to fix one of D.C.'s struggling high schools--he toured a few, including Eastern, earlier this summer--also has a contract with New York City's United Federation of Teachers for the charter school Green Dot opened in the Bronx last year.

He tells WAMU's Kavitha Cardoza that unions have been an essential piece of the puzzle. Not quite the tune that D.C. teachers hear from Fenty-Rhee.

"I don't think you can create systemic change in public education with non-union labor, and that worked for us," said Barr, who chopped the mammoth Locke into seven separate schools to get handle on the dysfunction.

"I think you have to figure out instead of fighting them all the time, is there seventy-five percent of this issue we all agree on? I think yes. I think teachers want small schools, with high expectations and clear vision...And I think they want to be accountable."

Barr said he became a union supporter after watching his mother, an uninsured waitress and sole supporter of his family, humiliated when she dealt with the health care system. "It really staggers you and never leaves your psyche," he said. "I've seen what happens to working people when they don't have protections and they don't have somebody fighting for them."

On the other hand, Barr said, he also understands "the overreaching and how unions have lost their way."

And why try to come to the District? Barr is a little more elusive here, talking about D.C. as "a place where you can find some political alignment." The most likely translation is that he can make a bigger splash here than in L.A. or the Bronx. What he's trying to determine is whether there is "an opportunity this city to create a turnaround with community buy-in and teachers pulling alongside of us and make that a national model?"

Cardoza doesn't ask Barr how he plans to make that vision work in a place labor-management relations have been beyond sour. Barr said that, for the moment, he is merely listening to all sides.

You can listen to the interview here
And here's a link to a New Yorker piece on Green Dot in Los Angeles.


Bill Turque

By Bill Turque  |  September 8, 2009; 1:27 PM ET
Categories:  Bill Turque , Education  
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Comments

With that philosophy, working with Rhee/Fenty would have it's challenges for sure.

Posted by: candycane1 | September 8, 2009 2:38 PM | Report abuse

I don't know I might take that back. You want to come here to create a national model? DC has had enough of the grandstanding and creating a national reputation for yourself on the backs of the DC workforce. After Rhee's natonal tour, those words hit a sensitive spot. What have you done that's proven to be successful? What were the results and where are the stats to substantiate the claim?

Posted by: candycane1 | September 8, 2009 3:06 PM | Report abuse

Here's a link to the entire New Yorker article http://www.newamerica.net/publications/articles/2009/instigator_13230

And here's the last bit of the WAMU interview: "So, what I’m working on and trying to piece together -- is there an opportunity in this city to create a turn-around, with a community buy-in, and teachers pulling alongside of us, and make that the national model for the turn-around theme. That’s what I’m trying to piece together and I’m not sure yet. I’m still listening. I mean what I’m trying to do right now is just listen."

And here's my suggestion to Steve Barr: Listen carefully to the people, not just Fenty/Rhee. Read the comments sections of articles here on Rhee and Fenty to see how disrespectful and dishonest they are and how distrustful the people are. Anyone coming in here has a huge job rebuilding trust after the destruction and disarray they've wreaked on the city.

Posted by: efavorite | September 9, 2009 9:59 AM | Report abuse

uh-oh - Red flags flying. Barr talks about "research and development" all the time, but never shows that he’s done any. Shades of Michelle Rhee and the importance of being “Data-Driven”

Google to see what I mean.

Didn’t see it on his website either http://www.greendot.org/

The website does say that teachers are held accountable for student performance, based on test scores, so I fear the possibility of cheating there or rapid teacher turnover (also noted) that keeps salaries low – even though they start high. Also, mention of a “professional” work day not counted in minutes implies that teachers can be worked until they drop, for fear of losing their jobs for a nebulous “just cause” offered by the union contract, in place of tenure

Before getting too serious about this, let’s see some stats on teachers who are let go and who leave on their own.

Posted by: efavorite | September 9, 2009 1:05 PM | Report abuse

Efavorite, somewhere in my reading I remember them claiming that they some great approach to improving student discipline which is why they have been courted. I can't quite remember where I read it but they also said they have no evidence to validate their approaches. Sorry for the faulty memory today.

Posted by: candycane1 | September 9, 2009 1:40 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, typos,-that they have some great approach to student discipline.

Posted by: candycane1 | September 9, 2009 1:42 PM | Report abuse

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