One of the evergreen arguments in favor of modern charters is that they will be laboratories of innovation. Freed from the constraints of the public school system, charters will whip up brand new educational approaches, pedagogical discoveries that somehow nobody has ever whipped up before. Once they have freed the edu-genii, they will then unleash these cool new ideas on the whole education world, and all schools will work better because the charters were allowed to figure out brilliant new techniques that the public schools could not.
That's how it's sold. But that's not how it works.
First, charters have displayed no special ability to think of brand new educational ideas that nobody has ever thought of before. Longer day, longer year, only teach the kids that are easy to teach-- none of these are new ideas. Pay teachers less and give them no say in how the school is run-- also not new ideas, but also not particularly good ones, either.
But even if charters are whipping up new edu-concepts, that doesn't mean they want to share. The modern charter is born of corporate culture, and one basic principle of corporate culture is that Ford does not send its best ideas over to Chrysler management.
No, in the corporate world many contracts come with strict non-competition clauses. So it should be no surprise to find the same thing going on in the charter world. In fact, it should be no surprise to discover that charters want to straightjacket their teachers as much as possible.
Meet Mike Kowalski.
Mike Kowalski was a teacher for the Mystic Valley Regional Charter School. Like most charters, MVRCS has no union and hires teachers for just a year at a time ("at will" meaning "at the will of the bosses"). They also offer lousy wages, and their teachers have no real power or say in the school. So how do they keep teachers from jumping ship at the first available opportunity to get a real job?
Easy. They require teachers make a contractual commitment in April for the following fall. And if the teachers take another job, the school sues them for breach of contract.
Kowalski signed his contract in April, was offered a job weeks later. His replacement was quickly hired and Kowalski actually trained him.
And the school still demanded that Kowalski pay them over $6,000.
Kowalski ended up talking to a Massachusetts Teachers Association lawyer, who found even more astonishing contents in the MVRCS-- a non-competition clause that forbid Mystic Valley teachers from working for any of the sending districts. In other words, this laboratory of innovation was specifically forbidding its employees from sharing anything they discovered or developed. The Massachusetts notion that charters are meant to "stimulate the development of innovative programs within schools" is not only being ignored, but is being expressly thwarted, specifically forbidden.
The non-compete clause makes perfect sense if you think that a charter school is a private business run on proprietary secrets. This is one more reason that these modern charters are in no way, shape or form public schools.
This also highlights the hypocrisy behind the charter choice arguments. Choice is great-- when it's the choice they like. The free market is great-- as long as it's serving them. But when it comes to staff, charters like Mystic Valley have taken steps to avoid any kind of market forces to come into play. Rather than compete for teachers by offering attractive employment terms, Mystic Valley tries to make sure that their teachers have no choice at all, to force them to stay by coercion and extortion.
In the corporate charter world, teachers should be easily-replaced widgets who get no choice in their working conditions, no choice in whether to stay or go, no choice in who they can talk to professionally.