Charter and Autonomous Schools

The AFT Innovation Fund is investing in charter school projects that adhere to the original vision for these schools as laboratories of teacher-led change and innovation. We’re getting new charter schools off the ground in Texas and serving as a state-approved authorizer of high-quality charter schools in Minnesota.

Education Austin (TX), 2010

Summary: Education Austin has teaming up with Austin Interfaith to identify a school that wants to convert to “in-district” charter status. This site will be the first in the Austin school district. Through a structured process designed by the union and Austin Interfaith, parents, educators and community members are making decisions on curriculum, assessment, staffing issues and school hours. This work will culminate in a neighborhood vote this fall to approve the plan and place it before the Austin school board for approval.

Intended Outcomes:

  1. To organize parents, teachers, district personnel and members of the community to identify unmet needs in the community and in the schools.
  2. To convert a school to “in-district” charter status so teachers, parents and staff have a greater voice in determining curriculum and measuring student success.
  3. To demonstrate that working respectfully with educators and the community is a better way to bring about educational change than contracting with outside providers to run schools.

Illinois Federation of Teachers (IL), 2009

Summary: The IFT has supported the Chicago Talent Development High School over three years by negotiating a model contract for the charter school educators, using interest-based bargaining. The union also has helped to ensure that the innovative evaluation and development framework in the contract has been fully implemented and has supported teacher learning and professional development to help this new school establish a stable corps of teachers.

Intended Outcomes:

  1. For teachers with their union and administrators to develop a model charter school contract.
  2. To create a salary scale based on expertise and merit, as opposed to being strictly seniority-driven.
  3. To demonstrate that teacher voice and unions are consistent with successful schools, regardless of whether they are charter or traditional schools.

Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MN), 2010

Summary: In its first year, MFT established a nonprofit affiliate that was approved by the state of Minnesota to authorize charter schools. This is a national first. The vision of the Minnesota Guild of Public Charter Schools is to put teachers at the forefront of schooling—which was the initial idea behind charter schools—and to ensure that they succeed by functioning as a high-quality authorizer. Further, the MFT plans to establish a chapter to represent teachers in charter schools who wish to join a union.

Intended Outcomes:

  1. Encourage teachers to apply to open schools under the Guild and screen applications carefully.
  2. Develop performance agreements/contracts for schools to be authorized.
  3. Create a system to monitor, assess and evaluate Guild schools consistent with the vision of a culture of professional practices.

San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel (TX), 2009

Summary: The San Antonio Alliance led an effort to open three “in-district charter schools” under a provision in Texas law. In addition, the Alliance has forged a partnership with the National Council of La Raza, an advocacy organization, to bring its parent-engagement training program, Padres Comprometidos (Committed Parents), to the city. The program is designed to educate parents in English and Spanish about child development and navigating the school system. Finally, the Alliance helped the new schools market themselves to the broader community in an effort to stem declining enrollment in the district.

Intended Outcomes:

  1. To encourage more San Antonio schools to seek in-district charter status to combat a decline in enrollment in the district.
  2. To help schools develop and carry out market plans to advertise their programs.
  3. To provide parents in San Antonio more information about child development and how they can be more involved in the school system.

United Teachers Los Angeles (CA), 2012

Summary: The union will design a training program to help teachers take advantage of the opportunities for school autonomy outlined in a groundbreaking “memorandum of understanding” recently signed by the union and the Los Angeles Unified School District. The training will equip teachers to collaborate on school plans seeking this autonomy, and will include training for school improvement teams to carry them out in a collaborative fashion. Over time, the union intends to create a network of autonomous schools that can serve as models for educators seeking more flexibility at their school sites. More than 450 schools in the district are eligible to become “local initiative schools” under this agreement, beginning in the 2013-14 school year.

Intended Outcomes:

  1. A robust, teacher-designed training program that can be shared across the district to help faculties craft and carry out these plans.
  2. Creation of a network of best-practices schools working under the autonomy provisions, which can provide examples and assistance to others in the district.