I'm rarely cheerful these days about matters that relate to schooling in America. But the decision by teachers at a KIPP NYC school to join the United Federation of Teachers, joining two other KIPP schools where the teachers are already union members, lifted my spirits. As the favorite flavor of school reform these days, KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) is perhaps the fastest-growing charter school network in the country. The organization of KIPP, which some schools are resisting, suggests that even those teachers attracted to "boot camp" reforms can see that America's young people shouldn't be in the hands of Ivy League volunteers who dedicate a few years "in passing" to education. Precisely out of loyalty to their students and to KIPP, some have begun to see teaching as a lifetime commitment that requires teachers' voices to be heard. A young KIPP teacher told me that he and his colleagues were looking to revise some aspects of the KIPP model as they became more experienced.
The organization of KIPP teachers refutes those who relentlessly and falsely suggest that unionism is a crutch only for weak teachers, or that without collective bargaining we'd easily produce good schooling for one and all. In some fifteen Southern states, teachers are denied the right to collective bargaining--and those states are among the lowest educational performers in the nation. What these KIPP teachers are telling us is that the best schools, regardless of their pedagogical philosophies, are those in which powerful and unafraid adults join the young to create powerful and unafraid schools.