Charter Schools

Mass. Teacher's Union Snubs First Charter School Teacher of the Year

Sydney Chaffee was the first charter school teacher to win the national honor.


This year Sydney Chaffee, a humanities teacher at Codman Academy, became the first charter school employee to win National Teacher of the Year, one of her profession's highest honors. This displeased the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA), which just voted down a motion to commend their fellow Massachusetts teacher.

The motion to honor her was proposed by a retired public school teacher, Peter Mili, who insists his desire to see Chaffee honored was not about supporting charter schools. (Mili opposed a failed ballot initiative that would've expanded Massachusetts' charter schools.) "I was disappointed that, as an organization of educators, we couldn't for the moment put aside the charter school issue and national politics and just recognize this individual for her accomplishments and her work with children," Mili told CommonWealth magazine.

Mili seems to have fallen for a common line advanced by teachers unions: that their organizations put children first. In fact, teachers unions put their members first. That is the point of unions. And while there's certainly nothing wrong with looking out for your own interests, it gets dangerous in the public sector, where government agencies don't face the kind of competitive pressures that theoretically keep private unions from making demands that would drive their employers out of business. Government officials are also often captured by public sector unions, and thus do not represent the public's interest very vigorously when negotiating with the unions' representatives. The result is rules that protect bad actors by design.

The "children's first" mantra is an attempt to cloak such agendas in the rhetoric of the greater good. When the MTA voted down the motion to honor Chaffee, they inadvertently exposed the duplicity.

Charter schools have grown tremendously since the first one opened in Minnesota in 1991, as parents, especially in underperforming and mismanaged urban school districts, have embraced school choice as a way to improve their children's education. That growth continues: Last week two school choice advocates won school-board seats in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest school district in the country. Teachers unions are losing the long war over parental choice. Petty moves like the MTA's only re-inforce that development.