A new proposed rule change by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced last week would prohibit employers from requiring workers to sign “noncompete agreements”— where an employer blocks an employee from working for a competing employer, or starting a competing business, after the worker’s employment ends. The proposal would also require that employers rescind existing noncompete clauses.
“The freedom to change jobs is core to economic liberty and to a competitive, thriving economy,” FTC Chair Lina Khan said in a statement. “Noncompetes block workers from freely switching jobs, depriving them of higher wages and better working conditions, and depriving businesses of a talent pool that they need to build and expand.”
But noncompetes are pretty rare, and mostly for the top folks at a company right? Not anymore. According to the FTC, approximately 30 million workers work under these agreements, from top management to low-paying jobs including janitors, dog walkers, and sandwich makers at Jimmy Johns franchises (which ended the practice in 2016 after being sued).
Many people don’t know that noncompete agreements also hurt children. Some charter school teachers are required to sign noncompete and even non-disclosure agreements that prevent them from sharing ideas, curriculum, and even lesson plans with other schools.
Charter schools were supposed to be “incubators of innovation” where teachers, parents, and students can come up with new teaching ideas that can be shared with all schools.
As American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten wrote, “Charter schools were originally intended to be vehicles for experimentation and collaboration, not walled gardens within our education system.”
That’s how it started; how it’s going is something quite different.
Under a “market model,” charters act as businesses, competing with other schools—district and charter—for students and the public funds that come with them.
Instead of sharing successes and failures, a surprising number of charter schools tend to lock down the laboratory—partly by locking down their employees. I wrote about this in my book, The Privatization of Everything.
In Ohio, Summit Academy Schools brought punishing lawsuits against 50 of their former teachers in just three years, all because they found better jobs.
The Covenant Keepers Charter School in Little Rock, Arkansas, which had been placed on state probation in 2012 for finances and received an “academic distress” designation in 2014, held its teachers under threat of $100,000 for damages, “plus court costs, litigation expenses, and actual and reasonable attorneys’ fees” if they dared disclose trade secrets or went to work “in competition” with Covenant Keepers.
Teachers at the Ozark Montessori Academy faced noncompete clauses extending two years from the time they quit and covering “any area in which Employer plans to solicit or conduct business.”
The Jubilee Academic Center Inc. charter school’s 2014 employee handbook requires all teachers to sign a nondisclosure agreement and makes sure they understand that they will face legal action if they reveal Jubilee’s “trade secrets.” What are these trade secrets? They included but were not limited to “curriculum systems, instructional programs, curriculum solutions . . . new materials research, pending projects and proposals, proprietary production processes, research and development strategies, technological data, and technological prototypes.”
Those are just a few examples of how noncompete and non-disclosure agreements stifle collaboration and innovation in public education.
Last year, AFT’s Randi Weingarten called for the end of noncompete and non-disclosure agreements for charter school teachers, stating the clauses are ”obvious barriers to the U.S. Department of Education’s proposed priority of fostering district-charter collaboration.”
Here’s a link to submit your own comments to support a strong new FTC regulation that outlaws non-compete agreements for charter school teachers and millions of other workers.
It’s worth noting that sharing successful lessons is, for most teachers, second nature. The idea that they must hide their ideas from “competitors” is completely alien to them. They swap advice and lesson plans across the table in the teachers’ lounge and across the country on the internet, including robust portals run by the National Education Association (the Professional Excellence for Members, from Members section) and the American Federation of Teachers (the member-created resources at Share My Lesson).
These ideas for programs and lesson plans are available to all—including charter school teachers and administrators – as they should be! Public education is for every child, so teachers need to be free to explore and share and even switch jobs without worrying about getting sued.
Photo by Sarae