October 15 2012

Teachers Union Charter School Stalls

Vicki E. Alger

The United Federation of Teachers founded the UFT Charter School in Brooklyn is closing. Its mission statement says the school is:

…committed to closing the achievement gap and creating a school “built on democratic principles of respect, tolerance, and liberty so that students will also become practitioners of democracy and civic responsibility.” The school exemplifies the original vision of a charter school model as conceived by Albert Shanker, former UFT and AFT President.

In 1985, Shanker began advocating for greater public school choice to improve the likelihood of a good match between the interests of teachers and their students. As far as he was concerned, “every school should be a charter school.” (See p. 22)

Former UFT President Randi Randi Weingarten claimed back in 2005 when the school opened that it would be a leader “in scholastic innovation and the perfect environment for the UFT to demonstrate that its educational priorities work.” (See p. 1)

Specifically, Weingarten insisted that the UFT Charter School would “show real, quantifiable student achievement, and with those results, finally dispel the misguided and simplistic notion that the union contract is an impediment to success.” (See p. 2)

Well, the results are in. As the New York Post reported:

It’s no lesson in leadership. The city teacher union’s bid to show it could run a charter school as well as any non-unionized shop has blown up in its face, the latest school results show. Fewer than 10 percent of eighth-graders at The UFT Charter School in Brooklyn passed this year’s state English exams — the worst performance among charters citywide. Just 28 percent of the East New York school’s eighth-graders passed the most recent math exams — also a bottom-dwelling mark. Overall, the school earned a D grade on its city-issued report card last week — with a score that put it in the bottom 5 percent of all K-to-8 schools in the city. While the school’s elementary grades have improved a bit after early struggles, its upper grades have been plagued by questionable leadership — including a current principal who quit his Department of Education post because of sexual-harassment charges.

Charges included a former superintendent who urged an employee to engage in some seedy goings-on with parents—not exactly what the UFT Charter School’s mission statement meant when it said, “The school is also committed to encouraging parental involvement.” Whether the school is allowed to stay open won’t be decided until next year, but as the The Wall Street Journal noted:

James Merriman, former executive director of the Charter School Institute, said the bar should be set high for charter schools. Mr. Merriman is now CEO of the New York City Charter School Center, which advocates on behalf of charters. "It didn't matter whether you were on an upward trajectory. It didn't matter that you had brought in a new principal and a new team," Mr. Merriman said. "Our view was you should have been doing that all along. And if in year seven, you don't have a…good set of scores, well, you haven't done what you said you'd do, and in charter land, that means closure." …

The school is seen as part of Ms. Weingarten's legacy. Now the head of the American Federation of Teachers, Ms. Weingarten has been somewhat more willing than other labor leaders to work with charter-school proponents, although she remains a stalwart defender of collective bargaining.

 

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