Tuesday, March 3, 2015

UFT Charter School Disaster Will Continue to Undermine the Battle for Public Education

This disaster will echo for years to come. They handed the charter lobby the A-bomb. I have constantly called on the union to close down that school. You know what a UFT employee told me a few months ago -- "That was Randi's mistake." What crap. I ask every one who knows someone in Unity to hold them accountable for their support for this instead of saying, "Oh, Randi is old news. Mulgrew is different."

And while the children will be going to the better performing district 19 schools now, what of the teachers? Do they become ATRs like teachers at other closing schools if they can't get a job on the open market? Or will the UFT give them favorable treatment and work behind the scenes to get them placed, so unlike their turning their backs on the entire ATR community? This one bears watching.

UFT/Unity Caucus members should walk around with bags over their heads.

The UFT charter experiment was a big success - for the charter school lobby and their co-locations helped undermine the public schools just as any charter has done. Just the very idea of a charter was wrong but to actually not go find a building not in a public school made this a double disaster.
The school’s dismal experience neatly contradicts much of the union’s overheated rhetoric about the supposed ills and evils of charter schools... Errol Lewis
Hell yes. Just how much does it contradict the rhetoric? Let us count the ways.
That’s a far cry from the promises made in 2005 by the UFT’s then-president, Randi Weingarten. “Our charter schools will be leaders in scholastic innovation and the perfect environment for the UFT to demonstrate that its educational priorities work,” Weingarten said in a statement announcing a $1 million grant from the Broad Foundation to help launch the school.
Wait, let me get this straight. The leading charter proponent in the world - the BROAD FOUNDATION -- knowing the outcomes of the union experiment will help his cause, brilliantly invests a pittance for him to undermine the union position for all time.

We posted about the charter school over the weekend (UFT Closes Charter: UFT Charter Created Wrecked Co...) 

Errol Lewis in the Daily News has an interesting piece (Why the UFT’s charter school flunked) pointing to just how much more of a disaster this will continue to turn out to be.
The school’s dismal experience neatly contradicts much of the union’s overheated rhetoric about the supposed ills and evils of charter schools. The announcement came on Friday afternoon — a time that savvy political players often choose to dump bad news, in hopes that the focus of news organizations and the public might drift away over the weekend. 
One of the questions I asked Aminda Gentile at the UFT charter info event over a decade ago was whether they would offer a different, progressive curriculum instead of playing the test score game and her answer was that given the evaluation rules they must go along -- they should have walked away right there -- after all -- my original pro-charter idea in the late 90s was based on offering a rich learning environment free of the testing culture. Once I realized that that concept would not work within the context of our schools I gave up the idea. So when the UFT failure is measured by test scores alone but still ....
Start with the 670 children cast adrift by the closure. Most will be reassigned to other schools in District 19, some after spending years in a school consistently rated in the bottom ranks of academic performance citywide.
In 2013, only 4% of the school’s eighth-graders ranked as proficient on math exams - the third worst performance of any charter school — compared with 29.6% for district schools citywide, according to the New York City Charter School Center. In English, the school came in dead last among city charters, with only 3% of the kids ranked as proficient.
While students in the school’s upper grades have done much better, the lower grades had worse numbers than its home District 19.
WTF - they didn't even do better than District 19, one of the poorest in the city. And then there is this:
The poor performance can’t be blamed on a high percentage of special-education or English Language Learner students. As the Daily News reported in 2010, only 9% of the school’s students were in special education (compared with 13% for District 19) and only 1% were English Language Learners (compared with 14% for the district).
You mean they were pulling an Eva Moskowitz all along?

And then this:
Staff and management clashed repeatedly over everything from a scarcity of school supplies to a shocking finding that corporal punishment had been used 10 times.
Actually, only 10 times in 10 years compared to who know what goes on in most charters. But still....

Here is another damaging point that undermines the union positions on so many other issues:
The UFT’s swipe at the Bloomberg administration for promoting inexperienced school leaders finds an echo in the UFT’s under-prepared, hand-picked principals.
Weingarten’s first choice to lead the elementary school was a union staffer who had never run a school before; she resigned within three years. Ditto for an upper school principal who also had never run a school (and who also resigned after three years).
Ultimately, the school had five principals in seven years, and the chaos helped doom the institution.
“When you have leaders coming in and out, they’re not able to really get their vision across. It certainly impacted our school,” is how the situation was described to the education website Chalkbeat by Sheila Evans-Tranumn, an ex-education official hired to oversee the charter.
We do think that Michelle Bodden did stabilize the elementary school, but there was the disaster of the middle school which was moved out of Gershwin MS and into another building. (I have to find those video tapes I have of those hearings.)
 the debacle should be studied closely, and remembered the next time union officials denigrate the contributions of charter schools. All of this is worth keeping in mind as the union gears up its perennial attacks on charter schools as part of some sinister scheme to undermine public education. Many of the union’s frequently-used attacks on charters look different when applied to their own experiment. There were no “hedge fund billionaires” who did the damage here. Nor was it hard-driving educational pioneers of rival charter schools who mismanaged the UFT’s school.
Billionaire Eli Broad did plenty of damage with his investment.


  1. Norm, first, a wonderful and joyous birthday to you.

    I wonder, though, whether you make a bit too much of the long-term nature of the fiasco of the UFT charter school closing. I see it as a grievously mistaken application of the Kahlenberg/Shanker idea that charter schools could be organized with a "thin-contract" but still be unionized and provide "lessons" for public schools. By 2004, that concept of charterdom had been so obliterated that Weingarten simply wanted to prove she and UNITY could do things better than charter management companies.

    Unfortunately for all of us, as soon as the UFT set the thing up she promptly forgot about it. Weingrew let it fall into the black hole of poor administration and rotating teacher assignments--proving only that they cannot run a school any better than they can run a union. I may be a bit too sanguine about the entire thing but I believe the UFT has taken a well-deserved hit, will recoil for a few more days and then the whole damned, misbegotten thing will sink forever below the water.

    If I'm wrong, I'll buy you lunch with two rice puddings at the Skylight.

    1. Thanks Harry. Actually, in 2004 charters in NYC were barely on the radar. Let me take the UFT flirtation with charters back a step when I was the only one in the union arguing for charters as a way to take over the corrupt district schools. Randi asked me around 1998-9 to hold off on my push and I agreed. She then formed a UFT charter committee chaired by Bodden and invited me to join - which I did. We had about 2 meetings -- the idea was a partnership with CCNY -- they eventually- wisely - pulled out. I objected to the concept since my idea was bottom-up --- let teachers who wanted out of rigid district schools would get assistance from the UFT to organize charters. I told Randi at a DA that there were so many badly run schools we would never have change unless we took an active role. She said I was right and then started to say "how can we trust t.... " she stopped in the middle of the word "teachers." Now, seeing some of the people out there, often in her own caucus, maybe she was right.


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