Back in 2005, then-United Federation of Teachers (UFT) President Randi Weingarten, now president of the national American Federation of Teachers (AFT), opened a (unionized) charter school in Brooklyn. She stated its purpose: “Our schools will 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.”
Ten years later, the poor performance of the UFT charter school—one of the worst-rated in the city—suggests that the notion of union roadblocks to success wasn’t so “misguided and simplistic” after all.
The UFT’s K-8 charter school announced this week that it is closing. That isn’t necessarily bad for the students: A review by the State University of New York Charter Institute, which sponsored the UFT’s charter application, found that the school had “poor” educational outcomes in the middle school grades.
This poor grade wasn’t a fluke: The school had done poorly on previous city reviews. Chalkbeat reported in 2012:
But seven years into its existence, the nation’s first union-run school is one of the lowest-performing schools in the city. Fewer than a third of students are reading on grade level, and the math proficiency rate among eighth-graders is less than half the city average.
On the school’s most recent progress report, released last week, the [NYC] Department of Education gave it a D and ranked it even lower than one of its co-located neighbors, J.H.S. 166, which the city tried to close last year and now has shortlisted again for possible closure.
There’s an important lesson here: Just calling a school a “charter school” doesn’t mean that it comes with the benefits charter advocates hope for. For real gains to be made, charter schools need the advantages in flexibility and competition they have over traditional district schools—advantages opposed by teachers unions. To the extent charter schools allow principals and administrators to engage in flexible decision making—including flexible decision making in human resources policy forbidden by union contracts—they are an improvement on traditional district schools. But as the AFT and the other national teachers union engage in campaigns to unionize the mostly union-free sector, charter advocates may shortly see that a crucial element to school success is keeping Randi and her minions away.