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Looking For Common Ground: Charter Schools In New York

Regular readers of Edwize know that on a number of occasions [here, here, here and here] we have taken note of the willingness of Randi Weingarten and the UFT to support raising the cap on charter schools in New York City, provided that such a measure was accompanied by a guarantee of the labor rights of teachers and other staff in those schools.

For the UFT, the issue is quite simple. We are prepared to work with anyone who wants to create good public schools, especially in high poverty communities where they are so important. That work is central to our mission. At the same time, we will resist efforts to transform the charter school movement into a vehicle for creating parallel, non-union public school systems where teachers are denied voice and the democratic right to organize a union. These two issues are closely intertwined. Experience has taught us that the best schools are collaborative ventures, where all educators have a voice in important decisions and a stake in the achievement of students. By protecting the labor rights of teachers and other staff and advocating for teacher voice, we are fighting for the schools that work best for kids.

That is why we can support raising the cap on charter school, provided that it is done in a way consistent with teacher voice and professionalism, and with the right to organize a union that is recognized in the Bill of Rights of the New York State Constitution.

And that is why we can not support Governor Pataki’s proposals to allow virtually any not-for-profit corporation to authorize charter schools, and to give the NYC Chancellor the power to authorize charter schools on his own. Quality authorizing is indispensable in creating quality charter schools, but there are few authorizing institutions that have done their work consistently well. One entity that has dependably performed well, SUNY’s Charter School Institute, is one of the two New York authorizers. Why should New York ‘fix what ain’t broke,’ and move to the type of free for all arrangement that has proved so disastrous in Ohio? And why give that power to the Chancellor, given his less than sterling record of starting new schools within the Department of Education? Indeed, since the Chancellor can start as many new schools as he likes within the Department of Education, and since he can exempt every New York City public school from the rules and regulations of the bureaucracy, why does he need the authority to authorize any charter schools? Shouldn’t New York City charter schools be independent of the school district?

And that is also why we can not support Governor Pataki’s proposals to give the NYC Chancellor the legal authority to by-pass parental input in converting district schools into charter schools. Quality schools provide for parental, as well as educator, voice. It is also essential that there be a transparent process, with advance community notice and full input, for the placement of charter schools within New York City public school buildings.

There have been blogosphere reports [here and here] that Randi Weingarten and others from the UFT met with a number of charter school advocates last Friday. This meeting did take place, and the conversation was forthright and productive. For the UFT’s part, the purpose of entering into that dialogue was to see if we could find common ground, consistent with the core principles of both sides, which would allow us to move the New York charter school movement forward in a positive direction. We will continue to engage in dialogue with charter school advocates of good will in search of that common ground.



  • 1 NYC Educator
    · May 15, 2006 at 5:23 pm

    I work in a trailer behind a building at 250% capacity, and Unity is figuring out better ways to squeeze charters in school buildings.


  • 2 Public school mom
    · May 16, 2006 at 2:06 pm

    Has anyone talked to the Harlem charter school profiled on 60 minutes?

    If the UFT can organize them, more power to you. I still think it is a rip-off of public funds that would be better used reducing class size in public schools.

  • 3 curious3
    · May 16, 2006 at 4:43 pm

    I think all involved in this debate should visit the best charter schools to better understand the excitement surrounding them.

    As far as the Promise Academy (from the 60 Minutes episode), Geoffrey Canada (who runs the school) noted:

    “We could not run a school under the current rules and regulations with the unions. It’s impossible. It’s just impossible. You can’t fire teachers. Look, we fired three teachers last year. Ed, I will guarantee you we fired more teachers than the whole island of Manhattan in all the public schools,” says Canada. “Now that’s crazy. You come in, you teach. The kids all fail. You get to go home at three, and you get summers off. Now what kinda job is that?” he asks.


  • 4 curious3
    · May 17, 2006 at 12:12 pm


    To be clear, would you support leaving the charter law exactly as it is now but lifting the cap from 100 to some larger number?

    You discuss your objections to Pataki’s proposed structural changes, but many charter proponents would be happy with the current law but with a higher cap. Would this be OK with you?


  • 5 Majikthise
    · Jun 28, 2006 at 11:34 am

    New York charter school teacher fired for organizing…

    Nichole Byrne Lau, a New York City charter school teacher, has been fired for trying to organize her colleagues. In May, Ms. Lau received a glowing performance report stating that her students were “lucky to have her as a teacher.”…