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.