I just want to register my objection to the post “Charter School Teachers and UFT ‘Spin’,” published on The Chalkboard blog of charter management, the New York Charter School Association. I am one of the charter school teachers who attended the UFT Delegate Assembly. I was honored to be there. Peter Murphy, NYCSA’s director of policy and communications, addresses me when he says, “A respectful suggestion to these charter school teachers: if you haven’t actually read this legislation, I suggest you do so before believing the UFT’s spin.” What he really suggests is that I am easily bamboozled, naïve and stupid. In fact, I have read both laws and also taken the time to read the op-eds in the New York Post and New York Daily News by Thomas Carroll, Peter Murphy, and James Merriman. They are the voices of charter school management, and they all spew the same anti-union message in whatever paper will give them a quarter of a page.
The fact of the matter is, you can believe in charter schools, work in charter schools, and be a proud teacher unionist. But, like too many people in management, these three would like to do away with any gains that unions have brought to working people and teachers over the years. It is not anti-student to want teacher retention and to believe that teaching can be a life-long career and not just a year or two “phase” prior to joining another profession.
A decade ago, I made a decision to enter the charter school sector. I wanted to be in an innovative, rigorous and well-rounded school where I could make a lasting impact. I have witnessed our small charter sector grow over the past decade into something very different than most would have predicted. The success of charter schools brings me great joy. I am a public school teacher, I root for the kids.
I was also at a press conference in January where the UFT released the report, “Separate and Unequal.” I believe in the findings of this report.
I am tired of buzz words entering a debate that has gotten far away from shaping the landscape of public education for the future. NYSCA should not “swift boat” the charter school teachers who stood with their union calling for reforms. The UFT’s suggested revisions to the charter school law did not have “a variety of poison pills that by design would be detrimental to charter schools,” as Murphy says. In contrast, it aimed to strengthen public education as a whole. I firmly believe that for our sector to grow stronger, we need to educate a proportional number of special education students, not counsel them out or reject admission.
While we can debate if unethical admissions happened in one instance or another, the fact is that we need to do a better job in our sector of serving both special education and English language learners and the UFT’s suggestions to the charter school law addressed these issues. I believe that charter schools, with innovative techniques and curriculum, can increase achievement for all of New York’s public school children.
Murphy’s comments become increasingly odd when he implies that the UFT-supported bill “would saddle existing schools, including probably your own, from remaining fiscally viable to stay open and employ you and your colleagues.” My school has remained fiscally viable for over a decade with less funding. Charters are able to allocate financial and human resources in creative and forward-thinking ways. We joined this sector for both the sunny and rainy days.
Additional recommendations by the UFT which would have helped charter schools brave this economic crisis were opposed by Murphy, who instead criticizes me. The UFT suggested that there be a change in the funding formula by reducing the lag in charter funding calculations so that charters are subject, at the same time, to the same fiscal highs and lows as all other public schools. NYCSA and Murphy lobbied against this.
I have witnessed how Murphy frequently demonizes the teachers’ unions. I work in a charter school, a successful one where the kids come first, the teachers are unionized and we would not have it any other way.
Unions give educators a “voice” and subsequently create oversight by default. In Murphy’s world it is wrong for a teacher to ask why the charter school operator is earning over $350,000 or why the school has hired a “for-profit” management company that takes twenty-five percent of their operating costs. The real world demands that these funds go into the classrooms.
Charter school educators live in the real world, only the few of us lucky enough to be members of the UFT have the “voice” to tell it like it is.