Charter Schools

The New York City Teachers Union Opened its Own Charter School. Disaster Ensued.

An attempt to demonstrate that unions are compatible with high performing schools unravels.

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"This school is an oasis," then-New York City teachers union boss Randi Weingarten told The New York Sun in 2005, while sitting in a classroom at a brand new charter school in Brooklyn run by the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). Why would the teachers union open a charter? To prove that these publicly funded, privately operated schools could be staffed by unionized teachers and be highly successful. "This kind of effort, this kind of potential, is what we should be unleashing on the school system every single day," Weingarten told The Sun.

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Let's hope not. A decade later, the union is closing the school. Capital New York has the details:

 [T]he U.F.T. charter has consistently been one of the lowest performing schools—charter or otherwise—in the city and has received stern warnings from its authorizer, the SUNY Charter School Institute, about its viability.

Last year, SUNY issued a report on the U.F.T. Charter School in which it documented instability in leadership, low test scores particularly in middle school grades, lack of resources and disciplinary issues. 

The school has been an embarrassment for the union from the get-go, starting with an unfortunate 2005 incident in which its principal ordered two boys to clean up another student's feces off the bathroom floor, which, of course, made the tabloids. Since then the school has been plagued by principal turnover, textbook and material shortages, and fiscal problems. There have been 10 reported incidents of corporal punishment.

Perhaps most embarrassing for the union, the school has had an unusually high student attrition rate. Ironically, the UFT has long claimed that New York's charters have generally outperformed traditional public schools because they push out failing students, but a recent report by the Independent Budget Office found that charters actually have lower rates of attrition. Apparently, the UFT school was an exception.

Is the takeaway here that a unionized charter can never be successful? No, it's that nobody can predict whether a school, or any organization for that matter, will succeed when it's just getting started, which is one of many reasons it should be easier to shutdown failing schools. It's a shame it took a decade to close the doors on this one.

Right around the same time that the UFT school opened, Randi Weingarten's old nemesis, Eva Moskowitz, was preparing to open her own charter school in New York—and things turnd out quite differently for that venture. To learn more, watch Nick Gillespie's interview with Moskowitz, which I produced: