Friday, January 27, 2006

Rise Of The Charters: The New York City Experiment

Keep your eye on this New York City charter school that's being run by the United Federation of Teachers, (affiliated with the AFT) which is the local teachers union:
Observers say the success or failure of United Federation of Teachers Elementary Charter School could affect attempts to unionize charter schools at a time when teachers unions have been ambivalent at best about such schools, which are publicly funded but independently run.

"It's potentially a big deal whether it succeeds or fails because there's implications in New York and there's implications nationally of initiatives like this," said Andrew Rotherham, co-director of Education Sector, a Washington think tank and a board member of the New York Charter Schools Association.

The success of the school, or lack of it, could also influence the debate over limiting the number of charter schools in New York state and could impact the strained relationship between hard-core school choice backers and teachers unions.

The nation's two largest teachers unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, have been lukewarm at best toward charter schools, saying they support them but usually attaching conditions. More than 3,600 charter schools operate nationwide, according to the Center for Education Reform.

Supporters, who have President Bush in their corner, tout the charter movement as a way for educators to rid themselves of red tape _ including union-negotiated contracts and rules _ while pursuing higher student achievement. Critics say such schools shift much-needed money away from regular public schools.

The UFT, a powerful city union with more than 140,000 members, wants to prove charter schools can succeed while being unionized. The staff at the charter school, which just started its second semester, operates under the existing contract with the city's Department of Education.

"With each passing day, it gets stronger and stronger," union president Randi Weingarten said of the school.

The union charter school has 150 kindergarten and first-grade students who were selected by lottery. The union plans to expand the school in the fall.

Rita Danis, the school leader, said teachers help plan the curriculum and activities, a collaborative model that is not common among public schools. And teachers say there is less micromanagement, whereas at other schools even their bulletin boards may face mandates.

The city's education department is supporting the union with its charter school venture, including letting it share building space with a public school for free. Schools Chancellor Joel Klein's backing of the charter movement is exceptionally strong for the head of a public school system.

Rosa Cribb said her grandson Skyler Rogers adores his teachers and classes. After they learned he was accepted into the union school, she and her daughter, Skyler's mom, cried, she said.

"The public school he would have gone to in the neighborhood, we would not want him to go there," Cribb said. "I've seen some of the kids that go there, it's just not right. It is overcrowded."
Did you notice that in this school the person in charge isn't called a principal but the "school leader?"

It will be very interesting indeed to see if a teachers union can successfully run a school. I hope that the experiment is successful, as it could give parents yet another alternative for public school choice.

Here in California's "Imperial" Valley, our school district has folks who visit classrooms for the purpose of ensuring that teachers at the same grade-level have the same bulletin boards on their classroom walls.

Related: Andrew Rotherham's excellent Ed-policy blog
See this week's Carnival Of Education right here and our latest education-related posts over there.