Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Ms. Weingarten, National Teacher Union Prez, Confuses on Charters

The release of the seminal study of New York City charter schools outperforming "lotteried out" students attending district schools was well covered in the press today, as it should.

One comment by the estimable Randi Weingarten got my notice; she being the president of the American Federation of Teachers and former long-time head of its largest chapter, the New York City United Federation of Teachers (many simply call her "Randi").

Ms. Weingarten's comments to the Wall Street Journal capture her schizophrenic stance on charter schools. On the one hand, she duly credits New York State for its rigorous approval criteria for charter schools, contributing to their higher performance: "agencies vet [charter school applications] thoroughly before authorizing them, assuring they are of higher quality than elsewhere."

Ms. Weingarten has had personal experience with this vetting, as she was the lead applicant for the UFT Charter School in 2004, which was approved by the State University of New York Board of Trustees -- the charter authorizer she chose to apply, rather than directly to the Board of Regents. The Regents, by law, also thoroughly vetted the proposed UFT Charter School and put their stamp of approval as well.

On the other hand, Ms. Weingarten's dark side invariably shows when the subject of charters is at hand. With the release of this favorable study, she can't resist bringing up another charter study that reviewed outcomes in 16 other states, the conclusions of which were not as positive (e.g., half the charters did no better than district schools).

Charter School Cap

More bizarrely, Ms. Weingarten's gives an added twist to the teacher union talking points for retaining the statutory cap on the number of charter schools by claiming that it also contributes to the higher student outcomes -- a non-sequitur if there ever was one. State teacher union (NYSUT) head, Richard Iannuzzi, in similar fashion, claimed to Newsday earlier this month that the cap "is the only real way to hold charters accountable" -- which is a reach, to be polite.

Accountability is replete in charter schools for a number of reasons, including the vetting process by charter authorizers (echoing Weingarten's point); the rigorous monitoring and oversight; the need to attract parents to enroll their children and teachers to work; the academic goals in the charter agreement; and requiring the charter to be renewed at least every five years, to name a few.

One of President Barack Obama's education policies is for states to "lift caps on the number of allowable charter schools." The president's position appears to have caused the teacher unions to be more subtle about opposing cap-lifts by making specious connections to issues that sound appealing. NYSUT used to be blatant in its opposition to lifting New York's cap earlier this decade.

With the president's cap-lift policy, hundreds of million of Race-to-the-Top dollars at stake, and now an unimpeachable study confirming higher charter school test results, here's hoping the teacher unions are rethinking their position of overt opposition to raising New York's charter cap.

While NYSUT represents many teachers in charter schools, I'm not optimistic they will be pro-charter on the cap or funding issues as long as the unions view charters as competition to their larger district membership.

Peter Murphy
for The Chalkboard

Disclaimer: The Chalkboard is hosted by the New York Charter Schools Association (NYCSA) as a place where members, public education advocates and others can view and respond to informed commentary on timely public education and charter school issues. The views expressed here are not necessarily the official views of the NYCSA, its board, or of any of its individual charter school members. Anyone who claims otherwise is violating the spirit and purpose of this blog. To comment on anything you read here, or to offer tips, advice, comments, or complaints. please contact TheChalkboard.