Sunday, January 03, 2010

Doing What Comes Natural - UFT Serving Itself & Opposing Charters

The door is closing rapidly on New York State to enact reforms and position itself competitively for federal Race to the Top education funds, which could total as much as $700 million. Even in 2010, that remains serious money for our cash-needy state.

Charter school policy comprises to 8 percent of the scoring rubric for Race to the Top funding, so the state legislature, following the lead of the Board of Regents, may act this month to expand charter school opportunities to compete for this federal discretionary award.

The United Federation of Teachers in New York City, sensing positive legislative movement on charter schools, has made its wish list known today by releasing a grab-bag of proposals that can charitably described as selfish and counterproductive. The New York Charter Schools Association and the New York City Charter School Center issued a joint statement in response (here). Also, the New York Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability issued this statement responding to the UFT.

UFT Agenda Offers Nothing for Children or Teachers
Much of the UFT's agenda today is a dusting off of self-serving proposals we've seen before, including the following:

--mandate unions for all charter schools, which empowers the union with more dues from teacher paychecks, removes teachers' choice to decide that for themselves, and does exactly nothing to improve teacher accountability for Race to the Top;

--impose higher-cost "prevailing wage" mandates on charter schools, which makes the challenge of securing facilities more expensive even as charters get no facilities funding, and would further damage the state's chance for Race to the Top which grades on charters having access to facilities;

-- eliminate the State University of New York as a viable charter authorizer, even though the UFT Charter School and Green Dot, for example, chose SUNY as its authorizer (Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, favorable to this idea, knew not to include such a counterproductive measure in the Regents reform agenda for Race to the Top);

And, in a new twist:

--mandate, somehow, all charter schools to serve "the same proportion" of the neediest students as the community school district in which they are located, though the UFT fails to recommend the same "mandate" that each district school also serve the same percentages.

The UFT also proposes to change the charter school funding formula by eliminating the funding lag, but details of what this would look like are scant. If the charter formula changes, it should ensure a level playing field by providing funding parity for charter schools, which get less than district schools on a per pupil basis. Unfortunately, the UFT's track record has been to cut charter funding rather than repair its funding (see here).

The prevailing wage mandate is particularly odd coming from the UFT. Such a mandate not only is counterproductive and financially harmful for charter schools, but also hurts charter school teachers -- union and non-union alike -- by diverting more scarce operating dollars to fund building expenses and away from school operations, like personnel. Incredible. Just who is the UFT trying to "represent" with this whopper? Its construction brethren at the expense of teachers? Sure looks that way.

Serving More Needy Students
The UFT's proposed mandate for charter schools to serve the same proportion of the neediest students is pure posturing by the union leadership. If the UFT were serious, it would begin by serving higher percentages of needy students at the one charter school it operates in Brooklyn that it named after itself (for more, see here). Furthermore, the UFT should mandate every district school have the same proportion of such students, not just charter schools. Of course, the union doesn't propose such consistency because it knows it is unworkable as a mandate and because district schools, like charters, have a wide range of such percentages.

In contrast to such posturing by the UFT, charter school advocates have for years proposed that Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) be authorized to contract directly with charter schools to serve special education students and students with limited English proficiency (which would help charters outside the City). The charter community also is proposing the legislature enable charter schools to give enrollment preference to these student populations, which from the outset has been prevented by the state Education Department. And, charter schools also should be allowed to operate at more than a single location to achieve economies of scale to offer more specialty teachers to serve greater numbers of needy student populations as well as offer more high school opportunities. (Legislation has been proposed to accomplish this: S.6339.)

These are serious proposals offered by charter school advocates to reach more needy student populations, rather than vapid soundbites offered by the UFT in its attempt to score political points and bamboozle legislators. It also should be understood that charter schools already well serve higher percentages of students from low-income families that qualify for federal free- and reduced-price lunch than the school districts in which they are located. Many of these households are minority families that have fled their low-performing community district school for a better opportunity in a charter school.

Build on Charter Success
In the next two weeks, New York should build on the success of charter schools in serving low-income students and improving student achievement, rather than adopting the UFT's self-serving, retro charter agenda that achieves nothing for students, and risks Race to the Top funding for New York.

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.