Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Union officials are disturbingly inflexible toward charter schools

Kudos to the Washington Post for holding Randi's feet to the fire:


Union officials are disturbingly inflexible toward charter schools

Washington Post editorial, Monday, February 1, 2010; A16

IT IS HARD to square the words of American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten with the actions of many of her union's officials. Even as Ms. Weingarten issues stirring calls for new ways of thinking, labor leaders in places such as New York use their political muscle to block important reforms. Perhaps they don't think that she means business, or maybe they don't care; either way, it is the interests of students that are being harmed.

The United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the AFT affiliate that represents teachers in New York City, led the opposition to legislation favored by Gov. David A. Paterson (D) that would have lifted the state's cap on charter schools. Mr. Paterson, backed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, had hoped to better position the state for up to $700 million in federal education dollars. The Obama administration has made clear that states that deny parents choice in where their children go to school by limiting the growth of these increasingly popular independent public schools will be penalized in the national competition for $4.35 billion in Race to the Top funds.

UFT officials were willing to lift the cap but -- saying more accountability and transparency are needed -- insisted on restrictions apt to have discouraged growth. The Democratic-controlled legislature stalemated, leaving the state's charter schools capped at 200 and the waiting lists for admission growing. Failure to lift the cap -- along with the union's refusal to immediately eliminate a ban against using student test data in teacher tenure decisions -- may well doom New York's Race to the Top application. If Education Secretary Arne Duncan is serious about Race to the Top being a game-changer, he can start by tossing out New York's bid and challenging it to do better.

What's most discouraging is what the actions say about the willingness of teachers unions to embrace change. The recalcitrance in New York is not an isolated instance as evidenced, for example, by the refusal of union officials to sign on to the District's application for federal money. Washington Teachers' Union President George Parker objected to a new system of teacher evaluations that uses student test scores as a major factor. We have cheered Ms. Weingarten for her willingness to speak out in favor of reforms such as performance pay or better due process; she appears more forward-thinking than her counterparts in the National Education Association. But statesmanlike words mean little if not matched by action in the trenches.

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