Wednesday, March 04, 2015

UFT's Charter Disaster--What Has Leadership Learned?

Errol Louis offers a postmortem for the UFT Charter School. Its title may not cause Weingarten or Mulgrew to jump with joy. “Why the UFT’s Charter School Flunked,” describes a school that appears to have earned low test scores, and that is the prime reason why grades 1-8 will be dropped. Do the low test scores indicate a failing school? Not necessarily, but they aren’t precisely a calling card either.

Other issues Louis brings up are, first, that the school’s leadership turned over repeatedly. This indicates that UFT lacked either a clear vision, the ability to execute it, or perhaps both. The other issue is that UFT Charter had a lower percentage of special needs kids. This, in itself, may or may not be significant. I’d argue that it is not only the percentage, but also the degree of need reflected in the population that is important.

For example, I teach beginners, kids who arrived in the US yesterday, or perhaps even today. I’d argue that Eva does not take kids like mine, and that neither does she take alternate assessment kids who will never earn a Regents diploma. This would not help a school with a laser focus on test scores. But someone has to teach these kids. It’s my understanding that Moskowitz doesn’t release this info, though there have been FOI requests for it.

Where Louis is indisputably correct is in the fact that the charter failed. Were that not the fact, it wouldn’t be closing up shop. The fact that UFT took a million dollars from the Broad Foundation, which I didn’t know until I read this, is unconscionable. Clearly our leadership was in bed with privatizers, and paid the privatizers a pretty sweet dividend by failing.

What’s truly disturbing is its implications for the future. I have repeatedly heard Mike Mulgrew pronounce to the Delegate Assembly that Cuomo is wrong to propose receivership for troubled schools. Mulgrew’s right, of course. Receivership is just another code for privatization, for shuffling kids around, for blaming public schools for failure. Of course, it has the added benefit of voiding those nasty collective bargaining agreements that suggest people ought to, you know, be compensated for their time, or have due process rights, and have other agreements counter to the good folks who wish to roll back the 20th century and bring back the robber barons.

Mulgrew confidently promises that we will show them how to run schools, and that we will fix the schools that have never been fixed. In fact, this episode suggests that he hasn’t got the secret sauce after all. It suggests that he’s failed to reflect, that he's setting us up for further failure, and that there will be more editorials demanding Cuomo-style changes. Worst of all, it suggests our actions, past, present and future, will be used to support said editorials.

There is indeed a secret sauce, and several charters have found it. What you do, of course, is extensive test-prep, capitalizing on those kids who are good test-takers, and get rid of those inconvenient children who won’t help you achieve that goal. First of all, the fact that there is even an application means that parents who couldn’t care less are immediately excluded, and will go wherever the hell the DOE sees fit. Beyond that are requirements that parents put in time. There are, of course, the suspensions, the demerits, the humiliations of wearing orange shirts, and the Stepford routines so favored by folks like Doug Lemov.

The best, though, is the requisite dumping of the students who don’t get test scores, most flagrantly exercised by American Express-hyping Geoffrey Canada, who dumped not one, but two cohorts seeking those all-important test grades. And then there are those schools, examined in detail by Gary Rubinstein, that dump a third, two-thirds, or other varying percentages and then claim 100% college acceptance by those who haven’t been dumped.

It’s a shell game, three-card monte, except they’re playing with our children. And, of course, the dumped children go back to public schools, which are invariably blamed for their test scores.

UFT leadership, rather than playing the game, ought to join those of us who oppose charters, who oppose high-stakes testing, who want to help all New York’s children regardless of what scores they may or may not achieve on tests. And charters that play cute games, that don’t serve absolutely everyone, ought not to receive one dime from taxpayers. 
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