Cathie Black, the newly appointed schools chancellor, is trying to get up to speed on the city schools. If she wants a sobering primer on the role of teachers unions, she need not look any further than how the United Federation of Teachers treats the best and worst schools in the city.
In a recent op-ed in the Washington Post, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten demanded that the nation not “scapegoat” Americas teachers. Shes right; teachers are not the problem. The unions that claim to speak for them are.
A look at their friends and enemies tells us everything we need to know about the teachers unions potential as collaborators on education reform.
Consider Democracy Prep, a five-year-old charter school in Harlem. Democracy Prep is one of those miracle schools that have been cropping up in big American cities. The average student enters sixth grade at Democracy Prep reading at about the third grade level but finishes the year reading at about the sixth grade level.
When the city released its annual progress reports a few weeks ago, Democracy Prep ranked as the citys highest performing middle school. Not the best middle school in Harlem; the best middle school in the city.
Democracy Prep represents everything thats right about urban education: Adults working hard and changing the lives of kids otherwise doomed to the cycle of poverty that has ensnared their parents and too many of their friends. Who doesnt love a success story like Democracy Prep?
The unions, of course.
Last year, according to a flyer seen by school administrators, the United Federation of Teachers planned a protest in front of Democracy Preps campus. (It was abandoned at the last minute.) This year, the union is suing the Department of Education for Democracy Preps expanded use of empty classroom space in a shared public school facility.
The unions think schools like Democracy Prep are the enemy because their teachers are not unionized. For the union, the schools success is inconsequential. All that matters is that, in most charters, the teachers can be let go for underperformance and are required to work longer than the six hours and twenty minutes a day allowed under the UFTs contract with the city. The union fought hard to implement those provisions into traditional public schools over the years, and they dont want charters success to undermine their achievements.
Next door to Democracy Preps main campus sits the neighborhoods zoned public middle school, the Academy of Collaborative Education. At ACE, not only are kids not learning, they arent safe: 100% of ACEs teachers who responded to the Education Departments annual survey last year indicated that they did not feel safe in the school. ACE did make gains on its progress report this year. It was the worst middle school in the city. Now its eighth worst.
When outgoing Chancellor Joel Klein decided last year that Harlem kids should no longer be sentenced to attend ACE, the UFT sued to keep the school open. The UFTs lawsuit didnt claim that ACE was effective, but that the chancellor didnt follow the correct protocol to close the school. Predictably, in a city where organized labor remains powerful, the union won.
Democracy Prep asked permission from the Education Department to give first enrollment preference to students who wanted out of ACE (so much for the notion that charter schools “cream” the most advantaged students). Their proposal was denied.
Ideally, all of Americas schools would look like Democracy Prep. None would look like ACE. But that would require breaking with the current system, which keeps the unions powerful. When forced to decide between improving the lives of kids and keeping adults employed, the unions always choose the adults.
Any group that would fight to keep a school like ACE open while protesting against Democracy Prep is not a realistic partner in education reform.
Original Source: http://www.nydailynews.com/opinions/2010/11/18/2010-11-18_democracy_preps_fate_proves_that_teachers_unions_care_only_about_job_protection.html#ixzz15durjS5a