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Union-Led NYC Charter School in Peril?

This item originally appeared on the Charters & Choice news blog.

By Sean Cavanagh

Seven years ago, the United Federation of Teachers in New York opened a charter school that supporters hoped would show that charters need not renounce collective bargaining and other basic principles of organized labor in education to be successful.

But now, the United Charter School's continued academic struggles have raised serious questions about whether its authorizer, the State University of New York's Board of Trustees, will agree to renew it, according to a detailed report by the GothamSchools blog.

Recent documents have shown that the UFT school struggled mightily compared to other schools up for renewal this year--and that it is performing worse than schools in the surrounding district, despite its students having fewer needs, Gotham reports. From the story:

That statistic could doom its chances. Charter schools receive the right to operate free from city bureaucracy in exchange for promising to give students a better shot at academic success than they would otherwise have had. Advocates say a crucial metric is whether students outperform their peers in neighboring schools.

"Where schools don't meet the standards as established by their authorizers and don't meet them by a wide margin, it's clear that in the charter sector the result should be closure," said James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter Schools Center. Merriman was also SUNY CSI's executive director when the UFT Charter School first received its charter.

The story suggests that the school, which received support from the Broad Foundation, has been plagued by ineffective leadership and is now struggling to keep up enrollment. Union officials quoted in the article offer a more optimistic picture of the school's performance, and say other teacher-led schools around the country are achieving at a high level.

It would appear that closure isn't the only option for the UFT school. Gotham reports that the authorizer could approve reconstituting the school, such as reducing the number of grades it serves, or turning it over to another operator.

For a look back at what the vision for what the UFT's charter school was at the outset, see my colleague Erik Robelen's piece from six years ago.

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