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N.Y.C. Union's Charter School Will Close

Citing its inability to meet its academic benchmarks, the United Federation of Teachers announced it would close the K-8 portion of its charter school in East New York at the end of this school year.

The Feb. 27 announcement is a disappointing and embarrassing one for the union, which launched the school with great fanfare in 2005.

The UFT Charter School was meant to serve as a proof point to show that collective bargaining isn't anathema to successful, high-quality charter schools. (Most charters are not unionized and do not have to abide by the work rules in teacher contracts.) And it embraced the features that the union had cited as necessary to school improvement, including lots of teacher collaboration, shared decision making, and parent involvement.

Things started out on a good foot, as my former colleague Erik Robelen reported in 2006. But after that, the school went through several leadership changes and had high rates of teacher turnover. Low academic results led to widespread speculation in 2012 that the charter wouldn't be renewed for another cycle. It ultimately was, on the condition that it meet certain academic benchmarks. But its performance has remained among the lowest of charters in the city; financial and other operational problems virtually assured that the State University of New York, its authorizer, would vote to close the school at its March meeting.

There will probably be lots of crowing over the UFT's failure to produce a success story from this experiment. But perhaps the more universal lesson is this one: School governance is complicated. Many of the news stories about the school over the year pointed to internal confusion and disagreement about the governance of the charter school, as well as the tricky balance of having the UFT serving as both labor representative and management. 

In its release, the UFT took a swipe at SUNY's requirements.

"The UFT charter school outperformed its district in math in grades 3 and 4 and has a high level of parent satisfaction. But a student or a school is more than a test score, and SUNY's narrow focus on state tests has meant that overall our elementary and middle school results have not matched SUNY's benchmarks," UFT President Michael Mulgrew said.

The closure won't affect the high school portion of the school. The UFT has asked to renew the charter for those grades. The high school, the union says, is faring better, with 90 percent of its students graduating in four years.

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