Teaching Profession

N.Y.C. Teachers’ Union, Charter Group Team Up on New School

By Erik W. Robelen — July 06, 2007 2 min read
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In what appears to be a unique arrangement, the New York City teachers’ union is teaming up with a Los Angeles-based charter schools organization in the hope of starting a new school.

The June 28 announcement by the American Federation of Teachers affiliate in New York and Green Dot Public Schools, a high-profile charter-management organization, was striking, given the often acrimonious relationship between the charter movement and teachers’ unions. Teachers in most charters are not unionized.

But the United Federation of Teachers already runs two charter schools in New York City. And all of Green Dot’s 10 charter high schools in the Los Angeles area are unionized, though they have their own contracts separate from larger collective-bargaining agreements.

“We’re a union shop,” said Steve Barr, Green Dot’s founder and chief executive officer. “This seemed to be something that can actually show the charter movement that we should be thinking differently.” Randi Weingarten, the president of the UFT, said she’s impressed with Mr. Barr and with Green Dot’s schools. She said he “just ‘got it’ about how teachers and other working people need unions, and how in the long term, enlightened employers understand that.”

“This kind of experiment that Steve Barr and we are doing is intended not only to run a good school for kids, but to debunk this myth” that teachers’ unions are an obstacle to good schooling, Ms. Weingarten said.

Mutual Convenience?

The move comes after New York state in April raised a cap to allow 100 new charter schools. Green Dot and the union have submitted their proposal to the State University of New York Board of Trustees for a school to open in the fall of 2008.

Mr. Barr has worked hard, but so far unsuccessfully, to take over a struggling high school in Los Angeles and convert it into several charter schools. Resistance from district officials, the school board, and the United Teachers Los Angeles have been major obstacles.

In December, the Broad Foundation, a Los Angeles-based philanthropy, awarded Green Dot $10.5 million to create 21 new, small high schools over the next four years in the city.

“I think it’s a marriage of mutual convenience, as well as benefit,” Jeanne Allen, the president of the Center for Education Reform, a pro-charter organization based in Washington, said of the UFT/Green Dot venture. “Randi Weingarten obviously thinks she has to demonstrate publicly that she is reform-minded. … [Steve Barr] needs her to show Los Angeles that other people want him: The head of the New York City union is calling.”

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