Blame Game

A new item on the UFT’s web site overlays maps of school closures and charter school openings, showing how they both are concentrated in the South Bronx, Harlem, and central Brooklyn. “This may be a coincidence,” the union intones, “but it certainly doesn’t look like one.”

No, it isn’t coincidence. But neither is it conspiracy. The overlap exists because these are communities where district schools are failing, and in many cases enrollment is dropping as a result.

Charter school authorizers are directed by state law to give preference to new school “students at risk for academic failure.” When the neighborhood school’s four-year graduation rates come in under 50% (at Academy of Environmental Science Secondary High School in Spanish Harlem, slated for closure) or 38% (at Paul Robeson High School in Central Brooklyn, slated for closure), who isn’t at academic risk?

No wonder charter schools are swamped with applications every spring, and must turn away tens of thousands of hopefuls for lack of space. Moreover, as the budget crisis hits, which sector of public education will scrape to keep providing longer school days, and which will have to lay off great young teachers first? Parents know and parents care.

The UFT also uses the opportunity to bash charter schools for their enrollment practices. Let’s be clear: Charter schools do have to improve their enrollment of all student groups, as they’re required to do under the recently revised charter law. The UFT was right to point this out and charter advocates heartily endorsed the new provision in the law. But the UFT’s assertion that charters “generally do not take… high-needs students” is a shameful, lazy slur, as is the wink-wink implication of racism.

What’s going here isn’t a district/charter conspiracy, but a UFT communications strategy.

The union’s previous leadership not only agreed to the extension of the Mayoral Control law (which explicitly left to the PEP final decision making on closures)—they advocated for it. However, the voting dues-paying members don’t like it. So the UFT seems to figure that when it can’t sue, it will deflect anger at them to blaming charter schools.

If it means serving communities who can’t wait for better schools, charter schools will take it.