The grand experiment that brought together the teachers unions and the school choice movement appears to be a failure, according to SchoolBook.org. A Brooklyn charter school run by the United Federation of Teachers had its performance savaged by the latest review from its authorizer, the State University of New York Charter School Institute, for poor academic performance, discipline problems and even a few occasions of corporal punishment.
SUNY serves as an authorizer for ten charters around the state that are up for renewal this year. The UFT Charter School appears to be the only one that didn't pass inspection and might now face closure unless it finds another organization to take over as the authorizer from SUNY.
The report didn't recommend outright closure, but the reviewers declined to give a recommendation at all, saying that the data didn't support either conclusion outright. It is the first time that a SUNY reviewer took this step after inspecting a charter school in the city.
The mixed review of the U.F.T. charter school presents an awkward situation for the union. Shelia Evans-Tranumn, the school's executive director, issued a statement saying the union appreciates the SUNY Charter Institute's analysis but that it took issue with some of the assertions by its reviewers.
The charter school was supposed to serve as proof of a concept that teachers unions and the school choice movement were not incompatible. It opened its doors in 2005 in East New York, one of the toughest neighborhoods in Brooklyn. It operates a full slate of classes, K-12. And this is not the first time that the school's performance has been called into question.
During the last round of charter operating renewals in 2010, the school was given only a conditional license to continue for three years instead of the typical extension of a full five years. The foreshortened renewal meant that the school had only three years in which to prove that it deserved a renewal for a full five-year term because a three-year conditional license can only be granted once.
The reviewers who visited the school's two campuses last fall found "strong" performance on state exams in grades 3 and 4, and said they would have recommended a full renewal for the elementary school if it stood on its own. More than 60 percent of fourth graders were proficient in math last year. But that figure was cut in half among eighth graders. Reviewers labeled the academic outcomes in grades 6-8 as "poor," adding that if this was a separate middle school it would not meet SUNY's renewal criteria. They said they couldn't make a recommendation for the high school because it hadn't been around long enough to graduate any students.
The future of the UFT Charter is now in the hands of the SUNY trustees, who have a number of options in front of them. They could issue a full-term renewal, or they can vote to shut the school. They can also take the middle-ground and allow the elementary school – which is performing well – to continue operating while shutting the middle- and high-school part of the charter.