The other day Eduwonk praised the UFT in New York for considering opening a charter school. The New York Post vehemently disagrees. They argue that –at best– the school would be a Potemkin village and at worst would be inappropriately construed by the media as validating current teacher contracts in New York (which most observers agree hamper educational improvement efforts).
The Post has a point. There are far too many Potemkin villages scattered around American education that reporters and other interested parties are helpfully steered to when they want to learn more about a particular issue. And, in this business, too often the plural of anecdote becomes data so perceptions are shaped by outliers rather than the aggregate picture. And, the Post is right that the UFT has an obvious agenda here, namely showing that the teacher contract is not a problem.
But…so what? A big part of charter schooling is creating room for various publicly accountable innovations that parents are free to choose or reject. If the UFT can create a good charter school, all the better. If they cannot, well, then that is pretty telling too. And if the media cannot be trusted to sift through self-serving press releases and tell the story accurately and fairly then that is not an indictment of the UFT but rather of the Post and its colleagues.
The current teachers’ union approach to charter schools is not tenable and threatens to further erode support for public education. Intellectuals inside the unions recognize this. Yet change won’t come overnight and charter supporters should not be so ideologically rigid as to reject any progress, however slow and incremental, because it is not wholesale change. Doing so will only make change that much slower.