What Do Checker And Randi Have In Common?

In many respects, Chester Finn and the Fordham Foundation are the polar opposites of Randi Weingarten and the United Federation of Teachers. At least on the political spectrum. But both are in the process of putting their money where their mouths are when it comes to school reform. Fordham has initiated contracts with 13 charter schools in Ohio, meaning they will soon have a bunch of living, breathing schools under their watchful eye — each school bearing a potential bull’s eye for their idealogical opponents.

Likewise, the UFT yesterday got the final green light they needed to open their new charter elementary school in East New York, a neighborhood in desperate need of additional quality schooling options.

There has been a lot of strange politics involved in the union’s attempts to get a charter here in NYC, particularly since the union’s official lobbying stance lists charter schools as a no-no. And despite a steady drum of critics who had problems with the curriculum and structure of the school as it was proposed, the union’s application was as solid as some of the most successful charters in the state.

Like the Fordham Foundation, the UFT (and Randi Weingarten in particular) now has certain bragging-rights attached to this school. Does anyone really think the union or Fordham will allow these schools to fail? In many respects, this is a level of accountability that even transcends regular, run-of-the-mill charters. Both Randi and Checker know full well that every move they make will be watched closely, and that there will be no shortage of folks ready to pounce on them if things go wrong. What an amazing time in education, that both are so willing to take a risk.

Many critics of the UFT have been skeptical about the union’s stated goal that it wished to use this school to prove that its labor contract isn’t an obstacle for reform. That will no doubt be an interesting and important debate if and when we get to it. But the teachers we met with yesterday at the union’s Manhattan headquarters sounded an awful lot like the teachers who will be teaching in the schools Fordham will be chartering: They are sick of all the crap that the bureaucracy hurls at them and are seeking refuge in a charter school, where they will be able to most effectively perform the work they believe they were called to do.

No matter where you sit on the political fence, I think you’ve got to give credit to people and groups who are willing to get dirt under their fingernails in this debate, rather than just pontificating from the sidelines. And if the rest of us are serious about longing for a better education for our kids, we should be congratulating these risk-takers for putting their tails on the line and praying for their success.

— Joe Williams

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