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A “Polite Cousin” of Hypocrisy

UFT’s remaining charter school in NYC enrolls few English-language learners or students with special needs

A new report in the Wall Street Journal reveals that a charter school run by the United Federation of Teachers in Brooklyn serves a disproportionately small number of English-language learners and students with special needs.

According to data released by the New York State Education Department, only 3% of students at UFT Charter School (inventive name!) were English-language learners last year, while ELL enrollment at surrounding traditional public schools was 12%. Likewise, only 8% of UFT Charter’s students had disabilities last year, while students with special needs made up approximately 22% of those enrolled at neighboring schools.

Ironically, one of the biggest critics of New York City’s charter schools is UFT president Michael Mulgrew, who has frequently accused them of intentionally pushing out ELL, SPED, and other hard-to-teach students in an effort to boost their test scores. Yet as WSJ reporter Leslie Brody points out, English-language learners make up about 7% of the students who attend the city’s charter schools, while special education enrollment stands at 17%. So apparently other charters in the Big Apple are compensating for the ELL and SPED students that UFT’s school isn’t serving.

UFT president (and charter critic) Michael Mulgrew

Mulgrew’s predecessor at the helm of the United Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, launched UFT Charter School in 2005 in a hubristic attempt to prove that charters schools could succeed under the conditions imposed by the union’s contract. At the time, Weingarten promised, “Our schools will show real, quantifiable student achievement — and with those results, finally dispel the misguided and simplistic notion that the union contract is an impediment to success.”

UFT Charter eventually expanded to two campuses – a K-8 school and high school – but the union’s experiment quickly turned into a disaster. According to an oversight report from the school’s authorizers at the State University of New York, UFT Charter struggled due to high turnover, financial mismanagement, and a lack of resources such as textbooks and other classroom equipment. SUNY eventually closed UFT’s Charter’s K-8 school in 2015, after years of dismal test results. Moreover, as Brody notes, UFT’s remaining high school is struggling to attract students. Official enrollment data shows that only 265 of the school’s 320 seats were filled as of October 1.

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Meanwhile, Weingarten moved on to become president of UFT’s parent union, the American Federation of Teachers, where she has launched a campaign to undermine charter schools across the country. This past summer, Weingarten unveiled her latest line-of-attack, calling charters the “slightly more polite cousins of segregation,” since many of them enroll high numbers of low-income, minority students who have been underserved by traditional public school systems.

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten

Weingarten’s cynical attempt to flip the definition of segregation, which has always referred to systemic efforts to exclude minorities from schools, neighborhoods, and elsewhere, is particularly hypocritical in light of the Wall Street Journal’s revelations about UFT Charter School. Families-of-color choosing to send their children to charters – even those with a high proportion of minority students – doesn’t meet the definition of segregation. However, that word could certainly apply to the notable absence of ELL and students with special needs at UFT Charter in Brooklyn.

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Written by Peter Cook

Pete became involved in education reform as a 2002 Teach For America corps member in New Orleans Public Schools and has worked in various capacities at Teach For America, KIPP, TNTP, and the Recovery School District. As a consultant, he developed teacher evaluation systems and served as a strategic advisor to school district leaders in Cleveland, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. He now writes about education policy and politics and lives in New Orleans.

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