the uft's tightrope walk

As the tabloids go wild over our story, looking for the take-away

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Today's New York Post includes two stories about the story GothamSchools first broke on the UFT's lobbying of City Council members.

The story I broke yesterday morning about the United Federation of Teachers sending City Council members pre-scripted questions on charter schools is now filling the pages of the New York Post and the Daily News.

As Philissa pointed out in the morning roundup today, each paper (A) covered the story and (B) editorialized about the shameless things it says about the teachers union. They both also (C) did not give credit to GothamSchools for breaking the story, despite happily quoting the card text that only I obtained.

C’est la vie.

The important thing, of course, is to keep our eyes on the ball. One take-away here is pretty obvious. The teachers union peddles its influence in pretty clever ways!

Equally important, I think, is another point that shouldn’t get lost in this tangle. That’s the fact that, on the question of charter schools, the union is walking an astoundingly precarious tightrope.

I wrote about the awkward dance yesterday, in a story on a Queens charter school that is unionized but feels betrayed by unions. And it’s also on display in Monday’s drama.

On the one hand, president Randi Weingarten claims herself a supporter of charter schools, against the teachers’ union norm. She started two charter schools herself (both of which share space with traditional public schools, the very thing that gets City Council members and community leaders most upset!) and has worked to bring teachers at other charter schools into the union’s fold. The efforts are all on the argument that she and the union are not, as critics like to say, advocating for teachers only, but also working for the cause of improving urban public schools.

Yet Weingarten and the union — especially union members outside New York City, in cities like Albany where charter schools are growing at a much faster rate — simultaneously have taken the mantle of those concerned with charter schools. They pushed back against efforts to raise the cap on charter schools, and in recent weeks filed a lawsuit that ended up killing the Department of Education’s plan to use charter schools to replace traditional public schools altogether in neighborhoods where the schools were struggling.

So what’s most interesting about the union’s performance Monday is what it says about how Weingarten and other officials are walking the fine line. Here’s what I wrote in my original story about the position the union seems to be staking out:

The questions were in line with testimony presented by the union’s vice president, Leo Casey, who said that charter schools can be positive laboratories for innovation — provided that they serve the same students as traditional public schools, that they are held accountable, that their teachers are unionized, and that they don’t replace traditional public schools.

The union runs two charter schools and represents teachers at several others. But Casey said that those schools are living examples of how the model can be done right.

Another point of interest: Weingarten recently wrote a letter to charter school leaders about their concerns about budget cuts. I’ll post more on the letter later, but for now the interesting thing to note is her signoff. “In solidarity,” she writes, “Randi Weingarten.”

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.