Race to the Bottom

It’s hardly a secret that the United Federation of Teachers is the most powerful force for the status quo in public education today. From charter schools to teacher accountability, the UFT stands in the way of some of the most creative reforms in public education today.

Now, however, the union bosses are no longer content with being stiff-necked about work rules and other contractual issues. They are doing their best to block the delivery of $700 million in federal funds to New York State, funds that are tied to the development of charter schools and greater teacher accountability. While the state did apply for the funds—distributed through a program called Race to the Top—because of union opposition, the application did not include a plan for more charter schools. If the state reapplies in a few months, as it can, it cannot let the UFT stand in the way of a needed windfall.

George Carlin famously quoted seven words you couldn’t say on television. The UFT has four words that they would like to see banned from civic discourse. They are “merit pay” and “charter schools.” Both of these much needed reforms threaten the educational status quo, and that’s something the union bosses just can’t abide.

The reliably Democratic UFT finds itself battling President Obama’s secretary of education, Arne Duncan, who believes that teachers should be evaluated based on student performance on standardized test scores.

So obsessed are the classroom bosses that they are willing to punish the entire state if it means turning back the forces of reform, both locally and in Washington. New York simply cannot afford to pass up a chance for $700 million in federal education money. Mayor Michael Bloomberg already is warning that state budget cuts could lead to municipal layoffs. If Albany keeps passing up federal programs like Race to the Top, the budget is bound to get worse, with implications far beyond the classroom.

The UFT and its allies in the State Legislature deserve nothing but scorn for their embrace of failed policies and outdated work rules. The charter school movement came about precisely because of the UFT’s disdain for accountability and evaluation. If the bosses continue to block reforms, they will be left behind in the race to the top. And New York’s schools will be better for it.