Editorial: Pandering to the UFT

Each new day of Campaign ’13 offers a new reason to fear for the future after Mayor Bloomberg leaves office on December 31.

A gaggle of candidates seeking to succeed Mr. Bloomberg turned up at a forum the other day that was sponsored by the biggest obstacle to fundamental school reform, the United Federation of Teachers. Sadly but not surprisingly, it turned out to be a pander-fest that bordered on the pathetic.

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio set the tone by pouring praise on the UFT’s resoundingly mediocre leader, Michael Mulgrew, comparing him to one of his most notable predecessors, Albert Shanker, who led not one but two illegal teachers’ strikes in the 1960s. (Some will recall that when Woody Allen’s character in the movie Sleeper is awakened in the distant future, he is told that the world was destroyed because Albert Shanker got his hands on a nuclear weapon. The joke may have required some explanation west of the Hudson River.)

Several of the candidates eagerly noted that family members or friends or friends of family members or family members of friends are teachers or union members or know somebody who is. All in attendance—there were five Democrats and an independent candidate—maintained that Mike Bloomberg’s 12 years as mayor have been a disaster for the city’s schools. Coincidentally, that’s precisely how the UFT regards the Bloomberg era.

But Mr. Bloomberg wasn’t the event’s only tackling dummy. The candidates did their best to prove that they despise former Councilmember Eva Moskowitz even more than the UFT does. Eva Moskowitz? She’s been out of politics for years.

Of course, Ms. Moskowitz has gone on to become one of the city’s most effective voices for authentic education reform. In fact, she’s more than an advocate—she’s an activist. She is the head of an extraordinary organization, Success Academy Charter Schools, which is bringing quality education to poorly served neighborhoods—and doing it without the UFT.

Few people inspire greater loathing among the UFT’s leaders than Ms. Moskowitz. And so Council Speaker Christine Quinn singled out her former colleague for criticism, charging that Ms. Moskowitz’s anti-UFT rhetoric has “ripped us apart.” The teachers in attendance loved it. Parents, however, should be concerned. There is no reason to think that any of the candidates at the UFT forum intend to build on the successes of the last 12 years.

The issue, of course, goes deeper than cheap criticism of Ms. Moskowitz and the schools with which she is associated. It’s about one union’s refusal to recognize the need for change, and it’s about candidates who seem more than happy to indulge the union’s retrograde views.

From charter schools to teacher evaluations, the UFT has fought every attempt to fix what is so obviously broken. It claims to act on behalf of children, but seriously—does anybody really believe that? This is a union that has protected incompetence for decades. Whose interests have been served by unacceptably high dropout rates and archaic work rules? Whose interests have been served by the UFT’s costly refusal to implement a new evaluation system?

Only the naive would expect a mayoral candidate to challenge the union directly in such a setting. So a certain degree of pandering to Mr. Mulgrew and his members was to be expected.

But the candidates’ hyperbole was so over-the-top—even Mr. Mulgrew must have been just a little embarrassed— that voters are left to conclude that post-Bloomberg school policy is destined to go back to the bad old days, when the UFT essentially ran the system for the benefit of its members.

New Yorkers have good reason to be anxious about the arrival of January 1, 2014.