Monday, September 08, 2008

Green Dot and the UFT


By YOAV GONEN, Education Reporter

A new charter school has entered uncharted territory.

For the first time, the teachers union is giving up precious perks to partner with a private operator in running a school.

The new high school in the South Bronx represents the first foray outside Los Angeles for Green Dot Public Schools founder Steve Barr.

He's a former Democratic fund-raiser who said he founded the organization in 1999 not to advocate charter schools, but to reform public schools.

The United Federation of Teachers, which had long resisted privately operated charter schools, eventually opened two of its own. As its own boss, the union gave the teachers the same seniority rights and tenure they got from the city.

But instructors at Green Dot New York are giving up both in exchange for salaries 10 percent above what the city pays and more say in how to run the school.

They're also working longer hours and may eventually give up overtime pay.

Based on a model that emphasizes college preparation, small class size, high expectations and parent involvement, Green Dot's 18 LA high schools have taken high-poverty, largely minority kids from dropout rates as high as 60 percent to graduation rates above 80 percent.

Green Dot New York launched this week with 125 ninth-graders and will move up one grade each year.

Student Steven Ramirez, 15, said he sensed a difference.

"The teachers are really hardworking and compassionate," he said. "They put us in the mindset to get ready for adulthood."

The union's controversial moves come amid a push by the Department of Education to make teachers earn tenure instead of getting it automatically.

Several national education groups gave UFT President Randi Weingarten high marks.

"The pathway to irrelevance for the unions is to continue to say, 'No,' " said Andrew Rotherham, co-founder of the think tank Education Sector.

"The way to thrive is to start embracing some of these ideas and getting in the game, and that's what she's doing."

But some rank-and-file members say Weingarten sold out.

"I think Randi is taking the path of least resistance," said Arthur Goldstein, a teacher in Francis Lewis HS in Fresh Meadows, Queens. "I don't think her priorities are to help teachers."

Weingarten said: "Teachers have become skeptical of things that are different because they've seen so many bad things come and go. I watched this model in California, it worked in California, and we wanted to try it here."

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