Climbing to the Crest
United Federation of Teachers
In 2005, New York City's United Federation of Teachers set out to prove that a charter school could flourish within the strictures of a collective bargaining agreement. Climbing to the Crest documents the opening of the UFT Elementary Charter School, which promised two teachers for every 25 students and a highly-touted participatory decisionmaking framework involving parents and teachers. As with many charters, results have been mixed. But the documentary makes clear that this is not just a school--it is a calculated attempt to achieve symbolic victory for an embattled union. Although the film shows lots of footage of engaged youngsters and problem-solving teachers, it also features plenty of politics; here's UFT president Randy Weingarten attacking Mayor Bloomberg for scapegoating teacher unions, here she is rhetorically accusing charter advocates of leading a "scorched earth" campaign against unions. A Q&A session at a screening of the film had the same flavor. When charter advocate Andy Smarick (see his thoughts on the film here) asked Weingarten if she had changed her tune on charter operators like KIPP after opening a charter herself, she refused to answer directly but made the unsupported claim that certain "quick-fix" schools can't maintain early gains over time. Not to say that the UFT Elementary Charter is a bad school. Its emphasis on "CREST" values--community, respect, excellence, scholarship, and trustworthiness--is an excellent example of how a charter school can foster a culture of high achievement. But when Weingarten can't bring herself to commend KIPP, whose time-tested Five Pillars undoubtedly influenced the CREST values, and whose reputation for raising student achievement is unassailable, it's difficult to welcome her into the charter movement with open arms. See more information on the film and the school itself (as well as the recently opened UFT Secondary Charter School) here.