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

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

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.”