Is it really possible to transform the city’s 44 low-performing schools into charter schools by September 2013? Simply as a logistical matter – forget the convoluted politics – it seems unlikely. But we know why frustrated parents and community members are reaching for that lever: It’s the one they’ve got.
Parents are not only frustrated, they are angry. Their children are being cheated of the educations to which they are entitled by the state constitution, yet the people who have the power to do something about that intolerable circumstance either can’t or won’t.
Thus, pastors of several of Buffalo’s largest African-American churches are supporting Sam Radford’s call for a radical solution to an intractable problem: Wrest those 44 schools away from the district – and the Buffalo Teachers Federation – and let them start fresh with new leadership, new enthusiasm and new prospects for student achievement.
It’s a tempting idea and, as doubtful of its prospects as we are, it is also beneficial to keep the pressure on as the District Parent Coordinating Council, which Radford leads, looks for ways to expand its influence. There aren’t many.
The most challenging obstacle for anyone who wants to see improvement in Buffalo schools is the miserable relationship between the district and the BTF. It’s as dysfunctional a relationship as you can imagine, but one that the union nonetheless seems to value.
Between union-friendly state labor laws and a contract that long ago gave away the candy store, the union is empowered to do nothing it doesn’t want to do. Most recent is its intransigence on negotiating a new teacher evaluation agreement, a refusal that threatens to cost the district as much as $59 million.
BTF President Philip Rumore dresses his refusal in nobility, claiming he can’t possibly negotiate with the district while the district continues to appeal a ruling that recent involuntary teacher transfers violated the contract.
But why can’t he? Let that issue work its way through the courts and, eventually, it will be resolved for good. In the meantime, take up the unrelated issue of teacher evaluations and put it to bed before a catastrophic funding loss undermines Buffalo’s mistreated students even more.
Alas, there is no reason to believe the BTF will take that forward-looking approach; it’s not dysfunctional enough. And groups such as Radford’s, desperately seeking a solution that will fix education in Buffalo, are left to grasp at whatever levers are available to them.
They shouldn’t give up. Given the lengthy application process and the certain political opposition, it’s hard to see how 44 schools can become charters by September. But what if 20 of them can? Or 10? Or seven? That would be an improvement.
Converting to a charter is no guarantee of success, of course, but with the BTF standing in the way of progress, remaining in a district school is pretty much a guarantee of failure.