Why did these charter schools fail?

March 25, 2015

Trent England

A common refrain against expanding educational choices for students is that some of the choices may turn out not to work. That is exactly what happened in two New York City charter schools. The failure is tragic for the students whom the school has failed, but, like most failure, it is also instructive.

In 2005, the United Federation of Teachers launched its own charter elementary school. It followed up the next year with a charter secondary school. These were hailed by the liberal Broad Foundation as “the first union-run charter schools in the country.”

“The UFT’s charter schools are a unique experiment by one of the most progressive unions in the country,” said Eli Broad, founder of The Broad Foundation. “We believe that many educators, charter school supporters, unions, and others around the nation will be closely watching to see if a union-run charter school will deliver improved student performance, and we believe that the lessons learned here have the potential to travel to other urban school systems.”

In fact, the Broad Foundation committed $250,000 per year for the first four years of the demonstration project. Union president Randi Weingarten said the schools would “finally dispel the misguided and simplistic notion that the union contract is an impediment to success.”

This year, the UFT’s elementary and middle schools are shutting down in disgrace. They likely had no choice, after their authorizer, the State University of New York, revealed that the school had never met its own “Accountability Plan goals.” More about the school’s troubled history (and the success of many charter schools around it) is at

Weingarten and the Broad Foundation have made a point, even if exactly the opposite of what they intended. That is one lesson: intentions are not a guarantee of results. Another is that, at least in the world of educational choices, failure can actually fail. The UFT Charter School tragically failed to provide an excellent education to most of its students, but the penalty for that failure is the foreclosure of its ability to do any further harm. As former Langston University education professor Matthew Lynch observed, if charter schools and other schools of choice “habitually do not reach their goals, they close. Can the same be said of public schools?”