UFT Fall Charter Conference panel: Building a progressive movement

Photo by Cara Metz. Green Dot Public Schools founder Steve Barr (on panel, second from left) answers a question while fellow panelists (from left) New York Charter Parents Association President Mona Davids, Central Park East school founder Deborah Meier and UFT President Michael Mulgrew and UFT Vice President Leo Casey, the panel moderator, look on.

By Cara Metz

More than 100 charter school teachers from around the city came together at UFT headquarters on Oct. 14 for an evening panel discussion that kicked off the UFT’s two-day fall charter conference and professional development event.

Entitled “Fulfilling the Promise: Why We Need a Progressive Charter School Movement, And How to Build It,” the panel, moderated by UFT Vice President Leo Casey, featured Steve Barr, the founder of Green Dot Public Schools and chair of Future is Now Schools; Deborah Meier, a MacArthur fellow and founder of the innovative Central Park East school in East Harlem; UFT President Michael Mulgrew; and Mona Davids, the president of the New York Charter Parents Association.

Mulgrew, who represents teachers at 14 charter schools, said that teachers from charter schools ought to work together with teachers from district schools to demand the best education for all students, no matter what school they attend. Charter and district schools need to share best practices to improve learning for all students, he said. At the same time, Mulgrew noted, charter schools need to serve all students equally — including the city’s neediest students — and operate in a transparent and publicly responsible manner.

His fellow panelists shared their experiences and perspectives on building a progressive charter school movement. Meier, whose small schools — often cited as an early model for charter schools — were based on progressive ideals for a democratic education, said that today’s school reform needs to be part of a broader social justice movement and we need to be wary of the charter school movement being co-opted by corporate reformers.

Barr, who has worked with many school communities as he opens up union-friendly charter schools across the nation, said that each school is an amalgam of many different groups or “tribes,” including students, teachers, parents, administrators and the local community. As long as these groups can agree on 80 percent of their goals, Barr said, that should be enough to accomplish great things.

Davids spoke of the need for accountability in charter schools and of the importance of parents having a voice in their children’s schools. “We shouldn’t have to go to Albany” to get a law passed to ensure that happens, she said.

This article originally appeared in The New York Teacher on October 27th, 2011, visit UFT.org, for the original article.