NEW YORK – The nation’s first teacher union-run charter school is facing a “do or die” moment.

oh no paper 2Earlier this year, New York’s charter school authorizers debated whether or not to close the perennially low-performing UFT Charter School, which is operated by – named for –the United Federation of Teachers, the labor union representing New York City teachers.

State authorizers decided to let the union’s school continue, but warned UFT leaders they must dramatically improve student performance by 2015 or the charter will be shut down forever, reports GothamSchools.org.

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The union’s school leaders responded to this “make-or-break” crisis over the summer by enacting a bold, innovative, reach-for-the-stars improvement plan … that consisted of moving the middle school from the high school campus to the elementary campus.

UFT Charter Board President Evelyn DeJesus explained the “important” change in a Nov. 4 letter to parents:

“Many schools facing similar problems with middle school performance (UFT Charter’s biggest area of concern) report success with a K-8 format. We believe this change preserved what it strong in our elementary academy while giving our middle school students the academic, social and emotional support they need to thrive.”

Call us cynical, but we don’t expect UFT’s “change of scenery” plan to yield much of a result.

If a genuine charter school – one that exists to educate students, rather than make a political point – were in a similar predicament, its leaders would take truly bold steps to improve student learning, such as lengthening the school day (and year) to give students more instruction time and reassigning staff to meet student needs.

Of course, leaders of genuine charter schools can make those changes quickly and easily because the school’s teachers are typically not unionized. That frees administrators from going hat-in-hand to the union for permission to require more work from teachers for the same money.

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UFT Charter School leaders can’t require their teachers to work longer days and years because the employees are also the boss. That means the adults operate the school to suit their financial needs and comforts, and the students get whatever’s left over.

If UFT Charter School gets shuttered in 2015, it will be a major embarrassment for the union.

GothamSchools.org notes American Federation of Teachers President Rhonda “Randi” Weingarten started the UFT school in 2005 to prove to the world that a charter could succeed even with a teachers’ contract filled with dozens of restrictive, “Thou Shalt Not” work rules.

“But seven years into its existence, the nation’s first union-run school was one of the lowest-performing schools in the city, and its position did not improve when the state released its first round of scores from tests aligned to new Common Core standards this summer,” the news site reports.

Looks like Weingarten and the UFT are making the exact opposite point they set out to make.

Of course, none of that matters much, as New York City has a new, union-controlled mayor who seems determined to pull the plug on all charter schools. Come 2015, when the union will likely be forced to close down the UFT Charter School, that announcement may well get swallowed up by news that a slew of charters are closing.

That would allow Weingarten and her fellow travelers to save face and pretend their failed experiment ever happened.