Cuomo Reelection an Obvious Moskowitz Opportunity
On November 4, 2014, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was re-elected. As the New York Times reports, some voters lamented “lack of an acceptable option.”
In the days preceding the election, Cuomo vowed to “bust” the public school “monopoly.”
In the days following Cuomo’s reelection, New York charter queen Eva Moskowitz, who is hinting at a NYC mayoral run in 2017, was featured in the Reason TV interview embedded at the end of this post.
I also transcribed the 17-minute interview here:
The interview portrays Moskowitz as an individual champion of NYC K12 education coming up against the teachers union machine.
According to the Reason TV promo,
Reason TV’s new video examines how a charter school pioneer is delivering impressive test scores and countering the political influence of fighting education reform. Reason’s Nick Gillespie and Eva Moskowitz, CEO of Success Academy, discuss why her schools are so successful, whether her model is scalable, how labor contracts continue to hurt schools, and what moved her to sacrifice her political career to bring attention to the corrosive influence of unions on education reform.
Just underdog Eva versus the Big Bad Teachers Union.
However, what Eva does not disclose is that in November 2014, she is running her own heavily hedge-funded, highly politically connected machine.
As I watched her interview, what I saw was not an individual against a machine. I saw two machines– two machines not completely at odds, at that– and neither one especially supportive of the rank-and-file, career classroom teacher.
Let me start with Eva.
I wrote a chapter on Moskowitz in my book, A Chronicle of Echoes. The chapter is largely based on over 100 emails exchanged between Moskowitz and then-NYC Chancellor Joel Klein (who also has his own chapter in the book) from 2006 to 2009. Readers can view both chapters for free on Amazon.com.
What I learned about Moskowitz from writing that chapter was that she is a driven woman. High test scores are a Moskowitz obsession. Those under her charge– principals, teachers, and students– are required to deliver on Moskowitz directives. After a lengthy school day (I document 11 hours), teachers are required to be available to students via cell; the are required to work on Saturdays and even deliver test-prep drill in inclement weather.
The Reason TV showed clips of Success Academy protest marches. Moskowitz required faculty and parents to participate. She did tell parents that women within two hours of giving birth could be excused.
Bossy, driven Eva– a reality who remains concealed in that Reason TV interview.
One of her principals proudly referred to the Success Academy students as “little test taking machines.”
She burns out her teachers.
And when is comes to co-locating her schools in existing public schools, she is relentless– and she will not even let parents stand in her way and will even try to prevent “her” parents from mixing with the community school PTA.
Contrary to the focus of the Reason TV interview, Moskowitz does not restrict her schools to NYC, and she actively seeks to establish her schools in affluent neighborhoods, again against parents’ wills.
In 2014, she clearly has a powerful hedge-funded political machine behind her.
But here’s the rub: Moskowitz is pushing for the complete privatization of New York’s schools– a privatization that will make those she refers to in the Reason TV interview as “social entrepreneurs” able to open and run schools and answerable to no one for the spending of state money. Even though Moskowitz takes state money and co-locates in public buildings, she sued to escape state audit of her schools and WON.
According to the judge, Moskowitz’s schools are “technically not units of the state.”
No answering to anyone– a problem leading to charter lawsuits nationwide.
Ironically, in her Reason TV interview, Moskowitz criticizes unions for “constant arbitration.”
She does not acknowledge the wide door to corruption that is opened via an under-regulated charter industry. Instead, she herself sues to escape audit of public funding.
Wonder what is part of those financials so worth hiding as to warrant such a speedy, litigious reaction….
The interview touches briefly on Success attrition. Harlem Success 1’s first eighth-grade class started with 73 first graders and ended with 32 eighth graders. Moskowitz states that her schools’ attrition is not as bad as the NYC public schools, and especially not as bad as the community schools in which her schools co-locate.
A Success Academy co-location is a fight for resources. That students leave the “losing” public school “side” is no surprise. What is left unexplained is how Moskowitz’s desired privatization of all NYC public schools would handle mid-year additions of students. Traditional public schools cannot send students away if they move into town mid-year. Traditional public schools must enroll all students whenever they show up in compliance with the law.
If NY charters are “technically not units of the state,” then could the state require NY charters to enroll students at inconvenient times?
Success Academy does not currently have to face this issue.
In the Reason TV interview, Moskowitz refers to “close to a million kids [in New York State] who failed the test”–which is likely a reference to New York State’s 2014 Common Core tests. On these tests, seven Success Academy schools fared extremely well, boasting from 85 to 100 percent proficiency rates in math– far above those of other schools, even KIPP charters.
Success Academy also had stellar Common Core test proficiency rates in 2013. (New York teacher Gary Rubinstein has a great post on Success Academy’s 2013 scores, including former Success Academy teacher insight into the issue.)
I don’t believe Success Academy is cheating. I think Success Academy is really good at test prep– that, and supplying two teachers per class.
Success Academy has a large Teach for America (TFA) presence, but TFAers are not allowed to be lead teachers at Success Academy.
Noteworthy, given that TFA is a prime labor force for charter schools. Moskowitz restricts them to helpers.
Even with two teachers per class, Success Academy teachers burn out. Rubinstein approximates 50 percent teacher turnover per year. (I have never witnessed a 50 percent faculty turnover, neither in 13 years as a public school student nor in 15 years as a classroom teacher.)
But here is what I wonder: With stellar results on Common Core tests, how is it that Harlem Success Academy 1 had no eighth-grade students able to test into a NYC elite high school? In 2014, none of Moskowitz’s first eighth-grade graduating class from Harlem Success Academy 1 tested into NYC’s elite high schools. No evidence yet that Success Academy proficiency rate “success” translates into the remarkable.
Apparently “success” stops with the state test. This Success failing does not come up in the Reason TV interview.
Strangely, Success Academy’s far-and-beyond, non-scalable, state-test “success” does not advance the cause of charters in general– just the cause of Success Academy.
For her “success,” Eva pays herself a half million a year– a topic that did come up in the Reason TV interview. Her response?
Well, I think [my salary] does matter. I think we have to, we have to invest in talent.
There we have it.
Given her express dislike for unions, I’m sure Moskowitz would not count Weingarten’s similar compensation as “investing in talent.” And yet, on issues related to privatizing reform, Weingarten has taken positions that have actually helped Moskowitz.
For one, in 2002, and again in 2009,Weingarten supported mayoral control of NYC– which was support for Michael Bloomberg’s preference for closing community schools and opening charters. Weingarten also has connections to corporate reform philanthropist Eli Broad, who is known for his support of both TFA and charters (including Success Academy). Under Weingarten, UFT took a million-dollar grant from Broad in order to establish two union-run charters.
And as for Moskowitz nemesis, NYC anti-charter Mayor Bill deBlasio: Weingarten endorsed Bill Thompson instead, a man who supported Bloomberg in denying a NYC teacher raise. She even assisted NYS Regents Chancellor and Thompson campaign manager Merryl Tisch in a Thompson fundraiser.
On October 9, 2014, Weingarten and AFT hosted a reception for a publication of a pro-charter book entitled, A Smarter Charter: Finding What Works for Charter Schools and Public Education.
The above are decisions that benefit the likes of Moskowitz above the UFT rank-and-file.
And then, there’s Cuomo.
Weingarten has been consistent in her support for Andrew Cuomo. She offered a last-minute Robocall ostensibly for his running mate, Kathy Hochul, on the eve of the Democratic primary. She publicly excused Cuomo’s “monopoly busting” comment as “campaign rhetoric.”
Union-supported gifts for Eva. Ahh, the irony.
Now, I realize that Moskowitz cannot openly thank Weingarten, what with the underdog image Moskowitz is promoting as she rides the Cuomo reelection wave. And I also realize that if Moskowitz runs for NYC mayor, Weingarten is likely to pull out all of the stops to try to shut her down, not so much to protect NYC teachers from the mayoral control Weingarten promoted, but because it’s Moskowitz running. Moskowitz must know this.
Stay tuned, New York.
Schneider is also author of the ed reform whistleblower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education