Friday, February 04, 2011

Class Struggles at a Bronx Charter School

Run, don't walk, to read this lengthy, wonderful, and well deserved story about the Bronx Success Charter School (part of the Success Charter Network run by Eva Moskowitz).  It rebuts all of the scurrilous charges made against all successful charter schools – creaming, kicking kids out, drill and kill factories, etc. – and it's particularly noteworthy because it's in the left-wing Village Voice.  You can tell that they so clearly wanted to do a hatchet job on Eva, but after visiting and seeing what was going on, they just couldn't:

In New York City's public schools, the most common problem for teachers is that they cannot get their kids to shut up. From kindergarten through high school, it is the bane of almost every teacher's existence. Even experienced teachers talk about the frustration of having a handful of disruptive kids—or even just one—that keeps everyone else from learning. Bronx Success Academy 1 isn't having any of it, and not just because it can fire teachers and students. The newly opened charter school is part of a network run by Eva Moskowitz, a woman who inspires a remarkable loathing from New York's teachers' union and other advocates of traditional public education. Employing non-union instructors, Bronx Success exists not only to educate kids but to show that it can do so better than traditional public schools, like the one it shares a building with, P.S.30 (Wilton).

…Policies that defy common sense infuriate Eva Moskowitz, the well-paid CEO of the Success Charter Network. A former chairwoman of the City Council's Education Committee, she has been the scourge of the United Federation of Teachers, the department of education, and civil rights activists at one time or another. She is praised by some education advocates and reviled by others. An article about her on is named "What is it about Eva Moskowitz that attracts so many enemies?" A longtime source for the Voice says, "She is the devil, and I cannot think of anything good to say about her."

Shortly before he left office, Chancellor Joel Klein described Moskowitz as "a lightning rod" of criticism, but had nothing but praise for her.

On this day in the Bronx, Moskowitz is opening a charter school that has 185 black and Hispanic children and one white child. And though she could afford to send her children anywhere on her salary ($300,000), two of her own children go to Harlem Success Academy 3, where they are among the only white children. (Her older son goes to NEST+m, a traditional public school for the gifted on the Lower East Side.)

So why is a woman who spends all her time educating poor children of color so hated, especially when she puts her own kids where her mouth is?

For one reason, her Success Academies are blamed for cannibalizing. The more Bronx Success grows, the more its "co-location" neighbor Wilton will have to shrink—putting Wilton's staff and parents on the defensive as their school is pushed toward irrelevance and possible extinction. For a charter to grow, the other school in its building must die (or, reformers hope, rise to the challenge). The battle for space alone can make enemies out of entire school communities. That movie is playing out right now on the Upper West Side, where Moskowitz is attempting to open her first charter in an affluent white community, against great opposition.

Why, contend charter school critics, pit kindergartners against each other? Why should Wilton kids see that Bronx Success has better bathrooms, a longer school day, and more resources in the same building?

Last year, the Voice examined a similar relationship between two public (not charter) schools located in the same building on the Upper East Side. Lower Lab School is a nearly entirely white and Asian and affluent "gifted" school, and it shares space with Ida Strauss, a mostly Hispanic and black "zone" school. Not surprisingly, the children in the gifted school test far higher than the children in the zone school, and not many children in the neighborhood can qualify to get into the better school.

Success Network children also score well, but anyone can get in if they are selected in a lottery. Moskowitz is taking the sort of children who would normally go to an Ida Strauss zone school, but getting results out of them that rival and sometimes even surpass those of Lower Lab, the gifted school. Her Harlem Success Academy 1 scored in the top 1 percent of the state's 3,500 public schools in third-grade reading and math.

But this may be the most remarkable thing about a Moskowitz school like Bronx Success: Walk down the hallways, and you are immediately struck by it.

The quiet.

But her son has been having behavioral problems, and has been acting out. "They suggested I should come in and observe him, so we can work together on helping him," she says. She is not the least bit defensive about what her son's teachers have told her, and seems to trust them completely. Whenever his eyes drift toward her, she directs him, "Don't look at me. Focus on your work."

The mother's story belies a common belief about charters, that they won't deal with problem children. It seems quite the contrary at Bronx Success, whose staff seemed disappointed to lose the other boy. (Moskowitz says she has never expelled a student from one of her network of schools.)

The Jamaican woman has nothing but good things to say about the administration, who she says "is working with me, 100 percent" to help with her son. He had previously been enrolled in a public preschool, but she didn't want him to return because there were too many fights and she feared for his safety.

Fights? In preschool? "Have you ever been in public school?" she responds.


Class Struggles at a Bronx Charter School

Bronx Success Academy 1 may not quiet its critics, but it's doing a good job making its kids shut up and pay attention

Wednesday, Feb 2 2011

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