The Battle for New York Schools: Eva Moskowitz vs. Mayor Bill de Blasio
Run, don’t walk, to read this NYT Magazine article on “The Battle for New York Schools: Eva Moskowitz vs. Mayor Bill de Blasio.” Eva takes no prisoners and pulls no punches in her crusade (and I use that word knowingly) on behalf of children who are being screwed by the system.
By 1997 she was teaching at Prep for Prep, a program in New York City for gifted minority students. She assigned her 11th graders to document the disparities between the city’s cleaning of parks on the wealthy Upper East Side and its non-upkeep of a park in the Harlem neighborhood where some of them lived. She told the students to take photos and complain to the sanitation and parks departments. “We created a little bit of a ruckus,” she said. “I think Prep for Prep was nervous about it. I was asked why I couldn’t just do simulations.” The park, she continued, got a cleaning.
During that period, Moskowitz grew consumed with the dismal performance of the city’s vast Department of Education, which is responsible for schooling 1.1 million children — and with the union-guarded contracts that continue to make it nearly impossible to fire teachers for incompetence or give raises for merit. “I remember reading,” she told me, turning to the protections for administrators, “that a principal had to demonstrate ‘persistent educational failure’ to be in jeopardy of losing his job. I remember thinking, that’s crazy! Persistent. Like a driver would have to persistently kill people before being taken off the road!”
Moskowitz’s zeal persists to this day. My first exposure to her was at an informational gathering two years ago; my girlfriend was about to enroll her daughter in a first-grade class at a Success Academy school. I caught a glimpse of an educator who can be dismissive of anyone whose opinions differ from her own, and over the past four months, as I met with Moskowitz or watched her at work, that impatience with dissent emerged as one part of a furious and almost crazed passion. She has devoted herself to training a legion of young teachers and principals in how to conjure “world-class schools” or even, as she puts it, “educational nirvana.” Two of her own three kids attend her schools. She claims that her academies can stand up to any private school — she calls much of the teaching there “lazy.”
Her students have been performing phenomenally. In 2013, on the state exams that gauge proficiency in math and English, Success Academy schools far outscored not only the city’s regular public schools but also its most highly regarded charters, networks like Achievement First, KIPP (the Knowledge Is Power Program) and Uncommon Schools. At one of Moskowitz’s Harlem academies, the fifth graders surpassed all other public schools in the state in math, even their counterparts in the whitest and richest suburbs, Scarsdale and Briarcliff Manor. That year was no fluke. The 2014 results, released last month, put the network in the top 1 percent of all the state’s public schools in math and in the top 3 percent in English. At one Bedford-Stuyvesant academy, where 95 percent of students are black or Latino, 98 percent scored at or above grade level in math, with 80 percent receiving the highest of four ratings.
It might seem as if any New York mayor would be thrilled to have thousands of the city’s most underprivileged children educated so well. But during Bill de Blasio’s campaign last year and then as he claimed City Hall, he and Moskowitz took each other on in a ferocious political battle. They are two liberal crusaders with profoundly divergent ideas about how the mission of aiding the disempowered should be carried out. De Blasio is essentially a populist; Moskowitz, whose network’s board is filled with Wall Street one-percenters, is hardly a woman of the people. The political differences have stoked personal enmity, with de Blasio moving to block the expansion of Moskowitz’s network and Moskowitz mustering her own political resources to move him out of her way. The ultimate outcome of their clash may determine the city’s educational future.
(I want to give credit where it’s due however: perhaps de Blasio is coming around, as just this week granted space to four charter schools, including two of Eva’s, so kudos to him for that! http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/11/nyregion/mayor-agrees-to-accommodate-4-larger-or-new-charter-schools.html)