More than two decades ago, Deborah Meier warned that the idea of democracy was in peril. “Is it ever otherwise?” she asked in the preface to The Power of Their Ideas, her elegantly argued manifesto for public education. A self-described preacher on its behalf, she has spent half a century nurturing “everyone’s inalienable capacity to be an inventor, dreamer, and theorist—to count in the larger scheme of things.”
New York's Greatly Hyped Success Academy Tainted by Racist Board Members and Radical Right-Wing Money
Success Academy, New York City’s largest charter school network, has been the subject of a steady stream of unflattering press reports since Board chair and billionaire hedge funder Dan Loeb accused New York Legislature's highest-ranking black woman of inflicting more damage to people of color than the KKK. But Loeb isn’t the only Success leader who traffics in incendiary racial commentary. Board member Charles Strauch has had a blog for years that specializes in right-wing race baiting and recycled conspiracy theories from the dregs of the Internet, many with a racial tinge.
At a time when Democrats and their party are, by virtually every index, moving left, a powerful center-right pressure group within the liberal universe has nonetheless sprung up. Funded by billionaires and arrayed against unions, it is increasingly contesting for power in city halls and statehouses where Democrats already govern.
One of the nation’s highest-profile charter school chains may be creating a culture of “teacher cheating” in which educators are so pressured to boost student standardized test scores that they will intervene in various ways during the tests, Politico New York has reported.
A little over a year ago, Sonali Kohli with The Atlantic reported a disturbing change in American schools. She focused on one particular educational group called Success Academy Charter Schools. They are self-proclaimed as being “the largest and highest-performing free, public charter school network in New York City,” and they are responsible for approximately 11,000 students in 34 schools.
My grandfather had many folk wisdom expressions, but one that sticks with me is “When you are sitting 100 feet in the air, sawing furiously at the branch you are on, be sure to sit on the the TREE side of the cut.” The meaning here is simple enough: perilous situations demand caution, and it is probably a good idea to check and double check what you are doing lest you end up like these guys.
It is amazing to watch Eva Moskowitz, New York City’s charter school diva, take on her arch political rival, Mayor Bill de Blasio in a charter school war she wages through histrionics and melodrama. The two were rivals in New York’s city council, and only recently did Moskowitz decide not to challenge de Blasio for mayor in the next election. She has amassed a powerful backing—from billionaire hedge fund managers to New York’s governor Andrew Cuomo, who has proven himself responsive to the money Moskowitz’s supporters have donated to underwrite his own political campaigns.
Hedge fund billionaires and major politicians like President Obama, Republican Presidential contender Jeb Bush, and New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo love charter schools. For Obama, Bush, and Cuomo they are the miracle cure for what ails American education. Los Angeles is considering a proposal Broad Foundation to turn half of its public schools into charters by 2023. But what is the "miracle" behind claims for higher student test scores at some well-known charter schools? It may simply be "lock them out to drive them out." Let's look at the Success Academy Charter School Network, whose schools would more aptly be named "Suspension Academies."
Yesterday was a school day in New York City. Across the city, over one million children were in class.
But not the children of Eva Moskowitz's Success Academies! They (and possibly some allied charters) held a mass rally at Cadman Plaza Park in Brooklyn. The park was lined with rented buses. As the children and their parents stepped off the buses, an adult handed them a hand-lettered sign to carry, demanding more support for charter schools.
There were multiple buses for the recording and video services. This was a well-funded, professionally orchestrated demonstration of support for privatization. If public schools closed for a political rally, their principals would be fired.
The children and parents all wore identical red tee-shirts, with the slogan “Dont Steal Possible.” This slogan works nicely in suggesting that someone is trying to close down charter schools, and this imminent threat to their survival must be stopped.
In fact, as is typical with reformer slogans, the opposite is true. Eva and her billionaire hedge fund backers get whatever they want from Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature. And they aim to “steal” space and resources from the beleaguered public schools. They merrily “steal possible” from children with disabilities, children who are English language learners, and children who are homeless, none of whom are wanted by Eva’s Success Academies because they might not get high scores.
The theme of the day was “equality for all children.” A large banner across the top of the speakers’ podium read, “We Fight for Equality.” This is ironic since the typical complaint about charter co-locations is that the charters have more resources, the charters get whatever they want, the charters create “separate but equal” schools within the same building.
It is also ironic that children and parents were rallying for “more charters,” because they are already enrolled in a charter. The children can attend only one charter, right? The beneficiaries of the rally are not the children but charter founders. The more charters they open, the more funding they receive.
It is true that Eva’s schools get very high test scores, much higher than other charter schools. If she has the secret sauce of success, why not include all children, not just the chosen ones? Maybe she should take charge of all the city’s 1.1 million students and show what she can do.
If she truly wants “equality for all,” let her bring the hedge fund billionaires and her secret sauce to save all the children. No cherry picking. No skimming. No exclusion of children who have cognitive or emotional disabilities. All means all. Why not find out if she means what she says?
Eva Moskowitz, the Success Academy Charter Schools CEO, recently denounced “restorative conflict resolution,” saying that the practice makes schools less safe. Students who are violent toward other students need “discipline … not dialogue,” she wrote in the Wall Street Journal, in a piece aimed at criticizing the de Blasio administration’s shift toward restorative justice in new school discipline rules. Without safety, students cannot learn, let alone experience the “joy” of a well-ordered, clean, safe school environment, argues Moskowitz, who boasts that her charter schools suspended 11 percent of students last year.