Charter School Leader Puzzled By 'Bizarre' Feud with Mayor

Wednesday, March 12, 2014 - 04:00 AM

Eva Moskowitz (right) observing a fourth grade math class at Harlem Success 4. (Beth Fertig/WNYC)

New York City has more than 180 privately managed public charter schools. But from recent media coverage, it's easy to think there is only one charter group led by one outspoken leader: Eva Moskowitz.

She and her Success Academy network have been making headlines since late February when Mayor Bill de Blasio blocked three new schools from her network from opening this fall as planned. The mayor said children with special needs would be adversely affected at one site and that the other two elementary schools were inappropriately placed inside high schools.

Moskowitz responded by suing the city and hitting the airwaves. Yet, in an interview with WNYC, she said the recent feud puzzled her.

"It really is bizarre and I think on some level, it defies an explanation," she said. "I say to myself, why is anyone going to go into solving the crisis of public education if there’s this much controversy. It’s strange."

Moskowitz said the mayor started the feud by singling out her charter network during last year's campaign. He criticized then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg for letting Moskowitz have "the run of the place," because she opened 22 Success Academy schools inside regular city schools, creating the largest local network of privately managed and publicly funded charter schools.

Yes, she benefited from the charter boom under Bloomberg, she said, but she was not the only one. 

"Achievement First got a lot of schools. Independent folks got schools. Over the last 12 years, the charter sector grew tremendously," she said. "But that doesn't mean that the process was easy. In fact, from my perspective, it was pushing a boulder up the hill."

She also strongly disagreed with the perception that she is overly aggressive in her tactics. 

"I’m an advocate and I stand up. But I think I’m very gracious," she said. "I try, even toward opponents, I do not personalize in the way that, frankly, others have personalized."

Here is the full interview:

And here are highlights: 

Q: Do your schools serve a fair share of children with special needs and English Language Learners?

A: We have about 15 percent special needs which is higher than many of our co-located. With English-language learners, we do have a few percentage points lower than the district and part of the explanation there is that our kids pass out of the NYSLAT test, which determines whether they are English-language learners. You should also understand that the district school gets $1,600 per English language learner student, so they have an enormous incentive to keep that population in that category. Whereas we educate English language learners, irrespective of funding.

Q: Do you serve children with the highest special needs who require classes of no more than six or 12 students per teacher?

A: When the Department of Education gives us space we serve 12:1:1 [classes of 12 students, one teacher and a paraprofessional], so at each one we have several 12:1:1 classes. It's been a real battle with the Department of Education because the department has discriminated against charters in not giving them space for 12:1:1 classes. I'm happy to show you all of my correspondence with the Department of Education on this subject. It's been an eight-year battle.

Q: Why are there fewer kids in the upper grades at her schools than lower grades over time?

A: We backfill up to third grade. In communities which are serving socio-disadvantaged children there is a lot of movement, both in the district school and the charter school. The theory you're positing that somehow our structure leads to [attrition]… The student attrition rates would have to be high if that were the case. It simply is low. And it's very interesting to me that reporters are not asking that question. In general, reporters are not asking the question of why is the student attrition rate so high at district schools, and what could the possible cause of that. And I would posit that perhaps it has to do with the quality of education that leads to the incredibly high rates of student attrition at district schools.

Q: What about de Blasio's statement that well-resourced charters like hers should pay rent for space inside district school buildings? 

A: Most of our schools are running deficits and they could not afford to pay rent. It would be devastating to the programs. But I think there's a larger issue. Why should they have to? We're a public school. Is Brooklyn Tech, which has a $13 million endowment for one school, going to pay rent? Or are only the schools that the mayor happens not to like - for reasons we can't understand - going to be charged rent? That would be patently unfair and it would be punishing children who do not deserve to be part of the mayor's vendetta.


Comments [9]

Isitc from New York

Beth Fertig, the next time you onterview Eva please ask her why her lawyers harass all the principals where her schools are currently colocated. Her school based administrative teams are figure heads. The lawyers negotiate shared space and schedule

Mar. 12 2014 03:56 PM

I remember when Eva Moskowitz was a member of the city council--wasn't surprised when she left and found a more effective way to improve the community.

Of course she is exhibiting a self confident nature because she has found a way to actually affect positive change in public education, albeit in a very limited and controlled group, and will not be deterred. I think Mayor DiBlasio is being foolish in focusing his criticism w/the charter school system by focusing on Ms. Moskowitz. After all, she has a proven positive track record. Now this becomes a personal, petty argument that no one wants to hear about. That's a shame because charter schools still haven't solved anything yet and could use some scrutiny.

What I would like to see is the Mayor and his Board of Education put out a constructive challenge to the charter school industry and offer them free rent in buildings that need physical improvements (let them put their hedge-fund money into repairing & improving existing structures and install the latest technologies, and offer complete handicap access and state of the art security on their dime) and work with disaffected parent populations and see what "magic" their system gets all involved, especially w/test scores.

The most important element in this argument is not money spent on supplies/buildings/teachers nor charter vs public but the PARENTS. After all, there are several public schools that have been and remain very successful in educating our children w/in the city. And what these successful schools have in common with charter schools are parents who are MOTIVATED and ENABLED to get their kids enrolled in the "right" school, get their kid to school every day, make sure homework is done, meet w/teachers, volunteer, etc.

What Ms. Moskowitz and the charter school industry have not figured out is how to set up a school in less-than desirable communities where life-challenged parents (e.g. don't speak english, school drop outs, unemployed, drug abusers, etc) can participate and reinforce the education experience their child receives in school.

So it isn't necessarily the charters who are "cherry-picking" students most likely to succeed. The don't need to. Instead, it's self-motivated parents who are doing the picking who are selecting charters to put their kids in a position that offers a better chance to succeed. We still have not solved the bigger problem: how to educate those who are "impossible" to educate?

Here's something really novel: how about charters, while providing along w/child education, provide in-need parents free day care, a medical clinic, job training classes, english language ed, and whatever else would help improve a parent's position. And do this all without charging additional tuition. Then we'll see how truly altruistic charter companies really are.

Mar. 12 2014 03:04 PM

We have added a Q&A on some of the tough topics raised by Beth Fertig concerning charters and attrition, special-needs students and rent. For more reporting on charter schools, click here:

Mar. 12 2014 01:19 PM

Eva Moskowitz is well practiced in manipulating the press, but I'd hope Beth Fertig would have enough experience to unveil her misinformation and reveal some of what actually drives this story.

It is so disappointing to see this essential issue prompt nothing more than what you'd find in Success Academy press release.

I wish I could rely on WNYC to dig in and lay out the depth and meaning of what is happening in public education. While we place our faith in test scores and ad campaigns, bullied by the fear of failure, we are allowing our essential public institutions to be undermined and occupied by financial and corporate interests.

Eva Moskowitz is not the issue, although her personality reveals key factors like privilege and control. She is an effective figurehead for a much larger dynamic, one which desperately needs to be understood.

One might hope WNYC has a role to play in improving our understanding of this important topic. This piece offers nothing toward that goal.

Mar. 12 2014 12:42 PM
Brooklyn parents from NYC

I find Beth Fertig's superficial reporting on education and the privatization to be truly disturbing and really irresponsible. Virtually every time Fertig covers an education issue, your advertising money from the NYC Charter School Center appears to be leading the perspective. Where does she want to work next? The NYPost?

This makes a lot of people wonder how much else WNYC is getting wrong.

Mar. 12 2014 10:44 AM
Emily from Brooklyn

I'm very disappointed by WNYC coverage of education issues in general.
How can Eva Moskowitz be interviewed and not questioned about the criticisms leveled at her schools?
I think that Beth Fertigs reporting, and even Brian Lehrer has been doing the public a disservice covering this issue. It is so complicated and nuanced, and there's a tremendous amount of money involved and so where is the digging? Where is the investigative reporting? It doesn't take a rocket scientist to "follow the money" and uncover what's really going on. How is Eva Moskowitz serving children with special needs? How is she improving the public schools her Success Academies co-locate with their shiny new supplies and furniture, while the public schools are in desperate need of repair, supplies and funding? isn't this really just creating another form of segregation?
Public school students and the public in general deserve more from public radio.

Mar. 12 2014 10:12 AM
Teacher from the Bronx from Bronx, NY

I listened to Beth Fertig's interview with Eva Moskowitz hoping to her ask one question: "How many 'Emotionally Disturbed' students do your schools admit?" I teach at a public middle school in the Bronx. I currently have one CTT class (a combined class of special and regular ed students) including three 'Emotionally Disturbed' students. ED students are loud, confrontational, sometimes violent and never quiet. Teaching such students is a challenge (though not impossible and can even be fun and rewarding).

Charter schools work through active and passive means work to remove Emotionally Disturbed and other "problem" students from their rosters. These means are often complex and deserve serious investigation (Public schools too try to remove these same students but are not as successful). Many parents love charter schools precisely because they provide their students with a safe learning environment free from the distractions of difficult to manage students. Test scores rise, in part, because that's what test scores do when you have a classroom full of only the most attentive students.

If Ms. Moskowitz "mystified" by the criticism of her schools, perhaps it's because she's not being asked the right questions.

Mar. 12 2014 08:13 AM
Alan Reeder

Beth Furtig, I eagerly await your publication of "The Art of Hagiography".

Mar. 12 2014 07:56 AM
Joe from nearby

If Moskowitz thinks we're buying into her feigned puzzlement about why the public is troubled by what she's been doing, she's sadly mistaken.

Mar. 12 2014 07:39 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.