Eva Moskowitz, head of New York's Success Academy chain of charter schools, might just have the biggest, brassest balls in the business. Let's look at the record.
She has fought for and won the idea of co-location, that charming arrangement where charter operators get to take over a public school a few floors at a time. What better way to force the public system to foot all the bills for your private enterprise?
She claims that her charter chain is a public school-- except when the state wants to audit her, in which case she's willing to go to court to assert that her academies are not public schools at all.
When the mayor of New York City wasn't going to give Moskowitz her way on opening more charters, she simply went over his head to the state legislature and governor (who has reaped at least $400,000 in contributions from Moskowitz's backers).
She has routinely closed her schools in order to use staff, students, and their families as prop for pro-charter rallies in the state capital, giving her staff specific instructions on how to "handle" parents.
She pays herself a salary of $475,000, more than double the actual head of the entire New York City public system-- or the mayor himself.
And now, Eva Moskowitz would like an apology.
Well, demands an apology would be more to the point. She wants Judy Woodruff and PBS to take back the mean things that John Merrow said about them in his piece about Success Academy.
I hesitate to link to the letter because it includes what I would have to assume is confidential student information. The problem is familiar to everyone who works in a school-- the school is accused of one misbehavior or another by an dissatisfied student, and the school cannot defend itself publicly because that student's records are confidential.
But Moskowitz gets around that problem by simply ignoring the confidentiality of the student, and smearing the child's name by listing his many alleged offenses (she calls him John Doe, but all you have to do is look at Merrow's piece to get the name). She even includes what is presented as the teacher's write-up of some of the incidents. Here's a link to an excerpt from the letter; you can follow through to the whole text if you wish.
And here's the thing about the teacher write-up. It doesn't really make the school look any better. The child is upset because he didn't do well on the regular test, and then resisted taking his "mandatory cool down,' but instead climbed under the desk and was crying and shaking. I've been in public education in my sleepy little town for thirty-some years, and I know that even the youngest classes can contain extremely hard-to-manage bad actors-- but that's not a kid crying and shaking under a desk.
What the hell is wrong with a school that it drives a small child to this state?
The rest of Merrow's report repeats what we've heard over and over again-- that Success Academies demand compliance and obedience in the pursuit of test scores, and that those who will not knuckle under must be driven away.
Moskowitz also demands a retraction for the reporting of a high attrition rate, claiming, "Our attrition rate is actually lower than the average for either district or charter schools." This is an exceptionally ballsy claim. You can look at these charts from Democracy Builders, a pro-charter group in NYC, showing that for eighty-eight students starting in third grade, Success ends up with thirty-one in eighth grade. In 2014, the Daily News reported that the first graduating class at Harlem Success was just thirty-two of the original seventy-three-- and despite their awesome test scores, none of them qualified on the entrance exam for the top high schools in the city.
Moskowitz also disputes the claim that Success Academy's policy of practice-- excuse me, "alleged practice"-- of pushing out students helps them game the test scores. Moskowitz's response is to construct a straw man version of Merrow's point and dispatch it. But if you want a good fact-filled analysis of Success Academy's approach to race and discipline, this Leo Casey piece from yesterday will more than fill the bill.
Look, the tales of Success Academy's oppressive treatment of children and omnipresent test prep are omnipresent. Everybody has read a few (You can find Jack Covey's collection of teacher stories here.). At best, critics and fans of Success Academy agree that Success Academies are not for everyone, which is kind of the point-- if you are truly a public school, you are "for everyone."
Moskowitz has created an unsustainable model that burns through teachers quickly, depends on infusions of donated cash and the co-opting of public resources, defines success as "good test scores," and serves only about half of the students who enroll, who are in turn a small percentage of city students.
But sure-- demand "a correction and an apology" because somebody didn't follow the Eva Moskowitz PR script. Because while listing the many ways in which Success Academy is nothing like a public school, be sure to include "no transparency." A real public school takes its lumps because how it operates, how it treats its students, how it achieves its success, or even defines its success-- all of that must remain open to the taxpayers who pay the bills.
I suppose you have to admire big brass ones that are so big, the sheer force of will of a woman who, having lost a position of influence as a councilwoman simply carves out her own kingdom of power and influence by operating a business that serves a very small clientele. And to demand an apology from a reporter for actually reporting. Man-- they are just soooo big.