Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Eva Moskowitz Has Big Brass Balls

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.


  1. Peter,

    As to the experiences of the teachers who work at Eva's schools, go here:


  2. "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."

    Surely the purpose of SA and other "high-quality charters" of its ilk is not to prepare students for top high schools, but to keep them out of schools attended by "other people's children."

  3. In her interview with John Merrow, the most outrageous thing she said was when she responded to Merrow's question about Success Academy's discipline and suspension practices (the children puffing out their cheeks so they can 't talk must be seen to be believed), she replied, "We believe it's preparing children for life." !!

    1. The "bubble hug" (cheeks puffed out so you can't talk, arms around yourself in a hug so you can't touch anyone else) is, sadly, more common than I'd like to think. I heard about it in Oak Park, Illinois, a pretty affluent suburb of Chicago.

    2. Wow, this is going on in "dear old Oak Park"? In the elementary schools?

    3. I have a friend who runs a play-based daycare in Oak Park. She has told of a few of her former little ones who have gone on to different elementary schools in Oak Park and they all tell the same story. We have friends whose kids go to Irving and they say it happens there.

  4. Love this piece. Your comment about confidential student information is right on. I am shocked with the details regarding a student she specifically states is the one in the interview -- an outrageous violation of student privacy.

  5. Eva and her ilk don't even believe in the concept of "disability" or that there is a category known as "special ed," or in IEP's.

    Or perhaps Eva does, but doesn't deign to take those unfortunates on. According to one staffer, she responds to kids in hardship, including those based on disability with the following comment:

    "SUCCESS ACADEMY is are not a Social Services agency."

    Eva Moskowitz is on the same page with Duncan. To both of them, there's no such thing as "special ed." In her opinion, that which the traditional school approach categorizes as "special ed," is nothing more than a lack of "maturity" as a result of "mama" failing to her her job. Those whose fail to "mature" --- or have the effects of poor parenting reversed --- under Eva's system are kicked out... err... "counseled out."

    This is from PAGE 5 of the 2010 NEW YORK MAGAZINE story on Eva and her schools:

    "At Harlem Success, disability is a dirty word.

    " 'I’m not a big believer in special ed,' (SUCCESS ACADEMY's instructional leader) Fucaloro says. For many children who arrive with individualized education programs, or IEPs, he goes on, the real issues are 'maturity and undoing what the parents allow the kids to do in the house—usually mama—and I reverse that right away.'

    "When remediation falls short, according to sources in and around the network, families are counseled out. 'Eva told us that "the school is not a social-service agency," ' says the Harlem Success teacher. 'That was an actual quote.'

    "In one case, says a teacher at P.S. 241, a set of twins started kindergarten at the co-located HSA 4 last fall. One of them proved difficult and was placed on a part-time schedule, 'so the mom took both of them out and put them in our school. She has since put the calm sister twin back in Harlem Success, but they wouldn’t take the boy back. We have the harder, troubled one; they have the easier one.'

    "Such triage is business as usual, says the former network staffer, when the schools are vexed by behavioral problems: 'They don’t provide the counseling these kids need.' If students are deemed bad 'fits' and their parents refuse to move them, the staffer says, the administration 'makes it a nightmare' with repeated suspensions and midday summonses. After a 5-year-old was suspended for two days for allegedly running out of the building, the child’s mother says the school began calling her every day 'saying he’s doing this, he’s doing that. Maybe they’re just trying to get rid of me and my child, but I’m not going to give them that satisfaction.' ”

    "At her school alone, the Harlem Success teacher says, at least half a dozen lower-grade children who were eligible for IEPs have been withdrawn this school year. If this account were to reflect a pattern, Moskowitz’s network would be effectively winnowing students before third grade, the year state testing begins.

    " 'The easiest and fastest way to improve your test scores,' observes a DoE principal in Brooklyn, 'is to get higher-performing students into your school.' And to get the lower-performing students out."

  6. I have to disagree. I don't think Eva has balls or brains or common sense, but then I also think she is a psychopath.

  7. Eva Moskowitz has sent a clear message to parents: do exactly what we tell you to do or get the hell out. And she doesn't give a damn about smearing a kid's reputation. It seems that the concept of choice only applies when picking a school. No choice on discipline, curriculum, assessment, extracurriculars, or anything that makes kids actually like school

  8. Mercedes did a nice analysis of the whole Eva's letter demanding an apology, and the overall situation here: