Tuesday, November 4, 2008

UPDATED: Eva Moskowitz Exposes Fault Lines of Charter Schools


Today's NY Times' article on Eva Moskowitz and her Harlem Success charter schools has a few nuggets exposing the charter school sham worth exploring.

High teacher turnover
With such rapid expansion, staffing is a critical challenge: As at most other city charters, Harlem Success teachers are not unionized, and work a longer school day and year than those at traditional public schools. Within the flagship school’s first few months, the assistant principal and two teachers were let go. Five of last year’s 20 primary classroom teachers did not return this year, and turnover has been high among the largely 20-something back-office staff.

Rich kids at Brearley and poor kids in Harlem are on an equal playing field and thei achievement gap can be explained by the low expectations thesis.

Since the first school opened in 2006, the curriculum has been a work in progress. Officials are rethinking how their students are taught writing, and Ms. Moskowitz was clearly exasperated while recently reviewing responses to a practice test, in which third graders were asked to read a passage about a family’s berry-picking expedition, then predict what might happen next.

“Some one stold there berries,” read one of the more inadequate answers — a testament to the learning that must still take place. Concerned that part of the problem was teachers’ and administrators’ low expectations, Ms. Moskowitz ordered a staff member to collect third-grade writing samples from the prestigious Brearley School.

All kids and parents are welcome

She demands a lot from Harlem Success parents: They must read their children six books a week, year round, and attend multiple school events, from soccer tournaments to Family Reading Nights. If children are repeatedly late, the parents must join them to do penance at Saturday Academy.

Nefertiti Washington, 28, whose son is a kindergartner, said some parents walked out of a springtime information session when Ms. Moskowitz made her expectations clear by saying, “If you know you cannot commit to all that we ask of you this year, this is not the place for you.”

Squeezing public schools they share space with
She has had particularly rocky relationships with some of the traditional public schools that house her charters. Last spring, she referred to the fight to house a Harlem Success school inside Public School 123 as a “Middle East war” (she later apologized).

Failure is due to bad teachers
The [Moskowitz] couple ruled out private school for financial and ideological reasons, she said, and were wary of traditional public schools because of their belief that the union contracts she railed against during her City Hall days allow mediocre teachers to remain in classrooms.


Most telling excerpt from the Eva Moskowitz profile in today’s NY Times:
The day … ended at a cocktail party, where Ms. Moskowitz grilled Michael Thomas Duffy, Mr. Klein’s top aide for charter schools, over the city’s formula for allocating space to charters.

Mr. Duffy, in an interview, conceded that conversations with Ms. Moskowitz can run “hot”; he recounted his early days in the job, when what he thought would be a 45-minute get-to-know-you turned into a two-hour meeting dominated by her frustration at not being able to obtain potential students’ contact information. “She dispensed with the niceties pretty quickly,” he said.

Nevertheless, Mr. Duffy described the Harlem Success lottery this spring as a “watershed event,” saying “it seemed to crystallize an understanding of the permanency of charter schools in the city, that there’s no going back.”

This is the way that people get access to this administration – through the cocktail parties they attend. No involved public school parent or CEC member is likely to meet Michael Duffy at a cocktail party – where high-level networking goes on to obtain special advantages for the charter schools, including disproportionate allocation of public school space and/or funding. Many parents have suffered a brick wall when discussing these matters with Duffy, who seems to feel that it is his job to serve the charter schools at the expense of traditional public school students.

Even PTAs under this administration cannot get the contact information for the parents of students enrolled in their own schools – and yet Eva Moskowitz, no doubt, can get whatever she needs from the DOE in order to recruit students and obtain favorable advantage for her chain of charter schools.

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