YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

May 26, 2013

Eva Moskowitz and the Charter School Movement

Eva Moskowitz

Eva Moskowitz

Last week I attended the first benefit gala for the Success Academy Charter schools initiated by Eva Moskowitz. My son Daniel S. Loeb was being honored, and Chris Christie, Governor of the State of New Jersey was the keynote speaker. Wall Street heavies and some major Republicans were present by the hundreds, as were many of the young principals of the various Charter Schools.

The Governor said flat out that if we did not rescue America’s public schools, the republic was finished, and I could not agree with him more. Christie, like many other activists on behalf of quality free education for all, sees the teachers unions as the chief obstacle to achieving this goal. Sadly, teachers unions have defended teachers, no matter how inept and unqualified, at the expense of learners in our country. Indeed, the teachers unions are major supporters of the Democratic Party, and numerous authors have identified the powerful wealthy Democrats (e.g. Mark Zuckerberg, Bill and Melinda Gates) who have poured wasted money into ed reform, for none of these billionaires will go up against the teachers unions or their defender Diane Ravitch. (For my blogs on Ravitch and Democratic Party reformers see http://clarespark.com/2012/05/03/index-to-blogs-on-education-reform/ Steve Brill’s book is mostly about Eva M. and worries that she will burn out. Brill, a Democrat, thinks that Randi Weingarten can be reformed!)

I find it very mysterious why the high priority given to free public education by Governor Christie and Dan Loeb (like Charles Sumner and other enlightened Americans who came before us), is not widely shared. One can understand why unqualified, underperforming teachers defend tenure and pensions, but how to account for the indifference of parents and grandparents, or of all citizens, many of whom complain about the great dumbing down of our culture and sense an irreversible decline of American leadership in the world?

A brief recollection: when I moved to Los Angeles in 1959, I taught chemistry and biology at Los Angeles High School. Noting that there were no after-school clubs like the one I enjoyed at Forest High School in Queens, New York, I proposed a Philosophy Club, with much student support (and LA High at the time was black, brown, Asian, and Jewish mostly). I was called “that commie Jew from the East” in one anonymous letter deposited in my mailbox, which appalled me as I was mostly apolitical at that time. I recall that my best student was a black boy in chemistry. I never thought that there was anything wrong with the brains of my “colored” students, either in Los Angeles or at Jamaica High School in Long Island where I had taught in the Spring semester of 1958. Eva Moskowitz’s charter schools in NYC have borne out my views that lazy teachers and inadequate expectations for performance of minority children, not racial differences in intelligence, are responsible for low graduation rates and poor student performance in inner city schools in America.

Here is how Wikipedia describes the pioneering efforts of Eva Moskowitz: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eva_Moskowitz

And here are the objectives of Moskowitz’s “lesson plan” in a booklet handed out to all attendees of this inspirational gala on May 22, 2013:

[Item:] Make schools magical places—warm, colorful, joyous—where the curriculum is rigorous, the pace is fast, the bar is high, and boredom is banished.

[Item:] Inspire kids to read, to write, to imagine, to build, to invent, to work, to think. [Eva told me once that early on, students read poems and extract the message of the poem: could anything be better than reading comprehension, including understanding the subtext and messages of great literature?]

[Item:] Invest in excellent teaching, with support and coaching and an unprecedented commitment to professional development.

[Item:] Introduce children to the creative disciplines and elations of art.

[Item:] Enlist parents as partners in schooling and as advocates for education reform.

[Item:] Teach chess and daily discovery-based science, so that scholars grow up to find better ways forward.

[Item:] Give every child access to great public schools and provide every family with great educational choices.

[Item:] Empower a generation of children to achieve their dreams.

[Item:] Transform a nation at risk to a nation of hope and opportunity.

[Item:] Change public education—for good.

In New York State testing, this is how Success Academy Charter Schools have performed: 96% passed 2012 NYS Math Exam; 88% passed 2012 English Exam; 100% passed 2011 Science Exam. In Math, English, and Science, Eva’s schools were beaten only by Anderson, “the most selective Gifted and Talented public school in NYC.”

For more sources on this subject, see the following references:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/12/nyregion/seeking-teachers-support-mayoral-candidates-pledge-education-reform.html?ref=evasmoskowitz&_r=0

http://www.nj.com/politics/index.ssf/2013/04/christie_town_hall_raritan_val.html

http://socialistworker.org/2009/11/13/charter-school-charade ( A Trotskyist organization attacks Eva Moskowitz and her project.)

Success Academy

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12 Comments »

  1. […] The American Right has put much emphasis on reconstructing the black family, with fathers at the helm. It is time that they put comparable energy into rectifying the major institution outside the family that is socializing our black children. There are hundreds of rallies in support of Trayvon Martin scheduled today. Will any of them put the word ‘race’ in inverted commas? Will anyone criticize “African American” leadership for obliviousness to the education of young black males? See http://clarespark.com/2013/05/26/eva-moskowitz-and-the-charter-school-movement/. […]

    Pingback by Obama’s intervention 7-19-13 | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — July 20, 2013 @ 6:07 pm | Reply

  2. Parents get beaten up on either side of the political aisle. Seriously, you think we haven’t tried to make changes? No one listens to us. Yes, teachers vote Democrat but there are many Democrats getting flak from the Diane Ravitches of the world because they want to see some accountability and better results, too. Even President Obama is on their S list.

    Republicans want to make it all about bad teachers and too much pay. That is certainly a problem in THIS economy, but the bigger problem is the curriculum; curriculum that relies too much on parental involvement and not enough in school mastery of basic subjects. This is especially harmful too poorer children who might not have parents who help them or can help them at home. It doesn’t help the high achieving kids either. I guess that doesn’t generate enough political fodder. Much easier to pit people against people.

    Watch kids struggle to read because they are being taught to look at pictures to guess the words and watch the appetizer approach to presenting both language arts and math and you’ll soon see even the best teachers can only achieve so much success. They, of course, won’t admit it, which is where I put them at fault. They are too attached to Whole Language and Everday Math and peer driven learning.

    But as for parents, We’re tired of being the scapegoat.

    Comment by cindy0803 — May 26, 2013 @ 9:27 pm | Reply

    • If you study the curriculum of the Moskowitz charter schools, you will see no blaming of teachers or of parents. She expects, and gets, high performance and cooperation from both teachers and parents. It is only too bad that there are not more like her and her team of kids, teachers, principals, and parents. As for the generalization about Republicans, that is simply not true for all of them. I think all Americans, given a choice, would prefer that their children get proper instruction.

      Comment by clarespark — May 26, 2013 @ 9:34 pm | Reply

      • That I can agree with, but I detected a distinct condescension toward “democrats” and parents for letting this go on. I tried to convey we are not letting it happen in silence. We are just being blown off (even if politely). Educated parents with the means to do so are leaving the public schools. After working within the system (as a parent of a K-2 student), I decided to homeschool this year. My daughter is in third grade. It has been wonderful and I will not be sending her back to public school for elementary school and likely not middle school (which tend to be Lord of the Flies environments).

        As someone who went to public school and thrived there (in the 70s and early 80s), it is a bittersweet reality for me.

        Comment by cindy0803 — May 26, 2013 @ 9:42 pm

      • Didn’t mean to be condescending toward anyone, Cindy. I applaud you for taking on the huge responsibility of home schooling. It is just that teachers unions support the Democratic Party, and they oppose school choice. Individual democrats are individuals, just like independents and Republicans. Some are anti-intellectual, others are not. For more on this point, see http://clarespark.com/2012/03/03/sluts-and-pigs/, retitled Limbaugh vs. Fluke.

        Comment by clarespark — May 26, 2013 @ 9:48 pm

      • Clare,

        Given your quick willingness to dispel any intention to condescend, I apologize if I was hasty or cranky. I can only say that I am sorely vexed by this whole education situation and have no idea when it turned into such a disaster.

        I detest finger pointing about something so important; something most parents and children are forced to participate in. I never thought much about forcing parents to send their children to school until I had to do so. As I received a good education, I expected my daughter would as well. After all, we live in a “good” school district.

        I saw in Kindergarten that kids were learning a watered-down version of what I had learned in first grade. I had some misgivings which turned into dismay in first grade when the children were still using kid writing and invented spelling and creativity was lauded while accuracy was not. In fact, parents were encouraged not to demand accurate spelling. I also watched the constant movement in the classroom which distracted ME. I don’t know how kids learn and remain focused there. Parents were expected to get children proficient at home.

        By second grade, my dismay turned to anger and frustration. More of the same. Kids didn’t know how to spell and were instructed to look at pictures if they struggled with a word. These were third graders. Instead of focusing on reading, they focused on writing. Crazy. They couldn’t read great literature to know what good writing looked like. Despite this poor way of teaching reading and writing, many kids were “good” readers but they had no tools to sound out words they were unfamiliar with. They just skipped over them. Consequently, they had a stunted vocabulary. They had no concept of syllables or root words. I compare it to a person who loses an arm but learns to function without it. These kids were learning with one hand tied behind their backs. One of the.final straws was two days before school was out, my daughter’s teacher informed me she was not proficient in telling time.

        What! I had spent a good part of the year suggesting to the teacher and the principal that because nothing was ever collected and graded, they had no idea what the children knew. I knew, because i read the work she brought home. They did everything together and corrected it together. The principal told me graded work did nothing for the teacher or the child, it was just something parents wanted. I still get angry when I think about that and I liked the principal. How do you work with teachers when their teaching techniques fly in the face of what seems like common sense to the parent? We are just supposed to trust.

        Aside from the curriculum, one of the problems in elementary schools is that most parents tend to be young and easily intimidated. Some of them are young enough that they may have been taught this way. However, I was born in 1965 and had my daughter when I was 39. So I knew what I was seeing was not necessarily normal or better. I didn’t have a name for it, though i was able to figure that out through research. Whatever you want to call it, my daughter was not being challenged and was learning poor, sloppy habits. They eliminated a third grade class before the start of the year and that was the end of it for me.

        To not have a choice would have felt like being thrown in prison for something we didn’t do. I thank God I live in a state that is friendly to homeschooling. Sorry to ramble, but that explains part of my testiness. I sometimes feel like I’m ducking punches from all around.

        Comment by cindy0803 — May 27, 2013 @ 12:14 am

      • This is the kind of detailed autobiography that is very useful for other parents and non-parents too. Thanks, Cindy, for taking the time to spell it out. Your experience is replicated all over, I’m sure.

        Comment by clarespark — May 27, 2013 @ 1:02 am

  3. I agree with you that “there is nothing wrong with the brains of blacks, browns, Asians, or other groups.” I also agree that the contemporary Democratic Party in America is “underserving” the non-white population ( IMO primarily by the strict enforcement of race-based identity and grievance). Finally, the superiority of any “race,” including the “white race,” is an odious concept best relegated to the 19th century along with the study of phrenology and Eugenics. But I’m surprised at your rejection of the idea that in a population of a sufficient size, individuals fall on a continuum of abilities; physical, emotional, and intellectual. I am also a product of the public schools, and boredom is an apt term. I dispelled my boredom with participation in athletics and set some surprising records. Through that experience I recognized that motivation was a primary factor in the competitions in which I participated, though there were cases of clear “giftedness” of physical type. The 300lb high school lineman who could run like the wind (when the rest of us were under 170 lbs.) The tall high jumper with the astonishing vertical jump, when we were all under 5 foot 8 inches. Even with the same vertical jump, we were out of the competition. The economically built distance runner. Weight classes in wrestling insured that the 98 lb. sophomore would never have to face the 250lb senior in head to head competition. Why would this continuum not likewise exist in other human attributes?

    Comment by Terbreugghen — May 26, 2013 @ 8:36 pm | Reply

    • Not everyone is a born coloratura either. So what? That is not what the blog is about, but about teachers unions protecting unqualified teachers, not students who must suffer under their incompetence.

      Comment by clarespark — May 26, 2013 @ 9:31 pm | Reply

  4. Intellectual ability is a continuum. A philosophy club, while laudable, will attract only a small segment of a given population. What to do with those who do not respond to a rigorous, fast-paced, high-bar educational environment, especially in a culture in which student failure is seen as the fault of everyone but the student? Chess, while a great gymnasium of the mind, is competitive. There are losers. Where do they belong in this revised approach to education?

    Comment by Terbreugghen — May 26, 2013 @ 7:49 pm | Reply

    • Sorry, I can’t agree with anything you stated above. What the Success Academy Charter Schools are doing is giving an opportunity to neglected segments of the American population. No one knows to what degree intelligence is shaped by nature or nurture. I was in public schools all my life, and was bored out of my mind. I would have greatly profited from the rigorous curriculum offered to youngsters in Eva M’s schools. The results are very impressive. My chief aim: to demonstrate that there is nothing inherently wrong with the brains of blacks, browns, Asians, and other groups, currently underserved by the Democratic Party. Antiracists in the past never argued that all people could be geniuses, but they did argue against the inherent superiority of the white race.

      Comment by clarespark — May 26, 2013 @ 7:55 pm | Reply

      • As an educator in a public college, I take your “chief aim” as a given. I was in no way demeaning your or Eva M.’s approach. Just wondering out loud what happens to those who don’t take to it. I made no mention of race because I see race as unrelated to the educational enterprise. Actually, I see race as an artificial construct that is devoid of relevance and meaning best left in the dustbin of history. But culture (and subculture) remains. I have minority students who are gifted, but who underperform — primarily because they have a (sub-) culture of origin that is hostile to education, or so it appears to me. The odious movie “Good Will Hunting” with its ludicrous portrayal of an abusive psychologist who somehow avoids professional scrutiny, comes to mind as an example.

        Comment by Terbreugghen — May 26, 2013 @ 9:20 pm


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