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 https://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

May 12, 2013

I Remember Mama: Betty Spark

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Betty Spark ca.1930s

Betty Spark ca.1930s

Everyone probably has some gripe with her or his Mother, which we are supposed to put aside on Mother’s Day. So today, I am going to remember all the maternal accomplishments of my late mother Betty Spark, a.k.a. Betsy Ross, Rebecca Dorothy Rosen, and others I can’t remember.

My mother’s parents were both immigrants from somewhere in Eastern Europe. She named me after her beloved mother Clara Thumin, whose rabbinic family is shown here (at the bottom of the page).

Clara, who was fluent in seven languages, ran away from her family at age thirteen, I am told, to make her way in America. She met and married Louis Rosen, and together they ran a dry-goods store in Columbus, Ohio. From family stories, Clara was a premature anti-racist, as was my mother Betty.

Here is my mother at her most glamorous, taken probably in the 1930s, the decade when her mother died. She met my father the doctor in New York City shortly after her mother’s early death, and worked for the Republican National Committee under the nom de guerre of Betsy Ross. Later she became a social worker, an investigator of Harlem families who might or might not be eligible for welfare benefits.

My mother was not enthused about domesticity (though she was great at soups and gefilte fish, made from scratch), was even delinquent in many respects, but here is what she taught me anyway:

She taught me to read when I was five years old, and gave me such books as Bible stories for the very young; during one of my many childhood illnesses she brought me stories from the opera, so that to this day I remember reading the plots of such obscure operas as “The Daughter of the Regiment” or “Fra Diavolo.” We always listened to radio broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera, then sponsored by Texaco,I believe; she taught me arithmetic; she taught me to swim; she taught me to love museums; she had graduated from Ohio State University in three years, so I graduated from Cornell in three and one half years, at which point (after I had taught tough kids science at Jamaica School for a semester) she advised me to apply for a fellowship at Harvard, where I met my future husband Ronald Marvin Loeb, father of my three children, including Daniel S. Loeb (Betty gets some of the credit for Dan’s drive and interest in investing). She was also sociable and fascinated by the lives of strangers, whom she might meet on a bus or anywhere.

But most of all, she taught me to stand up for myself, even when I was strongly on the Left (at least theoretically). I am thin-skinned, so she said “Now, Clare. People are going to attack you. Build a fence around yourself and defend your turf.” My mother was never anything but a capitalist, and yet she was proud of me, wherever I happened to be on the political spectrum. A strong woman herself, given to taking the microphone at shareholder meetings to complain about the lack of women on their boards of directors, she was the embodiment of unconditional love and an exemplar of strong convictions that were not to be hidden from any and all antagonists.

We should all have such mothers, mothers who insist that we be ourselves without losing interest in the lives of other people. She most strongly identified with her mother Clara Thumin’s illustrious Romanian family, said to be rabbis stretching back to the thirteenth century.  I proudly claim that lineage for myself, a secular Jew who reads closely and fights for universal literacy. Thanks forever, dearest Mother.

Thumin family

Thumin family

August 30, 2010

Growth or Redistribution? excerpt from Third Point LLC letter to investors 8/27/10

 [To my readers: I am neither an economist nor an economic historian, so I thought that this collage and analysis of where our country is headed under the Obama administration, remarkable for its clarity and forthrightness, would be a welcome addition to the website. I thank Dan Loeb for giving me permission to quote from his letter, the full content of which can be accessed on the internet. Also see the front page of the Business section of the New York Times today, August 31, 2010: http://dealbook.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/08/31/sorkin-why-wall-st-is-deserting-obama/?scp=1&sq=Daniel%20Loeb&st=cse]

Daniel S. Loeb

All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.

– Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address, 1801

 A wise and frugal government, which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned – this is the sum of good government.

– Thomas Jefferson, Writings, 1743-1826

 I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of the people.

– Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Thomas Cooper, 1802

 One of the traditional methods of imposing statism or socialism on a people has been by way of medicine. It’s very easy to disguise a medical program as a humanitarian project. Most people are a little reluctant to oppose anything that suggests medical care for people who possibly can’t afford it.

– Ronald Reagan, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fRdLpem-AAs, 1961

 You know, there’s a lot of talk in this country about the federal deficit. But I think we should talk more about our empathy deficit – the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes; to see the world through the eyes of those who are different from us – the child who’s hungry, the steelworker who’s been laid-off, the family who lost the entire life they built together when the storm came to town. When you think like this – when you choose to broaden your ambit of concern and empathize with the plight of others, whether they are close friends or distant strangers – it becomes harder not to act; harder not to help.

– Barack Obama, Xavier University Commencement Speech, 2006

 It is that fundamental belief, I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper that makes this country work. It’s what allows us to pursue our individual dreams and yet still come together as one American family. E pluribus unum. Out of many, one.

– Barack Obama, Democratic National Convention Speech, 2004

 I think when you spread the wealth around it’s good for everybody.

–Barack Obama’s Comments to Joe “the Plumber” Wurzelbacher, 2008

The secret of US success is neither Wall Street nor Silicon Valley, but its long-surviving rule of law and the system behind it… American system is said to be “designed by genius and for the operation of the stupid.”

– General Liu Yazhou, Phoenix Magazine, August 2010  

Review and Outlook

As we entered the second quarter of 2010, many measures of confidence and economic activity were showing consistent improvement, leading us to increase our exposures in select undervalued companies which we thought would benefit from a favorable economic environment. Most pundits initially attributed the subsequent turn in the markets and investor sentiment to the Greek crisis, concern over the Euro, the Oil Spill in the Gulf, and vague rumors concerning faltering Chinese growth. However, it is apparent to us that the turning point in both investor and consumer confidence came on April 16th, with the filing of the government’s suit against Goldman Sachs over its mortgage CDO activities. This politically-laced lawsuit was a tipping point for shaky investor confidence against an increasingly worrisome landscape of new laws and proposed regulations that are perceived by many market participants to promote “redistribution” rather than growth, and are contrary to free market ideals.

As every student of American history knows, this country’s core founding principles included non-punitive taxation, Constitutionally-guaranteed protections against persecution of the minority, and an inexorable right of self-determination. Washington has taken actions over the past months like the Goldman suit that seem designed to fracture the populace by pulling capital and power from the hands of some and putting it in the hands of others.

 For example, a well-intentioned government program gone awry is the new CARD Act that restricts banks from repricing interest rates on borrowers who fail to meet their revolving credit obligations. The effect of this legal prohibition has been to force the banks to raise the interest rate paid by all borrowers, to compensate for losses they are now being forced to take on delinquent borrowers. The effect is a redistribution of wealth from people who pay their debts on time to those who do not.

 Laws and regulations such as these justifiably raise questions about this government’s commitment to free-market capitalism and the articulated rule of law. Arguably unconstitutional Bills of Attainder, such as the special “Enterprise Tax” proposed to be levied on hedge fund managers and other managers of private partnerships who wish to sell their management companies (ostensibly in order to extend unemployment benefits beyond the current 99 weeks) send a vivid message that this Administration is operating from a playbook quite different from the one we are used to as American business people; a thought that chills all participants in these free markets.

 On the other hand, it is not hard to understand the source of the popular distrust in capitalism today. Many people see the collapse of the sub-prime markets, along with the failure and subsequent rescue of many banks, as failures of capitalism rather than a result of a vile stew of inept management, unaccountable boards of directors, and overmatched regulators not just asleep, but comatose, at the proverbial switch. When we hear the chorus of former executives and regulators exclaim that the crisis was “impossible to see coming”, while at the same time walking away with millions or going on to greater levels of responsibility in government, it is both puzzling and demoralizing. It is easy to see why so many people have concluded that the entire system is rigged.  

This crisis of trust in our system is not limited to inept executives in regulated financial institutions who bury their shareholders and then walk away with ill-gotten sacks of loot. Having analyzed hundreds of proxy statements from the outside and having had the “pleasure” of sitting on several corporate boards, giving me a chance to walk the sausage factory floor, I have personally witnessed the incompetence of many boards of directors. One can only conclude that the incentive systems put in place for directors reward luck and station more than they do talent, skill or creation of shareholder value.

 Not all boards are bad, of course. Private equity firms have a terrific model of appointing energetic members of their firms and outside experts to oversee the affairs of the companies they govern. They tend to have real “skin in the game”, spend days reviewing strategy and other matters, and have their own staffs to analyze numbers produced by the company. Board fees tend to be irrelevant to the members of such firms as they are keenly focused on strategies to deleverage and to create long/medium term shareholder value. Even some public companies have similarly engaged corporate boards.

 However, many of the boards we have come across are populated by individuals who rely on the stipends they receive from numerous corporate boards and thus appear motivated primarily to ensure continuing board fees, first-class air travel and accommodations, and a steady diet of free corned beef sandwiches until they reach their mandatory retirement age. We are therefore encouraged by the recently finalized proxy rules, which will ease the nomination and election of directors by shareholders.

 All of the above leads us to conclude that America faces not only a crisis of confidence among consumers unwilling to spend and businesspeople unwilling to invest, but also a crisis of leadership. So long as our leaders tell us that we must trust them to regulate and redistribute our way back to prosperity, we will not break out of this economic quagmire. One can hope only that this Administration, composed of brilliant academics that have had experience in creating the very regulation and overseeing the very institutions that have failed, has learned from its mistakes and will set us down the right path. Perhaps our leaders will awaken to the fact that free market capitalism is the best system to allocate resources and create innovation, growth and jobs. Perhaps they will see the folly of generating greater deficits by “investing” in programs that lead to corruption and distortions of the system.

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