One of the biggest challenges to the miserable status quo of public school education is taking place in New York City. On one side are leftists like Mayor Bill De Blasio, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, and NAACP President Hazel Dukes. Along with their allies in city government and the teachers unions, they want to keep city children, especially minority children, in the failing, Democrat-run public school quagmire. On the other side are the advocates of school choice and charter schools that have provided poor minority students with superior educations that threaten the status quo. Their champion is Eva Moskowitz and her Success Academy Charter Schools. The former group embraces the status quo of languishing students and bleak futures. The latter group embraces hope and change.
We begin with the Mayor. De Blasio, who promised to close some charter schools during his election campaign, made good on that pledge in February, when he closed three charter schools run by fellow Democrat, but arch-nemesis, Eva Moskowitz. Moskowitz’s crime? The 6,700 students at her 22 Success Academy Charter Schools scored in the top 1 percent in math and top 7 percent in English on the most recent state test. These are students who come overwhelmingly from poor, minority families, who overcame the achievement gap progressives regularly bemoan. Even “worse,” four in five charters in the Big Apple outperformed comparable schools, posing a dire threat to the aforementioned status quo of dismal results. Dismal results that would be held up as a national disgrace were it not for campaign contributions provided to Democratic politicians who continue to con New Yorkers and other Americans with promises of “reform” that never happen.
De Blasio didn’t stop with Moskowitz. Since becoming Mayor, he cut off funding for all charter school construction that was to occur after 2015, and announced a “moratorium” on co-locating charters in existing schools. He is also looking for a way to roll back 25 of those co-locations that were already approved for next year. Ten of them involve Success Academies. He did all of this despite the reality that there is a waiting list of 50,000 New Yorkers determined to get their kids in charter schools. A lottery process that literally determines the city’s educational winners and losers.
Or at least it did. Public Advocate Letitia James, who along with City Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito is already planning a lawsuit to shut down co-located charter schools, is now asking a judge to suspend the admission lottery for the 2014-2015 school year while that lawsuit proceeds. “We may ask the court to push the deadline back,” said lawyer Arthur Schwartz who is leading the effort on behalf of James. Unsurprisingly the suit is being backed by the teachers union. Incredibly, both James and the union claim De Blasio isn’t doing enough to inhibit the growth of charter schools. “We’re moving forward with the litigation because, clearly, the process is broken,” James said at a parent forum in Downtown Brooklyn. “The mayor did not engage parents today on this issue, so we’re looking for an expedited review.”
Which parents would that be? Last fall, when De Blasio looked like he was going to be elected, Moskowitz amassed a crowd of 2,000 parents, teachers and students for a pro-charter rally at the Brooklyn Bridge. At least 4,500 families scheduled to enter next year’s charter class would be put in limbo by James’s lawsuit — along with the thousands of parents with kids already in the charter school system whose lives would also be thrown into turmoil if James and the union prevail.
New York City Charter School Center CEO James Merriman got to the heart of the issue. “The destructive tactics . . . would create havoc and uncertainty for tens of thousands of New York City families from low-income communities,” he explained. He also blasted James. “She would do well to remember that her title is public advocate, not advocate for the teachers union,” he added.
Queens Councilman Daniel Dromm, who heads the City Council Education Committee, is a staunch advocate for the teachers union. He has scheduled a hearing next month aimed at pressing Moskowitz and other charter school executives to explain how they spend public funds. His real agenda is transparent. A spokeswoman told the New York Post that Moskowitz has not received an invitation to testify, even as the paper itself noted that it “isn’t clear” that Dromm has any jurisdiction over Moskowitz, who is not a city employee.
Dromm remained undaunted. “We need accountability, we need transparency, and we need to know who is giving them the money and what they’re doing with that money,” he contended. “This is an opportunity, if corruption were to exist . . . I can’t just let it go.”
No one has ever accused Moskowitz of corruption, and this is not Dromm’s first effort to defame and single her out. On March 1, he announced he would hold an oversight hearing to investigate whether Moskowitz acted illegally when she closed her schools on March 4 so that her students could participate in a pro-charter rally in Albany. “I am deeply concerned about the legality of a school leader closing schools for entirely political purposes,” Dromm said in a statement, adding, “no educator should be allowed to use children as pawns for their political agenda.” That would be a rally attended by Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, who said he was “committed” to making sure charter schools will succeed.
A competing rally for universal pre-kindergarten was held by De Blasio and his supporters on the same day. As this picture indicates, it also included student “pawns” advocating on behalf of a political agenda.
With regard to political agendas, perhaps nothing makes the Mayor’s unstinting support for the miserable status quo clearer than his reaction to the results of the latest entrance exam for the city’s elite public schools. Tragically, but predictably, the achievement gap of black and Hispanic students relative to their white and Asian peers made itself evident once again. Out of the 5,096 students accepted by eight top-end schools, only 5 percent were black and 7 percent were Hispanic, despite an increase in the percentage of black and Hispanic students taking the test from 43 percent in 2012, to 46 percent last October.
Did De Blasio demand accountability from the public school system for failing these students? No. The Mayor’s answer is lowering standards — yet more degradation of the education children are entitled to. De Blasio has called for an overhaul of admissions system, insisting that one exam shouldn’t be the sole criteria that determines admission to the city’s best schools. He was echoed by David Jones, CEO of the Community Service Society of New York. “We have to come up with an admission system that is wider than this one-size-fits-all exam,” he contended, further suggesting that schools consider grade point averages and teacher recommendations along with the test. Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña played the diversity card. “We must do more to reflect the diversity of our city in our top-tier schools–and we are committed to doing just that,” she said.
Mona Davids, head of the New York City Parents Union, cut right through the blather. “Leave the exam alone and help our students meet the standards,” she said. “The solution is to improve the elementary and middle schools in neighborhoods of color so the students can perform and pass the exam.”
It is precisely that kind of improvement already demonstrated by Success Academy Harlem 4, where the same minority students achieved some of the highest math scores in the entire state and 55 percent passed English exams last year. Both rates far exceeded city averages. For reference, only about a quarter of New York City students in third through eight grade earn passing scores on English and math tests; 26.4 percent passed in English proficiency and 29.6 percent passed math proficiency, according to statistics from last year. Moreover, there is compelling evidence that some charter schools are closing that very same achievement gap reflected on the entrance exams. Yet late last month, Success Academy Harlem 4 was one of the charter schools De Blasio kicked out of its space in a New York City public school building.
This is a tragedy with real victims. “We’re lost right now,” said Tisha Hatch, 38, whose son Robert Loveless, 9, would be unable to attend fifth grade there next fall. “I refuse to let my son go to any public school in New York City because you have failing schools that need to be closed.” Maria Rodriguez’s three children share the same fate. “This is the future of my children they are playing games with,” she said, explaining that nearby traditional — and failing — public schools were not an option.
Chancellor Fariña’s initial reaction revealed that her commitment to diversity did not breach the boundaries of union loyalty. “They’re charter schools. They’re on their own now,” she said. “That’s part of what they do. They’re an independent structure, and that’s how they function.”
It’s exactly that independence — coupled with success — that is utterly anathema to the teachers unions and their political puppets. Yet both De Blasio and Fariña were unable to withstand the firestorm they created. Two days after Farina made her callous remarks the city backed down and said it will find space for the charter school.
Regardless, Moskowitz and her supporters are taking no chances. They are filing three lawsuits of their own against the Mayor on two separate fronts. The Success Academy is filing a federal civil rights lawsuit to overturn De Blasio’s decision preventing them from co-locating in a public school building. They are also filing papers in Albany with state Education Commissioner John King, seeking a reversal of De Blasio’s decision to prevent two elementary schools from opening at all. They had been approved by former Mayor Mike Bloomberg before De Blasio axed them.
NAACP President and union water-carrier Hazel Dukes was enraged by the Success Academy’s efforts. “This lawsuit is an outrageous and insulting attempt by Wall Street hedge fund managers to hijack the language of civil rights in their shameless political attack on Bill de Blasio,” she wrote.
Duke’s class warfare rhetoric is transparent. Moreover, the irony of her position is breathtaking. The president of the nation’s foremost civil rights organization — ostensibly tasked with advancing the agenda of black Americans — is upset that someone is fighting tooth and nail to save the educational future of black American children. If there’s a better indication of the poisonous influence exerted by the the teachers union, one is hard-pressed to imagine what it is.
The children of New York City are up against enormous foes. The pipeline of taxpayer money flowing to De Blasio and the Democratic Party through the teachers union will not be parted with willingly. Powerful allies like the NAACP are circling the wagons as well. Only a substantial public outcry will be able to right this ship, but it remains to be seen if such a backlash will emerge.
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