Charter Schools

How Eva Moskowitz Outmuscled the Teachers Union

A charter school pioneer counters the political influence of organized labor.

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Last week, Eva Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, responded to critics of charter schools in a Wall Street Journal op-ed:

There is a concept called the big lie, which holds that if you repeat a falsehood long enough and loudly enough, people will begin to believe it. Sadly, fearing the success of charter schools in New York City, the United Federation of Teachers and other education-reform opponents have been telling a big lie for years.

The UFT and its backers have kept up a steady drumbeat of false claims against charter schools in New York City: Charters cherry-pick their students, push out those who need extra support, and generally falsify their impressive results. Well, a recent report from New York City's Independent Budget Office, a publicly funded, nonpartisan agency, proves that these accusations are false. Unfortunately, New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña is among those city officials who believe the big lie.

The IBO report, released in January, found that—contrary to what some people have come to believe—"students at charter schools stay at their schools at a higher rate than students at nearby traditional public schools." The IBO reported that charter schools in the city retain 64% of their students, compared with 56% of students retained by district schools. Among special-education students, the IBO found that 53% stay at their charter schools, versus 49% at district schools.

This means that no matter how many times UFT President Michael Mulgrew repeats the slander in press releases, in letters to his members and in newspaper columns that charter schools unfairly "counsel out," i.e., expel, struggling students just before state exams—it simply isn't true.

Moskowtiz recently spoke with Reason TV's Nick Gillespie about her political evolution and her on-going battles with opponents of education reform. 

"How Eva Moskowitz Outmuscled the Teachers Union": Written, shot, and edited by Jim Epstein; interview by Nick Gillespie; additional camera Anthony L. Fisher. About 17 minutes.

Original release date was November 7, 2014 and the original writeup is below.

In November 2003, Eva Moskowitz, then a freshman member of the New York City Council, held explosive public hearings about how union contracts imposed inane work rules on public schools. The city's political establishment was astonished.

Mosowitz—a former history professor, public school teacher, and self-proclaimed liberal, whose politics up until that point seemed to resemble those of every other Democratic politician in New York—was sacrificing her political career to take on organized labor. Exposing the consequences of teacher union contracts was a direct affront to the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), which wields enormous influence in New York City elections.

Moskowitz didn't pussyfoot. At one point in the hearings, she even played audio testimony from a whistleblower with a disguised voice. She said that many of her sources declined to appear because they feared union retribution. She also went toe-to-toe with Randi Weingarten, the UFT's confrontational leader.

Two years later, when Moskowitz ran for Manhattan Borough President, Weingarten and the UFT mobilized against her and sunk her candidacy. So Moskowitz left politics for the time being; if she couldn't transform the system from within, she would build an alternative to the public schools.

Today, Moskowitz is the founder and CEO of Success Academy, which is the city's largest and most successful charter school network. With 32 schools around New York City—staffed by a non-union teaching force—Success Academy posted test results last year that astounded education policy experts.

Meanwhile, Moskowitz and her charter school allies started building a powerful coalition to counter the outsized political influence of organized labor. In March, when New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) tried to squash Success Academy's expansion plans, Moskowitz bused 11,000 charter school parents and kids up to the state capital in Albany to protest—and New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo came out in support. De Blasio retreated. Success Academy could move forward with its expansion plans after all, and state lawmakers quickly passed a bill to protect charter schools from future interference by the mayor.

Reason TV's Nick Gillespie sat down with Eva Moskowitz to talk about why her schools are so successful, whether her model is scalable, how labor contracts hurt schools, and what moved her to sacrifice her political career to bring attention to the corrosive influence of unions on public education.