How to Fix Our Schools


Eva Moskowitz is the founder of Success Academy Charter Schools, a network of schools in New York City that aims to produce better educational outcomes than traditional unionized public institutions by holding students and their parents to higher standards. Reason TV's Nick Gillespie spoke with Moskowitz in September about how to fix our broken education system. To see more of the interview, click here or view the video below.

Q: Do you think your model is replicable, or how much of it revolves around you? With education reform, often there's a particular person who creates a model and then as that person fades out of the picture, things fall apart.

A: I don't think the [traditional public school] district is scalable. We have proof, at least in New York City, that scaling didn't work very well. In New York state we have close to a million kids who failed the test. I don't know under what measure that could be a successful scaling experience.

So maybe the [correct] model is not one giant system. Maybe the model is lots of social entrepreneurs who have school districts of various sizes. That's why I support everything from tax credits to charters to bold district reform. We've got to try a bunch of things and see if we can get real talent into the space.

Q: Are the parents of the 18,000 kids who apply for your schools radically different from the parents who either don't care or don't know about charter schools?

A: This is sort of an unknowable question, but I spent a lot of time with parents before I opened the first school. I did PTA meetings, hundreds and hundreds of meetings, and I have met very few parents who do not deeply, deeply love and care for their children.

Q: There is a fair amount of attrition in your schools.

A: No, actually, that's inaccurate. Our attrition is extremely low, both compared to the district and compared to our co-located schools.

Q: If you have 100 kids in first grade, how many will be in seventh grade?

A: We lose about 10 percent a year. The district loses about 20 percent a year, and some of our co-locateds lose between 30 and 40 percent. And we're educating kids for longer. An elementary school in the district goes K to 5. We're educating kids K to 8.

Q: One of the standard complaints against you is that you personally made over half a million dollars last year. Does that matter?

A: Well, I think it does matter, and I think we have to invest in talent. We pay our teachers more than the district, we pay our principals more. We pay at the home office more. We've got to attract as much talent as humanly possible into the sector. And if you want talent, you're going to have to reward people. Not as much as an investment banker can make on Wall Street, but I don't think because one is doing public education that that necessarily means one is worth less in terms of compensation.

Q: Are you hopeful that public education will improve in New York City?

A: I think it'll take the citizens of New York deciding that they've had enough of educational failure. I am very hopeful, though, that the public and parents are going to demand a change. It's just unsustainable to spend this much money to get so few great results. I just don't think you can go on forever like that. The reason there hasn't been more outcry is that before charters, there were no alternatives. Now, people are seeing that, between parochial schools and charter schools and moving out of New York and doing all these things, parents are voting with their feet one way or another. And I think that's going to change things.