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.
About 17 minutes.
Written, shot, and edited by Jim Epstein; interview by Nick Gillespie; additional camera Anthony L. Fisher.
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