three theories

What is it about Eva Moskowitz that attracts so many enemies?

Eva Moskowitz.
Eva Moskowitz.

Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez, who has done some seriously good work in the past, this week took his pistol-like investigative skills to the skull of charter school operator and eternal politician Eva Moskowitz — first in a story on the erosion of parent voices in the city schools, and then in a story on Moskowitz’s salary. Gonzalez challenges the salary, which he reports as $371,000 last year (Moskowitz says the real figure is $250,000 plus a $60,000 bonus), suggesting that she should give some of her pay back to her charter schools.

This is hardly the first criticism that’s been thrown at Moskowitz, who previously served as the chair of the City Council’s education committee and ran for borough president of Manhattan, losing to Scott Stringer after the teachers union campaigned against her. As Gonzalez reports, her critics include “educators, parents, the teachers’ union and Harlem political leaders.”

Why’s there so much hate for a woman who has decided to spend her days starting schools for poor and mostly black children in Harlem? There are now many charter school operators in this city. Why focus on Moskowitz? I asked around today and collected three different theories:

1) This theory is the one that’s implicit in Gonzalez’s report: She deserves the scrutiny because she’s not what she claims. She claims that her charter schools are unfairly underfunded by the state — but then she rakes in a big salary herself. She similarly claims to want to improve public education — but then she goes along with a Department of Education plan to move her charter school into an existing public school, effectively allowing the city to go over the heads of parents and, as Gonzalez put it in an another piece this week, “rezone a public school.” (Only about 30 families will be displaced.)

2) The second theory comes by way of a charter school official who asked not to be named because he hadn’t shared his thoughts with Moskowitz. He told me that Moskowitz suffers a style problem. Rather than approaching the district public schools with respect, Moskowitz makes a habit of dismissing their work as unacceptable.

“‘You’re trash,’ is what the message is. ‘You’re trash, and get out of the way, because we know what to do and you don’t,'” the official said. “No person can say that. I don’t think any person has that authority. Especially someone who hasn’t run a successful school for more than a few years.” He said the better method, practiced by several other city charter schools, is to develop relationships of respect and trust, to work together rather than to fight the old system. “Even the KIPP people,who have a much logner track record of success, they speak with a level of humility,” the official said.

3) The third theory is Moskowitz’s own. She acknowledges that she doesn’t work in the same style as other charter school leaders might — but she thinks that’s a good thing. Here’s how she put it to me:

We have to always be respectful of people because being nice is the right thing to do and important, but I think we have a moral obligation to identify schools that are not working for kids, and unfortunately there are a lot of them. If that’s disrespectful – if saying that a school is failing is offensive – I think that we can’t be politically correct and sacrifice children in the process.

The result is that she’s willing and eager to declare schools as failures, and to urge that they be replaced with something new. And the result of that is a powerful challenge to the status quo that she says can mean a high price for her. “Even at considerable personal and professional cost, I’ve never been afraid to raise the bar and to do what I think is right for children and teaching and learning,” she said. “And that’s incredibly threatening.”

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.