crib sheet

We read the Moskowitz/Klein e-mails so that you don't have to

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and Eva Moskowitz at the Harlem Success lottery in April 2009. (GothamSchools)
Joel Klein and Eva Moskowitz at the Harlem Success lottery in April 2009. (<em>GothamSchools</em>)

There’s a lot more than school siting and closures in the 77 pages of e-mails between Chancellor Joel Klein and charter school operator Eva Moskowitz.

The e-mails, obtained by the Daily News, include a little bit of news — such as that Bill Clinton considered weighing in on the charter schools fight — and a lot of insight into the way Klein and Moskowitz think about the politics of education. We’ve read every word of the 150+ e-mails and have collected the highlights below. 

A PERSONAL CHALLENGE: Moskowitz puts her expansion goal in personal terms, in an April 2007 e-mail to Klein: “I plan to be educating 8,000 of your children by 2013.”

SHE DIDN’T LIKE THE TWEED WORKFORCE, EITHER. We know that district school leaders and parents often clashed with Garth Harries, the Tweed official who for years led efforts to insert small schools and charters into their buildings. Now we learn that Moskowitz fumed at him, too. On May 16, 2007, she praised a new Department of Education official, Tom Taratko, to Klein. “He got done in 2hrs what garth could not accomplish in 9 months,” she declared, adding, “look out for him and hire more!!!!!” The more typical Tweed worker she describes this way: “maddening sluggishness and people afraid of their own shadows.”

POLITICKING FOR EXPANSION: In July 2007 Moskowitz described to Klein how she and her main financiers, John Petry and Joel Greenblatt, shored up support for her application to open three copies of the original Harlem Success Academy. They courted New York State Republican Committee chairman Ed Cox, who was at the time chairman of SUNY’s charter board. By January 2008, SUNY sent the charters to the Board of Regents, which approved charters for Harlem Success II, III, and IV in May 2008.

GHOST-WRITING IN KLEIN’S NAME: In August 2007, still marshaling support for the expansion plan, Moskowitz asked Klein to write a “letter of commitment” on her application’s behalf. “To save time,” she wrote to him, “I drafted a quick letter.” There’s nothing unusual about ghost-writing a recommendation letter, but it’s funny to see Moskowitz impersonate Klein.

JOEL KLEIN’S BIRTHDAY IS OCTOBER 25. Put it on your calendars.

SHE CONSULTED ON THE MAYORAL CONTROL CAMPAIGN. And it was war! But Moskowitz was humble about what she had to offer. “Though I have grit and courage,” she wrote to Klein on Jan. 23, 2008, “am not always as good at chess moves when up against the uft.”

THE “HOLY GRAIL”: “BOTTOM UP” SUPPORT: By Feb. 4, 2008, after meetings with “chris” (presumably Deputy Chancellor Chris Cerf), Moskowitz has gotten excited about the campaign to renew the mayor’s control over the public schools. Agreeing with an observation by “chris” that their “holy grail” is “bottom up” support (presumably this refers to grassroots support from non-white parents), she sounds an optimistic note. “[W]e will have armies,” she says.

THE COST OF SPACE-SHARING: On March 21, 2008, Moskowitz tells Klein that she was forced to re-wire her Harlem school building at a cost of $150,000.

THE REV. MAKES HIS FIRST APPEARANCE: Moskowitz fills Klein on her latest activities on March 25, 2008. “As you know, i met with Sharpton,” she writes. “Had a great meeting.”

THEY PLAY FOR THE SAME TEAM. “[W]eird as it may seem,” Klein wrote to Moskowitz on April 12, 2008, “I see us on the same team.” In the same chain, Moskowitz wrote about her small team of aides as if they were bodyguards. “i trust w my life,” she said.

BILL CLINTON MULLS TAKING ON THE UNION: April 16, 2009, was my birthday and a hectic e-mailing day for the odd couple. First, Klein offers his frank thoughts on his new buddy Al Sharpton, after Moskowitz asks whether she should invite Sharpton to visit her school. He’s good on charters, but not on mayoral control, Klein says. But he is “working” on Sharpton. The same day, Klein lets Moskowitz know that Bill Clinton called him to say he’s upset about the teachers union attack on charter schools — “keep confi,” Klein instructs. Clinton apparently “wants to do an op ed.” Pretty sure this never materialized, though Moskowitz offered some talking points.

PENN RESEARCHERS MIGHT BE STUDYING HSA: The e-mails oddly get a little out of order here and we fly back to 2008 for a while. On May 16, 2008, Moskowitz indicates that she’s getting researchers at the University to Pennsylvania to study her school. An academic study is something her funder Greenblatt really wants, apparently — and which, as far as I know, no New York City charter school has ever had done.

SPARRING OVER THE SIZE OF HER FOOTPRINT: In June 2008, Moskowitz and John White, who took over for Harries in moderating the messy space battles, sparred over how much city school space she should have. Moskowitz then complained to Klein. “Really could use your intervention,” she said, forwarding her exchange with White.

OUR FRIEND ELI: Juan Gonzalez has chronicled how Klein helped Moskowitz get $1 million from the Broad Foundation. You can read the details in emails from October 3, 2008; October 8, 2008, and November 11, 2008. The grant was made public in April 2009.

WHAT RANDI SAID: In an Oct. 8, 2008, e-mail, Moskowitz claims that former city teachers union president Randi Weingarten, and her personal enemy, suggested that the duo write a thin contract together. Presumably that would mean that Harlem Success schools would become unionized, and the resulting work contract would have very few restrictions. Moskowitz said she would but only if Weingarten also agreed to a thin contract at half of all city schools. The union’s first thin contract, with the Green Dot charter school in the Bronx, landed in June 2009.

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY, JOEL: November 19 is Klein’s anniversary with his wife Nicole Seligman, and in 2008 he spent part of it speaking at a Harlem Success event. “[W]e will have a new generation of warriors,” Moskowitz said, thanking him.

PRINCIPAL MOSKOWITZ: Feb. 12, 2009, Moskowitz fills Klein in on how she had to lay off a principal — and become principal herself.

KLEIN AND GATES: STILL FRENEMIES: On Feb. 15, 2009, Klein admits that he doesn’t “get” the strategy of the Gates Foundation, which has been avoiding New York City K-12 school investments lately.

PONTIFICATING ON PATERSON AND OTHER POLITICIANS: In March 2009, Moskowitz breaks down the mayoral control fight by the politicians taking part in it. “Malcolm [Smith] is yours if floyd flake cmes through (though of course don’t trust Malcolm),” she writes. “Shelluy [Silver] wants patronage and keeping randi happy.” And presciently, she adds about the year-old governor, “Paterson (we are sending him 10,000 postcards – friendly but reminding him that he said he was oufriend) is just about re-election. He will go with the path of least resistance.”

PUTTING THE POLITICS ASIDE: After the Harlem Success lottery on April 23, 2009, Klein wrote to Moskowitz, “Meant what I said: put the politics aside and enjoy what you’ve done for people. Truly extraordinary and I don’t say that casually. Bravo!”

Moskowitz responded in minutes with a thank-you note of her own: “You were terrific too tonight. You sounded like an evangelist. Donors loved. And parents did.”

First Person

First Person: Why my education nonprofit is bucking the coastal trend and setting up shop in Oklahoma

PHOTO: Creative Commons

“Oklahoma?! Why are you expanding to Oklahoma?!”

The response when I told some people that Generation Citizen, the nonprofit I run, was expanding to central Texas and Oklahoma, quickly became predictable. They could understand Texas, probably because our headquarters will be in the blue-dot-in-sea-of-red Austin. But Oklahoma?

My answer: Generation Citizen is expanding to Oklahoma City because no one would expect us to expand to Oklahoma City.

Our nonprofit is dedicated to empowering young people to become engaged citizens by reviving civics education in schools. We help middle and high school students learn about local politics by guiding them as they take action on issues they care about, like funding for teen jobs or state resources for teenage moms.

I founded the organization after graduating from Brown University in Rhode Island in 2009. Since then, we’ve expanded our programming to Boston, New York City, and the San Francisco Bay Area. All are urban areas with wide swaths of low-income young people, unequal schools, and disparate power dynamics. Our work is needed in those areas.

At the same time, all of these areas have predominantly liberal populations. In fact, according to The Economist, they are among the 10 most liberal cities in the country.

Generation Citizen is a non-partisan organization. We do not wish to convince young people to support a particular candidate or party — we just want them to engage politically, period. But the fact that we are preparing low-income young people in liberal urban centers to become politically active complicates this narrative.

So despite the fact that we could work with many more students in our existing cities, we made a conscious decision to expand to a more politically diverse region. A city that had real Republicans.

As we started talking about expansion, I realized the extent to which the dialogue about political and geographic diversity was a rarity in national nonprofit circles. While several large education organizations, like Teach for America and City Year, have done an admirable job of in working in conservative and rural regions across the country, a lot of other organizations follow a more predictable path, sticking largely to cities on the east and west coasts and sometimes, if folks feel crazy, an Atlanta or Miami.

There is nothing wrong with these decisions (and we were originally following this trajectory). A big reason for the coastal-focused expansion strategy is the availability of financial resources. Nonprofits want to raise money locally to sustain themselves, and those cities are home to a lot of people and foundations who can fund nonprofits.

But a more problematic reason seems related to our increasing ideological self-segregation. Nonprofits lean toward expanding to places that are comfortable, places that their leaders visit, places where people tend to hold similar values and political views.

One of the fault lines in our democracy is our inability to talk to people who disagree with us (highlighted daily by this presidential election). And non-profits may be exacerbating this reality.

This schism actually became more apparent to me when our board of directors started having conversations about expansion. Oklahoma City had come to the top of my proposed list because of my personal and professional contacts there. But I quickly realized that no one on my board lived more than five miles from an ocean, and save a board member from Oklahoma, none had stepped foot in the state.

“Are we sure we want to expand there? Why not a gateway city?” (I still don’t know what a gateway city is.)

“We can hire a Republican to run the site, but they can’t be a Trump supporter.”

“Are we sure that we can raise enough money to operate there?”

It wasn’t just my board. Whenever I talked to friends about our plans, they’d offer the same resistance.

The stereotypes I heard were twofold: Oklahoma was full of bigoted conservatives, and it was an incredibly boring location. (The dullness narrative got an unquestionable boost this year when star basketball player Kevin Durant left the hometown Thunder. It became quite clear that a main rationale for his leaving the team was Oklahoma City itself.)

But as I met with folks about Generation Citizen’s work, I met citizen after citizen who was excited about our mission. The state is facing tremendous budget challenges, and its voter participation rates amongst the worst in the country. Given these realities, there seemed to be widespread recognition that a program like ours could actually be helpful.

I did not talk about national politics with most people I met. Indeed, we might disagree on whom to support. But we did agree on the importance of educating young people to be politically active, shared concerns about public school budget cuts, and bonded over excitement for the Thunder’s playoff chances.

Still, the actual expansion to Oklahoma will be a challenge for our organization. Despite our local ties, we are coming in from the outside, and we do have the perception of being a progressively minded organization. What will happen if one of our classes wants to advocate for open carry at schools in response to a shooting? How will my board handle working in a site where they wouldn’t ordinarily visit?

I am excited to tackle all of these challenges. And I would push other similarly sized non-profits to think about working in a more diverse set of areas. It is not possible to be a national organization and avoid entire swaths of the country. But more importantly, given these tenuous political times, it feels important to interact with people who may not hold our beliefs.

Nonprofits can’t fix our national dialogue alone. But by expanding where we work, we might help improve the conversation.

honor system

Meet Derek Voiles, the Morristown educator who is Tennessee’s newest Teacher of the Year

PHOTO: Tennessee Department of Education
Derek Voiles, Tennessee's 2016-17 Teacher of the Year

Derek Voiles, a seventh-grade English language arts teacher in Morristown, is Tennessee’s 2016-17 Teacher of the Year, the State Department of Education announced Thursday.

One of nine finalists for this year’s award, Voiles teaches at Lincoln Heights Middle in Hamblen County Schools in East Tennessee. He received the top teacher honor at a banquet in Nashville.

Voiles, who has been teaching for six years, has long shared his teaching practices publicly — on Twitter, through a blog he wrote with a colleague, and as a state ambassador for the Common Core standards. In recent years, according to a state news release, his classroom became a hub as teachers from across his district observed his teaching in hopes of replicating his practices, which often improved the performance of students far behind their peers.

“All students are capable of achieving great things, and all students deserve a teacher who believes this and will do whatever it takes to make it happen,” Voiles said in the release. He is also a doctoral candidate at East Tennessee State University.

Now, Voiles will gain an even wider stage, as Tennessee’s representative to the National Teacher of the Year program. He will also share insight from the classroom as part of committees and working groups with the Tennessee Department of Education.

All nine Teacher of the Year finalists, representing each of the state’s regions, will serve on the Commissioner Candice McQueen’s Teacher Advisory Council during the 2016-17 school year.

The department also recognized two division winners from Middle and West Tennessee. Cord Martin, a music education and enrichment teacher at Whitthorne Middle School in Maury County, was recognized for his innovative teaching strategies and connecting content to contemporary culture. Christy McManus, a fifth-grade English language arts and social studies teacher at Chester County Middle School in Henderson was honored for equipping her students with the end goal in mind: a college-ready twelfth grader.

Voiles follows Cathy Whitehead, a third-grade teacher from Chester County, who served as Tennessee’s 2015-16 Teacher of the Year. Whitehead teaches at West Chester Elementary School in Henderson in West Tennessee.