next steps

Eva Moskowitz: I will work with Trump, but not as U.S. education secretary

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman

Eva Moskowitz, the hard-charging New York City charter school leader, said Thursday morning that she won’t serve as education secretary in a Donald Trump administration — but will support President-elect Trump’s education efforts.

She did not say if she was formally offered the post, but Trump officials confirmed that the two had met in Trump Tower on Wednesday.

“At this time I will not be entertaining any prospective opportunities,” Moskowitz told reporters at a previously planned press conference.

Moskowitz, a Democrat, said that while she voted for Hillary Clinton, her personal politics did not influence her decision not to pursue a job in a Trump administration. Instead, she said she wanted to focus her energy on Success Academy, the charter network she leads, and continuing to fight Mayor Bill de Blasio on his education work in New York City.

“If I left and went to D.C., who would keep their eyes on Mayor de Blasio?” she asked.

Moskowitz told reporters she will support Trump’s efforts to expand school choice — policies that steer public dollars toward alternatives to traditional public schools like charter schools and private school voucher programs. On the campaign trail, Trump pledged to devote $20 billion in federal dollars toward supporting school choice efforts for poor students.

“This is one of the most powerful education reform ideas ever,” Moskowitz said of school choice. “I stand ready to support his efforts in any way I can. I will work with him and whoever he selects as next education secretary to increase educational opportunities for American families.”

Here are four key pieces of background about Moskowitz:

1. She runs New York City’s largest, highest-scoring, and most controversial network of charter schools.

Success Academy runs 41 schools and 14,000 students — essentially a mid-sized school district within New York City, made up of mostly low-income students of color.

The network is best known for its elementary and middle-schoolers’ high scores on state tests, and the schools have an intense focus on test preparation, with their huge pre-test pep rallies and down-to-the-minute planning. That approach has plenty of extremely vocal critics, but Moskowitz says it’s essential to setting kids up for success.

At a time when many charter networks are moving away from “no excuses” discipline, Moskowitz has stood by her network’s strict rules and policy of suspending young students. Earlier this year, a video of a Success Academy teacher yelling at a young student, released by the New York Times, sparked a national debate about what’s appropriate behavior for educators.

Success has also faced accusations that it pushes out high-needs students. The network has long denied that, but a Success Academy principal’s “Got to Go” list of student names reignited that debate last year.

Moskowitz is also known as an incredibly tough manager, who demands long days and full commitment from teachers and staff.

Success Academy is the brainchild of two New York City-based hedge fund managers, Joel Greenblatt and John Petry, who founded the charter school network and recruited Moskowitz as its founding leader.

2. Moskowitz has made a name for herself by fighting, publicly, with lots of people.

As a member of New York’s City Council, Moskowitz chaired the education committee and held contentious hearings castigating the teachers union and education department officials. The union helped defeat her bid for Manhattan borough president in 2005.

Since de Blasio came into office, Moskowitz and Success Academy have made a habit of protesting in front of City Hall, most recently to demand that more space be made available for charter schools in traditional public school buildings. She won a key victory in 2014, when the state passed a law requiring the city had to give charter schools space or pay their rent.

She also had a high-profile battle with de Blasio over whether Success had to follow the city’s rules in order to participate the city’s universal pre-K program. After a lengthy fight with the city and state, Success Academy lost — and then cancelled pre-K classes.

Moskowitz has many enemies, though it’s sometimes unclear whether it’s her style or the substance of her message that rubs people the wrong way. She acknowledged in 2009 that her approach isn’t designed to win friends.

“I think we have a moral obligation to identify schools that are not working for kids, and unfortunately there are a lot of them,” she told Chalkbeat. “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.”

But United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, who publicly criticized her as a potential choice for education secretary, takes issue with both what she’s saying about district schools and how she says it.

Moskowitz’s philosophy, according to Mulgrew, is “I’m going to take the best and therefore my school is the best.” He was alluding to accusations that Moskowitz does not serve a representative sample of students. Like other charter schools, admissions to Success happen by random lottery. But Mulgrew said Moskowitz nevertheless finds ways to work primarily with higher performers and students without special needs, an accusation Moskowitz has strenuously denied.

“That’s not the goal of education in this country,” Mulgrew said.

3. Moskowitz has big ambitions, but so far has remained focused on her NYC-based network of schools.

Moskowitz has been public for a decade about her interest in becoming New York City mayor. Last October, she even held a press conference to confirm that she wouldn’t run against Mayor de Blasio in 2017.

At that event, she said she wanted to focus on her growing network of charter schools. “I believe we have the chance to dramatically change public education, of doing for education, frankly, what Apple did with computing for the iPhone, what Google is doing with driverless cars,” Moskowitz said.

Moskowitz has never tried to expand Success Academy outside of New York City by opening schools across the country, as networks like KIPP have done. But she’s a regular fixture at education-reform events and in Washington, growing her profile on the national stage.

In New York City, she has built herself a big political profile, organizing massive rallies with thousands of parents, students and teachers. That following has been growing more diverse in recent years, as Moskowitz has begun opening schools in gentrified neighborhoods, too.

4. Moskowitz aligns with Trump on “school choice” but not much else.

While Moskowitz is a strong proponent of school choice, she disagreed with Trump on several issues. While Trump called Common Core a “total disaster,” Moskowitz has supported the learning standards and frequently touted her students’ results on Common Core-aligned exams.

She also did not support Trump’s candidacy. The day after the presidential election last week, Moskowitz sent an email to Success Academy staff expressing concern about the election results and decrying the “hatred” that drove Donald Trump’s campaign.

“Personally, I’m upset,” Moskowitz wrote. “I believe in an America where we respect our differences and fight for the poor and overlooked.”

Yet Moskowitz said she is determined to support Trump now that he has been elected. “I am troubled by what I see as rooting for Trump’s failure because that is rooting for our own failure,” she said. Of efforts to improve education, she said, “it’s going to take a bipartisan effort. It’s going to take the citizenry. It’s going to take all of us.”

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to say that Trump officials confirmed the meeting with Moskowitz, but she herself did not.

legislative look-back

Holcomb pulls off a near-perfect education record in his first session as Indiana governor, and with far less drama than in years past

PHOTO: AP Photo/Darron Cummings, Pool
Gov. Eric Holcomb, right, responds to a question during a debate for Indiana Governor.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb managed a rare feat in his first year on the job — to check nearly every box on his education agenda for 2017.

At the beginning of the year, Holcomb set four specific goals for K-12 education: making the state superintendent appointed by 2021; doubling state funding for preschool; adding funding  for school internet access; and better coordinating science, technology, engineering and math initiatives across the state.

It wasn’t always clear whether those proposals would pass. But Holcomb was ultimately able to get what he wanted with fairly little drama — unlike his predecessor, Vice President Mike Pence.

“The legislature over-delivered,” Holcomb said Tuesday. “Now it’s time for us to take these tools and new resources and put them to work.”

Holcomb’s success likely hinged both on his collaborative approach to working with lawmakers — in contrast to the more ideological and aggressive approaches, respectively, of former Gov. Pence and his predecessor, Gov. Mitch Daniels — and the less controversial makeup of his education priorities.

Pence failed to make much progress when he tried to break new ground in some way — like with plans to re-imagine teachers’ roles in schools — or when he faced vehement opposition, like his attempts to further reduce union negotiating power. Holcomb’s priorities, for the most part, were harder to argue with: a need for more preschool for poor children, better school internet access or more opportunities to prepare kids for the workforce and science- and math-related fields.

Although Pence was ultimately able to push through many of his education priorities, such as establishing a preschool program, driving up career and technical education funding, and increasing support for charter schools and vouchers, his efforts brought more opposition from lawmakers, even those in his own party.

Take preschool.

When Pence put out the call for a state-funded pilot program after years of debate, senators were extremely skeptical. In the waning days of the 2014 session, they stripped any meaningful investment from the bill, turning it instead into a suggestion to study the issue over the summer. At the last minute, after Pence himself testified before lawmakers, the funding was restored, and the program became a reality.

This year, the same last-ditch attempts to kill the proposal were absent. After the Senate proposed only increasing preschool spending by $4 million, lawmakers came back with a $20 million-per-year plan in line with Holcomb’s initial ask.

Holcomb also had the benefit of not having to go head-to-head with the state schools chief.

Pence’s frequent battles with then-state Superintendent Glenda Ritz were a notable part of his administration. Current Superintendent Jennifer McCormick, on the other hand, was fairly aligned with Holcomb’s goals from the beginning — even signing on to support his call to make her position appointed, rather than elected, in the future.

That’s the one area in his education policy agenda where Holcomb didn’t eke out a full win — but it was arguably also the most controversial part of his agenda, with many educators and some lawmakers asserting that the move takes away an independent education voice at the Statehouse. The proposal has been debated in some way for more than 30 years.

Holcomb originally supported a 2021 start date for the appointment, which would allow him to make the appointment if elected to a second term. Instead, this year’s legislation would have it begin in 2025, meaning McCormick could seek a second term and Holcomb wouldn’t be the executive empowered to make the first secretary of education pick.

Holcomb said Tuesday that he has no desire to revisit that legislation in order to change the effective date.

He reiterated his goal of collaboration Tuesday when addressing reporters during a press conference, pointing to his relationship with McCormick.

“We’ll continue to meet and collaborate and work on issues that we both know are of the utmost importance,” Holcomb said. “And we’ll get there together. I look forward to it.”

As far as bills that weren’t on his agenda, Holcomb today said he plans to sign into law Senate Bill 567, which would appoint emergency financial managers in the Gary and Muncie school districts. He also indicated support for House Bill 1003, which would replace the state’s ISTEP test with a new program to be called “ILEARN” in 2019.

You can find other education bills that moved ahead this session here in our legislative wrap-up.

social studies

Tennessee’s long journey to new social studies standards nears its finish line

Tennessee is one step closer to having new social studies standards after almost 1½ years of unprecedented public scrutiny and feedback.

The State Board of Education voted unanimously on Friday to move ahead with a revision that was begun partly out of concern over how Islam is being taught in seventh-grade world history.

Now receiving attention is the question of whether too much Tennessee history is being removed from standards that most everyone agrees were over-laden with material.

The proposed draft, which will undergo a final vote in July, reduces the number of standards overall by 14 percent — but at the expense of some Tennessee history such as the Chickamauga Indians, “Roots” author Alex Haley, and the New Madrid earthquakes.

Members of the Standards Recommendation Committee have presented the proposal as striking the right balance.

“There’s an infinite number of people and facts that are significant, and we can’t include them all,” said Todd Wigginton, who led the teacher review and is director of instruction for Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools.

But Bill Carey, one of the panel’s nine members, offered a dissenting opinion to the section for grades 1-5.

“In these standards, the Plateau of Tibet is mentioned twice but the Cumberland Plateau is never mentioned,” said Carey, who is executive director of the nonprofit Tennessee History for Kids. “… I think a case can be made that there’s too much of Tennessee missing.”

Wigginton said the idea behind the final draft is that teachers should have more flexibility, and focus more on important concepts.

He said Tennessee’s new standards asked students to consider, for example, the significance of civil disobedience in the civil rights movement, rather than memorize a list of people and dates.

The state spearheaded a laborious review for social studies beginning in January 2016 after critics charged that seventh-grade standards addressing the Five Pillars of Islam amounted to “proselytizing.” Members of the recommendation committee say all religions would be taught in a uniform way under the new standards.

The draft reflects tens of thousands comments from hundreds of Tennessee residents over the course of two public reviews, as well as nearly 100 hours of meetings by the committee. That panel, along with a team of educators who reviewed public feedback last summer, created standards that they say allows teachers flexibility and the freedom to go in-depth, while also covering key topics.

Unlike many other states, Tennessee hasn’t cordoned off Tennessee history to specific units for nearly two decades, choosing instead to “embed” state-specific facts across all grades. Carey said he’s made a career out of helping teachers incorporate Tennessee material into their history classes. He noted that several state historical associations and museums have raised concerns too about the final draft.

“In my opinion, for embedding to work, Tennessee topics have to be clearly spelled out in the standards,” said Carey, who submitted a minority report to share his concerns. “If they’re not, teachers won’t get the message that they have to cover Tennessee history.”

Jason Roach, a former social studies teacher and now principal of Mooresburg Elementary School in Hawkins County, said those terms could be incorporated into curriculum, even if they aren’t explicitly spelled out in the standards.

Standards lay out what students should know at each grade level, while curriculum includes the lessons and activities that students study and do throughout the school year.

“Tennessee history needs to be taught in Tennessee schools. I believe that,” Roach said. But, he continued, teachers should decide how to build curriculum on a local level, rather than the state over-prescribing what should be covered through the standards.

During a discussion Thursday about the final draft, board members offered praise about both the process and the results.

“You did an incredible job,” said Lillian Hartgrove, who represents part of Middle Tennessee. “I know it’s not exactly what everyone wanted … but what you have accomplished is truly incredible.”

Tennessee’s academic standards in all four core subject areas have been overhauled over the last three years, and social studies standards are the only ones still in the works.

If approved, the new Tennessee Academic Standards for Social Studies will reach the state’s classrooms in the 2019-2020 school year.