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.