Success Academy’s Eva Moskowitz goes on the offensive with press conference on city test scores

After weeks of controversy for Success Academy, its founder and CEO Eva Moskowitz hosted her own press conference Thursday to highlight her network’s impressive performance on state tests — and call out the mayor for celebrating the city’s lesser results.

“As the leader of this organization, I am goosebump proud,” Moskowitz said. But then, taking aim at the city, she said, “I’m outraged by the educational racism engendered by the system. I’m also frustrated with the mayor’s response.”

Citywide, 40.6 percent of students passed the English exam and 37.8 percent passed the math exam. That is a slight uptick from last year, and de Blasio said the results made Tuesday, when they were announced, a “good news day.”

However, those scores lag significantly behind those of Success Academy schools, which outperformed even schools in much wealthier districts like Scarsdale and Chappaqua. With a student body that’s more than 90 percent students of color, Success Academy had an 84 percent pass rate in English and 95 percent pass rate in math.

Inevitably, however, the conversation at Thursday’s press conference shifted back to the news of the past few weeks: Success board chairman Dan Loeb’s inflammatory Facebook post likening an African-American New York state senator to the KKK. Loeb has since apologized and Moskowitz called the comments “indefensible.” Yet, Loeb remains the board’s chair.  

In response, Joseph Belluck, chair of SUNY’s Charter School Committee — which authorizes Success Academy schools — told the Wall Street Journal it would be “very difficult” to expand the network if Loeb remains on the board.

Moskowitz responded to Belluck’s remarks Thursday by repeating her condemnation of Loeb’s comments and insisting she wanted to focus instead on running her schools.

“I have explained that those values do not reflect the values that we hold dear at Success Academy,” Moskowitz said. “And I’m really focused on teaching and learning.”

When asked if she is worried about her network’s expansion, Moskowitz said she was confident SUNY would place greater weight on Success Academy’s achievements than on Loeb’s comments when making final decisions about schools.

“SUNY is an incredibly strong authorizer and will decide on the merits of the application and on the merits of the work that all the people behind me do each and every day,” Moskowitz said, referring to a group of Success Academy principals and network leaders.

The press conference also signaled that any tentative truce between Mayor Bill de Blasio and the charter sector is already on the rocks. At the close of this year’s state legislative session, de Blasio struck a deal with the charter sector, which included plans to streamline charters’ access to public school space.

But soon after, charter school advocates called on de Blasio to prove his commitment by granting 27 outstanding charter school space requests, and advocates including Moskowitz have continued to hammer the city on the issue.

On Thursday, a spokeswoman for the mayor said by criticizing the city’s test scores, Moskowitz is only trying to draw attention away from Loeb’s statements.

“We have implemented real reforms to help close the achievement gap,” said spokeswoman Olivia Lapeyrolerie. “This is nothing more than a stunt designed to distract from the deeply offensive and disqualifying comments made by Success Academy’s leading financier.”

Critics say Success owes its test scores, in part, to a practice of pushing out high-needs students, though network leaders have long denied that accusation. Moskowitz says her schools are closing the so-called achievement gap — and it’s fair game to call out those who are not.

“It’s not helpful to not have a good relationship [with the mayor],” Moskowitz said. “But we also have a duty to children and to teaching and learning, and we can’t ignore a victory lap that is really inappropriate given the stats.”