Colorado

5 questions for Eva Moskowitz

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier/Chalkbeat TN
Moskowitz and the charter-friendly Joel Klein, former chancellor of New York City schools. Getty Images.

Eva Moskowitz runs four campuses of the Harlem Success Academy in New York City and talks about growing the charter school network to 40.

She is a former New York City councilwoman who infuriated both the city Department of Education and the teachers’ union with her questioning as chair of the council’s education committee.

Supporters point to some of the state’s highest test scores at her first Harlem campus, opened in 2006, and its emphasis on science, the arts and chess.

Critics say she’s a politician at heart and she’s been dinged for making too much money.

In Denver on Friday, Moskowitz sat down with Ed News Colorado to talk about the challenges ahead for the nation’s charter schools, the controversy over co-location or putting charter programs in district buildings and recent studies describing segregation in charter schools.  

Ed News: Charter schools seem to be as controversial today as they were when they were created more than a decade ago in many states. In Denver, a school board member announced Thursday that he planned to seek a moratorium on any new schools. Board member Arturo Jimenez says he is not anti-charter but his move, if successful, could hurt charters more as they have made up most of the city’s new schools. Why do you think charters are still so hotly debated?

Moskowitz: I think what’s happened is two things. First, you just have many more charter schools and so their volume is greater. And of course you now have parents who are … not universally satisfied with the results but, compared to their district schools, they have a completely different level of satisfaction. So the threat of charters in a way is much greater than it was at the beginning of the experiment. The experiment is working with, to be fair, bad spots. I mean all charters are not good.

And I always say to people, my own investment is not in charters per se but parental choice. Because charters are the thing now, but maybe someone will come up with some new delivery system. And if that turns out to be better, we shouldn’t stick to charters. Having a charter doesn’t mean you will get it right, it means you have the freedom to get it right.

Ed News: Do you think the Obama administration’s focus on charters – including them in the Race to the Top grant competition, for example – has accelerated concerns about charters?

Moskowitz at an enrollment lottery for her schools. New York Daily News photo.

Moskowitz: Yeah. I think putting three quarters of a billion dollars on the table which states desperately want, they’d want it even if we weren’t in bad fiscal times but now particularly so, and to only be able to get it if you were friendly to reform on a whole host of specific ways, I think has brought the fight out onto the street as it were. It was always there, maybe not as voluminous, but now it’s very public.

Ed News: The Obama administration actually backed off of its charter school push somewhat in Race to the Top, perhaps because of concerns raised about the ability of charter operators to rapidly replicate their schools. Are those concerns justified?

Moskowitz: The problem with this whole thing is that it’s a little tautological. If we make it very difficult for suppliers to open up charter schools, then yes, they will find replication very difficult. But if you embrace good public policies like a kid is a kid is a kid and therefore the funding should be the same, why would elected officials or parents or anyone else, why would they care what the delivery system is? As long as the school is excellent and as long as it is public, and from my perspective I embrace parent choice so I think parochial schools need to be in the mix and all sorts of schools need to be in the mix.

But from a public policy point of view, you will have a lot more replicators if you embrace equal funding, if you looked at public school buildings as not belonging to the district … they belong to the public. If a district school is great, the superintendent – or chancellor whatever your structure is – should say this person runs a great district school and they should get a building because they are great. And you should say, if this person runs a great charter school therefore they should be in a building, possibly even co-located.

Is it difficult to replicate? The answer is yes, but the politics make it far more difficult. So if you want more replicators, you have to not put obstacles that are completely unnecessary and arbitrary, that are just the product of politics and have nothing to do with teaching and learning, in the way.

Ed News: State law in Ohio allows a school district to claim the test scores of a charter school if they are housed in a district building. Putting a high-performing charter with a low-performing traditional program could boost its scores, which might ease the pain of co-location, something you’ve dealt with in New York. Would you support that policy? 

Moskowitz: I am utterly opposed to that. It runs completely counter to accountability. I just think that’s bad for children. I get that it’s a bribe and it might make it go down easier but I think you have to be careful which quid pro quo you’re willing to embrace.

Ed News: A couple of recent studies have come out critical of segregation in charter schools. Is that important to you?

Moskowitz: That criticism is very disingenuous because, on the one hand, charters get criticized for not being accessible enough and not reflecting the community. In New York, for example, charters are criticized for serving the elite and being part of gentrification. But the charter school population is above 97 percent minority. Of our four schools, we have 1,400 kids, we have 3, maybe 4, white kids and one Asian child.

Protestors objecting to sharing space in a traditional school with a Harlem Success Academy. Gothamschools.org photo.

Having said that, I think there’s a tendency in the charter school movement to celebrate a lack of socio-economic diversity. Because it’s more virtuous if you are serving the poorest of the poor. If one school has 50 percent poverty and another has 75 percent poverty, the 75 percent poverty is somehow better. I don’t view it that way. I think we need many more charters that have socio-economic integration. I also think that we need to get charter schools into more affluent districts because I think many middle-class and upper middle-class parents think their schools are better than they are … their schools are very complacent.

I believe in diversity in schools. When parents call us and they ask about diversity, I know that they’re white. And what they’re asking is, how many white kids are in the school? I would like to get to a point where consumers are asking about the quality of the education, whether they’re white or black and so forth. But look, if you put a school in Harlem … we are reflective of the community. And the other factor here is we really want to be a neighborhood school so we’re somewhat subject to the racial and socio-economic segregation of the city and that’s hard to change.

I think we will change it eventually because our program is so appealing to middle-class families. We teach science five days a week starting in kindergarten, we’re tremendous believers in the arts, we do more field trips than any school in the country that I’ve been able to discover … Whether people can put their racial discomforts aside, I do not know. And right now my focus is just on excellent schools and letting the customers figure out what they want.

Nancy Mitchell can be reached at [email protected] or 303-478-4573.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.