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.

listening tour

We asked six Colorado school board members what they want from the state’s next governor. Here’s what they said.

Democratic gubernatorial candidates Donna Lynne, Noel Ginsburg and Cary Kennedy at a candidate forum hosted by the Colorado Association of School Boards. (Photo by Nic Garcia)

Late last week, nine candidates for Colorado governor came together to talk education, addressing an annual fall conference of school board members.

Now, we’re giving some of those audience members a chance to speak up.

Before the gubernatorial hopefuls took the stage, Chalkbeat recorded interviews with a half-dozen school board members who represent districts across the state. Our question to them: What are the big education questions you hope the next governor will take on?

Not surprisingly, funding challenges came up time and again.

One school board member asked for a more predictable budget. Another asked for schools to get their fair share of annual increases in new tax dollars. One went so far as to say the next governor would be a chicken if he or she didn’t take on reforming the state’s tax code.

We also heard a desire for leadership on solving teacher shortages, expanding vocational training and rethinking the state’s school accountability system.

Here are the six gubernatorial wishes we heard from Colorado’s school board members:

Reform TABOR to send more money to schools

Wendy Pottorff, Limon Public Schools

Since the Great Recession, Colorado schools have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. And while the state legislature has tried to close its education funding shortfall, lawmakers haven’t been able to keep up. Getting in the way, Pottorff says, is the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR.

Change the conversation about public schools


Paul Reich, Telluride School District

Reich says public schools are under attack under the false premise that they’re failing — and that isn’t helping the state recruit bright young teachers. He said the next governor must change the conversation about schools to make teaching a more desirable profession.

Provide a clear budget forecast

Anne Guettler, Garfield School District

Approving a school district’s budget is one of the many responsibilities of a Colorado school board. That’s a tall challenge when the state’s budget is constantly in flux, Guettler says. She hopes the next governor can help provide a clearer economic forecast for schools.

Rethink school accountability to include students and parents

Greg Piotraschke, Brighton 27J

Colorado schools are subject to annual quality reviews by the state’s education department. And it’s time for the state to rethink what defines a high-quality school, Piotraschke said. He suggested the governor could help rethink everything from how the state uses standardized tests to how to incorporate parents and students into the review process.

Give schools more resources to train the state’s high-tech workforce

Nora Brown, Colorado Springs District 11

In light of Colorado growing tech sector, several gubernatorial candidates have come out in support of more technical training for Colorado students. But that costs money, Brown says. The Colorado Springs school board member said promising better job training for high school students without more resources is empty.

Remember there’s a difference between urban and rural schools

Mark Hillman, Burlington School District

Crafting statewide policy is an onerous task in Colorado, given the diversity of the state’s 178 school districts. Hillman said the next governor must remember that any legislation he or she signs will play out 178 different ways, so they must be careful to not put more undue pressure on the state’s smallest school districts.

Colorado Votes 2018

Five things we learned when Colorado’s gubernatorial candidates got on the same stage to talk about education

Colorado Republicans running for governor addressed some of the state's school board members at a forum hosted by the state's association of school boards. From left are George Brauchler, Steve Barlock, Greg Lopez, Victor Mitchell and Doug Robinson. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Nine Republicans and Democrats hoping to become Colorado’s next governor offered contrasting views Friday of the state’s public schools to an audience of more than 100 local school board members.

Most of the five Republicans told the crowd of locally elected officials — who are charged by the state’s constitution with governing Colorado’s public schools — that their programs were in need of improvement and innovation, and that they were there to help.

The four Democrats hoping to succeed fellow Democrat Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is term-limited, pledged to reform the state’s tax code to send more money to schools.

The candidates spoke at the annual fall delegation conference of the state’s association of school boards.It was the first forum of its kind to address education issues exclusively this election election cycle.

Unlike previous elections, Colorado’s public education system has been a key policy debate early in the campaign. Several candidates, especially Democrats, have worked on education issues before.

Here are our five takeaways from the forum:

The Republican candidates didn’t pull any punches when they said the state’s public schools were in need of improvement — and several said that they were the ones to do it.

From District Attorney George Brauchler to businessman Doug Robinson, every Republican candidate said one part or another of the state’s school system needed to do better.

“Education is life itself,” said former state lawmaker Victor Mitchell. “And there is no greater challenge facing our state than 50 percent of our at-risk kids who graduate can’t complete college-level course work.”

Both Mitchell and Robinson pointed to their experience as entrepreneurs as evidence that they could help set the state’s schools free of what they consider unnecessary red tape. Brauchler called for empowering teachers and parents.

Every Democrat and several Republicans agreed that the state’s schools were in a “funding crisis.” But they offered very different paths forward.

It was an easy question for Democrats. Businessman Noel Ginsburg, former state Sen. Michael Johnston, former state treasurer Cary Kennedy and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne were in lock-step that the state’s schools are in need of more money.

“If we don’t fundamentally solve this crisis, the rest of the issues don’t matter,” Johnston said.

Former state Sen. Michael Johnston and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne talk after a forum for gubernatorial candidates. Both are Democrats. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Johnston and Kennedy forcefully pledged to take on the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which limits how much tax revenue the state can collect and requires voter approval to raise taxes.

Lynne was more tempered. While she acknowledged tax reform was needed, she said wanted a legislative committee working on school finance to complete its work before suggesting any overhauls.

Greg Lopez, the former mayor of Parker and a small business owner, was the only GOP candidate who said he would take on the state’s complicated tax laws. If elected, he promised to establish a committee to send a reform proposal to voters.

Robinson and Brauchler acknowledged that schools were in a funding crunch. But they stopped short of saying they’d send more money to schools.

Mitchell said “he wasn’t sure” if there was a funding crisis, but added, “The system should be reformed before it’s fully funded.”

PERA, the state’s employee retirement program, could play a prominent issue in the election — especially for Republicans.

Earlier at the conference, school board members received a briefing on a proposed overhaul to the state’s retirement program, which includes school district employees.

While the situation is not as dire as it was a decade ago, the program’s governing board has become so increasingly worried about unfunded liabilities that it’s asking state lawmakers to pass a reform package to provide more financial stability.

Two Republicans, Brauchler and Steve Barlock, who co-chaired President Trump’s campaign in Colorado, said PERA was in crisis. Barlock warned school board members that their budgets were in jeopardy as lawmakers fiddle with the system.

Neither went into any detail about how they hoped to see the retirement program made more fiscally stable. But watch for this issue to gain greater traction on the campaign trail, especially as Republican state Treasurer Walker Stapleton ramps up his gubernatorial campaign, and as lawmakers begin to wrestle with PERA reforms next year. (Stapleton did not attend the forum.)

Some candidates offered careful responses to a question about school choice. Others, not so much.

Every Democrat and one Republican, Brauchler, said they respected a family’s right to choose the best school for their children. But that choice, they said, should not come at the expense of traditional, district-run schools.

“I’m concerned that we’d build a system where the success of some schools is coming at the expense of other schools,” Kennedy said.

Republicans strongly supported charter schools, and in some cases, vouchers that use taxpayer dollars to pay for private schools. Robinson called on creating new ways to authorize charter schools. Mitchell said he wanted to repeal a provision in the state’s constitution that has been used to rebuff private school vouchers.

There’s no party line over rural schools.

Republicans and Democrats alike said the state needed to step up to help its rural schools, which are typically underfunded compared to schools along the Front Range. They need more teachers, better infrastructure and fewer regulations, the candidates said.

“We need to get rural areas into the modern age,” Robinson said.