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March 18, 2009
Lil Mama and the mayor will rally for charter schools tonight
If you can, make sure to stop by the Harlem Armory tonight for an evening that charter school advocates are billing as the largest gathering of New York City parents ever in one space. The point is to show support for charter schools, which are proliferating in Harlem — to the delight of some parents, but not to the liking of a coterie of teachers and elected officials who have protested the schools' growth. Hosting tonight's event are Harlem Children's Zone C.E.O. Geoffrey Canada and KIPP co-founder David Levin. Similar events have been held recently by Harlem Success Academy, the network of four charter schools founded by former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz that has been at the center of the political fight. A Harlem Success official says she expects 6,000 7,000 charter school parents to attend tonight, plus some parochial school and traditional public school parents. Also scheduled to attend are the rapper Lil Mama, whose adoptive mom is a board member of Harlem Success, Mayor Bloomberg, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, and school choice advocate Howard Fuller. Among the political currents swirling tonight will be Canada's outspoken support for mayoral control of the public schools, which some Harlem elected officials have indicated they'd like to see curtailed; Levin's ongoing saga with a group of his teachers who are trying to unionize; and Harlem Success's struggle to get space inside a traditional public school.
March 11, 2009
A divided house spars over charter schools' growth in Harlem
The large auditorium at P.S. 194 in Harlem was filled to the brim for last night's meeting. <em>Photo by Kyla Calvert. </em> Despite repeated cries for a calmer debate, including one from a City Council representative who said he was dismayed by the "divided house," it was wagging fists, name-calling, and raucous shouting matches that ruled the day at a hearing last night in Harlem. The crowd had gathered to discuss the city's proposal to replace P.S. 194, an elementary school the city announced in December it plans to phase out, with a charter school founded by Eva Moskowitz. But they left late last night with no consensus on what to do next, aside from the resounding certainty that the move to add more charter schools to Harlem — which now has 24 charter schools, making it second only to New Orleans in market saturation — will not happen without a bitter fight. Among those who spoke out against the charter school coming into P.S. 194 were Annie B. Martin, president of the New York chapter of the NAACP; City Council member Robert Jackson; City Council member Inez Dickens; a staff member of state Sen. Bill Perkins; and a representative of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. Jackson not only condemned the decision but said he is considering holding a hearing at City Hall to pursue the matter. The dissenting voices often collided with equally passionate parents and teachers at the charter school, Harlem Success Academy 2, and the two camps found themselves in several shouting matches. At one point, a P.S. 194 mother screamed so loudly into the microphone about her despair that 194 is shutting down that a Harlem Success mother stood up with her finger to her mouth. "Shh!" she said. When the woman did not calm down, the charter school mother took her twin son and daughter by the hand and pulled them out of the auditorium. "I don't need my kids to see this," another Harlem Success mother had said moments earlier, tugging her children out of the assembly hall. At other moments, emotional testimony led pockets of the audience to rise to their feet in anger. The shouting drowned out any words.
March 4, 2009
A charter school operator challenges Moskowitz on her approach
Steve Evangelista at his charter school, Harlem Link. (Photo courtesy of Evangelista) Eva Moskowitz, the City Council member turned charter school operator, has for years been blunt about the forces that oppose her approach to improving education: other politicians, the city teachers union, and anyone else who has a stake in what she sees as the status quo. Last night, in a quiet conversation on 144th Street in Harlem, Moskowitz learned that she has a new critic, and he's a little different from the others. He's Steve Evangelista, a Harlem charter school operator himself. Evangelista approached Moskowitz with his concerns after a public hearing to discuss a Department of Education plan to install Moskowitz's Harlem Success Academy 2 charter school inside a traditional public school building. The Harlem Success school, along with another charter school that's already in the building, would effectively replace P.S. 194, an elementary school whose low test scores and declining enrollment moved the DOE to phase it out of existence. The school has only 14 kindergartners this year, and about 70% of students in 194's zone attend school somewhere else. The portion is even higher for kindergarten-aged students: 84%. The swap reflects a goal that Chancellor Joel Klein and Moskowitz share: To replace district schools they consider failures with new, better schools — and to do so as quickly as possible. Moskowitz has set herself a goal of opening 40 charter schools in a decade. Evangelista, who also runs a Harlem charter school, Harlem Link, came to watch the proceedings, and afterward he sought Moskowitz out to discuss her approach. When their conversation ended, he explained to me that his main concern is with Moskowitz's dramatic ambitions. Aiming for such fast change requires her to adopt an antagonistic stance toward existing schools, he said. He worries that the attitude could ultimately doom her goal of improving public schools.
March 3, 2009
In Harlem, a reignited fight over homes for charter schools
As it tries to find homes for more than 20 new charter schools that are set to open this fall, the city is reigniting concerns about whether charter schools should be given space inside public school buildings. In recent weeks, the Department of Education has announced that it will allow several charter schools to open inside existing school buildings. Last week, the DOE told Harlem's PS 241 that it will close and be replaced by a new charter school in the Harlem Success Network, run by the divisive Eva Moskowitz. Some PS 241 backers say the DOE is favoring charter schools rather than trying to improve a low-performing neighborhood school. But charter proponents say that local schools have performed poorly for so long that the DOE is merely responding to parents' demands by offering space for more charter schools. PS 241 is the first zoned school the DOE has proposed replacing wholesale with charter schools. (Another charter school moved into the building in 2006.) But the arguments over whether charter schools should be given space in DOE facilities are not new. In fact, Elizabeth reported about a nearly identical situation a year ago, also in Harlem. Just substitute PS 241 for PS 123 in this summary of the politics around the charter school fight: Ms. Moskowitz brought hundreds of parents to P.S. 123 last night to make the case that adding a new charter school there would improve public education by improving parents' options. She said 3,500 students have already applied to the three schools she aims to open by September. ...
February 27, 2009
What is it about Eva Moskowitz that attracts so many enemies?
Eva Moskowitz. Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez, who has done some seriously good work in the past, this week took his pistol-like investigative skills…
February 2, 2009
How long does it really take to grade the state tests?
Teachers across the city are leaving their classrooms this week to grade the state reading tests required by the No Child Left Behind law. This…
January 29, 2009
For the first time, charter schools will open up to 4-year-olds
The charter school chain that is expanding to 4-year-olds next year. State law previously restricted charter schools from admitting pre-kindergarten students; they could go only…
November 4, 2008
The second coming of Eva Moskowitz
The Times today has a new profile of Eva Moskowitz, the politician-turned-school operator who is at the helm of the four Harlem Success Academy charter schools. I say new because this is actually the second full-length profile of Moskowitz the Times has run. (The first is here.) Why pay so much attention to this charter school operator, amid the sea of them? I'll give two reasons. First, Eva Moskowitz is not just trying to improve public schools by creating better ones in Harlem. She is testing a theory of politics. Three years ago, after becoming a living legend in her tenure as head of the City Council education committee, holding drama-filled hearings that took on the mayor as strongly as the teachers union, Moskowitz tried to take her political career to the next level by running for Manhattan borough president. She lost in 2005 to Scott Stringer, a defeat that was in no small part thanks to the enemies she made as a tough committee head. But Moskowitz did not jump out of the limelight. In fact, the opposite: she still declares her intention to run for mayor one day. Whether she really will run for mayor, she is trying to prove a point: that it doesn't matter that she infuriated the teachers union and other labor groups. Moskowitz's arguement is that school improvement efforts, done well, can build a natural constituency all their own. If she succeeds, she will shake up what is permitted in the politics of running schools.
October 31, 2008
Kevin Parker loves charters, but not Bloomberg public schools
State Senator Kevin Parker of Brooklyn meets with charter school students at the Brooklyn Museum of Art last night (Philissa Cramer/GothamSchools) Charter school boosters are often seen throwing compliments at Mayor Bloomberg. So yesterday it was a little surprising to hear a state senator, Kevin Parker, in one breath sing the charter gospel and in the next lambaste the Bloomberg administration for its management of the public schools. At Brooklyn Charter School Night yesterday, Parker told me that his position isn't really a contradiction. Everything he loves about charter schools, he said — their freedom from bureaucratic restrictions, their creative spirit — is absent from traditional public schools. And he said that charter schools' long waiting lists reflect families' frustrations with district-run public schools.
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