“Parents Are Far More Sophisticated Than We Give Them Credit For”: Eva Moskowitz Speaks Out

This whole district public school vs. charter public school — I don’t think parents think of it that way. I think they think of, “I want a great school for my kid. Who’s got one? And how can I get my kid into that school?”

That’s Eva Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools, in an interview today in Chalkbeat. An alumna of New York City’s Stuyvesant High (NYC’s most prestigious public magnet school) and John Hopkins, where she earned a Ph.D. in American history, Moskowitz has long argued — often with Mayor Bill de Blasio and the UFT — that NYC’s traditional school system fails poor children. She opened her first public charter, Harlem Success Academy, in 2006. Now there are 41 schools serving 14,000 students in four of NYC’s five boroughs and she predicts that there will be 100 Success Academy  schools in the next decade.  Across the network, 76% of students are from low-income households; 8.5% are current and former English Language Learners,  15% are current and former special needs students, and 93% of students are children of color.

Here are a few highlights from the Chalkbeat interview.

On vouchers:

They’re not “harmful…What’s harmful are bad schools.” But  “I don’t spend a lot of time on vouchers or even tax credits because I think charters are a faster way to get great schools in the hands of parents.”

On school choice:

“[W]e’ve got to figure out a way to give parents the freedom to choose. I think that’s going to be very empowering and I think parents are far more sophisticated than we give them credit for.”

On the prospects of the State Legislature lifting the charter cap:

“It’s always dangerous to count on anything in Albany, so I don’t count on much of anything. But obviously, long-term, the cap would have to be lifted. And there is such parental demand that I don’t even think the strongest opponents are going to be able to resist.”

“There are a lot of Assembly members who are supportive of charters. It’s a bipartisan issue. I really think it’s unions who are kind of left in their corner.”

On Mayor de Blasio’s view of charter schools and  co-locations:

He’s “very hostile.” And, “ to date, we’ve had a mayor who is very reluctant to give charters space. So that’s going to be a limiting factor if we can’t change those policies and make it easier. I know quite a bit about this and have been working at this for almost two decades, and I find it very, very challenging.”

Why even kindergarten teachers need to understand algebra:

“Even if you’re explaining something like 3+2 equals 4+1, that equal sign and what that actually means is a kind of a profound mathematical concept. And that is, in a way, algebraic equation. And so, you need to have content mastery. And if you’re a kindergarten teacher or let’s say a third-grade teacher, you need to know where the kids have come from, what does K-2 look like? But you also have to have some idea content-wise of what middle school looks like. And you not only need that on the content side, but you need it on the child development side.”

On NYC’s teacher union’s claim that charter schools have “massive cash reserves” and don’t need more funding:

“I can say that it is profoundly unfair and disingenuous for the unions to go to Albany every year asking for massive increases [in state funding for education] and for them to impose a freeze, which was scheduled to sunset this year. Why should a public charter kindergartner be worth less than a district kindergartner? I’m a parent and, in fact, I could be a parent of a district fifth-grader and a public charter kindergartner. I want my kids to get the same level of resources.”

On Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos’ impact on the school choice movement:

“I supported Hillary Clinton, but when the election is over, I think it’s important to work with people across the aisle. And children and families, for them, the daily experience is not a partisan issue. It’s about great teaching and learning and the academic development and social and emotional development of their kid. So I think there’s a time for politicking and a time for governing.”

What do you think?

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