By guest blogger Madeline Will
Eva Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said at an event Tuesday that she hopes to expand the New York City charter school network to 100 schools within the next decade.
And she aims to do it despite being at the center of a high-profile battle with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio over co-locating charters in buildings with regular, district-run schools.
Moskowitz spoke at the American Enterprise Institute in downtown Washington on Tuesday morning. After prepared remarks, she had a conversation with Rick Hess, the director of education policy studies at AEI, about the instructional practices and challenges facing charter schools in New York City. (Hess writes an opinion blog for Education Week—"Rick Hess Straight Up.”)
Success Academy is a network of 32 charter schools that serves 9,000 students in four boroughs of New York City. This year, Moskowitz opened Success Academy’s first high school. (The schools don’t currently have prekindergarten classes, but Moskowitz said adding a pre-K program is one of her goals, as it would create a continuous system.)
It’s been a bumpy road for Success Academy, which was first founded in Harlem in 2006. Moskowitz, who previously chaired the city’s Council Education Committee and held more than 100 oversight hearings, founded the charter school to try to reform public education from the ground up.
But when de Blasio took office at the beginning of this year, he rescinded a handful of agreements that allowed three Success Academy charter schools to share space, rent-free, with other public schools in the city. In the spring, thousands of parents and students went to the state capital of Albany to protest that decision.
Ultimately, a state budget deal effectively reversed de Blasio’s decision and gave more protections to charters, saying that New York City must provide expanding charter schools with public-school space or funds for private space.
But the situation with city charter schools is still “fragile,” Moskowitz said.
“I wake up every day and get paranoid, and I try not to be paranoid, but people are trying to kill us,” she said. “The paranoia isn’t terribly misplaced.”
In September, de Blasio hinted at upcoming new standards for charter schools to share buildings with regular district schools, saying that charters should have to serve more special education students, English-language learners, and students in older grades to earn space.
And, there’s a current debate regarding a statewide restriction on the number of charter schools that can be open. In New York City, there are 231 charter schools open or expected to open soon—leaving only 25 slots for additional schools to open under the current cap for the city, according to the Associated Press.
Moskowitz said she’s been awarded 14 charters to open over the next two years, but doesn’t know if she’ll be able to open the schools because of “pure politics and unwillingness to give us space.”
“There are 200,000 empty seats in the city of New York that are not used (where) we could put in a high-performing school,” she said. “I hope the powers that be come to their senses so we can continue educating kids.”
Success Academy schools have out-performed most of the city’s public schools, including two of the four gifted and talented schools. In the 2014 state test results, the schools ranked in the top 1 percent in math and the top 3 percent in English Language Arts of all state schools.
One of Moskowitz’s major pushes is emphasizing reading time in school. Other initatives include fostering a strong chess culture, and offering classes like coding. Students in middle school take multiple electives a day, and students from kindergarten to 8th grade have recess, to promote social and unstructured time.
But there is only so much time in the school day: Success Academy doesn’t offer foreign language classes. Students only have history class three days a week (as opposed to science classes, which are held five days a week).
And since Success Academy schools get less money per child than in the NYC public school district, the charters have larger class sizes to save money, Moskowitz said. For example, there are about 32 kindergarteners in each class.
We recently wrote that Moskowitz said data shows competition from the charter schools is improving academic performance in the city’s traditional public schools.
Moskowitz said she’s thought about opening Success Academy schools outside of New York City, but: “there’s enough educational disaster in New York City to last quite a long time.”
“I remain, despite the controversy, optimistic that this country is committed to equity and opportunity, and therefore we will embrace the public policies necessary to end the educational suffering that is so profound in this country,” Moskowitz said.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Charters & Choice blog.