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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Eva’s in charge — and the schools are good

Charter-school networks, such as Eva Moskowitz’s high-scoring Success Academies, are creating “high-functioning school systems” that produce much better results for disadvantaged students, writes Chalkbeat editor Elizabeth Green. While district schools are beset by local, state and federal edicts, charter networks are “large enough to provide shared resources for teachers, yet insulated from bureaucratic and political crosscurrents by their independent status.”

Success Academy student is honored for excellence in math. Photo: Barry Williams/New York Daily News

Are they democratic? No, writes Green. Moskowitz and her plutocrat-heavy board “have strengthened public education by extracting it from democracy as we know it — and we shouldn’t be surprised, because democracy as we know it is the problem.”

Success now educates 15,500 students in 46 schools. “Intensive test prep in math and reading goes hand in hand with a strong emphasis on science, art, and chess,” writes Green. Students “regularly trounce their peers all across New York on state tests.”

“Maybe a public school system consisting principally of charter schools would be an improvement,” says Moskowitz. Green is beginning to think that “blowing up school districts” might not be so crazy.

Americans should have “a say in what and how our children are taught,” she writes.

Unwieldy though school districts may be when they’re run by a school board or a mayor—and guided by the dictates of governors, state lawmakers, Congress, and the president—they give citizens a chance to weigh in. They are without a doubt public.

Yet, teaching in traditional public schools can be “impossible.”

While those who pursue the profession in other countries are provided with the infrastructure crucial to educating kids effectively—a clear sense of what students need to learn, the basic materials necessary to help them learn it (such as a curriculum), and a decent training system—teachers in the U.S. are left stranded. The reason isn’t terrible union contracts or awful management decisions. The fault, I came to see, lies in the (often competing) edicts issued by municipal, state, and federal authorities, which add up to chaos for the teachers who actually have to implement them.

This new model is taking off, Green writes. Denver’s DSST Public Schools, another charter network with excellent results, is on track to educate a quarter of the city’s middle and high school students. Nationwide, charter schools educate 94 percent of students in New Orleans, and more than 30 percent of students in 19 other cities.

If the trend continues, parents across the income spectrum won’t face a tapestry of alternatives to the mainstream school district, each one with its own name and unique approach. Instead, they will get to choose from a handful of charter-school networks that are likely to make the original district—the one governed by an elected school board or the mayor, depending on the city—more peripheral.

It’s a scary story she writes on Chalkbeat. “Charter boards, designed to sidestep the unwieldy directives of democratic school governance and focus ruthlessly on leading good schools, are the main reason charter networks operate so well — and also the main reason I worry as the networks grow.”

In The New Yorker, Rebecca Mead writes that Success schools combine strict, traditional behavior rules with progressive teaching strategies.

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