The September 7th New York Times Magazine ran a story by Daniel Bergner called “The Battle for New York Schools: Eva Moskowitz vs. Mayor Bill de Blasio”. Bergner’s piece reads as an astonishing piece of hagiography to appear in the paper of record, ignoring any substantive argument about Ms. Moskowitz’s schools and repeating without critique her organization’s point of view. Mr. Bergner did make note that he had spoken to critics of Ms. Moskowitz’s approach, notably Dr. Diane Ravitch of New York University whose input he represents thusly:
When I talked with her, Ravitch indicted the hedge-fund titans and business moguls — including Kenneth Langone, a founder of Home Depot, and the Walton family of Walmart — who put their weight behind promising charter schools, leading their boards and lending political clout. “When they call themselves reformers,” she says, “it’s something I gag on.” What these philanthropists are all about, Ravitch says, is making themselves feel good while using charters as a halfway step in a covert effort to pull the country toward the privatization of education. For charter opponents, liberalism is in jeopardy. And from this perspective, Moskowitz, with her results and her readiness to trumpet them, poses the greatest risk.
Knowing something of Dr. Ravitch’s criticisms of charters schools generally and of Ms. Moskowitz specifically, this struck me as an odd and likely incomplete representation of her input. Sure enough, several days after publication, Dr. Ravitch responded in her own blog at some length. According to Dr. Ravitch, her conversation with Mr. Bergner was not represented in the published article:
I spent a lot of time on the phone with the author, Daniel Bergner. When he asked why I was critical of Moskowitz, I said that what she does to get high test scores is not a model for public education or even for other charters. The high scores of her students is due to intensive test prep and attrition. She gets her initial group of students by holding a lottery, which in itself is a selection process because the least functional families don’t apply. She enrolls small proportions of students with disabilities and English language learners as compared to the neighborhood public school. And as time goes by, many students leave.
The only Success Academy school that has fully grown to grades 3-8 tested 116 3rd graders but only 32 8th graders. Three other Success Academy schools have grown to 6th grade. One tested 121 3rd graders but only 55 6th graders, another 106 3rd graders but only 68 6th graders, and the last 83 3rd graders but only 54 6th graders. Why the shrinking student body? When students left the school, they were not replaced by other incoming students. When the eighth grade students who scored well on the state test took the admissions test for the specialized high schools like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science, not one of them passed the test.
She goes on to note that in addition to the phenomenon of selective attrition, she also discussed high rates of teacher attrition at network schools, but that Mr. Bergner argued with her instead of interviewing her. Dr. Ravitch also notes that Mr. Bergner used different language than she did when discussing the issues with him, and all of her points about selective attrition were either ignored or glossed over with talking points that reflect Success Academy’s standard public statements.
While Dr. Ravitch has a platform to illuminate the distressing puffery that made it to the New York Times magazine posing as a multi-sided examination of a contentious public issue, a reader would be hard pressed to know that Mr. Bergner actually spoke to public school teachers who work in fully public schools that are co-located with Success Academy schools. The sole hint of input is presented here:
That attitude (Moskowitz’s) infuriates many teachers at regular schools. When I spoke with a handful, they used words like “metastasize” and “venal” to describe Success Academy’s proliferation. That Moskowitz’s wealthy board members choose to highly reward her track record — her salary and bonus for the 2012-13 school year totaled $567,500 — only adds to the union’s fury.
What is astonishing about that brief mention focused entirely upon a few potential epithets and alleged jealousy of Ms. Moskowitz’s salray is that Mr. Bergner DID speak with teachers who work in co-locations with Success Academy schools. In fact, he spoke at length and clearly decided to disregard their input almost entirely. I am fortunate to know one of those teachers through local teacher advocacy groups, and she agreed to inform me about her discussions with Mr. Bergner and to share what it is like to be a teacher at a school where Ms. Moskowitz has claimed classroom space for her students. Her name is Ms. Mindy Rosier, and she is a teacher at P.S. 811, the Mickey Mantle School, a special needs school within P.S. 149 in District 75. They have been co-located with Success Academy since 2006, and this Spring, she and her colleagues found themselves in the center of the storm when Mayor de Blasio decided to not allow three previously agreed upon co-locations for Success Academy expansions. The resulting highly public battle resulted in a 6 million dollar ad campaign accusing the mayor of throwing Success Academy students out of their schools, all funded by Ms. Moskowitz’s Wall Street supporters, and it culminated in Governor Andrew Cuomo helping coordinate a pro-Moskowitz rally in Albany that resulted in the city of New York being bound by the state budget to provide co-locations or pay rent for all charter schools.
Ms. Rosier was kind enough to answer my questions about what she thinks people in NYC need to know about the consequences of charter school co-locations awarded to Success Academy. Much of this was what she told Mr. Bergner in a 45 minute long conversation whose content never made it to the New York Times Magazine:
Can you explain the school where you work? Who are your students and what is the mission of your school?
My school is PS811 at PS149. We are an additional site to the Mickey Mantle School family and we are also a part of District 75. My school site serves over 100 children with autism, learning disabilities, emotional and psychiatric disorders in a low income area in Harlem. Harlem Gems also have some rooms in our building. We all get along really well, with the exception of Success Academy.
The following is our mission statement;
“The core values of P811M are articulated and expressed by a family of dedicated professionals committed to educating the whole child with integrity, compassion and respect. Our collective community effectively implements instructional practices geared to the individualized achievement of students’ social, emotional and academic goals. Each child’s individual assessment data informs this instruction. It is our goal to lead students towards maximum independence. With this independence, disabilities are turned into abilities.”
How did the co-location with Success Academy happen? Were there discussions with parents and faculty/staff? Do you know how it was decided to co-locate at your school?
Our site opened the same time as Success Academy began. It is my understanding that at that time, space for all was agreed upon. They had a certain amount of classes on one floor in one side of the building. I was hired at that school during the same time, so I am unaware of any other previous discussions with faculty/staff and parents. I don’t think anyone had a problem with that co-location then, but then again we had no idea what was to come.
How did the co-location process work? Did you have any input into how the building would be divided between your school and Success Academy?
At first, everything was fine. Then, over the next several years, they have requested more and more space from us. Up until last year, I did not know what the process was. I know our teachers did not have a say in this, and I really don’t know what the involvement of my admins were. I do know that just for one year, our former Chapter Leader (who now works for the UFT division for District 75 schools) was able to prevent more expansion on her part. Overall, we lost two floors that included classrooms, our library, our music room, our art room, our science room, and as a matter of making up one classroom, we lost our technology room as well. P.S.149 was so nice and offered us some available rooms at that time. Since, Success Academy has also expanded on their side and they lost an entire floor. So by last year, we had NO free space and P.S.149 was and is crunched for space as well.
Do the schools ever share any parts of the facilities? If yes, how does that work out most of the time? If not, do you know why?
We are NOT allowed on their floors. However, they always go through our hallways. Because of overcrowding and for safety reasons, they were told not to walk through a certain hallway during our dismissal times. My understanding was that they were not too happy about it and I have observed this still happening a couple of times over the years. All schools share the auditorium. In order to reserve time, coordination needs to be done. When Success Academy is using the auditorium, it is usually closed off to all others. Since our building is of a decent size, many of us cut through the back of the auditorium to the other exit to get to the P.S 149 side. (We have 3 classes on their second floor as well as a speech room and a resolution room.) So many times, when SA puts on a show or an event, it is very loud! There are two sets of doors that lead to the auditorium from our hallway. We have several rooms including classrooms close by. They have no problem keeping those doors open, disturbing our classrooms and other rooms. My office happens to be near there as well. So many times I have gotten up to close those two sets of doors. Sometimes I got looks doing so, but I didn’t care. We were all being disturbed. Noise levels do not have to be that loud. Even with the two doors shut, you still can here them. We just make do, like every other time. We do share the lunch room. In the mornings, SA has their breakfast first and then we do. There is another lunchroom on the P.S.149 side and also because of scheduling, their lunch begins around 10:40. On our side it is 11:30. Whether or not lunch staff starts on time, we have to be out of there just shy of 12. Our standardized students then have recess for a half hour, and then our alternative students have the next half hour. On Wednesdays, Success Academy has early dismissal. They are supposed to come out at 12:30. They exit through our playground. For the most part, they are already lined up to leave as we are heading back in from recess. There have been some occasions where at least one of their classes had come out really early. It was about 12:15 and my assigned class were in the middle of a kickball game. I yelled out several times to that teacher to please hold off, it is still our time. I know I was loud (that’s the Brooklyn in me) so I am pretty confident she heard me but chose to ignore me. My students LOVE recess and when they saw they had to end the game early they got upset very quickly and behaviors escalated. Me and one other para(professional) were trying our best to calm them down. There was another para who had gone inside earlier with another student because of a separate issue. When I saw that para come out, I yelled to him to get help which he did. This was a 4th grade class of about 12 who are all emotionally disturbed and learning disabled. It was such a difficult situation. Some students had to be separated because their anger looked like it was going to lead to some fights. My lunch was next period, and I immediately informed my Assistant Principal. In front of me, she called their principal. I also had to write up several incident reports.
Now back to our lunchroom….our lunchroom is also our gym. Right after breakfast, it is cleaned up and the tables are folded and pushed to the sides. We have access to this space all mornings. Now the afternoon is a different story. SA uses the the lunchroom in the afternoons. If P.S.149’s gym is available, they have been nice enough to let us share it. Otherwise adapted phys ed is done in the classrooms. Our gym teacher is wonderful and he has been great adapting to this situation. However, these are kids, kids with special needs, and they need to run a bit.
What changes have you seen in your work and your students’ educations since co-locating with Success Academy? What do you think accounts for that?
We have done our best over the years to make sure that our students’ education has not been compromised in any way. However, our students as well as those in P.S.149 have picked up on the fact that we are all treated differently from them by them. Their teachers sometimes very obviously, have always looked down at our students even us teachers. I have tried to give them the benefit of the doubt that they are new teachers and they may just not understand what our students are going through. However, that is no excuse to give us looks or ignore us for simply saying “good morning.” There have also been some times where as I was passing, some of the kids have said “hi” to me. I love all children and without even realizing it I always acknowledge their presence even if it just a smile. I remember one time in particular those kids seemed so happy that I made their eye gaze, so I quickly said “hi” to them and slowly kept on walking by. A few of them said “hi” back and proudly told me how old they were. I would have loved to engage with them but they are not our students. Their teacher snapped at them to be quiet and to stand correctly on line. I felt so bad and I did look back. I didn’t want anyone in trouble for me simply saying “hi.”
Could you explain any changes to the environment/culture/feeling of the building during that time? What do you think accounts for that?
There is definitely and us vs. them feeling in the air. I’ve been told that they have shiny clean floors, new doors, fancy bathrooms, etc. Meanwhile, we have teachers who have bought mops and even a vacuum cleaner to clean their rooms for they feel what is done is not efficient enough. Near our entrance, we have an adult bathroom. It is for staff and our parents. Success Academy parents as well have used it. For many months that bathroom went out of order. Honestly, I am not even sure it is fixed yet, but after all this time, I really hope so. So we would have to either use the closet of a bathroom in the staff lunch area or use one of the kids’ bathroom when it is not in use. You and I know that had that been an SA bathroom, it would have been fixed by the next day. SA also throws out tons of new or practically new materials often. At first, some of their teachers would sneak us some materials thinking we could benefit from it. They stopped out of fear. With all the great stuff that they have thrown out, they got angry when they found out that teachers from P.S.149 and I believe some of our teachers too would go through the piles and take what we could use. Well, now they only throw out their garbage shortly before pick up so that no one could get at it. Nice, right?
We have all seen them get Fresh Direct deliveries. Our kids too. Our students have a general feeling that SA students are special based on how they walk around and how they are personally treated either by looks or sometimes comments. Our students may be special needs, but they understand to a point that feeling of us vs. them. We do not at all refer to things that way at all.
It truly is sad. We are a school with teachers, other staff, and students. We are all supposed to be here for a reason. It is beyond me that this has been such a battle.
This past year teachers and other faculty were very angry. Once I heard about SA’s plan to take over last September, that’s when I started to get involved. Enough was enough. In October, I attended a hearing in my school building, I went to that Panel for Education Policy (PEP) in Brooklyn a week later, and subsequent to that, I have been a part of rallies and press conferences, etc. as I have detailed in my email. All of what happened at my school has led to my educational activism. I have read so much over the years. The more and more I read, the angrier I got. The Alliance For Quality Education has done so much for our school in order to save it and for that I am very thankfully to them and I still maintain a very good relationship with them. I was introduced to MORE (Movement of Rank and File Educators) in late April, and I now sit on its Steering Committee, committed to do right by our teachers and students. Instead of just being angry as I have been for so long, I finally did something about it by being proactive. I do have to say, since my activism began, I have made tons of new like-minded friend and I am grateful of that too.
Why do you think Eva Moskowitz and Mayor Bloomberg agreed to further expansion of Success Academy in your building? What would you say to them about that if you could?
Oh, boy! I believe they are friends and that they run in same circles. They did not care, never did. When we went to that PEP in October, about putting through those charter locations, it was like nothing I have ever seen before. It was my first one. The room was packed with teachers from so many different schools. There were parents, students, and various community leaders including Letitia James and Noah Gotbaum. People were ANGRY. So many plead their case for two minutes at the mic, some with heart wrenching stories, and all the while the panel was very busy playing on their phones, looking bored and disinterested. It was disgusting. You could hear so many people yelling, “Get off your phones!” I did not speak at this PEP ,but a dear coworker did. I hadn’t found my voice just yet at that time. She tried to give an impassioned speech and when they did not even look at her, she called them out on it and was STILL ignored. It sure seemed to us that the fix was in. Money and power talks and all else suffers.
How could you be so heartless? How can you say you are for all children when you have thought nothing about our community’s most vulnerable children, just willing to toss them aside like trash? A population that you refuse to educate and have sent as cast-offs our way? Knowing our building did NOT have any free space, why did you purposely choose to expand here? Why were parents lied to? Why did you perpetuate lies in the media and to the general public? These are just some of the questions I would ask her (Eva Moskowitz) based solely on what she tried to do to my school. Trust me, there are so many more that we all have been asking her for a long time.
On the Families 4 Excellent Schools’ page on Facebook, I have gone back and forth with many, and most of those were parents. They had no clue as to what the truth was. So instead of them doing their homework, it was easier to call me a liar, a racist, clueless myself, etc., etc. I didn’t go on there to bash Success Academy. I went on there to inform them of the truth that was completely hidden to them and the general public. After a while, I just had to stop. It was like beating my head against the wall. Moskowitz seems to be this cult-like figure to parents and they adore her. I have even heard her be called a savior!
As for Bloomberg, I used to like him, but that obviously changed. Apparently, he came to our building several times to visit SA but never us. We never said “boo.” However when Farina came to our school for a quick walk through to see our space situation during this whole debacle, it became front page news in the NY Daily News with Farina’s big picture and bold letters SNUBBED. Something to that affect, I don’t remember exactly. SA was pissed that even though she had a specific purpose for her visit to us, she did not go to visit them. She “snubbed” them and that made the front page! Honestly, I think I would simply ask him, “Why did you put money, politics, and power over the welfare of our beautiful special needs children?”
What do you think about the presentation of your concerns in the New York Times article that ran in the September 7th magazine? Is there anything you think the reporter ought to explain to you and your fellow teachers?
I was beyond angry. I have no problem taking time out to talk about concerns I have, and on those things that I am passionate. I spent a considerable amount giving very specific facts, and they were all ignored. Other teachers were ignored. Parents were ignored. We all gave verifiable facts, but that did not matter. I personally feel that a good reporter should report both sides of the story. Way too many reporters and various mass media outlets have failed us, our school. our students, their parents, and the general public. I want to know why he blatantly ignored all of us and deceived the general public? Important information that I feel everyone should know, instead of blindly praising a woman with obvious deceitful tendencies simply because they have higher scores. There is a reason for that and the public needs to know the actual truth. Isn’t writing about and printing the truth Reporting 101? We ALL deserve a public apology with answers to the questions I have mentioned.
We need more reporters like Juan Gonzalez who is not afraid to tell the truth. He has posted several articles on SA, even one that had a focus on our school. He is one out of how many? AND because of all the faulty and biased information out there, when he does write something, he does not get any respect and he has been bashed. “How do you say such things about Moskowitz and her schools?”
I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!
Ms. Rosier has also written to the New York Times and Daniel Bergner to express her surprise that none of her conversation made it into the article, and to remind Mr. Bergner what she had said to him. As of today, the letter has not appeared in the Times, but Ms. Rosier provides the text of it here.