Like most people, I’m interested in the public school system of this county and state. Often my interest goes beyond that, to other areas of the country, especially urban school systems, which have often struggled.
I’ve always been stumped but not surprised by the fact that in two of the largest cities in the country, the schools perform woefully but teachers’ unions fight virtually every proposal that would change the sorry status quo.
Both New York and Chicago have a plethora of schools in low-income neighborhoods in which many of the students come from single-parent households and disadvantaged circumstances.
They’re the very kids who most need help, yet teachers’ unions stubbornly resist change.
Schools performing poorly? Let’s keep them that way. Kids not following a path to success? Good, let’s continue. Teachers not doing the job? Can’t possibly be.
Could it be that many of the teachers there are far more interested in their salaries and vacation plans than they are in lifting students out of a hole?
Case in point: New York’s Success Academy, a series of charter schools led by Eva Moskowitz, who advocates new approaches instead of the same old-same old.
Success Academy -- small charter schools which started in Harlem but are now spread across the city -- serves primarily African-American and Hispanic students from challenged socio-economic backgrounds.
But 94 percent of the academy’s students passed the state math test last year, as compared to 35 percent citywide, and 64 percent passed the state reading test, compared to 29 percent citywide.
So what do Bill de Blasio, perhaps the nation’s most far-left mayor, and the teachers’ unions think?
I don’t even need to tell you.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, himself a liberal, likes what he sees. He wants to increase the number of Success Academy schools from 43 to 100.
Moskowitz’ formula isn’t that complicated: hard work, firm discipline, long hours, incentives for high performance.
There’s not much room for a touchy-feely, praise-kids-for-failing, don’t-dare-hurt-their-feelings philosophy.
Teachers work long, demanding hours; those who do well can expect quick promotions, some becoming principals while they’re still in their 20s. Teachers whose students don’t perform receive coaching; if they don’t improve, demotions can occur.
You think the unions like that?
And while the kids must undergo a rigorous curriculum and a no-nonsense disciplinary code, they schools offer a variety of extracurricular activities which have been eliminated from the public school system, including arts, music, chess, theater, dance, basketball and swimming.
Success Academy is publicly funded but privately operated. Taxpayer funds are supplemented by private donations, which make up about 25 percent of the operating budget.
In 2005, Moskowitz, who was a city councilwoman, ran for Manhattan borough president. She lost, partly because of opposition from the United Federation of Teachers, whose bigwigs were enraged because she’d been critical of work rules in the educators’ union contract.
She was subsequently recruited by a pair of hedge fund managers to open a charter school. Success Academy now has more than 9,000 students in every borough except Staten Island.
While unions and the hard-core left detest Success Academy, parents are rushing to get their children in. This year, the network received more than 22,000 applications for 2,688 open seats.
Last month, New York City’s schools chancellor, Carmen Farifia, visited a building which houses both a traditional public school and a Success Academy branch. Ninety-six percent of the charter school’s students passed the state math test. Ninety-six percent of the traditional school’s students flunked it.
That didn’t faze Farifia, who made excuses, as you might suspect by now, for the 4-percent pass rate of the at-large school.
So I’ll ask you: which would you rather your child attend?