Archived Story

Revolting against the blob

Published 9:04am Thursday, July 8, 2010

Eva Moskowitz has become an expert at being hated.
It started a few years ago when the “bleeding-heart liberal,” as she describes herself, served on the New York City Council as chairwoman of the education committee. In an excess of public spiritedness, she subjected the contract of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), as well as the contracts of the principals and custodians, to critical scrutiny at public hearings. Her life would never be the same.
Moskowitz still talks of those contracts with outraged astonishment. When she visited schools, she would ask what sounds like a setup for a joke: “Does your custodian change your light bulbs?” The answer: Not quite.
They would change the bulbs, but not the ballast — which starts the current in a fluorescent bulb — because that’s not in their contract.
Custodians can paint the walls of a classroom only up to 10-feet high, after which the official painters must take over.
A teacher can be fired only after an elaborate arbitration procedure. Since the union approves the arbitrators, it will nix anyone who has been notably unforgiving of teacher malfeasance in the past.
Only 10 teachers were fired out of 55,000 tenured teachers in 2008.
The UFT took its revenge by defeating her in a race for Manhattan borough president in 2005. But it is not yet rid of this meddlesome woman. As the hard-charging CEO of the Harlem Success Academy, a network of four — soon to be seven — charter schools, she is on a righteous mission to demonstrate how education can work unencumbered by the insane constraints of the established system.
It’s amazing what you can accomplish, she says, when you design your schools “around teaching and learning and don’t think of yourself as an employment program for grown-ups.”
Almost all of Harlem Success’ students are black or Latino, and three-quarters qualify for free and reduced lunch. Last year, 100 percent of Harlem Success’ third-graders passed the standardized state math exam, and 95 percent passed the English test, far outpacing the local school districts and ranking the school 32nd among all of New York state’s 3,500 public schools.
For her critics, it’s another reason to hate her. The union imports activists to protest her schools. Last year, a charming mob greeted Harlem Success children arriving for the first day of school with chants of “Don’t be fooled, abort charter schools.”
Moskowitz didn’t set out to be a union target. “I’m not a Milton Friedman,” she says. “I just think kids are getting screwed by a system that’s horrible.” She is now part of a nationwide revolt against the union-dominated education blob, running the gamut from liberal reformers like her on the left to fiscal conservatives like Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey on the right. For the unions, it should be a worrisome sign that you can engage in a conspiracy against the public interest for only so long before creating a backlash.
As a Harlem Success parent said over and over again in a rejoinder to protesters outside one of the schools: “My baby is learning.” Courtesy of the education establishment’s Public Enemy Number One.

Rich Lowry is editor of the National Review.

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