March 12, 2014

In the past week the battle over charter schools has escalated rapidly, with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio butting heads with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo over everything from universal Pre-K to de Blasio's decision to terminate the co-location agreements of two charter schools run by corporate reformer Eva Moskowitz.

I think we all know which side each politician is on. Cuomo is your classic corporate Democrat who might be called a moderate Republican in other days. He likes needling progressive Democrats, and these days he likes needling Mayor Bill de Blasio.

But much, much more is at stake these days than political point-scoring. In the segment that followed the one at the top, Chris Hayes' panelists discuss the termination of Success Academy's special co-location terms.

As Chris Hayes rightly asks, who was fighting for the rights of the children in the nearly-200 public schools closed by the Bloomberg administration? Like Chicago and Philly, the parents of children in those schools opposed their closure, but their voices fell on dead air. There was no governor defending their rights, no wealthy charter school operator filing suit on their behalf. There was silence, with the exception of the parents who did their best to prevent those schools from closing.

But now Eva Moskowitz is crying for the children of Harlem who are having their schools taken away. Her very public campaign includes a lawsuit which she claims to pursue as a fight for "educational justice" for the 194 kids affected, and she's spending millions on an ad campaign to shame Mayor de Blasio for his actions. Millions of dollars on ads. Where were the ad campaigns shaming Bloomberg? Where did those millions come from? If the past is a pointer to the present, we can assume the usual suspects are helping out. The Walton family put a cool million into Success Academies in Harlem in 2012.

But, but...the Success Academies are succeeding, say Eva's champions. They're helping those little Harlem children learn. I turn to Diane Ravitch's blog:

What’s my problem with charter schools, you ask? I don’t know where to begin, but here it is in a nutshell: chutzpah. You open a school, take all sorts of private money to fund advertising and publicity, exclude students from enrolling through a variety of strategies, and then expel those for whom you cannot or will not provide essential services or are discipline problems, underpay inexperienced teachers and work them to death so there is high turnover, then you instruct your teachers to “teach to the test” AND then have some students who might not measure up stay home on the day of the test, and then give your students copies of the test before they take it, shut up your students in computer labs to be “supervised” by $15 per hour aids, then rake off money for your shareholders and hire all sorts of corrupt ex-government officials to promote your cause, scream when you are asked to pay your share for the space you use to displace kids in public schools, AND then pat yourself on the back when your test scores show up marginally better than the local public school, which doesn’t do ANY of these things….

and you have the chutzpah to say you are “outperforming” public schools?

Success Academy's success is the direct result of their ability to do things that corporate-types do to guarantee their success, but it's not how universal public education is supposed to work.

If you want to know how public education is supposed to work, take a few minutes out of your day and listen to Bill de Blasio take Moskowitz and the Morning Joe crew on directly. He explains his reasoning well, if you care to listen over the bleating of Joe Scarborough and his gang on MSNBC.

In fact, de Blasio was so effective that Morning Joe trotted out the little kids from the Success Academy Tuesday morning to make sure we all understand who the 'victims' are.

Why is it they never trot out the kids from regular public schools that close?

As this battle escalates, it threatens to create a long-overdue reckoning within the Democratic party. Either Democrats believe in universal public education or they don't, but they can't wrap themselves around charter schools and claim to believe. Those who do that, such as Governor Andrew Cuomo (and our President, too) will find themselves in the center of an ever-increasing maelstrom of anger and controversy as we fight for the universal public education every child is entitled to receive in this country.

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