NYC’s Success Academy Charter Schools Are Beating the Odds . . . and Powerful Unions

It’s no secret that labor union rules impose significant burdens on schools. More than a decade ago Lance Izumi oversaw a rigorous study that examined the impact of 25 years of collective bargaining on the effectiveness of California public schools. It found that rigid union rules put California schools and classrooms in a stranglehold that negatively impact not only day-to-day operations but, most importantly, student achievement.

More recently, Reason.tv’s Nick Gillespie sat down with Eva Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, which is one of New York City’s most successful charter school networks, to talk about how charters are shaking up the education establishment. This eye-opening 17-minute interview, How Eva Moskowitz Outmuscled the Teachers Union, is a must-see for anyone frustrated by the schooling status quo in California and across the country.

Thank you to Lisa Snell, Education and Child Welfare Director at the Reason Foundation, for sharing it. As Reason’s Jim Epstein explains:

In November 2003, Eva Moskowitz, then a freshman member of the New York City Council, held explosive public hearings about how union contracts imposed inane work rules on public schools. The city’s political establishment was astonished.

Mosowitz—a former history professor, public school teacher, and self-proclaimed liberal, whose politics up until that point seemed to resemble those of every other Democratic politician in New York—was sacrificing her political career to take on organized labor. Exposing the consequences of teacher union contracts was a direct affront to the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), which wields enormous influence in New York City elections.

Moskowitz didn’t pussyfoot. At one point in the hearings, she even played audio testimony from a whistleblower with a disguised voice. She said that many of her sources declined to appear because they feared union retribution. She also went toe-to-toe with Randi Weingarten, the UFT’s confrontational leader.

Two years later, when Moskowitz ran for Manhattan Borough President, Weingarten and the UFT mobilized against her and sunk her candidacy. So Moskowitz left politics for the time being; if she couldn’t transform the system from within, she would build an alternative to the public schools.

Today, Moskowitz is the founder and CEO of Success Academy, which is the city’s largest and most successful charter school network. With 32 schools around New York City—staffed by a non-union teaching force—Success Academy posted test results last year that astounded education policy experts.

Moskowitz’s courage and conviction are inspirational, and her example serves as an important reminder of the power individuals have to accomplish positive reforms against the odds.

 

Vicki E. Alger is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and Senior Fellow and Director of the Women for School Choice Project at the Independent Women’s Forum. She is the author of the Independent book, Failure: The Federal Misedukation of America’s Children.
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