Eva Moskowitz and Bill de Blasio are two liberal crusaders with profoundly divergent ideas about how the mission of aiding the disempowered should be carried out.
One afternoon this summer, Eva Moskowitz, who runs Success Academy Charter Schools, showed me her senior yearbook. “I was the editor,” she said. We sat in a half-furnished office at the construction site of her charter network’s first high school. A buzz saw shrieked in the background. She graduated in 1982 from Stuyvesant, the most selective of New York City’s public high schools. “I got completely engaged in how to take this sentimental book and make it a much bigger project.” She fought to publish photographs capturing the political protests of that time — against nuclear weapons, against American aid to the government in El Salvador. To go with the pictures, she wrote a manifesto, concluding: “We do not live in a vacuum.”
Everything I have heard about her corporate educational fiefdom is disturbing, from cherry-picking students so as to improve scores, to worming their way into City buildings rent-free.
“It took will,” she said about her yearbook triumph, in a tone that was only somewhat self-mocking. Moskowitz recalled, as well, Stuyvesant’s intractable failings. With an outrage that seemed barely abated by time, she described an alcoholic physics teacher who dozed through class, ceding instruction to an especially talented student, and endemic cheating on exams, caught by the cameras of her yearbook staff. “I thought it was my moral duty to show” the evidence “to the administration,” she said. “They were very adamant that they would investigate. They didn’t.”
At 50, Moskowitz is petite and favors tailored suits and spiked heels. She founded her first Success Academy, a kindergarten and first grade in Harlem, in 2006 and has swiftly created the largest charter group in the city. It stretches from the South Bronx to Bedford-Stuyvesant, with nearly 9,500 students in 24 elementary schools, seven middle schools and the new high school, which opened in late August. Most students are black and Latino and poor enough to qualify for federally subsidized lunch — the kinds of children the city’s regular public-school system seems all but incapable of educating. Fewer than one-fifth of black students in the city can read or do math at grade level, to take just one grim statistic.