Eva Moskowitz, the founder of New York City’s largest chain of public charter schools, imported a Harlem classroom to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to demonstrate how she trains and coaches teachers at Success Academy schools.
Moskowitz, a polarizing figure in New York political circles who regularly spars with Mayor Bill de Blasio (D), said the nation’s education schools are doing a poor job of preparing teachers.
“We’re not going to solve our educational crisis until we solve the adult problem,” said Moskowitz, who brought 10 fifth-graders, Principal Lisa Sun and math teacher Dana Adnopoz from Success Academy’s Harlem North Central Middle School to the Cannon House Office Building.
In front of an audience of Hill staffers and policymakers, Adnopoz led a lesson in proportional reasoning, asking her students to figure out which fictional store offered a better deal on pet food: Bob’s, which was selling 12 cans for $15, or Maria’s, which was offering 20 cans for $23. (The answer: Maria’s, whose pet food cost 10 cents less per can than Bob’s.)
Students worked as a group to figure out several ways to solve the problem, building upon one another’s thought processes until they reached an answer.
Beforehand, Adnopoz, Sun and Beth Zhang, who directs math for Success Academy’s middle schools, demonstrated how they prepare for a lesson. Afterward, the trio critiqued the same lesson, talking about what worked and what could be improved.
“We have an incredible emphasis on teacher and leadership training — we’re sort of running a grad school of education — and we wanted to show what that looks like and feels like,” Moskowitz said.
The demonstration comes as the Obama administration is preparing to issue new regulations governing how the country prepares teachers. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said that too many new K-12 educators are not ready for the classroom and training programs must improve.
Success Academy gives four weeks of training to teachers in the summer and regular weekly training in the school year. Principals in the charter network spend most of their time coaching teachers.
The approach is starkly different from what David Noah experienced as a middle school math teacher in New York City’s traditional public schools. “I saw the principal two times a year,” said Noah, now a principal at Success’s Harlem East Middle School. “She came into my classroom, rated me satisfactory and left. The reason I know is she put the evaluation slip in my mailbox.”
There was no discussion about teaching, or progress, or lesson plans, he said. Desperate for feedback, Noah sought guidance. “I was really struggling,” he said. “It was a terrible year. Kids were hiding under their desks, it was just awful. So I invited a teacher across the hall to come and watch my classroom.”
The response was less than helpful, he said.
“She watched a couple of minutes and said, ‘You’ve got it!’ and left,” he said.
By contrast, Noah said he visits the classrooms of his 30 teachers almost daily, offering feedback and help. Most teachers in the charter network sit down with their principal weekly to discuss lesson plans, using student data to figure out areas of focus.
“It’s pretty tragic that we’re not doing this in most schools in America,” Moskowitz said.
Founded in 2006, Success Academy operates 32 schools, reaching more than 9,000 students. Three-quarters of students come from low-income families; 94 percent are minorities. Success Academy students score in the top 1 percent of all students in New York state on math tests and in the top 3 percent on English language arts tests.
Critics say Success has an unfair advantage because it does not backfill after fourth grade, meaning that when students leave the school, their seats remain empty. A school that does not backfill can appear to be improving based on standardized-test proficiency rates, even as the absolute number of children scoring proficient declines each year.
Traditional public schools are required to take students who register at any point during the course of the school year, often enrolling children who pull down proficiency rates, including English-language learners and low-income or homeless students.
Moskowitz also has been criticized for closing school to enable students and their parents to attend political rallies, often busing them to Albany. Last year, they convinced state lawmakers to give charters free space in existing public schools and forced the city to subsidize rent if charters have to locate in private buildings. This year, Moskowitz is pushing to raise the statewide cap on charters, something Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the GOP-controlled state Senate support.
But de Blasio, teachers unions and the Democratic-controlled state Assembly want to retain the current cap. Charters are publicly funded but privately run and are not subject to union contracts.
Moskowitz ultimately wants to expand to 100 schools throughout New York City, which would give her control over more schools than the state’s second-largest school district, in Buffalo.