By Eva Moskowitz
The Success Academy Charter Schools, which I run, are criticized for taking advantage of Mayor Bloomberg’s policy allowing us to use excess space available in the buildings of district-run schools.
It’s painful, charge our critics, for the families that these schools serve to see the contrast between their dreary classrooms and ours, which we spruce up with cheery paint jobs, new carpets and extensive technology.
Actually, it’s far worse than that: 88 percent of our students read proficiently; fewer than a third do at these district schools. Our students also get two hours more instruction per day, science daily and teachers who receive far more professional development.
So forget the cheery paint. Our students are getting an education that will give them a fair shot at fulfilling the hopes and dreams of their parents — while most of those attending our co-located schools aren’t.
But our critics are wrong to think we’re oblivious to the pain this causes. As a mother of three and a public-school parent, I know that all parents feel a profound responsibility to give their children every opportunity to succeed and are justifiably furious to learn that other children have been given opportunities their own kids have not.
In fact, many of my schools’ parents have an older child at a district school and have told me of their feelings at one day seeing their younger child start teaching their older child how to read.
Until then, they hadn’t truly appreciated how inadequate their older child’s education had been; they feel anger and even guilt.
Where I differ with my critics is what to do about all this. They brand charter schools “separate and unequal” in a demagogic effort to equate them with racial segregation and propose that charter schools stop sharing buildings with district schools — or, better yet, stop existing entirely.
But that won’t brighten the district schools’ hallways or help their students read. It will just lessen parents’ awareness of these inadequacies.
Sadly, that’s exactly what the critics want. They’re afraid that parents may ask why the district schools can’t be better — and not like the answer.
The critics tell parents that we have more money. Good try: Actually, charter schools run on less funding than do the district schools.
The real answer is that we aren’t hampered by the union rules and government bureaucracy from which the district schools suffer.
The district routinely pays teachers who don’t actually teach because no principal will put them in front of students. It prohibits custodians from painting anything above 10 feet, to appease the painters’ union. It buys fluorescent bulbs that are marginally cheaper than the ones used by my schools but are far dimmer and ultimately more expensive because they don’t last as long.
It buys paint in bizarre murky greens and browns, because cheery colors cost a little more. It buys computers that stay locked in closets until they are discarded as obsolete. It pays for useless workers, such as the bathroom monitor at one of my schools who sleeps all day. I could give a hundred more examples.
When I was chair of the City Council’s Education Committee, I sought to draw attention to these problems. But people doubted they mattered; they believed only more money and smaller class size could improve schools.
That’s one reason I chose to start charter schools — to demonstrate the incredible difference it truly makes when a school is run free from crushing bureaucracy and outlandish labor contracts.
Sure, putting charter schools in separate buildings would spare district parents the pain of pressing their noses up against the glass of high-functioning charters. However, to improve our public-school system, parents must know things could be better, no matter how painful that knowledge is.
Consider it one more service charter schools do — communicating one simple message to the families whom the district schools so profoundly fail: It need not be so.
Eva Moskowitz is founder and CEO of the Success Academy Charter Schools.