Last week, the New York State Education Department released 2017 Common Core test scores, touching off a firestorm of controversy, spin, counterspin and finger pointing as top officials and charter school supporters attacked each other using metrics that have never actually been scientifically or statistically validated. Percolating in the background is a “class war” skirmish centered around “KKK” comments that expanded the notoriety of a billionaire who chairs the largest charter school chain in the state.
STORY NOT GOING AWAY
Our August 21 report detailed widespread condemnation of a “stupid” post made by the chairman of Success Academy charter schools, yet both The Wall Street Journal and NY Post put out editorials in praise of billionaire Dan Loeb, whose attack was directed at Andrea-Stewart Cousins, a black NY State Senate leader being kept out of critical state negotiations by Loeb and other charter school PAC donors.
The opinion editors backed Loeb, saying he was right, except the KKK “bit” was “over the top.” They appealed directly to Joe Belluck, chair of the SUNY charter committee, claiming charter schools are better for children of color than public schools with unionized teachers, and the proof is in the latest test scores, where Success Academy schools scored twice as high as other NYC schools (the op-eds did not divulge, however that Success Academy serves less than half the amount of high need students as neighboring schools).
Mr. Loeb was also showered with praise by Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz in leaked portions of her forthcoming memoir. Besides calling Loeb her “mirror image,” Moskowitz was much kinder to Donald Trump in her book than she was right after Charlottesville, denouncing the President’s botched response and policy positions. Politico reports the autobiography might be revised before hitting stores in light of recent events.
Also last week, Dennis Walcott, the decidedly pro-charter former NYC Schools Chancellor came out strongly against Loeb’s “heinous” comments, insisting he cannot apologize his way out of comparing Senator Stewart-Cousins to the murderous terrorists of the Klan.
Daniel Dromm, the chair of the NY City Council’s Education Committee said it was “incomprehensible” that Loeb was running a school network for children of color where his ideas could be instilled in young people. Dromm, who is gay, noted Loeb had also made anti-LGBT slurs in the past.
Another 18 NYC Council Progressive Caucus members denounced Loeb, including NYC Council Democrat Helen Rosenthal who said it was “repugnant” that Eva Moskowitz wouldn’t boot Loeb from the board of directors and never should have embraced him in the first place knowing his history of incendiary comments. She also called for the rejection of Loeb’s money. In Rosenthal’s Upper West Side district, a Success Academy K-4 charter school was opened amid protest (and lawsuits) because it took badly needed space from an overcrowded high school.
Also staying vocal are the Hedge Clippers, a campaign finance reform group calling for all elected officials to return donations from Loeb. Director Michael Kink said the comments were “beyond the pale” and promises to “bird-dog” Governor Cuomo and others about the money at public events. Spokesman Charles Kahn raised Loeb’s long history of “enriching himself” by raising prescription drug prices, investing in fossil fuels, oppressive debt collection in Puerto Rico and killing jobs in upstate New York, all while showing an “immoral pattern” of vitriolic attacks. Kahn said Loeb is “happy to lie about people just because they disagree with him.” Loeb has been accused of calling competitors “pedophiles,” allegedly trying to drive down their company’s stock values.
Grassroots groups also mobilized upstate in Utica, asking US Congress members like Rep. Claudia Tenney to give back donations from Loeb.
GOING ON OFFENSE
Moskowitz wasted no time using the 2017 Common Core test results to claim “educational racism,” sniping at the NAACP and NYC Mayor de Blasio, while labeling hundred of thousands of students of color “massive failures” who are “condemned to a future most would find unimaginable.”
Moskowitz hangs this entire argument on bubble test results which are questioned every year by experts, the teachers and administrators who oversee the testing and parents who have opted their children out of testing at the incredible rate of 20% statewide for three years running.
ARE THE TESTS VALID?
As is practice every year, long after the tests were already scored, the state lowered the proficiency scores in fifth and eighth grades, changing 4.6% of eighth graders statewide from failing to passing with the flick of a switch. The state has also never made public the algorithms that compensate for disabled students, English learners or kids in deep poverty. And no one knows whether the formulas change year to year either- the state would not reveal them even when they were ruled invalid in NY State Supreme Court.
There are dozens more factors that are not measured, or are inaccurately measured, but even the layman knows these exams are largely multiple choice, which means guessing and “dumb” luck can account for correct answers, a decidedly unscientific method to use for measuring learning. Besides all these technical arguments, Success Academy was suspected of cheating on testing last Spring, ironically by their own internal auditor (who they promptly fired and discredited).
Moskowitz is quick to embrace studies or research that support charter schools and standardized testing to determine outcomes, but will not refute direct criticisms that she stacks the deck to game outcomes. In this video, Moskowitz dodges a simple question — does your application/lottery process weed out the higher needs kids? The answer, she claims, is “unknowable.”
By allying herself to Dan Loeb, Moskowitz is very visibly helping a major funder of the NY state Republican coalition backing Donald trump and demonstrably hurting people of color by blocking the DREAM Act, blocking billions long owed to public schools (while advocating for private vouchers) and blocking sorely needed affordable housing legislation.
The most pernicious issue undergirding all the others is the broken campaign finance system in New York. Moskowitz and Loeb together dole out millions in post-Citizens United campaign cash. This is typical of the Albany pay-for-play that includes the infamous “LLC loophole,” the very shady “housecleaning accounts” and even the funding of criminal defenses using campaign donations, so money doesn’t just buy “speech,” it buys justice as well.
As the prime mover behind Success Academy, Students First NY and Great Public Schools PAC, Moskowitz funnels millions into political races, negative ad campaigns, marketing and even pays her students parents to attend political rallies.