I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Eva Moskowitz Crosses The Line

Looks like the pressure is finally getting to Eva Moskowitz.

She's had a good long run as the Queen of Reformyland. As Peter Greene notes in his quick biography, Moskowitz pretty much gets whatever she wants, whenever she wants it. Not only that: she has, up until now, been given a free pass for taking some pretty brazen actions. How do you think the press would react if a public school superintendent moved her district's calendar around so her students could go to the state capital and protest?

Unfortunately for Eva, all the attention she's brought to herself has inevitably led people to start taking a hard, critical look at her self-proclaimed successes. Leo Casey has a comprehensive piece out at Shanker Blog that casts serious doubt on Success Academy's disciplinary policies:
To provide the most complete picture possible of what is happening in both the Success Academy schools and regular New York City public schools, it was necessary to gather data from a number of different sources. Let us start with most recent dataset, for the year 2013-14, which was published late last spring as part of the New York State School Report Cards. According to the state data, in 2013-14, Success Academy Charter Schools had a total of 728 suspensions for a suspension rate of 11 percent, while the New York City public schools had a total of 9617 suspensions for a suspension rate of one percent. 
We know that the NYC public school data is understated, however, because (just as in the case of its report to the U.S. Education Department cited above) only the most serious suspensions are ever reported to the New York State Education Department. Upon request, the New York City Department of Education supplied the Shanker Institute with the total number of all suspensions for the 2013-14 school year. These data showed 53,504 suspensions; yielding an annual suspension rate of five percent.
From the standpoint of Success Academy, therefore, the most charitable reading of these numbers is that the charter school network suspended its students at more than double the rate of the New York City public schools, eleven percent to five percent. [emphasis mine]
And that's very charitable.

The worst blow to Moskowotz's empire, however, came earlier this month when John Merrow broadcast a pointed piece about SA's suspension policies on the PBS Newshour.

Moskowitz squirms like an engineer at Volkswagen throughout the piece; I almost felt sorry for her...

Until she pulled one of the worst stunts I've ever seen in my career as an educator: she released personally identifiable information about the behaviors of a child who was enrolled in her school.

Merrow's piece featured an interview with a young boy who apparently was enrolled at SA when he was six years old (he is now 10). In the story, both he and his mother claim he was suspended "...three or four times his first year for losing his temper." Merrow's interviews are on camera and the identities of both the boy and his mother are not concealed.

Moskowitz decided that the accusation of a 10-year-old must not be allowed to stand. As part of an eight page letter released on SA's website, Moskowitz describes, in great detail, the exact behaviors she alleges the boy engaged in during his enrollment. She includes the written accounts of two of her teachers who, again, go into great detail about the boy's behavior.

I'm not going to link to the letter SA appears to have released on October 20 (according to the URL), because I believe it is in incredibly poor taste and a serious ethical breach for any professional educator, let alone a school leader. Merrow's piece aired on October 12, well before Moskowitz's letter. Her letter makes clear she had already seen the broadcast when she lodged her complaint with the PBS Newshour. Which means Eva Moskowitz published information about the behaviors of a child in her school knowing full well his name had already been released to the public.

I'm no lawyer, but I think federal law is very clear on this. FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, explicitly states that schools must have a parent's written permission to release information from a student's educational record. The USDOE offers guidance to parents regarding their rights for the release of student records:
What is an Education Record? 
Education records are records that are directly related to a student and that are maintained by an educational agency or institution or a party acting for or on behalf of the agency or institution. These records include but are not limited to grades, transcripts, class lists, student course schedules, health records (at the K-12 level), student financial information (at the postsecondary level), and student discipline files. The information may be recorded in any way, including, but not limited to, handwriting, print, computer media, videotape, audiotape, film, microfilm, microfiche, and e-mail. [emphasis mine]
Source: 34 CFR § 99.2 ?Education Records? and ?Record? 
It would be very hard to argue the accounts of the teachers were not part of this student's "discipline file." It would also be hard to argue this parent gave up her right to keep this information private when she exercised her First Amendment rights:
What must a consent to disclose education records contain? 
FERPA requires that a consent for disclosure of education records be signed and dated, specify the records that may be disclosed, state the purpose of the disclosure, and identify the party or class of parties to whom the disclosure may be made. 34 CFR § 99.30. As such, oral consent for disclosure of information from education records would not meet FERPA's consent requirements. 
In addition, the State of New York has reaffirmed the privacy rights of parents when it comes to school records. Again, I'm not a lawyer so I can't offer an opinion as to whether FERPA was violated here. But even if it was, there's probably not any recourse for the parent under federal law: the worst that could happen is that SA could be denied federal funds.

Something tells me that a school that can raise over $9 million in one night isn't going to worry too much about that...

But whether the law was broken isn't even the most important issue here. What Moskowitz did was an inexcusable lapse of judgment. Eva Moskowitz has put her need to protect her brand over the privacy of a child who, by her own account, has challenges in a school setting.

This is yet another problem with the "market reform" theory of education. How much money does any corporation spend to maintain its public image? How hard will they fight if they perceive that image is being threatened? How little reluctance do they show to go after a critic of their company or their products?

Schools, however, are not corporations (at least, not yet). Parent complaints are not threats to a brand; they are advocacy for a child. I'm not at all suggesting that school leaders don't have the right to defend themselves, either in court or in public. But it would have been more than enough for Moskowitz to say: "We dispute these allegations; however, we will not discuss any individual case publicly, as all parents and children have a right to privacy in school."

Not only would this have been less questionable legally and ethically: I'd wager it would have been better for Moskowitz in the eyes of the public. Her attacks on this boy -- and that's exactly what they are -- come off to me as petty, unthinking, and, worst of all, cold. And I can't believe I'm the only one who feels this way.

It's very strange that a woman who has worked so hard to cultivate her public image is willing to risk having it trashed just so she can win a PR fight with a 10-year-old boy. She must think the stakes are very high.

And that's the problem.

Well, someone still likes me...


Unknown said...

Any teacher or principal who did this would be fired (and rightfully so). You are far from the only person who found this to be wildly inappropriate and vindictive. As I've said before, it seems like the only time the concept of "choice" applies at no excuses charters is at enrollment. No choice on testing, curriculum, course offerings. And sadly, no choice to avoid being smeared by a petty, bitter woman or to not be suspended as a 6 year old. Where the hell were all the interventions prior to this kid being suspended? I hope this parent files a lawsuit.

Michael Fiorillo said...

Moskowitz's comment about these children, combined with her boot camp/Skinner Box treatment of them, reveals the deep fear (thus the obsession with minutely controlling their behavior), condescension and racism that underpin Success Academy and the rest of the "No Excuses" charter chains.