A battle is raging in Boerum Hill, which is part of District 15, over whether Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy should expand there by adding a middle school to its elementary charter school.
Success has been controversial for many reasons, including its punishments. A 2016 video shows a Success teacher ripping up a student’s work in class, and teachers told The New York Times the practice is common. Its proposed expansion in Boerum Hill belies the most principled arguments made by charter school advocates.
The advocates insist charters give poor families “choices” better-off families enjoy. But District 15 families have middle-school choices, including gifted and talented programs, as well as dual language and traditional and experiential project-based models. (My son attends a public middle school in the district.)
There is no place in District 15 for Success to move into without shortchanging students in a public school. Many in the community do not support Success: its Boerum Hill elementary school is consistently underenrolled.
I don’t think the hedge-fund managers backing Success and similar charters want to help poor kids. These charters siphon off children — and with them, tax dollars — from public schools, replacing them with cheaper ways of delivering education and weakening public employee unions. The Success model also appeals to these billionaires because they control it, unlike public schools, which remain at least somewhat accountable to the public.
School privatization schemes like Success can be defeated community by community, especially in places like Boerum Hill, where residents are committed to public schools that have served them well. But charters won’t go away until there is almost no demand for them, anywhere. And that won’t happen until we address the underlying problems in the public school system: racial and economic segregation, and uneven quality.
Boerum Hill should say no to Success demands for more space, more children and more tax dollars, but we should all address the ailments that invite supposed remedies from people like Moskowitz.
Liza Featherstone lives and writes in Clinton Hill.