crib sheet

We read the Moskowitz/Klein e-mails so that you don't have to

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and Eva Moskowitz at the Harlem Success lottery in April 2009. (GothamSchools)
Joel Klein and Eva Moskowitz at the Harlem Success lottery in April 2009. (<em>GothamSchools</em>)

There’s a lot more than school siting and closures in the 77 pages of e-mails between Chancellor Joel Klein and charter school operator Eva Moskowitz.

The e-mails, obtained by the Daily News, include a little bit of news — such as that Bill Clinton considered weighing in on the charter schools fight — and a lot of insight into the way Klein and Moskowitz think about the politics of education. We’ve read every word of the 150+ e-mails and have collected the highlights below. 

A PERSONAL CHALLENGE: Moskowitz puts her expansion goal in personal terms, in an April 2007 e-mail to Klein: “I plan to be educating 8,000 of your children by 2013.”

SHE DIDN’T LIKE THE TWEED WORKFORCE, EITHER. We know that district school leaders and parents often clashed with Garth Harries, the Tweed official who for years led efforts to insert small schools and charters into their buildings. Now we learn that Moskowitz fumed at him, too. On May 16, 2007, she praised a new Department of Education official, Tom Taratko, to Klein. “He got done in 2hrs what garth could not accomplish in 9 months,” she declared, adding, “look out for him and hire more!!!!!” The more typical Tweed worker she describes this way: “maddening sluggishness and people afraid of their own shadows.”

POLITICKING FOR EXPANSION: In July 2007 Moskowitz described to Klein how she and her main financiers, John Petry and Joel Greenblatt, shored up support for her application to open three copies of the original Harlem Success Academy. They courted New York State Republican Committee chairman Ed Cox, who was at the time chairman of SUNY’s charter board. By January 2008, SUNY sent the charters to the Board of Regents, which approved charters for Harlem Success II, III, and IV in May 2008.

GHOST-WRITING IN KLEIN’S NAME: In August 2007, still marshaling support for the expansion plan, Moskowitz asked Klein to write a “letter of commitment” on her application’s behalf. “To save time,” she wrote to him, “I drafted a quick letter.” There’s nothing unusual about ghost-writing a recommendation letter, but it’s funny to see Moskowitz impersonate Klein.

JOEL KLEIN’S BIRTHDAY IS OCTOBER 25. Put it on your calendars.

SHE CONSULTED ON THE MAYORAL CONTROL CAMPAIGN. And it was war! But Moskowitz was humble about what she had to offer. “Though I have grit and courage,” she wrote to Klein on Jan. 23, 2008, “am not always as good at chess moves when up against the uft.”

THE “HOLY GRAIL”: “BOTTOM UP” SUPPORT: By Feb. 4, 2008, after meetings with “chris” (presumably Deputy Chancellor Chris Cerf), Moskowitz has gotten excited about the campaign to renew the mayor’s control over the public schools. Agreeing with an observation by “chris” that their “holy grail” is “bottom up” support (presumably this refers to grassroots support from non-white parents), she sounds an optimistic note. “[W]e will have armies,” she says.

THE COST OF SPACE-SHARING: On March 21, 2008, Moskowitz tells Klein that she was forced to re-wire her Harlem school building at a cost of $150,000.

THE REV. MAKES HIS FIRST APPEARANCE: Moskowitz fills Klein on her latest activities on March 25, 2008. “As you know, i met with Sharpton,” she writes. “Had a great meeting.”

THEY PLAY FOR THE SAME TEAM. “[W]eird as it may seem,” Klein wrote to Moskowitz on April 12, 2008, “I see us on the same team.” In the same chain, Moskowitz wrote about her small team of aides as if they were bodyguards. “i trust w my life,” she said.

BILL CLINTON MULLS TAKING ON THE UNION: April 16, 2009, was my birthday and a hectic e-mailing day for the odd couple. First, Klein offers his frank thoughts on his new buddy Al Sharpton, after Moskowitz asks whether she should invite Sharpton to visit her school. He’s good on charters, but not on mayoral control, Klein says. But he is “working” on Sharpton. The same day, Klein lets Moskowitz know that Bill Clinton called him to say he’s upset about the teachers union attack on charter schools — “keep confi,” Klein instructs. Clinton apparently “wants to do an op ed.” Pretty sure this never materialized, though Moskowitz offered some talking points.

PENN RESEARCHERS MIGHT BE STUDYING HSA: The e-mails oddly get a little out of order here and we fly back to 2008 for a while. On May 16, 2008, Moskowitz indicates that she’s getting researchers at the University to Pennsylvania to study her school. An academic study is something her funder Greenblatt really wants, apparently — and which, as far as I know, no New York City charter school has ever had done.

SPARRING OVER THE SIZE OF HER FOOTPRINT: In June 2008, Moskowitz and John White, who took over for Harries in moderating the messy space battles, sparred over how much city school space she should have. Moskowitz then complained to Klein. “Really could use your intervention,” she said, forwarding her exchange with White.

OUR FRIEND ELI: Juan Gonzalez has chronicled how Klein helped Moskowitz get $1 million from the Broad Foundation. You can read the details in emails from October 3, 2008; October 8, 2008, and November 11, 2008. The grant was made public in April 2009.

WHAT RANDI SAID: In an Oct. 8, 2008, e-mail, Moskowitz claims that former city teachers union president Randi Weingarten, and her personal enemy, suggested that the duo write a thin contract together. Presumably that would mean that Harlem Success schools would become unionized, and the resulting work contract would have very few restrictions. Moskowitz said she would but only if Weingarten also agreed to a thin contract at half of all city schools. The union’s first thin contract, with the Green Dot charter school in the Bronx, landed in June 2009.

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY, JOEL: November 19 is Klein’s anniversary with his wife Nicole Seligman, and in 2008 he spent part of it speaking at a Harlem Success event. “[W]e will have a new generation of warriors,” Moskowitz said, thanking him.

PRINCIPAL MOSKOWITZ: Feb. 12, 2009, Moskowitz fills Klein in on how she had to lay off a principal — and become principal herself.

KLEIN AND GATES: STILL FRENEMIES: On Feb. 15, 2009, Klein admits that he doesn’t “get” the strategy of the Gates Foundation, which has been avoiding New York City K-12 school investments lately.

PONTIFICATING ON PATERSON AND OTHER POLITICIANS: In March 2009, Moskowitz breaks down the mayoral control fight by the politicians taking part in it. “Malcolm [Smith] is yours if floyd flake cmes through (though of course don’t trust Malcolm),” she writes. “Shelluy [Silver] wants patronage and keeping randi happy.” And presciently, she adds about the year-old governor, “Paterson (we are sending him 10,000 postcards – friendly but reminding him that he said he was oufriend) is just about re-election. He will go with the path of least resistance.”

PUTTING THE POLITICS ASIDE: After the Harlem Success lottery on April 23, 2009, Klein wrote to Moskowitz, “Meant what I said: put the politics aside and enjoy what you’ve done for people. Truly extraordinary and I don’t say that casually. Bravo!”

Moskowitz responded in minutes with a thank-you note of her own: “You were terrific too tonight. You sounded like an evangelist. Donors loved. And parents did.”

Time crunch

In victory for teachers union, Newark superintendent scraps longer hours for low-performing schools

PHOTO: Patrick Wall/Chalkbeat
Superintendent Roger León at Hawkins Street School, one of the schools that will lose its extended hours.

Newark’s new superintendent is eliminating a program that extended the hours of struggling schools, which the teachers union has long attacked as ineffective and unfair to educators.

Teachers at roughly 30 schools will no longer receive $3,000 annual stipends for the extra hours, a provision written into the current teachers contract, which extends to 2019. Instead, all 64 district schools will get extra funding for before and after-school programs, Superintendent Roger León said in an email to employees on Tuesday.

The changes will go into effect Monday, Sept. 10, resulting in new hours for the affected schools just days after the new school year began. The district is still working to adjust pickup times for students who are bused to school, according to León’s email. A few of the schools will phase out their extended hours later in the year, the email said.

“We will not continue to do the same things as before and be surprised when the results do not change,” León wrote, adding that cutting the extra hours would save the district $5 million.

In an interview with Chalkbeat Thursday, León said the move is intended to create more uniformity among schools and the services they provide. Now, all schools will get additional money to pay for programs outside of the regular school day, which schools can tailor to their individual needs, though students who are struggling academically will continue to receive “intensive” support, he said.

“Ultimately, the idea would be by October having completely different after-school and before-school programming that meets the needs of each respective school,” León said.

The extended time was first included in the teachers contract in 2012 as part of a larger improvement plan for the targeted schools, which was developed by Cami Anderson, Newark’s former state-appointed superintendent. The plan also designated some low-performing schools as “renew” schools, where teachers had to reapply for their positions and work longer hours.

Anderson also closed some schools and gave principals new hiring authority. Both actions left dozens of tenured teachers without positions, so Anderson created a fund to pay those teachers to perform support duties in schools. In 2014, that fund for “employees without placement” cost the district $35 million out of its nearly $1 billion budget, though by last year the fund had shrunk to $8 million for about 100 unassigned teachers, according to officials.

León said in Tuesday’s email that he was also eliminating the fund, which he said would save the district another $6 million. The teachers union president said he believed all the unassigned teachers now have placements, but the district did not respond to a request to confirm that.

León is also removing the “renew” and “turnaround” labels from low-performing schools, citing their “progress and student achievement,” according to the email.

“I applaud everyone’s efforts at renew or turnaround schools and acknowledge what has been accomplished,” he wrote.

Now that León has abolished his predecessors’ school-improvement program, he will be expected to create his own. Many schools remain mired in poor performance, even as the district overall has made strides in recent years.

When the teachers union agreed to the extended hours in its 2012 contract with the district, it was hailed nationally as a major breakthrough in efforts to revamp troubled schools. But even as the union agreed last year to keep the provision in its current contract, union officials have assailed the turnaround effort as a failure.

NTU President John Abeigon told Chalkbeat on Thursday that the program had been a “scam” and “nothing more than extended childcare.” He added that the stipend teachers received amounted to about $7 per hour for the extra time they worked.

In 2016, a district-commissioned survey of 787 teachers at schools with extended hours found that two-thirds of teachers at schools where the extra time was spent on student instruction said the time was valuable. But in a survey the union conducted in April, the 278 teachers who responded gave the extended hours low ratings for effectiveness in boosting student achievement.

Some teachers in the union survey praised the longer hours, saying their schools used them effectively to lengthen class periods, run after-school clubs, or allow teachers to plan lessons or review student data. But others said the extra time was squandered, leaving staff and students exhausted with little evidence of improved student outcomes to show for it. (Students’ pass rates on state tests stayed flat or declined at most “renew” schools in the first years of the program.)

The union also has complained that many teachers felt compelled to work the extra hours because those who refused to could be transferred to different schools. Under the terms of the original extended-day agreement, teachers were required to work an extra hour per day and attend trainings during the summer and some weekends.

In León’s email to employees, he said every extended-day school had set different work requirements and “none are consistent with the original design.” The longer days may also be contributing to high teacher turnover in those schools, he wrote, adding that principals of schools with regular hours told him they did not want to extend their hours.

Abeigon, the union president, applauded León’s decision to scrap the extra work hours.

“He came to the conclusion that we expected any true educator to reach: that the program was not working and was never going to work,” he said.

León said Thursday that he is now working on a new turnaround program. Once it’s ready, he promised to share the details with affected families before publicly announcing which schools are part of it — an effort to avoid the student protests that erupted when Anderson identified her “turnaround” schools.

He also said he was still considering whether he would ever close schools that fail to improve or to reverse their declining enrollments. Anderson’s decision to shutter nearly a dozen long-struggling schools continues to fuel resentment among her critics even years later.

“I think the whole idea of how much time does a school get to correct itself is a very important one and I’m going to need to be really reflective on it,” León said. “I’ve seen what closing schools does with people who do not feel that they were aware of it or a part of fixing it.”

Back to school

Newark officials deliver a message to students on first day: Keep showing up

PHOTO: Patrick Wall/Chalkbeat
Superintendent Roger León spoke to seventh-graders at Hawkins Street School on the first day of school Tuesday.

At Hawkins Street School Tuesday morning, eighth-grade teacher Jasmine Johnson was at the whiteboard writing her students’ goals for the new school year — complete all assignments, get into a great high school — when in walked two unusual visitors: Newark’s mayor and schools chief.

Luckily for Johnson, Mayor Ras Baraka’s message was also about goals — namely, the lofty goal of perfect attendance.

“Try your best to get here and be in these seats every single day,” the mayor told the students as a phalanx of TV cameras captured his remarks from the back of the room. “It’s very, very important. The superintendent is super focused on that.”

Superintendent Roger León, who started in July and is the city’s first locally selected schools chief in more than two decades, told employees last week that he wants the district to achieve 100 percent attendance. That is a hugely ambitious, if not impossible, goal considering that the average daily attendance was 90 percent in 2016-17 and — even more troubling to experts — about 30 percent of students were chronically absent.

To assist in the effort, León has promised to rehire the attendance counselors who were laid off by former Superintendent Cami Anderson and to restore the truancy teams that in the past roamed the streets searching for students who cut class. He also ordered every district employee to call five students’ families before the start of the school year to remind them that school began Tuesday.

“It’s important for everyone to worry about student attendance,” León said during the all-staff meeting at the Prudential Center last Tuesday.

At a school board meeting that evening, district officials said that an analysis of state test data had shown a strong connection between attendance and test scores: Students who regularly showed up to class earned markedly higher scores.

Research shows the reverse is also true. Students who are chronically absent, meaning they missed 10 percent or more of school days, tend to perform worse on tests and are more likely to drop out of school and enter the criminal-justice system.

Peter Chen, a staff attorney at Advocates for Children of New Jersey who co-wrote a report on Newark’s high-school absenteeism problem last year, said in an August interview that schools often take a compliance-driven approach to attendance. After students miss a certain number of days, staffers may call or write home and inform families of the problem.

He said that a more effective, but also more resource-intensive, strategy is to analyze why certain students are frequently absent — for instance, are they suffering from mental-health challenges or struggling with school work? Then social workers and other staffers should try to help remove those obstacles that are keeping students out of class, Chen added.

He also pointed out that León’s state-appointed predecessors, including Anderson and Christopher Cerf, also came up with plans to reduce absenteeism. But top-level mandates only go so far, Chen said.

“What we’ve seen is that leadership at the top matters,” he said. “But on a day-to-day basis, what happens in school buildings is often more a function of the school-building leadership.”

PHOTO: Patrick Wall/Chalkbeat
Seventh-graders listened to Superintendent León on Tuesday.

At Hawkins Street, Principal Alejandro Lopez said his school’s attendance task force had already devised its own plan to boost attendance.

Students with perfect attendance each week will earn “Hawk bucks,” named for the school mascot, and be entered into raffles to win prizes. Also, the three classes with the highest attendance rates at the end of the year will take a trip to Six Flags Great Adventure theme park.

Meanwhile, support staff will look for ways to help students who are frequently absent. In 2016-17, 45 percent of Hawkins Street students missed more than 10 days of school. Getting them to show up every day this year will be hard, Lopez said — but doing so is crucial.

“If you’re not present, you’re not going to learn,” he said. “There’s no substitute for that.”

After leaving Johnson’s room Tuesday morning, Mayor Baraka and Superintendent León stopped by a seventh-grade math class where teams of students were building towers out of noodles and marshmallows.

León told the class that he had attended Hawkins Street as a child, before growing up to become a teacher, principal, and now, superintendent. Baraka, another Newark Public Schools graduate and former principal, told the students he loved them and would make sure they got whatever they needed to succeed.

After the city officials left to visit two high schools, 12-year-old Angeles Rosario said she was excited about the new school year — and dance classes, in particular. That the mayor had chosen to visit her school first on Tuesday only added to her excitement, she said.

“There are many other schools in Newark,” she pointed out, “but he decided to come to ours.”