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Six weeks ago, New York City’s new mayor was riding high. Bill de Blasio was at 70% in the polls. His was the smiling face of resurgent urban liberalism, and his ambitious plans for tax increases to fund pre-K were drawing adoring headlines. Now, his polling numbers have fallen by nearly half, he’s being savaged by New York’s popular Democratic governor, and he’s under assault from both Democratic education reformers and the local media.
What happened? During his campaign, de Blasio promised to reverse course on much of Michael Bloomberg’s school reform agenda. In particular, he signaled to the city’s United Federation of Teachers that he’d turn up the heat on the city’s charter schools. In late February, de Blasio moved to follow through on that promise by deciding to take away space promised to three charter schools run by former New York City council member Eva Moskowitz. The result would leave hundreds of children without a school for next year.
In targeting the outspoken Moskowitz, de Blasio was clearly hoping to rally his base while splitting the charter school community. After all, he decided not to take on any of the city’s other charter schools. What went wrong? For reasons that are hard to fathom, de Blasio went after some of the city’s highest performing schools. For instance, Success Academy Harlem Central, one of the three targeted schools, is Harlem’s best middle school. Oh, yeah, and last year, its fifth graders ranked tops in the state for math. So, now, de Blasio has declared war on a crown jewel of a school whose students are 97% black and Latino.
The outcry has been heartening, and has prompted de Blasio to furiously backpedal. He’s now intimated that he’ll be sure to help find space for the three schools and his people are supposedly meeting with Moskowitz this week. De Blasio looks not only like a bully, but like a weak, inept one. The outlook for Big Apple charter schooling, with a humbled mayor, energized supporters, and a popular governor who has come out swinging, could be far brighter than anyone would’ve dared imagine when Bloomberg left office. If charter schools are going to have powerful foes, here’s hoping that they’re all as maladroit as de Blasio.
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