Back in 2004, The New York Times described Eva Moskowitz as having “sharp elbows.” At the time, Moskowitz represented Manhattan’s affluent Upper East Side on New York’s City Council and had, according to the Times profile, emerged as one of the council’s most influential members. Those sharp elbows helped her get things done, whether that meant replacing plastic newspaper racks with stylish fiberglass ones or taking on powerful teachers’ unions in the name of improving the city’s beleaguered public schools. They inevitably also positioned her as a perennial antagonist—someone who inspires so much vitriol in her opponents that she has, for more than a decade, contended with an endless list of disparaging labels. Public-school teachers, for example, got in the habit of calling her “Evil Moskowitz.”
Now that Moskowitz is the founder and CEO of Success Academy, the largest charter-school network in New York City, the criticism is as loud as ever. Success has produced stellar academic outcomes, even winning the prestigious Broad Prize this year for its successes in closing race- and income-based achievement gaps at its 45-plus schools.
But it has also come under intense scrutiny in recent years amid student-discipline scandals and allegations that it employs discriminatory enrollment strategies. Success has, teachers unions and their allies insist, come to epitomize why market-based approaches to education—school choice, in other words—end up hurting the kids most in need of quality learning opportunities.