Winerip v. Moskowitz: Success Wins

I’ll hand it to Michael Winerip. This morning he takes on one of the charter movement’s fiercest competitors, Eva Moskowitz; rather, he finds a kid who he implies got dumped by one of Moskowitz’s schools and through him attempts to show charters as cherry-pickers.  But he’s too good a reporter and what he ends up doing is showing us why we need more choice and charters, not less and fewer.

Indeed, young Matthew Sprowl, “disruptive and easily distracted,” seems to be the poster child for what charter critics have long said is the unfair advantage that charters have over their traditional school counterparts: charters don’t have to take all kids, regular schools do. In his third week of kindergarten at Moskowitz’s Harlem Success Academy 3, Matthew was suspended for three days, writes Winerip, for “bothering other children.” The problems escalated and, with help from Harlem Success, Matthew soon found a regular public school, where he was later diagnosed as having “attention disorder” and, over the last three years, “has thrived.”

It’s an interesting story and Winerip tells it well – too well to make his argument against charters stick. He gives Moskowitz schools their due, pointing out that her “students earn top honors.”  Typically, that’s the setup for the skimming trap.  It didn’t work — Success 3 just has too many Special Ed and English Language Learners to make the charge stick.  Winerip makes another mistake (for his argument’s point of view) in allowing Moskowitz assistant Jenny Sedlis to explain what happened to Matthew. Even in the short space Winerip gives her, Sedlis makes the chase for charters, convincingly;  at least for these eyes and ears. In what Winerip says were “two voluminous e-mails totaling 5,701 words,” Sedlis writes:

We helped place him in a school that would better suit his needs…  His success today confirms the correctness of his placement. I believe that 100 percent of the time we were acting in Matthew’s best interest and that the end result benefited him and benefited P.S. 75, which now has a child excelling.

Though Winerip tries mightily to cloud the issue with statistics (cherry-picked?), this is exactly how choice is supposed to work.  Many children do not thrive in traditional public schools and now have a choice to “move” to one that might be a better fit.  If sometimes movement is in the other direction, will we accuse traditional schools of cherry-picking?  We should be applauding Matthew, his mother, and the educators that have given him this  opportunity to succeed.

–Peter Meyer

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