John Merrow overheard a conversation in which someone compared Eva Moskowitz to Benito Mussolini. He made the trains run on time—the saying of his defenders—and she gets results: high test scores.

Moskowitz and Mussolini

Merrow used to cover “reformers” like Michelle Rhee and Eva Moskowitz sympathetically. He seems to have had a conversion experience, not unlike my own. His last show about Rhee marked a turning point. He became disillusioned.

He is not happy with the uncritical puff pieces found in many publications about the education model created by Eva Moskowitz. He was especially disappointed by Chalkbeat editor and CEO Elizabeth Green’s adulatory article. He wonders why she didn’t ask the tough questions about Eva’s harsh disciplinary regime.

He writes:

“How did Il Duce get the trains to run on time? Could he have ordered them to do whatever was necessary to stay on schedule? Perhaps he issued a directive: ‘If people are still trying to get on the train, but it’s time to leave–just leave.’ He might have added, ‘If a flock of sheep, or some school children, are on the tracks, don’t slow down but toot your horn and plow on through so you can stay on schedule.’ Perhaps there was a third fiat: ‘If a train is so crowded that it cannot get up to full speed, just toss some passengers off the moving train and get back up to speed.’

“If tactics like that enabled Mussolini’s trains to stick to the schedule, then he and Eva Moskowitz have something in common, because the latter has a long history of discarding students who don’t meet her exacting standards. As Kate Taylor in the New York Times (also here). Juan Gonzalez in the New York Daily News (here), (here) and (here), and my colleagues and I on the PBS NewsHour have reported, Success Academies use a wide variety of questionable tactics to weed out students who are not performing–or do not seem likely to perform–well on bubble tests. Those tactics keep her trains running on time, I.E., scoring at the top of the charts on standardized tests.

“Elizabeth Green’s endorsement of Success Academies and their approach to education The Atlantic, headlined “How Charter Schools Won,” is particularly disappointing. Green mentions Taylor’s New York Times reporting but only in the context of Moskowitz’s attacks on her. Green ignores reporting done by Gonzalez, a two-time recipient of the George Polk Award. If she had contacted me, I could have introduced her to a Success Academy custodian who told us about regularly emptying student vomit from the wastebaskets. Although he declined to appear on television, I believe he would have gladly educated Green.

“The omissions in Green’s article (and, to be fair to Green, in most coverage of Moskowitz) are almost too numerous to mention: She does not tell her readers that Moskowitz drives away children–some as young as five–by excessive use of out-of-school suspensions. Banning kids from school for days at a time is an effective device for getting rid of children, particularly when the parents have jobs outside the home. And it’s easy to get suspended from Success Academy. On my blog I published Success Academies’ draconian list of offenses that can lead to suspension, about 65 of them in all. “Slouching/failing to be in ‘Ready to Succeed’ position” more than once, “Getting out of one’s seat without permission at any point during the school day,” and “Making noise in the hallways, in the auditorium, or any general building space without permission” can get a child an out-of-school suspension that can last as long as five days. The code includes a catch-all, vague offense that all of us are guilty of at times, “Being off-task.””

He has much more to say. I urge you to read it.