Putting the ‘Success’ in Success Academy Charter Schools

December 16, 2014
Founder and CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools, Eva Moskowitz is no stranger to controversy in New York City.  A NYC native and former college professor with a Ph.D. in history, Moskowitz opened Success Academy Charter Schools in 2006 because she felt that far too many parents weren’t being provided adequate schooling options for their children. 
 
Surprising to many, NYC mayor Bill de Blasio tried to shut down three of the schools earlier this year, including the highest-performing school in the entire state, by denying them rent-free space in underused public facilities. Thankfully, after a rally by some 11,000 parents and Governor Andrew Cuomo on steps of the capitol building in Albany, the mayor reversed course and found a way to accommodate the schools
 
To the chagrin of the establishment (i.e., NYC teachers unions), Success Academy Charter Schools’ enrollment has doubled in size every year and their students rank in the top 1% in math and top 3% in English among all New York state schools. Furthermore, three-quarters of students receive subsidized lunch and 94% are minorities.  
 
The challenges that Success Academy students are up against would suggest poor academic outcomes, yet Moskowitz has managed to provide an environment that is having a dramatic effect on children’s lives in NYC. So, how did she do it?
 
Last week, Moskowitz sat down with Frederick Hess at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in Washington to discuss the design and success of her schools. 
 
When designing the schools, Moskowitz focused on three principles:
  1. Thinking: “Excellence includes school design around getting kids to think.”
  2. Rigor: “We needed to lift the level of education because kids are nimble and smart. We wanted to set the bar high to see what kids can do. When you take that attitude, kids reach the bar.”
  3. Joy: “Too many schools treat kids like a captive audience. We asked ourselves, if kids could leave the classroom whenever they wanted, would they? If the answer was yes, then we weren’t engaging them enough. We want school to be a place that kids want to be, not a place where they have to be." 
Moskowitz also reflected, “My goal was not to build schools for poor people, it was to build world-class schools. This is a problem that goes beyond our urban centers, it is a national crisis.”
 
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation recently graded all 50 states on their policies regarding school choice in the latest Leaders & Laggards report card. To see how your state performs, please visit the website
 
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
 
Mark D'Alessio is manager of communications at the Foundation's Center for Education and Workforce.