This article originally appeared in the NY Post.
Race matters. This could be news to some, but for African-Americans — who have our own complicated relationships with each other and with America — this is perhaps now truer than it has been since the civil rights revolution. One need only read the headlines to see that racial tensions, which once seethed out of sight, now spill over into plain and hurtful view.
With this in mind, many have condemned comments made on social media by Dan Loeb, who chairs the board of Success Academy charter schools, where I am also a board member.
His comments, which likened state Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins’ political stands to the terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan, should be condemned. I condemn them. Everyone should.
Loeb has properly apologized. “I’m sorry” are two of the most powerful words in the English language. I think all of us who are civically engaged with Loeb appreciate his recognition of the error.
The political moves in the aftermath of Loeb’s mea culpa, however, have been telling. Before the digital ones and zeros of cyberspace could dry, folks aligned against Loeb chose not to attack him per se, but to attack Success Academy, the primary focus of his political and social giving and interest. The network — overwhelmingly minority, low-income and high-achieving — is the bête noire of a self-interested cast of characters, including politicos and union leaders, who derive power and resources from the way things are.
When minority kids are fulfilling their full potential outside of the district system, it disrupts their well-worn narrative about poverty, which has held up the underperforming system from which they derive their influence.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers and longtime foe of Success, has of course spoken up as well. Weingarten, who is white, represents a significant portion of the U.S. teaching force, which is almost 80% white.
This despite research that shows the positive effects of black teachers on all students and black students in particular . Weingarten recently described charter schools as the polite cousins of segregation while she presides over a largely white organization. Meanwhile, New York City, her former seat of power, features the country’s most segregated public schools. One must notice the irony.
Mayor de Blasio has also chimed in, demanding Loeb step down from the Success board. One of the mayor’s largest political contributors, the United Federation of Teachers, which Weingarten formerly captained, is a mortal enemy of Success Academy for reasons that have everything to do with member dues and nothing to do with student achievement. In them, the mayor finds a more powerful ally than families who seek great schools but who do not fill his political coffers.
De Blasio’s hot-and-cold conflict with Success and his former City Council colleague, Eva Moskowitz, the network’s CEO, is well known. But his crocodile tears over this issue are surprising. While Success’ success in erasing the achievement gap should be replicated, the mayor wallows in a weak agenda that is doing far too little to improve student learning.
And one must question his racial outrage while he abdicates his role in integrating the city’s schools. Offering that “You have to respect families who have made a decision to live in a certain area oftentimes because of a specific school,” the mayor makes it clear he cares about serving the housing interests of the white and wealthy over the larger interests of the city. One wishes his deference extended to the thousands of families who choose charter schools because they can’t afford Park Slope or any similar neighborhood with “good public schools.”
Rev. Al Sharpton has also expressed his desire to picket a Success school in the near future. The reverend has perhaps missed the point here. Kids and teachers and families go to Success. Dan Loeb does not.
What’s most interesting, perhaps, is the outrage an ill-written Facebook post has garnered in a city whose problems with race are only surpassed by its problems with education.
While the white and the privileged cluster in gifted and talented programs and Beacon schools, other families, disproportionately of color, scramble for opportunity. If the mayor, many elected leaders, and those in the education establishment, cared as much about the sad state of black and brown student achievement as they do about scoring political points, maybe New York would have embarked on a serious and sweeping plan to make the city’s promise of public education a reality.
Instead, in using Loeb as the proxy to attack what are some of America’s best schools of any type in Success, their true motivations are clear. Power first, freedom last, educational equality nowhere on the agenda.
Bradford is a member of the Success Academy-NYC board of directors.