April 27, 2009
Two education leaders who have been dueling via press releases, bristling statements to reporters, and dueling events in Harlem will come face-to-face this week, in a debate broadcast on NY1, the local TV news channel, spokespeople for both leaders have confirmed. The debate is scheduled for this Thursday night.
Randi Weingarten, the leader of the politically powerful teachers union, is preparing to debate Eva Moskowitz, the former City Council member-turned-charter school operator, on Dominic Carter’s evening talk show, “The Road to City Hall.”
The teachers union spokesman, Brian Gibbons, said that NY1 contacted Weingarten and asked her to appear on the show with Moskowitz. Weingarten said yes.
The crux of the disagreement between the women is Moskowitz’s contention that the teachers union prevents progress in educating children by opposing innovations like charter schools. The union has opposed the growth of charter schools and filed a lawsuit recently meant to block charter schools from replacing traditional public schools. Members of Weingarten’s union say that these efforts are necessary to counter people like Moskowitz, who they say alienate and vilify teachers and seek to bust unions. They also criticize charter schools as divisive because they sometimes have lower portions of needy students, such as those who receive special education students and those who haven’t yet mastered English.
Most recently, the union moved against Moskowitz by throwing a parade in Harlem on Saturday meant to showcase all schools there — not just charter schools. Moskowitz has organized several of her own events in Harlem promoting charter schools and urging political leaders to expand their number.
A vice president of the teachers union, Carmen Alvarez, said Saturday at a panel on school governance that I moderated that the parade was meant to counter negative statements about traditional public schools in Harlem. Governor David Paterson was among those who marched in the parade.
The beef began with Moskowitz’s career as chair of the City Council’s education committee, where she took on everything from the Bloomberg administration’s claims about rising test scores to the role that union-negotiated contracts play in constricting school leaders. When Moskowitz lost her battle to Scott Stringer to become the borough president of Manhattan, she said that the election outcome was a result of union’s vociferous campaign against her.
Weingarten reprised the rivalry recently by filing a lawsuit against the Department of Education over its decision to replace traditional public schools with charter schools, including one run by Moskowitz. Charter schools are publicly funded but operate outside the traditional district framework, so their teachers and staff are often not represented by unions. The lawsuit prompted the city to reverse course and keep the district-run school open.
Then, at a recent City Council hearing on charter schools, Moskowitz declared that a “union-political complex” is holding back the city’s progress on education. Moskowitz’s accusation gained steam as we reported that the union that day had handed out scripted questions to Council members. Weingarten shot back, accusing Moskowitz of hypocrisy, and then Moskowitz shot back, demanding an apology.
UPDATE: The original version of this post did not include a statement from Moskowitz’s spokeswoman, who had not then returned my requests for comment.
UPDATE 2: I confirmed that the debate is scheduled for this Thursday night.