These are the 194 Harlem children who have been kicked out of their beloved school by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Thursday they starred in a full-page New York Times advertisement that seemed like the cap to a very bad week for the embattled mayor — until later in the day, when a poll pegged his approval rating at 39 percent, just four months after he swept into office with three-quarters of the vote.
The 194 children attend Harlem Central Middle School, a charter school in the Success Academy network of 22 high-performing New York City public schools founded by de Blasio’s longtime nemesis, Eva Moskowitz, a fellow Democrat who served with him on the City Council a decade ago. The mayor last month revoked the previous administration’s approval of the school’s plan to “co-locate” using excess space inside an ordinary public school on West 118th Street. The charter-school students must vacate their current building at the end of the school year and so are rendered educationally homeless by de Blasio’s decision. De Blasio also rescinded Mayor Mike Bloomberg–approved plans for two other Success Academy schools to open within ordinary public-school buildings in the fall.
De Blasio, who left all other charters untouched — some 70,000 students, more than 90 percent of them minorities, attend the more than 180 charters in the city — offered little justification for his moves apart from mumbling about overcrowding, and insisting that small children shouldn’t be in the same building with high-school students. (Many kindergartners and other primary-school children attending charters in the city do just that, including one very satisfied Success Academy customer, my five-year-old daughter.) De Blasio appeared to be making good on several vengeful-sounding campaign promises to his progressive backers, in particular his allies in the United Federation of Teachers, to rein in Moskowitz. The performance of the non-union schools founded by Moskowitz — the vast majority of which are located in poor neighborhoods — is an affront to the union. “And another thing that has to change starting January is that Eva Moskowitz cannot continue to have the run of the place,” de Blasio said at a candidates’ forum last year. “Unfortunately, in my case, I have had a lot of contact with Eva over the years, and this is documented. She was giving the orders and chancellors were bowing down, and agreed. That’s not acceptable.”
De Blasio just ran into a buzz saw. On Tuesday, Moskowitz and other charter-school leaders organized a huge rally at the state capital in Albany. The gathering not only dwarfed de Blasio’s feeble nearby rally for unionistas; it also drew a surprisingly ringing speech from Governor Andrew Cuomo, who promised his full support for the charters. “We are here today to tell you that we stand with you,” Cuomo told the delighted crowd. “You are not alone. We will save charter schools.” It was a shockingly public rebuke to de Blasio, who later emerged from a long meeting with the governor to whimper, “The bottom line is what we’ve said about charter schools: that we are ready to work with charter schools.”
Wednesday, both the Daily News and my employer, the New York Post, mocked de Blasio by contrasting the two rallies. Both papers’ editorial boards have taken up charters as a cause, and both papers are full of heartbreaking stories about the many poor children who will be forced back into low-performing, union-run public schools that have been easily bested by charters such as Success Academy. The test scores of its Harlem middle-school fifth-graders placed the school No. 1 in the entire state of New York in a 2013 math test. The nearby union school achieved a pass rate of 3 percent.
Thursday’s New York Times ad showed that the reformers are girded for battle. De Blasio may regret the war he started.