NY Times Hypes Charter Schools -- Again and Again

A front-page article in the weekend Metropolitan section of the New York Times takes readers "Inside the three-year effort to open an economically diverse, academically rigorous charter in Brooklyn." One big problem with the Times' campaign to hype charter schools is that this school just opened the week before with 135 kindergarten and first grade children, so no one had any idea how economically diverse and academically rigorous the school would actually become. The article was purely speculative, barely more than an advertisement for charter schools.

The article, which continued to two more pages inside the section, was really about the quest of some rich guy to open and control his own "public" school. In the print edition the Times headlined the article, "Mr. Levey's Dream School."

But just who is this Mr. Levey and why should he be in charge of a quasi-public charter school? According to his Linkedin page, Matthew Levey is a former McKinsey consultant. He worked there from 1999 to 2002 after he left a job with the United States State Department. McKinsey is the world's largest management consulting firm with a foot in nations around the world. Levey claims that at McKinsey he "worked with financial services clients to improve business unit performance in a range of different strategy engagements." Among other things, critics charge that McKinsey's main advice is often to maximize profits by laying off workers. Levey was also managing director of Kroll Inc from 2002 to 2011, a "risk-management" company that provides internal security for major corporations.

I am not sure if this is an impressive resume or not, but I did find two things very puzzling. Levey studied economics at George Washington and finance at Columbia University. According to the New York Times, Levey, who lives in the affluent Upper East Side of Manhattan "has never taught a classroom of elementary school students, never written a lesson plan, never sent anyone to the principal's office." Times editors must figure he is qualified to run a charter school because he is the father of three teenagers and his wife is a language instructor in a private school. They did not say.

The other puzzling thing is that Levey does not seem to have had a job since 2011. He has been too busy setting up his charter "dream." I would like to know how he made a living, helped support his family, and prepared to send those three teenagers to college. Where did his money come from and where did the money to set up the dream charter school come from? Surprisingly, the Times did not report this information.

But hey! Levey probably is a good guy. The Times says he served on volunteer school committees and he really believes children in the pre-k through fifth grade need to know how Sir Francis Bacon developed the scientific method in the 16th century, the importance of Aristotle about 300 BC, and why the Roman Empire collapsed. Apparently Levey learned about the importance of these things from a foundation run by E. D. Hirsch Jr., who wants all children to know about the earth-shattering achievements of Western Civilization, the same people who also brought us the Irish Potato Famine, the European Holocaust, and the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Levey copied the Hirsch Core Curriculum into his charter proposal after it was rejected during the state review process the first time he submitted it.

Curiously neither Levey nor Hirsch know much about non-European achievements like Al-Hasan Ibn al-Haytham from Cairo who systematically described the physical world, tested explanations with experiments, and developed a scientific approach to learning more than 200 years before European scholars like Sir Frances learned of it from his work, or Shen Kuo, a Chinese "Renaissance Man" who described petrified material, developed moveable type, and charted the sun and moon, long before Sir Francis was born.

But hey, while ignorant of history as well as of educational practice, Levey is probably a good guy and well qualified to run a charter school! I hope all of our charters have such well meaning and highly qualified leadership!

Meanwhile the Times continually promotes Eva Moskowitz's Success Academy Charter School network. In April it lauded the network's high scores on standardized exams, before the students took the scheduled Common Core tests. In July, it reported that Moskowitz was awarded a big grant that turned out to be from a friendly hedge fund manager who was already supporting her schools. All summer the Times website featured an advertisement masquerading as news with "testimony" from current and former Success Academy parents.

Why does the New York Times keep hyping charter schools? More on charter schools, politics, and hedge funds in my next blog!