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New York mayor fails charter school kids

By Will Cain, CNN Contributor
updated 12:01 PM EST, Fri March 7, 2014
Will Cain says New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has made 600 kids' futures his collateral damage.
Will Cain says New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has made 600 kids' futures his collateral damage.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • New York mayor decided not to let three charter schools operate in city buildings
  • Will Cain has a kindergartener who attends Success Academy
  • Parents and children are upset; Cain says kids are condemned to failure at a public school
  • Cain: Fixing inequality, creating opportunity for minorities are empty slogans for mayor

Editor's note: Will Cain is an analyst for The Blaze and a CNN contributor.

(CNN) -- Bill de Blasio is 6-foot-6. Joshua Jenkins is 4-foot-2.

It's probably too much to expect the mayor of New York to get down on his knee and look Joshua in the eye before he destroys the 9-year-old's future. But de Blasio could at least learn his name. Or Briana Pizarro's. Or any of the 600 children whose future de Blasio just sacrificed.

Last week, the New York mayor reversed plans to allow three charter schools -- all run by the high-performing Success Academy chain -- to open in city buildings. De Blasio killed off two of the schools before they could open next year. But the closure of the third, Harlem Central Success Academy, has evicted hundreds of fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders and abandoned them to a predictable path.

Will Cain
Will Cain

Admittedly, I am a fan of school choice in general and Success Academy in particular. I have a kindergartner who attends Success Academy. And on Saturday, I went to the condemned Harlem Central to meet the evicted parents and children.

So I have seen something de Blasio refuses to see. I have been in a Success Academy school. There, face to face, you can't avoid the two clear paths -- one of these families' choosing and one de Blasio has chosen -- and seeing where they will lead these children's lives.

Briana Pizarro looks people in the eye. I noticed it first when she firmly shook my hand. She held my gaze while telling me about the Louisiana Purchase. But that's not the most impressive thing about this 10-year-old.

In 2013, Briana was one of the 96% of Success Academy Harlem Central fifth-graders to pass the state math test. In the state of New York, no class did better. Not the rich kids on the Upper East Side; not the rich white kids in Westchester. These kids ranked first.

"We're not talking about associates degrees here," said Brianna's mother, Wendy Martinez, about the path where Success Academy placed her daughter. "My kid is talking about being a judge. A doctor."

Martinez grew up in Harlem. She went to the district zone schools she was assigned to attend.

"It's not fair," Martinez said, comparing the process to the "Hunger Games." "If you're in District 5, you go to a bad school; if you're in District 2, you go to a good school."

When she married, both Martinez and her husband committed to providing their children the best education they could find. That was Success Academy.

Education "is the one thing no one can take away from you," she said. We sat silently for a moment. There was no need to point out that her statement was obviously untrue. "He's taken my child's future away."

Natasha Brown knows the path her son Joshua and his brother Jayden Jenkins will be forced to follow because of de Blasio's decision. It's the path her three oldest daughters went down. They all went to the assigned district school in Harlem.

"The nonsense. Uggghhh. The fights." Brown dropped her head to the table before relating of school fights involving her daughters a week ago, two months ago, years ago. "I'm not sending my sons to the school by my house. I've seen it.

"My youngest daughter has been held back three times. She's now too old for her class, so they're about to transfer her to an alternative school. She wants to drop out. My middle daughter did drop out. But my oldest, she eventually graduated," Brown said.

Joshua sometimes helps his teenage sisters with math. "Math is my favorite," said Joshua, who, like Briana, looks me directly in the eye. " They teach us different ways to do math ... besides the standard algorithm." Again, Joshua is 9.

Joshua and Briana were on a path at Harlem Central where 85% of all the students passed the state math test. A few blocks away is the path Brown described and de Blasio would force them to follow. At PS 76, 8% of the students passed the state math test. At PS 149, 3% passed. Three percent.

Why would anyone shut down these schools? There are two theories as to why de Blasio would evict hundreds of minority children in Harlem.

The first theory is political retribution. De Blasio hates the founder of Success Academy, Eva Moskowitz, who is also a Democrat, and he's made no secret of it. In fact, he called his shot.

"Another thing that has to change starting in January is that Eva Moskowitz cannot continue to have the run of the place," he said at a candidates' forum last year. "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." At a United Federation of Teachers forum in May, de Blasio said Moskowitz must not be "tolerated, enabled, supported."

If it's true that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie made traffic the collateral damage of his vendetta, then he is an amateur compared with his neighbor across the Hudson River, who easily made the future of 600 children his collateral damage.

The second theory is de Blasio is a true believer. Maybe he truly believes in the teachers union over students. Maybe he truly believes in a perverted sense of fairness that demands if everyone can't have a good education, then no one should.

Why should you -- in Sacramento or Waco -- care about the story of these kids? Why should you care about Joshua Jenkins? Because generations -- four decades of children, in every state in this country -- have had a stagnant and subpar education. One assessment has ranked the U.S. education system 17th in the world.

This is a distorted mirror for anyone who calls himself a progressive to stare into. How does de Blasio, or anyone who says he or she stands for the progress of the underprivileged, justify looking at the percentage of minorities who fail to graduate from high school -- in 2013, 32% of Latinos and 38% of African-Americans -- and get rid of a way out for them?

De Blasio was elected on a campaign theme of a Tale of Two Cities. What he should see here is a tale of two paths. If inequality and opportunity for minorities were more than empty slogans to him, de Blasio would go to Success Academy on his knees, hoping to find something to duplicate, not destroy.

Maybe from that position, the imposing mayor can face his victims. I promise, mayor, they'll look you in the eye.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Will Cain.

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