Newark Schools Tragedy Surfaces and Is Quickly Suppressed at D.C. Luncheon

Lindsey Layton reports for the Washington Post that last week, Cami Anderson, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s overseer school superintendent in Newark, was invited to Washington, D.C. to present a luncheon address at the far-right American Enterprise Institute (AEI).  When the folks at AEI discovered that many of those who had apparently properly registered and paid to be at the event were protesters bused from Newark, AEI immediately cancelled the public speech and moved Cami Anderson to a room upstairs to deliver a private address via video “for media only.”  Members of the audience were outraged.  “‘I feel ostracized!’ screamed Tanaisa Brown, a 16-year-old high school junior, as the lights in the room were turned off and the crowd was asked to leave.  In the dark, several kept chanting ‘Stop One Newark!’ while one repeatedly blew a whistle.”

You can check out this blog’s coverage of the recent tragic imposition on the citizens of Newark of the “One Newark” school choice plan here and here.  Newark has been under state control for twenty years, and while there is an elected school board, its members have neither the power to choose the school superintendent nor to set school policy.  Governor Chris Christie is notorious for his statement, “And I don’t care about the community criticism. We run the school district in Newark—not them.”

Layton reports the event last week at AEI as news.  On his blog, Rick Hess, who directs education policy for AEI, tries to explain away the embarassing afternoon.  He writes that he had indirectly criticized some of Anderson’s policies and he wanted to give his old friend a chance to tell her side of the story: “I was indirectly critical of some of what Newark has been doing.  Anderson, a friend who has been superintendent of New Jersey’s largest school system since 2011, argued that my depiction of Newark was unfair and inaccurate… So I invited her to come down to AEI, offer her perspective and some of the results from Newark, and talk about the lessons being learned.”  Hess and AEI have been scathingly criticized for their treatment of Newark’s citizens who felt compelled to travel all the way to the nation’s capital to find a way to speak directly to their school superintendent.  She has been unwilling even to attend public school board meetings since last January.  Bob Braun, former Newark Star-Ledger reporter, now blogger, is outraged.

Perhaps most moving is the analysis of Mark Weber, a New Jersey public school music teacher and Ph.D. candidate in policy and school finance at Rutgers, who blogs as Jersey Jazzman.  He writes, “Repeatedly, Anderson contends that her critics are quite small in number and that there are many more people who support her and One Newark than reality might suggest.  Let’s take a moment, then to review who is in this ‘small group’ that doesn’t support Anderson or her ‘reforms’:

  • Mayor Ras Baraka, who was elected in a race that became largely a referendum on Anderson.
  • His opponent, Shavar Jeffries, who lost because, even though he criticized Anderson, he didn’t go as far as Baraka by calling for her removal.
  • The Newark City Council, which called for a moratorium on all of Anderson’s initiatives.
  • The Newark School Board, which, though powerless to remove her… voted “no confidence” in Anderson’s leadership and has tried to freeze her pay.
  • The students of Newark’s schools, who have walked out repeatedly to protest her actions.
  • Parents who have filed a civil rights lawsuit, alleging One Newark is “de facto racial segregation.” (It is.)
  • The teachers union, which claims Anderson has repeatedly refused to follow through on the provisions of the contract she negotiated.
  • 77 of Newark’s religious leaders, who have said One Newark could be “catastrophic” and must not be implemented.” Weber quotes from the statement by the city’s religious leaders: There are many well-educated, reasonable minded, and rational individuals, parents, educators and citizens in general in the City of Newark. They all share an intense passion for excellence in education; they have come to feel that their input and voice have been repeatedly ignored. It is unfair to characterize Newarkers opposing the current approach to change as irrational and resistant to change in any case. Many voices of reason have been largely denied meaningful input into the decision-making process.

Describing discontent among citizens in Washington, D.C., New York City, and Los Angeles, Weber contrasts democratic governance in those cities to the state’s imposition of Anderson’s school choice plan on Newark: “In all of these cases, the citizens of these school districts could use their vote to express their approval or disapproval of the current management of their schools.  But there’s no way any taxpayer in Newark can affect the continuing tenure of Cami Anderson through his or her vote.  The good people of Newark, NJ have no say in how their schools are run; is it any wonder, then, that they must raise their voices to be heard?  Newark has been under state control for two decades.  The voters of Newark roundly rejected Chris Christie twice, and yet he and he alone gets to decide who manages NPS (Newark Public Schools).  There is no plan in place to move the district back to democratic, local control; no one in the state has been held accountable for the failure to return the schools to the people of Newark.”

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