After 22-Year-Long State Takeover, Newark Regains Control of Its Schools

State takeovers—always intrusive—often arrogant, experimental, and ideological—don’t work.  But state officials persist in believing they know better than residents and school leaders in poor, black and brown communities, and the idea that takeover can compensate for states’ own underfunding of their poorest school districts wins again and again. The Flint lead poisoning resulted from Michigan’s imposition of emergency state fiscal managers to shape up local municipal and school district finances without enough attention to government’s responsibility for quality services. Louisiana and Michigan imposed so-called “recovery school districts” in New Orleans and Detroit. Michigan unsuccessfully turned over Highland Park and Muskegon Heights school districts to for-profit charter managers. And in Pennsylvania, the School District of Philadelphia has been run since 2001 by a state-appointed School Reform Commission.

In New Jersey, until last week, the state has been running the schools in Newark for 22 years, despite the presence of a toothless local school board, whose meetings were even boycotted by Cami Anderson, a recent state-appointed superintendent.

Here is Karen Yi for the Newark Star-Ledger last Wednesday:  “The state Board of Education voted Wednesday to end is takeover of the Newark school district and begin the transition to return control to the locally-elected school board after 22 years… The move comes after decades of fierce battles with the state and boiling frustrations among Newarkers who had little leverage over their schools. Key in the power shift: The local school board will now have the ability to hire and fire its own superintendent.”

Yi quotes Mayor Ras Baraka, a graduate of the Newark Schools and a local educator himself—formerly a Newark teacher and award-winning high school principal: “The people of Newark, we have some self-determination… We now have control over our own children’s lives.  It doesn’t mean that we won’t make mistakes or there won’t be any errors or obstacles… we have the right to make mistakes, we have the right to correct them ourselves.”

Baraka has been criticized for leaving in place a number of the charter schools brought to Newark by the despised recent superintendent, Cami Anderson, but he has also managed to create enough trust to work with the newest state appointment, Christopher Cerf, to bring the catastrophic Cami Anderson One Newark plan, and the Mark Zuckerberg $100,000 million-funded privatization fiasco—a dream turned nightmare and put in place secretly by Governor Chris Christie and now Senator Corey Booker—under control.  This blog extensively covered Anderson’s tenure here.

Cerf’s contract ends at the end of this school year, and the wind-down of state control will happen over a series of months. Marques-Aquil Lewis, president of the locally elected (but until now toothless) School Advisory Board, commented on the importance of the  Board’s right to appoint the next superintendent: “It’s important the next superintendent understand the community that he or she is going to serve. It will help (to be from Newark). Not a requirement, but it will help.”

David Chen, for the NY Times, describes Lewis and the state takeover that has dominated his own school years: “In 1995, when Marques-Aquil Lewis was in elementary school, the State of New Jersey seized control of the public schools here after a judge warned that ‘nepotism, cronyism and the like’ had precipitated ‘abysmal’ student performances and ‘failure on a very large scale.’  For more than 20 years, local administrators have had little leverage over the finances or operations of the state’s largest school district. Choices about curriculum and programs were mostly made by a state-appointed superintendent, often an outsider.  The city could not override personnel decisions.  Now, Mr. Lewis’s 4-year-old son is in prekindergarten, and things are changing.”

State takeovers too often mean experimentation on the children in the nation’s poorest urban school districts. Adequate funding for the most basic and necessary improvements—small classes to insure that all children are known and supported—wraparound programs like health clinics and social services—is more than most states have been willing to invest in. State takeovers are an extension of the ideology of accountability—that if schools are run like a business, they can be made financially accountable. The idea that educators can be pressured through threats and financial incentives to raise test scores is the other side of this bargain, along with the idea that privatized charters will create competition.

John Jackson, the President and CEO of the Schott Foundation for Public Education comments on the arrogance and paternalism of these assumptions: “First, it’s important to understand that these state takeovers are taking place in the context of decades of disinvestment in public schools. Due to tax cuts and austerity budgets at the state level, schools in poor communities have suffered increasing inequities in funding for vital education services. Recent studies document that states taking over the democratic rights of local citizens and elected education officials have themselves failed to meet their own constitutional obligation to provide the locality with equitable resources needed to provide students with a fair and substantive opportunity to learn. In short, inequitable funding and disenfranchisement by school takeovers are actually a vicious cycle, a double threat to democracy in poor communities. It’s also impossible to dismiss the disparate racial impact of state takeovers. An overwhelming percentage of the districts that have experienced takeovers or mayoral control serve African American and Latino students and voters. The fact that this trend only occurs in districts like New Orleans, Memphis, Nashville, Detroit and Chicago that are made up predominantly of people of color raises serious federal civil rights issues. The same communities that often face the greatest barriers to the ballot box are those susceptible to further disenfranchisement by removing local control of schools.”

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Gov. Christie and Legislature Fail to Fund School Formula, Create Crisis for Newark’s Schools

The Prize—Dale Russakoff’s book about the plan put in place by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and then Newark Mayor Cory Booker to charterize Newark’s schools and recruit Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to pay for it—is listed by the NY Times as one of the top 100 books of the year.  It is a fascinating tale of political intrigue and the imposition of the ideology of “school disruption” on the public schools in a very poor community. In September, this blog covered The Prize here and here.

Russakoff’s book isn’t, however, as strong on the gritty fiscal realities for the Newark Public Schools, though the book does demonstrate many of the ways Christie’s overseer superintendent, Cami Anderson, squandered a lot of Zuckerberg’s money, nearly a quarter of it on expensive consultants. Right after Thanksgiving,  the Education Law Center released a report that clarifies the financial realities for the Newark School District that are harder to patch together from Russakoff’s book.

Mark Zuckerberg’s one-time gift of $100 million to underwrite the Christie-Booker charter school experiment pales compared to what the Education Law Center’s new report explains is a $132 million shortfall in state funding for the current school year due to Governor Chris Christie’s refusal to fund the state’s court-ordered school finance plan: “Newark last received the increases required by New Jersey’s school funding formula—the School Funding Reform Act… in 2011-12, when the State Supreme Court ordered Governor Christie to restore the $42 million cut from Newark’s budget in 2010.  Since then, the Governor has refused to fund the formula, resulting in an over $132 million shortfall in state aid to Newark Public Schools in 2015-2016.”

Complicating Newark Public Schools’ problems has been the rapid expansion of charter schools, the centerpiece of the Christie-Booker-Zuckerberg One Newark plan implemented by Cami Anderson.  The Education Law Center explains: “Under New Jersey’s charter law, Newark charter schools receive funding through payments from the Newark Public Schools budget.  Charters are funded on a per pupil basis and are entitled to 90% of the sum of the district’s local levy and State equalization aid…. Charters receive additional aid for enrollment growth even when the district’s overall funding does not increase…. Payments to charter schools have first priority in district spending—they cannot be reduced to address shortfalls in the district budget.”

The report continues with details about benefits for charter schools: “As noted above, Newark Public Schools has not received any increase in state aid since 2011-12… However, Newark Public Schools payments to charter schools have increased rapidly as the (state) Department of Education has allowed charter enrollment to expand each year.  In 2008-09, Newark Public Schools payments to charter schools totaled $60 million.  By 2015-16, Newark Public Schools charter school payments increased to $225 million, representing 27% of the Newark Public Schools operating budget.”

Meanwhile as charter schools have attracted students away from Newark Public Schools, the concentration of students with special education needs and of English language learners has grown in the public schools.  The percentage of special education students has increased from 14% to 17% since 2008-09, and the percentage of English language learners has grown during the same period from 9% to 11%.  These are students who cost more to educate.

What does all this mean for the average student in Newark’s public schools?  “Total spending dropped by 20% between 2008-09 and 2014-15, a $2,971 per pupil reduction.  Spending on regular instruction—teachers, curriculum, books, etc.—was cut 35% or $1,610 per pupil.  Support services were significantly reduced (-20%), with especially large cuts in media services/library, attendance and social work, and guidance. Spending for students with disabilities and those learning English was dramatically reduced… Newark Public Schools spending per pupil has declined rapidly relative to other districts in the state. In 2008-09 only 35% of districts spent more per pupil than Newark Public Schools.  By 2014-15, 87% of districts were outspending Newark Public Schools.”

When the Zuckerberg-funded plan was implemented in 2012, Newark Public Schools abandoned another school reform initiative that many people believed was showing great promise. Newark’s mayor Ras Baraka, then the principal of Central High School, recently described in a piece he wrote for the Hechinger Report the Newark Global Village School Zone. Baraka explains: “Global Village was a reform strategy based upon an expanded conception of education that addresses the importance of academic skills and knowledge, as well as the development of the whole child.  The Village brought social service agencies, community based organizations, business, universities, and families together to build partnerships that supported the instructional and educational goals of schools in the Global Village network.  Quitman Street School and Central High School, where I was principal, along with five other schools in Newark’s Central Ward, collaborated with New York University to develop the Global Village strategy from 2009 until the (Christie-Booker-Zuckerberg) Renew strategy was implemented in 2012. Community partnerships, school-based professional development and collaboration, academic enrichment, extended learning time, and integration of student supports were core to our improvement plans.”

Community Schools bring medical and social services right into the school to work with the families and the children.  Baraka seeks to return to the model in place before the grand disruption paid for by Zuckerberg and implemented by Cami Anderson: “A city-wide Community Schools strategy is vital to ensuring our schools develop the capacity needed to help every child…. We declare that Newark is Ground Zero for Community Schools. We must recover from our losses, and build upon our successes….”

The Foundation for Newark’s Future, the philanthropy created in Newark to distribute Zuckerberg’s gift and the matching funds it attracted, is now almost out of money. The Associated Press recently reported, that to accomplish Baraka’s vision, “The Foundation for Newark’s Future will invest $1.2 million now and up to $12.5 million total on two initiatives…. The money to launch the South Ward Community Schools Initiative and Newark Opportunity Youth Network marks one of the final donations the foundation will make, five years after Zuckerberg committed the money.”

That what’s left of Zuckerberg’s money will be invested in Community Schools is a positive thing.  That Governor Christie and the legislature continue to cut state funding for Newark’s schools—despite that a court order mandates additional funds be distributed through the state’s funding formula—will, however, unquestionably leave Newark Public Schools short of needed money.

Russakoff’s “The Prize” Exposes Arrogance and Pride of Chris Christie and Cory Booker

The Prize is Dale Russakoff’s new book about the plan cooked up by then-Newark-mayor Cory Booker and New Jersey governor Cris Christie to transform the schools in Newark, New Jersey as a national model.  Booker’s view was that it was the perfect district for such an experiment because it is small enough that most of the variables could be controlled. Booker traveled to an elite conference in Sun Valley, Idaho to present the idea to Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, who would be asked to donate $100 million.  Booker and Christie’s plan was designed to be top-down, to be announced on the Oprah Winfrey show before the people of Newark knew about it:

“It called for imposing reform from the top down, warning that a more open political process could be taken captive by unions and machine politicians. ‘Real change has casualties and those who prospered under the pre-existing order will fight loudly and viciously,’ the proposal said.  Seeking consensus would undercut real reform. One of the goals was to ‘make Newark the charter school capital of the nation.’  The plan called for an ‘infusion of philanthropic support’ to recruit teachers and principals through national school-reform organizations, build sophisticated data and accountability systems, and weaken tenure and seniority protections.  Philanthropy, unlike government funding, required no public review of priorities or spending.  Christie approved the plan, and Booker began pitching it to major donors.  In those pitches, Booker portrayed the Newark schools as a prize of a very different sort: a laboratory where the education reform movement could apply its strategies to one of the nation’s most troubled school districts.  He predicted that Newark would be transformed into a ‘hemisphere of hope’ catalyzing the spread of reform throughout urban America.” (pp. 20-21)

Russakoff’s book is less about school reform really than about the hubris of Cory Booker and cruel arrogance of Chris Christie, despite that its focus is the imposition of corporatized school reform upon Newark.  Russakoff is at pains to take us into classrooms and to make us see the work of school teachers.  Her approach to portraying the schools through stories of excellent teachers leads to what I see as the book’s flaw—an adoption of “the school teacher as savior” myth.  Russakoff is won over by energetic young principals and teachers in KIPP charters who go to all lengths to save children—including even the creation of a carpool of teachers who pick children in one family up and deliver them home each day to a shelter—to help the children avoid the label “homeless.”  Such efforts, while laudable, cannot possibly be the building blocks of sustainable systems to educate the children of our nation’s poorest families.

Once Zuckerberg had bought in, Booker and Christie set about selling the preconceived plan to the community, and immediately things backfired. An early hire was Bradley Tusk, a New York consultant brought in to create a process to get the community to agree to the need for the plan that had already been adopted by city leaders.  “A senior aide to Booker privately deemed Tusk’s work ‘a boondoggle.’ According to a board member of the Foundation for Newark’s Future , which paid the bill (This agency was created to administer Zuckerberg’s gift and other grants that Zuckerberg specified must be raised to match his original $100 million), ‘It wasn’t real community engagement. It was public relations.'”  (p. 63)

Though she eventually promoted the expansion of charter schools as central to the plan that was later dubbed One Newark, Cami Anderson, the superintendent  hired to oversee the plan, is portrayed in The Prize as having understood the biggest danger of school reform based on rapid expansion of charters. “She pointed out that charters in Newark served a smaller proportion than the district schools of children who lived in extreme poverty, had learning disabilities, or struggled to speak English… In cities like Newark, where the overall student population was static, growth for charters meant shrinkage for the district. Newark charters now were growing at a pace to enroll forty percent of children in five years, leaving the district with sixty percent—the neediest sixty percent… Anderson called this ‘the lifeboat theory of education reform,’ arguing that it could leave a majority of children to sink on the big ship.” (p. 118)  By contrast, when teachers at a charter school co-located in the same building as a neighborhood school ask Mayor Booker how he plans to help and support the neighborhood school also operating in their building, he replies, “I’ll be very frank…. I want you to expand as fast as you can.  But when schools are failing, I don’t think pouring new wine into old skins is the way.  We need to close them and start new ones.'” (p. 132)

Despite what may have been her reservations, Anderson played the corporate game imposed by Christie and Booker.  She was supported by a succession of expensive consultants from New York.  “The going rate for consultants in Newark and elsewhere on the East Coast was $1,000 a day, and their pay comprised more than $20 million of the $200 million in philanthropy spent or committed in Newark.” (p. 71)  “Two of the highest-paid consultants were friends and former colleagues of Anderson, Alison Avera and Tracy Breslin, both senior officials in New York under Klein and Cerf and both fellows at the Broad Academy.  Both had worked for the Global Education Advisers consulting firm originally founded by Cerf, and Anderson asked them to stay on for about a year in two of her most strategic positions—Avera as interim chief of staff and Breslin, who had extensive experience in human resources, as interim director of a new Office of Talent… Avera and Breslin were married to each other; had they been public employees, nepotism rules would have prohibited one from supervising the other… Avera and Breslin had joined Global Education Advisers at $1,200 and $1,000 a day respectively, and they continued at those rates for Anderson; Breslin charged over-time on days when she worked more than eight hours, even though her contract specified that she be paid by the day, not the hour… In less than eighteen months working for Anderson… their combined pay exceeded $740,000.” (pp 126-127)

We keep on reading even when we know in advance how the story works out. One Newark crashed when Anderson couldn’t raise test scores despite replacing a large number of school principals and despite moving many experienced (and thought by Anderson to be ineffective) teachers into a pool who continued to be paid because they could not, by New Jersey law, be summarily laid off.  Booker, Christie and Anderson had sought and failed to break due-process protections, and the money ran short before Zuckerberg could establish the merit bonuses for teachers he believed were the key to transforming the district.  Anderson quickly alienated the community as well as the school staff, and she quit attending meetings of Newark’s largely toothless elected school board (Remember, Newark had been under state control for 20 years.) in January of 2014, over a year before Christie finally decided to terminate her.

Russakoff concludes: “For four years, the reformers never really tried to have a conversation with the people of Newark. Their target audience was always somewhere else, beyond the people whose children and grandchildren desperately needed to learn and compete for a future. Booker, Christie, and Zuckerberg set out to create a national ‘proof point’ in Newark.  There was less focus on Newark as its own complex ecosystem that reformers needed to understand before trying to save it.  Two hundred million dollars and almost five years later, there was at least as much rancor as reform.  Newark illustrates that improving education for the nation’s poorest children is as much a political as a pedagogical challenge.” (pp. 209-210)

If not a national model, One Newark and the Booker-Christie-Zuckerberg-Anderson style of school “reform” is a symbol of what’s been happening in cities like Bloomberg’s New York and Rahm’s Chicago and experiments like Bill and Melinda Gates’ failed national small schools initiative and their effort to get teachers rated by students’ test scores.  Philanthropists and tech-savvy entrepreneurs leap to the conclusion that their business acumen gives them an edge to solve social problems way beyond the ability of mere school teachers. For the philanthropists who are underwriting these projects, money and celebrity also provide the political connections that make it possible for them to experiment on communities and schools and children far from home.  There are few consequences for the philanthropists if they fail, apart from losing money; and they have so much money that the loss of a hundred million dollars doesn’t really matter very much.

The failure of the Newark experiment doesn’t seem to have taught today’s big money experimenters a lesson.  Just last week Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple’s founder Steve Jobs, bought a full page ad in the NY Times to announce XQ: The Super School Project,  her new $50 million endeavor described by reporter Jennifer Medina as “the highest-profile project yet of the Emerson Collective, the group that Ms. Powell Jobs uses to finance her philanthropic projects.” “(T)he campaign is meant to inspire teams of educators and students, as well as leaders from other sectors to come up with new plans for high schools… By fall next year, Ms. Powell Jobs said, a team of judges will pick five to 10 of the best ideas to finance.”

And in the Washington Post last Thursday, Valerie Strauss described an exclusive “Philanthropy Innovation Summit” being held later this month, “to give philanthropists space ‘to convene and discuss their giving in an intimate, non-solicitation environment.'”  Participants are invited to, “Come be inspired by information and insights that can only be learned at this event.  You will leave with new and actionable ideas and skills to help you as you think about your philanthropy moving forward in topic areas including: Seeding Innovation in Philanthropy, Nexus of Design Thinking and Strategic Philanthropy, Philanthropreneurship, (and) Philanthropic Investment for Scientific Advancement.”  Strauss comments: “If you are wondering what ‘philanthropreneurship’ is, it is a term that came into use about a year ago and refers to… ‘the idea that the skills which enabled people to make their fortunes are often the ones required to solve apparently intractable problems.’  In other words, billionaires who created computers, software, Internet browsers, retail stores, etc., are the people the country needs to solve societal inequity and other ‘intractable problems.'”

In Newark, the most encouraging development was the emergence of a skeptical community and strong leadership by Ras Baraka, the respected high school principal and city councilman who made opposition to the Booker-Christie-Zuckerberg-Anderson plan the centerpiece of his campaign for mayor. As Russakoff demonstrates again and again, the citizens of Newark understood from the beginning that Mayor Booker had brought in outsiders to impose a dangerous experiment on their children and their neighborhood schools. In a place where the schools have been under state takeover for twenty years and where the citizens have little power over the district, the citizens of Newark rallied together to throw out One Newark and Cami Anderson, and to elect Ras Baraka.  It will take considerable time, however, for the damage to be repaired.

Cami Anderson Moves On: Will Newark School Leadership Begin to Consider Community’s Input?

Bob Braun, retired reporter for the Newark Star-Ledger, broke the story on his blog over the weekend that Cami Anderson, Newark’s much despised state-overseer superintendent of schools, will resign this week and will be replaced on an interim basis by Christopher Cerf, Governor Chris Christie’s former commissioner of education, who, since he left New Jersey state government, has been on staff at Amplify, the tablet and on-line curriculum division of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.  The Newark Star-Ledger confirmed the report yesterday, adding that Anderson will step down by July 8 and that Cerf’s appointment will need to be approved by the state board of education.

Despite persistent protests from Newark’s mayor, Ras Baraka, and the city’s elected school board, whose public meetings she has refused to attend since January of 2014, Cami Anderson has ruthlessly imposed her “One Newark” school reform plan to close neighborhood schools, open charters, and fire dedicated school principals.  She testified before the state legislature’s committee that is responsible for overseeing the state takeover of Newark’s schools only after repeated delays and only under extreme political pressure.  When she and her boss, New Jersey’s governor Christie were criticized for the arrogance of Newark’s state school management, Christie notoriously declared: “And I don’t care about the community criticism. We run the school district in Newark — not them.” Newark’s schools have been under state takeover for twenty years, despite evidence that state management has served neither the children nor the community.  Here are the posts on this blog tagged “Cami Anderson.”

Braun reports that Anderson recently changed her mind about imposing “turnarounds” on two of the city’s high schools: “In the last few days, Anderson also has caved in on significant decisions—to make both East Side High School and Weequahic High School, both iconic institutions in the city, so-called ‘turnaround’ schools.”

Braun reports further that the state school board has recently been listening to Cami Anderson’s critics in Newark including the elected (but powerless under state oversight) school board in Newark: “The breakthrough, according to sources who would not speak for the record, came in private talks between school board officials and members of the state board of education.  Mark Biedron, the president of the state school board, apparently has come to Newark and initiated ‘conversations’ with critics of Anderson.  Four members of the (local) school board—(Ariagna) Perello, its president, Marques Aquil-Lewis, its vice president, and Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson and Donald Jackson spoke at a state school board meeting earlier this month. ‘Too much has been happening for the state school board to ignore,’ said one source, citing the decision by Lamont Thomas, principal of nationally known Science Park High, to resign, and the extraordinary decision by the principal of Central High School, Sharnee Brown, to accuse Anderson of breaking the law by transferring special education students to her school without adequate services.”  Braun adds that students walked out of Newark’s high schools on May 22 in protest.  Students occupied Anderson’s office for several days earlier this spring in protest.

While a second Star-Ledger report claims that Chris Cerf “will be recommended for a three-year contract consistent with initial contracts in other state-operated districts,” Braun’s sources told him that Cerf will serve only in an interim capacity. Cerf, the former New Jersey commissioner of education (who initially appointed Cami Anderson in Newark), left New Jersey government to work with Joel Klein at Rupert Murdoch’s school tablet and curriculum division, Amplify.  The News Corp. has been restructuring this week, and Cerf appears to be out of a job.  Earlier this spring, Bloomberg reported that Amplify has not been making a profit: “By the end of June, Murdoch’s News Corp. will have invested more than $1 billion in Amplify, its division that makes the tablets, sells an online curriculum and offers testing services… It reported a $193 million loss last year, and its annual revenue represented only about 1 percent of News Corp.’s sales of $8.6 billion.”  “The education effort has been riddled with technology failures, fragile equipment, a disconnect between tablet marketers and content developers, and an underestimation of how difficult it would be to win market share from entrenched rivals such as Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Co. in the kindergarten to high school education market.”  According to Bloomberg, barely over a third of classrooms in the United States have internet capacity and speed adequate to serve classrooms of children online simultaneously.  Faster internet speed costs five times more per student, an amount that is prohibitively expensive for many school districts.

Braun reports wide speculation that the deal involving Anderson’s resignation and Cerf’s pending interim appointment also includes a promise that Newark’s elected board of education will be able to help choose the next permanent superintendent: “A bigger shocker, however, is that the school officials and other sources expect the (local school) board to be given a role in selecting a permanent replacement for Anderson.”

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka is reported by the Star-Ledger to have commented, “I would need some assurances that local control is real.”

I hope Braun’s information is correct that an effort is under way to consider the will of the citizens of Newark in the operation of their public schools.

“One Newark” Exemplifies the Shock Doctrine: Public Institutions Seized from the Powerless

In her 2007 book, The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein describes the takeover of the New Orleans schools in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina as a grand experiment perpetrated by policy makers on a city so vulnerable nobody could protect the public assets that should have been rescued.  Klein concludes, “I call these orchestrated raids on the public sphere in the wake of catastrophic events, combined with the treatment of disasters as exciting market opportunities, “disaster capitalism.” (The Shock Doctrine, p. 6)

When we think about the Shock Doctrine applied to education, New Orleans—where the schools were charterized and all the teachers fired—is the example that comes to mind, but our test-and-punish system under the No Child Left Behind Act has branded the schools in our poorest cities as “failures” and created a crisis atmosphere that has also made way for the application of the Shock Doctrine.  Back in 2010, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, working with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, seized such an “opportunity” and set up Newark for an experiment in disaster capitalism; he staged his Shock Doctrine live on the Oprah Winfrey Show, where Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg handed Booker $100 million to fix Newark’s schools. In a recent article Washington Post education writer Lyndsey Layton summarizes what happened as the “One Newark” plan was put in place by Christie and his appointed overseer Newark school superintendent, Cami Anderson. Public schools were closed and charter operators brought in.  Union agreements were abrogated. It has been easy to move quickly in Newark, where the schools have been under state control for twenty years and residents have been unable to establish sufficient checks and balances despite the presence of an elected school board that lacks virtually any power. Cami Anderson has not bothered to attend any meetings of Newark’s school board for well over a year now.

Layton describes One Newark: “The plan is the signature initiative crafted by Anderson, who was appointed by Gov. Chris Christie (R) in 2011 to run Newark Public Schools.  The state seized control of Newark Public Schools in 1995 amid academic and financial failure, but two decades of state control has resulted in little progress.  One Newark, which fully took effect in the current academic year (2014-2015), essentially blew up the old school system.  It eliminated neighborhood schools in favor of a citywide lottery designed to give parents more choices.  It prompted mass firings of principals and teachers, and it led to numerous school closures and a sharp rise in the city’s reliance on charter schools…. With Christie’s blessing—and freed from the need for approval from a local school board—Anderson pushed through a raft of changes, many of which were untested…  As a result, many families saw their children spread among multiple schools or sent across town. The scattering has been problematic for a city divided along gang lines, and where many residents don’t own cars.  The end of neighborhood schools meant that newcomers no longer had a right to attend the school down the street.  The new citywide lottery, relying on a computer algorithm, forced many students to change schools while dividing siblings in some cases between different schools in different parts of the city.  Meanwhile, state test scores have stayed flat or even declined….”

Local elected officials have tried unsuccessfully to protect the right of parents and citizens of Newark to control their public schools.  Senator Ronald Rice, chair of the New Jersey Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Schools, was able only after repeated attempts to require Cami Anderson to appear before his committee to defend her plan, but she refused to discuss matters of substance with his committee.  A civil rights complaint was filed earlier this year with the U.S. Department of Education.   A group of high school students  occupied the offices of Superintendent Cami Anderson for several days in February.  U.S. Rep. Donald Payne, Jr., Newark’s representative to Congress, recently petitioned Cami Anderson in a formal letter to respond to the concerns of his constituents: “Your failure to respond and to engage in a meaningful dialogue on behalf of all Newark students is very disappointing to my constituents and me. There is a crisis situation going on in Newark.” And just this week, in an attempt to gain leverage, Newark’s new mayor, Ras Baraka, a high school principal elected on a pro-public school platform in the spring of 2014, was able to get his own “Children’s First Team” of three elected to the local elected board of education. All five of the elected board members support Baraka and oppose Cami Anderson’s One Newark plan.   You can read earlier posts about Newark on this blog here.

Despite the protests, Cami Anderson, has been rewarded not only with Christie’s support but also with a bonus.  She has also announced plans to expand One Newark.  Bob Braun, former education writer for the Newark Star Ledger, recently blogged: “Three related events are merging into a crisis for the public schools and their supporters.  The first is Anderson’s decision to designate nine more schools—including Weequahic and East Side high schools—as ‘turnaround’ schools that will force employees either to give up their jobs or their contract-guaranteed working conditions.  The second is Anderson’s insistence that the state grant her permission to ignore employee seniority rights so she can lay off veteran teachers to meet a budget deficit of up to $100 million that she caused.  The third is the arguably felonious refusal of the state to insist that Anderson abide by the terms of the waiver of the federal No Child Left Behind requirements.”

The Newark Teachers Union just announced a formal protest; teachers will no longer work extra hours before or after school but will picket to bring attention to the problems with One Newark. Naomi Nix  of the Star Ledger interviewed a union leader who reports:  “(T)he teachers will participate in ‘informational picket lines’ during non-school day hours to explain their concerns to the public.”  Braun reports that Mayor Ras Baraka supports the teachers’ action.  Dr. Lauren Wells, Baraka’s chief school officer met with teachers and told them: “Enough is enough.  This is not how you change the schools.  We support you.” Braun adds: “Five members of the Newark school board also showed up to show their support—leading to the possibility that Newark might be the scene of the first teachers’ strike supported by its local school board.  The state has stripped the board of most of its powers, but the members do act as a barometer of anti-state feeling.”

Braun would agree, I think, that Newark’s schools exemplify a Shock Doctrine—the imposition of school choice, public school closures, expansion of charters, and attacks on unionized teachers—on a community whose citizens lack power.  He writes: “The last year has been its own moment of truth about the respect shown to leaders of color—even prominent, elected leaders like Rice and Baraka and members of the school board.  In a state run by Christie and allies like Steve Sweeney and Joseph DiVincenzo and George Norcross, the concerns of black and brown political, religious, and civic leaders simply do not matter.”  Shock Doctrine educational experiments are characterized by their imposition by the powerful on other people’s children.

Chris Christie has been very clear about Newark: “And I don’t care about the community criticism. We run the school district in Newark — not them.”

Stunning Article Tracks Spread of Corporate Education Reform in Newark and NJ Suburb

Update: This post has been corrected.  The original confused Andy Smarick and Jonathan Schnur, both corporate school reformers, both creative disruptors, and both with connections to school reform in New Jersey.

If you want to develop a better understanding of so-called “corporate” school reform, Stan Karp’s article in the spring Rethinking Schools magazine is mandatory reading. Karp examines the catastrophic transformation of the schools in Newark, New Jersey and a subsequent attempt by corporate reformers to take over the schools in his hometown, suburban Montclair.  In A Tale of Two Districts, Karp traces the history of Newark’s destabililization under Mayor Cory Booker and Governor Chris Christie, but neither was there a way Montclair could insulate itself.  He suggests: “If public education is going to survive, its supporters will need to make common cause across the divides of race and class, city and suburb.”

Karp summarizes the history of corporate reform in New Jersey in crisp, packed paragraphs, beginning with the appointment of Christopher Cerf as Governor Chris Christie’s education commissioner. “Cerf was the former head of Edison Inc., once the nation’s largest private education management firm.  A registered Democrat who served in the Clinton administration, Cerf was a pioneer in opening up the $700 billion/year K-12 education market to commercial penetration.  He was deputy chancellor under New York City’s Joel Klein and a senior advisor to former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg; all three are charter members of the corporate ed reform club.  In public, Cerf regularly dismissed talk about ‘corporate ed reform’ as conspiratorial nonsense.  In private, however, he described school reform politics as ‘a knife fight in a dark room’ and embraced a brand of what corporate reformers proudly call ‘disruptive innovation’ that made him a perfect choice to be Christie’s education commissioner.  One of Cerf’s first tasks was to recruit a new state-appointed superintendent for NPS (Newark Public Schools).  He chose Cami Anderson, a former Teach for America (TFA) executive who had also worked at New Leaders for New Schools, a kind of TFA for principals….”

How has all this affected racial and economic segregation in New Jersey’s already highly segregated Essex County? Karp explores the implications of what has been the explosive growth of charter schools in Newark: “On top of the intense racial segregation that characterizes all Newark schools, the charters serve fewer of the English learners, special education students, and poorest students, who remain in district schools in ever-higher concentrations.  Of the 14,000 students in schools serving the highest-need populations, 93 percent are in district schools and just 7 percent are in charters.  Some of Newark’s highest profile charters are ‘no excuses’ schools with authoritarian cultures and appalling attrition rates.  Newark’s KIPP schools lose nearly 60 percent of African American boys between 5th and 12th grades, and Uncommon Schools lose about 75 percent…  As Andy Smarick, a former deputy commissioner in Christie’s DOE, now with the corporate think tank Bellwether, wrote: ‘The solution isn’t an improved traditional district; it’s an entirely different delivery system for public education systems of charter schools.'”

This blog has extensively tracked early protests in Newark against Cami Anderson and her One Newark plan, the election last year of Ras Baraka, a public school educator, as Newark’s new mayor, and continuing massive protests that have continued all year by Newark’s residents—especially the parents and students—who do not want to lose their neighborhood schools.  Karp fills in the details and implications of this history and summarizes: “If this sounds a lot like New Orleans, Detroit, Philadelphia, and other cities, it’s because it is…. especially efforts to disenfranchise communities of color and promote privatization.”

But, continues Karp, “If cities like Newark are the entry point for corporate reform, wealthier suburban districts are the next prize.” Montlair, Karp’s hometown, is a somewhat unusual suburb, which has struggled and succeeded to some degree at least to serve all students well in a racially integrated public school system at a time when there is little policy support for diversity.  Montclair is an upper middle income community that sends 90 percent of its public high school graduates to college. And it is also the home, according to Karp, of many who are active in the corporate reform movement including Chris Cerf himself and Jonathan Alter, a journalist, supporter of KIPP schools, and promoter of the film Waiting for Superman. “The town is also home to officials of Uncommon Schools, the Achievement First Network, Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academies and KIPP.”

And New  Jersey was once also home to Jonathan Schnur, who worked in the New Jersey Department of Education and was later the architect of Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top program.  Schnur had mentored Penny MacCormack in a superintendents’ training program, and, when Montclair needed a new superintendent, he endorsed her candidacy.  She was subsequently hired as Montclair’s new school superintendent, with an agenda, she said, to increase the use of students’ standardized test scores for evaluating teachers: “I will be using the data to hold educators accountable and make sure we get results.” The fact that Montclair has long had a school board appointed by the mayor made MacCormack’s hiring easier.  “In Montclair, there was no formal state takeover and no contested school board elections.  Instead, the long reach of corporate education reform had used influence peddling, backdoor connections, and a compliant appointed school board to install one of their own at the head of one of the state’s model districts.”

But Montclair also had powerful residents committed to defending the public schools.  Journalist (and professor at the Columbia University School of Journalism) LynNell Hancock wrote: “This is a Montclair I hardly recognize.  It’s not the children, the quality of the schools or the town’s democratic values that have changed.  It’s a paradigm shift in school leadership, a top-down technocratic approach that narrows its focus to ‘fixing’ schools by employing business strategies….”  The teachers union rose up and forced the board to listen to teachers testifying at board meetings.  In Montclair, unlike Newark, the protests paid off: “As we go to press, a stunning turn of events underscored again how corporate reform plays out differently across inequalities of power, race, and class.  Faced with growing opposition, MacCormack abruptly resigned to take an unspecified job with a ‘new educational services organization’ in New York City.”

Montclair’s residents have been powerful enough to pressure even an appointed school board and to insert expert voices in the press to push back the attack on their schools.  Newark’s citizens have been less successful.  Karp’s article is essential for filling in the gaps about how savvy and powerful corporate reformers are spreading disruption, privatization, and anti-teacher policies.  Near the end of his article, Karp describes budding efforts of suburbanites and Newark residents to work together to fight Christie’s corporate plans. I wish I had as much hope as Karp expresses that parents and activists across city and suburban school jurisdictions will be able and willing to frame the issues to define common cause.

Does America Care Enough about Newark’s Students to Hold Chris Christie Accountable?

When states take over struggling urban school districts, it never works.  The purpose is always said to be saving the education of poor children whose scores are low.  The real purpose is never announced: to save money in places where states ought to be allocating far more to help schools serve children whose lives are dominated by poverty.

State departments of education are bureaucratic agencies that are not equipped to run large urban school districts. The so-called “recovery districts” in places like New Orleans and Detroit tend to contract out the schools to private charter management agencies.  Proponents of such school takeovers try to make it look as though the test scores are rising, but overall scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress never turn around.  As school finance experts tell us again and again, more money is needed to support children at school when they live in concentrated poverty, more money than is needed in wealthy suburbs where family income makes up for anything that may be missing at school.  But in state capitols dominated by rural legislators and representatives from outer suburbs, we haven’t seen any state come up with a Marshall Plan to support the schools serving children in big city school districts where virtually every child is poor.  And so politicians in the legislatures—in Harrisburg and Trenton and Lansing—blame the big city school districts and pretend state takeover of one sort or another will fix it all up.  It never works.

Governor Chris Christie has been more transparent than most state overseers in expressing his attitude toward the families of Newark, where the state has been running the public schools for twenty years now.  Last year he was filmed for TV when he claimed: “And I don’t care about the community criticism. We run the school district in Newark — not them.”  Lyndsey Layton, who profiled the long-running tragedy of Christie’s management of Newark’s schools in Tuesday’s Washington Post, reminds us what Christie told the new mayor, Ras Baraka, who was elected in Newark last spring on a platform that emphasized the need for more local control of the public schools: “I’m the decider. You have nothing to do with it.”

Layton describes a delegation preparing to travel to Washington, D.C. yesterday to seek some kind of federal support: “a band of city, county and state elected officials, along with leaders from the NAACP and others,” who planned  “a meeting with Obama administration officials.  Newark parents have filed a federal civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, alleging that the plan called ‘One Newark,’ disproportionately affects African Americans.”

Implemented by Christie’s appointed school superintendent, Cami Anderson, the “One Newark” plan became operational at the beginning of the 2014-2015  school year.  Layton explains: “The plan, which fully took effect during this academic year, essentially blew up the old system.  It eliminated neighborhood schools in favor of a citywide lottery designed to give parents more choices.  It prompted mass firings of principals and teachers, and it led to numerous school closures and a sharp rise in the city’s reliance on charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run.  Many families saw their children spread among multiple schools or sent across town. The scattering has been problematic for a city divided along gang lines, where four in 10 residents don’t own cars.  In addition, state test scores have stayed the same or even declined.”

In mid-February eight Newark high school students, leaders of the Newark Students Union, occupied Cami Anderson’s office for four days.  Their demand?  A meeting with the superintendent, who has been notoriously unwilling to speak with members of the public she purports to serve.  As the fourth day of the protest arrived, Anderson met with the students, but only days later, State Education Commissioner David Hespe renewed Anderson’s  contract, an extension that had been in question. He even provided a performance bonus.

Just as Cami Anderson balked at meeting with the students who were occupying her office, she has also refused to attend all meetings of Newark’s locally elected and largely powerless school board since January of 2014.  She refused to comply with a formal summons from the legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Schools, chaired by State Senator Ronald Rice until the committee repeated its demand that she present herself. This is the legislative committee whose responsibility it is to oversee school districts being operated by the state. Bob Braun, former reporter for the Newark Star-Ledger and currently a Newark blogger, writes: “State Education Commissioner David Hespe last week awarded Anderson another year’s contract plus a small raise despite her failure to attend public meetings and the decline in test scores in the city.  Anderson has generally refused to conduct public meetings of any sort, and stood up Rice’s Joint Committee on Public Schools three times before finally agreeing to appear in January.”  Braun quotes State Senator Rice: “This is probably the first time in the history of New Jersey that a superintendent of a school district has simply disrespected and been insubordinate to the state Legislature by refusing to meet her contractual and statutory responsibility to appear and answer questions when requested.”

Braun lists the members of the delegation that traveled to Washington, D.C. yesterday looking for help for the people of Newark as they try to find a way to block the destruction of their public schools.  Besides Senator Rice, the delegation included several other members of both houses of the state’s legislature, representatives of Newark’s clergy, directors of several local education advocacy and day care organizations, the executive director of the Newark Teachers Union, two representatives of the Newark Students Union, Hillary Shelton, senior vice president of the national NAACP, and David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center.

The Washington Post‘s Layton surmises that Christie’s arrogance may affect his prospects as a presidential hopeful.  She reminds readers that Christie promised something very different as he launched Newark’s school reform: “New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie went on a publicity blitz when he vowed to fix this city’s struggling schools with the most expansive re-engineering of urban education anywhere in the country.  He told Oprah Winfrey in 2010 that Newark would become a ‘national model.’ He said on MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe’ that the plan would be ‘paradigm shifting.’ And he took ownership when community leaders began to complain about some of the plan’s controversial elements… But five years after Christie launched what could have been a career-defining policy initiative for an aspiring future president, city leaders are in revolt.”

To read in depth about the role of Christie, former Newark Mayor Cory Booker, former New Jersey schools commissioner Christopher Cerf, and Cami Anderson, read Dale Russakoff’s profile of Newark school reform, Schooled, in the May 19, 2014 New Yorker, or this blog’s post about Russakoff’s piece.