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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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.

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.

In Newark, Cami Anderson Again Demonstrates Contempt for Democracy

You will remember New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s description of his role as the most recent caretaker in the 20-year state takeover of the Newark Public Schools: “And I don’t care about the community criticism. We run the school district in Newark — not them.”

It is a troubling take on the meaning of public education when a state runs a school district against the will of the people whose children are served by the schools, especially when the guy in charge makes no attempt at all to disguise his disdain for the people whose lives are affected.

The arrogance of the Christie administration’s management erupted again last week when Governor Christie’s appointed superintendent, Cami Anderson finally consented to go before a state legislative committee that is tasked with oversight of state operated school districts.  John Mooney of New Jersey Spotlight notes that this was the first time Cami Anderson has consented to appear at a hearing of the oversight committee in three years on the job.  The chair of the committee greeted her by pointing out that, “Anderson’s attendance came only after repeated requests.”  Anderson has also pointedly refused to attend meetings of Newark’s elected board of education for a year now.

Bob Braun, a blogger and former 50 year reporter for the Newark Star-Ledger bluntly depicts the legislators’ outrage as Cami Anderson defended her One Newark school choice plan, denied wrongdoing, and expressed contempt for the people of Newark: “Not a great day for Cami Anderson. The chairman of the legislative committee that oversees state-operated school districts Tuesday accused the state-appointed Newark superintendent of ‘taking the fifth’ because she repeatedly refused to discuss her personal and business ties to a Newark charter school leader to whose organization she sold a Newark public school at less than fair market value.  Anderson also was openly caught in a lie when she insisted before the Joint Committee on Public Schools… that no school principals were in so-called ‘rubber rooms,’ getting paid to do nothing—apparently unaware one of the principals was attending the hearing.  She also was openly laughed at by committee members when she talked about a ‘legislative liaison’ aide whom none had ever met.  But the oddest thing that happened at the four-hour hearing was Anderson’s insistence that her reform efforts should not be judged by falling state test scores because such scores were ‘inaccurate’ and ‘unfair’—this, from a woman who has closed public schools and fired educators because of falling state test scores.  Anderson, a woman who has shown nothing but smug contempt for critics, was reduced to offering what amounted to personal pleas that the legislators try to ‘understand my journey’ or ‘my passion’—mawkish and overplayed efforts to depict herself as someone whose past helped her understand the problems of poor people… The day was clearly an embarrassment for her—and for Gov. Chris Christie who has held her up as a symbol of his devotion to what he calls ‘school reform.'”

New Jersey Spotlight reports that Cami Anderson is now facing an annual performance review. Her base salary this year is $251,500, and her performance review will determine whether she will be awarded a bonus on top of that of up to 20 percent. Neither the people of Newark nor their elected representatives to the legislature—even those who serve on the Joint Committee on Public Schools that supposedly provides oversight of school districts under state takeover—will be part of Cami Anderson’s performance review, which will be conducted by the state education department headed by another Christie appointee, Education Commissioner David Hespe.

The New Jersey Spotlight describes the goals on which Cami Anderson is to be evaluated: creation of snapshots for schools based on data performance; creation of a policy manual informed by an advisory group of charter and community leaders; a facilities proposal for “fewer, better” schools; development of a three year portfolio plan; a 5 percent drop in students’ absence from school; an increase in high school graduation by 3 percent; and a 3 percent increase in 11th graders reaching proficiency on the ACT exam. You will note, as does the New Jersey Spotlight, that these criteria neither consider her policies nor her leadership style.

New Jersey Spotlight adds that there is more at stake in her performance review than a bonus: “Anderson not only has her bonus on the line, but also her job.  She must be renewed each year to retain her position.” One hopes that, while her dedication as a public servant is apparently not being considered in her performance review, Cami Anderson’s tone-deaf arrogance—so flagrantly on display at last week’s legislative hearing—will have been noticed.

Would it be possible for a supposed New Jersey public servant to demonstrate such contempt for the public that even Chris Christie would feel compelled to fire that person?

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.”

Gov. Christie — ” I don’t care about the community criticism…”; School Opens in Newark

School opened in Newark, New Jersey on Thursday, September 4, in the messy, patched together way that major transformations occur.  The question in this case, as Cami Anderson, the state’s appointed overseer superintendent imposed her controversial “One Newark” school choice plan on the school district, is why the confusion had to happen.  The citizens of Newark overwhelmingly elected a new mayor in the spring, Ras Baraka, a public school educator who ran on a platform of improving the public schools in Newark’s neighborhoods.  But Cami Anderson and Governor Chris Christie—who arrogantly said, “And I don’t care about the community criticism. We run the school district in Newark — not them.”—have persisted in their plans to close public schools and expand school choice.

As school began under “One Newark,” about 190 students were reported by WNYC News not to have been assigned a school yet and only 74 percent of students were reported to have found a place in one of their top five schools.  According to Bob Braun, the blogger and retired reporter from the Newark Star-Ledger, students with disabilities were not provided transportation at all on the first day.  There was considerable confusion as families tried to navigate a new shuttle bus service set up by the school district to support students who were assigned to schools far from home.  Newark’s public schools have not provided transportation in the past.

Braun has been persistent and prophetic in pointing out the racial implications of the Christie/Anderson experiment on Newark’s children.  I urge you to read all of his recent blog posts on the Newark schools, because he is forthright in naming how power politics and racial politics work in the biggest—and majority-African American—city of a wealthy state.

Here is Braun’s reflection on the meaning of a preliminary boycott organized by the Newark Student Union on the day before school started:  “Newark’s political and organizational leaders will, I know, scoff at this but right now, the leaders of the struggle against ‘One Newark’ and the privatization of public education are the hundreds of high school students who early this morning marched from three high schools to Military Park and who, tomorrow, are expected to take even bolder action against the policies of Cami Anderson, her puppet master Chris Christie, and Christie’s privatization guru, Cory Booker.  That doesn’t mean a few hundred high school students from Science Park, Arts, and Central will bring down Anderson, but what it does mean is this: For now, they are keeping the fight alive, they are serving as the conscience of the Newark community, and they are reminding everyone that real people—mothers and fathers and children—are hurt every day by the disruption caused by this mindless reorganization plan.”

On Thursday, September 4, the students’ school boycott and public demonstration blocked Broad Street in Newark for eight hours as schools opened under “One Newark.”  According to Braun, the high school students requested a meeting with Cami Anderson but were denied.  Braun reports that the mayor, Ras Baraka, posted his chief education policy adviser Lauren Wells all day at the protest.  She told the students, “they had ‘energized’ the fight against Anderson and for local control.  ‘We wanted to make sure you were safe,’ she said.”  Braun adds: “Although the children led the way yesterday with their act of civil disobedience, this is not child’s play. They were protecting the jobs and rights and income of adults… Those who believe the students’ fight is not every unionized teacher’s fight are simply burying their heads in the sand.”