“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.”

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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?

NJ Education Commissioner Chris Cerf Pushes Corporate School Reform As He Leaves His Position

Christopher Cerf will leave his position as Governor Chris Christie’s New Jersey state school commissioner this coming Friday, February 28,  to join Amplify, the school assessment, consulting, and tablet division of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.  Cerf is leaving to work for his former boss, Joel Klein, who served as New York City’s school chancellor when Cerf was an assistant.  Perhaps because of Cerf’s pending departure, there is much scurrying around by those wanting quickly to solidify New Jersey’s steps toward so called “school reform” undertaken during his tenure.  Here are two changes being pushed through in this final week.

Newark is a school district operating under state control.  Cami Anderson, Newark’s state-appointed, Broad Academy-trained, caretaker superintendent, has asked Cerf to waive the seniority rights of perhaps 700 teachers to pave the way for mass firings and replacement of half of them, it is speculated, by cheaper Teach for America (TFA) recruits.  Anderson is a former TFA teacher and an executive with TFA.

Longtime New Jersey journalist Bob Braun reports that the mass firings are confirmed by sources in the teacher’s union and on the website of the Walton Family Foundation, which has “announced that they will support the recruitment, training and support of nearly 370 Newark area teachers over the next two years.”  Anderson’s request for Cerf’s approval is to be discussed at a meeting of the Newark School Board later today.  Cerf’s signature “would permit their firing without resort to the detenuring process.”  “To fire tenured teachers she (Anderson) must gain state approval of a ‘waiver’ of seniority rules.  Cerf, a strong backer of Anderson’s actions, is expected to grant the waiver.”

According to Braun, “The mass layoff of experienced teachers and their replacement by new and untrained college graduates is part of Anderson’s ‘One Newark’ plan that seeks to expand charter school enrollments, close conventional neighborhood public schools, and sell off school property. ‘Right-sizing’ staff and hiring ‘quality’ teachers are also mentioned in the latest version of the plan.”

And yesterday Diane Ravitch reported that Cerf is also expected this week to sign a request for the right-to-expand by Hoboken’s HoLa Dual Language Charter School.  HoLa charter school serves 11 percent children who qualify for free-and-reduced price lunch while the district has 72 percent of children who qualify.  While Hoboken’s school district is 25 percent white, HoLa is 61 percent white.  The district is 55 percent Hispanic; HoLa is 29 percent Hispanic.  Ravitch shares a powerful letter from Hoboken’s school superintendent, Dr. Mark Toback, asking Commissioner Cerf to deny the HoLa Dual Language Charter School request.

Toback describes unsustainable financial pressure on the one-square-mile school district as the charter school allocation has tripled since 2008.  “if you carry this pattern out to 2018 with the total requested expansion of HoLa to 405 students (an increase of almost 100 students) you can see how our traditional public district would fall into a state of crisis.  I do not believe that such a result is the intent of the charter movement and I know that such a result does not allow for a thorough and efficient education for all children in this community.”

Toback notes that while HoLa charter school does enroll some students who present special needs, the school and Hoboken’s three other charters “do not enroll students with significant disabilities.”

Toback also explains that charter schools can accept students with serious special needs and assign them to special schools outside the school district, but New Jersey law then requires the Hoboken public school district to pay for the special services it has no role in selecting.  Toback describes: “the incentive that exists statewide for charter schools to place students in out-of-district placements… By code, the cost for charter students placed out of district does not go to the charter school, but back to the traditional public school system.  As a result, a financial incentive is created for charter schools to place significantly disabled students in out-of-district placements as opposed to educating the students. Even more perplexing is the fact that we have very little input about those placements.  Despite the fact that the traditional district is responsible to pay for the out-of-district educational programs plus transportation costs, extended school year programs, and other costs, the charter school case managers remain responsible for carrying out the IEP.”

It will be important to watch how much damage Commissioner Cerf inflicts on New Jersey’s traditional public school districts in this final week as he leaves his position.