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.

Newark Mayor, Ras Baraka, Pleads for Federal Civil Rights Intervention in City’s Schools

Newark’s mayor, Ras Baraka, has an op-ed in this morning’s NY Times that condemns New Jersey’s 19 year state control of Newark’s public schools and the  malfunctioning school reform plan imposed this fall by Governor Chris Christie’s overseer superintendent Cami Anderson.  Baraka pleads for federal intervention to restore authority for Newark’s schools to the mayor temporarily, and as soon as possible, “to return control to an elected school board with full powers.”  Newark has an elected school board, but under state control, the locally elected school board lacks any authority to govern the district.  Cami Anderson has refused for several months even to attend its meetings.

Last spring Governor Christie publicly insulted the parents and citizens of Newark when he declared, “And I don’t care about the community criticism. We run the school district in Newark — not them.”

Baraka describes how poorly schools have functioned this fall since Anderson’s One Newark school choice plan was launched: “Consider the reports I’ve received of Barringer High School (formerly Newark High School).  Three weeks into the school year, students still did not have schedules.  Students who had just arrived in this country and did not speak English sat for days in the school library without placement or instruction.  Seniors were placed in classes they had already taken, missing the requirements they’d need to graduate.  Even the school lunch system broke down, with students served bread and cheese in lieu of hot meals.”

Neither did One Newark school choice work as promised: “Under One Newark’s universal enrollment scheme, a secret algorithm determined what school was the ‘best fit’ for each child.  Often, this ended up placing each child in a family in a different school, none of which was the neighborhood school the parents chose… To cap it all, last year the school system operated with a deficit of $58 million.”

Baraka reports that he has “written to the Justice Department’s Office of Civil Rights in support of the lawsuits that parents, students, advocates and educators in our city have brought, requesting that the federal government intercede.”

Meanwhile early last week, Superintendent Cami Anderson delivered a two-hour state-of-the-schools presentation to defend the launch earlier this fall of One Newark and to brag about what she says is improved student achievement.  However, the New Jersey Spotlight reports that, “the details to back up her arguments and claims have been more elusive. Anderson was repeatedly asked Tuesday for actual data, including the district’s latest results on the state’s testing for 2013-14. She said those results are available on the district’s website, but despite requests to provide the links, nothing has been forthcoming from her office two days later.”

The New Jersey Spotlight also explains that Anderson, “has been at odds with her locally elected school board since her arrival in 2011. Last month, after no-confidence votes and calls for her resignation, the board voted almost unanimously to freeze her pay and block other initiatives. She hasn’t attended a public board meeting in months.  Meanwhile, protests continue from activists and student groups opposed to the “One Newark” reorganization plan, including one on Monday in support of a federal civil-rights complaint alleging that closing and consolidation of schools disproportionately hurt black and Hispanic students and families.”

Ras Baraka was elected mayor by an overwhelming margin last spring after a campaign whose central issue was return of democratic control of the school district to Newark’s citizens.  Before he ran for mayor, Baraka was a much respected high school principal in Newark.

I urge you to read Mayor Baraka’s commentary in this morning’s NY Times.  This blog has extensively covered the state’s autocratic imposition of Cami Anderson’s One Newark school choice plan on the city’s schools herehere , hereherehere, here, herehere, and here.

Another YOUTUBE Video Wafts from Mountain Air of Aspen: Shows Chris Christie’s Arrogance

Here’s a good rule.  If you have political ambitions, don’t go to the Aspen Ideas Festival or the Aspen Institute, get comfortable among friends, get on a panel, and then make insulting remarks about the folks who are the key to your future.

Jonah Edelman disparaged school teachers.  His organization, Stand for Children, has not yet recovered its reputation.  In a new little book about the 2012 Chicago teachers’ strike, Micah Uetricht tells the story: “In June 2011, Jonah Edelman, CEO of Stand for Children, gave an afternoon talk at the Aspen Ideas Festival, an annual gathering of ‘thought leaders’….  During the talk, Edelman,whose organization initially came to Illinois at the invitation of billionaire former private equity manager Bruce Rauner, spoke with astonishing candor; he explained calmly the backroom politicking necessary to ‘jam the proposal down [teachers and their union’s’] throats.’  Soon after its beginnings in Illinois, his organization donated $600,000 to nine state legislative races in attempt to curry favor with State House Speaker Michael Madigan….”   Edelman’s influence helped pass a bill restricting teachers unions by requiring 75 percent of all the members of any teachers union be required to vote to authorize a strike.  Edelman bragged about this accomplishment at Aspen: “‘In effect, they wouldn’t have the ability to strike,’ Edelman says matter-of-factly in the tape. ‘They will never be able to muster the 75 percent threshold.'” (Strike for America, pp.  59-62)

Jonah Edelman forgot about youtube, where his speech went viral.  You may remember that, partly inspired by Edelman’s challenge, just a year later in June of 2012, 90 percent of the entire membership of the Chicago Teachers Union voted to authorize teachers to strike in September of 2012.

Now, thanks to Valerie Strauss’s Washington Post column on Saturday, we all know, once again, that New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie disdains the people of Newark.  This time he said it in a July 24, 2014 panel discussion at the Aspen Institute.  We already knew, of course, that he isn’t concerned about the opinions of the people of New Jersey’s largest city from a speech he made earlier this year, the one in which he declared:  “And I don’t care about the community criticism. We run the school district in Newark, not them.”  Newark’s public schools have been under state control for two decades, and Christie is in charge through the leadership of the much despised overseer superintendent he has appointed, Cami Anderson.  But at Aspen he emphasized his contempt.

It is easy to see how Christie could forget himself.  Strauss quotes the description on the Aspen Institute’s website of the event at which Christie was speaking:  “A panel of Republican governors will address the economy, how they are building skills for a 21st century workforce and share their ideas for improving their state’s education, tax and immigration policies.  Featured special guests include Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina, and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin.  The event will be moderated by Aspen Institute President and CEO Walter Isaacson.”

In the new youtube clip of his speech at Aspen, Christie describes meeting with the new mayor, Ras Baraka, soon after Newark’s May 2014 election.  Baraka is a respected  former high school principal and champion of keeping the schools in Newark public instead of turning them over to charter operators.  Strauss quotes Christie describing his meeting with Baraka: “He came in to talk to me about his agenda and said he wanted to speak to me about the education system in Newark.  And I said to him listen, I’ll listen to whatever you have to say but the state runs the school system.  I am the decider, and you have nothing to do with it.”  You can hear the Aspen Institute audience laugh at Christie’s description of the meeting.

Strauss provides an excellent summary of the what has become a governance crisis in Newark due to the arrogance and political ineptitude of Christie and his appointed superintendent, Cami Anderson:

“Anderson, a former Teach For America corps member has come under intense attack for her ‘One Newark’ district reorganization plan—which includes plans to close some traditional schools; lay off more than 1,000 teachers and hire Teach For America recruits to fill some open spots; and create a single enrollment system for Newark’s 21 charters and 71 traditional public schools.  She has also been blasted for a management style that even reform supporters concede is dismissive, arrogant and ineffective.  This past April, dozens of members of the Newark clergy sent a letter to Christie warning him that Anderson’s reform efforts were causing ‘unnecessary instability’ in the city and that they are ‘concerned about the level of public anger we see growing in the community’ over the issue.”

(This blog has extensively covered the privatization and mismanagement of Newark’s schools by Anderson and her mentor Chris Christie, and the rise of Ras Baraka, the new mayor, in a race where school governance became the pivotal campaign issue here, herehere, here, here, here,  and here.)

Ras Baraka Wins in Newark: Victory for Baraka, Democracy, and Public Education

What happened in Newark, NJ yesterday should matter to you no matter where you live in America.  It is the story of the triumph of participatory democracy over a system flooded with money.  And if you care about the future of public education, you will be especially interested, because the fate of Newark’s public schools became the central issue in this campaign.  The winner, Ras Baraka, a high school principal, confronted the wave of  “corporate” school reform and privatization that has become Newark’s (bipartisan) status quo under  former Democratic Mayor Cory Booker and Republican Governor Chris Christie and his state appointed Newark school overseers.

According to Bob Braun, blogger and former 50 year reporter for the Newark Star-Ledger, “Ras Baraka, a high school principal and the son of a poet, yesterday easily defeated a Wall Street-backed promoter of school privatization to become the next mayor of Newark.  Baraka’s victory repudiated the policies not just of his rival, Shavar Jeffries, but those of Gov. Chris Christie, former Mayor Cory Booker, and state-appointed superintendent Cami Anderson, who is trying to close neighborhood public schools and replace them with privately run charter schools.” Braun continues: “Wall Street financiers and hedge-fund managers—strong supporters of former Mayor Cory Booker—poured $3 million into the Jeffries campaign, including $300,000 in street money that went to young men and women in the city, many of whom apparently took the money and then urged voters to vote for Baraka.”

Mark Webber, who blogs under the name Jersey Jazzman, reflected last Sunday on the issues at stake in this race.  Here is a shortened and compressed version of his analysis: “Democracies allow for full participation in governance by all people, regardless of their class status; Newark, however, is currently being threatened with the loss of its autonomy simply because it is an impoverished community…  Democracies support the development of a middle-class; Newark, however suffers from segregation, taxation, and economic policies that all but guarantee that many of its citizens will remain mired in poverty…  Democracies allow citizens to direct the education of their children; Newark, however, allows its citizens no say in how its schools are run…  Democracies engage in elections where campaign financing is transparent and driven by the citizens affected by the elections; Newark, however, is engaged in a mayoral race dominated by shadowy interest groups outside the city…  Shavar Jeffries may well be a good man, but his campaign has become a symbol of everything that is wrong with our politics these days.  If Jeffries wins, it’s a confirmation that America’s cities—the ones where working-class people of color are allowed to live—are being ruled from the outside.  Jeffries’ election will confirm these cities’ institutions have been co-opted for cynical , self-serving interests, fully at the service of political machines and plutocrats.”

But Shavar Jeffries and the corporate investors from Education Reform Now lost this election.  Ras Baraka won.

Bob Braun reports that Education Reform Now, which donated heavily to the Jeffries campaign, is not required to list its specific donations, because it is supposedly a 501(c)(3) charitable organization.  Here, according to Braun, however, from its website is the list of board members of Education Reform Now: Charles H. Ledley, Board chair and an analyst at Highfields Capital Management; John Petrey founder and managing principal at Sessa Capital, formerly at Gotham Capital and Gotham Asset Management and co-founder of Democrats for Education Reform and chair of Success Academy Charter Schools in NYC; Sidney Hawkins Gargiulo, a partner at Covey Capital and big supporter of NewSchools Venture Fund, and Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academies in NYC; Brien Ziet of Charter Bridge Capital; John Sabat of Cubist Systematic Strategies; and Michael Sabat of Sanford C. Bernstein.  Braun adds that Education Reform Now, “is a charitable organization—it solicits tax-exempt donations and is not supposed to engage in electoral politics.”

That this election was primarily a referendum on the One Newark school privatization plan of Christie’s appointed superintendent, Cami Anderson, is clear in this youtube version of a TV ad paid for on Baraka’s behalf by the Working Families Alliance.  If you watch it, you will hear Governor Christie twice declare: “And I don’t care about the community criticism. We run the school district in Newark—not them.”

In fact, Cami Anderson’s  One Newark school closure and privatization plan became so contentious that Jeffries was forced to distance himself from Cami Anderson.  According to Bob Braun, “Jeffries, a close associate of Anderson, finally did repudiate her plan but it was too late in the race.”

Anderson has refused to attend school board meetings for two months now and has spent recent weeks at national conferences outside Newark. There are rumors that she may be forced out.  It is known that the implementation of One Newark is in disarray.  The school district has repeatedly delayed announcing the school choice placements of children to their schools for next fall and has struggled to put together a workable transportation plan for a district that has until now relied on neighborhood schools.  Many parents have sought to keep their children in neighborhood schools and have refused to fill out school choice applications.  This blog has covered the school controversy in Newark herehere, herehere, and here.

Given the fiscal climate for poor cities and the power of money in politics these days, Ras Baraka will face enormous challenges.  But this morning we must celebrate the people of Newark, who voted to elect Ras Baraka and to protect their democracy and their public schools.

 

Warning: Do Not Be Beguiled by David Brooks

I do not pretend fully to understand Newark, New Jersey’s mayoral politics.  I’m a Clevelander and David Brooks is a New Yorker, and we are both outsiders.  But this morning, as a Clevelander, I need to correct what I’ll be generous and call an oversimplification in Brooks’ article in today’s NY Times.  The too frequent problem with David Brooks is that while his observations about our society are often interesting, when it comes right down to any particular issue, he doesn’t get the implications on the ground.

Today David Brooks writes about the mayoral race in Newark, New Jersey.  Brooks clearly prefers Shavar Jeffries over Ras Baraka for mayor of Newark. He portrays Jeffries as a change agent—a reformer, while he portrays Baraka as “regular,” the status quo.  (This sounds a little like Arne Duncan who frequently criticizes those who might be in favor of supporting the “weak, status quo” of traditional public schooling.)  Brooks titles his column, “How Cities Change,” implying that the person who opposes change is just in the way.   I am not going to take sides in Newark’s mayors race. I don’t know Shavar Jeffries; I know a little bit more about Ras Baraka.  What I do know something about is the drama currently playing in Newark.

There are three urban stages today in America where the battle of the imposition of so-called “corporate school reform” is being most distinctly and unambiguously dramatized: Chicago, Philadelphia, and most bitterly Newark, New Jersey. To call Newark’s raging battle about school “deform” the mere flash-point in the mayoral election is a serious error of definition.

For two decades Newark’s schools have been run by the state of New Jersey.  As in most places state takeover has never worked in Newark.  Today the strings are being pulled by Governor Chris Christie, Chris Cerf—Christie’s appointed state school commissioner (who left on February 28 to take a job with Joel Klein at Rupert Murdoch’s tablet and school data division, Amplify), and Cami Anderson—the state-appointed overseer superintendent, alternatively trained at the Broad Academy and formerly employed by Joel Klein in New York.

Cami Anderson has enraged the community with her One Newark Plan to close public schools in Newark’s poorest neighborhoods, bring in more charter schools, fire several hundred teachers, and replace many of them with recruits through Teach for America under a grant from the Walton Foundation.  Several school principals willing to criticize Cami Anderson’s plan in a civil way at a public meeting were suspended from their jobs.  A PTA president who had the courage to question the plan was arrested.  Because Cami Anderson has so angered the black community in Newark, the meetings of the appointed school board have devolved into late night shouting matches, and Anderson has ceased attending the public meetings.

One leader who has stood up to Christie, Cerf, and Anderson is Ras Baraka.  As the principal of a traditional public school in an impoverished neighborhood of Newark and a member of Newark’s city council, Ras Baraka has been willing to stand up against the One Newark Plan to privatize Newark’s schools and fire hundreds of teachers, many of whom are the citizens of Newark.

This morning David Brooks portrays all this as though the conversation about charter schools is merely one scene in a much larger drama.  In fact the battle over public vs. privatized education in Newark is a central drama against which the mayor’s race is being played.  David Brooks writes an interesting column that misses the point.

This blog has been covering the school privatization battle in Newark because it is so important.  Here are four recent posts: here, here, here, and here.

Backlash Against Governor Christie’s Overseer Superintendent Grows in Newark

Articles at Politico Pro are almost always behind a pay wall, but this morning somehow Diane Ravitch has forwarded yesterday’s piece about the school crisis in the Newark, New Jersey’s public schools, Chris Christie Faces New Uproar in State’s Largest City.

The reporter, Stephanie Simon, does an excellent job of tracing the escalation of tension in Newark  as Governor Chris Christie, his appointed state overseer superintendent Cami Anderson, and outgoing state school commissioner Christopher Cerf attempt to close so called “failing” schools, most of them located in Newark’s poorest black neighborhoods, silence principals who have spoken out, and now fire masses of experienced school teachers by overriding the due-process protections in the union contract.

Neither Cami Anderson nor Christopher Cerf is a career educator; both were trained at the Broad Academy, where financier Eli Broad’s short program turns business and military leaders into superintendents.  Broad-trained leaders tend to endorse school closure and privatization as strategies for so-called school turnaround.  In Newark today Anderson and Cerf— imposing policy on a majority African American school district—are white.

Ravitch also shares an interview published by Salon with Ras Baraka, a school principal and member of Newark’s city council, who is running for Mayor of Newark.  Baraka shares his concerns about Anderson’s tenure as the state’s appointed superintendent of Newark’s schools.

Diane Ravitch also shares a letter sent yesterday to Governor Christie by American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.  In the letter Weingarten asks Christie to end two decades’ of ineffective state takeover of the Newark Schools. “Governor, the Newark community has made it known: They don’t want mass closings, mass firings or mass privatization. They want to regain local control of the district. They want to reclaim the promise of public education in Newark.  I ask you to listen. Give the people of Newark their schools and their future back.”

This blog has recently covered the ongoing imperious attack by state leaders and their appointees on one of New Jersey’s poorest and most vulnerable school districts here and here.  Parents and community leaders in Newark are rising up and pushing back.