I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Wacky World of Andy Smarick

Andy Smarick used to be the Number Two guy at the New Jersey Department of Education. Now that's he's left, we get to enjoy his brain droppings in the press, including this op-ed in the NY Daily News. In the World According to Andy, everything in Newark is coming up roses!
Today, this district has everything it could ask for: a reform-oriented teachers contract, a new state law on tenure and evaluation, funding twice the national average, the $100 million Mark Zuckerberg donation, partnerships with leading nonprofit organizations, freedom from a politically motivated school board, a tough local superintendent, a reform-friendly mayor, the nation’s best state superintendent and an incomparably bold governor.
Leaving aside the ridiculous sucking up, does Smarick really believe Newark has "everything it could ask for"? Really?

A child poverty rate of 42% - as the song says: "Who could ask for anything more?" But, hey, at least the citizens of Newark enjoy "freedom" from a school board they elect themselves! Because local control is really a white people thing, don't you know...

Andy has a very interesting sense of history:
In years past, this was never an option. The district was the only game in town. Leaders had to put all of their eggs in the district’s basket. There was no “or else.”  
So when results came up short — as they always did — leaders had no recourse. And the stubborn district, having weathered another passing storm of reform, would carry on as before.
Yes, they would - under state control. For nearly two decades, the citizens of Newark have had to surrender any control they might have had over their schools to bureaucrats like Andy Smarick. The system was rigged so the state could retain control, even when the schools were making progress toward self-sufficiency. It amazes me that Smarick can sit here and scrub away his own complicity in the fate of Newark's schools.

But what amazes me more is that he actually thinks he has an answer to Newark's "failure":
But now, at long last, an “or else” exists. Thanks to the example set by charter schooling, we know that the school district as we know it is expendable.  
In New Orleans, three-quarters of students attend nondistrict charter schools. In Detroit and Washington, it’s approaching 50%. In a dozen other cities, it’s more than 25%.

Said simply, chartering can replace the district. And it can happen in Newark.
Dear Lord. Where do we even begin?

First of all, is Smarick really saying Newark should follow the path of New Orleans, Washington, and Detroit? Does he not read the news? New Orleans is in "academic crisis," has become the nation's hotbed of school segregation, and sends children to voucher schools that teach creationism. Washington, despite the claims of Michelle Rhee, has seen scant little improvement in its academic outcomes, even when judged by her out favored metric, the "achievement gap." Detroit, trapped in the thralls of conservative ideologues, can only dream of New Jersey's public school achievements.

Rather than look at urban success stories within New Jersey's borders, like Elizabeth and Union City, Smarick picks the worst possible districts to emulate. Worse, he seems to believe the charters already in Newark are ripe for replication:
Charters already have a 17% market share in Newark. Extremely successful charter networks like KIPP and Uncommon Schools operate in the city, and they are prepared to expand. The district has numerous under-enrolled buildings, meaning charters have space to grow.
Oh, the charters may have "space to grow" all right - even in opposition to the will of the duly elected school hoard. The problem is that they won't be able to get the same results as KIPP (TEAM Academy) and Uncommon (Northstar Academy), because those schools don't serve the same kids as the neighboring public schools!
Hey Andy, notice the charters are in red?
Chris Christie loves charters - as long as they segregate!

I guess I'll just keep linking to the same posts by Bruce Baker in the futile hope that folks like Andy Smarick might someday be able to understand them. As Baker says:
So who cares? Well, it matters a great deal for policy implications whether the effect is created by concentrating less poor, English speaking females in a given school or by actually providing substantively better curriculum/instruction.  The latter might be scalable but the FORMER IS NOT! There just aren’t enough non-poor girls in Newark to create (or expand) a whole bunch of these schools!
Shhh - don't tell Andy! He's already talking like the charterization of Newark is a done deal!
Let’s all hope that the numerous arrows now in Newark’s quiver will enable that district to drastically and lastingly improve student achievement.

But we cannot allow ourselves to look back 10 years from now — like so many before us have — and realize that the district devoured another set of reforms and remains as low-performing, obstreperous and powerful as ever.

Christie has shown that he is committed to helping that district improve. But for the sake of today’s students and tomorrow’s, there must be a Plan B.
Yeah, why do I get the feeling "Plan B" is really "Plan A" for Andy? Why do I get the sense he'd really like nothing better than for charters to run rampant through Newark?

Andy Smarick is a wonk. He has never spent a minute working in a public school in his life. He has no degrees in education or practical experience in the field. And yet, whether at the NJDOE or in the op-ed pages of your local paper, Andy sits in certainty, absolutely sure that the best thing for Newark's deserving children is a radical upending of their neighborhood schools, engineered by folks who don't live in their community.

I'm left to wonder how Andy would like this sort of system for his own children...


KatieO said...

I've been thinking a lot about that "certainty, absolutely sure" trait in EdReformers who have zero background in education (so almost all of them.) It's all part of being a Master-of-the-Universe elite in modern day America: http://mskatiesramblings.blogspot.com/2012/11/twilight-of-edreformers.html

Commuting Teacher said...

I'm sure greater minds than mine have been pondering the issues surrounding these charters. However, something occurred to me today. Charters do not educate ESL students, students that get extra funding for districts. Charters do not educate the vast majority of special ed students, students that cost districts a great deal more. Charters do not serve the same proportion of students in poverty.

What if these things were deducted from the per-pupil costs. Deduct the extra money for ESL students, deduct the extra money for the special ed students, deduct the a proportion of money via free/reduced lunch rates, and then just give charters that base student rate so that the districts, who teach those high cost populations will not be so impacted. I know this will never fly, but sometimes I enjoy the "what if" game.