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

Friday, April 26, 2013

In State-Run Newark, The Wheels Fall Off

How little credibility does the state-appointed administration of Newark's schools have with the school system's stakeholders?

- Newark's students staged a walk-out to protest cuts to the schools' budget.

- The teachers are calling for an external audit of the budget.

- The "advisory board" has voted unanimously to express "no confidence" in the state-appointed superintendent, Cami Anderson.

Anderson's experience prior to coming to Newark was not primarily in schools. After a short teaching stint, she was at Teach For America, New Leaders for New Schools (whatever that is...), a political consultant with Newark Mayor Cory Booker, and the central office in the failed Bloomberg/Klein New York City regime.

So that's just a few years as a teacher, no time as a principal, and no time as a curriculum director. Golly, who could have ever predicted that no one would buy into her leadership...

Anderson was hand-picked by Governor Chris Christie and Education Commissioner Chris Cerf, who sang her praises. SecEd Arne Duncan was effusive in praising her appointment, as was Joel Klein. TFA's Wendy Kopp and Newark Mayor Cory Booker were thrilled that Anderson took the job. Everyone is very happy with Anderson...

Except the students, the teachers, and the locally elected representatives of the citizens of the city.

But hey, nothing a little spin can't fix:
School district budget deficits are no fun. They require making tough decisions and confronting difficult questions. Does spending yield great results for kids? Is what we are doing now, at any price, truly working? Where and how should we invest our critical resources to benefit our most precious gifts — our children?
Yeah, all great questions - swell. So here's a thought:

How about opening up the process of budgeting to the stakeholders in the Newark district so they can all have a say in the future of the city's schools? 

18 years of state control has done nothing to make Newark's schools more transparent, more responsive, or more innovative. 18 years of state control has done nothing to improve the lives of all of Newark's children. All 18 years of state control has done is segregate the students, enrich the cronies of the education commissioner and the mayor, and move the district further away from local control.

State control of Newark's schools is an experiment that has failed. No one with skin in the game has any confidence in the leadership of Newark Public Schools anymore. The only rational course of action at this point is to rescind state control, put the schools back into the hands of the people, set up a real accountability system for the NPS administration, and fully fund Newark's schools as required by law - a requirement Christie has ignored.

I'm sure Cami Anderson is a very nice person and may even, someday, become a good superintendent. But there's simply no way she can maintain any credibility when Christie and Cerf are running the show, and the students, teachers, and parents of Newark are left out.

The wheels have fallen off in Newark; it's stupid to pretend otherwise.

Brick City Speedway...


Regan said...

Amen. I have taught in Newark since 2000. I still love every minute of my time with students, but find it harder and harder to go to work every day. In fact, it is only because of my students that I continue. Quite frankly, I would rather wait tables than feel like I do every day in my Newark Public School. It's no fun being made to feel like Public Enemy #1. The political nonsense trickles down, so that even the most reasonable principals (like mine) are between a rock and a hard place. That trickles down to us, and we must every day make decisions to either do what's best for us, or what's best for the kids. Sadly, these things are no longer the same. What's best for me, if I want to receive good evaluations and keep my job, is to teach to a test that really only benefits the companies who are involved in producing said tests. It means adhering to some ridiculous practices that don't help anyone - they are for show. If I want to do what's best for my kids, I have to risk the ire of the powers that be,and teach my students so that they truly know the subject matter - not just enough to pass a dot-test. I could take the time to run a truly inquiry-based classroom. My kids would internalize and remember what they learned. Wouldn't that be awesome?! Instead, those who have no clue - but are in charge - see that as wasting time, taking too long, etc.

Work is work now. It rarely feels like my vocation or my destiny anymore. It makes me really sad.

alm said...

Not an expert on how things are going on the ground in Newark, but you're certainly right that it has been tough sledding for the superintendent recently.

I think your description of the superintendent's background is grossly unfair -- she wasn't in 'the central office', she was the 'Superintendent of Alternative High Schools and Programs.' The 20K kids in District 79 are some of the absolute highest need kids in the city. And New Leaders for New Schools is a principal preparation and training program.

Everyone's entitled to their own opinion, but not your own facts. If your goal here is to provide fair but opinionated coverage of NJ schools, I think you should correct your characterization.