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

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Are We Winning Against Corporate Reform in NJ?

I really don't want to get my hopes up too much, but the last day has brought two stunning pieces of news. The first is that virtual charters in New Jersey have been halted:
State Education Commissioner Chris Cerf yesterday told the organizers of two proposed online charter schools that he would not grant them the final approval needed to open next fall. 
The decision comes as something of a surprise. 
A year ago the two charters -- a K-12 school in Newark and a high school for dropouts in Monmouth and Ocean Counties -- appeared poised to become the state's first all-online programs. Both had received preliminary approval from the Christie administration. 
But support slowly wilted over the past year, as community and political opposition mounted. And K12 Inc., the nation’s largest online education firm, was connected with both charter applications as well, prompting debate over the for-profit company’s role. 
The Legislature held a handful of hearings on the topic, and the state’s dominant teachers union -- the New Jersey Education Association -- has filed a challenge in court. 
In the face of the growing disapproval, Cerf hedged in his support as well. He postponed awarding the final charters this past summer and has said little on the subject since then, before disclosing his final decision yesterday. [emphasis mine]
I guess all the money the Tisch family invested in Cory Booker was for naught: Andrew Tisch is on the board of K12, and there's little doubt his family's sizable contributions to the mayor of Newark's campaign were given to help grease the skids for cyber charters into Jersey.

But, as Mother Crusader just pointed out, the financial impact of K12's arrival into the Garden State would be felt far beyond Newark. After four years of Chris Christie's slashing-and-burning, parents have had enough of the cuts to their school districts; had K12 come to Jersey, there is a very good chance the backlash against the governor in an election year would have been damaging - especially since K12's track record is so abysmal.

So, a big win against corporate education reform. And another, smaller win for local control of school districts:
After 18 years of state oversight, Newark’s advisory school board will soon regain control of its fiscal operations and could begin voting on district contracts as early as this summer, an assistant state attorney general said yesterday.
The announcement is considered the first step toward returning total control to the district.
Within the next 30 days, state Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf will issue a letter to the city school board detailing the transition, Assistant Attorney General Michael Walters said.
"I hope this opens the door to further discussions on the return of full local control," said Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson, chairwoman of the Newark Public Schools Advisory Board. "We understand the difference between partial return and complete control."
Walters’ announcement came during an appellate court hearing yesterday to determine whether state officials or city officials will manage other aspects of the 40,000-student district moving forward. The state has had control over the the district, the state’s largest, since 1995.
Currently, the district only manages its facilities.
Cerf said a smooth transition of fiscal control could become a foundation for future discussions among state and districts officials about full restoration of local control.
"The ultimate goal is local control for Newark, but first we have to see how this goes," Cerf said after the hearing. He offered no timetable.
Of course he didn't; he only gave up this amount of control begrudgingly, even though it's clear that Newark has gained nothing for its deserving children by disenfranchising local voters. Remember: when the secret plans of the NJDOE for Camden were published last year, at action at the top of their list was disenfranchising local voters and gaining direct state control. This is how they can push their agenda; sadly for them, as the Education Law Center has argued, the state simply can't continue to deny Newark's citizens their civil rights in perpetuity.

This has been the cruel irony of state control in Newark, as well as Paterson and Jersey City (and now Camden): if the state is in charge, and the districts are still "failing," why should the state retain control?
But Walters, the assistant attorney general, argued that Cerf appropriately used discretion in determining that Newark was not yet ready to make personnel decisions or govern itself without help from Trenton. 
He said the district would need to show sustained achievement in those areas before the state considers it ready to handle those responsibilities on its own.
"The commissioner gave several examples of district policies that are inadequate. For example, principals are not held accountable for results and some were appointed late in the school year," Walters said. "The appellant cannot prove that the district has policies in place that would sustain its progress." [emphasis mine]
Well, whose fault is that? It can't be the local school officials' - they don't have control! State Superintendent Cami Anderson is Cerf's appointee; why hasn't she implemented the changes he wants? Is her work "inadequate"?

Chris Christie has now controlled Newark's schools for over three years; if he really thought that principal appointments were a huge issue, he's had more than enough chance to fix it by now. But that's not what this is really about...

The fact is that the people of Newark are fed up with being treated like guinea pigs by the state. There is no evidence that charter expansion or merit pay for teachers or "blended learning" or vouchers or rampant school closings or any number of other wacky schemes concocted by the NJDOE will do anything to address the conditions Newark's children live in, or the startling turn toward funding inequity, or the crumbling schools infrastructure, or Christie's unconscionable refusal to follow the law and properly fund Newark's schools.

Newark is being sold a lie, and they've had enough. The elected school advisory board has had enough. The elected city council has had enough. The students have had enough. The teachers have had enough. The parents have had enough. Everyone in Newark is rightly sick and tired of the empty promises of state control under Chris Christie, Chris Cerf, and  - to be fair - their predecessors.

Understand that the NJDOE under Cerf is not going to give up their plans for Newark. But the din against state control has become so loud, and the case so compelling, that the state clearly needed to do something, especially with a new mayor lurking just over the horizon. This may be an attempt by Christie to take the issue off of the table in the upcoming mayoral election; if so, I'm nearly certain it won't work.

Partial control hasn't placated the NJDOE's critics in Jersey City, and I doubt it will work in Newark. The people are demanding accountability, and they won't be happy until they get it.

Accountability begins at home.

1 comment:

Mrs. King's music students said...

I can't help thinking that teachers are missing the boat here - not countering this lack of accountability and substance with evidence in real classrooms.

For example, in the NJAchieve memo, released by Cerf on May 28th, we learned that CORE subjects have been reduced to testable subjects - reading, math, social studies and science. Really? Where is the outrage? Are NJ parents OK with this? If so, perhaps teachers should be describing for them in detail, and not just broad reaching political hype, what will be placed out of THEIR child's reach when principals aren't hired according to their ability to provide an environment in which teachers can teach and children can learn, curriculum experts can't get into classrooms because they're 'administrating' the lunchroom, while teachers waste ungodly amounts of time 'administrating' attendance, behaviors and repetitive data collection.

Meanwhile, guidance counselors are administrating NJASK testing and teachers in non CORE subjects are advised to use their 45 minutes per week of your child's time to teach reading and math instead - due to the lack of availailable instruction time real reading and math experts are experiencing while they're generating data.

I think our ability to spell this out for parents should serve to bring about meaningful reforms in actual classrooms.