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

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Two Newarks

So the big plan to "save" Newark's schools, One Newark, was announced this week, and - surprise! - the big winners are the charter schools:
As part of a comprehensive plan to overhaul the state’s largest school district, Newark Schools Superintendent Cami Anderson wants to increase access to charter schools by expanding them into district-owned buildings.
The district also plans to convert three elementary schools into early childhood centers, relocate five schools to under-utilized facilities and transform three comprehensive high schools into smaller academies. The goal, Anderson said, is to improve local options for all residents.
"You should have options for great schools in your neighborhood or ward," Anderson said. "How do we get to that day faster and in every ward? We’re jump-starting change." [emphasis mine]
Let's start by reminding ourselves that Cami Anderson's rather limited experience as an administrator prior to coming to Newark was in Mike Bloomberg's and Joel Klein's NYC-DOE. Tweed, as it's known to insiders, has led the way in charter co-locations - a plan so unpopular Bill de Blasio called for a moratorium on it (and subsequently won election in a landslide).

Diane Ravitch just posted a lengthy piece by a Tweed insider detailing the many failures of education policy during the Bloomberg years. Particularly damning is the evidence on using school closings as a strategy:

Part III. Is the policy of closing schools and replacing the closed schools with new schools working?

The student population at closed schools had significantly greater needs than other schools in the city. Schools were punished for working with disadvantaged students. According to a report by researchers from Brown University the data on all schools closed since 2003 shows that they had more special education students, more English Language Learners and a higher poverty rate than the citywide average. They also found that schools that were closed had 4x as many (15% more) students entering overage. The number of high needs students increased dramatically in the years before the schools were closed. Schools with the lowest peer indexes were closed. Within schools in the top 1/3 of student need 40% of the D’s and F’s closed, none of the D’s F’s in the middle 1/3 of student need closed and of the schools in the lowest 1/3 of student need  none got D’s and F’s. Within the top 1/3 of student need the schools that are closed had higher levels of poverty, special education students, high-needs special education students, overage students, and boys (note that poverty level and % boys are not factored into school report card grade). Among Persistently Lowest Achieving schools selected for school reform models the schools selected for closure had lower average incoming 8th grade scores, more students entering overage and a lower peer index (meaning higher student needs) than schools selected for the less punitive transformation or restart models. A report by the Independent Budget Office “found that on nearly every measure the closing high schools had greater concentrations of high needs students.” A second Independent Budget Office report found that “the share of their enrollment in some high needs categories, such

such as the share of students in special education, has been increasing in recent years.”
This is what Cami Anderson - and NJDOE Commissioner Chris Cerf - learned to do in New York City: close schools that serve students with special needs or are economically disadvantaged. Is this what they are planning to do in Newark? Sounds like we're going to need to take a look at who is slated to be closed in Newark and why; stand by for that...

Until then, let's see who gets to take over more of Newark's schools:
District officials are talking with officials from the TEAM, North Star and Newark Legacy charter schools and asking them to locate their additional classroom spaces to the Madison Avenue, Hawthorne Avenue, Bragaw Avenue, Alexander Street and Newton Street schools. At least three facilities, including Miller Street, would be shuttered.
The district would also designate nine facilities as "renew" schools, allowing their principals to rehire faculty and staff of their choosing. In all, the changes would involve more than one-third of the district’s schools.
The hot-button issue, however, is moving charter schools into district facilities.
"We’re asking them to align supply with demand," Anderson said. "Let’s play to the strengths we have." [emphasis mine]
You know why there is a demand for charters? Because, as the invaluable Education Law Center has documented - repeatedly - the public school buildings of Newark (and the rest of the cities in New Jersey) are a disgusting, dilapidated, dangerous mess.

That's the infamous "Waterfall Staircase" at Trenton Central - but it could be any number of stairways in any number of schools throughout Newark, a dirty little secret the Schools Development Authority (SDA) has tried to cover up.

This is why some parents are desperate to get their kids into charters: the state, which has controlled Newark's schools for two decades, has abandoned their responsibilities and is consigning Newark's children to schools that are underfunded, dangerous, and disgusting. Why wouldn't a parent want to get their kid into a shiny, new charter school? Like, say, the ones going into Teachers Village, subsidized by your tax dollars while simultaneously enriching the fine folks at Goldman-Sachs?

Of course, even if you get your kid into TEAM or North Star, there's no guarantee she will stay there until graduation:

Yes, you read that chart of Bruce Baker's correctly: 60 percent of 5th Grade black boys at North Star leave before they make it to graduation. Is this what Anderson wants at 13th Ave/Martin Luther King School (the two schools merged), which had a student population that was 85% black and 86% free-lunch eligible back in 2012? Because, according to this preliminary report, Anderson is looking at having North Star come into MLK's building. Does North Star's track record with black children suggest they will serve them well in a public school?

As for TEAM: I've had a few Twitter exchanges with Ryan Hill, director of the Newark branch of this KIPP school. He seems like a sincere guy; he admits his student population isn't the same as the district schools'; he'd like to know how his school could improve. Here's my answer:

In any "choice" system, segregation and attrition are baked-in. You can't expect a "choice" system not to have segregation and attrition; the premise of "choice" is that some schools aren't as good of a fit for some students as others. As Matt DiCarlo has pointed out so well, it's foolish to think a "choice" system will replicate the outcomes of a geographically-based system. Of course some charter schools will serve fewer kids who don't speak English at home. Of course some charter schools will have fewer special needs children. And, yes, of course some charter schools will have fewer kids who are economically disadvantaged. Those charters won't be the "right fit" for those children: that's the entire point.

Further: any "choice" system will advantage those parents who have developed the social capital (to borrow from Pierre Bourdieu) to navigate that system. Some parents will know how to lobby for their children, analyze school differences, and make informed choices better than others; their children will benefit. And there's little doubt those parents with the necessary capital will, in general, come from a higher socio-economic status group than parents who don't know how the game is played.

In this sense, One Newark is a state-sponsored system of social reproduction: as the song says, "Them that's got shall get, them that's not shall lose..." But, as I've written before, I'm not about to sit out here in my lily-white suburb and condemn anyone for wanting to give their child a peer effect those of us who can afford to live in the deep-purple counties enjoy. I'm only asking for two things:
  1. Let's cut the crap about charters having superior pedagogies, which lead to superior outcomes. OK, there may be a few best practices worth looking at - and some that should be condemned and banned immediately. But any honest assessment of charter schools has got to acknowledge that student characteristics make a difference - a big difference. Deunionization and teacher credentialing have far less (if anything) to do with charter "success" than segregation and attrition (of course, money helps, too).
  2. The people who should be making the decisions about their schools are the people who live in the community. If Newark wants a system of choice like One Newark, fine - let the people who live there decide. 
New Jersey's system of state control and monitoring for certain districts is inherently racist and classist. Chris Christie's patronizing attitude toward the cities having local control of schools is not only offensive and prejudiced; it's anti-democratic. Newark's citizens deserve to have a say in their children's futures every bit as much as the parents in Millburn. If they choose to have Two Newarks, then so be it; the good people of Newark did not lose their rights simply because they didn't vote for a man who puts the interests of his plutocratic backers before the interests of their children.

ADDING: One of the few local politicians to condemn One Newark is Ras Baraka. And this is the coverage he gets in the press for his troubles:
NEWARK - On Friday in Brick City, South Ward Councilman and Newark mayoral candidate Ras Baraka threw a verbal brick through the city's educational policy window.  
Think about that image for a moment: an outspoken black man throwing a brick through a window.

Am I seeing something that's not there?

ADDING MORE: Make sure to read Bob Braun's take on all this.

AND MORE: Well, what do you know? At exactly the same time NPS announces it wants to turn over more of its buildings to charters, the state's Schools Development Authority announces it's going to give Newark $100 million to upgrade its schools.

Golly, isn't that an amazing coincidence? Stand by...


Unknown said...

What also makes me mad and sad is the fact that Steve's North Ward is not touched. This change is predominately in Wards with the highest concentration of African-Americans. If the schools in the North Ward is so great than why not let students from the South Ward attend. What happened to the school choice that allowed the parent to send their child to a different school if their neighborhood school is a title I school? My childhood school is on the list, Madison Avenue and I am deeply saddened by this. The people in the neighborhood have an emotional attachment to Madison. When we stand up at the board meetings to speak up you have to see the disrespect. I've contacted the NAACP to find out what legal actions we can take. No one seems to care.

Unknown said...

How about giving these kids more vocational options instead of pretending that every kid should be "college ready"? They keep complaining that these kids aren't employable. So fix that, GIVE them more choices to become employable.