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

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Newark Deserves An Experienced, Well-Trained School Leader

This has got to stop:
Cami Anderson, hand-picked by Gov. Christie to oversee the privatizing of Newark public schools was scheduled to speak today at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington D.C..  
Cami Anderson LIARAccording to AEI's website, that event, which would have been concluding right now, was abruptly canceled
According to reports appearing now on social media, Newarkers from Newark Students Union, and NJ Communities United traveled down to D.C. for her speech at AEI. When Anderson and her right-hand man Brad Haggerty spotted them in the audience, they were pointed out to security and escorted from the room. As Bob Braun correctly points out, she won't talk to the children and parents of Newark in Newark, so the children and parents of Newark went to Washington to talk to her.  
AEI calls that a "security breach" and just abruptly canceled her panel. Newark students:
Immediately after we were told to leave, we took control of the stage and told the audience Newark's story from the student's perspective. At this point we were treated with blatant hostility and forced to leave the private property. You could run, but you can't hide! #ournewark [emphasis mine]
That's from Rosi Efthim at Blue Jersey; Rosi followed up with another post linking to video from the event. These Newark students traveled all the way to Washington to finally have a chance to make their voices heard to the leader of their school district.

Too bad they didn't realize before they made their long trek that AEI exists primarily to give libertarian, corporate-loving fantasists a safe place to convince each other that their right-wing ideology is beloved by the masses. The only way that works, of course, is to keep the masses from walking through the door and speaking their minds.

But that begs the question: what was Anderson doing at a right-wing think-tank anyway? Because the State Superintendent is too busy, apparently, to show up in front of a committee of the NJ Legislature and explain herself to the elected representatives of the taxpayers of this state. And she's also too busy to go to her district's school board meetings and explain herself to the elected representatives of the parents of Newark.

So how did she manage to find the time to talk to Rick Hess at AEI over a plate of cobb salad?

I'm sure it hasn't escaped even Anderson's notice that her district could surely use some leadership right about now. The invaluable Bob Braun is the primary source for news about the implosion of NPS -- but things have gotten so bad that even the Star-Ledger's Tom Moran has heard about it.

According to one of Bob's latest posts, the NJDOE is suppressing a report that excoriates Anderson for her failed leadership of NPS. The disaster unfolding at Barringer High School alone is enough evidence for anyone to question Anderson's management skills. But when you add in the stories of Anderson's open flaunting of the state's teacher tenure law, the recent tragedies that have occurred on Newark school grounds, the almost comical waste and squander, the relentless spin that even Anderson's nominal supporters are growing weary of, the internal revolt of her own staff...

Well, you'd think Anderson would be putting in a little more time at the office and a little less time out of the city.

Bob makes the case that a superintendent as universally reviled as Anderson would never be tolerated in the affluent New Jersey suburbs. He's right, of course, but I'd like to step back a little further and make a larger point:

Cami Anderson never would have had the chance to be fired in a suburban district, because none of those districts would have ever hired her in the first place.

Let me restate what I wrote earlier this year:
The reporting on this has been spotty, but by all appearances Anderson only has two years of K-12 public school teaching experience, all through Teach For America. When you haven't been in the classroom for long, you won't understand how a school becomes part of a community; it becomes, therefore, far easier for you to conceive of closing schools than it should be.

When you haven't invested yourself into a teaching career, you can't understand how disheartening it is to have superintendents change policies and curricula like they are the flavors-of-the-month. You won't understand how demoralizing it is to be subject to an arbitrary merit pay plan. You won't see the discriminatory racial patterns that emerge in employment practices that are ostensibly race-neutral.

After her short teaching stint, Cami Anderson went into the education "advocacy" sector, rather than continue to teach and work her way up the administrative ladder. She eventually landed a job in the labyrinth that is the NYCDOE -- but serving as a bureaucrat in a huge city system, while admittedly important work, is of limited value when it comes to training to take over your own district. That's especially true of New York City, where mayoral control under Mike Bloomberg ensured that school administrators had to answer to no one but the mayor's office.
The plain truth is that Cami Anderson's resume would head directly for the circular file if she ever applied for a job out in Hunterdon or Sussex or Ocean or Morris counties.

She never got a degree in educational administration, so she's ever been properly trained in school law or finance or personnel supervision or curricular development. She never ran a school, so she doesn't really know how they work. She worked in the bowels of the NYC system, so she never had to learn to gain consensus from her staff, her constituents, her school board, her parents, or her students.

Newark is the largest school system in New Jersey, serving a student population that is overwhelmingly disadvantaged. Running that system is one of the toughest school leadership jobs in America. But Chris Christie and Chris Cerf thought it was just fine to leave that job to a person who would never be hired to run even the smallest, most affluent district in the state.

I see a parallel here with the obsession reformy types (like David Boies) have with Teach For America. They actually seem to believe that educators with elite backgrounds don't need experience or training or connections to the communities in which they work; if you're the "right" sort of person, your "talent" will carry you through.

It's enough then, by this logic, that Cami Anderson went to Stanford and fought for more funds for her women's crew team; that's the sort of trial-by-fire these people think qualifies Anderson, bereft of meaningful training or experience, to run a school district like Newark.

You'll excuse me for pointing out the obvious: if Cami Anderson's elite background isn't good enough to qualify her to run suburban schools, why is it good enough to qualify her to run Newark's district?

Some of you will be surprised to hear this, but a part of me feels sorry for Anderson. Clearly, she is out of her depth, and she doesn't have the capacity for introspection needed to lead her to that conclusion. Someone took advantage of that; someone set her up to fail.

It's a real pity, because Anderson is articulate and resourceful, and I'm more than prepared to take her at her word when she says she cares about Newark's children. Had she been more humble and accepted the fact that she wasn't ready to lead a district like Newark, she might have taken the time to develop into a real school leader. She could have spent a few more years in a classroom, then gone on to get her certification and lead a school. In time, she may have even gained the necessary experience to run an entire system.

But ambitious people like Anderson don't see the value in taking the long and winding road; they climb too high too fast. It's a shame for her.

But it's far more tragic for the beautiful, deserving children of Newark. We can only pray that one day, after Chris Christie finally moves on, those children will get a school leader -- with appropriate experience and training -- worthy of them.

This is the best we can do for Newark's kids...

ADDING: Lyndsey Layton at the Washington Post has more about today's field trip:
“For us, what’s going on in Newark is not a triumph, it’s a tragedy,” said Sharon Smith, who has three children in that city’s public schools and was among about 40 parents and students who filled the 12th floor conference room at the American Enterprise Institute. “Our children are facing this disruption, and we don’t have a voice.”
The Newark protesters, several of whom registered in advance for the event, ate a hot buffet lunch and waited for Anderson to appear, surprising organizers and sending them scurrying. 
“We’ve had 150 of these events since I’ve been here — people like Michelle Rhee after she closed schools in D.C. and (former New York City Schools Chancellor) Joel Klein when he was very controversial,” said Rick Hess, director of education policy for the conservative think tank. “Never before had such a disruption threatened in such a way.”
After some delay, a staffer announced that Anderson would deliver her talk in a room two floors below without an audience, news that was met with howls of protest. [emphasis mine]
Yes, heaven forbid anyone be around when Anderson gives her little spiel about how awesome things are going in Newark...

This is what happens when you subvert democracy and keep people from having a voice. Golly, I wonder why Newark's citizens aren't allowed to have a say in how their schools are run?

Oh, yeah, that...

ADDING MORE: Bob weighs in:
Turnamian warned the nervous biddies who run the AEI of the dangerous “security breach” and tried to have some of them evicted. Meanwhile, the 11:30 a.m. program was delayed. The AEI folks then said Anderson’s talk would be given elsewhere, perhaps in a lavatory or slop closet somewhere in the building–then finally gave up and canceled Anderson’s antic road show. The Washington Post, however, reported Anderson may have given the speech “without an audience.”
Making us wonder: If Cami gave a speech and no one was there to hear it, would it still be a pack of lies?
Yes, folks, AEI sponsored Anderson in a speech that nobody attended. I'm sure the crowd loved it...


Giuseppe said...

The Institute For Advanced Study in Princeton is an actual scholarly institute. The AEI, Cato, Heritage and the rest of these phony baloney so called "institutes" are shams and scams. They are propaganda mills for corporate America. They get paid big bucks by the giant multinational corporations and by the right wing billionaires to sell their bilge throughout the media and the nation. It's really disgusting how much time CSPAN gives to these right wing think tanks. One or all of them appear on one of the 3 CSPAN channels on an almost daily basis. AEI and the rest of these manure spreaders claim to be non partisan. It's funny how they seem to attract people like Newt Gingrich, Dick Cheney and the Bushes. They may be non partisan but they are certainly ideological. The ideology of libertarians, Ayn Randians, right wingers and of billionaires who want their taxes lowered. To paraphrase Paul Krugman, AEI and the rest of these propaganda mills take the think out of think tanks.

Anonymous said...

I will disagree with one element of this post. There is a suburban district that has allowed for a similar, destructive, failing force to continue: Montclair. This might be the product of an appointed BOE, rather than an elected one (since we have seen what the difference can mean, ala Highland Park). It might not be a product of that.

Nonetheless, aside from a couple of strong advocacy groups (MCAS) and a few district educators willing to speak up (fear is rampant), the (willful?) chaos, confusion, and pure shenanigans that are being pulled, money being wasted, children being underrepresented, really show that some districts truly haven't yet figured out how destructive some of these "reformers" can be.