Newark backlash: ‘Raheem still can’t read’

Cory Booker, Chris Christie, and Mark Zuckerberg Had a Plan to Reform Newark’s Schools, writes Dale Russakoff in the New Yorker. They Got an Education.

Zuckerberg put $100 million into transforming Newark’s failing public schools.

Almost four years later, Newark has new principals, new schools and a new teachers’ contract that ties pay to performance, writes Russakoff. It doesn’t have higher test scores.

And people are angry about plans to move students to new schools and lay off teachers and support staff.

Newark’s public schools have been “a source of patronage jobs and sweetheart deals for the connected and the lucky,” writes Russakoff.

As Ross Danis, of the nonprofit Newark Trust for Education, put it, in 2010, “The Newark schools are like a candy store that’s a front for a gambling operation. When a threat materializes, everyone takes his position and sells candy. When it recedes, they go back to gambling.”

The ratio of administrators to students—one to six—was almost twice the state average. Clerks made up thirty per cent of the central bureaucracy—about four times the ratio in comparable cities. Even some clerks had clerks, yet payroll checks and student data were habitually late and inaccurate.

Elected mayor in 2006, Booker raised money from philanthropists to open charter schools, which drew students “in wards with the highest concentrations of low-income and black residents.”

“Charter schools received less public money per pupil, but, with leaner bureaucracies, more dollars reached the classroom,” writes Russakoff. Achievement rose significantly.

Zuckerberg’s $100 million — matched by another $100 million in donations — was supposed to help the district-run schools. In two years more than $20 million was spent on consultants.

Vivian Cox Fraser, the president of the Urban League of Essex County, observed, “Everybody’s getting paid, but Raheem still can’t read.”

Superintendent Cami Anderson “gave principals more flexibility and introduced new curricula aligned to the Common Core standards.” She closed low-performing schools and created “renew schools.” She let principals hire and fire teachers, added math and literacy coaches, bought smart boards and paid “renew” teachers to work a longer day and two extra weeks in the summer.

However, her plans created a massive backlash in Newark.

Booker thinks Newark could be a national model of urban education in two or three years, but he isn’t there to fight for the reforms. He was elected to the U.S. Senate.

The city is voting today on a new mayor. The mayor’s race pits radical Councilman Ras Baraka, who was principal of low-performing Central High, against Shavar Jeffries, a former assistant state attorney general who helped start a successful charter school.

The Newark backlash could have been avoided, says Jeffries. Too often, he said, “education reform . . . comes across as colonial to people who’ve been here for decades. It’s very missionary, imposed, done to people rather than in coöperation with people.” Reformers “have to build coalitions and educate and advocate,” says Jeffries. “You have to persuade people.”

Baraka won the election.

About Joanne


  1. Jerry Doctor says:

    They gave New Jersey politicians two hundred million dollars and are surprised it was wasted?????

  2. There are only 87 charter schools in New Jersey. If there were 87 charter schools in Newark the problems of Newark’s public education system would be solved.

    • PhillipMarlowe says:

      “Close you eyes and tap your heels together three times. And think to yourself, there’s no place like home.”

      • derp

        • PhillipMarlowe says:

          You are improving allen.
          An intelligent comment, rather than your usual warmed over Marxist rhetoric about the dumb, ignorant poor people.

          • PhillipMarlowe says:

            Posting from Seattle, WA.

          • Roger Sweeny says:

            I’m not sure why you call allen’s rhetoric Marxist. Could you explain?

          • PhillipMarlowe says:

            allen from a few weeks ago:
            “Parental disinterest runs counter to the reflexive, and deeply-ingrained, desire of parents to protect their children so it’s the situation in which those parents find themselves that results in apathy. Apathy is one of the responses to impotence so those disinterested parents are acting as the situation directs them. Change the situation, change the response.

            Charters are the demonstration proof that parental indifference is a product of parental powerlessness.

            – See more at:

            Marx was of the opinion that workers were indifferent because they believed themselves to be powerless.

          • Roger Sweeny says:

            Thanks. That’s not what most people think of when they hear the word Marxist.

          • Now that is funny.

            Thanks for giving me a good laugh, Phillip. I haven’t seen contortions like that since the Chinese acrobat troupe was in town.

          • PhillipMarlowe says:

            You are welcome Roger.
            That might more the indication that most people couldn’t tell you much about Marxism without reaching for wiki or Funk and Wagnalls.
            You are welcome as well, allen.
            You could be dubbed a Leninist as well if you felt these poor, powerful and ignorant people needed a leader to help them due to their obvious inferiority.
            You are no too far from the undercurrent that runs through some in this society who believe there is a Plot by The Man to put down the poor.

          • Marxist. That is funny. And Leninist as well.

            Too good.

  3. You forgot to mention that the Zuckerberg money went into the pockets of “a close=knit circle of “reform” consultants whose going rate was $1,000 a day, with none of it reaching the children. That the charters perform better is very debatable. They have not performed better than public schools in the 20 years they have been tried. It’s a debacle a la Enron. Booker is an idiot.

    • Russakoff says 20 percent of the money went to consultants.

      A 2012 CREDO study ( found that students perform significantly better in math and reading in Newark charter schools.

      From Joy Resmovits’ story ( “According to the study, Newark’s charter school students gained a full seven-and-a-half months of learning in reading and nine months in math over their peers.”

      • PhillipMarlowe says:

        Bruce Baker on the charter study:

        Now, one technical quibble I have with the CREDO report is that it relies on the free/reduced priced lunch indicator to identify economic disadvantage (and then sloppily throughout refers to this as “poverty”). I have shown on numerous previous occasions that Newark charters tend to serve larger shares of the less poor children and smaller shares of the poorer children. So, it is quite likely that the CREDO matched groups of students actually include disproportionate shares of “reduced lunch” children for charters and “free lunch” children sorted into district schools. This is a non-trivial difference!

        • PhillipMarlowe says:

          Figure 5 shows that not only do charter schools in Newark tend to serve far fewer children with disabilities, they especially serve few or no students with more severe disabilities. In fact, they serve mainly students with Specific Learning Disabilities and Speech Language Impairment. Given the data in Table 5, it is actually quite humorous – if not strangely disturbing – that the CREDO study attempted to parse the relative effectiveness of district and charter schools at producing outcomes for children with disabilities using only a single broad classification [Student matching was based on a single classification, creating the possibility that children with speech language impairment in charters were being compared with children with mental retardation and autistic children in district schools. It is likely that most students who took the assessments were those with less severe disabilities in both cases.].

          • PhillipMarlowe says:

            So, when all is said and done, this new “charter school” report like many that have come before it leaves us sadly unfulfilled, at least with respect to its potential to provide important policy insights. Most cynically, one might argue the main finding of the report is simply that cream-skimming works – generates a solid peer effect that provides important academic advantages to a few – and serving a few is better than serving none at all (assuming the latter is really the alternative?). Keep it up! Don’t worry ’bout the rest of those kids who get shuffled off into district schools. Quite honestly, given the huge, persistent differences in student populations between high flying Newark charters and districts schools, and given the relatively consistency of research on peer group effects, it would be shocking if the CREDO report had not found that Newark charters outperform district schools.
            While it is likely that there exists some strategies employed by some charters (as well as some strategies employed by some district schools) that are working quite well – THE CREDO REPORT PROVIDES ABSOLUTELY NO INSIGHTS IN THIS REGARD. It’s a classic “charter v. district” comparison – where it is assumed that “chartering” represents one set of educational/programmatic strategies and “districting” represents another – when in fact, neither is true (see the scatter of dots in my plots above to see the variations in each group!).

      • PhillipMarlowe says:

        Newark, in a first for a large New Jersey public-school system, has given out bonuses of up to $12,500 to its highest-rated teachers, inaugurating a controversial merit-pay program being watched across the nation.
        A group of 190 Newark teachers learned last week they would receive bonuses, paid for through the foundation started by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. About $1.4 million in bonuses were given out to teachers: $5,000 for being rated highly effective, another $5,000 for working at a poorly performing school and another $2,500 for teaching a hard-to-staff subject. Those included certain math, science and language subjects.
        About 5% of the 3,200-member teaching force got the money, one of the more contentious parts of the contract approved in November by the Newark Teachers Union. Eleven teachers received the top bonus of $12,500.

        • PhillipMarlowe says:

          That’s right: about one-third of one percent of the Newark teaching corps got the vaunted $12,500 bonus that so enchanted the punditocracy. I guess this is what Chris Christie meant when he said he wanted to pay “good” teachers more: if you happen to be in the top less than 1%, as judged by an arbitrary and secretive system, you get some money. Everyone else working hard and serving Newark’s kids can go take a flying leap.

          Notice also the total amount of money involved: $1.4 million over one year. That was far less than was promised at the time the contract was announced(* see below):
          Newark, N.J., schools reached a tentative contract agreement with its teachers’ union today, and one of the contract’s major features — merit bonuses — will be funded with up to $80 million from a foundation managing Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s massive donation to the district.
          – See more at:

          • All that effort for nothing but a rephrasing of the tedious canard that charter schools are selective and the revelation that Newark teachers suck. Is it any wonder you guys are losing?

          • PhillipMarlowe says:

            Sad to say it is tedious when people like you and Joanne are logical and intellectually dishonest by pretending charter schools do a better job of educating any student than district public schools.

          • Hey, don’t tell me, tell all those parents who wring their hands with anxiety at the lotteries that determine whether their child will gain entrance to those charters.

            They know how good those district schools are and given an opportunity will decline to continue to endanger their children’s lives and futures by allowing them to attend.

          • Roger Sweeny says:

            I don’t think Joanne is saying that. My impression, from reading the blog and her book, “Our School” (Buy it. Read it. Prepare to pass an Ideological Turing Test. Don’t be this person: Anyway, I think she is saying that some charters reach a substantial number of students that traditional schools don’t, and that since most of these students are poor or minority, that is a good thing. If charters can do it without hurting students still in traditional schools, or if they can provide pressure for traditional schools to improve, then that is a very good thing.

            Joanne doesn’t think charters are magic. She doesn’t think “charter schools do a better job of educating any student than district public schools.” That would be ridiculous. It is as ridiculous as the ed school dogma that with the right techniques, a teacher can get any student to learn enough to be an educated high school graduate.

          • PhillipMarlowe says:

            Thanks for the suggestion, Roger.
            I’ll check the library for it.

    • Even were there evidence that charter schools were no better educationally then district schools charters are cheaper to run. That’s no small consideration when you take into account how much Newark, and New Jersey in general, are spending on education.

      • PhillipMarlowe says:

        A lot of bluster and projection, Allen.
        But you can live in your solitary world and smile with self satisfaction, secure in your belief that public schools are about to be consigned to the dustbin of history.

      • Har! Check with Bill de Balsio about “bluster and projection”. Having performed his duty to the teacher’s unions he finds himself very much on the defensive as a result and unlikely to listen to that faction again any time soon.

        No Phillip, you’re losing and when losing goes on long enough there isn’t any more to lose.

        Heck, the descent in influence of the public education establishment’s so clear that even vouchers, long the focus of the obstructionists of the public education establishment’s most feverish efforts are starting to gain traction.

        • PhillipMarlowe says:

          I will modify my comment from above.
          ““Close you eyes and tap your heels together three times. And think to yourself, dustbin of history.”

        • Roger Sweeny says:

          It is interesting how often “I am right” and “history is inexorably moving toward what I want” are found in the same person. Marx is perhaps the most famous modern example.

  4. And people are angry about plans to move students to new schools and lay off teachers and support staff.

    Because they’re doing such a bangup job now