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.

Education upstarts

“Education policy has long featured two players—the government and teachers unions,” writes Rachel Brown in The Atlantic.  Now Education Upstarts have “stepped up to lobby legislators and drive the conversation.” Among them: 

Graphics by Kiss Me I’m Polish

Stand for Children

Who: Co-founder and CEO Jonah Edelman is the son of the civil-rights leader Marian Wright Edelman.

What: The most grassroots of these groups. Leads efforts to lobby state governments for reforms such as value-added teacher evaluations and more-equitable school funding.

 

Democrats for Education Reform

Who: Bankers, CEOs, and other wealthy Democrats. Adviser Cory Booker lends liberal star power.

What: Offers political cover to Democratic politicians who alienate teachers unions by supporting education reforms such as mayoral control of schools and national curriculum standards. Has helped loosen the unions’ grip on the party.

Michelle Rhee’s Students First “has yet to establish itself as a major player on the policy front,” despite Rhee’s high profile, writes Brown.b

Newark bickers over Facebook donation

Newark’s troubled schools are getting $100 million from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Mayor Cory Booker has raised another $44 million in donations, so far.  But Newark is split on how to spend the windfall, reports the Wall Street Journal. Booker, who spent $1 million surveying what parents want from the schools, plans to close failing schools, open new schools and let charters share space with district-run schools. He also wants longer school days and weaker tenure protections for principals and teachers.

This week, nearly $1 million was awarded to five new high schools, which will share space with existing schools. Critics say the money should go to the old schools. And they want Booker to reveal the donors who gave $44 million.

“I know you’re not supposed to look a gift horse in the mouth,” said Councilwoman Mildred Crump at a public hearing Wednesday evening at City Hall. “Well I’m checking this one out.” Residents in the audience applauded her sentiment.

Only 22 percent of Newark’s high school students pass the state graduation exam and earn a diploma on schedule; another 33 percent graduate through an alternative system. Tens of thousands of children are on charter-school waiting lists. Even before Zuckerberg’s donation was announced in September, new schools were in the planning stages, Booker points out.

Newark schools have been under state control since 1995.  Republican Gov. Chris Christie fired the superintendent in February. Booker, a Democrat, is collaborating with Christie on school reform plans. That’s angered and alarmed unionized teachers and their political allies who don’t want to see the spread of non-union charter schools.

(Councilwoman) Crump joined a union rally and protest outside of City Hall Wednesday afternoon before the public hearing. She implored the protesters to vote for a certain slate of candidates on April 27. “We have a clear choice between those who will do nothing for labor and those who will do everything for labor,” she said into the microphone. She told the protesters to vote for the three candidates who “are about labor.” She then led people in a chant: “Jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs,” and added: “Jobs that are safe and secure!”

District enrollment is declining. Some 400 school district employees may lose their jobs this year.

Newark school woes transcend money, summarizes USA Today. “Last week the school advisory board voted against opening the new schools. The district plans to open them anyway. Students are already signing up.”