Newark’s school superintendent, Cami Anderson, yesterday shrugged off the political embarrassment she dumped on Gov. Chris Christie—a national champion of education?–and stubbornly pushed her deeply flawed and unpopular “One Newark” plan. In a letter whirling with spin, Anderson tried to skip over the reality that thousands of city children and their parents were disappointed.
The letter just came a day after Ras Baraka, an outspoken opponent of the plan, handily beat a pro-Anderson opponent who had access to millions of dollars in pro-charter school money in a hotly contested mayoral election. Millionaires from California’s Silicon Valley to New York City’s Wall Street tried to save Shavar Jeffries’s mayoral ambitions but the poison represented by “One Newark” was just too toxic.
And the letter came just one day before non-tenured teachers are likely to receive layoff notices. Today. Unless, of course, they are Teach for America recruits or charter school teachers. They skate.
More than 10 percent of all families got no matches at all despite following the rules of the so-called “Universal Application” plan that will help Anderson realize her ultimate goal—the replacement of neighborhood public schools with privately-operated and politically connected charter schools. Anderson kept the rejection letters back until after the election.
But even the so-called successes—the instances where families were matched with schools—really were not very successful at all.
“I’m thrilled to announce.” Anderson wrote, complete with exclamation mark, “that the overwhelming majority of families were matched to one of their highly ranked schools!”
But what’s a “highly ranked” school? According to sources on Cedar Street, only 63 percent of families were matched with a school somewhere in the top five selected by families. Anderson does not tell us how many received their first or even their second choice. The form parents had to fill out required them to list eight schools in preferential order.
Remember—we are talking about elementary and secondary children here, most of whom attend neighborhood schools. These are not college kids applying to their “reach” and “safety” schools. These are families with young children who do not know—and probably won’t know for months yet—where their kids will go to school.
Parents and teachers have been sending in reactions. One teacher wrote this about an eighth-grader who was rejected by EVERY school to which he applied—every public high school:
“You can imagine how sad it is when one of my 8th graders tells me that no one wants them in their high school . They have been on this earth only 13 or 14 years. Wonderful for their self image. It’s heartbreaking.”
No one wants the kid. Hey, thanks, Cami. Made that child’s day. Year. Maybe life.
Other parents reported siblings assigned to different schools or to schools to which they had not applied. At least one parent has three children going to three different schools–way to go, Cami! You apparently forgot you were on the ballot Tuesday and, well, you lost.
“My son was matched to a school we did NOT choose. He DID use all 8 options and we applied early in January,” wrote one mother. To Cami, that’s school choice.
Another said she was denied any choices because “I received a letter stating they did not match my child because I didn’t select enough schools!!! There aren’t 8 schools I want my son to attend!!!”
So the school choice program, it turns out, is not parental choice—but choices exercised by bureaucrats at 2 Cedar Street. Parents in Montclair, where Cami now lives, can choose to send their children to neighborhood schools—but people in Newark simply aren’t as rich as people in Montclair.
Empowerment in Newark means empowerment for $300,000-a-year Anderson and her many $175,000-a-year tools. For Newark parents–not so much.
Anderson also is determined to close down several elementary schools and convert them to charters—including Hawthorne Avenue which will be leased to TEAM Academy for a K-1 school. Hawthorne will be closed despite its status as the fastest achieving school in the city—and one of the most improved in the state. Let’s see–that would be the same charter school favored by former Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf who once served on its board and worked with its board chairman, Tim Carden, in New York. Cerf brought Anderson, a former political operative for Cory Booker, to Newark. Booker got Chris Christie to sign on for forced choice in Newark.
It’s a small world after all.
Many Hawthorne parents refused to apply for any other school and, as a consequence, the choice will be made completely by 2 Cedar Street. In memoranda sent to principals, Anderson glossed over transportation problems with vague promises that “optional/free” busing will be made available along with bus tickets.
That’s free to the students who will be forced to commute to their schools every day—not free to city and state taxpayers. It’s an added cost to a district that, theoretically, is so broke it has to lay off a third of its teachers.
But she doesn’t even pretend to have solved the special education problem. Charter schools, concerned about their test scores, won’t take special education students who now must remain behind in the decreasing number of resource-starved neighborhood schools. Not one charter school will be required to provide self-contained special ed classes.
This is what she wrote to principals about special education students—and just imagine yourself the parent of such a child, knowing charters won’t touch them:
“Students with special needs were preferenced in the match algorithm. The intent was to open rather than limit options to students with special needs. Now that the algorithm has been run and matches made, we must analyze the outcomes for every student, engage in a planning process with every school, and communicate with every family.”
What’s an algorithm? It’s a mathematical formula—not an educational judgment. Just don’t asked to see the algorithm. It belongs to a private consulting firm and, according to the school administration, it is not subject to laws requiring release of public documents.
Parents, Anderson says, have a right to appeal. They also can join a Round 2 of applications beginning next week. Many parents, she has conceded earlier, won’t know what schools their children attend until just days before school opens.