Newark’s public schools face a “crisis,” says the congressman representing New Jersey’s largest city, but its leadership “lacks the ability” to improve them and, instead, has imposed a “critically flawed” plan that, in fact, limits student performance. “I am deeply concerned about the state of education in Newark and its children, who are seeing their educational opportunities eroded under the guise of school reform,” wrote U.S. Rep. Donald Payne, Jr., in a letter to state-appointed Newark school superintendent Cami Anderson. Payne had once been Anderson’s ally.
With promises of support from elected officials and the leaders of a variety of community groups, the chief organizer of the Newark Teachers Union (NTU) today said its members would set up picket lines around schools, begin a rule-book slowdown, and refuse any volunteer work before or after school. The immediate cause of the “job action” was a decision by the district’s state leaders to include eight more schools—including Weequahic and East Side high schools– in a controvesial reform program that would weaken employee rights in the affected schools.
The state-operated Newark public school system faces a deficit of from $50 million to $100 million this year. It will need to lay off scores, if not hundreds, of teachers. Its state-appointed superintendent, Cami Anderson, is once again seeking state approval of a plan to ignore seniority in the dismissal of tenured teachers. Meanwhile, Anderson’s primary reform plan—“renew” or “turnaround” schools–has failed by its own terms, yet she is pushing for its expansion. Anderson’s tenure, by all rational and traditional measures, has been a failure.
The world of bullfighting gave us the phrase—el momento de la verdad—and there is no exact translation. The English words “moment of truth” don’t capture the sense of crisis and urgency and, especially, revelation. The Newark public schools have come to the moment of truth when all players—school employees, parents, union leaders, student activists, politicians, civic organizations, state leaders—will have no choice but to reveal who they are, what they want, what they can accomplish, what they are willing to do, how they see their futures.
Some might believe the relentless testing regime plaguing public schools—but not the most prestigious private schools—will improve learning. Others have endorsed testing as a way of attacking veteran teachers who, of course, are frequently blamed for failure but far less often credited with success. Then there is a group—who knows the size?—who view testing as a kind of philosophical sorting out process, all but divinely mandated, that separates the saved from the doomed. One of these, the superintendent of a major New Jersey school district, wrote these bizarre words in a note to his staff: