US Education Secretary Arne Duncan met last Saturday with Cami Anderson, the state-appointed superintendent of Newark schools, and suggested she might be moving too fast to privatize the city’s schools with her “One Newark” plan. To which, according to sources at the meeting, Cami told Duncan he was wrong. A few days later, just hours after anti-Cami demonstrators twice closed down the city’s central business district during rush hour, she was hosted at a dinner where she was told by a number of old friends, including former state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf and former Mayor Cory Booker, that she was moving too fast.
Now, some of this might be wishful thinking on the part of many of Cami’s critics, but the sources for the Duncan meeting are strong and knowledgeable. They tell me Duncan, generally a fan of charter schools and a critic of teacher unions, expressed concern how quickly Anderson was moving with such a complicated plan that would disrupt the lives of thousands of families in New Jersey’s largest city. The federal official also said he was worried about the impact of laying off a third of the city’s teachers.
“He said such actions were unprecedented in a big city school district–nothing like that had been done before,” said a source at the meeting in Union City. “Duncan was upset about the failure of Anderson to include community representatives.”
Anderson was not pleased with the lack of support from Duncan and bluntly told the education secretary she felt he was “wrong” about how well she was doing.
After Duncan left the meeting, Anderson expressed anger to her aides who stayed behind with her. The source said Anderson believed she was having more success in Newark than he had in Chicago when he was superintendent there from 2001 to 2009. President Barack Obama appointed Duncan education secretary.
Matthew Frankel, the press spokesman for the Newark schools, indirectly confirmed a meeting took place by saying: “Your version of the meeting between the Superintendent and the Secretary is a work of complete fiction.” Frankel often indirectly responds to my inquiries and he did not offer a non-fiction version of the meeting between Anderson and Duncan.
(Frankel actually responded last night but, because of a posting mistake I made, the publication of his remarks were delayed until now. A screen shot of the autosaved version with his comment is timed 11.33 pm last night. I apologize to him and my readers for the confusion).
Late Thursday, Dorie Nolt, Duncan’s press secretary, confirmed the meeting. She wrote:
“We can confirm the meeting. When the Secretary travels to schools across the country, he often meets with local education officials and leaders to discuss issues impacting their community.”
But the education department put out an extensive press release describing Duncan’s schedule in New Jersey. None of it mentioned a meeting with Anderson. Clearly, this was intended to be a secret meeting. Nolt offered nothing on the substance of the meeting.
I’ve heard from two sources about the Tuesday night dinner. It was supposed to be a show of support for Cami Anderson but turned into something else. Maybe the guests were tied up in traffic caused by the demonstrators. I’ve asked for confirmation whether David Hespe, Cerf’s designated successor and a former state education commissioner, was there but I have heard nothing yet.
The Saturday meeting between Duncan and Anderson was first reported here last week. Duncan was in Union City to show case that district’s early learning educational successes.
The federal official has had his own problems. He was forced to apologize after the set off a firestorm of protest when he attributed to Common Core standards and high-stakes testing to parental insecurity–specifically, from “white suburban moms”– about how intelligent their children were.
“All of a sudden, their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought … and that’s pretty scary,” Duncan said.
Duncan also has had to apologize to leaders and students at historically black colleges for the way his department has handled college loans.
Anderson is unlikely to apologize for anything, and the general consensus is Anderson will keep pushing her plan until Gov. Chris Christie tells her to stop and that’s not likely to happen any time soon, if at all. Christie has told the residents of Newark he decides what is best for the city’s school children. I also do not believe that, even if Anderson fails in Newark, the effort to privatize public education will stall–there is simply too much money in it to be earned by privatizers.
Still, Anderson actually has had a bizarre week that is making some wonder whether she doesn’t need a long vacation–maybe New Orleans. After refusing to attend a legislative hearing on her plan, she complained the Joint Committee on Public Schools was hearing only one side of the story. Two days after her meeting with Duncan, she published an extraordinarily–and embarrassingly–self-aggrandizing posting on the Huffington Post in which she took credit for singlehandedly enhancing women’s sports at the University of California and then complained her fellow women athletes turned against her for pushing too hard too quickly.
Was that a message to Duncan?