Cami’s bad week

Arne Duncan
Arne Duncan

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.

A bad week?
A bad week?

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.

A protester holds an anti-Anderson sign at Broad and Market.
A protester holds an anti-Anderson sign at Broad and Market.

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?






  1. “He [Duncan] said such actions were unprecedented in a big city school district–nothing like that had been done before,” I guess Duncan forgot about New Orleans after hurricane Katrina. More than 7,000 public school employees were fired after the disaster of Katrina.

    1. Yes, 7,000 public school employees were illegally fired, and Duncan infamously said Katrina was the best thing that ever happened to the schools in New Orleans.

      Duncan is just as vicious as Anderson, and has the same agenda, but seems to be somewhat more reality-based and is worried that Anderson is getting ahead of herself, thereby alerting people to what these people really intend to do.

      1. Exactly- It is apparent that the difference is that Duncan wants to blow the system up and sell it off just slowly enough that the plan sees no serious pushback. Anderson wants to blow the system up, and it seems never to have occurred to her that anyone would *want* to push back.

  2. Thank you for continuously reporting her erratic behavior and poor decision making that is seriously damaging her credibility in this city and affecting families…

  3. May she continue to be met with opposition from every angle and a more sleepless nights will be nice too…

  4. It is becoming more and more evident that she is nothing more than a pawn. Hence, the hissy fits at school board meetings, she had not been advised in how to handle situations that arose. But proverbially, the worm, when it realizes it will be hung out to dry, at some times may turn.

  5. Bob,
    You are absolutely correct, “Anderson is unlikely to apologize for anything…” She just doesn’t get it, never will.

    Keep up the good work….

  6. What they have in common is they learned their scorched earth methods of attacking public schools at the Broad Foundation.

  7. Good Afternoon Bob,
    Awesome news to hear! Back in January, I forwarded the President the below letter and attached a copy of the letter I sent to Superintendent Anderson, which you reposted here on your blog. It is good to know our government may actually hear and act on the will of the people. I would hope more of our community leaders, educators, parents and students begin to write to our President and express their displeasure with this attempt to shut down our public school system here in Newark. Thanks to you and others reporting the truth about this mess she and her administration has created, I believe we are moving towards change. Please share my letter to the President with your readers.

    January 13, 2014

    President Barak Obama
    White House
    Pennsylvania Avenue
    Washington, D.C.

    Re: Newark New Jersey Education Reform

    Dear Honorable President Obama: …

    It is with great pride to write this letter of concern to you regarding my community. Having some knowledge of your position on education, I find it important to bring to your attention the education crisis we are experiencing here in Newark, N.J. Newark’s educational system has been in crisis since 1967. The decline of this system is a direct result of the loss of resources and the migration of many residents out of our city after the historical riot our city faced. Prior to the riots, Newark was considered to have had one of the best educational systems in the country. Thus, I along with the majority of my constituents in our city cannot understand or accept the detrimental impact our children face with education, compounded with other issues such as poverty and mass incarceration of our young African American and Latino American youth. Mr. President, at this juncture, my greatest concern is the necessity of our children to achieve a quality education and be afforded the right to do so in their neighborhood.

    Since Cami Anderson, State Superintendent of Newark was appointed by Governor Chris Christie, our students and their families have been forced to ride on a roller coaster of change without being afforded the right to participate in any of the decisions. Firing teachers and essential staff is not conducive to the success of our children. Closing schools and opening charter schools and the failure to share best practices, as we were promised, have caused devastation in our community. With the incorporation of charter schools, Ms. Anderson assured that “Best Practices” would be shared between successful charter schools and historically failing public schools. That has not happened. The New Jersey Department of Education has operated our district for over eighteen (18) years and it is obvious there is no intention to return local control back to the community. More shocking, the State has not yet implemented an educational plan for success and refuses to take any responsibility for its failure. Charter schools are not and cannot be the only answer, and parents aren’t truly being afforded the right to choose. The expectation for each and every student regardless of what school they may attend is to succeed. Successful neighborhood schools are essential to our families and some of the Zuckerburg funding should have been allotted for the reform of those “public” schools and that has not happened. Thus, one must ask the question as to why Mark Zuckerburg really invested in our school system. It is because of these “strange and dishonest maneuvers,” I, along with many other community activist, parents, clergy and students, feel morally justified in requesting Ms. Anderson submit her resignation as State Superintendent of the Newark Public Schools.

    Here in Newark, New Jersey, the decline of a competitive education rendered to our students, began after the riots when the color of students changed. That is not to say, all teachers fail to care about student success; however, their dedication to achievement failed to carry the same expectations as they did when the student population was majority Caucasian. As an educational leader, Ms. Anderson has demonstrated her contempt for our children and such behavior is unacceptable. Her disrespect for parents and community, pitting public school parents and students against charter school parents and students, contributes to the segregation of our communities and dismantling of our school system.

    I have enclosed a copy of a document entitled “Money for Nothing” created in 2008 (prior to Ms. Anderson’s arrival in Newark) for your information. It outlines a plan authored with blatant disregard for our educational institutions, our children and community. This document clearly proves the state had no intention of reviving and/or improving our school system. Mr. President, as our leader, I understand you support school reform and I truly believe this is because you want a fair and equal education for all children in our country; however, I do believe if you knew the destruction taking place in the urban districts throughout America that has very little to do with educating our children and more to do with money, you would hopefully, do something to save our children, the loss of thousands of jobs and remind Americans that the majority of its citizens and Immigrants (legal and illegal) attend our public schools. That the charter schools are a part of our educational system and should be treated as such, no better – no worse. That, as there are public schools that have failed our children, charter schools have done so as well.
    What is needed to save our children is a plan that works in the best interest of all students, cease the behavior of firing a community and truly engage all parties in the decision making. Ms. Anderson is integrating special needs children in with the regular student population in order to save money, without considering the dangerous position she is forcing our large amount of special education students in danger. Charter schools are not equipped to handle this student population and this practice violates the laws created to protect these students.

    I’ve included some educational quotes for your perusal, because they speak to the value of education. I pray you or your designee reads this letter and report, investigate the facts and respond to our city, so that we can begin to save our most precious jewel – our children and our great educational system. Our children in Newark, New Jersey deserve the best, and under Superintendent Anderson, they are not receiving it.

    The majority of America’s children will attend public schools, and this is why we must invest in the system. Victor Hugo stated “he opens a school door, closes a prison.” Nelson Mandela said “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” and Benjamin Franklin stated, “an investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”


    Maryam Bey

    cc: Ms. Cami Anderson, State Superintendent
    Governor Chris Christie
    Chris Cerf, NJ Commissioner of Education
    Mayor Luis Quintana

  8. I’m still trying to figure out if there is a Charter School waiting list of ten thousand, how many of our students that have enrolled in the OneNewark are really going to be placed in Charter Schools? Is there really a such waiting list.

  9. Re President Obama’s views on education:
    One thing that should be pointed out is that Arne Duncan has long had deep ties to the Broad Foundation. He was on their board until he became Secretary of Education. In its 2009-2010 Annual Report the Broad Foundation said:

    “The election of President Barack Obama and his appointment of Arne Duncan, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, as the U.S. secretary of education, marked the pinnacle of hope for our work in education reform. In many ways, we feel the stars have finally aligned.

    With an agenda that echoes our decade of investments—charter schools, performance pay for teachers, accountability, expanded learning time and national standards—the Obama administration is poised to cultivate and bring to fruition the seeds we and other reformers have planted.”

  10. […] a Stranger Calls A high-profile, no nonsense superintendent makes headlines and enemies with her plan to at last bring excellence and high expectations to Newark NJ—whether Newark, NJ […]

  11. […] a Stranger CallsA high-profile, no nonsense superintendent makes headlines and enemies with her plan to at last bring excellence and high expectations to Newark NJ—whether Newark, […]

  12. I still cannot believe Cerf told someone she was moving too fast!?! Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. My goodness, Cerf did nothing over the last three years but move too fast.

  13. I retired early from NPS. After 12 years in a magnet high school, I needed to bow out gracefully from a school (and system) that deteriorated as rapidly as Cami Anderson is trying to move her “plan”. Students used to care, used to work, used to study and get good grades on their own…without political grade changes. Once politics entered the classroom (with the entrance of C.A.), education in Newark went straight into the toilet!

  14. […] where she was hearing the public’s anger and confusion.  Even Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has expressed concern that Anderson’s plans are being rushed to implementation too quickly.  During the summer […]

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