The federal government will investigate whether New Jersey is following the law in operating the Newark schools. Or, at least, that’s what Monica Chism of the U.S. Department of Education says will happen–her office, the Office of State Support (OSS), will try to determine whether the state education department is keeping the promises it made in order to keep federal funds flowing to the state. Some people believe Gov. Christie’s flunkies in Trenton and Newark have been lying and not keeping their promises.
Chism made those assurances in a very brief reply to a very long letter written in October by David Sciarra, director of the Education Law Center (ELC) in Newark. Sciarra is one of those people who believe Christie appointees like Education Commissioner David Hespe and Cami Anderson, the Christie’s appointed schools superintendent in Newark, have been lying.
In Sciarra’s letter–addressed to US Education Secretary Arne Duncan–he detailed the promises made by the state to the federal government and the lies the state then offered to the federal government to hide its failure to keep those promises.
Chism wrote to Sciarra that, “I take your concerns seriously and the OSS will be conducting a thorough review of the issues raised in your letter.”
That’s it. Excepts for hellos and good-byes, that is literally all she wrote.
I couldn’t get Sciarra to say whether he thought the promise of a “thorough review” was good news, bad news, or no news at all. In e-mails he wrote to others, Sciarra said he would “press the issue.”
The children of New Jersey’s urban school districts–especially those in Newark–are accustomed to a lot of bowing and scraping and politely mendacious language between offices run by people like Duncan and Hespe. Hespe, it’s known, lied about how he would restrain Anderson from imposing her crazy schemes on the children of Newark.
John Abeigon, director of organization for the Newark Teachers Union, had this to say about the Chism letter:
“NTU was happy to assist our community partners the Education Law Center in getting a response from the USDOE. Any investigation into Cami Anderson’s administration of federal and state funds and services that are earmarked for children is welcome.”
The charges Sciarra made in his October 14 letter were serious. Translated from the polite, he said Hespe and his predecessors in the Christie regime made a lot of promises in order both to maintain access to tens of millions of dollars in federal funds and also the designation of more than half of New Jersey public schools as “failing” under the extraordinarily dumb federal law known as No Child Left Behind.
Those promises included making sure the state would develop improvement plans for 28 schools in Newark. Those plans would result from the work of state-operated Regional Achievement Centers (RAC), expensive state offices supposedly staffed by experts but probably just as much dumping grounds for the politically connected, like the son of Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo.
Some of this may be difficult to follow because people in education speak a special form of dialect that uses acronyms (like RAC) and terms of art. To understand what Sciarra wrote to Duncan, you first have to know that “priority” and “focus” schools are schools that need help to succeed. You also have to know that a QSR is a “quality school review” and an SIP is a “school improvement plan.”
Simply put, the state said it would make sure people paid to work for a regional achievement center (RAC) would conduct a quality school review (QSR) and use that review to come up with a school improvement plan (SIP) for all 28 priority and focus schools in Newark that would make everything fine. Except, despite assurances from Hespe’s people that this was happening, Sciarra says it wasn’t happening. And still isn’t.
This is what Sciarra wrote to Duncan:
“Our investigation has found substantial evidence that New Jersey has not commenced, nor undertaken, any of the required RAC interventions in all 28 of Newark’s priority and focus schools. Specifically, the RACs have not completed a QSR for any of these schools…”
Sciarra also pointed out Hespe’s employees promised the feds in telephone “exit interviews” that the state was doing everything it promised it would do to keep the federal money flowing. The ELC director said he wants a “full and thorough” investigation into the state’s handling of Newark, including whether state officials lied–he used the more polite “misrepresented”–when they assured federal officials the state was keeping its promises and following the law.
Chism’s letter probably should not raise hopes too much. Sciarra’s letter was dated October 15, 2014. Chism–oddly–didn’t date her letter (maybe it’s a fed thing we wouldn’t understand), but it was received by the ELC December 17, 2014. Right smack in the middle of those two dates–November 14, 2014–the federal education department announced it would grant New Jersey a one-year renewal of the so-called NCLB waiver.
That means Duncan or Chism or whoever really reads and writes these things had Sciarra’s letter in their in-boxes when it gave Hespe a vote of confidence for his handling of the very things Sciarra says he lied about.