For special ed, One Newark is two Newarks

Where the special education classes will be...first of six pages.
Where the special education classes will be…first of six pages.

Newark’s charter schools–especially those with money and national backing like KIPP (TEAM Academy) and Uncommon Schools (North Star)–will be the big winners in Cami Anderson’s “One Newark” plan. If Anderson pulls it off, even she may be a big winner, leaving Newark with the reputation as the biggest privatization advocate since Michele Rhee and all that will mean for book contracts and speaking fees. But let’s think a moment about the biggest losers–they are almost certain to be the most vulnerable children in the city, the disabled, and their parents. They are on track to be warehoused in the least funded, most neglected public neighborhood schools.

Charter schools, after all, have evolved from laboratory schools offering alternatives to conventional practices to havens  from children with problems–whether those problems are disabilities, behavioral issues, language difficulties, parental indifference, or anything else that many parents who believe they have choices want to avoid. Charters are the instrument of the new segregation–based, not simply on race, but on more nuanced distinctions: Ethnicity, language, wealth, parental engagement, political connections, and other attributes of the better off. Even just the slightly better off.

This site, a few days ago, reported that, under “One Newark,” no charter high school or magnet school would be faced with the burden of providing self-contained classes for special needs children.

Now, we know–as expected–no charter elementary school will have to face that burden. If charter schools are a good, a gift, a positive experience, they will be denied to disabled children. The chart included here proves that.

Keeping special education classes out of charter schools accomplishes a number of goals for Anderson and her allies among those who would privatize public education. It saves money for charter school operators who would otherwise need to spend money on adaptive facilities and specialized teachers. It is a plus for those parents who, concentrating narrowly and understandably (if selfishly), on their own children, do not want to send their children to schools with substantial numbers of disabled children. So it is a marketing ploy–although often unmentioned–for charters.

It also contributes to the decline of neighborhood public schools that must, under law, take these children–the same public schools whose employees believe it is part of their mission to train the neediest children. Their scores will decline while those of the charter schools go up. Anderson has used these invidious comparisons to push these plans. Test scores–along with waiting lists (if such actually exist)–are worth gold.

For special needs children and their parents, however, the abandonment of the most vulnerable is just one more insult. It is part of what one special needs advocate calls the “tragedy” of what is happening in Newark.

Let’s look at the numbers. One number especially–zero. That is the number of self-contained special education classes charter schools will have to accommodate under the “One Newark” plan.  That alone is evidence the plan is flawed because it sets up a two-tiered system, based on disability.

Here are more numbers: 211, the number of self-contained special needs classes that will be operated out of 31 public schools. The conventional public schools will face the burden of educating children that will not be allowed inside charter schools. Their teachers will be judged on the success of these children.

Just last night, Anderson released a letter in which she wrote about how the “district’s average language arts score was 189, compared to TEAM and  Northstar’s average of 210.” Ah, yes, test scores. But charter schools pick their students and they also can–and do–expel them. It isn’t rocket science to know the apparent success or failure of any educational institution relies on the selectivity with which it admits and expels its students. The universal application won’t change that if charters are not required to take special education students whose IEPs require self-contained classroom instruction.

Special education teachers–like all Newark public school teachers–are afraid for their jobs. They should be because dissent is treated harshly. Lisa Brown, the principal of Ivy Hill School, and Deneen Washington, the principal of Maple Avenue School,  still have not been restored to their positions–they were among the five principals suspended for raising questions about “One Newark.”

Still, some Newark employees have been brave enough to report to me that NPS leadership is trying to manipulate special education teachers, parents and students. One reported, “Child study team members were asked to review the IEP ( individual education plan) (the legal document that is written when a child is classified to outline the plan for what that special needs child needs) they were asked to review them to see if they could take students out of self contained classes ( classes with all special needs students with similar disabilities) and placed in general education with resource room. This would give them more kids involved in universal enrollment but a great disservice to special needs students who are not being accommodated properly.”

Another educator reported that some principals have been pressured to call parents who have not filled out a universal enrollment application and tell them they must. This could have serious consequences for parents and their children if they are deemed to have waived special education services. Advocates have told parents they should seek help before they apply to any school that provides no guarantee it will comply with the law. Unfortunately, Newark schools do not always comply with special education law.

The legislature, the courts and the mainstream media don’t seem to care much about what is happening to public education in Newark. The disruption to children’s lives, the threats to jobs, the disenfranchisement of voters, the public assets handed over to the wealthy private charter chains, the likely re-segregation of the city’s schools–these are all issues that hardly move the dial of concern among state residents.

If Newark schools have been forgotten by the rest of New Jersey, certainly the special education students in Newark won’t have much of a lien on the conscience of the state’s people. Yes, they are children.

Children with special needs. But to many outside Newark,  just other people’s children.

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17 comments

  1. ronee groff

    Thank you, Mr. Braun, for the unvarnished TRUTH! Abandonment of the most vulnerable children, betrayal of the golden jewel of our Democracy the Public Schools, a travesty which spits in the face of our Federal Mandates on the supposed protections of our disabled learning students, an abandonment of decent education practices, an intellectual and greed motivated paternalistic multi-national corporate movement bought and paid for and in bed with government while growing resumes, filling pockets, bringing our country to the realization that we are corporate America not of The People only the worthy people. This is not about discrimination as we have known it in the past but about the sorting measuring mechanism for expediency in finding the ‘value-added’ and ‘best and brightest’ for the high tech workforce of tomorrow (math, science, and technology), the star ship bridge which has many officers of diversity but the likeness of intellectual elite. The rest will have less because they will be herded into drone jobs and existence and others following a path to mere existence. Harsh but must be examined and confronted now or the silence and inaction will be the sacrifice of the children. Is this a too big to fail initiative by the billionaires and the greedy? Maybe?! But you have proven, Mr. Braun, that there are still those that write and speak the truth for others to act on. Or else, the children won’t have to read George Orwell, they will be living it!

  2. Source1

    How sad.
    Thank you so much Bob for exposing what is really happening. You are an unbiased advocate for the children and families of Newark.

  3. Joe

    I wish Bob’s article could be prominently featured in the Star-Ledger or any major NJ paper. Too much of the media (most) appear to be cheerleaders for charter schools, vouchers and school privatization.

  4. Tim

    In NJ, the State law allows only non-profits to run half-way houses, yet by setting up sham non-profits run by profit corporations with the same CEOs, they have been allowed to continue in this scam with all sorts of scandals involving the prisoners and the public.

    Now with “One Newark”, as you have pointed out, the Public schools will be given all the “low achievers” and expected to compete with the “higher achievers” in the Charters. In this RTTT competition designed by the “reformers”, the Public schools are set up for failure! Even though “One Newark” is setting up the Public schools for failure and further school closings, are they even doing the best thing for the “higher achieving” students of Newark? Newark has allowed the Charters to higher low wage unqualified “teachers” to work with their students in order to increase their profits, but are these children receiving the best Education? The Charters, with their low wage workers or even with computer education, will be able to outperform the Public schools on standardized testing scores but are they doing the best for this group of students?
    If this is truly the kind of segregation that Newark wants, then they could easily do this with the Public schools that they have! Simply set up Public schools by grade scores level, the A students go to A schools, B students go to B schools and so on. Not that I think this is the right thing to do, this is what in effect they are doing, except the Charters are not A or B level schools! So they are sending the A or B level students to a C (if that) level Charter! All in the name of PROFIT!

  5. annie

    Just went to the KIPP website. Featured is the following:

    “KIPP is a national network of free, open-enrollment, college preparatory public schools dedicated to preparing students in underserved communities for success in college and in life.

    Is the TEAM network of KIPP schools in Newark following the Credo of “open enrollment”? It seems to be self-aggrandizing selection to me.

    Bob Braun: I do not believe TEAM Academy is “open enrollment.”

  6. Public School Advocate

    Dear Mr. Braun,

    As an educator (first and foremost) and advocate of public school education as well as being an employee of Newark Public Schools, I am surprised that the community is not outraged. By the community – I am speaking of the national media community. If it were not for your in-depth coverage of recent events in Newark, sadly I don’t think our stories would be told or acknowledged and I personally thank you for your journalistic coverage of the truth. You don’t have to put a spin on the truth as some newspapers (The Star Ledger) might have the public believe.

    As I mentioned, I am an advocate of public school education and included in my advocacy are public charter schools when and only when they serve the children, ALL the children in their communities which include a diverse student population of English Language Learners and a full range of Students With Special Needs throughout an entire school year and not only until October 15th. I believe charters and district schools can learn from each other however, they are sadly being pit against each other which hurts only the children and benefits the for-profit companies which support some of the charters. This is not by chance.

    Thank you again for bringing attention to this city and its public education system in a manner that cannot and should not be ignored. Shame on the media who choose to look the other way.

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  8. Stressed

    I just want to add that you keep referring to ‘self-contained’ classes as if that is what these kids might lose. The goal for Sp Ed students has been that special needs students are in classes with their peers – the general population – as much as possible. Every IEP is reviewed and adjusted as as the needs of these children can change. You may have students in self contained classes for only part of the day, for a certain subject(s), and be in mainstream classes the rest of the day. In mainstream classes, they may have a personal aid or they are evaluated with a curve depending on the learning or physical disability.

    However, I agree with the rest of what you’ve written. In the end, the scores will be placed side by side: The schools that can select and reject their students with 6-10% of special needs students, along side of the neighborhood schools with upwards of 40-50% of special needs students – they’ll say: “See the charters really are better!” In some cases, because you have to have the staff to meet the requirements of these IEPs, special ed students in neighborhood schools will not receive optimum services.

    As a disclaimer, I also want to say that ‘special needs’ shouldn’t imply a lower performing student. A student might be mildly dyslexic and have an IEP; dyslexia, for example, doesn’t mean the child isn’t intelligent and capable of performing well on a test. It just means the student qualifies for longer time on exams and might qualify for resources, like extra reading time during the school day. A student with a mild learning disability doesn’t have to be in a ‘self-contained’ class but when looking at total percentages of special needs in a school, these students figure into the mix.

    And again, charters can select the students who are most likely to score well on tests and still take a required percentage of students with IEPs. Severe cognitive disorders, behavioral disorders?… probably not.

  9. Becca Field

    I worry that when we get to something as vile as what is being done in Newark through a new and repugnant segregatory school system, it is so ugly that people do not want to look at the hard truth. So we are in your debt that you write so frankly about it and I would suggest that each of us reach out to our elected officials with this information and make sure they stare it in the face.

    And I believe it is time we revisit a full moratorium on all charter school openings and expansions until we commit to a means to deal with this properly.

  10. Bill Wolfe

    thanks agin Bob for once again presenting the real issues and the painful and ugly truth of what is really going on.

    It hurts – badly – to think about this, and I don’t have kids in the NPS.

    I’m ashamed that my fellow citizens don’t seem to care and I’m disgusted by the press corps’ hateful neglect and failure to cover this issue.

    Christie is trying to make all NJ cities Detroit and even using that metaphor to impose a right wing agenda in Trenton.

    These are all “shock doctrine” tactics – manufacture a crisis then impose highly unpopular shock doctrine policies.

  11. Yoda

    Self contained classroom are designed to help those students that are significantly below grade level in academics ( sometimes 3years or more) to have access to supports that will allow them to be mainstreamed. Newark public schools has lost many resources to help these students and others that are struggling ( reading specialists, READ 180, Reading Recovery Teachers, Literacy/Math coaches and tutors, to name a few). These students and ALL students are the future to a successful and prosperous society! We are going to pay for this mess in the future, if we don’t change course now.

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