Is it too late to shut Cami down and save Newark public schools?

Anderson--time to shut her down
Anderson–time to shut her down

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.

Or has it?

It would be considered a failure if the point of it were to improve the performance of neighborhood public schools. She certainly has failed to do that.

But that hasn’t been the point of Anderson’s control of Newark’s schools, has it? No, the point of what she does—with the backing of Gov. Chris Christie and Education Commissioner David Hespe—is to ensure the failure of traditional public schools.

Paranoia? No. Conspiracy theories? No.

Take a look at this and ask yourself if it sounds at all familiar.

Smarick: Hoping for a political crisis
Smarick: Hoping for a political crisis

“As chartering increases its market share in a city, the district will come under growing financial pressure. The district, despite educating fewer and fewer students, will require a large administrative staff to process payroll and benefits, administer federal programs, and oversee special education. With a lop-sided adult-to-student ratio, the district’s per pupil costs will skyrocket.

“At some point along the district’s path from monopoly provider to financially unsustainable marginal player, the city’s investors and stakeholders—taxpayers, foundations, business leaders, elected officials,  and editorial boards—are likely to demand fundamental change.

“That is, eventually the financial crisis will become a political crisis.”

This scenario was written a few years ago, just as Anderson was taking control of the Newark schools in a devil’s bargain among Christie,  former Mayor—and, now, thanks to Christie, senator– Cory Booker, and state education Commissioner Christopher Cerf. Booker has said he expected the city to go through  a few years of hardship and crisis but emerge at the other end as the charter capital of New Jersey.

The scenario was written by Andrew Smarick, then New Jersey’s deputy state education commissioner.

bookerchristieHis plan—which was to become Christie and Cerf and Anderson’s plan—was to bankrupt the public schools by promoting charter expansion. Charter expansion sucks both students and funds from the public schools. It sucks out funds because the public money follows the students. And because, with fewer and fewer students,  per student costs rise, buildings empty, and faculty members become redundant.

Someone recently sent me Smarick’s plan. It has been published before, both by himself in an article for a conservative think tank and by Seton Hall professor Christopher Tienkin in the book he wrote with Donald Orlich of Washington State University, “The School Reform Landscape: Fraud, Myth, and Lies.”

In their book, they call Smarick’s memorandum “the smoking gun” and they are right. The problem is either few people are aware of the smoking gun or refuse to believe the evidence of their own eyes.

What’s going on in Newark—and, perhaps, more so in Camden—is the deliberate destruction of public education in order to create a crisis that might be solved only by a complete privatization of the district, not unlike what happened in New Orleans.

Anderson herself has admitted that the expansion of charter schools has led to the fiscal crisis in Newark schools. What she hasn’t admitted is that the plan was deliberate. Parents, she argued, were “voting with their feet” by choosing charters over neighborhood schools.

That was nonsense, of course. Anderson has promoted charter education, helped it along through a variety of ways—most dramatically the “One Newark” plan that expanded charter schools by adding “branch” campuses without the necessity of state approval and by sending students to charters when their parents didn’t want them to go.

Christie, Norcross, and Senate President Steven Sweeney
Christie, Norcross, and Senate President Steven Sweeney

At the same time, she has weakened the power of employee unions and ignored the traditional centers of power in Newark and Camden—the civic, civil rights, and religious organizations and leaders.

Worst of all, she has contributed to the humiliation of the local leadership elite by her deceptive approaches. Leaders like Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and state Sen. Ronald Rice D-Essex), the chairman of the Joint Legislative Committee on Public Schools,  have been using rational but now outmoded arguments in an effort to persuade the real powers, Christie, Hespe, and their legislative allies, that Cami Anderson has been a failure.

To Baraka and Rice and most other rational leaders, Anderson has been a failure. But, in the world of Smarick and the Broad Academy from which most of these ideologues have come, the rational definition of failure is hopelessly outmoded.

The failure of the public schools, as Smarick pointed out, will lead to financial and political crises that will, eventually lead to a turnover of public education in cities like Newark and Camden to private entrepreneurs working under state contracts. That is success for him, for Anderson, for Christie–and for  allies like George Norcross in Camden who is building his own empire of power based on public education and health care.

Failure is success.

Orwellian? Sure. But not unheard of. Broad Academy graduates frequently argue for “disruption” because reform will not revolutionize the schools in the way they want them to be changed. Their parasitic allies—like Democrats for Education Reform (DFER)—think of destroying the power of school employee unions as “bursting the dam” that holds back education reform.

Will opponents of the kamikaze attack on public education be able to stop it? First, they have to admit it is happening.  Some comfort should be drawn from the words of John Abeigon, the chief organizer for the Newark Teachers Union, who said he believed only “chaos will defeat chaos.”

Abeigon made the comment in response to the latest round of failure-by-reform steps taken by Anderson, the gutting of nine more schools, including East Side and Weequahic.

He will be condemned, but Abeigon is right. Traditional arguments are useless. Reason as defined by most of us is useless. These are the people, after all, who are allied with those in politics—like Chris Christie– who would repeal the Enlightenment.  They don’t want to reform the schools, they want to destroy the schools and replace them with a business model.

So, what should be done? Writing letters to the President didn’t work–it was silly, given the President’s support for Anderson through his education chief, Arne Duncan.  Hoping Anderson would have a nervous breakdown didn’t work–and, yes, people thought that might really happen. Pointing out she is a failure didn’t work. Holding legislative hearings didn’t work. Demanding her dismissal didn’t work. C’mon guys, Anderson is doing precisely what Chrisie and Hespe expect of her—why should they fire her? They did exactly what well pleased bosses do—they gave her tenure and lots of new money. Well, personal money, not money for the schools.

Frankly, I think the system has to be shut down. Those trying to save the public schools will have to create a national embarrassment for Christie just as he announces his presidential campaign and points to his great school reforms in Newark and Camden. It has to be shut down by parents, students, and school employees.

I know it’s easy for me to say that.  My mortgage is paid. My kids have gone through college. I live on a pension and Social Security. I won’t be losing a paycheck.

I may be ‘way out of line because I don’t even live in the city. But, ask me how Anderson can be stopped and my answer is–not by doing nothing.

Those who have to make difficult decisions in coming weeks will need to recognize that things will not get better simply by allowing Anderson to continue. She will replace veteran teachers with Teach for America scabs. She will use the NJEA-endorsed tenure bill to fire the teachers she’s tried to fire already but was stopped only by some courageous arbitrators. She will close more public schools and shred the union contract with “renew” and “turnaround” changes. She will exploit the openings she was too easily granted in the NTU contract to further weaken public employee protections.

In short, she will win.  Smarick will win.

The courts won’t stop her. The civil rights complaints filed with the US Department of Education won’t stop her. Letters and legislative hearings won’t stop her.

The only way she can lose is to make her a very public liability to Chris Christie—right now.

Maybe there is a way to do that without shutting the system down.

I hope so.

But I doubt it.

17 comments

  1. Urban Teacher

    We are in the final act. All that remains is for the fat lady to sing. My school becomes more chaotic by the day. Anderson is shuffling the chairs on the Titanic. Teachers are totally demoralized.

  2. Bill Chappel

    The Oligarchs are taking over the public assets, schools, water, hospitals, and undermining democracy in the public commons.

  3. Kelly

    Bob,
    Thank you for bringing Smarick’s quote to light again. People need to be reminded that this was their plan all along. And it’s bigger than most can even imagine. The city was duped by Corey Booker who had his own agenda all along. Interestingly, the NTU were the only ones who didn’t endorse Booker when he ran for mayor. Everyone else bought into his whole façade (including myself at that time). So, what can be done now? With Cami, Hespe and Christie at the helm, expecting a single effort or particular group to fight this battle is fruitless. But you’re right Bob, it will take several forces coming together to win this war. Pointing the finger and saying it’s the NTU’s fault or the union isn’t doing anything is ridiculous. The union is only as strong as its members. If anything, this is the time to come together and stand with the union, the parents, the students, the employees, the mayor, the councilmen, the local business owners…and fight for our city, for our schools. The time to be scared has past. Ready or not, here they come.

  4. Walter Garrett

    AGREED! it is time for us all to to come together and stand with the union, the parents, the students, the employees, the mayor, the councilmen, the local business owners…and fight for our city, for our schools. My wife posed the same question to a Newark Advisory board member who cites ethics laws claiming that he can do nothing but the board president Rashawn somebody or the other can call for it. There are many parents like her and I willing to join with others to really fight for the district’s children but most of those we talk to seem only out for themselves. I suggested that we go old school Civil Rights — marching and protesting everywhere Christie goes.

  5. booklady

    How regrettable to think that only
    “chaos will defeat chaos” but the NSU sit-in at Board office, an unexpected and well-planned effort, may be a case in point. The small group got to meet w. C Anderson in less time than the state Joint Committee on Education who’d invited her for months.

    Sure hope J Abeigon and others have ideas for next steps.

  6. Galton

    Bob,
    Thank you. You have done your part, cowards have done theirs. Will the “credit” for the destruction ever a cure to Booker and Ruiz?
    So very sad to see such damage done by DEMOCRATS without courage. I would at least like them to speak publicly, for the record, about their support of the Smarick “predictions”.
    Be well,

  7. public education supporter

    Whether Newark’s community manages to mount the kind of campaign that would draw enough national/international attention to the situation to cause embarrassment to Christie and company remains to be seen. I, like so many others who follow this blog and what is happening in Newark (even though I don’t live in the city), sincerely hope so. However, I would like to take this opportunity to recognize and thank Bob Braun for his tireless efforts to awaken people to the reality that is Newark and for being the only serious journalist, at least that I know of, who is digging into this story and keeping people informed. Bob, keep up the fight and Newark teachers, students, parents and community members – let us know through this blog and in other ways when and how we “outsiders” who support you can help and join in.

  8. Gloria

    You are not way out of line. On the contrary, you are doing what residents of the state of New Jersey should be doing, and that is to be concerned about our schools. I may be considered an outsider because I do not currently reside in Newark, but I was born and raised there, went to schools there, and am still connected to it through alumni work. What is happening to the city of Newark with its public schools is an atrocity. Granted, improvement was needed, but when you see that a good number of students are graduating, and going on to be successful, you have to wonder what is the true definition of success? Anderson’s and Christie’s definition of success is test scores and privatizing for profit. I am a teacher at a public school in Hudson County, and as a teacher, as well as a parent who volunteered in many activities, I am here to tell you success comes by way of meeting the students’ and the schools’ needs. Their needs cannot be met by taking a week-long test that put them into categories and is used to decide what districts get funding and what teachers get replaced. Lastly, the way to ensure a school survives is to support it and speak out. We cannot let the burden rely solely on the shoulders of Newark teachers, students, and city residents. The latest atrocity, to turn East Side into a turnaround school, must be met with our collective voices. Parents, educators, alumni, whether you live in Newark or live outside of it, need to join un the fight. Trust me, Mr. Braun, you are not out of line; you are amongst the few who is willing to speak out and inform us, both Newarkers and New Jerseyans, what is really going on.

  9. Mike

    If they are going to have cut back then lets start with Cami and all of the high paying officials at 2 Cedar Street! Give all of the Public Schools back to their perspective cities and let the Board of Education be the ones that run the schools. It is apparent that the state can’t run their own affairs let alone the cities schools. They need to stop trying to stop running the public schools like a corporation. Christie needs to M.Y.O.B(Mind Your Own Business) and worry more about his own affairs that in a mess!

  10. Pat marinaro

    Maybe we can walk out the front door of our homes schools businesses in Newark and hold hands across Newark. Holding hands uniting the City stopping traffic at 12 noon lunch hour . Maybe we can be here and be Heard.

  11. Sarah Harnick

    Thank you Bob for pointing out the truth. I’m a suburbanite with no kids and no affiliation with Newark but that doesn’t stop me from being angry at what non-educators are doing to public schools in Newark. Camden is also going down that road.
    Parents, you have to push, push, push for more information and accountability from Cami. You can’t expect one union rep to fight this battle alone and on your behalf. Post videos, send letters to the editor, start your own blog, direct media attention(other than Bob’s ledger) to the abuse. It’s a heavy lift, but you can do it.

    • Urban Teacher

      Sarah Harnick,

      Newark teachers have suffered years of abuse. We are not at liberty to start our own blogs because we will suffer retribution. NPS has a communications policy that identifies criticizing district policies on social media as grounds for termination. Try walking a mile in our shoes.

  12. wilnic

    It is time for the teachers in Newark to say “No”. The staffs at these schools that are going to be turned into renew schools must refuse to sign the agreement to work an extended year. Cami needs to be held to the language of the contract. The length of the school day and year has not changed in the district. This is simply another attempt at using a waiver to ignore the contract.This is no different than her asking for a waiver from seniority.She obviously wants charter schools throughout this district, but instead of going through the proper process, she calls them renew schools and uses the charter process to create them.Do the principals at these school know that they must be transferred? Does the staff realize that 50 percent of them need to be transferred? This is all laid out in the criteria for the model.It is time to defy her. The last time the teachers said “No”, Was during the teachers convention a few years ago. Cami became unhinged and called the children criminals and even considered putting Lincoln’s birthday in November to justify the day off. She didn’t’ know what to do.She is using the fear of being placed in the EWPS as her muscle to scare teachers into signing the agreement. It is time for all to know that the majority of EWPS teachers are not ineffective, in fact, most have good evaluations.Can she really place hundreds more into the pool? How will she be able to justify this? If Cami wants to extend the day,have her put that language in a new contract and pay a fair wage.It’s time for the waivers to go away and for the teachers to say No.

  13. eshs teacher

    #imnotsigning

    I’m a teacher at East Side. We have incredible teachers, students, and community. We are NOT a failing school. There is no evidence that extended days will improve outcomes for students and no plan for how to use those extra hours. No plan = no success. I believe in our students
    and teachers and I DON’T believe this waiver will, or is meant to, help our students. And that’s why #imnotsigning

    our students succeed. And that’s why #

    • Gloria

      I wonder the same thing about myself: whether or not I will be met with ramifications for speaking out. I am sure my emails and social media posts are noticed by more than my social media circle. I am not an East Side teacher, but rather, a teacher in Hudson County. Still, after being painted as villains by the Christie administration, and schools getting tougher with everything a teacher says or does, including evaluations that make it impossible for teachers to reach a rating of excellence, we teachers fear speaking out. However, educators must support other educators. We need to pay attention to the struggles in other districts, for they affect us, too. What is happening in Newark can happen anywhere in some form or manner. With greater reliance on test scores to decide if funding is warranted and if teachers need to be replaced, how can we not speak out? With the PARCC alone, changes have been evident in all school districts. We cannot assume that only larger urban districts are the ones being affected by these “reforms.” This is not just affecting Newark; this is affecting education in the entire state of New Jersey. So, we need to support our schools, meaning all students, all educators. We are not here to cause chaos; we are here to ensure justice-there is a difference between the two. If you want to slap an anonymous label on your letters, fine, but speak out. If more teachers from other districts came to Newark to say to the East Side teachers “You are not alone in this”, perhaps Cami and her cavalcade of controversy cronies would realize she is not as powerful as she thinks she is. If “United we stand, divided we fall” is indeed true, then we should follow that mantra to the end.

      • Gloria

        I should change the phrase “support East Side teachers” to support all Newark teachers in saying to you that you are not alone. Educators must unite as a whole. If Cami see the masses coming in, perhaps she might realize she cannot terrorize Newark any longer. It is time to bring in the reinforcements.

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