This much is true about Newark’s schools: Change–its proponents call it “reform”– has been painful. Painful to parents and children who must negotiate traveling long distances to new schools in strange neighborhoods and dealing with changes in curriculum, testing, procedures, and individualized education plans (IEPS). Painful to teachers and administrators, hundreds of whom have lost their jobs or been assigned to tasks for which they are unsuited and unlicensed. The pain was predicted– Mayor Cory Booker said the pain and disruption might last years–and that has happened. Even state-appointed schools superintendent Cami Anderson and her supporters concede “reform” would not come without hurt. The question is: Has all this pain resulted in progress for Newark’s children? The answer is no.
A report compiled by the Alliance for Newark Public Schools reveals that so-called “Renew Schools,” city schools singled out for special attention–Anderson would call it “reform”–not only did not produce the student progress she predicted–but, in fact, lagged behind schools throughout New Jersey whose students have the same socio-economic and racial characteristics.
So, after 20 years of state control and four years of experimentation by Anderson, the best the state-run Newark school administration has to offer fails in comparison to schools in the poorest school districts throughout New Jersey.
“This report…revealed that, with respect to 2013-2014 academic performance, all seven (7) Newark, New Jersey, Renew Schools significantly lagged or lagged their peer schools across the state.
“In the area of student growth performance, six (6) Renew Schools lagged or siginifically lagged their peer schools…”
The analysis also shows that Newark has failed to meet its promised academic progress targets established as a condition for the granting by the federal government of a waiver of the draconian provisions of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. Under the law and under the waiver, student progress was measured for tracked for various subgroups based on race, language skills, poverty and other factors. According to the analysis, “The Renew Schools did not meet any of the 56 targets.”
Theoretically, the failure of Anderson to meet the performance targets promised in the NCLB funding could result in the loss of federal funds to both the city schools and the state.
It’s difficult to exaggerate how much of an embarrassment these failures should be for Gov. Chris Christie and his education commissioner, David Hespe, who have both praised Anderson. Indeed, in response to a four-day takeover of Anderson’s office by protesting students, Hespe said he and his “colleagues were very pleased with” Anderson’s performance.
The commissioner also hinted he would, despite her failures, renew Anderson’s contract for another year. Hespe, once a well-respected educational administrator, clearly has moved to Chris Christie’s alternate universe, an Orwellian place where truth is lying and success is failure.
It’s an embarrassment not because she failed but because of the pain and disruption Anderson caused creating the so-called “Renew Schools.” Under her plan, new principals were brought in, entire staffs were fired, schedules were changed, days were lengthened, millions of dollars were spent–including on outside consultants with close ties to Anderson–and it all has come to nought.
The Alliance for Newark Public Schools is, concededly, a group critical of Anderson and state control. But its first report, issued two months ago, demonstrated that, far from student test scores improving, they went down. Anderson was asked to comment on the report by members of the Joint Legislative Committee on Public Schools and, while she promised her own narrative, all she promised were contentions that using test scores was “unfair” to children who had such disadvantages. That itself should have been an embarrassment to Christie and Hespe because Anderson frequently had said citing the disadvantages of poor children was “blaming the victim.”
Anderson, however, did not deny the facts shown in the report.
This second report makes Anderson’s failure far more obvious–and robs her of the excuse that children in poor circumstances should not be compared to all children generally.