Later this morning, PULSE–a Newark grass roots organization–will be holding a press conference to discuss what appears to be a rare victory in the struggle of city parents to retake their public schools from pro-privatization reformers. PULSE members—it stands for Parents Unified for Local School Education–are elated at the outcome, but the “voluntary agreement” reached between the US Department of Education and the state-run Newark schools leaves far too many questions to allow unalloyed joy.
Here are just a few:
1. Nowhere in either the document outlining what the Christie Administration must do–generally assessing the damage to children from its “reforms” and correcting it–nor in the transmittal letter from the federal government is the state administration of the Newark schools criticized. Nowhere does the state admit responsibility. I defy any reporter to come up with a sentence that quotes the fed as critical of the state-run schools.
2. Okay–but the district is now required, under federal supervision, to find students who may have been harmed, assess the “adverse effects” and then remedy them. So the state administration must have done something wrong, right? You would think so, but it’s not there in black and white.
3. And who will be doing the assessing? Organizations like PULSE with deep roots in the community? NOPE. The very state administrators–starting with Christopher Cerf who was Gov. Chris Christie’s state education commissioner when these alleged violations began–that’s who. People like Peter Turnamian and Vanessa Rodriguez and Valerie Wilson and Charlotte Hitchcock, who signed the agreement for the state. Does anyone really trust Cerf and his high-priced assistants to find evidence that he and his creature, former state superintendent Cami Anderson, pursued policies that hurt children? I don’t think so.
4. That is, after all, what the feds were supposed to do in response to PULSE’s civil rights complaint. They were supposed to investigate and find out whether children were harmed. They didn’t and now they won’t. The feds are leaving it up to the local district–which is to say, they are asking Cerf and company to investigate themselves. Good luck with that.
5. Indeed, PULSE is all but out of the picture now. It’s a great organization and it has quietly done work no one else has done to remedy the harm caused by charter schools and other Christie-backed “reforms.” The feds settled with Christie without input from the local organization. While that is permitted by federal regulations, it leaves a big whole in enforcement–the very people who know about the damage to children are excluded from playing a role in making sure that damage is remedied.
6. The deadlines imposed by the feds are absurd. Today, according to the agreement, the state-run schools are supposed to come up with an assessment plan, just one day after the agreement went into effect.
7. All the necessary remediation must be done within six months. Does anyone believe that the state administration of Newark schools can, within six months, identify all children hurt by its reforms, assess the extent of the injury, and remedy it? All within six months?
8. PULSE members and other parents know thousands of children have been adversely affected by state reforms that included the disastrous “One Newark” enrollment plan that, in order to close traditional public schools and boost politically-favored charters, dispersed students throughout the city. Yet the phrase “One Newark” appears only once in documents issued yesterday–and not at all in the agreement accepted by the state. It’s not at all clear that the harm done by “One Newark” will even be addressed.
9. Indeed, the documents make it plain the only children who will be assessed are those who were transferred out of schools in which they were enrolled. It doesn’t cover children making the transition from, say, 8th grade to high school, or from pre-school to kindergarten.
10. Apart from the reluctance of Cerf and his high-priced assistants who were responsible for this mess to admit blame, the district–thanks to the same people–is broke. Children have been denied materials and services because of a budget shortfall. How will the state pay for this “voluntary agreement”?
11. Finally, there is a history here that is not promising. In May, the US Department of Education found that Cami Anderson–with the connivance and support of Christopher Cerf–failed to follow federal and state regulations in imposing “reforms” like “renew” and “turnaround.” What did the feds do? NOTHING. Just a few weeks ago, the federal court-appointed monitor found that these same people falsified documents concerning the care of special education children. What did the feds do? NOTHING. In the end, anyone following the Newark’s schools for the last few years knows the same federal government that now wants the state to do something actually enabled Anderson and Cerf to do what hurt children–so who is investigating the feds, from Arne Duncan on down?
I know I am often the bearer of bad news. Just read some of the comments I receive. But, frankly, the children and parents in Newark have been cheated and tricked and hoodwinked and sold a bill of goods by both sworn opponents and alleged friends in high places. The spirit of other organizations–like the Newark Students Union–that once promised support for traditional public schools has faded.
I know PULSE people are savvy and are backed by a national organization with some clout. But let’s just be realistic: There is no trusting Cerf or Christie. There is no trusting the federal government. The promise of this agreement will not become a reality unless the people of the city of Newark go back to the streets–and the courts.