The Christie legacy in Newark’s schools–high absenteeism, poor scores, and budget deficits

Christie's man in Newark: Chris Cerf just brimming with bad news
Christie’s man in Newark: Chris Cerf just brimming with bad news

The state administration of Newark’s public schools, after more than 20 years of controlling the state’s largest school system, last night conceded it had failed to solve chronic student absenteeism—and had produced some of the worst student scores on New Jersey’s statewide tests. Even Christopher Cerf, the former state education commissioner and architect of failed reforms in the state-run system, conceded the district faced “a major crisis” in truancy.

At the same time, he also said the district–already facing budget woes this year–faced a similar shortfall next year.

The revelations came a year after Cerf’s predecessor as state-appointed school superintendent, Cami Anderson, sent the state a report claiming many of Newark’s schools had 100 percent attendance rates. The state’s education department continued to post the obviously false statistics on its own website for a year or more.

Cerf, appointed to both the state commissioner’s job and the Newark post by Gov. Chris Christie, hired Anderson and guided her operation of the district. He left last night’s board meeting before he could be questioned about how  absenteeism had gone from a non-existent to a pervasive problem in just a year. It hadn’t, of course, but the manipulation of district statistics by the state administration continues to raise so-far unanswered questions.

The statistics on chronic absenteeism clearly shocked members of the Newark school board—some of whom brought up the decision three years ago by Anderson–backed by Cerf—to lay off attendance counselors who were responsible for tracking down chronic truants.

“We need to know how the elimination of these positions affected absenteeism,’’ said board member Crystal Fonseca. She never got an answer.

Chronic absenteeism—defined as the percentage of students who miss school 10 percent or more of days enrolled–is worst in its high schools. The highest absenteeism rate was registered by Fast Track Academy,  an alternative high school, with 92 percent of its students missing 18 or more days of school a year during the 2014-2015 school year. The best attendance was registered by the district’s magnet schools, specialized schools with admissions standards; Arts High had the lowest chronic absenteeism rate—22 percent of its students were chronic truants.

The chronic absenteeism rates for other high schools included:

–Newark Leadership Academy, 82 percent.

–Weequahic High School, 74 percent.

–Newark Vocational (West Side), 74 percent.

–Malcolm X Shabazz High School, 70 percent.

–Barringer STEAM, 68 percent.

–Barringer ARTS, 60 percent.

–East Side High School, 47 percent.

–Newark Early College, 40 percent.

–Bard Early College, 37 percent.

–American History, 30 percent.

–John F. Kennedy, 27 percent.

–New Jersey Regional Day, 25 percent.

–Science Park, 25 percent.

–Technology, 24 percent.

–University, 23 percent.

Not only were the chronic absenteeism rates worse in secondary schools than elementary schools, but the problem has gotten worse. According to statistics offered by Cerf, chronic absenteeism had gone from 41 percent—the first year Anderson was in control—to 49 percent last year.

At the elementary level, chronic absenteeism went from 18 percent in 2011-2012, the first year of Anderson’s tenure, to 24 percent in 2013-2014, then down to 22 percent last year.

The rate of chronic absenteeism among elementary schools ranged from a low of 4 percent at the Ann Street School to a high of 42 percent at Speedway. At the other schools, the absentee rates were:

–Louise Spencer, 39 percent.

–Belmont-Runyon, 38 percent.

–Camden Street, 33 percent.

–Dr. E. Alma Flagg,  33 percent.

–Peshine, 33 percent.

–Rafael Hernandez, 33 percent.

–Avon, 32 percent.

–George Washington Carver, 31 percent.

–Miller Street at Spencer, 31 percent.

–South 17th Street, 31 percent.

–Girls Academy, 30 percent.

–Hawthorne, 29 percent.

–Dr. William Horton, 28 percent.

–Fourteenth Avenue, 28 percent.

–Harriet Tubman, 28 percent.

–Luis Munoz Marin, 28 percent

–Cleveland, 27 percent.

–Quitman, 27 percent.

–Thirteenth Avenue, 13 percent.

–Branch Brook, 26 percent.

–Bruce Street, 25 percent.

–McKinley, 24 percent.

–Lincoln, 23 percent.

–Roberto Clemente, 22 percent.

–South Street, 22 percent.

–Sussex Avenue, 21 percent.

–Eliott Street, 20 percent.

–Ridge, 20 percent.

–Benjamin Franklin, 19 percent.

–Chancellor Avenue, 19 percent.

–Hawkins Street, 19 percent.

–Ivy Hill, 18 percent.

–Park, 15 percent.

–Mt. Vernon, 14 percent.

–Eagle Academy, 13 percent.

–Wilson, 10 percent.

–First Avenue, 9 percent.

–Abington, 8 percent.

–Lafayette, 8 percent.

–Oliver Street, 6 percent.


Cerf, a nationally recognized champion of charter schools,  did not report on absentee rates at the city’s charter schools. He also did not report the statewide scores of charter school students. According to Caleb Perkins, one of Cerf’s assistants, those figures will be released “when they become available.” Perkins did say, however, that he believed charter school scores were higher.


The state-operated district already had released system-wide scores on the so-called PARCC test but, last night, it released scores by school. For the high schools, the percentage of students passing the English Language Arts (ELA) exam ranged from a low of 0 (zero) percent at Newark Vocational High School to 79 percent at Science Park, a magnet school. In math, the percentage of students passing ranged from 0 (zero) percent at Barringer STEAM—a school that specializes in math and the sciences—to 77 percent at Science Park.


The PARCC scores at the other high schools included:


—American History, 30 percent ELA; 15 percent math.

—Arts, 36 percent ELA; 14 percent math.

—Bard Early College, 62 percent ELA; 27 percent math.

—Barringer ARTS, 5 percent ELA; 1 percent math.

—Barringer STEAM, 4 percent ELA; 0 percent math.

—Central, 8 percent ELA; 2 percent math.

—Eagle Academy, 11 percent ELA; 7 percent math.

—Early College, 23 percent ELA; 14 percent math.

—East Side, 14 percent ELA; 4 percent math.

—Girls Academy, 28 percent ELA; 10 percent math.

—Malcolm X Shabazz, 5 percent ELA; 4 percent math.

—Newark Vocational, 0 percent ELA; 1 percent math.

—Science Park, 79 percent ELA; 77 percent math.

—Technology High, 60 percent ELA; 30 percent math.

—University, 36 percent ELA; 23 percent math.

—Weequahic, 4 percent ELA; 1 percent math.


The percentage of students passing in the elementary schools (listed in alphabetical order) were:


–Abington, 29 ELA, 20 percent math.

–Ann Street, 46 percent ELA; 48 percent math.

–Avon Avenue, 10 percent ELA; 9 percent math.

–Belmont Runyon, 6 percent ELA; 3 percent math.

–Branch Brook, 29 percent ELA; 31 percent math.

–Bruce Street School for the Deaf, 0 percent ELA; 3 percent math.

–Camden Street, 8 percent ELA; 6 percent math.

–Chancellor Avenue, 16 percent ELA; 9 percent math.

–Cleveland, 13 percent ELA; 8 percent math.

–Dr. E. Alma Flagg, 9 percent ELA; 6 percent math.

–Dr. William Horton, 14 percent ELA; 10 percent math.

–Elliott Street, 17 percent ELA; 20 percent math.

–First Avenue, 39 percent ELA; 43 percent math.

–Fourteenth Avenue, 11 percent ELA; 5 percent math.

–Franklin, 15 percent ELA; 16 percent math.

–George Washington Carver, 9 percent ELA; 5 percent math.

–Harriet Tubman, 28 percent ELA; 19 percent math.

–Hawkins St., 18 percent ELA; 9 percent math.

–Hawthorne Avenue, 10 percent ELA; 8 percent math.

–Ivy Hill, 26 percent ELA; 13 percent math.

–Lafayette, 42 percent ELA; 40 percent math.

–Lincoln, 16 percent ELA; 9 percent math.

–Louise Spencer, 6 percent ELA; 4 percent math.

–Luis Munoz Marin, 11 percent ELA; 9 percent math.

–McKinley, 15 percent ELA; 11 percent math.

–Miller St., 20 percent ELA; 9 percent math.

–Mt. Vernon, 41 percent ELA; 41 percent math.

–New Park, 41 percent ELA; 33 percent math.

–Oliver Street, 29 percent ELA; 26 percent math.

–Peshine, 11 percent ELA; 8 percent math.

–Quitman, 12 percent ELA; 10 percent math.

–Rafael Hernandez, 13 percent ELA; 6 percent math.

–Ridge Street, 40 percent ELA; 26 percent math.

–Roberto Clemente, 23 percent ELA; 22 percent math.

–S. 17th St., 14 percent ELA; 8 percent math.

–South Street, 16 percent ELA; 22 percent math.

–Speedway, 10 percent ELA; 8 percent math.

–Sussex Avenue, 16 percent ELA; 24 percent math.

–Thirteenth Avenue, 5 percent ELA; 3 percent math.

–Wilson Avenue, 24 percent ELA; 26 percent math.


Cerf said a more detailed breakdown of the scores—including scores by grade—would be available by the end of the month.

  1. If you look at a graph of the % passing scores and the % attendance(non-chronic absentee), you will see the direct correlation! Yet the State wishes to blame the Teacher for poor scores and (in Newark) reward the Teacher for good scores when it is obvious that the scores have a direct correlation to attendance which is not in the control of the Teacher!

  2. Is this a set-up to further bash the district schools, the teachers and the union?

  3. Criminal, just criminal.
    When one looks at the statistics of the chronic absentees rates and thinks about the impact, we can only shutter. Where were these absent children, what were they doing when they should have been in school? Who was checking up on them? Did the schools, who lost their Attendance Counselors and Department Chairpersons, have enough personnel to follow up?
    Cerf will say it did not happen on his watch, but it did. This was his plan that was implemented by Anderson.
    He should be fired immediately.

  4. Of course there’s chronic absenteeism. When students are assigned to schools across town, and when they get there it’s a mind-numbing regimen of incessant test prep, why would they make an effort to attend?

    1. Kate you are absolutely correct…

    2. I agree. They send the students out of their district. With little means of transportation. Or bus tickets. It’s all political. They came to create choas, and they did! Now pass the buck…

  5. If the district faces budget woes this year and next year, does that mean the plan the Montclair-based consulting group devised for Cory Booker had unintended consequences?
    Or is it just the SFRA not being funded as it should be?

    Did Cami Anderson talk about absenteeism/attendance rates during her 2014 no-audience video talk with Rick Hess?

    The PARCC scores are disheartening–but then one needs to weigh how much it should matter when the test questions may be convoluted. Also–while fewer urban parents opted out–did students just pick answers at random (conducting their own version of opt out)?

  6. During Cami Anderson’s tenure schools were kept from reporting attendance and transferring students that moved out of district. Students were inappropriately placed in schools so far away from their homes that they will never make it to school on time and in many cases at all.

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