When “doing God’s work” means firing half a school’s teachers

Is this the future of Newark schools?

Marion P. Thomas Charter School--out with the old.
Marion P. Thomas Charter School–teachers are to blame for poor PARCC test scores.

The administrators of the Newark charter school that fired half of its teaching staff have blamed the instructors they hired for poor test scores and all but told worried parents to butt out of their decision-making–even when, as they concede, the decisions are “painful” and “drastic.”

Dr. Karen P. Thomas, CEO and Superintendent of the Marion P. Thomas Charter School
Dr. Karen P. Thomas, CEO and Superintendent of the Marion P. Thomas Charter School

Karen Thomas, who refers to herself as  chief executive officer and superintendent of the Marion P. Thomas charter school (MPTCS), responded to protests from parents and teachers (and some students) by insisting it was doing the right thing by kicking to the sidewalk 37 of its 79 teaching staff members–men and women her administration hired and, presumably, trained and evaluated over the last five years. Men and women who were just given raises.

Scores registered by Marion P. Thomas students on the state-required PARCC tests were especially poor–and Karen Thomas is blaming that on the teachers. Indeed, she even states the student scores were the teachers’ scores:

“The 2014 PARCC test scores for MPTCS students and teachers  documented that more than half of our scholars are not achieving at the required levels of proficiency,” Thomas wrote in a letter to school parents. (Emphasis mine).

Note that the school, publicly funded but privately operated,  considers these scores the scores of the teachers. That’s quite a leap–although it fits right in with the teaching of Chris Christie, the Great White Hope of charter schools who argues that “selfish” public school teachers are to blame for the failures of schools that are illegally deprived of funds and illegally isolated racially and economically by him and his cronies in the Legislature and courts.

Indeed, Christie just praised charter schools like Marion P. Thomas as doing “God’s work.” Apparently, the teachers hired, trained, and evaluated by Karen Thomas and other administrators were so bad that not even God–much less Gov. Christie–could help the children.

But Karen Thomas gives no indication in the letters sent out to fired teachers that they were dismissed because of poor student performance–and no evidence was provided that only teachers whose students did well on the PARCC test were maintained.

On the school website, MPTCS insists this is all part of a plan to improve the school–but the plan itself won’t be available until July.

The same administrators who hired teachers now considered failures still are insisting that they know precisely what to do, no matter what recent history shows:

“Over the 18 years of our existence, MPTCS has never been afraid to do the difficult things it takes to make sure that children come first. This sometimes means making tough decisions related to adults. But our mission commits us to use every means necessary to fulfil (sic) our responsibility to our students, families and our charter.”

By any means necessary?

Well, if God can be invoked by charter advocates, why not Malcolm X?

“So the decisions made this year,” continues Thomas, “while painful and seen as drastic by some are part of our uncompromising commitment for continued progress for the entire Village. Change is not easy, but necessary to reach our ultimate goals.”

Ed Stevens, an organizer with the union that represents teachers at the school, called Thomas’s letter “condescending.”

“She is telling the parents she knows better than they do what is good for their children,” said Stevens, an organizer for the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA).  The Marion P. Thomas Charter School is one of the few charter schools represented by the teachers’ union.

But the actions by the charter school spell trouble ahead for urban school districts–especially those Christie intends to inundate with more charter schools. Firing teachers wholesale because of poor performance has not yet caught on in school districts directed by Christie and his political allies, including Camden’s George Norcross III and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka–but it can’t be that far away.

12 comments

  1. Karl

    This woman is just another evil charter school hack. I am so excited that the economy is finally getting better so new teachers can finally get into a good job at a public school and leave these sweatshop schools in the dust. The word is finally out that charter schools simply are not a happy place for teachers, students, and parents.

  2. Concerned NJ Educator

    This seems like a means to be ‘cost effective’ rather than about “test scores”. It’s interesting that the firing of personnel are for teachers with 5 years or less with the school. Which would mean they are non-tenured, just shy of receiving tenure or have tenure without seniority. All of those categories would place them in danger of a “lay off/firing”. However, the bigger picture is the monetary aspect (once a teacher is making near $70K that is approximately $100K from their budget in terms of wages and benefits. Being publicly funded but still private has the challenge of financial sustainability over time) and whether or not those teachers were a “good fit” to the culture and/or climate of the school. Either way there seems to be something unsavory about the whole thing.

  3. TK 2016

    Reprisals – sans the high and mighty corporate soft core idiomatic mask of the day – that’s what we are, in effect, describing. There will be more.

    The 2016 spring offensive in the war for American privatization (yet another form of legalized looting) has the political harlot, Governor Christie, summoning his daily dose of gluttonous gumption – to again hawk the (oh my God) gospel of prosperity in public classrooms – and pounding his personal bible in a cynical ploy to explain, among other things, the sudden disappearance of half of Dr. Thomas’ entire “village.”

    But they were just teachers, he’ll seed us to reason, and this is the United States of education reform — a harsh construct in which we, the “village” people, are made to stare down the Pearson muzzle in more ways than one.

    And all of them allegedly for our own good. Such a peaceful nation.

    The effects of these terminations extend beyond the impacts to students and families most immediately marred by Christie’s laying on of the invisible iron hand, while the teaching “population” was again made to feel the full force of the Governor’s terrible swift sword. This is one PARCC lesson that is unmistakably clear to the teaching community – and isn’t that what we like to call a given target group these days, a community? Just before smiting them, in the name of our strutting governor, as he presses the crusade to rediscover the Gospel of Wealth?

    The new line of demarcation, describing fewer inalienable rights, is being drawn deep and perilously far from the old one, and with it, a stronger intimation, and a warning, to any who might be given to tremble when trapped in the path of the next sudden purge.

    These are no simple hirings and firings. Not when coming from operators who construct artificial real life narrative for a living. Operators who, in their messianic zeal, will turn on their own (but, they reason, so much “less significant”) and bulldoze them with the message monster that they stitched together from disparate parts of once living thoughts.

    The manner of termination also lays bare one of PARCC’s essential design elements and its chief utility. The Common Core State Standards Initiative creates not the touted means for lifting all boats – students, families, and educators alike – but seeks instead to provide a statistical basis by which to justify the vilification of any population left beneath the blade arc of the PARCC cut score.

    Plus it makes lotsa room for the fresh faced, obedient, and natively computer literate, and on a crazy-accelerated timetable, before Bill Gates passes from the earth, unfulfilled. Another aging tyrant in search of a noble legacy – at whatever cost.

    For the education industry clerics who bow to the gleaming Pearson device, the means to vanquish the local “rabble” is thereby granted – on the way to bulking up their own administrative and shareholder echelons as they perch, expectantly, on tip top admin tiers – in quiet preparation to unleash a reverse two and a half somersault, with tuck, into that cool pool of (former) Abbott funding dollars.

    Or was it just a nasty-ass belly flop? The judges from Trenton and D.C. will now hold up their scorecards.

    They … scored … what?

    The free market faithful never saw a public funding pool they wouldn’t like to wantonly, hypocritically, commandeer and endlessly, endlessly, pump onto their own side of the ledger. They just need to disguise the fact of all that missing capital. Education itself has less and less to do with the Art – in the public school setting – it was Formerly Known As. Instead, we are subjected to a pale and prancing exercise in the garish display of the privileges and prerogatives of raw next-gen industrial power. The hiding power of that spectacle alone is worth the murky sunk costs of US and NJ tax dollars into our own state’s smoochie tete-a-tete with Pearson and PARCC – to the bosses, at least, who invest cents on the dollar and enjoy a fabulous rate of return.

    Less so for us. Least of all for the once shiny new lives, now tarnished, and soon abandoned to the pit of certified imperfection. From a British colonial standpoint, at least.

    How bad will it get for teachers and their so-called mission to “do God’s work,” when they are now made to fight a continual political rear guard action in each and every publicly funded classroom? Against superiors who secretly want to kill them off – as a generation – and at the risk of seeing vaporized their careers, their positions, and their dwindling professional standing? Soon to be replaced, if the plan proceeds apace, by trainees from the charter mill who are, themselves, not much more than kids?

    That’s not stressful? And stress is not infectious? Do kids naturally love bizarre evidence of adult-level stress? The governor, at least, seems to enjoy dealing it out. Aggression, Inc – that’s the Christie ticket.

    And no, for heaven’s sake, PARCC is not going to be a promising new tool to counteract the effects of grinding intergenerational poverty. But a full boat scholarship to Phillips Andover Academy? A pass to the land where they never touch the PARCC? Hell, that particular youth culture has mostly never heard of the screen thing their own parents dreamt up to shove at the faces of the unwashed masses. And there’s an offer that will surely change one’s lot in life if you can, somehow, keep the street from eating token numbers of kids, all in time for them to capitalize on the white man’s outstretched offer to grant a precious few the opportunity of a lifetime.

    We should all leave our miserable lives behind for chances like those. Slim chances — so not for us.

    The kinds of chances that (to the manner born) young lords of private school passages take for granted, every magnificent day of their entitled and legacy-lubricated lives. When the worst among them aren’t shopping for the next Cory Booker – who worked hard – to make space for charters instead.

    We mustn’t fail to recognize that Christie’s own criteria for success and those of the population he allegedly serves as governor are completely different sets – and in most ways mutually exclusive – even as the “mystery” of the governor’s seemingly guiltless approach to ruination is debated ad nauseam and with the same impossibly clueless ignorance of Big Boy’s motives that marked the press view of his golden days, when he burst onto the virtual scene, like a sequin-bedecked avatar, sometimes billed as the New Jersey cure.

    The cure that’s gonna kick some corrupted NJ butt. In public. With his mouth. And a ubiquitous security detail standing by, impassively, yet unmistakably charged with protecting the governor’s back. With guns. And body armor. And stacks and stacks of lawyers. The cure who won’t then bother to attend their funerals.

    Kim Guadagno, she got that duty.

    This urge to exclusivity easily explains why Christie will never experience a poor showing – in the eyes of this same public – as a sign of his own failure. The same mindset also protects his fragile psyche from the disruptive power of any professional criticism directed his way, buffering him twice as much from the howls that arise amid his self-styled scorched earth rendition of Big Boy’s March to the Privatized Sea.

    Christie shall remain blissfully unconflicted in terming his own tenure (as a servant to the Constitution of the State of New Jersey) a resounding success. Candidate Christie’s right, by fiat, to self-fund, by way of the shockingly shorn taxpayer kitty, and, similarly, to self-assess the relative glory of his own trajectory through the diamond-studded firmament of 21st century American political harlotry, squares perfectly with the original mission he sneakily agreed to accept from his favorite bankrolling political masters, back in his anonymous busking days as a lobbyist and sub ho-hum guy, who ran for, what? County Freeholder?

    Bankrolling masters who doggedly conspire to eliminate the say-so of all the pissant taxpaying suckers and their blah people spawn who tolerate (and foolishly support) this long con – itself another carefully cultivated heartsick diorama-writ-large and thereby thuggish warning, to all, from the new boss men.

    And now, the record shows, it’s all to the glory of the educational holy land, where the savior charter kings – who cunningly stuff Christie’s dancing dude pockets, having also gained command of his ear – will continually reignite his insipid quest to pimp out the governorship of the State of New Jersey. A sometimes venerable office that our state constitution has rendered so powerful, and now so yummy-tasting to the things that crawled out of the things which crawled out of the Citizens United decision.

    The decision that Justice Scalia – another one-time Jersey boy – zealously helped us into, then died, down in Texas, leaving us to somehow defang, if and when we eventually dare. How, exactly? What are we, the people, actually up against?

    The boardroom guys make no bones in telling anyone “lucky enough” to be in their comet’s coma that they pay, in earnest, only for results. They are equally quick to inform lesser beings, whom they might deem too slow on the uptake, exactly where to stick their promises should they ever fail to deliver on even a one of them.

    As deliberately destructive to public institutions as Christie obviously is, the properly matrixed facts do not themselves lie (only the special narrative can do this), indicating with little doubt that he did not (completely) disappoint the people for whom he first came to tango.

    Which ain’t us.

    Nor is it in doubt that his moves onstage are just plain ugly. No script placed in his eager beaver hands can ever fix that one – clearly no concern of the Governor while good times still roll and dollars do all the talking.

    With Christie, the argument goes, we should thank God that it’s not the local corruption that’s killing our chances in life. The high and the mighty are now coming down, through the offices of their special envoys, to do that dirty work themselves. To no one’s surprise, they’ve found there’s damn good money in it.

  4. A VERY loved teacher

    Let’s be crystal clear about the said teachers in this article. Some of these people are some of the most remarkable, loving, dedicated educators this school will have ever had…in the beginning of this school year they were asked the difference between being “committed and involved”…the answers given when asked were phenomenal because as we all know, when it comes to children if you are not either one of those…you will fail at getting children to own their education and commit to you as their educational provider….many of these teachers were committed to getting their scholars to make HUGE leaps as well as were INVOLVED in their scholars lives as more than a “teacher”…a teacher wears many hats, bandages many physical and emotional wounds…as well as provides consistency in the simple things such as tough love, hugs, and a breath of fresh air from their reality of God knows what…it’s a shame that these very teachers are being categorized as “ineffective” when PARCC was a new test as of last year and some teachers’ first year administering the test was just THIS YEAR…there is false information and false accusations being thrown all over the place….its unprofessional and unfair to the very people that enter the building, love AND wholeheartedly teach the youth within that building daily when it comes to reading about themselves in such a way as everyone did over the past few days….to be quite honest…it’s DISGUSTING…meanwhile the very teachers that were let go are still waiting for their reasons since there was NO communication throughout the year that would even make them fathom the events that took place on Friday the 13th….

  5. Abigail Shure

    Christie’s goal is to make all teachers at will employees. The methods employed are churning non-tenured teachers and bringing up veteran teachers on tenure charges. The focal point of on the ground strategies is the elimination of teacher autonomy in the classroom through the use of scripted curricula and rubric based evaluation frameworks. TFA is another vital tool in the de-professionalization of teaching. Teacher education departments are being dismantled at universities as the bar for achieving certification is lowered or eliminated. At the end of the day, the State of New Jersey will be relieved of onerous pension liabilities. The middle class will be further weakened and the poor will continue to be trampled by the insatiable rich.

  6. Michael Fiorillo

    “God’s work?”

    I thought that’s what Goldman Sachs does?

    Oh well, Goldman Sachs, sweatshop charter schools, peas in a pod…

  7. Donna

    It should be made public the next round of teacher hires, to be clear where they came from (TFA?), what their training is (traditional, TFA, alternate), whether they are certified and licensed, or not, and how green and/or novice and/or veteran they are.

    I would imagine the next bulk hiring of teachers there will be TFA, alternate route, novice – TFA b/c Wendy can provide the troops (albeit they will suck at teaching) or novice b/c MPC believes it can mold them for the next 4 years until they approach tenure status, then fire them. What is the salary for Karen Thomas? What is the salary for other such administrators, talent officers, etc? Is MPC administrator heavy? Charters are taxation without representation – the longer they exist, the more the public learns how much they suck and how they are only meant to end true public education.

  8. Disappointed Teacher

    If teachers are responsible for test scores than shouldn’t administrators be held responsible as well? In that case, half the admin should have gotten fired as well.

    I was at this school in 2016-2017 school year after this all happened. The school was broken in many ways. The students were angry and the vet teachers who in normal circumstances helped new teachers were just not there.

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