Is this the future of Newark schools?
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.”
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.