Infuriating: Ironbound school uses playground for teacher parking lot

Newark children share school playground with teachers’ parking lot
A couple of parents quoted in this piece are friends, but any parent should find this practice infuriating. The school facilities paid for by Newark taxpayers should support the needs of children in the community, not the convenience of staff and administration.

The principal, Maria Merlo, continues a long-standing practice of turning the Ironbound grammar school’s playground into a parking lot for teachers and staff. With the cars there, about 34 of them, students get shortchanged because their play area is cut in half and they can’t stretch out and run as they should for recess and gym outdoors.

It’s been this way for reasons that don’t make sense to parents, who’ve been trying since last year to stop the practice of turning a playground into a parking lot.

“The cars don’t belong there — no ifs, ands or buts,” said Madeline Ruiz. “There’s no reason that can satisfy taking away this privilege from children.”

Four charter schools to open in Newark

Lia Eustachewich: Four New Charter Schools to Open in Newark

Paulo Freire Charter School, 100 Legacy and virtual charter schools Merit Preparatory of Newark and Newark Prep will open their doors this upcoming school year, bringing the total number of charters in the state to 86 and joining nearly two dozen already existing schools in the city.

The just-approved schools, as well as existing ones, will be measured against new Performance Frameworks designed to improve oversight and accountability for the schools by setting clear expectations, DOE said in a press release. The schools will be evaluated in three comprehensive areas: Academic, organizational and financial performances.

“Charter schools are granted autonomy in exchange for accountability, and we at the state level will continue to hold all charter schools accountable for results to ensure that they offer all students a high-quality education and an equality of opportunity,” said Acting Commissioner Chris Cerf in a statement.

A Considered Refutation of the “Success” of the Charter School Movement

Jersey Jazzman: The New Segregation in the New Newark
This is a response to my post, in which I expressed support of Superintendent Cami Anderson’s overruling the school board decision to keep from leading school buildings to charter schools.

Now it is true that some charters do seem to “beat the odds”: they do better than expected given their student populations. But are the odds any better for charters – as a whole – than public schools? And can those high-flying charters scale their success to all students? Increasingly, the answer seems to be: “No.”

In the case of Newark, I’m afraid the evidence is quite clear: “successful” charters are “successful” because they serve different student populations than the public schools surrounding them. TEAM has a different student population. North Star has a different student population. Robert Treat has a different student population. These are the charters we hear about; the ones our politicians and pundits love to brag on:

By overruling the board, Superintendent Anderson is operating from the perspective that building a network of charter schools will provide better choices for Newark parents and builds upon the successes of those schools.

Duke, a public school teacher himself, argues that charter schools are not a panacea for Newark’s poor student performance. The crux of his argument is that charter school success is not the result of better incentives for teachers, better teaching methods, or technology.

Rather, charter schools do better because they select for wealthier students with parents who are engaged in their children’s education.

It’s a sobering, clear-headed takedown of the PowerPoint success stories that my wife and I were shown during our own search for a kindergarten for our daughter.

If you care about Newark kids, this article is a must-read.

Debate Rages Over Local vs. State Control of Newark Schools

It’s true that there are a lot of mediocre and even ineffective charter schools in Newark. A search on GreatSchools.org, which evaluates schools on a one-to-ten scale based on standardized testing results, shows that there are, indeed, many charters that don’t do better than their public school counterparts. There are also public schools that are great—Ann Street school in the Ironbound has been a Blue-Ribbon winner in years past.
The challenge is to figure out how the effective models are scaled up across the city and the problem schools are either fixed or dissolved quickly.

Jersey Jazzman: Newark Will NEVER Have Control Of Its Schools
Thoughtful and angry counterpoint on state-appointed superintendent Cami Anderson’s overriding the locally elected school board’s vote against leasing school buildings to charter schools.

To the surprise of absolutely no one, the state-appointed superintendent of Newark’s schools’ told its duly elected advisory board to go jump in the Passaic.

There is simply no way that Newark, under the current New Jersey educational regime, is going to get its schools back. The Broadies who have infested the NJDOE want charters, and they want them run by their people. Nothing is going to stop them; certainly not a bunch of noisy parents who don’t want to see school funds dumped into charters that don’t do any better than the local public schools.

It’s true that there are a lot of mediocre and even ineffective charter schools in Newark. A search on GreatSchools.org, which evaluates schools on a one-to-ten scale based on standardized testing results, shows that there are, indeed, many charters that don’t do better than their public school counterparts. There are also public schools that are great—Ann Street school in the Ironbound has been a Blue-Ribbon winner in years past.

The challenge is to figure out how the effective models are scaled up across the city and the problem schools are either fixed or dissolved quickly.

Given the facts provided by the Ledger, this doesn’t sound like a situation where wildly successful schools were being shut down to favor charter schools run by highly-paid consultants. It sounds like the board approved to keep mostly empty schools from consolidating and foot a million-dollar renovation bill out of fear, uncertainty and doubt.

(To the board’s credit, it sounds as though Anderson didn’t supply details about the charter schools applying to lease the buildings, so they didn’t have much to go on.)

I argued that the pragmatic decision here was to lease the buildings: buoy the budget, expand the schools that are reporting successes, and consolidate the tiny schools that meet in enormous, aging facilities.

It seems the Star Ledger Editorial Board agrees with me.

Star Ledger: The Newark advisory board’s irrational vote on charter schools

The rational policy here is obvious: Allow the charter schools to rent some of the empty space in conventional schools, or even entire schools. They could serve more kids and the district could earn rental income.

But this is Newark, where politics often veer into the absurd. So the Newark school board, after a raucous meeting on Monday, voted against a series of leases — including those sought by North Star and Team.

And now Cami Anderson, the superintendent, has vetoed the board’s vote and signed the leases. At least someone in power is looking after the interests of the kids in Newark first.

As a Newark parent, I have skin in the game in this decision, something that most of the Star Ledger Editorial Board and, I suspect, Jersey Jazzman don’t have. My oldest is about to enter kindergarden, and it took us some time to evaluate the options and come to a decision—one I’ll detail in another post.

Newark schools need leadership that will make hard decisions, study successful trends, be willing to experiment, and use resources carefully. In those terms, I think Anderson’s decision trumps that of the board.

There may be something to the idea that prevention of returning control of the schools to Newark would be better for Newark kids.  But using this vote to make that argument is misguided.

State metrics of Newark school performance shows decline as city vies for local control

Star Ledger: Newark’s fight to take control of schools from state hits snag over new numbers

But in the interim review issued last week, Newark dropped well below acceptable levels in personnel, governance and finance; the three areas they scored well on last year. Local leaders feel those numbers were rigged to give the state’s decision more credibility in court.

Charter school not teaching classes in taxpayer-funded building

Star Ledger: Newark charter school is on shaky ground, lease for unused facility at center of state probe

A lease on the property at 15 James St. in downtown Newark says there’s a charter school here, teaching children in kindergarten through sixth grade. But a visitor to the building on a regular weekday walks through empty rooms where there are no desks, no books and nary a sign that any education goes on here.

Finally you ask, “So where are the kids?” State investigators are asking the same question.

Shenanigans afoot on James St. (Interesting timing for this story to break, too.)

Newark superintendent overturns school board, approves charter leases

Newark Patch: Anderson Vetoes Board Vote, Approves Charter Leases
Good for Newark kids:

In a historic move in her one-year tenure as Newark superintendent, Cami Anderson vetoed the schools advisory board’s vote to deny leases to four of five charter schools for space in public facilities.

Check out the quote from Anderson at the end of the article (linked above). It sums up where she’s coming from: it’s the complete opposite of the reckless idealism Councilwoman Crump expressed on Monday.

School advisory board prevents charter school lease deal

NJ Spotlight: Charter School Leases Struck Down in Newark, For Now

“We know who the enemy is, and we must fight to our last breath to save our children and to save Newark public schools,” said Mildred Crump, a city councilwoman who was the first in the audience to speak at the meeting.

“For those of you willing to sell our children for profit, shame on you,” she said.

Despite the councilwoman’s breathless rhetoric, the district advisory board has effectively voted to prevent consolidating absurdly empty schools and to foot the bill to restore dilapidated buildings—an expense that will run into the millions.

I’m for improving Newark’s schools for our children, but this is wrongheaded. Crump is stoking Newarkers’ suspicion of outsiders into paranoia to score political points and maintain her Teacher’s Union support.

Zuckerberg $100M School Donation in Holding Pattern

Newark School Reform: About That $100 Million…
Wonderfully detailed long-form piece on the present state of the Newark school system—it’s challenges and opportunities—and the elephant in the room.

When Anderson unveiled the plan last February, however, she was heckled at public meetings by residents who accused her of trying to rob them of their neighborhood schools. “Cami Anderson, I have not seen such trickery since the devil took over the Garden of Eden,” one of her detractors told her at a budget hearing. Naturally, the teachers’ union has happily stoked the outrage. “I’m all for school reform,” Del Grosso chuckles. “But this is the Dr. Kevorkian approach.”

The budget crunch has also forced Anderson to cut arts and music programs at some schools. Residents find this bizarre at a time when so many philanthropic dollars are flowing into Newark. “I don’t understand why you are doing this,” a frustrated Newarker asked at the budget meeting. “Where’s the Facebook money?” Good question.

The answer: matching funds are still being raised. The mayor has raised $54 million so far, just over half the needed funds to unfreeze Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s donation. Mayor Booker claims a big fundraising announcement will be coming in the next few months and I think he will succeed at closing the gap.

I am curious about the governance of the money. The total combined donation of $200 million is about a fifth of the nearly $1 billion Newark schools budget. How will residents get a say in where that money is directed?

Some read questions like this and the significant contributions from hedge fund managers as an effort to buy out the education system and run it at a profit (or some other nefarious scheme). I’m going to go on record and suggest that’s a load of crap.

BusinessWeek interviewed two main opponents of the mayor for the counterpoint perspective. One, State Senator Clifford Minor, ran a failed campaign for the mayor’s office against Booker.

The other was Joseph Del Grasso, president of the Newark Teacher’s Union. The union, whose membership enjoys a median salary 30% more than the rest of the state, has had an almost militant opposition to the mayor since his his swearing in. In 2007, they paid for a charming campaign to cover the city in billboards decrying the prevalence of violent crime, but offering no solutions.

When it comes to opposition to reforming the education system in Newark, I can’t help but think of that Upton Sinclair quote:

It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.

Or maybe another more common quote: if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

State votes on higher ed. merger

State Legislature to vote on Rutgers-Rowan-UMDNJ merger today

The controversial bill, which has gone through many changes since Gov. Chris Christie announced the plan in January, would merge Rutgers-Camden with Rowan University and govern them with a joint board. It would also fold most of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) into Rutgers. Rowan also would take over UMDNJ’s School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford.

Proponents say it will save the state money in the long run, but Rutgers officials testified this week that it would cost the university at least $155 million to refinance its debt if it had to cut financial ties with its Camden campus.

At least they’re not planning to call it University of New Jersey.