Education Model For America Also No Prize (Part 2)

Throw $200 million into a political morass and you get, according to Dale Russakoff in ‘The Prize’ , more of the same.

FILE - In this Saturday, Sept. 25, 2010 file photo, Mark Zuckerberg, left, founder and CEO of Facebook and N.J. Gov. Chris Christie listen as Newark Mayor Cory Booker talks about Zuckerberg's donation of $100 million to help Newark public schools during a press conference in Newark, N.J. Zuckerberg appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s show five years ago with a Democratic mayor and Republican governor to announce a $100 million donation to try to remake the education system in Newark, it was presented as an effort to make a struggling city into a national model for turning around urban schools systems. Thanks to Zuckerberg’s money and another $100 million in matching donations, thousands of children have switched to publicly funded charter schools, where educational outcomes have generally been better for students. But the sped-up exodus has left traditional public schools in an ever-worsening financial condition and there’s been no marked improvement in performance for the students left there; by several measures, there have been declines. (AP Photo/Rich Schultz, File)

FILE – In this Saturday, Sept. 25, 2010 file photo, Mark Zuckerberg, left, founder and CEO of Facebook and N.J. Gov. Chris Christie listen as Newark Mayor Cory Booker talks about Zuckerberg’s donation of $100 million to help Newark public schools during a press conference in Newark, N.J. Zuckerberg appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s show five years ago with a Democratic mayor and Republican governor to announce a $100 million donation to try to remake the education system in Newark, it was presented as an effort to make a struggling city into a national model for turning around urban schools systems. Thanks to Zuckerberg’s money and another $100 million in matching donations, thousands of children have switched to publicly funded charter schools, where educational outcomes have generally been better for students. But the sped-up exodus has left traditional public schools in an ever-worsening financial condition and there’s been no marked improvement in performance for the students left there; by several measures, there have been declines. (AP Photo/Rich Schultz, File)

Notable excerpts from the second half of the book follow:

Asked why he felt so strongly about the Newark schools, [Chris] Christie launched into his story, which had played well on the campaign trail, of having been born in the city, although his parents moved the family to the suburbs in search of better schools. “You know,” he went on, “I don’t think I’d be governor if I went too school in Newark.” (page 111)

[Cami] Anderson had arrived in Newark as a life-sized challenge to the status quo. She made this clear when, early on, she refused to hire the girlfriend of one city councilman and fired the cousin of another one. “The trading post is closed,” as she put it. (page 113)

Surprisingly, Cerf, Booker, and Christie had no plan for ensuring a stable learning environment for children in district schools as they advocated aggressive expansion of charters. (page 119)

Anderson herself was paid $247,500 a year, plus a potential bonus of $50,00, if she achieved goals that she and Cerf, as commissioner, were to negotiate at the outset of each school year. Tying extra pay to the achievement of specific goals was typical of performance-based contracts in the private sector. But Cerf and Anderson waited until the school year was almost over to finalize the goals – akin to tailoring an answer sheet to a test taker’s responses. Each year, she received almost all of the available bonus money. (page 127)

In Washington, Cerf was blunt. He made clear that he and Christie could use Zuckerger’s money in one of two ways: to underwrite a teachers’ contract that imposed consequences on the worst and rewarded the best, or to “charterize” the city, ultimately leading to the collapse of the district. “My view had been that the trajectory was for Newark to become a charter district like New Orleans,” [Randi] Weingarten said. New Orleans, which was transformed into an almost all-charter system after Hurricane Katrina destroyed the vast majority of its schools in 2005, was the ultimate threat to teachers’ unions. Teachers in the school district were unionized; those in charters were not. After talking with Cerf, she saw the contract – despite the compromises involved – as a path to sve the district, and with it, union jobs. (page 152)

Anderson estimated the total cost of the labor agreements at $100 million, far more than Booker and Zuckerberg had expected. This came to half the anticipated philanthropic bounty of $100 million from Zuckerberg and $100 million in matching gifts. The FNF staff’s strategic plan had called for investing heavily in ongoing community organizing around reform efforts and also in early-childhood programs. But these plans were canceled to make way for the labor costs as Anderson had calculated them. (page 156-7)

Booker was enjoying a boom of his own in national attention, touring the country as a prominent Obama surrogate. He cochaired the platform committee for the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he dropped well-publicized hints that he might challenge Christie in the governor’s race the following year. The idea won enthusiastic encouragement from party activists. Christie met with Cerf, [Joe] Del Grosso, and Anderson in his Trenton office on October 12 and laid plans for a triumphal contract announcement. Booker was noticeably absent. “Cory Booker will not be anywhere near this press conference,” Christie announced icily, according to two people at the meeting. The governor made clear that he was furious that Booker was talking of a possible gubernatorial run. Christie was counting on Democrats to put up only token opposition, resulting in a landslide reelection, to position him as a strong presidential contender in blue as well as red states in 2016. (page 161)

Even Chrisite’s vision of standing side by side with Weingarten at a news conference came to pass. It took place in the gymnasium of Newark’s Speedway Elementary School with hundreds of children sitting behind him in uniforms and dozens of television cameras recording his every word. Christie, Weingarten, Cerf, Anderson, Del Gross, and the CEO of the Foundation for Newark’s Future, Greg Taylor, all had turns at the microphone, declaring victory for the children of Newark. Booker, on Christie’s orders, sat in the audience. (page 163)

The budget crisis Cami Anderson foresaw upon her arrival in Newark hit with full force in 2013. Announcing a $57 million revenue gap in March, she cut over $18 million from school budgets and laid off more than two hundred attendance counselors, clerical workers, janitors, parent liaisons, and security guards, most of them Newark residents with few comparable job prospects. “We’re raising the poverty level in Newark in the name of school reform,” she told a group of funders, unhappily. “It’s a hard thing to wrestle with.” At the same time, she was awarding significant raises to her own leadership team, which she did not make public. (page 190)

The board proceeded to vote down Anderson’s budget for the coming year, and also voted no confidence in her – in both cases unanimously, but without effect bacuase of the state’s control. (page 190)

It was a window onto why teachers consistently tell researchers that, given the choice, they would opt for a good principal and supportive working conditions over merit pay. Indeed, research had found no correlation between merit pay and student achievement, although reformers and venture philanthropists were fighting hard to make it a staple of new teacher contracts. (page 193)

And Anderson’s declarations of victory, based on less than complete presentations of data on student performance, only exacerbated unease. She announced a ten percent increase in the graduation rate – an accomplishment Christie touted in his State of the State address – but results from the ACT college admission test, taken by all juniors, showed that only two to five percent of students in nonmagnet high schools were prepared for college. Meanwhile, throughout the district, proficiency had declined in both literacy and math in every tested grade on the state standardized test since 2011, the year before Anderson arrived. The state had made the tests more difficult over those years, but students’ results statewide hadn’t suffered. (page 204)

For four years, the reformers never really tried to have a conversation with the people of Newark. Their target audience was always somewhere else, beyond the people whose children and grandchildren desperately needed to learn and compete for a future. Booker, Christie, and Zuckerberg set out to create a national “proof point” in Newark. There was less focus on Newark as its own complex ecosystem that reformers needed to understand before trying to save it. Two hundred million dollars and almost five years later, there was at least as much rancor as reform. (page 210)

In early June [2015], Christie covertly invited Baraka to Trenton to discuss education. Days before his formal campaign launch, the Republican governor and the Democratic mayor issued a joint announcement that they had reached an agreement to begin the process of returning to Newark long-lost control over its public school district. Anderson was not the person to lead in this new era, the governor said. She was given three hours to decide whether to resign or be fired. She resigned. (page 211)

 

3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by skip3house on January 4, 2016 at 2:42 pm

    NJ certainly needs the often mentioned ‘Defined Contribution’ system to stop abuses, and show actual worth on each pay stub, not political promises.
    http://www.teacherpensions.org/blog/not-all-pensions-are-equal

    Reply

    • Posted by dentss dunnigan on January 4, 2016 at 5:06 pm

      Most workers receive back the money they put into the pensions within the first few years …everything else in on the taxpayers dime .With the future returns under 4 to 5% and zero interest rate ,if we ever truly have a stock market crash like they are calling for it will be over for the pension fund and taxpayers alike …….

      Reply

      • Posted by Tough Love on January 4, 2016 at 6:21 pm

        “Nutcases” don’t just want the 10% of the total cost (of their extraordinarily GENEROUS, and hence extraordinarily COSTLY pensions) that THEY pay, they want (and demand that they “deserve”) the OTHER 90% of the Total cost foisted upon NJ’s Taxpayers.

        Reply

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