Ras Baraka, Mayor of Newark, wrote an op-ed article for the New York Times that shows what a disaster state control of the public schools has been in Newark, New Jersey.
The state took “temporary” control of the Newark schools in 1995. Reforms came and went; new programs came and went. Promises were made and broken. Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million went to a failed merit pay plan (merit pay has always failed yet politicians and naive philanthropists never give up).
Newark has had top-down control for nearly 20 years. Democracy was suspended. The children are no better off.
The state’s maladministration of Newark’s public schools continues to this day. When Superintendent Cami Anderson’s “Renew Schools” reform plan ran into difficulties because of its lack of public consultation, foundation dollars went to a community-engagement program. Yet the latest iteration, the “One Newark” plan, has only plunged the system into more chaos.
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Consider the reports I’ve received of Barringer High School (formerly Newark High School). Three weeks into the school year, students still did not have schedules. Students who had just arrived in this country and did not speak English sat for days in the school library without placement or instruction. Seniors were placed in classes they had already taken, missing the requirements they’d need to graduate. Even the school lunch system broke down, with students served bread and cheese in lieu of hot meals.
Baraka, an experienced educator, knows what should be done, but neither Governor Christie nor his hand-picked superintendent Cami Anderson listens to the elected representative of the people of Newark.
The real issues that reform should address are ensuring that every 3- or 4-year-old child is enrolled in a structured learning environment, and that all our teachers get staff development and training. We must be more effective at sharing best practices and keeping our class sizes manageable. If necessary, we should put more than one teacher in the classroom, especially for students from kindergarten to third grade.
We also need to fix additional problems like a historically segregated curriculum, which offers stimulating choices in wealthy suburbs but only the most basic courses to our inner-city children. And we must break the cycle of low expectations that some educators have of the children they teach, merely prescribing repeat classes if students don’t pass.
The first step in a transition to local control of Newark’s schools is a short-term transfer of authority to the mayor. I would quickly appoint a new superintendent. Once basic functions were restored to the district, we would move as soon as possible to return control to an elected school board with full powers.
It is clear that we cannot rely on the good faith of the state to respond expeditiously. Federal intervention appears our only recourse. I have written to the Justice Department’s Office of Civil Rights in support of the lawsuits that parents, students, advocates and educators in our city have brought, requesting that the federal government intercede. The right of Newark’s citizens to equitable, high-quality public education demands the return of local, democratic control.