Archives for category: Newark

Jersey Jazzman notes that charters in his state are on the horns of a dilemma: on one hand, public school advocates are suing to block charter expansion, because they drain away public school funding: on the other hand, charters want to join a lawsuit that would allow them to share in a settlement intended to provide equity for public schools in impoverished districts. JJ is a very smart guy but he doesn’t seem to understand that what matters most is not consistency but being in the right place when the money spigot is turned on. Charters are public when that’s where the money is; charters are not public when it suits them to avoid mandates.

He writes:

This was a long time coming: the Christie administration happily encouraged the expansion of charter schools without seriously thinking about appropriate oversight, regulation, and funding of the sector. Now the state has to contend with a system that imposes fiscal burdens on school districts that host charter schools, even as those districts have no meaningful say on charter school proliferation.

The fact – which I have validated empirically – is that charter school expansion is not a revenue-neutral policy. As school districts lose students to charters, they are unable to adjust immediately to enrollment declines, because districts have fixed costs like buildings and personnel that can’t be quickly scaled back. 

But charter operators appear to be unconcerned with this reality; repeatedly, they have demanded they get everything they think they are owed, even when school districts are facing serious financial pressures. During Christie’s time, this meant charter budgets weren’t touched
, even as host districts’ were slashed…

As Bruce Baker and Gary Miron pointed out years ago, charter school regulations like New Jersey’s lead to an absurd situation: the public pays for school buildings that many times used to be owned by a school district – in other words, the public – but wind up in private hands. Sometimes those hands are nonprofits aligned with the charter school; sometimes they are for-profit companies, paying off their mortgages with funds the charters receive in per pupil payments from hosting school districts.

In either case, the public is paying for a building that the public will never own. And in most cases, these are buildings that are paid for, at least in part, with local funds, even though the state is the entity that gets to decide whether charters will be granted or renewed.

This lunacy is at the heart of the serious conflicts of interest, lack of transparency, and just generally bad policymaking that surrounds New Jersey’s charter school facilities…

The legal status of charter schools has always been open to debate, but it’s clear at this point that they are not government actors. As such, they can claim immunity from oversight regulations that other governmental entities, such as school boards, must abide by. Why, then, should the taxpayers simply turn over revenues for charter facilities when they won’t even know who, if anyone, is profiting off of this system?

There are a lot of aspects of charter school policy we can debate, but this one if clear: If the public pays for a school building — including a charter school building — the public should own the building. If New Jersey’s charter schools want more funding for their facilities, the price to be paid is that those facilities stay in public hands, with public oversight and complete transparency.

If you think I’m wrong, I’d love to hear your argument. But it seems clear to me that New Jersey’s charter schools can’t have it both ways: if you want public funding, you can’t have privately owned buildings.

The Education Law Center is suing to block former Governor Chris Christie’s 2016 decision to expand charters in Newark:


February 11, 2020
The New Jersey Supreme Court has granted a petition filed by Education Law Center (ELC) to review the State Commissioner of Education’s 2016 decision approving an enrollment increase of 8500 students in KIPP, Uncommon and other charter operators’ schools in the Newark Public School (NPS) district.
In accepting In Re Team Academy Charter School, the Supreme Court will now decide several consequential issues raised by the State’s push to rapidly grow charter school enrollments in NPS over the last decade. Under former Governor Chris Christie, Newark charter enrollments grew 320% from 4,559 in 2009, to 19,152 in 2020. NPS payments to charter schools increased from $63 million in 2009, or 7% of the NPS operating budget, to $265 million in 2020, or 26% of the budget.
The legal issues before the NJ Supreme Court in Team Academy implicate the Commissioner’s failure to comply with the Court’s 2000 Palisades Charter ruling imposing an affirmative obligation under the New Jersey Constitution to carefully evaluate the impact of charter school applications in two interrelated areas:
  • The education resources available to NPS students from the loss of funding that will occur from increasing charter school enrollments;
  • The segregation of NPS students by disability, English language proficiency and race.
The Team Academy appeal addresses the obligation of charter authorizers to protect the constitutional rights of public school students when faced with overwhelming and unrefuted evidence that expanding charters will deprive district students of essential education resources and intensify persistent patterns of student segregation in the resident district.
In 2016, ELC, on behalf of NPS students, submitted detailed evidence to the Commissioner opposing the charter school expansion. ELC’s evidence showed that, if the expansion was approved, NPS would continue to lose funding from its budget, causing further cuts to essential teachers, support staff and programs, including for English language learners (ELL) and students with disabilities. ELC also documented that the expansion would increase the concentration of more costly to educate students with disabilities and ELLs in Newark district schools and worsen the entrenched isolation of Black and Latino students in the already intensely segregated district.
After the Commissioner ignored this evidence and approved the applications, ELC appealed. The Appellate Division upheld the decision, relying on the failure of the NPS superintendent, hired by the State, to object to the expansion. At the time the charter applications were decided by the State, NPS was under State control.
Because NPS students are in the class of plaintiff school children in the landmark Abbott v. Burke school funding litigation, the Supreme Court will also decide whether the Commissioner bears a heightened burden when reviewing charter applications in those districts. Abbott district students remain the subject of continuing Abbott orders to remedy the State’s longstanding violation of their right to a constitutional thorough and efficient education.
Michael Stein of the Pashman Stein Walder Hayden law firm is serving as pro bono co-counsel on this appeal, along with ELC Executive Director David Sciarra, lead counsel for the Abbott v. Burke school children.
Argument before the NJ Supreme Court is expected in the fall.
Press Contact:
Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
Education Law Center

Superintendent Roger Leon of Newark proposed closing four Newark charter schools. He needs state approval. Suddenly anonymous posters appeared around the city criticizing his decision.  Mayor Ras Baraka defended Leon.

Mayor Ras Baraka is defending the Newark schools chief after anonymous flyers and posters appeared across the city attacking the superintendent’s call to close four charter schools.

In an online message posted Monday evening, Baraka called the posters criticizing Superintendent Roger León “tasteless and sophomoric” and “based on ignorance.” He also defended León’s call for the state to shutter the four charter schools, echoing León’s argument that the charters divert funding from traditional schools and fail to adequately serve students with special needs.

Baraka’s message and the mysterious posters warning “Your school could be next!” are the latest flareup in an escalating dispute over the four charter schools: M.E.T.S., People’s Prep, Roseville Community, and University Heights. The schools are up for renewal, a routine process in which charter schools must apply for state approval to continue operating.

Why anonymous fliers and posters?

Roger Léon, superintendent of Newark schools, wants to close four charter schools and ban most new ones. 

Patrick Wall of Chalkbeat reports:

The head of the Newark school system is calling for the closure of four local charter schools and a ban on most new charter schools, a clear signal that the district hopes to rein in the city’s fast-growing charter sector.

The schools — M.E.T.S., People’s Prep, Roseville Community, and University Heights — are up for renewal, meaning they must apply for state approval to continue operating after this academic year. In a series of letters this month, Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger León asked the state to reject their applications, arguing that the publicly funded, privately managed charter schools sap funding from traditional public schools and are failing to serve their fair share of students with special needs.

The state education commissioner is expected to make a decision by Feb. 1.

León also urged the state to deny “any and all” applications for new charter schools or the renewal of existing charter schools unless they serve “a specific educational need.” While other local officials have sought to halt the expansion of Newark’s charter sector, whose student population quadrupled over the past decade, León is taking a more extreme position by demanding that existing charter schools be phased out.

“The writing is on the wall for corporate charter schools,” said Newark Teachers Union President John Abeigon, an outspoken critic of charter schools, which tend to be non-unionized. “The days of unchecked charter school applications are over.”

Poor Mark Zuckerberg! He dropped $100 million into Newark to make it the “New Orleans of the North.”

Now that 49% of New Orleans’ charters are rated D or F by the state, why would anyone follow that model.

Superintendent Léon has made clear that he’s not taking that route.


Cory Booker was recently interviewed by the Washington Post, and he was asked about his past support for vouchers and his friendship with Betsy DeVos. 

He insisted that he turned against vouchers in 2006, and he barely remembered any connection to DeVos. When someone asked if he had flown to Michigan in 2000 at the request of Dick and Betsy DeVos to support their voucher referendum, he at first denied it, then when shown a tape, he said he didn’t remember it.

He opposed DeVos’ nomination to be Secretary of Education in 2017.

DeVos’s allies are stunned by what they call his turnabout. They view Booker’s effort to distance himself from her and her agenda as a betrayal. 

Now that it is politically inconvenient, he has distanced himself from the issue and those who helped launch his political career,” said William E. Oberndorf, who was chairman of the American Education Reform Council when DeVos and Booker were on the board. “Cory once told me that his father used to say to him, ‘Never forget the girl who brought you to the dance.’ I can only conclude that Cory not only forgot one of the girls who brought him to the dance, he missed his . . . moment to stand up for an issue he always said he believed in.” 

Booker’s advocacy for vouchers won him the financial support of conservative Republicans who were delighted to see a black Democratic Mayor supporting their cause.

Booker’s political career took off as a parade of wealthy philanthropists, hedge fund managers and others who supported DeVos’s “school choice” viewpoint poured money into his campaigns and pet projects. 

In 2000, with their voucher referendum on the ballot, the DeVos family invited Booker to debate the legislative director of the ACLU. She kept a tape of the debate and shared it with the Post. The voucher proposal went down to a crushing defeat by 3-1.

In September 2000, Booker delivered a blistering pro-voucher speech to the Manhattan Institute, a conservative policy group. 

Booker’s 2006 race for mayor of Newark won the support of many conservative Republicans. He proposed tuition tax credits (a form of voucher) and went all-in for charters.

When he ran for the Senate in 2014 in a special election, he was helped by Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, who held a fundraiser for him.

As recently as May 2016, Booker appeared again before the group that DeVos chaired, the American Federation for Children. After DeVos delivered a speech defending herself against attacks from Democrats, Oberndorf warmly introduced Booker, praising his commitment to school choice.

Booker spoke proudly about the growing number of students in Newark’s charter schools, saying, “This mission of this organization is the mission of our nation. . . . I have been involved with this organization for 10 years and I have seen the sacred honor of those here.” 

As Booker finished his speech, the audience gave him a standing ovation. To DeVos and her allies, it seemed that Booker was still firmly in the fold, according to Oberndorf. 

But a year later, he opposed DeVos’ nomination.

Booker’s vote shattered his career-long alliance with DeVos and stunned her supporters. 

“Cory gained a great deal of political support thanks to his association with Betsy and other supporters,” said Mitchell, the president of the American Education Reform Council when Booker and DeVos were board members. “His abandonment of school choice and of Betsy makes it clear that his professed commitment to the issue and his friendship with her were fueled by political ambition, not principle.” 

Betsy helped to fund his political career. But it was no longer convenient to be her friend.



Jersey Jazzman continues to write about the ignominious failure of the highly hyped merit pay fairy in Newark. He takes this development as a sign that all other districts should pay attention. In this post, he writes about those who were bewitched by the promise of merit pay:

One of those who went gaga for merit pay was Kate Walsh of the reformy National Council for Teacher Quality. She said that the now-dead Newark Plan was “a model to which other districts should aspire.”

Jersey Jazzman says haha. Sure.

Merit pay…was little more than a broken promise to the teachers of Newark right from the start. A survey of Newark teachers in the first year found a large majority did not see the compensation system as “reasonable, fair, and appropriate.” (p. 24) It’s not a surprise, therefore, that this past month both the teachers union in Newark, the NTU, and the district’s administration decided that the program was not worth continuing.

But some reformy folks believe in merit pay the same way some children believe in fairies: they don’t want to acknowledge the evidence that shows, even in the most generous reading, that the benefits of merit pay are very small and likely are not indicative of true increases in student learning. Like Peter Pan, these true believers hope against hope that fairies can be brought back to life simply by clapping harder….

In the first year of the contract, Newark had about 3,200 teachers. How many qualified for the highest bonus, $12,500? Only eleven. Is Walsh really trying to make the case this small disbursal made a significant difference in teacher quality in Newark?

Jersey Jazzman has posted an obituary for the Merit Pay Fairy. He says it died in Newark, when teachers negotiated a new contract, deep-sixing a Merit Payplan that they endorsed in 2012.

JJ demonstrates with facts and evidence that merit pay failed.

He begins:

The Merit Pay Fairy lives in the dreams of right-wing think tanks and labor economists, who are absolutely convinced that our current teacher pay system — based on seniority and educational attainment — is keeping teachers from achieving their fullest potential. It matters little that even the most generous readings of the research find practically small effects* of switching to pay-for-performance systems, or that merit pay in other professions is quite rare (especially when it is based on the performance of others; teacher merit pay is, in many contexts, based on student, and not teacher, performance).

Merit pay advocates also rarely acknowledge that adult developmental theory suggests that rewards later in life, such as higher pay, fulfill a need for older workers, or that messing with pay distributions has the potential to screw up the pool of potential teacher candidates, or that shifting pay from the bottom of the teacher “quality” distribution to the top — and, really, that’s what merit pay does — still leaves policymakers with the problem of deciding which students get which teachers.

Issues like these, however, are at the core of any merit pay policy. Sure, pay-for-performance sounds great; it comports nicely with key concepts in economic theory. But when it comes time to implement it in an actual, real-world situation, you’ve got to confront a whole host of realities that theory doesn’t address.

Of course, it failed! As I explained in my 2010 book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, merit pay has been tried again and again for almost a century, and it has always failed.

I would like to believe that it has died, that—as Dorothy said about the Wicked Witch, it is “really, truly dead”—but I have my doubts.

Every time it has failed, someone rediscovers it and thinks that this time it will work, unlike every other time.

I remember AFT President Albert Shanker saying at a meeting in the early 1990s that merit pay was ridiculous. The way he put it was, “Let me get this straight: if you offer to pay teachers more, students will work harder? That makes no sense.”

When then Governor Christie and then Mayor Cory Booker persuaded billionaire Mark Zuckerberg to give $100 million to impose corporate reform on Newark, performance pay for teachers was the heart of their plan. Pay the “best” teachers for getting high scores, eliminate “bad” teachers, and Newark schools would be transformed.

In a major blow to the corporate reform movement, the latest teacher contract in Newark just eliminated performance pay.

It didn’t work in Newark, and it hasn’t worked anywhere else. It is a zombie idea. Teachers aren’t holding back, waiting for a bonus to goad them on. They are doing the best they know how. With help and support, they can improve, but not because of rewards and threats.

Merit pay was the heart of a ‘revolutionary’ teachers contract in Newark. Now the Cory Booker-era policy is disappearing.

In 2012, Newark teachers agreed to a controversial new contract that linked their pay to student achievement — a stark departure from the way most teachers across the country are paid.

The idea was to reward teachers for excellent performance, rather than how many years they spent in the district or degrees they attained. Under the new contract, teachers could earn bonuses and raises only if they received satisfactory or better ratings, and advanced degrees would no longer elevate teachers to a higher pay scale.

The changes were considered a major victory for the so-called “education reform” movement, which sought to inject corporate-style accountability and compensation practices into public education. And they were championed by an unlikely trio: New Jersey’s Republican governor, the Democratic-aligned leader of the nation’s second-largest teachers union, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who had allocated half of his $100 million gift to Newark’s schools to fund a new teachers contract.

“In my heart, this is what I was hoping for: that Newark would lead a transformational change in education in America,” then-Gov. Chris Christie said in Nov. 2012 after the contract was ratified.

Seven years later, those changes have been erased.

Last week, negotiators for the Newark Teachers Union and the district struck a deal for a new contract that scraps the bonuses for top-rated teachers, allows low-rated teachers to earn raises, and gives teachers with advanced degrees more pay. It also eliminates other provisions of the 2012 contract, which were continued in a follow-up agreement in 2017, including longer hours for low-performing schools.

“All vestiges of corporate reform have been removed,” declared a union document describing the deal.

Cory Booker has a long and well-documented record of disparaging public schools and enthusiastically supporting charters, even vouchers. Now, he says he will dedicate himself to public schools and stop privatization, as if he had not been one of the leading cheerleaders for both charters and vouchers for the past two decades.

Valerie Strauss wrote here about his deep ties over the years to Betsy DeVos. 

Booker began his advocacy for vouchers twenty years ago.

“In 1999, Booker was a member of the Municipal Council of Newark and worked with conservatives to form an organization that sought to create a voucher program and bring charter schools to New Jersey.”

He helped Dick and Betsy DeVos try to sell vouchers in Michigan in 2000. Fortunately, they were unsuccessful. As Jennifer Berkshire pointed out in her article about Booker’s help for the DeVos voucher campaign, the DeVos family spent millions, but the people of Michigan rejected vouchers by a vote of 69-31%.

When Booker ran for mayor of Newark in 2001, the DeVos family contributed $1,000 to his campaign. Cheapskates.

Veteran journalist Dale Russakoff wrote a book called The Prize about Cory Booker’s alliance with Republican Governor Chris Christie and their determination to turn Newark into the “New Orleans of the North” by privatizing as many public schools as possible. Booker was a favorite of Wall Street and philanthrocapitalists, and he and Christie persuaded Mark Zuckerberg to put up $100 million to spur privatization in Newark.

Regular readers of this blog have read the many posts by blogger Jersey Jazzman (Mark Weber) about the statistical legerdemain that Newark charters play, the cream-skimming they do to get the students they want and exclude those that might pull down their test scores..

If you open the link at NPE Action, you will see that Booker’s campaigns have drawn the campaign funding of the usual billionaires and Wall Street hedge funders who have done their best to undermine public education.

Booker was feted by rightwing think tanks like the Manhattan Institute and named a “champion of charters” by the National Alliance for Public [sic] Charter Schools in 2017.

But his support for vouchers was not long, long ago.

In 2012, he endorsed Governor Chris Christie’s voucher proposal.

In 2016, he addressed Betsy DeVos’s American Federation for Children to express his support for their mission of replacing public schools with charters and vouchers.

Due to his contempt for one of our most important public, democratic institutions, I cannot support Cory Booker.

If he is the Democratic candidate, which seems unlikely, I will hold my nose and vote for him, because any Democrat is better than Trump. Even Cory Booker.




Cory Booker has been a devoted promoter of charters and vouchers for many years.

He worked closely with Republican Governor Chris Christie and together they persuaded Mark Zuckerberg to pony up $100 million to promote the charterization of Newark. He often boasts about what he accomplished by privatizing public schools.

But now that he wants to be president, he has suddenly decided that he will be a champion for public schools, not charters or vouchers. 

Could it be that he did the math and realized that 85-90% of students attend public schools. Only 6% attend charter schools. And he may have noticed that despite the efforts of his former dear friend Betsy DeVos, voters don’t like vouchers. They don’t want public dollars to underwrite religious schools.

Some of his allies are not at all happy about the new Cory.

It just goes to show where the wind is blowing: in  favor of public schools, not charters or vouchers.