Category Archives: Newark Students Union

Welcome Class of 2019: What We Owe Your Future Students and Their Parents

Today, I get to meet the next class of students who have entered my university seeking to become high school teachers.  This is always an exciting time in no small respect because being a part of their journey from student to student of teaching to teacher is some of the most rewarding work of my life, and I am consistently grateful for how their energy and optimism help revive my own year after year.

In recent years, that energy and optimism have been even more impressive because the in public battles over education and active disruption of today’s education “reform” have impacted these young people more than their counterparts in previous times.  The morale of their teachers has been dropping during their time in the classroom, and the inherently busy and often confusing world of the classroom has been increasingly stressful to those with whom we entrust our children.  If we accept what I believe is the very valid premise that the choice to become a teacher actually begins during one’s time as a student in teachers’ classrooms, then the students I meet today are among a remarkable group of young people who remain energized by education’s possibilities rather than discouraged by current circumstances.  Nationwide, it is getting harder to find such young people to enter the teacher preparation pipeline.

And I have good news for them – there are excellent reasons to expect growing and vocal support from the parents whose children they will eventually teach, and those reasons should both encourage and inspire them.

The annual PDK/Gallup poll on the public’s beliefs about education was published recently, and while the results should be the subject of much debate and no small amount of disagreement, two messages ring out clearly: First, the public does not buy high stakes standardized testing as the best measurement of what teachers do, and second, the people who know our schools the best are the most positive about those schools.

Every demographic surveyed said that there is too much emphasis on standardized testing by very wide margins.  64% of the national sample and 67% of public school parents believe so as well as 57% of African Americans, 60% of Hispanics, and 65% of whites in the national sample.  Support for opting out of standardized examinations showed more variation, but considering how test refusal was barely an issue a few years ago, the numbers in the survey may very well be surprising.  Nationally, 41% of those surveyed agreed opting out should be allowed, and 47% of public school parents agreed it should be allowed.  Whites agreed with allowing parents to opt out by 44% while 35% of Hispanics thought it should be allowed and 28% of African Americans thought it should be allowed.  This poses a challenge to opt out advocates, certainly, who have made only modest inroads in urban communities so far.

Parents who say they themselves would opt out was as high as 31% of public school parents with similar differences among different ethnic groups.  However, readers should remember that New York State, a national leader in the parental opt out movement, posted a test refusal rate of 20% for the 2015 examinations (which nearly matches the 21% of African American parents who would personally opt their children out), so there is room, given just this year’s support, to grow test refusal by significant numbers in the next year, complicating plans to evaluate teachers using test scores.

Survey respondents might not mind that, however, as they clearly find standardized tests a poor source of information on how teachers teach and how schools perform.  All demographic groups said that student engagement, students’ hopes for the future, and the percentage of students who graduate and go on to further education are vastly more important measures of school effectiveness than standardized test scores.  Similarly, all groups believed that samples of student work, teachers’ written evaluations, and teacher given grades were vastly more important indications of student progress, and all groups believed that teacher quality, expectations, principal leadership, and increased funding were more important tools for school improvement than measurement via standardized testing.  African American parents were most interested in using standardized test scores to compare students with students in other communities, states, and countries, but that support was only 34% saying it was “very important” and overall support at that level was only 22% of all public school parents.

Parents and others similarly disagreed with using student test scores to evaluate teachers.  Nationally, 43% of all those surveyed agreed with using student test scores that way, down from the slight majority who supported it in 2012 and up 5 points from last year’s survey.  Public school parents were most vocal in opposition with only 37% in support and 63% opposed.

The PDK/Gallup poll reaffirms a long term trend in the survey over the years: people tend to think their local schools and the schools their children attend are better than schools nationwide.  Local support for public schools remains robust in this year’s poll with 51% of the national sample giving their local schools a grade of A or B, and with 57% of public school parents saying the same.  Worryingly, only 23% of African Americans and 31% of Hispanics felt similarly, highlighting known discrepancies in our highly segregated schools.  Nationally, when public school parents were asked what grades they would give to the school attended by their oldest child, 70% said an A or a B.  All respondents noted funding as a key issue for schools and quality as well with all demographics citing it as the most important problem facing schools and citing it as very or somewhat important for school improvement.

With trends like these emerging from the polling data, it is not surprising that direct action movements from parents and students to highlight dilemmas facing their schools and to challenge unpopular policies have emerged.  The Opt Out movement is a large, growing, example of parental activism in communities across the country aimed at relieving schools of over testing.

In other communities, activists have come out to support their public schools via direct action as they’ve come under attack.  In Newark, NJ, students of the Newark Student Union have been leading a movement to demand attention for how school “reforms” have harmed them and their community.  Even more inspiring is the story in Chicago, where a dozen parent activists, having tried every possible means to save the last open enrollment high school in their community of Bronzeville, are beginning the third week of a hunger strike to save Dyett High School.  While the press has been slow to notice the story in Bronzeville, it has caught the interest and support of public school advocates across the country.

So as I welcome my new class of future teachers to their first college education classes today, I also have a message for them:  It is tempting, even easy, to spin a story of public education under attack and of those attacks winning, but you must also remember that you have the confidence and trust of parents in communities across the country, parents who understand the value of the work you have committed yourself to learning and doing.  Year after year in polls, their faith and belief in you is clear.  In the growth of Opt Out, their understanding of why the test and punish era of school accountability needs to be rolled back is evident.

And in communities like Newark and Bronzeville, students and parents are putting their very bodies on the line to support the importance of a fully public education.  You owe them nothing less than full reciprocation and your every effort to justify their trust.  Let’s get to work.

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Filed under #FightForDyett, Activism, Newark, Newark Students Union, Opt Out, politics, schools, teacher learning

Newark, Please Meet the New Boss: Who Is The Old Boss’ Boss’ Old Boss

Controversial Newark, New Jersey Superintendent of Schools Cami Anderson is out of a job only 4 months into her renewed contract, and after a tumultuous year implementing the “One Newark” school reform program, including mass student walk outs, a 4 day occupation of Anderson’s office, and repeated calls for her ouster by Mayor Ras Baraka.  “One Newark” was controversial from the start, and essentially “blew up” the idea of a traditional public school system by throwing open the entire district to school choice, expanding the charter school sector within the city, and placing fully public schools under “renewal plans” (in many cases requiring entire schools of teachers to reapply for their jobs) while maintaining state control of the district which has been in effect for 20 years.  The plan opened with significant chaos and uncertainty, and a year in, there are significant questions about the capability of One Newark to really deliver on its promises, and, since the “renewal” plans began in 2012, there is more evidence that the reforms have not yielded better achievement and have had discriminatory impact on faculty and staff.

One thing is not in question: Anderson had a particularly difficult relationship with both parental and political stakeholders.  She slated schools to close even though they were meeting their growth targets.  She abruptly stopped attending school board meetings in an effort to not face parents angry at the impacts of reforms on their children.  The summer enrollment process for parents to simply put their children’s names into the system to have a school selected was poorly thought out and insensitively implementedState lawmakers waited for a year for Anderson to finally show up to a committee meeting to discuss her performance as superintendent.  Even if One Newark were indisputably a net good for Newark Public Schools, the sheer incompetence displayed when doing a basic job of a superintendent, effectively communicating with and balancing the overlapping needs of all of the stakeholders in public education, should have long ago disqualified Anderson from her job.

Allow me to indulge in a moment of praise for the young activists of the Newark Students’ Union who have been Profiles in Courage this past year.  When many of the organizations run by adults have been far too quiet, these young people have stood up and demanded that the media and public at large pay attention to what has been thrust upon Newark’s children, families, and teachers in the name of reform.  Their protests have brought national attention to Newark, and almost certainly contributed to Anderson’s departure.

Sadly, that is the end of the good news.

The reason for that is that replacement for Anderson will be none other than former Commissioner of Education for the State of New Jersey, Christopher Cerf, who abruptly left his office to join his former New York City DOE boss, Joel Klein, at Rupert Murdoch’s education technology venture, Amplify.  The Newark education board, which has no direct control over the school system, passed a nonbinding resolution calling for the appointment of assistant superintendent Roger Leon, and is scheduled to meet with Assistant Commissioner Peter Shulman to discuss “next steps” for the district’s leadership.  So, if Cerf’s appointment goes through, it will mean that he will replace a superintendent he himself appointed, and he will report to former underlings in Trenton.  The new boss isn’t the same as the old boss.  The new boss is the old boss’ boss’ old boss.

It is not hard to understand why Cerf might be looking for new employment opportunities after little more than a year at Amplify.  The technology venture is struggling mightily with expensive contracts, breakable hardware, and buggy software. Anderson’s mounting problems and inability to lead may have provided him with an opportune moment to jump ship.  It is unclear how many people in the country would be willing to step into the mess that exists in the Newark Superintendent’s office, and Cerf will certainly bring an intimate knowledge of the plans to completely change public education in Newark.  After all, he, along with former Mayor Cory Booker and Governor Chris Christie, was central in using Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation to set the process in motion, setting up an expensive consulting operation before he was appointed to Commissioner’s office.

So this bizarre situation, where the state’s former highest education official will now run a school district whose outgoing superintendent reported to the incoming superintendent’s former underlings, may, as hard as it is to believe, be even worse for Newark.  As New Jersey teacher and Rutgers graduate student, Mark Weber notes on his personal blog:

This is why the S-L (Star Ledger) is almost certain to run an editorial very soon lauding Cerf ([editor]Moran’s neighbor in the very reformy town of Montclair) as the perfect pick to lead Newark’s schools to new heights. Because he’ll do exactly the same things Anderson is doing right now — but he’ll do it with a smile. He won’t fly off the handle when people dare to mention his own kids. He’ll show up to school board meetings and nod and take notes and promise to take everyone’s views under advisement.

And then he’ll go do exactly what Cami Anderson was doing before. Why wouldn’t he? Just as recently as this past December, Cerf was singing Anderson’s praises, even as he was demonizing those who stood against her. – See more at:

Weber goes on to observe:

It’s also worth noting this same destructive idiocy was at play in Cerf’s policies later, when he ran the entire state’s education system. But this is how Cerf was trained. His (and Anderson’s) time at the NYCDOE under Joel Klein, coupled with his involvement in the Broad Superintendent’s Academy Book Club, formed his “creative disruption” mindset: use test scores to justify closing public schools and let privately governed charters take over. And if that’s not feasible, reconstitute the schools, generating as much instability as is possible.

This is precisely what has happened to Newark’s schools under Anderson. Even though there is no evidence that Newark’s charter schools are more effective or efficient, they have been given the green light to take an increasingly large share of the market. The district itself has been complicit in painting a false picture of the extent of their “success”; the district has also abetted their expansion as part of its One Newark plan, likely leading to even greater segregation within the district. – See more at:

So Christopher Cerf is cut entirely of the same cloth as Cami Anderson with precisely the same training in philosophy and education reform.  He is a strong proponent of a business oriented view to schooling as if our public schools were similar to old business models that have failed to compete against consumer innovation.  He has no problem inflicting entirely unproven changes upon the education of 10s of 1000s of children because he believes “creative disruption” is just as valid a means of innovation in education as it is in consumer electronics.  Apparently, it is okay if some students get the Apple Macintosh 128K education while others get the Coleco Adam.

What makes Cerf stand out is not his policy differences with Anderson (of which he has precisely none).  It is his political ability, connections, and powerful patrons, including Senator Cory Booker, Governor Chris Christie, and former NYC Chancellor Joel Klein.  There is no reason to believe that he will not plunge straight ahead with One Newark and turn Newark into the “charter school capital of the nation.” There is no reason to believe that anything more than lip service will be paid to local control from a new superintendent who formerly ran the state with total disregard for local control, especially in the districts controlled by the state and subjected to maximum disruption regardless of local concerns.  The only thing to expect is that Chris Cerf will be skilled at inflicting harm upon Newark for however long he is in that office.

So Newark, please meet the new boss — and watch your back.

cerf is coming


Filed under Activism, Cami Anderson, charter schools, Chris Christie, Corruption, Cory Booker, Newark, Newark Students Union, One Newark, politics

The Student Heroes Of Newark

Sometimes, in the midst of powerful interests steamrolling communities, we are reminded that silence is a choice.  One example was last November in the small city of Richmond, California where oil and gas giant Chevron put down $3 million to buy the city council election but were beaten back by a slate of candidates with only $50,000 to spend.  Another example has been unfolding in Newark, New Jersey where state appointed Superintendent Cami Anderson has wreaked havoc upon the school system with her “One Newark” plan that was put into full implementation this school year.  One Newark is the fruition of a partnership between Governor Chris Christie and the former mayor of Newark, Senator Cory Booker backed by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, throws open the entire school district to school choice and expanded charter school options.  In practice, the implementation has spawned chaos and situations that would be intolerable to parents and students anywhere, but which have been forced upon the district with no recourse due to state control of the schools.

Bob Braun, the former education reporter for the New Jersey Star Ledger, has relentlessly documented Anderson’s tenure as superintendent and the series of rolling disasters One Newark has spawned.  Braun has documented schools that were slated to close under Anderson even though they were succeeding and beloved.  He has documented Anderson’s abrupt decision to stop attending board of education meetings from which she has been absent a full year.  He was there to cover the insensitive and incompetent summer enrollment where parents who had taken time away from work just to get put into the school selection pool waited for hours and were sent away with nothing.  He was a main source of information on Barringer High School where parents and students marched out to protest the deplorable conditions that persisted well past the opening of the school year.

Anderson, for her part, has remained an elusive figure in the city but has traveled widely to talk about education.  However, even outside of Newark, she has refused to face the people whose school system she runs, canceling a public talk at the American Enterprise Institute in November when Newark students and parents arrive in Washington, D.C. to demand answers from her.  Even state legislators have had to make repeated requests and wait nearly a year for Anderson to appear at the joint committee on education to answer questions about her performance in Newark.

In the face of this superintendency characterized by arrogance, silence, and disregard for community, few adults have managed to bring adequate attention to the situation.  And then there is the Newark Students Union, a collection of young activists acting as the conscience of Brick City.  The students, who have staged a number of direct action protests this school year, made national and international headlines on February 17th when they walked out of another board meeting where Anderson was absent and occupied the Superintendent’s office suite, refusing to leave until Anderson met with them and agreed to attend a school board meeting.  The district administration initially responded with hostility, calling the students trespassers and sending police to the students’ homes to “inform” parents of the situation:

The student occupiers got support from local clergy, Mayor Ras Baraka, and former talk show host Montel Williams who took to Twitter to offer encouragement and to chastise Anderson for her continued refusal to meet with them:

The Newark Students Union provides an extremely compelling case for their occupation:

The students ended their occupation after Anderson met with them for an hour, something that the state legislature took nearly a year to accomplish.  In their meeting, Anderson agreed to attend a board meeting this week.  However, that pledge was swiftly broken as the board met on the 24th with Anderson nowhere in sight:

where's cami

It may be back to business as usual in the Superintendent’s office in Newark as Cami Anderson continues to push changes and incompetent management upon the children and families of the city and ducks her legal and ethical responsibilities to meet with them.  However, in one very important way, business cannot return to usual.  These 8 student activists showed that decision making power may have been placed in the hands of those who refuse to listen, but that the Newark’s families do not have to relinquish their voices because of it.  The students drew national and international attention to an arrogant and damaging way of doing business that sees itself as a national model for urban education.  In 4 days of direct action, they got from Cami Anderson something that the school board and state legislature have failed to get: her presence.  They have gained notable advocates who have platforms capable of amplifying their message far beyond Newark.

I am immeasurably impressed with these young heroes.  We should all support them.

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Filed under Activism, Cami Anderson, charter schools, Chris Christie, Cory Booker, Newark Students Union, One Newark