I led professional development in the Newark, NJ Public Schools and taught Newark teachers for about a decade from 1983 through 1993. Newark, NJ, a large city dwarfed by its neighbor, New York City has spent much of my lifetime grappling with third world-levels of poverty and all of the ills that accompany urban neglect. Half of Newark’s mayors since the 1960s have gone to prison on corruption charges. Only recently has Newark had supermarkets or a movie theatre despite being the birthplace of Sarah Vaughan, Wayne Shorter, Amiri Baraka, and countless other great American artists. Teaching in Newark is difficult and a calling.

Allow me to be unequivocal.

In my thirty-two years of work with schools and educators on six continents, I have never worked with more caring, competent, generous or hardworking educators than those employed by the Newark Public Schools.

If I led a PD session on a sweltering August day, it would be filled by Newark teachers working without compensation. Others would pay their own way to attend afterschool workshops 30 miles away.

I have worked in some of the most elite and expensive private schools on earth and in many cases would rather trust my child’s education to the teachers I worked with in Newark (the physical plant and resources are another matter entirely). Newark teachers provide material, emotional, and financial support for their poor students every day.

Decades before Cory Booker donned his superhero Underoos and tweeted his enthusiasm for code.org, Logo programming was being taught by outstanding Newark teachers in dozens and dozens of Newark elementary schools. In the 1980s and early 1990s, the Newark Public Schools were one of the leading centers of innovation in educational computing. All of that is long gone after decades of test-score-raising gimmicks imposed by political charlatans from outside of the community.

You would never know that because in addition to abandoning the residents of this once great city, the good people of New Jersey suspended democracy, neutered the elected school board, and let the State take over the school in 1995. That’s nearly 20 years ago. Surely, all of that State wisdom, leadership, and no-nonsense zero-tolerance innovation, together with endless test-prep and demonizing of teachers would be successful, right?

The city’s public schools are among the lowest-performing in the state, even after the state government took over management of the city’s schools in 1995, which was done under the presumption that improvement would follow. – Wikipedia

Where’s the accountability Governor Christie?

It is high time to return democracy to the governance of the Newark Public Schools!

Surely after the State installed the unqualified adolescent little sister of Michelle Rhee, Cami Anderson, as Superintendent of Schools, things would improve, right? She even instituted that holy grail of no-nothings, merit pay.

Cami Anderson loves charter schools and has dynamite (I mean literally dynamite) ideas for the Newark Public Schools. Check out Diane Ravitch’s review of Anderson’s “One Newark” Plan.

Cami’s dynamite plan is to get the state to suspend tenure/seniority laws so she can fire 700 Newark teachers and replace them with 350 or so unqualified Teach-for-America interns. Surely, interns will solve the problem. Larger class sizes AND unqualified teachers, perfect together!

Where’s the accountability Governor Christie?

According to the TFA regional website, Newark schools already have hired some 200 members.  They are usually graduates of liberal art programs who sign up for two years to teach in low-income areas and then leave.

Anderson herself is both a TFA graduate and an executive with the  foundation-financed TFA, an organization that also receives federal subsidies. (source)

Oh, did I forget to mention that this plan will be financed by the Walton Family Foundation. The Waltons aren’t that nice TV family, they are the scumbag plutocrats who own Wal-Mart, bribe foreign officials, underpay their employees, and stick taxpayers with the bill. Driving the cost of public education to zero is consistent with their scorched earth business practices.

If you care about public education, stop shopping at Wal-Mart.

The business press and forces of public school privatization LOVE Cami and her dynamiteplan. We need to stand up and tell them, “Hell no!”

Isn’t it time that we treat Teach-for-America interns as the scabs they are?

Every American who cares about the future of our nation or values the role our public schools play in preserving our democracy needs to stand with Newark teachers against the robber barons, Mark Zuckerberg and Governor Bully.

I just received the following email with the subject above. It’s a political critique of Governor Christie by my 13 year-old nephew, Mathew. I’ve posted it here verbatim.

That’s it Christie! I’m moving to Nauru!
Read Mathew’s recent critique of public school policy in New Jersey, posted in September.

My nephew Mathew is a terrific 13 year-old with lots of interests and much to my chagrin, he loves school. In fact, he has never missed a day of school despite schools undeserving of his loyalty. He lives in NJ and is a good student.

I just received the following unsolicited email from Mathew. I haven’t spoken with him in several months due to travel and anyone with children will understand how difficult it is to get a kid to correspond via email. That’s what makes the passion of his email message a delightful surprise that is at once heartwarming and heart-breaking.

I have not touched a character in Mathew’s message to me. He gave me permission to publish it. Feel free to share your love in via comments below.

(Note: The NJ ASK is the NJ New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge)

TOO FAR

by Mathew M.

The charming governer of New Jersey has just launched some new laws regarding education. From what I heard, he is paying teachers based on how well kids do on the NJ ASK. What?! I don’t know if Christie knows this, but the teachers already feed us this garbage so we do well on the test. Now that it affects their pay, we will learn NOTHING but the junk for the test. Nothing. What happened to education? This is not education. The only education we are getting is how to take a standardized test. Does the government honestly believe that standardized tests will get us into Harvard or Yale? That we will become the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs? What about the special-education teachers? Will they get payed less because their students are bound to flunk the NJ ASK? Something needs to be done about this. This goes right to Washington. We NEED to get rid of standardized tests.

Regarding the Zuckerberg donation to the Newark Public Schools…

I am not hopeful at all. I am concerned. What makes you think that Christie hated public education and teachers yesterday, but not today?

Will the funds be used to supplement or supplant local school funding? In other words, will Christie steal $100,000,000 from Newark’s budget as soon as the check clears?
This is a hostile takeover of another urban school district and a surrender of democracy to mayoral control. Neither Cory Booker or Chris Christie have a clue how to end the poverty and terrible infrastructure deficits in Newark, let alone run a school system. Until, quite recently (kudos to Booker), Newark didn’t have a supermarket, movie theatre or bowling alley. It was a dead city.

How high do you expect student achievement to be in a once-majestic city with intergenerational poverty? I have said it before and I will say it again. I have worked in schools all over the world (on 6 continents) and have never come across more genuinely committed, hard-working or generous educators as those who work in the Newark, NJ Public Schools.

The teachers in that district have been maligned through decades of “state control” of the district and yet if we are to believe the politicians, nothing has improved. Shame on the politicians, not the poor kids and their teachers.

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I’ve offered Cory Booker my assistance (via Twitter) many times. He’s never had the courtesy to respond.

The teacher-bashing, charter school takeovers and endless standardized testing is sure to follow turn this gift into a weapon against common sense and the children of Newark.

Sadly, $100,000,000 is probably not enough money to build one new high school in Newark.

Zuckerberg’s generosity is laudable, but the money won’t help when marshall law/mayoral control is declared, the community is pushed aside and teachers are demonized.

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