Saturday, January 16, 2021

New Jersey: State of the State re: education


Gov Chris Christie, Republican of New Jersey, gave his annual “State of the State” address last week, and the following is an excerpt from the entire speech, printed in the New York Times.

We note the prominence of Cami Anderson. She’s the superintendent of Newark’s public schools, which have been under state control since 1995. Ms Anderson is a TFA recruit and has been associated with the unaccredited Broad Academy, which provides instruction to would-be superintendents on how to make changes to schools that many experts believe promote the privatization of public schools, changes like:

  • Closing schools instead of improving them
  • Using high-stakes tests to punish rather than develop teachers
  • Busting teachers’ unions in order to reduce costs
  • Spending more on tangible hardware than educational programs

Ms Anderson last week indefinitely suspended four principals in Newark who publicly disagreed with her “One Newark” school reform agenda, Education Week and several bloggers have reported. Many state legislators, including Sen Ronald Rice, Democrat of Essex, want to put the brakes on the school closures that are part and parcel of Ms Anderson’s agenda, NJ Spotlight reports.

One Newark city councilman, Ras Baraka, used his own pulpit to speak out against her actions:

Ms Anderson’s action in suspending the four principals is the last straw in a chain of inept, and horribly out-of-touch, decisions. The people of Newark need to hear the views of those within the school system who disagree with Ms Anderson. The four principals have a constitutional right to speak out. The Newark school district is not a military dictatorship, and Ms Anderson is neither an army general nor a police chief. Her behavior must be governed by the principles of our democracy.

Whatever one thinks of Ms. Anderson’s political and educational ideology, she has proven time and again that she holds in contempt the opinions of the people of Newark.

While I cannot express an opinion about the specific reforms in Newark, I can say this: Schools are not corporations. Schools must not be run in a way where only one voice matters, where after a board meeting, the president of the company issues a press release and silences all opposition. Employees of the schools are government, not corporate, employees. As such, they must endeavor to represent the interests of their constituents, not simply the interest of those in a position of greater authority.

Why do I blog an opinion that on certain occasions disagrees with the opinions of my bosses? Because the school system is not a corporation. Because I’m working for what I believe is in the best interest of the people of Maryland, not for the political promotion of some superintendent. It would be great if our goals were the same, which would lead us to debate best strategies, but too often, they have no interest in constructive dialog and their only goal seems to be pushing their own agendas. Good luck, Councilman Baraka.

Governor of New Jersey


… I will tell you one choice we will not make – because it is one answer that will not help grow our state: raising taxes.

If the evidence is clear that increasing taxes hurts our growth, it is equally clear that improving education is a key to helping our growth.

We’ve made some great progress in these past four years: a record amount of school aid, long-overdue reform of our system of teacher tenure, an increase in the number of charter schools and an Urban Hope Act that is bringing renaissance schools to some of our most challenged cities.

Some results are promising too. Last year, New Jersey’s high school graduation rate increased by a full percentage point, to 87.5%. Student achievement is strong in many of our public schools, and New Jersey’s students are among the country’s greatest achievers. Just a few years ago, a graduate of my own high school, Livingston High School, won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

We are making a large investment in public education: New Jersey spends over $25 billion a year, all told. Our per pupil expenditure is the highest in the nation at over $17,000 per year.

In some cases – too many – our children are not receiving the education they deserve. While many public schools are strong, too many are still failing. While the vast majority of teachers are performing well, some are underperforming – and they should be removed from the classroom.

The need to be better is particularly acute in New Jersey’s cities. Our urban schools demand our attention, and believe me, they have mine.

Where bold action was necessary, we have taken bold action. And we have made a commitment to the kids in our cities that they have a right to the same quality education as kids in our suburbs.

In our largest school system, in Newark, we have brought in a new organization and new resources, not only in the form of state aid but in collaboration with parents, teachers, and community leaders on the ground. One result – we negotiated a historic contract with the teacher’s union and delivered real merit pay alongside increased teacher involvement.

Most importantly we want to encourage innovation while listening to the specific needs of our urban communities. It’s the reason why we have empowered our superintendents in Newark and Camden to make choices that work best for their kids, their parents and their schools.

In Newark, that superintendent is Cami Anderson.

Cami has moved to pay the best teachers, to stop actions that are failing kids, to empower 50 new principals, create cooperation between public schools and charter schools and reorganize the school systems’ structure to focus on putting students, schools and parents first.

Early childhood enrollment has increased by more than 1,000 students. Graduation rates have increased by 10%.

Newark is leading the conversation in making sure every kid – those who are behind, those who are ahead, those who have special education needs – are lifted up.

Every kid means every kid.

Her efforts haven’t always been met without skepticism, but she is a true partner with Newark. Cami is here with us today – Cami, thank you for your commitment to our kids.

How bad has it been in Camden? Last year, only three students graduated “college ready.” Paymon Rouhanifard is bringing that same energy to Camden’s public schools. He has turned around a perennially low-performing charter school to showing some of the largest academic gains in the state. He has launched a new “safe corridors” program with Mayor Dana Redd, which has created safe walking routes to and from school for our children.

And, of the 345 students who have dropped out in the last year, we went door-to-door and re-enrolled 50 of them.

Paymon, thank you for your efforts and your dedication.

Both Cami and Paymon have this Administration’s confidence and support to continue the aggressive reforms needed that work best for the communities of Newark and Camden and put kids first.

Cami and Paymon are emblems of my commitment to ensuring the opportunity for an excellent education to every child in New Jersey, regardless of the ZIP code.

Despite the improvements we are seeing in Newark and Camden, I believe we need to take bigger and broader steps to adjust our approach to K-12 education to address the new competitive world we live in. Our school calendar is antiquated both educationally and culturally. Life in 2014 demands something more for our students. It is time to lengthen both the school day and school year in New Jersey.

If student achievement is lagging at the exact moment when we need improvement more than ever in order to compete in the world economy, we should take these steps – every possible step – to boost student achievement.

And one key step is to lengthen the school day and the school year. So, working with Commissioner Cerf, I will present to you shortly a proposal to increase the length of both the school day and the school year in New Jersey. This is a key step to improve student outcomes and boost our competitiveness. We should do it now.

Many of our new initiatives recognize a core feature of modern American life: that the quality of education and the quality of life in our communities are inextricably intertwined.

That is why this year, we need to be more aggressive, and bolder, in fixing our failing schools – and delivering a choice to those for whom today the only option is a bad option: a failing school.

This is a moral obligation. We must give every New Jersey child the chance to graduate from high school, to be ready for college and to prepare for a career. If we fail to meet this obligation, we compromise the life of that child, and we hurt the quality of life in our communities and in New Jersey. So failure is not an option. …

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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