On Wednesday Newark Superintendent Chris Cerf gave a speech at the American Enterprise Institute in which he reflected on the “pejorative connotations” of traditional school systems reforming themselves. As proof of this misconception, he points to Newark Public Schools, where “reform strategies implemented by the district have produced great academic gains for its inner-city students,” including a 74% graduation rate, up from “the high fifties” in 2010. “I do think the arrow is clearly and unambiguously pointed up,” he said.
The chief impulse for implementing reform strategies that led to higher student achievement? Pressure from the federal government in the form of NCLB and Race to the Top. Cerf said, “In my view, these pressures were instrumental, in fact, necessary conditions for change. It was so easy to say, ‘Whether or not you like it, the feds are saying we have to do it.”
In this coverage by Naomi Nix at The 74, he elaborates:
In my view, for over 50 years, states — far from being laboratories of reform — have far too often been laboratories of stasis, interest-group politics and inaction, with truly tragic and deeply immoral consequences for the overwhelming majority of our urban poor, who, not coincidentally, are mostly children of color…The general despair about the futility of reform is not entirely warranted. With sufficient courage, stick-to-it-ness and discipline, the reform playbook can make a difference.