Nostalgia is a wonderful thing, except when treasured memories are delusional. Which pretty much describes yesterday’s op-ed in NJ Spotlight signed by State Senator Ronald Rice Sr., Newark School Board member Leah Owens, Newark Teachers Union president John Abeigon, and other Newark luminaries. In this piece the writers lament that they were “disenfranchised by the state takeover of the public school system for 22 years” and — even worse — “boldly disrespected during the past six years,” i.e., during the superintendency of Cami Anderson and Chris Cerf. They demand audits! They demand the end to the “proliferation of charters” that “has tripled in the past six years under the Christie administration and its state-appointed superintendent”! They demand “credible and independent accounting” of this “significantly diminished and dismantled district”?
Ah, for the good old days when before state control when
- A 1993 Comprehensive Compliance Investigation described the district as a miasma of “low student test scores, high dropout rates, questionable expenditures of public funds, and crumbling buildings with health and safety hazards.”
- One out of every two Newark students didn’t graduate from high school, and average SAT scores were 311 in verbal and 363 in math.
- A report by Sally Ann Fields, senior state deputy attorney general at the time of the takeover, concluded that “the Newark Public School system has been at best flagrantly delinquent and at worst deceptive in discharging its obligations to the children enrolled,” with school board members taking jaunts to Honolulu and billing the district for new cars and fine dining.
- In 1995, the year of the state takeover, a report described NPS as a district where children “are subjected to substandard facilities and poorly equipped classrooms and libraries” while ”the board of education of Newark” enjoys “the finer things in life, such as travel to Honolulu, St. Thomas and San Francisco, dinners at fine restaurants, new cars and flowers.”
And now? While no one claims that the first 15 years of state control did anyone any good, the “proliferation of charters” that the signatories of the op-ed want to end are wildly popular with Newark parents. In the first year of One Newark, the common enrollment system that is a result of collaboration among public charter and traditional schools, over 12,000 families submitted applications to the system. The seven most frequently ranked K-8 schools were charters and for more than 50 percent of Newark families, charters were their Number 1 choice. Fully 25% of K-8 applications ranked Uncommon’s schools first; 17% ranked KIPP Number 1. The top-ranked district choice, the high-achieving Ann Street school, accounted for only 5 percent of first-place applications.
This past cycle of Newark Enrolls, the collaborative enrollment system that lets parents prioritize their choices among traditional district schools and public charters, over 50 percent of parents of incoming kindergarteners chose charters as their first choice.
And no wonder. A Stanford CREDO study reports that Newark’s charter sector is the second-highest-performing group in the nation and is yielding seven months of additional learning per year in both reading and math. Another study by the Center on Reinventing Public Education found that Newark has more “beat the odds” schools than any other city in the country. The just-issued report on Newark schoolchildren’s PARCC scores finds that “the percentage of NPS students meeting or exceeding expectations across all grades increased more quickly than the state average in both ELA and Math. NPS is up 2.7 points in ELA 3-11 [up nearly 8.7 points over 2 years]. NPS is up 2.8 points in Math 3-11 [up 5.3 points over 2 years].”
And, as expectations rise across the district, students enrolled in traditional schools are improving as well. Sometimes the tide does indeed lift all ships.
Yet this group of signatories doesn’t care. They’re concerned with adults, not schoolchildren; with audits, not student achievement; with the past, not the future.
Let them wallow in their nostalgia. Newark parents know what they want and there’s no going back.