Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Elsewhere in the Country, Ed Lessons to be Learned

Union City, NJ versus Newark - How to Fix the Country’s Failing Schools.  And How Not To

A QUARTER-CENTURY ago, Newark and nearby Union City epitomized the failure of American urban school systems. Students, mostly poor minority and immigrant children, were performing abysmally.
New Jersey officials threatened to take over Union City’s schools in 1989 but gave them a one-year reprieve instead. Six years later, state education officials, decrying the gross mismanagement of the Newark schools, seized control there.
Then, in 2009,  you get the combo of Chris Christie, the new governor (and now would-be president) and then-mayor of Newark (now in the U.S. Senate), Cory Booker working together, believing they could find the ed reform way forward.  Fast-forward to Oprah in 2010 and we see Facebook wunkerkind, Mark Zuckerberg, saying he is donating $100M to Newark schools for just that experiment.

What did Union City do?  They stuck with what resources they had, facing a student population that was three-quarters ELL.
In 1989, with one year to shape up Union City, Mr. Carrigg, with a cadre of teachers and administrators, devised a multipronged strategy: Focus on how kids learn best, how teachers teach most effectively and how parents can be engaged.
The Union City reformers opted to focus initially on the youngest children, whose potential for improvement was greatest. When New Jersey began to fund preschool for poor urban districts in the late 1990s, the district seized on the opportunity to devise a state-of-the-art program that enrolled almost every 3- and 4-year-old in the community.
Guess who did better?
Today Union City, which opted for homegrown gradualism, is regarded as a poster child for good urban education. Newark, despite huge infusions of money and outside talent, has struggled by comparison. In 2014, Union City’s graduation rate was 81 percent, exceeding the national average; Newark’s was 69 percent.

What explains this difference? The experience of Union City, as well as other districts, like Montgomery County, Md., and Long Beach, Calif., that have beaten the demographic odds, show that there’s no miracle cure for what ails public education. What business gurus label “continuous improvement,” and the rest of us call slow-and-steady, wins the race.
 Newark spent $20M of that $100M on...consultants.  Newwark hired a TFAer , Cami Anderson, for their superintendent and she closed schools and stopped coming to Board meetings because she got tired of being heckled because she wouldn't listen to parents, teachers and community.
Newark’s big mistake was not so much that the school officials embraced one solution or another but that they placed their faith in the idea of disruptive change and charismatic leaders. Union City adopted the opposite approach, embracing the idea of gradual change and working within existing structures.


Jan said...

Nice to see the dark side exposed. The one thing that bugs me about the article, though, is is implicitly buys into the "assumption" (the big lie, I think) that the "disruptive" model and the charismatic leaders were ever about "fixing" education, or making it better, in the first place. In my opinion, they were not. They were about privatizing education as a means of opening up opportunities for large private companies to tap into the vast public dollars that flow into public education. Of COURSE those interests had to SAY that the new disruptive regimens were all about improving education for kids -- they could never have gotten legislators and governors (particularly Democratic ones) to swallow the plan without that dishonesty.

But the fact that the charter school and privatization failures in places like Michigan and Ohio have been followed NOT with a contrite return to public education -- but by more of the same policies -- removes the last shred of plausibility (if even a last shred remained) that the kids' and their welfare was EVER the goal.

And that is why this report will go nowhere either. It is sort of "games up" in terms of the lie -- but the privatiztion of public schools is now so entrenched in many places that they no longer need the lie. They have bought the politicians and changed the laws. They just need to keep going.


Melissa Westbrook said...

And Jan, that's what is hard. I believe there are good people who care. I also believe there are people who care and are glad there are all these opportunities for jobs in ed reform. I think there are some very wealthy people who have their own reasons for this work. And then there are the privatizers.

I hear your worry in your last paragraph. I'm worried as well especially for Washington state.

Joe Wolf said...

A reminder that Union City is the district we (Capital leadership) spent a couple days in last fall seeing and learning about how they do facilities design/development in a dense urban context.

It was time very well-spent. They have their "A game" on.