Comprehensive story on how corporate Ed Reform failed in Newark:

Late one night in December, 2009, a black Chevy Tahoe in a caravan of cops and residents moved slowly through some of the most dangerous neighborhoods of Newark. In the back sat the Democratic mayor, Cory Booker, and the Republican governor-elect of New Jersey, Chris Christie. They had become friendly almost a decade earlier, during Christie’s years as United States Attorney in Newark, and Booker had invited him to join one of his periodic patrols of the city’s busiest drug corridors.

The ostensible purpose of the tour was to show Christie one of Booker’s methods of combatting crime. But Booker had another agenda that night. Christie, during his campaign, had made an issue of urban schools. “We’re paying caviar prices for failure,” he’d said, referring to the billion-dollar annual budget of the Newark public schools, three-quarters of which came from the state. “We have to grab this system by the roots and yank it out and start over. It’s outrageous.”

Booker had been a champion of vouchers and charter schools for Newark since he was elected to the city council, in 1998, and now he wanted to overhaul the school district. He would need Christie’s help. The Newark schools had been run by the state since 1995, when a judge ended local control, citing corruption and neglect. A state investigation had concluded, “Evidence shows that the longer children remain in the Newark public schools, the less likely they are to succeed academically.” Fifteen years later, the state had its own record of mismanagement, and student achievement had barely budged.


fischbobber's picture


It's interesting how the same players in the consultant industry are looking for various laboratories throughout the nation with which to test their theories. It makes for a very disjointed topic that is almost sure to be skewed by every individual need. I'm amazed at the money wasted on consultants that could (and should) be put to use in classroom instruction and facilities maintenance. If only it was as easy as simply doing the right thing, well actually it is, but if only we could find the people willing to do the right thing to run our schools.

Charles Lindsey, anyone?

Bbeanster's picture

Lindsey was no hero.

Lindsey was no hero.

fischbobber's picture

Perhaps not

But the more I read about education and reforms, the fewer people I see that qualify as such.

I had a higher regard for Lindsey than I do for the present administration. I feel like we have been one step ahead of the executioner for the past several years.

The reason people feel manipulated is because the real evidence so strongly suggests that that is what's going on. At least with Lindsey you had the impression that actions were motivated to produce positive results, not merely control the outcome and consequent discussion.

KH's picture

Parthenon Strikes Again

If you read the whole article, buried in the middle is a reference to Newark's use of the Parthenon Group. These people are never associated with school systems that come out smelling good on the other end. Yet, at the public forum on the budget last month, our superintendent refused to say that he would stop giving them money for consulting services. Pay attention people!

cwg's picture

If you read the whole article

...which i strongly recommend doing - great reporting - it isn't just the education reformers who come off poorly. So do the unions, so does almost everyone.

fischbobber's picture

The whole article

Everyone does come off looking bad, and there is a reason for that. Government is not business. Government is a collective effort for the common good. You have a bunch of interests pursuing goals of the private sector (productive employees, college prepped and ready for profit, reading and math ready at production line (grade level) rates, etc.) instead of pursuing the natural outcome of a first class education system, students that can think and function on their own.

If you want to see what kind of education system you have, look at the artists, writers, musicians, journalists and philosophers that you are producing. That group of children are your frontline indicators. Next, simply because they are harder to measure, look at mathematicians, scientists, historians and economists. Next, look at your trained professions, doctors, truck drivers, factory workers, lawyers etc. We're measuring in an ass-backwards manner and getting ass-backward results. We want to quantify a result that is, at its best, unmeasurable. We can only measure by downgrading the result.

And yes, it was hard to miss both the Broad Foundation and Parthenon Group connection. It was, at best, eerie.

fischbobber's picture

Great schools and great educators

Greatness in education involves teaching the simple concept that life is an educational experience lived in a giant classroom. We are all either students or teachers at any given time.

The Socratic method works.

Bbeanster's picture

Pretty much confirms the NJ

Pretty much confirms the NJ stereotype. Booker skipped out in the nick of time. Similar to the D.C. fiasco with Michelle Rhee.

Mike Knapp's picture

Outstanding article, great reporting

FYI in case folks were curious after reading the article B-rack was voted in as mayor. I just can't imagine teaching in an environment where stuff like this happens. I feel so for any child anywhere who has to grow up in such conditions.

Jacqueline Edward and Denise Perry-Miller, who have children at Hawthorne, knew the dangers well. Gangs had tried to take over their homes, tearing out pipes, sinks, and boilers, and stealing their belongings, forcing both families temporarily into homeless shelters.

Hard to tease out a bottom line but the correlations are clear - the lower the SES the higher the failure rate. You could take all the teachers at FHS and place them in Newark and get the same outcomes. The issue is structural poverty in areas of high unemployment and violence. Gangs don't exist in wealthier neighborhoods and kids do better in school when their parents read to them when they're young instead of trying to survive.

Another take away is what can be learned from what evidently worked in the SPARK school but is born out about what we know from ed stats. If there are low performing students the educational labor inputs have to be greater eg, more assistants, extended contract for intervention ect. In other words superwoman is really more teachers, time and help.
One of the main questions facing pub-ed is how to increase these type of inputs facing standard cost constraints. According to their lit charters have a competitive advantage because they have lower overhead, they're "streamlined" with less admin etc. So in theory more money can be put in the classroom.

Charter schools received less public money pupil, but, with leaner bureaucracies, more dollars reached the classroom. SPARK’s five hundred and twenty students were needier than those in most Newark charters. To support them, the principal, Joanna Belcher, placed two teachers in each kindergarten class and in each math and literacy class in grades one through three.

That sounds awesome. On that note perhaps we could have a convo with the save our summers supporters about their thoughts on the proposal put forward by A&E and Fulton a couple years ago for a balanced calendar that would allow for increased intervention and extended contract for teachers during breaks. A substantive proposal brought forward by a process conducted correctly with massive input from those communities about how they'd like to see their kids' education improved.

Indya's picture

balanced calendar

On that note perhaps we could have a convo with the save our summers supporters about their thoughts on the proposal put forward by A&E and Fulton a couple years ago for a balanced calendar that would allow for increased intervention and extended contract for teachers during breaks. A substantive proposal brought forward by a process conducted correctly with massive input from those communities about how they'd like to see their kids' education improved.

I wouldn't say there was 'massive input' on the balanced calendar proposal. I was ready to support that proposal, but heard some legitimate concerns from people in the community on two main fronts:

1. While kids at Fulton and A-E may need more instructional time to close gaps, it's logistically awkward and socially stigmatizing to have two considerably different calendars within the same school system - one for urban kids and one for everyone else.

2. Parents, including teachers with kids in school, had concerns about different calendars for different schools, e.g. one at Fulton, one at Whittle Springs. Or if I teach at Fulton, but my kids attend South Knox schools, etc.

One answer is to have balanced calendar for the entire county, similar to what they already do in Alcoa, and to what they are about to do in Oak Ridge. This would address both of the concerns above.

Balanced calendar only makes a real difference if you provide opportunities for more instruction during the inter-sessions, which takes money. If you also provide opportunities for enrichment, for kids who are not struggling, that takes money too. Could that money come by cutting back on existing expenditures? I don't see where that's possible without making untenable trade-offs, like extremely large class sizes or more computer-based, teacher-supported instruction, like they have at Kelley Volunteer Academy.

More instructional time is what many kids need, and that is not free.

Mike Knapp's picture

balanced calendar

Hi Indya,
Admittedly "massive" was a bit of hyperbole; meant for more as a contrasting statement to what sounds like what was not done in Newark. However from what I understand according to several friends who teach at Fulton and A&E the community outreach which occurred during the time when the proposal was being examined was, although not massive, nonetheless on the right track and buttressed by what were well designed surveys, interactions and informed by the community. Not subterfuge by some "union bosses" looking for extended contracts...

More to the point -

More instructional time is what many kids need, and that is not free.

In my view the balanced calendar helps solve this equation as per the data assembled by the concept's proponents which I found factually based and persuasive.

  • Less teacher absenteeism
  • Less students absenteeism
  • More contact time with at risk kids during breaks aka "intersessions"

My understanding also reflected in your comments was that the reasons the balanced calendar did not move this last time were not due to being a nonstarter on its face but because there were some complicating operational aspects (dual tiered school calendars an obvious one) which became insurmountable hurdles in the near term for whichever reasons and therefore limited its chances to move. Secondary versus primary factors. And as I referenced in a serious, non-snarky way (limitations of e-comm) was that there was also a well organized pushback both at the state and local level from those who wanted to save summer so they can harvest wheat during a 10 week summer break.

My point here (with Newark in the background) is that those in the community and their teachers lifted a proposal which they clearly thought would help their kids but were not able to move it for reasons you mentioned. Yet this organic (as opposed to a contracted out Parthenon report proposal), community-informed proposal moved in the direction of more instructional contact time which is something I feel many teachers would support, all the while knowing they'd not get rich doing it. And we recall from earlier convos during the snowdays that the teacher survey results prove this point.

KCS teacher survey results 1/7/14
I think the district should transition to a balanced calendar for all schools.

29.40% D
15.20% N
55.40% A

Finally in reaction to your comment about cost - I'd like to see where the numbers break down on the 9/2 balanced calendar or whichever for which we have financial specs. I'd also be curious as to what the costs would be for reducing class size in high schools (35 to 30/25?), having more teacher aids especially for elementary school teachers and having another 5-10 instructional days. Also I'd like to see what the costs would be for having cherry pie with real whipped cream every day in the cafeterias. Perhaps the TACIR has a fiscal capacity guideline for that...

Indya's picture

more on balanced calendar


From surveys and conversations I agree that most teachers support moving to a balanced calendar. They see the need and potential benefits. I think many, if not most, parents would be OK with it too, if we can resolve the secondary operational issues.

This organic home-grown proposal was well-received and close to passage. I think it will come up again soon.

Let me know when you get those estimates for cherry pie with fresh whipped cream!


Average Guy's picture


According to several of his friends, King worried that everyone involved was underestimating how long the work would take. One of them recalled him saying, “No one has achieved what they’re trying to achieve—build an urban school district serving high-poverty kids that gets uniformly strong outcomes.” He had questions about a five-year plan overseen by politicians who were likely to seek higher office.

No educational overhauls should be seen terms of years. For a place like Newark, it will be decades, if at all.

glostik's picture

Definitely great reporting

Definitely great reporting. The big take away for me is you don't do things TO people, you do it WITH them...and I wish folks at the state DOE and KCS would get that. You can't successfully roll out big changes without getting buy in from all stakeholders first.

Indya's picture


I agree that was the main take away from the article.

Incidentally, I worked at a faith-based credit union in Newark one summer so got to know the city a bit. The scale of their problems make ours seem much more manageable!

jcgrim's picture

Balanced calendar misses the mark: Stop test & punish

A balanced calendar by itself fails to tackle the issue the school board will not address- McIntyre's antediluvian test & punish mandates. Standardized tests are being used to sort & rank, not inform instruction. As long as we make test scores the end goal, meaningful changes will not happen for our students & schools.

It's extremely frustrating to know that there are education models that we know are effective, i.e. community schools, balanced calendars, schools with integrated & diverse populations, wide rages of curriculum options, & themed magnet schools. Yet, we continue to double down on failed business ideas and seek advice from hucksters like the Parthenon Group.

A balanced calendar can be effective if the time between learning segments is designed for enrichment- not test prep & drill. Maryville City has a balanced calendar that is worth using as one model. They've embedded enrichment into their breaks. Teachers & student participation is voluntary. Their model would need to be adapted for a school system the size of Knox County.

The notion that a balanced calendar means some kids will receive more instruction during the breaks needs both clarification and debunking. More time does not equate with more learning. Quality time is critical. Please stop perpetuating the myth that more instructional time equates with closing 'achievement gaps'(btw, 'achievement gap & extended instructional time' were conceptualized by the privatization ignorati as mechanisms to propagandize the public.)

Learning depends on numerous environmental variables, such as: a stable learning environment, small class size, child & lesson developmental match, & access to a wide range of appropriate instructional resources. Student variables include: learner self-efficacy, interest in the topic, meaningful & functional outcomes. Hence, time spent is highly individualized & contingent.

Corporate ed reform is a failure to all schools and communities. As such, Parents & teacher pushback will not go away or be distracted.

Mike Knapp's picture

Like it; we are in agreement

Please define "quality time"

jcgrim's picture

A definition of quality would require a dissertation!

However, you are (as teachers are) experts in education- you know quality when you see it. :)

jcgrim's picture

The moneyed crowd fails to sell their junk-science to Newark

I like how the New Yorker author contrasts the uber-hype of Corey/Zuck/Christie/Oprah with the realities of managing Newark schools. Boy-Billionaire wiz Zuck sure looks like a Bambi being played. (Parthenon Group's investment schemes, anyone???) Booker's super-star sized ego failed Newark's impoverished community long ago abandoned by NJ economic & political elites.

A deeper look at the community push back highlights the problems school privatization exacerbates: Newark's loss of democratic control over their schools, segregation, taxation, & economic inequality. (link...)

The article's author is far too deferential to Cami Anderson, Jeffries, and the charter industry. There is no way that money is going to kids who need it the most. In spite of the extraordinary secrecy behind Anderson, Booker & Christie's backdoor deals, the people of Newark live with effects of their dissembling.

The author avoids pointing to the underlying disagreements between Anderson's stubborn refusal to listen to parents, her insistence that Broad Academy's punitive education model is 'good for those kids', and the segregating effects of test, punish, & charterized schools.

Jeffries & Anderson are the tools of the money crowd who are symbolic of everything that's wrong with the politics of school reform. Teachers, parents and kids can feel this in their bones. That's why the resistance to local, state & national privatization is not going away.

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