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Who Will Be Newark’s New Superintendent? A Political Gordian Knot for Christie

June 23, 2015

The NYTimes Kate Zernike’s report on Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson’s decision to step down provided a thorough and objective recounting of her tumultuous term of office. Indeed, unlike most Times writers Zernike referred to those opposing the status quo as “self-described reformers“, an apt description given the direction they intend to lead public education. The article also described the context New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is facing in making the appointment…. and it’s not a pretty picture:

  • The former Newark mayor, Cory Booker, was on the same page as Christie when Anderson was appointed Superintendent. The new mayor, Ras Baraka, is not… and his recent election was based on the notion that after 20 years of failed State interventions it was time for Newark to seize control of its schools.
  • Early in her term of office Anderson managed to negotiate a contract with the AFT that incorporated merit pay, but her bungling of the execution of the contract and her misguided notion of eliminating neighborhood schools has now created a rift between the administration and the unions and the administration and the community.
  • Christie wants to be President and he has used his bi-partisanship and his ability to turnaround the “failed public schools” in Newark as evidence of his competence as an executive. Anderson’s decision to leave is, at best, an “oops”. At worst, it is evidence that his ideas about school reform are a failure.

The article (and several other blog posts) suggests that Christie intends to appoint former New Jersey Commissioner Christopher Cerf to replace Anderson because he’s “the decider” on this issue. At the same time he’s indicated a willingness to allow “…the advisory school board some role in approving a replacement for Ms. Anderson.” I doubt that Mr. Baraka will see this as acceptable. He ran for office on a platform of returning control of the schools to the city and an advisory role will not meet that standard. Worse for Christie is the fact that his image as a bully is working against him at the national level… and if he railroads the appointment of the Newark Superintendent over the objections of a recently elected mayor his bullying image will be reinforced. From here it looks like a lose-lose proposition for Christie… but worse… a lose-lose proposition for local control of schools and a victory for privatization. Here’s hoping it is a Pyrrhic victory.

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