Newark and Ed Reform

For an example of the strange alliances begot by education reform, check this out: the hoary American Civil Liberties Union and the Newark-based Secondary Parent Council (SPC) are suing the City of Newark because Mayor Cory Booker won’t hand over personal email related to Facebook Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation to Newark Public Schools. Here's coverage from the Wall St. Journal.

Laura Baker, a member of a the Secondary Parent Council, requested Booker's emails under the Open Public Records Act. Here’s the State’s denial of the request on the grounds of it being “overly broad.

Trying to be a man of the people, Mayor Booker, an irrepressible tweeter, then broadcast, "All grants of Zuckerberg $ have been made public. New grant announcements coming in September."In response, a reporter who doubles as a writer for Blue Jersey as well as a publicity person for the ACLU, started a twitter campaign. Readers are urged to "Contact Mayor Cory Booker in a medium you know he'll listen. Tweet@CoryBooker right now with this message: Update the public on Zuckerberg's gift. Please release all records on the Facebook emails; the public has a right to know."

Let's unpack this a bit. Why, after all, would the Secondary Parent Council, dedicated to the improvement of Newark public schools, peck away at a mayor whom, by all accounts, shares the same goal? It can’t be about the $100 million: that’s a mere 12% of Newark’s annual school budget.

In fact, the SPC is a spoke of an umbrella group called the Coalition for Effective Newark Public Schools, which includes the Newark Teachers Union, the Newark Supervisors and Administrators union, Abbott Leadership Institute, the NAACP-Newark Chapter, and the Education Law Center. The group has produced a five-point plan to improve Newark schools that incorporates a couple of reformy elements like teacher accountability while blowing raspberries at the "top down" initiatives like continued State control and the failed attempt to place experimental schools within the dismal Barringer High School. (At Barringer in 2010 only 26% of juniors and seniors were able to pass the high school standardized test, which is an 8th grade level assessment.)

So here's what's weird: you'd think that parent groups like SPC would be big fans of elements of ed reform like school choice and charter schools and vouchers. But this group in particular is so tied to teacher union politics that its absorbed the patina of anti-reform fervor, the fear that expanded school choice leave even more kids in the lurch. That parent power gets linked to teacher union power, and then conflated again with stalwart champions of justice like the ACLU and the NAACP.

It's as if school choice, specifically charter school expansion, has become the whipping boy for all things threatening to advocates of traditional public schools. (Here's the Newark Teacher Union President Joseph Del Grosso back in 2008 in EdWeek: "The mayor [Booker] is interested in charter schools because he doesn't have a clue how to fix education.") And until that resistance weakens we'll spend time and resources on frivolous law suits."

Joel Klein, former Chancellor for the NYC schools, has a great piece this week in Reuters (actually a book review) that gets to the heart of this conundrum:

The unions know that parents are the only force they can’t beat and, as a result, they’ve done an incredible job over the past couple of decades cultivating them as allies. But, increasingly, parents — especially those in high-poverty communities — are coming to understand that it’s their kids who are bearing the brunt of the current union-driven, adults-first focus of public education.

If Newark's parents are represented by SPC then we've got a long way to go.

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