Smarick: Consider Elimination of Newark Public School District

Andy Smarick, NJ’s very recent Deputy Commissioner of Education, has a piece up in the Daily News today about Newark’s new teacher contract, which notably includes a merit pay provision that will offer 3%-5% raises to teachers who demonstrate excellence in the classroom. (Coverage here.)

Smarick writes,
Today, this district has everything it could ask for: a reform-oriented teachers contract, a new state law on tenure and evaluation, funding twice the national average, the $100 million Mark Zuckerberg donation, partnerships with leading nonprofit organizations, freedom from a politically motivated school board, a tough local superintendent, a reform-friendly mayor, the nation’s best state superintendent and an incomparably bold governor. 
So we should happily call this the beginning of a new era. But we must also declare an end to the excuses. If the district can’t generate better results here and now, it never will. The governor should say so — and then put the district on the clock.
What happens if Newark doesn’t generate better outcomes for its students within a reasonable timeframe? Smarick’s solution: dissolve the traditional district and replace schools with charters.  As he points out, 17% of Newark’s 40,000 kids are already educated in charter schools, the district is under state control, and, according to NJ’s charter school laws, the Commissioner is the sole authorizer of new charters. The entity known as Newark Public School District is "expendable." If it doesn't improve, "eliminate it."

(Smarick makes a more nuanced case in his new book, “The Urban School System of the Future: Applying the Principles and Lessons of Chartering," which advocates a portfolio of private and public choices for students in failing urban school districts within a framework of regulatory oversight. Also notable: he has little use for school "turnarounds," an important component of NJ's No Child Left Behind waiver.)

Still, his Daily News editorial sort of nails it: given the “numerous arrows now in Newark’s quiver,” what happens if outcomes stay the same or improve only marginally? Can one argue, then, that even substantial investments in a traditional system amount to tinkering around the edges? Do we need to start from scratch?

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