Newark's Dancing Lemons

Today’s Wall Street Journal looks at the “dance of the lemons” in Newark. Last year Newark Public Schools received a $5 million Federal SIG (School Improvement Grant) to turn around Malcolm X. Shabazz High School. There’s four SIG-approved methods of intervention to reform a failing school: convert to a charter, replace the principal, replace 50% of the staff, or shut the school down and send the kids to other nearby schools. (That’s the quick and dirty version; here’s detail for more inquiring minds.)

So Newark officials elected to use the “replace 50% of the staff” form of intervention for Shabazz High School. But, remember, teacher tenure is inviolable. Therefore, what happened to the 45 teachers who were removed to improve student achievement? According to the Journal, 21 of them went to Barringer High School, which is also a chronically failing school. And what happened to the 21 Barringer teachers who were supplanted by the exodus from Shabazz? Simple. They went to Shabazz. Actually, 68 teachers were rearranged among three of Newark's high schools.

Cami Anderson, Newark’s new superintendent, said that she’s changed policies to discourage swapping, but
because of the state's tenure law, which guarantees a paycheck to teachers regardless of whether any principal wants to retain or hire them, Ms. Anderson's new policy will cost the district an extra $10 million to $15 million a year that will go to paying the teachers who are not able to find jobs within the district.

"In other words, by doing the right thing, we created a massive budget issue," she said. Newark schools have a $900 million budget and employ about 4,000 teachers.
In other SIG news, the Governor’s Office has out a press release on the awarding of $55 million new SIG grants that will be divided among nine failing schools in Newark, Jersey City, East Orange, Paterson, Camden and Lakewood. On the list is none other than Barringer High School, the recipient of 21 of Shabazz’s rejects. But that’s okay: Barringer is choosing the model of intervention where you replace the principal, not the staff. The principals will dance this time, not the teachers.

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