Newark public schools to remain under state control indefinitely despite improvements
Jessica Calefati | NJ .com
NEWARK — The Newark Public schools, which have been under state control for the past 16 years, will remain that way indefinitely despite significant improvements over the past 15 months, according to the results of a recent review.
Under state law, the Department of Education reviews all districts every three years in five performance categories, including academic achievement and school board governance.
For the first time, Newark scored above 80 percent in four of the five categories, a threshold that could have triggered the state to allow tens of thousands of Newark parents to elect board members with authority to run the city’s schools. The state now has final say over nearly all decisions the board makes.
Newark and Paterson are the only districts statewide with advisory school boards.
In a letter to Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson obtained by The Star-Ledger, acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf said one round of high marks on the state review is not enough to prove the school board can make sound decisions for the city’s 40,000 students.
"While the district has succeeded in achieving an increase in its (performance) scores since the last review in Spring 2010, much work remains for the Newark School District to ensure that every student receives a high quality public education," Cerf wrote.
Cerf cited Newark’s "unacceptably low" graduation rate (55 percent) and the troublesome percentages of students not proficient in math (51.8 percent) or language arts (57.5 percent) as reasons he cannot initiate even partial withdrawal from state control.
Cerf’s letter mirrors remarks by Gov. Chris Christie in May when he said emphatically that the state would not relinquish authority over the district.
State law allows for partial restoration of control in some of the five performance categories. Newark’s school board has control of its operations, meaning the board can make some decisions about the district’s facilities without state approval.
If the district scores as well on its next state review in three years, Cerf said he would consider a restoration of authority to Newark’s school board.
Board member Shavar Jeffries has advocated for empowerment of the city’s advisory board since his election two years ago. While the state’s recognition of the district’s progress is encouraging, he said, it is "highly disappointing" the parents of Newark continue to be disenfranchised.
"Our schools certainly need reform, but reform must come from the people; it will never last when imposed externally," Jeffries said. "Continued takeover sustains the idea that Newark parents are merely advisory when it comes to improving our kids’ education, and that sentiment undermines the sustainability of any meaningful reform."