by David Safier
On Tuesday I wrote that the mayoral election in Newark, New Jersey, was a referendum on "education reform," aka education privatization. The election results that night had "reform" candidate Shavar Jeffries losing to Ras Baraka, a Newark high school principal who wants to improve the very damaged Newark school system, not dismantle and replace it.
I just finished reading an incredibly good article on the Newark education battles in the New Yorker: SCHOOLED: Cory Booker, Chris Christie, and Mark Zuckerberg had a plan to reform Newark’s schools. They got an education. Unlike most education stories, this one doesn't take sides. It lays out the plans by the privatization/charter school advocates, a coalition of ex-Mayor Cory Booker (Democrat), Governor Chris Christie (Republican) and Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook founder, party unknown), to transform Newark's schools, which have been controlled by the state since 1995, and the problems they encountered along the way. It's very long, but it should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand the size and scope of the problems facing inner city schools and the monumental difficulties that confront anyone who wants to change things, no matter what their motives may be. I came away shaking my head. No easy answers to be found anywhere.
Having said that, my impression is that the educational good guys won in Newark. I wouldn't want to be mayor-elect Baraka, what with the problems Newark faces on every front. But I'm hoping a man who knows one of the city's toughest high schools from the inside, as principal, will employ his experience and a strong dose of common sense as he attempts to improve things. The New Yorker article leaves me with the impression he's not a doctrinaire anything, and that he'll try to take what he can from the strengths of public schools, teachers, unions, charter schools and big money philanthropists to make things a little better for the children of his city.
The media circus has landed in New Jersey with Chris Christie playing the angry clown, and a good time is being had by all. Meanwhile, a very important education story is playing out in Newark right now which will take years to develop.