Opinion: An Emotional Response to the Newark’s Education Forum

I am a parent and a life long resident of Newark.  I am not an elected leader, but my mom was an educator and activist in this city I love.  I am a product of Newark’s education system and my children are now split between a public magnet high school and an elementary charter school.

This week an important Forum took place at NJPAC and sponsored by WNYC, entitled, “Bonanza or Burden?  Facebook’s Gift to Newark Schools.”  The evening included Mayor Ras Baraka, Superintendent Chris Cerf, KIPP New Jersey’s Joanna Belcher, and Dale Russakoff, author of the recently released book “The Prize:  Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools.”

I had hoped that the forum would be an important dialogue on the future of Newark’s education system.  Unfortunately, it was just the same political spectacle we have seen in our city for the last few years.  As a result, I left the beautiful NJPAC theater overcome with emotion and greatly saddened by how the political dramas of adults is crippling the future of Newark children. 

jodypitman200.pngIt did not escape me that this Forum took place the same week many of us watched Pope Francis’ travel for the first time to the United States. 

Specifically, when Pope Francis addressed our country he pleaded for all of us to “work together for the common good.” He reminded Congress of their responsibility to defend and preserve the dignity of their fellow citizens.  This true representative, regardless of race or religion, of the Most High God, verbalized with such grace and dignity and without fear or hesitation, directly to Congress, these specific actions should be “the chief aim of all politics.” “Legislative activity is always based on care for the people,” the Pontiff continued. “To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you.”

More important, Pope Francis frankly discussed the polarization that has paralyzed our government and urged us all to break the cycle and heal the “open wounds.”  Defining the cause of this destruction by using words like greed, poverty and hatred, the Pope stated, “Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments and thus promoting the well being of individuals and of peoples.”

Strangely, no one seemed to hear the Pope’s words at the Newark education event.  In fact, it seemed people did not actually read Ms. Russakoff’s book, “The Prize” outlining the perils of Newark education dating back to the 1950s.  No one seemed truly interested in Ms. Russakoff’s data and fact based driven information, nor was there a desire to gain a historic perspective regarding Newark.  Unfortunately, all I heard was more politically driven blame and the desire to scapegoat others.

What I learned reading Ms. Russakoff’s book, is that the demise we have all witnessed, predates even my existence.

According to Ms. Russakoff, the catalyst to Newark’s education problems has been Newark’s billion-dollar school budget, and specifically how Newark politicians have used that money to payback political favors, as opposed to getting that money to our classrooms and our children were failing from top to bottom and at genocidal levels.  There is a history of corruption and the creation of unneeded bureaucracies.

RELATED: Veteran Journalist Dale Russakoff Discusses Her Book "The Prize" at Newark Library

I had hoped for an authentic intellectual conversation at the Forum, showcasing this important point.  Instead, we were told the reason all is bad in Newark education is because charter schools are draining the budget.  Yet, long before the Zuckerberg gift, long before the State took over our district and long before charters, Newark was failing our children.

Prior to the alleged “infiltration of the outsiders,” the numbers sound like this:  in twenty-three of its seventy-five schools, fewer than 30 percent of children from the third through eighth grade were reading at grade level; the high school graduation rate was 54 percent; and more than 90 percent of graduates who attended the local community college required remedial classes; and only 12.5 percent of Newark adults were college graduates.

These are the facts we need to think about when discussing the future of our school system.  Charter schools are not the only solution to our problems, nor are they to blame.  But if we are going to have a real conversation about our future, it is time we all understand the facts that actually got us here.  We need to base Newark’s future on facts – not political ideology and scapegoats.

On the same week of Newark’s education Forum, Pope Francis tried to warn the political leadership in this country that their responsibility is to assist the poor and disenfranchised.  The Forum Newark witnessed was the polar opposite of Pope Francis’ aspirations and we should be ashamed.  There are many reasons why Newark’s education system is a mess.  Simply scapegoating charters, which are just as much public schools as district schools, is not only inaccurate – it is a political tactic to smokescreen the real issues behind the problems.

Our education issues have nothing to do with outsiders, the problem rests with those of us in Newark. As Ms. Russakoff mentions, I want to know what happened to the billions of dollars from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s and where that money went, when an entire city was receiving a substandard education.

Upon reflection, I now understand the emotion I felt leaving the panel - it was a deep feeling to do right by my children.

It was the desire to act now. 

I am no longer afraid to stand up and speak out when others create unethical arguments in order to place blame where it does not belong or scream out how great my daughter is doing at Thrive Academy via KIPP NJ.  As a parent frankly, I am thankful the money coming in to Thrive is actually reaching my baby, rather than paying a political debt.

It is time we all stand together and make the issue of education about facts - not ideology.

Showing 21 reactions

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  • commented 2015-10-05 11:51:55 -0400
    Chris where are the extracurricular activites in the Team HS? The sports teams? Color guards, cheer leaders, marching band, debate clubs, model congress?
    During the school day, how many hours a week do kids get musical instrument instruction?
    What musical instruments are provided? I did not notice the band concerts dates listed on the webpage.
    These are opportunities that districts provide to students to ensure that the development of the whole child is addressed and as studies show, assists in providing safe havens for teens and a sense of community for all.
    Did you not know that the Newark district schools are forced to use their educational funds to pay for extra curricular sports team activites for all students in Newark who want to be on the Newark district team, even if they are not enrolled in the district? I am guessing that is why I don’t see the Team school listing such activities. Not having to pay for such activities out of Teams educational budget =lots of financial savings there. Not so good for the district students but…that’s just the way it is, right?
    Oh and it’s also the same finacial set up for special educations students and private placement students and ditto for all transportation costs of all students in the city of Newark. But oh well, too bad for those students. Team school didn’t make the laws, right?

    I often wonder why no one acknowledges such encumberances when discussing cost comparisons.

    So this leads to my next question:
    If we replicate the charter schools as you suggest, on large scale,Should schools stop offering extra curricular activities for HS students in various sports, musical, artistic and cogntive areas?
    Also, what budget would then pay for those tranportation costs, special needs costs and private placement costs? Or do you still need to maintain a district school to take that money from?

    Lots to consider, really.

  • commented 2015-10-05 10:29:58 -0400
    Chris, to answer your question, Unlike many, I have been to charter school visits multiple times in multiple cities and states. I have also been to district school visits multiple times in multiple states. I had children enrolled in both types of schools. I recognize the issues relevant to both systems and I acknowledge the weaknesses and strengths with both systems.
  • commented 2015-10-05 10:24:12 -0400
    Chris, Can you explain to my why Kipp Newark has 9 schools listed and only one school has state performance data listed? Every district school must be accounted for. This is required. How is it that Kipp schools have no such accountability or requirements to the public stakeholders, parents and tax payers? What am I missing here?
    SPARK Academy
    THRIVE Academy
    Seek Academy
    Life Academy
    TEAM Academy
    Rise Academy
    BOLD Academy
  • commented 2015-10-05 10:15:52 -0400
    So you’re not going to visit?
  • commented 2015-10-05 09:59:29 -0400
    “We have practices that can and should be replicated.” Really? Like what? Be specific. You don’t have to follow the same rules as a district school, you don’t have to keep the same population of students, you don’t have to use your resources to pay for the most expensive to educate population and you get millions from outside donors- heck apparently your company pays $1.2 mill for high falutin soirres at the Swan and Dolphin.

    “until the politicians provide a quality alternative to the status quo, there will always be a void that is filled by North Star, KIPP and others.”?

    The politicians are the people making the laws and appointing those who approve opening North Star, Kipp and others.
    Quality alternative? Are you suggesting that politicians starving a district of resources in a district where the student population is starving from resources will be corrected by those politicians when the very nature of opening privately owned schools with public monies created the starvation of the Newark District? You think that will cause the same politicians to improve the districts they starved?

    “I teach at KIPP because I believe in KIPP NJ. I see the results, I live the struggle every single day. No amount of cherry picked statistics will change the fact that our kids need a quality education now, not tomorrow”.
    You don’t teach the same population of students that are in the Newark District. You teach a population nearly free of severe and profoundly handicapped students, Language learners or those who don’t follow your contract.You don’t see the sruggles of those kids nor the struggles of those teachers nor their schools.

    “Cherry picked statistics”?
    what are you referring to? You can have your opinions but are not entitled to change facts. The facts are your school has a high attrition rate, does not serve the same population of students that are in the Newark District. Your school is failing to meet objectives in tested subject areas. and your students attend school 8 hours and 45 minutes a day. Are you suggesting that equals quality education and insinuate that you are providing a quality alternative?
    I’ll ask again, a quality alternative to whom? Not the severe and profoundly handicapped students, Language learners or those who don’t follow your contract. Not the 73-90% of special education students who are not proficient at your school, not the students who left your school, not the students who have major behavioral and defiance issues likely due to a truamatic life with little supervision.
    Who is supposed to teach those kids? how is this replicable on a large scale? How will this improve education for the vast majority of students in Newark? The vast majority of students attend district schools. Most of those schools don’t have that smaller population of 12% and 0% special needs /lang learner , they are dealing with 35% special education and more severe and profound issues. Yet it seems, You want to pat yourself on the back and assert that you know that you provide quality education-because why? You teach kids who have deeply involved and concerned parents and students who will attend school for 8 hours and 45 minutes a day who will also follow your contract or be out? Still with those hours your school has red lines in every subject?

    “I live the struggle every day” What struggle to you live? Many of the children of Newark live the struggle every day. Many of them are not fortunate enough to have the resources that the students in your school have. Many could only hope for parents who were so involved, or not to have those severe disabilties or emotional issues.

    “Regardless of what you say, we do good work here.”
    Why is it that pointing out the reality of data means what “you say” and why is it that you believe others think you don’t do good work? Do you believe that district teachers don’t do good work? Do you believe that district teachers don’t do things for kids and families daily? What makes you think you do things better than teachers in the Newark District? Did you work there? Did you move because you couldnt handle the lack of resources, over crowding, larger ratios of difficult to educate population? Come on, as a teacher and human being, you at least have to have some admiration for the teachers who refused to leave those children who are most in need behind. Do you visit their schools and see what they do for kids and families daily?

    Let’s be real here for a minute; how about this," Yes, we have a different population of easier to educate students who have deeply involved parents and cost less money to educate than the Newark district. And yes we recognize that the state has set up a funding structure that hurts the home district so schools like ours can get the resources they need. Yes, It seems that some of those easier and inexpensive to educate students with deeply involved parents have better test scores. We recognize that his hurts the home district schools and that better supports need to be put in place to remedy this situation for the betterment of all students, not just those with better resources and those enrolled in schools like ours" Truths and facts matter. There is so much data out there. Why not acknowledge the truths so a serious discussion can be had.
  • commented 2015-10-05 07:16:07 -0400
    I won’t win the copy and paste battle for Internet blog supremacy. I concede. I agree NPS should be controlled by its citizens. But until the politicians provide a quality alternative to the status quo, there will always be a void that is filled by North Star, KIPP and others. I know Ms. Pittman and her family. I taught her daughter. She lives the reality of what she speaks. Few speak from her vantage point. I teach at KIPP because I believe in KIPP NJ. I see the results, I live the struggle every single day. No amount of cherry picked statistics will change the fact that our kids need a quality education now, not tomorrow. We have practices that can and should be replicated. You are welcome to come visit us at 18th Ave and see what we do for kids and families daily. Regardless of what you say, we do good work here.
  • commented 2015-10-05 01:05:19 -0400
    Bob Jones,

    I think I love you!
  • commented 2015-10-05 00:50:42 -0400
    Classic response with no supporting detail- that is funny coming from the person who provided no supporting details to his claims.
    You want details? I can get you lots of those.
    Lets start with your 7% attrition: No data backup provided by you so I cross referenced Kipps schools in newark http://kippnj.org/schools/team-academy/ and checked the state performance website:
    following the 2011 cohort:
    10th grade- 149 turned into 131 students for 11th grade and 115 students for 12th grade.
    looks like about 20% there. So I re read your comment: “At KIPP NJ, 95% of our high school graduates go to college” Graduates being the operative word. If you might indulge me how many students graduated fromthe 2011 10th grade cohort? Also noticed the state was missing grades 3 and 4 enrollemt for a few of those years.
    And, hey look at that! the school is failing to meet its targets in Language Arts, Math, AP, and SAT. tsk tsk… 84% of special needs students below grade level in a subject? Well, that shouldn’t bring down the score average that much as the school according to the state data presented by the school, only has 12% special education students and judging by the data; budgets, offerings, those students aren’t severely and profoundly handicapped another leg up might be the 0% LEP students.
    Very deflating to have such red marks all over the place especially after 8 hours and 45 mins a day in school. As a dad, thinking of my children I can’t somehow feel that there should be some kind of child labor law protecting children from being forced to do so many hours at such a young age. But I digress…Don’t get me wrong, I feel for schools with the current rating system. Tests don’t tell the whole story only one fraction of a snapshot of the day that child took that test. Let me guess the data provided to the state or presented by the state is wrong?

    5 IEP scholar’s parents? 5 IEP scholars? 5? Are you suggesting that only 5 students who graduated had IEPs?
    Further, were those 5 students severely and profoundly hanidcapped? How many severely and profoundly handicapped students does kipp enroll and how many severely and profoundly handicapped students has kipp graduated? Or is Kipp not an appropriate placement for such students?

    As far as your link is concerned; I suggest you pay close attention to the study details that are referred to. This is a study based on grades 5-6, 7and probability of 8. Where they were able to obtain data for" 22 of the 35 KIPP middle schools that were open by 2005". but then the study notes 17 schools and in some cases highlights and narrows down to 7 schools; noting a lack of data. Also, has several details like this or notifications of missing data and lack of information or omitting schools.

    The study was based on the Mathematica policy research company. The same company that Kipp pays $1.2 million as an independent contractor?
    You want another source?:
    http://pdfs.citizenaudit.org/2014_06_EO/94-3362724_990_201306.pdf :
    Complete this table for your five highest compensated independent contractors that received more than $100,000 of compensation from the organization Report compensation for the calendar year ending with or within the organization’s tax year
    (A) (B) ©
    Name and business address Description of services Compensation

    Hey !Looky there- they are hiring-$10.10 an hour, high school diploma and one to 2 years customer service experience. Looks pretty promising.http://careers.mathematica-mpr.com/careers/part-time-data-collection-jobs
    OH! and
    Look at that! Kipp paid $1.2 million to the The Swan and Dolphin resort? Not to shabby.
    I am guessing this swanky $400-500 a night hotel was not rented for the students?
    Must be nice to have such high taste and the excess funds to splurge at the Swan and Dolphin for some $1.2 million. Impressive use of finances there, eh?

    Back to the topic, do you support full funding for Newark’s District schools? or do you believe that removing funding and resources from the most needy in a community to give to privately run companies (some who apparently like to have their soirres in the Swanky Swan and Dolphin resort) who serve fewer special needs, Language learners and free lunch students in Newark, is the best way to serve all of Newark’s students? Do you believe that the same state entity that has overseen Newark for the past 20 years should continue to oversee and make decisions about Newark’s schools or do you believe the people in Newark might be better served by those who are impacted directly by the decsions made about their children’s education? Locally elected officials governing the schools, just like all of the other suburban towns or is this permitted or suggested for Newark?
  • commented 2015-10-04 23:00:38 -0400
    Based on data reported by KIPP to the New Jersey Department of Education:

    27% of all students in the Class of 2013 who started 5th grade at KIPP Newark were not at KIPP by 12th grade.

    That rate of total student attrition at KIPP Newark was 41% for the class of 2014, and 55% for Black males in that class.

    See https://danley.camden.rutgers.edu/2014/08/11/guest-post-where-will-all-the-boys-go/
  • commented 2015-10-04 17:10:22 -0400
    Classic response backed up by no source.

    Across our six schools in Newark, our student attrition last year was only 7%, among the lowest of any region in KIPP.

    Want more? Go here: http://educationnext.org/student-attrition-explain-kipps-success/

    Tomorrow I’ll tell my 5 IEP scholar’s parents we do don’t serve them, the Internet told me so.
  • commented 2015-10-04 16:38:58 -0400
    Amir, for those you who doubt the work of districts, please visit a high functioning and successful district school. Go into classrooms spend time in their PD sessions. If you doubt them go visit and see for yourself!
  • commented 2015-10-04 16:35:46 -0400
    Kipp has a huge attrition rate and many cases loses well over 30% of its students.
    They do not serve the severely handicapped population nor have to pay the costs of educating kids with sever and profound handicapping conditions thus they do not except no excuse, including poverty and lack of parental involvement, for not getting kids to or above grade level because they do not maintain nor serve the populations of children who leave or have such severe disabilities. They serve the populations of children who choose to stay and follow the contract kipp created for the families. Districts schools must serve all children, have no right to develop a contract that must be followed and must maintain costs of all students, inclusive of the highest educational needs and costs associated with such.

    Kipp gets generous donations and on average spend more per student than their home districts, especially considering they serve the least expensive to educate population with the least amount of disability issues. so no they do not spend LESS money than their public school counterparts.

    Teachers in district schools also create a culture of love, achievement, and pride but unlike schools who have high attrition rates and contracts that must be abided by, District teachers work with any and every child, regardless resources, parent support, defiant behavioral and psychological issues and severe disabilities.

    “outsiders” are NOT putting kids to and though college”. The hard work by the students and the support of their family is what putting kids to and through college.

    “Replicate, not eliminate, and EVERY kid gets a chance” ? Who is every kid? Certainly not the severe and profound special needs population, nor those kids who can’t, won’t or don’t follow contract agreements nor the 30-50% of kids who leave kipp. So who exactly is this being replicated for?
  • commented 2015-10-03 19:55:38 -0400
    For those of you who doubt the work of charters, please visit a high functioning and successful charter school. Go into classrooms spend time in their PD sessions. If you doubt them go visit and see for yourself!
  • commented 2015-10-03 12:33:34 -0400
    Too many falsehoods and misdirected generalities get written as comments to posts by people on the front lines of this crisis. Ms. Pittman lives the reality of a failed system, she deserves your respect.

    When the money goes to a charter (10% less per kid than what a public school gets by law) a KID COMES WITH IT! This fact is conveniently left off of comments about “taking money” from public schools.

    That money pays for everything that kid needs: teachers, books, materials, heat, food, etc. Did I mention teachers? These teachers work 60-70 hours per week (won’t find that across the board in your Union protected public school). These teachers create a culture of love, achievement, pride and except no excuse, including poverty and lack of parental involvement, for not getting kids to or above grade level. All with LESS money than their public school counterparts.

    Anecdotally, given NPSs track record with money, regardless of who’s running it, it seems NPS could benefit from less kids.

    At KIPP NJ, 95% of our high school graduates go to college. Seems like money well spent to me, for all of NEWARK. Replicate, not eliminate, and EVERY kid gets a chance. NPS (and anti-charter camps) must face facts and realize the so called “outsiders” are putting kids to and though college. Best practices must be adopted in order to truly care for kids and not self interest.

    Chris Bonner
  • commented 2015-10-02 17:20:22 -0400
    Ed reform are you going to focus on the students enrolled in the Newark school district? Are you going to advocate for full and fair funding of their district or will you support the removal of funds and resources from the city’s poorest and most in need student population? Are you going to advocate for making a positive change by removing 20 years of failed state control over the Newark school District? or will you further support having outside interests overseeing the education of Newark’s students?
  • commented 2015-10-02 17:10:17 -0400
    10 were failing? try again. Most charter schools in NJ are failing.
  • commented 2015-10-02 15:45:53 -0400
    Yes, let’s make it about Newark. The charters there are generally creaming. The public schools are starving. As to which can be labelled failing, that depends on the most slippery definition in all of US politics.
  • commented 2015-10-02 15:40:00 -0400
    Frankie! This isn’t NOLA. This is Newark. Our charters aren’t failing. 10 were, and the former commissioner of education who is now our superintendent closed them. Quit crying about NOLA and focus on Newark.
  • commented 2015-10-02 12:42:10 -0400
    Interesting: "I want to know what happened to the billions of dollars from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s and where that money went, " But you don’t care what happen to the 100 million from Zuckerberg?

    Maintaining that the entire city was receiving a substandard education it is a political tactic to smokescreen the real issues behind the problems. Resources and lack thereof certainly play the largest roll in standardized test performance, this is fact. If one is truly interested in improving the quality of life and educational test scores and advancement in Newark then one needs to address the major factors contributing to the core problem, not place false blame on an outcome that is result of the factors creating such outcome.

    “The money coming in to Thrive is actually reaching my baby”, yes it is and it is being taken from the students who attend the Newark School District. Students attending the District schools are obviously is the vast majority of students in Newark and as studies and the administration pointed out are also the poorest and most needy. I don’t believe that removing funding and resources from the most needy in a community is what the pope had in mind when he made his speech and it is certainly not a practice I would could morally support. But we each have out own morals.

    So yes, if we are going to have a real conversation about our future, it is time we all understand the facts that actually got us here. We need to base Newark’s future on facts – not political ideology and scapegoats, so stop scapegoating the Newark school District and start pushing for more advancement in helping all of those who have problems and a lack of resources, especially those in the most need, so they too can get the resources they need to be successful.
  • commented 2015-10-02 11:39:00 -0400
    I wasn’t aware that the conference was populated by people who would deny that there has been corruption in Newark. Regardless, I suspect you’ll find many Newark residents would prefer that the corruption be cleaned up (hmm, do we know anyone with a background in corruption prosecution?) so that legitimate local control can be exercise, as opposed to colonization based on the apparent insulting presumption (at best) that the people of Newark are incapable of self-government, or perhaps just naked exploitation.

    So you have a problem with divisiveness or tone? You’re not alone.
  • commented 2015-10-02 07:17:39 -0400
    The monies coming should be applied to the traditional public schools who need to be revitalized that are the fabric of our city. Not closed down and pushed away! If charters want to be held to the same standards and be equal…THEY NEED TO FOLLOW ALL THE SAME RULES, POLICIES AND STATE REGULATIONS AS A TRADITIONAL PUBLIC SCHOOL DOES! CHARTERS ARE NOT STATISTICALLY DOING ANY BETTER THAN TRADITIONAL PUBLIC SCHOOLS. There needs to be an equal playing field! The monies should be going mostly to traditional as we need it most. Traditional schools do not get donations and heavy donations from philanthropic avenues like charter does! It is evident of the corporate take over of our schools when you look at the invasions thatbhave taken place in NOLA and Camden NJ. THE CHARTER SCHOOLS IN NOLA ARE FAILING! Lets make it fair …lets make it equal. Give parents a REAL CHOICE!

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