By just about any measure, Hawthorne Avenue School in Newark, New Jersey, is a success, even something of a miracle. It scores in the top ten in Student Growth (which is business-laden rubric-speak for "learning"), #1 in the city, #7 in the state. It meets or beats the state targets on literacy and math competence. And it does extraordinary work educating poor and non-white elementary school students.
So, obviously, New Jersey school superintendent and Chris Christie appointee Cami Anderson is going to close it and open a charter school in its place.
Hawthorne Avenue School is exhibit A in giving away the game that is what the charter school movement in the United States has become. Originally, the idea was that charters would be experiments - incubators of alternate ideas of education that might be used on a larger scale. Instead, they are just corporate-run entities that have to answer to the bottom line, not the needs of the kids. Who will take over Hawthorne? The Knowledge Is Power Program, which gets money from...well, basically, all the usual suspects in education "reform," including the Walton family and the Gates Foundation. They will make money. They will pay themselves well to manage the school, even if it means taking over a school that is doing a great job of educating kids.
But Cami Anderson is nothing if not crafty in her dicking over Hawthorne. She has essentially waged a war on Hawthorne to fuck it up so it becomes a failing school which she can then sweep into and act as the savior of children: "She stripped the school of its librarians, its counselors, its attendance personnel. She has ignored constant pleas to repair crumbling walls and leaking ceilings." Well, that last part has a twist: once she gave the building to KIPP's Newark group, she said she'd have the building repaired.
Anderson's spiky strap-on of educational buggery named "One Newark" has been roughly reaming the asses of the entire Newark school system. In addition to closing schools, she wants to fire 1000 teachers and replace many of them with Teach for America recruits, who are paid far less (while giving her staff a raise - not much for optics, eh, Cami?). She has stopped attending local meetings because people are too mean there. And, for big laughs, last November, when the teachers went to a yearly conference that's built into the school calendar as days off, Anderson sent out a letter to parents telling them, with absolutely no evidence, that the city would become less safe and crime would go up because those vile teachers wanted to attend a convention that they attend every fucking year and that those thug kids will be robbing Granny instead of learning ABCs.
Oh, and she suspended four principals for speaking out when questioned at a community meeting about the changes Anderson's imposing on Newark, whose school system has been under state control since 1994. When Governor Christie was asked about people being upset with Anderson in Newark, he charmingly responded, "I don’t care about community criticism; I care about the job she’s doing." Chances are that he was yelling at a teacher when he said it. Remember when everyone thought that tough guy bullshit was charming? When it was leadership? Christie's just another politician who's on his knees, giving loud blow jobs to every corporate interest he can.
It doesn't get better. Just last week, a group of 77 members of the clergy in Newark sent a letter to Christie saying that Anderson has fucked up the job so badly and has pissed off so many people with her maniacal drive to convert the Newark schools into privately-managed charters and various academies that they fear for the community. "We are extremely worried about the level and tone of the current emotional discourse," they write. That includes student walkouts to protest cuts and closures, along with rallies by parents.
Those parents are primarily black and Latino, and, unlike how they are often depicted in such situations, they are deeply involved in their neighborhood schools. The Hawthorne Avenue School parent-teacher organization has hundreds of parents involved. "What more do we need to do?" asked the head of the group at a recent meeting. She was asking about what else does a school need to do to prove it can stand against the corporate and conservative forces who come in, thinking they know better than educators how our kids should learn, even when they are proved wrong again and again.