Saturday, June 14, 2014

More ways to create 100 excellent schools in Newark

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how to really create 100 excellent schools in Newark as opposed to Superintendent Cami Anderson's One Newark plan which involves closing schools, expanding charters, firing staff and disrupting neighborhoods. I listed 20, and asked readers to submit more. After incorporating your suggestions in an initial update, I realized that if we are going to get to 100, it needs to be organized. So, here's what we've got so far: 45 great suggestions arranged by categories for your easy viewing.

Many thanks to all who've submitted suggestions both here and at Blue Jersey. Keep 'em coming! I've credited those who were OK with it and respected the anonymity of others. While many educators are in the throes of end-of-year insanity, please keep your suggestions coming after the dust settles.

Banish Inequality

  1. Every school should accept and retain every child who walks through its doors—no exceptions. Charter cheerleaders love to say that their schools are public schools. That's a myth. Unless a child does something truly horrendous, a public school can't expel them, but charters can. The attrition rates among Newark's charter schools are unacceptable. Charters must be held to the same standards as public schools. Anything less in a public school system is discriminatory.
  2. The attrition rate for African-American boys in charter schools must be addressed.


  1. Create a community of support and shared ideas between schools. Start by visiting this very excellent school and see how a caring principal and staff work together with parents and administrators to make a safe, fun, engaging learning environment for all the students.
  2. As the great philosopher, Vanilla Ice, once said, "Stop, collaborate and listen.” But seriously, do that; it's pretty solid advice.
  3. From Jeff Grossman: Create an environment of collaboration. For example, assign mentor teachers to work with novices. Create teacher cohorts that are given ample common planning time. Ensure that all teachers take part in a peer evaluation system and have an opportunity to observe, and learn from other teachers that are teaching the same grade and/or subject as they are.
  4. Professional development must extend beyond the 4 walls of an individual school. Educators in all schools within a district should be sharing ideas and best practices.


  1. Communicate, communicate, communicate with staff, parents and the community. You simply must attend BOE meetings and listen to everyone whether you agree with them or not.
  2. Engage parents and community. You can't have excellent schools without them. 
  3. Meet regularly with your PTO/PTA executive committee. They are a direct line to parents and they are vital to the success of a school.

Curriculum and Instruction

  1. Technology should enhance the curriculum; not drive it.
  2. Read Howard Gardner’s Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences then implement it. All students don’t learn exactly the same way, yet most of the reforms we see in education are narrowing teaching and learning so that only those students who are good at wrote memorization and test taking will succeed.
  3. From Jeff Grossman: Limit classroom size. Study after study has shown that this is a proven method for improving student performance.
  4.  Provide meaningful professional development for educators. PD should be research based (that would be vetted research) and address the specific needs and concerns of the student population. 
  5. Leave ideology at the door. You may desperately want to implement a reform because you believe it will work, but unless you can back it up with real research, best to leave it out.

Don't Close Them

  1. Closing schools disrupts families, destabilizes neighborhoods and makes people very, very angry—especially when their neighborhood school is doing a good job.


  1. Provide lots of extracurricular activities. Many students in high poverty school districts don’t have the resources to take private music, art or sports lessons. Their parents may not be able to drive them to scouts or other civic organizations. A strong extracurricular program run by educators, that gives students a variety of creative, social and athletic outlets keeps students engaged and involved, and fosters self esteem and pride in their school.

It Really Is All About The Poverty

  1. From Tamar Wyschogrod: Poverty alleviation creates excellent schools. Affordable housing creates excellent schools. After school programs create excellent schools. Jobs for parents create excellent schools. Health care creates excellent schools. Safe streets create excellent schools. Good nutrition creates excellent schools. Racial and socioeconomic integration create excellent schools. Oh, and reducing class sizes. That's a good start.
  2. 'Rigor' won't solve poverty. 

It Really Is All About The Children

  1. Listen to students. It's their education, not yours. When students feel connected and valued they will engage in their learning. Right now they're not happy.
  2. Let kids be kids. 'No excuses' charters teach one thing: submission. That is not conducive to nurturing a young, creative and very active mind.

It Takes A Village To Educate A Child

  1. From Melissa T: Realize that schools need to play a vital role in the community as a provider and supporter of wrap around services. Schools are supposed to involve and support the communities, not alienate them.
  2. Expand the role of schools in the community. If Harlem Children's Zone can offer support services to parents like job training and substance abuse counseling, why can't our public schools? 
  3. In my district parents serve on many committees: Health and Wellness, Safety, Scheduling, and many more. It's their school, they should be involved.
  4. Teachers should be involved in running summer and after school programs as much as possible. They already have a relationship with the students so it's easier to help them succeed. 

More Funding, Not Less

  1. Get as much money into the classrooms as possible. A teacher can't teach without adequate supplies. It’s very difficult for a school to improve when funding has been slashed.
  2. Invest in infrastructure. Students cannot learn and educators cannot teach in buildings that are unsafe, vermin infested and lack basic sanitary systems. If you build clean, well lit, safe and inviting buildings, drop out rates will drop, so you won’t have to close schools.
  3. From Patti Grunther: Do NOT hire administrative staff that is unnecessary (e.g. assistant superintendents in a school district where many schools are in disrepair or without basic supplies) at high salaries, give them enormous raises and then lay off teachers due to a deficit you yourself created.

Related Arts Are Vital

  1. Build a strong foreign language curriculum. If you really want students to be able to compete in a global economy, they have to know how to communicate. If the federal government wants to meddle any more in public education, mandatory bilingual education is something worth fighting for.
  2. Build a strong fine arts program. Many students who are not successful academically, are very creative. They need to know they can be successful in school. Cutting the arts can have a devastating effect on some struggling learners. Public education must educate the whole child; not just the part that takes standardized tests.
  3. Want to help boost math scores? Don’t cut music programs. Music is math. The human brain is prewired for music, and research has shown that studying music can help students improve math learning.


  1. Build a working relationship with your teachers association. Signing a contract then trying to renege on it builds distrust and animosity. Unions did not cause the issues many students in Newark face, but unions have many good solutions for helping students succeed. We've been doing it all across New Jersey for decades.
  2. Be compassionate even with those who disagree with you. Education is a nurturing environment. If you don't bring a healthy dose of compassion with you every day, you're in the wrong profession.
  3. Don't fire teachers. Mass firings of teachers erodes morale, arouses suspicion among staff, students and parents, and does not work.
  4. Listen to teachers. They—not billionaires, business people nor the politicians they support—are your best source for best practice in education. They—not billionaires, business people nor the politicians they fund—work with students every day.

Set Realistic Expectations

  1. Don't believe in miracles. Yes, I did just say that. Miracles don't happen every day, that's why they are miraculous. Quick education miracles only happen on TV. The Texas and DC 'miracles' have both been debunked.
  2. Define 'poor performance'. Test scores are not the sole arbiter of excellence. Statistics don't tell the whole story of why X-number of students in a particular school are 'not succeeding'. Where are the successes? Do the students feel engaged and excited about learning? Are they happy to be there? Are they putting forth a good effort? Are the parents engaged and supportive? These are all signs that a school is on the right track even if their test scores are low. 
  3. Broaden your definition of 'excellence'. An excellent school does not have every student performing at a proficient level, but it believes every student can get there. There's a difference between believing in children and believing in an unproven ideology. The first one can succeed; the second one is DOA.
  4. Build on successes. Set 1 or 2 reasonable goals a year. Too much change too quickly overwhelms, stresses and angers everyone.
  5. Slow down. Rome wasn't built in a day. Real education progress takes time. Developmental milestones happen for a reason. They can't be rushed or forced. When you push too hard against children, they push back, and that ain't pretty—or fair.

Teach, Don't Test

  1. Test prep does not make students 'college and career ready'. It only teaches them how to take tests. 
  2. 'Rigor' is another word for dead. I don't want my kids' education to be dead. I want it to be alive

Who Should Really Lead Schools

  1. Hire experienced educators to lead schools. Most Broadies have little to no classroom experience. Struggling corporations don't hire teachers to lead and fix them so why should schools hire business people to do the same?

Working With At-Risk Students

  1. From Jeff Grossman: Have a safety net in place to help students who fall below grade level. Having children reading several years below their grade level for example is unacceptable, when a child falls below grade level, treat it like a crisis. Have a robust remediation staff in place and do whatever is required to ensure that students receive services in a timely manner.
  2. Make sure every school is staffed with enough social workers and child psychologists to support the needs of students suffering from emotional disabilities including PTSD and chronic depression. Yes, that costs money, but a child can't learn when they can't even function in their own skin.
  3. Treat English language learners as an asset, not a liability. They are doing something you probably never succeeded at: becoming bilingual.