Cami Anderson, installed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) to launch one of the most radical school reform efforts in the country, is leaving the job after four tumultuous years and widespread community protests over her plan known as One Newark.
David Hespe, the state commissioner of education, announced Monday that Anderson will step down from running the public schools in Newark, the state’s largest city, on July 8.
“Superintendent Anderson has worked tirelessly over the last four years to implement a bold educational vision for the students and parents of Newark,” said Commissioner Hespe. “Under Cami’s leadership, the Newark school district signed a landmark teacher’s contract, implemented One Newark, and increased flexibility and support in virtually every school in Newark. We know that these positive educational reforms will continue to benefit the students and parents of Newark for years to come.”
Hespe said that he is recommending that his predecessor — Christopher D. Cerf — take over as Newark’s superintendent in July and serve under a three-year contract. Cerf was most recently an executive with Amplify, the educational technology firm owned by Rupert Murdoch and run by former New York School Chancellor Joel Klein.
It was during Cerf’s tenure as New Jersey education commissioner that Anderson was tapped in 2011 to run the Newark schools.
“Good riddance,” said John M. Abeigon of the Newark Teachers Union,which had fought against One Newark. “The damage she has done to children, parents and dedicated employees in this city is quantifiable and must now be reversed. We will work with whoever is in charge towards that end.”
The announcement that Anderson is stepping down came just four months after Hespe opted to continue her contract to run the Newark schools through 2015 and after Christie had made it clear that he stood by Anderson despite opposition from community leaders, clergy, state lawmakers and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka (D), who was elected in 2014 on a promise to get rid of One Newark.
Christie famously told the new mayor, “I’m the decider - you have nothing to do with it,” according to an account he gave at a gathering at the Aspen Institute last year. The state took control of the Newark schools in 1995.
With Christie’s blessing — and freed from the need for approval from a local school board — Anderson pushed through a raft of changes, many untested. While other cities have experimented with one or two reforms, no other urban system launched them all, simultaneously.
The plan, which fully took effect during this academic year, essentially blew up the old system. It eliminated neighborhood schools in favor of a citywide lottery designed to give parents more choices. It prompted mass firings of principals and teachers, and it led to numerous school closures and a sharp rise in the city’s reliance on charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run.
Anderson negotiated a teacher contract that allows the administration for the first time to push out teachers who are repeatedly rated ineffective, and give merit pay to strong performers.
By her own internal metrics, Anderson reported the traditional schools under her control have been improving and that more students have access to quality schools. She said graduation rates are up, as are scores on state English tests taken by high school juniors.
“Now, after twenty-one years in state control, Newark Public Schools are finally in a stable condition and can begin the return to local leadership,” Anderson said in a statement. “I hope my work in Newark will serve as an important roadmap for school districts across the country that are working to provide excellent schools for all students.”
But independent measures, such as state test scores, have stayed the same or even declined. Anderson attributed poor test scores to the fact that New Jersey state tests have grown more difficult just as Newark schools have seen increases in the percentage of special needs students and English-language learners.
And the continued protests - the latest from the Newark School Board, which earlier this month petitioned the state board of education to remove Anderson - posed a festering political problem for Christie, who is weighing a 2016 presidential bid.
The U.S. Department of Education is investigating seven separate complaints of civil rights violations stemming from Christie’s plan.
The Obama administration has also determined that aspects of the Newark plan appear to have violated the terms of New Jersey’s waiver to the federal No Child Left Behind law.