Cami Anderson is the former schools superintendent in Newark who was relentless in pushing highly controversial education reforms from 2011 through 2015 and became one of the faces of the corporate school reform movement. She abruptly left the job last summer after her “One Newark” program sparked serious community unrest. As I wrote last June:
One Newark, which eliminated neighborhood schools in favor of a citywide lottery that ostensibly gave parents more school choices, wound up leading to the closure of numerous schools, mass firings of teachers and principals and a rise in charter schools. At least seven complaints of civil rights violations have been investigated by the U.S. Education Department. Last year, dozens of clergy in Newark warned [New Jersey Gov. Chris] Christie that school reform was causing so much “unnecessary instability” that they were “concerned about the level of public anger” over the issue.
Anderson is also an alumna of Teach for America, the organization that has made itself a star in the school reform constellation and that is holding its star-studded 25th anniversary summit in Washington this weekend. President Obama even sent a welcoming video to the thousands of TFA alums attending the event, declaring, “There are even TFA alumni working for me in the White House.”
According to this story by my Post colleague Emma Brown, Anderson made some remarks at one popular summit session Saturday about the school reform movement in which she was prominent. In fact, her comments — at a session to discuss the school-to-prison pipeline — were essentially a tough critique:
“Here is the inconvenient truth: Education, including education reform, is part of the problem,” said Cami Anderson, the polarizing former schools chief in Newark, N.J., and a 1993 TFA alumna. “We have not made a dent in the problem, and in some cases we’ve made it worse.”
Anderson said that the reform movement of which TFA is a part has for too long turned a blind eye to complaints about schools “quietly pushing out the most difficult kids,” meting out excessively harsh discipline and having high rates of suspension and expulsion.
“Why has the school reform community been largely silent about the school-to-prison pipeline?” she said.
Good question — and it’s just one of the many that critics of TFA and corporate school reform have been urgently asking for years.
Anderson’s remarks come at a time when TFA itself is said to be rethinking its tactics. Founded by Wendy Kopp, it became famous for recruiting new college graduates and giving them five weeks of training in the summer before sending them into high-poverty schools to work as teachers (not interns). This prompted criticism that corps members were not properly prepared for teaching high-needs students and that they were being recruited by school districts at the expense of veteran teachers and of the teaching profession in general.
In recent years, TFA has faced growing opposition, including from some former members, and the organization has missed some recruiting targets. Now it says it is experimenting with changes in its training and other programs. Brown quoted TFA Chief Executive Elisa Villanueva Beard as saying that the summit comes at an important time for the organization and for education reform.
Although there has been progress toward equity in public schools, she said, there hasn’t been enough, and TFA is trying to be “very clear-eyed about what it’s going to take to move the needle.”
What being “very clear-eyed” means is unclear, as is how seriously school reformers are listening to their critics about what public education needs to provide: equitable opportunities for all students. But it’s worth noting when one former reform star says publicly at a TFA convention that reformers have not only failed to make a dent in the school-to-prison pipeline, but have “in some cases … made it worse.”