If urban districts are failures, why is Christie's man in Newark touting progress?| Editorial

By Star-Ledger Editorial Board
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on July 10, 2016

Parents, teachers and community activists protest outside the Paterson Charter School for Science and Technology, where Gov. Chris Christie met with a small, invitation-only group to discuss his "fairness formula."

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Chris Christie has been traveling around the state arguing that efforts to improve urban education in New Jersey have utterly failed. But now, his own former schools chief in Newark is providing clear evidence of progress. Awkward.

The latest results show kids in Newark district schools improving their reading and math scores faster than the state average, narrowing the achievement gap with their wealthier peers.

Newark's graduation rate has risen, too, from 56 to 70 percent over the last four years. This is all according to test data provided by Christopher Cerf, the governor's former education commissioner, who more recently became head of the city's schools.

When Christie nominated Cerf to lead the state's school system back in 2010, he hailed him as "a nationally recognized expert in comprehensive school system reform." Surely the governor has no reason to doubt him now.

Other urban districts are doing even better than Newark, and some are doing worse. Asbury Park is the poster child for Christie's argument that sending more money to struggling urban districts hasn't worked.

But Union City is the exact opposite: An example of a district that's doing very well with the money. Its kids' test scores have matched those of many more well-off districts, and in 2014, the graduation rate was 81 percent, beating the national average.

The overall picture here is one of people hard at work, making slow and steady progress — hardly the complete and utter fiasco that Christie describes. Hard data undermines his narrative that our urban districts are an expensive failure that we must respond to with ferocious cuts.

Maybe that's why Christie has continued to skirt any real debate in these communities. He has yet to hold a public hearing in any of the urban districts he maligns.

As evidence that he is open to their input and aware of the facts on the ground, Christie points to his recent visit to Paterson, which was held at a charter school and was invitation-only. Here's how that went down: The governor refused to take a single question from a throng of reporters gathered there, and as he left, blew air kisses at some 120 protesters chanting outside.

The parents who weren't invited had every reason to be outraged. Their children's district schools already lack basic necessities like books and desks, and don't have enough teachers. Now Christie is planning to cut their budgets even further to the bone.

The magnitude of the cuts he proposes is staggering. Newark would have to cut its budget by more than half, snuffing out any chance for more progress. The money would go to the suburbs, including the very richest ones. This is what the governor has the nerve to call his "fairness" plan.

Schools would be forced to eliminate essential programs, implement crippling hikes in property taxes, or both. Christie argues this is necessary because of "the failure of urban education."

Really? Let's see him try to make that case to people in Newark — not to mention his own former schools chief.

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