Mixed Evaluation Results Complicate Questions About Newark Schools

John Mooney | August 5, 2015 | Education
Status of return to local control to be addressed as new superintendent meets with State Board of Education today

Newark schools Superintendent Chris Cerf
When Chris Cerf comes before the State Board of Education today as the new superintendent of Newark schools, Topic A could be the promise he and Gov. Chris Christie made to begin to return the state-run district to local control.

The issue got more complicated last week when the state’s own evaluation found that Newark’s schools are still falling short – and are even regressing in some cases – of attaining benchmarks now in place for assuming control over key areas of district operations.

Under the state’s monitoring system – known as the Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC) – the Newark district fell short in three of five measured areas. Included was the critical area of governance, which would allow the local board to take binding votes and appoint its own superintendent.

How important this might be is unclear, as Cerf’s appointment last month came with the creation of a new committee that met for the first time in Newark last Friday to develop a set of new benchmarks that would point the way to local control.

Committee members have not spoken publicly as yet, and there have been few details about how they will approach their task and what time it will require. Some have said QSAC would have to be significantly reworked, if not scrapped. Others have said the return could happen within the current law.

[related]But both Cerf and state Education Commission David Hespe said, as the latest evaluation scores were released, that they remain committed to the review by the Newark Educational Success Board, a nine-member panel made up of educators, advocates and business and clergy leaders.

“While the report shows that there is still work to do, I want to make clear that it will not impede either our commitment to restore the District to local control, or the progress we are making towards fulfilling that commitment,” Cerf said in a statement.

Hespe said in his letter to the district that the QSAC results could prove valuable to the new committee as it charts what he has called a new roadmap.

“The Newark Educational Success Board will be collaborating on the development of benchmarks and strategies to effectuate a continued path to return of local control in Newark,” Hespe wrote. “We will be providing a copy of these most recent scores to the board to help inform and further their work with the district.”
Still, QSAC remains the law governing not just Newark but the rest of the state’s public schools as well, and its results will be difficult for the administration to dismiss as it moves forward.

The evaluation results also don’t reflect well on the tenure of Christie’s last appointee to run the Newark schools, Cami Anderson, who left the district in July under a barrage of criticism. She was replaced by Cerf, who had appointed her in the first place when he was state education commissioner.

Under QSAC, the district needs to hit 80 percent of the benchmarks in each of five areas, The districts has done so in fiscal management and operations, and has at least de facto control of those areas.

But it continues to fall short in governance, instruction and programs, and personnel, even getting lower scores in a couple of areas. Following are the scores for each area, as compared to a year ago.

Instruction and program: 58 percent (33 percent in June 2014)

Fiscal management: 82 percent (88 percent)

Governance: 72 percent (76 percent)

Operations: 95 percent (83 percent)

Personnel: 60 percent (100 percent)