NEWARK DOWNGRADED FROM HIGH PERFORMING TO FAILING IN LESS THAN A YEAR
In a letter dated July 2, 2012, Acting Commissioner Christopher Cerf issued yet another round of scores on the Newark district’s performance under the State monitoring system of NJ school districts — the Quality Single Accountability Continuum or “QSAC.” The latest scores dramatically lower the district’s ratings in the governance, personnel, and curriculum and instruction areas of QSAC monitoring from the ratings issued by Mr. Cerf less than a year ago.
The new ratings come on the heels of the Acting Commissioner’s highly unusual decision to conduct a full review of Newark after certifying the district as high performing in four of the five areas of evaluation under QSAC in July 2011.
The Acting Commissioner is also making the new scores public just days before a deadline to answer a lawsuit filed by the Newark School Board and numerous community groups, parents and taxpayers seeking to overturn Mr. Cerf’s July 2011 decision not to return the district to local control despite the district’s high level of performance.
In his July 2nd letter to State Superintendent Cami Anderson, Mr. Cerf significantly downgraded the district’s performance from July 2011 as follows:
- Governance dropped 34 percentage points, from 89% to 55%
- Personnel dropped 46 percentage points, from 94% to 48%
- Curriculum and Instruction dropped 30 percentage points, from 64% to 34%
Fiscal management also dropped 5 percentage points, from 93% to 88%, while operations remained the same at 83%.
Under the QSAC statute, a district scoring over 80 in any of these five areas is considered high performing and, for state operated districts such as Newark, the State is required to withdraw control over those areas. A district scoring below 50 is considered failing and subject to more in-depth State evaluation and oversight.
The legal appeal filed by the Newark School Board and community groups is a direct challenge to Mr. Cerf’s refusal to restore local control by withdrawing from the governance, personnel and fiscal management areas given Newark’s high performance in the July 2011 scoring. In 2009, the former Commissioner Lucille Davy withdrew State control over operations when the district scored over 80 in that area.
The precipitous drop in ratings from high performing in July 2011 to failing in July 2012 occurred under State Superintendent Anderson, hired by Mr. Cerf and Governor Chris Christie in June 2011 to lead Newark’s public schools. In announcing her appointment, Governor Christie hailed Anderson “as someone who knows how to execute a plan, and that’s what is needed here in Newark.”
ELC Executive Director David Sciarra noted that Mr. Cerf issued his new QSAC scores just days before the extended deadline for the State to answer the Newark Board’s legal appeal seeking local control. “The process, timing and results of Mr. Cerf’s actions call into serious question the credibility of, and public confidence in, the State’s monitoring of local school districts under the QSAC framework established by the Legislature,” Mr. Sciarra said.
Mr. Sciarra also noted that Mr. Cerf’s dramatic downgrade of Newark from high performing to failing in less than a year also raises concerns about the management and direction of Newark schools under State’s own leadership. “Mr. Cerf needs to explain why Newark’s quality review scores dropped so dramatically one year after bringing in highly touted new leadership, and why the State Education Department allowed the district’s performance to deteriorate so dramatically, so quickly,” he added.
On July 2nd, the same day that Mr. Cerf issued his letter downgrading Newark’s ratings in district governance, the State Superintendent vetoed the Newark Board’s decision to reject Anderson’s plan to close several Newark public schools and lease the buildings to charter school operators. The Board refused to sign-off on the school closings and charter leases after failing to receive assurances that the district had complied with State regulations governing school closures and state public bidding laws.
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