Junius Williams, a New Jersey attorney, educator, musician and advocate for urban revitalization, visited Washington, DC on Wednesday to share thoughts on “Public School Reform: the New Inequality in Education.” Williams is the director of the Abbott Leadership Institute at Rutgers University in Newark, where he teaches free classes in educational advocacy.
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Public Education “Reform” in Newark, NJ
Williams reported on the proliferation of charter schools in the City of Newark over the last ten years and how that has shifted budgeting for all public schools, with charter schools now receiving 17% of Newark’s $1 billion education budget. He also described a demographic situation which will sound familiar to other cities, including the District:
Newark Public Schools has steadily declined in enrollment in every ward except the East ward. The East ward is the swankiest ward in Newark for ethnic reasons — not so much income but ethnic reasons — some people you just don’t mess with. And you don’t mess with the people in the East ward because of the their political connections both citywide and statewide. But everybody else is fair game.
Like other urban school systems, Newark has seen its share of school closures in recent years. Williams had been particularly concerned about the proposed closing of Roseville Avenue Elementary School. The story of this school, he says, exemplifies an all-too-common pattern: In recent years, the school lost a literacy coach, a lead science teacher, a math and language arts tutor, an ESL teacher, a world language teacher, and a full-time music teacher. How might the school have fared, had it been resourced to serve its students? Williams asks. Instead, it is declared too small for survival and slated for closure.
Following widespread protest, State District Superintendent Cami Anderson announced – just yesterday – a hiatus in school closings. She is not promising to keep Roseville open but is undertaking a re-examination of the district’s overall portfolio of schools. Anderson explained that the special circumstances of Roseville prompted her to re-evaluate.
Junius Williams’ presentation was hosted by the Institute for Policy Studies. (Full audio recording.) Williams has agreed to join a future edition of the Education Town Hall to further the discussion.
Meanwhile, in DC
Meanwhile, here in Washington, DC, both the Examiner and the Post reported that just 14% of students from DC Public Schools closed in the most recent consolidation plan have re-enrolled in a DCPS school for next year. Families often delay enrollment in neighborhood schools of right until August or even later. Still, the low enrollment in schools designated as consolidating schools is worrisome. David Catania, who chairs the DC Council’s Education Committee, now says he fears what he called a “rendezvous with instability.”
When 23 schools were closed in 2008, the District lost thousands of students and never recovered that enrollment, or the associated per student funding. Testimony to the DC Council last fall, from a variety of organizations and individuals, stressed that more closings would destabilize the system and the neighborhoods involved. Nonetheless, DC Councilmembers – including Catania – gave the plan to close 15 schools overwhelming approval. A lawsuit seeking to halt the closings is still pending.