'Dance of the Lemons': Failing Newark Schools Told to Stop Trading Bad Teachers

Yes, you heard right. Trading bad teachers.

Insider trading: Newark schools superintendent Cami Anderson has agreed to end teacher swapping. (Photo: AP/Julio Cortez)
Originally from Baltimore, Oliver lives and writes on a quiet, tree-lined street in Brooklyn.

By most measures, Newark is finally on the mend.

Since taking office in 2006, Mayor and Twitter-fiend Cory Booker has weathered the economic downturn with boatloads of good publicity (Street Fight; Brick City), opening and refurbishing 14 parks, and courting hundreds of millions in philanthropic donations.

The result? Last year Newark enjoyed their first population increase in three decades.

When it comes to their public schools, however, it seems not even a $100 million donation from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg—and millions more from federal government grant money—can change a system that is fundamentally broken.

MUSICAL CHAIRS

As reported by The Wall Street Journal, last year 68 teachers from three underperforming high schools—Malcolm X Shabazz, Central High School and Barringer High School—were moved and shifted around.

Said Newark schools superintendent Cami Anderson to the WSJ:

"[Teacher shuffling is] common and inevitable in a city with only a few comprehensive high schools and a slew of magnet schools where people are not going to leave."

The problem with the shuffling is that it was in direct violation of the agreement the schools had with the federal government when they received $5 million in aid. Instead of dropping half the teachers and replacing them with new ones, they simply traded with another school down the street.

"Federal money may have unintentionally funded the infamous 'dance of the lemons' that has been a harmful practice in districts for decades," said Tim Daly, president of the New Teachers Project.

"If these teachers truly were not good enough for one struggling school, we have to ask whether it is a good idea to put them in another one," he said.

THE COST OF BETTER EDUCATION

Additionally, Anderson warned that because of Newark's tenure laws an annual overhaul of failing teachers would come at a cost—between $10 million to $15 million paying dead-beat teachers unable to find a job. 

"In other words, by doing the right thing, we created a massive budget issue," said the Berkeley grad, who prior to becoming superintendent headed up New York's alternative schools and Teach for America.

Despite the burden it would place on the state's education budget next year, State Department officials agreed that sending mediocre teachers packing was a better long-term strategy.

"Turning around low-performing schools is not a game," said Justin Hamilton, a spokesman for the Dept. of Education. "It's hard work, and children's futures are at stake."

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