It’s hard to convey just how truly radical Chris Christie’s appointment of Paymon Rouhanifard as state superintendent of Camden’s schools is.
Camden is the poorest and most crime-ridden city in America. The schools have a crumbling infrastructure and a disheartened staff, thanks, in part, to non-existent leadership and meddling by state officials (the schools only recently came under full control of the state this year, but have been subject to unusually strong oversight by the NJDOE for years).
Many Democrats cheered when Christie announced he would place the district fully under control of the state. But his promises of a new era for Camden’s schools are undermined by appointing Rouhanifard, a 32 year-old with a grand total of six years in education: two as a teacher, and four as a bureaucrat.
Rouhanifard is an alumnus of Teach For America, the controversial training program that gives college graduates five weeks of training before throwing them into urban schools, and only requires a two year commitment. Many TFAers view their assignments as a prelude to graduate school or careers in other fields; after his two year stint, Rouhanifard moved to Wall Street, working for Goldman Sachs among others.
He then moved to the NYCDOE. Under Bloomberg, New York has seen a huge proliferation of charter schools, which often shove out neighborhood schools against the wishes of the local community. Rouhanifard was, in fact, the point man for this transformation; he quickly gained a reputation among NYC parent groups as indifferent to their pleas to save their neighborhood schools.
No wonder he was recruited to come to Newark and lead the same charge. He is one of only three people listed on the contract for Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation to the city’s schools: the contract says that if he is replaced, it must be by someone acceptable to Zuckerberg’s foundation (a moot point now, as most of the money has been committed).
It’s clear that in appointing Rouhanifard, Christie is not looking to save Camden’s school district: he is looking to dismantle it. The “portfolio” strategy of converting public schools into charters and allowing school vouchers is the dream of conservative education reformers (a recent book by former NJDOE Deputy Commissioner Andy Smarick is quite explicit in calling for the end of urban school districts).
As I and others have documented, however, the charter school oversight system is so broken in New Jersey that it’s nearly guaranteed that the new Camden “portfolio” will exist mostly to enrich private operators at the expense of the students – especially the children who will NOT be served by these charters, which often engage in patterns of student segregation and attrition.
Yesterday, Chris Christie’s radical vision of education was put on display for all of New Jersey, and the nation, to see. And if those of you in the suburbs think you will be exempted…
UPDATE: For comparison, look at how Bridgewater and Princeton are finding their new superintendent. How long, I wonder, will the ‘burbs be allowed this luxury?