NEWARK’S public schools are dreadful. Although they have been under the supervision of New Jersey’s state government since 1995, there has been little improvement since then. Only 40% of students read to the standard prescribed for their age, and in the 15 worst-performing schools the figure is less than 25%. More than 30% of pupils do not graduate. Few of those who do are ready for higher education. Of those who entered one local establishment, Essex County College, in 2009, a whopping 98% needed remedial maths and 87% had to take remedial English. As a result, fed-up parents are taking their children out of Newark’s public high schools and placing them in independent charter schools. Many public-school buildings now stand half-empty. The best teachers often leave in despair.
Things might now start to change. On November 14th members of the Newark teachers’ union approved, by 1,767 to 1,088, a new agreement with the district which, it is hoped, will help to retain good teachers. It introduces, for the first time in New Jersey, bonus pay. Teachers can now earn up to $12,000 in annual bonuses: $5,000 for achieving good results, up to $5,000 for working in poorly performing schools, and up $2,500 for teaching a hard-to-staff subject. Newark will be one of the largest school districts in the country to offer bonuses. The idea was made palatable to the union, which had been reluctant to accept it, because the evaluation process will unusually be based on peer review, though the school superintendent and an independent panel will still make the final decision on each case.