I Share Bob Braun’s Frustration with NJ “Pro-Public Education” Lobby’s Muted Response to “Charter Cancer”
With the election of Donald Trump and a GOP House and Senate, his appointment of Betsy DeVos, and 35 Statehouses under the control of the pro-privatization GOP, it is NOT the time for incrementalism in the defense of public education. And in a State like NJ, where both Republican Governor Christie and former Democratic Newark Mayor Cory Booker wholeheartedly supported privatization of public schools it would seem especially important to launch a strong movement in support of public education.
But, as blogger Bob Braun notes in his post yesterday, the organizations that would typically be advocates for public education are muted in their opposition to the privatization of public schools or, in the case of newly elected Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, complicit in their expansion. Braun attended a conference called “New Jersey Education Policy Agenda for the Next Gubernatorial Administration” and offered this dispiriting analysis of the proceedings:
Participants in the conference danced around the danger of charters–but they are starving public schools. Yet even charter critics like Mark Weber–better known as the blogger Jersey Jazzman–offered palliatives when, in fact, bulldozers are needed. Charters suspend and expel 20 to 30 times more students than do public schools, a good way of enhancing their student test results, and such behavior raises serious moral as well as political issues.
Charters are cancers. There are no good cancers–and charter schools are metastasizing throughout education.
Mary Bennett, a former Newark high school principal, spoke about governance–specifically the return of local control to the Newark schools. But she neglected to mention that the path to local control was impeded, not by the will of the Newark people willing to fight for their schools, but by the unfortunate deal cut between Christie and Mayor Ras Baraka to end criticism of Christie’s policies in the city, including the vast expansion–doubling in ten years–of charter school enrollment.
Baraka, in short, impeded the pace of a return to local control and now takes credit for expediting it. The dangers public schools face now cannot allow such delusional political thinking–the enemies in Washington are too real and too powerful.
In the audience, Newark activist Roberto Cabanas pointed out the obvious: If the people of Newark just waited out Christie’s term, local control would be returned in 2018 when he leaves–even if Baraka had lost to pro-charter Shavar Jeffries in the 2014 mayoral contest. All the marches and rallies and speeches were pretty much useless.
“We could have done nothing and achieved the same result,” he said.
Don’t forget these were the activists, the advocates, the good guys, at the conference. But they argued against tinkering with the school aid formula, wrung their hands about seeking an end to charter schools completely, held out little hope about seriously integrating the public schools of the state, and believed that a mayor who hires school board members really means it when he talks about independent public education.
Even if (Democrat) Phil Murphy is elected, public education in New Jersey–and throughout the nation–is in serious trouble.
It is underfunded.
It is racially segregated.
It is in danger of being swept away by charters.
Its employees are demoralized.
It has been targeted for destruction by a national administration unlike any other in the history of the republic.
In short, without aggressive action to restore the promise of public education, it will continue to lose support among those who will turn to nuts like Trump and DeVos to find answers in alternatives like vouchers, private schooling, and home-schooling.
Half-measures will not move the needle… for public education has experienced 16 years of relentless “reform” led by politicians who believe that charters and choice are the solution when, as Braun indicates, funding, de-segregation, and community support are needed.