My name is Melissa Katz and I am 18 years old. I am a freshman at The College of New Jersey studying urban education. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been asked, “Why do you want to go into education? Why do you want to be a teacher? Don’t you know how much more money you could be making in another profession?”
It was all there yesterday in Trenton. Frustration with 20 years of failed state education policy. The invigorating idealism of young people who haven’t yet learned to accept the lies of dissembling politicians. The justified anger at the disrespect behind Chris Christie’s attitude toward Newark, Paterson, Jersey City, and Camden—the idea that, because he believes black and brown men and women cannot be trusted, aren’t smart enough, to govern themselves and their schools, Christie will have to let his rich white friends do it.
It’s time to change the narrative. Let’s begin tomorrow at noon in Trenton. Let’s begin telling the truth about charter schools.
Those who would exploit public education both to reap profits from its annual revenues of more than $500 billion annually and to advance a low-tax agenda for the wealthy have already seized much of the high ground. They are telling the story. Invoking the failure of urban education, they call for reform that promises to improve schooling by sweeping away outdated work rules, countering the alleged selfishness of union-represented teachers, and creating new sorts of schools freed of decades of bureaucratic controls. It is an alluring story that allows Trojan horse Democrats like Cory Booker to speak of how school choice is the “civil rights issue of our time.” But it is a false story and it must be countered at every possible opportunity—and, tomorrow in Trenton, is an important opportunity.
US Education Secretary Arne Duncan met last Saturday with Cami Anderson, the state-appointed superintendent of Newark schools, and suggested she might be moving too fast to privatize the city’s schools with her “One Newark” plan. To which, according to sources at the meeting, Cami told Duncan he was wrong. A few days later, just hours after anti-Cami demonstrators twice closed down the city’s central business district during rush hour, she was hosted at a dinner where she was told by a number of old friends, including former state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf and former Mayor Cory Booker, that she was moving too fast.
Several hundred protesters yesterday shut down Newark’s central business district in a rush-hour demonstration aimed at showing the growing strength of the organized opposition to the Christie Administration’s “One Newark” plan that would close neighborhood public schools, expand charter school enrollment, and lay off experienced city teachers despite seniority.
It’s not the ideology. It’s not the politics. It’s not the ego (see most recent HuffPost by Cami Anderson, the overpaid tsar of Newark education). It’s not the national pundits screaming at each other over the Internet.
Kids get busted for possession of small amounts of marijuana. Motorists are given tickets for burned-out brake lights. Small-time stuff, not even real crimes, but the municipal courts are jammed with it. Now, how about a governor—like, say Chris Christie–who consistently flouts the law, keeping as much as $5 billion from the public schools? What happens to him? He gets re-elected and thinks he can be President.
Newark’s charter schools–especially those with money and national backing like KIPP (TEAM Academy) and Uncommon Schools (North Star)–will be the big winners in Cami Anderson’s “One Newark” plan. If Anderson pulls it off, even she may be a big winner, leaving Newark with the reputation as the biggest privatization advocate since Michele Rhee and all that will mean for book contracts and speaking fees. But let’s think a moment about the biggest losers–they are almost certain to be the most vulnerable children in the city, the disabled, and their parents. They are on track to be warehoused in the least funded, most neglected public neighborhood schools.
Suspicions are deep that the “One Newark” plan is simply part of a strategy to portray conventional public schools as failures and to replace them—eventually, replace them completely—with non-union charters and voucher schools that rely on young, short-term and inexpensive teachers from agencies like Teach for America. A document distributed by the Newark Public Schools only adds to the suspicion.