History repeats itself: First, as tragedy. Second, as farce. Third, as a Star-Ledger editorial.

New Jersey’s largest newspaper unsurprisingly endorsed the absurd finding of a California judge that employment protections for school employees cause school failure and therefore constitute a violation of the U.S. Constitution. The endorsement  is a continuation of the newspaper’s unholy crusade against public employees who have the audacity to assert their human rights in the face of management convictions that all  workers are both expendable and interchangeable.

Inexplicably, the newspaper calls on the Education Law Center (ELC) to file such a suit in New Jersey, apparently unaware that a source of funding for the ELC is the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), the state’s largest teachers’ union.  Apparently, The Star-Ledger believes the union should commit an act of self-mutilation, if not suicide, in support of the bizarre idea that educational failure is caused, not by racial isolation, not by discrimination, not by poverty, not by neglect–but by employment protections. Thus:

“They’ve helped perpetuate a hierarchy in which the best teachers generally wind up at the most desirable schools, and some of the worst ones at high-poverty schools, where it can take years of bureaucracy and tens of thousands of dollars to get rid of them.”

The evidence for this is what, exactly? And just what does “years of bureaucracy” mean, anyway? Is bureaucracy measurable in years?

But let’s pass over that and go to the heart of the matter. The Vergara case in California is the logical consequence of the failure of the political system to address the real causes of school failure. Anyone who pays the slightest attention to education sees the inevitable link between racial isolation and poverty and between poverty and school failure.

In a more hopeful time, the post-war period, before billionaires took over both politics and the way media parrots the silliness of  self-serving policies, the nation actually confronted the consequences of the deepest stain on the United States’ claim as a free, democratic nation–African slavery and later oppression.

Less than a century after the Civil War,  and just 60 years ago, the US Supreme Court outlawed separate public school systems, unleashing decades of efforts by both federal and state courts to end racial segregation. In New Jersey, that culminated in the 1971 state Supreme Court decision Jenkins v. Morristown.

In that decision, the court–then, a shining example of courageous, progressive jurisprudence–insisted New Jersey could no longer use the excuse that, well, racial isolation wasn’t deliberate, it just happened that way–because poor black people and more affluent white people just somehow accidentally decided to live in separate places and that, sort of, resulted in bad schools for one group. Guess which?

The court said, “When the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education….struck down segregated schools, it recognized that they generate a feeling of racial inferiority and result in a denial of equal educational opportunities to the Negro children who must attend them. However, as we said in Booker, while such feeling and denial may appear in intensified form when segregation represents official policy, ‘they also appear when segregation in fact, though not official policy, results from long standing housing and economic discrimination and the rigid application of neighborhood school districting.”’

The court repeatedly related educational achievement to isolation and insisted a “thorough and efficient” education could not be provided on a racially segregated basis:  “The history and vigor of our State’s policy in favor of a thorough and efficient public school system are matched in its policy against racial discrimination and segregation in the public schools. Since 1881 there has been explicit legislation declaring it unlawful to exclude a child from any public school because of his race.”

The ruling in Jenkins–which, by the way, led to the creation of an excellent consolidated Morris School District–led to the filing of a variety of law suits seeking the elimination of school district lines. If the logic of the Jenkins ruling had been allowed and converted into policy, the chances are good we would have a far more integrated, county-based school system in New Jersey, one that would be not only fairer in terms of racial integration but also in terms of taxation.

But that was not to be. The state’s politicians had no stomach for it and the courts backed down. No stomach for the change that would be required to bring about the equity that might have solved the educational problem. The state turned, instead, to the question of funding equity. The Jenkins case would soon be forgotten–attention would be aimed instead at the related cases Robinson v. Cahill and Abbot vs. Burke that essentially changed the subject from race to money.

Paul Tractenberg, a founder of the ELC and the state’s leading expert on school law, calls the school finance cases, “the price we pay for  not integrating our schools.” Recently, Tractenberg, a Rutgers Law School professor,  issued a report showing  the state’s schools are more segregated than ever–more segregated, even, than Mississippi’s schools. He calls our system “apartheid schools.”

In 1990, then Chief Justice Robert Wilentz–a giant of of a jurist, a giant of a public servant, especially compared to the moral midgets running the state today–wrote about funding education, “Our constitutional mandate does not allow us to consign poorer children permanently to an inferior education on the theory they cannot afford a better one.”

Compare that to the 2011 decision in which Associate Justice Jaynee LaVecchia–and she is one of the best on  the court today–all but surrendered to the wishes of the other two branches of government by not requiring full funding of the school aid formula. The court that year made the issue standing instead of constitutional requirements.

Tractenberg is absolutely correct–New Jersey, having refused to integrate its schools, paid a different sort of price. In cash.  But, in the end, the political system and the courts had no stomach for the logic behind seeking to reform schools though equitable funding, either–the state is somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 billion behind in the funding of the court-approved school aid formula. The courts have been cowed by the bluster of Chris Christie, the clown prince of governors (see Jimmy Fallon).

So, then, the poorest children among us, denied their constitutional rights to attend integrated schools, also have been denied their constitutional right to attend equitably-financed schools.  As Marx tells us, history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.

But this should be added, as well: The political system and the courts and the governor also have had no stomach for enforcing the consequences of the Mt. Laurel decision that also would have integrated New Jersey’s racially isolated communities.

Then, in the 1980s, the movement began for a state takeover of New Jersey’s public schools. The state, after all, was ultimately responsible for providing the “thorough and efficient” system of public education required by the Constitution. That culminated in the state seizure of the Jersey City, Paterson, Newark, and Camden school systems. The experience ultimately led to what must have been a eureka moment on the part of the state’s leadership: Without the kind of funding that will eradicate  discrepancies in the lives of poor and rich, without equalizing the schools racially and financially, without creating an equitable society–gaps in the achievement of the groups will persist no matter who is running the show.  New Jersey just won’t spend the money–just as it won’t integrate the schools and provide accessible housing to the poor and people of color.

So  our cowardly leaders have found a new solution to school failure–privatization. We will tell parents that “choice” is the “civil rights issue of our time”–a Cory Booker line that, like many Cory Booker lines, sounds great but means nothing. Rhetoric is cheap, it doesn’t cost anything. Just words.  We will manipulate the facts to pretend charter schools provide a superior form of education. We will ensure the easiest students to teach will be sent to charters while the rest will be warehoused in failing public schools–the very failure of which will be counted as reasons to believe in privatization.

We will provide choice–so long as the poor and people of color don’t choose to live in affluent suburbs and go to the schools there. That sort of choice is not tolerated here. Their choice is limited to politically connected and selective charters–if they can get in–and resources-stripped public schools.

Of course, privately-operated  charters don’t like employee unions that protect the seniority and due process rights of teachers and other instructional workers. Unions represent an obstacle to mass privatization and a drag on profits.  So let’s blame school failure on the unions, let’s  bust them with decisions like the Vergara ruling in California–financed by the same people who are bringing us charter schools.

So now we can have school reform that won’t require whites and blacks and browns to live together.

So now we can have school reform that won’t require children of different races to attend class together.

So now we can have school reform that won’t require us to keep paying for increased costs of schooling.

So now we can have school reform that won’t make us face the reality of living in an America of searing racial and income inequality.

So now we can have school reform that busts unions and keeps employees in their place.

So now we can have school reform that offers schools with untrained, inexperienced amateur teachers–like those provided by Teach for America–who won’t cost much, can be easily fired, and will never work long enough to earn pensions.

So now we can have school reform that isn’t reform at all,  but an illusion created by billionaires and perpetrated by their allies in the media.

Let’s keep repeating our history–the tragedy of racism and inequality, the farce of corporate school reform, the end result of failure.  But, so long as there is corporate media to write editorials blaming teachers for failure instead of pervasive injustice, we will keep reassuring ourselves we don’t need to make any sacrifices to build a just society.

Tragedy. Farce.  Another Star-Ledger editorial invoking the elite’s contempt for working people–including, I might add,  working journalists who, too often, serve as what Stalin called the “useful idiots” of the power elite.

Because they help the powerful just keep blaming the powerless.








  1. This is so true! I have been shocked by recent Star-Ledger editorials, as I have been shocked by its refusal to print recent news about Christie’s shenanigans on Wall Street with government pension funds. It appears that our ‘paper of record’ is becoming more and more tied to Christie. One of the signs of Fascism is when the media and government become intermingled. It looks like NJ is showing such signs, and it’s not a pretty picture. I’m sorry I’ve already paid for my year’s Star-Ledger subscription. Maybe I’ll think twice next year. Maybe some of you haven’t paid for yours yet. NJ is becoming a scary place!

  2. One of the key elements of the TFA cult philosophy is that social and economic circumstances are not relevant to the educational process. Stupid but true. Further, the purpose of tenure was to ensure that teaching did not become subjected to political influences, demographic changes, salary issues, and similar topics. NJ has streamlined the process so it is no longer as difficult to file and execute tenure charges for those who are actually incompetent, as opposed to those who may disagree with policy. Further, TFA doctrine advocates getting rid of non tenured teachers and administrators regardless of their aptitude, if they don’t adhere to TFA philosophy.
    When the California decision was announce, and it is a purelyolitical decision offering no evidence or data, it was inevitable that someone in NJ would pose the same idea.

  3. I was shocked and totally disgusted by that vile Vergara decision. It’s so patently bogus, false and politically motivated. When I say politically motivated I’m not referring to parties but to an anti-union philosophy. Both political parties support charter schools and school privatization from Christie to Obama to Booker and throughout the country. The Star Ledger op ed was a trite rerun of duplicitous garbage and ended on a snarky sarcastic note about the ELC filing a suit similar to Vergara in NJ. Ha, ha so funny….NOT. It’s just amazing how all this education reform sponsored by the billionaires hinges on destroying unions, tenure, seniority, LIFO, bargaining rights and defined benefit pensions. If they get rid of LIFO and tenure, then the older more expensive teachers will have a target painted on their backs no matter how good they are. Of the many wealthy plutocrats to be aware of another is Michael Robertson of MP3 fame. He is vehemently and rabidly anti-union and made a very despicable appearance at the Jersey Jazzman blog site. And at another web site he made the contention that “poor” people ( he put poor people in quotes) in America have it really good because they have phones, TVs, shelter, refrigerators, stoves, indoor plumbing and cars. That’s why he put poor people in quotes because he’s trying to make the point that compared to India or Somalia, they are not really poor. Another bogus claim from an economic royalist. He completely glides over the homeless people who sleep on the streets or under bridges. He omits to mention the income inequality, wage suppression and destruction of unions in the USA. The top 1% have declared war on the rest of US and especially unionized teachers that have tenure, LIFO and seniority.

  4. It is offensive and irresponsible for you, along with the media in general, to pervert the meaning of Jihad and use it in this negative connotation. Look up the meaning and actually do some real journalism.

    Bob Braun: Apologies for any offense. I have changed the wording to “unholy crusade.”

  5. I just finished reading this to my 16-year-old son and we agreed that he possibly learned more about both education and New Jersey history from this single post than he has in school this past year. THIS is what our kids should be learning at school, rather than being subjected to PARCC tests!! Thank you Bob, as usual.

    Bob Braun: Thank you. I’m flattered.

  6. As usual your articles are spot on. unfortunately who is reading. These new technocrats in power operate in bubbles not only avoid your column but omit the facts that you expose when creating their master plans. There is a clear need for dialogue between two factions in this country. The working people and those who bow to chaos and disruption theory.

    The vergara case seems more of the same. it follows the agenda along the lines of disruptive chaos which those in power crave. The case sought the opinion of only one side to inform it decision. authors supporting VAM were cited in the case though their theory is circular and failed

    out forefathers must be turning in their graves. our new leaders are a far cry from those of the enlightenment age who truly looked for answers. today leaders look for studies that support their point of view. Leaders don’t listen and are unwilling to budge. Our leaders hate scholarship with rigor. Our leaders want a fast way out.
    It might be time to follow their theories though. we should advocate for disruption.

    Disrupt a politicians term of office and Ask for reelections when the credit rating falls
    Disrupt a superintendent and fire them when the community continually asks for their termination
    Disrupt the treasury system and eliminate taxes for those under the poverty line
    Disrupt trickle down economics when jobs aren’t created for yet another decade
    Blacklist all politicians and technocrats that say they have an idea about education when they never taught and have not read the research to support more than one view point
    Disrupt funding of elections

    Bob Braun: I like this. Didn’t Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. speak of creative tension? How about Gandhi–he may not have used the phrase but it is what he practiced. I’m afraid the problem is we are, as Neil Postman famously wrote, “amusing ourselves to death.” We accept suffering, ours and that of others. But we have out TV, our celebrities, our sports franchises to keep our minds off being shafted.

  7. Truth feels like a breath of fresh air.

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