The moment of truth is coming to Newark schools

Is it time?
Is it time?

The world of bullfighting gave us  the phrase—el  momento  de la verdad—and there is no exact  translation. The English words  “moment of truth” don’t capture the sense of crisis and urgency and, especially,  revelation. The Newark public schools have come to the moment of truth when all players—school employees, parents, union leaders, student activists, politicians, civic organizations, state leaders—will have no choice but  to reveal who they are, what they want, what they can accomplish, what they are willing to do, how they see their futures.

In how these players react, they will have to reveal the truth about themselves. And, as in the world of bullfighting, the consequences could be fatal.  It is difficult, for example, to see how the Newark Teachers Union (NTU) survives a failure to stop state-appointed superintendent Cami Anderson and state education commissioner David Hespe from shredding collective bargaining by imposing their so-called “reform” efforts known as “turnaround” or “renew” schools.

Three related events are merging into a crisis for the public schools and their supporters. The first is Anderson’s decision to designate nine more schools—including Weequahic and East Side high schools—as “turnaround” schools that will force employees either to give up their jobs or their contract-guaranteed working conditions.  The second is Anderson’s insistence that the state grant her permission to ignore employee seniority rights so she can lay off veteran teachers to meet a budget deficit of up to $100 million that she caused. The third is the arguably felonious refusal of the state to insist that Anderson abide by the terms of the waiver of the federal  No Child Left Behind requirements.

If the union cannot protect its members or their tenure rights, it will reveal the truth about itself. It will be a moment of truth.  But not just the Newark Teachers Union (NTU) will be hurt—the larger New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), already compromised by its secret dealings with Gov. Chris Christie on pensions, will lose further credibility by any limit on teacher seniority rights anywhere in the state. The NTU might lose a battle in Newark, but the NJEA will be blamed for making New Jersey the next Wisconsin.

The damage to public education generally will be much broader if advocates like the Education Law Center (ELC) cannot persuade either the state or federal governments to abide by the law and insist that Anderson and her enablers in the state education department abide by federal requirements that Newark schools receive the assistance mandated by law and regulation.

In a letter to Monica Chism, a top official of the US Department of Education, ELC director David Sciarra accused Hespe and Anderson of “flagrantly” violating federal rules governing the decision to grant New Jersey a waiver of the No Child Left Behind Act. Sciarra’s’s complaint is nothing new—but the letter itself demonstrates just how unwilling both the state and federal governments are to insist that Anderson’s efforts in the city be governed by law;  Sciarrra had demanded a federal investigation back in October—and federal officials agreed to open an investigation in December,  but has done nothing since then.

All three events—Anderson’s decision to declare nine more “renew” or “turnaround” schools in Newark; the renewal of her demand that seniority be ignored in laying off tenured teachers, and the failure of the federal government to intervene—present this moment of truth:

Everything advocates for public education have done so far to protect neighborhood schools and the rights of their parents, employees, and children has failed.  Either the players will have to change their tactics or they will have to concede defeat. Anderson, implementing Christie’s racist, pro-privatization, and corporate-based school change agenda, will win.

Anderson will win and the failure of her opponents will appear, well, embarrassing.

Mayor Ras Baraka, a man accused of being “incendiary” and “militant” by the mainstream press, was elected in an anti-Anderson campaign a year ago, but he has, sadly, accomplished nothing to dislodge her or what she has done to the children of the city. He has been brushed aside.

The elected school advisory board has taken any number of futile actions but failed to even slow Anderson’s march to what she calls reform. It has been brushed aside.

The chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Schools, state Sen. Ronald Rice,  has been treated with condescension by his fellow legislators. He has been brushed aside.

Religious leaders have been ignored. Civic leaders offer the same speeches over and over again and nothing happens. They all have been brushed aside.

Students walk out of East Side High School today
Students walk out of East Side High School today

The Newark Students Union has tried its best to call attention to the destruction of public education in Newark but there is only so much it can do without help. Dozens walked out of East Side this morning to protest its designation as a failing, “turnaround” school. Without support from employees and parents, the Newark Student Union’s actions–no matter how bold–cannot alone break Anderson’s hold on Newark.

This last year has been its own moment of truth about the respect shown to leaders of color—even prominent, elected leaders like Rice and Baraka and members of the school board. In a state run by Christie and allies like Steve Sweeney and Joseph DiVincenzo and George Norcross, the concerns of black and brown political, religious, and civic leaders simply do not matter.

There is time, but not much. While the NTU leadership may not be optimistic about its membership’s willingness to act, it still has the responsibility to protect those members—and protecting them just might mean getting them ready for job actions.

Yes, strikes by public school teachers are against the law—just as they were in 1970 and 1971. Gandhi broke the law. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. broke the law. Even George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin broke the law.

Breaking the law by those who seek justice is called civil disobedience.

Anderson and Hespe and their supporters have violated the law. It is called “reform” by the political thugs who run New Jersey, their powerless lackeys in the mainstream press, and the cowardly law enforcement machinery. Reform, or waiver.

The moment of truth has come. Soon, it will be too late.

It’s time.

10 comments

  1. Leah Z Owens

    I, and my fellow members of the Newark Education Workers Caucus, agree, Bob. It’s time. It’s actually past time. For almost four years now we’ve been organizing, rallying, marching, and just generally getting the message out about the destruction of our schools and the destruction of our union. We even supported a slate in the last NTU election to be able to become part of the leadership so that we could help steer the ship.

    It didn’t take long to see that we would have to fight inside of the union. It took so much energy to do nothing. In the midst of all this, I actually left my teaching position in NPS as a result of the implementation of corporate education reform. I was, and continue to be, deeply disturbed with what constitutes education right now. I no longer wanted to be a tool of the system and now work outside of it, continuing to organize.

    We’ve gained a lot of experience as to how the union works, but most of the lessons have been negative ones. A lot of grappling for power for the wrong reasons. Many of the ideas we proposed were stonewalled. We could only imagine in what better position we could be at this point if the union were actually democratic. But, we do have another chance. It’s election time again. Any NTU member who votes the same people into the top leadership spots are going to effectively kill this union. We need a NEW Vision for NTU. I can only hope that NTU members take the time to see who’s been doing the work and who’s been merely posturing. Who shows up in numbers, who shows up alone, and who doesn’t show up at all.

  2. Becca Fields

    Hesitation is not the friend of a toreador – it shows weakness that the bull will use. I don’t disagree with your assessment just your timing. This was the case a year ago when Baraka brought a sense of hope and unity, when the chaos of One Newark was most palatable and when people seemed energized to organize. Now the bull knows the toreador has hesitated the dynamic is much harder. But I do hope what you suggest happens because it is not too late. I hope it’s not at least

    • booklady

      Oh, I didn’t know the efforts were against a 4-legged bull. I thought these concerned citizens were fighting the bull that Cami Anderson, Brittany C Parmley, David Hespe sling.

  3. Allen J Cannon

    The total display of illegal corruption and cronyism links Camden and Newark with all the other cities not getting press. NJEA would like us to believe its members supported that Norcross /Booker cover endorsement. Its like you said VOTERS HAVE TO MAKE ALL NJ LEGISLATORS PICK A SIDE. Here in BWC land I have repeatedly publicly linked her to the UHA as the Vice chair on the committee that ushered in the Norcross authored charter proliferation. I asked for ethics charges then in official session. NO ACTION has been taken even as Christie failed to report his expense account as income for several years. Every NJ legislator has the capacity to bring an ethics charge but none do. Petitions are flooding in to impeach the cornerstone of corruption affecting all our urban schools. The billions of SDA missing, millions in payoffs described as economic development that produces ZERO JOBS the crony tax abatements Cooper has requested is all part of this blatent illegal pay to play and pay back. The millions missing from NPS the Oprah and Facebook millions disappeared. The special election 24 million the voting machines fake ballots the deep connection of the AG employees showing up in high paying obedient jobs all smack of pay2play in a state which has the toughest laws in the land. Why bother following any law when all this is going on in plain site?

  4. booklady

    I hope that NTU will devise a meaningful action, and I recognize that 2015 is not the 1970s. I don’t want teachers to lose license by striking when the opposition would be happy to eliminate them from teaching ranks.

    So what else? Maybe take a page from British suffragettes’ hunger strikes? It takes incredible energy to teach! Perhaps a Rotating Hunger Strike by teachers?
    -Ask the teachers who retire July 2015 to lead off.
    -Work for really good press coverage. French 24 media covered NSU BEd sit-in; think they’d consider it newsworthy. When March 13 Bob B’s Ledger site covered PARCC “monitoring” of social media, NorthEast Indiana teachers’ site had his post by 6 pm (while his blog was bumfoozled) and AZ & NMex educator sites soon after. Plus Dr Diane Ravitch.
    -Need citizens calling all relevant DEd offices, NJ legislators, Governor’s line, press people. EVERY NTU member to garner 2-3 friends/relatives to call.

    Just a thought. Because the NPS youngsters and their parents deserve better.

  5. mike

    Great article Bob!
    Everything will eventually come out in the light of day or moment of truth. Hopefully, the corruption and scandal of Christie and his cronies will sink him like it did Corzine.

  6. Parmenio

    I just moved into Newark, from out of the metropolitan area, so have little background on the local politics here.

    Just got the sample ballot for the election Tuesday.

    Can you recommend any writeups on the candidates, their positions, allegiances, etc ?

    Would you, personally, recommend anyone on the ballot to vote for ?

    • booklady

      P, Welcome to NJ!! We may sound a bit brusque but NJ folk have genuinely good hearts. Sorry, I can’t advise re local politics (live in a different district) but I have been calling legislators & Dept Ed re NPS fiasco and getting other folks to call. You might find NJ Spotlight blog or Blue Jersey informative.

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