The Star-Ledger Editorial on Newark schools: A Reply
Once again, The Star-Ledger has the audacity to tell the people of Newark how they should lead their lives while remaining silent about how the rest of the state lives has helped create the problems in Newark. Another typical example of “us” vs. “them” in what should be a unified discourse.
What the newspaper calls “sensible and bold reforms” amount to the elimination of neighborhood schools in much of the city, a transfer of assets to corporate-backed charters, and the destruction of much of the city’s history and culture–Weequahic High, one of New Jersey’s most historic high schools, should be on the National Registry, not on the auction block, nor on the table for a “redesign” that will close it.
Perhaps no one has looked outside the window there recently but, yes, there are neighborhoods in Newark and they are filled with people, struggling men and women, parents and grandparents, who want the best for their children, including safe places to live. This was the same mistake–with disastrous consequences–that led the newspaper to campaign for the destruction of much of the Central Ward for the construction of the medical school. Much of that land remains a prairie today.
Those who criticize the plan are “shrill” and they “shriek”–how is that for subtly racist comments? Not unlike calling ambitious women “pushy.” The editorial called critics “demagogic,” but the people I saw speak out last week were elected officials–members of the elected school board, members of the city council, a member and the speaker of the New Jersey Assembly, a senator who chairs the Joint Committee on Public Schools.
That they were men and women of color, representing a predominantly minority community, doesn’t make their passion “shrill” or “shrieking.” It means they care about the city where few editorial employees live. The tone of the editorial was nauseatingly obsequious toward Cami Anderson, a woman over whose signature was sent out a blatantly racist letter warning that closed schools meant crime would go up and the city would be less safe–a letter the newspaper has never bothered to mention. Ah, yes, she is knocking “her head through brick walls”–what a Joan of Arc for “those people” in Newark! A saint of the neocolonial world, come to bring the people to deliverance. What nonsense.
The editorial mentions school failure and population decline. The “One Newark” plan–and I have read two drafts of it–says nothing about how the state will reverse failure. And, of course, doesn’t mention gains that should have allowed Newark to return to local control, because that would have been a blow to the corporations and foundations that want the city to be the guinea pig for its so-called “reform” ideas. And population decline–of course the conventional school enrollment went down because the state has imposed charters on the city. That’s a little like complaining you’re an orphan after you’ve murdered your parents.
What it doesn’t mention is the more than 100 other districts that have failed indicators of success and should be subject to state intervention. State Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex), the chairman of the Joint Committee on Public Schools, makes a good point–are Newark and other major cities the target of disenfranchising “reform” because the residents are predominantly non-white? This sounds like an issue for the federal courts–and Rice agrees. But it is so much easier for bureaucrats and editorial writers to meddle in the affairs of communities of color that are starved of resources by the inequities in wealth and state support.
How dare a newspaper that has put its Newark property up for sale tell city residents how to live? When is the last time it told the residents of Millburn and Westfield they have enough income and should volunteer to pay higher income taxes? When is the last time it told communities in Somerset and Hunterdon counties that they should change their zoning practices to allow low- and middle-income residents? When is the last time it told Essex County and Union County that they have too many school districts and should consolidate into income-and racially–integrated unified systems?
Cami Anderson isn’t solving the problems of the Newark schools, she is giving the schools away to the highest–fiscal or political–bidder. Please read the studies of how well the same sort of plan worked in New York City–it didn’t. It destroyed neighborhoods, divided the city. The only good consequence was the election of Bill DeBlasio. How is that for voting with their feet?
The Star-Ledger will never accept any study that shows charter schools are no better than public schools–except in one important variable. They are great at keeping the neediest students out and easing out students who fail. They are great, in other words, at exacerbating the racial segregation in New Jersey by enhancing segregation based on income, need, achievement, and parental engagement. Charter schools were never intended to be escape modules for parents who want to get away from problems the state refuses to fix; they were intended to be laboratories for new ideas. Any rational person with an ounce of compassion would want schools integrated, not further segregated–and that is precisely what charters do.
I supported the state takeover because I believed it would then confront the state with no choice but to reform the schools. Instead, the state failed and now, under a governor The Star-Ledger endorsed in one of the most obscenely hypocritical editorials ever written by any newspaper, it is once again passing the buck–but to the governor’s friends, not to the people of the city.