A veteran Newark teacher who knows she will be brought up on tenure charges when she returns to school in the fall writes she was “heartbroken” by events in Newark because it appears nothing much will change for teachers who spent their careers in the city and face dismissal or “rubber rooms.” A parent leader describes how the “One Newark” plan continues unabated and is clearly aimed at helping to expand charters. The new superintendent will continue the old superintendent’s policies because they were, after all, the policies of Gov. Chris Christie. The strong opposition that had been building to state control has vanished in the heat of the summer–and anyone who wonders why is branded a “crackpot” or “paternalistic” or worse.
Christie has won peace in Newark while he roams Iowa and New Hampshire in pursuit of the Republican presidential nomination, bragging about how he knows how to cut deals with those who disagree with him. While he hasn’t yet specifically spoken of the Newark deal, it’s only a matter of time. Christie already is pushing for charters and voucher schools and he blames teacher unions for the problems of urban schools–as if the problems of urban schools were created by job protections that have been in place for decades in urban and suburban schools.
Angry students, parents and school employees were ready to shut down traffic in North Jersey on May 22. Only 46 days later, a “March for Dignity” failed to take place because there were not enough people to march from City Hall to school headquarters on Cedar Street, a few blocks away. True, there was a rally at City Hall and many of those who fought for months against Cami Anderson spoke, too, against Christopher Cerf.
I thought two voices were especially significant that day. The first was that of Mayor Ras Baraka who did not even mention Cerf’s name but spent much of his time criticizing “crackpots” and those engaging in “paternalism” for opposing any deal that brought Cerf to Newark. That would include me and the mayor and his aides have privately criticized me for opposing Cerf’s appointment as too high a price to pay for a vague promise of local control some time in the future. Baraka has chided those who, he says, are trying to provoke fights and arguments.
And what he has said sounds eerily like what Christie has said about his own critics. He makes deals, he has said, but others just want to engage in controversy. At the Repiblican National Convention in 2012, Christie blamed Democrats for “pitting unions against teachers, educators against parents, and lobbyists against children. They believe in teachers’ unions. We believe in teachers.”
The other significant voice at the rally was a persistent, nagging voice from behind the crowd–and it belonged to Cassandra Dock. She is a community activist who bravely–and futilely–revealed that former Mayor Cory Booker, who so passionately wants to bring vouchers and charter schools to Newark, probably didn’t even live in Newark during the campaign he ran for Senate–a campaign boosted by Chris Christie.
At the City Hall rally, Dock chanted, “What will it look like?” while Baraka and others spoke of local control. That’s what I want to know, too. What will local control look like? To Baraka only a return to local control is important. Cerf’s appointment, the work of a committee dominated by charter advocates and funders, the continuation of “One Newark” plan, the growth of charter schools–none of that is as important.
Baraka hasn’t said what he thinks local control will look like, although he has said he supports an elected school board.
I believe local control in Newark will look like a hollowed-out, underfunded, charter-dominated school district that provides opportunities for some of Newark’s children and warehouses for others, especially those with special needs. I think that will hurt Newark’s children, especially the least advantaged.
All five of Christie’s appointees to the “Newark Board of Educational Success” have long histories of supporting charter schools. When Cerf was appointed, he was an officer of a national lobbying organization for charter schools. He wasn’t appointed because he has a history of good management or bringing opposing sides together–he has none of that. He is a champion of charter schools.
Each of Christie’s five has access to expertise and legal help and long histories of experience in local, state, and national policies. They were or are CEOs of large corporations, handling millions, maybe billions, of dollars.
I personally know three of the appointees Baraka was allowed to have on the board. I like and respect them. But they do not have access to expertise and legal help. They do not have long histories dealing with local, state and national policies. They don’t have access to power. They have good hearts and good intentions and the best interests of Newark children in mind–but they simply do not have the resources available to Cerf, Rochelle Hendricks (a Christie employee); Al Koeppe, a former CEO of Verizon and PSEG and chairman of the charter-funding state Economic Development Authority, Ross Danis, and Donald Katz.
I know I will be criticized for doubting the wisdom of the Baraka-Christie deal. I will be called an outsider and worse–I already have been. But that’s ok. It comes with the territory. I don’t do this to make friends or to avoid name-calling.
Since I retired from The Star-Ledger, I have tried to do one thing well–tell the truth as I see the truth. I get nothing from controversy, despite what Baraka says. I am paid nothing by any of the parties involved. I don’t accept ads by any group or person I might write about. I supported Ras Baraka in last year’s election because Shavar Jeffries was so clearly a pro-charter, pro-Cami Anderson candidate. He still is pushing privatization in Montclair.
I believe nothing less than the future of public education is at stake. Newark is just one battle, but it’s an important one. If, as I believe, the price for local control in Newark is a great leap forward for privatized charter and voucher schools in Newark, then I believe the deal is a bad one. Baraka has not criticized the growth of charter schools in Newark and I fear any deal for local control will require continued enhanced funding for the privatized schools at the expense of neighborhood public schools.
This year alone, Christie and the Legislature diverted $25 million from Newark public schools to charters. Did I hear either Anderson or Cerf complain? Of course, not–they were there to help charters, Cerf more then Anderson.
If there are those who believe a local school board in Newark alone can stop the march of charter schools, I encourage them all to look at Camden and see the future. And, if there are those who believe privatization–along with deprofessionalization of teaching, the stripping way of job protections for school employees, and the denial of services to special needs students–will not spread to the suburbs, I encourage them to consider Montclair.
The popular uprising led by the Newark Students Union–with the support of groups like NJ Communities United and others–was on the brink of doing more than simply replacing Anderson with Cerf. It might have reversed the metastasizing cancer that is the diversion of public school money to private enterprises. The deal with Christie has let the air out of that balloon.
Baraka says he has a strategy for dealing with Christie. I certainly hope he does. If it brings both local control and an end to privatization of public education, it deserves passionate support.