Why is it OK to defame teachers?

broken-chalkA recent editorial in The Star-Ledger declared the state administration of the Newark school system “may soon be forced” to fire its “highest performing teachers” because of seniority rules.  That is utter nonsense and it’s impossible to believe whoever wrote it doesn’t understand it is utter nonsense. So that makes the statement a lie, and a defamatory one at that. Why is it ok to defame teachers?

The writer could not possibly know who, among those who might be laid off by the hermit-like superintendent Cami Anderson, belongs to some sort of category of “highest performing teachers” because there is no such category. It scurrilously presumes, however, that, if teachers are experienced, they must perform less well than inexperienced teachers.

In what other profession—or vocation or job, if The Star-Ledger won’t admit teachers are professionals—are more experienced practitioners automatically considered less capable than amateurs?   Airline pilots? Surgeons? Lawyers? Plumbers? Editorial writers? I’ve written about teachers for more than 50 years and I know teachers themselves believe they need years of experience to be effective.

The editorial is built, without evidence, around the canard that all teachers with experience either are, or soon will become, “dead wood” that ought to be cleared from the forest of public schools by—in the case of Newark—administrators with virtually no (and, in some cases, just plain no) teaching experience.  As if experience teaching was itself the cause of poor teaching–what naïve drivel.

How convenient it is for these non-experts to decide that the problems of urban schools are caused by a phantom band of dead wood teachers who, because they are experienced,  are thereby at fault for the dismal performance of urban public schools. Does anyone believe urban crime is caused by veteran police officers? That illness is caused by experienced doctors?

By reaching such a wildly unsupported and naive conclusion, the editorial writers—really writing more as flacks for their corporate owners and managers than as smart analysts—make these corollary, if implied, arguments:  Protections for school employees also contribute to poor schools; money doesn’t make a difference;  because  inexperienced teachers are cheaper teachers, the schools can cut budgets without impunity if veterans are fired; unions serve only to preserve failure and, therefore, should be eliminated; and this is the most risible—politicians like the anti-public employee union Steve Sweeney are owned by public employee unions and should be shamed into voting against due process for teachers.

This editorial is simply a rewrite of dozens of editorials in The Star-Ledger and other media outlets that endlessly blame school employees who are set up to fail—when they do fail, and they don’t always—by a system steeped in the isolation of the poor and black and brown in woefully underfunded and overwhelmed urban school systems.

Underfunded? Yes. And yes again. Chris Christie sent his sons to Delbarton, a school with a tuition of $36,000 a year and a real per student cost closer to $40,000 a year. Most of the children attending  Delbarton—or  Lawrenceville or Kent Place—already have family and community support systems that are worth—what?—tens of thousands of dollars per student per year.

The media often praise ventures like the privatized Harlem Children’s Zone—which spends about as much as Delbarton on their students to create those family and community and support systems where there were none.

Educating chidlren is highly labor intensive. Educating the poorest children—children born into a history and culture of neglect that has never fully been addressed—costs even more.

If The Star-Ledger had a heart or a soul or even just a brain, it would look honestly at what is happening in cities like Newark. With the full endorsement of the newspaper’s editorial board, outsiders are destroying neighborhood schools their children would never attend anyway–destroying, too, real communities the employees of the newspaper couldn’t possibly understand. Or live in.

These hypocritical missionaries from the middle class–funded by hedge fund managers and others with great wealth (think Gates, Broad, Walton)–have fashioned what they call “reform” out of a toxic mix of ignorance, libertarian ideology, personal arrogance, anti-union animus, racism, and  anti-spending politics. “Reform” means creating a privatized system for a few students believed to be educationally remediable while casting the rest into warehouses of despair. In Cami-land there isn’t the money to buy  enough lifeboats, so some children will be saved and some will drown.

That has nothing at all to do with teachers–high-performing or low-performing. That is Social Darwinism made public policy by an embarrassing buffoon of a governor, his sycophantic followers in the executive and legislative branches of government, and media outlets in search of the ever elusive clicks. Hate for public employees always generates more readers than support.

Hey, editorial writers–instead of repeating the same lies and canards that  never stop, just look at Newark. Look at its children. Look at its history. Look at its streets. Look at its needs for health care, safe streets, welcoming parks and playgrounds, a workable justice system, and housing.

Stop the blaming, stop  the defaming, of thousands of men and women who—unlike you—spend every day of their lives in Newark working against impossible odds to do their best for children who have been abandoned by the rest of the state.

Damn it—look at the children and their parents.  Really look at them. Look at their circumstances as they exist, not as you imagine them to exist from the lenses of your middle-class, suburban theories of what is and what should be.

Stop lying. To your readers. To yourselves.

Please, help if you can but, if you can’t, just, as the governor you endorsed would say,  shut up and sit down.

 

 

44 comments

  1. Kate

    You nailed it, Bob.
    I’m amazed at the simple-minded insistence that experience-equals-less-proficiency, the excuse for balancing a top-heavy budget on the backs of dedicated professionals.
    Another thought-free, fact-free editorial from the editor(s) of a once- great newspaper…

    • NPS Retired

      Thank you for a very informative article!
      I have read all the comments and see that after 34 years of teaching and coaching in the NPS “we” were not good enough. Yes we are all considered dead wood. It is “the dead wood” who mentored many a new teacher and MANY Teach for America souls who had come to Newark “to bridge the gap” but had NO education/teaching experience “to save the day”. The staff that is left now is afraid to speak up to administrators. The new administrators threaten the staff to make decisions for the “turn around” schools. As I told my last administrator ” I have taught longer than you have been alive”…oh but we knew NOTHING??? No. This all happened so they could rid the sytem of experienced/thinking teachers who would NOT put up or shut up with athe things happening now. I am tired of being insulted for having experience. We taught. We loved the kids and we worked hard. This is how the cronnies are repaying us by degrading our intelligence. SHAME ON Crispy Creme and shame on Cami. Guess Newark will end up just like the crazy who tried to reform Washington D.C. and left one huge mess!

    • James Goran

      In California they like to bash teachers in many ways. At some point, they continue the mantra that all the experienced teachers are bad. On the other side, there was a lawsuit in Los Angeles, the Vergara case, that blamed the teachers for not educating students based on seniority rules. They argued that all the new teachers at the school were no good based on surplus rules because experienced teachers didn’t want to teach at the low performing schools. So, they like to change their story in any way to bash.

  2. Urban Educator

    As a representative of the experienced dead wood Newark teachers, I would like to express
    my gratitude. I am an EWPS forced to teach outside of my certification despite the availability of positions in my specialization. I am located in a renew warehouse for children unattractive to charter schools and highly performing traditional public schools. It takes more grit and resilience to come in every day and teach these children than all the educational tourists combined will ever have. How dare my intelligence, experience and commitment be discredited?

  3. John Silva

    You hit the nail on the head. It seems like the SLEB should have a “sponsored content” logo on it. As i was reading that piece i could not believe how ridiculous this notion of more experience=worse performance.
    I am glad there are people like you that is putting this stuff out there. I can’t even write anymore because as i am trying to keep my anxiety level down and stress. I cannot wait for the day that we can breathe a little easier when it comes to my profession.
    Thank you for all you do.

  4. Tom2

    Rutgers professor Jean Anyon was right on the money in 1996 when she said poor inner city schools cannot be reformed with out addressing the economic conditions in the communities they serve. All should read her book about the history of Newark and its schools.

    GHETTO SCHOOLING
    A Political Economy of Urban Educational Reform
    (1997)

    Teachers College Press, Columbia University

    • booklady

      Tom2, Thank you for book recommendation. It was published shortly after NJ took over Newark district, right?

      • Tom2

        Yes. It is a great historical perspective on Newark and Newark Public Schools. It starts out in the mid 1800s and brings us to 1996.

        After reading this book it becomes crystal clear that trying to reform education in a economically depressed area by focusing on issues only within the four walls of the school while not addressing the economic deprivation in the community is like, “trying to to clean the air on only one side of a screen door.”

        No matter how hard you try, no matter how well intentioned you are, it just won’t work…

    • retiredbutmissthekids

      Tom2–my husband informed me that there is more corruption investigation in ILL-Annoy than in other states as, here, federal prosecutors have been particularly aggressive (anyway, that’s his take).
      That having been said, insofar as state investigations by the ILL-Annoy A.G.’s office–it isn’t done. For example, several letters/complaints were made–both to the NYS A.G. & to the ILL-Annoy A.G. as to the relationship of Pear$on & those states’ superintendents–Pear$on wined & dined them, & paid for trips. The NYS A.G. investigated; no response from our A.G., Lisa Madigan.
      Anyway–six of one, half a dozen of the other. Good job, Bob.

      • Tom2

        Yep.

        My contacts in the Chicago school system tell me Rahm Emanuel is probably wrapped up in this also. Interesting to note that this all broke AFTER the Chicago mayor’s election. The political powers were afraid that it it broke before the election, it would hurt Emanuel in the election.

  5. Susan

    I am not an educator, but I am a parent. The canard about experienced teachers being dead wood has been around the parent community even before the attack on teachers was in full swing in recent years. Especially in the elementary school years. Why is that? Is it because the older teachers aren’t as cute and perky? One of my children is difficult – he is always put with the most experienced teachers, and I thank G-d every day that he is. They have seen it all, and his behavior doesn’t faze them. They know how to handle things and teach to a diverse classroom. I imagine these skills take years to develop. I have been doing my part to spread good words about experienced teachers to everyone I can.

    • Sarah Harnick

      Missing from the SL’s “article” is the fact that many if not most new teachers wash out of districts like NPS after 3 years. Wonder where the SL’s impression came from ?
      A

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  7. Becca Fields

    Tom Moran has waged war against the public schools of Newark just as the Governor has done – even if using a different weapon. We are lucky that you have a far greater mastery of both the subject and the written word to powerfully counteract the racist garbage that Tom Moran continues to push out in defense of the indefensible.

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  9. Joe

    Thanks, Bob.

    While it is undoubtedly true that some fantastic young teachers will lose their jobs in Newark with these extensive cuts, I wonder how many if them would even have chosen the teaching profession if they had known that our society was trending toward eliminating teachers as soon as they have enough experience to be “expensive.”

    If the “reformers” got their way, the only teachers who would still have jobs after 10 or 15 years (when all those years of experience start translating into higher salaries) would be the politically connected ones. Not the best way to attract the bright young go-getters they say they want in our schools–they would be too smart and have too many other opportunities to head down a non-career path like that…

  10. mike

    Successful schools “already have family and community support systems that are worth—what?—tens of thousands of dollars per student per year.”

    This is ultimately the deciding factor in education of children. The fact the Cami and Christie are doing everything to destroy these support systems instead of building them up proves they really don’t want Newark Public Schools to succeed. They would rather let it fail or even make it fail, so they can more easily replace it.

  11. Mary Everhart

    The problem with experienced teachers is they know more than administrators which makes them much more difficult to “manage” than newer or younger teachers. It’s not about nurturing or mentoring or working with teachers any more. Its all about managing teachers thanks to school reform movements that have placed the sole cause of education woes on the heads of educators. Thank you for writing about the many obstacles that prevent us from doing a better job. They are many! Ultimately education will never heal until teachers are welcomed to the process and valued. We have the answers everyone is looking for!

    • Gracyann

      Wow, Mary Everhart. That was so well said. Teaching is my second career. In my first career as a program director for a nonprofit organization, I was completely trusted to do my job with very little oversight, and I was only in my twenties. I strive every day to be an excellent teacher, and after twenty years of teaching in public schools, I know what I need to do to continue improving. The problem is that I am not trusted to do so. My district added a new layer of administrators not too long ago. If these people would just ask me what I need in order to be a better teacher instead of telling me what I need (e.g., endless, ineffectual professional development), a hell of a lot more good could be done for my students. The way that decisions affecting teachers are made in school districts is backwards, backwards, backwards.

  12. Stephen Rocco

    This was a wonderful article. Thank you for your support. As a teacher in one of the state run school districts it is easy to see how the Governor and his administration have a clear agenda to destroy public education and steer future “would be” educators away from the profession.

    The children of these districts are being pushed to the side when they need the most uplifting. Instead of support they are losing good teachers, funding and worst of all… hope.

  13. Roni

    It’s frightening what’s happening in public schools. I wish I was able to leave. I love the kids but the fear and intimidation is going to translate into bad teaching.

  14. North ward resident

    Bob!

    Do you have an idea why this lady SAS is not facing any charges, Is she or her boss above the law? Look at 18th Ave building , how can SAS sale a public building and the mayor is not raising hell ? NPS schools are in chaos because of her One Newark. Teachers do not have materials to work as my son’s teacher has to go to Math in Focus web daily before he can plan because there are no handy resources. I pity Special Needs teachers as they are treated as orphans when it comes to resources. Students are sent to schools where they do not have any service. Again, Bob, why is this SAS not facing charges yet?

    Bob Braun: Best explanation is that Christie wants her to stay and the governor controls both the attorney general and the county prosecutors, so who would bring charges against her? If you’re talking about administrative charges, Hespe, the education commissioner, is owned by the governor and the local school board does not have the power to remove her.

    • North ward resident

      Thanks Bob but, I do not get this, are the democratic not in majority in the house?. Does the fat boy has a remote control over all these individuals? Where is the chain of command? Are we still under military dispensation? Are we in the 5th world country ? because I know, most 3rd world countries have awaken. Are my fellow Newarkers sleeping or they are actually making distress calls as required. This is actually a challenge for those of us who live and work in Newark. We must keep the momentum, I know, we shall overcome. Thanks again Bob!

      Bob Braun: Ask Sen. Ruiz. She talks a lot about Cami Anderson is irresponsible but protects her every chance she gets.

  15. Anne T

    You hit the nail on the head. Thank you for defending the experienced teachers. I found I wasn’t much good at all until I had been teaching three years. Then when I changed grades or subjects, it took me a year or two to be in the groove in that grade. I continued to seek out and learn new methods of teaching for all my 37 years in the profession. I was usually given the more troubled kids since the new teachers couldn’t handle them yet. I retired before I reached my fullest potential I think but it had to be.

  16. Ken Odgers

    Many uninformed people attribute the failure of our urban schools to “bad teachers” because they refuse to acknowledge that this failure is as much a social problem as it is an educational problem. Add to this mix the political failure in Trenton and our urban schools just do not have a chance to succeed.

  17. booklady

    1. Does NTU have stats re number of teachers w given years of experience? Given that we hear that nationally 30-40% of teachers leave w/in first 5 years, Newark’s teacher cohort may not be as top-heavy as one might anticipate. Also some TFA corps members leave for MPP/law/MBA programs or positions at Google (which gives them special consideration), so that would decrease the pipeline.
    2. Didn’t Jersey Jazzman do a post w spiffy graphs showing (statewide, I think) that there aren’t as many teachers w 20+ years as commonly held?
    3. Didn’t SAS Anderson tout in fall 2014 that pre-K enrollment increased by 1,000? (related to changing the aegis of an Abbott program) As those students rise to Kindergarten, that would affect K teacher positions.

  18. Jeff Nichols

    Just a member of the general public here, NYC resident, grateful to read such cogent writing and such appropriately sharp attacks on the corporate shills posing as journalists in way too many of our major media outlets. I have no problem with someone who might want to mount a real argument against public education; by all means let’s debate the proper nature and extent of the public sphere generally in our society. But arguments based on lies are pretty much all we get from the privatizers who are trying to dismantle virtually all institutions and policies that serve ordinary working people in this country. Thank you for taking apart this latest piece of authoritarian propaganda.

  19. public education supporter

    Bob, you really hit a nerve here…I felt it as I was reading your post and this was further confirmed by reading the comments to the post as well. Teachers are just being pummeled these days and your blog is a voice of reason in the midst of the onslaught.
    You make it so clear that the goals of the SL (and mainstream media in general), ed reformers, privatizers, et al have nothing to do with the well-being of students and everything to do with a well-planned and well-funded assault on public school teachers and unions. Thank you for your diligent research and intelligent analyses and for standing up for the Newark community…you make a real difference to a lot of people!

    Bob Braun: Thank you.

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  21. ChristieSychopant

    The designed to fail formula is being copied not just in Newark, but Paterson, Camden , Jersey city and any intercity school where people of color can be exploited for corporate profits. Look at Paterson which in September will have 500 fewer teachers and millions in budget cuts, while the charters remain unscathed. I bet you the public school teachers will get blamed for “failing” when they have 60 kids in a class and no resources, much like the segregated schools before 1954. Public vs. Charters are the new “separate but equal” .

  22. geri

    If the said formatt is true, old teachers are ineffective, then why do allow the Pope, Cardinals, Bishops, Supreme Justices (one falls asleep at a Presidential address to the Nation) Ambassadors, State Department workers and any other (over 50) remain? It should be illegal for any company to fire or as the legal jargon allows, eliminate your position due to age. Christie himself is overweight according to insurance purposes but he is still allowed to work and will be given a fat pension along with all the old government worker. Plain and simple disrespect to the older worker, refusal to pay experience workers, and greed by the owners.

  23. Dottie Gutenkauf

    Bob, you nailed it! Like good wine, you improve with age. Haven’t seen you in a long time, but you just keep getting better & better and I hope to see you some time reasonably soon. Don’t stop now!

    Best,

    Dottie Gutenkauf

  24. Bill Wolfe

    The Star Ledger and the folks they represent and in the same moral box that the US was in in Vietnam.

    They can’t admit the atrocity and therefore remain blind to it and dig into entrenched positions even deeper to avoid the humiliation of accepting responsibility and admitting they were wrong.

  25. Mark

    Well, Bob, maybe it’s ok to defame teachers because if a doctor messes up they don’t have the luxury of sitting in “administrative leave” for 4 years while their union drags out the procedures so the doctor can retire instead of facing the consequences. Seniority does not excuse failure, but in public education apparently you should get a pass.

    Look, I get it, teaching is qualitative not quantitative; measuring that is like trying to hold water, you’re never going to get it all. And while your argument is somewhat valid with respect to the Star-Ledger holding teachers to impossible standards and then excoriating them when they can’t measure up to them; you lose your focus when you start going down the SJW rabbit-hole.

    You, like your ilk, believe if the children just had as much money as, say, Christie, then they would be just as equally “educate-able”. Or, that if the you believe it hard enough you can blame everything on history. Neither is true. Even the lowest funded US schools are magnitudes more funded and better than 90% of the schools in the world, and yet somehow those schools manage to produce children who are better educated than ours (this is also a quantitative measure as it takes something WORSE than what DPS teaches here have and it shows BETTER results). If you were at least somewhat honest, you’d also acknowledge that the per student funding in a place like Camden is like 20k a student or something. Sure, that’s half of private school education, but why does that matter?

    And that is the crux of the issues, to some parents forking over 40k is a worthy sacrifice, for others, it’s not. It’s all about the parents placing emphasis on education. Your weeping over the “social support worth tens of thousands of dollars” is just another way of saying “I don’t like how some parents [read “white” in your view] emphasize education and then look down on those who don’t”. Now you’ll probably go down the whole “well, history of discrimination, lack of funding”, blah blah blah; which, even though it’s a canard, assuming it to be true, is still invalid as stated above – they’re STILL better funded than most of the world’s schools…and yet they have awful results.

    So please, don’t shoot the messenger, place blame where it belongs – on parents and parent’s culture that doesn’t value education. No amount of money can make a child want to learn, that comes from home. Stop demanding more money from those who already pay enough for something they value.

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  27. Bob Goldschmidt

    As a former English teacher, and retired superintendent, I can only say- thank you- well written, and well done! Especially love the flourish at the end.-Bob G

  28. Bob Goldschmidt

    Mike the “mad biologist” – so parents who make less than 40K don’t “place a value on education?” because they can’t pay 40K? And “culture”- did your teachers teach you this code? Public education is a community responsibility, and in this case, thanks to its Constitution, New Jersey is the community.

  29. Karen Bartholomew

    It is comforting to read someone “say it like it is.” As a retired public school educator, I bore the brunt of the Chris Christie’s demonization before being forced out by budget cuts. I have nothing good to say about the man, whose agenda is so transparent, I continue to be amazed that anyone gives him attention he so desperately seeks.
    New Jersey is not alone in failing our children. The nation has turned against education, despite empty claims to the contrary. When will it change? I suspect not in my lifetime.

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