Yes, I support teachers and their unions–and I oppose charters. And I don’t get paid to do it.

This site recently posted an article critical of The Star-Ledger for failing to identify fully the author of an op-ed piece praising North Star, a charter school in Newark. The newspaper’s guest writer, who was identified only as a parent, had posted on her Linked-In page that she was employed by the charter school with significant responsibilities. She denied that she was paid by the school and deleted the Linked-In entry. It’s important to note I did not criticize the woman; I called out the newspaper (the same newspaper that, today, thinks it is front page news for a charter school to try to enroll poor students).

My article drew puerile, cowardly (anonymous or pseudonymous) and defamatory responses that I will not post. This isn’t The Star-Ledger and I won’t provide a platform for the deranged in my comments section. Some were just lies that I won’t help spread. I do, however, believe I owe readers an explanation of my irrevocable opposition to public funding for privately-operated charter schools.

But first–to one of those lies: That I work for teacher unions and, therefore, am a paid advocate. I do support unionism. I grew up in a family–two families, really, but that’s a long story not appropriate here–that owed their middle-class status to unions. My father was a railroad engineer and a union member. My step-father was a teamster and a shop steward. They made good salaries that allowed them to buy decent homes and afford vacations–only on their salaries. I believe the inexcusable income inequality from which many suffer today is a direct result of the collapse of the union movement.

So, yes, I support unionism–for private and public employees, including teachers. Teacher unions have helped many urban residents achieve middle-class economic status and that translates into better lives for their children. I do not believe it is a coincidence that corporate reforms that have led to school closures, Teach for America, charter expansion, and other changes have come just at a time when many persons of color finally got good, secure jobs as teachers and other public employees. Yes, I do believe many so-called “reforms” are aimed at African-American school employees.

One deranged blogger–a suburban school board member from Lawrenceville–has called me a “loyal union lackey.” Recently, she quoted none other than a paid charter supporter from Montclair–and former spokesman for the disgraced Cami Anderson–in her continuing rants against me. I am an outsider, they say, because I live in Elizabeth, a city that abuts Newark and is a hell of lot more like Newark than either Montclair or Lawrenceville.

I have been accused of “working” for the union. Readers will note I have one advertiser, a neighborhood restaurant that is almost a second home to me. Both the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) and the Newark Teachers Union (NTU) have offered to buy advertising on this site. I have refused to accept those offers for the very reason suggested by the lying criticism of me–that I would express support for these organizations only because I was paid to do it.  No, my friends, this blog doesn’t make any money–whether I have one reader or, as happened last spring with my coverage of Pearson’s spying on New Jersey students, 1.5 million. Bob Braun’s Ledger is brought to you primarily by my Social Security and well-earned pension checks.

The Star-Ledger accepts ad money from the teacher unions. So do other blogsites that frequently write about the unions. One of those blogsites regularly carries op-ed rants from the Lawrenceville woman. I do not accept money from organizations I cover. I will not. In fact, in a real twist, the NTU paid The Star-Ledger to carry several ads that were facsimiles of my blogs on topics The Star-Ledger would not write about in its news pages–like the Pink Hula Hoop scandal. The union offered to pay me for the rights to my own work and I refused to accept payment but granted permission to use my work free–as a result, I  subsidized the payment to The Star-Ledger. So it goes.

Despite what my critics say, I frequently criticize the NJEA and the NTU.  Just ask their leaders. The NJEA was complicit in the elimination of tenure as a real protection for teachers. It supported Norcross’s privatization of the Camden schools. It endorsed–for US Senate–Cory Booker, a fanatic voucher and charter supporter who brought privatization to Newark’s public schools (yes, in my only non-newspaper job, I worked briefly on Rush Holt’s senate campaign and disclosed that here). The union collaborated with the Christie administration on the use of statewide test scores and on pension “reform.”

I have criticized the NTU and its parent American Federation of Teachers (AFT) for caving in to Anderson and accepting a contract that Gov. Chris Christie brags about on the presidential campaign trail. Those who call me a “loyal union lackey” should read my blog BETRAYAL that accused the NTU of betraying parents in Newark. Better yet, get a copy of  my book, “Teachers and Power,” which drew a multi-million libel suit form the AFT (I won it).

I write what I believe, not what someone pays me to write. I am free to do that and will continue, as long as my health holds out, to do that no matter how many enemies I make, no matter how few readers I have. I reserve the right to change my mind when circumstances require–whether it’s about state takeovers or Newark’s mayor, Ras Baraka.

I support teachers and their unions, but I also criticize them.

I am motivated by a belief in the absolutely essential role free public schools play in making this country a livable place.

But public schools are underfunded and segregated. They have been set up to fail by those who stand to make a lot of money from the $750 billion spent annually on public education. It’s been said that, when legendary bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks, he replied, “Because that’s where the money is.” Well, that’s why Wall Street and the hedge fund managers and ALEC and Eli Broad and the Waltons support charters and vouchers–because that’s where the money is.

And that brings me back to charter schools and why I oppose them–because they contribute to the theft of money from traditional public schools and to their segregation. They are the cancer that one day may very well bring death to public education.

Here–taken from my recent FB posting–is a fuller explanation of my consistent opposition to charters:

The way financing for charter schools is set up any money awarded to charters is taken from traditional public schools. Under such a system, there is no way charters can flourish without a concomitant deprivation of resources from traditional public schools.

 

As a consequence, any advantage or amenity awarded to charter students means a reduction in services or materials to public school students.

 

Public schools MUST take all students; they are non-selective and aim to educate all children. Charter schools do not need to take any student who applies and there is strong evidence they keep from their doors students with the greatest needs. As a consequence, the charter school system is an inherently discriminatory enterprise that deprives the non-discriminatory system of public schools of essential resources that, in turn, hurts children who need those resources the most.

 

The dual system does pit one group of parents against another and I do believe that is an intention of the wealthy, white and suburban patrons of charter and voucher education. Divided residents fight each other instead of inequality. Divided cities–as we see now in Newark and Camden–are docile cities.

 

Yes, I agree parents should see their common needs and interests and band together–but not to abandon the public schools for some illusory private alternative that helps only a few while depriving the many. They should organize for the rights guaranteed them under the state and federal constitutions–and that means full funding of the public schools combined with a vigorous campaign to end racial isolation in the public schools. New Jersey’ schools are among the most segregated in the country. If parents and political leaders demanded racially integrated county-wide school systems–as are established in Maryland and other states and required by New Jersey court decisions–Newark residents could be able to choose to go anywhere in, say, Essex County.

 

George Norcross can name charter schools after himself in Camden–but he won’t permit integration in Cherry Hill where he lives.

 

It can be done. It should be done. It is both the moral and the legally required thing to do.

And I won’t stop saying it.

28 comments

  1. Jeff S

    Keep on saying it Bob. There’s solid support for your position in the state. That’s why the privateers never want the people to vote on charters.

  2. ramadan

    my son will not have a prison bed waiting for him because speedway avenue school is mad they don’t have enough money to properly educate him

  3. Al F

    The primary reason for the existence of charter schools is to make sure every child has access to a quality education. With the freedom and choice to do so, charters set higher standards and must meet them to stay in business. Most traditional district public schools stay in business no matter how poorly they perform. Charters are one of America’s tickets to a higher-quality school system.

    Bob Braun: That is your opinion. The facts don’t support it. Charters may stay “in business”–public schools are not, nor should they be, businesses.

    • booklady

      Al F,
      The primary result of charter schools is that a sliver of the school population has access to an education that may or may not be better than local school (most studies show only ~40% of charters have equal/better results than traditional public). With the freedom and choice to do so, charters counsel out and expel students as they “stay in business,” often with high salaries for directors of the nonprofit schools. Charters are one of America’s tickets to highly disruptive school systems. And to ROI for entrepreneurs who use the Fair Market legislation.

    • Abigail Shure

      Al F,

      Every child of course would not include those with severe special needs, challenging behaviors, or limited proficient English Language Learners. They are best left behind in traditional public schools.

      • dadou_gaspard

        You will not find parents arguing with each other on this matter: school is a business. Particularly, taking secondary glances at the running of Cedar St, our children are not benefiting at all. Every 52-weeks, one billion dollars rains down on Cedar St. You’re crying wolf that these schools don’t help our community. It’s starting to sound old; bashing a schools system that is proving fruitful results for its constituency.

  4. Erica

    Bob, that was a wonderful article. Thank you so much for what you do and supporting causes based on what is good and moral.

  5. Joan Kramer

    Keep up the great work! Your critics are cowards because they call names. They really have nothing substantive to say. I think we are all in a difficult position because we know that our schools and our unions aren’t perfect. But we also now that for-profit charters will destroy democracy and any chance of making education better. Thank you for all you do!!

  6. Ed Tessaro

    Bob…my concern is not that your paid or unpaid by unions – its that your opinion against Charter results among the underprivileged is uninformed. And for the record our parents’ Union experience and rationale is worlds apart from the public sector monopolies in schools, which Franklin Roosevelt warned of. A curious mind needs to look no further than the documentary ‘Waiting for Superman’ a great concept corrupted. Or study the 3-year investigation of the Atlanta PS tragedy as I have to see the real threat these bureacracies pose for poor children.
    Good debate debate, keep at it!
    Ed

    Bob Braun: I obviously disagree. I am no fan of school bureaucracies and have proven that, but the cure for a bureaucracy is not charterization. I also am not blind to the flaws in unions but they pale in comparison to the damage done by corporate control of the workplace, public or private.

    • DeeplyConcerned

      Ed – If you’re referring to the public school test cheating scandal in Atlanta to support your position that the real threat facing poor children is public school bureaucracies, take a look at recent scandals involving charter schools in NJ, including serious test security violations at Steve Adubato’s Robert Treat Academy Charter School in Newark and massive fraud by top administrators at M.E.T.S. Charter School in Jersey City. Or Adelaide Sanford Charter School in Newark, which was shut down after the U.S. Attorney accused its founder of using over $345,000 in federal grant money earmarked for programs to keep at-risk children off of the streets to pay the bills of an unrelated group she’d founded. There are plenty of other examples in NJ and elsewhere, and you can’t selectively point to public school problems while holding out charters – which have a growing history of scandals – as the solution.

  7. Dan Masi

    Bob, hang in there. As a parent concerned with the direction education is going and the number of entities trying to turn it into a market, I’ve watched your work over the last year especially and am impressed with your level of honesty and your ability to see through the BS. Keep fighting the good fight… remember, without you, we-the-public have Tom Moran to keep us “informed” on education issues.

  8. MMF

    Bob,
    You provide valuable reporting and investigation. It’s appreciated by many because we can’t get it in old news media outlets anymore. Keep it up!

  9. Rev.Tony Johnson

    Bob, you are on the right side of the struggle and the right side of history for all the right reasons. I am in the middle class for two reasons: the unions my working class parents belonged to and public education.

  10. Public Education Supporter

    To Ed: go take a look at who funded “Waiting for Superman” please. It’s nothing more than slick propaganda and anyone who troubles themselves to get informed can see through it easily.
    Bob: those who attack you are threatened by the truth you speak…they’re not used to being called out since mainstream media is pretty much ignoring the scam that philanthrocapitalists, hedge fund managers and arrogant, rich, white suburban do-gooders are pulling off as they dismantle public education and make a profit at the same time. It goes without saying that they need to bust the unions to reach their goals unimpeded – nothing less than destroying one of the few democratic institutions in this country – public schools. And as you so rightly say, it’s no coincidence that the primary victims are black and brown. Keep up the fight Bob…you provide an invaluable service. They’re squawking because you hit them where it hurts!

    • dadou_gaspard

      They’re squawking because they live with the success that you’re too obtuse to recognize.
      But it’s OK. We know what we want. It. Is. Happening. With. Or. Without. Your. Support.

  11. Saira K.

    Bob, no serious reader of this blog could doubt your motives or intentions. Anyone questioning your integrity is a willfully obtuse zealot or a hack. You are a brave and vital defender of public education, working tirelessly on behalf of ALL children.

    Thank you for all that you do!

  12. Ms M. Davis

    Mr Braun,
    I agree with most everything you’ ve said. I can remember a time when I didn’t like you for your pro state takeover views in the early 90s. Yes, we all have the right to change our minds on issues when seasons change. I respect you sincerely. Dare I say to me you are the “Mr. Kunstler” of urban education. May God Bless you for your efforts.

    Bob Braun: Thank you. And I appreciate very much the comparison to the late William Kunstler, a hero of mine.

  13. Tom Ferriero

    Bob, you never have to “validate yourself and your ideas to anyone who reads your blog! I have been a big fan of yours for 3 years and feel these things will be seeping to us in Jersey City over next few years .We are currently having problems with a “Cami Clone ” in Marcia Lyles as Superintendent.Please continue to advocate for those who have no power.

  14. Bill Wolfe

    Thanks Bob – politics and media have become so corrupt that people can’t even imagine that there are people with integrity and principles who say and write what they believe.

    Thanks for your work.

  15. unions make usa

    Spot on. The current situation at one Newark public school consists of this high school warehousing all the evicted charter school kids. One student just arrived and has fifty write ups for physically attacking teachers. The high school has cut athletics from 140,000 k to 11,000; which shows how much Cory Booker sold out, he showed up at events and posed in pictures, while behind the scenes,he sliced these public school kids throats. Of course, Cerf loves what has been accomplished at this turn around school and the principal is being promoted to downtown.
    This same school has violated every union collective bargaining by hiring non certified staff, who coincidentally are non union Downtown likes to term it non affiliated.
    The rich need plantations to keep their money flowing, and charter schools are the new plantations, decorated as a Trojan horse for the good of the community.
    I find it ludicrous that Newark Vocational was closed and that very summer, Marion b Thomas charter has a brand new vocational school, with an arts program too, in the fake city section, right next to Newark collegiate.
    100 million used to destroy decent middle class jobs for people of color, so (whites) can move in to free housing in the safe area a of Newark, have their large ivy league loans paid off, and stay two years, if they can last. As a taxpayer, can I file a lawsuit and demand my tax dollars support public education only? We need to stop being apathetic and fight back.

    Bob Braun: I edited this to eliminate a possibly offensive reference.

  16. Joe S.

    Bob,
    I don’t agree with everything you say, but most of it is pretty reasonable.
    Of course, there is one exception: the motives you attribute to charterizers. A lot of slimy operators are in it for the money, but they’re not the rich folk who donate to the charter movement. I think that the charter donor class is sincere, with an ideological commitment to charters. There are a lot of self-styled liberals among the rich charterizers. They think they’re trying to do good.
    Don’t fall for the narrative that rich people are all cunning and calculating all the time–they can be as naive as anybody else, with the further handicap that there’s nobody to call them out on their errors. They are burdened by a faux-meritocratic ideology that is hostile to democracy, especially when it takes the form of big-city unions and politicians.

  17. Pingback: Ed News, Tuesday, December 22, 2015 Edition | tigersteach
  18. Donna

    Bob, here is the thing. All the reformers have is money. They have no consciences. They have no ethics. They have no compassion. They have no remorse. They have no regret. They have no sense of decency.

    They are power hungry, greedy and evil. To them, the biggest insult they can throw at grass roots involved persons such as yourself is that you are funded by “big money” – as if the unions or the parents, or even the students themselves, can compete with the bankrolls of Eli Broad, the Waltons, the Kochs, the well-financially-backed and connected Michelle Rhees and Campbell Browns of the world.

    They attack Diane Ravitch the same, and Mercedes Schneider – they defame them by stating they are backed by union moguls. Its hilarious, isn’t it? The truth behind the reformers is they are wealthy, or backed by wealthy greedy pigs without conscience, and THAT is the mud they sling a grass roots detractors of their privatizing agenda because money is all they understand.

    Thanks for what you do. You shine light into the dark recesses of the reform agenda.

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