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.