The Star-Ledger Editorial on Newark schools: A Reply

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Ras Baraka and others outside Weequahic HS. Are they shrill, shrieking demagogues? Photo by Eric Adams
Ras Baraka and others outside Weequahic HS. Are they shrill, shrieking demagogues? Photo by Eric Adams

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.

32 comments

  1. Marie

    Thank you, Bob, for continuing to expose the hypocrisy at both the Star Ledger editorial board and in the state’s running of Newark’s school district. The state’s largest newspaper is doing a grave disservice to its readers and to the people of Newark by selling this swill as legitimate reform. Keep up the great work!

  2. Jersey Jazzman

    Dear Lord, thank you for bringing me Bob Braun, so I don’t have to be the only one who keeps writing the same blog posts over and over again criticizing the SL and Tom Moran for their ignorant views on Newark and education.

    Happy Holidays, Bob

    • Marian Raab

      Thank you Bob Braun and Jersey Jazzman for exposing the truth behind “Education Reform” and the disastrous consequences of privatizing public education. Keep telling the truth and shaming the devil, gentlemen!!!

  3. Newarkbluesman

    How many years do you conduct an experiment and realize it failed.18 years if it is profitable.Now selling a school to a former partner of Edison schools for a song really top the list of greed that motivates this entire plan.Commissioner Cerf have you no shame.Once upon a time commissioners were beyond reproach.Now they just help friends.A real shame.

    Bob Braun: “Edison” schools, right?

  4. Mindy SchwartzBrown

    I posted the following on NJ.com in response to the Ledger editorial
    The Star-Ledger lost the word Newark in it’s title long ago for a a reason.
    Newark, and the residents of Newark are not its concern. Otherwise,
    why would the paper support the selling out of the internal structure
    of the city to to school-in-a-box, test-in-a-box institutions that absolve
    the government from performing and overseeing one of its vital roles,
    educating students.
    Yes, it’s hard. Yes, Newark has problems, but distributing the “problems” among companies for whom profit is foremost and accountability based on business metrics unsuited to children is yet another way of maintaining the social disparity that is our greatest problem.

    The solution to NJ’s school problems, where the average SAT score in
    two schools, six miles apart differs by 600 points is regionalization.
    County school systems, like Maryland’s, perform beautifully, while
    assuming responsibility for the children of immigrants in Silver Spring
    as well as the residents of mult-imillion dollar homes in Potomac.
    Like residents of some of the wealthiest towns in the country, the
    Ledger supports the permanent institutionalization of social, racial and
    economic disparities by supporting a school structure that views students in Chatham and Livingston as more worthy than those in Newark and Camden.
    To add insult to injury, The former Newark paper blinks not one eye
    over the prospect of destroying Newark’s historical landmarks, like
    Philip Roth’s Weequahc High School. When Mr. Roth comes
    to town, the Ledger grovels at his feet for commentary, but
    renders continues to render his Newark irrelevant and hopeless.
    This is an opportunity for the people of Newark to rise up and use its
    beautiful voices to counter the Ledger’s notion of shrieks. Peaceful
    protest has been the basis for positive change, and it should continue.

    Bob Braun: Mindy, great piece!

  5. C. Carter

    Here we go again. Close more schools in Newark and use the word “Charter” to make it sound good as you do it.

    As Mr Braun said:
    “Cami Anderson isn’t solving the problems of the Newark schools,
    she is giving the schools away to the highest–fiscal or political–bidder.

    Another NJ Governor avoiding the real problem. 603 school districts in 21 counties.

    603 school districts makes no sense and the politicans know it makes no sense and Both the Republicans and Democrats are guilty as sin.

    Everytime the state wants to so-call “re-organize” New Jersey’s educational system, what’s the first thing they do,
    gut, starve and rip to shreds the schools and budget in the largest school districts in the state;
    (Newark, Jersey City, Paterson, Camden, Trenton and Elizabeth) and when data shows the cuts were too deep
    what’s the first thing they do, blame the teachers for failing the children.

    This not the solution period.

    Start Combining these 603 school district but, as we all know, the real solution will never be implemented.

    Bob Braun: Absolutely on point. Combined school districts would mean an end to racial isolation and that would mean less spent on schools. So increases in the school aid formula are the six tax we pay for not wanting to live with others who don’t look like us.

  6. Laurie

    I remember that when Christie was running for governor initially, one of the few things I agreed with him on was district consolidation. What happened to that idea, Governor?

  7. Newarkbluesman

    The 18 th ave school had one bidder team academy,they had a low bid and were then allowed to bid again.A founder the ethically challenged Chris Cerf.imagine Google Chris Christie lobbyists,hep he was working for Cerf.

  8. tom moran

    Bob

    Throwing out the charge of racism here is a lazy and cheap substitute for an argument.

    Audacity to tell Newark people how to live their lives? This is because I offer my opinion on local school reform? And you’re saying I don’t offer similar opinions in the rest of the state, I guess because I’m ok with anything white people do??? Do you even read the damn paper?

    Let me clear something up: I regard you are shrill and irrational, and this charge of racism is Exhibit A… And you’re a white guy. So I guess my judgment is not all based on race.

    As for the issue, to say Newark shouldn’t close schools is not rational. It has half the number of students in almost the same space it had a generation ago. What the hell sense does that make?

    And what is this nonsense about corporate raiders making profit? I mean, get over Woodstock. These are non profits. The idea that hedge fund guys who donate money to the charter movement are somehow tapping public funds for their profit is sophomoric crap. I challenge you: Point to the hedge fund guy who is getting rich off Jersey’s charter movement. If you can’t do that, then please give it a rest.

    I could go on. But let’s just say we have a legitimate difference of opinion about school reform. For you to throw around cheap shots about racism is beneath even you.

    And with that, I sign off on this blog. Have had enough of your bloviation for a lifetime, and now you’ve crossed a line. Good riddance.

    TM

    TM

    • Marie

      Bob, you hit a nerve—a big one! Calling all education bloggers and researchers: Jersey Jazzman, Mother Crusader, Bruce Baker, etc. to take that challenge and show him the money!

      Keep up the great work, Bob!

    • Jersey Jazzman

      Stings a bit when someone’s got your number so well, eh, Tom?

      Bob doesn’t bring up “hedge fund guys” – YOU do. Bob says: “… a transfer of assets to corporate-backed charters,” and “…corporations and foundations that want the city to be the guinea pig for its so-called “reform” ideas,” and “Cami Anderson isn’t solving the problems of the Newark schools, she is giving the schools away to the highest–fiscal or political–bidder.” If you want to debate Bob on those, go ahead: trust me, he’s on very solid ground here. But he’s never made the claim that David Tepper or Alan Fournier or any of the other guys backing “reform” – guys you love to lionize in your pages – are personally gaining from charter expansion.

      Neither, BTW, have I. Instead, I’ve pointed out the obvious: corporate education “reform” is a distraction to keep us from talking about an economic and political system that funnels obscene gobs of money to CEOs and “hedge fund guys,” which creates the conditions for disgusting poverty to run rampant in places like Newark. Educational outcomes are not the cause of poverty – they are a symptom.

      (That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of vultures out there willing to make a buck off of “reform.” Ask Cory Booker’s #1 backer, Andrew Tisch, former chair of K12 Inc. Oh, sorry, I guess it’s “shrill” of me to bring that up…)

      As for the school closings: again, Bob’s got you dead to rights. The charter expansion plan occurred under an occupying government; the reason schools “have” to be closed now is because policy decisions were made by the state and not be the elected representatives of Newark’s citizens. That you refuse to acknowledge this is a sign of your intransigence.

      As Bruce Baker has explained to you over and over again, the “successful” charters you tout have high attrition rates and are segregated by poverty status – and North Star, a project of the reformy cabal up there in Montclair, is the worst. You have barely mentioned this in your writing, however, even though I know you read me and have interviewed Bruce. Why is that?

      As to the racism charge: was Ras Baraka “shrieking”? Was Antoinette Richardson-Baskerville “shrill”? Or were they, to paraphrase you right here: “… hav[ing] a legitimate difference of opinion about school reform”? In which case, why did YOU take the cheap shot?

      In case you hadn’t noticed, Tom, the meme of the “crazy angry black man” is alive and well in America today. It’s a powerful tool for the elites of this state and this country to keep people scared. It’s the dog whistle Christie toots on again and again when he talks about “failure factories,” just before he says he doesn’t care what his critics in Newark think about Anderson’s plans, or before he installs a 32-year-old with barely any experience to run Camden’s schools, or when he tries to shove merit pay, which has never worked, down the throats of Paterson’s teachers.

      Bob’s absolutely right: nobody would put up with this crap in Westfield or Haddonfield or Basking Ridge. The resistance over the last few years in Millburn and Princeton and South Brunswick and Highland Park and Montclair and other places is proof that communities that have retained their political autonomy do not want this junk coming into their schools.

      But it’s apparently fine in Newark and Jersey City and Camden and Paterson and Trenton and Asbury Park – at least, that’s the message I get from the op-ed pages of the S-L, particularly when you endorse a governor whose signature achievement, aside from screwing over public employees, has been to impose this nonsense on communities full of poor people of color without their consent while leaving the ‘burbs alone (for now…).

      Maybe, in your world, the loss of democracy in these communities is preferable to having a governor who might have made peace with the NJEA (shudder!). Whatever: the fact remains that you have consistently advocated for one system of education and governance for Newark and other cities full of the working poor, and another for the ‘burbs.

      I’ll leave it to others to decide what name best fits that particular philosophy.

    • stopthefreezenj

      Mr. Moran – you fail to understand the basic premise behind the accusation that education “reform” provides profits for private equity investors. The idea is not that by supporting B4K, David Tepper somehow hope to reap a direct and sizable profit. The idea is that privatization masquerading as reform will trigger systemic changes that re-shuffle the way in which public schools are paid for, used, staffed, supplied, managed and directed. David Tepper doesn’t expect a direct payday, and nobody is saying that he does. Instead, he hopes to help turn the “big enchilada” of public education funding into a new trough from which he and the rest of the investor class can feed – without any stake in the actual educational outcomes of the students in our most troubled neighborhoods.

      When you accuse Mr. Braun, Mr. Jazzman, Ms. Corfield, or anyone else of stoking conspiracy theories, you only make yourself look like an uninformed, shortsighted and possibly unintelligent person.

      Pull your head out of your . Just because you’ve been to school, doesn’t make you an expert on schools.

    • Newarkbluesman

      Tom you say Bob crossed the line,what line? The object of a free press is spark dialogue not to stop it.You seem to miss the point,selling Newark schools is bad business,the land is much to valuable to the overall growth of Newark.Don’t you see past the charter experiment,across the country it is falling apart.We have been conducting exit interviews with charter teachers we will break that story soon.Maybe then you and Bob can be friends again.You both are great writers and you both have been wrong at some point.You were a fan of Beverly Hall.you were short sighted then.

  9. Newarkbluesman

    They turned down a charter in Montclair,where Cerf lives,white folks can do that not black folks we have to do as we are told,the great white father knows best.Cerf has been in for profit from day one,that is about green.So to you it is not racial to me it is.

  10. Bill Wolfe

    Hey Bob – take Moran’s criticism as high praise.

    And don’t feel bad, he called me shrill and bitter.

    How far he’s fallen since we were homies, in the Tarrytowns, NY.

    Happy Holidays.

    Bob Braun: Not feeing the least bit bad, Bill.

  11. becca Fields

    Not that I would like to spend time responding to Moran here, because he is never reading this blog again (ha!) and because the blog stands alone (and is so eloquently defended by JJ) but let’s just remember Moran’s endorsement of Christie – followed by post election editorials of how bad Christie’s choices and policies are – this man lost any remaining shred of credibility with that endorsement. Bob Braun was wise enough to get out from the lunacy of the SL with his integrity in tact. If I was an advertiser, i would be putting my money on this blog and pulling it from the SL.

    Bob Braun: Thank you, Becca.

  12. Len

    Bob, you are right on target. I just sent the below to Moran.

    Tom, I just read this Letter to Editor in the NY TIMES ( not quite as prestigious as the Ledger, but a good newspaper nonetheless). The writer is responding to an editorial in the TIMES.
    Think again about the disruption Anderson is causing in Newark Tom….

    To the Editor:
    Re “Why Other Countries Teach Better” (“Numbers Crunch” series, about the teaching of math and science in the United States, editorial, Dec. 18):
    You describe top-ranking school systems in Finland, Canada and Shanghai. While your recommendations are excellent on the whole, missing from your analysis is not only what we should do but also what we should not do — and there are some policies that we should stop immediately.
    None of the school systems you endorsed have policies supporting fast-track teacher certification programs or salary bonuses for teachers who boost test scores. None have systems of sanctions for struggling schools with rotations of principals and staff in and out that erode trust and destroy community. None set up win-lose competitions among neighboring schools.
    Instead, teachers and schools in challenging circumstances receive additional supports, including from more successful schools, so that they can identify problems quickly and resolve them.
    America can’t just adopt policies from high achievers while continuing with those that have failed us. Stopping destructive policies is at least as important as adopting promising ones.
    DENNIS SHIRLEY
    ANDY HARGRGREAVES
    Chestnut

  13. Black Marilyn Monroe

    Great article Braun!!!!
    Tom Moran needs to head back to journalism school for he is a very poor, mediocre journalist. His job is to to report, inform the public and not to take sides. Who cares about his opinion? He, as a privileged white man is advocating for his cause. Then again he should consider getting a job writing for Walmart and other hedge fund corporations.

  14. Len

    Most people are not aware of the rationale used to get charter schools approved in the first place. Schools that are innovative, offering a different approach to education are only being approved if they are backed by corporations and politically connected folks. Educators, industry professionals and parents who propose school are over looked. Because of the negativity connected with charters these legitimate prosals can’t get support from the community even though most in the community will acknowledge the need for such a school. This whole situation is sad. Out children’s futures are caught in the cross due. This should be about the kids! There are so many opportunities going untapped because of this. It is ashamed!

  15. DeeplyConcerned

    Wonderful response by the Jazzman. Rather than exposing the charter system to journalistic scrutiny (there’s enough fraud, mismanagement, nepotism, etc. to keep an investigator reporter happily employed), Tom Moran and The Star-Ledger simply parrot the whitewashed hype they’ve been fed by the Christie propaganda machine.

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  17. CJFlor

    Have any of you guys ever been to a charter school? Some of them do amazing things that teachers unions won’t let teachers do for children in poverty. The unions are insane and out of control. They would rather keep an awful teacher in the classroom than see kids learn. I’m a public school teacher and thankfully I work in a state where you don’t have to join. Bob, your other article says charters were meant to be experiments for the public schools. After over a decade, there are dozens of instructional strategies that are effective teaching children in poverty. The public schools unions don’t want teachers to put in the extra work for what’s best for kids. They want the least work for the most money. I became a teacher to help kids, and what is going on in public education disgusts me.

    Bob Braun: Yes, I have been to a charter school. Please list the “amazing things that teacher unions won’t let teachers do for children in poverty.” Also, provide examples of how “unions are insane and out of control.” My understanding of tenure laws allows no role for unions that “would rather keep an awful teacher in the classroom.” It has always been my experience that administrators evaluate teachers, not unions. I would be happy to report on instances in which “public unions don’t want teachers to put in the extra work for what’s best for kids.” And are you saying all teachers “want the least work for the most money.” Iv you, you, sir or madam, are a liar, because I personally know teachers in my family who are both union members and the hardest working people I have ever known. I also would like you to explain why charter schools enroll so few children with special needs and language problems. Charter schools are escape hatches that permit people to avoid facing true reform. I have been and will continue to be critical of teacher unions but not for the reasons you so feverishly imagine. Unions should be exerting greater efforts at joining with parents and other community residents to resist the efforts of ideologues like Chris Christie and Christopher Cerf to promote a corporate approach to raising our children to be obedient, unquestioning cogs in the wheels of low paying jobs.

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  19. sickofthepropaganda

    The public schools in Newark are failing. All this is biased and one sided. The schools of Newark are falling apart. They have had billions of dollars thrown at them by the tax payers. The state is sick of the failing year after year. The public system is broken and unfixable. The anti charter rhetoric on this blog are sad and disturbing. There are winners an losers in thr charter world and the winners will prevail. You also fail to mention the success of Denver, New Orleans and now Nashville’s success with charters. The NPS is only concerned about the interest of the staff and their survival. This is disgusting and appauling. Face the facts the city has had years and billions to fix this mess with 0 results. The time has come and the chickens are roosting. Face the facts and stop race bating to drive your propaganda. The school system is a fail. When all you union protectors realize it and put the children fist you will see the truth. The majority of Public School are a mess anf beyond repair. The per pupil cost in newark is higher then most of the richest districts in the country and still can’t gradurate students at an exceptional rate. Explain that. Pull away from,the fringe an come back to reality. The rhetoric and bs here is embarrassing and you should all be ashamed.

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