I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Monday, December 19, 2011

The "Strange Territory" of Tom Moran and Ed Reform

The spat between Governor Christie and State Senator Ron Rice caught the eye of the Star-Ledger's Tom Moran on Sunday. The basic story is that Rice is holding up hearings on ACTING Education Commissioner Chris Cerf's appointment, so Christie is holding up on appointing judges and taking away Sen. Dick Codey's car in retaliation. Yes, you read that right.

I actually agree with much of what Moran writes until he steps once again into the reformy breach:
Why is Rice objecting to Cerf? This is where the story veers into strange territory.
Rice sees the governor’s reform agenda as one front in a national conspiracy by hedge fund owners to privatize public education, and to enrich themselves by diverting some of the $600 billion in education spending each year into their own pockets.
“The whole notion is to make money,” Rice says. “I’m not going to be part of helping these people make money off these kids under the auspices that they are helping them.” 
How is that? The meat of the governor’s education agenda is to reform tenure, expand charter school, and experiment with small voucher programs. Not much chance there for hedge-fund profits.
I'm starting to feel like I'm writing the same post over and over and over and over again. But unless and until Tom's willing to actually address my points, I'll go through this one more time:

I don't know what exactly Rice said during your interview, Tom, but I do know this: there is no question that very wealthy and powerful people are looking to privatize large swaths of this country's education system. Polk Award-winning journalist and NY Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez has reported on the use of arcane tax credits in charter school construction to double investors' money in seven years. Critically acclaimed author Jonathan Kozol reports in his seminal book, The Big Enchilada, that Wall Street has been looking at the privatization of the "education industry" as a huge market opportunity. John Walton of Wal-Mart and the reformy Walton Family Foundation admits that he believes there is money to be made in the education sector.

It is hardly "strange territory" to acknowledge that there are many privateers out there ready to cash in on education reform; in fact, it would be naive to assume that there aren't.

Enter ACTING Commissioner Cerf, whose resume I have been over again and again. Former President of Edison Learning, a (failed) school privatizer. Head of the public-private partnership for the NYC schools. Deputy Chancellor in NYC, where he was found to have violated conflict-of-interest laws.

As the Star-Ledger, Moran's own newspaper, has reported, Cerf has enriched friends and (maybe - we can't get a straight story) relatives since coming to New Jersey. Former employees of Cerf's are floating proposals to take special education services private. Voucher proponents are secretly appointed to charter school review panels at his DOE.

This isn't a surprise: Cerf's former boss in NYC, Joel Klein, is being paid a boatload of money to get Rupert Murdoch deeply ensconced into the education sector. His company, Wireless Generation, is responsible for NJ's screwed up Race To The Top application. Murdoch is looking to move more public funds away from classroom instruction and toward his own technology products. And Cerf is a defender of Murdoch's even now.

Given this and much, much more, who could possibly believe that Ron Rice's problems with Chris Cerf are the stuff of tinfoil hats and Illuminati myths? Who would have a problem with holding Cerf to account for all of this?

Who else? Tom Moran:
Challenge Rice on this, and he veers off into a smorgasbord of connected conspiracy theories, going back to the birth of the privatization movement under Milton Friedman in the 1950s.
This, too, is vintage Rice. He is well-liked, his moral convictions seem entirely sincere and the people in his district love him. But when he gets rolling on a conspiracy theory, you want to just bang your head on the table in despair.
Yes, it makes a lot of sense to bang your head in despair because a state senator actually knows something about Milton Friedman and education:
The alternative arrangements whose broad outlines are sketched in this paper distinguish sharply between the financing of education and the operation of educational institutions, and between education for citizenship or leadership and for greater economic productivity. Throughout, they center attention on the person rather than the institution. Government, preferably local governmental units, would give each child, through his parents, a specified sum to be used solely in paying for his general education; the parents would be free to spend this sum at a school of their own choice, provided it met certain minimum standards laid down by the appropriate governmental unit. Such schools would be conducted under a variety of auspices: by private enterprises operated for profit, non profit institutions established by private endowment, religious bodies, and some even by governmental units. [emphasis mine]
How crazy is it that Rice would bring this up in New Jersey in December of 2011! Like it's relevant or something...

But so it goes - yet again - in the reformy world of Tom Moran. A world where state senators are mocked for wanting a full account of the questionable histories of the privatizers who would run our schools. A world where bloggers who lay out all the evidence are questioned as half-crazy. A world where those who tout disproven "reform" strategies are given the benefit of the doubt, but those who would question their orthodoxy are not.

Just to be clear, Tom: folks like Senator Rice - and, for that matter, me - are not going anywhere. You may not believe this, but there are a lot of sane, rational, smart people out there who like what Rice is doing. You're going to have to deal with them and their arguments at some point.

Rather than dismissing them, I suggest engaging them.


Teacher Mom said...

Rice came out to the anti-voucher protest in Jersey City and we were VERY happy to have him. He is a man who can connect the dots. He knows that these vouchers and charters are way of taking opportunities away from minority students not given them more.

Petra said...

I hope all they are trying to do doesn't come to pass. I can see that if it does the only ones who will be damaged are the students. At the end of their failed experiment, the bureaucrats will walk away, their pockets lined, shaking their heads and saying oops. But at what expense? Another whole generation of our young people the victims of their greed and anger. I invite any of them to step into my classroom for one day and see what I do. If you want to know how to fix education ask us, the educators.