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

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Pesky Democracy!

One of my favorite games here at JJ: Can You Spot The Pattern? I'll underline the clues.

Highland Park:
Why is Mr. Perez so hell bent on overriding the wishes of the majority of parents in any given school district?  NJ Spotlight wrote a, well, Spotlight on Perez when he came to New Jersey via his native Chicago (are you thinking about Arne Duncan, too?  You should be…) Perez worked for the Chicago based Illinois Network of Charter Schools from 2005-2010.  John Mooney reports that while Perez took Chicago by storm, with the help of Arne Duncan, he had a hard time increasing numbers in the rest of Illinois. 
Both with charter laws into their second decade, Illinois has about 96 charter schools, New Jersey 73. But while New Jersey’s are spread throughout the state, all but nine of Illinois’ charter schools are located in Chicago, the product of a restricted law that requires local districts to authorize charters within their borders. Chicago boasted a mayor and a school superintendent -- now U.S Education Secretary Arne Duncan -- who were more inclined, but there was still stiff union opposition that Perez said was tough to overcome. “Virtually every one of the charters was out-performing the district schools,” Perez said. “Still, nobody wanted to believe that charter schools were successful.”(emphasis mine)

Sounds like Perez was a hit in Chicago when Arne Duncan was Superintendent, but got stymied in the rest of Illinois by districts that were allowed to *GASP* decide for themselves if they need or want a charter.  This really brings his "tyranny of the majority" quote into focus.  

New Jersey has become a bad flashback for Mr. Perez.  The pesky, noisy people in Highland Park, Cherry Hill, Teaneck and beyond that don't want to be a notch in his charter belt are a trigger; we're reminding him of the districts in Illinois that weren't buying his snake oil either.  
Jersey City:
The hiring of a former school administrator to oversee some functions in the Jersey City public school district is a sign that the state doesn’t want to give up control of the 29,000-student district, according to some parents and activists.
Toting signs that read “State !!! Respect Our Elected Board” and “The State of NJ has overturned the local school Board Election,” some 15 protesters rallied in front of the Board of Education building on Claremont Avenue yesterday to protest the state’s hiring of Cathy Coyle to work in the district.
A former Jersey City school administrator, Coyle was mostly known and reviled in some quarters for showing up in classrooms to monitor teachers as part of a so-called “SWAT team.”
Newark and the rest of NJ:
State Sen. Nia Gill (D., Essex), who has tried to pass a bill allowing school districts to block charters within their boundaries, said Christie's administration had not chosen reviewers who would look at applications critically. 
"The process is not transparent, with no local control and very little public participation," Gill said. Charter schools "are a national movement backed by national money, and I wonder if we're allowing them to roll over us." 
Julia Sass Rubin, a parent and professor of public policy at Rutgers University, has organized rallies opposing charters through the advocacy group Save Our Schools. 
"It really bugs me, these guys with no connection to New Jersey are coming in and telling the Legislature how to educate our kids," she said. "They have a vested interest in seeing more charter schools approved. How is that not conflict of interest?" 
For decades, U.S. educational policy was largely determined locally, but since the early 2000s, decisions have increasingly been determined at the state and federal level, with nonprofits playing an increasing role, said Ross Danis, executive director of the nonprofit Newark Trust for Education, which works to improve education in that city.
 More Newark:
Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf has refused to consider returning the district to local control.
"At this time, I am not prepared to recommend that any partial withdrawal be initiated," he wrote in a July letter to Cami Anderson, superintendent of Newark schools. Cerf cited low graduation rates and troublesome percentages of students not proficient in math or language arts as reasons for his decision.
Welcome to New Jersey, where:

  • You can't raise funds for your schools locally with anything other than property taxes,
  • You have to abide by whatever mandates the state forces on you,
  • You are at the mercy of a governor who will give or take away your state funding at will,
  • Your district must support state-approved charter schools, whether your community wants them or not,
  • The names of the people who approve those charters are kept secret - probably because they aren't even from your state, and...
  • If you're a city, you'll probably never get out from under the yoke of state control.
I blame the unions... 


Anonymous said...

All this from small government Republicans. How ironic...

Lisa said...

"Cerf cited low graduation rates..."

I know this is a bit off-topic, but I keep hearing this as one of the justifications for the privatization and gutting of our public schools. I'm baffled. I've always wondered why NJ allows 16-year-olds to drop out of school if it believes a 16 year-old isn't qualified and responsible enough (even with parental consent) to drive, vote, drink, buy tobacco, or...wait for it...BUY A LIGHTER????!!!

16-year-olds can't buy a lighter in NJ, but they can drop out of school.

Things that make you go "HUH???" Am I missing something here?

Parents can take their children out of school at any time and provide an alternate (and not even comparable) education anyway. They don't need to wait until their kids are 16. Change the stupid dropout law. Problem solved.

Duke said...

Lisa, I get frustrated with Politifact, because they are so uneven. In this case, they get it right (I think):


Christie has been playing around with graduation rate numbers for a while.

Lisa said...

Duke, yes, he makes up his own facts and contorts statistics to suit his agenda. That's the political side of the issue. The fact that the state allows 16-year-olds to drop out is a policy issue, and an absurd anachronism that should be fixed, especially because it's an actual problem, Christie's distortions notwithstanding.

It's absurd on the face of it. 16-year-olds can't do anything in this society once they do drop out. They can't drive. They need special working papers and parental consent to get a job with limited hours and conditions. They can't open their own checking account. They can't enlist in the military, even with parental consent. They're not even considered responsible enough to be a camp counselor.

The fact that the state allows 16-year-old children to drop out of school, who then can't do anything but play Halo, is irresponsible and ridiculous on its own. Then to complain about graduation rates, real or fanciful, and blame the education system, is dysfunctional and stupid.

All it would take is a one character change in the state compulsory education law to change 16 to 18 to bring the law out of the 19th century. And there wouldn't be any graduation rates or statistics to distort. The issue would be off the table.

I must be missing something. I can't believe anyone's considered this and done nothing. If I'm not, WTF and why don't they??!!

Anonymous said...

We need a path for students who do not thrive in the mass-production environment that is most high schools, especially in crowded urban and quasi-urban areas. The students who do no work, wander the halls, then cause mischief when forced to go to classes they hate and/or cannot learn in NEED an alternative to dropping out, and the kids who want to learn (and their teachers) have a right not to have to put up with constant disruptions.

Not all kids need or can learn Algebra, Geometry, Chemistry, etc. Give them the opportunity (success is up to them - always) to learn SOME marketable skill. Perhaps after a few years of cart-chasing at ShopRite, some will see the light and, with skin (and money) in the game, they can learn whatever they like to move up the career ladder.

Anonymous said...

@Duke. Why do you say "you can't raise funds for your school locally with anything other than property taxes?" Newark, Camden, etc only pay ten percent of their school overhead through local property taxes.

And how else should you raise funds locally? Mask the impact by nickel and dime taxes on everything? Or local income taxes to soak your demonized one percenters? How long do you think they'd hang around?

Anonymous said...

@Lisa. I think the whole 16 year old thing is a challenge. In Finland, there it is again, kids are winnowed into career paths well before that, something you don't see mentioned much in their vaunted PR. As many as two thirds of Finnish students enter career training after their sophomore year of high school, right at that 16 year old threshold.

The question of whether disengaged 17 and 18 year olds do more harm to school classrooms than uneducated ones getting banged up on drugs and banged up period is a challenging one.

If you never dealt with a rebellious 16 year old the answer seems obvious.

Lisa said...

Anon/Anon, I suppose raising boy/girl twins to age 21 qualifies in the micro in dealing with rebellious 16 year olds, and yes, we need alternatives to college-bound (the new policy) and traditional high school programs. It's long past due we explore past and new ideas as alternatives to allowing dropping out or keeping disruptive, disengaged 17 and 18 year olds in a one-trick-pony system.

Harkening back to the 70s before our education system started sliding, NJ had what was then called Alternative Schools within traditional high schools. They were essentially junior and senior year work-study programs in which students were placed in actual jobs in the PM, and took their required core classes and a class geared towards their work-study in the AM. It was actually very successful and very popular. It was relevant, flexible, and kept many students who had been disengaged or would otherwise have dropped out on a path that actually worked for them, educated them, raised their self-esteem and confidence, and helped them grow and explore themselves within their world. It prepared students to pursue either college or a career upon graduation and offered invaluable experience towards either path. I knew many kids in the A-schools, some who went on to college, others who had jobs waiting for them upon graduation--and were prepared for them. This was also during our last awful recession and abysmal job market. The current high school "independent study" programs pale in comparison. The A-schools were essentially schools-within-schools.

However, such programs don't offer any profit potential to anyone other than the cooperating businesses that work with the schools, so perhaps that's why we don't see anyone exploring them. They were developed during a time when our society and public policy valued and was committed to quality public education; the "good old days" in education of the 60s and 70s we hear so many referring to now as our educational golden years before the fall.

Duke said...

Anon, there are local income taxes in many states. I am sick and tired of worrying about "wealth flight." IAside from Christie's prevarications about it, coddling the rich has done nothing good for the economy of the 99%.

Newark is an economic engine of the state, but can't raise taxes locally from many of the resources who use it. This is typical of many cities.

As I've documented ad nauseum here, NJ is not a high spending state. But it's reliance on property taxes have screwed the middle class.

Anonymous said...

ADuke. Well, we agree with the last sentence. I personally would like to see a flat tax enacted with no deductions and no other taxes. Make every citizen vested in examining the burden of all government costs, from foreign aid to medicaid. We'd have better citizens and a more powerful and efficient society.

Duke said...

Anon: Flat tax. Really? You LIKE paying more in taxes?


I'm sorry, I'm assuming you make $1.3 million or more. Do you?