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

Friday, February 10, 2012

Union Bashing: A Substitute For Leadership

Apparently, it's open season on teachers unions here in New Jersey. Gov. Chris Christie worked up his best imitation at outrage over an admittedly dumb but clearly off-hand and meaningless remark by the Executive Director of the NJEA:
But Christie called Giordano’s comment outrageous and said if Giordano didn’t resign, Barbara Keshishian, president of the education association, should fire him.
"I cannot express how disgusted I am by that statement by the head of the largest teachers union in our state," he said at a press conference in Westfield, "but I also have to tell you I’m not the least bit surprised because I think it so succinctly captures what their real position is."
Then the governor took a personal swipe: "As Vince drives out of the palace on State Street in his big luxury car and his $500,000 salary. I’m sure life’s really fair for him, and if Vince’s kids were in a failing school district he could afford to send them to any school in New Jersey that could help them succeed."
Yes, multi-millionaire Chris Christie - whose wife makes $500,000 a year working part-time on Wall Street, who sends his own kids to an expensive private school even though he lives in a great public school district, and who lives like this:

is just appalled at Giordano's salary. Sure.

Then ACTING Education Commissioner Chris Cerf joined in the smear-fest:
The NJEA’s position, quite explicitly, is that our African American children are doing better than many other states’ African American children.  I take great offense at this perspective.  The NJEA believes the right question is whether poor children or children of color are performing better than children within the same demographic group elsewhere.  I believe that the right question is whether we are giving every child an equal opportunity in education regardless of birth circumstances – that is, not in comparison to their demographic peers, but to all children.  
What the NJEA willfully refuses to admit is that being honest about where we can do better is not an attack on our teachers.  We have some of the best, hardest working teachers in the country.  But I have yet to meet a teacher who tells me that it is OK to allow tens of thousands of our children to fail each year.  And I have yet to meet a teacher who tells me that they’re as good as they’ll ever be and have no room for improvement.
And I had yet to meet an state education commissioner who makes nice with a teachers union when speaking at their convention then stabs them in the back mere months later - that is, until I met Cerf.

What are we to make of all this?

1) Let's get this off the table first: there is something simply galling about a couple of rich white guys running around claiming the mantle of defenders of poor, minority children against a teachers union whose members will never make anywhere close to the dough they have raked in over the years.

NJEA works to get teachers decent salaries, benefits, and workplace protections even as this governor slashes our pensions, jacks up health insurance contributions (while doing nothing to rein in costs), and holds school budgets hostage while demanding pay freezes. Yet Christie lives a live of opulence that would make Midas blush:

Governor, until the day comes when you get out of your state-funded helicopter, drag your butt down to a school, and do the work of the angels, you can spare me the piety about how you are the true champion of this state's children.

2) Every time these two take a bat to the NJEA, they always couch their words by saying how much they love teachers. Leave aside the fact that Christie has attacked teachers - not the NJEA, but teachers - over and over again. Leave aside the economic hits the teaching corps has had to take while New Jersey's millionaires get tax gifts.

What strikes me is how utterly patronizing their attitude is. Do they think teachers are so stupid that we couldn't change our leadership if we wanted to? Do they think we are incapable of demanding accountability from our unions? Do they think we are so naive as to believe we could get good executives to run the NJEA for less than six-figures?

I've said it before and taken heat for it, but I'll say it again: this is a result of straight up sexism. Christie never goes after the cops or the firefighters or even the CWA workers like he goes after teachers, and the reason is clear: he is comfortable verbally abusing women. He did it to Valerie Huttle and Loretta Weinberg and Marie Corfield without the slightest hesitation. Is it such a stretch to believe that he thinks that a profession with a majority of women is a profession that is full of bubble-heads that can be easily duped by their union?

Yes, I know what I'm saying is controversial; it's also correct.

3) It takes an serious amount of hutzpah to whine and moan about how the union is screwing up education when both Christie and Cerf have such a track record of absolute failure:
And that's only the stuff off the top of my head; add your own below.

No one should be surprised by this, especially since Chris Cerf came to town. His tenure at Edison was an educational and financial disaster. He was in New York City, working directly for both Joel Klein and Mike Bloomberg, during the entire testing scandal. And we never got a full account of his own scandal at Tweed.

The fact is that each of these "champions for poor children" was a one-man school wrecking crew even before they teamed up; together, they are a reformy force of incompetence the likes of which this state has never seen. They would be well advised to start fixing their own mistakes before trying to affix any blame to unions.

Although that really is the point of all this, isn't it?

4) As I've said before: I am getting damn sick and tired of these guys constantly bad-mouthing our kids. And don't fool yourself; that is exactly what they are doing.

Do they think kids are inoculated from their constant harping on the "failure" of our schools? Do they think the kids don't hear the constant refrain from Trenton about how much they suck?

There are amazing things happening in public schools everywhere - that includes the poorest neighborhoods of the poorest cities. Unlike Cerf's Edison schools, New Jersey public schools have actually made remarkable strides in educating children who are poor, who are minorities, and who have special needs. Much of that success comes from a policy of providing resources where needed; a policy this governor hopes to dismantle.

Cerf was apparently a teacher in a private school for a few years. I hope he did a better job of tempering criticism with praise in the classroom than he does in front of a microphone. Because every good teacher knows you have to have both.

Where are the visits to great public schools? Not for photo-ops, but to actually listen to the teachers and the principals there about what need to be done. Where is the recognition of the terrific kids doing amazing things every day in our state? Not for photo-ops, but to really listen to the children and their teachers and their parents to find out how we can replicate their success.

They aren't there. What we get instead is this:

Lots of visits to charter schools that segregate kids who are poor and who have special needs. Welcome to Chris Christie's vision of NJ's education future.

You two Chrises, take a little advice from this teacher: stop the overheated rhetoric about the NJEA, quit taking advice from people who don't know anything about schools, and start actually listening to teachers, to parents, and to the kids. You'll find very few of them care a whit about what kind of car union officials drive. You'll find the vast majority of them are doing their jobs.

It's you guys who are dropping the ball.

ADDING: Nerd alert: I'll try to get to this over the weekend, but Cerf's assertions about the NAEP are especially mendacious. If you want to see where I'm going, start with this: do we really want New Jersey to be West Virginia?


Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, a lot of low information voters and most probably NJ 101.5 listeners, are lapping up all the NJEA bashing. They love the smear campaign against the NJEA and cheer Christie on. In this present climate of hate and misinformation, fostered by the 2 Chrises and venomous right wing radio (NJ 101.5, WABC, WOR, etc. ad nauseam) the NJEA is cursed if they do and damned if they don't. The mainstream media really do not give a fair hearing to the NJEA. Christie has the megaphone and the bully pulpit, he has ready access to the media, especially the right wing media Mafia (Fox News and hate wing radio). It's not a fair fight and that's how the reformy billionaires want it. The same thing is going on in Wisconsin, Ohio and many other states. Mostly GOP governors (and a few Ds) are waging all out nuclear war against public unions. This constant smearing, demonizing and swift boating of the NJEA is horrible and despicable.

Deb said...

Here are a few more:
1. The secretive charter school evaluation committees, that were only released under duress and revealed stacked decks of pro-charter people reading the applications. Add to that the fact that the DoE keeps the actual evaluations secret - and when they do finally come out - well that relates back to the debacle in Cherry Hill.
2. The financial gutting of school district reserve funds that allowed them to save money for large projects by forcing them to spend that money out but cutting state aid in the middle of a fiscal year. (covered I believe by your school aid disaster category)
3. The lack of transparency in the way state aid is allotted - school districts used to get the formulas and numbers used to calculate every category of state aid they were being given. Now the state sends them a flat number with no explanation available.

Guido Polidori said...

Your prescient comment about the underlying (some might argue, overt) misogyny of the Christie/Acolyte (Cerf) rhetorical vendetta should be pressed for comment by members of the female political punditry. I wonder how high voting propensity women of all political self-identifications feel about this continuing side-show that poses for alleged public policy discourse?
There is a great type of meat in the salumeria that reminds me of the nutritional quality of the Christie bombast --- Mortadella...and without the pistachio nuts.

Fountain of words said...

Well done.
Cerf and his merry band Boadies (pete, and penny) are out to privatize public education in NJ. I hope somehow the parents in districts with good schools see the real agenda. The major stated motive for all the reform is the "achievement gap". Cerf and his minions can not even read the NAEP results clearly. Regardless though, The Gap focus pits group against group. To "close it", as is the oft stated intention, will outrage the parents in the wealthy districts who put in a tremendous amount of time, and treasure to keep their kids "above average". What will the parents of Franklin Lakes and Mendham think if their little Chrissy's and Emmas are "caught" by kids I the working class towns?
Cerf may win this battle but, in the end, the truth will come out.
keep up the fine work!