As I've said all along: I don't know who is in the right here. But in this interview, board member Israel Varela makes a valid point:
School board member Israel Varela has charged Republican Gov. Chris Christie and his state education commissioner with a bigoted attack on local control over the city’s public education system, arguing that the state never overturned a hiring or firing decision except in the predominantly Hispanic community, where a majority of elected representatives voted to fire a neoconservative administrator.
“Janine Caffrey filed bogus ethics against her bosses because she was held accountable for reckless remarks about our teaching staff, unauthorized expenditures and other insubordinate actions,” said Varela. “She is an adversary of our mission to educate poor children on an equal basis as the rich suburban kids and a mole for corporations that rob taxpayers.”
Is this incendiary? You bet. But is it part of a pattern? You be the judge:“They would never do this except in a district predominantly occupied by minority residents and it is insulting,” said Varela. [emphasis mine]
- There are currently three schools districts under state control in New Jersey: Newark, Paterson, and Jersey City. We'll add Perth Amboy and Camden in for kicks and giggles. Here's a not-very-elegant look at the demographics for the state and these districts:
As you can see, these urban districts have many more minority students than the state as a whole (keep in mind my state total includes these five districts). What about students in poverty, as measured by Free Lunch/Reduced Lunch status?
Many more kids in poverty, huh? Gosh, what a shock...
- The state's resistance to giving local control back to Newark, Paterson, and Jersey City has been well-documented here and elsewhere. Newark's education system has basically been taken over by West Coast billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg and Eli Broad, and the state has gamed the oversight system to ensure the schools remain in Trenton's grasp. Paterson and Jersey City have been strung along for years, even as the current administration meddles in their affairs.
- NJDOE has a plan - that they tried to keep under wraps - to take over the Camden district and subvert local control. They want to bring in charter operators against local objections, even though the operators have a track record of failure.
- Now we see that the wishes of the local board of education in Perth Amboy are being overridden by the state. Rather than act as an honest broker between the two sides, NJDOE has actually prolonged this conflict through their inaction.
In all five cases, the state is taking away local control from districts that have large minority populations and large numbers of poor children.
Meanwhile, NJDOE Commissioner Chris Cerf admitted to Senator Loretta Weinberg that he has had a change in "philosophy" regarding the imposition of charter schools on the suburbs that make up Chris Christie's political base. He has said repeatedly he wants to lessen state regulation on "high-performing" districts. Who attends schools in these districts?
Well, the NJDOE has classified a number of schools as "Priority" or "Focus," meaning the state will come in and override local control. The state also designated several schools as "Reward" schools, meaning they are exemplary, and will earn the opportunity to avoid state-level interference. How do the demographics of these schools break down? Ask our old friend, Dr. Bruce Baker:
In New Jersey, local control of schools is a white people thing.
ADDING: Via Diane Ravitch, be careful in comments, and others: