Tom Moran, 1/5/14:
After a heartbreaking string of seven killings in Newark over the holidays, Police Director Samuel DeMaio is feeling the heat.
The city hasn’t been this rattled since the summer of 2007, when a group of college kids were lined up against a brick wall in a vacant schoolyard and executed by gang members for no reason but to prove they could do it.
The recent killings made 2013 Newark’s deadliest year in more than two decades. What worries DeMaio is that we might not have seen the worst of it yet.
"I’m going to be blunt," he says. "People are not realistic about crime."
The big mistake is expecting police to solve this on their own. DeMaio is a tough street cop, a Newark native who joined the force at age 19 and worked his way up handling drug cases, robberies, murders, the gamut. He is not about to throw up any white flags.
But he could use some help. When he talks about crime, it is with the sober perspective of a man who has spent his life on the front line and has no political ax to grind.
Ask about the breakdown of families in Newark, and you can see that DeMaio and his crew are unnerved at what they are seeing. In one of the two Christmas Day shootings, police say a 15-year-old boy shot and killed two teens, one of them a sweet-hearted 13-year-old girl who happened to be taking out the trash. A third teen was shot in the neck, but survived.
The shooter, police say, was angry because a rival teen had flirted with his pregnant girlfriend, who is 14. Where do you even begin to untangle that mess?
Police layoffs are another big problem. Thanks to budget cuts under former Mayor Cory Booker, DeMaio has only 1,038 officers, down from 1,317 in the year after the schoolyard shootings.
He used to have 250 officers assigned to a "safe city" task force. When violence erupted, buses would drop extra officers on foot patrols in the hot zones. That’s gone now.
"You can’t say having more cops would not help," he says. "That’s definitely a big part of it."
Clement Price, a professor of history at Rutgers University, says part of Newark’s challenge is that many successful African-American families have moved to the suburbs, leaving children in the city with fewer role models and connections.
"I am a child of the civil rights movement, which means I grew up at a time when I was given the navigational instincts and tools to enable me to stand on my grandparents’ shoulders, and parents’ shoulders," Price says. Many kids in Newark don’t have that, he says.
"They are coming of age at a time when jobs are leaving, housing is being imploded, neighborhoods are being devastated, and in which drugs are not only a source of income but a source of individual decline."So let's review:
- Newark is in the middle of a devastating crime wave.
- It's not the fault of the cops: we can assume that they are working as hard as they can and with the best of intentions (we can assume it because it's true). Plus, they clearly have "no political axe to grind."
- Notice, by the way, that there is no talk here about how seniority or workplace protections or civil service protections or unions are protecting "ineffective cops," leading to more murders; that would, after all, be a transparently ridiculous argument.
- What's causing crime? The breakdown of families. A lack of successful peers and role models. A culture of despair. No jobs. No decent housing. The proliferation of drugs. But not a police force full of "ineffective" cops; again, that would be a ridiculous argument.
- What's making things worse? Not enough police: "You can’t say having more cops would not help." In other words, not only would it be absurd to expect the police force to eliminate crime all by themselves; it's doubly absurd to expect them to do anything about it when their budget has been slashed.
OK, are we all clear on the argument? The explosion in crime is not the fault of the police, even though their job is to stop crime. We can't expect them to solve the problem on their own, and we shouldn't cut their budgets at a time when they are needed the most.
(You know where I'm going with this...)
Star-Ledger editorial, 9/8/13:
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono’s education plan is a giant disappointment, and presents a direct threat to the promising reforms underway in cities such as Newark and Camden.
At each turn, it seems designed to please the New Jersey Education Association, even at the expense of poor children in struggling districts. For progressive voters, this is the single biggest reason to pause before throwing support her way.
Buono is struggling in the polls and can’t raise the money she needs to change that. The NJEA brings political heft. The union is consistently one of the biggest spenders in New Jersey politics, and runs a sophisticated political operation with thousands of volunteers in statewide elections. Buono’s weak political position means she needs the union’s support. And that is the best explanation for her regressive positions.
Tom Moran, 11/18/12:
That’s the question I’d like to ask Steve Adubato Sr., the political boss who founded the Robert Treat Academy in Newark and has treated it like a doting mother nursing a newborn child ever since.
The school is a remarkable place full of respectful children in tidy uniforms who stay late during the week, then return on Saturdays for more. These kids are proving that poverty is not destiny.Star-Ledger editorial, 4/8/12:
Education reformers in Newark are having flashes of anxiety these days as the city prepares for school board elections a week from Tuesday.
The concern is that the teachers union and other defenders of the status quo could carry the day in a low-turnout election, dealing a setback to the reform movement at a critical moment.
So it is time to rally on behalf of children in this city. They are stuck in a system that is churning out an army of students who lack the tools to succeed in life. No one can dispute that.
Anderson wants to get the bad teachers out of the classrooms and improve the training of those who remain. She wants to shut down a handful of consistently low-performing schools, many of them nearly half-empty. She wants to help good charter schools expand — if they take their fair share of low performers. She wants to enroll more kids in the preschool programs.
The plan is full of common sense and recognizes that the central issue in Newark is no longer money, but how the money is spent. The political fight in Newark, unfortunately, is only partly about the children. It is also about the adults.
The teachers union is worried because Anderson has given principals the power to reject teachers they don’t want. Under that policy, 80 teachers have been removed from the classroom and assigned to lesser duties. And when Anderson closes a failing school, the teachers in that building must apply for new jobs and are put in jeopardy.
The question now is whether reformers can beat the organizational power of the status quo. For the sake of Newark’s kids, let’s hope so.
Tom Moran, 4/29/12:
This is a cautionary tale about how politics can derail school reform. Because when you try to change the way schools do business, it upsets the adults every time.
Some of that is based on old-school greed. Teachers unions, for example, generally want sturdy raises every year and no accountability. Some of it is genuine, based on skepticism about charter schools or tenure reform. Some, especially in Newark, is rooted in suspicion of outside influences.
Those forces, when combined, make for a potent defense of the status quo. And if we expect superintendents to overcome that by themselves, then reform is never going to gain momentum. They need help. [...]
It’s true that Caffrey lacks a political touch. Speaking the truth about bad teachers in her schools cost her support in the district, she realizes now. And she is a hard-charger, which scares some people.
But maybe we should all be more impatient when it comes to failing schools. Kids who drop out, or graduate with a fake degree, are doomed in today’s world. Caffrey was shaking things up for good reason.
She makes good sense when she says strict tenure is an obscenity, that good charter schools help kids, that we need to revamp teacher evaluations and give principals more power. It’s not certain all this will work, but it is certain the status quo is failing.And so here we see, writ large in all its incoherent glory, the astonishing double standard under which teachers must now labor:
- If crime goes up, don't blame the cops; but if test scores go down, blame the teachers.
- No one makes the case that the unionization of police, seniority, or work protections make crime worse; but the unionization of teachers, seniority, and workplace protections like tenure are all assumed to affect test scores, even though there is no evidence this is true.
- The police and their unions are assumed to be working in good faith in the absence of evidence to the contrary; not so teachers or their unions, who obviously put adult interests first at the expense of children.
- No one ever says there are gobs of "ineffective" or "bad" cops running amok; but it is simply assumed that there are many "bad" teachers in schools, and that they are seriously affecting both test scores and economic inequity.
- The police can't be expected to keep our cities safe when poverty, drugs, and the disintegration of the family provide the fertile ground for crime; however, a scant few charter schools that engage in economic segregation "prove" that schools can still educate children growing up in those same conditions.
- Cutting police budgets in the face of a crime wave is insane; cutting education budgets in the face of an "achievement gap" is fine, however, because money is no longer an "issue."
This is the illogic the American teacher now faces. This is the argument, in all its spectacular fatuousness, that puts the woes of urban America at the feet of teachers and their unions.
It is massively incoherent and just plain old stupid to expect teachers to close the "achievement gap" in the same environment where police cannot maintain law and order.
This is the most obvious thing in the world. Which is why Tom Moran and the Star-Ledger editorial board ignore it.
I generally don't like boycotts. If you're a teacher and you want to continue to give the Star-Ledger your hard-earned money so they can pay Tom Moran to make the case that your profession is rife with incompetence, and your union is the reason poor children don't score as well on tests, and that your pension and health benefits are too generous and need to be cut...
Well, there's no accounting for taste. But at some point, every New Jersey teacher who picks up the Ledger and reads, yet again, its attacks on our profession must consider never picking up the paper again.
Tom told me once over at Blue Jersey he wanted a "conversation" about education reform. It's clear by now he wants no such thing:
Yes, folks, that's Tom's "Perspective" section in the Sunday Ledger, featuring a trim David Tepper, billionaire reformer, squaring off against a gorilla in a red speedo wearing boxing gloves embroidered with the logo "NJEA." This is the level of "civil" conversation Tom Moran envisions: he takes cheap shots, and we teachers and our union just grin and say: "Please, sir, may I have another?"
Tom, I know you're not a businessman, but let me ask you this: is it a smart move on your part to continue to piss off every teacher in the state - the people who teach other people how to read? Do you really think it's a good idea for your newspaper, reliant on readers, to make enemies out of all of us?
Maybe you hadn't heard, Tom, but the Star-Ledger is falling on hard times:
The Pulitzer-winning broadsheet is seen as the crown jewel of Advance Publications' Jersey empire. But it still loses money as a result of the same forces wreaking havoc throughout the industry: declines in print advertising and circulation that have prompted the Ledger and other papers to shore up their digital strategies. For the six-month period that ended on September 30, total average weekday editions were down to 285,249 from 311,904 during the same period a year earlier, according to the Alliance for Audited Media. [emphasis mine]You know who has nearly 200,000 members? The NJEA. That's 200,000 professional public educators, most college-educated, many avid readers, all of whom take pride in their profession. All of whom must look at the Ledger's insipid, nattering, condescending, repetitive, teacher-bashing editorials and think: "Why should I support this crap?"
Tom, a business consultant would charge you an arm and a leg for this advice, but I'll give it to you for free:
Repeatedly attacking teachers is one of the most idiotic business decisions a newspaper could ever make.
Don't say I didn't warn you...