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, September 27, 2010

Throwing Newark's Children in the Front of the Bus

Laura, Laura, Laura...
But ed reformers are nothing if not hip, and they are beginning to understand that change won’t happen without a “Rosa Parks moment,” a widespread, grassroots, community-driven demand for a paradigm shift in our poorest neighborhoods. You can practically hear Pete Seeger hollering, “Come on up to the front of the bus, I’ll be sitting right there!”

Well, we need more than a folksinger.

Isn’t there a sense in which those who bristle at reform initiatives are telling Rosa Parks to stay in the back of the bus? Where else are Newark’s schoolchildren sitting but right there? Aren’t those who defend the status quo in chronically failing districts like Newark advocating for maintaining the current segregated and unequal paradigm?
I continue to admire Laura's genuine commitment to the kids this state and this nation have left behind. But sorry - you are offering a completely false choice.

No one thinks the status quo for our urban students is at all acceptable. Everyone knows that Newark and Camden and Trenton and Passaic have got to change. But let's be very clear about what's happening here:

A multi-billionaire is coming in at the cost of a small part of his fortune and sprinkling some seed money around. For this, he gets to set the agenda for education by allying himself with powerful politicians who have demonstrated time and again their primary objective is to slash teacher compensation and consolidate their own power.

The charter school movement they all espouse already has powerful, wealthy patrons who "just smell the money" that will flow their way when these schools are established. It doesn't matter if the charters themselves haven't been proven to work; what matters is that piles of money will flow to them while they cut teacher pay, destroy civil service protections, end collective bargaining, and demean the teaching profession.

Further, these same reformers will put in place a system of teacher evaluation that every reputable expert in the field admits is deeply flawed.

Braun, if fact, gets this whole thing exactly right: beating up teachers is a distraction from the fact that we have a rigged system that makes wealth flow to the rich and away from the working- and middle-classes.

The real alternative for our children, Laura, is to give poor kids what rich kids already have: real economic opportunities for their parents, safe neighborhoods, solid public infrastructure, high-quality health care, and great schools staffed by well-paid, well-regarded faculty.

This will cost money - REAL money. $100 million is nothing compared to what we have to invest in our kids. But as long as we continue to allow people like Chris Christie to set the agenda, the interests of the rich will always be served first, and the poor will be thrown crumbs that look like KIPP schools.

Rosa Parks did not settle for a jitney that ran on a different route. She got on the same bus that white people took. She demanded equality, not gimmicks. So should we.

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