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

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Local Control of Schools: It's a White People Thing

Longtime readers know I've been chronicling the sordid tale of Perth Amboy's schools for the past year. Superintendent Janine Caffrey, the Queen of Tenure, has been waging a public war through the press with her school board. For her part, Caffrey has leveled ethics charges against members of the board. All this has taken place against a backdrop of corporate reforminess and a nasty mayoral election.

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.” 
“They would never do this except in a district predominantly occupied by minority residents and it is insulting,” said Varela. [emphasis mine]
Is this incendiary? You bet. But is it part of a pattern? You be the judge:

- 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:
Let's state this plainly: if you are a school with a large poor or minority student population, the state wants to control you. If, however, your district is primarily white and non-poor, the state says you can govern yourself.

In New Jersey, local control of schools is a white people thing.

ADDING: Via Diane Ravitch, be careful in comments, and others:
"KJ" didn't tell us that his city of Sacramento, like the towns of Trumbull, Fairfield, Easton, Stratford and Westport, has an elected Board of Education. When he and his so-called `reformers' start demanding an appointed board in Trumbull and Fairfield, then I will be willing to listen to what he has to say, even if his advice comes long-distance.
Maybe "KJ" and his `reformers' can explain why the city of New Haven, which has an appointed board, has more failing schools than Bridgeport.
This is true, despite the presence on their appointed Board of Education of the former director of CONNCAN, the Connecticut leader of takeover policies.
I have only one final piece of advice for `KJ', don't come into my house and mess with my right to vote!
John Bagley is an elected member of the Bridgeport Board of Education. In an 11-year NBA career, he played for the Cleveland Cavaliers, the New Jersey Nets and the Boston Celtics.
Hee, hee...


be careful said...

In CT too if it makes you feel better. Michelle Rhee just send her hubby to Bridgeport CT to convince residents to give up their democratic rights to elect a board and turn it over to the mayor. Read this letter where an elected BOE member, a former NBA star, tells KJ to go home:


Anonymous said...

if you are a school with a large poor or minority student population, the state wants to control you. If, however, your district is primarily white and non-poor, the state says you can govern yourself.

I would add the words (for now) before the last four words. Once the collective allows the poor minorities to go, it will just be the poor. Then, the slipping middle class will be the new poor. And so it will go, ad infinitum.

ad77 said...

Jazzman - Please update us on the RAC's because right now no one knows anything - including the people who work for the RACs. There is contradictory information, there is bad information, and there is no information out there. The illustrious commissioner of Education has been very evasive regarding the RACs and the federal Title 1 dollars. Also, if you look on the DOE website, they claim to have all the Priority and Focus schools listed. Not true. The list is missing schools and listing schools that should be of priority status. Also, what is the formula for these categories as the "man behind the curtain" has failed to explain that too. Please help us little people understand this stuff - as we are the ones who are on the front line. I don't have to like it but I do need to understand it. We have schools to run and students to teach!

Duke said...

ad77: I know what you know. The RAC plan has been secretive from the start; I have no idea what's happening. Will try to look into it.

Horace: I agree, that's the plan.

bc, added a link in the post. It's a national epidemic.

Thx for reading everyone.

TeachersNotGIvingUp2012 said...

Speaking of Perth Amboy...didn't the 45 days that Cerf had to accept, reject or modify the September 12, 2012 Court's ruling regarding the PA Board of Ed putting the superintendent on paid administrative leave pass yesterday? Did you see any action of this? What happens if the deadline passed and nothing was done?

Chris said...

It's true that the intrusions on local control are much more severe in poor and minority districts, but it is not true that white, non-poor districts have genuine local control. State legislators in every state, coerced by the federal government, have imposed high-stakes-testing-driven education on every school district, whether the districts want it or not.

Duke said...

Chris your point is well-taken.