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

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Educational Racism of Chris Christie

Yeah, I went there. But you tell me how else to honestly describe this:
Gov. Chris Christie plans to reappoint Newark School Superintendent Cami Anderson to another term.
And if some in the city don’t like it, too bad.
During a public appearance Wednesday at a school in Beach Haven, Christie was asked whether he and Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf plan to renew Anderson’s contract, given the level of criticism from the Newark community, about the job she’s doing.
"Yes we do, and we’re going to renew it because she’s done a great job, and I don’t care about the community criticism," Christie said. "We run the school district in Newark, not them." [emphasis mine]
Understand that this isn't an isolated incident for Christie; it is all part of a pattern. I pointed this out back in March of this year:
- Many citizens of Fort Lee, NJ, were unhappy with their school superintendent's performance. The local school board pressured him to resign. The state's response?

Nothing - even though that superintendent, Steve Engravalle, was a personal favorite of both Governor Christie and NJDOE Commissioner Cerf.

- Many citizens of Perth Amboy, NJ, were unhappy with their school superintendent's performance. The local school board voted to remove her. The state's response?

Reinstate her against their will, then wait out hearing an appeal until a new school board could be elected (with the unprecedented help of tens of thousands of dollars in out-of-state money).

- Many citizens of Camden, NJ, were unhappy with their school superintendent's performance. The local school board pressured her to resign, and arranged interviews for her replacement. The state's response?

Completely take over the district and disenfranchise the board. (Keep in mind that the state had veto power over the superintendent's hiring back in 2007.)

Three different districts - three different responses from the state. Why is that, I wonder...

Fort Lee has a majority white/Asian student population, and relatively low levels of poverty. The locally-elected school board feels it made a mistake in hiring a district leader, and they get to remove him without giving up local control.

Perth Amboy has a majority Hispanic student population, and higher levels of poverty. The locally-elected school board feels it made a mistake in hiring a district leader, but they don't get to remove her. They do, however, retain local control.

Camden has a majority black/Hispanic student population and crushing levels of poverty. The locally-elected appointed school board feels it made a mistake in hiring a district leader, but they are now compelled to give up what little control over their district they had left.

In New Jersey, local control - for all its flaws - is a privilege enjoyed by communities with few students of color and little poverty.

Everyone good with this? After all, it's "for the kids"...
And then there's the double standard Christie engaged in when he personally appointed a woefully inexperienced young man to lead Camden's state-run school district. Princeton and Bridgewater have also been conducting superintendent searches; these relatively affluent districts with majority white populations, however, are allowed to have their locally elected school boards to hire leaders after a lengthy process that allows for multiple levels of community engagement:
Does anyone think the good people of Bridgewater and Princeton would put up with the governor coming into their town and forcing an uncertified, barely-experienced superintendent on them without any community input?

So why is this acceptable in Camden? What makes Camden so different from Princeton and Bridgewater that Chris Christie feels he can appoint whomever he wants to run the schools, no matter how inexperienced and ill-qualified?

Not enough evidence for you? How about a look at which districts around the state still have local control:
- 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...
And then there's the matter of which school districts Christie's NJDOE deems as "failing":
 This first figure shows the demographic composition of schools by their classification. Perhaps the most astounding feature of this graph is that priority schools are nearly 100% black and Hispanic, while reward schools have very low levels of low income, black or Hispanic students.
Ask yourself this honestly: would Chris Christie ever attempt to wrest away local control of schools in Mendham? Would he interfere in a superintendent search in Haddonfield? Would he arrogantly proclaim he doesn't care about "community criticism" from voters in Sussex or Hunterdon or Ocean counties?

Of course he wouldn't. But when it's Newark or Paterson or Camden... well, you now how it is. Folks like "them" just need to go along with the program. It's for their own good...

It's not as if the "community criticism" in Newark is limited to a few small pockets of protest:
  • The elected school advisory board cast a vote of "No Confidence" in Anderson.
  • The elected city council unanimously called for a moratorium on all of Anderson's initiatives.
  • The students themselves walked out of school in protest and marched down the street to make their grievances about inadequate funding known to their representatives.
  • The teachers have blasted Anderson's administration for secrecy and are demanding a full audit of the district's finances.
  • The parents are pursuing legal action to correct civil rights violations.
Would any superintendent in Morris County survive this level of assault from all the stakeholders in his or her district? Would Chris Christie blithely dismiss the concerns of all of these groups if they were coming from a school system in Somerset County?

One of the best ways to break down a people is to take away their right to educate their children as they -- as a community -- see fit. And substituting a consumerist notion of "choice" through charters and vouchers for real community engagement and empowerment is a cheap ploy to keep us from seeing what is really going on: Chris Christie is dismantling democracy and self-determination in communities of color, and he's doing so under the guise of "education reform."

By the way, fellow white people: when he and his acolytes have finished with the cities, do you think they will be satisfied? Do you think these reformy folks aren't going to be coming for your town's schools next?

One more thought:
"Yes we do, and we’re going to renew it because she’s done a great job, and I don’t care about the community criticism," Christie said. "We run the school district in Newark, not them." [emphasis mine]
"Them." Hmm, I seem to recall a time when Chris Christie thought the use of a pronoun like "them" told us something about attitude...
"Teachers who crowded the statehouse on Monday to try to intimidate public officials like Assemblyman Schroeder and Assemblywoman Vandervalk into not voting for pension and benefit reform. 
"And when one teacher was asked, "What are you doing here today? It's a Monday in the school year." She said, 'Oh, we got a substitute. I left a plan; it's not like they're watching videos or something.' 
"They. 'Not like they're watching videos or something.' I thought that was a really interesting part of the quote. That contraction: 'they're.' They didn't say 'the kids' then, did they? No, they only use the words 'the kids' when they want to evoke an emotional response from you which will get you to open your wallet and pay them. 
"When they're talking about protesting and fighting in Trenton, then it's 'they're.' 'They're watching videos or something.' I thought that was an interesting part of the quote. Language matters, ladies and gentlemen. Language is a window into attitude. And this isn't about the kids. So let's dispense with that portion of the argument.
For once, I heartily agree with the governor: I think Christie's use of the pronoun "them" when referring to the good people of Newark tells us all we need to know about his "attitude" toward letting "them" run their own schools.

"I don’t care about the community criticism," Christie said. "We run the school district in Newark, not them." 

ADDING: One more thing, from the article:
Mayor Cory Booker, who is expected to step down after an Oct. 16 special election for U.S. Senate, declined to comment.

ADDING MORE: Jon Pelto reminds us that this is not a problem limited to Christie or New Jersey.

1 comment:

Mrs. King's music students said...

Pause Jazzman, lots of things to think about here. First, some of the things that make Camden different than Princeton (other than demographics), are Camdens 44% HS graduation rate, 23 failing schools, teacher qualities (Camden tends to hire more experienced teachers, Princeton favors teachers who don't question authority), admin qualities, ethics, and entitlement, two parent families, and as you've mentioned many times - economy.

However, now that you've brought up the black/white thing, I think the place for it is in testing and curriculum not personnel and governance. For example, why are we only concerned with math and reading - things that white kids most often excell in, and to heck with music and sports, things that white kids often get creamed in? What's more, music and sports have been virtually removed from inner city curriculums (for THEIR own good), instead of monitored and guaranteed for THEIR own good. This is doubly true where 21st century (entrepreneurial)skills are steering outcomes and making education match REAL LIFE instead of bringing up another generation of good employees/followers. If there ever was a time to step up music and sports in inner city schools, it's now.

Among teachers/staff - traditional 20th century rules prevail - like go along to get along and being a 'good fit'. I think this attitude among mid and high level admins keeps the glass ceiling in place more than race.