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

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

@BobBraunsLedger is Right About the Newark Teachers Union & One Newark

Let me start this piece by reiterating one of the primary missions of this blog: I am pro-teacher and pro-union. I believe this country was better off when we had more union membership, and I believe teachers are better positioned to advocate for themselves and their students when they form unions.

I am also sick and tired of reformy types beating up on teacher unions from a position of ignorance. I have no interest in abetting their jihad against the organizations that protect the interests of us educators.

That said: unions are staffed by human beings, and human beings are fallible. And when a teachers union makes a mistake, I think it's best for all -- including their members -- that they own up to that mistake.

So it with no small amount of discomfort that I say that Bob Braun is right:
If these students fail, if “One Newark” succeeds and, as Booker has hoped, Newark becomes the charter capital of the state, teachers–far more than students–will be the victims. Kiss tenure, bargaining, grievance procedures–kiss it all good-bye.
True, those who oppose “One Newark” have to be realistic. Once the ministers failed to live up both to their own principles and the sentiments they expressed in last spring’s letter–once the unions failed to back the boycott–once parents, frightened and overburdened simply by the struggle to survive in one of the New Jersey’s ignored cities, chose to send their children to schools–once the media turned the other way–once all of that happened, Anderson could laugh at her opponents, accept her new three-year contract, and move ahead with her plan. Even Mayor Ras Baraka could fume and rage but it hasn’t made a difference at all.
It's true: the Newark Teachers Union had their chance to fight back against One Newark. They passed on that battle when it mattered; sadly, now it's too late.

A recap: One Newark is the plan put forward by State Superintendent Cami Anderson to radically remake the Newark School District. One Newark "renews" schools deemed "failing" by the administration, subjecting teachers to employment consequences that include termination. It also turns over "failing" schools to charter operators, even though there's little evidence to support this strategy.

NPS's definition of "failing" is arbitrary and capricious: it has far more to do with the student population of the schools than the effectiveness of their staffs. Bruce Baker, Joseph Oluwole and I wrote a series of briefs -- see here, here, and here -- that explore in detail the racially biased consequences of One Newark. I also wrote a brief that shows that NPS is giving biased information to parents and families about the actual performance of Newark public and charter schools.

Some have taken umbrage with me for calling One Newark "racist," but the truth is the plan disparately impacts both students and teachers of color. If One Newark isn't a form of institutional racism, that term has no practical meaning.

The briefs we wrote had enough credibility among some political leaders that I was asked to present the findings to both the Legislative Black Caucus and the Joint Committee on the Public Schools; I am very grateful to both Senator Ronald Rice and Assemblywoman Mila Jasey for the opportunity.

I know the NTU is well aware of these reports: their national parent organization, the AFT, referenced them in a full-page ad taken out in the Star-Ledger. I have personally spoken with several members of the NTU's leadership about the consequences of One Newark for their staff. And I fully agree with Joe DeGrosso, the president of the NTU: going on strike now would be a public relations and a legal disaster.

But that doesn't mean the union handled this the correct way.

The time to challenge One Newark was this past winter, when we released our reports. I'm no lawyer, but going to court to request an injunction seems to me to be a no-brainer: at the very least, it would have called more attention to the problems in the plan early on, and may have forced Anderson and her staff to work with the union to craft a solution that would acquiesce more to the desires of Newark's parents.

DelGrosso told me the NTU has 62 tenure cases pending. That should not be diminished: the tenure process is an important battlefront in the fight to protect due process for Newark's teachers, and I give Del Grosso credit for keeping his organization running smoothly enough to fight these fights.

But let's be clear: tenure cases won't do a thing to stop One Newark. In fact, at this point, it looks like nothing will stop One Newark. The best the families of city can hope for is that the damage isn't so bad after Anderson and her enabler, Chris Christie, inevitably leave their posts that the district isn't behind repair.

Again, I won't question the motivations behind the NTU's strategy; I'll merely point out that they got it wrong. They should have fought this months ago. Now, the only opponents of "One Newark" left to carry on the fight are the students and the parents.

I would ask every other teachers union in the state and in the nation to take this as a cautionary tale. Who would you rather be: Newark or Chicago? Who has the better strategy: Joe Del Grosso, or Karen Lewis?

I ask this in a spirit of constructive criticism and respect for the leadership of NTU. Because sometimes your best friends are your most honest critics.

This blog strongly supports the Newark Teachers Union, the American Federation of Teachers, and AFT-NJ.

ADDING: These are the stakes involved:

One Newark is more than illogical, environmentally unfriendly, racist, and undemocratic.

It's immoral.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your framework is wrong -- the Karen Lewis represents something different than Joe Del Grosso. Lewis ended the Chicago teachers strike just as it could have gained support for a wider political struggle of the working class in Chicago. The result was 50 schools closed, a longer school day, tests based on student test scores. The connection is the unions' put their support and faith in the Democrat Party (no alternative to the Republicans from Obama's education policies to his wars) ahead of the defense of their members and all workers social rights. They will not fight the root problem of the profit system but want a seat at that table. Workers need to organize to unite all workers politically independent for a workers government. Good reading: http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/09/09/schl-s09.html