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, January 12, 2016

Dear Reformy Bloggers: B’Bye

UPDATE: Peter Cunningham is a former Assistant Secretary of Education and Laura Waters's publisher at Education Post. He comes here to defend her in the comments below. Hilarity ensues...

I'm going to keep this short because one of my New Years resolutions is to stop engaging folks who are not serious. But I do want the following on the record before I move on:

Laura Waters is having a debate with Stephen Danley about Camden schooling. As far as I'm concerned, anything Stephen does is worth checking out, so here's Stephen's latest contribution:
First of all, there is no need to concoct a completely facetious account of what I hypothetically argue. My email is on the Rutgers website and I’m active on twitter. Why put words in my mouth then argue with a straw man? If Laura had the courtesy to actually ask me about her hospital analogy, I would have told her that communities are often fiercely protective of their hospitals, and that often the “poorer” hospital is the one serving the poorest population (the community least likely to be able to pay). In contrast to Laura’s stereotyping of me as someone only interested in “academic exercise,” I actually participated in protests in New Orleans around this very issue. After Hurricane Katrina, Charity Hospital was closed, in part because it’s business model of serving low-income residents was not considered viable in the long-term. A new research hospital was to open which focused less on this non-profitable clientele. Sound familiar? [emphasis mine]
As a matter of fact, yes. But I'm not talking about the hospital; I'm talking about Laura Waters completely mischaracterizing someone else's words.

Because this is what Waters does. She mischaracterizes the views of the dead so badly their families have to call her out on it. She omitted crucial context in her attempted takedown of a post by Matt DiCarlo about teacher quality. She tries to critique my work even after she admits she's unable to understand its statistical techniques. She attributes quotes to me I never said; she only retracted them after I called her on it.

Want the latest example of how Laura Waters will completely misrepresent what someone actually says and believes? Here's how she quoted Newark Mayor Ras Baraka:
Eric Dawson, a new blogger at The Newark Report (and host of the internet radio show Real Talk Radio) has managed in one short week to thoroughly irritate Mayor Ras Baraka. How thoroughly? The Mayor has posted a two-part vlog on YouTube that attempts to rebut Dawson’s accusations that Baraka is ineffectively managing city violence (there were 105 murders in Newark in 2015) and that Baraka is undermining school choice.

In the first clip Mayor Baraka says that “a guy named Eric Dawson...hasn’t stopped campaigning” (Dawson supported Baraka’s opponent Shavar Jeffries, who is now Director of Democrats for Education Reform) and has “tried to defame my name." Dawson, he says, "has a “personal vendetta” against him,  and is “creating damage” because  “the kids won’t be saved as long as we’re divided.” Dawson’s reporting, including this recent post in which he describes how a Baraka supporter put Abdul Muhammad in a chokehold during an anti-crime press conference, is “salacious" and  designed to “aggravate and divide the people of Newark.” Dawson's late father, Newark politician Carl Sharif, “ intones the Mayor, wouldn’t approve.”

In the second video clip, Mayor Baraka defends his Dec. 17th letter to Education Commissioner David Hespe requesting that the D.O.E. freeze all charter school expansion. (Dawson broke the story last week. The Newark City Council responded by sending its own letter to Comm. Hespe explaining the need in Newark for charter school expansion.)

Towards the beginning of the video, Baraka reads the letter in its entirety, including the passage where he says, “I am writing to request that, at this time, your Office not approve any further expansion of enrollment in these or any other Newark Charter Schools…”

Then Baraka says that it is “an outright lie that I want to close charter schools and we don’t want to expand.” 

Confused? Me too. Maybe the Mayor will clarify his stance in his next YouTube installment.
First of all, that's the entire post; I say this just so no one can accuse me of taking Waters out of context. Second, the bolding is not mine; it's Waters's. Her argument is plain: Baraka at one moment wrote that he was against charter expansion, but then claimed later he is not against expansion.

Now, notice that Waters uses an ellipses (...) at the end of Baraka's sentence. Why wouldn't she just quote the entire sentence -- just as I've done here for her?

Well, if you click on the very link in Waters's own post, you can read Baraka's entire letter. What comes after that ellipses?
I am writing to request that, at this time, your Office not approve any further expansion of enrollment in these or any other Newark Charter Schools until such time as the NPS budget shortfalls can be addressed to make certain all schools have the resources needed to deliver a high quality education to their students. I further ask that you assign a team to thoroughly examine the budget and the resources needed in NPS schools, and develop a comprehensive plan to restore essential programs and staff to support our students and their teachers. My administration is prepared to work with you to ensure that this budget assessment is completed within the next six months." [emphasis mine]
Baraka does, in fact, want a temporary halt to the expansion of charters in Newark, until such time as the damage that is being done by the state's "hold charters harmless" policies can be addressed. Baraka has proposed addressing this within six months. So he is not against charters, and he is not against eventual charter expansion; in fact, he caught some grief from Bob Braun among others for not fighting against charter expansion hard enough.

Unlike Waters, I went to Newark during the last mayoral campaign and listened to what the future mayor had to say about education during a special press conference. Over and over, he insisted he was not against charter schools; he was only against advantaging one group of students over another. He couldn't have been more clear, just as he couldn't be more clear here.

If Laura Waters doesn't understand Ras Baraka's consistent position on charter schools, that's on her, and not him.

Waters's omission of Baraka's entire quote is a cheap ploy that's offered in place of any actual argument against Baraka's policy. You don't think NPS is suffering because of charter expansion?  You don't think the situation calls for a moratorium on charter expansion? Fine -- make your case. But mischaracterizing the mayor by deliberately removing the context of his statement is just about as mendacious as it gets.

Mendacity bothers me, but I'm a fairly cynical guy so I usually expect it. Ignorance makes me grit my teeth, but it's so pervasive I'm growing somewhat immune.

No, what's really bothers me is laziness. If Laura Waters wants to debate Ras Baraka or Stephen Danley or me or anyone else, by all means, go for it. But it's just plain old lazy to twist someone's words into an argument that's easy to defeat. It's lazy to remove all nuance from someone's words and then pretend that you've caught them in a contradiction.

I suppose Peter Cunningham will send out his reformy blog swarm when I restate this, but what the hell: Laura Waters is not a serious commentator on education policy. And I just don't have the time anymore to debate people who are not serious.

So goodbye, Laura, and good luck.

ADDING: Here's the Honorable Ras Baraka in his own words:

The man's a poet and the son of a poet (a great poet); he knows his way around words pretty damn well. Maybe you disagree with him, and that's fine. But, again: if you're "confused" by his very simple words, that's not his fault -- it's yours.

ADDING: Yet another time when I had to correct Waters's characterization of my work. Scroll down to see my objections; note Waters only corrected ONE of them.

You can't have a good-faith argument with someone who does this to you. B'Bye, Laura.


Unknown said...

Admit it Jersey Jazzman: Laura Water gets way under your skin and even though you have a dozen bloggers across the state all perpetuating the fiction that our schools are doing fine and change isn't needed, she consistently and effortlessly pokes holes in all of your arguments. She's just a mom of a special education kid and the daughter of two New York City public school teachers who cares passionately about other people's kids and isn't afraid to say what needs to be said and provide the data to prove it. In any case, it's good to hear that you are going to stop arguing with her because you have more important things to do than tearing down a thoughtful, serious, deeply committed person who just happens to disagree with you. Here's to a great 2016 where truth and civility reign.

Duke said...

Peter, find one time -- ONE -- where I or, for that matter, any of the bloggers on the graphic attached to this post EVER said that New Jersey's (or for that matter, the nation's) schools "...are doing fine and change isn't needed."

ONE time, Peter. Go ahead. I dare you.

Thank you for proving EXACTLY why I am done with Waters and, for that matter, your little "swarm" of bloggers. You just put words into my mouth that I NEVER SAID. How can I possibly have a good faith argument with someone who does that?

Laura twisted or mischaracterized my words, Ras Baraka's words, Stephen Danley's words, Matt DiCarlo's words... I could go on. And you enable this. You collect millions from extremely wealthy people to promote this. This is your "better conversation."

Goodbye and good luck, Peter.

Duke said...

You know what, Peter? We're not done yet:

I want you to look at how Waters characterized Mayor Ras Baraka's sentence from that letter. I want you to look at that ellipses.

You worked for years as a spokesperson for the USDOE. You were a journalist and public relations professional. So you tell me:

If you had been working for Ras Baraka and Laura Waters posted what she did, would you think it was fair?

Answer honestly, now.

Unknown said...

All I do JJ, is push back on those who insist that reform doesn't work when it does, that charters aren't public when they are, that accountability isn't needed when it is. None of these reforms are perfect but the absence of reform is far worse. Let's try and get it right -- not retreat.

Julie Borst said...

Here's the thing. JJ has never said that reform isn't needed. Neither has any blogger that is pro-education, that I can think of. Myself included.

The problem with Laura Walters and her ilk is the nastiness that she has no problem spewing when people challenge her ideas or ask for specific proof. She gets personal. It's ugly. It's unnecessary. It smacks of someone looking for clicks.

I'm a special ed mom. I can tell you very specifically that these so-called education reforms have hurt my daughter and negatively impacted her education and she's in 11th grade. There is NOTHING about a test-driven environment that has been helpful to her. Nothing.

What I see, as a parent and an advocate, has been the abject laziness in education policy over the 15+ years. It is lazy to have everything focused on tests. It is lazy to utilize metrics that business abandoned years ago because they failed to produce the desired outcome. It's lazy to assume that anyone can actually teach. It's lazy to think actual education research and practice is not a necessary part of becoming a "good" teacher.

From where I sit, doubling down on poor policy is not doing it better.

Duke said...

I notice you didn't answer my question.

All I do is push back when people perpetuate myths. "Reform" that is often touted as "working" -- beating-the-odds charter schools, merit pay, Common Core -- almost always has more to its story than the narratives that are pushed by reformsters. The extra spending and different student populations of many "successful" charters explains much of their "success." Merit pay continues to show weak to no effects. Common Core may have had its place, but "high" standards alone don't solve anything.

Charter schools are not state actors; this has been affirmed over and over by the courts, so they are not "public" in any meaningful sense of the word. And I've never met anyone working in education who is against accountability -- but things like VAM-based teacher evaluation have been shown to be completely untenable.

You sound like Yogi Berra: "We may be lost, but we're making great time!" The "reforms" of lightly regulated charter proliferation, test-based teacher evaluation, and standardized test-centered curricula are now the "status quo." And there is scant evidence they are working. In the absence of fair and equitable school funding, the elevation of the teaching profession, and a real, sustained war against poverty and inequality, they never will.

In any case, you will never "get it right" if you continue to mischaracterize the arguments people like me make. But even if I refuse to engage someone like Waters any more, I'm still going to keep doing what I do.

I've got the facts on my side, and I'm not going away anytime soon. Deal with it, Peter.

Michael Kaminski said...

Mr. Cunningham:
I don't know you but I know people like you...the reformy type who insist, without any evidence at all, that public schools are failing and that charter schools are the answer. Jazzman, like many public education advocates, knows that many changes are needed in public education to ensure the best opportunity for all of our students to succeed. I don't think he's ever said that the public school system is fine the way it is. I'm going to guess that he'd argue that the fix is not to alleviate some of the regulations on charter schools (like our wonderful governor said yesterday) so that they can have more flexibility. No, I'm going to guess that Jazzman might suggest that the accountability that you refer to is actually needed in these precious charters. The flexibility that the Governor wants to bestow upon charters - I'm guessing that Jazzman would suggest that our public schools desperately need relief from the burden of unfunded mandate on top of unfunded mandate. You see, the problem, Mr. Cunningham, is your mislabeling of public schools as failing, the uneven playing field that you reformy types and your billionaires investors have created for charters. The words and actions of the reformy ilk like you who chronically underfund public schools (have you seen Detroit..or Newark...or Camden) are disingenuous, destructive, and downright disgraceful. Try doing something to help the public schools that the overwhelming majority of America's students depend on because your rhetoric is both transparent and tiresome.

Mitchell Robinson, Ph.D. said...

This is what Pete does--when the jg is up and he knows he can't respond without catching himself in a whopper. he just shifts gears, brings up a new point, and moves on with a flourish--always singing off with please for "civility," even as he throws major shade on his way out the door.

It's all of the bloggers who get under Pete's skin--which I find odd given his elitist background and Top 1% friends list. Why so touchy, Pete? You've got millions in seed money, a basement full of Ivy League grads to bang out your op feds and attack pieces whenever you snap your fingers...and you still let any blogger with wifi and an internet hookup send you into a tizzy.

Let's try and get it right--"better conversation."

Frustrated mom said...

I don't agree that the absence of reform is far worse than damaging reform. The current reform has done 2 things: failed to address the true problems of struggling schools and dismantled schools that were NOT struggling.
Reform has turned once thriving, rigorous, developmentally appropriate public schools into punative, developmentally innapripriate testing factories.
The battle cry driving this is "the public schools are failing!"
A more honest battle cry would have been "SOME of our public schools are failing!" a more helpful response would have been- "let's give those schools the very things the non- failing schools have."
Funding. Strong communities. Local control over cirriculum. Instead- ALL schools got pummeled with VAM, rank, sort, test, punish.
The reason parents say reform has failed is because it's ripped away once thriving schools on the one hand and failed to address the root problems on the other,
hence the anger. Wrong problems, wrong solution, wrecked schools.

Anonymous said...


Sad and predictable, but also amazing.

Mr. Cunningham's "better conversation" is little more than playground "I know you are but what am I" nonsense and assertions without robust facts to back them up.

Is this really what millions of foundation cash gets us? Jersey Jazzman doing rigorous explanation of actual facts on one side versus Mr. Cunningham saying "nu-uh" on the other?