Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Where Have All the Democrats Gone? Part I

This post is the start of a series. I don't know how many parts it will eventually be. Guess that depends on how long Democratic elected officials at the state and federal levels continue to make bone-headed moves like this...


Guest post by Susan Cauldwell Carlsson, Executive Director of Save Our Schools NJ

Image may contain: one or more people, suit, wedding and indoorThe NJ Senate Judiciary Committee, headed by Senator Nick Scutari (pictured with Senate President Steve Sweeney), conducted two very shady hearings on Governor Christie’s nominees to the State BOE. These hearings exposed how broken our legislative process is, and how power is concentrated in just a few legislators, like the Senate President. The public, rank and file legislators, and democracy are the losers in Trenton. Accountability and transparency are nearly non-existent.
On May 25th, the Judiciary Committee, upon the recommendation of the Governor, voted to remove State Board President Mark Biedron, and State Board VP Joe Fisicaro. Their replacements are the Governor’s former law partner, who has no background in public education, and a Moorestown BOE member, an ally of the Senate president. This nominee apparently did not understand that she could not keep her local board seat while serving on the State BOE! A third member, former teacher Edie Fulton, was also scheduled to be removed, but an incredibly sloppy background check on her replacement scuttled that for now. To date, no explanation has been given for their removal. We can only posit that this is retribution for these members' independent actions, that have obviously not pleased the Governor and/or Senate President.
Three SOSNJ members questioned the timing of these actions, given that the very unpopular governor has just seven months left on his term and is no friend of public education. We suggested the existing State BOE remain in place until the next Governor is seated. We also questioned why nominees are not being interviewed publicly, as has been past practice. 
All our requests were denied. Chairman Scutari twisted himself into a pretzel trying to explain why he did not need to interview nominees publicly, all under the watchful gaze of Senate President Sweeney, who just happened to be sitting on the dais for the hearing.
Last Thursday, it was deja vu all over again. This time, the Judiciary Committee voted to approve Governor Christie’s request to give five current members of the state board new 6-year terms. The Senate President again dropped into the hearing. Senator Scutari DECLINED to take public testimony and called for a vote on the nominees, even though two SOSNJ members had signed up to testify. The voting had begun and was nearly concluded when one of our members requested to be heard. Reluctantly, Senator Scutari agreed to hear us. We again questioned the timing of these appointments and requested that nominees be required to appear in public and be interviewed by the Committee.
Our testimony caused two Senators to change their vote. Unfortunately, several Judiciary Committee members had left the hearing early, and did not hear our testimony. In the wacky world of Trenton politics, members can let the committee chair know their vote on a matter if they are not present when the vote is taken, and the vote is counted and entered in to the record. We wonder if our testimony would have changed others' minds.
We thank Senators Gill, Weinberg, and Pou for listening to and considering our testimony.
Do you think State BOE members should be interviewed in public? Does the public deserve to hear the qualifications and beliefs of a board that is responsible for the education of more than one million school children? We think so. We urge the Senate Judiciary Committee to take its responsibility seriously and call on the full Senate to reject all nominees until a new Governor is seated in January 2018.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Star Ledger's #FakeNews On NJ Charters

I swore I wasn't going to do this anymore. I wasn't going to respond to irresponsible editorial boards that make grossly inaccurate claims about public and charter schools because they will never change their minds anyway. But then, this little tidbit dropped front and center on the Star Ledger's Sunday editorial page yesterday, and...




So, let's give this a go...

First, read Jersey Jazzman's piece that blows the roof off every single cockamamie claim made by the Ledger by presenting facts and figures:

  • Students in Newark and Camden charter schools are less expensive to educate because they have fewer special needs than their TPS counterparts
  • Newark and Camden charter schools enroll significantly less students who are Limited English Proficient
  • Newark and Camden charter schools employ significantly less experienced teaching staff than their TPS counterparts
  • Newark and Camden charter schools have much higher administrative costs than their TPS counterparts
  • Newark and Camden charter schools do have access to public funds as well as private, philanthropic money

But facts and figures aren't the only things the S-L gets wrong:

In Newark and Camden, where parents have fled failing district schools by the thousands, charter schools have been one of the great social successes of the past decade.

I guess that's true if you count 'success' as discriminating and segregating. The S-L has reported countless times about those thousands-deep charter waiting lists with nothing more than charter cheerleaders saying so. But this isn't surprising in the era of fake news and alternative facts. 

The truth is that in Newark and Camden, thousands of students have been forced out of their beloved neighborhood public schools, communities up-ended, and families scattered because their state-appointed superintendents have deemed them as 'failing' or simply not worth saving. Or, as in the case of Newark, which has the one-two punch of being underfunded by Christie and bleeding millions to the charters, they have had to hold fire sales. This is state-sponsored destruction of democracy, and you are paying for it.

But the Ledger consistently supports this.

What about parents who want to save their local public schools? They vote with their feet, too—by marching in protest. But they still have no say. There are no billionaires lining up to write nine-figure checks to save their schools. And in both these state-run districts, their boards of ed are powerless. In Camden, the appointed board members are nothing more than head-nodding minions of the local Democratic political machine. In Newark, the board has been reduced to 'adivsory' status, with no real power. So much for government of, by and for the people.
Yet the Democratic candidates in our governor's race are all curiously skeptical about charter schools. Each is departing from former President Barack Obama's courageous support for charters that defied the teacher's union, which is a real threat to this progress in our cities.

Maybe because they're looking at the facts that say well-funded, neighborhood public schools that are open to every student, supported by the community, and employ highly-educated, well paid teachers do, in fact, succeed? 

I've said this before and I'll say it again: President Obama, the first African American president, whom I voted for twice, did more to segregate public schools than any other president in this modern era. He completely turned his back on the core Democratic Party principles of equality and social justice. And he wasn't alone. Many Democratic leaders, from the local to national level, have stood with him in supporting state-sponsored segregation. As Diane Ravitch reports in The New Republic
The Obama years saw an epidemic of new charters, testing, school closings, and teacher firings. In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed 50 public schools in one day. Democratic charter advocates—whose ranks include the outraged [former Newark mayor, now Sen. Cory] Booker [D-NJ] and [Sen. Michael] Bennet [D-CO]—have increasingly imported “school choice” into the party’s rhetoric. Booker likes to equate “choice” with “freedom”—even though the entire idea of “choice” was created by white Southerners who were scrambling to defend segregated schools after Brown v. Board of Education.
Whether they're in it for the 'reformy' donations (Booker, Bennett, Govs. Cuomo, Brown and Malloy among many) or just political revenge as is the case with NJ Senate President Steve Sweeney vs. NJEA, far too many democrats have turned their backs on their core base of supporters and their party's founding principles. The fact that the democratic gubernatorial candidates are taking another look at charter regulations is (maybe, possibly) a sign that they are looking at the facts instead of their campaign account balance sheets.

Oh yea, and while newspapers like the Ledger and others shill for the anti-union, 'reformy' elite, this has quietly been happening all across the country:



As the saying goes, 'If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.' And then make 'em better and stronger!

Adding...

My high school alma mater, Queen of Peace, in No. Arlington, NJ announced it's closing its doors come June 30. The S-L/NJ.com posted several articles about it. It's a Catholic school, and the lack of funds and declining enrollment made it unsustainable. I was sad. I have a lot of memories of that place, both good and bad, and some very dear friends still to this day. Back then, every good Catholic who could afford it—and many who couldn't—sent their kids to Catholic school. The area was solid middle-to-upper middle class White from Scottish, Irish, Italian and Polish descent. Everybody knew everybody. 

How must it feel for those current students and parents whose lives are now completely upended? Where will they go? What will happen to friendships? To their community? What will happen to academic goals and dreams? What about the staff? Where will they go? What must it feel like to suddenly have all that ripped out from under them? 

Now ask yourself how it must feel for the mostly low-income, Black and Brown students and families in places like Newark and Camden who live with this real possibility on a daily basis; who may have experienced this not once, but several times in their academic careers? What about their connections? Their neighborhoods? Their academic goals and dreams? Their futures?

Why don't you write about that, Star Ledger? 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Public Education: Death By A Thousand Retirements

Retirement dinners are bittersweet. We say goodbye to those who have worked for decades, but we also lose those decades of experience. Last week I hosted my county education association's annual retirement dinner. These were my opening remarks:
Tonite we are celebrating almost 800 years of educational excellence. Whether bus driver, maintenance, custodian, classroom teacher, instructional aide, administrative assistant or cafeteria aide, you are part of a learning community and you contributed to the education and advancement of students. And for that, we thank you. 
Albert Einstein, one of the greatest minds who ever lived— student and eventually teacher himself—once said, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” 
In an era where educational success is measured more by what can be counted than what counts, your decades of experience can be counted, but they can never be replaced. 
So, while you all are enjoying your well-deserved retirement, your colleagues will—I’m quite sure—carry on the traditions, wisdom and experience that you passed on to them with their students. That’s what masters at their craft do. That’s what those at the highest levels of their professions do. We pass on our gifts, so they can be given to others, so that excellence can continue. 
I’m not talking about the best ways to prep students for PARCC or how to effectively collect data; I’m talking about what you learned about dealing with students of every make and model over the years. How, through all the chaos of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, testing, budget cuts, the overall attack on our profession and our professional association, you preserved your dignity as well as that of your students. I'm talking about how you took in all the changes and insanity forced on you in your long careers, synthesized it all, and gave it to your students in ways that respected them as individual learners while maintaining your dignity as highly qualified education professionals.

As I was creating tonite’s program, I was looking at your numbers. Five of you passed 30 years, and one of you reached 42 years! You have taught, not just children, but generations of children. And oh how they have changed. And while you may have had to adapt to Pokémon, technology and social media, at your core, you always found ways to touch students’ hearts like no standardized test ever could. 
As a child, I remember laying in the grass in my backyard while my mother hung clothes out to dry, staring at the clouds, and wondering what they were, where they came from, were they were going, and marveling at the different images I saw in them.

I remember lazy summer afternoons with boxes full of random stuff, recycled this, bits of that, crayons, glue, spools of thread, scraps of fabric left over from my mother's sewing, and the uninhibited joy of mashing it all together and seeing what happened. 
Life was slower, kids could be kids.

Students today don’t have that luxury. In an era where they are ‘plugged in’ from the moment they wake up 'til the moment they go to bed—including far too much of that during the school day—you kept them focused on the really important things like kindness, respect, empathy and fairness. You taught them that it’s more important to see what’s in another person’s heart than what’s on their Instagram page. You reminded them that it’s not what score you got on a test, but how much you learned along the way. You taught them how to lay in the grass and stare at the clouds because sometimes we have to just shut off our minds and feel life happening all around us. 
Those things can never be measured, but boy oh boy, they sure do count.

So, thank you for your years of experience and dedication to the most important profession on this earth, and for choosing to practice it in the state that has one of the best public education systems in the country. Your efforts have made it such...
How much longer will we continue to see educators retire with 30 or 40+ years of experience? At the rate education 'reform' is going, not much longer. Our profession can't sustain the assault. 'Reformers' have brought the 'churn' of corporate America to our ranks. Teach for Awhile America markets education as a resumé padder instead of a career. ALEC-funded politicians write bills allowing people to teach without certification. Charters pay teachers less and administrators more. And all across this country, wages are down, workloads are up, and we are continually expected to do more with less. 

Oh yea, and Betsy DeVos is Education Secretary. 

This is what 800 years of education excellence looks like. Will we ever see it again? Not if we don't stand up and fight for it. I'm fighting. Are you?
























Wednesday, May 24, 2017

#ManchesterBombing: This One's Personal

See that picture? That's my extended family and me back stage with Ariana Grande after one of her concerts. The four little girls in the front are friends of the family. More on them later. 


No, we didn't win a radio station contest. Ariana is my cousin. And what happened in Manchester is personal—but not just because we're relatives. 

I teach in a K-4 school. My students are between the ages of five and ten. Many of them love Ariana, and they know we are related, but they're little, so I get questions like, "Is Ariana Grande really your daughter?" or "Is Ariana Grande really your sister?" They ask if she will come do a concert, if I can get her autograph. You get the idea. 

Her concerts are full of starry-eyed little girls, 'tweens and teens just like some of my students; just like all the little girls in that picture. The Manchester concert was no different. They wear their computer-operated cat ears that blink on and off in sync with the music. They know the words to every song and sing them louder than I remember singing at a concert when I was young (or maybe it just seems that way because I'm older). They worship Ariana because she is a pop star with Nickelodeon roots. She's 23 but looks much younger.

Georgina Callendar and Ariana in 2015
There's a special place in hell for people who hurt children. Children like 18 year old Georgina Callendar, the first named Manchester victim. Or 8-year old Saffie-Rose Roussos, the youngest.


Saffie-Rose Roussos
















Earlier today, these young people were still among the missing...




Braces. Pimples. Are they alive? Have they lived long enough to even have their first crush let alone their first kiss? This scenario gets played out far too often: Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Syria, and many more I should include, but after a while, my mind kind of numbs out to it all. I mean the victims no disrespect; it's just 6 degrees of PTSD, I guess.

My good friend, Rosi Efthim, of the Progressive blog, Blue Jersey, posted a touching tribute to the Manchester victims, including this poem by Maggie Smith:


This is the reality from which parents in the 21st Century desperately try to shield our children. I think of my own daughter, who will be going to college in another country. The fear of 'what if' knocks at my heart's door, but I refuse to let it in. I have to be strong for her—and myself. I have to show her how to stare down fear with the biggest, bad-ass face of steel wrapped in love and warmth I can muster, because if all she knows is the "shithole" of fear, how could she ever hope to "make this place beautiful"?

Every one of the people who died made a place beautiful for someone just by the very fact of their existence. That's what we have to do. No matter how hard or how painful or how often we want to just say, 'fuck it' and throw in the towel, and give in to the fear and hatred and rage over yet another innocent life lost, we have to continue to go out and make our place beautiful for someone somehow, to show them their lives were not lived in vain, because that is how love wins.





Sunday, March 19, 2017

#Unpresidented

My blog has been quiet of late, mostly because I've been so busy working on the resistance. And so have millions of other people all over the country.

Like the majority of Americans, the day after the election I was devastated. But my brother-in-law, who is a very wise man, predicted that something good would come out of all of this. At the time, I wasn't sure what that could possibly be. I just couldn't fathom anything good rising up from the rubble of the train wreck that was the 2016 Presidential election.  

But as the weeks leading up to the inauguration passed, and reality set in, something started stirring in the wind. As soon as the Million Women's March went global, that wind became a hurricane. Since that day, there is some sort of protest on any given day in any given city around the country.

Take, for example, my own backyard: Hunterdon County, one of the reddest counties in New Jersey. Since the election, the response has truly been, as Trump would say, 'unpresidented'. People desperate for change have come pouring out of the woodwork. About a half dozen activist and grass roots organizations, including at least two Indivisibles groups, and the Progressive Hunterdon Democrats—whose first meeting drew almost 200 attendees, many of whom had never before been involved in politics—have formed and joined together to stage protest rallies and actions aimed at Donald Trump's racist policies, and Rep. Leonard Lance's far right stance on a whole host of issues. Where once the county Democratic convention would draw a small number of mostly the same people for years, today drew a standing room only crowd. My inbox has exploded with emails from groups and individuals working toward change in the upcoming elections. And my calendar is booked solid with organizing and protest events.

This is the power of the people. This is what happens when hate and fear try to usurp justice and democracy. This is how love trumps hate. 

And we're just getting started.

I am no longer fearful about the future. The majority of people in this country did not vote for Trump, and the majority of people are fighting every day to keep this great country from devolving into a dictatorship.

This is how we make America great again.








Sunday, January 29, 2017

An Easy Action To Protest #MuslimBan & Annoy #Trump

Even though Trump ordered the White House comment phone line disconnected, you can still make a phone call and register your complaint. How? Call one of his US hotels. 

Below is a list of all US Trump hotels and contact info. When you call, please remember your manners. The person answering the phone is just doing his or her job. If you've ever stayed in an even halfway decent hotel, you know that the staff are trained to be polite and courteous. And all that politeness increases in direct correlation with the price of their rooms. Trump hotels are luxurious, so expect the staff to be super nice. Don't blame them or dump on them or curse or rant and rave. Thank them for their time and wish them a nice day. Treat them how you would want to be treated. If you email, please follow the same guidelines of respect and manners.

Here's an example:

"Hi, my name is _____________. I don't know if you know this, but President Trump ordered the White House comment line to be disconnected. I wanted to let him know how I feel about the Muslim Ban, so I thought I would call and leave a message with you."

Now, most likely the person will tell you they can't take messages such as this, etc, etc. And that's fine. The point of this action is just to jam their phone lines. People are already doing this, so I'm sure word is traveling up the food chain.

After you've made your call, post on social media using these hashtags: #MuslimBan #CallTrumpHotels #EmailTrumpHotels

And of course, share this post!




 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The First Week of the 115th Congress

NJ Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman posted this on Facebook yesterday (all emphasis mine):


The week in review:




  1. Trump fires all Ambassadors and Special Envoys, ordering them out by inauguration day.
  2. House brings back the Holman rule allowing them to reduce an individual civil service, SES position, or political appointee's salary to $1, effectively firing them by amendment to any piece of legislation. We now know why they wanted names and positions of people in [the departments of] Energy and State.
  3. Senate schedules 6 simultaneous hearings on cabinet nominees and triple-books those hearings with Trump's first press conference in months and an ACA budget vote, effectively preventing any concentrated coverage or protest.
  4. House GOP expressly forbids the Congressional Budget Office from reporting or tracking ANY costs related to the repeal of the ACA.
  5. Trump continues to throw the intelligence community under the bus to protect Putin, despite the growing mountain of evidence that the Russians deliberately interfered in our election.
  6. Trump breaks a central campaign promise to make Mexico pay for the wall by asking Congress (in other words, us, the taxpayers) to pay for it.
  7. Trump threatens Toyota over a new plant that was never coming to the US nor will take jobs out of the US.
  8. House passes the REINS act, giving them veto power over any rules enacted by any federal agency or department—for example, FDA or EPA bans a drug or pesticide, Congress can overrule based on lobbyists, not science. Don't like that endangered species designation? Congress kills it.
We - progressive, liberal, libertarian and conservative - need to all wake up to what is actually happening to our beloved country.
#UnitedWeStand
COPY AND PASTE this entire post into your own status update instead of sharing. More of your friends will see it.

****

Thank you Rep. Watson Coleman! You were a fighter when you were a New Jersey Assemblywoman and we are so glad you are fighting for us in Washington.

Folks, this is not America. This is not a democracy. My country is quickly devolving into an authoritarian regime, a puppet state with Putin pulling the strings. 

But as the saying goes, "What do we do when we're under attack? We stand up. We fight back!"

Get on the phones. Call your elected officials and demand an explanation. Then, get up, get out and fight like hell!

See you in DC on the 21st.