Braun Crosses the Line

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During the Newark mayoral election, Bob Braun, former columnist for the Star-Ledger and currently N.J.’s most prominent anti-reform blogger, was candidate Ras Baraka’s biggest booster. But now Braun is outraged that Mayor Baraka is refusing to support a boycott of the city schools.

It’s hard to think of a less civic-minded stance: the leader of N.J.’s largest city urging parents to unlawfully keep their children home from school. To his credit, Baraka isn’t listening and says that he is monitoring the (rocky) implementation of Superintendent Cami Anderson’s One Newark plan, which creates a universal enrollment registration for Newark’s charter and traditional schools. In other words, Baraka is acting like a mayor.

But this week Braun wrote,

Hey, Ras–remember that video that Jeffries [Baraka’s opponent in the mayoral campaign] thought would sink you? The one in which you faced down the gang leaders on a cold winter night? You looked like a leader then, big time. Angry but righteous.
That’s what you need to do and to be now. Righteous and angry.
Face down Christie’s gangbangers before they do even more harm to the children of Newark.

That video, by the way, was first picked up by the Daily Beast and described thus:

In it, Baraka indicates that whites are the “enemies” of blacks and suggests “We got to plan to remove them and then we got to seize power.” He was apparently addressing gang-affiliated teenagers and trying to impart a message of black empowerment, but even in context the language is extremely inflammatory.

Now Braun is the one who’s inflammatory (not to mention sexist: in a subsequent post called “Boycott the Cruel One Newark Plan” he labels Cami Anderson as “frigid,” surely not an adjective applied to men). More importantly, he exposes his true intentions, which have nothing to do with children and effective schools and everything to do with promoting a political agenda infused with paranoid Ravichy fantasies about “corporatization” and greedy hedge-fund managers.

Kids belong in school. Braun would rather that they stay home in order to boost his personal agenda. Talk about outrageous.

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19 Comments

  • kallikak, August 29, 2014 @ 8:22 pm Reply

    Where's YOUR line, Laura?

    “…paranoid Ravichy fantasies…”

    You mean like Bill Gates spending $200 million to 'buy' the CCSS????

  • StateAidGuy, August 31, 2014 @ 12:34 am Reply

    Kallikak,

    It's legitimate to argue that rich backers of education reform are misguided. It's legitimate to argue that the rich wield undue influence over education policy.

    But when anti-education reform person and organizations start to accuse all rich people, including Bill Gates, of only supporting education reform (i.e., “investing”0 so they can personally profit you cross into crazy town. Why can't someone support charters for idealistic reasons?

    You likewise distort the education reform issue when you focus on only rich people who support charter schools, and forget that many parents and students, elected officials, and policy analysts also support charters.

  • kallikak, August 31, 2014 @ 10:04 pm Reply

    Many of the parents and students who support charters do so because their options in conventional public schools are inferior and/or shrinking due to the conscious actions of (typically) state education officials or their local minions.

    There's a big difference between a free-will choice and one more-accurately deemed a default.

    As for NJ elected officials and their understanding of public education, don't go there.

    In case you hadn't heard, money monopolizes the conversation in America, so focusing upon rich people and their influence on public education is entirely appropriate. I have no idea as to Bill Gates' true motivation re: CCSS. I just know he owns 'em.

    I've got my own ideas regarding education, and they may be better than Gates'. Anybody care to lend me $200 million so i can sit at the grown-ups' table?

  • Doublezed, September 1, 2014 @ 12:16 pm Reply

    I think kallikak is missing the argument on a few points. First, we all agree educational outcomes in Newark and Camden, as well as other poor cities is terrible. The solution hasn't been money – there is more per pupil funding here than virtually anywhere in America. Charters are not an answer in and of themselves, but the ones who are well managed demonstrate that these students can be remarkably successful. So we should try to understand why they are working when so much is failing.

    As for money, the dollars of influence that unions wield far dwarfs all other spending by all other groups. So yes, someone is always trying to influence education. Rich donors are trying to make a change with philanthropic investments. There is no corporate conspiracy, there is no personal end game. No one complains like this when these people make donations help medical research, poverty, food banks, etc. but here it is a conspiracy? You can disagree with the programs but please don't smear the motives.

    Lastly, in response to your comment on tenure on August 8th – yes it can have that great of an impact. Poor teachers can't been fired but principals and superintendents know how to move them out of better schools and they disproportionately wind up poor economic areas. But this is a two front war, because only teachers are the solution so while ending tenure we need to find a way to reward and elevate the stars and properly develop young talent.

  • kallikak, September 1, 2014 @ 1:40 pm Reply

    I'm not missing anything.

    Educational outcomes are terrible in Newark and Camden because social outcomes are even worse. Those two cities have been abandoned to their fates by the collective actions of the state and federal governments over the last fifty years. Putting money into schools without stabilizing the social fabric of the community is likely a waste.

    Successful charters have been (rightfully) accused of cherry-picking their student bodies. The real test of a charter is to absorb the entire student roster of the nearest “failing” public school. Has anyone ever done that?

    Union influence is increasingly concentrated in a dwindling number of states (including NJ). It has largely been supplanted by the kind of focused big-money spending that seeks to influence both federal rules and those in right-to-work states. To say this tactic has not paid off handsomely is to ignore reality.

    For example, can you seriously argue that PARCC testing yields a substantive benefit to anybody other than Pearson, LLC and vendors of necessary hardware and bandwith (and, of course, Microsoft)?

    I agree there is no corporate conspiracy: corporations and the wealthy openly spend money to gain access and advantage. Why would anyone expect them to do otherwise? The fruits of their spending can be seen (for those not in denial)in the growing gaps between corporate profits and workers' wages and in the chasm separating the 1% from the rest of us.

    As for “elevating the stars”, when will people recognize we need to elevate the daily practice of ALL teachers? Wall Street-type incentive systems will induce knowledge-hoarding (just as they did successful scheming on the Street) to the detriment of the system as a whole.

    More importantly, an Eastern Airlines (“We earn our wings every day.”) protocol for job security—or lack thereof—is the best way* I know to kill the attraction of teaching as a stable, fairly-paid middle-class career path for young people.

    But then the destruction of the middle class—and its greatest enabler, the unions—has been the agenda all along.

    The countervailing force to self-serving corporate spending is not union spending but the votes of an informed public that fully understands its own self-interest.

    Stay tuned on that one.

    *along with sharp reductions in pensions

  • Doublezed, September 1, 2014 @ 8:59 pm Reply

    Again, your facts are incorrect on a number of points. The KIPP schools, for example, do not cherry pick and have never pushed out a student, yet they get the same educational outcomes as well-off suburbs. They have proved that social fabric does not determine outcomes. So don't presume it doesn't exist, go visit one of their TEAM schools in Newark or the new one in Camden.

    We do not have the luxury to fix the social fabric first, since no one has yet been able to do it. I actually think the most controllable way to address that fabric is to change the world for these kids. Since this is demonstrated as working, then learn about it and figure out how it can be replicated.

    Teacher union influence has not waned in any location and they remain the most powerful force in local politics in America. The challenge is that the work rules they stand by make it virtually impossible to differentiate between quality and failing teachers. Most of my family teaches in public schools and they would appreciate getting rid of the laggards, being recognized and rewarded for superior work, and elevating the professionalism of their world.

    Lastly, show me where any philanthropist makes money supporting ed reform. Just one example. Then look at the immense dollars invested to try to give at risk kids a better life. That's usually something we admire.

    This is a complex issue but I dislike when people make statements like fixing the fabric first, or no charters do it properly, or invoke corporate conspiracies where they do not exist. The present situation is horribly broken and we should follow models that work.

  • kallikak, September 1, 2014 @ 10:26 pm Reply

    My facts are spot on. KIPP schools use entrance lotteries among those who apply. They do not wholesale convert existing public school student populations to their own.

    Selection among those motivated to apply IS cherry-picking. Social fabric DOES determine outcomes. Research has consistently shown that reinforcement of learning at home is a crucial determinant of academic achievement (more important than teacher quality).

    So if we want good outcomes for everybody, radical changes are necessary on the home front. Too bad folks like you view that as a 'luxury' we can't afford.

    If your family actually does teach in NJ public schools, they might want to review the state Constitution which mandates a 'thorough and efficient system of free public schools' for all students, including those they deem 'laggards'.

    As for “philanthropists” making money from ed “reform”, look no further than Paul Singer who has parlayed fund-raising for Chris Christie and his Republican cronies into a very lucrative contract to manage NJ's public pension fund assets.

    Oh, yes, he's a big booster of charter schools, too, along with his fellow hedgie (and pension manager) Dan Loeb.

    Sorry, but reality bites.

  • StateAidGuy, September 2, 2014 @ 4:06 pm Reply

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • StateAidGuy, September 2, 2014 @ 4:11 pm Reply

    Kallikak,

    Charter schools promise students a longer school day, a longer school year, a stricter discipline policy, and a tougher curriculum. How could anyone expect them possibly to have the same kind of students as other schools when the students opting into them are ones who are volunteering to do a lot more work?

    The point of charter schools isn't to educate every single child in a city; the point is to educate the more motivated ones who are willing to accept an extra challenge to beat the odds and succeed in college.

    And yet, when charters do things to simplify their admissions processes and expand to serve more students, you and affiliated groups still oppose that too.

    You and other anti-charter people should just admit that you believe that since we can't help all kids, we should help none of them.

    You use poverty as a way of distracting from the problems that exist in schools themselves. You think that since poverty is a bigger factor in school failure than schools themselves that we should ignore the problems of the schools. You think that since low-incomes are more harmful to kids than tenure is, that tenure is not a problem. You don't understand that the government can't legislate an end to poverty.

    Shorter Kallikak,
    “A cannot be bad because B is worse.”

    If you want a seat at the table but don't have $200 million to give away there is still a way for your to have influence. It's called politics. Get elected.

  • kallikak, September 2, 2014 @ 6:39 pm Reply

    I have been elected. Three times.

    Who voted for Broad, Gates, Singer and Loeb??? Shouldn't they have to run too, or is public policy just another commodity to be auctioned to the highest bidder?

    P.S. I am not “affiliated” with any anti-charter group. I am a believer, however, in Albert Shanker's vision for charter schools enunciated some years ago.

    P.P.S. You need to get straight with ZZ: your comments above are the textbook definition of “skimming”.
    Do you care about the students left behind in the now-eviscerated conventional public schools? Do you think their performance may be impacted by the disappearance of their more-motivated former classmates?

  • Doublezed, September 4, 2014 @ 2:14 am Reply

    Boy, you both are wrong with the facts, at least for KIPP. Yes, until One Newark KIPP had to do the lottery but they bent over backwards with employees attending every church, social setting, school and any other place to get parents to sign up. The goal is NOT to get the super motivated, the goal is to get a normal distribution of the city's children and prove you still can succeed. All of the metrics of students coming in look like the rest of the system, including percentages of special needs kids. They have succeeded repeatedly using the model SAG outlines.

    I care about students in the now-eviscerated public schools (although its hard to be eviscerated losing 10% of your kids) but they didn't work before. Now 10% of the kids are outperforming. That can't be bad. You now have a model of what it takes to succeed. We should celebrate and emulate it.

    Last year in Camden there were maybe 3 kids who graduated from HS college ready. It has the highest per pupil reimbursement in the country. Nothing has worked. Why wouldn't you want wholesale change to see if it works. The old system had all of the time and freedom to make it work.

    I did not deny your two arguments on social fabric and the state constitution. I strongly agree. Nothing would be better than changing the social fabric but I've seen nothing that broadly works. Please suggest something. However, I do know properly educating our children is a proven and effective model within our current spending, so I certainly support it. On the constitution, my relatives and I agree with you! But the public schools have denied it to children up to this point. They are violating the constitution – so what is a better solution?

    Public policy has always been held up to the highest bidder, unfortunately. Teachers union dues in NJ dwarfed all other contributions by at least 10 times. Don't you think they have impacted policy by being the largest contributor to every local election. So given that's how it works, and they have influenced it a long time, I'm open to alternative influences where the only payback is student outcomes.

    Lastly, while nothing in NJ politics surprises me, NJ makes it very difficult to do pay-for-play. That said, if Singer got through that the retirees of NJ could be in a lot worse hands to build their retirement nest egg. Also, he only manages a small portion and it had nothing to do with any charter investments.

    Go visit a KIPP school. Ask these questions. Review the alternatives. I agree with your goals of great education for all children. We disagree with the tactics.

  • kallikak, September 4, 2014 @ 5:02 am Reply

    Stop defending the indefensible. If charters are not selective, they should simply absorb the entire student bodies of existing public schools. What could be simpler? No lotteries, special registrations, community outreach etc. Just take 'em all.

    Has anyone ever done this in New Jersey?

    Understand me: I'm not saying charters do a bad job, but if we could magically restrict the enrollment of most public schools to motivated students with engaged parents, I think you'd see a dramatic uptick in average academic performance. Also, the below-average representation of classified students in charter schools is quite significant as to both lower costs and diversion of focus relative to neighboring public schools.

    As for alternatives, we're talking about districts controlled by the state. The state Constitution provides the short answer to the question of failing schools: fix 'em!

    Finally, you need to do some reading on Mr. Singer. He was and is a donor to the RGA (now headed by Christie) and other national Republican funding channels. These lie outside the purview of NJ pay-to-play rules, so his appointment as a pension fund manager cannot be challenged on those grounds.

    P.S. Speaking as someone with actual experience as a locally-elected public official, your comment regarding teachers' union influence on local elections is hogwash. If that's your justification* for allowing unelected but wealthy individuals to dictate public education policy, you really need to look elsewhere.

    *I believe the psycho-babble term-of-art is 'shadow projection'

  • kallikak, September 4, 2014 @ 1:26 pm Reply

    Recommended reading for charter school boosters:

    http://www.speno2014.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/SPENO-HQ.pdf

  • Doublezed, September 5, 2014 @ 8:32 am Reply

    I don't believe you are really listening to what I am saying. No one wants lotteries and the back-assward way this is done. They would take them all if they were allowed to. However, every point you made on selection is incorrect for the KIPP schools in Newark and a number of other high performing charters. Rather than shoot from the hip I ask you to look into KIPP's TEAM Schools in Newark and see that its being done.

    As for your next point, yes NJ finally is trying a full absorption of a city in Camden. Starting this year and over the next few years the entire city is being run where all children will be educated by high performing school management enterprises. It will be the perfect lab for your concerns. Given the old model only produced three children who were college ready at graduation next year, it seemed like it was worth making a change.

    You have criticized everything but proposed a solution for nothing. Before wealthy people and passionate, talented young innovators got involved the system was not working for children. Now we have tangible evidence than these kids can be educated. It doesn't mean other problems should not be addressed, but that can't be an excuse for not making these changes. I completely support ensuring all charters taking their fair distribution of all children. There is no perfect solution and the good organizations constantly tear apart what they are not doing well and seek to improve it. The state constitution is a lovely document, but the current system has not fixed failing schools and doesn't have the first inkling how to.

  • kallikak, September 5, 2014 @ 1:16 pm Reply

    You really need to read the report I cited above to see what happens when 'full absorption' is implemented. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, politicians used Naomi Klein's 'Shock Doctrine' to remake New Orleans' schools in the manner you advocate. The district has been turned into a hothouse for education entrepreneurs with extremely uneven results, loss of central control and escalating costs.

    The list of schools and their letter grades is especially interesting. Charter performance (from a host of operators—each with its own governing board) is all over the lot, ranging from 'A' to 'F' (please note the relatively low grades for KIPP schools).

    While overall student achievement as measured by test scores has improved in New Orleans, the absolute level of scores remains well below that of the rest of the state. Is this the 'solution' you are challenging me to replicate?

    What accounts for this continuing under-performance? Probably because post-Katrina New Orleans is just as dysfunctional socially as its pre-storm predecessor.

    All of which begs the real question: why aren't you boosting philanthropy that actually improves the lives of all Newark residents? Is that too hard a challenge for your well-heeled Masters of the Universe?

  • Doublezed, September 5, 2014 @ 3:28 pm Reply

    First, I don't know why you have repeatedly been nasty in your comments. I'm trying to engage you in a practical discussion. There is a lot of philanthropy in Newark and many people do it. There has been a focus on schools as being the most tangible and longest-lived way to make an impact.

    Second, New Orleans is a long way to being done but I admire what is trying to be done. There is still a lot of legacy push back. I look at it in a couple of ways.
    – There has been substantial improvement off of a very low base. That's something that hadn't happened in decades. Yes, I advocate for programs that improve outcomes from where they were before.
    – It is transparent and dialogue is open to focus on improvement. When schools are not performing then management is changed or the school is closed. When is the last time that a failing school in NJ was closed for not properly serving its children?
    – The mission is not to stop here but as you know it is a long journey. The children who started in kindergarten do much better than the group that got a better environment starting in, say, seventh grade.

    Lastly, I think you will find a very high correlation in school performance and the percentage of free and reduced lunch students. The grades measure absolute outcomes, as they should, not improvement. So while many of these students are doing substantially better the collective schools have not gotten then up to the levels in NJ and other states.

    So I challenge you (constructively) to come up with a better solution for children. If you think it is all social services focus, then what yields at better outcome?

    And please, stop with the snarky MOTU and other dismissals of people donating time and money to the schools. I don't think anyone should he dismissed because of their economic or social status if they can contribute something good. Its too important of a topic.

  • kallikak, September 6, 2014 @ 1:06 am Reply

    Snarky? Do you realize that the typical member of your pantheon of heroes is paying a lower rate of taxes on his/her mega-income than the janitor at your local charter school?

    In NJ, who actually pays for public schools? Why it's the little people, who—on paper at least—are supposed to have a say in how their schools are run through the workings of their local school boards. My constituents (all 26,000 of 'em) have yet to yield their sovereignty to Bill Gates or Paul Singer. Why is it that folks in Newark, Camden and Paterson can't exercise the same authority over their own affairs? You do know that failing schools in NJ are almost all in districts run by the state?

    You are looking at New Orleans through rose-colored glasses. A more objective read of the Tulane study I cited above reflects a district literally out of control with escalating expenses and extremely uneven and relatively poor academic results from school to school. This is a model for NJ?

    You want a better solution for children? Start by giving their parents some hope for the future via job opportunities at decent wages. Every place you cite as in need of reform suffers from economic desperation. The real issue of the day is economic inequality, not the educational variety. Good schools go with economically sound communities.

    Paul Krugman is leaving Princeton to work on issues of income inequality which he views as the most important facing us today.

    Dr. K is on to something. Real reform can only happen when core issues of inequality are addressed and corrected. There are ways to do this, but they will not have the support of well-heeled education 'reformers'.

  • Doublezed, September 6, 2014 @ 1:38 am Reply

    Ok, you win. I will go form a ton of great jobs for the people in Newark. But wait, they can't do those jobs because they've been poorly educated. We could just pay them $20 an hour to sweep streets because that would be economically sustainable.

    Good luck. You deal in a profound unreality and likely will accomplish nothing sustainable but I can't convince you otherwise. You like to hear yourself talk and bleed, but you don't really have a sustainable plan that changes anything.

    As for Dr. K, he was brilliant in his field but now its just seems like he rants. He hasn't provided a sensible solution in years.

    Good luck. I admire your goals. I think they are the same but we are just going to have to get there different ways. I just wish there was a lot less hating going on.

  • kallikak, September 6, 2014 @ 5:15 am Reply

    Stop acting so put upon. I don't hate anybody. I just don't like to see the people's business hijacked by those whose only qualification is the wealth necessary to buy influence.

    Dr. K called the turn five years ago regarding easing vs. austerity. Yesterday, the Europeans grudgingly acknowledged he was right. Too bad—for them and us—they ran themselves into the ground before they did

    I don't need or want your gratuitous good wishes. More importantly, I don't do 'faith-based initiatives' so today's school 'reform' as dictated by a handful of oligarchs* will never be my goal.

    That is today's profound reality. Someday—soon, I can only hope—you and others like you will realize how you have been used by these people.

    An epiphany of that magnitude might even yield some productive change. I can't wait for the day.

    *who have never had a problem exporting the kinds of jobs Newarkers could fill if such actions fattened the bottom line

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