Mark Weber (aka Jersey Jazzman) loves to write about low-income students of color in New Jersey and how their academic trajectory is hurt by efforts for those he calls “reformies.” For instance, he writes that the growth of public charter schools, which offer choices to families who can’t afford to move to better districts, is a scheme by corporate privatizers who “whiten” the teacher profession (he’s wrong), that charters cherry-pick top students (he’s wrong), cause segregation (he’s wrong) and siphon money from “real” districts (he’s wrong). He also writes about how accountability hurts impoverished students (he’s wrong) and what a blessing Gov. Phil Murphy’s allegiance to NJEA is to equity (he’s wrong), maybe in part because NJEA funds all his research.
But he’s the expert, a student of Rutgers’ Bruce Baker armed with a Ph.D. in education and, judging from his curriculum vitae, at the top of his field regarding the academic needs of low-income Black and Brown students stuck in low-achieving urban school districts.
Or is he?
Today Warren Township Public Schools is in the news: Headline: “Affluent N.J. district faces criticism for opting into free lunch program.” This “affluent NJ district” in rural Somerset County happens to be where Weber works every day–he’s been a music teacher there since 2006, according to his bio. The article describes community dissatisfaction with the National School Lunch program, which the district opted into when the COVID-19 pandemic made it available to all schools, regardless of socio-economics. Here’s one parent:
“It’s disgusting, it really is,” said Heather Silver, a parent of a sixth-grader in the Warren Township School District. “I don’t know that I would give it to my pets.”
Wow. That’s harsh. Why the sneer at the government’s largesse?
To answer that question you need to know the demographics of the district where Weber spends his days:
- Percentage of low-income students: 0.2%
- Percentage of Black students: 1.9%
- Percentage of White/Asian students: 81%
- Average Home Price: $826,100
- Median Household Income: $170,264
- School rating on Niche: A+
- Total annual spending per pupil: $27,288 (the second highest in its peer group)
I feel like Weber and I, in a different universe, would have much in common; after all, we’re both amateur musicians. But I fear we’d have a falling out when discussions of the needs of students —not just white, wealthy students but low-income Black and Brown students–would arise. He’d tell me, “their school systems have to eliminate choice, stop with all the testing, and adhere to NJEA’s agenda of privileging the traditional public school sector and protecting their market share.” I’d counter, “why should only those who can afford to buy into the school system in Warren Township have access to high standards? How do even come close to educational equity if we don’t measure student proficiency, if we allow the most powerful lobby in the state to control the Governor’s Office?”
It wouldn’t work.
No sour grapes: it must be wonderful to work in a school environment free of violence and chronic absenteeism, rich with high academic achievement. But maybe Weber should stick to what he knows.