Author Archive: A New Jersey Farmer

Star-Ledger to New Jersey: Oops.

Cross-posted at A New Jersey Farmer

We’ll get right to it.

Tom Moran, the Editorial Page Editor of the Newark Star-Ledger, is now regretting the paper’s endorsement of Chris Christie for Governor in 2013. Am I supposed to feel bad? Reassess my political beliefs? Cancel my subscription?

I will do none of those, but I will shake my head and lament the media landscape that deigns to recognize Chris Christie as a politician worthy of a second term. Or a first term for that matter. Many other writers have already pored over Moran’s writing, and if you want a blisteringly accurate analysis of his blindness on Christie’s educational policies, then please take a detour here.take a detour here.

I have two favorite passages from Moran’s article. Here is the first:

Yes, we knew Christie was a bully. But we didn’t know his crew was crazy enough to put people’s lives at risk in Fort Lee as a means to pressure the mayor. We didn’t know he would use Hurricane Sandy aid as a political slush fund. And we certainly didn’t know that Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer was sitting on a credible charge of extortion by Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno.

With all due respect to Moran, and I do agree with him on many issues, I knew that Christie was a nightmare way before he actually lulled the rest of New Jersey to sleep. He did put people’s lives in danger by cutting programs to the poor, the less fortunate, and to schools by making cuts that could have been alleviated with a small increase in revenue. He did treat Sandy as a political event right after it happened and rode that wave all the way to this past November since he didn’t have an economic record he could successfully run on. His YouTube videos also showed that he had no patience for anyone who disagreed with him and that he would not take any responsibility for the negative aspects of his policies. I can’t speak for Kim Guadango, but she and Christie do make a wonderful team.

So when Moran says that we didn’t know, he’s wrong. Many of us did know and tried to make it clear what was happening. But the Christie ad machine was too well-oiled and too loud. Blame yourself, Mr. Moran. Leave the rest of us out of it.

And now for the second:

And let’s not forget his opponent, Sen. Barbara Buono. She was not up to the job of being governor – even in the view of many Democrats. She got the party’s nomination because more credible candidates, including Cory Booker, backed out in the face of Christie’s strength.

I have not forgotten Barbara Buono and the ethical, caring campaign she ran. Nor have I forgotten that she spoke about the people who make up the majority of New Jersey; people who need to work for a living and whose lives have not benefited from the governor’s policies and, indeed, are being asked to give more while the wealthy are not. She was, and is, certainly up to the job of being governor.  The problem is that Moran cannot recognize the difference between a noise machine and beautiful music. That the Democratic Party did not support her is a problem that I recognized and wrote about. President Obama could have come to New Jersey, and he abdicated his responsibility. But you can’t make the connection between Barbara Buono’s ability to run this state with the lack of endorsements.

Governor Chrisite has always been an ego-driven bully and he has now been wounded politically. What was going to be one of his main campaign weapons, his outrageously inappropriate berating videos, will now be his greatest liability. He’ll need to come up with a different persona in order to reclaim the political middle if he wants to be president, and that will be extremely difficult. Will the core conservative Republican voter shun him? Probably not, but that’s not where elections are won.

Chris Christie has won his final election victory. He was always as he appears now, and it was always apparent to those of us who looked hard at his record and actions. That the Star-Ledger is just noticing tells us all we need to know about its myopia.

For more please go to:

www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives and Twitter @rigrundfest    

NJ State of Emergency (and it’s not the snow)

Cross-posted at A New Jersey Farmer

Chris Christie was inaugurated for his second term as Governor of New Jersey today. It’s also snowing quite a bit. That will make his downhill slide easier and the crash at the bottom more pronounced. He’s embroiled in two scandals, both of which will turn out to have been his own making, and he made a state of the state address last week that was so devoid of usable ideas, it’s probably DOA in a Democratic legislature that is in no mood to compromise with him over controversial issues.

The Bridge issue by itself could probably be chalked up to election year hi-jinx by a guy who doesn’t understand nuance and positive energy. Now we have another scandal that cuts even deeper and shows a pattern of behavior among Governor Christie’s appointees and running mate that could touch him. The results will not be pretty.

The story involves aid for Sandy storm victims, but is tied up in election year politics and the desire Christie had to win a huge, forty-point plus victory over Democrat Barbara Buono this past November.

His administration chose an ad agency to promote the shore using Sandy funds, which might be OK except that the agency it chose cost $2.2 million dollars more that the other bidder and promised to put Christie and his family in the ads. Not bad in an election year where about the only issue Christie could run on, because the economy was still in a shambles, was Sandy relief. That makes the Hoboken issue that much more relevant, because the city really could have used any or all of those millions to, let’s say, help people who were flooded out or needed assistance with programs that might help them get back on their feet. Instead, we get the first-ever Lieutenant Governor making threats against a Christie supporter, Mayor Dawn Zimmer, to help a political friend.



New Jersey is already an ethical sewer. Did Christie and Guadagno really have to flush at that moment?

Christie’s office did offer a rebuke to Mayor Zimmer, but never addressed the accusations against Guadagno and attacked MSNBC, the network that’s been the main mouthpiece for the story. That’s classic Christie and follows the larger Republican strategy when they’re challenged: discredit the opposition and call them names. Ouch.

But now Mayor Zimmer is talking with prosecutors at their request. Double ouch.

There will be more subpeonas and an occasional leak of juicy information and the result will be a prolonged period of stalemate where the governor wants to move beyond the scandals and the legislature wants to air every stitch of dirty laundry to lessen Christie’s influence.

As for policy, last week’s speech in Trenton wasn’t just a rehashing of his fight with teachers and other public unions: it was a renewed call to battle against them by proposing to take more of their income and break their power. The governor wants everyone else to contribute more for their pensions and health benefits, which would severely impact those middle class workers, while he works on a tax break for the wealthy and reneges on his promise to make full state pension payments.

That idea would be bad enough, but the real insight into Christie’s thinking is his not-even-half-baked proposal to lengthen the public school day and year. His lack of detail was stunning for such a high-profile pronouncement. Clearly, he’s going through the motions of checking off ideas from the conservative playbook in an effort to curry favor with the Republican right wing. Needless to say, reaction has not been positive, and for good reason.

First of all, where is the money coming from to install air conditioning and run electrical power for the rest of June and into July? Where is the money coming from to pay teachers past June 30? What will happen to shore businesses, camps, academic programs and enrichment activities that are a vital part of summer in New Jersey? Yes, the governor rightly said that the school calendar is outdated, but other industries have grown around it that are vital cogs in the economic and academic life of students and teachers. He hasn’t addressed that, and my guess is that he probably won’t. He’ll just spend time bashing teachers for not wanting to give up summer vacation, even though the summer is just another two months where most teachers need to find an income so they can eat or not lose their houses.

Chris Christie only knows one speed when it comes to doing his job, and it’s going to result in a crackup. A comeback is certainly possible, but the damage has been done.

For more please go to:

www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives and Twitter @rigrundfest  

Christie the Vi(ndi)cti(ve)m

Cross-posted at A New Jersey Farmer

If Governor Chris Christie thought that Thursday’s news conference, that turned into a two-hour fiasco of alternately blaming others and apologizing without remorse, was going to be the end of the story about the GWBridge lane closures, then he was clearly mistaken. As usual with a scandal, the more we know, the more we want to know.

For example, who actually texted David Wildstein that they were smiling at the traffic jam? This is going to be interesting because presumably it wasn’t Bridget Anne Kelly, the Christie aide who went from loyal and brilliant early in the week to “stupid” and “deceitful” at the press conference. And speaking of Kelly, why didn’t Christie speak to her before firing her? What kind of prosecutor assumes guilt first and worries about whether they’re being just later? Answer: A prosecutor like Christie who obviously doesn’t care about the truth.

Questions about Christie’s political future are also a main topic, as this scandal shows that he either doesn’t have control over his own aides, or that he sent a message to them that this was politically acceptable behavior. In any case, this has severely damaged his national reputation. Conservatives were always wary of him; now moderates might be scared off by a man who has been resolute in the past, but just might have spilled over into vindictive in the national mind.

But the worst aspect at this point is that mayors from across New Jersey are now reviewing events of the past year and wondering if the negative attention they’ve received from Trenton is a result of them not endorsing Christie or running afoul of him because they disagreed with his decisions. This is the atmosphere that the governor has created for himself. Yes, his YouTube videos were entertaining for his supporters, but they are now a liability because, together with this scandal, they show a man who has no tolerance for opposition. That’s dangerous for a man who wants to be president.

It will be interesting to see what new information comes out about this and whether the narrative as we imagine it today has more moving parts to it.

For more please go to:

www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives and Twitter @rigrundfest    

Imagining the Schools We Need

Cross-posted at A New Jersey Farmer

Wondering why American students are not performing at their best? Or why we struggle to solve the problems of children getting adequate resources so they can compete in the global race for knowledge, opportunity and equity?

No need. The answer’s right hereThe answer’s right here and it doesn’t take much to figure it out. We’ve made education a commodity to be traded, cut, neglected and manipulated for the better part of the economic downturn, and even before, and the policy is catching up to us. School districts all over the country had to cut back on teachers, other staff, educational resources and worse, a commitment to enable all children to take part in what should be the world’s premier public school system.

It shouldn’t have worked out that way.

The corporate know-nothings who have wheedled their way into the public policy debate and, worse, have been elected to offices where they’ve had direct experience slashing budgets, blaming public employees and pulling money out of the system because they think it spends too much. Now we’ve reached the crisis point where schools are packing in too many students into classrooms without proper staffing and educational materials. The results are disappointing at best.

But they point to something that’s been underreported, and that is that America’s public school teachers are doing a fabulous job keeping the system afloat and educating our students to the best of their abilities. The shame is imagining just how much better the country would be if we committed to funding and supporting the people who do one of the most important paid jobs in the economy.

Imagine what we could do with class sizes that allow for debate, discussion and hands-on learning in every class. Imagine having enough staff to enable struggling students and those with classifiable learning problems to get the support they both need and are entitled to by law. Imagine having enough money to take students on more than one outside academic trip per year so that they could apply their knowledge to real-world situations.

Imagine a teaching staff that is respected, emboldened and confident that the culture supported its efforts. Imagine governors making full pension payments so the system doesn’t become a political battleground and an excuse to blame teachers and other public employees from being blamed for shortfalls. Remember that the only people making reliable pension contributions are the teachers; every paycheck. Imagine a system where teachers have input into curricular implementation, and where tests are not the end result of every learning task. Imagine a collaborative, supportive environment where veteran educators are respected for their knowledge, not blamed for being too expensive.

If you can imagine such a system, then we have our work cut out for us because if we keep going as we have for the past 10 years, then we will sink further behind countries that don’t need to imagine those school systems–they already have them.

For more please go to:

www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives and Twitter @rigrundfest  

Teaching, Unions and Social Justice

Diary rescue from Sunday night. Promoted by Rosi. Cross-posted at A New Jersey Farmer

Giving of course my humble opinion, I believe we are at the high water mark of the anti-union, pro-market-force, evaluation-by-testing mania that’s gripped education. Or I could be seriously deluded and education is going through a profound change that will see radically different protocols for years to come.

Monday is the National Day of Action, where schools and community organizations are rallying to focus public attention on how to improve schools and promote social justice. There is a set of principles behind this, and it represents a concerted effort to fight back against the corporitization of schools that started on the far right, but has been moving to the center for a few years. Even President Obama supports the principle of more testing and teacher evaluation models that erroneously support it.

The Race to the Bottom

Promoted by Rosi.Cross-posted at A New Jersey Farmer

The know-nothings who decided that market-based reforms were just what the public schools needed can look to New Jersey for proof that what they have wrought is having its intended terrible effect on education. The corporate takeover is going according to plan. The worst victims are the students themselves.

One of the warnings that veteran educators tried to sound was that the growth of charter schools would create two levels of opportunity: one for parents who were proactive and worked to get their children into top charter schools, and the rest of the population that either couldn’t compete or was shut out and stuck in the now-depleted public system. That seems to be happening in Newark, if this article is accurate. Yes, there are some significant successes if you count the students who are thriving in schools that can skim the best off the top and can generally avoid recruiting the poorest and least-able students. Test scores are up. There are fewer disruptions.

But it’s a false success if it means that other students are denied that quality of education. Free market principles are great for businesses, stock markets, and competitions for talent and ability. It can be deadly, however, when it comes to education.

Common Core: At Least the Website Works

promoted by Rosi

Cross-posted at A New Jersey Farmer

I am nothing if not a good sport and an optimist by temperament, so when I read this NJ Spotlight article about a website full of great information and resources for teaching the Common Core Curriculum Standards, I took a look. The site, njcore.org, is well-designed, if a bit busy, and you can sign up to post resources.

If you teach Language Arts and Mathematics, there are probably some good resources for the effective teacher, but as a high school history teacher, there was nothing on the site. Nada. Zilch. Not even a pretense that teaching history is in any way important or even part of the curriculum. Perhaps more will be added later, but at this point, the state has no interest in engaging anyone who doesn’t teach the tested subjects. And that’s to be expected because it’s been clear for a couple of years that the NJ Department of Education is focused on testing to the exclusion of a rich, varied, integrative curriculum..

Clearly this is still a work in progress and there’s a distinct possibility that it will grow into a valued resource. It has a good deal of competition from other, more established sites and its success will be determined by how well it meets teachers’ needs. The comments on the NJ Spotlight article are negative so far, with this being the most telling:

Inflation: Letting The Air Out Of Teacher Pay

Cross-posted at A New Jersey Farmer

As if being a teacher isn’t enough of a financial challenge, here’s some worse news, compliments of a front-page article in Sunday’s New York Times about the

Federal Reserve possibly injecting some inflation into the economy. Right now it’s an intellectual argument, and if you’ve ever studied the Great Depression of the 1930s, you know that the real danger to the economy would be deflation. In an effort to combat that, the Fed would look kindly on an inflationary course for these reasons:

The Fed has worked for decades to suppress inflation, but economists, including Janet Yellen, President Obama’s nominee to lead the Fed starting next year, have long argued that a little inflation is particularly valuable when the economy is weak. Rising prices help companies increase profits; rising wages help borrowers repay debts. Inflation also encourages people and businesses to borrow money and spend it more quickly.

The next paragraph, though, shows that not all people would benefit from such an economic course. Read it and weep.

The school board in Anchorage, Alaska, for example, is counting on inflation to keep a lid on teachers’ wages.

But wait; there’s more.

Rising inflation also punishes people living on fixed incomes.

So there you have it. The very same people who caused the financial meltdown,

destroyed the pension system and enacted laws that capped what municipalities and states could pay for social services now want an economic policy that would punish teachers and other public workers while they’re working, and it would keep on giving after they retire and are on a fixed pension and Social Security. Is that the way to continue to attract the best and brightest people to teaching, and to show them how much society respects their contributions? Absolutely not.

(As a side note, I completely reject the notion that we have not already attracted some of our best people to become teachers. America’s teachers put in an extraordinary amount of hours into their jobs and genuinely care about their chosen field. We’ve attended some of the best universities in the land and have studied with world class professors and professionals. So, it bothers me a great deal when others say that we need to get the best and brightest into our classrooms. We’re already there. Pay us what we’re worth, give us the tools to do our jobs and stop nickle and diming the schools in the name of an ideology that disrespects and ultimately wants to destroy a system that gives us the right to bargain collectively, set acceptable work rules and protect our due process rights.)

(Which leads to another side note. The right wing doesn’t know what it’s talking about on education.)

The politicians and think-tank lackeys who are presently influencing the education debate in this country have done a fine job singling out teachers, telling the public that their schools are failing, and blaming us for having pensions and benefits. Now the economists want to manipulate the economy so that it punishes us more. The contradiction is that if you continue to squeeze America’s public workers, then we won’t be able to spend and otherwise contribute to the economy. We won’t be able to afford to send our children to college. And we won’t be able to continue to do what we love.

Yes, I know there’s an old myth in this country that says that teachers don’t teach for money, they teach because they’re committed to their craft. As with most myths, this is not simply false, but dangerous, and society is playing with fire if it believes it can continue to treat us poorly.

For more please go to:

www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives and Twitter @rigrundfest  

Inflation: Letting The Air Out Of Teacher Pay

Cross-posted at A New Jersey Farmer

As if being a teacher isn’t enough of a financial challenge, here’s some worse news, compliments of a front-page article in Sunday’s New York Times about the

Federal Reserve possibly injecting some inflation into the economy. Right now it’s an intellectual argument, and if you’ve ever studied the Great Depression of the 1930s, you know that the real danger to the economy would be deflation. In an effort to combat that, the Fed would look kindly on an inflationary course for these reasons:

The Fed has worked for decades to suppress inflation, but economists, including Janet Yellen, President Obama’s nominee to lead the Fed starting next year, have long argued that a little inflation is particularly valuable when the economy is weak. Rising prices help companies increase profits; rising wages help borrowers repay debts. Inflation also encourages people and businesses to borrow money and spend it more quickly.

The next paragraph, though, shows that not all people would benefit from such an economic course. Read it and weep.

The school board in Anchorage, Alaska, for example, is counting on inflation to keep a lid on teachers’ wages.

But wait; there’s more.

Rising inflation also punishes people living on fixed incomes.

So there you have it. The very same people who caused the financial meltdown,

destroyed the pension system and enacted laws that capped what municipalities and states could pay for social services now want an economic policy that would punish teachers and other public workers while they’re working, and it would keep on giving after they retire and are on a fixed pension and Social Security. Is that the way to continue to attract the best and brightest people to teaching, and to show them how much society respects their contributions? Absolutely not.

(As a side note, I completely reject the notion that we have not already attracted some of our best people to become teachers. America’s teachers put in an extraordinary amount of hours into their jobs and genuinely care about their chosen field. We’ve attended some of the best universities in the land and have studied with world class professors and professionals. So, it bothers me a great deal when others say that we need to get the best and brightest into our classrooms. We’re already there. Pay us what we’re worth, give us the tools to do our jobs and stop nickle and diming the schools in the name of an ideology that disrespects and ultimately wants to destroy a system that gives us the right to bargain collectively, set acceptable work rules and protect our due process rights.)

(Which leads to another side note. The right wing doesn’t know what it’s talking about on education.)

The politicians and think-tank lackeys who are presently influencing the education debate in this country have done a fine job singling out teachers, telling the public that their schools are failing, and blaming us for having pensions and benefits. Now the economists want to manipulate the economy so that it punishes us more. The contradiction is that if you continue to squeeze America’s public workers, then we won’t be able to spend and otherwise contribute to the economy. We won’t be able to afford to send our children to college. And we won’t be able to continue to do what we love.

Yes, I know there’s an old myth in this country that says that teachers don’t teach for money, they teach because they’re committed to their craft. As with most myths, this is not simply false, but dangerous, and society is playing with fire if it believes it can continue to treat us poorly.

For more please go to:

www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives and Twitter @rigrundfest  

Inflation: Letting The Air Out Of Teacher Pay

Cross-posted at A New Jersey Farmer

As if being a teacher isn’t enough of a financial challenge, here’s some worse news, compliments of a front-page article in Sunday’s New York Times about the

Federal Reserve possibly injecting some inflation into the economy. Right now it’s an intellectual argument, and if you’ve ever studied the Great Depression of the 1930s, you know that the real danger to the economy would be deflation. In an effort to combat that, the Fed would look kindly on an inflationary course for these reasons:

The Fed has worked for decades to suppress inflation, but economists, including Janet Yellen, President Obama’s nominee to lead the Fed starting next year, have long argued that a little inflation is particularly valuable when the economy is weak. Rising prices help companies increase profits; rising wages help borrowers repay debts. Inflation also encourages people and businesses to borrow money and spend it more quickly.

The next paragraph, though, shows that not all people would benefit from such an economic course. Read it and weep.

The school board in Anchorage, Alaska, for example, is counting on inflation to keep a lid on teachers’ wages.

But wait; there’s more.

Rising inflation also punishes people living on fixed incomes.

So there you have it. The very same people who caused the financial meltdown,

destroyed the pension system and enacted laws that capped what municipalities and states could pay for social services now want an economic policy that would punish teachers and other public workers while they’re working, and it would keep on giving after they retire and are on a fixed pension and Social Security. Is that the way to continue to attract the best and brightest people to teaching, and to show them how much society respects their contributions? Absolutely not.

(As a side note, I completely reject the notion that we have not already attracted some of our best people to become teachers. America’s teachers put in an extraordinary amount of hours into their jobs and genuinely care about their chosen field. We’ve attended some of the best universities in the land and have studied with world class professors and professionals. So, it bothers me a great deal when others say that we need to get the best and brightest into our classrooms. We’re already there. Pay us what we’re worth, give us the tools to do our jobs and stop nickle and diming the schools in the name of an ideology that disrespects and ultimately wants to destroy a system that gives us the right to bargain collectively, set acceptable work rules and protect our due process rights.)

(Which leads to another side note. The right wing doesn’t know what it’s talking about on education.)

The politicians and think-tank lackeys who are presently influencing the education debate in this country have done a fine job singling out teachers, telling the public that their schools are failing, and blaming us for having pensions and benefits. Now the economists want to manipulate the economy so that it punishes us more. The contradiction is that if you continue to squeeze America’s public workers, then we won’t be able to spend and otherwise contribute to the economy. We won’t be able to afford to send our children to college. And we won’t be able to continue to do what we love.

Yes, I know there’s an old myth in this country that says that teachers don’t teach for money, they teach because they’re committed to their craft. As with most myths, this is not simply false, but dangerous, and society is playing with fire if it believes it can continue to treat us poorly.

For more please go to:

www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives and Twitter @rigrundfest