FORCED UNION MEMBERSHIP
When the NJEA acts to directly help its teachers, I stand behind it and provide my full support. Teacher pay and benefits, for example, are the kinds of things that I want the union to focus on.
A particularly important issue that should be at the top of the union’s list of priorities is the looming NJ pension crisis. Although I might disagree with the specific method to address this crisis, I still appreciate the NJEA’s work in this regard.
But I have a big problem when the officers of my union take a stand on divisive political issues and then make statements on my behalf. When they do this, they forget that not all NJEA members are on the same side of the political spectrum.
Now, it wouldn’t be such a big deal if those members who disagree could just refuse to join the union or drop out at will.
Unfortunately in New Jersey, teachers don’t have that choice.
THE FREE RIDER PROBLEM
There actually is a legitimate reason why teachers are forced to join the union. It is all about what economists call the free-rider problem.
This is a situation where people benefit from a service but they don’t pay for it. It is relevant here because the NJEA does provide a certain benefit for all teachers. It wouldn’t really be fair to let all teachers benefit if only certain teachers have to actually foot the bill.
But what about all of the money that the NJEA spends to support political ideas and policies that have no direct effect on salaries and benefits?
Why should all members be forced to support this?
REASON FOR THIS BLOG POST – NJEA’s Anti-Gun Rhetoric
Yesterday NJEA President Marie Blistan came out in opposition to the suggestion that teachers should be armed in schools in order to protect themselves and the students under their care.
When I read Blistan’s statement, I starting thinking again about how I could best protest the union’s unnecessary involvement in politics. After all, why should my hard earned money go to an organization whose President says things that are completely the opposite of what I believe?
A potential protest idea is suggested in the conclusion of this blog post, but first here are two of the controversial statements that Blistan made that I totally disagree with.
Controversial Comment #1
“NJEA is adamantly opposed to the idea of arming educators as a response to the scourge of gun violence in our public schools.”
Well I’m an NJEA member and I am not opposed to this idea. I actually think that having individuals trained to safely use firearms in a school setting is a good idea. And it wouldn’t necessarily mean that these teachers would have the guns on their person during school hours. There could be gun safes in designated rooms that only certain teachers know the combination of. These teachers could then access weapons if the need arose.
Controversial Comment #2
“Schools should be safe havens for learning and development. They should not become armed fortresses of fear.”
At first reading, this kind of sounds reasonable, right?
But before you conclude that this statement actually IS reasonable, ask yourself a couple of questions:
In case you don’t get where I am going with this, let me spell it out for you:
In each example above, individuals had to go through metal detectors and various other screening protocols. Once inside, they were in a facility chock full of individuals carrying guns.
“Fortresses of fear,” Ms. Blistan?
More like “fortresses of safety.”
So if “fortresses of safety” are good enough for sporting events and courts of law, why not also for schools?
CONCLUSION – Maybe it’s time to opt-out.
Which brings me to opting out.
I came across a video on YouTube entitled: NJEA members, it’s time to opt out!
This was an interview that Bill Spadea (New Jersey 101.5) conducted with Erica Jedynak back in 2016.
In the interview, Erica Jedynak explained to the host how teachers could opt out of paying full dues to the NJEA. Sufficiently intrigued, I reached out to Ms. Jedynak for some more information on this process.
She was gracious enough to respond and provided two links which I recommend you check out if you have any interest at all in this topic.
How to Opt Out of NJEA Dues
NJEA Sues Blogger for Spreading the Opt-Out Message
I don't know about you, but this opt-out possibility sure sounds intriguing.
“This epidemic of gun violence against children must stop, but that will not happen until more of our elected leaders decide that they value the lives of our children more than they value the political agenda of the gun lobby.”
NJEA President Marie Blistan
“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel
THE GUN LOBBY MURDERED THOSE CHILDREN
Well that didn’t take very long.
A little more than two hours after the Florida school shooter was taken into custody yesterday afternoon, President Marie Blistan posted a statement to the NJEA website:
“NJEA: Latest school shooting demands action.”
Her decision to comment on this tragedy was certainly understandable - unfortunately the focus of her commentary was totally misplaced.
For some (inexplicable?) reason she failed to lay the blame for this shooting on the person who actually carried it out. She never once acknowledged that an individual used a gun to commit those murders.
Instead, she kept her comments very general.
Here are some examples of the language she used:
So if she wasn’t prepared to blame the actual shooter, who was at fault?
The “gun lobby,” of course.
Clearly, NJEA President Marie Blistan isn’t letting this tragedy go to waste.
PREVENTING FUTURE INCIDENTS
On a final note, we do agree with one of Blistan’s statements:
“We also remember that mere sympathy without meaningful action will not help prevent future incidents like this.”
Action is certainly necessary to prevent “future incidents like this.”
The best way to prevent “future incidents like this” is to have armed security on campus.
Deranged killers know that schools are gun-free zones. They understand that no one will be there to stop them.
Why do we continue to allow our children to be sitting ducks in a shooting gallery?
CNN and other media outlets are rightfully treating football coach Aaron Feis as a hero. He used his own body to shield students against the bullets from the murderer.
But think how much better the situation might have turned out if Mr. Feis had been armed.
Instead of reading about how many innocent children were murdered at that Florida High School, we might be reading about how many children were saved instead.
All NJEA members can agree that what happened in Florida was a tragedy.
Not all agree with President Blistan that we should blame the “gun lobby.”
“The latest Department of Administration (DOA) memo estimates the General Fund deficit in the next biennium to be $3.6 billion.”
“Without action, NJ budget deficit could climb to $3.6B by 2023, Moody’s warns.”
New Jersey, 2017
“… [Wisconsin Governor Scott] Walker was able to close a $3.6 billion deficit by … constraining the ability of public-sector labor unions to negotiate wages and terms of employment along with halting mandatory union membership for the state’s teachers …”
Five Years Later, How Much Gov. Walker’s Union Legislation Saved Wisconsin
WISCONSIN , 2011 – The future of NJ forshadowed…
We are not in any way happy that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker plugged his $3.6 billion budget deficit on the backs of the state’s public employees in 2011.
With Wisconsin Act 10, the fate of all public employees in that state was sealed. Public unions were “stripped of the authority to negotiate retirement savings, health care, and time off, leaving intact limited bargaining abilities for base pay.”
Clearly, union power was weakened to the point of irrelevancy in Wisconsin.
But our displeasure with Walker doesn’t change certain facts of reality when it comes to union pension and benefits.
Our New Jersey teacher’s union, the NJEA, is simply dreaming if it thinks that it can avoid similar measures being enacted in New Jersey in the very near future.
No doubt, it spent a whole lot of money to elect Governor Phil Murphy in 2017 with the intention of furthering the cause of public school employees.
But it is also without doubt that this was most likely money wasted.
There simply isn’t enough money available in NJ right now to make our pensions whole.
Worse, the citizens of the state are not going to support higher taxes to fill the gap.
When teachers ignore reality and chant slogans like: “You say cut back, we say fight back,” and “No pensions, no peace," they fail to realize that the times have changed.
When the US economy enters its next recession (which may very well be worse than the Great Recession), it’s only going to get worse for professional educators.
Unlike the boy in the fairly tale, our union won’t be able to stop the floodwaters by sticking fingers in the dyke.
INSPIRATION FOR THIS BLOG POST – UFT tells of the decimation in Wisconsin
We were inspired to write this post after we read an article at the United Federation of Teachers website last week: Wisconsin teachers suffer after unions decimated
As the title suggests, this article lamented the declining position of Wisconsin teachers ever since Governor Scott Walker passed Act 10.
On a good note, this law managed to solve the state’s budget deficit.
On a not so good note, this was accomplished on the backs of the teachers.
Here are some highlights of this Act:
The results for teachers were pretty devastating:
WHAT THE UFT LEFT OUT – Money doesn’t grow on trees.
The UFT article makes some excellent points. The only problem is that it left out the most important part.
It never once mentions the funding issue.
Government promises or no, the reality was that Wisconsin simply didn’t have the money to continue paying teachers at the rate that the union expected them to be paid.
Did teachers get screwed?
They sure did.
But doesn’t the UFT get it that money doesn’t just grows on trees?
THE UFT DOES ITS MEMBERS A DISSERVICE
The UFT did its members a disservice by presenting this Wisconsin story as if it was just about bad, anti-teacher politicians screwing innocent, high-minded teachers.
The article doesn’t’ even mention the deficit of 3.6 billion dollars that Wisconsin faced back in 2011.
That is a pretty salient point in the whole story, don’t you think?
It seems that the purpose of the article was only to get UFT members all wound up about the injustice that was perpetrated in Wisconsin (actual truth be damned).
How can an honest portrayal of the situation leave out the money part?
We get the fact that the UFT is biased in favor of its members. It stands to reason that it wants them to have higher salaries and better benefits. But by over-simplifying this issue, the union is setting up its members for a hard fall in the not too distant future.
THE ANTI-NJEA BLOG – Not Anti-Union (just realistic)
We get tired of all of the posts we receive on Facebook saying that we are not really teachers and that we work for some conservative right wing anti-teacher cause.
That is the farthest thing from the truth.
We fully acknowledge having enjoyed the benefits that our unions have provided for us. The NJEA and NEA are strong advocates for teachers and they have been successful in many ways.
But we see the writing on the wall and we are simply trying to get the message out.
You can’t be a dreamer when it comes to your pension and benefits.
The sooner you stop counting on your ever-more-questionable full defined benefit pension, the better you will be prepared for the reality that is coming down the pike.
Start saving on your own for retirement before it is too late.
Defined benefit pension plans are soon to be a thing of the past.
NJ can’t afford it and the taxpayers are not going to stand for it much longer.
It’s high-time to wake up from the dream.
“NJEA’s Delegate Assembly (DA) voted to join the national call for Black Lives Matter at School Week, which began in Seattle in 2016 and will be held this year Feb. 5-11.”
NJEA.Org, January 29, 2018
THESIS OF THIS BLOG POST – black lives matter, not Black Lives Matter
Black lives definitely matter.
Issues specifically important to blacks also matter.
And since February is Black History Month, we can understand why the NJEA would want to increase awareness about this.
When it comes to black lives, issues like restorative justice, the school-to-prison pipeline, zero-tolerance discipline policy and the Amistad Law are all legitimate topics of conversation.
While we certainly don’t agree with the NJEA’s point of view on each of those topics (see our blog archives for details), we do get where the NJEA is coming from.
So what’s the purpose of this blog post? What exactly is the problem?
The problem is that the NJEA didn’t just stop there. It took the additional step of linking these legitimate black issues with the controversial Black Lives Matter Movement.
This decision was entirely unnecessary. Worse, it will only widen the rift within our union between the liberal/progressive wing and the mainstream/conservative one.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The NJEA fails to understand that black lives matter is not the same thing as Black Lives Matter.
THE BLACK LIVES MATTER MOVEMENT – NO STRANGER TO CONTROVERSY
If you don’t think there is any controversy when it comes to Black Lives Matter, then you haven’t been paying attention.
Do your own internet search if you want to – the articles dealing with the controversy are easy to find.
In fact, you don’t even have to go to "right-leaning" websites to verify this fact. All of the main-stream outlets have reported on it.
Here is a short list we found when using the search terms “black lives matter” and “controversy”
‘Permanently disabled’ Baton Rouge officer sues Black Lives Matter for 2016 ambush shooting
Black Lives Matter protesters return to the streets
Controversy over Black Lives Matter
The controversy surrounding Black Lives Matter in Canada
Black Lives Matter Emerges as Controversial Force in the U.K.
Afropunk Festival Drops Headliner M.I.A. After Black Lives Matter Controversy
THE NJEA GIVES TACIT APPROVAL TO BLACK LIVES MATTER
When the NJEA voted to “join the national call for Black Lives Matter at School,” it gave its tacit approval to the general Black Lives Matter Movement and everything it stands for.
Wait, what is that you say?
“But the NJEA doesn’t support everything that Black Lives Matters stands for, just some of it. You know, only the reasonable things – not the stuff that is way far out there.”
Really? So you think that it is OK for the NJEA to just pick and choose like this?
Well, when you consider the following somewhat extreme analogy, you may change your mind …
WELCOME TO: "Adolph Hitler is Great for Everything Week"
NOTE: The analogy we are making here is between the NJEA and the hypothetical "ORGANIZATION" which we reference below. If you read carefully, you will see that we are not making a comparison between Black Lives Matter and Hitler/Nazis.
Let’s pretend that there is an ORGANIZATION somewhere in the United States that calls for an Adolf Hitler is Great for Everyone Week.
Pretty outrageous, no?
“But this ORGANIZATION doesn’t support everything that Hitler and the Nazi’s stood for, just some of it. You know, only the reasonable things – not the stuff that is way far out there.”
Members of the ORGANIZATION point out that Hitler did some good things. He:
But after publicly supporting Adolph Hitler is Great for Everyone Week, is anyone going to believe it when this ORGANIZATION denies that it is anti-Semitic.
Probably not - and for good reason.
When you choose to associate with a group, people naturally assume that your values align with the values of that group.
CONCLUSION – The NJEA (unintentionally?) aligns with Black Lives Matter
Which is why the NJEA’s decision to align itself with the Black Lives Matter Movement was a mistake.
Was it intentional? Does the NJEA really support all of the radical ideas of the Black Lives Matter Movement?
We hope not, but can’t really say for sure.
What we can say is that the NJEA didn’t need to endorse Black Lives Matter in order to highlight black lives and important black issues.
Will it back off its support at this stage?
There is still time for the union to clarify its stance. After all, the Black Lives Matter at School Week doesn’t start until February 5.
But we won’t hold our breath.
"Rubrics provide students with a clear understanding of what is expected of them. Students have concrete directions about what makes a good science project, a good persuasive writing piece, [a good musical composition], etc. ... “
Rubrics to the Rescue
“Issues to Consider: Rubrics Work!”
National Education Association
"… for the most part so shrill and complicated that only those who worship the failings and merits of this composer with equal fire, which at times borders on the ridiculous, could find pleasure in it.”
Review of Beethoven’s ground-breaking Third Symphony Eroica (using a rubric?)
THESIS OF THIS BLOG POST: Rubrics produce exactly what you expect.
If you are a teacher reading this post, you already know what a rubric is. For those not in education, a rubric is basically a set of expectations that we give students for completing an assignment. According to supporters of this form of evaluation, specification of clear expectations is one of its greatest strengths. The kids know exactly what they are supposed to do.
Sounds like a great idea, right?
I see this “positive” aspect of rubrics in a completely different way. For me, that so-called strength is actually a debilitating weakness.
Why do I say this?
Do you know what you get when you tell students exactly what they are supposed to do?
Nine out of ten times you get exactly what you told them to do.
From my 20 years of personal experience as a teacher I can confidently say:
Rubrics discourage creativity.
THE PROBLEM WITH RUBRICS: Two supporting points of view.
On a recent Tom Wood’s Show podcast (I think it was called Dissident Historians), the guest related a story about his experience grading AP history test essays. He was required to follow a rubric which established a grading scale from 0-9. One particular essay (which he still remembers some 20 years later) was not only well-written but was also very unique in its perspective.
He felt that it easily deserved a score of 9. Unfortunately, according to the specifications of the rubric, he was required to assign it a mere 7.
The problem with rubrics identified by Tom’s guest is still here today. In “Why I dislike rubrics in my classes,” Rebecca J. Hogue delves even further into this issue.
Here is what she had to say in her December 10, 2017 article:
“[Rubrics] change the behavior of students – causing them to focus on what is necessary to ‘make the grade’, rather than the internal motivation of excellence for excellence sake. They also take away an aspect of learner creativity – as the students then focus their assignments on meeting the rubric requirements rather than on making an excellent product out of their projects.”
HELD HOSTAGE TO THE RUBRIC: A paragraph example.
Take a look at the following paragraph writing rubric.
Now imagine that one of your students submits a perfectly written paragraph which scores 4 in each category. It has a main idea topic sentence, three supporting sentences, a restatement in the concluding sentence and perfect grammar.
Its all in there.
But guess what?
That paragraph is just about the most boring, unimaginative, run-of-the-mill, unimpressive, plain piece of writing that you have ever encountered in all of your many years as an educator.
It bugs you, but you have no choice. You still have to give this student 12 out of 12 - 100%.
But you know what makes this even worse?
The next paragraph you read is brilliantly written. Its entertaining, funny, engaging, clever … but there are several grammatical errors.
Sticking by the rubric, this particular student only gets 11 out of 12 possible points –a mere 92%.
That’s right – you are being held hostage to the rubric.
THE RUBRIC CONUNDRUM: Creativity is outside the bounds of the expected.
By definition, a rubric cannot properly assess a novel or creative idea.
Think about it.
Rubrics specify expectations – that is why people tout them as a fair way to assess student work. But also by definition, creativity is something outside the bounds of the expected.
History is replete with examples of creative geniuses whose accomplishments ran counter to the accepted norms of the societies in which they lived.
Their achievements were, essentially, acts of defiance against what was expected.
How do you best judge the work of a creative genius?
Should you use a rubric???
Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony, Eroica, was considered “shrill and complicated” to a 19th century critic’s rubric.
Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring which “caused a riot at its premiere” was considered “the work of a madman” to a 20th century critic’s rubric.
Are you still all in favor of rubrics???
CONCLUSION: Submit the fake rubric to administration …
I can certainly see how rubrics might be useful for grading certain basic assignments. And I can also understand why in her article “Using Rubrics to Promote Thinking and Learning” Heidi Goodrich Andrade says that they:
But having admitted that, no one can deny that rubrics restrict creativity by their very nature.
So how do I personally solve this problem in my classroom?
First I make up a fake rubric that I pretend to use. I submit this fake rubric to my administration at the end of the year when they need evidence that I have done authentic assessments in my classroom.
What I really use to grade my student’s work is a checklist of expectations. I show this to them for any given project that we are working on. This way students know the minimum requirements to obtain what I call a decent grade – a B plus.
But then I also let them know that if they want to receive that coveted A or A+, there is another hurdle that they must surmount – creativity.
Only those students who take the time and make the effort to provide that extra brilliance, finesse and flair to their work will make the grade (so to speak).
FINAL COMMENT: Avoid the dust bin of history.
I will finish with one final comment on rubrics.
To paraphrase Leon Trotsky, there is no better way to insure the relegation of most student work to the dust bin of history (i.e. the teacher’s circular file) than by giving students a rubric to follow.
If a teacher is satisfied with only receiving the mundane, banal and expected, he will give his students a rubric to follow.
If he wants potentially exceptional results, he will throw away the “rows, columns and boxes” approach to assessment and emphasize creativity.
“Let me be clear … As governor I would put us on a path to get full funding of the pension system.”
Phil Murphy, NJEA-endorsed Democratic candidate for NJ Governor, May 18, 2017
“Problems have solutions. Predicaments only have outcomes.”
Chris Martenson, Peak Prosperity
THESIS OF THIS BLOG POST – It’s a predicament not a problem.
Teachers need to acknowledge an unfortunate fact of reality: the NJ pension system is in terrible shape. Chris Christie failed to adequately address this issue, so now it is left to our new governor Phil Murphy.
Will Murphy be up to the task?
I hate to be pessimistic, but probably not. The NJ pension situation is a predicament, not a problem.
As the quote from Chris Martenson makes clear, there is no fix, no solution, to a predicament. There are only several possible outcomes.
So Murphy may “solve” the pension crisis, but his choice of outcome will not necessarily make teachers very happy.
THE NJ PENSION CRISIS REVISITED – Murphy’s Optimism
The Anti-NJEA Blog has written about the New Jersey pension crisis on numerous occasions:
I decided to revisit this issue because a new administration has arrived in Trenton offering fresh ideas and hope for the future.
Governor Phil Murphy, for one, is very optimistic about pensions. When speaking to an audience of NJEA members last year, he not only promised to “put us on a path to get full funding,” but he also claimed to support a constitutional amendment to ensure that the issue is solved once and for all.
Optimism is a great way to approach life. In fact, scientific studies have shown that it improves health in many different ways.
But what happens when optimism bumps up against reality?
Take my son as an example. He was very optimistic that he was going to get the Xbox One for Christmas this past holiday season. But then reality kind of hit him in the face as his old man didn’t have the money to pay for it. He had to be content with continuing to use his tried and true Xbox 360 from several years ago.
Phil Murphy can talk optimistically all he wants about pensions. The question is whether he will actually be able to do something to fix them.
WARNING BELL RINGS – CARILLION BANKRUPTCY
A couple of days ago the UK’s 2nd largest construction company, Carillion, went bankrupt.
Why should you care?
Because it could be a sign of things to come in New Jersey.
Of course, corporate bankruptcies happen all the time – so what’s the big deal? The problem is that Carillion went under leaving “an enormous pension deficit.”
Think of the workers. Its one thing to lose your primary source of current income (that is bad enough), but imagine how much worse if you also lost your future source of income – your retirement.
Fortunately for the thousands of (former) Carillion employees, the UK government is going to come to the rescue. The Pension Protection Fund (PPF) will take over the bankrupt company’s pension program and make sure that benefits are paid.
And they all lived happily ever after?
Not exactly ….
You see, “… under PPF rules, not all Carillion employees will receive their full pension.”
Employees who already retired are good to go – they “will continue to receive their pension in full.” But how about everyone else?
Not so much …
Here is the bad news:
In case you are wondering how the bankruptcy of a construction company thousands of miles away can have anything to do with a teacher living in New Jersey, I encourage you to read on.
NJ PENSION PARALLEL – It’s already here (and it’s going to get worse).
It’s a harsh thing to say, but the retirement prospects of current New Jersey teachers will probably match the fate of the Carillion employees who were laid off last week.
How can I possibly predict such things?
Because the process has already begun.
According to the State of New Jersey, teachers are not all “created equal.” Depending on when you started teaching, you are placed into a “tier.”
Rather than bore you with the details (you can follow the above link if you want), lets just say that younger teachers don’t have the same benefits as older teachers.
Here are some basic differences:
But there were other changes put in place in 2011 which also started affecting teacher take home pay:
PHIL MURPHY’S IMPOSSIBLE TASK: Pensions and Taxes
As the opening quote of this blog makes clear, Phil Murphy has big plans to fix things in New Jersey. Unfortunately, as NJ.com points out (January 17, 2018), he has his hands full:
“You're in charge now, Phil Murphy. Here are 7 menacing Jersey issues staring right at you.”
The top two “menacing Jersey issues” identified by NJ.com are directly relevant to this blog post's thesis: property taxes and pensions.
Taking pensions first, the numbers don’t lie:
“By paying less than what was recommended, the state's unfunded liabilities have grown to an unwieldy $45.4 billion measured under the state's accounting rules, or $168 billion if measured under national accounting standards.”
So even after Governor Christie’s bold attempt to fix the pension system by implementing policies like:
“… raising the retirement age, freezing cost-of-living adjustments and forcing workers to pay more into the system”
New Jersey is even further in the hole than before he started.
Which brings me to taxes.
One suggestion to close the pension deficit is to raise taxes. But there is a “small” problem there:
“New Jersey's property tax bills are the highest in the country and are considered the heart of the state's affordability crisis. It's a burden most state and federal lawmakers expect will be made worse by a new $10,000 cap on the state and local tax deduction.”
So good luck trying to solve the pension crisis by raising taxes. NJ citizens are going to have none of that.
IT’S A PREDICAMENT NOT A PROBLEM
I have said it before, but it is worth repeating again here. There are only three possible ways to deal with this pension issue.
Take a look at those choices and tell me you don’t agree that we have a predicament, not a problem, on our hands.
So that means there are no solutions, only outcomes.
The predicament will only be compounded when the current stock market bubble pops.
Why does the performance of the stock market matter?
The NJ Pension Fund assumes that it will earn a certain amount each year. If it doesn’t then it becomes underfunded.
So take the year 2015 as an example. The assumed or expected rate of return was 7.9%.
The market did just fine that year and yet the NJ pension fund only returned 4.16%. So in 2015 the fund missed its mark by almost 4%. Can you imagine the problems the fund will face if the market actually has a down year? And how bad do you think it will get if the market actually crashes?
CONCLUSION – Don’t count on your NJ pension.
"No amount of math and logic will ever be sufficient to convince a bunch of retired public employees that they have been sold a lie that will inevitably fail now or fail later."
Zero Hedge (September 27, 2017)
That quote is an expression of reality – harsh though it may be. Union leaders and politicians have promised us so much – but they have sold us a lie. They will not be able to deliver. The sooner you acknowledge this, the better off you will be.
Where does this leave us?
Although I don’t have a crystal ball, two likely outcomes of this pension predicament are:
Don’t sit around waiting to find out.
If you are not planning for your retirement outside of the NJ pension system, then you are setting yourself up for hard times ahead.
Heed the words of Ronald Reagan:
"The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'"
When things get bad, you won’t be able to count on the government for help.
Sorry NJEA, Governor Phil Murphy probably isn’t going to save us.
“In 2012, the Camden City School District was in a crisis ... in spite of spending nearly $23,000 on every child, Camden's schools were coming up short.”
George E. Norcross III, April, 2017
”Camden public schools have been a symbol of pride, stability and hope for generations of Camden students and their families.”
Keith E. Benson, President of the Camden Education Association, 2018
"Is Keith E. Benson living in the real world?"
Anti-NJEA Blog Writer, 2018
THESIS OF THIS BLOG POST:
The conditions in Camden’s public schools deteriorated to such an extent in 2012 that drastic action had to be taken. Business as usual was no longer an option. Renaissance Schools, though a somewhat radical idea in certain ways, were introduced as a legitimate attempt to solve the problem. Regular old public schools failed the children of Camden. These innovative, new ones now deserve a chance.
CAMDEN, THE CITY – It’s dangerous out there.
No offense to the residents, but Camden is not exactly the nicest place to live. According to the website Neighborhood Scout, Camden has been one of the top 5 most dangerous cities in the United States since 2012.
2012 – 5th place
2013 – 2nd place
2014 – 3rd place
2015 – 1st place
2016 – 2nd place
2017 – 4th place
In fact, it was so bad in Camden that in August of 2012, the UK’s Daily Mail published an in-depth story describing the rampant poverty, violence and crime: The most dangerous town in America: Inside Camden, New Jersey where 39 people have been murdered this year
CAMDEN, THE SCHOOLS – Plenty of money was made available.
While the city of Camden was extremely poor, the schools were not.
According to Jim Epstein at Reason.com:
“New Jersey spends about 60% more on education per pupil than the national average according to 2012 census figures, or about $19,000 in 2013. In Camden, per pupil spending was more than $25,000 in 2013, making it one of the highest spending districts in the nation.”
It would be one thing if this money was well-spent and that it helped the students. But Ben Velderman indicates that this may not exactly have been been the case. With $25,000 per student, this:
“… allowed the district to drop a lot of money – $987,564 on legal fees, $394,818 on professional conferences and workshops, $708,817 on various consultants, $86,939 on restaurants and catering and $160,666 on drug and alcohol treatment – with little to show for it in the way of student achievement.
CAMDEN, THE SCHOOLS – “Kick-in-the-stomach” dismal academic performance.
How bad was it?
I quote Jim Epstein again as he explains:
“… Camden’s public schools are among in the worst in the nation, notorious for their abysmal test scores, the frequent occurrence of in-school violence, dilapidated buildings, and an on-time graduation rate of just 61 percent.”
When Camden school superintendent, Paymon Rouhanifard, found out the extent of the situation, his reaction was visceral. He called it a “kick-in-the-stomach moment.”
Here is a list to put the condition of Camden’s public schools in 2012 in better perspective:
By 2016, things were not much better as 10% of the schools on the NJ Watch List for Bad Performance and Other Troubles were located in Camden (19 out of 222).
CAMDEN, THE SCHOOLS – Rampant Violence.
Here is an interesting description of the Camden public school climate in 2012:
“Violent assaults, drug dealing, gang fights — sounds like a poorly run prison. But that’s what kids in Camden have to contend with, when they show up to their public schools. Last year, police responded 249 times to violent incidents involving students in the city’s public schools — in a 180-day school year. At Camden High, nearly 40 percent of students are suspended.”
Now, its bad enough that this type of violence is going on in a place of learning. But what if you found out that the administration of those Camden public schools then tried to hide the violence so that their public schools wouldn’t look so bad?
It’s true. They tried to cover it up.
An article from the NJ.com website says that:
“For the 2009-10 school year, the district reported 22 incidents of violence and vandalism. That figure contrasts with 249 police responses to violence involving students. State investigators interviewed a nurse at Woodrow Wilson High School who said there were 77 fights. None were reported.”
So to quickly sum up the situation we have here, Camden public schools:
THE NJEA’S POSITION – Support public schools (forget about money, academics and violence)
I became aware of the Camden Renaissance School program only recently. On January 5, 2018, the NJEA published a news piece called “Stop the land Grab in Camden! This article described the union's attempt to stop the passage of Bill S-3309 in the NJ legislature, a bill that would allow the expansion of the Renaissance School program in Camden, NJ.
Little did I know that the history of the NJEA’s opposition to Renaissance Schools goes back at least to 2015. In that year:
“The New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) … announced it has filed a motion with the state in hopes of preventing Camden's plan to convert four public schools into renaissance charter schools.
According to then NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer, the reasoning underlying this motion had, basically, four parts:
Fast forward to 2018 and the NJEA opposition to Renaissance Schools hasn’t changed much. Here are the main points from the NJEA “Say No to S-3309” call to action. The bill:
Is it only me or is anyone else wondering why the NJEA never mentions anything about money, academic performance or classroom violence?
I guess they don’t matter …
ANALYSIS OF THE NJEA’S POSITION – The kids … what about the kids?
A spokesperson from the Camden superintendent’s office had a great response to the 2015 lawsuit filed by the NJEA. I couldn’t have put it better myself:
"The NJEA is mischaracterizing the law and diverting attention from the real issue, which is the need to improve our children's education. These improvements are focused on increasing student learning and renovating dilapidated buildings in a city that is sincerely in need of change.”
And as for the claim that the decision to set up Renaissance Schools were made in a vacuum:
“Through our continued community engagement, we've heard hundreds of students, educators, parents, and community members demand change in our most-struggling schools. We are confident these improvements will lead to better opportunities for thousands of young people in Camden."
So while the NJEA cares about a “corporate takeover,” a possible violation of an “Act,” some undefined harm to “public schools” and an imagined “land grab,” the superintendent actually wants to help the students.
And consider this little-mentioned fact which I found in a document published by JerseyCan.org explaining the New Jersey Urban Hope Act:
“Are renaissance school teachers unionized? Renaissance school teachers have the option of organizing themselves into a union if they choose to do so, but they are not automatically enrolled in a union.”
You read that right. Teachers at Renaissance Schools are not enrolled in a union.
So when I titled this blog post “The NJEA’s Selfish Opposition to Camden’s Renaissance Schools,” was I wrong?
Does the NJEA have selfish or selfless motives?
I think the former – but maybe you will disagree.
CONCLUSION: RENAISSANCE SCHOOLS DESERVE A CHANCE
It is certainly too early to judge whether Renaissance Schools will be successful - but they deserve a chance.
In any case, here is a great quote from the Star Ledger which sums up perfectly why I am 100% in favor of establishing these schools in Camden:
“So think like a parent in Camden: If someone offered your kid a chance to attend an alternative public school, in a brand-new building run by a private non-profit, would you turn to them in outrage and say, ‘Is this the private sector homing in on public education?’”
“No. You’d say, sign my kid up. Sign him up right now. Especially if you heard that this new school would be run by the same folks heading the highly successful TEAM charter schools in Newark.”
I started this blog post with a quote from Keith E. Benson, President of the Camden Education Association. I finish it with something else he said in that same opinion piece:
“Every child in Camden deserves access to a great education whether it takes place in a public, charter, parochial, technical, or an existing Renaissance school. To make that happen, we need a true investment in our public schools. “
I’m sorry Mr. Benson, but your public schools were given $25,000 per student and you couldn’t fix the problem.
Its time for a change.
We posted this on our Anti-NEA Blog site and thought that readers of the Anti-NJEA blog might also appreciate it:
Before we release our next full blog post article, we thought it might be helpful to point out a seldom-acknowledged fact about the political spectrum.
We were inspired to do this because so many comments on our Facebook page are ideological in nature. Left vs. Right, Democrat vs. Republican, Socialist vs. Libertarian, etc.
Therefore, it would appear that most people see the world through the standard political spectrum illustrated below:
But is the correct way to view the world?
We don't think so.
Check out the ideological/political spectrum below and see if you don't agree with us.
This only ideology missing from the above chart is socialism. Our guess is that it would appear somewhere to the left of American Left 2011.
So maybe we need to stop with the Left vs. Right view of the world. Better to think in terms of Tyranny vs. Freedom.
“Let me go you white mother f–. I’m going to kill you,” one of the belligerent girls told veteran police officer Jason English. She then began screaming and urging a crowd of 100 people to “f– this officer up.”
“Numerous” individuals began throwing glass bottles and other objects at the officer. He heard a person in the crowd stating, “Let’s f– this white racist cop up. F– him up. F– all the pigs in this city.”
Those quotes were taken from a story that appeared in the Paterson Times on 12/20/17 - Eastside High School saw a series of violent incidents in November, police reports
Thankfully I am on Twitter or I probably would never have heard about this.
The article provides details of eight violent incidents which occurred at Eastside High School between November 3 and November 27, 2017. I suggest you go to that article to get a full understanding of the extent of the reprehensible behavior at that high school. The quotes above only touch the surface.
Would you agree that this behavior is completely unacceptable?
Would you also agree that punishment is certainly due?
Well guess what? Not everyone would agree.
I know that this sounds crazy, but because the violence happened on school grounds, there is a gray area.
MODERN DISCIPLINE POLICY
You see, modern education philosophy incorporates a couple of “innovative” ideas (restorative justice and the school-to-prison pipeline) into its policy on discipline. Nowadays, when these two "innovative" ideas are invoked, the result is a more “kind and gentle” approach to dealing with recalcitrant students.
If you are not familiar with the terms “restorative justice” and the “school-to-prison pipeline, I suggest that you either do your own research or check out some of my older blog posts where I discuss them in detail.
Here are the links:
The School to Prison Pipeline: Just Punishment for Disruptive Students or Unfair Attack on People of Color?
The NEA Supports a "Kinder & Gentler" Solution to Ending Sexual Assault in the Classroom: "Restorative Justice"
In a nutshell, this “kinder and gentler” solution to policy says that harsh discipline in schools (sometimes called “zero-tolerance”) is bad because it will eventually lead to the unfair incarceration of students.
How does this come about?
Well, first of all, these “misunderstood” kids (maybe they have family issues or some other explanation for their behavior) will get detention. This might then be followed up by suspension when their behavior doesn’t change. Ultimately they might get expelled for continued failure to follow school rules. And now that they are no longer in school disrupting the learning environment of the kids who want to learn, they might get involved in criminal activity on the street and so get arrested and incarcerated.
That is the “school-to-prison” pipeline.
Restorative justice would not let this occur. The emphasis would be on keeping the bad kids in school and thus keeping them off the “school-to-prison” pipeline.
NOTE: This is my interpretation of the connection between restorative justice and the school-to-prison pipeline. I fully realize others don’t see it quite this way.
THE NJEA’S SUPPORT FOR “RESTORATIVE JUSTICE”
A belief in old-fashioned “justice” is not in fashion these days – at least not at the NJEA.
“The NJEA Delegate Assembly (DA) approved a recommendation at its Jan. 21 meeting of the NJEA Human and Civil Rights Committee to enter into a cooperative initiative with the National Education Association (NEA) …Topics in the initiative include, but are not limited to, the school-to-prison pipeline, zero-tolerance discipline policies … and restorative justice. [bold and underline added]
RESTORATIVE JUSTICE AT EASTSIDE HIGH SCHOOL
So how were those incidents handled at Eastside High School, old-fashioned justice or restorative justice?
James Smith, head of security at Paterson Public Schools tells us:
“Students involved received suspension and in some cases counseling … We just don’t suspend people. We give them positive peer culture too … Students are able to sit and discuss problems with the adults.”
Sounds to me like they might have used a little “restorative justice” at Eastside.
When I read Smith’s comments, I couldn’t help but wonder how deep the “roots” of this new-fangled approach to discipline reached down into modern education thought - and what were the possible unintended consequences.
Does Smith really believe that “counseling,” “positive peer culture” and being able to “discuss problems” are the best way to deal with incidents of violence at school?
Obviously I can’t get inside Smith’s head to understand why he used those words and whether he really believes them, but I get the feeling that there are two possible reasons for speaking to reporters in this fashion:
PUBLIC VS. PRIVATE: ARE NJEA ADMINISTRATORS HYPOCRYPTES?
Now to the speculative part of this blog post.
Follow my reasoning here and see if you think I am on to something or if I am way out there on a limb.
We know that the NJEA publicly:
But do individual NJEA administrators privately feel the same way.
I ask this because we all know about those Hollywood celebrities who publicly support the theory of Global Warming but then privately vacation aboard yachts which burn more fuel in a week than the typical person burns in a year.
We have a word for celebrities who posture in this fashion.
We call them hypocrites.
Well, I have a feeling (I am speculating here, I can’t prove it) that many at the administrative level of the NJEA might also be hypocrites.
Let’s consider NJEA President Marie Blistan.
I ask you to follow along as I ask her a series of rhetorical questions related to restorative justice. It is up to the reader to imagine her possible answers. My personal feeling is that her public answers to these questions would be much different than her private answers.
The questions could continue but you probably get my point.
OUR VIEWPOINT - “JUST PLAIN OLD FASHIONED JUSTICE”
“Restorative Justice” sounds great in theory. But when we consider the fact that our children (who are not violent and don’t cause problems) might be in the same classroom with the type of individuals who perpetrated those acts at Eastside, we come down on the side of “Just Plain Old-Fashioned Justice.”
Sorry if we don’t show enough sympathy for those kids who are violent and cause problems at school. Sorry if we can’t empathize with the possibly fact that these bad kids might come from a broken family.
Instead, we ask you to feel some sympathy and empathy for our children and the other good kids who are in school, want to learn, but are prevented from safely doing so because of the bad kids.
A controversial opinion?
We at the Anti-NJEA Blog don’t care.
We write a controversial blog because we want to challenge fellow NJEA members to think beyond what the union tells us is acceptable and proper. For every happy story the NJEA can tell you about how “restorative justice” saved a kid from jail, we can tell you a sad one about how another kid’s education was harmed by not meting out proper “old-fashioned” justice to violent students.
Will our opinion on this issue offend some people? Will it rub them the wrong way?
But in the immortal words of radio legend Bob Grant:
"Remember this: If you are offended during the next two hours, it’s nobody's fault but mine… somebody's got to say these things."
Like Bob Grant, we don’t mind saying these things.
Someone has to.
I have had some great commentary on my Anti-NJEA Facebook page.
I am including one retired teacher's point of view in the space below because we agree with much of what he says. In addition, he writes with such clarity and force of purpose that I couldn't let this go unnoticed.
CRITICISM OF THE NJEA AND NEA
ON THE POSITIVE SIDE OF THINGS
FINAL PERSONAL COMMENTARY
I was in the classroom for 39 years in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania. I read all the NEA and NJEA publications, so I am very well aware of what is occurring in our public schools, and it is by no means all good. So criticism and close monitoring is important. To accept blindly the tenets and recommendations of NJEA leadership (administrators) is foolish. We teachers are educated. We can think for ourselves and we can use our creativity and imagination in the classroom to help students. We don't need scripted lessons and excessive government intrusion into our local schools, where students may be steeped in a curriculum where freedom of thought and expression is stifled.