Last month, the New Jersey Education Association voted to endorse U.S. Senator Cory Booker for re-election. Booker, like Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy, is among the nation’s most anti-teacher, anti-public education Democratic elected officials.
Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, was Mayor Booker’s top aide in Newark, New Jersey before he returned to Connecticut to lead Malloy’s corporate education reform industry initiative with its anti-tenure, anti-teacher, pro-charter school provisions.
The move by the NJEA, like that of the CEA and AFT-CT, has raised a lot of questions among teachers and public education advocates.
It seems that the debate falls into two camps. Union leaders and their supporters argue that even if the choice is “between two evils,” an endorsement is needed. They articulate an approach that claims that in today’s political environment, the practical must take the place of the principle.
In fact, a particularly honest union leader recently told me when it came to whether to endorse Malloy or make no endorsement was the real fear that if Malloy won he would actually increase his war on teachers and the teaching profession.
On the other side of the argument are those of us who say that the organization representing teachers simply cannot overlook the fact that Malloy is the only Democratic governor in the country to propose doing away with teacher tenure and repealing collective bargaining for teachers in the lowest performing schools.
And that any normal political candidate would have worked diligently to persuade teachers that he understood that he had been wrong to propose doing away with tenure; that given a second term he would de-couple teacher evaluation from unfair standardized testing; that he would settle the critically important CCEJF school funding lawsuit in order to ensure that long after he has left office Connecticut would have a school funding formula that was both constitutional and successfully guaranteed that every Connecticut public school had the resources need to ensure their students had the education they deserved.
In Governor Malloy’s case, he refused to make the necessary changes to his policy agenda.
A very similar situation has taken place in New Jersey, where Corey Booker, a true favorite of the corporate education reform industry took, has taken the same basic approach to education reform and like Malloy, has pledged to “stay the course” on their anti-public education crusade.
And in New Jersey, like Connecticut, the unions caved in and handed their support to people who have spent years knocking down and stomping on teachers, parents and our public schools.
Here in Connecticut the CEA and AFT-CT endorsements of Malloy have ignited a long overdue debate about the role of leadership and the inherent conflict that exists between those on the “inside” and those on the “outside.”
A union leader who I have a lot respect for recently posted a note saying,
“The Koch brothers would be proud, Jonathan Pelto for your efforts to undermine the largest union in the state, and Connecticut teachers’ strongest voice in the policy arena. It’s easy to throw stones from the outside.”
A number of readers, including teachers, “liked” the statement.
For posterity, if nothing else, my goal has never been to undermine the teacher unions, but to persuade them to use their strength to force the real changes in policy that our teachers, students, parents and society need.
While it is true that failing to endorse Malloy could have led to Malloy banning the union leadership from the “rooms of power,” not endorsing Malloy would have sent a powerful message to elected officials, in Connecticut and around the nation, that walking away from the values and constituencies of the Democratic Party has real and severe consequences.
It wasn’t long ago that Hillary Clinton joined Jeb Bush on stage at a conference to sing the praises of the Corporate Education Reform Industry. Considering that the nation’s war on teachers was effectively begun under George W. Bush and dramatically expanded under Barak Obama, Clinton’s move made political sense.
But if the teachers unions in Connecticut, New Jersey and elsewhere refused to support Democrats who push anti-teacher, anti-public education proposals, we can be sure that other Democrats would take note. (And the opposite is equally true.)
Instead of sending that powerful message, the union leadership endorsed Dannel Malloy and Corey Booker, thus sending out a very different message across the country.
No matter how harsh or personal the criticism has become, I stand by my belief that it was wrong for Connecticut’s teacher unions to endorse Malloy and equally inappropriate to try and persuade members to vote for Malloy using faulty arguments.
A follow blogger in New Jersey has made a very similar observation.
Bob Braun worked for the Star-Ledger newspaper of New Jersey for nearly 50 years. He served as its education editor for nearly 30 years and then became its senior news columnist. He now blogs at: http://bobbraunsledger.com/
In a post this week that is entitled, “The unforgivable lies in NJEA’s endorsement of Cory Booker,” Braun writes,
In the latest NJEA Review, the organization that calls itself a union and supporter of public education not only endorses this pro-voucher, pro-charter, pro-Cami Anderson, pro-Chris Christie candidate of Wall Street, it also provides a forum for him to spread lies and half-truths. How, when the children and parents of Newark are suffering from the agony that is “One Newark,” when the city’s teacher union is under attack and about to be broken, how when Booker already has said he wanted to see Newark turned into the charter capital of New Jersey—how could the NJEA publish this rot?
How could it be so indifferent to what is happening, not just in Newark, but in Camden as well where the NJEA-endorsed Urban Hope Act—a cause embraced by Booker– is about to destroy public education?
Such cynicism is absolutely breathtaking. Unforgivable.
The New Yorker article “Schooled ,” by Dale Russakoff who, unlike NJEA leaders, actually spends time in the city. Read this:
“Early in the summer of 2010, Booker presented Christie with a proposal, stamped ‘Confidential Draft,’ titled ‘Newark Public Schools—A Reform Plan’. It called for imposing reform from the top down; a more open political process could be taken captive by unions and machine politicians. ‘Real change has casualties and those who prospered under the pre-existing order will fight loudly and viciously,’ the proposal said. Seeking consensus would undercut real reform. One of the goals was to ‘make Newark the charter school capital of the nation.’ The plan called for an ‘infusion of philanthropic support’ to recruit teachers and principals through national school-reform organizations; build sophisticated data and accountability systems; expand charters; and weaken tenure and seniority protections. Philanthropy, unlike government funding, required no public review of priorities or spending. Christie approved the plan, and Booker began pitching it to major donors.”
The NJEA endorsement is a propaganda rug woven carefully and deliberately of self-serving and cynical lies. The people who run the union simply cannot be so stupid or delusional or naïve that they don’t recognize what they are doing.
I understand –but do not agree—that people fear the loss of a Senate seat by Democrats, any Senate seat, might turn the upper house over to the Republicans. The NJEA could have said that. It could have not endorsed anyone, knowing Booker will probably win anyway. It didn’t have to give such a boost to this enemy of public education.
It is simply unforgivable for this organization that calls itself a union to hand Booker the bullets he needs to administer a coup de grace against public education in cities like New Orleans and Newark.
A constant refrain from Malloy’s supporters is that my posts on Wait, What? are driven by some type of “personal vendetta.” As that same union leader recently wrote,
“Your personal vendetta against Malloy has clouded your judgment, and now you are working at cross-purposes against the educational and progressive issues you used to champion.”
I truly believe that reasonable people can disagree on important issues. When it comes to strategies and tactics related to issue advocacy, disagreements can arise even more often.
But I will proudly stand by my statement that a Democrat who proposed doing away with teacher tenure for all public school teachers and repealing collective bargaining for teachers in the poorest school; who refuses to de-couple inappropriate standardized tests from teacher evaluation; who diverts a hundred million dollars a year from public schools to prop up unaccountable charter schools that refuse to educate their fair share of bi-lingual students and students who need special education services; and who refused to settle the CCEJF lawsuit and develop a long-term change to Connecticut’s school funding formula … DOES NOT deserve the badge of honor that comes with being endorsed by teacher unions.
Being invited into the “rooms of power” certainly has its advantages, but I truly believe that unions, including teacher unions, can have a far great impact by standing on principle and reminding candidates that there is a price for turning their backs on the most fundamental values of the people whose votes they want.
Please excuse the typos…