Category Archives: jerz

Strike Against the Charter Movement: Newark elects Baraka

Newark elects Ras Baraka as mayor. Baraka is a former public high school principal, and son of the late poet Amiri Baraka (who came out to support the student walkout against racially segregated leveling at my alma mater, Columbia High School, in 2006). His opponent, Shavar Jeffries, sat on the school board, founded a charter school, and was supported by the charter lobby. From the Star Ledger:

A major focal point of the election was the debate over the schools and state-appointed Superintendent Cami Anderson’s controversial “One Newark” school reorganization plan — which calls for the relocation and consolidation of one-quarter of the city’s schools and turning over some neighborhood schools to charter operators.

Baraka was a fierce opponent of the plan, which would have involved shutting down schools and moving kids all around the city. The equivalent plan in Chicago, Renaissance 2010, has been disastrous, and disproportionately so for black students. Jeffries supported “One Newark,” along with our glorious governor.

Though Jeffries raised nearly double as much money as Baraka ($1.7mil vs. $945k), Baraka won with 54% of the vote. Though I haven’t been following this election as closely as I would have liked, seems like a significant strike against the school privatization movement in NJ.

New Health Insurance Option for Freelancers in NJ

This is potentially good news: “Freelancers CO-OP given green light from N.J.”

Looks like the Freelancers CO-OP of New Jersey is sponsored by, but independent of, the Freelancers Union (which doesn’t currently offer insurance in Jersey).

From the Freelancers Union website:

CO-OP background:

  • CO-OP stands for Consumer Operated and Oriented Plan.
  • Thanks to $340 million in low-interest and no-interest loans from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Freelancers Union will sponsor CO-OPs in New York, New Jersey, and Oregon beginning in January 2014.
  • CO-OPs are private, nonprofit health insurers whose plans are designed to offer quality, affordable, consumer-friendly health plans in every state.
  • The government has set aside a total of $3.8 billion for CO-OPs in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also known as the Health Care Reform bill).
  • CO-OPs will be open to all comers, including independent workers typically shut out of the traditional healthcare market. Americans making less than 400% of the federal poverty level will be eligible to receive financial support from the government to pay for their CO-OP health plan.

How CO-OPs will work:

  1. CO-OPs will level the playing field for individuals and small groups who are ignored in the current health insurance market, which is largely geared toward large companies. CO-OPs offer more, better, and less expensive health insurance options to consumers.
  2. Nonprofit insurance plans in different states will enter the market and compete with private insurers. This state-level market is called the Exchange, and it’s designed to make it easier for consumers to shop for and understand insurance plans.
  3. The CO-OPs expect to start enrolling people in the in Fall of 2013 and begin offering coverage in January 2014.

I’ve not been following the minutiae of Obamacare implementation well enough to know if this something to be optimistic about, but it sounds good on the surface. The bigger picture, less so. The state marketplaces appear to be experiencing moderate to severe bungling getting launched (except for maybe Oregon, who even budgeted for hipster troubadours?). This is an issue where I’m really more concerned as a consumer than as a citizen. Once the public option was off the table (never mind the fact that “health care reform” is discussed separately from the farm bill), it was clear we’d be getting screwed. I don’t have the bandwidth to ponder whether the screwing is more or less severe than what we’d have without Obamacare. Certainly it bought already privileged kids like myself a couple years of cushion by being able to stay on our parents insurance till our 26th. But my time is just about up …

See also:

Adult Contemporary @ Maplewood-South Orange Studio Tour

I’ll be showing some work tomorrow as part of the Adult Contemporary Lifestyle Collective at the Maplewood-South Orange Studio Tour. Swing by if you’re in town, have some refreshments, and check out a range of work by young artists raised in the Jersey suburbs who have either returned or never left.


Adult Contemporary Lifestyle Collective
South Orange-Maplewood Studio Tour
Sunday June 3, 11am – 5pm
122 Prospect Pl, South Orange, NJ

Live Tweets from Maplewood-South Orange BOE Meeting on De-Leveling

[For context, check out my last blog post on the issue; also Cris Thorne‘s excellent documentary-in-progress De-Leveling the System]

9:22 PM: Live tweet msosd BOE meeting: heart warming speeches in favor of educational equity. Yay!
[edit: transcript of Board of Ed member Bill Gaudelli’s excellent speech here]

10:03 PM: BOE member Gleason uses USA’s low PISA scores to defend leveled instruction; Finland scores highest in world & is committed to edu equality
[see: “What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland’s School Success” and “How, and How Not, to Improve the Schools“]

10:15 PM: Many community members speaking against proposal including real estate agent & board of trustees member. #movetomillburn

10:19 PM: Cool many community members in favor also speaking.

10:24 PM: Both sides of this agree can agree on one thing: 2 min is not enough for public comment.

10:32 PM: Gleason makes motion to break proposal into 3 pieces: IB middle school, middle school levelup, & chs level restructuring

10:33 PM: Vote 5-4 to separate the proposal.

10:34 PM: IB program passes unanimously

10:39 PM: Gleason trying to table proposal until there is a gifted and talented program; Daugherty disagrees, “don’t let perfect be enemy of good.”

10:40 PM: Middle school proposal passes 7:2!

10:41 PM: CHS proposal passes 8-1! #townpride

[As my friend Dan (who also stuck it out for the meeting) put it, now time for all the work!]

Remarks on Proposed Middle School De-leveling.

Context: The Maplewood-South Orange School District, which I attended my entire public school career, is in the process of de-leveling the middle school. The district belongs to a community with many wonderful and unique characteristics: suburban, easy public access to NYC, artistically vibrant, and both racially and economically diverse. But the leveling system reveals an uglier side, as the school is blatantly segregated along racial (and socio-economic) lines.

You can read the district’s proposal here. A paper profiling three case studies of successful elimination of “curricular stratification” can be found here. Its focus is on how to de-level, but the endnotes contain an overview of the literature on why, with two decades of papers discussing the benefits of heterogeneous grouping. Our district is in communication with one of the district’s profiled, and seems to be following the steps outlined in the paper.

Finally, I was inspired to prepare these remarks after attending a discussion of alumni last week. It was a powerful post-mortem on our public school experiences. Hearing first-hand the vastly different experience some of my peers had in the very same schools has motivated me to get involved in this issue (again). The discussion was hosted by a filmmaker and fellow district alumnus Cris Thorne, who is working on a documentary called Deleveling the System. Excerpts of the discussion are online here and here. Additionally, I highly recommend Cris’s earlier documentary (produced as a high school student!), One School, for more background.

Finally, I should note that I was unable to read the complete transcript, because I had prepared for the standard 3 minutes of public comment and found out upon arrival that we were restricted to two minutes.

My name is Rebecca Rojer, CHS class of 2005.

As a k-12 alumnus of this district, it is clear to me that the leveling system is not colorblind. In both the classrooms and the hallways, white students are consistently given the benefit of the doubt, while black students are assumed to be trouble-makers and low achievers. Students enter school with different degrees of preparedness, but the leveling system calcifies these differences into inequalities.

Worse, the leveling system turns prejudice into self-fulfilling prophecy. Low expectations correlate to low performance. For example, women perform worse on math exams after being told there is a genetic difference in math ability between the sexes.

There is clearly a place for grouping students by skill-level and motivation. But it is not always beneficial, even for “top” students. This is especially true of the turbulent and vicious middle-school years, where academic success is better predicted by behavior and obedience than by aptitude.

There are many styles of learning – fast, slow, deep, shallow, literal, abstract, disciplined, intuitive – yet we conceive of “high” and “low” achievers through standardized tests that are valued precisely because they simplify everyone onto a single metric. When testing becomes the end game of education, we all suffer. Excessive reliance on testing dehumanizes students and ultimately sabotages their education. Students who feel valued and respected are more apt to learn. The infuriating paradox in our district is that top-level classes are discussion based, encouraging of critical thinking and debate, while lower-level classes too often focus exclusively on test prep.

Education is about empathy, respect, creativity, and citizenship as much as it is about literacy and arithmetic. These values reenforce each other. Knowledge is power, and schools should empower students. Let’s teach compound interest alongside the history of redlining and predatory lending. Education is about life, not the GEPA.

There is much to be gained by heterogenous classes. One of the best ways to learn something is to teach it to a peer. And one of the best ways to be challenged, is to be confronted by someone who’s experiences and values are different from your own. That is what I most cherish from my education in this district. And for that, I really have to thank a group of my classmates, some of whom who are here tonight, for literally stopping classes my senior year to create a conversation among students in different levels.

Lets not forget, we’re all in this together. Today’s students are tomorrow’s voters, workers, mortgage-signers, taxpayers, parents, neighbors. Your children’s lives are affected not just by their own education, but by the education of everyone who participates in this society. To fret about the rigor of your special snowflake’s 6th grade social studies curriculum in light of massive, structural inequality is short-sighted and just plain wrong.

There is a wide-spread assumption that integrating classes will destroy our education system and wipe out our property values. Students can feel this very early on, and it is exactly this kind of attitude that perpetuates inequality. The best way to lift your property values is to do what’s right: work towards a system that benefits all students instead of only half. Lets reject the politics of fear, and instead move forward with empathy, creativity, and determination.

ASHLEY/AMBER screenings in Berlin, Toronto & NJ

[cross-posted at www.ashley-amber.com]

Lots of screenings coming up!

NJ Film Festival

Fri 10.14.2011 / 7p / Rutgers University
Voorhees Hall #105, 71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick, NJ
Best of 2011 New Jersey International Film Festival
Best of 2011 New Jersey International Film Festival #1

Brotfabrik Berlin

13, 14 & 15 October / 18 Uhr / In der Brotfabrik
Back To Politics Teil 1

Toronto’s National Film Board Cinema

Sat. 22 October / 7p / National Film Board Cinema, Toronto
150 John Street, Toronto, CA
Wildsound Toronto Film Festival
For free tickets, email info@wildsound.ca