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The Ugly Truth About the New Jersey Student Walkout: No Sense, No Debate

The scene depicted at the right is an old one, but a segment of New Jersey’s student population wants you to think that it’s from April, 2010 – and that Governor Chris Christie is wielding the hose.

Today, students in New Jersey public schools walked out of class to protest budget cuts:

Civil Rights Protest, Hose

Thousands of New Jersey high school students walked out of class Tuesday to protest budget cuts, a statewide event organized through text messages and social networking websites.

The anatomy of a protest was on full display at Englewood’s Dwight Morrow High School. It started with a small group of students who tested the waters Tuesday morning.

“Education should always be the first priority,” said junior Amber Diaz.

I’d argue that insisting on reform, which includes the defeat of bloated, unsustainable fiscal plans and the failing systems that perpetuate them, isn’t making education a lesser priority, but that argument tends to get lost when the NJEA and “for the children!” are on the other side.

What’s remarkable here is the truth behind this walkout: that not only was it misguided, but that its supporters – including the event’s organizer Michelle Ryan Lauto – aren’t all that interested in figuring out any real solutions to New Jersey’s education problems.

Derrell Bradford, Executive Director of Excellent Education for Everyone (E3) is an education reform warrior. I’m no shrinking violet, but he’s the best. If I had a child and could choose one person on the national education scene to advocate for him, I’d choose Bradford. He live-Tweeted the walkout in Newark with some salient observations:

– Students in Newark protesting budget cuts…not the terrible caliber of education they receive. Let’s get our eye on the ball folks.

– @ByronArnao Better than my view. Newark has 9 of the worst high schools in NJ. I wonder which one these kids go to http://twitpic.com/1ivmu8

– Newark student walkout just rolled past my window. Appx 40% of kids here fail exit exam…in one of America’s most expensive districts.

– Newark students protest budget cuts. Newark pays less than 10% of its school costs and has 20% of the state’s worst schools.

– Wonder if more seat time would be preferable to rallying for schools that are draining the life from our kids. Stop defending failure.

I agree with Bradford; the walkout misses the point. The protest doesn’t take into account that there are reforms that result in responsible budgeting and, believe it or not, better educational outcomes for students. One could also assume that eliminating instructional time – especially in Newark, which does an abysmal job of educating too many of its youth in even the most fundamental areas – doesn’t help achievement. Eventually Bradford got on with his day:

– At a school in Jersey City with kids learning, and not protesting. Imagine that. #edreform #njea

Amen, brother.

I took the policy discussion to Twitter myself; I was told by one New Jersey teacher that the walkout was a ‘good way to learn about the 60′s’ and by an NJ administrator that it was an ‘authentic edu experience.’

Reasons #13,984 and #13,985 why I didn’t go to ed school, but I digress.

So what of the protest’s organizer, Michelle Ryan Lauto, and her commitment to finding the best solution to a difficult problem? Mashable tells us how it went down:

“According to students who took part in the protest, it was largely organized via social networking efforts — texts, MySpace and, of course, the original Facebook Event. Lauto has been tweeting about the walkout all day, expressing her joy at the turnout and excitement about the barrage of interview requests she has received from the media. In fact, we’re currently waiting on comment from Lauto, who — last she e-mailed us — was preparing to meet a camera crew at her house.”

May God bless Lauto; the media already has.

Surely a graduate of an NJ public school, and now a college freshman, with the initiative to create a massive Facebook campaign resulting in the removal of thousands of students from class would be interested in open, intellectually honest debate about education – and her Tweets proved it:

– LONG day. I am so proud of everyone. All you courageous protesters show so much promise and hope for the future. Always speak your mind.

I disagree with Michelle’s protest, but I’m on board with “Always speak your mind.” We need to discuss solutions to New Jersey’s problems now more than ever, and there are quite a few problems and solutions to consider in this mess. I Tweeted her:

– @Michelle_Ryan  Since you’ve Tweeted “Always speak your mind,” I will – the NJ student walkout you organized was disgraceful. #njea #edreform

And that’s when this darling of political discourse – of civil disobedience, of courage, of ‘fight the power’ no matter how illogical or misguided – showed how committed she was to open debate:

Yipes. She’s learned a lot about political advocacy in less than a year at Pace; only engage on your terms, and if it doesn’t follow your narrative, shut’em up. Or run for the hills, whatever.

Such is the intellectual depth behind her protest – that standard youthful mantra, ‘I believe what I want to believe, I won’t be bothered by any arguments against it, and gosh-darnit, we’re entitled to whatever we want, NOW!’

Now, of course, Michelle is famous – a budding Alinskyite [actually, as an article said, an actress] who’s shown Governor Chris Christie the power of New Jersey’s youth. She gushed all day about interviews with CBS, the New York Times, CBS Radio, NJN, Associated Press… she’s a pro.

I’d paste those messages, but our darling Michelle has gone from blocking me to blocking everyone – she’s protected her Tweets. Sorry, folks!

Is she interested in any real dialogue about education reform in New Jersey? Not a chance. If your narrative doesn’t match hers, she doesn’t want any part of it. Something tells me a few thousand kids in New Jersey shared that philosophy today – and that the NJEA loved every minute of it.

After all, these are the same folks who think that New Jersey is about to be ruled by the next Pol Pot, that “A–hole” is spelled “C-H-R-I-S-T-I-E” and that you should “never trust a fat f—.”

They also just used thousands of New Jersey schoolkids, whether Michelle Ryan Lauto and her teenage hordes realize it or not.

Why Charter Schools are Billed as “Tuition Free”

Jerry Seinfeld

Charles Lussier is filling in for Linda Perlstein over at The Educated Reporter this week. Today’s rant is about the use of “tuition free” to describe charter schools. You can almost hear him channeling his inner-Seinfeld and asking the world, “So what’s the deal with tuition free?!?” Here we go:

“OK, Pet Peeve Time, readers of The Educated Reporter. Why is that so many charter schools in their promotional messages describe themselves as “tuition free”? I understand that people often are confused about what charter schools are or are not, but they are emphatically public schools, not private schools.”

That has nothing to do with the issue of why charter schools bill themselves as “tuition free.” He continues:

“At a recent meeting I attended where a new Baton Rouge charter school was selling itself, the school’s director used this “tuition free” phrase. He said he’d worked at private schools and public schools and that charter schools were in the middle, “the best of both worlds.” Now, I understand a bit of what he’s saying — they are open to everyone, but have more freedom than traditional public schools — but come on! These are public schools, no question. Yes, some raise private money on the side to supplement their budgets, but so do many traditional public schools.”

Again, that has nothing to do with the issue of why charter schools bill themselves as “tuition free.” The real whine:

“The best explanation for selling yourself in this way, to me, is to persuade parents interested in private schools, but who can’t afford them, that going to a charter school is equivalent to attending a private school and doing so for free! Charter schools, while given some freedom, still have loads of laws to abide by that put them in the same family as traditional public schools. To my mind, it’s purposely misleading.”

No, Charles. You’ve missed the point completely. Here’s what I wrote:

Charles,

This is not a hard question, and it sure isn’t a mystery.

This is a simple PR issue.

Many parents – especially parents of children who can benefit most from charter schools – don’t realize that “charter school” means “at no cost to you.” So, a school bills itself in promotional literature/advertisements as “tuition free” to let parents know that they won’t have to pay a tuition bill to have their child attend.

Yes, it is that simple. End of story.

Perhaps the EWA blog should be renamed to “Educate A Reporter.” This time the lesson was tuition free.

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