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Save Public Schools Night exposes destruction of public education

By David Hungerford

Irvington, NJ – The Coalition to Save Our Homes held Save Public Schools Night here on March 11. An outstanding panel spoke to a full room. There are many reasons why an organization dedicated to the struggle against predatory lending would give a program to oppose the destruction of public schools and their replacement by charter schools (private schools run with public school money).

All roads lead to Wall Street. Both predatory lending and closings of public schools are due to Wall Street’s plunder of every human need in order to seize money for its profits.

Both predatory lending and school closings are particularly aimed at communities of people of color. Essex County, New Jersey, in which the cities of Newark and Irvington are located, has the highest foreclosure rate of any county in the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut region. Irvington and Newark are among the hardest hit in Essex. Both have high concentrations of Black and Latino people. Also, more than 20 Newark schools have been closed in the last three years. All but one are in areas that serve African American neighborhoods.

Also, combined struggles on more than one front strengthen every area of the people’s struggle for economic justice. The battles for a real national health care system for all, a good quality public school education for all, full employment in good-paying jobs, and others, are closely linked.

For several years there has been a huge uproar in Newark against school closings. Thousands have turned out at public meetings to oppose the actions of the dictatorial Trenton-imposed administration.

Annette Alston of the Newark Teachers’ Association said students find themselves suddenly forced to attend charter schools far from where they live. There is a new teachers’ evaluation rubric that is either not understood by administrators or abused by them. Teachers are forced out of their jobs and careers for no good reason. A recent study found charter schools in Newark outperform public schools. However, the study did not take into account that charter schools select students from households with high parental involvement; they expel others they do not want, and so forth. It is only being done to save money on public schools. Years ago women were attacked for being witches, she said. Now teachers, who are mostly women, are being attacked. It also appears that a large proportion of affected teachers are black.

Kathleen Witcher of the Irvington NAACP, and a retired educator, gave an evaluation of charter schools based on her family’s experience. Her children went through Newark public schools and went to colleges like Stanford, Rutgers, and USC; one has a PhD. She has grandnieces in charter schools. Her monitoring turned up things she called horrendous. Students are not taught mathematics from axioms but from ditto sheets – just plug in the numbers and keep going. A grandniece won a scholarship to a prestigious boarding school but couldn’t write essays because they had not been taught in charter school. Meanwhile the state of New Jersey is being allowed to shortchange public schools.

Sharon Smith of Parents Unified for Local School Education (PULSE) quoted Dr. Martin Luther King who spoke of people who sleep through a revolution. She said we are in a revolution now and must find new responses. Public schools are destroyed by the lack of resources while charter schools get all the latest equipment, for instance. On Jan. 9, people from 18 cities concerned with a “new mode of education that is destroying our children” went to Washington to meet with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

There is no sustainable, positive change coming from charter schools. It all stems from Wall Street demands for profits. The group filed a Title 6 complaint (civil rights violation) against school closings. The group won a federally-supported grass roots tour of affected school districts and a federal hearing on school closings. Also, six schools in Newark named for closing remain open.

Still there is no new investment in affected school districts, with wholesale firing of teachers. Potentially 185,000 students are in danger of having their schools closed. PULSE is planning a “Journey for Justice” to keep schools open.

The evening was a definite step toward building a broad front of unity in the people's struggle for economic justice. The linkage of issues went a long way toward showing the problem is capitalism itself.

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