Archives for category: New Jersey

New Jersey is a corrupt state, whose Democratic leadership controls the state and patronage. The Democratic machine worked happily with Republican Governor Chris Christie.

The Working Families Party is fighting to upend the Democratic establishment, whose titular head is boss George Norcross, who happens to be a member of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club and the Democratic National Committee.

One WFP member, Sue Altman, was recently arrested and forcibly removed from a public hearing.

Altman previously lived in New York, where she was a founding member of NYSAPE, the group that fights high-stakes testing.

The confrontation was brief but explosive, and it laid bare the deepening fault lines within the Democratic Party in one of America’s bluest states.

New Jersey state troopers singled out Sue Altman, the leader of the left-leaning Working Families Alliance, grabbed her by the arms and forcibly removed her from a standing-room-only State Senate hearing on corporate tax breaks.

She was led past her main political rival, George E. Norcross III, a Democratic power broker who was at the hearing to testify in support of an $11 billion economic incentive program that Ms. Altman had criticized harshly and that is the subject of state investigations and subpoenas.

The imagery and its aftermath have roiled Trenton, exposing a generational and philosophical rift between progressive and mainstream Democrats that is mirrored nationwide…

Images of the clash were shared widely on social media — including by Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a Democratic presidential candidate — amplifying tensions between the Democratic factions that control the state government: lawmakers aligned with the progressive first-term governor, Philip D. Murphy, and those, including the powerful State Senate president, who are linked to Mr. Norcross…

Her outspokenness about corporate tax breaks and her decision to live in Camden, a city seen as the Norcross family’s inviolable power base, made her a ready target for opponents long before the contentious Senate hearing.

Ms. Altman regularly spars with the powers-that-be on Twitter and seems to revel in the role of outside agitator. Barely a week into her job as the alliance’s director, she participated in a demonstration where protesters stood near an inflatable pig handing out fake million-dollar bills stamped with Mr. Norcross’s face.

She credits her years on the basketball court with making her comfortable in the political scrum. After leading her college team at Columbia University in scoring, she played professionally in Ireland and Germany. She went on to teach and coach at Blair Academy before studying at Oxford, where she also played basketball.

“You’re going to get booed,” she said. “You still have to make your foul shots.”

She is flirting with the possibility of making a primary run against Donald Norcross. “I haven’t ruled it out,” she said, despite taking no concrete steps toward a campaign…“She doesn’t have to stay here,” said Ronsha Dickerson, 42, an African-American mother of six who works for an organization that has called for a moratorium on new charter schools in Camden. “But she’s chosen this space to really be committed to making change.”



Cory Booker was recently interviewed by the Washington Post, and he was asked about his past support for vouchers and his friendship with Betsy DeVos. 

He insisted that he turned against vouchers in 2006, and he barely remembered any connection to DeVos. When someone asked if he had flown to Michigan in 2000 at the request of Dick and Betsy DeVos to support their voucher referendum, he at first denied it, then when shown a tape, he said he didn’t remember it.

He opposed DeVos’ nomination to be Secretary of Education in 2017.

DeVos’s allies are stunned by what they call his turnabout. They view Booker’s effort to distance himself from her and her agenda as a betrayal. 

Now that it is politically inconvenient, he has distanced himself from the issue and those who helped launch his political career,” said William E. Oberndorf, who was chairman of the American Education Reform Council when DeVos and Booker were on the board. “Cory once told me that his father used to say to him, ‘Never forget the girl who brought you to the dance.’ I can only conclude that Cory not only forgot one of the girls who brought him to the dance, he missed his . . . moment to stand up for an issue he always said he believed in.” 

Booker’s advocacy for vouchers won him the financial support of conservative Republicans who were delighted to see a black Democratic Mayor supporting their cause.

Booker’s political career took off as a parade of wealthy philanthropists, hedge fund managers and others who supported DeVos’s “school choice” viewpoint poured money into his campaigns and pet projects. 

In 2000, with their voucher referendum on the ballot, the DeVos family invited Booker to debate the legislative director of the ACLU. She kept a tape of the debate and shared it with the Post. The voucher proposal went down to a crushing defeat by 3-1.

In September 2000, Booker delivered a blistering pro-voucher speech to the Manhattan Institute, a conservative policy group. 

Booker’s 2006 race for mayor of Newark won the support of many conservative Republicans. He proposed tuition tax credits (a form of voucher) and went all-in for charters.

When he ran for the Senate in 2014 in a special election, he was helped by Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, who held a fundraiser for him.

As recently as May 2016, Booker appeared again before the group that DeVos chaired, the American Federation for Children. After DeVos delivered a speech defending herself against attacks from Democrats, Oberndorf warmly introduced Booker, praising his commitment to school choice.

Booker spoke proudly about the growing number of students in Newark’s charter schools, saying, “This mission of this organization is the mission of our nation. . . . I have been involved with this organization for 10 years and I have seen the sacred honor of those here.” 

As Booker finished his speech, the audience gave him a standing ovation. To DeVos and her allies, it seemed that Booker was still firmly in the fold, according to Oberndorf. 

But a year later, he opposed DeVos’ nomination.

Booker’s vote shattered his career-long alliance with DeVos and stunned her supporters. 

“Cory gained a great deal of political support thanks to his association with Betsy and other supporters,” said Mitchell, the president of the American Education Reform Council when Booker and DeVos were board members. “His abandonment of school choice and of Betsy makes it clear that his professed commitment to the issue and his friendship with her were fueled by political ambition, not principle.” 

Betsy helped to fund his political career. But it was no longer convenient to be her friend.



When then Governor Christie and then Mayor Cory Booker persuaded billionaire Mark Zuckerberg to give $100 million to impose corporate reform on Newark, performance pay for teachers was the heart of their plan. Pay the “best” teachers for getting high scores, eliminate “bad” teachers, and Newark schools would be transformed.

In a major blow to the corporate reform movement, the latest teacher contract in Newark just eliminated performance pay.

It didn’t work in Newark, and it hasn’t worked anywhere else. It is a zombie idea. Teachers aren’t holding back, waiting for a bonus to goad them on. They are doing the best they know how. With help and support, they can improve, but not because of rewards and threats.

Merit pay was the heart of a ‘revolutionary’ teachers contract in Newark. Now the Cory Booker-era policy is disappearing.

In 2012, Newark teachers agreed to a controversial new contract that linked their pay to student achievement — a stark departure from the way most teachers across the country are paid.

The idea was to reward teachers for excellent performance, rather than how many years they spent in the district or degrees they attained. Under the new contract, teachers could earn bonuses and raises only if they received satisfactory or better ratings, and advanced degrees would no longer elevate teachers to a higher pay scale.

The changes were considered a major victory for the so-called “education reform” movement, which sought to inject corporate-style accountability and compensation practices into public education. And they were championed by an unlikely trio: New Jersey’s Republican governor, the Democratic-aligned leader of the nation’s second-largest teachers union, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who had allocated half of his $100 million gift to Newark’s schools to fund a new teachers contract.

“In my heart, this is what I was hoping for: that Newark would lead a transformational change in education in America,” then-Gov. Chris Christie said in Nov. 2012 after the contract was ratified.

Seven years later, those changes have been erased.

Last week, negotiators for the Newark Teachers Union and the district struck a deal for a new contract that scraps the bonuses for top-rated teachers, allows low-rated teachers to earn raises, and gives teachers with advanced degrees more pay. It also eliminates other provisions of the 2012 contract, which were continued in a follow-up agreement in 2017, including longer hours for low-performing schools.

“All vestiges of corporate reform have been removed,” declared a union document describing the deal.

Cory Booker has a long and well-documented record of disparaging public schools and enthusiastically supporting charters, even vouchers. Now, he says he will dedicate himself to public schools and stop privatization, as if he had not been one of the leading cheerleaders for both charters and vouchers for the past two decades.

Valerie Strauss wrote here about his deep ties over the years to Betsy DeVos. 

Booker began his advocacy for vouchers twenty years ago.

“In 1999, Booker was a member of the Municipal Council of Newark and worked with conservatives to form an organization that sought to create a voucher program and bring charter schools to New Jersey.”

He helped Dick and Betsy DeVos try to sell vouchers in Michigan in 2000. Fortunately, they were unsuccessful. As Jennifer Berkshire pointed out in her article about Booker’s help for the DeVos voucher campaign, the DeVos family spent millions, but the people of Michigan rejected vouchers by a vote of 69-31%.

When Booker ran for mayor of Newark in 2001, the DeVos family contributed $1,000 to his campaign. Cheapskates.

Veteran journalist Dale Russakoff wrote a book called The Prize about Cory Booker’s alliance with Republican Governor Chris Christie and their determination to turn Newark into the “New Orleans of the North” by privatizing as many public schools as possible. Booker was a favorite of Wall Street and philanthrocapitalists, and he and Christie persuaded Mark Zuckerberg to put up $100 million to spur privatization in Newark.

Regular readers of this blog have read the many posts by blogger Jersey Jazzman (Mark Weber) about the statistical legerdemain that Newark charters play, the cream-skimming they do to get the students they want and exclude those that might pull down their test scores..

If you open the link at NPE Action, you will see that Booker’s campaigns have drawn the campaign funding of the usual billionaires and Wall Street hedge funders who have done their best to undermine public education.

Booker was feted by rightwing think tanks like the Manhattan Institute and named a “champion of charters” by the National Alliance for Public [sic] Charter Schools in 2017.

But his support for vouchers was not long, long ago.

In 2012, he endorsed Governor Chris Christie’s voucher proposal.

In 2016, he addressed Betsy DeVos’s American Federation for Children to express his support for their mission of replacing public schools with charters and vouchers.

Due to his contempt for one of our most important public, democratic institutions, I cannot support Cory Booker.

If he is the Democratic candidate, which seems unlikely, I will hold my nose and vote for him, because any Democrat is better than Trump. Even Cory Booker.




Cory Booker has been a devoted promoter of charters and vouchers for many years.

He worked closely with Republican Governor Chris Christie and together they persuaded Mark Zuckerberg to pony up $100 million to promote the charterization of Newark. He often boasts about what he accomplished by privatizing public schools.

But now that he wants to be president, he has suddenly decided that he will be a champion for public schools, not charters or vouchers. 

Could it be that he did the math and realized that 85-90% of students attend public schools. Only 6% attend charter schools. And he may have noticed that despite the efforts of his former dear friend Betsy DeVos, voters don’t like vouchers. They don’t want public dollars to underwrite religious schools.

Some of his allies are not at all happy about the new Cory.

It just goes to show where the wind is blowing: in  favor of public schools, not charters or vouchers.



Jersey Jazzman knows that the leaders of the Disruption Movement are always on the hunt for proof that their theories work. One model district after another has had its moment in the sun, then sinks into oblivion.

The district of the moment, he writes, is Camden, possibly the poorest in the state. Most people might look at Camden and think that what’s needed most is jobs and good wages. Disrupters have a different answer: Charter Schools.

In an earlier post, he explained how charters “cream” the students they want to get better results and wow naive editorial writers.

In this post, he wrote that Camden was supposed to prove that charters can take every child in the district and succeed. They would not select only the ones they wanted.

Because Camden was going to be the proof point that finally showed the creaming naysayers were wrong with a new hybrid model of schooling: the renaissance school. These schools would be run by the same organizations that managed charter schools in Newark and Philadelphia. The district would turn over dilapidated school properties to charter management organizations (CMOs); they would, in turn, renovate the facilities, using funds the district claimed it didn’t have and would never get.

But most importantly: these schools would be required to take all of the children within the school’s neighborhood (formally defined as its “catchment”). Creaming couldn’t occur, because everyone from the neighborhood would be admitted to the school. Charter schools would finally prove that they did, indeed, have a formula for success that could be replicated for all children.

It turned out not to be true, however. He calls Camden “the very big lie.”

In the third post about Camden, Jersey Jazzman gives his readers a lesson about the limitations of the CREDO methodology.

He starts here:

I and others have written a great deal over the years about the inherent limitations and flaws in CREDO’s methodology. A quick summary:

The CREDO reports rely on data that is too crude to do the job properly. At the heart of CREDOs methodology is their supposed ability to virtually “match” students who do and don’t attend charter schools, and compare their progress. The match is made on two factors: first, student characteristics, including whether students qualify for free lunch, whether they are classified as English language learners (in New Jersey, the designation is “LEP,” or “limited English proficient”), whether they have a special education disability, race/ethnicity, and gender.

The problem is that these classifications are not finely-grained enough to make a useful match. There is, for example, a huge difference between a student who is emotionally disturbed and one who has a speech impairment; yet both would be “matched” as having a special education need. In a city like Camden, where childhood poverty is extremely high, nearly all children qualify for free or reduced-price lunch (FRPL), which requires a family income below 185 percent of the poverty line. Yet there is a world of difference between a child just below that line and a child who is homeless. If charter schools enroll more students at the upper end of this range — and there is evidence that in at least some instances they do — the estimates of the effect of charter schools on student learning growth very likely will be overstated….

A “study” like the Camden CREDO report attempts to compare similar students in charters and public district schools by matching students based on crude variables. Again, these variables aren’t up to the job — but just as important, students can’t be matched on unmeasured characteristics like parental involvement. Which means the results of the Camden CREDO report must be taken with great caution.

And again: when outcomes suddenly shift from year-to-year, there’s even more reason to suspect the effects of charter and renaissance schools are not due to factors such as better instruction.

One more thing: any positive effects found in the CREDO study are a fraction of what is needed to close the opportunity gap with students in more affluent communities. There is simply no basis to believe that anything the charter or renaissance schools are doing will make up for the effects of chronic poverty, segregation, and institutional racism from which Camden students suffer.

This is a richly argued and documented critique that deserves your full attention.

Underneath the search for miracles is the wish that equality can be purchased on the cheap. This satisfies the needs of politicians who want desperately believe there are easy answers to tough problems. JJ reminds us that there are not.

If politicians stopped looking for quick fixes, miracles, and secret sauce, it might be possible to have serious discussions about our problems and how to solve them.




Jersey Jazzman seems to be in an endless battle with New Jersey’s largest newspaper, The Star-Ledger, or at least with the writer of its editorials. He went to the trouble of getting a doctorate in statistics so he could persuade that editorialist to understand how the charters produce high test scores. It is called creaming, picking the best and excluding the rest. 

This article explains how in works.

Creaming has become a central issue in the whole debate about the effectiveness of charters. A school “creams” when it enrolls students who are more likely to get higher scores on tests due to their personal characteristics and/or their backgrounds. The fact that Newark’s charter schools enroll, as a group, fewer students with special education needs — particularly high-cost needs — and many fewer students who are English language learners is an indication that creaming may be in play.

If you understand how creaming works (as in skimming the cream from the milk bottle when it rises to the top—a phenomenon unknown to people below a certain age), then the charter claims of superiority are unimpressive.

If you don’t understand, and you refuse to try, then you will find the Newark Test Scores to be “incredible,” as the Star-Ledger did. Parse that word: Incredible. Not credible.










Mercedes Schneider wrote a post about Cory Booker’s brother, Cary, who opened two charter schools in Tennessee with an ally. His application had lofty goals. He pledged that 95% of his students would score proficient on state tests. He and his partner were astonished when the state took their promise seriously. Apparently they were just engaging in marketing by making a promise they had no intention of fulfilling.

Their charters were closed.

But no worry. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy creates a sinecure for Cary Booker, again in education. The moral of the story: Deformers fail upwards.


Jersey Jazzman untangles a simpleminded assertion by New Jersey Reformers: Harder Tests Make kids smarterand Cause scores to go up.

We have been hearing this claim since NCLB was enacted.

And we must ask, what’s the connection between scores going up and learning more?

Test prep can drive scores higher too.


Tom Ultican writes here about the billionaire takeover of Camden, New Jersey. It was easy. Working with Republican Governor Chris Christie, who was eager to have someone take responsibility for the schools in the state’s poorest district, the billionaires got what they wanted.

Camden was their plaything, their Petri dish.

Have they ended poverty yet?