We spent a bit of time a week ago looking into some of the extremist, divisive rhetoric Michelle Fine has been using around education policy – rhetoric that we don’t think has fostered a helpful policy discussion in Montclair. Along the way we ran across a quote from her given in testimony that really shocked us. We’re including a clip of it here from the PDF:
That’s right: “No apologizes for the gross inequities across schools in New Jersey”. And to pour gasoline on that, she goes on to defend the system and say that despite “undeniable” variations (gross inequities) by race, ethnicity and class, “we can be proud” of the system. We’ll be blunt: we find such a blasé approach to these inequities pretty offensive.
Our read on this is pretty straightforward. The testimony was given in response to a debate about charter schools, and Fine was opposing their expansion. (Incidentally, we personally don’t think charters are a good fit for Montclair, but – unlike Fine – we don’t think people who support charters are all a bunch of cartoon-character plutocrats with evil intentions). Fine was defending how great Jersey schools are doing, and pushing back on criticisms of the system. Given the context, we read her language here to say that she doesn’t perceive those gross inequities in our public schools (both between schools, and within individual schools between the performance of different groups of students) to be a real problem or to be something worth apologizing for.
We – respectfully – disagree. We think that a lot of our schools have been failing and/or poorly serving a lot of our students (including kids here in Montclair). That’s gross inequity. And those gross inequities exist here in Montclair and have for awhile:
Board of Education members were told Monday night that economically disadvantaged blacks students are falling behind their white classmates at the elementary school level by as many as 60 percentage points in language arts and nearly 50 points in mathematics according to the most recent series of state-mandated standardized testing.
But the admin’s efforts to do something about it have been attacked and disrupted – as a tipster reported – by Fine and her lackeys.
Given the context of whole quote, those attacks from her and the rest of MCAS are predictable. Fine is defending the status quo that’s failing to serve a lot of our kids well. Efforts to improve and make changes threaten the niche she and her allies have carved out in the system. Fine says the “gross inequities” are nothing to apologize for, and proceeds to defend the system that produces them. This, we think, sheds a bit of light on the meaning of the name of the attack group she helped create, “Montclair Cares About Schools”: her concern is with protecting the system (“Schools”) rather than the kids who are poorly served by them (or it would be Montclair Cares About Students, or something similar). And we disagree with both her disregard for those inequities and her focus on the system itself ahead of the interests of our students that are to be educated by it.
If the system isn’t serving kids well, then it needs to change. And given Fine’s aggressive opposition to that, the goal of her and MCAS has been to attack any changes made in an effort to, for example, close that achievement gap. It’s telling – and incredibly frustrating – that they would go so far as to disrupt the Achievement Gap committee’s meeting.
We expect Fine would fine some way to say we’re misinterpreting her here, but we don’t think we are (though we welcome her response). To say there’s no need to apologize for the gross inequities in our system that are hurting a lot of students and families, and then to defend the system vociferously and tout it as an example of success makes her position on these issues – to us at least – very clear, and very clearly wrongheaded.