Saturday, January 10, 2015

Bullying in New Jersey

I've been staring into the reformy abyss for over a year, and that involves such a general ongoing background level of outrage that it takes something special to really tweak the rage-o-meter. But this week, it happened, as reported by Adam Clark at

Contending that a Rutgers professor and public schools advocate has used her position, title and state university resources to wage a personally driven campaign against them, a group representing the state’s charter schools has filed an ethics complaint against the Save Our Schools NJ co-founder.

Yes, confronted by clear scientific data that conflicted with their position, the New Jersey Charter Schools Association did the only thing that reasonable, ethical, intelligent human beings can do in that situation-- they went after the bearer of bad tidings with a switchblade and brass knuckles. Not since Tonya Harding tried to have Nancy Kerrigan kneecapped have we seen such a reasoned and rational approach to conflicting views.

Dr. Julia Sass Rubin is the target of this baldfaced attempt at intimidation and character assassination, and she earned that privilege for her work with Mark Weber (aka Jersey Jazzman) in breaking down the demographics and achievement numbers for New Jersey charters.

The findings are, to students of charter schools, completely unsurprising. NJ charter success rests largely on enrolling fewer very poor students, fewer non-English speaking students, and fewer students with special needs. But putting that out there and backing it up with actual facts was really crimping NJCSA's style (and marketing). On top of that, Dr. Rubin has been active with Save Our Schools New Jersey, which has also upset the sad, delicate sensibilities of NJCSA (because, you know, no college professor in the history of ever has ever become involved in advocacy groups related to their field of expertise).

So, something had to be done.

You might think that "something" could include any one of the following:

* responding to Rubin's facts and analyses with facts and analyses
* sitting down with Rubin to discuss the implications and analyses of her work
* mounting a spirited response to her work, including using the data to tweak and improve the NJCSA business model

But no. We skipped right past that to, "Somebody has to shut that woman up." And so NJCSA has tried to attack Rubin professionally by bringing ethics charges against her. Her alleged unethical behavior is, as near as I can tell:

1) Saying things that the NJCSA doesn't like
2) Telling people what her job is when she speaks.

The complaint seriously seeks the remedy of having Rubin stop identifying herself as a Rutgers professor when she says these things that make the NJ Charter operators look like lying liars who lie. From coverage:

"The paper's conclusion and recommendations are identical to - and clearly intended to provide the appearance of legitimate academic support for - the lobbying positions that Dr. Rubin and SOSNJ have zealously promoted for years," the Charter Schools Association wrote in its complaint.
So, as a citizen, she's not allowed to believe what she believes as an academic? When her research as an academic leads her to certain conclusions, she must never talk about them outside of school? Or when she's speaking as a citizen, she is not allowed to note that she has professional training and skills that qualify her to make certain conclusions?

I can understand their confusion to a point. It is, of course, standard operating procedure in the reformster world to NOT identify who you actually work for, get money from, or otherwise are affiliated with. It's SOP to put out a slick "report" without actually explaining why anyone should believe you know what you're talking about, but Rubin and Weber go ahead and list their actual credentials. Apparently NJCSA's argument is that it's unethical to let people know why your work is credible.

The irony here is that Rubin and Weber's work is simply collecting and crunching numbers, and so is completely checkable. It wouldn't really member if they were a couple of garbage collectors-- their work would still stand up. But NJCSA wants to make sure that Rubin never again invokes the magic title of Rutgers professor, and they don't want SOSNJ to have the credibility of being connected to an actual certified professional with a university job. Oh, and they also want Rubin to stop "embarrassing" Rutgers.

This is bullying, and not even very impressive bullying, at that.

“We cannot sit back and allow our accomplishments, our achievements, to be questioned in the way that they have been questioned by Dr. Sass Rubin,” said Michael Turner, spokesperson for the New Jersey Charter Schools Association.

What way is that, exactly, Mr. Turner? If you think her facts are wrong, present your facts. If you think her analyses is wrong, present your analyses. If you think her reasoning is wrong, explain why.

"If you can silence academics that easily, then basically you have no freedom of speech for a lot of people who are often the only ones who can speak up," Rubin said. "And that's the whole idea of an academic institution, is, you have the ability to speak. No one assumes you're speaking for the university."

Exactly. The NJCSA is behaving like a punk, and like a weak punk at that who lacks the tools or the skills to come at Rubin and Weber directly. And they have more work to do, because as Weber points out on his own blog, the conclusions have already been acknowledged as the truth but Cami Anderson and Paymon Rouhanifard, so NJCSA better start ginning up a full scale job-threatening division for the entire state.

Rubin and Weber have been remarkably good sports. In the face of attack, Weber has written things like this:

If these fine, reformy fellows want to have a serious debate about charter school proliferation, that's cool with me. I'm not anti-charter; as I've said many times before, I started my K-12 teaching career in a charter school. There are some very good people working in charters, and many of these schools serve their students well. Good for them. 

And in an op-ed response, Rubin wrapped up with this:

We need to bring all the stakeholders together to discuss these and other solutions instead of wasting time on useless personal attacks. 

So, given the opportunity to let loose a "neener neener" or "so's your old man" on attackers who had shown no sign of being interested in actual dialogue, both Weber and Rubin kept their eyes on the real point-- the question of how best to serve the educational needs of students in New Jersey-- and acted like grown-ups.. If NJCSA has an ounce of class, they will put down their brass knuckles, put on their big girls pants, and deal with reality honestly and productively instead of trying to bully Rubin into silence.


  1. Given that it's New Jersey and the shining exemplar par excellence of ethical behavior is Gov. Christie, Sass Rubin will probably be found guilty and sentenced to hard labor in a max facility.

  2. Thank you so much for this, Peter. I had the opportunity to briefly meet Sass Rubin in person for the first time at Wednesday's New Jersey State Board of Education meeting in Trenton. I appreciate you coming to her defense. Full disclosure: I did agree to become a local organizer for Save Our Schools New Jersey back in November or December, which so far just means doing the same sort of information dissemination that I've been doing through my blogging and social media presence anyway.

    There's some real irony in the idea that the New Jersey Charter Schools Association, which advocates giving parents the choice to make "market-based" decisions regarding their kids' education, thinks that the best way to compete in that market is to try to silence those who are analyzing publicly-available information about the "charter school products" to determine if they measure up to the claims made in their glossy marketing materials. What manufacturer tells Consumer Reports that it doesn't want Consumer Reports to evaluate its product?

    If your product stinks, then that's on you, and attacking Consumer Reports isn't going to change that; instead, it will only further undermine the manufacturer's and product's credibility.