A Note on Words and Images

As the author of “Education for Sale?” in the March 27 issue of The Nation, I wish to note that I did not write and was not made aware of the subtitle attached to the article: “Betsy DeVos is an evangelist for extreme school ‘choice.’ Can the education system survive her agenda?” Nor did I know of or approve the lead image that accompanied the article and made its way into social media. Both suggested a personal attack on Secretary DeVos, something I would neither engage in nor condone.

The Learning Policy Institute is a nonpartisan research institute dedicated to informing policy development. We do not take positions on legislation or on policy-makers. We are committed to working with policy-makers from any party who are dedicated to improving our education system to ensure that all students have access to empowering and equitable high-quality education.

My colleagues and I have significant concerns about the ways in which some approaches to “school choice” can serve to undermine that goal. Those concerns are based on unbiased, rigorous research about the outcomes of charters and vouchers utilized differently in a number of US states and some other countries, as detailed in my article. If we are to make improvements to create the high-quality education systems our students so badly need, it will not happen by demonizing one another, nor by simplifying the issues. It must happen through civil collaboration by everyone involved, and by applying evidence to the pressing prob­lems at hand. Only then can we create an educational system in which all of our schools are worth choosing and all students and their families have real choices, with or without charter schools.

Linda Darling-Hammond
President, Learning Policy Institute 

Professor Emeritus, Stanford University

palo alto, calif.

New Jersey State of Mind

Bob and Barbara Dreyfuss’s story “John Wisniewski’s Insurgent Crusade” [March 13] completely misses the reality of what has been going on in the New Jersey gubernatorial race for the past year. They make it appear as though Phil Murphy is the tool of the party bosses and county committee chairmen. The reality is that the state Democratic Party was widely splintered, with most support in the southern counties expected to fall behind Senate President Steve Sweeney and the northern counties supporting Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop. Except nobody bothered to tell Murphy, who jumped into the race early and has worked his tail off ever since.

The surprise came when Fulop unexpectedly decided not to run and Murphy locked up the support of most of the county chairs. Murphy had the support of almost the entire state before Wisniewski even announced his candidacy. Wisniewski blames his lack of support on the backlash to his endorsement of Bernie Sanders. But the county chairmen don’t care who the candidate supported in the presidential race; they just want to win back the governor’s office, and they see Murphy as the best choice. To suggest that the party would not get behind Wisniewski were he to win the primary is ludicrous, and any comparisons to 2013 are ridiculous.

Murphy has earned the support of everyone who is behind him because he has been working every day, touting his inspiring personal story coupled with a detailed vision of what he will do as governor. Frankly, I am surprised and disappointed that the authors of this article did not make a better effort to understand what has really happened in New Jersey and to be more objective when it comes to Phil Murphy.

Stephen P. Dicht
margate, n.j.

The Dreyfusses Reply

Nowhere in our story did we say that Phil Murphy is a “tool” of the party bosses in New Jersey. But Murphy, an ultra-wealthy ex–Goldman Sachs banker, has spent lavishly to fund his own campaign, judiciously using huge sums to finance state and county Democratic organizations. Fulop, with his own vulnerabilities starting to surface, took one look at Murphy’s well-heeled head start and chose not to run. Ditto State Senator Steve Sweeney, an ally of South Jersey boss George Norcross, who also opted out. It’s all straight out of the playbook of Jon Corzine, another Goldman Sachs alum, who bought his way to the governorship.

Murphy has spent several years preparing for the race, funding brand-new think tanks—in fact, thinly disguised campaign fronts—and locking up New Jersey’s top campaign strategists and pollsters, meanwhile keeping John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s guru, up- to-date on his plans, according to WikiLeaks.

Mr. Dicht mentions Murphy’s “inspiring personal story.” It’s hard to see what’s inspiring about it: After 23 years at Goldman Sachs (through 2006), Murphy pocketed vast sums, including $153 million worth of stock in 1999, when Goldman went public. He helped oversee the bank’s predatory practices in Asia, in Germany, and in New York. Upon leaving Goldman, he became the Democratic National Committee’s finance chair, raising $300 million from wealthy donors—for which President Obama named him US ambassador to Germany.

Murphy has had the temerity to call John Wisniewski a typical New Jersey boss. If so, he bosses no one, since virtually every top Democratic official in the state has dutifully lined up behind Murphy—just as elected Democrats overwhelmingly backed Clinton over Sanders in 2016. By backing Sanders, Wisniewski made few friends at the top. He’s counting on grassroots support against an establishment, boss-allied opponent. The primary is June 6.

Bob and Barbara Dreyfuss
cape may, n.j.

Birthing Equality

Thank you for Zoë Carpenter’s “What’s Killing America’s Black Infants?” [March 6]. The article does a great job explaining the causes of black infant mortality—and the way potential solutions are not limited to doctors’ offices, but lie in the social, economic, and physical environments that drive health outcomes for babies, mothers, and families.

The article mentioned the important work of the Lifecourse Initiative for Healthy Families in Milwaukee. This initiative, which is funded by the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Medicine and Public Health through the Wisconsin Partnership Program, also works in Racine and Kenosha, as well as statewide, to change policies, systems, and environments so that all babies can thrive. For the Lifecourse Initiative to achieve its goal of reducing disparities in black-white infant mortality, we need everyone to understand this issue in the full complexity Carpenter so powerfully describes. Thank you for sharing this story.

Deborah Ehrenthal
Faculty Director, Lifecourse Initiative for Healthy Families
madison, wis.