Sunday, April 27, 2014

#NJEdTruthSquad: Just Gimme Some Truth, Jersey!

#NJEdTruthSquad  #NJEdTruth

Remember these hash tags.

Education 'reform' may be stifling creativity and collaboration in the classroom, but it's had an unintended consequence: it's made many of us stronger advocates for public education outside the classroom. All across the country education professionals, parents and community members are joining together, taking action and speaking out against the insanity.

Many of us didn't know each other a few years ago, but we are now a band of brothers and sisters, some of whom we've never met in person; some of whom have become like family; all of whom speak the same language. We inspire, encourage, support, lift each other's spirits, and most importantly, inform.

In addition to the countless ways Jersey Jazzman does all that—and makes it look so easy—yesterday he inspired me with this simple tweet:

Then last evening, I read this excellent call to action by Anthony Cody, another education leader who continually inspires me:

"We just wanted to teach, to make a difference in the lives of our students. But when that is made impossible, then we have no choice but to get organized and fight, for ourselves, and for the students we serve." (emphasis mine)

I urge you to read the entire piece. How can any educator (or parent or concerned citizen) not get involved after reading it?

There are too many people who are flat-out wrong about public education who are in positions of power and are steering the good ship Ed 'Reform' into a typhoon, and New Jersey has more than its share. Some, like Tom Moran and Laura Waters, author of the piece Duke mentions above, are deck hands or first officers. Others, like Christie, Cami and Cerf (he's gone, but not forgotten, and still doing reformy stuff, just on a bigger scale), are captains of the ship. They sugar coat their message with patronizing and misleading remarks about how much they love and respect teachers, but purposefully steer their efforts toward destroying public education, and away from poverty because to them poverty is a dirty word. They can't turn a profit from it. It can't be fixed with testing, 'data', chrome books, standards, teacher evaluations and all the other propaganda they spew. It can't be fixed using a for-profit model and that doesn't jive with their business plans. But they control the media, and therefore the message.

Except in places like Facebook and Twitter and comments on news sites.

So, as I sat in my car yesterday morning with the engine running—mid errands—reading Duke's tweet, I shut off the car, read the article (c'mon, admit it, how many of you ed junkies do that?), and re-tweeted it with this hash tag: #NJEdTruthSquad.

Then I sent out a call to action on Facebook and Twitter that any time you see that hash tag (or a shortened version: #NJEdTruth) you need to speak the truth. Whether it's re-tweeting or re-posting or leaving a comment on an article, we need to speak the truth! To paraphrase Diane Ravitch, they may have money but we have numbers. New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the country; there are a lot of us—teachers, parents, concerned citizens—who can and must speak the truth. If we don't, we hurt not only ourselves, but also our students, our own children and public education as a whole.

Silence equals acquiescence, agreement, capitulation. I for one will not go quietly. If I go, if we really do lose this battle (and I don't plan on it), I will be hoarse, bruised and bloodied because I will not stop fighting. Who's with me?

So, Jersey, time to get your Truth on! We need to be like sharks circling the water around that ed 'reform' ship taking bites out of the lies that pour out of its scupper holes. Whenever you see these hash tags:

#NJEdTruthSquad  #NJEdTruth

...that's a call to action. 

Just do it.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Tom Moran crosses the line in latest editorial


As noted at the end of this original post, Cami and Cerf are in AZ at the DAVOS conference. Here are her thoughts on dealing with those in Newark who are against her and One Newark. So glad she's on her white horse riding in to save everyone. 

(Note: as I was drafting this post this week, Bob Braun wrote several excellent pieces on One Newark, which I quoted from extensively. Oh to be retired and have time… Well, I can dream, can’t I?)

The Star Ledger is my newspaper of choice. I’m sorry to see it suffering so much financial hardship in recent days. On average I’ve tended to agree with editorial page editor, Tom Moran more than I’ve disagreed, but on education he’s just plain wrong.

Moran seems to hate teachers and public education almost as much as Christie does, and has made it blatantly clear in countless pieces including his rather strange retraction of the SL endorsement of Christie, going so far as to characterize the NJEA (a big supporter of Christie’s opponent, Senator Barbara Buono) as “regressive… [with] relentless efforts to protect bad teachers.” (Not too far removed from Christie’s own “greedy and selfish” mantra, wouldn’t you say?)

Jersey Jazzman has taken him on more times than I can count, but in case you missed any of them, here’s an example. Moran completely ignores all data, studies and research that prove corporate education ‘reform’, including the One Newark plan, does not work, and has accused those who reject its tenets, including Sen. Ron Rice (D-Essex), as "conspiracy theorists". He’s written several editorials praising Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson for her "sensible and bold reforms" in Newark. But if they’re so sensible and bold, why are the city’s parents, students and community leaders loudly rejecting her? His latest editorial explains it thus:

“Newark has a deeply rooted hostility toward outsiders, and Gov. Chris Christie, who appointed Anderson, is unpopular in the state-controlled district. It’s not clear that any politician could handle this gracefully.”

Is it my imagination or does this statement smack of racism? Jersey Jazzman, Dr. Bruce Baker and Dr. Joseph Oluwole recently released a study that exposes One Newark as racially biased to both students and teachers, but Moran characterizes the people of Newark as paranoid and insular because they don’t want their neighborhood schools closed and their lives uprooted by 21st Century carpetbaggers ready to make a quick reformy buck. Makes a whole lotta sense—especially when said carpetbaggers have absolutely NO IDEA what the heck they’re doing! (More on that later.) For 20 years the state has told Newark parents what they should want for their children’s education, because let’s face it, their schools are "failure factories" so what do they know?

But the backlash over One Newark is not only coming from a few "shrill and unreasonable" parents—Moran’s label for anyone who dares to stand up to Anderson at school board meetings. Seventy-seven clergy signed a letter to Gov. Christie and Cami Anderson calling for an immediate halt to One Newark. Bob Braun reports:

“The list includes Rev. William Howard, one of the state’s and the nation’s most prominent clerics, the first African-American president of the New York Theological Seminary and head of the National Council of Churches. Howard also served as chairman of the Rutgers University governing board. He is pastor of Bethany Baptist Church. 

“The strongly worded statement from the 77 religious leaders warned about the ‘venomous’ anger that had been provoked by the Christie/Anderson plan. 

“’We are extremely concerned about the level of public anger we see growing in the community, based upon an overwhelming sense of frustration, community disenfranchisement, and alienation that has resulted from the One Newark Public School Plan the Superintendent of Schools has proposed. It is not overly dramatic for us to say that we are extremely worried about the level and tone of the current emotional discourse.’ 

“There are many well-educated, reasonable minded, and rational individuals, parents, educators and citizens in general in the City of Newark. They all share an intense passion for excellence in education; they have come to feel that their input and voice have been repeatedly ignored. It is unfair to characterize Newarkers opposing the current approach to change as irrational and resistant to change in any case. Many voices of reason have been largely denied meaningful input into the decision-making process.”

The voices of 77 prominent ministers are hardly a "predictable shriek"!

Apparently Moran thinks the people of Newark are just too dumb to realize that the One Newark roll out has been a complete disaster. Bob Braun just posted this scathing criticism:

“The One Newark plan is a disaster for the city’s families. Now, even the district leadership all but admits it by again postponing crucial deadlines. Parents who were promised a ‘match’ with a new school this week won’t be getting it until next month. Other parents won’t know until days before school opens. And to make things even worse, some Newark school principals yesterday received instructions that, if literally followed, would require them to turn away from their schools all children who had a right to be there. How can the city’s parents feel comfortable with educators who cannot even express themselves in understandable language?

“It’s what happens when you place the fate of school children in the hands of bungling, overpaid amateurs who got their jobs because of connections with Teach for America and charter schools and who are now trying to impose a political agenda on the people of a city just to please a governor.

“One Newark was not only unworkable in design but now the state regime running the schools is so incompetent it can’t figure out what to do about the transportation and special education problems it created. Once more, its implementation has been delayed, leaving Newark’s parents dazed and confused.

“Anderson still doesn’t know what to do about the massive transportation problem created by the 'One Newark' mess—and still doesn’t know how to handle the placement of special education students, especially those whose parents might want to go to charter schools that are unprepared to deal with them."

(Emphasis mine)
A One Newark bus route???

Remember what Christie said:

Christie and Cami set the rules of the game. They developed the us-against-them scenario for this God-awful plan, and when the heat was on, Cami bolted—for good. And Moran can’t understand why the people of Newark are angry? He thinks this is merely a PR problem? That all will be solved if Cami simply hires some consultants to help with the messaging? (Where will that money come from?) I can see it now: why not do some focus groups? You know, re-brand One Newark! Maybe offer a special toy with every enrollment like a Happy Meal! Because everyone knows that ‘carrot and stick’ reforms work so darned well!

The people of Newark know full well what they want, and numero uno on that list is well-paying jobs—not some cockamamie scheme to uproot entire families and neighborhoods, sell off neighborhood schools to charter operators at fire sale prices, and test their kids to death! And number two on that list is probably a safe learning environment for their children. I’m not just talking about violence; I’m talking about schools that are free from rats, cockroaches and black mold. I’m talking about schools that can provide basic needs like clean, working lavatories, and properly functioning plumbing and heating systems, schools that are well lit and well furnished, that kids actually want to attend. The schools we build in third world countries are probably better equipped than some that these students are forced to attend. But how in the world can Cami make all that happen when she’s just given big, fat raises to her still-wet-behind-the-ears staff? Dear Lord, did somebody put Crazy in the water?!?!

And while the good people of Newark are wondering when they will learn where their children will attend school in the fall, and how they will get there, where do you think Cami and former education commissioner Cerf are? The Ed Tech DAVOS Conference in Scottsdale, AZ! This from Diane Ravitch:

“This summit was originally organized by Michael Moe, who has for years predicted that the education sector could be monetized. He was right. His company—GSV stands for Global Silicon Valley–says on its website: ‘Our founders have spent the past two decades focused on the Megatrends that are disrupting the $4 trillion global education market along with the innovators who are transforming the industry.’ 

Some of the sponsors: Pearson, the Gates Foundation, Microsoft, McGraw-Hill, Cengage, amazon, Scholastic, etc. 

“The speakers’ list reads like a who’s who of the privatization movement, which it is. Penny Pritzker, U.S. Secretary of Commerce, billionaire heiress to the Hyatt fortune, former member of the board of Chicago public schools; Jeb Bush, Chris Cerf, Cami Anderson, Reed Hastings, Margaret Spellings, Tom Vander Ark, Kaya Henderson, James Shelton, Jonathan Hage, and many more in the business of education reform. (Emphasis mine)

I rest my case, Tom.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Thank you

My blog hit a milestone this morning: it passed 10,000 hits, the last 1500 coming in the past 48 hours. And while Diane Ravitch can get that on an off day, I'm honored that that many people have stopped by my little corner of the universe in the month or so I've been doing this.

So, as long as you keep reading, I'll keep writing. My goals are to inform, to speak for those who can't afford to buy a seat at the table, to stand up for the little guy, to expose the lies, and to affect change.

To all my education readers: keep the faith. Diane Ravitch reminded me once when I was feeling particularly beaten down by all this insanity, "Remember, what they have in money, we have in numbers." That phrase and your struggles keep me moving forward.

I will leave you with this from one of my heros, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr...

And as always, "the opinions expressed here are strictly those of the person who gave them. Take what you like and leave the rest." ~ Anonymous


Saturday, April 19, 2014

An open letter to Rowan University President, Dr. Ali A. Houshmand

Dear Dr. Houshmand,

I understand that you have invited Gov. Chris Christie to be the keynote speaker at next month’s commencement ceremonies and that you are bestowing an honorary degree on him. Why?

As you well know, Rowan University started out as a teachers college, and in fact in 1937, the school’s name was changed to New Jersey State Teachers College at Glassboro. Your school’s own website describes it thus:

"The college gained a national reputation as a leader in the field of reading education and physical therapy when it opened a clinic for children with reading disabilities in 1935... The college was one of the first in the country to recognize these needs and was in the forefront of the special education movement." (emphasis mine)

Correct me if I am wrong, but no other New Jersey governor has treated public education, students and teachers with such vile contempt as Gov. Christie. No other New Jersey governor that I know of has denigrated, demonized and tried to destroy one of the best public education systems in the country the way Gov. Christie has. He has cut billions from education funding, which has resulted in 10,000 educators losing their jobs. He has contributed to and expanded the racial and socioeconomic segregation of our urban school districts with policies like One Newark. He has accused teachers of being ‘greedy, selfish and disgraceful’ and using our students as ‘drug mules’. If you need more proof, here it is, and as blogger, TeacherBiz said in her post on this issue, if that’s not enough, just Google it.

It would be bad enough if this were an isolated political bent, but it’s not. Gov. Christie’s attacks on public education are part of a well-organized, highly funded nationwide campaign to privatize public education, destroy teachers unions and turn the teaching profession into a low-paid, high-turnover test proctor service. If you are not aware of this, then again, I must ask, ‘Why?’ As an educator and president of one of the state’s premier teachers colleges, how can you not know what is happening in K-12 education, how can you not be up in arms about it, and how can you bestow honors on someone hell-bent on destroying one of the bedrocks of a democracy, and something that New Jersey does better than almost every other state in the country?  

To bestow an honorary degree on Gov. Christie would be a slap in the face to all the hard working education majors graduating that day, not to mention all the alumni of the school of education, every education professional working in New Jersey, and every single child who attends a New Jersey public school. It also sends a powerful message that you support his destructive public education policies. Do you really want that as part of your legacy?

Christina and Joseph Nappi have started a petition calling on you to reconsider your decision. Mr. Nappi also wrote a letter to the South Jersey Times imploring you to reconsider. The petition and letter are picking up steam on social media. I urge you to please reconsider this decision. I urge you to take a stand for public education and against the corporatization of one of the last vestiges of a strong democracy. Unless and until educators stand up against the privatization juggernaut, our children don’t stand a chance. You can lead the way.

Thank you.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

NPU Parents & NSU Students concur: Superintendent Cami Anderson is destroying Newark’s schools.

Make up snow days! SGO’s! End of third marking period! Summative! Lions, tigers and bears—oh my! No wonder I couldn’t get this blog post done sooner.

Where are all her supporters? 
I was honored that the good people of the Newark Parents Union invited me to last week’s public education Town Hall Meeting. There were about 50 people in attendance. I’m sure there would have been more had not the NAACP Mayoral debate between Ras Baraka and Shavar Jeffries been scheduled for that same night. 

Moderated by NPU President Frankie Adao, the panel included Hassan Manning, VP of NPU; Kristin Towkaniuk, President of the Newark Students Union; Susan Cauldwell of SOS NJ; John Abeigon, Newark teacher and community organizer; Leah Z. Owens, organizer with New Jersey Communities United; and yours truly.

If you’re unfamiliar with the One Newark plan, it kinda-sorta contradicts the education ‘reformers’ mantra of ‘choice’ by putting school ‘choice’ in the hands of Cami and Company. Parents fill out a universal application and central office assigns students to schools based on first, second and third choices. But in reality, ‘choice’ is a reformy misnomer because in their world, ‘choice’ does not equal ‘access’. A parent can ‘choose’ to enroll their child in a ‘successful’ charter school, but if that child doesn’t fit the mold, they are either expelled or ‘counseled out’.

“Everyone knows the charter schools don’t take special needs kids.”

That comment came from an audience member who is a parent of two special needs children. Remember, Robert Treat Academy and Discovery Charter School, arguably Newark's most successful charters, opted out of participating in One Newark.

The Jersey Jazzman/Dr. Bruce Baker/Dr. Joseph Oluwole autopsy of One Newark ain’t pretty. It’s 21st Century segregation at its finest with Black students and teachers getting the shaft. Among their findings:
  • Black students were more likely to see their schools turned over to charters, potentially abrogating the rights of their families.
  • Black staff members were far more likely to have to reapply for their jobs under One Newark than white staff members.
  • Largely, this is because black teachers are far more likely to teach black students.
  • Black teachers also take on the ‘boughest’ assignments, as measured by the state’s own classifications (remember, Newark’s schools have been under state control for 19 years). But, on average, their students show comparable rates of growth to the students of white teachers.
  • There is a history of discrimination against teachers of color in ‘choice’ plans, and NPS, if it goes through with One Newark, may be susceptible to a legal challenge under civil rights laws. 

Thank the Lord New Jersey has these three outstanding researchers who, like Discovery Health’s Dr. G Medical Examiner, look at the facts, do the research and examine the evidence before determining the efficacy of the reform-du-jour. But hey, why look at facts when ideology is so much more fun and profitable?

The biggest takeaway from the Town Hall Meeting was that—along with Cami’s other ‘reforms’—the rollout of One Newark is a hot mess. To ram through such a drastic and flawed change for 44,000 students in such a short amount of time when you refuse to attend school board meetings to answer questions, and you don't have universal community support is crazy! Cami has to keep extending the Phase One enrollment deadline because parents are boycotting it. So, what’s her backup plan if this trend continues?

Here’s what parents do know:
  • Each school has a ‘hub’ of 2.5 miles. But if a family lives within 2.5 miles of several schools, they could have children attending all of them!
  • First priority for enrollment will be given to children whose siblings already attend a school.
  • Second priority goes to free and reduced lunch students.
  • Third priority goes to other neighborhood children.
  • They are looking to fill charter schools first.

"They are looking to fill charter schools first." 

Here are some of the questions/issues parents raised that have not been addressed:
  • If you like your school, can you stay?
  • What about new kindergarten enrollees who come in late in the summer?
  • What about any student who enrolls after September?
  • What about new, non-English speaking immigrants who want to enroll their children?
  • Where will special education teachers and child study team members be assigned and when will they know?
  • What happens if you don’t like the school you’re assigned to? They have no transfer process in place.

"What happens if you don’t like the school you’re assigned to? They have no transfer process in place."

Mind you, those are only questions about the enrollment plan. And they’re just the tip of the iceberg. The meeting could have gone on all night had not Frankie Adao kept the conversation moving along. The following is a synopsis of questions/comments on other topics.

On the conditions in many Newark public schools:
  • A kindergartener asked why there are bugs (cockroaches) at his school. (Why in God’s name should a kindergartener—or any student—have to ask that question?)
  • East Side High School is dirty and smelly. There are rats and cockroaches in the classrooms. They only have part time custodians and they are not provided with the appropriate cleaning supplies. NSU President Kristin Towkaniuk said that’s why students cut class. (Can you blame them?)
  • Why do we always have to go to court to get things that are basic civil rights like clean, working toilets in a school?
  • Oliver Street School is indeed being rebuilt—into a charter school!

"Why do we always have to go to court to get things that are basic civil rights like clean, working toilets in a school?"

Student/parent/teacher comments on the quality of curriculum, instruction and supervision since Cami took over:
  • Why don’t they allow teachers to teach, and not have someone who has never taught tell me what to do?
  • Why don’t they have open electives at the high schools again?
  • We are testing about 1/3 of the year.
  • Kristin Towkaniuk on the pilot PARCC test: It was 3 days. The server went down. When you make the tests unnecessarily harder it pushes kids out of school… I opted out of it. I didn’t answer any of the questions, and in the narrative section I wrote why the PARCC is bad.
  • Why aren’t there enough courses in the trades offered?
  • On the closings of libraries: They are robbing our kids of the resources they need!
  • Instruments sit in closets in our district because they are cutting the arts in our schools. They are hiring consultants to come in to ‘teach’ the arts. So, when you get free tickets for all these wonderful performances [at outside venues], realize it’s coming at the expense of band, chorus and performance clubs and classes.
  • Arts High School (an arts magnet school) is no longer holding auditions because Cami says magnet schools segregate. (Yes, you read that right, folks! I’m not making this up—just reporting what I heard.)
  • Creativity and imagination are being taken out of our children’s minds.
  • East Side HS classes have exploded to 30+ in a class. Students have to talk to teachers after class or school to get any kind of one-on-one instruction.
  • Anything that’s successful in this district will be destroyed by Cami Anderson.

"When you make the tests unnecessarily harder it pushes kids out of school."

Public education is a right of every citizen in this state. Any child’s education that is compromised should concern us all, because if it can happen in Newark, it can happen anywhere. That’s why the Newark Parents Union deserves our help and support. Their efforts are just getting off the ground. They are committed to fighting for control of their public schools. They are drafting a plan to counter One Newark. They have a vision, they have ideas, and Superintendent Cami Anderson won’t attend school board meetings because she doesn’t want to hear them. Her arrogance is astounding.

"We control Newark schools, not them."

Adding: Shortly after attending this meeting I received word that Cami is privatizing the summer program which has been in place for many years and is run by teachers who know the students! I'm hearing reports that it will now cost Newark parents $150-$200 a week to enroll their children. If anyone has a link to an article, please post it in the comments.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The school to prison pipeline just got a whole lot shorter

Listen… do you hear it? CLICK! Buzzzzz... Whirrr… Do you see it? Locks! Cameras! Action!

All across America public schools are looking more like prisons. With every school shooting more and more security measures are being put in place, and that effort ratcheted up exponentially after the massacre at Newtown. But who pays, and at what cost?

My school district is spending $300,000 on security upgrades, including hiring a security consultant to do a top-to-bottom review of our entire district. This isn’t unusual. The new normal in American schools is more cameras, more monitors, more locks, more check-in procedures, and more—and new—security drills.

$300,000 is a lot of money to a school district. Where does it come from? Well, when Gov. Christie slashed education spending and called back school surpluses in 2010, my district laid off about 8 teachers and outsourced all 62 of our special education aides. Many of the aides were certified teachers who had worked with our neediest students for years, and all were making a modest salary with benefits. Almost all left rather than work for half the pay and no benefits. Turnover is high now because $10 an hour is not a sustainable wage for someone looking to make a career in education.

My point is not to dredge up the past. At the time I was very critical of my school district, but that’s water under the bridge. My point is that we all pay with the continued loss of staff and services at our schools because these security upgrades are not required by the state. But no superintendent in their right mind wants another Newtown. And parents must have the peace of mind knowing their children are safe for 7 hours a day. But with Gov. Christie slashing school funding by billions, and a 2% property tax cap now the law in New Jersey, school districts are scrambling to find the money to pay for all this. In the meantime the day-to-day operations of our public schools have suffered: teachers, classes and after school activities have never been fully restored, and fees to parents for things like bussing, sports and clubs (aka shadow taxes) remain.

Every act of gun violence in America has an equal and opposite reaction in our schools: they are becoming more and more like prisons. All Baby Boomers and some Gen. X’ers remember a time when anyone could walk into a school without being buzzed in. There was never a fear of a gun-toting lunatic destroying lives. But those days are long gone. The new normal in many schools is unlock the door to enter a room; lock the door when you leave. Period. No exceptions except for places like the office or nurse. This goes for storage rooms, copier rooms, faculty lunchrooms and bathrooms. In many schools teachers can now be written up for leaving their classroom door unlocked. In addition to fire drills, school districts have new drills for active shooters inside or outside the building.

Yes, these are all necessary things in a nation that can’t and won’t pass meaningful gun legislation because, as the illogical NRA rhetoric—and campaign money—goes, criminals don’t obey laws so we can’t have more of them. And if there’s anyone out there who believes that, I want you to explain it to my first graders when we have a lockdown drill and I’m trying to keep them quiet while they pepper me with questions and scenarios:
“Ms. Corfield, what if there’s a real gun?”
“Ms. Corfield, they can just shoot through the glass.”
“Ms. Corfield, they can find us!”
“Ms. Corfield, what if the police don’t come?”

Children know. And they’re scared.

Now that the US Supreme Court has ruled on McCutcheon vs. Federal Election Commission, the floodgates have been opened for more “first amendment” money—including powerful NRA money—to be poured into political campaigns, and it’s going to be harder to get any kind of meaningful gun legislation like universal background checks, closing the gun show loophole and updating the National Instant Check System passed. So instead of NRA Vice President Wayne LaPierre calling for a ‘national database of lunatics’, why doesn’t the NRA give grants to school districts for these security upgrades? As he said, “If I’m a mom or a dad and I’m dropping my child off at school I’d feel a whole lot safer” if there were trained armed security guards or police protecting the school. I’m sure many parents would agree. But that costs money—money that school districts do not have.

Personally, I wouldn’t feel a lot safer. But that’s just me.

The school-to-prison pipeline just got a whole lot shorter because all across America our schools are turning into prisons. Is yours?