Saturday, January 31, 2015

This week in NJ ed 'reform': The truth is out there

This was quite a week in the battle over public education in the Garden State: Gov. Christie's testing study commission heard mountains of testimony from concerned parents and citizens in three different venues; educators continued to host parent Take the PARCC nights; NJEA released a bombshell new poll showing massive numbers of NJ parents oppose the test; and NJ101.5 capped several days of PARCC discussion with a debate over the test. 

Here are my thoughts:


A more perfect-er life for only $19.95

My daughter and I have a running joke: All the world's problems can be solved for only 3 easy payments of $19.95. If we just went out and purchased every single as-seen-on-TV product, our lives would be perfect.

That's what ed 'reformers' want us to believe about the PARCC test. Just like the PedEgg, the Bacon Bowl and the Uro Club, PARCC promises to magically transform your child's entire life from dull to dazzling—with just 10 easy hours of testing! No more struggles with 'bad' teachers who lazily sit around waiting to collect their pensions. PARCC will send them packing. White suburban moms will magically accept that their kids really aren't brilliant when they see those crappy test scores. But wait! Call now, and Pearson will upgrade your flunkie kid's educational experience with all sorts of Common Core/PARCC aligned learning materials guaranteed to make them College and Career Ready! (Just pay the cost of cuts to arts and foreign language programs.)


When TV pitch-men run the country

The reality is that the road to miraculous cures and a better, shinier, awesomer life is paved with money back guarantees that somehow never seem to materialize. Whether it's the infomercial host or the President of the United States, carnival barkers have been selling the American public an endless stream of bad ideas, sketchy products and outright colossal failures since 1893 when Clark Stanley sold his first bottle of snake oil. Here are some of my favorites from big business/pharma/government:

  • Cigarettes
  • Weapons of Mass Destruction
  • The Pinto
  • Lead Paint
  • Accutane
  • Asbestos
  • NAFTA
  • GMOs
  • Phen-phen
  • DDT
Feel free to add your favorites in the comments section.

Number 1 on my list is DES. 77 years ago, American doctors wanted pregnant women to have 'trust and confidence' (more on this phrase below) in a little life-changing drug called Diethylstilbestrol. Here's what the CDC says about it:
Diethylstilbestrol (DES) is an estrogen that was first manufactured in a laboratory in 1938, so it is called a "synthetic estrogen." During 1938-1971, U.S. physicians prescribed DES to pregnant women to prevent miscarriages and avoid other pregnancy problems. As a result, an estimated 5-10 million pregnant women and the children born of these pregnancies were exposed to DES. Physicians prescribed DES to pregnant women on the theory that miscarriages and premature births occurred because some pregnant women did not produce enough estrogen naturally. At the time, physicians thought DES was safe and would prevent miscarriages and pre-term (early) births. 
In 1953, published research showed that DES did not prevent miscarriages or premature births. However, DES continued to be prescribed until 1971. In that year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a Drug Bulletin advising physicians to stop prescribing DES to pregnant women. The FDA warning was based on a study published in 1971 that identified DES as a cause of a rare vaginal cancer in girls and young women who had been exposed to DES before birth (in the womb). (emphasis mine)
Doctors continued to prescribe DES to pregnant women 18 years after it was proven not to work. We now know that exposure to large doses of estrogen is linked to breast cancer. That's why commonly-prescribed hormone replacement therapy (HRT) was yanked from prescription pads years ago. But my mother wasn't spared. She took DES when she was pregnant with me, and died of breast cancer at age 37. And as a 'DES Daughter' I have suffered a host of medical issues because I was exposed to it in utero. Suffice to say that both my children are true miracles. 

I'm not looking for sympathy. I'm writing this because I am living proof of what happens when the government or big business or some other faceless entity tells us that what they're doing is wonderful, transformative and fantastic for everyone, and we should just accept it lock, stock and barrel. Which is exactly what Dr. Sandra Alberti asked of NJ parents this week when she and NJEA President Wendall Steinhauer engaged in a friendly PARCC debate on NJ101.5. 

Dr. Alberti works at Student Achievement Partners. Founded by David Coleman, Susan Pimentel and Jason Zimba, lead writers of the Common Core State Standards, SAP is "non-profit [alarm bells!] organization with one purpose: to help all students and teachers see their hard work lead to greater student achievement."

(Note to self: Find out how that 'all' includes art teachers.)

Like other PARCC cheerleaders, Alberti was practically breathless with excitement about how these tests were going to be the best think since... well... Jeaneez




Her voice got louder, her pitch got higher as she implored the listening audience "to have trust and confidence" in the PARCC.


Trust no one


Call me Fox Mulder, but I've gone through enough ccrap (pun intended) living with the effects of another miracle cure that when 'reformers' try to sell me a load of hokum about the miracle of PARCC, I start looking for Cigarette Man hiding in the shadows.

Just like DES, there is no proof, no evidence, no long-term study proving the miracle of PARCC. But unlike DES, we don't have to wait 15 years to figure this out. As the tag line of The X-Files says, "The truth is out there" right now (here, here, here, here, here). 

Dr. Alberti finished her comments by saying, "Imagine if all that energy was going into working with kids to help them succeed...we would have such amazing schools in New Jersey." 

The fact is we do have amazing schools in New Jersey—many of the best in the nation. And we have amazing education professionals who have dedicated their entire careers to working in the classroom, not at some non-profit or think-tank, to help kids succeed. We also have high concentrations of impoverished Black and Brown students attending public schools in our inner cities, and a governor who thinks the best way to fix this is by cutting almost $6 billion in public education funding. 

Imagine if all the money that is being wasted on band width and Chromebooks and test prep and data collection and advertising and charter schools and Teach for America and buying candidates and think tanks and non-profits and partnerships and summits and conferences and Regional Achievement Centers and the endless, endless layers of new administration in state-controlled districts was actually "going into working with [impoverished] kids [and their families] to help them succeed...we would have such amazing [children and families] in [all of] New Jersey."


Final thoughts

In the past 3 months the amount of parental push-back against the PARCC in NJ has grown exponentially. Polling numbers against the test are through the roof. School districts are scrambling to figure out how to respond to the growing number of test refusal letters. The State Board of Education and Hespe's testing commission look like deer in the headlights having been hit with a tidal wave of criticism at board meetings and public hearings around the state. The sleeping giant has awoken. The parents will win, because the truth is out there.