Sunday, February 22, 2015

My #PARCC refusal letter

Readers, feel free to modify this letter to suit your needs.

February 23, 2015

Dear ------------------,

We are writing to inform you that, as per our parental rights under the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, we are refusing to allow our daughter, -------------, to sit for the PARCC PBA and EOY.

Research has shown, and Bari Erlichson, Chief Performance Officer/Assistant Commissioner of Data, Research, Evaluation and Reporting at the NJ Department of Education has publicly stated, that the PARCC is not a diagnostic test as has been claimed. It will do nothing to assist our daughter’s current teachers in her educational progress, but may in fact unfairly harm their careers instead because student test scores are tied to their evaluations. As we’re sure you know, when the tests were administered in New York last year, scores plummeted because the test has been shown to be deeply flawed and in many cases, developmentally inappropriate. This is not fair to our daughter or her excellent teachers whom we trust more than any standardized test to best prepare her for her future educational goals. This test does not set a ‘rigorous’ bar for our daughter, who is already a straight-A student. This test is not an indicator of her college and career readiness. As you also know, a student’s high school GPA is the best indicator of their college success.

We are also opposed to the unwarranted collection of our daughter’s academic data and its sharing with for-profit and other unnamed entities without our permission. This is not an educational best practice. This is data mining to aid for-profit education companies to sell their wares.

As per the PARCC testing guidelines, we expect that she will not ‘sit and stare’ because the guidelines specifically state that:

“Visitors, including parents/guardians, school board members, researchers, reporters, non-testing students, and school staff not authorized to serve as Test Administrators or Proctors, are prohibited from entering the testing environment.” (Pearson Avocet PARCC Testing Manual) (emphasis added)

We expect that, at best, she will be given an opportunity to work on meaningful school work, preferably in art where she excels. At worst, we expect she will be allowed to read in a non-testing room.

We also expect that there will be no punitive repercussions for her refusal to take the PARCC. We expect the test to be coded as ‘refused’. We expect her refusal will not be recorded as an act of insubordination or disobedience, or have any other negative effect on her school status including her rank or placement in future classes.

We look forward to hearing from you regarding your plans for ----------- on testing days.

Thank you.



cc: ------------, Principal
-----------------, County Superintendent

Saturday, February 21, 2015

My blog reaches a milestone

Dear Readers,

Thank you. At some point between yesterday and today, my blog passed the 100,000-views mark. I launched it on March 1, 2014 hoping it would add to the conversation about education 'reform' both in NJ and around the country. My primary goals have always been to educate the general public, and parents in particular, about the privatization of public education, and to give a voice to educators because the mainstream media has, for whatever reason, chosen not to. 

While 100,000 is nowhere near the same universe as Diane Ravitch, Anthony Cody or I'm sure my good buddies Jersey Jazzman and TeacherBiz, I had no expectations going in, so to reach this number in a little less than a year is humbling and gratifying.

So, thank you for all the shares, likes, re-tweets and whatever else you do on social media to spread the word. I truly appreciate all your support! 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

12 public education facts 'reformers' don't want you to know

In two previous posts (here, here), I discussed the ways education 'reformers' use savvy advertising and marketing to sell the unsuspecting public the notion that US schools are failing, teachers are 'bad' and unions are akin to The Walking Dead. 

How many of you have heard radio commercials for the math tutoring center, Mathnazium? For the record, I know nothing about this company. I'm not claiming they do anything other than tutor students in math. They may very well be doing an excellent job. If that's the case, more power to them. But, they are a business looking to make a profit, so their advertising has to appeal to parental fears, and make promises of success. I don't have an audio clip of their NY market radio spots, but the ones I've heard make simplistic claims about US math PISA scores—similar to the graphic below—to make it sound like our schools are failing kids in math education. 

Again, this is not a criticism of Mathnazium. They are a business, and this is what businesses do to gain market share and customers. But when state and federal governments start doing this, along with passing laws and regulations that steer taxpayer dollars to private, for-profit entities that aid in the defunding, segregation and closure of public schools, it's a whole different ball game.  

If you haven't already seen this video from The American Federation of Teachers, please stop what you're doing right now and watch. You have to click on the link. The embed function was disabled on the original. I stumbled upon it this morning on Twitter. Although it was posted over a year ago, this little gem has less than 250,000 views. It needs to go viral. It's a must-see for anyone who is concerned about standardized testing and the overall education 'reform' movement that is overtaking the US.

My hope is that after you watch it, you will stand with education professionals across the country against the myth that our schools are 'failing' and standardized testing will magically fix them.  

If for some reason you cannot access it, here's a synopsis:

Every three years 15-year-olds around the world are randomly selected to take the Program for International Student Achievment test (PISA) administered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). While the rankings may give the impression that the US education system is in dire straits, every good researcher knows that the numbers only tell us who, what, when and where; they don't tell us the all important why

Contrary to what 'reformers' would have you believe, since the test began, US PISA scores are not dropping. In fact, they have been consistently in the middle. This is where 'reformers' stop looking and listening, and start sounding the alarm bells: American schools are failing! Teachers are bad! They must be held accountable! Testing will fix it all! When in fact, the reasons the US ranks as it does are abundantly clear (but they don't want you to know)...

1. Poverty matters. In the wealthiest nation on earth, almost 1 in 4 children live in poverty. This is a national disgrace—one that 'reformers' don't want to admit, because they can't make a profit by fixing it.

2. "US schools with less than 10% poverty lead most top-performing countries with similar rates." The relationship between poverty and student achievement is well documented and irrefutable. Jersey Jazzman has written extensively about this fact, and in particular about how it relates to PISA scores
"[I]n the USA - more than any other country in the OECD - way more wealth means way larger increases in learning. 
"[T]here is an indisputable correlation between poverty and student achievement. You can try to bad-mouth our schools all day long, but that's the fact. We have huge income inequity in this country, and it's affecting our kids. It's ridiculous to expect the schools to mitigate all of this." (emphasis mine)

3. Even at higher poverty levels, US students still outperform students in other countries who live in similar levels of poverty. That doesn't happen by magic. In NJ it took a 1985 State Supreme Court ruling to force the state to provide more resources to poor districts, and it helped. In 2010 Gov. Christie tried his best to slash funding to those same districts, but in 2011 the NJ State Supreme Court ruled against him, forcing him to fully fund the state's 31 high-need districts. Overall, Christie has underfunded public education in NJ to the tune of about $6 billion.

4. "High performing countries are doing a better job at reducing the achievement gap." Imagine what our poorer students could achieve if state and federal governments were more concerned about fixing poverty and providing our public schools with adequate resources than closing ' failing' schools? 

5. The US really doesn't spend the most on public education. When the high cost of college is removed, the US is in the middle of the pack. 

6. "The US ranks near the bottom in providing poor children equal access to quality educational materials." One need look no further than Trenton High School to see the deplorable conditions under which many high poverty students are forced to learn. And this is due to 'bad teachers'? Along with Israel, Turkey and Slovenia, the student-teacher ratio in US high poverty schools is actually greater than higher performing schools.

7. Since the Great Recession, US education spending is decreasing compared to that of other OECD nations. Only Mexico, Iceland and Ireland have cut more. Because everybody knows that the best way to improve education is to cut funding.

8. The US ranks 24th out of the OECD nations in early childhood education. Gov. Christie has called preschool 'babysitting'.

9. US teachers spend the most hours teaching and are paid far less than other PISA countries. Teachers in Finland, one of the PISA leaders, spend far less time teaching. 

10. In other high-performing countries, teachers are paid for the work that US teachers bring home and do on their own time. 

11. OECD says the claim that other countries have better teachers because they are recruited from the top 1/3 of college graduates is "not supported by evidence." What is evident is that these countries respect educators and give them extensive time to hone their craft and collaborate. 

12. Unions are not the problem. In fact, the highest performing countries have excellent working relationships with their teacher unions.

So, the next time a 'reformer' tries to tell you that a test, a voucher, a charter school, an evaluation system, a school closure, a drastic cut to education funding, a 'rigorous' curriculum, or a right-to-work or anti-union law will magically transform your child's school, just ask them to show you the facts. Then sit back and listen...

Friday, February 13, 2015

The selling of #CCRAP

In a previous post I compared the selling of PARCC to an as-seen-on-TV gizmo that promises to make your life perfect for only "3 easy payments of $19.95." But unlike the Veg-O-Matic, frustrated, white suburban moms, and parents of all colors in all locales, have quickly discovered that the cost of the PARCC and its conjoined twin, CCSS, is anything but easy. They're standing up and fighting back in droves. And that doesn't sit well with the folks who market and sell this hokum. So, as Anthony Cody recently reported, somebody created an easy-to-use "How to Talk About Testing" ad campaign guide complete with a cute little bunny rabbit graphic and a classroom-friendly layout and fonts. I guess they figure if they treat parents like second graders, all will be well. 

I wonder how many "easy payments of $19.95" this cost? And who created it? And who it's being sent to? 

Do yourself a favor and read the entire manual. It's short on content but long on laughs. Here's Mr. Bunny. Be careful! You don't want to fall down his rabbit hole of 'facts' now, do you?

Before I became an educator, I spent 15 years in advertising. It can be a sleazy business because it's not about presenting the facts; it's is about selling a product. And it's done by appealing to our base emotions and physical states; convincing us that our lives will be infinitely better with any given product. In advertising, the facts look really good in places like the disclaimer, the miles per gallon, or when "4-out-of-5-(fill in the blank)-recommend..."  

But watch out! Cute, little Mr. Bunny cautions you not to stray too close to them:

"Tell the best story you can about your state"? Okay, I've got one: Public schools have been underfunded to the tune of $6 billion... Oh wait, I can't do that 'cause that's not a 'story'; that's a fact. 

So are these 'reformy' stew ingredients, courtesy of Jersey Jazzman:

If the Common Core and PARCC were so amazing and transformational, they would sell themselves. Educators' jobs would be more—not less—meaningful. People would be clamoring to enter the profession, not leaving it sooner. Educators would be lined up at Pearson's front door to provide testimonials. The education blog-o-sphere would be busting at the seams with posts about the incredible transformation of their students, and the joyful classroom atmosphere in which that is occurring. Sadly, none of this is happening. In fact many classrooms are experiencing just the opposite.

The reform movement ad campaign is losing market share because they're selling a lousy product and parents know it. So they're doubling down on their efforts by spreading misinformation about funding cuts to their child's school or worse: how opting out will harm their child's educational future. But the facts simply aren't on their side.

So, dear parents, the next time a 'reformy' cheerleader sings the praises of the PARCC, the next time they promise it will magically make your child 'college and career ready'—even if that career is a stay-at-home-parent or a circus clown—the next time they tell you this amazing test will magically diagnose and cure all your child's learning problems or weed out all those 'bad teachers', demand the facts. Then sit back and listen... 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Guest Post: NJ Legislators Need To Stand Up For Our Children

By Christopher Tienken, Ed.D. and Julia Sass Rubin, Ph.D.

(Note from Marie: The Assembly sponsors of A4165/S2767 are listed at the end of this post. A link to contact information for every NJ state legislator is on the right side of this page. Please read the following, then click on the link and contact your legislator.)

The first administration of the experimental new PARCC high-stakes standardized tests is only weeks away and parents are increasingly concerned. Hundreds of families have notified their school districts that their children will not be taking the PARCC tests. 

Approximately one-fifth of all New Jersey school districts have responded by assuring parents who refuse the test that their children will be provided with an alternative location, or at least the ability to read in class, while their classmates take the test.

Other districts, however, have taken a much more punitive approach, threatening to force children as young as eight to remain in the testing room with no other activities except sitting and staring for the two-week duration of the test.  Some districts have even threatened students whose parents refuse the test with disciplinary actions. 

In response, parents are asking the New Jersey legislature to intervene and pass A4165/S2767. This legislation requires all districts and charter schools to provide consistent, humane treatment for children whose parents refuse standardized tests.

As growing numbers of legislators indicate their support for A4165/S2767, officials within the New Jersey Department of Education have apparently initiated a campaign to block its passage by claiming that the proposed legislation would cost districts precious dollars. Specifically, the NJDOE is arguing that the US Department of Education would use powers it has under the No Child Left Behind law to cut Title I funding for any schools that fall below 95 percent student participation levels on the PARCC. 

Keep in the mind that the proposed legislation does not direct parents to have their children opt-out or refuse the state mandated tests. The proposed legislation simply asks for a consistent statewide policy of humane treatment for children whose parents choose to refuse the testing. As more school administrators decide to make students needlessly “sit and stare” for two weeks of testing, plus up to two additional weeks of make-up testing, it is imperative that the legislature act to protect children from such treatment.

So will the US Department of Education take your school's Title 1 funds if this legislation becomes law?

The answer is NO, and here are some reasons why.

1. There is no federal or state law that requires financial penalties to schools’ Title I funds if parents refuse to allow their children to take the PARCC tests. 
The federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law did include a mandate that required schools to have a 95 percent participation rate on state tests or face sanctions. The intent of that law was to prevent schools from hiding subgroups of students from the accountability structure and was not aimed at preventing parents from refusing to have their children tested. 
However, since 2012, NJ has had a waiver to NCLB that replaces those sanctions with a new accountability system.

Under the waiver, only schools designated “priority” or “focus” schools face direct intervention for missing state targets. New Jersey’s 250 priority and focus schools can have up to 30 percent of their federal Title I funds re-directed by the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) for specific “interventions,” but even these funds are supposed to be used for school improvement, not taken away.  And the NJDOE already has the ability to redirect a part of the Title I allocations received by priority and focus schools.

2. No federal financial penalties related to Title I instructional funds have been imposed on any New Jersey school for missing the 95 percent participation rate. 

And missing the 95 percent participation rate at the school level is not unusual in New Jersey. 

According to NJDOE data, last spring, nine schools in seven New Jersey districts had overall schoolwide NJ ASK participation rates below 95 percent; 175 schools in 104 districts had participation rates below 95 percent for at least one of the student subgroups (e.g., special needs, Limited English Proficient, economically disadvantaged, etc.).[i]

None of those schools experienced any federal financial repercussions to Title I funds. In fact, no school has ever lost Title I funds due to punishment by the federal government for missing the 95 percent participation rate.

3. Other states have laws that protect parents’ right to opt their children out or refuse high-stakes standardized testing and no federal financial penalties of any sort have been imposed on schools in those states as a result of these laws. 

For example, in Wisconsin “Upon the request of a pupil's parent or guardian, the school board shall excuse the pupil from taking an examination administered under sub. (1m).” [ii]

In California, a “parent or guardian may submit to the school a written request to excuse his or her child from any or all parts of any test provided pursuant to Ed Code Section 60640.” [iii] 

4. The US Congress is rewriting the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) – the federal legislation that mandates annual standardized testing. 

A reauthorized ESEA may completely eliminate the federal interventions that are in the current version of ESEA and is likely to give individual states much more decision-making authority when it comes to accountability and testing mandates. 

So the NJDOE’s threat of Title I funding cuts at local schools seems premature at best given the past practice of the United States Department of Education to not sanction NJ schools’ Title I Funds for missing the 95 percent participation rate. The moral imperative for the NJDOE, the NJ Legislature and for individual school districts should be to act in the best interests of New Jersey children, and that means treating students humanely if their parents choose to participate in the democratic tradition of dissent.

Christopher Tienken is an Associate Professor of Education Leadership, Management, and Policy at the College of Education and Human Services at Seton Hall University. .

Julia Sass Rubin is an Associate Professor at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University and one of the founding members of the all-volunteer pro-public education group Save Our Schools NJ.

[iii] Title 5 of the California Code of Regulations, Division 1, Chapter 2, Subchapter 3.75.

A4165 Sponsors:  
Diegnan, Patrick J., Jr.   as Primary Sponsor
Jasey, Mila M.   as Primary Sponsor
Caputo, Ralph R.   as Primary Sponsor
Auth, Robert   as Primary Sponsor
Benson, Daniel R.   as Primary Sponsor
Rible, David P.   as Primary Sponsor
Eustace, Tim   as Primary Sponsor
Vainieri Huttle, Valerie   as Primary Sponsor
Gusciora, Reed   as Primary Sponsor
Pinkin, Nancy J.   as Primary Sponsor
McKeon, John F.   as Primary Sponsor
Garcia, Carmelo G.   as Co-Sponsor
Giblin, Thomas P.   as Co-Sponsor
Caride, Marlene   as Co-Sponsor
DeCroce, BettyLou   as Co-Sponsor

Identical Bill Number: S2767  
Turner, Shirley K.   as Primary Sponsor

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

12 questions every parent must ask about the #PARCC

    Parents, print this out and bring it with you next time you meet with representatives from the NJ State Board of Education, the NJ DOE, or any administrator anywhere who tries to tell you this test is a magic bullet:

  1.  The reading level of some of the language arts test questions has been found to be several grades above the tested grade. How is a child who cannot read at that grade level and can't understand the text or the test questions expected to complete the test?

  2. What happens when a student—particularly in the younger grades—doesn't have the keyboard skills to successfully navigate the test? How is that fair to the child?
  3. If the tests are supposed to be diagnostically useful, how come students and teachers can't see them to see what students got wrong and where they need help?
  4. If the tests are supposed to be diagnostically useful, how come the scores won't be made available until the following school year, essentially rendering them meaningless? 
  5. Why are the cut scores being determined after the students take the tests?
  6. Why aren't you concerned that Pearson is advertising for test scorers at $12/hour on Craig's List
  7. A high school student's GPA is a more accurate indicator of how well they will do in their first year of college than any standardized test. If the PARCC can 'magically' determine college and career readiness, why don't 4-year colleges require the test for admission instead of the SAT or ACT? 
  8. Currently, there are 10 states left in the PARCC consortium. If the test is so fantastic, why have half the states in the original consortium dropped out?

  9. Bari Erlichson, Chief Performance Officer/Assistant Commissioner of Data, Research, Evaluation and Reporting at the NJDOE admitted in a public forum that "the PARCC end-of-year/end-of-course assessments —are not intended to be the... diagnostic form of assessment... that would diagnose and be able to inform instruction... These are in fact summative test scores that have a different purpose than the one that we're talking about in terms of diagnosis." (emphasis mine) So, why are we being told they are diagnostic? Why are we being told teachers will be able to use the results to help students?
  10. How do you justify submitting children to this test when many adults cannot pass the sample tests?
  11. Test design expert Bob Shephard has said that "For many of the sample released questions, there is, arguably, no answer among the answer choices that is correct or more than one answer that is correct, or the question simply is not, arguably, actually answerable as written." How do you justify placing a child's education and a teacher's career in the hands of such a flawed instrument?
  12. How do you justify the narrowing of the curriculum, the cuts to the related arts, foreign languages, physical education, and other subjects when so much research shows that a well-rounded education is much better preparation for a productive life?