Monday, April 25, 2016

.@PearsonPARCC Testing Postpones LGBTQ Event

A couple of weeks ago, friend of mine shared this Facebook post from her son, Derek, a sophomore at Hunterdon Central Regional High School here in NJ:

Hey everyone. I’m Derek Borowsky, a sophomore at Central. This Friday, April 15 is the international Day is Silence, a day in April every year where students come together and take a vow of silence in support of LGBTQ+ teens. If you want more information, check out For the past many years, our school has wholeheartedly allowed and supported a club-organized (usually organized by PULSE) participation in the day of silence. I am proud to say we have teachers, administration, staff, and student supporters that help to make this event successful. 
This year, however, the Day of Silence is not allowed. That is because of the PARCC tests, which will be taking place this Friday, April 15 as well. Despite the understanding that participation in the Day of Silence does not exclude students from speaking in class to answer questions, the presence of the PARCC tests are disallowing us from participating in the Day of Silence regardless. 
However, the Day of Silence is a nationally recognized event, and includes participation from other countries as well. I am refusing to bow down to the evils of this test and will stand in solidarity with my peers and allies as we silently combat violence and bullying against LGBTQ+. 
Our school wide Day of Silence will be rescheduled, with the full support of the school, to a day in May, but those of us who want to go beyond the school and unite with the more than ten thousand students that will participate THIS FRIDAY, APRIL 15, are encouraged to. I am making the name tags that say, “Hello, my name is: Silence”. I will gladly distribute them to anyone and everyone and would love a school wide, peaceful and silent protest to take place this Friday, April 15. If you would instead like to simply remain quiet without wearing a name tag, that is awesome as well. 
Thank you for your understanding, support, and participation. This is just one way we can make a legitimate difference in our world. I look forward to seeing us, the students and friends of Hunterdon Central, standing together as one! Have an awesome day!
It seems that the PARCC test is magically going to do so much more to prepare him and his peers for life beyond high school than an event that was started 20 years ago and has only grown; an event that raises awareness of the struggles of LGBTQ teens; an event that teaches young adults not just acceptance of LGBTQ people, but acceptance of anyone who is different from them. Forget about 'college and career ready', this is a life skill and a level of consciousness that everyone needs in order to live in a peaceful and supportive society in which everyone has the opportunity to be the best version of themselves. And in my humble opinion, that is way more important than a score on a bogus standardized test. 

According to the Day of Silence website:

The GLSEN Day of Silence is a student-led national event that brings attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools. Students from middle school to college take a vow of silence in an effort to encourage schools and classmates to address the problem of anti-LGBT behavior by illustrating the silencing effect of bullying and harassment on LGBT students and those perceived to be LGBT. 
In 1996, students at the University of Virginia organized the first Day of Silence in response to a class assignment on non-violent protests with over 150 students participating. In 1997, organizers took their effort national and nearly 100 colleges and universities participated. In 2001, GLSEN became the official organizational sponsor for the event.
The Day of Silence has reached students in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as those as far away as New Zealand, Singapore and Russia. More than 10,000 students register their Day of Silence participation with GLSEN every year. And public figures such as Laverne Cox, Jim Parsons, RuPaul, Tyler Oakley, Kirsten Vangsness, Kristin Chenoweth, Billy Bean, Vicky Beeching, Steve Grand, Chely Wright, and many others have publicly supported students participating in the GLSEN Day of Silence.

And what exactly is the PARCC test supposed to do?

Thursday, April 14, 2016

UPDATE: @NJEA must stand with Atlantic City unions

In my previous post I called out NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer for siding with Gov. Christie and Senate President Steve Sweeney in their takeover of Atlantic City. If Sweeney's bill (which Christie has said is the only bill he will sign) is passed, it will give the state sweeping powers over the city, including the right to suspend the collective bargaining agreements of the city's unions—except NJEA. However, recognizing and respecting the importance of labor's right to bargain for wages, benefits and working conditions, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto has proposed legislation that would establish benchmarks that must be met over a 2-year period before CBAs could be touched. NJEA is exempt from this bill, too. 

At a time when republican governors across this country are doing everything in their power to bust unions and deflate the middle class, and given Gov. Christie's long and very public history of malice toward and hatred of NJEA, the last thing Wendell Steinhauer should be doing is saying anything that remotely paints us as supporting him.

Here's a side-by-side comparison of the two bills courtesy of the NJ Professional Firefighters Association:

Why hasn't NJEA released something like this?

Instead, Steinhauer released this statement (in red) that appears to try to walk back his previous comments, but it still feels hollow:

We will hold the state accountable to meet its constitutional obligation to provide a quality public education to the children of Atlantic City. Under no circumstances will NJEA tolerate a scenario that closes Atlantic City’s public schools. 
On this we agree. But last week Wendell sided with Gov. Christie who filed a lawsuit against the city to force it to pay the school district with money it doesn't have because Christie reneged on his deal to give it to the city:

On April 8th, Superior Court Judge Julio Mendez ruled in favor of the city allowing it to keep the money it had on hand and calling the state's lawsuit "political maneuvering". Another hearing date has been set for April 19th where the full case will be heard.

Why wasn't NJEA pushing Christie to make good on that payment in the first place?
“We support collective bargaining. NJEA unequivocally supports the hard-won collective bargaining rights of our members and other unionized public employees in New Jersey. Because both bills currently under consideration could affect collective bargaining, NJEA has not supported either bill. 
Prieto's bill could affect collective bargaining. Sweeney's bill will affect collective bargaining. Prieto has been very vocal and very clear about preserving CBAs. If NJEA "unequivocally support[s] the hard-won collective bargaining rights of... other unionized public employees", then why are we not supporting them by supporting Prieto's bill—especially when other state unions are?
“We stand with other unions. While our members are not directly affected by the proposed bills, our union colleagues are. NJEA stands behind those unions and their leaders as they work hard to protect and advocate for their members’ rights. 
How can we be standing behind them when we are not standing with them? 
“We defer to the other unions on issues relating primarily to their members. As the direct representatives of the affected employees, other unions are directly involved in discussions about the city’s future. NJEA will both support our union brothers and sisters and remain faithful to our commitment to collective bargaining. 
Of course we defer to the other unions in how they run their organizations, but if we stand back and do nothing, we are not supporting them. Period. 

Obviously, I'm happy our members will not be affected by either bill, but if we truly "support our union brothers and sisters and remain faithful to our commitment to collective bargaining", this is a funny way of showing it. Why isn't Wendell publicly lobbying for the passage of Prieto's bill the way the state firefighters are? Why isn't he organizing our members to stand with the city's unions against this hostile takeover? Why isn't he speaking out against the atrocity of a fellow member of labor (Sweeney) trying to wrench collective bargaining away from people who aren't making a whole lot of money to begin with?
“We advocate for our members. Our primary job is to advocate for our members who have already been affected by the deep cuts made to Atlantic City’s public schools last year. We have worked to advocate for our members and their students by supporting adequate funding of Atlantic City’s schools. That advocacy ensures that our members will continue working and their students will continue learning. We will continue to focus our efforts on doing that work successfully.” 
Agreed. We must advocate for our members and Atlantic City's schools so we can provide the best education to the city's children. So why isn't Wendell calling out Gov. Christie for suing the city for money he promised but never delivered—money that put the school district in the position it's in now? Instead, he is supporting Christie's actions which could further hurt the schools. Again:

“We stand with Atlantic City. The residents of Atlantic City are caught in a difficult situation that they did not create. They still need strong schools, safe communities and the other basic services that every city must provide.  Our members, and members of other unions, provide those services. Many are also Atlantic City residents themselves. We must all work together to find a just, lasting solution for Atlantic City.”
We do not stand with Atlantic City if our association does not support the Prieto bill. This seems like a no-brainer. Both bills give us what we want. If we are indeed the most powerful union in the state, why aren't we using that power to help the other unions and in turn help Atlantic City?

What will happen to the city if/when even more people are laid off, or their salaries and benefits are cut, or they lose their pensions—that they paid into? Where in that scenario does NJEA come out looking like we support the city and its residents?

As I said in my previous post, the Chicago Teachers Union has Mayor Rahm Emanuel on the ropes because they have built strong coalitions with the public and other labor unions. NJEA is blowing it on this one.

I am disgusted and appalled. If you are, too, contact NJEA today: 609-599-4561. Leadership's emails are listed below. 

Thank you NJ Bats for the meme!

Monday, April 11, 2016

.@NJEA must stand with all unions in Atlantic City

(Note: I apologize for not embedding the videos from the Press of Atlantic City, but for some reason the links weren't working.)

There's high stakes poker game being played in Atlantic City that pits union vs. union as Gov. Christie, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto bet on which bill to save the city will be voted on by the state legislature. Sweeney and Prieto have each posted their own versions (more on that below). In the meantime Christie announced Wednesday that he is suing the city for not making payments to the schools.* 

Credit: The Press of Atlantic City
Here's what Christie said in a presser on April 5th:
"So, between now and June 30th the city owes the school district $34 million and there is no question they will not be able to pay it due to the irresponsibility of the city government... The [lawsuit] ... will prevent them from making the families and students collateral damage to their reckless financial gains... They intend to try to make a payroll payment on Friday of $3.2 million. If they do that, they would have no cash... to make the school payment for April and certainly when the next $8.4 million became due in May. We want to stop that. We want a court to stop it before Friday so that they don't do away with this money before it can go to the teachers and the school children of Atlantic City." (emphasis mine)
Excuse me while I choke on my coffee. Did Christie just express his concerns for teachers not getting paid and public schools not being fundedEither this is some kind of delayed April Fools joke or the man truly has no shame. Given his history of trashing and bashing our state's education professionals and public schools, and flat-out lying to us, does anyone in their right mind believe Christie is filing this lawsuit to protect the children and teachers? If so, I've got a casino—or 4—to sell you.

Credit: The Press of Atlantic City
Mayor Guardian responded:
"The reason the financial crisis exists right now is because the governor has shorted us $33.5 million. Promised us the money, made us put it in the budget and then decided not to make the payment... 
"If he wants to take legal action, I guess he would have to ask the attorney general to take legal action against himself and the staff that he's put in charge that tells us when to make payments to the schools." 
The state [assigned] a monitor to find best practices and reduce costs [in the schools] and also find additional state aide. This year the state monitor was told to trim $25 million and the state would provide another $25 million. But three months ago, the governor made it clear he's not going to provide the $25 million... The monitor quit... There's a new monitor there... The schools in Atlantic City do not receive the same funding as other schools get. We have 7,500 students... and if we were any other district... we would be getting about $80 million. (emphasis mine)

City Council President Marty Small (from same video):

[Christie is] trying to make it seem like we're a month behind, but actually we're paying when they told us to pay. But to use Atlantic City school children in this battle that we're withholding payments so our children won't be able to go to school is ludicrous. (emphasis mine)
We've been the big boys at the table. We've been ready, willing and able... to talk a compromise that each and every one of us can live with... This move is a desperate attempt to take the money so the government will literally shut down. 
Look, I don't claim to know the entire history of Atlantic City's fiscal mess. But I know a rat when I smell one, and this one stinks to high heaven. This is not about Christie wanting to protect public schools, students and teachers; it's about taking over the city and by right, the school district. I can see it now: Atlantic City will become the New Orleans of the north (I can hear the charter cheerleaders rubbing their hands together in glee as I type). Here's how the scenario will no doubt play out if Christie and Sweeney get their way:

  • State sues city for money it doesn't have because the state withheld the payment
  • State wins suit so city can't make payments to the schools or anyone else
  • State takes over the city
  • State suspends all collective bargaining agreements—except for NJEA
  • Unionized workers—except NJEA—potentially lose jobs, pensions, benefits and rights to grievance
  • State holds all the purse strings
  • State takes over school district
  • State turns over school district to charter operators (who knows what deal NJEA has or will cut on that)
  • Faits accompli
No doubt this is a dicey situation in need of a great deal of thoughtful discussion. So, when I saw this:

... and then heard that Sweeney's "takeover bill supported by Christie specifically exempts the teacher’s union from language allowing the state to unilaterally terminate or modify city union contracts"I was left scratching my head. "Applauds the state"? Exempts teachers unions from legislation that gives the state the power to destroy collective bargaining for other unions? 

Realize that if Sweeney's bill is signed into law, the state will have the power to take this action in Newark, Camden, Paterson and any other city they deem in need of union busting improvement—and Christie will have NJEA's blessings to do so. I don't know about you, but that's not what I want my union to do.

At a time when Republican governors are following the same anti-union playbook, and with the Constitutional Amendment battle looming on the horizon and the teacher's pension fund on life support, why in the world is Wendell Steinhauer positioning NJEA to be at odds with the other state unions when this fight is about all of us? 

Of course we want Atlantic City's public schools to be fully funded. Of course we want our members to be paid. Of course we want to preserve the rights of our members to collectively bargain for wages, benefits and working conditions. But at what cost? If NJEA is powerful enough to negotiate an exemption, shouldn't we be fighting to preserve those rights for all unionized workers, many of whom make only about $20,000 a year and send their children to the city's public schools? Shouldn't we be fighting against the wretched abuse of the poor, middle class, minorities and children that Christie has unleashed for the last six years? Aren't we all brothers and sisters in the same fight? Don't we have an obligation to protect the rights that so many who came before us fought valiantly for—for everyone? The rights that allowed an entire generation to raise themselves up to a better way of life? Shouldn't we be raising all boats instead of sinking some ships?

The Civil Rights movement wasn't just for people of color in Alabama. It was for people of color everywhere. And this fight is no different. 

Look at what the Chicago Teachers Union has accomplished. Led by President Karen Lewis, they have fought Mayor Rahm Emanuel's privatization and de-funding efforts every step of the way by building community and labor coalitions. Their one-day strike was successful because everyone worked together for increased funding for Chicago's public schools and other public services. Their efforts should be the model for every labor union in every state in this country, including NJEA. This is how we should be fighting back against a man who hates us and everything we stand for. With all the power we supposedly have, we should be leaving Christie in the dust, not making deals with the man who wants to destroy us.

Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto has posted a bill (A3614) that would protect the collective bargaining rights of all Atlantic City unions at first. If the city doesn't met certain benchmarks within the first two years, then collective bargaining agreements could be amended or terminated—but again, not NJEAs: 
"Collective bargaining and worker rights cannot be the first thing on the chopping block,” Prieto said. “The expert committee created under this bill would be given a year to use its sweeping power to cut spending, save money and restore Atlantic City to sound financial condition. If it does not meet specific benchmarks, more draconian steps could rightly be taken, but worker rights must first be valued.” 
But Christie has repeatedly said that unless Sweeney’s version of the takeover bill is presented to him, he won’t sign it. He has even gone as far as to say that if the original bill is not posted by Prieto, he will campaign against a voter referendum this fall to expand casino gaming beyond Atlantic City, an idea he has previously supported. (emphasis mine)
... and that Senate President Steve Sweeney is leading the charge on.

But at least Prieto recognizes that suspending CBAs should be a last resort. 

So, when NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer says he agrees with and supports the state for "correctly acting to enforce the law," it sounds to me like he is siding with Christie to hurt the school district and the city, and violate the state constitution which prohibits Trenton from breaking union contracts, and that is a recipe for disaster. 

Experts note that the state constitution says the Legislature shall not pass any bill "impairing the obligation of contracts or depriving a party of any remedy for enforcing a contract which existed when the contract was made."

[Marc Pfeiffer, assistant director of the Bloustein Local Government Research Center at Rutgers] also noted that the constitution also bans lawmakers from passing bills that apply to specific municipalities to prevent them from "interfering" with local governments. 
[Sen.] Sweeney... said that's why he did not mention Atlantic City's name in the takeover legislation.

In 2011 then Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver sold out to Christie and signed onto Chapter 78. We now have an assembly speaker who fully supports labor's right to collectively bargain. Why are we not supporting his bill? 

Not every NJEA member reading this is going to agree with me and I'm okay with that. But we cannot skirt this issue. I fear that if the union I love alienates itself from the rest of New Jersey's labor organizations in supporting the Christie/Sweeney bill, we will indeed be branded as the 'Bullies of State Street' and we will be betraying our labor brothers and sisters. Now, more than ever, we must stand together, arm in arm, with labor unions across this state. And we must never, ever forget those fateful words:

I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor.

* On April 8th, Superior Court Judge Julio Mendez ruled in favor of the city allowing it to keep the money it had on hand and calling the state's lawsuit "political maneuvering". Another hearing date has been set for April 19th where the full case will be heard.


Friday, April 1, 2016

10 Things Every Parent Should Know About the PARCC

Photo: Seattle Times
As the PARCC testing window approaches, it is time for New Jersey parents to make the decision whether or not to opt their children out of the test. Technically in New Jersey there is no 'opt out'. Parents can simply refuse to allow their child to take the test, despite what school districts may be telling them to the contrary. 

Last year, State Board of Education President Mark Biedron went on record as saying, "We know we can't force any kid to put their hands on a keyboard" —at least for now. If the DOE gets its way, starting with the class of 2020 (this year's 8th graders), the PARCC will be a requirement for high school graduation. 

But we do know this: State law currently does not require students to sit for the PARCC; it only requires the state to administer it. And with the frequency that the DOE changes the graduation requirements, and the backlash they are getting from parents, chances are the PARCC won't be around too much longer.

However, The State Department of Education is determined to force the test on our children. It has put districts with large numbers of opt outs last year on corrective action plans to increase participation. If this test is the magical cure-all, why are many school districts now coercing, scaring and bullying parents and students into taking the test?

As doctors take the Hippocratic oath to "First do no harm", educators have an obligation to do no harm to students by teaching and assessing based on research-based and peer-reviewed best practice. The PARCC test does not make the cut.

So, in order for you to make a more informed decision about the PARCC, here are ten things every parent should know: 

1. The test is not diagnostic. In order for any test to accomplish this, it must have at least 25 questions per assessed skill. The PARCC does not. Bari Ehrlichson, Special Assistant to the Commissioner of Education, admitted this last year in a panel discussion on the PARCC.

2. The PARCC does not consistently assess grade-level skills. Rider University Professor and reading expert Russ Walsh analyzed some of the sample language arts questions and found many of them to be several grade levels above the tested grade. This is not only unfair to both students and teachers; it is also demoralizing to students. How can anyone be expected to succeed at something when the odds are heavily stacked against them from the start?
3. Research has shown that student designed projects and research are far more effective and meaningful ways for both teachers and students to assess deep learning and understanding. Standardized tests in general are meant to show trends, and as such, PARCC falls far short on the assessment continuum.
4. The American Statistical Association has warned that standardized tests should not be used to assess educator effectiveness because the methods being used are simply not reliable. And with the enormous emphasis now put on data in teaching, teachers should not be evaluated based on a flawed test that provides flawed data.
5. Out of the 24 states originally in the PARCC consortium only seven plus the District of Columbia will be participating in the 2016-2017 testing. This should be a red flag warning to every parent and educator.
6. PARCC is not a reliable predictor of 'college and career readiness'. Recent research shows that high school GPAs are the most reliable predictor of college success. Yet all across this state—and country—related arts classes that help build those GPAs are being scaled back or eliminated to make way for more Common Core study and PARCC prep.    
7. A recently released study published in the School Superintendent Association's Journal of Scholarship and Practice concluded that a higher percentage of the 2009 New Jersey high school core curriculum content standards in English language arts and math prompted higher-order thinking than the 2010 Common Core State Standards for those same subjects and grade levels. We are dumbing down our students. 
8. The amount of testing students will be subjected to starting with the graduating class of 2020 is not only against current law, it’s just plain cruel. Starting with this class, in order to graduate high school, students will have to take and fail the PARCC not once, not twice, but three times before any real assessment of their academic progress can be used. What educator in their right mind thinks this is best practice?
9. There are big problems with scoring. Officials from PARCC have admitted there are discrepancies in scores between students who took paper and pencil tests vs. those who took the test online, with the former group scoring on average higher than the latter. And, despite PARCC's promise of leveling the playing field for all students in all states, the PARCC consortium states have the option to change their cut scores. This is nuts.
10. The fact that in its recently released report, the Study Commission On The Use Of Student Assessments in New Jersey failed to honor and recognize the hundreds of people who testified against this test, and instead recommended a marketing campaign* to crush the Opt-Out movement and brainwash parents and the general public into thinking it will solve all the world’s problems is proof that this test cannot stand on its own merit and should be thrown out.

Contrary to what some may say, the Opt Out movement was not started by the teacher unions, nor was it, as NJ Education Commissioner David Hespe said, a bunch of high school students who just didn't want to take the test. It is a nation-wide, grass-roots movement started by parents who are concerned about the over emphasis on flawed tests and data that falsely measure their child's education, unfairly evaluate teachers and penalize schools.

Last year, in our state's first PARCC testing year, over 100,000 students refused the test. That number is second only to New York State, which had approximately 200,000 students refuse. Unfortunately, these numbers were compiled by individuals doing a lot of research on the DOE's own website because the department either cannot or will not release the actual numbers. 

Every parent must make their own informed decisions regarding the PARCC and what's best for their child. But, unless parents have access to both sides of the issue, that cannot be done. The bottom line is that school districts cannot force students to take the test. They will not lose funding if your child opts out

For more information about the PARCC and your rights as a parent, visit Save Our Schools NJ and NJ Kids And Families. You can also modify my opt out letter to suit your needs.

* See Recommendation 17