Tuesday, March 11, 2014

'Cosmos', The Spanish Inquisition and Education 'Reform' in NJ

Within the first 5 minutes of the new ‘Cosmos’ series hosted by astrophysicist, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, he takes a not-too-subtle jab at creationists and climate deniers when he describes the explorers and dreamers over the course of human history who dared to imagine what was out there in space, and how we all got here.
Imagination alone isn’t enough. This adventure is made possible by generations of searchers, strictly adhering to a simple set of rules:
  • Test ideas by experimentation and observation.
  • Build on those ideas that pass the test.
  • Reject the ones that fail.
  • Follow the evidence wherever it leads.
  • Question everything.

He might as well have been talking about the education community, which for over a decade has been at the mercy of the ‘reformy’ Inquisitors who just refuse to accept the mountains of research and evidence that disclaim their ideology because it all leads back to one thing: poverty. But poverty is messy, and they can’t profit from it. But they can make a profit from charter schools, merit pay, union busting, mass firings of teachers, SGOs, SGPs, standardized testing, and all the other garbage they keep throwing at teachers and students.

So, with help from the likes of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The Broad Foundation and The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) they manufactured an education crisis and, packaged and marketed it to as many elected officials—both Republican and Democrat—as possible around the country.

But something very interesting is happening, something they probably didn’t expect: parents, teachers, community leaders and students from coast to coast are fighting back because the reforms are archaic and outright damaging to students, the teaching profession and public education. And the fight is alive and well here in the Garden State. We are blessed to have the likes of Blue Jersey’s own, Jersey Jazzman, Rutgers Graduate School of Education Professor, Dr. Bruce Baker, suburban-mom-turned-education-activist, Darcie Cimarusti, aka Mother Crusader, and retired Star Ledger reporter, Bob Braun, among the many New Jersey bloggers reporting from the front lines (because you won’t find much coverage in the mainstream news).

‘The Fight’—as I like to call it—was on full display last Wednesday in Trenton. For hours, a standing room only crowd of educators, parents and concerned citizens testified in front of the New Jersey State Board of Education about the horrendous physical, emotional and financial effects of education ‘reform’ on one of the best public school systems in the nation. I documented much of the testimony here and here. NJEA gave each board member a binder full of over 1,000 letters from educators all over the state detailing their uphill battles against draconian budget cuts, stifling standards and endless, mindless test prep. The testimony was moving: some speakers cried, others yelled, some spoke softly but carried a big stick, one brought pictures of her own two children for the board to see who is really being affected. These were not greedy teachers or union thugs. They were passionate, articulate, well-educated members of the overall community that supports public education.

Today, ‘the fight’ takes center stage in Trenton once again, as the legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Schools hosts a hearing on Superintendent Cami Anderson’s controversial One Newark plan which, in addition to closing schools, seeks an end run around the landmark TEACHNJ law (aka ‘tenure reform’) so she can fire veteran educators to hire more low-wage, low-skilled Teach for America recruits, because you know, anyone can be a teacher in 5 weeks! I’m surprised I haven’t seen an infomercial yet. “For just 3 easy payments of $19.95 you too can pad your resume—er, teach for a couple of years in a really challenging school district because experienced educators are so overrated (and overpaid)—before moving on to that high-paying white collar executive career you’ve always dreamed of!”

The Good Ship Ed Reform has run aground in Port Newark. It’s listing to port and it’s taking on water. Christie’s poll numbers are tanking (and he’s been mum on all the craziness in Newark), Cerf is off to Amplify—you know, that company he has no idea as to whether they have contracts in New Jersey—and Cami’s gone into hiding. We still don’t know if she or anyone else from her staff will be at today’s hearing.

But we do know this: it should be filled with a whole lot of people with a whole lot of facts to disprove One Newark. Senator Ron Rice (D-Essex) is all over this; he’s sponsored legislation that would include public input on any school closings. And Senate Education Committee Chair and architect of the TEACHNJ law, Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), is not happy that Anderson wants to play fast and loose with the law. Her resolution objecting to the waiver passed both the Senate and the Assembly.

I’m really hoping that the confluence of all these events is a sign that the planets will align; that fact—not fiction—will once again begin to drive education policy; and that the education reform inquisition will be burned at the stake.

It would be this funny if it weren't so true.

I leave you with this quote from last Wednesday:

“This whole process was started on a false assumption. New Jersey does not have failing schools.”

We have too high a concentration of students living in poverty in our large urban areas.