Monday, May 26, 2014

Rigor: The death of public education (no really)

Wish I could take credit for this bit of Photoshop
What's worse than education 'reform'? Educators who drink the reformy Kool-Aid.

As a product of 12 years of Catholic education in New Jersey the 60s and 70s I learned a thing or two about the roots of the English language. While I didn't have any art, music, science, PE or health classes until high school, I learned a great deal about phonics and diagramming sentences, and just enough about Latin to allow me to pass in freshman year.

I didn't want to take Latin, but Principal Sr. Anne Williams, told me that since I was smart enough to take French, I was smart enough to take Latin, too. Wait... what?!?! I didn't sign up for two languages! I signed up for French l and Intro to Physical Science, the basic freshman science class. I did not want to take Latin! I needed that science class! I didn't care that my sister—God bless her— was president of the Latin Club for four years; I was not looking to be a legacy! And besides, what kind of cockamamie logic says that a person is any smarter because of the language they choose to study? But that was a time when educators were respected. One did not argue with teachers or principals even if they were wrong, especially habit-wearing ones with a man's name. I guess enrollment numbers in Latin class were down and they needed to keep Sr. James Eileen busy.

Latin is a clumsy language. It doesn't roll off the tongue like Spanish, French or Italian. Because I was forced to take it, I hated it. I dug my heels in and did just enough to pass the class. I was not going to put one extra ounce of effort into something I didn't want to study. And I did not want to sing the Latin Declension Song! 

Ohhhhhh... are we having a 'Slowly I turned/Niagara Falls' moment? Yeeees... you remember the Declension song, don't you? That snappy little ditty invented to help Latin learners remember verb tenses and such. Are your eyes glazing over? On a whim I Googled it and found not only the lyrics, but a link to a You Tube video! Cue the fanfare! Here is The Latin Declension Song in all its glory!

This is a terrible rendition. A classroom full of 15 year-old girls sang it much more fluidly and melodically. But the author of the blog goes on to write a touching post about his Latin teacher, Sr. Anna Roberts:

How extraordinary that a quarter of a century after my last Latin class with Sister Anna I reflect not on how excruciating the study of an ancient tongue could be, but on how exciting; not on how pointless, but on how many times a week I still point to things I learned from her; not on the deadness of the language, but on the magnificence of the life that one amazing teacher could breathe into it. 

What a difference a great teacher can make! Maybe if she taught me Latin, I'd have taken more of an interest. Aside from most of the lyrics and Sr. James Eileen's very sledge hammer-like pronunciations, I don't remember much else. But the one thing I did learn was how to decode many words in many languages, a skill I still use and value to this day. And it did help boost my verbal score on the SAT. So in the end, it wasn't a total waste. Nothing really is if we learn the lesson from it. (I'll save my story about junior year chemistry class for another day.) 

So when ed 'reformers' started spewing 'rigor' as a cure-all for 'failing schools', my Latin radar kicked into high gear. Webster's Dictionary defines the roots of rigor as: 

Middle English rigour, from Anglo-French, from Latin rigor, literally, stiffness, from rigēre to be stiff. First Known Use: 14th century.

The full definition is even worse:

(1) :  harsh inflexibility in opinion, temper, or judgment : severity (2) :  the quality of being unyielding or inflexible : strictness (3) :  severity of life :  austerity
b :  an act or instance of strictness, severity, or cruelty
:  a tremor caused by a chill
:  a condition that makes life difficult, challenging, or uncomfortable; especially :  extremity of cold
:  strict precision :  exactness <logical rigor>
a obsolete :  rigiditystiffness
b :  rigidness or torpor of organs or tissue that prevents response to stimuli
c :  rigor mortis

Rigor mortis is what happens to dead bodies. I do not want my child nor my students exposed to this type of teaching. And I am very concerned when I see well-meaning, career educators with years of experience and boatloads of degrees drinking the Kool-Aid, nodding in agreement about the need to make public education more rigorous when they don't seem to realize it means 'dead'—like my freshman year Latin class and education in China! Education should never be those things. It should involve hard work, but that hard work should be inspiring, challenging and creative like Sr. Anna Roberts' Latin class, not Sr. James Eileen's. School isn't always fun, but we should never make it so dead as to rob children of the joy of learning. If we do, then we need to close up shop and find another profession. We sabotage our profession when we blindly go along instead of stepping out of our comfort zone and fighting back. 

If an educator harms a student and is found guilty, they will lose their job and could go to jail. Yet we are expected to dramatically change the way we teach, to implement methods that have never been proven to work, that could have lasting ill effects on our students' ability to learn because business people have convinced great swaths of the country that we are the problem, that we must be held accountable. And yet, when these reforms fail—and they will—who will be held accountable? 

Would Miss Crabtree do this?

I leave you with this quote from Diane Ravitch posted to Facebook by another of my education heroes, Chicago Teachers Union President, Karen Lewis, while I was drafting this post:
Can teachers successfully educate children to think for themselves if teachers are not treated as professionals who think for themselves? 

In honor of retiring educators everywhere

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

I was a little quiet on Facebook and Twitter the past couple of weeks because I was busy planning and hosting the Hunterdon County Education Association annual retirement dinner, which took place on May 22nd. Retirement dinners are bittersweet because while we celebrate and honor decades of service and professional excellence, we also say goodbye to many years of experience that, given the current education 'reform' climate, may never be replaced.

Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.
~ Margaret Mead

Within the first 6 months of Christie's first term the number of public school employees who filed for retirement almost doubled that of the previous year. While I don't have statistics on the past 4 years, I have personally spoken to many retiring educators who are simply fed up. A special education teacher with whom I had the honor to work for 10 years, who worked miracles with our most challenging children for over 20 years, told me that while she didn't want to retire, she could no longer subject her students to education 'reform'. Another is taking an early retirement, sacrificing part of her pension, because she just can't take it anymore. This is how we 'attract and retain the best teachers'? This is how we make a great public education system better? We make educators' jobs so unbearable that they leave rather than inflict damaging policies on their students?

A teacher is a compass that activates the magnets of curiosity, knowledge and wisdom in pupils.
~ Ever Garrison

For the table decor and program I searched the Internet for quotes about education—not necessarily about teachers because not everyone who works in education is a certified teacher, but all of us who work in schools every day—whether administrative assistant, library clerk, custodian, cafeteria aide, maintenance worker, bus driver or teaching assistant—teach them in some way, shape or form.

If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant a tree; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people.
~ Chinese Proverb

Some of the quotes brought tears to my eyes because of the author's profound understanding of what education, learning and knowledge really are. Their words are diametrically opposed to ed 'reform' speak. Rest assured, Socrates didn't care about 'accountability'; Jean Piaget knew 'churn' was something one only did to make butter; and William Arthur Ward knew the real definition of 'rigor' means 'strictness, severity, rigidity, or harshness, as in dealing with people'—not something one would want in a school. And as for 'transformational change'? Well, I'm sure John Dewey's definition was very different than Bill Gates'.

Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.
~ John Dewey

This is who we are. This is what we do. Never forget it.

The following is my introduction speech. The quotes I put on the tables and in the program are interspersed throughout this post. Remember them when you are at your wit’s end, when you’re struggling with VAMs or SGOs or SGPs or test prep or evaluations. Print them out and hang them in your classroom, your faculty room, by the copier—heck—on the front door of your school! Mail them to elected officials and board of education members. That other stuff that disrespects students and educators is not why we became educators. This is why:

The secret in education lies in respecting the student.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Here is my speech:

"Good evening everyone and welcome to the Hunterdon County Education Association 2014 Retirement Dinner. Tonight we celebrate a combined total of over 500 years of education excellence in Hunterdon County. Let that number sink in… 500 years. That’s half a millennium of experience we are losing. A little over 500 years ago one of the greatest artists who ever lived, Michelangelo, was at the height of his creativity carving the David, the Pieta and all his other great works. He would look at each block of marble and see the sculpture trapped inside.

In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.

"I’m sure writer Joseph Addison was thinking of him when he said,
What sculpture is to a block of marble, education is to a human soul.

"Tonight’s honorees, whether an Extra Special Person (ESP) or classroom teacher, are like Michelangelo in that you unlock the work of art that is every child you encounter.

"That ability is a gift. It cannot be manufactured. It can’t be tested or ranked or corporatized. The ability to work with children, to inspire, to motivate, to teach is a calling. It is an art, like any other and yet it is like no other because while Michelangelo created some of the greatest works of art mankind has ever known, we create the future.

I cannot teach anybody anything; I can only make them think.
~ Socrates

"How will the future judge us? 500 years from now, how will America look back on this dark moment in history? Well, if history does indeed repeat itself, then my friends, we are on the brink of another Renaissance. As the Middle Ages gave way to the likes of Michelangelo, da Vinci, Shakespeare, Galileo, Copernicus, Columbus and Magellen, we are on the brink of a resurrection of our profession.

Every child deserves a champion—an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.
~ Jean Piaget

"It must happen; it will happen because we will make it happen! The quotes you see on your tables tonight are why. Next to being a parent, education is the second most important job there is. If you Google quotes about venture capitalism or politics or oh, I don’t know—dog groomers—you won’t find any by Socrates, Martin Luther King, Jr. or Albert Einstein because what we do really does change the world!

"So sit back and enjoy the evening. You truly have earned it!

Teaching is more than imparting knowledge; it is inspiring change. Learning is more than absorbing facts; it is acquiring understanding.
~ William Arthur Ward


The human mind is the greatest example of infinity on this very finite planet. It cannot be confined to box forever; it cannot have an endless stream of stuff shoved into it without a creative output or push-back. Eventually it—we—will break free. We will succeed in ending this ed ‘reform’ madness because it is diametrically opposed to what our profession is all about, and our students will consciously and unconsciously demand an end to it—they already are here in NJ. Teaching is an art, and no one understood that better than one of my heroes—one of the greatest artists and teachers who ever lived:

Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.
~ Albert Einstein

Friday, May 16, 2014

Teacher Appreciation Week Followup: The good, the bad and the ugly

Although Teacher Appreciation Week is officially behind us, I did promise you a Part 2 of my NJ BOE post—the testimony. But some other stuff happened after Part 1, and as a mom and teacher with only 5 weeks left of school, there's only so much I can fit into one day. I promise I'll get to it this weekend. 

In the meantime, here's what happened in the past week or so...

The good: Newark has a new mayor: educator Ras J. Baraka! Blogger Mother Crusader reported on the millions spent on independent expenditures by education 'reform' special interest groups and individuals for his opponent, Shavar Jeffries, but all that money couldn't silence the voices of the people who've had just about enough of other people telling them what's good for their children—then not delivering it. Baraka not only understands public education and the challenges inner city school districts face, but he lives, eats, breathes and sleeps it as principal of Central High School. He turned that school around the old fashioned way, through building a dedicated staff, providing meaningful professional development, and investing time and effort in students—not tests! I was honored to be asked to help spread the word about his campaign. I wish him much luck. All education eyes on both sides of the debate, and from all corners of the Garden State (and Wall St. and beyond) will be watching Newark under a microscope to see how he can steer that ship back into the hands of parents and community members and their public schools.

Great news out of Trenton! The Assembly Education Committee unanimously passed the bipartisan bill A3081. According to NJEA:

A-3081 calls for a variety of measures to ensure that any implementation of new standards, testing, and teacher evaluation is carried out thoughtfully. This bill includes:
  • An Education Reform Review Task Force to look at how the CCSS are being implemented, use of PARCC assessments, and the implementation and potential effects of the teacher evaluation system. NJEA would be represented on this task force. 
  • Student growth percentiles (SGPs) to not be included in the annual summative ratings of teachers for at least two years.
  • Giving districts the option to administer the PARCC assessment online or by pencil and paper, or a combination of both during the two-year period after passage of the bill. 
  • Stops the New Jersey Department of Education from using the PARCC assessment for student or school accountability purposes for at least two years after passage of the bill. 

So, a bipartisan bill that will allow meaningful input from educators who have been largely left out of the conversation, and will give districts the option of pencil and paper tests for two years because many simply aren't technologically ready, and won't be any time soon with an $800 million state budget gap? Could the tide actually be turning? I don't care who you are, any reasonable, responsible parent in this state doesn't want to see their children tested to death—especially when the tests are set up for them to fail.

Education committee member, Assemblywoman Mila Jasey had this to say: 
This move will give us more time to assess what's going on statewide in terms of implementation and evaluation capabilities. Two major concerns from administrators, teachers and parents alike are all the time being spent preparing for testing and the lack of hardware capacity to conduct both the testing and evaluations. (emphasis mine)

Sponsors of the bill are: Assembly members Mila Jasey, D-Essex; Patrick Diegnan, D-Middlesex; Sheila Oliver, D-Essex; Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-Mercer; Benjie Wimberly, D-Passaic; and Charles Mainor, D-Hudson.
Co-sponsors so far include: Assembly members Chris Brown, R-Atlantic; Ralph Caputo, D-Essex; Angel Fuentes, D-Camden; Gordon Johnson; D-Bergen; Sean Kean, R-Monmouth; Alison Littell McHose, R-Sussex; John McKeon, D-Morris; David Rible, R-Monmouth; Holly Schepisi, R-Bergen; Parker Space, R-Sussex; Linda Stender, D-Union; Shavonda Sumter, D-Passaic; and Cleopatra Tucker, D-Essex.
With this much bipartisan support, how can Gov. Christie, who touts his ability to work across the aisle, not sign it? 
Thank you to everyone who called, wrote or emailed the members of the Assembly Education Committee. They heard our concerns. Feel free to let them know how much you appreciate their efforts. I'd like to personally thank them, too. Here they are:
Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan, Chair  908-757-1677
Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson-Coleman 609-292-0500
Assemblyman Ralph Caputo 973-450-0484
Assemblyman Angel Fuentes  856-547-4800
Assemblywoman Mila Jasey 973-762-1886
Assemblywoman Angelica Jimenez 201-223-4247
Assemblyman David Rible 732-974-0400
Assemblywoman Donna Simon  908-968-3304
Assemblyman Troy Singleton 856-234-2790
Assemblyman Dave Wolfe  732-840-9028

The bad: Social media lit up this week with this story in The New Yorker about the rise and fall of public education and education 'reform' in Newark, including the fact that Mark Zuckerberg's $100 million was largely wasted on more bloated bureaucracy including $1000/day consultants. The money's gone and Cami & Co. have nothing to show for it other than a lot of really angry parents and students.

On September 24, 2010, the team [Zuckerberg, then Mayor Cory Booker and Gov. Chris Christie] described their plan for Newark on “Oprah.” “So, Mr. Zuckerberg,” Oprah asked, “what role are you playing in all of this?” He replied, “I’ve committed to starting the Startup:Education Foundation, whose first project will be a one-hundred-million-dollar challenge grant.” Winfrey interrupted: “One. Hundred. Million. Dollars?” The audience delivered a standing ovation. When Winfrey asked Zuckerberg why he’d chosen Newark, he gestured toward Booker and Christie and said, “Newark is really just because I believe in these guys. . . . We’re setting up a one-hundred-million-dollar challenge grant so that Mayor Booker and Governor Christie can have the flexibility they need to . . . turn Newark into a symbol of educational excellence for the whole nation.” This was the first that Newark parents and teachers had heard about the revolution coming to their schools. (emphasis mine)

We all know how this story ends. Which leads me to...

The ugly: Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson continues to reach new heights of incompetence as her deeply flawed One Newark plan rolls out. Bob Braun wrote an excellent piece describing the destruction, disruption and all out disenfranchisement of Newark's neighborhoods. It's not an easy read. One Newark is nothing short of abuse. Any elected official, starting with Sen. Booker and going right on down through the state legislature to the Newark City Council who is not outraged over this, who does not take immediate action to stop this madness and downright cruel treatment of children does not deserve to represent the people:

Only 63 percent of families were matched with a school somewhere in the top five selected by families. Anderson does not tell us how many received their first or even their second choice. The form parents had to fill out required them to list eight schools in preferential order.
Remember—we are talking about elementary and secondary children here, most of whom attend neighborhood schools. These are not college kids applying to their “reach” and “safety” schools. These are families with young children who do not know—and probably won’t know for months yet—where their kids will go to school. 
Parents and teachers have been sending in reactions. One teacher wrote this about an eighth-grader who was rejected by EVERY school to which he applied—every public high school:
“You can imagine how sad it is when one of my 8th graders tells me that no one wants them in their high school . They have been on this earth only 13 or 14 years. Wonderful for their self image. It’s heartbreaking.”
No one wants the kid. Hey, thanks, Cami. Made that child’s day. Year. Maybe life. 
Other parents reported siblings assigned to different schools or to schools to which they had not applied. At least one parent has three children going to three different schools–way to go, Cami! You apparently forgot you were on the ballot Tuesday and, well, you lost. 
“My son was matched to a school we did NOT choose. He DID use all 8 options and we applied early in January,” wrote one mother. To Cami, that’s school choice. 
Another said she was denied any choices because “I received a letter stating they did not match my child because I didn’t select enough schools!!! There aren’t 8 schools I want my son to attend!!!” 
So the school choice program, it turns out, is not parental choice—but choices exercised by  bureaucrats at 2 Cedar Street. Parents in Montclair, where Cami  now lives, can choose to send their children to neighborhood schools—but people in Newark simply aren’t as rich as people in Montclair.
Empowerment in Newark means empowerment for $300,000-a-year Anderson and her many $175,000-a-year tools. For Newark parents-not so much. 
I've said it before and I'll say it again: everyone in New Jersey needs to be concerned about what's going on in Newark. The treatment of its citizens by someone who is so completely out of touch with their wants and needs—and who does not want to listen when they complain— is nothing short of criminal. I'll bet that if Oprah knew what's happening, she wouldn't be too thrilled. Thank God Ras Baraka won! I hope and pray that he will be able to stop this insanity. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

NJ Ed Truth Squad Call to Action Part 2: When bad things happen to good schools

UPDATE! I have it from a reliable source in Newark that closing Hawthorne or turning it over to a 'charter launch' is a violation of the NCLB waiver process for priority schools, so Cami had to back down on that. However, it appears that Hawthorne's progress, which qualified it as a K-8 school on the move, may have helped her earn a merit pay bonus. So, she wanted to close a school that helped line her pockets. 


In Part 1 I wrote about the recent Congressional vote on a charter school bill. Part 2 is about Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson's plans to convert Hawthorne Avenue School, a successful and beloved neighborhood public school, into a charter.

A Newark teacher sent me this heartfelt post written in April by Hawthorne Ave PTSO President Grace Sergio about the successes this school has had under Principal H. Grady James. You may remember that along with three other principals, James was briefly suspended earlier this year for speaking at a parent/community forum (something Anderson no longer does) on the fate of their school in light of her One Newark plan. Read Bob Braun's excellent coverage of this here

Originally under One Newark this school was destined to be converted to a charter, but I guess after reviewing the school's data here and here, she had no choice but to back down—sorta.

See, the school is improving under James' leadership. Even though 94% of its students are free and reduced lunch eligible, and 89% are African American (both numbers higher than the district average), many of its numbers are heading in the right direction: 

True, their language arts proficiency trend numbers are a little erratic, but I defer to Jersey Jazzman and Dr. Bruce Baker for explanations. They are the numbers guys.

Despite all these obstacles, and the fact that the building quality is rated as 'Very Poor' (something that's far too common in our urban school districts), Hawthorne's numbers are going up and the parents and community support it. Maybe that's why Cami wanted to co-opt it—so she could somehow prove that a charter school serving a mostly minority, low-income population really could outperform a traditional public school. #SMH!

I guess the public outcry got to her because a report this week in NJ Spotlight had this to say:

Anderson has since backed off on some of the details, instead saying Hawthorne Avenue would remain a district school, just under outside management.

Either way, a third of its students are to be moved elsewhere, and with enrollment decisions due to be announced within the week, the change for the school continues to blow back on Anderson in increasingly public ways.

Yesterday, the extra attention came by way of the Randi Weingarten, the national president of the American Federation of Teachers, visiting the school to voice her support for it remaining as it is.

Identifying Anderson as part of a nationwide reform movement of “privatizers” and “profiteers,” Weingarten said Hawthorne was an example of the superintendent’s plans gone awry.

“They don’t want schools doing well the old-fashioned way,” she said. “They are so craven here that instead of celebrating the success, and instead of seeing what is growing and nurturing that, why would you stop that?”

According to the district's and state's own beloved data, Hawthorne Avenue School is headed in the right direction. If anything, it needs to be supported, nurtured, studied and replicated—not dismantledWhat the heck is 'outside management' anyway? And why does this school need it? Why can't the Newark School District continue to manage it? As we've seen time and again with all things ed 'reform', all roads lead to one place: the bank. My guess is there's some sort of profit to be made by somebody, somewhere. 

So, #NJEdTruthSquad, here's what we need to do: Contact Rep. Donald Payne, Jr., who wrote a letter to Cami demanding answers about One Newark. I wrote about that letter in a previous post, but interestingly the link is no longer available. Odd technical glitch? Or could it be because he has endorsed Shavar Jeffries in the Newark Mayoral race? Not sure.

But in any event, click on the Congressional delegation contact info link on the right side of this page and send Rep. Payne an email or call and leave a message telling him to help stop the dismantling of Hawthorne Avenue School, and demand that he push Anderson for proof her 'reforms' really are in the best interests of the children of Newark. 

NJ Ed Truth Squad Call to Action! Part 1

We interrupt this Teacher Appreciation Week to bring you a call to action:

Two pieces of information crossed my cyber desk this morning at the crack of dawn:

2. This very sad accounting of Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson's proposed conversion of a successful and beloved elementary school—Hawthorne Avenue—into a charter school. I write about this in my next post.

First, the House bill 

Sadly, one of the few things many Democrats and Republicans both in Congress and around the nation agree on is taking money out of public education to expand charter schools. While some Democrats want to do the right thing but are simply ill-informed, far too many have shown their true colors by abandoning the core values and principles of the party in favor of the almighty dollar. New Jersey's own Mother Crusader, aka Darcie Cimarusti, reports on the boatloads of money being spent on behalf of Shavar Jeffries in the Newark mayoral race (election is 5/12) by groups and individuals with ties to DFER (Democrats for Education Reform). 

Of course, education 'reformers' and the politicians they fund on both sides of the aisle have co-opted the civil rights rhetoric even though their laws and regulations—starting with Race to The Top—have resulted in more segregation in our nation's public schools. Diane Ravitch quotes a study by George Washington University Professor Iris Rothberg:

"There is a strong link between school choice programs and an increase in student segregation by race, ethnicity, and income. The risk of segregation is a direct reflection of the design of the school choice program."

But according House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) when commenting on the bill, "Expanding education opportunity for all students everywhere is the civil rights issue of our time. I say we help those students by expanding those slots so they can get off the waiting lists and into the classrooms." 

... even if those classrooms segregate students! 

Apparently the existing legislation did need some fine tuning and that's what this bill intended to do, but key amendments were voted out: 

Teachers unions such as the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association raised concerns that the legislation would not subject charter schools to federal education requirements, such as reporting teacher attrition rates and student discipline codes.  But the unions, key Democratic Party supporters, did say that the measure would include some improvements over current law such as creating weighted lotteries for charter school funding. 

The House rejected, 190-205, an amendment offered by Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) that would require the Secretary of Education to develop conflict of interest guidelines for all charter schools receiving federal funds, such as disclosing individuals with financial interest in a given charter school. (emphasis mine)
"There have been very serious cases all across the country over the past few years involving the conflict of interest in charter schools," Castor said. 
But [House Education and Workforce Committee Chairman] John Kline (R-Minn.) said the proposal would be unnecessary. "This amendment is an overreach of federal authority," Kline said.

So, it's okay if the federal government overreaches into our classrooms with the wackiness of Race to The Top, the Common Core and its related testing, but any measures to protect taxpayers from 'massive fraud, mismanagement and abuse' is an 'overreach'.
Paul Rosenberg reported in Salon this week:

Just in time for National Charter School Week, there’s a new report highlighting the predictable perils of turning education into a poorly regulated business. Titled “Charter School Vulnerabilities to Waste, Fraud and Abuse,” the report focused on 15 states representing large charter markets, out of the 42 states that have charter schools. Drawing on news reports, criminal complaints, regulatory findings, audits and other sources, it “found fraud, waste and abuse cases totaling over $100 million in losses to taxpayers,” but warned that due to inadequate oversight, “the fraud and mismanagement that has been uncovered thus far might be just the tip of the iceberg.” (emphasis mine)

(Excuse me while I go relieve myself of my breakfast...)

Back to Congress:

Members also rejected, 179-220, an amendment offered by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) to require charter schools to publish data regarding student enrollment criteria, discipline policies and orientation materials on their websites. (emphasis mine) 

"It is important to ensure that our parents have information and certainly should have info regarding the kind of discipline atmosphere that is there. They should also know whether or not there are serious commitments to making sure that their child's holistic future is in front of them," Jackson Lee said. 

Kline said that requiring charter schools to publish such information would impose an unnecessary workload not required of public schools. 

"I don't think we should be adding additional burdens onto charter schools," Kline said.

So let me get this straight: the federal government requires public schools to disclose student discipline codes, but Kline thinks it would be a burden on charters to do so? 
I think he's more concerned about ticking off some potentially big campaign donors if they think Congress is trying to level the playing field in any way, shape or form. 

For the record: I have not investigated Kline's donors, and I am in no way implying that he receives campaign donations from charter school investors.

The House gave voice vote approval to an amendment offered by Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) to require the Government Accountability Office to audit federal funds given to charter schools for administrative costs. 

"It is important we attempt to maximize the ability of the dollar to reach the classroom," Cassidy said.

Well, that's a good thing because there have been plenty of stories of inequity among what charter school administrators and their staff make, and what all charter school employees make vs. public school employees. See Texas and New Jersey. States like
 North Carolina are fighting to simply get that information disclosed. And 'reach the classroom' does include teacher salaries because you can have the greatest supplies and equipment in the world, but if you don't have a qualified, motivated and, yes, well paid educator in there, you won't get much ROI.

Here's how the New Jersey delegation voted on this bill:

Now, I don't have all the details of it, but as the article stated, it did fix certain problems with the current law and did pass with overwhelming bipartisan support which is about as rare as Halley's Comet. And I'm not accusing any of the Democrats listed here of purposefully trying to undermine public education. While I have never had a conversation with Reps. Sires, Pascrell or Payne, during my three years running for NJ State Assembly I did speak with both Reps. Pallone and Holt several times about education issues, and both of them are on our side. 

But here's what the #NJEdTruthSquad needs to do: We must contact every one of them on a regular basis and educate them on what we experience on the front lines. I've made it very easy to do. Look on the right hand side of this page and you'll find links to contact both your state and federal representatives. You can click on those links, find your rep and call or send him or her an email. It really is that easy!

And we must continue to do so any time an issue arises. Education is a powerful tool and we are experts at it! We must continue to let our representatives know how education 'reform' is killing public education, hurting our students and damaging our profession. 

The bill is headed to the senate next. We must contact Senators Menendez and Booker.

Please take a moment and contact them right now.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week: Delirium at the State BOE Meeting Part 1!

Today was open topic day at the NJ State BOE, which means anyone can testify about any education topic. The board has their regular meeting in the morning, then public testimony in the afternoon. Due to NJASK testing, there was a small contingent of NJEA members present along with concerned parents and citizens.

It started with a resolution to recognize May 2014 as Physical Education and Sport Month. A physical education teacher gave a brief presentation on the topic. Forgive me for not knowing her name, but she's a firecracker. She's been teaching close to 50 years. I met her at a previous BOE meeting and she's the epitome of a career educator: fiercely passionate, knowledgeable, inspiring and uplifting. During her presentation she reminded the board that even though NJ is one of the top states in PE in the nation, because of budget cuts and increased demands of standardized testing, many districts are not fulfilling the mandated 150 minutes of PE per week. Board president Arcelio Aponte told her to mention this to acting Education Commissioner David Hespe. (More on this in tomorrow's post.) She then got the entire room up and doing an 'brain break'-type activity, wherein Aponte laughingly admitted that he'd lost control of the meeting. Leave it to a teacher to take control.

Then came the presentations. Chief Performance Officer/Assistant Commissioner of Data, Research, Evaluation and Reporting (now there's a mouthful), Bari Erlichson, presented on the PARCC field tests. I guess ya gotta love data to have a title like that. Trouble is data doesn't have a pulse. It's not a flesh and blood, 98.6 degree little kid. It can only tell you so much. I live Tweeted the testimony, so you can check out the details there. Does anyone know if there's a Chief Crying, Stressed-Out Eight Year Old Commissioner of Calming Fears position at the DOE? If so, I want to apply.

According to Erlichson, the PARCC trials went swimmingly well. She even had slides of Tweets from teachers and administrators praising the process! Why, one of the superintendents was from Mount Olive. Now, where have I read about him before? Oh... yes... Jersey Jazzman wrote a little piece on him. This is just the tip of the iceberg, you really do need to read the whole piece: 
Before he was hired in Mount Olive, Reynolds was director of Newton Learning, an education company he formed as a division of Edison Schools. Edison Schools is a private education management company and [former NJ Education Commissioner] Cerf was formerly the chief operating officer.  
How nice that his school district's trial run went so well.

So anyway, back to Bari. Did you know that, according to her, "NJASK is one day of testing then kids relax for the afternoon"? Dear God, what kind of hell-hole have I been teaching in!?! My school does 4 days of testing in the morning, then regular academic classes in the afternoon! Such torture must be stopped!! I'm so glad she is on the job to set the record straight because she made the point several times that all this testing info must be messaged properly. Apparently it doesn't matter if it all works or not. So long as the message is good, all will be well.

She also talked about technical issues with the computers the students used, including 'proctor caching' issues, and all the ways districts are magically fixing them. Teachers, memorize that phrase because you too will soon be catching proctors! What's wrong with 'sharpen pencil and open book'? Oh right, chrome books are so much more reliable profitable.

Now mind you, I have nothing against technology in teaching when used appropriately, and there are many great reasons for the switch to a tech-based style of teaching and learning, but this roll out is happening way too fast, and board member and former NJEA President Edie Fulton knows it. After Bari showed all the tweets of happiness and joy over the trial runs, there was this:
Fulton: Where are the negative comments on the field test? 
Erlichson: I had to abbreviate my presentation.

But the good Dr. Bruce Baker came to the rescue as soon as I tweeted that exchange. Bari, here are some dissenting voices in case you want to update your Power Point:  

"Education in the school came to a screeching halt. No other uses of technology were permitted during testing time." 
"I am a teacher as well as a parent of a field-tested student. I am certain this sort of paradigm shift in high-stakes testing, where results will be used to 'evaluate' teachers, will force educators to spend more time instructing how to take the test, how to be most successful on the test and how to remain motivated for the test than actually educating students. In essence, I fear PARCC and preparing for the PARCC will become education as we know it." 

Sounds more and more like China, doesn't it?

Oooo! Oooo! Oooo! Guess what, teachers?!?!? According to Bari, more PARCC practice tests are coming in the fall! YES! AND... regional training centers for test administrators! And Bari even said they need to reach out to districts that aren't electronically ready for the PARCC because, you know, "the NJASK just can't get to the standards the way a computer-based test can." Wow, I guess that means the state is going to pay for their tech upgrades and— oh wait... never mind. (Pssst: $800 million budget shortfall)

On questions where there are multiple right answers:
Fulton: Have you ever seen one of them?
Erlichson: I haven't drilled down enough. (Translation: No.)

The pilot was administered to about 10% of all students in NJ. Board VP and retired teacher, Joe Fisicaro, questioned the potential technology problems with a fast roll-out next year:
Fisicaro: 10% is a very small number. What happens next year when tens of thousands of students take the test? 
Aponte: Everyone gets frustrated when technology doesn't work... We are committed to moving forward with PARCC. We are sticking to our timeline. 
Hespe: Field testing has green-lighted PARCC. Change is hard. Our achievement gap numbers are devastating.  
Aponte: The public needs to know the field test is going well. We fully expect to stay on our time schedule. (emphasis mine)
There you have it folks. Damn the technology problems and full speed ahead! We don't care about your district or student tech issues. We don't care whether your teachers have had time to unpack the standards and write curriculum. We are committed to reform! I'm so relieved to hear that. 

To close this discussion, Erlichson asked one final, chillingly telling question:
"PARCC is part of the regular school day. How do we present this so people don't think it's a lost week?"
First, dear readers, it's not a lost week. It's a lost two weeks: one in March and one in May. Second, if this grand scheme is so wonderful, so fantabulous, so marvelously marvelous, nobody would have to do any spin. This thing would sell itself. But it's not and it won't.

But wait, there's more! Now we move on to the NAEP scores review. Yippee! 

While Erlichson confirmed that NJ has been "leading the nation" in 2011 and 2013 our scores are flat. *Sigh* This is what I can't stand about reformy logic. See, normal logic goes something like this:
We are at the top + We've been at the top for a decade = We are doing a good job because proficient equals a high level of mastery, like a B+. So, let's maintain our strengths, define the areas that need improvement and work to improve them.

But reformy logic goes something like this:
We are at the top + We've been at the top for a decade = Our scores are flat. Excellence is so overrated! Something must be wrong and we've got to fix EVERYTHING—NOW!!! And it doesn't matter if the 'fix' will really work or if it's even valid, we just have to convince the public that it is!
Let's look at this another way: The Yankees are the most successful baseball franchise in history. They've won 27 World Series and 40 American League Pennants. Do they have areas in need of improvement? Sure, every team does. That's why they trade players and hire excellent coaches, trainers and managers. But what if suddenly one day the owners decide that excellence isn't good enough? What if they decide that a consistent winning record (even though they might not win the World Series every year) isn't up to snuff? What if they want every player to be perfect—for half the price? What if they told Derek Jeter, one of baseball's all time best players, that he suddenly has to change the way he plays the game because his numbers aren't perfect enough? Oh, and they are slashing funding for trainers and coaches in the process. Could he do it? Would he do it? Why would he do it?

That's what education 'reform' is doing to NJ. In its race to perfection, it's completely avoiding the correlation between achievement and socioeconomic status, slashing school budgets and placing all it's reformy eggs in the testing basket. If you want the New York Yankees' winning record, you have to fund your team like the New York Yankees.   

Still not convinced that what the state BOE is doing is wrong? I leave you with this from Acting Commissioner Hespe testifying at a state budget hearing on Monday (paraphrased):

If the PARCC and Common Core Standards are properly implemented, there will be no need for remedial college courses.

Tomorrow: More BOE delirium, and public testimony.