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.