Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Saving New Jersey's children three zip codes at a time

Yesterday the mayors of New Jersey's three largest cities, Ras Baraka of Newark, Jose Torres of Paterson and Steven Fulop of Jersey City, announced a bold move to collaborate on reducing violent crime in all three cities. 

The proposal evolved from the Passaic River Corridor Initiative along Route 21, which has involved as many as 80 municipalities sharing police intelligence, according to Tom O’Reilly, the head of the Police Institute at Rutgers University. State authorities have said the program has led to hundreds of arrests. 
But sharing police officers among three large cities that are not adjacent to one another while also combining social services is “sort of a first,” O’Reilly said. “They are challenging the traditional ways of thinking,” he said of the mayors. “The idea that three mayors have cut across bureaucratic lines is the first step.”
O’Reilly said the mayors’ proposal may include expanding a Newark violence reduction program in which Rutgers is taking part, and which he said was beefed up this year, leading to two months without a gang-related homicide in the city’s Fourth Police Precinct. The program calls for paroled gang members to meet relatives of gun violence victims and to be connected with social workers. It also has a dedicated law enforcement contingent that includes state, county and federal authorities. 
[Mayor] Baraka said that “we are also talking about reentry” programs to aid people coming out of prison. And he mentioned the possible inclusion of community groups, some of them church-based, whose members walk the streets to combat fears of citizens who don’t talk to police because they are afraid of gang retribution. Community leaders in Paterson have said that is a common problem in their city. 
“We have to combat this whole idea of no snitching,” Baraka said. 
[Mayor] Torres said he has examined a job training program in Jersey City that is led by former Gov. James McGreevey, and hopes to create a similar program in Paterson, adding that he believes he will be able to find federal money for it.

This program could be a potential game-changer in the war on children. Yes, I did say 'the war on children' because in the age of austerity for all but the wealthy, children—particularly poor children—have been hit hardest. They are the collateral damage in gang wars, domestic abuse, social safety net cuts, and education 'reform'. Stray bullets, physical and psychological abuse, food insufficiency, homelessness and apartheid-like education policies do indeed affect a child's future. And contrary to what Gov. Christie and other 'reformers' say, zip code does indeed matter because the children most affected don't live in places like this in Christie's hometown of Mendham:

Credit: homesoftherichest.wordpress.com

Or this in Christie's boyhood town of Livingston...
Credit: newjerseyluxuryrealestate.com

No, they live in places like this:

Credit: nj.com

and this...
Credit: wikipedia.org

So let's hope this program works. If the proof is there, if the research points in the right direction, if it's fact-based and not 'faith' based (ie: we 'believe' it will work, we 'hope' it will work), then the children in some of the poorest neighborhoods in New Jersey will stand a chance at overcoming the burden of their zip code because the only way out is to get out alive.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

My open letter to President Obama about public education and his legacy

Dear President Obama,

Along with millions of Americans, I proudly and joyously voted for you in 2008. I believed that finally our nation was living up to its promise of a land where 'all men [and women] are created equal'. I have continually admired your resolve and poise in the face of birthers and other racists who have purposefully jeopardized the best interests of our nation as they plot your political demise. And I voted for you again in 2012, albeit without the same level of enthusiasm. In many ways I'm still happy you are my president. The economy is heading in the right direction, millions of previously uninsured people now have access to affordable healthcare, and our troops are coming home from over a decade of war. But to be perfectly honest, in certain ways it's more about what an alternate McCain or Romney universe would have looked like, and less about what yours looks like now because theirs would have been exponentially worse for people like me and those whom I serve.

You see, I'm an educator, and I see first hand the devastating effects your education policies, and by proxy, those of state and local officials, have on the very people whose hopes and dreams carried you to victory; whose hopes and dreams you hold so close to your heart: the people who waited hundreds of years, and waited hours in line to cast their vote so that someone just like them could finally sit in the Oval Office. Mr. President, you have let them—and all of us—down. And in light of all the good that you have accomplished, in light of what your presidency means to the history and the moral conscience of this nation, what a terrible, ironic tragedy it would be if your legacy turns out to be the further marginalization of those who have lived their lives in the margins.

Now you may wonder what a middle class, white woman from the suburbs knows about racial inequality. And that's a fair question. While I could never walk a mile in your shoes, I walked many miles in other shoes. I was raised by Roman Catholic Republicans who believed that 'Blacks and Jews were destroying the country.' I never believed that. The 'N' word was used quite freely in my home. I didn't like that. My religion told me that humans were made in the image and likeness of God, while simultaneously telling the world it had the market cornered on salvation. I rejected that. So whenever I'm in a situation that calls for standing up for the little guy, I'm there. On stilts. I don't know how to do anything else. And lately, I—and millions like me around the country—have been wearing those stilts on a daily basis as your policies destroy public education in cities with high populations of poor and minority children like New Orleans, Chicago, Newark, and Philadelphia to name a few.

If you believe as millions of Americans do, that in the United States, all men and women are truly equal, your education policies must change because they are perpetuating the segregation of millions of poor and minority children, and draining our public schools of vitally-needed resources. As we honor the 50th anniversary of the passing of the Civil Rights Act, we see prominent Americans of every racial background jumping on an education 'reform' bandwagon that's headed off a cliff. They've sold their souls to profits and influence and erased decades of work to stem racial inequality. Just as Citizens United has given corporations the ability to buy elections, your education policies combined with President Bill Clinton's New Markets Tax Credits, have given those same corporations—and foundations and hedge funds—the ability to buy public education and segregate the very students you want to help most. 

The United States' largest labor union—my union—The National Education Association, has called for the resignation of Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Mr. President, he is not qualified to manage education policy in this country. He is out of touch, insensitive, and woefully ill-informed about what makes for successful teaching and learning. He is the reason why so many in my profession are becoming disillusioned with your administration. You can and must do better.

With all due respect, sir, your failure to act, your failure to accept the mountains of credible evidence that prove your administration's education policies further segregate poor and minority students puts you in the same category as climate deniers, creationists and yes, birthers.

I do not want you, the first African American President of the United States, to go down in history with that hanging over your head. You deserve better. We deserve better. 

Marie Corfield

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

More on Christie's Executive Order, AchieveNJ & PARCC

Keeping this short and sweet because Ani McHugh (aka. TeacherBiz) and Jersey Jazzman both wrote excellent analyses of all that transpired in the life of A3081/S2541. 

Let's cut to the chase. Here's what the weights in educator evaluations will look like next year: 

In addition, any educators who were rated ineffective or partially effective in the '13-'14 school year can have their evaluation reviewed. (more on this below)

I spent a lot of time reading various opinions on this deal. Some people are not happy. They think NJEA sold out. They think the association didn't do enough to stop the testing and protect children. But Ani's response is on point:
Many people (parents, students, educators) in the state are frustrated and angry that students will still have to take PARCC exams in the 2014-2015 school year–but it’s important to understand that a delay of PARCC implementation was never part of A3081/S2154. Even if it were, though, students would still have to take whatever tests would replace the PARCC–be they Smarter Balanced assessments or revised NJASK/HSPA tests that would have had to be rewritten to align with the Common Core.
In short, the PARCC is just one form of Common Core testing–the one New Jersey chose to use–and as long as New Jersey is a Common Core state that’s receiving federal funds under Race to the Top, our students will have to be tested in accordance with the federal mandates that accompany these initiatives.  If we weren’t subjecting students to PARCC testing, we’d be subjecting them to something very similar–and no doubt equally flawed, equally expensive, and probably equally invasive of their rights to privacy.
Folks, no matter what you think NJEA did or didn't do, all our children—my own child included—still have to take the tests, unless we as parents decide to opt them out. 

I and dozens of other educators from around the state testified at every NJEA State Board of Ed Lobby Day this past school year about the need to slow down the implementation of high stakes consequences for high stakes tests because educators were tearing their hair out trying to keep up with everything that was thrown at us and our students. Thousands of letters were sent to board members. None of us (that I can recall) ever asked the board to completely eliminate the standardized testing because they can't. 

So, the fact that standardized tests will only count for 10% of evaluations next year is huge, because if educators aren't stressed and overwhelmed, their students won't be either, and that is a win-win for parents and schools. Is it perfect? No way. There are still major flaws with AchieveNJ which Duke points out below. But the fact that educators who were rated ineffective or partially effective will be able to challenge those decisions is important because as anyone who sat through those Board of Ed meeting knows, there have been some real horror stories about botched observations coming out of school districts all across the state. All year, our message to the State Board of Ed has been, "Slow down and get it right." We got the first part; now it's up to Christie and the task force to get the second part right. 

The writing was on the wall with this one: although the bill had overwhelming bipartisan support, Christie would never, ever sign it because in his world, 'bipartisanship' only works if it can increase his political viability in places like Iowa. The executive order allows him to still pull the strings. 

As Duke points out:
There was, of course, no chance of Christie ever signing that bill into law. So we can debate the effectiveness of NJEA's strategy on this -- but here's what's not debatable:
Christie's executive order is all the evidence anyone needs that AchieveNJ -- the state's teacher evaluation system -- is built on a foundation of sand.
In the spring of 2013, then-Former Acting Commissioner Chris Cerf and the state BOE decided, on a "feeling," to arbitrarily change the percentage of a teacher's evaluation based on test scores to 30 percent from 35 percent. There was no research basis for this whatsoever, but no matter: it's our "feelings," after all, that really count...
Now, I guess the governor "feels" 10 percent is good for this coming year, but 20 percent will be good afterward. Why? Because he says so, that's why!

As for what happens after 2016? Who knows? One thing is certain: Christie will be gone. Then maybe, just maybe we can elect someone who won't make education policy decisions like this:

10 minute sketch-kinda sums it up. Depressing.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Camden: Improving the quality of life for 'other people'

Taking a break from NJ State BOE testimony to bring you an update on one of the poorest, most dangerous cities in the country: Camden. And borrowing some of the title from a Camden educator's blog post last week (more below).

While my little graphic may be snarky, the daily reality that many Camden residents face is anything but. A quick Google search brings up volumes about the decades-long plight of Camden and her residents. But as someone who grew up in a pretty toxic environment, I know that often times a healthy dose of Gallows Humor is what gets me through difficult times. 

This video, however is no laughing matter. It's staggeringly, brutally, innocently and blatantly honest. It's what just about every child in that city faces every day, and is the very definition of sin. Many don't have the resilience of this young man.  
More from him later.

Camden in the news

Several recent events have put the city at the center of law makers, news media and civil rights advocates, and prompted some excellent reporting by some of NJ's finest education policy bloggers:

  1. Gov. Christie vetoed a budget provision that would have increased the per household amount that food stamp recipients now receive because 'other people' outside NJ might find that more appealing in a presidential candidate. 
  2. Writing for Anthony Cody's Ed Week blog, Living in Dialogue, Julia Sass-Rubin of Save Our Schools NJ criticized the recent late-night shenanigans by some Trenton legislators that effectively re-wrote portions of the NJ Charter School law so that previously out-of-compliance charter chains, Mastery and Uncommon Schools, would now be in compliance, and the 'other people' who run them would be able to educate profit from Camden's children.
  3. State officials gave another big corporate tax break to a politically connected company that will yet again bring very few jobs to Camden, but will benefit 'other people'
  4. Camden educator Keith Eric Benson guest posted over at the EduShyster blog (cross-post at Blue Jersey) about the new taxpayer-funded Philadelphia 76ers practice facility being built in Camden that will provide the city with a handful of seasonal, low-paying jobs and not much else. Keith makes the salient point that this facility will, like so many other renewal projects, benefit 'other people'
  5. No discussion of education policy and child poverty would be complete without commentary from Jersey's own Jersey Jazzman. Along with Julia's piece in Ed Week and her response to reformer Laura Waters, they deliver a 1-2 knockout punch to the 'other people' pushing the 'reform' agenda in Camden's schools .
These issues are not separate. They are all intertwined in a noose that has tightened around the city's neck for decades.

Camden poverty by the numbers

Any discussion of Camden must include statistics on poverty. Depending on which statistics you read, Camden is the poorest and most dangerous city in the country. If you don't believe my words, look at the numbers:

The crisis is beyond comprehension, especially in one of the wealthiest states in the US, and children are the worst victims. If Camden were a third world country, rock stars and George Clooney would be lining up to host a benefit relief concert. The USDA has designated it as one of the top 10 worst 'food deserts' in the country. A food desert is described as:

An area without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. That means there isn't a supermarket within a mile.
These are usually low-income areas, dominated by minorities. In fact, just 8 percent of African Americans live in a census tract with a supermarket.
The effects of food deserts are devastating: they contribute to obesity and other diet-related illnesses, they force families living in these areas to use valuable time traveling to neighboring areas, and they usually lack the resources to improve their situation.

Associated Press

A food oasis... kinda, sorta

So, when Christie vetoes a budget item that will help put food on the tables of NJ's poor, it's a BFD in Camden. (See New Jersey Working Families Alliance for more on how to help.) At this time last year the city had one supermarket —a PathMark—that served the needs of 77,000 people, so hopes were high when Mayor Dana Redd announced that construction was to start on the first new supermarket in 30 years. But as is the case in Camden's long, slow climb out of poverty, it turned into a '2-steps-forward; 1-step-back' solution as the PathMark closed the following month. And the location of this new store has many scratching their heads because even though it will bring hundreds of jobs to the area, it's not easily accessible by foot or bike. Instead, it's on a main route that greatly benefits 'other people': commuters from Philadelphia.
"Admiral Wilson Boulevard is not pedestrian friendly and it's not bike friendly," said Ari Rosenberg, an urban farmer and educator at the Center for Environmental Transformation, located in the southernmost Camden neighborhood of Waterfront South. "If I were going to take (public transportation) I'd have to take two buses. It would take half an hour and I'd have to walk five minutes from the closest bus to the store." 
"That ShopRite is going to be 2.1 miles from my house. I'd have to drive. And it's got to be drivers – especially commuters – they're targeting. Look at where it is," said Carl Chandler, a car-owning homeowner in the middle-class Cooper-Grant neighborhood.

Laws of physics... kinda, sorta

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. 
That's Newton's third law of motion. So, if logic and reason continue (hey, work with me on this), this should absolutely make sense:
This stuff isn’t easy to do. But nor should it be easy for us to continue to ignore these children. Let’s be honest. That’s what we have done. We can rationalize as much as we want. We have ignored their futures. And today is a symbol of the beginning of the end of that conduct.

"Wait! Wait! Don't tell me", you say. "That's Gov. Christie announcing the construction of four new supermarkets in Camden!" 


"New housing?"


"Repairing dilapidated school buildings?"

No. That was Gov. Christie announcing that the state was taking over the Camden public school system because, you know, education professionals are responsible for this...

Credit: www.accountablehealthcare.wordpress.com
 and this...

Credit: www.racelies.com
and this... 
Credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
 and don't forget this...

Credit: www.philly.com

Experienced superintendent... kinda, sorta

So, instead of doing everything possible to ensure that Camdeners have access to quality food and shelter, schools that are accessible to every child, and well-paying jobs, he blames education for the savage blight, takes control of the district, hires a still wet-behind-the-ears superintendent with so little education experience that they also have to hire a mentor superintendent to teach him how to do his job, and pays him a boatload of money so that he can live here...

Credit: thevictorlofts.com

instead of here...
Credit: newsworks.org

'Other people' run Camden's schools. 'Other people' don't have to see what Camden's children go home to every day because 'other people' don't live where real Camdeners live. 'Other people' can continue to get huge tax breaks to set up shop in Camden without any real obligation to give back to the city. Are ya catchin' my drift?

This might be a good time for an intermission. Don't know about you but this gal's gotta stretch for a few minutes. For your viewing pleasure:

Total amount of time actively teaching students: 21 months. 

And... we're back!

Camden's Waterfront vs. Camden's Neighborhoods: The Boardwalk vs. Mediterranean Ave.

So, the Christie administration just gave a massive tax break to a politically connected company that will contribute next to nothing to the local economy, but the 'other people' who own it will walk away with a nice chunk of change:
Under the terms of the award, Holtec will create 235 new full-time positions and relocate 160 existing jobs from other parts of the state to Camden. Once those workers are in place, the firm will reap subsidies of $26 million a year for 10 years
In exchange, New Jersey will realize $155,520 in net economic benefits over 35 years, the authority estimated. Under the terms of the agreement, however, the company is required to stay at the Camden location for only 15 years
Liberals and conservatives alike criticized the $260 million tax break for a politically connected firm at a time when New Jersey is strapped for tax revenue to pay for its schools, hospitals, property tax rebates and pension obligations.
"This is just another form of crony capitalism, and it needs to end," state Sen. Michael Doherty (R-Warren), one of the state's most conservative lawmakers, said. "The more we do of this, the worse the economy gets in the state of New Jersey."
(emphasis mine) 

I don't always agree with Sen. Doherty—especially on education funding—but I do here. This development will do absolutely nothing for the people of Camden other than give them the appearance that something is being done. Meanwhile 'other people' take the money and run when their time's up. 

NJ Spotlight sums it up perfectly:
Holtec's CEO, Krishna Singh, was George Norcross’s partner when he owned The Inquirer, and Norcross sits on Holtec’s board of directors. The company is expected to create 235 new jobs in Camden, but there's no guarantee Camden residents will get those positions. 

The waterfront is filled with similarly-gleaming investments that were intended to revitalize the economy here — an aquarium, a battleship museum, a minor-league ballpark — but so far none of them has had a transformative effect, and few jobs for city residents have been created. All make so-called PILOTs — Payments In Lieu of Taxes. None of that money goes to the Camden school district, which relies on the state for almost all its funding. 

Other budget cuts have negatively affected Camden’s poor even as Christie argues that he is trying to help them. He eliminated the Earned Income Tax Credit for the working poor. He rolled back benefits for businesses in cities’ Urban Enterprise Zones. And he slowed the school construction program, so century-old buildings in Camden continue to fall apart.
(emphasis mine) 

More from the nj.com piece:
Since Gov. Chris Christie took office in 2010, New Jersey has distributed more than $4 billion in tax breaks — far more than under any previous governor — yet private-sector job growth has been one of the slowest of all 50 states, according to federal data.

New Jersey Policy Perspective, a liberal research organization, said the tax break awarded to Holtec was one of the largest ever bestowed in the United States. The state is paying $658,228 for each job — "a sky-high number that has never been seen before in New Jersey and is even far higher than the average per-job cost of the largest 'megadeals' across the country," Jon Whiten, Policy Perspective's deputy director, said.

Doherty said the real cost was even higher, since 160 of the jobs already existed in the state."It looks like New Jersey is paying over $1 million for each new job that's being created, and this is a disturbing trend," he said.
(emphasis mine) 


Christie needs urban support to win in 2016, and what better place to start garnering it than his home state? Plus, George Norcross is a big ally, so it's a safe haven when the going gets tough. But in a city that gave 97% of its votes to Obama in 2012, he clearly has his work cut out for him. It's going to take a lot more than a sprinkling of shiny new waterfront playthings to make people realize he's in it for them.

So while Christie may be opening the floodgates for 'other people' to build things like this...

and this...

he still needs the votes of people who live like this...
Credit: casino.org

and this...
Credit: nj.com

And I don't think that's going to happen too easily. As the young man in the video at the beginning of this post said, 
"Take my hand and walk with me. Walk my streets to school. Will your bombs save me? If you want to defend me, come and live on my block." 
There is no war on poverty, but there is a war on the poor.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

NJ BOE Testimony Part III: Horror Stories from Paterson

Be sure to check out NJEA member testimony at the NJ State Board of Education Parts I and II.

So, you think you have it bad. You think your administrators didn’t fully implement the new evaluation system. You think you could have gotten a higher score in this domain or that. How would you like to be an educator in a state controlled district? Paterson Education Association member, Gennaro Tortoriello, paints a shocking picture of administrators gone wild in his state controlled district. And to think, the state took over Paterson because they deemed it 'failing'. If this is their idea of improvement, everyone at the department of education should resign.


Thank you for your time. I would like to speak about the evaluation system that was very hastily implemented by the state without proper training for both administrators and teachers. As a grievance delegate in the Paterson Education Association, I have witnessed the effects of this unjust system throughout my school district on a daily basis. Here are some examples:
  • Some administrators have been told by their superiors that they are not allowed to give teachers high scores.
  • Some administrators have told teachers that they work in a failing school and failing district therefore there are no effective teachers. In School 13 70% of teachers have been placed on a CAP (Corrective Action Plan).
  • The principal of one school told the staff that 80% of them are incompetent and should not be educators.
  • In many of our schools special education teachers have been directed to not follow the legal mandates of student’s IEPs if they want to earn a proficient observation.
  • One administrator in School 18 has written fraudulent observations and has egregiously violated the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, state law, and district policy because tenure is “dead”, and “we can do whatever we want to them.”
  • Educators have been told that instruction must be data driven yet many administrators ignore data when conducting evaluations.
  • Educators have been told that lessons must be differentiated yet when instruction is modified teachers are told that their lessons are not rigorous enough.
  • When educators use the whole group instructional method they are sometimes told that they did not differentiate the lesson and did not make accommodations for exceptional students.
  • One administrator in a high school marked staff down for not creating ‘data walls’ where student test scores were to be posted as a way to make them improve. When association officials pointed out that that is a violation of student privacy rights protected by FERPA, the administrator told them to use student ID numbers instead. When the association pointed out that students are not supposed to publish or share their ID numbers, the administrator relented, but refused to reassess staff ratings.
  • The majority of staff rated partially effective or ineffective met their SGO’s. Can somebody explain how this is possible?

These are only some examples. There are many more. This system has created an environment of distrust in which the evaluation system is viewed as discipline and punishment rather than an opportunity for professional growth. As you can see, this system has led to an abuse of power by many administrators. Please repeal this system. (emphasis mine)

Thank you.

NJ BOE Testimony Part II: Was human error or intentional omission to blame for PARCC pilot report?

Be sure to check out Parts I and III in this series.

In part 2 of this series of posts on NJEA's July 9th lobby day at the state Board of Ed, Spanish teacher and education activist, Heidi Maria Brown, questions Data Commissioner Bari Erlichson's obvious omission of any negative feedback on the state's PARCC trials, and why some board members have not done more to get to the truth.


Good afternoon. My name is Heidi Maria Brown. I’m here today with my family. My husband is helping me with our two boys, Johnny and Nicholas, both of whom attend the amazing public schools in Pitman, New Jersey. We came here today despite the fact that following testimony, we have a wake to attend and a funeral tomorrow. That is how important I feel this opportunity is.

Throughout the past school year, I attended three board of education meetings. Initially, the experience was very positive. However, over time, it became quite discouraging because it appears that my testimony has fallen on deaf ears.

I recently met with my legislative representative, Assemblyman Paul Moriarity (D4 – Camden, Gloucester). When I first spoke with Mr. Moriarity, he mentioned that some of my concerns could be explained by human error. I concurred that perhaps one or even two misstatements could be explained by human foil. However, the number and type of misstatements are worrisome considering that the Department of Education is also responsible for determining test scores and teacher evaluations.

At the May 7th BOE meeting, Data Commissioner Bari Erlichson evidently misspoke with regards to the number of hours students spend testing. Students test for four days, not one. And many of our students with IEPs and 504s test for about six hours a day, not two. That means that contrary to her statement, students were in testing anywhere from eight hours to as many as 24 hours. What will this mean for our students when they take the PARCC, which is a much longer test? Has anyone considered this? If the BOE doesn’t have an accurate understanding of testing conditions, due to misinformation, how can they properly serve our students? Again, this may have simply been a misstatement. So let’s look at another example.

Erlichson made statements and provided evidence regarding the success of the first PARCC pilot. When presenting social media clips regarding the public feedback, she presented 100% positive feedback. I found this surprising because I had spoken with several teachers in various districts who confirmed that the computers froze and the testing was problematic from a technology perspective. Several parents also posted negative feedback on Facebook regarding testing and the PARCC, but I saw no evidence of this in her report. Board member Edithe Fulton immediately questioned the lack of negative comments. The response to Ms. Fulton was that this was due to the “abbreviated” board session. Does that justify incomplete and allegedly misleading and one-side data presentation? Perhaps this omission was simply “human error”.

Furthermore, while the statement was made that 70 percent of districts piloted, it should be noted that only 10 percent of students within those districts were actually tested. This means that we really don’t have an accurate picture of what full implementation will mean for this fall. This method of cherry picking data to provide evidence seems to be more than a misstatement.

During this same board meeting, Erlichson depicted a doom and gloom report of New Jersey’s NAEP scores. Apparently, our growth was, “flat”. Later, after reviewing the results independently, I was surprised to see that New Jersey’s 8th graders are first in reading and second in math. Why was so little made of this success? Was this omission just a mistake?

Frankly, I’m beginning to wonder how accurately informed the board of education is, not to mention your level of engagement in terms of asking critical questions when questionable data is provided as truth. At the June 4th and 11th public hearings to examine the CCSS, only one board member, Joseph Fisicaro, attended. Why? I work two, sometimes three jobs, I have two little boys and I volunteer in my local township. I still found time to review the standards, draft feedback and give professional analysis of the World Language standards. Nobody had to pay me to show up. I did it, because I care.

During the past five months, I have witnessed enough testimony here at the BOE, at several legislative meetings, and throughout New Jersey, to know that there are serious problems with the implementation of the teacher evaluation, the PARCC testing and the leadership of our struggling, economically challenged districts like Newark, where under Cami Anderson’s deplorable leadership, the district spent $330,000 on take-out instead of school supplies, maintenance needs, technology upgrades, classroom teachers and aides. It was reported by NBC news that students will not have enough desks this year and teachers will have to take a pay freeze because Ms. Anderson felt it was appropriate to spent $22,000 a month for catering. I guess the chicken and sides must be good. But I digress.

In March, I witnessed the delivery of nearly 2,000 letters to the Board of Education from teachers, parents, and community members, imploring you to address these concerns. In May, despite the conflict of NJASK testing, several teachers reported similar concerns to the board. In June nearly 30,000 NJEA members participated in a town hall conference call with Senate President Steve Sweeney to discuss these concerns. But you don’t have to listen to me or my colleagues. All you have to do is read the paper, go online or watch the television to know that there is a real crisis - not with our schools - but with these un-vetted reforms being rushed to implementation.

And since it’s evident that many misstatements have allegedly been made due to human error, we need you to listen to us. The truth is we don’t really know if we’re ready for the technology demands of the PARCC. We don’t know how much this has cost or how much it will cost in the future. We don’t know that the data management system is secure or who will have access to our children’s personal, and legally protected data. The fact that Assembly Bill 3081 passed 72-4, and that the sister bill is to be posted for a senate vote tomorrow*, makes it clear that this process is not going well and we are not ready. (emphasis mine)

So, do what you need to do. I will follow my conscience and follow up with Assemblyman Moriarty. Because based on the information I provided, he agreed that there seems to be more than just, “human error” at play. I will continue to write letters to the editor and educate my community about opting out of the PARCC, a new NEA initiative, and we’ll just wait to see how this turns out. Ultimately, I will be able to sleep at night with a clear conscience.

Heidi Maria Brown has an MFA in theatre from Temple University and a BA in Spanish from Western Washington University. She has 10 years experience teaching in public schools and 9 years as an adjunct professor. She currently teaches Spanish in the Pittsgrove Township School District in Salem County, NJ.

* Note: As of this writing, it is not clear if S2154 will be posted for a full Senate vote. For all the breaking developments, be sure to follow Save Our Schools NJ on Facebook and Twitter.

NJBOE Testimony Part I: Educators stand up, speak out, fight back

Be sure to check out Parts II and III.

Yesterday was an NJEA Lobby Day at the NJ State Board of Education, and as usual, our members didn't disappoint. There was a good crowd, among which were many first-time speakers. I'm proud to be part of an association that includes so many articulate and passionate educators who know the facts and are not blinded by empty rhetoric nor cowed by bullying and aggression. I'm optimistic that the number of new speakers is a sign that more voices will join what I call 'The Fight' as we inch closer to PARCC testing madness. In the next few posts I'll be highlighting some of the testimony.

NJEA has been pressuring the state board and the state legislature to slow down the implementation of the PARCC testing and form a task force to study the efficacy of the tests and the Common Core. S2154/A3081, the bill originally sponsored by Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland), made it out of committee and the assembly with overwhelming bipartisan support. As of this writing, we are anxiously waiting to see if Senate President Steve Sweeney will post it for a vote. Save Our Schools NJ has been posting updates on their Facebook page as information becomes available, and NJ Spotlight is reporting that Gov. Christie may opt for some sort of compromise. The details are still unclear, but a decision could be made this week. 

What is very clear however, is that educators all across the state are overwhelmed by the increased burden of teaching to a test that has never been proven to do what it claims to do. Far too much instructional time is now devoted to test prep of one form or another, and far too little time is available for educators to do the job right. And starting with the 2014-2015 school year, we go live with this new evaluation system where PARCC scores count for 30% of some educators' summative evaluations.   

The following testimony is from 7th grade math educator, Mary Steinhauer. She highlights the fact that, when PARCC goes live, educators may be working for 6 additional months before they know the results of their evaluation. If the aim of this new system is to weed out all those 'bad teachers', why would it be structured so as to let them remain on the job an additional half year?


There are three things I would like to discuss with you today:
  1. Evaluations
  2. Testing - PARCC
  3. SGO/SGP scoring

First, I want to say thank you for allowing me this time to address you. I am a 35+ years classroom teacher representing Burlington County Education Association as the president of its 10,000 members, and also representing the NJEA Instruction Committee as its chair.

I am a highly effective teacher in my practice, but left school in June not knowing what my final summative score is. You see I teach 7th grade math, a tested subject area. So I must wait until December or January to finish my evaluation for 2013-14. This is almost halfway through the 2014-15 school year. This is unacceptable to me as I prepare over the summer for the next school year. Do we wait 6 months for results from the doctor? Do we wait 6 months to find out if we are pregnant? Do we wait 6 months for anything that could affect our livelihood? Well, this is what you are asking the tested area educators to do.

I have no control over how the SGP score that I am waiting for is determined. And how do I even know if it is correct? (emphasis mine)

As I stated the last time I was here, this SGP score is 30% of my evaluation while I am only in contact with the students 1/8th of their day, and statistics show that the school environment is only accountable for 1/3 of the student’s development. Therefore, this calculates to us being a little more than 4% responsible with a weight of 30% accountability. Somehow this doesn’t add up nor make sense.

Let’s talk about what determines this SGP: a test that the 3rd through 8th grade students take on a computer. Right now, it is expected to be the PARCC tests next year. I have been serving as a PARCC item reviewer and can tell you clearly that if my career is going to be determined by this test, I might as well retire like many other veteran educators. Have you gone on the PARCC website and tried the samples? Most [school districts] are not tech ready, the questions are too lengthy for a computer read, and there are going to be multiple select instead of multiple choice questions. Let me explain this. The students will need to identify all the correct answers out of 7 to get the problem correct. Where the students are to model an answer for an extended response, they are going to only be able to write an equation with the equation creator. They cannot make a graph, chart, diagram, or a picture. In my classroom, my students learn to think and discover how to get to a good answer, not just write an equation. Can you see these students sitting at these computers for over 2 hours to complete this test?  Can you concentrate for 2 solid hours at a computer screen? 

I am frustrated, angry, and just plan worn out from all of this, as are my county members and my Instruction Committee members. I don’t know how you plan on drawing the best and brightest college students into this career that I love, but if this doesn’t get fixed, you will have no veteran teachers, and no new teachers to serve and dedicate their lives to the students of this great state of New Jersey.

I love working with my students, watching them grow, seeing them become well-rounded adults, and instilling in them a love for learning. If we don’t stop this craziness, we will lose a whole generation of creative, innovative and well-educated children.  Please slow this down, and let’s get this right for our children, my students, and the future educators of this state.

Mary Steinhauer is a 7th grade math teacher, President of the Burlington County Education Association, an NJEA Professional Development Consultant, a Certified Smartboard™ Trainer/Lesson Developer, a Smart Exemplary Educator and a PARCC Item Reviewer/Sensitivity and Bias Reviewer.