Monday, September 29, 2014

UPDATE: The real story behind Lily's trip to Camden

Two weeks ago NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia visited New Jersey as part of her 50-state Back to School Tour. I wrote about her visit and meeting with NJ ed bloggers here, here and here

One of her stops was Pyne Poynt Middle School in Camden which is also home to the co-located Mastery Charter School. While the NJ state assembly passed an amendment to the Urban Hope Act today which gives charter schools greater ability to expand in take over public education in Camden, I had a conversation with someone who was in close proximity to Lily's visit. This person asked not to be identified. Here is their story (my comments are in red):

The entire time Lily was visiting Pyne Poynt she was followed around by two of Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard's "people".

When Lily was in the round table discussion with the students, she asked them what they would change about their school. They wanted to know why the Mastery Charter School half of the building was freshly painted, but their half wasn't. One girl said she wanted her science labs back. She really liked science, but the labs were given to the charter school. When questioned about this, the principal said they would be getting science lab 'carts'. 

(Will those carts be equipped with running water?)

The parent group that came to talk to Lily was originally told they couldn't meet with her, but they insisted. They had been waiting hours and weren't going away quietly. They were ushered into a classroom with a security guard who was under strict orders to "keep them contained". They were told they had 15 minutes with Lily. One parent told the security guard, "I'm not talking with you in the room", because she felt he would report their conversation back to the "higher-ups".

After about 5 minutes, the principal told them they had to leave the classroom because a class was coming in, at which point they all walked across the street. The group of concerned parents were then free to really express how they felt and they were very, very angry at the school district.


This version of the events is not surprising given everything Gov. Christie and his minions in urban districts are doing to quash the voices of the people when it comes to their children's education, and the dearth of real investigative reporting on the part of mainstream media. 

The Gloucester County Times interviewed Superintendent Rouhanifard, who painted this optimistic picture on the first day of school:

"Layoffs are not fun, but we believed they were necessary," he said. "We deeply believe we have all of the resources to meet the needs of students."
Contrast that with this report from Camden blogger, Stephen Danley, who actually spoke to parents:
  • Sharp Elementary needs a 1st, 4th, 5th, as well as a music teacher
  • Brimm Medical Arts needs Mandarin Chinese and Business Education teachers
  • Yorkship needs a 6th grade and two 5th grade teachers and a Media teacher
  • Whittier Elementary needs 1st and 3rd grade teachers as well as teachers of Art, Spanish, Media and libra. They have 0 inclusion teachers for grades 6-8 (not even a sub). They have one 7th grade class with 31 students
  • Cooper’s Point needs a 6th grade math teacher
  • Wiggins has vacancies in 3rd grade Spanish, 4th grade inclusion, 7th grade math, and needs a librarian
  • Pyne Poynt is missing a librarian and a music teacher.
  • Cramer needs kindergarten, 1st, 3rd and 5th grades teachers
  • Vets has a shortage of 2 art, 1 social studies and 1 science teacher
  • I’ve also had complaints from many schools about a shortage of speech therapists. Whittier has none and ECDC has only 1 for the entire school
This list is just the tip of the iceberg that's about to take down the Titanic school district. The full list of staff vacancies is frightening. 

Where is the accountability? Where is the democracy? Oh, that's right, it's for "other people". 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia has no time to be patient – Part III

'Absurd' 'Idiotic' 'Toxic' 'Voodoo' 'Abusive'
These are all words NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia used to describe education 'reform'—particularly standardized testing—in her recent 90-minute meeting with NJ ed bloggers, and quite frankly, they were music to my ears. I've been waiting for the NEA leadership to draw a hard line in the sand. 

Part I of this series focused on the devastating effects of high-stakes testing on special needs children, and how edu-preneurs—21st century carpetbaggers—are profiting from the testing boom. 

Part II focused on the ways billionaires and their 'charities' are controlling the media to push out their messaging to an uninformed public.

Part III's focus is on Lily's visits to two very different New Jersey schools, and how NEA—and all its members—must fight back against destructive education 'reform'.

As with the two previous posts, unless otherwise indicated, Lily's quotes are in red.

A tale of two cities

Credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Photo courtesy of
In her tour of New Jersey, Lily stopped at two schools: Pyne Poynt Middle School in Camden, which shares a building with the co-located Mastery Charter School, and West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional High School. The median household income in West Windsor is $147,234, with only 2.5% of its residents living below the poverty level, while Camden's median household income is $25,681 (no, that's not a typo), and 45% of its residents live below the poverty level. Two years ago the state swooped in, took over the school district, and appointed as superintendent in the 'Most Dangerous City in America' Paymon Rouhanifard, a 32-year-old former New York City school system bureaucrat/former Wall Street analyst/Teach for America alumnus who spent a grand total of two years and one month in front of a classroom. Makes perfect sense, right?

For more on Paymon's track record, read Jersey Jazzman's post here. For more on the state takeover of Camden's schools and the push back by parents see here, here, here, here and here

In both schools she spoke with students, staff, parents and administrators. 

On the city of Camden:  
"Look at all the shut down, abandoned buildings."
About a dozen Camden parents found out she was there and wanted to meet with her. They wanted to talk about the co-location of Mastery Charter School in their building. They wanted her to know that they felt like their kids weren't important anymore, that they were being pushed out. They felt like too many doors had been closed on them. They wanted desperately for someone to hear them because the local school board won't listen. They're all appointed and part of the local political machine. The parents have no say in how the district is run.  

Phil Dunn of the Courier Post reported on their conversation. Each one of them expressed how angry, frustrated and disheartened they felt. Dunn reports:

Parents told Eskelsen Garcia they also felt the traditional public school district was taking a back seat to the three Renaissance schools that opened this fall. Many students reported to public schools last week only to find substitute teachers, they claimed.
"We are dealing with understaffed schools, and our students are losing," said Camden parent Byheijja Sabree.
"We are not getting the resources our children deserve in public schools."
School officials said vacancies are up because more than 100 staffers retired or resigned from the district in late July and August, including some who failed to show up to work on the first day or give notice.
As of Thursday, the district had 40 teacher vacancies, down from 88 on the first day of school. School officials said 96 percent of classrooms have permanent teachers.

Save Our Schools NJ reports:  
"What's going on in this school is an insult to African-Americans and Latinos in this community. We're talking about coming together ... You cannot divide this school .... You cannot put a charter school inside a public school like this and then try to create a feeling within the school that we're all one." 
These words were spoken by a Camden parent in reference to the Pyne Poynt school in Camden, which is being used by the Christie Administration for a forcible co-location with the Mastery charter chain.
The story told by Phil Dunn's article is in sharp contrast with the article that the Philadelphia Inquirer ran on the forced Pyne Point/Mastery co-location.
The Inquirer's happy coverage of the forced co-location may have been shaped by the fact that the newspaper's new owner and his son are both long-term supporters of the Mastery charter chain, which has co-located in the Pyne Poynt. In fact, one of the Mastery campuses is named after the Inquirer's owner. (emphasis mine)

Despite a lawsuit filed by some Camden parents, the NJ State Senate recently passed a bill that would give greater power to the Renaissance charters to expand. On September 29th the NJ State Assembly is voting on the same bill. If it passes, Gov. Christie will almost surely sign it into law. 

On West Windsor-Plainsboro:
"It was wonderful! I wanted to go there!"
Lily spoke to a female student about testing. The girl's comments were, unfortunately, not surprising:
"Pretty much in this school, you better be making a 4.0. Your safety school is Yale. Everybody wants to know how you did on your SATs. 
"Last year I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorder. But I'm on medication this year and I think it will be so much better."
"In Camden they fire teachers for not meeting their test score quota, but it's just as bad to say 'You got an A-, and [that's not good enough].' It's no less harmful to those students than these students."
"This complete waste of time is supposed to mean that a child is 'college and career ready'? Seriously? I think a nine-year-old could figure this out. It's abuse, plain and simple.(emphasis mine)

Dis-'Education Nation': the false invitation to educators

"Educators no longer have individual control over and participation in how and what they teach."

Photo courtesy NBC
Four years ago, educators around the country quickly tuned into—then just as quickly tuned out from—NBC's 'Education Nation' when we saw that real K-12 educators were relegated to the audience while talking heads with no teaching experience were on the stage controlling the message. It was a huge slap in the face. While I did stick around for the second year if only to commiserate on social media with other equally furious educators, I haven't watched since. Quite frankly, I have better things to do with my time, and I'd like to keep my normally low blood pressure right where it is. If the brand has changed to be more inclusive and educator-driven, great, I'll give another look. But based on what I saw, it was more about talking to educators than with them.

As I wrote in Part II, Bill Gates spends enormous sums of money lulling the unsuspecting general public into believing everything they see and hear about 'bad teachers' and 'failing schools'. Gates and his buddies love to call this craziness an 'experiment' and call for 'conversation' between people in his camp and educators. The problem is, as Anthony Cody writes, that we never asked to have this grand experiment performed on us, and the conversation is always one-sided. The experiment was never piloted. Instead, it was forced on the nation, rammed down our throats so hard that our voices have been choked off by the mainstream media and many teachers' own fears of recrimination. Gates demands that educators and voters let this experiment continue, so we'll see what's good for us (insert condescending pat on the head). 

Gates says:
There's a lot of issues about governance, whether its school boards or unions, where you want to allow for experimentation, in terms of pay procedures, management procedures, to really prove out new things. As those things start working on behalf of the students, then I believe the majority of teachers and voters will be open-minded to these new approaches. And so we have to take it a step at a time. They have to give us the opportunity for this experimentation. (emphasis Cody's)
"They have to give us the opportunity." Why? What if we say no?
Cody explains why 'No' is a pretty good answer:
A report released last year by the nonprofit advocacy group Broader, Bolder Approach to Education took a close look at the big cities—the very ones cited by Bill Gates in his 2008 remarks quoted above as being models of reform, and found that rather than being showcases of success, they have yielded poor results overall.
Be sure to read the entire post.

The real problem

"It's not about closing the achievement gap; it's about closing the equity gap.
"All of the research, facts and evidence is on the side of common sense: that you use tests for what they were meant to be used for. That you empower people at the building level. All of this ['reform'] is an excuse to move the conversation away from the gaps in resources. To move the conversation away from what the 'haves' have and the 'have nots' don't because that costs money."

I've said this here far too many times, so if you don't believe me, look it up for yourself: the US has the second highest child poverty rate in the industrialized world, and the highest infant mortality rate. This is deplorable, unacceptable, and why many students struggle to learn. It requires an enormous investment of public resources to fix, but it doesn't turn a profit, so that's why nothing is being done.

parents and rank and file educators don't stand up to those charged with writing and implementing education policy—from Arne Duncan right on down to building principals—we are just as guilty of the destruction of public education and young minds as they are.

"None of the evidence for corporate reform is on their side. Not with charters or vouchers or de-professionalization with TFA. And by the way, since we're guaranteed to hire a bunch of bad teachers, let's make it really easy to fire them."

Where do we go from here?

"The laws on the state level that were influenced by federal policy are so absurd and idiotic that they're indefensible. Governors are backing away from them. Nobody wants to own them."
Toward the end of our discussion, Lily told a story about a young special education teacher who wanted to quit because she teaches students in wheelchairs with drool bibs and she now has to put a No. 2 pencil in their hand and manipulate it to get them to fill in the bubbles on a test so her district can make their quota. The teacher was in tears as she related the story: "These kids will cry, they'll wet their pants, and I don't want to do this anymore." 

Too many educators are quitting because they refuse to be complicit in damaging their students. Too many are taking early retirement because they just can't take it anymore. How many of those Camden 'no-shows' simply decided the night before school started that they had had enough and just walked away? New teachers entering the profession have no idea what it's like to teach before No Child Left Behind/Race to the Top, and that's the way many 'reformers' want it. What's better than a highly skilled, low wage workforce that can be turned over every few years or so? It's a great fix for the pension system!

Then, someone in our group asked if civil disobedience is what educators need to do. Her answer was a pleasant surprise (emphasis mine).
"I think that's the right road to go down, but here's how I think we hit this:  
"Here's what I find out when I go into a school and talk to educators. What do you love about this school? I love the kids. What would you improve? The damned testing—make it stop; it's gotta stop. It makes me feel like I'm not a professional.'
"We are sitting on something here. We are at more than a crossroads. This is gonna blow. We can harness that passion that the educator has [because] this touches your soul.
"When you're a union the greatest power is numbers. We can't beat the Kochs' money. The only way we're going to beat this is collective action. We have to organize what's already happening. It can't be 'isn't this a shame, it's hurting kids'. It has to lead to some collective action.
"I don't want anyone to get fired or lose their job. What we want is to have those politicians going, 'Oh my God, we gotta fix this'. And as long as they can shoot at individuals, they won't fix this. When they're the ones that are being hurt, when they're the ones being the joke on The Daily Show, then they're going to start saying, 'Ok, who do we talk to?'
"We have to influence the President of the United States."

How do we get there?

The road to change isn't paved with hand-wringing; it's paved by putting one foot in front of the other, one step at a time, every day. We will empower ourselves when we empower parents to fight standardized testing, too. 

"But Marie," you say, "I can't do that. I don't have time, and besides, I don't like politics." Oh no? How do you not? How do you not have time to advocate for those in your charge who cannot advocate for themselves? How do you not have time to advocate for the protection of a basic civil right? How do you not have time to fight for your profession? 

This is what happened when one Florida educator just said, 'No!'
Education Commissioner Pam Stewart ended the Florida Assessments for Instruction in Reading, known as the FAIR test, in kindergarten through second grade. In its place, teachers will observe children's reading abilities in a more informal setting than the online exam, which recently experienced glitches. 
Stewart announced the change in a memo to superintendents. 
"It's amazing," said Susan Bowles, the Alachua County kindergarten teacher whose widely publicized refusal to administer FAIR this fall sparked the state's move. "I am very grateful that they have seen that the test was not a good thing for children."
Not every educator can do what Susan Bowles did, but every educator can start educating parents on the toxicity of standardized testing. Every educator can attend board of education meetings and start making their concerns heard. Every educator can start calling their elected officials and holding them accountable. And every educator can vote! 

Final thoughts...

I was inspired and energized by what Lily shared, by her passion and her commitment to end the toxic effects of testing. Now, here's what I want to say to Lily:

Don't fail us. Millions of educators and parents are ready and waiting for a massive push back against standardized testing. We need more national leaders to walk the walk—not just talk the talk. We have seen far too many good leaders be swayed by the money and power education 'reform' brings, or fall victim to political correctness. Stand firm in your beliefs and it will be easier for more of us to do the same.

"They have to deal with it when it's massive and it will only be massive if it's organized.  And that is what NEA is committed to."

Light the match, spark the flame, Lily. Let's get going and stop this madness now!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia has no time to be diplomatic – Part II

(UPDATE: Please see the addendum at the end of this post.)

Part I of this series on the round table discussion between NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia and NJ education bloggers and activists focused on the devastating effects of high-stakes testing on special needs children, and how edu-preneurs are profiting from the testing boom. 

Part II focuses on the mainstream media blackout.

As with Part I, unless otherwise indicated, all quotes are Lily's.

When you repeat a lie often enough it becomes the truth* 

*Attributed to both Vladimir Lenin and Dr. Joseph Goebbels.

"Everything [Secretary Duncan] said, everything [he's] advocated for says there must be a consequence for not having your quota of kids hitting your cut score...  
"[He] needs to see teachers being evaluated by students' test scores, students being labeled by their test scores, schools being called 'failures' by student test scores...
"Let's call it what it is; it's not 'accountability'...
"The fact is that standardized tests won't tell you if kids are college and career ready, yet they say it and the mainstream press prints it. And that has to end." (emphasis mine)

In the past six years or so education blogging has exploded. My blog roll is but a small sampling of the highly educated and well informed citizens who are writing about what's happening. Lily blogs and Tweets: here's her account of her NJ trip. Diane Ravitch's blog alone gets thousands of hits a day. Ed bloggers are doing incredible investigative work connecting the dots between Wall St., Silicon Valley billionaires, charter schools, test prep companies, 'charities' such as The Broad, Walton and Gates Foundations, ALEC (The American Legislative Exchange Council) and Washington, DC. They're writing books, too. Years from now, when this house of cards falls, I hope somebody will be giving out awards for all their efforts.

"The bloggers and the educators are the only ones asking, 'Why are we basing so much of education funding on something that benefits the testing industry?'"

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know about the ongoing feud some of us have with The Star Ledger editorial board including director, Tom Moran (here, here and here for starters). Despite numerous attempts to educate him on the facts, he simply refuses to do his homework. It's no wonder Lily didn't want to meet with them. They're not alone. Other Pulitzer Prize-winning newspapers are equally inept in their reportingpreferring to shill for those setting the policies or, like The Los Angeles Times, resorting to McCarthy-era tactics like publishing teachers' evaluation scores (the newspaper's reasoning being this is public information). A short time later a teacher who was rated ineffective took his own life. "Family members have guessed that the rating contributed to his death." 

Why the dearth of factual reporting? Much has been written about the incestuous relationship between the mainstream media and the billionaires who fund ed 'reform', but a good place to start is this David Sirota piece. For example, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp owns The New York Post, The Wall Street Journal and Fox Broadcasting Co. as well as Amplify, the company that was awarded a $12.5 million contract from the Obama administration to develop Common Core assessments. 

Is it any coincidence that Fox News comes down squarely on the side of 'reform'? There is so much wrong with this Tucker Carlson piece it's cringe-inducing, and my own appearance on Fox and Friends had me wondering how anyone in their right mind could believe that garbage. 

The traditionally 'liberal media' isn't entirely innocent. Although MSNBC's Morning Joe generally has a balanced roster of panelists and guests, Joe Scarborough has a personal ax to grind with teachers unions. (And I'll talk about NBC's Education Nation in Part III.) As I've said before, with all the excuses we hear from students about why they didn't do their homework, educators are experts in B.S. detection, and there's a whole lotta that being shoveled at the uninformed general public by media outlets that fan the flames, beat the war drums and call for teachers' heads on platters because "it's all about the children profits."  

Sirota writes (emphasis mine):

"Though it is rarely mentioned, the truth is that the largest funders of the 'reform' movement are the opposite of disinterested altruists. They are cutthroat businesspeople making shrewd financial investments in a movement that is less about educating children than about helping 'reform' funders hit paydirt. In that sense, they are the equivalent of any industry leaders funding a front group in hopes of achieving profitable political ends (think: defense contractors funding a front group that advocates for a bigger defense budget). The only difference is that when it comes to education 'reform,' most of the political press doesn’t mention the potential financial motives of the funders in question. 
"While I’ve written about this reality before, recent news perfectly exemplifies how the 'reform' movement is really just a sophisticated business strategy."

(Note to Tom Moran: Is David Sirota a 'conspiracy theorist', too?)

Rutgers University Professor and blogger Dr. Bruce Baker weighs in (emphasis mine): 

We've entered a bizarro world I never could have imagined when I started out doing this stuff back in the mid-1990s. And this Bizarro world is being promoted from the supposed highest echelons of our highly stratified society.

This idiocy - cast as lofty super-intellectual progressivism that us poor common folk simply can't grasp... has to stop.

We are being led down a destructive road to stupid - by arrogant, intellectually bankrupt, philosophically inconsistent, empirically invalid and often downright dumb ideas being swallowed whole and parroted by an increasingly inept media - all, in the end creating a massive ed reform haboob distracting us from the relatively straightforward needs of our public schools.

Lily gets the last word:

"It's just incredible that Campbell Brown and Silicon Valley [billionaires who are financing Vergara] are all very wealthy and most of them have Wall Street ties. Isn't it just a coincidence that all these really wealthy billionaires woke up and said, 'I want to make the world a better place. Let's fire more teachers.' Not 'let's find better ways to train or hire teachers.' If you fire a bunch of people but have the same hiring practices, you're still going to get the same people, so how serious are you?

"What they're really saying is, 'We need a really fast, easy way to get rid of a bunch of teachers.' And replace them with... what? 
Teachers who never taught pre-NCLB. [Teaching to the test] is the only way they know how to teach."

... and not doing their homework is the only way mainstream media knows how to report on education.

That's it for Part II. Stay tuned for Part III:

The false invitation to educators and what happened when one said, "No more!"


The following two excellent blog posts on the ways ed 'reformers' are buying the media and shaping the message were brought to my attention after I originally posted this piece.

First is Mercedes Schneider's post about how Bill Gates purchases messaging, particularly via NPR:

Those with the obviously-declared education privatization agenda have appointed themselves the “keepers of the education conversation.” They will publicize what they decide “works.” After all, they are above actually doing the educating, and since those of us doing the educating are “too busy,” we need for them to cement the narrative that what they pay for (test-driven reform, charters, vouchers) is what “works.” As Washington Post’s Lyndsey Layton reports:
Bruce Reed, president of the Broad Foundation, said the idea for Education Post originated with his organization but that other philanthropic groups had recognized the need years ago. …
One of the goals of Education Post is to publicize what works in public education, Reed said.
“Administrators, school leaders and teachers have papers to grade, schools to run, and they don’t have time to get out and talk about this,” he said. “This is an effort to help spread information about what works both inside the field and outside.”
Education Post also will have a “rapid response” capacity to “knock down false narratives” and will focus on “hot spots” around the country where conflicts with national implications are playing out, [former Arne Duncan communications shaper] Cunningham said. [Emphasis added.]
Information control, my friends. And, of course, the controlled narrative will feed the idea of corporate reform “success”:
While there are myriad nonprofit organizations devoted to K-12 education,none are focused solely on communication, said Howard Wolfson, an adviser to Bloomberg Philanthropies.
“There hasn’t really been an organization dedicated to sharing the successes of education reform around the country,” Wolfson said. “You have local success, but it isn’t amplified elsewhere. And there is a lot of success. There is also an awful lot of misperception around what ed reform is, and there hasn’t been an organization . . . focused on correcting those misimpressions.” [Emphasis added.]
I’m sorry, but the “misimpression” of corporate reform as being punitive and destructive to the community-based school and the career teacher and friendly to a grossly-under-regulated privatization is beyond “impression”; it is a reality fostered not only by years of a failed NCLB but one that continues to be fostered by NCLB waiver-yanking US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
How funny that those keen on promoting the traditional public education “failure” narrative now want to shape it into a “success” designed to conceal their own failure.

Second, Anthony Cody writes about the overt ways corporate money buys messaging. Please read the entire post and share. This is the next wave of ed 'reform':
We have some brand new players entering the field. Peter Cunningham, former PR agent for Arne Duncan at the Department of Education, has convinced billionaires Bloomberg and Walton to give his new Education Post $12 million to “shift the conversation” about education reform, away from the polarized place it has been.
In an early post on the Education Post, Cunningham wrote,
With the support of Bloomberg Philanthropies, The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation, we are launching a new organization called Education Post to provide a strong voice for those who believe the current education system needs to get better.
We will spread the word that in communities around the country progress is being made. All across America, there are countless success stories where states and districts had the courage and determination to put aside politics and work together to improve education.
And coming soon, with funding from the Gates Foundation and others,,
a new, independent nonprofit designed to improve K-12 education in the United States, will launch in winter 2014. will provide free, web-based reviews of instructional materials series focusing on alignment to the Common Core and other indicators of high quality as recommended by educators, including usability, teacher support and differentiation. These Consumer Reports-style reviews will highlight those instructional materials that are aligned to the higher standards states have adopted so that teachers, principals and district and state officials charged with purchasing materials can make more informed choices.
How does this represent bias?
This week, some in the media have begun to take notice of the effect money attached to an agenda can have. Areport in Current describes what has become the elephant in the editorial room, especially in what is now inaccurately called “public” media:
The [Gates] foundation has supported public radio and TV journalism for years, backing coverage of global health, another priority for its philanthropy, as well as education. Within the past year, it has extended that commitment with $1.8 million in support to NPR for expanded education reporting. It also gave $639,000 to American Public Media for multiplatform coverage of education technology, to be featured on Marketplace’s broadcasts and website. In previous years, the Gates Foundation has also supported FrontlinePBS NewsHour and Teaching Channel, a nonprofit producer of public TV programming.

Friday, September 19, 2014

NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia has no time to be diplomatic – Part I

"This is a test. This is only a test. If this had been an actual emergency..." Yea, you know the drill. More on this later...

This is Ethan Rediske and his parents. Ethan is an 11-year old Florida boy who was born with cerebral palsy. He is also blind and brain damaged. He is perhaps the poster child for all that is toxic and outright dangerous in education 'reform'—especially standardized testing. More on him later...

"I don't have time to be diplomatic."
This is Lily Eskelsen-Garcia, newly elected President of the National Education Association.

What do all three have in common? Keep reading...

A woman on a mission

Lily is on a mission to energize fellow education professionals and parents to fight high stakes testing and she's taking it to the streets. As part of her 50-state Back-to-School tour, she declined a meeting with the Star Ledger's editorial board, citing the fact that mainstream media is woefully out of touch and misinformed about education 'reform'. Instead she chose to meet with New Jersey education bloggers and activists Mark Weber (Jersey Jazzman), Ani McHugh (TeacherBiz), Darcie Cimarusti (Mother Crusader), Melissa Katz (The Education Activist)Melissa Smearer-Tomlinson, Susan Carlsson of Save Our Schools NJ, and me, along with Rosi Efthim, editor of the progressive blog, Blue Jersey, parent activist Rose Jorgensen, and educator and media consultant, Ronen Kaufman.

As the president of the nation's largest labor union, Lily is a woman of the people, with legions of adoring fans both inside and outside the association. Why? 

  1. She has empathy. As a former educator in a low income school in Utah and now as a national figure, she can relate to people all across the socioeconomic spectrum, especially those who live on the margins. 
  2. She connects to individuals. She is more about listening than speaking, and she has that rare gift of remembering people even if she's only met them once or twice.
  3. She gets it. After several years of wondering which side of the 'reform' debate our association was on, she is a breath of fresh air. She understands that the corporate takeover of public education is not a conspiracy theory. It's real, it's happening at an alarming pace, and it's flat out wrong.
With Lily at the helm, I am optimistic about the direction the NEA is heading. After several years of effort, we finally drew our line in the sand this summer by passing a resolution calling for the resignation of Arne Duncan—not an improvement plan, as AFT did. No, this was a flat-out call for his resignation. 

She listened to our call and she's taking action.

The meeting

The focus of our 90 minute round-table conversation was the devastating effects of high stakes testing on students, educators and public education as a whole and how to stop it. 

With so much meaningful input from all who were present, it took a while to translate it into a user-friendly format. What follows is a quote or paraphrase from our discussion followed by some informational text for clarification. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes are Lily's.

Who really should be held 'accountable'?

"I am on a crusade against this toxic testing. It's not whether the test is good or bad. It's not whether the standards are good or bad. It doesn't matter. If there's some kind of standardized test that's about 'hit your cut score' otherwise you're going to get punished, they can turn something perfectly good and wonderful into something toxic in a school. I haven't talked to anyone who supports it, and by the way that includes secretary Duncan. But I don't see him saying, 'lets stop that'."

Let's cut to the chase here: the overemphasis on standardized testing serves three purposes:

  1. Funding: If districts meet their quota of students hitting their cut score, they get money.
  2. Getting rid of educators: Test scores are a quick and easy way to get rid of 'bad teachers' reduce payroll. It's like an assassin's bullet from a roof top: clean and impersonal, and nobody takes the blame.
  3. Money: This is what happens when testing giant, Pearson, gets exposed for its influence and profiteering at the expense of our children.

"This madness has corrupted teaching and learning."
What kind of crazy punishments and/or carrots and sticks is your school district dangling in front of educators and students? We spoke about administrators denying students recess or promising to abolish the dress code if students hit their cut scores. This is not best practice! This is bribery! And the bribery starts at the Department of Education. School districts across the country are being bribed: increase your test scores or you don't get your funding.

But perhaps the cruelest story of all is the deplorable and downright inhumane treatment of special needs children, especially Ethan Rediske. His mother describes what he went through because of standardized testing and how she fought back (emphasis mine):
Not only was the Florida Adapted Assessment inappropriate for the level of my son’s abilities, it endangered his health – the long, stressful testing sessions requiring him to sit in his wheelchair caused pressure sores, fluid to pool in his lungs, and increased seizures and spasticity that contributed to his deteriorating health. 
Only after climbing a mountain of paperwork and garnering media attention was Ethan granted a medical waiver for the FAA. Despite assurances at his IEP meeting that the waiver would be granted again for this school year, the school district demanded paperwork proving his continued medical fragility. The insult to this injury was that he was on his deathbed – the school district and the state of Florida required a letter from hospice care stating he was unable to take the FAA.
This incident caused anguish to my family and his teacher, and shows a stunning lack of compassion and even common sense on the part of the Department of Education. His exceptionally talented teacher faced threats and sanctions because she continued to work with him even though he wasn’t preparing for the FAA. I wonder if these administrators are more concerned with policy, paperwork, and their bottom line than the children they have been elected to serve.
There is nothing in any state or federal law that says kids should be denied recess or a child on their deathbed should have to take a standardized test. So when parents and students are put in that position, they need to "just say No". Lily called for educators and parents to organize push back and keep pushing back until someone takes responsibility because no one is taking responsibility for insane practices such as these.

"The one who is ultimately accountable is Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, and he's not taking responsibility for what has become toxic in our schools, so who do we hold responsible when no one will?"

On edu-preneurs and big money

"That Value Added voodoo number has tied us in knots. Districts that don't have enough money for librarians and ESL teachers now have full time Test Compliance Officers who only monitor test scores and whether or not a district is hitting its cut score of students passing standardized tests." 

"The billion dollar edu-business has benefited from this insanity. Just like Wall St. sold toxic bundled mortgages, they're now bundling test prep and scripted reading because [states] are invested in fear."

Some time earlier this year, my school email started filling up with spam from vendors selling all sorts of miracle cure-all CC$$ products: test prep, lesson plans, Core-aligned 'assessments', you name it. Since the start of this school year, which is only a couple of weeks old, that number has increased significantly. 

Test prep companies are making out like bandits because the Common Core and its related tests are fear-based. Their products have nothing to do with making students 'college and career ready'. A well-rounded curriculum that includes the arts, health and physical education, foreign languages and a variety of electives and clubs will. But in our dysfunctional ed 'reform' culture, there's no time or money for that. If a school district's students don't hit their cut scores, they risk losing millions in federal funding. It really is that simple. And the irony is that the vendors are invested in their failure because they want to be there to create the next thing.

"Oh Marie," you say, "you really can't be serious. We're talking about children! These companies would never do that." Take your heads out of the sand, folks. The primary goal of education companies—like any other for-profit company is to make money, and once the Obama administration green-lighted Race to the Top, it opened the floodgates for them to design and sell all sorts of "new and improved" test and curriculum products.

It's Advertising101. Nike expects sneakers to wear out so they design new ones. Apple designs a new iPhone every few years. Supermarket shelves are overflowing with "new and improved" junk food. Edu-preneurs are no different. These companies have always made a profit, but the difference now is that parents and school districts are scared. And fear is a powerful purchasing motivator.

"Who would have thought the Reagan years were the glory years of education?"

Now, about that Emergency Broadcasting System test: 

"If this had been an actual emergency, the signal you just heard would have been followed by official information, news or instructions..." 

There is no public education emergency, folks. But those in charge don't want you to know that because the real life or death emergency is poverty. And a new pair of Nikes new standardized test can't fix that, but it sure looks good to the naive. 

In Part II, we talk about the dearth of mainstream media reporting, the false invitation to educators to be part of the discussion, and what Lily learned when she visited a Camden school.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

My Response to Tom Moran

In case you missed it, earlier this week fellow educators and bloggers, Ani McHugh (Teacherbiz), Mark Weber (Jersey Jazzman) and I wrote a joint open letter to Star Ledger editorial director, Tom Moran, regarding his continuous support of the racist policies of Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson's One Newark plan. In addition to posting on all three of our blogs, it also ran at Blue Jersey and on Diane Ravitch's site.

Tom was not happy, and posted a response on Blue Jersey. To which Jazzman responded here and here.

Here's my response:

Dear Tom,

You missed our point so I'll say it again in my best teacher voice: One Newark has been proven to be a racist policy toward students and education professionals. You refuse to research and report the facts surrounding it (Journalism 101), reporting instead on your opinions and pre-conceived notions, therefore you support a racist policy. 

It's one thing to say you've talked to Diane Ravitch and Dr. Bruce Baker; it's quite another to listen to them. You cannot find two better experts on education policy: their credentials and reputations are sterling. Unlike the architects of One Newark, they are not afraid to submit their research to peer review. It obviously passes with flying colors because for many issues, their work is the gold standard. But you refuse to listen.

They are not alone. There are hundreds—if not thousands—of equally skilled education professionals around the country who have dedicated their careers to researching and reporting on what works and what doesn't in public education. They have written books, given lectures, and continue to research and report on the train wreck that is education 'reform' in the United States, and while you may talk to them or read their books, you refuse to listen.

In no other profession do we see such a complete disregard for expertise. In no other profession do we see veteran professionals with decades of experience tossed aside or called, in your words, "shrieking" or "shrill", or in it for "old school greed".

You also refuse to listen to the parents of Newark who know first hand the effects of this prejudicial policy. Their choices have been taken away, their demands ignored, their voices silenced, their children suffer. 

I'm sorry if what we wrote ticked you off, but for years parents and educators (we three are both) have been more than a little ticked off at journalists like you, who refuse to investigate and report the facts about policies that are rapidly destroying public education in this country and promulgating racism. As I write this, many citizens of Newark are performing an act of civil disobedience: boycotting the first day of school because they are simply fed up. 

So, we decided to present the facts—not that we haven't done that before. And your response was to curse and scream (offline), and rant (online). Did we hit a nerve?

As Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, "You are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts." Tom, you refuse to accept the facts. You refuse to accept the proof. What you write about Cami and One Newark and Ras Baraka and the parents and concerned citizens of Newark and education professionals is factually incorrect. Continuing to believe and spread this false information, puts you in the same category as birthers, creationists, climate deniers and vaccine refusers. Sorry if that's harsh, but it's the truth. You are better than that. I read your column every day and I agree with what you write the majority of the time.

You can tell me I'm wrong—that's your opinion—but you can't prove it. The facts simply are not on your side.

If this were to be tried in a court of law (and I do hope that will happen one day soon), Cami & Co. will lose. Are you willing to stake your professional reputation on that? I am because the facts are on my side. How about you?