Friday, November 28, 2014

Asw. Simon's folklore tales of school consolidation & property taxes

Size doesn't necessarily matter

With some of the highest property taxes in the nation, every discussion about reducing them invariably turns to consolidating some of New Jersey's 565 municipalities and 590 school districts. Senate President Steve Sweeney has been an outspoken advocate for the former, and Asw. Donna Simon (R-16) presents her case for the latter in this op-ed.

Unnecessary administrative costs are among the reasons we continue to have the highest property taxes in the country. On average, more than 50 percent of our annual property taxes go toward schools. Taxpayers pay outrageous property-tax bills for the salaries and benefits of the duplicative layers of administrators in our 590 school districts.

As we've seen time and again since Gov. Christie started his assault on public education, it's all too easy to blame the high cost of living in NJ on our excellent public schools. While consolidation sounds logical on the surface, the real reason NJ property taxes are so high is due to cuts in municipal and school aid. In their recent study, Size May Not Be The Issue, Rutgers University Professor Dr. Ralph J. Caprio and Assistant Director and Senior Policy Fellow Marc H. Pfeiffer, present municipal evidence that must be taken into account when discussing school consolidation as a means to offset property taxes, as reported in NJ Spotlight :

With 15.6 government units per 10,000 population, New Jersey actually has about half as much government as the national average, and lags just behind New York (17.7 government units per 10,000 residents) and far behind both Pennsylvania (38.5) and Delaware (37.2). 
In fact, New Jersey ranks just 34th in the nation in the number of general governments per capita... 
[R]ural communities with low populations that are often considered prime targets for municipal consolidation have the lowest-cost municipal government services per person in the state — directly countering the assumption that “consolidation of small, inefficient municipalities” would lower property taxes, the study said. “We may need to rethink the conventional wisdom that forcing municipalities into larger organizations will be more effective, more efficient, and/or less costly,” Caprio and Pfeiffer concluded. “It should also give pause as to whether we should be advocating with uncompromising vigor that consolidation of municipalities is a solution to the state’s high property-tax problem.”

"We may need to rethink the conventional wisdom that forcing municipalities into larger organizations will be more effective, more efficient, and/or less costly."


[T]he Rutgers policy experts contended that too little attention has been paid to one of the biggest drivers of local property tax increases — namely, cuts in state aid to municipalities. 
In the wake of the Great Recession of 2007-2009, New Jersey’s cash-strapped state government cut unrestricted aid to municipalities from $1.727 billion in 2007 to $1.303 billion in 2010, reducing state aid from 15.4 percent to 10.6 percent of municipal budget revenue. 
Of the $1.36 billion increase in property taxes over that three-year period, $423.7 million was needed just to make up for the cuts in state aid. As a result of those state aid cuts, property taxes rose from 51.7 percent to 58.3 percent of local municipal budget revenue. 
“In effect, close to one-third of the statewide property tax increases experienced between 2007 and 2010 could be attributed to simply offsetting revenue loss from aid the state itself could not provide,” policymakers should stop pursuing the “folk hypothesis” of “consolidating our way to savings” and focus instead on solutions to the underlying problem. They called for an in-depth analysis of the impact of the 2011 pension and health benefits law, the municipal budget-cap laws, and the overhaul of the interest arbitration statute for police and firefighters to “determine their actual impact beyond the superficial attention they have received.” (emphasis mine)

"Policymakers should stop pursuing the
'folk hypothesis' of 'consolidating our
way to savings' and focus instead on
solutions to the underlying problem."

Lifestyles of the not-so-rich-and-famous

Simon omits these facts with her assertion that property taxpayers are supporting the lavish ‘lifestyles of the rich and famous’ school administrators. Rutgers University Professor Dr. Bruce Baker had this to say when I asked him about her presumption:

Administrative costs are relatively trivial, and there's just not that much savings there, and they certainly aren't the cause of our relatively high (by no means highest as a percent of household income) property taxes. That's due to relatively low state share of funding for schools. (emphasis mine)

NJ Spotlight reports on those lavish perks:

"[T]he average New Jersey government employee is paying more for individual health insurance coverage than government workers in any other state and the 10th-highest average premium for family coverage in the country.

"Further, state and local government workers are paying a much higher percentage of the cost of their individual health insurance policies than private-sector employees in New Jersey have been paying, and not much less than the percentage paid by the state’s private-sector workers for family coverage." (emphasis mine)
All this has been happening while property taxes were accelerating at break-neck pace. NJ Spotlight spelled it out two years ago:
"Property taxes are eating up a larger share of family income under Gov. Chris Christie than under previous governors, primarily due to a sharp reduction in direct property tax relief over the past two years."

The great brain drain and charter school hanky panky

Simon’s criticism of NJ’s school administrators is based on a study by the Center for American Progress that shows financial inefficiencies in school districts across the country. (I urge you to take a look—especially at the interactive chart for New Jersey. Lots of terrific information in there about cost per pupil, poverty and student outcomes.) When Gov. Christie capped superintendents’ salaries at $175,000, lest any of them earn more than the state’s chief executive (but perfectly ok if you work at the Port Authority) it launched a ‘brain drain’ as superintendents left for NY, PA and other states that don’t have punitive salary caps and reductions. As the Wall St. Journal reported earlier this year:

10 of the 43 districts in New York's Westchester County are now run by former New Jersey superintendents who left after Gov. Chris Christie imposed the salary cap in February 2011, saying it would help limit sky-high property taxes.

The superintendent cap did nothing to reduce property taxes, but it sure did a lot to hurt public education:

Nearly 100 New Jersey superintendents who had left their jobs as of February 2014 cited the salary cap as a factor, according to a survey of districts conducted this year by the New Jersey School Board’s Association. 

The article states that even the NJSBA—the governing body of local boards of ed, which sit on the opposite side of the bargaining table of all those pesky unions—opposes the salary cap. It has compromised their ability to find quality candidates and offer them a competitive salary.

"The superintendent salary cap did
nothing to reduce property taxes."

But—amazingly—charter school administrator salaries weren’t included in the cap. Charters are funded with up to 90% of the per-pupil funding from the sending district of every child they enroll. Almost 4 years ago, The Associated Press reported on the double standard in administrator pay:

[S]ome heads of small charter schools earn far more than the limits proposed for public school administrators by Gov. Chris Christie. For example, the director of Teaneck's Community Charter School, which has about 300 students, made more than $200,000 in 2009-2010 when salary, bonuses and reimbursement of unused time are factored in. That's more than the town's interim public schools superintendent receives for overseeing seven schools with about 4,500 students. 

"It seems somewhat unfair that you're asking charters and (traditional) publics to compete for the same funds, but the rules are different," Ardie Walser, president of the township school board, told the newspaper... At Englewood on the Palisades [Charter School], school director Anthony Barckett testified at a court hearing that he earned over $152,000 in 2009-2010 for what amounted to part-time work. (emphasis mine)

If Simon is so concerned about the financial inefficiencies of small school districts, she should start with charters. Dr. Baker continues:

If consolidation is such a great idea, whether to promote integration, remove administrative redundancy, etc., then it would seem utterly foolish that we continue to expand charter schools. These schools tend to operate at inefficiently small size, further segregate our students, and when they do grow to a size where they operate as districts within our districts, they create significant administrative redundancy — a whole layer of "management corporation" siphoning district funds passed on to charters.  

We know, for example, from IRS 990 filings, that the administrative structure of Uncommon Schools has plenty of well paid admins—including their "managing director" for Newark Uncommon at about $200k in 2012. No doubt much higher now in 2014. So, in addition to Newark Public Schools, we've added, through this structure, additional governing layers that siphon resources, but don't show up on the traditional books. (emphasis mine)

"If consolidation is such a great idea,
then it would seem utterly foolish that we
continue to expand charter schools."

So, Newark has a superintendent with a $240k salary, but now has districts within it which use funds generated by management fees skimmed from the charter allocation (which passed through the district) to pay several entire additional administrative teams. (emphasis mine)

Charter school financial malfeasance and inequity is widespread and well documented. A recent study by Rutgers University Professor Dr. Julia Sass-Rubin and doctoral candidate, Mark Weber (aka Jersey Jazzman), proves New Jersey's charter schools, which are undergoing rapid expansion, "do not serve nearly as many children in economic disadvantage, have special educational needs, or are English language learners as their host districts' schools." These additional links, which are just the tip of the iceberg, offer more compelling evidence: 

South Hunterdon: A work in progress

Enrollment numbers from NJDOE website
The South Hunterdon consolidation worked because, as Simon stated, there was overwhelming community buy-in. Just take a look at the 2012-2013 enrollment numbers. They are on par with many charter schools around the state. While it's terrific that the district saved $170,000, it won't make a dent in property taxes.

But take a look at the district's per-pupil cost calculations. Overall they've grown. In addition to some maintenance expenses, that $170K was most likely realized through the loss of one superintendent, but they've increased in every other category.

The new South Hunterdon school district is still very small. Mergers that push student populations close to the magic number of 3,000 could see their costs increase instead of decrease. More students means more services—not less. Consolidation can have other drawbacks as well: longer commutes for students, less community involvement and support, and less —not more—opportunities for students in certain extracurricular activities such as sports, theatre and musical performance—activities that many students want on their college application resumes, and many parents expect for their tax dollars.

The essential questions

  • How can Simon's primary focus be further reductions in our public schools, which are free, open and accessible to every child, while charters—notorious for fiscal mismanagement and student segregation—remain untouched
  • How can Simon place the blame squarely on the shoulders of public school administrators when their salaries and benefits have been drastically cut while charter school administrators, who oversee much smaller schools, earn much more? 
  • How can Simon push so hard for consolidation into K-12 regional districts when the NJDOE's own data shows that on average our K-6 school districts spend less per pupil than our K-8 or K-12 districts respectively? 
  • Why isn't Simon pushing for restoration of the almost $5 billion Gov. Christie has cut from public education since he was first elected, or the hundreds of millions in state aid to municipalities that has been cut since the Great Recession—both of which are proven causes of increased property taxes?

In conclusion

While school districts, municipalities and elected officials must continually look for ways to control costs to taxpayers, it is essential that they make choices that will not diminish the delivery of goods and services. NJ has one of the best public education systems in the country and a charter school system that has been proven to segregate and has questionable financial practices. The massive cuts to public education over the past few years combined with the rapid expansion of charter schools and massive spending to gear up for PARCC testing, have left it battered and bruised, but still managing to provide an overall exceptionally high level of service. If Asw. Simon is looking to cut costs in public education, she needs to start with the charter schools. As a member of the Assembly education committee, she should know better.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

When students game the 'reformy' system

A teacher friend who lives and works in a western state informed me of an interesting trend within her district. Even though she is tenured, she asked me not to identify her or the state in which she lives for fear of retribution. (Are you listening, Campbell Brown?) I'll call her Mrs. Smith. Her story is the perfect example of how the one-size-fits-all approach of education 'reform' in the most culturally and economically diverse country in the world is damaging many of the students for which it was devised, and how the students are fighting back. 

Mrs. Smith teaches high school language arts to students who have not passed the state standardized tests. She is their last, best hope for graduating. They love her because she's caring and compassionate, and her lessons are fun and engaging, but she also knows when to pull out the tough love. 

As with millions of students across the country, Mrs. Smith's students will head down a variety of college and/or career paths once they graduate. For many however, getting that diploma will signal the end of their formal education because unlike a school such as Ridge High School in Basking Ridge, NJ, with only 2% of its student population economically disadvantaged and most students going on to 4-year colleges and a much wider range of future career options, Mrs. Smith works in a district where 100% of students live at or below the poverty level, and there's a big difference in educational outcomes and career paths between the two. 

According to a recent study of US children by Dr. Glenn Flores and Bruce Lesley published in JAMA Pediatrics: 
  • Childhood poverty has reached its highest level in 20 years
  • 1 in 4 children lives in a food-insecure household
  • 7 million children lack health insurance
  • A child is abused or neglected every 47 seconds
  • 1 in 3 children is overweight or obese
  • 5 children are killed daily by firearms
  • 1 in 5 experiences a mental disorder
  • Racial/ethnic disparities continue to be extensive and pervasive
  • Children account for 73.5 million Americans (24%), but 8% of federal expenditures
  • Child well-being in the United States has been in decline since the most recent recession

So, 100% of Mrs. Smith's students fit some or all of this criteria. Assuming that they all received supplemental governmental support, according to a ground-breaking 1980's study they all had a 32 million word gap compared to 98% of Ridge High School students by age four. This is not to say that none of the students in Mrs. Smith's district will break the cycle of poverty in which they were raised. Research has also shown that those hurdles can be overcome with early intervention and concerted effort by the student and the adults in their life, but the odds are greatly stacked against them from the start.

Many of Mrs. Smith's students work to help support their family, and many times work takes precedence over school. For most, college isn't in their future because any extra money that comes in goes to helping the family make ends meet. 'College and career readiness' is as foreign to them as a real bagel. (Trust me, there are no real bagels west of the Delaware River.) They see no value in trying to pass standardized tests that are too hard for many adults, that won't help their parents put food on the table today, and that simply will not guarantee any future success. 

But thanks to the Common Core and its standardized testing spawn, with it's false promise of a better, newer, shinier life if you only pass these tests and put yourself into debt for the next 20 years paying off college loans, Mrs. Smith's students' needs are not being met in school. As in many schools across the country, programs that will greatly enrich her students' lives and learning like art, music, physical education, foreign languages and vocational classes have been cut back or eliminated. Like many other states, Arne Duncan is holding their's hostage. If the kids don't pass the tests, the state doesn't get their money.  

But, many of the students in Mrs. Smith's district are a lot smarter than Arne Duncan & Co. think. To dodge the testing mania, many will simply drop out, scrape together a couple of hundred bucks and enroll in the local community college where they'll earn their GED with nary a standardized test in sight. 

And that, dear readers, is pure genius.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

.@pasi_sahlberg & David Hespe: A Tale of Two Education Leaders

Lest anyone think I was a fat-cat, lazy teacher, raking in the chips at a high-rollers roulette table at the Borgata last week, I actually attended the NJEA Convention—the largest professional development convention for educators in the United States.

There are no coincidences

I don't believe in coincidence. Too many things have happened in my life for that word to be relevant. Case in point: here's what happened last week:

  • I read an article in the Star Ledger about why Dutch children are happier than ours
  • I listened to Pasi Sahlberg's keynote address at the NJEA Convention in Atlantic City—a town whose economic fortunes seem to change like the tides that wash its shores every day, and right now, the tide is out 
  • I attended the meeting with Acting NJ Education Commissioner, David Hespe, also at the Convention
  • I read this post on Wallet Hub ranking the best and worst school systems in the country. 

Please excuse me while I puff up my chest with pride... Lookie who's #1:

... and look who's at the bottom: some of the highest concentrations of poverty in the country, including Michelle Rhee's 'miracle'—Washington, DC:

About the Dutch 

According to the article,

UNICEF recently conducted a study of twenty-nine industrialized nations and found that the Netherlands ranked highest in three out of five areas: educational well being, material well being, and behavior and risks. This study, named Child Well Being in Rich Countries, correlates with the findings of numerous other studies noting that Dutch children are seemingly happier.

Among the study's notable findings:

  • The Netherlands retains its position as the clear leader, and is the only country ranked among the top five countries in all dimensions of child well-being: material well-being, health and safety, education, behaviors and risks, and housing and environment.
  • Four Nordic countries — Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden — sit just below the Netherlands at the top of the child well-being table.
  • The bottom four places in the table are occupied by three of the poorest countries in the survey — Latvia, Lithuania and Romania, and by one of the richest, the United States.
  • Indeed, the United States and Romania were the only two countries out of 29 surveyed to rank in the bottom third on all five measurements of childhood well-being. (emphasis mine)

The wealthiest nation in the industrialized world does not value the health and well-being of its children. 

That, dear readers, should be plastered over every picture of every jackpot bonanza on every billboard leading into this city-on-life-support. And it should be on the cover of every standardized test booklet Pearson prints.

Yea, so that won't happen. But I bring you the next best thing: Pasi Sahlberg's keynote speech and David Hespe's Q&(non)A with teachers—all within 24 hours! If you're not sure who Sahlberg is, read his bio hereBlogger Ani McHugh (TeacherBiz) wrote an excellent review of his talk. You can view his Power Point presentation here. Pull both up on your screen as a comparison to what follows. 

Before we get into the meat of Hespe's session, here's a handy little pocket guide to Finnish vs. US education (all quotes are Sahlberg's):

Before Hespe took questions, he talked about where we were, where we are and where we're going. As he talked, the groans, murmuring and comments from the audience increased. In the interest of readability, I've interspersed audience questions with his presentation comments.

So, do you have Ani's blog post open? Ok, here we go!

On 'college and career readiness' (whatever that means)

He started by acknowledging that there is an achievement gap between the rich and poor in NJ—finally! We are one of the highest-achieving states in the nation, and we should be proud of that, but our bar is set too low. He showed a slide of 4-year college graduation rates in NJ which he said aren't good enough. I'm sorry, I don't have a photo of this slide. It was tough to photograph in that room. If anyone has it, please post. He blamed this on students not being 'college and career ready'. Too many college freshmen have to take remedial math and language arts classes. 

Not being satisfied with the data he provided, I did a little research of my own and found a nifty little website chock full of all sorts of data. 

Consider this overview of NJ's state universities:

Not too shabby.

Or this comparison with the rest of the country:

I am not an education researcher, but I do know that data is often manipulated to tell a certain side of a story. These links to websites provide additional info on NJ higher education. I invite you to do your own research:

While Hespe and his ilk are quick to blame 'bad teachers', not enough 'rigor' and not enough standardized testing, the students themselves have a different take:
Students say they are delaying their degrees because of class-scheduling difficulties and overcrowded courses or the pressures of juggling part-time jobs and financial problems. That means many full-time undergraduates are taking five, six or more years to get a bachelor’s degree, if they finish at all.

Hmmm... the state hasn't fully funded our community colleges as per the law for years. Could there be a correlation? Call me crazy, but isn't it possible that this generation of college students—the first to go through some or all of their K-12 education in the NCLB years—is simply a product of that failed policy? Have the language arts and math college placement exams ever been evaluated? Do we know that they are true measures of what students should know? How much money do colleges and universities make on them? So many questions; no answers. 

On tech readiness for PARCC

Hespe claimed that over 90% of schools are technologically ready for PARCC testing. Cue audible groans and protestations from the audience. During the Q&(non)A, several educators told him their horror stories with practice PARCC tests: servers crashed, answers lost, not enough equipment, students not ready or able to keystroke essay answers. Even though school budgets have been slashed and staff laid off, the tests must go on! So districts are scrambling to find money to pay for all the upgrades which can cost anywhere from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars. Many are simply not ready because they don't have the money. But Hespe wasn't concerned. He said the DOE has about $1.3 million to give to districts throughout the whole state!  Yipee!! I feel so much better.

One educator wanted to know when the state was going to provide money to rehire all the lost staff. Pshaw! What a silly question! Why should districts re-hire bad teachers when data will solve every educational problem? 

On the opt-out movement

"I'm not seeing an opt-out movement in New Jersey."

"About 1/10 of 1% of parents are opting out."

"I see no opt-out movement in New Jersey."

Hey, Commish, check this out, and this, and this on Long Island. 

The PARCC was only piloted on about 10% of NJ students. It's only November. Once the rest of the state's parents see how much of their child's school year is spent on test prep, once they participate in the various 'Take the PARCC' events that are quickly popping up all over the state, once students are tested and their scores plummet (is anyone doubting they won't?), this movement is going to grow very quickly. This is not, as Arne Duncan said
white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — [realized] their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.
This is a movement of concerned parents all across the state who are fed up with their child's education being hijacked by data collection and profit-making.

Data Dave, standardized testing and the CCSS

It is abundantly clear that data is Hespe's friend. I think he loves data more than he loves students. I can't tell you how many times he used that word. He was giddy with anticipation about how all the data the NJDOE collects will be used to solve all our socioeconomic problems and manufacture a super human workforce! He was adamant that parents are hungry for dataYea, and standardized testing and data were huge parts of FDR's New Deal, and LBJ's Civil Rights Act, and Brown v. Board of Education, and Abbott v. Burke, and...

Questions and comments from educators on data, testing and the CCSS: 
"We do not need data! We know what to do for our students!" 
"You have more than a decade of data. What are you doing with it?"
"My child isn't failing standardized tests. Standardized tests are failing my child. What will you do?" 
"The data teachers are expected to manage is unmanageable! Data is garbage collection!" 
"There is no correlation between standardized tests and student achievement. Why not scrap the tests and go back to teaching?"
"Where are the accommodations for special education students on PARCC?" 
 "There is no data that says the Common Core State Standards are effective. How can you support them when they're not proven?"
"Other than test scores, how do we define and measure success?"
"Our kids aren't 'college and career ready' because we are a culture of testing!" 

Cuts to related arts and other programs

Comment: We need leadership from you to preserve the arts.
Answer: Teach across the curriculum.

On Camden

Questions and comments from educators:
"Since the state takeover of Camden, teachers do not have the materials and curriculum to do their job. The materials are coming from North Star Academy [charter school]." 
"How do you support teachers when you appoint a Camden superintendent with no teaching experience?"
"When will you come to low-income communities to see what's going on?" 
Hespe actually answered this last question. He simply said, "Done!" I hope the person who asked that question holds him to it.

On Student Growth Objectives

When he asked the crowd of several hundred how many wrote their SGO collaboratively with their administrator, less than 10 people raised their hands. 

A ray of hope?

To his credit, NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer did his best to keep the questions to 30 seconds and the crowd from wielding pitchforks and torches. There was a lot of calling out when a question or comment was cut off, or simply not answered—and there was a lot of that. Hespe is first and foremost a politician. As a Christie appointee, he is there to do his bidding. He may have taught college classes, but he has absolutely no concept of K-12 education. 

The one sign of hope is the new board president, Mark Biedron. In September the Garden State Alliance for Strengthening Education held a symposium to "present a statewide action plan to connect critical elements supporting New Jersey public school educators and effective teaching." The coalition's founding members are:

  • NJ Association of Colleges for Teacher Education
  • NJ Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development
  • NJ Education Association
  • NJ Field Directors Forum
  • NJ Parent-Teacher Association
  • NJ Principals and Supervisors Association

In the audience were educators, legislators, NJ State Board of Ed members and DOE employees. I attended, and it was excellent. Too much to go into here, but suffice to say that it's a real plan to strengthen teacher training and retention in the state. Biedron and many in the state legislature are very excited about its implementation.

Final thoughts

The United States is indeed the most powerful country in the world. We can obliterate just about any other nation with the push of a button. But, can we really call ourselves the "greatest" when the plain, simple truth is we are neglecting our future—our children— because competition and profits are more important? 

Jesus said, "That which you do to the least of my brothers, you do unto me." No matter what your beliefs about him—whether the Son of God, a really smart guy or a fictional character—he was absolutely right. 

When it comes to educating our children, the US and NJ are absolutely wrong.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Hespe opens the floodgates.

(UPDATE: I've added a link to Peter Greene's blog post on this issue. Will add more as they come in. Also, please read all the way to the end for the link to the petition that was just started. Sign and share!)

Reaction to his directive on PARCC testing is swift and fierce.

Courtesy of

Here it is, folks! Your one-stop shopping center for reaction to NJ Acting Education Commissioner David Hespe's latest missive about the PARCC! 

In an attempt to thwart the mounting 'opt-out' movement that is quickly spreading across the state, Hespe released this directive last week to superintendents and school district administrators which basically tells them to tell parents that opting out isn't an option. Predictably, the backlash from parents and other concerned individuals and groups has been loud, swift and full of real logic and reasoning.

Former teacher, parent, attorney and blogger, Sarah Blaine's post was picked up by the Washington Post. In her piece titled, 'This Means War', Blaine says:
It doesn’t take a Ph.D to realize that it is fundamentally wrong to base education policy on essays our fourth graders are required to type — when they’ve never taken typing classes.   
It appears to me that you’re [Hespe] taking a page from your boss’s playbook by telling those of us who disagree with you to “sit down and shut up.” It appears to me, Acting Commissioner Hespe, that you’re trying to bully those of us who do not see the value in your precious PARCC tests by punishing our children....That’s low, Acting Commissioner. Really low. And do you know what? You don’t intimidate me. All you’ve done is piss me off. And Acting Commissioner, I’ll tell you this: pissing off parents — and voters — like me is probably not the way to ensure the long-term success of your policies. You were just a faceless bureaucrat. Now I want to get you fired. You deserve no less for attempting to bully parents by punishing our children. 

She goes on to say that her 4th grade child's PARCC testing is longer that the NJ State Bar Exam. Yea, you read that right.

Teacher, mom and blogger, Ani McHugh (aka. TeacherBiz) points out the fuzzy logic behind Hespe's assertion that the PARCC is the be-all and end-all of standardized testing. 

Hespe writes:

McHugh responds:
This statement essentially suggests that the assessments New Jersey students have been taking for years (NJASK/HSPA) were worthless. If that’s true, why were students who scored partially proficient on the HSPA denied diplomas because of their scores? Why were they forced to participate in the AHSA process–which, in many districts, was offered in lieu of academic or elective courses and which sometimes lasted beyond a student’s senior year of high school–until they passed the HSPA? Why did many districts use NJASK and HSPA scores as justification for remedial course placements? Why did we devote so many instructional hours to inferior testing? Why did the NJDOE promote and tie high stakes to such inadequate tests for so long? What evidence does the NJDOE have that PARCC assessments are valid measures of student learning and/or achievement? What can one test “diagnose” that classroom teachers cannot? And, ultimately, why should parents trust the DOE’s evaluation of anyassessment–especially an unproven and controversial one like PARCC–if it was so wrong about the NJASK and HSPA?

TCNJ education major and perennial thorn in the side of the NJ State BOE, Melissa Katz, writes about her experiences as the first generation to go completely through K-12 in the NCLB years. Her absolute love of learning came to a screeching halt in high school when she suffered from debilitating school anxiety. Hespe's directive struck a nerve:
...our students deserve better: they deserve respect and to be treated as humans, not testing machines used to further the state's unproven and untested "reforms."
As a current student and future teacher, I will not stop fighting until I know my students one day will be treated as humans, as learners, and as explorers. I will not stop fighting until there is equitable education for all - for students who can't test well, but are brilliant artists. For students who can't test well, but make the most beautiful music to ever grace our ears. For the students who can't test well, but are math geniuses. For the students who can't test well but are our future teachers, scientists, dreamers, inventors, dancers, artists, musicians, historians, or whatever their passion is....
We must move away from the test-and-punish regime in education before we destroy the love of learning for students, no matter what they love or how they learn. We owe this to them and the future of education in this country. 
If these tests are so vitally important to our children's futures, so vitally important for educators' prescriptive plans to magically make every single child in this state 'college and career ready' (whatever that means), why the heck does it take 6 months to get the results? That teacher can't use that data to help that child. 

Blogger/educator, Peter Green, who blogs under the moniker Curmudgucation, offers up a healthy list of 'rigorous' questions for Mr. Hespe should you decide to opt your children out of the PARCC:

  • Exactly what is the correspondence between PARCC results and college readiness. Given the precise data, can you tell me what score my eight year old needs to get on the test to be guaranteed at least a 3.75 GPA at college?
  • Does it matter which college he attends, or will test results guarantee he is ready for all colleges?
  • Can you show me the research and data that led you to conclude that Test Result A = College Result X? How exactly do you know that meeting the state's politically chosen cut score means that my child is prepared to be a college success?
  • Since the PARCC tests math and language, will it still tell me if my child is ready to be a history or music major? How about geology or women's studies?
  • My daughter plans to be a stay-at-home mom. Can she skip the test? Since that's her chosen career, is there a portion of the PARCC that tests her lady parts and their ability to make babies?
  • Which section of the PARCC tests a student's readiness to start a career as a welder? Is it the same part that tests readiness to become a ski instructor, pro football player, or dental assistant?
  • I see that the PARCC will be used to "customize instruction." Does that mean you're giving the test tomorrow (because it'a almost November already)? How soon will the teacher get the detailed customizing information-- one week? Ten days? How will the PARCC results help my child's choir director and phys ed teacher customize instruction?
  • Is it possible that the PARCC will soon be able to tell me if my eight year old is on track for a happy marriage and nice hair? 
  • Why do you suppose you keep using the word "utilize" when "using" is a perfectly good plain English substitute? 
  • To quote the immortal Will Smith in Independence Day, "You really think you can do all that bullshit you just said?"

But perhaps the piece de resistance came from Jacklyn Brown, a member of the Facebook group, Opt Out of State Standardized Tests — New Jersey who posted the following letter. This is a closed group, so I can't share the link. But it hits the nail on the head: 

(NOTE: I apologize for the format of this letter, but technical difficulties prevented me from copying and pasting, linking or otherwise uploading, so I did it as a series of screen shots. Greater minds than mine, I'm sure, could have figured out a work-around.)

This about sums it up. Yea, it's really weird that Princess Leia suddenly starts speaking in a British accent, but this is what's happening. The more the 'reformers' try to tighten their grip around our children's education, the more parents and children will slip through their fingers. 

Good news travels fast! Within minutes of posting this, Jacklyn Brown's letter has been made into a PETITION. Please sign and share!