Saturday, January 31, 2015

This week in NJ ed 'reform': The truth is out there

This was quite a week in the battle over public education in the Garden State: Gov. Christie's testing study commission heard mountains of testimony from concerned parents and citizens in three different venues; educators continued to host parent Take the PARCC nights; NJEA released a bombshell new poll showing massive numbers of NJ parents oppose the test; and NJ101.5 capped several days of PARCC discussion with a debate over the test. 

Here are my thoughts:

A more perfect-er life for only $19.95

My daughter and I have a running joke: All the world's problems can be solved for only 3 easy payments of $19.95. If we just went out and purchased every single as-seen-on-TV product, our lives would be perfect.

That's what ed 'reformers' want us to believe about the PARCC test. Just like the PedEgg, the Bacon Bowl and the Uro Club, PARCC promises to magically transform your child's entire life from dull to dazzling—with just 10 easy hours of testing! No more struggles with 'bad' teachers who lazily sit around waiting to collect their pensions. PARCC will send them packing. White suburban moms will magically accept that their kids really aren't brilliant when they see those crappy test scores. But wait! Call now, and Pearson will upgrade your flunkie kid's educational experience with all sorts of Common Core/PARCC aligned learning materials guaranteed to make them College and Career Ready! (Just pay the cost of cuts to arts and foreign language programs.)

When TV pitch-men run the country

The reality is that the road to miraculous cures and a better, shinier, awesomer life is paved with money back guarantees that somehow never seem to materialize. Whether it's the infomercial host or the President of the United States, carnival barkers have been selling the American public an endless stream of bad ideas, sketchy products and outright colossal failures since 1893 when Clark Stanley sold his first bottle of snake oil. Here are some of my favorites from big business/pharma/government:

  • Cigarettes
  • Weapons of Mass Destruction
  • The Pinto
  • Lead Paint
  • Accutane
  • Asbestos
  • GMOs
  • Phen-phen
  • DDT
Feel free to add your favorites in the comments section.

Number 1 on my list is DES. 77 years ago, American doctors wanted pregnant women to have 'trust and confidence' (more on this phrase below) in a little life-changing drug called Diethylstilbestrol. Here's what the CDC says about it:
Diethylstilbestrol (DES) is an estrogen that was first manufactured in a laboratory in 1938, so it is called a "synthetic estrogen." During 1938-1971, U.S. physicians prescribed DES to pregnant women to prevent miscarriages and avoid other pregnancy problems. As a result, an estimated 5-10 million pregnant women and the children born of these pregnancies were exposed to DES. Physicians prescribed DES to pregnant women on the theory that miscarriages and premature births occurred because some pregnant women did not produce enough estrogen naturally. At the time, physicians thought DES was safe and would prevent miscarriages and pre-term (early) births. 
In 1953, published research showed that DES did not prevent miscarriages or premature births. However, DES continued to be prescribed until 1971. In that year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a Drug Bulletin advising physicians to stop prescribing DES to pregnant women. The FDA warning was based on a study published in 1971 that identified DES as a cause of a rare vaginal cancer in girls and young women who had been exposed to DES before birth (in the womb). (emphasis mine)
Doctors continued to prescribe DES to pregnant women 18 years after it was proven not to work. We now know that exposure to large doses of estrogen is linked to breast cancer. That's why commonly-prescribed hormone replacement therapy (HRT) was yanked from prescription pads years ago. But my mother wasn't spared. She took DES when she was pregnant with me, and died of breast cancer at age 37. And as a 'DES Daughter' I have suffered a host of medical issues because I was exposed to it in utero. Suffice to say that both my children are true miracles. 

I'm not looking for sympathy. I'm writing this because I am living proof of what happens when the government or big business or some other faceless entity tells us that what they're doing is wonderful, transformative and fantastic for everyone, and we should just accept it lock, stock and barrel. Which is exactly what Dr. Sandra Alberti asked of NJ parents this week when she and NJEA President Wendall Steinhauer engaged in a friendly PARCC debate on NJ101.5. 

Dr. Alberti works at Student Achievement Partners. Founded by David Coleman, Susan Pimentel and Jason Zimba, lead writers of the Common Core State Standards, SAP is "non-profit [alarm bells!] organization with one purpose: to help all students and teachers see their hard work lead to greater student achievement."

(Note to self: Find out how that 'all' includes art teachers.)

Like other PARCC cheerleaders, Alberti was practically breathless with excitement about how these tests were going to be the best think since... well... Jeaneez

Her voice got louder, her pitch got higher as she implored the listening audience "to have trust and confidence" in the PARCC.

Trust no one

Call me Fox Mulder, but I've gone through enough ccrap (pun intended) living with the effects of another miracle cure that when 'reformers' try to sell me a load of hokum about the miracle of PARCC, I start looking for Cigarette Man hiding in the shadows.

Just like DES, there is no proof, no evidence, no long-term study proving the miracle of PARCC. But unlike DES, we don't have to wait 15 years to figure this out. As the tag line of The X-Files says, "The truth is out there" right now (here, here, here, here, here). 

Dr. Alberti finished her comments by saying, "Imagine if all that energy was going into working with kids to help them succeed...we would have such amazing schools in New Jersey." 

The fact is we do have amazing schools in New Jersey—many of the best in the nation. And we have amazing education professionals who have dedicated their entire careers to working in the classroom, not at some non-profit or think-tank, to help kids succeed. We also have high concentrations of impoverished Black and Brown students attending public schools in our inner cities, and a governor who thinks the best way to fix this is by cutting almost $6 billion in public education funding. 

Imagine if all the money that is being wasted on band width and Chromebooks and test prep and data collection and advertising and charter schools and Teach for America and buying candidates and think tanks and non-profits and partnerships and summits and conferences and Regional Achievement Centers and the endless, endless layers of new administration in state-controlled districts was actually "going into working with [impoverished] kids [and their families] to help them succeed...we would have such amazing [children and families] in [all of] New Jersey."

Final thoughts

In the past 3 months the amount of parental push-back against the PARCC in NJ has grown exponentially. Polling numbers against the test are through the roof. School districts are scrambling to figure out how to respond to the growing number of test refusal letters. The State Board of Education and Hespe's testing commission look like deer in the headlights having been hit with a tidal wave of criticism at board meetings and public hearings around the state. The sleeping giant has awoken. The parents will win, because the truth is out there.

Monday, January 26, 2015

NJ parents say #PARCC stinks like #CCRAP!

Which stinks more? Our garbage dumps or the PARCC Test? Credit: NJ Spotlight

Four years ago I attended the very first Parents Across America meeting in New York City where I heard Diane Ravitch, Leonie Haimson, Karran Harper Royal, Andrea Merida, Rita Solnet, Julie Woestehoff, Mark Mishler and several other passionate and dedicated parents from all across the country speak about what was then a young but rapidly growing movement. At the time, Gov. Christie was at the height of teacher bashing, and many educators were wandering around like deer in the headlights. I remember Diane saying that ultimately nothing would change unless and until parents led the charge.

And she was right.

I expected it to happen over night. The destruction of public education was completely obvious not only to me, but rank-and-file education professionals all across the country, not to mention education researchers and scholars. Surely if parents could just see...

Ah, but change doesn't happen in a New York minute even if you live right next door. Steering this suburban ship away from the rhetoric and privatization schemes of education 'reform' required a lot more than teacher voices. 

It required parents to stop, look and listen: 

  • To the absurd claims being made by 'reformers'
  • To the nearly $6 billion in funding cuts that have been made to NJ's public schools
  • To their simultaneously skyrocketing property taxes
  • To the enormous amounts of money their districts have been forced to spend on PARCC testing at the expense of the arts, foreign languages, AP classes and a whole host of clubs and activities
  • To the narrowing of the curriculums
  • To the labeling as 'failures' and the closing of their neighborhood schools without their say
  • To the segregation of their children who may not speak the language or may be more challenging to educate
  • And ultimately to the complaints of their children as they were forced to spend more and more time in school on test prep and less on real learning
It took a few years for this sea change to occur because New Jersey has an abundance of mostly white, high-quality suburban public school districts where Gov. Christie and then Education Commissioner Chris Cerf have a lot of allies who pay a boatload of property taxes for their excellent schools. They couldn't risk ticking them off, so they took a slightly softer approach in the 'burbs— blame the teachers—and grabbed the low-hanging fruit (or so they thought) in the mostly poor, urban, minority districts where Black and Brown voices don't matter. 

All was going according to plan: urban schools were being closed and flipped to charters; state control was expanded; teachers fired; harsh penalties for 'failing' schools; and a steady stream of media-backed rhetoric. Seemed like a slam-dunk, except that Christie and Cerf didn't anticipate the backlash from urban parents and students. What?!?! You don't want to be saved from yourselves by rich white men who stand to become richer off your salvation?!? If they had been paying attention to what was going on in cities all over the country, they would have known what to expect. Such is the folly of the unchecked ego.

And then, speaking of unchecked egos, our fearless clueless leader, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, fired the shot heard 'round the 'reformy' world:

“It’s fascinating to me that some of the pushback is coming from, sort of, white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were, and that’s pretty scary. You’ve bet your house and where you live and everything on, ‘My child’s going to be prepared.’ That can be a punch in the gut.”
"Fascinating"... as if he's Mr. Spock observing us all under a microscope. Call me crazy, but I think Mr. Spock has more heart than Arne.

And then, slowly, steadily, the ship started turning. As the 2013-2014 school year rolled out, parents got a good look at the new evaluation system and the CCSS, and started scratching their heads. No longer able to help their kids with math homework, suddenly it seemed as if more parents took to Twitter and Facebook. They started blogging, writing letters to the editor, becoming activists and organizers, speaking out, asking questions and demanding answers. In May 2014, the voters of Newark sent a resounding message to Gov. Christie and Superintendent Cami Anderson by electing Central HS Principal Ras J. Baraka as their new mayor. The Newark Students Union started staging walk-outs, protests and sit-ins.

In September of 2014, NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia toured the US on her anti-testing crusade with a stop in Camden. Education associations throughout the state started hosting screenings of 'Standardized', and 'Take the PARCC' events. The Delran Education Association and School District threw down the gauntlet with this powerful statement against the PARCC. While speaking at the New Jersey Education Association Convention in November, Acting Education Commissioner David Hespe uttered his now infamous line, "I'm not seeing an opt-out movement in New Jersey", and seemingly within minutes, the New Jersey Opt-Out Facebook group exploded with new members. There are now county affiliates all over the state and an abundance of online resources for parents wanting to opt their kids out, including this from Save Our Schools NJ. Earlier this month, about one hundred parents, students and educators crammed the NJ State BOE headquarters to testify on the insanity of PARCC testing, and when NJBOE President Mark Biedron told a group of attendees that the state "can't force any kid to put their hands on a keyboard", Twitter and Facebook lit up. My blog post got almost 10,000 hits in the first 24 hours! 

Oh, and did I mention that the number of states participating in the PARCC is now down to 10?

Mississippi is the latest state to drop out

So, is it any wonder that in recent polling, the PARCC test is stinking like, well, CCRAP? 

Take a look at these numbers as reported in today's op-ed co-authored by Susan Cauldwell of Save Our Schools NJ and NJEA President Wendall Steinhauer:

  • 71% of parents say there is “too much emphasis” on these tests.
  • 77% worry that testing “takes time and money from other educational priorities.”
  • 81% worry that “teachers are forced to teach to the test.”
  • 80% worry that “too much of the school year is spent preparing for standardized tests.”
  • 78% want to limit the number of hours of testing.
  • 84% want to forbid standardized testing for students below third grade.
  • 66% want the right to have their children opt out of the tests.
  • 88% want test companies to disclose taxpayer-funded profits, while 87% want them to disclose their political donations.
  • 74% want to delay any decisions based on PARCC tests for two years until the results have been studied.

And 82% of parents want legislators to pass a “Bill of Rights” that provides transparency on high-stakes tests, including costs and uses of student data. Parents also want an explicit right to refuse the tests for their children. (emphasis mine)
The complete poll is here. Folks, this is huge. As someone who's run for office a few times, I can tell you these are numbers candidates only dream of. These are bigger than Nixon vs. McGovern. They're bigger than a landslide. They are, aptly, a blizzard!

If the state legislature doesn't act on them, they're just flat-out crazy, and should be held accountable by every voter in this state. Some State Board of Education members have told those of us who attend their meetings regularly that the best way to stop this madness is through the legislature. 

And speaking of the legislature, Save Our Schools NJ has posted information about two important new bills that will see some action this week: 1) prohibit PARCC from being used as a high school graduation requirement; and 2) protect students who opt out of PARCC and other high-stakes tests. SOSNJ says:
Two new bills, to push back against PARCC and other forms of high-stakes standardized testing, will be introduced by NJ Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan, Chair of the Assembly Education Committee, on Thursday, January 29th (postponed from Monday due to weather). The bills will be introduced in the Senate as well.
Christie's bags are packed for Iowa. His days in Drumthwacket are numbered. It's time for parents to turn up the heat on the state legislature and demand a stop to this torture and abuse of our children. On the right side of this page is a link for the NJ State Legislature. Click on it, find yours and demand they take action—NOW.

Cami's epic fail in the eye of another epic snowstorm

The only way you don't know about this is if you're sipping umbrella drinks pool-side in Cabo—or, apparently, you're Cami Anderson.

At 4:30pm yesterday, reported:
Blizzard warnings have been issued for northern and eastern New Jersey as a "crippling and potentially historic" storm sets its sights on the northeast.Snow totals could exceed two and a half feet. Drifts could be far higher. High winds will reduce visibilities to near zero.

Before 8pm last night they posted a list of school closings and delays, including early dismissal for Newark's TEAM and Link Charter Schools. Superintendent robo-calls went out state-wide last night to inform parents of their district's plans. I got my call. And in case anyone missed any of it, everyone took to social media to spread the news.

I saw a couple of posts from teachers in Newark who were pleading with Cami to make the call—any call: early dismissal, school closed, SOMETHING!

Instead, they got nothing. The superintendent of the state's largest school district which, in about 12 hours will be getting hammered by epic blizzard conditions, was silent. 

Does this sound familiar? Keep reading.

I live about 50 miles west of Newark. We're supposed to get about 20". Newark is supposed to get more. This morning I got a robo- call at 5am announcing my district is closed today. NJ Transit is warning commuters to expect significant service shutdowns. This storm is a BFD!

So, imagine my disgust when the Newark Parents Union—not Cami Anderson—posted on Twitter at 4am that the district had canceled all after school programs—but school was still open!

Then at 8am—when most parents are on their way to work and most kids are in transit to school—NPU tweeted that the district would go to a 1pm dismissal. 

I called a friend in the NPU and he told me that they—not the school district—had been fielding calls from frantic parents since 3am! He said the only way he knew about the delay was through teachers who were notified at 7:35 this morning!

My friend reports:

There was no robo call from the district. Parents found out at about 8:15am through the NPS app. Parents call us because the district never gets back to them about busing issues. This is going to be a huge mess because by the time parents were notified, they were already on their way to work, and kids were already on their way to school.  
The district can't even get to the kids when the sun is shining. I can't imagine what it will be like today. 
Many of our parents work in New York City. There was no time to contact their employers to let them know. They have to get in and out of the City in a very short amount of time under really bad conditions. Other parents work at hourly-wage jobs. They had no chance to make plans.
Many of our teachers commute from the suburbs. How many are simply going to call out today? Who will sub?
This wasn't something that came up unexpectedly. We all knew the storm was coming. The county sent out a robo-call yesterday that there would be no parking on county roads—many of which are in our school neighborhoods. 
Parents are being told to pick their child up at their school.

And as we all know, thanks to Cami's brilliant One Newark plan, many families have multiple children attending multiple schools all over the district. Do the math. It all adds up to a potential disaster this afternoon.

Why does this all sound vaguely familiar? Because Cami did the exact same thing last year during a major snowstorm, and Bob Braun called for her resignation:

Cami Anderson, appointed by Gov. Chris Christie three years ago to run the Newark schools, should resign immediately because she represents a danger to the children and employees of New Jersey’s largest city. More than a week ago, she kept the schools open in Newark when all the schools in Essex and neighboring counties were closed–including Newark charter schools. Today, she did not order the schools closed until many children and employees were on their way or already in school. Most charter schools were closed by 7 a.m.

Read the entire post. It is simply mind-boggling that this woman is allowed to remain in her position. Where is the 'accountability' for her? I hope the joint legislative committee that grilled her a couple of weeks ago reads this—and takes some action!

I pray for the good people of Newark. Travel safely today. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

How two Jersey Girls ended school segregation before Brown v. Board

Being a life-long Jersey Girl, I thought I knew a thing or two about the Garden State. Despite our bad reputation (Unreal Housewives, Jersey Shore wannabees, mobsters, corruption, oil refineries, property taxes, pollution), New Jersey isn't such a bad place. We've got a swimmable ocean and skiable mountains. Despite Gov. Christie's best efforts, we still have one of the best public education systems in the country. No one grows better corn, tomatoes, blueberries or cranberries (and yes, I'll take that bet). We have the best—and most—diners in the country. We have to because we have the most people per square mile, and when we all want our Taylor Ham (not pork roll) and cheese on a roll, our diners must deliver! We're smack-dab between two cultural mega centers: NYC and Philly. We've got beautiful state parks and preserved farmland, funky urban centers and lots and lots of suburbs. 

We also have highly segregated and impoverished inner cities, which play an important role in the story I'm going to tell.

The state is home to many firsts. The light bulb, phonograph and motion picture projector were all invented here. The first baseball game was played here. The first Miss America pageant was held here in Atlantic City, home to the world's longest boardwalk and Monopoly's street names. The first Indian Reservation was founded here. The first drive-in theatre was opened here. Modern paleontology began here.

We even have an elephant hotel named Lucy. 

Yes, this is real
A boatload of people who've made significant contributions to American history, science, sports, the arts and culture were born here. The list is way too long, but here are just a few notables: Buzz Aldrin, Count Basie, Judy Blume, Grover Cleveland, Jon Bon Jovi, Whitney Houston, Norman Mailer, Jack Nicholson, Paul Robeson, Queen Latifah, Dorothy Parker, Shaq, Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen and Meryl Streep. 

So, imagine my surprise when I learned that two Jersey Girls led the fight for the desegregation of the nation's public schools right here in Trenton, a full decade before the 1954 US Supreme Court's landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. 

Moms in Action!

This weekend I attended the 41st Annual New Jersey Education Association Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Human Rights Celebration where the 2010-2011 second grade classes of Mrs. Kristine Burns and Ms. Susan Shields of Hedgepeth-Williams School—the former Junior 2 School—educated the audience on how their school became the first desegregated school in the United States. 

This is the book they wrote and illustrated. The ISBN# is 978-0-9914233-0-9. It should be a staple in every public school library in this country. It tells the story of what happened when two Trenton moms fought racial discrimination and won. 

When a new neighborhood school, Junior 2, would not allow Black children to attend, Leon Williams was forced to walk 5 miles to attend Lincoln School. There he met and befriended Janet Hedgepeth. After their appeals to the local board of education fell on deaf ears, their moms, Gladys Hedgepeth and Berline Williams, sued the Trenton Board of Education and won. 

Jersey moms fight back!

The real Gladys Hedgepeth and Berline Williams
 The book says,
On January 31, 1944, the New Jersey Supreme Court said, "It is unlawful for boards of education to exclude children from any public school on the grounds that they are of the Negro race." 
Our amazing school was the first to let Black kids in, even though Junior 2 was "Not built for Negroes." 
That made New Jersey the first state to MAKE public schools let Black kids in to any school.

When history repeats itself, we must never forget

In an era when public education is reverting back to 'separate and unequal', when 'edupreneures' seek to profit off the invention of 'failing' schools and 'bad' teachers, when funding for public education is being slashed to the bone, when those who dare to speak the truth about the racial disparities of education 'reform' are bullied and intimidated, when public schools in our poor, urban cities are closed and converted to charters that weed out the most challenging to educate, when those who need the most from our public schools are actually losing the most, when concerned parents are characterized as nothing more than Chicken Littles, it's stories like this one that need shouting from the mountaintops! As Margaret Mead said, 
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.

While this is what happened when two concerned parents said, 'Enough!' to separate and unequal education, it's also the story of the thousands of New Jersey parents (and the millions across the country) whose collective voices are united in a chorus shouting, 'Enough!' to the re-segregation, the cuts, the standardized testing, the 'rigor', the 'accountability' and the privatization of one of the most democratic institutions in our democratic society.

While Dr. King must be rolling in his grave at what is happening to public education today, I hope he sees that his dream has not been lost. The tide is turning. The fight to defend public education is only growing. Parents across this state and country are leading the fight. And we will win.

Rest assured, Dr. King, we will get to the mountaintop.

Educators who made a difference

Thank you, Mrs. Burns and Ms. Shields for being excellent teachers. Thank you for providing the time, space and guidance that allowed your young charges to own and share one of the most important moments in New Jersey history.

I leave you with this quote from the book's Introduction:
A further outgrowth of this project developed when a student suggested that our first African American president should visit our school. This child had clearly made the connection between the pivotal role that the Hedgepeth-Williams story played towards our nation eventually electing a president of African American descent and the need for President Obama to visit the school where it all started. This landmark decision set the precedent that the rest of the country would follow; a full ten years later.

Mr. President, are you listening? 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

UPDATE: @NJCSA hires Darth Vader to suppress charter school study

The Empire Strikes Back

Last week I reported that, in what many feel is a blatant attempt to suppress first amendment rights, the New Jersey Charter Schools Association filed state ethics charges against Rutgers Professor Julia Sass Rubin after she and Rutgers doctoral student Mark Weber (aka. ed blogger Jersey Jazzman) released a study showing the glaring disparities in student populations between the state's charter and traditional public schools. 

Who did the NJCSA hire to file these charges and run the spin? Darth Vader. 

That's what the Center for Media and Democracy called Michael Turner, the ex-Bush and Christie PR hired gun that the NJ Charter Schools Association paid to attack Julia and Mark's research. 
They profile Turner's career as an employee of the MWW Group, a PR firm that brainstorms how to "discredit opposition" such as the Interfaith Community Organization, the Meadowlands Conservation Trust and the Hackensack Riverkeeper." 

Turner founded Burton Public Affairs in 2010. This is how he advertises his services:

"A lot of the clients who retain my services recognize its a must win situation and they are willing to compensate me well for my more aggressive practice of the art." (emphasis mine)
Because it's all about the some children, right?

Sunday, January 11, 2015

@NJCSA Attacks 1st Amendment Rights

When the facts aren't on your side...
When you're up against the wall...
When you've been caught with your hand in the cookie jar...

You take the cheap shot. 

That's what the New Jersey Charter Schools Association did last week when they filed ethics charges against Rutgers Professor Julia Sass Rubin who, along with doctoral student Mark Weber (aka. Jersey Jazzman) published this study on the segregationist practices of the state's charter schools which concludes what we already knew (from JJ's post):

New Jersey's charter schools do not serve nearly as many children in economic disadvantage, who have special education needs, or who are English language learners as their host districts' schools. 

Here's the crux of the NJCSA's complaint:
As an association of educators [more on this below], the NJCSA embraces the right of all educators to speak on matters of public debate. But the NJCSA and its members will not stand by as Dr. Sass Rubin devalues the reputation of our State University, a reputation that has been earned over years of excellence in research and academic achievement, to endorse her personal opinions and advance her personal advocacy interests. Because Dr. Sass Rubin has promised two further ‘studies,’ the NJCSA has filed this complaint today to ensure appropriate corrective action is taken before Dr. Sass Rubin releases her personal views as Rutgers research and creates further embarrassment for Rutgers University. (emphasis mine)
Does anyone besides me find it interesting that this press release is not on the NJCSA's website? I mean c'mon, this is big 'reformy' news! Sadly, I found it on the uber-'reformy' and always entertaining (for its sheer lack of veracity) NJ Left Behind blog

Why? Maybe because the NJCSA knows it got caught red handed. Maybe because they know these are not Julia and JJ's personal opinions. The data they presented is right out there for the whole world to see on the NJ DOE website—data that the charter schools themselves reported. There was nothing to OPRA. Any 5th grader who knows how to do a simple web search can easily find it. 


They're backed into a corner and have nothing left to do but pull a trick out of the bag of their biggest cheerleader: Gov Christie. They launched a personal attack. They skirted the real issues and went for the low-blow. Educator/blogger Peter Greene reports
The NJCSA is behaving like a punk, and like a weak punk at that who lacks the tools or the skills to come at Rubin and Weber directly. And they have more work to do, because as Weber points out on his own blog, the conclusions have already been acknowledged as the truth by ['reformy' Newark Superintendent] Cami Anderson and ['reformy' Camden Superintendent] Paymon Rouhanifard, so NJCSA better start ginning up a full scale job-threatening division for the entire state.
Retired Star Ledger reporter turned investigative blogger extraordinaire, Bob Braun reports on his Facebook page:

(My note: In the press release NJCSA calls itself an "association of educators". In addition to what Bob Braun lists below, I added what is also known about the board members, charter schools and other organizations with which they are associated, including links to other posts and information, and indicated in green or red whether or not they are actual educators. In some instances I was not able to find conclusive evidence whether or not the individual has a degree in education. If anyone does find evidence, please let me know. I do want to be accurate. There is a big difference between someone who works in education vs someone who is actually trained as an educator and has K-12 teaching experience.)

Back to Braun's post:
HERE ARE THE BOARD MEMBERS OF THE NEW JERSEY CHARTER SCHOOL ASSOCIATION. CONTACT THEM AND DEMAND THEY WITHDRAW STATE ETHICS CHARGES AGAINST JULIA SASS RUBIN. I think it's a hoot that Dawood Farahi, the president of Kean, and Ryan Hill, executive director of TEAM Academy, are on the board. Farahi and his odd resume and his $210,000 executive piece of office furniture--and Ryan Hill and his involvement in "Pink Hula Hoop." They have the nerve to file ethics charges against anyone? And, hey, look–a Rutgers administrator is on the board–does she issue a disclaimer every time she speaks? Does her presence on the board mean Rutgers is in favor of charter schools, and defends their abuses in Newark, Jersey City, Camden and other cities? This is just the beginning, guys. The Ledger and will tire of using your press releases but you started something. (emphasis mine)
Mr. Carlos Perez, (former) NJCSA President and CEO No 
Mr. Rick Pressler, Interim President and CEO No
Mr. Carlos Lejnieks, Board Chair, CEO, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Essex, Hudson and Union Counties. Jersey Jazzman wrote about the dubious connection between the Hoboken (Hudson Co.) Boys and Girls Club and HoLa Charter School. No
Mr. Ryan Hill, Secretary, Founder and CEO, TEAM Charter Schools, a KIPP region Yes—less than 5 years actual teaching experience, including 2 with TFA.
Mr. Timothy White, Chair, Advocacy Committee, Vice President, Public Affairs, Beckerman Public Relations No
Ms. Meredith Pennotti, Chair, Members Council, School Leader and Principal, Red Bank Charter School, one of the most segregated in the state. Unable to determine her college degree(s). The fact that she is a principal sways me to say Yes.
Ms. Mashea M. Ashton, CEO, Newark Charter School Fund Yes
Mr. Ronald Brady, Regional Director, Democracy Prep Charter Schools No
Ms. Sharon Brennan, Program Analyst, Robert Treat Academy Charter School, one of the most segregated charters in NewarkI'm saying No. I was only able to find the college she attended, not her college degree(s). She does not list teaching in her Linkedin profile. She was endorsed for teacher training by 1 person.
Dr. Dawood Farahi, President, Kean University Yes
Ms. Wanda Garcia, Associate Director, Rutgers-Camden Community Leadership Center which is run by Gloria Bonilla-Santiago who also runs LEAP Charter School about which Jersey Jazzman has written extensivelyNo. She is listed as having an MSW. Although she works at Rutgers, I cannot find any information that lists her as an instructor. 
Mr. Paul P. Josephson, Partner, Duane Morris, LLP, Board Chair Princeton Charter School, one of the most segregated charter schools in the stateNo
Ms. Shelley Skinner, Executive Director, Better Education Institute, Inc. aka. B4K of Derrell Bradford, David Tepper and Alan Fournier fame. No 

The following is a list of NJCSA staff and their 'education credentials':  
Marcy Bostwick, Manager New School Development No 
Jennifer M. Bredehoft, Director of Growth and Development No 
Brian Diamante, School Quality Analyst No 
Donna Siminski, Director of Policy and Advocacy No 
Amanda Vega, Manager of Communications and Marketing No 
Carrie Wetherby, Manager of Membership and Events No

There you have it, folks. Out of 19 people who run this organization, a grand total of four are actually trained educators. However, if you're talking 'reformy' educators, well now, that's a completely different story. In 'reform land' pesky little details like that don't matter. But money... biiiiig, juuuuuuicy, corporate and philanthropic money? That means a lot! And NJCSA has a lot to lose if too many state legislators, and concerned parents and citizens start making a big to-do about Rubin and Weber's research. We're talking at least $2.16 million. That's how much The Walton Family Foundation has given NJCSA from 2009-2013So they are scrambling to spin the blame away from them and onto Julia .

It's perfectly okay for them to spew half-truths and outright misinformation on charter school successes. It's perfectly okay for them to do nothing about the segregation taking place in their schools. But boy-oh-boy, don't you dare call them out on it or they will do everything in their power to take away your right to free speech! They will attack you personally, and completely avoid the facts as presented. Check out Julia's defense on Twitter:

These are thug tactics, but I know Julia and Mark are not intimidated in the least. We all need to be very concerned about the outcome of this intimidation. Suppression of free speech and the elimination of public education are the beginning of the end of democracy.


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

#QOTD: NJ BOE President drops bombshell

What could top an unprecedented number of people testifying at today's NJ State Board of Ed meeting? What could top the number of parents who, on a brutally cold January day, pulled their kids out of school so they could accompany them? What could top the overwhelming call for the state to ditch—or at least greatly scale back—PARCC testing?


"We know we can't force any kid to put their hands on a keyboard."

That quote came from NJ State BOE President Mark Biedron after testimony wrapped in his hearing room and an impromptu Q&A about standardized testing ensued. Susan Cauldwell of Save Our Schools New Jersey was in the room and captured it word-for-word.

Biedron is from my neighborhood: Hunterdon County. He is a Christie appointee, but he doesn't come with that stereotypical pedigree. He owns a private school, The Willow School, in neighboring Somerset County, and is very much an environmentalist

Soon after he was appointed to the board, he came to my school and met with my local president and me for about 90 minutes to talk about education policy, including the latest 'reforms'. While we didn't agree on everything, I found him to be deeply passionate about education, but not in that 'reformy' kind of way. There did seem to be a middle ground. 

Last year when NJEA delivered thousands of member letters to the board about the flaws in the new evaluation system, he told me that he intended to read every one of them. I believed him. When state legislators didn't show up for our county legislative dinners, he did. I was thankful for that.

So, when he was appointed President of the NJ State Board of Ed in 2014, I was hopeful. Today, I am more so. 

There has been so much confusion and misinformation coming from the state department of education regarding PARCC testing requirements. Seemingly every week there's a new announcement, a new policy or a new graduation requirement. To those of us who hang around the BOE, this isn't surprising. It's almost like they do it on purpose to keep everyone guessing—or they just don't know what they're doing (my money's on the latter). But for the tens of thousands of parents out there who are suddenly very much concerned about what's coming down the pike in March and May, this is real cause for anxiety.

For Biedron to say this in public is huge. Print it out and attach it to your opt-out letter. This is a game-changer.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

2014 Education Recap: The Good, The Bad, The 'Reformy'

Happy New Year!

In my humble opinion 2014 was a watershed year for public education. While there were plenty of knuckle-headed 'reform' policies and decisions, there were also some big wins, a lot of small victories and the beginnings of a shift in public opinionSo, let's take a walk down memory lane and look back on the good, the bad and the 'reformy'. 

'The bad' and 'reformy'

While there have been many horror stories from around the country, these had me scratching my head more than most:
  • Stanford's CREDO Director, Dr. Margaret Raymond says the free market approach doesn't work in public education. Raymond made this statement at a conference in which she spoke about CREDO's latest study. Blogger, professor and attorney Stephen Dyer reported that, "Considering that the pro-market reform Thomas B. Fordham Foundation paid for this study and Raymond works at the Hoover Institution at Stanford — a free market bastion, I was frankly floored, as were most of the folks at my table."
  • One Newark. Because sending 4 kids from the same family to 4 different schools around the city, often without school district-provided transportation, and sometimes through dangerous neighborhoods is a really, really good idea. And that's just the beginning of this hot mess.
  • Arne Duncan's latest: he wants college teacher programs to be accountable for their students' students' outcomes. No, I am not kidding.
  • The York, PA public school district becomes the next 'Post-Katrina New Orleans' school district.
  • The rise of Campbell Brown. Because America needs another non-educator talking head with a lot of secret money behind her pushing through policies that will ultimately damage public education, which leads us to...
  • The Vergara decision. Money, power and influence deal a huge blow to teacher tenure and open the floodgates for similar litigation nationwide. Brown is leading the charge in New York State. California Gov. Jerry Brown is appealing the ruling.

The really, really good!

This week The Network for Public Education published its Top Ten "Why We Will Win" Stories of 2014, and what an inspiring list it is! There are actually 11 items on the list—how could any one of them be left off? Be sure to check out the full description of each at the NPE website.

  • The Common Core and PARCC/Smarter Balance are bloodied and on the ropes. States are dropping both as the reality of 'high-stakes' sinks in. Click on this interactive map to see what's going on in your state.
  • Race to the Top was completely defunded in the 2015 omnibus bill. If there is no money to fund the program, will the program cease to exist?
  • The collapse of data-collection giant, inBloom, was a big win for parents and education activists in New York, and further proof that Bill Gates' money is no match for the power of the people.
  • The first annual NPE Conference in Austin, TX proved that the push to save public education is only growing stronger. The next one is set for April 25-26 in Chicago.
  • Pro-public education candidates are being elected in states all across the country despite being outspent by truly sinful amounts of 'reformy' money. Further proof that money can't always buy elections. Here's who NPE endorsed in 2014.
  • Michelle Rhee's education 'reform' policies have been exposed for what they were from the start: failures. Her departure from her grass-roots astroturf organization, Students First, is another symbol of the 'reform' movement's weakening.
  • Louis CK takes America's growing frustrations with the Common Core and standardized testing prime time. Check out his appearance on David Letterman.
  • 2014—The year of the education author. Still looking for a last minute holiday gift? Or maybe you want to get a jump on this year's gift list? Well, 2014 was a banner year for books written about public education by public educators and those who support public education. Check out NPE's list. Pasi Sahlberg's follow-up to his Finnish Lessons hits this year, too.
  • Teach for America loses steam. The WalMart of teacher training programs is closing its NY City training facility blaming "a contentious national dialogue around education and teaching in general, and TFA in particular." Imagine that.
  • Two Oklahoma first grade teachers just said, "No!" to testing their students and refused to administer the MAP test.
  • Could an end to standardized testing really be in sight? Republican aides are working on a reauthorization bill for No Child Left Behind that would end the federal mandate on standardized testing, leaving those decisions to individual states. 

News from New Jersey

I'm happy to report there has been significant progress in New Jersey. Although Newark, Camden and other mostly poor, minority urban areas are still under the 'separate and unequal' thumb of Gov. Christie and NJ Education Commissioner David Hespe, parents, students and education professionals across the Garden State are pushing back like never before, and that momentum is only growing. In no particular order, here are some of my personal Jersey favorites:
  • The rise of the opt-out movement. Commissioner Hespe's statement at the NJEA Convention in November that he was unaware of any opt-out movement in the state lit up the NJ Opt-Out Facebook page and Twitter feed, and ramped-up the group's outreach and advocacy. Hespe may soon regret uttering those words. The next open topic NJBOE meeting is January 7th and I expect it will be standing room only. 
  • 77 Newark ministers and religious leaders denounce One Newark. They signed a letter to Gov. Christie denouncing Superintendent Cami Anderson's One Newark plan. More on this disastrous plan below.
  • The Delran Education Association threw down the gauntlet against standardized testing. The Delran EA is leading the way in the state-wide push back against the overemphasis of standardized testing. Their showing of 'Standardized' followed by their highly successful 'Take the PARCC' event and publication of their position statement on high-stakes standardized testing was followed by their Superintendent and board of education passing a similar resolution that respects the rights of parents to make decisions that are in the best interest of their children, including opting out. The district will accommodate students who are not taking the test. Many other county and local education associations are now hosting their own events to engage and involve parents.
  • The analysis of One Newark by Jersey Jazzman, Dr. Bruce Baker and Dr. Joseph Oluwole proved that the plan discriminates against poor, minority and special needs students, and minority teachers. I am so happy these guys live and work in New Jersey!
  • The election of Ras J. Baraka as Mayor of Newark. Despite the millions of ed 'reform' dollars poured into the race, the people of Newark handed 'reformers' a resounding defeat by electing this Principal of Central High School to the city's highest office.
  • NJ's pension trustees file suit against Gov. Christie for failing to make the required pension payments he signed into law. What does this have to do with public education? Plenty! State lawmakers have been raiding the fund for decades. If the system collapses, the biggest losers will be the state employees, many of whom are education professionals. Underfunding the pension system is one more tool 'reformers' use to weaken teacher unions and public education. New Jersey has one of the best public education systems in the country and one of the strongest education associations in the country, and that's no coincidence. If you want excellent educators, you have to be able to attract, train and retain them. People simply won't go into teaching if they cannot afford to support themselves and their families.
  • Study finds NJ charter schools serve a different population than traditional public schools. Jersey Jazzman and Rutgers Professor Julia Sass Rubin crunch the numbers and their evidence is irrefutable: NJ charters simply do not serve as many at-risk, LEP and special needs students as their public school counterparts.
  • NJEA members pushed back against the rush to implement too many unfunded mandates too fast and came up with a big win. The evidence was clear: the State DOE's rush to fully implement the new evaluation system (AchieveNJ), PARCC and the CCSS all in one year was crushing districts and educators. Hundreds of parents and educators testified at State BOE meetings. Thousands more wrote letters. In the end, the NJDOE listened. The biggest victory was their decision to reduce the weight of student standardized test scores to 10% for 2015.
  • Student protests in Newark. The Newark Student Union is a force to be reckoned with. Just when you thought the younger generation was too apathetic, the students of Newark rose up. In 2014 they walked out, stood up, sat down, protested, got arrested, shut down major Newark arteries, and continued to fight back against the 'reform' machine. They are smart, passionate and committed to protecting their right to a thorough and efficient public education. Watch for more great advocacy from them in 2015.
  • The bloggers and activists. Along with the best tomatoes, corn, blueberries and cranberries in the US (and we can have that debate over the summer), New Jersey is home to some of the best ed bloggers and activists in the country! Yes, I'm biased, but seriously, can you argue with the big 3 bloggers:
Jersey Jazzman (aka Mark Weber): From coast to coast, JJ chews up and spits out 'reformy' rhetoric with lightening speed, solid research and biting wit. 
SchoolFinance101 (aka Dr. Bruce Baker): While he may not be as well-known to the general education public as JJ, Bruce is a nationally recognized scholar in the field of school funding policy and a professor at Rutgers University. His name and/or research is attached to a great deal of scholarly work on education 'reform' madness, especially school funding. In addition to mountains of irrefutable evidence, his blog posts are full of acerbic wit and humor. 
Bob Braun: This former Star Ledger reporter has found his calling in retirement. No other blogger has done more to expose the complete incompetence of Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson's administration. He is a one-man accountability meter, and he's got the folks down at Two Cedar Street running scared.  
And this list ain't too shabby: This is a partial list of bloggers and organizations fighting to preserve public education in NJ, and doesn't even scratch the surface of all the individuals who are out there making a difference every day. If I made a complete list, I'd be here all day, and I do want to post this on New Year's Day. So, please add any additional individual names or groups along with links to their websites or blogs in the comments section below and I will update. The fact that I may forget to list a person or group is proof that 'The Fight', as I call it, is alive and well! All names in blue have links on the right side of this page: Blue Jersey, TeacherBiz, Save Our Schools NJ, Mother Crusader, Melissa Katz, Sarah Blaine Tepper, Stephen Danley, The NJ BATs, NJ SpotlightThe Newark Parents Union, NJ Working Families Alliance, The Education Law Center.  

A special thank you to Diane Ravitch, Anthony Cody, The Network for Public Education, Jonathan Pelto and all the great bloggers at the Education Bloggers Network. 

May you all have a healthy and happy New Year!

"The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dreams shall never die." 
~ Sen. Ted Kennedy