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 opinion. So, 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-rootsastroturf 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 Spotlight, The 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