Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Star Ledger's Tom Moran is absolutely right!

Last week broke some kind of record. The Star Ledger started the week with a front page expose on the cost of the PARCC exam (no one really knows), and then, not one, not two, but three pieces of 'reformy' education propaganda appeared on its op-ed page. 

Education blogger Stephen Danley made mincemeat of the third one even before it hit the presses. More Camden schools are being closed and turned over to charters, and the good people of that city have no say because the Camden Advisory Board of Education is "accountable to one group, and one group only: our children." Lucky for them because if they were accountable to the taxpayers, things would be very different. Please read and share Stephen's excellent piece. We must continue to expose the denial of democracy in that city.

But back to the first two...

Jersey Jazzman, Ani McHugh and I have called out Tom Moran on his blind faith in education 'reform' numerous times, but for whatever reason, he refuses to take off his rose-colored glasses. So, I am throwing in the towel. I surrender! Tom Moran is absolutely right. "This hysteria about the PARCC exam needs to stop." This test will save humanity! Corporations, hedge fund managers and billionaires really are altruistically trying to save America's public schools (the ones their kids don't attend). There is no profit-making going on. It's all a conspiracy theory. We're all 'tin foil hat' crazies. Dear God, how could I not have known? 


Friends, we need to stop running around like Chicken Little ranting that the sky is falling in on public education. It is vitally important that we stop the hysterics and focus on this test because...

[T]here is a broader public purpose here, one much more important than taking pot shots at the PARCC. One of the main reasons we need this standardized test is for parents in struggling districts like Camden or Newark, who would otherwise have no way of knowing whether their kids are in a failing school. The whining of parents in districts that don't have to worry about that sort of thing shouldn't take precedence. (emphasis mine)
Wow, I had no idea the PARCC opt-out movement was just a bunch of 'white suburban moms' being too overprotective. I thought parents in Newark and Camden were just as ticked off about it as the rest of us. But I guess Tom is right. It doesn't matter that far too many urban public schools are underfunded, falling apart, and have high concentrations of high poverty students. Parents in low income urban areas need this test to tell them how bad their public schools are because they are too ignorant to know any better, so suburban parents should just suck it up and force their kids to take this test for their sake. 

It doesn't matter that the test is flawed. It doesn't matter that the test is developmentally inappropriate, especially for special needs students. It doesn't matter that the test is not diagnostic. It doesn't matter that teachers, parents and students won't be able to see the answers. It doesn't matter that the prep and administration of this test has taken countless instructional hours out of the school day. It doesn't matter that school districts are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on tech upgrades for this unfunded mandate. It doesn't matter that many students have purposely thrown their test answers because they know it doesn't count for them this year. It doesn't matter that many teachers' jobs will be on the line because of those thrown tests. It doesn't matter that this test was never properly vetted nor piloted. 

But what do I know? I'm just a teacher. What do education researchers like Jersey Jazzman, Dr. Bruce Baker, Dr. Chris Tienken, Dr. Julia Sass Rubin, Dr. Diane Ravitch or any of the other researchers and bloggers who've been exposing the for-profit motives and flawed methods behind education 'reform' know for that matter? What do the parents who've taken the sample PARCC tests—and failed miserably—know? 

None of that matters because according to Moran, this test is the 'Great White Hope', that will finally defeat poverty in our mostly minority, urban areas. But that big, bad teachers union is messing things up:
"With the added variable of a multi-million dollar campaign against the test by the teacher's union, which doesn't want the PARCC to factor into teacher evaluations, the collective freak-out has reached a crescendo."
What a load of malarky! 

Yes, parents in poor urban areas need the test scores from kids in rich white districts to tell them their schools are 'failing'. And the teachers union is just messing everything up because, you know, The Gates Foundation, The Broad Foundation, Students First, The Koch Brothers, The Walton Foundation, they are the only ones spending millions of dollars on campaigns that push their education message.

I wonder how he'd feel if cardiologists were held accountable for their patients' health after McDonalds managed to convince America that Big Macs would cure heart disease? 

I am stopping short of calling Moran a liar because when one lies, they deliberately mean to deceive. I don't think Moran means to deceive. I think he is in denial like birthers, climate deniers and vaccine opponents who blindly cling to faith-based beliefs in the face of overwhelming research and evidence.

And he calls us conspiracy theorists...

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Can God save the children from #PARCC?

This is the worst PARCC story I've heard:

A friend of mine who lives in one of New Jersey's many wealthy suburbs with excellent schools and parents who routinely hire tutors for their children as early as first grade was with her daughter at a children's Stations of the Cross event at her church. 

The 14 Stations of the Cross are specific locations or 'stations' throughout the nave of a church where small sculptures or paintings depict the Passion of Christ starting with his condemnation to death and ending with his body being placed in the tomb. To 'do the stations' one moves through them chronologically, praying or reflecting at each stop. Every Catholic religious instruction program teaches children how to do this during Lent. 

In this particular program hands-on activities were set up at each station. Children could write notes about any number of things as they related to the stations: people they needed to forgive; people from whom they needed forgiveness; things for which they were sorry; things they wanted to do better; etc. 

At the station where Jesus carries his cross children were to reflect on their burdens. The cross is a symbol of man's imperfections. When Jesus carried it, he was carrying the sins of all mankind. Any burden from which a child wanted relief could be written on a sticky note and placed on the cross. My friend said that there were approximately 100 notes on the cross, and written on about a quarter of them was one word: PARCC.

The PARCC test is not educational best practice. It is educational malpractice. Our children are being set up to fail. And when they fail, their teachers and their schools suffer the consequences. This is a terrible burden to place on children. It is abusive and it has to stop. And the only way it will stop is if enough parents refuse to allow our children to be subjected to it. If no one shows up to take the test, there is no test.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

A 'close read' of reformy #PARCC rhetoric

On March 11, The Asbury Park Press ran this op-ed by NJEA President Wendall Steinhauer in which he rightly claimed, "PARCC and other high-stakes tests, by their nature, become the point of learning. High scores are the goal, not just the result."

On March 13, the paper ran this response from Dr. Sandra Alberti with whom Steinhauer engaged in a friendly PARCC debate on NJ 101.5 back in January. Alberti works at Student Achievement Partners, which was founded by the lead writers of the Common Core State Standards including David (people really don’t give a sh*t about what you feel or what you think) Coleman.

As an homage to the Common Core's 'close reading' technique, below is my analysis of Dr. Alberti's piece. Part of the package of 'reforms' that includes Common Core State Standards and high-stakes testing, Pearson defines Close Reading as:   

Close, analytic reading stresses engaging with a text of sufficient complexity directly and examining meaning thoroughly and methodically, encouraging students to read and reread deliberately. Directing student attention on the text itself empowers students to understand the central ideas and key supporting details. It also enables students to reflect on the meanings of individual words and sentences; the order in which sentences unfold; and the development of ideas over the course of the text, which ultimately leads students to arrive at an understanding of the text as a whole. (PARCC, 2011, p. 7)
One of the best books ever for 8 yr. olds

In other words: your job as a reader isn't to react emotionally to a text because no one cares anyway (did you click on that David Coleman link above?). No, you just need to read it and understand what the author means. The process involves extensive annotation. Students are required to highlight sections of text and write questions, thoughts and ideas about what the author means in the margins or on sticky notes. I have real concerns about this approach, but hey, what do I know? I'm only an art teacher. But if my now 23 year old son, who read every single Captain Underpants book multiple times and laughed his butt off in the process, told me he had to do a close read of those books when he was 8, I'd have raised a ruckus. But, I'll give it the 'old college (and career) try'.

Quotes from Dr. Alberti's piece are in red. My 'close read' comments follow.

[the NJEA] is spending millions of dollars on a campaign to propagate anti-testing sentiment.
  • How many hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on the 'campaign to propagate' the myths of 'failing students', 'failing schools' and 'lazy teachers' over the past few years?
  • How many billions of dollars in public education funding has Gov. Christie slashed? 
  • How many millions of dollars have school districts lost to failed school 'choice' programs like charter schools?

One of the top priorities of any educator is to enhance student learning. Tests serve as tools to evaluate and support progress. Until the introduction of the PARCC test, most standardized assessments did little more than provide a score, so parents and students focused on the results rather than the learning.
  • The PARCC test is not diagnostic, so how will it "enhance student learning"?
  • The PARCC only offers a score. Teachers, students and parents are not allowed to see the test questions, so how can we analyze student work?
  • Where is the proof that teacher-designed assessments aren't diagnostic?
  • Where is the proof that teacher-designed assessments are an inferior tool? 

According to a recent survey, 79 percent of teachers said PARCC is a higher-quality assessment than previous state tests. 
This statement is misleading for a number of reasons:
  • Based on Alberti's own source, the survey was not done on a random sample of all teachers in the US. Rather, it was the result of feedback from "1,000 classroom teachers... who extensively analyzed the PARCC assessment" as part of a Teach Plus training seminar for which they were paid. (emphasis mine)
  • According to their website, "Teach Plus runs three programs designed to place teacher leaders at the center of reform: Teaching Policy Fellows, the Core Collaborative (C2), and T3: Turnaround Teacher Teams." (emphasis mine). According to Leonie Haimson of Parents Across America and Class Size Matters, words like 'reform' and 'turnaround' are key buzzwords for organizations associated with the corporate education 'reform' agenda. 
  • According to her profile, Teach Plus CEO Celine Coggins "started her career as a classroom teacher in Worcester, Massachusetts", yet she does not have a degree in K-12 education. I know nothing about Coggins, but I do know that in order to teach in a public school, one has to have a license. So, I'm very curious as to where and how she taught. 
  • Coggins is "a National Center for Teacher Quality advisor, an Aspen Institute Education Fellow, and a Mind Trust Education Entrepreneurship Fellow." All three of these organizations are associated with the corporate education 'reform' agenda.  

Whatever we decide to do with the results of this instrument is a separate conversation. The PARCC assessment, more than any other standardized assessment we have had in the past, is aligned to good instruction. 
  • It's not a separate conversation. Unlike any other standardized test, the results of this test are very clear: a teacher can be the best of the best, but if her students don't hit their cut scores, she can lose her job. And if enough students in a school score poorly, the school can be targeted for closure or other punitive measures.
  • Where is the proof that this assessment "is aligned to good instruction"? I have seen no long term, peer-reviewed studies, but I have seen plenty of evidence on sample PARCC questions that suggests it is deeply flawed and in many cases developmentally inappropriate.

Because PARCC aligns with New Jersey's academic standards, teachers are beginning to realize that they're not spending nearly as much time preparing students for the test in a way that interrupts education. How do you prepare students to analyze texts or solve rich math problems? You teach. Not drill. Teach.
  • Please cite your evidence. I am very suspect of blanket statements such as this. The math and language arts teachers with whom I work have been overwhelmed this entire school year preparing their students for the PARCC.
  • The NJASK was also aligned to NJ's state standards, and teachers still taught to the test. But the stakes for the PARCC are so much higher that many districts have scaled back other subjects to make more room for math and language arts test prep.
  • The math and LA teachers who have testified at the NJ State BOE meetings over the past few years have all shared the stress and frustration of teaching to the tests.
  • The related arts teachers who have testified at the NJ State BOE meetings over the past few years have all shared the stress and frustration of seeing their programs cut.

However, the state adopted the new standards four years ago, and since then, teachers have had plenty of time and freedom to adjust their curricula. Faculty and administrators — even the NJEA — have praised the standards for allowing them to focus on the real priorities, and within the new framework, students have continued to prove that New Jersey's schools lead the nation.
  • Teachers have not had "plenty of time and freedom to adjust to their curricula". If Dr. Alberti attended any of the open topic State Board of Ed meetings over the past few years, she would have gotten an earful.
  • Teachers are now more constricted than ever before in what they can and cannot teach. Most of their PD time is spent on data collection and test prep strategies. This does not make for good teaching and learning. 
  • Yes, New Jersey's schools do lead the nation because we've always had exceptionally high state standards, and the NJASK was tied to those standards. But what will the PARCC scores tell us when a quick Twitter search of #PARCC reveals so many stories of students purposely throwing their essay answers either because they don't value the test or they're trying to get rid of a teacher they don't like?
  • The NJEA does support the CCSS (this teacher does not) and quality assessments, but the NJEA does not support deeply-flawed and developmentally inappropriate ones like the PARCC. 

We need more technology in our schools. That is not an issue created by PARCC, but we know more about it because of PARCC. 
  • It definitely is an issue created by PARCC. Some early childhood experts recommend far less student exposure to technology than what is now happening in our schools.
  • Will Dr. Alberti be advocating for state laws that allow local school districts to bill the state for all the expenses incurred under this massive unfunded mandate?

We need support for teachers in professional learning opportunities.
  • Agreed. But there is no time for that because too many in- house PD opportunities these days are consumed with data collection and PARCC test prep.

Just imagine if teachers and parents joined forces to offer support?
  • We have joined forces. The opt-out movement is growing exponentially every day. 
  • Parents aren't stupid. We see the change in our children's education, and we're not happy.

We're almost halfway through testing season, and we'll be administering the PARCC assessment again in May.
  • 'Testing season', I find that phrase offensive, especially since the 'season' has now doubled. 
  • I have heard from many librarians, art, music, PE, computer, student support and special ed teachers who are not teaching their students during PARCC testing because of... PARCC testing. 
  • This is not educational best practice. This is educational malpractice.
  • The PARCC takes precedence over all other forms of teaching and learning. Period.

Rather than listen to the shouts and rumors, parents and students would benefit from constructive dialogue, objective information and collaboration.
  • The "shouts and rumors" have been coming from the mainstream media, the NJ DOE and some school administrators as they try to convince, guilt and—dare I say bully—parents into forcing children to take this deeply flawed test.
  • For several months it seemed as though the NJDOE was changing its mind every week or so as it put out confusing and contradictory directives about the tests.
  • Parents and teachers are now working together to inform each other of the latest news and updates.

That is why the New Jersey PTA formed the We Raise NJ coalition. The coalition and the Department of Education pledged to support parents and educators as they help our children during this important transition.
  • The PTA is heavily funded by the Gates Foundation, so they have a vested interest in pushing the CCSS/PARCC agenda.
  • If the NJ PTA is so concerned, why did one of its members hide her affiliation when testifying before the PARCC study commission, claiming she was merely concerned parent in support of the PARCC?
  • Where was this commitment several years ago when the CCSS was being rolled out?
  • Where was this "pledge" when teachers were shouting from the mountaintops at NJ State Board of Education meetings that the roll out was too fast?  

The coalition is working to start a real dialogue with local voices across the state about the role standardized testing should play in our schools. 
  • "Start"? Why wasn't this dialogue included in the grand plan from the very beginning? Why weren't educators included in the original blueprint for this massive takeover of public education? The barn door was opened several years ago, and the horse is long gone. 

Giving up on PARCC now tells our children that their efforts did not matter.

"Giving up on PARCC now tells our children":
  • They are more than a test score
  • That the arts, foreign languages, physical education, humanities and other classes count just as much as math and language arts
  • That their opinions, thoughts and feelings count
  • That our society values human beings more than human doings
  • That we will never test our way out of poverty
  • That learning should be a labor of love, not hard labor
  • That corporate spying has no place in the classroom
Hmmm... guess I failed at this whole close reading thing. Guess I wrote too many thoughts and feelings instead of regurgitating what the author wrote. Oh well, I'd rather 'fail' by my own opinions than 'succeed' because I simply accept those of others.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Chris Christie: Governor Wack-A-Mole

Gov. Christie wants America to believe he tells it like it is. He wants us to believe he's not afraid to stand up for his beliefs, and he says his record proves it. Last week at CPAC Christie sat down with conservative commentator, Laura Ingrahm for a Q&A on a range of topics, and let America know that:

"I care about fighting the fights that are worth fighting"

Except that based on his record, the only fights he deems worthy of fighting are against his constituents, not for them. While other states in the region have recovered from the Great Recession, NJ is still in a post-recession shambles, with little to show for it but 7 credit downgrades and a second-to-last rank for job growth. Yea, I'm lovin' that 'Jersey Comeback'!

But boy-oh-boy, are his town hall meetings taxpayer-funded campaign stops a huge success! In case you couldn't get to one (because they're held during the day when most folks are at work) he's even got a You Tube channel with 7 pages of these things. (Full disclosure: I make an appearance in one of them). 

Whether it's having no regrets about calling a Navy Seal an idiot, ("He's an idiot. I don't have any regret about it at all"), or telling a Sandy volunteer to "sit down and shut up", no other elected official has spoken to and about constituents with such bullying disrespect, and still managed to get re-elected. At first, many found his style refreshing. After four years of Gov. Jon Corzine, who was long on cash and short on warmth and political savvy, Republicans voted the party line and Democrats voted the party machine in 2009 to elect their very own Tony Soprano—telling it like it is and taking no prisoners! And despite his horrendous job at restoring NJ's economy after the Great Recession, they would do so again in 2013. 

But that act is all Christie has to run on, and it's getting old. Personally, I like my 'Rude Jersey' on TV, not in the statehouse. Tony, Snookie and the rest represent the very best of the worst Jersey stereotypes. And they have about as much chance of getting elected to public office as any musician has of beating Bruce Springsteen in a Garden State popularity contest. 

The facts are that NJ hasn't recovered all the jobs lost during the Great Recession, the pension system and the transportation trust fund are in a shambles, Atlantic City is bleeding jobs, many big pharmas pulled up stakes and left taking thousands of jobs with them, school funding is down almost $6 billion, property taxes (the bane of NJ) rose on average 20% in his first term, and he's slashed services to just about every constituent group in the state except the super wealthy and corporations, all while jet-setting around the country on the taxpayer's dime

All Christie has to run on is his bluster. His leadership has turned into a game of Wack-a-Mole. NJ residents are fed up. Many are showing up at town hall meetings specifically to bait him. And the more he smacks them down, the more they keep popping up over and over again. 

One thing we know about crowd mentality is that they love to follow. So, look for more Wack-A-Mole behavior across the country as Christie tries to defend his abysmal record out on the presidential campaign trail. It just might make this round of GOP primaries more fun than 2012's.