Monday, January 18, 2016

Study Commission Pt.3: What Public Testimony?

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I dissected the report issued by the Study Commission on the Use of Student Assessments in New Jersey. In Parts 3 and 4 (coming tomorrow), education activist Sue Altman reports on the public testimony that was not only downplayed in the final report in terms of numbers of persons who testified, but completely ignored in the commission's recommendations.

Here's Sue's report:

On three separate dates in early 2015, in three locations in New Jersey, over 200 individuals testified on the issue of high stakes testing in New Jersey as part of the Study Commission on the Use of Student Assessments in New Jersey.  It took a full year for the report to be published to the public; in fact, while the original document was dated November 30, 2015, the document was not released to the public until January 11, 2016.  This was the same day as a Board of Education meeting at which I spoke on this very issue:

So, who testified?

The Department held testimony at three locations, and also provided an opportunity for people to submit testimony via email.

Submitted Written Testimony118
Jersey City26
(The State report states there were 100.)

Jerseyans from all walks of life took part in this democractic exercise, and that in itself is inspirational.  There were people who identified themselves as parents, teachers, businesspeople, concerned citizens, students, representatives from other groups, and more.  (Note: some people double-affiliated, such as "I am a parent of two girls and a business owner.")  

What did the testimonies say?  

The testimonies were OVERWHELMINGLY anti-PARCC, anti-testing.  I coded each testimony as "Overall supportive of PARCC/high-stakes testing," "Overall negative on PARCC/high-stakes testing," and "Mixed."

Of the 209 testimonies, THREE were "pro-testing," THREE were "mixed" and 204 were "negative."

Let me repeat that.  97.1% of people who drove to all corners of NJ in the midst of a polar vortex were NEGATIVE AGAINST HIGH-STAKES TESTING and PARCC.   

I can't think of anything else in the whole universe that 97.1% of New Jerseyans would agree on, except maybe that the world is better with Bruce Springsteen in it, the Shore is fun in the summer, or that traffic sucks.  I mean, really, challenge yourself to think of something less controversial.  For those of us who are visual learners, I kid you not

And yet, when they published the report, the State barely acknowledged this outcry.  They only admitted to three themes from the testimonies (time spent testing, accountability concerns and technical difficulties).  But, these are not the biggest concerns raised, and are a bit of a strawman. (Strawmen?) Of course the time spent testing is a concern, but the concerns are not limited to the actual time, and are much deeper than that. And, accountability concerns, especially the ones mentioned in the report (teachers being evaluated on material they don't even teach) is a no-brainer. I'm embarrassed for them that they admitted to learning about this only through public testimony. Mentioning
technical difficulties— well, that was a bit of a humblebrag given that Hespe has already said there were fewer than they expected.  The other ideas in these testimonies, the stuff that parents and citizens actually witness in their day-to-day lives with their own children,
​the stuff that ​
would be incredibly useful if someone were actually interested in learning about the effect PARCC is having on children and families—was ignored.

The state even went out of their way to claim, "In this report, the Study Commission seeks to clearly demonstrate it has listened to and considered the comments and has responded and provided clarification, as appropriate. The Study Commission acknowledges the concerns that have been voiced about the issue of overtesting in the State’s public schools and its impact on instruction."

And yet, what makes this so difficult to swallow is that the recommendations issued do NOTHING to remedy this concern at all, and in fact have made it much, much worse. So ok, you "demonstrated" you "listened to" the comments, but you sure did not demonstrate you cared about democracy or public opinion. Has there ever been a more clear-cut case of tokenism?

So listen up NJ: The state never wanted to hear your opinions, they just wanted to say they held a commission, they "listened," so they could publish this report. It was a foregone conclusion all along; we were all duped.

But I still think the testimonies are worthwhile. In my next post I'll publish the themes from the testimonies, and bit about why it all really
​ ​

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Study Commission Report Pt. 2: Big Brother and The Brainwashing of NJ

Stanley Tucci in The Devil Wears Prada
Part 1 of this as-yet-to-be-determined-part series on the final report of the Study Commission on the Use of Student Assessments in New Jersey focused on the Commission's members, who the DOE should partner with going forward, how the DOE should crush the Opt-Out movement with 'reformy' propaganda funded by 'reformy' billionaires (aka. "the business community and philanthropic organizations"), and all that professional development.

This post will focus on the recommendations for the amount of testing and graduation requirements, modifications for Special Education and English Language Learner students, data (because data is king!), and perhaps my favorite: "Using PARCC Data as a College and/or Business Placement Tool".

And finally, if you see an (*) at the beginning of a paragraph, it's a reminder to reference the video I posted in Part 1 in which former NJDOE Assistant Commissioner Bari Ehrlichson admits that the PARCC is not diagnostic. 

As stated in Part 1, unless otherwise noted, all emphasis is mine.


Assessment Tools, including PARCC

PARCC is wonderful! PARCC is fabulous! PARCC is here to stay! Yaaaay! But the commission also recognized that there is too much testing going on, so they recommend districts do a testing inventory.

*The commission goes on to list five rather lengthy descriptions of what constitutes a good assessment tool (pgs 11 & 12 in the report). The only one PARCC even remotely fulfills is the one requiring the tests be electronic. But PARCC is here to stay! But how to convince parents to let their kids take the test? Get your local BOEs to do your dirty work:
Recommendation 27

The Study Commission recommends that the NJDOE, in cooperation with State education associations and advocacy groups, identify a range of best practices that may be adopted by district boards of education when considering how to work with parents and communities to ensure all eligible students complete the Statewide assessments. The Study Commission recommends that the NJDOE communicate to school districts that both State and federal law require students to participate in the Statewide assessment programs, as appropriate. The consequences for schools and school districts for student non-participation in the Statewide assessment program, as required by federal law, should also be disseminated to school districts.
*The gold standard for standardized testing is the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress). Given to randomly selected students throughout the country, it's the best statistical snapshot of what all US students know over time. And right now, thanks to NCLB, RTTT and tests like PARCC, US students are stagnating. Other states have woken up to that fact. Even though the consortium is down to less than half the states it began with, PARCC is here to stay! Why? Maybe because Gov. Christie gave Pearson a sweetheart tax break to stay in NJ?

The only good news is that at least until the class of 2020, it won't be the only requirement for high school graduation. And my guess is that the Opt-Out movement will only continue to grow despite whatever ad campaigns the DOE will run against us.

Teacher Evaluations

I'm going to let Russ Walsh comment on this one. Russ is a nationally-recognized reading expert who also analyzed the report. NJ should be honored to have him as a Professor at Ryder University and he should have been included in this commission. (Keep dreaming, Marie.) 

In the area of teacher accountability and standardized tests, the Commission finds that "the positive and encouraging results of the educator evaluation system thus far, indicate that the system is working." The Study Commission dismisses educator concerns about using test scores for teacher evaluation by saying that much of the concern should be mitigated by the fact that the vast majority of teachers in the first year of the evaluation design were rated as "effective" or "highly effective" and that the ratings were pretty much the same whether student growth scores were used or not. 
Once again the Study Commission thinks the biggest problem is a failure to communicate well. If only the NJDOE could get all the good news out about teacher evaluation, people would be embracing it. The Commission calls for professional learning efforts and greater transparency about how teacher evaluations are calculated. They further recommend that the NJDOE "encourage" school districts to use the information for teacher improvement, "particularly of novice and struggling teachers." 
The Study Commission might have spent some time looking at all the evidence that shows how the use of standardized test scores in any proportion as a part of a teacher's evaluation is simply unsupportable. They might have read the work of Audrey Amrein- Beardsley (Vamboozled andRethinking Value Added Models in Education) or looked at the white paper from the American Statistical Association calling into question any significant use of standardized tests as a measure of teacher effectiveness. They might have then said that these measures should be removed entirely from formal teacher evaluation, but that is not the message the Governor wanted to hear.

Special Education Populations

Again, Russ Walsh sums it up best:
The Study Commission clearly heard the concerns of parents and teachers of students with special needs and ELL students. They recognize that these students need special accommodations when it comes to standardized testing. They make six recommendations in this area that boil down to acknowledging there is an issue, suggesting the NJDOE do something about it in collaboration with school districts and calling on the NJDOE to talk to the federal Department of Education who insists all these special populations take these tests, to see if more flexibility can be provided in testing these special populations. 
These recommendations lack specificity, but the acknowledgment of the issue in the face of stupid federal rules is welcome. It is truly cruel and unusual punishment to insist that all students, no matter what their learning disabilities take these tests.

Use of Data to Improve Teaching and Learning

*The the phrase "high-quality assessments" is used several times throughout this report. It's laughable because PARCC is anything but, and yet, it's being used to determine the future of students and the fate of education professionals. Imagine if you will, oncologists being indoctrinated into using french fries to fight cancer. There is testing and data and professional development all geared toward brainwashing them into thinking it will work because that's what the federal government wants because McDonalds will turn a hefty profit from from it all—despite the fact that it will never, ever work, and may in fact, do more harm! This is what we are up against.
Recommendation 38

The Study Commission recommends that school districts engage in a consistent and rigorous review of PARCC and other available student performance data as part of their routine continuous improvement efforts regarding curriculum and instruction.
Yes, it's gotta be 'rigorous' because this test is killing education. 
Recommendation 39

The Study Commission recommends that the NJDOE encourage school districts to use the PARCC data, as they continue to be validated and better understood, as only one of several tools to improve teaching and learning. The Study Commission further recommends that the NJDOE, in cooperation with State education associations and advocacy groups, provide professional learning to educational practitioners, primarily principals and teachers, about how to analyze and use assessment data in program and curriculum planning.
"One of several tools", but the only one that really matters to the DOE.  
Recommendation 40

Insofar as teachers’ familiarity with and understanding of PARCC data are critical elements for their acceptance and use as a learning tool, the Study Commission recommends that NJDOE continue to communicate a consistent message about the lessons learned as a result of the PARCC implementation in spring 2015. The Study Commission further recommends that the NJDOE continue to encourage school districts to embed within their strategic plans the use of student assessment data as an important tool for school improvement.
Doesn't matter if it doesn't work, we just have to brainwash teachers into accepting that it does. 

PARCC Data as a Graduation Assessment

This from Save Our Schools NJ:
Governor Christie's Testing Commission is recommending that, starting with the class of 2020, all students be required to take every PARCC test for which they are eligible in order to qualify to graduate. This includes three years of PARCC testing in high school, which is three times what is required by federal law. 
Students in the Class of 2020 would be able to use other tests or the portfolio process to meet their actual graduation testing requirement, but only if they also took (but not necessarily passed) every PARCC test for which they are eligible, starting with those administered in 2017. 
Students in the Classes of 2021 and beyond would also have to take every PARCC test for which they are eligible (starting in 2017) and would also have to pass the Algebra I and the 10th grade English Language Arts PARCC tests in order to graduate.

PARCC Data as a College and/or Business Placement Tool

This is perhaps the most disturbing part of this report. I'll let the recommendations speak for themselves:
Recommendation 48 
The Study Commission recommends that the NJDOE encourage IHEs (Institutions of Higher Learning) throughout the State to use PARCC assessment scores for identifying course placement and enrollment in dual-credit programs. The Study Commission further recommends that IHEs work with the NJDOE and the PARCC consortium to share data on student progress in college courses to assess the validity of the PARCC assessment and to assist in the development of future tests.

Recommendation 49 
The Study Commission recognizes that most New Jersey employers require entry-level job applicants to pass company-required tests in English and mathematics that assess their abilities to understand vocabulary and grammatical rules and to solve basic math problems. The Study Commission further recognizes that many employers could also benefit from knowing applicants’ abilities to solve more complex problems that demand higher-level critical thinking skills. Finally, the Study Commission believes the business community would be well served to learn more about how PARCC assessment data can be used to better gauge the capacity of applicants to do the job or for growth within the company. Accordingly, the Study Commission recommends that the NJDOE convene an informational session with stakeholders in New Jersey’s business community to review PARCC assessment item content and help them to gain greater insight into how PARCC assessment results can be useful to them, within the context of their respective hiring needs, employment policies, and human resources guidelines.

And there you have it. Big Brother is alive and well and living in NJ. Not only will all your child's education 'data' be tracked from K-12, it will now potentially be made available to colleges and—God forbid—potential employers. 

Next up: education activist Sue Altman reports on all the largely-ignored public testimony. 

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Study Commission Report Part 1: Will #ZucksBucks Save PARCC/Crush @NJOptOut?

Part 1 of a 3-part series on the Final Report of The Study Commission On The Use Of Student Assessments In New Jersey

Get ready!!

Stanley Tucci in The Devil Wears Prada

Is the NJDOE taking lessons from the ShamWow guy?

Sham? Wow!

The Study Commission on the Use of Student Assessments in New Jersey has released its final report and its a doozy. So, grab yourself a cup of coffee (or a bottle of Xanax), sit back and prepare to be infomercialed! In addition to the same 'ole testing, data collection, and 'college and career' weirdness, the Commission recommends a heavy dose of professional development for educators, and PR funded by 'reformy' money and aimed at crushing the Opt-Out movement, but wrapped in the guise of 'informing the public' about
the wonderfulness of the PARCC. Like many 'As Seen On TV' products that don't actually deliver what they promise, the DOE has to sell the PARCC the only way it can: convincing parents that we really are those dimwits former US Ed Secretary Arne Duncan called us, and that the PARCC really is magic. And wow, what a sham that is! 

I will attempt to unpack this report in two or three posts, but there's so much CCRAP to wade through that, "I think I'm gonna need a bigger boat." Unless otherwise noted, all bold, underlined and italicized text is mine.

The overarching themes, as I alluded to above, are that 1) the PARCC test is wonderously-fabulous; 2) the State DOE simply did a lousy job marketing it; 3) teachers will buy into it as long as we give them boatloads of indoctrination professional development; 4) parents will buy into it because we will flood their media outlets with propaganda.

Before I begin

I have posted this video clip several times before. You will need to refer back to it as you read through the rest of this series. Anything that refers to it will be marked with an (*). 

This is a panel discussion about PARCC which includes, among others, former Assistant NJDOE Commissioner (and now Chris Cerf underling), Bari Ehrlichson and Seton Hall Professor Dr. Christopher Tienken. 

For a test to be diagnostic, that means truly helpful to a teacher, truly able to tell you where a student is with a specific skill, there needs to be at least 25 items for that specific skill to reach a reliability where you can make a decision about what an individual student knows...  Are there 25 questions per specific skill on the PARCC test so teachers and parents really have an understanding of what kids know at the specific skill level?

Ehrlichson (at aprox. 1:30): 

[T]he PARCC end-of-year/end-of-course assessments — are not intended to be sort of the through-course diagnostic form of assessments, the benchmark assessments, that most of us are used to, that would diagnose and be able to inform instruction in the middle of the year. 
These are in fact summative test scores that have a different purpose than the one that we’re talking about here in terms of diagnosis. 
So they're not diagnostic at the individual level, so it's going to be difficult for teachers to look at these scores, particularly when they get them back in September and October, for kids who are no longer in their class, to get fine-grained information about specific skills or standards or sub-clusters or whatever we want to call them. There's just not enough questions on the test to do that.

All this in addition to Ryder University Professor and Literacy Researcher Russ Walsh's research that found that many of the reading passages in the Language Arts portion of the test are several grade levels above the tested grade. 

So, there's our baseline. PARCC doesn't do what its supporters claim it will, and there is research to prove it. 

And here we go...

The Introduction

This section had my yellow highlighter firing on all cylinders. It started out with the usual blather about how the commission listened to all the testimony given by hundreds of people around the state over the course of several months, "and has responded and provided clarification, as appropriate." So, if they didn't think your concerns were appropriate, they didn't respond. Makes sense. In an upcoming guest post, education activist, Sue Altman, will have more on how well the commission actually listened to public testimony 

Here are a few gems:
[T]he Study Commission does not believe the philosophy of data-informed practice is among the root causes for the criticisms that have been raised in the debate regarding standardized testing and PARCC.
Well, the commission may not 'believe' it, but ask any informed education professional or parent, and they will give you the facts. Data is exactly at the root of this divide. Never before in the history of US public education have educators been forced to collect and analyze so much data. And parents are rightly concerned about who is seeing it all, for what purpose is it being used, and where it will all end up.
*[A]nxiety and fear levels surrounding [PARCC] remain palpable and appear to have formed at least part of the basis for the anti-PARCC television, radio, and print advertisements, which arguably appear to have contributed significantly to the parent opt-out movement in spring 2015. A lack of trust between policymakers and educators and the abundance of misinformation seem only to add to this atmosphere of anxiety and fear. Therefore, many of the recommendations that follow focus on improving the relationships between policymakers and educators and on building educator confidence that the State's educational system appropriately uses assessments to foster learning... the Study Commission believes educators, parents, district board of education members, and other stakeholders must embrace a shared understanding that assessment data can be used effectively to inform and improve teaching. Moreover, the PARCC data must become a critical part of this shared understanding as the data continue to be better understood.  
*Yes, there is a huge lack of trust between the State Department of Education, parents and educators because the DOE is not being honest. Let's get one thing straight: the Opt-Out movement was not started by educators, and it was not started in NJ. It was started by parents in other states and has spread like wild fire across the country. Any suggestion to the contrary is simply not true. This notion that parents are too dumb to realize CCRAP when they see it is the same condescending attitude many in the DOE and the 'reform' community (including certain newspapers) have taken in regards to state takeover communities: you're too dumb to know what's good for you. 

As I reported last month:

The state DOE estimates that 15% of high school juniors, 7% of freshmen, and 4.6% of students in grades 3-8 refused to take the test. But based on anecdotal reporting and comparing '14-'15 enrollment numbers to the actual number of tests completed, NJEA and Save Our Schools NJ put those numbers at around 110,000—the second highest opt-out number in the nation in our first year of testing. New York was number one with 240,000.

*As physicians take the oath to "first do no harm", educators have an obligation to subscribe to research-based best practices and pedagogy. If we don't inform the public about the deeply flawed PARCC test, we are not fulfilling our fiduciary obligation to the children and parents of this state. So yes, the NJEA ran ad campaigns—based on research—to inform parents about what the NJDOE wasn't telling them.  

The Commission:

David C. Hespe Chair Commissioner of Education

Dana Egreczky Senior Vice President, New Jersey Chamber of Commerce

Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod Executive Director, New Jersey School Boards Association

Catherine M. Lindenbaum Parent Association Representative

Dr. Marcia Lyles Superintendent, Jersey City Public Schools

Nicole Moore Principal, Shamong Township Schools

Matthew Stagliano Educator, Camden County Technical Schools

Dr. Raymond A. Yannuzzi President, Camden County College

Tracie Yostpille Educator, Freehold Township Schools
Of the members, only 2 are public school educators; there are no special educators; there is a Broad-trained superintendent, and a Vice President of the 'reform'-supportive NJ PTA. 

The Professional Development Recommendations

Although the report gushes about there being "teams of educators and parents to conduct a point-by-point review of the Common Core State Standards with the objective of making recommendations for New Jersey-based standards that are even higher than the Common Core State Standards", don't you believe it. For all his pandering to the anti-CCSS Republicans, Gov. Christie is only getting changes to about 200 of the over 1400 standards. And those changes mostly consist of replacing a word or phrase. But that's okay because in the Department of Edutopia, there will be oodles and oodles of brainwashing "sustained professional learning" in every school in the state!

Even if we think the regulations stink, even if we think the standards are inappropriate, even if peer-reviewed research says the same thing, educators must teach to the standards or face disciplinary action. So, NJEA must provide members with appropriate professional development. So do the other organizations involved in public education. In addition to NJEA, the report lists the other partners in this effort:

  1. New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association (NJPSA) 
  2. New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA) 
  3. New Jersey Association of School Administrators (NJASA) 
  4. Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs)
  5. New Jersey Parents and Teachers Association (NJPTA)
  6. The business community

The first four make perfect sense. But the last two? As I stated earlier, the National PTA is a 'reform'-supportive organization. They are heavily funded by the Gates Foundation, with $500K alone given to them to support the Common Core. Pearson and Microsoft have been sponsors of some of their national conventions. They gave member email addresses to Pearson so the testing giant could send them 'reform' propaganda. And the uber-'reformy' propaganda film, Waiting for Superman, was shown at their 2011 national convention. See Diane Ravitch's post for more on their efforts to undermine public education 

And of course, as long as public education is being turned into a business model, we simply must have members of the business community on board to show administrators how to 'churn' staff, maximize profit learning and generally train staff how to work longer and harder for less pay and job satisfaction. 

Here's a sampling of the PD recommendations:

Recommendation 3  
The Study Commission recommends that the NJDOE provide school districts with the time, support, professional learning, and communication necessary to accommodate any changes to the standards that might impact the school district’s planning, implementation, and decision making about curriculum, instruction, and/or instructional resources.

It all looks so good on paper, doesn't it? Where and how will all this time magically appear? 
Recommendation 7 
The Study Commission recommends that the NJDOE collaborate with State education associations and advocacy groups to create online cross-disciplinary professional learning initiatives accompanied by sufficient incentives to encourage the State’s educators to expand their professional knowledge and skills and to turn-key their learning for colleagues.
I think we know by now what they mean by "advocacy groups", but what about "incentives"? If we're talking increased compensation for advanced degrees, well then, that makes sense. But after Gov. Christie cut $7 billion from public education funding over the past 7 years, school districts have cut back on tuition reimbursement and additional compensation. So, I'm thinking maybe... Wawa gift cards?

Recommendation 8 
The Study Commission endorses the understanding that every teacher is a literacy teacher and recommends that the NJDOE encourage school districts to devote considerable time and effort to providing sustained professional learning in standards-based instruction for teachers of subjects other than English language arts and mathematics...

Hey all you art, music, computer, and health and PE teachers, guess what? You too get to share in the fun and joy of teaching Language Arts to your students! Yipee! It doesn't matter that the Common Core and PARCC have decimated your programs at every grade level. It doesn't matter that you don't have enough time for PD in your own subject area these days. It doesn't matter that you don't have a degree in Language Arts. You are going to get some 'magical' training so you too can boost those test scores! Because seriously, nothing prepares a child who wants to be a musician when they grow up like massive doses of training in how to read informational text! Duh!

All this PD is wonderful as long as school districts don't look to the state to help pay for it—especially if it's a state-run district. Just ask the folks who work in Newark. They're $300 million in the hole to charter schools for students who transfer—and some that don't.

Shared Vision for a Comprehensive Assessment System 

This section deals with how the DOE is going to sell their product the PARCC. Five of the nine recommendations deal with salesmanship. According to the report, as long as school districts give educators the time and means for PD, everything will be hunky-dory.
Recommendation 9 
A comprehensive assessment system... uses State, formative, interim, and summative assessment tools that are tightly aligned to standards to inform curriculum, instruction, and assessment. A comprehensive assessment system is used to address immediate student needs, inform ongoing instructional changes, guide long-term educational improvement, and provide on-going, timely, and actionable information on what students know, understand, and are able to do in relation to the standards.
PARCC does not do this and the NJDOE said so. Notice that "State" is listed as the first means of assessment.

* Recommendation 9 also recommends that the impact of PARCC on other assessments be studied. Many high schools are doing away with educator-developed mid-terms and EOCs in favor of the PARCC. It is educational malpractice to replace a legitimate assessment with one that is deeply flawed and doesn't do what it says it does.  

Something good:
Recommendation 10 
[The] NJDOE [should] assist school districts in obtaining the training necessary to establish their own comprehensive vision for school district assessment and how each assessment tool relates to an important learning or strategic objective.
Good, because last year the DOE had no idea what it was doing. Seemingly every week Hespe was releasing new and/or revised information about the PARCC.

Recommendations 11, 12, 14, 16 and 18 deal with "communication". 
Recommendation 11 
[T]he process for communicating the shared vision for assessment include multiple strategies and tools for communication, numerous forums and venues at various times, and multiple methods for assessing the quality and effectiveness of the messages. All events and announcements made throughout the year (e.g., test score releases, testing windows, educator evaluation reports) must be consistent, clearly connected to the shared vision, and coordinated among stakeholder groups at the State and local levels via multiple sources.
Doesn't matter if our message is full of CCRAP. It just matters that it's doing its job of convincing people it isn't. 
Recommendation 12 
[T]he Study Commission recommends that the NJDOE assume a leadership role in ensuring all State education associations and advocacy groups commit to bear a collective responsibility for communicating widely and consistently throughout New Jersey this shared vision for assessment.

*This assumes all stakeholders share the vision. What happens if we don't? No professional education organization should never "commit to bear... responsibility for communicating" a false and/or damaging message about high stakes testing and educational best practice.

Recommendation 14 
The Study Commission recommends that the NJDOE, in cooperation with State educational associations and advocacy groups, develop and launch a proactive communication campaign throughout the State regarding: (a) the State’s role and responsibilities under federal and State laws and regulations with respect to educational standards and the use of student assessments in schools; (b) best practices in assessment of all student populations, including English language learners and students with disabilities and; and (c) what the NJDOE determines to be the most common, frequently occurring, and widespread misunderstandings and inaccuracies about educational standards and the use of student assessments in New Jersey’s public schools.

Recommendation 16

The Study Commission recommends that the NJDOE organize a communication team, comprised of representatives from all stakeholder groups, to pool resources and coordinate and facilitate Statewide communication of the assessment vision. This team is not intended to serve as an advocacy group, but rather as an informational group.

Translation: We got our butts kicked last year by the Opt-Out Movement and educators informing parents about how lousy PARCC is, so we have to turn up the propaganda machine.  

Recommendation 17 
Among the strategies to be used for delivering a widespread and consistent message about the assessment vision, as well as other critical issues in education, the Study Commission recommends the NJDOE (a) employ public access television channels and radio throughout the State to run informational broadcasts about the shared assessment vision; (b) seek the cooperation of the business community and philanthropic organizations to fund and sponsor the development of such informational broadcasts; (c) prepare ready-to-use multimedia informational packets and make them available to district boards of education and educators; and (d) use television and radio outlets and social media to more consistently reach out directly to parents and families about ways in which they can support their children’s learning.

Read it and weep. The NJDOE wants to call in the big guns— corporate 'reform' money—to flood the airwaves and social media with a "widespread and consistent message" propaganda campaign to "reach out directly to parents and families about ways in which they can support their children's learning" crush the Opt-Out movement.

It really is that simple.

And they want to develop "a database of professional email addresses" so they can send their propaganda right to your inbox.

For the past six years, NJ education 'reform' has mainly focused on our state-controlled school districts of poverty and color. This report leaves no doubt that the NJ DOE now has its sights set on suburbia. Wonder who Hespe is 'dialing for dollars' first? Zuckerberg? Gates? Broad? The list is endless.

My upcoming posts will deal with the Commission's recommendations regarding the PARCC and all standardized tests, technology, data, special education and ELL concerns, and finally "Using PARCC Data as a College and/or Business Placement Tool". 

Time to go make another pot of coffee. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

No armed police in my school, please

"It'll be a sad day for this country if children can safely attend their classes only under the protection of armed guards." ~ President Dwight D. Eisenhower 

Credit: Targeted: Pro Guns v. Gun Control in Schools FB page
On January 8th, reported:
A bill before the state Legislature would create a new category of police officer, stationing armed, retired cops under the age of 65 inside New Jersey schools.
The bill (S2983) establishes "Class Three" special police officers designated to provide security at both public and private schools. They would not replace school resource officers, who are specially trained full-time police officers stationed at some schools.  
The bill, drafted in the wake of the 2012 attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., was approved by the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee Thursday. It's unclear if it will get a full vote before the end of the legislative session next week.
The bill is sponsored by Senators Anthony Bucco (R-25) and Steve Sweeney (D-3).

Writing at Blue Jersey in response to this article, student activist, Melissa Katz, writes about how, if signed into law, this bill would exacerbate the school-to-prison pipeline that currently plagues many of our school districts serving students of color:
This bill will only further criminalize our youth, especially our youth of color. And what does “keep them safe” mean for students of color when practices such as increased police presence does the very opposite of “keep them safe” by, for example, contributing to the school-to-prison pipeline? The school to prison pipeline, as defined by the ACLU, refers to the “policies and practices that push our nation’s schoolchildren, especially our most at-risk children, out of classrooms and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems (“What Is the School-to-Prison Pipeline?“). While schools that implement zero-tolerance policies are aiming to make their environments safer, research has concluded “schools with excessive discipline tend to be and feel less safe than schools that have developed rich cultures of support, dignity, and evidence-based discipline policies” (“Restorative Practices: Fostering Healthy Relationships and Promoting Positive Discipline in Schools, A Guide for Educators“).

Credit: The Hartford Courant

In the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, a survey of about 10,000 teachers across the country was conducted to see how they felt about a variety of school safety issues. The survey concluded that:

Most educators say they feel safe in school and believe their students feel the same. They do not, however, agree so unanimously that their schools are safe from gun violence. Although the reaction to the Sandy Hook shooting and other instances of school violence have been explosive publicly, the most common new safety measure being adopted is locking doors or keeping fewer open during the school day. The majority of educators feel an armed guard would increase school safety, though, do not desire to be an armed presence in schools themselves.
I seem to be in that 2.8% because I do not want armed police in my building every day. I wrote about it last month, on the anniversary of the Sandy Hook terrorist attack:
No longer do we only have fire drills, we now have lock down drills, where kids practice hiding from terrorist invasions. A far cry from the 1950's 'duck and cover' drills against nameless, faceless Communists who were thousands of miles away. We now have to hide from people who could be our neighbors: that strange guy, that angry teenager. 
Classroom doors in many districts must now remain closed and locked at all times. And that's so much fun in the warm weather when there's no air conditioning. Staff must use a key to lock and unlock every door in the building, even storage closets and copy rooms. 
Many districts now have high-tech devices that scan the drivers license of every visitor. And police regularly walk the halls. 
All this does not make me feel safer. Quite the contrary, I feel less safe because it reminds me we live in a very violent society. We have to do all this because some nut job with a gun could force his way into my school at any moment and blow us all away. We have to do this because a powerful minority is holding this country hostage just so their members have the 'right' to own WMDs. I'm sorry, I didn't sign up to be a prison guard, and my students aren't prisoners. But that's what it's become because elected officials are too afraid of losing all that NRA PAC money and possibly losing their next election.
All this is in addition to the metal detectors already present in many inner city schools.

Two months after 9/11, I flew to California out of Newark Airport. There was a massive security presence—as well there should have been. Armed National Guardsmen with bomb-sniffing dogs patrolled the terminals. I felt safe, but I also felt enormous unease because we were at war

While the US may not technically be at war with crazy loons who have unfettered access to guns, we are being held hostage by the NRA which prohibits us from enacting and enforcing meaningful gun legislation that will not take guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens, but will greatly reduce the chances of these crazy loons and other terrorists getting guns. Sadly, this pushes legislators to enact laws such as this that limit our freedom under the guise of 'protecting' our children.

Some of my political and spiritual heroes are those who preach(ed) nonviolence as a path to conflict resolution including Martin Luther King, Jr., Ghandi, Buddha, Christ, The Dalai Lama, Albert Einstein and Nelson Mandela. In a world full of conflict, they preached that violence begets violence, and "an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind."

Of the top 50 most dangerous cities on earth, four are in the US (St. Louis is in the top 20); three are in Africa; the rest are in Mexico, Central and South America. And the US has the most gun deaths of similarly-developed countries on the planet—by a huge margin. More guns equals more gun violence. It really is that simple.

The day that armed police are a mandatory presence in all schools is the day this country surrenders "life, liberty and pursuit of happiness" to the NRA. We must not continue to put bandaids on gunshot wounds. This bill does just that.

Adding: I relate more to this...

Kent State

Than this...

Friday, January 1, 2016

NJ's literacy solution: longer school day for kindergarteners?

My blog has been quiet of late. Due to some health problems, I've had to scale back a bit on my workload. Nothing life-threatening, mind you, just enough for me to reprioritize for a little while. But I'm on the mend, and there's no better day to start back up than New Year's Day.

Courtesy: Upworthy
This week marks the end of the current NJ legislative session. Newly elected officials will soon be sworn in, but there's a bill coming before the Assembly Education Committee next week that has me scratching my head. 

A4779, sponsored by Ams. Reed Gusciora (D-15) and Asw. L. Grace Spencer (D-29) says: 
a. The Commissioner of Education shall declare an educational state of emergency for a school district in which, for at least 75 percent of the schools in the district, 65 percent or more of the students in the school to whom a State assessment was administered have not achieved proficiency in the English language arts/literacy subject area of the State assessment. 
b. Upon declaring an educational state of emergency pursuant to subsection a. of this section, the commissioner is authorized to distribute supplementary State aid to the school district, which shall be in addition to the State aid payable to the district pursuant to P.L.2007, c.260 (C.18A:7F-43 et al.) or any other law. The supplementary State aid shall be used for the specific purpose of establishing a mandatory after school program for students in grades kindergarten through three, the duration of which is two and a half hours from the end of the school day, which is designed to increase student proficiency in English language arts and literacy. The supplementary aid shall also be used for establishing voluntary literacy programs for students in other grades, including after school programs and summer programs. 
c. When an educational state of emergency is declared for a school district, the executive county superintendent of schools shall hold a public meeting of interested stakeholders for the district including, but not limited to, parents, students, teachers, school administrators, community leaders, and business leaders. The purpose of the meeting shall be to discuss community involvement and potential corrective measures to address the district’s low proficiency rate in English language arts and literacy.

d. A school district that establishes programs to increase student proficiency in English language arts and literacy pursuant to subsection b. of this section shall continue to implement the programs for a minimum of three years or for as long as the school district meets the criteria of subsection a. of this section, whichever is longer. (emphasis mine)
I have some real concerns about this bill, but before I get into them, let me be clear: I have no beef with Asm. Gusciora or Asw. Spencer. I don't know anything about the origins of this bill. I don't know Asw. Spencer, but Asm. Gusciora serves part of my county. He supported my assembly run, fiercely advocated for marriage equality, and generally supports causes I agree with. He's also a fellow member of the 'Wrath of Christie' club. My criticism is not aimed at them, but at the Christie administration and the NJDOE, who continue to hold our large, mostly poor/minority/urban school districts hostage, which forces workaround bills such as this one into existence.  

Here are my concerns:

First, I don't know about you, but whenever I read the words "state of emergency" as it pertains to public education, my ed 'reform' radar starts beeping. Newark, Camden, Jersey City and Paterson have all fallen victim to one definition or another of "state of emergency" which has resulted in one scenario: complete or partial state takeover, reduced funding, and the expansion of charter schools. None of which has been proven to help all students achieve.

Second, how do we define a "state of emergency"? If we are basing it solely on a state standardized test, which in this case is the PARCC, then we are making a false assumption. According to former NJ Assistant Education Commissioner Bari Erlichson, the PARCC test is not diagnostic:

Erlichson (at the 1:00 mark): In terms of testing the full breadth and depth of the standards in every grade level, yes, these are going to be tests that in fact are reliable and valid at multiple cluster scores, which is not true today in our NJASK. But there’s absolutely a… the word "diagnostic" here is also very important. As Jean sort of spoke to earlier: these are not intended to be the kind of through-course — what we’re talking about here, the PARCC end-of-year/end-of-course assessments — are not intended to be sort of the through-course diagnostic form of assessments, the benchmark assessments, that most of us are used to, that would diagnose and be able to inform instruction in the middle of the year. 
These are in fact summative test scores that have a different purpose than the one that we’re talking about here in terms of diagnosis. (emphasis mine)
Third, the tests were designed for students to fail. NJ's own reading expert, Ryder University Professor Russ Walsh, examined the PARCC sample questions and found them to be several grade levels above that being tested. And since the Common Core Standards are directly tied to the PARCC, we would be subjecting little children to more and more developmentally inappropriate instruction. Throw in the fact that many high poverty schools also have a higher percentage of English Language Learners than their wealthy and mostly White suburban counterparts, and you have a recipe for a manufactured "state of emergency."

Fourth, extending the day by two and a half hours for 5-7 year olds? Why? In Finland, the top performing education country in the world, first graders attend only a half day of school and get 15 minute breaks between each lesson. As a teacher of full-day kindergarteners, I can tell you firsthand that by about 1:30 pm, most are shot (this holds true for many first graders and some second graders). And when many K's get that tired, they don't slow down. Quite the opposite: they tend to ramp up. They're tired of sitting and paying attention. Their little brains are tired of thinking and concentrating. They need to play. But thanks to the Common Core, they're being pushed to learn more at an earlier age, and that's not a good thing. A 2015 Boston Globe article reported:
In two reports published earlier this year, the Boston-based nonprofit Defending the Early Years took aim at the kindergarten standards in ELA (focused on literacy at this age) and math. The first report singled out the expectation that kindergartners should be able to “read emergent-reader texts with purpose and understanding.” 
Emergent-reader texts include repetitive lines like, “Brown bear. Brown bear. What do you see?” or, “The fat cat sat on a mat.” These are no trouble for some 5-year-old kindergartners and even some 4-year-olds, says Nancy Carlsson-Paige, an emeritus professor of early-childhood education at Lesley University and the report’s lead author. But, Carlsson-Paige adds, many normally developing kids won’t read these books on their own until age 7. “When we require specific skills to be learned by every child at the same time, that misses a basic idea in early childhood education,” she says, “which is that there’s a wide range to learning everything in the early years.” 
Take walking as an example. An average child might learn to walk at 1 year, while some will be walking at 8 months and others might not take their first steps until they’re 15 months. They all end up walking just fine. 
What does earlier reading in kindergarten predict for reading proficiency and academic success in later grades? Not much, according to the report, which cites study findings that by fourth grade, children who were reading at age 4 were not significantly better at reading than their classmates who’d learned to read at age 7. The report also points out that in Finland and Sweden, kids don’t even start formal schooling until they are 7 years old. Yet, Finnish and Swedish teenagers regularly trounce their American counterparts in international tests of reading, math, and science. 
Given the wide developmental variation in young learners and the evidence that early reader advantages fade, the report concludes that a kindergarten literacy standard will simply crush the spirits of the late bloomers, linking school with “feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, and confusion.” (emphasis mine)
Since the bill requires a minimum of 3 years of implementation or "as long as the school district meets the criteria", my guess is that if it's passed, this clause will be forgotten and "3 years" will stretch into a permanently extended school day to compete with the longer school day of many charters.  

Fifth, where will the money come from? Gov. Christie has defunded NJ public education to the tune of $6 billion. Newark charter schools are bleeding the public school system of millions of dollars. It's so bad that Charter Cheerleader/Superintendent Chris Cerf (former NJ Education Commissioner), has ordered administrators to make drastic budget cuts, and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka is pleading with current Education Commissioner David Hespe to halt the expansion of charters to keep the district from drowning...

I'm not suggesting that we leave struggling readers to fend for themselves, but we cannot continue to throw taxpayer dollars at programs that are not research-based and developmentally appropriate. Why not fund the schools according to the law and let the administrators decide where and how the money would best be spent? Ah, but that assumes those who work with students every day know what's best, and we can't have that now, can we?

The Assembly Education Committee is chaired by Asm. Patrick Diegnan who has been a staunch supporter of public education. My hope is that the committee will listen to the voices of those who know what works in public education and revise or kill this bill.