Thursday, March 14, 2019

@NJSenatePres 's @Path2ProgressNJ & the 800lb Gorillas In The Room

Expert analysis and witnesses are essential to the successful outcome of a trial, but in the court of public opinion, politicians often fail to enlist experts who may raise red flags about the policies they're trying to sell to the general public. In my little corner of the universe—education—it happens too frequently. Analysis is done by study groups and commissions that often lack any real, working K-12 educators. 

The latest example is Senate President Steve Sweeney's 'Path to Progress', which touts, among other things, regionalizing many of the state's school districts and slashing (yet again) retired public employees' deferred compensation. 

Here is the complete list of the commission's members: 



  • Senator Paul Sarlo – Chairman, Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee
  • Senator Steven Oroho – Senate Republican Conference Chair
  • Assemblyman Louis Greenwald – Assembly Majority Leader
Legislative Members:
  • Senator Steve Sweeney – Senate President
  • Senator Dawn Addiego – State Senator
  • Senator Anthony Bucco – Senate Minority Budget Officer
  • Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin – Chairwoman, Assembly Budget
  • Senator Troy Singleton – Chairman, Senate Military and Veterans’ Affairs
Subcommittee Chairs:
  • Dr. Ray Caprio – Rutgers Bloustein School of Planning & Public Policy; Bloustein Local Government Research Center
  • Frank Chin – Managing Director, American Public Infrastructure
  • Richard Keevey – Rutgers University Bloustein School of Planning & Public Policy and Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs
  • Dr. Michael Lahr – Rutgers Bloustein School of Planning & Public Policy and Rutgers Economic Advisory Service
  • Marc Pfeiffer – Rutgers University, Bloustein School of Planning & Public Policy; Bloustein Local Government Research Center
Non-Legislative Members:
  • Dr. Henry Coleman – Rutgers University, Bloustein School of Planning & Public Policy
  • Lucille Davy – Of Counsel, Mason, Griffin & Pierson
  • Feather O’Connor Houstoun – Adviser for Public media and journalism at Wyncote Foundation
  • Ray Kljajic – American Public Infrastructure Inc.
  • Robert Landolfi – Business Administrator, Woodbridge Township (retired)
  • Senator Raymond Lesniak – Chair, Lesniak Institute for American Leadership
  • Jerry Maginnis – Rowan University, William G. Rohrer College of Business
  • Dr. Donald Moliver – Monmouth University, Kislak Real Estate Institute
  • Dr. Joel Naroff – President, Naroff Economic Advisers Inc.
  • Peter Reinhart – Monmouth University Kislak Real Estate Institute
  • Kurt Stroemel – President, HR&S Financial Services
  • Ralph Thomas – CEO/Executive Director, New Jersey Society of Certified Public Accountants
While this list may read like a Who's Who of New Jersey public policy experts, notice the one highlighted name: Robert Landolfi. He is the only K-12 representative on the commission—and he's retired. There are no real K-12 voices here, and none from South Hunterdon Regional School District, the only district in the past 25 years to successfully consolidate.

While Sen. Sweeney exults in the plan's proposed successes at town hall meetings across the state, he and his cohorts fail to address the three 800 lb gorillas in the room: 

1. Public schools are not businesses:

While consolidation may bring about some savings in certain situations, we must not forget that school districts are not convenience store chains. We don't sell soda and lottery tickets; we teach children, each of whom comes with different needs, and each district strives to meet those needs. Before we go down this road, the study commission needs to understand that what may be good for one district, may not necessarily be good for all of them. Special services for low income, special needs and ESL students must be the same or better than what they currently have. And when consolidation means going from a district of approximately 3200 to a merged district with close to 10,000 students, as would be the case with my central Hunterdon County district, there will be no savings, and services will suffer. The commission should look closely at what happened in the southern part of Hunterdon County: 

In 2016, NJ Spotlight reported on the five-year process of merging four very small Hunterdon County districts into one regional district with a combined population of less than 1,000 students
South Hunterdon’s merger of four school districts in 2013 has proven to be an example of both the good and the difficult in school regionalization. 
The good news is that the merger appears to have worked... 
The more cautionary news is that this was a long and labor-intensive process in what was actually one of the simplest mergers: four districts that were essentially unified in practice, if not in name. 
There are no regrets, the officials said, but they acknowledged that it doesn’t happen overnight... 
[School Board President Dan Seiter said that] the process started as far back as 2008, with an initial resolution of all four boards of education to look at consolidation: South Hunterdon Regional High School, West Amwell, Lambertville, and Stockton. Each among the smallest districts in the state, they already served as feeder districts into the regional high school. 
It took five years and “meetings after meetings after meetings” that led to a referendum to move toward a feasibility study, Seiter said, where voters in all four communities voted to proceed. (emphasis mine)
Voter buy-in is essential or the process will fail. We've seen this time and again. Whether the disastrous One Newark, or the Urban Hope Act in Camden, or other education 'reforms', shutting parents, taxpayers and local school officials out of the decision-making process is a recipe for disaster. Town halls are one thing; making sure taxpayers have a seat at the table is completely different. 

2. Charter schools:

Back in 2014, when Sen. Sweeney and then Asw. Donna Simon (R-LD16) were clamoring for municipal and school consolidation respectively, I wrote about the false narratives they were touting, and spoke with one of the state's preeminent school funding experts, Dr. Bruce Baker of Rutgers University, who had this to say about charter schools:

If consolidation is such a great idea, whether to promote integration, remove administrative redundancy, etc., then it would seem utterly foolish that we continue to expand charter schools. These schools tend to operate at inefficiently small size, further segregate our students, and when they do grow to a size where they operate as districts within our districts, they create significant administrative redundancy — a whole layer of "management corporation" siphoning district funds passed on to charters
We know, for example, from IRS 990 filings, that the administrative structure of Uncommon Schools has plenty of well paid admins—including their "managing director" for Newark Uncommon at about $200k in 2012. No doubt much higher now in 2014. So, in addition to Newark Public Schools, we've added, through this structure, additional governing layers that siphon resources, but don't show up on the traditional books. 

So, Newark has a superintendent with a $240k salary, but now has districts within it which use funds generated by management fees skimmed from the charter allocation (which passed through the district) to pay several entire additional administrative teams. (emphasis mine)
Consolidation without plans to end this redundancy is hypocritical. If charter schools are real public schools—as their supporters claim—they will survive the process, but the process will not survive if they are not included in it.

3. Another blow to retired public employees' deferred compensation:

Since 2011, when Gov. Christie signed the bill known as Chapter 78 into law, tens of thousands of public employees have seen their take home pay decrease every year as health insurance premiums and additional pension contributions have risen. Many have had to take on not only second, but third jobs to make ends meet. Others have simply left public service to make more money in the private sector. NJ public employees now pay the highest individual insurance premiums and the 10th highest family premiums in the country while earning less than their private sector counterparts. They will also have to work longer to collect their pensions and get less in return—if there's even a pension system left when they do retire. 

When Gov. Christie signed that law, he also instituted a cost of living adjustment (COLA) freeze on all retirees' pensions, and with the system on life support, that's not changing any time soon. Retirees are hurting.

Now, Sen. Sweeney wants "all new state and local government retirees to pay the same percent of premium costs they paid when working." I'm sorry, but that's not only unsustainable, it's downright cruel. 

Instead of proposing public employees pay more, why isn't the commission recommending a push for Medicare for All or some other type of universal healthcare? Why isn't the commission doing anything about containing the always-increasing cost of premiums? It's just so much easier to make the people who can least afford it pay more while you close the door on your mansion and forget about their struggles. And they can't even move out of state to save some money because Gov. Christie signed a bill into law that basically makes public employees indentured servants. We can't leave. 

I am not naive. The state's fiscal future is bleak. We have a projected $5 billion revenue shortfall for this fiscal year, the pension fund will run out of money in about 10 yearsour credit rating is in the toilet, and property taxes are eating most of us alive. But all this isn't merely the result of Gov. Christie giving away billions in corporate tax breaks and in the Exxon settlement. No, there's plenty of blame to go around, on both sides of the aisle, and it goes back decades. Yet, some elected officials continue to put the burden of fixing the system they broke squarely on the backs of the students they purport to help and those of us who have been continually ordered to give more, do more, and receive less in return, with little thought of how we will be able to make ends meet. It's always the little guy who pays.

So, if Sen. Sweeney doesn't like it when people show up to his town halls and challenge these draconian measures, maybe he needs to remember what it was like to be a rank and file iron worker worrying about how to pay bills and keep a roof over his head. 

Teachers in eleven states have gone out on strike to protest draconian cuts to school funding, low pay and terrible working conditions—things that are not only sacrosanct to collective bargaining, but also make for excellent public schools, of which NJ has an abundance. If this commission pushes forward with their recommendations, I believe New Jersey may be next. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The @StarLedger, #FakeNews & the #PARCC Propaganda Machine

Years before 'fake news' became a household word, New Jersey's largest newspaper, The Star Ledger started its very own propaganda machine to bash teachers and prop up PARCC testing. 

With the flurry of PARCC testing bills posted in Trenton in the past couple of weeks, the state's largest newspaper and education 'reform' cheerleader has been shaking its pom-pons recently in favor of the deeply flawed test, tossing out wild claims with little evidence to back them up (all emphasis mine):

Phil Murphy has long strained to appease powerful critics of the PARCC, namely the teacher’s union, which prefers we let kids graduate without the kind of tests that hold teachers accountable. 
The idea that an invalid, poorly designed and un-vetted test can hold teachers "accountable" is simply illogical. The Ledger offers no evidence to support this far-fetched claim. Even the Christie administration wasn't so sure it would work because they kept changing the test's percentage of our evaluations seemingly at random.
But we need the PARCC because an A in Millburn is not the same as an A in Camden. We have to ensure that all kids succeed, not just those in affluent districts.
If the Ledger's only measure of success is the number of prestigious colleges and universities a school's students attend, then why aren't they raising a ruckus about all those students in Camden who have been denied rich, deep curriculums in the arts, humanities, foreign languages and technology (like they have in Millburn) because the state decided the best way to 'fix' their schools is to cut their funding, deny public input, silence parents and test the kids to death? That would never, ever happen in Millburn, and no test will ever close that disparity gap.

The PARCC and SBAC (Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium) tests were rolled out to assess student mastery of the Common Core State Standards that, along with carrot-and-stick financial incentives from the Obama administration, were supposed to level the educational playing field across all 50 states. The concept was that a child from New Jersey could move to Oregon and get the same education. Except that education reformers overlooked the fact that the United States is so culturally and economically diverse that a one size fits all education system is not appropriate. Schools in rural Central Oregon serve a very different student population—and have very different state funding—than students in Millburn NJ. Poverty plays a huge role in a child's chances for educational success. But The Ledger doesn't like to talk about that.
The Boston Globe recently tracked 93 local valedictorians and found that one in four failed to earn a college diploma in six years. Their high schools left them woefully underprepared. Some lost their scholarships. Others dropped out in frustration. We have the same problem in New Jersey. At Essex County College in Newark, 85 percent of incoming freshmen need to take remedial math. In 2017, only 13 percent graduated. While social promotion also happens in wealthier districts, those kids have a deeper safety net.  
I am not an education researcher, but from what I read in the Boston Globe study above, grade inflation—not standardized tests—is the main reason those students struggled in college. No educator with a lick of professionalism supports that, but sadly, it does happen, and 'reformers' themselves have been caught in the thick of some of the most controversial as we saw in the Washington, DC and Atlanta testing scandals.

And as for the remedial math and graduation rates at Essex County College, The Ledger assumes the PARCC test will fix those too, despite no mention of how long it had been since those students actually took a high school math class. And the fact that the school has been embroiled in turmoil, turnover and fiscal mismanagement for a few years—which was actually mentioned in the very same link—was apparently overlooked.

But The Star Ledger forges ahead!
This is why we need an objective test. Yet because the PARCC is such a powerful diagnostic tool that can trace a student’s learning problem right down to a particular teacher’s lesson, it ran afoul of the union. 

As Joe Biden would say, "What a load of malarky!" Sometimes I ask myself why I bother to respond to these sophomoric tropes, but as an educator, I believe I have an obligation to facts. And here are a few facts from a post I wrote back in 2016:  

1. The PARCC test is not diagnostic. In order for any test to accomplish this, it must have at least 25 questions per assessed skill. The PARCC does not. Bari Ehrlichson, Special Assistant to the Commissioner of Education, admitted this last year in a panel discussion on the PARCC.

2. The PARCC does not consistently assess grade-level skills. Rider University Professor and reading expert Russ Walsh analyzed some of the sample language arts questions and found many of them to be several grade levels above the tested grade. This is not only unfair to both students and teachers; it is also demoralizing to students. How can anyone be expected to succeed at something when the odds are heavily stacked against them from the start?
3. Research has shown that student designed projects and research are far more effective and meaningful ways for both teachers and students to assess deep learning and understanding. Standardized tests in general are meant to show trends, and as such, PARCC falls far short on the assessment continuum.
4. The American Statistical Association has warned that standardized tests should not be used to assess educator effectiveness because the methods being used are simply not reliable. And with the enormous emphasis now put on data in teaching, teachers should not be evaluated based on a flawed test that provides flawed data.
5. Out of the 24 states originally in the PARCC consortium only seven plus the District of Columbia will be participating in the 2016-2017 testing. This should be a red flag warning to every parent and educator.*
6. PARCC is not a reliable predictor of 'college and career readiness'. Recent research shows that high school GPAs are the most reliable predictor of college success. Yet all across this state—and country—related arts classes that help build those GPAs are being scaled back or eliminated to make way for more Common Core study and PARCC prep.    
7. A recently released study published in the School Superintendent Association's Journal of Scholarship and Practice concluded that a higher percentage of the 2009 New Jersey high school core curriculum content standards in English language arts and math prompted higher-order thinking than the 2010 Common Core State Standards for those same subjects and grade levels. We are dumbing down our students. 
8. The amount of testing students will be subjected to starting with the graduating class of 2020 is not only against current law, it’s just plain cruel. Starting with this class, in order to graduate high school, students will have to take and fail the PARCC not once, not twice, but three times before any real assessment of their academic progress can be used. What educator in their right mind thinks this is best practice?
9. There are big problems with scoring. Officials from PARCC have admitted there are discrepancies in scores between students who took paper and pencil tests vs. those who took the test online, with the former group scoring on average higher than the latter. And, despite PARCC's promise of leveling the playing field for all students in all states, the PARCC consortium states have the option to change their cut scores. This is nuts.
10. The fact that in its recently released report, the Study Commission On The Use Of Student Assessments in New Jersey failed to honor and recognize the hundreds of people who testified against this test, and instead recommended a marketing campaign* to crush the Opt-Out movement and brainwash parents and the general public into thinking it will solve all the world’s problems is proof that this test cannot stand on its own merit and should be thrown out.

* The PARCC consortium is now down to two states: New Jersey and New Mexico.

In a 2015 interview, Shani Robinson, one of the teachers caught up in the Atlanta cheating scandal had this to say about all that testing:
Who should really be held accountable for cheating the children? Our children have been cheated by those who have willfully torn apart black communities through displacement and gentrification, underfunded and privatized public schools, and then have criminalized black educators for a dysfunctional system that was designed to fail. ... I feel like this case is extremely important because public education is under attack, as we've seen in places where teachers are striking, and the cheating scandal was used to portray public education as a failure and justify privatizing schools.  

Privatizing public schools... that is the story The Star Ledger should be covering.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Super "Bowling For Dollars" — How Politicians & The @NFL Screw Taxpayers

Happy Super Bowl LIII! Today is Georgia taxpayers' day to get screwed! 

Photo credit: Danny Karnik

During the NFC & AFC playoffs, I wrote about the financial train wreck that was Super Bowl XLVIII, played in New Jersey in 2014, and how the NFL and its teams reap all the profits while host cities—and taxpayers—get screwed. Today the train wreck comes to Atlanta. 

The city just opened the shiny, new $1.6 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium, paid for by taxpayers, the majority of whom cannot afford a Mercedes Benz; all of whom had no say in how their tax dollars were going to be spent. 

Michael Farren and Anne Philpot, researchers with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, reported on just how much the state will lose not only during the Super Bowl, but for many years to come. This isn't an anomaly. This is what happens when taxpayers subsidize professional sports. This is why 70% of Americans are against this practice.

So sit back with your guacamolé and wings and read their words. All emphasis mine:

Sunday’s Super Bowl, a rematch 17 years in the making, harkens back to a thrilling 2002 title game between Tom Brady’s underdog New England Patriots and the high-flying St. Louis (now-Los Angeles) Rams. 
But the host of this year’s game, Atlanta’s sparkling new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, reminds us of something less thrilling: the $1 billion or so that politicians give away in unnecessary public handouts to professional sports every year. 
The $1.6 billion stadium was underwritten by $248 million in local bonds. Once taxpayers pay those off, they’ll then write the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons an annual check for stadium operations and upkeep. 
Our calculations suggest taxpayers will pay around $1.02 billion over the course of the deal. Combined with $77 million in sales tax rebates, infrastructure investments, and city-provided land, locals could be on the hook for over five times the initial $200 million estimate. 
The story is the same in most other sports cities. And like other sports teams, the Falcons rake in buckets of money: corporate sponsorships ($900 million) and personal seat licenses ($267 million) could have paid for 75 percent of the stadium cost alone, not to mention annual revenue from season ticket sales ($550 to $3,850 per ticket), TV revenue and merchandise licensing ($256 million), stadium concessions, and other events held in the stadium. 
There are only so many tax dollars to go around. Misspending them to enhance sports industry profits means that public services must be cut, taxes have to be higher, or both. 
Atlanta will spend about as much on the stadium as it would cost to employ an additional 300 Atlanta police officers or educate 2,900 public school students for 30 years. 
Perhaps even worse, Americans from coast to coast share the burden. The income that lenders earn on the municipal bonds typically used to finance stadium construction is exempt from federal income taxes. 
That means the rest of us have to pay higher taxes (or see the federal deficit climb even higher) to make up for the shortfall. 
A tax exemption for stadium subsidies may sound like small potatoes, but Brookings Institution researchers estimated the loophole was responsible for $3.7 billion in lost federal revenue between 2000 and 2014. 
Former President Obama tried to end it, as did House Republicans in last year’s tax reform, but the sports industry won each time. 
Lately there have been encouraging examples of taxpayers and principled political leaders standing up to the sports industry. 
Last fall local citizen groups in Austin and Seattle gathered signatures to force public referenda that would require popular votes on future stadium subsidies — which is meaningful, since 70 percent of Americans say they’re against giving money to sports teams. 
Meanwhile, a group of Atlanta taxpayers are challenging another tax exemption. 
Their lawsuit argues that even though the Falcons’ stadium is built on publicly owned land, the fact that the team controls all events and revenue it generates means it should pay local property taxes. That could amount to $700 million over 30 years. 
And in the Washington, D.C. area, Virginia Delegate Michael Webert has for the past two years partnered with Maryland Delegate David Moon and D.C. Council member David Grosso to advance perhaps the best idea of all: an “interstate compact” that would prohibit subsidies for a new Washington Redskins stadium. 
This would prevent their three governments from engaging in a taxpayer-funded bidding war to attract the team. 
If all 50 states were to sign on to a similar agreement, we could permanently end the subsidy war for sports teams. As a bonus, it would eliminate a major reason that leagues restrict the number of teams, so new franchises could expand into more cities. 
Fans may be excited to experience the Super Bowl at Atlanta’s new state-of-the-art facility, but they should remember that the money that subsidizes stadiums could go to much better purposes. Sunday’s spectacle will show yet again that the NFL doesn’t need — or deserve — public money.
We have the money to fully fund public education, pay teachers a living wage, provide universal health insurance, pay for college, raise people out of poverty, and a whole host of other things that will improve the quality of life for millions in the richest country in the history of this planet. 

It's all about priorities.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

UPDATE & ACTION: @GovMurphy Promised To Ditch #PARCC. Is He Going Back On His Word?

Gov. Murphy promised to end PARCC testing. Tell him #KeepYourWord!

Update and Action Alert!

Last week I wrote about S-3381, Sen. Teresa Ruiz's bill to change the state's high school graduation requirements that, if signed into law, could have a devastating effect on thousands of New Jersey high school seniors. 

S-3381 now has a companion Assembly bill. A-4957 was posted by Assembly Education Chair Pamela Lampitt, although as of this writing, it has not been assigned to a committee. The Senate bill will be heard in the Senate Budget room tomorrow at noon.

All of this is moving very quickly, and for no good reason. Both bills are expected to be voted on by the full legislature this week, so quick action is needed (see below for specific action items).

Yesterday Save Our Schools NJ posted an extensive update. You can read the full text here. These are the main concerns: 

The NJ Appellate Court indicated that the current high school graduation testing requirements, which were imposed by the Christie Administration in 2016 and ruled illegal by the Court on December 31, 2018, will stay in effect until the Court rules on the Murphy Administration's request that all current juniors and seniors who had partially or fully met those requirements by December 30 2018 be allowed to graduate under the testing options specified in those requirements. In its December 31 ruling, the court had originally indicated that the Christie graduation requirements would be struck down as of January 31. Those testing requirements are available here.
If the Court does not grant the Murphy Administration's request regarding current seniors and juniors, there would need to be some other way for those students to meet the high school graduation testing requirements. If the Court grants the Administration's request to allow current seniors and juniors to graduate under the Christie 2016 regulations, that problem would be solved. 
Currently, NJ law requires students to take a single 11th grade basic skills test of English and math in order to graduate. The Ruiz bill would require students to take as many standardized tests as imposed by the NJ Department of Education and for those tests to be a demonstration of "college and career readiness," even though many students do not intend to go to college and even though this terminology is vague enough to allow a gubernatorial Administration to abuse it. The Ruiz bill also requires students to take the college and career tests before they qualify for any other graduation options, which could force current seniors to take PARCC 10th grade ELA and Algebra 1 tests in order to graduate. 
With the additional time granted by the Appellate Court, there is no need to rush this legislation through. These bills would be a substantial change that is likely to have a major negative impact on our children. They should not be pushed through with back room deals, as is currently happening. Parents, students and other education advocates should be able to testify and the legislature should understand the broad-reaching consequences of these bills before they vote to impose them on our children. (emphasis mine)

Here's why we need to fight the Ruiz/Lampitt bills:

  • This would be a major change in our law with no study of the impact on kids or costs to districts
  • Doubles down against the promise made by Gov. Murphy to end high school exit testing
  • Leaves the class of 2021 and beyond without a clear path to graduation
  • It's unclear if the bill actually protects the classes of 2019 and 2020. As written, they may have to take PARCC in order to graduate.

Here's why we need to support S-558/A-672, posted by Sen. Nia Gill and Asw. Mila Jasey respectively:

  • They provide immediate relief to all current high school students
  • They provide breathing room for the NJDOE to come up with a new assessment system. The current 40-year-old statute has never been reviewed.
  • They provide time for the legislature to hold hearings on the use of high school exit tests. Research since the 1970's shows that exit testing is very bad for low-income students, students of color, English language learners and students with disabilities. 
  • Only 12 states have some form of exit testing; it is not federally mandated
  • More tests = more money spent 

Take Action Today!

Gov. Murphy's office does not believe there will be parent backlash on the Ruiz bill. But, people who've already called his office are reporting frazzled staffers on the other end of the line. 

  • Keep calling the Governor's Office: 609-292-6000. Tell him #KeepYourWord: veto S-3381/A-4957 and support S-558/A-672.
  • Tweet @GovMurphy. Tell him #KeepYourWord: veto S-3381/A-4957 and support S-558/A-672.
  • Call Speaker Coughlin's regional office: 732-855-7441. Tell him to support S-558/A-672 and reject S-3381/A-4957.
  • Tweet @SpeakerCoughlin. Tell him to support S-558/A-672 and reject S-3381/A-4957. 
  • Call your state reps. Tell them to reject S-3381/A-4957 and support S-558/A-672. Find yours here.
  • Share this post and encourage others to take action as well

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

@GovMurphy Promised To Ditch #PARCC. Is He Going Back On His Word?

What's harder than navigating 'Spaghetti Junction' on the Garden State Parkway? Figuring out what it takes to graduate high school in New Jersey. We thought we had it fixed, but not so fast...

Parents, educators and education activists cheered last month when the New Jersey appellate court struck down the requirement that high school students must pass the PARCC Algebra 1 and English Language Arts 10 tests in order to graduate high school because it violated state law requiring students to take only one exam in 11th grade to graduate. 

There was plenty to cheer about. The test is awful, and was never designed for its current use. From its inception under Gov. Christie, it was met with sustained and vociferous pushback from parents, educators and testing experts. And it has turned our public schools into test-prep and data-collection factories, gavage-feeding our students more and more grade level inappropriate info lest educators be found sleeping at their desks. This despite the fact that New Jersey consistently ranks in the top two or three states in the country for quality public education. The test is so bad that out of the 24 states originally in the PARCC consortium, only one other remains: New Mexicowhich consistently finishes at or near dead last. In its first year of administration, we had the second highest opt-out rate in the nation, bested only by New York. But Gov. Christie and his buddies down at the DOE (with plenty of help from some powerful state Democratic lawmakers) couldn't have that egg on their faces, so they forced it on our kids as a graduation requirement.

State graduation requirements have changed so many times in the past five years, that it's clear the DOE has no idea what it's doing. And it's hurting kids. Here are just two of the many, ever-changing grad requirement charts on their website. Want to bring a high school kid or their parents to tears? Have them take a look at all of them and figure it out.

Confused yet?

Gov. Phil Murphy made dumping PARCC one of his signature campaign issues. We grudgingly gave him a pass when he said he couldn't eliminate it for this school year because too many wheels were already in motion. But, when the appellate court rendered its decision, there was much cause for celebration. Until...
A bill introduced... in the state Senate would change state law to accommodate rules created by former Gov. Chris Christie’s administration rather than repealing or revising those rules to comply with state law. The proposal would allow the state to keep in place the current graduation rules, which include the controversial requirement that students pass PARCC exams...
State Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, said she introduced the bill after discussing the ruling with attorneys for Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration. The state no longer gives a standardized test to all 11th grade students, so its options were limited.
 “The easiest way to go about it, we all decided, was to have a legislative fix," said Ruiz, chair of the Senate’s Education Committee. (emphasis mine)
At least she admits it was a back-room deal. But, sorry Senator, you're wrong. Here's "the easiest way to go about it", courtesy of Julie Larrea Borst, Executive Director of Save Our Schools, NJ:
The governor should move immediately to announce an emergency suspension of the graduation testing requirement for the class of 2019. The Legislature then should extend that temporary suspension for a few years, to protect students in subsequent classes and create an opportunity to review New Jersey’s exit testing policy. (emphasis mine)
This review should include representatives from all stakeholder groups, including—and especially—educators, parents and testing experts.

Borst continues: 
Assemblywoman Mila Jasey and Sen. Nia Gill have introduced bipartisan legislation (A672/S558) that would accomplish that, suspending exit testing without interfering with the federal accountability testing requirements under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). 
A review of New Jersey high school exit testing is long overdue. New Jersey adopted exit testing 40 years ago, when the idea was first gaining traction nationally. Over the subsequent four decades, however, multiple studies have documented that exit testing produces no educational benefits; increases high school dropout rates; and feeds the school-to-prison pipeline. Exit tests are particularly damaging for low-income students, students of color, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities. (emphasis mine)
The very students Sen. Ruiz calls "her kids" are the same students most hurt by PARCC testing, but even more so by a high school exit test, and yet, she's introducing S-3381 to the Senate Budget Committee next Monday instead of the Education Committee. 

What is the rush? Since its inception, the call for slowing down, reflecting, analyzing and studying has been loud and clear, but has fallen on many deaf ears on both sides of the aisle in Trenton. To whom are elected officials beholden, and why isn't it the students and parents of New Jersey?

High school exit exams are not federally mandated. In fact, only 12 states require them. And they come at a cost. At a time when the state is strapped for resources, we do not need multiple PARCC tests administered to high school students when the law only requires one.

Never mind the fact that the Murphy administration's own attorneys are in on this fix, presumably with his blessings. If Ruiz's bill passes, Gov. Murphy must veto it or face serious backlash from everyone in this state who voted to end the Christie reign of error. Parents, educators and concerned citizens must call our state representatives and the governor's office and demand an end to the nightmare of standardized testing.

What can you do?

Sunday, January 13, 2019

How NJ Politicians—D & R— Stick It To Consumers

"Are you ready for some football good ole' fashioned consumer screwing?"

This blog has been quiet for some time. The "shock and awe" of Trumplandia has left me mouth-agape, clinging to the lifesavers tossed by our better angels in the not-"fake news" who remind me that while the rudder is shaking, the seas are rough, and we've taken on water, the good ship USS Democracy is holding steady—so far.

With PARCC testing, the minimum wage, legal pot, lax oversight of corporate tax breaks, and the usual political sliminess that defines the Garden State all making headlines recently, there's no shortage of subject matter. But with the NFL playoffs starting, synchronicity was at work. As I was reading the Star Ledger this story about the 2014 Super Bowl caught my eye:

So? That was five years ago. What does all this have to do with the 'All Dem, All the Time' New Jersey State Legislature and Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy? Well, this entire story is a shining example of elected officials feeding their egos at the expense of citizens, elected officials allowing big corporations to stuff their wallets at the expense of consumers and how electeds make back-room deals in the dead of night and there's not a damned thing we can do about it. Stick with me and you'll see...

While "New York/New Jersey" won the bid to host Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014, New York got all the glamor and New Jersey got... nothin'. We've always been the ugly stepsister of New York, despite the fact that both the Giants and the Jets play at MetLife Stadium in Secaucus, a stone's throw from Manhattan, the only thing between it and The Big Apple being the forever-under-construction-American Dream Mall—and possibly Jimmy Hoffa's body. 

In 2013, then-Gov. Chris Christie touted the event as a windfall for New Jersey, promising huuuuge (ooops, sorry, wrong NJ bloviator) big revenues for our state which was reeling under the weight of nine credit downgrades (a record eleven by the time he left office). But, as with most things Christie, it didn't pan out. 

In fact, it was a financial disaster. Not only did the NFL skip town leaving an $18 million unpaid tab, local businesses and municipalities lost approximately $600 million in revenues because they were denied the right to use any Super Bowl branding to promote watch parties, and all the official events in the week leading up to the game were held in New York City. Even the hotels right near the stadium got screwed because attendees were forced to use mass transit. New Jersey spent—and lost—tens of millions in infrastructure and security upgrades, and snow removal contingencies. It was the most expensive Super Bowl to date. How expensive? We may never know.
A definitive cost for the New Jersey Super Bowl has never been tallied. An NFL spokesman said they do not provide such figures and the state treasury officials said they did not do any extensive economic analysis (of course not). A spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie declined comment, but pointed to earlier statements by the governor, saying the costs to New Jersey on balance “would be outweighed by the benefits given to the state and the region by having the Super Bowl here.” (emphasis and snark mine)
Ummm... no. We lost. Bigly. And so did fans. See, actually attending a Super Bowl isn't for ordinary Joe Schmoes like you and me. It's insider baseball—er—football. Ninety-nine percent of the tickets for that game were reserved for the teams and other VIPs, and the one percent that was available for purchase by fans who had to win a lottery (boy, does this sound familiar) in order to even purchase them were going for exorbitant prices. One fan, Josh Finkelman, was only able to purchase tickets for $2000 each, twice their face value. He called foul and filed a lawsuit against the NFL citing New Jersey's Consumer Fraud Act that is supposed to protect consumers from just this sort of thing. Unfortunately, he lost. 

In writing the unanimous decision, State Supreme Court Justice, and Christie appointee, Judge Anne Pattersonwrote that this practice "does not constitute the unlawful withholding of more than 5 percent [of tickets]. The tickets at the heart of plaintiff’s action were part of the 99 percent of tickets reserved long before the 2014 Super Bowl for specific entities with ties to the NFL. Those tickets were never destined to be part of a public sale.” 

Finkelman’s attorney, Bruce Nagel, shot back:
It’s the most anti-consumer opinion that has been issued in decades out of New Jersey,” said Bruce Nagel, a partner at Nagel Rice LLP in Rosewood, New Jersey. “The Legislature passed a law to ensure the public had access to fair-priced tickets and the Supreme Court, at least with regard to the Super Bowl, basically nullified the statute. It’s a sad day for consumers under this ruling today.
So, how did Finkelman lose a case that seemed like a no-brainer win? Could this possibly have something to do with it? 
[In August], Gov. Phil Murphy... signed a controversial bill that restructures the state’s law on ticket sales, repealing 17-year-old rules that were intended to protect consumers. 
Lawmakers quietly sent the measure to Murphy in early July as they wrapped up weeks of intense budget negotiations, moving the bill through both houses so quickly that there were no public hearings on it.

While sponsors say the bill, NJ A 4259 (18R), is intended to protect consumers — it includes a number of provisions meant to do just that — it also repeals a law barring anyone with access to tickets that haven’t gone on sale from withholding more than 5 percent of those tickets from the general public. 
(Remember, the NFL withheld 99%!)
In a statement accompanying his signature, Murphy said he understood the concerns people have about that aspect of the bill, but believes the provision puts the state at a competitive disadvantage and had sewn confusion into the industry. He noted neither New York nor Pennsylvania have this "holdback" rule. 
"Entertainers have an interest in rewarding their most loyal fans with access to live performances, and the 5 percent cap can act as a hindrance to this objective in certain circumstances... (I bet Bruce and Bon Jovi could count a lot more than 5% of NJ concert-goers as 'loyal fans') Moreover, the difficulty in identifying tickets that have been held back and tickets that are available to the general public has led to substantial confusion and ongoing litigation, particularly when entertainers reserve tickets for groups that can encompass a wide subset of the population." (So, fix it, don't scrap it.)
The governor instead called on Congress to pass a bill creating a comprehensive federal approach “that will promote competition and protect consumers.” (Congress? Seriously? Good luck with that.) He noted Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) sponsors such a measure...
Pascrell said he was pleased the governor had endorsed his federal legislation, but said he was disappointed Murphy was moving forward with the New Jersey bill. The measure, the congressman said, will worsen an industry that “has been increasingly hostile to music and sports fans just looking to enjoy some entertainment without being gouged." 
“Too much of this bill takes the wrong approach to addressing the unregulated, multi-billion dollar ticket marketplace,” Pascrell said in a statement. “Addressing speculative ticket reselling is a welcome policy. But the whole law reads like a wish list from Ticketmaster, a company almost universally loathed by consumers. Eliminating limits on withholding tickets from the public while hindering transparency in pricing are steps in the wrong direction.” (emphasis and snark mine)
And there you have it. Arguably the most Democratic state in the country, that elected a self-described progressive governor last year, quietly stuck it to her citizens. 

This story isn't just about football, but January 12, 2019, is the 50th anniversary of one of the greatest Super Bowls in my lifetime: Super Bowl III, Broadway Joe Namath and the Jest vs. the Baltimore Colts. In a (for that time) shocking display of bravado, chutzpah and plain ole' confidence, Namath infamously predicted the Jets would wipe the floor with the Colts. And they did. Those were simpler times, when the Super Bowl was about the game, not days-long pre-game shows, 'wardrobe malfunctions', $2 thousand dollar tickets and $2 million dollar commercials, and all those endless stats. But what do I know? I was a mere 10-year old girl who thought Joe Namath was pretty awesome and bet my father that he was right. I won. 

Fifty years later, New Jersey consumers lost.


Here's the full game. Sit back and kick it old school for a couple of hours. 

* Please be sure to read the link to the Blue Jersey article that details exactly how Judge Patterson gained her seat on the New Jersey Supreme Court. It's sickening. The People's Organization for Progress Chair, Larry Hamm described her as a lawyer who had "consistently chosen to vigorously champion the interests of deadly corporate giants against the interests of the people"