Saturday, December 27, 2014

My Response to SB Superintendent

At the last South Brunswick Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Dr. Jelling came to the podium for about 10 minutes to give a short speech on PARCC, testing, and opting-out. I recorded his short speech, which can be seen below (the link should bring you right to the video). After coming home from the meeting unsatisfied (to say the least) with a lot of what he said, I decided to go through and break down his main points. 

Video of speech:
**Video is not working at the moment. I am working on converting the file to a smaller size to be able to upload right into blogger. Thank you for your understanding. 

Breakdown of points:
“Something that we are going to administer to so many students across so many states.”
Blogger Mercedes Schneider has been following the Common Core/PARCC debate closely, and has broken down the PARCC attrition from 2011-2014. I recommend reading her entire piece with detailed explanations here. A main quote to sum up the article: “PARCC exited the 2011 starting gate with 24 states plus DC. By the close of 2014, PARCC states actually and legitimately contracted with Pearson for its PARCC assessments is less than half the initial 2011 count.”
Here, we then must ask ourselves: why are so many states having reservations about PARCC and common core? Why are so many well-respected academics raising questions about the tests and the standards?
“...criticism in terms of who framed the PARCC, and Pearson is the entity that seems to be credited/blamed depending on your bend... and I think... that’s a specious argument, it just doesn't hold water. Pearson has been doing business in this district for decades and decades, and the idea that the imposition of private equity and entrepreneurship in education is a bad thing just completely ignores the truth... I absolutely reject that on its face.”
First, just because a company has been doing business for “decades and decades” doesn't mean that all of their products are good for students.
Well, look here! A piece written on December 15, 2014 by Alan Singer states the following: “Pearson Education is closing its foundation; it is under investigation by the FBI for possible insider dealings in the Los Angeles iPad fiasco; the company is being sued by former employees for wrongful termination; and its PARCC exams are losing customers.” Again, absolutely a piece to read in its entirety. Also, another point of clarification: this isn’t private equity. Rather, this is a product sold to districts. If Pearson invested 100 million of its own money into the districts to create personalized exams, that would be a different story, but not the case here.
“It doesn’t impact what we do here on a school level.”
This is completely untrue. Because of the high-stakes association of these tests, teachers are being forced to “teach to the test,” kids are learning “test taking skills,” and classroom instruction is being aligned to prep students for the tests. Ask your kids, ask any teachers who are willing to speak on this (search Mark Weber - Jersey Jazzman, Ani McHugh - TeacherBiz, and Marie Corfield for more on this), or do some research about “teaching to the test.” You will find things like art, music, social studies, science, and even recess being cut because they aren't tested, and that time is needed for test prep.
Save Our Schools New Jersey, “a grassroots, all-volunteer organization of parents and other public education supporters who believe that every child in New Jersey should have access to a high-quality public education,” recently released a guide titled, “12 Reasons We Oppose the PARCC test.” Some of their main points include the following:
1. PARCC is poorly designed & confusing
2. PARCC’s online testing format is very problematic, particularly for younger students
3. PARCC is diagnostically & instructionally useless
**4. Taking and preparing for PARCC & other high-stakes standardized tests is replacing learning
Administrators at many schools “report that they spend as much as a third of the school year preparing students to take these tests. That time includes the actual time spent taking the tests, the time spent taking pretests and benchmark tests and other practice tests, the time spent on test prep materials, the time spent doing exercises and activities in textbooks and online materials that have been modeled on the test questions in order to prepare kids to answer questions of those kinds, and the time spent on reporting, data analysis, data chats, proctoring, and other test housekeeping.” i
5. PARCC will further distort curricula and teaching
6.  PARCC & other high-stakes standardized tests undermine students’ creativity and desire to learn
7. PARCC & other high-stakes standardized tests have an enormous financial cost
8. PARCC is completely experimental. It has not been validated as accurate & yet it will be used to evaluate students, schools and teachers
9. PARCC & other high-stakes standardized tests are abusive to our children
10. PARCC will worsen the achievement and gender gaps
11. High-stakes standardized tests fail to improve educational outcomes
12. PARCC and Smarter Balanced Common Core aligned tests are designed to brand the majority of our children as failures
Read the entire document with detailed points of research under each point here, and explore around their website for more information and resources.
“This is the way we will glean data on our children.”
As I commented on the original video, many people know that these tests are not going to tell us anything we don't already know. About anything. There is no point the district can make for these tests other than "collecting the data." Sorry, but I don't view my kid a data point for anyone to "data mine." The teacher knows my student best, and there is no data that will tell them what they don’t already know - where students strengths are, where they need improvement, etc. Teachers spend all day with them, and through authentic, teacher-created assessments, teachers can see how individual students, as well as the class as a whole, are understanding and further demonstrating their understanding of the material.

“What do you think about PARCC? I’m agnostic.” - then later: “I am pro-compliance, and I’m pro data.”

The contradiction here comes when Dr. Jellig says he is pro-data & then goes on to say, "Well, if it doesn't work out the way they say then we will question." So, are we okay with not validating the tests "work" before we experiment on kids? He should be saying "show me the data before you try out your test on our kids." - especially with high stakes associations for students, teachers, and schools; not the other way around.

“This test has flexibility...”
Later on, Dr. Jellig states, “There wasn't a menu given to us as there was with AchieveNJ. PARCC is what’s for dinner! The state said here is your assessment, administer it well.” So in all honesty, I’m struggling to see where the “flexibility” - in either the tests themselves or the administration of the tests - is to be found.
“We get 24 million from the state. I don’t want to give it back.” Dr. Jellig then goes on to say he doesn't want to suggest that the failure to comply might result in backlash from the state, but then adds, “it could happen, but I don’t expect it to happen.”
This is more of a clarification point. FairTest recently released a guide called “Why You Can Boycott Standardized Tests Without Fear of Federal Penalties to Your School.” Here are some main points:
NCLB says that 95% of students must take the test or the school will fail to make “adequate yearly progress” (AYP) and then suffer sanctions. However, this provision is now essentially irrelevant.
First, schools that do not receive federal Title I funds are exempt from sanctions under NCLB. Those schools are labeled as not making AYP, but NCLB does not require a state to do anything to them.
Second, 41 states (plus DC and Puerto Rico) have waivers from the U.S. Department of
Education (ED) that have eliminated the sanctions imposed on most schools that fail to make AYP. The basic message is that in waiver states, a school not in or close to the bottom 5% likely has nothing to fear from a boycott. However, a school that is at or close to the bottom 5% would be advised to proceed with caution – parents may not want to increase the likelihood of severe sanctions (staff firings, turning it into a charter school) by having both very low scores (or, depending on the state, low rates of score increases) and many opt outs.
Third, in states without a waiver, every school must now have 100% of its students score “proficient.” As a result, almost all schools are “failing” and face possible sanctions. But if a school is already failing, there is no additional danger from a boycott.
In addition, the 95% rule does not pertain to any tests other than reading and math exams mandated by NCLB. Separate tests used to judge teachers in other subjects as well as other state or district-mandated tests are not covered by this requirement.
There may be some risk for some schools due to the 95% rule. But for the great majority of schools, including Title I schools, the risk is non-existent or minimal and should not be a reason to avoid boycotts.
Here is the entire guide. Their website has incredible resources on these topics, and I encourage you to explore around.
“I will also tell you that when the first cut of data comes back... we will take our time and thoughtfully digest and reflect every aspect of what we receive to determine its usefulness.”
Cut scores are not yet set. So discussing how all of this data is going to be the best data we ever retrieved or all of the amazing things we are going to do with this data makes no sense. We don’t even know what “passing” on the PARCC test is, and the state is not going to set this “cut score” - passing score, possibly what proficient is (again, we don’t know how this will be scored) - until AFTER the first test. So essentially, the state will look at the test from March/May of this year, and then over the summer decide how many kids fail, and how many pass. There should be absolutely no high stakes - for students, teachers, or schools, attached to this test. As Mark Weber, public school teacher and part time doctoral student in education policy at the Rutgers Graduate School of Education (who blogs as ‘Jersey Jazzman’) writes, “Why are we attaching high stakes to PARCC before we have even seen how it works when it is fully implemented? The fact is that we just don't know how it went, or whether it will go well in a year. We just don't know. We need to properly assess this field test, then run a no-stakes administration across the state with data and results open to the public so the PARCC can be properly vetted.” See more here.
“But to do that now (“reach out and say this test isn’t what was promised”)... I feel like there’s almost a bullying mentality going on. We don’t know PARCC; we don’t anything about it because it hasn't actually happened.
Saying there’s a “bullying” mentality is a far reach. The current “reform” culture in education is extremely oppressive to students and teachers, where top-down mandates are employed in a “do what you’re told or else” system. Bullying doesn't work from bottom up; it’s called resistance - and clearly there is a reason for it. Concerned parents, teachers, and students are asking the questions and raising concerns that impact THEIR education and educational experience. If we don’t know anything about PARCC - which we don’t - why are putting so much faith in another high stakes test? Why are we putting our faith in the same reforms that have so-to-speak “failed” education in the past? Why are we allowing such high stakes associations be tied to a test that is untested and unproven? Read here about what happened in New York after they implemented a common core aligned Pearson test.
Here you may say, “We've had standardized testing for so long, what other alternatives are there?” Well, there are. Read the following:

“Lastly, with regards to opt out, which has been a topic of conversation... there is no opt out. The state laid out no opt out and we don’t tend to either.”
Just to point out - wording is important. Notice how Dr. Jellig continually says "no opt-out." He is correct that there is no opt-out law *in New Jersey (As Choose to Refuse NJ ( states, “l) California is [one of the] only state that has official “opt out” policies. Therefore, it is likely that unless you live in California (or Pennsylvania using religious exemption to opt out) if you write a letter requesting to ‘opt your child out’ you will receive a letter stating they cannot honor your request because there is no opt out clause. Make sure to state that you are REFUSING to allow your child to participate in the testing.”) But parents have a legal right TO REFUSE THE TEST. REFUSE. Wording is important. Parents have a right to choose to not to have their children be guinea pigs for essentially Pearson’s untested and unproven tests. The state may have no policy on opt out, but they also can't force a kid to take a test. Parents have a right to refuse. Many letter circulating with information, groups like "United opt-out" (because some states use that language).
According to the U.S Constitution, specifically the 14th Amendment, parental rights are broadly protected by Supreme Court decisions (Meyer and Pierce), especially in the area of education. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that parents possess the “fundamental right” to “direct the upbringing and education of their children." Furthermore, the Court declared that “the child is not the mere creature of the State: those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right coupled with the high duty to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.” (Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 534-35) The Supreme Court criticized a state legislature for trying to interfere “with the power of parents to control the education of their own.” (Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 402.) In Meyer, the Supreme Court held that the right of parents to raise their children free from unreasonable state interferences is one of the unwritten “liberties” protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (262 U.S. 399). in recognition of both the right and responsibility of parents to control their children’s education, the Court has stated, “It is cardinal with us that the custody, care and nurture of the child reside first in the parents, whose primary function and freedom include preparation for the obligations the State can neither supply nor hinder.” (Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158).
The members of our district deserve to know the truth, and deserve to see the full picture when making educational decisions for their - our - children.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Dear Commissioner Hespe: This is Personal.

Dear Commissioner David Hespe and the New Jersey Department of Education:

I am really at a loss of words for where to begin on this latest memo - and trust me, I'm never at a loss for words when it comes to discussing education. So I figure, let me start by telling you a little bit about myself and my schooling experience.

[For more factual based arguments regarding the newest Department of Education memo, see the incredible Ani McHugh here, and parent Sarah Blaine here.]

I always loved school. But more than that, I always loved learning, which in many cases is lost in school due to the current test-and-punish tactics. I would spend my free time playing teacher and school (and in case you've forgotten, I'm enrolled in the 5-year Masters Urban Education program at The College of New Jersey). I would spend my time doing long division problems at my Grandparent's kitchen table because I loved the feeling of successfully finishing a math problem - I also just loved math, which I was two years ahead in all the way through the beginnings of high school. I would spend my free time writing stories, plays, creative pieces, poetry, and anything else that the pencil would draft because I simply loved the feeling of being creative. I loved science because my Father and Grandfather, both scientists, would come into school and do experiments with my class and sometimes the entire grade level. I loved art and social studies and music (the clarinet managed to last two years in my hands!). I loved learning and to me, school was the place that happened. How naive I was.

This was all until I reached high school, where I could not handle the pressure. I had suffered from minor school anxiety in middle school, but I did very well with the support of my parents and teachers. And despite suffering from minor school anxiety, I still enjoyed going to school. High school was a different story. On my first day of high school, I walked in, froze at the entrance, and found myself in the counselor's office. I remember saying, "I just can't handle the pressure." This was the first day of school - we hadn't even done anything yet. All I had running through my mind was, "Everything you do matters. How will I do on my SAT's? What college am I going to? Do I have enough extracurriculars? What if I fail my final exams?" All through middle school I was reminded how scary, hard, and high-pressure/high-stakes high school was going to be, and it got to me.

Omitting the long, boring details, I ended up being diagnosed with severe school and separation anxiety. I was homeschooled for four months during my sophomore year, four years ago almost to the day: the very end of October, November, December, January, and February, and then slowly started attending one class a day until I was back in school fully around April/May. It was the absolute worst experience of my life and exposed me to the ugly side of "schooling." I remember sitting in the counselor's office and having a school administrator say to me, "I don't get it. Why can't you just go to school like everyone else?" I felt worthless, stupid, and I genuinely didn't understand why I couldn't go to school like everyone else. This experience destroyed my love of learning.

Math, science, English - these are all subjects I still struggle with through college. All I think when I don't know the answer on a test is, "Why couldn't you go to school like everyone else? You're so stupid, you don't know this answer. What is wrong with you?" I was damaged by the high-stakes pressure, and I will forever suffer from that.

But I made it out okay. I survived the system, and still recognize that things I went through in school don't even compare to what students in other places go through and suffer from - the impacts of poverty, closing of neighborhood schools, underfunding, no textbooks, lack of teachers and 40 students in a class; the list is endless. I made it out okay because I had a teacher who taught me that I could be a successful learner, despite what my SAT/HSPA score or any other test score said.

Yes, a teacher saved me. Hear that? A teacher. During my junior year I met the most unconventional teacher I've ever had. When we first met, I remember thinking this guy is a little weird. He did something I had never really been exposed to before: he taught us through discussion - sometimes very serious and sometimes more lighthearted - debate, reflections, personal experiences, guest speakers, and focused around current events that impacted our lives that we could connect to. Little did I know at that time that he would end up teaching me the greatest lesson I have ever learned, and one I needed at this time in my life: I was enough. It didn't matter what my test scores said, and my love of learning would trump anything that a test could ever say about me.

I will never forget the words he said to me, in part:

"...'New beginnings' weren't on any of the tests you were given over the past 12 years of your formal public education. But that's ok. Why? Because I know you'll figure it out. In the grand scheme of things, there are infinitely more activities that you should devote your time and energy to. You're smart enough to examine multiple career paths and hard-working enough to be successful at whatever path you choose. But there's more to life than choosing a career path. There are responsibilities that come with being 'educated.' Please do me a personal favor. Never stop asking the questions that make policy makers and people in authority uncomfortable. Some people make a good living doing that. If you ever decide to have children or become an educational professional, fight for what is really important: their ability to learn and their LOVE of learning. Learning doesn't look like school, but school should look more like learning. The keepers of the 'status-quo' will be tough to combat, but not impossible. They fold like a cheap suit when populations become increasingly self-aware and question their leadership. Be a leader and a source of inspiration for people who are desperate for good leadership..."

These words are framed above my desk. They are what keep me going when the system tries to tell me otherwise. My teachers supported me through everything I went through, when they knew the system was crushing me from the inside. I am beyond thankful that I had people who believe in me, supported me, and guided me, despite being a part of a system that currently doesn't support different types of learners.

Humanity and respect have been lost in the discussion. Humanity and respect for students, teachers, and parents have been lost in the discussion.

"But unless I’m fundamentally misreading this memo, Hespe appears to be encouraging districts to adopt sit and stare policies in an effort to intimidate parents into not opting their kids out.
Bring it on, Acting Commissioner Hespe. Bring it.
It appears to me that you’re taking a page from your boss’s playbook by telling those of us who disagree with you to 'sit down and shut up.'
It appears to me, Acting Commissioner Hespe, that you’re trying to bully those of us who do not see the value in your precious PARCC tests by punishing our children.  
That’s low, Acting Commissioner. Really low. And do you know what? You don’t intimidate me. All you’ve done is piss me off. And Acting Commissioner, I’ll tell you this: pissing off parents — and voters — like me is probably not the way to ensure the long-term success of your policies. You were just a faceless bureaucrat. Now I want to get you fired. You deserve no less for attempting to bully parents by punishing our children."
You've pissed me off too, Commissioner, because our students deserve better: they deserve respect and to be treated as humans, not testing machines used to further the state's unproven and untested "reforms."

When I started this blog, I never intended it to be about me. This was a way to share my experiences, share the knowledge I have, and connect with others who can and have taught me so much about education, learning, schooling, and the "reform movement." But this is personal. As a student and future teacher, this is an attack on me, my fellow students, fellow future (and current) teachers, and parents (hint: they're really not the ones to piss off). This attack, I'm hoping, is going to shed light on the damage of these reforms in our schools, and push more parents to refuse the test as a way to fight for the education ALL of our children deserve: a well-rounded education that supports whatever type of learner they are, and doesn't boil them down to one score that, in the grand scheme of life, means nothing.

As a current student and future teacher, I will not stop fighting until I know my students one day will be treated as humans, as learners, and as explorers. I will not stop fighting until there is equitable education for all - for students who can't test well, but are brilliant artists. For students who can't test well, but make the most beautiful music to ever grace our ears. For the students who can't test well, but are math geniuses. For the students who can't test well but are our future teachers, scientists, dreamers, inventors, dancers, artists, musicians, historians, or whatever their passion is.

We must move away from the test-and-punish regime in education before we destroy the love of learning for students, no matter what they love or how they learn. We owe this to them and the future of education in this country.

My first day of school, Kindergarten, September 2000

Saturday, September 13, 2014

My Afternoon with NEA President Lily Garcia

This afternoon I got to join a small group of New Jersey bloggers\people with large social media presences who met with National Education Association (NEA) President Lily Eskelsen Garcia. She is on a national tour, traveling to all different states and meeting with bloggers. Rather than meet with mainstream media sources who "have already written the story before you are even interviewed," the goal is to meet with trusted, independent writers who research and link to evidence rather than just stating what was already decided ahead of time - which, sadly, has become a characteristic of many mainstream media outlets.

In this meeting I was with so many of my education- blogger- inspirations, such as Jersey Jazzman, Marie Corfield, Ani McHugh, Melissa Tomlinson, and Darcie Cimarusti. All of them, I'm sure in the next few hours, are going to write amazing pieces summing up today's meetings with links to sources for further reading and suggestions for steps moving forward. I will keep this short, leave the rest of the writing to the experts I mentioned above, and offer my concluding thoughts and reactions to today.

Ms. Garcia's main message of today, and what the NEA has launched a campaign around: "End Toxic Testing." From the NEA website

"Delegates to the National Education Association’s annual meeting in July voted to launch a national campaign to put the focus of assessments and accountability back on student learning and end the "test, blame, and punish" system that has dominated public education in the last decade.  The campaign will among other things seek to end the abuse and overuse of high-stakes standardized tests and reduce the amount of student and instructional time consumed by them. 
"The anti-toxic testing measure also calls for governmental oversight of the powerful testing industry with the creation of a “testing ombudsman” by the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Consumer Protection Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission. The position will serve as a watchdog over the influential testing industry and monitor testing companies’ impact on education legislation. NEA will continue to push the president and Congress to completely overhaul ESEA and end mandates that require yearly testing, and to lift mandates requiring states to administer outdated tests that aren’t aligned to school curricula."
One example of this high-stakes testing monster can be found in stories from other places across the country, where, as Ms. Garcia mentioned, students deal with situations like this:
"Andrea Rediske’s 11-year-old son Ethan, is dying. Last year, Ethan, who was born with brain damage, has cerebral palsy and is blind, was forced to take a version of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test over the space of two weeks last year because the state of Florida required that every student take one. His mom has to prove that Ethan, now in a morphine coma, is in no condition to take another test this year."

One of my biggest take away's from this meeting is actually a quote from Ms. Garcia herself: “Maybe we need more people to say no to a bad idea than to put lipstick on a pig.” I feel the same way about the Common Core State Standards, which was not mentioned once during this meeting. I was planning on bringing up the issue of the standards, but we were running low on time and that is not a conversation you can have in-depth in the last 30 seconds. While I completely support the campaign against 'toxic testing,' I don't think you can ignore Common Core in that discussion. Common Core and high-stakes standardized tests are a package deal, driven by one another. To really address the root of the issue, both would have to be discussed. But education is just as much a political game as the next, so I really wasn't expecting much more than what was said: nothing. 

The Common Core debate is not about whether or not the standards are 'good' or not; this is an issue of what the Common Core State Standards are intended to do and what they represent: an undemocratic process of philanthropists and businesses trying to exert control over public education through the size of their pockets. No matter what the intention behind 'education reform' and those funding these changes, the standards are a part of a bigger machine. Diane Ravitch sums up my thoughts best:

"After much deliberation, I have come to the conclusion that I can’t wait five or ten years to find out whether test scores go up or down, whether or not schools improve, and whether the kids now far behind are worse off than they are today. 
"I have come to the conclusion that the Common Core standards effort is fundamentally flawed by the process with which they have been foisted upon the nation.The Common Core standards have been adopted in 46 states and the District of Columbia without any field test. They are being imposed on the children of this nation despite the fact that no one has any idea how they will affect students, teachers, or schools. We are a nation of guinea pigs, almost all trying an unknown new program at the same time. 
"Maybe the standards will be great. Maybe they will be a disaster. Maybe they will improve achievement. Maybe they will widen the achievement gaps between haves and have-nots. Maybe they will cause the children who now struggle to give up altogether. Would the Federal Drug Administration approve the use of a drug with no trials, no concern for possible harm or unintended consequences? 
"President Obama and Secretary Duncan often say that the Common Core standards were developed by the states and voluntarily adopted by them. This is not true. 
"They were developed by an organization called Achieve and the National Governors Association, both of which were generously funded by the Gates Foundation. There was minimal public engagement in the development of the Common Core. Their creation was neither grassroots nor did it emanate from the states."
Next time I get the opportunity to meet with Ms. Garcia or any high-ranking member of the NEA, this will be the first topic I will bring up. If we don't want our students to suffer how they have in the past and currently are, we must be brave enough to cross the political boundaries and have the conversations that need to be had: including Common Core, high-stakes standardized testing, school closures, charter schools, poverty, infrastructure issues, income inequality, etc. 

Until we have those conversations and work to make change where the actual problems are - and address the root of the problems - it's just another nice meet-and-greet opportunity.

**Let me add the following: Ms. Garcia was an absolute pleasure to meet with and I was so honored to have been asked to join. She was approachable, friendly, listened to all of our questions and thoughts, and expressed many of the same concerns as those of us in the room. I hope that under her leadership, we can turn this ship around and begin to both have these discussions and take action for the best of the students and the future of public education. 

Meeting with Ms. Garcia. Photo credit to Jennifer Marsh. 

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Scavenger Hunt for Evidence at the NJDOE - Winner Gets A Gift Card for Pearson Products!

Today I spent the morning with some of my favorite Common Core cheerleaders at the State Board of Education meeting. The focus today, was of course, Common Core, and it was an all-around cheery presentation with some more hand-selected teachers talking about how the Common Core saved them and was the greatest improvement in their classrooms ever. 

As always, I like to start with some of my favorite quotes from the day and my personal reactions to those statements: 

David Hespe (Commissioner of Education): "The common core is the answer to many if not all of the problems many people face in preparing students for the future." 
My reaction: OF COURSE IT IS!! Poverty, income inequality, dangerous urban areas, instability at home, unfunded mandates\underfunding of schools, systematic inequality and racism - those are all wiped out by Common Core! Why didn't we think of this sooner?!?!
Teacher on the panel (I will include name when they are put online): "We're asking students to work together, cite their evidence and justify, and develop skills for the classroom and life."
My reaction: Yeah, because no student has ever done such a great thing! All we've created up to this point are robot students who memorize information and never have an original thought in their head, don't know how to use evidence, and have zero skills for the real world! How has anyone survived up this point?
Kimberly Harrington (Acting Chief Academic Officer): "The standards [common core state standards] are written by experts and a team of educators."
My reaction: The day you tell me exactly who those "experts" are, how much you paid them to say what you're telling the public, and how many years experience they've had in a classroom, then I'll consider their opinions. "Team of educators," now that part is just flat out laughable. 
David Hespe: "We found the best standards [common core state standards] we could nationally."
My reaction: Yeah, they're the best thing since sliced bread! Really, come on. Did you realize states are pulling out of Common Core and dropping PARCC like flies? How about the complete uproar communities are in over this? Ah, but I forgot, the bubble the DOE lives in is impermeable, so no real news from the outside gets in. 
Now, unfortunately the presentation from today is not on the website yet, but I will update this post with a link as soon as possible. As always, I am going over highlights, but I suggest you still take the time to go through the entire presentation. I will be sharing my notes, but again, please go through the actual powerpoint put out by the DOE.

One slide in the presentation was about "shifts" that will happen under the common core. These include (quick points just from my notes):

1. "Have students use reasoning"
2. "Have personalized learning in the classroom"
3. "[Have students] do more than just finding answers and completing tasks"

They act as if no teacher in the state of New Jersey, and around the country for that matter, has never done any of these things. No teacher has ever asked students to go beyond memorizing. No teacher has ever addressed students individual needs through personalized learning. Of course. Keep telling us about teachers' job without stepping foot in their classroom. 

The State Board of Education and the Department of Education in New Jersey act as if no teacher knows now to teach, no student has ever been successful, and that Common Core is the end-all-be-all in "saving our failing education system." Yet out of the other sides of their mouths, they talk about how much they love and support teachers, how successful our students are, and how great education is in New Jersey. They honestly talk out of both sides of their mouths. We're going to tell you how amazing you are, and at the same time come in and change everything because you're an epic failure. Yeah, that makes sense.

I still have one simple request for the state board of education, the department of education, and he commissioner of education: show us the evidence. 

All day the presenters and panelists have been throwing around words\phrases like "rigor," "achievement," "educator effectiveness," "we need a common language," "CCSS eliminates the need for remedial courses," and on and on and on. 

The DOE and State Board of Education need to stop saying how important it is to "consult experts on the matters" of standards and curriculum. Who are these experts? How many years have they taught in a classroom? These are not unreasonable questions and we, the public, deserve answers. 

Here's a crazy idea: how about you consult with teachers, students, and parents, the ones who are actually impacted by these mandates\reforms? 

Common Core is all about presenting evidence and backing up claims with real hard facts.

Well, NJDOE, it's your turn. How about you present us with some of the evidence that proves all of these mandates are in the best interest of students, teachers, communities, and the future of public education. 

Because I've got a lot of evidence that says otherwise. Any day you want to sit down with a group of people who really know what's happening on the ground - not hand-selected teachers who say exactly what you want - I'm sure there would be a line out the door. But you would actually have to listen. And as always, not holding my breath on any of this.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

The Day Commissioner of Education David Hespe Asked for my Contact Info...

I just got back from August’s State Board of Education meeting here in New Jersey. There was a lot of information given today on a lot of different topics, and I’m going to need a little time to take it all in. The main presentations on Student Growth Objectives (SGO’s) were extremely dense and the presenters - Tim Matheny (my former principal!) and Peter Shulman - went through the details pretty quickly.

I am not going to take the time to break down the power points because, as I said, they are very dense, and I personally think it would be best for those interested to go through these themselves very carefully. But, I will highlight some quotes from the presentation, and include my reaction and response to today’s meeting.

The “Educator Evaluation TEACHNJ Power Point” from today can be found here:

And the “State Board SGO Final” (meaning the changes made to the percentages and details of TEACHNJ/SGO’s) can be found here:

*Disclaimer: when going through these presentations, move all valuables away from yourself because I promise you will want to throw them at a wall. And maybe keep a pillow nearby so you can slam your head into it. Yes, it’s that bad.

Before I go into reactions, let’s highlight some of my favorite quotes from today:

  1. David Hespe, Commissioner of Education, on Student Growth Objectives and their implementation - “The process is going very, very well.”
  • My reaction: Lol. Okay. Keep chillin in that bubble you're living in. When you’re ready to come back into the real world, let us know.

  1. Tim Matheny - "Teachers are moving towards more sophisticated SGO's because they really feel like it reflects the realities of their classrooms."
  • My reaction: LOL. Oh my gosh where is my popcorn for this entertainment? Please introduce me to the teacher’s that you’re referencing.  

  1. Peter Shulman - “Common sense usually prevails.”
  • My reaction: Let’s just say that ‘usually’ would be the key word here…

When Matheny and Shulman’s were done presenting, State Board of Education Member Edithe Fulton did something I was totally not expecting - she brought me up! [I am not putting this here to toot my own horn, but it is important to today’s developments] I am paraphrasing here, but this is roughly what the exchange looked like:

Fulton: At the last public testimony, there was an 18 year old here who is a future teacher who testified about the impact of these evaluations, and she got it, she understands, and like I told her last time I wish we could clone her!

Matheny: Yes, she is a former student of where I was principal.

Fulton: Well, I’m wondering about the things she brought up. Where is the evidence for what we are doing here?

Bam. Right there. Where is the evidence for what we are doing here? Where is the evidence for all of the reforms and changes being implemented?

To quote my good friend and mentor Lisa Rodgers, “CCSS pushes students to present facts behind their statements.. where is the NJDOE on this when they present theirs?”

This brings me to my one and only question for the State Board of Education and the Commissioner of Education after this presentation:

    1. Subquestion: Where is the evidence for the changes you made today? The percentages for SGO’s, SGP’s, and teacher practice were all shifted. How did you come to the conclusion to change these percentages? Is there any evidence that these changes were based off of, or was this just a response to the outcry of educators, parents, and experts as a way to *attempt to* ‘quiet us down’ (because we will not be quiet)?

Not once during this presentation was the matter of LEARNING addressed. Yeah, remember that little thing called learning? No, it was all about “measuring” teachers (whatever that means) and boiling them down to one number. As I wrote in my testimony that Edithe Fulton referenced:

“Teachers know that you can't measure the joy and pride a student feels when they finally figure out that math problem they always struggled with. Teachers know that you can't measure the feeling of self-confidence and self-worth a student experiences when they nail that presentation they worked so hard on by overcoming their fears of being in front of a class. Teachers know that you can't measure the bond between students and teachers, both individually and as a class, because for many students in urban districts school is the one safe place where they know they will be loved and supported. As Nicholas Ferroni, educator and author, best states: ‘Students who are loved at home, come to school to learn, and students who aren't, come to school to be loved.’”

At the end of the meeting, I went up to Edithe Fulton to thank her for her comments. She then told me that she gave copies of my testimony to all of the members of the State Board and the Commissioner himself. She then proceeded to introduce me to the newly appointed State Board of Education President Mark Biedron and David Hespe himself.

Shockingly, to me, Commissioner Hespe then asked for my contact information so we can “further discuss the concerns that you’ve [meaning me] raised and what you [again me] wrote about.”

Well, Mr. Hespe, this is your shot. This is your chance to turn the bus around and prove that you care about the voices of students, future teachers, current teachers, and parents - not hand-selected teachers to come and tell the board how amazing these reforms are and how they had NO idea how to teach before the Common Core and SGO’s!

You have my name. You have where I attend school. You have my email. And you have my direct, personal cell phone number.

Based on past records, I’m not holding my breath on this one.

But miracles have happened before.

*Here is the testimony I gave at the last State Board of Education meeting: