Archives for category: New Jersey

Camden, New Jersey, is one of the state’s impoverished small cities that is under state control. It may be the poorest district in the state. It is rhe lowest performing. The Chris Christie administration appointed a 32-year-old inexperienced young man (Teach for America alum) with some time working in the New York Department of Education and Newark as Camden’s superintendent, and naturally, his goal is to turn public school students over to charter operators. Save Our Schools NJ sent the following letter to the state commissioner of education:


April 21, 2014

Save Our Schools NJ requests that Commissioner Hespe stop additional legally-questionable activities by the Camden School District

Save Our Schools NJ Contacts

Susan Cauldwell 908-507-1020

Julia Sass Rubin 609-683-0046

Today, Save Our Schools NJ, a non-partisan, grassroots organization with more than 15,000 members across New Jersey, sent a second letter to the state’s Acting Education Commissioner David Hespe, alerting him to actions by the State Operated Camden School District that raise serious legal concerns.

Highlighting the fact that the Camden School District had mailed home to district families a recruitment flyer for the Mastery charter school network, Save Our Schools NJ requested that the Acting Commissioner “investigate the extent to which Camden’s public school resources were used in mailing” the recruitment flyers to parents as this “would constitute inappropriate use of school funds to promote — and give preferential treatment to — a specific private organization.”

Save Our Schools NJ further informed the Acting Commissioner that Mastery recruiters had been going to the homes of Camden public school students, to encourage them to enroll in the school. Save Our Schools NJ asked the Acting Commissioner to “investigate how Mastery, a private entity, obtained the addresses of Camden students for purposes of conducting unannounced visits to students’ homes” and to “examine whether Camden provided Mastery with students’ home addresses — or any other individual student information — without the consent of parents and guardians.”

Referencing the legislative record of the Urban Hope Act, Save Our Schools NJ also raised once more the concern identified in a prior letter that Camden was violating the Act’s ban on temporary facilities for Renaissance charter schools:

“In passing the Urban Hope Act, the legislature was very clear that Renaissance Schools cannot operate as temporary schools in temporary facilities, but rather must be in a “newly-constructed” school. The legislative statement to the Urban Hope bill, issued by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee on January 5, 2012, states on page 3 that “[t]he committee amended the bill to: … clarify that renaissance school projects are newly-constructed schools…Yet, Camden is planning to locate both Mastery and Uncommon Schools Renaissance schools in existing public school buildings, for the 2014-15 academic year.”

Save Our Schools NJ requested that the Commissioner “immediately investigate whether Camden has authorized Mastery and Uncommon to operate schools under the Urban Hope Act in 2014-15 on a temporary basis in existing Camden school facilities and, if so, take prompt action to direct Camden to terminate this arrangement.”

April 21, 2014

Commissioner David C. Hespe
New Jersey Department of Education
100 River View Plaza
P.O. Box 500
Trenton, NJ 08625

Dear Commissioner Hespe,

As a follow-up to our April 14, 2014 letter, we wish to bring to your attention additional actions by the State Operated Camden School District (Camden) that raise serious concerns about Camden’s compliance with the Urban Hope Act and regulations, and with other laws.

1) Temporary facilities are not allowed under the Urban Hope Act

We remain very concerned that, although their application to build such schools has yet to be approved by your office, Camden is moving forward to facilitate the enrollment of Camden public school students in September, 2014 in “temporary” schools, to be operated by the Mastery and Uncommon organizations and located in existing Camden public schools, ostensibly as Renaissance Schools under the Urban Hope Act.

In passing the Urban Hope Act, the legislature was very clear that Renaissance Schools cannot operate as temporary schools in temporary facilities, but rather must be in a “newly-constructed” school. The legislative statement to the Urban Hope bill, issued by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee on January 5, 2012, states on page 3 that “[t]he committee amended the bill to: … clarify that renaissance school projects are newly-constructed schools.”

Yet, Camden is planning to locate both Mastery and Uncommon Schools Renaissance schools in existing public school buildings, for the 2014-15 academic year.

The attached letter, which was mailed by Camden to public school parents, states:

“Mastery School of Camden will open this fall in two temporary locations for approximately 600 kindergarten through 5th grade students:

-At PynePoynt Family School, Mastery Academy will serve up to 380 new K-5 Students.

-At the old Washington School, Mastery Academy will serve approximately 220 K-2 students.”

These types of schools — to be operated by a charter management organization and located temporarily in existing public school facilities — are clearly not authorized under the Urban Hope Act. Accordingly, we request that you immediately investigate whether Camden has authorized Mastery and Uncommon to operate schools under the Urban Hope Act in 2014-15 on a temporary basis in existing Camden school facilities and, if so, take prompt action to direct Camden to terminate this arrangement.

2) Public school districts should not advocate for specific private entities

The letter quoted above, which Camden sent to public school parents, included the attached solicitation flyers for the Mastery charter school chain.

The use of Camden personnel and resources to encourage public school students to attend the privately managed Mastery school would constitute inappropriate use of school funds to promote — and give preferential treatment to — a specific private organization.

We request that you investigate the extent to which Camden’s public school resources were used in mailing Mastery recruitment flyers to parents.

The investigation also should ascertain why it appears that Mastery was the only charter organization in Camden to be given direct assistance by the Camden School District for 2014-15 enrollment recruitment activities.

3) Camden cannot share confidential student data with individual private entities

Camden parents who live in the area from which Mastery plans to draw for its unapproved Renaissance school also indicated that Mastery representatives came to their homes to encourage them to enroll their children in the Renaissance school.

This raises serious concerns about whether Camden disclosed individual student records and information to a third party entity without the consent of the students and their parents and guardians.

We request that your Office launch an immediate investigation into how Mastery, a private entity, obtained the addresses of Camden students for purposes of conducting unannounced visits to students’ homes. This investigation should examine whether Camden provided Mastery with students’ home addresses — or any other individual student information — without the consent of parents and guardians.

We would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you to discuss this further.


Susan Cauldwell, volunteer organizer, Save Our Schools NJ
Executive Director, Save Our Schools NJ Community Organizing

Julia Sass Rubin, volunteer organizer, Save Our Schools NJ
Chair, Board of Directors, Save Our Schools NJ Community Organizing

cc: Paymon Rouhanifard, Superintendent, Camden City Public Schools

David Sciarra, Executive Director, Education Law Center

According to the first filing of spending in the Newark race for Mayor, the hedge fund managers’ group Education Reform Now has given $850,000 to Shavar Jeffries, a charter school supporter.

Jeffries’ spending is about triple the spending of his chief opponent Ras Baraka, and the gap is expected to grow given the deep pockets of Jeffries’ supporters on Wall Street.

The Network for Public Education has endorsed Ras Baraka for mayor, in light of his opposition to closing public schools. He is a high school principal and a member of the City Council of Newark.





Ras Baraka is a high school principal and City Council member in Newark. He is running for mayor of Newark against a candidate funded by hedge fund managers and corporate reformers. Baraka was endorsed by the Network for Public Education.

Contact Frank Baraff (914) 469-3775

For Release Friday, April 18th

Baraka praises Ministers Fight for a Moratorium on One Newark School Reorganization Plan

Statement by Ras Baraka

“Nearly one year ago, the City Council passed my resolution calling for a moratorium on all of Cami Anderson’s public school initiatives. A year later, Ms. Anderson continues to run away from input by Newark citizens and continues to carry out her relentless drive to close our neighborhood schools.

Today, the ministers of Newark have joined me in calling for a moratorium on the destructive One Newark Plan to close our schools, a plan already being implemented against the will of the people of Newark.”

77 members of Newark’s clergy signed a joint statement to Cami Anderson, who was appointed by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to run the schools of that city. Newark has been under state control for 20 years. Anderson’s “Ne Newark” plan will close many public schools and turn them over to charter corporations. Anderson refuses to attend meetings of the elected (but powerless) school board because she as treated disrespectfully at the last meeting she attended. Byway, she doesn’t need their approval so why should she attend theit public meetings. She disrespects them. She knows that her opinion is the only one that matters. This is not democracy.

Here is the ministers’ statement:


As religious leaders in the City of Newark, New Jersey, we submit the
following position statement regarding the One Newark Public School Plan.
This position statement represents our collective concerns with respect to the
current state of affairs facing the Newark Public School system.

We are extremely concerned about the level of public anger we see
growing in the community, based upon an overwhelming sense of
frustration, community disenfranchisement, and alienation that has resulted
from the One Newark Public School Plan the Superintendent of Schools has
proposed. It is not overly dramatic for us to say that we are extremely
worried about the level and tone of the current emotional discourse.

It is venomous and it is our view that unless we have an urgent, objective,
egalitarian discussion about what is happening now in the Newark school
system, the climate within the City will continue to deteriorate. As religious
leaders, we cannot, in clear conscience, ignore the moral imperative that a
society empowers and engages human beings to lead in charting the course
of their own destiny.

There are many well-educated, reasonable minded, and rational
individuals, parents, educators and citizens in general in the City of Newark.
They all share an intense passion for excellence in education; they have
come to feel that their input and voice have been repeatedly ignored. It is
unfair to characterize Newarkers opposing the current approach to change as
irrational and resistant to change in any case. Many voices of reason have
been largely denied meaningful input into the decision-making process.

We are unanimous in our view that major change is needed in Newark
Public Schools. Excellence in education is paramount to the forward
progress of the City of Newark and the lives of its citizens. This statement
neither condemns nor endorses Charter Schools. However, the primary
responsibility of the Newark School Superintendent should be to ensure
excellent educational opportunities in the traditional Newark public school

The One Newark Public School Plan, as currently proposed, is already
producing irreversible changes and fomenting widespread outrage. It has
caused unnecessary instability in the Newark public school system, as well
as the lives of thousands of its families. The disruptive and divisive nature
of the One Newark Pubic School Plan could have catastrophic and farreaching
consequences for the children of Newark, the reputation of the
State of New Jersey, and have implications for urban education nationally.

The presentation and implementation process of the One Newark
Public School Plan has been fraught with problems. There are elements
within it that are controversial, and make unsubstantiated claims for
potential success. It has precipitated tremendous teacher turnover and has
adversely affected the overall morale of Newark schools and various
stakeholders directly or indirectly associated and affiliated with the Newark
Public School systems.

Therefore, the undersigned clergy call for a MORATORIUM on the
Implementation of the One Newark Public School Plan until a process can
be found to obtain meaningful and credible engagement of the Newark
community. We call upon the Newark Superintendent of Schools, the
Acting Commissioner of Education, and the Governor of the State of New
Jersey to agree to a suspension of any further action pertaining to the One
Newark Public School Plan until an alternative educational plan can be
developed with substantial input from stakeholders at all levels of the
Newark community.

In summary, an alternative educational plan should:
)o> Employ data driven pedagogical practices.
~ Offer stakeholders an opportunity to play a substantive role in
determining the educational future of the children of Newark.
~ Provide for the citizens of Newark the opportunity to participate
in, plan, and adopt a long term educational strategy of change
that outlasts political tides, transitions, and tenures.
)o> Establish a working partnership between the State of New
Jersey and the citizens of the City of Newark to successfully
educate our children.

It is with great humility and grave concern for our future that we
submit this plea for consideration and compromise. As members of the
clergy in this great city, it is our earnest prayer that peace and harmony will
prevail, and that every child in Newark will experience a brighter future.

1. Rev. George Blackwell
2. Pastor Malachi Brantley
3. Dr. Mamie Bridgeforth
4. Min. J. Brown
5. Min. Denise Carr
6. Pastor Joe Carter
7. Min. Dale Ciceron
8. Pastor Patrick Council
9. Rev. E. Doxy
10. Dr. K. Doxy
11. Rev. J. Escobar
12. Pastor Sean Evans
13. Pastor Friday
14. Pastor Philip Gilmore
15. Dr. Aubrey Gregory
16. Dr. G 1 oria Harris
17. Pastor Gerard Hart
18. Apostle Gennie Holte
19. Dr. William Howard
20. Pastor Craig Jackson
21. Pastor Irving Johnson
22. Min. Mitchell Johnson
23. Bishop Jethro James
24. Pastor David Jefferson
25. Dr. Albert Lewis
26. Imam Aqeel Matea
27. Pastor Darren Munroe
28. Rev. Dr. Jacobs Obaiaeio
29. Pastor Raines
30.Pastor Hilton Rawls, Jr.
31. Rev. Louise Scott-Rountree
32. Rev. Dr. M.D. Rountree
33. Pastor Tyrone Sharpe, Sr.
34. Rev. Gerald Whitaker
3 5. Min. Keith Wilks
36. Rev. Bernard Wilks
37. Rev. Andre Speight
38. Min. Juanita Mayo
39. Rev. Eric Beckham
40. Dr. Ahmed Screvens
41. Rev. George Martinez, Pres.
Good Neighbor Baptist Church
Shiloh Baptist Church
Faith Christian Center
Dominion Fellowship Mnistries
Emanuel Missionary Baptist Church
New Hope Baptist Church
Emanuel Missionary Baptist Church
St. John Baptist Church
The Great Commission
The Great Commission
New Light Missionary Baptist Church
Pavilion of God Ministries
St. John’s Community Baptist Church
Newark Gospel Tabernacle
Beth-El International Church
Emanuel Missionary Baptist Church
Ray of Hope Ministries
Bethany Baptist Church
Agape Christian Ministries Worship Center
Metropolitan Dominion Fellowship
New Light Holy Church
Paradise Baptist Church
Metropolitan Baptist Church
World Gospel Music Association
United Muslim, Inc.
Chosen Generation Ministries
Trinity United Methodist Church
Greater Grace Fellowship Church
Good Neighbor Baptist Church
Macedonia Ministries
New Life Family Bible Church
Christ Church
Dominion Fellowship Ministries
Metropolitan/ Dominion
God’s Deliverance Praise and Outreach
Emanuel Missionary Baptist Church
Clear View Baptist Church
Bethesda Baptist Church
Baptist Minister’s Conference ofNewark
42. Rev. John Teabout
43. Rev. Clarence Smith
44. Rev. Grady James
45. Rev. Martin Legree
46. Rev. James Collins
47. Rev. Vincent Rouse
48. Rev. R. Curry
49. Rev. Kimberly Credit
50. Rev. Henry Clay
51. Evang. Sara Lee
52. Rev. Andre Milteer
53. Rev. Robert Morrest
54. Rev. Roy Jones, VP
55. Rev. Ileathon McLeod
56. Rev. Kareem Christian
57. Rev. Ralph Thomas
58. Min. Barbara Turpin
59. Rev. Bennett Johnson
60. Rev. James Bailey III
61. Min. Darious Smith
62. Min. Frankie Phelps
63. Rev. Alfonzo Williams, Sr.
64. Rev. Anthony Mitchell
65. Rev. Andre Coffee
66. Rev. Ray Frazier
67. Pastor Lloyd Terrell
68. Rev. Vincent Grove
69. Rev. Orlando Vick
70. Rev. Jeffrey Bryant
71. Rev. Ralph M. Branch, Jr.
72. Rev. Cornelius W. Martin
73. Rev. Floyd Gaskins
74. Dr. T. Durr
7 5. Pastor Michael T. Westbrook
76. Rev. Douglass L. Williams
77. Dr. Perry Simmons
Greater Friendship Baptist Church
Baptist Minister’s Conference of Newark
First Bethel Baptist Church, Irvington
Little Friendship Baptist Church
Baptist Minister’s Conference of Newark
Pleasant Grove Baptist Church
Baptist Minister’s Conference of Newark
Smyrna Missionary Baptist Church
Baptist Minister’s Conference of Newark
Sunlight Baptist Church
Mt. Olivet Baptist Church
St. Peter’s Baptist Church
Baptist Minister’s Conference ofNewark
Abyssinian Baptist Church
Trinity Baptist Church
Emanuel Baptist Church
Baptist Minister’s Conference of Newark
St. Peter’s Baptist Church
Vineyard Baptist Church
Mt. Calvary Baptist Church
Mt. Calvary Baptist Church
Baptist Minister’s Conference ofNewark
Union Chapel AME
First Timothy Baptist Church
Baptist Minister’s Conference ofNewark
Franklin-St. John United Methodist Church
Providence Missionary Baptist Church
Greater Providence Missionary Baptist Church
Tabernacle Baptist Church
Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church
Unity Freedom Baptist Church
Grace Temple Baptist Church
Gospel Cathedral Baptist Church
Greater Life Christian Fellowship Church
Zion Hill Baptist Church
Abyssinian Baptist Church

In this post, New Jersey high school teacher Dan Ferat reflects on how many tests he is now required to give to his students, as compared to ten years ago.


Here is a sample, read it all:


So, in only ten years, we have gone from students taking five exams per year (six for juniors with the HSPA) to 34 exams per year (30 for seniors) with many more in sight because there will be a PARCC for EVERY SUBJECT supposedly because there are CCCS for every subject except electives (plus those PSAT/SAT/ACT tests which I’m not even counting).


Forget the amount of time teachers will have to spend grading all these exams and writing them and adjusting them over the years. Honestly, that’s beside the point when it comes to education. It’s true we don’t get enough time “on the clock” as it is, but the real issue is the students. See, I always thought education was about LEARNING a subject in a classroom from readings, teachers, and experiences (like labs). But with all this testing, there will be less learning and more studying for tests. We teachers are evaluated on how well our students do on all the tests, so of course we’re going to teach to them. One would be a complete moron not to since one can wind up fired if one gets too low scores in two years. This will narrow curricula, which means less information and fewer skills learned. It will standardize curricula more, which means fewer choices for students and less of a need for EXPERIENCED TEACHERS, who share so much of their insight and experiences with students to bring their subjects to life. But if everything is just straight out of a book, like a script, all you need is a warm body to watch the kids and lead them through the standardized curriculum.


If parents understood this, they would not be happy. They would begin to recognize what the legislators and the federal government are doing to undermine genuine education and to dampen students’ ardor for learning as well as to demoralize teachers.



Jersey Jazzman reports on Camden’s portfolio district plan.

What does that mean? More charters.

What is the secret of their success?

Excluding children with disabilities.

Excluding the kids with the highest needs.

Doesn’t federal law prohibit this?

Apparently this is not a priority for the U.S. Department of Education or the Obama administration.

As hedge funders will sometimes acknowledge, those kids are not our problem.

Veteran journalist Bob Braun obtained a copy of Newark’s administrative payroll, and it is a shocker.

Braun writes:

“A third of Newark’s public school teachers face layoffs. The contracts of seven employee unions, including nurses, cafeteria workers, and laborers, have expired and the administration of state superintendent Cami Anderson refuses to settle. Counselors were laid off. Public schools have been stripped of assets and allowed to crumble. Cami drove the district into a $40 million budget hole but, despite all that, she has given hefty raises to the district’s top administrators, according to a Newark Public Schools document this site obtained. Just as Gov. Chris Christie takes care of his friends, Anderson’s loyal pals, from New York, New Orleans, Teach for America, and charter schools, make big bucks in the city school administration at the expense of Newark’s school children.”

One staffer got a raise from $75,000 to $135,000.

Another from $131,500 to $175,000.

Another from $140,000 to $175,000.

On it goes.

What are the metrics for their value added?

A new report by the Education Law Center, the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, the Alliance for Quality Education, and the Public Policy and Education Fund of New York contrasts the funding of public education in New York and New Jersey and finds two different worlds in two neighboring states:

On opposite sides of the Hudson River, New York and New Jersey stand only a mile apart. But when it comes to how they fund their public schools, the yawning gulf between these two states is wide and deep.

Unfair describes school funding in New York. Many New York children in high poverty districts are not provided with the basic resources and opportunities necessary to succeed in school, while their peers in affluent districts enjoy all the advantages of well-­‐resourced schools.

In sharp contrast, New Jersey school funding is fair. The state’s finance system adjusts for the additional need created by student poverty and other disadvantages, and includes funds for universal, high quality preschool for all three-­‐ and four-­‐year-­‐olds in its lowest wealth communities.1

The bottom line is that New York’s academic performance, as measured by high school graduation rates and test scores, trails New Jersey’s by wide margins.

Bottom line is that equity produces better schools, higher academic performance. And it is just.

A resident in Néw Jersey, one of the nation’s highest-performing states, wonders why the Legislature might pay Teach for America to lease inexperienced, uncertified young recruits who promise to stay for only two years:

“Members of the NJ legislature are considering a bill that would allocate taxpayer funding for placement of Teach for America recruits into at-risk schools. TFA lobbied these legislators with “an idea” before anyone else could educate them on the topic.

“Public funding should not be used as placement fees for people with 5 weeks of training and no certification, and who can drop out after two years. This action is not building a base of experienced and credentialed teachers, AND it is siphoning public money from an already strapped public school budget.

“Please call Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan, Chair of the Assembly Education Committee, at
(908) 757-1677. Tell him you oppose A-2032 and hope he does not post it for a hearing in his committee.

“Spread the word.”

This letter arrived from:

Douglas McGuirk

English Teacher

Dumont High School Dumont, NJ

My Testimony about the AchieveNJ Act:

The AchieveNJ Act is certainly doing its part to make a convoluted mess out of the art of teaching our children.

In this testimony, I will address the most readily apparent of its many problems: data collection, Student Growth Objectives, Student Growth Percentiles, PARCC tests, and the new observation system. The AchieveNJ Act, and all of its affiliated changes, is simultaneously stretching the education profession in two different directions, most likely to the point of snapping it in half. I am no longer certain about what my job description is these days; am I a teacher, one who attempts to engage students and help them understand subject matter and their world, or am I a data collector, one who keeps statistics on all manner of measurables in a theoretical attempt to improve the process of teaching in which I am often not engaged because I am busy collecting the data?

AchieveNJ seems to operate on the fallacious principle that there is an infinite amount of time. During my day, this humble English teacher will collect data, analyze data, send students out for standardized tests, be observed by an administrator, and, somewhere in and among all of that, plan lessons, grade papers, and teach students. When do all of these things happen? How do they get done? How do I prioritize if each of these items is now considered crucial?

Most days only allow for one to two hours of time not spent in front of a class. Allow me to recount a personal story of how I spent two weeks in October of 2013. Every moment I worked, excluding those during which I was contractually obligated to actually teach students, was spent doing something related to my Student Growth Objectives (SGOs). I had previously administered a benchmark assessment or pre-test (no staff member in my school is sure about what terminology to use, so we have alternately used both, to the point that the students are not sure whether they are being benchmarked, or pre-tested, or, to put in plainly, harassed into doing something they do not wish to do), so I had a stack of essays that needed scoring. To start work on my SGO, I graded the essays according to the soon-to-be obsolete NJ Holistic Scoring rubric. Then I created and organized a spreadsheet to sort and organize my data. Then I entered all of the scores into the spreadsheet. Then I read through all the emails sent by district administrators about how to create my SGO. Following that, I formally wrote my SGO and submitted it to my supervisor.

The next day, the SGO was rejected, and my supervisor told me that all SGOs had been done incorrectly and that our staff would need training. We held a department meeting to review SGO policies. We then held an after school training session to discuss the writing of SGOs. I attended both of these. After two weeks of writing and rewriting my SGO, complete with all of the Core Curriculum Content Standards pasted from the web site, I finally had an acceptable SGO. I managed to accomplish absolutely no lesson planning during this period of time. I graded no papers. I am a veteran teacher with nine years in the profession. I understand how to manage my workload, overcome setbacks, and complete my responsibilities. In short, I am a professional who maintains a diligent work ethic.

But nothing could prepare me for the amount of time I had just spent on a new part of my job that basically exists so that I can continue to prove that I should be entitled to do the other parts of my job. After I completed my SGO, my principal told our staff to make sure we save all of the data, paperwork, and student work relating to our SGO, just in case people from the State want to review the integrity of the data. Seriously? This is the most egregious assumption that there is an infinite amount of time.

When will State reviewers go back and reread mountains upon mountains of SGO data to make sure that my essay scores (which suffer from an inherent subjectivity anyway) are accurate? The real goal of the SGO process seems to be to take teachers so far out of their comfort zones, and so far from working directly with students, that they may begin to question what kind of work they are doing anyway. Wouldn’t this time spent collecting mountains of dust-collecting data be better spent planning more interesting lessons? Offering students more feedback on work they understand and view as necessary? Researching content to make myself more knowledgable and helpful to my students? I guess not.

I have to teach my students the content needed to improve on the SGO so I can keep my job, which apparently consists of collecting even more SGO data. Just in case the SGO process is not intimidating and distracting enough, many of us (myself included) now have the threat of Student Growth Percentiles (SGPs) looming as well. The fact that these SGPs only apply to certain disciplines is inequitable and unfair to begin with, but that does not even address the fact that the correlation between my SGP score and my actual effectiveness is non-existent. Every article that I have read on this issue shows that the data produced by SGPs is statistically insignificant in its ability to determine my actual teaching effectiveness. I might as well determine a sizable portion of my evaluation by rolling dice or, to draw upon history, releasing doves and watching which way they fly. I have no control over how hard the students will work on these tests. I have no control over how thoroughly they will prepare.

From what I have read, these PARCC tests do not even have any actual effect on student grades or promotion. They are only used to evaluate me. In that case, allow me to hand-select the students who will be used to determine my effectiveness. Or better yet, the most fair thing to do would be to allow me to take the test myself, so at least I can have complete control over my own evaluation. Beyond just potentially affecting me in a random (and possibly absurd) way, the PARCC tests further reinforce the current contradictory nature of education rhetoric. What do policymakers want for our children? I consistently hear, from the mouths of our politicians, that our students are falling behind (falling behind whom?) in their critical thinking skills. (May we at least ask, how are these critical thinking skills measured? By bubble tests?) If that is the case, then shouldn’t we, as professionals, seek to introduce more critical thinking tasks, like project-based learning, into our curricula? Aren’t multiple choice standardized tests anathema to critical thinking tasks? Why is anyone promoting them, then? Where is the emphasis? Do we want students to legitimately be able to assess and evaluate on their own? Or do we want illogical measures to make sure that our teachers are, well, doing what exactly? If (some) teachers’ jobs are contingent on whether or not they achieve a high SGP score, then those teachers will, for the sake of their own self-preservation, certainly spend a great deal of time and energy trying to prepare students for those very tests, even though they cannot do the one thing that will ensure satisfactory scores, which is make the students put forth their best effort.

No students dislike learning. But many dislike education, because education consists of misguided and needlessly enervating tasks like standardized tests. Instead of spending this time engaged in critical thinking, students will be responding to questions that will be used to make sure their teachers are doing their jobs. Ironically enough, teachers will again be doing less of their jobs, as I assume we will be called upon increasingly to babysit computer labs full of children clicking vapidly through PARCC assessments. (As a side note, I am sure international test production companies like Pearson stand to profit from this arrangement immeasurably, probably at the expense of my own paycheck, most of which would have been spent in the local New Jersey economy.)

The final issue I will address in the AchieveNJ Act is the inconsistent new observation system. For starters, the public school districts across the state use two different evaluation systems: Danielson or McRel. If we are striving for consistency, why can we not agree on a single, unified observation system, so that all teachers are theoretically evaluated in the same fashion? Still, even if we achieved such uniformity, all observations would continue to suffer from the same inherent bias as the grades on students’ essays: each observer (or teacher, as is the case with the essays) has a different viewpoint (yes, even using a rubric). The administrators who serve as observers in my school have wildly varying interpretations about what constitutes an effective lesson. Even worse, some administrators are offering critiques to teachers about “how the lesson should have been conducted,” and providing less than satisfactory ratings to teachers who choose to do something in a different way.

The biggest source of all of this uncertainty and inconsistency has been the use of technology. Some of our administrators have said that we are to use technology in every single lesson, no exceptions. Others have been more lax about this requirement. I make this point to further illuminate the backwards nature of many these evaluative changes. If we must use technology, then technology is the starting point for each and every lesson. Previously, student learning was my starting point. What tools will help my students learn? Am I there to teach them or to show off the latest and greatest tech toys in my classroom? Are observers looking for critical thinking? Are they looking at my rapport with students? Or are they there to make sure that I go through the motions (according to one person’s rubric of what constitutes effective teaching) of reaching all of my supposed requirements? The inherent subjectivity of trying to quantify the unquantifiable is of course the same issue with which I wrestle when trying to score the essays that will make up my SGO. We all now must worship at the altar of data, even though, at best, the data is fickle and, at worst, it is fraudulent.

In the end I am not quite sure how to proceed under the AchieveNJ system. To paraphrase Plato, a single part of one’s soul cannot be engaged in two contradictory actions at the same time. So the only thing I can do is to default back to the ways in which I have always taught. I will try to help my students learn. I will try to reinforce material that I think is of value. I will provide as many insights from my own experiences as I can. I will focus on the human side of teaching and learning, my AchieveNJ ratings be damned. If this system says that an intelligent and dedicated individual like me is not fit to teach the students of New Jersey, then it is even more broken than my testimony could ever hope to convey.


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