Archives for category: New Jersey

Montclair, New Jersey, is a beautiful suburb, not far from New York City, which has long had a reputation for its good schools and its successful racial integration. But lately its schools and parents have been in turmoil. The town is split between supporters of public education and supporters of “reform” (aka privatization and testing). Recently the “reformers” have subpoenaed emails of those who support public schools, looking for a nefarious plot, for sources of funding, undue influence by teachers’ unions, or for any contacts with that notorious critic of corporate reform, Diane Ravitch. Apparently, their search turned up nothing. No national plot; no outside funding; no contact with me. Just local parents trying to fight off privatization and high-stakes testing. The corporate reformers filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for more than 1,000 emails written by Michelle Fine, who is a professor the City University of New York and a vocal critic of privatization and high-stakes testing.

 

Why Montclair? Montclair not only has parents devoted to their local public schools, it also is home to some of the most celebrated luminaries of the corporate reform movement. Voila! A clash of David and Goliath!

 

As Stan Karp explained in this article contrasting the two faces of “reform” in Newark and Montclair, Montclair adopted a mayor-appointed board to maintain its integration policy. But times changed, and in the current political context, the appointed board brought in a Broad-trained superintendent, whose actions deepened the divisions.

 

Karp wrote:

 

As the policy context for education reform has changed, the appointed board has become increasingly contentious.
It was against this backdrop that, in the summer of 2012, as Cami Anderson was hollowing out Newark, Montclair hired a new superintendent. Penny MacCormack was new to the state, had never been a superintendent, and wasn’t known to many in Montclair. But those who track state education politics knew she had been a district official in Connecticut who was recruited by Cerf to be an assistant commissioner in Christie’s DOE. The department had received several grants from the Eli Broad Foundation and was staffed with multiple Broad “fellows.” MacCormack, Cerf, and Anderson all have Broad ties.
MacCormack was at the N.J. Department of Education for less than a year when she suddenly resurfaced as the new Montclair superintendent without any public vetting, a clear sign the board knew this was a controversial hire.
Her welcome reception began with a video about the origins of the magnet system in the struggle to integrate the town’s schools. Some honored town elders who had played key roles were in the audience. MacCormack awkwardly attempted to connect her vision to the compelling town history framed in the video. Despite the town’s commitment to equity, she said, wide “achievement gaps” remained, and addressing those gaps would be her No. 1 priority.
MacCormack didn’t pledge to restore the equity supports that had been eroded in recent years or challenge Christie’s budget cuts. Instead, she announced that the Common Core standards and tests, and the state’s new teacher evaluation mandates, would “level the playing field” and “raise expectations for all.” “And,” she said, “I will be using the data to hold educators accountable and make sure we get results.”
After she finished, a latecomer took the floor and told the audience how lucky Montclair was to have MacCormack come to town. It was Jon Schnur, the architect of the Race to the Top. He also lives in Montclair. We later learned that Schnur was MacCormack’s “mentor” in a certification program she enrolled in after being hired without the required credentials to be superintendent.
In Montclair, there was no formal state takeover and no contested school board elections. Instead, the long reach of corporate education reform had used influence peddling, backdoor connections, and a compliant appointed school board to install one of their own at the head of one of the state’s model districts.

 

Over the next few months, MacCormack’s plans took shape, drawing on a familiar playbook. There was major shuffling at central office; experienced staff were replaced by well-paid imports. Half the district’s principals were moved or replaced.
The new superintendent created a multiyear strategic plan: a 20-page list of bulleted goals, strategies, and benchmarks. One stood out. MacCormack wanted to implement “districtwide Common Core-aligned quarterly assessments in reading, writing, mathematics, social studies, and science” from kindergarten through 12th grade.” The proposal quickly became a dividing line.

 

The school board backed McCormack’s plan for Common Core and more frequent testing; a large number of residents pushed back against the quarterly tests, forming a group called Montclair Cares About Schools (MCAS). The parents held public forums and collected signatures for petitions.

 

But then things took a bizarre turn:

 

A few days before the first quarterlies were to be given, things went completely off the rails. Emails began circulating that some of the tests had been found on an internet scavenger site, GoBookie, which robotically scoops up and sells documents without authorization.
The news traveled quickly. The board called an emergency meeting to initiate an investigation, not just into the source of the released tests, but also into “other incidents of conduct that may be contrary to the board’s best interest.”
The board began issuing subpoenas. It sought one board member’s private emails and phone records, and warned teachers not “to destroy any emails or documents related to the investigation.” It even went after anonymous critics on local social media sites, issuing subpoenas for their internet addresses so the critics could be questioned.
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey stepped in and told the board their subpoenas were a gross violation of free speech rights. Still, the board pressed its investigation through months of turmoil and mounting legal fees. Finally, a state agency quietly confirmed that the tests had been posted online in error. The furor was fueled by a mistake, not an act of sabotage.
The episode dealt a serious blow to the board’s credibility. It also reflected the distorted priorities of corporate reform. As LynNell Hancock, journalism professor and grandmother of a 5th grader, wrote on Valerie Strauss’ education blog: “This is a Montclair I hardly recognize. It’s not the children, the quality of the schools or the town’s democratic values that have changed. It’s a paradigm shift in school leadership, a top-down technocratic approach that narrows its focus to “fixing” schools by employing business strategies—more testing, more administrators, limited interference by the public or the teacher union.”

 

As matters heated up, with charges and countercharges, Superintendent McCormack abruptly resigned to accept another job.

 

But the avengers of corporate reform did not give up in their battle for control.

 

Mark Naison wrote this week:

 

In Montclair NJ, a strong coalition of parents and educators has resisted, and pushed back corporate reform. This in the very town where so many of the national ed deformers live.

 

After a two year struggle, the Broad Academy Superintendent resigned, leaving behind an $11.5 million dollar deficit. Within a week, the mayor, the President of the Montclair Teachers Association and the Board of School Estimate resolved the budget crisis with little loss to staff positions. And by the end of the year, we enjoyed a 48% opt out rate on the PARCC, a new pro-public education interim Superintendent and Board of Education. Education may be back in the hands of educators.

 

But in this town where national reform luminaries live, they have not swallowed defeat gracefully.

 

With substantial funding, they formed Montclair Kids First and hired Shavar Jeffries, who ran for mayor in Newark and lost on a pro-charter platform, as their lawyer. Jeffries went to work bringing ethics charges against a progressive town councilman, relying upon the Open Records Act to extract emails of key progressive board members, principals and the President of the teachers union and FOILed more than 1000 of Michelle Fine’s emails over two years.

 

Watch out, hide the kids. MCAS and CUNY are coming after Montclair Schools!

 

MKF (and the MSW laundered emails on their blog) came looking for the union(s); external funding; a national game-plan; a proxy relationship to Diane Ravitch. They found no money or funding, just parents and a community organizing to save public schools from the tentacles of reforms. These are the tired tactics education reformers use: They live in a world of opposition files created for their critics. They throw money to fund their reforms; they throw money to silence their opponents. But when they find nothing, they resort to tactics like this—their latest propaganda piece, a movie version of private emails.
But propaganda can be a tricky thing. MSW posts are no more accurate now than they were before they had access to private emails, full of misattributions and ideas out of context. Expensive glossy MKF mailers bring on the tired reform narrative of failing schools only to be corrected by parents and school officials; and their recent propaganda film has popped up, like a jack in the box clown, above Michelle Fine’s many wonderful talks on race, justice, and privatization of education—an unintended counterpoint to their silly video. And if MCAS weren’t enough, they now claim CUNY is after Montclair Schools! Cue up the eerie music and dial up your paranoia. Enjoy the sounds and images of desperate reformers looking for your support.

 

Video
https://youtu.be/Q7uBr7TnCQM

 

 

 

In his unrelenting determination to advance the privatization of public schools in Néw Jersey, Governor Chris Christie has shifted $37.5 million from public schools to charter schools in the state budget. Last year,he shifted $70 million from public schools to charters.

The district that is hardest hit by this ploy is Newark. Public schools there will lose $2,000 per student as a result of this budget trick. The state has controlled Newark for 25 years, and the best that Christie can do is to privatize the schools.

The goal is to fatten the charters and starve the publics. Why does the Legislature go along with it?

What a disgrace!

Mother Crusader opened her blog to this post by Sue Altman, who received a dual degree at the University of Oxford in International and Comparative Education and an MBA. In this post, she explains why critics of Opt Out are wrong, and what mechanisms are needed for Opt Out to succeed. She points out that the very mechanisms needed for success have been stripped away in many districts that serve predominantly African American and Hispanic students.

 

Privatizers (aka reformers) have scoffed at the Opt Out movement as a phenomenon of privileged white suburban moms, presumably pampering their children.

 

She writes:

 

For an opt-out movement to catch on, certain criteria must be in place— things like democratically elected school boards, open-minded and respectful superintendents, and teachers with job security. But, by design, these things have been removed, systematically, from urban communities, so that policies can be put in place that community members (mostly African-American or Hispanic) have no say in.

 

 

She has studied the successful Opt Out movement in New York, and the post explains how each one of these elements is crucial for the parents to participate in opting out. Where participation is low, it is usually because these ingredients (a democratically elected school board, a respectful superintendent, and teachers with job security) either don’t exist or have been systematically removed. The goal of the privatizers for the past decade has been to replace democratically elected school boards with mayoral or state control and to remove any job security from teachers. This stifles democratic dissent and reduces protests, which is why the students in Newark turned to the streets and to sit-ins to be heard since no one in power was listening. As Altman points out, black and Hispanic communities have been the targets of policies meant to silence their voices. This also discourages such bold actions as opting out.

 

Mila Jasey, a member of the New Jersey Assembly, proposed a three-year moratorium on opening new charter schools. She said it was time to pause and take stock of the charter law. Meanwhile, Governor Chris Christie is opening as many charters as possible in the state’s poorest, most segregated districts, with an occasional effort to place them in suburbs (which usually provokes intense parent resistance).

Now that parents and the Newark Students Union, as well as Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, oppose Cami Anderson’s efforts to eliminate their neighborhood schools, the usual corporate reform narrative has gotten scrambled because students and parents in Newark are fighting to stop privatization.

So KIPP-NJ organized a rally of 100 parents in front of Assemblymember Jasey’s office to protest the moratorium. Note that the legislation would not close their schools, although the statements of demonstrators assume that it would.

The rally was called “Hands Off Our Future.” Again, the moratorium would have no bearing on any of the existing charter schools or their students. Note in the press release that questions should be directed to KIPP’s marketing and communications specialist.

I have been impressed by the clever and appealing slogans–the branding–of the charter chains. Last year, when Mayor Bill de Blasio in NYC threatened to reject some of Eva Moskowitz’s charter proposals, her supporters (“Families for Excellent Schools”) quickly produced $5 million for slick TV ads called “Don’t Steal Possible.” (You may safely conclude that the “families” who came up with $5 million overnight don’t enroll their children in public schools or charter schools.) That, plus $1 million or so of campaign contributions to Governor Cuomo from hedge-fund managers, turned the tide. Cuomo became a charter cheerleader, and he pushed through a bill protecting Eva’s expansion plans and guaranteeing free space in public schools and requiring the public schools in NYC to pay the charters’ rent in private space.

Clearly, public schools must have their own branding strategy. How about this:

“”Wall Street: Hands Off Our Public Schools”

“Don’t Steal Democracy”

“Our Children Are Not for Sale”

“Public Schools Belong to the Public, Not Corporate Raiders”

Do you have better ideas? The charter sector is rich and ambitious. They start with the schools in urban areas, but they have already begun to push into the suburbs and even small towns.

The end result will be a dual system: one for the motivated students and families, free to exclude those students it doesn’t want; the other–our public schools–for the kids who were rejected by the charters. I thought the Brown decision of 1954 settled the issue of a publicly-funded dual system. But it is back again, not based on race, but on something else, maybe grit, ability to succeed, motivation. One system for strivers, another for the rest. When I was in graduate school many years ago, an economist who studied international education told me that systems may be shaken up but they tend to revert to long-established patterns. Like a dual school system.

I was in Oklahoma a few days ago, I talked to a principal who shares a building with KIPP. He told me that the charter sends him students they don’t want, usually right before the state tests. That’s how the new system works.

Governor Christie has strong opinions. He doesn’t like public schools (even though Néw Jersey public schools regularly place 2nd or 3rd in the nation on NAEP, behind Massachusetts and neck-and-neck with Connecticut.) yet he feels the need to bad-mouth New Jersey’s public schools whenever he has the chance. Christie doesn’t like teachers (he claims they have a four or five month vacation and receive a full-time salary for a part-time job). And he absolutely loathes teacher unions (they insist that their lazy members get paid for working longer school days).

To see Governor Christie at his best, watch the video clip on this post

Instead of telling the world about his state’s excellent public schools, he rants about their terrible teachers and retrograde union.

This man will never be President. Not just because his state’s economy is in trouble, not because of Bridgegate, but because he is a bully and a blowhard.

Can you believe how many millions, hundreds of millions, or billions of dollars have been diverted from America’s classrooms in the search for the elusive “bad teacher”? Lest we forget, this was imposed on the nation’s public schools by Race to the Top, and it is a central narrative of the reformster ideology. Find and fire those “bad teachers” and America’s economy will grow by trillions of dollars (so said Hoover Institution economist Eric Hanushek).

Except it turns out that no one has been able to find those hordes of “bad teachers.” They must be hiding. Or they must be good at test prep. In state after state, the hugely expensive teacher evaluation systems–burdened with statistically dubious methods–have been unable to unmask them.

Politico reports that 97% of teachers in New Jersey were found to be either effective or highly effective:

MOST NEW JERSEY TEACHERS RATED EFFECTIVE OR BETTER: Three percent of New Jersey teachers earned a rating of “partially effective” or “ineffective” under the state’s new teacher evaluation system, according to a report [http://bit.ly/1K5q30f ] out Monday. That’s up from the 0.8 percent of teachers rated “not acceptable” under the state’s old acceptable/not acceptable system. The 2,900 teachers rated poorly under the new system taught about 13 percent of the state’s students, or 180,000 kids. “Those educators are now on a path to improvement with individualized support, or will face charges of inefficiency if unable or unwilling to better serve students over time,” the report says. The vast majority of teachers earned high ratings, with nearly three-quarters rated “effective” and nearly a quarter “highly effective.” State officials stressed that teachers are now receiving more detailed and personalized feedback than ever before. “While one year of this new data is insufficient for identifying sustained trends or making sweeping conclusions about the state’s teaching staff, we are proud of this significant improvement and the personalized support all educators are now receiving,” said Peter Shulman, assistant commissioner of education and chief talent officer.

-The New Jersey Education Association said it still has “deep concerns” about the implementation of the evaluation system and the data used in decision-making, but “these results show that teachers are working very hard to meet and exceed expectations.” NJEA is calling for “disaggregated data for teachers with challenging assignments. It is important to know whether the evaluation system is biased against teachers who work in special education, teach English-language learners, or who work in economically challenged communities,” NJEA said. And the union pledged to represent any member who believes his or her evaluation is flawed: http://bit.ly/1AGLG56.

– The results come just days after Gov. Chris Christie denounced [http://politico.pro/1J5ySrL] the Common Core. In remarks [http://politico.pro/1QkQgHX ], Christie also stressed that the state must continue its push on teacher evaluations. “On this we will be unyielding,” he said. “No one should stand for anything less than an excellent teacher in every classroom – not parents, other teachers, administrators or our students. Accountability in every classroom must be one of the pillars of our New Jersey based higher standards.”

It is puzzling to see that 3% of the state’s teachers taught 13% of the state’s students. How is that possible? Maybe the teachers would do better with smaller classes.

The hunt goes on, even though the hunters left empty-handed.

A parent in New Jersey heard the news that Governor Chris Christie had decided to abandon Common Core. Apparently that is good politics today. Governor Christie is against the Common Core. But he favors keeping the Common Core-aligned PARCC tests. Is that good politics? Does it even make sense? This parent doesn’t think so.

 

 

 

He wrote the following letter to legislators:

 

Dear Senate Education Committee:

 

Last night I attended a friend’s absurd annual party where we sit around drinking, laughing, and betting on the National Spelling Bee (which this year came to an incredible draw). I ended up down about $10. In this age of spellcheck, I (somewhat facetiously) can’t think of any more useless talent than knowing how to spell, but that did not stop me from lovingly asking my 12-year-old daughter this morning why she can’t be as smart as those kids (she is, even though her spelling is atrocious).

 

Last weekend in Livingston during the Youth Appreciation Week activities, the student members of the Livingston High School Robotics Club presented ingenious working 3D Printers that they designed and built.

 

I don’t know whether those kids are ready for college or career. I pray that they never find out until they get there.

 

The prior Monday, at the Senate Education Committee hearing, we finally heard from some people (all parents of children at North Star Academy [a charter school]) who felt that they had benefited from PARCC. There was a heavier-set gentleman who worked in the community, a father and son, two women who were unable to read aloud the words that were prepared on their behalf on the papers before them, and one lively woman who spoke of being $100,000 in school debt and of the pride and sense of accomplishment that her son felt when he prepared for, focused on, and took the PARCC Exam.

 

The problem is that the suburban parents of the students who set the standards on standardized tests… they largely do not believe that pursuit of those standards is a worthy goal. I cannot imagine what it is like to live in a community that has been wracked by socio-economic malaise for generations. If the PARCC Exam served that community by demonstrating the rewards that come with focus and goals, then PARCC may have had a sliver of value as one tool in the infinite quiver. However, that sense of focus and accomplishment… that can be learned in music, in arts, in the scientific method of exploration, in language, in mathematics, in athletics, in making history come alive, in studying the dictionary, or in designing and building your own 3D printer. The Pursuit of Happiness and The Pursuit of Excellence are intertwined as both individual and team pursuits. To force anyone year over year over year to reach for the subjective levels of “excellence” set by others seems as silly as it is inhumane (especially when the students of Newark have as of late so boldly set new standards of excellence for public advocacy).

 

We should thank the Governor for his strong leadership in abandoning the Common Core. It is silly to impose a common set of standards on students across the board because to do so distracts us from actually addressing the needs of each community and each child as an individual. A common set of standards subverts the tried and true simple method of Observation. Profit motives probably got in the way. If we are going to impose standards, they should be actionable standards… standards for facilities… standards for staffing… standards for programming (how about every fourth grader in the South visits the Liberty Bell and every fifth grader in the North visits the Statue of Liberty?). The standard is, “Nothing worse than we would want for our own children.” Every school should be teaching coding and have a robotics club. Every school should have a school library brimming with new books (and yes, even dictionaries). Every school should serve the needs of the Community. These are actionable standards. They are investments that we can ill-afford NOT to make.

 

The Purpose of Education is to create active and engaged citizens… citizens who may pull from their vast experiences across the liberal arts to address and solve today’s problems while being prepared for tomorrow’s concerns. There is no reason why The People of The Garden State cannot lead the country in those efforts. It will take months of hard work to overcome years of misfeasance and malfeasance. We should all be thankful that we get to start together on Monday. We have unlimited potential for Growth.

 

Thank you to the Senate Education Committee for its leadership.

 

Have a great weekend.

 

Justin Escher Alpert
Livingston, New Jersey

 

P.S. Perhaps we ought to welcome each of those North Star parents back in front of the Senate Education Committee to testify in the safe space… in their own words… about their real struggles and needs. Perhaps PARCC had only scratched the surface. Government is instituted for the protection, security, and benefit of The People, and they have the right at all times to alter or reform the same, whenever the Public Good may require it. Let us commit to each other that that time is NOW.

Jersey Jazzman was struck by the hypocrisy of Governor Christie’s recent statements. He is against the Common Core because there is no teacher “buy-in.” Since when, asks JJ, has Christie cared about teachers’ views?

 

He wants standards developed by New Jersey educators. This is a good one, says JJ.

 

No politician in the history of New Jersey has listened less to teachers than Chris Christie. It’s absurd that he pretends that he wants educators to be involved in any aspect of education policy.

 

– “The buy-in from both communities has not been what we need…” Buy-in from teachers?! Is he insane?!

 

This is a man who compared us to drug dealers, told us we were greedy, told our students we didn’t care about their learning, and said we only care about having summers off. Now he worries we haven’t had “buy-in”?!

 

No politician in the history of New Jersey has done more to demonize and denigrate the teaching profession than Chris Christie. The thought that he is suddenly concerned that we haven’t had enough “buy-in” is laughable.

 

Why should we listen to Governor Christie, asks JJ.

 
America, take it from those of us living in Jersey: this man doesn’t care one whit about the Common Core, or education standards, or anything having to do with school policies. Chris Christie’s sole interest in education policy is in its worth as a political tool: a tool to diminish the strength of unions, demonize public workers, and shift the focus off of his own many, many failures as governor.

 

When the Bridgegate scandal blew open, Christie decided to unveil a useless initiative to lengthen the school day and year, hoping to get the press talking about anything other than his out-of-control staff. It never went anywhere — and why would it? Once it had served its purpose as a distraction, it went away.

 

There is a serious debate to be had about the Common Core — but Chris Christie really couldn’t care less about the issue. So long as he harbors delusions of gaining of national office, this man will use New Jersey’s education system in any way he thinks will gain him political points.

 

In a sane world, anything Chris Christie says about education policy would be ignored.

 

 
– See more at: http://jerseyjazzman.blogspot.com/2015/05/the-screaming-hypocrisy-of-govchristie.html#sthash.38Hinf8Y.dpuf

 

 

 

 

 

 
– See more at: http://jerseyjazzman.blogspot.com/2015/05/the-screaming-hypocrisy-of-govchristie.html#sthash.38Hinf8Y.dpuf

 

 

Chris Christie came up with a clever strategy to deal with the political hot potato called Common Core. He had long been a vocal supporter. But now, anticipating the primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire, he has turned against them.

 

But here is the bizarre part. He wants to keep the Common Core-aligned PARCC test. This parent, Sarah Blaine, calls him out for hypocrisy and double-dealing. She points out that if you believe he is really abandoning the Common Core, she has a bridge to sell you. It is not clear whether she is selling the Brooklyn Bridge (which connects Brooklyn and Manhattan) or the George Washington Bridge (which Christie aides closed to punish the mayor of Fort Lee for refusing to endorse Christie).

Investigative reporter David Sirota says in Salon that Néw Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s presidential campaign will be derailed not by the George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal but by a public pension scandal. As usual, follow the money.

Sirota writes:

“At issue are the fees being paid by New Jersey’s beleaguered public pension system to Wall Street firms. In recent years, Christie’s officials have shifted more of the retirement savings of teachers, firefighters, police officers and other public workers into the hands of private financial firms. That has substantially increased the management fees paid by taxpayers to those firms. Indeed, while Christie says the pension system cannot afford to maintain current retirement benefits, pension fees paid to financial firms have quadrupled to $600 million a year — or $1.5 billion in total since he took office in 2010.

“In recent months, details have emerged showing that Christie officials have directed lucrative pension management deals to some financial companies whose executives have made contributions to Republican groups backing Christie’s election campaigns. Additionally, Christie’s officials have admitted that they have not been fully disclosing all the fees the state has been paying to private financial firms.”

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