Archives for category: New Jersey

David Rutherford is in his first year as a member the the school board in Plainfield, New Jersey. He dug into the budget and discovered that the state of Néw Jersey is cheating the children of Plainfield. Since the election of Chris Christie, the state has ignored a law requiring that it fund schools based on student needs. Plainfield has been shorted by millions of dollars. Rutherford estimates that Plainfield is owed $70 million by the state.

Guess who has not been shorted? Charter schools, which have the backing of several prominent hedge fund billionaires in Néw Jersey.

Charter schools have been sucking students and dollars out of the Plainfield public schools.

Until now, the fiscally responsible Plainfield district had been running a surplus. But it won’t last.

Rutherford writes:

“But surplus is a finite resource, and long term the picture is far more grim. The state of New Jersey’s refusal to pay districts the funds they deserve and the over-funding of charter schools will become growing problems for which this district, and many others, must find difficult long term solutions. Millions of dollars in lost money will undoubtably have a grave impact on students and the community.

“Applying the Pressure

“We must demand that Chris Christie and the New Jersey State Legislature cease to steal from the neediest public school districts while keeping charter schools afloat. Language that allows for charter over-payment must be removed from next year’s budget.

“The Highland Park and Paterson Boards of Education have already passed resolutions demanding that the Legislature take a stand and eliminate that language. In fact, you can read Highland Park’s resolution, which has been accepted in principle by the New Jersey School Boards Association and should be up for vote at the next School Board Delegate Assembly meeting on November 26th.

“Seven million dollars in over-payments on top of $70 million in underfunding over the course of the past six years is nothing short of theft, and the blame falls on a bipartisan coalition of our leaders in Trenton. This includes the two-thirds Democratic State Assembly and Senate. They must be held accountable.”

If policies like Néw Jersey’s stay in place, districts like Plainfield will go bankrupt, setting them up for privatization. There will be many others in the same situation. Good news for hedge fund managers who want to destroy public education. Bad news for kids, teachers, public education, and democracy.

The privatizers have been searching for the past decade for a “proof point” that privatization is the path to a great education that will lift all children out of poverty, thereby avoiding the necessity to raise taxes on the rich.

First, they focused on New Orleans, but despite their massive propaganda campaign, there are many doubts about the “success.” Even their own data report that at least 40% of charters are F-rated by a charter-friendly state department of education.

Then they tried Newark, buoyed by Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million gift (matched by others). That was a complete flop.

Then they started the “Achievement School District” in Tennessee, whose leader Chris Barbic promised to lift the schools in the bottom 5% to the top 25% in only five years. As of now, four years later, the first batch are still in the bottom 5%, except for two that reached the bottom 6%.

And now it is poor Camden, New Jersey’s turn. Camden, the poorest city in the Garden State, is the target for the elimination of public education. Camden is supposed to prove that charters can conquer poverty. No need to create jobs, build housing, make medical care available to all, or do anything else to improve the lives of the people of Camden.

Just yesterday, the privatizers held a conference on their plan of action. The State Education Commissioner was there. The Camden superintendent was there. The Democratic boss of South Jersey was there. The president of the State Senate was there. The minority leader of the State Senate was there. The executive director of KIPP in New Jersey was there. The head of the New Jersey Charter Association was there. Bob Bowdon, the pro-voucher filmmaker whose film “The Cartel” compared the NJEA to the Mafia, was there. Who was not there? Parents and educators from Camden.

Open these links (you don’t have to belong to Facebook to open them):

Don’t these bozos–forgive me, policymakers– ever learn anything? How many millions went down the drain in Newark?

Jersey Jazzman, aka Mark Weber, is an expert on Newark school reform. As a teacher, researcher, and blogger, he has reported and analtzed every twist and turn of the Newark story.

Who better, then, to fact check Dale Russakoff’s new book, “The Prize,” which tells the story of what happened to Mark Zuckerberg’s gift of $100 million to reform the schools of Newark. The gift came in response to a request by them-Mayor Cory Booker and newly-elected Governor Chris Christie.

It is a good read and an important review. I wish Russakoff had interviewed Mark Weber.

Bob Braun unravels a very odd story about a principal who disappeared, went missing without explanation from the central office, then mysteriously reappeared.

It couldn’t happen in Short Hills or any affluent white suburb. But it did happen in Newark. Read his post to the end.

This post was written by Phyliss Doerr, an experienced kindergarten teacher in Néw Jersey.

As we wind down a year of tremendous controversy in the realm of education in the United States, I thought I would share some of my input given in January to a New Jersey Board of Education panel on testing led by Education Commissioner David Hespe.

As a kindergarten teacher, I find the trend to bring more testing into kindergarten not only alarming, but counter-productive and even harmful.

In the kindergarten at my school, we do not administer standardized tests; however, hours of testing are included in our math and language arts curriculum. In order to paint a realistic picture of the stress, damaging effects and colossal waste of time caused by testing in kindergarten, allow me to bring you to my classroom for our first test prep session in late September for 5-year-old children.

The test for which I was preparing my students was vocabulary. I say a word that we had learned in our “nursery rhyme” unit. Then, I read a sentence containing that word. If the sentence made sense, using the word correctly, the student would circle the smiley face. If the word were used incorrectly, they would circle the frown. This task requires abstract thinking, a skill that kindergartners have not yet developed — a foundational problem for this type of test.

My first sample vocabulary challenge as we began our practice test was the word “market,” from the nursery rhyme “To Market, To Market.” After explaining the setup of the test, I begin. “The word is market,” I announced. “Who can tell me what a market is?” One boy answered, “I like oranges.” “Okay, Luke is on the right track. Who can add to that?” “I like apples. I get them at the store.” We’re moving in, closer and closer. A third child says, “It’s where you go and get lots of things.” Yes! What kinds of things? “Different stuff.” Another student chimes in: “We can get oranges and apples and lots of other types of food at the market.” “Excellent! Everyone understands market?” A few nod.

“Now, I will give you a sentence with the word ‘market’ in it. If the sentence makes sense, you will circle the smiley face, but if it is a silly sentence and doesn’t make sense, you circle the frown.” A hand goes up. “Mrs. Doerr, what’s a frown?” I explain what a frown is.

Next, I read the sentence: “‘I like to play basketball at the market.’ Now, does that sentence make sense?”

The students who are not twisting around backward in their chairs or staring at a thread they’ve picked off their uniforms nod their heads. “Please, class, listen carefully. I’ll tell you the sentence again: ‘I like to play basketball at the market.’ That makes sense? Remember we said a market is where we shop for food.”

A hand goes up. Terrell says, “I like soccer.” “Okay, Terrell, that’s great! But did I use the word ‘market’ correctly in that sentence?” “I don’t know.”

Another hand. “Yes? Ariana? What do you think?” “My dad took me to a soccer game! He plays soccer!” “Thank you for sharing that, Ariana.” The students picked up on something from the sentence and made what seems to be, but is not, a random connection. “Girls and boys, look at me and listen. I want you to really think about this. Would you go to a market and play basketball?” At this point everyone seemed to wake up. Finally! I was getting somewhere! “YES!” they cried out in unison.

Of course! It would be a total blast to play basketball in the market!

So here we find another huge problem with this vocabulary test: a 5-year-old’s imagination. A statement that uses a word incorrectly sounds OK to a child whose imagination is not limited by reality. It is the same reason Santa and the Tooth Fairy are so real to kindergartners — unencumbered imagination.

After explaining why we might not play basketball in the market, I called on a volunteer to come up and circle the frowning face. She went straight to number 3 on my giant test replica, skipping 1 and 2, and circled the frown. Why? She’s 5 and has never seen anything like this. Give the same student a floor puzzle of ocean life and she and her friend will knock it out in 10 minutes, strategizing, problem-solving and taking turns with intense concentration.

The rest of my “test prep” for the 5-year-olds went about the same.

Then came the real thing. As testing must be done in small groups since the children cannot read instructions and need assistance every step of way, I split the class into two or more groups to test.

The results of the administration of the test on the first group were mixed. Despite being the higher level students, their very first test was definitely not an easy task. Instructions for anything new in kindergarten are painstaking, but for a developmentally inappropriate task, it is nearly impossible. For example, making sure my little test-takers have found their place on the page requires constant teacher supervision. I cannot just say, “Number 2” and read the question. I must say, “Put your finger on the number 2.” Then I repeat, “Your finger should be on number 2.” Then repeat it. And repeat again, since some have difficulty identifying numbers 1 through 10. “Let me see your pencil ON number 2. No, Justin, not on number 3. On number 2.” I walk around and make sure that each child is on the right number – or on a number at all. If you’re not watchful as a kindergarten teacher, it is common to have a 5-year-old just sit there, and do nothing test-related — just look around, or think, or doodle.

Next, I tested a second group. During testing, I walked around to see that a few students had nothing written on their papers, one had circled every face — regardless of expression — on the whole page, another just circled all the smileys and one, a very bright little girl, had her head down on her arms. I tapped her and said, “Come on, you need to circle one of the faces for number 5.” She lifted her head and looked up at me. Tears streamed down her face. I crouched down next to her. “What’s wrong, honey?” “Mrs. Doerr, I’m tired,” she cried. “I want my mommy.” It was a moment I will never forget. I took her test and said, “Would you like a nice comfy pillow so you can take a rest?” She nodded. I exchanged her paper for a pillow.

So this is kindergarten.

We force children to take tests that their brains cannot grasp.

We ignore research that proves that children who are 5-6 learn best experientially.

We rob them of precious free play that teaches them how to be good citizens, good friends and good thinkers.

We waste precious teaching and learning time that could be spent experientially learning the foundations of math, reading and writing, as well as valuable lessons in social studies, science and health.

I support and enjoy teaching much of our math and language arts curriculum. Teaching vocabulary is a valuable practice. However, I contend that testing in these areas at this age is not only meaningless, since it does not accurately measure a child’s academic ability, but it is actually counter-productive and even damaging.

Further, I contend that my students are no further along at the end of the year than they would be if we eliminated most of the testing. In fact, they might be further along if we eliminated testing because of the time we could spend engaging in meaningful teaching and learning. Finally, I believe that a child’s first experience with formal education should be fun and exciting, and give them confidence to look forward to their education, not full of stress and fear because they did not measure up.

Parents and educators must speak out against harmful trends in education so that they can be reversed immediately.

Phyllis Doerr of South Orange is a kindergarten teacher.

Joseph G. Rosenstein, a distinguished professor of mathematics at Rutgers University, is mightily disappointed in the Common Core math standards. Professor Rosenstein has spent the past 30 years focused on K-12 mathematics education. He helped to write state standards over the past 20 years. He believed that New Jersey had excellent math standards. But in the pursuit of Race to the Top funding, New Jersey adopted the Common Core standards and junked its own successful ones. He believes the CC math standards are deeply flawed.


He writes:


What are some of those inadequacies? One is the assumption that all students should learn the material that is typically in an Algebra II course. When that proposal was first raised by the commissioner of education in 2008, I wrote an article for the Star Ledger that was given the title “Algebra II + all high schoolers = overkill.”


I also testified on that issue to the Joint Education Committee of the New Jersey State Legislature and asked them if they were able to calculate 64 to the two-thirds power, a typical Algebra II question. It became clear to them that such topics are not for all students, and the proposal to require all students to take Algebra II was rejected.


Yet a number of political organizations continue to argue that Algebra II is necessary for career readiness for all students. It isn’t. For those students who hope to choose an education and career path that includes science and technology, it is essential, but for those not going in those directions, it is simply unnecessary.


Unfortunately, the Common Core mathematics standards is based on the false assumption that all students should learn much of what is found in an Algebra II course. And that assumption has implications all the way down to the early grades, where it is manifested in what one educator called “a fanatical focus on fractions” in the Common Core mathematics standards.


A second inadequacy of the Common Core mathematics standards is that they essentially banish statistics, probability, and discrete mathematics to the later grades; these are topics that should be woven throughout the curriculum and all grade levels


Students in elementary school should be drawing bar graphs based on their everyday experiences, should be conducting experiments involving coin-tossing, should be discovering and generating patterns, and should be following and writing directions for carrying out simple tasks (like walking from their classrooms to the school office). And students in middle school should be building their understanding of statistics, probability, and discrete mathematics based on their previous activities.


Activities like those are in the previous New Jersey mathematics standards, and the modeling and reasoning and problem solving they entail likely contributed to the success of New Jersey students on the NAEP. (Full disclosure: I have written a textbook entitled “Problem Solving and Reasoning with Discrete Mathematics.”)


Such activities were banished from the Common Core standards because of the mistaken belief that elementary school mathematics should be directed exclusively toward success in algebra and eventually calculus.


Bob Braun listened to Chris Christie’s announcement of his candidacy for the GOP nomination, and he was struck by Christie’s peculiar version of the “American Dream.”

While other candidates–past and present–spoke of fleeing religious persecution, tyranny, and privation to find refuge in America, Christie spoke of fleeing a racially-changing Newark for the comfort of an all-white suburb.

Braun writes:

“The Christie family did not escape from English monarchs who insisted on a state religion. Not from revolutions in southern Europe. Not from the potato famine. Not from the czar. Not from pogroms or the Holocaust. Not from grinding poverty. The Christie family escaped from black families moving into the neighborhood–new neighbors whose ancestors were brought to this country as slaves in chains. The Christies did not face the unknown wilderness or the known hostility of earlier settlers. They faced the grass, the open space, the all-white neighborhoods, of Livingston, New Jersey.

“I cannot speak for people of color but I can imagine the pain many must have felt when Christie told the adoring and mostly white crowd at Livingston High School, “I’m here in Livingston because all those years ago, my mother and father became the first of either of their families to leave the city of Newark to come here and make this home for us.”

“Not Jamestown. Or Plymouth. Or Ellis Island. Livingston.”

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.






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.



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