Archives for category: New Jersey

Darcie Cimarusti, the ever-vigilant blogger known as Mother Crusader, discovered that Pearson is field-testing a PARCC test for 2nd grade in New Jersey public schools.

She went to the PARCC website and learned that Pearson is developing assessments for K-2. These tests will presumably prepare children for the test in the next grade and the grades after that. You can never start the testing too soon!

The children are being used as guinea pigs to help in Pearson’s product development. She guesses they will be subject to the same rules of confidentiality required of students in grades 3-11, even though they are too young to understand what they agree to do–or not do. “Don’t talk about the test.” Of course, to a child, that is probably an incitement to talk about the test.

She poses this question:

The New Jersey Assembly has already passed a bill that would prohibit the administration of non-diagnostic standardized tests prior to 3rd grade. The Senate needs to act now. They have the power to keep Pearson away from our youngest students. If Pearson’s grade 3-11 tests were field tested in NJ in the 2013-14 school year and implemented in the 2014-15 school year, it stands to reason that a Grade 2 field test this year means the introduction of a Grade 2 PARCC test next year.

So what is the NJ Senate waiting for?

Stan Karp was a teacher in New Jersey for many years. He now works as an advocate for public education. In this brilliant article, he describes two districts in New Jersey that have been under assault by corporate reformers. One is Newark, the other is Montclair. One is high-poverty and mostly African-American; the other is an affluent and diverse suburb. To different degrees, both have experienced the same failed “reforms”:

 

“Corporate education reform” is used here as shorthand for a set of proposals driving education policy at the state and federal level. These include:

 
Increased test-based evaluation of students, teachers, and schools of education.

 
Elimination or weakening of tenure and seniority rights.

 
An end to pay for experience or advanced degrees.

 
The privatization of school services, including reduced pay and benefits for the aides, custodians, and cafeteria workers who often form an important layer of community-based staff in schools.

 
Closing public schools and replacing them with privately run charters.

 
Replacing elected local school boards with various forms of mayoral or state takeover.

 
Vouchers and tax credit subsidies for private school tuition.

 
Implementation of a new generation of computer-based exams tied to the Common Core standards.

 
Typically, low-income districts like Newark, with majority populations of color, including many families who have been poorly served by the current system, have been the entry point for these policies. The rhetoric of civil rights and equity, once invoked to challenge segregation and institutional racism, is now being used to justify the radical dismantling of these districts.

 
Newark reached a turning point on this path in the fall of 2010, a high-water mark for the corporate reform movement: The pro-charter propaganda film Waiting for “Superman” had just been released and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was calling it a “Rosa Parks moment.” Oprah Winfrey ran a week of back-to-school specials highlighted by the appearance of Bill Gates and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who appeared with then-Newark Mayor Cory Booker and New Jersey’s newly elected Gov. Chris Christie.

 
Christie won election by campaigning against teacher unions, calling pre-K programs “babysitting,” and denouncing court-ordered funding levels for New Jersey’s urban districts as “obscene.” “We have to grab this system by the roots and yank it out and start over,” he said. Booker and Christie formed the kind of bipartisan political alliance that has been a defining characteristic of corporate ed reform. As reported by Dale Russakoff in the New Yorker: “Booker presented Christie with a confidential proposal titled ‘Newark Public Schools—A Reform Plan.’ . . . One of the goals was to ‘make Newark the charter school capital of the nation.’”

 

Christie agreed and Booker began pitching the plan to potential donors, including Zuckerberg.

 

So, as schools opened in September 2010, folks in Newark heard Zuckerberg, who had never set foot in the city, announce from a TV studio in Chicago that he was donating $100 million to support what Oprah described as a takeover of Newark Public Schools (NPS) by the “rock star mayor.” Community activists began referring to it as the second takeover.

 

Karp gives a history of the last 20 years in Newark, which was taken over by the state in 1995. Under court order, Newark Public Schools made significant progress. But after Chris Christie was elected governor, Newark became a hothouse for corporate reform.

 

Some of Newark’s highest profile charters are “no excuses” schools with authoritarian cultures and appalling attrition rates. Newark’s KIPP schools lose nearly 60 percent of African American boys between 5th and 12th grades, and Uncommon Schools lose about 75 percent. There are some Newark charters that provide high quality education for a fortunate few, but the overall impact on the district has been polarizing and inequitable, and has accelerated the district’s decline.
For many architects of corporate reform, that’s exactly the point. As Andy Smarick, a former deputy commissioner in Christie’s DOE now with the corporate think tank Bellwether, wrote: “The solution isn’t an improved traditional district; it’s an entirely different delivery system for public education: systems of chartered schools.”

 

Christie appointed Cami Anderson as superintendent of Newark, and her plans to dismantle public education are highly unpopular. She never attends board meetings; her office was occupied recently by a group of students. A new mayor, Ras Baraka, was elected running in opposition to Cami Anderson and state control. But despite her unpopularity, Christie reappointed her for another term and gave her a bonus. Other superintendents have a salary cap; Anderson has none and makes more than any other superintendent in the state.

 

Montclair, New Jersey, is a suburb that has long been desegregated. It has some unusual citizens, including Chris Cerf, the former state superintendent who now works for Joel Klein at Rupert Murdoch’s Amplify division, and Jonathan Alter, the national political journalist who is a cheerleader for corporate reform and had a starring role in “Waiting for ‘Superman,'” lauding accountability and charter schools. Montclair, writes Karp, was a “takeover without a takeover.”

 

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.
Like the rest of the country, Montclair had felt the impact of increased testing. New Jersey used to test students once each in elementary, middle, and high school. But since 2002, NCLB mandated annual testing for every student in every grade from 3 to 8 and again in high school. State testing mandates increased again when New Jersey adopted the Common Core standards and tests. MacCormack’s “benchmark assessments” were an additional layer designed to produce data for her strategic plan.
The town pushed back. Some parents formed a group called Montclair Cares About Schools (MCAS) and posted an online petition asking the board to defer the quarterly tests. Five hundred parents signed in a few weeks. A similar petition initiated by students drew another 500 names. Dozens of speakers lined up at board meetings to urge the board to slow down and change direction. But, as the school year ended, the board that hired MacCormack unanimously endorsed her plan.
When schools opened in September, neither the tests nor the new curriculum they were supposed to assess were ready. Teachers were scrambling to make sense of a complicated new teacher evaluation rubric. Confusion reigned about how this rubric would combine with student test scores to produce numerical ratings for staff, with high-stakes consequences for tenure and salaries. Again, parents and teachers pleaded with the board to delay the new tests, to no avail.

 

McCormack has since moved on, leaving behind an $8 million budget gap and a divided citizenry; the communities under siege are beginning to work together to resist disruptive and chaotic “reforms.”

 

The school reform battles in Newark and Montclair are part of a national struggle over the direction of public education, and the outcome is still very much in doubt. But there are some encouraging signs that building pro-public education coalitions across urban, suburban, race, and class lines is possible.
In the midst of Newark’s mayoral campaign, MCAS [Montclair Cares About Schools] held a fundraiser in Montclair for Ras Baraka. At an overflowing house party, MCAS parents spoke about their efforts to realize a democratic vision of integrated schools and put support for public education back at the center of state and national policy. Baraka spoke passionately about how much it meant to children and parents in Newark to know they had allies beyond their neighborhoods.
Ties across district lines are growing. “Cares about Schools” groups have popped up in more than two dozen other districts. Save Our Schools, N.J., a statewide parents group, has grown to more than 20,000 supporters and built an advocacy network that’s done terrific work on school funding, charter accountability, privatization, and testing. The N.J. Education Association has initiated a campaign against the overuse of standardized testing that is crossing community and constituency lines more consciously than in the past.
Two recent events hint at the possibilities. On a cold January night, MCAS partnered with the Montclair Education Association to sponsor “an evening of song, poetry, comedy, music, and spoken word celebrating the joy of creative teaching and educators.” A crowd gathered in the performance space of a local bar to celebrate the diverse voices of Montclair’s public schools. During a break, an MCAS parent made an announcement: A series of “Undoing Racism” workshops would be held in late March. Participants would be drawn from both Newark and Montclair, with representation from educators and community. “Undoing racism,” she repeated. “Let’s have more of that. And it comes right at the end of the first round of [Common Core] testing, a perfect time to look at issues of race in education.”
A few days later, Ras Baraka became the first mayor of a major city to publicly endorse the right of parents to opt out of state tests. “While test data can be a useful part of accountability systems,” he declared, “the misuse and overuse of standardized tests has undermined the promise of equity and opportunity. . . . New Jersey needs an immediate moratorium on using standardized tests for high-stakes purposes, such as graduation, teacher evaluations, and restructuring schools. . . . I stand in solidarity with the opposition to this regime of standardized testing.”
The seeds of solidarity are starting to sprout.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The final figures for opt outs were released in Montclair, New Jersey. 42.6% of students did not take the PARCC test.

 

That is quite a protest against Common Core and high-stakes testing, against the Bush-Obama agenda.

 

The opt-out totals were most pronounced at Montclair High School, where 68 percent of students refused to take the test. In contrast, at the low end of the scale, only 7.5 percent of students at Watchung Elementary School chose to opt-out of the PARCC.

 

 

The new interim superintendent in Montclair, New Jersey, released the Opt Out numbers: 39% opted out in grades 3-11. That is a stupendous number and a victory for the parents who rejected the PARCC sham.

The story was posted an hour ago at NorthJersey.com: “Montclair School District Releases PARCC Opt Out Numbers” (for some unknown reason, I can’t get a link, but google and you will find the story).

Out of a total of 4,623 students in the district registered to take test in grades 3-11, 1,795 refused, or 38.8 percent.

What the amounts also show is that the percentage of students who were opted-out by their parents, with some exceptions, rose as the grade levels got higher.

According to the information provided by the district, 3,170 students across the district in grades 3-8 registered, with 968 refusing to take the test. The number of students who were opted out is 30.5 percent.

In grades 9 through 11, 1,453 students registered, with 827 not taking the test, or 56.9 percent opting out.

The highest percentage of students not taking the PARCC tests were juniors at Montclair High School. About 66.5 percent or 319 out of 480 students opted out.

The lowest percentage was in the third grade level at Watchung School, with only one student opting out of the 76 registered, or 1.3 percent.

The state-appointed superintendent of the Camden, Néw Jersey, public schools announced that five public schools would be handed over to private charter chains. These schools will receive “significant” renovations to prepare them for the takeover by private managers. Three private organizations–KIPP, Mastery, and Uncommon Schools–have been designated to take over the schools and students.

“”This marks a new beginning for five of Camden’s most-struggling schools,” predicted Paymon Rouhanifard, the district’s state-appointed superintendent. “We hope this will be remembered as the moment we turned the corner.”

“A different view came from Save Our Schools New Jersey, an education-advocacy group. It asserted the schools were being “given” to private operators “to ensure a forced supply of students.”

“The people of Camden had no say in this decision,” said the group, which noted the city district is under state control and does not have an elected school board.

“Current staffers at the five schools would have to interview for new positions with the renaissance schools, Rouhanifard said.”

Read more about the superintendent here and here. Here is Jersey Jazzman’s description of his resume: Teach for America, Goldman Sachs, And a high staff position in the Néw York City’s Department of Education. He was 32 when Governor Chris Christie appointed him.

New Jersey State Commissioner of Education David Hespe was appointed by Governor Chris Christie, which suggests that one should have low expectations for starters. But Jersey Jazzman decided to give him the benefit of the doubt, because at least he wasn’t Chris Cerf, who resigned to work for Joel Klein at Rupert Murdoch’s company.

 

But when Hespe approved the expansion of a charter school in Hoboken, claiming that it would have no segregative effect on the public schools, JJ couldn’t believe that Hespe could say this with a straight claim. JJ shows that the charter schools in Hoboken do not serve the same population as those in the public schools: they are whiter and more advantaged. Of course, the expansion of the Hoboken Dual Language School would have a segregative effect! JJ lays out the facts and figures.

 

JJ warns:

 

The charter school community’s claims to the moral high ground are null and void when Hoboken’s charter school expansion is based on the distortions found in Hespe’s letter. He and his department have turned a blind eye to the real and serious effects of the charters on the city’s school district.

 

In doing so, Hespe and his top brass at the NJDOE show they are ideologues, uninterested in a rational assessment of the consequences of their policies. And, again, it’s not just charter schools: PARCC, One Newark, the state superintendents, and all the other issues before this department are not being evaluated with rigorous, evidence-based methods.

 

I had high hopes for David Hespe; they have now been dashed. Hunker down, New Jersey: when it comes to the NJDOE, things won’t get better before they get worse.

 

 

Marie Corfield, teacher and education activist, tells here the worst PARCC story she ever heard. It is short and sad.

Can you top this?

The connections between Pearson and the Néw Jersey State Department of Education are close, reports Bob Braun:

“Bari Anhalt Erlichson, an assistant New Jersey education commissioner and chief testing officer who supervises PARCC testing throughout the state, has a personal connection of sorts to PARCC’s developer, the British publishing giant Pearson. Anhalt Erlichson is married to Andrew Erlichson, a vice president of a company named MongoDB. MongoDB (the name comes from humongous database) is a subcontractor to Pearson, developing its national student database that provides the larger company with access to student records in New Jersey and the nation.

“Anhalt Erlichson wrote a memorandum to New Jersey educators March 17 defending the actions of her department and Pearson in monitoring the social media of New Jersey students while they took the PARCC tests. She blamed the uproar caused by the revelation of the cyber-spying on the failure of parents and educators to understand social media.

“She did not mention her personal ties to a company that profits from the business relationship to Pearson–and the state education department….

“State education department spokesmen declined to answer inquiries about Erlichson’s connections to MongoDB.”

Thousands of students refused the PARCC test in Néw Jersey, including 1,000 students at Governor Christie’s alma mater, Livingston High School.

In one district, 30% of the students refused to take the test.

Bob Braun posts an eloquent letter written by 35 teachers at Science Park High School in Newark, one of the top schools in New Jersey.

 

The teachers write:

 

To Whoever Will Listen:

 

We are teachers at Science Park High School in Newark, New Jersey, and we are deeply disturbed by the thirty days of disruption being forced on our school. In the coming weeks, like the rest of New Jersey, we will be forced to administer the PARCC exam. A few weeks ago we saw the schedule: three weeks of testing in March, followed by three weeks of testing in May. This total does not include the additional week of make-up testing following each of the three-week periods. This total does not include the days of mandatory test preparation to familiarize students with the exam’s very specific computer interface. This total does not include the thousands of hours of training of teachers and administrators to plan, schedule, and execute this exam. We honestly believe that The State of New Jersey, by forcing us to administer this time-devouring test, is engaged in behavior destructive to the educational well being of our students.

 

We believe that the thirty days of disruption could just as easily be called the thirty days of destruction. Science Park High School is a Blue Ribbon school. We, like many teachers in Newark and throughout New Jersey, have dedicated huge parts of our lives to making certain that our students receive an excellent education. We come in early. We stay late. We give up our weekends. We wouldn’t change our dedication because we love what we do. We love the students we teach. Our love forces us to say something.

 

We do not believe that parents and administrators who work for the State of New Jersey understand the destructive impact this testing will have on our ability to teach students. Some teachers will be removed from their classes for a week. The second week that same teacher may not have any students because they are being tested. In the third week they may have only partially filled classes. The disruption will continue with some students still absent from class during the fourth week of make-up exams. Then we have spring break, three weeks of teaching in April, and in May we test for a second three-to-four week period. We say again, in May we test for a second three- to four-week period!

 

We value our time in the classroom with our students. Teachers are important to the educational process. It is wrong to stop the educational process for close to 17 percent of the year to administer an exam. We could talk about further objections, like the use of a confusing computer interface, or the use of an exam that many highly educated and successful people have difficulty completing. But thirty days of testing is sufficiently outrageous and — we believe — indefensible.

 

There are three questions this schedule raises that demand answers:

 

1. Why is 30 days of testing disruption more beneficial than 30 days of classroom instruction? We have never heard a pedagogical justification for this and could not imagine what one would be. Explain to us how this is about the education of our children.

 

2. How much are the State of New Jersey and private foundations spending on the creation, training, execution, and grading of this exam, and who is financially benefitting from this? There is so much in education that we cannot afford, that we must fund out of our own pockets. There are so many teachers and clerks and drug counselors and attendance counselors who have been laid off, in our own building, in our district, in our state. What is the financial bottom line?

 

3. If this PARCC exam is so valuable and good, how many of New Jersey’s top private schools have adopted it? Is Delbarton or Newark Academy or Pingry subjecting their students to the “educational benefits” of this exam?

 

Although we, the undersigned education workers, do not represent the entire faculty at Science Park High School, we are confident that every member of our faculty shares our critique of this exam. We are even confident that many principals and superintendents not brought in by the current regime share our critique. Yet many are afraid to speak out because they fear retaliation against themselves, their principal, or even the entire staff or school if they dare voice their honest, professional opinion.

 

We who have signed this letter cannot live in fear. We are offended by the situation in which we find ourselves, in which education policy is dictated by billionaires who never taught a day in their lives, while our patiently gained professional expertise is ignored. Even worse, we are offended by a situation where many honest, hard-working education workers feel afraid to voice their professional opinion for fear of backlash.

 

What type of teachers would we be if we taught our students about the First Amendment, yet did not voice our professional opinion? What type of teachers would we be if we taught our students about civil rights movements, yet neglected to defend them from this exam? With these questions in our conscience, we are not afraid to issue this clear statement.

 

We love teaching. We love our students. Our collective educational opinion is that PARCC’s thirty days of disruption is bad for our schools and bad for our children.

 

[Bob Braun’s note: Due to technical difficulties, I was unable to reproduce the signature pages of this statement. However, these are the names appended to the statement. Because the names were hand-written, I may not spell some correctly. Corrections are requested and will be made ASAP. My apologies for any mistakes. Here is the list of names in the order they appear on the statement:]

 

 

Branden Rippey

Hubert McQueen

Filip Spirovski

Kim Schmidt

Jose Gomez-Rivera

Anthony Moreno

Luan Goxhaj

Patrick Farley

Ana Serro

Cheryl Bell

Jonathan Alston

Randy Mitchell

Claudia Amanda Pecor

Justin Mohren

Cristiano Liborio

Carolina Parasiti

Doretta Sockwell

Aziz Kenz

Marta Ilewska

Veronica Naegele

Richard R. Selander

Chaunte’ Killingsworth

Jim McMahon

Marcellus D. Green

Michelle Benjamin

Peter Wang

Mario McMiller

Ben Patiak

Lisa Bento

Lorenzo Cruz

Jeanina Perez

Pamela Cole

Ana Aranda

Joseph Okil

Philip Yip

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