I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Week "Reformy" Died In New Jersey


1. of, denoting, or pertaining to education policies that have little to no supporting evidence, yet allow supporters of those policies to feel like they care about children more than you do.

2. (of a public education policy) used to justify inequitable and/or inadequate education funding. 

3. (of a public education policy) infuriatingly smug while concurrently so freakin' ignorant that you just want to bash your head on your keyboard over and over and over...

"Jersey Jazzman just read the latest reformy argument on his computer."

This was a bad week for "reformy" here in Jersey; dare I say it, we may have just witnessed the beginning of the end of the "reformy" movement in the Garden State. Let's review:

Reformy Death Throes #1: On Tuesday, Newark's reformy state superintendent, Cami Anderson, had a very, very bad day:
Not a great day for Cami Anderson. The chairman of the legislative committee that oversees state-operated  school districts Tuesday accused the state-appointed Newark superintendent  of “taking the fifth” because she repeatedly refused to discuss her personal and business ties to a Newark charter school leader to whose organization she sold a Newark public school at less than fair market value. Anderson also was openly caught in a lie when she insisted before the Joint Committee on Public Schools (JCPS) that no school principals were in so-called “rubber rooms,” getting paid to do nothing–apparently unaware one of the principals was attending the hearing. She also was openly laughed at by committee members when she talked about a “legislative liaison” aide whom none  had ever met.
But the oddest thing that happened at the four-hour hearing was Anderson’s insistence that her reforms efforts should not be judged by falling state test scores because such scores were “inaccurate” and “unfair”–this, from a woman who has closed public schools and fired educators because of falling state test scores.
Anderson, a woman who has shown nothing but smug contempt for critics,  was reduced to offering  what amounted to personal pleas that the legislators try to “understand my journey”or “my passion”–mawkish and overplayed efforts to depict herself as someone whose past helped her understand the problems of poor people. In the end, she had to be rescued  after four hours by state Education Commissioner David Hespe who told the committee Anderson had had enough for one day and should be allowed to leave. [emphasis mine]
That's from the great Bob Braun, who has done more to expose the incompetence of the Anderson administration than anyone. I couldn't go to the hearing or listen in real-time (because I was too busy destroying America's future...), but I did listen to the archives from the NJ Legislature.

Dear lord, it was brutal. When I testified before the Joint Committee on One Newark last year, I could sense how angry both sides of the aisle were over Anderson's flippant refusal to appear before them. That anger has clearly grown; State Senator Ron Rice was furious at how little regard Anderson has shown for him and his colleagues.

I'll have more to say about this in a bit, but the big takeaway is that Anderson, finally called to account and finally in a position where she had to justify herself, has no answers. All she could do, over and over, is deny that the complaints of parents, community leaders, teachers, students, religious leaders, the mayor, and nearly everyone else is Newark have any merits.

The plain fact is that Cami Anderson has lost the trust of the people of Newark, yet remains in her position because those very same people have no say in how their schools are governed. And if you really need to ask why that is...

Reformy Death Throes #2: On Wednesday, the state New Jersey State Board of Education had a meeting. These are almost always yawn-inducing affairs -- but not this time:
What could top an unprecedented number of people testifying at today's NJ State Board of Ed meeting? What could top the number of parents who, on a brutally cold January day, pulled their kids out of school so they could accompany them? What could top the overwhelming call for the state to ditch—or at least greatly scale back—PARCC testing?


"We know we can't force any kid to put their hands on a keyboard."

That quote came from NJ State BOE President Mark Biedron after testimony wrapped in his hearing room and an impromptu Q&A about standardized testing ensued. Susan Cauldwell of Save Our Schools New Jersey was in the room and captured it word-for-word.
From my dear friend Marie Corfield. Understand what this means: the President of the State BOE is saying that New Jersey's students cannot be compelled to take the statewide standardized tests. Given the ambiguous statements about parents opting their children out of the PARCC from NJDOE officials, this is quite a stunner.

 John Mooney at NJ Spotlight has more:
State Education Commissioner David Hespe took some criticism in the fall when the department issued guidance saying that students were expected to take the tests or face possible disciplinary action from their districts.
Yesterday, he focused more on the need for districts to communicate the value of the testing and less on the consequences on those who don’t take the tests. 
“We’re trying to get across that the PARCC exams will be providing much more robust information,” he said.
Baloney. Even the NJDOE's Bari Erlichson, Hespe's own Assistant Commissioner, admits that the PARCC is not a diagnostic test that could help inform instruction; all it took was a little prompting from Seton Hall's Chris Tienken:

The PARCC, like all state tests mandated by No Child Left Behind, is an accountability measure, and it could be far more effective and far less intrusive if it used sampling methodologies instead of testing every child for hours on end.

Further, because the PARCC is a standardized test, it was constructed under the presumption that student performance is normally distributed. In other words: the PARCC doesn't measure learning and teaching so much as it ranks and sorts students.

Parents are getting sick and tired of seeing their children's educations sacrificed on the altar of the holy computerized assessment. And the students are fed up as well:

I'll leave the last word to my buddy and soon-to-be-fellow teacher, Mel Katz:
If we want our students of today to be the leaders of tomorrow, beating them down with endless testing, test-preparation, and high-stakes pressure is only going to do the exact opposite. Hint: again, Biedron’s own school doesn’t even follow this model of constant, high-stakes testing.

A vision is great. A vision is needed. But we need a vision for ALL of our students.

Reformy Death Throes #3: On Thursday, the New Jersey Charter Schools Association decided that making a rational argument against publicly available data is a losing proposition. It's much better, apparently, to just fling something -- anything -- against the wall and hope it sticks:
Contending that a Rutgers professor and public schools advocate has used her position, title and state university resources to wage a personally driven campaign against them, a group representing the state’s charter schools has filed an ethics complaint against the Save Our Schools NJ co-founder. 
The complaint, filed with New Jersey State Ethics Commission, charges Julia Sass Rubin violated the State’s Conflict of Interest Law and Uniform Ethics Code, as well as the University’s Code and Policies for faculty employees.  
“That is a violation of my academic freedom and of my rights as a citizen,” Rubin said. 
Rubin co-authored a report in October showing that charter schools in New Jersey educate significantly smaller percentages of poor students, special education students and students from non-English speaking families than the public school districts in which they are located.  
The report was co-authored by Rutgers graduate student Mark Weber, who blogs as “Jersey Jazzman,” and funded in part by a grant from an emeritus professor's foundation. Neither Rubin nor Weber, who has expressed his own concerns about charter schools, identified themselves beyond their affiliation with Rutgers, the complaint contends.
That's just wrong. Here's the report; turn to page 37 and you'll see the bios for both Julia and myself that give our complete credentials as are relevant to this report. I suppose NJCSA thinks I also have to tell everyone that I coached my kids' soccer teams and that I'm a Costco member...

I won't speak for Julia, so I have nothing to say about the merits of all this; frankly, I think it speaks for itself.

But let's be very clear about one thing: the report Julia and I wrote is based on fully-sourced, publicly-available data using standard, fully-documented methodologies. There's nothing controversial at all about what we wrote because it's really no more than a bunch of graphs showing what everyone in the state who knows anything about education -- including Cami Anderson! -- already acknowledges:

On average, New Jersey's charter schools serve proportionally fewer students in economic disadvantage, fewer students who are Limited English Proficient, and fewer students with special education needs than their host district schools.

Several years ago -- long before I had even met the man -- Bruce Baker made a bunch of graphs not dissimilar to the ones in my report. He showed the same thing: charter schools don't serve the same populations of students as their neighboring district schools.

NJCSA's response? Ad hominem attacks that said nothing about the work in question. It's truly pathetic that these people can't even acknowledge data as collected and disseminated by a state education department that has been, for years, entirely sympathetic to their point of view.

If these fine, reformy fellows want to have a serious debate about charter school proliferation, that's cool with me. I'm not anti-charter; as I've said many times before, I started my K-12 teaching career in a charter school. There are some very good people working in charters, and many of these schools serve their students well. Good for them.

But as I've said many times: civil conversations are honest conversations. So if we're ever going to get anywhere with real education reform in this state, we've got to drop the cant and start speaking honestly.

Rick Pressler, the head of the NJCSA, has already attempted, rather feebly, to rebut my analysis. Rather than spitting in the wind, Rick, I'd suggest a more productive use of your time would be to acknowledge a reality that even people like Camden's State Superintendent, Paymon Rouhanifard, are now admitting:
However, he acknowledged a point made by many in the past, that charter schools may not "reflect the same diversity" as the rest of the district. 
"The number of students who are English language learners, and children with disabilities, at charter schools may be lower than the rest of the district," said Rouhanifard. "We just want to make sure charter schools are serving all students." [emphasis mine]
If even Anderson and Rouhanifard can see this truth, Rick, why not you?

And so it goes for "reformy" here in New Jersey: a slow, sinking death spiral, where blustering, sputtering, inept defenders of the status quo -- expanded testing, state control, charter school proliferation, test-based teacher evaluations, and inadequate/inequitable funding -- desperately look for signs of life in their once ascendant movement.

Sorry, folks: "reformy" is on its last legs. I'll send a wreath.

He was so young...

ADDING: Oh, my goodness gracious -- why, oh why do we refuse to listen to the children? Because they are so very, very wise:

I can't wait to vote for this girl when she runs for Senate in 2044.


mikedad97 said...

Brilliant, as always, Mark.

It feels like the "movement" is collapsing under its own weight. It'll take a little time for the rattles to subside, just in time for the next big thing...

Mike Kaufman

Hina Khan said...

If even Anderson and Rouhanifard can see this truth, Rick, why not you?

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Ajay Srikanth said...

Great stuff as always. It's probably a bit too strong to say that reform is dead. Prob something more like a setback. NJ will continue to use flawed SGPs to beat the crap out of educators and Cami Anderson will get some type of golden parachute into private sector. But this news is certainly feel good. And Cami lying about her so called legislative aide is delightful.

Also, sorry for nonsensical smearing of your character. This is why tenure exists