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

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Kids Are Alright

If our governor would just stop for a minute and listen to the real stakeholders in education, he might actually learn something [all emphases mine]:
Question: What’s your reaction to Christie’s announcement that the HSPA would be phased out as a high school test and replaced by end-of-year exams?
Jeffrey Yu, 18, senior, WWP South: “At West Windsor Plainsboro South, there hasn’t been a year when a kid didn’t pass the HSPA. It’s an easy test for our district. For myself, I definitely thought it was pretty easy.
“I wouldn’t say it’s eighth grade [level]. It had algebra, so I would say that is more 10th grade or high 9th. But look at all the other tests we are taking, the SAT, the ACTs, AP English or math, compared to them, it’s a piece of cake.”
Ruby Shao, 16, junior, WWP South: “I think [the HSPA] is a little too long, though. It’s three days. And I agree it doesn’t measure by pushing you to do your best, it basically measures the minimum. But it’s repetitive, it’s like the same thing for three days.”
Yu: “But I think that is this district. The culture and environment we grow up in, we can’t know a bit of what it’s like to be growing up in Trenton or Camden and what it feels like for them.”
How is it that an 18-year-old kid from West Windsor gets this, but all of these well-heeled reformies don't? Is he a racist for pointing out that he is growing up in a completely different environment from kids in the inner-cities, and maybe, just maybe, that might have something to do with academic achievement? Is he "accepting the status quo"? Does he not believe "all children can learn"? Or is he smart yet still unjaded enough to describe the most obvious thing in the world?
Q: For those districts, should the state be raising the bar on what it takes to receive a high school diploma?
Yu: “It kind of feels like the anti-bullying law, where let’s give these schools a mandate for doing something and not provide the resources to do it. The governor’s comment with Asbury Park [and it’s $30,000 per student spending], maybe it does take $30,000 for a kid to learn there. They don’t have the issues in schools as here, they don’t always have the same supports at home.”
“Christie makes a good point that you need to spend correctly, but you shouldn’t then cut the money.”
I hope this kid runs for the NJ Assembly someday. Adequate financing is the necessary precondition for school success. Duh.
Stephen Konowitz, 17, senior, WWP North: “You do want to get to these goals, but how do you get there? What are the necessities and how are we planning out how we will get there? “
“You can’t throw money at the problem, but that’s just part of it. How do you make sure the teachers are qualified? And kids have outside lives, too, and it all factors into the classroom. Not sure all this objective data is saying everything about how good is the classroom or how good is a student or how good is a teacher.”
Notice how these kids don't couch their thoughts in weasel words, like: "Teachers are the most important in-school factor for student learning." They simply state the obvious.
Q: What about adding end-of-course tests in language arts and math in 8th, 9th, and 10th grades, as Christie proposed?
Shao: “I see what he wants to do, but don’t think it is necessary to do in 9th, 10th and 11th. Even if you say don’t teach to the test, the teachers will still want to prepare their kids. That will take time from the actual curriculum. It’s the same criticism as with current HSPA, if only on math and English, people won’t focus on the other things.”
Yu: “And you are taking money from one aspect of school experience and giving it to another. Even in this district, where we do have enough money, we still have clubs cut and fewer now than three years ago before the 2010 cuts. Everyone feels the impact. I can only imagine when you lose your breakfast program in a Trenton school, or something like that.”
Shao: “I’m glad we are growing up before this all happens. There is too much testing, too much reliance on statistics and teaching based on statistics. We had it but wasn’t as extensive.
Amen. The Jazzboys are in high school and will mostly miss this onslaught of reforminess. It's the students I have now that I worry about: the ones in the primary grades. If this crap goes through, their high school experience will radically change. And for what? To root out a bunch of "bad" teachers no one has proven exist anyway?
Q: Are there good tests that measure important skills? What about the state’s pilot biology test given now in 9th grade? Or the Advanced Placement tests many students take?
Yu: “Not sure we ever got the results of the bio test, but it didn’t count anyway and kids didn’t take that seriously.
Ouch. Seriously, what was the point of this exam? To gauge biology teacher "effectiveness"? How can you possibly do that without a pre-test? Is that what we're going to add next?
“With AP tests, I think it requires you to understand the test, but you also need the information. You have to know how to write an essay, but you need to have the information.”
Shao: “And you are glad when it’s over.”
Let's think about what the Christie high school testing regime means for a college-bound kid:

  • 9th Grade Math Test
  • 9th Grade Language Arts Test
  • 9th Grade Biology Test
  • 9th Grade Social Studies Test (maybe)
  • 10th Grade Math Test
  • 10th Grade Language Arts Test
  • 10th Grade Science Test (maybe)
  • 10th Grade Social Studies Test (maybe)
  • PSAT
  • 11th Grade Math Test
  • 11th Grade Language Arts Test
  • 11th Grade Science Test (maybe)
  • 11th Grade Social Studies Test (maybe)
  • SAT
  • Most likely a second administration of the SAT
  • ACT (probably)
  • Junior year: Maybe one, two, or even three AP Tests
  • At least two, probably three SAT Subject Tests
  • Senior year AP Tests: Anywhere from one to four
I mean, damn. Look at that. I'm not exaggerating in the slightest here.

What is the point of this? What is to be gained from this? How does this make our education system any better?

I'll tell you one thing it's doing:

If you haven't seen Race To Nowhere yet, I urge you to see it as soon as you possibly can. I never tear up at movies, but this one got me moist. It's heart breaking.

The rest of the world is moving away from this nonsense. When will we?

ADDING: These kids are fantastic. They could do anything. Think there's a good chance they'll want to teach under Christie's policies?

ADDING MORE: Kids in Florida are saying the same thing.

"Considering the FCAT was on my birthday, it kind of stressed me out."


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