Wednesday, March 11, 2015

PARCC Social Media PR Stunt Backfires On Maryland DOE

The "new generation" of standardized testing has arrived, and seems to have triggered a "new generation" of incentives as well. Districts are coming up with all sorts of ways to coerce children to take the tests and convince parents to let them. 

On her Answer Sheet blog Valerie Strauss highlighted some bizarre incentive programs intended to "bribe" students to take Common Core tests. The programs have cropped up from all over the country, and have included gift cards, iPads, “bonus points” for the next marking period, skipping English and math final exams, elective credits, extra recess and "free dress" days for schools with uniforms.

An ill conceived Maryland Department of Education PR campaign directed at parents may however win the award for most distasteful. It claimed to be letters from 4th graders to "Mom and Dad" telling them not "worry" or "be stressed out" about the "big test" because it's "just a little reading and math" and the teacher knows the kids will "do fine." 

Hayden wants his parents to know he "might have a little headache from working hard on the computer" but Kara says that if her parents will just "feed her a good breakfast" and let her "wear the same clothes all week" it will help her do her best on the PARCC. (I'm not going to touch how odd it is for a state agency to suggest it's OK to let a kid wear the same clothes five days in a row, or to make light of a kid coming home from school with a headache from too much screen time, let alone to ignore that not all kids have a "Mom and Dad")

Not only did the Maryland State DOE display the bad judgement to create and post these supposed letters from 9 and 10 year olds, the DOE's Chief of Staff, John White, shared it on Facebook with the statement "Truth from the mouths of babes..."

What I find particularly offensive is that the DOE is arrogant enough to presume they can hijack the voices of children, and use them to sell their own agenda. If a random sampling of 9-10 year olds were asked what they truly think of taking a 10 hour math and english test, it's hard to imagine there wouldn't be a very wide range of responses. How completely disingenuous and arrogant to cherry pick only the rosy cheeked "everything's going to be just fine!" responses.

Here is just a few of the comments on the post, but it is a pretty representative sample of the reaction the post elicited from people that don't work for the Maryland DOE.

It didn't take a degree in PR to know that this train wreck of a post was going to be removed, and fast. Sure enough, by this morning - *POOF* - it was gone, with nary a word about the ruckus it had caused the day before. This tactical error on the part of the Maryland DOE will no doubt become a powerful recruitment tool for Maryland opt-out organizers. 

But what does it say when a state department resorts to this kind of emotional manipulation to try to sell the PARCC? 

Here's what I think. If educationally sound, rational arguments about the need for high-stakes annual standardized tests resonated with parents and students, DOE's wouldn't need to rely on this kind of coercion and propaganda. It seems the opt out movement's message is resonating so strongly that it is drowning out the talking points, incentives and PR tricks of those desperately trying to stay in charge and in control of the narrative. 

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday, February 13, 2015

My Testimony On NJ PARCC Refusal Legislation

Below is the written testimony I intended to deliver before yesterday's Assembly Education Committee as they debated Assembly Bill A 4165, which would ensure that districts provide parents the right to opt out of testing without retribution.

Instead of reading what I had prepared, I decided at the last second to go off script and just talk directly to the Committee Members. I don't remember everything I said, but I talked about how the federal demand for accountability, in the form of NCLB mandated annual testing for all children, has placed states (not just NJ) in the direct line of fire with parents. Parents and teachers are tired of the endless testing, pre-testing, benchmarking, and test prep that has taken over our children's schools.

I briefly covered what is written below; that it is the state's failure to act last Spring to delay the high stakes attached to PARCC, that brought us to a place where thousands, if not tens of thousands, of children across the state will be opted out of PARCC in NJ this spring.

And I talked about my own experiences as a mom. Some of that testimony was picked up in an article about the hearing for WHYY's NewsWorks.

Parents who packed an Assembly committee meeting Thursday questioned the need for the test and how the results would be used.
Highland Park resident Darcie Cimarusti was one of those who said she will refuse to allow her children take the tests designed to assess whether students are on track for success in college and career.
One of her twin third-grade daughters is dyslexic, Cimarusti said.
"Why am I going to make her sit down and take a test the state is demanding that's going to tell my little 8-year-old that she's a failure? She's not a failure," Cimarusti said. "She's a little girl that needs help that no one wants to give her.
No matter the fate of A 4165, my girls will not be taking the PARCC. The bill was not voted on yesterday because the NJDOE has raised concerns that if districts fall beneath the 95% participation rate, which is mandated under NCLB, the USDOE will pull Title I funding from districts. Yesterday I posted a guest post by Chris Tienken and Julia Sass Rubin that debunks many of the issues behind this threat. Assemblyman Diegnan also stated he believed the threat was a hollow one, and that he has reached out to US Senator Menendez for clarification. 

I eagerly await Sen. Menendez's response. In the interim, here's my testimony.
Assemblyman Diegnan, you chaired a meeting in a similarly packed room when this Committee heard testimony on Assembly Bill 3081 in May of 2014. The room that day was filled with parents, teachers, board members and administrators, and the vast majority of the testimony – with the exception of NJSBA - spoke in favor of the bill.
As I’m sure the Committee recalls, A 3081 would have delayed the high stakes attached to PARCC for both teachers and students, and would have created an Education Reform Task Force to evaluate PARCC and Common Core. But the bill never reached the Governor’s desk, and instead a “compromise” was struck. The stakes were reduced for teachers, but not for students, and the Governor’s now infamous Study Commission on the Use of Student Assessments was formed.
Madison Superintendent Michael Rossi testified at that hearing, and warned the Committee that if the legislature failed to act, then parents would act by refusing the test.
And now here we sit. The room is once again packed, this time mostly with parents, and we are demanding the right to refuse PARCC.
Score 1 for Dr. Rossi.
It is likely that many of the associations and organizations that supported A 3081 then, will not support A 4165 now. But if action had been taken to protect students and teachers from the high stakes attached to these tests, which almost everyone agreed was prudent, we would not be here today.
The burden of these high stakes tests fall squarely on the shoulders of our children, so with all due respect, I ask the Committee to heed the parents today, not those now lobbying to stay the course.
The parents in this room have done their homework. They’re unlikely to buy the tired talking points emanating from the NJDOE and mimicked by others.
They have taken PARCC practice tests. They have testified before the Study Commission. They have delivered public comment before their boards of education. They have written letters to the editor and have been featured in newspaper articles and on TV news segments. They are not “scared of change,” they are not helicopter parents, and they are not looking for trophies for their kids.
And perhaps more importantly, none of them are in this alone. Networks of parents have used social media to connect and strategize. They have united into an army of fierce advocates for their children, and for public education; their numbers are growing exponentially.
I don’t have Dr. Rossi’s crystal ball to tell you what will happen if the legislature fails to act on A 4165, but I can tell you one thing for certain. These parents are not going away.
The passage of this bill is by no means the end of the debate over PARCC, but it is certainly a step in the right direction. Allowing parents to refuse PARCC without retribution is nothing more than a common sense stop gap measure, and the price for the state’s failure to act to protect students and teachers from the high stakes attached to PARCC.

As a parent who will refuse PARCC for my daughters, I thank you for your support of A 4165. As a board member, I thank you for your leadership on this issue.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Guest Post: New Jersey Legislators Need to Stand up for Our Children By Christopher Tienken, Ed.D. and Julia Sass Rubin, Ph.D.

The first administration of the experimental new PARCC high-stakes standardized tests is only weeks away and parents are increasingly concerned. Hundreds of families have notified their school districts that their children will not be taking the PARCC tests.  

Approximately one-fifth of all New Jersey school districts have responded by assuring parents who refuse the test that their children will be provided with an alternative location, or at least the ability to read in class, while their classmates take the test.

Other districts, however, have taken a much more punitive approach, threatening to force children as young as eight to remain in the testing room with no other activities except sitting and staring for the two-week duration of the test. Some districts have even threatened students whose parents refuse the test with disciplinary actions.  

In response, parents are asking the New Jersey legislature to intervene and pass A4165/S2767. This legislation requires all districts and charter schools to provide consistent, humane treatment for children whose parents refuse standardized tests.

As growing numbers of legislators indicate their support for A4165/S2767, officials within the New Jersey Department of Education have apparently initiated a campaign to block its passage by claiming that the proposed legislation would cost districts precious dollars. Specifically, the NJDOE is arguing that the US Department of Education would use powers it has under the No Child Left Behind law to cut Title I funding for any schools that fall below 95 percent student participation levels on the PARCC.  

Keep in the mind that the proposed legislation does not direct parents to have their children opt-out or refuse the state mandated tests. The proposed legislation simply asks for a consistent statewide policy of humane treatment for children whose parents choose to refuse the testing. As more school administrators decide to make students needlessly “sit and stare” for two weeks of testing, plus up to two additional weeks of make-up testing, it is imperative that the legislature act to protect children from such treatment. 

So will the US Department of Education take your school's Title 1 funds if this legislation becomes law?

The answer is NO, and here are some reasons why.

1. There is no federal or state law that requires financial penalties to schools’ Title I funds if parents refuse to allow their children to take the PARCC tests. The federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law did include a mandate that required schools to have a 95 percent participation rate on state tests or face sanctions. The intent of that law was to prevent schools from hiding subgroups of students from the accountability structure and was not aimed at preventing parents from refusing to have their children tested.  

However, since 2012, NJ has had a waiver to NCLB that replaces those sanctions with a new accountability system.

Under the waiver, only schools designated “priority” or “focus” schools face direct intervention for missing state targets. New Jersey’s 250 priority and focus schools can have up to 30 percent of their federal Title I funds re-directed by the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) for specific “interventions,” but even these funds are supposed to be used for school improvement, not taken away.  And the NJDOE already has the ability to redirect a part of the Title I allocations received by priority and focus schools.

2. No federal financial penalties related to Title I instructional funds have been imposed on any New Jersey school for missing the 95 percent participation rate.  

And missing the 95 percent participation rate at the school level is not unusual in New Jersey. 

According to NJDOE data, last spring, nine schools in seven New Jersey districts had overall schoolwide NJ ASK participation rates below 95 percent; 175 schools in 104 districts had participation rates below 95 percent for at least one of the student subgroups (e.g., special needs, Limited English Proficient, economically disadvantaged, etc.,).1

None of those schools experienced any federal financial repercussions to Title I funds.  In fact, no school has ever lost Title I funds due to punishment by the federal government for missing the 95 percent participation rate.

3. Other states have laws that protect a parent’s right to opt their child out or refuse high-stakes standardized testing and no federal financial penalties of any sort have been imposed on schools in those states as a result of these laws.  

For example, in Wisconsin “Upon the request of a pupil's parent or guardian, the school board shall excuse the pupil from taking an examination administered under sub. (1m).”2 

In California, a “parent or guardian may submit to the school a written request to excuse his or her child from any or all parts of any test provided pursuant to Ed Code Section 60640.”3

4. The US Congress is rewriting the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) – the federal legislation that mandates annual standardized testing. A reauthorized ESEA may completely eliminate the federal interventions that are in the current version of ESEA and is likely to give individual states much more decision-making authority when it comes to accountability and testing mandates.  

So the NJDOE’s threat of Title I funding cuts at local schools seems premature at best given the past practice of the United States Department of Education to not sanction NJ schools’ Title I Funds for missing the 95 percent participation rate. The moral imperative for the NJDOE, the NJ Legislature and for individual school districts should be to act in the best interests of New Jersey children, and that means treating students humanely if their parents choose to participate in the democratic tradition of dissent. 

Christopher Tienken is an Associate Professor of Education Leadership, Management, and Policy at the College of Education and Human Services at Seton Hall University.

Julia Sass Rubin is an Associate Professor at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University and one of the founding members of the all-volunteer pro-public education group Save Our Schools NJ.




3 Title 5 of the California Code of Regulations, Division 1, Chapter 2, Subchapter 3.75.

Friday, January 30, 2015

My Testimony Before Governor Christie's Study Commission on the Use of Student Assessments

As I posted earlier today, last night I attended the second of three Public Testimony Hearings of the NJ Study Commission on the Use of Student Assessments. I was hoping to get a video of my testimony, but as fate would have it, my phone ran out of space. After much internal debate, I decided to post the part of my testimony that did get recorded. It at least gives a sense of how fired up and responsive the audience was. This same intensity and involvement was maintained throughout the evening. 

Words can not adequately express what happened in that room last night, so I hope the incomplete video, despite the bad angle, lack of focus and hostile lighting, gives you a sense of the electricity that was in the air.

If the video of the hearing ever becomes available I will post the full 5 minutes, but after witnessing the 6 hours of scathing testimony against the PARCC, it is hard to imagine that video will ever see the light of day. 

Without further ado, here is the testimony I delivered to the Commission.

Good Evening. My name is Darcie Cimarusti. First and foremost, I want to thank you for your time, for your service to the Commission and to the children of our state. I am here today as the mom of twin 3rd grade daughters. I serve as a member of the Highland Park Board of Education, but my testimony today is my own, and does not represent the board.

I currently work for the Network for Public Education, which is a national public education advocacy group founded by education historian, author, and NYU research professor Diane Ravitch.

When I read today’s NJ Spotlight article about the Public Testimony in Jersey City, I was startled by Commissioner Hespe’s statement that he didn’t hear anything he hadn’t expected. He added that no one offered solutions to, and I quote, the “societal problem where half of the students are graduating without the skills and knowledge they need.”

So I’d like to offer suggestions, and tie them to the conversation that is currently happening at the national level. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee is holding hearings to discuss the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) which is 8 years overdue. Congress has held over 20 hearings on the subject, but has failed to act. With all due respect to the Commissioner, to chastise NJ’s parents and educators for not coming to the table with solutions, when our nation’s elected officials have been unable to agree on a path forward seems disingenuous at best.

Five witnesses testified before the latest hearing of the HELP Committee – a teacher, a principal, a superintendent, a state commissioner and a research director.

Senator Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island, asked the witnesses how much they thought testing could be reduced while still holding schools and districts accountable for student achievement. The witnesses, with the exception of the researcher, responded that testing could be reduced 50-60%.

Suggestion 1: Reduce the amount of testing by no less than 50%

Senator Cassidy, a Junior Republican Senator from Louisiana, asked the researcher to list the top two factors impacting student achievement. He answered without hesitation - family income and the education level of the mother or father. He placed the quality of the education the student receives third.

When over 50% of our nation’s school children are mired in poverty, it is hard to swallow the idea that new, improved and wildly expensive standardized tests are the best response to what ails our most vulnerable students. I would submit to the Commissioner that it is more than likely that the 50% of students he claims are graduating without the skills and knowledge they need are closely correlated to the 50% living in poverty. If we truly want to help those students, what they need most is not an expensive, computer based, standardized test.

Suggestion 2: NJ should abandon PARCC

A tremendous amount of the current pushback is caused by the costs districts have incurred to comply with the technological requirements of the PARCC. The recent revelation that the state will pay for-profit behemoth Pearson $108 million over the next four years for the test alone has confirmed suspicions that the state is paying far too much for an unproven product.

The PARCC consortium is dwindling; state after state has abandoned PARCC and returned to their state tests. New Jersey residents wonder what keeps us tethered to what appears to be a sinking ship, steered by the wildly unpopular Pearson.

The money saved by abandoning the PARCC can be spent on services for our most vulnerable students. Let’s hire social workers and reading specialists; let’s reduce class sizes and provide all students with deep, meaningful learning experiences, not more tests and test prep.

As NPE President Diane Ravitch said, “Just say no to annual testing. No other high performing nation does it, and neither should we.”

As long as we continue to disaggregate data based on subgroups, a return to pre NCLB grade span testing, which requires students to be tested once each in Elementary, Middle and High School, can provide state and federal governments all the data they need.

Suggestion 3: The state should advocate at the federal level for a return to grade span testing

I do appreciate the states conundrum. Under NCLB, annual testing is mandated; therefore every state is accountable to the federal government, every district is accountable to the state, every school is accountable to the district, and teachers are accountable to everyone.

But when it comes to educating their children, it’s hard to make an argument that parents are accountable to anyone but themselves. And the vast majority of parents are fed up with the testing that has taken over our schools. This fact was made abundantly clear in the poll released by the NJEA earlier this week. You can try to repackage the tests, rebrand them, and tell us they’re good for us and for our kids, but to be frank, on the whole, parents aren’t buying it anymore.

It is time to actually listen to us.

No one else in this broken system seems to be willing to step back and recognize that the weight of what you call accountability rests squarely on the shoulders of our children and their teachers.

But as parents, we feel it in our bones. We see our children’s teachers and administrators struggling to keep up with ever increasing mandates. We wince as treasured programs are cut from our schools because funds have been siphoned away to pay for the computers and bandwidth needed for the tests.

We see our children lose their love of learning.

Is it any wonder that parents and teachers, Democrats and Republicans, are finally standing up, fighting back, and demanding change?

We’re tired of seeing our children get less for more; less joy, less learning, less creativity -- more stress, more testing, more standardization.

The time has come to reclaim teaching and learning. We are asking for your help to do so, but it seems our pleas are falling on deaf ears. If you fail to help us provide our children with the educational opportunities they deserve, and instead continue to answer only to state and federal demands for accountability, you leave us no choice but to refuse the tests.

Which is exactly what I intend to do for my daughters.

We sat in these very seats for 6 hours. SIX HOURS!

Solitary Pro PARCC Testimony Was NJPTA Plant

When over 60 parents and educators travel from across the state, and deliver 6 hours of passionate, informed testimony on their concerns about PARCC, people take notice.  The press coverage of NJ's pushback against PARCC is steadily growing. You can read some of the coverage here, here, and here

It was quite a sight to see Commissioner Hespe, usually shielded from such intimate contact with the parents and teachers he serves, take it all in. I have to give him credit for sitting through all 6 hours of testimony, unlike Jersey City Superintendent Marcia Lyles, who cut out after a little more than 3 hours. Hespe remained affable throughout, as speaker after speaker annihilated the PARCC.

He did however seem particularly attentive to the lone voice that came to the mic to speak in favor of PARCC. When she finished, Hespe made the tactical error of thanking her for her testimony, which elicited fury from the audience, most of whom had not been thanked individually when they concluded their own remarks.

When you think about it, it's astounding that out of over 64 speakers, only one was in favor of PARCC.

That lone voice belonged to a woman who introduced herself only as Lisa Clarke from Irvington, NJ. She said she was the mom of two grown children, and provided no other affiliation. She said that both of her children attended college, but one was not prepared when he got there and had to take 5 remedial classes to catch up. She stated that this was a financial burden to her family, and discouraging to her son. She was absolutely sure that if he had taken PARCC tests throughout his public school years, she would have known he was not "college ready" and his teachers would have been able to better prepare him.

It was the kind of testimony a State Education Commissioner dreams of. She hit every PARCC talking point. As soon as she delivered her testimony, she left the Jackson Liberty High School auditorium with a group of women who had not testified themselves.

It seemed odd. It made me wonder if she was a plant.

So I did a little research on Lisa Clarke from Irvington.

I wasn't surprised in the least to learn that not only is she affiliated with NJPTA, she is listed on their 990 under "Officers, Directors, Trustees and Key Employees." She testified before the Assembly Budget Committee in 2010, where she identified herself as the Education Reform Chairman for the NJPTA. In this cached page from the NJPTA website she is listed as their Legislative Activities Chairman.

That, ladies and gentleman, is just another way to say she was a NJPTA lobbyist in Trenton.

Why didn't she disclose her affiliation? Why masquerade as any old parent off the street, in front of cameras and a room full of witnesses? As I mentioned, as soon as she testified she left the building with a group of women who did not testify themselves. Coincidentally, NJPTA President and President elect, Debbie Tyrrell and Rose Accerra were listed as attendees at last night's hearing, but were not registered to testify.

The NJPTA and its leadership is not only doing a disservice to the parents of this state, they are selling them out. 

But WHY?
National PTA is positioning itself as a key player at the front line of education reform.  The association today announced a new three-year effort to mobilize parents to advance key education priorities, beginning with common core state standards—a voluntary, state-led, internationally benchmarked set of high academic standards in English language arts and mathematics. A $1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will help support the effort.
Yup, that's right. Gates money. Gates money specifically earmarked to promote all things Common Core. As a side note, click the link above to this statement on the Gates Foundation website. There is a link for a supposed PTA press release on the matter, but lo and behold, it doesn't work anymore. You have to wonder, why did the PTA pull their press release about the money they took from Gates?

So forget you parents, and your measly $5, $10 and $20 contributions. PTA doesn't answer to you anymore, they answer to Bill Gates. And he's using YOUR PTA to protect HIS investment in the Common Core.

NJPTA's transparent attempt to feign support for the PARCC last night was a total fail. Parents in this state have been furious with the NJPTA for quite some time. A template has even been created to let the NJPTA know that their support of Common Core and PARCC is a deal breaker for many, and parents are rescinding their memberships. You can download the template and send it to the NJPTA if you agree that their support of Common Core and PARCC doesn't represent the interests of your child and your child's teachers.

In New York State, where parents have been dealing with new Common Core aligned tests for three years, individual PTA chapters are starting to revolt.
Excessive testing teaches our children that there is only one right answer in academics and in life. It takes the joy out of learning and minimizes the value and importance of taking a test when it really counts. And it is ruining public education.
As an immediate solution, members of the Bennett School PTA are encouraging our parent body in grades three to six to refuse the state tests in ELA, math and science this spring. These tests are inappropriate for our children, are unfair to our teachers, take away valuable classroom time and are not part of our child’s overall grade or individual assessment.
We intend to send a message to the state.
If the NJPTA refuses to listen to the voices of actual parents and teachers, and instead allows Bill Gates and his money to buy their allegiance, then I can only imagine they will be faced with a similar uprising of local chapters in the very near future. 

NJPTA must listen to parents and teachers, and develop their policy positions from the ground up, not from Bill Gates down. Until that happens, the NJPTA should rename and rebrand their organization. 

May I present to you, the NJBGA, the New Jersey Bill Gates Association.

NJBGA. Your child. Bill's voice.
UPDATE: The link I provided above was to only a small fraction of the money the National PTA has received from Gates. Here is the link to ALL grants to date. The total since 2009 is $2,665,422, with the most recent a grant in 2013 for $660,422 "to educate parents and communities on the Common Core State Standards and provide support for district leaders."

Educating "parents and communities" is not the same as planting testimony at a state hearing. I encourage the NJPTA to dig deep, and realize that the current backlash is rooted in genuine concern for an organization that seems to have lost its way.

I have been contacted privately by an NJPTA board member, asking for dialogue. I have responded, and will try to state the case for those of us concerned with their current position and tactics. I will provide further updates, so stay tuned! 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Debunking A Reformy Attack On The Delran Education Association's Position Statement On High Stakes Testing

Once again, WHYY contributor Laura Waters has invoked the late Albert Shanker to strengthen her weak argument, this time in an attempt to imply that the Delran Education Association didn't do their homework before releasing their position statement on high-stakes testing. She even goes so far as to call their statement a "screed" that  "veers less towards serious educational discussion and more towards Sarah Palin-esque hysteria."

She better have a seriously well documented refutation of their positions to make a statement like that. Let's look at the one where she cites Shanker as her source.

In their statement the DEA wrote:
The erroneous claim that the American public school system was failing first came about in April of 1983 with the release of the report “A Nation At Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform.” 
Waters defends the report and supports her claim that it was widely considered a "pivotal moment by all those who value educational improvement" by highlighting Albert Shanker's early support.
Actually, the publication of "A Nation at Risk" is widely hailed as a pivotal moment by all those who value educational improvement. The Report famously articulated a "rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people" and was embraced by America's most famous unionist, Albert Shanker. According to former AFT President Sandra Feldman, "when Al finished reading the report, he closed the book and looked up at all of us and said, 'the report is right, and not only that, we should say that before our members.'"
While it is true that Shanker embraced "A Nation at Risk", he was also clear about what he did NOT embrace.
Many said Shanker's decision to embrace "A Nation at Risk" was a watershed moment, because conventional wisdom held that the only cure for education's ills was more money. Anything else was considered fire from the enemy. But Shanker saw that the report wasn't boosting vouchers or privatization. Rather, it spoke of preserving and improving public education, of raising standards and implementing accountability for both students and educators — even as he never stopped reminding politicians that teachers continued to need the resources to do the job. (emphasis mine)
Diane Ravitch made it clear that although Shanker supported the report in 1983, his present feelings about it and all it has come to represent may be entirely different. 
Would he be as enthusiastic about “A Nation at Risk” in 2013 as he was in 1983, now that it has become the Bible of the privatization movement? We don’t know.
However, I can speculate too. Al Shanker cared passionately about a content-rich curriculum. So do I. Would his love for a content-rich curriculum have caused him to join with those who want to destroy public education? I don’t think so.
Would he have come to realize that “A Nation at Risk” would become not a document for reform but an indictment against public education? If he had, he would have turned against it.
Now, you may be asking, why should we give credence to Diane's hypothesis as to how Shanker would feel about A Nation at Risk were he alive today?

Allow me to explain. 

Back in July of 2012 then NJ Commissioner Chris Cerf tried to make his case for charters by stating that Shanker was "one of the first advocates for public charter schools." Diane Ravitch proceeded to give Cerf a bit of a history lesson, and clarified that in 1993 when Shanker saw that charters were being used to privatize public education, he turned against them.

Enter Laura Waters.

In response to Diane's post, Waters attempted to "school" her in an earlier essay for WHYY that stated "as a fact" that "(i)f Albert Shanker were alive today, he'd still be an education reformer and would support NJ's efforts to expand school choice for poor urban students."

Jersey Jazzman took umbrage with Waters' commentary, and Diane picked up on his post almost immediately. I responded as well, but I used the words of Shanker's widow Edith, who has been quite outspoken about the fact that corporate reformers have no place using Shanker's name or positions on issues to defend the privatization movement. She had written an eloquent dissection of Joel Klein and his attempts to use Shanker's early support for charters to defend his own policies and actions.
Klein wanted the public to believe that Al was the originator of the charter school concept (he wasn’t) and that he would today be supportive of the charter school ”reform” ideology now being spread around New York City and the country as a panacea for low student achievement. Conveniently, Klein did not indicate that Al denounced the idea of charters when it became clear that the concept had changed and was being hijacked by corporate and business interests. In Al’s view, such hijacking would result in the privatization of public education and, ultimately, its destruction – all without improving student outcomes. (emphasis mine)
Diane picked up on my post, which ultimately got the attention of Shanker's daughter, Jennie.

Jennie was clearly not pleased that her father's name and legacy was being usurped once again to defend the privatization movement. She stated very plainly, in a comment on Waters' original essay, that Shanker's heir apparent, if he has one, is Diane, NOT Ms. Waters. 
Your appreciation for my father's work and vision was lovely to read. But your stance on this issue is diametrically opposed to his values and intent, and you are dead wrong to shame Diane Ravitch for her position. Indeed, if you consider your thinking to be in line with my father's, I recommend that you champion her work, as my family does. If anyone can speak for my father in this day and age, the person who should be most trusted is Dr. Ravitch.
It's unfortunate that many people who read your article will not see this comment. I would like to respectfully request that you reconsider further publicizing your characterization of my father's position on this topic. From what is in evidence in this article, despite your love for the man, you are in no position to speak for him(emphasis mine)

What I really love is that Waters' most recent piece was meant to shame the Delran Education Association (much as she had attempted to shame Diane Ravitch) for not "doing their homework" before they wrote their position statement.

Seems Ms. Waters, even after having been schooled by me, Jersey Jazzman, Diane Ravitch, and Shanker's wife and daughter, has a lesson or two to learn herself about invoking the name of Albert Shanker in the name of modern day education reform.

Which brings me back to Diane's question in her post about Shanker and "A Nation at Risk."
Would he be as enthusiastic about “A Nation at Risk” in 2013 as he was in 1983, now that it has become the Bible of the privatization movement? We don’t know.
But based on the above, we can be pretty sure that Diane has a better handle on how he would feel about it today than Waters.

And I think it's fair to extrapolate further and say that rest of the "lessons" Waters attempts to impart upon the Delran Education Association carry about as much weight as her insights regarding Shanker and "A Nation at Risk."

And now, a message from Albert Shanker himself...

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

New Jersey Teacher - PARCC Chaos Is Beyond Fathomable

As the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) tests loom ever nearer, more and more concerns are starting to surface from New Jersey parents and teachers about the new testing regime, and what it will mean for students. 

New Jersey education blogger Sarah Blaine has been shredding PARCC, Pearson, Acting Commissioner Hespe and Arne Duncan, not just on her own awesome blog, Parenting the Core, but on Valerie Strauss' The Answer Sheet as well. 

"Take the PARCC" events have been scheduled around the state to give parents a truer sense of the tests. You can take the PARCC sample questions for a test drive here.

Districts have dropped mid terms and finals to try to recoup some of the time lost to PARCC testing.

Many are concerned about Acting Commissioner Hespe's pronouncement that PARCC tests will be used as a graduation requirement, starting with the class of 2016.

Keeping all of this in mind, I wasn't surprised when an academic high school teacher reached out to me about the havoc PARCC tests were wreaking in a large, suburban New Jersey district. But even I have to admit, I was surprised to learn just how much impact the PARCC will have, and how much time it will take away from genuine opportunities for learning.

I think you will be too, so here is the teacher's story.

It's a bit startling to truly understand how these new exams will impact learning. 
We were expecting the PARCC testing to disrupt our schedules, but the magnitude of it is beyond comprehension. 
The High School Proficiency Assessments (HSPA) test required three days of delayed openings. The PARCC will require 15... fifteen... days of two and a half hours delayed openings. Our regular classes are cut from 40 to 25 minutes, including lunch periods.
The chaos which will result from this is beyond fathomable. 
There is no way this will not result in material having to be cut from the curriculum, or watered down to nothing. The Advanced Placement exams will arrive in May no matter what. The students will have to learn much of the material outside of class.
There is simply no alternative.  
The students who come from or go to the vo-tech schools for part of the day will be living in constant chaos. Many science labs will not be able to be performed in the short amount of time available. The library will be used for testing and for make up testing, making it and the librarians moot for the better part of two months. The buses will have to run twice in the morning, first to bring the students taking a PARCC test that day, then those who aren’t, all at great cost.  
With only 25 minutes there will be no point in having students change for phys. ed., so that entire department will basically be shut down. How this all will affect teachers who move between schools or in other situations remains to be seen.  
We’re used to dealing with unusual situations for a day or two on occasion but for half a month? It’s going to cause major negative effects long term. Some good teachers are talking about quitting over this. They're supposed to be educators, not proctors for other people's exams. 
This story is not unique to a single district. 
When this is all over, there are the AP tests… ten days, and the Biology Competency tests… 2 days.
Then final exams. 
I’m just not sure that there is going to be anything covered next semester to put on a final exam.