Saturday, October 12, 2013

Montclair Has Lost Its Way

A 15- year teacher at Montclair High, one of the most unassuming, well-liked and popular teachers at the high school said to me the other day:  "It is so sad watching the destruction of a once proud and venerable institution."  She is speaking from her heart.  The school and the district have lost their way.  Those in the school reform (aka "destruction") movement state that this is nonsense; they are just ensuring accountability and quality through measurable rubrics which use data to inform decisions and analyze performance.  That is all well and good, but rubrics are meaningless without a soul.  They are just one more pseudo-scientific method for achieving the real goals:  killing everything good about public schools.  The desire is to get rid of every experienced, thoughtful teacher and administrator and replace them with compliant, cheap and willing newcomers who do not know what it is like to be treated with respect.  The desire is to leave every public school as a rotting carcass after every student of quality has moved to charter schools and private schools funded by vouchers.  The desire is to insure that there is an underclass who do not graduate from high school who exist to keep labor costs and demand for workers low due to long term structural unemployment..

The discussion and emphasis on the quarterly assessments is a red herring.  So we went from two to four assessments.  So what?  It is not that we are using assessments to evaluate student and teacher performance.  It is that our leaders are placing pretending that there is some magical and mythical value to these assessments other than a rough guide to better teaching and learning.  They have become an end in and of themselves.  There is the danger!  There is mistaken belief that we should be bowing to the god of testing.

Penny MacCormack has come in with a playbook and has played the Board and the teachers and the students.  She has convinced the willing that we are a failing school in need of a top to bottom restructuring.  She has torn the heart out of the school system, leaving a tomb in its place.  Montclair has become a soul-less, inhumane place where fear and intimidation have replaced concern and support.  Quality instructors and administrators are being removed from the schools to Central Support.  There is more and more money for consultants and micro-managers, yet less and less for education.  Everyone needs to do more, the corporate model says.  Everyone is replaceable by younger, more enthusiastic and non-union workers.

The results are frightening.  Quality leaders and teachers are leaving.  Teachers are closing their doors, hiding in their classroom fortresses.  Everyone has an exit plan.  The schools feel like morgues, with every discussion revolving around in a world where compliance and loyalty trump excellence.

My own story:  After 22 years as a leader respected and valued by the community, I was stripped of all authority and given more responsibility than any one person could possibly handle:  the entire schedule for 2000 students, all testing, the entire 504 process, running the guidance web site, handling NCAA compliance, over-seeing the AP Audit process, processing College Board accommodation requests, handling Skyward technical issues, and on and on.  The superintendent spent $28,000 on and scheduling consultant without ever speaking with me about the scheduling process.  She put guidance in the high school as one of her highest priorities for improvement but never once spoke to me.  Not about guidance, not about anything.  She has never spent one second getting a sense of the culture or the schools or community.

The super came up with this brilliant plan:  offer teachers $1000 to teach courses over 24 students (without providing enough teachers to make this remotely possible) and depend on her view of the greed of teachers to brand them as enemies of education.  Guess what?  They all wanted the smaller classes instead of the money.  Another failed insincere, manipulative attempt down the drain.

9 comments:

Draco Ranger said...

It appears that you are letting your personal feelings control your opinions rather than facing the facts.

“The desire is to get rid of every experienced, thoughtful teacher and administrator and replace them with compliant, cheap and willing newcomers who do not know what it is like to be treated with respect. “

The majority of the Montclair public school budget is spent on a handful of administrators and elderly teachers. In return, students suffer from a lack of textbooks, rooms with visible mold, and outdated computer systems. This has been going on for years, and has remained in place because many of your lauded administrators were completely fine with collecting their six figure salaries and stagnating. The budget of the school was presided over by the same person for several decades, and was managed in such a way that millions of dollars were left unused and equipment was abandoned for need of a couple hundred dollars.
The cheap and willing newcomers are exactly that, willing to work and willing to do that without the draw of a massive pension and excessive benefits. From personal experience, I can easily point out to several newcomers which underline exactly how overpaid these paragons of education are. In other cases, there is little to no difference between new teachers and older ones, it depends more on the teacher than on anyone else.

“The desire is to insure that there is an underclass who do not graduate from high school who exist to keep labor costs and demand for workers low due to long term structural unemployment..”
This is economically complete BS. Long term unemployment is not contributed to significantly through structural means. If there are people who have an outdated job set, they learn new skills. If enough people have limited skills, there is an increase in unskilled work, and the US imports fewer illegal immigrants. The free market can deal with it.
Furthermore, this argument is applying a microscopic issue to a macroscopic event. Does Montclair High School affect the entire economy? No. Yet, you are acting as if it is the only school in America, capable of completely shifting the entire labor market. If you truly think that the school you presided over is this great, you are sadly delusional.

“So we went from two to four assessments. So what? It is not that we are using assessments to evaluate student and teacher performance.“
This is the entire intention of the increased testing. It allows people to be evaluated across the board twice as often and marks their progress. It standardizes teaching and prevents easy teachers from slacking off. To claim otherwise, as you do, requires at least some backing up, which you have sadly left out.

“There is more and more money for consultants and micro-managers, yet less and less for education. Everyone needs to do more, the corporate model says. Everyone is replaceable by younger, more enthusiastic and non-union workers. “
What do you define as money going to education? Do you define the most six figure salaries in NJ in administration and senior teachers as money going to education? Do you define money that goes to a group dedicated not to teaching but to protecting incompetents and forcing a monopoly on labor as money going to education? You use scare words without saying anything.
The new teachers are more enthusiastic, a statement that you phrase in such a way that it appears to be an insult. By extension, you appear to be supporting worn out and lazy teachers, because they are unionized and older. What is wrong with enthusiasm? Is it that you want teachers who refuse to help students? Is it that you do not want exceptional teachers who work harder because it makes the rest look worse by extension? Support your statements.

Draco Ranger said...

”… in a world where compliance and loyalty trump excellence.”
You are advocating a system which forces a monopoly on the labor market. If the world’s greatest educator moved to Montclair, but didn’t join the union, they couldn’t work at any of the schools. No matter what someone who is not loyal to the union cannot enter nor advance. No matter what, people who disagree with protection above all are forced to leave or keep their head down. If the new system forces those same traits, by your own words, so there should be little change.

In conclusion, you do not offer any alternatives other than keep the system the same. You are Herbert Hoover to MacCormack’s FDR. You saw a system which is wasteful, which rewards teachers for following orders from a group dedicated to protecting staff rather than improvement, which could be easily improved from athletics all the way down to supplies, but did not attempt to bring it to the next level. You then proceeded to rant against the only attempt to improve the system in decades, claiming that it will cause the apocalypse. You are not giving alternatives and suggestions, you are merely raving about your own perspective and issues with your superiors. You are on the watch when the system broke and are now demanding that it return to what it was. Guess what? It was unsustainable and was bound to fail. Try to be part of the solution rather than deflame it.

Michael McTigue said...

The statistical models used by administrators and policy makers to increase accountability are not statistically valid. In the words of one statistician they are "bankrupt" models. Here is a blog post referencing the models and how they do not actually measure what people believe they do.

http://boingboing.net/2013/10/11/american-educations-use-of.html#more-261369

Charlie R said...

Thank you for sharing your experiences and feelings because they ARE facts! As a parent, I want to know. You are not alone in your anger and concern. I hear so many complaints around town. Your blog went viral among the HS students this weekend, and not just because they like seeing somebody slam authority. Parents are checking it out, too. No one would be paying much attention to your post right now if you weren't hitting a nerve.

Offering teachers bonuses to take on more students in a class? What sort of educator operates that way? Does McCormack think the negative impact of high student-teacher ratios is due to lack of teacher motivation? Or is she only looking for ways hire fewer teachers and bribe the remaining teachers into not complaining?

There is now a remedial reading program, developed with core competencies and testing in mind, and purchased at great expense by the schools. There are certainly some good things about the program, I’m not saying it’s a disaster, and it is taught by a young, enthusiastic and energetic teacher at my son’s school. BUT: The teacher sort of doesn’t really teach. Not because she doesn’t want to, or is incompetent. It’s that she is required to administer a strictly structured program and isn’t given a lot of room to shine. At times she’s treated more like a teaching assistant. The “teaching” is done mainly by a computer software program. The interaction a student has with the teacher and other students is a lot less than what occurs in a regular classroom. (The kids have headphones on, which actually discourages interaction). Interaction is VITAL to learning! The students use books published by the company that designed the program. The number of books to choose from is limited – the schools have to pay a whole lot more to get a decent selection. It’s a very expensive program.

As for testing: The program involves constant testing for competency, but many students learn how to cheat the program. Also, students are given books to read based on how they score on the assessments. They aren’t “allowed” to challenge themselves or read something more exciting as part of their classwork until they test better. In other words, the testing can actually hold students back!

Is it an effective program? If you look at the evaluation results put out by the company that developed the program, yes, very effective. BUT if you look at impartial evaluations… sort of, maybe, and not proven to help those with actual reading disabilities.

Now… Check out this performance by Hillside School’s Drums of Thunder, and tell me how this is measured by a standardized test.

http://youtu.be/ldTMFzHJlBk

Stefanie Nagorka, MSS, MFA said...

Thank you for sharing your candid thoughts Scott. I understand and see what you are saying. I saw it two years ago. I saw it when I left Montclair a year ago as this disastrous trend was growing. I've landed at a great school in Northern California and have rediscovered a school culture in which community is valued, the needs of students and teachers are supported and panic is not the rule.

Too Far said...

Re the movement to privatize schools, yes that is what I'm seeing too and people should really be worried. If you want to know what the outcome would be, just look at the mess our privatized healthcare system is in. The model for privatized education is the same socio-economic model. It got so expensive we had to start turning first to a government program to help the elderly and disabled, then to HMOs. The care is very unequal. Individuals and businesses with high income/profits have the best care around (God bles them, everyone should have such good access). Those who can just afford it pay through the nose with costs skyrocketing and quality of service decreasing. The less “collective” the setup is (i.e., when individuals are expected to pay for it themselves) the more expensive it is. Those who can’t afford it go without. Or, they are offered substandard care at the expense of others who then feel resentful. The more competent and experienced providers are leaving the system out of frustration and disgust. The insurance companies sacrifice quality and human need to please investors. The cost of it is the main reason for personal bankruptcy in this country. There is a push to have NO regulation or government-mandated standards because that is considered interference in the free market. And the mess it has made has led us to extremist fighting and a government shutdown.

THOSE are the facts, it as plain as the sky is blue. Now, apply that to a privatized school system scenario.

Rachael Quinn Egan said...

Thank you for speaking up. I suspect that many teachers in Montclair would like to speak out as you have, but are afraid of losing their jobs right now. I see it when I ask them how they like these changes coming from the BOE. They make all the right noises, but with little enthusiasm.

Parents, PTA members, School action teams- we moved here because of this flagship public school system. But now it appears our ship is listing. It might be time to wonder if we have the right captain, and why has she set this course for us?

Dr. Keith Lockwood said...

Keith Lockwood I worked in the NJDOE for 9 years and left last year for a district opportunity. Penny was hired by cerf for the NJDOE and oversaw my division. She is a micromanaging Broad fellow who is a self proclaimed union buster. At one point she was the superintendent of Hartford Connecticut and unceremoniously left that district--loathed by teachers, administrators and children. Ask the head of the Hartford AFT--she will illuminate you...Interestingly, cerf is a resident of Montclair--isn't it curious she was appointed as superintendent. School ethics issue perhaps? She will drive the district of Montclair into the ground destroying every last decent educator in the town. she characterizes the cancer that occupies many leadership positions cultivated by the Broad foundation and their reliance on standardized testing to destroy teachers and children alike. She is dangerous and no parent should trust her or her ilk to the education of our children.

Dr. Keith Lockwood said...

Keith Lockwood I worked in the NJDOE for 9 years and left last year for a district opportunity. Penny was hired by cerf for the NJDOE and oversaw my division. She is a micromanaging Broad fellow who is a self proclaimed union buster. At one point she was the superintendent of Hartford Connecticut and unceremoniously left that district--loathed by teachers, administrators and children. Ask the head of the Hartford AFT--she will illuminate you...Interestingly, cerf is a resident of Montclair--isn't it curious she was appointed as superintendent. School ethics issue perhaps? She will drive the district of Montclair into the ground destroying every last decent educator in the town. she characterizes the cancer that occupies many leadership positions cultivated by the Broad foundation and their reliance on standardized testing to destroy teachers and children alike. She is dangerous and no parent should trust her or her ilk to the education of our children.