Saturday, June 28, 2014

Disgusted

I'll tell you who I am not disgusted with first:  with the teachers, administration and board members of Morristown.  They have lived within the mandates of the state and federal government, but used them as guides not as missions.  They have kept the primary missions of the school and district as creating educational environment and kept up the mantra over and over again:  "Is it best for kids?".

I am disgusted with the Democrats, including the President, the Congress and the members of the state Assembly and Senate in New Jersey.  They have rolled over and licked the soles of their corporate masters.   On the federal level, the Race to the Top, aka No Child Left Behind light, has embraced the corporate reform distortions that the problems are the result of not enough top-town standards, tenure, lazy and over-paid teachers, and the unions.  Despite reams of research that shows that strong principals with authority to build educational communities is the most effective way to improve education, they have rolled over like beaten dogs to the mega-billionaires who are truly guiding educational philosophy.

They have ignored what every psychometrician learns in first year undergraduate statistics:  There is no such thing as a good test that is not field tested for validity and reliability.  They have embraced the PARCC test, designed without virtually any input from classroom teachers and with almost no testing of its validity or developmental appropriateness and used it as a cudgel to force the teachers to change the way they teach.  "There's no need to teach to the test", I have heard again and again, followed by pronouncements that their jobs would depend on the test results.

The Common Core is a great idea, as are national graduation tests.  It is absurd that two classrooms teaching biology in the same school are teaching totally different content and that a students in Arkansas are expected to master totally different skills than those in NJ.  It is also an enormous waste of resources for the states to develop 50 different graduation tests.  But its creation and implementation has been a disaster.  The problem:  it is created by those who profit from it, groups like Pearson and McGraw Hill, and perhaps the biggest scourge in education, EdD's who teach in colleges but have never taught in high school.

Its time to start over.  Create a national committee of TEACHERS and ONLY TEACHERS to develop standards and assessments.  Create a multi-tiered system of assessments, one with expected minimal skills that all students need and a second set, like the Regents tests in NY, for more advanced work.  Its like the all these college educated people have ignored the most basic tenets of statistics and research they they were all required to know to succeed in college.  There is a bell curve and will always be a bell curve.  You can move the curve to the left or the right, you can distort the curve a bit, but there will always be a curve and the notion that everyone can and should achieve a high degree of analytical ability and critical thinking is impossible.

I reserve the greatest degree of disgust for President Obama, Arne Duncan and the Democrats in the NJ state Assembly and Senate.  They have decided to embrace a plan that was destined to fail from the start:  ignore everything that has been proven in education and embrace a top down control of education and the narrative that we have failing schools due to weak teachers.

Let's start with the NJ's legislature decision to cap superintendent's salary at $175,000.  New Jersey's quality superintendents are fleeing the state like lemmings to NY to PA, leaving behind a parade of weak and often polemical superintendents who know nothing, and care nothing, about the nuance it takes to create an educational environment.

Now let's discuss the methods of reducing teacher pay by requiring huge new contributions to pensions and health care costs.  Since "pension reform" was initiated, my pay has been reduced $15,000.  I used to have a large number of bright and capable students choose to go into teaching as a career.  This is a true rarity now.  Who would want to go into a career where they are vilified as  greedy and incompetent, forced to teach in a way that is antithetical to how students learn and whose job security and pay are being reduced every day?

I respect the Republicans for their honesty.  They come out and say that they think public schools are the problems and that their solutions are school vouchers and charter schools.  They have little problem with the notion of leaving in public schools who they say are the unteachable students, special education students, English language learners, students with emotional, physical and behavioral issues and setting up standards for them that it are impossible for them to meet with the resources available.  They are morally and repugnantly wrong, but at least they are straightforward.

Yes, I reserve my most contempt for the Democrats, who have jumped onto the "reform" bandwagon with both feet, letting the public schools die a death of a 1000 cuts.  Not a single one has stood up and said:  THIS IS WRONG!  Now they are passing a bill to delay this nonsense AFTER they passed it enthusiastically.  Aren't we closing the barn door after the horse has left?

Who will step up?  I haven't hear one word from Hillary Clinton about her ideas for this ill-fated and ill-conceived notion.  The Assembly voted almost unanimously to delay and study what they already overwhelming passed!  What a bunch of spineless hypocrites.  Where were they when we needed you?  I know, striking deals and kissing the ring of Chris Christie, the man whose claim to fame is degrading teachers as greedy and incompetent.  In economic hard times, there is always a straw man to blame.  Hitler came to power and by blaming the Jews and Christie came to power blaming public employees, particularly teachers.

And why have the Democrats finally started to act?  Moral outrage?  Common sense prevailing?  No, because Bridgegate and its successive investigations have shown that the emperor has no clothes and they think that their political futures not longer align with licking his boots.  I have no respect for you, democrats.  You have abandoned all ideals and let yourselves be sucked into this morass.

Who will speak up for the teachers, the students, the schools?  Who is the leader of tomorrow?  Certainly not Corey Booker.  Certainly not Arne Duncan.  Certainly not Barak Obama.  Certainly no one in the state legislature.

And yes, I reserve my greatest contempt for the citizens of Montclair.  Everyone I meet says the same thing.  They know the direction of the schools is wrong.  They know this superintendent is wrong for our schools.  They know that the teachers are disrespected and vilified.   They know that everything they believe in their hearts about what makes good schools and good education is wrong.  But they don't want to make waves.  Montclair Cares About Schools is a great source of information, but where is the outrage?  Where is the action?  Even our Town Counsel issued a declaration that what is happening in our schools is divisive and destructive.  But our town keeps standing behind a Board and a Superintendent who keep making decisions that increase this decisiveness and embrace a discredited philosophy and operating principles.  Yes, as long as each of your children has okay teachers, you're not going to rock the boat.

What has happened to the era when the citizens of Montclair were in the vanguard of protesting what is wrong in America, in our state and in our town?  Now we are in the vanguard of accepting the narrative of Republican billionaires that more testing is the solution and the narrative of weak teachers and failing schools.  Montclair residents have put their tails between their legs and put their energies into making sure their children get the best teachers, teachers who take refuge in their classrooms and shut their doors to do what they do best:  teach students despite the atmosphere of hostility and, at least in the high school, a total lack of educational expertise of those supervising them.

Has management improved at the high school?  Absolutely.  Was their a need for an improvement in management?  Absolutely.  But what we have now is management without educational oversight and teachers teaching well despite the atmosphere and expectations, not because of them.  And if you are not speaking up and acting to change this, you are part of the problem.

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