Saturday, June 28, 2014


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.

"Montclair's Assemblywoman Oliver Flabbergasted Over School Reform in Trenton"

Flabbergasted with Trenton!!!! How about Flabbergasted with Montclair, whose Board and administration has enthusiastically endorsed and carried out this mission? How about disgusted with herself, for supporting the disastrous decision to cap superintendent's pay, to jump on board with this ill-thought out and planned implementation of an untested and ill conceived Common Core and PARCC and effectively reduce teacher pay by 25% in the guise of "pension reform" which has teachers and other public service employees make enormous contributions to their pensions and health care, that were frequently given in negotiations in lieu of pay raises. I find this Johnny come lately conversion of the Democrats repulsive. Where were they when we needed them? NOW they want to start undoing the damage they created? PLEASE!

Bloomfield Board Rejects Reformist Zeal

Sounds like they have a superintendent and Board who is making the bold and correct choices. What happened to Montclair? If you told me 10 years ago that Bloomfield was going to be the most progressive district in Essex County and that Montclair would be the first suburban district to fully accept the narrative of a failing school with a corporate solution, I would have told you that this would never happen. Truth is stranger than fiction.
This just in---Bloomfield Board of Education votes in resolution supporting moratorium on tests, evaluation, common core and key aspects of corporate education reform!


WHEREAS, our nation's future relies on a high-quality public education system that provides students with the opportunity to maximize their potential, instills lifelong learning, and promotes the development of engaged and informed global citizens; and

WHEREAS, the current standards-based system is a top-down authoritarian system that disregards the professional decision-making ability of classroom teachers and usurps the local control of educating the children of Bloomfield; and

WHEREAS, all children develop at different rates; and

WHEREAS, the efficacy of the Common Core State Standards (the Common Core) has never been evaluated relative to the previous New Jersey Core Content Curriculum Standards; and

WHEREAS, the Common Core has been integrally linked to the Partnership for Assessment of College and Career Readiness (PARCC) assessment in New Jersey by which students, teachers, administrators, schools and school districts will be evaluated; and

WHEREAS, the PARCC assessments will be required in all districts for grades 3-11, beginning in the 2014-2015 school year; and

WHEREAS, the PARCC assessments are central to AchieveNJ, which uses student assessment data in the teacher evaluation process through student growth percentiles (SGP’s) for public school teachers in certain grade levels and content areas; and

WHEREAS, the use of PARCC assessments or any Value-Added Model (VAM) for assessment purposes of children, schools, and teachers has not been shown to be a reliable method; and

WHEREAS, the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), the New Jersey Association of School Administrators (NJASA), and the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA) members question the reliability of the data and the implementation of the schedule for AchieveNJ and PARCC assessments; and

WHEREAS, the PARCC assessments will require that districts provide the means to test students in a computer-based testing environment; and

WHEREAS, the Bloomfield Public School district will be required to spend an unknown amount for administrative positions, professional development, technology, and staff time to implement these mandates; and

WHEREAS, the Bloomfield Public School district’s Projected State School Aid for the 2014-15 budget represents a total increase in state funding of $126,800, or 0.61%, and PARCC Readiness Aid of a mere $63,400 to offset the substantial requirements of the PARCC assessments; and

WHEREAS, AchieveNJ is an unfunded mandate and the PARCC assessments are a severely underfunded mandate; and

WHEREAS, the New Jersey State Assembly has introduced Assembly Bill A3081 and its counterpart in the Senate, S2154, which calls for a minimum of a two-year delay in the use of the PARCC assessment data for any student or school accountability purposes, and calls for the creation of a task force to analyze the potential effects of the adoption of the Common Core State Standards, the new teacher evaluation system, and the use of PARCC assessments.

NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, the Bloomfield Board of Education strongly supports passage of Assembly Bill A3081 and Senate Bill S2154; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that a moratorium be placed on the use of SGP’s in a teaching staff member’s summative evaluation until such time as the measure has been independently validated; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that full reimbursement be provided by the State of New Jersey for costs incurred in the administration of and training related to the PARCC assessments and the accompanying administration evaluation mandates; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that school districts be given the option of administering the PARCC assessment online, using a pencil and paper format, or a combination of the two during this timeframe; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that a copy of this resolution be sent to Commissioner David Hespe, Senate President Steven Sweeney, Senator Ronald L. Rice, Assembly Education Committee Chair Patrick J. Diegnan, Jr., Assemblywoman Cleopatra G. Tucker, Assemblyman Ralph R. Caputo, Senate Education Committee Chair M. Teresa Ruiz, the Joint Committee on Public Schools, New Jersey School Boards Association, New Jersey Education Association, New Jersey Association of School Administrators, New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders, and the Bloomfield Township Council

Monday, June 09, 2014

What robotic PR sounds like in Montclair

Did you read the PR document on the schools created by the Supe's office? Here it is:

It gets to the heart of the problem: it is a soul-less description of what we do, that makes us sound like a million other school systems. It has no real description of who we are! If this was a personal statement of our school system, with the assignment of capturing what is unique and special about our schools, it would be a D-.

The document:

*Lists MHS as one of 1000 Best High Schools in America (not a huge accomplishment) in Newsweek, a dubious list from Jay Matthews that rates schools by AP participation (not performance) and was boycotted by 38 high schools from 5 states, yes, including Montclair High:

*Of the six of the "over 100" highlighted activities, Ultimate Frisbee is listed, something that has not run at the high school since I last ran it, over 5 years ago

*Lists SVPA as a small learning community, something that has not existed since I started there in 1991.

*Does not distinguish Fed Challenge, which has had the best success of any of their competitors in the nation, from Model UN and Model Congress, which have had modest success.

*Throws together the STEM academy, a slap dash effort that is ill defined and directed, with CGI and CSJ, programs which are national models emulated by schools across the country.

*Says nothing about the accomplishments of individual teachers and students.

*Says not ONE WORD about what distinguishes Montclair culturally and educationally that could not be said about hundreds of high schools.

*Throws out terms like a "creating connections" magnate school, something that means nothing to an outsider reading this.

So, here, Dr. MacCormack, are some things you MAY want to consider in this document:

*Get lists of accomplishments that individual students and teachers have achieved and list them. We have many more than other schools and need to highlight them.
*Get quotes from students about their best teachers. We have amazing teachers who give their lives to the students (I wouldn't bother with quotes about administrators...don't think that would go so well).
*Think about what truly distinguished the district. Here are a few that I directly know of, but I'm sure it would be much larger if you did some research:

*Fed Challenge team that has won the national championships multiple times and has been to the National Finals almost every year since its inception. Give the college profile of where the FC presenters have attended college over the past 5 years and how many students participate each year.
*A math program where almost 50 students each year take BC Calculus as juniors each year and over 95% over the past decade have gotten a perfect score (5) on the AP test.
*A performing arts program at Glenfield that is simply amazing. I don't know what awards they have gotten, but it must be pretty impressive. Their instrumental program is like nothing I have ever seen at a middle school.
*Creative programs at the high school which are highly rigorous alternatives to the AP program, including hundreds of students taking courses like High Honors Humanities and Philosophy.
*A Writers Room (it is coming back, isn't it) that is a national model to aid students in writing.
*A unique partnership with IMANI to give students of color access to evening and weekend programs to improve college access and performance.

Whenever I read college essays, I ask students to write things that only they could say. This document is a slap dash listing of things that we do, something that does almost nothing to promote what we do really well and to give a sense of how we are different. That is a difficult thing that requires a nuanced understanding of the schools, the students and the town. It can't be put put together with measurements, rubrics, and numbers. Time to go back to the drawing board and actually write something meaningful.

Perhaps, Dr. MacCormack, some of the volunteers in the Writers' Room could help you with this.