Chris Christie the Glutton

Merriam-Webster defines gluttony as “excess in eating or drinking and “greedy or excessive indulgence.

And today, Chris Christie had the nerve to accuse New Jersey’s pubic school teachers of being gluttons:

Railing against teachers, [Governor Christie] claimed the average 30-year teacher contributes just $195,000 of the $2.6 million in pension and health benefits they receive over their lifetime.

Christie said Friday he’ll make the largest payment the state can afford, but he won’t burden taxpayers with the cost of maintaining “a broken system.”

“The taxpayers of New Jersey are not, as long as I’m here, going to be the ones that shoulder the blame for their gluttony…,” he said.

First of all, governor, the taxpayers of New Jersey don’t “shoulder the blame” for the state’s broken pension system: you and your predecessors do. No: New Jersey’s taxpayers are victims of your reckless financial decisions and ill-advised economic policies–all of which favor the 1%–and all of which have caused the state’s economy to tank.

But if you really want to talk about gluttony, and if you seriously think teachers are guilty of “greedy or excessive indulgence,” I have a few real examples of gluttony for you. Any sound familiar?

  • Spending $82,594 taxpayer dollars on food and alcohol at Jets and Giants games is an example of gluttony.
  • $100,000+ trip to the Cowboys/Lions game is an example of gluttony.
  • Taking Sheldon Adelson’s private jet, on which you had your “own bedroom,” on your “trade mission” to Israel is an example of gluttony.
  • The $30,000 hotel-room bill King Abdullah paid so you and your family could attend parties and champagne receptions is an example of gluttony.
  • Your repeated demands for “private jets, lavish spreads of food, [and] space for a massive entourage” are examples of gluttony.
  • That you fly private jets often enough to have a preference for “Cessna Citation X flights” is an example of gluttony.
  • Tak[ing] over conference rooms laid out with elaborate spreads of food at all hours” is an example of gluttony.
  • Your $40,000 “three-day tour” of the UK is an example of gluttony.
  • Your State Police helicopter ride to your son’s high school baseball game is an example of gluttony.
  • Your trip to the 2013 Super Bowl, which cost taxpayers nearly $11,000, is an example of gluttony.
  • The excessive expenses you racked up–with “insufficient, inaccurate or no justification”–as the US attorney who most often exceeded the government travel expense rate are examples of gluttony.
  • Your $236 four-mile car-service ride to the airport is an example of gluttony.

I know I’m missing a few (dozen). And I don’t even have time to get into the gluttonous relationships you have with your Wall Street and corporate friends.

I don’t care who paid for your lavish trips or if they were privately funded, and I don’t care that other politicians (famous people, rich people, etc.) enjoy similar gluttonous experiences to the ones I listed above. Good for them, and good for you for having so much money (what’s that? you say you’re not rich?), and good for you for having such rich friends. Congratulations. Really. Glutton it up.

But how dare you accuse public school teachers of being greedy when the amount of taxpayer money you spent on food and alcohol at sporting events exceeds what most teachers make in a year.

If that’s not the literal definition of gluttony, I don’t know what is.

How disgustingly despicable.

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“How To Destroy The Public Sector in Ten Easy Steps”–a Chris Christie handbook

Congrats, Chris Christie, on your win in court today!

You must be thrilled that the New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that the law you yourself signed–you know, the one you called “a model for America“–cannot be enforced.

No, wait–only the part of the law that requires the *state* to make its pension payments can’t be enforced. The public workers who have been contributing hundreds more per paycheck to their pensions and benefits still have to continue their increased contributions, as per the law. Is that right?

I’m only asking for clarification because I know you’re an expert in legal proceedings. You are, after all, a former US Attorney for NJ who holds a J.D. for Seton Hall. (I almost wonder whether declaring that the part of your own law which requires the state to contribute is unconstitutional–and all the while requiring public workers with modest salaries to take what amounts to pay cuts because of the increased contributions your law requires–was part of your grand plan all along. But that’s none of my business!)

Anyway, I’m sure this ruling will have your fans clapping loudly–because many of them think public workers don’t deserve their deferred compensation a pension, even though those workers have always contributed to the fund. (Wait, you haven’t told your fans that teachers have put $10 billion into the pension fund in the past 20 years? That they never had the option to not contribute to the pension fund? That they’re undercompensated compared to their private-sector counterparts? Sorry for letting the cat out of the bag.)

I’m also sure that you’ll spin this decision as a *huge* win for taxpayers. (Shhhh…don’t tell anyone that the hundreds of thousands of workers this ruling affects are–gasp–taxpayers; or that a Federal Reserve Board Chairman just criticized your fiscal strategies, including shirking pension payments; or that NJ might be subjected to yet another credit downgrade, as if the record 9 downgrades weren’t enough; or that you’ve spent $1.5 billion dollars in Wall Street fees, dished out $5 billion in corporate subsidies, rewarded your political donors with control of the pension system, and snuggled up to ExxonMobil by letting them off the hook for billions of dollars; or that New Jersey’s poverty rate keeps going up; or that you lost the receipts–whoops–for a quarter-million dollars in taxpayer-funded expenses. It’s middle-class public workers who are crippling taxpayers!)

Yes, you’re certainly making a name for yourself–and that’s despite all the incompetent/vindictive/reckless people and advisers you have around you! So impressive! You didn’t know how bad the pension situation was when you wrote that letter to teachers, police officers, and firefighters in 2009 saying that nothing about their pensions would change if you were elected governor. You didn’t know (hand over heart) that you staffers were shutting down a bridge as political payback! (Is it too soon to make a “who’ll-be-in-your-cabinet-and-how-will-they-secretly-betray-you-without-your-knowledge” joke? Too soon?) You–an attorney–didn’t know that parts of your own “model for America” law were unconstitutional!

We all know you have presidential aspirations and that you’re really busy traveling around and figuring out whether you should throw your baseball cap into the ring, so I’ll save you some time and get started on the “How To Destroy The Public Sector in Ten Easy Steps” handbook that I’m sure you’d love to distribute far and wide. I’ll start with teachers.

  1. Pretend you like public workers (lol!) and make promises to them that you won’t even *think* about keeping. (Don’t worry, it’s just until they vote you into office.)
  2. Once you get elected, appoint a bunch of NJ Supreme Court Justices who share your political views. (This’ll be important in #8!)
  3. Convince everyone that teachers suck, perhaps by likening them to drug dealers who are greedy and self-interested and who don’t care about their students. Also, make teachers’ jobs immeasurably more difficult by refusing to fund urban schools according to the SRFA–and then call schools with high populations of minority, ELL, special needs, and impoverished students “failure factories.” Or you could even say the K-12 education system is as much of a threat as ISIS!!
  4. When everyone jumps on the “Yeah! Teachers Suck!” bandwagon, convince them that public workers’ “benefits are too rich” and that they “aren’t contributing enough” to their pensions and benefits. Note to self: pay people to try to get that report about NJ being 95th out of 100th in pension generosity taken down from the internet.
  5. Implement education “reforms” like Common Core, PARCC, AchieveNJ, and TeachNJ, all of which are untested, fundamentally flawed, and designed to depersonalize, standardized, deprofessionalize, and privatize schools. (Continue sending your own children to private schools that don’t have to adhere to these “reforms.”)
  6. Watch veteran teachers start to flee the profession because they don’t want to teach to a test by reading from a script. Replace them with new (read, cheap!) teachers who will never know the academic freedom or professional judgment their veteran counterparts once enjoyed.
  7. At the same time, create and sign a law that requires teachers and other public workers to pay hundreds more toward their pensions and benefits, and promise that the state will make up its missed contributions by increasing its contributions over seven years and then continuing to fund the system thereafter.
  8. Yell “Just kidding!” and ignore the part of your law that requires you to fund the pension system.
  9. Appeal to the Supreme Court that’s mostly comprised of people you appointed when a lower-court judge tells you to make the payments that are required by the law you signed. (I know there are members of the legislature who have some kind of moral compass, but I’m not sure if there are enough to ensure the state does its part. We’ll find out, I guess.)
  10. Celebrate!

Yes, congratulations, indeed. Congratulations on perpetuating the vilification of public employees. Congratulations on perpetuating the idea that corporations and millionaires deserve political favors and tax breaks, but already-strapped middle-class workers are the greedy ones. Congratulations on perpetuating the idea that cheap labor is the way to go–and that years of service, and the knowledge and expertise that come with them, are worthless. And, ultimately, congratulations on a win in your most recent attempt to completely destroy the public sector. What a noble, admirable goal it is.

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A closer look at @GovChristie’s failure to #FundNJPension

It’s no secret that New Jersey’s pension system is a disaster. According to the National Association of State Retirement Administrators, the Garden State–from 2001-2013–had the worst record in the nation of funding its pension system, making only 38% of its annual required contributions. And now, according to Governor Christie (and despite his 2011 reforms), New Jersey still can’t afford to meet its pension responsibilities.

Certainly, Christie is not solely responsible for this mess; his predecessors are also guilty of pension offenses. Christie likes to brag that he has made the largest-ever contribution to the pension fund, but what he fails to mention is that he has skipped out on a whopping $14.9 billion in payments–$2 billion more than the five governors who came before him missed collectively. (And, moreover, Christie was the only governor to break the law in failing to fund the system.)

Here’s some more of what Chris Christie doesn’t like to tell people about his pension failures. (Keep in mind, again, that Christie claims New Jersey “doesn’t have the money” make the pension payments required by the law that he himself signed in 2011; more on that below.)

  • New Jersey’s teachers have always contributed to their pensions and have paid more than $10 billion into the fund over the past 20 years–but by the end of this fiscal year, the state will have only contributed $3 billion to the fund since 1996. None of the state’s teachers has ever missed a pension payment, because they have never been allowed–or had the option–to do so.
  • In 2009, Christie wrote an “Open Letter to the Teachers of New Jersey” (and wrote nearly identical letters to NJ police and firefighters) to make this claim: “I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor.”
  • Two years later, Christie signed into law Chapter 78, P.L. 2011, which required public workers in the state’s pension systems to contribute significantly more to their pensions and health benefits; further, new language in the law required the state to phase in a full contribution at a rate of 1/7 per year from 2012 to 2018–and continue to fund the pension system fully each year after that. Chapter 78 also states that members of the pension funds have a contractual right to the annual required contribution.
  • In violation of his own law, Christie shorted the pension system by $2.43 billion in 2014 and is now proposing more changes that would further reduce benefits for public workers–claiming that the state cannot afford to make the legally-required payments.
  • Christie has invested NJ’s pension funds in “high-risk, high-fee investments,” which according to pension consultant Chris Tobe cost the system $2.5 billion in unrealized returns.
  • From 2010-2014, New Jersey has spent more than $1.5 billion on fees to Wall Street firms, many of which are headed by Christie campaign donors.
  • New Jersey continued to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees to Angelo, Gordon, & Co.–the Wall Street firm that hired Mary Pat Christie, the governor’s wife, as a managing director–for three years after Christie announced he would divest in the firm.
  • In February, Christie settled an $8.9 billion lawsuit against ExxonMobil for just $225 million, and shortly after it was revealed that Christopher Porrino, the governor’s chief counsel for the case, “owned shares of a mutual fund [of which ExxonMobil was the largest holding] valued at more than $100,000.”
  • Christie has awarded approximately $5.1 billion in corporate subsidies since he took office.
  • Christie refuses to consider a Millionaire’s Tax, which would generate much-needed funds for the cash-strapped Garden State.

And this is an abbreviated list that doesn’t include Bridgegate legal fees, lavish expense account spending, and countless other financial offenses.

Since Christie took office, and as a direct result of his reckless spending and economic policies, New Jersey’s credit rating has been downgraded a record nine times–and the state’s unemployment rate remains among the highest in the nation. Members of the middle class are finding themselves in perpetual financial struggles, and New Jersey is one of only three states whose poverty rate rose from 2012 to 2013.

But don’t worry, because Wall Street is doing just fine.

In New Jersey, only about 20% of the state’s pension funding between 1993 and 2012 came from the state’s (non public-employee) taxpayers, though the governor would like his constituents to believe otherwise. The governor also would doesn’t want anyone to consider the connection between a solvent pension system and a strong economy, or the message he’s sending by sending billions of dollars to Wall Street instead of using them to strengthen the state’s middle class. Instead, Governor Christie spends his time vilifying and demonizing public workers, and he’s accomplished as much by perpetuating the public’s unfounded but increasing mistrust of public employees. (In the case of teachers, Christie has happily perpetuated the myth that our educators and schools are failing.)

New Jersey taxpayers should be furious–but not at public workers, who have never skipped pension payments and are contributing at record rates to their health benefits. Not at teachers, who stand faithfully in front of classrooms in schools that for decades have ranked among the very top in the nation.

No: taxpayers should be furious at Chris Christie, who has enriched his friends with billions of taxpayer dollars at the expense of all of New Jersey’s residents.

I leave you with this: at the beginning of his term as governor, Chris Christie said, of public employees, “Our benefits are too rich [actually, Governor, NJ ranks 95th out of the top 100 plans nationally for “pension generosity“], and our employees aren’t contributing enough, either” [it wouldn’t be difficult to find teachers who would share a pay stub revealing a $1,000+ monthly contribution to their pension and benefits].

Yes, that quote came from the same Chris Christie who has managed to spend $82,594–more than most teachers make for a year of work–of taxpayers’ money to buy food and alcohol at concession stands at MetLife Stadium.

Talk about benefits being too rich.

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*Adding, on June 4th: David Sirota is reporting that Christie’s administration has deliberately omitted information about Wall Street fees in its pension analysis reports (emphasis mine; read the whole article here):

“The Christie administration’s pension analysis, obtained through an open records request by International Business Times, omitted so-called performance fees that the state is paying to Wall Street. Those levies, which give financial firms a cut of the state’s investment gains, now total hundreds of millions of dollars a year. A Christie administration presentation to state pension trustees also obtained by IBTimes similarly omitted those performance fees”

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Chris Christie: New Jerseyans should make their own educational decisions–unless they’re from Newark

New Jersey is getting new academic standards, primarily because former Common Core cheerleader Chris Christie cares deeply about local control in education:

I want New Jersey parents and teachers to be the driving force behind the establishment of these new standards. I want New Jersey business partners, New Jersey school administrators, and New Jersey school boards to work together in this important effort.

I have heard from far too many people – teachers and parents from across the state – that the Common Core standards were not developed by New Jersey educators and parents. As a result, the buy-in from both communities has not been what we need for maximum achievement. I agree. It is time to have standards that are even higher and come directly from our communities.

This statement is, of course, taken from the governor’s May 28th remarks to an audience at Burlington County College in Pemberton. Many of my initial reactions to Christie’s Common Core about-face have already been documented by New Jersey parents and educators (see here for Marie Corfield’s round-up of relevant posts and articles) who recognized the move as political pandering to the worst degree. This morning, however, Christie gave everyone who’s watching more material to work with.

And, not surprisingly, it isn’t pretty.

See, Future Presidential Candidate Chris Christie wants us all to think he believes that that parents and educators are the ones who know what’s best for children–and that the government, starting with President Obama, should stay out of decisions that should ultimately be made locally.

But today, Christie reiterated his belief that there are some people in New Jersey who can’t possibly be trusted to know what’s best for their own schools–and those people live in Newark.

A little background: on May 22nd, thousands of Newark students walked out of school in protest of the reforms Chris Christie and his ilk have imposed on the city’s public schools. Students ultimately made their way to City Hall, where they demanded fair funding for the district and a halt to the turnaround program that will affect eight city schools.

At an appearance in Belmar this morning, Christie was asked about the students’ protest–and this was his response:

It’s really shocking to me that students walked out in a protest on a sunny Friday afternoon. When they start walking out on a rainy Tuesday, maybe I’ll take it a little more seriously. They can walk out and protest as much as they want. […] No, I’m not changing my position on this.

That’s right, folks: Future Presidential Candidate Chris Christie is listening to his constituents (ask yourself “which constituents?”) about the Common Core–specifically because “the standards were not developed by New Jersey educators and parents.” But when thousands of students organize a protest (and I can’t be certain, but I’m guessing they can’t take credit for making sure it was sunny on Friday) against the reforms of which they say they’re victims every single day, Governor Christie makes a joke about their motivations and then admits that he did not take their actions seriously. (What was that he said about “buy-in” being important for “maximum achievement”?)

In other words: You matter, Not-From-Newark-New-Jerseyans. Chris Christie is listening to you. Your opinions count. You are best equipped to direct the eduction of the children in your state and in your community.

But if you live in Newark, Chris Christie won’t even *think* about taking you seriously unless you demonstrate your dissatisfaction for state control of your schools by walking out during a rainstorm. On a Tuesday.

Mark that one on your calendar.

Because those people don’t know what’s best for their community. Chris Christie does.

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“I don’t care about the community criticism. We run the school district in Newark, not them.” —Governor Chris Christie, 9/3/13

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Parent groups speak out on Senator Teresa Ruiz’s refusal to protect our children

A coalition of grassroots parent groups fighting for high-quality public education is asking New Jersey Senate Education Committee Chair Teresa Ruiz to allow a vote on three very important bills that limit standardized testing – S2765, S2767 and S2768.

“These bills have incredible support,” said Julie Larrea Borst, a parent from Allendale. “All three bills were overwhelmingly approved by the New Jersey Assembly, with two receiving unanimous approval.”

Tens of thousands of parents and other voters have asked their legislators to support the bills. In fact, 3,500 constituents contacted their State Senators in just one weekend.

A bi-partisan majority of the Senate has committed to vote YES on the bills and more than a quarter of the State’s Senators are co-sponsoring them.

New Jersey parents are taking this action because, despite the incredible levels of support, Committee Chair Teresa Ruiz has so far refused to post the three bills for a vote in the Senate Education Committee.

Instead of allowing a vote on S2765, which requires districts and charter schools to inform parents about all standardized tests given to their children, Senator Ruiz introduced a stripped down version of that bill. Senator Ruiz’s version denies parents the right to know how their children’s standardized test results are used, whether the tests must be taken on a computer or with paper and pencil, and how much the tests cost. “We have a right to that information as parents and taxpayers,” argued Sarah Blaine of Montclair. “Why would anyone want to hide it from us?”

Senator Ruiz also has refused to allow a vote on S2767, which protects children from “sit & stare” and other punitive measures imposed by school districts and charter schools when their families refuse standardized tests. In place of S2767, Senator Ruiz introduced a nonbinding resolution asking the NJ Department of Education to develop guidelines for how districts should treat such students.

“The NJ Senate should not be pleading with the Commissioner of Education to protect our children,” said Jacklyn Brown of Manalapan. “They should follow the NJ Assembly and pass S2767, ensuring that our children are not being mistreated.”

Renee Simon Wagner of Hope Township agreed. “S2767 is common sense and very much needed,” said Ms. Wagner, whose 13 year old daughter was forced to sit and stare for the duration of the March PARCC test and the week of make-up testing. “That kind of child abuse has no place in our public schools. Why won’t Senator Ruiz allow a vote on S2767?”

Christina Cunha-Moreira of Elizabeth was very concerned by Senator Ruiz’s refusal to allow a vote on S2768, which freezes the use of PARCC scores for three years. “The PARCC tests are brand new and may not be reliable or valid,” said Cunha-Moreira. “Yet, without this legislation, districts and charter schools will be able to use results of the experimental PARCC tests to make decisions about class placements, admission to gifted and talented and remedial programs, and even whether children receive special services. We need S2768 to keep our children safe.”

Frankie Adao of Newark spoke for tens of thousands of parents in urging Senator Ruiz to “please allow these bills to have a vote. We want our democracy to work,” said Adao.

Below is a list of New Jersey parent groups that signed on to this statement:

Allendale Parents of Children with Special Needs
Bernards Cares About Schools
Chatham Cares About Schools
Collingswood Cares About Education
Community for Princeton Public Schools
Concerned Citizens of Southern New Jersey
East Brunswick Parents Against PARCC
Elizabeth Parents and Students Care
Freehold Township Cares About Schools
Hanover-Florham Park Cares About Schools
Highland Park Cares About Schools
Howell Cares About Schools
Jackson Cares About Schools
Lawrence Cares About Schools
Manalapan-Englishtown Cares About Schools
Marlboro Cares About Schools
Metuchen Cares About Schools
Middletown Township Cares About Schools
Monroe Township/Jamesburg Cares About Schools
Montclair Cares About Schools
Mount Laurel Cares About Schools
Neptune Cares About Schools
Newark Parents Union
No More Common Core – Moorestown
North Plainfield Cares About Schools
Ocean County Parents Against Common Core
Ocean Township (Monmouth County) Cares About Schools
Red Bank Area Cares About Schools
Ridgewood Cares About Schools
Save Camden Public Schools
Save Our Schools NJ
South Brunswick Cares About Schools
Toms River Cares About Schools
Verona Cares About Schools
West Windsor – Plainsboro Cares About Our Schools
Westfield Cares About Schools


This statement appears on the Save Our Schools New Jersey Facebook page. Any groups interested in signing the statement should send an email to info@saveourschoolsnj.org.

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@NJSenatePres: Post ALL FOUR testing bills for a vote

In early February, Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan said, “This is my 14th year in the Legislature and I’ve served virtually all that time on the Education Committee and I have never in all of my time in the Legislature had more concern about a particular topic than I have had from PARCC.”

That’s because in recent months, parents, students, and educators all over the state have been pushing back against an over-reliance on the Common Core-aligned tests that are dominating the national educational landscape. Hundreds have testified at Study Commission meetings and State Board of Education meetings, thousands have called legislators and written letters in opposition to PARCC tests, tens of thousands have taken to social media to make themselves heard about the issues children in public schools are facing right now, and an estimated 50,000 students sat out of the first round of PARCC testing.

With so much public outcry about PARCC, one would think that NJ Senate President Stephen Sweeney would be quick to post the four testing bills that sailed through the NJ Assembly last month for votes in the Senate. After all, it’s clear that a significant percentage of Sweeney’s constituents are begging for legislation to protect New Jersey’s children from what they know is bad educational policy.

But yesterday, Sweeney and Senate Ed. Committee Chair Teresa Ruiz wrote a letter to David Hespe asking the Commissioner to maintain–instead of increase–the percentage standardized test scores count toward eligible teachers’ evaluations next year: just one issue that’s addressed in S2768/A4190, which freezes ALL uses of PARCC results for 3 years.

Sweeney and Ruiz promote their request as a “measured approach to policy,” and note that “teachers are the most important individuals when it comes to a child’s educational experience”–so a delay in increasing the stakes attached to this test for teachers would be a “responsible approach.” 

On the surface, the request reads as a veiled acknowledgement of the many problems associated with PARCC testing, and the Senators’ proposed solution to avoid increasing the stakes for teachers is an important step since using standardized test scores as a part of teacher evaluations is an awful practice. However, the Senators’ request fails to acknowledge the impact PARCC testing has on students and their schools–a deliberate oversight that certainly won’t go unnoticed by the tens of thousands of parents who showed their dissatisfaction with PARCC tests by refusing to allow their children to participate in them this year.

So why not just post S2768, which the Assembly overwhelming approved in February, for a vote in the Senate–instead of dismantling it to avoid the legislative process in the name of backroom deals?

The short answer: politics.

The longer answer: politics.

Some background:

Last year, Sweeney blocked a vote on A3081/S2541, legislation similar to S2768, which sought to “delay implementation of certain assessments and certain changes to teacher evaluation”–presumably to avoid putting Governor Christie in a position to veto it. The result was Executive Order #159, which made changes to the TeachNJ teacher evaluation component and established the Study Commission that doesn’t listen to anyone that’s charged with evaluating the use of assessments in NJ. Many people–parents and educators alike–criticized Sweeney for his failure to post the bill for a vote, primarily because Executive Order #159 largely ignored the implications of testing on students and schools in the name of politics. 

And in March of this year, when Sweeney said he would’t post four new testing bills (which would go on to be passed overwhelmingly by the Assembly) for a vote in the Senate until he checked first with Commissioner Hespe:

“What I’ve been reading is that (the testing) has been a relative non-event compared to all the hype at this point,” Sweeney said. “I want to know what the commissioner says, and we’ll make a decision. Maybe it is the right thing to do, but I want to get that from the commissioner.”

Yes, the Commissioner Hespe who walked out of a Study Commission meeting that dozens of parents missed work to attend. Yes, the Commissioner Hespe who claimed we need PARCC tests because they’re “diagnostic”–even though his assistant commissioner, Bari Erlichson, acknowledged they’re not. Yes, the Commissioner Hespe who claims that PARCC tests will provide teachers and parents with valuable data–even though the tests are instructionally useless.

But I digress.

Last time I checked, a legislator’s job was to represent and answer to his constituents–and in this case, Sweeney’s constituents have certainly spoken.  How can Senator Sweeney, in good conscience, claim testing has been a “non-event” and allow his own political motivations to interfere with the legislative process he’s been elected to facilitate?

It seems that politicians and others not directly associated with education still believe, despite evidence that overwhelmingly indicates otherwise, that test resistance is only about teacher evaluation: a belief that is inherently insulting to the parents who are working so hard to fight reforms that they know to be bad for their children. (NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer acknowledged as much in the following statement.)

“NJEA appreciates Senator Sweeney’s and Senator Ruiz’s acknowledgment that the stakes for PARCC should not be raised next year. However, we still strongly support legislation placing a moratorium on all use of PARCC results for at least three years. Parents and educators alike are clearly very troubled by PARCC, and for good reason. We call on the Senate to pass all four bipartisan PARCC bills that have already passed the Assembly by overwhelming margins. Parents, students and educators deserve to know that legislators have heard them and are willing to act on their behalf. Passing those four bills is an important first step.”

Is the Sweeney/Ruiz proposition to Hespe an attempt to appease teachers in the hopes that they’ll stop voicing concerns about PARCC testing? Is it an attempt to cause a rift between educators and parents, who are working together to fight damaging education “reforms”? Is it Sweeney’s attempt–again–to save Governor Christie from having to veto the bill?

Either way, anyone who values the legislative process in New Jersey should call Senator Sweeney and demand that all four testing bills be posted for a vote. Because how can the State’s senators represent their constituents if they’re not given the opportunity to do so?


Here are links to and explanations of the four testing bills–and a link to contact legislators in support of the bills–from the Save Our Schools NJ website:

S2767/A4165 Protects students from “sit & stare” and other punitive measures imposed when their families refuse high-stakes standardized tests. A4165 was unanimously approved by the New Jersey Assembly on March 26, 2015.

S2768/A4190 Freezes the use of PARCC high-stakes standardized test scores for three years, to enable this experimental test to be proven effective before it is used to evaluate our children, our teachers, and our public schools. A4190 was approved by the New Jersey Assembly by a bipartisan vote of 63 Yes to 7 No, on February 23rd, 2015.

S2766/A3079 Prohibits the administration of non-diagnostic standardized tests prior to 3rd grade. A3079 was unanimously approved by the New Jersey Assembly on March 9, 2015.

S2765/A3077 Informs families of all standardized tests administered by school districts and charter schools, including their uses and costs. A 3077 was unanimously approved by the New Jersey Assembly on March 9, 2015.

Senator Teresa Ruiz, Education Committee Chair, and Commissioner David Hespe

Senator Teresa Ruiz, Education Committee Chair, and Commissioner David Hespe

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PARCC Study Commission Member: PARCC is Great

I’m not sure whether Dana Egreczky and Melanie Willoughby–co-authors of a pro-PARCC opinion piece published yesterday on nj.com–are parents of children in New Jersey’s public schools, but I do know that they’re not educators: the bio at the end of their piece lists Egreczky as a Senior VP of Workforce Development at the NJ Chamber of Commerce and Willoughby as a Senior VP at the New Jersey Business & Industry Association.

The bio fails to mention, however, that Egreczky is also a member of the Governor’s Study Commission on the Use of Student Assessment in New Jersey.  (How’s that for objectivity? I wonder what Egreczky will contribute to the Commission’s final report–and whether her staunch support of PARCC, including her organization’s membership in We Raise NJ–should preclude her from having input into it. Let’s not forget that David Hespe, Chair of the Study Commission, published a similar defense of PARCC on February 24th. But I digress.)

According to Egreczky and Willoughby, New Jersey employers have been increasingly plagued–specifically in the past decade–by high school and college graduates who are “underprepared for the workplace.” The solution, according to Egreczky and Willoughby, is clear: Common Core and PARCC.

But even a cursory reading of this piece exposes the many problems that arise when people who have no understanding of the intricacies of K-12 education drive reforms that reshape it–particularly when such reforms are met with overwhelming opposition from parents and educators. Some specific issues:

  1. It’s not surprising that the OECD report the authors cite links directly to the Educational Testing $ervice website, where the preface notes that the report’s authors chose to focus on millennials’ job skills because millennials are “the most recent products of our educational system.”  While the results of the report are content for an entirely different post (see Jersey Jazzman here), it’s important to note that the millennials in question, “the most recent products of our educational system,” are actually products of No Child Left Behind–the 2001 standards-based ESEA reauthorization that relies heavily upon punitive high-stakes standardized testing.  Why would anyone believe that more standardized testing–with higher stakes attached–will “fix” public schools or our “unprepared” future workers?
  2. The authors claim that “47 percent of first year, full-time public college and university students in New Jersey have to retake high school math or English classes”–a statistic they attribute to (without providing documentation) the NJ Secretary of Higher Education. Such a statistic without context is virtually meaningless. Why were these students forced to retake English or math courses? (Was it because of Accuplacer or other test results? Did the colleges/universities require the courses?) Are these students from public, private, or charter schools? Are they all from New Jersey–or just enrolled in college here? Does the statistic include non-native English speakers? students with learning disabilities? students who returned to college after years without schooling? (See Rowan mathematics professor Eric Milou’s challenge of similar misuses of statistics here.)
  3. The authors claim that “our children are missing out on a considerable advantage because we have become complacent with their education.” Complacent? Who has become “complacent”? Educators? Parents? The thousands of parents and educators who are speaking out against reforms they know are bad for students? As a teacher, I find this statement to be wildly offensive, and I’d venture to guess that most educators who have dedicated their professional lives to educating New Jersey’s students–and most parents who advocate daily on behalf of their children–would agree.
  4. Not surprisingly, the authors include one of the most frequently-cited (yet most-ridiculous) PARCC selling points: that the test results will “provide detailed information that help parents and teachers work with students to improve their performance and better prepare them for the later stages of their academic and professional careers.” I’ve said this many times before and I’ll say it again: I have never learned anything new about any of my students from their scores on a standardized test. Ever. And while PARCC cheerleaders claim that the PARCC assessments are “different” from and “better” than other standardized tests, there is absolutely no evidence to support such a claim. (I also refuse to believe that Pearson-scored test results which will be returned half a year after my students take the PARCC assessments will be useful to teachers or parents in any way–even if the score reports are printed in pretty colors.)
  5. Returning to Dana Egreczky’s position as a member of the Study Commission: Ms. Egreczky says in this piece that her organization, the NJ Chamber of Commerce, “enthusiastically joined the We Raise NJ coalition and pledged to support the transition to better quality standardized tests for our teachers and students.” As such, Ms. Egreczky should be removed from the Study Commission, as she cannot possibly be objective in her participation.

Ultimately, it’s glaringly evident–especially from the dozens of reader comments on the Egreczky and Willoughby opinion piece–that New Jerseyans have grown tired of people who have no experience with education using superficial arguments to create and promote education policy that’s inherently flawed.

Perhaps if groups like the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce and the New Jersey Business and Industry Association are interested in attracting more prepared workers to New Jersey’s businesses, they should advocate for vocational education, which has been cut in the name of the reading- and math-prep that PARCC promotes; insist on high-quality on-the-job-training instead of suggesting that PARCC reading and math tests will do anything to prepare students for the workforce; support–instead of oppose–minimum-wage increases; and advocate for–instead of against–paid sick leave for New Jersey’s workers. Because as we focus almost exclusively on ensuring our students are good test-takers, and as the middle class diminishes, and as poverty and hardship become increasingly common in New Jersey and around the country, our students and their families will suffer–and so will the sacred test scores that misguided reformers value above all else.

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The Press of Atlantic City editorial board tells people to “relax” about PARCC. Really?

This morning, the editorial board at the Press of Atlantic City published a piece that compares widespread, bipartisan, and surging resistance to the Common Core-aligned PARCC exams to other “anxiety attacks” to which Americans are evidently prone. Their conclusion: “Relax, folks.

How shortsighted, condescending, dismissive, and ignorant.

My first question, obviously, is this: what authority does the editorial board at the Press of Atlantic City have to comment on the test-refusal movement that’s sweeping New Jersey? Are there any education experts on the board? Any parents of public school children? And how carefully have the board members researched, tracked, and evaluated the very real and very alarming concerns that are driving the test-refusal movement?

As I am not a regular reader of the Press of Atlantic City, I don’t know the answers to these questions. I am, however, shocked at the arrogance it takes for an editorial board to proclaim that four legislative bills that have bipartisan support–and that have generated extraordinary public participation in the legislative process–are “unnecessary.” I’m shocked at the arrogance it takes for an editorial board to call what most would label a public-education crisis as “hoo-ha.” And perhaps most importantly, I’m shocked at the arrogance and ignorance it takes for an editorial board to suggest that people “relax” and “withhold judgment and give the test a try.”

Actually, New Jersey parents, educators, and taxpayers have “give[n] the test a try.” Take the PARCC events are being conducted all over the state, and at such events, glaring problems with both the test and the technology it requires have been exposed. People with PhDs have attempted the PARCC and decried its content and construction and have expressed doubt about whether they themselves would earn a passing scores. Literacy experts like Russ Walsh have determined that the tests are designed to fail students because the reading levels of test passages are inappropriate for children in many grades. Teachers have been in-serviced on the PARCC tests and instructed by their superiors–who feel virtually threatened by the NJDOE–to directly teach to the PARCC tests. And just this week, schools that began administering the PARCC tests early ran into “glitches” that forced them to cancel testing altogether for the day.

(I wonder if members of the Press of Atlantic City editorial board have attended any Take the PARCC events–or even tried, independently, the practice tests that are available online. If so, I’d be interested to hear their reactions–and see their scores.)

We’ve also seen, firsthand, the ways in which the PARCC tests have forced a narrowing of the curriculum, promoted cuts in academic and extracurricular programs, impeded children’s natural love of learning, and required districts to spend hundreds of thousands in taxpayer dollars to comply with the NJDOE’s unfunded mandates.  

And let’s not forget to mention the problems with Pearson, the British for-profit corporation that produces and scores the tests (actually, people who respond to Craigslist solicitations score the tests for $11/hour) and has a decades-long history of test-construction and scoring errors and millions in payouts in legal settlements.

Has the Press of Atlantic City editorial board considered any of this–or that more than a dozen states that initially signed up for PARCC dropped it before they could even administer the tests?

The board the goes on to blame “special interest groups” like the Tea Party and the NJEA for the widespread test resistance that’s happening in New Jersey, but in what is perhaps the most offensive paragraph in the piece, the board concludes this:

And the parents who say the test is making their children anxious are also overstating their case, in our opinion. Schools have been giving standardized tests — and students have been anxious about them — for decades. And if truth be told, parents and teachers have a lot to do with inducing that anxiety.

Unbelievable.

Yes, it’s true that standardized tests have been around for decades; adults who went through public schools before the NCLB testing craze began likely remember the low-stakes CAT or IOWA tests–or elective, higher-stakes tests like the SATs. The punitive testing we’re experiencing under NCLB and RTtT, though, is nothing like anything we have ever seen, and the damage it’s doing is unprecedented.

Blaming that damage on parents and teachers is immeasurably reckless, irresponsible, and insulting.

But I suppose that only people who have an actual understanding of the educational process, the complexity of child development, and the implications of the PARCC assessment–and not people who sit in behind news desks and blindly direct those who are wholeheartedly invested in and concerned for our children, teachers, and public schools to “relax”–would understand why.

 

 

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Free PARCC test prep delivered to your phone from your friendly NJPTA!

Yes, for real.

The PTA has been under a great deal of scrutiny lately, mostly because of the organization’s Gates-funded support for a host of education reforms that are categorically bad for kids, teachers, and public education.

In January, I wrote about the National PTA’s horrific decision to feature Steve Perry in its monthly publication, and more recently, the New Jersey PTA has been criticized by parents and teachers–you know, the people the organization says it represents–who are angry about all the Common Core and PARCC cheerleading the organization has been doing. (I’ll qualify this post by saying, again, that I love and appreciate my local PTA–because it directly benefits our school community. Credit for this success at the local level goes directly to our local PTA parents and the positive relationships they maintain with our town’s teachers and students.)

In addition to stumping for CCSS/PARCC on their Facebook page, NJPTA officers have been attempting to maintain a covert yet public presence at events where PARCC is discussed. Last month, Darcie Cimarusti reported that a “PTA plant” was the sole PARCC supporter in a group of over 60 parents and teachers who testified in front of the Study Commission in Jackson. If you haven’t read Darcie’s post yet, you should read it now.

The NJPTA is also behind “We Raise NJ,” a coalition that’s made up of PARCC cheerleaders like the NJSBA, NJASA, NJPSA, and NJ Chamber of Commerce. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, “We Raise NJ” is evidently planning a pro-PARCC “informational effort” in response to parent and teacher opposition to the tests, probably because incoming NJPTA president Rose Acerra’s believes that “there is a small group of parents making noise, but…there are more who are looking up to us to give them information.”

Let’s start with the obvious question: what authority does the NJPTA have to disseminate information about the PARCC exam? I’ve checked the organization’s list of Board Officers, and I haven’t been able to find anyone who has experience as an educator or other credentials that foster an understanding of curriculum, instruction, and/or assessment.

But who cares! Because in its quest to give out “information” about PARCC, the NJPTA is willing to text people weekly test-prep tips in advance of the assessments. Here’s what they posted on their Facebook page last night:

 

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 8.09.09 AM

 

That’s right, people: PARCC prep should be on your daily to-do list: right up there with feeding your children and dog and respecting the environment. (Does the absence of a check-mark next to “Get ready for PARCC” suggest that the NJPTA believes parents have been negligent in this area of family life? Does the highlighting suggest that PARCC prep is more important than the chores listed above it?!)

None of my regular readers will be shocked to learn that I *immediately* signed up to get my test-prep tips, and although I’m not in the classroom now because today’s my first official day of maternity leave, I’m looking forward to sharing PARCC test-taking tips with my newborn once he arrives so I can make sure he’s College and Career Ready.  (To be clear–the NJPTA texts will be test-prep tips, even though some members of “We Raise NJ” have tried to claim that teachers can’t teach to the PARCC test. If the NJPTA were interested in promoting critical thinking, it would ask parents to text “CRITICAL THINKING” instead of “PREP” to the number listed in the picture above.)

In order to get my first “tip,” I had to send the NJPTA my name and email address. I’m not sure why or what they’ll do with it, but I’m assuming my information has been added to some sort of “friends-of-PARCC” database. (#winning!) Here’s what popped up once I was completely enrolled:

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A tip about using highlighters to “dissect” nonfiction passages!! Super useful.

But I wonder if the NJPTA knows that students often work with the same text for a long sequence of questions that appear on many different screens–and that any highlighting students do on any given screen is lost when they move on to the next question.

I wonder if the NJPTA understands that highlighters aren’t very effective tools for “dissecting” passages, which is why many teachers encourage annotations rather than highlighting.

And, not to split hairs, I wonder if the NJPTA has read the CCSS ELA standards for Grade 3, which require students to “ensure subject-verb and pronoun-antecedent agreement.” (The person who composed “Tip #1″ failed to recognize “child” as a singular antecedent and “them” as a plural pronoun. Whoops!)

Although I’m a *little* concerned that this NJPTA text-party is more of an effort to promote a political agenda than it is to help students succeed academically, I do encourage all parents who care about their children’s College and Career Readiness to sign up for the NJPTA’s PARCC tips. (It’ll be fun! “Hey, kids: I just got a text from the PTA! Drop your toys, find some nonfiction, and grab a highlighter!”)

And don’t worry: if you don’t like the test-prep tips the NJPTA has to offer, you can “text STOP to opt-out” of the updates. (I know!)

Or, you could consider sending an entirely different message to the organization:

 

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P.S. Don’t forget to feed your children and the dog! Thanks.

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Guest Post: NJ 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.,).[i]

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 parents’ right to opt their children 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).”[ii]

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.”[iii]

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.

[i] http://www.state.nj.us/education/schools/achievement/index.html

[ii] http://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/statutes/statutes/118/30

[iii] Title 5 of the California Code of Regulations, Division 1, Chapter 2, Subchapter 3.75.

 

 

 95% participation

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