Monthly Archives: October 2014

About today’s NJDOE memo…

If you haven’t yet read the broadcast that New Jersey Education Commissioner David Hespe sent to district leaders today, read it here.

Then, think about these problems with that broadcast:

Problem #1:

“The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 requires schools with students in grades three through twelve to demonstrate Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). In order to make AYP, a school must ensure that assessments have been taken by at least ninety-five percent (95%) of enrolled students in each subgroup, i.e., special education, English language learners, low income, race/ethnicity. Federal funding of key education programs is dependent upon districts meeting this requirement.”

New Jersey, like most other states in the nation, was awarded a NCLB waiver–rendering the AYP requirement virtually meaningless for most districts. Beyond that, the issue is difficult to explain concisely (here’s a link with some good info; it’s from NY, but much of it applies to NJ as well)–so more on the now-irrelevant 95% figure later.

Problem #2:

“Since the PARCC assessment is part of the State required educational program, schools are not required to provide an alternative educational program for students who do not participate in the statewide assessment. We encourage all chief school administrators to review the district’s discipline and attendance policies to ensure that they address situations that may arise during days that statewide assessments, such as PARCC, are being administered.”

So children whose parents refuse testing should be disciplined–and districts will be responsible for imposing those punishments? Note that districts “are not required” to make alternative accommodations for children whose parents refuse testing–but they’re also not prohibited from doing so. (Expect more backlash against and legal challenges to sit-and-stare policies if they’re instituted this year.)

Problem #3:

“Throughout a student’s educational career, the PARCC assessments will provide parents with important information about their child’s progress toward meeting the goal of being college or career ready. The PARCC assessments will, for the first time, provide detailed diagnostic information about each individual student’s performance that educators, parents and students can utilize to enhance foundational knowledge and student achievement.”

This statement essentially suggests that the assessments New Jersey students have been taking for years (NJASK/HSPA) were worthless. If that’s true, why were students who scored partially proficient on the HSPA denied diplomas because of their scores? Why were they forced to participate in the AHSA process–which, in many districts, was offered in lieu of academic or elective courses and which sometimes lasted beyond a student’s senior year of high school–until they passed the HSPA? Why did many districts use NJASK and HSPA scores as justification for remedial course placements? Why did we devote so many instructional hours to inferior testing? Why did the NJDOE promote and tie high stakes to such inadequate tests for so long? What evidence does the NJDOE have that PARCC assessments are valid measures of student learning and/or achievement? What can one test “diagnose” that classroom teachers cannot? And, ultimately, why should parents trust the DOE’s evaluation of any assessment–especially an unproven and controversial one like PARCC–if it was so wrong about the NJASK and HSPA?

Problem #4:

“The data derived from the assessment will be utilized by teachers and administrators to pinpoint areas of difficulty and customize instruction accordingly. Such data can be accessed and utilized as a student progresses to successive school levels.”

To suggest that teachers need scores on flawed standardized tests to identify “areas of difficulty” and to “customize instruction accordingly” completely undermines educators’ professionalism and judgment. There are far too many issues with the construction, validity, and scoring of these tests to allow them to be used to shape instruction.

The root of the problem:

“N.J.A.C. 6A:8-4.1(a) and (b) provides, “[t]he Commissioner…may implement assessment of student achievement in the State’s public schools in any grade(s) and by such assessments as he or she deems appropriate.”

Most parents and teachers opposed to high-stakes standardized tests do not share Commissioner Hespe’s belief that tests like PARCC are “appropriate”; instead, many believe them to be destructive to students’ overall educational experiences–and to public education in general.

Today’s broadcast is more evidence that the NJDOE supports–with renewed energy–the failed test-and-punish policies that parents, educators, and experts across the nation have been speaking out against for years. We all know that it’s impossible to force a child to take a test, but evidently the DOE believes that it can scare children and families into complying with PARCC mandates even if those families express fundamental opposition to them.

Ultimately, it will still be up to districts and local boards of education to determine how they’ll handle the inevitable refusals that are coming this year, and as was the case last year, expect policies to vary widely from district to district.


Adding: here’s my more personal response to Commissioner Hespe.



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E3: “on a track to shut down the traditional Camden public school system.”

The New Jersey School Choice and Education Reform Alliance (NJSCERA) hosted a Statewide Conference on the Common Core Standards Initiative in Edison, New Jersey on Tuesday, October 21st. The event was moderated by Michael Petrilli of the Fordham Institute and John Mooney from NJ Spotlight–and was sponsored primarily by Excellent Education for Everyone (E3), an organization that was founded in 1999 by Peter Denton and Cory Booker to provide “a 360° comprehensive approach to urban educational reform and choice” and to explore and promote a voucher system that would use taxpayer dollars to privatize education in New Jersey.

This morning, Save Our Schools New Jersey posted video footage of the NJSCERA conference, which ended with Peter Denton stating his organization’s goals for Camden:

“We’re actually on a track to shut down the traditional Camden public school system. And in five to seven years it literally might not exist anymore.” 


Stunning honesty!

Please watch this 30 second video.

In it, Peter Denton refers to the intentional and imminent shutting down of all public schools in Camden!

Peter Denton is the Chair of the Board of E3, the group he created with his wife and with Cory Booker, for the purpose of advocating for taxpayer-funded vouchers to pay for private and religious education.

This comment took place at an October 21, 2014 conference that E3 hosted to discuss the Common Core in New Jersey.

Mr. Denton’s comments come seconds after Commission of Education David Hespe completed his own remarks and minutes after New Jersey Senate President Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Prieto spoke.

The destruction of all public schools in Camden is being forcibly carried out by the Christie Administration’s state controlled superintendent, with the strong support of the South Jersey democratic political machine of George Norcross.

Commissioner Hespe and the Camden Superintendent have repeatedly denied that they are intentionally destroying public education in the city.

Yet here, their close ally speaks honestly about the fact that this is exactly what they are doing.

The people of Camden, overwhelmingly Black and Brown and very low income, have been completely disenfranchised. As residents of the only state-controlled district without even an elected Board of Education, they have had no voice whatsoever in whether their public schools are privatized.

The people of New Jersey as a whole have had no say either.

The entire four hour video of the event is available here: These remarks were made in the closing minutes of the event.

It’s becoming increasingly clear, and Denton’s remarks are additional confirmation, that in urban districts across the country, “choice” is really a misnomer for the corporate takeover of public education that’s imposed on residents–mostly low-income and minority populations–who have no say in such educational decisions.

Last week, the Education Law Center revealed an alarming discrepancy in the number of reported and operating charter schools in New Jersey and highlighted the ways in which the Christie administration has ignored existing charter school laws in approving new charters across the state. Most recently, Mastery, Uncommon, and KIPP–all national charter chains–were approved to open 16 schools in Camden. (It’s important to note, too, that charter chains have pushed out home-grown charters that operated independently and locally.)

What does this mean for the children of Camden, who are being turned over to charters without their consent? Rutgers professor Stephen Danley explains that many of the district’s schools–even traditional public ones–are being compelled to institute “no excuses” discipline policies that charter chains like Mastery, Uncommon, and KIPP promote:

There has been a lot of attention, and rightfully so, to the opening and approval of new “No Excuses” charters in Camden. These schools have questionable pedagogical practices, and a putrid record of educating black males. But, as of the latest numbers of new “No Excuses” school attendees were only in the low 500s. Plenty of students remain in traditional public schools, and those schools are being forcibly remade in the image of charters. They are adopting “No Excuses”-style discipline, pedagogical methods, and even using assessment tests from Uncommon’s North Star Academy in Newark.

Such policies, which according to University of Pennsylvania professor Joan Goodman are implemented as early as kindergarten in “no excuses” schools, promote “submission” and “obedience”–and the schools that implement them have high attrition rates that disproportionately affect black boys.  (See here for an account from a student at Mastery’s Lenfest campus in Philadelphia, where students are forced to wear demerit cards around their necks if their shirts are untucked, for example.)

What’s particularly striking about the push for corporate “no excuses” charter expansion is that while educational options like KIPP, Uncommon, and Mastery purport to give families educational “choices” that are superior to the experiences students would otherwise have at traditional public schools (which, by the way, have been so chronically underfunded and neglected by policymakers and educational leaders that many students don’t even have permanent teachers), students must “submit”  in order to be test-prepped to produce acceptable scores on standardized tests. Ironically, students seem to have very little autonomy and very few “choices” within the walls of “no excuses” schools.

The question that persists, then–particularly when wealthy non-educators like Peter Denton and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie promote “no-excuses” schools in urban areas without community members’ consent or approval–is would policymakers who promote “no excuses” charters willingly send their own children to such schools?

As many have pointed out in the past, Governor Christie‘s sons attend Delbarton, a Catholic school in Morristown whose approach to discipline stands in stark opposition to the policies of “no excuses” schools (emphasis mine):

The School’s code eschews the exploitative, the manipulative, the coercive, or the negative and merely punitive approach to school discipline. The School honors the principle that the development of self-discipline and self-actualizing occurs in the young man who becomes increasingly aware of his own behavior and motivations, and more responsible to the needs of others, and more tolerant of their differences.

Another example: New York State Commissioner of Education John King promotes “no excuses” charters but sends his own children to a Montessori school.  See Maria Montessori’s disciplinary philosophy:

“Discipline must come through liberty . . . we do not consider an individual disciplined only when he has been rendered as artificially silent as a mute and as immovable as a paralytic. He is an individual annihilated, not disciplined.”

If proponents of education “reform” choose for their own children schools that value student autonomy and freedom, why would they impose the exact opposite on minority, impoverished, and urban students in cities like Camden and Newark? If proponents of education reform truly and fundamentally believe that harsh, negative, and punitive approaches to discipline are bad for their own children (and we can assume they do based on their “choice” of schools), how can they–in good conscience–claim that such policies are good for other people’s children?

Ultimately, the imposition of “no excuses” charters on urban communities without parental consent or input (or, as is the case in Camden, despite parental opposition)–coupled with the deliberate starving of traditional public schools–is a glaring example of the shameful farce we know better as “school choice.”


I don’t care about the community criticism,” Christie said. “We run the school district in Newark, not them.”

Image from



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Shocking news: Chris Christie lied about the NJEA

On October 11th, Chris Christie–with his best “I’m really sincere” face–said this to NAACP leaders:

“I think its interesting that there’s this perception of ‘disrespect’ towards public employees. I find it fascinating. I really do. And here’s why: I come out and say what I believe needs to be a policy for a state-whether it’s education reform, whether it’s spending reform, whether it’s tax reform, whether it’s litigation reform…any of those issues. I come out and say what I believe. It’s my  job as governor. I’m obligated to do that.

I will tell you though, at times, that I feel like the ‘disrespect’ in this relationship has been disproportionate. See, when a public employee union in this state between January of 2010 and mid year of 2013 spends tens of million of dollars in ads that says things like,Chris Christie: He loves millionaires; he hates children.’

No matter of what any of you may think of me politically in this room, I do not believe there is a person of goodwill in this room who believes that I hate children. Not one. But it’s an interesting moment in a public servant’s life when you’re driving down the New Jersey Turnpike, and your children see a billboard that says that their father hates children. Now, of all the things I’ve said over time, about leaders of public employee unions, I’ve never said they hate their children. I’ve never said they hate their family. I don’t think I ever said they hate anybody. It’s a big thing to say, everybody.”

First of all, about the “perception of ‘disrespect’ towards public employees” that the governor simply cannot understand and in no way perpetuates: please. See herehere, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Yes: the disrespect certainly has been disproportionate–on Christie’s part.

And about the child-hating: evidently Christie is referring to ads run by the New Jersey Education Association, which was the only organization running anti-Christie billboards during the time frame the governor cites.  True, the NJEA did call attention to Christie’s love affair with millionaires–but nowhere, ever, did any NJEA ads accuse the governor of hating children.

Below is a photograph of the actual 2011 NJEA billboard that was part of the union’s “Millionaires for Christie” campaign that year. Since nothing about child-hating jumps out at me when I look at it–perhaps I’m missing something, though–I can only assume that 1) the child-hating message is written in invisible ink, and Governor Christie has invisible-ink vision; 2) the child-hating message is written in code, and the Governor Christie has a secret decoder pen that translated “Tell Governor Christie: protect our schools, not millionaires” to “Chris Christie hates children”; or 3) Chris Christie is actually saying “I hate children” with his eyes in this photograph–and he just doesn’t realize that it’s not explicitly written on the billboard.

Or, perhaps, Christie just lied.


NJEA 2011 billboard


Whatever the explanation, I’d love to see a photograph of the mythical Christie-Hates-Children billboard that the governor says was displayed so prominently on the New Jersey Turnpike sometime between 2010 and 2013. I’m sorry that in all of my travels on that highway during those three years, I somehow missed it.

And finally, to all you union bosses out there: just remember that Chris Christie has NEVER said that YOU hate children.

Just that you use them as “drug mules.

Adding: see Jersey Jazzman’s awesome recap of all the times Christie has disparaged teachers and their unions; he is completely on-point when he concludes that “@GovChristie is SOLELY responsible for a climate of disrespect toward NJ teachers.”


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Dear Teachers: Feed the Data Monster. Rigorously and with Grit.

Dear teachers,

Now that the 2014-2015 school year is well underway, I’m writing to you with a friendly reminder of what everyone already knows: you suck.

And because you suck, your students suck, too. (Yes, even the ones whose white suburban moms thought they were brilliant.)

But don’t worry, because the federal and state Departments of Education have the answer: DATA. We should all be obsessed with data, they say; we should be collecting it, tracking it, analyzing it–and even sharing it.

So guess what, sucky teachers: if Those Who Know Best want data, then let them have data!

Here are some ideas. Get your spreadsheets ready!

  1. Track the number of hours you’re required to spend prepping for standardized tests that you know do not measure your students’ abilities or your worth as a teacher.
  2. Track the number of materials you’re required to use (textbooks, workbooks, pre-loaded software, online programs, etc.) that come directly from test-prep corporations.
  3. Track the amount of instructional time you and your students will lose because of standardized testing.
  4. Track the number of programs your district has been forced to cut in order to make room for test prep.
  5. Track the number of personnel your district has been forced to cut in order to free up funds for CCSS/PARCC implementation.
  6. Track the number of kids who cry, become frustrated, express a dislike for school, or get physically sick because of the focus on standardized testing that you know is bad for kids.
  7. Track the number of things you’d like to do–or used to do–in your classroom that you can’t do now because of standardized testing or other education “reforms.”
  8. Track the amount of money your district has spent fulfilling the requirements of unfunded mandates sent down from the state and feds.
  9. Track the number of professional development hours you receive that come directly from things that don’t improve your instruction (i.e. SGO training, PARCC training, etc.)–and then track the number of meaningful professional development hours you’ve missed out on (i.e. content-specific workshops, child development training, etc.) because of your previous list.
  10. Track your students’ attendance patterns (no names, of course!)–especially since attendance isn’t considered in SGP calculations.
  11. Track issues that affect your students outside of school and have a direct impact on their ability to learn.
  12. Track and describe the ways in which your district is in violation of special education laws and regulations.
  13. Track all of the things you’re forced to do that go against your best judgment and what you know to be appropriate for children.
  14. Track the number of hours you’ve spent learning about SGOs; writing SGOs; revising SGOs; submitting SGOs; fulfilling SGOs; keeping records on SGOs; meeting with administrators about SGOs; being confused by all the conflicting information about SGOs; and thinking about all the ways in which the SGO process is flawed, not grounded in research, and generally useless to both teachers and students.
  15. Track the number of hours you spend inputting your lesson plans into an online template in order to conform to a prescribed format. Be sure to include the number of hours you spend revisiting, revising, and resubmitting lesson plans.
  16. Track all the things you’re forced to do that do not improve your instruction–and do not improve student learning.
  17. Track the number of things you’re forced to do that undermine your judgment, expertise, and professionalism.
  18. Track rigor!
  19. Track grit!
  20. Track the number of hours you spend doing schoolwork outside of your contractual day.
  21. Track the amount of money you’ve spent on things for your students and your classroom.
  22. Track the amount of money you contribute to your pension and health benefits (you mean teachers don’t get these things for free?!); be sure to make note that increasing pension and benefit contributions have caused your paycheck to go down steadily over the past few years. (If you’re in New Jersey, you can also track the amount of money Chris Christie hasn’t contributed to your pensions, and instead has shipped to high-risk hedge funds that directly benefit his friends–although David Sirota is doing a phenomenal job of this already.)
  23. Finally, to REALLY get on everyone’s nerves, track the positive things your students say to you or about you. (Warning, though: data monsters HATE this because such things are obviously subjective, immeasurable, and meaningless.)

Track anything else you feel is relevant. And once you’ve compiled all your data, share it with everyone.

Show it to your colleagues, your administrators, your neighbors, your students’ parents, your legislators, and anyone else who cares.

Post it online.

Make a book out of it.

Tell everyone that the USDOE was your inspiration–and then write a letter to Arne Duncan thanking him for pointing out that you suck and suggesting that data collection is the best way for you to fix yourself. (Also, tell him I said hi–and remind him that I’m still waiting for him to take the standardized tests he’s forcing our kids to take and publish his scores. He’s ignored me for over a year.)

I know you’re all busy enough already, but you should always make time for data.




Cookie Monster


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Delran Education Association to Host “Take the PARCC” Event


The 2014-2015 academic year is well underway, and with it comes the promise of a new beginning for school children all over the country.

But with this new beginning also comes a new era of high-stakes standardized testing. This year, New Jersey’s public school children in grades 3-11 will take Common Core-aligned PARCC tests, a series of online assessments that “allow parents and educators to see how children are progressing in school and whether they are on track for postsecondary success”–and on September 30th, Education Commissioner David Hespe announced that all students, beginning with the Class of 2016 (current juniors), must pass at least one PARCC assessment each in math and language arts in order to graduate.

While virtually everyone agrees that meaningful assessment has an important role in the classroom, many parents, students, teachers, and taxpayers are becoming increasingly concerned about the extent to which high-stakes tests–and the issues associated with them–are shaping public education in the United States.

Because there is so much uncertainty and misinformation about standardized testing in general–and, more specifically, about PARCC assessments–the Delran Education Association will host a “Take the PARCC” night to allow parents, educators, board of education members, legislators, and taxpayers to experience online PARCC assessments and engage in a discussion about high-stakes testing that will address the following:

  • What is the purpose of PARCC testing–and how will the results of these tests be used?
  • Who creates and scores the PARCC?
  • What is the federal government’s role in standardized testing?
  • How many standardized tests will New Jersey students be required to take this year?
  • How much instructional time will be devoted to testing?
  • To what extent is curriculum being shaped by standardized testing?
  • To what extent are teachers being asked to use test-prep materials–produced and sold by testing corporations like Pearson–in class?
  • How has standardized testing affected children’s feelings about school?
  • What data is being collected about each student who takes standardized tests–and with whom is that data information shared?
  • How much do the PARCC tests–and the tecnhological and logistical requirements that accompany them–cost?
  • Are districts being forced to cut programs and/or personnel to budget for PARCC exams?
  • What, if anything, can local boards of education do about state- and federally-mandated testing?
  • What rights do parents have with regard to refusing testing for their children?
  • Who determines how districts handle refusals?
  • Could districts face negative consequences–financial or otherwise–if students refuse the tests?

We will be joined by Susan Cauldwell, lead organizer of Save Our Schools New Jersey, and we have extended invitations to other New Jersey student-advocacy groups. Announcements about their participation will be posted via social media in the weeks leading up to the event. Stay tuned for more information.

Anyone interested in participating in the Delran Education Association’s “Take the PARCC” event should mark their calendars with the information below and confirm their attendance by using the registration link below.


“Take the PARCC”*

Wednesday, December 3rd at 7pm

The Enterprise Center at Burlington County College

3331 Route 38

Mount Laurel, NJ 08054


*Because the PARCC is an online assessment, we ask that registrants bring their own wi-fi enabled devices to the event. (Laptops and tablets will work well; we do not recommend attendees use a smartphone.) The Delran Education Association will have a limited number of devices available for those who cannot bring their own, but attendees must request a device when they register.

Registration for this event is now open; please click here to reserve your spot ***UPDATE: this event is at capacity, and we regret that we cannot accept any more registrants. Thank you for your interest.

Please also visit us on Facebook.

Press Contact:

Michael Kaminski–President, Delran Education Association:

Ani McHugh–Delran Education Association:


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