Last month, NJEA and the D.C. based Mellman Group, Inc. conducted a New Jersey statewide survey of 1,000 likely voters, and the results were overwhelmingly clear: when it comes to issues facing today’s public school children, teachers and parents know best.
The NJDOE, legislators, and other non-educators? Not so much.
While virtually every polling question used in the survey is worth discussing (you can see the complete results of the poll here, here, and here, and you can read an op-ed from NJEA’s Wendell Steinhauer and Save Our Schools NJ’s Susan Cauldwell here), I’ll limit myself to a few:
First and foremost, voters confirmed a long-acknowledged phenomenon that’s not limited to New Jersey: that people are generally very happy with their public schools and their public school teachers.
Despite their confidence in New Jersey’s schools and teachers, though, voters are concerned about the direction in which public education in New Jersey is heading—because of mandates being imposed by the state and federal governments—and an overwhelming percentage of both parents and voters believe that there is too much emphasis on standardized tests in teaching public school children.
The concerns? Standardized testing “causes stress for students”; “takes time and money from other educational priorities”; forces teachers to “teach to the test”; does not “provide a good measure of each individual student”; and is “given too much weight when used to make decisions on teachers, schools, and students.”
(This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone paying attention to the statewide and nationwide debates about PARCC testing, but somehow, many people–including NJ Commissioner of Education David Hespe–still believe that parents and educators with concerns about the assessments represent a very small percentage of the population.)
According to the survey and in response to the testing craze, a majority of parents and voters oppose making PARCC tests a graduation requirement; want to “limit the number of hours spent on standardized testing”; want to “stop giving standardized tests to students below the 3rd grade”; want to “give parents the right of refusal [opt-out] so that their kids don’t have to take standardized tests”; and want testing companies to disclose both the amount of profit they make from taxpayer money spent on standardized tests and the political contributions they make with such profits. In short, they favor the creation of a testing Bill of Rights (see slide at the bottom of this post) that addresses these concerns.
Why? The poll results speak for themselves:
And not surprisingly, parents and voters ranked teachers and parents the most trustworthy people on the issue of standardized testing. Only 12% of parents and 15% of voters believe that the New Jersey Department of Education has credibility with regard to this issue, and only 3% of parents and 4% of voters believe that state legislators are trustworthy when it comes to issues surrounding high-stakes testing.
(It’s worth noting here that when the Delran Education Association hosted a “Take the PARCC” event for nearly 500 parents, educators, and community members, not one legislator attended even though more than a dozen received personal invitations. Commissioner Hespe got a personal invitation, too–but he didn’t show up either.)
It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the consensus among likely voters about standardized testing could be more overwhelming. Yet despite statewide and nationwide opposition to testing and other reforms, many powers that be refuse to deviate from their “we-know-better-than-you-what’s-best-for-kids” course.
And while the NJDOE, the NJPTA, the NJSBA, the NJPSA, and legislators all over the state continue to cheerlead for high-stakes standardized tests and dismiss the glaring concerns of people who actually know what’s good for children, they reinforce the concern that this level of bureaucratic interference in public education is unlike anything we’ve ever seen.
And parents, educators, and voters say ENOUGH.
Enough of empty, unfounded, and inflammatory statements like George Bush’s ridiculous claim that “rarely is the question asked: ‘is our children learning?” Teachers assess their kids every single day.
Enough of non-educators cheapening and oversimplifying the learning process by claiming that standardized testing is simply a necessary and innocuous way to measure students’ academic progress.
Enough with the empty claims that unproven standardized tests produced and scored by error-plagued, corrupt, for-profit corporations will somehow give us valuable information about the children we see and interact with every day. In my 14 years of teaching, a standardized test has NEVER told me something about a child that I didn’t know within the first month of school. Ever.
Enough of federal and state policy constructed solely around the quest to hunt and root out all the nameless, faceless “bad teachers” that supposedly plague our schools despite overwhelming evidence which shows the opposite.
Enough with inhumane policies that attempt to force even our smallest children to take tests that their parents and educators know are worthless.
Enough with education policy that’s driven by a fundamental belief that teachers are, as a profession, “bad,” that students and schools, in general, are “failing,” and that incessant testing is the “solution” to the problems facing public education.
And enough with legislators and other education officials who refuse to engage in discussions about standardized testing and other reforms with parents or educators.
All this in the state whose schools are consistently labeled–using multiple measures and not just standardized test scores—as the best in the nation.
All this in the state whose leaders have determine that sweeping, top-down, one-size-fits-all reforms are necessary for all public schools because teachers are ill-equipped to assess their own students–and despite glaring evidence that the poverty, violence, and inequality that plague many urban NJ districts correlate directly with the academic struggles of students in those regions.
And all this in the state that’s led by a governor who insists that high-stakes standardized tests, no-excuses discipline policies, longer school days and years, the Common Core, and PARCC are absolutely necessary for all of our public school kids—yet he pays tens of thousands of dollars per year to send his children to a school that operates according the exact opposite philosophies.
So here are some ideas for New Jersey’s education policymakers and policy-promoters:
If your only experience with K-12 education is your own as a student, please acknowledge that you cannot possibly speak about the complexity of a child’s education or the educational climate in today’s public schools with any kind of authority.
If you criticize children, parents, and teachers without having any idea of what goes on in public schools every day, either make a concerted effort to visit schools, talk to parents and students, and talk to teachers before you make dangerous generalizations–or just stay out of it.
If you promote or create education policies based solely on “data” that you’ve “unpacked” and numbers you’ve crunched from your seat behind a non school district-issued desk, have the respect to defer to the professionals who make a career out of educating children and the parents whose children suffer every day from your arrogant, ignorant, and ill-conceived policies.
If you hang your hat on reforms that sound good in theory but are fundamentally flawed in practice, please reevaluate your own understanding of K-12 education and the extent to which you’re entitled to speak as an authority about it.
If you have been elected to represent the people of New Jersey, you need to listen to what those people are saying about Common Core and PARCC–and respond accordingly. (Thank you to those legislators who are already doing so.)
If you fail to see the value in local control of education and in district and educator autonomy, please visit the communities your policies affect and speak with stakeholders there.
If you send your children to schools that are exempt from the reforms you impose on other people’s children, please ask yourself why you feel that your children don’t need to be assessed incessantly by flawed measures–but other people’s children do.
If you’re unwilling to have a discussion about educational reforms with the people those reforms affect every day, you should step down and make room for someone who is.
And if you’re still sure that PARCC is a great test that we should impose on all of New Jersey’s public school children every year, please take the test and publish your scores.
Because as we speak, desperate parents who love their kids’ teachers and schools are discussing home-schooling and private-schooling options because the death-grip of an over-reliance on standardized testing in public schools is becoming virtually inescapable. Desperate children are learning to hate school instead of love it–because programs they enjoy and value have been cut in the name of test prep. Desperate teachers who have lost autonomy and whose professional judgment has been deemed worthless are fleeing the profession that’s become virtually unrecognizable to them. Desperate school leaders are doing everything they can—even when their directives go against what they know to be best for children–to ensure that test scores in their buildings go up so their schools aren’t turned over to private corporations. Desperate taxpayers are watching as hundreds of millions of dollars are diverted to testing corporations and data-mining companies because of unfunded mandates imposed by state and federal governments. And a new wave of teachers who have no basis for comparison and think that test prep is what teaching is all about are pouring into our schools—particularly in urban areas—and blindly accepting the scripted models that are being fed to them in the name of “accountability.”
But then again, maybe these really are end-goals of the educational policies promoted by many of the powers that be in New Jersey: “prove” failure and use it as justification to drive people from the public school system and into the hands of private corporations.