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:
- 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?
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.