From Thinking to Action

So today I sent the following email to each and every member of my local Board of Education, as well as to key administrators from our local school district.  If you are concerned about these issues, I urge you to do the same.  And as you’ll see from the text of my email (below), I addressed the many points we have in common.  Please speak out, write letters to the editor, etc.  But also, please try to do it in a way that builds consensus and creates bridges, rather than in a way that demonizes our public servants, who, after all, are trying (misguided as we might think they are sometimes) to serve the public.  As any teacher worth his or her salt knows, we are not going to teach anyone (much less persuade anyone), if we make them feel alienated and defensive.

So here’s what I wrote:

Dear Members of the Montclair Board of Education (and selected members of the Montclair Central Services Office):
First, I want to say thank you for all of your hard work.  Serving as a school board member in a town like Montclair is a thankless task, as every decision you make is going to be second-guessed by someone.  So I want to say thank you for your hard work in this thankless job, and to express my appreciation for the work that you do, even if I don’t always agree with all of the decisions that you make.
Second, I want to thank the District/Board for making the decision (which Gail Clarke discussed at the Hillside School PTA/parents’ meeting re: Common Core) to say thank you, but no thank you, to having Montclair students participate in this year’s field testing of the PARCC assessments.  We are undergoing a lot of change in the district this year, and I am glad that you made the decision not to heap that additional change onto our students and teachers this academic year.
Third, I wanted to raise some of my concerns about the new PARCC assessments, which Montclair isn’t field-testing this year, but which will, as of now, be administered to all New Jersey/Montclair Public School students in 2014-2015.  Here is a link to a blog post I recent wrote, which features a video of my daughter attempting to complete a PARCC math assessment item on the iPad:
I note that since that video was shot on Sunday, PARCC has apparently revised their website, and the general public now needs a username and password (and perhaps an iPad app) to access these sample assessment items “in their intended environment.”  I have written to PARCC requesting such access and more information about this change.  Perhaps the iPad app will solve the problems demonstrated in the video, and if so, I think that’s terrific, but I can’t try it as of now, so I don’t know.  I can tell you that if the interface doesn’t change substantially for the better from the one my daughter tried on the iPad on Sunday, I will seriously consider seeing if I can opt her out of those assessments (and encourage my friends and neighbors to do the same).  As a former teacher, I am not opposed to assessing kids, but I am opposed to making decisions based on failures of technology rather than failures of learning.  
Finally, I attended the 2/24 Board of Education meeting in its entirety, and I appreciate your time and attention to the speakers there, especially to the discussion from the Watchung teachers.  I hope that you will take those concerns seriously.  To that end, I direct you to a piece I recently published in The Washington Post, which implores our policy makers — that means all of you — to listen to and learn from our mostly wonderful teachers.  It was inspired in part (as was my blog more generally) by the local concerns I’ve seen with the relationship between our teachers, our administrators, our school board, our students, and our parents in the past 12-18 months.  No one is blameless here, and I think we can all do better.  I implore you to try.
Thank you for your time and attention to this email.  
Best regards,
Sarah Blaine 

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