Speaking Truth and Democracy to New Jersey State Board of Education

Below is my testimony to the NJ State Board of Education—

Here’s the link to the video on YouTube. I haven’t had a chance to watch it yet.

I am here today to urge New Jersey to join the other states that have pulled out of the PARCC consortium. Because my older daughter is a 4th grader, I have reviewed the 4th grade PARCC practice materials. I urge you to do the same. Based on my review and the detrimental test prep I’m seeing, I stand here today to tell you that the PARCC does not support the goals of taxpayer-funded public education.

Why do we pay for public education? We pay for education because democracy cannot function effectively unless citizens are sufficiently educated to conduct the business of democracy. Educated citizens evaluate issues within their broader historical and political contexts when they enter the election booth or the jury box.

Now, a happy by-product of educating citizens is that educated citizens are also prepared for college and career. But we taxpayers don’t pay to educate other people’s children because we want to educate the next Steve Jobs or Warren Buffett: rather, we pay for the education of all kids because when we are elderly and today’s kids are voting, we want them to vote thoughtfully.

The PARCC evaluates future employees; it does not educate citizens. Why?

Beyond appearing from its sample questions to be a terrible test, the PARCC only purports to test a narrow subset of what our children should be learning: their reading, writing, and math skills. In addition, New Jersey has attached high-stakes consequences — including teachers’ evaluations — to kids’ scores. This combination pressures teachers and schools to teach to the PARCC.

But when school time is spent on test prep, school time is not devoted to other, more worthy endeavors. When tests are high-stakes, if a topic won’t be tested, it isn’t taught. That is why the PARCC harms citizenship education.

So what don’t our kids do in school because of high-stakes testing such as the PARCC?

Well, I’m a New Jersey native who was educated in the Millburn Public Schools. When I was a 4th grader, our social studies theme was New Jersey. We were each assigned a county, and we spent weeks researching and writing about our counties. I had Cumberland County, which is why I know about New Jersey’s cranberry bogs. We studied Lenni Lenape society and built a model Lenni Lenape village. We learned a then-candidate for New Jersey state song — don’t worry, I won’t sing. We studied New Jersey colonial history and took a field trip to Allaire Village, where we learned about smelting iron. We even created a giant latchhook rug of a map of New Jersey’s 21 counties. Miss Shades’ fourth grade helped me on the road toward thoughtful citizenship.

I now have a fourth grader in the Montclair Public Schools. Her teachers are dedicated and caring. And their fourth grade social studies theme is also New Jersey. However, we’re now about halfway through the school year. My daughter hasn’t studied the Lenni Lenape or memorized New Jersey’s 21 counties. She hasn’t learned about cranberry bogs or iron ore. She hasn’t written a research report on a New Jersey county or latchhooked a map of New Jersey or learned a New Jersey song. She hasn’t taken a field trip to Allaire State Park or learned about colonial settlement of New Jersey.

Instead, she had a generic unit on map skills because reading a map might be tested on the PARCC. She gets to bubble in answers on “Common Core aligned” Scholastic News pamphlets. And she’s learned the states that comprise the Northeast. In half a school year, that’s been it for social studies.

But she’s had hours of PARCC preparation. She and her class have given up 6 class periods — with more scheduled — to learn how to drag and drop and use the PARCC protractor, even though they haven’t gotten to the study of angles in math class yet, so the kids don’t know what a protractor is. She’s brought home formulas for essay writing, which she’s required to follow, regardless of how bad the resulting writing is. She isn’t allowed to use the essay formulas as guides rather than rules, because Pearson’s essay graders will be looking for formulaic essays rather than compelling content.

PARCC test prep is not preparing her to be a thoughtful citizen. PARCC test prep is not using my tax dollars to ensure that she will be prepared to vote thoughtfully. PARCC test prep is not teaching her the American history she needs to know who FDR was, and why he said:

“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”

Please stop requiring local districts to substitute test prep for citizenship prep. Urge Commissioner Hespe to join the states that have pulled out of the PARCC consortium.

Say no to testing small children on computers.

Say no to narrowing curriculum so that it excludes meaningful social studies education.

Say no to spending our tax dollars on test prep, rather than field trips and libraries.

We can do better for our kids. I know this, because my fourth grade teacher did better for me. But PARCC prep is making good teaching impossible, which is why I am — as a matter of conscience — refusing to allow my child to take the PARCC.

Please join me in refusing the PARCC. Thank you.

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