As I noted in the companion piece to this one, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s Common Core Review Farce Commission has now begun its “Listening Tour” to hear what the people of New Jersey think of the Common Core State Standards (in increments of 3 minutes, max). The “Listening Tour” has a whopping 3 stops in New Jersey. At each stop, the participating members of the public are limited to 3 minutes each to provide comments on what the Commission should consider as it reviews the Common Core State Standards for New Jersey. Someone really likes the number 3.
I signed up for the first “Listening Tour” session. The location given was: Public Safety Training Academy, 500 West Hanover Ave, Parsippany, NJ 07054. As a preliminary matter, I work in Parsippany. I plugged the address into Google Maps, and it turned out that the address was actually in Morristown, not Parsippany (indeed, I had to travel through the town of Morris Plains to get there).
A small thing, maybe, in this world of GPSs, but it certainly didn’t increase accessibility. Further, in a state as small as New Jersey, when fellow participants had to travel more than an hour south to attend the event, it was a misnomer at best to call this a “north” Jersey session.
Perhaps this was one reason why, out of the 24 members of the Standards Review Committee, 2 members actually bothered to show up to the Listening Tour. Not 1 of the 75 additional members of the 3 subcommittees showed his or her face. Perhaps this was why I counted a grand total of 16 members of the public in attendance.
Further, there was no public transportation option available for this event, which was located (for New Jersey), as you can see in the map, out in the middle of nowhere. Not surprisingly, as access to a car was needed to attend, in our intensely segregated state, in which economic inequality runs rampant but is often sadly correlated with race, there was not a single participant of color present as far as I could tell.
Indeed, the event venue itself was a police academy, which was not, perhaps, the most welcoming venue imaginable for participants of color in these days of the #BlackLivesMatter movement as a response to incident after incident of policy brutality against communities of color. Wouldn’t it make sense to host an event like this in a more central location, and in a location that doesn’t carry the potential for alienating a large swathe of the public? Rutgers-Newark, for example, strikes me as a location that would have made much more sense.
In addition to the 3 stop “Listening Tour,” the Commission’s public survey regarding the Common Core standards is also live until October 9th. I encourage everyone to go register your comments regarding the standards, but as you’ll see if you start it, it is the most user-unfriendly survey on the planet.
The survey expects respondents to, point by point, plow through each and every standard for each and every grade (as well as the anchor standards) and to respond specifically to each discrete standard. Specifically, respondents have the following options:
In your evaluation of each standard, you will have the following options:
- I agree with the Standard as written.
- The Standard should be discarded. Comments required
- The Standard should be in a different grade level. Grade selection is required
- The Standard should be broken up into several, more specific Standards. Suggested rewrite is required
- The Standard should be rewritten. Suggested rewrite is required
In addition to the frustration level that comes along with this, the survey also fails to provide respondents with an opportunity to note what is missing entirely from the Common Core. And really, how many parents out there are going to feel equipped to suggest rewrites for the standards in order to evaluate them or even express their frustration with them?
Intriguingly, the survey website notes that it is “powered by” an outfit called “Academic Benchmarks.” Academic Benchmarks’ webpage lists zero information about its leadership or history that I can find, but I did note that it’s located in Cincinnati, Ohio. As a New Jersey resident participating in New Jersey’s alleged review of the Common Core State Standards, I found myself wondering how this Ohio company got involved, and what portion of my tax dollars is paying them.
So I went to the State of New Jersey’s Term Contract Database and entered “Academic Benchmarks” into the vendor search window.
For comparison, to make sure it wasn’t my clueless search skills or NJDOE not participating in the database causing the problem, I searched for “Pearson.” Two hits.
So I very much find myself wondering, as a citizen and a taxpayer, who Academic Benchmarks is, how they were vetted, whether this contract was put out for bid, and how much We The People are paying for this farce of a survey.
Additionally, the survey — like the “Listening Tour” sessions — has not been publicized in any meaningful way. If Governor Christie, Academic Benchmarks, the NJDOE through this Commission, or any other decision-maker involved with these standards truly was interested in hearing from the public, the survey would have been disseminated to each and every school, teacher, and public school parent in the State. Instead, virtually no one outside the direct orbit of the Commission and a few of us local education policy hobbyists is even aware that the survey exists. As much attention as I pay to education policy in New Jersey (among other things, I receive the NJBOE’s emails along with maybe a hundred other state residents), I only learned of the survey because a friend told me about it. Shortly before the first Listening Session, NJ.com did publish an article about it. But that is pretty much IT in terms of publicity.
So, as a mother of a first grader and a fifth grader, a former high school English teacher with a bachelors in English literature and a master of arts in teaching degree, a practicing lawyer of ten years and counting, and a blogger who has previously published some critiques of aspects of the standards, I logged in to provide my comments about the Common Core ELA standards. In particular, I hoped to provide feedback about the developmental inappropriateness of the kindergarten standards, with their insistence that kindergarteners’ work is to learn to sound out C-V-C words and to write sentences that include conventions of standard written English such as capitalized first letters and ending punctuation such as periods.
While I could — and did — comment on the developmental inappropriateness of the kindergarten ELA standards, what I could not and therefore did not do was to comment about what is missing — entirely — from the ELA standards. How can I propose alternate language or a different grade level for a standard that does not — but should — exist? How do I comment that there are no standards at all addressing incorporation of reader response theory into literature curricula? How do I comment that there is no standard ensuring that students are learning to vary their analyses of texts depending on the social context in which the text is read — as well as when it was written? I can’t, and the reason I can’t is because this isn’t intended to be a thoughtful review of the standards, but rather a public relations cover for Gov. Christie to claim that the newly rebranded standards he will announce are infused with input from the people of New Jersey.
After the developmental inappropriateness of the early education ELA standards, my objection to the ELA standards is not so much an objection to what they do include, but rather frustration with the critical analytical lenses that are missing. The standards include close reading and analysis of the author’s intent, which are two useful paradigms for analyzing texts. But my objection to the standards is that they stop there. That is, the standards inappropriately privilege close reading and analysis of the author’s intent as the only lenses through which students should be reading, interpreting, and analyzing literature. As I said in my comments to the Listening Tour, that is the problem, and the framing of the Commission’s survey shuts out the opportunity for voices like mine to offer such a criticism.
This Common Core Review Commission process is not my first rodeo when it comes to testifying about and objecting to what our state level misguided education policies have done to diminish the quality of public education in New Jersey. I’ve testified to the Governor’s Commission on testing, the State Board of Education, as well as before the Assembly and Senate’s education committees. But never before has an intent to shut out meaningful public comment and meaningful public concerns been so transparent as in my interaction with a survey structure that provides the public with no opportunity to comment on what’s missing from the standards (compounded by the 3 minute limit on free-form comments at the 3 public forums). Governor Christie’s Commission, unsurprisingly, is a farce, and We the Public deserve a more meaningful opportunity to provide feedback.
There is no question that this Commission is intended as nothing more than an effort to provide some political cover to Governor Christie’s flip-flop on the Common Core issue. I presume that the Commission will add cursive to the standards, give them a new name, and pretty much call it a day.
But We The People of New Jersey are paying not just NJDOE personnel to put together these bogus “Listening Tours” (I wonder how much time — and therefore taxpayer money — it took an NJDOE employee to emblazon its logo on cut-up index cards). We The People of New Jersey are also paying an Ohio company, Academic Benchmarks, who knows how much money to host a bogus “survey” of the standards. It’s enough to turn this dyed in the wool progressive into a small government conservative. Ok, not really, but the waste and lack of transparency are incredibly frustrating.
The Commission members should and must know that our children deserve more. Our children deserve standards constructed based on real input from all stakeholders: parents, teachers, employers, educational researchers, citizens, community members, and yes, even members of the state educational bureaucracy. I know this is a long shot, but I implore the Commission members to please take their jobs seriously, and to please urge the governor not to force the Commission to adhere to a timeline dictated by his presidential aspirations. Instead, the Commission should take the time to solicit meaningful input (in more than 3 minute soundbites) from the community, to solicit feedback as to what’s missing from the standards, and to construct standards that will actually benefit the children of New Jersey.
But in the meantime, this is why I live-tweeted the first “Listening Tour” session under the hashtag #ChristieCCSSReviewFarce. Here’s a Storify version. We the People deserve more.
However, despite the farcical nature of this review, We The People need to show up, complete the survey, and otherwise offically record our frustration with both the process and the problematic components of the standards themselves. If we don’t, our silence will be spun as acquiescence. So please mess around a bit with the survey, and register to provide your two cents (in 3 minutes or less). Here are the dates, times, and locations of the final 2 “Listening Tour” sessions:
Location: Mercer County Special Services School District, 1020 Old Trenton Road, Hamilton, NJ 08690
Date: September 29, 2015
Please note that registration will close at 5:00pm on September 28, 2015
Location: Stockton College Conference Room 101 Vera King Farris Drive
Galloway, NJ 08205-9441
Date: September 28, 2015
Please note that registration will close at 5:00pm on September 27, 2015
Don’t let anyone say that We The People acquiesced in the re-branding of this tripe.
P.S. For another perspective on this farce, definitely check out Julie Larrea Borst’s blog post with her take on the process issues.