Chris Christie’s Common Core Farce

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).  

Google Maps View of Location

 

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:

  1. I agree with the Standard as written. 
  2. The Standard should be discarded. Comments required
  3. The Standard should be in a different grade level. Grade selection is required
  4. The Standard should be broken up into several, more specific Standards. Suggested rewrite is required
  5. 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. 

Searching for Academic Benchmarks

No hits.

Academic Benchmarks Search Results: Item Not Found

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. 

Search for Pearson: Two Results

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:

Central
Location:  Mercer County Special Services School District, 1020 Old Trenton Road, Hamilton, NJ 08690
Date: September 29, 2015
Time: 6:00pm-9:00pm
Registration link
Please note that registration will close at 5:00pm on September 28, 2015

South
Location:  Stockton College Conference Room 101 Vera King Farris Drive
Galloway, NJ 08205-9441 
Date: September 28, 2015
Time: 6:00pm-9:00pm
Registration link
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.  

The Common Core’s Scalia-esque “Originalism”

As you are no doubt aware if you are an education policy geek like me and/or even a mild political junkie, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, in his efforts to pander to the Republican base that will never nominate him for President anyway, announced a few months back that he was instituting a “review” of the Common Core State Standards here in New Jersey.  I’ve shared my thoughts about the process issues associated with that review in the companion piece to this one. The short version is that this past Thursday night, September 17, 2015, Governor Christie’s Common Core Review Farce Commission held the first of three public meetings to solicit feedback from the public about the standards.  Please note that each speaker was allotted a whopping 3 — count ’em, yes, 1, 2, 3 — minutes to provide feedback about the whole of the Common Core standards.

So, for what it’s worth, here is my 3 minute critique of the Common Core ELA standards:

I am here to discuss two major flaws in the ELA standards: (1) their insistence on privileging “close reading” and use of “textual evidence” over reading texts as products of their broader historical, social, and political contexts, and (2) their insistence on ignoring the reader’s experience as a participant in making meaning of texts.

First, as a lawyer, I had to learn multiple approaches to analyzing the Constitution.  There is originalism a la Justice Scalia, in which judges purport to divine the original intent of the framers of the Constitution and then apply that intent to analyses of statutes and fact patterns.  This is akin to the Common Core’s approach: for example, a high school ELA standard reads: “Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.” See CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.5. This is one approach to literary analysis.

The problem, however, is that like Justice Scalia, the ELA standards rely on only this one party trick, this one way of analyzing, interpreting, and making meaning of texts. The ELA standards end their analysis at the author’s choices and author’s intent.  The standards ignore the idea that it is possible — and, indeed, sometimes critical, to analyze how understanding of a text has changed as society has changed.

For instance, between 1898 and 1954, the text of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution did not change.  However, the Plessy v. Ferguson court interpreted that text to condone “separate but equal” while 56 years later the Brown vs. Board of Education court interpreted that very same text as prohibiting “separate but equal.”  The words did not change: society did. No ELA standard requires students to grapple with the impact of social conditions on understanding texts.

Second, the ELA standards suffer from not capitalizing on teenage self-absorption.  Reader response theory is the theory that a text’s meaning arises in the transactions between readers and texts. For instance, the students I taught in western Maine made sense of The Great Gatsby very differently than did my wealthy, suburban peers back at my high school in Short Hills, NJ.  Both offered valuable perspectives that deepened my understanding of the text.

In discussing the ELA standards, David Coleman famously said: “…as you grow up in this world you realize people don’t really give a shit about what you feel or think.” It is heartbreaking that his philosophy permeates the standards.  In truth, each human being makes meaning out of the texts she encounters.  Our standards should reflect this truth, and indeed, literature classes built around this truth help our teens to move from self-absorption to empathy, a net gain for our democracy.

As you review the ELA standards, I implore you to fundamentally re-imagine the standards so that context and reader response theory are once again offered as meaningful analytical frameworks. Justice Scalia’s originalism adds an important layer of insight to Constitutional analysis, but his approach is not — nor should it be — the only one available to lawyers and judges.  Similarly, English teachers across New Jersey need standards that allow them the freedom to offer their students multiple analytical lenses. Our children deserve no less.

Thank you.

P.S. For more insight on this topic, please read Seton Hall education professor Daniel Katz’s essay titled “Dear Common Core English Standards: Can We Talk?

Refuse Early So Teachers Can Teach

I know this is shocking elsewhere in the country, but here in New Jersey, we just finished our second week of school.  As the school year begins, I’m reflecting on what this year’s goals for my pro-public education advocacy should be.  I know this much: my first goal is to engage, encourage, and support parents to not just refuse standardized tests like PARCC, but to refuse early and supportively (rather than confrontationally).  In particular, I think we can best support our teachers, our children, and our schools by refusing early enough in the year to empower our children’s teachers to build curriculum and lesson plans around children’s needs rather than around the dictates of the testing industry.  

To that end, I encourage you to submit your refusal letters early, as this strategy will only work if there are mass refusals.  I sent mine yesterday, as one concrete action I could take to support the #ParentStrike movement across the country.  Here is my letter, which you should feel free to copy and modify to fit your needs:

Dear Teachers:

I am Sarah Blaine, the mother of _________ in Mrs. ________’s homeroom.  I write to let you know that in accordance with Montclair Board of Education policy regarding test refusals, _________ will not be taking the PARCC test in 2016.  I write now, at the beginning of the academic year, with the hope that enough of my fellow parents will do the same so that you, my child’s teachers, will hopefully not feel constrained to teach to the PARCC or any other standardized test.  Instead, my hope is that a high number of early refusals will allow you to feel free to use your professional judgment to provide our children with the most developmentally appropriate and engaging lessons you have the power to create, instead of wasting time preparing for educationally irrelevant state-mandated tests.  

__________ is thrilled so far with both of you, and I look forward to a constructive, engaging, and challenging school year for her.  Please know that I am always open to conversation and suggestions as to how to best support __________’s learning both inside and outside of the classroom. Our family has not made this decision to refuse testing lightly, but rather as an attempt to express our support for a public education system in which teachers will once again be treated as the knowledgeable professionals we know that they are (I am a former public school teacher myself, and earned my M.A.T. before I began teaching in a rural community).

I am, of course, happy to speak with you further about this issue, but I trust that my wishes for ____________ will be respected, and that she will of course be, in accordance with district policy, provided with non-punitive alternatives.

Best regards,

 Sarah Blaine

Let our teachers focus on REAL education
Amazing graphic by Beth O’Donnell-Fisher


The Reality Television Paradigm of All-Charter School Systems

Today, the New York Times  Sunday Review published an Op-Ed about the farce that is the so-called “New Orleans” charter school miracle.  You should go read it.  A quote:

“There is also growing evidence that the reforms have come at the expense of the city’s most disadvantaged children, who often disappear from school entirely and, thus, are no longer included in the data.”

The quote is absolutely on target.  Further, let’s talk about the logical results of how even a properly functioning (according to the charter cheerleaders) all-charter school district would work.  By definition, a charter school is one that is intended to trade results for regulation: that is, We the Public eschew traditional regulation over watching how our public dollars are spent by the charter (which is governed by a private board, usually impervious to OPRA/FOIA requests and the like) in exchange for producing “results” — i.e., high scores on standardized tests from its students.  If a particular charter school isn’t producing results by the end of its initial charter period, in theory the state and/or the chartering entity should be shutting that school down.

But the logical conclusion of that paradigm is a two-tiered system of charter schools.  The so-called “high-performing charter schools” (e.g., the KIPPs, the Uncommon Schools, the Success Academies, the Green Dots, etc.) will figure out the formula for magically skimming-off as many of the high-performing kids as possible, and so their test scores will reflect the “results” the charter authorizers demand.  But the rest of the charter schools, the B-squad charter schools of virtual charters, for-profits, mom and pop charters, less savvy charters, etc. — they are far less likely to have figured out, or, if they’re ethically run, to have wanted to figure out, the secret-sauce for creaming off those most likely to perform well on the standardized tests and quickly counseling out the rest.  And so, instead, if the all-charter system functions as it is supposed to, after 3 years or 5 years or whatever, the B-squad charters schools will be shut down.

But what happens to the children who attended those B-squad now-shut-down charter schools, and/or those who are pushed out of the high-performing charters?  Well, their educations are disrupted, over and over again, as they are shuffled from low-performing school to low-performing school. Their former schools shut their doors, over and over again.  But new low-performing charter schools will continue to open in the wake of those that keeping closing: after all, until they drop out, the students of the low-performing charter schools need to be housed somewhere.  For those relegated to the low-performing charter network, their chances to build communities around their schools are low, as even their schools are transient: heck, even if they do manage to graduate, many of their alumni won’t even have a school in which to hold a reunion ten or twenty years from now, because the iterations of the schools they attended will no longer exist.  And that disruption, that lack of community, that being shunted around from low-performing school to low-performing school, that will make them less likely to graduate, less likely to be able to overcome the already-substantial long odds that accidents of demographics, the dark side of poverty, have placed in their way.

As evidenced by this article, an all-charter school system is a way to write-off our most challenging children, the ones that each and every one of us should look at and say that as citizens of this country, it is truly our moral responsibility to make sure that these children have every opportunity we can give them to break the cycle of poverty, because the American Dream is truly dead if a significant subset of our community has no way to succeed.  But the way to keep the American Dream alive is to ensure that We the People provide our most vulnerable children with opportunities to attend well-resourced, integrated, stable schools that won’t disappear on them, sometimes mid-school year.  It is not to keep pulling the educational rug out from under these children, every two, three, or five years.

But the charter cheerleaders, they say that closing down the low-performing charters, that’s evidence of success, because closing down low-performing charters is how the charter system is supposed to work: that’s how you hold the poorly performing schools accountable, by shutting their doors when they don’t perform.  The charter cheerleaders, however, don’t realize, if they’re naive, and don’t care, if they’re cynical, that closing down one low-performing charter means opening another one in its place.  After all, the low-performing students of the low-performing charters are those who aren’t savvy enough to game and navigate the incredibly complicated systems privatization brings.  Instead, intentionally or not, they are shunted around from one substandard education experience to another until they simply give up and drop out, or, if they do graduate, graduate with substandard skills and substandard opportunities.  The narrative that shutting down low-performing schools works is a narrative that is either incredibly naive or incredibly cynical.  What that narrative isn’t, however, is a narrative that serves kids — all of our kids — well.

That narrative is, however, as Michael Petrilli over at The Thomas B. Fordham Institute implicitly admitted last winter, a narrative that distinguishes between our country’s deserving students, the deserving poor, and the un-deserving poor, who, at best, deserve, according to Petrilli and his allies, to be housed in a substandard world of alternative schools until they are eventually released from the system, likely into also-privatized prisons.  Petrilli’s vision is one that reflects the worst values of the Industrial Age we thought we had left behind, the “Hard Times” of a Dickensian dystopia in which some children are stuffed full of “facts, facts, facts, nothing but facts, ma’am,” and slated for success, and the others, well, the others simply aren’t our concern.

All of our children deserve better than this.  All of our children deserve access to stable, caring, well-resourced, community schools that aren’t going to disappear on them at the whim of some bureaucrat, whether or not they “perform” on the asinine boondoggles that are today’s high-stakes standardized tests.

I, for one, say no thank you to the logical consequences of an all-charter school system, as any moral citizen of this country should agree.  That isn’t to say that our truly public school systems can’t do better.  Certainly, in many of our communities they can and should (especially if We the People actually provide them with the resources they need in an equitable fashion). But the answers to the real problems of poverty and deprivation are not privatization and prison.  Or, to put it another way, publicly-funded education shouldn’t be a real-life version of reality tv in which those who are savvier win the immunity challenges, and the less-savvy are voted off the island.

Black Schools Matter – Chicago Protesters Go on Hunger Strike to Save Their Last Neighborhood School

The dominant narrative that parents and communities in urban, minority, poor, and other traditionally underserved areas don’t care about their schools or their children’s education drives me insane because of how racist, classist, and just plain wrong it is. Here’s an example of parents, teachers, and community activists putting their lives on the line to save their children’s schools. They are brave and deserve our support, yet I’ve seen zero mainstream media coverage of this protest.

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Somewhere in Chicago tonight, Mayor Rahm Emanuel may be sitting down to his favorite desert – warm pecan pie with vanilla ice cream.

Across the city in the South Side neighborhood of Bronzeville, 11 parents, teachers and community members aren’t eating so well. Their meal – a few sips of coconut water to keep their strength up.

These brave men and women are on the third day of a hunger strike to save their last open enrollment public school.

If the Emanuel administration has its way, this mostly black community will have to choose between sending their children to a failing charter school or a failing public school run by a private company – all while the neighborhood’s historic Walter H. Dyett High School is closed.

Nat King Cole, Dinah Washington, Red Fox and Bo Diddley are all alumni of Dyett.

Why close such a vibrant connection to the…

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Guest Voices: On Sending My Kid to Sleep-Away Camp for the First Time by Jen Freund

This is a piece by a friend of mine, Jen Freund, about the decisions (and sacrifices) we parents might make — if we are fortunate enough to have the resources to do so — to ensure that our children can access the educational experiences outside of a classroom that will shape their lives and their identities.  I’m also a parent who spent 8 weeks of 7 summers of my life attending traditional sleep-away camps, so I can very much relate to the emotions Jen chronicles here, as my husband and I struggle with whether we can — and whether we want to — send our daughters to sleep-away camp.


Jen holds an MSW.  She is a school counselor in an alternative high school, where she works with students who have a wide variety of social, emotional, and behaviorial challenges.  Prior to working in the schools, she worked in the camping industry as a counselor and later as an assistant director of the 92nd Street Y day camps.  As a child, Jen spent 7 summers in sleep-away camp and now spends a great deal of her time trying to convince her husband that sleep-away camp is an incredible learning and growing experience for their daughters. — Sarah 


by Jen Freund


It was February 14, 2005 and my husband was driving the slowest, and most cautiously he ever had.  We were on Pleasant Valley Way headed toward our home in Montclair, NJ. I remember everything about that day: the other cars, the radio being off so my husband could fully concentrate, and me in the back seat, holding the tiny hand of my new favorite person.  We were driving our first child home from the hospital, for the very first time.  We had precious cargo. 

 

And in a blink of an eye, ten years later, I found myself on a very similar car ride.  This time I was sitting in the front, while in the back was another favorite person, born three years laterAnd this time, which was June 27, a few days ago (3 days, 12 hours and 16 minutes to be exact), my husband was driving extremely slow again.  We were back on Pleasant Valley Way, headed to the parking lot of the Livingston Mall to bring our daughter, that same baby whose hand I held likten minutes ago, to meet a bus that would take her 75 miles away.to another state….for seven weeks.  She was headed to sleep-away camp for the very first time.  

 

My husband did not want her to go.  I agonized over the good-bye, over not seeing her, not feeling her, not hugging her, not hearing her for so many weeks.  We all agonized over this.  Well maybe not so much our younger daughter who kept replying, “I want to go too, “ to the older one’s “I’m going to miss you.”  

 

He drove slow….real slow.  

 

Sleep-away camp is a foreign concept to many. It does sound utterly insane to send your young child away for so long with such limited contact.  But for those who went to camp as a child and experienced the wonder, the spirit, the bonding, the independence, the community, the traditionthe outdoors, the songs, the inside jokes, the customs, the friendships, the creativity, the raw fun, the energy, the love and the culture that is camp, those people have camp in their blood.  And when camp is in your blood, you get it.  You get why sending your precious cargo off to a camp 75 miles away is a good thing.  

 

I have camp in my blood.  My husband does not.   But just for the record, I did tell him before we were married that our future kids were going to camp.  How could they not?  If they didn’t want to, that’s one thing, but if there was any desire, then how could we deny them such an extraordinary experience?

 

My husband thinks he went to camp.  And to be clear, he did go to music camp (actually more like a program) for one summer, for one month.  Not the same thing….right, camp people?  It’s just not the same as going to the same camp with the same people, summer after summer.  He still says he’s not on board and if anyone asks him, he’d say he wants his girl home with him.  

 

So the decision to send my first born to camp was an easy one for me and while he didn’t like the idea, he did not protest (too much).  What’s not easy is being a parent who had to say good-bye to her good natured, sensitive, innocent love of a child, one who cuddles, who chats, who shares on a daily basis the thoughts, feelings, fears, and concerns that live in her amazing brain and enormous heart.  That was slightly heart-wrenching.

 

Oh please, you must be saying…she is not going to jail.  She is healthy (knock wood), she is there to have fun.  Yes, but just how parents cry and get all nostalgic when their babies go off to college, this, I believe is a little worse on the parenting nostalgia scale.  

 

All milestones are bittersweet.  Letting go that first day of pre-school, saying goodbye to your kindergartener, end of elementary school, middle school graduation, high school graduation…college goodbyes.  All these milestones are beginnings and endings.  And as parents, while happy, we are also sad that an era has ended, that our babies are that much more independent and more detached from us.  And while college is a good eight years away, I imagine it will be the most intense of milestones, for that is really it.  The end of the era of childhood.  

 

But this is why I think the sleep-away camp goodbye is more gut wrenchingyou can text, call, or even visit your child whenever you’d (or they’d) like when your child is in college.  You can hear how they don’t like their roommate, hate their classes and got lost on campus.  You can communicate.  And they are self-sufficient.  They have credit cards.  They can drive.  They can vote.

 

In the world of sleep-away camp, we get two phone calls with our child (once she has been there for a week), one visiting day and old-fashioned letters.  I’ve written six so far and received none.  Tomorrow is day 5 she’s been away.  Where is my freaking letter?

 

I have no idea what is going on with my 10 year old.  Well I know she’s playing soccer and cooking because I see her in pictures on the camp’s website, but that is secondary to what I really want to know.  I find myself intently staring at her smile, and expression in these pictures to really try and know how she is feeling.  Is she comfortable?  Does she feel connected, included with the girls in her bunk?  Is she happy?  I got a check in” phone call on day one saying she was “all smiles,” but is she still smiling, and is it genuine? Only my husband and I know her that well to know. 

 

On the night before she leftmy mind raced with things I should have talked to her about or re-talked to her about:  don’t forget to clear your mess from the dining hall, remember to wear a tank top under certain shirts, do you really understand how to put a fitted sheet on a bed, remember to brush your hair, remember to keep your planters wart covered, when you audition for the musical, you should sing one of these songs, remember to put on sunblock, don’t feel bad that you can’t do a cartwheel but embrace the fact that you cannot, if you fart, own it and make a joke, if you feel left out, don’t try too hard to be included, know that you are an amazing, funny, smart, sweet, caring and special kid that always makes great friends, but sometimes it can take time.  Remember you may miss home and that’s normal, remember to make others feel good and always be inclusive, remember to not eat too much dessert, remember to write your sister, and remember to try new things.  And know that you may not love camp at first, or at all and that’s ok. 

 

Having your kid away like this magnifies every fear, every concern a parent may have.  Is she the tallest in the bunk and is she feeling awkward?  Will her developing athletic skills, (um, not so good) shake her confidence?  Is she brushing her hair or will she come back with dreadlocks?  Is the knee pain she started feeling recently gone or should I have taken her for an x-ray before she left?  Will she be quiet or outgoing?  Will she get to shine?  Will she have one of her right before bed-time existential crises about death and want to discuss her tear inducing fear that the world will one day go on without her in it?  What if she gets hurt or gets a tick bite and no one notices?  Because really, who but a parent sees the small things that need to be checked out? What if she loses a tooth?  We still do the tooth fairy.  Damn.

 

The scene at the mall parking lot could have been an opening scene to a Judd Apatow film about camp.  There were coach buses everywhere and parents clinging to their children while small talking with other parents.  It was raining and not a ray of sunshine was in the sky, yet 98% of the mothers were wearing sunglasses, myself included because I got strict orders from my sister-in-law to not cry in front of my daughter.  Sunglasses were a must.  

 

There were kids in tears and older kids boisterously reuniting with camp friends.  Fortunately, my daughter was excited and not feeling nervous or sad.  During my last hug to her, it was hard to speak.  I told her to have the best time and that I loved her so so much and she pulled my sunglasses off to see if I were crying and when she saw my eyes, we just laughed.  She got on the bus and my husband, younger daughter and I stood there waving for twelve minutes to a blackened window where she was presumably sitting until the bus pulled away and then I quietly lost it.  

 

And just like that she was off.  For seven weeks.   Part of my soul was on that bus.

And here’s the thing that I know as a former camper, and as a past camp counselor, and as a mental health professional, and even as a motherI know that even if she has her feelings hurt, fails her deep water testdoesn’t get a part in the play or feels homesickshe will come through it all stronger and more resilient.  She will have tough days, I know this, and she will learn to navigate them without me by her side and for this she will gain something I could have never given her myself.  As our camp director profoundly told us new parents, “at camp, we can give your children a kind of confidence, autonomy and independence that you, as parents, cannot.”  And for this, I hope she comes home with camp in her blood.

Newark Residents Should Select Their Own Next Superintendent

A group of New Jersey public education supporters crafted this letter to encourage the New Jersey State Board of Education not to rubber stamp Governor-and-Presidential-hopeful Chris Christie’s choice to replace outgoing Newark Superintendent of Schools Cami Anderson. As a believer in the critical importance of local democratic control over our nation’s public schools, I cannot agree more that after 20 years, it is time for the people of Newark to choose their own leaders for their children’s public schools.  Our public schools are intended to prepare our children for the responsibilities and duties of democratic citizenship. How can Newark’s children internalize democratic principles if their parents and community members are told, decade after decade, that the adults of Newark cannot be trusted to democratically govern their children’s schools?


Newark Residents Should Select Their Next Superintendent

We believe that the people of Newark should be able to democratically govern their public schools.  

Fortunately, Mark Biedron, President of NJ’s State Board of Education, seems to agree. Mr. Biedron recently told the Star Ledger that the people of Newark having local control over the school district…is a good thing.” 

On Wednesday, Mr. Biedron will have an opportunity to act on this belief when the State Board votes on whether Chris Cerf should become Newark’s next Superintendent.  

If the State Board approves Mr. Cerf, it will be continuing a 20 year history of disenfranchisement for Newark’s nearly 300,000 residents, who have had no say in this decision.

If the Board rejects Mr. Cerf and instead approves a candidate selected by Newark’s popularly-elected Board of Education, it will be putting Mr. Biedron’s admirable philosophy into practice.

There is plenty of precedent for allowing Newark to select its own superintendent.

Newark, Jersey City, and Paterson are all statecontrolled school districts.  Yet Jersey City’s popularlyelected Board of Education selected its Superintendent, Marcia Lyles.  Paterson’s Superintendent, Dr. Donnie Evans, was selected by a committee that included members of Paterson’s popularly-elected Board of Educationalong with other community leaders.  In contrast, Newark’s popularly-elected Board of Education has had no voice in selecting Mr. Cerf, who was nominated for this position by Governor Christie.

Approving Mr. Cerf is also difficult to justify because Mr. Cerf lacks the qualifications necessary to run New Jersey’s largest school district.  Unlike Jersey City’s and Paterson’s leaders, Mr. Cerf has no prior experience as a superintendent.  

Nor is there a record of success in related public-education positions on which to base Mr. Cerf’s nomination.  In fact, Mr. Cerf’s tenure as New Jersey’s Commissioner of Education was marked by numerous poor decisions regarding Newark, including:

• Appointing and continuing to support Newark’s prior Superintendent, Cami Anderson, whose policies and behaviors generated broad-based rejection and rebellion from Newark residents;
• Improperly giving in to a demand from Ms. Anderson to allow her to retain full control over 28 low-performing schools,” which resulted in New Jersey failing to comply with federal requirements; and 
• Forcibly maintaining State control of Newark’s schools by dramatically lowering the district’s scores on the State’s monitoring system (QSAC) from the scores that Mr. Cerf had given the district less than a year earlier.  

The people of Newark deserve the right to select their next Superintendent.  They also deserve an experienced public education leader with a proven record of success.  Mr. Cerf’s candidacy fails on all these counts.

We encourage Mr. Biedron and the other State Board of Education members to vote no on Mr. Cerf’s nomination and to allow Newark’s popularly-elected Board of Education to nominate the district’s next Superintendent.  

Newark’s residents have been deprived of their right to democratically control their public schools for 20 years.  It is long past time to correct this wrong! 

 

Rosie Grant, Piscataway, NJ

Parent and nonprofit leader

 

Michelle Fine, Montclair, NJ

Parent and professor

 

Judy DeHaven, Red Bank, NJ

Parent and writer

 

Valerie Trujillo, Jersey City, NJ

Parent and public education advocate

 

Jacklyn Brown, Manalapan, NJ

Parent and educator

 

Julia Sass Rubin, Princeton, NJ

Parent and professor

 

Linda Reid, Paterson, NJ

Parent and nonprofit leader

 

Melissa Katz, South Brunswick, NJ

Future educator

 

Bobbie Theivakumaran, Metuchen, NJ

Parent and investment banker

 

Lisa Winter, Basking Ridge, NJ

Parent, technology manager and former Board of Education member

 

Marcella Simadiris, Montclair, NJ

Parent and educator

 

Michelle McFadden-DiNicola, Highland Park, NJ

Parent and public education advocate

 

Bill Michaelson, Lawrence Township, NJ

Parent and computer scientist

 

Marie Hughes Corfield, Flemington, NJ

Parent and educator

 

Rita McClellan, Cherry Hill, NJ

Parent and administrator


Sarah Blaine, Montclair, NJ

Parent, attorney, and blogger

 

Susan Cauldwell, Spring Lake, NJ

Parent and nonprofit leader

 

Heidi Maria Brown, Pitman, NJ

Parent and educator

 

Julie Borst, Allendale, NJ

Parent and special education advocate

 

Susan Berkey, Howell, NJ

Parent and educator

 

Darcie Cimarusti, Highland Park, NJ

Parent and Board of Education member

 

Amnet Ramos, North Plainfield, NJ

Parent and educator

 

Elana Halberstadt, Montclair, NJ

Parent and writer/artist

 

Ani McHugh, Delran, NJ

Parent and educator

 

Jill DeMaio, Monroe, NJ

Parent 

 

Tamar Wyschogrod, Morristown, NJ

Parent and journalist

 

Lauren Freedman, Maplewood, NJ

Parent and public education advocate

 

Lisa Rodgers, South Brunswick, NJ

Parent and business owner

 

Laurie Orosz, Montclair, NJ

Parent and public education advocate

 

Michael Kaminski, Mount Laurel, NJ

Parent and educator

 

Ronen Kauffman, Union City, NJ

Parent and educator

 

Frankie Adao, Newark, NJ

Parent and social media specialist

 

Kathleen Nolan, Princeton, NJ

Parent, researcher and lecturer

 

Sue Altman, Camden, NJ

Educator

 

Jennifer Cohan, Princeton, NJ

Parent and publicist

 

Daniel Anderson, Bloomfield, NJ

Parent and Board of Education member

 

Debbie Baer, Robbinsville, NJ

Parent and educator

 

Dan Masi, Roxbury Township, NJ

Parent and engineer

 

Susan Schutt, Ridgewood, NJ

Assistant principal and public education advocate

 

Karin Szotak, Madison NJ

Parent and business owner

 

Tiombe Gibson, Deptford, NJ

Parent and educator

 

Lisa Marcus Levine, Princeton, NJ

Parent and architect

 

Kristen Carr Jandoli, Haddon, NJ

Parent and public education advocate

 

Jean Schutt McTavish, Ridgewood, NJ

Parent and high school principal

 

Virginia Manzari, West Windsor, NJ.

Parent and businesswoman

 

Stephanie LeGrand, Haddonfield, NJ

Parent and public education advocate

 

Melanie McDermott, Highland Park, NJ

Parent and sustainability researcher

 

Nora Hyland, Asbury Park, NJ

Parent and professor

 

Beth O’Donnell-Fischer, Verona, NJ

Parent

 

Susie Welkovits, Highland Park, NJ

Parent and Borough Council President

 

Gregory M. Stankiewicz, Princeton, NJ

Parent and nonprofit leader

 

Margot Embree Fisher, Teaneck, NJ

Parent and former Board of Education member

 

Stephanie Petriello, Dumont, NJ

Parent, educator and business owner

 

Laura BeggBernards Township, NJ

Parent and public education advocate

 

Gary C. Frazier, Camden, NJ

Parent and community activist

 

Debbie Reyes, Florence Township, NJ

Parent

 

Christine McGoey, Montclair, NJ

Parent 

 

Regan Kaiden, Collingswood, NJ

Parent and educator

 

Moneke Singleton-Ragsdale, Camden, NJ

Parent and administrator

 

Liz Mulholland, Westfield, NJ 

Parent and former educator

 

Toby Sanders, Trenton, NJ

Parent, pastor and educator

 

 

Are Teachers Professionals?

Peter Greene recently published a pair of pieces, here and here, on the quality of teacher education programs.  Reading his pieces — and the Ed Week blog post that inspired them — inspired me to share a few quick thoughts.  

A dozen years ago, as I sat in my Professional Ethics course one day, my ears perked up.  My professor was discussing what it means to be a professional, and was listing the traditional professions: law and medicine.  I spoke up: “What about teachers?  Aren’t teachers professionals?”  His response: “Absolutely not.”

As a former teacher, I was floored.  I think I had to reach down and physically pick my jaw up off the floor.  But in hindsight, as infuriating as I found my professor’s pronouncement at the time, his reasoning actually makes sense.  As my professor explained it, one belongs to a profession if current members of that profession take responsibility for controlling entry to that profession.  That is, lawyers — in law schools — educate future lawyers, and lawyers — through state bar examinations created and scored by lawyers — determine whether law school graduates are fit to enter the legal profession.   As I understand it, the same holds true for doctors, who are educated in medical schools, internship programs, and residency programs by doctors, and who must pass their medical boards — i.e., exams for future doctors created and scored by doctors — in order to practice medicine unsupervised.  

Superficially, traditional routes for entry into the teaching profession sound similar.  Those of us who have been licensed teachers completed a degree — either undergraduate or graduate — in a program taught by some combination of former and current teachers, and then most likely passed some iteration of the Pearson-produced Praxis test or other licensing tests required by our state departments of education.  The difference, however, is in those final words of the prior sentence: “required by our state departments of education.”  Teachers do not regulate entry into the teaching profession: rather, government bureaucrats and for-profit testing companies do.  That distinction makes a world of difference.

These days, we are constantly subjected to assaults on the teachers: by the media, by parents, by politicians, by members of the public, and sometimes by other teachers, who complain about the quality of their coworkers (I heard this from a couple of public school teachers just in the past few weeks).  We hear that teachers are lazy, that they’re lacking in content knowledge, and we parents are known to judge some of them pretty harshly ourselves.  I know that I have a habit of seeing red when teachers send assignments home from school that are riddled with spelling, grammar, and/or syntax errors.  

But take a moment, and imagine an alternate universe in which teachers are responsible for regulating their own profession.  Imagine communities where practicing teachers make the final determination of whether candidates for the teaching profession are ready to be granted professional licenses — with the knowledge that they themselves are responsible for the perceived quality of their profession.  Would a teacher agree to license a new colleague who appeared to lack a grasp of the conventions of written English?  Would a teacher agree to license a new colleague who did not have deep content-area knowledge?  Would a teacher agree to license a new colleague who had not proven himself capable of effective classroom management?  Would a teacher agree to license a new colleague who hadn’t proved himself knowledgable of the latest theories of child development and principles taught in educational psychology courses?   

Imagine teachers observing, mentoring, and evaluating candidates based on metrics they themselves developed for determining who merited a license to teach in a classroom filled with children.   Imagine the entrance exams that teachers — not Pearson — would create to ensure that those who are to follow in their footsteps are adequately prepared for the awesome task — and it truly is awesome — of ensuring that our country’s children are educated to be thoughtful, compassionate, and productive members of a society that embodies democratic values.  I truly believe that we humans tend to rise to a task when we are granted the autonomy necessary to take pride in our work, our colleagues, and our professions. Imagine, if you will, a public policy in which master teachers — like Peter Greene — truly have a say on not only what happens in the classroom, but on who is qualified to be counted among their colleagues.  Imagine teaching as a profession.  

Personally, I’d rather see these guys (included in these pictures from NPE are Jesse Hagopian, Jose Vilson, Anthony Cody, Stan Karp, and Peter Greene along with dozens of other teachers I didn’t get a chance to speak with):

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EduShyster Jennifer Berkshire Interviews Jose Vilson and Peter Greene at NPE 2015

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Jesse Hagopian speaks on Black Students Matter at NPE 2015

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The room, packed with teachers, at Jesse Hagopian’s Black Students Matter presentation at NPE 2015

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Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin and Nancy Carlsson-Paige of Defending the Early Years Present at NPE 2015 

 determining entry into the teaching profession rather than people like these guys:

 

Chris_Christie.jpg

After all, our kids deserve teachers selected by professionals who know what they’re doing.  I, for one, place my faith in the teachers, not the bureaucrats and politicians.

P.S., Obviously, we lawyers could also do a far better job at self-regulation than we do.  I certainly count myself among those attorneys who have had the experience of wondering how, exactly, my adversary managed to graduate from law school and pass the bar exam.  But at least we only have ourselves to blame.

 

A Call To Action For East Ramapo, NY

Friends, fellow activists, especially my fellow Jews, this post is to bring your attention to what has been happening in East Ramapo, NY (Rockland County) for the past number of years, as the Haredi community has taken over the local school board, and systematically deprived the public school students of the East Ramapo School District, most of whom are poor and minority, of even a remotely acceptable public education.  
 
For background on the issue, please read this New York Magazine article, or listen to this episode of This American Life.  You can find many resources on the issues, as well as a CALL TO ACTION at http://www.strongeastramapo.org.  Recently, Meryl Tisch (NY Regents) and David Sciarra (Education Law Center) joined the call for the New York Legislature to pass a bill establishing state monitoring of the East Ramapo district to put an end to these abuses with an Op-Ed in The New York Times.
 
The East Ramapo school board has accused its critics of anti-Semitism, which is part of why I think it’s particularly important for the Jewish community to speak out against its abuses of the gentile students who attend its public schools.  Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin made a strong start with his piece and Rabbi Ari Hart with his. 
 
Specifically, at the moment the major issue is the bill that just passed the NY Assembly today to establish long-term state monitoring over the East Ramapo school district.  The NY Senate is being resistant to posting this bill for a vote, and the legislative session comes to an end this coming WEDNESDAY, JUNE 17TH.  
 
Today I spoke with Rabbi Adam Baldachin of Rockland Clergy for Social Justice.  They are in all-hands-on-deck mode looking for all of the media coverage and additional support from civil rights groups, Jewish groups, and any other groups that will sign on in support of this bill.  Please consider lending your support to this bill, and to stand up for American and Jewish values even when it is some of our fellow Jews who are doing the oppressing.  We must make sure that our own house is in order, and as Rabbi Salkin states, what is happening in East Ramapo is a shonda.  
 
Thank you for your time, attention, and help spreading the word and pressuring the New York State Senate to pass this bill.  Below is the list of groups that have already signed on to support the legislation:
 
JUNE 9, 2015
 
IN SUPPORT OF A. 5355 S. 3821 FOR EAST RAMAPO OVERSIGHT LEGISLATION
 
RELIGIOUS AND CIVIL RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS
 
 
 
Alliance for Quality Education
 
American Jewish Committee
 
Anti-Defamation League (ADL)
 
Bend the Arc, Jewish Social Partnership for Justice
 
Editorial Board Journal News
 
JALSA-the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action
 
Jewish Labor Committee
 
Jews for Racial and Economic Justice
 
New York City Bar Association
 
New York Civil Liberties Union
 
New York State Conference NAACP
 
Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
 
Reform Jewish Voice of New York
 
Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
 
Rockland Business Association
 
Rockland Clergy for Social Justice
 
Rockland County Executive
 
Rockland County Legislature
 
Rockland County School Boards Association
 
Rockland Board of Rabbis
 
Uri L’Tzedek Orthodox for Social Justice

Thank you for standing up for this community.  This is why we are a democratic republic.  We need checks and balances to make sure that a local majority — of any race, religion, ethnicity, or creed — does not trample on the rights of the minorities in its midst.  As an education activist, as a Jew, as an American, and as a human being, I thank you for your support.

Chris Christie Has A Bridge To Sell Us

As you may have heard (my phone’s notifications certainly blew up yesterday when this announcement came out), Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, in a bid to rescue his floudering-before-it-begins presidential run, announced that after five years of shoving the Common Core State Standards down our throats, he is joining the bandwagon of parents across the country, and now proudly shouting:”No More Common Core!” See, e.g., ABC’s coverage of his announcement.

It is a heck of a sound bite, and will bring him some momentum in the 24-hour news cycle.  However, it is a sham.  His announcement changes nothing. Because along with his announcement, as we here in New Jersey have come to expect, he included some fine print:

Meanwhile, Christie said that the state will continue using a new standardized test [i.e., the Partnership for Assessment of   Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) test] that was developed to measure how students were doing with the Common Core.

So Christie is “rejecting” Common Core but still requiring kids to take PARCC, a test developed to measure their achievement of the Common Core. Additionally, teacher and school evaluations throughout the state will still be based (10% this year, and as of now, 20% next year, and 30% in years to follow) on kids’ scores on those Common Core-aligned tests. Placement decisions for children will still be predicated on their “achievement” of the Common Core standards, evaluations for teachers will still be predicated on their students’ “achievement” of the Common Core standards, and schools will still be labeled as “failing” based on their students’ alleged “failure” to achieve those Common Core standards — all as measured by PARCC.

Christie’s announcement changes nothing, and shame on the media for lapping it up so naively. Christie’s so-called rejection of Common Core is simply a sound bite for him to take on the road to Iowa and New Hampshire while our NJ public school kids continue to deal with a language arts curriculum that doesn’t teach them to consider texts and ideas within their broader historical context.  

The irony is that Christie’s faux-announcement proves what so many of us have been saying all along: curriculum and education these days aren’t standards-driven, they’re test driven. The one thing this announcement does provide is a lesson in the convoluted logic of politics. So in that sad, cynical sense, at least Christie is providing our kids with a lesson in practical civics, which many of their schools no longer teach.

However, as long as the Common Core-aligned PARCC test continues to be the barometer to allegedly measure our schools, teachers, and children’s efficacy, Christie’s announcement is worth even less than the paper his speech was written on. If you believe otherwise, then man, I’ve got a bridge to sell you…