Sunday, December 27, 2015

Big Biz Gets It Wrong

I am always fascinated by education articles in business publications. Today's article in Fortune was no less fascinating in its naivete and because of a particularly stupid (yes, stupid) statement by ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson. 

Let me backtrack and share with you where I'm coming from when I read articles like this. I have a business degree from a private university in New York City, that produced some of the most sought after accountant and finance grads by the Big 8. We lived and breathed finance, asset management, accounting, international trade and marketing. 

I am also the granddaughter of an economist. If you had the great fortune to go to NYU in the 1960's and 1970's, he was the professor of banking and finance and the chair of banking and finance department for many years. He was a division chief for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. He was a director for the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York. Wall Street titans would spend their Saturday afternoon picking Pop's brain about what he thought was going to happen long term - no one was particularly interested in short term. I was a kid who grew up talking about and learning economics, banking, and markets on the knee of a guru. 

So I'll just say, in my less than humble opinion, that Rex Tillerson is a fool. While this thought process is not new, and he is not the first to utter such nonsense, the timing is interesting. Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are finally under serious scrutiny. Here's Tillerson's statement.
“I’m not sure public schools understand that we’re their customer—that we, the business community, are your customer,” said Tillerson during the panel discussion. “What they don’t understand is they are producing a product at the end of that high school graduation.”
Just. No. 

No, Rex. You are not their customer. America's children are not products that are meant to go in one end a human being and out the other a product for corporate America to do with what they will.

I am blown away by the acute shortsightedness of that statement. Especially for a guy who is sitting at the head of a company that exists only as long as fossil fuels do. Rex. Buddy. You should be clamoring for innovation. TRUE innovation. For creativity. For vision. 


If no one has had the balls to tell you, I will. A standardized education (one which you and I did not have, nor did anyone pre-NCLB) will NOT get you what you should be looking for. And for someone who should be well trained at this point in his career to spot trends, which frankly, in education are as blaring as the lights in Times Square, the narrowing of curriculum is detrimental to all students. We've had 15 years of this crap. More isn't going to make it better. 

As for the rest of the article, I'd say it's worth a read, but be prepared for the usual extremes that have absolutely nothing to do with what's actually wrong with CCSS.

Then, in great contrast, was this article in the Boston Globe. It's not about education, but rather, about what some of the old school Who's Who of Wall Street are seeing as a really big problem. I have to say, I think my grandfather would have liked Morris Pearl - former managing director of BlackRock. He is part of a group called the Patriotic Millionaires. Terrible name, but I suppose it gets to the point. 

Their point is this (in admittedly simplistic terms). Wall Street used to be about raising capital for companies to grow. People could buy shares and therefore share in the wealth earned through that growth. Factories would be built. Wages would rise. People could afford to buy products, and so on. We are talking basics here. Econ 101. Remember macroeconomics? 

Now, companies are sitting on their cash. They are using it to pay dividends and for buybacks, not for reinvestment back into their own infrastructure, not for raising wages. The value of companies is now based (deemed) on their quarterly earnings, not on long term plans. The narrowing of the focus on Wall Street is hurting all of us, except the ones at the very tippy top of the pile. 

So why this article, which you should absolutely read? Simply, that there was a time, as the author put it, "When his father expanded his business by investing his profits in other clothing stores, he and others within the family benefited from the expansion. In the same way, large companies could raise the capital needed for growth on Wall Street and sell shares to the public, enabling anyone to own a piece of corporate America, and enrich countless stockholders.

In 1950, individuals owned 90 percent of all stock shares, and usually held them for the long term. This was the virtuous circle that had attracted Pearl and many others, as growing companies hired new workers, raised wages, and rewarded shareholders." 

The same idea holds true for education. There is a cycle in society, a social contract, of which my grandfather often spoke. We have a fundamental responsibility to those who come behind us. We do have a collective good to maintain and it crosses over into many sectors of American civilized societies. We all pay for public education. It is there for all of us. We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, just as those coming up, count on us to maintain public education for all of them. Without it, we have the Tillersons and the Gates of the world thinking that being rich entitles them to destroy the system that has served most of us incredibly well for generations. 





Thursday, December 17, 2015

The End of Special Education Part V

This is really Social Impact Bonds (SIBs), aka Pay for Success, part 2. 

It seems that NJ Senator Teresa Ruiz, Chair of the NJ Senate Education Committee, thinks that SIBs may be a way to pay for the Committee's vision of Pre-K in New Jersey. Tuesday morning I heard a clip of Senator Ruiz on WBGO's news report. My jaw dropped.


Senator Teresa Ruiz says one recommendation is establishing a five-year pilot program allowing the private sector to pay for expanding early childhood education and then receive a portion of the state savings from that investment.


“It allows for programs to really develop more quickly because the funding is there, and certainly, later on, what we can look for is we will save money because we won’t have to have early-intervention programs and classification and wrap-around services because we did the work early on.”
Just. No. 

I wrote about SIB's here, but let me recap. Goldman Sachs funded a SIBs program in Utah. They claim a 99% "success" rate. In other words, 99% of the 3- and 4-year-olds who went through their funded program did NOT require remedial help or special education classification. Goldman Sachs received $260,000 in payment for those 109 out of 110 students. And will continue to receive payment for every year those students are NOT classified for special education. 

You know there are going to be questions, really basic ones, when you see "results" like that. Presumably, Senator Ruiz heard about those results and did not look further into the inevitable questions about the validity of those claims. 

What was the starting criteria for those students? What tests did they use? Medical history? Demographics? How many students would have likely had to have special education if they didn't have the "high quality" Pre-K experience? How many would they expect to classify even with the experience? What is "high quality" Pre-K? What does "high quality" Pre-K cost? How much does Utah spend on Pre-K? What is the threshold that has to be met for Goldman Sachs to earn its money back?

The NY Times DealBook took an unusual and distinctly skeptical look at the program.

A few weeks ago, Senator Ruiz held a hearing on Pre-K. All of the usual associations were there to provide testimony. All agreed that "high quality" Pre-K is essential to a good start in elementary school. It is even more important for children from certain demographics to have these experiences. 

A Rutgers professor of economics, Steven Barnett, testified that "high quality" (he put great emphasis on that) Pre-K could mean as much as a 50% reduction in the need to classify for special education, BUT that most studies show a 10-20% reduction. That is considered to be very good. In this context, 99% is not even statistically possible. 

So, how much did Goldman Sachs spend per student? A measly $1700, not even enough to cover part-time costs of daycare. Pre-Ks used in successful studies spent 4 to 5 times that amount. Again, what exactly is "high quality" Pre-k? Sounds like Goldman Sachs got off cheap.

Goldman Sachs also only had to achieve a 50% reduction to in order to make back their investment, plus 5%. What's unclear and I haven't found out yet is, who would have picked up the tab if the program "failed" and only achieved a 10% reduction? Would Utah have been on the hook for that? Or, would Goldman have simply written it off? Can we please acknowledge that no Wall Street firm is going to enter into a deal like this if they didn't expect to make money?

I'm also not sure what the point of bringing in Wall Street was. Utah, previously, had no Pre-K program. They didn't really even know what the costs are. Usually in Pay for Success, you're trying to show a savings on the government side...which is why in places like Texas, this kind of program has not worked with daycare. You simply can't show great savings if you're not spending any money on it in the first place. 

Now for New Jersey. What is Senator Ruiz attempting to achieve? Her statement, "we won’t have to have early-intervention programs and classification and wrap-around services because we did the work early on" is naive at best and potentially destructive at worst.  

"High quality" Pre-K is not a magic bullet. Students with disabilities will not be magically cured by attending preschool. It sounds too good to be true because it is. New Jersey's classification rate is about 14.5%, higher in low-income districts where this program will take place. 

Will preschool help decrease the percentage of students who need special education services in those districts? I have no doubt that it will. The research supports that presumption. 

Are you going to end the need for Early Intervention, classification, and wrap-around services? No. You aren't. There will always be students who would have been classified no matter how much preschool they had. There will always be students who need wrap-around services because we, as country, much less as a state, are doing nothing to address the poverty that creates the need for these services.

Big picture here is, Goldman Sachs is going to make money on students NOT being classified. RtI is going to become the framework for K-12, delaying as long as possible the identification and classification of students with disabilities. And the Special Education Ombudsman position the Senator is trying to create (because constituents have been begging for help) will work for the NJ Department of Education. 

This does not look good for the students with disabilities in New Jersey. Parents, it's going to be a really interesting (read: ugly) ride while all of this plays out. We don't need a system that further works against students and their families. Find another way to pay for preschool that doesn't involve a negative outcome on our most vulnerable students.









Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The End of Special Education Part IV

Social Impact Bonds, aka Pay for Success. Both terms sound so innocuous. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In the special education world, everyone, including Goldman Sachs (yes, that Goldman Sachs), is trying to reduce the number of students who are formally classified with a learning disability. As we have just celebrated 40 years of IDEA and its success at requiring all children have a free and appropriate education, programs like Pay for Success, are especially heinous.

While there are a fair number of studies on the impact of high quality pre-school on the number of students who later do not need special education services. The range of success is varied, but still a 10-50% reduction is really big. It does makes sense to support high quality preschool. What doesn't make sense is for Wall St. to fund those pre-school programs with the aim of making money off students NOT being classified.

This has already been done in Utah. Goldman Sachs claimed a 99% reduction in "at risk" students being classified. 99%. That cannot possibly be correct. Even if you only use, say, NJ's average of a 14.68% classification rate, that 1%  rate is simply not possible. Goldman Sachs got paid for every single one of the 99% AND they will be paid every year those students are not classified.

Does anyone think, even for a second, that Goldman would enter into a contract where they did not expect to make money? I can't wait to see the long term outcome on this. How many of those kids will actually need services later because they were sold out in pre-school?

Look, I get the public-private partnership idea. In some cases, it may make sense. However, when public education is involved, in our current climate of selling it off to the highest bidder, while looking for some magic pill to "fix" everything, literally selling out our special needs (any!) kids is not acceptable.

And yet, Pay for Success may be here to stay because it is included in the rewrite of ESEA. We've been given about 48 hours to review the entire document before it goes to a vote in Congress. The very first thing I did was a search for the Pay for Success term. And, sure enough, it's in there.

Let me channel my inner Nancy Reagan: Just say NO to ESSA.

We need time. We need educators and parents to weigh in on the rewrite. We need to be sure that this law is supporting public education for all children in this country, not Wall St. firms, not charter school companies, and not testing companies.

Our children deserve so much better than this.



Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The End of Special Education Part III - update

I'm going out of order in my timeline of unjust, stupid, asinine, insert your expletive of choice here, lessons on special education destruction.

This one feels personal. I've been watching and reading my teacher friends rant in horror at the national leadership of both major teacher unions. I've kept quiet. I'm not a teacher. My thoughts on their actions and words probably border on "teacher bashing" and I truly have felt that it's not my place to say much beyond I can't believe they are throwing their constituents under the bus. And wonder who, exactly, they are working for because it sure isn't the teachers I know.

I'm breaking ranks with my own "rule." What the absolute F--- was Lily thinking when she did her "cute" little acceptance speech for a Progressive Champion award from the Campaign For America's Future Gala on the 27th of October????? You can view the speech here, I refuse to post the thing on my blog.

I saw the headlines float by about how the NEA president had the perfect answer to a snarky fellow plane passenger about what teachers do. I didn't click through. I know why people become teachers. I have a deep respect for my friends and acquaintances who go into the profession and stay. No matter what.

Yesterday, I finally watched the clip. I was prompted by a short but not very nice exchange with someone about teaching. I wondered what Lily had said. Instead of being enlightened, hoping for a tidbit that I could refer to in future conversations, what I saw was decades old ignorance that was supposed to pass for humor. Around the 1:40 mark my jaw hit the floor as she referred to students who are, " 'tarded and medically annoying."

I'm the mom of a student with a disability. If you met my daughter, you'd never know anything was going on. I'm also the stepmom of a now, very sadly, deceased daughter who would have fit Lily's description. Both of my girls are/were so much more than their disability.

I'm not a fan of "PC," because it often masks and give false equivalency to ideas that shouldn't be provided with a sugar coating. But this is not one of those things. As a community, we have fought very long and hard to not be dismissed. To maintain dignity. And sometimes, to be a role model for what is possible. Lily threw all of that out out the window in one glib, stupid comment. I don't like giving over power to her about this, but for goodness sake!!! She's the head of the fricking NEA! Special education is being dismantled without so much as a peep for the national unions and this is how she chooses to be funny?

Please, do me all a favor, let Lily know that at a time when our kids are being marginalized, that adding to the "joke" of special needs individuals in not ok and that she does not represent you.

Adding: Lily has apologized. You can read and see her video here.  I expect more from someone in her position. I've said what I had to say and will not comment further.



Monday, November 30, 2015

The End of Special Education Part II

In the add insult to injury category, on 16th November, USED sent a "Dear Colleague" letter to clarify that all IEPs must be aligned to state academic content standards (Common Core for most of us) for the grade level of the student. Let that sink in for just a sec. Realize that this letter is for "guidance" and is not actually a change to IDEA, which, for probably a very short while, is the law of the land. 

At the bottom of page one (the missive is seven pages long), in tiny type, is a clarification, or as I call it, weaseling out of any responsibility for any harm done, directly or indirectly, to a student with a disability because of this asinine, if not illegal, "guidance." Here is a tidbit: "The Department has determined that this document is a “significant guidance document” under the Office of Management and Budget’s Final Bulletin for Agency Good Guidance Practices...The purpose of this guidance is to provide State and local educational agencies (LEAs) with information to assist them in meeting their obligations under the IDEA and its implementing regulations in developing IEPs for children with disabilities. This guidance does not impose any requirements beyond those required under applicable law and regulations. It does not create or confer any rights for or on any person." Right. Thanks for letting parents know (oh wait, they didn't receive this letter) that in one paragraph you ignore IDEA and in the small print excuse yourself from culpability. <insert expletive of your choice>

The letter then goes on to discuss FAPE and how an IEP is the vehicle through which a student has access to FAPE. Ok, I'm good with that, but (seems there's always a "but") the paragraph before provided guidance that is the exact opposite of what an IEP actually is! Please, tell me. How are districts to provide FAPE while following USED's guidance (for which it takes no responsibility)? 

The next several pages are devoted to the interpretation of "general education curriculum" (read: state standards) and how USED thinks students with disabilities will magically be able to meet grade level standards, or at the very least close their own achievement gap year to year. I have no trouble with challenging students with disabilities, nor with attempting to close academic gaps. I do, however, have big issues with only allowing a small number, as yet undefined, to have modified standards and assessments that are appropriate for those individual students. That is the spirit of IDEA. To give access to an education, to the extent possible, to all students. Making it exponentially more difficult, just because (or because you have no idea what the hell you're talking about - which seems to be the case with USED), is cruel. Thank you, Nancy, for that word. That is exactly what it is. 

The example for implementation includes what must be the only idea the USED folks think special education is all about, that is using audio to help students who are reading significantly below grade level. If only it was as simple as subscribing to the reformy Audibles to cure significant reading deficits. Gee, wish I had thought of that. 

Are you seeing a trend here? Put changes up on the Federal Register. Ignore or blow off two years worth of comments and questions about the abject stupidity of the changes and the "supporting research." Then send "guidance" directly to district personnel which, as far as I can see, is directly in opposition to IDEA. 

Are you mad yet? 

Michael Yudin and Melody Musgrove from USED are hoping for feedback. Please give it to them: If you are interested in commenting on this document, please e-mail your comments to iepgoals@ed.gov or write to us at the following address: US Department of Education, 550 12th Street SW, PCP Room 5139, Washington, DC 20202-2600. Mostly they want to hear how well their guidance is working, but hey, probably better to just tell them the truth. 






The End of Special Education - Part I

This is a post I've put off writing this because the topic is incredibly depressing. Now I've procrastinated to the point where there are several topics to touch upon and will probably split this mess up into a few posts. 

I feel like I'm standing still and the world of education, especially special education and ELLs, is being swept away in whirlwind of incredibly poor policy decisions. (Yes, I know, it's been happening for a long time. I've only been really clued in for the last 5 years or so. Bare with me.) Those decisions have nothing to do with teachers. Nothing to do with students.  

Let's start with the US SecEd Arne Duncan and the changes to regulations that became effective on 21 September 2015. "In order to make conforming changes to ensure coordinated administration of programs under title I of the ESEA and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Secretary is also amending the regulations for Part B of the IDEA."  I wrote tiny bit about it here

What he really meant by that was a fundamental change in how special education will be approached: "[ESEA to] no longer authorize a State to define modified academic achievement standards and develop alternate assessments based on those modified academic achievement standards for eligible students with disabilities." In other words, unless the student is severely disabled, students will be able to perform the same as their neurotypical peers with  "High standards and high expectations for all students and an accountability system that provides teachers, parents, students, and the public with information about students' academic progress are essential to ensure that students graduate from high school prepared for college and careers in the 21st century." Add in some unicorn glitter and a miracle, and voila! Instant student with a disability success! Gee, wish I had thought of that. <insert biggest teenager-inspired eyeroll you can muster>

As galling as the basic premise of these changes are, perhaps the worst is the alleged research cited in support of this garbage that is passing for education policy. Fortunately, someone has already taken a very close look at the cited research and published a paper annihilating those citations, Primum Non Nocere: First, Do No Harm. Read it. It is is nothing less than jawdropping in its findings. Remember, the SecEd just removed states' ability to modify standards and testing for students with disabilities. His justification? A meta-analysis done in 2010, based on 70 studies done between 1984-2006. You can read the abstract here

The gist of this is that meta-analysis included students in grades 6-12. No K-5 students were included. The students were receiving interventions in science, social studies, or English. The studies looked at seven types of interventions in both an inclusion setting and in a separate classroom. However, "The authors note that only a small number of the studies took place in inclusive classrooms and that previous studies of coteaching in inclusive classrooms have found that the effective strategies investigated in this study are rarely implemented in inclusive settings."  

In other words, the SecEd just changed the basics of special education based on a meta-analysis which the authors specifically say they did not look at special education interventions in a separate classroom and very few were done in an inclusion setting. It does NOT support abandoning alternative standards or assessment. It didn't look at interventions for K-5. Nor at interventions for math. Remember this as Duncan will surely go down in history as the worst SecEd ever. 

P.S. I have to include this gem from the meta-analysis abstract. Understand that meta-analysis is only as good as the research it's based on. So, in 2010, when this analysis was published, this seems wildly inappropriate: "Computer-Assisted Instruction (CAI). The seven studies on CAI programs found computer-based instruction to be moderately effective. However, most studies on CAI were conducted during the 1980s and 1990s; it is not known whether the same results would be found with current CAI programs."  Is it just me? Why the heck would you include seven studies done at least 10 YEARS before, on technology that is changing annually? What is the point of this? Mark Weber? Any thoughts on this? 

P.P.S. The rest of the citations either didn't exist, were paid for by USED, weren't peer reviewed, or the conclusions of the research were limited in scope (even though SecEd cited in support of broader scope).






Sunday, November 15, 2015

Response to Intervention

Tomorrow morning, the New Jersey Senate Education Committee will be discussing, among a bunch of other bills, S445 Response to Intervention (RtI) Framework. I have lots of issues with RtI mostly due to the let's-put-off-classification-as-long-as-we-can nature of it. Nancy Bailey wrote a great piece on this just the other day. She wrote a much longer version for Living in Dialogue last January, also worth a read. 

This was my comment on Nancy's latest piece: 
"Thanks for this and the discussion, Nancy. New Jersey is looking to formally adopt the RtI model statewide. I’m actually testifying about it tomorrow morning. I do not support it. As a state, NJ has not been doing special ed well. And while many will argue that “quality” is an issue that is difficult to address, it is made much worse when districts have get a “pass” on having to properly identify students in a timely manner. We already have that going on. Why put a gold sticker on a lousy practice that leaves us with students finally being classified in high school?
To the point about having properly trained teachers in the classroom who actually know how to identify what’s in front of them. Yes! I’m in districts all over the state and consistently, the younger teachers have little to no experience with identifying or knowing how to intercede on behalf of their students.
The paranoid parent advocate in me thinks this is purposefully done. The end goal is to get rid of special ed entirely."

Put this move to implement RtI in context with a likely soon to be created Special Education Ombudsman position...working out of NJDOE, no less. Is it just me? Why the disconnect? Legislators have clearly recognized the need for help for students and parents. Theoretically, NJDOE already has OSEP to handle that. And, now they want to implement a system then further removes accessibility to timely, appropriate intervention. Frustrating, to say the very least.

Here is my written testimony to the NJ Senate Education Committee:

16 November 2015

New Jersey Senate Education Committee
Testimony on Bill S445 – Response to Intervention (RtI)

Thank you for this committee’s dedication to engaging the special education community and for continuing to sponsor bills with the aim of making education accessible for all. 

While the idea of tiered system, as RtI is, sounds appealing on the surface, I would like to offer a different perspective for consideration, from the ground level. As an advocate, I speak with many parents and teachers around the state, and indeed in other states. Universally, special education services are harder to secure and the quality of services from one district to another is hugely variable. 

When a system like RtI is put in place, it means that students with disabilities are put on an assembly line. If Tier 1 doesn’t work, onto the next. At Tier 3, if not working, then the student, hopefully, will finally be referred to the Child Study Team for a full evaluation for special education services. How much time is lost? There are no timeframes in RtI. It is subjective and relies on the ability of general education teachers, especially in the lower grades, to identify the difference between a learning disability and a student who may just be learning more slowly than their peers, but is still learning. In upper grades, this is even more problematic because precious time has already been lost. 

We already see this happening. Students are placed in the general education setting of Basic Skills Instruction (BSI), sometimes for years. The reason BSI hasn’t worked for many students is they simply have an unidentified learning disability. Dyslexia probably being the most common. Districts can honestly tell parents their children are getting extra help. The problem is, it’s not the right help. RtI will be a great enabler for districts that already stash children away in BSI. 

I ask you to consider more stringent guidelines for the framework. The timeline from one Tier to another should be short. The requirement to assess whether skipping the next Tier in favor of an evaluation for special education must take place. The “assessments” should either be specifically spelled out or listed as examples for districts and parents to choose from. The education and professional development (PD) for teachers, especially general education teachers must happen annually. PD should focus on the actual identification of learning disabilities. Finally, a referral to the Child Study Team for an evaluation for services should never be redirected to RtI. 

I implore you to consider the timeline for these students. How much time is too much time to waste? A couple of months ago you heard testimony on the necessity for high quality pre-school. And, the importance of that kind of early intervention on the impact on special education classification. Why should that be any less important in the K-12 setting?

Thank you, as always, for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Julie B



Monday, November 9, 2015

A Good Education Day in New Jersey

It's really great to have something good to write about. Today there are three! Quick. Go but a lottery ticket! 

This morning, Chris Tienken tweeted out a teaser for a report on Common Core Complexity, which will be released in January. The gist of it is this:

"[Webb's] Level 1 and 2 Depth of Knowledge complexity accounted for 72% of the high school English language arts Common Core State Standards. Thirty-seven percent (37%) of the 9-12 CCSS English language arts standards were rated at Level 1. Almost 3/4 of the high school English language arts standards do not require creative or strategic thinking as currently written." 

Pretty damning when Common Core cheerleaders have been selling it as the best thing to happen in public education in, well, forever. Seems that may have a been a bit of a stretch. Anyone surprised? Thought not.

With the NJ Assembly elected and back to business, the governor had to follow suit. Today, Governor Christie signed into law two bills a lot of us have been working very hard to get on the books. S2766/A3079, which limits standardized testing in grades K-2 to diagnostic purposes only. No high-stakes standardized testing for our youngest students. And, S2881/A4485, which prohibits the NJ Department of Education from withholding state aid from school districts for having high opt out/refusal rates. 

Since it seems that New Jersey refusal numbers are around 125,000, that law will come in handy. 

No more excuses, New Jersey. Opt Out


Saturday, October 24, 2015

USED's Latest Nonsense

The statement on testing was embargoed and held until 12pm on a Saturday. What's with that? The US is out picking out pumpkins and Halloween costumes so let's release it then and maybe no one will notice? 

Well, of course, we noticed. We also noticed that major news outlets like the New York Times wrote an entire article without bothering to talk to a single teacher. What's with that? Afraid of what a teacher might tell you about this release? 

I'm not a teacher, but here's what I got out of that release. 

First, and this a biggie. Reducing test time to 2% of the number of hours students are in school per school year. For those of you who grew up without Common Core math, that's roughly 23 hours. TWENTY THREE HOURS

Second, "the assessments must be worth taking." Excuse me while I laugh so hard I snort. That's great. Presumably every teacher on the planet would agree. So why has USED forced the adoption of standardized tests? And more to the point, ones that do not do what they claim they do. Why are states, like New Jersey, having committees look at "assessment" with the aim of doing away with tests created by teachers, for the students they are currently teaching, and will be able to immediately use the results to inform their teaching? (hint: no one makes any money on that) How many of your kids no longer have midterms or finals? Mine doesn't. 

Third, and this one cannot be typed with a straight face,  "No standardized test should ever be given solely for educator evaluation." USED offers this up now? When all states that took the NCLB waiver were coerced into creating a teacher evaluation in which standardized test scores are required??? Really?? I'm pretty sure teachers would have a lot to say about that.

Fourth, the babble about students with disabilities and English language learners is the usual trite language about leveling the playing field. If anyone was interested in actually doing that, you wouldn't require these populations to take standardized tests, you would make sure IDEA was fully funded, and you would come down like a ton of bricks on districts that didn't provide appropriate services for their students. 

My take away was not one of a victory in any sense of the word. Yes, I fight like mad to get rid of the crazy testing and, more importantly, the ridiculous high stakes that go with them. Yes, I'm glad that someone in Washington is at least willing to give a nod to the infatuation with testing, but this statement did not make clear which "assessments" they really mean, nor did they back off from the high stakes that go with them. 





Tuesday, October 20, 2015

New Jersey PARCC Scores *yawn*

From the Dyin-From-Not-Surprise Column, the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) announced today that the majority of students who took the PARCC exam failed. If you're like me and you've been following/studying/banging your head against the wall while this crap unfolded over the last several years, you're not fazed. Here's why. 

We have watched New York go through this already. My New York friends have been warning me to "brace" myself. I'm braced. The scores look as expected. This is a multi-million dollar yawn

The spin will be that it was really good first try. We have a new benchmark (Really? You are setting a benchmark using a test that hasn't been validated? Explain how that works exactly...). Our kids can do better. The teachers suck, but Pearson is going to sell you a few more millions of dollars worth of test prep, teacher prep, and prep for the prep. And, if that doesn't work, well, the children clearly have issues with lack of grit and we can test for that too

The sections in the NJDOE explainer (page 7), comparing scores to NAEP and SAT are really interesting. They forgot to tell the average reader that "proficient" in NAEP-speak represents a very high level of achievement. They also forgot to mention that SAT, beginning with last week's in-school data-mining project delivery of PSAT, is now aligned to Common Core, like PARCC. So, very nice of them to explain SAT, but going forward, for students who are a junior or lower, this does not apply. They have no idea what PARCC scores will look like compared to SAT. 

Note to parents of juniors: Brace yourselves.

And, I can't let this go. What the heck is up with NJDOE making this announcement to only invited guests on the front lawn of New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Company? And why did the list include (frankly, continues to include) the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce and the New Jersey Business & Industry Association? Those two, even more than the Gates and Prudential money taking PTA, really bothers me. They clearly have a fair amount of influence over NJDOE and our legislators. Why aren't parents and students afforded that kind of access? 

So, practically speaking, what does this all mean? Standardized tests don't teach. As parents, we need to speak up. Our children deserve so much better than this. Oh, and Opt Out of the tests. 

I'll leave you with a nod to Chris Tienken:










Friday, October 2, 2015

Dear Mr. President, Really????

Dear President Obama,

It must be Friday. It's one of those days where you just can't believe how incredibly stupid the education news of the day is. First, Arne is leaving. Ok, we can just file that under "Dyin' From Not-Surprise" because, let's face it, it sucks living several hundred miles away from your family and well, no one thought he'd hang in there with you until the bitter end anyway. His temp replacement, though, that is a bit of shocker. I'll get to why in a sec.

So, Arne, your good b-ball buddy, has left quite the boot footprint on US education. Pushing the unproven, not-validated, not-internationally benchmarked Common Core State Standards (CCSS) on all of us (btw, that is something you and your family have never had to endure). Pushing the ridiculous, expensive, time consuming testing that goes with CCSS. Pushing the invalid teacher evaluations. And, my personal favorite, selling the insipid notion that "high expectations" will magically make students with disabilities perform like their neurotypical peers. My goodness, Mr. President, did he ever read any actual peer-reviewed work on education? Ever? Speak with actual teachers and parents? Ever? If you need to see what I'm talking about, read Diane Ravitch and Mercedes Schneider for CCSS and testing; read Bruce Baker for why teacher evaluations are a sham.

Arne's latest foray into practically abolishing special education is especially heinous. He made sweeping changes, with barely a nod to those of us who wrote in protest over the last couple of years. And, he did this while citing research that either cannot be found or using research in specific areas as the basis for major changes that don't apply the way he says they do. Really, someone has to answer for that. Will it be you? It certainly doesn't look like it will be him. 


Now for the temp. John King. I'm laughing as I write that. Surely, Sir, you know what a disaster his tenure in New York was. Right? Well, maybe you don't. Your education policy suggests you haven't a clue what's happening out here. So let me help you. 

I have watched the education war in New York for some time. They are about a year ahead of us in the unmitigated disaster that is CCSS. I've watched the progression of teacher and parent advocacy. The growth of the Opt Out movement. I have helped bring that advocacy here to New Jersey. I have watched in stunned horror at the treatment of parents and teachers as they tried, in vain, to advocate for their children and students. And, I have watched John blow them all off"Unfortunately, the forums sponsored by the New York State PTA have been co-opted by special interests whose stated goal is to "dominate" the questions and manipulate the forum." [emphasis mine] Glad to know that people like me, the ones who are able to speak up (loudly when necessary), are considered a "special interest." Duly noted. Of course, that set off an even louder outcry and the meetings were rescheduled, but pretty disappointing that the guy in charge of New York ed was willing to just walk away because he didn't like what he heard. I hope his skin is thicker now because he will have parents and teachers from all over the country to listen to. 

You, Sir, also have in him a charter cheerleader. He co-founded one. He led Uncommon Schools. Curious that he's now going to be overseeing US public schools. I wonder if he'll give more to charters than Arne...

And, then there is the teacher evaluations. Yeah, in case you didn't know, a New York teacher filed suit against NY ed officials, including, get this, your new SecEd. A highly regarded educator all of sudden was deemed "ineffective" because of the new teacher evaluation. That's the one that Bruce Baker, above, shredded.

I know the response in the education advocacy world has been swift. But, you know (or maybe you don't), we're getting used to whatever it is you throw at us. Our kids deserve so much more than the Arne Show Part II you're about to unleash on them and their teachers. We aren't going anywhere. Our numbers are growing and we will not give up.

Sincerely,
Julie B.
Mom, aka Special Interest
I've decided the new acronym for this is #OOF  Opt Out Fuel! 


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

South Brunswick Board of Ed Tries to Oust Education Advocate

In every generation, you hope there will be people who are active and engaged in the community in which they live. You hope they are smart and willing to devote time to contribute and make things better in their corner of the world. New Jersey is lucky to have a lot of such people, especially in education advocacy. 

One of those people is a young woman named Melissa Katz. She is smart and funny and completely dedicated to becoming an urban educator. She is deeply involved in state advocacy for public education, seeing it not only as duty to a greater good, but also with the intent of saving a profession she dearly loves. Her future students will be very lucky to have her as their teacher.

Yesterday, I had a conversation with Melissa, actually I should say another conversation, about how her local Board of Education does a not great job of informing the public about their meetings -- specifically with regard to making their meeting agendas public. What is made available to the public before every meeting, via the district website, is a single page with an outline of a meeting. It looks like something the Business Administrator might start with before filling it in. As a member of the public, you should be able to look at an agenda, 48 hours in advance per the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), and discern what will be discussed. You should be able to decide if there is business you need to attend the meeting for -- either to comment or just to hear the details. South Brunswick Board of Education does not do this. You must attend the meeting to get an actual, full agenda.

Several members of the public have previously brought this to the Board's attention and nothing has been done. Melissa was troubled that the public comments had been ignored. We talked about the best way to approach the Board to ask for an explanation. This, with the full understanding that a Board does not have to respond to the question itself at a meeting. So, Melissa went home and looked at surrounding districts' websites for their Board agendas. All of them were complete. 

At last night's South Brunswick Board of Education meeting, Melissa asked what could be done about providing the full agenda per OPMA. She showed the Board members agendas from three districts. All of which were no less than 19 pages long. She held up theirs...it was one page. She asked how a member of the public could make a decision to attend or not based on the one page "agenda" with no information on it. When she finished, in under the time allotted for comment, she was given a quick thank you and that's it.

Melissa asked the Board VP repeatedly if he would respond. At that point, a simple courtesy (due to anyone who stands up to make a public comment) would have been just to thank her again and take it under advisement. But he didn't do that. Instead, he nodded to the police officer in attendance and asked for her to be removed. 

Think about that for, oh, half a second. A member of the public brings up a legitimate concern regarding how this Board conducts its business, that is by the way, theoretically prosecute-able, and the VP's response is at first to be rude, and then absurd by asking the  police officer to remove her. Melissa refused to leave and sat down. The officer stood over her for several minutes -- presumably to intimidate her into silence. It worked. She said nothing else.

Obviously, this raises some really basic concerns. 

1. Let's presume the Board is not providing a proper agenda because they don't know any better. (Yeah, I know. Suspend your disbelief for a sec.) Once this was brought to their attention, apparently now several times, why didn't they do a better job of informing the public by providing full agendas? Do they not want public input? It sure looks that way. 

2. Boards are not required to respond directly to any questions posed to them during a public meeting. However, they can answer if they choose to.   

3. Perhaps most important, will last night's ridiculous behavior by the Board VP have a chilling effect on the rest of the public? They have just witnessed what happens when a concerned citizen asks a perfectly legitimate question: A police officer will stand over you to shut you up. 

A reminder to the majority of Boards of Education in the state of New Jersey: You are elected to represent the public. Ignoring and attempting to intimidate the public to whom you are responsible is reprehensible. It is unethical. If you can't or won't do the job you were elected to do, step down, get out of the way. There are citizens who would be happy to do the job responsibly.


Note: I'll post video when I can get me hands on an edited version. The entire original is over an hour long. 

Edit to add:
Melissa posted her experience here. This is the edited version from the meeting:







Friday, September 18, 2015

The NJ Standards Review Farce


Back in the spring, Gov. Christie, quite out the blue, announced that he had concerns with Common Core State Standards (CCSS). I’m sure he took a lot of the reformy cheerleaders in the state by surprise. With that proclamation, he also announced yet another review committee to look at CCSS and turn in a report by the end of the year.

A mad scramble ensued over the summer. The committee was quickly thrown together. The composition of the “stakeholders” was announced. As a parent who is very involved and watching closely, I am appalled by a few things.

First, SPAN was listed as the parent special education representative. Those who know me, know I have a very deep respect for SPAN. They do excellent work in this state. I have even had the great privilege of being recognized by them “For Demonstrating Community Leadership to Strengthen New Jersey Families.” In this case, however, I thought that giving the one special education parent spot to an organization, instead of a parent, was unfair. There are many special education parents in the state who would have made a great representative. Oddly, SPAN did not get the seat allotted to them. SEAC did – NJDOE run Special Education Advisory Council. Hmm…NJDOE advising NJDOE. No problem there, right? Here is the full list of Committee members.

I know I’m going to get flak for that comment about SEAC. Let me be really clear. The person appointed represents a dyslexia group that is part of SEAC, and you would only know that if you’re familiar with SEAC members. However, in the NJ education world where transparency is as clear as mud, this appointment was bad form. SPAN, too, would have been for the same reason.

Process matters.

Next was the seat to PTO. Parent Teacher Organization is any non-PTA group. That includes, PFA, PTO, HSA, and so on. I wondered what NJDOE thought the definition was and how they were going to contact all of those organizations in the state when there is no central office for “PTO,” unlike PTA, who can get the word out to the local organizations – in the middle of the summer.

I called the person at NJDOE (whom I will not name, because this is not about shaming any one person) tasked with forming this committee. I left a lengthy message with an assistant and heard nothing back. I then reached out to the president of the State Board of Education. He in turn forwarded my request for explanation to that NJDOE representative and asked that my question be answered. Nothing. I got no phone call, no email, nothing. So much for transparency. Needless to say, the local PTOs I am familiar with had no idea there was a standards review happening at this very moment. They were never contacted by NJDOE for the opportunity to nominate someone.

Process matters.

Then, last night, I attended and provided testimony at the “Listening Tour” (and Focus Group – I’ll get to this) of the Committee. It was held at the Public Safety Training Academy in Parsippany. Only, it wasn’t IN Parsippany, it was in Morris Plains. I wonder if that’s why the third committee member was a no show. Hmmm.

We each had three minutes to weigh in on the entire content of CCSS. Beyond the laughable time allotment, it also appears that none of it was recorded. Less than 10% of the entire committee was in attendance, and they will not hear what was said. They can read it, but I do know that at least one person spoke about something entirely different than what was submitted in writing – something I regularly do at Senate, Assembly, and State Board of Ed meetings. I hope those members in attendance took great notes.

I chose to speak about process. I am a stickler for process, especially in the public sphere where everything should be transparent. I mentioned everything above. And, where special education is concerned, all of the money spent on NCLB and CCSS and the testing and prepping and the insipid notion that education is a one-size-fits-all enterprise, has cost us dearly. How many districts have spent the money on computers to take the tests instead of reading specialists?

And then, there is The Survey. A very, very laborious and long survey. I sincerely hope teachers take what will undoubtedly be a big chunk of time to complete it. Parents, I suspect, will not. At the very least, I hope they will attempt the standards for the grades their children are in, or were in last year. 

Again, process matters. This survey is taking place at the busiest time of year for teachers. For parents, it’s pretty clear they did not have us in mind at all when this was developed. Frankly, I fully expect that even if a few thousand surveys are completed (or turned in incomplete) the spin will be that NJDOE has thousands of data points to brag about. Nevermind that only a tiny percentage of teachers took the survey.

Finally, in the vestibule there was a monitor listing the events happening last evening in the building. Standards Review Listening Tour and Focus Group is how it was listed. What happened last night was definitely not a focus group. Interested to see if NJDOE does follow through with conducting actual focus groups and who/how those participating are chosen. Or, will last night be referred to as a focus group in the final report? Hmmm.


It is impossible to take any of the state’s review committees seriously. We are still waiting (months) for the Special Education and the Assessment Review Committees’ reports. What is the hold up? Now we have this one which has about 6 months to gather information, opinions, and deliver new standards? Better? Different? The same but with cursive writing and a new name? I know my education professor friends are both horrified and laughing their butts off. This is NOT how standards are developed. 

One of my colleagues is calling this a farce. The #ChristieCCSSReviewFarce. I agree. As usual, we deserve so much better than what we are getting. 

Friday, September 4, 2015

This Is 8th Grade In Newark

Newark Public Schools have been under State control since July 1995. Twenty years. In that time, the citizens of Newark have had no say in what happens to their schools. They have watched their neighborhood schools close. They have watched as District money is funneled into charter schools. They have listened to the politicians in this state criticize the very District they are responsible for. Frankly, twenty years later, anything that is not working in Newark Public Schools is squarely on the State’s shoulders.

Have you ever wondered what a student’s schedule looks like? After all, New Jersey Department of Education is laser-focused on standardized test scores and being college and career ready. How does New Jersey translate that into the lives of the young citizens of Newark?

A Newark dad shared his child’s schedule. To my suburban friends, can you ever imagine your child bringing home a schedule that looks like this? Or a superintendent selling this to you? No? Me neither. This is outrageous.



ELA = English Language Arts. SS = Social Studies. It’s not possible to tell how often Social Studies will actually take place, but given that it’s not currently tested and used to condemn students, teachers, and schools, one would presume more time will be given to ELA. By the way, what the heck is a STEM class? In a 30-period week, they already have half devoted to STEM.

We hear a lot about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). Really, we should be hearing more about STEAM (A = Arts), but I digress. Should any student be subjected to so narrow a curriculum? And in 8th grade no less!

Where are music? Chorus? Art class that’s more than one period a week? Languages? Gym that’s more than two periods a week?


College and career ready is all we hear about from the US Department of Education and the New Jersey Department of Education. They haven’t bothered to define what that is exactly, but from this schedule, for kids in Newark, it means ELA and Math to exclusion of all else that makes life interesting, worth living, and generally makes for a well-rounded person. 

Edit to add:
Well, this clearly struck a nerve. Here is the 8th grade schedule from a dad in a decidedly Sparkly District. This is what Newark students' schedules should look like.




Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Arne Says Common Core and Standardized Tests for Students with Disabilities

Dear Arne,

As I read the Federal Register the other day, frustration, disappointment, annoyance, more disappointment, astonishment, were just a few of the emotions I felt. I am still gobsmacked at the utter lack of understanding of students with disabilities. The lack of compassion. The lack of expertise. And, frankly, the utter meanness of your latest demonstration in lack of creativity when dealing with serious educational issues. Just force students with disabilities to do the same as their age peers with no regard for those disabilities and, magically, they will perform as though they are neurotypical. That’s your plan?

Do you have any understanding, at all, of the damage your policies, including this one, will have on children in this country? Any notion at all? Have you ever met a student with a disability…any disability? Have you ever considered, even for a minute, how your opinions on subjects you clearly know nothing about will impact millions of students? Have you thought about what their lives and the lives of their families will look like as they face wildly inappropriate curricula and testing – that are, ultimately, without purpose?

We do NOT suffer from a lack of high expectations. Just the thought of that is laughable. We do, however, suffer from policies that are meant to fail our children. We suffer from poor funding. We suffer from experienced teachers leaving the profession in droves. We suffer from the effects of professional development aimed at how to administer a test, rather than a true honing of teaching skills. We suffer from poorly written IEP’s and from districts that are more interested in “saving money” than teaching our children. We suffer from the notion that Common Core State Standards are good, well researched, and validated. We suffer from lack of support from the Office of Civil Rights.

It is impossible to take you and your policies seriously. If you truly wanted students with disabilities to succeed, you would insist upon and make sure that ALL school districts were well funded. You wouldn’t promote standardized tests as the only way to judge the abilities of our students. You would make sure there are certified teachers in ALL of our schools. You would make sure new teachers are well supported within their districts and that there is money to pay for continuing professional development.

So, when September 21st rolls around in a few short weeks, how many students with special needs will be well and utterly screwed as they are forced to face developmentally inappropriate curricula and testing? Do you even know the number? How many of them won’t have a prayer of graduating high school, much less be “college and career ready?” (Still waiting for a definition of that, btw.) How many of those will simply end up in prison or on welfare?

As I have said before, part of my job as a parent is to make sure my daughter is as well prepared and educated as possible as she enters into adulthood. I am trying to raise a well-rounded, curious, compassionate individual with something to contribute to the world. Arne, please stop making it so damned difficult and get out of the way. Please.

Sincerely,
Julie B.


P.S. Thanks for adding yet another reason to Opt Out.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Yet More Influence of Money

The Leadership Conference on Human and Civil Rights just keeps on pushing standardized testing. Two articles in particular are troubling. This one from Vox, and this one from International Business Times (IBT). Both highlight the lobbying by big civil and disability rights groups for Congress to maintain high stakes testing in an effort to close achievement gaps of poor, minority, and disabled students. 

It's a noble thought that, in practice, is a disaster for those groups. I know I sound like a broken record, but please, someone, anyone, show me the data that demonstrates the closing of those gaps. Show me how tests given to students who have NEVER seen the material on the tests demonstrate anything worthwhile. Anything! Please. 

I recognize the place from which these civil and disability rights groups argue. That pre-ESEA, or IDEA, the people they represent were left out. Districts we not obliged to educate them. I'd like to think that in 2015 the thought of not educating someone in this country is utterly abhorrent. There are better ways to demonstrate growth, progress, achievement, rather than issuing poorly designed standardized tests and narrowing curriculum for the sole purpose of taking those tests. I don't care where you live in the US, that's exactly what's happened -- all in the name of "college and career ready," a term that no one has bothered to define, but, heck, it sure sounds good. 

The other day, Steven Singer noted on his blog that many of the civil rights groups had been asking for relief from standardized testing as late as last October. Now they want it. Politics and money are tricky, I guess. 

Once again, I've been obliged to go poking through the Gates, Broad, and Walton Foundations' websites and 990's looking for grants provided to the groups that signed on to not one, but two, press releases from The Leadership Conference in the last week. There were a couple of new faces on these two lists. 

I have written about the money here, here, and here. The money from just these three foundations is staggering.  

Here is the list from the 14th July 2105 Leadership Conference advocacy letter to the US Senate.


Gates
Walton
Broad
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
$2,930,868
----
----
Alliance for Education Excellence
$17,740,140
----
-----
American Association of University Women
----
----
----
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
----
----
----
Association of University Centers on Disabilities
----
----
----
Center for American Progress
$6,448,809
$200,000
$771,676
Children’s Defense Fund
$433,178
----
$4,000
Council of Parent Attorneys & Advocates
----
----
----
Democrats for Education Reform
----
----
----
Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund
----
----
----
Easter Seals
$384,747
----
----
Judge David L. Brazelon Center for Mental Health Law
----
----
----
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
----
----
----
League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)
$943,687
----
----
Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF)
$1,325,077
----
----
NAACP
$2,456,106
----
----
NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund
----
----
----
National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities
----
----
----
National Center for Learning Disabilities
$124,315
----
----
National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools
----
----
----
National Center on Time & Learning
$1,311,003
----
$1,571,500
National Council on La Raza (NCLR)
$33,331,260
$2,419,330
----
National Disabilities Rights Network
----
----
----
National Down Syndrome Congress
----
----
----
National Indian Education Association
$1,944,230
----
----
National Urban League
$5,156,017
$40,000
----
National Women’s Law Center
----
----
----
New Leaders
$20,718,314
$1,800,000
$2,653,000
PolicyLink
$1,882,828
----
----
Southeast Asian Resource Action Center (SEARAC)
$1,680,105
----
----
Southern Education Foundation
$500,056
----
----
Southern Poverty Law Center
----
----
----
Stand for Children
$13,449,716
$3,136,134
----
Teach for America
$12,405,267
$77,109,586
$20,855,440
Teach Plus
$17,094,388
$250,000
----
The Education Trust
$15,291,817
$1,283,000
$582,785
The New Teacher Project (TNTP)
$23,000,280
12,191,239
----
UNCF
$1,587,347,363
$3,535,030
----
Total
$1,767,899,571
$101,964,319
$26,438,401


Here is the list from the 16th July 2015 Leadership Conference other advocacy letter to the US Senate.


Gates
Walton
Broad
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
$2,930,868
----
----
Alliance for Education Excellence
$17,740,140
----
-----
Association of University Centers on Disabilities
----
----
----
Children’s Defense Fund
$433,178
----
4,000
Council of Parent Attorneys & Advocates
----
----
----
Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund
----
----
----
Judge David L. Brazelon Center for Mental Health Law
----
----
----
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
----
----
----
League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)
$943,687
----
----
Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF)
$1,325,077
----
----
NAACP
$2,456,106
----
----
NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund
----
----
----
National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools
----
----
----
National Disabilities Rights Network
----
----
----
National Down Syndrome Congress
----
----
----
National Urban League
$5,156,017
$40,000
----
Southeast Asian Resource Action Center (SEARAC)
$1,680,105
----
----
Southern Education Foundation
$500,056
----
----
Southern Poverty Law Center
----
----
----
TASH
----
----
----
The New Teacher Project (TNTP)
$23,000,280
12,191,239
----
Total
$56,165,332
$12,231,239
$4,000