Thursday, July 16, 2015

New Jersey’s Standards Review Committee

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that the favorite way for the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE)/Gov. Christie to blow off immediate responsibility for anything is to create a Committee. The latest being the New Jersey Standards Review Committee. I can’t help the feeling of “here we go again.” Of course, since Gov. Christie announced (blindsided CCSS ardent supporters?) that New Jersey would be taking a formal look at the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), we were all wondering who would have seat at that particular table.

Following several weeks of speculation, NJDOE released the outline of the Committee. While there are actual educator seats and some new faces, like PTO, so are there the usual suspects: PTA, NJSBA, NJPSA, Chamber of Commerce, BIA, etc. I’m still not clear why two precious seats should ever go to entities that know nothing about education. Sorry, folks, the Chamber and BIA should have absolutely no say in what a first grade student learns or how.

Of course, as a special ed parent, my concern is the inclusion of our voices. When do special ed parents get a seat at the table? Initially, I was really pleased to see SPAN listed under the Parent seats. I wrote and asked if I could be the SPAN representative, hopeful that a leadership award bestowed upon me earlier this year by them might help my prospects. Unfortunately, SPAN said no, only an employee of SPAN can represent them. So, the one required special ed parent seat will be going to an employee of SPAN – not as a representative of parents, but of SPAN.

Effectively, that is also the issue with PTA. And, unfortunately, we all know where PTA’s allegiances lie. It’s not a difficult guess to think that PTA will fully support doing absolutely nothing to the standards when they take millions from the Gates Foundation.

So, what about PTO? Even having been on my district’s K-8 PTO board a few years ago, I didn’t really know the structure of PTO. It always struck me that there never appeared to be any position or direction from outside of our district’s organization. Turns out that’s because, according to the PTO website, the definition of a PTO is, “An independent parent group; in other words, any non-PTA group. Many acronyms—such as HSA, PCC, PTO, and more—fall under the independent group umbrella. (In this chart, we use “PTO” generically to mean any independent parent group.)

This leads to the question…how does a parent from a PTO get chosen? SPAN will be using their own employee. PTA will likely do the same or choose someone from their state level board. No such structure exists for PTO. If your district has an HSA, SEPAC, PFO, etc. how are they going to know to nominate anyone for that seat?

For those of you wondering why a parent, who presumably does not have the professional credentials to evaluate standards or curriculum (not that that criteria has stopped the Chamber or BIA from serving on Committees), should have a seat at the table at all…we can be the ones, without political attachment, who can ask the really difficult questions and demand answers. Our “skin in the game” is our (collective) children’s future, not a pay check, not a political endorsement, and we have no fear of a job loss or gubernatorial appointment being withdrawn.

Remember the Rogers Commission on the Challenger disaster? There was ONE person, a Caltech professor, not affiliated with NASA, USAF, or any other government agency. He was able to ask the tough questions, and his fellow Committee members, including Sally Ride, fed him information behind closed doors, so he could investigate and ultimately (dramatically) demonstrated the O-rings’ lack of resilience to cold. He was able to get to the truth when no one else, regardless of their personal intentions, could do so.

The long-winded point is, once again, parents are out of the loop. Nominations are supposed to take place over the next couple of weeks. I’m guessing your local PTO is not buzzing with the latest news from around the state and they will miss this opportunity.

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