Sunday, June 8, 2014

Guest Post: Melissa Katz Debunks JerseyCAN's Common Core Cheerleading

On June 4th, the State Board of Education convened for another fun round of discussion about the education reforms proposed (and partially implemented already) to drastically change the face of education as we know it. The State Board of Education held (and is still holding – check their website for more dates) public comment/hearings on the re-adoption of the Core Curriculum Content Standards (CCSS) which includes the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in math and language arts, and a proposed overhaul of the science standards to move to the Next Generation Science Standards. While only two women spoke (both representatives of their organizations), the second speaker caught my attention immediately – Janellen Duffy, from a group called JerseyCAN, spoke on behalf of the organization.

Janellen Duffy
JerseyCAN, the New JerseyCampaign for Achievement Now founded in March of 2013, is “a part of 50CAN: the 50-state Campaign for Achievement Now. [They] are a non-profit organization that launched in March 2013, and [they] advocate for a high-quality education for all New Jersey kids, regardless of their address. JerseyCAN is working to create learning environments that best meet every child’s needs by focusing [their] work on starting earlier, expanding choices, aiming higher, cultivating talent and reaching everyone”. Former Governor of New Jersey Tom Kean is the co-chair of New Jersey’s branch JerseyCAN’s board.

Executive Director of JerseyCAN Janellen Duffy, as reported by, stated, “We believe in using data to guide decision-making in education, whether it's decisions parents are making about schools or policy decisions that are being made at the state and local level”.

Data. It always comes down to data, because in education reform today, if it isn’t quantifiable and measurable, it isn’t important. The impact of outside factors on students and education? Who cares! Poverty? Ha!! Sweep that one right under the rug because no one wants to talk about that elephant in the room! For a deeper analysis on the “data-guided decision-making” process, see JerseyJazzman’s blog post on JerseyCAN.

But for our purposes, let’s break down the testimony given to the State Board of Education: Duffy read the full testimony on behalf of JerseyCAN. A few of the points addressed in their testimony stood out:

1. “Now more than ever, higher, consistent standards are needed to help ensure that students have the knowledge needed to succeed in college and careers. The Common Core State Standards incorporate the expectations of both colleges and employers to ensure students are prepared to meet the demands of a 21st century workforce. Furthermore, the Common Core State Standards are internationally benchmarked so that students can compete with their peers in the United States and in countries across the world”.

There are clear issues with this statement. According to Sandra Stotsky, who was in charge of the development of the English Standards in Massachusetts, she said the following about the Common Core State Standards:

“How do I know the goal of international benchmarking was abandoned by CCSSI (Common Core State Standards Initiative)? As a member of Common Core’s Validation Committee from September 2009 to August 2010, among the criteria I was asked to sign off on in May 2010 was whether Common Core’s standards were ‘comparable to the expectations of other leading nations.’ Despite making regular requests since September 2009 for evidence of international benchmarking, I received no material on the academic expectations of other leading nations in mathematics or language arts and literature. I was one of the five members of the 23-member committee who declined to sign off after examining the final version of the standards.

I had also done my own research on the matter. Two English-speaking regions (British Columbia and Ireland) indicate far more demanding requirements for the literacy knowledge students need in order to pass a high school exit test or matriculation exam than appear in Common Core’s high school standards”.

Dr. Stotsky further speaks on the matter in testimony before the Texas Legislature on the Common Core ELA (English Language Arts) Standards:

"Common Core's 'college readiness' standards for English language arts and reading do not aim for a level of achievement that signifies readiness for authentic college-level work. They point to no more than readiness for a high school diploma (and possibly not even that, depending on where the cut score is set). Despite claims to the contrary, they are not internationally benchmarked. States adopting Common Core's standards will damage the academic integrity of both their post-secondary institutions and their high schools precisely because Common Core's standards do not strengthen the high school curriculum and cannot reduce the current amount of post-secondary remedial coursework in a legitimate way".

2. “Opponents of the standards often claim the Common Core State Standards are a one-size-fits-all approach to education and that the Common Core State Standards encroach on local control. However, these are unfounded assertions. The Common Core State Standards are not a curriculum, and they do not dictate lesson plans; they are merely learning goals for each grade level that are based on what skills and knowledge students need to acquire to be successful in college or careers. All decisions about how to teach to meet the goals of the standards will continue to be made by educators at the school and district level” .

Again there are clear issues with this statement. As Peter Greene writes in his blog “Curmudgucation:”

“But the Core are copyrighted, and if you want to use them, you must do so as is, with not a single change. States may add up to 15% on top of what's there, but they may not rewrite the CCSS in any way, shape, form, jot, tittle, or squib. States cannot adjust the standards a little to suit themselves. They cannot adapt them to fit local needs. They can't touch them.

Even more importantly (and incredibly) there is NO process for review and revision...

If you found what you considered to be a terrible mistake in the CCSS, there is no place you can call, no office you can contact, no form you can fill out, no appeal process you can appeal to, no meeting of the board you can attend to submit your comment, no set of representatives you can contact with your concern. There is nothing. The CCSS cannot be changed”

3. “JerseyCAN strongly believes that with the proper focus and attention, this misinformation can be addressed and significant challenges will be resolved in a timely manner so schools and districts can fully implement the standards. New Jersey has been and should continue to be a leader in education. Where other states have stumbled, we should learn from their mistakes and forge ahead”.

New Jersey has always been one of the top performing states in the country educationally. At a recent state board of education meeting, Bari Erlichson, the Chief Performance Officer/Assistant Commissioner of Data, Research, Evaluation and Reporting at the NJDOE, reported on the 2013 NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) scores. According to Ms. Erlichson, New Jersey students are ‘flat’ in their growth. But a closer look at the data would show that being ‘flat’ isn’t such a bad thing (aside from it being a poor way to characterize our students).

According to a report on the NAEP results from the NJEA, the following conclusions were reached:

Achievement Scores and Growth Are Among the Nation's Best
Looking at all grades and across subject areas for all students, New Jersey’s track record is second in the nation in performance and improvement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
  • Source: The Education Trust. Differences in State Track Records Foreshadow Challenges and Opportunities for Common CoreJuly 2013. 

Reading Scores Are Among the Nation's Best
No other state in the nation scores statistically higher than New Jersey on the fourth grade or eighth grade Reading Exam. Fourth graders in New Jersey public schools have the 5th highest scores in the nation in reading in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Eighth graders have the second highest.
  • Source: National Center for Education Statistics. A First Look: 2013 Mathematics and ReadingOctober 2013.

Math Scores Are Among the World's Best
In a comparison of New Jersey’s eighth grade NAEP math scores with eighth grade math scores in countries world-wide, New Jersey public school students out-performed all but five Asian countries.
  • Source: National Center for Education Statistics. US States in a Global Context: Results from the 2011NAEP-TIMSS Linking Study. October 2013.

And this is only some of the good news. More on the achievements of New Jersey students can be found in the rest of the article, hereAnd after reading all of this information, the New Jersey Department of Education still concludes that our student’s growth is ‘flat.’ If ‘flat’ translates to continually being one of the top performing states in the country and compared internationally, then let them continue to label our students as ‘flat.’

But there’s a reason behind this madness – the New Jersey Department of Education didn’t just pull the word ‘flat’ out of the air – there is a deliberate labeling of our students, teachers, and schools as underperforming and in need of the magical reforms that are proposed to ‘fix’ education. The push for all of these reforms – Common Core State Standards, PARCC (Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Career), TEACHNJ/AchieveNJ for the new teacher evaluations that include student test scores and ‘growth’ (and that’s a whole different conversation) – comes behind the false tale that we are failing. The only way to sell these reforms is to convince the public that there is a huge crisis in education, and we must make drastic changes if we want our students to be ‘college and career ready, and ‘prepared to compete in a 21st century workforce’ (because apparently everyone who has gone through the public school system up to this point have also been complete failures). There absolutely is a crisis here – but it is a manufactured crisis intended to make money for the select few, such as massive testing companies like Pearson, book publishers like McGraw Hill, etc.; and to purposefully break teachers unions, close public schools, and create a system of ‘choice’ and charter schools run by corporate management companies and organizations for one purpose and one purpose only – money. 

Real education? Genuine learning? Expressing creativity and exploring individualism? Nah, as long as we get those test scores up, that’s really all that matters (and did I mention money?).

Quoting that there is ‘misinformation’ out in the public is another tactic used by the reformers. “There’s a lot of misinformation out there in the public. Trust us (the reformers), we have the best interest at heart for students, teachers, and schools. Everything we do is for the students.” Translated: you’re colossally stupid and misinformed, so let us reformers make the decisions that impact every student, teacher, and school despite our complete lack of educational experience. ‘Misinformation’ has recently become one of those infamous buzzwords that the reformers seem to love, along with some of my personal favorites like ‘rigor,’ ‘accountability,’ ‘effective,’ and a slew of other words to convince the public that our schools are failing. Our nation needs all of these reforms – more ‘’rigorous’ standards, only the most ‘highly effective’ teachers – to bring our schools to an internationally competitive level because our students, teachers, and schools have been failures up to this point.
As Jersey Jazzman concludes about JerseyCAN:
This is all about using data in a lame attempt to sow seeds of doubt about New Jersey's outstanding public schools - especially the suburban schools that have, so far, rejected the reformy prescriptions of education officials like Cerf and corporate reform supporters like JerseyCAN.”
Just because a group has a nice-sounding name like the “Campaign for Achievement Now” and an inspirational slogan like “great schools change everything,” never take these things just as they are. Never hesitate to jump in and do research – even just looking around websites and seeing who funds groups like these and who sits on their boards – to become increasingly more educated and informed. Many times groups that claim the public is ‘misinformed’ are misinformed themselves. And many times, they aren’t even misinformed – they just completely ignore evidence and statistics that counter their arguments. Always listen to both sides of an argument, look closely at data, and make conclusions from there. 

I’ve got my eye on JerseyCAN, and you should too.

Melissa Katz is an Urban Elementary Education major at the College of New Jersey. Melissa is a product of New Jersey's public schools, and an unabashed defender of public education. She has taken a keen interest in the education reform movement, and makes her way around the state studying reform in its many guises. She has attended and commented at Board of Education meetings in multiple districts, delivered testimony before the legislature in Trenton, and gave a passionate speech at the March 27th NJ Ed March in Trenton. She can be reached at or you can leave a comment for her below.


  1. You write an amazing blog but quoting Sandra Stotsky is disappointing. Stotsky has meddling in many states with many standards including the NJ former standards. She is a conservative ideologue and aligned against many of the causes that you champion so well.

  2. Like how does everybody forget that achievement comes 3rd in Maslow's Hierarchy and the more you focus on data the less chance you are going to have at making connections with these kids. Kids that need connections the most. Kids that mostly were robbed of their identity to begin with. Nobody wants to pay attention to that because they hate acknowledging the 400 years of free labor that created this gap. I'm going to explain it just like I told my administrator during a post conference discussion on my weakness. On my evaluation I scored the second to lowest on data and the second to highest on environment. The bottom line is this, if you me to improve on my data know it will be at the cost of my environment. AND FOR WHAT. Like there is any time to revisit anything if I am to keep up with your pacing charts.

  3. Bravo, Melissa. Perhaps if the Common Core designers had had some actual New Jersey English teachers and literacy experts in their working group, the standards would be better. By the way, can anyone point to a case where standards have actually improved learning or narrowed an achievement gap?

  4. Thank you all so much for your comments! I would like to take one moment and address the first comment regarding Sandra Stotsky. Let me start by saying I do not disagree with the points raised whatsoever! To be quite honest, I viewed those facts in a different way: I personally saw it as someone who is somewhat a fan of standards and testing (when you google her the first thing that comes up is that she's from the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas!) coming out so strongly against CCSS, which from my perspective makes the argument stronger.

    From Diane Ravitch:
    "Sandra Stotsky was in charge of developing the outstanding academic curriculum frameworks in Massachusetts in the 1990s. She served on one of the committees that participated in the shaping of he Common Core. She certainly believes in standards and testing. She is now one of the most outspoken critics of Common Core. In this article, she explains why. She believes that the insistence on one-size-fits-all will lower standards, not raise them."

    Finding anyone who was closely involved in anything regarding the reform movement who doesn't/hasn't at one point supported these reforms is difficult. One of the most amazing things about the grassroots movement against the reform movement/CCSS is that it has brought together people - with all different ideas and political backgrounds - together for a (dare I say) 'common' cause among us.

    Thank you all again for the feedback and raising the excellent point regarding Ms. Stotsky!