Thursday, May 21, 2015

Lonely Laura Waters

It's gotta be hard to be NJ's only reformster blogger. I mean, just look at the tally sheet.

And this is just the bloggers I can think of off the top of my head and doesn't include amazing guest bloggers I've had on my blog like MoNeke Ragsdale, Sue Altman, and Julie Borst. It also doesn't include the Cares groups that have sprung up all around the state, or groups like the Newark Parents Union and the Newark Students union, or even Save Our Schools NJ - the pro public ed parent group that makes poor Waters see red and completely lose her faculties on a regular basis.

And then there's Waters. All on her own. And it's not like NJ Reformsters haven't tried to build a corps of bloggers. See the email below from the NJ Charter Schools Association, asking the folks on their mailing list to "Become a Blogger" as part of their Communications and Advocacy plan. (Place your bets as to how long before I'm taken off this mailing list.)

Waters has been all alone waving her flag for charters, choice, and testing for as long as I can remember, and she's gone after SOSNJ more times that I care to link to. It's all become a bit of a bore to be frank. But when she went after Sarah Tepper Blaine yesterday my interest was piqued. 

Why you may ask? Isn't this just par for the course with Waters? 

Well, yes and no.

Sarah is a new and interesting target for Waters, and Waters has a new and interesting role in the reformster landscape. You see, Waters is now  a pen for ire for Eli Broad's Education Post

The amazing Edushyster recently interviewed Education Post's creator, Peter Cunningham. Read the whole interview to get the real sense of what's what, but here's an important snippet.
EduShyster: That expression you see on my face is incredulity. But please go on sir. I want to hear more about the isolation and alone-ness of people pushing reform. How are they faring today?
swarmCunningham:  Take Kevin Huffman. Now you can disagree with him on policy, but he felt like people were waking up everyday and just attacking him on social media. He tried to respond, and he just felt like it didn’t matter. By 2012-2013, Team Status Quo—your label not mine—was very effectively calling a lot of reform ideas into question. I mean look around the country. Huffman’s gone, John King is gone, John Deasy is gone, Michelle Rhee is gone. I’ve created the ability to swarm, because everyone felt like they were being swarmed. We now have people who will, when asked, lean in on the debate, when people feel like they’re just under siege.
EduShyster: I like that word *swarm* because that’s kind of how I imagine the scene at EdPost HQ. Somewhere somebody on the Internets says something hurtful about, say, PARCC, and an alarm sounds, activating the team members who then proceed to badger the offender into submission. (emphasis mine)
How can Team Reformster get out their message when they are so often severely outnumbered if not completely alone like Waters here in NJ? Why, they can seek out the megaphone provided by billionaires like Eli Broad (who has dumped 12 million dollars into Ed Post) and Peter Cunningham, former Assistant Secretary for Communications and Outreach with the U.S. Department of Education. 

Not only was Cunningham Arne Duncan's communications flack, he's his buddy as well. Cunningham worked with Duncan in Chicago, and came with him and Obama to DC. This is all very personal for Cunningham.
I understand that Dr. Ravitch is about to publish another book attacking education reform. She will go after my good friend Arne Duncan. She will attack alternative educational approaches such as charter schools -- even if they are successful. She will attack well-meaning and hard-working organizations like Teach for America. She will attack foundations and organizations she disagrees with, regardless of the benefits they provide to educators. She will lump them all together as one big corporate conspiracy aimed at privatizing public education. (emphasis mine)
But what does this all have to do with Sarah? Allow me to explain.

Sarah's blog posts have been picked up numerous times by Valerie Strauss, who writes the Answer Sheet blog for the Washington Post. Hence, Sarah has gotten a lot of national media attention. (GO SARAH!)

New York principal Carol Burris has also gotten a lot of national attention on the Answer Sheet blog where she has regularly decimated the Common Core and advocated for the opt out movement. Unsurprisingly, Burris was the first target of an Education Post swarm of pens for hire (see all of the posts here) and don't miss Curmudgucation's take on the whole mess.

All this makes me wonder, will Waters bring her critique of Sarah national in an attempt to discredit another Answer Sheet guest blogger with a national audience? Smart money says yes.

It has become clear that the strong uprising against PARCC in NJ has attracted the attention of national groups, as evidenced by unsolicited opinion pieces by national reformsters appearing in the papers and on the websites of our states' media outlets. See recent examples from Education Trust president Kati Haycock here and Team Michael (Petrilli and Brickman), the president and national policy director of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, here.
To be sure, these changes are not easy, but we hope New Jersey will not turn back now, and will continue on a path to providing high, measurable goals for all students. The state's educators and students have worked too hard, for too long, to climb the mountain to higher expectations to turn around just as the summit comes into view.
Is it a coincidence that since the launch of Education Post, we've seen this influx of national figureheads in our state media? Consider this from EdWeek about Ed Post's launch:
Cunningham said some of the new group's work will be behind the scenes, drafting op-ed articles for policymakers, educators, and others, as well as providing strategic advice. But a more public effort will involve writing blog posts and responding to public misconceptions. (emphasis mine)
Looks like since Waters is the lone blogger for Team Reformster in the state they have to bring in the hired guns to try to control the narrative. 

I have to laugh at the feeble attempt to downplay the pro-public ed side of the New Jersey debate in Waters' post about Sarah:
The anti-reform Jersey consortium isn’t that big, but it’s really well-organized. We all know the names: Bob Braun, Mark Weber, Marie Cornfield, Julia Sass Rubin, Stephen Danley, Bruce Baker. (Sorry if I’ve missed a couple.) Just about all of them are connected, in one way or another, to NJEA and Save Our Schools-NJ.
Waters missed more than a couple, (see above) and she has it kind of backwards. Our "consortium" IS really big, a whole hell of a lot bigger than hers to be sure, and it is Team Reformster that tends to be really "well-organized."

After all, Waters has We Raise NJ, (and looky there, her posts are on that website too!) and all the money and organizational capacity that comes from an alliance with trusted education leaders like the Chamber of Commerce and the New Jersey Business and Industry Association! But don't worry parents and teachers, We Raise NJ has pledged that "students are more than their test results" and that they "respect teachers' and families' responsibility to make academic decision for students!" 

I guess the good folks at We Raise NJ just wish the NJ education blogosphere would pipe down a bit about the academic decisions we make for our students. 

We have the numbers, but they have money and the connections to our government and our media. Our unfunded, rag-tag bunch of New Jersey bloggers make them nervous because we are on to their game, we're making noise, and we're gaining ground. We're all in this for the long haul, and as time marches on our ranks only grow deeper and stronger. 

So bring it on.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Pitchman Fails To Extinguish Pearson's PR Fire

If corporations really are people then Pearson must be crying in his coffee right about now.

First, Pearson received a thorough skewering at the hands of John Oliver.

As one might expect, the Oliver bit went viral on social media. On the Last Week Tonight Facebook page, the video has been viewed almost 3.5 million times, and has been shared 56,000 times. To date, it's the most viewed video of the season. The only video that has come remotely close to the same number of views was a segment on government surveillance where Oliver interviewed Edward Snowden. The Snowden segment has been watched a little more than 2.6 million times, and shared 37,000 times.

Congratulations, Pearson!! You're more frightening to the American public than their own government spying on them.

What even I didn't expect however was that the segment went viral in the main stream media. It's been covered by Time, Rolling Stone, the Wall Street Journal and even EdWeek among a host of other major media outlets.

Then the brilliant Valerie Strauss reached out to Pearson and asked if they wanted to respond to the segment. Seems they thought this would be a good opportunity to do some Crisis Communications.

Pearson's chosen Pitchman is a fellow by the name of Alfred Binford. Pearson sent Alfred out to fight their five alarm PR Fire.

Alfred was described in the post as the "managing director of assessment and direct delivery." Whatever the heck that means.

A quick perusal of his LinkedIn account shows Alfred's only been on the job for 6 months. 
Before releasing his missive, Pearson may have wanted to make sure the job description on his LinkedIn account matched what they were sending to the Washington Post, since LinkedIn says he "Directs North American Sales and GTM operations across major units for global market leader."

His letter sure reads like a sales pitch, and not only is Pearson selling us their test, they're trying to sell us Alfred himself.
The best things that have happened in my life are because of my family and education. A single mom made schooling a top priority for my siblings and me, and I am a proud product of the Bronx Public Schools in New York City. Education has always been “access to opportunity” for me and has helped shape me as a husband, dad, neighbor, employee, and citizen.
My wife and I want our three boys to get great educations that prepare them to earn good-paying jobs and to find fulfillment in life. Just about every parent knows that so much of future success depends on access to the best education possible. 
It sure seems like Pearson's PR flacks are putting Alfred out there as the new, fresh, family friendly face of Pearson. And what a coincidence, I found reference to Alfred on the Facebook page of L. Wolfe Communications.

And of course, Pearson is listed as a client of L. Wolfe Communications.

The article L. Wolfe was hawking goes even further to sell us on the Cult of Alfred.
My family is no different.  In my new role at Pearson, I am busy with the development and distribution of our assessment and virtual learning solutions, and supporting our dedicated team of professionals who work with educators throughout North America. My wife, Jackie, is putting her undergraduate degree and master’s in business administration to work as a part-time substitute teacher in Georgia. When traveling for work, I am so grateful for her shouldering much of the responsibility for managing the busy lives of our three boys—everything from shuttling them to and from basketball practice and taking them to the latest action movie sequel (that I think are way too violent) to helping with their homework projects.
In the midst of our hectic lives, we find one activity that really unites us is family dinner. In the Binford household, we make an effort for the five of us to sit down at the table together every chance we get. Whether at home, or at our favorite local restaurants, this precious time together provides us with a break from our busy lives, and time to talk, laugh (mostly at me) and re-connect.
Note to Pearson (and I know you are reading this):


Parents want an honest conversation about your tests and your role in our kids' schools. We are far too smart for you to prop up someone like Alfred and attempt to have him woo us with flowery language about the importance of family and public education. We already know how important these things are, and that is precisely why we want you out of our schools and off of our kids' social media accounts.

Here is the press release that was sent out when Alfred took his previous job as President and CEO of MYCOM, "a leading provider of innovative engineering services and carrier grade software solutions". Give it a nice long read. (Go ahead and have it taken down Pearson, I have it saved as a pdf.)

Meet the real Alfred "Industry Leader" Binford.
Alfred Binford: Binford has more than 25 years of experience in the communications industry and has worked across a broad range of major markets. Prior to joining MYCOM North America, Binford led the Amdocs Consulting Division to significant growth on a worldwide basis, joining the company in 2010. Before joining Amdocs, he was a senior executive at Vodafone, leading its Global Enterprise business in the Americas. Prior to working at Vodafone, Binford led the Managed Services and Outsourcing businesses for Unisys and, earlier, at EDS. Binford began his career in telecommunications with AT&T where, over the course of eleven years, he held assignments of increasing responsibility across sales, marketing, network operations, and product management. Binford went on to work at Verizon, where he was initially Vice President of Corporate Marketing and Advertising, and later the President and CEO of its long‐distance subsidiary during the startup phase.
Communications Industry... Major Markets... Corporate Marketing... Consulting Division... Business... Sales... Operations... Product Management... Advertising...

Hmmm, see EDUCATION in there anywhere? No? Well, I'll be darned.

Pearson, your attempt to humanize your company is as big of a disaster as your test.

I beg you. On behalf of parents everywhere.


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

NJ Mom To The Leadership Conference: Let's Talk About Testing

The guest post below by Julie Larrea Borst needs little introduction, as the author of the letter tells us everything we need to know about why she is so passionate about the testing revolt currently captivating the nation. I will tell you though that Julie recently helped pen an opinion piece for NJ Spotlight, and she also wrote a guest post for this blog two years ago when she opted her daughter out of the NJASK. It is called Why On Earth Does My Daughter Have To Take This Test, and it's a heart wrenching reminder of how inappropriate standardized tests truly are for many disabled children, not just Julie's. 

A little background on what got Julie riled up enough to write the letter I have posted below. Earlier today The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights released a statement titled Civil Rights Groups: “We Oppose Anti-Testing Efforts”. 

And Julie is not alone in feeling the need to respond to this statement. The Leadership Conference statement also elicited a response from Jesse Hagopian and the Network for Public Education challenging the notion that standardized testing is the correct path to educational equity. Here's a snippet:
Yet we know that high-stakes standardized tests, rather than reducing the opportunity gap, have been used to rank, sort, label, and punish students of color.  This fact has been amply demonstrated through the experience of the past thirteen years of NCLB’s mandate of national testing in grades 3-8 and once in high school. The outcomes of the NCLB policy shows that test score achievement gaps between African American and white students have only increased, not decreased. If the point of the testing is to highlight inequality and fix it, so far it has only increased inequality.
You can read the entire statement here, and the press release here

Without further ado, here is the bold letter to The Leadership Conference's President and CEO, Wade Henderson, written by Allendale, NJ parent Julie Larrea Borst.

5 May 2015
Wade Henderson, Esq.
President and CEO
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
1629 K Street NW, 10th Floor
Washington, DC 20006

Dear Mr. Henderson, 
 I very rarely take the time to respond to press releases by organizations such as yours. However, the release dated today, 5th May, has left me wondering who exactly you’re representing, because it certainly is not me or my disabled daughter. 
 Please allow me to explain why the current testing, and its abysmal 14-year track record, are not in the best interests of students with disabilities (SWD), for persons of colors, or those who are economically disadvantaged. 
As a parent and a parent advocate, I am in a position to see, on the ground, how the effects of NCLB, and now the implementation of Bill Gates’ vision of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the accompanying tests, have grossly underserved those The Leadership Conference represents. 
It’s easy to understand the draw of the notion that a student’s progress or a teacher’s effectiveness can be quantified. I have a corporate background. I get it. But, this is people we are talking about, and more specifically, people who for whatever reason have challenges that deserve much more than the idea that a test score will help them overcome those challenges. 
NCLB did not close achievement gaps. It did not lead to better and innovative curriculum. It did not improve US scores on PISA. 
What NCLB did do is create a really clear map of where the deepest pockets of poverty are in this country. It did demonstrate that attaching “high stakes” (someone’s profession, their livelihood) to a number made for a narrowing of curriculum as everyone was forced to teach to a test. Race to the Top is that program on steroids. 
For the last 14 years, tax-payer money has been going to support a program that is not focused on raising up students, no matter what their situation. Special education, as I have lived it, in some of the wealthiest areas of this country, has been cut short by the insipid notion that having “higher expectations” and doing well on a test that takes none of my daughter’s disabilities into account, will somehow, magically produce better students, now called “college and career ready.” Anyone with the most basic background or exposure to SWD’s knows this is not true. We also know that all the money spent on testing and on remediation because a single test reported that students are “failing,” has resulted in desperately needed funding not reaching the populations most in need – students with disabilities, students of color, and students who are economically disadvantaged. 
Those scoring low on tests were labeled “failing” and punished with the loss of funds! Those “failing” scores translated into “failing schools” that were then closed and/or sold off to charter school companies. Imagine the very heart of your neighborhood being cut out. The effects are devastating – on the fired teachers, on the displaced school children, on loss of neighborhoods. This method is called “test and punish.” 
Now, with the onset of CCSS testing -- here in New Jersey it is PARCC -- we have had to deal not only with the complete overhaul of CCSS-aligned curriculum, but also with whatever districts have had to purchase in order to administer this fully online test – infrastructure, hardware (laptops, tablets, etc.), new technology staff to manage all of this, professional development to administer the test, and so on. Districts, already strapped for money, have still had to find it somewhere. There has been no accountability for the money spent on CCSS or the testing. Do you think special ed programs didn’t suffer because of this? Do you think in areas with poverty that money could not have been spent on more meaningful things such as - textbooks, art supplies, and afterschool programs? What exactly was wrong with the grade span testing pre-NCLB? And why are you not advocating alternative assessments, such as NYC’s Performance Standards Consortium, which allow students like my daughter to show what they can do rather than simply fail a standardized test. 
It is disheartening to hear organizations like yours, and the ones that comprise your membership, speak out against the one action that has actually gotten attention after years of parents being ignored. It is astonishing that your civil rights group doesn’t recognize civil disobedience when you see it, and what’s more, you condemn it! 
Please, I implore you, take the time to understand what these standardized tests provide in terms of usable data. Receiving a “not proficient at grade level” designation is not even remotely helpful, especially when true diagnostic tests are available. Speak to parents. Speak to teachers. 
I would be happy to have a discussion with you about testing, about special education, and how organizations like yours can help those of us living through this morass called public education. 

Julie Larrea Borst