Saturday, April 22, 2017

We Made a Difference! Grassroots Organizing in New Jersey Inspires Senators to Take Action on PARCC

Yesterday I went on a road trip with my twin 10 year old girls to Senate President Steve Sweeney's office where we spent time with some of the most fantastic, courageous folks you'd ever want to meet.

Why were we there?

To ask Senator Sweeney to post SCR 132, a concurrent resolution that would send NJ's new PARCC graduation requirement regulations back to the State Board of Education for a much needed re-write. You see, the regulations that the State Board passed don't match up with state statute.

The statute calls for a test of basic skills administered in 11th grade with re-testing options in grade 12. So what does the NJDOE and the State Board do? Propose and pass regulations that make PARCC Algebra 1 (taken as early as 7th grade) and PARCC ELA 10 the new exit exams.

See the disconnect?

And the best part about the concurrent resolution? It completely side-steps Christie. It's veto proof.

The Assembly already passed their version of the resolution. If it passes the Senate the regulations go straight back to the State BOE for revision. But Ruiz hasn't posted it in the Senate Education Committee, and Sweeney hasn't posted it for a vote - it's completely stalled.

The New Jersey Senate, ladies and gentlemen - where pro-public education bills go to die.

But grassroots activists don't give up and we don't give in, so we headed for Sweeney's West Deptford office to bring our message right to his door. We rallied for a bit across the street, and then we strolled over to Sweeney's office and chatted with his staff.
The crew!
Let's go see Sweeney - with a bullhorn!
Should we knock, or maybe just stand out here
and see what happens - with a bullhorn.
This is just what Sen. Sweeney's staffers wanted to see at 4:45.
That's (one of) my girl(s).

And then today, this.

State Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Sen. Teresa Ruiz, chair of the chamber's Education Committee, penned a letter to state education officials this week, indicating that the use of PARCC as a high school exit exam violates legislative intent.

If you'd like to read the letter, you can find it here.

But why did Sweeney and Ruiz send a letter? Why didn't they just post SCR 132, and allow the full Senate to vote?

The letter is addressed to State BOE President Mark Biedron and Acting Commissioner Kimberly Harrington. Governor Chris Christie and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto are copied on the letter. Was a deal struck to do this more quietly to avoid humiliating the Governor - a man who is already the least popular Governor in the nation?

Who knows.

It's anybody's guess what will ultimately become of the graduation requirement regulations, but I'm putting this one in the win column for now. There's a lot more work to be done, but this is a damn good start. And best of all, when my girls came home from school and I told them the news, one exclaimed with glee, "We made a difference!"

Yes my darling girl, we made a difference.