Tuesday, July 31, 2018

We Raise NJ Can't Even Prop Up PARCC

I've chronicled New Jersey's tumultuous relationship with PARCC on this blog for years, and in that time I've written about the misguided efforts of the New Jersey PTA and the corporate reform-leaning, NJ PTA led coalition called We Raise NJ to prop up the wildly unpopular assessment. 

And now, as the Murphy administration takes baby steps to finally kick PARCC to the curb, NJ PTA seems to be trying to get a foothold in this new educational landscape.

The New Jersey State Board of Education will hear public testimony tomorrow on the Murphy administration's newly proposed testing and graduation regulations, but the NJ PTA and their reformy friends are asking the State Board to slow their roll.

July 27, 2018

New Jersey State Board of Education
100 River View Plaza
PO Box 500
Trenton, NJ 08625-050

Dear State Board of Education Members:
At the July 11, 2018 meeting of the State Board of Education, the Board announced that open public comment on N.J.A.C. 6A:8 Standards and Assessment would be held on August 1, 2018.  As you know, these regulations make recommended changes to our state’s assessment system. As these recommendations pertain to a matter of great importance, we respectfully request that open public comment on these proposed regulations be moved to the September 12, 2018 Board Meeting. Convening this important conversation in September, when school districts are in session and families are not traveling, ensures that all interested stakeholders will have adequate notice and a fair opportunity to deliver oral testimony before the members of the State Board of Education. In addition, as these regulations concern longstanding educational policy, we request that the State Board follow all procedural steps and examine these regulations at each level of discussion and not to use an expedited process.

We thank you for these considerations.


Rose Acerra, President, New Jersey PTA
Donna Custard, President, New Jersey Chamber of Commerce Foundation
Michael Taylor, Education Committee Chair, African American Chamber Commerce of New Jersey
Tia Morria, Executive Director, Teach for America New Jersey
Shelley Skinner, Executive Director, Better Education for Kids
Patricia Morgan, Executive Director, JerseyCAN

Now, I'm all for doing everything possible to increase public participation, but this letter rings hollow. There is simply no rush to action here. Murphy was elected on the promise to get rid of PARCC "on day one" but his administration's approach has been far more deliberate.

Murphy "tasked NJDOE to move away from PARCC and understand what aspects of statewide assessments are most important to our communities to establish priorities for change going forward."

To accomplish this task, Commissioner Lamont Repollet and his staff "held approximately 75 in-person sessions, three live webinars and heard from more than 2,300 students, teachers, school administrators, education advocates and community leaders." After a "two-month, 21-county tour," Commissioner Repollet presented the findings to the State Board.

The following regulatory changes were proposed, based on the input the NJDOE received on their exhaustive tour:
  • Proposes to eliminate state end of course assessments required for Geometry, Algebra II, ELA 9, and ELA 11.
  • Proposes to eliminate requirement that Class of 2021 students pass a statewide assessment to graduate and proposes to maintain list of substitute assessments, including portfolio appeals options for students in Class of 2020 and beyond who do not pass the state math or ELA assessments.
  • Proposes that chief school administrators (district leaders) have no more than 45 days (currently 60 days) to report their assessment results to their boards of education and no more than 45 days (currently no limit) to ensure applicable student results are provided to students, parents, and teachers in a timely manner.
  • Proposes eliminating “PARCC” references and generally refer to the State ELA or ELA 10 and State math or Algebra I assessments, whenever possible.
  • Proposes extending the rule that allows students in their first year in the US, to substitute a language proficiency test (i.e. Access for ELs) to apply to high school students, not just elementary and middle school students.
  • Proposes adjustments to clarify that a student’s IEP or 504 plan establishes the individualized accommodations, instructional adaptations, and/or modifications that a district board of education must provide.
So why delay? It's pretty hard to make the case that there hasn't been sufficient opportunity for stakeholders to make their voices heard.

NJ PTA's letter isn't really a request for stakeholder engagement - it's about making their big money funders happy. NJ PTA and We Raise NJ can't afford to lose this fight. National corporate reform donors are footing the bills for their "advocacy" work on this issue, and when the PARCC and all the high-stakes attached to it goes out the window, NJ PTA's funding goes with it.

Here's the list of "supporters" on the We Raise NJ website.
  • Achieve
  • Charles & Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation
  • Collaborative for Student Success
  • Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation
  • Prudential Foundation
  • U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Achieve's donors can be found here, and the Collaborative for Student Success' donors are here. The notable overlap between all three groups is the Oklahoma-based Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, huge funder of the national corporate reform movement. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funds both Achieve and the Collaborative for Student Success.

In June of this year the RAND Corporation released a study on the Gates funded initiative to improve teacher effectiveness, in part by tying teacher evaluations to the standardized test scores of their students. The study, which was funded by the Gates Foundation, showed that the half a billion dollar initiative was largely a bust that did more harm than good.

This isn't anything parents and educators couldn't have told Gates if he'd bother to listen

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And New Jersey parents and educators have been telling the NJDOE and the State Board that the over reliance on standardized tests to evaluate teachers, students and schools was a huge mistake for years now. The new administration has finally started to listen and they have taken some small first steps in the right direction. 

But I guess that isn't sitting too well with We Raise NJ's donors.

In 2015 We Raise NJ was a far larger coalition that included actual education organizations, including New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association (NJPSA), New Jersey Association of School Administrators (NJASA), New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA), New Jersey Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (NJASCD), and the Garden State Coalition of Schools.

But as time passed, and public opinion turned against high-stakes testing and PARCC, those groups slowly and quietly pulled away from the coalition. By March of 2016, only NJSBA, NJASCD and GSCS remained in the fold. Fast forward to today and every K-12 traditional public education related organization has jumped ship. In fact, most have come out with public statements in support of the direction the administration is headed (NJASANJPSANJSBAGSCS).

So forgive me if I don't pay much mind to the statement released by NJ PTA and the reformers and business groups left in their so-called coalition. 

And not to rub salt in the wound, but I couldn't help but notice that the letter sent to the State Board wasn't posted on the We Raise NJ website. And then I noticed that the New Jersey Charter Schools Association and New Jersey Council of County Colleges failed to sign the letter.

Has the flailing coalition lost additional members, perhaps? The only ones with any education ties at all?

There is certainly precious little public support for We Raise NJ. Their public statement on the regulatory changes garnered next to no attention on Facebook.

Contrast that with Save Our Schools New Jersey's statement.

If you ask me, NJ PTA and their corporate reform coalition made a major miscalculation on this one. Tomorrow's public testimony will undoubtedly go forward and it's all but certain that the vast majority of it will be in support of the proposed changes. 

There's simply no room for NJ PTA, the Chamber, TFA, B4K and JerseyCAN to say that more time is needed for these regulations to move forward or that stakeholders haven't been given a fair opportunity to provide input. 

They just don't like that PARCC, as we know it, is dead