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Our garbage dumps or the PARCC Test? Credit: NJ Spotlight
Four years ago I attended the very first Parents Across America meeting in New York City where I heard Diane Ravitch, Leonie Haimson, Karran Harper Royal, Andrea Merida, Rita Solnet, Julie Woestehoff, Mark Mishler and several other passionate and dedicated parents from all across the country speak about what was then a young but rapidly growing movement. At the time, Gov. Christie was at the height of teacher bashing, and many educators were wandering around like deer in the headlights. I remember Diane saying that ultimately nothing would change unless and until parents led the charge.
And she was right.
I expected it to happen over night. The destruction of public education was completely obvious not only to me, but rank-and-file education professionals all across the country, not to mention education researchers and scholars. Surely if parents could just see…
Ah, but change doesn’t happen in a New York minute even if you live right next door. Steering this suburban ship away from the rhetoric and privatization schemes of education ‘reform’ required a lot more than teacher voices.
It required parents to stop, look and listen:
To the absurd claims being made by ‘reformers’ To the nearly $6 billion in funding cuts that have been made to NJ’s public schools To their simultaneously skyrocketing property taxes To the enormous amounts of money their districts have been forced to spend on PARCC testing at the expense of the arts, foreign languages, AP classes and a whole host of clubs and activities To the narrowing of the curriculums To the labeling as ‘failures’ and the closing of their neighborhood schools without their say To the segregation of their children who may not speak the language or may be more challenging to educate And ultimately to the complaints of their children as they were forced to spend more and more time in school on test prep and less on real learning
It took a few years for this sea change to occur because New Jersey has an abundance of mostly white, high-quality suburban public school districts where Gov. Christie and then Education Commissioner Chris Cerf have a lot of allies who pay a boatload of property taxes for their excellent schools. They couldn’t risk ticking them off, so they took a slightly softer approach in the ‘burbs- blame the teachers-and grabbed the low-hanging fruit (or so they thought) in the mostly poor, urban, minority districts where Black and Brown voices don’t matter.
All was going according to plan: urban schools were being closed and flipped to charters; state control was expanded; teachers fired; harsh penalties for ‘failing’ schools; and a steady stream of media-backed rhetoric. Seemed like a slam-dunk, except that Christie and Cerf didn’t anticipate the backlash from urban parents and students. What?!?! You don’t want to be saved from yourselves by rich white men who stand to become richer off your salvation?!? If they had been paying attention to what was going on in cities all over the country, they would have known what to expect. Such is the folly of the unchecked ego.
And then, speaking of unchecked egos, our
fearless clueless leader, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, fired the shot heard ’round the ‘reformy’ world:
“It’s fascinating to me that some of the pushback is coming from, sort of, white suburban moms who – all of a sudden – their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were, and that’s pretty scary. You’ve bet your house and where you live and everything on, ‘My child’s going to be prepared.’ That can be a punch in the gut.”
“Fascinating”… as if he’s Mr. Spock observing us all under a microscope. Call me crazy, but I think Mr. Spock has more heart than Arne.
And then, slowly, steadily, the ship started turning. As the 2013-2014 school year rolled out, parents got a good look at the new evaluation system and the CCSS, and started scratching their heads. No longer able to help their kids with math homework, suddenly it seemed as if more parents took to Twitter and Facebook. They started blogging, writing letters to the editor, becoming activists and organizers, speaking out, asking questions and demanding answers. In May 2014, the voters of Newark sent a resounding message to Gov. Christie and Superintendent Cami Anderson by electing Central HS Principal Ras J. Baraka as their new mayor. The Newark Students Union started staging walk-outs, protests and sit-ins.
In September of 2014, NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia toured the US on her anti-testing crusade with a stop in Camden. Education associations throughout the state started hosting screenings of ‘Standardized’, and ‘Take the PARCC’ events. The Delran Education Association and School District threw down the gauntlet with this powerful statement against the PARCC. While speaking at the New Jersey Education Association Convention in November, Acting Education Commissioner David Hespe uttered his now infamous line, “I’m not seeing an opt-out movement in New Jersey”, and seemingly within minutes, the New Jersey Opt-Out Facebook group exploded with new members. There are now county affiliates all over the state and an abundance of online resources for parents wanting to opt their kids out. Earlier this month, over one hundred parents, students and educators crammed the NJ State BOE headquarters to testify on the insanity of PARCC testing, and when NJBOE President Mark Biedron told a group of attendees that the state “can’t force any kid to put their hands on a keyboard”, Twitter and Facebook lit up. My blog post got almost 10,000 hits in the first 24 hours.
So, is it any wonder that in recent polling, the PARCC test is stinking like, well, CCRAP?
Take a look at these numbers as reported in today’s op-ed co-authored by Susan Cauldwell of Save Our Schools NJ and NJEA President Wendall Steinhauer:
71% of parents say there is “too much emphasis” on these tests. 77% worry that testing “takes time and money from other educational priorities.” 81% worry that “teachers are forced to teach to the test.” 80% worry that “too much of the school year is spent preparing for standardized tests.” 78% want to limit the number of hours of testing. 84% want to forbid standardized testing for students below third grade. 66% want the right to have their children opt out of the tests. 88% want test companies to disclose taxpayer-funded profits, while 87% want them to disclose their political donations. 74% want to delay any decisions based on PARCC tests for two years until the results have been studied.
And 82% of parents want legislators to pass a “Bill of Rights” that provides transparency on high-stakes tests, including costs and uses of student data. Parents also want an explicit right to refuse the tests for their children. (emphasis mine)
Folks, this is huge. As someone who’s run for office a few times, I can tell you these are numbers candidates only dream of. These are bigger than Nixon vs. McGovern. They’re bigger than a landslide. They are, aptly, a blizzard!
If the state legislature doesn’t act on them, they’re just flat-out crazy, and they should be held accountable by every voter in this state. Some State Board of Education members have told those of us who attend their meetings regularly that the best way to stop this madness is through the legislature.
Christie’s bags are packed for Iowa. His days in Drumthwacket are numbered. It’s time for parents to turn up the heat on the state legislature and demand a stop to this torture and abuse of our children. On the right side of this page is a link for the NJ State Legislature. Click on it, find yours and demand they take action-NOW.