Author Archive: A New Jersey Farmer

Damn the Teachers, Full Testing Ahead!

Cross-posted at A New Jersey Farmer

So let’s see where we stand at this moment with the brand spanking new teacher evaluation system in New Jersey. This is the law that is going to revolutionize teaching and learning by making sure that students are mastering content and skills and teachers are doing their jobs to ensure learning in the classroom. For those of us not covered by a standardized assessment, the key is the SGO, or Student Growth Objectives, that is supposed to measure student growth (duh).

How are we doing this? By taking the measure of our students at the beginning of the year. Then we’ll evaluate them again in a few months to see how much they’ve learned. In other words, welcome to testing-mania.

The overwhelming majority of teachers in New Jersey have already given an assessment to their students, usually in the form of a test. Most of these tests ask for knowledge and skills that students haven’t been taught yet. The assumption, then, is that when we re-give these tests again in February or March, the students will have learned the information because they’ve been, well, taught it. Students learn, teachers have done their jobs, numbers go up, salaries are paid.

So what’s the problem? Plenty. Most of these tests are low stakes and mean virtually nothing to the students, while meaning everything for the teachers. In addition, there is no measurable data that says that this is a viable method for objectively evaluating teachers. And districts are getting mucho creative with SGOs in ways that even the Christie Administration didn’t envision.

For example, many teachers who plan on taking leaves for maternity or other family concerns, have been told to administer both a pre-and post-assessment in as little as 6 weeks, so the district has a record of their progress. This flies in the face of everything we know about education and assessment, and is using time as the relevant factor and not learning. Why don’t I just do a Monday-Friday assessment cycle and be done with it. I can teach anyone how to write an effective thesis in a week if that’s all I’m going to measure.

It’s also becoming clear, as I speak to colleagues and monitor the news, that administrators and school boards are tying bonuses to the percentage of staff that has an SGO. The law says that classroom teachers must have them, but leaves it up to the district as to whether nurses, guidance counselors and other support staff must have them. Tying SGOs to a bonus virtually guarantees that all staff will be responsible for an SGO, and it’s up to the district to develop one.

Are we connecting student health rates to nurses? How many students come to see them over a three month period? Do we want more students to visit the nurse or fewer? What’s the difference between taking blood pressure and earning a 4 under the Danielson model and earning a 3?

For guidance counselors, are we tying failure rates to counselors? College acceptances? If a child is crying on the way in to the counselor’s office but smiling on the way out, is that an effective SGO?

The dirty truth is that there’s really no way to know. It’s the same for teachers. Once we administer the test/evaluation, then that becomes the default assessment that we’re going to focus on for three months. The tests rule. And it will get even worse come the spring when teachers covered by a state test enter the maelstrom and sweat out their number through the summer.

This evaluation system is taking money, time and resources away from education. It’s not scientifically valid. It wastes time. It’s a step backwards, and it insults teachers everywhere by assuming that they are not effective.

For more, go to www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives and on Twitter @rigrundfest

Chris and Steve’s Excellent Campaigns

Actually, Christie denied any political motivation in scheduling the Senate special election, and said it was all about ‘giving the voters a voice’ (which I guess they wouldn’t have had in the election we already had 20 days later). But other than that, yes. Promoted by Rosi

Cross-posted at A New Jersey Farmer

Let’s just make this clear from the outset: Steve Lonegan is not going to defeat Cory Booker in the New Jersey Senate election next week. Yes, I know that only having a 13 point lead puts Booker in the endangered category, and his wealthy, powerful allies are worried about hum not winning by 20 points, but they need to get real.

He’s winning and he will win, but in the meantime he’s not running a stellar campaign and there’s something about Steve Lonegan that makes you want to watch him for a while. Like a really bad car accident or a singer who’s so off key you smile while listening to them or someone who reminds you of a character out of 1984. After a time, though, you realize that he wants to be taken seriously and that’s when you disengage. That will happen next week.

Lonegan probably isn’t saying it now, but he’s got to be unhappy with Chris Christie’s choice to schedule this election separately from the gubernatorial election in November. Christie’s original argument was that having the Senate election on the same date would pull in more Democrats, who would support Booker, to also vote for Barbara Buono. The real loser, though, will be Lonegan, who would otherwise gain some supporters who are showing up to vote for the governor. Or maybe Christie really doesn’t like Lonegan and cares not whether he wins. In any case, this openly helps Christie, who has made a Trenton career by making sure that his needs are taken care of.

This will be the last election that Christie will win, so in the end, he and Lonegan will end their elective political careers the same way. Meanwhile, Cory Booker will have six years to sharpen his running skills before he too considers a national campaign.

For more, go to www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives and on Twitter @rigrundfest

Governor Disaster: Why Christie Could Lose Now and Will Lose in 2016

Cross-posted at A New Jersey Farmer

In case you missed it, there’s a terrific piece on Governor Christie in the New Jersey media. Written by columnist Tom Moran, it lays bare the basic fact that although Christie has benefited from disaster, he’s actually been a disaster as governor.

Essentially, New Jersey has experienced failure at almost every level by which a politician is measured. And the one area where Christie got help from Democrats, on  a pension and benefits bill that weakened collective bargaining and will eventually force public workers from their jobs, the economic effects will be devastating. In fact, many teachers will be bringing home less money three years from now than they are today. I’ve done the calculations: My take-home income will be going down over the next three years despite my actually getting a small raise. If you’re a teacher and you want very bad news, input your salary and insurance premiums on this site. Do not have anything breakable nearby when you do.

The High Schoolization Of College

promoted by Rosi

Cross-posted at A New Jersey Farmer

Last week, President Obama made a series of speeches about making higher education affordable, which of course would be a great idea if we really had a socialist system and the government could tell schools what to charge. The problem is that we have a quasi-meritocracy with a bit of market capitalism mixed in, and that’s created the idea that expensive colleges must be good and really expensive colleges must be terrific. Meanwhile, the competitive and not-so-competitive schools that scoop up most American teenagers are considered second-tier and many of the students who attend don’t have the financial wherewithal or the intellectual stamina to stay in them.

The Common Core Follies

promoted by Rosi

Cross-posted at A New Jersey Farmer

You know it’s late August because the school stories are coming fast and furious. And speaking of furious, how about the reaction to the Common Core standards that are supposed to prepare our schoolchildren for work and college? In New York, where the scores declined in the debut year for the standards, the knives came out to excise the Common Core and implement…well, that wasn’t clear. Teachers, parents and administrators from both sides of the political spectrum were worried about what the test scores said about what students learned, and a few were so angry that they threatened charges.

This points to the problem inherent in using test scores to evaluate…anybody. Teachers didn’t have the time, or the training, to fully implement the standards into their lessons. Students didn’t have time to learn the material and were tested on material they didn’t learn in a format that was alien to many of them. It was also the first year of the tests, and in most first years, scores drop.

Visiting Scholar

promoted by Rosi

Cross-posted at A New Jersey Farmer

I have a violet lanyard, and attached to it is a violet ID card from New York University. At the bottom, under my picture, it says, “Visiting Scholar.” Yes, friends, it’s summer and time for all good teachers, at some point in their careers, to be called a Visiting Scholar.

My entree to this august realm is courtesy of a Great Society law that created the National Endowment for the Humanities, a publicly-funded entity whose sole mission is to encourage and support the study and research of the…well, humanities. You know the humanities. They were the subjects in high school and college that promised never to get you a job or a girl/boyfriend or a terrific pile of money. You took them because the education system said that you had to. Languages, literature, philosophy, religion, music, history. They were good for the soul and nourishment for the brain. The Bran Flakes of the curriculum. The subjects that are now threatened because of budget cuts and low enrollment. The basis of our civilization and the cornerstone of our national political and cultural life.

Hurry Up and Wait: Putting the Brakes on Teacher Evaluation

promoted by Rosi

Cross-posted at A New Jersey Farmer

As if educators, including me, several times, haven’t been clear enough that rushing into an untested teacher evaluation system is a terrible idea, along comes our esteemed Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan to finally get the message: schools need more time to implement, experiment and, yes, evaluate the new system before it becomes operative and to see if it does what it’s supposed to do. It won’t, because it has fatal flaws in it, but at least giving teachers, administrators and school boards another year might just uncover the folly of using prescriptive tests for evaluative ends.

The Lesson We Never Learn

promoted by Rosi

Cross-posted at A New Jersey Farmer

After 29 years in the classroom, and with a pretty savvy political sense, if I may be so bold, I consider myself a keen observer of most things educational, but this story about Philadelphia’s schools made me shiver with anger from the first paragraph:

Andrew Jackson School too agitated to eat breakfast on Friday, an aide alerted the school counselor, who engaged him in an art project in her office. When he was still overwrought at 11, a secretary called the boy’s family, and soon a monitor at the front door buzzed in an older brother to take him home.

Under a draconian budget passed by the Philadelphia School District last month, none of these supporting players – aide, counselor, secretary, security monitor – will remain at the school by September, nor will there be money for books, paper, a nurse or the school’s locally celebrated rock band.

I know that this kind of mindless budget cutting has been going on for years and real reformers, as opposed to the self-styled ones on the right, have been warning us that children are in real danger, but somehow this story caught me. Or maybe it just represents the last straw on my particular camel’s back. Whatever. I have now officially had enough. If that’s the way that Philadelphia’s families are going to be treated, then we need an educational Tahrir/Taksim/self-immolating fruit-seller moment in this country. It’s that bad now, and it’s going to get worse.

…Are Doomed to Repeat It

promoted by Rosi

Cross-posted at A New Jersey Farmer

The educational testing mania that has gripped the country over the past decade has bared a lethal truth: we are terrible at learning history. As a teacher of that subject, I have seen it become devalued as the focus on math, science and language arts tests have rendered history and social science courses less important in the curriculum. Some students even take a lower level history class so their homework load doesn’t interfere with what they consider to be more useful, and tested, offerings.

And this is new, right? Wrong.

That pain in your tush is the bite history just took out of it.

It turns out that the past is telling us what every working educator knows about evaluating both students and teachers based on a standardized test: it doesn’t work and can falsely label people as failing when in fact they are not. It’s as true now as it was in 1845.