Category Archives: Progressive -Democratic Education

Signs of Spring

Dear friends,

Spring has sprung and the snow is melting. Finally!

This meme was posted on Diane Ravitch blog and sums up a lot of what we support and are working towards: To reclaim and re imagine public education, to protect childhood and the joy of learning for all.

collegeready

Just for a step back,  different perspective, take a peek at what Finland is up to recently via The Independent.

And back to Montclair….

There’s a petition going around that was created by
parents in Montclair.  Here’s an excerpt from an update they posted on the petition after the MBOE meeting on 3/16/2015:

While the board of education restored some of the classroom staff and school programs it initially proposed to cut, there are still too many being eliminated. The BOE now proposes cutting 33 instead of 55 teachers and other personnel who directly impact our children’s classroom learning. Meanwhile, the board has repeatedly refused to consider cutting more than a few positions at central office (despite objections of several board members.)

The proposed budget is now being reviewed by the board of school estimates, comprised of the mayor, several town council and board of ed members. We need to let them know that the budget is still not acceptable.

The BOSE (Board of School Estimates) will be meeting tomorrow, Monday, March 23.  Here’s the info from the MPS website:

The Board of School Estimate meetings on Monday, March 23, Monday, March 30, and Monday, April 6 will be held at 6:30 p.m. in the George Inness Annex, 141 Park Street. The Mar. 23 meeting will be broadcast live on Comcast/FiOS Channel 34, FiOS Channel and streamed live on this website. See agenda.

Have a great day and a good week ahead.

Montclair Voices

Student voices: I Am Not a Test Score. I Am Not Standard.

Dear Friends,

On this snowy snow day in Montclair, NJ, we share the voices of students in a video and a drawing. Both illustrate so eloquently that a picture (moving or still) is often worth a thousand words. And that, it is far past time that our students in this country need to be heard. We implore all education leaders to listen to the brave, talented, and strong students who are fighting for their educational lives and lives themselves. Who are struggling to be heard and sitting in and walking out and painting and drawing and filming and dancing; expressing how the current educational system is hurting their lives and that their pleas, protests, statements, actions — their  mission must be put front and center in this struggle to reclaim public education. It  is imperative that our leaders acknowledge and listen to the students who speak truth and for whom we must continue.


 

From proud art student, Noah Farjani, who attends Montclair’s Glenfield middle school for its amazing art program:

notstandard

By Noah Farjani

 

And this video, less than a minute long, made by middle school students in Albuquerque, and speaking volumes of truth, It is credited to Washington Filmkids ABQ:

When will our leaders and government and BOE members listen to the voices of our community here? When will they listen to our students in Montclair or  Newark or Albuquerque?

Our students. Our schools.

We are grateful for all the students who stand up and speak their truth.
Who create art.
Who inspire and give hope.

Stay warm and safe,

Montclair Voices

 

 

 

Journey for Justice in DC happening now-livestream !

Please tune in to this now if you can!

This message was from earlier today–however,

this event is happening now still and is live streaming.

Please watch and share!

http://www.j4jalliance.com/media/

Thank you.


 

Journey for Justice

WE ARE IN CAMDEN!!! NOW TO WASHINGTON!!!

YOU CAN JOIN US IN WASHINGTON DC VIA LIVE STREAM

*ESEA Reauthorization and the Broken Promise of School Privatization*
*Wednesday, March 4th, 1pm-3pm*
*National Press Club*
*529 14th Street NW*

Live stream: http://bit.ly/1AVBd3s

Hear from grassroots leaders, parents and students from around the country
as well as educators and education experts on the rhetoric of the school
privatization movement, the reality of its’ impact and the community driven
remedies to save public education in the United States! We appeal to
lawmakers, do not destroy ESEA and many of the civil rights protections it
provided. Do not use ESEA to fuel failed, top-down mediocre corporate
education interventions and to President Obama; we appeal to you as a
former community organizer to hear our voices! Do not be the President
that presides over the destruction of Title I, strong neighborhoods schools
and other supports from ESEA constructed by the blood, sweat and tears of
our parents and grandparents! Don’t miss it!
Lets push this out! Remember, #equityinesea

In struggle

 

A critical juncture in Montclair, NJ and what is needed for our next Superintendent

Dear Friends,

Our  community and town are grappling with several critical events happening in our district; the resignation notice but not yet leaving of Superintendent, Penny MacCormack, the budget shortfall crisis and budget meetings (the next one is scheduled for tomorrow  evening Thursday, 3/5/2015), and the PARCC testing which is happening this week along with a growing test refusal movement in Montclair and around the state.

The letter we share with you below, was sent to Mayor Jackson and all members of the Montclair BOE on February 22, 2015. Montclair Voices has received it from the author, a parent and resident of Montclair, NJ. We post with permission.

Our voices matter. Here is one:


 

Dear Mayor Jackson and Members of the Board of Education,

I am writing to share some thoughts about the common core, PARCC testing, this critical juncture Montclair is in with the departure of Penny MacCormack, and the need for a replacement, especially as the momentum against the common core and high stakes testing is increasing in this town and all over the country.

My name is Eileen Russell.  My husband Mario and I have lived in Montclair since 2005 and have had and are raising our 3 children here.  I grew up in Orange, NJ in the 70’s and 80’s and understood then the strength and wonder of Montclair’s diverse community and even of its progressive approach to education and commitment to equal education for all. I hardly expected or anticipated a return to Essex County after graduate school and living in the city, but I was delighted when our path lead us here and I have highly valued the social philosophy behind Montclair’s educational system as well as it’s rigor, creativity, and kindness.  I thought it was a blessing we could take for granted until we couldn’t take it for granted anymore with the appointment of Penny MacCormack.

We are very relieved by the news of her departure, provided it makes room for a replacement that will be a bit more critical of the major, powerful, and profitable push behind the common core and its accompanying PARCC Test. Even Governor Christie, who has unfailingly supported and pushed these rapid changes to NJ’s curriculum has recently expressed “grave concerns” about the common core as it appears that finally officials are paying attention to the “grave concerns” parents and teachers have had for a long time now.

My understanding is that teachers have been pretty systematically silenced in the public sphere about their concerns about the common core, the PARCC, and the implementation of both.  If teachers cannot speak out, they cannot educate well-meaning parents who otherwise take for granted that their kids are in good schools, getting a good education.

I am frankly flummoxed by the fact that the Broad Academy, where Penny McCormack was trained to be a Superintendent, is considered so prestigious. It seems to me that its bragging point that it accepts “leaders” from all industry whether or not they have any experience in the education of children is highly suspect as a marker of prestige, unless one is a cynic who really believes that the school system is a mess and educators have really no idea how to improve themselves.  In my field one would not consider attending an “academy” that is not accredited and has no real overseeing body to which it is accountable.

While MacCormack herself comes from an education background, it is known that people at the Academy are prepared to expect opposition when they come into a community, presumably because people are lazy-minded, resist change, etc.  MacCormack said such things herself when she explained the reason for teachers’ opposition to the changes involved in the common core by saying “It’s hard work.”  I heard her say that at a Bradford meeting in which teachers and parents were invited to come have “a conversation” with her.  I could not have imagined a more condescending response and I felt for the teachers who had clearly worked very hard and with great care and creativity in educating my children.  It was a seductive and facile way of dismissing authentic, thoughtful, and intelligent misgivings about this whole endeavor.

I am not a cynic.  But I did come to believe that if the common core and the PARCC could be so rapidly pushed through a thoughtful, integrated town like Montclair with its history in progressive education, then it could or should easily sail through anywhere else.  Other places in the country are pushing back.  Other states are pulling out of their commitment to implementing the common core and using so much of their class time and financial resources to preparing for the PARCC.  If those bold decisions are not happening at the top (i.e., governors and State departments of education) then the push has to come from the bottom; from parents, from teachers, from town BOEs, and even from students who are savvy (and already capable of “critical thinking”). Why shouldn’t Montclair live up to its history of thinking and acting outside the box?

In the very least I ask you to look for a replacement for Dr. MacCormack who has no association with the Broad Academy and whose professional history includes a record of open-mindedness, creativity, support for teachers, honest interest in hearing from parents and students, and real cooperation with the community of which s/he is a part.  I also think it would be in keeping with Montclair’s spirit that in this zeitgeist of high stakes standardized testing you consider hiring someone who is intelligently skeptical of this as the next best thing that is going to solve the problems of education and suddenly wipe out the effects of racial and income disparity among students.  Especially at this time, as opposition to what has been going on in the district and to the philosophy and approach of Dr. MacCormack, it seems wise to consider someone who is more balanced, more genuinely respectful of teachers and parents, and whose own philosophies are more in keeping with Montclair’s progressive history.

Respectfully and Sincerely,

Eileen Russell
Montclair, NJ


 

If you have letters or ideas or art you wish to share with us for consideration  on this blog relating to any Montclair school and education issues, including PARCC testing, PARCC refusals, the budget crisis, and more, please send an email to montclairvoices@gmail.com  with the subject line, “SUBMIT TO BLOG.”

Thank you for reading and sharing this with others.

Montclair Voices

Video

What people are saying about the PARCC and high stakes testing

NCLBtest

Dear Readers,

It’s going to take a while to unpack last night’s Board of Ed. meeting which didn’t end until well past midnight.

While we try to do that, bake, light candles, wrap gifts, cuddle with our kids, clean up spilled stuff, and play with kittens, we’ve got this:

A letter from a parent to the BOE, a ten  year old’s compelling and heartfelt comments at the meeting, a short animated film about what testing can feel like for a child, and an article written by  a teacher in Chicago that includes many points that hit home here in Montclair, NJ.


Letter sent to Board of Ed. members by email prior to BOE meeting on 12/15/2014:

Dear  Mr. Deutsch, Ms. Mernin, and all Members of the BOE,

I was a regular at Board meetings in spring 2013 through the end of February 2014. Since then, I have not been able to attend. As I’m unable to be there yet again tonight, I’m writing to express my support for the resolution scheduled for your vote this evening.

I respectfully urge all MBOE members to please vote YES for the
humane parental refusal resolution that
would not be punitive and will not include “sit and stare” policies.

My second grader is not yet subject to the PARCC exam,
but he and his classmates are already experiencing (for the second year
in a row) a narrowing of the curriculum and a loss of magnet richness,
increased stress,  and confusion for parents, children, and teachers.

There’s a hyper focus on math, writing, ELA, and a lot of worksheets and tests,
mostly created by Pearson.
Many of these (especially) math worksheets are developmentally inappropriate
and too wordy and confusing.

There’s barely time for art, music, social studies, science, library, and Spanish.
Our children need a much more engaging learning experience.
They need to play, experiment, and explore with hands on, project- based learning.

That once well known, progressive school district our family moved to Montclair
for appears to be disappearing. Authentic teaching and learning cannot be achieved by high stakes testing, PARCC prep, mini PARCCS, tests to practice for the PARCC or endless worksheets.

The joy has been gone from our schools now for almost two full years.
It’s time to bring it back. And in the meantime, it’s time to say YES to
a resolution that will allow parents to opt out/refuse the PARCC or any other standardized testing
that does nothing but sort and separate our children, informs us what socio economic background they might be from, and which does nothing to teach
them but turns them into people  following
test directions, filling in the bubbles–instead of blowing them.

The current landscape is rough for many of us who have children
with special needs in the system. They’re among the first to be hurt by these
changes, by high stakes testing, by standardization, by “rigor”, “college and career ready” data driven reforms.

I see the mind numbing worksheets. Wasting our children’s brains and imaginations on useless, stressful, busy work; lessons that serve Pearson, perhaps, but not our children.

Thank you for your consideration and your YES vote for a humane policy
for MPS.

Next, please consider a humane, educationally sound, progressive strategic plan for our district
instead of the race to nowhere and the many children being left behind plan that is currently in place.

Sincerely,

Elana Halberstadt


 

ktestscore


Why is it we can’t we have our children run the BOE? 

A very smart and brave 10 year old student, Elizabeth Blaine spoke up against the PARCC at the BOE meeting.

Here’s what she had to say via The Washington Post:

And video, too.

http://youtu.be/m0hTl638Exg


 

Once again, we heard many teachers speak out at the BOE meeting. Visit Montclair Education Matters blog for more  local teacher voices.

Here a teacher from Chicago writes about PARCC damage. And, yes, it is relevant to New Jersey:

An excerpt via Diane Ravitch blog:

Katie Osgood, who teaches in Chicago, describes what the Common Core and PARCC have done to her classroom. Whatever the children read is decontextualized, lifeless, bare of interest, skill-based.

They are engaged in “close reading,” following David Coleman’s ideology.

She writes:

My school is drowning under the ridiculous Common Core Standards. Everything I know to do to inspire my students is forbidden. Instead, we are forced to deliver truly horrible curriculum in developmentally inappropriate ways with pacing charts that move so fast all our heads are spinning. My students with special needs are shutting down, acting out, or just giving up entirely. Sometimes I hear them whisper, “I hate school”. And they are right to think that. All the teachers are upset. And every time we ask “Why? Why are you making us do this?” the answer is always the same. PARCC is coming….


 

A lovely short-short film, The Testing Camera by Peter H. Reynolds:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PABNMIG5VJc&app=desktop


 

Happy Chanuka to all celebrating!

Warmest wishes from the team at Montclair Voices

 

Why my child won’t be taking the PARCC

takeparccpic1

By Laurie Orosz

My biggest take away from the MCAS sponsored “Take the PARCC” event held Sunday, November 9 at the Bay Street firehouse is: not only can we refuse the tests on behalf of our children, we owe it to them to do so.

I’ve always opposed standardized testing. As a product of the New York City school system, I learned early on there was very little connection between what I did in the classroom and my performance on the tests. Still, I wasn’t prepared for the PARCC sample test.

There are several sample tests to choose from, in Math and Language Arts and in various grades. I’ve got a background in Language Arts, and am a mom of a third grader, so I chose to take the 3rd grade Language Arts sample test.

Rigorous? Critical thinking? Deeper meaning? These buzz words are spouted endlessly by our own Central Office staff, but none of them actually apply to this test.

The words that came to mind were: Multiple choice. Tedious. Text-heavy. Inappropriate. There’s no way my son, a good student, would be able to manage this test.

His computer skills are fine for his age, but this test involves a lot of going back and forth between the questions and the text. It takes coordination, development, and focus that I don’t see in the average 8-year-old—or in my son.

As to the skills being tested, since my son is still learning how to write a paragraph, writing an essay is beyond him at this point, let alone writing one under timed test conditions. The close reading technique they’re testing, largely denounced by most educators, simply demonstrates how well a child can: 1. Re-read a paragraph and 2. how patient he can be reading the questions.

There were approximately 100 participants and after we completed our sample tests, there was a lively question and answer period. It became clear that people who tested on tablets (I used an iPad) had a much better testing experience with the interface than those using laptops. So, a child who already has difficulty using a mouse is double in trouble because he might suddenly get kicked off and could lose all his work. How frustrating!

As I found the Language Arts test to be boring and developmentally inappropriate, many people felt similarly about the math questions. No one had anything positive to say.

The Q & A was followed by several knowledgeable and impassioned speakers who testified (despite the Superintendent’s claims to the contrary), to how these tests are resulting in a narrowed, test prep curriculum and how it is harming our childrenThis post by John Wodnick first appeared on the new blog, Montclair Education Matters.

I was especially moved by speaker, Latifah Jannah (the full text of her comments is below). I also share the sentiments in this letter to the editor from a Montclair resident and parent.

We learned these tests are good for technology and testing companies but not for our children or their teachers. They’re unfairly tied to teacher evaluations, put unnecessary stress on our children, and potentially label good schools as failing. They will widen the achievement gap and beginning in 2016, are being tied to high school graduation, potentially causing graduation rates to plummet.

takeparccpic2

Technically, we can’t “opt out” because we didn’t “opt in.” But we can refuse. As parents, it is our job to protect our children. They’re not wards of the state. When they walk through school doors, we don’t suddenly give up our parental rights. We must not abdicate our responsibility. If something isn’t good for them it is our job to protect them from it. Which is why I will be refusing the PARCC for my child. So can you.


Latifah Jannah, former longtime Student Assistance Counselor in Montclair Public Schools, grandparent of student currently in Montclair schools, graciously provided us with the text of her comments:

Read: “Harlem” / (Dream Deferred) by Langston Hughes

What happens to the deferred dreams of children as we prepare and push
Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd graders to fit onto the lockstep staircase of Common Core and PARCC?

What happens to the 6 yr old who dreams of being a scientist? Whose face is full of wonder as he talks knowingly of the difference between mammals and reptiles and why he is warm-blooded and snakes lay eggs? Who wants to learn about how bees make honey from a beekeeper? How long before the red circles, red do-overs, and red x’s on the weekly tests take their toll? Who has been told by his peers that he can’t read because he stumbles over words as he tries to sound them out or comes home and announces that he is a failure (his word) because he couldn’t say the sight words fast enough? What do parents do when they find out that their child is being placed in a general Ed support class during the day because the child’s understanding of a story is not “right”. Is there time now for a dream when your child is labeled as deficient? Now there is talk of extra help, maybe a tutor after school, if possible, and frustration that somehow and for
some reason, your child is not learning.

Peter Greene writes in Curmudgucation that we have a duty to teach young children how to journey through life with strength, confidence, and skill. We need to teach them how to find their way to solutions, whatever problems face them. But you can’t measure this with a single one right answer for everyone standardized test. For our young children we must value the journey over the
destination.

We often hear about Finland and their high rating from the Program for
International Student Assessment-a triennial international survey which
evaluates education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15 yr olds.

Recently, Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg gave the keynote address at the NJEA convention in Atlantic City. As reported, he spoke about 5 things you won’t find in Finland that affect education:

  1. Unhealthy competition-in Finland the focus is on providing a great school for every child, not a competition between schools and teachers based on test scores.
  1. Standardized testing-Finnish children earn top scores on PISA without taking standardized testing or test prep, taking one standardized test at the end of their education experience when they are 19-the focus is on individualized learning and children receive no grades in their 1st 5 years of schooling-it’s illegal to grade small children.
  1. Test based accountability-Finns don’t see the need to test everybody every year, but take samplings to measure student achievement.
  1. Obsession with the myth of teacher effectiveness-teachers in US are in competition with each other because we are told that our schools are populated with an overwhelming number of bad teachers. In Finland, teachers work collaboratively, and discussions are about school effectiveness rather than teacher effectiveness.
  1. Marketing school choice-private schools are illegal, parents choose from public schools, and there is a great focus on school equity. Charters and competition do not solve the problems of inequity of school funding and the social issue of income inequality, but instead, make those problems worse. He also noted a few things which can improve education, i.e., equity in school funding, focus on the health and well being of children, not cutting the arts, music, and physical education. Respect of teachers and teacher collaboration and empowerment, so that teaching remains a valued career of longevity, and not just a job to something else.

And that children must play. Researcher Sergio Pellis, of the University of
Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, in an August, 2014 report aired on National
Public Radio, makes the connection between free play (no coaches, umpires, or
rulebooks) and brain development, particularly in terms of social interaction.
According to Pellis, countries that have more recess tend to have higher
academic performance than those whose recess is less.

Also, Finland has universal day care for all children until they enter school at
age 7. As a side note, Theodore Roosevelt didn’t read until he was 7, but was a
voracious reader for the rest of his life, as well as maintaining a life long
curiosity about the world around him.

Speaking of history, is PARCC the beginning of the end for social studies and
history? Social Studies time is now being used for test preparation 1-2x weekly
in local schools. Education writer Alan Singer in the Huffington Post recently
wrote in an article titled Common Core and the End of History, that the NY state
board of regents voted unanimously that students did not have to pass US and
Global History exams in order to graduate from high school. In June, 2010, the
regents eliminated middle school social studies, history, and geography
assessments so students could concentrate on test preparation for high stakes
testing for standardized reading and math assessments. Social studies was
eliminated as one of the tests on NJASK a few years ago.

So, I started with Langston Hughes and I will end with him:

Read – “Dreams”

Latifah Jannah


 

Here are the two poems by Langston Hughes that Ms. Jannah read at the Take the PARCC event:

Harlem

By LANGSTON HUGHES

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/175884

Langston Hughes, “Harlem” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 1994 by The Estate of Langston Hughes. Reprinted with the permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated.

Source: Selected Poems of Langston Hughes (Random House Inc., 1990)

Dreams

Langston Hughes, 1902 – 1967

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/dreams

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes published by Alfred A. Knopf/Vintage. Copyright © 1994 by the Estate of Langston Hughes. Reprinted by permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated. All rights reserved.

 


Thanks for reading and sharing with others.

All of us at Montclair Voices