Tag Archives: #mcasparentvoices

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

MBOE Budget Meetings: Where, oh, where did the money go?

Dear friends,

Good day to you.

Due to snowfall yesterday, there was a two hour delayed school opening in Montclair, and the PARCC was postponed from today, to tomorrow, 3/3/15.

While we gather links, press clips, blog posts, and pictures from yesterday’s amazing event in Montclair with filmmaker Michael Elliot, we’re jumping back to last week’s BOE meeting on
2/23/2015.

We collected a few pieces you might want to read before this evening’s budget meeting. One thing on so many of our minds is:

where$

Here’s the BUDGET WORKSHOP MEETING  info from the MPS website on 3/2/2015 at 1:30pm:

The MBOE Budget Workshop meeting on March 2, 2015 will commence at 4:30 pm in the George Inness Annex Atrium at 141 Park Street. It will then go immediately into Closed Session and reopen at approximately 7:30 pm for the Public Session.

The MBOE Budget Workshop meeting on March 5, 2015 will commence at 5:30 pm in the Atrium and go immediately into Closed Session reopening at approximately 7:30 pm for the Public Session.

The MBOE Budget Workshops will air live at 7:30pm on Mon., March 2, 2015 and Thurs., March 5, 2015 on Comcast/FiOS 34, FiOS Channel 33 and will stream live.

 

PARENT VOICES:

Parent, Laurie Orosz made these comments at the BOE meeting on 2/23/2015.
We are adding a link to the Noam Chomsky piece she referenced in her comments and include here via Creative Systems Thinking blog:

My son, a third grader at the Charles H. Bullock School, will not be taking the PARCC exams.

Noam Chomsky, in a recent interview for The Progressvie Magazine, stated “The assessment itself is completely artificial. It’s not ranking teachers in accordance with their ability to help develop children who will reach their potential, explore their creative interests. Those things you’re not testing.. it’s a rank that’s mostly meaningless. And the very ranking itself is harmful. It’s turning us into individuals who devote our lives to achieving a rank. Not into doing things that are valuable and important.”

The PARCC assessments are especially harmful and meaningless. Having taken a practice exam at a Montclair Cares About Schools, Take the PARCC event, I can say these tests are confusing, needlessly wordy, at least two grade levels too advanced and measure nothing but one’s endurance to sit through a frustrating, tedious test.

The PARCC is just one of several, unfunded mandates, recently imposed on our schools by bureaucrats and the wealthy elite. Under the pretence of closing the achievement gap and leveling the playing field, these reforms are designed to demean and demoralize our teachers, fail our students, chip away at public education and legalize institutional racism.

Montclair doesn’t exist in a bubble. What is happening nationwide and statewide is happening here.

Almost three years ago, a Broad Superintendent Academy graduate, without any public input, was appointed Superintendent of our schools. The Broad Superintendents Academy isn’t certified, has no state approvals, isn’t subject to outside monitoring, doesn’t require a background in education and trains people in corporate disruption techniques. Broad Superintendents have consistently devastated school districts.

When Dr. MacCormack assumed her position, we had a significant surplus in our budget. Now, as she announces her resignation, we are left with a deficit of millions of dollars and our schools in ruins.

Montclair, once envied for our progressive and diverse schools has become an embarrassment. Class sizes have swelled, curriculum has been narrowed, test prep has run rampant and our schools are now facing horrendous budget cuts.

I want to know what happened to cause this situation and who is going to take responsibility for such an egregious and destructive lack of oversight.

An independent, internal audit should be conducted and Dr. MacCormack should be immediately relieved of her responsibilities. An interim Superintendent should be appointed who is familiar with and respects our magnet program and who values and respects public education.

The search for a new Superintendent should be open and involve input from our Principals, teachers and all stake holders and should lead us to an individual who will help rebuild our schools and return Montclair to its position as a leader in public education.


And this Letter to the Editor:

The Montclair Times letter by Chris McGoey: “Superintendent and her budget must go”

FEBRUARY 26, 2015    LAST UPDATED: THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 26, 2015, 12:32 AM

THE MONTCLAIR TIMES

Superintendent and her budget must go

Board of Education President David Deutsch has announced Superintendent Penny MacCormack will stay in place until an interim is hired through a paid search. This is unacceptable.

The Principals’ Association has called for MacCormack’s immediate removal, dumbfounded by her insistence that millions of dollars of cuts must come from school programming and staff, leaving them “uncertain of how we possibly got to this place.” The Montclair Education Association and community have echoed that call.

With no confidence, MacCormack’s preliminary budget proposal (which she did not bother to come to present) has no credibility. Her budget claims a projected $10.9 million shortfall. The budget requires that certain unnamed classes be cut and others be combined, that related arts (physical education, art and music), middle and elementary school electives, and athletics be cut. The budget cuts books and supplies, makes kids with special needs give up current paraprofessional support, cuts speech and occupational therapy, cuts teachers and healthcare, and proposes that taxes be raised.

These are false choices framed by an untrusted leader with no vested interest in what happens to Montclair going forward.

Millions have been diverted from the classroom into support for continual assessing, PARCC testing, evaluation, data collection, consulting, legal fees and Common Core curriculum. That money lies hidden in layers of Central Office hires, unhelpful professional development, over-purchased and unplanned tech, and hidden off-budget-line expenditures like the $860,000 unbudgeted tech expenditure disclosed at the Nov. 17 BOE meeting.

This budget deprives children of education to pay for testing and reforms.

We don’t need to wait and pay to search for an interim.

We need to install Felice Harrison today as the NAACP has requested.

Get an independent auditor to look at the books.

Cut the money tied up in the reforms that are wreaking havoc on our schools and budget.

Chris McGoey

Montclair


 

Will we see you at the meeting tonight? Bring your questions and comments.

Stay well and warm,

Montclair Voices

 

 

“The Other PARCC” film released today at 5pm

 

Dear Friends,

It’s finally happening!

RefuseFilm

 

Parents, teachers, students, activists, and community members gathered on this snowy afternoon in a room filled to capacity, to celebrate the premiere of a short film by Michael Elliot. The film was made with support from Montclair Cares About Schools and the collaborative efforts of too many people to name here right now.

We owe a debt of gratitude to Save Our Schools New Jersey for their tireless advocacy on behalf of our public schools and their incredible information  and handouts which were distributed at the event.

A special mention must go to the remarkable students  from the Newark Students Union. If only everyone would listen to them! Or the teachers, as in this brave and incredible letter from the teachers at Science Park High School in Newark, who refer to the PARCC as “30 Days of Destruction,” via Bob Braun’s Ledger.

And  of course, we thank Mr. Elliott for his artistry, vision, and extraordinary efforts to create this film for release on the eve of the PARCC.

We are united in our mission and vision to reclaim public education for all children.

Many people in the room this afternoon are refusing the PARCC, here in Montclair, Newark, Paterson, and all over the state. New Jersey begins PARCC testing tomorrow, Monday, March 2.

At 5pm today,  The Other PARCC: Parents Advocating Refusal on High Stakes Testing, was released  via this link.

Please watch and share widely.

Bloggers across New Jersey are also posting this and we expect it to also be posted nationally.

Here are two blogs by amazing and inspiring women we’re so proud to know as fellow activists and friends. Both  are featured in the film:

One is by The Education Activist, Melissa Katz:

One is by The Edu-Sage’s Companion, Awo Okaikor Aryee-Price:

Okaikor

So much work to do. We go forward.

Warmest wishes,

All of us at Montclair Voices

"Parent Power!" by Elana Halberstadt, 2015

“Parent Power!” by Elana Halberstadt, 2015

On the superintendent’s resignation and the budget in Montclair

Dear Readers,

We’re sharing with you the latest MCAS Newsletter which went out this morning, 2/20/2015. Please take note of the section on the budget, as it is especially urgent. We hope to see you at the BOE meeting on Monday evening.


MCAS Newsletter – February 20, 2015

Dear friends,

As we expect you know, Superintendent MacCormack has submitted her resignation.

This news came days before the board of education will present a draft budget that by many accounts will show a deficit of several million dollars.

Several of us from MCAS sent a statement to the board members Thursday asking that in light of the difficult budget process that is about to start, they accept the superintendent’s resignation effective immediately. We share that statement with you below.

We also want to alert you about the serious budget issues the district may face this coming year.

Please try to come to the board meeting Monday, Feb. 23.

Make your voice heard. It is crucial at this time for all of us to to ensure that any budget cuts do not hurt our classrooms and schools.

_________

Here’s the statement we sent: 

Dear Board of Education members:

With the news of the resignation of Superintendent MacCormack, we as members of Montclair Cares About Schools are writing to respectfully request that the Board of Education accept her resignation effective immediately and appoint an interim superintendent to steer our community through the difficult school budget process that is about to begin.

The announcement of the superintendent’s resignation comes less than a week before the board is expected to release a draft budget that, by many accounts, includes a shortfall of several million dollars.

This deficit comes on the heels of a 4.1 percent tax increase this year coupled with the spending down of millions of dollars in surplus.

It is critical that our community be able to address the issues surrounding this deficit – including how it happened and how to address it – with an open, honest and respectful dialogue.

As the Rev. William Barber, head of the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina, has said: A budget is a moral document.

We need a budget in Montclair that reflects our community’s values by supporting children, educators and our children’s classrooms over all else.

Unfortunately, the current district leadership has very often caused parents, educators and other community members to feel unheard and disregarded. The current leadership has also failed to provide straight answers or accurate and timely information, all of which are crucial to an open and productive budget process.

An interim superintendent who is respectful of Montclair’s values and history of integrated schools and who has a demonstrated commitment to progressive public education could help to change this dynamic now at this crucial time when our board is about to make spending decisions that may affect our district for years to come.

We and many other parents and community members hope that this change in leadership will mark a positive turning point, leading to a decision-making process in our district that is more inclusive and genuinely welcoming of the views of parents, educators and other residents.

In light of the budget decisions before us, we believe it is critical that the district begin that new more open and inclusive approach now with new, interim leadership.

Thank you very much for your attention and consideration of this matter.

_______________________

Budget alert!

The board is expected to release a draft budget Monday that will require cuts, a tax increase or both.

We’re writing to ask each of you to try to attend the meeting this Monday, to pay close attention to the school budget this year and to make your voice heard.

Where: MHS auditorium on Park Street

When: Monday, Feb. 23 at 7:30 p.m., with signup for public comments usually beginning around 6:30

The district is by many accounts projecting a shortfall of several million dollars.

We want to remind you that this shortfall comes after the district raised taxes 4.1 percent this year and spent millions of dollars in surplus funds. This raises key questions:

  • Where did the money go?
  • Will budget cuts hit our children’s classrooms and schools? Or will they be kept far from the classroom?

Over the last few years, we have seen troubling trends in how the district has spent our tax dollars:

  • Central Services has bulked up, adding so many new administrators and other staff that the total number of staff has grown by 50 percentsince 2008-09, from 33.4 to 51, as of last fall. This increase came over a period when district enrollment stayed about the same.
  • Legal fees have skyrocketed from $167,000 in 2011-12 to more than $500,000 last year and $350,000 budgeted this year.
  • Technology spending has soared, totaling about $2 million or more this year alone – much of it to prepare for the PARCC – and without the district’s bothering to create a technology plan to ensure that the new technology enhances learning.
  • Communications costs more than doubled in the first nine months of this year over what was budgeted, $125,000 budgeted vs. $288,000 actual. Most of this is for new communications staff to handle what is essentially public relations for the superintendent.

As the district has gone on this spending spree with money outside the classroom, our paraprofessionals – the teachers’ aides who serve as a lifeline to our most vulnerable children – are increasingly hired only as substitutes with no benefits and no job security.

______________________________

Our school budget should reflect our values and vision for our schools. The budget plays a large part in determining what happens in our schools and classrooms each day:

  • When paraprofessionals are brought on as substitutes with no benefits and low pay, that hurts the morale and reduces the stability of the workforce of educators whom our children depend on.
  • When programs are cut and never restored – such as elementary school instrumental music and Writer’s Room – that reduces the learning opportunities open to our children.

As parents and community members, we can make sure that our district’s budget reflects our community’s values and our education goals for our children.

Thank you.

Please check out our Facebook page for updates.


If you’d like to receive MCAS newsletters directly to your email
in-box, please send a note to montclaircaresaboutschools@gmail.com
with “SUBSCRIBE TO NL” in the subject line.

If you’d like to submit stories or any other material for consideration and posting on Montclair Voices, please email us at:
montclairvoices@gmail.com
with the subject line: “SUBMIT TO BLOG”

Thank you and stay warm!

All of us at Montclair Voices

 

 

Elementary school tours are scheduled for week of Jan. 26 for Montclair Public Schools District

Dear Readers,

Heads up to parents of incoming Kindergarten students or parents of elementary students seeking to find info on upcoming school tours—-please take note:

The district has moved the tours (from their previously usual time in March) to the week of Jan 26. Please help spread the word as we have not seen or received any district communication or seen any press on this. In years past, its always been advertised with plenty of notice to parents.

To read more about this, please see this blog post from Sarah Tepper Blaine:
http://parentingthecore.com/2015/01/14/montclair-kindergarten-tours-moved-to-january/

And here’s the district calendar for dates and times of tours starting 1/26/15:
http://www.montclair.k12.nj.us/usercalendar.aspx

Please forward this to anyone who might need to know about the upcoming tours.

Thanks!

Montclair Voices

Parent testimony to State Board of Education in Trenton, NJ

noparccbutton

Dear Readers,

Almost 100 people gave testimony against the PARCC in Trenton on 1/7/15.

Here’s one outstanding piece. We hope you’ll read it and will share with others.

Thank you!

Montclair Voices


 

1/7/15 Written Testimony of Christine McGoey
before SBOE Members Lepore and Fornaro

Thank you State Board of Education Members Lepore and Fornaro for hearing my public testimony.

I think public testimony is very important because it injects reality into what is happening to children and education in our schools today. The Common Core Standards, linked to PARCC testing, that would generate supposedly necessary data, were presented to us by our district and our state and federal governments as a seamless package for how to create better education.

I am here to say that in practice those theories are detrimental to our children and our schools and are hurting education.

In my experience, the standards are largely developmentally inappropriate, teaching to the PARCC is narrowing the curriculum, and together they are draining resources for tech, testing and CCSS curriculum from our school budgets that could be better used in the classroom. School has changed dramatically for the worse in the two short years since CCSS and PARCC preparedness has been in place.

I am the parent of two public school children in Montclair, NJ. I have been an active volunteer in our schools, devoting many hours on numerous projects over the years for the PTA and on family and community engagement.  During the past holidays I participated in organizing the Thanksgiving Multi Cultural Feast, ran the Snowflake Village, made fudge for the the Holiday Sing. I have baked countless cupcakes, served breakfasts and raised funds. I don’t speak for any organization here, but I believe that my close involvement has given me a real understanding of our schools, kids and parents.

My children are 6 years apart. I have a tenth grader and a fifth grader. My younger child is currently attending the same elementary school his older sibling attended, with many of the same excellent teachers and a great Principal–all doing their best.  But he is not benefiting from the same great kind of education his older brother received.

His older brother experienced a curriculum that advanced kids in ways that fit them. Now, CCSS and PARCC require kids to think like mini-adults to be advanced.

I do not intend to argue the merits of CCSS here, but to give you a flavor for what I mean, my older child received a solid elementary school foundation in basic math skills like math facts, multiplication and division, that quickly created automaticity and allowed him to pursue higher math concepts as he got older.

Montclair parent, Christine McGoey gives her testimony to State Board of Ed. Trenton, NJ, 1/7/2015

Montclair parent, Christine McGoey gives her testimony to State Board of Ed. Trenton, NJ, 01/07/2015

Last year, instead of solidifying basic math facts, CCSS had my younger son’s class devoting months to developing skills in things like writing equations without solving them, and a multi-stepped, unhelpful process for division called “area modeling” so misaligned with the way children think that the entire class spent hours on math homework every evening. The effort required of younger children to learn these alternate skills, clearly not keyed to their developmental levels, took up the time normally invested in actually learning division or practicing to automaticity in multiplication. CCSS sent a class of fourth graders on to fifth with destabilized math skills. We had to do those things at home.

In language arts, reading levels have been ratcheted up with no underlying research–only the conviction by CCSS writers that if you make it harder kids will have to be smarter. At one of our BOE meetings last year our then curriculum director explained how kindergarten reading levels had been arbitrarily boosted by CCSS, and how the district believed these were too high, so they had split the difference and only raised them half way–as if this were a better approach. (Elementary school reading levels now reach up into former middle school levels and kids and schools are accountable for skill levels way above their ages regardless of developmental readiness.)

My older son had a rich and full social studies curriculum in elementary school. This year I would say my younger son has had next to none, no projects and only one test after reading a few chapters. My younger son has not mentioned social studies and I have seen no social studies work for months. At back to school night, one of his teachers informed us that given the amount of material CCSS required them to cover in math and language arts, the children would unfortunately be doing less social studies.

To date, our district of 6,700 students has spent something close to 2.1 million dollars on tech upgrades and computer equipment related to PARCC. Our Superintendent is now saying that given these expenditures our district faces “hard choices” in this upcoming budget cycle.

Money that could be used in the classroom, is pouring out of the budget into the hands of tech and testing and CCSS curriculum companies.

My children, husband and I took the PARCC practice tests at a community event with about a hundred other people. My husband and I both have  a number of higher degrees, but we could not answer many of the questions.  The test was poorly written, missing context, not giving clear choices.The fifth grade test contained multiple operations in each math question and was much too complex. The technology piece was daunting. We could not imagine how even reasonably prepared children could do well on such a test.

(Here is a link to a letter I wrote about taking the PARCC. http://www.northjersey.com/opinion/opinion-letters-to-the-editor/montclair-letter-by-christina-mcgoey-taking-parcc-is-an-eye-opener-1.1133836)

The test seems rigged for failure.

In fact, in NY and other states where CCSS tests have been given, the cut scores alone have done exactly that. NY failed 70%. The SBAC, the other consortium test, is set to be administered with a cut rate that will fail up to 68% of kids in math and 62% in language arts (The rate fluctuates with grade. The full scoring system is set out here:  http://www.smarterbalanced.org/news/smarter-balanced-states-approve-achievement-level-recommendations/) Commissioner Hespe will not announce the cut scores for NJ, claiming they have not been set yet with the PARCC consortium and that this will happen in the summer–after the tests have been taken. But if these tests are to compare apples to apples as we have been told, how can the NJ cut scores be any better?

And if the test is designed for failure, then the data stream that is generated by the PARCC and follows and judges our children through the longitudinal data system set in place, is designed to label them with failure.

And the rating of teachers, principals and schools tied to test data, is designed for failure.

Instead of seeing the seamless package for good education we had been promised CCSS and PARCC would provide, we now see each separate piece as not only ill conceived and faulty, but as harmful.

We know through experience that the standards are both developmentally inappropriate and failing to provide a good, foundational education.

We know that ratcheting up the level of work is not teaching, merely piling it on and creating stress without purpose.

The emphasis on meeting all the CCSS criteria that will be PARCC tested are wiping out valuable areas of study like social studies.

The test is designed for failure. The data that will rank and sort and follow our children and invade their privacy is set not for success, but for widespread, purposeful failure.

As parents we are dismayed and disillusioned.

We feel our government and Departments of Education at Federal, State and Local levels have let us down and are following a course harmful to our children’s education and dangerous to public education as an institution.

We have brought our concerns to our local BOE and Superintendent, only to be told we must appeal to the State BOE.

We supported bill A3081 that would have allowed for a full and complete examination of CCSS and high stakes PARCC testing and felt this bill shouId have been brought to a vote in the Senate.

I am here today to tell you that as a matter of protest, our children will not be taking the PARCC.

And we are so concerned about education that we have decided we will not vote for any candidates who mindlessly support PARCC or CCSS.

We ask the SBOE to exercise its power to reexamine PARCC and CCSS, to hold full hearings on these topics with wide public input,  and to pass a statewide test refusal/ opt out policy.

Thank you.

Christine McGoey
Montclair, NJ

Video

All in the PARCC Family: On presentations and transparency

Dear Readers,

We received this from a district parent who attended the PARCC Family Presentation at the George Inness Annex of MHS on 11/13/2014:

Gail Clarke, who led the PARCC Family Presentation, mentioned that the PARCC has been field-tested around the state and that the results were excellent.  What she didn’t mention was that the results of these field tests were not released to the public – so we’ll just have to take her word that they were a success.  The same way that we’ll have to take her word that, as she stated, teachers “won’t be teaching to the test” or filling up valuable class time with test prep (which, as we’re learning, is simply not true).

One of the slides in her presentation listed info about how the PARCC results will be used.  Two of the ways in which they’ll be used were especially interesting:

  • To assist teachers in supporting students
  • To inform parents and students on progress towards “on track” college and career readiness

The first point makes no sense, since as Clarke stated, scores from the March and May tests won’t be shared with students/parents until September or October.  How then can teachers “assist” and “support” their former students, who will be learning all new material in their next grade level?  Also, it’s tough for teachers to “assist” and “support” students when they don’t have their students’ specific test results to refer to, since from what we’re learning, specific question-by-question PARCC results won’t be made available to teachers.

The second point is so vague and general, it’s laughable – and so perverse, it’s sickening.  Which colleges in particular are being referenced, and which careers?  And are we to believe we should be using the PARCC results to measure whether children in elementary and middle school – and even the first and second years of high school – are on a path that, unless corrected, will lead to lifelong failure and humiliation if their scores aren’t high enough?

To top off the non-transparent farce that was this presentation, questions needed to be pre-submitted by attendees.  Those that were selected for answering were chosen based on whether they were critical of the PARCC, Central Office, the Board of Ed, or the NJDOE (or as Clarke said, “political”).  If they were, they weren’t answered.

All in all, the presentation achieved Clarke’s goal of perpetrating the dishonesty of the NJDOE as well as silencing honest discussion from concerned parents about the PARCC.

P.S.  Speaking of dishonesty and non-transparency, Clarke said that the PARCC would be downloaded when administered to students in order to avoid problems with online interruptions or connectivity difficulties.  I learned from teachers that Clarke told them that the test would be administered live on the Internet.  And Central Office wonders why they have a credibility problem.


For another parent’s thoughts on yet another PARCC Family Presentation, head on over to Sarah Tepper Blaine’s blog parentingthecore, or click here for her post.

This statement made by a teacher at the 11/17/2014 meeting and posted via Montclair Education Matters, offers an additional perspective.

An excerpt:

Finally, concerning the PAARC standardized exams and the Core Curriculum Standards, I would like to quote Dr. Chris Tienken, Assoc. Prof. at Seton Hall University and co-author of ‘The School Reform Landscape: Fraud, Myth and Lies,’ who spoke recently at a Montclair Cares for Schools forum and said: “All these standardized reforms… rest on pillars of sand.” He further added that ‘one-size-fits-all curriculum standards’ seeks to homogenize education. “Local school boards have been reduced to state adopted polices.” And he added, “Testing is not learning. Test preparation is not teaching.”

The video of Dr. Chris Tienken’s remarks was posted on Montclair Cares About Schools’ Facebook page.


JLhappy

As we get ready for holidays,
we’re thankful: to you (for reading and sharing).
Thankful for brave parents and teachers who send us stories (keep ‘em coming).
Thankful to every one who speaks up and works for democracy and justice here and everywhere.

Warmest wishes,

All of us at Montclair Voices

 

The Story Behind Those Now – Vanished Budget Surpluses

****UPDATED AND EXPANDED

Dear Readers,

Below is an expanded version of comments on the budget audit made by district parent, Christine McGoey at the Montclair Board of Education meeting on Monday, November 17, 2014:

The Story Behind Those Now-Vanished Budget Surpluses

If you are a parent like me, you might have thought that the large, reported school budget “surpluses” in past years represented extra money we just didn’t need for our schools.

But that is not the case. Those surpluses you have been hearing about fall into a category called “Excess Surplus.”

As auditor Raymond Sarinelli from Nisivoccia, LLP has explained in the past, it is “Excess” because under state law, school districts are only allowed to carry a modest surplus capped at 2 percent of their budgets. The 2 percent amount is referred to as “Unassigned Fund Balance.”

In my house we call that rainy day money. Any funds in excess of the 2 percent cap are required to be used for tax relief in future years.

You can read more about that here.

Excess Surpluses are signs of an improperly constructed budget. According to Sarinelli who presented the Annual Budget Audit at the November, 17 2014 BOE meeting, the BOE had been working on leveling out the budget. The BOE had a “goal” to get away from the past “fund balance spike” that had “gone over the top” and to get to a “glide path.”

The goal in school budgeting is to have close to zero Excess Surplus, and maintain appropriate “Fund Balance Amounts.”  In simple parent translation, the goal of the BOE budget should be to spend money allocated for schools on school expenses, and shoot for a rainy day fund that does not exceed the 2% cap.

Out in the audience, I was looking at the “Excess Surpluses” the auditor was highlighting.

In June of 2012, Excess Surplus was $4.7 million.

In June of 2013, the Excess surplus hit $3.2 million.

In June of 2014, it was $2.2 million.  By June 2015, it will be zero.

According to prior Nisivocca audits, these Excess Surpluses had come down from a high or “spike” of $13.9 million surplus for school year 2011-12.

This spike was preceded by an $11 million surplus in 2010-11, the school year in which the BOE considered school closures, fearing a “budget crisis” that did not materialize.

These weren’t monies the schools and children did not need, but monies the sitting BOEs withheld and chose not to use.

You might remember that those were the years during which our children’s schools lost over a hundred experienced teachers, paraprofessionals in classrooms, guidance and support personnel, Writer’s Room, world language, and elementary instrumental music, to name a few things I recall. Those were the days in which support for our younger children’s education became dramatically different than that provided to children in prior years–and still is.

And while it is true that under the advice of auditors, the BOEs have slowly decreased Excess Surplus through some phased in spending and forward budget allocation, it is also true that millions have been lost to our schools.

Meanwhilethe rainy day Unassigned Fund Balances presented were as follows:

In 2012, $2.8 million. In 2013, $2.2 million. But in 2014, only $779,641.

Sarinelli pointed out that last year’s budget created a “dip,” and now he said the budget needs to reach a “glide” path, avoiding spikes and dips and getting to “horizontal.”

So how did we get to a dip?

The budget created last year spent all income from revenues, plus the Excess Surplus, plus $1.4 million of the rainy day money, and taxes were raised 4.1%.

Where did the money go?

A significant amount went to PARCC testing and CCSS gear up.

It’s hard to tell how much, because those expenses are spread throughout the budget, in everything from material purchases and professional development, evaluation costs, hardware and software purchases, wiring, and maintenance.

The district has glossed over PARCC spending saying that tech updates were needed anyway, and a complete plan for tech spending related to the PARCC was never presented at budget meetings, although the public and certain BOE members requested it.

During the budget process, Brian Fleischer said Montclair needed upwards of $1 million for technology upgrades, but did not separate out the PARCC related costs.

Fleischer spoke about a $500,000 overhaul of the district’s network to the Board of School Estimate. He admitted the plan for purchasing devices was still developing, that the district owned devices sufficient for PARCC, but expressed a preference for purchasing better devices.

Well after the budget had passed in August, the new district technology director Barry Haines described a three-year tech plan to the Montclair Times, including the purchase of 1,000 Chromebooks and staff computers, among other things.

At the BOE meeting on November 17th, Sarinelli stated the District had made an additional Unbudgeted Expenditure on tech in the amount of $860,000.

To date in this budget year, Montclair seems to have spent around $1.86 million on tech for a district of 6,761 students.

In comparison, it was recently reported that the Tom’s River Regional District, serving 16,574 students and three high schools as of 2013 has spent $1,040,000 for PARCC testing. (2,160 Chrome books at a cost of $715,000, upgrading the district’s wireless network at $250,000, and $75,000 to update the memory within the school’s existing desktop computers.)

During Budget Workshops last year, community members and I repeatedly commented that the large PARCC and CCSS expenditures were too high. We argued they would put too much strain on the budget, and might force cuts in important areas later.

We didn’t want to pay so much for questionable PARCC tests, unproven curriculum and evaluations. We wanted our people back and our schools fully staffed.

We urged the BOE to go slowly. To spend minimally. What if the PARCC proves to be an unsuccessful test, if CCSS is a flash in the pan? (So many states have dropped out of the PARCC consortium that its numbers are less than half the original, and more districts are seeking waivers and delays due to concerns about the test).

We asked , how about requesting a paper PARCC, not needing massive new, computer purchases that will quickly become obsolete and require expensive bandwidth capable of carrying simultaneous testers? (There is a paper PARCC, but Acting Commissioner Hespe has resisted allowing its use except for special accommodations–which proves it is possible.)

What about yearly maintenance and expensive carrying fees going forward, we asked?

We begged the BOE to prioritize spending for learning and to join other districts in protesting the huge expenditures we were being required to make for the unfunded state mandates of PARCC and CCSS.

 Now, to get our rainy day fund to 2% where it should be, Sarinelli said the upcoming budget would have to set aside around $1.4 million.

The Superintendent has already warned at the MHS taped meeting that we may be facing some cuts and will have to make choices.

Let’s make sure that going forward we come together as a community to insist on the importance of fully funding our schools.

Let’s take a cue from the Watchung parents who demanded smaller kindergarten classes and got them. And the parents who demanded world languages and started a foreign language comeback for our schools.

Let’s stand for our schools and not be intimidated by calls for cuts that leave our schools underfunded and understaffed, and our children last among our citizens.

If we really want to get to “glide” as Sarinelli has advised, then our budgets should be solidly based on what we know works, small classes and full staffing, rich curriculum and support.

And we should insist on keeping those things in place, year to year as a solid foundation for our schools.

And when state mandates come that pressure our budget, kids and schools, let’s make sure our BOE speaks up for our community and stands for what our children need.

* The hard copies of the 138 page audit done by the firm of Nisivoccia, LLP were not available, but the auditor supplied a limited number of copies of page 138, showing the surplus amounts, which was discussed at length.

** You can read about my family’s experience taking the PARCC, and I hope you will consider taking the PARCC for yourself.

—Christine McGoey

Can we trust their data?

Dear Readers,

Below is a slightly updated version of comments made by Michelle Fine at the Montclair Board of Education meeting on Monday, November 17, 2014:

A Closer Look at the Strategic Progress Report 

A year ago, on October 8, 2013, the Montclair Times reported that the achievement gap had widened in Montclair schools. David Deutsch referred to the gaps between economically disadvantaged African Americans and non-disadvantaged Whites, as “massive.”  Shelley Lombard said, “If anybody can address this and start to do something about it, it’s Montclair. That’s why some board members are very enthusiastic about Penny MacCormack.”

Then in October 2014, Gail Clarke presented the Achievement Gap analysis to the public. I draw your attention to one chart: High Expectations for All: Race and Ethnicity. Ms. Clarke told the public that the Black-White gap had narrowed on 9 of 15 measures.

Some might see this as cause to celebrate, but there are serious problems with the presentation of the data: problems of omission and commission. After consulting with a team of three statisticians, I summarize the errors in data presentation and interpretation below, and for this evening will identify at least one serious policy issue that Board must address. My comments derive from a simple comparison of the chart presented to the public and the raw data in the Appendix and on the MPS website.

What’s missing? In the full report for 2014, economically disadvantaged Black children are never compared to non-disadvantaged Black children nor to non-disadvantaged White children. This statistical omission is ironic, given that the race/class gap was such a cause of such concern in 2013 when the Board was suggesting that Superintendent Alvarez had underestimated the gap.

What’s wrong with the data? This year, when you are assessing the MacCormack administration, not only did you fail to provide critical comparisons of low- income African Americans to non-disadvantaged Whites, but the data you did present to the public consistently overstated the percent of Black students who scored as proficient when compared to data in your own Appendix. The discrepancy is as high as 13% on the 3rd grade ELA, 11% in 4th grade, 8% in 5th, 7% ELA 6, 14% in ELA 7, 13% in ELA 8 and 4% in HSPA for ELA 11. The same patterns can be found in math.

Stated plainly, the key comparisons from last year are not available to the public and the data presented to the public systematically and inaccurately skew in the direction of claiming substantial achievement gains among African American students.

I have no way of knowing if this is human error, cherry- picking or strategic misrepresentation of only the non-economically disadvantaged African Americans. I have contacted both Gail Clarke and George Glass with the hope that they can help me understand the conflicting information.

The public deserves accurate reporting and fiscal responsibility. At this point “correcting” the chart is necessary, but no longer sufficient. The larger issue at stake is one that has haunted this administration for years: questions of accuracy, honesty and lack of public trust.

As I understand, the Board voted to grant Dr. MacCormack and perhaps one of her Chiefs a “merit bonus” based, in part, on these presumably narrowed gaps.

My question to the Board is simple: Will these merit bonuses be held in escrow until we have numbers we can trust?

Michelle Fine


 

 

 

The people speak up!

BOEmeet2

Made in June 2013 after a BOE meeting in which parents, students, and community spoke up against the Strategic Plan and high stakes testing. The BOE voted to approve the plan.

 

Dear Readers,

WOW! Last night’s Montclair Board of Education meeting (11/17/2014) proved that more and more parents
and community members are becoming aware of  the destructive policies being implemented by the NJDOE, Superintendent, and BOE.

Friends, people are experiencing the damage and harm it is causing our students, teachers, and schools in general. Lost learning time is only one of many things sacrificed to test prep for PARCC.

There was a terrific turn out, especially for a cold, rainy Monday night.
One after another,  passionate, caring, knowledgeable, thoughtful  community members stood up to publicly call on our Superintendent and BOE to pay attention, to listen, and to hear the community’s dissatisfaction with the status quo.

One by one, speakers took to the mic to express outrage, concerns, make statements, and ask questions. This is our town, our school district, and we will continue to stand up and speak out for OUR children.

While we’re busy unpacking all that transpired last night, we want to
thank district parent and blogger, Sarah Tepper Blaine from parentingthecore for sharing her comments made at the BOE meeting last night (11/17/14) on our Facebook page and we’re happy to share them here as well. Please read her post and share it with friends, neighbors, and fellow parents.

For anyone else who was in attendance last night, please keep your statements coming in to us here at montclairvoices@gmail.com. We want to post more comments so more people can read and find out what’s going on in our district!

Together we can make a difference.

Thanks for all you’re doing!

All of us at Montclair Voices