Opting-out of the real world: on path to a dangerous precedent

I keep having bad thoughts because of the PARCC testing.

Relax; not because of the PARCC testing, but because of this opt-out movement that has tickled the fancy of many.

Like other districts in NJ, I had a much larger than usual amount of opt-outs for standardized testing this year.  I say this year, because I’ve had maybe one or two before this. Yes, as a parent, you were / are allowed to opt-out of the NJASK as well.

Why so different this year?  Simple; everyone has the like button to press, the retweet button, or is an expert in a blog. Social media created a big wave; many are riding it, but don’t really know why they are on in the first place.

I spoke to several parents AND students about why they chose to opt-out. A majority of my responses were along these lines:

  • My friends are opting out, so I asked my Mom and Dad to have me opt-out
  • I don’t feel like taking it
  • I heard at the basketball game that we don’t have to take it, so we’re not going to
  • It has no impact on the schools, so who cares
  • I’m against the common core (in this case, I asked both parents & students what they’re against — the responses were either “I don’t know” or “they are against it so I am too”)
  • Mrs. X (an employee) said we can opt-out by having our parents write a letter, so that’s what I did
  • I heard we can sit around and either work on our projects or play with legos
  • I don’t want the pressure of another test on my child

Of all of the responses, the last one was the one I could actually understand. The others… I’m just baffled. The school has peppered everyone with scads of information, ranging from common core flashcards to a fully interactive presentation posted on our website and social media accounts. I also had PARCC Parent Nights. I wasn’t expecting the masses to show up, but with all of the information that’s available today, how could you not know?  If you’re that concerned about opting-out of something, wouldn’t you want to know what that something is?

Here’s what I’m envisioning:

Potential employee: I’d love to work here!

Employer: Great! Just complete this application and take this test. Potential employee: test?  No thanks, I’ll just opt-out.

OR THIS:

Senior applying to college: Hey Mom! Did you see I have to do this essay?

Mom: Yes, it’s apart of the application process

Senior: I don’t feel like writing it; can you just write me a note opting out?

OR THIS:

Counselor:  This is a test to get into that trade school you’ve been talking about.

Student: Eh, who cares about the test.  It’s not like it’s going to count towards anything!

Parents opting their kids out with no logic or reasoning behind it sets a nasty precedent. Opting out because you don’t understand how students are being taught today (i.e. common core methodology) is doing a disservice to your child and is setting up your child to trying to catch up to the wave of current society.

I understand the test anxiety piece; but to opt-out just because your kid asked? What’s next… opting out of paying bills because you don’t want to?  Or opting out of something because it’s too hard? Let your kids struggle; it’s how they learn; it’s how YOU and I learn.

I know this post isn’t as tight or aligned as I like them to be; I have a meeting in a few minutes.  And no, I can’t opt-out of that.

Onward.

EduDrone Challenge

I’m game… Anyone else?

Adjusting Course

Image Credit: Oberwelzdesign.com  Image Credit: OberwelzDesign.com

You might be surprised to learn that your school can purchase a drone for less than $50 dollars! If you’re interested in connecting with other schools that are cultivating critical thinking and creativity using these cutting-edge “quadcopters” this is the blog post for you! Welcome to the “EduDrone Challenge!”

Here’s how it works: Teams of students create a Challenge Course for their drone to maneuver through.  Each Challenge Course should feature 4-8 mini-challenges for drones to navigate. Students need to create detailed plans that are drawn to scale, and use precise mathematical terms so that schools across the country can replicate the same Challenge Course design.  (Please read the academic standards information below for explicit learning objectives.)

After a team of students has created their Challenge Course plans, they should select a creative theme and write a narrative that describes the Challenge Course in imaginative terms.  For…

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Bob Braun gets it wrong. Really wrong.

I’m a Jersey boy.  Remember the end of the opening scene of The Sopranno’s? That was me; walking down the driveway, getting the newspaper.  That newspaper was The Star Ledger.

There are legends that write at the Ledger.  Reporters that you look forward to reading.  One of them was Bob Braun. Bob covered everything and anything.  A staple of New Jersey culture, politics, and championing the little guy.

Maybe I liked Bob more because his wife taught my younger brother and I at Connecticut Farms in Union. Maybe I liked Bob more because he always took the time to dig deep and be thorough.  Maybe I liked Bob more because he was no-thrills.

Bob, I have to take it back now.

I’m so disgusted with the story you published on your blog earlier this week talking about how one of the Assistant Commissioners of Education, Bari Erlichson, is the reason why NJDOE & Pearson (the cultivators of the PARCC test) are so tight. Bob, through shoddy reporting and attempted parlor tricks, tries to correlate Assistant Commissioner Erlichson’s husband (a software developer) to why / how the PARCC test is here today.

While the story is simply ridiculous, Bob thought it was necessary to place her address, taxes, and a plethora of other personal, irrelevant information in the story.  The attempt to make the Erlichson’s look like the 1% failed; the whole article failed.  Well, to be fair, it succeeded in solidifying that Bob needs to retire… for real this time.  Such a callous article really makes me want to reach out to Mrs. Braun and ask her to remove Bob’s keyboard and enjoy the sunset that you both worked so hard to do.

Look at some of these facts:

  • All of the Pearson contracts are public
  • Of those contracts, none of them list MongoDB (Bari’s husband’s company) as a subcontractor
  • Pearson sold this company approximately 15 months before NJDOE contracted with them
  • Bari had nothing to do with the selection process; that’s not her area.
  • The house was purchased way before Bari’s husband even worked for MongoDB – roughly four years

For the past three weeks, there has been article after article, demonizing everyone who has something remotely nice to say about the PARCC test.  Some folks have taken it so personal , they’ve made flat out threatening statements.  I heard one story where someone was told to ‘watch their back, you never know who’s driving behind you’ and heard of another story where a Superintendent was threatened with a pipe bomb.  A PIPE BOMB! Really?!  Over a test?

This is just a test!  It’s going to show how our teachers are teaching and how our learners are learning.  It’s not the test in India or China that determines the rest of your life.  There’s going to be kinks, and there’s going to be mistakes. Have kinks and mistakes not been made before in other assessments? The PARCC is promising more data with a speedier return.  When have we not wanted information that more efficient and customized to the learner? Students are no longer cattle getting a one-size-fits-all assessment.  It’s 2015, and there’s no reason not to get it today like this.

I’m assuming some folks will automatically assume that I’m writing this because employees at the NJDOE are my bosses.  Newsflash – they’re not.  I don’t report to the NJDOE county office,  any NJDOE official, or even the Commissioner of Education.  I report to the locally elected Board Of Education members.  The NJDOE can suggest I do things, just like the BOE, but they can’t tell me what to do.

So, going full circle, back to the Pearson / NJDOE coziness.  There isn’t any.  Get over it, Bob.  Get back to being the awesome reporter you are, or retire the keyboard and let people reflect on you for being that awesome reporter you were.

Onward.

PARCC updates; the justification for lurking

Some folks flipped out that companies working for PARCC were combing (what we call ‘lurking’ on Twitter) over social media for leaks of testing material. Once again, I’m confused.  Why wouldn’t they?  It’s protected material, and sharing it without permission is illegal.  The more obvious…. it’s called CHEATING!  Read the statement from PARCC below.


Test Fairness and Security 

The PARCC states are committed to secure testing because fair tests are essential to better preparing the next generation for success. How do the states protect the fairness and validity of the PARCC test?

The states contract with a test vendor to search social media and websites for images or words from live tests, which are copyright infringements and jeopardize the fairness of the test for all students.

 Sharing images of test items via Twitter, Instagram, or other public social media sites – or posting basic information about test items – is today’s equivalent of photocopying a test and passing it out on the schoolhouse steps.  Cell phones are not allowed in the testing session and test administrators are instructed to tell all students before the test that sharing any test question online is prohibited.

The PARCC states’ policy follows the best practices outlined by the Council of Chief State School Officers, which recommends that there should be “procedures to monitor the internet and social websites before, during and after test administration for any evidence the items and/or answers have been shared” online.  In order to maintain test security, each PARCC state contracted with its test vendor, Pearson, to search for any live PARCC test questions that are shared through public social media sites. This is standard practice for large-scale tests including ACT and SAT.

Student Data Privacy and Security 

Student data privacy and security are critically important to the PARCC states and its member states, which have adopted a Data Privacy and Security Policy and implemented a rigorous set of policies and guidelines to protect student privacy and the security of data.

Barry gets it, and he’s built to last.

I’m re-blogging a post from Barry Saide, an educator in central NJ who often gets to post on ASCD.  I’m not re-posting because I am mentioned, I’m re-posting because Barry understands.  There’s really not much else to say but this:

1) The message is spot on.

2) Barry gets it.

Read on.

The original post can be found at: http://edge.ascd.org/blogpost/built-to-last

Follow Barry on Twitter: @Barrykid1


You know the slogan and the company: “Ford: built to last.”

You also know the acronym: Found On Road Dead.

Which is right?

According to Forbes magazine, Ford has dramatically improved and redesigned their cars and trucks, making them built to last 250,000 miles or more. If this is true, then the days of foreign car dealerships talking about American made cars built for the balance of their lease, versus the lasting of an owner’s lifetime, is no longer valid. And if that’s true, then Ford has learned something we in education haven’t yet: accountability as an overall approach to education doesn’t work. Sustainability does.

Wait, a minute, you say. Don’t Boards of Education need to be accountable to their stakeholders? Don’t central office administrators need to be accountable to their Board of Education? Aren’t teachers accountable to their students?

Yes. Yes. And, yes.

But, accountability models, in their current state, do not allow for long-term growth. Let’s look at it on a grassroots level: the classroom.

When teachers create classroom rules with their students, and set group norms for the way students will interact with each other, they don’t expect instantaneous mastery. Learning doesn’t work that way. Learning takes time, allows for mistakes, and expects refinement over time. Many teachers know that students will learn at their developmental pace, and that the best thing a teacher can do is to create the best conditions for learning. If that is done, then there is a better chance for good learning to occur more often during the course of the year.

But, nothing’s perfect, and educators know that, too. So, teachers get the fact that many of the concepts and approaches to learning they try to cultivate in their learners may not take shape in them for many years after student educational experiences are over. The problem with that, is how do you account for that?

How do you use grades, standardized test scores, and other measurables of this ilk as evidence of learning outcomes when they are something that really shouldn’t be measured in the short-term? How about flipping the narrative, so the education system districts put into place are built to last, like the Ford motto states?

What I’m asking people to do is to think long-term, and that’s hard to do. I get it. Board of Education positions are one, two, or three year terms. There’s a reason people who run for positions don’t use slogans like “If I do my job right, we should see growth during my second three-year term.”

Superintendent and assistant superintendent contracts run three years, but they will know after two years whether they’re getting extended or not. The impetus is clear to them, too: results now. How can central office administrators, many with families of their own, be expected to put their job on the line and preach patience, when stakeholders clamor for immediate change and evidence of growth. There are no bootleg videos on YouTube of stakeholders and constituencies giving the slow clap to a superintendent who says, “We’ll get there. Give me ten years. Let me build something that’s foundationally solid, research-based, and good for kids. We’ll see a dip for a few years while we’re retraining our staff and reframing how we connect with our students, but in the end, everyone will be better. Trust me.”

Thing is, if we’re ever going to win in education everywhere, we need to change in order to grow. Our accountability models can’t look for quick wins. Institutional change, with adults within, and involved with the system, takes time. We need to account for all when flipping our narrative. And, when things get hard, because they will, we need to stick with our script. Backbones aren’t built overnight. But, they can be easily stripped away if we allow others to operate on us.

How do we change from a short-term accountability driven model to a long-term sustainable environment so our new and recent initiatives aren’t Found on Road Dead with our other recent and new initiatives:

1. The Eitner Rule: I can’t take credit for this, so I’m not going to. Jay Eitner, who puts the super in superintendent, once stated: “Growth and change takes time. It’s like cooking food in the crockpot. You need to go low and slow.” For change to work, we need to follow the analogy Super Jay aptly said. Take time, evaluate often, revise as needed, and get it right.
2. Focus on the Whole Child: in a recent webinar I did for Education Week on social-emotional-learning, I stated “We don’t test drive cars and only make right turns. If we buy a car with all the options, we use them, otherwise we’re not getting the most out of what we purchased.” With students it’s the same thing. If our primary focus is only on delivering the academic content to students, we’ve lost the entire battle. Students are entire people, with an entire set of needs. We need to understand each one on our class roster and let them know we care about them as people first, and learners second. When students believe that message, they will achieve for you.

3. Focus on the Whole Teacher: successful business models cited in The Chronicle of Higher Education focus their hiring practice on always looking to add value to their organization. What can a potential new employee bring to us that we don’t already have? How can they make us as an organization better? When we look to not only add people who can move our entire organization forward, but leverage the strengths of the people we already have to do the same, we are building for long-term success. There’s a reason (besides videotaping sidelines and deflating footballs) the New England Patriots win so much. They look to add value to all areas of their organization, and leverage those strengths week after week, year after year.

4. Remember Rule #1: in the movie Fight Club, the first two rules are the same: “You Do Not Talk About Fight Club.” The rules repeats to emphasize the importance of the first two rules. I don’t want you to hit anybody. I do want you to remember: change is a process, personally investing in people will be challenging but worthwhile, and remembering we’re in it for kids will prove helpful when something doesn’t go right and you feel you’ve been punched in the gut.

We aim as educators to create students who will be successful in a society that doesn’t exist yet. We do this through teaching students and communicating to families the importance of communication, collaboration, working as a member of a group, being a problem solver, being willing to fail and learn from it, and more. As educators, we need to model and live what we tell others. And, we need to do it when it’s uncomfortable to do. Many can talk this talk and walk this walk when it’s easy. There are fewer that will stick to this mindset when the work gets hard. That’s what makes you special. And, built to last.

Going to EdCamp South Jersey

I’m going to EdCampSouthJersey… are you? You’re not? What’s your excuse?!? ONWARD!!!

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Are you going to EdCamp South Jersey? If you live anywhere near here your answer should be yes!

Why?

Here are 5 great reasons to go to EdCamp South Jersey:

1. Learning- there will be many incredible educators sharing and collaborating. While you are there you can choose what you find interesting or create create your own session! Everyone will be there to learn and share with one another!

2. Collaboration- unlike most PD you attend, this isn’t a sit and listen atmosphere. EdCamp is a place to discuss, share, ask questions, and build connections with other great educators.

3. Free Stuff- Yes there are some great free prizes and giveaways. There is also free FOOD! Who doesn’t love free food! Breakfast and lunch will be provided!

4. Meet great people- EdCamp South Jersey is going to provide you with a chance to meet and collaborate with some of the…

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Sometimes, you just need to go rogue

Snow in my back yard.  Pretty to look at, fun to sing about, but boy oh boy it’s a dirty word in the Superintendent’s circles.

It causes panic.  It causes anger. It causes celebration.  It causes most of us in this position a headache.

How could something like snow cause such grief? Simple.  This is one of those situations where no matter what you do, or no matter what you don’t do, you’re doing it wrong in someone’s eyes.

There are so many angles that you need to think about when closing school.  Above everything come safety.  If the buses can’t roll, if the teachers can’t drive, and if the student’s can’t safely get here, it’s over. I think we can all agree on that.  Other avenues you need to think about:

-The police reports and the overall safety of the town.

-The Department of Public Works and their progress on clearing roads.

– The overall locations of where teachers live and their commute.

– The building itself; are the boilers working?  Are the walkways cleared out? Are all fire exits cleared?

– The state government status.  If the Governor calls a ‘State of Emergency’, the decision has been made for me. You don’t necessarily have to abide by the recommendation though.

Superintendents often consult each other via conference call to get a feel for what everyone else is thinking.  Again though, this is not necessary.  Given where I work – the overall rurality – and that so many of us share different services – if one closes and one opens, it can cause a problem.

Typically, I go on a conference call to hear, but I’ll be honest, my mind is typically made up.  When all the information you have leads to something bad happening, you go with it.

I’ve called the past two snow days way ahead of everyone else.  And some of my colleagues don’t like that.  And guess what ::drum roll:: ? I DON’T CARE!

I don’t care what other Superintendents think of me. I don’t care what other teachers from other towns think of me (there is a teacher in a neighboring district who likes to gripe about my every move on facebook, because, well,  he’s a unique guy who enjoys looking a the glass half empty on everything).  I don’t care what the media says.

I do care about my students and my staff. I’m here for them and will always be. Safety will always be my number one priority. I also enjoy giving my parents and staff both the peace of mind and ability to plan ahead when I can.  So, making a call at 8:00 PM instead of 5:00 AM makes a world of difference.

Change is hard, and yea, I get the “that’s not how we do it here” still.  After two years, don’t folks know yet that I don’t upset the applecart, I flip it over and kick it down the road?  Sometimes that has to be done. It doesn’t mean I don’t like you or anything like that.  It means I’m here to do a job, and I’m going to do it the best I can, serving the needs of my students, staff, and stakeholders.

Now, back to researching on what to do for tomorrow.  Add meteorology to my resume.

Onward.