Dear Ms. Waters,
I find it ironic that you found me because I encouraged student journalists to find you to interview as a proponent of PARCC, Pearson, and AchieveNJ. When I was directed to your blog, I was intrigued, and then when I did more research, I discovered your picture and your position with Lawrence Township, and I have read much of what you have written.
I am glad we both share a commitment to education and to lifelong love of children. I dedicate almost every moment with my students. Whether it’s driving to Princeton to hear one of my lower level students recite her poem that she won for a poetry contest. (You see, I don’t just teach the “privilege” students). Whether it’s attending a NOW conference in Moorestown to hear two of my students read winning essays, or whether it’s writing 56 recommendation letters for students, some headed to Penn, yes, and one, a letter to help stay out of prison. That was a character essay. I can happily say, with my intervention, he’s probably making more money than I am as an auto technician. When I brought my car for service, he gave me a hug and said I was the best teacher ever. This was from a kid who once called me an “asshole jerk” because of some assignment he never turned in. But to paraphrase poorly from Nick Carraway in Gatsby, “Reserving judgement is matter of infinite hope.”
I have taught the very high and the very low and the very many in the middle. I am in the trenches. I read their journals. I read their poems. I encourage them to write and to challenge. What I have taught them, beyond the rigor of a very challenging classroom where we do not read Pearson textbooks for reasons you will have to read in my next essay, extends far beyond what twenty questions on a PARCC exam will reveal.
You will have to admit I am in better position to objectively evaluate field operations. I am an independent, free thinker in the vein of Emerson. You, as a board member, do not inhabit the trenches. You are also not as a free as I am. You are beholden to Pearson and PARCC. You seem to tow the AchieveNJ-line. I am only beholden to an amazing school district and my students and their parents.
Perhaps I misspoke about my evaluation being tied to test scores. Perhaps I was merely speaking as Every Teacher who is scared to death of having a questionable test tied to evaluations. Perhaps soon AchieveNJ and Pearson will find a way to have every teacher evaluated by student test scores: even the pottery teacher and the music teacher, if they are still allowed in Pearson World to inspire. But it will not lure the best and the brightest to the profession. It will drive the best and the brightest from the profession. Look at current figures. Look at what’s happening to teachers in England. Can we really afford to mess this up?
As far as comparing my essay to Swift, well, as a comp teacher, you must realize the logical fallacy of the moral equivalency; passing an observation of motivation and PARCC does not equal that I want to abuse children the way the British exploited the Irish poor. I could also enumerate other fallacies, like slippery slope, as you do not prove the argument, as no one has proved the argument, that standardized testing helps the poor. Feeding the children helps the poor. Making sure those poor children are in schools that are properly funded and not closed due to poor test scores.
My own wonderful daughters, who have succeeded in school because of high rigor, dedicated professionals in the classroom, and a sense of belonging and freedom for thought, have never, ever been helped through a corporate “test.” Even the AP, SAT, ACT are irrelevant, as many colleges are now deciding, because what happens in a classroom matters more than a hour or two on a test. Why are colleges dropping then SAT when you are vamping up tests?
Let me a give you an example that’s close to home for you in Lawrence. I was attending National History Day in Wayne, New Jersey. My daughter logged in over 1,000 hours of after school work on a documentary of John Brown. She interviewed over eight authorities, including descendents, authors, National Park rangers. She worked with two other amazing, highly motivated girls. They read primary sources and secondary sources. She read full length, adult level books on Brown. Their annotated bibliography included nearly 100 entries. The thing was Master’s level dissertation. Her teacher is the most dedicated professional I have ever witnessed. My wife and I, both teachers, cried when we heard her talk to her students. She inspired us to be like her! Every single Common Core objective was achieved in that ten minute, award winning documentary, tenfold. Her team won, and they are now headed to Nationals in Washington, DC.
I did not need a test to tell me that my daughter far exceeded the standards.
In fact, in the regional Q&A session in Princeton, most of the comments from the various students from around the state mentioned the PARCC testing as their greatest obstacle. Libraries were closed. Computers unavailable. Technicians needed for PARCC prep. The entire classrooms of attendees laughed, mothers and fathers and proud grandparents, but then they knew it wasn’t funny. I was there. As I am in the hallways, in the testing rooms, and in the classrooms, in the cafeterias, in students homes for homebound.
Where are you? Safely ensconced in an office? Writing essays in response to the growing anti-PARCC traffic?
Here is where Lawrence comes to play. At National History Day, there was also a great team of middle schoolers from Lawrence. My wife and I sat behind them. They were still researching as the opening ceremony got under way. Those kids were amazing! They were dressed in ties and skirts and slacks. I’m not sure who works with those kids at Lawrence, but please send my regards to that wonderful teacher. Those kids were bright, diverse, and ready to perform for what mattered. Their heart and soul were in those presentations. No one’s heart and soul is in a PARCC exam. There is no soul in an exam. It takes a human heart and a desire, a goal, to attain great heights in education. Those Lawrence middle school kids, as far as English is concerned, needed no PARCC exam. It only serves the number crunchers and politicians and Pearson pockets.
Every child needs to have teachers like my daughter has, like those Lawrence students have. The emphasis needs to be there, not a test. Get administrators back into the classroom, and out of the offices where they need to log comments on IObservation and comply with state regs and SGO compliance. No student is getting smarter with state regs. Validate and provide actual feedback on lesson plans. Make sure movies are at a minimum. Make sure students are writing dozens of essays a marking period and dozens of full-length novels and books: not pocket-sized Pearson excerpts about Pineapples!
I know I will not convince you. John Oliver will not convince you. Jesus and Socrates, two master teachers, would not convince you. Perhaps one day, when the Pearson Empire collapses, and the State of New Jersey can find people smart enough in its own universities to write its own challenging exam (which I do not object to, by the way), you may reflect upon these words written well too late into the night, and discover that your support for a flayed system was misplaced. There is just too much evidence out there to be ignored.
I could go on, and I will, as I am compiling enough material to write a book along the lines of Smartest Kids in the World by Amanda Ripley. A great book, by the way. Before I leave, however, here are a few facts from the trenches:
I’m sure you have stopped reading by now, but because I do know people at Lawrence, I know that those fine teachers are working without a contract, like teachers here in Cherry Hill, and in Haddon Township, and the list goes on… but for some reason there is money for Pearson and Chromebooks and headphones and wired mouses and . . . As a board member, do the right thing.
And remember those fine Lawrence Scholars at National History Day. They were amazing. I was there. I know. Perhaps there is hope for all students, after all.