Released earlier today was a statement from the New Jersey School Board Association expressing their position on refusing high-stakes testing and “sit-and-stare”. It’s inhumane, manipulative, and shows how little they think of parents and students. When I initially wrote this piece, it was to address the progressiveness of many of the members on the NJSBA and make a plea for their support but that’s somewhat changed.
During the winter break, as I was preparing my testimony for the New Jersey School Board of Education’s open testimony session, I decided to look into the backgrounds of the people who serve on the Board.
Melissa Katz has already written on this, and her post reminded me what I had discovered but edited out from my initial testimony. And what I found was a bit surprising to me. I’m not sure why it surprised me, but four of the people who sit on the State Board of Education are heavily involved in either democratic or elite progressive schools in New Jersey. These are the kinds of schools that give their students the kind of learning environments that respects the individual and helps to nurture their students into fully functioning members of a democratic society. I mean, see/read for yourself:
Our board president Mark Biedron is the co-founder of the beautiful progressive environmentalist school in Gladstone, NJ. The Willow School has a vision statement that tells us that Willow is a place where:
… children discover who they are, the joy of learning, and the wonder of the environment around them. Our purpose in doing so is to develop people who make meaningful contributions to others and to the world in which they live.
In fact, Biedron was the very one who expressed that there was no way we could force children to take the tests. You can read about that moment is these blogs here, here, and here. But between January 7, 2015 and now, the New Jersey State Board Association has remained silent through most of this. It didn’t take long for the NJSBA to release a statement with questions and answers about how local school boards should respond to parental refusals. But worry no, Michael Kaminski, president of the Delran Education Association comes back with this gem. Please read it.
Well, now, let’s take a look at Claire Chamberlain. Chamberlain sits on the Board of Trustees for The Peck School where Biedron’s wife Gretchen Johnson Biedron attended. The Peck School is also where NJ State Board of Education member, J. Peter Simon, was a former board of trustee member. The Peck School’s mission statement tells us that:
We believe that, in life, knowledge must be guided by values. Through a commitment to character formation and a rigorous and academic program, The Peck School strives to build in each student the capacity for disciplined learning and consideration for others. With dedicated faculty and families, we prepare our students to succeed in secondary school and to lead healthy, productive, and principled lives.
I would like us to hone in on the “ …knowledge must be guided by values” part of that statement. Currently, what’s guiding the lives and education of the children in our nation’s public schools are the narrow set of standards connected to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. This question goes to both NJ State BOE members and NJSBA-so because PARCC is guiding the knowledge and skills our students are taught, would you all say that it’s what you value for “other people’s children” but not for your progressive schools?
Anyway, there is Newark Academy where Andrew Mulvihill served as a member of their Board of Governors. This is a big deal considering all of the reforms we see in public school. Newark Academy clearly has a progressive approach where students are considered co-learners with their teachers. Donald Austin, the head of school states:
Our central goal is to provide all students with an education that not only challenges and prepares them for the future, but also inspires creativity, intellectual curiosity and contributions to their community.
In Austin’s piece about their mission, he even goes on to say:
…students find themselves with teachers who strive to awaken in them a genuine “passion for learning” that transcends skill acquisition, success on standardized tests, and college admission.
You should read the entire piece here. If you had a little over $30,000 a year, you would want your child in that school. I mean, who wouldn’t?
All of the schools mentioned are the height of educational learning environments (minus the lack of organic and authentic diversity of race and socio-economic status) in our state. These schools have tuitions ranging from ($25,000 to about $36,000 including lunch and fees) and pride themselves in their small classes and rich curricula. A quick search of their mission statements will show you how much these schools believe in real authentic learning experiences. Those board members must believe in the mission and vision of these schools, and I am okay with that. However, we need them to not only advocate and promote real learning in the schools they support, but we need them to advocate for all students in New Jersey. We need them to especially advocate for the ones who attend public schools and are affected by failed reforms driven by misplaced “values” like profits.
In addition, I could not help but see how drastically the mission statements of these schools differed from Paterson Public School’s mission and vision statements. Now, I chose Paterson because their superintendent presented to the board, and I couldn’t help but think it was odd, and so not centered on developing the whole child. The Paterson Public School’s mission is:
To prepare each student for success in the college/university of their choosing and in their chosen career.
And the vision does not address what they envision for the students, but rather what they envision for their institution. It’s almost as if the humans that they serve are invisible.
Vision: To be the leader in educating New Jersey’s urban youth.
By no means is this an attack on these individuals. They are serving our state in ways that I deeply respect. In fact, I love what these progressive schools offer (they could use
a little a lot more people of color from different socioeconomic backgrounds but that’s none of my business). I love the mission and vision statements of these schools, and I love that they place the development, social, academic, and emotional growth of their students first. It seems like they did not digress away from the idea that the purpose of education is to prepare students to become fully functioning members of a fair and democratic society. Or maybe it is designed that way. Maybe these elite progressive schools maintain “a fair and democratic society” only belongs to a small group of people. On the other hand, our public schools and those who run them maintain that we continue to perpetuate an unjust, and undemocratic society.
With the mandates of increased high-stakes standardized testing, like PARCC, we are seeing an unprecedented shift in education and it is no longer business as usual. Let’s be very clear that standardized testing have always been high-stakes for Black and Latinx folks in our country. The consequences for us have had drastic implications for our schools, and access to resources we receive. And the teachers who served these communities experienced oppressive and controlled (often scripted) curriculum in the name of improving student learning. Unfortunately, more and more teachers are losing their autonomy across demographics and communities. It’s like these oppressive approaches were tested in communities of color first to see how much and how far with which they could get away. And it worked.
Given these NJ State Board members’ background in progressive education, which does not revolve around high-stakes standardized tests, it is imperative that they hear our cry and advocate for the same kind of humanistic education they provide for students who attend their institutions. What’s holding them back?
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