UPDATED: MEA Town Hall Speaker Discusses Privatization of Public Schools

meaEDITOR’S UPDATE: Montclair BoE Vice President Shelley Lombard reached out to Barista Kids to offer her personal comment on this MEA Town Hall. 

Lombard says she would have found the presentation by Dr. Farrell more meaningful if he had presented data, rather than the Broad conspiracy theory he presented. She added, “I find it very ironic, that many of the same people willing  to take education advice from someone who is Professor of Social Work and not education and who has never been a Superintendent, are the same people who complain that Dr. MacCormack, who has a Ph.D in education and has many years of experience and expertise in k-12 education, isn’t certified to be a Superintendent in NJ.”

Dr. Walter C. Farrell, a professor of community management and public practice at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was the guest speaker at an October 30 town hall meeting at the Montclair Art Museum sponsored by the Montclair Education Association (MEA) on the subject of education reform.  His explanation of nationwide reform typified by the changes in the Montclair school district, spearheaded by Schools Superintendent Penny MacCormack, gave a chilling chronicle of the privatization of public school districts that began with charter schools in urban areas.  Dr. Farrell claimed that suburban privatization has become the next logical stop for billionaires and special interests hoping to profit from education. It should be noted that MacCormack has publicly expressing her opposition to a charter school numerous times.

“Mainly, that’s where the money is,” Dr. Farrell said of suburban school districts.  “The property values are stable, and they’re unlikely to go under.  They’re unlikely to become ‘little Detroits.'”

Dr. Farrell stated that the process of privatizing public schools began with President Ronald Reagan and has continued under his successors, both Republican and Democratic.  The move to make money off educating America’s children has been a bipartisan effort, with billionaires such as the Koch brothers and Eli Broad giving money to politicians of both parties – including Newark mayor and U.S. Senator-elect Cory Booker –  and using influence to get charter schools established in the ostensible public interest of providing education to children.  The tactics include demonizing teachers and eliminating their tenure and collective bargaining rights and then replace higher-paid teachers with low-paid graduates of Teach For America (TFA),  a non-profit group that has trained teachers for low-income districts in five-week sessions with no certification.

“I was a certified social studies teacher years ago,” Dr. Farrell said with obvious irony, “I needed a lot of help and direction in my first year, and I said, ‘Wow, I wish I could have become a Teach For America teacher, because  I wouldn’t have had to go through all those classes in my undergraduate alma mater, and I would have been a star teacher.'”


Dr. Farrell cited various exampled of mostly Republican governors pushing education “reform” as a way of creating new profit opportunities, with special emphasis on New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s formula for introducing rigorous testing, taking over schools based on substandard  scores, outsourcing various services, and undermining teachers’ unions with TFA graduates and “chief officers” whose purpose is to divide education responsibilities in a corporatized manner – a copy of real estate tycoon Eli Broad’s model for introducing a business-oriented, top-down approach to running American public schools with little faculty input. The system being imposed, Dr. Farrell explained, allows charter school boards to award contracts to companies owned by board members and produce huge dividends for the vested interests involved.  He said how the testing regimen supported in Montclair by Dr. MacCormack, an alumna of Broad’s namesake superintendent training academy fit Broad’s formula and was also in line with other “venture philanthropists preying on public education.” And he did it with a slideshow, complete with humorous graphics.

Dr. Farrell’s slideshow also demonstrated how charter schools manipulated achievement gaps between white students and black students by using poor black students as a comparison rather than comparing students based on economic conditions over race. This manipulation of data, he said, is used to justify school closures and consolidation and to encourage competition for prizes and grants while allowing the schools to be segregated.  In the end, he said only 17 percent of charter school students perform better than public school students, while 46 percent of charter school students perform no better than public school students and 37 percent of charter school students perform worse, even though charter schools can dismiss low-performing students – which is not allowed in public schools.

“All this privatization wouldn’t be so bad if it worked,” he said.  “Those statistics are abysmal, but because they get to push out students at will in a short period of time.  So . . . you should be doing better than 17 percent.”  The student selection lotteries run by these charter schools, Dr. Farrell concluded, are rigged to get the desired amount of students, and with no educational accountability.

Farrell also showed a slide with an excerpt from the blog post written by Montclair resident LynNell Hancock and featured in the October 30 column of education reporter Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post in her column from that day’s edition of the paper. “Data-driven strategies have been enacted aggressively in America for the last two decades,” Hancock wrote.  “They don’t work. The race and class achievement gap is as big or greater than ever.  MacCormack’s training makes her a true believer in such methods.”

Dr. Farrell said there was a silver lining in the fact  that several proponents of corporatized education reform  have been forced out of  running public schools, most notably Washington, D.C . Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who was forced to resign after the 2010 electoral defeat of  mayor Adrian Fenty in part over her unpopular testing   approach and closures of schools. He said that Montclair  residents have  a fighting chance against the corporate  takeover of their school district if they continue to push back against it.

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  1. Fair and balanced links, huh? C’mon. At least find criticism from folks who are non-partial, but a link to a story by a guy from the “Working Families” party (Hartford link), or a blog with a clear agenda (school matters link) is far from informative.

    At least the Christian Science Monitor link showed some balance.

    But enough already. Repeating the same tired argument over and over again (using the same talking points) is reductive to any real discussion.

  2. let’s just forget about the poor minority kids in our town and go back to the path we were and likely are still on. Run the schools with fiscal abandon the way we always have, continue to have Montclair be seen by the public unions as their guaranteed employeer and allow local property taxes to continue on an upward spiral. You will then have two two camps in town (like South Orange) – rich people who choose to live in Montclair for its proximity to NYC, pretty architecture, urban-surban vibe and illusion of diversity but send their kids to MKA and other private schools and then poor people who live in the slums and send their kids to public schools. Middle and upper middle class people can continue to exit to Verona or another surrounding town and we can go back to de facto segregation.

  3. I have followed this more closely than I ever would have liked, and I still can’t figure out motives. I can’t believe that the Broad contingent is motived by greed. That just doesn’t seem like a complete explanation. And I am not convinced that anybody is trying to “corporatize” or “privatize” the Montclair school system. Why would MacCormack want to do that? Unless she is truly evil, which I doubt. More likely she and the other Broadies believe that their methods will make a difference, and they want the chance to show it.

    Where does all the vociferous opposition to MacCormack and the “Broadies” come from? Obviously many parents and teachers are concerned that kids will be given too many tests and too many restrictions that detract from the basics of teaching and learning. That I understand. Is that really true? It’s hard to tell out here in the peanut gallery. I would prefer that my kids get no standardized tests at all, but just really excellent teachers who have wide latitude to teach small classes. But I also recognize that when you’re trying to improve an entire educational system that is composed of teachers and students from a broad range of skills and abilities, perhaps you need some kind of standardization. This is a big public school, after all, not a small richly endowed private one.

    It’s plain that MacCormack has failed to bring the community along with her. She has failed to explain what her goals are and her methods in a way that convinces enough people that she has no nefarious plan to squeeze profits out of education and enrich corporate fat cats at the expense of our kids and our community. That, I think, is the real point of criticism that she is “corporate.” Good corporate executives–good leaders in any sphere of life–are excellent communicators. They have to be, because that is how you get people to follow. If she had made her case better, she would have earned points with parents that she could spent countering the toxic rhetoric of the teachers union, which I suspect would be the biggest loser in the Broad playbook. The leak of the tests seems to be politically motivated to undermine her, but who the heck knows for sure.

    The whole thing smacks of ugly union-management confrontation, which is especially painful to watch when kids hang in the balance.

  4. Um….are there rules policing how comments can be made on Baristanet, Prof Williams? I for one had not seen the Hartford article before. I am glad it was reposted here.

    I could just as well ask why every comment you make seems to be a repetitive reactionary defense of the status quo, or I could ask if your comments are sincere or if you are simply a contrarian, or if you ever truly listen and consider what someone who disagrees with you says–but that would be horribly rude of me, so I won’t.

    I’m not surprised to see that data manipulation was part of what happened in Hartford (and it did happen–that part of the article is not biased). As someone with a background in educational assessment, I’ve been quite dismayed by what the superintendent is claiming these Scantron tests can do. There is no way they will measure what she is asserting they will measure–which means she doesn’t understand what she’s doing or she’s being disingenuous. In fact, I don’t see how these tests will even give us new information that the NJASK hasn’t already.

    I do know, however, that badly constructed tests are ripe for cherry-picking results to further an agenda. Again, I’m not saying she is doing this on purpose, but she wouldn’t be the first person to “discover” that a data set miraculously supports her plans when it really does no such thing.

    I really wish the Board of Education was providing oversight on these tests instead of blind support.

  5. I don’t see how it is helpful to have this guy come talk about privatization of our schools when that isn’t what is on the table in Montclair. The slippery slope argument he seems to be making reminds me of the gun control debate. We can’t discuss background checks and limits on magazines because that will lead to the government taking away hunting rifles.

    NJ has adopted the Common Core for all its schools. From what I’ve read it seems to be focused moving our education system toward critical thinking skills, effective writing, and other capabilities our kids will need in the rapidly changing world. I’m sure it will need to be adapted over time but I think it’s counterproductive to paint it as an evil plan to dismantle our public school system.

  6. Walleroo,

    I can’t speak to the motivation of others. For my part, as a parent of kids just now entering the system, I am concerned that the changes being implemented will orient our teachers and our kids toward a goal that doesn’t align with what I believe education should be about.

    In my opinion, there are really only two broadly-conceived goals for early-grade education. First (and obviously), to build a solid grounding in literacy and numeracy. Second (and in my opinion, more importantly), to inspire and encourage students to think of themselves as learners / explorers, and to give them at least *some* freedom to let their curiosity guide their learning process. Students should clear the 4th-grade milestone still loving school, or at least not *hating* it.

    My concern is that the focus in this country, in this state, and now in this town seems to be only on the first goal, to the exclusion of the second. If the second goal is completely squeezed out of the public education system, the children in that system will be bored most of the time, stressed at key moments during the school year, and disaffected with school and with “learning” as it has been defined for them. If that happens, you can be sure that parents who can afford to do so will seek out private alternatives that provide a more enriching and inspiring environment. If *that* were ever to happen in significant enough numbers, Montclair’s public school system would become a shell of its former self.

    It seems to me that one of our most fundamental responsibilities in the education of children in early grades is to not kill the spark within them that naturally seeks out knowledge and mastery of the world around them. Think of it as an educational variant of the Hippocratic oath.

    Unlike some of the more strident voices here, I am not certain that the strategic plan put forward by Dr. MacCormack *will*, in fact, lead to bored, disaffected students. I’m still in my own version of a listening phase. But I do feel duty-bound to make my concerns known, as plainly and respectfully as possible.

  7. Von Klinky!

    How are you?!

    You make a good point about leadership:

    “It’s plain that MacCormack has failed to bring the community along with her. She has failed to explain what her goals are and her methods in a way that convinces enough people that she has no nefarious plan to squeeze profits out of education and enrich corporate fat cats at the expense of our kids and our community. That, I think, is the real point of criticism that she is “corporate.” Good corporate executives–good leaders in any sphere of life–are excellent communicators. They have to be, because that is how you get people to follow. If she had made her case better, she would have earned points with parents that she could spent countering the toxic rhetoric of the teachers union, which I suspect would be the biggest loser in the Broad playbook. The leak of the tests seems to be politically motivated to undermine her, but who the heck knows for sure.”

    The one thing I want to point out is that initially parents were concerned about her Broad Academy background because of the larger national debate that is taking place. When we approached her with our misgivings she was not very receptive. Mind you, I (many of us) wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt.

    I attended one of her magical listening tours and a parent brought up concerns. Penny was polite, but then addressed the parent by saying “Unlike you, I have standards…” That one comment changed me and other parents that day. All our questions were about standards, and we wanted to know if she was aware of Montclair’s unique (not perfect) history. The few times I approached her after that it was mumbo jumbo about data not being “actionable,” accompanied by dismissive remarks about being “uninformed.”

    She has no idea who we are. Many of the people who oppose her approach have very good credentials; they are not stupid parents who are afraid of change as has been suggested by some on this forum. Penny does not know her audience, and she has not addressed the concerns of a vocal group of parents who prefer an approach that is specific to the needs/history of our community.

    As for the leak, I bet you a drink that it will turn out to be central office incompetence. By the way, this is limited to one drink (and no Czech beer – sorry Frank). I have spoken to several well-informed and computer savvy individuals who say this is unlikely to have been sabotage. If I am wrong, then pick your poison. We should pressure the town and central office for more information on what they have uncovered thus far.

    Judah MaccB

  8. This is the first time I posted anything related to the Broad Academy. Since the day Superintendent MacCormack was hired there has been a large outcry about her Broad connections. The Montclair Cares about Children group also regularly refers to her background with Broad as do others. I have only judged her by what she has said and done in Montclair.

    However, Dr. Farrell’s talk yesterday is convincing. And whether or not Superintendent MacCormack is intent on introducing charter schools in Montclair, her behavior resembles closely the strategies proposed by the Broad Academy and those of Broad graduates in other school districts around the country. Most interesting is the very open strategy of “disruptive force” and ignoring any opposition.

    There is a lot of union bashing going on in town and the reasons for this are in some ways understandable. But teachers need unions and they will not go away with testing. More importantly, it is unfair to portray the Montclair Education Association as being anti-education and just full of self interest. Dr. Farrell’s presentation was topical and appropriate at this time. Teachers want to understand what is going on in education, not only in their own town, but also in the larger picture of the state and the country.

    Walleroo is correct: “[Superintendent] MacCormack failed to bring the community along with her.” Ira Shor has said she must go, and he is a man who does his homework and understands what is going on. I think she can survive, but only if she becomes transparent, truthful and responds openly and fully to questions from the community. If she is in legal trouble with her certification, the assessment of principals and/or her residency, then she simply has no choice but to leave. Even the town’s goodwill cannot (and should not) keep her.

    No one has accused Superintendent MacCormack of being herself evil or even of having an “evil plan.” (What she did to Principal Miller, however, was abhorrent. And lying to the community about class sizes at the high school was not acceptable.) What has been said is that her “reforms” are bad for education and inappropriate for the children of Montclair.

    When she does leave, now or later on her way to DC, there will be a lot of dismantling to be done, particularly in the Central Office and regarding curriculae. It will not be easy.

    By the way, it is now more than a week since the “security breach” happened. Superintendent MacCormack has said nothing about “the full legal investigation.” Surely she must know now where the breach was. If there was “criminal activity,” as agideon suggests, we would have seen another Charlie Miller incident. So where was the breach? Did someone access the district’s computers legally or illegally? Did Central Office (or she herself) inadvertently upload them onto a public server? Did she accidentally leave them on her front lawn in Connecticut? There is a lot of sensitive data regarding education and the town’s children in Central Office. It is imperative that Superintendent MacCormack is transparent about what happened and what corrective and preventive actions will be taken. A week of silence is already much too long.

  9. idratherbeat63:

    The front page of the Montclair Times is very telling today. While Shelly Lombard complains about the mysterious leak that that will turn out to have been central office incompetence – the headline below her comments reads:

    “Still not enough books to go around”

    The books are aligned to the Common Core curriculum and kids don’t have them… I smell an achievement gap being created.

  10. Since we’re swapping stories about conversations with the superintendent, I will just add that my wife attended an event for parents of C.H. Bullock School students last night and found that Dr. MacCormack was informative and respectful of the audience, even in the face of some pointed questions. My wife is an educator (in another school system) and she is as concerned as I am (perhaps even more so) about the possible effects of the strategic plan on our children’s learning environment, so she wasn’t predisposed to like what Dr. MacCormack had to say. But she reported that the meeting was a good one. For what it’s worth.

  11. I’ll take that bet. Please keep in mind that I like prefer double gin martinis.

    I’m not sure what your expert told you, but most such breaches are not hacks–ie, not technical but rather involve some disgruntled person who is already within the trusted group, who has security access, who then decides to betray that trust. I read somewhere (though it’s impossible to keep straight who said what and with what quality of information) that a fairly wide group that includes teachers and administrators had access to the tests. It’s entirely plausible that someone in this group decided to undermine MacCormack by leaking the docs. It is not necessarily incompetence to trust someone and be betrayed.

    But let’s wait for facts, if they ever come.

  12. Sounds like the Broad thing is out of step with what Montclair needs, and MacCormack is not savvy enough to pull off the public relations.

    So whose decision was it to go this route with the Montclair schools? The mayor’s? The BOE’s? The state of NJ? And has anyone at a higher paygrade than MacCormack ever explained the logic?

  13. (angryrabbit, stick to the carrots, Those fermented apples have left you loopy! fyi: I listen and happily change my mind based on arguments or new information. Innuendo, assumptions and outright lies are another thing entirely.)

    It’s hard to bring a community together when many are hell-bent against you from the beginning. Like this gem from jdmaccb: “When we approached her with our misgivings” about Broad… Boy that musta been a nice welcome.

    Did you all stand around her in a circle, snapping your fingers in unison, jutting your chins and thrusting your shoulders at her too?

  14. The Big Leak:

    Von Klinky you’re right. It could be that some disgruntled person with access to the assessments could have theoretically leaked the assessments. However, I suspect proper precautions or procedures were not followed.

    I may be overstating the case by saying it was incompetence. What also happens on occasion is that sensitive information is released by mistake. In other words, the leak could have been an honest mistake. This happens all the time too. If so, the best thing to do is just to admit the mistake and to reassure everyone that it will not happen again.

    Either way, I am worried about the leak.

    I have an answer to the best question I have read on this forum:

    “Sounds like the Broad thing is out of step with what Montclair needs, and MacCormack is not savvy enough to pull off the public relations.

    So whose decision was it to go this route with the Montclair schools? The mayor’s? The BOE’s? The state of NJ? And has anyone at a higher paygrade than MacCormack ever explained the logic?”

    However, I am going to flunk Professor William’s course if I don’t begin doing my homework. Let me think about your question a little more, and we can discuss this over martinis. I bet we disagree about which gin we prefer…

  15. During the most heated moments of discord during the last mayorality, and in the middle of the last mayoral campaign, one of the themes struck by a very vocal chorus here at Baristanet and in town generally was the notion that the Montclair schools are “mediocre at best”. The evidence provided was the school system’s overall NJASK test-score averages and the inability of some of our schools to make “acceptable yearly progress” toward the No Child Left Behind benchmarks. This drumbeat was (and is) simplistic and evinces a lack of understanding of statistics and modeling, but it had the advantage of being easy to summarize. The short version was: we pay all these taxes, and our schools still suck.

    I think the BOE (rightly) perceives this message to be a corrosive influence on the school system’s (and the town’s) long-term survival. But instead of making a full-throated defense of the school system as a response to this simplistic and misleading message, they decided instead to bring in someone who they believe can provide the solution(s) to the test-score problem(s). They believe that a person with Dr. MacCormack’s philosophy and training is the right person to lead the Montclair school system because nearly the entire culture tells them (and us) that that’s the case. Every single popular narrative about education in the U.S. these days aligns with what our BOE has chosen to do by selecting Dr. MacCormack as our superintendent. In a sense, they were acting completely rationally. But that doesn’t mean that it’s the right direction.

    So, anyway, that’s what I think happened.

  16. Dvojitý gin Martini, prosím. Pokud máte nějaké Rudolf Jelínek suché gin, bylo by to fajn. Vidíš, moje drzá přítel si myslí, že mnoho Čechů.

  17. wallerloo, the logic is perhaps not so difficult. The Board of Education is not competent (most of whom on it now participated in hiring Dr. MacCormack). Dr. MacCormack was at the New Jersey Board of Education as Chief Academic Officer. She had been hired in November 2011 before completing her PhD and the Broad Program. She was hired by Commissioner Chris Cerf, a Montclair resident, and a leading figure in the Broad group.

    My guess is the BOE thought they had a real coup getting a hot item because she had been on the inside with the NJBOE (for a few months). The BOE hired a rather expensive search group (with Broad connections), but my guess is it was Cerf himself who got her the job here (and to whom she is indebted for several things). It turns out she had made quite a few enemies in Trenton during her short stay. (But that is probably part of the very conscious strategy of “disruptive force.”)

    The BOE was clueless and is clueless and too embarrassed or too arrogant now to admit it. They have almost no choice but to support just about anything Superintendent MacCormack does or they have to admit to having been incompetent and irresponsible for quite a period of time. The only chance they have of safely distancing themselves from her is to find that she is not in conformity with the law regarding her credentials or residency. Since President Kulwin has publicly backed her on not assessing the school principals, that is a bit more difficult. Her training and demeanor suggests she will not go of her own accord (until a better offer comes).

    My guess is that you will not get to share a beer because if there is no culprit by now it was likely a Central Office or front lawn goof – and this we will never be told. (The term “full legal investigation” is funny; no one is surprised Superintendent MacCormack’s refused to say if the Montclair Police Department was involved. She surely did not want anyone from the outside in on this “investigation.”)

    But just to make everyone happy, I will buy Frank Rubacky a Pilsner Urquell.

  18. Adjunct Professor Williams, do we have an exam tomorrow? Is this forum the reason I can never find you in your office?

    The multiple choice questions about anger management do not seem to fit with the examples you provide in class.

    Your student,


  19. Okay Frank!

    You’re invited; double Rudolf Jelínek dry gin for you.

    If not, idratherbeat63 has graciously offered to buy you a Pilsner Urquell. This is going to be some party!

    Back to my Prof. Williams homework. Let’s see “Poland invaded Germany in 1939…” This can’t be right, but ProfWillians is never in his office to answer any of my questions directly.

  20. ProfWilliam,

    I’m not particularly anti-Broad, nor am I particularly drunk (at the moment, anyway), , but I don’t see the problem with asking if the Superintendent is determined to use Broad policies that have a proven track record of failing elsewhere. And this isn’t an opinion. Broad policies and Broad superintendents absolutely have a track record of failing.

    The question I would have for Superintendent MacCormack (had I had the opportunity to ask her one) is whether or not she is going to do what other Broad superintendents have done with a hope that somehow this time the results would be different, or was she going to, I dunno, TRY SOMETHING DIFFERENT to get a different result.

    The fact that she’s spent over $400,000 designing an assessment that can’t possibly assess what she says it will makes it clear to me that she’s just running the same playbook as she ran in Hartford.

    And unfortunately, the level of hostility she is experiencing here is real, but it stems in large part from the fact that parents and teachers don’t feel like she or the BOE listen to them. And this is fair. They don’t. (and just because she labeled something “a listening tour” doesn’t mean she listened.)

    I had nothing but hope and good wishes when Dr. MacCormack arrived last year. I honestly thought she would be excellent at her job and would succeed at making the schools better. I was impressed at how she stepped into her role during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and seemed utterly unfazed. I was on her side. I wished her well.

    She lost me when she began talking about this assessment and made it clear she had no idea how to construct it properly. None at all.

    The BOE lost me when they wouldn’t hold her accountable for missteps she made last year–especially the ones involving the gun incident at Glenfield (when she failed to follow procedure) and the principal evaluations (which she failed to do at all). I’m not saying she needed to be fired–anyone in her position should be given time to find her feet–but it is the BOE’s job to oversee her job performance and provide correction when she fails. Instead, they act as if she’s blameless and above reproach. I don’t understand why.

  21. I will pass on both offers.

    I also think I need to take my own advice (again!) and just disengage from the non-business side topic of education in Montclair. So, this will be my last post.

    I just wanted to use my last post to wonder about the NY Times coverage. The NYT makes it easy to take them to task for the journalistic quality of their coverage here. With an election one week away and the Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor residing in Montclair, they didn’t make any connection to this in acknowledging Common Core was an increasingly hostile State and national Issue. This issue will continue on, but the election angle is clearly perishable news. Maybe they will have some free space on Monday to follow-up this week’s piece. I was waiting to comment then, but my decision will preclude that if I’m successful.

  22. Earlier, willjames said: …the children in that system will be bored most of the time, stressed at key moments during the school year, and disaffected with school and with “learning” as it has been defined for them

    I have to say this struck a chord with me. I am not smart enough to know what the solution is – whether we need more testing or less, an innovative all-Montessori program, longer days, shorter days, or what! – but this is basically what is going on at my house. My two are bright enough…and used to be eager to learn and enthusiastic…up until around 5th grade. For one kid, it was an ill-fitting teacher: learned and experienced, certainly; but boring as all get-out, and inflexible too. For both of them, this was also when the mean kids started stretching their wings.

    Then thank heaven for Renaissance. They both thrived there and I definitely feel it re-kindled their love of learning. Toward the end, it had started changing from the paradise it had been at the beginning of my oldest’s tenure, and I’m not sure what’s going on there now; suffice to say, I will always be grateful to them all, from Dr. Cobb onward, as well as My Favoritest Teacher In The World (And She Knows Who She Is).

    Then enter the high school. It has been a very mixed bag. Sometimes they would come home gushing about what they did in class that day, or what Mister or Miz So and So said. Some teachers would lose assignments and post homework without telling anyone. Some were just plain belligerent. My younger one is now saying things like, “What’s the point? Why am I still learning persuasive essays, and being told that everything I learned about them before was wrong? Why can’t they teach me something useful, like how to balance a checkbook? I’m done with this”. (I asked, didn’t they teach you that in Finance?! Apparently not.) The older one is at least not as bored this year with most of her classes, and still diligently toils away at the hours of nightly homework (and I saw a scan-tron in her folder last night! UGH) because all of this effort is necessary to get to the College of Her Dreams (or hopefully something like it, anyway).

    So. What’s my point? I don’t know. I guess I am sad that my kids are disheartened. I personally liked learning new things for the sake of learning (well, except math that is. And not the algebra part of chemistry either.) But they are fairly uninspired by most classes at this point. I was too by the time I was a senior, as I became annoyed that my life was run by a bell, but not really before then. Is this typical? Where did the joy go?

  23. Oh man, you people with the foreign languages are killing me!! Cro is supposed to teach me Irish, now I can ask Frank R to teach me Czech, FrankGG and Roo for Italian, and now Roo with that pretty stuff there at 3:42. bliss.

  24. We are all very good at bloviating but we don’t know $hit. I don’t know how a decision to go with MacCormack’s Broad approach could be said to be rational if it flies in the face of evidence. Is there in fact an evidence-based justification? And if so, what is it? I’ve asked several times on this venue but I never hear an answer. If there isn’t one, what was the basis of the decision? Politics? Is this a union-busting exercise?

  25. Kay, sadly, I have had the same experience. When my oldest was in kindergarten my only wish was that school not take away his natural curiosity, joie de vivre and love of learning. Actually, his love of learning remained, but he grew to dislike school, with the exception of Renaissance under Cobb. By high school both kids, though high achievers, were bored and stressed. So the Montclair schools were a disappointment to me on some level, even though my kids did well and got into decent colleges.

    So I’m sure that my kids would be looked on as a Montclair success story, because they scored well on tests and had good grades. But the part that was lacking was teacher creativity, recognition and nurturing of the kids’ unique talents and skills, and encouragement to think innovatively outside the box. This certainly cannot be achieved via a curriculum whose major goal is improving test scores, and results in a generation of alienated, bored and stressed out kids.

  26. Von Klinky! I know a drinking challenge when I read one.

    I am going to try to piece together the history of how Montclair decided to go with Penny’s Broad approach. However, I need a little time to pull this narrative together.

    I am sad that Frank doesn’t want to drink with us. Wallerloo has issued a challenge and most of the Czechs I know would – as a matter of national pride – accept. How the world has changed…

  27. Broad-supported charter schools extract higher test scores out of students. That’s a measure of success that education-reform advocates point to as clear evidence of a method that works.

    So, people can be forgiven for thinking that, if nothing else, when you turn to a Broad Foundation fellow for help, at the very least you’re going to get a bump in your test scores. I think that’s what the BOE was thinking. And the reason they wanted that result more than anything is because they know that the loudmouth refrain, “Just LOOK at our crappy test scores!!”, was and is influencing a lot of people.

    And yes, the “failure narrative” in general is a useful cudgel for knocking teachers’ unions upside the head. Not saying that that was the primary motive here in Montclair, but that’s definitely what’s up nationally.

  28. And while I’m sure you could drink me under the table, Walleroo, I doubt your second claim holds any water.

  29. “I don’t see how it is helpful to have this guy come talk about privatization of our schools when that isn’t what is on the table in Montclair.”

    One aspect of the tea-party-like attacks and opposition of everything that I find especially disturbing is that this appears to serve the pro-charter agenda. Charter schools seem to win approval where there is significant discontentment with the local district. What else can all these attacks achieve but so great a level of dissatisfaction that some begin to call for an alternative to our truly public schools?

    The GOP excels at getting people to vote/advocate against their own interests. Is that what we’re seeing here?

    “…reminds me of the gun control debate. We can’t discuss background checks and limits on magazines because that will lead to the government taking away hunting rifles.”

    Indeed, the similarities between what we’re seeing here and the techniques of the far right are scary. We even have our own version of “birther” now.


  30. A number of people have mentioned the need for schools to fan the “spark” of enthusiasm that is every child’s birthright. As a parent, it should go without saying that I agree completely.

    For the most part, the teachers in Montclair that my children have experienced have done this well. My eldest is only in the 6th grade, so my experience is limited. And, I am sorry to say, there was one clear exception. But, for the most part, Montclair has been a success story for my kids.

    This year, though, one of our boys’ teachers may achieve my personal rating of “best so far”. It’ll be tough for him; another teacher set that bar quite high indeed a number of years ago. Even though we’re just a few weeks in, however, he has a good chance.

    [It’ll be especially tough, though, as my other boy also has a contender this year.]

    I mention this because there are some interesting points to be made about his classroom. First, he tests. A lot. More, he offers optional tests. Most of the students give up part of their lunch time to take these extra tests. They don’t count towards a grade, but there is an extremely meaningful/completely meaningless reward for each new benchmark achieved.

    The kids love this!

    He’s told me that, this year, the students are moving through these tests more quickly than ever before. He opines that this may be due to the new curriculum, which is moving the students more quickly through the material.

    Some might look at the increased pace and argue “this isn’t age appropriate” in comparison to some earlier curriculum. The kids would disagree. These are Monclair students that are thriving, not just because they’re learning but because that “spark” is being fanned into a flame that is carrying them forward.

    It’s a pleasure to watch.


  31. we are now in bizarro world territory now… those denouncing the Broadie playbook and trying to shake some sense into people about the truth related to nefarious “reforms”(because we actually know about this stuff) are creating the discontent necessary for charter invasion? are like the far right/tea party/birthers? wow…this debate has reached a new level of absurdity…do the mental gymnastics required to reach these conclusions hurt? “WAR IS PEACE,” “FREEDOM IS SLAVERY,” “IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.”


    It was Liz Cheney that asserted “Obstructing President Obama’s policies and his agenda isn’t actually obstruction, it’s patriotism.” She could just as easily be defending those attacking our schools.

    I understand that there’s concern nation-wide about issues such as corporate curricula, privatization, and the like in schools. None of these apply to what’s occurring in Montclair. It’s a strawman. But a propaganda machine like that of the GOP, well experienced in getting people to advocate against their own best interests, doesn’t really care about reality.

    Listen to interviews of the true believers: those that can carry signs like “keep government hands off my medicare”. They sound just as passionate and just as worried about the grand conspiracy to destroy America as those worried that the BOE – Montclair parents with a history of contributing in various ways to our school and town, note well! – is out to destroy education in Montclair.

    I’m not necessarily suggesting that the GOP is behind this. Yet the tactics are virtually identical. And, though I admit I’m not clear on a possible connection, I do note that we’ve an election coming up.

    Even if it is not the GOP, though, I hope that a recognition of the similarity in tactics and justifications might cause people to pause for some reflection into whether their advocacy is truly serving our students or is an artifact of some outside influence.


  33. Brother Gideon!

    You’re like Dracula – active after the sun goes down. I had to read this a few times and then an interesting idea dawned on me. First the comments you make about one of your son’s teachers:

    “…there are some interesting points to be made about his classroom. First, he tests. A lot. More, he offers optional tests. Most of the students give up part of their lunch time to take these extra tests. They don’t count towards a grade, but there is an extremely meaningful/completely meaningless reward for each new benchmark achieved.

    The kids love this!”

    It dawned on me that you are not a Penny and BOE supporter; you are part of the opposition. I know I am blowing your cover, but I want people to admire your courage. Your long and winding posts have done more to underscore why we need to get rid of Penny and the clueless members of the BOE than anyone else I know. I am grateful for your support, and I encourage you to keep posting – a lot. By the way, that great teacher wouldn’t happen to be Prof. Williams would it? He likes to give tests that are also extremely meaningful/completely meaningless rewards for each new benchmark achieved. I am still trying to understand what those benchmarks might be but who cares about the benchmarks when testing for testing’s sake is so much fun! Keep up the good work Brother Gideon!

    I love this!

  34. Re Ms. Lombard’s comment- Apparently no one who has never been a superintendent is qualified to disagree with her. I suppose that includes most of the members of the BOE.

  35. 1. why do we need ms. lombard’s comments? why do they get in an update/at the lead? why can’t she comment here like any other citizen? 2. she can use conspiracy in as negative connotation as she likes, but conspiring does into have to be secretive or malicious…in fact, i would direct her to dr. lois weiner’s work where she repeatedly points out that the vampires attacking public education are actually quite public with their aims – policy paper’s press releases, interviews 3. “data”? c’mon – there is data to be used, sure, when discussing test scores and such, but not when simply reporting on what happens, telling a story of the politics of reform; not to mention, i’ve seen dr. farrell’s presentations – they are thoroughly researched and ms. lombard knows that 3. she should read dr. farrell’s resume – a long time teacher and someone who has been studying education and the privatization thereof for years; further, we don’t “take advice” from him – he is an expert presenting his knowledge 4. her privileging of traditional academic knowledge and degrees (though she gets dr. mac’s degree title wrong – she’s an ed.d. not a ph.d. – but kind of splitting hairs) is elitist; as an educator, it’s important that i recognize that people’s lived experiences are a wealth of knowledge, that true education involves problematizing who is an expert, a researcher, a knowledge-creator, etc. — while degrees and formal education have their place, they are not the only measure of knowledge; further, she is smart enough to know that people develop “out of field” interests in which they become experts after their formal education – for example, noam chomsky is a linguist by training, but i’ll take what he has to say on economics/media/history/politics over that of many, many people who hold degrees in those areas; and if we don’t like people who aren’t educators making education policy, ummm hello?? the montlclair BOE??? 5. it may be difficult to understand for someone not “inside” education, but people can spend a lifetime in our field (especially in the upper echelons of administration) and be wrong, be bad for students – when christie (bad for schools) appoints cerf, another broadie (bad for schools), to run the DOE, cerf will hire and overpay other people who are wrong, like dr. mac (who messed up in hartford), etc. — in other words, you can spend a long time in one camp within education, but that doesn’t mean your good for montclair schools…so, ms. lombard is either shamelessly propagandizing, in denial, or not as knowledgeable as we’d hope her to be given her position — https://jerseyjazzman.blogspot.com/2012/04/living-large-at-nj-doe.html https://jerseyjazzman.blogspot.com/2013/10/another-broad-super-is-failing-in.html https://jerseyjazzman.blogspot.com/2013/10/the-wheels-come-off-in-montclair-while.html

  36. The update placing as a preamble to this article the statement by Montclair Board of Education Vice President Shelley Lombard is unfortunate (probably placed hastily and without forethought by BaristaKids). This statement prejudices the reader in a negative manner toward the MEA and Dr. Farrell before reading an otherwise excellent article. Placed where it is, it is an outward sign of disrespect for the excellent work and community engagement by the MEA; and it presents an unwarranted and uninformed attack on a leading national expert on education.

    Some information regarding Dr. Walter C. Farrell that Ms. Lombard did not include in her harassment: Dr. Farrell is a professor of social work, public health, and public policy and the associate director of the Urban Investment Strategies Center in the Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise in the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was previously a national research affiliate in the UCLA center and a professor of educational policy at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. You can see a full curriculum vitae for Dr. Farrell here: https://www.learningace.com/doc/955169/106ebcbbdf917d2b0f3c065e13672eb9/wfarrell You can see Dr. Farrell here on C-SPAN in 1991 testifying before Congress on the role of education in the war on poverty: https://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/20588-1 (around 1:00).

    It might well be impossible to find a better or more appropriately qualified speaker to address the Montclair teachers and the community on public school policy and education nationally and as it affects Montclair. The MEA should be praised for having found a way to bring a true leader in education to Montclair. If Ms. Lombard had attended the MEA Town Hall Meeting, she might well have judged better.

    Comparing Professor Farrell’s qualifications and expertise with those of Dr. MacCormack’s (who has had a doctoral degree for less than two years and zero publications and no high level appointments) is ridiculous.

    This is certainly a case of pre-emptive “poisoning the waters” by a member of the Montclair Board of Education. It is unprofessional, reprehensible and unethical. This is a deliberate attempt by a member of the BOE to use her position to affect the decisions and actions of the MEA.

    agideon had already brought to our attention the very questionable actions of the members of the Board of Education under the NJ Code of Ethics for School Board Members. He particularly pointed out “c. I will confine my board action to policy making, planning, and appraisal, and I will help to frame policies and plans only after the board has consulted those who will be affected by them.” Ms. Lombard has as much trouble confining her actions as she does confining her temper during BOE meetings.

    Ms. Lombard owes an apology here on BaristaKids to the MEA, to Dr. Farrell and to the readers. The BOE should, at its special meeting today, issue a statement publicly distancing itself from Ms. Lombard’s statement. Finally, the MEA should consider raising this matter with the School Ethics Commission of the New Jersey Department of Education (100 Riverview Plaza, P.O. Box 500, Trenton, NJ 08625. Phone: (609) 984-6941).

    Finally, has Ms. Lombard correctly completed the required NJ Member Harassment Training Requirements?
    https://policy.microscribepub.com/cgi-bin/om_isapi.dll?clientID=533374641&infobase=nj_statutes.nfo&jump=12-33&softpage=PL_Doc If not, she needs to step down.

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