Montclair Resident Writes About Superintendent and Community in The Washington Post

BY  |  Wednesday, Oct 30, 2013 11:00am  |  COMMENTS (46)

Montclair Yesterday Montclair’s education issues made the NY Times. Today The Washington Post.

LynNell Hancock, the mother of two Montclair High School graduates, grandmother of a Montclair fifth grader, and professor of journalism at Columbia University blogs on Valerie Strauss’ column “The Answer Sheet” about what she feels is the reason for the “clash” between Superintendent of Schools Dr. Penny MacCormack and the community parents/residents opposed to her:

This is a Montclair I hardly recognize. It’s not the children, the quality of the schools or the town’s democratic values that have changed. It’s a paradigm shift in school leadership, a top-down technocratic approach that narrows its focus to “fixing” schools by employing business strategies – more testing, more administrators, limited interference by the public or teachers’ union.

Read the entire blog  here.


  1. POSTED BY walleroo  |  October 30, 2013 @ 11:15 am

    Data-driven strategies have been enacted aggressively in America for the last two decades. They don’t work. The race and class achievement gap is as big or greater than ever.

    Is it true that these strategies don’t work–what is the evidence? And by “don’t work” does that mean they don’t close the achievement gap? And is closing the achievement gap the goal of Montclair’s adoption of these methods?

  2. POSTED BY idratherbeat63  |  October 30, 2013 @ 11:20 am

    An excellent article and summary of the concerns in Montclair by LynNell Hancock. Perhaps it would be interesting to read a response from Superintendent MacCormack or the BOE.

  3. POSTED BY profwilliams  |  October 30, 2013 @ 12:04 pm

    6 paragraphs in and the EVIL Broad Foundation’s name pops up.

    That so many seem to recite the same info, with the same bogey-men it feels like they write from the same talking points.

    Moreover, I now know how articles get placed in influential papers– folks live in communities, or their friends, or perhaps the read Baristakids.

    More of the same dumb Super and BOE bashing without any real evidence of the claims.

  4. POSTED BY latebloomer  |  October 30, 2013 @ 12:12 pm

    It’s not an “evil talking point”, it’s the truth. McCormack was trained by the Broad Street Academy, and, with the help of some highly placed people, is seeking to impose that philosophy upon the district.

  5. POSTED BY mtclmom  |  October 30, 2013 @ 12:28 pm


    Yes. The reason the BOE and super say they enacted these reforms is because of the achievement gap. Problem is, these reforms have not reduced achievement gap in any of the places these reforms have been enacted. Dr MacCormack was in CT and implemented same reforms there (this is on her CV). But here is an article that talks about what she andthese reforms left behind. Cerf brought her in to NJ DOE becuase of these experiences. Please note that BOE hired her because of her Hartford record (they have stated this).

    Can you reveal what you know about Broad Academy? And why this parent should consider their practices good for our schools? It seems your claim to fame on these boards is more the rhetoric and form of the arguments rather than substance. Please see what is happening in NYC schools, NY State (very loud parents indeed, and most uncivil too–have now decided they have had enough of Broad-Bloomberg approach to schools).

  6. POSTED BY jdmaccb  |  October 30, 2013 @ 12:42 pm

    ProfWilliams: You have some nerve asking for evidence. Your posts always seem oddly bereft of evidence. I know what you’re thinking – ‘the facts everyone else cites are biased.’

    Do you have any evidence that Penny and her Broad Academy style reforms were the best way to implement Common Core standards in Montclair? I’ll answer that for you – NO YOU DON’T!

    Now respond with your usual pompous non sequiturs…

  7. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  October 30, 2013 @ 1:44 pm

    My Intro to Journalism taught me to always consider the source and the bias, regardless of whether it was the Old Gray Lady or a poor cousin. So I did. It was a Washington Post blogger who focuses on the American education system. She has a theme to her blog and invites parents to contribute pieces, which LynNell Hancock obliged her.

    I immediately found several disconnects between the title of Ms Strauss’ post and the content of Ms Hancock’s letter. Maybe I should attribute them to my pickiness about the journalistic techniques employed. Maybe other here will agree after additional readings.

    But to me, the letter and the blog has no more, or no less credibility and no more, or less weighting than any posted comment here on Bnet. It is just a different venue. Though, why a local education reporter for the Washington Post would pick up this letter is curious.

    I found this earlier post on Ms Stauss’ blog of interest as it seems to speak, in a balanced way, to the issue of data driven strategies from academic viewpoint. I am very conversant on many of the best practices referenced though and see several links to the present discussion regarding the MPS strategies.

    I would be interested to see how the various camps here view it. I have to add a disclaimer that I started with some cynicism with any article’s title that includes “x number of things for/to/etc, etc….”

  8. POSTED BY jdmaccb  |  October 30, 2013 @ 1:56 pm

    Hi Frank!

    This caught my attention:

    “The current U.S. emphasis on narrowly defined, high-stakes measures based on student test scores creates perverse incentives for educators to narrow the curriculum, teach to the test and allocate their efforts disproportionately to those students who are likely to yield the quickest test score gains, rather than those that may have the greatest needs. It also contributes to an adversarial school climate, rather than one of collective responsibility and collective action. This is not only contrary to best practices in other countries and sectors, but also detrimental to improvement and accountability.”

  9. POSTED BY stu  |  October 30, 2013 @ 1:57 pm

    Can anyone answer me this? What was the motive of the BOE to bring in a superintendent with Broad credentials. Were they so sufficiently pissed off over Saint Alverez’ lies and lack of accountability that benchmarking and measuring off that benchmark seemed a logical choice? It’s not like the mayor or even any members of the boards are members of the red camp. So what was their motive? Is it simply that the residents of Montclair are not willing to admit to the mediocre performance of their schools (failing APR three times in a row) or quite actually willing to admit that anything about Montclair could be less than utopian?

  10. POSTED BY profwilliams  |  October 30, 2013 @ 2:10 pm

    @ jdmaccb YES I DO. (Couldn’t resist answering in kind.)

    My posts/comments are my opinions. As for evidence, I didn’t ask for any. Rather, I only point out that you, like many, have this odd guilt-by-association charge against the Super because she attended Broad.

    That she seems to be implementing measures, and seeking accountability is freighting to many. So are assessments as these can be used to show who the bad teachers are.

    But unlike you, I’m not fearful of change. I don’t fear evil “corporate” overlords. I fear Unions their members, and others who are scared of change and seem to hold intractable positions.

    And I don’t fear tests, exams or assessments that show how students perform. (Unless of course, you have a better way.)

  11. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  October 30, 2013 @ 2:16 pm

    POSTED BY jdmaccb | OCTOBER 29, 2013 @ 9:33 PM
    “There were no hackers, and parents weren’t hiring students in the Czech Republic to steal assessments.”
    POSTED BY jdmaccb | OCTOBER 29, 2013 @ 11:44 PM
    You misunderstood the reference to Czech students. I wasn’t calling them thieves; I was referring to their computer skills. Mtclmom came to my defense because she understood my comment was not a slur.
    I hope you will participate in this thread and express your opinions openly.”

  12. POSTED BY townie  |  October 30, 2013 @ 2:20 pm

    Montclair’s schools should be more demanding, but they are not. Sure by the time kids are in high school they can self-select and push themselves with demanding AP classes, but this only exacerbates the achievement gap. What will help this gap is raising the average.

    My sense is that testing is a poor substitute for great teaching. If a school is stuck with mediocre teachers, then testing might marginally help. The issue I think is that we don’t have great teachers and this is largely because teacher training is not taken seriously. A way-of-being from the top down that focuses on training teachers is what we need.

  13. POSTED BY kay  |  October 30, 2013 @ 2:28 pm

    I have a question for all of you:
    If test scores are used to assess teacher performance, fine – but what happens to the kid(s) who score poorly, due to a weak teacher? Maybe the teacher will get some coaching or whatever, if there is a class-wide problem, but in the meantime, that kid’s/classroom’s scores are now in the ditch.

    When I see my kid struggling, and it’s pretty clear that he is based on his quiz/test scores, and the teacher is still plodding along and leaving him and maybe others behind, and even though he goes for extra help (when the teacher shows up, that is) what am I supposed to do with that? I have a book on order that will hopefully help me teach him, since the classroom textbook does not seem to be in use…but is this really the optimum result, to hire tutors or relearn the subject myself, so that my kid doesn’t fail the class with a D and drag down his almighty GPA?

    In other words, couldn’t the interim assessments just further tank a struggling student’s grade? (since 90% of the overall grade is based on tests/quizzes?) Sure, tests are necessary to assess progress, but if the progress is lacking, then tests are more like a penalty and disincentive.

    Opinions genuinely welcomed…because more and more I’m feeling like a lost soul out here.

  14. POSTED BY nycmontclair  |  October 30, 2013 @ 2:29 pm

    Just because someone does not like standardized, scantron tests does not necessarily mean they fear them or change. I am a huge proponent of change and progress. But I also believe in studies and statistics that show testing does not equate to improved scholastic ability. Progressive and creative teaching methods however do. Why is the emphasis on testing and not actually coming up with progressive ways to reach kids? Why is creativity now considered a bad thing? Why on earth don’t we look at successful schools that are able to incorporate creativity and accountability and model ourselves after them?

  15. POSTED BY pac2  |  October 30, 2013 @ 2:38 pm

    Can I ask a favor of those debating the relative merits of the Superintendent? If you referred to Frank Alvarez as “Alvarez,” can you please refer to the current Super as “MacCormack”? I find the references to “Penny” somewhat demeaning, as a woman. (Of course, if you constantly referred to Alvarez as Frank, continue on…).

  16. POSTED BY jdmaccb  |  October 30, 2013 @ 2:43 pm


    I understand your point:

    “My sense is that testing is a poor substitute for great teaching. If a school is stuck with mediocre teachers, then testing might marginally help.”

    The problem is you’re still stuck with mediocre teachers. An emphasis on training and good teachers would be nice, but for now that idea has been lost under all the sturm und drang brought in by the new superintendent.

    Adjunct professor Williams is wrong in thinking these tests can weed out bad teachers, because they don’t seem to have weeded him out. He mentioned in an earlier posts how his students love canned tests, with publisher generated assessments and easy-for-adjuncts-to-grade answer keys; this is indeed a poor substitute for great teaching.

    As for teachers in Montclair, how do you explain that Montclair district beats the state average on NJ ASK? Even the super admitted this last board meeting. We are one of the top districts (note: I didn’t write perfect district).

  17. POSTED BY walleroo  |  October 30, 2013 @ 2:53 pm

    Thanks mtclmom. If there’s no evidence that it’s succeeded, and there is evidence that it’s failed, then let’s dispense with it. Wake me up when there’s proof that it works.

    The question now becomes: has any public school been successful in closing the gap? Or to put it another way, is there anything the Montclair public schools can realistically do to help close the achievement gap? If the answer is no, which I suspect it is, let’s table the subject.

  18. POSTED BY stu  |  October 30, 2013 @ 2:56 pm

    Creativity need not be stifled to benchmark and measure against that benchmark. It is only the anti-broad playbook that keeps these talking points alive. I don’t recall Alverez going on a listening tour nor did I find him transparent at all. As a matter of fact, he talked the talk that liberal Montclair families wanted to hear but was fiscally a wreck and the academic performance of the school only dropped during his tenure. Meanwhile, he was due to pull in a quarter million a year had he stayed to fulfill his contract. Montclair is lucky that he left. The Salem witch trials must stop and MacCormack should be given a chance. Teachers can still teach creatively. The effective ones will maintain their positions. The poor ones need to go.

  19. POSTED BY angryrabbit  |  October 30, 2013 @ 3:04 pm

    At the risk of being labeled “Anti-Broad,” (I’m not particularly, I don’t know enough about it to have an opinion),it is clear to me that this Superintendent learned very little about testing and assessments in her time there.

    As described so far, the quarterly assessment is supposed to 1. identify weak teachers. 2. prepare students for the Common Core assessments. 3. reduce the achievement gap, and 4. be part of the student’s grade.

    None of these things are bad. The idea that all of them can be achieved by one test is ludicrous (as anyone who knows anything about assessment design with tell you). It would be hard enough to develop a test that would accurately measure one or two of these things. The idea that the results of these tests would be used for anything important pains me, especially as it appeared no formative or summative evaluations have been made on this test.

    I’d argue that #3 can’t be achieved through testing at all. #1 can’t be done well with any test that is graded by a Scantron and where teachers have access to the questions in advance. No one should even attempt to do #4 until a standardized curriculum (with appropriate textbooks and articulated expectations) is in place. And #2, sure. It might work for #2–but that’s probably the least laudable of the goals.

    What this suggests me is that the quarterly assessments have been designed with no clear stated objectives. Because of this, I doubt the results of this assessment were ever going to be worth much even if they hadn’t been compromised.

  20. POSTED BY thinking4myself  |  October 30, 2013 @ 3:19 pm

    I have to say @Mtclmom that the Hartford article was very interesting. I found interesting the idea that they took special needs students and gave them their own test (which probably could make sense educational, I’m guessing) but then claiming the reforms raised the test scores when it was really pulling out a segment of the population (a segment that we struggle with here in Montclair as well).

    I believe at the BOE meetings that there has been some discussion as to whether special needs students will take the same test and I thought Dr. MacCormack said they would. Perhaps those involved in that segment of the educational community could comment here–I’d be interested in what they have to say about the impact of the reforms on the special needs population.

  21. POSTED BY kyle41181  |  October 30, 2013 @ 3:24 pm

    Closing the achievement gap significantly is almost impossible due to the SES of students in trouble. Their is limited time students spend within the doors of MPS system. It is unreasonable at any level to expect that students who are not receiving more attention(better healthcare, food, extra curricular activities, tutoring, etc.) at home to maintain the same level of preparedness or achievement.

    Since it is impossible to end income inequality completely, disadvantaged students should be offered more after school care, dinner & study programs. These students should be offered free enrollment into full-time or part-time summer school programs.

    Some blame administrators, some blame teachers, some blame bad parents, I blame society for not recognizing these students plight. They are not being given the tools needed to succeed at home, sometimes by the fault of the parents, and sometimes by bad circumstances.

    Education is a battle, private or public, no matter where the money goes, SES and students home lives are most relevant. Those are the students who need more time in school and less at home…

  22. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  October 30, 2013 @ 4:28 pm

    So, is it an oversimplification to lump the majority here into two groups – what I’ll call the educational reformers and the educational progressives – and say the crux of the issue is the value & degree of standardized testing in improving public education?

    And if it was not for the 2015 Common Core assessments, this discussion of improving MPS would be substantially recast -still highly debated-but dictated by Montclair’s timeline?

    So, is it the primary objective of the educational progressives to have the Common Core assessment requirements tabled, or at least delayed to some distant future point?

    And barring this achievement, what is the fallback plan considering the time and resources constraints? This is my question because it is not clear from the threads I read.

  23. POSTED BY idratherbeat63  |  October 30, 2013 @ 4:49 pm

    The figures on the “achievement gap” coming from Superintendent MacCormack and Central Office are hardly to be taken seriously. Anyone can take piles of data and manufacture nearly any outcome that is desired. Racial and ethnic categories are meaningless, unless you are a racist. The color of one’s skin or the place where one (thinks) her or his ancestors came from is irrelevant to learning. Further, race simply does not exist and it is wrong wrong wrong to categorize children according to the shade of their skin, and even more wrong to teach children to judge one another that way.

    Superintendent MacCormack is creating a machine to produce data: fill in the dot tests, machines to read the tests and a central office designed to manipulate data. From this bureaucratic approach she will be able to generate data to confirm any hypothesis or belief she may have: be it about a school, an administrator, a group of teachers, an individual teacher, a group of children or even an individual child. Further the data she generates will please state and national education bureaucracies, and it will also serve private corporations who effectively sell the products of children in classrooms.

    There will always be children who perform better in a school environment and children who perform less well. The reasons are many and varied, including both in school and out of school factors. And indeed some children will perform better in one kind of school system than in another.

    Should it really be a goal of teaching and education to produce classrooms and schools and districts and states where children all perform to the same level on the same test? Does this not undermine what is unique and valuable in each child, the unique contribution of each teacher to a child’s education and the unique experience of each classroom environment.

    The schools cannot replace the home. They should not want to and should not strive to. They need to work with the uniqueness of each child that enters the school during school hours. They need to find ways to work with parents (as Nishuane did with its recent ParentPalooza), but schools cannot replace parenting and should never attempt to do so.

    Testing and assessments are needed for both teachers and children. They are needed for the outstanding teachers and children, and for the weaker ones. And they need to be addressed to the needs of the children and attuned to the education environment in which the children learn.

    Achievement only makes sense when we ask the children themselves what they want to achieve and we bring that in relation to the expectations of parents, schools and community. “Achievement gap” is indeed a fuzzy term. It was striking to see that the “every child, every teacher, every classroom is the same” tests were designed and implemented by Superintendent MacCormack before the learning objectives were designed. The upshot can only be that teachers teach to a standardized test and the children learn not to think or have ambitions outside of a regime.

    That said, Frank Rubacky, the core curriculum and the standardized testing is not the major issue facing the school district. Superintendent MacCormack earns more than a quarter of a million dollars a year. She should expect to be accountable for every dollar she earns, every minute she works. She has been heavy handed with teachers and administrators while getting a free, unquestioning (even unquestionable) pass from the BOE. This is not acceptable. It is a bad example to the teachers, all of them, and to the children.

    The Board of Education is suppose to reflect the values and aspirations of the community in the school district. Instead it is populated by people with no experience in education who are dependent on Superintendent MacCormack for vision and direction. With the exception of one member, who was tersely cut off by President Kulwin, they have never challenged Superintendent MacCormack on any issue (and I am sure you have seen that there are significant issues that still need to be addressed). Further, the BOE has done all it can to stifle the voices of the teachers, the parents, the community and the children. It refuses any dialogue and refuses to respond to any questions. Instead it prefers to lecture those who attend on good manners, disregarding its own sometimes reprehensible behavior.

    No one has said there should be no testing. No one has said that the district should not meet its legal obligations. What is being said is that the actions and strategic plan of Superintendent MacCormack are detrimental to learning and that there are known, proven better ways to teach and test that would also meet state requirements. The concerns are not small.

    kay, a suggestion: Opt out of the tests for your child. Let your child know that dots on a paper are not a measure of what he has or can achieve in learning or outside learning. Encourage your child’s interests, whatever they may be, and discuss those interests with his teachers asking that they take those interests into consideration in the classroom.

  24. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  October 30, 2013 @ 6:08 pm

    I think both camps believe, and will comply with the legal requirements. Isn’t that the easy part as we have to?

    Whichever of major groups that prevails, what do you envision will be the short-term economic ramifications to resident property owners if MPS students don’t do well on the Common Core assessments? Specifically, property values and tax assessments.

  25. POSTED BY jdmaccb  |  October 30, 2013 @ 6:30 pm

    Kay I agree with idratherbeat63; opt out of the tests. Write a letter to the principal and copy all of your child’s teachers.

    Follow the conversation on the Montclair Cares About Schools Facebook page; they may also be able to put you in contact with like-minded parents who are opting out and/or looking for options.

    If you need support, just reach out to other parents who find themselves in your predicament.

    Judah MaccB

  26. POSTED BY angryrabbit  |  October 30, 2013 @ 6:57 pm

    I am finding the superintendent’s discussion of the achievement gap to be disingenuous and/or uninformed. She’s not framing it correctly. She says the gap is a problem–but the solutions she’s offering (in so far as they are solutions) aren’t aimed at the gap at all.

    Say you have Group X that does well at school and Group Y that doesn’t. It is entirely likely that an efforts to improve Group Y’s performance will also improve Group X’s performance.

    For example, Group X averaged 85% on a test, and Group Y averaged 75% on a test. Effective education reform might move Group Y to 85%, but Group X to 95%. Thus, even though achievement is improving, the gap remains the same.

    A famous example of this is Sesame Street, which was designed to improve reading and math skills among underserved populations. But it raised the reading and math skills of the other populations who watched it as well. It was a failure as a gap-reducing tool, but a success as an educational tool.

    If you want to improve the actual gap, you need to offer something to Group Y that Group X doesn’t get or already has. This can be as simple as food, homework help, tutoring, mentoring etc. And yes, there are programs that are testable and which work, but they aren’t being discussed by the superintendent or the school board. Finding the right program would involve detailed and qualitative studies of the differences between achieving and under-achieving students.

    Another way to evaluate the achievement gap is to alter what is meant by achievement. For example, say we decide that scoring 80% on the above test is a “proficient” score and scoring under 80% is a “not proficient” score. Then in the above example, Group Y was moved from “not proficient” to “proficient”, even though Group X did better over all.

    This type of assessment can be quite useful. For example, when I decided to move to Montclair, one of the factors I considered was rates of college admission of graduating high school seniors. I found that Montclair had better-than-expected admission rates to 4-year colleges among different socio-economic groups. This made the district more appealing to me personally than other districts in the area, which had better test scores overall but which had lower rates of college admission for traditionally disadvantaged groups.

    And just one more thing. Why are people on these boards continually conflating disapproval for Dr. MacCormack with approval for Dr. Alvarez? It seems likely to me that many parents might disapprove or approve of them both. Is it just a weird straw man or am I missing something (I’m relatively new to town and know very little about Dr. Alvarez).

  27. POSTED BY idratherbeat63  |  October 30, 2013 @ 7:17 pm

    Frank Rubacky, the how is never easy. It is something that needs to be achieved together.

    The core of Montclair is its community of which the schools are pivotal. This is the basis of real estate values. Unfortunately the mayor and the BOE do not understand this. People who come to Montclair want high quality creative education. We could achieve three or four years of.high scores by teaching to tests. Then we will see the effects on education by the exodus of the more commited educators and families.

    Private schools cannot replace public schools as far as property values are concerned. The public schools must reflect the values and aspirations of the community in education.

  28. POSTED BY nick danger  |  October 30, 2013 @ 8:06 pm

    What a mess. Totally avoidable – at the ballot box. I do hope that the voters of Montclair will get more involved and better informed and stop making poor election day decisions. Defeat of an elected school board was a study in stupid as was the last council election. Sorry, but that’s the was I see it.

  29. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  October 30, 2013 @ 8:58 pm

    Ok. I thought over all of what you said. We are in November.

    While I know little about education, I do know more than a fair amount about what it takes to overhaul organizations. The JC Penney model of the last 2 years is just one instance of what we would likely face. The United Way & The American Red Cross are examples on the NGO side. So, I can tell you with great certainty (and others will confirm this) that if the superintendent is jettisoned, we will be teaching to the test for 2015 & 2016.

    Montclair will have the educational equivalent of a Chapter 11 filing. And once that happens, the outcome becomes highly unpredictable. Your opposition is consolidated to some degree now, but it will instantly revert to pre-MacCormack if the goal you seek is achieved. People will behave like unsecured creditors. The union will hunker down and become inflexible now that the new path is committed. I know you don’t have the experience in this, but ask people who do. To me, your posts indicate you have little idea how your POV will translate into any actionable plan. Primarily, because you have been extremely vague.

    No doubt you will think I’m all-together dead wrong. Fine, really…then ignore my post. outright.

  30. POSTED BY rubberchix  |  October 30, 2013 @ 10:19 pm

    This whole messy issue of interim testing is mostly about accountability, not roadblocks to learning. Having two children at the high school, we have experienced our share of ups and downs over the past twelve years. Few identified problems ever got fixed and bad teachers were permitted to stay on indefinitely from year to year or passed like lemons from school to school. Creative teaching in many classrooms was in short supply despite there being no “roadblocks” like interim testing. Demands for teacher accountability and improvement were often overlooked by administrators or given a temporary fix, not because of lack of interest or knowledge of a situation, but because they often lacked the tools and clear evidence to make significant changes.

    I am not a big proponent of testing, but it is necessary. It gives us something concrete in which to gauge progress or lack thereof. Of course there are many other means of assessing progress, but testing is the most consistent way of identifying troubling patterns in a classroom. The consistency in quality teaching varies from class to class and learning the teacher assignment of the next year’s classes should not have to be a gut-wrenching experience every August. All children deserve quality teaching, not just the ones who get lucky with their class assignments.

    I welcome the interim testing. I want school administrators to have the tools they need to know which classes are effectively working and which ones are not. Patterns of students not performing well will be evident and hopefully dealt with. There will finally be some consistency in the material that is taught in classes of the same level irrespective of who is doing the teaching. The tests will gauge that.

    While change is often scary and difficult, I applaud Dr. MacCormack and the Board for having the courage to develop and implement a new game plan to improve our schools. It’s a lot more than our previous superintendent did during his tenure. We do have some truly wonderful teachers whose effective teaching will be evident with the testing, but we also have some bad ones who are doing a huge disservice to our kids and that should be equally evident. This plan may work and it may not, but we need to give it a chance because doing the same ol’ thing and expecting different results is just foolish.

  31. POSTED BY profwilliams  |  October 31, 2013 @ 8:41 am

    @ jdmaccb: “Adjunct professor Williams” That’s great!! A big laugh here. Sorry, but no. But perhaps you need to head back to school for some remedial reading comprehension. I created all the tests I give, as I wrote based on the book, lectures, etc.

    Still, you failed to address the idea of the Teacher’s Edition textbook that had all the answers, quizzes and tests that has been a standard in education for decades.

    So please tell me again, why is it wrong now?

    Oh, right. Because “Penny” likes it. And she went to Broad– so it MUST be bad!!

  32. POSTED BY idratherbeat63  |  October 31, 2013 @ 9:27 am

    Frank Rubacky, thank you.

    I hesitated to treat Superintendent MacCormack or the Board of Education in the way you would. The worlds of corporations and NGOs are different. Schools have a different environment and you need to be able to swim in different waters there. Even if the BOE people are all corporate people and the Superintendent does not behave as if she is in an educational environment, we do need to think and judge in terms of education.

    If Superintendent MacCormack was the CEO of a company, she would would have been forced out at least 6 months ago. Her lack of leadership and poor decisions might have been tolerated for a while. But the fact that she did not listen to (and still does not) the different departments in the company, that she does not understand their needs, address the needs or provide the materials needed for their work, would likely have seen her exiting. Additionally, the fact that she is divisive and has reduced morale would have played an even stronger role. The fact that she did not fulfill fundamental responsibilities or deliver what she promised would not have been forgiven. Most importantly, the fact that she was deceptive and outright lied would have finished her immediately. I do not see this ever tolerated at that level in the corporate world.

    In the NGO world she might have lasted a bit longer. But her arrogance, her failure to listen to and respond to others, and the complete lack of teamwork would have seen her gone by now. She belongs in education (unfortunately), but then better in Trenton or DC (where her true ambition probably lies).

    Changing CEO’s is rarely a threat to a company and neither is changing the Director of an NGO. More often than not, it is a good thing. I do not see a void opening up. Montclair Cares about Schools has started to organize well, they have good people who know education and care about it. There remains a problem with a BOE that does not have the competence or the courage and that has gone into fortress mode. But I do not see the BOE winning against MCAC. I think both the Superintendent and the Board (and the Mayor) have underestimated the town’s people when it comes to education. You can put up tall ugly buildings that will cost the town, but you had better not mess with their children.

    If the district continues on this path set out by Superintendent MacCormack, then you can be pretty sure that in 2015 and 2016 Montclair will place on the tests about where it places now in the state (maybe a bit lower). However, the admissions to the better colleges and universities will significantly drop and continue to drop thereafter. And, your concern, real estate prices will drop. (Btw, Alverez will continue to be blamed as well as a well constructed discourse on “sabotage.”)

    It is not necessary to gut what is good in the Montclair public schools to do well on the tests in 2015 and 2016. If we want to do well on those tests, the district should stop investing in useless consultants, stop giving its money to corporate testing machines, and invest rather in smaller class sizes, more teaching assistants, continuing education for teachers, and ensuring that teachers have the correct materials and that they are teaching what they have been taught to teach (for example, foreign languages).

    rubberchix, your points are good and well put. No parent goes through a child’s education without some frustration regarding the teaching and the schools. When nothing is done, the frustration only mounts.

    My guess is that your conclusion is where many now disagree: “This plan may work and it may not, but we need to give it a chance because doing the same ol’ thing and expecting different results is just foolish.” There is too much existing evidence that this “plan” will not work. In fact, it most certainly will not. There is also a great deal of real knowledge about education to affect real change that will bring about a better learning environment for your children. None of the engaged parents are asking for no change; it would seem few responsible ones would accept “it may or may not work.” Not all changes are good. Some are bad or very bad. The question is how to change in a good way.

    It is also doubtful that this testing will lead to accountability and getting rid of the deadwood. Surely the first teachers and educators to leave will be the good ones. Poor teachers usually find it difficult to leave their jobs and they find ways to survive. Drilling students to provide answers to multiple choice pencil tests is the easiest form of teaching, if you can call that teaching.

  33. POSTED BY jdmaccb  |  October 31, 2013 @ 10:39 am


    You write:

    “While change is often scary and difficult, I applaud Dr. MacCormack and the Board for having the courage to develop and implement a new game plan to improve our schools. It’s a lot more than our previous superintendent did during his tenure. We do have some truly wonderful teachers whose effective teaching will be evident with the testing, but we also have some bad ones who are doing a huge disservice to our kids and that should be equally evident. This plan may work and it may not, but we need to give it a chance because doing the same ol’ thing and expecting different results is just foolish.”

    Penny’s Broad Academy approach has been given a chance and it is failing all over the place (i.e. New York City just next door; Rochester City, NY; Philadelphia; Sumter and Charleston, SC; Capistrano, Fairfield, LA, CA; Kansas City, and districts in Maryland, North Carolina, etc. etc.). Try to place the opposition to reform in this broader national context and opposition to the superintendent will make more sense. Penny isn’t the issue – her ideological and failing approach is the problem.

    Reducing Montclair parent’s opposition to fear of change is a red herring. Arguing that parents opposed to Broad-style reforms want the status quo is yet another red herring. We want improvement. However, we do not see high-stakes testing as a solution. This belief that testing will somehow give us insights we don’t already have is mistaken. Any student taking a professor William’s multiple choice tests could tell you that.

    I know you disagree with me, but I highly recommend Diane Ravitch’s new book Reign of Error. It explains some of the vehement opposition to the so-called ‘reforms’ being brought in by Penny and the BOE. By the way, Penny calls me by my first name (we bonded during a listening tour). I understand how parents who support testing as a way to gain insight into educational problems might put their faith in the results of ‘tests.’ However, in my opinion they are mistaking the beauty of those numbers for truth. By the way – how does testing poor and hungry children solve their educational problems? How does testing address the broader social and economic problems that are at the root of educational underachievement; how do tests close the achievement gap? Why don’t you ask those wonderful teachers you know about the reforms?

    This obsession with testing and the insight of numbers reminds me of how we got into our current economic crisis. Financial wizards on Wall Street and economists fell in love with models and numbers, but lost sight of the bigger picture. The numbers were beautiful and they told everyone what they wanted to believe, and the economy collapsed. They had plenty of data but got everything wrong. There were people protesting, but they were dismissed as witches and anti-corporate. So, now the true believers have turned to the next big market – education.

    You’re right, Penny’s “plan may work and it may not…” However, I am not taking any chances; if she wants a generation of students to be guinea pigs it will have to be somewhere else – it isn’t going to be in Montclair, NJ.

  34. POSTED BY agideon  |  October 31, 2013 @ 6:19 pm

    “The figures on the “achievement gap” coming from Superintendent MacCormack and Central Office are hardly to be taken seriously.”

    This perspective would explain a lot of the animosity towards the Superintendent and the district’s plan. If we’ve a history of letting down some students – whether we’re looking at a racial gap or a socio-economic gap, both of which exist – then it is not unreasonable to assume that some in town (and perhaps elsewhere) have a vested interest in maintaining that status quo.

    I’m hopeful that, especially in Montclair, this is not a majority opinion.


  35. POSTED BY agideon  |  October 31, 2013 @ 6:48 pm

    “For example, Group X averaged 85% on a test, and Group Y averaged 75% on a test. Effective education reform might move Group Y to 85%, but Group X to 95%. Thus, even though achievement is improving, the gap remains the same.”

    This is an interesting point, and many efforts do have this broader effect. It raises an interesting question: Is an effort that would have this broad effect necessarily wrong?

    However, there are two problems with the underlying assumption. The first is a matter of scaling/curving. According to our town statistician, it is tougher to increase one’s score as one gets higher on the scale. This is clearly so at 100% (or 300 on the NJASK), for example. Depending upon how scoring occurs, this may also be so at high scores that don’t quite reach the top.

    The second problem with the assumption is that some efforts can, even if imperfectly, be aimed more at those at greater risk. Whether this involves “pull outs” in school or programs specifically aimed at this children outside of school, this is effort aimed specifically at the children whose improvement would decrease one of more of the documented gaps.

    The district already implements pull-outs for support, though the strategic plan mentions improving IEPs which I expect is relevant. As is also discussed in that plan, and as being implemented (as we heard at the last BOE meeting), the district is increasing support (training and such) for those groups that work with students outside of the schools.

    These should benefit primarily those at risk.

    Yet there are plenty of items in the plan that will provide the broader support mentioned above (eg. improving professional development, increased time allocated for teacher collaboration, etc). Still, even this – given the statement of our district statistician – should provide more benefit for those more at need than those at the top (though all students should accrue some benefit).


  36. POSTED BY angryrabbit  |  October 31, 2013 @ 8:32 pm

    A. Gideon,

    Perhaps I wasn’t as clear as I thought I was. Of course an effort that would have a broad effect of raising student attainment is not wrong. It’s great. It just won’t alleviate the gap. And I believe I stated the gap could be minimized by aiming efforts at the underserved group. In fact, if the superintendent actually cares about the gap itself, then this is what she should be doing.

    And sorry–I don’t know what exactly you are referring to when you mention the town statistician. But your comments about scaling/curving really depend entirely on test design. Some tests are designed so that the results will be spread along (or fitted to) a bell curve such as I.Q tests. Or tests may be graded by order (for example, the five best essays get As, the five next best essays get Bs, the next five get Cs, the next five get Ds.). Other tests (such as many proficiency tests) are not designed to fit a bell curve. 100% of the people taking them could get 100% of the answers right. Or 100% of the people taking them could get 0% right. So yes, my example may have been oversimplified and/or based on a non-curved test, but that is tangential to the discussion. Either you are talking about proficiency (how many kids can we get over the 80% mark and count as proficient) or you are talking about how students rank on a curve (if our underserved population is at the back end of the curve, then you have a gap. If they are evenly spread across the curve, then you don’t). It seems to me that Montclair does decently on proficiency, and not well at all in terms of how the underserved population ranks on the curve. Does that make sense?

    Regardless, I fail to see how the achievement gap (as defined by rank) will be addressed through quarterly assessments. Does the district statistician have something to say on this subject? Or perhaps you can explain it to me.

    Improving IEPs is lovely, of course, but students with IEPs are not necessarily the students in the underserved demographic (there may be overlap, of course. I don’t have that information). Giving more help to groups that help underserved populations is great as well–provided that the help is effective.

    Spending $400,000 on an assessment test when we’ve already identified the problem via the NJASK? That’s a waste of money.

  37. POSTED BY skeptical  |  November 01, 2013 @ 8:17 pm

    I hadn’t been terribly upset about the quarterly assessments until I realized from all this debate that they are SCANTRON! $400,000 to write multiple choice color in the circle with #2 pencil tests?

    How can anyone in their right mind think that a multiple choice test will allow teachers to gauge how students are doing/solve the achievement gap, save the world, etc? I don’t know how many choices there are, but won’t guessing artificially skew results?

    And what about the little kids who color outside the circles? Are those answers thrown out?

    Holy moly!

  38. POSTED BY Georgette Gilmore  |  November 01, 2013 @ 8:20 pm


    I can only provide you with the information I know for sure about my 1st and 4th grader. They each took math assessments this week and neither of them had a Scantron test. I do not have information on other grades’ assessments, but I am looking into it.

  39. POSTED BY skeptical  |  November 01, 2013 @ 8:35 pm

    Thanks, Georgette. That’s good to know. I’ll ask around as well.

    If it is the case that it’s Scantron then it seems as those the quarterly assessments will be much more useful for the district to have a record of how kids are filling in (or guessing) on the assessments in various classes than for the teachers to know whether children have really mastered the material. This also explains why teachers might be slightly nervous.

    I suppose if nothing else lots of practice coloring in circles can’t hurt NJAsk scores. The first time I took one of those standardized tests I got everything wrong because no one explained that it was necessary to color in the circle… (surely the origin of what now seems to be emerging as a deep-seated and long-forgotten loathing of all standardized tests)

  40. POSTED BY mcinmtc  |  November 01, 2013 @ 9:00 pm

    I just asked my 11th grader to describe the English quarterly assessment . It involved the reading of a short story and completing several multiple choice and 3 open-ended essay questions. Thank you for looking into other examples.

  41. POSTED BY angryrabbit  |  November 01, 2013 @ 9:06 pm

    Hi Georgette and Skeptical,

    The district purchased Scantron machines for the express purpose of grading the quarterly assessments. As I’ve said before, Scantrons have their place in assessment, but they are a poor tool for figuring out student mastery of a subject or for assessing teacher performance.

    The test is reportedly built around multiple choice and short answers. Here’s a link from Baristanet (actually, written by you, Georgette–so my apologies for presenting you with info you probably already know) with info the makeup of the Quarterly Assessments:

    The fifth grade test was reportedly largely multiple choice with very little actual writing involved. It was also reportedly largely comprised of questions taken from the NJ Department of Education website instead of the questions that were supposedly generated by our teachers this summer. One of the other tests was 100% comprised of questions taken from the website. So, yeah…I’m not sure why this is costing $400,000.

  42. POSTED BY Georgette Gilmore  |  November 01, 2013 @ 9:34 pm


    That post that you link to includes a blockquote of a release made by Montclair Cares For Schools. That group claims that “The test is reportedly built around multiple choice and short answers.”

    Barista Kids has not reported that as we do not have evidence.

    My statement was my personal knowledge that the st and 4th grade math assessments were not Scantron and not built around multiple choice.

  43. POSTED BY mtclmom  |  November 01, 2013 @ 9:59 pm

    At our school we were told if assessments were used they would not have to use scantron–this was what CO communicated after the leaks. There is conflicting information everywhere!

  44. POSTED BY angryrabbit  |  November 01, 2013 @ 10:04 pm

    Thanks Georgette,

    Yes, I know the quote is from Montclair Cares. It’s the article I could find right now (I’m tired).

    Somewhere there is another article describing the confusion by the teachers who were designing the tests about having sections of the assessment sent back by the administration to be redone. It had more information about how the district wanted the tests constructed. I thought it was on Baristanet but now I can’t find it.

    Do you know which test your children took? I know some of the 5th graders who took the math assessment. They reported Scantronable multiple choice sections, some short answer, and some fill-in-the blank.

  45. POSTED BY jdmaccb  |  November 01, 2013 @ 10:12 pm

    mntclmom: I was told the same thing. Maybe our kids go to the same school. There is a lot of conflicting info.

  46. POSTED BY skeptical  |  November 04, 2013 @ 4:57 pm

    Sadly, I do not read Baristanet daily (or hourly or minutely as so many seem to do), but this does have the benefit of allowing one to digest many articles in one fell swoop. I saw explicit discussion of Scantron by high school teachers (the post by the high school history teacher from a few pages back, for example). So perhaps it’s mainly localized in high school?

    I haven’t heard of talk from elementary school children about coloring in circles with a number two pencil, but there has been lots of talk of primarily multiple choice exams, which is really not much better than Scantron for assessing student mastery of subject material (the guessing part makes it hard to distinguish real mastery from process of elimination, especially if there are only 3 choices). I’ll be curious to see these assessments during parent-teacher conferences.

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