NJEA Caucus


Educate – of Latin origin meaning “to draw out, or to lead.” As keepers of education we have been entrusted with the responsibility of leading others and drawing out the ideals of democracy to reach its philosophical intentions.

Education is not as it was a hundred – or even ten – years ago. Terms like Smart Boards, Internet, Google Tools, Google Apps, Wikki’s, and PLC’s sprinkle our daily vocabulary and echo through the halls. Not so loudly heard are the threats that endanger the very purpose of our educational systems; corporate reform, Common Core, Broad, Pearson, and my favorite, PARCC. Threats that carry a fear that send even the strongest teacher to hide in the classroom and close the door.

But this is where we went wrong. Whether intentional or unintentional, we have allowed ourselves to become isolated and have created an appearance of neglect in remembering our original role as guardians of the children. This misfortune has caused us to be perpetuated as gluttonous, greedy public employees that only teach for two reasons, our pensions, and our part time employment with summers off.

Being the target of countless media attacks, in our own state and across the country, has led us to a victim mentality, carrying with it, the danger that this mentality is shaping our world.

I had the opportunity this year to hear and speak with a powerful speaker this year, Jennifer Powers, author of the book “Oh Shift!” Listening to her speak, I was struck by the realization that teachers need to hear her message to change their own mentality to facilitate control over their own reality.

We have the power to create a shift within ourselves, to stop playing victims. In doing so, we will create an environment of control that will translate into actual control over our profession. As educational professionals, we have all internalized what is and what can be good about our educational systems. Now is the time to shift our self-perceptions, to analyze our own structures, to work towards developing new ways to solidify our organization in unity to create change. Change that will be brought about when we think proactively about the promotion of all that is right with public education, when we recognize and address the areas that are wrong, and when we stand in the face of opposition to say that we will not accept compromise on the backs of our students.

Our reality today is that we have the opportunity to participate in a democratic manner to shape the future of our union into what we need it to be. Thousands of teachers across the country and around the world are finding their voices to rise up and speak out against all that we know in our hearts to be wrong for our students. Choices we make need that to reflect the future as we know it should be. We must drive our union as a vehicle to bring those voices together with solidarity and with unity. Let us be heard with clarity and conviction as we ask ourselves these questions…

Does it unite us? Does it build our power? Does it make us stronger?

Please join me in saying the flag salute as tribute to the democratic ideals of our forefathers as we continue our work to further them so that one day we can see a nation that is truly FOR ALL.

A Letter to Senator Alexander Regarding ESEA

The buck stops here.

Senator Alexander,

I thank you for hearing the voices of the nation as we clamor for a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
The stress that schools have been placed under has reached almost a boiling point level and the ones that will have to suffer the consequences of these courses of actions, if not changed, will be our children.
The stress of “do better”, “perform better”, “get a higher grade” has been forced down from the federal to the state level, the state to the district, the district to the school, the school to the administrators, the administrators to the teachers…to where it finally stops. On the shoulders of our children that are not equipped and not able to withstand such pressure. Something will give. Unfortunately, what will break will be the minds of our little ones as less coping skills are taught, less social behaviors and interaction skills, and less time to enjoy childhood is being caused by the need to simply race to the top.
I am a teacher of students with disabilities. My first classroom placement was in an alternative setting. I had a student that had witnessed her father kill her mother, one that had stabbed his brother, one that wore an ankle bracelet, and one whose mind had not progressed beyond the level of a 6 year old first grader, yet he was 14.
These students were still required to take the state assessment. the test had no concerns over if the child had slept the night before. The test did not make sure the student ate a good breakfast. The test did not see to it that the student had a coat when the weather was cold. these are things that teachers worry about when their is a disconnect between the way a child’s home should be, and the reality of what it is.
Now, I am in a resource room, teaching math to sixth through eighth graders. We try to follow the standards as much as we can, with modifications. But some of my students are not mentally developed for the level of understanding that they are expected to reach. Some of them take a week of practice to grasp a concept that may take others a day or two. yes, we are given the same tests. I have one student that tells me on a daily basis, just how smart she feels in my class and how much she loves math this year. How can I face her and look her in the eyes as she takes the standardized assessment when inside, I know, that the likelihood is she will not understand a lot of the questions. How can I knowingly do this when, at the end of the day, she will be calling herself stupid, and losing a part of the joy math has brought her this year.
Schools are teachers are being held accountable for issues that cannot be fixed by education alone. Yes, a good education can help a person raise him or herself up to achieve more than the previous generation. but without the resources to make the possibility of a good education viable, there is less of a chance of that happening.
We need a new discussion about standards. What about the standards of what all schools should have, so the real issues can be addressed and those in positions of decision making be held accountable.
We need a new discussion about testing. What is it that we really want to test? Do we want to test what a student knows? Or how hard a student can try to gain understanding, how much perseverance can they put towards a task, how can they maintain what they need to do, at such a young age, when the odds are stacked against them? What is the true meaning of rigor and grit?
We need a new conversation about evaluation? What is it really that we want to evaluate from teachers? Scores based on factors that are out of their control? Or a teachers involvement in the community, in the improvement of a school, in the families that the school houses, in the investment that a teacher makes in the child, for however long or short that teacher and that child are in that community. These are some of the characteristics that make our really wonderful teachers a true blessing.
Communities across this nation are in danger of dying. It is our responsibility as adults that shape policies to recognize that and to create a system of support that will assist these communities in restrengthening and rebuilding. Schools need to be the corner-stone of rebuilding these crumbling foundations.
Testing, evaluations, assessments, new standards laden with corporate created curriculum materials are all merely diverting our money, our energy, our focus and our strengths away from where they should be as they tell us we need to strive to compete in the 21st century global economy. Our eyes are looking out at the world, yet ignoring what is right in front of us, our children that are in need.
Respectfully submitted
Melissa Tomlinson
Mother, Teacher, Citizen

Testimony against the NJ adoption of Next Gen Science Standards 6/11/14


Before I begin discussing the Next Generation Science Standards, I want to take a moment to explain some of the background facts behind the organization that wrote these standards; Achieve, Inc. Achieve is proud of the fact that they are the only education reform organization that is led entirely by a board of Directors that is comprised solely of governors and business leaders. At this point, I have to ask…where are the educators in this process? Further information states that Achieve has been working on national education standards for 30 years. If things were not right for the past 30 years, why should New jersey be willing to sign on for additional standards from this organization? Achieve’s “Common Core Implementation Workbook” outlines a delivery system that was developed in 2001. To give the facade that these standards were state led, the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers were enlisted to sign onto these standards with Achieve. Both of these organizations are trade-based associations that do not possess grant authority from any state to write any educational standards. The people connected to these standards through Achieve, as well as the Gates Foundation; a high financier of the standards both stand to gain a lot of money through the technology and software that is being and will be purchased as the further implementation of these standards is driven by the need to satisfy their greed. But they are not the only monetary benefactors of these standards. Textbook companies such as Pearson and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt have created a new market for themselves in which textbook sales and testing contracts are increasing in numbers that have reached the millions.


The first question we should be asking is, “Does New Jersey need new science standards?”. If you look at the results of the Last PISA assessment, the answer may be yes. But PISA is a statistical test that contains inherent flaws. The methodology behind the PISA test is not exactly what one would think. First, individual students answer a minority of the problems. Then ‘plausible values’ are generated for all students based upon a statistical model. This provides an estimate about what might have happened, had the student answered all of the questions. This estimated data is then applied as if it was the result of a survey of all of the students. Then, to add to this process, there are only three states that participate in the PISA assessment. The room for statistical error in this process and the fact that this is not a proper use of representative sampling raises a lot of questions about the validity of the PISA assessment itself.


Taking a look at our state in the rankings of science curriculums, the Thomas B Fordham Institute rated our current set of science standards with a grade D rating. Yet the rating that they give to the NGSS is only a C. The first and foremost question that comes to my mind is, why are we recognizing the need for a new set of science standards, yet willing to adopt a set that only earns a C rating? Why not explore options that other states are using? California science standards rated an A and is noted as clearly superior. Virginia utilizes the TIMSS Framework that rates an A- and is also noted to be clearly superior. Why are we willing to quickly jump on board with a set of inferior standards?


The Fordham Institute explains why the NGSS rates only a C. The list of problems and shortcomings is outlined in there is outlined in their report “The Final Evaluation of the Next Generation Science Standards”. To summarize, they found three flaws within the set of standards themselves.


Flaw 1: Missing and implicit content: There are several topics of content that are not explicitly required in lower grades that is then assumed to have been understood and mastered for subsequent standards.


Flaw 2: The inclusion of assessment boundaries along with the standards: By including these boundaries for assessments, a limit is given to the higher-reaching material that may be taught as a part of the natural instruction of a course. In doing this, the needs of our high level learners may become impacted.


Flaw 3: The failure to include essential math content that is critical to science learning: With specific mention to physics and chemistry; there is a large gap of mathematical instruction that should also be provided as a part of science instruction that is inherent to the learning of these areas.


Looking at the term college-ready we have to ask how this relates to the NGSS. The Fordham Institute also gives an analysis of how well these standards meet this parameter. They make note that while the NGSS notes the fact that these standards will not prepare a STEM student for further advancement of study towards a career and will need to pursue additional coursework, there is no mention from NGSS about what should be included as an enhancement to NGSS to achieve this for our STEM students. The larger implication of this shortcoming is the fact that the adoption of these standards will not provide all of our students with the background information to make such a STEM career a possibility. The advantage of schooling in a higher economic area will segregate future science careers for those that could only afford to live in a district that can include the possibility of additional science instruction. The biggest lack of this is found in physics and chemistry; “…the physical science standards fail to lay the foundation for advanced study in high school and beyond, and there is so little advanced content that it would be impossible to derive a high school physics or chemistry course from the content included in the NGSS.” Warnings are given about the inclusion of Appendix K having a potentially harmful effect due to the fact that it is implied that the NGSS includes all of the content necessary for high school chemistry and physics courses when in fact, they do not.


Specific warnings were also given by the Fordham Institute that I would like New Jersey to pay special attention to. At a time where the state is struggling to fund and implement the Common Core math and Language Arts standards, we should be asking if it is really prudent to take on the implementation of yet another set of standards. It has become obvious that there are many issues with the current implementation process. But have we really sat back and examined what these issues are and what needs to be done in order to avoid making the same mistakes. In my mind, we have not. This session is an example of such. We have here a time that is only for public comment. Not a time for dialogue, not a time where educators are invited to sit at the table and offer suggestions, not any indication that we will even be heard, except as background noise, while decisions are made that directly impact our profession and the lives of our students.


On a personal note, I am not a science teacher. I attempted to take a look at the standards and dissect them for my own understanding before I wrote this testimony. I was unable to do this. The confusion that I felt at reading just the first few pages of this document was overwhelming. So I did what seems like the obvious solution. I asked one of the best science teachers that I know for help. His response when I asked him if he has had a chance to sit down and really examine the NGSS? “I tried. It is so confusing. I am going to need to take a training session to learn how to just read them, let alone how to implement them. They are just too confusing.”




NPS Foolery…Eat while you can!


Recently I was passed copies of Newark public School District’s expenditures for the month of march and April. Now, let me just state up from that I have never looked at expenditures for a school district before. I honestly never had a reason to. I was a trusting person. This past year has changed that. Looking through these pages, various items caught my eye.

The usual payouts that you would expect to see on a list of disbursements fro a school district are there, technology companies, educational suppliers, maintenance companies. But interspersed among these were several items paid to different restaurants, Urban Chicken, Seafood Palace, and Hobby’s Deli were a few. Some of the amounts were fairly negligible, maybe a little over $100. Some of the amounts were a more than that. I asked an administrator friend of mine for some suggestions about what these charges could represent. She suggested that maybe there were some sports banquets or other such events that food was provided for. She also suggested that at meetings, etc there is often food that is provided that comes out of the budget. Overall, this total for one month came to nearly $24,000. Amazing how those cookie trays can add up, isn’t it?

Looking through more of these numerous pages, another entry caught my eye. A payment was made to Cami Anderson herself for nearly $33,000. So again, back to my friend I went. The explanation that I received this time was that it may have been related to the car that the Cami was probably provided. Well, I was a little taken aback by that. A car. Why should a superintendent be given a car? I was told to think about it. After all, being a superintendent is a really tough job and well, getting qualified superintendents to accept positions in these districts is tough so extras like this are sometimes needed.

NPS Foolery

Really? If a person that is n charge of a school district is worthy of receiving a car during employment, why shouldn’t a teacher also be worthy? Teachers are the people that are interacting with the students, shaping their lives, trying to point them in the right direction. We are the gateway for future generations. Schools are not businesses that are supposed to make profits. We do not need to lure away the best people from other districts in order to give ourselves some type of advantage. This type of thinking is one of the things that are pitting districts against each other when our public schools should be unified.

Additionally, Cami Anderson was selected by the state. She was not chosen through a collaborative voice of parents, teachers, and students. The citizens of Newark have voiced their dislike of her, over and over again. The teachers do not want her. The students have suffered at her hands long enough. As an employee of the state, I feel that if a car is to be one of her job perks, then the state itself should be responsible for paying for it.

Let me state my disclaimer again. School budgets are new to me. I am sure that there are explanations for the many, many things that I have highlighted to research. But research them I will.

In the meantime, I have to wonder about a few things. Why am I being forced to research these items in the first place? I feel that there should be a little more transparency as to what each of the payouts is related to. A school board should have nothing to hide. Why are there so many payouts that are not directly related to providing for the students? Why are we so stuck in the way things have always been done that we cannot see that public schools need to make some changes in order to maintain their integrity of purpose? Why have there not been any changes made about some of these seemingly extraneous expenditures? The Newark School Board has been questioned this week in an open public forum about these food charges.

Will an answer ever be given? Or will these school board meeting continue to merely exist as a false venue that really accomplishes nothing while more people become frustrated at the lack of response from the board.

Who ate all of that food???


I haven’t even begun to total up the amounts that are being paid to various charter schools…




Camden BOE 3/24/14: Strengthen Camden from Within to Survive


As a public school advocate, I liken the recent trend of districts allowing the influx of different charter schools to a by-product of the throw-away society that has recently developed as a result of the overabundance of products on the public market. The norm these days is to throw an item out and purchase another if one crack occurs to diminish the performance of that item. Instead of valuing the process of learning how to mend what may be broken, we simply look for a quick replacement. This trend has moved into our public schools system.

Charter schools are being brought in as that shiny, new apple of promise to provide every child the opportunity that a solid education can give. But what about when that apple really has a rotten core? We are learning that the opportunity presented is merely a false pretense as ‘no excuse’ policies and subtle discriminations are applied to different populations of students that are eventually sent back to the public schools where funds are being constantly gutted, taking away more and more resources that children need.

I stand before you tonight asking if new charter schools should play a part in the fulfillment of the Camden Commitment. I don’t understand why you are allowing outside interest gain a foothold in a city that needs to build its strength from within in order to survive. Recent studies have shown that students in charter schools do not learn any better than those in public schools. A recent study from Stanford University found that, in 26 states, the results of reading assessments showed that more than half of the charter schools produced no improvement and 19% had worse results. For math, 40% showed no difference and 31% were worse.

Financially, charter schools have not been shown to spend taxpayer money more efficiently. Researchers from Michigan State and the University of Utah have found that they spend $774 more per student on administration, and $1,140 less on instruction.

The truth is, charter schools are an attraction to real estate investment companies. They become part of a firms portfolio of investments, along with malls and movie complexes. Charter schools have become a way for politicians and corporate CEO’s to funnel money while receiving a tax credit, even as high as 39%, doing so through the federal “New Markets Tax Credit”. In late 2010, Goldman Sachs announced that it would lend $25 million to develop 16 charter schools in New York and New Jersey. In return, their portfolio values will increase as investors receive the tax breaks of being involved in these ventures.

The war on drugs was started as a political move to distract the public from the real issues of segregation in our nation. The war on education has become nothing other than such an attempt. Instead of dealing with the real issues of what is lacking in our communities, we are diverted to apply the blame to the public school systems. What is needed, instead of the systematic breakdown of our schools is a real attempt to analyze the resources that communities have available, research the gaps, the needs and the wants of our citizens and provide a conduit for these resources to be made available. They are directing attention from the underlying cause of the main deterrent to a child having a successful future, poverty. Those with the financial resources to help the rest of society in need are simply refusing to do so. Instead they are crying out that the public schools are to blame. Instead of fixing what they perceive to be in need of repair, they are simply gutting resources, purchasing a shiny, new product, and falsifying the dream of every parent to provide their child with every imaginable opportunity.

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 9.16.38 PM

*Italics:  I was cut off before I was able to finish the end of my speech.  My allotted 3 minutes was up and microphones were being shut off.  

Video can be found at


A Knife to the Heart of the Teaching Profession

A call tonight was made to the teachers of NJ to contact Senator Madden.  He had stated earlier at a legislative dinner with members of the NJEA that he had never heard of any complaints about the new evaluation system.  Here is the letter that I quickly penned to him.

Dear Senator Madden,

I am taking some time to contact you about the current system of teacher evaluations in the state of New Jersey with the hopes that you will introduce some legislation that will put a stop to a system that is destined to destroy our educational system. 

I have done some research about the current system, called value added measurement (VAM). This system on evaluations is a flawed system that actually rates the types of students that a teacher has, specifically in relation to socio-economic status, rather than the actual teaching performance of the teacher. When a student arrives to school poor, not well rested, or worried about other issues, the amount of learning that can occur is minimal. 

“VAM estimates of teacher effectiveness should not be used to make operational decisions because such estimates are far too unstable to be considered fair or reliable” (BOTA, 2009). Bruce Baker (2011) summarized the research evidence: Value-added “just doesn’t work, at least not well enough to even begin considering using it for making high-stakes decisions about teacher tenure, dismissal or compensation… In fact, it will likely make things much worse.” Edward Haertel (2013) concluded, “Teacher VAM scores should emphatically not be… [given] a fixed weight in consequential teacher personnel decisions.” Most states do put high, fixed weights on this data. As Baker (2012) says, the statistical models actually used by states “increasingly appear to be complete junk!” (emphasis in original). 

More can be found at…

Nationwide, teachers are rallying against this system of evaluations. This week alone, lawsuits were filed in Rochester, New York and Tennessee. 

At a personal level, I am experiencing what is occurring in our schools because of these evaluations. My strongest argument against these models is the harm that it is causing our students. this is yet another measurement tool that is being used, mainly in the form of a test or assessment that is taking more time away from classroom instruction. I totaled up the amount of days used for testing and test prep recently. Out of 180 days in the school year, 52 of them are slated for test, quizzes, benchmark assessments, student growth objective (SGO) related assessment, MAP testing, ASK testing, and various test-prep review days for some of these. That is a lot of instructional time that our students are losing. Students have developed a great fear of the word test or quiz. I actually tried an experiment just today where I gave one of my classes a quiz without telling them it was a quiz to see if they would perform better without the anxiety of knowing they were being assessed. Out of 9 students, (I teach a special education resource room) 8 of them performed better than their current quiz average. We are raising a nation that will be afraid of being assessed. always feeling like they do not perform well enough. 

The amount of paperwork that has to be generated for the recording of the SGO and evaluations is overwhelming. The original paperwork at the beginning of the year took me about two weeks of prep time, after school time, and weekend time. Mid-year reports had to be completed in January. End of the term has to be completed at the end of March. 

(Speaking about the term of the SGO reporting) The SGO’s are first due by the middle/end of October. The final report is due the end of May. This is not keeping to our school structured term of September to June. That is only accounting for 5/6 months of our school year. 

The supervisors of my school are overwhelmed by these evaluations. They have taken over as the main purpose of their jobs. There is no time for true feedback or mentoring that is truly needed to help improve the performance of a teacher. There is little time for decisions about budgets, curriculums, or the overall welfare of the students. 

The evaluations themselves are flawed. There are some areas that are rated in such a way that no teacher will ever achieve a ‘4’ rating for that category, the highest rating. The evaluation is just a snapshot picture of what is occurring in a relatively small moment of time during instruction. There is no valid way to make adjustments for attendance issues or migrant students. The evaluations are mainly subjective to the opinion of the evaluator. Tying these evaluations to tenure and job stability causes an unfair balance of power to be placed in the hands of an administrator. If an administrator wants to terminate a teacher, a few poor evaluations would accomplish this. 

Teachers are feeling the stress of being under attack from these evaluations. The teacher attrition rate is increasing at an alarming rate The number of students that will enter education programs will soon plummet. What is being created is a great shortage of teachers, causing an opening for untrained teacher programs, such as TFA, to come in to our school system. Our students and children deserve better than this. They deserve teachers that have studied how to implement best educational practices. They deserve to have educators that have direct ties to the communities and will help build the strength of the community and assist in making the community grow towards a better future. 

I know that the NJEA recently attended a lobby day in Trenton and many teachers spoke out against the evaluation system. I urge you to read through some of the additional letters that were submitted as well. 

Public Testimony:……

I look forward to a time in the future that we can meet to discuss this further. I am the administrator of a state-wide group of over 1000 teacher/parent members that have joined together in the fight to save public education. 

Melissa Tomlinson
Special Education Teacher
Admin – NJ BadAss Teachers Association
Assistant Manager BadAss Teachers Association.


killing education

Members of NJ Senate and Assembly: NO TFA!

no tfa

Dear Member of Senate and Assembly,

On February 18th Superintendent Cami Anderson presented another set of revisions to the One Newark Plan. In it, for the first time, is a request for a waiver of seniority rights and to allow evaluations in the process of ‘right-sizing’ the Newark Public Schools workforce. This back door attempt to bypass tenure and seniority rights is in contradiction to the agreements reached in landmark, bipartisan TEACH NJ and runs contrary to the Newark Teacher’s Contract signed last year. Furthermore, the proposal is to use teacher evaluations along with years of service for retention in the midst of the controversy about the implementation of the new evaluation system demonstrates a complete disregard to the current need to slow down the rush for change. Under this proposed waiver, seniority rules would be disregarded, taking away the right of senior teachers to request a different assignment when facing a reduction in workforce. Instead they could face immediate dismissal based on single year evaluations using a new system that has yet to be fully vetted.

The request by Superintendent Anderson to Commissioner of Education to grant “waiver or equivalency” disregards current law and attempts to circumvent the regulations. It is an attack on Newark teachers that cannot be allowed. But the truth is all New Jersey teachers are at risk. The approval of such a waiver would set a precedent undermining the teaching profession of this state. The real possibility exists that other districts will ask for the same waiver once the precedent is established. This is a direct attack on tenure, seniority and the value of experienced teachers in the classroom.

Imagine, if you will, a waiver being used as a way to save money as many districts face the financial burden of PARCC testing,. Experienced, qualified teachers will be sacrificed to pay for the cost of high stakes testing merely because of their higher salary rate. This is something that we cannot allow. We cannot allow our best teachers to be sacrificed for the costs of these tests.

Ultimately, this backdoor ploy to end tenure and seniority rights brings the possibility of an increase in Teach for America (TFA) teachers in Newark. Teach For America is an organization where Cami Anderson worked at Executive Director, and the waiver need to be evaluated in this context. TFA teachers come into districts after a five week training session and virtually no classroom experience. These teachers have a retention rate of only 5% after they fulfill their three-year commitment to the program. This educational revolving door undermines the strength of our excellent teaching core in New Jersey and cannot be tolerated.

As Legislators we urge you to remind the Commissioner of Education and the Superintendent of Newark Schools that there is law on seniority and tenure that should not be bypassed by a waiver. Please defend your hard work of TEACH NJ and protect the most dedicated of our teachers by ensuring this waiver is not granted.

Thank you,

Melissa Tomlinson

NJ BadAss Teachers Association

New Jersey BATS is an organization of over 1000 activist teachers and public education supporters who reject the attempts to blame teachers for the failure of our society to erase poverty and inequality and we refuse to accept high stakes tests, and evaluations imposed by those who attempt to undermine the profession of teaching. We are part of a national movement of BATS over 38,000 strong and growing every day.

For more information about Teach for America:

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