Archive | March 2014

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.

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*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.


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