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9-17-12 Education Issues in the News

NJ Spotlight - Hottest Topics in State Education Shaping Newark Teachers Contract…High-level talks focusing on issues like teacher evaluation and merit pay…” The agreement will not only define pay and benefits for Newark’s 3,300 teachers -- the usual concerns -- but also will likely contain a host of new issues as to how individual teachers are evaluated, compensated, and assigned.“


By John Mooney, September 17, 2012 in Education|Post a Comment

The future of superintendent Cami Anderson’s and the Christie administration’s hopes for Newark public schools may rest on a document that has been under negotiation for the past nine months: the Newark teachers contract.

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The agreement will not only define pay and benefits for Newark’s 3,300 teachers -- the usual concerns -- but also will likely contain a host of new issues as to how individual teachers are evaluated, compensated, and assigned.

Both sides appear close by most accounts, with Anderson and state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf directly involved in talks with the Newark Teachers Union, discussions that have included Randi Weingarten, the president of the NTU’s parent, the American Federation of Teachers.

A final pact would still need to be approved by the NTU’s membership and possibly Gov. Chris Christie, and few at the table are willing to divulge many of the details after the last discussions on Friday.

But an outline is emerging, and there are certainly a few things to watch for:

Pay for Performance

Any contract is likely to include some provisions that teacher salaries will be based to some degree on how well they are rated, the first such large-scale pay-for-performance system in the state and potentially one of the higher-profile ones in the country.

Joseph Del Grosso, the NTU’s president, said yesterday that the talks at this point have included provisions that would award bonuses to exemplary teachers and also create a separate salary guide that would base salary bumps on teachers' ratings.

Those new proposals would be mandatory for incoming teachers and optional for those currently in the system, Del Grosso said, and would supplant the standard guides that center on the experience and academic credentials of a teacher, a huge departure for any district, let alone the state’s largest.

Teacher Evaluation

Central to any agreement to pay teachers more for performance will be how they are evaluated, with the state as a whole grappling with the new tenure reform law.

One of the first pilots in the state’s effort, Newark is a little further along with its evaluation system than most, and under the law, not much of it can be dictated by the collective bargaining agreement anyway. But one piece that Del Grosso said he is pressing for is a peer review provision that would include teachers in the evaluations, as well as in the oversight of the evaluations.

The New Jersey Education Association, the state’s dominant union, has been reluctant to have its members evaluating their peers, but the AFT and Del Grosso in particular have said they see that vital to keeping some checks on the system.

“We have to be involved in that, be it peer reviewers or peer evaluators,” Del Grosso said. “We are trying to make this as fair as possible.”

The Role of Outside Foundations

Newark schools have been placed into the national spotlight with the $100 million gift from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and how teachers are compensated may prove the gift’s biggest impact to date.

Del Grosso said his union is opposed to using taxpayers’ money to pay the extra bonuses. The option is funding from outside foundation, led by the Zuckerberg’s Foundation for Newark’s Future.

No precise numbers have been disclosed, but the head of the foundation has said that it also could play a part in funding teacher buyouts, with Anderson saying that there may be more than 600 excess teachers in the district. The foundation is also expected to be a big contributor to the charter school movement in the city.

Back pay

Newark teachers are entering their third year without a contract, so any successful pact will need to deal with retroactive pay.

The union and district have been locked in a legal dispute over the failure to even pay so-called step increases based on experience in the past two years, which are estimated to come to about $30 million.

The system-wide raises beyond the step increases could cost at least that much, and the size of that retroactive package could help determine whether the rank and file will go for the rest of the deal.

And Then There Are All the Other Details

In a contract that spanned nearly 100 pages the last go-round, there are a number of other key issues that also need to be resolved, not the least of which is how long the agreement will remain in effect. At the moment, Del Grosso said the discussion involves a five-year contract , two years of which would be retroactive.

In addition, separate agreements are likely to be struck for the district’s half-dozen highest-priority, lowest-performing schools, which are expected to see longer school days and additional pay for teachers working those hours.

Some wild cards exist, with the stakes clear in the ongoing teachers strike in Chicago and the rancorous agreement reached in Boston. Those contract talks hinged on some of the same issues of teacher evaluation and empowerment. Strikes are illegal in New Jersey, although that doesn’t mean they don’t happen.

Still, the Newark talks have so far shown none of those tensions. The question now is more about when an agreement will be announced, not if.



Philadelphia Inquirer - N.J. poll finds views on schools mostly positive

9-17-12 By Rita Giordano  Inquirer Staff Writer


New Jersey voters grading the state's public schools this election season would award between a "B" and a "C," according to the Inquirer New Jersey Poll.

Fifty-five percent of likely voters polled statewide last week gave a grade of B or higher. In South Jersey, 54 percent awarded a B or higher.

Voters expressed even more support for their local schools, with 66 percent statewide and 62 percent in South Jersey awarding a B or better.

But enough voters saw the need for improvement that schools' overall grade point average would rank 2.58 on a 4.0 scale statewide and 2.45 in South Jersey.

The bipartisan poll of 600 likely voters was conducted by phone Sept. 9 to Sept. 12 by the Democratic firm Global Strategy Group and the Republican firm National Research Inc. The statewide margin of error is 4 percent; in South Jersey (Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, and Salem Counties), the margin of error is 8.5 percent.

The pollsters got mixed results on two of the Christie administration's favored proposals to give more choice to students in failing schools, namely increasing the number of charter schools and providing voucherlike scholarships for students to attend private or parochial schools.

The Inquirer Pennsylvania Poll, conducted with a similar number of voters and over the same time period, found more opposition than support statewide for vouchers for private and parochial schools, as well as for increasing charter schools, both measures supported by the Corbett administration. Pennsylvania voters also seemed less satisfied with the public schools. The largest single group polled gave the schools statewide a C.

A spokesman for New Jersey's largest teachers union said the poll shows that more New Jerseyans than not are pleased with the public schools.

"New Jersey residents know that our public schools are doing well, and they love their local schools," said Steve Baker, a spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association. "They see room for improvement but are optimistic about the future. They want to keep public education public, and they don't think that punishing struggling schools will solve problems."

Overall, voters polled were optimistic about the possibility of improving urban schools: 76 percent statewide and 77 percent in South Jersey, as opposed to 19 percent who were not.

African American and Latino voters were even more optimistic statewide (86 percent) about turning around urban schools than white voters (74 percent). However, the pollsters found black and Latino voters gave the schools lower grades: a 2.40 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale compared with 2.64 for white voters.

For voters who gave their local schools a C or lower, the largest number blamed administrators - 21 percent statewide and 16 percent in South Jersey.

Mike Yaple, a spokesman for the New Jersey School Boards Association, said he wasn't surprised.

"They are the managers," he said. "They run the schools on a day-to-day basis."

In statewide polling, teachers were the next faulted (12 percent), followed by parents (9 percent), teachers unions (8 percent), and insufficient funding (8 percent). After administrators, South Jersey blamed not enough funding (14 percent), teachers (10 percent), parents (9 percent), and the students themselves (8 percent).

Only 4 percent of respondents statewide and 2 percent in South Jersey blamed Christie administration policies.

Representatives of the Christie administration did not reply to requests for comment.

In addition to pushing for more choices for families in under-performing districts, the administration supports private nonprofits building schools in some of those districts, including Camden. It also is moving forward with turnaround initiatives that could result in closing persistently failing schools.

Voters also were asked about which measures they favored to improve urban schools.

Poll participant Ray Levinson, a physician, gave an A to Cherry Hill High School East, a high performer that educated his three children. But he said he knows other schools do not reach that bar.

"I certainly like the idea of having kids go to better performing schools, but my own feeling is there has to a better teacher/parent relationship in some of these schools," he said.

That said, 67 percent of voters statewide and 69 percent in South Jersey opposed closing poorly performing city schools and sending students to higher performing suburban schools. African Americans statewide were 81 percent opposed.

The most-favored change was raising standards so students have mastered the skills of one grade before moving to the next (80 percent support statewide and in South Jersey). The Christie administration also supports policies that raise the educational bar.

Those polled also supported breaking big urban schools into small learning communities and giving more funding to city schools to lower class sizes.

However, creating new charters got a 43 percent approval rating statewide and in South Jersey, versus 43 against statewide and 46 opposed in South Retiree John Semenuk, 77, gave his local Moorestown schools an A, although he thinks the schools are overfunded. He supports school consolidation, but not charters.

"Pretty soon, we're going to have a lot of empty buildings that we don't know what to do with," he said.

Mary Merryfield, 46, of Oaklyn, isn't a charter school fan either.

"It's a bad idea because it's a wide open door for corruption," said the bartender, whose daughter attended local public schools. "It sounds like the ones politically connected are going to get and the ones who aren't won't."

Support was mixed for providing vouchers to attend private school, with slightly less in favor as opposed both statewide and in South Jersey. But on closer examination, support varied along demographic lines. Latino voters gave vouchers the highest approval rating, followed by African American and then white voters.

Contact staff writer Rita Giordano at 856-

779-3841, rgiordano@phillynews.com or on Twitter @ritagiordano.

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