|9-4-12 Education and Related Issues in the News|
It’s not exactly the keynote speech, but when it comes to education reform New Jersey will still be well represented as the Democratic National Convention kicks off today in Charlotte, NC.
State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) will be among a dozen panelists and Newark Mayor Cory Booker will give the closing remarks at a “education town hall” hosted today by the Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), the five-year-old advocacy group making its mark in New Jersey and nationally.
New Jersey’s place in the spotlight at this week's convention further bolsters the state’s rising prominence in the national discussion about school reform.
Long a reform advocate, Booker brings his own celebrity. He also is speaking at 6 p.m. to the full convention as co-chairman of the Democrats’ platform committee.
At the same time -- and in large part due to Booker -- Newark is getting some extra attention, thanks to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million gift to the city’s public education system in 2010, a project still very much in progress.
Ruiz last month helped pull off a nearly unprecedented unanimous legislative passage of the state’s new tenure law, one that rewrites the rules for how and when teachers receive job protections.
The state Senate’s education committee chairman, Ruiz was chief architect of the measure and widely credited for building the coalition that won its passage, including Christie himself.
“It’s a lot of fun to be here from New Jersey,” said Kathleen Nugent, director of DFER NJ and its chief lobbyist in Trenton, upon arriving in Charlotte yesterday. “Out of a total of 15 people on the stage, two of them are ours.”
Today's town hall will comprise two panels. Ruiz will serve on the panel on school leadership at the state level, with other legislators from like Colorado and North Carolina.
A second panel, on technology in schools, will feature the nation's top two education labor leaders: Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers and Dennis Van Roekel of the National Education Association. Booker will give the closing remarks.
Founded in 2007, DFER continues to expand on its network of coordinators in a dozen states, including New Jersey. Led by a mix of education reformers and hedge fund managers with resources to promote the organization, DFER has played a part in passing key legislation on teacher evaluation and quality in several states over the past two years, from New York to Colorado.
Nugent quickly credited President Obama for pressing this cause through the federal Race to the Top grant funding. But in New Jersey at least, Nugent and DFER ended up a key presence at the table in Ruiz’s coalition-building efforts for the tenure law. Christie went so far as to publicly thank DFER when he signed the tenure bill last month.
This week is also a big step up for DFER. It attended the last Democratic convention in 2008, but this year brings a bigger audience and stature for the group.
“Four years ago in Denver, it was a small cast of regulars,” Nugent said. “This year, there are so many names new to the [education] reform world. This is the new norm for the Democratic party.”
The New Jersey office opened in 2010 with the hiring of Nugent, and she said yesterday it is not stopping with the tenure law. Nugent said she will work next on policy issues like charter schools and teacher preparation.
She said while the word Democrat is in her job title, working with a Republican governor like Christie on tenure reform was not as hard as it sounds.
“The governor wanted to sign a strong tenure reform bill and was always focused on getting to a result that would work for kids,” Nugent said, pointing out Christie education commissioner is a Democrat as well.
Families running back-to-school errands have a crucial item to check off the list: vaccinations for their teens.
September checkups are a chance for middle school and high school students to receive boosters and catch up on childhood vaccinations they may have missed, say New Jersey doctors. Those checkups are also an opportunity to get adolescent vaccines, including those for bacterial meningitis, HPV, and pertussis, -- commonly called “whooping cough.”
The whooping cough vaccine also guards against tetanus and diphtheria. But its protection for middle-schoolers who received the vaccine as small kids can start to wear off, said Larry Frenkel, co-chair of the New Jersey Immunization Network
“In the last 10 years,” Frenkel said, “we’ve come to realize that the immunizations from the childhood vaccines from these three bacteria has waned by the time they get to be 11 or 12.”
Those children act as carriers of the bacteria, he said, and can put at risk other children who have not received the immuniztion or who are young too young to do so.
“Pertussis is a disease that can kill,” he said. “Babies, they can die of brain damage, of lung damage. It's a pretty horrible disease.”
In Hunterdon County, 50 people fell sick with whooping cough during the 2011-2012 school year, compared with eight people who caught the disease during the previous school year, according to the county. In New Jersey schools, students entering grade six are required to have had the whooping cough and the meningococcal vaccines.
A decade ago, youngsters leaving the doctor’s office after getting the pertussis vaccine often complained of sore arms, said Dr. Peter Wenger, an expert on immunizations at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) in Newark. To reduce that soreness, doctors began giving youngsters a pertussis vaccine with fewer strains of the diseases. The reduced versions of the vaccine do not afford as much protection, Wenger said. And that, he added, is why childrens’ immunity to pertussis can weaken once they reach middle school.
“Now, it’s really important to immunize throughout the ages,” Wenger said. “It’s not just for kids anymore.”
Like new sneakers and spiral notebooks, Wenger said, immunizations are a no-brainer for students returning to school. But they can be a hard sell for parents of younger children, he noted.
For example, he said, “when’s the last person you saw with measles?” Vaccines have wiped out those diseases for the most part, according to Wenger said. But he warned they could reemerge among unvaccinated communities.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
· In New Jersey, almost three out of four teens ages 13-17 received the complete series -- three shots -- of the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine in 2010. That’s about 2 percent higher than the national average.
· Sixty-nine percent of teens in New Jersey received the pertussis vaccine in 2010, about one percent above the national average.
Some New Jersey parents are calling for doctors to ease up when it comes to vaccinating children. “We’re vaccinating with a vaccine that’s not protecting [children from pertussis], said Sue Collins, the cofounder of the New Jersey Alliance for Informed Choice in Vaccination (NJAICV). “So why are we continuing to add more shots, injecting toxic ingredients into children?”
For families seeking information about the risks of vaccinating, the key is to speak to a physician first, said Dr. Geralyn Prosswimmer, a Hunterdon County pediatrician. That discussion, she said, is an opportunity to hear about the disease the vaccine aims to prevent and the risks and benefits of the vaccine. The best decision, she counsels, is to vaccinate.
Information from sources that are not credible often frightens parents, Prosswimmer said. “It takes a lot to undo fear that comes from bad information,” she said, referencing a British study that linked early childhood vaccines to autism and has since been redacted.
Some patients suffer side effects and allergic reactions to vaccines, acknowledged Wenger. But, he said, the risk of those adverse reactions is worth the protection that immunizations offer. “Vaccines are a vigilant program,” he said. We’ve been doing a pretty good job.” But, he cautioned, “nothing in life and in medicine is 100 per cent.”