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10-19-12 Newark Teachers Contract Changes, Anti-Bullying Reports and Support
NJ Spotlight - Newark Teachers Contract, a Game-Changer for NJ's Often-Troubled School District…Pay for performance and peer reviews are radical changes -- but they also show what can be done with $50 million in private funding

Philadelphia Inquirer - N.J. school bullying apparently not widespread… “With 603 New Jersey school districts and 75 charter schools, application of the law is uneven for a variety reasons, including economics.The state awarded $1 million in implementation grants in the 2011-12 school year after the state Council on Local Mandates ruled the law was an unfunded mandate. Districts requested $5 million. This school year brought no new state anti-bullying funds. "It would be very helpful if there was state support in this," said Lynne Strickland, director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools.

NJ Spotlight - Newark Teachers Contract, a Game-Changer for NJ's Often-Troubled School District…Pay for performance and peer reviews are radical changes -- but they also show what can be done with $50 million in private funding

Philadelphia Inquirer - N.J. school bullying apparently not widespread… “With 603 New Jersey school districts and 75 charter schools, application of the law is uneven for a variety reasons, including economics.The state awarded $1 million in implementation grants in the 2011-12 school year after the state Council on Local Mandates ruled the law was an unfunded mandate. Districts requested $5 million.

This school year brought no new state anti-bullying funds. "It would be very helpful if there was state support in this," said Lynne Strickland, director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools.

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NJ Spotlight - Newark Teachers Contract, a Game-Changer for NJ's Often-Troubled School District…Pay for performance and peer reviews are radical changes -- but they also show what can be done with $50 million in private funding

By John Mooney, October 19, 2012 in Education|Post a Comment

It is touted as a historic agreement, one that will remake how Newark teachers are judged and paid -- one that may even serve as a model for other school districts around the country.

Announced yesterday, the tentative contract between the state-run Newark public school system and the 3,100-member Newark Teachers Union was hailed by such disparate players as Gov. Chris Christie and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.

Among its highlights: performance bonuses, peer reviews, and the first steps to end to the salary guides that all but guarantee a raise every year.

That's not to slight the $100 million to finance the ambitious agreement over the next three years, half coming from private funders, including the Foundation for Newark’s Future, which is headed up by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

As innovative as it is, however, the contract can't cure all of the Newark school district's challenges.

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For instance, it appears to do little about the excess teachers that continue to dog Newark’s billion-dollar budget. And while the mostly private money for performance bonuses may exist now, will it be there in the future?

The details of the deal are trickling out as the union rank and file reviews the contract over the next 10 days, with a vote a week from Monday. In the meantime, it's not too early to assess where it could make a real difference to Newark schools and where challenges are likely to remain unresolved.

Pay for Performance

The performance bonuses spelled out in the contract are the first for a sizable public school district in the state and among only a handful in the country. Unlike broader merit pay agreements, they are directed to very specific standards.

For instance:

·        Teachers who are rated “highly effective” can get a $5,000 bonus for each year they maintain that status.

·        Teachers who work in the highest-need schools, essentially those in the bottom quartile of the district in performance, can earn an extra $5,000 annually.

·        Teachers working in high-need subject areas like math, science, and special education can receive $2,500 annually.

Bonuses are always controversial, and there are some key limits to these. They will be direct payments, not tied to the base salary nor applied to a teacher's pension once he or she retires.

They will also be part of a separate salary guide required of new teachers and those with only a bachelor’s degree, but they will be optional for as many as half of the district’s teachers, those now holding advanced degrees and able to stay on a more traditional salary scale if they choose. That standard salary scale will continue to pay them for experience and credentials.

Other than a few isolated instances, incentive pay is new to New Jersey and provides the first real test of the idea in a state that already pays its teachers as well as any in the country.

Further, this contract will limit pay raises to teachers who maintain an "effective" rating or better. Those who receive the lowest evaluations will automatically be refused a raise. It will be the district’s option for those deemed in the second tier, or “partially effective.”

Administrators already can withhold such raises under current rules, but it doesn’t happen much. This year, the district withheld increment raises to about 25 or 30 teachers total, the union said.

Peer review This is one of the biggest wins for the teachers union, something that NTU president Joseph Del Grosso has consistently pressed for.

Peer review isn't new -- Rochester, NY, and Montgomery County, MD, are the most notable examples of peer systems. But the NTU has built in a number of checks and balances that will ensure that teachers not only have an eye on their peers but also a say in their evaluations.

This is accomplished by having teachers sitting on school panels and taking a direct part in the evaluations. Some will serve on a district council that will monitor the evaluations as they come in. Teachers can even bring in outside “validators” to double-check their evaluations.

Weingarten, who took part in the negotiations, said in an interview last night that this part of the deal was as critical as any on the contract.

“What you have is a tentative contract that values experience, values knowledge, values the work done every year, and provides more voice to teachers than they’ve ever had,” she said.

Money

The Newark contract won't come cheap, and although hard numbers are yet to be released, both public and private dollars are essential to making it fly. Even without performance bonuses, the average teacher could see raises exceeding the state average of 2 percent to 3 percent in each of the next three years.

One union official put the range of raises between 3.8 percent and 5.2 percent each year, although neither Del Grosso nor Anderson would confirm that.

Of the $100 million in new money, almost a third will go to giving retroactive raises to teachers that cover the past two years when the evaluation procedures were not in place.

This will also be the first big ticket investment for Zuckerberg’s foundation, which in two years has doled out as much as $16 million, depending on who's doing the counting. But it has been a trickle so far, with foundation leaders saying the strategic planning has taken time.

If this deal goes through, it would be committing as much as another $50 million to the contract alone, most notably the bonuses -- a full quarter of the $200 million to be raised.

The district will provide the other half of the $100 million at a time when it is struggling to make ends meet, especially with the surge of charter schools taking a bigger and bigger share of the dollars.

It was one of the first questions that Newark superintendent Cami Anderson faced yesterday, and she said the district has budgeted the money into its spending plans.

“We are confident we can find savings that can be deployed to this key effort,” she said. “There is really nothing more important than teacher quality, and the process for us will be to take a fine-tooth comb through the budget to find the resources necessary.”

Excess Teachers

Among Anderson’s biggest challenges in her first 16 months on the job is dealing with a dropping enrollment and the resultant need for fewer teachers.

As Newark has closed some schools and relocated others, it has accumulated close to 200 teachers who are deemed as excess and have been distributed across schools to a variety of support roles.

This contract does not provide any tools for dealing with this situation. When asked specifically about these teachers, Anderson only said that existing statute on seniority still protected those teachers from layoffs.

And while the new system does provide some mechanism for removing teachers after two years of subpar evaluations, the fact that many of them are not serving as full-time classroom teachers makes that path a difficult one to follow.

Unanswered Questions

As copies of the contract are leaked, all eyes will be on the salary guides. They lay out how teachers are compensated at different parts of their careers, and have been notoriously uneven -- especially for new teachers.

Anderson and Del Grosso yesterday both said the salary guides are more evenly distributed than ever before, doing away with so-called bubbles -- big pay raises that kick in for senior teachers.

They also said there will be special incentives for new teachers as well, with one-time bonuses of up to $20,000 for gaining an advanced degree, a sure help in paying off student loans.

Still, the extent of the performance bonuses beyond this contract remains an open question. The drying up of funds has led to the demise of pay-for-performance plans in other states, and both Anderson and Del Grosso said that will be determined in the years ahead.

“Let’s pray there is another Zuckerberg out there for the next contract,” Del Grosso said.

 

Philadelphia Inquirer - N.J. school bullying apparently not widespread

In N.J., anti-bullying is the law

Student bullying in New Jersey is concentrated in the middle-school grades, overwhelmingly verbal in nature, and not nearly as widespread on the Internet as some might think.

That's the portrait that emerges from the state Department of Education's first in-depth examination of what is classified as "Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying," or HIB, in schools.

But some education professionals question whether the statistics - contained in the department's annual report on school violence and vandalism, and reflecting a change in definition under the 2010 Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act - present a complete picture.

Data were self-reported: Some districts reported no infractions in the 2011-12 school year, and some smaller districts reported more incidents than larger districts.

The cases also were investigated by the districts themselves, subject to cost constraints, image concerns, and individual interpretations of the anti-bullying regulation implemented in September 2011.

Among educators and others, there is a perception that some schools were more zealous than others in reporting incidents.

Joel Haber, a clinical psychologist and bullying authority based in White Plains, N.Y., thinks New Jersey's report is laudable in its intent, but lacking.

"There's a lot more that's not being reported here," he said. "There are gaps, clearly."

The analysis, released this month, is aimed at supporting programs to prevent and root out bullying. It is an overview that informs the public about "areas where programs and policies are having a positive impact, or where more support may be needed," according to state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf.

According to the data, a third of the 35,552 alleged HIB cases investigated statewide last year were verified.

The report provides no details of incidents. The Inquirer asked to review individual case reports but state and local education officials said the records are confidential.

New Jersey's anti-bullying law, considered one of the nation's strictest, has a specific list of what educators call "protected classes."

Pennsylvania has an anti-bullying law, but it does not have protected classes nor does it require districts to report to the state. State Rep. Dan Truitt (R., Chester) has introduced legislation that would establish a uniform anti-bullying policy and an online reporting system for superintendents to report incidents of violence and bullying.

New Jersey's protected classes are based on the victim's origin; ancestry; religion; gender identity and expression; color; race; mental, physical, or sensory disability; gender; sexual orientation; or other "distinguishing characteristic."

The last category, which could include body size, dress, or hair color, accounted for nearly two-thirds of the verified cases.

"Some are really easy to define, some are not," said Rafe Vecere, anti-bullying coordinator for the Burlington Township School District. The law "leaves a lot open to interpretation."

Vecere offered a clear-cut example of bullying and one that was more ambiguous.

In the clear-cut situation, a boy might tell a girl of Asian descent, "You're Indian and you should go back to your own country."

In the other case, an overweight girl boards a bus and one student says to another, "The seats aren't big enough for her, she's so fat." The girl does not hear it, but another girl does and reports it.

By law, an act qualifies as bullying if it creates a hostile educational environment or causes the target physical or emotional harm. But it also is bullying if it interferes with "the rights of other students."

Though the overweight girl received no spared direct abuse, the child who did the reporting may be a victim if she felt she was in a hostile environment or suffered emotional harm due to the unkind words.

"It's a judgment call on your part who was the victim," Vecere said. "You have to do a full investigation whether or not you think it's bullying."

With about 1.4 million students in the state's public and charter schools, the number of verified HIB cases last year translated to eight cases per 1,000 students, or a rate of 0.08 percent.

That is far below the estimated 10 percent of U.S. schoolchildren that experts, including the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, say feel the sting of bullying on a regular basis.

State education officials said New Jersey's report should not be compared with national studies because of the state law's specific definition of bullying.

Schools are expected to rely on their codes of conduct to deal with meanness and other inappropriate behavior - such as hazing - that do not fall under the law.

Hank J. Nuwer, another bullying expert, said whatever flaws this initial report has in measuring the scope of bullying, "it is a start, especially if the state perceives there is a real problem."

"It's creating awareness and it sends a clear message that New Jersey public schools are against all kinds of abuse," said Nuwer, of Franklin (Ind.) College, who has written extensively on the subject.

With 603 New Jersey school districts and 75 charter schools, application of the law is uneven for a variety reasons, including economics, educators say.

The state awarded $1 million in implementation grants in the 2011-12 school year after the state Council on Local Mandates ruled the law was an unfunded mandate. Districts requested $5 million.

This school year brought no new state anti-bullying funds.

"It would be very helpful if there was state support in this," said Lynne Strickland, director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools.

The state's statistics reveal jarring disparities in the number of HIB incidents reported by districts.

For example, the Lenape School District in Burlington County, with more than 7,000 high school students, reported three cases last year. Yet one of its sending districts, Medford Lakes, with a kindergarten through eighth-grade population of 535 students and a well-established anti-bullying program, reported 19. Moorestown, with 4,067 students, reported none.

Lenape's antibullying coordinator, Christopher Heilig, said in an e-mail that the district had implemented an anti-bullying program "well ahead" of the 2010 law and noted that high school students "learn the importance of appropriate behavior and good citizenship at a faster rate as they are becoming mature functioning members of society."

"As a result, districts with elementary- and middle-grade students are seeing more HIB," he said, adding substance abuse was a bigger problem in high schools.

Moorestown district officials did not respond to requests for comment.

State officials acknowledge differences exist in how districts handle and report bullying.

"We are committed to supporting our districts if they need assistance in the process of identification so we ensure that the information provided to the public is as accurate as possible," said Barbara Morgan, an Education Department spokeswoman.

Another obstacle in getting a true picture is that victims seldom report their abuse. From 70 percent to 90 percent of them keep it to themselves, according to authorities.

Much of the anti-bullying education in the state is aimed at getting victims and witnesses to step forward.

The report does offer some interesting details. At a time when so much attention is being given to cyberbullying, only 12 percent of the state's verified HIB incidents last year involved electronic communications.

An overwhelming three-quarters of the cases had a verbal element and one in five had a physical aspect. A bullying incident can involve more than one element.

Of the 2,229 cases involving physical contact, 655 resulted in injury, including nine where victims suffered major or serious injury.

While students from grades five through eight make up about a third of the state's student population, they accounted for just over half of the 13,101 perpetrators of bullying, according to the study.

The offenders faced 49,200 disciplinary actions, including four expulsions and 3,730 out-of-school suspensions.

At the same time, the report found that in only about a third of the cases did the offenders understand that their actions would cause physical or emotional harm or damage property.

Under state law, all school employees must report bullying they observe or of which they have been informed by a victim or offender.

Haber noted that a disproportionate one-third of the verified incidents occurred in a classroom, indicating teachers were aware of the problem and willing to report it.

He said most bullying occurred in less-supervised areas, such a cafeterias, hallways, locker rooms, and buses, and that the proportion of classroom incidents probably would have been less if victims had come forward.


Contact Joseph Gambardello at jgambardello@phillynews.com or 856-779-3844.

Inquirer staff writer Rita Giordano contributed to this article.

 


Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608
609-394-2828