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10-11-13 Education Issues in the News
NJSpotlight - Debate Highlights Booker's Complex Relationship with Newark Schools… Lonegan hammers dropout rates while ad suggests too much of the Zuckerberg gift is going to consultants.

Press of Atlantic City - Seven local school districts win approval for the state's school choice program

The Record - Rutgers study compares racial divide in N.J. schools to 'apartheid'

Star Ledger - Shaq, Christie announce after-school initiative in Camden

NJSpotlight - Debate Highlights Booker's Complex Relationship with Newark Schools… Lonegan hammers dropout rates while ad suggests too much of the Zuckerberg gift is going to consultants.

John Mooney | October 11, 2013

Cory Booker couldn't have summed up better his enigmatic role in Newark public schools than his response to a question about education at the U.S. Senate debate this week.

The Newark mayor looked into the camera and said: "Even though I have no formal authority over public education in Newark whatsoever . . ."

And then off he went on one of his favorite and most passionate topics: educational opportunity for all kids, with Newark helping to lead the way.

For a guy with no legal power over the schools, Booker has been a prominent force in Newark education reform, both for popular and unpopular reasons.

If nothing else, the mayor’s relationship to his public schools is indeed complicated. That bond is likely to come in for more scrutiny, the closer he gets to the special Senate election on Wednesday.

On the one hand, Booker is one of both the district's and charter schools’ biggest cheerleaders and fundraisers. He is credited for almost single-handedly attracting the $100 million gift from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg that has benefited both district and charter schools.

On the other, few would say that over the past seven years Booker has been actively involved in decision-making in the district, even when Gov. Chris Christie all but offered him the keys to the schools after the Zuckerberg gift -- even without the legal authority to do so.

Whether Booker should take credit for Newark’s progress or some responsibility for continued problems has been a big issue in the race against Republican candidate Steve Lonegan.

Lonegan is unabashedly critical of Booker on this score, pointing to struggling schools and a graduation rate that he pegged at less than 50 percent.

He was wrong on the district-wide count, which was in the high 60 percent range at last measure. But that’s little reason to celebrate, and in some high schools it is closer to 50 percent, according to state data.

“In Newark, one of the most expensive school districts in the United States of America, it has a drop out rate of over 50 percent,” Lonegan said at the Wednesday debate. “Seven years in a row, thousands of children will become part of poverty and crime without a high school degree.”

Going the half-full instead of half-empty route, Booker in the debate focused on what he called the positives in the city’s education system, especially the rise of charter schools. It’s a favorite cause for the mayor, a member of the founding board of a Newark charter school more than a decade ago and still one of the sector’s best fundraisers.

“Newark, New Jersey, has one of the highest performing charter school sectors in the country, because we brought together philanthropists from all over the country,” he said Wednesday.

That’s not to understate Booker’s role in the district schools as well. Few inside the district wanted to talk publicly yesterday, given the high stakes of the Senate election and a gubernatorial election right behind it.

But there was a consensus that Booker was integral in the selection of Cami Anderson as Christie’s choice for superintendent, going to bat for her in the selection process after she had worked with him as a policy director in one of his mayoral campaigns.

And the Zuckerberg gift was no doubt critical in the district’s landmark teachers contract, which includes the state’s first large-scale performance bonuses for exemplary teachers.

By the accounting of the Foundation for Newark’s Future, the Zuckerberg-funded organization, almost $50 million of its total $200 million planned endowment is committed to the contract.

None of those are necessarily popular decisions, by any means. Anderson still faces sometimes-hostile backlash to her reforms; the teachers contract isn’t an overwhelming hit with the union that signed it; and the Zuckerberg gift has plenty of critics.

A political ad by a PAC supporting Lonegan airing this week insisted that more of the Zuckerberg money went to consultants than to classrooms, with Booker’s blessing.

That's an arguable claim at best, given the sizable amount that went to the teachers contract. But it does reflect a continued cynicism -- in the district and outside of it -- over the high sums that have also gone to vendors for professional development and other support.

Nonetheless, others said that Booker at least helped set a new tone for education in the city as a whole.

“He brought an animated discussion about our schools, the future of education in the city, and the role of charters,” said Clement Price, a venerated Rutgers University history professor who once served on the school board and led the recent superintendent search. “He’s brought those issues to the fore, and those are all good things.”

“Has he fixed everything and been attentive enough to the rituals of the city and the district?” Price continued. “Maybe not, but he has drawn attention to the issues of public education.”

Press of Atlantic City - Seven local school districts win approval for the state's school choice program

By DIANE D'AMICO, Education Writer The Press of Atlantic City Posted: Thursday, October 10, 2013 2:30 am

Seven area school districts will join 27 new districts statewide that have been approved to accept students from outside their districts in 2014-15 as part of the school choice program.

Locally, those districts approved by the Department of Education include Atlantic City, Vineland, Pinelands Regional, Pennsville, Middle Township, Upper Township, and Wildwood Crest, which will join the 110 districts already accepting choice students. Districts have until Oct. 11 to confirm they will participate in the Interdistrict Public School Choice Program. All those contacted said they are excited and already planning open houses to recruit.

The addition of three more districts in Cape May County means a majority of districts there will be choice districts, reflecting shrinking school enrollment in the county and the effort by districts to generate revenue through the extra state aid that comes with choice students. Currently Cape May, Lower Township, Lower Cape May Regional, Ocean City, West Cape May, and Woodbine already accept choice students.

Middle Township Superintendent Michael Kopakowski said they applied to help boost enrollment, but also to allow Woodbine students to attend Middle Township High School. Woodbine students had attended Millville High School for decades, but in August the Department of Education allowed Woodbine to switch to Middle Township, starting with this year’s freshmen class of 14 students, so all choice seats can go to other students.

Middle Township was approved for 29 seats in grades 6 through 12. Kopakowski said they are trying to maintain programs, and the extra state aid and students will help.

Wildwood Crest school Principal Ann Maria Guevara said they hope to sell parents on the small size and excellent programs and curriculum that includes 80 minutes a day of science-related lessons, a full-time art and music teacher, and free instrumental music lessons. The school was allotted 11 slots, but five will go to students already paying tuition to attend the school, leaving six openings, three each in grades five and six.

The district had applied for 43 choice slots, and Guevara said they hope to keep adding more seats each year in the pre-K-8 district of about 250 students.

“I have a lot of seats I could fill,” she said.

Most districts were approved for fewer seats than requested. Atlantic City got 25 of the requested 100 slots for the high school, and Vineland got 53 of 100 requested slots.

Atlantic City’s 25 seats will be offered to freshmen interested in joining the school’s Navy JROTC program or the Fine and Performing Arts Academy program. Students in the arts program will be asked to meet the same requirements as district students, including an audition or portfolio review.

“We will be adding AP classes in the arts and music, and we have the TV production and radio programs,” Superintendent Donna Haye said. The JROTC program has 100 students, and they would like to double that number.

“We want to create robust programs,” Haye said.

Vineland is approved to accept students in grades 6 through 12, but will focus on grades 7 through 9 for a special science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM-themed program. Students in the middle school grades would attend Veterans Memorial School on Main Road, which has new science labs. The program will also be opened to students within the district, and there will be academic requirements.

“This will be for students really serious about the subjects,” Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Nathan Frey said. Plans call for students to earn college credits for some courses.

Pinelands Regional Superintendent Robert Blake said they hope to attract students with their smaller environment and smaller class sizes. He said the district has excellent AP and drama programs, and is expanding electives next year. The district was approved to accept 20 ninth-graders and 10 10th-graders next year.

“We have a wonderful school environment and we’re excited about sharing it,” Blake said.

Upper Township school officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The choice program has grown rapidly since expansion was approved in 2010 allowing any district to apply. Currently almost 4,600 students attend one of the 110 choice schools. Next year an estimated 5,500 students will attend a choice school. State school choice aid for those districts jumped from $16 million in 2012-13 to $49 million this school year.

All of the districts plan to hold open houses to explain their programs in the next few weeks. Parents will have until Dec. 2 to apply. There is no charge for students to attend. If more students apply than there are seats available, the district must use a lottery system to choose who will attend. First preference must be given to students attending a public school, but districts can then open choice seats to private school students.

Contact Diane D’Amico: 609-272-7241 DDamico@pressofac.com

The Record - Rutgers study compares racial divide in N.J. schools to 'apartheid'

Thursday October 10, 2013, 11:14 PM

BY  LESLIE BRODY

A new Rutgers University report on so-called apartheid schools in New Jersey says that 26 percent of black students and 13 percent of Latino students attend schools where 1 percent or fewer of the students are white.

The study argues that although New Jersey is a wealthy, mostly suburban state with a tradition of strong public schools, its black students face more extreme segregation than blacks in the South, where segregation was long mandated by law. It said another 21 percent of black students and 29 percent of Latino students in New Jersey attend “intensely” segregated schools where 10 percent of the students, or fewer, are white.

Most students in schools where the vast majority of students are black or Latino face poverty as well and grapple with enormous challenges in getting a decent education, a diploma and a seat in college.

The report is being released Friday by the Rutgers Institute on Education Law and Policy. One of its authors is Paul Tractenberg, the 75-year-old attorney who fought for decades in educational equity cases before the state Supreme Court.

“I was frankly blindsided once I started focusing on the categories of ‘intensely segregated’ and ‘apartheid’ schools,” said Tractenberg, a professor at the institute. “I find it extremely depressing that New Jersey has what I believe is the strongest state constitution requiring racial balance in the schools, and we have done pretty much zero with that.”

Tractenberg said he used the potentially inflammatory word “apartheid” to grab attention. One of his co-authors, Gary Orfield of the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, used the term in previous reports. “I’d rather people are angry than blasé,” Tractenberg added.

The report cited 191 so-called apartheid schools statewide in 2010-11, and said 79 percent of their students were poor. Passaic County had 24 of these schools, 12 of which were in Paterson.

Bergen County had one, Englewood on the Palisades Charter School. State data showed that 48 percent of its children were low-income and its academic performance was very high compared to schools with similar demographics.

The school’s board president, Travis Waller, called the school a “hidden gem.” He said he wished it were more diverse, but added, “My daughter is in third grade and she’s excelling, reading fourth- and fifth-grade books.”

The Rutgers report noted the “double segregation” of race and poverty. Research shows that children learn more in schools with better-prepared classmates, strong teachers and stability. Schools with concentrated poverty tend to have high turnover among students and faculty, less experienced teachers and a more limited curriculum, often taught at lower levels because of students’ weak preparation.

Titled “New Jersey’s Dysfunctional State Education System,” the report argued for a range of steps for integration: more mergers of districts, regional magnet schools, county vocational schools and policies allowing students to transfer to public schools outside their districts. The Christie administration has expanded interdistrict choice programs that give students options and help schools fill empty seats.

Tractenberg was a lead attorney in the landmark Abbott v. Burke case that led to a state Supreme Court mandate for New Jersey to help struggling urban districts provide a “thorough and efficient” education to all students. The state has poured billions of dollars in aid to bolster them and provide free preschool there. Some studies have found that investment in preschool is paying off with improved literacy in early grades. Even so, these districts report low test scores and grim graduation rates, such as 66 percent in Paterson last year.

Michael Brickman, national policy director at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank, said the report highlighted the need for school choice, including vouchers that help low-income students pay for private educations.

“Part of the solution to segregation has to be making sure every child has access to a great school,” he said.

Richard D. Kahlenberg, who studies integration at The Century Foundation, a left-leaning think tank, praised the report for noting that money was not enough to fix schools facing the complex problems of poor neighborhoods.

“On the one hand, New Jersey is at the forefront of equity because of the Abbott case,” he said. “More than any other state, it has poured enormous resources into high-poverty schools. But there is this huge issue of economic segregation that New Jersey has yet to address.”

The report cited successes in Montclair, where a successful magnet program is fostering diversity, and the consolidation of the urban Morristown schools with largely white, suburban Morris Township in 1973.

That merger came after a bitter court fight. The state Supreme Court ruled that district lines could be crossed if necessary to achieve racial balance in schools. Efforts to merge often provoke fierce protests.

James Harris, president of the New Jersey State Conference of the NAACP, said that “what’s missing in New Jersey is the will to fix the problem” of segregation.

Tractenberg didn’t minimize the challenge.

“I don’t say that now that we’ve got this data, people will fall all over themselves to do something about it,” he said. “But it seems so extreme, and to the extent that we write off black and Latino students, we’re writing off what will soon be a majority of students in the state.”

He argued that more integration would help white students as well.

“White kids growing up in isolation aren’t being prepared for the kind of world they will enter” as adults, he said. “There are kids growing up in white suburban New Jersey who have virtually no contact with anybody with a different skin color.”

Email: brody@northjersey.com Twitter: @lesliebrody

Star Ledger - Shaq, Christie announce after-school initiative in Camden

By Brent Johnson/The Star-Ledger The Star-Ledger on October 10, 2013 at 1:52 PM

CAMDEN — Shaquille O’Neal recalled today that his legendary basketball career truly began in a building right across the street from the Newark projects where he grew up: the local Boys & Girls Club.

The 15-time NBA all-star said his father held down two jobs and his mother also worked, so they instructed him to go there after school.

“That was a place where I was able to cultivate my dreams and create the character known as Shaq,” O’Neal told dozens of children at the Boys & Girls Club in Camden at a news conference with fellow Newark native Gov. Chris Christie this afternoon. “I walked into the gym and I said, ‘I could be better than Dr. J.’”

Shaq and Christie came to Camden to announce a statewide initiative called Just Play to give students in urban districts more options for after-school activities and avoid getting caught up in crime, drugs, or gangs.

Christie said the state is devoting a half million dollars in funding for the program. He named O’Neal — who retired from the NBA two years ago after 19 seasons — the initiative’s state ambassador.

The governor said the hours of 3 to 6 p.m. are the “most dangerous” for children, when they get out of school but their parents are still at work.

“These are the recruiting hours for gangs and for drug dealers,” Christie said. “The Boys & Girls Club offers hope. Not just protection, but hope.”

“If a child has a big enough dream, we should be able to give them the tools to achieve that dream,” he added.

Improving Camden — one of the poorest and most dangerous cities in America — has been a goal of Christie’s administration. In March, the governor announced the state was taking over the city's school district. In May, he introduced a new countywide police force for the city.

Shaq said the Newark of his youth wasn’t much different than the Camden of today.

“There were a lot of bad influences out there,” he said.

But the Boys & Girls Club gave him a sanctuary. The first thing he did when he arrived after school was to work on his homework. Then, he imagined a variety of futures.

“Some days, I wanted to play basketball, other days I wanted to be a rapper, other days I wanted to be a doctor,” Shaq said. “It all started here.”

Of course, the 7-foot-1 O’Neal ended up winning four NBA titles as one of the most dominant players in basketball for more than a decade.

“You have to keep in mind: It doesn’t matter where you’re from,” O’Neal, now 41, told the students today. “It just matters where you’re going.”

He urged the children to visit places like the club to speak with mentors and use the computers.

“I always tell my children: If I had Google when I was growing up, I would have been valedictorian,” O’Neal joked. “Learning is much easier now than it was for us. We used to have to go to a neighbor’s house to borrow this ugly, big, brown encyclopedia.”

The message hit home with 13-year-old Joel Babilonia.

“Seeing him and hearing him share his stories changes your mind,” Babilonia said. “It inspires you to set goals for the future.”

Christie came under fire in 2010 for cutting $10 million in state funding toward a popular after-school program for low-income children called New Jersey After 3 in an effort to close a budget gap. In 2011, Christie cut $3 million that Democrats tried to restore for the program, but the governor announced that it was saved through a partnership between private donors and the state Department of Education.

Christie, an avid sports fan, said he and Shaq have become friends over the last year. O’Neal even visited the Statehouse in Trenton in March.

“This is one of the things as governor that makes my kids think I’m cool,” the governor quipped today.

“I do think you’re cool,” Shaq said.

 


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