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10-31-13 Education and Related Issues in the News
NJ Spotlight - Pro-School Reform Group Noticeably Quiet in 2013 Election Campaign…Organization seen as counter-balance to NJEA has spent no cash on candidates, ads

Burlington County Times - R.V. institutes on-the-job learning for special needs students

NJ Spotlight - Pro-School Reform Group Noticeably Quiet in 2013 Election Campaign…Organization seen as counter-balance to NJEA has spent no cash on candidates, ads

John Mooney | October 31, 2013

 

Founded and funded by two hedge-fund giants, the Better Education for Kids (B4K) organization and all its offshoots appeared at their creation to be a pro-reform counterweight to the New Jersey Education Association.

But while the NJEA is going all-out with multi-million-dollar campaign contributions and election ads this fall, B4K’s political arm has so far mostly stayed out of the 2013 gubernatorial and legislative elections, despite some big school-reform issues on the table and a reform favorite on the ballot in Gov. Chris Christie.

Better Education for New Jersey Kids Inc., the organization’s PAC, has yet to report any spending at all leading up to the Nov. 5 election, according to the state Election Law Enforcement Commission.

It’s a noticeable absence for a group that boasted it would be a political powerhouse when it was launched in 2011 with a $1 million media campaign. It then played a role in several key legislative races that year and again in the Jersey City mayoral race this year.

B4K was initially funded by financiers and philanthropists David Tepper and Alan Fournier, both successful hedge-fund managers with deep pockets.

The NJEA, meanwhile, at last count had contributed more than $6 million and counting toward the November election, through both its state PAC and its super PAC, Garden State Forward.

Michael Lilley, the group’s executive director, would not comment yesterday on the role that the PAC is -- or isn’t -- playing in the election, saying the race was not over yet. But he did seek to discount the notion that the group’s aim was solely to match the NJEA’s muscle.

“We’re not here to go toe-to-toe with the NJEA,” he said. “We’re here to elect candidates to help enact beneficial reforms.”

Its absence from the races so far may be a matter of expedience, with Christie far ahead of Democratic challenger Barbara Buono in both polling and fundraising. Even what were once a half-dozen tight legislative races appear to be widening, as well, according to polls.

Meanwhile, many of the group's pet causes, led by teacher-tenure reform, appear to be progressing already under the current Democratic control of the Legislature. The group played an active role in the negotiations around the new tenure law, TEACHNJ.

Nonetheless, it is a big drop-off for the group, which did make a showing in a couple of legislative races in 2011 and again on behalf of Steve Fulop in his successful run for mayor in Jersey City this past May.

Giving more than $260,000 toward Fulop’s election effort, the group showed its close allegiance to the pro-reform former councilman, who had been instrumental in organizing parent and community activists in the city. Shelley Skinner, a close ally of Fulop in the city, is also director of Better Education Institute, a separate fund within the B4K organization.

“Steve has been a huge reformer on the education side for Jersey City,” Lilley said yesterday.

“With Steve as mayor, Marcia Lyles as superintendent, and real potential for the board, we are very excited about what is going on there,” he said.

 

The Times of Trenton - Opinion: N.J. voters are likely to be less prepared to choose new governor than 4 years ago… “Today’s political candidates campaign in a world in which news and information travels with unprecedented speed and arrives on smart phones that we carry in our pockets. But modern technology has not produced a more informed and educated electorate. In fact, when New Jersey voters go to the polls next Tuesday to choose a candidate for governor, they may be less prepared to make that decision than they were four years ago. Why?...”

Times of Trenton guest opinion column The Times, Trenton on October 31, 2013

By Richard A. Lee… Richard A. Lee teaches journalism at St. Bonaventure University. For more than 30 years, he worked in journalism, government and politics in New Jersey.

Today’s political candidates campaign in a world in which news and information travels with unprecedented speed and arrives on smart phones that we carry in our pockets.

But modern technology has not produced a more informed and educated electorate. In fact, when New Jersey voters go to the polls next Tuesday to choose a candidate for governor, they may be less prepared to make that decision than they were four years ago.

Why?

For starters, the size of newsroom staffs at news outlets covering the state has decreased through buyouts, layoffs and other cutbacks. At the same time, the growth of the internet has altered the manner in which news is gathered, reported and disseminated, placing new demands on depleted news staffs. Neither of these developments is unique to New Jersey, but our experience in the Garden State may provide a lesson for the rest of the nation. Because we are the most densely populated state in the country, public policy issues often emerge here first – and we are among the first to react and respond to them.

Last month, I completed a study of the media coverage of New Jersey’s 2005 and 2009 gubernatorial elections. The media landscape changed dramatically during this four-year period. Substantial reductions in personnel and resources weakened traditional news outlets, while the internet fostered new platforms for the delivery of news and information. In 2005, YouTube was in its infancy, the majority of people on Facebook were students, and Twitter did not yet exist. By 2009, all three were commonly used communication tools.

To learn how these developments affected news coverage in New Jersey, I analyzed the content of nearly 1,000 news reports from the two elections and interviewed 45 individuals involved in the campaigns – media consultants, political strategists, journalists, pundits and others.

The results of the research paint a bleak picture. With few exceptions, the interviewees agreed that the quality of coverage declined between the 2005 and 2009 gubernatorial elections – a pattern they expect will continue this year. In 2009, the coverage was shallower, with a greater focus on personalities than issues, leaving voters less informed on the public policy matters confronting the state and the candidate best qualified to address them.

The interviewees attributed the changes to the economy and the internet. Because of fiscal constraints, news staffs are smaller and less experienced, and the internet has placed increased demands on journalists. In addition to their normal writing and reporting responsibilities, journalists now need to tweet, blog and update stories throughout the day.

But if this year’s voters are indeed less informed and educated, the media are not entirely to blame. The citizenry also bears responsibility.

In many ways, the internet has made our lives more convenient, but it also requires that we work harder. For example, we make airline and hotel reservations ourselves, but we have to research prices, availability and other items that once were provided to us by travel agents and hotel call centers. There is a parallel in how we obtain news and information. All of the information we need no longer arrives on our doorstep in one convenient package every morning. Instead, it has become our responsibility to search through the vast array of information sources available today and pull out the facts we need to make informed, educated decisions.

We are indeed at a watershed moment for journalism and democracy. The new media landscape requires a greater commitment from citizens. Becoming an informed and educated voter in the 21st century is not a passive activity. We need to look beyond the traditional media for the information we need. When we search through the plethora of material available online, we must decide what is credible and what is not and what is valuable and what is not. Only then can we become educated citizens and fulfill our role in the democratic process.

 

Burlington County Times - R.V. institutes on-the-job learning for special needs students

By Rose Krebs Staff writer | Posted: Wednesday, October 30, 2013 5:35 pm

MOUNT HOLLY — Postgraduate special needs students at Rancocas Valley Regional High School are getting some hands-on experience in the workplace.

This year, the district has instituted a Structured Learning Experience program for postgraduates to get job experience as they transition into adulthood. Director Ron McIntosh explained that special needs students in the program are eligible for instruction until age 21 under state regulations.

Three years ago, the district started a functional-life- skills-integrated program aimed at keeping special needs students in the district. The program, which is operated at a former elementary school in Eastampton that is now called the R.V. Annex, includes skills education such as how to live on your own, finances and social development.

The annex has even been equipped with an apartment-like classroom so students can get real-life lessons. It also has a gym, greenhouse, workshop and other classrooms. The program is open to high school students and postgraduates who are classified as special needs, McIntosh said. It would cost the district between $34,500 and $43,500 annually to send a student out of the district, he said.

Students in the program have autism, brain injury, developmental challenges or disabilities. They have their own individual education plan that is set by the district using state standards.

“We’re thrilled to bring this responsibility to the whole child back into our district,” Superintendent/principal Gerard Jellig said. “We want to be accountable for their workforce preparation, better stewards of the public dollar, and frankly, we have the talent on our own faculty to avoid previous outsourcing.”

Currently, 23 students are integrated in the program, three of whom are postgraduates who have been getting on-the-job training since September. The students are not compensated.

Victor Snyder, 20, of Mount Holly, has been placed at the Charley’s Other Brother restaurant in Eastampton. For a few hours, five days a week, he buses and sets tables, cleans, and performs other tasks.

“The best thing is seeing the kids taking advantage of this experience,” McIntosh said. “It gives them a sense of purpose. They are excited, and it’s a morale booster.”

Snyder, who is autistic, said he is enjoying his first job, especially since it’s at a restaurant. He said his goal is to be a chef.

Phil DeMara, a retired educator from the Burlington County Special Services School District, is Snyder’s job coach. The students are assigned a coach to accompany them as they work. DeMara works for MissionOne of Cherry Hill, Camden County, an educational staffing service.

“I think it’s fantastic,” he said of R.V.’s Structured Learning Experience. “This is a classroom outside of the normal situation. It’s a hands-on experience. They’re on a job site learning skills they wouldn’t be in the classroom.”

DeMara said he views such programs as “the future of education” for special needs students.

“(The program is) making sure what we are doing is appropriate for what they will be facing when they get out of school,” he said. “This is a wonderful bridge into life, a good transition.”

Luke Horton, 20, of Mount Holly, has been placed at the Goodwill Industries store in Lumberton.

“Working here is helping me get organized,” Horton said.

The autistic man is quick to greet visitors. On Wednesday, he was organizing shoes, which he likened to “doing a puzzle.”

Horton’s goal when he started the job was to be named employee of the month, McIntosh said.

“I think it’s wonderful for the kids and good for the community to see the kids out there working,” said Dianne Fisher, who is one of Horton’s job coaches and also works for MissionOne.

Susan Saridakis, owner of Olive Creek Farms in Florence, said she is happy with the work being done by Eric Shine, another of the R.V. postgraduate students. She and her husband, George, have welcomed other special needs students into their business the past few years.

“I think it’s great on a couple of levels,” Saridakis said. “We are doing something good, and they get to get work experience and skills to put on their resume. It really helps them transition from school into the business world, and it gives us the opportunity to be mentors.”

McIntosh said that the response from the business community has been good and that R.V. hopes to expand the program in the future.


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



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