10-7-13 Education and Related Issues in the News
NJ Spotlight - Dozen Applications Put NJ Schools in the Running for ‘Race to the Top’ Grants…Two charter networks among those seeking up to $30 million in federal funds

Star Ledger Editorial - The Newark teachers union's $30 million snit: Editorial

Press of Atlantic City - New laws on testing for Dyslexia launch, without clear rules

Star Ledger - Christie promotes education policies at Orthodox Union breakfast in Teaneck

The Record - Christie calls for school vouchers at Orthodox Jewish gathering in Teaneck

NJ Spotlight - Dozen Applications Put NJ Schools in the Running for ‘Race to the Top’ Grants…Two charter networks among those seeking up to $30 million in federal funds


John Mooney | October 7, 2013


While applications submitted by Newark and Paterson public schools got the headlines, another 10 New Jersey applications were also filed for federal Race to the Top funds, including two from charter operators.

The 12 applications filed by Thursday’s deadline sought federal grants ranging from $5 million to $30 million to bolster “personalized learning,” with a big emphasis on technological improvements.

Newark and Paterson were the two largest school districts to apply this year. In each case, however, the teachers unions in those state-operated districts refused to support the proposals, all but disqualifying the applications since the rules require union support.

With less attention -- and apparently with support from their teachers -- 10 other applications were submitted statewide, including large and small districts, urban and suburban.

One application was submitted by four Monmouth County districts that were finalists last year, missing out in reviewers’ scorecards by just seven points on a scale to 210.

The consortium is led by Neptune Township schools, and includes Belmar, Bradley Beach and Neptune City. They are seeking a total of $15 million to help build out new technology and for tracking of students through what it is calling “digital portfolios.”

“We took last year’s application and the judge’s scorecard, and attacked it from there,” said David Mooij, the Neptune superintendent.

Mooij said they took out some pieces that the districts started last year despite losing the grant, and added in some new initiatives, like an “early college” program for high school students to get college credits through Brookdale Community College.

‘We feel really encouraged this time,” Mooij said.

Two of New Jersey’s applications are from charter schools, including one organization – the Mastery charter network -- that has yet to open a school in the state.

The Philadelphia-based organization has state approval to open a school in Camden but yet to do so due to challenges in finding suitable facilities. State officials said Friday that since the grants are distributed over a span of four years, the money would be available when and if the Mastery charter ever opens in Camden.

The other charter applicant is more recognizable: the TEAM Academy charter network, which has become the state’s largest.

Now in Newark and expanding into Camden starting next year, TEAM is seeking $10 million to build out a data-tracking system that will help it provide students and families more comprehensive information about where their school performance is taking them in terms of college opportunities.

“Now we can set personalized goals for every single kid, and not just academic but also character ones and in the activities they’re involved in,” said Ryan Hill, executive director of TEAM Schools.

“It goes into great, great depth so our kids know as early as kindergarten what track they are on,” he said. “The idea is to give students and families a real clarity to what their options are.”

Here’s the complete list of New Jersey applicants for Race to the Top education grants:

·         Bergenfield/Cliffside Park

·         Brick

·         East Orange

·         Elizabeth

·         Hamilton Township

·         Hammonton

·         Mastery Charter School (Camden)

·         Neptune consortium

·         Newark

·         Paterson

·         Randolph

·         TEAM Academy

Star Ledger Editorial - The Newark teachers union's $30 million snit: Editorial

 By Star-Ledger Editorial Board The Star-Ledger on Sunday, October 06, 2013 at 5:59 AM

Believe it or not, Newark in all likelihood just lost a chance at $30 million for its schools over what amounts to a temper tantrum. Joseph Del Grosso, head of the local teachers union, hotheadedly refused to add his signature to the district’s application for coveted federal education grants last week, which by rule disqualifies Newark.

He’s given a number of reasons for this. First, Del Grosso said he would not sign because the application didn’t request funding for literacy programs. When the district pointed out that it did, he said his refusal to sign was because he wasn’t asked for his input on the final version until just two days before the deadline.

Then he went on to rail against the entire Race to the Top application, saying it was "riddled with pork" and that he "didn’t see one concrete thing in there showing money that would be spent well."

But Del Grosso did sign off on last year’s application, which was quite similar. The district says it was the union that canceled repeated meetings, which he denies. Regardless: Even if Del Grosso didn’t like certain items in this year’s application, or the district didn’t do enough to engage him this time, is it really worth throwing away Newark’s big shot at $30 million?

The backdrop here is that Del Grosso is involved in a serious fight with Superintendent Cami Anderson over the implementation of the teachers’ new contract. So fine, battle it out with Anderson. But don’t sabotage Newark’s chance at millions of dollars in funding for its schools.

The application isn’t valid without approval from the local teachers union. This is money for new laptops, modernized classrooms and teacher training. Yet Del Grosso seems bewildered by all the fuss.

"Out of all 600 school districts in New Jersey, 31 applied," he said Friday, after the deadline had come and gone. "Why is it such a big deal?"

Because it’s $30 million, that’s why. Newark applied last year but was eliminated in the final round. The entire state missed out in 2010 because the Christie administration submitted incorrect information on the application, costing New Jersey $400 million

Now, thanks to Del Grosso’s foot stomping, Newark kids got cheated all over again.

Press of Atlantic City - New laws on testing for Dyslexia launch, without clear rules

By DIANE D'AMICO, Education Writer | Posted: Sunday, October 6, 2013 10:45 pm

New laws to get more help for children with reading disabilities have taken effect, but parents may see few changes in their child's school this year.

School district officials are waiting for the state Department of Education to provide regulations and guidelines for how to implement the new laws. A bill that would require all children be tested for potential reading disorders did not pass the Assembly and is being revised.

Advocates for children with disabilities said districts could start meeting the law's requirements now. But some said parents might still struggle to get a proper diagnosis and services for their children.

"School districts don't have to wait for the state," said Liz Barnes, of Plumsted Township, a parent and founder of Decoding Dyslexia in New Jersey. She said that because October is Dyslexia Awareness Month, there is a lot of information online.

The new laws, approved this summer, require teachers to get two hours of training each year in dyslexia and other reading disorders, and require the state to provide such training. The department must also add the International Dyslexia Association's definition of dyslexia into state education regulations so students with that language-processing disorder can get access to programs most likely to be effective in teaching them to read.

A third bill that would require all children be tested by the end of first grade is still in the Legislature and will likely be revised.

State Department of Education spokesman Richard Vespucci said the department was gathering input from stakeholders, including local school leaders, to determine who is best to help them implement the new law, but there is no specific timetable to provide that guidance.

There has been some progress in the teacher training. Patricia Weeks, executive director of the Southern Regional Institute at Richard Stockton College in Galloway Township, said the institute was developing programs that would meet the training requirement and hoped to have them ready by late fall and available throughout the school year. She said a number of districts in South Jersey had contacted the institute about training.

But others question whether the training alone will make a difference without core changes in how schools test and serve children with reading disorders.

"The advocacy has been very strong in terms of shining a bright light on dyslexia and kids not getting services," said Peggy Kinsell, director of public policy for the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network, or SPAN. "But I am not sure (the laws) are going to be a big change agent and what parents are actually going to get from this. It could open the door and get students better access to services, but we just don't know."

Special-education and reading-disabilities consultant Howard Margolis, of Voorhees, said state special-education code already requires that children get the services they need, but some districts just don't do a good job in providing them. He is concerned that the new laws could lead to more extensive and expensive testing of students, making districts even more likely to avoid diagnosing a child as dyslexic.

"I agree children are falling through the cracks," he said. "I'm just afraid this will have unintended consequences."

He said teachers did need more and better training in reading instruction and special education so they could differentiate between children who might just be a little behind from children who have an actual language-processing disorder and must be taught differently. One child might catch up using a program such as Reading Recovery, while that might not be enough for a child with severe dyslexia.

"No program works with every child," Margolis said, agreeing it would be like giving every person diagnosed with cancer the same exact treatment.

"You have to try different approaches," he said. "And then you graph the child's progress. You don't just leave them stagnating in the same program for a year."

One hurdle still remaining is the required testing. The longer students go without being identified, the more difficult it is for them to make up that lost time. The original recommendation from a state task force on reading disabilities was to test all children by the end of kindergarten.

School districts balked at the potential cost, and that bill stalled in the Assembly. A Senate bill passed that would give districts until the end of first grade to test, but a compromise is still being developed that would require approval from both houses.

Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, said one proposal would expand the testing period from mid-kindergarten to the middle of second grade, and only require it of students who are showing some signs of a problem.

But advocates said schools were already supposed to be testing those students and still too many fall through the cracks.

"My concern is that all kids are not being identified," said Ronee Groff, of Egg Harbor Township, a learning-disabilities consultant and former member of the Atlantic County Special Services School District Board of Education.

Van Drew said enforcement would be key. He said he hoped to bring a compromise bill to the Legislature before the end of the year.

Beth Ravelli, the Ocean City mother whose decade-long fight to get services for her daughter, Samantha, led to the new laws, said she understood the need for compromise in light of testing costs. She just wants to be sure no child is overlooked.

"I don't want to take another year to do this, or need another task force," she said. She said she did ask the Ocean City School District if she could now have her daughter formally identified as having dyslexia, and they said yes. But Samantha is already in high school and getting the help she needs to be successful, so the change would be largely symbolic.

An unedited excerpt of a documentary about the Ravellis has been posted by filmmaker Matthew Badger on his Facebook page for the Lily Sarah Grace Fund, a nonprofit organization devoted to supporting the arts in education.

"I still tell people, you have to get answers yourself, you can't rely on the district or the state," Ravelli said. "But we are not going to let up on the pressure to get the bill passed and enforced."

Contact Diane D'Amico:




•Require the state Department of Education to provide professional-development opportunities related to reading disabilities; require teachers to annually complete two hours of professional development related to reading disabilities.

•Direct the state Board of Education to incorporate the International Dyslexia Association's definition of dyslexia into special-education regulations.

•A joint resolution urges the state Board of Education to develop an endorsement to the certificate for teachers of students with reading disabilities to include dyslexia.

STILL PENDING: A bill requiring all students be tested for a reading disability by the end of first grade.


Star Ledger - Christie promotes education policies at Orthodox Union breakfast in Teaneck

by Jenna Portnoy  Email the author | Follow on Twitter on October 06, 2013 at 2:48 PM TEANECK — A month before the election, Gov. Chris Christie today launched a blistering attack on lawmakers representing urban districts and the state’s largest teachers union for helping to create dysfunctional public schools that he called “failure factories.”

The Republican governor said there are solutions. He favors vouchers, expanding charter schools and extending state dollars for special education to Jewish day schools. He made the comments at Congregation Keter Torah in Teaneck during a breakfast sponsored by the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, the lobbying arm of a national group representing Orthodox Jewish synagogues.

“If you care about the issue of educational choice,” Christie said, “you all better figure out where everybody who’s on the ballot in November stands on this issue. And don’t let them give you the who-ha about, ‘Well I love public education. I don’t want any dollar taken away from public education.'

“I would be happy to take as many dollars as possible away from failure factories that send children on a no-stop route to prison and to failed dreams, if we could take that money and put it into a place where those families have hope," he said. 

Christie addresses Orthodox Jewish community in TeaneckGovernor Chris Christie attends an annual breakfast meeting of more than 500 members from the Orthodox Union where he talked about the failures of New Jersey's education system. The event was held at the Congregation Keter Torah.

Without mentioning her name, Christie said his Democratic challenger, state Sen. Barbara Buono is OK with having 200 out of 2,200 New Jersey schools qualify as failing. (Christie’s campaign said he was referring to statement Buono made in 2011 when she said she didn't think 200 was a "bad percentage.")

“You actually have people seeking high office in this state who say that having 200 schools that are failing in New Jersey is acceptable,” he said.

Buono’s campaign struck back with a dig against Christie, who has turned down invitations to visit the decaying Trenton Central High School building, where Buono spoke on Thursday.

"Governor Christie's comments would be laughable if they weren't patently false,” spokesman David Turner said. “In his first year in office, he cut school funding by $1 billion and New Jersey's students are still dealing with the consequences. Moreover, the governor's refusal to visit Trenton High School's crumbling campus speaks volumes about his lack of commitment to education.”

During his 30-minute speech, in a reference to the New Jersey Education Association, Christie said he’s withstood more than $20 million in television ads targeting his record. He went on to blame “adults entrenched in the system” who enjoy “higher benefits, higher salaries and lifetime pensions.”

Noting the many state lawmakers in the audience, Christie said: “The next 30 days defines what they really care about. Politicians are easy, everybody, we want to win… I don’t care if you’re Republican, Democrat, independent, I don’t care if you’re a Communist, the goal is to win and be in authority so you can govern.”

In addition to the governor, all seats in the state Legislature will be on the Nov. 5 ballot.

U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell said he opposes vouchers, what he called “universal choice,” but supported charter school education before it was popular.

“I personally believe that the NJEA believes in good education for everybody,” Pascrell said in an interview after Christie’s speech, “and the NJEA has changed over that last 20 years, but that’s something they’re not going to back off of, directing public dollars to what some would like to have as a private institution. They don’t believe in that and I don’t believe in that.”

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) said not many people in her district would benefit from the Opportunity Scholarship Act, a voucher program proposed by the Christie administration to give students in low-performing districts up to $10,000 for private school tuition. Though she supports the charter school concept, she said they don’t all work in practice.

“We heard today very upbeat, positive remarks on how great charter schools are. We also have failing charter schools. We also have charter schools that do not have oversight so we need to look at comprehensive public school education, including charter schools," Huttle said, adding: “I think there was a lot of political rhetoric in his speech this morning."

The Orthodox Union is nonpartisan.

The cover of the group’s national brochure features a picture of President Obama next to one of House Minority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and inside there is a photo of Christie arm in arm with Josh Pruzansky, the organization’s New Jersey director, at the Western Wall during Christie’s trip to Israel last year.

Before Christie’s speech, the Orthodox Union gave Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) and Huttle an award for sponsoring a bill that would extend special education credits to Jewish day schools. The bill awaits a vote in the full Legislature.




The Record - Christie calls for school vouchers at Orthodox Jewish gathering in Teaneck

Sunday, October 6, 2013     BY  KATHLEEN LYNN STAFF WRITER


. TEANECKGovernor Christie made a pitch Sunday for school vouchers — which he tried unsuccessfully to get through the Legislature — to an Orthodox Jewish group concerned about the cost of private religious schools.

Speaking at the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center’s second annual legislative breakfast in Teaneck, Christie didn’t specifically focus on religious education, but said the state has 200 failing schools — which he called “failure factories” — and argued that children in those districts deserve the chance for a better education.

More than 500 people turned out to hear Christie, who is running for reelection in November against Democratic state Sen. Barbara Buono.

The Orthodox advocacy group is trying to get public aid for families struggling with the cost of religious schools. Affording a Jewish education is “the No. 1 kitchen-table issue in our community,” Josh Pruzansky, regional director of Orthodox Union Advocacy, said Sunday before introducing Christie at Congregation Keter Torah.

The group also honored state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck, and Assemblywoman Valerie Vaineri Huttle, D-Englewood, for their support of a bill that would allow public funds to be used for part of the education of special-needs students in religious schools. The Orthodox advocacy group has also sought tax credits or other aid for families who pay tuition at religious schools. Pruzansky said in an interview last week that annual tuition at New Jersey Jewish day schools averages around $16,000 for elementary students and $20,000 for high school students.

Although Christie’s speech Sunday didn’t specifically mention religious education, he supports the Opportunity Scholarship Act, which would give vouchers to students in seven districts, including two — Passaic and Lakewood — with significant numbers of students who attend Jewish day schools. The voucher idea, however, hasn’t gone anywhere; Democrats refused to include $2 million in the state budget this year for a pilot voucher program. The proposal has been opposed by the N.J. Education Association, which says it would drain money from public schools, as well as advocates for the separation of church and state. Buono has also opposed it.

Christie criticized opponents of vouchers Sunday, and recalled how his own parents had moved from Newark to Livingston when he was a child to get access to better public schools.

“In every other area, we believe that competition creates excellence,” Christie said Sunday. “I would be happy to take as many dollars as possible from the failure factories, if we could take that money and put it into a place where those families have hope.”

Also Sunday, Christie was endorsed by River Edge Mayor Sandy Moscaritolo, the 18th Democratic mayor to back Christie’s reelection, according to the Christie campaign. Moscaritolo praised Christie for his work to reform to the state’s pension and health benefits systems, as well as enact a 2 percent cap on municipal property taxes.

Email: lynn@northjersey.com