|12-2 and 3-12 Education Issues in the News|
Star Ledger - N.J. charter school study shows success, but need for close monitoring: Editorial
NJ Spotlight - Hoping for a Strong Comeback, Governor's Schools Prep for 2013…Two prestigious academic summer camps start to recruit top high school juniors
NJ Spotlight -Fine Print: Newark’s Race to the Top Application…Ambitious and expensive, the proposal from the state's largest district wants almost $30 million to put "personalized learning" in the schools
Star Ledger - N.J. charter school study shows success, but need for close monitoring: Editorial
By Star-Ledger Editorial BoardThe Star-Ledger
The latest study on charter schools shows promising results, especially in Newark.
It’s further evidence that New Jersey’s on the right track: Charter school growth should be encouraged, but also closely policed.
The study was done by the same group of Stanford University researchers who in 2009 found that nationally, charter schools were not outperforming district schools. But when they looked at New Jersey, it was quite the opposite.
They compared students in just more than half of the state’s 86 charters with their peers in traditional public schools who shared similar demographics. Overall, the charter school students made bigger learning gains.
Newark’s charters particularly stood out. They showed some of the highest achievement gains in the country, almost twice that of their peers in traditional public schools — roughly the equivalent of an additional seven to nine months in school each year.
That’s a great indication, but not a slam-dunk. Because there’s also evidence of mediocrity here: Charters in cities such as Camden, Jersey City, Trenton and Paterson did not outperform traditional schools. That underscores the need to vigorously weed out bad charters.
We must be very careful whom we allow the privilege of running a school. State Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf deserves credit on that point: He’s emphasized a cautious expansion of charters, favoring those with a proven track record, such as Newark’s highly successful TEAM Schools — which also aggressively recruit the neediest students.
So far, Cerf has closed or put on probation more than 10 percent of the state’s charter schools. He’s also been stricter about selection of charters, doubling the size of the state’s charter office, and making sure its staff is better trained and vetted by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, the gold standard in this field.
He’s also required all charters to sign “performance frameworks” that spell out criteria for staying open. They’re evaluated not just on academic performance, but also their efforts to recruit and retain the most difficult students.
Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson is helping on that front, as well, by offering unused district space to charters on the condition that they take their fair share of the lowest-performing students.
Even though this new study matches students of similar demographics, critics say, the overall populations of charter and district schools still differ. Charters may have fewer students in special education, for example, or the deepest pockets of poverty. That creates a different school environment.
But these researchers didn’t cherry-pick schools: They used all charters for which data were available from the state Department of Education. Some charters might not have been in existence long enough to have consecutive test scores, they said. But none was deliberately excluded.
And above all, what their findings tell us is that Cerf’s got the right criteria in mind: What matters most isn’t how a school originated. Judge it based on its quality, and its willingness to take all students.
Six years after tough budget cuts sent its summer programs reeling and ultimately shuttered, a slimmed-down Governor’s School is preparing to continue its comeback next summer, with hopes it can regain at least some of its former glory in the years ahead.
Nomination forms went out last week to New Jersey high schools for the two Governor’s Schools that will be back next summer: the School of Engineering and Technology at Rutgers-New Brunswick and the School in the Sciences at Drew University.
First launched 30 years ago, the schools are month-long academic summer camps hosted on college campuses for select high-school juniors.
Each high school nominates up to three students, depending on enrollment, with 80 students to be selected for each program.
That’s a far cry from the six schools serving more than 600 students up until 2007, when former Gov. Jon Corzine cut funding by $1 million and left their future in doubt.
The programs were saved in the short term by an unprecedented private fundraising campaign led by Corzine and former Gov. Tom Kean. But from a high of 625 students, the schools were closed one by one, with none operating in 2011.
Last summer, the two remaining programs reopened with major funding from corporate sponsors, serving 80 students each and lasting three weeks. Under Gov. Chris Christie, the state contributed a total of $100,000 for both programs, and it is expected to do so again for next year.
The Governor's Schools are now operating out of the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education. The program's board of overseers -- appointed by Christie and almost completely replaced this past May -- said the current structure has reached some stability. The board hopes it can start bringing back at least some of the other schools in 2014.
“We are in so much better shape than we were a few years ago,” said Laura Overdeck, the board’s vice chairman and a Governor’s School alumna who was a key benefactor following the budget cuts.
She said the program for the arts and one for environmental studies, previously held at the College of New Jersey and Stockton College, respectively, were the likeliest to be brought back due to the expected interest of corporate and nonprofit sponsors.
“I think we can do that now,” Overdeck said of reopening at least some programs. “We can start having that conversation.”
The arts school at TCNJ -- along with the science school at Drew -- was one of the first Governor’s Schools when the program was launched in 1983 under Kean. The very first was the school of public policy at Monmouth University, but Overdeck said it may be more difficult to attract sponsors for it.
Higher Education Secretary Rochelle Hendricks, the board’s chairman, has called the survival of the Governor’s Schools a priority, and she praised the progress that has taken place in the past few years.
“We intend this year to continue to raise awareness of this important program and to attract more non-traditional students,” she said in an email.
“We are pleased that Gov. Christie reinvigorated the program this year by appointing a new board to guide the schools, and we look forward to continued enhancement and possible expansion of the program in the future.”
The deadline for schools to submit their selections is January 11, with students to be notified of admission in April.
What it is: Newark is one of two finalists from New Jersey for the latest federal Race to the Top competition, this one for individual districts. A consortium led by Neptune Township is the other New Jersey finalist, out of 61 nationwide.
What it means: The 460-page application seeks $29.96 million out of the $400 million federal pot, proposing a range of projects around the competition’s focus on “personalized learning.” It has a big dose of technology, seeking to bring “blended learning” models to at least a dozen schools that will rely heavily on online instruction. It is big on data, too; one of the key emphases is infusing student learning data into all facets of teaching and instruction. And its third big strand is social-emotional support, helping students with nonacademic skills vital to learning.
Charter schools: Sure to generate some heat in this city, the proposal also includes collaborations with Newark's strong charter school community. Among them: annual symposiums for sharing ideas and best practices, combined training between district and charter school teachers and leaders, and quarterly parent workshops, to educate them "about school quality issues and emerging practices.”
Outside partners: Also sure to stir some controversy, much of the plan will rely on partnerships with outside organizations. For instance, the application said the largest piece of the data component will go to an outside consultant to lead the assessments, analysis, and training for teachers. It doesn’t name names of any of these partnerships, saying they will all go to public bid.
Strand 1 -- Data and teaching: The linchpin for the project and already a centerpiece of Superintendent Cami Anderson’s vision for the district, the proposal calls for a heavy use of student learning data to help guide and adjust instruction. Over the course of the four-year grant, virtually all of the elementary and middle schools will have new student assessments aligned with the Common Core State Standards and coaching strategies for teachers attached to them. The largest cost will be the outside partner to develop the assessments and support, estimated to be nearly $7 million of the $8.4 million total for this strand over four years.
Strand 2 -- Social-emotional support: The proposal calls for students to have “individual learning plans” that will help them reach college and career readiness. But it is the least developed section of the plan, with the tools yet to be determined and the first year of the grant largely devoted to research and development, the application said. There are also plans for a “student engagement and school climate survey” and several other projects. The total price tag for this strand is $5.2 million over four years.
Strand 3 -- Blended learning pilot: Among the more tangible -- and most expensive -- results if the district wins the grant will be the launch of a pilot in nearly a dozen elementary schools and high schools using “blended learning” models that mix face-to-face instruction with online tools. For the elementary schools, it will start in grades three to five and move up a grade a year. The high school program will focus on at-risk ninth graders who are reading below proficiency levels.
Not small stuff: If successful, the blended learning could grow to include as much as a third of the district’s schools. “We believe that the target we have set for 20-25 schools to adopt one of the blended learning models by the end of the grant is ambitious yet achievable,” the application reads.
Not cheap, either: Overall, the cost of this third strand -- including hardware, software, and other technology infrastructure -- as well as extensive staffing -- is nearly $14 million, or close to half of the overall proposal over four years.
Taken together: . . . these three strands of work amount to a compelling platform for systemic change: building school by school, grade by grade, to transform student learning district-wide. Our ultimate goal at Newark Public Schools is for students to graduate high school with a mastery of the academic, social, and emotional skills they need to succeed in college and life.”
Outside reaction: The district has yet to actually release the full proposal. (NJ Spotlight obtained a copy from other sources.) But it plans to release it this week, and discuss it in greater detail. It did already hold meetings with various stakeholder groups to lay out the broad parameters of the plan. A half-dozen of those groups and individuals wrote letters of support, including Mayor Cory Booker, the Newark Teachers Union, the Newark Advisory Board, and the Newark Municipal Council. Several key foundations and other community groups also endorsed the plan, including the Prudential Foundation, Foundation for Newark’s Future, and Newark Charter School Fund.
Next steps: The U.S. Department of Education has said it will pick up to 20 grant winners by the end of this month.
Garden State Coalition of Schools