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2-18-13 Education Issues in the News
Star Ledger - New school report cards will provide more data, compare schools

NJ Spotlight - For NJ Early Education Advocates, State of the Union Carries Hopeful Message…President's call for universal preschool for needy children resonates with state's Abbott v. Burke school equity funding

Star Ledger - New school report cards will provide more data, compare schools

By Jeanette Rundquist/The Star-LedgerThe Star-Ledger
on February 17, 2013 at 6:38 AM, updated February 17, 2013 at 6:40 AM


TRENTON — New school report cards coming soon from the state Department of Education will give districts and parents more of a window on their schools' performance, detailing the percentage of students who get college-ready scores on the SAT; the number of middle schoolers who pass algebra I; and the percentage of kids who are chronically absent.

Additionally, the cards will place each of the state's roughly 2,400 schools in a "peer group" with 29 others with similar demographics — allowing officials and others to see how their school stacks up with others across the state.

"The idea is a really fundamental belief that continuous improvement is part and parcel of every school district's responsibility every day," said Bari Erlichson, state chief performance officer. "This will illuminate strengths, and when schools are not performing (as well as) their peers, it will lead to local conversation about what to do next."

The state for years has issued school report cards with information such as standardized test scores, student enrollment and spending data. But the new cards, which the state expects to release within the month, provide more.

The reports will include high school graduation rates and the percentage of graduates who enroll in secondary education. They will track the percentage of high school students who scored 1,550 or above, out of 2,400, on the SAT test. That is the score that the College Board determines means students are ready for college and the work world, Erlichson said.

The report cards will also show the percentage of middle school students who earn a "C" or better in Algebra 1 classes. Erlichson said research shows that is an earlier gauge of whether children are prepared for college.

The report cards will also show whether schools are reaching target goals under the state's No Child Left Behind waiver. New Jersey was one of a number of states granted a waiver from the federal law's requirements, in exchange for agreeing to a specific set of accountability measures.

"The level of usefulness for educators is really extraordinary," said Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf.

But at least one facet may have some local school officials on edge.

The old report cards permitted comparison between school districts, allowing them to see how their test scores compare with the state's and with their "District Factor Group," or towns with similar socio-economic status. The new "peer groups" will go further, placing each school in a group of 30, based on factors such as income levels and percentage of limited-English-speaking kids. Each school will get the list of schools in their group, and be able to access their information.

Lynne Strickland, executive director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, which represents about 100 New Jersey districts, anticipated some "apprehension" among educators about the changes.

"They want to see how their district and their students look," she said. "It could be helpful to improve student performance, but they need to wrap their heads around it."

At least one school superintendent said he welcomed the change, however.

Verona Superintendent Steve Forte said he regularly compares his district with others to see how Verona stacks up in areas such as test scores, spending and taxes. He said matching schools with their peers will allow more accurate comparisons.

"Sometimes schools within a district aren't really comparable, you can have diversity within a town. Anything that pinpoints this a little better is good," he said. "It just gives you a gauge of where you are."

NJ Spotlight - For NJ Early Education Advocates, State of the Union Carries Hopeful Message…President's call for universal preschool for needy children resonates with state's Abbott v. Burke school equity funding


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By John Mooney, February 15, 2013 in Education|4 Comments

When President Obama in his State of the Union address called for universal quality preschool for children of need, his proposal wasn’t too far from what New Jersey has been trying for a decade.

Related Links

National Institute for Early Education Research

Assembly Bill A-2927 (Full-Day Kindergarten)

The state’s Abbott v. Burke school equity rulings -- despite continuing controversy -- specify two years of preschool with certified teachers, small class sizes, and other quality standards in the state’s most impoverished cities.

This year, more than 45,200 three- and four-year olds were served by the state-funded program in 31 districts, including Newark, Paterson, and Camden -- as well as four others receiving full funding under an expansion of the program launched in 2008.

Partial funding went to another 110 districts, covering an additional 7,400 four-year olds with at least half-day programs, the state said.

“Certainly our standards would make us eligible for what the president is proposing,” said Steve Barnett, director of the http://nieer.org/National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University.

And if federal money is forthcoming, Barnett said it would be especially fitting for New Jersey, given that its efforts to expand beyond the Abbott districts have slowed, if not stopped, since 2009 due to budget constraints.

“It’s not entirely clear what they are proposing yet, but New Jersey would fit the bill, especially since we have basically stalled since the recession,” Barnett said.

Obama’s call clearly emboldened early education advocates in New Jersey and nationwide, with his pledge for federal assistance of as much as $10 billion a year toward not only preschool but also full-day kindergarten.

The state currently only requires half-day kindergarten; fewer than 360 of 511 districts provide full-day kindergarten. The rest are either half-day programs or a combination of half- and full-day classes, some due to budget constraints, others due to space and scheduling limitations.

State Assemblywoman Connie Wagner (D-Bergen) is primary sponsor of a pending bill to require full-day kindergarten statewide, and she said yesterday that Obama’s call couldn’t have come at a better time.

“We have to have universal access for all students to full-time kindergarten, regardless of ZIP code,” Wagner said. “I know saying it and putting in place for next year is unrealistic, but we have to develop a plan.”

Wagner said it may not come down as a mandate, but she believes that there needs to be at least strong financial incentives, including the possibility of federal money.

“What people don’t realize is that it is many middle-class towns that don’t have [full-day kindergarten],” she said. “Once people realize the need and that we don’t have full-day kindergarten for everybody, I think there will be a lot of support for that.”

The Christie administration didn't have much to say about Obama’s proposal, beyond putting out the most recent data on enrollment and funding. But state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf has repeatedly said that preschool remains one of the state’s most effective investments.

Gov. Chris Christie himself hasn’t always been so sympathetic, but he has maintained funding in his past two budgets, while appropriating $591 million this year, the administration said. His budget for next year will come at the end of the month.

David Sciarra of the Education Law Center, the advocacy group that led the Abbott litigation, said Obama’s echo of New Jersey’s standards should serve as a “proud moment” for the state. But he concurred that it will take both state and federal resources to reach all low-income students.

Barnett said the state was indeed once a national leader under Abbott, although others have started to catch up and surpass it.

“We don’t compare nearly as well as we did five years ago,” he said. “Others have passed us by. Iowa went from below us to twice as many in preschool.”

NJSpotlight (http://s.tt/1zOI5)


Garden State Coalition of Schools
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