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3-11-13 Education Issues in the News
Philadelphia Inquirer- New teacher and principal evaluations pose a challenge for districts to implement

The Record editorial -The Record: Tenure reform

NJ Spotlight - Department of Education Posts List of Nearly 60 Reward Schools…Designation indicates overall high performance or marked progress on statewide exams (GSCS Note:List of Reward districts can be accessed via Members Only Portal, sidbar left on this homepage.)

Asbury Park Press Column - Christie Bravado has Quieted NJEA

Trenton Times - Guest Opinion: Why America demonizes its teachers

Philadelphia Inquirer- New teacher and principal evaluations pose a challenge for districts to implement

By David Levinsky Staff writer | Posted: Monday, March 11, 2013 5:50 am

New Jersey public schools will begin grading teachers and principals using a new evaluation system this fall, and educators received their first look last week at proposed regulations spelling out in greater detail exactly how they will be judged.

Questions such as how much weight would be given to standardized test scores and how teachers in subjects such as art and physical education would be graded were finally answered, but trepidation about the new evaluations remains, both among the educators who will be graded and the administrators assigned the task of implementing the reforms.

Critics such as the New Jersey Education Association — the state’s largest teachers union — question whether the state Department of Education is putting too much weight on test scores as well as whether it’s moving too fast toward implementing the complicated overhaul.

“This is not some academic exercise. This is the careers of real people at stake,” NJEA spokesman Steve Wollmer said Friday.

Teachers and administrators alike had been anxiously waiting for more details about the evaluations since Gov. Chris Christie signed a new tenure law that permits them to be evaluated, at least in part based on their students’ test scores and other measurements of achievement.

Under the administration’s proposed regulations, fourth- through eighth-grade English and math teachers will have their students’ scores on the state’s Assessment of Skills and Knowledge (ASK) test count toward 35 percent of their evaluation. Another 15 percent will be based on one or two variable measurements, called student growth objectives, that teachers would establish with their supervisors. The remaining 50 percent is to be based on classroom observations.

For teachers in other grades or in subjects without standardized tests, such as social studies, art and gym, teachers will be evaluated based on 85 percent classroom observation and 15 percent student growth objectives.

The latter group constitutes about 80 percent of all teachers across the state, according to the Department of Education.

Principals, vice principals and assistant principals will have half their evaluations based on student achievement and the other half based on observation and on-the-job performance.

Teachers and principals will be rated yearly as highly effective, effective, partially effective or ineffective.

New educators will have to earn ratings of highly effective and effective during two of their first four years in order to obtain tenure.

Tenured educators will be in danger of losing the protection if they receive an ineffective rating for two consecutive years.

State Department of Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf said the new system is intended to help educators improve along with their students.

“We are committed to developing an educator evaluation system that honors our educators’ achievements and ensures that they have the tools they need to continuously improve and help all of our students succeed,” Cerf said.

And although the tenure overhaul law was passed with the NJEA’s support, Wollmer said the regulations proposed by the administration rely too much on test data.

“It’ll lead to more and more testing,” he said. “If parents think there’s too much testing and teaching to the test now, just you wait.”

Hainesport music teacher Cheryl Roth Kopf, who is also president of the district’s teachers union, said the state should make the 2013-14 school year a trial year for the new evaluations rather than have them count toward teachers’ records.

“I don’t think it’s fair for teachers to be judged on a new evaluation system that hasn’t been adequately tested,” Roth Kopf said. “School districts should implement it next year, but

it should be a trial year where we look at it and make sure it’s running properly. People shouldn’t face losing their jobs based on something the entire state is doing for the very first time.”

Willingboro Superintendent Ronald Taylor and other Burlington County superintendents said their districts have already devoted hundreds of hours to researching evaluation models and training administrators and staff about the new system.

Pemberton Township was one of several school districts selected by the Department of Education to serve as a pilot to develop and test both the teacher and principal evaluation metrics.

Michael Gorman, the district’s superintendent, said it was rewarding to see that the regulations proposed by the state reflected some of the district’s input. But he said the process of testing and devising the system was still ongoing.

“It’s a journey and an adventure. We’re learning as we go along,” Gorman said. “It’s putting a lot of focus on the classroom again, and that’s rewarding.”

Willingboro’s Taylor estimated that the new evaluations would triple administrators’ workloads and cost the district at least $100,000 on training.

He said that the overall goal of improving student achievement was worth the investment, but that there’s plenty left to do before fall.

“We will be ready, but it’s a heavy lift for everyone,” Taylor said. “The reality is that time is not our friend now. There’s a lot to do.”

The Record editorial -The Record: Tenure reform

WHEN LEGISLATION was passed and signed last summer reforming teacher tenure in New Jersey, both Democrats and Republicans hailed the move as a landmark achievement. Even the New Jersey Education Association was on board, having temporarily put aside its antipathy to the Christie administration.

Political posturing notwithstanding, tenure reform was a major accomplishment. It will now take teachers four years to receive tenure, instead of three. More significantly, teachers could lose tenure if they are given poor evaluations in two consecutive years. Previously, tenure granted teachers virtually lifelong job protection regardless of performance.

Seven months later, some of the good feeling in the education community has faded. Both the teachers union and the state association of school administrators cried foul this week when the state Education Department proposed guidelines to help put tenure reform in action. Some said the administration was moving too quickly.

That’s a common complaint whenever a new program is initiated, but after the law was signed last August, the administration had no other option but to implement it. Plans are for the state’s revamped tenure program to take effect with the 2013-14 school year, which would be more than a year after it became law. That’s not an unreasonably fast pace.

The most substantive criticism of the regulations was originally raised when the law was being debated — the emphasis placed on student achievement on standardized state tests in regard to evaluating teachers. The teachers union long has contended that students’ abilities and backgrounds vary so much that using test data to evaluate teachers is unfair.

The union has a point, but the guidelines, which are subject to six public hearings around the state over the next few weeks, take that view into consideration. State tests aren’t even an issue for some teachers who work in subjects that are not tested. For teachers whose students take state tests, the guidelines say that 35 percent of their evaluations would be based on test results. In all cases, 15 percent of a teacher’s evaluation would be based on student achievement goals set by principals and teachers.

Educators may have legitimate differences with standardized tests, but they’re still valuable in tracking student achievement in comparison with their peers. Student performance definitely should be part of an evaluation model for teachers.

The bulk of a teacher’s evaluation will be based on classroom observation. By using both the hard data provided by test results and the subjective judgment of an evaluator, the state is striving to create a balanced method to assess teacher performance. An absolutely perfect system would be impossible, but this is a reasonable way to begin. If the evaluation system proves inadequate, it can be changed.

For decades in Trenton, teacher tenure reform was one of those issues on which there was a lot of talk, but no action. That changed with last year’s bipartisan agreement. Rather than reflexively criticize the regulations before they’re even adopted, the educational community would do better to work with the administration to make sure they’re effective.

NJ Spotlight - Department of Education Posts List of Nearly 60 Reward Schools…Designation indicates overall high performance or marked progress on statewide exams


By John Mooney, March 11, 2013 in Education

More than 50 public schools have been singled out by the Christie administration as "Reward Schools" -- thanks to their students high overall performance or progress on state tests.

Related Links

The state Department of Education posted the list of 57 schools last week, with the greatest number coming from Essex and Bergen counties, at 10 each. Virtually all of the Monmouth County vocational district’s magnet schools also made the cut.

The Reward Schools come out of the state’s accountability system approved two years ago.

Schools that have low achievement levels or wide gaps in achievement are also tagged -- as "Priority" or "Focus" schools. Those distinctions are made every three years.

The Reward Schools listed annually. are an annual list, going this year to schools that in the 2011-2012 state tests either showed high achievement levels overall or the greatest progress as indicated by the state’s new system of “student growth percentiles” (SGP).

The number of Reward Schools listed this year is half of last year’s 112 schools, largely due to the fact that schools now required to meet specific achievement targets.

Just nine schools were highlighted as “high growth” for reaching the progress targets, with the remaining 48 on the list as “high performing” based on overall achievement.

Not surprisingly, the vast majority of the highest performers were either in higher-income communities or magnet schools that select their students through an application process. Fourteen of the total were county magnet schools run out of their vocational districts.

But several of those distinguished for high growth were from more affluent communities, including Millburn, Closter, Mendham and Bernards.

Just one charter school made the list, the Robert Treat Academy Charter School in Newark, for the second year.

Beyond pride of place, Reward Schools don't earn much of a reward, although those receiving federal Title I funds can potentially receive financial rewards under the state’s system.

The department's website lists the specific criteria for each category:

·         High performing: Schools in which proficiency levels for every category of students is in the top 10 percent of the state and overall proficiency rate is greater than 90 percent (95 percent for high schools). The overall graduation rate for high schools must also be greater than 90 percent.

·         High growth: Schools that have shown high levels of growth over three years. Specifically, schools must show a median SGP of 65 or higher, meaning the typical student exceeds the progress of at least 65 percent of comparable students statewide.


Asbury Park Press Column - Christie Bravado has Quieted NJEA

By John Schoonejongen March 10 2013

Over the years, it seems, people have learned that playing the game Gov. Chris Christie’s way only works for the governor himself.

The brash pushing, the outright insults and big-man-on-the-block swagger are Christie’s tools. Others pick them up and try to use them at their own peril.

One of the last to learn that lesson was the New Jersey Education Association. After two years of wild spending in an effort to ding Christie with critical television ads and even beachfront banner planes, the union’s spending on lobbying has slowed to a dribble, down to $94,932 in 2012 from nearly $10.9 million in 2011, according to the state Election Law Enforcement Commission.

Long accustomed to getting its own way with New Jersey’s political leaders, the state’s largest teachers union found that things had changed when the new governor came to Trenton.

The union to which no one said “no” suddenly found itself not only not sweeping the table whenever an issue came up that concerned it, but also getting backed into a corner and slapped like a schoolyard snitch.

So the deep-pocketed union and its vitriolic leadership fought back with the biggest hammer it had — money. In 2010, the NJEA spent more than $6.6 million on communications, according to ELEC. Much of it was spent specifically to take Christie to task for his repeated calls for education reform.

This was new. In 2009, an election year, the union spent only $41,983 on communications, ELEC documents show.

Christie played his part in this war, too. He called for a one-year freeze in salary increases for teachers to aid with local budget woes brought on by a dearth of school aid. He told a teacher who complained to him about her lack of compensation that she didn’t have to teach.

The frenzied buzzing from educators grew until Christie’s memorable tangle with a teacher named Marie Corfield, who confronted the governor at a town hall meeting about his rhetoric toward educators and his fiscal policy.

“New Jersey has some of the best schools in the country, and this administration has done nothing but lambaste us and tell us what horrible schools we have,” Corfield said.

Christie replied that any lambasting from him was directed squarely at the union leaders for resisting his calls for a pay freeze.

The confrontation should have been a sign for the NJEA. As Christie answered Corfield, telling her that private-sector workers were struggling while teacher raises were still going through, the room applauded.

The peculiar genius of Christie is his ability to phrase his criticism of his opponents in often harsh terms while not leaving himself open for return fire. Because of that, the NJEA’s spending blitz seemed to many like overkill and an unwarranted attack on a man who was just trying to right the listing ship of state.

From the inside, it must have been infuriating. Union officials were being called out as entrenched power brokers unconcerned with the impact their policies had on working people (a 180 from how unions are traditionally described). Yet, whenever they tried to fight back, the tsk-tsking from a public fed up with relentlessly increasing taxes was deafening.

It’s difficult to say what benefit the NJEA got from its $17 million investment over the past two years.

It certainly didn’t solidify opposition to the governor’s initiatives. The resulting policy changes from Christie’s education push — tenure reform chief among them — were accomplished with Democrats in the Legislature, the NJEA’s longtime allies.

Christie remains highly popular. A Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press poll released last month shows the governor with a 70 percent approval rating.

Remarkably, 60 percent of public workers, the natural partners of the NJEA, approve of Christie as well. Some of that approval can be attributed to a post-Sandy bump, but not all of it.

In an election year, the governor appears to be cruising right now. Obviously, things can change, and the NJEA may still play a significant role in 2013. It’s doubtful, however, that role will involve as much money or vinegar.

John Schoonejongen is state editor for New Jersey Press Media. jschoonejongen@njpressmedia.com

Trenton Times - Opinion: Why America demonizes its teachers

By Times of Trenton guest opinion columnThe Times, Trenton
on March 11, 2013 at 6:21 AM, updated March 11, 2013 at 6:22 AM

By Frank Breslin

Evaluating teachers on their students’ performance has elicited much public comment of late. In essence, this view assumes that if students aren’t learning, the fault lies squarely with their teachers. Well, perhaps. But not necessarily. While the logic of this view seems compelling at first, a moment’s reflection shows that it ignores several factors over which teachers have no control.

These factors include: the home life of children; the social dislocations of our time; America’s Gospel of Instant Gratification; commercial TV; school sports; the restlessness of American society and its ingrained anti-intellectualism and ambivalence toward knowledge; youth’s distrust of the adult world and the school; youth culture and its rejection of tradition; the Millennial Generation and its outlook on life; technology’s negative impact on learning; Facebook; the eclipse of reading, and our youth’s literal-mindedness, lack of intellectual curiosity, inability to ask significant questions and disinclination to cultivate a critical mind. These are far more relevant factors that affect student learning, and an article could be written on each of them.

The issue of teacher responsibility for student learning must be placed within the broader context of what has been happening in American society for more than a generation outside the classroom. Only in this way will the discussion of the crisis within public education become more realistic, and honest, in confronting what has been occurring for decades, and why singling out teachers distorts the true nature of both the problem and its solution.

When there are too few teachers in a school, and those few are overwhelmed by large classes and find they have no time to provide individualized attention for students — many of whom come to school deeply troubled and alienated with all sorts of problems having nothing whatsoever to do with the school — is it any wonder that students find it hard to learn?

The emotional, familial and social problems of too many inner-city students are often so deeply embedded and, in many cases, treatable only by professional help, that the paltry resources of the school cannot even begin to address them. As if that weren’t enough, insult is added to injury when cash-strapped schools are then routinely accused of academically “failing their students,” when they should rather be praised for courageously carrying on in the face of such impossible odds.

But what makes matters worse is that these same schools are now set up for additional failure by being denied vitally needed funding now diverted to charter schools as part of a cleverly devised right-wing strategy of privatizing public education across the country to reward political cronies and contributors.

Rather than blaming these schools for “failing” their children, consider the war zone within which many of these schools are located: decaying neighborhoods, virtual armed camps where students must live amidst gang wars, homicides, drugs, alcoholism, unemployment, poverty, despair and hopelessness. These youngsters are defeated even before they arrive at school!

More to the point, consider the historical reasons that caused this blight: decades-old neglect that simply wrote off the inner cities to die on the vine, as state and federal funding were diverted to facilitating “white flight” to the suburbs. Blaming the “failure of schools,” as suggested by the film “Waiting for Superman,” is a willful distortion of the facts.

That sentimentalized polemic against America’s public schools is a barefaced lie that conceals the real reason for the “failure” of these schools: the deep and ingrained class and racial divisions in our nation’s history. How much easier to wax moralistic and blame the schools as the villains, the helpless victims of this enduring legacy of generations of social injustice. Much better to blame the schools, the victims of racist policies, rather than the policies themselves — or even to change them!

But what politician would dare take this on? That would mean real leadership and reform, not the crowd-pleasing pseudo-reform quick fix of demonizing teachers, blaming them for the responsibility that government abdicated decades ago. Instead of hectoring teachers to do more and more with less and less, genuine reform will only begin when government redirects its resources to address our educational infrastructure at home rather than adventures abroad. But, then again, it’s always more profitable to Haliburtonize the world than our inner cities!

Until that happens, talk of reform will be dismissed by teachers as empty, self-serving political bombast, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing but sound bites designed for the six o’clock news, launching pads for those who aspire to higher political office, even the White House.

Those who sit at the Table of the Mighty in this country have always known the answer to these seemingly intractable problems. What is wanting is simply the political will.

Until those in power dare to show true leadership by helping the poor rather than protecting the rich, until they use the power of their office to effect real change rather than scapegoating teachers and schools that are working against hopeless odds to do the impossible, rather than waiting for Superman, we’ll be waiting for Godot.

Frank Breslin is a high-school teacher with 40 years of experience. He has taught Latin and social studies and currently teaches English and German.


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