3-20-13 Education in the News
Star Ledger - Study: Preschoolers in poorest districts made 'significant gains' through 4th and 5th grades “…Seizing on the latest report, officials from Advocates for Children of New Jersey and the Newark-based Education Law Center have called for the state to expand preschool — and officials from the Education Law Center said they will ask the Legislature on Wednesday to add more preschool funding to the state budget…”

NJ Spotlight -Report Demonstrates Continuing Value of Preschool for New Jersey's Poorest Kids…Seven-year study puts pre-K students as much as three-quarters of academic year ahead of classmates “…“We are energized by these findings and are grateful to the educators that work tirelessly for these results,” Cerf said in a statement. ”We are committed to continuing to share successful practices from these programs with educators across the state to help all children receive high-quality early learning opportunities…”

The Record - N.J. teens fight odds, skeptics to serve on school boards

Star Ledger - Study: Preschoolers in poorest districts made 'significant gains' through 4th and 5th grades “…Seizing on the latest report, officials from Advocates for Children of New Jersey and the Newark-based Education Law Center have called for the state to expand preschool — and officials from the Education Law Center said they will ask the Legislature on Wednesday to add more preschool funding to the state budget…”

By Jeanette Rundquist/The Star-LedgerThe Star-Ledger on March 20, 2013

 

Preschoolers who attended state-funded pre-K classes in New Jersey's former Abbott districts made "significant gains" in literacy, language, math and science through fourth and fifth grade, a new study has found.

The findings have prompted a call for expanding preschool to more needy students.

The report on New Jersey's Abbott Preschool Program is the latest in a series that has tracked the same kids over time. An earlier report showed children from the Abbott preschools performed better in kindergarten and second grade than kids from Abbott districts who did not attend preschool.

The studies, conducted by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University, followed children who started preschool in 2004-05. The latest study reported on 754 children in 15 low-income districts, including Newark, Camden and New Brunswick.

"We have found solid long-term academic gains for children who participated in the Abbott Preschool Program, further evidence that New Jersey is a leader in providing high-quality pre-K," said W. Steven Barnett, the NIEER director and co-author of the study. He also cautioned that "we can't afford to backslide on pre-K now."

Seizing on the latest report, officials from Advocates for Children of New Jersey and the Newark-based Education Law Center have called for the state to expand preschool — and officials from the Education Law Center said they will ask the Legislature on Wednesday to add more preschool funding to the state budget.

Law Center Executive Director David Sciarra said that while about 43,000 3- and 4-year-olds attend full-day preschool in the former Abbott districts — the state's poorest — about 39,000 more children around the state are entitled to preschool under the 2008 School Funding Reform Act.

Some of those children live in towns with high concentrations of poverty, and some are at-risk kids residing in wealthier communities, he said.

"It (full implemention of preschool) was supposed to be phased in over a five-year period. It's still on the books, but the Legislature has yet to put any money toward it," Sciarra said.

Fully implementing preschool would cost more than $350 million; Sciarra wants to start by asking the Legislature to reallocate $5 million from a proposed education "innovation fund."

Gov. Chris Christie's proposed budget includes $648.1 million for preschool next year, up $14.4 million from the current year.

Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf said he was "energized" by the findings in the latest study.

"We are committed to continuing to share successful practices from these programs with educators across the state to help all children receive high-quality early learning opportunities,” he said.

The Abbott Preschool Program Longitudinal Effects Study, or APPLES, found gains in all test subjects with larger gains for children who spent two years in preschool.

For example, among fourth-graders, the study found Abbot pre-K kids gained 9 points on standardized math tests and 5 points on language arts tests. Preschool also helped close the achievement gap between minority and nonminority students, the researchers found.

The study also found fewer Abbott preschoolers were behind grade level or needed to be placed in special education.

Veronica Ray, chief executive officer of The Leaguers preschools in Newark, Elizabeth and several other cities, said she's seen preschool pay off for kids. The Leaguers preschools are funded both by federal Head Start dollars and Abbott .

Ray said graduates of her preschools — and their parents — often come back to tell about their successes.

"We have children leaving here reading, recognizing their names, addresses and phone numbers. When they leave our program they're ready," she said. "The gains these children are making follow them through."

A full copy of the report can be found at http://nieer.org/sites/nieer/files/APPLES%205th%20Grade.pdf

 

NJ Spotlight -Report Demonstrates Continuing Value of Preschool for New Jersey's Poorest Kids…Seven-year study puts pre-K students as much as three-quarters of academic year ahead of classmates “…“We are energized by these findings and are grateful to the educators that work tirelessly for these results,” Cerf said in a statement. ”We are committed to continuing to share successful practices from these programs with educators across the state to help all children receive high-quality early learning opportunities…”

 

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By John Mooney, March 20, 2013 in Education

One of the common questions raised about preschool is, “Do the benefits really last?”

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According to a report to be released today, the answer is in the affirmative for New Jersey’s state-funded program. By the time they reached the fourth or fifth grade, kids who attended pre-K in the state’s poorest cities were on average three-quarters of an academic year ahead of their peers who didn’t.

The study -- from the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers -- started tracking 1,000 preschool students in 15 of New Jersey’s poorest districts in 2005. These children were among the first beneficiaries of the Abbott v. Burke school equity rulings that mandated preschool.

Seven years later, researchers found that these kids -- or at least the 700 they could still identify -- had made significant academic gains, following up on similar findings when they were in second grade.

They were also significantly less likely to either be held back a grade or routed to special education services, according to the study, the Abbott Preschool Program Longitudinal Effects Study (APPLES).

The preschool program ordered by the courts and now funded by the state is among the most rigorous in the nation. It specifies two years of full-day classes, certified teachers, and research-based curriculum. Class size is limited to 15.

“It is a big cost, but I think you can say the taxpayers are getting their money back,” said Steve Barnett, executive director of NIEER and one of the chief researchers, who will be presenting the report in Washington, D.C., today.

State Education Commissioner Chris Cerf yesterday said he was heartened by the results, and he hoped to spread the best practices to other districts. The state Department of Education provided the data for the report, although it did not pay for the research.

“We are energized by these findings and are grateful to the educators that work tirelessly for these results,” Cerf said in a statement. ”We are committed to continuing to share successful practices from these programs with educators across the state to help all children receive high-quality early learning opportunities.”

The state Supreme Court’s mandate for two years of quality preschool has long been held out as the single biggest success story of the Abbott rulings.

In 2008, then-Gov. Jon Corzine and the Legislature passed an expansion of the mandate to apply the same standards -- and funding -- to all districts serving low-income students.

That expansion has since been stalled by the state’s financial strains. But preschool in the Abbott districts has continued to grow and be the beneficiary of increased funding.

This year, close to 45,000 students are being served under the mandate.

Gov. Chris Christie has proposed an additional $14.4 million in state support for preschool in the Abbott districts and a handful of others next year, according to the administration. The would bring the total to $648 million, its largest funding yet.

The new report should further bolster the case for the program, with Barnett saying that the New Jersey results are better than practically anywhere else, including national studies that looked at the long-term benefit of preschool.

The tracking is modeled on a national longitudinal study completed in 2010 that found at least some “fadeout” of preschool benefits as children get older.

“If you look at Texas or Georgia, they are looking at small fractions of our effects by third grade or fourth grade,” Barnett said. “It kind of makes sense, as [New Jersey’s] program is more expensive and more extensive than anywhere else. Nobody else has class sizes of 15.”

And he said it should make the case for renewing its expansion efforts as well. “Will [the administration] say that as resources come back, we need to implement this? Because it is clearly an effective program,” Barnett said.

In addition, the researchers said they found nearly double the benefits of two years of preschool compared with one, even seven years later.

“The magnitude of the test-score gains from one year are equivalent to 10 percent to 20 percent of the achievement gap between minority and white students,” reads the report.

“The gains from two years are equivalent to 20 percent to 40 percent of the achievement gap,” the study said.

“Today’s findings continue to prove the long-term value of high-quality preschool,” said Cecilia Zalkind, the executive eirector of Advocates for Children of New Jersey. “It provides further proof of why it must be available to all 3- and 4-year-olds, especially those in low-income families.”

 

The Record - N.J. teens fight odds, skeptics to serve on school boards

Dylan O’Byrne isn’t old enough to grab a beer after work. He has Lego dragons and a dead scorpion in his bedroom in Wood-Ridge. But at 18, he wants to help spend his town’s tax money by hiring great teachers and setting the agenda for its schools.

Dylan O'Byrne, 18, a Wood-Ridge High School student, is among seven candidates running for a seat on the town's school board.

O’Byrne joins a tiny, ambitious cadre of teenagers who have run for school boards statewide. Some have won, promising to bring fresh ideas and an insider’s knowledge of students’ needs. While some faced skepticism for their lack of experience or stake in property tax changes, several have stuck with this mission over the long haul, rising to the top ranks of state and national school board associations.

In New Jersey, school board candidates must be at least 18. Less than 1 percent of board members are younger than 25, with about 2 percent under 35, according to a January survey by the New Jersey School Boards Association. Most of the roughly 4,750 members are 45 to 64 years old; many have the perspective that comes from having children, jobs and mortgages.

Some teenage contenders say they want to give back to a school system they loved. Some see the post as a springboard into politics. They tout their savvy with technology and social networking as a major asset in discussions about 21st-century skills and cybersafety.

“Boards get a lot of feedback from parents and superintendents who are 20, 30 or 40 years removed from the classroom,” said Kevin Ciak, who joined the Sayreville board at 19 and now, at 38, volunteers as a director for the National School Boards Association.

Ciak believes boards benefit from hearing directly from young people. Early in his tenure, for example, he persuaded his board to drop plans to cancel all clubs that were not tied directly to the curriculum, arguing that they were vital to keeping teenagers engaged.

O’Byrne, a lanky senior with close-cropped hair, has a jam­packed platform for the April 16 election, when four other challengers and two incumbents will compete for two seats on the Wood-Ridge Board of Education. He says he wants to upgrade the district’s science labs (“they’re not even labs, they’re desks with faucets”), stop the “outrageous” turnover among administrators, keep the budget low, and steer the board away from its frequent debates about whether to require uniforms.

“I can’t believe they focus so much on something that has so little to do with education,” O’Byrne said. As president of the student body and an Eagle Scout, he said he wants to bolster school spirit and test scores. For the record, he’s against uniforms.

“Students need individuality,” he said. “They don’t need to be suppressed any more than they already are.”

O’Byrne said he limited his college search to New Jersey schools so he would be within easy commuting distance in case he wins a seat on the school board.

Christopher Garvin, an attorney competing for a Wood-Ridge seat, is running on his experience in legal accounting as well as teaching law at Bergen Community College. He laughed when asked about the youth of O’Byrne, who happens to be in his son’s class.

“If he meets the criteria, all the luck to him,” Garvin said. “We need our young adults to want to get involved.”

Others in the race could not be reached for comment.

O’Byrne is not the only young contender seeking a perch on a New Jersey school board this spring. Stephanie Rivera, a Rutgers University junior, is running for the board in New Brunswick. Like O’Byrne, Rivera is harnessing the enormous power of Facebook to gain exposure and encourage friends to register to vote.

That strategy helped Matthew Conlon, a 21-year-old real estate agent who was elected to the West Milford school board at 19. He had thousands of Facebook friends and created a campaign page on the social networking site.

“Anybody I could reach out to my age and older in my community, I asked them to like the page and join the group, and I kept the updates going,” Conlon said. He won 2,227 votes, beating each of five opponents by more than 1,000.

Some critics argue that someone who doesn’t own a home cannot appreciate the pain of property taxes. Conlon countered that his parents owned a home, so he understood the school budget’s impact. Even so, an opposing slate spread a political cartoon depicting him as an infant cowboy from the state of “Tax-us.” He was portrayed in diapers.

Jerry Cantrell, president of the Common Sense Institute of New Jersey, which lobbies for reining in government spending, said board members of all backgrounds must heed their oath of fiduciary responsibility.

“I would hope they would have consideration and concern for taxpayers and not just fleecing the taxpayer in the process of making their decisions,” said Cantrell, a former school board president in Randolph.

People who joined school boards as teenagers said they matured quickly in the role.

“A lot of people my age are quick to react to things,” Conlon said. “I had to learn to bite my tongue and listen rather than be heard. Choosing my words a lot more carefully and picking my battles are all good life lessons that will help me immensely, professionally and privately. But you have to have a thick skin.”

The post required more work than they had expected. Some juggled full college course loads and demanding jobs on top of their board duties.

Keith Rosso, who joined the Saddle Brook board at 18, recalled working until 4 a.m. to finalize a contract for custodians. More recently, he has spent five to 10 hours a week on school duties as his board grappled with a new budget proposal and interviewed applicants for the superintendent’s job.

Although he said he found it satisfying, Rosso announced this week he had to step down. Now 24, he is moving to Houston for a real estate job. He dismissed the idea that teenage or 20-something board members might be more prone to resigning as their school and work lives evolved.

“Anybody that has a career, if an opportunity comes up, would probably accept it,” Rosso said.

Several young board members advised others to remember that collaboration with their colleagues is key, but don’t be a doormat.

“Try hard, make your views known and don’t back down,” said Joseph Toth, a 21-year-old who joined Saddle Brook’s board at 18. Now a senior at William Paterson University, he is a student teacher at Paramus High School and supervises the tutoring center at Bergen Community College.

“If you believe in something, stand firm,” Toth said. “Don’t let the other board members intimidate you just because they’re older.”

Staff Writer Abbott Koloff contributed to this article. Email: brody@northjersey.com. Twitter @lesliebrody

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