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3-31-13 Education Issues in the News
Star Ledger - Newark school board candidates change tone on charter schools

Star Ledger - Former Newark schools chief indicted in Georgia cheating scandal

Star Ledger - Newark school board candidates change tone on charter schools

By David Giambusso/The Star-Ledger The Star-Ledger
on March 31, 2013 at 7:05 AM, updated March 31, 2013 at 7:06 AM

NEWARK — As Newark’s school advisory board candidates hash out their positions in the run-up to the April 16 election, a change in tone has emerged from a slate once known for its opposition to charter schools.

“We should stop the street fighting between charter schools and public schools,” said candidate and interim board member Ariagna Perello. “If a


charter school works, guess what? Let’s share best practices.”

Perello, who assumed the seat vacated by Shanique Speight last year, is running on the Children First ticket, a three-candidate slate backed by a coalition of city leaders that, in the past, has been wary of charter schools.

This time around, though, Children First is acknowledging a need for the presence of charter schools, which are funded through the school budget but operate outside of the strictures of traditional district schools.

“The Children First team supports quality education for all children,” said Children First candidate Rashon Hasan. “The debate that we have about charter schools vs. public schools as adults is so selfish.”

In fact, the co-location of charter schools with district schools within the same building, an issue that caused so much outcry when it was introduced by Superintendent Cami Anderson last year, even got reluctant good reviews from one candidate.

“A good example of co-location succeeding here in Newark is SPARK Academy (a charter school) and George Washington Carver (a district school),” said Children First candidate Khalil Sabu Rashidi, an educator at University Hospital.

The more conciliatory tone comes at an auspicious time for the Children First candidates.

With Mayor Cory Booker and power broker Stephen Adubato Sr. staying out of the race, the Children First ticket — backed by South Ward Councilman and mayoral candidate Ras Baraka — is poised to do well.

Baraka said the acceptance of charters does not come without reservations.

“The real issue is the proliferation of charters in our district in an effort to decentralize and destabilize our school system while creating a two-tier system of schools,” Baraka said by e-mail, but added, “We need to combat this false division between Newark parents who clearly want the same things for their children.”

There are three open seats in next month’s election. Shavar Jeffries, who is likely to run for mayor, is not seeking re-election. Despite being Baraka’s potential opponent in 2014, he is also backing the Children First ticket.

Board member Ivan LaMourt is also not seeking re-election. Perello will be running to fill the seat she occupies now on an interim basis.

The candidates spoke last week at a forum hosted by the Newark Trust for Education — a nonprofit coalition of community members tracking developments in Newark schools.
Not everyone was convinced of charter school viability.

“To say that there has been even a modicum of success from the state’s decision to implement charter schools into our community is more than a falsehood,” candidate Sheila Montague said.

All candidates agree on one issue: local control.

“The city did a bad job” running the schools, said candidate Gerrell Elliot, but “the state’s doing a worse job.”

Since 1995, the state has run the Newark school district. As the candidates laid out their platforms, the school board itself was voting down the school’s budget Thursday night.

But as board member and former chairwoman Eliana Pintor Marin pointed out, despite the historic nature of the budget rejection it would likely have little impact since the board has no authority.

“My belief is they’re probably going to force Newark to submit a budget even without us approving,” she said.

Candidate Philip Seelinger was not present at Thursday’s forum.



Star Ledger - Former Newark schools chief indicted in Georgia cheating scandal

By The Associated Press The Associated Press
on March 29, 2013 at 6:25 PM, updated March 29, 2013 at 11:34 PM

ATLANTA — The former superintendent of the Newark, N.J., public school district and nearly three dozen administrators, teachers, principals and other educators from Atlanta were indicted today in one of the nation’s largest cheating scandals.

Former Atlanta Superintendent Beverly Hall faces charges including racketeering, false statements and theft. She retired just days before a state probe was released in 2011, and has previously denied the allegations. The indictment represents the first criminal charges in the investigation.

Before she was hired by Atlanta in 1999, Hall served as superintendent of the Newark public school system for four years — tapped by Trenton to run the district after it came under state control.

A former New York City deputy school chancellor, Hall had been recruited to rescue the Newark school system, where test scores had reached an all-time low and widespread corruption and mismanagement led to the state takeover.

But in the wake of her departure, state officials found Newark’s school finances were a mess, with the district in the red for nearly $58 million, while investigators turned up questionable accounting practices and spending far in excess of budgeted funds.

The previous state investigation in 2011 found cheating by nearly 180 educators in 44 Atlanta schools. Educators gave answers to students or changed answers on tests after they were turned in, investigators said. Teachers who tried to report it faced retaliation, creating a culture of "fear and intimidation" in the district.

The cheating came to light after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that some scores were statistically improbable.

The criminal investigation lasted 21 months and the allegations date back to 2005. In addition to Hall, 34 people were indicted, including four high-level administrators, six principals and 14 teachers.

During a news conference today, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard provided examples of two students who demonstrated "the plight of many children" in the Atlanta school system. He described one girl, a third-grader, who failed a benchmark exam and received the worst score in her reading class in 2006. The girl was held back, yet when she took a separate assessment test not long after, she passed with flying colors.

Howard said the girl’s mother, Justina Collins, knew something was awry, but was told by school officials that the child simply was a good test-taker. The girl is now in ninth grade, reading at a fifth-grade level.

"I have a 15-year-old now who is behind in achieving her goal of becoming what she wants to be when she graduates. It’s been hard trying to help her catch up," Collins said.

Howard would not directly answer a question about whether Hall led the conspiracy. He did say, however, "what we’re saying is that without her, this conspiracy could not have taken place. ... It would not have taken place if her actions had not made that possible."

Most of the 178 educators named in the special investigators’ report in 2011 resigned, retired, did not have their contracts renewed or appealed their dismissals and lost. Twenty-one educators have been reinstated and three await hearings to appeal their dismissals, said Atlanta Public Schools spokesman Stephen Alford.

The tests were the key measure the state used to determine whether it met the federal No Child Left Behind law. Schools with good test scores get extra federal dollars to spend in the classroom or on teacher bonuses.

Georgia last year was granted a waiver from the federal law, which allowed schools to count a host of measures in addition to standardized tests.

State schools Superintendent John Barge said last year he believes the state’s new accountability system will remove the pressure to cheat on standardized tests because it won’t be the sole way the state determines student growth. The pressure was part of what some educators in Atlanta Public Schools blamed for their cheating.

Alford, the schools spokesman, said the district was moving on from the scandal.

"This is a legal matter between the individuals implicated and the Fulton County District Attorney’s office, and we will allow the legal process to take its course," he said before the indictment was announced. "Our focus is on providing a quality education to all of our students and supporting the 6,000 employees who come to work each day and make sound decisions about educating our students."

The Georgia Professional Standards Commission is responsible for licensing teachers and has been going through the complaints against teachers, said commission executive secretary Kelly Henson.

The commission considers cases as they are released from the district attorney’s office. By Wednesday, they had received all but 26, Henson said.

It’s common for educators to receive professional sanctions from the commission but not be charged, Henson said. The commission only requires a finding of guilt based on good evidence of wrongdoing, while criminal prosecutions require guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Of the 159 cases that the commission already reviewed, 44 resulted in license revocations, 100 got two-year suspensions and nine were suspended for less than two years, Henson said. No action was taken against six of the educators.


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