4-21-14 Education Issues in the News
The Times of Trenton Editorial - Editorial: N.J. study on special education quality, costs offers sound ideas for change

NJ Spotlight - Opinion: Searching for New Ways of Promoting Opportunity...Before discussing theories of 21st century education, we must find ways to educate the most vulnerable children -- in urban and rural settings

NJ Spotlight - State Testing Sees Growing Movement of Families Planning to Opt Out...Confusion abounds about what happens next for those refusing to take standardized exams

The Times of Trenton Editorial - Editorial: N.J. study on special education quality, costs offers sound ideas for change

A new report representing a year of work and the input of dozens of educators, experts and analysts offers a comprehensive overview of special education in New Jersey – and the ways it could be better.

A New Jersey School Boards Association task force has identified 20 ways to improve the quality of public education for about 200,000 students with learning disabilities while reducing the costs.

The rising costs of special education may be surpassed only by the need, particularly in New Jersey where special education classifications rose by 5 percent as overall school enrollment dropped by 1 percent during the same five-year period.

Given that rising population, the report seeks a change in the prevailing perspective as it makes a case for further integration of special education within the state’s schools.

“Public education should not be viewed as two separate systems — general education and special education — but rather as one continuum of instruction, programs, interventions and services that respond to individual student needs,” says task force chairman Gerald Vernotica. “In other words, it is part of the range of services public schools provide to children, not a separate place to put them.”

One of those services should be amplified to prevent a disproportionate number of minorities and English language learners from being identified as having learning disabilities rather than waiting “for documented failure before providing services.”
Intervening at the first signs of academic and behavioral struggles with prompt and focused instruction could prevent some children from special education classification, advises the report.

In many areas, the task force recommends regionalizing services as ways of trimming some of the multibillion-dollar special education costs.

While federal and state funding account for 43 percent of that cost, the rest is borne by taxpayers. And as several municipal governments have found, cooperative agreements can lessen that burden.

Regional provision of related and support services would reduce costs, support inclusion and allow school districts to direct more resources to the delivery of services at the classroom level, says the report.

It also calls on lawmakers to provide incentives for sharing on regional or county bases while removing any regulatory and financial obstacles.

As John Mooney points out in a NJ Spotlight report, formation of the school boards association task force coincided with a law calling for creation of a state task force to study special education – but 13 months later, no one has even been appointed to the panel.

In that absence of action, lawmakers should acquaint themselves with the ground covered by this task force. Its report offers some good ideas for reducing costs while maintaining the quality of essential services.


NJ Spotlight - Opinion: Searching for New Ways of Promoting Opportunity

Roland Anglin | April 21, 2014

Before discussing theories of 21st century education, we must find ways to educate the most vulnerable children -- in urban and rural settings


Those who have read my contributions to these pages know that youth unemployment is a major concern of mine. There are so many kids from urban and rural places in New Jersey who are over age and under accredited and on their way to leaving school without a credential.

It is precisely those young people that we need to worry about, since they are on the path to join the ranks of the chronically unemployed.

It is not just a matter of improving schools. Many of these young people have experienced trauma and are challenged by limited cognitive skills that restrict their ability to enter the workforce as it stands. They also challenge school reform efforts greatly.

Even with the myriad difficulties in improving schools in poor urban and rural districts, we must continue to experiment and innovate. One way may be to rethink the current structure of high schools and make them more focused on providing a usable set of skills earlier in a young person’s school career while leading to a credential that carries significance.

It is easy to ask: vocational-technical schools are supposed to do that are they not? Yes, but there not enough, nor are they functionally set up to help the group of young people I am most worried about.

First, the good news: New Jersey has rather robust examples of how to expand and improve vocational-technical schools and postsecondary training programs. One way that New Jersey is emphasizing the connection between education and workforce demands is through Talent Network program of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development (LWD). Begun in 2011, the Talent Network initiative partners educators, employers, and workforce practitioners, all in an effort to upgrade the skills of current workers and young people about to enter the workforce.

Each Talent Network provides a bridge between jobs and job seekers in key industry sectors by supporting the “efforts of the workforce development system and educational institutions that prepare workers for opportunities”

Six industries identified by New Jersey as key economic drivers: (1) transportation, logistics, and distribution; (2) life sciences; (3) advanced manufacturing; (4) financial services; (5) healthcare; and (6) technology and entrepreneurship These six sectors account for half of all jobs in the state and about 60 percent of all wages paid to workers in New Jersey

Specifically, Talent Networks work in conjunction with technical high schools, community colleges, and other institutions of higher education to help develop curriculum that reflects the skills industry needs.

Secondly, the New Jersey Employer Coalition for Technical Education, launched in February 2014, also aims to connect education and workforce. The coalition is organized by the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, a statewide advocacy group for private sector businesses and employers, and is cosponsored by the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools.

One major focus of the coalition is expanding vocational-technical programs that already exist. The New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools estimates that the existing 21 county vo-tech schools do not have the capacity to meet the demand. Currently, vo-tech schools serve approximately 32,000 students, but in 2013 they had to turn away about 17,000 additional applicants who could not be accommodated.

The coalition also focuses on promoting a higher-quality technical education with opportunities for networking and job placement through partnerships between businesses and county vo-tech schools. Among the coalition’s founding members are BMW of North America, General Mills, the HealthCare Institute of New Jersey, and PSE&G. In addition, there is a lengthy list of more than 100 other companies and individual members, each representing a business in New Jersey.

Lastly, The New Jersey Community College Consortium for Workforce and Economic Development was founded in 2004 to “provide coordinated one-stop statewide education and training services to businesses and industries” The consortium established New Jersey’s 19 community colleges as the “preferred provider of training and for workforce development and business attraction programs.”

Companies use New Jersey’s community colleges to train and develop the capacity of existing employees, as well as emerging ones. The consortium also assists businesses with customized training grant applications at no cost, using funds made available through the New Jersey Workforce Development Partnership to train frontline workers involved in the production of goods and services.

The people and institutions that run these and other programs do a tremendous job trying to serve the changing needs of our state’s industry. It is important to acknowledge that there are people and policies trying to close the skills gap for the most economically vulnerable among us.

There is, however, more demand than supply of quality efforts to train young people. I think we need to give more chances and opportunity to train young people who are in danger of leaving school without a substantive education or at the least a high school diploma.

I don’t have an answer. But some experiments bear watching, especially those that build on what we already have in the state, perhaps requiring elaboration, connection, and layering. Early-college high schools are one such example, more specifically early college programs that bring specialized curriculum and partnerships to help youth most in danger of leaving school or not getting the type of education that helps get a job with a living wage with opportunities to grow.

One example that has captured attention and emulation is the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) started in Brooklyn, NY, This early-college high school uses a public/private partnership to help prepare students for careers in high-skilled jobs in technology, manufacturing, healthcare, and finance. The core of the partnership is active engagement of a business, in this case IBM, with an interest in an industry-specific pipeline of future workers, a community college or university (City University of New York), and a school district (New York Department of Education).

Beginning in ninth grade, students participate in a specialized, intensive curriculum and programs that prepare them for entrance in the industry after graduation. The students receive individualized mentoring (from the industry partner) and counseling to keep them on track. If successful, students graduate with a high school diploma and an associate’s degree.

As the Aspen Institute describes the innovation: “Student learning is focused from grade nine on, through a six-year scope and sequence of high school and college coursework to ensure students earn an Associate in Applied Science degree awarded by the school’s college partner. Each student moves through a personalized academic pathway, aligned to college and career requirements, which is closely monitored by his or her teachers and advisors, based on their individual needs and performance. The focus is on mastery, not seat time. In Brooklyn, students are taking college courses as early as grade 10, as they work toward an AAS degree in either Computer Information Systems or Electromechanical Engineering Technology.”

The experiment is relatively new, as are efforts to replicate it in Chicago, so success cannot be asserted with any meaning or longevity. But P-TECH is achieving better-than-average rates of getting the initial cohort of students to meet or score better than average on the NYS Regents exams in math and science. More than 80 percent of the students receive free and reduced lunch. The model intrigues educators I have talked to. If there is a criticism, it is that the intensive curriculum and other supports should begin in earlier grades.

Some will be disturbed by the significant presence of industry as a partner. I can imagine the question: are we not then producing drones and limiting the chance for kids to get a liberal education? It is a point to consider, but let’s hold off on final judgment. Let’s watch these types of schools to see if they can make a difference over time in educating poor kids. Then we can talk about the philosophy of education in the 21st century.

Roland V. Anglin is director of the Joseph C. Cornwall Center for Metropolitan Studies at Rutgers University.


NJ Spotlight - State Testing Sees Growing Movement of Families Planning to Opt Out

John Mooney | April 21, 2014

Confusion abounds about what happens next for those refusing to take standardized exams


It started with a trickle a few years ago, and it may still be only a small stream, but more and more New Jersey families appear intent on opting to have their children not take the state’s standardized tests.

Nearly 700 people have signed onto a Facebook group called “Opt-Out of State Standardized Tests -- New Jersey,” reflecting the mounting criticism to the increased reliance on standardized testing not just in New Jersey but nationwide.

Related Links

Opting Out of NJ ASK

2013 NJAS Score Interpretation Manual

Thousands of LI Students Refuse to Take State Tests

Earlier this month, Newsday reported more than 5,500 Long Island students had opted out of New York State’s tests, which have been particularly controversial.

And while the New Jersey protesters still represent just a tiny fraction of the number of students taking the tests, perhaps the clearest evidence of the growing opposition came in the last few weeks as the state Department of Education started advising school districts on how to deal with students opting out of the state’s upcoming NJASK tests.

A department spokesman was mum about details of the recommendations made to school districts, maybe not wanting to encourage the practice of skipping the tests. And officials said there is no formal policy beyond an expectation that all students take the tests.

But superintendents in several counties said the education department’s county offices have given them informal guidance about what to do if children and their parents play the civil disobedience card and refuse to take part in the upcoming testing in elementary and middle schools, including how to mark them down and what documents should be filed on their behalf.

The guidelines haven’t necessarily been consistent across all counties or all districts, however, as parents have said some schools are taking a tougher stance than others on how to handle those who refuse to take the tests.

For instance, some schools say that children will still need to stay in the testing room while others are taking the exams. Others say they can go to the library or the school office.

Citing instructions from the state, North Arlington schools posted on their website that students refusing to take the tests “are considered disruptive and should be removed from the testing room.”

“Some schools and districts have been really lovely and gentle with children,” said Sue Schutt, a Ridgewood mother and New York City school administrator who has been a leader in the movement. “Others have been a lot more aggressive, not knowing what they can do.”

“I don’t think they have gotten a whole lot of guidance on this,” she added.

In her case, Schutt said the district told her that if her children opted out of the test, they would be able to go to another room during the testing. Another option, she was told, would be to not to come to school that day and just be marked absent.

“We’re not going home,” Schutt said. “We will refuse to take the test, and stay at school.”

Michael Yaple, communications director for the state Department of Education, said the law makes it clear that schools must administer the tests. He said students are expected to participate, but he could not provide more detail about what will happen if they don’t.

“NJASK and HSPA (the high school test) are the statewide assessments that New Jersey gives to comply with the federal requirements under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), first established in 2002,” he said in an email. “As such, it is the Department’s expectation now -- as it has been since 2002 -- that students will participate in the testing programs.”

He added that schools are required under NCLB to show that 95 percent of their students have participated in the test.

Still, the state’s technical code for the assessments provides for students opting out of the tests, allowing them to be marked as having “refused” testing. In the state’s summary of the 2013 NJASK, the option is listed among those having a test marked as “Void.”

Another option is to have students take an absence from school on the testing and make-up days, with the state leaving it to districts to decide if they take it as an excused or unexcused absence. Typically, fewer than 2,000 of the estimated 600,000 students taking state tests are absent for one section or another, but that can be due to any number of reasons.

Schutt said she had no number on how many are joining the protests, only saying it has grown exponentially. She said that more than 30,000 students had refused to take the standardized tests in New York State. She hoped to do a survey once testing begins.

“When we started this, it was four families,” Schutt said. “Every year it has grown a little more, and this year it just exploded.”

The only downside is that as also administrator of the Facebook page, Schutt has been swamped with questions and requests for information.

“In the last few months, it has been double or triple the numbers joining,” she said. “I’m finding it difficult to answer all the questions. Let’s just say it’s keeping me quite busy.”