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4-22-13 Education Issues in the News
Press of Atlantic City - New Jersey schools must have technology for state tests by 2014

NJ Spotlight - Can Dems Make Education Pivotal Issue in Governor's Race?...Even with backing of both teachers unions, Buono faces challenge to articulate how she differs from Christie

Philadelphia Inquirer- The latest worry for parents and schools: cyberbullying

Press of Atlantic City - New Jersey schools must have technology for state tests by 2014

By DIANE D'AMICO, Staff Writer | Posted: Sunday, April 21, 2013 11:31 pm

When the state Department of Education rolls out new state tests in 2014-15, it won’t be just students who must be prepared.

School districts around the state are scrambling to make sure they have enough computers and Internet bandwidth to test every student, and that the students will know how to use the technology for the online tests.

“This is not just about having enough devices — it’s about digital learning,” said Linda Carmona-Bell of the DOE’s Office of Educational and Information Technology.

“The devices can’t just sit there and wait for the assessments. They have to be part of the educational process,” Carmona-Bell told teachers and technology coordinators during a March workshop at Richard Stockton College in Galloway Township.

New Jersey is part of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, a consortium of 22 states and the Virgin Islands that is developing tests in English and math based on the national Common Core Standards. The tests will be given twice a year in grades three through high school, and districts will have a 20-day window to complete them.

A survey by The Press of Atlantic City of local school districts found some will be ready, but others are still trying to find the money to make required upgrades, especially when faced with an annual 2 percent cap on increases to the local property-tax levy. Some have been using federal e-rate funds, distributed as part of the Universal Service fee included in phone bills. But that doesn’t cover everything.

Somers Point officials used a Talent 21 grant to upgrade infrastructure and purchase laptops for every sixth- and seventh-grader. Upper Township began upgrading five years ago on an annual schedule. Officials at both said they are confident they will be ready.

Woodbine used e-rate funds to upgrade infrastructure, and Title I and Talent 21 grants to upgrade some computers. But Superintendent Lynda Anderson-Towns said all of the computers in the lab are old ones donated by other schools and may be too outdated for the test.

“We are trying to do this in phases,” she said.

Internet bandwidth will be the main challenge for Ocean City’s schools, Superintendent Kathleen Taylor said. Technology manager Kathleen Nelson has calculated the district will need 100 megabits per second (Mbps), which is estimated to cost the district more than $6,000 per month. The district is working on the costs with its Internet provider, Verizon.

Atlantic City’s new schools are in good shape, but in February the school board approved almost $567,000 to upgrade the network electronics at the high school and the Brighton Avenue School to meet PARCC requirements.

The Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School District has a technology plan, but the PARCC requirements may force it to be accelerated, said Superintendent Steven Ciccariello. He said the new Cedar Creek High School is good for the first couple of years of testing, but Oakcrest and Absegami will need upgrades.

The district expects to spend $30,000 to expand the bandwidth and network speed. About 200 new computers have been purchased, but another 200 may be needed to make sure there are enough that meet the testing requirements.

“You do not want to say that students did poorly on the test because the technology was not sufficient,” Ciccariello said. “We have to provide the best environment for students to be successful.”

That may mean having to train both teachers and students on how to take the test, and having enough trained staff to handle potential glitches.

Joseph Seaman of the state Department of Education told participants at the Stockton workshop that students must learn to use technology in an educational format, and they must learn on the equipment they will use to take the test.

“If students use iPads all year, then get moved to a desktop for the test, that’s not good,” Seaman said.

That is a growing issue for districts that have been adding a lot of iPads, which may not all be compatible with the test. Students reportedly will also need keyboards and headphones.

Nathan Frey, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in the Vineland school district, said his main concern is giving students enough time to practice so they are familiar with the technology and testing format. He said the district allocated $150,000 for network upgrades and has to make sure 18 school buildings can handle the test.

“IPads are easy because you can use them anywhere,” Frey said. “But then you still have to have the staff trained in case there are glitches during testing.”

Galloway Township has expanded the use of tablets over the past couple of years rather than replace desktop computers. Superintendent Annette Giaquinto said that based on current inventory, the district will need 120 devices, plus about 60 keyboards, to meet the minimum requirements.

Hamilton Township Superintendent Michelle Cappelluti said her district has a sufficient number of computers but will have to buy keyboards for the iPads, as well as headsets with microphones.

School officials are also concerned with how they will administer the tests. Some have a sufficient number of computers, but many are in classrooms, and not all are centralized in computer labs. State officials said districts can do what works best for them, and that students in one grade don’t necessarily have to all take the same test at the same time.

Frey said he has only counted computers he knows he can use for testing, which eliminates those in classrooms that may be occupied during testing periods.

Even with all of the planning, Ciccariello said, there are some things that are out of district officials’ control. If a car accident or a storm knocks out the cable connection, or the Internet goes down, a day or more of testing is lost. He also wondered whether the entire PARCC system will be able to handle potentially hundreds of thousands of students in different states taking tests at the same time.

“There is no technology problem that can’t be fixed with the right amount of money,” he said. “But how much is that, and can we afford it?”

Contact Diane D’Amico:

609-272-7241

DDamico@pressofac.com

 

 

NJ Spotlight - Can Dems Make Education Pivotal Issue in Governor's Race?...Even with backing of both teachers unions, Buono faces challenge to articulate how she differs from Christie

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By John Mooney, April 22, 2013 in Education  

It's taken a while, but Gov. Chris Christie’s aggressive school reform agenda -- and the Democrats’ counter to it -- could be emerging as a big issue in the 2013 gubernatorial election.

Christie’s very public involvement in the public schools -- especially in some of the state’s most troubled districts -- has been one of the hallmarks of his education agenda for the past three-and-a-half years.

To recap some of the governor's political -- and personal -- initiatives: appointing a reform-minded superintendent in Newark, and playing a large role in hammering out a new teachers contract there; opposing Abbott v. Burke school-equity decisions; pushing for private school vouchers; blocking the surrender of state control in both Newark and Paterson; and, most recently, launching a takeover of Camden schools.

In the past few weeks, the Democrats in general and their presumptive candidate in particular -- state Sen. Barbara Buono -- finally started countering with what they would do differently. But it's still too early to tell if they can make a case for it being different enough.

Buono, a Middlesex County Democrat, on Thursday accepted the endorsement of the American Federation of Teachers in New Jersey, the smaller of the state’s two teachers unions, but one that represents Newark and a few other urban districts.

The senator already has the backing of the state's larger teachers union, the New Jersey Education Association. There's been little question that she would gain the support of both unions, given that Buono was one of the few prominent Democrats to stand with them when Christie overhauled public employee pensions and benefits.

But Buono also used the press conference announcing the AFT endorsement as an occasion to chide Christie’s often-antagonistic relationship with the teachers unions and said she would move to work alongside rather than against them.

Still, it took a bit of prodding to get a clearer idea of how her specific goals differed from Christie's.

For instance, when asked about the Newark teachers contract, which calls for the first large-scale implementation of performance bonuses for teachers, Buono did not decry the pact entirely. Instead, she that it benefited from extra dollars that would not necessarily be available elsewhere. (A large part of the bonuses are to be paid from the $100 million donation made to the city by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.)

She also questioned how the state’s planned takeover in Camden has been handled, although she did not necessarily fault its goals. The AFT endorsement came the same day that state officials were in Camden holding community meetings about the takeover plans.

“I’m not going to comment on the specifics of it without being on the ground,” Buono said in a telephone interview that evening. “But I certainly would have a lot of questions to ask. I think it is especially important for the local community to have input in the process.”

Buono did take more exception to the ongoing state control of the Newark schools, now approaching the 20-year mark and back under both legal and political challenge. She cited the latest legal dispute over whether the district had indeed met the required benchmarks to see at least some control returned to it.

“In places like Newark, it appears there are grounds to end [the state’s control], and that hasn’t happened,” she said in the interview. “That would concern me.”

The Christie campaign is taking some notice, too, shooting back with its own attacks for what they call Buono's conflicting comments on education reform.

“Barbara Buono is more than happy to stand up to collect union endorsements, but when it comes to actually supporting real proposals to reward our very best teachers with merit pay, she’s nowhere to be found,” said Kevin Roberts, a Christie campaign spokesman, in an email preceding the AFT announcement.

How this all will play out in the coming months is unclear. The Buono camp said she is developing her various issue platforms and would be rolling them out in the summer and fall. Doubtless, the teachers unions will put at least some of their considerable resources behind her campaign as November nears.

But there are some wild cards that could be played in the debates, such a how seriously the Camden school takeover will be challenged. The continued state control of Newark and even how the teachers contract is implemented are potentially combustible.

School funding could be a blockbuster issue, depending on whether the Democrats decide to counter Christie’s moves to limit additional funding to urban districts under Abbott v. Burke. The Democratic leadership has opposed the administration in comments and hearings, but with state revenues running behind projections, the proof will come with the final budget struck in June.

The president of the AFT-NJ, Donna Chiera, said it wasn’t a hard call for the union to back Buono. But she knows the challenge now is to draw clear distinctions in both the process and the results.

“I don’t think she would be as top-down heavy as the governor,” said Chiera, a Perth Amboy schoolteacher. “This administration is looking to do things to us, instead of with us.”

“I think Barbara recognizes that to truly have things done and to have the education system changed, those who are doing the job have to be involved,” she said.

 

Philadelphia Inquirer- The latest worry for parents and schools: cyberbullying

By Rose Krebs Staff writer | Posted: Monday, April 22, 2013 5:00 am

Technology has opened a whole new world for young people. Unfortunately, it’s also created a headache for school districts and parents alike who are trying to make sure that world is a safe one.

That challenge has been especially acute in Hainesport, where a student is facing charges after allegedly texting pornographic materials to about 20 female students in sixth and seventh grade, and in other Burlington County communities grappling with various forms of cyberbullying and electronic stalking.

“You have to be ready for anything in today’s society,” said Hainesport interim Superintendent/Principal Joseph Miller said. “It has changed 100 percent, and not necessarily for the better.”

A longtime educator, Miller said he was stunned to even be dealing with this issue: a sixth-grader arrested in connection with sending pornographic materials via text message to girls in sixth and seventh grade. He was acquainted with the victims.

The juvenile is now facing charges of harassment, stalking, and obscenity for persons under age 18, according to the New Jersey State Police, and has been suspended for four weeks. He was to come back to school April 8, but Miller said the boy has yet to return and will receive home instruction for the remainder of the year.

Miller said he has spent many hours dealing with the matter, from making sure the female students were provided counseling, to answering parent inquiries, to helping the police with the investigation.

Miller said he believes the majority of parents are simply not aware of everything their children are doing online or on their phones. He sent out messages to parents about sites most referenced in the investigation: kik.com, textfree.us, ooVoo, Pinger.

“It’s not just cybercrime; it’s technology in general,” Miller said. “It’s put such a strain on education.”

He pointed out that even if incidents are happening off school hours, if it impacts students, schools are required to get involved.

In 2010, the New Jersey Legislature approved an Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act. The law strengthened an existing statute dealing with bullying, including incidents that occur online and not during school hours or on school property. It was signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie in January 2011 and went into effect starting with the 2011-12 school year. Subsequently, funding was put in place to help schools pay for anti-bullying programs.

Under the statute, harassment, intimidation or bullying is defined as “any gesture, any written, verbal or physical act, or any electronic communication, whether it be a single incident or series of incidents … that substantially disrupts or interferes with the orderly operation of the school or the right of other students, and that a reasonable person should know, under the circumstances, will have the effect of physically or emotionally harming a student or damaging a student’s property” or placing the student in “reasonable fear.”

Employees who become aware of an incident must report it that day to the school principal. The principal must then notify parents or guardians of students involved. An investigation must be completed within 10 days. The superintendent must inform the school board, and twice annually reports are filed to the state about any incidents.

Challenges facing schools

School administrators said it is crucial that parents monitor their children’s online and technological activity and inform them when there are issues.

“Parents are our partner on this,” said Ronald Taylor, superintendent of Willingboro schools. “It’s hard for us to police these things. We’ve had to be reactionary. Parents need to have access. (Technology) is a powerful medium, but it definitely is a conundrum for districts.”

Taylor called the online world a “dangerous playground” and pointed out that some of the outcomes of online behavior can impact students for a lifetime. He said there have been incidents of students spreading rumors online, with fights sometime breaking out about what was said. A “handful” of online bullying incidents have come across his desk this year, he said.

“The main challenge is the stealthiness of it. The majority of times, it happens out of school. How do you control something out of school? It’s hard to be preventative,” Taylor said. “As a parent, you have to be overly active. You have to be a snoop.”

Districts statewide have instituted policies, set procedures, and put staff in place to deal with bullying.

Under Westampton’s policy, the response to incidents can range from behavioral interventions to suspension. In serious cases, law enforcement is contacted.

The district also has a policy prohibiting any retaliation against someone who reports an incident of cyberbullying. Also, those who falsely accuse another of bullying will be subject to action.

“Because of the wide use of technology, we do have to be very proactive when an incident of cyberbullying is brought to our attention,” Westampton Superintendent/middle school Principal Virginia Grossman said. “We’re lucky we’ve only had a few incidents this year.”

Grossman said it is important that students understand the responsibility that comes along with using social media and other online technology. In its health and wellness classes, the district has curriculum to deal with such issues, she said. Also, some assemblies have addressed the topic.

Trying to make a difference

In Lumberton, some parents and students are trying to bring more awareness about young people’s online behavior. They have started an anti-bullying Facebook page and are lobbying administrators to hold an assembly addressing concerns.

Carrie Steffe, a mother of four, said she was stunned when she found out some of the behavior online. She said she was especially surprised to see behavior on Instagram, an online photo sharing site.

Students are playing an “elimination game” in which photos of classmates, often females, are shown and the less attractive ones are X’ed out. Some of the comments about students’ appearance are quite nasty.

Steffe also said she has seen students talking about hurting themselves and teasing.

“There is a lot of attention seeking,” she said. “I do for the most part think these kids don’t really grasp what they are doing. It’s a popularity thing.”

Steffe said that she believes online activity has become an “addiction” for many kids and that some of them have a “let’s-hide-behind-our-screens mentality.”

Another township mother, who did not want to be identified, said she has seen her daughter’s mood drastically change after she was the subject of mean comments online. The online world is negatively impacting many students’ self-esteem, she said.

The mother said it has been a challenge for her to keep up with all the new applications on her daughter’s phone. But she makes sure to constantly check them and to get rid of any she deems problematic.

“Parents do have the ultimate responsibility,” Steffe said. “The school can only do so much. The parents have to step up.”

An increasing problem

As incidents of bullying increase, with some cases even resulting in suicide, so have the resources put out to help parents identify if their children are being victimized.

Stopbullying.gov, a website operated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is one of the many resources offering information about cyberbullying, its impact, the state laws dealing with the issue, and how to tell if a child is in trouble.

According to the site, “Kids who are cyberbullied have a harder time getting away from the behavior.” Messages are often posted anonymously and “distributed quickly to a very wide audience.” Deleting materials, including photos, can be difficult.

Those who are bullied often turn to alcohol or drugs, skip school, display poor academic performance, suffer self-esteem issues, and may have health or emotional issues, according to the site.

The website advises parents to set strict online use rules, monitor activity, and deal with any issues that arise immediately. Evidence should be kept, and no response should be made to the bullying message.

Detective G. Michael Williams of the New Jersey State Police’s digital technology investigations unit visited the Hainesport School this month at the behest of district officials after the incident involving the sixth-grader.

Williams said it is vital that parents explain the possible repercussions of the wrong type of online activity to their children, along with steps they should take to avoid becoming victim of an online predator.

“It’s easy to sell a kid a package of lies and make them believe it,” Williams said, adding that one in five children is sexually solicited through technology.

He told parents to make sure their kids know to never meet anybody online whom they don’t know. Inappropriate pictures should not be sent, he said.

Predators will often collect information on a possible victim for months, learning what their “vulnerabilities” are, Williams said.

“They will look for the Achilles’ heel of their victim’s emotional situation,” he said.

Thus, teens and children should be very careful about any personal information they put online.

For more information about the state police’s digital technology investigations unit, call 609-584-5051, ext. 5624, or visit www.njsp.org/divorg/invest/digital-tech-invest-unit.html.


Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608
609-394-2828



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