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4-4-14 Education in the News Today
Star Ledger - Education Commissioner defends budget, testing, teacher evals

NJ Spotlight - Legislative Spotlight Burns Hot and Bright on Aid Cuts, School Construction Delays...New education commissioner and head of development authority face tough questions about Christie administration’s policies and tactics

Star Ledger - NJ schools take the PARCC test for a test-drive

Star Ledger - Hundreds of students protest 'One Newark' plan during City Hall rally

Star Ledger - Education Commissioner defends budget, testing, teacher evals

By Peggy McGlone/The Star-Ledger The Star-Ledger
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on April 03, 2014 at 5:18 PM, updated April 04, 2014 at 6:55 AM

TRENTON — Acting state Education Commissioner David Hespe defended the Christie administration’s almost $9 billion funding plan and his department’s handling of a new teacher evaluation system during a three-hour appearance before the Senate Budget Committee yesterday.

The hearing began with chairman Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen) challenging the claim that Christie’s proposed education budget, with its $37 million increase over last year, represents an historic high.

“I understand it’s part of the budget message and it’s great rhetoric, but it is also true that 462 districts are receiving less than they did in the 2010,” Sarlo said. “Do you feel the appropriation we’re making today is adequate?”

“Yes, absolutely,” said Hespe, who returned to Trenton last month to run the Department of Education, a position he held from 1999-2001 under Gov. Christie Whitman.

Sarlo pressed Hespe about the administration’s failure to follow the 2008 School Funding Reform Act formulas and asked what amount would be needed to cover those formulas. He also referred to a lawsuit filed last week by the Education Law Center asking the Supreme Court to require the state to calculate the aid as called for by the law. The ELC maintains the state has underfunded these programs by more than $5 billion over the last few years.

Sen. Nellie Pou (D-Passaic) questioned the rationale behind the current funding plan, which increases state aid by $20 per student over this year.

“Picking $20 per student ... out of thin air doesn’t seem to make any sense,” she said. “It’s troubling. I don’t understand how the decision was made to increase it by that amount without having any data.”

Other lawmakers asked Hespe about the changes to annual student testing and the teacher evaluations that are at the heart of the new tenure reform law. Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) wondered about the readiness of districts to administer the PARCC assessments, the computer-based annual tests that will replace the NJASK and HSPA tests next spring.

About 29 percent of the districts are not ready to handle the computerized tests. Hespe said, adding that state officials are working with them. More than half of the state’s districts are putting the new assessment, known as PARCC, through a test run.

Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-Cape May) asked about delaying this year’s evaluations and next year’s PARCC tests, requests he said he has heard repeatedly from teachers and other education officials.

“I think delay would put us back so far from where we want to be that we might never get there,” Hespe said. “In terms of the point that we’re moving too quickly? The state board of education adopted the Common Core in 2010, four years ago. This is not being rushed.“

Hespe described the new curriculum standards, the computerized assessments and the tenure reform as “a change process of enormous magnitude.”

"There’s going to be a fair amount of push back, of difficulty. We’re seeing problems, we’re solving problems,” he said. “I don’t see any reason (to delay). We should stay focused. We’re getting the results you want

 

NJ Spotlight - Legislative Spotlight Burns Hot and Bright on Aid Cuts, School Construction Delays

John Mooney | April 4, 2014

New education commissioner and head of development authority face tough questions about Christie administration’s policies and tactics

 

New Jersey’s fiscal 2015 education budget – which every year accounts for more than one-third of overall state spending -- got a public airing yesterday with some familiar themes but also some somber warnings of looming financial shortfalls.

Much of the three-hour hearing before the state Senate’s budget committee centered on K-12 education funding, with Acting Commissioner David Hespe making his first appearance before the Legislature since Gov. Chris Christie appointed him to the post last month.

Related Links

OLS Analysis of State Education Budget

Hespe had the task of defending an unpopular budget that is providing less than a 1 percent increase in state aid to schools districts – amounting to $20 more per student – and leaving aid for 80 percent of the state’s districts at or below levels in 2010.

But even more difficult moments came when legislators grilled the leader of the Schools Development Authority, which oversees school construction in the state and announced that the multi-billion-dollar program was nearly out of funds.

The SDA usually plays second fiddle at budget hearings, but the agency’s new executive director, Charles McKenna, got some prime-time attention as discussion centered on projects that have been long-stalled under Christie.

Most of the questions came from state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), a member of the budget committee and chair of the Senate education committee, who pressed McKenna on the slow pace at which construction money has reached districts over the last decade – funding ordered under the Abbott v. Burke school-equity rulings.

During the discussions, it was revealed that the SDA is down to its last funded projects under the court order that saw the state borrow more than $8 billion for school construction since 2002.

McKenna, a former counsel under Christie until his new appointment, said just $350 million remains.

A host of pending projects are already covered financially, he emphasized, including the long-discussed Trenton High School repairs and upgrade..

But after that and other approved projects are completed, McKenna said, only limited funding will be available for other construction unless the Legislature approves additional borrowing.

“I’m not sure we have all the money we need to deal with all the projects,” McKenna said in response to Ruiz’s questions.

He said the SDA would likely need to ask the Legislature to authorize additional borrowing, a lengthy process in itself. He also maintained it would likely need public approval through a bond referendum, although others said school construction could be exempt.

“That is something we would need to be in contact with the governor’s office and may very well need public approval,” McKenna said.

But Ruiz pressed him on whether the SDA has pushed hard enough to complete projects that already have funding.

“The length of time from conception to completion is extraordinary, it is frustrating,” she said. “I just don’t understand what takes so long.”

“If we have $350 million in hand somewhere, I am sure there are several districts that can indicate how the money should be spent,” she said. “Let’s appropriate this money into projects, let’s get people working, and let’s get children into safe and adequate schools.”

Flak over school-aid formula

Hespe faced questions about the Christie’s administration’s failure to use the state’s school-funding formula in determining state aid for 2014-15.

Hespe readily acknowledged that districts were given the equivalent of $20 more per student, regardless of need.

But state Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen), chairman of the budget committee, immediately pressed Hespe on whether the state needed to at least follow the state’s School Funding Reform Act, even if it doesn’t fully fund the amounts.

The backdrop to the questioning was a new legal challenge from the Education Law Center, the Newark-based group that has led the Abbott v. Burke litigation, which contends that the administration’s failure to even run the formula violates the state’s obligations.

Hespe said yesterday that his department will indeed provide the information demanded in the ELC’s motion. In the next few weeks, he said, districts will receive new state-aid summaries detailing what they are entitled under the SFRA.

Details are still being worked out, he said, including how specific weights for different student demographics will be used. But Hespe sought to reassure the committee, saying, “I think that should satisfy the requirements.”

David Sciarra, executive director of the ELC, said yesterday that he was encouraged by Hespe’s comments but was waiting to hear the details.

“We’re eager and ready to work with the commissioner to have him issue state aid notices that are fully compliant with the requirement of the formula,” he said. “We’d be very happy to get this resolved so that the court doesn’t have to get involved.”

 

Star Ledger - NJ schools take the PARCC test for a test-drive

By Peggy McGlone/The Star-Ledger The Star-Ledger
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on April 04, 2014 at 7:30 AM, updated April 04, 2014 at 7:37 AM

Working with laptops, tablets and desk-top computers, 46 seventh graders from Roxbury spent the last week of March testing a new computer-based math exam that will be given to most New Jersey students next spring.

The Roxbury students are a part of a statewide effort to test drive the math and language arts sections of the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, a more difficult test that will be replace the NJASK and HSPA exams now given to students in grades 3 through 8 and 11 each spring.

Several hundred districts in New Jersey volunteered to try out PARCC test during a four-week window that began March 24. The scores will not count.

“Technically things are going really well,” Roxbury’s Supervisor of Technology Teresa Rehman said. “We’ve had a couple of glitches, but we did a lot of prior testing.”

In addition to seventh grade math, Roxbury is also testing the eighth and ninth grade English/Language Arts and sixth grade math exams, Rehman said.

State Department of Education officials said 60 percent of the schools that will administer the PARCC test next spring are participating in the practice run. Other districts, like South Orange-Maplewood, are working with neighboring schools to monitor the exam’s implementation.

“As problems get identified they are being resolved,” acting Education Commissioner David Hespe told the Senate Budget Committee during a hearing Thursday in Trenton. “Every field test is going to reveal problems. That’s why we do it.”

The dry-run allows districts to determine their technological capacities for the computer-based exam. Roxbury has spent $500,000 in upgrades to meet the technical requirements of the PARCC, including improvements to its software, network infrastructure and computers.

Rehman is using three different devices — Chromebooks, iPads and desk-top computers — to see which work best.

“That’s music to my ears,” assistant Education Commissioner Bari Erlichson said. “One of the principals of the design of PARCC is that students should be able to take the exam on (various devices). It is agnostic to the device and the student should see the same item in the say way.”

The computer-based PARCC exam has generated plenty of anxiety around the state. The New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, has called for delaying its debut next spring, saying teachers and districts need more time to adapt to both the subject matter and format.

Hespe told lawmakers Thursday that about 71 percent of the state’s school districts are ready, but that leaves 29 percent unprepared. Officials are working on contingency plans that might include using paper and pencil, Hespe said.

Teachers have testified at state Board of Education meetings that the PARCC, and the more rigorous curriculum it assesses, are creating chaos. The fact that they are being judged by their students’ performance ratchets up the stress.

But Erlichson said the state has planned for years for the rollout of the Common Core curriculum and the PARCC. A handful of schools first tested the exam last year, she said, and that experience led to changes and improvements.

Schools were asked to volunteer for the practice test and were given a 20-day time frame that allows them to decide when and how to administer it. A second round will be given in late May, she said.

“From a test administration standpoint, we need to give folks the information they need to feel confident,” she said. “I’m delighted to see the sharing of these tech folks.”

While the PARCC’s technological requirements have caused angst among some school officials, the students seem fine.

“It doesn’t seem to make a difference, they seem extremely comfortable,” Rehman said. “A few have said I like taking it on the computer.”

But Rehman said Roxbury school officials have a lot of ground to cover to be ready for next spring. The district is giving the test to just one-sixth of the students in each grade and there is some concern about ow much time it will take to administer the exams to all students.

“We have concerns about the amount of lost instructional time, if we have to do it over 20 days,” she said.

Rehman said Roxbury officials are looking at questions of fairness, too.
“We are looking at the difference of students testing in the morning or afternoon sessions, and the differences of one device or another,” she said.

Star Ledger - Hundreds of students protest 'One Newark' plan during City Hall rally

By Naomi Nix/The Star-Ledger The Star-Ledger
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on April 03, 2014 at 3:35 PM, updated April 03, 2014 at 7:33 PM

 NEWARK — About 1,000 students put lunchroom politics aside to protest Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson’s plan to overhaul the state’s largest school district.

The students, who represented about nine schools, gathered in front of City Hall around 1 p.m. with microphones and signs.

"The Anderson administration administration is not afraid to take quality schools away but is scared of students engaging in their right," Newark Students Union president Kristin Towkaniek, eliciting applause from the crowd. "It's your right to be here."

Under Anderson's “One Newark” reorganization plan, which was introduced last year, the district plans to convert three elementary schools into early childhood centers, relocate five schools to under-utilized facilities and transform three comprehensive high schools into smaller academies. The plan is slated to begin next school year.

Newark Public School spokesman Matthew Frankel said Anderson welcomes talking with student organizers about their education, but stressed their need to remain in school.

"We believe civic engagement is a fundamental part of our students’ education and support their desire to have a robust dialogue with district leaders about their education," Frankel said in a statement. "That said, we firmly believe such civic actions should take place outside of the school day as not to interfere with critical learning time."

Ubay Dah Johnson, 17, said he participated in the protest because his school, West Side High School, is being transformed into smaller academies.

"It makes me feel like I won't have anything to come back to," the high school senior said. "I would like for my school not to be shut down."

Laura Sousa, 16, said she wanted to protest because she thinks the district is implementing too many budget cuts and over emphasizing charter schools.

"(Superintendent Cami Anderson) is trying to make all of us go to charter schools," she said. "Everyone doesn't fit there."

Students marched from City Hall to the Prudential Center and further down Broad Street, with police officers on motorcycles keeping close watch.

Mayoral candidate Ras Baraka, who is on leave from his job as principal of Central High School, attended the rally and encouraged students to make their voices heard.

"I want to congratulate you all for being out here today," said Baraka, who has been critical of the "One Newark" plan. "I am proud of you."

Count Jessiah Paul, 17, was one Central High School student who didn't mind skipping lunch at school to be at the protest. "It's worth it," he said
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Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608
609-394-2828