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7-9-10 Education Issues in the News
NJ Spotlight – NJ Encourages Grant Recipients to Work Together on Autism … Coordination of research, treatment epitomized by new center based at Montclair State

NJ Spotlight – Appeals Court Upholds State Control of Newark Schools…Strongly worded ruling cites lack of sustained improvement

New Jersey Department of Education July 2013 (Issue 2)Family and Community Circle Newsletter! • More about New Jersey's New Evaluation and Support System: Achieve NJ • PARCC: A Change in New Jersey State Testing • The ABC's of Special Education: Parent's Rights and Responsibilities • New School Performance Reports • Understanding Graduation Rates • The New Jersey Chamber of Commerce Announce Free Educational Activities for Students this Summer • Frequently Asked Questions

NJ Spotlight – NJ Encourages Grant Recipients to Work Together on Autism … Coordination of research, treatment epitomized by new center based at Montclair State

By Andrew Kitchenman, July 9, 2013 in Healthcare

Studying and treating autism poses daunting challenges – but the difficult task could made easier if researchers and healthcare providers who work with autistic children coordinate their efforts.

State officials and healthcare leaders credited the new Montclair State University Autism Center for Excellence for emphasizing such an approach as new grants were announced by the state council that funds autism research.

The center, which was launched last year, encourages healthcare providers and autism researchers to work together in order to speed up development of new treatments.

A total of $4.5 million was awarded by the state in June to seven projects ranging from research to examine biological markers that could be used to identify children with autism to a study of the transportation needs of those with autism.

Those with autism spectrum disorder have impaired social interactions, language development and communication skills. The federal Centers for Disease Control estimates that 1 in 49 New Jersey children have autism, among the highest rates in the country.

The largest grant award -- $2.25 million over five years – was given to Children’s Specialized Hospital to develop a new autism screening tool for diagnosing children from culturally diverse families.

Hospital CEO Amy Mansue said increased coordination among institutions has practical benefits.

Traditionally, when institutions receive grants, “We spend all of our time in the administering of those elements of the grant that we won,” she said.

Encouraging coordination enables grant winners to “look to both solve problems and leverage discovery in ways that have not been done in the past.”

For example, Children’s Specialized Hospital’s grant will be coordinated other grant recipients, including researchers from Rutgers University and its Robert Wood Johnson and New Jersey medical schools, Rowan University and its School of Osteopathic Medicine, and St. Peter’s University Hospital in New Brunswick.

Mansue said her hospital’s staff will be able to help researchers find families interested in having their children participate in studies.
“Having someone at the table (that has worked directly with families) can lend a different perspective, so science can be modified to keep its purity but allow meaningful participation,” Mansue added.

While the Governor’s Council for Medical Research and Treatment of Autism has existed since 1999, Mansue believes that the new center will be better able to achieve the original goals of the council – to contribute to current treatment as well as research leading to new scientific discoveries about the autism.

Children’s Specialized Hospital personnel have found that black and Hispanic children have been diagnosed with autism later than white children, due to flaws in how screening tests were used to diagnose children. The grant will help study a new approach to screening that was developed by the hospital’s staff.

“If we can get kids diagnosed earlier, the treatment can mitigate behaviors that can lead to problems for the rest of their lives,” Mansue said.

Peter H. Bell, executive vice president of the national advocacy group Autism Speaks, said early intervention is essential. Bell’s wife, Elizabeth Bell, serves on the state council.

“That is a significant issue that we face in this community and it’s very important that we create greater awareness and the potential for children of all backgrounds to be diagnosed in a timely fashion and be able to access the treatments that we know will work in helping children to get the best outcomes possible,” Bell said.

These early interventions include applied behavioral analysis, an approach that seeks to modify behavior as early as possible, preferably by age 3.

 “I think have an autism center of excellence is a very positive development for really orchestrating and coordinating the research efforts in New Jersey,” Bell said, noting that the state is already among the national leaders in funding research and treatment.

State officials also hailed the center’s potential for researching and developing new treatments and approaches.

“It is exciting because this is something that we’ve been working on, to improve the efficiency in our delivery of funding, to get more grants out more often and really get them to be more organized and orchestrated,” said Mary E. O’Dowd, the state health commissioner.

“It’s not just individual grants, randomly provided. We’re really trying to be more thoughtful and structured and organized and we think we’ll see better outcomes from the research and the use of that research and appropriate care in the future, as a result,” O’Dowd said.


NJ Spotlight – Appeals Court Upholds State Control of Newark Schools…Strongly worded ruling cites lack of sustained improvement

By John Mooney, July 9, 2013 in Education

A state appellate court yesterday gave a big boost to the Christie administration – and future administrations – when it comes to control of the state’s most troubled school districts.

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In a strongly worded decision, the three-member court rejected an appeal by Newark’s local school board and a group of community advocates who sought the return of at least some local control of the public schools after nearly two decades of state operation.

Instead, the court repeatedly said in its 17-page decision that despite the Legislature’s attempt at developing an exit strategy for takeover districts to regain local control, the final word rests with the state education commissioner.

“We are satisfied that the commissioner retains broad discretion in recommending withdrawal of state intervention,” read the court’s decision.

The court also ruled that even though Newark public schools reached certain state-imposed benchmarks as laid out in 2006 legislation, there had not been enough sustained improvement – an assessment, the ruling emphasized, to be made again by the education commissioner.

“The Commissioner retains the discretion under the statute to determine whether the district has successfully implemented an improvement plan and made sufficient progress in achieving the relevant quality performance indicators,” it read.

While the decision specifically addressed the long-running feud over control of the state’s largest district, it comes at a time when the Christie administration has become more aggressive in pressing for change in its other large urban districts.

Most recent was Gov. Chris Christie’s announced state takeover of Camden schools, which went into effect late last month, but the administration has also balked at giving back controls to Paterson schools and has stepped up its influence in Jersey City schools.

The state took control in Paterson in 1991 and in Jersey City in 1989, the first such takeover in the nation. The state set the stage for the school-district takeovers with a 1987 statute enacted under former Gov. Thomas Kean, with amendments developed in 2006 to give districts a method for regaining control by meeting certain benchmarks for instructional and operational improvements.

“This decision completely guts the 2006 (legislative) amendments to the takeover law, since even if the district performs at a high level and would, if not a takeover district, be deemed satisfactory, the Commissioner can basically come up with a reason -- any reason -- not to withdraw on the grounds of no sustained progress,” said David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, which argued the case on behalf of local school advocates.

The head of Newark’s local school board, which was relegated to advisory status under the takeover law, expressed disappointment but stressed that the board would not give up.

“Neither the Board nor our constituents will back down from the demand for full local control,” said Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson, chairwoman of the local advisory board.

“We will continue to highlight the inequity of this system that gives complete power to the Commissioner, to the exclusion of the school board, the parents, and the statutory guidelines."

Baskerville-Richardson said the board has not decided whether it will appeal to the state Supreme Court.

The challenge did bring some limited movement toward restoring local control. In an unusual move, the state’s lawyers announced in the middle of oral arguments before the appeals court this spring that it would be willing to cede some controls pertaining to finances.

State Education Commissioner Chris Cerf subsequently informed Baskerville-Richardson in a letter that he would meet with her and the board later this month to begin those discussions.

But Baskerville-Richardson pointed out that even if those talks are held, the state and appointed Superintendent Cami Anderson will retain control over virtually all decisions.

“Without local control in the area of governance, Superintendent Anderson can continue to veto any of the board's decisions,” she said.

In addition, the court did lay out some criteria for districts to make a better legal case, noting the lack of consistent progress illustrated by Newark’s “fluctuating scores” under the QSAC (Quality Single Accountability Continuum) process, which is the education department’s monitoring and evaluation system for public school districts.

“Based on these fluctuating scores alone, the Commissioner could reasonably refuse to recommend withdrawal of state intervention,” the court said.

The court did not address the fact that it was the state essentially judging itself through the process, given that it has been in control of the district for close to two decades.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs said low graduation rates and other achievement scores that the state cites in its defense of state control are their own indictment.

“The very low grad rates and test scores that Cerf cited in his letter is an indictment on his and his predecessors failure to make the solid improvements in educational performance that state takeover was intended to bring about,” Sciarra said.



Issue 02/July 2013

New Jersey Department of Education 


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