1-25 and 26-15 Education Issues in the News

The Record - N.J. teachers would get more training on suicide prevention education under bill

January 25, 2015, 12:21 PM    Last updated: Sunday, January 25, 2015, 12:21 PM


Associated Press

 TRENTON  — Public school teachers would undergo more suicide prevention education under a proposal from a bipartisan group of New Jersey lawmakers.

An Assembly committee approved the measure late last year while Republican state Sen. Diane Allen introduced a similar bill in the Senate this month.

The bill requires public school teachers and staff to receive two hours of suicide prevention training from a licensed health care professional every year, up from the current requirement of two hours over five years.

Democratic Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt said she and her colleagues are pursuing the change now because of the increased use of technology by students and the rise of bullying over text messages that could contribute to suicides.

The requirement that teachers undergo suicide prevention education reaches back to 2005 legislation that established the current requirement. Gov. Richard Codey signed the bill into law in 2006, making New Jersey the first state in the country to enact such a requirement.

New Jersey has a youth suicide rate of about 5 per 100,000 people, compared with nearly 8 per 100,000 nationally in 2012, the most recently available statistics from the New Jersey Department of Children and Families. The report defines youth as people from ages 10 to 24.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among 10- to 24-year-olds in New Jersey. From 2011 to 2013, 232 people in that age group committed suicides, according to the department.

Since the 2006 law went into effect, the youth suicide rate in New Jersey dipped to under 4 suicides per 100,000 people twice. It also bounced above 5 in 2010-2011, the statistics show.

"It's not about statistics," Lampitt said, before adding that if one life is saved because of the requirement, then it is worth it

The 2006 legislation was partially the result of advocates like Scott Fritz, who co-founded the New Jersey-based Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide after losing his child to suicide.

Fritz testified in favor of the new measure, but said he wants to see some changes to the language in the bill before it passes the Legislature. Specifically, he wants school bus drivers and cafeteria workers included under the training requirement.

Teachers groups have voiced concerns over the legislation. New Jersey Education Association director Marybeth Beichert testified in October before the Assembly that teachers are already subject to 20 hours of professional development yearly, leaving less time for teachers to focus on instruction, she said.

"When will teachers have the time to collaborate on instruction that will improve student learning?" she asked.

Lawmakers view the increased requirement as another tool in combatting suicide, however.

"Effective suicide prevention among teens requires a full court press from the community," said Democratic Assemblyman and co-sponsor Troy Singleton in a statement.

NJ Spotlight - The List: Top 10 Lawmakers Influencing Education Policy in New Jersey

John Mooney | January 26, 2015

With the governor preoccupied with a potential run for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, the state's lawmakers may play a greater in role in education legislation


With Gov. Chris Christie away a lot lately, the Legislature is becoming more and more the center of the public discussion over education policy in New Jersey.

Charter school oversight, student testing, and the perennial battle over school funding are all coming up in 2015 for the state Senate and Assembly.

Here are 10 legislators who are likely to have the most impact and influence on those deliberations:

1. Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex)

An easy first pick. As the influential chair of the Senate education committee, she’s a required vote on any piece of legislation that has a chance of passage, big or small. She was the chief architect of the state’s new tenure law, which Christie continues to trumpet, but she’s emerging as a chief critic of his administration in its oversight of Newark.

2. Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex)

Not at Ruiz’s level, but he's chair of the Assembly education committee, which controls the docket in the lower chamber. He has been especially outspoken on testing issues of late, and also will be a key voice on any new charter legislation.

3. Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester)

The one who sets the agenda in the Senate as a whole. While Ruiz gets most of the attention, Sweeney still must sign off on everything, including the upcoming budget, in which school funding is the biggest piece of the pie. Also as an expected candidate for governor in 2017, we’re already starting to hear more from him on big education issues.

4. Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson)

Sweeney’s equal in the Assembly, Prieto has also taken more of an interest in education issues of late, and will carry a similar influence on the state budget. He is credited with shepherding a recent package of bills aimed to help career and vocational schools.

5. Sen. Thomas Kean Jr. (R-Union)

It’s a close race for the most influential Republican in the Legislature, with Kean arguably at the top due to his standing as the Senate minority leader. As the chief sponsor of the long-stalled Opportunity Scholarship Act., he is back in the spotlight after Christie’s call (again) for its passage in his State of the State.

6. Sen. Diane Allen (R-Burlington)

The leading Republican on the Senate education committee, she is often a broker between the parties on important legislation and one whom Ruiz is said to turn to often for advice.

7. Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-Burlington)

The new vice chairman of the Assembly’s education committee has already been one of the chamber’s most prolific when it comes to filing education bills, and his promotion is a sign the two-term legislator is drawing support from the leadership. His reform positions, including new charter-school legislation, could prove an interesting counterweight on the committee to Diegnan.

8. Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex)

Jasey is likely to turn her attention more to higher education, as the Assembly’s new chairwoman of that committee, but she still cochairs the Joint Committee on the Public Schools and has been especially outspoken on putting limits on charter schools and school testing.

9. Assemblyman John Bramnick (R-Union)

Education is not one of his big issues, but he’s still the minority leader in the Assembly and can easily stamp on any chance of veto-proof votes for Democratic bills. As someone often mentioned as a possible GOP candidate in 2017, his profile is sure to rise.

10. Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex)

As co-chair of the Joint Committee, as well as chair of the legislative black caucus, Rice commands attention on his primary issues, education among them. Most notably, that’s been the state’s takeover policies and its performance of late in his hometown of Newark, where Rice is having a field day.


Star Ledger - PARCC: What happens if students 'opt out?  "...Opposition is vocal in some communities, like Montclair, but superintendents in some others say they have barely heard a peep."

By Adam Clark,1-25-14

New Jersey students in grades 3 to 11 will take the state’s new standardized tests this March. But Lila Lofving, a seventh-grader at Montclair’s Mount Hebron Middle School, won’t be one of them, her mother says.
Martha Evans says she will refuse to allow Lila, a straight-A student, to take the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exam, which she thinks is unnecessarily difficult, among other concerns.

“I think it’s a horrible test,” Evans said. “I don’t think it has any assessment value, and I don’t want her taking it.”

Across New Jersey, districts are preparing for how they will respond to students like Lila, part of a building “opt-out” movement aimed at the PARCC exams, computerized tests designed to be more challenging than their predecessors.
The state says it has no policy addressing whether students can opt out of standardized tests, but the Department of Education has advised districts that the tests are mandatory and that schools should consult their discipline and attendance policies if students refuse to take them.

Superintendents say they are following that state directive, while at the same time conceding they can’t force a student to take a test.

The state has also advised school officials to steer the conversation away from whether students can refuse the PARCC tests and toward the benefit of taking the exams, which focus on critical thinking and strategy more so than content.

“The PARCC exams, unlike anything else we have ever done in the state, will provide much more robust information about your child’s education, how the schools can help them, how you as a parent can help them,” Education Commissioner David Hespe said.

Students are not required to take the PARCC tests to move to the next grade level. And unlike the High School Proficiency Assessment, which had been given to 11th-graders, PARCC will not be a graduation requirement, at least not until 2018.
A few districts have been proactive about clarifying for parents whether students who refuse the test will be offered alternative learning activities, which the state says districts are not required to do. But others have so far remained mum unless specifically asked.

Some parents fear students could be forced to “sit and stare,” an approach certain schools across the country have adopted in response to opts outs. Sarah Tepper Blaine of Montclair, an education blogger who says her daughter will refuse the fourth-grade test, said the lack of a universal policy has left parents unsure what to expect if their students refuse to take the PARCC on test day.

“I don’t think it’s clear to anyone at this point,” Blaine said.
Opt-out movement grows

New Jersey is one of 11 states, along with the District of Columbia, in the PARCC consortium that developed the common set of tests in math and language arts. More than 20 states were originally involved but the number continues to drop as support wanes.

The tests are aligned with the new standards introduced in classrooms last year, called Common Core.
With the debut of the PARCC tests looming in New Jersey, the local opt-out movement is experiencing a groundswell, said Jean McTavish, a member of United Opt Out-NJ, a branch of a national organization that promotes opting out as a way for parents to get a seat at the table with decision makers in education.
“It is exploding in New Jersey,” McTavish said.

That was evidenced at January’s state Board of Education meeting, where nearly 100 people signed up for public testimony.
Parents, some holding “NO PARCCING” signs or wearing “Opt-out” shirts, called for the state to abandon the PARCC tests. Some students said they would refuse to take them.

McTavish, a New York City school principal whose children attend Ridgewood Public Schools, said New Jersey is following in the footsteps of New York, where thousands of students reportedly skipped school last spring rather than show up to take their annual state tests.

Educators agree the movement is spreading, though it’s unclear to what degree. Opposition is vocal in some communities, like Montclair, but superintendents in some others say they have barely heard a peep.