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9-14-15 Education Issues in the News

NJ Spotlight - The List: Watching the Clock -- Which NJ Schools Have the Longest Days?...When it comes to hours and minutes spent in school, all Garden State schools are not created equal

Colleen O'Dea | September 14, 2015

With Labor Day past, school is back in session throughout New Jersey, with some students having started classes as much as three weeks ago.

While many grumble about getting back to work and losing the hours they were able to spend swimming, surfing the Internet, or just chilling with friends, there are some New Jersey pupils who have it worse than others -- from the student's perspective.

The typical New Jersey student spent about 6 1/2 hours a day in school, with 5 hours and 44 minutes devoted to instruction in 2013-2014, according to an analysis of data from the most recent School Performance Reports issued earlier this year by the state Department of Education. For some, though, the day stretches much longer.

These are the schools where students spent the most time in class each day, according to the DOE's data:

1. People's Preparatory Charter School -- 8 hours, 35 minutes

This Newark high school had 273 students in grades 9-11 in its third year in operation. It added a 12th grade last year. Its mission, according to its website, is to prepare "all of our students to graduate from the college of their choice as informed, involved and resilient citizens." People's Prep also tied with three other schools for having the longest total school day -- including lunch and other noninstructional time -- of 9 hours.

2. Great Oaks Charter School -- 8 hours, 30 minutes

Missing the top spot by just 5 minutes, this Newark school also has a 9-hour total school day for students in grades 6 through 9. Newark is one of four locations in the country where Great Oaks operates college-prep charters. The school first opened in 2011.

3. Cicely Tyson Community Middle/High School -- 8 hours, 7 minutes

This school in East Orange is the district public school with the longest instructional day in the state. The school enrolled 745 students in grades 6-12. Cicely Tyson School is arts-focused and has a full school day lasting 8 hours and 47 minutes.

4.-5. Team Academy Charter School -- 8 hours

Located in Newark, Team Academy is one of a chain of 183 college-prep charter schools across the nation run by the KIPP Foundation -- seven in Newark alone. A K-12 school, Team Academy enrolled 2,231 students.

4.-5. Environment Community Opportunity Charter School -- 8 hours

This Camden charter serves 227 students in kindergarten through grade 5. Also known as ECO, the school opened 10 years ago.

6.-7. Freedom Academy Charter School -- 7 hours, 55 minutes

This middle school for grades 6 through 8 in Camden enrolls 246 students. The DOE wound up placing the school on probation in 2013, but renewed its charter when it entered into an agreement with Democracy Prep Public Schools, which operates schools in several states. The school day lasted 8 hours and 45 minutes in total.

6.-7. Dr. Ronald McNair High School -- 7 hours, 55 minutes

A high-achieving selective public school in Jersey City, McNair enrolled 707 students in grades 9 through 12. In total, students spent 8 hours and 35 minutes in school.

8. Jersey City Global Charter School -- 7 hours, 45 minutes

The second Jersey City school on the list is a charter enrolling students in kindergarten through second grades. The small school enrolled 103 students. Its full day lasted 8 hours and 45 minutes.


Elizabeth's six high schools all tied for the last spots on this list, all provided 7 hours, 39 minutes of instruction and full school days lasting 8 hours and 26 minutes. They are: Thomas A. Edison Career and Technical Academy, 700 students; Admiral William F. Halsey Jr. Leadership Academy, 1,100; John E. Dwyer Technology Academy, 1,070; Alexander Hamilton Preparatory Academy, 950 students; Elizabeth High School, 816 students; Thomas Jefferson Arts Academy, 826 students.



Star Ledger - What colleges don't tell you about financing an education

Karin Price Mueller | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com NJ.com
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on September 14, 2015 at 8:00 AM, updated September 14, 2015 at 8:51 AM


Our experts share college secrets with Inside Jersey.

Rana Slosberg, college admissions consultant, Slosberg College Solutions, Bridgewater

"Parents often assume that students will finish a bachelor's degree in four years. Most students are taking more than five years to get their bachelor's degree. Some colleges, such as Wesleyan University, offer a bachelor's degree program that can be completed in three years, plus summers. This is one way to cut your college costs by about 20 percent."

"Most colleges will subtract money earned in outside scholarships from your financial aid package. Some colleges will reduce the loan burden by the amount of the scholarship, but other colleges will reduce your grant money."

PLUS: Your guide to managing college tuition costs and more

"Some colleges have a policy of providing good financial aid for the first year, and then substantially reducing the grant aid in the following years while increasing the loans. You can ask colleges how they determine financial aid after the first year and what the average loan is after the first year. While it is typical that the amount of loans will increase each year, if the increase is substantial, you will want to take that into consideration."

"Families often exclude colleges based on their sticker price. Don't do this because you may be eligible for need-based financial aid or merit-based financial aid. You should be concerned with what college will cost you, not the sticker price. Make use of the college's Net Price Calculator to get a rough estimate of the price for your student."

Bryan Smalley, certified financial planner, RegentAtlantic, Morristown

"What often catches families by surprise at the beginning of their student's college experience is that the student, not the family, is the college's direct contact. This means that the college will send all important information (including tuition bills and grades) to the student, not the family. With this in mind, it is important that before the student heads off to college that the family have a conversation that helps clarify what the expectations are within the scope of the student sharing important information, such as tuition bills, grades and medical information. Having this conversation upfront, and taking the necessary steps to make sure the expectations are met, will go a long way in alleviating the surprises and potential stresses that may arise when the student, and not the family, receives an email with the first semester's tuition bill."

"If a grandparent is to own 529 plan assets, it's best to save those assets until the back end of college. For example, if grandparents decide to fund one year of college for their grandchild, it would be best to fund the last year of college as to not impact aid, since the student will not be applying for financial aid for the following year."

"Select colleges market to students they know will not meet their admission requirements. They do this to increase applicant flow, lowering the percentage of students they accept, which improves their college ranking on the various rating services (U.S. News & World Report, etc.). Lower acceptance rates raise reputations of schools at the expense of students' confidence and parents' application fees."

Larry Winters, independent college counselor, Academy College Coaches, Morganville

"Certain ethnic groups, such as Asian and Indian, often need to have higher SAT/GPA scores in order to gain admission into the more competitive schools. This discriminates (against) candidates on race. This creates student stress and pressure, as well as anger toward the process."

Jody D'Agostini, certified financial planner, AXA Advisors/Falcon Financial Group, Morristown

"One myth is that higher income or asset families won't qualify for aid. Actually, you could have a lot of money in your home, retirement accounts, annuities, cash value insurance policies and even in savings, but if you show very little in income, you may still qualify for aid. You should apply."

"Colleges compete for students that they want at their institution. Many high schools use Naviance for families to see which schools are in the 'sweet spot' for their students. Applying to schools that are at or below your profile may enhance your chances for aid. Colleges are always trying to improve their statistics and accepting students that can raise their profiles makes sense."

"Colleges won't tell you that you can appeal their awards. You may have special circumstances that need to be communicated, such as special-needs siblings, job loss, a recent family death, divorce or cash-flow difficulties. These need to be communicated and documented, in order to reverse a financial aid commitment."



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NJ Spotlight - Opinion: Moving Beyond Good versus Evil in Newark School-Reform Debate…Ras Baraka hasn’t just cooled the campaign rhetoric, he’s proven that he knows the value of eclectic and diversified approaches to a troubled school system

Laura Waters | September 14, 2015


During the 2014 battle for Newark’s mayoral seat, contender Ras Baraka was portrayed by his supporters as a new-age Spartacus, a noble warrior for oppressed public schools battling privatization-crazed Wall Street oligarchs. The Nation gasped, “Baraka will Reclaim New Jersey’s Largest City From Charter Schools and Wall Street!” Blue Jersey snarked, “hedge-fund manager making money off our schools -- they all support [Shavar] Jeffries,” Baraka’s opponent. After Baraka won, the union-affiliated NJ Working Families super PAC gushed, “Baraka Win a Big Blow to Corporate Education Reform.”

It’s the classic archetype of good versus evil: beloved neighborhood schools beset by amoral money-grubbing reformers. The problem here is that what works for campaign lampoonery doesn’t work on the ground, especially when a former teacher and principal, now the leader of New Jersey’s largest city, appears sincere about improving a long-dysfunctional school system.

Earlier this month the New York Times ran a front-page article on the mayor’s governing style and concluded that “the radical now looks like a radical pragmatist.” The same could be said for Baraka’s approach to the Newark City Public Schools. Anyone who disdains the value of eclectic and diversified approaches to troubled school systems has lessons to learn here.

Mayor Baraka was already a local celebrity who served concurrently as a city councilman and principal of the city’s Central High School. Now he’s famous nationally, featured in The Prize: Who’s In Charge of America’s Schools? by Dale Russakoff.

The book, just out last week, analyzes the convoluted politics behind a proposed transformation of the Newark school system funded by a $100 million grant from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. The grant was actually only a little more than 10 percent of Newark schools’ annual operating budget.

Nonetheless, it was intended to address the sordid state of the district that, said Russakoff, was in a condition of “fiscal ruin, massive overcapacity, and in urgent need of improvement.”

In 2010, the year of Zuckerberg’s bequest, 60 percent of third- through eighth-grade students could not do math or read at grade level, despite expenditures of $22,300 per student per year. The high school graduation rate was 50 percent. At principal Baraka’s Central High, not a single student got a 1550 or better on the three-part SAT, a score considered a threshold for college and career-readiness.

Russakoff recounts that “in public [Baraka] blamed poor student performance on oppression and poverty, assigning no responsibility to teachers and principals.” However,

“[I]nside Central High School Baraka was more pragmatic educator than strident politician.”

For example, Baraka “mounted an aggressive turnaround strategy, using some of the instructional techniques pioneered by the reform movement. He said he was particularly influenced by a superintendent in a high-poverty district in Colorado who was trained by philanthropist Eli Broad’s leadership academy -- an arm of the ‘conspiracy’ Baraka the politician inveighed against.”

“I stole ideas from everywhere,” he said. With a federal school improvement grant, he extended the school day, introduced small learning academies, integrated art and drama into academic classes, greatly intensified test preparation, and hired consultants to coach teachers in literacy instruction.”

Baraka told Russakoff that “he often found tenure a headache, saddling students with weak teachers … He thought teachers should receive raises for performance, not longevity, as enshrined in the current union contract -- exactly what Zuckerberg was then advocating.” And, while he “vehemently” professed his opposition to charter schools, “later he would soften that view as well.”

This past spring, before the departure of Cami Anderson and the state’s commitment to a return to local control, Baraka joined the Newark Teachers Union in supporting student sit-ins and protesting district changes. He sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to stop the “disruptive and illegal education reforms” perpetrated by Anderson.

Yet in September Baraka worked with Education Reform Now, Teach For America, the Foundation for Newark's Future (which manages allocation of the Facebook grant), and the Newark Charter School Fund to give away 5,000 backpacks and other school supplies. In a joint appearance at Rutgers with then-Chicago union president Karen Lewis, “Baraka cautioned the audience against believing city activists are opposed all education reform initiatives,” adding, “our kids deserve the best ideas.”

This synergistic approach -- use what works, toss what doesn’t -- bodes well for Newark’s successful transition to local control. That good vs. evil meme may have played well during the election, but reductionist ideology is incompatible with sound public policy.

Take school choice, one of the tenets of education reform and increasingly popular in Newark: last year about 30 percent of the city’s 43,000 students chose to enroll in charters and that percentage is projected to rise to 40 percent over the next few years. The trend is especially strong among black families; Newark’s charters now enroll 50 percent of black students.

Meanwhile, bull-headed leaders from Newark Teachers Union screech, “NO to more charter schools -- YES TO TRADITIONAL PUBLIC SCHOOLS! “

Baraka appears ready to rise above this Manichaean artifice that quickly seduced a mayor just across the Hudson River, Bill de Blasio. Baraka also has an able partner in new Superintendent Chris Cerf, who is a powerful advocate for educational equity. They both know that petty distinctions impede children and a diverse educational landscape adds value. We can all learn from that, reformers and unionists alike.

Laura Waters writes about education politics and policy for NJ Spotlight and other publications. She also blogs at NJ Left Behind and has been a school board member in Lawrence Township (Mercer County) for 10 years.

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