|9-22-15 Education In the News - Early Childhood Expansion...Teacher Leader Legislation Moving|
NJ Spotlight - Kindergarten Kids’ Drawings, Numbers Graphically Show Why Pre-K is Key…Veteran kindergarten teacher wows Senate hearing by showing difference in work between those who did -- and didn't -- attend preschool
John Mooney | September 22, 2015
For the first two hours or so, yesterday’s Senate hearing on the state of preschool and other early-childhood services in New Jersey went pretty much as expected.
Virtually nobody was against expanding the state’s preschool program, and plenty of research was provided as to benefits of existing programs.
But the arguments crystallized -- and the attendees figuratively caught their breath - when a veteran kindergarten teacher from Freehold came forward with a packet of Week One assessments from some of her new students.
Randee Mandelbaum’s new students were asked to draw crayon self-portraits and demonstrate how well they knew their letters and numbers. On the left side of the sheets was the work of children who hadn’t been through preschool, and on the right side were those who had.
And one by one, the former showed random drawings and illegible scribblings, compared with clearly recognizable self-portraits -- including fingers and shoes -- as well as one child who could count to 20 and another who wrote out the alphabet, capital and lower case.
“You will see one student does not know any letters, cannot write any letters, and doesn’t even know how to write her own name,” said Mandelbaum, a 20-year veteran. “While the other student can write most of the alphabet comfortably.”
Those were just the obvious differences, she said. The kids who had been to preschool were better to separate from parents, go to the bathroom on their own, follow two- or three-step directions, use scissors, and interact with peers. And the gaps remain through the year.
“The children with pre-K knowledge and experience nearly always come into my class with the essential social, emotional, and academic skills, able to launch an essential year in kindergarten,” Mandelbaum said.
State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), the chair of the Senate committee, flipped through the student work in wonder.
“Of all the testimony we have received today,” she said. “If anybody needs the proof, in New Jersey we have the evidence, and it is our responsibility to step up our game and find the investment. This is extraordinary.”
Ruiz had called for the hearing, saying she wanted to jumpstart the discussion on bringing universal preschool to the state, expanding on the successful court-ordered program now serving the state’s most impoverished districts with two years of full-day programs.
Also on the table, Ruiz said, were other early-childhood services, including those that come before pre-K, and building out full-day kindergarten so that it is in every district. State officials said about 85 percent of districts have full-day, the rest half-day.
The line-up of guests included many of the state’s top advocates on the issue, including state Early Childhood Director Ellen Wolock, all the main education organizations, leaders of individual child centers and United Way programs, and the top researcher from Rutgers’ National Institute for Early Education Research.
“I am pleased to be in a state that has made substantial progress in providing high-quality preschool,” said Steve Barnett, NIEER’s executive director. “New Jersey already has a proven approach.”
Barnett argued that high-quality preschool across the state would save $850 million a year in K-12 costs in terms of remediation and special education.
Yet the stumbling block will be finding the down-payment from the state to move the program forward, one that already costs $600 million and serves 40,000 students.
Ruiz said afterward that all options were being considered, including better coordination among agencies and freeing up or leveraging existing funds. But she acknowledged new revenues would also need to be found.
“Should we put up a bill to explore a corporate business tax?” she said. “Maybe that’s the simplest thing we can do. Allocating money in next year’s budget, if that’s available. And exploring the option of a referendum, if that’s possible.”
Asked for specifics, she said the discussions were just beginning: “We don’t know yet. It’s too early.”
Star Ledger - Should N.J. expand its public preschool program?
TRENTON — Cecilia Zalkind could already see the differences in the group of 3-years-olds during the first week of school, she said.
Some of the students at the Elizabeth preschool were interested in reading and prepared to learn, but too many children barely talked, didn't know how to hold a book and seemed unable to interact with one another, she told a panel of state lawmakers on Monday.
"To me, this group of 3-year-olds is lucky," said Zalkind, executive director of the non-profit Advocates for Children of New Jersey, "because preschool will make a difference to them."
Zalkind joined other preschool advocates Monday in Trenton to tell the Senate Education Committee that New Jersey needs to expand its existing public preschool program.
"There is so much evidence, scientific, medical and developmental, about the importance of the early years, starting in infancy," she said. "This is the time when the brain grows faster than any other time. It sets the foundation upon which all later learning, behavior and health depends."
New Jersey already has a high quality preschool program in place, Zalkind said. Earlier in the hearing, state Department of Education officials said New Jersey provides more than $600 million to offer preschool to more than 45,000 3- or 4-years olds in low-income communities.
Most of those districts are the former "Abbott districts," named for a series of court cases in which the state Supreme Court said residents of New Jersey's poorest cities have a right to well-funded schools. The state is also the recipient of a $17 million federal grant that expanded its preschool program to more schools.
The focus of the hearing was the benefit of expanding those programs to more children in need, said Sen. Teresa Ruiz, the committee chair.
"We need to have a broader, more serous discussion about investing in the greatest asset in the state of New Jersey, and that's our children," Ruiz said.
Too many children don't have access to public preschool because of where they live, even if they are from a low-income family, said Brian Maher, the benefactor of Pre-K Our Way, a non-profit focused on expanding preschool in New Jersey.
Maher suggested the state follow the 2008 School Funding Reform Act, a formula for state aid to public schools that would provide for the expansion of the state preschool program, he said.
"I am not talking about expanding childcare or daycare," Maher said. "I am talking about expanding high quality pre-k programs that already exist in the state."
The state has not followed the formula, with the Department of Education saying New Jersey doesn't have enough money to do so.
Sen. Michael Doherty, said the state should reconsider which communities are eligible for the program. Some communities, like Hoboken, have changed demographically and may no longer be in need of state-funded preschool, he said.
Zalkind said she worries about children who don't have access to preschool programs.
"Without preschool, they would start kindergarten that way, already behind when the stakes are higher and the remedy much harder," she said.
NJ Spotlight - New Jersey Adds a New Tier for State’s Educators: ‘Teacher Leader’…Criteria for designation yet to be determined but move earns praise as big step forward for NJ education
John Mooney | September 21, 2015
A year ago this month, a coalition of education organizations ranging from teachers unions to teachers colleges announced a slew of recommendations for revamping what it took to become a teacher and what was required in their schooling.
Perhaps the most consequential idea was the proposal to create a new tier of “teacher leaders.”
On Friday, Gov. Chris Christie’s office announced he had signed the bill to create the new “teacher leader” designation, billed as a way for educators to advance in their careers without leaving the classroom.
“The reality is that we know great teachers are already leaders in their schools and communities,” Christie said in a statement. “ But this law honors and recognizes those contributions and designates that leadership in a real way, without making them go outside the classroom to pursue those opportunities.”
There was a certain irony in the announcement, given Christie’s reputation as hardly being the best friend of public school teachers in New Jersey, given his frequent combat with their unions.
Nonetheless, with the unanimous backing of the Legislature, the new law does portend some significant changes for the profession – as well as plenty of questions about what those changes will look like.
Will teachers earned the designation based on experience or course work – or both? What will it mean for colleges offering the new credential? And, of course, will “teacher leaders” make more money?
It may take a while to find out the answers to those questions, as an 11-member committee will recommend those criteria. The final decision will rest with the State Board of Education through what is likely to be a protracted process.
Educators, policy makers surveyed by NJ Spotlight offer views on how proposed position should be defined
‘Taking Back the Profession’ report includes call for new tier of ‘teacher leaders’ and more mentoring
The report released a year ago –titled “Taking Back the Profession” -- recommended that the designation be reserved for teachers with at least five years’ experience and that the position require an additional 12 credits or 180 hours in coursework.
As for compensation, the report backed the likelihood that any extra pay would be individually negotiated by districts and their unions, at least until a statewide norm was established.
The big supporters of creating the new credential applauded the bill-signing and said creating the new position could have a big impact.
“The teacher-leader endorsement is a great step forward for the teaching profession and for New Jersey’s public schools,” said Wendell Steinhauer, president of the New Jersey Education Association, in a statement.
“New Jersey is home to America’s most talented, most effective teachers,” he said. “This law allows those exceptional teachers to advance professionally while continuing to pursue their passion for teaching students."
State Sen. Jim Whelan (D-Atlantic), the bill’s chief sponsor and himself a teacher, said: “A teacher leader is someone who ‘goes the extra mile’ to help not only his or her students but other teachers with less experience to make a profound difference in their students’ lives … This endorsement will further encourage teachers to continue leading the way.”
NJ Spotllight - State Senate Committee Turns Its Attention to ‘Universal’ Preschool…State-required pre-K programs currently serve 50,000 low-income children
John Mooney | September 18, 2015
The idea of universal preschool will get some new political attention next week, when a state Senate committee starts tackling the topic – and, in particular, the difficult question of how to fund such programs.
The Senate education committee will hold a hearing Monday with advocates and educators to start hashing out the long-debated issue, with the Legislature’s Democratic leadership saying there will ultimately be some initiatives to expand early childhood education.
State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), the committee’s chair, said yesterday that while the merits of preschool have long been established and New Jersey has a relatively strong record, it’s time to “refocus” and press anew for expansion.
“We’re bringing together a broad-based group of stakeholders to talk about the importance of early childhood education, the impact of it, and the commitment we need to make to continue to expand it,” she said in an interview.
“It’s time to refocus our energy and refocus on our most important asset,” she said.
Ruiz said the discussion will surely start with preschool, now established by state law and court decree for 50,000 low-income students but lacking the funding for much expansion beyond that.
But she said she also wants to draw attention to so-called “zero to three “ programs for the very youngest children, as well as before- and after-school programs that are so critical to many families.
Ruiz added that lawmakers also need to address this fundamental issue -- that only about two-thirds of school districts in the state now have full-day kindergarten programs, which are not required by law. Only a dozen states require it nationwide.
“I don’t think enough people even know that,” she said.
None of these are new issues, but a number of forces are coming together to bring more attention to the topics.
Senate President Sweeney uses venue to announce preschool services, full-day kindergarten among his ‘top-five’ priorities
As districts go half-day, kids lose the full advantage of a critical year for learning.
New group -- Pre-K Our Way -- plans to spend $1 million annually over next few years to lobby for increased early childhood education
A new, privately funded coalition, PreK Our Way, has started a public campaign to bring the issue to the forefront in the next gubernatorial election, and state Senate President Steve Sweeney – himself a possible candidate for governor -- has called expanded preschool a “top five” priority.
“It’s one of the few programs where it is universally agreed we need to invest more,” Sweeney said at a NJ Spotlight roundtable in June.
“I have to say, pre-K is high on our list,” he said. “When people see you are investing in the right places, it is attractive for them to come into the state.”
But it comes back to money, all sides acknowledged – simply expanding preschool to another 90 districts would likely cost about $300 million. Various ideas have been floated for coming up with the money, ranging from a dedicated business tax to a redistribution of existing resources.
Ruiz wasn’t discussing any of those options yesterday, saying that’s a discussion she hopes to begin with Monday’s hearing. Invited to speak are representatives of PreK Our Way, Advocates for Children of New Jersey, and the state’s key education groups.
Ruiz has also invited people from the law-enforcement community who have increasingly spoken out about the benefits they have seen in the head start that preschool and related programs provide to children in their communities.
“We know the big questions are funding and facilities, but right now is about highlighting the importance of this,” she said.
Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State St., Trenton, NJ 08608 (609) 394-2828
Comments before the Senate Education Committee, 9-21-15
Early Childhood Education in New Jersey
Good morning, I am Lynne Strickland the Executive Director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools/GSCS. Thanks you Chairman Ruiz for the invitation to comment on this important subject today, as well as members of the Committee for you kind attention. I will make a few overview comments and then turn to Elizabeth Ginsburg, Vice President of the GSCS to talk about some specifics of the long term and evolving successful early childhood education program at the Glen Ridge school district.
GSCS believes that early childhood education, from the earliest possible level as needed, is of great value to the well-being and lifelong opportunity for success of the whole child. Education, health and nutritional issues, among others, clearly set the table for serious and focused discussion.
Where there is particular need and lack of affordability early education programs should be in line to look forward to additional supports. Because needs and support options do differ throughout the state, a one-size fits all approach is not a viable option.
Funding is a real problem, and requires in-depth and realistic investigation as to what sources may or may not be available, starting with federal, state and local dollars, as well as private and foundation support. Other issues in the funding arena should be taken into account as well, such as:
My name is Elisabeth Ginsburg, president of the Board of Education in Glen Ridge, a pre-K-12 district in Essex County. I am here today, along with Lynne Strickland Executive Director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, to speak about my district’s positive experience with quality early childhood education.
In Glen Ridge we have offered half-day Pre-K since 1984 and full- day kindergarten since 1985. Nearly five years ago, we began offering the option of full-day pre-K. It has proved to be very popular, with the majority of Pre-K parents choosing the full-day option. For the convenience of parents, we also offer fee-based Before-Care, beginning at 7 am, and After Care until 6pm.
Glen Ridge Pre-K is located in our school buildings and taught by certified teachers, who are in turn supervised by our elementary school administrators. At its inception, the Pre-K program was free to Glen Ridge families. About six years ago, when the law changed, we began charging for Pre-K. We were very reluctant, but our choice was plain—either charge for the program or eliminate it. We have surveyed the private nursery schools in our area and try to keep our tuition at or below the average.
We maintain Pre-K and full day kindergarten because the community has realized the following benefits:
Despite our success, our early childhood programs are in jeopardy. Classes, especially at the kindergarten level, are large, and we have no additional space. Freeing up space by reverting to half-day kindergarten would be a step backwards for us and our community. We are working on options for additional space and even dream of expanding early childhood education in Glen Ridge to include three year-olds. However, in a community that receives only three percent state aid, finding the money for the necessary staff and facilities is a major challenge.
As in all things related to education, there are no easy answers to the early childhood dilemma. A one-size-fits-all solution will not work statewide. It is much more likely that legislation or programs that reward creativity, partnerships and innovative educational solutions will best meet New Jersey’s overwhelming need for high quality early childhood education. We are ready to help in any way.
GLEN RIDGE FACTS AND FIGURES
Pre-K: 70 students in two schools
Kindergarten: 136 students in two schools
PK Half Day - $5,525
PK Full Day - $7,960
Pre-K: Closed to non-residents due to full enrollment**
K – Resident – free
K – Non-resident - $11,531
*Our average school graduating class is between 135 and 160
**If space were available, we would be happy to enroll non-resident students
Garden State Coalition of Schools