1-20-12 Education Issues in the News
NJ Spotlight - Christie Takes His School Reform Message to Irvington Church…Feisty great-aunt takes exception to governor's approach to teacher evaluation

Star Ledger - At Irvington town hall, Gov. Christie addresses crime, education reform

Politickernj.com - Education Dept. rejects ELC repair complaints; Diegnan plans hearings

NJ Spotlight - Christie Takes His School Reform Message to Irvington Church…Feisty great-aunt takes exception to governor's approach to teacher evaluation

By John Mooney, January 20, 2012 in Education|Post a Comment

Education reform is one of Gov. Chris Christie's favorite topics, but the time and place of this talk -- and his exchange with a feisty great-aunt -- set this "town hall" meeting apart.

Two days after he again put school reform among his legislative priorities in his State of the State address, Christie brought the subject to Irvington's Christian Love Church.

The governor joked that the audience, packed into pews and along the walls, was hardly the heart of his fan club. Just 4.7 percent of Irvington voted for him in 2009, he said, barely 450 people.

"That's bringing people together," he said to laughs, "I united 95 percent of Irvington."

But Christie nonetheless laid out the heart of his controversial platform as to what ails struggling urban schools like those in Irvington, where barely half of the students pass the state's tests in reading, writing and math.

He repeated his now familiar mantra of revamping how teachers are granted and keep tenure, for providing merit pay for the best of them, and offering more choices for parents through charter schools and school vouchers.

"We need to worry more about the future of our children and less about the comfort of the adults running the school system," he said.

The interesting part came afterward, when Christie opened it up for questions. By and large, he had won with his speech a smattering of "amens" and at least polite applause from a mostly minority audience that was not there to defend the schools.

But then there was Vivian Prescott, a 63-year old Newark native and teacher's aide of nearly 40 years who was handed the microphone second. In her white hat and red winter coat, Prescott said she didn't totally disagree with Christie's intentions.

"But I think the methods are wrong," she said.

From her years in a half-dozen Newark schools, she said there are weak teachers that a better evaluation system might catch, but also weak principals evaluating them that need their own reform movement.

And the testing that will serve as a benchmark of Christie's new evaluation system?

Prescott described one of the best teachers she ever worked with who saved lives but never did get those scores up. "There are some who test well, and some who just don't." she said.

And to use those scores to provide merit pay? Prescott said it's not an even playing field.

"After all the charters and magnet schools, they are left with some of the toughest kids," she said. "How are you going to evaluate them on merit?"

Christie played down the test scores as just a piece of his planned evaluation system, and said there will be improvements in how the state evaluates principals, too.

He agreed parental involvement and loving homes do matter, but they are not something the state can mandate. Instead, he promoted longer school days and longer school years, and even helping pay for it.

"It's not about a system that's perfect but about doing better," he told Prescott. "Every time we improve, it will still help a whole bunch of kids."

He eventually moved on to other topics: criminal justice reform, urban development, a little – but not much – about his income tax cut proposal. And Prescott stuck around, one of the last to leave.

"I think I riled him up a bit," she said afterward. "But merit pay is not fair pay, not enough principals are fair."

She didn't want to discount the governor entirely, but he was unlikely to have changed her vote.

"I know there has to be change," she said. "But I think he just wants to put forward his agenda."


Star Ledger - At Irvington town hall, Gov. Christie addresses crime, education reform

Published: Thursday, January 19, 2012, 2:52 PM Updated: Thursday, January 19, 2012, 10:24 PM

By Jenna Portnoy/Statehouse BureauThe Star-Ledger
IRVINGTON — Gov. Chris Christie received a warm if somewhat wary reception today from the hundreds who packed Christian Love Baptist Church in Irvington, Essex County.

Questions from the predominately black audience focused on education reform and crime, the inner city issues that Christie has said are priorities as he embarks on the second half of his term. He noted today — and in town hall in Voorhees Wednesday — that he won just 4.7 percent of the vote in Irvington in 2009.

Arthur Townes, 45, of Newark, asked Christie about expanding to violent offenders the mandatory drug treatment program he announced this week in his State of the State speech.

Christie said he would first address the 7,000 nonviolent offenders currently in jail on drug offenses. “I’m not saying that even those who have committed one violent offence are beyond redemption,” he said, adding: “Believe me they’ll be people circling waiting to call this a failure. There are people who believe the only solution to this is throwing people in jail and warehousing them.”

Christie, a former U.S. attorney, said he would work with the Legislature and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to set up drug courts in every county.

“You’ve dealt with people closely,” he said, “friends, family members who are drug addicted. They’re in denial … They, by testing positive, have forfeited their right to tell me they’re OK. Because they've got drugs in their body, they’re not OK and you know it and I know it.”

Vivian Prescott, a 63-year-old Irvington widow who said she spent 38 years as a teacher’s aid, asked the governor about the fairness of his proposal to distribute merit pay based on teacher evaluations, when magnet and charter schools leave many classes with poor-performing students.

Christie, explaining that his plan would use a mix of test scores and peer review from principals and other teachers to measure performance, said students whose parents unable to provide extra help at home deserve the best teachers. He also supports a longer school day and school year.

 “All those things are used as excuses for not wanting to get at one of things we know we can fix, which is to get a quality teacher in front of very classroom,” he said.

The nearly 2-hour-long program followed two television interviews this morning and Christie is scheduled tonight for an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox.


Politickernj.com - Education Dept. rejects ELC repair complaints; Diegnan plans hearings

By Bill Mooney | January 19th, 2012 - 3:38pm

TRENTON – The state says a non-profit agency is off-base in its call for an investigation into the status of certain repairs at some urban schools.

Meanwhile, one lawmaker said he will pursue the matter further.

The Education Department rejected claims made today by the Education Law Center that necessary repairs are not being done at some of the state’s urban schools.

ELC sent a letter to lawmakers asking them to conduct investigations into the status of hundreds of repairs ELC said are needed but are not being done by DOE or the Schools Development Authority.

Education spokesman Justin Barra said that this matter generally falls under SDA’s authority, and he said that some of the ELC claims are inaccurate.

He said that over the summer personnel from Education and SDA visited all of the sites and they are in the process of prioritizing them.

Barra said some of the repairs are deemed “emergent,’’ meaning, he said, that they are not emergencies but still represent health and safety issues that will need attention.

He said that SDA has a fund of approximately $100 million for these requested repairs.

An SDA spokesperson said they would have no comment.

Meanwhile, the lawmakers have received the ELC requests.

Assembly Education Chairman Patrick Diegnan, (D-18), South Plainfield, said he planned to hold a hearing and get some answers.

In a prepared response, he said: “I commend the Education Law Center for continuing to focus on this outrageous situation. We are at the halfway point of the Christie Administration and not one school is even scheduled to begin construction.

“The annual cost of operating the Schools Development Authority is approximately $50 million. That means that almost $100 million in taxpayer dollars has been spent on repairing a few roofs and dealing with miscellaneous health and safety issues. Someone must be held accountable.

“I once again intend to conduct a hearing with my legislative colleagues and ask for an accounting. It is time that this unacceptable and neglectful failure is addressed.”

A spokesperson for Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Teresa Ruiz, (D-29), Newark, said earlier today that she has received the letter and is looking into the matter.