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10-13-11 Education Issues in the News
NJ Spotlight - Charters Continue to Stir Up Controversy -- in Senate, Court, and Home Districts…In the suburbs, experimental schools end up in court, as plaintiffs and defendants

The Record - Graduation rates will drop with new plan

 

NJ Spotlight - Charters Continue to Stir Up Controversy -- in Senate, Court, and Home Districts…In the suburbs, experimental schools end up in court, as plaintiffs and defendants

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By John Mooney, October 13 in Education|Post a Comment

 

“…She said the tension between charters and their host districts seem intractable, at least for now.

"It's certainly not going away as an issue," said Lynne Strickland, director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools. "But rather than pitting a community against itself, something needs to be talked through to get this off the dime."

a rare election-season session, the Senate education committee has scheduled for today a hearing on a series of contentious bills that would place new limits and rules on charter schools in the state.

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But it remains a guessing game at this point as to whether any of them will pass, even as more contentious moves continue to take place outside of Trenton, as local communities contest charter schools in their midst and charters fight back.

The state earlier this month announced the approval of just four new charter schools for next year, an unexpectedly low count that some attributed to the growing backlash to the expansion of the experimental schools in both urban and suburban communities.

But the new approvals did little to slow the concerns, as the approval of a new charter school in Cherry Hill –- the lone suburban charter of the four -- drew a quick rebuke from the Cherry Hill school district.

In an announcement and seven-minute video posted on the district's website, its superintendent and school board president said the district would challenge the approval of the Regis Academy Charter School on a number of familiar grounds, including that the new school would draw close to $2 million from the district.

"The bottom line here in Cherry Hill is we believe our children receive a quality education within the 19 schools across our district," said Superintendent Maureen Reusche. "Our number one question -- with the approval of the charter school -- is where is the need."

Meanwhile, a charter school that has been approved in Mercer County has taken three districts to court for spending public funds to block their school from ever opening.

The oral arguments in that case between Princeton International Academy Charter School and the districts of Princeton Regional, West Windsor-Plainsboro, and South Brunswick began this week before an administrative law judge.

The school's founders, said its lawyer, William Harla, "are nothing more than a group of parents using their own money to fund a charter school because they believe that a Mandarin-language immersion school will be of benefit to their children."

The administrative law judge said she would take the case under advisement. Her ruling goes to acting education commissioner Chris Cerf for his determination. Cerf would also rule on an appeal in the Cherry Hill case.

All this, while Cerf and legislators continue to grapple with how best to address the growing concerns, starting with the legislation to be heard -- but not voted on -- today. The Senate committee has said that the bills would be for discussion purposes only.

The bills in the Senate -- all approved in the Assembly -- would place a series of new rules on charter schools, including one bill to expand the number of authorizing agencies to approve and oversee charters and another to place new requirements on how charters recruit, enroll, and retain students.

Probably the most controversial of the measures would be one that would require local voters to approve any new charter schools within their borders, a proposal that has been strongly opposed by the Christie administration and charter school advocates.

State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark), who chairs the education committee, has also said she opposes the measure, but said recently that she was willing to hear all of the proposals as part of what could be a broader rewriting of the state's 1997 charter law.

"It will be for discussion purposes, so we can engage in a conversation," Ruiz said in late September, of the upcoming hearing. "We need to look at what has been working in the law, and what hasn't been working."

The hearing is expected to be well-attended by the various lobbyists and advocates on different sides of the issue. Among them will be Carlos Perez, president of the state's charter schools association, who said he is uncertain where the legislation is headed.

"I wish I had a crystal ball," he said yesterday.

"What is concerning is where this is not going," Perez continued. "We had been talking about authorizing, funding, facilities, needs. But now what we're seeing is a lot of reaction to the growth of charter schools, and not so much to the how we can improve this sector of our schooling."

One lobbyist representing the suburban districts said she, too, was uncertain on where the discussion would lead. She said the tension between charters and their host districts seem intractable, at least for now.

"It's certainly not going away as an issue," said Lynne Strickland, director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools. "But rather than pitting a community against itself, something needs to be talked through to get this off the dime."

The Record - Graduation rates will drop with new plan

Thursday, October 13, 2011

BY LESLIE BRODY

STAFF WRITER

 

When the 2011 School Report Cards come out this winter, many districts will be explaining a sudden drop in their published graduation rates.

Under a federal mandate, New Jersey and other states must make a major change in the way they calculate the share of students who actually earn diplomas. The goal is to correct rates that have typically been too rosy.

Urban districts with poor students who are more transient are likely to see the biggest declines under the new method, which counts a teenager as a dropout if the student leaves a district and there is no documentation of enrolling elsewhere. The new formula includes only students who graduate from high school in four years, so districts' figures will also suffer if they have more students who repeat grades or get off-track.

In Englewood, for example, the old formula showed the Class of 2010 as having a graduation rate of 97.9 percent. Under the new formula, preliminary numbers for the Class of 2011 cut it to 84.5 percent.

In Fort Lee, a high-performing community with a less mobile student body, district officials said the change has less of an impact: from 99.3 percent for the Class of 2010 to 98 percent for the Class of 2011.

There are many ways to tally graduation rates and such numbers have long been used to further political agendas. Even last month, Governor Christie alluded to a Newark graduation rate of 23 percent to underscore the urgency of his goals for overhauling the state's education system. That grim figure excluded students who took alternative routes to diplomas or took longer than four years. Meanwhile, Newark officials put the city's high school completion rate at 55 percent in 2010, and the New Jersey School Report Card published by the state called it 88 percent.

To enable consistent comparisons, the U.S. Department of Education required states to adopt the same method for calculating graduation rates by the end of this year. Called a "four-year adjusted cohort" rate, it means the number of students who graduate on time, divided by the number who entered high school four years earlier, with adjustments for transfers.

"Through this uniform method, states are raising the bar on data standards and simply being more honest," U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said.

In the past, New Jersey used a more generous system, which started with the number of graduates in senior year and subtracted the number of students known to be dropouts. Under that system, teenagers who stopped showing up were often claimed as transfers when they had actually quit school. New state databases that track individual students have allowed more precise pictures.

Some states that recently switched to the new method saw eye-opening declines of more than 10 points. State officials have predicted New Jersey's rate will fall under the new method from its current boast of 94.5 percent – among the highest in the nation — but they won't estimate how much. They also emphasize the importance of ensuring that a New Jersey diploma becomes more meaningful, because too many high school graduates show up at college needing remedial help.

State officials gave districts access to preliminary data last month so they could appeal any problems before their official release.

The Education Law Center, which advocates for poor children, has warned against using the coming graduation rates "to impose penalties and assign blame" when they should be used to describe problems and find solutions.

The new system may seem to mask some actual success stories. In the city of Passaic, for example, the old method put the district's graduation rate at 79 percent for the Class of 2010. The new method shows it to be 70 percent for the Class of 2011 – suggesting a drop in the percentage getting diplomas.

In reality, district officials said, the more recent class fared better than the previous year's group. Applying the new method to the Class of 2010 would show that only 66 percent of the earlier group graduated on time. The district has made progress, for example, through mentoring programs that bring students to college campuses to expose them to challenging work and encourage them to persevere.

Passaic Schools Superintendent Robert Holster said "it's been an uphill battle" to get more students to graduate on time, considering that many move in and out of the district frequently, repeat grades or arrive as teenagers with scant education from their home countries.

"The perception is 700 kids come in, so why don't 700 graduate?" he said. "It's not that simple."

E-mail: brody@northjersey.com

 


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