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12-2-11 Lame Duck 'Stuck', Tenure, Teacher Evaluations , Charters & Opportunity Scholarship Act - In the News but not on Trenton's agenda [yet]
NJ Spotlight - Education Reform Limps Along in Lame Duck…Closed-door meetings may lead to some movement, but odds are against it

NJ Spotlight - Head of New Jersey Charter School Office Steps Down…After less than a year on the job, Carly Bolger leaves for position in Chicago

Politicker.nj - Success in a hardscrabble city, one student at a time

Star Ledger - 2,500 attend Trenton rally supporting school voucher program for N.J. students in failing districts

NJ Spotlight - Education Reform Limps Along in Lame Duck…Closed-door meetings may lead to some movement, but odds are against it

NJ Spotlight -  Head of New Jersey Charter School Office Steps Down…After less than a year on the job, Carly Bolger leaves for position in Chicago

Politicker.nj - Success in a hardscrabble city, one student at a time

Star Ledger - 2,500 attend Trenton rally supporting school voucher program for N.J. students in failing districts







NJ Spotlight - Education Reform Limps Along in Lame Duck…Closed-door meetings may lead to some movement, but odds are against it


By John Mooney, December 2 in Education|1 Comment

The legislature's lame duck session that was expected to be busy with education reform debate is looking sleepier by the day.

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Senate committees yesterday met in the Statehouse amid a lively rally outside for a proposed school voucher program, but there was little movement on that or any other key education bills that had been high on the agenda.

That's not to say there weren't plenty of meetings behind closed doors that could quickly change the landscape. State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), who is seeking to shepherd through a tenure reform bill, was party to many of them, and late yesterday was not giving up hope for this month -- for her bill at least. She said long-awaited amendments would be filed in the next week.

But some prominent Assembly Democrats were not as hopeful that the tenure bill, with or without amendments, would even get a hearing in their house before the session ends on January 9.

State Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex), chairman of the Assembly's education committee, said earlier in the day that he would not hear the bill in his committee before the next session.

"I have never believed this should be done in lame duck, especially when all that is really changing is the calendar," Diegan said, referring to the fact that there will be little change in the legislature next session.

He said it was too big an issue to press for now, adding that "some form of tenure reform bill" would be heard and voted on by next spring. But then Diegnan said he continued to oppose some of the key tenets of Ruiz's bill, including a central one that tenure would be granted and taken away based on a teacher's record of job evaluations.

"My hope is we can submit one bill that we can all agree upon," he said. "But I think there will be significant changes [from Ruiz's current bill]."

State Assemblyman Albert Coutinho (D-Essex), sponsor of Ruiz's companion bill in the Assembly, said he was not counting on lame duck action, either.

"I do believe we will have meaningful tenure reform, but maybe not necessarily in lame duck," he said. "I'm still working it hard, but it will not be end of the world if not in lame duck. I would be extremely disappointed if not before the budget break [in the spring], though."

Coutinho is also sponsor of several charter school bills that would tighten restrictions on the experimental schools, as well as expand the authorizing process for new ones. But he didn't expect much imminent movement on those, either. "I don't see anything significant happening in lame duck in terms of education," he said.

After chairing the Senate education committee's meeting in the morning, Ruiz was still meeting with colleagues and advocates into the late afternoon, in what she said was her third round of meetings regarding her bill. She said action in the next month remained possible, but conceded it will take some prodding.

"I think we are a little ways away," she said. "I am doing a lot of work on this. I think we have done the due diligence on the policy, and now we have to do the politics."

When told Diegnan's comments, Ruiz said: "I don't think any one person will dictate how this goes."

The next step, she said, would be introduction of amendments to her current bill, ones that she said would not stray far from the central principles but hopefully address some concerns.

Called the Teacher Effectiveness and Accountability for the Children of New Jersey Act (TEACHNJ), the bill as it now stands would require teachers to have three consecutive years of satisfactory evaluations to gain tenure and face the loss of it after two years of unsatisfactory reviews. It would also do away with some seniority protections for new teachers, and require so-called "mutual consent" of both teacher and principal for teacher transfers.

Ruiz said those would not much change. "Some of the amendments will be cleaned up, and some others will be more comprehensive in terms of definitions and things like that," she said.

Among those meeting with Ruiz yesterday was Ginger Gold, chief lobbyist for the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA). The union has been critical of Ruiz's bill, pushing its own reform proposal that would streamline the process for getting rid of poor teachers but leave the basic protections in place.

"There are areas where we agree, and there are areas where we disagree that we are still working on," Gold said after the meeting. "It was constructive. It's always good to talk."


NJ Spotlight -  Head of New Jersey Charter School Office Steps Down…After less than a year on the job, Carly Bolger leaves for position in Chicago

By John Mooney, December 2 in Education|1 Comment

New Jersey's charter school director, on the job for less than a dozen months, will be stepping down at the end of this year to take a new job in Chicago public schools.

Carly Bolger, director of the state Department of Education's charter school office, said her decision was "100 percent personal," since she is moving because of a relationship in Chicago. Finding the right job as director of Chicago's New Schools Office helped determine the timing, she said.

"My time here has been an incredible experience," she said yesterday. "I have worked with great people and created a great team, and I think really charted the course for where New Jersey is heading with charter schools."

Brought on board by acting commissioner Chris Cerf 10 months ago, Bolger oversaw the state's charter school office through maybe the movement's most tumultuous time since the experimental schools first launched in New Jersey 15 years ago.

Gov. Chris Christie has pressed for the expansion of charter schools and led the way for more than 20 new schools to be approved in the past year. Cerf has also sought to step up the state's oversight and doubled the size of the charter office to 11 people, including Bolger.

But the controversy over charters has been fiery, especially from suburban districts that haven't welcomed the schools into their communities and have argued that state oversight is inadequate. Several legislative bills remain pending that would significantly tighten restrictions on charters.

"The level of the debate is justified, given the importance of the issue," Bolger said yesterday at her tumultuous press conference.

She added, "In New Jersey, more than other places, the tone of the debate has gotten beyond the real issues. Personally, I would like to see it return to the quality of the schools."

Bolger said she would remain through the end of the calendar year, and also assist in the sometimes controversial review of charter applications. The department over the past year has been criticized for using outside reviewers, whom it has refused to identify but turned out to be largely charter school leaders and advocates.

Charter advocates were not fans of the latest process, either, calling it a vague and poorly designed system that led to just four of more than 50 applications being approved in the latest round. A report by the Washington-based Center for Education Reform yesterday slammed the application process for what it called its lack of transparency and objectivity.

Outside reviewers from around the country will be part of the current application process as well, Bolger said, but the names will be released after the process is finished. The reviewers also will not be paid this time, officials said.

Cerf said in a statement that he was sorry to see Bolger leave, and his office said a search has begun for her replacement.

"While we are sad to see Carly go as she embarks on the next stage of her career, we are grateful for the work she has done not only to develop the systems we now have in place, but also to build capacity in the charter school office to implement these systems in the future," Cerf said in a statement.

"Carly has assembled a top-notch team of 10 outstanding individuals who will continue the important work of ensuring that every child in New Jersey has great educational options available to them."

The head of the state’s charter schools association also had praise for Bolger.

"Her work has helped usher in a new era of quality authorizing by creating a rigorous approval process," said Carlos Perez, executive director of the association. "She has provided a strong foundation for developing much-needed quality public schools to serve our most disadvantaged students."


Politicker.nj - Success in a hardscrabble city, one student at a time

By Jim Hooker | December 1st, 2011 - 5:15pm

TRENTON – The high school graduation rate at this inner city school is 100 percent. Ditto for kids going on to college.

Oh, and scholarships for those colleges?

How about 48 kids splitting $6 million toward those hefty college bills, including some of the top schools in the country, like Princeton and Cornell universities.

That's the track record at St. Mary of the Assumption High School in the city of Elizabeth, a hardscrabble place like virtually all the rest of New Jersey's cities and among the 13 that would be covered by the Opportunity Scholarship Act.

“We work hard at it,” says Janet Malko, principal of the school for the past 23 years.

To a devil's advocate question on whether the kids are merely pushed through to reach the 100 percent graduation figure, Malko responds with the other numbers – about how many go on to college and the amount of college scholarship money given to her students.

“Colleges don't just give that kind of money away,” she says as evidence of the hard work put in at St. Mary's.

There's no social promotion at St. Mary's, she says, and no dropouts either. This at a time when New Jersey's urban areas often see dropout rates of one in two, or 50 percent, and higher.

“We have small classes and individual attention,” Malko said as she headed toward the big yellow school bus that brought her and more than a dozen of her students to the capital for today's rally in support of the proposed Opportunity Scholarship Act.

She likes the act – which opponents say will drain resources from the public schools – as a means to help children and her school.

Enrollment at the largely minority school is now at 215 students, far below what the principal would like to see. But the tuition of $5,700 per child annually is simply unaffordable for so many of the working poor who might otherwise send their children.

“If we can get some extra help, we could fill the building,” she said.

Fill the building with smart and sweet young people like St. Mary's senior Alexa Chandler of Roselle.

“More than 50 percent of kids are failing,” Chandler says as to why she supports the scholarship act. “They shouldn't be judged by their zip codes.”

Alexa and several classmates gathered around her on the fringe of today's rally were asked to describe the public high schools they would otherwise be going to, schools in Newark, Irvington, Elizabeth.

“Ghetto,” came the response from one girl. And then the words started to spill out like shots from a gang-banger’s semi-automatic pistol from each of a half-dozen kids gathered around in a circle. “Negative. Dangerous. Police. Hostile.”

“They have metal detectors going into those schools,” said Andy Hilaire, a St. Mary's 11th grader from Orange.

But Alexa and her classmates already have their place in the sun. Why come to a rally when their present and college-bound futures are all set?

“We're not selfish,” says Alexa's classmate, Anita Alli of Irvington. “They're just like me,” she adds of children going to places like Irvington High, where she would be now were it not for a scholarship from the Sisters of Mercy. “If we can get scholarships, why can't they?”

Then Andy Hilaire, the St. Mary's 11th grader, piped up with his reason for coming.

“To help people get the same opportunity I have. Even though it won't affect us,” he added, “it'll affect the rest of the world and we'll make history. We'll make a change.”

Earlier story:

Parochial school students descend on Trenton to call for controversial scholarships


Star Ledger - 2,500 attend Trenton rally supporting school voucher program for N.J. students in failing districts

Published: Thursday, December 01, 2011, 8:19 PM Updated: Friday, December 02, 2011, 5:48 AM

By Jessica Calefati/The Star-LedgerThe Star-Ledger

TRENTON — Supporters of a bill to give scholarships to tens of thousands of students in failing public schools to attend private and parochial schools rallied on the Statehouse steps today, urging legislators to take action.

Most of the 2,500 demonstrators were parochial school students participating in what organizers called a "field trip" and a "lesson in civil rights." The mostly teenaged students wore bright blue scarves emblazoned with an image of a life preserver.

Paterson Archdiocese Superintendent John Eriksen and leader of We Can Do Better, a group lobbying for the bill (S1872/A2810), known as the Opportunity Scholarship Act, organized the event.

"We want the legislators to hear the voices of the children," Eriksen said. "There is no reason a family in Paterson whose house burned down and is struggling to send their children to private school shouldn’t benefit from this legislation."

The bill would solicit corporations to offer tax-deductible donations to fund the scholarships.

The Legislature has to act on the bill by mid-January or it must be reintroduced once new legislators are sworn in.

Jack Goan, 14, an eighth-grader at Christ the King School in Haddonfield, said he supports vouchers even though his family can afford his tuition.

"At public school, all the kids have to learn at the same pace, but here, you can go at your own pace," Goan said.

Students from Immaculate Conception in Montclair and Benedictine Academy in Elizabeth also demonstrated.

Though Gov. Chris Christie has touted the voucher bill as a signature piece of his education reform agenda, the legislation has stalled since February. At the time, Democrats expressed concerns over the size of the bill, which would create a pilot program for 13 towns and up to 40,000 students who would receive scholarships of $8,000 per year for elementary students and $11,000 for high school students.

Assemblyman Angel Fuentes (D-Camden), one of the bill’s sponsors, said the pilot program could be pared down to serve only five districts, including Camden, Newark, Paterson and Asbury Park. Elizabeth and Trenton are also being considered for the fifth district.

Those who oppose vouchers held a competing rally Wednesday in Jersey City organized by the Newark-based Latino Institute and Save Our Schools, a grassroots coalition of parents and community leaders.

"Today’s pro-voucher rally is an example of the corrosive influence of money on our democracy," said Bill Colon, director of the Latino Institute, and Julia Rubin, leader of grassroots organization Save Our Schools in a joint statement. "Twenty years of voucher experiments have proven that vouchers do not help a single child."


Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608