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2-6-12 Education Issues in the News
Courier Post - Teacher tenure reform headed for runway … “…Lynne Strickland of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, which represents suburban school districts, said she could see numerous points of compromise in the legislation. She said the bill appeared to be on the fast track…”

NJ Spotlight - NJ Bill Would Raise Age of Compulsory Education to 18…Keeping kids in school longer, experts contend, is only one part of a larger solution

Courier Post – "...Changes to anti-bully bill delayed The decision hasn’t been issued yet,” said the council’s executive administrator, Shawn Slaughter...written decision would be issued in 60 days. Once that comes out, they’ll probably make moves in the Legislature to get it fixed.”

Courier Post - Teacher tenure reform headed for runway … “…Lynne Strickland of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, which represents suburban school districts, said she could see numerous points of compromise in the legislation. She said the bill appeared to be on the fast track…”

 

7:03 AM, Feb. 6, 2012 |  Written by JASON METHOD  New Jersey Press Media

 

TRENTON — Public school teachers would no longer enjoy tenure as lifetime job security and principals would have more power over personnel decisions under major legislation expected to be introduced today.

The bill would allow for currently tenured teachers to lose their job protections, expose ineffective teachers to layoffs and give greater latitude to school districts in firing.

State Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, who heads the state Senate Education Committee, will sponsor the legislation. Gov. Chris Christie, who has now made education reform his top priority, has praised Ruiz for taking a “laboring role” in the tenure reform work.

The current tenure law, Ruiz said in an interview, comes from “a 100-year-old statute that morphed into something completely different than it was meant for.”

She added: “We recognize there has to be change.”

With the legislation, New Jersey will join about half of the states in the country that have reworked teacher tenure or are in process of doing so, one national expert said.

Although Christie has offered his proposals and previous bills had been submitted, the earlier versions were seen as opening volleys for debate.

The Ruiz bill would:

Require teachers to be classified in one of four categories after their annual evaluation: highly effective, effective, partially ineffective and ineffective.

Allow tenure to be revoked for teachers and assistant principals rated in the bottom two categories if they did not improve the following year.

Force teachers deemed fully or partially ineffective to face layoffs, even if they have seniority, a key element demanded by education reform advocates.

But school district needs would be the first criteria in determining whom to let go.

The bill also affects other personnel areas.

For example, principals would have final say over whether a teacher is hired for or transferred to their school.

Tenured teachers who are fired for cause would face an expedited appeal timeline, with the final determination to be made by an administrative law judge.

Teachers rated in the top two categories who are laid off or not assigned to a school would receive one year’s pay and benefits while they await an opening in a hiring pool.

It would take no less than four years for new teachers to gain tenure under the proposed system. In the first year, a new teacher would be mentored.

Then a new teacher would have to be judged effective or better for three years in a row in order to gain tenure.

The state’s largest teachers union, the New Jersey Education Association, declined to comment on the measure.

Kevin Roberts, a spokesman for Christie, declined to comment on the bill as well but said Ruiz has “shown leadership and genuine interest.”

Debra Bradley of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association said the group was concerned that the bill takes away too many job protections for tenured educators.

“This bill really limits what your tenure rights are,” Bradley said. “Compromising the process because of a timeline is not the way to go.”

The missing component of the legislation is how teachers will be graded. The state is currently conducting a pilot program in 11 districts to help it develop a teacher evaluation system that officials hope will go statewide, on a test basis, beginning in the next school year and become active for teacher reviews in the 2013-14 school year.

Grover “Russ” Whitehurst, who heads an education policy center at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said that last component may become the most important.

Whitehurst noted that there was no requirement that at least some teachers be rated in the lower categories.

“The way it’s written in the bill, every teacher could be deemed effective,” Whitehurst said. “I’d want to know what this means.”

Many states are requiring the lowest 20 percent of teachers to be classified as ineffective, Whitehurst said.

Other states are struggling with how to grade teachers who don’t teach in subject areas such as math and English that are covered by annual state tests, Whitehurst said. That will affect how teachers respond.

“Teachers will want to go to the subjects and grades where you get an easier pass,” he said.

Lynne Strickland of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, which represents suburban school districts, said she could see numerous points of compromise in the legislation. She said the bill appeared to be on the fast track.

State Sen. Joseph Kyrillos Jr., R-Monmouth, who had offered Christie’s proposal in the Legislature, said he hoped the bill is considered soon.

He said progress on tenure reform had become “sluggish” but was glad to see Ruiz was ready to move on her bill.

“The (Democratic) legislative majority wasn’t there; I hope they’re there now… and do reform that’s long overdue,” Kyrillos said.

Reach Jason Method at (609) 292-5158;jmethod@njpressmedia.com

NJ Spotlight - NJ Bill Would Raise Age of Compulsory Education to 18…Keeping kids in school longer, experts contend, is only one part of a larger solution

By John Mooney, February 6, 2012 in Education|1 Comment

Even before President Obama pressed the idea in his State of the Union message, New Jersey and other states were looking to address the dropout crisis by keeping kids in school until they're 18.

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Seven states have upped the age in the past decade; 11 others -- including New Jersey -- have introduced legislation in the past five years.

In all, 21 states require students to stay in school until 18 or their graduation.

But as New Jersey's bill to raise the age from 16 to 18 gets new life, including a hearing today in the state Senate, it is becoming apparent that just upping the age is no quick fix -- or even a slow one.

"In those states [that have raised the age], there has not been much evidence that it has had an impact," said Jennifer Zinth, a policy analyst with the Education Commission of the States, a Denver-based organization that follows state policies.

A report by a Massachusetts think-tank, completed in 2009 as that state was considering a new bill, said there may be a minimal gain in raising the age for students on the cusp.

"However, it is important to note that the most prominent advocates of the policy acknowledge that raising the compulsory school age alone will not result in fewer dropouts and more graduates," read the report by the Rennie Center for Education Research and Policy. "They argue that this policy must be coupled with other actions and new alternatives to help at-risk students progress through high school."

New Jersey public schools have the highest recorded graduation rate in the country -- over 80 percent. But the dropout crisis is real in many of its cities, where in some high schools as many as half of the freshmen don't go on to graduate.

Still, the move to raise the compulsory age has never gotten much traction in the Statehouse in years past, usually derailed by concerns over short-term costs. And while those concerns remain, legislators said it was time to reconsider the long-term costs of not addressing the problem.

"Quite simply -- and quite tragically -- too many of our students are being allowed to walk away before they've completed their education and built a foundation for their future," said state Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Mercer), the primary sponsor. "Futures are being lost under our current law."

Her bill easily won bipartisan endorsement in the Assembly education committee last week, and the Senate education committee has quickly posted the measure for a hearing this morning.

Last week's Assembly hearing raised the same worries that have been expressed elsewhere, that this is only a piece in what needs to be a more comprehensive approach. One advocate after another said that it needs to be coupled with programs that will keep students wanting to be in schools, not just compelled to stay there.

"While certainly we can raise the age, we need to do more to make sure if they are kept in school, they are engaged in learning that is meaningful," said Judy Savage, executive director of the New Jersey Council of Vocational-Technical Schools.

One perspective came from the state's court system charged with enforcing the state's current truancy law, enacted in 1967.

Daniel Phillips, legislative liaison for the Administrative Office of the Courts, said that 80 percent of all inmates in the state's prisons are high school dropouts, but that too few programs have caught up to the fact that the decision to leave school has many reasons.

The current law defines truancy "as an act of delinquency," Phillips said. "But we know now it's really a family crisis, not an act of delinquency. This is not a crime, this is a crisis."

 

Courier PostChanges to anti-bully bill delayed The decision hasn’t been issued yet,” said the council’s executive administrator, Shawn Slaughter. “As was stated at the hearing by the chairman, Judge John A. Sweeney, that written decision would be issued in 60 days. Once that comes out, they’ll probably make moves in the Legislature to get it fixed.” “

6:43 AM, Feb. 6, 2012 |

Written by MICHAEL SYMONS  New Jersey Press Media

 

TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie and legislative sponsors of the anti-bullying law deemed unconstitutional for imposing costs on schools without providing funds expressed willingness last week to make the changes needed to keep the law on the books.

Resolution for the law’s uncertain future appears unlikely until the spring at the earliest, however. Christie said it’s not possible to determine how to proceed until reading the state Council on Local Mandates’ written opinion, and the council doesn’t plan on issuing that until March 27.

The Council on Local Mandates ruled Jan. 27 that the anti-bullying law is an unfunded mandate, in violation of the state constitution.

It delayed the effective date of its ruling by 60 days to give state officials time to amend the law before its ruling strikes it down.

The decision hasn’t been issued yet,” said the council’s executive administrator, Shawn Slaughter. “As was stated at the hearing by the chairman, Judge John A. Sweeney, that written decision would be issued in 60 days. Once that comes out, they’ll probably make moves in the Legislature to get it fixed.” “

Such a timetable will likely delay the response by Christie and lawmakers, who appeared to be in general agreement that the law can be rescued — perhaps by providing schools funding for things such as training programs or stipends to staffers who take on added responsibilities to implement the anti-bullying provisions.

Christie said last week that the council’s decision was “obviously a concern of mine” because he signed and supports the law.

“We need to fix it either by getting rid of the things in the law that impose that unfunded mandate or by funding the unfunded mandate. I’m willing to discuss that with the Legislature on both sides of that fence,” Christie said.

“That’s why I need to read the opinion,” Christie said. “By removing the portions that are an unfunded mandate, would that eviscerate the bill and its intent?

:If that’s the case, then perhaps we can talk about ways that we might we able to fund it. But I’ve got to read the underpinnings first to see what it’s all about.”

Democratic sponsors of the law, which passed nearly unanimously and took effect this school year after being signed by Christie in January 2011, were looking forward to discussing the issue with the Christie administration.

“It’s a question of finding the appropriate, almost artistic I guess, way of keeping the bill effective and not eviscerating in order to comply with state-mandate, state-pay,” said Senate Minority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen.

“I think the governor indicated he’d be supportive of trying to put some money in or find other ways. We’re still looking at it. It’s complex.”

 


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