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2-7-12 Education Issues in the News
Star Ledger -Bill to change N.J. teacher tenure rules is reintroduced by lawmaker

Asbury Park Press-Associated Press - NJ bill requiring teens stay in school advances

NJ Spotlight - Tepid Support as Sweeney Renews Pitch for Shared Services…Bill creating voluntary county hubs for education programs clears Senate committee

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

NJ Spotlight - Rough Start for Newark Super's School Reorganization Strategy…Next up: Superintendent takes plans for closings and other changes to the neighborhoods

Star Ledger -Bill to change N.J. teacher tenure rules is reintroduced by lawmaker

Published: Monday, February 06, 2012, 6:45 PM Updated: Monday, February 06, 2012, 7:04 PM

By Megan DeMarco/Statehouse BureauThe Star-Ledger

TRENTON — State Sen. Teresa Ruiz introduced a bill today that would dramatically overhaul teacher tenure by using a rating system based on annual evaluations.

The bill is the latest attempt to overhaul the century-old system that has come under fire from Gov. Chris Christie and other critics who say tenure protects bad teachers and is a lifetime guarantee of employment. Proponents for tenure argue teachers must be protected from political hiring decisions.

Christie has made teacher tenure and other education changes a major goal of his administration.

The bill mirrors the four-tiered rating system in Christie’s "School Children First Act," but focuses only on tenure reform. It does not include the governor’s proposals for merit pay and evaluating teachers based on student test scores.

"We just focused on changing tenure, how you get it and how you keep it," said Ruiz (D-Essex), who chairs the Senate Education Committee. "This is only a part of the solution but it’s one of the most critical components."

Christie’s office today declined to comment on the specifics of the bill, but said Christie looks forward to working with Ruiz.

"We welcome Sen. Ruiz’s leadership on this," spokesman Kevin Roberts said. "She’s shown a genuine interest in real tenure reform."

Ruiz’s proposal would ensure teachers are evaluated once a year, and given one of four ratings: highly effective, effective, partially effective or ineffective. For new teachers, gaining tenure would take a minimum of four years: a one-year mentorship, followed by three consecutive years of being rated effective or highly effective. The current system allows teacher to gain tenure after three years and one day.

Teachers could also lose tenure based on the four ratings under Ruiz’s proposal. Once a teacher has lost tenure, the teacher can gain it back by being rated highly effective or effective two years in a row.

The bill would tweak the current "last in, first out" system, which bases teacher layoffs on seniority. If layoffs were needed in a district, teachers without tenure who have an ineffective rating would be considered first, then ranked by seniority within that category.

When teachers receive one of the two lower ratings, they would be provided with mentorship and professional development opportunities, Ruiz said. "Everyone has an opportunity to be better," she said.

Ruiz’s bill doesn’t touch on how teachers would be evaluated, but says they must be evaluated by multiple measures of student growth. Ten districts are currently participating in a pilot program that evaluates teachers based on student academic performance and classroom observations.

The New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, declined to comment on Ruiz’s bill today because they were still analyzing it.


NJ Spotlight - Tepid Support as Sweeney Renews Pitch for Shared Services…Bill creating voluntary county hubs for education programs clears Senate committee

By John Mooney, February 7, 2012 in Education|Post a Comment

New Jersey’s difficulty in consolidating and regionalizing school districts is well-known, but even a plan to just share services is proving easier said than done.

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Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) has called expanded shared services by local schools and municipalities one of his legislative priorities for the year, saying it help would bring down or at least stabilize property taxes.

With schools the bulk of the local tax bill, Sweeney has pressed a year-old bill that would allow the state to appoint in each county an organization such as an education services commission or special service district to serve as a hub for sharing local school resources like transportation, nursing and special education programs.

Under the proposal, districts would have the option to participate in the county-wide programs but would not be required to do so.

While the bill progressed yesterday and was released by the Senate education committee, the debate before the committee over several of its conditions reflected how even a voluntary program hardly draws universal support.

Much of yesterday’s resistance came from private organizations that maintained they would be squeezed out of providing special education services to schools. They argued that the county programs are no cheaper than theirs, and will take decisions out of the hands of families and districts.

“If this becomes law, it will shift from a child-centered process … to a process where the vehicle is a large regional system that will control the decisions,” said Barbara DeMarco, lobbyist for the private providers.

Others said it would provide a “near-monopoly” for the county programs, which already have grown notably in the past decade. There are now 20 educational services commissions and eight special service districts.

But it wasn’t just private providers voicing concerns, as the state’s dominant teachers union also expressed reservations that the voluntary nature of the agreements may not be so voluntary after all.

Ginger Gold Schnitzer, the chief lobbyist for the New Jersey Education Association, said the state’s county offices already have significant powers over local budgets and could use that as a lever to force districts into the agreements. “And there is no escape clause if the agreement doesn’t work out,” she said.

“These decisions are too often made on a strictly fiscal basis, and we would like to see some language that educational needs are also being addressed,” Schnitzer said.

Sweeney’s bill has faced these questions before, and in a version filed last year, the measure was passed by the Senate but failed to gain Assembly support before the close of the session.

Sweeney and the bill’s supporters said yesterday they hope the new version will be able to assuage concerns and help lead to long-term cost savings. The measure was released by the committee with three Democrats in support, and two Republican members abstaining.

“Since school funding makes up the largest portion of our property tax bills, the need for more efficiency throughout the education system becomes all the more obvious,” Sweeney said in a statement.

“By creating efficiencies through shared services in education, we can ensure essential services are being provided while giving taxpayers a much-needed break.”

Asbury Park Press-Associated Press - NJ bill requiring teens stay in school advances

4:46 PM, Feb. 6, 2012 |

Written by

Associated Press


TRENTON — New Jersey teenagers would have to stay in school until they’re 18 under a bill approved by a state Senate committee.

State law requires those between 6 and 16 to regularly attend school. Several states have sought to raise the age limit to reduce the drop-out rate.

The bill approved Monday by the Senate’s Education Committee now heads to the full Senate for a vote.

Mandatory school attendance laws vary from state to state, generally starting at age 5, 6 or 7 and ending between 16 and 18. Some allow students to leave school — with consent of a parent or principal — before they reach the state’s required age

New Jersey has one of the nation’s highest graduation rates, with about 87 percent of high school students receiving diplomas



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|5Comments

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."


NJ Spotlight - Rough Start for Newark Super's School Reorganization Strategy…Next up: Superintendent takes plans for closings and other changes to the neighborhoods

By John Mooney, February 6, 2012 in Education|2 Comments

Cami Anderson’s proposal for a sweeping reorganization of Newark public schools had by her own admission a rough opening night on Friday, when the Newark superintendent faced a heckling crowd in unveiling the plan.

But the bigger test may be in the weeks ahead as she goes into the wards and neighborhoods where her plans will play out, many of them among the city’s most beleaguered districts.

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It’s not an easy sell, to be sure. She is proposing closing seven schools that face the double whammy of being under-enrolled and poorly performing.

Some of the seats may be supplied by charter schools, which have their own mixed history in the city. All of this feeds into a feeling of mistrust that Anderson must overcome for her plan to succeed.

But some of her plan also includes expanding programs in those same neighborhoods, especially preschool activities.

Anderson has proposed extending preschool in the South and West Wards, including a new early childhood center in the old Speedway School, and doubling the size of the Clinton Avenue center. She also has proposed expanding and opening up the city’s magnet high schools, considered among the gems of the district.

Still, most of Anderson's growth strategy was lost on Friday night, when she went before an audience gathered at the Rutgers-Newark student center and was greeted by far more jeers than cheers. The meeting lasted just 45 minutes, cut short without the question and answer session that she said she planned.

In an interview yesterday, Anderson blamed the poor reception on a confluence of factors, including a leak of the plan that made headlines about the school closings in the Newark Star-Ledger earlier in the day.

She said she wanted to avoid the experience of a year ago, before she was appointed to lead the state-run district by Gov. Chris Christie, when a leaked plan for consolidating schools also sparked public outrage.

“People were very frustrated about getting information in dribs and drabs,” Anderson said yesterday. “The goal was to get it out there, transparency to what we were doing and let them hear it in whole.”

“I’m still happy about moving that way,” she said. “But I do regret the leak happened, and there were a number of people willing to come out but were drowned out.”

When asked whether the news getting out was to be expected, she said: “I’m not naive, but it was still unfortunate.”

Still, she said hopes for more positive feedback as she starts smaller meetings with the families and teachers of the affected schools, starting tomorrow.

“First and foremost, I want to spend time with the communities that will be impacted,” Anderson said. “It is really important to meet with them and hear their aspirations for the future.”

Those will be followed by larger community forums, as well as discussions by the district’s advisory board.

The president of the board, Eliana Pintor Marin, attended the Friday night meeting and acknowledged it did not go well. And she said it was not entirely surprising, especially as the biggest focus was on closing schools that have deep ties in their neighborhoods.

“The rough start is the emotion part of it, maybe even harder because [Anderson] is new here,” said Pintor Marin “But the most important process will be next, when she starts meeting with the families.”

And there could still be more changes to come. Anderson said she is open to making adjustments in the plan, and she said another dozen schools face similar problems of low enrollments and low student performance. Still, at this point, she doubted that even further closings were in the offing this year.

“We’re making strong proposals,” she said. ‘We believe in them.”

Anderson said final decision for the next school year would be made by March 1.


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