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4-26-12 Education Issues in the News
Star Ledger Column-Braun: N.J. school privatization debate rages on, leaving parents in the dark… Marilyn Valentine of Franklin Township was one of the few African-Americans in the audience the other night…If charter and other privatized schools aren’t the solution—and she didn’t say they were—then what are parents to do? "You’re telling the people there is nothing for you.’’

NJ Spotlight - NJ Department of Education Blamed for Slowing Repair of Decaying Schools…Advocacy group files suit for project delays in poorest districts, claiming students at risk

Star Ledger Column-Braun: N.J. school privatization debate rages on, leaving parents in the dark…  Marilyn Valentine of Franklin Township was one of the few African-Americans in the audience the other night…If charter and other privatized schools aren’t the solution—and she didn’t say they were—then what are parents to do? "You’re telling the people there is nothing for you.’’

NJ Spotlight - NJ Department of Education Blamed for Slowing Repair of Decaying Schools…Advocacy group files suit for project delays in poorest districts, claiming students at risk

Star Ledger Column-Braun: N.J. school privatization debate rages on, leaving parents in the dark

Published: Thursday, April 26, 2012, 6:45 AM Updated: Thursday, April 26, 2012, 9:37 AM By Bob Braun/Star-Ledger ColumnistThe Star-Ledger

HIGHLAND PARK — Marilyn Valentine of Franklin Township was one of the few African-Americans in the audience the other night at Highland Park’s Bartle School. She came to hear a panel discussion about charter schools. Much of the discussion was critical of state policies concerning the privately managed but publicly-funded alternatives.

Valentine, who raised two children into successful adulthood, said she understood the criticisms but pointed out that many parents who looked like her despaired of traditional public schools. "Where are the solutions?" she asked.

If charter and other privatized schools aren’t the solution—and she didn’t say they were—then what are parents to do? "You’re telling the people there is nothing for you.’’

Valentine’s complaint reflects what Gov. Chris Christie and other proponents of privatizing public education—especially in the cities—have been saying. Christie insists a child’s education should not depend on a zip code.

Her questions raised the most fundamental issue in public education: What is the responsibility of the state to the education of its children. What should it do in response to continued failure?

The debate about privatization—about charters and vouchers and increased aid to private schools—really is a consequence of the failure of what was once thought to be the ultimate school reform: The state takeover of failing schools.

One panelist, Michelle Fine of Montclair, an author and professor at City University of New York, called privatization "just an exit ramp for some people.’’ Because charters and other forms of privatization don’t take in all children, she said, they "cannot be considered a systematic, equitable strategy’’ for reform. Just a way to help some children.

Julia Sass Rubin of Princeton, a Rutgers professor and spokeswoman for Save Our Schools, a pro-public school group, said the real solution was an "affordable housing strategy.’’

Valentine didn’t disagree and, so, there it was on the table, this unwelcome idea—real school reform means more than just tinkering with schools. When the state took over failing schools in Jersey City, Paterson, and Newark, it was taking a logical step, but the effort was doomed because it didn’t face the real problem: Inequality. Economic, social, and racial inequality.

So, after the state didn’t succeed, then what? The Christie administration took what Fine called "the exit ramp" strategy. Creating privatized schools for some children, while leaving traditional schools with the most difficult kids and decreasing resources. As some of the governor’s supporters have argued, that, at least, helps some children in failing districts.

But the state constitution applies to all children. So what is the state supposed to do? What happens when the ultimate state-imposed school reform— takeover—itself fails?

The answer is "Whatever it takes.’’ New Jersey has to do whatever it takes. And those words just happen to be the informal slogan of a rising educational powerhouse, the nation of Finland.

The Nordic country has emerged as the most successful nation over the last decade in international tests of reading, mathematics, and science. Published reports quote Finnish educators saying they are free to do "whatever it takes" to ensure all children learn—and, yes, Finland, does have poor children and immigrants from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and the Balkans.

So what does it take? Recent accounts of Finnish schooling in the "Smithsonian" magazine and "Atlantic" report teachers are selected from the nation’s brightest college graduates. They must earn a master’s degree (tuition is free). Well paid and treated with respect, They develop their own assessments and teaching strategies. Teachers have autonomy.

Finland has virtually no private schools—all schools are publicly funded and follow the same national curriculum, one that requires fluency in three languages. It has no standardized testing program, except a national high school exam to determine future placement.

But there’s more—far more. An account in last December’s "The Atlantic" quotes Pasi Sahlberg, a Finnish education official, telling American educators the reason for its success was not the pursuit of "excellence but equity.’’ Cooperation, he said, was valued over competition.

All Finland’s school children get free meals in their schools. Free health care. Their parents receive three years’ leave, subsidized day-care—but never mind that, children themselves are directly subsidized by Finland.

Finnish school children—including the Iraqis, Somalis, and Kosovars among them—not only receive equal educational opportunity, they also are not allowed to sink into isolating poverty.

How un-American. How, well, socialist. How effective.

But, no worries. It can’t happen here. Despite the constitution, despite our professed love for, and desire to educate, all our children, New Jersey—this nation—would never do whatever it takes to ensure educational equity for all children

 

 

NJ Spotlight - NJ Department of Education Blamed for Slowing Repair of Decaying Schools…Advocacy group files suit for project delays in poorest districts, claiming students at risk

By John Mooney, April 26, 2012 in Education|1 Comment

 

The Christie administration’s slow pace with court-ordered school construction and repairs is now heading to court, this time with a twist on who actually is being sued.

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The Education Law Center, the Newark-based advocacy group representing school children under the Abbott v. Burke litigation, yesterday announced it had filed a lawsuit over what it said was the administration’s failure to move on scores of so-called “emergent projects” in the state’s poorest districts.

They include more than 100 roof repairs, and dozens of air conditioning and heating system replacements, and a host of fire safety upgrades. Newark alone has more than 100 projects in need, the lawsuit reads. Trenton has 99 and Camden another 95.

The lawsuit cited more than 60 repair needs that potentially imperil students’ health and safety.

And while the usual target of complaints has been the long beleaguered Schools Development Authority, which oversees this work, the twist is the lawsuit is against the state Department of Education. The SDA oversees and manages the eventual work, but it is the department that determines and approves the projects, the key point in the suit.

"The law clearly requires the state to address hazardous school conditions, and almost nothing has been done in the last two years," said Greg Little, the lawyer working on behalf of the ELC in the case.

"Every school day thousands of children, teachers and other staff using … school buildings where these emergent conditions exist face an imminent threat to their health and safety."

As required, the complaint was filed with the head of the agency being challenged, acting education commissioner Chris Cerf, and is almost surely to be referred to an administrative law judge. Either way, the lawsuit is likely to take many months to wind its way through the process and could prove as much a political tactic as a legal one to put pressure on the state

The lawsuit does not speak to the long delays in restarting the long list of new construction projects being managed by the state and the SDA, arguably an even bigger point of contention with districts.

A spokesman for Cerf said the department does not comment on pending litigation.

A spokeswoman for the Schools Development Authority also would not comment, even though the SDA is technically not a defendant, but she cited the SDA’s announcement last month that it would move on 76 of the projects in 21 districts.

“We are now positioned to address the most critical needs of our districts and make sure our school facilities are safe learning environments for all students,” said Marc Larkins, the chief executive of the SDA, in making that announcement.

However, the complaint from ELC contends that while the SDA made that announcement in March, no final determination or timelines have yet to be set for any of the projects. It detailed a string of correspondences between the state and the districts, but still no go-aheads on the projects.

“While the DOE issued so-called ‘status determination’ letters to districts in March -- identifying 76 of approximately 760 projects submitted as ‘potential’ emergent projects -- the Department did not issue any final decision on the projects and has provided no timeline for when those decisions will be made and, more importantly, when these unsafe and dangerous conditions will be addressed,” read the ELC’s announcement yesterday.

The lawsuit contends that the department is in violation of the Abbott v. Burke school rulings that ordered the work in the first place, as well as statute and its own regulations.

The cited health and safety projects involve a slew of needs, the lawsuit said, including leaks and ensuing mold, faulty air-conditioning and its impact on students with asthma, and more than a dozen cases of inoperable or nonexistent fire safety measures.

Whether projects were “emergency” needs, versus “emergent” ones, has been part of the dispute between districts and the state.

The SDA has maintained the districts must act on any projects imperiling students’ health and safety. Some advocates have said the state has stalled so long on projects that emergent needs have become emergency ones.

A handful of districts are expected to join this lawsuit, said their lawyer, Richard Shapiro, yesterday, but they had yet to do so.

 


Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608
609-394-2828