5-11-12 Education and Related Issues in the News
NJ Spotlight -Some Sour Notes as Arts Education Tries to Strike Balance in Schools…Despite spending, testing priorities, arts are offered in nearly every school, but with fewer students and staffing

Politickernj - Achievement gap remains between rich and poor students on national science exam scores

Star Ledger - Despite law, many N.J. school districts did not disclose value of sick, vacation time ”…if a taxpayer wants to know how much he will be paid for his unused sick and vacation time, the answer is just clicks away on the Department of Education website…”

NJ Spotlight -Some Sour Notes as Arts Education Tries to Strike Balance in Schools…Despite spending, testing priorities, arts are offered in nearly every school, but with fewer students and staffing

By John Mooney, May 11, 2012 in Education|2 Comments

A new report on the state of arts education in New Jersey reflects the quandary of how to strike a balance between the recognized needs for music and the visual arts with the financial and testing realities that public schools face.

Related Links

While the report paints a picture of how schools are coping with that balance, the news was not all rosy, with fewer students -- and teachers – in art classes.

The New Jersey Arts Education Census Project -- commissioned by the State Council on the Arts, the NJ Department of Education, and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation -- led with the positive signs.

Surveying virtually every public school in the state, the researchers found that actual programs in 2011 had slightly increased in the last five years since the same census was conducted in 2006.

Nearly every school -- 97 percent in all -- provided either music or visual arts in their instruction, a rise from 94 percent in 2006 and increasing the access to arts education for an estimated 54,000 students.

Almost all schools had also adopted the state’s standards in arts instruction, and more than 90 percent had certified arts instructors, all improvements from 2006, the survey found.

Yet access is one thing, whether students are actually taking the classes is another, and that finding was far less encouraging for a state where arts education is supposed to be required for every student.

Instead, just 80 percent of students in elementary schools were participating in arts classes in 2011, down from 86 percent in 2006. High school participation also dropped from 50 percent to 41 percent, although it is more sporadic in the higher grades where arts classes are not required every year.

But the staffing for arts instruction had also taken a tough hit, as the ratio of students to arts teachers in some cases has nearly doubled since 2006. A third of elementary schools didn’t have full-time music teachers and a third were without full-time art teachers.

“Those are alarm bells,” said Robert Morrison, the director of the project for Quadrant Inc. “Certainly the student participation is a warning sign.”

Even field trips to performances or museums took a hit, dropping from 89 percent of schools having at least one field trip in 2006 to 79 percent in 2011. Almost half of districts cited transportation costs as a main barrier.

Little of that may be surprising given the economic times and the cuts forced on schools in the past three years, plus the increasing testing in language arts and math that has left many worried that other subjects have gotten short shrift.

At the same time, the report found that the level of programs was starting to follow the wealth of a community as well. The report provides a quality score for every school in the state based on the feedback in the survey, the richer the community, the richer the arts programs.

With the release of the report yesterday, state council leaders and education officials cited the mixed outlook left by the study, repeating what they said was the gains in access but also the drop in participation.

Deputy Education Commissioner Andy Smarick spoke for the state Department of Education and said he recognized the tensions between the arts and attention given to language arts and math testing and its scores.

“We have to focus on that because they are needed skills,” Smarick said in a presentation of the report at the War Memorial in Trenton. “But the arts are absolutely important and we recognize are integral to an education.”

“While the others get the ink, it is absolutely true that the arts are at the heart of what we want to do,” he said.

Still, Smarick said he was troubled by the dropping participation, and promised that it would draw greater study. “I am most alarmed by that, and we need to figure it out,” he said.

Another shocking statistic for the Christie administration was the fall off of arts education at one of its own state-operated districts in Paterson, where the survey found in 2011 virtually no arts programs in place after the well-publicized and much-protested gutting of arts staff. Of 21,000 students statewide with no access to arts education at the time of the survey, 14,000 were in Paterson.

“The year we were measuring, all programs were gone -- zero,” Morrison said.

 

 

Politickernj - Achievement gap remains between rich and poor students on national science exam scores

By Minhaj Hassan | May 10th, 2012 - 2:11pm

   TRENTON – Overall, New Jersey students performed above the national average on the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) science exam, but the long-standing achievement gap remains between low- and high-income students, the state Education Department said Thursday.

“As these results today demonstrate, New Jersey students continue to do well by nearly every objective measure compared to the rest of the country, but we still have more work to do to ensure that every student in New Jersey has the knowledge and skills necessary to be ready for the demands of the 21st century,” Acting Commissioner Christopher Cerf said in a statement. “New Jersey is a lead partner in developing the Next Generation Science Standards along with 25 other states to ensure that we set high standards and help all of our schools implement those standards in the crucial area of science.”

Based on these results, Cerf said Gov. Chris Christie’s administration is reaffirming the need for new science standards for the state, which are already being developed.

Last week at a press conference at West Windsor Plainsboro High School. Christie and Cerf unveiled a new plan to be implemented over the next five years to have year-end subject tests. The test would do away with the High School Proficiency Assessment, which Cerf said only tests at an 8th grade level, even though students take the test in the 11th grade. Both are confident the tests could be put in place without legislative approval.

The average score for eighth grade students in 2011 in New Jersey was 155, compared to the national average of 151. However, the exam results showed a 29-point achievement gap between high- and low-income students, making New Jersey the 9th-ranked state in terms of score gaps.

Star Ledger - Despite law, many N.J. school districts did not disclose value of sick, vacation time…if a taxpayer wants to know how much he will be paid for his unused sick and vacation time, the answer is just clicks away on the Department of Education website…”  Published: Friday, May 11, 2012, 6:00 AM Updated: Friday, May 11, 2012, 6:35 AM

By Jarrett Renshaw/Statehouse BureauThe Star-Ledger

More than one in three school administrators in New Jersey have failed to disclose the value of their unused sick and vacation time as required by a state law intended to make their compensation plans more transparent, a Star-Ledger analysis shows.

In 2007, lawmakers approved legislation calling for school districts to provide the state Department of Education with details each year on the salaries and benefit packages of administrators who earn at least $75,000. The department is then expected to post the information on its website under the heading "user-friendly" budgets.

But that does not always happen.

A Star-Ledger review of the most recent state data found that only 1,305 of 3,447 school administrators statewide — or 38 percent — disclosed the price tag of their accrued time, and even less provided the required details on how the payout is calculated.

Despite the lack of participation, the cost of the reported accrued time still amounts to $25.2 million, the data show.

"It’s defeating the purpose of the law," said Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Gloucester), a co-sponsor of the legislation. "The public deserves to know how much they are paying, and we need to find why that’s not happening."

Some of the districts that did not disclose any financial information on unused sick and vacation time are among the state’s largest, including Camden, Atlantic City and Paterson as well as suburban districts like South Brunswick.

Justin Barra, a spokesman for the Department of Education, pointed a finger at the school districts, which he said had failed to provide the required information. Barra declined to say why the department permitted the districts to skirt the requirement or provide any remedies.

"Those districts not reporting the information must do so," he said. "We will continue to improve in our role of enforcing this disclosure requirement on behalf of local districts."

The requirements were put in place following a scathing state Commission of Investigation report that said school administrators were being showered with lucrative perks with little public scrutiny. Under the 2007 guidelines, districts are required to disclose the value of their administrators unused sick and vacation time, how it’s calculated and other items like clothing and phone allowances.

Lawmakers froze the administrative sick day payouts at 2007 levels and capped such payouts for all new administrators at $15,000.

In the meantime, Gov. Chris Christie and Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) are said to be nearing an agreement to help rein in the perk for all local public employees and not just school administrators.

One sponsor of the 2007 disclosure law was state Sen. Brian Stack (D-Hudson), who is also mayor of Union City. His school district was among those that failed to report the cost of the administrators’ unused time.

"It was an oversight," the Union City school superintendent, Stanley Sanger, said this week. "We are updating our information on our website as we speak."

If Sanger stepped down today, he would be owed $157,650 for his unused time, according to figures provided by the district at The Star-Ledger’s request, and Anthony Dragona, the district’s business administrator, would get $137,091.

State Sen. Nicholas Sacco (D-Hudson) is an assistant school superintendent in North Bergen and supported the disclosure law, but his district has also failed to say how much he and other administrators were owed last year. If it had, the information would have shown Sacco was owed $331,970 for his unused time.

Last week, Sacco agreed to give up nearly $190,000 of his payout after the state said he was not entitled to all the money he was claiming. The state inserted language into his 2011 contract making it appear he was entitled to a huge bump, but officials later said that in 2007 lawmakers had frozen the payouts of Sacco and other administrators.

Daniel Gerardi, superintendent of the Caldwell-West Caldwell School District, said if a taxpayer wants to know how much he will be paid for his unused sick and vacation time, the answer is just clicks away on the Department of Education website.

As of last year, Gerardi was owed $75,203, records show, and the district’s business administrator, Ronald Skopak, can expect $156,746.

"These are public records," Gerardi said, "and taxpayers deserve to know the costs."