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5-14-12 Education andRelated Issues in the News
NJ Spotlight - Putting the Teacher Evaluation Pilot in Perspective…NJ Spotlight hosts a panel discussion that gives educators a chance to evaluate the evaluation pilot

Courier Post - Districts improve school bus efficiency

Asbury Park Press - NJ spends millions to bus private-school students…Taxes cover $77M in private-school transportation

NJ BIZ - NJ gets B-plus on report card for working parents Courier Post - 'Secret' question angers parents…3rd-graders' answers won't be scored




NJ Spotlight - Putting the Teacher Evaluation Pilot in Perspective…NJ Spotlight hosts a panel discussion that gives educators a chance to evaluate the evaluation pilot

Courier Post - Districts improve school bus efficiency


Asbury Park Press - NJ spends millions to bus private-school students…Taxes cover $77M in private-school transportation


NJ BIZ - NJ gets B-plus on report card for working parents

Courier Post - 'Secret' question angers parents…3rd-graders' answers won't be scored





NJ Spotlight - Putting the Teacher Evaluation Pilot in Perspective…NJ Spotlight hosts a panel discussion that gives educators a chance to evaluate the evaluation pilot

By John Mooney, May 14, 2012 in Education|Post a Comment

NJ Spotlight on Saturday hosted the second in a series of roundtable discussions about New Jersey’s pilot teacher evaluation program, in which 10 districts and another 19 schools are testing new methods for how teachers are judged on both their own performance and that of their students.

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Sitting on the panel were the director of the state program and four educators working with the system from Newark, Paterson and Elizabeth. More than 150 attended the two-hour discussion held in the City Council chambers of Jersey City’s City Hall.

Still in the first year of the pilot, the teachers and principals talked about the training so far and their impressions as to how it already has changed the conversations in the schools, mostly in good ways. The state’s plan is for the pilot to extend another year, and then go to a statewide system in 2013-14.

They discussed the evaluation model developed by New Jersey consultant Charlotte Danielson, which has proven the most popular so far, and why it works. All employed in high-poverty districts, the educators also didn’t shy away from talking about the special challenges faced in their communities.

Nor did they shy away from the biggest controversy of any such system, the use of student achievement measures -- including standardized test scores -- in deciding on as much as half of a teacher’s grade.

Below are some excerpts. NJ Spotlight will also be providing a video of the event in the next few weeks.

Carolyn DelPiano, special education math teacher, Snyder High School, Jersey City

I do value the fact that there is a common [standard] . . . before this model, it was more a question of who was coming in to evaluate you and what would that particular person look for. You tailored your lesson to that. Now it is common standard, and everybody is on the same page. And there is a rubric that everyone has as to what the perfect teacher looks like. It is valuable to have that to recognize and reflect upon myself and where I fit.

From my perspective in a high school level I have changed or altered how I do my job because of the evaluation model. If I have a trigonometry class, for instance, and no student in that class is above a 3rd or 4th grade math level, there were things and projects that I have done in the past, like life skills projects or job related, I would find time to squeeze in. But I find there is now more a focus on meeting the trigonometry curriculum, because in the end, they will assess me on it.

Diane Tolman, school improvement supervisor, Martin Center for Arts, Jersey City

We gave our teachers three days of training, and we talked about . . . it wasn’t our job to make judgments. Our job is to come in and observe what the kids are doing, what the teachers are doing. We told them it wasn’t about them personally, but about what is happening in the classroom and what takes place in the classroom.

One of the reasons the Charlotte Danielson model is so popular is she gives videos of what is expected in the evaluation. The teachers had a tool to use. . . where if they were looking for student engagement, they had access to the videos of what student engagement really looks like. It also provides professional development and support around specific skills.

Tanya Tenturier, fourth-grade, Terence Reilly Elementary School, Elizabeth

I cannot stress enough putting the responsibility for learning on the children. The teacher’s position is to create a culture where learning will take place and nothing else. You can make it as fun and interactive as it has to be, but the bottom line is learning has to take place.

I understand there are assessments, and before we get to NJASK we have own assessments. But where we focus on the test is the source of some of the problems we have now. On the benchmarks, if I told you they did stellar on every single one, that would be a lie, they don’t. But I know what they need to know and I revamp the curriculum to fit their needs and not fit the test’s needs. Until your scholars needs are met at even a very basic level, did you have breakfast, what went on at home last night, all of those things have to be addressed or you don’t even have an audience.

Gemar Mills, principal, Malcolm X Shabazz High School, Newark

There is not always the discussion of the process you go through to have a teacher removed. It does exist. It is fairly extensive, depending on the situation. If the teacher is tenured, there has to have been past diligence in evaluations and documenting other poor performance, besides the evaluation tool but also other professional responsibilities, like attendance or making phone calls, being part of the community in school. They may see an increment withheld, where they would not receive a raise any longer until it was proven they were an effective teacher. And then in the follow-up in the second year, the teacher could be brought up on tenure charges. That process does exist and something we live every day. Not something you want to boast about. You want to do your absolute best to support the teacher and help them do what they need to do, but the truth is, you are CEO of the company, the principal of the school, then you have to get rid of people who are not good for children.

Whatever assessment we provide, it has to be aligned to the curriculum you give to the teachers, and the teachers understand that. And the state needs to be transparent, so the schools knows what will be on the test, what are the standards that need to be met for a student to be college and career ready. Then it won’t matter if you are teaching to the test or not. You will be teaching the student to be college and career ready. In the past, there has been some secrecy about what is exactly will be on the test.

Robert Fisicaro, program director, Excellent Educators for New Jersey, NJ DOE

It goes to the overarching question of whether students are learning. Most people would agree that student achievement and how students perform should be a part of the evaluation. It is how it links that is where most of the discussions I have had so far, how is it measured, what method does it use.

This is still a work in process, and there is at sill a lot of work that needs to be done. We want to be ready in 2013-2014, and we really think that that we will be. But there is still a lot of work to be done. There is a sense of urgency around this work, but at the same time, we want to proceed carefully and thoughtfully because there are still a lot of lessons to learn.

Courier Post - Districts improve school bus efficiency

May. 12, 2012 |

Written by TODD B. BATES New Jersey Press Media

Fed up with wasteful spending, New Jersey told school districts in the 1990s to use school buses more wisely or possibly lose state aid.

Hundreds of districts have boosted bus transportation efficiency since then, but scores still failed to meet a state standard in the latest accounting, according to state Department of Education reports.

The Lakewood school district, which transports nearly 23,000 students — including about 18,500 private school students — became less efficient from 2008 to 2010, barely meeting the standard, according to officials. Some 450 buses take students to more than 130 schools.

Bob Riley, executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, which represents school bus transportation leaders, companies and others, said New Jersey’s standard is “not really a high efficiency.”

“I think all buses should be used two routes per day, at least if you’re in a community that works,” he said. “An extremely rural community — that’s more difficult to do, but the key thing is to have your bus full of students.”

New Jersey had one of the most inefficient school transportation systems in the nation 15 years ago, according to the state education department.

Nearly 500 school districts had inefficient systems before the state adopted a school transportation efficiency plan. Since then, the number has dropped to 140 districts, according to the state education agency.

The state’s voluntary efficiency standard is 1.20 or 120 percent of bus capacity, meaning that some buses would have to run more than one bus route a day, according to the agency.

The most efficient districts typically run two or more routes a day.

In the tri-county area, Gloucester County’s 20 school districts average out with the highest rating. Only four fall below the standard, with Paulsboro ranking the lowest at .63. Clearview Regional tops the county with a 2.40 efficiency rating.

Burlington County ranks next, with a third of their 30 districts falling below standard. Bordentown, however, ranks the highest among all tri-county districts with a 2.59 rating.

Trailing the pack is Camden County, with 13 of its 23 districts not meeting the standard. Some don’t make it by a longshot: Merchantville rates a mere .67 and Runnemede comes in .53.

The state’s efficiency rating was created by state legislation and is part of the state funding formula, according to Allison Kobus, a state education department spokeswoman. However, the formula has a “minimal financial impact to districts,” she said in an email.

“To become more efficient, a district would need to stagger bell times (when students begin the school day) in order to use the buses more than once,” she said.

Some small districts can never reach the state standard because they may not need to run their buses more than once, according to Kobus.

“That doesn’t mean those districts aren’t being cost effective,” she said.

Riley said the recent recession has “forced states and districts to become more efficient.”

“Our goal is to keep kids on buses,” he said. “School bus transportation is far safer than having parents driving their kids to school.’’ Plus, it relieves road congestion, he said.

Bill Tousley, transportation supervisor for public schools in Farmington, Mich., said you could waste millions of dollars a year “if you don’t watch how many kids are on a bus.”

Taking the most inefficient path “can raise your cost per mile dramatically because you’re running more miles, you’re using more vehicles than you need,” said Tousley, a regional director for the National Association for Pupil Transportation, a nonprofit school transportation industry group.

In the last few years, “we’re trying to do more with a lot less and trying to do it just as efficiently and don’t always meet that goal,” he said.

In the Jackson school district, transportation efficiency increased slightly in the latest state report and is well above the state standard. Its efficiency rating was 2.11 compared with the 1.2 standard.

Al Olkowitz, district transportation administrator, said the district moved from a three-tier busing system to a four-tier system in half the township — its most populated area — several years ago

A three-tier system means one bus makes three runs, picking up and dropping off high school, middle school and then elementary school students, he said.

Under the four-tier system, a bus makes four runs, picking up and dropping off high school, middle school, elementary school and then more elementary school students, he said.

The district, which owns its buses, moved the starting times for two elementary schools later and eliminated 12 of its approximately 105 big bus runs at the time. The district now uses 12 fewer drivers, saving on their salaries and benefits, and 12 fewer buses, he said.

With more runs per bus, the district is saving more than $200,000 a year in a $9 million transportation budget, according to Olkowitz and budget information.

The district transports about 10,500 students overall, including close to 600 private school students to probably about 15 schools, mostly in Toms River, Lakewood and Howell, he said. About 500 kids walk to school.

The district, like many others, uses bus routing software produced by Versatrans, he said. “It’s very efficient and affordable.”

Ted Thien, vice president of sales and marketing for Versatrans Routing and Planning, said the software has been available for more than 25 years. About 1,500 school districts in the U.S. and Canada use it, he said.

The software helps districts plan the most efficient and safest transportation routes, he said. School districts that have never used routing software can cut their transportation costs by about 10 percent or more, he said.

But some highly urban or rural districts might not see savings, especially those with schools that start at the same time, he said.

Courier-Post staff writer Joe Cooney contributed to this report. Shannon Mullen and New Jersey Press Media archives also contributed.


Asbury Park Press - NJ spends millions to bus private-school students…Taxes cover $77M in private-school transportation

8:53 AM, May. 13, 2012 | By Tod Bates


PUBLIC FUNDING OF PRIVATE TRANSPORTATIONMany states allow public funding for transporting students to private schools while others prohibit it. A summary:
New York and Delaware
– Public funding for private school transportation is protected by each state’s constitution.
Pennsylvania – Public funding if a district provides transportation for public school students.
Connecticut – Public funding if most of the private school students are state residents.
Massachusetts – Private school students can receive the same transportation services as public school students, within limits.

Georgia, Hawaii, Mississippi, South Carolina and Wyoming
– Each state’s constitution prohibits public or state funding for private, sectarian and/or religious schools.
Sources: U.S. Department of Education and state documents

It costs New Jersey taxpayers up to $77 million a year to transport nearly 90,000 schoolchildren to religious and other private schools as cash-strapped districts struggle to fulfill a longtime state law that requires transportation funding for nonprofit schools.

The law requires the government to spend up to $884 on transportation for each student attending a private school, be it on a school bus or a parent driving the child to class. A number of other states have a constitutional ban on public funding for private schooling.

Anna Fletcher of West Milford gets $884 to help defray the cost of getting her 14-year-old daughter to St. Anthony of Padua School in Butler.

“My town does not bus to St. Anthony’s so, in lieu of busing, I get a payment — half in January, half in June,” Fletcher said.

A New Jersey statute provides for the payment, popularly known as an aid-in-lieu of busing, because the private school is within 20 miles of the Fletcher home.

As of October, 32,464 nonpublic school students received aid in lieu of transportation and 54,748 were driven to school on buses, according to Allison Kobus, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Education.

At up to $884 per student, the maximum cost is $77 million for 87,212 students. That is less than 1 percent of the $13.5 billion raised in school taxes last year.

The amount of state transportation aid varies from district to district, according to Kobus. The rest is funded through local tax dollars.

Even if the Fletcher family didn’t get the transportation money, their daughter would go to the Catholic school, according to Fletcher.

“But the money makes it easier,” she said, “and I know that for some people, that transportation aid makes a big difference. We only have one child, but if you have more than one, the money really does help out.”

Rockaway Twp. mother

Jeanette Ellenwood of Rockaway Township has just that situation: All three of her children attend Parsippany Christian School, where she teaches, and the Ellenwood family receives $2,652 for transportation costs.

“We just got the money because our town determined it’s cheaper to reimburse us than provide the busing,” she said.

Ellenwood considers the reimbursement one of many factors that each family must take into account when deciding whether to send a child to a private school.

“As for me, it is my choice to put my children in a private school,” she said. “If I don’t get reimbursed, I don’t get reimbursed.”

But not everyone realizes public school districts are obligated to provide transportation for private school students — or even agrees it’s a fair thing.

“I had no idea there was busing or reimbursing for private-school kids,” said Jen Singer of Kinnelon, an award-winning blogger on parenting issues. “As the mother of public-school kids, I have an issue with that. In this economy, it makes no sense to be subsidizing people who can afford to send their kids to private schools that cost as much as a college.”

But Fletcher said she feels that busing, or aid-in-lieu, is very fair because by paying property taxes she is paying for busing and for education, neither of which her daughter uses. She considers the aid-in-lieu money a benefit for her and for the public-school system.

Public benefit

“If every student in this town who goes to a Catholic or other private school went to the public schools,” she said, “there would be an overcrowding issue in the public schools.”

The cost of private-school busing has had a negative impact on some school budgets.

Lakewood school district, for example, buses by far the largest number of private-school students in the state – about 18,500 attending more than 130 mostly Jewish religious schools, according to officials. Just 5,600 students attend its public schools.

The district, which has been beset by scandals of lost money, test coaching and a questionable grant application, will spend roughly three-quarters of its $20 million transportation budget this school year on busing the private-school students. Although Lakewood spends millions on mandatory private-school busing, it hasn’t been able to find the funds in its $133 million budget to fix a leaking roof in its middle school.

Public funding of private transportation in New Jersey has been allowed by the government for decades. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld a New Jersey law that allowed public dollars to be spent on transporting children to nonprofit private schools.

In a state where the average property tax bill is $7,700, parents of private-school students have to pay school taxes regardless of where their children attend school. The cost of public transportation is small compared with the thousands they pay in taxes each year, supporters say.

Private schools save taxpayers about $4 billion each year in operating and building costs, by some estimates. If all the private schoolchildren in Lakewood, for example, enrolled in public school, the district would have to build more than a dozen new schools, a cost that local taxpayers could not support.

Private school transportation is a cost spread among all New Jersey taxpayers, not just those in the local school district.

There are restrictions, though. The money cannot be used to bus students to for-profit learning centers, and the schools must be within 20 miles of a student’s home. It is also up to each district to determine if it will provide “courtesy busing” for K-8 public and private-school students living within 2 miles of their schools and high school students living within 2.5 miles.

Many towns, including Lakewood, have deemed most of their streets as too hazardous for children to walk on and provide courtesy busing.

It costs Lakewood roughly $3 million a year to bus about 5,000 public and nonpublic students who live within the 2/2.5-mile limit, according to Kakavas, the transportation consultant. Only a few hundred of those students live on nonhazardous routes, he said.

Ban in other states

Thirty-four other states and the District of Columbia allow publicly funded transportation to private schools or transportation of certain students or require fees, according to a 2009 U.S. Department of Education report.

Georgia is one state that pointedly prohibits public funding of private school transportation and education. Its Constitution states:

“School tax funds shall be expended only for the support and maintenance of public schools, public vocational-technical schools, public education, and activities necessary or incidental thereto, including school lunch purposes.”

Bob Riley, executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, which represents school bus transportation leaders, companies and others, said he was unaware of any states seeking to prohibit public funding of private transportation, “but I wouldn’t be surprised.”

Riley said federal guidelines do not require public funding of private-school student transportation. But funding is allowed.

New Jersey legislation (A-2325/S-1076) would expand public funding of transportation to private schools. Under the bill, schools could be up to 30 miles away – up from 20 miles now – in Atlantic, Burlington, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, Hunterdon, Ocean, Salem, Sussex and Warren counties. Current bus stops would have to be used.

Frank Belluscio III, spokesman for the New Jersey School Boards Association, said more than 60 percent of student transportation in New Jersey is provided by private contractors that bid for contracts.

The group has long opposed public funding of private schools, including transportation to them, he said.

But he doesn’t believe that the issue has come up in the Legislature in recent memory.

“The fact of the matter is that this program has been in place for at least 30 years now,” Belluscio said.




NJ BIZ - NJ gets B-plus on report card for working parents

May 11. 2012 11:18AM  By Jared Kaltwasser

With Mother's Day a few days away, a national women's organization is pressing state lawmakers to do more to help moms in the workplace.

The National Partnership for Women and Families this week put out a state-by-state report grading how well each state protects working parents. Most states received the kinds of grades it would be difficult for a mother to be proud of, but the Garden State came in with a solid B-plus.

Teresa Boyer, executive director of the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University, said that sounds about right.

"Especially in terms of statewide policies, New Jersey is one of the more family-friendly states," she said. "I would definitely put it (New Jersey) up there, though there's still room to grow."

New Jersey was one of seven states to receive a B. California and Connecticut were the only two states to score an A, while 18 states got Fs.

The Garden State got high marks for its family and medical leave insurance program, which lets new parents take up to six weeks off and receive partial pay to care for a new child or sick family member.

However, the report also notes that workers can only take advantage of the program if they're aware of it. Boyer said employers are required by law to notify workers about the program, but she said in practice, some employers do little more than put up a poster in the copy room.

"How effective that is in today's workplace, I think, is questionable," she said.

A better protocol would be to train supervisors in the law and issue periodic reminders to workers, she said.

New Jersey also lost points in the report for not including job protections in its law. That means workers could theoretically be fired for taking advantage of the family leave law. Boyer said she would like to see such protections, but understands why they can be problematic for small businesses that would need to hire a temporary replacement.

Overall, though, Boyer said pro-family policies in the workplace benefit businesses because they allow those companies to attract the best employees.

"We know that women make up half the work force right now, and you have to be able to attract and retain them," she said. "If you can't (retain them), it's not worth the investment for the businesses that are hiring and training them, and then you're not capitalizing on the investment the society and culture has made in them for education and training."

Although the report was issued to coincide with Mother's Day, Boyer said these issues also apply to fathers, too. Boyer said she's increasingly seeing demand from younger-generation fathers for the kinds of flexible work environments that help caregivers.

"This isn't just a women's issue," she said. "It's traditionally been one, and obviously, women are the only ones at this point who can give birth. But it goes beyond just giving birth. Caring and being a parent is a dual-gender issue."

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