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5-3-12 Education Issues in the News
NJ Spotlight - NJ Board of Education Scrutinizes Christie’s Blueprint for Schools…State board hears on key pieces of education reform, including charter schools and testing

Philadelphia Inquirer - Cherry Hill father's online video complaint sparks legislative move… New Jersey State Sen. Diane Allen (R., Burlington) said Wednesday that she planned to introduce legislation soon that would make it easier to fire educators who bully their students

Associated Press-nj.com - N.J. Supreme Court to rule on salary cap for school superintendents

NJ Spotlight - NJ Board of Education Scrutinizes Christie’s Blueprint for Schools…State board hears on key pieces of education reform, including charter schools and testing

By John Mooney, May 3, 2012 in Education|2 Comments

Chris Cerf may have been away, but his top lieutenants came before the state Board of Education yesterday to present -- and sometimes defend -- key pieces of the Christie administration’s education reform agenda.

Cerf, the acting education commissioner, was at an invitation-only conference of education reformers in California, but led by deputy commissioner Andy Smarick, the department’s staff took on high school curriculum, graduation testing, and charter schools in a long day of testimony and questions and answers.

The state board, now loaded with a near majority of appointees from Gov. Chris Christie, is becoming a rising platform for the governor’s agenda as many of his education reforms have stalled or at least slowed in the legislature.

The governor’s proposed changes to the state’s high school graduation requirements announced this week, including new end-of-course exams in Grades 9 through 11 starting in 2016, will need the state board’s approval above all else.

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A host of changes to the state’s charter school regulations, including some that would open up the way for online schools, were before the board for the first time yesterday as well.

Once a month, the board has the power to bring department officials before it to publicly explain its policies and procedures, as it did yesterday with this week’s release of new graduation rates for the state’s high schools.

The methodology has been controversial, reducing the rates by as much as 25 percent for some schools from the previous counting method. Assistant commissioner Bari Erlichson spent the better part of two hours explaining the process and the outcomes.

In the end, while there was acknowledgment it has not been glitch-free, even some of the most critical board members said there appears to be continuing progress in the state’s data collection and analysis, a central piece to virtually all of Christie’s reforms.

“My takeaway is it’s a new system, and we’re continuing to work through it,” said Ronald Butcher, the board’s most veteran member. “There may have been some minor flaws [in the graduation rates], but it effected relatively few districts and all of it is correctable.”

Arcelio Aponte, the board’s president, added: “The progress has been significant in providing more comprehensive data and more useful data. It is critical to the progress of public education of New Jersey, that districts have data they can use.”

Erlichson -- who heads up the data system known as NJ SMART -- said the program of tracking every student in their attendance, achievement and even college records is fast expanding in its uses in the coming months.

The linking of student test scores to individual teachers, the centerpiece of a new teacher evaluation system, is to see its first tests by the end of May, Erlichson said. The data system will become increasingly critical in the state’s funding formula as well, as changing enrollments play a bigger factor in determining whether state aid rises or falls.

“Between now and October, my next goal is to bring school business administrators into this and make sure they know how to use it,” Erlichson said. “If we are going to fund schools based on these records, they need to be part of the conversation.”

The presentation on the administration’s plans for new graduation exams and the curriculum changes that will lead up to them also described a process that appears to be very much a work in progress.

Christie on Monday unveiled a long-awaited proposal for end-of-course exams in language arts and math in 9th, 190th and 11th grades, replacing the state’s current High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA). But he left open the possibility for similar tests in science and social studies, too.

Assistant commissioner Penny McCormack said yesterday that the department is weighing the different options, with a request for proposals to go out this fall, but the extent of those state tests will rest with the state board as well.

“Clearly we have some work to do,” she said. “These proposals [from Christie] are a solid beginning, but there is a great deal of work to be done.”

Much of the meeting centered on charter schools, an immediate issue for the board as it considers changes to regulations that dictate how the state reviews and approves new charters and the rules they must follow once operational.

The department’s interim charter school director, Amy Ruck, presented to the board an update on the state of charters in New Jersey. There was a heavy dose of accountability in her message, as the administration has taken some heat for being too soft on charters in Christie’s first years.

Instead, Ruck said while a majority of charter schools in Newark, for instance, have exceeded the district’s achievement averages, it has not been the same for Jersey City. She showed a chart from the state’s largest urban areas where charters outperformed district averages in Newark, Paterson and Camden, but not so in Trenton and Jersey City.

“Some charters are not performing well, not to what we would expect of them, and it’s something we need to take a look at,” she said specifically of the Jersey City charters.

For all charters, the administration is rolling out new so-called “Performance Frameworks,” measuring them on more than a dozen indicators of achievement, operations and finances. The financial reviews are a newer piece, looking both at current fiscal health of a charter school but also its long-term viability, Ruck said.

But the process of reviewing them will change, too, with the new regulations providing more tools for the state to intervene. Included will be a different probation options and a new option of so-called “restructured renewal” for a school that is low- performing but still worthy of staying alive, Ruck said.

“It’s an alternative to closing them,” she said. “It’s a fundamental reorganization, with the idea that it will be minimally disruptive to students.”

Some of the changes with the broadest impact could be in the technical language, however. For instance, the new regulations would allow for charter schools that don’t necessarily serve contiguous districts -- a move specifically aimed at opening the way for online charter schools.

The state has already approved at least four online charter schools, but questions have persisted to whether they are permitted under the state’s current statute and regulations.

The board gave little indication of its sentiments around the new changes, with some veteran members raising the most critical questions and the Christie appointees more supportive.

But even some of them wondered the state’s own capacity for overseeing charter schools as they continue to grow. Next year, the total could top 100 charter schools, depending on how many receive their final charters this summer.

“With the current investment, how much could we grow the program?” asked Claire Chamberlain, appointed by Christie last year. “You have put a lot of things in place, and with what you have [for staffing], could you oversee as many as 200 charter schools?”

State officials conceded that capacity is a concern, although would not put specific number on a maximum.

“As we grow more,” Smarick said, “we’ll need to invest more.”

 

Philadelphia Inquirer - Cherry Hill father's online video complaint sparks legislative move… New Jersey State Sen. Diane Allen (R., Burlington) said Wednesday that she planned to introduce legislation soon that would make it easier to fire educators who bully their students

Posted: Thu, May. 3, 2012, 3:00 AM By Rita Giordano  Inquirer Staff Writer

New Jersey State Sen. Diane Allen (R., Burlington) said Wednesday that she planned to introduce legislation soon that would make it easier to fire educators who bully their students.

“My hope is that we can get it through very quickly,” said Allen, a prime sponsor of the state’s existing anti-bullying law.

The legislation Allen said she was drafting was inspired by the recent case of the Cherry Hill father who captured Horace Mann Elementary School staff making hostile and inappropriate statements through a recording device he put in his autistic son’s pocket. The father, Stuart Chaifetz, an animal-rights activist and former school board candidate, made a video that contained portions of the audio recording and posted it last week on YouTube. The video went viral, getting nearly 4.4 million hits and much media attention.

Chaifetz also posted an online petition that has drawn over 150,000 signatures calling for such a law. He also called for public apologies from the staff involved.

Last week, Chaifetz said his son Akian’s classroom teacher should be dismissed because he thought she was at least present when some verbally abusive statements were made to his son. Later in the week, attorneys for the teacher, Kelly Altenburg, put out a statement that she was in a meeting when the abusive statements were made. Chaifetz then said he planned to go through the 6½ hours of recording to look for comments made in Altenburg’s presence. He said he would possibly post them.

On Wednesday, however, Chaifetz said he was standing down, at least for now. He said he had spoken to a representative of the Cherry Hill School District who assured him the district was seriously continuing its investigation. One aide heard on the Feb. 17 recording resigned and a substitute aide was not invited back shortly after Chaifetz gave the district the recorded material, according to superintendent Maureen Reusche. A third aide and the teacher were placed on leave last week, pending the results of the district’s investigation.

“I have decided to allow them the space they need” to complete their investigation, Chaifetz said.

He also plans to work toward getting anti-bullying legislation passed, saying it is needed.

Contact staff writer Rita Giordano at 856-779-3841 or rgiordano@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @ritagiordano.

 

Associated Press-nj.com - N.J. Supreme Court to rule on salary cap for school superintendents

Published: Thursday, May 03, 2012, 6:06 AM Updated: Thursday, May 03, 2012, 6:20 AM

TRENTON — The New Jersey Supreme Court is about to rule on Gov. Christie's pay cap for local school superintendents.

The New Jersey Association of School Administrators is challenging the cap, which went into effect last year. The court's decision is expected to be announced today.

Under the new rules, school administrators have salary caps based on the enrollment of their districts. Only those in districts with more than 10,000 students can make more than the $175,000 per year the governor is paid.

Some school officials have said that the cap makes it harder to recruit and keep experienced administrators.

 


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