|7-12-12 Education Issues in the News - Virtual Charter Schools...Pleasantville school district provides summer jobs for students|
NJ Spotlight - Debate Swells as Decision Nears on Virtual Charters…Leading education organizations ask Cerf to hold off final approval until outstanding legal issues can be resolved…’’ a few organizations that were asked to sign the letter either deferred or chose to send their own… "In practice, GSCS is not litigious but rather focuses on policy issues that can impact quality education for all children," she said. "Given that our membership comes from the ranks of parents, school board members, and school administrators, GSCS reflects community concerns and speaks with speaks with an informed community voice on education issues.”
Excerpt from GSCS letter to Commissioner Cerf..."A main concern of GSCS regarding charter school policies in general continues to be the clear lack of synchronization between the unrevised and not updated Charter School Law of 1995 to regulations still being revised that must be framed by such an old law. To proceed in establishing virtual charter schools for this coming year with no relevant regulations in place, with no open analysis on per pupil costs in said schools, and with no updated and supporting charter school legislation in place appears to be a clear case of putting the cart before the horse."
NJ Spotlight -Op-Ed: Virtual Charter Schools Raise Real Questions for Education in New Jersey…Where's the evidence that virtual charters will outperform their 'brick and mortar' equivalents?
Press of Atlantic City - Pleasantville school district gives students a chance — and a summer job
NJ Spotlight - Debate Swells as Decision Nears on Virtual Charters…Leading education organizations ask Cerf to hold off final approval until outstanding legal issues can be resolved…’’ a few organizations that were asked to sign the letter either deferred or chose to send their own… "In practice, GSCS is not litigious but rather focuses on policy issues that can impact quality education for all children," she said. "Given that our membership comes from the ranks of parents, school board members, and school administrators, GSCS reflects community concerns and speaks with an informed community voice on education issues.”
The prospect of New Jersey's first online charter schools continues to stir up debate, even as the Christie administration moves closer to announcing its decision on the virtual schools.
A group of a half-dozen of the state's most prominent education organizations delivered a letter to acting education commissioner Chris Cerf this week, asking him not to approve final charters for two all-online schools until a number of legal and policy issues could be resolved.
The letter was signed by the New Jersey Education Association, the Education Law Center, and the New Jersey School Boards Association, as well as state associations representing principals, superintendents, and other administrators. Also signing were the state NAACP and the Latino Institute.
The main arguments were legal ones, with the letter making numerous citations of specific statute and regulation. It took up the now-familiar argument that the state's 15-year-old charter school law does not accommodate for online schools, nor grant the state the power to approve them.
"We have significant concerns that the Department of Education lacks legislative authority to authorize virtual or online charter schools under the Charter School Program Act of 1995," read the letter.
"There is no mention of virtual charter schools in the Act or its legislative history, which makes it clear that this new form of charter school was never contemplated, and has never been authorized, by the Legislature," it read.
The letter went on to maintain that there also remained "numerous broad public policy questions that the Legislature must address," from how the schools would be funded to rudimentary questions as to how attendance would be monitored.
Among them was a key point for critics: the role of for-profit companies in operating the schools. It is particularly germane, since K12 Inc., the nation's largest online education company, is managing one of the schools and providing the curriculum for the other.
"The proper resolution of these major policy issues is a matter of great public interest. Such issues are reserved by the New Jersey Constitution and statutes to the Legislature to address, not an administrative agency," read the letter.
Cerf would not comment specifically on the letter this week, other than confirming he received it. A department spokeswoman yesterday said the final plans for the two schools -- one a statewide K-12 school out of Newark and the other out of Monmouth County serving at-risk high school students in four targeted areas -- continued to be reviewed, with announcement on the final charters to come in the next week.
"The applications for these schools are currently under review as part of our preparedness process," said Barbara Morgan, the department's press secretary, in an email. "The final approval on their charters, just like all other schools undergoing this process, will be made by July 15."
But the move did step up the heat on the closely watched decisions, with the sudden prospect that one or both of the schools could be challenged in court if granted approval.
David Sciarra, director of the Education Law Center, the Newark-based group that has been at frequent odds with the Christie administration, said it would be premature to say a challenge was in the works until the charters have been approved.
Still, the letter itself did raise the possibility. "The grant of final approval to these virtual charter schools places their enrolled students and the districts of residence at risk of irreparable harm if the agency's actions are later determined by the courts to be unlawful."
For the school out of Monmouth, it may be a moot point, since its founders have asked for an extension until 2013, to recruit an adequate number of students. But the New Jersey Virtual Academy Charter (NJVAC) out of Newark has already signed 850 students and appears to be moving ahead.
Still, the potential of a legal challenge is not an unforeseen one, with NJVAC's initial application two years ago including a four-page memo from lawyer Stephen Edelstein of Simon & Edelstein of Morristown, which maintained the school was within the law.
Edelstein took on two specific points in the law that could be in conflict with online schools: that 90 percent of the enrollment be from the home district, and that the proposal include a description of the "physical facility in which the charter school will be located." He said the law included flexibility on both fronts and, as a whole, was meant to encourage innovation.
"On the contrary, permitting cybercharter schools is consistent with the broad legislative intent to 'encourage the use of different and innovative learning methods' to foster educational improvement," Edelstein wrote.
Meanwhile, signaling some debate within advocacy groups as to the best way to approach the state, a few organizations that were asked to sign the letter either deferred or chose to send their own.
Among them was the Save Our Schools NJ, the grassroots group that has been arguably the most outspoken critic of virtual charters coming to New Jersey. One prominent organizer said it was more a matter of where its strength could best be utilized.
"The letter focused on the legal approach, which was not the area we felt we could best contribute," said Deborah Cornavaca, an organizer with the group who was involved in the talks. "While we support that letter, we decided to complement rather than join those organizations and pursue our own grassroots efforts."
Another group, the Garden State Coalition of Schools, held its executive board meeting and discussed the letter at length before deciding to send its own. The group is the state's largest organization representing specifically suburban districts.
Lynne Strickland, the coalition’s director, said it also was a matter of different approach to the same ends.
"In practice, GSCS is not litigious but rather focuses on policy issues that can impact quality education for all children," she said. "Given that our membership comes from the ranks of parents, school board members, and school administrators, GSCS reflects community concerns and speaks with an informed community voice on education issues.”
The New Jersey State Board of Education is considering a set of regulatory changes proposed by acting Commissioner Cerf designed to significantly change how charter schools operate in New Jersey. Perhaps the most significant change Cerf proposes is removing the term ‘contiguous districts’ from the definition of a charter’s potential enrollment area, thereby facilitating the operation of statewide virtual charter schools (N.J.A.C. 6A:11-1.2). There are currently six pending applications for virtual charter schools, four considered hybrid and two that are purely virtual, that could be approved as early as this Friday.
There are two central questions that we must ask this week, therefore. First, how can Cerf claim to have the authority to grant final charter to a virtual charter school, when he acknowledges through his proposed regulatory changes that he does not possess the appropriate regulations? Given that these regulatory changes are not even being voted on by the New Jersey State Board of Education at this week’s meeting, acting Commissioner Cerf should be forced to acknowledge that neither current charter school law, nor regulations, can support the approval of these schools.
Second, as providing high-quality charter school programs is the stated goal of acting Commissioner Cerf, and indeed the justification for the regulatory changes he proposed, how can he justify even considering introducing virtual charter schools into New Jersey? Earlier this year Cerf shut the doors on Emily Fisher Charter School in Trenton due to what he stated was a poor academic record and low graduation rates. Emily Fisher had the mission of educating those children who otherwise might not even be in school, and they worked in conjunction with the public school district to help children that could not remain in district.
So, while Cerf shuts down Emily Fisher for poor academic performance and low graduation rates, he is intent upon opening virtual charter schools . That three of the proposed virtual charter schools is another red flag. K-12, Inc. has been closely scrutinized for .
How can Cerf rationalize closing down Emily Fisher, a local charter that has invested over a decade trying to help a community, as he proposed to open the door to a poorly performing, out of state, for-profit company offering a virtual education? And in the process, he offers no mechanism to fix the egregious funding inequity of virtual charter schools collecting the same 90 percent per-pupil allocation that all charter schools receive, .
We must hold off on regulatory changes, in particular virtual charter schools, until such time as Cerf demonstrates an understanding of our current charter program. If he took the time to do an evaluation as he promised he would do over a year ago "as soon as humanly possible," I am confident he would discover that local communities have valuable input to bring to the decision making process and need to have a place at the table, if not a vote, regarding charter schools in New Jersey.
Deborah Cornavaca is an organizer with Save Our Schools NJ, a grass-roots group promoting high-quality public education for all children in New Jersey. She is active in statewide organizing, legislative advocacy, and promoting local involvement and participation in our community schools. Deborah has three children in the East Brunswick Public Schools and is president of the High School PTA. She has a Ph.D. in anthropological archaeology.
Press of Atlantic City - Pleasantville school district gives students a chance — and a summer job
DIANE D’AMICO Education WriterpressofAtlanticCity.com
PLEASANTVILLE — Shaun Saunders, 17, of Pleasantville, admits she was getting a little depressed about not being able to find a summer job.
Then a friend told her about the Beat The Streets program run by the Pleasantville school district, which pays about $7.25 per hour for working in the district schools.
“I rushed to fill out the application,” she said. She was accepted, and just began working at Washington Avenue Elementary School, helping the maintenance department clean and prepare the school for September.
Started in 2010, the program’s vision is “to provide a safe alternative to negative activities that plague our streets”
During the 2011-12 school year the program had 107 student mentors working in the after-school program. This summer, about 80 students in grades eight to 12 are working part-time in the district’s summer school and after-care program as assistants to the teaching and maintenance staff, and mentors to younger students.
School Superintendent Garnell Bailey said limited job and transportation options give city students little to do in the summer.
“No one hires our kids,” she said.
Students interviewed said they had applied for a number of jobs but never heard back.
“It means a lot to have this when you can’t find anything,” said Marvins Breville, 18.
Workplace mentor Linda Henderson works with the teens at Washington Avenue School, mentoring them while they mentor younger children. For many this is their first job, and they had to fill out an application and attend a job interview and orientation on workplace rules and behavior.
“We do look at their report cards and attendance, but they don’t have to be perfect,” Henderson said. “We’re giving them a chance to prove themselves. This is an investment in our community.”
That investment is not inexpensive. A report presented to the school board in May showed the program cost about $600,000 in salaries alone during the 2011-12 school year, with more than half going to pay student workers, including those in the district school-to-careers program.
But statistics provided by the Pleasantville Police Department show the number of juvenile arrests has dropped from 136 in 2009-10 to 68 in 2010-11 and just 20 in 2011-12. Sgt. Richard Moore, police liaison to the Beat the Streets program, said it has been effective in giving students an alternative to just hanging around and maybe getting into trouble.
“There has been nothing major this year, just some minor things like noise complaints,” he said. “I definitely support the program. It has had an impact.”
Cynthia Ruiz-Cooper, who transferred from the high school to become principal at Washington Avenue School, said the jobs are motivation for students to keep up their grades so they don’t lose their job. Students must reapply every year.
Henderson said the jobs can change students’ outlook on life.
“It changes your peer group. Now you hang around with other kids who work,” Henderson said. “You learn how to act as an employee.”
Some students, such as Cristal Nazario-Martinez, 17, like working with kids. Others, such as Jean Garcia, 17, want to earn money for college or a car. He’s hoping to find a second job, but like many of his classmates, so far has had no luck.
“I’ve tried applying to so many other jobs,” said Madjaline Joseph, 18, a senior who runs track and plays volleyball. “I’ve been to Wawa four times.”
So while cleaning classrooms may not be her ideal summer job, she’s grateful for the opportunity to earn some money and get some job experience.
“At least I’m doing something,” she said.
Contact Diane D'Amico: 609-272-7241 DDamico@pressofac.com
Garden State Coalition of Schools