|9-14-11 Education Issues in the News|
Nine months into 2011, you may be startled to learn this is the year of education reform in New Jersey. Especially if you moved here for the schools.
Sure, the Garden State leads the nation in graduating high school seniors. But because we're at or near the top of less desirable lists - property taxes, urban poverty, functionally illiterate Jersey Shore cast members as TV spokespeople - Gov. Christie made overhauling education a signature priority. Smart move, considering it's the rare issue on which Democrats and Republicans find common ground.
Christie wants to blow up the tenure system, reward teachers for students' performances, introduce vouchers, and expand charter schools. Until now, he's mostly delivered this message as a stern lecture with a raised voice, the better to wake up snoozing union leaders.
This week, Christie is touring schools with a softer approach. He's goofing with first graders and assuring superintendents he wants to collaborate on new state standards.
After Tuesday's stop at Sharp Elementary in Cherry Hill, I half expected him to pass out cupcakes. Clearly, the governor digs kids. Now, he's offering olive branch snacks to embattled teachers.
Schools, Christie insisted, "need less top-down management from Trenton." Eliminating regulations and easing testing mandates will let teachers "do what they do best."
Meeting his match
Sarah Anderson and Kathy Gilmour already met my benchmark: One week into the school year, the Sharp teachers commanded enough respect to keep 23 first graders quiet and still as they waited for their VIP guest.
Governor Gruff melted in the students' presence.
When a boy recalled visiting the Battleship New Jersey, Christie nodded approvingly without mentioning that he slashed the historic site's state funding. When a girl said she read Junie B. Jones books all summer, he applauded even though parents secretly loathe the obnoxious title character.
"You hit a shark with your surfboard? You're a hero!" Christie raved to an adorable tale-teller named Mason, who shared accounts of his beach bravery. "I gotta take you back to Trenton. People try to bite me all the time."
The media were ushered out before the students tackled their math lesson: counting to 40 using a number line. That's new to first graders across the state. But not for long.
In the school library, Christie touted the reason for his visit: promoting new state educational standards, the only reform he can muster as long as the Legislature is otherwise focused on reelection.
In June, New Jersey became the ninth state to adopt the Common Core State Standards, a set of expectations detailing what children in each grade should know as they march toward college and careers.
The standards movement stresses achievement and progress over policy and test scores. But high school seniors will ultimately take new exit exams - and the results could tarnish the state's reputation.
"I'm tired of giving out fake diplomas," Christie said. With common core standards, "we'll know the truth" about just how well New Jersey educates its youth.
Courier Post - Christie touts new core school standards
7:17 AM, Sep. 14, 2011 |
Joe Cooney | Staff Writer
CHERRY HILL — A day after announcing the state would seek a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind requirements, Gov. Chris Christie and his education commissioner stopped by a Cherry Hill elementary school Tuesday to tout curriculum standards reforms.
After arriving at the Joseph D. Sharp School, Christie sat down with a group of first-graders and shared some light banter about summer vacation, what the students will be learning this year and the importance of reading.
One tousle-haired youngster displayed his burgeoning imagination, entertaining Christie with stories about his trips to the Shore and various encounters with marine life.
“I was on a surfboard and hit a shark,” said Mason Torpey. “I knocked out his tooth. Then I got bit by two crabs and a lobster.”
“Was that at dinner,” asked Christie, who then invited the child to return to Trenton with him.
“You’re very brave,” Christie told Mason. “You should come back with me. People are trying to bite me all the time. I need somebody to rip them off me.”
Afterward, Christie spoke about Common Core Standards (CCS), a statewide system adopted by New Jersey school districts last year.
The CCS, Christie explained, will ensure students receive the skills needed for college by focusing on math and language arts.
Education Commissioner Chris Cerf called the CCS one of four building blocks being put into place in state schools to improve education. The others are accountability, talent and innovation.
“As we look at the reforms and the reorganization of the Department of Education, it starts in that first-grade classroom,” Christie said. “If (students) fall behind in the first grade, second grade, it affects their test scoring, their aptitude and — of more concern — their confidence.
“We needed to make these core standards more meaningful and relevant for today’s world. And we needed to make sure our students are on track to go to college or start a career. Whichever they choose.”
Sharp Principal Robert Homer said he was contacted Monday by Cherry Hill Superintendent Maureen Reusche about Christie’s visit.
“Dr. Reusche had spoken with the Camden County Commissioner of Education, who was evidently impressed with how quickly the Cherry Hill district had moved forward with the CCS,” Homer said.
“Sharp has been at the forefront introducing the new standards, and that’s why we were chosen.”
Homer indicated the new standards for math have already been instituted in grades K-2 at Sharp, and the language arts standards will be rolled out this year.
“With these standards, we can provide clear expectations to the kids about what they should know. Our teachers become very familiar with (the system) and they then formulate their assessments to coincide with the standards.”
Christie said New Jersey is one of 44 states that has signed onto the standards system, and it has joined 23 others and the District of Columbia in developing new K-12 math and language arts assessments.
Cerf called the adoption of the CCS a revolution for New Jersey education.
Schools are scheduled to implement the language arts standards in grades K-12 and math grades 3-5 and 9-12 in the 2012-13 school year.
In 2013-14, districts will introduce math standards in grades 6-8.
New Jersey Newsroom - Gov. Christie goes off to school to highlight state's new math standards
Tuesday, 13 September 2011 14:28
Page 1 of 2
Democrats complain he is underfunding schools
As part of what has become a back-to-school period push of his proposals to improve public education Gov. Chris Christie, joined by state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf, on Tuesday met with the teachers at Sharp Elementary School in Cherry Hill who are implementing new math standards for grades K-2.
The meeting is part of Christie’s move to improve academic standards and ensure students receive the skills they need to be ready for college and a career. Under the supervision of the Department of Education, school districts are implementing the first round of what are called the new Common Core State Standards.
Setting standards that center around college and career readiness is one of Christie’s so-called four Building Blocks for Success in New Jersey’s Schools - accountability and performance, academics, talent, and innovation.
“While New Jersey has one of the highest graduation rates in the country, we must ensure that all students, including our high school graduates, are fully ready for college and a career,” Christie said. “The demands our young people face today in entering the 21st century global workforce and economy make our obligation to deliver a strong and relevant education to every one of our students more important now than ever.
“The Common Core State Standards are a building block in our state’s education system meant to ensure that teachers and districts can innovate within a framework of high expectations and accountability,” the governor added. “They are based on the fundamental belief that every child in every classroom deserves an education that will properly equip them with the skills they need for college and a career. Our aggressive implementation of these standards in partnership with districts will ensure that our children have an education that will serve them well in the next stages of their lives.”
The DOE is working with districts to implement the full Common Core State Standards over the course of three years. To help districts implement them, the DOE held over 300 presentations within the past year for teachers and administrators to provide an overview of the new standards. Additionally, DOE content specialists in math and English language arts (ELA) have worked with districts in developing new curricula aligned to the standards.
This year, districts will implement the standards in K-2 math. In 2012-13, districts will implement them in K-12 ELA and 3-5 and 9-12 math. In 2013-14, districts will implement 6-8 math. As implementation moves forward, the DOE will continue with training sessions for districts, developing webinars and other web resources to provide resources and support for the development of curricula in the remaining grades, and serving as a resource to ensure that districts are on track at every step of the process.
Beginning in October, regular regional training will be held to provide professional development in an attempt to refine classroom practices to meet the new standards. The DOE also will seek feedback from teachers, principals and supervisors, and will work with school leaders on the development of lesson plans, instructional materials, and instructional strategies within the classroom.
“The Common Core State Standards are designed to allow districts to rethink curriculum and instruction, and allow colleges to rethink how they train teachers,” Cerf said. “Because these standards are ‘common,’ they will allow teachers, principals, parents and students to have access to knowledge, lesson plans, new content and virtual learning opportunities not only throughout the state, but across the country. We think this type of content innovation, mobility and collaboration is a game changer in education – increasing the chances that anywhere learning takes place, it will be in the format that works for each child at each relevant stage of the learning progress.”
On Wednesday Christie and Cerf will travel to Bergenfield, where they will visit students at Roy W. Brown Middle School and continue to discuss their Four Building Blocks for Success program and focus on teacher performance and accountability.
Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney (D-Gloucester) took the occasion of Christie’s visit to the Cherry Hill school to chide the governor for what the senator described as underfunding public education and not focusing on job creation, an issue currently being pushed by Democrats.
"It is great that the governor is going around visiting all the classrooms and students that he decided to grossly underfund for the last two years,” Sweeney said. ”Maybe next he will pay a visit to each of the 16,000 millionaires in New Jersey he enriched at the expense of our children's education and future.
"There is no denying the importance of education,” the senator said. “But at this time, the governor also needs to simultaneously focus on our state's economy. There is simply no reason the governor can't do both. After all, if he can be on "Meet the Press," visit the Koch Brothers, and, we assume, watch a Mets' game, all in the same day, he can focus on two important issues at once. The hundreds of thousands of New Jerseyans who are unemployed need this governor's attention.
“The governor should be working with us to create jobs and fuel economic growth,” Sweeney said. “To date, his only action on the economy in 18 months as governor has been vetoing job creation measures. And since his vetoes, things have only gotten worse. Really, the only economic stimulus this governor has created is for the state's 16,000 millionaires...and he has done it twice for them.
"Right now, our unemployment rate is above the national average, businesses are continuing to layoff workers and too many men and women can’t find jobs. In my world, when something needs to get done, we roll up our sleeves and make it happen. Let’s go governor.”
The Common Core State Standards are standards for K-12 math and English language arts developed by a consortium of states led by the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers. To date, 44 states and the District of Columbia have signed onto the standards, and the New Jersey State Board of Education adopted them in June 2010.
The Common Core State Standards define the knowledge and skills that students should have in K-12 math and English language arts to ensure they are on track to graduate from high school. As outlined by the Common Core State Standards Initiative, the standards:
· Are aligned with college and work expectations;
· Are clear, understandable and consistent;
· Include rigorous content and application of knowledge through high-order skills;
· Build upon strengths and lessons of current state standards;
· Are informed by other top performing countries, so that all students are prepared to succeed in our global economy and society; and are evidence- and research-based.
New Jersey has also joined 23 other states and the District of Columbia in developing new K-12 math and ELA assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards, that will truly measure college and career readiness in the state of New Jersey.
—TOM HESTER SR., NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM
Want to get the public education establishment in New Jersey agitated? Mention "school choice" and stand back. "An assault on New Jersey's public schools," is how one anti-choice group calls it. You know the drill: offering options to families "creams off" the top kids, drains money from district coffers, and, according to New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) President Barbara Keshishian, threatens to "upend the whole system, hurting students in the process."
Just this past Friday, Dr. Diane Ravitch, renowned education historian and fierce advocate for teachers' unions, said on the Blue Jersey website "[t]he most closely held secret in New Jersey is that the state's public schools are among the best in the nation... So along comes Gov. Christie with proposals to open more charter schools... Gov. Christie should take care to do no harm."
In fact, we already have school choice in New Jersey, Ravitich's dire warnings to the contrary.
Let's peruse NJ's school choice menu, which includes magnet schools, the Interdistrict Public School Choice Program (IPSCP), charter schools, and, potentially, the Opportunity Scholarship Act (OSA):
Magnet schools are county-run public schools. For example, Bergen County high school students can attend Bergen County Academies -- if they can make it through admissions. Math and language arts tests are required, as well as an interview, and the acceptance rate is about 15 percent. No lotteries here! Bergen districts pay tuition and transportation. The total cost per pupil was $26,788 in 2010, according to most recent DOE records, higher than any Abbott district.
Another option, recently plumped up by passage of a legislative expansion, is the Interdistrict Public School Choice Program (IPSCP), which allows kids to cross district boundaries to attend 70 schools with empty seats.
For example, South Hunterdon Regional High School, a combined middle and high school, was struggling with an enrollment of only 336 kids. Cost per pupil, due to inefficiencies inherent in small size, was $24,825. Now it's a "choice" school, and 35 kids attend from other districts. Those home districts pay annual tuitions of $13,100, plus transportation. Not a peep from anti-choice advocates, nor from NJEA.
These autonomous public schools are independent of locally run districts, and most of Jersey's are in impoverished cities. Students take the same standardized tests as kids in traditional districts. Admission, unlike magnet schools, is done through a lottery. Quality varies. There can be thousands of prospective students on waiting lists for the best.
New Jersey's charter school movement got sidetracked this year by the growth of "boutique" charters. These serve wealthy kids and offer programs like Mandarin or Hebrew immersion. Happily, Gov. Christie signaled a course correction last week when he told the School Boards Association's Ray Pinney that charter schools "should be focused [in areas where] traditional schools are a failure."
The Opportunity Scholarship Act
This bipartisan bill, sponsored by Democratic Senator Ray Lesniak and Republican Senator Tom Kean, has yet to pass through the legislature. It would establish scholarships to private and parochial schools funded by corporations that, in return, would receive tax credits. The bottom line is revenue-neutral. Schools with OSA students would be required to administer the usual standardized tests. The pilot would involve up to 13 failing districts (Camden, Newark, Paterson, Trenton, and so on) and up to 30,000 kids. Participating schools must accept as full payment the amount of the scholarship. Home districts pay nothing.
Now, reasonable people can make reasonable objections to blurring the distinction between parochial schools and non-denominational schools. But it's far easier to raise those objections if you don't have children trapped in persistently failing schools.
There are three reasons why magnet schools and IPSCP pass unscathed through the anti-choice gauntlet, yet charters and OSA get hammered.
First, magnets and IPSCP serve small numbers of students. They're minor tweaks, not meaningful reforms (although the latter has the potential to serve many more kids).
Second, we've created a false dichotomy between protecting the "system" and protecting poor students. Ironically, the anti-choice constituency seems to perceive New Jersey's public education establishment -- funded at a cool $25 billion per year -- as fragile enough to buckle under the burden of offering options to the 100,000 poor kids who attend dismal schools. The pro-choice constituency knows that our school system is strong and stable.
Finally, magnet schools and IPSCP are staffed unionized employees. Most charter school teachers and parochial school teachers are not unionized, so charter school expansion and the OSA. are budgetary threats to the NJEA's bottom line.
Diane Ravitch and Barbara Keshishian are right: We do have some of the best schools in the nation. Until all our kids get to attend them, however, we need the options offered through school choice -- magnet schools, IPSCP, charter schools, and OSA.
Laura Waters has been president of the Lawrence Township School Board in Mercer County for six years. She also blogs about New Jersey education policy and politics at NJLeftBehind.com. A former instructor at SUNY Binghamton in a program that served educationally disadvantaged students from New York's inner cities, she holds a Ph.D. in early American literature from Binghamton.
Comments on this story
Garden State Coalition of Schools