1-14-13 Education Issues in the News
Politickernj-State Street Wire - Assembly Budget Comm. to consider educational funding resolution

NJ Spotlight - Agenda: State Board of Education

Press of Atlantic City -Students with disabilities focus of new legislative efforts sparked by Ocean City girl

NJ Spotlight - Legislation Promises Help for Dyslexic Kids in New Jersey Schools…Early screening, more training, and better identification of dyslexia among recommendations of state task force

Politickernj-State Street Wire - Assembly Budget Comm. to consider educational funding resolution

By State Street Wire Staff | January 11th, 2013 - 5:09pm

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TRENTON – The Assembly Budget Committee will consider a resolution on Monday critical of educational policies of the administration.

The committee has added to its agenda ACR172, which among other things objects to recommendations in the administration’s Educational Adequacy Report that the school funding formula be modified to reduce the additional “weight’’ given to at-risk, bilingual and some other students.

The resolution, whose sponsors include Democratic Assembly members Bonnie Watson Coleman, Gary Schaer, Benjie Wimberly and Grace Spencer, states that the administration’s recommendations “are not based on any research of the school funding level necessary to achieve the State’s standards, as required under the school funding law or as expected by the Supreme Court in its decision.”

In addition, the resolution calls on increasing extraordinary special education aid thresholds by $5,000.

Districts can be partially reimbursed for costs in excess of $40,000 or $50,000, depending on whether they were for special education students in district-run or privately operated programs, respectively.

The resolution also directs the Education commissioner to submit a revised report within 30 days that reflects the resolution’s directives.

The resolution is an outgrowth of the ongoing disagreements between the administration and legislative Democrats over how schools should be funded, a dispute that goes back years and has included arguments that reached the state Supreme Court

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Press of Atlantic City -Students with disabilities focus of new legislative efforts sparked by Ocean City girl

Seven years after beginning her crusade to raise awareness of dyslexia and other reading disabilities, Beth Ravelli of Ocean City is once again ready to fight for laws to help all children learn to read and write.

But this time she will not be alone.

Armed with five new bills in the state Legislature, a statewide coalition of parents and support groups is planning to blitz legislators in an effort to get the recognition and support for reading disabilities they say many districts still do not recognize or treat.

“I’m not by myself this time,” said Ravelli, who with her daughter, Samantha, now 15, testified before the Assembly Education Committee and successfully fought for the formation of a state Reading Disabilities Task Force. “Parents don’t expect the Department of Education to do it alone. We need legislation.”

Ravelli served on the task force along with Assemblymen Nelson Albano and Matthew Milam and Sen. Jeff Van Drew, all D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic. The three sponsored the bills creating the task force, and are now sponsoring five bills and one resolution to implement its recommendations.

Those recommendations include putting dyslexia in the state special education code, requiring that all children be screened in kindergarten, and requiring that all teachers be trained and tested on reading instruction.

The task force report notes that 85 percent of children who get special education services have problems with language and reading and many are never properly diagnosed and do not receive the proper services.

N.J. Department of Education data show that statewide in 2011 almost 16 percent of all students, or about 218,000 children, received special education services, including more than 77,000 classified with a specific learning disability.

The task force filed its report with the Department of Education in August, but it was not submitted to the governor and state legislature until Dec. 21.

In a letter accompanying the report, Education Commissioner Chris Cerf called the recommendations thoughtful and said a discussion of them is necessary. He said the department will consider the recommendations in light of cost constraints and other potential complications and would move forward with implementation as appropriate. A department spokeswoman said he would have no comment beyond what was in the letter.

Albano pre-filed the bills for the 2013 legislative session on Dec. 13. He said he hopes to have them heard quickly by the Assembly Education Committee.

“We’ve been working on this for seven years,” Albano said. “I don’t want to waste any more time. I’ve met with Department of Education officials many times, and I don’t think they will do this on their own. But I have seen first hand what is needed to help these children.”

In 2005, Samantha Ravelli was a charming third grader who could not read when The Press of Atlantic City first wrote about her struggle to overcome severe dyslexia.

The New Jersey Education Code does not specifically recognize dyslexia, but groups it in the “specific learning disability” category. As a result Samantha did not get specific programs targeted to dyslexia in school and after extensive research and testing her mother began paying for private tutoring in the Orton-Gillingham multi-sensory reading method proven to work with dyslexia.

The Ravellis moved to Ocean City in 2006 because the school district there uses the research-based Wilson reading system beginning at the Primary School for all students. Samantha got extra help at the Intermediate School, learned to read and has thrived and adapted to life with dyslexia.

Now a sophomore at Ocean City High School, she takes sign language as her second language, just passed the written test to get her driver’s license, and finished reading one of the “Pretty Little Liars” series of books on the Kindle e-reader she got for Christmas.

“I don’t want people to forget about reading,” she said in an email. “I really didn’t want to move. I had a lot of friends (at my old school). I was lucky to have great teachers and had a great experience in Ocean City. But I shouldn’t have had to move.”

Ocean City Superintendent Kathleen Taylor said the Wilson program does work, and the district also offers other levels of support based on student need.

Founders of support groups like Decoding Dyslexia and CHILD (Children Having Individual Learning Differences) in Essex County said Ravelli’s work helped spur organized efforts statewide to raise awareness and improve services.

Liz Barnes, of Plumsted Township in Ocean County, a founder of Decoding Dyslexia and mother of an 11-year-old with dyslexia, said the bill adding the definition of dyslexia is crucial because there are still educators who will deny it exists, despite the research.

“You read the stories on our Facebook page and it breaks your heart,” she said. “Districts will say they are doing a good job, but the child still can’t read. The children are made to feel they are stupid.”

Education lawyer Norma Francullo of Verona in Essex County, a founder of CHILD said she paid for private tutors for her twins with dyslexia who are now successful high school students.

“For me, it was easier to pay myself than fight the district, but not everyone can do that,” she said.

Jane Peltonen, of Brigantine, a retired teacher who served on the task force, said she has been stunned by resistance from some educators who still think what they are doing is good enough.

“Parents are hitting a brick wall in the schools,” she said. “It’s just been way too long for us to be so ignorant and naive.”

New research and brain scans have shown how dyslexics process language differently, but can learn to read using special methods. Gordon Sherman, executive director of the Newgrange School in Princeton, past president of the International Dyslexia Society and a member of the state task force said New Jersey could become a role model for the nation.

“We are lucky to have legislators who realize how important this is,” he said.

He said many teaching colleges have not caught up with the research so new teachers are still unaware of the issue.

Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck has a Center for Dyslexia Studies and offers teacher training program in the Orton-Gillingham system. The college partners with the Scottish Rite Masons of New Jersey in offering free tutoring for children at Masonic Learning Centers, including one in Northfield, but there area often waiting lists to get in.

Some parents have been successful in getting their children sent to private schools like the Cambridge School in Pennington or the Newgrange school in Princeton.

Advocates say while the costs of implementing the bills could be a challenge, early and effective intervention would be cheaper in the long run than having to provide long-term support for children who never learn to adequately read or write.

Ravelli and Albano hope the work done over the last seven years will help get the laws passed quickly.

“The word is getting out this time,” Ravelli said

NJ Spotlight - Agenda: State Board of Education

School safety, charter schools, public participation, and deregulation on agenda for board’s first meeting of 2013

By John Mooney, January 14, 2013 in Education|Post a Comment

Date: Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013

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Time: 10 a.m.

Place: New Jersey Department of Education, 1st floor conference room, 100 River View Plaza, Trenton

What they are doing: The board’s first monthly meeting of 2013 -- postponed two weeks for scheduling reasons -- will pick up where 2012 left off. At the top of its agenda will be continued review of code proposals that aim to ease state mandates on schools, as well as new regulations for charters schools. But after the Newtown, CT, mass killing, school safety will also be on the board’s agenda. he board also is expected to face some feedback from civic advocates who have protested that it has squelched public input.

School safety: A late addition to the agenda is a discussion of school safety in New Jersey in the aftermath of the Newtown shootings. Education Commissioner Chris Cerf has said he doesn’t expect any new state regulations, saying New Jersey already has some of the strongest mandates in the country. But board president Arcelio Aponte said all options need to be discussed. “I think all of us are rethinking this now, so we have asked for this discussion,” he said yesterday.

School deregulation: The Christie administration has devoted much of the past six months to moving new regulations that would reduce mandates on schools, and the board’s meeting will include more discussion. No new proposals are on the table, but there will be discussions about some pending proposals concerning the minutia of school operations, such as how and where to keep student records and what are requirements for summer schools.

Charter schools, converted: The board is also continuing to hear a proposal that would allow for the conversion of public or private schools to charters. While popular in some other states, the idea has yet to gain traction in New Jersey's public district schools. One private school, St. Philip’s Academy in Newark, has applied to be a charter next fall, in part prompting the proposed regulations. The meeting will host public testimony on the charter conversion regulations.

Where’s the public?: Public participation has always been a dicey topic with the state board, with testimony for years pushed off to the afternoon of the monthly meetings. Often, just a fraction of the board stays for the testimony. Last year, the board did away with the specific scheduling of a time for testimony, Now, it's the last item on the agenda, whenever that may come. Some parent and community activists have objected, saying it makes it even harder for people to set aside time to come to Trenton.

One proposal: Save Our Schools NJ, the advocacy group, plans to testify and ask the board to go back to its previous system of setting aside a specific time for testimony. It also asks that any time limits be removed, and that the full board be present.

One response: Aponte, the board president, said he is aware of the concerns and is open to suggestions. He said that others had previously complained that the set time for testimony had been more a hindrance than help when board meetings ended long before the appointed time.


NJ Spotlight - Legislation Promises Help for Dyslexic Kids in New Jersey Schools…Early screening, more training, and better identification of dyslexia among recommendations of state task force

By John Mooney, January 14, 2013 in Education|Post a Comment

In 2005, an Ocean City mother started asking legislators, educators, and other parents to help address what she saw as the failure of New Jersey public schools to help children with dyslexia -- starting with her daughter.

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Eight years later, Beth Ravelli has seen a state reading-disabilities task force created, a host of recommendations completed, and a half-dozen bills submitted to transform them into law.

The next challenge, she said, is getting the legislation heard and passed. “It’s been a long road,” Ravelli said this weekend, for both mother and daughter.

The bills were filed last month by state Sen. Jeff Van Drew and Assemblyman Nelson Albano, both Cape May County Democrats. They would require schools to conduct early screenings for dyslexia and other reading disabilities, train teachers in serving these students, and specifically define dyslexia as a reading disability in school regulations.

The bills mirror the recommendations of the Reading Disabilities Task Force that was created in 2010, in part as a response to Ravelli’s push and a growing awareness that such disabilities often go undetected and unaddressed.

Dyslexia isn't new. Some estimate that as many as 80 percent of all students classified for special education have some sort of language disability. But experts said dyslexia – defined as a specific difficulty in processing words and sounds -- is often lumped together with other learning disabilities and not always addressed with programs that can make a big difference in helping students overcome it.

“This has been going on for at least 20 years, if not longer,” said Gordon Sherman, a past president of the International Dyslexia Association and director of the New Grange School in New Jersey. “There is now lots of good research in place.”

The task force completed its work in August, with six recommendations, and its report was formally submitted to Gov. Chris Christie and the Legislature in December.

“What we have in the document is very practical,” said Sherman, who served on the task force. “It’s not pie in the sky, and any school with good leadership can use it.”

State Education Commissioner Chris Cerf praised the task force and its report in his letter to the governor and legislators, but said the proposals would need more review.

“The Department will consider these recommendations, in light of cost constraints and other potential complications, and move forward with implementation where appropriate,” his letter read.

“The timely identification and effective management of reading disabilities is critical in effectively supporting the success of these children and in ensuring that all students in New Jersey are college- and career-ready,” Cerf wrote.

With a nudge from Ravelli and other advocates, Van Drew and Albano have moved ahead without the administration, saying some of the measures would not be costly and could make a difference immediately.

Ravelli said she has no sense that the administration will oppose any of the recommendations, since the task force’s chairperson was the DOE's language arts director, Mary Jane Kurabinski.

But she also didn’t want to wait for the administration. “This has been sitting on their desk since August, so we went ahead and did our own bills,” she said.

Ravelli said that the two bills that require early screening and add a specific definition of dyslexia to special education code would barely cost any money.

“Those are the two I am rooting for,” she said. “They will cost the least, and could be implemented the fastest.”

Van Drew said the bills first need to be posted in their respective legislative committees, and he will speak with their chairpersons in the coming weeks. The senator said the New Jersey Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, has also asked to meet with hium.

The senator said he expects there may be some resistance from districts, as well as the administration, over costs of some of the other measures, as well as how best to approach the issue in general. Other recommendations that could carry a price tag would require training for teachers both before they enter the classroom and once on the job.

“There will be pushback to get this passed, but we’ll continue to push ourselves,” Van Drew said.

In the meantime, a new advocacy group -- called Decoding Dyslexia NJ -- has been organized to press for both policy and awareness, and its leaders are encouraged by the momentum. The group has a Facebook page with more than 700 followers.

“The bills have been introduced, have bill numbers, and now are just awaiting traction in committee,” said Liz Barnes, a founding parent and a Plumsted mother of an 11-year girl with dyslexia. “That’s a whole lot more than we had a year ago.”

Barnes said that as a parent, just having dyslexia defined in code would be critical. It is currently included in the broader classification of “specific learning disabilities.”

“If we get it in there, schools can’t tell us it doesn’t exist anymore,” she said. “Something like that gets in there, it changes the whole conversation.”

Ravelli said that her daughter Samantha has made significant progress over the past eight years, when when she was an elementary school student seeking help overcoming her reading difficulties.

The family ended up moving to Ocean City, where the schools were using a multisensory strategy that helped the young girl. Samantha is now a sophomore in high school and doesn’t even remember that she ever struggled with reading at all, her mother said.

“She has her whole life ahead of her because of reading. And she didn’t have that in 2005,” Ravelli said.