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11-12-14 Education Issues in the News

NJ Spotlight - Teachers Add Critical Voice to State's Newly Named Testing Commission…While skeptics worry Christie appointees will rubber-stamp state policy, two named to panel express optimism that dissident voices will be heard

John Mooney | November 12, 2014


When Gov. Chris Christie finally appointed his long-promised commission to study New Jersey’s school-testing system, the appointees included two teachers who are hardly big fans of where the state is heading.

While they’re not hard-core dissidents, Freehold Township teacher Tracie Yostpille and Camden County Vocational District’s Matt Stagliano certainly come from the camp that believes New Jersey may be moving too far, too fast.

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Stagliano, an English teacher, questions how the testing fits students who don’t fit the typical mold. Yostpille, a social studies teacher, worries that testing-related narrowing of the curriculum will squeeze out subjects like hers.

“We’re not language arts or math,” Yostpille said in an interview yesterday. “We are not a tested subject, and are we a subject that matters anymore?”

The question now is how much their concerns – and the voices of others who have been critical of the state’s testing system -- will influence the nine-member Commission on the Use of Student Assessments in New Jersey, which Christie took more than three months to appoint and has little time to get started on its work.

The panel was named on Monday, almost four months after Christie issued an executive order to create the commission as part of a political compromise to fend off efforts to beat back New Jersey’s transition to new, high-stakes testing for both students and teachers.

The group is a diverse one, also including the president of Camden County College, the executive director of the New Jersey School Boards Association, the Jersey City schools superintendent, a Burlington County principal, and vice presidents of both the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce and the state PTA.

It will be headed by acting state Education Commissioner David Hespe, who said Monday that the panel will hear from all sides on the issue.

“If anyone wants to be heard, they will be heard,” he said. “It will be a public dialogue on the testing, the time we spend on testing, the uses of multiple tests, and tools we can provide to help.”

He rejected the notion that it’s a foregone conclusion that the commission will back the state’s stance on testing, with the new online PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) tests scheduled to start in the spring.

“We know this is a controversial time, as we move into the first year,” he said. “But the moment is never done. We are always looking to do better as we move forward.’

The commission doesn’t have much time. It is supposed to come up with an interim report by the end of this year and a final report in 2015. Hespe said he hoped to get the group meeting within weeks, and to at least have a set of priorities and procedures – including a schedule of public hearings -- in place by the end of December.

The two teachers on the panel were both put forward by the New Jersey Education Association, hardly a close ally of the governor in his five years in office. And neither comes anywhere close to the Christie administration’s company line on testing.

“I talk to a lot of teachers, and they are very frustrated with what is going on,” said Yostpille, who is president of the Freehold Township teachers union and vice president of the NJEA’s Monmouth County affiliate. “There is a level of frustration that I haven’t seen in my 27 years of teaching.”

“It feels very rushed on my end,” said Stagliano, referring to the testing and, specifically, the new PARCC exams.

“While I think it’s a good assessment and aligned with the Common Core, I think because it has been rushed and there is so little definitive information out there, a lot of students and teachers are nervous about it and resistant to it.”

Both spoke of seeking a balance between the value of assessments and the pressures they bring and the time they consume.

“There is a need and value for it, but it’s not the be-all and end-all of evaluating students and teachers,” said Yostpille, herself a parent of a 10th grader.

Stagliano said he has heard the calls for ending, or at least significantly scaling back, the testing.

“Some people are wildly opposed to testing – I’m not like that – but it’s about the reasonable and practice application of all this,” he said.

Both teachers acknowledge there is skepticism in some quarters about how much the new panel will heed the critiques and, in turn, be able to act on them. But they expressed optimism about the commission’s work.

“I do expect something out of this,” said Yostpille. “I hope this is not lip service. I am hoping we will be heard.”

In addition to Hespe and the two teachers, the following members were appointed by Christie to the commission:

·         Nicole Moore Samson, principal, Shamong Township Schools

·         Raymond A. Yannuzzi, president, Camden County College

·         Dana Elizabeth Egreczky, vice president, NJ Chamber of Commerce

·         Lawrence S. Feinsod, executive director, NJ School Boards Association

·         Catherine M. Lindenbaum, vice president, New Jersey PTA

·         Marcia V. Lyles, superintendent of Jersey City schools


Press of Atlantic City - Education report finds South Jersey families struggling

By DIANE D’AMICO Education Writer The Press of Atlantic City  Wednesday, November 12, 2014 12:00 am

More than 100,000 families in New Jersey with children under eight years old include parents who do not have a full-time, year-round job according to a report released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

That number represents half of the 203,000 low-income families with young children in the state. Most families, about 70 percent, have at least one parent who is working, but not in a steady full-time job, according to Kids Count data compiled by the Foundation.

“The data is startling,” said Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey, or ACNJ. “But this is the new reality for low-income and even some middle-income families. The days of the 40-hour work week with benefits are gone.”

The report, titled “Creating Opportunity for Families: A Two-Generation Approach” calls for the public, non-profit and private sectors to work together on programs that will help both children and their parents escape poverty.

New Jersey’s numbers reflect the national average and Kids Count data compiled by the Foundation show South Jersey families are struggling even more.

The data show that while the number of families on welfare has changed little over the last five years, the number of children in families receiving NJ SNAP (food stamps) has skyrocketed by more than 65 percent statewide, from almost 254,000 in 2009 to almost 420,000 in 2013.

Statewide more than half of families pay more than 30 percent of their income on rent. That rate rises to more than 60 percent in Atlantic, Cape May and Ocean counties.

Zalkind said the lack of full-time jobs with benefits leaves many parents with part-time jobs that may not have regular hours, making it difficult to go to college or get regular child care even if they could afford it. And without a steady job and paycheck it is hard to get child-care vouchers or other services.

The report found 17 percent of New Jersey parents say child care concerns have affected their employment.

The Annie E. Casey report recommends a national and state effort to emphasize job training and flexibility for parents, including increasing the child tax credit for low-income parents of very young children.

It also recommends that government promote interagency collaborations that address the issues of entire families and not just children or adults. Schools and early childhood programs could work with housing and job training programs.

A task force developed by state Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, recently met to look at economic development issues in the district. Van Drew said he is hoping that with government and businesses working together they can come up with a plan to bring in more steady jobs. But, he admits it won’t happen quickly enough.

“The situation in South Jersey right now is unhealthy,” he said. “We will never have a vibrant year-round economy that relies only on tourism. We need to diversify.”

The next task force meeting topic will be on education and how to best train people both to fill jobs, and attract new jobs to the area.

Zalkind said successful programs will address the needs of both children and parents, especially women who head most single-parent families. More than half of all births in Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties in 2009, the most recent data available, were to unmarried women, about 10 percent of whom were under the age of 20.

Schools are a key asset in offering before and after-school programs with meals. Some local districts, including Atlantic City and Wildwood have begun a dinner program.

“Children don’t leave their problems at home,” Zalkind said. “It does impact their ability to learn.

Contact Diane D'Amico:609-272-7241DDamico@pressofac.com