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12-22-14 Recap - Recent Education Issues in the News

NJ Spotlight -Chris Christie's Education Reforms Encountered Turbulence in 2014…Political realities meant backing off on teacher evaluations and Newark’s state-appointed superintendent

As 2014 nears a close, it may be remembered as the first year that Gov. Chris Christie’s education reform agenda ran headlong into political realities, and the governor was forced to back off a bit on some of the key pieces of his plan.

The most notable instance of Christie losing ground can be seen in some of the toughest aspects of state’s fledgling teacher evaluation system, specifically the use of student test results to gauge the performance of certain teachers.

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Elsewhere, Christie for the first time acknowledged things were not going quite as planned in Newark, his reform centerpiece, when he only gave tepid backing to embattled Newark superintendent Cami Anderson.

That hardly makes for a bad year for the governor on what is surely to be a signature issue if and when he decides to run for president, as many expect. Testament to his political strength and savvy, Christie has maneuvered through both sticky situations to ultimately press ahead.

Christie also successfully shepherded in a new and well-received education commissioner, David Hespe, a calming move after the more polarizing tenure of former Commissioner Chris Cerf.

The state‘s takeover of Camden schools remained on track, and the state’s school construction program appears to finally be getting back on its feet. Charters schools also continued to expand in the state, especially in the cities.

But there were clearly some hitches that slowed the momentum and left some clouds on the horizon, including a financial picture for the state that is surely going to haunt Christie’s next budget and dim any hopes for a significant increase in state help for schools.

After a winter and spring dominated by the Bridgegate scandal, much of the political drama around public education came in the summer months, when Christie moved on both the teacher evaluation system and the Newark unrest.

The former was a striking compromise for a governor who had been staunch in defending the new teacher tenure law that he signed in 2012 and touts as probably in his Top 5 list of accomplishments.

Under pressure from Democratic leaders, Christie’s administration agreed in July to scale back the use of testing in evaluating teachers for two years, a seminal part of the law.

Equally noteworthy, Christie acknowledged the undercurrent of concerns over the state’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards and the advent of new online Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exams, when he signed an executive order to create a task force to review the state’s history and future in testing.

Less than a month earlier, Christie had announced that he would reappoint Anderson as Newark’s superintendent, but on a one-year basis and under the watch of a new community-based working group. The election of Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, a staunch critic of the state’s control of the district, only put more pressure on the governor.

How much this was truly a retreat is arguable; since her reappointment Anderson has continued to press her One Newark reorganization plan in the face of resistance. The working group has not made much of a public impression as yet, either.

More telling is the far-greater attention that Christie has given his other education takeover trophy in Camden, where the governor has visited three times in the past four months to praise the progress of its schools and that of his appointee, Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard.

A number of other developments in education policy also took place in 2014 that didn’t take much of Christie’s attention, at least in public, but were notable in themselves.

The first was the settlement of a long-running lawsuit against the state over its record of as one of the most segregated for special-education students.

The case, Disability Rights NJ v. NJ Department of Education, saw the state launch a massive effort to push the most egregious districts to follow its plans, a process likely to continue well into next year and beyond.

The administration fared better this month, when a state Superior Court judge denied a bid to force the state to provide immediate relief to some of the state’s poorest rural districts, much as it has in the urban districts under Abbott v. Burke.

That case, Bacon v. NJ Department of Education, isn’t likely to go away, but that will be a story for another year

NJ Spotlight - Opinion: A New Year in Education, but 2014’s Battles are Far from Over…Here’s a look at four issues that will continue to shape education in New Jersey well into 2015 -- and possibly beyond

by Laura Waters Decembr 22, 2014


New Jersey’s education reform landscape has always been rocky, and 2014 was no exception, pitted with growing resistance towards new accountability metrics, dissension about school choice, and school-funding challenges.

Will 2015 yield a smooth ride or more parkway potholes? Here are four questions worth asking as we head into a new year.

Will NJ’s “toxic testing” movement peter out after the state’s teachers, students, and schools survive their first year of PARCC standardized tests?

If only it were so simple. Some of the opposition to the PARCC tests stems from concerns about overtesting kids. These tests are a little longer than New Jersey’s old standardized tests, and more challenging because they’re aligned with appropriate grade-level expectations. But the real hostility towards PARCC is driven by accountability measures embedded in the state’s 2012 TEACHNJ law. This legislation ties student outcomes on standardized tests to teacher and school evaluations. The assessments aren’t high stakes for children, but they’re high stakes for teachers and schools. That’s a basic premise of education reform: public schools should be responsive to the public and responsible for results.

But New Jersey’s march towards accountability almost cratered this year after a campaign kindled by one of those strange-bedfellows alliances of Save Our Schools NJ, a local chapter of Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, and the NJEA, N.J.’s primary teachers’ union. Each organization subscribes to idiosyncratic gripes, but their combined heft nearly persuaded the Legislature to demur from its earlier consensus on the need for tying evaluations to test scores. Gov. Chris Christie salvaged the initiative by issuing an executive order that diminished the percentage of data infusing teacher and administrator evaluations to 10 percent (20% percent in 2016, topping out at 30 percent for some teachers and administrators in 2017) and statewide PARCC testing will commence in April.

While NJEA was temporarily appeased and even took credit for the compromise, Save Our Schools and other Tea Party groups were outraged. Currently a number of suburban bargaining units are sponsoring opt-out tutorials for parents who have the means to keep kids home on testing days and the NJEA is hosting an opt-out page on its website. However, my guess is that the antitesting fervor will diminish by the end of 2015 after everyone emerges unscathed by the first implementation of PARCC. Look: students take tests. Teachers prepare students for tests, even new assessments that require mastery of meaningful standards. It’s called school.

Will the state Legislature finally pass a new charter school law in 2015?

New Jersey’s charter school law is 20 years old and everyone knows what’s wrong with it. First, model charter school laws mandate multiple authorizers: some assortment of local school boards, universities and colleges, special commissions. But in New Jersey the sole source of authorization of new charters is the commissioner of education, which means that sensible long-term growth strategies can fall prey to transient political impulses. Second, our charter school law provides no aid for facilities. Currently the Legislature has three charter school proposals in the pipeline and all, to one extent or another, address these deficiencies.

But the prognosis for legislative action is grim. Christie is bedding down in Iowa; gubernatorial-hopefuls Sen. President Steve Sweeney and Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop are loath to antagonize antichoice lobbyists who fear diminution of traditional public school market share. The NJEA has even called for a moratorium on all charter school authorizations, despite 20,000 New Jersey children who huddle on multiple waiting lists for seats in these alternative public schools.

Well-conceived laws transcend political posturing. But political posturing waylays well-conceived laws.

Whither goes Newark and Camden, New Jersey’s hotbeds of education reform?

Let’s take the easy one first. Camden’s educational transformation under the leadership of Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard appears charmed. During his short tenure Rouhanifard has managed to attract some of the most highly regarded charter operators to the city (KIPP, Mastery, Uncommon) under the auspices of the Urban Hope Act and, concurrently, make improvements to Camden’s traditional public schools. A linchpin of the district’s new “Camden Commitment” strategic plan is community engagement and transparency, and these efforts seem to be paying off. Test scores and high school graduation rates are slightly up, students feel safer, and some parents and teachers are expressing renewed hope and allegiance.

Will this Cinderella story follow the fairy-tale arc of redemption in 2015? Let’s get real: this is Camden, not Disneyland. Next year the school district will have to navigate falling test scores (that damned PARCC!), as well as the sustainability of Camden’s $28,000 cost-per-student-per-year in the context of New Jersey’s fiscal malaise. Expect some turbulence.

Ah, Newark! A casual news reader might be forgiven for thinking that the onset of the city’s educational problems coincided with the arrival of Superintendent Cami Anderson. A quick primer: Robert Curvin, civil rights leader and author of “Inside Newark” describes almost a century of school-district corruption and patronage that has “shortchange[d] the overwhelming majority of children who enter its classrooms.” Last May in the “New Yorker”, Dale Russakoff quoted Ross Danis of the nonprofit Newark Trust for Education: “The Newark schools are like a candy store that’s a front for a gambling operation. When a threat materializes, everyone takes his position and sells candy. When it recedes, they go back to gambling.”

But this Casablanca-esque story was successfully rewritten last spring by mayoral candidate Ras Baraka, who turned his campaign into a referendum on Superintendent Anderson and her much-maligned efforts to reform a broken system. Not coincidentally, a militant arm of the Newark Teachers Union took over the union’s Executive Committee and Anderson’s innovative universal enrollment plan, One Newark, evolved into an emblem of civic discontent.

Newark is an educational palimpsest.

This revisionist history was aided by Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation, a public relations disaster that became grist for the antireformer’s mill. State and local politicians, including Mayor Baraka, are demanding that the State immediately cede its twenty-year hold over district governance, despite the lack of any sort of transition plan. The city’s charter school sector, which educates 20 percent of Newark’s public schoolchildren, is the target of vitriol, despite undisputed increases in student achievement and 10,000 Newark children on waiting lists.

Superintendent Anderson, however, seems committed to maintaining her stride. The district has seamlessly aligned its course objectives to the Common Core, is ready for PARCC, and just this past summer spent $40 million on infrastructure improvements. Local control is probably a few years off, at least until Christie leaves Trenton. Prognosis: choppy but still on course.

Finally, how will New Jersey’s districts fare in Christie’s next budget?

Moody’s, S&P, and Fitch have downgraded N.J.’s bond rating eight times in the past five years. Our pension system’s liability is $83 billion, proportionately the worst in the country. The Education Law Center is demanding more school funding for poor rural districts and will litigate any reduction in aid to poor urban districts. The NJEA and N.J. School Boards Association are currently playing chicken over whether a law called Chapter 78, which requires state workers to make graduated contributions to benefits, will sunset next June and whether New Jersey will then revert to the old system of districts shouldering almost all the costs, a budgetary impossibility.

The optimist in me bets on flat state aid. Happy New Year!

Laura Waters writes about education politics and policy for NJ Spotlight and other publications. She also blogs at NJ Left Behind and has been a school board member in Lawrence Township (Mercer County) for 10 years.


New Jersey education commissioner confirmed

By Adam Clark | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com The Star-Ledger
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on December 18, 2014 at 6:13 PM, updated December 19, 2014 at 1:54 AM

TRENTON — For the second time, David Hespe is officially New Jersey's education commissioner.

Hespe, who served former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman from 1999 to 2001, was confirmed by the state Senate today after nine months as acting commissioner.

"I am thankful that the Senate confirmed me today to once again serve as Education Commissioner," Hespe said. "I’m grateful for Gov. Christie’s confidence that we can continue to improve public schools for children throughout the state.

Hespe has had a varied career in education, holding positions as an interim school superintendent and a college professor, among others.

He most recently served as President and Chief Executive Officer of Burlington County College and previously was vice president of the Liberty Science Center, where he worked on the development of the STEM program.

His appointment was well-received among the state's professional education organizations, including the New Jersey Education Association. Though the NJEA said it disagrees with Hespe on certain policy issues, it believes he's committed to working with teachers.

His confirmation was approved unanimously, both by the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate.

"We still have plenty of hard work ahead if we are to close the achievement gaps and make certain that students leave high school ready for college or career," Hespe said. "Still, I believe that the excellent educators across New Jersey will meet those goals."

Three residents testified against Hespe during his confirmation hearing, saying they had concerns about his support of Common Core standards.

Adam Clark may be reached at adam_clark@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on twitter at @realAdamClark. Find NJ.com on Facebook

Star Ledger - Another N.J. superintendent leaves because he can't make more money than Gov. Christie

By Louis C. Hochman | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com The Star-Ledger
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on December 18, 2014 at 12:10 PM, updated December 18, 2014 at 1:55 PM

MONTVILLE — Another New Jersey school superintendent is leaving the state because, he says, of a salary cap that keeps him from making more than the governor.

Montville schools chief Paul Fried will end a five-year contract making $237,707 when he leaves in June. That's up from the $211,200 at the start of his contract.

Even his starting salary is well above what a New Jersey superintendent can make since in 2010 Gov. Chris Christie ordered a $175,000 pay cap — matching his own salary — for the largest New Jersey districts. The cap went into effect the following year.

In a district Montville's size, a superintendent can make up to $167,500. School systems with populations its size are capped at a base of $165,000, plus another $2,500 if they're K-12 districts.

"The governor unilaterally changed the rule for superintendents," Fried said Thursday morning. "We're the only group in the state, as far as I know, with a cap."

That means in some cases, principals and assistant superintendents make more than their bosses, he said — "their salaries aren't capped, nor should they be."

He said Rutgers' football coach makes several million dollars (a district spokesperson later clarified Fried meant over the course of the coach's multi-year contract.) Note: An earlier version of this story quoted Fried putting the figure at $6 million, but a district spokesperson said Fried had actually said "several," not "six."

And he said all those salaries are justified, if the people holding the positions are talented and in demand. Superintendents have been unfairly targeted, he said.

Fried informed the school district of his resignation, effective at the end of the school year, in a letter earlier this month. He's a finalist for a superintendent position in White Plains, New York, and said he expects that to be made official at a January meeting of that community's school board. Under his current contract, he is required to give Montville six months' notice before leaving.

"Unfortunately, circumstances outside of my control, and outside the control of the Board of Education and community, have made it very difficult for me to continue to work in New Jersey," Fried wrote to the Montville community. "Governor Christie’s plan to cap the salaries of superintendents was enacted just a couple of months after I began to work in Montville Township in 2010. The plan affected superintendents once their present contract ended, and it will affect me at the end of June 2015. This impending loss of salary has large implications for me, both personally and professionally."

Fried said he has a daughter who is a sophomore in college and a son who will enter college next year.

"Financial security is something we all seek for our families, and this is exactly the wrong time for me to face a 30 percent reduction in salary," he wrote.

Nearly 100 New Jersey superintendents who had left their jobs as of February 2014 cited the salary cap as a factor, according to a survey of districts conducted this year by the New Jersey School Boards Association. The SJSBA opposes the cap.

But Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak recently told NJ Advance Media that overall, fewer superintendents have left their jobs in the three years after the cap was put into effect than in the three years before. New Jersey's seen about 400 leave their positions since the cap was instituted — and 456 in the three years prior, he said.

A Star-Ledger editorial earlier this year, called for the cap's repeal, and said some superintendents are "gaming the system," taking on second titles and second paychecks to avoid salary cuts.

"In other words, the governor's superintendent salary cap can't even do the one thing it's supposed to: Cap superintendents' salaries," the Star-Ledger editorial board wrote.

Four years earlier, the Star-Ledger's editorial board had favored the cap. It noted at the time 90 percent of New Jersey superintendents made more than the state's education commissioner.

"Not every New Jersey superintendent is overpaid. But many are. Unless someone slams on the brakes — school boards have not shown the ability — pay will keep skyrocketing," the editorial board wrote at the time.

An unscientitific poll by the Jersey Journal on NJ.com found 57 percent of respondents wanted the cap repealed.

Drewniak told NJ Advance Media last month the governor has no regrets about the cap, which sunsets in 2016.

Louis C. Hochman may be reached at lhochman@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @LouisCHochman. Find NJ.com on Facebook.


NJ Spotlight - Bill Calling for Look at Later Start to School Day Advances to State AssemblyVarious studies cite negative impact of early classes, but some worry about impact on after-school activities

John Mooney | December 19, 2014


A later start to the school day – or, more exactly, a proposal to study the idea – took a step toward passage yesterday, with the state Senate approving a bill that aims to push back the clock for public-school students.

The bill, which was passed 37-0 by the Senate and now heads to the Assembly, calls for studying the possibility of changing start times for schools.

Related Links


Backlash By Kids, Parents Among Obstacles to Later Start to Classes

The proposal has stirred up strong and varied opinions, given that every family is affected one way or another by the vagaries of school start times.

Various academic studies – including one by the American Academy of Pediatricians -- have criticized middle-school and high-school schedules that begin as early as 7 a.m., which some say leaves students half-asleep for their classes.

“By doing a study, we can bring in everybody within the education community to assert their viewpoints,” said state Sen. Richard Codey (D-Essex), chief sponsor of the bill. “It is my hope that we will bring about a change in thinking about how we educate our kids and whether we are doing right by them by sending them to high school and middle school at 7:15 in the morning.”

The AAP report recommended an 8:30 a.m. start time, and about 1,000 schools nationwide have adopted schedules that begin later in the morning.

But others have expressed concerns about the impact of later start times on the other end of the school day, particularly the impact on extracurricular programs.

Codey, after the vote yesterday, shot back at the critics, saying that is more about the impact on adult schedules.

“Listen, some people will look at it in terms of what is best for me as a parent or a teacher,” Codey said. “They have to realize it is not about them, it’s about the students.”

“Studies show that when you start that early, the first two periods are a disaster,” he said.

The bill specifically calls for a study of the health and education benefits of different school schedules, and also calls for consideration of pilot programs to experiment with different start times.


Philadelphia Inquirer – ‘Camden school chief 'pleased'…Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard, appointed by Christie in 2013, reported to state board on ambitious plan's progress.

Allison Steele, Inquirer Staff Writer

Posted: Friday, December 19, 2014, 12:00 AM

Many of the elementary students in Camden's long-troubled public schools wish they attended a different school, according to a survey conducted this year, and more than half of the parents surveyed feel the same way.

Administrators and teachers still struggle to connect with parents about how they can best work together, Camden Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard told the state Board of Education on Wednesday, and standardized test scores remain largely flat.

But in the roughly 15,000-pupil district, more students graduated from high school this year than last, Rouhanifard said, enrollment in prekindergarten …

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/news/local/20141218_Camden_school_chief__pleased_.html#vqetPk3iLf1LIpC0.99