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6-16-15 Education and Related Issues in the News

The Record - New Jersey's urban school districts bear brunt of layoffs, program cuts

June 15, 2015, 9:52 PM    Last updated: Tuesday, June 16, 2015, 9:35 AM

By HANNAN ADELY  Staff Writer |

PATERSON – Students at School 7 won’t have a librarian or a music teacher next school year. They won’t have science and social studies for half the year. And there will be fewer classroom aides to help students who fall behind.

The school is losing nine out of 30 teachers as the district grapples with another bleak budget. The cuts at School 7, which are set to take place in September, mirror what is happening throughout Paterson, where administrators are laying off staff and cutting programs because they are getting nearly the same amount to spend as they did six years ago when salaries, supplies and services cost so much less. With schools barely able to provide enough teachers for each class, fears are palpable that some students won’t get the attention they need to do well.

Around New Jersey, school districts — both rich and poor — are facing their seventh year without an increase in state aid to cover higher costs, but nowhere is the crisis more keenly felt than in urban education. Paterson is cutting 363 jobs. Atlantic City is eliminating 223 positions, Trenton is losing 163 and Camden, 90. And in Newark, the state’s biggest city, the teachers union is bracing for layoffs while 155 support staff  — mostly secretaries and clerks — have already been eliminated for next year.

Poor, urban districts rely on state taxpayers for most of their funding, but critics say money alone is not the answer. Paterson was taken over by the state in 1991 because of mismanagement, but despite state stewardship, scandals have continued to this day. Accusations of politically motivated hiring, questionable spending and low academic achievement have dogged the district.

On top of failing to receive the hoped-for influx of aid from the state, Paterson hasn’t asked its local taxpayers to pay more, as most of the wealthier suburbs have done, education advocates say. The city hasn’t increased its school tax rate for seven years.

With state aid being the biggest source of funding for the poorest districts, the decision not to increase aid has had the greatest impact on them. But it is also being felt in communities that hover near the bottom socioeconomic rung in North Jersey. The school funding formula was revised in 2008 to help districts that serve large numbers of low-income students. But the promised funds never arrived in the midst of the recession.

As a result, Clifton has combined supervisory jobs and made other cuts. Garfield has avoided layoffs, but it hasn’t been able to negotiate a contract with its teachers because of limited funds, said Edward Izbicki, assistant superintendent of finance.

With its proposed budget and the past six budgets — all with the approval of the Legislature — the state is defying a court order to distribute money according to the 2008 formula, but there is no legal action pending to enforce the court order.

Governor Christie has said New Jersey does not have more money for schools because of the state’s financial crisis as its economic recovery lags. He maintains that more money does not provide a better education anyway.

But Christie has also championed charter schools, which are mostly in poor districts. When students leave their local public schools for charters, the state aid for those students goes with them, exacerbating layoffs.

Despite these problems, New Jersey is still routinely ranked among the top states for spending money on students and funding low-income districts fairly. Many other states slashed funding to schools after the recession took hold in 2007 rather than maintain aid levels as Christie has done.

While that may be a credit to New Jersey and the governor, it’s little consolation to the 266 students of School 7 who are losing beloved teachers and programs.

“Are we able to survive and open the building next year? Yes. But it’s going to be tough to maintain the level of rigor and the options that exist for students now,” said School 7 Principal Nicholas Vancheri, who says he has lost sleep over the upheaval.

The school, in a neighborhood near Woodland Park, serves Grades 5-8 and is a bright spot in the system, performing better than most schools with similar demographics, according to state records.

At a recent city school board meeting, students pleaded with district leaders to save their teachers. They rallied for a math teacher who they said comes in early and stays late to tutor them. They defended a music teacher who they said secured free instruments for them and started a popular drama club that performed “Annie.”

“You think the money you spend doesn’t affect anyone? It affects teacher and students,” said student Vanessa Cruz.

“Teachers are important. Without them, students won’t succeed at anything in life,” she told the board.

Students will have less help and fewer learning opportunities, said several School 7 teachers. Leticia Anderson, the school’s only English as a Second Language teacher, worries that her students won’t be able to keep up in regular classes without her. The district is expected to provide a visiting ESL teacher who will split time among schools.

 “They’re going to spend their entire day in a class where they don’t understand what’s going on,” Anderson said about her students. “They deserve to be educated every day.”

 Teacher Ryan Maddock said aides will be removed from some class periods in a move that could hurt struggling students who work with the aides while the regular classroom teacher provides new material to the rest of the class.

“Try to keep 19 kids moving along when three kids need you to slow down. That’s an issue,” Maddock said.

Vancheri worries that students will miss out on subjects that spark curiosity and creativity and develop future leaders.

“It’s going to make it more challenging,” he said. “The more diversified you are in your offerings, the more you get kids to critically think.”

With all the job cuts, the school district of about 47,000 students is losing 10 percent of its staff, which officials say will save about $21 million.

An additional $41 million is being trimmed in areas such as facilities, technology, supplies and legal services. Some academic programs are being reduced, including about $250,000 from credit-recovery programs that help students graduate on time through in-school online courses.

Asked about the flat funding, the governor’s office responded in a statement that effective teaching, and not money, is the most important factor for school success. The statement referred to a tenure law — championed by the governor — that allows school administrators to remove teachers who are found to be ineffective for two years in a row.

But Vancheri said, it is qualified teachers who are being cut at his school even as graduation rates and scores on some standardized tests have improved. Paterson’s superintendent, Donnie Evans, said his “greatest fear” is that students will not learn as much because of the cuts.

Evans said Paterson shares blame for the financial problems because the district has depleted emergency funds. “I know the fiscal realities, but it’s compounded by our own way of doing things for the past few decades,” he said.

If Paterson had been doing its part to raise the local tax levy, it would have collected $96 million in local tax money this year instead of $30 million, said David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center. In addition, Paterson should have received about $243 million more in state aid between 2009 and 2016.

Sciarra warns that the cuts will catch up with school districts like Paterson and make it hard to even keep up their current performance levels.

“We are really at a crossroads in this state. Are we going to see our public education system — one of the beacons in the United States that makes us a high-powered economic state — are we going to see that public infrastructure erode to the point where we are not meeting the needs of our kids?” he said.

While the state’s budget, which is what determines how much state aid districts receive, does not have to be set until June 30, there is no groundswell of support for increasing aid to school districts. With no alternative plan in sight, the cuts are likely to go into effect in September as planned.


Star Ledger -SAT error: Students, parents call for refund for flawed June 6 test

By Kelly Heyboer | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com The Star-Ledger
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on June 15, 2015 at 3:53 PM, updated June 15, 2015 at 3:59 PM

Test takers angry about a printing error on the June 6 SAT exam are stepping up calls for a refund or a chance to re-take the test for free.

Several students have started petitions on Change.org — including one that has more than 600 signatures — calling on the College Board to give free do-over exams. The College Board announced earlier this month that two sections of the June 6 SAT will not be scored because of a misprint in the directions on the test booklets.

FairTest, a national non-profit group critical of the SAT, released a statement Monday demanding compensation for affected students.

"Because of the timing disruption and subsequent scoring confusion, all students who sat for the test must be offered a chance to cancel their scores, receive a refund or take another SAT for free after they receive their June 6 results," said Bob Schaeffer, FairTest's public education director. "In addition, test-takers should be reimbursed a portion of their registration fees to reflect the fact that their reported scores will be based on fewer than 80 percent of the items they paid for."

The College Board, which oversees the SAT exam, did not immediately respond to requests to comment on the refund requests.

The College Board said it was notified about the printing error at noon on the day the exam was given across the U.S.

RELATED: What students need to know about the error on the June 6 SAT exam

The written directions said students would be given "25 minutes" to complete each section. The test administrators' instructions correctly said students would only get 20 minutes on each section. It is unclear how many students were given the extra five minutes.

In some editions of the exam, Section 8 contained the misprint. In other editions, the error was in Section 9, the College Board said.

After several days of discussions, the College Board announced the sections would be thrown out and the SAT would be scored without the affected questions. Students will receive scores based on the other sections they answered.

"We will still be able to provide reliable scores for all students who took the SAT on June 6," the College Board said in its statement.

Schaeffer said the College Board created additional confusion by first announcing it would ignore one section of the flawed test in the scoring, then amending its decision to say both sections 8 and 9 would not be counted.

"The decision not to score two entire test sections is unprecedented in the history of the SAT. It is not justified by anything we have seen in the published literature about the exam," Schaeffer said.

The registration fee for the next SAT exam, due to be given in the fall, is $54.50, according to the College Board.

Kelly Heyboer may be reached at kheyboer@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KellyHeyboer. Find NJ.com on Facebook.


Star Ledger - . PARCC opt-out probe angers Paterson school board members, report says

by Myles Ma | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com By  Myles Ma | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

on June 16, 2015 at 7:05 AM, updated June 16, 2015 at 7:06 AM

PATERSON — City school board president Jonathan Hodges said an investigation into board member Corey Teague was "unacceptable," the Paterson Press reported.

Teague said state-appointed Superintendent Donnie Evans sent the district's private investigator to ask if Teague encouraged students to opt out of the PARCC standardized tests.

Teague added that he's retained an attorney to explore possible legal action against the district. Three administrators from International High School and Garret Morris Academy, where about 30 percent of students opted out of the tests, filed a lawsuit last month saying the district sent an investigator to question them as well.

Myles Ma may be reached at mma@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MylesMaNJ. Find NJ.com on Facebook.


NJ Spotlight -Two of New Jersey’s Top Public School District Superintendents Talk Shop…Regional superintendents of the year open up about Common Core, PARCC, teacher evaluations, and removing ineffective staff

John Mooney | June 15, 2015


New Jersey school leaders were in Trenton last Thursday for one of the final legislative sessions of the school year, lobbying their representatives and meeting with colleagues to identify strategies for many of the issues facing public education.

NJ Spotlight sat down with two superintendents, Tim Purnell of Somerville and Scott McCartney of Egg Harbor, who recently were recognized by their peers as among the state’s best.

Each won regional superintendent of the year for 2014-2015 from the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, and Purnell was named statewide superintendent of the year.

The meeting came a week after Gov. Chris Christie pulled the state’s support of the Common Core State Standards, while retaining its associated tests, the PARCC assessments. Funding issues are also on everyone’s mind, as are the continued roll-out of teacher evaluations and tenure reforms.

All were discussed, and the following are excerpts of the conversation:

Question: What is the big issue from the perspective of superintendents as the school year closes?

Purnell: I would guess one is where are we headed with standards in terms of the Common Core. We are going to continue to use PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), and we want the assessments to match what we teach. And there are elements of the Common Core that I liked, and I would hope they would consider these as we roll out our own unique standards in New Jersey.

Q: What was your reaction when you heard the governor’s announcement?

Purnell: We were shocked. The community was shocked. We had had a lot of informational sessions throughout [Somerset] county, and we were proceeding with its implementation.

McCartney: We were shocked but not shocked. In terms of what we are facing as educators, in a larger sense, it is that change process, and what I see with all the challenges we are facing, it is just the pace and the rate of change and the volume of change. It has created some uncertainty, and concerns about sustainability.

With Common Core and PARCC as specific examples, as administrators we had put in a ton of time to make those paradigm shifts, which are hard.

Q: Had there been a ton of debate over Common Core?

McCartney: Most of it was around the PARCC. Of the debate I heard on Common Core, most of it was ill-informed, and once you pushed people on it, most couldn’t point to the evidence. And for teachers, it was just coming to the understanding of what we had been asking for a long time in terms of greater depth.

We had moved people forward, and on some level, the [governor’s] announcement undermines that, or at least creates some concern with our staff, now wondering why they should do anything. I had textbooks on my budget for next year, and I have board and community members wondering why we should buy these because they are aligned to the standards. Would it be a waste of hundreds of thousands of dollars?

Q: Are you still proceeding with the purchase?

McCartney:: I am.

Purnell: I haven’t sent any of our textbooks back yet. We are staying the course right now, and I’m sure the department will provide further direction.

McCartney: You almost have to stay the course. It is still the PARCC assessments, and that’s the end of the line. You have to stay with the standards that meet the end. That’s important.

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Q: How was your experience with PARCC?

Purnell: We fared very well with PARCC. I look at the difficulties with technology, and supporting the initiative. We had prepared ahead of time, and Somerville was a bit of an aberration, in that we had piloted it for two years. We knew what to expect.

McCartney: We had only piloted it one year, and one grade. And the test itself went well, the technology, the support was there, the program worked, the children didn’t seem to have any trouble with it.

Where we struggled was in the public sentiment, and we did have a pretty vocal group of dissenters around the PARCC test and the refusals. While we don’t have official numbers, we’re pretty sure to be below the 95 percent.

Again, it was a lot of misinformation and a lot of rhetoric that confused a lot of people.

Q: Does it concern you how the refusals will impact results?

McCartney: Did the refusals affect the students taking the tests? It certainly does.

Purnell: The value-add is at the end, and how we are going to use the results to guide instruction. Until we can do that, until we make it a requirement for high school, that will be the point where we can truly steer the ship.

Q: What about the impact on teacher evaluations, where student tests scores were a portion of the ratings for certain language arts and math teachers? The state just released a report that 97 percent of teachers were found effective or better. How do you think the system has worked?

McCartney: I think it generated a lot of fear and uncertainty for staff, but I do think in the end it came out largely the same. If 97 percent of my staff were effective before, they are still now.

Q: Are you better for it or did we go through a lot of angst to end at the same place?

McCartney: I personally think we did go through a lot of angst to get to the same place, but I did see an increase in the conversation, and it did generate more discussion around teacher performance and evaluation.

Q: Does it give you the tools to deal with ineffective teachers?

Purnell: That’s not tried and true yet. We’ve had the reversals [in more than a dozen Newark cases], so we’re not sure yet how that will play out. That creates an uncertainty. Will there be a point where we can remove an ineffective teacher? We don’t know. In a year from now, we maybe will be able to answer that question.

 NJ Spotlight - As Christie Suggests Ways to Improve Colleges, Results Are Mixed Back Home…Governor’s measures have made state’s system more efficient but aid to poorer students, funding for higher education have declined

John Mooney | June 16, 2015

When Gov. Chris Christie last week put forward his 15-point plan for the nation’s education system, more than half of it dealt with higher education – an area in which the governor has had mixed results in his own state.

The plan, presented during a speech at Iowa State University in Ames, included ideas for improving the quality of colleges and universities, while making them more accessible and affordable.

Christie called for more transparency and efficiency in college finances, describing the sector as profligate and in need of reforms. He called on institutions of higher education to itemize their costs and said they could be saving money by being “leaner and smarter” in their operations.

He also called for more innovation and creation of alternative programs, including “stackable” certifications and more internships linking higher education and industry.

Meanwhile, Christie said rising costs are putting higher education out of reach for many, especially those at the bottom end of the economic scale.

“For too many students, they’re caught between a rock and a hard place,” Christie said. “They can go to college, struggle to get by, and face crippling debts. Or they cannot go to college – and face the loss of economic opportunities and mobility that comes from that. It’s time we stop making a college education a choice between the lesser of two hardships.”

Back home, however, the Christie administration has hardly been showering the New Jersey’s public colleges and universities with cash, with state operating aid dropping nearly 10 percent since 2009.

In addition, financial aid for the state’s neediest students has taken a hit, including Christie’s proposed 19 percent cut in the NJ STARS program at community colleges and a 3.9 percent cut to the Education Opportunity Fund for low-income students.

But there have also been strides, such as the state’s first capital-improvements bond act for higher education, the first in 30 years.

In the non-financial sphere, efficiency measures enacted under Christie have included creation of the cabinet-level post of state higher education secretary and a massive reorganization of Rutgers University.

Some other steps taken to improve New Jersey’s higher-education system either preceded Christie or were initiated by others.

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Christie Earns Criticism, Kudos for His Higher-Education Policies in NJ

The governor’s critics cite his sizable funding cuts, but Christie has presided over a massive remaking of higher education in the state


Christie Touts Education Record in New Jersey During Policy Address in Iowa

Touts tenure reform and merit-pay deal, but doesn’t mention controversies over Common Core and state takeovers of urban schools


Education Issues Will Help Shape Christie's Second Term -- and Political Future

Running in GOP primaries might push governor further to the right on school reforms

For example, a 2009 law that laid out new rules for schools to disclose their costs was passed under former Gov. Jon Corzine, and federal law under the Obama administration ties such disclosure to federal funds. Meanwhile, legislation to get colleges to work more closely with vocational and technical schools on career-related programs was pushed by Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, a Democrat.

In any event, members of New Jersey’s higher education community said it was hard to argue with many of the ideas offered by Christie in his Iowa speech.

“They are good, common-senses issues around affordability and transparency,” said Darryl Greer, a senior fellow at Stockton University focusing on higher education strategy and governance. “The one thing he didn’t recognize is that New Jersey institutions are already doing a lot of this.”

Greer, who previously headed the state’s association of public colleges and universities, said any discussion of affordability must include discussion of the state’s dwindling financial investment in its schools. One accounting by the association calculated that per-pupil state aid has declined steadily since 2003.

“”This is not just his fault, but we’ve been heading in the wrong direction (in terms of state investment) for 20 years,” Greer said.