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12-11-15 Education in the News

NJ SPOTLIGHT  - COULD NEW JERSEY TENURE REFORM BE AFFECTED BY NEW FEDERAL LAW?...Most in NJ take wait-and-see attitude regarding scaling back of federal education mandates for teacher evaluations


Over the many months that New Jersey debated and finally enacted a new teacher- tenure law, one of the common refrains regarding its more stringent teacher-evaluation requirements was that the standards were in line with federal mandates.

That changed yesterday, when President Barack Obama signed the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and sent into oblivion the No Child Left Behind Act -- and, with it, almost any federal role in teacher evaluation: no more federal requirements for using uniform models to judge teachers, no more demands that student test scores be factored into those ratings.

But exactly what it means for New Jersey is an open question.



Will lawmakers move to water down teacher-evaluation requirements, which have already seen considerable compromise? Will student performance be eliminated altogether from how teachers are judged?

Several key players this week were sticking with the status quo, at least for the time being, saying there is much still to review in the new law. It’s not even certain when ESSA will take effect.

State Education Commissioner David Hespe said New Jersey’s TEACHNJ law, including its requirement for including at least some measure of student performance based on state assessments, should be kept intact.

A series of compromises over the last year has reduced to just 10 percent of the formula how much student performance could be factored into teacher ratings this year and last.

“I think the law is working well, and I don’t see a lot of interest in doing something differently,” Hespe said this week. “I’m very comfortable that we are where we need to be.”

The state law’s architect, state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), wasn’t commenting yesterday, and lobbyists said they hadn’t heard about any plans for changes in the state’s evaluation process.

“Not sure if there is a push to open up that can of worms,” said one lobbyist.

Even the chief lobbyist for the New Jersey Education Association, the teachers union, which has fought to minimize the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations, said it would be premature to predict any new actions.

“This is a complicated and very new law,” wrote Ginger Gold, director of governmental relations for the NJEA, in an email. “While we appreciate the added flexibility provided to states, we are still sorting out what this will mean in terms of implementation.”

But others suggested that much could change in New Jersey with a new administration in place after the 2017 gubernatorial election, with early frontrunners like state Senate President Steve Sweeney among those who had pressed the Christie administration to scale back the impact of student testing.

Some advocates said the rollback of federal requirements clearly provides more leeway for states when it comes to teacher evaluation, but they say it’s hard to gauge the impact on New Jersey with so many other forces at work.

“It takes away the gun to the head, which isn’t good,” said Shavar Jeffries, the new president of Democrats for Education Reform, a nationwide organization pressing for tenure reform. “But by itself, it doesn’t change the state’s approach.”

The Record  - A new plan for U.S. schools; testing likely to remain key in New Jersey

DECEMBER 9, 2015, 11:43 AM    LAST UPDATED: WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 9, 2015, 11:18 PM


In New Jersey, the federal education reform bill that seems certain to get the president’s signature Thursday means local and state educators, not the federal government, get to determine what to do to save a failing school, and the threat of costly sanctions for slumping schools would go away.

What’s unlikely to end in New Jersey, education experts said on Wednesday, is the reliance on students’ test scores to evaluate how well teachers are performing, a point of fierce dispute between New Jersey administrators and unions that the reform legislation relegates to the states.

The Senate on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly, 85-12, to approve legislation rewriting the landmark No Child Left Behind education law of 2002.

It was hailed as a “Christmas present” for 50 million children across the country by Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican who leads the Senate Education Committee.

One key feature of No Child remains: Public school students will still take the federally required statewide reading and math exams. But the new law encourages states to limit the time students spend on testing, and it will diminish the high stakes for underperforming schools.

Under No Child Left Behind, schools that failed to meet annual progress targets could be shut down or converted into charter schools, a policy that critics said led schools to focus too heavily on tests.

Schools that don’t meet annual progress targets, under the new legislation, no longer will be considered to be failing and won’t be subjected to federal sanctions.

States will be required to intervene in the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools, in high schools with high dropout rates and in schools with stubborn achievement gaps.

David Hespe, the state education commissioner, said the biggest change under the reform legislation would be the new flexibility permitted to states to help struggling schools. “We can develop our own interventions,” Hespe said.

New Jersey and other states had previously gotten waivers to get around the federal requirements under No Child Left Behind that many officials viewed as unrealistic. The law required that all students in a school be proficient in math and English by 2014, or schools could be labeled as “failing” and face sanctions.

When the bill becomes law, the waivers granted by the Obama administration to more than 40 states, including New Jersey, will end.

Under the reform legislation, other facets of education in New Jersey will remain much the same, Hespe said.

While annual testing will still be required under the new federal legislation, schools will have more options in how they use testing data, and they won’t have to factor student performance into teacher evaluations. But under New Jersey law, student scores are a factor in evaluations for some teachers — a provision that teachers and their unions have strongly opposed.

“Very recently, the Legislature and governor agreed to that law, so I don’t see them changing that,” Hespe said. “But hypothetically, they could without incurring adverse federal consequences.”

Wendell Steinhauer, president of the New Jersey Education As­sociation, which represents public school teachers and other employees, said he hopes that New Jersey will scale back the emphasis |on test scores as a measure of student achievement. He described the passage of the bill as a “victory.”

Steinhauer said that “this historic legislation” reduces testing time, allowing students time to develop critical thinking skills, and disconnects test results from teacher performance, so that instructors can inspire “a lifelong love of learning."

Richard Bozza, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, said states will have more decision-making power around testing.

The law establishes a pilot program that permits states to use Title I funding — funds for schools with low-income students — to modify or develop new systems for assessing student achievement, Bozza said.

Across the country, the legislation poses risks that states may set goals too low or not act quickly enough, said Daria Hall, vice president for government affairs and communication at the Education Trust. But she also said, “Those risks are also really opportunities for states to really step up to the plate and be leaders.”

Three presidential candidates missed the Senate vote — Republicans Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida and Vermont independent Bernie Sanders.

Cruz said the legislation doesn’t go far enough to get the federal government out of the nation’s schools.

Here’s how the major stakeholders fare:

Teachers: The legislation eliminates the federal mandate that teacher evaluations be tied to student performance on the statewide tests. Teachers unions hated that previous idea, saying the high stakes associated with the tests were creating a culture of over-testing and detracting from the learning environment. States and districts will still be able to link scores or consider them as a factor in teacher performance reviews, but they will not be required to do so.

Students: The nation’s 50 million students in public schools will still have to take the federally mandated statewide reading and math exams in Grades 3 through 8 and once in high school — so parents, teachers and others can see how they are doing against a common measuring stick. But the legislation also encourages states to set caps on the amount of time students spend on testing.

More children from low- and moderate-income families will have access to preschool through a new grant program that is to use existing funding to support state efforts.

Schools: No more Common Core — maybe.

The bill says the federal government may not mandate or give states incentives to adopt or maintain any particular set of academic standards, such as Common Core. New Jersey is reviewing its Common Core standards, under order of Governor Christie, to update the standards to make them more state-specific, Hespe said, but he expected no other changes to standards as a result of the reform legislation.

The college and career-ready curriculum guidelines were created by the states but became a flash point for those critical of Washington’s influence in schools. The administration offered grants through its Race to the Top program for states that adopted strong academic standards for students.

Already, states have begun backing away from the standards.

Parents: The bill provides for more transparency about test scores, meaning parents and others in the community will get a better look at how students in their states and in local schools are doing.

The legislation requires that test scores be broken down by race, family income and disability status.

Parents also will be able to see how per-pupil funding breaks down by state, district and school.

States: States and districts will be responsible for coming up with their own goals for schools, designing their own measures of achievement and progress, and deciding independently how to turn around struggling schools. Testing will be one factor considered, but other measures of success or failure could include graduation rates and education atmosphere.

The diminished federal role: The measure would substantially limit the federal government’s role, barring the Education Department from telling states and local districts how to assess school and teacher performance.

Staff Writer Hannan Adely contributed to this article, which contains material from The Associated Press.


Star Ledger - As the Donald haunts Chris Christie, pension proposal could haunt Democrats | Mulshine

PrintEmail By Paul Mulshine | The Star Ledger   Follow on Twitter 
on December 10, 2015 at 7:48 AM, updated December 10, 2015 at 5:09 PM

Our part-time governor was in a bad mood after he parachuted into New Jersey Tuesday for one of those events he attends every few weeks just to remind us that Kim Guadagno is not the governor.

Perhaps Chris Christie was upset because he'd just been on the receiving end of a Donald Trump tirade. After Christie criticized Trump on immigration, the Donald went after him on Bridgegate ("He knew about it. He totally knew about it.") and the state's finances ("Nine credit downgrades. It's a disaster.")

Whatever the reason, the Guv was ticked off. He directed most of his enmity at certain unnamed business leaders whom he accused of putting even less energy into the recent legislative campaigns than he did.

But he saved some anger for Senate President Steve Sweeney.

"The president of the Senate yesterday said he wants to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot, an amendment to require constitutionally that pension payments be made," Christie said. "This is a $3 billion tax increase on 90 percent of the state to benefit his political patrons who represent 10 percent of the state."

True enough. And we owe it all to a little-appreciated aspect of that same scandal Trump mentioned.

Bridgegate's origins trace to a decision Christie made shortly after taking office in 2010. He named as his representative to the Port Authority a state senator by the name of Bill Baroni who, coincidentally enough, represented the same suburban section of Mercer County where the Tuesday event was held. Baroni is now under indictment for his role in the scandal.

The decision seemed odd at the time. Baroni was a very talented politician, one of the few Republicans who could be relied on to win that district, which has a high number of state employees.

Sure enough, next time that seat came up for grabs the Democrats grabbed it. That meant they had 24 seats of the 40 seats in the Senate, or three-fifths of the seats.

And that means it doesn't matter what Christie thinks about that constitutional amendment. Sweeney and his fellow Senate Democrats have the votes to put any amendment they want on the ballot and then send it to the Assembly, where the Democrats have an even bigger supermajority.

But that's not always a blessing. If you doubt that, ask yourself why the Democrats didn't put this one on the ballot back in 2011, when Christie said he would support such a move.

The reason was that the leaders of the public-employee unions weren't sure it would pass. They preferred to take their chances in court. The union leaders pushed a suit in which they argued that the state constitution already required that the state make the actuarially adjusted annual payments into the pension fund.

"This proposal would require either big cuts to important priorities every three months or big tax increases."

The state Supreme Court disagreed. The justices ruled that the state is indeed obliged to pay the actual pensions but the constitution says nothing about whether that requires them to set aside the funds in advance. The court also suggested the best way to resolve this is to take the issue to the voters.

Sweeney is promising to put a measure on the November 2016 ballot that will require the state to begin making the payments on a quarterly basis, beginning with the 2018 fiscal year.

Sweeney also want to be the governor who would take office in the middle of that fiscal year. Good luck making those payments, said the highest ranking Republican in the Legislature.

"This proposal would require either big cuts to important priorities every three months or big tax increases," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr.

Even though the measure calls for phasing the payments in over four years, the state would still need to come up with about $3 billion in new revenue to meet the payment schedule the first year. The Democrat's favorite tax hike – a surcharge on the current "millionaire's tax" – would generate a quarter of that at best.

The only other way to come up with that kind of revenue would be to take it out of state school aid, Kean said.

"Every three months the state of New Jersey would have to make a decision between funding school aid and funding pensions," he said.

That might be unpopular even with some members of the New Jersey Education Association, Kean said. Past cutbacks in state aid have prompted some districts to lay off newly hired staffers to protect the jobs of the older teachers, he said.

The NJEA is backing the proposed amendment anyway as are the other big unions. But that may show more greed than wisdom. The older employees who control unions are often willing to sacrifice the interests of the newcomers.

Several Republicans told me they're looking forward to seeing Sweeney put the proposal on the ballot. If it fails, the unions will have lost their bargaining power on pensions. If it succeeds, that will force the Democrats to endorse the kind of cost-cutting measures the Republicans have been demanding.

But best of all for the GOP, no Republican has to do a single thing to bring on that crisis.

Or in other words, for once Sweeney has managed to find a job that Christie can do even from New Hampshire.




Alliance for the Newark Public Schools has replaced the destructive corporate reforms imposed on us with a vision shared by groups and individuals

From its inception, the Alliance for Newark Public Schools sought participation from every actively engaged organization in Newark dedicated to protecting our city’s public schools.

Eighteen Newark-based organizations sit at this table and have a shared vision for the future of Newark’s schools. These organizations joined the Alliance for Newark Public Schools in response to the urgent need to collectively exert the power and influence that will actualize change our students desperately deserve.

As organizers, we understood the need for a shared vision to replace the corporate reforms, which by 2012, had already begun to dismantle our public schools under the “One Newark” plan. In 2013, the Alliance mounted a large grassroots effort and engaged thousands of Newark residents in surveys, community meetings, public forums and town halls. The resulting vision was captured in the “Newark Promise Plan.”

The Newark Promise plan outlines priorities for Newark’s public schools, and calls for the creation of full-service community schools under the national community schools model. This plan, developed by a broad spectrum of stakeholders, created the basis for ongoing community engagement about the role of neighborhood schools in addressing the needs of children and families living in poverty. The “Newark Promise” is the community alternative to the “One Newark” plan.

Mayor Ras Baraka attended the public unveiling of the Newark Promise and endorsed the vision created by the people of Newark. Two complementary documents were developed under Mayor Baraka’s guidance by a broad spectrum of stakeholders; both his campaign “Blueprint for Education” and his transition team’s education plan align with the Newark Promise, call for community schools, and detail his outlook for a high level of cooperation between his office and all stakeholders in the Newark education community.

Had the Alliance not committed to organizing for community schools as our priority, the continuous onslaught of corporate reforms in the form of school closings, budget cuts, co-locations, charter school expansions, layoffs, and intimidation of students and education workers could have consumed us. We remained focused and engaged in countless conversations with educational experts and community leaders across the country who are fighting similar battles for public education. The successes of the community-schools model resonated over and over.

The reform-model data shows that community schools produce marked improvement in attendance, academic achievement, and graduation rates in communities with demographics similar to Newark, such as Baltimore and Cincinnati. We see the community-schools model implemented in the neighboring districts of Paterson and Orange, as well.

It was clear from the start of the Alliance’s conversations about community schools that the active support of Mayor Baraka was paramount. Newark’s state-controlled school district, with a hostile Cami Anderson as superintendent, had no possibility of implementing a community schools model. Under state control, the superintendent can veto any school board vote, and the superintendent can withhold district cooperation.

In the spring of 2015, Mayor Baraka took a leap of faith and announced that he would make sure that there were community schools in Newark for the 2016-2017 school year. He spoke of an initial five school plan. The path became clear with the support of the current Superintendent Chris Cerf for a South Ward community-schools initiative that was announced in December 2015.

What does this mean? Does it mean that we will immediately be able to implement the ideal full-service community-schools model? Does it mean that we will initially have all of the necessary resources? Does it mean that we have abandoned the fight for the return of the school district to local control? Does it mean that we have unequivocal trust in Superintendent Cerf in this process? No, no, no, and no.

What it does mean is that we are at the table, exerting the power and influence built by the thousands of students, parents, teachers, community leaders and faith leaders who took to the streets. What it means is the opportunity to save some children now, and even more in the future. We can’t sit back and wait for perfect conditions, because our children need services now.

Those of us involved in the movement for full service community schools will continue to voice our concerns collectively and work through any differences we may have. Our strength continues to be measured by this level of cooperation and commitment and the diversity of the individuals and organizations that represent the Newark community within the alliance.

We urge everyone who is interested in making full-service community schools a reality in Newark, to please get involved in the initiative. That’s how we ensure that the planning process results in a model that best meets the needs of our children and our community.

Deborah Smith Gregory is the co-chairperson of the Alliance for Newark Public Schools.