Lessons Learned This Year Are Not All Academic
Wednesday, June 27, 2012 • 11:08am
A retrospective look at the 2011-12 school year in New Jersey shows school administrators tackling key issues, from school choice to bullying and harassment to changes in the way schools evaluate their staff. “New Jersey’s schools are on the right track,” said Dr. Richard Bozza, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators. “Chief Education Officers are poised to tackle these issues, and others, to move education forward through the most challenging academic and economic times and into the 21st century.”
Here’s a year-end update on some of the key issues affecting New Jersey’s public schools.
State Seeks Tenure Reform
Teacher tenure reform remains a major hot button for the year, as Governor Christie pushes for legislation that ties tenure closely to student achievement. The Assembly Education Committee will soon evaluate two proposed bills. One by State Senator Teresa Ruiz and Assemblyman Albert Coutinho removes teachers after two years of poor evaluations. A bill by Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan extends tenure to four years, with teachers required to have an effective rating of two out of four years to be eligible.
Where Should We Go With Charter Schools?
Last year, Governor Christie came out strongly for school choice by approving 23 new charter schools. In September 2011, acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf rejected 56 of 60 new charter school applications, placed 13 charter schools on probation, and announced plans to close another five.
Some experts suggested New Jersey wants to slow charter growth. Others say it’s a reflection of quality over quantity. Still others believe it’s a peace offering to suburban voters who may not want charters in their town.
Then, there are the online charter schools now under consideration. Yet they still come with controversy. The state has given preliminary approval to two online statewide charter schools that could open as early as this September. The Education Committee of the General Assembly has just released a bill to prohibit the Acting Commissioner of Education to approve a virtual charter school for a 12-month period. The bill, if authorized, would create a Virtual Charter School Task Force to study and develop recommendations on whether virtual charter schools can assist in comprehensive education reform.
Charter schools get 90 percent of the funding allotment per student while the school district receives 10 percent. “There is a potential to create a rivalry between some charters and districts,” acknowledges Dr. Bozza for the bricks-and-mortar charters. “But the bottom line is, when a district performs well above the state average, is there a need for school choice?”
Is the Bullying and Harassment Law Effective?
When the state introduced the new Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying (HIB) law, there was some concern over its cumbersome and stringent requirements. The state law strengthens and expands the role and responsibilities of schools in dealing with bullying, intimidation and harassment. It requires districts to intervene in incidents that happen outside of school or online, if they disrupt or interfere with the operation of the school or the rights of students.
The law was challenged by two districts, claiming that it was an unfunded mandate. The state appropriated $1 million to fund anti-bullying training programs. Whether the funds will be sufficient is still undetermined, noted Dr. Bozza.
“We don’t tolerate bullying and agree that we should put strong controls in place,” he said. “However, we are concerned that the new law—while based on good intentions—is still so prescriptive that it could stand in the way of effective resolution of bullying incidents.”
Pilots Will Determine Teacher and Principal Evaluation
The state put teacher evaluation front and center with a pilot program that now includes 10 districts and 19 individual schools, and will be expanded to another 30 districts next year. The state plans to extend the pilot another year, and then go to a statewide system in 2013-14. Next on the agenda will be principal evaluation pilots.
These evaluation programs are anticipated to influence decisions about school personnel policies, professional development, promotion, compensation, merit-based bonuses, tenure, and reductions in force.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” said Dr. Bozza. “By seeing how the assessments work in the classroom and the school, and by creating the opportunity for stakeholders to participate in the discussion, we will allow for the creation of the most authentic, effective system for teacher and principal assessment.”
Core Curriculum Standards Will Update Student Assessment
The Common Core State Standards, adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, will change the face of student assessment, according to the NJASA. The new standards will require more frequent and more comprehensive testing, including computer-directed performance-based tasks.
Developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, and experts, the standards are designed to provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare students for college and the workforce. No state will lower its standards to comply with the national norm but rather will build upon the most advanced current thinking.
The New Jersey Department of Education is already working in concert with neighboring states to develop and disseminate exemplary curriculum and periodic assessments in language arts, mathematics, biology, chemistry and physics which schools can use beginning with the 2012-2013 school year. The full launch is scheduled for 2014.
The New Jersey Association of School Administrators is an organization of chief education officers and school administrators who lead school districts in New Jersey’s 21 counties. The association’s mission is to ensure a superior statewide system of education. Through ongoing professional training and education, the association shares knowledge among its members about best practices from both educational and administrative perspectives. Its goal is to move education forward by ensuring the highest quality of instruction for all New Jersey children.
Education Brief Videos Explain Budget Considerations
What schools can offer to students is directly affected by budget. Due to the complexity of the school budget cuts and the effects that will be felt in schools across the state, the NJASA has released a series of videos to help parents and taxpayers better understand the issues, and the potential aftermath of the events and changes. Each video can be accessed on a special NJASA YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/TheNJASA or by clicking on the YouTube icon on the NJASA website, www.njasa.net.