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From the state’s largest school district to small privates, AFTNJ stands up for New Jersey’s students. Our members teach early childhood education to prepare kids for school, special education and every topic More »

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The American Federation of Teachers New Jersey is the largest higher education union in the state, representing full and part-time faculty, all levels of administrative, professional and supervisory staff, graduate workers, and More »

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Unions update lawsuits over New Jersey pensions

By John Rietmeyer and Melissa Hayes, State House Bureau, The Record.

An amended complaint from the unions was submitted to Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson.
New Jersey public-employee unions suing to overturn Governor Christie’s decision to cut state contributions to the pension system filed new court papers Tuesday outlining the Legislature’s recent attempt to generate more money to cover the benefits of retired state workers.

An amended complaint from the unions that represent teachers, firefighters, state police and other public employees was submitted to Mercer County Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson, the same judge who upheld Christie’s decision last month to cut a state pension payment by $887 million.

Jacobson, in her June 25 ruling, said that cut was only permissible because it was a last resort for the Christie administration as it was forced to close a $1 billion budget shortfall in the final weeks of the fiscal year that ended on June 30.

The court papers filed Tuesday took on the last resort issue raised by Jacobson, highlighting the $34.1 billion budget bill the Democratic-controlled Legislature sent to

Christie in late June for the fiscal year that began on July 1. The budget bill included a $2.25 billion pension contribution, and to pay for the increased contribution lawmakers approved hiking corporate taxes and income taxes on those earning more than $1 million annually.

Christie, a Republican, vetoed the tax-hike bills on June 30. And again citing budget problems, he used the line-item veto to reduce the pension payment to $681 million, an action the unions also outlined in their amended complaint.

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New Poll Reflects Unease About Tying Teacher Ratings to Test Scores

By John Mooney

Fairleigh Dickinson survey reveals New Jerseyans not knowledgeable about Common Core standards

Public support for teacher and school accountability in New Jersey may only go so far.

That’s one conclusion that can be drawn from a new poll from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Public Mind, which last week released its findings on what residents think about the new national Common Core State Standards and how New Jersey teachers are to be evaluated.

The overall impression of Common Core was unimpressive, with only a third of those surveyed even knowing enough about it to have an impression.

Even more interesting was a general skepticism, if not opposition, to the idea of using standards-driven tests to both reward and punish teachers.

Crossing party lines and other key demographics, 78 percent of those polled were against the use of standardized tests for penalizing teachers, and only half supported their use in rewarding them.

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Best way to grade New Jersey teachers debated

By Hannan Adely, Staff writer, The Record

New Jersey’s adoption of teacher evaluations that relied on student test scores was hailed by Governor Christie as a way to make educators accountable for how much students learned.

Last week, however, under pressure from lawmakers, parents and teacher unions, the governor announced plans to lessen the impact that those test scores will have on judging teachers. But despite the vocal criticism, those who supported the evaluation system say they have not wavered in their commitment to it.

“I think the Board of Education and the community in general supports [evaluations],” said Mark Biedron, president of the state Board of Education. “The question is what system do you use and how much of it and frankly how much do you weigh on tests?”

New Jersey approved an evaluation system a year ago that rates teachers partly by student scores on state tests — with results counting in such high-stakes decisions as whether to grant or take away tenure.

But over the past year, educators have strongly protested that they need more time to adjust to new academic standards and new computer-based state tests. They said they have to teach new material, prepare students for the tests and improve computers and Internet connections.

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Teacher Tenure Lawsuits Spread From California To New York

By Beth Fertig, Anya Kamenetz and Claudio Sanchez

NPR report on tenure

NPR report on tenure: Listen

Why are so many low-income and minority kids getting second-class educations in the U.S.?

That question is at the center of the heated debate about teacher tenure. In New York today, a group of parents and advocates, led by former CNN and NBC anchor Campbell Brown, filed a suit challenging state laws that govern when teachers can be given tenure and how they can be fired once they have it.

[...]

Other researchers have found that strong teachers leave low-performing schools because of working conditions, including discipline problems and reduced opportunities for professional development. Making matters worse, compared to data from 2000, more students now attend schools with high concentrations of poverty.

If there is a silver lining, Welner says, it’s that these suits are putting a magnifying glass to the nation’s highest-poverty schools, and that could expose plenty of unjust policies that need addressing.

But the courts are a slow, tortuous path to change. The New York lawsuit is likely to take years, while the California decision is being appealed. Welner questions whether the courts are up to the task of, as he puts it, “mucking around” with complex, contentious educational policies and practices. Still, he says, asking the courts to play that role is “preferable to generation after generation of kids being denied basic equality of educational opportunities.”

Rhee’s group, meanwhile, is considering additional suits in Minnesota, Connecticut, New Jersey and Tennessee.

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How the Government Exaggerates the Cost of College

By David Leonhardt

The government’s official statistic for college-tuition inflation has become somewhat infamous. It appears frequently in the news media, and policy makers lament what it shows.

No wonder: College tuition and fees have risen an astounding 107 percent since 1992, even after adjusting for economywide inflation, according to the measure. No other major household budget item has increased in price nearly as much.

But it turns out the government’s measure is deeply misleading.

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Lack of funding stalls Gov. Christie’s plan for more class time

By Peggy McGlone, The Star-Ledger

[...]

But six months after Christie’s bold proposal, the state has no formal plan to extend learning time. A $5 million innovation fund that would have helped pay for new programs was a casualty of a late-spring budget crunch. A separate $1 million fund for after-school and summer programs for at-risk students remains.

It is a subject that has been discussed for years, though finding the additional money, and convincing parents and teachers to give up summer vacation, are the major challenges.

Following Christie’s speech, leaders of the state’s teachers unions were skeptical. The American Federation of Teachers New Jersey president Donna Chiera called it a political gimmick, while NJEA president Wendell Steinhauer questioned the governor’s motives because Christie had just vetoed a bill creating a task force to study mandated full-day kindergarten, which would dramatically expand learning time for tens of thousands of students in districts with half-day programs.

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Senators in Both Parties Agree: States Must Do More for Higher Education

By Eric Kelderman

Congressional hearings often feature bitter partisanship and acrimonious finger pointing. But there was mostly agreement on Thursday at a higher-education hearing of the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

Both Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat of Iowa, and Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Republican of Tennessee, agreed that states should take a leading role in paying for and overseeing public colleges.

Senator Harkin, the committee’s chairman, reiterated his view that states largely disinvested from higher education during the most recent recession, driving up the tuition costs and requiring students to go deeper in debt for a college education.

“The steady erosion of state investment in public higher education over the last few decades reflects a stunning abdication of responsibility on the part of states to preserve college affordability,” Senator Harkin said in his prepared remarks.

The solution, Mr. Harkin said, is to create incentives for states to increase their appropriations for higher education.

Senator Harkin and other Democrats on the committee also urged states to continue their scrutiny of for-profit colleges and, more recently, companies that claim to offer relief from student-loan debt.

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Legislator, locals object to Gov. Christie’s executive order on Common Core

By Andrea Hughes, Managing Editor, The Item of Millburn and Short Hills

Slight changes are in store for New Jersey’s implementation of PARCC (Partnership of Readiness for College and Careers) tests to measure Common Core Curriculum Standards the state has adopted, but the tests will be administered as planned in the 2014-15 school year.

Last week Gov. Chris Christie signed an executive order establishing a commission that will present recommendations on the “volume, frequency and impact” of PARCC tests. The New Jersey Department of Education also released regulations reducing the percentage of teacher evaluations that will depend on growth in test scores.

The Study Commission will be made up of nine members appointed by the governor.

According to Christie’s executive order, “The Study Commission shall consist of individuals who have practical experience, knowledge or expertise in the areas of education policy or administration. All members of the Study Commission shall serve without compensation.”

In addition, the state Department of Education is modifying the weights of student growth components in teacher evaluations as measured by the PARCC assessments for the upcoming academic year.

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According to the new regulations, evaluations of fourth to eighth grade language arts or mathematics teachers will be comprised as follows: 10 percent will be based on student academic growth as measured by statewide assessments, 20 percent will be based on student academic growth as measured by individualized student growth objectives and 70 percent will be based on observations. Student growth objectives are specific student learning targets that are developed between teachers and principals, rather than based on a statewide assessment.

The previous system called for student academic growth to represent 30 percent of teacher evaluations, while 55 percent would be determined by classroom observations and 15 percent student growth objectives.

Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, who represents Millburn in the 27th Legislative District and sponsored a bill to delay the use of test scores in teacher evaluations while a task force studied the education reforms, released a statement last week that was critical of the executive order.

“I am relieved that the impact of test scores will be reduced as we take time to examine critical discrepancies about the best way to strengthen our schools,” she wrote. “That said, I do have some concerns about the ability of nine individuals who are unilaterally appointed by the administration to provide impartial evaluation of the Common Core State Standards and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers assessments – evaluation that will be critical as we work together to prepare New Jersey’s students to compete in the global marketplace.”

The bill sponsored by Jasey, A-3081, calls for a 15-member task force that would include public members appointed by the Senate president and Assembly speaker in addition to gubernatorial appointees representing organizations dedicated to advancing K-12 education. The bill received a bipartisan vote in the Assembly but has not been voted on in the Senate.

The grassroots group Save Our Schools has invited members of the public to send letters to the governor and New Jersey Education Commissioner Hespe requesting that parents be represented on the Study Commission.

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Newark Civil-Rights Probe Mirrors Investigations in Other U.S. Cities

By John Mooney

Administration, state-appointed superintendent, will cooperate but keep low profile for time being

The federal civil-rights investigation of the “One Newark” plan for reorganizing that city’s schools is part of a campaign that is taking place in a dozen cities nationwide, where school closures in urban districts are being contested.

The investigation was announced in front of Newark City hall yesterday; advocates from across the country, including New Orleans and Chicago, were in attendance.

“It’s almost like I was listening to what was going on in New Orleans,” said Debra Jones, an advocate from New Orleans who made the trip north, her first to New Jersey. “The strangest thing is any of this never happens in Caucasian communities,” she said.

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Fine Print: DOE Details Teacher Evaluation After Christie Compromise

By John Mooney

Summer training and deadlines for schools following Christie rollback on use of student test scores in evaluations.

What it is: The State Department of Education sent to districts last week the details of the administration’s updated mandates for teacher evaluation in 2014-2015, following Gov. Chris Christie’s decision a week ago to change some of the criteria in the face of growing political opposition.

What’s in it: The major changes outlined were Christie’s decision to reduce for the next two years the amount that student progress on state tests — known as “median student growth percentiles” (SGPs) — count toward teacher evaluations.

It also outlined a new review process for the use of other “student growth objectives” (SGOs) in the 2013-2014 school year. In addition, the memo laid out a series of workshops for educators over the summer that will offer further training on the evaluation process and the use of SGOs.

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