As schools are forced to cut back on staff and services, the leadership role of the chief education officer becomes more important than ever. Superintendents are critical to reallocating staff and programs to ensure that schools run smoothly and comply with state and federal mandates.
In the shadow of reduced state funding, schools across the state must constantly redefine their financial priorities, cutting back on extracurricular programs, teachers and support staff while motivating remaining staff to do more. For example, guidance counselors are now responsible for a longer list of students. In many cases, schools also have eliminated School Resource Officers (SRO), police officers assigned to schools to provide a safer environment.
When budgets force cutbacks, the demand for services doesn’t stop. For example, schools still need to create a safe environment even without SROs, especially in light of the recently passed legislation the “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights.” That’s where the chief education officer can make a real difference in knowing how to reallocate staff and programs. Our role as educational leaders is to provide a clear sense of direction and take the school system through tough times so that students emerge with a solid education.
There is no end in sight for budgetary cuts. With a 2 percent cap on property tax revenues for schools and the likelihood of reduced state funding continuing into next year, schools must continue to re-evaluate priorities.
Community involvement will be more important than ever as new budgets are prepared during the months ahead for the next school year.
New Jersey’s superintendents provide the leadership required to maintain the high academic standards and success rates to which the children and parents in our state have grown accustomed. Students should not suffer just because money is tight.
Linking the outcomes of school children to the evaluation and compensation of the adults who work with them is an important undertaking. It is so important that the federal government has selected 13 states and the District of Columbia to receive $4 billion in Race to the Top grants to develop education reforms. A primary area for research is the recruitment, development, reward and retention of effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most.
The Bill and Linda Gates Foundation is also funding experiments in teacher evaluation and performance pay. The Pittsburgh school district obtained $40 million; Los Angeles charter schools, $60 million; and Memphis schools, $90 million. The Hillsborough County district in Florida, which includes Tampa, won the biggest grant: $100 million. This is the nation’s eighth-largest school system, looking to reshape its 15,000-member teaching corps by rewarding student achievement instead of teacher seniority.
New Jersey, which notoriously did not obtain Race to the Top funding, is headed in the same direction, but on a different path. Governor Christie has charged nine New Jersey residents by Executive Order with the task of presenting recommendations by March 1 regarding how best to measure the effectiveness of teachers and school leaders. What is the task force’s budget? None, other than unspecified support from the Department of Education.
The task force has been handed a daunting challenge at a time when new research from Vanderbilt University points to the failure of merit pay for teachers to improve student performance. A well-crafted research study in Nashville, Tennessee, concluded that bonuses up to $15,000 to mathematics teachers made no difference in the achievement of middle school students. The public is also voicing doubt about the use of merit pay. This week the Rutgers Eagleton Institute of Politics released the results of a survey in which 63 percent of New Jersey voters polled oppose basing teacher pay on pupil results. Similar national sentiment is reflected in a Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll in which 60 percent of respondents said the primary purpose for teacher evaluations should be to help them improve their teaching, rather than to set their salaries or to document ineffectiveness that could lead to firing.
As talented and dedicated as the members of the New Jersey task force may be, we must ask: “What can we reasonably expect from their investigation, given few resources and a March deadline for their recommendations?”
This work is important. We need to pursue information that informs educational practice and provides opportunities for educators to modify their work based on solid data about student performance. True accountability provides the student and teacher with feedback about performance throughout the year, allowing each to modify the learning program to achieve success. And yes, performance evaluations should reflect how students are progressing, but within a system designed for success, not embarrassment.
The work of roughly 20 percent of school professionals can be linked to statewide math and language tests. Reformers must be wary not to choose this easily accessible data as the primary measure for staff evaluation, as such action will ensure a narrowing of the curriculum and ultimately leave us further behind the nations whose students have already surpassed our students. Educational reformers in those countries understand the broader context of learning and the preparation needs of their young citizens to ensure that they will be competitive in the global, flat-world economy. They choose to achieve outcomes that are not measured quite as easily and provide support to their educators to develop their students’ higher-order skills — producing students who excel at higher rates, evidenced by the results of international assessments.
What should we do in New Jersey? First, we should understand that meaningful improvement won’t be made by adopting shortsighted goals and accountability systems. Second, we should have the patience and prudence to learn from the emerging experience of those states and systems that have secured significantly greater resources to accomplish the same goals as New Jersey’s task force. Third, we should look to the experience of the countries that demonstrate significant student achievement gains on international assessments and evaluate their methods for use in New Jersey. Fourth, we should support New Jersey’s task force in its work, provide the members with input that assists their work, and develop an understanding that its report will be a beginning, not the conclusion of this critical work.
Educators must take the lead in defining reform for New Jersey students and speak forcefully about what experience and research defines as effective practice in recruiting, developing, rewarding and retaining effective teachers and school leaders. If we don’t, our students will be left with a system guided by political sound-bite reform and misguided expectations.
The governor has proposed a simple solution to a complex problem. But sweeping reform is just sweeping the real answers under the rug. Don’t buy into the one-size-fits-all reform tactics so quickly. Let’s take some time and examine the issues.
Governor Christie’s proposed reform would expand the role of charter schools, which are public schools operated independently of the locally elected school board. Charter schools often have a curriculum and educational philosophy different from the other schools in the system. Only one in five charter schools outperform traditional public schools and nearly half perform more poorly.
Given that 90 percent of American students attend traditional public schools, change in a single classroom, school or even district will not be enough. Charter schools are not the answer alone. Rather, the state needs to create replicable, scalable, effective ways to provide all children with the education they need.
While some public schools in New Jersey are struggling, others are helping children from all backgrounds reach great academic heights. The system is not broken, but each district needs to address its specific challenges.
Response from the film, “Waiting for Superman,” has entered the debate on the governor’s proposed reforms. The film follows five public school students who compete in lotteries to attend public charter schools. It criticizes the current public school system while elevating the potential of charter schools. The film’s creators have expressed the hope that it will engender healthy discussion about the state of education today and swift action to improve our schools.
The movie should serve as a call to ensure that every public school is successful. We must develop a system in which all kids can be winners. Not everyone can win in a charter school lottery, but everyone can win in a public school.
Cyberbullying is defined as harassment using electronic media. This may include sending mean, vulgar or threatening messages; impersonating others; or posting sensitive, private information. Cyberbullying can occur via e-mail, Internet chat rooms, cell phone calls or text messages, social network pages, instant messages, blogs, digital images, and any other form of digital communication. Even though it often occurs away from school grounds, cyberbullying still affects students at school. They suffer both socially and academically.
A recent survey of middle school students1revealed that 9 percent had been cyberbullied in the past 30 days and 17 percent had been cyberbullied during their lifetime. In addition, 8 percent had cyberbullied others in the past 30 days and 18 percent had done so during their lifetime.
In many ways, cyberbullying differs from traditional bullying because it is posted in a public forum. It is easily accessible and often has a permanent record. As bullies are emboldened by the anonymity of electronic media, they often don’t even identify themselves. Victims, fearful that they will lose technology privileges,
A community-wide approach that includes the school, the parents and the children is necessary to prevent cyberbullying. We need to arm our teachers, parents and students with the tools to effectively confront cyberbullying.
What administrators and teachers can do about cyberbullying
· Define cyberbullying among students, faculty and parents.
· Assess cyberbullying in your school through a survey.
· Develop clear rules and policies about cyberbullying. Train staff on cyberbullying and encourage the reporting of it.
· Teach students about netiquette, safe blogging and how to monitor their online reputations.
· Train and use student mentors to help continue to monitor cyberbullying.
What parents and students can do about cyberbullying
# # #
1S. Hinduja and J. W. Patchin, “Cyberbullying: An exploratory analysis of factors related to offending and victimization.” Deviant Behavior 29, 2008, 129-136.
We hear a great deal about reform these days, particularly when it comes to New Jersey’s public education system. Those who speak of such reform typically assume that the system is broken, headed in the wrong direction and assert that significant changes are required to put the system back on track and working in the interest of children. But is that the case? And to the extent that it might be, are the reforms proposed going to achieve the intended results?
New Jersey educators uniformly acknowledge that we must improve outcomes for students, particularly to prepare them to successfully contribute to the nation’s effort to maintain a competitive edge in the new, flat world economy. This recognition by no means assumes that the state’s system of public education is broken and in need of repairs in every community. More importantly, where systems and students are not demonstrating adequate progress toward learning goals, there should not be an assumption that everything that is occurring is wrong or being done poorly.
New Jersey’s elected leaders appear to have a split personality of sorts when speaking about how students in our state perform. On the one hand we hear praise for the performance of New Jersey students on the National Assessment of Student Progress (NAEP), the number of students participating in Advanced Placement courses, and the percentage of students attending post-secondary education. On the other hand we hear “doom and gloom” about student performance on state assessments, high school students who don’t demonstrate proficiency in meeting state standards, and presumed need to dramatically change the school system.
Change that results in genuine improvement results from crafting a careful assessment of issues, understanding how actions will influence outcomes both individually and collectively, pursuing a plan developed on good information and the specific conditions of the school district, and continually securing and acting upon feedback to monitor our actions toward achieving our goal. Simply said, initiatives that work are not found in politicians’ sound bite statements issued without adequate research or backed with a comprehensive plan. Or, as H.L. Mencken said: “There is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.” Have you heard that the “free market system” applied to education coupled with accountability measures will undoubtedly improve student outcomes? Charter schools and vouchers will provide the solution? Consolidation of school districts will automatically save money through economies of scale?
It is an interesting paradox to consider that there is a desire to reduce the number of school districts, particularly to combine small systems, yet each new charter school creates another small school system! In a state where the overwhelming majority of school districts and their students are meeting state standards, why are we encouraging the creation of new school systems which draw resources away from the existing schools? At a time when state aid to school districts required by the School Funding Reform Act has been dramatically reduced, why would legislators entertain a voucher program which would place private religious schools in Lakewood as one of the biggest benefactors?
It seems that to be a reformer in New Jersey, one has to declare a crisis in need of repair! Few New Jerseyans believe that their school system is in crisis! I think H.L. Mencken has also depicted the view of the state’s current educational reformers with this thought: An idealist is one who, on noticing that roses smell better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup.
Let’s be sure that the ideologues in our government promoting changes are made to demonstrate that each leads to improvement, less school practitioners are blamed for their failure due to “poor implementation.” Chief Education Officers and their school staff must be heard about the success of the state’s school system and the unintended consequences of proposed reforms. Let’s begin by talking with parents in each of our communities about what we know works for their children. If we don’t, we may just be drinking rose soup!
State must address its own financial commitment, as well as cuts
Governor Christie’s proposed pension reform addresses budget cuts but not the state’s longstanding failure to fund the pension program.
We have to carefully consider the governor’s proposal. The proposal requires workers to get less, and do more. It also needs to address how the state is taking care of its responsibility.
As of 2009, the state’s pension system faced a $45.8 billion unfunded liability. The state has seven years in which to fully fund the system. Governor Christie skipped this year’s payment of $3.1 billion due to the budget crunch. Next year’s payment of $3.5 billion has not yet been budgeted.
Proposed pension reform puts the onus on state and local government workers and teachers, without shared responsibility from the state. To truly move things forward, we need collaboration, not a top-down approach.
According to the Asbury Park Press, Governor Christie’s pension reform is said to include:
· Cuts in pension payments;
· Higher health benefit payments;
· Discontinuation of annual cost-of-living increases;
· Requirement to work 30 years instead of 25 to qualify for the program.
Although in different ways, current and future retirees will be affected by proposed reforms.
As New Jersey’s teachers and students begin a new school year, our state legislators continue to work on key issues that will affect all districts as early as 2011.
Some key items to watch for are:
The New Jersey Legislature has already approved a 2 percent “cap” on annual property tax increases and are now reviewing 33 bills known as “the tool kit” to help control costs.
Since 1977, school districts and municipalities have been subject to various forms of budget caps and NJASA supports reasonable caps on school tax levies that take expenditures into account. A “reasonable cap” however must include allowances for cost increases that are not within a local school board’s control. A balance must be struck between controlling property taxes and ensuring adequate services.
2. Budget Impact
New Jersey’s schools have already taken three deep budget hits. The first was when the Governor withdrew $475 million in promised state aid forcing districts to use “excess” surplus to support their 2009-2010 budget.
The second was the Governor’s announcement of anticipated state funding for the upcoming 2010-2011 school year, with essentially nothing coming to wealthier districts and up to a 5 percent budget cut in poorer districts.
The third strike against school budgets came when many taxpayers voted against the proposed 2010-2011 reduced budgets that were created based on the new radically reduced state allocations to districts.
The Governor likes to say he made the tough decisions but the really tough calls are being made at the local levels by the Chief Education Officer of every district.
The Christie Administration would like to use student learning, as a yardstick, to evaluate teachers and reward them with merit pay. However, as school superintendents, we know that standardized test scores are not always an accurate reflection of student progress and the criteria for evaluating teachers must be fair.
Similarly, there needs to be a plan in place to evaluate administrators. How will the progress of all the students and the work of the teachers in a school be reflected in the evaluation of the principal?
A new state committee will wrestle with this issue. The committee, to be made up of teachers, principals, superintendents, parents and students, will try to agree on ways to measure academic progress. The committee will make its first recommendations in January.
Nearly 3,000 students in about 65 districts did not graduate from high school this year can could not pass the State’s Alternate High School Assessment Test. The New Jersey Department of Education changed how the exam is given and scored but will also allow schools to appeal and permit students to submit evidence of SAT or ACT scores.
In recent pilot tests, results indicated large achievement gaps between poor and wealthy districts in the areas of Algebra and Biology. Barely, half the students passed the Biology exam and fewer than a third demonstrated proficiency in Algebra. It should be noted that these tests are slated to become a graduation requirement in the near future.
A new financial literacy component is now a graduation requirement for the class of 2014 in New Jersey schools. Students will be learning about credit, debt, investing and insurance, as part of the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards for 21st-Century Life and Careers.
These issues will determine the future of New Jersey’s education system and decisions made by our legislators will ultimately affect everyone.
As Chief Education Officers, we will be following each of these critical issues and identify ways that schools, parents and students can take action to ensure that the quality of education remains high in New Jersey.
“You can observe a lot by just watching.” Yogi Berra
At a time when standards and aspirations for student learning are being raised throughout the nation, enactment of this proposal simply would be poor public policy. This arbitrary system is based exclusively on the size of the school district, ignoring the important differences and needs among the state’s diverse communities. Does anyone think that our Governor and Education Commissioner thought about such questions as:
· How can enrolling one more student than the total of a neighboring district be worthy alone of greater compensation?
· How might equal compensation affect the pool of candidates in districts with great challenges compared to another of similar size where poverty, crime, high unemployment and little parental involvement are the norm?
· Will unilaterally declaring the salaries of 366 school superintendents as too high promote retention of experienced leaders in a time of fiscal crisis and raised expectations?
· Will experienced superintendents seek positions in neighboring states when the compensation of principals exceeds that of the superintendent?
· Will neighboring states have greater success in securing school district leaders due to more competitive compensation?
· Will aspiring leaders choose not to apply for the superintendent’s position because they will actually have to accept less compensation than they already earn?
· Will school boards seeking to secure more experienced leaders to address their challenges not be able to do so because potential candidates would lose compensation by leaving their current position?
· Should compensation be comparable for school leaders who are the principal and superintendent in districts with smaller enrollment with no other administrative support when compared with school leaders in larger systems with more support positions?
· Do our state leaders understand the work of Chief Education Officers at the heads of Educational Services Commissions, Jointure Commissions and Special Services districts with their limited student enrollments?
· Do regional cost of living differences create a stricter cap in certain areas of the state?
· Should the salary limit established by the State for executive directors of private schools with limited enrollment of children with disabilities be greater than that for school superintendents?
It is even more exacerbating to think that the Governor and Commissioner ignore the facts about New Jersey’s leadership among the nation’s states in maintaining low administrative expenditures. Information from the National Center for Education Statistics reflects that New Jersey ranks ninth lowest in the nation in the percentage of school funds spent on administration. The American Institutes for Research reported in 2008 that the average salary of school superintendents in New Jersey was $4,000 less than that of states in the mid-east region when considering regional costs of living adjustments.
Now we have an announced policy that will discourage the recruitment of chief education officers at a time when the job is made more difficult by the expanding intrusion of state and federal government through mandates, increasing numbers of students and staff members, significantly lowered state resources and higher public expectations for student outcomes.
Our state leaders need to rethink this policy and work toward one that encourages talented individuals:
· to aspire to become Chief Education Officers;
· to secure school leadership positions in New Jersey as opposed to neighboring states;
· that promotes the most talented and experienced leaders to accept leadership in districts with the greatest challenges; and
· recognizes the complexities and subtleties of leadership roles in small school districts as well as in special purpose districts which promote shared services and economies in school operations in their regions.
It is not too late to turn the tide toward a reasoned and researched approach to compensation. It should be done for all leadership positions in every area and level of New Jersey government, not just done with school leaders for political expediency and without an understanding of the negative consequences such actions will bring to New Jersey Education.
I regret to say that Yogi Berra’s assessment might capture the state’s outlook for educational leaders under this administration: “The future ain’t what it used to be.”
As New Jersey prepares to head back to school, state legislators continue to work on key issues that will affect districts as early as 2011.
We anticipate several announcements as these issues are addressed. NJASA suggests that the public continue to follow the progress. Resolution of these issues could impact the quality of education.
NJASA has identified the following items to watch for:
The New Jersey Legislature has approved a 2 percent “cap” on annual property tax increases. In addition, the Legislature is reviewing 33 bills known as “the tool kit” to help control costs.
Since 1977, school districts and municipalities have been subject to various forms of budget caps. From a taxpayer’s perspective, some have worked better than others. NJASA supports reasonable caps on school tax levies that take expenditures into account. However, a “reasonable cap” must include allowances for cost increases that are not within a local school board’s control. A balance must be struck between controlling property taxes and ensuring adequate services.
New Jersey’s schools have already taken three deep budget hits. The first cut occurred when the Governor withdrew $475 million in state aid that had been promised, forcing districts to use “excess” surplus to support the 2009-2010 budget.
The second cut happened when the Governor announced how much schools could anticipate in state funding for the coming 2010-2011 school year, which was essentially nothing in wealthier districts and up to a 5 percent budget cut in poorer districts.
The third strike against school budgets came when many taxpayers voted against the proposed reduced budgets for the 2010-2011 school year, each of which was created based on the new radically reduced state allocations to districts.
The tough decisions continue to be made on the local level. The Governor likes to say he made the tough decision to cut state aid. But the really tough calls on how to implement a radically reduced budget while maintaining educational integrity fall on the Chief Education Officer in each district.
The Christie Administration would like to use student learning as a yardstick to evaluate teachers and reward them with merit pay. However, as school superintendents, we know that standardized test scores are not always an accurate reflection of student progress. The way in which we evaluate teachers must be fair.
Similarly, there needs to be a plan in place to evaluate administrators. How will the progress of all the students and the work of the teachers in a school be reflected in the evaluation of the principal?
A new state committee will wrestle with this issue. The committee, to be made up of teachers, principals, superintendents, parents and students, will try to agree on ways to measure academic progress. The committee will begin to meet this month and will make its first recommendations in January.
Nearly 3,000 students in about 65 districts did not graduate from high school this year because they did not pass the state’s Alternate High School Assessment test. The New Jersey Department of Education changed how the exam is given and scored. The Department has allowed schools to appeal and students to submit evidence of SAT or ACT scores. In similar news, New Jersey Algebra and Biology students were assessed with pilot tests that revealed large achievement gaps between poor and wealthy districts. In addition, the success rate was minimal. Barely half the students passed the Biology exam and fewer than a third demonstrated proficiency in Algebra. The tests are slated to become a graduation requirement in the near future.
A new financial literacy component is now a graduation requirement for New Jersey schools. Students will be learning about credit, debt, investing and insurance as part of the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards for 21st-Century Life and Careers.
As Chief Education Officers, school superintendents will be following each of these issues and identifying ways that schools, parents and students can take action to ensure that the quality of education remains high in New Jersey.
...on Several Contract Issues
As a result of NJASA’s arguments, the state appeals court:
“In sum, we uphold the authority of the Commissioner in adopting these regulations,” stated the court opinion. “We find, however that N.J.A.C. 6A:23A-3.1(e) (3), (4), (5), (6) improperly serve to deprive certain administrators of vested rights and to reduce the compensation of tenured assistant superintendents.”