DFER New Jersey
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DFER NJ Supports Bold Action to Change the Course of Camden Public Schools to Better Serve Students
March 26, 2013
Devin Boyle | 202.445.0416 | email@example.com
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Democrats for Education Reform Supports Bold Action to Change the Course of Camden Public Schools to Better Serve Students
Newark, NJ, March 26, 2013 - Democrats for Education Reform New Jersey (DFER NJ) State Director Kathleen Nugent released the following statement on Governor Christie’s announcement of the state’s pending takeover of Camden Public Schools:
“For too long, the children and parents of the city of Camden have been deprived of access to high-quality public education. When 90 percent of district schools are among the bottom 5 percent performance-wise in the state and less than half of the students graduate from high school, leadership must take responsibility for this serious situation and initiate bold action to reverse these devastating statistics that are far too real for families trapped in failing schools year after year.
“We recognize the New Jersey Department of Education and the local and statewide leaders from both sides of the aisle who came together in acknowledgement that Camden’s students do not have the luxury of time to wait for the system to reform itself. The bipartisan support in New Jersey to bring an end to the pervasive achievement gap is a reflection of true leadership on behalf of Camden’s future - its children.
“Changing a system that has consistently functioned one way for decades is difficult and substantial work. We join parents, teachers, administrators, advocates, concerned citizens and our elected officials in working toward the day when every child in Camden, across New Jersey, and throughout our country has access to a high-quality public school. Achieving our goal will take courage and conviction, the bridging of resources across communities, schools, and cities, and an unyielding commitment to great public education for all.”
View the PDF here.
In New Jersey, a year makes quite a difference (take two)
January 7, 2013
By Kathleen Nugent, DFER NJ State Director
Last year at this time, I wrote a blog post reflecting on 2011 and the gains we made in education reform in New Jersey. They included a strong legislative push for tenure reform and the placement of key leaders with the hiring of Chris Cerf as New Jersey Commissioner of Education and the appointment of Cami Anderson as Superintendent of Newark Public Schools. 2012 proved to be yet another progressive year for education in the state.
Here are some of 2012’s key developments, many building from the previous year’s achievements:
- Tenure reform: In late spring, state Senator Teresa Ruiz’s tenure reform bill known as TEACHNJ passed by a remarkable unanimous vote. Governor Christie then signed it into law. Going forward, both the acquisition and ongoing retention of tenure will be tied to demonstrated effectiveness in the classroom, professional development will be tailored to individual needs, and the process of tenure removal will be quick and less costly.
- Evaluations: A new teacher and administrator evaluation system was launched in pilot form and codified in TEACHNJ. With 30 or so districts now building the system at the ground level and practitioners helping create the roadmap for the state, starting next year all teachers and administrators will be supported by an evaluation system that will help highlight strengths, identify weaknesses, and provide support to educators’ areas of need. Ratings will be four-tiered: highly effective, effective, partially effective, and ineffective.
- Newark Teacher’s Contract: In mid-November, the Newark Teachers Union voted to approve a new contract that includes a merit pay system supported by peer evaluation and student performance metrics. Setting a precedent for New Jersey, for the first time teachers must demonstrate impact in the classroom to earn an increase in pay. An additional key provision and real win for equity was the putting in place of incentives to ensure the best teachers work in the most underperforming schools. Ultimately, the contract should help retain the district’s most effective educators, a key to long-term student achievement success. It was a significant step forward for Newark Public Schools and Superintendent Cami Anderson.
DFER Urges Lawmakers & School Districts to Act on Latest Data Showing Student Gains in NJ Charter Schools
November 28, 2012
Democrats for Education Reform Urges Lawmakers and School Districts to Act on Latest Data from Stanford Showing Student Gains in NJ Charter Schools
Newark, NJ, November 28, 2012 - Democrats for Education Reform New Jersey (DFER NJ) released the following statement by State Director Kathleen Nugent urging lawmakers and school districts to act on findings released yesterday by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) showing students in New Jersey public charter schools, on average, achieve larger learning gains in reading and math than their traditional district school peers.
“The findings from this study are especially noteworthy because CREDO is highly respected nationwide as an objective organization whose unbiased work reflects accurately charter sector impact.
“It’s increasingly clear that New Jersey’s charter sector, especially in the city of Newark, provides students and their parents with high quality options. In fact, the charter sector in Newark is posting some of the highest student achievement gains that CREDO researchers have ever seen in their national work.
“New Jersey and our school districts have a responsibility to review this data closely and use it to guide education policies. We should begin by expanding charter school options in cases where charters are performing better than traditional schools, particularly those with significant waiting lists. Those who design, administer, and teach in these high-quality schools deserve credit for charting a new course that should be accessible to all students, not just those who are lucky enough to win a lottery.
“Although the study highlights the success of many NJ charter schools, the evidence also shows that some charter schools are performing below their traditional counterparts. These schools that are falling short on educating their students should be held accountable. Ultimately, all schools, regardless of their governing structures, should be held to a high standard to ensure that all kids receive an excellent education.
“We must put the needs of children first, especially in urban areas where it's not just a matter of academic achievement but, in many ways, the single most important determining factor of life outcomes. CREDO’s data suggests that both Black and Hispanic students in poverty who are enrolled in New Jersey charter schools show significantly better performance in reading and math compared to the same group of students in traditional public schools. Now we must expand on what’s working in these public charter schools to ensure that every student has access to the best education possible.”
DFER NJ Applauds Passage of Teacher Contract in Newark
November 16, 2012
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Democrats for Education Reform New Jersey Applauds Passage of Teacher Contract in Newark
Newark, NJ, November 16, 2012 - Democrats for Education Reform New Jersey (DFER NJ) commends the Newark Teachers Union’s (NTU) approval of a new teacher contract that includes a merit pay system supported by peer evaluation and student performance metrics. The new contract is a major step forward for the New Jersey education system as it moves toward the goal of ensuring an excellent education for all children across the state.
“We recognize the courage and conviction of those teachers who voted in favor of this strong step forward for their profession,” said Kathleen Nugent, State Director of DFER New Jersey. “For the first time in New Jersey, teachers will have to demonstrate their impact in the classroom to earn an increase in pay. The contract’s provisions will help to both retain our most effective educators, a key to long-term student achievement success, and make it possible for struggling schools to attract the very best educators.”
The contract was the result of a collaborative effort among many leaders and organizations.
“We applaud the leaders who had the vision and courage to make this bold reform a reality,” continued Nugent. “Governor Chris Christie, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, New Jersey Commissioner of Education Chris Cerf, Superintendant of the Newark Public Schools Cami Anderson and Newark Teachers Union President Joseph Del Grosso all deserve special recognition for their efforts.”
“This contract recognizes that our most underserved and struggling students deserve and need the best teachers with incentives for highly effective teachers to work in the lowest performing schools. And by strengthening the evaluation system outlined in TEACHNJ, the contract will help ensure that persistently ineffective teachers cannot jeopardize our students’ success.
“Ultimately, this contract is a significant move towards the creation of the most conducive policy environment to foster the greatest success in the classroom. Additionally and importantly, this contract is a great win for equity for Newark’s students. The state is making strides toward closing the achievement gap, and we look forward to continuing the progress.”
The Question is Not If We Use Data, But How
October 18, 2012
By Kathleen Nugent, DFER NJ State Director
One of the more commonly heard criticisms of education reforms enacted over the last several years is the perceived overuse of data. Collecting information about student achievement through interim assessments and standardized tests, for example, has become a centerpiece of initiatives aimed at increasing teacher accountability and improving student outcomes.
Opponents frame these reforms as intrusive or unnecessary. However, people tend to forget that prior to recent concerted efforts to collect, disaggregate, and analyze data, there was no clear way of tracking a school’s impact on student learning apart from graduation rates (which have their own set of issues and arrive too late for remediation efforts with the applicable cohort).
Moreover, the term “data” is often misused as if it is synonymous with standardized testing, but in reality data are not limited to standardized tests alone. Student outcomes such as literacy and numeracy levels, graduation requirements, and attendance rates, for instance, are being tracked more vigorously now than ever. Classroom observations and student surveys are increasingly integrated into teacher evaluations. These indicators can provide pertinent information about our school systems’ impact on student learning.
While the increase in data accessibility that now exists is a tremendous asset, there are legitimate questions as to whether the pendulum has swung too far with data collection and how best to use what is measureable. At a recent meeting in New Jersey with a diverse array of statewide education leaders in attendance, it was noted that districts gather great amounts of data, but few people have committed the time and energy to determine ways to make that data meaningful. Furthermore, requirements for data collection and inputs have changed over time. For example, proficiency cutoffs of standardized tests as well as methods for calculating graduation rates have been adjusted. This makes longitudinal comparisons (which tend to be the most enlightening) challenging, if not impossible. All of the meeting’s participants agreed the solution was not simply to eliminate the use of data from important decisions, but rather to define multiple measures and their optimal use so the data can be engaged to identify and help solve problems.
The meeting’s discussion recalled several points outlined in a commentary in Education Week posted by Brad C. Phillips and Jay J. Pfeiffer entitled, “Dear Data, Please Make Yourself More Useful - Sincerely, teachers and students,” (see article here), in which the authors note:
Factions are setting up camp at two extremes: one for those who believe data is the Holy Grail, and the other for those who shun it. Meanwhile, our students are counting on us to help them learn and be successful. Consequently, we believe there is a way to acknowledge that both sides have valid concerns, while applying a ‘usefulness’ standard to make sure we're collecting information that actually can be drawn upon to change schools for the better.
Phillips and Pfeiffer outline five suggested guidelines to make data useful:
1. “Engage teachers and decision-makers in the design of the tools used to collect data.”
2. “Create regular opportunities to huddle around the data.”
3. “Tailor reports to your audience.”
4. “‘Useful’ means many things and has many audiences.”
5. “Continuously hone validity and accuracy.”
The authors go on to compare useful data collection in education and eventual longitudinal student profiles to electronic health records that assist doctors in better treating their patients by granting access to full medical histories, persistent problems, and previous remedies. Of course, Phillips and Pfeiffer note the timeliness of access to data is key and that too often data points come too late:
Instead of an array of indicators that teachers can use to make midcourse corrections and revised lesson plans that acknowledge their students' needs while learning is in full swing, the emphasis is on summative test-score results, which measure learning at the end of a course of study.
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