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Friday, January 13, 2012

Issues Facing New Jersey

Yesterday Governor Christie signed into law the Urban Hope Act, legislation that permits private non-profit groups to set up and operate "renaissance schools" that will- unlike charter schools- be considered a part of the inner city school district. It is, quite frankly, a misguided attempt to get private sector managers into the education sphere. Borne out of frustration with the horrific pace of reform in our inner cities, it is nonetheless an unnecessary diversion of capital away from existing schools, most of which are in deplorable conditions that make learning problematic. I share the Governor's frustration, but believe that there are other, more effective uses of the NJDOE's time and resources. Here is what I see are the most pressing issues facing New Jersey in the area of education reform in our inner cities. Unfortunately, it is hard to be sanguine about our ability to tackle these issues, because quite frankly the financial and procedural impetus needed for change must eminate from the wealthier districts and their representatives in Trenton. With no clear, perceived benefit from helping inner city schools at the expense of their own suburban schools, its unlikely we will have the radical, transformative changes we so desperately need. When you add in the stubborn reaction of the NJEA to any significant reform, it doesn't look good for the kids in our cities. Its seems we'd rather spend the money of welfare and prison cells than on schools and neighborhoods. With such shortsighted thinking, I don't expect much, but, what the heck, here's my list anyway (I will speak to each of these issues in more detail in upcoming posts): 1) Charter Schools: > more scrutiny in the selection process > school districts should be able to form their own charters > greater collaboration, rather than a sense of competition, needs to be established between public &charters 2) Clinical Supervision > it should be mandated that every public school in New Jersey have a clinical supervisor on site 3) Performance Pay > combining qualitative and quantitative metrics, merit pay must be instituted in our State, replacing the reliance on years of service and degrees attained as the primary criteria for pay raises. > several different plans should be tested throughout the State to find one that is effective at improving teacher performance. 4) Graduation Test > the HSPA must be replaced with a test that is focused on real world needs as opposed to its current emphasis on English and Math testing. 5) Neighborhood Renewal > the lack of socioeconomic diversity in inner city neighborhoods makes a mockery of the idea that inner city schools will be able to support the goal of upward economic mobility > inner city neighborhoods, especially minority neighborhoods, have a high concentration of people in poverty and an an absolute dearth of middle class values and role models, things that are critical for students if they are to truly gain a sense that opportunity is within their grasp. 6) Urban Opportunity Zones > replace Urban Enterprise Zones with Urban Opportunity Zones, they will operate on the same basic terms but the businessess and other entitites that locate their should in some way be connected to the curriculum and goals of our schools, providing mentorship, apprenticeships, and exposure to future opporutunities to inner city kids 7) College Graduates > we need to attract graduates at the top of the class rather than the bottom, which is the current reality. Provide economic inducements, loan forebearance, and promise a work environment that is supportive and the provides a great deal of intellectual freedom to design innovative curricula 8) Scholarships and College Prep Help > we must do a better job at providing opportunities for inner city kids to attend college, this can be accomplished by having the business community encouraged through incentives to offer college scholarships > we must provide low cost or free college prep support to students planning to take the ACT or SAT, giving these kids the same advantages as kids in the wealthier suburban schools 9) State Curriculum Mandates > we have gone completely overboard in the amount of required content that kids must learn, creating a test driven mindset and preventing teachers from creating innovative, interesting courses that reflect their personal knowledge and passions. we must reassess what our kids MUST learn to be functioning members of civil society, and our state graduation test should be tied to this narrower content set. > the curriculum should also refocus on skills rather than content, requiring kids to learn skill sets consistent with 21st century competencies 10)Tenure Reform > tenure should be tied to the aforementioned performance pay and need for clinical supervision, and any teacher deemed ineffective should be teamed with a clinical supervisor to improve performance over a two year period. If performance does not improve, tenure should be revoked There you have it, my top 10 list of priorities for the State of New Jersey. It is a comprehensive, "interdisciplinary" approach to improving our inner city schools. I would love to hear what you have to say!!

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