Wednesday, February 29, 2012

26 States Apply for Second Round of NCLB Waivers

New Jersey got there in the first round, along with 10 other states. Now PoliticsK-12 is reporting that another 26 states have applied to the U.S. DOE for waivers from the unrealistic benchmarks of the No Child Left Behind federal legislation. Those states are Arkansas, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin, along with D.C.

Quote of the Day

Newark Mayor Cory Booker on educational choices for children:
I hold no allegiance to a school delivery model. I really don’t care if you’re a charter school, a magnet school, a traditional district school. The question is: Are you providing quality education?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sunday Leftovers

The Star-Ledger has the complete list of the 465 school districts that will move to November Elections, far more than anticipated.

In other school budget news, Mark Magyar, today's guest columnist in the Star-Ledger, disputes Gov. Christie’s rosy budget projections while The Record catalogs the charges by other Republicans that Christie’s proposed increased spending makes him a RINO (Republican in Name Only).

Hamilton Public School District is once again in the news: this time because the interim Superintendent, James Sheerin, recommended three new elementary principals who didn’t come up through the ranks, so the Board fired him. At the last meeting, a former board member, Olga Dixon, accused the Board of not accepting the ex-superintendent’s recommendations because the candidates are black. From the Trenton Times: “Did [Sheerin] not carry out district policies? Did he breach them? If so, how? Was it a moral or criminal nature? Or was it simply that he did not bend over to what is likely the largest employment agency in Hamilton Township?”

The NJ DOE announces that 372 LEAs -- both districts and charter schools -- have enrolled in the $38 million Race To The Top award. These districts will now help pilot data-driven teacher evaluations and move the State closer to implementing the Common Core Standards. See Star-Ledger for more details.

The Press of Atlantic City looks at the increasing role of county special services districts in serving kids with the most severe disabilities.

Parents worry that the proposed narrowing of the definition of autism by the American Psychiatric Association will increase their challenges in procuring necessary services for their children. (Star-Ledger)

Dr. Bruce Baker takes down the NJ DOE’s “Education Funding Report” for politicizing the achievement gap and positing that giving more money to Abbott districts serves no useful purpose.

NJ Spotlight has an interactive map so you can see how your high school students do on the state standardized assessments.

The Princeton International Academy Charter School, now the unfortunate symbol of charter schools in suburbia, is back before the South Brunswick Zoning Board. (South Brunswick Patch)

Department of Paranoia: Here’s GOP Candidate Rick Santorum on the “real reason” President Obama wants more Americans on college campuses.
"That's why he wants you to go to college. He wants to remake you in his image," Santorum said to more applause. "I want to create jobs so people can remake their children into their image, not his."

Friday, February 24, 2012

NJ State Aid Numbers and "The Education Funding Report"

The big education news today is the release of state aid figures to school districts, along with the release of a report from the NJ DOE, “The Education Funding Report.”

Here’s a handy-dandy gadget from The Record to see your district’s aid numbers, and here’s the State PDF file. Here’s local coverage from the Star-Ledger, The Record, NJ Spotlight, and PolitickerNJ.

The bottom line on the dispersal of state aid is that suburban districts did better than urbans, particularly Abbott districts. From PolitickerNJ: “Of the state's 31 Abbott Districts, 23 will lose funding in the next school year, two will see flat funding and six will see increased funding.”

David Sciarra, head of Education Law Center, told the Star-Ledger, “This is really bad news in terms of providing funding for poor students regardless of zip code, regardless of community."

On the other hand, Lynn Strickland, head of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, told NJ Spotlight, “Seeing not only the plus column next to our members, but also the echo of an improved aid picture for the suburbs in the future feels good. It has been a long time.”

Once you get beyond the actual number, Comm. Cerf’s report is far more interesting, both educationally and politically. In this paper he proposes changes to the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA), a creation of the Corzine Administration and the focus of a number of Supreme Court filings, and the reasons for the Christie Administration's advocacy (seen most recently in the Budget Address on Tuesday) for tenure reform and expanded school choice.

Here’s some highlights.

On the justification for modifications to SFRA:
In writing this Report, the Department began with a single question: Why has New Jersey’s achievement gap proven so resistant to the combination of Robinson, Abbott, and tens of billions of dollars? The Department quickly found the answer: New Jersey courts, the Legislature, and past Governors only got it half-right. They took an inarguable proposition – namely, that a school must have sufficient dollars to succeed – and twisted it into the wrongheaded notion that dollars alone equal success.
As an example, the report notes that only a combined 11.2% of students in Camden, Newark, and Asbury Park graduate high school by meeting College-Readiness benchmarks. While we’ve bridged spending gaps, we’ve failed to bridge achievement gaps. Some Abbott districts have demonstrated meaningful learning gains – the report singles out Vineland City, Middle Township, Orange City, Trenton – but many are stagnant, despite increased spending per pupil. “Spending in Camden rose 17% over this period [2002-2007], but its proficiency rate declined by 1 point.”

On the reasons to eliminate Adjustment Aid:
Adjustment Aid was a political add-on to the PJP process. [PJP: Professional Judgment Panel, comprised to build SFRA]. It served no purpose other than to hold all districts harmless in the transition from the old funding formula to the SFRA. It is a symbol of the old Trenton; a paean to the longstanding tradition of refusing to make hard choices even when hard choices are in order and failing to make hard choices will cost taxpayers greatly.
Poor schools won’t improve unless we reform tenure and eliminate LIFO, or last in, first out:
If New Jersey is to achieve the ultimate goal of Abbott – equal educational outcomes for all – several significant policy barriers must also be removed. Again, it is simply not reasonable or ultimately effective to continue to invest in our disadvantaged schools at these extraordinary levels while disregarding the embarrassing reality that New Jersey has actually codified practices that inhibit our collective ability to ensure that every student has a top-flight teacher in front of his/her class. If the ultimate goal is to graduate all children from high school ready for college and career, a rational observer must fairly ask why the urgent demands for additional funds are not accompanied by an equally strong insistence that we reform laws that demonstrably prevent us from meeting that goal.
Why we need tenure reform:
There are approximately 94,218 tenured teachers in New Jersey. That means that over the past ten years, .00022% of tenured teachers have been removed for incompetency or inefficiency. Whatever the number of teachers in our highest-needs schools who are not up to the job of adequately serving their students – and we should assume that it is low – it is certainly higher than .00022%. So long as we lack the political will to address this issue, no amount of resources is likely to bring about the improvements that these children deserve.
Why we need to eliminate LIFO:
To give one example, investing millions in reducing class size or adding teacher aides while ignoring State law that requires districts to preserve the jobs of demonstrably ineffective teachers and dismiss superior ones will not yield a different result for students. The research could not be clearer that great teachers are more important to learning outcomes than class size. To go one step further, we would have done more to preserve the true purposes of Abbott – reducing the achievement gap – by enjoining laws that actually inhibit student achievement than by merely demanding higher and higher spending. If we want to ensure that all students succeed, we need to start pursuing a slate of bold reforms and stop chasing the promised, but mythical, funding formula that will solve our educational woes.
The “final set of options” to improve educational outcomes of poor kids includes the Urban Hope Act (which allows independent non-profits to start up to four schools in Camden, Trenton, and Newark). Also,
The State’s inter-district choice program can play an important role
here. Through this program, the State can help direct students in troubled schools to higher performing schools in neighboring districts. Nonpublic schools could also become options; the Administration strongly supports the Opportunity Scholarship Act, a tuition tax credit program that would help low-income students in failing district schools transfer to higher performing private schools
The SFRA formula isn’t a fine enough tool when determining district attendance counts because districts only report on enrollment once a year, on Oct. 15th. (The Commissioner’s press release points out that only 10 other states in the country rely on “single count” days to determine actual enrollment.)
The single count day policy breeds a number of perversities and inequities, including: both under-funding and over-funding of districts when mid-year enrollment changes are not considered, and a lack of concern for encouraging attendance because districts receive funding based on their October 15th enrollment, regardless of attendance rates before or after that date. It is this last statement that is the most troubling.
The way we determine economic disadvantages is through the free and reduced lunch count. Here’s the problem:
Recently, the Office of the State Auditor released a report estimating that as many as 37% of the participants in the federally-administered Free and Reduced Price Lunch Program are fraudulently enrolled in the program. An even more recent Star-Ledger article seemed to confirm the fact when it reported that the President of the Elizabeth Board of Education, along with the spouses of two Elizabeth school officials, were arrested for misstating their incomes to qualify for the Program. Such a high error rate in a program so consequential for educationfunding gives the Department considerable pause.
In addition, this report recommends a Innovation Fund of $50 million to reward successful districts. This Fund is intended to address the shortcomings of an “education system where success goes unrecognized, innovation unrewarded, and New Jersey’s near 600 school districts serve as mere implementers of State-directed policies rather than incubators of innovation and partners in reform. This system must be changed, and creation of a modest “Innovation Fund” would do much to work that change."

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Quote of the Day

It’s referendum mania in Trenton! The governor and Republican legislators want to put same sex marriage to a public vote. Democratic legislators want to put charter school approval to a public vote.

What do they have in common? In each case, the sponsors are opposed to the policy in question. Many believe that thay are using the referendum option as a “democratic” smokescreen for a policy they don’t want enacted.

Not only is this bald-faced politics, but it’s a slippery slope. The public lacks both access to information and the ability to deliberate on these types of issues – issues which our founders specifically said should be left to an informed, deliberative system of representative government.
Patrick Murray in PolitickerNJ

Newsflash: GOP Candidates Debate Education Reform

So I’m in my usual Republican Debate position, cringing in front of the TV as four white men attack women’s access to birth control (Husband: “Isn’t there a Law and Order on?”), when the unexpected happens: an audience member asks Romney, Santorum, Gingrich, and Paul to discuss their views on education reform. Wowza! They’re actually going to talk about this?

Well, sort of. Romney touted Massachusetts’ test scores and his support for charter schools, adding, “We have to stand up to the federal teachers’ unions and put kids first and unions behind.” [Note: I don’t have a transcript so I’m going off my notes.] One might also recall his comments at a debate last October when he said, "education has to be held at the local and state level, not at the federal level. We need to get the federal government out of education."

Santorum apologized profusely for his vote in favor of No Child Left Behind: “It was against the principles I believe, but when you’re part of the team, sometimes you take one from the team for the leader, and I made a mistake.” He then added, ““Look, I’m a home-schooling father of seven; I know the importance of customized education for our children; I know the importance of parental control of education; I know the importance of local control of education."

Gingrich attacked LA Unified: “It’s increasingly clear they care about protecting bad teachers. If you look at L.A. Unified, it is almost criminal what we do to the poorest children of America. If a foreign nation did this to our children, we would declare it an act of war because they are doing so much damage.” He also bashed a perceived emphasis on “learning how you learn,” all that liberal malarkey, and had no kind words for national “bureaucratized” standards. “All kids are unique!”

Paul slammed Santorum, his current whipping boy, for treating Senate votes like a “team sport” and reiterated his call for less government intrusion: there’s “no authority for the Federal government to be involved in education.”

Takeaway: they all hate No Child Left Behind and the U.S. Department of Education, and all genuflect towards States’ Rights. Nothing can compete with local control.

It seems to me that this “local control” business is a matter of convenience. We’ve certainly seen this sort of posturing in New Jersey, and it’s not just a GOP narrative. Sure, there’s Sen. Mike Doherty, blazing red and urging adoption of his flat school funding plan where every kid, regardless of circumstance, gets the same amount of money for education. There’s Gov. Christie, vainly attempting to extract himself from the awkward position of vetoing a civil rights bill by harrumphing, “we need to have a public referendum on gay marriage.” But there’s also SOS-New Jersey, using the same argument for local referenda on charter schools: each district should get to vote on whether or not it wants school choice! Local control!

Certainly the Republican candidates on the stage last night in Mesa, Arizona, where Mormons comprise 25% of the population, found a friendly audience for their united advocacy for the reduction, if not outright elimination, of the federal government’s role in education. But how does that square with the bipartisan understanding that our public schools don’t adequately prepare children for a global economy, our infatuation with Finland (where there’s no local control), and with the general derision expressed towards locally-controlled teacher evaluation systems?

Maybe there’s a Law and Order on.

My New Gig

I'll still be right here, faithfully covering NJ's journey towards education reform, but I'll also be posting a couple times a week at WHYY's Newsworks. Here's my first post, which begins,

Tuesday was budget address day for New Jersey as Gov. Christie presented details of his 2012-2013 fiscal plan. Total spending is projected to be $32.1 billion, with $8.8 billion appropriated to public education.

The speech offered plenty of red meat for those of the education reform persuasion, particularly in the areas of school choice and tenure reform. Indeed, Gov. Christie seemed particularly energized by his recent contretemps with his favorite whipping boy, Vince Giordano, Executive Director of NJEA.

Read the rest right here.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Affirmative Action in New Jersey

Today’s New York Times has an article on an affirmative action case that the U.S. Supreme Court will probably hear this term. In this case a white student from Texas, Abigail Fisher, says that the University of Texas denied her admission because of her race. A 2003 Supreme Court decision (Grutter vs. Bollinger, 5-4) held that public universities couldn’t use a quota system to ensure racial diversity, but they could take race into account, which is the system currently used in Texas. At the time of Grutter, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor predicted that the need for such considerations would last about 25 years.

Yet here we are, nine years later and the Court will decide whether any racial consideration discriminates against white students. Have we come such a long way that race is no longer relevant to pre-college academic achievement?

American colleges and universities have a long ignoble history of discrimination. Example: for many years selective school used rigorous academic tests to determine admissions. However, during the 1920’s and 1930’s, many East European Jews arrived in America and started getting into Ivy League Schools in disproportionate numbers. In 1925 Harvard discovered to its horror that Jews constituted 28% of its freshman class so it instituted a 15% quota, even requiring photos of applicants to order to weed out those with Semitic features. Yale restricted Jewish admissions to 10%. New Jersey’s own Princeton only had 3.6% of Jews in its 1924 freshman class, but decided that this was excessive and set a quota of 2%. (That’s one reason why my parents and all their friends went to Brooklyn College. No quota there!)

On the other hand, Princeton didn’t allow blacks in until 1945. Everything’s relative.

Here’s a question. If the Court rules that affirmative action based on race is unconstitutional (the Times article suggests that this may be the decision, especially since Justice Elena Kagan recused herself because she worked on this issue as a solicitor general), will the next step be to bar affirmative action based on socio-economic stature? After all, it’s not that hard to imagine a scenario where an Abigail Fisher argues that she is unfairly deprived of admission because she has wealthier parents than someone else who got additional considerations because of an impoverished background.

In other words, if colleges can’t use race as a way to ensure diversity on campuses, can they still cut kids from economically-deprived backgrounds a little slack because they lack the educational advantages of rich kids? And what about K-12 programs -- not to mention the federal competition Race to the Top -- that aspire to compensate children for the educational deprivations of poverty through intensive remediation and enrichment?

This question has particular resonance in New Jersey, where we remain the 4th or 5th (depending upon whom you ask) most segregated school system in America, not only by race but also by socio-economics. The recently released standardized test scores show that while there’s been some improvement in the achievement gap between minorities and white kids, the gap in achievement between poor and wealthier kids remains intractable.

Here’s Ed. Comm. Cerf’s discussion:
On the NJASK (New Jersey Assessment of Knowledge and Skills), the state test administered to students in grades 3-8 in math and language arts literacy (LAL), there is a significant proficiency gap between economically disadvantaged students - students eligible for free and reduced price lunch (FRPL) - and students not eligible for free and reduced price lunch (non-FRPL). In both subjects, this percentage point gap has remained relatively constant or has widened since 2005.
NJ’s segregation of poor students into different districts than wealthier students is merely an echo of our home rule charm/affliction, sometimes termed “municipal madness.” Remember, 566 municipalities and 591 school districts. For every wealthy school district (or town) there’s a poor one down the road, a pattern seen in every one of our 21 counties. In Burlington, rich kids might go to Moorestown High and poor kids might go to Willingboro High. In Camden County rich kids might go to Cherry Hill and poor kids go to Camden. In Essex County, there’s South Orange-Maplewood and East Orange. You get the idea.

New Jersey, despite its infrastructure of segregated public schools, is highly regarded for its own affirmative actions to promote equity and access. The list of both proposed and enacted governmental and legislative remedies is long: the School Funding Reform Act (which is supposed to adjust school aid based on wealth), our Abbott district preschool programs, the reorganization of the NJ DOE, Gov. Christie’s decision to focus charter school expansion on poor urban districts, the Interdistrict Public School Choice Program, the Opportunity Scholarship Act. All these initiatives are intended to expand access and resources for children who, by accident of zip code, are locked into failing school districts.

In fact, in spite of the recent vitriol spewing from both sides of the aisle in the Statehouse, we're pretty much united by a shared conviction that kids from all sections of the socio-economic spectrum deserve access to high quality education and that our poorest kids -- who are of minority backgrounds more often than not -- need extra support and resources.*

Affirmative action doesn't solve all NJ's educational woes, but our poor kids would be far worse off without these measures. The Supreme Court can often circumscribe its decisions. Let's hope that the Justices take a peek outside of First Street NE in D.C. before they start barring affirmative action.

*I'm intentionally ignoring Sen. Mike Doherty's bone-headed "fair school funding" bill, which is fair as long your parents are rich.

Educational Highlights from Christie's Budget Address

Gov. Christie presented his budget yesterday at the Statehouse. The bottom line is a $32.1 billion spending plan, which includes a $108 million increase in higher education and $213 million more for K-12 public schools. The governor did leave a little room in the text of the speech for a few of his hobby horses, and also for a reiteration of his contempt for NJEA’s Vince Giordano’s statement, in defense of the union’s opposition to school choice, that “sometimes life’s not fair.”

From the transcript:
It's not enough and it's not appropriate, to simply tell our most challenged urban families, trapped in over 200 failing schools, that "life's not fair." That is the expressed attitude of some in the educational establishment in our state. It is not mine. It can no longer be the attitude of this legislature. Our job is to make the future better for every child in a failing school. We cannot simply accept failure or even mediocrity. We must demand excellence.

The opportunity to get a great education should not be a function of the zip code you live in — it should be a hallmark of growing up in New Jersey.
Business administrators across the state are anxiously awaiting final numbers, reassured that state school aid won’t be less than last year, but unsure whether there will be any meaningful increases. The $213 million – which represents a 1.7% increase over last year -- won’t be evenly distributed across districts, but instead will be funneled through the School Funding Reform Act formula. From NJ Spotlight:
State Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff said a "vast majority of districts will be getting a slight increase." But the administration also for the first time will be using the state's funding formula in the distribution of aid, he said. The funding formula ties aid directly to the number of individual students and their needs, meaning students with limited English or low-incomes get additional sums -- or for scores of districts, especially those with falling enrollments, a decrease in the money they receive.
(Additional coverage from the Star-Ledger, The Record, Courier Post, and PolitickerNJ.)

Those hobby horses? Back to the transcript:
It is well-known to you that I believe we have work to do to improve our k-12 education system in particular. We have great outcomes in some districts. But we have terrible performance in others.

That is not right, it is not fair and it is not moral.

So I ask you again to pass this year the education reforms I put before you in my State of the State address. We need to reform tenure. We need to pay the best teachers more. We need to expand charter schools in our failing school districts. And we need to give choice and hope to those students and parents now trapped in failing school districts by passing the Opportunity Scholarship Act.

A few notes. The tenure reform proposal Gov. Christie refers to is the tenure reform bill crafted by Sen. Teresa Ruiz, which didn’t make it through the lame duck session of the Legislature but remains the best hope for meaningful changes in archaic tenure laws. Sen. Steve Sweeney has expressed support; much depends on whether the Legislature has the cohones to toss out the NJEA’s tenure reform plan, a far weaker document.

(Sometimes timing is everything, especially when the union’s Executive Director makes a stupid remark that give legislators cover to do a little posturing of their own. The pension/benefits contributions reform bill, which so antagonized public employees, is history now. Giordano’s foot-in-mouth moment provides an opportunity for legislators to be a little bold, which is one reason, I’d guess, for Gov. Christie’s perseveration on the “life’s not fair” bon mot. “Carpe diem,” he’s grumbling to Sen. Sweeney and Speaker Oliver, “do it now!")

Next, the Governor has been shifting towards a position on charter school expansion that would skirt the opposition in wealthy suburbs and focus on failing urban districts. No surprises there.

Lastly, he made special notice of the Opportunity Scholarship Act (the bill that would provide corporate sponsored scholarships for poor kids in lousy districts to attend private and parochial schools). Consistent with the Giordano-is-clueless theme, he put this bill in the context of what is “right,” “fair,” and “moral.” OSA has undergone many changes since originally proposed about 20 years ago, and is now much trimmed down in districts eligible and students served. Is it slim enough to pass the Legislature? Sometimes timing is everything.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Quote of the Day

Clarence Page, columnist for the Chicago Tribune, discusses two new reports that show that while the national educational achievement gap between black and white students is smaller, the gap between poor and rich kids “has dangerously grown” by around 50% since the late 1980’s, far more than our European counterparts. Writes Page,
For example, out of 55 countries in an Urban Institute study of countries that succeed in improving academic achievement of low-income children, the U.S. ranked 36th, according to the Education Trust, a nonprofit that focuses on closing the gap.

“The black-white achievement gap is a terrible travesty in this country,” Amy Wilkins, an Education Trust vice president told NPR’s Talk of the Nation after the latest university studies were released. But now, she said, “We have to pay as much attention to the income gap as we have to the race gap.”

NJ Does the Bait and Switch on Gay Marriage and Charter Schools

Andrew Sullivan, in describing Gov. Christie’s veto of gay marriage in NJ, explains how the gay rights movement had “the goalposts moved” on them. First, gay rights activists were told that “the courts had nothing whatever to do with ensuring minority rights, if that minority were gay.” The key audience to reach was, in fact, the State Legislatures. He writes,
When we actually began to win in state legislatures, such as California (twice!), or New Hampshire, or now Maryland and New Jersey and Washington State, that process became suddenly unacceptable - and undemocratic! - as well. Even on an issue many hold to be a core civil right, we were told the courts were irrelevant and now that the legislatures were irrelevant. This was particularly odd coming from conservatives who at one point in time were strong believers in restraints on majority tyranny. But this is what a legislative debate can do that no referendum can, and it's why the founders established a republic not a pure democracy…

Sullivan thinks public referendums are fine -- “let’s all we can to win them,” he says –
But the way in which a tiny 2- 3 percent minority seeking basic civil equality has been forced now to be subject to state referendums, even after winning legislative victories, strikes me as revealing. It's basically an attack on representative government, a resort to the forms of decision-making which maximize the potential for anonymous bigotry and minimize the importance of representative government, a core achievement of Anglo-American democracy, that can help enhance reason of the accountable against the sometimes raw prejudice of the majority.

Christie is a man whose candor I admire in many ways. But this was an act of cowardice and unfairness and a misguided disregard for representative democracy. How many other duly enacted laws must now be sent to the referendum process for final judgment. Why have a legislature at all? And this from the party that claims to defend the Constitution.
The same argument could be applied to charter schools, which serve a minority of students who also typically happen to be minorities. (See earlier coverage here and here.) The NJ State Legislature has approved the charter concept and lifted the cap. The DOE is making good progress towards increased scrutiny and accountability, much in line with traditional public schools. But to then require that a minority of parents and children seeking basic educational equality could now be forced to be subject to local referenda is, as Sullivan says, "an attack on representative government, a resort to the forms of decision-making which maximize the potential for anonymous bigotry and minimize the importance of representative government."

Indeed, why bother having Legislatures?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sunday Leftovers

Tom Moran in today's Star-Ledger sums up the "sorry state of school reform in New Jersey" based on recent tactics by both NJEA and the NJ GOP: "We have a union whose highest goal is to protect bad teachers. And a governor who is fixated on scoring political points. After two years of this, all we are missing is any semblance of meaningful reform." (Previous NJLB coverage here and here.)

(For a glance at a different reality, check out Nicholas Kristof's column in the New York Times, who praises the “jaw-dropping” transformation of the education reform landscape in New Haven, where AFT President Randi Weingarten and the New Haven Public Schools are partners in teacher tenure reform.)

According to the Press of Atlantic City, almost 90% of eligible school boards have moved their elections to November: "468 of 538 eligible school districts have notified the state that they passed resolutions to move their elections as allowed by a new state law. School board elections will now be included in the November general election, but will be placed separately on the ballots so they retain nonpartisan status."

Update: NJSBA is still saying that the final count on school boards choosing to move elections is 413. Not sure what's up with that. Either NJSBA is not up to date or the Press miscounted.

The Hamilton School Board, long known for its affection for nepotism, has fired Interim Superintendent James Sheerin after he recommended the appointments of two school principals who came from out-of-district. Board Attorney George Fisher: “He ended up recommending two out-of-district candidates to fill two of the three slots, and those candidates were rejected, pretty much out of hand by the board. This district would benefit from hiring some outside people. I’ve said in the past that this district has an inbreeding that is not healthy.” (Trenton Times)

Gov. Christie announced that the State will move ahead with 20 school construction projects in some of NJ's poorest cities. According to the Star-Ledger, 8 of the projects will cost $675 million; there were no cost estimates on the others. NJ Spotlight has comments from Education Law Center's David Sciarra, who said, “There has been no shovels in the ground for the last two years, while Gov. Christie has spent $100 million of taxpayers money on salaries and benefits and overhead that has accomplished literally nothing for these districts.”

Ed. Comm. Chris Cerf is awarding $1 million to 12 districts who demonstrate the highest achievement among kids with disabilities. (NJ Spotlight)

Camden Mayor Dana Redd met with Ed. Comm. Chris Cerf to “discuss deficiencies” in the Camden City Public Schools, according to the Courier Post. She also said that it may be time for Superintendent Bessie LeFra Young to resign; a board member there says she will call for a no-confidence vote inYoung. Camden recently failed QSAC, the state’s monitoring system (see here) and is home to 23 of the 70 worst schools in the State (according to our NCLB waiver application).

In an interesting wrinkle, the Camden School Board President has refused board member requests to discuss Young's performance.

From the Wall St. Journal on retention of 3d graders: "A recent report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that children who don't read proficiently by third grade are four times as likely to drop out of school...The country has spent billions on failed reading strategies. Now, states are taking a different tack: push individualized reading instruction in the early grades and hold back kids who don't pass muster by third grade."

Check out NJ Spotlight's Mark Magyar on a proposed consolidation of 30 school districts in Hunterdon County "into a single countywide district, with potential tax savings in the tens of millions of dollars for Hunterdon’s 128,349 residents."